Orvieto, Italy, Italia, Umbria,

The Amazon Angst

This month has been all about debating with myself over one single aspect of my writing/publishing future: whether or not to try out KDP Select. While I do like what I’m hearing and reading lately about the potential exposure this program can create for my books, do I really want to feed the monster that is Amazon.com?

Orvieto, Italy, Italia, Umbria,

Some monsters survive just fine on a steady diet of wine.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Amazon. They’re really the ones who made self-publishing possible beyond begging your friends and family to buy the stack of print books you had made. Amazon also carries tons (literally) of products, some of which I need but can’t find at local stores.

However, unlike the friendly and funny monsters created over at Crawcrafts Beasties, Amazon is turning into a scary and belligerent monster. And just as this monster has gobbled up some physical bookstores, it’s also threatening to smash the villages of e-bookstores and make slaves of formally-independent authors.

Warning: I’ve been doing A LOT of thinking about this, so this is an extraordinarily long post. 

First, Let me Introduce Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited (KU) is Amazon’s book subscription service. For X dollars a month, you can read an unlimited number of books within the KU system. This does not mean you get to read every book ever published, only the books enrolled in KDP Select.

So What is KDP Select?

KDP Select (Kindle Direct Publishing Select, aka “KDPS”) is what self-publishers must put their books in to be a part of the KU system (I know, all these letters make it sound like a covert military operation). Authors can publish their e-books on Amazon via KDP without being in KDPS (for now), but to be in KU you must opt into KDPS.

Once in KDPS, you’re obligated to stay in for 90 days. During this time your book is available to KU subscribers and (according to the people who love to study these things) Amazon will make KDPS books more “visible” to shoppers via the mysterious Amazon algorithms.

KU subscribers can then borrow your book and you get paid by how many pages they read. This payment varies depending on how many subscribers KU has in any given month (so yes, one month you could get paid 9 cents a page, another month you could only get 2 cents a page).

Why Authors Join KDP Select

So, why as a writer would anyone say, “Gee, there’s dozens of e-book retailers out there across the globe from whom I could be getting money, but I think I’ll only publish with one retailer”?

Mainly for that all elusive visibility. There are millions of books out there and it’s easy to get lost in the herd. Having your book in KDPS plays into the Amazon algorithms and gets your book more notice. Due to the way those pesky algorithms work, this notice can snowball into more notice and can launch a profitable writing career for those who know how to play the Amazon game.

There are also other “benefits” of KDPS such as being able to put your book up for free for five days (for those non-KU subscribers who want to buy your book). To be honest, I don’t get how this is a benefit since every other e-book retailer out there lets you put your book up for free for as long as you like, but supposedly this is a big draw to KDPS.

Problems with KDP Select

The first rule of KDPS is that no one talks about KDP Select. No wait, that’s something else.

The first rule of KDPS is that your book must be exclusive to Amazon for the 90 days you are in. And by exclusive I mean EXCLUSIVE. You can’t give your book away to your newsletter subscribers, you can’t put portions of the book up to sample on your website, and (obviously), you can’t sell the electronic version book anywhere (even your own website) for those 90 days.

And to be clear, no other e-book retailer has anything like this exclusivity, whether your book is in a subscription service like Scrbid, whether it’s free on iTunes, or whether you want to put up a Buy button on your website. Only Amazon’s KDPS requires this all-encompassing exclusivity.

And this exclusivity can be crazy draconian. This spring I plan to make a box set of the first three books of the Osteria Chronicles as a little incentive to grab people’s attention before The Bonds of Osteria (Book Four) comes out in May.

I’ve been toying with the idea of trying out KDPS and thought the box set would be a great way to do so. Turns out that even though the box set would be a completely new product, because the content of the box set is the same as the individual books that I have on other retailers, the box set would violate the ridiculous exclusivity cause.

And if the Amazon bots find your e-book ANYWHERE online (yes, even book pirating sites), you can be kicked out of KDPS and you risk not being to publish on Amazon at all.

Why All This Has Me Worried

Oh where to begin.

First off, Amazon supposedly favors books in KDPS and can “bury” books that aren’t in the program, by not featuring them on a genre’s front page or in search results. Mark Coker of Smashwords puts this practice quite well by calling it “censorship by algorithm.”

