15 Ways Amazon Can Improve Kindle Direct Publishing

kindle-direct-publishingAt the London Book Fair in April, I had the opportunity to meet representatives from Amazon and present a list of feature requests and complaints (from the comments of this post with an assist from KBoards).

I spent quite a bit of time going through the list and felt that everything got a fair hearing.

Amazon said that a lot of this stuff is in the pipeline in one form or another (although judgement will have to be reserved until we see how it’s implemented) and the rest of the issues and feature requests would be passed along to the relevant department.

This isn’t the full list I presented, but it’s the issues I’d like to focus on today:

1. More Data!

I appreciate that lots of stuff is proprietary and that there might be privacy concerns surrounding what can be shared, but KDP could at least share conversion rates.

I get limited data through my affiliate account, but that’s only part of the picture, and only really tells me what happens to the traffic I bring to the site. I can only guess at the behavior of readers who discover my books themselves on Amazon – and that’s what I really want to know.

Amazon might not want to share traffic numbers, but I would love conversion percentages, sample percentages, and conversion data on those samplers etc.

2. Coupons

Smashwords and Apple both have a coupon system and it’s a handy way to give a free copies to readers, reviewers and competition winners. Amazon only allows me to gift a copy at full price, and many readers don’t know how to sideload books if I send them a mobi.

3. Full Territorial Pricing

At the moment we can set different prices in each country, but only within certain restrictions. If I opt for the 70% royalty rate in the US, which requires me to price between $2.99 and $9.99, I can’t price below the equivalent of $2.99 in any territory.

I would like the freedom to run a lower price elsewhere, as the sweet spot which maximizes revenue is often lower in developing markets. It would be great if I could opt for the 70% rate in some markets and not in others (I can do this on Kobo). It would be fantastic if I could change prices without having to go through the publishing process again.

4. Categories

The category system is central to discoverability, visibilty, and marketing (if you want more detail on that read this excerpt from Let’s Get Visible).

There are so many issues with the category system it could fill a post of its own, but I’ll run through the main ones quickly:

(a) We need lots more sub-categories. Amazon recently added new granular sub-categories in some genres, but others were completely untouched. It’s great that SF now has 20 sub-categories. It makes it easier for readers to find the kind of books they like among the 50,000 or so SF e-books on Amazon. And it makes it much easier for SF writers to be discovered and gain visibility in those smaller categories. On the other hand you have genres like Historical Fiction, which has 25,000 books and no sub-categories. I appreciate that it’s tough to divide up some categories – coming up with sub-categories for Literary Fiction is fun! – but there are so many options with Historical Fiction. If you need an example, Barnes & Noble have 20 sub-categories.

(b) New categories are great, but we can’t select many of them when uploading. The new additions aren’t selectable from the interface, and many old choices are similarly blocked since the redesign. This is a terrible idea and it’s creating work for your customer service team, who have to manually deal with authors’ requests. The only other way to get into these new sub-categories is to use the title as a keyword (which doesn’t always work either). All these sub-categories should be selectable from the KDP interface. There’s no good reason why they shouldn’t be.

(c) For the love of all things holy, please tell your customer service representatives that these new sub-categories are not like Kindle Singles and Kindle Serials and aren’t reserved for hand-picked titles. Self-publishers are having to go through five or six emails before they get a rep who actually understands this. It’s very frustrating and so easily fixed.

5. Customer Service

There are many things I love about KDP, but the customer service isn’t one of them. Reps often seem to scan the email until they get to the first issue, enter a canned response, and ignore the rest of the email. Subsequent reps don’t seem to review the previous messages on the thread, and repeat the same unhelpful response. By contrast, the Author Central customer service team is superb. The KDP guys could learn a lot from them.

6. Payment

KDP has expanded electronic payments to lots more countries, which is a welcome development, but there are still many authors in places like Australia who can only be paid by check. I don’t think American companies fully understand how much checks are verboeten in certain parts of the world. They are being completely phased out in Europe, for example, and my bank no longer accepts checks of any kind. Those that do accept checks can charge horrendous fees.

7. Pre-orders

Lots of self-publishers want them, not least because books with a pre-order page are eligible for Hot New Releases straight from upload. It seems a little unfair that we are competing against titles from large publishers which have this facility. I personally wouldn’t use this feature as I don’t want to dilute crucial launch week sales, but it’s one of the most commonly requested features and should be mentioned.

8. Removing Books

Amazon occasionally sends out emails warning that books will be removed from sale because of potential copyright issues, breaches of the Terms of Service, formatting errors, or typos. But the automated system doesn’t work very well.

A few months back, I received a notice asking me to confirm that I was the copyright holder for Let’s Get Digital (presumably because it has contributions from multiple authors). I only had a few days to respond or my book would be removed from sale, so I replied right away with the necessary information. During this period, I was unable to change the price of my book as it was frozen in KDP. That cost me a few hundred dollars, as I couldn’t raise the price after a sale, but what if I had been on vacation? What if I was unable to check email for a few days?

