Pet Peeves: eBooks only available in one format and one place

Ranting & raving is something I do periodically on this blog. Look for the “rants and raves” category for past rants and raves.

It is currently my review policy not to accept self-published books for review, but if I’m interested enough, I will go buy a self-published book.

What’s driving me crazy is I’m noticing that sometimes an eBook is only available in one place, in one format. Usually this one place is Amazon, and in their .azw format, which is incompatible with oh, most of the other eReaders on the market. Now, I don’t know anything about how difficult it is to sell your book elsewhere and provide different formats, but as a customer, I really don’t care. That’s a lost sale. I’m NOT going to buy a Kindle if I already have an eReader that isn’t a Kindle. And I’m not going to read the book on my computer or phone or some other device because I have an eReader to read my eBooks on! It doesn’t make sense to me to download something and then NOT read it on my eReader, so I won’t do it. I’m not going to go trying to convert an .azw file into what I want – I heard Calibre could do it but stripping the DRM is illegal, so there’s that pickle.

Limiting a customer’s choice of format and expecting a customer to jump through hoops in order to read a book is wildly optimistic, given all the other books I could be reading. It’s even more optimistic when you are a completely new-to-me author, and thus a risk in the first place.

Please, please, if you are self-publishing an eBook, make sure that you reach more readers by making it available in different formats! And while you’re at it, if you’re offering your book for free or discounted on Amazon, consider making the same offer for the other formats too, because that’s another rant.

44 thoughts on “Pet Peeves: eBooks only available in one format and one place

  1. I have a Kindle so I haven’t experienced this problem but I do get that it’s annoying. I wish ereaders would just use the same file format instead of having different ones for each device.

    • Sigh. Yes, I would be happy if there was just one industry standard or if eReaders would support other formats. In the end, the readers lose out. I feel like everything is so biased towards Amazon that it’s like it’s forcing me to get a Kindle, but I’m really stubborn so it just makes me infuriated instead. I would love to support certain authors, but they don’t make it easy if they just put their eBook up on Amazon and alienate me the non-Kindle owner.

  2. I have a Sony, so I totally understand the frustration! I am learning a bit about publishing, and while Amazon is great for the
    Many innovations they make- just like any company- they are most concerned with their bottom line. So, authors are faced with a big decision. It seems sort of like bullying, doesn’t it? We will offer you higher royalties if you only sell with us!! Lol I don’t know for sure, but I think amazon is the only one that allows authors to list books as free. Sorry to ramble, but just giving you the point of view of a writer- amazon is the snake with the tempting fruit… 😉

    • Yup. I understand what you are saying. Amazon is being competitive and this is what they do to have exclusives. But as a customer, yeah, it sucks. I think the assumption that “everyone” can buy an eBook through Amazon is false and it’s not just a few sales the authors are losing by selling their stories exclusively through one avenue.

      • Depending on the author, you CAN buy the book in Amazon’s format and convert it. (I am not suggesting you do it, but for some of us, we load the book so that it’s convertable.) It’s a pain in the rear to convert, even if it is possible. For me it was just easier to sell it at different outlets. :>)

        • I had thought about this but I am scared of doing anything illegal, and I’m also afraid I won’t know whether or not I can convert it unless I’ve already bought it – may end up being money spent on a book I can’t even read unless I read it on my computer. All that you are saying here makes me REALLY appreciate the authors that DO sell their book to different outlets. They rock, seriously.

          • If you tell me the name of the book, I might be able to tell (maybe. It’s harder to tell these days). You would be better off trying it with a freebie because the conversion process involves downloading a free app (Calibre) and it’s not all that intiutive. So far as I know, if you purchase the book (or get it for free from a legal source) is it NOT illegal to convert it. I might also know if the author ever has had it on B&N, but tha’ts a longer shot…

  3. It’s not that it’s a lot of trouble to make it available elsewhere in other formats, it’s that Amazon provides incentives for authors to NOT make it available elsewhere. For those exclusive to Amazon, the book is available for Prime Members to “Borrow” rather than “Buy” — but the author still gets paid. There’s more visibility for those in the exclusive program too.

    Sure, the author may sacrifice a few sales elsewhere, but Amazon does try to make it worth an author’s while. And a lot of backlist authors (authors with the ebook rights to their older inventory) are going exclusive too.

