In this episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast (which you can find a full transcript of below), I cover 8 topics from a big Amazon change for Kindle authors to a unique membership site pricing strategy.

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DPP017: Amazon’s Big Changes, Membership Site Pricing, Making Your Blog Stand Out, and 5 More Ideas

Hey everyone, I’m Tristan Higbee, and this show is all about the things I see and would like to see in the world of digital publishing, from blogging to ebooks to membership sites and more, plus things related to internet business and online marketing. At the end of the podcast I’ll mention my picks for this week’s featured podcast and featured tool for digital publishers. You can find a full transcript of each episode of the Digital Publishing Podcast at DigitalPublishingPodcast.com.

Thanks to everyone who has gone into iTunes and left reviews and rated the show. I really, really appreciate it. You can go to itunes.digitalpublishingpodcast.com and then click the blue “Rate in iTunes” button in the left sidebar to pull up the podcast in iTunes so you can rate and review it, and it’ll only take a minute or two.

Ok! I’ve got 8 topics to talk about today, so let’s get started.

1. Amazon’s big free promotion changes

KDP Select and Associate changesJust so you know from the get-go here, this episode has a lot of Kindle-centric talk in it, though a lot of what I talk about can be applied to other platforms.

I’m recording this on February 27, 2013, and this first topic here is about something that happened last week. I generally don’t cover news on the podcast here because most of it is irrelevant if you listened to it later, but this is an important development that Kindle ebook authors should know about.

So, all Amazon Associates—which is what Amazon calls its affiliates—received an email from Amazon last week. It was to notify Associates of changes being made to the Amazon Associates Operating Agreement. That’s the set of terms that people who want to be Amazon affiliates agree to when they sign up for the program.

Most of the changes are pretty tame, but there’s one zinger that will affect a lot of authors who have written books for the Kindle. Here’s the change:

“[I]f we determine you are primarily promoting free Kindle eBooks [as an affiliate]… , YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO EARN ANY ADVERTISING FEES DURING ANY MONTH IN WHICH YOU MEET THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:

(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and

(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks.””

You can rewind and listen to that again if that didn’t make sense, but what it means is that all of the free Kindle book websites are essentially out of business. This hits home for me especially because one of my main sites is fkb.me, which is a free Kindle book website, and I made a healthy amount of money every month with that site. And as of recording this, I haven’t quite decided what I’m going to do with the site, but I’ll probably talk about that more in next week’s episode.

But let’s back up a little bit first and talk about what service these free Kindle book sites provide and how they can provide that service. Every day there are thousands of Kindle ebooks on Amazon that are temporarily free. These books are made free by the books’ authors or publishers. That’s one big perk that comes from enrolling in Amazon’s KDP Select program, which means that you make your book exclusive to Amazon—that is, you can’t sell it or give it away anywhere else—for at least 90 days. If you agree to that, you can promote your book for free for up to 5 days in that 90-day period. Authors do this to get their name out there and to get the book in as many people’s hands as possible so that people will review it.

One of the best ways to help ensure that lots of people download your book when it’s free was to submit it these sites that keep updated lists or rankings of free Kindle books, and my fkb.me site is one of these. But with these sites unable to make money through affiliate sales and with the subsequent shut down or ramp down of these sites, Kindle authors will find it much harder to get their book downloaded by a lot of people. As a result, fewer authors will enroll their books in KDP Select. And that’s bad for Amazon because one of the perks of an Amazon Prime membership, which Amazon is always pushing, is that Prime members can borrow one KDP Select book a month for free, even if the author or publisher isn’t currently running a free promo of that book.

This isn’t me complaining that my free Kindle books site is out of business. That kinda sucks for me, but it’s this kind of risk we all take when we build things that rely 100% on platforms or factors that are outside of our control. It’s like Google changing its search algorithm so that your niche site is no longer listed anywhere in the first couple pages of the search results. Yeah, it sucks for you, but you know that this kind of policy shift is always a possibility. It comes with the territory.

But this IS me complaining as a Kindle ebook author. This is a policy move by Amazon that has made a lot of authors who understand the implications of it angry, and it’s a move that is not in the authors’ best interests because it will make it significantly harder for them to publicize their books, and that’s something that is sad to see happen.

So with that rant out of the way, let’s move on to more interesting stuff which also happens to be Kindle-related.

2. Is there still room in the Kindle store?

Someone asked me last week if there is still room in the Kindle store as a market or if he shouldn’t even bother because there are already so many Kindle books out there. It’s like how some potential app developers are hesitant to create an app because Apple’s App Store is so huge and there are so, so, so many apps already out there.

My answer is a very strong YES, there is still room in the Kindle store. If you’re writing about internet marketing or recipes or decluttering, or writing about ebooks or writing ebooks, you’re going to face stiff competition because those niches are pretty well stocked (though there’s always room in a market for a better product). But Kindle books in most other niches are severely lacking.

Last week I decided that I wanted to go live in and travel through the countries of Georgia and Armenia in a couple months, in May to be exact. I’m currently living in Cozumel, Mexico and didn’t want to be in Central America when the hot and humid summer came. I’ve always been intrigued by Georgia and Armenia and thought a change of scenery might be nice, so I bought a one-way ticket to Tbilisi, Georgia.