It’s this “censorship” that tempts authors into KDPS. Many see it as the only way to get their books noticed on Amazon. Unfortunately this means a lot of authors aren’t putting their books on other retailers. Besides the fact that this limits their exposure all across the globe, it also harms competition and risks pushing other e-book retailers out of business. Now I’m not saying iBooks is going to disappear any time soon, but it does lay the groundwork for Amazon monopolizing the e-book business.

Second, any wise investment advisor will tell you not to put all your eggs in one basket. If one market collapses, all your money is gone. Same with Amazon. They constantly change the rules (such as you used to get paid in KDPS if someone borrowed your book, now you only get paid a random and unspecified amount for the pages someone reads – which has lead to plenty of unscrupulous writers gaming the system). If you’ve gone exclusive with Amazon, you could end up in trouble if these rules change for the worse. After all, Amazon doesn’t exist to make YOU money; they exist to make themselves money.

Amazon could suddenly decide that if you aren’t exclusive to them, they’re going to drastically cut your royalty rate; a prospect that could drive many self-publishers to go exclusive with Amazon and in turn harm other e-book retailers and put self-publishers at risk of being beholden to the whims of whatever the Amazon gods choose to do to your royalty rates, your rights, and your career.

Third, why is Amazon so worried about competition? Amazon is HUGE. HUGE!! And Amazon is probably going to stay HUGE for a very long time. Amazon isn’t very transparent with their numbers so I don’t have hard evidence of this, but I imagine the KU program isn’t the biggest line item under “Revenue” for Amazon. Amazon could probably do away with KU altogether and still be HUGE. So why this whole exclusive-to-the-point-of-paranoia thing?

We all know that competition drives innovation (it’s how we got to the moon). Will Amazon’s fear of competition stagnate innovation in the e-book retailing world? Once they have control of more markets and don’t need to improve to compete, what happens then to both shoppers and writers?

KDP Select Makes Indie Authors Not So Independent

I know many writers out there will say how great KDPS has been for their careers, how they got a million downloads, and how they’re earning a steady income from their KDPS-enrolled books. However, these people have also given up some of what I love about being an indie author.

By staying non-exclusive (wide) I may not be making stellar amounts of money (I’m working on that), but I can run promotions whenever I like, I can have my books distributed to libraries (and you know I love my libraries!), I can give my books away to my newsletter subscribers or in contests. I am not and don’t want to be dependent on Amazon’s strict rules.

Why KU/KDPS Keep Going On

We all like money. KDPS authors often see a nice (but often brief) jump in income from going exclusive with Amazon. This is addictive so they add more books into KDPS. I don’t blame them. Currently I sell far more books outside of Amazon than within, but I can’t help but wonder if my sales would double or triple or quadruple if I went exclusive to Amazon. Money is always tempting as is exposure.

And of course KU is just the same for book lovers. Avid readers get to pay a small price and then get to read until their eyes explode. We all love a bargain. But as readers you have so many other options. Options that can pull away from the appeal of KU and put up a barrier to the Amazon monster. After all, if KU money starts to dwindle, authors may be less tempted to join in. And these factors can allow us to stop feeding the ever-growing Amazon monster.

Help Indies Stay Independent by Getting Out of Kindle Unlimited

I can understand the appeal of KU – loads of books for very little money, but there are so many other options out there that I can’t fathom why you would join something that is only feeding the Amazon monster.

Here’s just a few options for free or very cheap e-books….

Your local library – You knew this one was going to be in here right? You’re already paying tax dollars into your library, so use it! Most libraries now have a huge collection of e-books you can borrow. You may be limited on how many you can check out at any one time, but it’s rare for libraries to limit of how many you can check out over any given period of time (say a month). If you’re a bookworm and you’re not taking advantage of your library, you need to turn in your bookworm badge!

BookBub – This and many other newsletters are perfect for the e-book junkie on a budget! Sign up for BookBub and you’ll soon be overwhelmed with free and cheap books to choose from. There are other newsletters like this but I like BookBub’s stated preference for titles that are published wide (aka, not exclusive to Amazon). With BookBub you can choose your favorite genres and every day EVERY SINGLE DAY you’re sent  an email with a gob of really good books that are free, 99 cents, or otherwise super discounted. Sorry, was I drooling?

