KDP Select Launch Raises Payment Questions

Things had been going pretty smoothly for self-publishers until the KDP Select launch. We were more or less done with the arguments about whether this was a viable path and whether you could attract an agent/publisher (if you wanted to) by self-publishing first.

This post is from 11 December 2011. It has not been updated except to clean up broken links but the comments remain open.

We had generally agreed that e-books were here to stay and that print books and bookstores (sadly) were on the way out. Then Amazon came along with a curveball, splitting the community: KDP Select.

KDP Select is an opt-in program where self-publishers can be part of Amazon’s e-book lending library.  There has been a lot of discussion about KDP Select and the Lending Library – some hysterical, some measured – but I think it needs to be considered in the framework of subscription models in general.

I won’t spend much time on the pros and cons, they have been debated pretty exhaustively on The Passive Voice and places like Kindle Boards, and I think most writers already know where they stand on this. I want to ask everyone to take a look at the bigger picture of subscription models and how we will collectively define future compensation for our work.

There had been murmurings about Amazon’s move for some time. With the launch of the Kindle Fire – and the obvious corollary that the device was designed to generate future profit on content – speculation turned to whether Amazon would attempt some kind of Netflix-for-Books. Indeed, rumors abounded that they had approached publishers on this and had been universally rebuffed.

For a reader, the deal is seductive: read as much as you like for a fixed fee. In practice, it’s only attractive if the books you want to read are part of the package. For the company selling the package, the clearest way to show value is by having content you can’t get anywhere else.

It was inevitable in one sense. Exclusivity was always going to rear its head. We’ve seen it in plenty of other content industries (software, games, music); it was only a matter of time before it inserted itself in the e-book game. It’s not that new – Amazon just got people talking about it.

Writers are used to being on the sidelines, watching these power plays. This time is different (partly because the publishers decided to sit this one out). We’re being asked to make a decision. And make no mistake, whether we participate, and how we participate, has huge ramifications for the whole publishing business: how readers pay for books, how writers get paid for those stories they read, and how publishers and retailers get to play in this new game.

Amazon arouses strong feelings (in either direction). But whatever your feelings are, you need to realize that subscription models of some sort are going to play a big part in the immediate future.

There are plenty of start-ups out there right now working on similar subscription models. It usually works like this. Readers can read whatever they like – for free – but have to suffer ads (which subsidize the books they are reading). The ads aren’t too bad – they aren’t intrusive, they aren’t pop-ups, they are like the digital equivalent of the glossy one-pagers you see in magazines (or like those in the ad-supported Kindles).

The companies pay for the ads, and the ads pay the authors, and the readers read for free (and put up with the ads). It sounds okay in theory, but there are plenty of skeptics who wonder if the ads will be effective enough and lucrative enough to pay authors and publishers the kind of money to include their content (and to replace the cash they earn from selling that content in the usual way).

The subscription part comes from a fee, paid by the reader. In many models (like Spotify, if you are familiar with that), if you pay a monthly fee you can make the ads disappear, and get access to exclusive content. In some models, they don’t really bother with ads at all, and just charge a monthly fee. But all models are generally some mixture of ads and subscriptions.

Either way, whether you like it or not, subscription models are going to form a big part of the reading mix in the future – probably in the immediate future. This isn’t something like enhanced e-books where the jury is out. This is happening now.

And whether you think subscription models are the right way to sell your work or not, that decision is out of your hands. Readers are in charge here. If that’s how they want to read your stories (and it’s how a large portion of people now like to consume music, television, and movies), then that’s how you will have to sell them.

My point is, whether you think subscription models are right or wrong, you need to start thinking about how you will value (and sell) your work under such models.

This discussion has largely been going on in the background, but Amazon has changed all that with their Lending Library – where Amazon Prime subscribers could rent one book from the library for free each month. First, it was launched with a hand-picked selection of approximately 5,000 bestselling books. To assuage publishers concerns, Amazon pledged to pay full price each time one of their titles were rented.

There have been a lot of strongly worded articles about this, but the fact is, it’s all shadow boxing. Nobody expects either (a) future rentals to be limited to one per month or (b) Amazon to continue to pay full price for each book rented. Neither is sustainable. The real argument is about what price Amazon (or any other retailer) will pay per rental, and how the whole system will operate.

Because publishers were unwilling to participate in the Lending Library, Amazon turned to self-publishers – an army of content owners grappling with discoverability. To entice self-publishers into the Lending Library, Amazon created a program called KDP Select which had all sorts of purported benefits to get self-publishers to opt in. The price of entry was a 90-day exclusivity period.

Initially, there was a rush to sign-up – 30,000 self-published titles were entered in the first 24 hours. However, many more stayed on the sidelines – some dead against it, others unsure. Some who opted in originally, have already opted out. Others, however, are already seeing good results.

It’s impossible to make an objective statement about the merits of KDP Select when so much is unknown, when writers will view it very differently depending on their readership and business model, and when, like most things, the proof will be in the pudding.

I will attempt to present the pros and cons dispassionately, then explain why I’m not participating, and finally I will argue that there is a bigger picture here which all writers (and publishers) need to consider whether they are participating or not.

There are lots of self-publishers who have already made a different decision to mine, and I hope they can participate in the comments. That way, anyone who is on the fence will get to hear all sides before making their own decision.

If you haven’t decided yet, and you are feeling under pressure, don’t sweat it. If you were worried that you should get in early and take advantage of being first, it’s already too late – there are already 41,500 e-books in the Lending Library (over 35,000 through KDP Select), and the number is rising every hour. In short, that window is gone.

These are the primary benefits of participating:

1. Amazon will pay a fee for each book rented. The amount paid will come from a fixed pot of $500,000 in the first month, and will be distributed pro rata depending on how many times your book was downloaded in that month. The pot may increase in subsequent months, but there are no guarantees.

2. Amazon will allow you to put your book for free for a maximum of five days in each 90-day opt-in period. This may not sound like a benefit to anyone who hasn’t tried it, but there are numerous examples of authors using “free” to boost paid sales. Whether you think it’s a benefit or not, most self-publishers consider it a handy, targeted way to use a strategy that previously required uncertain, back-door hoop-jumping.

3. Rentals positively affect your sales ranking in the same manner that a normal sale does. This has been confirmed by Amazon.

4. Exposure in the Lending Library could win you readers that would not have discovered your work otherwise.

These are the main costs:

1. Exclusivity. To participate in KDP Select, you must remove your book from all other retailers and keep it removed for a 90-day period (the minimum opt-in time). You are also prohibited from selling from your own site. Penalties for failure to comply are pretty severe. If you choose to opt out, Amazon still has exclusivity for those 90 days.

2. I’m not sure if this is a real issue for many, but there is language in the Terms of Service of KDP Select which is causing concern. The opposing argument is that such language is necessary to prevent authors circumventing exclusivity by publishing a slightly different version of the same book outside of Amazon. I’m not a lawyer, so you will need to decide for yourself if this is an issue (or have one advise you if you are concerned).

To many self-publishers, KDP Select was a no-brainer. They were making 95% (or more) of their sales through Amazon, so the main perceived cost of participating was largely moot. However, as 30,000 titles were enrolled in the first 24 hours, it became clear that the limited pot of $500,000 wasn’t going to go very far.

Most of the self-publishers arguing in favor of the scheme didn’t focus on the payouts (they admitted the math didn’t look attractive). To them, the key benefit in participating was the potential extra exposure both from the library itself, and being able to do targeted free promotions.

They felt that Amazon would promote the program to current and prospective Prime subscribers, and that they had a chance of gaining new readers before publishers changed their minds and flooded the Lending Library with backlist. And, to be fair, some self-publishers posted some initial results that were positive.

However, I was never tempted to enroll. Aside from the payment terms, which were too vague and too small, my main issue was with exclusivity. The details don’t matter so much – they will be different for everyone – but my non-Amazon sales are too large a proportion to give up for benefits I’m skeptical about.

On top of that, I really don’t want to abandon my readers in the surcharge countries, nor those who aren’t allowed to buy from Amazon at all. It also runs completely contrary to my whole approach of building multiple income streams and diversifying away from being dependent on one company or market.

I’m also concerned about how exclusivity could limit my creative promotions. These are the three best things I have done in the last six months to help sales or put money in my pocket:

  1. LibraryThing Giveaways
  2. Making the PDF of Let’s Get Digital a free download on my blog.
  3. Crowdfunding the release of A Storm Hits Valparaiso.

Collectively, those three moves have been directly responsible for more than 50% of my revenue this year, and probably a lot more indirectly. The first two are certainly impermissible under the terms of KDP Select, and the third is up in the air, depending on your interpretation.

There is one final – much more important – aspect to this that I think all writers need to consider. As I said earlier, subscription models are going to play a big part in the future of reading. We need to figure out how we are going to be compensated by publishers, retailers, or companies that are running these programs. If we don’t you can be sure that they will be paying us as little as possible.

I think that agreeing to Amazon’s model of a fixed pot is a dangerous precedent, and I would much prefer if a per-download fee was negotiated – that could then be revised upwards or downwards by mutual agreement in the future.

Right now, authors get to set the price of their work. We put a dollar value on it whether we self-publish and sell through Amazon, or whether we license it to publishers and accept payment in return.

By accepting the compensation system Amazon is proposing, we are agreeing to fight for a limited pot of cash – no matter how many authors are scrambling for it. Amazon say they will raise it if the scheme is popular, but it’s all at their discretion. We have no say. They have all the power under this new model.

But right now, we have the power. We can turn down that crummy advance. We can refuse to sell our book for 99c. We can tell that publisher in Uzbekistan that if he wants our audio rights, he needs to come back with a serious offer. The point is, we can see the cash on the table, and walk away if it isn’t attractive enough.

Under Amazon’s scheme, we never know what we will be paid until well after the fact. We’re not even being made a crummy offer. There’s no minimum guaranteed payment per rental. We know what the size of the pot is (for one month of the three month exclusivity they demand), but have no idea how many rentals it will cover. We’re being told afterwards what we did (or didn’t) get paid. That’s not acceptable.

There are valid reasons for experimenting with KDP Select, and there are valid reasons for rejecting it. However, I would urge all self-publishers to look beyond what they perceive to be in their immediate self-interest and consider the bigger picture.

