Amazon, Apple, Author Lada Ray, Barnes&Noble, Big 6 Publishers, Catharsis Legend of the Lemurians, Free ebooks on Kindle, Gold Train (Accidental Spy Russia Adventure), Green Desert, Indie Publishing, KDP, KDP Select, KDP Select free promo, KDPS, Kobo, publishing paradigm shift, Smashwords, Sony, Stepford USA, The Earth Shifter
Amazon KDP Select (KDPS) or broad distribution through multiple channels – in other words, to be or not to be. For me, it was a cause of much vacillation for the past year.
Finally, I have happily parted ways with KDP Select, not planning to ever return, barring some sort of massive revamping of their system. My books are back to B&N and Smashwords, and slowly but surely they are also posting on Kobo, Sony and Apple as well. I am also making both CATHARSIS and GREEN DESERT free everywhere, to celebrate this joyous occasion! See My books at a glance + buy links. A separate post is coming soon with direct links to Kobo, B&N and Sony. There will be freebies too, so watch for them!
So why am I celebrating?
Here is my story: I was a late comer to Amazon KDP Select last year, in May 2012 to be precise. I resisted joining due to the exclusivity clause, which meant I had to take my books off other retailers’ sites. Considering how much work it takes to list your books with each retailer, and then re-list them after KDPS term expiration, I wasn’t too keen on going exclusive with Amazon. Finally, I took a plunge and listed GOLD TRAIN, STEPFORD USA and GREEN DESERT with KDP Select in May 2012. Some were already warning that KDP Select was not the same and that it was too late to get the main benefit of exposure. Those who started in 2011, when KDPS was first rolled out, got all the spoils – or have they?
Yes, those who started with the program in 2011, definitely had a huge head start. I’ve known a couple of authors, who took a plunge early, making their ebooks free for a few days, and also pricing them low: $.99 or $1.49. This simple strategy helped them achieve bestseller status in their respective category for a prolonged period of time.
By the time I got into KDPS, the program was already crowded and had definitely gone through its peak, consequently, it was already experiencing the diminishing returns syndrome. It was also after Amazon changed its secret algorithms to overemphasize and benefit the Big 6 authors, and to sideline and under-emphasize Indie books. Despite that, KDPS was still pretty popular, except, you had to give away A LOT of your books for free to achieve any result.
For newbies: the theory goes that by allowing free downloads of your books on certain days, you are dramatically increasing your exposure to readers. In addition, you can get borrows, which are especially beneficial if your ebook is low-priced as you get paid more.
Also note: there seems to be a confusion as to the difference between KDP and KDPS. In response to the questions I received: KDP = Amazon Independent publishing platform; KDPS = KDP Select, or exclusive agreement between author/publisher and Amazon to distribute ebooks only through Kindle, in exchange for free days and borrowing privileges. Therefore, when I say I am no longer doing KDPS, it doesn’t mean I parted ways with Amazon. My books, both ebooks and paperbacks, will continue being offered on Amazon. See buy links here.
For the purposes of this article I won’t go into whether it’s a good idea, or not, to give away your book for free. I have discussed this issue in my last year’s piece about KDPS, which incidentally revealed in detail how I felt about it at the time. The link is at the bottom of this post.
I’m also going to skip over the financial viability issue for Amazon of funding a borrowing program, which loses them money every single month. Is it a viable strategy in order to gain market share? As a financial consultant, I can definitely say NO, at least not long term. Not to mention one point: does Amazon really need more market share? This is starting to resemble a monopoly, which stifles competition and is illegal under a free market system we used to have in the US… hmm… evidently not any more. Amazon’s chasing of quantity over quality is a very dangerous practice. But this is a very involved discussion, worthy of a separate article. Today’s post is about my personal experience with Amazon KDP Select.