Scribd, Playster, 24Symbols, and other subscription services – Like the subscription model? There are many, many, many other options out there besides KU that do not require any type of exclusivity from their authors.

Other e-book retailers – I love scrolling through iTunes’s list of free books and have to confess to getting more than I really need. Other e-book retailers also allow authors to list books for free and make these free books easily discoverable, which only proves you have so many more options to read endlessly without being part of KU.

Where I’m At in My Decision Making

KDPS is really tempting and, even after all this, I am still toying with the idea of putting one of my new releases this year or next into the Amazon monster’s gob. For now though, I won’t be placing my box set in KDPS as I had planned because I refuse to pull the three books that would be in the set from all the other retailers I’m on.

Any thoughts on this? Indie Authors, are you wide or exclusive? How’s it working for you? Readers, does KU still sound appealing? Would you give up your subscription and try one of those other options to increase competition? 

I’ll be back next week with how I’m proceeding on my goals for 2018!! See you then!! In the meantime, don’t miss out on snagging two FREE books by entering your email here, or by clicking the image below.

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30 thoughts on “The Amazon Angst

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    Having a small press publisher, this issue really hasn’t come up for me, but I’m not sure I’d want to have my books sold only on Amazon, even if it got them more visibility. As you say, having all our eggs in one basket seems risky. Plus, bookstores don’t like having to buy their books from Amazon (I’m not even sure they will). So if an author has a signing, they like to order them from Ingram or another book distributor. At least that’s what I’ve heard. I could be wrong about that. Wouldn’t be the first time!

    Liked by 1 person

    • TammieLP says:

      Hi Carrie,

      This exclusivity only applies to e-books for now, but there are a few notes on the wind that make it seem like Amazon is going to cannibalize Createspace’s print options.

      Createspace currently has free set-up and free ISBN (with Ingram you have to pay for both and the cost is way out of my publishing budget) AND Createspace distributes to a wide range of bookstores’ and library’s catalogs (there’s still issues with this, but thats another topic altogether). If Amazon kills off Createspace in favor of their new currently-in-beta KDP Print program, the set up and ISBN are still free, but the wide distribution goes away, which could lead the way for Amazon to start a print book exclusivity. It’s an issue that has me researching other (free or low cost) print options, but at least I’m mentally preparing for the fall.

      And I wouldn’t want to only be on Amazon either…I get way too excited seeing my books on iTunes for some weird reason :))

      Liked by 1 person

      • Carrie Rubin says:

        Yes, my publisher uses CreateSpace for my paperbacks too, so we have them both through Ingram and CreateSpace, which is nice because the royalty is better for Amazon paperbacks than Ingram’s. Let’s hope they don’t do away with CreateSpace. That will muddy the waters even more. Ugh.

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      • TammieLP says:

        Interesting. Did that change when Createspace closed their e-store recently? It changed the royalties for me to average the Amazon royalty and the CS Store royalty through April…which makes me wonder what is in store in April.

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      • Carrie Rubin says:

        I’m not sure how all that works. I assume the royalty is better with Amazon, because when an IngramSpark book is distributed to Amazon and then sold there, you now have another middle man. Selling a book from CreateSpace eliminates that. But again, I’m not the person to ask since I haven’t navigated the waters independently.

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      • TammieLP says:

        It is a lot to keep track of, but it all makes for an interesting ride! I just wish Ingram Spark had an option for a free ISBN. I might be able to swallow their $50 set up fee, but man those ISBNs are stupid expensive (again, not something lucky ducks like you have to trouble with :)).

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    • TammieLP says:

      It certainly is! I think the subscription concept isn’t a bad idea, but the exclusivity aspect is harsh. Kobo has rolled out a subscription service (only in Europe, so far) and, as I mentioned, other companies manage the subscription model, but manage to do so without any exclusivity requirements from their authors.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. JM Williams says:

    I can say from experience that you get nowhere in regular KDP. Your book really will get buried. About the exclusivity part, though, you are allowed to have up to 10% of the work out on the net in previews and such. I got this answer straight from Amazon. It didn’t help me though. In my case, about a third of the stories in my collection have been published in magazines and ezines, and more than 10% is available on the net. So I cannot put my book on Select. If I had the choice, seeing as I have made almost no sales on KDP vanilla, despite my own marketing attempts, I would jump on KDPS if I could.