Once I did that, I went onto Amazon and looked for some Kindle books about Georgia and the Georgian language, and was amazed that there weren’t any good ones. There are a handful of ebooks about the Georgian language, but they either have no reviews or bad reviews, and they don’t look all that great. And there are zero Kindle books about the history of Georgia. Yes, I will grant that this is a small and relatively obscure country, but still, there are several highly-rated paper books about the country and the language but none for the Kindle.

This is just one recent example, but I’ve gone through this same exercise and gotten the same lacking results several times for a variety of different topics. To make a long story short, yes, there is still a lot of room in the Kindle store for pretty much anything you’d want to write about, apart from a few very popular niches, so get to it!

3. A membership site pricing idea

I’m in the process of creating Osmosio, which is a membership site that’s all about digital publishing. It’ll have all sorts of tutorials and walkthroughs and ideas and stuff. One thing I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is pricing. Pricing is tricky even for something like an ebook, but I think it’s especially tricky for membership sites. I want to make enough money from the site that it’s worthwhile, but I don’t want to gouge people to the point where they won’t be able to afford more than a month or two as a member.

As I was thinking about all of this, I remembered a couple different product launches I’ve seen where the first person to buy the product gets it for a dollar, the second person gets it for two dollars, the third for three dollars, and so on until it gets to a certain point. What if you could do the opposite for membership sites? So, the longer someone stays a member, the cheaper it gets every month. How much cheaper it gets would depend on how much the thing costs—maybe the price goes down a dollar every month or five dollars every month. And you could either keep charging until the person doesn’t have to pay anymore, or you could put the end price at something low like $5 a month.

I do think that something like this would help customer retention. I am very stingy with my recurring monthly financial commitments, and I’d love a dollar-a-month-price drop. It would encourage me to stick around longer, which would turn into more money for the site or service provider in the long run. Everyone wins.

The only problem here is that I have no idea how to do this from a technical standpoint. I don’t know if it’s even possible if using something like PayPal. I’d love to hear ideas anyone listening to this might have about how to make it possible with WordPress, or if there are existing monthly payment sites or services that have this pricing scheme.

4. Podcasts with no intro

I’m definitely a fan of short podcast intros. I don’t like it when it takes 10 minutes to get through the music and introduction and all of that stuff. But you can also go too far in the other direction by providing no intro. I’m always on the lookout for more podcasts to listen to, so I try a handful of new ones every week. I listened to a couple this last week that had no intro. The hosts just started talking. It sounded like someone hit record in the middle of a conversation, and not in a good way. I had no idea who the hosts were or really what the podcasts were about. If you’re a podcaster, please just take at least 20 seconds to introduce yourself and whoever else you do the show with.

If you don’t do this, it’s really hard for newcomers like me to get into your show.

5. Tweet the good reviews

Here’s another Kindle tip. I was listening to the last episode, number 43, of the Self Publishing Podcast and one of the hosts mentioned in passing that he had tweeted a link to a great review of one of his books on Amazon. You know how on Amazon reviews there’s the main body of the review and then a bold subject or title of the review? Click on that subject and that’ll give you the permalink page for that individual comment, which you can then tweet.

I like this idea. It’s like tooting your own horn but someone else is doing the tooting! And you can, of course, do this for any review of any product online. It doesn’t have to be one on Amazon.

And by the way, the Self Publishing Podcast and the Digital Publishing Podcast are quite different in their content, despite the similarities in names. The Self Publishing Podcast is a discussion show by 3 fiction authors. And they swear a lot and talk about a variety of “inappropriate” stuff, but if that doesn’t turn you off, the show is entertaining and has some great information for writers.

6. Making your blog stand out

The DangerzI’ve talked before about how I’ve tried a couple times to start a travel blog but failed. But recently I’ve been reading a lot more travel blogs and the more I read, the more I want to start my own. And the plan is to start one in a month or two, so stay tuned for that. Whenever I read a post on a travel blog, I always look at the comments and click through to the blogs of the people that have commented, and I came across a blog the other day that actually stood out. That’s a difficult thing to do in the travel blogging space, since there are literally tens of thousands of travel blogs out there, if not more.

The blog is called The Dangerz (thedangerz.com). Go there and click on any of the blog posts and look at the images in the posts. They’re all more or less the same size, and they’re all skinny horizontally. Like they take a regular landscape-oriented photo and chop a bit off the top and the bottom. It’s not the kind of difference that will carry a blog that is otherwise insufferable, but it was enough to get me to look at more of their posts. And of the hundreds of travel blogs I’ve looked at, this is one that I remember, just because it’s doing one little thing differently, and that can be enough to draw people deeper into your blog.

7. Stats from The Magazine

I mentioned The Magazine back in episode 6 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. It’s a digital magazine started by Marco Arment, who is a well-known developer. It was launched as an iOS app at $1.99 a month, with 2 new issues going out every month. As of a few days ago, you can now subscribe and read online, too.