Subscription models are going to play a big part in the future. We don’t know how big yet, but we can be sure that a large chunk of our readers will be using them. That means, of course, that a large chunk of our income will (or should) come from them.

Do you want to have a say in what you get paid? Do you want to have control over the value that is placed on your work? Or do you want to hand away that power to someone else? It’s your decision.

Amazon has already shown that they are willing to listen on this issue. When creating KDP Select, they reached out to many top-selling self-publishers and sought their feedback – and many of their changes were incorporated.

I think we could (and should) get a better deal for our work. We can demand a rethink on exclusivity. And we can fight for a better compensation system. The first step, I would humbly suggest, is to withhold participation in KDP Select until those terms improve.

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.

190 Replies to “KDP Select Launch Raises Payment Questions”

  1. it’s been almost 2 years since this article was published. What do you think of the KDP Select program now? As a new writer, I’m definitely trying to figure out how to get the best visibility. Is it still best to diversify as much as possible? ie, will posting on Nook, Kobo, etc get enough more visibility than the extra visibility I’d get on Amazon through this program? Keep up the great work!

    1. Peter:
      I tried KDP Select, and had some success, but ultimately decided wide distribution is best. However, it you only have one book out, it may be good for you. Still, just because you may have a lot of free downloads, it doesn’t always translate to high sales. It’s best to target your market.

      1. Thanks for the insight, James! I’m trying to spread my net wide at the moment, so we’ll see how that works out. Maybe I’ll try KDP select at some point and see if I get any difference. 🙂

  2. Very good and thought provoking article.
    I have become a first time indie publisher. I have chosen KDP, not for the money, but at the moment, exposure. The 90 days I can live with, it allows me to get on with creating a more rounded, all encompassing marketing plan. It allows me to get my website, my blog started and gather readers, it also gives me time to get the novel ready for the other formats that are required by the other digital sellers, such as Smashwords.
    It took a while to get my novel Kindle ready. Why have that lay dormant, while spending time getting ready and waiting for Smashwords to except my formatted novel? When it could be doing something for me.
    My plan is to have a system running first, get the ball rolling, and that system at the moment is KDP
    I let Amazon help me make a name for myself, while I can concentrate on on creating an overall system that can be implemented the moment KDP finishes. I allow plan A to start, then when that comes to and end, plan B takes over, very little time wasted, one works while the other is being created to then takeover completely. During the 90 days everything can be rehearsed, streamlined, prodded until it’s ready to take over.
    It may sound simple, but have something in place, let that run, until you have something better later on to take over. To me, KDP is my beta plan, and when the 90 days is up, v1 rolls out.
    Kind regards
    Ian S Rutter

  3. Beautifully spoken, David (as always). I agree with you and felt this way before I even read this. I wish more sp authors would just think (for once) about the entire group instead of acting on the “every man for himself/herself” thought process.

    Yes we are competing for readership somewhere, but we are also a group- a vulnerable group with no real leadership. There’s no SP Association to watch-dog & have our interests in mind. I just feel sorry for the people that signed up for that program (Select) , I really do. I thought SP authors would drop their prices to 50 cents for their 400 page ebooks in the heat of competing in the race to the bottom but they shocked even me by skipping that level and diving straight to the bottom with free.

    Ok, so now they are competing on FREE. Ok. So where are they going to go from there? They can’t drop their prices any lower than that so what “strategy” are they going to come up with to compete with each other on now? Content??? Well, they were competing on that at higher price points except the difference is that they won’t be earning any money now. Competing on content while earning nothing.

    Strangely, I haven’t heard a single, self published soul mention AMANDA HOCKING & JOHN LOCKE in regards to this KDP Select program. I bet you haven’t either, David (or maybe you have. Idk). Those two used to be all they could talk about. My guess is, SP authors don’t want Amanda Hocking or John Locke in that program because folks are going to download THEM by the hundreds of thousands, netting them most if not all of the $500,000.

    According to my rough math and understand of the KDP Select rules, Amazon pays pull price for each book borrowed? I’m probably missing something but for example, all Hocking would have to lend is “very roughly” , something like 57,000 copies of say…her 3 My Blood Approves books (I didn’t even count the 99 cent book from that series, or any of her famous Trylle series books) to reach roughly $500,000 (give or take). 57,000 books is not much for someone who has already sold millions. And there you have it: the pot is depleted.

    But again, I think I’m not understanding the rules of Select or something. This scenerio sounds weird: a fixed pot and authors being paid by the number of lends. If I’m right then a single author could deplete that money pot? If so, isn’t that the long tail several people mentioned before where you have a few people on top earning a big money, followed by a stable of writers who can’t even turn a profit?

    1. We don’t have enough hard facts on Amazon’s financial arrangements with publishers and authors. However, from what we do know, I believe you are mistaken about the arrangement with self-published authors. The KDP Select people (the self-pub authors) are splitting a December 2011 pot of $500,000, proportionally based on the number of checkouts. So if any author gets even one checkout, they will receive SOMEthing. If half the checkouts go to one KDP Select author, regardless of the number of those checkouts, that author will receive $250,000.

      The “full price” Amazon is paying for “each book borrowed” is for some of the titles initially offered in the Kindle Owner’s Lending LIbrary program and NOT the titles from KDP Select authors. This is my understanding, at any rate.

      I believe paying authors when their books are loaned as well as sold is a terrific idea, particularly as I believe eBooks are natural candidates for lending rather than buying (a condition Netflix has certainly established for movies). And I believe Amazon has a done a wonderful thing in initiating this process, even though I can see it having disastrous consequences for public libraries.

      The End of Libraries

      1. been following this thread a bit (super reading!) and i don’t know much of the history of libraries, other than they’ve been around a “long” time (alexander the great et al), so i’m gonna guess (and please let me know if i’m wrong) libraries have, like most things people have come up with since luxury caves in the south of france 😉 libraries have probably evolved

        i personally used to love going to libraries when i was young; recently, since my move from texas to vermont, i’ve debated getting another printer (probably will) and have, meanwhile, been going to the free public library here in burlington, where i can print, go online, check email etc – the latter two i do at home mostly

        the point i’m getting to (finally 😉 is that i see many many people there, at the library, and one has to take a number for one of almost two dozen fairly good computers, doing those two latter things…and –

        that there are huge numbers of other people sitting comfortably out of the cold (in texas i imagine that’d be “out of the heat!”) reading newspapers, opening actually just sitting there thinking, etc

        the library here in burlington even has a section of garden tools one can (i guess ) check out, like a book

        why not add a cafe?

        kindle/nook/kobo readers one can “use” in the library?

        libraries are depositories of things we people have invented and come up with to share words and images and film and sounds with each other

        just expand that basic function

        little kids still love going to libraries, there’s a whole child’s wing in roaring use each time i’ve gone by there

        old folk like quiet places, or at least i do, and i’m kinda old(er) 😉

        anyway, this is more a rant now than anything else, thanks much!

      2. You have done a pretty good job of summarizing peripheral products and services public libraries have evolved into providing over the years. Nevertheless, their core service remains the acquisition and distribution of books. If libraries falter in their ability to provide this service as eBooks come to replace printed books (and they ARE faltering), and if another entity such as Amazon can step in and provide that service (and Amazon is in the process of doing just that), then libraries will have lost their core purpose for being and none of these peripheral services will save them.

        The End of Libraries

      3. that’s a super good point dale

        in that regard, yes, libraries need to step in, provide ereaders of all stripes for use in the library, plus, maybe even ipads for watching videos and films, also in the library

        these are the content of libraries, and enabling the public to access that content, seems to be key

        libraries, i’ve only recently come to realize, are hubs for people to be in, safely and quietly

        their loss would be immense…

  4. what a great article

    the issues are so complex for me that, even after reading through the article and now all the comments to date, i’m still confused 😉

    i’d had to withdraw an initial ebook i’d placed into select, because content within it meant i would’ve had to remove those portions from my website, and my work is so integrated, linked, and cross-references, it would have meant dismantling my site, so that didn’t work –

    i’m still figuring out “angles” and hope the best for all, including me!

    ps, mine are the pingbacks above on the “free ebook download, an experiment” – i’ve kinda chronicled what i’ve been through trying to figure this all out; best wishes everyone 😉

    1. as an update, i did, after much thrashing that some might’ve called brain storming 😉 come up with a project that would qualify under the amazon’s current guidelines, and i am pleased enough to try out this way

      it’s a small 99¢ work of short poems i’ve literally just been working on, since my prior work almost all has “some” ties to posts or links already on my site, and taking those down would disrupt whole waves of pages linked and cross-linked (my site’s mission statement is to integrate yoga fitness and the arts, as i experience them, so from the beginning, each post has many connections to past and future posts)

      because of the re-do’s to get this offering for amazon done, they just went live, and free for five days, today, and certainly i’m getting more downloads than i was sales of my other work, so, we’ll see 😉

      i saw your reply to another author david, and am glad you’ll be doing follow-up articles on all this, and may have someone with an opposite view of yours, i think that’s not only smart but very fair on your part, i appreciate that

      looking fwd to your future reviews of the program, almost as much as what my own tiny experience will be 😉

      thank you much,


  5. I didn’t hesitate in signing on with KDP Direct. My sales via the other vendors have been minimal, while all of my books have been steady Kindle bestsellers. As for Prime Member Lending, I’ve considered that to be icing on the cake, not the principal motivation for joining. Finally, it’s for 90 days. After careful consideration, I’ll decide whether, or not, to re-enroll when that time expires.
    I’ve had excellent results since joining KDP Select. My first book got over 10,000 downloads during its 48-hour promo, after which sales have shot skyward placing the book at #333 of all Kindle ebook sales plus on multiple genre bestseller lists. And well over a hundred borrowers have taken the book from the lending library. The effect on sales of my other two books has been positive as well. I’m making a boatload of money and getting heightened exposure to boot.
    Exclusivity doesn’t sit well with me, but as a 90 day experiment, the decision was a no-brainer.