Other authors have struggled to convince customer service representatives that objet d’art isn’t a typo, or that certain latitude should apply with how dialogue is written, and the general issues with customer service (noted above) are compounding the problem.

It’s particularly frustrating to see this crackdown on non-issues when egregious breaches of the Terms of Service seem to go unchecked for months. I reported an unauthorized paperback edition of Let’s Get Digital last year. That was removed very quickly, but this “publisher” had over 100,000 similar titles that weren’t removed for months.

On a related note, your automated process for identifying reviews that breach the Terms of Service is deleting a lot of genuine reviews, and customer service are very unhelpful on this front. I get that you need to do something to combat purchased reviews and sockpuppets, but the system isn’t working.

9. Improve Reporting

The reporting system isn’t bad but there’s a lot of room for improvement. Createspace has a much better system. I can run reports on any date range and get a breakdown of what sold where.

On KDP, I have to check 9 different pages and it will only show me totals of what each title has sold this month and last month. It doesn’t even add the totals in each country (let alone the overall total), which should be simple to automate. And the 6-weekly reports are kind of pointless. I can see if income is trending up or down, but they don’t match up with the rest of the KDP reports because they are weekly rather than monthly.

10. Short stories

The digital revolution has led to a revival of shorter forms that were previously uneconomical to publish. However, KDP’s royalty structure penalizes short story writers who wish to sell their stories individually. Authors earn 35% (rather than 70%) on works priced less than $2.99. I can understand why Amazon want to encourage higher pricing of full length-work, but surely some system of identifying shorter work and giving the full 70% could be implemented.

It could even be done as part of the category system. Have a Short Stories sub-category in each genre and sub-genre, run a check on the length (which the system already does), and pay 70% on sales below $2.99 for titles with that category. I would also suggest the freedom to price such titles as low as $0.49. Short stories could be flagged to the reader on the product page, setting appropriate expectations as to form and content.

While we’re on short stories, it would be great if you could address the lack of fiction being selected for Kindle Singles. I love the program, but the slate leans very heavily towards narrative non-fiction. I would love to see short fiction get a little more love – particularly genre stuff.

11. International Surcharge

With each new Kindle Store that opens, more and more countries fall out of the surcharge zone (where most books get slapped with a $2 Amazon charge to cover Whispernet). But the charge still exists, and it’s still dumb.

12. Fix Author Email Notification

Amazon recently launched an email notification service on author pages. It’s a great idea but it doesn’t work. I’m signed up to several authors and haven’t received one single email. I know that Ed Robertson has published at least three titles since I signed up to be notified about his new releases, and… nothing.

Fix it, or get rid of it. (Authors: yet another reason why it’s really important to have your own mailing list.)

13. Allow Bundling

Bundled content has become hugely popular with Amazon customers – as  any series writer who has released a box set will attest. The current workaround of manually bundling books together in one big e-book file is pretty inelegant (and a killer on delivery fees, which are exorbitant btw). It would be great if we could offer bundles of our content automatically.

Like short stories, these could be done via the category system, with a sub-category for Bundles or Box Sets in each genre and sub-genre. Again, more pricing freedom would be good here, but in this case the freedom to go above $9.99 and retain 70%.

14. Boost Select

I’ll keep this brief because it should be obvious. The post-free bounce is not what it used to be, and seems to be getting worse. Borrows tend to cluster around titles already doing well. I know lots of authors who had great success with KDP Select who have now left the program (with no plans to return). Select needs something… quickly.

15. Scheduled Discounts

One popular move would be to facilitate limited-time discounts. KDP could allow 5 days out of each 90 where your book is reduced to 99c with a nice red slash through the list price, showing the customer the savings. Authors could schedule their promotions in KDP, like they do with free days, and wouldn’t have to worry about price changes happening in time for an ad spot.

(Note: I’m not suggesting this replace our current ability to adjust price whenever we like, but as something in addition to that.)

KDP could even curate the day’s deals on a special page, broken down by categories. This would be immensely popular with readers. Amazon might worry this could cannibalize their own deal offerings (such as the Kindle Daily Deals and promos like the 100 for less than $3.99 etc.), but the massive growth of sites like BookBub proves that this area is currently under-served.

* * *

I’d like to return to this list in a few months and see what progress has been made. I’d also like to make it a regular thing and see if we can have an open channel to communicate our needs.

If you have any issues or feature requests you would like to have raised, please note them in the comments. Problems with suggested solutions are best of all.

Amazon was very appreciative of the feedback and asked me to pass along their thanks to you. So… thank you.

And I’d like to thank everyone here for helping spread the word about Let’s Get Visible. The launch went perfectly and I’ve already shifted 1600 copies of the newbie, giving me a record month of 3600 sales!

David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.