Interview with Aaron Shepard

Aiming at Amazon is the definitive guide to an Amazon centric approach to publishing. Could you describe the business model in a nutshell and explain how many publishers will see a higher net profit with your approach, as opposed following the traditional model of targetting all bookstores.

Regardless of the quality of your book, it's extremely difficult for a self publisher to sell to bookstores, and it always has been. But now, luckily, you don't need to do that at all for your book to succeed. Amazon has enough market share that you can sell a good number of copies, year in and year out, without ever approaching a bookstore at all. "Aiming at Amazon" provides marketing strategies tailored to Amazon that can help make that happen.

At the same time, you can now get your book sold on Amazon automatically through any number of print-on-demand services that also dramatically lower your entry cost. What's more, a more ambitious and skilled self publisher can go to the behind-the-scenes supplier of most of those services, Lightning Source. With the control this gives you over cost, price, and discount, you can literally double your profit per copy, in regard to what you'd make through either most other POD services or traditional self publishing. I discuss this in "Aiming at Amazon," and I'll expand on it in a later volume, "POD for Profit."

What contingency plans do you recommend publishers following your model put in place against the possibility of Amazon changing their relationship with Lightning Source and Ingram, or dictating new terms that significantly alter the economics.

Despite Amazon's campaign to move larger publishers from Lightning Source to BookSurge, it has signaled pretty clearly that self publishers are beneath its notice. The smallest publisher I've heard of Amazon pestering has about 150 books! So, I highly doubt we'll have to worry about it.

If I'm wrong, and if Amazon does come after the small fry, I believe there will still be holes in the net big enough to swim through. (And yes, I'm running some experiments to establish that.) If not, we can always sign up our books with CreateSpace. For a Lightning Source publisher at short discount, that would cut profits by about a third -- a big chunk, but leaving enough, I think, to make our publishing efforts worthwhile. And the transition wouldn't be at all difficult or expensive. (Yes, I've experimented with that too.)

You started out in publishing as a children's book author, and continue to write children's books for both the trades and your own imprint. Do you forsee the day that a full color children's book will become a bestseller soley based on the Amazon/POD platform, and if so, what needs to happen before this can become reality?

I don't think that's possible. Children's picture books sell mostly as gifts to customers who browse through them in bookstores. The only picture books from any publisher that sell well online are those that have established their success offline. My own self publishing of picture books is strictly a hobby, not for profit. (Though I'm now exploring what that can open up in terms of foreign rights sales.)

You were an early adopter of e-Docs on Amazon, an early form of ebook delivery, but you've switched over to using free ebook downloads primarily as promotions for your print books. Do you have any plans to retest the ebook selling waters, especially with the apparent rise of iPhone as a reader? (something I remember telling you would never happen in the US:-)

For the books I make most of my money on -- how-to and professional resource books with no urgency attached -- there would really be no sense in that, because people will buy the information in whatever format I make it available. And it doesn't make much more sense for fiction, because now that ebooks are becoming more popular, the big publishers are moving quickly to dominate that space, just as they dominate it in print. So, self-published fiction will be just as hard to sell profitably in ebooks as anywhere else.

But ebooks do provide an opportunity to _promote_ fiction to help start a career, because they make it possible to give away your book at almost no cost to yourself. For instance, last year I published my wife's second novel, "Pacific Avenue," in paperback. This year, to promote it, I've just uploaded it for the Kindle, to sell at the price of a penny. (You're apparently allowed to do that when you go through Mobipocket.) Giving away a whole novel is something a big publisher couldn't even think of doing, so this is a tremendous advantage.

The one opening that I personally see for making money directly from ebooks is, ironically, in children's picture books. Not anytime soon on the Kindle or the Sony Reader, because of the lack of color, but on the iPhone. But I won't say any more about those ideas, because I'd like to get there first!

By the way, e-Docs are still there, and in fact have just been given a bit of a revival by Amazon. Being in non-DRM PDF, and giving 50% of list price to the publisher, they're still the best ebook option that Amazon offers, if you can handle the XML data submission. But my main interest in them was in allowing me to do books shorter than Lightning Source's 48-page minimum. Now I have alternate suppliers that let me go down to 24 pages, including CreateSpace. So, I no longer see a personal need for e-Docs.

Aaron Shepard is an author, publisher, and creator of His website is


Charlie said...

Regarding your previous entry about sticking to the essentials, Aaron has admirably simple blog layouts.

Why don't blogs and internet software packages offer this elegant simplicity right out of the box?

Morris Rosenthal said...


The basic white Blogger template isn't bad, I just didn't use it for this one and I'm afraid of unintended consequences if I change, seeing that I have ove 400 posts in the archive.

I use it for my ranty financial blog


Aaron Shepard said...

Actually, I don't use blog software at all. All pages on my Web sites are created with a text editor.