    I think it’s a shame, but right now the incentives are there for authors to do it.

  4. P.S. — if the author has an exclusive with Amazon (and many, many do) they CANNOT by contract offer it ANYWHERE else for free or otherwise. That is why you see so many more freebies for Amazon/Kindle. It’s part of the exclusive deal. Amazon provides more visibility and some placement on their site. The author agrees to go exclusively (with ebook) with Amazon.

    My books were selling a LOT better before the exclusive program started. Now that there are so many in the program, it seems they get the ‘placement” in the hebought/shebought and other mentions. Less mentions mean less sales.

    The agreement runs in 90 day segments so an author can pull it and do a few days elsewhere or a few months and then put it back in the program. So you’ll see some authors who appear *sometimes* on B&N and other venues. The books then disappear for 90 days when they go exclusive.

    • I strongly suspected Amazon had incentives for writers to exclusively sell their book through them. The 90 day thing makes me feel hopeful that the books I was wanting to read would show up later, but in 90 days I may have forgotten I wanted the book.

      I think authors need to consider if they are alienating non-Kindle owning customers when Amazon waves a shiny incentive in front of them.

      • Authors do consider it, which is why you’ll see a book temporarily on B&N and other outlets. The problem? I know authors who sell 40x the number by being exclusive. (My sale are down by 10x because I’m NOT exclusive.) I do have some loyal fans on B&N however, so I’m trying to avoid exclusivity. But believe me when I say it’s tempting.

          • It really is hard. Initially, Amazon wouldn’t even allow those in the program to send out REVIEW copies! They’ve backed off that stance from what I hear, but it really puts us in a difficult position. Amazon sells more books (especially ebooks) than any other outlet, hands down. BY hundreds or even thousands for some authors. I know of an author who was selling 10 copies per month–she went exlusive and now regularly sells 400 plus per month. Her books get seen. The freebies provide the visibility and then they stay very visible for two or three weeks after that. She gets reviews from the freebies too, which, again, ups visibility!

            • Thanks so much, Maria. This information is very valuable to me. Someday I’d like to self publish, but man, this is a super tough call! I will have to read more on it. 🙂

              • And the rules will change by then! It’s been a landscape FULL of shifts. I don’t regret it, not one bit. I LOVE the freedom and opportunity. But the exclusivity thing has been a pretty big headache and it’s kind of hard watching my sales drop. The best news is that you can do exclusive with EACH book or None. You can TRY the program for 90 days and pull the book out. Right now most authors are opting to stay in because it means such a difference in sales.

              • Feel free to ask questions at any time. More than happy to help. You can always find me at my blog or PM me at twitter. I know I follow you. I think you follow me. But you can always find me via the blog.

  5. Sorry–that wasn’t clear. My books aren’t in the exclusive program (two short stories only). Thus my sales have taken a hit because they aren’t exclusive to Amazon!

      • Well, it’s more complex, but essentially yes. As authors do the freebies (I can’t go free since my books aren’t in the program) it ups their “popularity” ranks and changes the hebought/shebought to give a wider range of books seen in that bar. When they go off free, they are back to a lower sales rating HOWEVER the book still gets seen in the bottom bars and temporily in the “Best selling” lists. That means eyeballs.

        I know this because my cozy series AND my Urban Fantasy used to be in the “Kindle bestseller mystery” or whatever lists. As soon as the exclusive program started it has become impossible for me to get in the list. I’ve just lowered the price of Executlve Lunch to 99 cents to see if that might get it in one of the lists or improve how often it shows up on that various pages.

        Several authors in the exclusive program have also been picked up to be in Amazon’s 3.99 or less books that get advertised for a month-long period. Those books get lots of attention–and sales. Amazon doesn’t tell us HOW those books are chosen, but I know of 3 authors who have made the list.

        While it has hurt my sales, I keep reminding myself that I wouldn’t have books for sale at all if not for Amazon and other programs like it. I’m kind of hoping (praying?) that Amazon changes the program back or changes it for the better this year. They make changes all the time, so you never know!!