I read a great article about Arment the other day, and in the article, he reveals some numbers, which is something that most publishers don’t do. This is a quote from the NPR article and interview:

“Arment walked me through the numbers. He has 25,000 subscribers who pay $1.99 a month. Apple takes a 30 percent cut, leaving Arment about $35,000 a month.

This cost of putting out the magazine is a bit over $20,000 per month. It comes out every two weeks, and each issue costs about $10,000. Roughly $4,000 goes to writers. The rest goes mostly to copy editors, illustrators, photographers and editors.”

So that means that Arment is making $15,000 a month in profit. That’s freaking incredible.

These are not stats that we mere mortals could achieve. Arment has a big following from his blog at Marco.org and his now-defunct podcast called Build & Analyze. But still, he is just one guy. He’s not a media conglomerate. It’s a great example of where the future of independent digital publishing is headed and what is possible. But I mean, how awesome of a business is this? You start a magazine and just a few months later you’re making $15,000 a month from it and you have an editor to do a lot of the heavy lifting for you.

You know how for the past several years, one of the big “roadmaps” to online success is to blog for 4 or 5 or more years and then you might be able to make money from your blog? I can see app-based magazines like this taking over that spot. If you’re into mountain biking, start now on a monthly or bi-monthly iOS magazine instead of a blog. Will you make $15,000 in profit after a few months? No. But maybe you will after 4 or 5 years, or possible a lot sooner. And with so many blogs already out there and so few independent app-based magazines out there, now is the time to get on this train.

8. Using URL shorteners in ebooks

Ok, I couldn’t help myself, so here’s one more tip for Kindle authors, though it also applies to all ebook creators, too. You can have links in your ebooks that people can tap on to open up that link in the device’s browser. The problem is that while I have no problem reading on my Kindle or my iPhone, I really dislike browsing the web on those devices, and I try to avoid it. The first degree of solving this problem is to include the URL of a link in parenthesis right after the actual link. Then people can just type in the URL on their computers. The second degree of solving this problem is to use a URL shorterner for the URL so that people don’t have to type in a 50-character-long URL into their browser. Some URL shortener services, including bit.ly, the service I use, offer the ability customize the shortened URL, and this helps make it even easier for readers to go to the website you mention.

Here’s an example. One of my ebooks is all about the most useful extensions for Google Chrome. For each extension, I knew I wanted to include the extension’s URL in the Chrome store, but those are long and complicated URLs. I used bit.ly instead. So let’s say that I recommended an extension called Share Awesomely, which is a name I made up. It’s not a real extension. I’d customize the bit.ly shortened URL so that it would become something like bit.ly/shareawesomely. If someone reading my book wants to download an extension, they’d hop onto their computers and type in bit.ly/shareawesomely and the person would be redirected to the appropriate page in the Chrome web store.

I use this in all of my ebooks whenever I have a long URL, and I think it works great. Sure, it’s nice to see exactly what URL you’re going to before you go there, but as long as you describe what it is you’re linking to, I think this is a valuable way to help your readers.

Featured podcast and tool

And now it’s time for this episode’s featured podcast and featured tool for digital publishers. My pick for featured podcast is The Naked Scientists. It’s a weekly BBC radio show about news and other happenings in the world of science. They do interviews and answer listener questions, too. It’s a science show but is general-interest enough to appeal to a mass audience. I’m definitely not a sciency-type person in general but I still enjoy the show, though I admit that some of the small-scale microbiology and cellular-level stuff they occasionally talk about doesn’t do it for me. You can check out the podcast at TheNakedScientists.com to learn more.

My pick for this week’s tool for digital publishers is called Edit Pad, which you can find at editpad.org. It’s an online text editor, so it’s the online equivalent of Notepad in Windows or TextEdit on the Mac. There are no options or anything. You go to editpad.org and there’s a blank screen with a blinking cursor and a little Save button down at the bottom, and that’s it. I use this site multiple times daily. I spend an hour or so reading news and blogs every morning and usually get lots of ideas from what I read. I use Evernote to organize my notes, but it’s easier to just jot them all down in the Edit Pad site first and then put them into their appropriate Evernote notes once I’m done.

I also use Edit Pad whenever I’m copying and pasting text to strip any weird formatting out of it. Like if I want to copy a paragraph from a blog and paste it into Evernote, I paste it into Edit Pad, copy it again, and then paste it into Evernote. Editpad.org, check it out.

Final words

That’ll do it for episode 17 of the Digital Publishing Podcast. Be sure to check out digitalpublishingpodcast.com for show notes and links and transcriptions. You can also sign up there for a weekly newsletter where I send out a roundup of the best digital publishing-related articles that I’ve read over the previous week. Usually it’s about 4 or 5 articles—nothing too crazy or overwhelming.

Please don’t hesitate to email me any question you might have regarding digital publishing. I love talking about this stuff, and I’d love to help you out. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.digitalpublishingpodcast.com. That will redirect you to my Twitter account, since my name is a bit tricky to spell. And again and as always, I’d really appreciate it if you went into iTunes and rated and reviewed this podcast, and thanks for listening.