    1. Congratulations James. There have been a number of success stories on Kindle Boards. Some writers are certainly gaining huge exposure from leveraging free downloads into a pole vault to the top of the charts. Some are slipping fast after that, but many are hanging on and making a hell of a lot of money. It remains to be seen whether Amazon closes that “loophole” or not, and it should be noted that I don’t hear too many writers saying much about borrows or how lucrative that will be (which is what my skepticism here is aimed at). I think we will be able to judge all this better in a few months, but I’m really delighted to see writers making a success of it. Still not for me, though, for all the above reasons and more. I will be returning to this topic again, and might invite someone along to give the other side.

  6. David,

    This has to be the best post I’ve read on this topic. I wish more bloggers could be like you. Your posts are totally balanced and unbiased, and that’s why I love them so much! 🙂

  7. “For the company selling the package, the clearest way to show value is by having content you can’t get anywhere else.”

    I would disagree with that. The clearest way to show value is by having the content the reader wants to read, whether it is available somewhere else or not. My public library consortium (150 libraries in Vermont), through Overdrive, has nothing I want to read, and what they do have is available in a brain-dead lending model–one borrower at a time–with long waiting lists on almost all titles.

    A factor not addressed above is this: For the first time in history, authors are being paid when their books are loaned as well as when they are sold. Public libraries depend on the First Sale Doctrine, which allows them to loan a paper copy of a purchased book, serially, to as many readers as want it for no further compensation to the publisher or author. Whether the First Sale Doctrine will be extended to digital materials (I hope it will be) remains to be seen. I expect Amazon is depending on it being extended when they agreed to purchase a copy of a book in the original 5,000 titles placed in the Lending Library when borrowed by a Prime customer. I do not expect they will think they need to purchase another copy in the following month, when the first is “returned.”

    As of this moment (12/14/2011, 3pm EST), self-published authors of over 45,000 books have failed to heed your advice. I have no idea how many Prime customers there are or how many of them will borrow a book at all in this first month. I also don’t know how much of that data will be released by Amazon after the month is up. What I do know is that Amazon, from Day One, has done practically everything right. I expect them to continue to figure out the right way to gain a lock on the eBook lending market.

    When they do, public libraries will be finished. I am a great fan of Amazon.com. But I will mourn the end of libraries, as any conscious citizen of a democracy should.

    The End of Libraries

    1. Fair point, Dale, that wasn’t as phrased as well as it could have been. Selection will be King in any subscription model. What I was trying to say is that one way to win the selection war is to get a whole load of content signed up exclusively.

      With regard to KDP Select, I am under no illusions about how influential I am 🙂

      On a more serious note, it’s too early to judge Amazon’s program. Maybe most of those 45,000 will be underwhelmed. Maybe readers will be. Or maybe Amazon have a very popular program on their hands with both readers and self-publishers and an ever-increasing pot. Time will tell.

      As for libraries, their future is certainly up in the air, sadly. And that is something I care deeply about.

      1. Libraries aren’t going anywhere any time soon. There are still far far FAR more people who have never read and don’t care to read an ebook. This is #firstworldproblems we are discussing, and in the context of the slice of the first world that can afford ereaders. Amazon is not making the libraries go away, although we should all fear for their health given the antipathy held for the public sector right now.

        Under the terms of the First Sale Doctrine as put up by a previous commenter, Amazon would be obligated to pay each of its authors the price of a copy of their story before lending it out. As far as I can tell in the Select program, it’s not even promising them that. If I sell a copy of my book to the Library, I have been paid for that copy. Amazon seems to be asking for a copy of a book and the ability to give it to any number of people without having first bought it. When individuals do this, they’re called “ebook pirates” and a hue and cry is raised against them, along with a lot of pearl-clutching about “lost sales.” The 800-pound gorilla in the room sits wherever he wants, I guess.

        While I doubt Amazon’s motivations are as nefarious as it may seem, they’re not as altruistic, either. Amazon needs a way to achieve market domination in delivered content to justify its losses on the devices upon which that content is delivered. As content providers, we can partner with Amazon, but we’re by no means their first priority, and it’s not healthy for us to think we are. Caveat scriptor, as the case may be.

      2. “As for libraries, their future is certainly up in the air, sadly. And that is something I care deeply about.”


        That being the case, you might add the death of libraries to your list of disincentives for providing Amazon exclusive lending rights. Amazon currently lends Kindle editions to public libraries through Overdrive. In doing so, they gather valuable information regarding the borrowers. And another issue: I do not know whether the 50,000+ books now in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and available for lending ONLY to Prime customers will also be available to public libraries via Overdrive. I guess that will be entirely up to Amazon.

        If something like the AmPLE notion I write about in The End of Libraries is not adopted, I fear Athena’s opening comment is going to prove to be wishful thinking. (And anyway, it
        is the public libraries in the first world I am concerned about–my own, among others!) And as for all those people who “don’t care to read an ebook,” well, once they do, I expect 90% of them will, like me, become overnight converts to the medium. The book is dead, except as a curiosity. It has been superseded by a far more economical delivery medium, as have music and movies.

        The End of Libraries

  8. People are at the “it’s an experiment” phase. So everything seems fine. But what happens when people are getting many library downloads a month better than their BN sales. It’s very hard to argue with people making money, but if 30,000 have already registered, this is already 1/3 of Smashwords total list. This will put other ebook outlets out of business. You can say – well, they have to offer better terms to compete. The problem is that Amazon has a massive head start and will crush other outlets even if they offer 90% royalties.

    I agree that subscription is the future. I’m a Spotify addict, even if I recognize that this offers terrible terms to musicians. But Spotify doesn’t demand exclusivity – you can find stuff on Rhapsody, MOG, etc. as well. So this is different, and it’s giving Amazon keys to the total kingdom. If nothing changes and Amazon is still offering 70% royalties 10 years from now and everyone’s selling as many books as they ever did, then Amazon’s monopoly doesn’t seem like a gigantic problem. But I’m wary of giving one company so much power, even if their tools have been so empowering.

  9. A small publisher, Books We Love Publishing, that has my short story collection, The Wisdom of Ages, and several other titles in the Select program, just notified me that sales have increased due to the opportunity to offer a book free for a short time. Most of us are just waiting to see how well this plays out for us, the authors.

    Appreciate your concise analysis of the pros and cons of the program.

  10. Re: Subscription Models

    While I agree that the publishing industry will get here at some point, note that there is a fundamental historical difference in music/movie contracts vs. book contracts. For most of the record industry’s history, a “Standard Contract” involved the full transfer (i.e. sale) of copyright to the record company. Same with movies. In other words, when Netflix or Spotify wanted to make a deal, the record companies or movie studios had full authority to cut whatever deal they were comfortable with.

    The big publishing companies, however, are only LICENSING very specific rights (only print, really, and hence the drawn out fight over eRights for backlist) for a period of time. There had never been any transfer or sale of rights, so the contracts are fundamentally different, and this will be a serious impediment in getting all major publishers’ backlists into any kind of subscription model without first getting agreement from agents and authors (a nightmare in legal fees for any publisher–it would take an act of congress in the US, which actually could happen). Record companies and movie studios did not have to worry about getting any such agreement from thousands of smaller parties–they had full authority to cut a deal because they owned the rights.

    Also note that while there are serious “rights grabs” going on with new contracts (mainly with new authors desperate to get a deal–trust me, Stephen King ain’t agreeing to any subscription model in his new contracts), the basics are the same in that the following two clauses are a standard part of any publishing contract:
    1 – It is only a license of copyright for a specific period of time
    2 – Any rights not explicitly licensed are owned by the author

    Still, the subscription models will certainly happen, but more likely with new material rather than popular backlist, which means it will be a while before readers will be able to satisfy all their needs by simply signing up for an ebook version of spotify (because there won’t be one that gives you the book-equivalent of U2 or Madonna or the Rolling Stones).

  11. Well-written and soundly reasoned. As a relative noob on the scene, I haven’t yet seen Amazon turn the juggernaut I know it can be. I can’t in good conscience opt in to the kdp select program because my numbers so far don’t support it, and honestly, neither do my ethics. I’ve railed against “windowing” from publishers since day one of their attempt to do it with ebooks. I cannot in good conscience limit my own readers and potential readers the same way.

    If you approach indie publishing knowing that it is a long game, you don’t feel as much of a need to jump on every new idea before seeing a proof of concept. I doubt Amazon knows whether or not the lender will translate to a buyer, or simply a consumer of free content.

  12. I did opt in the select program with my small town series, Grandberry Falls. There were a couple reasons for this. I’ve sold maybe a handful of these two books on Smashwords in the past few months, a couple hundred on Pubit, and a couple thousand on KDP. So it isn’t a big loss for that series for a 90 day period. Now. . .I didn’t put up my novels that have sold really well on all readers for obvious reasons. Not only that, but I raised all my prices, which could be a double-edged sword. Since I opted in, I have been “lended” 19 times between the two books. I’m going to take advantage of the five free days during Christmas to see if those new Christmas Kindle owners pick me up.
    Another reason, I do believe that we are going to see more of these programs in 2012. I’d rather participate and be familiar then decide later. If we thought 2011 was a big year of change for publishing, I think 2012 is going to bring bigger changes and I’m not so sure it’s going to be in favor of the Indie. I think it has gotten more and more competitive over the past couple months and this select program is just the tip of the iceberg. We shall see. . .

  13. I was just about to blog on this same issue, David, when I read your piece, and I’ve changed my mind. You put it far better than I could.

    70% of my sales come through Amazon, but when I look at my bestseller, that figure falls to 55%. Am I going to abandon the 45% who buy through other channels to wet my beak in the Select pot? I think not.

    Aside from losing sales from those channels, I also worry about alienating the Nook, Apple, etc users. Will they come back when I return from my 90-day impasse?

    I’ll pass on Select.

  14. What I believe people may be forgetting is that this is an optional service. I don’t believe KDP will make the same mistake Createspace did by making POD services use their machines because that didn’t work…wait yes it did. Only LSI is able to ship from their printers but Amazon is still able to slap them around (just a little) because the books don’t look like they’re always in stock. Gulp. There are still other games in town despite this fact and plenty of changes in the publishing industry still to come so, I will pause on purchasing a panic button just yet.

    What I find interesting is no one has mentioned another online ebook company with enough of the market share to make it possible for it to stay around has a “free” book incentive program for authors who use them minus the exclusivity. I have decided not to join Select with any of my advertised books because I just don’t think it is the right thing to do to my readers. However I do recognize the visibility potential being part of the select program offers.

