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Monday, January 16, 2012

Why I Joined KDP Select

Since its introduction last month, Amazon’s KDP Select program has caused a fair bit of controversy. On its face, it sounded good: a program that would let Amazon Prime members borrow your book for free, in exchange for a cut of a $500,000 fund. Select members also get five promotional days, courtesy of Amazon, in which their book is available for free, but the company helps get the word out about it.
But there was a catch: If you wanted to join KDP Select, the novel had to be available exclusively in digital form to Amazon. So if you’ve gone to the trouble to get it published elsewhere, such as Nook, iBook and Smashwords, you had to depublish the book from those outlets.
This, to me, was a deal breaker. My objections were twofold. One, I worked hard to make the novel available to everyone—even in print—that wanted to buy it. True, my Amazon purchases vastly outnumbered my Nook ones, but I felt it was important to sell in multiple markets. Secondly, I worried the benefits would be relatively minor. Yes, I’d get a cut of 500k, but how many Prime member were going to borrow my book when they could buy it for $2.99? Since Prime members can only borrow one book a month, it seemed more likely they would favor more expensive novels than mine. As for the free promotion, I would be giving away my book for nothing. How was that going to help me?
Boy, was I wrong. Joe Konrath successfully used his free promotions on KDP Select to make more than $100,000 in three weeks( Jeff Bennington, meanwhile, the author of Reunion and Twisted Vengeance, has used his free promotional days to get three of his novels onto bestseller lists. How does this happen?
Well, for starters, Amazon’s algorithms help promote your book, so instead of relying on ads or word of mouth, it gets a much wider audience than it normally would. While in theory, interest in your book should wane the day after your promotion, that’s not what happens. Because so many people download it—and do so in a short period of time—Amazon’s algorithms indirectly continue to help promote the novel. As a result, you could find yourself selling a lot more books the day after a free promotion than you did before. That’s the theory, at any rate.
Once I saw what kind of success this was spurring for others, the lure of KDP Select was too much. I decided I needed to take the plunge.
To be honest, I’m a little scared. My first “free” promotion will be tomorrow, Jan. 17, and I worry that a) no one will download it for free or b) everyone will download it and the book will then stop selling afterward. While there are plenty of success stories out there, there are many private failures as well. Some authors say they’ve noticed no uptick after a free promotion, or that actual sales of the book have declined.
As for the other concern—about exclusivity—it still bothers me. I was happy to publish on Nook and Smashwords and have been pleased with every sale there. But realistically, those sales pale in comparison to what I see on Amazon. I’ve sold more than 1000 books, and only 40 of those were on Nook. For iBook, I’ve sold a grand total of 7 books. So while the idea of making the book available everywhere is appealing, it’s clear that most of my readers are buying it on Kindle. Why not take advantage of KDP Select?
So I made the jump. As I said, the book will be available for free on Jan. 17. If you haven’t taken the plunge already, it’s a good day to buy it. If you have and you liked the book, feel free to buy copies for your friends. It won’t cost you a dime.
As for this experiment with KDP, let’s see where it goes. No guts, no glory, right?


  1. Interesting that what Amazon has essentially done is to put itself in the role of "agent" for up-and-coming authors. An exclusivity contract where they get rights to your work, and in return they will "push" the book for you, done by an agent named Al Gorithm. What are the back-out rights? I assume you can cancel at any time and re-distribute on other channels?

    On the one hand, it's important to realize that a deal like this has the potential to devalue the work of writers as a whole. Their automatic marketing and the share of a $500,000 pot is a fraction of what an author could earn in a career developed through a traditional partnership with an agent. On the other hand, literary agents have circled their wagons and niched their authors so closely, I wonder if the writing profession can continue to exist WITHOUT a mechanism like KDP Select. Glad to hear you got some momentum on the downloads though. That could be really huge.

  2. Good post. I think, if nothing else, we'll get some name recognition, which is important to building your platform. My books were downloaded 574 times last weekend and I'm as grateful as if they'd been paid for!

  3. Yes, it will be interesting to see what happens from here. I'm curious how much it translates into sales, but as you point out, Jo, part of being a writer is about sharing your work. Even at free, it's a thrill to know so many now have the chance to read it.

