KDP Select and Me

I am considering going over to the Dark Side.

I’m thinking about turning my back on two decades of business philosophy and experimenting with a ruthless approach to selling.

Yes. I am considering enrolling in KDP Select.

If you’re not familiar with this program, it’s offered by Amazon.com’s Kindle Direct Publishing arm. It allows participating authors to have their books become part of Amazon’s Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL), wherein Amazon Prime members can check out an eBook into their Kindle once a month. By participating, authors earn a percentage of the royalty fund Amazon allocates to the KOLL. Right now that’s $600,000 a month. Amazon projects it will pay $6M to KDP Select participants this calendar year.

Moreover, having your book in the KOLL gets it greater visibility on Amazon.com, and more visibility can lead to more sales.

And, as if that isn’t enough, KDP Select authors can offer their books for free for up to five days in a 90-day period. Amazon promotes those free giveaways to help drive traffic.

In short, it’s a huge opportunity to get State of Grace or any other piece I publish in front of a wider audience. It’s a chance to increase my sales.

But there’s a catch. Like any for-profit business, Amazon is not motivated by simple good will. There’s a profit angle in it, and it is this: to enroll in KDP Select, you have to offer participating books exclusively through Amazon for a minimum of 90 days.

My liberal sensibilities as well as my business acumen rebel against exclusive distribution arrangements. They’re anti-competitive, and they generally do more harm than good to the market.

On a micro level — looking just at my own situation — I’d have to make some hard decisions. Would I continue to offer State of Grace through Barnes & Noble and Smashwords and its distribution partners? That would rob it of the benefits of KDP Select, and it’s the foundational book of the Wolf Dasher series and, in a larger sense, my entire authorial career at the moment. But to get it in KDP Select, I’d have to unpublish it from BN and Smashwords. I have two very nice reviews on BN.com, and Smashwords has actually paid me royalties.

On the other hand, BN has sold exactly two copies of State of Grace. Smashwords has sold six. Amazon owns 85-90% of the online book market, despite BN’s aggressive advertising campaign for the Nook and Smashwords distributing to Sony and Apple’s iBook store. Every author I’ve read or chatted with on the subject has said both that BN and Smashwords accounted for only a tiny percentage of their sales and that enrolling in KDP Select boosted their sales incredibly.

And I need a sales boost. Seven months after its release, State of Grace has embarrassingly low numbers. I’m not worried about that in the long term, because I knew this was going to be a long, uphill battle. But I do have to do something to give the book a shot in the arm. To build my career and achieve my goals, I’ve got to investigate using all the methods available to me.

And that includes enrolling in KDP Select.

It may make me cringe to enter an exclusive distribution arrangement. It may fly in the face of how I like to do business. I might alienate non-Kindle users (including, sadly, my brother). But if it can jumpstart my career, I have to at least think about it.

I haven’t made any decisions yet. There is a lot to think about, and I can certainly approach this in a tiered manner. First, you don’t have to offer a book through KDP Select indefinitely. It’s only 90 days at a time. So I could offer books for three months exclusively through Amazon, then publish them to BN and Smashwords as well.

Second, KDP Select is only for eBooks. You can offer the print edition non-exclusively even while the eBook is only available through Amazon. Thus, if I published the print and e-versions simultaneously, readers without a Kindle or Kindle app could still get the book when it’s new.

And, of course, even if I unpublish State of Grace from BN and Smashwords, I can always republish it through them after 90 days.

So I have options. There are ways to do this that will not tie me exclusively to Amazon forever.

But I’m pretty sure I’m going to experiment with KDP Select in some fashion. I can’t ignore the advice of other writers and the data the’ve presented.

The truth is, this is about limiting sales. It might seem limiting to refuse to sell through certain distributors, but, in this case, the opposite may, in fact, be true. I’ve got to look at that.

And if that means I’m joining the Dark Side, well, hopefully I’ll get one of those cool, red lightsabres.

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6 thoughts on “KDP Select and Me

  1. Good luck with it, and hope it helps… I would also read up on other blogs as well, since quite a few people are pulling out once their 90 days is up, due to Amazon changing the algorithms of the program and free eBooks (which are down across the board since there were so many dumped into the world at once) not getting the attention they once did. I’m giving away half the numbers I once was, and sales are drying up due to the freebies… and it’s not just me.

    Armand Rosamilia

  2. If, as you say, Amazon owns 85 – 90% of all online book sales, then that’s a monopoly for all intents and purposes. They’re the only game in town, so it doesn’t make sense to worry about whether or not you can keep selling in the minor leagues. I’d give it the 90-day try, because if SoG’s sales are low anyway, you lose nothing by pulling out of 15% of the market to get it in front of a much larger segment of 85% of the market.

    I also think you do need to be looking at the best way to publish through the e-book channel long-term, because the consensus up here in the attic is that e-books are the future of publishing and that print books are going the way of the buggy whip. Paula and I got our first smartphones a couple weeks ago; they’ve got Amazon Kindle on them as a free app, and given price and convenience considerations, I can tell you that neither one of us is ever buying a print book again. I will likely by a Kindle Fire or some such so that I can read books with nice pictures on a bigger screen, but other than that I see no reason to pay a higher price for a physical book that will take up shelf space before and after I read it and that is subject to loss and damage even before I’m done with it. Also, the younger generation is growing up in a world where all types of media are available on demand, so going to a store to buy a book or even ordering one online for physical delivery will soon be seen as just as archaic as going to the video store or even ordering DVDs through Netflix. Blockbuster and the other video chains are disappearing for that reason, Borders is gone, and Barnes and Noble bookstores probably aren’t far behind. It’s a brave new world, and if Amazon is the Lord of the E-Books, I’d grasp the ring and go for it.

    • Doug, I find myself agreeing with your market analysis. If everything I’ve read is right about the size of Amazon’s market share, then it doesn’t make good business sense to ignore the promotional opportunities they offer for the sake of distributing “more broadly.

      I totally agree on the eBook opinion you express. I love my Kindle Fire, and I am really only interested in eBooks anymore. The Big Six needs to figure out eBook pricing. I haven’t bought the latest, James Bond novel, for example, because they are pricing the eBook at the same price as the paperback. That also leads to buying more indie books, which is good for those authors.

      But, yeah, eBooks are the future. I’m in print, because there are those who want it that way, but I’m using CreateSpace’s POD service, so that the front-end investment is negligible. Otherwise, I’m pretty much converted to eBooks as a reader and author.

      Thanks for the comment! Hope is well with you and Paula.

      Best,
      John

  3. You got it! Paula goes to the Minnesota Publisher’s Roundtable every couple months, and this is the kind of issue that gets explored there. I need to start going with her so I can ask my own questions. Will pass along any information that seems relevant to your situation.

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