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Why I’m leaving Amazon’s KDP Select program

Ugly Little ThingsOn Friday, Amazon launched a new service called “Kindle Unlimited.” It’s a subscription service where, for $9.99 a month, a consumer can have access to over 600k Kindle titles, as well as their audio equivalents. You can get up to 10 books at a time. Authors who have titles enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program (which allows for free promotions, inclusion in the lending library, countdown deals, and matchbook prices) had their titles automatically enrolled in the program on Friday.

I am not a publishing guru or pundit by any stretch of the imagination. I only know what works for me, so if you are looking for guidance on this new program, allow me to point you toward Chuck Wendig or Dave Gaughran.

That said, I’m writing this post to voice my opinion on the matter, as well as to outline a direction I’ve decided to take going forward.

Simply put: I opted out of KDP exclusivity on Saturday. After August 15th, A LIFE TRANSPARENT will no longer be a part of the program. THE LIMINAL MAN will follow in mid-September.

What does this mean for you?

It means that if you’re an Amazon Prime member, you will not be able to borrow those books for free. It also means that if you are a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, you will not be able to download my books for free.

Why?

Back in 2012, I enrolled my first novel in KDP Select because it wasn’t selling anywhere else. UponA Life Transparent re-release, ALT was initially available on Amazon and Smashwords—which also distributed to B&N, Sony, iTunes, Kobo, Diesel, etc. However, sales through all of those other channels were surpassed by Amazon. At the time, going exclusive with Amazon made sense.

The free promotions were working for other authors, so I gave them a try. I gave them a lot of tries. While they were successful in getting my novels into the hands of a LOT of readers, they were not successful in converting into new sales. For all the times ALT was downloaded, almost no one bought TLM despite significant hype, promotion, award nomination, and price experimentation.

This leads me to one of two conclusions: either all of those people read ALT and hated it, or they simply didn’t read it at all. Knowing how vocal people can be when they don’t like a book, and considering how few negative reviews of ALT there are on Amazon, I’m inclined to believe the latter: no one read it.

Other benefits of KDP Select (lending library, matchbook pricing, and countdown deals) have not yielded much better results. Although I haven’t compiled the metrics, I’m inclined to say that my two novels have been borrowed fewer than 20 times over the last two years.

Meanwhile, since the release of my second novel and the ULT series, I’ve heard from readers asking if they can get my work on the Nook. This is the risk of exclusivity with any retailer. Two years ago it made sense, because I had a year of sales data to show that my book wasn’t selling anywhere but Amazon.

Now things have changed.

Amazon’s free promotions are far less effective now, for starters. The way their algorithms have changed in the last two years has, in my opinion, completely negated the point of doing a free promotion. The other features never really had any bearing on my sales in the first place. In all honesty, I’ve been questioning the point of KDP Select for a while now, and this new service they’re offering has left a bad taste in my mouth.

As a consumer, it’s a great idea—all the eBooks and audio books I could ever want for $10 a month? Sign me up. But as an author/publisher/content creator, it worries me.

The way authors/publishers who opt into the program are compensated for downloads is similar to how things have worked with the KDP Lending program. With KDP Lending, Amazon sets aside a pool of cash every month, and every author is compensated from that fund each time their books are borrowed. So far it’s worked out to be about $2 a download. That’s great if you’re selling a 99 cent eBook, and it has parity with the royalty for a $2.99 sale. But what if you’re selling a book that’s more? Yeah. You lose money. I mean, on one hand, it’s better than nothing at all, right? Sure it is.

Kindle Unlimited works sort of the same way. Amazon added an additional $800k to their fund for the month, topping it off at an even $2 million. If someone downloads a book through that program and reads more than 10% of it, the author will be compensated from the fund.

Here’s what worries me about that: The KDP Lending program was only available to Amazon Prime members. Kindle Unlimited is available to anyone with $10, month to month. Consider the potential influx of new subscribers downloading books—and look at the hit that fund is going to take. More readers and downloads will diminish the fund and reduce the amount paid per download. Suddenly authors are losing more than a couple of dollars per download on their eBooks.

