Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

Summary: Amazon's KDP Select now lets indies enroll Kindle books as free on Prime: Some see opportunity, others say monopoly.

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TOPICS: Amazon, Hardware, Legal
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Last Thursday, Amazon opened its KDP Select program to self-published authors and indie publishers. Indies can enroll qualifying books in the Kindle Owners Library program, making their books free for Prime customers to "borrow."

Controversy and debate is heated on blogs, Kindle Boards and indie publishing communities.

Some indies think this might be a great idea. Others don't, and suggest Amazon is conducting a monstrous exploitation of bootstrapped authors while harming the wider ebook market.

Enrolled books are available for Amazon Prime customers to download on Kindle for free (one at a time), as long as indies make each enrolled title exclusive to Amazon for 90 days. The exclusivity does not apply to paper-published versions of the books.

Some authors think the exclusivity clause is a dealbreaker. Withholding (or removing) titles from Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, Smashwords and others is too much of a royalty gamble.

Evaluating the revenue risk, one author disclosed that her non-Amazon revenue sources total around 30%, another put revenue loss potential at %53 - while others say it's an easy decision, as their non-Amazon revenue is now less than 1%.

The books are still for sale while free on Prime. Enrolled indies get a scaled split paid out of a set royalty fund.

In the email to indies, Amazon explained:

(...) The monthly fund for December 2011 is $500,000 and will total at least $6 million in 2012.

(...)Your share of the monthly fund is based on your enrolled titles’ share of the total number of borrows across all participating KDP titles in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

For example, if total borrows of all participating KDP titles are 100,000 in December and your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn $7,500 in additional royalties from KDP Select in December.

Enrolled titles will remain available for sale to any customer in the Kindle Store and you will continue to earn your regular royalties on those sales. (...)

Indies also get access to Amazon's "free book" promotional tool, and can pick up to five days within the 90-day period to make their books free of charge - a known vehicle for book publicity and increased title visibility.

Indie publishers and authors are treading cautiously. Old arguments have resurfaced about free books and potential damage to the ebook sales ecosystem.

Some critics are outright accusing Amazon of monopoly tactics and anti-trust behavior.

Victoria Strauss at Writer Beware issued a strong caution about rights, non-competition clauses, and intellectual property issues - telling authors to "think carefully" before signing on.

Indie distributor Smashwords attacked the program saying it will make authors indentured to Amazon and will harm other retailers. In Amazon Shows Its Predatory Spots Mark Coker wrote,

Do you want to become a tenant farmer, 100% dependent upon a single retailer? As some of you history buffs may know, tenant farming, and the abuses of power by landlords, was a primary contributor behind the great Irish potato famine.

The new Amazon KDP Select program strikes me as a startling example of a predatory business practice. Amazon has the opportunity to leverage their dominance as the world's largest ebook retailer (and world's largest payer to indie authors) to attain monopolistic advantage by effectively denying its competing retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, Sony, etc) access to the books from indie authors.

Regardless, tens of thousands have rushed to enroll their books.

It's estimated that 27,000 titles were registered in the first 24 hours.

When Amazon launched the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library last month it contained around 5,000 books. There are now over 46,000 Kindle titles available on Prime.

I was among the indie publishers that got the announcement. While I have a mainstream print publisher, I've been self-publishing myself and other authors for mobile devices since 2007. I was among the first to join Kindle self-publishing (KDP) when it started.

The timing just happened to be perfect - I had just finished a book that was in production for most of the year and was ready for its release announcement that very day.

But I decided immediately that I'm one of the indies that isn't looking to get any kind of slice of Amazon's $500,000 payout pie.

My decision to enroll "Fetish Sex" was to engender goodwill with my readers and build the book's reputation - something that I've noticed pays for itself over time.

Happy readers contribute the the book's reputation by borrowing it, upping its presence, telling friends about it, "liking" it on its Amazon page, leaving reviews, and more. I currently have over 30 books in print with various publishers in nearly every distribution channel, so I have the unique position of being able to try this out with less risk than most indies.

Fetish Sex is a self-publish, and with KDP Select I could add the Prime Lending Library distribution channel to my book's reach.

And I could finally have access to Amazon's "free book" KDP Select publicity tools. Typically, when a Kindle book is free on Amazon, it shoots up in popularity.

Whenever a book is free (to "buy") on Amazon, other titles by the same author see a spike in sales - I witnessed this firsthand when my mainstream print publisher made one of my titles free and my book's status shot up to the top ten.

A lot of discussion on forums around taking a chance on KDP Select suggested that getting in early would have its advantages. However, possibly because I enrolled my newest nonfiction title within hours of the announcement, I experienced the system's overwhelm and glitches.