Long story short, last summer, I took a plunge and made my books free twice, for a day or two each. Green Desert (Accidental Spy Iraq Prequel novelette) downloaded about 2000 free copies all together. Stepford USA (Accidental Spy Small Town Adventure) downloaded about 7000 copies, and Gold Train (Accidental Spy Russia Adventure) downloaded 2 or 3 times as many.
After the books came off the second free promo, they sold very well. Both Green Desert and Stepford USA briefly made minor bestseller lists (mostly mystery – women sleuths), while Gold Train hit the majors: Amazon books, kindle books, as well as top of mystery & thriller bestseller lists. There were also some borrows.
What disappointed me in the program was that after my free promo, I received a few very nasty reviews (a lot of authors seem to complain of the same). On the other hand, some readers complained that, due to KDP Select exclusivity, they couldn’t purchase my books on B&N, Sony or Apple. Meanwhile, Amazon was actively changing its algorithms to favor the Big 6 and doing other tweaking to their system that made it very difficult for Indies to deal with them.
At the same time, sales started tapering off within a month of my 2 free promos, which according to KDPS model would’ve required stoking the fire, or “artificially reviving the patient,” meaning, I had to routinely keep making my books free in order to maintain the level of sales and high rankings. Many Indies did just that. However, to me, this was starting to resemble a rat race I so happily abandoned when I decided to leave the corporate world. Besides, I didn’t really enjoy receiving nasty 2 star reviews after someone read my book for free.
So, I pulled my books from KDPS when my 3 month term expired and re-listed with other retailers. Due to many other problems with Amazon practices, as reported by a large number of Indie authors, I wasn’t planning on ever returning.
In October-November 2012 book sales really plunged, and they kept going down in the following months. I started regretting de-listing from KDPS, recalling much better sales.
At the time I was hard at work on my new epic novel, THE EARTH SHIFTER, and had no time to market my books. I thought that perhaps my lack of marketing was causing a plunge in sales. What I didn’t know at the time was that many Indies complained of plunging sales since last October. Some attributed it to elections, others thought it was because Amazon further tweaked algorithms in favor of Big 6.
I happen to think that there were at least 2 more contributing factors:
1. The downmarket direction the Kindle sales have taken, which makes it difficult for mainstream or upmarket books like mine to compete.
2. The sheer number of free ebooks on KDPS. If you have tons of freebies to chose from, why would you ever consider paid books, even if they are good? This level of saturation of course decreases dramatically the sales efficiency and visibility of each book out there.
These two reasons may be the main culprits of the plunging sales many Indies report. This is a topic worth investigating further and I might expand on it in a future post.
But for now, back to Amazon KDP Select. Throughout the first part of 2013, I’ve heard that many Indies who used KDPS pretty successfully last year, have also left, not planning to return. That was interesting… However, I was still curious how I might fare this year, compared to last (blame the eternal researcher spirit residing in me ;)). Since it came out only last fall, I’ve never had CATHARSIS, Legend of the Lemurians listed with KDPS, so I started with it. Then, I also listed GOLD TRAIN in order to compare last year’s results. Finally, I thought I’d experiment with GREEN DESERT as well.
So, in the beginning of the summer 2013 I again took some of my books off other retailers and listed them with KDPS. By the way, for anyone who wants to try KDPS despite all the bad press, consider the fact that de-listing your books from various retailers, and later re-listing them again, is a MAJOR hassle and is certainly not worth the trouble.
First freebie day: the result was so shocking that my jaw dropped. GOLD TRAIN, which last summer downloaded over 12,000 copies in one day, downloaded about 600 copies this time (1 free day). CATHARSIS, 2 free days – under 600. GREEN DESERT, 2 days – under 300; compare that to 2000 last year. There were purchases afterwards, especially CATHARSIS went over well, however, it was a pittance compared to last year. And there were very few borrows. Reviews after free days: one pretty okay 4 star review for GOLD TRAIN in the USA and one super nasty 1 star review in the UK… That’s all… Hmm…
Considering how much work it takes to prepare for a freebie, after that I decided not to do any more free days.