    50000 authors is not a small pond to swim in but when you consider there are literally millions of books available on kindle (when you include public domain and backlists from publisher’s who started purchasing ebook rights a decade ago even if they weren’t using them) it does offer the right author, for the right genre a great place to be seen and discovered. IMHO.

    As a business minded author when I saw the email I quickly considered and planned an experimental way to leverage this program to my advantage without alienating my readers, offending my peers or violating the terms and conditions. Once I complete my current WIP I’ll enact that plan as well. Right in time for Christmas…Happy writing!

  15. Subscription services aren’t all that new, so I’m not exactly knocked off my feet by Amazon’s “innovation.” I remember, as a teenager, using my allowance for a cutting-edge service that let me pick one novel per month from a “clean romance” writing duo to pore over and fantasize about rugged, chivalrous heroes. A hundred years before that, members of the middle class paid a subscription service to access a common pot of informational materials by mail order. That subscription fee turned into a tax, and now we have these new fangled things called “public libraries.” And then there’s the whole serials model, which has always relied heavily on exclusivity. Scientists are still crawling over each other to get their names in “Nature.”

    Personally, I’m going to stay away from this Select business. I’m just on the verge of self-publishing my first novel, and I want as wide a distribution as possible to net my five sales per month. I think the premise is fundamentally flawed because, while KDP may have exclusive rights to your work, readers do not use KDP exclusively. If they really want to read a book not offered by the lending library, they can and will venture out to mainstream Amazon (or Barnes ‘n Noble, one of the aforementioned public libraries, etc.). But I don’t think other authors are silly for taking advantage of the offer, if it furthers careers and offers higher immediate benefits. To each his own.

  16. However, if you are a legal type who likes everything squared away, this could bother you


    I think this rationale should apply to every Indie writer…at the very least in your line of thinking if not in everyday practice.

    I agree with you that Amazon won’t be going on any Author “rape & pillage” spree’s anytime soon, That’s not their demonstrative style or practice. Howeber, along that line of thinking, I’m pretty sure you’re willing to bet as much as I am (a lot!) that royalty grabber’s, “expert uploading consultant” and “pay for [fill in the blank] services” are about to start coming out of the woodwork for indies.

    I think a little bit of lawyer-ish paranoia and mistrust across the board will go a long way for the average indie writer.


    Writing Trip

    1. I can see a reasonable argument being made for the language being troubling. However, I’m having trouble imagining a plausible scenario where Amazon are attempting to use that clause to exercise rights over work which hasn’t been entered in KDP Select. The blowback alone would de-populate the program. It would be amazingly counter-productive.

      I think general skepticism towards any contract or business interaction is a very healthy position. But I also think some pragmatism is necessary too.

      1. Every lawyer I know just kind of admits a contract is whatever the other guy says it means. At least until you go to court and someone tells you what THEY think it means, and that’s usually what it means. Until the appeal.

  17. Wow, David – excellent post. You’ve boiled this down to some very key points, some of which I’ve been battling with in my own mind. I am one of those who have chosen to experiment with the program by enrolling one book of a series in order to gain exposure during the Christmas buying season. Currently, I do NOT plan to re-enroll after the initial 90-day period. This is because I do have major concerns about the exclusivity which locks out potential readership. Your foreshadowing of the subscription model and what that means for authors has me thinking seriously about the program in general, so I thank you. I will say one thing on this subject that could be a positive: it is my sincerest hope that other retailers find ways to compete by wooing the self-publishers back with better terms and promotion. They do have that opportunity right now. Thank you, again, for the great post.

  18. I hate this term in the exclusivity clause:
    >>>(or content that is reasonably likely to compete commercially with your Digital Book, diminish its value, or be confused with it)

    So if you only opt in with one title and have others distributed elsewhere, they can penalize you for it according to the KDP Select terms and conditions. Pretty scary, huh?

    1. Not being a lawyer etc., my instinct is that the point of that language is to prevent someone, say, adding a “bonus” chapter or making a “director’s cut”, calling it a different book and entering it into KDP Select (i.e. trying to get around the exclusivity thing). This clause seems to be aimed at preventing that. Now, whether you think Amazon may apply it in a much more widespread fashion and then force you to pull things like sequels, prequels, or stories in the same universe probably depends on your opinion of Amazon. Personally, I find it highly unlikely that Amazon would do anything like that which would generate such negative publicity, such adverse reaction from authors, and which would drive so many people away from the program. However, if you are a legal type who likes everything squared away, this could bother you.

      1. It doesn’t make any sense at all for anyone with a series to break one chunk out and make it exclusive–it kills the value everywhere else for the whole thing, so you may as well go all or none. In fact, if you only have a few titles, it likewise makes no sense to divide your catalog–again, all or nothing. The only people who should try a few titles are those with lots to play with.

        From my dealings with Amazon, they aren’t sitting around waving the sword of Damocles. They sorta expect you to live up to your end of the bargain.

        And I certainly wouldn’t make any judgments or data reads based on what has happened in the first week–so many jumped in and immediately made all their books free right off the bat. I am not even bothering to try to figure it out yet. In the meantime, my BN sales have increased about 50 percent since this started. As I’ve said, this is just a double opportunity.

    2. That clause is causing people some trouble. The reasoning being bandied about is that Amazon wanted to prevent someone adding a short story onto a novel and calling it a “Special Edition” and enrolling that in KDP Select and keeping the original novel on the other sites. That makes sense, and I doubt Amazon will start trying to exercise rights over books that weren’t entered – that would cause huge controversy and be a huge black eye for them at a time when they are trying to attract writers into the program, but I can understand the position of someone who is unhappy with that section.

  19. It doesn’t sound very appealing, too vauge. Also this sounds a lot like the big publishing house rules and controls, that self publishing helped us get out from under. The writer/author spends the painstaking time, energy and creativity needed to write the books. We should be in control.

  20. Great post Dave. Lots of valuable feedback as well.

    One thing I’m thinking; aside from the discussion of whether or not there’s a value in this program (vs. going free for the sake of a marketing push, just one item to consider) is to keep in mind that in a very large part Amazon is either pushing or completely driving our digital book revolution. Their competitors are, in large part, either chasing or following (however you want to look at it) so what Amazon is doing is nothing less than setting a precedent for other subscription models to follow. And, as Dave said, you can be sure there will be many more.

    Just like so many facets of traditional publishing that were punitive to authors were “the way we’ve always done things”, I would be concerned that subscrtiption models across the board adopted disadvantageous clauses that readership starved indies felt compelled to accept, providing Amazon sets that standard.

    I don’t think this is the first symtpom of the “Evil Amazon Empire” rearing its head (although I’m sure that sentiment has been expressed elsewhere) but the terms of this program do not seem, author friendly at all. Especially when the detriment to multiple revenue streams are taken into account.

    Clearly this is not just a plan to boost e-reading, coupled with the Fire, but another promotional piece to help push Prime membership. If you’ve ever had it or done the free trial…you definitely buy more stuff from Amazon! I had to cancel mine…was buying shit I didn’t need everyday with the free-quickie shipping!

    Unless I was completely desperate for exposure of any kind, after having genuinely tried and failed at all other indie marketing practices, I would not consider this program.

    But that would take a lot because there’s always more things you can do.

    Be interesting to see how this program evolves.

    Writing Trip

  21. I like the concept of using the new Amazon news as an opportunity to market my novels and ebooks for the purpose of raising awareness and discoverability. They are #1. That’s not going to change anytime soon. When consumers think books, they think Amazon. When they think ebooks, they think Kindle. Amazon is in the minds of readers. Readers flock to Amazon. It’s that simple. Everyone else in the game are just trying to create a niche for themselves in some way, shape or form.

  22. This was a good one, David! I didn’t join for the same reasons you didn’t. I like to keep multiple income streams coming in and this doesn’t allow you to do that unless you have so many titles that it doesn’t matter. If I had a bunch of titles, I might experiment with this with one or two.

    As for the future, my guess is that book lending programs such as this won’t take off. I’m just guessing here but my reason for believing that is because books are different from TV, music, and movies. Books take longer (to read) which would mean they would have to extend the time limit which would blow the whole model right out of the water. It is the difference between downing a shot of tequila and savoring a fine wine – time. I also believe that the lack of selection may have an adverse effect on these types of programs as well. But … we’ll see …

  23. I suspect the chief value of KDP Select to me will be the 5 designated free days. Right now I have three separate fantasy series available on all ebook retailers. Rather than put any of them in KDP Select, I think I’ll write a prequel or tie-in novella, complete with the first chapter of the first book proper in the series, and use the novella with KDP Select. That way I can have additional promotion (if only on Amazon) and slightly more money with very little effort on my part.

    But 20% of my sales and at least a third of my revenue comes from non-Amazon platforms – abandoning those would be foolish.

    1. You’ve got to be careful, though. According to the terms & conditions of KDP Select, the other books in your series might qualify as “content that is reasonably likely to compete commercially with your Digital Book, diminish its value, or be confused with it,” and thus give Amazon the power to remit sales across all of your titles or even kick you out of Kindle Direct Publishing altogether.

  24. To be honest, isn’t this what we Indies have been fighting against? Exclusivity? Outside control of our work and distribution? I made a comment on Passive Guy’s site about KDP Select – if a big New York publisher was compelling us to limit our distribution, essentially asking for exclusive rights to our work, even if only for a 90 day trial period with no guarantee of compensation, we’d be screaming bloody murder.
    Yes, subscription services for e-book readers will probably become the norm. It’s both the exclusivity factor and the punitive factor of KDP Select that trouble me deeply. But, if Indie authors jump on the bandwagon without a backwards glance, it undermines the bargaining power of all.
    Business as usual.

  25. With large numbers of mainstream and indie best-sellers and best-of-genre leaders participating in KDP Select, the odds of an also-ran book even being borrowed during a 90-day trial are slim. This is not likely to be a good model for indie authors. An Amazon Prime member (I am one) has to decide to borrow your little-known book over some current hot one by a known author that would otherwise cost them $9.99 instead of nothing. The piece-of-the-pool royalty model only favors the already favored. I did the numbers and decided to keep all three of my thrillers muddling along with the small but steady following they have garnered without the dubious benefit of KDP Select. As it is already too late for any early adopter bonus effect, I’ll let others test the waters and report back how frigid they are and how much chum is left for the indies to fight over.

