15 Ways To Improve KDP – Progress Report Publishing

kindle-direct-publishingThe London Book Fair is underway again which makes it a perfect time to review the list of suggestions I presented to KDP last year.

As regular readers will know, I crowd-sourced a list of feature requests, bug fixes, and common problems via my blog and the most popular self-publisher hangout, Kboards.

The KDP reps at the Fair spent a great deal of time going through your list of suggestions. They asked for clarification at various points and I was able to follow up with them by email afterwards.

At the same time, a parallel effort led by Marie Force, Laura Florand, and Diana Peterfreund presented a similar list of suggestions at NINC in October last year. There were probably more such efforts too.

In any event, here’s the checklist, with progress (if any) indicated.

1. More Data! (see original request here)

A very common demand was for more data. While many agreed Amazon was unlikely to share traffic numbers (to our book pages), we expressed a hope that KDP could give us aggregated conversion percentages, sample percentages, and conversion rates on those samples. Anything really, we don’t get a lot of data.

Progress: Meh. We get a little more data now when we run Kindle Countdown promos, but nothing outside of that. And most of that is stuff we probably could have figured out anyway.

2. Coupons (see original request here)

Another popular request was for Smashwords-like coupons. We don’t have an easy way of giving free books within the Amazon system.

Progress: Fail. Amazon seemed to experiment briefly with coupons in December when giving free copies of Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur to those who completed Nanowrimo. I had hoped this was a test for a wider roll-out of coupons but nothing has happened since. 

3. Full Territorial Pricing (see original request here)

With the rapid expansion of Amazon into developing markets like India and Brazil, many self-publishers want full territorial pricing (like on Kobo). Right now, if you choose the 70% royalty option in one market, you can’t price below a certain level in all markets.

Progress: Fail. In fairness to Amazon, this might be technically difficult to set up now, after the fact. Kobo had the advantage of building their platform with international pricing in mind.

4. Categories (see original request here)

If I could have picked one change out of all those presented last year, it would have been categories, and Amazon has come up trumps. The category system has been greatly expanded, redressing the sub-category imbalance between fiction and non-fiction.

Progress: Great Success! There’s more work to do here but I can only congratulate Amazon on listening and acting on this issue. A hugely popular change with writers and readers alike.

5. Customer Service (see original request here)

Opinions may differ on this, but I’ve noticed a significant improvement in KDP’s customer service over the last twelve months. It was pretty shabby this time last year and any dealings with KDP were frustrating. Have you noticed an improvement? Did I just get lucky?

Progress: Pass.

6. Payment (see original request here)

It’s always tricky being non-American and dealing with American companies. They don’t seem to release how verboten checks are in Europe (and many parts of the world). Many banks simply don’t accept them at all anymore, and many of the rest charge horrendous fees for processing them.

Progress: Success. Amazon has expanded the number of countries that can now get paid electronically, and payments have also been speeded up. A feature we didn’t request – the KDP dashboard showing exact amounts paid and exchange rates used – is very welcome. So far so good.

7. Pre-orders (see original request here)

Probably the most-requested feature, even if it’s not one that I personally want. Amazon has also fallen behind here now that pre-orders are open to all self-publishers on Kobo and Apple (and Smashwords). KDP is reaching out to more and more top-selling self-publishers, and offering them a pre-order facility, but I think it is still undecided about making it open to anyone (which I can understand, given issues with delivering on time etc.).

From those I know who have done it, results have been mixed. Unlike Kobo and Apple, Amazon doesn’t roll-up all pre-order sales for a launch-day ranking burst. Without that feature (which might be controversial, to be honest), pre-orders don’t have the same attraction/effect and can dilute sales from core fans and mute authors’ actual launches.

Progress: Fail. But do we want it in its current form anyway?

8. Removing Books (see original request here)

The automated nastygrams that KDP sends out for perceived breaches of its ToS seem to have calmed down a touch. I hear about fewer cases of bots/reps demanding that “typos” like objet d’art get “fixed.” A welcome development, but the heavy handedness remains in other areas.

Authors can still receive one of these terse messages (threatening removal of books within a matter of days unless action is taken) when they have done nothing wrong, e.g when a bot sends out a request to prove you own the rights to a book written by you! As I mentioned to KDP reps, what happens if you are on vacation?

Progress: Mixed. Amazon should implement some kind of tiering here. If an author has never breached the ToS or engaged in anything shady, the system shouldn’t go to Defcon 5 just because a bot isn’t sure if someone owns the rights to their own book. I’ve little issue with such treatment being given to repeat breachers of the ToS but some perspective is needed here.

9. Improve Reporting (see original request here)

There have been some minor graphical improvements to the KDP reporting dashboard, which indicates a bigger change is in the works, but little other progress has been made (aside from showing payments made – which is very handy). I’ll say exactly what I said last year: copy the reporting system from Createspace. It’s great.