I was quickly arriving at the following conclusion: Yes, those who left the program were right on – it wasn’t worth it. The law of diminishing returns has taken a firm grip on Amazon KDP Select. Little did I know that there was much more to the story…
Meanwhile, because of de-listing, I was missing out on potential sales at Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Sony and Apple. In the beginning of the year, sales from these channels seriously outperformed my Amazon sales, even though I listed with them not directly, but through Smashwords. Now I knew for sure that I was much better off listing broadly.
By the beginning of August 2013, I was counting days until the end of my KDPS term. Meanwhile, I decided to update book descriptions and tags for GREEN DESERT and GOLD TRAIN on Smashwords, in anticipation of the day my books would be re-listed there. I saved my updates without clicking on “publish” and left the Smashwords site, planning to re-list as soon as my term expired mid-August.
The very next day I received an EXTREMELY threatening letter from Amazon stating that I violated the KDP Select exclusivity agreement by publishing my books elsewhere. The letter failed to specify where, and when I inquired, no one replied.
That wasn’t it, far from it. The letter stated that my account at Amazon was suspended (!!??) and that I would not be able to access my books or royalty info until I emailed them back this statement, and I’m paraphrasing: “I solemnly promise that I would never list my books with Amazon KDP Select in violation of exclusivity clause. If I ever violate it again, my account with Amazon will be terminated.” (!)
I don’t know what this demand of emailing them back such statement reminded me of more: a Nazi concentrating camp, or the Harry Potter scene in which Harry had to write with his own blood over and over again, “I must not tell lies,” till his hand bled, per Dolores Umbridge’s instructions.
Considering that I am not 5 any more, nor am I a criminal, but rather had a very full and successful life, and probably know more about the world around us than many would ever dream, it is very curious (to say the least) to hear such demand from some anonymous young whipper-snapper, probably fresh out of college, sitting at some obscure desk at some obscure Amazon office.
Understandably, I was shocked and concerned. I had no idea what happened, since I de-listed my books per exclusivity requirement. Something prompted me to check Smashwords, and there I discovered that GOLD TRAIN and GREEN DESERT somehow got re-published unbeknownst to me. It is possible that any updates you make for the book automatically trigger re-publish, although logically this shouldn’t happen.
Long story short, I tried to access my KDP account page, and sure enough, it was blocked! I COULD NOT ACCESS ANY OF MY 5 BOOKS, regardless of whether they were with KDPS or not (THE EARTH SHIFTER and STEPFORD USA weren’t). I also could not access my royalty and sales info at all!
The anonymous whipper-snapper wasn’t kidding. I sent the “I solemnly promise” thing back to the Dolores Umbridge of Amazon, as a result of which my access was restored. The follow up letter from Amazon stated that if I wanted to re-list my books with Amazon KDP Select, I’d have to go through a very rigorous check and approval process.
In your dreams, dear Dolores Umbridge/ Amazon whipper-snapper, or whatsyourname… No more flirting with KDPS for me. If it’s too good to be true, it most certainly is. Between the near ZERO effectiveness of the KDP Select program and Amazon’s aggressively bullying attitude toward Indie authors, the final verdict is simple in its finality: Amazon KDP Select is OUT; Smashwords, Barnes&Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple are IN!
This time, there is no doubt in my mind: the future is diversification!
Sure, Amazon is a big retailer, and a lot of people buy books through them. Of course, I’ll continue working with them for both ebooks and paperbacks. But not exclusively.
My books are returning to Barnes&Noble, Kobo, Sony, Apple. Check’em out! And by the way, a couple are #FREE:
Conclusion: In the fast changing world of the new era of publishing, we have to evolve quickly, just to keep up with constant change. The paradigm has already significantly shifted since last year and it requires a different sales and marketing strategy. I am working on mine. Do you?
Read related articles:
A Must Read if You Are an Author: Does Amazon KDP Select Free Promo Work? (This article was in response to my very first KDPS experience of 2012, before my books hit bestseller lists).