        • I hope so too, but it looks like this is really working for Amazon. I’m now thinking – “hmm, Self, buy stock in Amazon, then you will be less mad at them for their shark-like business practices.”

  6. Re Maria’s posts – *nodding so much*. She has it covered! Hope I can share my own story too:

    My experience with enrolling 1 book to Amazon’s KDP Select (Interim Goddess of Love) was great, by the way. More visibility, and it affected my other books not on Select too. Since I’m from the Philippines and a big chunk of my audience finds it difficult to buy from Amazon, going exclusive was a risk I had to take, just to see what would happen.

    So while that one book got super popular (over a thousand downloads on the day it was free), during the same period I noticed that my *other* books, the ones on BN for the Nook, started doing *really* well. To the point that I realized I couldn’t write off ANY retailer. So I’ve decided to take my one book off Select once the 90 day period ends, and that’s going to be next week.

    Thank you, by the way, for reviewing my books. As an indie author/publisher, It helps to know that the effort I put into making sure the books are available everywhere is worth it. Because sometimes, when the numbers come in, and there’s not a sale or a review or a mention from the reader base of that retailer, it becomes tempting not to do the extra work of putting the next book there. (If you’re lazy or too busy, which I admit happens to me on occasion.)

    But again, I must say — the fabulous response from Nook owners in 2012, for me at least, just showed me that it’s all worth it, and my books *should* be everywhere!

    • Mina, you echo what others have told me. I tried to get the same bang out of doing two short stories exclusively, but short stories aren’t popular enough to make much of a dent. Snitched, Snatched comes off its exclusive period April 29 and I won’t renew. But I’m hearing SO many authors say, ‘Put your first book in the series exclusive.” And to be honest, economics may force me to. I have no way to make up the lost sales from last year. I’m trying the 99 cent sale idea to see if it helps (it will take a while for that price to appear at all retailers. I don’t controll how fast the price changes in all venues.) I’m also considering selling on my own website to make it easier for people in other countries and for people with various readers (although if I have to go exclusive, I can’t sell on my own website either!) Thanks for chiming in. Always nice to hear other experiences!

  7. It’s about sales (and also Amazon’s exclusive program). Millionaire author Amanda Hocking broke down her sales to something like 59% Amazon Kindle, 39% B&N Nook, with all the other formats making up about 2% of sales. With such an insignificant amount of sales requiring manuscript conversion into a plethora of formats, why should an author bother?

    That said, as soon as my 90 day exclusive is done with, I’ll be supplying B&N as well as Amazon. The idealist in me would like to see a single format for eBooks and a clearinghouse to manage sales, thus keeping independent book sellers in the game. Unfortunately, the realist behaves otherwise.

    My graphics how-to handbook is free through this weekend and my novella will be free on April 28 and 29: [link removed by blog author]

    • IMO, an author should bother because the more rights we grant Amazon, the more control they have–and what is to stop them from lowering our comissions once they have everyone in the habit of exclusivity? Or making it 1 year exclusivity? Or not paying the same commission to us UNLESS we agree to go exclusive? In which case we are only helping them gain huge market share, while not gaining an audience with other readers/ebooks (which we may need desperately someday because if Amazon suddenly says, “We’re only paying 35 percent commission” we’re suddenly going to wish we had cultivated a larger audience at other retailers. In the short run it is looking WONDERFUL for authors in the program and I hope it turns out that it doesn’t bite all of us down the line, but I have my worries.

    • Mm, I understand about not wanting to bother about 2%, but 39% with the nook is nothing to sneeze at. Yup, I think we all have idealists in us who want to see things a little differently than they currently are in this situation!

  8. I hear ya. I do have a Kindle, so I luckily don’t run into this issue, but I’m still aware of its existence and get pretty fired up about it. I HATE when people/companies limit comparability in order to corner the market, or force their customers only to be their customers. This is a reason I don’t particularly love companies like Sony (who have tried and failed to do this many times before finally succeeding with Blue Ray) and Apple. If I am debating between products, I will choose the one with cross-compatibility capabilities 100% of the time over one that can only work with certain products.

    • Do not get me started with Apple! Yes, it’s so popular and people love it, but eh. Really expensive toys. That said, I owned Apple stock at one point and was quite ok with the price going up.

