A year ago, I wrote a short blog post called It’s the Reader, Stupid, inspired by James Carville’s advice during the 1992 Presidential campaign, when he coined the term “It’s the economy, stupid.” The post was meant to be a reminder to publishers and bookstores that their customer is the reader, not each other.
I think it bears reminding to all of us just who should be in charge of the publishing industry, and that’s the customer.
What got me thinking about this today was a discussion on KBoards about how Amazon’s algorithms and also-boughts work, what gets promoted and what doesn’t, and all the ways that entrepreneurial writers attempt to figure out the market they’re writing for. Here’s my reminder: It’s all about the reader.
One of the biggest mistakes I see self-published authors make when it comes to Amazon (or any digital retailer) is to assume that they make decisions based primarily on our welfare. Any tweak Amazon makes, authors immediately determine how that change is going to affect them, which is smart. The mistake is to assume that the tweak was designed to affect them. It wasn’t. The tweak was designed to affect the customer experience.
It’s the reader, stupid.
(Please note that I hate using the word stupid, but that I use it for the same reason that Carville did. It shocks us into paying attention. Also, it’s hard to employ a meme without quoting the meme-ish bit.)
Reminding ourselves that it’s all about the reader can be immensely useful. What sorts of titles do we think Amazon might promote? My guess, using this reminder as a framework, is the titles that provide the highest level of customer satisfaction. That doesn’t necessarily mean the titles with the most or best reviews. It might mean the titles that have the highest completion-to-purchase rate. Or the lowest number of returns. Or the highest percentage of sequel purchases. It might even mean the titles that display slow organic growth via word-of-mouth rather than heavily promoted explosive growth. It could have to do with cover art or genre.
It’s no surprise to me that Amazon doesn’t promote my title I, ZOMBIE. It’s the only work of mine that my wife couldn’t get through. The book is revolting enough that I had to put a disclaimer right in the product description. Even if horror is a popular genre, Amazon would turn off customers by promoting a niche work that won’t satisfy most readers.
This is a philosophy I think any sane thinker would agree is a sound one. I’m sure Amazon does the same for its other products, heavily promoting the items that have the fewest returns, which signals not only customer satisfaction but cuts down shipping and restocking costs.
Personally, I enjoy writing all over the place, including things that I know won’t sell very well. I’m not in this to maximize my earnings. But for those who are, I recommend not looking at Amazon’s decisions as somehow being directed at authors. That just doesn’t make any sense. Their decisions are based on customer service and customer satisfaction. If you want to succeed with them, all you have to do is align yourself to that purpose.
And what could be more noble? Write what you think others will enjoy; edit the work to maximize that enjoyment; grace your work with a pleasing cover; and price it reasonably. Whatever happens next, it isn’t about us. It’s about the reader.