Progress: Fail. But something is in the works – as per Marie Force’s feedback.

10. Short Stories (see original request here)

Short stories are a hard sell. We can’t price them individually below 99c and they struggle for visibility. Last year I suggested adding a Short Story sub-category to each genre and shaking up the pricing/royalty structure.

Progress: Great Success! KDP is currently in the process of adding Short Story sub-categories to each genre, giving them greater visibility, and is looking at paying 70% royalties for short stories priced below $2.99. In addition, Amazon has also launched StoryFront and DayOne.

11. International Surcharge (see original request here)

This issue isn’t on the radar for US self-publishers/readers, but is a big one for users in those markets where Amazon adds a $2 Whispernet surcharge on many ebook purchases – a problem compounded when local sales tax is added on top of that.

Progress: Mixed. Amazon’s continued international expansion is rendering this issue somewhat moot but there are still many markets affected. It would be a great PR move to abolish the charge altogether. It can’t make Amazon that much money and the upside is significant: preventing competitors from getting a toe-hold before Amazon is ready to launch a local Kindle Store.

12. Fix Author Email Notification (see original request here)

Last year, Amazon launched a new feature on author pages where readers could get an automatic email when selected authors release new books. But it didn’t work. I asked them to fix it, or drop it, as it was probably cannibalizing our own mailing lists… and wasn’t working!

Progress: Mixed. Whatever was gunking up the system seems to have been fixed a couple of months ago and readers began receiving new release notifications. However, I don’t seem to get them for all the authors I’m signed up for, but do receive them for authors I haven’t signed up for.

13. Allow bundling (see original request here)

Box sets have become hugely popular with readers but the only way of serving that need is to shoehorn books into one giant file, then battle with delivery fees and file sizes, and deal with the hassle of accounting for multiple authors. I’m sure there’s a simpler, more elegant solution where KDP could allow us to offer bundles of content. A sub-category for bundles/boxes would be nice too.

Progress: Mixed. Rumor is that Amazon is looking to do something here. At the very least, it is going to try and make the revenue/accounting side easier for those managing multi-author box sets.

14. Boost Select (see original request here)

This time last year, savvy self-publishers were fleeing Select and focusing their energies on gaining traction outside of Amazon. Even among those who stayed, the consensus was that KDP needed to do something to sweeten the pot.

Progress: Success. Kindle Countdown isn’t quite the game-changer that Select free days were but it’s definitely something. The deals page is a function of the Popularity List, so if your book isn’t already selling somewhat well, then you will struggle to get much out of a Countdown promo, unless you can boost it with an ad – which can be a lucrative approach given the higher royalties paid on lower priced books during Countdown. Amazon deserves praise for trying something different, even if it’s not quite enough to lure many back to Select.

15. Scheduled Discounts (see original request here)

Given the gremlins that can sometimes attack when you have to drop price in time for an ad, another popular request was for scheduled price drops – like we can now do at Kobo. I suggested that Amazon could curate such deals on special page, broken down by category.

Progress: Success. Amazon did all of that, as part of Countdown, but only made it available to those enrolled in Select. I’d still like to be able to schedule price drops for titles not in Select. Alternatively, let us change prices without going through the whole publishing process again – which would avoid a lot of problems/stress with regard to promo campaigns.

OVERALL VERDICT

KDP should be congratulated for making a huge amount of progress on such a substantial list of issues and feature requests. Out of all the retailers, Amazon seems to be the one most willing to listen and make changes requested by authors.

Some requests were probably either unrealistic or technically difficult (More Data, Coupons, Full Territorial Pricing, Pre-Orders), but even then I got the sense that they were trying to understand the issue from our perspective and seeing if anything could be done.

I was extremely heartened to see progress on the issues that would have the biggest direct effect on authors (Categories, Payments, Select, Discounts). And there are plenty more developments in the works we can look forward to. Amazon is always tight-lipped about those but, for starters, we can certainly expect KDP reporting to be improved.

Finally, I should note all the other stuff Amazon rolled out in the last year: KindleWorlds, StoryFront, DayOne, Matchbook, the new imprints Waterfall Press and Jet City Comics, new Kindle Stores in Mexico and Australia, and the opening up of ACX to the UK (although the extremely unpopular ACX royalty cut must be mentioned).

I’m impressed Amazon was able to squeeze in time to address our concerns. And a huge thanks to all of you here and on Kboards for taking the time to put forward requests and suggestions.

Note: As per Mark Coker in the comments, Smashwords provides a pre-order facility for Barnes & Noble, as well as Kobo and Apple. The only difference being that those pre-order sales at B&N aren’t rolled up for a ranking boost on launch day. See the comments for more from Mark and links to info on Smashwords’ pre-order facility.