  9. So first off, I have a Kindle. But I had a Sony Reader and remember the pain. The .azw format is the same as .mobi/.prc, by the way – if the author has loaded it DRM-free, you can just change the extension and run the file through a conversion programme (i.e. Calibre) to get the .epub version (I think someone has already said this though). If there is DRM, it becomes a bit more of a grey area, but it is still possible.

    I’m not surprised authors are giving Amazon exclusives though, based on the sale numbers and name exposure – I remember an author on the Mobileread forums saying pretty similar things.

    • Nice to know the tip about .azw and .mobi/.prc. Yeah the DRM bit worries me. Anyway, I haven’t found a book yet that I wanted to read so badly that I would either buy a Kindle or deal with the conversion and DRM issue, so I basically just have to move on if the book is only available from Amazon at this point. Maybe one day I’ll get a Kindle, but it would have to be through some deal, because I just can’t mentally justify getting another eReader right now.

      Yup, I’m thinking Amazon is making its shareholders very happy.

  10. The big draw of the 90-day exclusive Kindle program (Kindle select) is that the author can make the book free in the Kindle store. That is a big deal! Smashwords is a wonderful platform for self-publishing because it offers the opposite of exclusivity; your book is available in pretty much every format and you can push it out to Barnes & Nobles, Sony, iBooks, and other ebookstores. It also allows authors to make any book free for as long as they want, which will also make it free in those other bookstores, except possibly Barnes & Noble (not sure about them; please reply of you know). iBooks in particular sells in the English-speaking world (Canada, Australia, the UK) not just the US. This is great, but none of those places can get you the kind of numbers that can come from a book being free in the Kindle store. I have 3 science fiction novels out on all those platforms right now, but I am debating what do do for my next novel and a fantasy novella, both coming out in May. I am leaning toward putting the novella in the Kindle Select program as a test. I certainly won’t leave the book in KS longer than I have to, but I do want to try the experiment.

    • As a reader, I’m more in favor of Smashwords because I’m more likely to be able to get the book, but I’m beginning to see how the promise of high rankings and incentives from Amazon if your book is offered for free there can look good to an author.

  11. I agree, although I do have a kindle. 🙂 This will come up more now since Amazon has introduced select. Authors who want to distribute through select must agree to a limited period of exclusive distribution through Amazon blocking off all customers with other ereaders.

    • Nod. That Amazon and the way it edges out the competition… it’s admirable in a way. I just don’t think I want to encourage it by giving in and buying a Kindle. I’m going to be a hold out for a while longer.

  12. Sing it! I don’t own anything mobile (phone, tablet) that can run kindle (or any other vendor)’s app. So making a book available only on amazon means I won’t be reading it. Yeah, kindle for pc was already installed on my laptop when I bought it, but like you I own an EREADER, the device I read ebooks on.

    90 days is a long wait. Authors who choose this route should state upfront why it’s only available in one place, their plan for other formats/stores at the same time. For most authors, I’ve already moved on in three months.

    • Thank you, that’s exactly how I feel as a reader. Now that I’ve posted my rant, I understand where self-pubbed writers are coming from a little more, but I still feel like my original issue with what’s going on is a valid one — although I now doubt readers are going to get a break here if they aren’t Amazon Kindle owners.

  13. I also understand that if you buy an e-book in kindle form say, and it breaks and then you buy a nook… that you would have to repurchase the ebook. Smashwords also offers all ten formats for one price.

    • Yup. If you have downloaded books in Kindle format the easiest thing to do is to continue buying Kindles if your ereader breaks. Otherwise you’re going to deal with converting your files to be compatible with your new ereader and if DRM is involved, things can get trickier.

    • Smashwords does offer all ten formats but once you buy it in one format thats the one you have to keep, i think if you then wanted a different format you would have to buy it again – at least that used to be the case.

  14. From reading a few authors blogs i know some people have had problems loading to smashwords in the past – i always assumed the reason most self-pub books were on Amazon was becuase Amazon made it very easy to put them there. I think all e-books should be DRM free and would consider stripping them if i ever changed my kindle but as i live in the UK Amazon is the quickest and easiest option for purchasing ebooks, i would prefer not to buy every book i read from them but right now the ease of purchase is too tempting.

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