During the first 8 hours my title's enrollment did not appear for many Prime Kindle owners that attempted to borrow my book. Having made the book exclusive, launched publicity and positioned a key decision point for seeking out the book its free-on-Prime availability, I was not happy.

I still think that opening up KDP Select to indies is a brilliant move by Amazon and I'm glad I'm taking a chance with it.

The change in the air for self-published authors and Amazon's Kindle (KDP) ecosystem feels very similar to the way that Apple initially engaged with developers in the early stages of building its app marketplace.

Let's not forget how ready Amazon is to change the game with Kindle Fire - which comes with three free months of Amazon Prime. How many Fires will sell over the holidays?

Either way, that's a hell of a potential market - one that I hope authors and developers become determined to cash in on in equal measure.

Topics: Amazon, Hardware, Legal

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9 comments
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  • RE: Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

    Nice plug there, Buster.
    jramurray@...
  • RE: Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

    I am an author with 63 books currently selling on Amazon and other sources. So I know this industry.

    What I see as a very strong negative in this move by Amazon is that it will degrade the quality of ebooks available, and thereby hurting the whole field.
    The logic is simple. Most people cannot write well. If you have read as many unpublished first novels as I have, you know that the average person simply does not possess acceptable writing and grammar skills, etc. Not to mention that most of the novels are poorly plotted, with poor character development, and otherwise reflect that it takes a good deal of practice and work to become a competent writer.

    So what will happen? This will help some writers, mainly, as pointed out, those with insignificant non-Amazon sales. But it will open the floodgate to a mass of poorly-written fiction that will turn people off on Amazon???s lending program and ebooks in general.

    I strongly recommend that any would-be writer find and work with a legitimate ebook publisher. A good publisher will take a percentage of the profits, true, but will provide valuable editing, formatting and distribution support. But be careful in selecting a publisher. There are many out there who will charge fees for reviewing and editing and do little else to help you. Collecting those fees is their business. The publisher I use is very helpful and does not charge fees for anything, only a percentage of the profit for each book sold, a cost I think is well worth it. It is to his advantage to do a good job of editing and distribution, and he does.

    That???s my two cents worth.

    Shara
    Shara8
    • RE: Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

      @Shara8

      Twilight.
      tkejlboom
    • RE: Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

      @Shara8

      I'm not sure if you're apocalyptic end is correct. There will be a lot of crappy, self-published works available because of this, but I believe that people are smart enough to be able to look at an unknown title written by an unknown author and look at reviews before reading it. Also, since this is a lending library, if they don't care for it within the first couple of chapters, they won't want to waste their time and simply return the book and grab another.

      Just like there is a lot of garbage published in physical books, people won't judge all e-books based off of a number (even if that number is large) flops. Like always happens, the chaff will settle to the bottom and the good stuff will rise to the top.

      I believe the only danger here is on Amazon's side. People may decide that the lending library doesn't have anything decent to offer and drop their Amazon Prime account, but it won't sour them to the whole e-book experience all together.
      joshandrebekah
    • RE: Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

      @Shara8 On the other hand, you have people like J. K. Rowling and her Harry Potter books having been turned down by a publisher, a record executive throwing Meat Loaf's Bat Out Of Hell record into the ocean because there was no way to promote it (went on to become one of the top-selling records of all time), etc. This will allow people to circumvent such obstacles and introduce to market titles outside the range of what a handful of powerful publishers think will sell. Cutting out the publishers lets authors make more money so they can produce more "niche" titles and still earn a fair return. This will benefit all readers. It's the same effect that has led to small cable networks becoming the producers of some of the most critically acclaimed television programs today.
      jgm@...
    • ebookp publisher

      hi shara, i am an author, could you pls send me details of your publisher.i will like him/her to publish my books also. thank Derrick Akarah
      derakarah
  • RE: Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

    As an independent author, I welcome Amazon's latest initiative in the ebook market. Kindle has led the way in granting indie authors a voice. They've got my vote.
    Stavros Halvatzis
  • RE: Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

    I look at this as a great opportunity for me immediately, but for other indies in the near future. KDP Select might not be the best fit for everyone, obviously, but even if you don't opt in, by having some of us opt in, other sites should sit up and take notice. It wasn't until Amazon opened its doors to Indie writers that Barnes&Noble launched Pubit! Apple only allows people with Macs to upload directly. Kobo...I'm not sure what Kobo does, but it must not be too much because I never hear anyone talk about selling in the thousands on Kobo.

    Amazon may have their own ulterior motive, but if it nudges the other booksellers to improve how they deal with self-published authors, I think that could be a good thing for all of us.
    MP McDonald
  • RE: Amazon KDP Select Controversy: Golden Opportunity or Trap?

    Getting ready to take the plunge, I guess we shall see.
    VictorBrodt