Sunday, February 15, 2015

Adventures in Self Publishing - KDP Select

OK, last topic on Amazon for now, then it's on to marketing.

Authors have the option to go exclusive with Amazon and join KDP select.  The benefits include:

  • Being included in the Kindle Unlimited Program and Kindle Owner's Lending Library.
  • Being able to set your books for free for five days every 90 or making your book a Kindle Countdown Deal for five days every 90.
Drawbacks include:

  • Being included in the Kindle Unlimited Program and Kindle Owner's Lending Library.
  • Not being able to sell at any other retailer.
I don't really get the Kindle Countdown deals, as you can lower your price any time you want.  You have a slight advantage in that you can stay at 70% royalty below $2.99, and you get a little ticking clock thing.  Some folks have reported this being a good marketing tool.

The free days are useful, but not amazing, especially considering you can set your books to free elsewhere without any problems.  If you have a second book in a series coming out, you can set the first one to free for a couple days to bring in new readers.  We'll talk a little bit later about marketing your free days.

I've heard talk that being in KDP Select gets you "promoted" more by Amazon, meaning KDP Select titles show up more often in "You might also like" results and elsewhere, but I've also heard that they used to do that but don't anymore.  When KDP Select started, people would say that their Amazon sales went up after they joined, but I haven't heard talk like that in some time.  Now, the major difference is Kindle Unlimited, which is either a plus or minus, depending on how high you can get away with selling your books.

Kindle Unlimited is like Scribd or Oyster, except suckier.  Subscribers pay $10 a month and can read as many KDP Select books they want, out of 700,000 titles.  On the author side, Amazon has a fund of about $2 million that they equally spread out every month for every borrowed title that has been at least 10% finished.  You don't know what your per-borrow payment is until the 15th of the following month.  It's been hovering around $1.40 a borrow.

To add insult to injury, you'll get emails saying "Due to the popularity of the Kindle Unlimited program, we're adding $50 zillion to this month's fund".  You won't see a dime of that.  Those are bonuses to the top 100 sellers in various markets.  You won't be one of them.

I can't see any medium-or-above level publishing house putting their books in KDP Select.  $1.40 is way too low, even for a moderate level indie author, and most businesses aren't going to throw in with a scheme that has no guarantees of per-unit price.

I can't see Amazon sustaining Kindle Unlimited for very long.  It's pretty expensive for an all-you-can-eat crappy indie buying plan.  I get one free borrow a month through Kindle Prime, and I struggle to find titles I want to read.  I can only see two potential markets for KU. 1) Readers who read at least 4 indie books a month and 2) Readers of erotica.  And 1 is probably also 2.  It's also too easy a system to game, which is probably why they keep their fund the same level.

So is KU worth it?  It is if $1.40 a read is a good thing.  So it would be great for me, if I could even get borrows.  Sad face.

I've seen moderate level indie authors complain that KU is lowering their sales, and it might be.  Some complain that it's devaluing the worth of books in general, but I'd say the market does that.  An example: One commenter spoke of reviews that say something like "Not worth buying, wait for a free day or get it through KU" as an example of KU devaluing books.  I'll be less charitable and say the reviewer was saying the book wasn't very good.

KU authors are a bit like the day laborers at Home Depot, in that they may siphon off some of the readership from slightly more expensive, slightly better written indie books.  But then again, there are like 50,000 free books in Amazon, and if a reader wants to stay cheap, they'll never have to spend a dime.

On one end, you have actual, real authors, selling for $7-$10 and not touching KU with a ten foot pole.  Then you have losers that have problems even giving books away, like me.  Then there are the folks in the middle, that can sell for more than $1.40, but might be hurt by readers willing to go a little down in quality to save a little money.  That's the market.

If you don't want to stay in KU, you can opt out of KDP Select after 90 days.  Make sure to check the box in your KDP Bookshelf to not auto-renew.  I've seen a lot of hyperbole about how KU is the end of publishing, but I can't see it continuing as anything but a smut buffet.  Folks that are too cheap to buy a $4.99 ebook by their favorite author aren't going to shell out $120 a year to settle for worse.

So, is KU right for you?  Try it out.  Then don't renew and try selling at Barnes & Noble and iTunes.  If you do better in KU than not, jump back in.  The only thing to keep in mind is that if you unpublish from B&N or wherever, then resubmit your book, you lose things like sales rank and reviews.  Otherwise it's easy, especially compared to getting out of a book contract in the real publishing world.

You can mix and match as well, putting some titles in and some out.  Authors will find that some titles do better at iTunes for some reason, some at Amazon, some have more borrows, some have more sales.  It can be pretty unpredictable.

An exception to some of the above is short stories.  You actually get more from a borrow than a buy if the title is $0.99, and KU seems a good deal for both writers and readers of short fiction.  

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