Since Amazon announced the KDP Select program last week, there’s been a lot of discussion about whether it’s the best thing since sliced bread for self-published authors1 or a harbinger of impending doom (which will be brought about by Amazon taking over the digital bookselling world). In case you’ve missed all of this and have no idea what KDP Select is or why anyone cares one way or another, allow me to explain.
About a month ago, Amazon launched a new benefit for its “Prime” members called the Kindle Lending Library. Amazon Prime members pay an annual fee for benefits including free shipping, access to online videos, and now, the option to borrow one Kindle book a month from the Lending Library. Most of the major traditional publishers, however, refused to allow their books to be enrolled in the library (although Amazon did an end-run around them in some cases by claiming it had bought the digital books “wholesale” rather than under the Agency model, but that’s a whole different issue). This meant that when the program was rolled out, the Lending Library consisted of mostly books published by Amazon itself under imprints like Encore and Montlake, and books publishers had either chosen to opt-in or that Amazon made available under the “wholesale” model.
Everyone knew when the Lending Library was launched that Amazon would eventually give authors self-publishing through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) the option to opt their books into the program, but no one knew what the terms would be. The terms were officially announced last week. Basically, if you want to make your digital book available for borrowing by Amazon Prime members, you have to sell it exclusively at Amazon during the time it is in the program (currently, you do this at 90 day stretches). In exchange for this, you get a “share” of a pot of money ($500k for December) based on the percentage of total “borrows” for that month and the option to make your book free for a five-day period. It also appears that, if your book is in the Lending Library, “borrows” are counted toward your overall sales rank on Amazon, which means books in the program are likely to have higher rankings than they otherwise might. In theory, being in KDP Select will give your book better visibility on Amazon, with a corresponding improvement in your earnings.
There’s been plenty of hand-wringing about KDP Select (Mark Coker of Smashwords is particularly exercised about it), but a lot of self-published authors apparently see real advantages to the program. In a matter of days, the Lending Library ballooned from perhaps 5,000 titles to almost 100,000, and it may be more now.
I, however, won’t be opting in. Here’s why:
I don’t want to limit my books to a single retailer, even if that retailer represents a sizable percentage of my sales. At this point, I sell more copies of Carnally Ever After at Amazon than anywhere else, but my sales at other outlets are far from negligible. In October, my sales at Apple were actually almost equal to Amazon, thanks to Apple putting my book on the front page of the Romance section under “Books Under $5”. I did nothing to get that placement, and it was gold. I don’t want to “reward” Apple for that by not listing my book with them any more.
More to the point, I don’t want to cut out readers who don’t have a Kindle/Kindle app and who want to read/buy their books elsewhere. Even if they are a small percentage of my total readership, they are readers, and I respect and appreciate them too much to treat them that way. Even for 90 days. Even for a theoretical increase in income.
Call me lazy, but taking my book down from other retailers’ sites in order to give Amazon the exclusive is WAY too much work. It can take weeks for Smashwords, which distributes to outlets like Kobo, Sony, and Apple, to get my books out to those other vendors. I can’t imagine how long it would take to get them taken down. In the meantime, I’d be losing sales from the vendors who did respond quickly but unable to enroll in Select until it’s down everywhere. Why would I do that?
In theory, enrolling a brand new release in Select for 90 days and then making it available elsewhere would be relatively easy. At least I wouldn’t have to hassle with removing it from the other sites. But, see above about readers. I’m just not doing that to them. When I release a book, my goal is to have it in as many retail outlets as possible. Self-publishing already restricts me to some extent; I won’t deliberately restrict myself, even for a potential increase in sales.
- Uncertain Reward
In addition to the above issues, I think there’s a real question as to how much any individual stands to gain from participation in the program. Since payment of royalties for borrows is based on percentages rather than per unit borrowed, unless your book is very popular, you’re not likely to see a whole lot of money.
Add to this the fact that my self-published books thus far are all short stories or novellas and therefore priced very reasonably (The Reiver is currently free), it’s hard for me to imagine that I’d see any significant number of borrows. Why would people who can only borrow one book per month choose to borrow something that costs only 99 cents, or even 1.99? If I had such a limited benefit, I’d only use it to borrow books I considered too expensive to buy. Now, I have heard on the Kindleboards that authors are seeing borrows of books priced under $2.99, but I’m still having a hard time imagining my books would benefit much from that.
In other words, I think I’d be giving up a lot in exchange for a very limited payoff. I could be wrong about that, but I’ll also never know.
As to the other retailers like B&N and Smashwords, who fear self-published authors will be fleeing them in droves, I had a suggestion: Make yourself more attractive to self-publishing authors in the first place. For example, B&N offers 40% on books priced from 99 cents to $2.98 to Amazon’s 35%, but only 65% on books priced $2.99 to $9.99 to Amazon’s 70%. If B&N wants to keep authors from pulling their books, maybe they should consider at least matching Amazon’s royalties on higher priced books, if not exceeding them. As for Smashwords, they could consider allowing you to upload formatted files, instead of forcing you to upload a Word document that gets run through their “MeatGrinder”, with often less-than-pleasing results. And they could improve the speed at which they distribute your books to third parties. Both B&N and Smashwords could improve their search algorithms and the overall customer experience to make self-published books more discoverable.
All in all, while I won’t be opting into KDP Select, I’m not sorry Amazon introduced it. If the prospect of losing a large number of books from their catalogs induces other retailers to improve what they’re doing, it may just be as big a win for those who opt out as those who opt in.
1I refuse to use the term “indie author.” I’ve sometimes used it in the past, but I’ve come to the conclusion that the main reason for saying you are an independent or indie author, as opposed to a self-published author, is that you feel there’s a certain “taint” associated with the act of self-publishing. I’m not ashamed or embarrassed to be publishing myself (I have the world’s BEST publisher, lol, and she always meets my expectations), so I feel no need to obscure or soft-pedal that fact by using another term.