Friday, February 8, 2013

Pro's and Con's of Choosing to use Amazon's KDP Select program.

I've had the idea to write a blog post about the pro's and con's of being exclusive to Amazon as a self publisher for a while now and I have a small break in my writing to get it down.  I do have to add a disclaimer that these are my opinions and should no way be taken as an etched in stone way for you to do things.  Every author's experience with what works is different from another.  Luck plays a huge role in self publishing.  Also the speed of change can make this information inaccurate and obsolete and by the time you finish reading it, anything could have happened.

For those who are not familiar with KDP Select, it is a program that an author can choose to opt-in/out when they upload a manuscript to Amazon.  The benefits are five days out of each ninety day period that you can set the price of your book to $0.00 for promotional reasons.  Select also makes your title available to the Kindle Online Lending Library where Amazon Prime members can choose to download and read your book at no cost to them.  The author is compensated for these borrows from a monthly pool of money and it tends to average around the $1.80-$2.00 range per borrow.  The last major benifit to a book being in the Select program is that it allows an author to collect 70% royalty rates instead of 35% in the emerging markets that Amazon has been expanding since the launch of Select.  Namely, India, Brazil, and Japan.

The downside to select is the e-book version must be exclusive to the Amazon store.  This means you can't sell the same e-book or even portions of it on other web sites like Apple, Barnes and Noble or even your own website.  Now you can make available promotional material like blurbs, excerpts, or a sample chapter or two as long as it doesn't exceed a certain amount.  What that is, I can't tell you because I have not heard of anyone getting in trouble for this and there are different numbers being tossed out from 5% to 30% of your book.  However you cannot offer a short story for sale in other outlets and then include that same short in a bundled book that is opted in for select.  This works the other way as well.  You can't have a short in Select and include it in bundle on other sites.  The content has to be exclusive.  This does not apply to print options.  Print is a separate deal when it comes to KDP Select.  The other growing downside is that since Select has launched, all new markets default to the 35% royalty option instead of being able to collect 70%.  For most authors, these markets represent little to no income, but as time goes on, the list of restricted markets will grow as will their impact.

Exclusive with Amazon:
Exclusivity has some advantages.  Especially for new authors working with shoe-string budgets and Amazon offers some very nice perks.  First, they are the shark in the tank of fish when it comes to online publishing.  All other companies combined don't equal the amount of e-books sold compared to Amazon.  So when it comes down to where you're going to spend your time and money, it's going to be with Amazon.

When you get around to promoting your work, it's very beneficial if you have the ability to point everyone to the same place.  This means that every sale counts towards the same ranking, every review received is collected on one site.  If you're spread out among five or six different retailers, then your sales, ranks, and reviews are also diluted.  What's better?  A hundred sales split five ways leaving you book in the tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands on the ranks, or all one hundred sales on Amazon that puts you onto the top 100 genera lists where the discoverability of your book jumps explosively?

Accounting is simplified.  You get a check from one place, you manage your whole digital library from one dashboard, you deal with one specific file format.  At first these might not seem like they would be an advantage, but once you start branching out and one web site takes one file type, and another requires a third type, and finally in Apple's case you need to use a system running a mac OSX to upload your work, it quickly becomes a lot of work.  This compounds exponentially when you start releasing more books, or if you're going back to earlier works and adding back end material.  This will either cost you time, to learn how to create these file types, or increased costs to whomever you pay for formatting.

Free promotion days.  This is the honey for joining Select.  The ability to pre-schedule when your book will be available for free is arguably the most powerful marketing tool you will find.  The only other way to get your book free in any market place is by using a 3rd party distrubutor like Smashwords who has a negotiated thing with Barnes and Noble to make books free on their site, and Apple.  Apple allows for direct uploading and pricing $0.  Everywhere else you have to use some price matching scheme to get your book free and it is whimsical at best.  It can take weeks to months for a book to get price matched and it can take that long again for the price to revert.  In other words, you have lost control of your pricing.  There are horror stories out there of books stuck in free limbo because each website is price matching the other and none of them will change.  Having complete control of your pricing allows for you to effectively promote your book how you see fit.  You can change the price and it will instantly take effect, offer free days without worry and more.  This is a major benefit to deal with only one company.