    –Larry Constantine (pen name, Lior Samson)

    1. Much of the point is to increase your visibility although the two novels I now have included have had a few borrows. But the fact that my sales have increased is more important to me.

      Whether this will be a long-term affect is a good question, but so far being in Select with two of my six novels is working well. I may add another one. I’m thinking about it.

  26. However, I was never tempted to enroll. Aside from the payment terms, which were too vague and too small, my main issue was with exclusivity.

    Neither was I. Why should I put everything onto Amazon only? True, I haven’t exactly been selling like gangbusters; but I feel that with some time, I eventually will. On Amazon. On B&N. And on the other distributor sites through Smashwords.

    As much as I wanted to jump in early on as a self pubber, this sounded to limiting to me, as it’s written now.

    Thanks for a great article.

  27. I think Select will become the domain of three kinds of books: 1. first novels and stories by newbies who either don’t know any better or have the least to lose by signing exclusivity; 2. books for which authors are willing to forgo revenue in return for having people read their stuff (as in when an author makes a book out of a series free, for the same reason); and terrible kinds of quickie crap that “authors” or book producers who chase quantity over quality can slap together in a flash.

    If there’s over 40,000 books in the program, there almost certainly are going to be more than 500,000 downloads. Like you said, if 1 million books are rented in December, then each download is only worth 50 cents. Any author with decent sales will say, “whaaat?” Even if the first reported numbers turn out to be favorable, that will mean more authors joining, further diluting the pot, etc.

    If Amazon really wants exclusivity, they should offer something real–like a better royalty rate. If Select offered 80% royalty, the program might receive more enthusiasm.

    1. First, insulting the people who decide to go with Select is not the way to start a good discussion. That is too bad because like a lot of people, I agree with you that the size of the pot is too small and not a good idea at all.

      I wouldn’t be that impressed with the 80% royalty rate but other goodies such as the ability to offer a pre-release order or a “reduced price” that showed as reduced WOULD be much more impressive.

      By the way, I am not quite so stupid as you TRIED to make out we authors who go with Select are. On the novel that I initially put on it, the NON-SELECT sales went up. So I added another novel to Select.

      1. I think you’re misreading my analysis.

        You’re in the #2 category. Like I said… those authors will try to get more business for their catalog by accepting lower revenue for one (or, in your case, two) books in order to attempt to increase readership. Nothing stupid about that. What are you getting so upset about? Are you Italian?

    2. I agree. Althought 70% royalties are nice, there should be premium for authors going exclusively through Amazon to make up for potential revenue lost elsewhere.

      What I like about this Amazon program is that they’re not resting on their thumbs. They’re continuing to try an innovate the publishing world. I’m not sure this is a great move for authors, but time will tell.

  28. “However, I was never tempted to enroll. Aside from the payment terms, which were too vague and too small, my main issue was with exclusivity.”

    I’m in this camp. I didn’t choose to go indie so I could turn around and work exclusively for a big corporation. This essentially puts you on Amazon’s payroll with no other sources of income. You can’t even sell your own ebooks on your own site. No, thanks.

    1. Not really. It is more like an independent contractor agreeing to do some work for a corporation for a few months. During that time, sure you can’t take work with another corporation. You’re still just a temporary worker for them. Three months later you each go on your merry way.

      Now, if you get a lot of sales on your own website (I don’t) or on B&N or Kobo (I don’t), I can see that this would not be productive. But saying it turns me into some kind of slave to Amazon because I put ONE of my novels exclusively there for a few months is just way, WAY over the top.

  29. I’m late to this discussion because the rising of the Select Demon has generated quite a bit of work for me. It’s because I’m English, and as I wrestled with the decision of whether to enrol or not, something occurred to me: Exclusivity. What a kick-ass blessing disguised as an ass-kicking! Because in the UK (as you reported Dave) the leading high street magazine shop chain WH Smith has started selling the Kobo. I’ve been meaning to get my book for sale directly with Kobo for a while (actually since someone mentioned it was possible in the comments on this blog!). But you need to buy an ISBN to do so, which I’ve been avoiding as it costs £118. Seemed like a chunky investment for an uncertain return. But then what happened? Tens of thousands of indie writers – a huge chunk of my competition – just dropped out of the race! Every person that signs for exclusivity with Amazon is one more book that will no longer be available to new Kobo owners in the post-Christmas rush. If all the indie authors sign up for Select, I’ll be in the happy situation of being the only book priced cheaply on Kobo, as all their other content will come from mainstream publishers! What a gift. So I’m scrambling like mad to get my ISBNs, get my MS approved by Kobo, because come December 26th there’ll be a whole lot more Kobo readers scattered across the coffee tables of England. And with vast chunks of the competition giving up on the race, I plan to be on every damn one of them :0)

    1. Hey Tony,

      You just moved to Australia, right? It’s worth checking if ISBNs are cheaper there. I know that in some countries (like Sweden, and Canada – I think) they are free, and in others they are significantly cheaper than in Ireland and the UK (we have to buy them from the UK actually).


      1. Yep, it’s cheaper:


        You can get 10 ISBNs (they don’t expire) for AUS$80 plus a one time registration fee of $55. Sounds like a deal to me. You will need more than one anyway (one for e-book, one for print if you ever do a print edition) – and I presume this won’t be your last release, I’m sure your pants were just as coveted by the fauna of the other countries you terrorized 🙂


      2. ISBNs are free here in the Great White North, and managed by Library and Archives Canada (LAC). You just have to provide LAC with a copy of the final book (you mail them print books, and upload your ebooks to a dedicated, secure site). I found the whole process, from registering and getting my ISBNs, to completing the forms and providing the copies, simple and easy.

    2. The other option is to distribute to Kobo through Smashwords, which has free isbns. It’s taken a while to distribute that way, but recently Smashwords sent all their books through and is looking to do so weekly.

  30. I have to disagree with you on a number of points, David. First, I don’t think that the way to get Amazon to reconsider is to have some sort of boycott. They rarely work anyway, getting enough indies to agree is *cough* unlikely (and I’m being kindly in that description) and Amazon has been pretty responsive to indie feedback anyway. They’ve even gone out of their way to solicit it and made changes reflecting it. This seems like a much more likely way to get them to adjust things.

    My other point is that demanding that Amazon give a bunch of new goodies (lending which we’re paid for and the ability to go free and possibly later on other nice stuff) with NO quid pro quo that we give them something in return besides what they already get (which is pretty darn MODEST by the way) just plain isn’t realistic.

    Three-month exclusivity on a novel by novel basis is a pretty reasonable demand. I think we should get a fixed amount per lend and the ability to make a reduction in price besides going free for exclusivity. I’ll do feedback to Amazon along those lines. But I think Amazon is also feeling their way so they don’t give more than this is worth to them and I can’t blame them for that.

    1. I think “boycott” is a loaded term. I’m not calling for one. I’m merely suggesting that we may get better terms if we don’t participate at this point (or alternatively, the number of titles particpating drops over time – think that would have a similar effect).

      I accept that Amazon have been progressive about reaching out to the community (I believe I mentioned that above), and I hope that continues (and think it will). I can see this program evolving. Perhaps even into something I would consider myself. I think they will add further inducements. I also think the pot might go up next month (depending on how popular this is with readers).

      I disagree however, that there is no quid pro quo under a system with the terms I would prefer. Amazon still gets the crucial content for its Lending Library – that, for me at least, is what this is all about. I don’t think they need exclusivity to make the Lending Library an attractive proposition to readers. In fact, I would argue that increased selection is more important than exclusive content.

      If this is a baby-steps approach by Amazon (which it may well be), I would hope they would reconsider some of the problem areas. A huge amount of self-publishers are not participating (including some of the top-selling titles). One of the major bugbears (aside from the nature of the limited pot arrangement, which I think we agree on) is exclusivity. One’s feelings on that are probably directly related to how much you are selling on other channels (or how much you plan/hope to).

      Exclusivity (alone) is too high a price for me to pay. Others may well feel differently. Or to put it another way, they would have to offer me a hell of a lot more to get me to give up other channels.

      Aside from that, I think we only disagree on tactics. You feel (if my take is correct) that it’s more productive to work to change the system from within. I’m arguing that not participating would be a more effective strategy. We could both be right (or wrong).

      I presume Amazon’s aim is to get more titles in the Lending Library (50k or so isn’t much in the grand scheme of things), and to keep the self-publishers happy that are participating (easier to keep a customer than to find a new one etc. etc.). Hopefully, they will be seeking further feedback and those participating (and not participating) will get an opportunity to air their concerns or make suggestions on improvements.

      1. And what is the difference in “calling for everyone not to participate” and “calling for a boycott”? My point isn’t to use a loaded term but to use an accurate one. A boycott is in fact what you seem to be talking about and I just don’t think it can work.

        Amazon has an excellent record of working with authors and I am willing to go with that record. The exclusivity, because it is a VERY limited timeframe and only for individual titles, doesn’t bother me that much. The shared pot and not knowing how much I’ll make for each “lend” bothers me a lot more. I also think that going free is of very limited benefit. I’d be a lot more impressed with being able to reduce the price and show it as a reduced price for say two weeks out of every month–without losing the 70% royalty.

        And yes I DO think we have to give them something besides what they’re already giving them. Just the ability to include the novel in the Lending Library is not giving THEM something. It is giving US something. They want something and the temporary exclusivity is their price. As with any bargain, some may say the price is too high and I can understand that. What I don’t understand is the rather hysterical accusations from some quarters that Amazon is trying to damage indies. That isn’t even to Amazon’s benefit.

      2. I guess “calling for everyone not to participate” isn’t quite my position. I’m saying “witholding participation could be a good negotiating strategy to get better terms.”

        A “boycott” might be accurate if I was against subscription models in general, or had some moral problem with Amazon, or was calling for people to avoid using their services altogether. I’ve no issue with Amazon or subscription models. I like that Amazon are trying to come up with something (and reaching out to us). I just think the terms could (and should) be better.