  4. I put two books up for free (you can read the details on my blog post if you'd like along with some tips and I have seen sales continue since that time, even when I raised the prices of my books. I think a key is having great reviews to attract potential buyers, and having great books. I also think the more authors try this, the less impact it's going to have. I go into my reasoning in my post :) Good luck to you all.
    Renee Pawlish (author of Nephilim Genesis of Evil and the Reed Ferguson mystery series).

  5. Read your posts already, Renee!

    Re: the impact declining over time as more authors do this, I've noticed that my particular slice of the horror genre -- ghost -- has become much more competitive since KDP Select was introduced. It makes it harder to rank high, of course, but overall it feels like a good thing. It feels like more books are selling in higher numbers. But that's just a guesstimate based on the books I'm tracking....

  6. Very interesting post - I am in the same boat that you were in with both my books on Smashwords as well as Amazon and feel a bit nervous about pulling the plug on the other e-readers out there (even though, as for you, my sales on Smashwords are minimal compared to Amazon, it has been a very useful way to gift free books and printing promo cards with discount coupons).

    I will look out for your follow up post and will be interested to know how it went.

    Best of luck!

  7. Emma,
    Still looking at data on my follow-up post, but based on what I've seen already, I have no regrets about delisting from Smashwords and Nook. I understand the hesitation -- I felt it too -- but I've already seen more than enough heightened sales on Amazon to justify the move. Even if sales dry up today, it will STILL have been worth it, considering how few books I was moving elsewhere.
    More details will be coming this week.

  8. I understand why so many authors are tempted to join KDP Select, and I'm glad to hear they are having good results. That said, Select is not for me.

    First, I want more money for an exclusive. I think it's unfair to offer aspiring authors some tiny pot of money at the end of the rainbow in exchange for pulling out of big markets. You wouldn't work an actual job that way, would you? If you have any aspirations of writing professionally, you need advances, not promises.

    Second, you can enjoy the benefits of listing your book for free on Amazon without joining KDP Select. I have done so with my own book, "New Year's Day," which is also available for free on Smashwords, Nook, the Sony Reader Store, and iBooks. It's true that Amazon sets a minimum of 99 cents, but if you offer your book for free elsewhere, Amazon will match that automatically. The benefits of cross-promotion have put me on two Amazon bestseller lists. The cascading effect from this has even helped sell books from the other vendors.

    Finally, when I tell people my free book is available on Nook (which is a great and v. popular e-reader), I get a lot gratitude from my Nook readers. Two to three million people have Nooks. That's a pretty big market to just give up on, even if your Nook books aren't moving much right now. That market isn't going away. It may not be as big as Kindle, but it is Barnes & Noble's top-selling product, and it will continue to sell. Consumers like a diversity of products and fair competition. Maybe one of the reasons we're all having trouble with Nook/Sony/iBooks readers is because we haven't reached out to them effectively. The solution is not to give up but to tweak your promotions to appeal to those markets. Even though I'm making the overwhelming majority of my sales through Amazon, and I certainly wish the company well, it's not my job to sell Kindles.

    Now it's true that you can't put gratitude in the bank either, and for some (most?) authors it's a simple cost-benefit analysis. I'm not saying that anybody should follow my lead. But I think we should be more hesitant to go all in with an exclusive deal that doesn't come with exclusive advance. To me, KDP Select is just another type of DRM.

  9. Very good post, making it all crystal clear, thanks Rob!Now, we're almost a week later and I hope your book is doing well, do keep us posted.

    I notice you've had plenty of comments (deservedly so) and some are quite interesting. Particularly the one about the Nook market: it's very true that we don't reach out to them, but then these non-Amazon stores haven't made it easy to connect: no forums to discuss books, and if there are "like" buttons, they are not visible and as to posting reader reviews...well, how to do that isn't obvious either...

  10. Natalie,
    Apologies for missing your great comment earlier. You have an interesting perspective. I admit I did consider offering the book for free on Nook and doing a price match on Amazon. I was concerned, however, that the algorithm wouldn't work quite the same.
    I guess my question is this: how many books did you sell after the free promotion? Because Amazon appears to continue helping (at least a little) once it is a paid book.
    Giving up on Nook was NOT easy for me, by the way. I hate exclusivity. On the other hand, this seemed like a good way to promote my novel -- and so far it has been.



  11. Claude,
    I agree Nook and Smashwords could do more to help indie authors. As for results from my promotion, I'm working on the post now. It should be up later today. I hope you will find it interesting.