On KDP Select and Konflictingly Divergent imPulses
A little background, as I understand it: around a year ago, Amazon floated an incentive program called KDP Select for any authors publishing books directly through them. Titles voluntarily enrolled in the program would be added into a little library that’s a perk for customers enrolled in Amazon Prime. Prime customers could browse through and borrow books in Select at no cost to them, one book a month. Amazon would then reimburse the author every time a customer borrowed their book for free, to the tune of about $2 per borrow (comparable to the royalties on a $2.99 ebook sale.)
Additionally, titles in KDP Select could be given away for free for 5 days out of every 90 as a promotional thing. Since Amazon won’t let titles be free otherwise, and because making a book free can instantly draw hundreds/thousands of new downloads, it can be an amazing way to catch some attention. And, if obscurity is the greatest threat to the typical author, being able to grab some attention in a market like Amazon is nothing to sneeze at.
The catch is that every ebook in KDP Select must be exclusive to Amazon for 3 months. That is, can’t be sold through Apple, or Smashwords, or even on an author’s personal blog until the 90-day period ends.
There are very smart people who’ve been doing this longer and more successfully than I have who have called Amazon out on this scheme. Lindsay Buroker isn’t a fan of the exclusivity, rightly pointing out that if an author’s livelihood is dependent just on Amazon, then that author is held hostage if Amazon ever decides to change its royalty structure, currently a generous 70%. If that were scaled back even to 50% and it were your entire income, it would take serious scrabbling to make up the difference, especially if all your titles were locked into exclusive arrangements.
Her strategy is to diversify, which Mark Coker (Founder of Smashwords) supports, no surprise. He’s got an eloquent article here about it. The short-term benefits of getting momentary exposure on Amazon are far outweighed by the opportunity costs of being invisible everywhere else, he argues.
As I’ve read these articles and comment threads, I’ve felt stirrings of indie author solidarity with these voices standing against Amazon. We should publish where we want! We shouldn’t let ourselves be turned into “tenant farmers” for Amazon! (Mr. Coker’s words.) Traditional publishers locked generations of writers into exclusive, predatory contracts; why would authors voluntarily do the same thing now, in a “meet the new boss/same as the old boss” scenario?
The more I think about it, though, I think these concerns overstate the dangers of the program as it exists today– especially for an author in my situation.
I’m a young writer working on building a following. I’ve completed a small body of work I’m proud of that almost nobody has read. Amazon, the biggest game in town, is offering me an amazing promotional tool that I can use voluntarily for three months and leave just as voluntarily. I’ve just written a new novella–Aloft— that’s not currently published anywhere else that I was already planning to use as a loss leader for my main storyline.
What’s more important to me– someone else’s slippery slope argument about how Amazon’s power play will make servants of us all, or the reality that KDP Select will be a significant step for me in the path out of obscurity?
I say will be, not may be, because if even one hundred people download a free copy of Aloft during a KDP Select promotional period, it will double the number of people who have read my books. And, by all accounts, the number of free downloads a book typically gets during a free period can easily enter the thousands. If 1000 people try Aloft and, of them, 10% decide to buy the three other titles I’ve got for sale, that’s about $700 that I didn’t have before, and who knows how many new visitors to the blog and fans on the email list (who will be interested in The Fate Of The Faithful when I release that next year.)
If I were to spend $500 on Facebook or Goodreads ads, I’d consider it a phenomenal success to achieve the same result.
I see the exclusivity deal as just another way to pay for promotion– with time instead of money. Currently, I have way more time than money, and anecdotal evidence suggests that KDP Select is more effective at getting readers’ eyeballs on your books than paid advertising.
Every indie author’s going to make his or her own choice about this program– whether to jump in or actively boycott, or (like I’ll be doing) put some titles in and keep some diversified. We all have the freedom to change our minds at any moment.
For me, for right now? I’d rather be selling well in one online marketplace than be obscure everywhere.
That’s why I enrolled Aloft in KDP Select when I published it last weekend. And I’m very eager to make use of the program this holiday season!
So, dear readers, if you happen to be members of Amazon Prime, you can pick up Aloft for free right this second. Otherwise, stay tuned for news about when I’ll be making the book free, and then please jump on the train and snatch it then!