Authors Pay a Price to Use Kindle Select
You probably already know that I believe Amazon is the best publishing and marketing platform available. It beats the competition by a million miles. I think Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is a genius. However, I am beginning to have issues with the Kindle Select program and if you are a KDP author, you should have concerns too. The program is changing and it no longer favors authors. There is a heavy price to use Kindle Select.
A Good Idea in the Beginning
Kindle Select has been with us since 2011. It was a simple plan in the beginning. If you gave Amazon sales exclusivity for 90 days, they would enroll into the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL), and pay you out of a fund they established. Authors received a share of the fund based on the proportion their books were borrowed compared to the total number of books borrowed.
Another component allowed authors to give away their book for 5 days out of each 90 day period. The idea was that thousands of people would download your book, and you could expect a huge number of reviews and the buzz would skyrocket paid sales. It worked, but not for long. It still works, but for very few. What killed the free promotions?
- Almost everyone started giving away ebooks. The market was flooded in every genre.
- A proliferation of new web sites started promoting free ebooks. That eliminated the uniqueness of the free offer, and ebooks became a commodity.
- Most free downloaders became freeloaders. They did not write reviews or create buzz. Seems like there are a huge number of ebook hoarders who get them when they are free but never read them.
The give-away made little sense, even in the beginning. Brick and mortar bookstores don’t need to give away books to get customers, so why should that be a feature of an ebook store? And why would an author sign up for KDP Select when they could offer their ebook free without joining?
Amazon realized KDP Select had little logic, so they added a kicker. Books given away during the KDP Select-sanctioned 5-day period counted as actual sales. Therefore, an author could get on the Amazon “Bestseller” list, and the prestige of that status, without selling a single book. I have always questioned the ethics of that plan.
KDP Select Gets Complicated
Amazon has done several things to complicate KDP Select. They consider them improvements, but authors should challenge that claim. The changes included:
- Limiting the 70 percent royalty to 30 percent in some countries unless you join KDP Select. For example, I sell mostly to English-speaking countries so I don’t care if I get only 30 percent from books sold in Mexico or Japan. If I publish a book I think will do well in one of the “30 percent” countries (notably India), I simply check the exchange rate and increase the price of the book so I get the equivalent of 70 percent at the 30 percent rate. KDP allows you to change the sales price—you are not required to use the default US equivalent price.
- KDP recognizes that offering ebooks free as a promotional gimmick is pretty much dead. Thus, they started offering two other promotional features. One is a “Pre-sales” option. Authors can announce your book and sell copies before it is released.The promotional option for KDP Select users is “Kindle Countdown Deals.” An author sets a low price and it increases over time to its normal selling price. This creates an artificial incentive for customers to “buy now” and can work if a huge number of people are aware that your book is in this program. If you have an author website, you can set your own countdown deal and change the price manually. You don’t have to sign up for KDP Select to get this benefit.
- Kindle Unlimited (KU) is the most disturbing KDP Select program. Any Amazon customer can pay $9.95 per month to sign up for KU and they get your book free if you are in KDP Select. You drive traffic to your Amazon sales page, and when people get there, the KU members see they can pay your asking price or get it free. You are, in effect, competing against yourself, and that makes no sense at all. A KU member must read at least 10 percent of your book before you are paid, and the KDP Select tax is horrific.
Price to Use Kindle Select
You cannot know in advance how much you’ll be paid from the pool. KU/KOLL book sales show on your KDP sales graph in blue, but the dollar amount is not included in the totals below the graph. The amount of money in the pool changes from month-to-month as does the number of eligible books, so you don’t know what your allocation will be until they release payment.
What can you expect? In my case, I sell my ebooks for $3.99. That means I get $2.79 per book minus the tiny Whispernet delivery charge. How much was I paid for books in the KU/KOLL program the first month? A mere $1.54 per book. That means I am losing $1.25 PER BOOK for the privilege of belonging to KDP Select.
Is there an up-side to the KDP Select tax? I don’t see any at this point, so I removed all my books from the program.
I have been a writer, editor and publisher for 35 years, and the fundamentals of bookselling remain unchanged. You must write a book people want to read and promote it until you drop. Gimmicks like free books or “countdowns” won’t help you, because your goal should be to maximize your financial return. KDP is a delivery system, and a good one, but Amazon will take hard-earned money out of your pocket if you use KDP Select.