Did you write a book detailing your family’s history? Perhaps you wrote about the history of your town or perhaps a Civil War battle or almost any other topic. Another possibility is that your local genealogy society has extracted records from old documents and now wishes to publish them. Perhaps you self-published your book, had it printed, and now you have hundreds of copies stored in the basement. Indeed, one of the most difficult parts of self-publishing books is the marketing: how to advertise and sell the books. You may not know there is a powerful ally that would like to help: Amazon.
Amazon is the world’s largest online retailer. The company started as an online bookstore but soon diversified, and now sells all sorts of retail goods, from jewelry to toys to computers. In fact, Amazon is very willing to sell your books as well. The fact that Amazon already has hundreds of millions of customers provides a sales avenue that you probably cannot duplicate on your own. Even better, Amazon does not charge a fee to list your products on Amazon.com although the company does charge fees when the item is sold.
Amazon has been selling Kindle ebooks for some time, and that process is well documented elsewhere. For this article, I will focus on selling your self-published, printed books through Amazon’s online site.
While Amazon won’t do anything “extra” to promote your books, the fact that the books are listed on Amazon.com certainly will increase the visibility of your works. Not only will a search on Amazon.com find your books, but so will a search on Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines. Of course, you will want to continue whatever marketing efforts you have already started. Using Amazon.com simply leverages your efforts even more. The result will be increased sales for you, and your new customers will appreciate learning about the availability of your books.
Even better, Amazon handles all customer service queries. If a buyer has questions about shipment or needs to trace a missing shipment, the queries go directly to Amazon for resolution. Amazon will only forward questions to the seller if the buyer or would-be buyer asks questions about the content of the books or other products being sold.
According to a recent report published by Forrester, thirty percent of all online shoppers start at Amazon to research products. Eighty-six percent of Americans who have bought something online said they’ve purchased from Amazon before.
Note: I am focusing on printed books in this article, but almost all this info applies to almost anything else you wish to sell in quantities, ranging from books to manufactured goods you might produce in your garage.
Best of all, selling on Amazon is virtually risk-free. The most you can lose is some of your time plus (in a few, rare instances) shipping costs on items that are returned.
To sell items on Amazon, you need to first create a seller’s account. If you plan to sell only a few items per month, you will prefer to obtain a free Individual plan. I suspect that is the plan most genealogy book authors will select. The free Individual plan will charge the seller $0.99 per item when it is sold plus referral fees and variable closing fees. However, if you expect to sell 40 items or more per month, choose the Professional subscription for unlimited selling. That plan charges a lower percentage of the sale price plus a monthly subscription fee plus per-item referral fees and variable closing fees. High-volume sellers almost always find the Professional subscription saves money. More information is available at: https://sell.amazon.com/pricing.
You can always upgrade your plan at any time. Probably the best thing to do is to start with the free Individual plan, then upgrade to the Professional subscription at a later date if sales volumes justify the change.
Next, you need to decide if you wish to ship items to customers yourself or if you prefer to ship all items in advance to an Amazon warehouse, and then let Amazon ship the products to customers as the orders are received.
If you decide to warehouse and ship the products yourself, Amazon will handle the incoming orders and notify you within seconds when a customer pays for a book. Amazon will even create shipping labels for UPS or other shipment services. Optionally, you can print the labels onto gummed labels (which you can obtain free of charge from UPS) to peel and stick onto the boxes being sent. You will need a label printer ($60 to about $200, depending upon which one you select) to take advantage of the gummed labels. A label printer is not required as you can always create shipping labels through any other method you choose.
Many sellers prefer to use “Fulfillment by Amazon” (often called “FBA”) where items to be sold are first sent to an Amazon warehouse, then stored while waiting for customer orders. The “Fulfillment by Amazon” option makes a lot of sense for many sellers. When an order is placed, the item is packed and shipped by Amazon.
Having Amazon handle the warehousing plus all orders and shipments relieves the seller of most of the drudgery of selling online. Products get shipped from Amazon’s warehouses without the seller’s involvement. If the customer later decides to return the item, Amazon handles all returns, refunds, and customer feedback. This works even if the seller is on vacation, is spending the winter at a second home in the sunbelt, or simply doesn’t have enough room at home to store the products being sold.
