Friday, December 16, 2011

To Select or To Not Select, That's the Question

So, Amazon's self-publishing arm, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), recently announced a new feature for self-publishers called KDP Select. To say that it's created a bit of a stir in the self-publishing world is an understatement.

It presents indie authors with a bit of a double-edged proposition. In order to "join the club", you must make your book exclusive to Kindle for 90 days (ie, it cannot appear anywhere else in any form...including teasers on your own web site). In return, your book will be made available through the Kindle Owners' Lending Library for US Amazon Prime members for "free." (Prime members pay $79 a year for expedited shipping and other perks). Authors will also have an opportunity to set their price to $0 for five days every 90 days (while some books are currently free on Amazon, it's only accomplished through "tricking" the system and putting your book free through another distributor. The new setup will allow authors to set the price to $0 right through the KDP manager).

So, what's the hook? A share of half a million dollars a month. Authors' cut of the share is based on how many loans their book(s) gets. Amazon's example is a bit conservative, in my estimates: "...if the monthly fund amount is $500,000 and the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000 in December and if your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 1.5% (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%), or $7,500..."

But, you're not gaining anything by letting your book go essentially for free, you say? Not quite. You see, borrows are now being incorporated into the Amazon ranking algorithm. So, though you may not see increased sales, any "free" borrows will push you up in the rankings (which, theoretically, would lead to more exposure, borrows, sales, etc). Conversely, it means that if you're book is NOT in the program, you're not only fighting sales of other books, but the added weight of borrows against your book's ranking.

Tempting, no? Like a good number of self-published authors, I have cast my book's net as far as possible. I have uploaded my book to Amazon, B&N, and the multi-platform distributor Smashwords for the other ebook fish (eg, iPad, Kobo, Sony). However, when it comes down to actual sales (like a good number of self-pubbed authors as well), I have received the most sales through Amazon. Here's how the numbers break down for my ebook sales after 6 months on the market:

  • Amazon - 77.9%
  • Apple - 10.3%*
  • B&N - 8.3%
  • Smashwords - 2.0%
  • Kobo - 0.7%*
  • Sony - 0.7%*
*May be higher, but reporting is monthly at best

Now, comes the question that many indies are faced with. Do I give up that ~20% of sales produced by the other channels for 90 days to try and grab a piece of the Amazon carrot? To be honest, the only channel I'm loathe to give up is the Apple one. As much a I'm a fan of B&N, they've done little to spur the kind of interest in indies that amazon has. Whereas, Apple hasn't quite got a hold of the potential clout they have with the iBookstore. They could probably be a major player in the ebook world if they just got their act together and cared about it, but therein lies the rub. They'll probably never invest the time and energy required, simply because it's not the game they want to play. They're only in it because the game came to them.

At the moment, my answer has been to not do anything. If the process of removing my book from the various sales channels was an easy one, I might have jumped on the band wagon. However, because it can be a bit convoluted and slow to pull books back from Kobo and Sony, it might be January before I'd be "let into the club." But, with my sequel on the horizon (the slowly developing Divisible by Six), I will have to seriously consider my options. By then, the results from the December kickoff will be in and we'll have some numbers to consider.

But, besides the consideration of whether it will be a financial boon or not, we may need to consider whether we, as self-pubbed authors, are fueling the desires of a machine bent on monopolizing an industry. Yep, I said it. And, it shouldn't be much of a surprise to anyone. Sure, you're only giving exclusivity for 90 days, but what comes next? How much money will it take for authors to completely forego all other outlets and remain exclusive to Amazon? Some have already taken the bait. How many authors might just not bother to put their books back up on other channels after their 90 days is up? It's a subversive move, and akin to a recent move that some US retailers are openly calling ruthless. Is it ok because "everyone else is doing it" and "I don't want to be the one that missed out"? Last time I checked, those were pretty lame excuses. Perhaps we all really need to take a step back and consider the possible consequences of our actions.

Comments? Thoughts? Ideas? I know you've got 'em. Would love to hear 'em.