Is there an argument to be made about volume? Absolutely. There’s a possibility that the number of downloads will make up for the lost revenue, but I think the authors who are already struggling to maintain consistency with their sales will have an even harder time trying to bridge that gap.

I know this is all conjecture, and that there’s really no true way of knowing how this is going to shake out until it actually does shake out. However, based on my previous experiences with KDP Select and the potential losses that could result from this new program, I think it’s time I part ways with the program for a while, get my books onto the shelves of other retailers again, and test the waters. Being able to re-launch these stories in new markets may garner a whole new crowd of readers. Who knows?

What I do know is that, for me, the benefits do not outweigh the cost right now. And if it doesn’t work out, I can always re-enroll. No harm, no foul.

So that’s why.

It doesn’t make sense to me anymore, and this new direction scares me a little. That being said, if I’ve missed something, or if there’s an alternative I haven’t considered, please speak up. Civil discourse is always welcome.

P.S. Yes, this means my novels—as well as the ULT series—will be released on the Nook platform in the near future.

  • http://www.InklingBooks.com/ Michael W. Perry

    I worry about the fact that reading 10% results in a full payment. There’s more than a few writers who’ll turn out a tale that’s a page-turner for about the first 15%. They’ll put 90% of their effort into that. Then they just toss out words for the rest. Why shouldn’t they? Making the whole novel interesting won’t earn them any more money. That’ll give self-publishing a bad name.

    It wouldn’t be that hard for Amazon to create a graduated payment scheme. Every additional 10% earns another 10% of the payment for a full read, and if that reading crosses from one month to the next, it matters little. A good writer will always get read and thus always get that full 100%. Paying every writer that gets readers to hang in there for 10%, means those who write an entire book that’s good are cheated.

    It’s yet another illustration that Amazon doesn’t quite get writing and publishing. For them, everything is marketing. They don’t understand that good writing needs incentives and rewards.

    —-

    I’m not surprised that you’ve found that KDP is becoming less effective. Some schemes work OK when they’re new and have only a few takers, They languish when the number of people offering a free first volume or some other gimmick gluts the market. Free gets a lot of downloads, because its free. But many people don’t get around the starting to read, so the book never gets a chance.

    Good luck as you try other approaches. If you’re open to other subscription services, you might look into:

    https://inkbok.com

    It puts no restrictions on how you sell your book and I suspect it’s $4.95/month is closer to the sweet spot than $9.95. They also plan to offer a lot of promotional tools for authors. The one downside is that, a present all reading is online. They’ve got mobile device apps on the way though.

    Here’s on of mine on their platform:

    https://inkbok.com/book/lilys-ride-rescuing-her-father-ku-klux-klan

    Check out their payment scheme here:

    https://inkbok.com/how-inkbok-works

    –Mike Perry

  • http://www.dedzone.net/ DED

    I, too, found KDP Select ineffective. It made sense for me to launch my new book with it as Amazon accounted for 95% of the sales of my first book. However, it didn’t really matter as most people bought it outright (I’m guessing they weren’t Prime members). Once the three months were up, I withdrew from it and expanded distribution through Smashwords. As of right now, I don’t see a reason (as an author) to utilize the Unlimited program.

  • http://www.ejfrost.co.uk E J Frost

    Extremely interesting analysis and I think right on the mark. I opted out of KDP Select from the beginning because 1) I’m a contrarian by nature and didn’t like Amazon telling me where I could and couldn’t sell my books, and 2) I knew some of my existing readers were Nook users and I wanted them to be able to buy an e-copy, too. Smashwords has also turned out to be a surprising source of sales (mostly into iBooks). I’m not sorry I opted out of KDP Select.

    I also very much like your characterization of yourself as a content-creator. I don’t know if that’s coming from Amazon’s labeling, but I’ve started thinking of myself that way, too. It feels more modern, and less pretentious, than “author.”