KOLL.  I don't have much to say about the lending library.  When I have been enrolled in Select, the amount of borrows I received were negligible.  I had roughly one borrow per every 300 full priced sales.  I also price my books at $4.99 and receive $3.10 per sale and that's significantly higher than the $1.80+ that I would get from a borrow.  However I have read plenty of posts from authors who receive a considerable amount of revenue from borrows.  I do know that if you are offering your book for 99c. you will make much much more money per borrow than you would for a sale.  A 99c book will only bring in 35c in royalties.  Going from 35c to $1.80 is a five fold increase in royalties.  That's right you can get paid $1.80 when someone borrows a 99c book.  This could be where they are favoring the lending library over others.

So in summary, consolidation of payments, sales, rankings, and reviews.  One website you need to promote.  Complete and timely control over your pricing, increased royalties in new markets and a lending feature that can pay out significantly increased royalties in certain price ranges.  Last but not least, your on Amazon, no one is bigger.

Non Exclusive:
There are whole economic college classes that are dedicated to the dangers of exclusivity.  If Amazon is 60% of the market, why would you cut yourself out of the other 40%?  Each marketplace is it's own ecosystem.  If you don't thrive at Amazon, you may very well succeed at Barnes and Noble.  Also shopping demographics are different.  B&N dominates when it comes to the romance genres and erotica.  Apple...  I'm not sure what they dominate but a lot of authors report success from the iTunes Bookstore over Amazon and others.

The luck factor.  One of the driving factors for selling books is word of mouth.  It's not uncommon for a book to take off on one retailer, and it spreads to others as word of mouth kicks in.  If your only available on one website, you give up those chances to break out.  Mark over at Smashwords has released data that clearly shows books taking off at one website and having it increase sales across all platforms shortly after.  Each website also offers their own features and if you're not on their site, they can't pick you to feature you.  The more places you are, the more you increase your luck.

The market place is shifting.  Kobo and Apple are making significant strides in reaching out to authors.  Amazon's dominance is shrinking and the days of a dedicated e-reader are already gone.  Now its the time of the tablet that can do it all and e-reader apps.  Having a device exclusive to a vendor is dangerous.  Apple and Amazon saw this very quickly.  B&N seems to be a wait and see then follow years late kinda company that does not leverage it's one asset that none of the others have, a real bookstore.

Price matching is a very powerful tool for self-published authors to use if you're brave enough to accept its flaws.  Did your five free days on Amazon not produce results?  Too bad you're stuck for the 90 day period before you can try again.  Did it actually do well and your doing a happy dance with your 25,000 free downloads that resulted in hundreds even thousands of sales on your other books?  Good, but you do realize you will not be able to do this again in the next 90 day period right?  Those websites like E-reader News Today and Pixel of Ink won't feature the same books twice.  So your next 90 day promotion period is already guaranteed to suck.  I shudder when people have back to back promotion periods that do not perform well.  That's half a year locked into a program that leaves you with no other avenues to explore or new options to try.

If you have a book you're willing to offer for free, price matching can be your Ace of Spades.  Instead of 5 days out of 90 to get your book out there.  90 of 90 days it can be free.  And not just on Amazon.  Free downloads from Apple, Kobo, Sony, Deisel, Barnes and Noble and even at Amazon.  You can still submit your book to the promotional websites and if they don't pick your book among the thousands that are submitted, you can try again, and again, and again until they do.  You're not limited to the 5 chances Amazon gives you then your out of luck.  Luck is important and limiting it is bad.

Conclusion and advice:
Both Select and non-exclusive to Amazon have their advantages.  I have been a part of select for 15 months and have had excellent periods, and crappy periods.  Dealing with only one vendor has the advantages already stated but it has it's disadvantages too.

My advice if you're new to self publishing would be to go with Amazon's Select program.  It's the perfect playground to get your feet wet in the world that is self-publishing.  If it doesn't work out, just opt out.  90 days isn't all that long, but it can seem like forever if your books are doing poorly.  Two or three bad periods can really crush an author as their book fallows and due to the terms, there is little you can do but wait.  Many an author has given up from this.

Once you have a feel for things, start to branch out.  Test the other markets, you can always go back.  Several authors have a mix of books in and out of Select.  A strategy that is often used is to put a book in Select for it's first 90 days.  Capture those early reviews all in one place, have a free run to get it out there, then release it to the rest of the markets.  Or taking older books that haven't found an audience and give it the same Select treatment to jump start it again.

After two years of being self published, I will be opting out of Select.  Only Requiem remains and it's contract will expire at the beginning of March.  I have reached a point in my career where exploring new markets is something I want to do and now that the trilogy is complete, I can market it as a set instead of one or two books with an unfinished story-line.  I have a new series coming out shortly as well so it's the perfect time to try.

I hope you have found this information helpful.