Over the past few months, I’ve been following some of the research on how people find and buy books (see here and here and here, if interested). All this research is interesting from the social science perspective, but it’s also relevant to my writing aspirations, especially now that one of my 2013 writing goals is self-publish the first in a series of stories.
So when a fellow writer me to a story on how shoppers find books on Amazon, I found the information informative, sobering, but not too surprising after I thought about it. At a recent digital media conference in London, a presentation was made examining the buying habitats of Amazon shoppers. The data, collected by the Codex Group (a think tank that conducts book and publishing research) and presented by Douglas McCabe of Enders Analysis, showed that 48% of all purchases on Amazon were made through directed searches. That means shoppers knew what they wanted, went directly to it online and bought it. In contrast only 3% of purchases were the result of browsing, 4% came via staff picks, 10% from Amazon’s “bought/also bought” feature, 12% from various promotions and deals, and 17% from Amazon’s lists (e.g., Bestsellers, Top 100). For the more visually inclined, here’s a nifty pie chart:
While 52% of books were found using non-directed searching, they were found through a variety of means, so there isn’t one be-all-end-all way that non-directed shoppers are finding books. Many self-published authors seem to focus on cracking Amazon’s various list’s, yet only 17% of book purchases are made from all those assorted lists (not a bad number considering total sales, but still a small percentage). This approach is certainly bound to help sell books, but seems to be missing the biggest piece of the pie: people who have already made up their minds what to buy before even logging into Amazon. Many readers searching for books online already know what they want, so books get lost among Amazon’s 32 million book offerings.
All this data indicates that for nearly half of all reader’s, their opinion of a book is formed outside of Amazon, perhaps though reviews, social media or word of mouth. So the key to unlocking sales through direct searches is getting word of your book out, and then funneling buyers back to online stores such as Amazon to find and buy it. But how exactly does an independent author do this?
According to the Codex Group data—which covered book buying habits back to 2004—in 2010, 35% of book purchases were made after browsing in brick-and-mortar bookstores, including purchases at Amazon. This approach was the primary method of book discovery. In 2012, that figure dropped to 17%, which may be the result of the struggles of brick-and-mortar booksellers (e.g., the Borders bankruptcy), but also the rise of e-readers. Over this time period, personal recommendations have grown more important, from 14% to 22%, most of which are made through personal contact, with the rest coming through email, phone, Facebook and other social media. Interestingly, Facebook and other social media only account for 7% of recommendations, although I suspect that will rise in the coming years. The road to success may very well be a combination of promotional giveaways and hand-selling your work to influential reviewers on sites like Goodreads and in book clubs.