        I don’t think our positions are that far apart actually. We disagree on some details, but I think we agree on the big stuff. The hysterics will always be out in force when it comes to Amazon. They could raise the royalty rate to 85% and some people would find reason to complain.

      3. Update: I put my other book called Internet Marketing for Business Answers up this morning for my 5 day free promo. So far, 564 “units sold” which means free. Now, I was selling about 30 of those a month regularly. I’m now #1 in “marketing” category as well.

      4. So let me get this straight: the KDP Program pays, at best, an average of $10 per author per month, contains a dubious non-compete clause in the terms & conditions (enforceable by remitting or withholding royalties across all your titles, and even potentially kicking you out of the KDP program altogether), and punishes non-Amazon customers by making them wait three months to get your next title–and yet you believe that we owe Amazon all this for the privilege of being in the KDP Select program?? I’m sorry, but I think you’re drastically undervaluing your own work.

        This is a business, and it seems to me that Amazon is trying to pull a fast one on us. Thanks, but I’ll go with the option that serves my readers and gives me numbers that actually add up.

  31. I had decided when this came out that it would be worth a try on future selections, but not enough that I would go back and pull my current novel from distribution. I’ve had several downloads on Smashwords since releasing The Congregation in November. While Amazon is where I’ve made the most sales, I don’t see the point working backward like that. Exclusivity for 90 days is not that big of a deal for me at this point in my career. (My second novel will be out in January, and maybe I’ll try it then.) But for certain, it is not something that I would give my career to, and if I didn’t see some pretty strong results during the 90-day period I’d be out the door. I think the state of your career has a lot to do with whether this is a good idea or not. Personally, I think Amazon will improve this program and make it more enticing for authors as time rolls along. They didn’t get to where they are by being complacent.

  32. Exclusivity? Count me out. I wrote a couple posts about the KDP Select program on my blog, and I’m with you – it’s a crock.

    I’m not enticed by this game of chance where no numbers are given, and where participation means I’m all for this model.

    Amazon already controls ALL the information about your buyers – you know jack about who bought your book, how old the buyer is, where he/she lives, how many books were bought by each person – etc. You know NOTHING.

    Now, they offer this half-baked program to take away even your own rights to sell your own books on your own sites! Ha!

    As authors we must value the customer information. Nothing else means as much. We NEED to have our own site where we can sell our books. Why? We can build a relationship with that buyer. We can send that buyer notices of new books or other material that will never be released at Amazon and other channels. We can give specials to these buyers and nurture them – coddle.

    Exclusivity rarely makes sense for anyone selling anything. Does it make sense in the case of ebooks? Hell no. If you haven’t added your books to Smashwords or gone directly to Sony, Apple, Barnes, and the rest of them covered by Smashwords – do so! If you haven’t created your own site to sell your books – you must do so.

    Do whatever you can to keep as much power in your hands, for as long as possible. Otherwise, it’s all over – Game. Set. Match. Amazon.

  33. Excellent post, as usual. Something I’ll have to think over for the next few days. 99 percent of my sales come from Amazon and that five day free read sounds attractive. I’ve got a book, not a parody, but a real book that I’d love to see get some extra attention but there are just as many reasons not to join KDP Select.

  34. David, thank you for the thoughtful post as always. Like you, I’ve decided to wait this one out for a myriad of reasons which are: 1) I don’t like the exclusivity language and I don’t see the purpose for doing this other than a benefit to Amazon 2) the unclear way of getting paid (too many, if not all ways) for what my writing is worth–all of it is out of my control 3) I’m a Prime customer of Amazon’s – one book a month doesn’t entice me to participate and they didn’t ask me what I would like to see with their lending program~very telling 4) As an Indie author, my readers are my main concern and they have a variety of different e-reader platforms, not just the Mobi/Kindle platform 5) Free on Amazon just got very crowded and as a marketing strategy, it’s now diluted.

    This whole Kindle Select frenzy reminds me of children on the soccer field, just swarming the field for the soccer ball, little bees. I’m staying on the sidelines and watching how this all plays out.

  35. So far, in 2 days of my free promo I’ve gotten 138 downloads. I sold 10 copies all of last month. And I’m also #2 in my category on Amazon.

    I should point out, I write non-fiction books that are Internet/marketing related. We all know non-fiction hasn’t really been the main driver for digital book sales. So at first guess/glance here, KDP Select is a really nice way for authors like me to get our books noticed and build an audience, and possibly make some money.

    So it might not be for everyone. But for me, it’s working so far. I’m happy.

    Jim Kukral

  36. David,

    Thank you for a well-reasoned analysis. I will be joining you on the fence for the time being. With a single title just beginning to get visibility and achieving decent sales, I really can’t afford to experiment too much when +25% of those sales are non-Amazon. Perhaps if I had an extensive back list I’d enroll a few titles but for now I’ll wait and see.

    One thing in your post did surprise me. I was unaware that the KDP Select exclusivity restrictions applied to such marketing efforts as Library Thing giveaways. I realize it would make them a bit more complicated as one could no longer use Smashwords coupons for distribution, but I assumed you could still do direct (i.e. emailed) distributions of files to potential reviewers. Restricting free review copies would seem to be detrimental to Amazon as well as the author.

    Whatever happens, I know we can count on you for reasoned insights on developments.

    R.E. (Bob) McDermott

    P.S. BTW, sincere apologies for confusing your nationality in my recent Face Book post. I seem to have gotten my Celts mixed up. Unfortunately such incidents are becoming alarmingly common as I lurch toward senility. My hobbies now include gaining weight, misplacing my reading glasses, and researching medical topics on the internet.

  37. David, I opted for KDP Select after three emails from them appeared in my inbox on the day of the launch. But then I read and re-read the fine print for a day or so and decided to use the cooling-off period (before midnight on Dec 11) to bail out. Now I’m a fence-sitter and shall watch with interest. Your definitive article makes me more inclined to stay on the fence even longer! Thank you.

    1. Good reasoning. Digital libraries are here, but I tend to see them as just another choice. Same as using any or all of the other markets, selling on your personal website, or building a collaborative bookstore or library somewhere.

      I don’t know if words like “everyone,” “we,” or “community” apply at all to indie authors. There is no union, and even established professional writers have never had any real leverage to bear (Authors Guild comes the closest with its dour, conservative position statements). The indie pool is 500,000 electrified cats making it up as they go along. No unity or direction will ever emerge, and indeed, even after it’s over (which may be a few years), no one will ever be able to figure out what happened.

      Therefore, each writer has to make individual decisions. Too many forces are at work to pinpoint December 2011 as the beginning of the end (although some like to believe “trends” have emerged in the digital age, there are few solid trends besides overall growth). I went in with a small portion of my titles, but I will have two exclusives from Thomas & mercer anyway, so this just is a sideline.

      I actually see it as dual opportunity–go in Select and see what happens, and also seek out all the abandoned readers in the other markets. Amazon owes no one anything. The world doesn’t, either. I am amused when people say Amazon is :”taking away their freedom” or “limiting their rights.” No. You can unpublish from them at any time. Personally, I say thank God for Amazon. They’ve done more for writers than any other entity ever (plus they’ve forced all those other entities to treat authors better!) Good luck to you, whichever way you roll.

      1. You can un-publish anytime, but careful if you happened to publish POD as well with Createspace: they will only ever put it on hold and leave all the old descriptions up there so they can make money on second hand copies. This is really annoying when you re-title and all of a sudden the old edition competes with the new one…

  38. Hi David,

    Ever since the KDP Select story broke I’ve been waiting for your take on it, and your article doesn’t disappoint. It is well argued and carefully balanced (unlike Mark Coker’s piece on the same subject).

    One of the reasons I was tempted to sign up for the first 90 days is because of the announcement’s timing. We all know that the period between Christmas Day and mid January should see the year’s strongest sales, and the ability to increase interest in my titles by utilising the 5 day period of making a book free was too tempting to turn down.

    But I fear I may already be regretting the decision, as Amazon have already messed up. I made a collection of short stories free for a two day period (starting from today), but Amazon somehow managed to make the wrong title free. I informed them of the error as soon as I found out about the mistake, but I fear I won’t hear back from them until the two day period is over. It is really frustrating when such a major error occurs and I am not sure what Amazon can do to rectify the situation.

    Whatever happens, I will let you and your readers know. I really hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.

    A.S. Anand

  39. Other side thoughts:
    Other platforms will offer author deals- and new hardware. Apple will be the next to offer Author webpages with video, live chat, ibooks that can switch from chapter to chapter as reading and audio. New digital narratives are being created. B. & N has an advantage they have not mined- in store nook kiosks with live author chats/readings/appearances nationwide. Many untapped ebook markets exist for authors to pursue, if you are not the first 100000 to sign up for the Amazon program. Authors should expect little or no payment for the 90 day period unless they are already in the top 50 sellers.

    I have not allowed lending on ebooks because of piracy. I’m an unknown poet/ author and have long form works on many torrent sites. They use this argument , “the work was offered free or on a lending site,” granting them rights to steal. Amazon will not act in an author’s defense.

    I’ll wait for a better boyfriend, someone will one up Amazon’s offer to grab market share. Are you a betting man? Who will be next?

  40. Great post. I’m definitely not considering my current books since they already have wide distribution. I’ll just be losing out on potential sales. However, for new books, I may experiment with the Select program. I can see maybe doing the 90 days only once, then opting out for distribution through other channels.

  41. I’m not convinced that the subscription model will work for books. Readers tend to want to read what they want when they want, and there is no guarantee that what they want will be available through the subscription library.

    There is also a question of ownership. I resisted a Kindle for a while, because I liked the idea of owning physical books–which, BTW, have a secondary market. I eventually came around to the convenience of a Kindle, but I’m not so sure I’d be quick to subscribe to a service that, at the end of the day, left me without ownership of the copy, even though it was an electronic copy.

    Par of the fun of book owning is building a personal library. I’m not sure that desire goes away when a reader goes from physical to Ebooks.

    1. There are millions and million of dollars pouring into subscription model start-ups from venture capitalist who seem to think otherwise.