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  3. JM Williams says:

    Also, to add to that, I also put the book on Draft2Digital, which distributes to other venues like Smashwords. No sales in the last month. I do feel like Amazon has the ebook market locked up, so you are better off going exclusive with them and getting the benefits.

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    • TammieLP says:

      Hi JM,
      I do have my books on D2D as well as Smashwords to take advantage of the extra distribution offerings (it also seems D2D gets books faster to iTunes than Smashwords). And I’ve always seen far more sales from non-Amazon sites than I’ve ever gotten through Amazon, which is why I’m really hesitant to move anything into KDPS.

      Keep in mind, although some writers do well in KDPS for a while, there are plenty of indie authors doing well in the long term by staying wide, it’s just a matter of building an audience and learning to market. KDPS seems to be good for a blast of short term “sales” (borrows), but is it really a long-term strategy?

      It might be that authors will want to use KDPS for launching a book, then move into going wide after the 90 days. Sort of a double launch. Something to consider as you move forward with your writing. I think it’s just too risky to keep EVERYTHING in Amazon for the life of a book.

      Thanks for your thoughts and for the info on the 10% sample.

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      • JM Williams says:

        Yes, I did read a post by an author who had published 6 books on KDPS. That writer said there was a definite trend that the support and sales began to drop off after 90 days. They suggested the best path might be to do KDPS for the first 90 days then go wide from there. You can pull out of KDPS when the 90-day cycle ends, so you don’t have to keep it exclusive to amazon for life. Good to know about the sales on other platforms. 😀

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      • TammieLP says:

        Yes, the KDPS-then-wide model might be the best for writers, at least until they can establish a strong fan base without relying on KU. I may have to re-adjust some of my release timelines in consideration of trying this out.I have also heard that authors just starting out should have their first three books in KDPS and then go wide once book four comes out…unfortunately, I already missed that train.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. weekesgaehl says:

    OMG I feel stressed just reading this. I don’t know if I’m influenced by the direction it looks like you are leaning, but I do think that that KDPS business seems… not good. Goddamn algorithms. Also, being paid by the page (what if you write brilliant but short novellas?!) just sounds exploitative and awful to me (though I suppose it’s not dissimilar to serial publications of Victorian novels)! It sounds like streaming music for free (well, and buying music – I know for a fact that some people have bought my album on Amazon and I have received nothing from them). So very very sad for the creators who are just trying to get their voices out there. I hate this side of things, and I say well done to you for not giving up and giving in!

    In all of the spare time I’m sure you have, you should read ‘New Grub Street’ by Gissing (it’s old so would be free anyway!). It’s soooo good and about writers and writing and will both make you yearn for pre-algorithm Victorian London publishing world and also be grateful you’re not writing Osteria from a freezing cold garret with nothing but a crumb of stale bread to eat.

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    • TammieLP says:

      It is a little stressful and I’ve been going over and over the debate in my head for a long time. What’s worse, if your book does suddenly take off (say via a promotion) Amazon will “bury” your book once again because they think you’re somehow scamming the system. God forbid you actually pay for an ad that people respond to. It’s as bad as the new Facebook algorithms that now basically hide all your posts unless you pay. It’s all a big game and as soon as you figure out the rules, the rules change.

      As for you payments from Amazon sales, as far as paperbacks go, I know there’s a 60-day delay from date purchased to getting your royalties for the purchase. Not sure if music is the same, but it’s how they cover themselves in case of returns.

      Ooh and thanks for the book tip. Since I do suffer chilblains like some Dickensian orphan due to my house being so cold, I should at least reap the benefits of old world publishing!

      Liked by 1 person

      • weekesgaehl says:

        What?! That is evil of them! I hate that these robots have so much control over our lives!!

        Yes…. I think there’s a 6 month lag for the music, but the other sites I’ve distributed to show numbers and Amazon is just mysteriously blank. We shall see! I don’t have much faith I’ll ever get my 20 cents!

        Awww you poor little waif! Get those kitties to keep you warm while you type away in your fingerless gloves!!

