Thursday, December 8, 2011

KDP Select discussion: observing the pros and cons

I wake up today at the bright and early hour of 10:30 in the morning—perk of writing for a living, don’t let anyone tell you it’s not—and there’s an email in my inbox touting KDP Select, a new initiative to increase the amount of lending titles while also compensating writers in the process. Since releasing The Congregation on Nov. 3, 2011, this option has taken on greater significance for me. I have a dog in the hunt, so to speak. 

Initially, I see the “lending” option and think, “What’s in it for me?” At the same time, I acknowledge “Free,” while often vilified as being associated with “self-pubbed crap,” is an effective way to increase exposure and grab those all-important initial reviews. But automatically, I’m thinking how many loss leaders can my sanity afford after pouring so much time into my books?

(Plural, because No. 2 for me will be out in January.) 

Looking at the numbers included in the email, if the money pot is $500,000, as it currently is, and only 100,000 borrows are made for the month, then each borrow is worth $5 to the author. You lend out 10 copies, you make $50. You lend out 1,000, you make $5,000. Obviously, the more in-demand your book is, the better your paycheck. 

Of course, the flip side of that coin is this: if there are 1 million borrows and only $500,000 in the pot, then each one is only worth 50 cents. Is this good or bad for authors? For the most part, I choose good, and here’s why:
1. Free lending on the best supported eReader format in all of publishing

It took me several minutes to figure out the Overdrive option at my local library, and I must say, I didn’t like it. The cover art didn’t come through, there was a due date, and a waiting list. All these things affect my enjoyment of the reading experience in a negative way. Presumably, Amazon’s system will be as simple as making a purchase. Presumably, the cover art will transfer as well. Presumably, the only “due date” will be the one-month option, and if your book is not read in that month, the reader can always re-up it the following month without having to wait on someone else’s term to finish.

2. More people own Kindles than any other eReading device.
Even those that don’t own a Kindle can and do purchase books on the Kindle App via iPad. But then, my understanding is that this promotion is just for Kindle owners, so we’ll just limit our potential reader base to those persons. Even so, you’re dealing with millions and millions of potential readers. The particularly rabid fans can be found over on the @AmazonKindle Twitter profile. Currently, around 80,000 highly targeted candidates. Actual owners dwarf this number, but let’s say that just 1 percent of the most rabid Kindle fans borrow your book each month. That’s approximately 800 people. Using the $5 per borrow example, this would earn you around $4,000. Furthermore, Amazon has guaranteed a minimum of $6 million to the KDP Select lending pool for 2012. That means the revenue pot will be AT LEAST $500,000 per month. Borrows are another story.

3. Amazon giving away 5 days of free promotion every 90 days.
No details included on what that means, but considering that Amazon are pretty much the best marketers around, 20 days of free exposure per year, depending on the depth of that exposure, can be potentially life-changing at best and a shot in the arm for your career at worst. Even if there are 1 million borrows for the month, and you only earn $400, that’s $400 more than you had and the probability that you’ll pick up some good reviews and a nice little boost in the “also bought’s.”
4. Amazon is only grabbing exclusive rights for 90 days versus a lifetime.

I don’t know about you, but I can give up 90 days of my book’s sales life on other outlets if it means exposure and awareness for my titles increase. Granting Amazon the required 90-day exclusivity clause is an excellent way to jumpstart sales and carry the positive buzz over to other eReader platforms.

5. Not everyone will be eligible to participate, which means it won’t kill your sales.

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library is essentially a second revenue stream that you can earn through Amazon. It appeals to a different group of readers (the mostly rabid). Prime members are the only ones eligible. There are many, many more Amazon book customers than Amazon Prime members. Your promotional efforts can reach the widest possible base of Amazon customers, and you could earn 50 cents to $5 per borrow or 35 cents to set-your-own-price per sale. Users of the iPad will still be able to read your book through the Kindle App. Prime owners of a Kindle product will be able to borrow as a perk of their membership.

The Downside:

1. Competing against the big boys. Publishers have some hostility towards Amazon, so there is the possibility that you won’t have to fight Stephen King or Dean Koontz or insert-bestselling-author-name-here for a piece of the pie. However, it’s possible since print copies may continue to be distributed at one’s leisure from any outlet. Should publishers embrace this concept, then it could shrink the royalty pie for newbies considerably.

2. Lack of information regarding promotional tools. Just looking at the KDP Select web page, it’s difficult to determine how effective the “free marketing for 5 days every 90” will be. I do wish the company would give a more involved accounting, so you know what to expect before clicking “enroll.”

3. No grandfathering. The Congregation is on sale at Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, iTunes, Kobo, and virtually everywhere eBooks are sold. Had I known about this option ahead of the publication date, I would have likely not hesitated to give Amazon the 90-day head start. If I want to do that now, it looks like I’ll have to unpublish from Smashwords and wait for the title to disappear on the other sites before becoming eligible. Then, after 90 days, I’ll have to do that crap all over again if I want to have the widest possible reach to electronic readers.

What do you guys think of KDP Select? You can read the details here and the legalese here. Please feel free to let me know if I’m confused on something. I think this is a good overview of the pros and cons, but getting the facts about it out there is my first priority.


  1. Writer Beware did a blog about it that took an opposite view. I'm not sure about it yet.

  2. Hi Kathleen,

    I totally get the apprehension. I started having a little myself as I was writing the downside part of this post, but then I remembered how many copies I've given away of The Congregation getting no monetary gain in return.

    Had Amazon had this active when I rolled it out, I could have given away so much more and made some money in the process. As is, I've handed out a couple of dozen copies--and don't get me wrong, I'm glad I did, I even credit the giveaways with some of my sales--but Amazon would have made it possible for me to use the same tactic and make money.

    I don't think it's worth a redo considering I'd have to pull my book from distribution on other sales channels, but it is something I'm going to think about for my January release.

    If you or any other writer, gives it a go before then, please feel free to report in and let the rest of us know what the experience is like.

    Thanks for commenting!


  3. Thanks for your blog post about this. I'm considering it, but I was hesitating for some of the reasons you mentioned, especially the minor nuisance of unpublishing and then publishing again on Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, etc. However, if this does work out well for me, then maybe I won't want to go back to them.

  4. I think there is a benefit to being with Select but I also think that everyone should try it, at least on one book for the 90 day period. if after that, it's not working and better distribution is more worth while then jump ship and upload to Nook and Kobo etc.

    I see what you mean about bad reviews appearing with select books but don't let it worry you too much, it's just the way of the world!

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