      I agree, though, that selection will be crucial. A subscription model company will succeed or fail based on its selection. If readers can’t have access to all the books they want, they won’t sign up. And like bookstores, I imagine that the subscription model with the biggest selection will be the one that wins. That’s why exclusivity, IMO, will become a bigger issue in the future.

      I should also point out that when you buy a Kindle e-book, you license a copy, rather than own it (I’m not a lawyer etc., but this is the generally held view). Increasingly, that content won’t even be stored on your device, but on a cloud. There is not much difference between owning a license to read a book on a cloud and owning a membership of a subscription service – your “ownership” of the e-books is pretty similar in both cases.

  42. i’m a bit pressed on time and I appologize if these are points others have raised in the previous comments (which I will read later at my leisure).
    If you go with the program then I was thinking that 90 day exclusivity is probably ok for the first book in a series, but too long for the successive books. As an author you’d want allow less time for readers to find the next book in the series to make it possible that they would pay for it (I know crass economic reality).
    Also other vendors offering subscriptions could allow for enticing incentives to authors to go with each vendor if each has its own exclusivity clause (although Amazon doesn’t have a must be first vendor clause which is interesting and may be something to keep an eye out for later and this should come with a much higher incentive).
    Right now I don’t see a need to rush into this. If it can be used in a strategy to boost sales or as a presale sort of testing ground then maybe it would be ok, but I agree that you don’t have to sell yourself short. It shouldn’t be a reflexive what the f– kind of move though.
    Waiting for a better incentive to go with Amazon on this would be the best stance right now.

  43. All we’re doing is re-inventing the book club. Agree to buy 1 title at regular price in the next six month and get 6 books for $.99 (plus outrageous shipping and handling). 🙂

    Digitally, I think a lending library is a brill idea. I think an author run one is even better. The exclusivity clause is silly to me. Most readers aren’t going to care. They will be a part of the Amazon Lending Library, or any Lending Library because of the books they can get there, not because of the books they can’t get anywhere else. If Amazon really wanted as many books as possible, there wouldn’t be an exclusivity clause. It doesn’t even really help their Lending Library’s claim to fame: “Only WE have these 30,000 authors you’ve never heard of and these 50 or so names you can kinda recognize.” That’s a powerful boast…. 🙂

    I think the exclusivity was Amazon calling B&N’s bluff of 27% of the market. More than 30% of MY sales have come from B&N, but I actively promote to Nook readers. How many of those authors who yanked their listings are really going to bother to change them back after 90 days? My guess, not many. If they were willing to yank the listings in the first place, they already are sending the message to Amazon that they get the lion’s share of their revenue from them. And once again, tipped the business relationship in Amazon’s favor.

    For me to participate in a subscription plan, I have very few requirements:
    1) No exclusivity clause. None. I want to be able to say “My book is a best seller on this channel, but this weekend it’s 100% free on X” etc. Can’t play one sales channel off another if you only have one.

    2) No more than a 30-day required participation period in exchange for no compensation, but the email address of the person who downloaded my book. This way I can send them information about my next book. Wouldn’t even mind if it was THEY collected the email addresses who borrowed the book and sent out a form email on the release of my next book (maybe allowed one per year or something)

    3) A completely random front shelf, or some type of opt-in grouping. I’m not joining a subscription service where my book has 0 chance of being on the front page. As far as the “crap” concern, they can restrict it based on total sales vs. returns vs. reviews <than 3 stars for qualification.

    Hope this helped add to the conversation…. 🙂

  44. Good post. I was batting around the idea of using KDP when my stuff is ready, but the exclusivity clause bothers me a great deal, as do weasel-words like “reasonable expectation of competitiveness.” This is definitely something that I’ll be circling poking with a stick in order to see what happens next.

  45. Good, level-headed, sage advice, David.

    I wanted to give KDP Select a try as an experiment, but the exclusivity clause really, really bothered me. Your post firmed up my resolve to stay away until (as you say) terms get better.

  46. Great post, David! I’m one who’s taking a wait-and-see approach, mostly through necessity. I can’t pull my current book down from Smashwords because of a promotion that still has coupons out there, and my next book isn’t scheduled for release until late March. I figure that gives me time to see a) how my sales change by device after the Christmas e-reader rush, b) how Amazon treats KDP Select participants and tweaks the programs and c) what the benefits and drawbacks are for the early adopters.

    You make some excellent points about how this will set the baseline for the future, and that pool of money vs. a per download fee is my biggest concern with Select. Ultimately, I think this is Amazon trying to use indies to work around the Big Six refusal to play ball on the lending library concept. We’re not the end, we’re the means to the end, and that is a hazardous spot in which to be.

  47. I recently discovered Smashwords affiliate sales page. (Okay, I am new at this and a little slow. . . ) Most of my sales were from Barnes and Noble and Sony. This was a huge shock for me. My sales from Barnes and Noble were huge, over 900. This was a huge shock for me. I also had many more cash sales than showed up on the Smashwords dashboard. Sure, some of them are freebies but it is readership, all I want right now. If Amazon had a freebie and I got that kind of response, I might have made one of their “lists”. The best seller Romance list on the Smart Bitches site is usually half freebies. The time and energy it took Amazon to dream this new plot up, to say nothing of what the legalese must have cost them, would have been better used elsewhere. I am amazed that many people went for it.

    1. I think that’s a smart move. As it’s your first, you have no idea what kind of readership you have on the other retailers yet, and it would be prudent (I think) to ascertain that before granting Amazon exclusivity. If you make 99% of your sales on Amazon you may well have a different opinion on KDP Select than if you make, say 85% of your sales on Amazon.

      The costs and benefits of the program will be easier to weigh up (both in general, and for you in particular) with a little time.

  48. David

    An excellent, well-balanced article, imho.

    One question. Do we know how many members of US Prime there are? At just one loan per month, there would seem to be a high chance of saturation for new books quite early in any month leaving most indies out in the cold. Or am I missing something?

    Best wishes


  49. David – what makes you so certain subscription models will come into play with books?

    Based upon what’s happened with music, I thought the same thing, but upon further reflection I don’t think that’s likely to happen anytime soon. In order to do the same sort of all you can read deal for X dollars, there is going to need to be huge incentive for the trad pubs to get involved. I don’t see them caving on a subscription deal like the music giants did at Spotify. One, they have contracts with authors and this would require renegotiating. This renegotiating would probably be the straw that broke the camel’s back making many more of these authors go the indie route. No thanks to the lousy eBook royalties that most are receiving vs. the much higher rate they could receive going direct.

    On the reader side, having ads interfere with the reading experience is not likely to be an attractive trade-off. Sure, ads on the power-up screen on the Kindle and other devices to supplement paying for the hardware, but not interfering with the content. Even something barely intrusive like Gmail text ads are bound to be too disruptive for most readers.

    I think you might see some limited attempts to do subscription plans and they will fail because of the lack of selection. It’s like Netflix streaming. Some movies are there, but not the new ones and not enough good ones. People still rent and buy DVDs and Blu-ray. A more likely scenario in the short term are subscription services with lopsided indie involvement and very limited selection in content otherwise. Sort of like what Smashwords offers (100,000+ titles) to Amazon (millions of titles) today. Or Netflix to what you can find at Blockbuster to rent. And if you put ads on top of the subscription service, it makes the offering even less attractive.

    1. There is a huge amount of money pouring in to various companies that are exploring subscription or ad-supported models (and subscription models are already popular for things like serialized fiction in China).

      Publishers are (rightly) wary of how compensation would work, but I don’t think they are against them on principle.

      Here’s why I think subscription models would be attractive to publishers (and I agree that they need to be attractive to publishers for subscription models to form a big part of the mix in the future):

      1. The compensation models (and I’ve seen a couple) are quite different to something like Spotify. The companies recognize that books are consumed differently to music, and don’t tend to be consumed repeatedly like a song or an album – people tend to read something once then read something else). As such, the proportions of ad revenue and subsctiptions that are being shared with publishers are much, much higher than something like the Spotify model – we’re talking the overwhelming majority of the revenue being shared with the publishers/writers, rather than a tiny slice with something like Spotify).

      2. Publishers are sitting on mountains of content.

      3. If reading switches to subscription models, self-publishers lose their greatest competitive advantage: the ability to price their work much cheaper than large publishers. Roughly a third of the top-selling e-books on Amazon come from self-publishers. Subscription models could be a way to squash that competition (going on the assumption that indies will find it even harder to compete with big-name authors when all books cost the same – essentially nothing).

      4. I don’t necessarily think that subscription models would require widespread renegotiation of contracts. Publishers have been pushing for more and more rights in contracts for a while now, and I’m sure subscription models would fall under those clauses.

      5. Publishers could use a subscription model to lock people into their content (and lock self-publishers out). Imagine if Random House had a subscription model. Or the Big 6 joined together and offered one. The selection would be impressive either way.

      On the reader side, it’s a trade-off. They can read for free and suffer ads, or pay a monthly fee (or an increased fee), and have access to a larger library and no ads. I can see that being attractive to readers. Not all readers, but a decent percentage.

      (EDIT: I’m not an attorney, and this is only my opinion etc. etc.)

      1. Here’s the thing. If readers want to read for free (without ads), they’ll start going to the library more. Gmail is free and yet a lot of people still pay for and use Microsoft Outlook.

        Respectfully, David, you aren’t an attorney (are you?), so it’s your opinion (and you should always state that when it comes to legal stuff) as to whether or not renegotiation would be required. I’m not one either, but having worked with legal contracts and with attorneys for the last 17+ years in my business, I can tell you that these kind of specifics *must be* spelled out and can’t be captured under some umbrella clause that was slipped in. They would need to renegotiate specific rights usage for a subscription service into a contract because the author isn’t getting paid a royalty for each individual sale, which is the way books have been sold for 100+ years. This is also why Amazon was careful with KDP Select to point out that the author must have “all rights” so they didn’t violate any existing publishing contract by entering into this agreement.

        Interestingly enough, Amazon has some very broad, vague and arguably unenforceable anti-competitive verbiage in the contract which I’ve seen attorneys already weighing in on.

        Whatever happens, this is interesting!

      2. Hi Todd,

        No, I’m not an attorney, and I should have that caveat on a clipboard somewhere so I can just cut-and-paste it. Thanks for the reminder – I’ve edited my comment with the necessary disclamatory language.

