Episode 165 – Charts Backlash, Mobile Reading, and Amazon Ads Experiments (with Amy Teegan)

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Question of the Week: When it comes to subscription services, would you rather have unlimited content per month, or limited access?

Amy Teegan joined Jim this week as Bryan relaxed in a lake. After thanking their patrons A Band Director’s Guide to Everything Tuba, Gone, and The Cordova Vector, Amy and Jim discussed cultivating ideal readers, relaxation, and experimenting with Amazon Ads. News stories included a new mobile fiction app, Scribd’s changes to its service, Amazon Books backlash, Amazon Charts backlash, and Joanna Penn’s annual ebooks revenue review. This week’s Question of the Week: When it comes to subscription services, would you rather have unlimited content per month, or limited access?
What You’ll Learn:
  • How authors can use the right kind of rest to refuel their creative juices
  • Why some authors are putting obstacles between readers and their books
  • How authors can optimize their Amazon ads for both fiction and nonfiction
  • What features a new serialized reading app has to offer
  • What new content Scribd has added to its subscription service
  • Where the newest Amazon Books opened and how publications and professionals reacted
  • Why Publishers Weekly questions the placement of Amazon imprint books on its Charts
  • What one author’s annual revenue review says about the state of the indie market
Question of the Week: When it comes to subscription services, would you rather have unlimited content per month, or limited access?

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  • Benjamin Douglas

    Great episode, even without your resident RompHim model.

    RE: Scribd v. KU (curated quality v. unlimited quantity?):
    I don’t know anyone paying for HBOgo who doesn’t also have a Hulu and/or Netflix subscription, for comparison. I think the notion of curation may very well attract a certain type of reader, as Amy suggests, but I suspect that certain type of reader is the sort who has no qualms or problems with buying multiple subscriptions. So instead of Scribd pulling subscription readers out of KU, there will likely just be a certain market of readers who double up. My logic is a bit classist, but based on observation. My personal preference? I’d like to have both! So there you go.

    Am I actually way too much of a cheapskate to subscribe to either? YES. One wonders if any reader sub services will move into the Netflix/Hulu model of being able to share your account with a limited number of people (so it’s a household sub).

    RE: Amazon Bookstores:
    A few weeks ago Bryan described the Chicago neighborhood where Amazon has their store, and it made a lot of sense in that context. I also appreciate Jim’s logic that the stores will serve as a subscription-and-device selling front. But I have to say I’m 100% Team Amy on the old, smelly, used book stores for physical books. If I found the Tuba book I NEEDED in the Amazon bookstore, and I found out at checkout that is was going to cost $29.95, I’d leave it there and go snoop around on Ebay. And if I want to own a piece of fiction as a physical book–not just to read on my Kindle–then I want the experience of wandering through narrow aisles over a hardwood floor and standing on tiptoes to dig behind the stacks and get that old Tor paperback.

    • Bryan

      Great points, Benjamin. Thanks for posting :).

  • TheCreativePenn

    Thanks for the shout out 🙂 and Amy, I’m glad you know what you want in terms of your author business. I don’t want employees or a massive company either!

    (1) I did indeed stop doing translations – the books weren’t selling well enough – but then we’d tell anyone to always do more than one book in a series and I had first book in a series in 5 different languages. It’s also hard to market in multiple languages. I do have non-fiction in French now, as the translator has a platform – but am aiming to license fiction – it’s just too hard to market and the digital market isn’t that big right now in non-English languages. The indie authors doing well with translation are doing multiple books in specific languages – and focusing on more mature ebook markets like Germany.

    (2) my print sales are indeed primarily non-fiction – as are my audio sales. I am doubling down on print and audio for non-fiction

    (3) direct sales are all non-fiction through TheCreativePenn.com as it gets traffic – I don’t bother with JFPenn as there’s not enough traffic to warrant it.

    • TheCreativePenn

      also, I am going to that NYC amazon bookstore in July – I reckon they will start opening them in the UK soon 🙂

      • TheCreativePenn

        and on the US market share thing, I have always focused on selling more to the US because it’s the biggest market. I schedule social media in the US time zone for this reason – and most of my traffic and podcast listeners are in the US. Love you guys 🙂
        Most people are surprised to find I’m actually British!

        • Bryan

          Love ya too! Getting to the comments slowly this week :). Happy to pick you as the #1 story of the week.

    • Crissy Moss

      I actually LOVE listening to audio books for non-fiction more than reading them most of the time. It’s easier to get the points, and I can set it to play back faster than I can read. It works well for commuting.

  • I think the SPP fine-tuning of their email funnels is only needed because they wrote so many genres and have all readers on one list. I don’t think Sean and Dave would have the same issue, since their Collective Inkwell books are in the same genre and all appeal to the same audience.

    Similarly, if a sci-fi author suddenly writes a book on writing, his sci-fi reader list probably doesn’t care much. Some might buy to be nice, which can put sci-fi in the also-boughts of a writing book. Others will click over and then NOT buy, which [some think] tells amazon that the book is getting a high bounce rate, so the [some think] give it less screen time.

    • Simon Goodson

      I think they also have the issue that so many of us who listen to them are interested in what they do that we click through then either don’t buy or mess up the also-boughts with the wrong categories. Having a landing page reduces that.

    • Bryan

      Good points, Roland.

  • I would go to an Amazon bookstore. Maybe I’d end up buying the kindle version, still, but I do like to browse. In airports, I always look around in the bookstore, and often buy a book. I rarely read non-fiction on a device, since they type I read have charts and graphs. Flip between a ‘figure 12b’ and the text a few times and you’ll get it.