Having Amazon warehouse and ship the products also reduces the seller’s risks. What happens to your inventory of hundreds of books stored at home if a burst water pipe, a flood, a hurricane, a fire, or other disaster strikes? Such risks are reduced, although not eliminated, for goods stored in Amazon’s warehouses. Those warehouses are never built on known flood plains and are protected by state-of-the-art fire detection systems and other systems that significantly reduce risks. The warehouses are also climate controlled, reducing the risk of mildew damage.
With Fulfillment by Amazon, all the grunt work is performed by Amazon. Amazon even supplies the packing boxes and the shipping tape. All the seller needs to do is monitor the business online.
Fulfillment by Amazon does result in additional fees to cover the storage costs plus the labor involved for retrieving newly-ordered products from the shelf and packing those products for shipment.
A list of all fees may be found at http://services.amazon.com/selling/pricing.htm.
Many small-time retailers build their businesses around Amazon’s warehousing and fulfillment services. It is possible to run a significant retail business from a laptop computer in Tahiti, the Caribbean, an outpost in Afghanistan, or from a Winnebago motor home, all by using Fulfillment by Amazon. The physical location of the seller becomes unimportant. In fact, many overseas retailers sell to U.S., Canadian, European, and other customers even though the company’s owners and managers live in smaller, third-world countries many thousands of miles away. International boundaries are important when products are being shipped but are not important when it come to the locations of the sellers, as long as the products are warehoused in, and sent from, Amazon’s warehouses. Some booksellers have their books printed in the U.S. and then shipped directly from the printer to Amazon’s warehouses. The seller never touches the product(s) being sold!
Fulfillment by Amazon is not a requirement, but it is attractive to many sellers.
The seller who uses either of Amazon’s two services remains in full control of the business. The seller decides the prices, writes the product descriptions, and monitors the business. Payments are even electronically deposited to any checking account the seller specifies.
Of course, the seller will normally wish to promote the book(s) in more or less the same manner as before. Having a web site is a good idea for most genealogy books. Each book’s web site can provide a description of the book, along with a link to Amazon’s page that accepts the orders. The web page can be simple to create as there is no need for SSL certificates, secure methods of accepting credit card payments, or any other complexities. Amazon provides all the security. Many authors find that a free blog, which might be hosted on one of the popular blogging services, often will increase sales as it is found by Google and other search engines.
Amazon versus eBay
eBay was once the leader on online selling, but Amazon seems to have now taken over. Indeed, eBay is still superior for certain things, such as for selling individual items, such as used books, as well as vintage goods, memorabilia, and many hard-to-find items. eBay’s fees to sellers (usually) are lower than those of Amazon. However, Amazon provides better customer service and (optionally) provides warehousing and order fulfillment services, allowing the buyer to run a business remotely. In addition, Amazon has “brand recognition” that is unmatched by any other retailer.
I guess it goes without saying that you first need to write a book. Then you need to have it printed by any of the publishing services available today. Genealogists often use Genealogical Publishing Company (http://www.genealogical.com) or Heritage Books (http://www.heritagebooks.com/) for printing. Both of these companies offer printing services, marketing to genealogists, and more. In fact, they will also sell your book directly online to customers in parallel with selling the same book(s) on Amazon. Having two or more outlets is not a bad thing! Another option is to use a “print on demand” service, such as Lulu.com, and print small quantities of books as needed. For instance, you might have the print-on-demand service print 25 copies at a time and have them shipped directly to one of Amazon’s warehouses.
Next, carefully read Amazon’s information at https://sell.amazon.com/beginners-guide and then follow the instructions there to create a free seller’s account.
You also will want to read the following articles:
Fulfillment by Amazon at http://services.amazon.com/fulfillment-by-amazon/benefits.htm.
Amazon Payments at http://services.amazon.com/amazon-payments/payments-home.html.
Find Your Niche on Amazon at https://sell.amazon.com/programs.
If you expect to sell your book internationally, you will also want to read Sell Worldwide With Amazon at https://sell.amazon.com/global-selling?ref_=sdus_soa_programs_proggs.
Selling on Amazon will not automatically convert a slow-selling book into an overnight success. However, using Amazon’s extensive services will certainly increase the sales opportunities and may reduce the drudgery of handling orders as well as storing and shipping books to purchasers. The risk is nearly zero. The worst thing that can happen is that you may have to pay postage for returned items. If you write a high-quality book and accurately describe it in the product description, the risk should be minimal.
I wish you luck in selling your book online!