What do 99 cent romance novels and marketing strategies have in common? On Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, it’s more than you might think, and it all ties back to profit.
Nestled between the ebook pages of books with titles like Her Cocky Firefighters and Playboy Ever After lies sinister SEO scheming, ghostwriting, and ethically questionable marketing campaigns, all in the name of profit. Is it acceptable to game the Kindle Unlimited system, which pays authors per number of pages read, to get more money? This microcosm of the publishing industry is a cutthroat example of what it looks like when profits cloud your view of everything else.
The outside world first came to know about the trials of the self-published romance genre through a controversial trademark battle within the genre. Author Faleena Hopkins, a self-published Amazon Kindle Unlimited author, applied for a trademark of the word “cocky”- specifically in the romance genre. Controversy followed as well as the twitter tag #cockygate, and the ugly underworld of self-published romance began to come to light.
The Need to Know Info
Between selling novellas to each other for a few hundred bucks a pop, to offering up mailing lists with “8,000+ organic subscribers”, the self-published genre is rife with profit-driven tactics that are changing the foundations of the industry. A prime example and one of the most common practices, “book stuffing,” changes the very essence of why readers pick up a book in the first place: the content.
Changing content that readers don’t agree with is only the first problem since “book stuffing” is essentially gaming the system. Kindle Unlimited is a program where readers pay a flat rate of $9.99 a month to read whatever they want. Authors are paid depending on the farthest page read, but Amazon’s method of measuring that is still relatively elementary. Because some authors know they can get away with it – they resort to “book stuffing.” This is where you’ll find ebooks full of odd structures, excessive text, large fonts, multiple editions and “bonus content” at the end; all created for the sole purpose of making readers skip to the last page of the book – tricking the Amazon algorithm into thinking more pages were read – and therefore paying the author more.
While quick gains help your margins in the short-term, rescinding ethics in favor of profitability is never a good brand strategy. Tricking your customer into a purchase will always backfire in the long-term. Forbes analyzed what happens when “companies behave badly” and concluded, “When you try to fool customers, you usually fail. You waste resources on actions that alienate people, you miss opportunities to do something meaningful and compelling, and you breed distrust.”
The Problem with Losing Sight of the Customer
Authenticity might seem like an oxymoron when talking about a genre built on fantasy, but when these authors underestimate the power of their personal brand and the impact they have on their readers, they’re making a huge mistake. Lose sight of the customer and disaster occurs, period.
Take our author, Faleena Hopkins. Upon realizing she wasn’t the only one in the genre writing about the same thing, she decided to stake out her own corner of the genre. Which unfortunately meant kicking everyone else out. Or at least attempting to. While her trademark battle has since been called off, thousands of dollars have shifted hands in the months-long process, and none of it drove the profits Faleena Hopkins expected.
This is a prime example of what happens when attempts to increase revenue can cloud judgment and disrupt everything from your brand, reputation, leads, existing customers – and end up doing exactly the opposite of what you intended. Marketing efforts focused on shutting others down will only result in infamy and unsustainable results, if any results at all.
Driving Profit without Forsaking your Customers
So, how do you drive profits without forsaking your customers? Dawn Colossi offered an excellent solution in her guest post: bring the customer into every meeting. Numbers, data, and marketing efforts are all necessary to track, but it’s ultimately your customers, whether you’re B2B or B2C, who drive results. As Colossi said, “No data can speak louder than your customer.” To keep the customer in the equation, you need to seek out feedback and ask yourself how you can better serve your audience. It’s also a good idea to look at how you can include more customers to generate more leads and implement customer data-driven marketing.
The key to focusing on your customers while still driving profits is in the 3S methodology: a simplified Story, clear Strategy, and aligned Systems. Any good marketer is always measuring their results to determine the success of a campaign, and decisions are ultimately a matter of money – but profit alone can be blindsiding. Decisions about where to invest your marketing funds should stem from the voice of your customers. Because if you truly do serve them and put your own agenda to the side, desired returns will surely follow.
Dear Dave, perhaps interview me next time. When we deal from gossip it’s almost universally innacurate. I always put my readers first. Only I don’t think of them as “customers.” They are family. A family I still am loyal to and vice versa.
I trademarked not a genre but a brand, which businesses do to protect from dilution…in my case and the case of other publishing houses… a fictional universe worth protecting. I didn’t do it for profit. I did it for the future of this series. And I have and will always put my writing, films, and any storytelling into the world with integrity out of respect to anyone who honors me by taking the time to enjoy them. Thank you.
I’m glad to hear that you are putting your readers (customers) first. I hope you always continue to do so and that you also don’t underestimate the power of a supportive peer network. I’m also glad to hear that you are publishing content with integrity and respect for the community you work in. We were simply writing an article in response to what we saw in the news regarding your trademark battle. I wish you the best of luck and future success.