    There’s one Amazon store sort of near me. It’s in the university village in La Jolla (pronounced Luh Hoya, Jim). As much as we like to think young people like ebooks, they don’t yet. They also want to buy what is clearly popular or good, and they want a physical place to see the evidence. A bookstore with an actual person does the trick.

    I think these stores are an experiment. A bookstore is a low barrier, low cost to them, brings attention to books and Amazon, and gives them a place to test out retail before they go full Best Buy on the world. It’s also an in-your-face, stealthy way to get offline buyers to be comfortable with quasi-online purchasing.

    Baby steps to world domination.

    • Bryan


  • “Amazon’s Grip On The Book World Could Silence The Stories That Matter”

    To be honest, the fiction I read doesn’t matter much. It’s not important or particularly introspective or deep. The stuff I write is fun (I hope) and hopefully popular at some point.

    I plan to see what the store has in stock as far as the big indie names I know, but I doubt these stores will make or break MY books. Books ‘that matter’ are only in the big stores because of huge publisher deals with the stores. Put or pay for a big stack of books near the door and people think they matter. They buy The Goldfinch and never read it. They do leave it on the coffee table for people to see. Then those people buy their own copy, and the coffee table process repeats.

    I don’t have a problem with books that matter, and ebooks probably give them a better chance at being cost effective, too. It’s just the publishers haven’t give up hope yet.

  • I am not a lover of subscription services. I don’t read fast enough, and even sharing Netflix between 3 people we are hard pressed to get our money’s worth.

    I’m also in the let’s find the nearest used book store camp. I’ll download new books I want. It’s the older gems I’ve missed over the years that I’m looking for in a bookstore.

    • Bryan

      Great points, Edwin. Subscriptions aren’t for everyone.

  • Laura Martone

    I’m definitely a fan of subscription services – and for the most part, Daniel and I have gotten our money’s worth out of Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, and Kindle Unlimited. That said, I’m all for having access to as much content as possible, which allows me to curate my own TV shows, movies, and books. In fact, my biggest complaint about the subscription services I mentioned is that I wish I had unlimited access to even more content. Frankly, the idea of paying for limited access to so-called “curated” content rankles me. After all, who are the almighty taste-makers curating said content? How can I possibly trust that their tastes are better than mine? In the end, it smacks of gate-keeping, which is why many of us “indies” have avoided, turned our back on, or limited our exposure to traditional publishing – and the dreaded mahogany desk syndrome.

    • Bryan


  • Scribd doesn’t curate at all, as far as I’ve ever seen, beyond no erotica and no short books.

    They were completely unlimited, same as KU, but were losing so much money they dumped most romance books (readers were too voracious), then dropped graphic novels and comics (they claimed due to low demand). Now it seems like they finally did the fix they needed to do in the first place and limited how much you could read per month to enable them to pay the rates they were offering: namely full royalties on every read as long as the reader read some percentage of your book.

    But curate? Nope, not even. Its still a mix of legit authors publishing to them and a huge glut of “user uploaded” content that consists of public domain books, fanfiction, illegal scanslations, and even with all the deals it has with publishers and distribution platforms, bootleg books. It took me less than five minutes to find a dozen copyright violating works. Anyone can publish anything to their site and they do not filter it at all. If an author wants to avoid their book being illegal uploaded, Scribd’s attitude seems to primarily be “well you should just publish it with us then our ‘filters’ can catch it”, or use their BookID system (which requires you to be a Scribd user to even use!)

    They swear they are doing better, but to me, their system is ripe for abuse and they seem disinclined to really address it.

    All that to say, Scribd’s limitations came more from them losing money hand over foot by paying full royalty rates per reads versus any attempt at content curation.

    • Bryan

      Good points, Anma.

  • Simon Goodson

    I don’t like the idea of curation = meaning they reduce the content available at all, I want to choose for myself and part of that is having unlimited access. Having the Amazon prime / Netflix style groupings of similar items is good though.

    That said – having unlimited definitely reduces the perceived value. There’s no scarcity mindset then.

    • Bryan

      “Having unlimited definitely reduces the perceived value.” This. Also, this is what could potentially limit KU payments in the future.

  • Blaine Moore

    I like KU as a reader. There are a lot of children’s books available in it so I can sample a large variety of books for the days we agree to do kindle stories with the kids, and it’s convenient to be able to choose an interesting book and just have it available without considering if I actually want to spend the cover price on it. We took advantage of one of the deals Amazon offered on it to pay up front which made it a much lower rate than normal and once that expires will have to decide if we want to continue or not.

    • Bryan

      Good to know on the many kids books. Thanks!

  • Daniel Martone

    This seems like a no brainer. Unlimited Subscription, all the way. I don’t believe there are any curated, limited subscription services out there. Curated means they are choosy. Scribd lets anyone in (except erotica). Let’s see… readers pay the same monthly price as KU. Less titles (by far, remember KU is the world’s 2nd largest book retailer) are available. And now, only 4 books a month? Again, no brainer.

    • Bryan

      As I often say from Rocket’s perspective, “I want it all, and I want it MEOW!”

  • Crissy Moss

    I think it makes more sense to have a limited access pass for the business. With Amazon they can do it as a lose leader since they sell everything under the sun. For other businesses trying to compete either they have to have a lot of money to lose, or they need to make it a curated list that has something better to offer.

    I don’t read enough to make any subscription plan worth it, but if I did I think I would like a curated list since there are fewer things to choose from and I wouldn’t be as over whelmed.

    • Bryan

      Too much choice is definitely tough sometimes. Good points, Crissy.

  • Anmarie

    I didn’t need the question re-worded. Immediately a limited membership appealed bc it seemed to have value in itself bc of the scarcity thing, whereas unlimited has the feel of valueless stuff. But then what do I know, as Amazon offers unlimited. I am not a premium member though. I would however shop at their bookstore, and agree with Jim on that one!