Could Bitcoin help me cut out the 40% that Amazon takes to sell my book?

There are two reasons for my crowdsourced case study:

  • Reason # 1: Make more money from my book.

I understand that nobody other than myself is interested in that objective. The only reason why I think that Fintech people will be interested is reason # 2.

I started this crowdsourced case study last week with a headline that was misleading. I asked if Bitcoin could help me sell more books and that, quite rightly, led to suggestions that I hire a publicist and focus on marketing to increase my top line sales. My case study experiment was really concerned with gross margin and net profit rather than top line sales. So I changed the headline this time.

I have also now dropped mention of Micropayments. I am intrigued by Micropayments, but looked at from my narrow use case perspective I decided that it would be counterproductive. The Micropayments theory is that rather than asking somebody to pay say $10 for a digital version of my book I ask people to pay 50c by the chapter. Then after buying a few chapters they buy the book or I just make money selling by the chapter.

I get the parallels to the music industry when ITunes broke the mold by offering to sell just a single rather than the whole album. However I have 3 problems with this theory:

  1. There is massive friction difference between free and a tiny payment like 50c. That is not logical, but it seems to be true. The Freemium model is too well established in the world of both content and code. People expect a chapter to be free because a chapter is too close to free articles/blog posts.
  1. In music, we are moving from paying for a song to all you can consume streaming subscriptions. Music leads the way for other creative industries because it has been in “the eye of the digital storm” for the longest.
  1. When billions of people have digital wallets and get accustomed to paying “by the drink” Micropayments could be viable. For now, it feels like a pipedream.

So, what I need is a payment service that will cost me less than the 40% that Amazon charges me.

Here are the unit economics for my book (in US$):

Selling Price 28
Print Cost 3.08 11%
Gross 24.92 89%
Royalty 13.72 49%
Distribution Cost 11.2 40%

I obviously don’t begrudge Amazon their print costs. It is the Distribution cost that is annoying. If that really included marketing, it would be OK. As an aside this is why businesses that process payments in niche markets (Uber, AirBnB, iTunes, etc) are so massively profitable. Just being able to offer a simple way for people to buy is a huge win for the seller. Now, we should enter the era when this becomes cheaper and the gatekeepers take a smaller slice.

Those unit economics surprised me too. It is possible that there is some simple switch in Createspace or Amazon that cuts that 40% down to something more reasonable. If that is the case, I will feel stupid and then happy when I see how easy it is to solve my problem; I will then close down this crowdsourced case study immediately.

Assuming Amazon is really charging 40% to take a payment, I am curious to find out why they can get away with this and I came up with three reasons:

  • Amazon wrapped “perceived marketing” into payment. Being an author “on Amazon” has a perception value akin to being a published author in the past. It is only perceived marketing. Unless I market the book, nobody will find it on Amazon. Marketing online is about SEO and social media and content marketing and it does not make a difference whether the content is on my site hosted by WordPress or on Amazon’s servers (for all I know WordPress use AWS, so the server farm is totally unrelated to traffic flow).
  • One-click low friction payment. We all have our credit cards stored on Amazon, so as consumers we prefer to buy through Amazon rather than on the author’s own site. The author’s bank balance is not our problem.
  • Pick and pack. I used Createspace Print On Demand, so delivery is part of the service.

My theory is that for a digital version in the long tail of authors on niche techno biz subjects (where I reside), a Bitcoin based payment service for a digital product could change these reasons:

“Phase 2. Attracting rich Bitcorati for legal products. This is the phase we are in today. The merchant logic here is very simple. If a rich person wants to pay me in some unusual currency, I am motivated to accept that currency. Enough people got rich speculating in bitcoin or mining bitcoin in the early days for this to be a real niche market. These Bitcorati are bitcoin enthusiasts, so if they see two objects they desire equally and one says “we accept bitcoin” then that rich Bitcorati will choose the merchant who accepts bitcoin. This is fundamentally different from phase 1 because a) it is legal and b) we will start to see merchant success stories akin to the merchants who were early adopters on the Internet.”

  • One click low friction payment. This will be my key test of any Bitcoin based payment processor. I assume it will be easy for somebody who already has a Bitcoin wallet (my Bitcorati customers) to buy my book. The question is how easy will it be for those who don’t currently have a Bitcoin wallet (my book is about technology so I can assume my potential readers are tech savvy and willing to try a Bitcoin wallet if it is reasonably simple to adopt).
  • Pick and pack. This is irrelevant if I am selling a digital product. Once payment is accepted, the product will download.

Three requirements are critical for me:

  • WordPress integration. WordPress happens to be what I use and they are pretty mainstream and don’t use any weird non-standard technology AFAIK. So I assume this will be easy (and not much different if I used Drupal or any other DIY website builder).
  • MultiCurrency.  I need to sell in multiple currencies (the book is in English but I have readers all over the world, including people who use English as the language of global business even if it is not their mother tongue) and I live in Switzerland.
  • It must be simple to implement. I am not a developer and I do not want to write code. I am happy to do any fiddling need to get it up and running, so tirelessly going through configuration settings is OK, but any solution that starts with a link to the code on Git Hub has lost me.

Without the MultiCurrency needs I would just use any merchant payment processor. It is the MultiCurrency need that made me think of Bitcoin.

Now it is time to start creating my short-list of vendors. I am only one small user, but I am approaching this like any business would by first defining requirements and then creating a long list of vendors and then reducing that to a short-list.

The simple integration made me think of solutions like Stripe and Braintree (PayPal). They have all added Bitcoin (or at least announced intention to do so). Paystand is added to that list, because they have an announced product.

There are also the Bitcoin native offerings such as Coinbase and Bitpay.

So, my long list currently is


Braintree (PayPal)




Have I missed any vendors?


    • Interesting way of approaching this! I too am intrigued by Bitcoin as a transaction medium, and agree that any difficulty, perceived or real, to acquire Bitcoin for those without a wallet would present the main barrier. Perception is a matter of education – potential customers w/o Bitcoin would need to understand how easy purchase can be before shying away from buying your product. That being said, reality is changing. Processors that also offer wallets should offer lower friction, as long as they provide instant buy options from within the payment process. Here, the multi-currency factor comes into play – the processor needs to accept the customer’s foreign currency to not create a bottleneck. As far as I understand, Coinbase’ wallet service does not allow first-timers to instantly get a wallet and Bitcoin, and only accepts a couple of currencies. I recently stumbled across Cubits, a new player. They seem to accept pretty much all currencies, offer in-purchase instant buy (pop-up) and works with the WordPress shopping cart. Maybe worth adding to the list. Let’s see how you get on!

      • Charles, thanks and Cubits is new to me will check it out. I intend to be pragmatic. My aim is to make money from my book not promote Bitcoin, so if somebody wants to pay via conventional credit card or PayPal that is OK. However that maybe limited to one currency vs the Bitcoin version where it does not matter.

        Whether I decide to immediately convert to Fiat or hold it in Bitcoin remains to be seen. I have no interest in speculating in Bitcoin but if I can see stuff that I want to buy that is priced in Bitcoin I may keep it in Bitcoin for that purpose. If more people work that way – earn in Bitcoin and spend in Bitcoin – the currency will become a lot more real.

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