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      • TammieLP says:

        I’m not sure how typing would go if I had a cat on my hands. Sometimes I can get one of them to sit on my lap, but since I try to stand as much as possible while I work, the poor cats often have to go lap-less.

        6 MONTHS!? Geez! And I thought it took a lot of patience to have a magazine article accepted and wait for payment (often at least 3 months after acceptance). And yes, the robots are evil. We must destroy them before they destroy us (cue dramatic sci-fi music).

        Liked by 1 person

  5. crawcraftsbeasties says:

    Eeeeeek! What fresh hell is this? Much as I love monsters, I cannot give my support to the kind of monster Amazon seems to be becoming. I mean, isn’t this essentially just a protection racket? Sell only with us, or we’ll make sure nobody can find your product ever? Long-term, I can’t see this system being a good thing for publishing, for writers or for readers. The only upside is that if enough people say “no”, Amazon will probably can the idea pretty quickly… I remember a few years back everyone was talking about their craft marketplace like it was the next big thing, and I’d literally forgotten about it until just now! Hopefully this will go the same way. And from now on, I will be using Amazon exclusively to research which books I’ll be borrowing next from my local library. That’ll show ’em.

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    • TammieLP says:

      Monsters do seem to be a regular feature of my posts lately. Unfortunately, (some) authors are raking it in with the exclusivity thing because Amazon pushes those books over the non-exclusive ones like mine. And by raking it in, I mean thousands of dollars a month, so unless Amazon REALLY starts screwing these people over (which it’s done a tiny bit of recently), I can’t blame them for staying in. The exclusivity thing has been in place since about 2011(ish) and it doesn’t look like there’s any motivation for them to end it.

      I use Amazon the same way – find books on there then head to the library’s online catalog. It can be frustrating though since my library is really slow to add books by the indie authors in my Amazon wish list. Sigh, yet another hurdle.

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      • crawcraftsbeasties says:

        Hmmm, I suppose the early adopters are always going to be the ones who make it biggest… Although I used to get the same (well, I’m assuming it’s the same) hopeless feeling when I’d log into Etsy and they’d helpfully show me these lovely styled photos of impossibly hip and attractive “featured sellers”, at work in their studios and apparently making mad bucks. It seemed a million miles from the experience I had of selling there, so I’m preeeeetty sure it was just a marketing gimmick to keep people listing their work for sale, because that’s how Etsy make their money. And that has me wondering if this exclusivity success is all it’s cracked up to be… Sure, these writers are (apparently) making money now, but how long can that keep going? Are they really making a permanent name for themselves, or are they just big fish in a really small pond, who will be left high and dry if Amazon changes the rules again? Jeez, I really don’t envy you having to navigate these muddy, shark-infested waters!

        Liked by 1 person

      • TammieLP says:

        I like sharks, but not these ones! Ah, yes, I remember the despair-inducing envy of seeing all those picture perfect etsy shops. Nothing like a major dose of comparison-itis. There are writers (many of whom I’ve been “studying” for marketing tips) who are making it long term on Amazon (but there’s also a fair number of my gurus who aren’t exclusive). I just wonder what some of the people making an modest income by depending completely on Amazon are going to do when Amazon rips the rug out from under them. Do they have true fans or just Kindle Unlimited subscribers looking for a free read? I’m sure one day I’ll figure this out…just in time for everything to change! 😜

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      • crawcraftsbeasties says:

        Yeah, that’s what I thought. Plus I very much doubt that Amazon are doing this for the sake of their health, or to give indie authors a much-needed helping hand! At most, I’d say take advantage of the trial period to see if it helps more readers to discover your work… But then, I’m hardly an expert! 😆 Isn’t it interesting that even your marketing gurus seem to be divided on this one, though? 🤔

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      • TammieLP says:

        It is a little crazy how split the gurus are and even the ones staunchly against exclusivity are like, “Welllll…maybe in the case of___” I keep tossing ideas of how to work this but each time I land on one I find out via the terms and services that my idea isn’t allowed. Amazon seems to be the paranoid/posessive boyfriend of ebook retailers. “I’m your man and while you’re dating me you can’t even LOOK at another man.” And we all know how THOSE relationships turn out.

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