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?
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.