January 22, 2003

Exclusive Interview with Amazon's eDocs Director: Should You Be Selling Through Them?

SUMMARY: Curtis Kopf, Amazon's eDocs & eBooks Director, asked that we pass a message to publishers saying you should consider selling through them. Whether you publish an email newsletter, how-to booklets, or research reports, there may be an opportunity for you. You will not get wildly rich, but a little ancillary income is not something to sneer at these days.
Curtis Kopf, Amazon's Director for eBooks and eDocs, is a cheerful but guarded guy to interview. We asked him all the questions we figured publishers would like to know, and here is what he told us:

-> eDocs vs. eBooks: What is the difference?

Amazon is positioning eBooks as electronic versions of traditional full-sized books. A book might sell in printed format, audiotape or eBook. The key is, it is a "book."

Buyers can only view eBooks using Microsoft's reader or Adobe's eBook reader. No PDF. Occasionally you can print an eBook but most publishers do not allow it.

On the other hand eDocs are electronic versions of content that's not a "book." Sometimes but not always it is shorter and/or more timely than a traditional book would be. The biggest difference is, you can almost always print out an eDoc and it is nearly always in PDF format. (A few eDocs from nervous publishers are in Adobe eBook format, which lowers sales potential but is more secure.)

Generally eDocs are things like novellas, long feature articles, how-to booklets, niche research papers, stuff that would not be normally published in "book" format.

Kopf admits like most in the publishing industry, he is not in love with these names, eBooks or eDocs. "I worry about terminology all the time. We try to be as clear as we can."

-> Sales

Although Kopf can not say how much Amazon is making from e-stuff, he was able to say, "eDoc and eBook sales are pretty much neck and neck. We are very happy with both businesses. It is fair to say they are similar in size and both continue to grow rapidly."

Top sales categories for eBooks tend to be science fiction and literature such as eBook versions of Stephen King novels.

Best-selling eDocs so far are "geared towards business, computers and Internet" and tend to be "below $15," but Kopf wants to push the topical envelope hard if not the price range. "We want the widest selection possible." He is especially interested in carrying eDocs in:
- consumer non-fiction how-to such as "woodworking"
- consumer inspirational such as self-help
- consumer health info
- possibly some high quality fiction

The standard eDocs deal is 55/45 split in favor of Amazon. (If you are an Amazon affiliate you get another 7% on the buyers you send them.) It can take one to three weeks to launch your docs on the site from the day you hand over the files and promo copy, and your checks will start arriving based on end-of-month sales 90-days later.

Kopf says, "Someone on our team can help set your revenue expectations based on your content." However, be aware, "it's incremental sales." Nobody is getting rich from Amazon eDoc sales alone, yet.

-> Improving your sales

EDocs (and eBooks) with "cover art" sell significantly better than those with no visual. Do not just squish your full-size PDF cover to fit Amazon's thumbnail size though; make sure your title is easy to read even in the tiny format.

Also, it seems obvious to us but looking over many of the eDocs now online it is obviously not, give Amazon some solid copywriting they can pop up. Tables of contents, detailed descriptions, reviews, why someone should buy your eDoc, benefits, who should buy, awards won, who you are, etc.

Then ask your happy buyers to go stick testimonials on the site. Every book author we know gets their friends to write stuff, why not do this for eDocs? You need starred reviews. No reviewers do not need to have bought the eDoc at Amazon, people who bought from you directly can still go put reviews there.

As your title sells, Amazon's personalized shopping tech will begin to automatically promote it for you to similar buyers. Obviously the more buyers you get, the more prominence you get.

If you have a hot title, consider investing in Amazon's merchandising program. Options include email campaigns and better placement on the site. Prices start in the "low thousands" so it better be a very hot title indeed.

-> Our analysis: Is this worth it to you?

If you have a low-cost PDF in your stock with a fairly popular topic, then it is worth trying out. A quick PDF of repurposed best-of past newsletter or site articles with a catchy title might work too.

Give it your best shot though, do not just stick a title up with a tiny description and expect sales to pour in. Dedicate a bit of time to copywriting, getting some shopper reviews, etc. See how it works, and then decide whether or not to launch more eDocs.

If you are a high-priced publisher, either sell a slice of your product, or resign yourself to very, very, very few eDocs sales.

For more info and to get started in the eDocs program, publishers should contact edocs@amazon.com

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