        However, it is my layman’s understanding based on reading the posts of Passive Guy (who has written extensively on this topic, and who is an attorney who has experience dealing with publishing contracts) and Kris Rusch (who has also written extensively on this, who is not an attorney, but has lots and lots of professional experience dealing with publishing contracts both from working with them when she worked for a publisher, and as a writer, an editor, and a publisher herself – and her posts are continually quoted by Passive Guy who is an attorney etc. etc.). So, I’m not plucking this out of the air, although I accept that there may be alternative interpretations on this matter.

        Regarding the library comparison – libraries have a limited amount of copies of any given title and a limited selection in general. Popular titles tend to have waiting lists. Obscure titles may not be available at all. However, under a subscription model, there would no waiting lists, no limit to what you could read. I can see that being attractive. It’s not attractive to me personally, but I could see it being attractive to plenty of readers.


      3. I have read and followed some of Passive Guy and Kris Rusch and both frequently advocate to check with an IP attorney before signing anything (and checking a box with your email used as a signature can constitute a legal contract). Ms. Rusch is willing to look over contracts from authors but she readily admits she’s not an attorney. With any legal contract, this is sound, smart advice, plus the bar frowns on non-attorneys practicing law. Laws vary from state to state and country to country, another thing that Passive Guy puts in as a regular disclaimer in his blog posts, so that people don’t take his legal advice too broadly.

        I’m guessing that 99% of the authors who signed up for KDP Select didn’t check with an IP attorney familiar with laws specifically relating to them. Whether that’s because they trust Amazon or their own interpretation of Amazon’s KDP Select contract as binding in their area, I don’t know.

        Like you, I haven’t signed up yet. Doesn’t mean I won’t with a new title, but the program definitely makes me curious.

      4. I certainly don’t want to appear definitive in any pronouncements on this. I’m merely suggesting that it’s an open question whether contracts would need to be renegotiated or not.

  50. Interesting and informative as usual, David. I considered opting in but I’ve just signed over my first book for distribution rights to Mark Williams International, and I’d have to pull them right back if I went ahead with Amazon Select. Didn’t want to do that. I’m also attempting to get one of my titles set to free at the moment. I’m concerned Amazon will stop honoring that ‘report a lower price’ option because of the option to go free in the Select program. I hope not since making the first book of my series free has been a market strategy from the beginning. So far it’s working well on Smashwords and Barnes and Noble, with lots of added downloads. When Book 2 hits Barnes and Noble and readers get a chance to read the first book, hopefully there will be sales for the second. We’ll see about that. If Amazon doesn’t ever set that title to free, I may end up opting in. I’m content to wait and see for the moment though. Thanks again for sharing your insights.

    1. I believe one Kindle Boards member has already got a book to go free under the old way since KDP Select was launched. They may close the loophole in the future, but maybe it’s not in their interests to do so – maybe it’s more important to always be the lowest priced store. We’ll see.

  51. I’m in the UK, which means I can’t “gift” via amazon (it’s only available on amazon.com). If I signed up for kdp select, I’d be technically unable to give an electronic copy of my book to anyone. At all. Not for review, not even as a gift to a friend. My own book? That can’t be right, can it?

    1. That is an issue. I keep forgetting that those who uploaded through KDP UK can’t gift books. That’s bizarre. I’m living in Sweden, but my Amazon account thinks I am in Ireland (handy for dodging the surcharge), and I upload through KDP US. I can gift books (but pay VAT on them even if the recipient is in the US). If I was in a surcharge country, I would have to pay $2 extra for any books I gift (again, even if the recipient was in the US). That’s crazy, and one of the reasons why Smashwords coupons are so handy. I can do a giveaway to 300 readers, and it won’t cost me a penny. If my book was exclusive to Amazon, it gets trickier. You can, of course, mail the file directly to someone – but some may prefer not to do that for a variety of reasons.

      1. Good point, but a little cumbersome. It would be a shame to use one of your free days just to get review copies out to people (and to friends). Plus, if they don’t snap it up on that day, then they can’t get it. You should also consider that it’s hard enough to get reviews without making reviewers jump through hoops to get a copy of your book.

        One final consideration. I have heard conflicting reports about whether free books attract the Amazon surcharge. I don’t face the surcharge, so I can’t verify. If they do, that’s an issue. One of the big reviewers in a certain genre is based, if I remember correctly, in Brazil. I’m sure that’s not an isolated case.

  52. “Either way, whether you like it or not, subscription models are going to form a big part of the reading mix in the future – probably in the immediate future. This isn’t something like enhanced e-books where the jury is out. This is happening now.”

    You’ve nailed it, David. Bravo. Way to keep your eye on the larger picture.


  53. Amazon is certainly beginning to swing the exclusivity hammer around a lot more with the introduction of Fire and their other low priced Kindles. (See DC comics) The ripples and ramifications are only beginning to be felt.

    Another potentially disturbing development is their purchase of the Marshall Cavendish Corporation and what that might mean for the future. Is that a model Amazon is likely to pursue? Will they continue to gobble up struggling publishers with perceived value?

    The one thing that’s clear is Amazon wants to move farther up the chain. They no longer want to be simply content distributors, but want to create and control content to a much larger degree.

    Will that be good for us small time authors in the long run? Time will tell but my gut says, “No.”

    1. I have no issue with the purchase of those 450 Marshall Cavendish titles. Deals like this happen all the time in publishing – one publisher swallows up another, or buys a huge chunk of a competitor’s back-list.

      I also think that actively attempting to grow the e-book market (by digitizing all that content and pushing it to parents) will benefit all of us in the long-run.

      If I was publishing similar books, I may have some initial worries about being crowded out of the market, but I think I would still look at the bigger picture and assume that such moves will only grow the pie for all.

      Exclusivity isn’t an Amazon invention, and indeed, Barnes & Noble signed a very similar deal with Marvel. The book world didn’t invent it either, exclusivity was a big part of the video game world (and often still is).

      Amazon aren’t a public service or a charity. It’s their job to do what’s best for them. But I also think we can (and should) seek better terms than those offered in KDP Select.

      1. Completely agreed. I guess the point of my post was simply to highlight the shift in Amazon’s business model, which began as simply distributor — the same as a retail store — with an exclusively online platform.

        That model has shifted to additionally being a content provider, which can give rise to conflicts of interest at the very least.

  54. Two points stand out for me in this excellent article. 1.Over 40,000 books are already in the lending library, with more entering every day. The more books that are available, the less chance any one book has of being chosen. 2. Amazon asked for feedback on its development of the program — from top-selling authors. Does the experience of those authors, and Amazon’s attention to their concerns have any relevance for authors who aren’t well-known?

  55. Very interesting post, David, and I must say that I agree with much of what you’ve put forward about, as independent authors, controlling our own destinies by deciding how much we get paid and how are works are distributed.

    I have decided to try out the KDP Select program for 90 days, and I’ll tell you why. (I’m leaving aside the arguments as to what this bodes for the future of of the services and ones like it and treating it as an experiment for the moment.) The choice was somewhat easier for me than some others because 99% of my sales come through Amazon. But why did I decide to give it a try? First of all, I’m not thinking about the “pot” money that will be distributed at all. I would initially experiment with it even if there was no compensation for lent books. I’m looking it as a marketing opportunity.

    A) My books are still for sale at the regular price on Amazon. I don’t imagine that at my level of sales, I’m not losing any sales, as the Select program is only for Amazon Prime members and is limited to one lent book a month for those members. Hopefully it will give me a bit more visibility for at least some of my titles. (You can enroll select titles and don’t need to enroll your whole catalogue, i.e. enroll the first in a series and hope the visibility creates more name recognition and encourages borrowers who enjoy your book or are intrigued by your offering to check out what else you have available.)

    B) I want to be able to take advantage of putting one or more titles up for free, for the same reason stated above. (This works best for authors who have multiple titles, of course.)

    C) For the average reader, the controversy about Select may all be inside baseball. I think that many readers may look at books offered through the program, see the word “Select” and confer a greater deal of “legitimacy” to an author. “Why if they’re in the Select program, they must be good!” This isn’t true, of course, but implications don’t have to be true to the less-informed. It may look like an endorsement by Amazon, even though it’s totally opt-in. If the Select program is flooded with unprofessional books, Amazon will have to deal that. But if someone gives a new author a try due to the program and finds a professionally produced, engrossing read, that could be a big boon to an indie author.

    So I’m trying it out as sort of a “throw the spaghetti and the wall and see what sticks.” I figure I can only be better informed about the model by participating, because I have less to lose than other authors who have already have better channels outside of Amazon. Whether it’s a success for me or an abject failure, as someone who blogs about self-publishing I’ll have something interesting to tell other indie authors. I’ll be able to say what happened that I didn’t anticipate and what didn’t happen that I hoped for.

    (All that said, I don’t want to see Amazon as either a monopoly in indie publishing, or see it go down the same road as traditional publishers in giving authors “take it or leave it” choices. Again, this is just an experiment for my own edification)

    Thanks again, David! We can always trust you to be on top of industry and present things in a thoughtful and complete way.

    1. I’m sorry, but those all strike me as horrible reasons to sign up:

      A) Signing up for Amazon Select gives you visibility on that channel and completely cuts you out of all other retailers and sales channels besides Amazon. The net effect is that signing up for the program decreases your overall visibility.

      B) You can already do this through dropping the price on other sites and getting Amazon to drop the price. Admittedly, it’s a backdoor channel and has all the grace of a blunt object, but it’s still possible, so you’re not gaining anything through the select program.

      C) Amazon Select is a new program, which means that most people probably don’t have an opinion of it yet, writers or readers. From what I’ve heard, most of the major traditional publishers have turned Select down, which is why Amazon is opening it up like this to the indies. If that’s true, when readers start using the service, they’re going to see lots of titles from indies, and hardly any titles from the more established authors whose names they know. If anything, as the smart indies figure out how bad Select is for their own business (re: exclusivity, fixed pot, etc), I’m betting that the Select program will become a ghetto for all the desperate indies with lower-quality books that tend not to sell.

      1. I can see where you’re coming from, Joe. But as I said, I’m putting a few titles into Select just to get a feel for the numbers. I just want to see what happens, so that when readers ask me about the model, I can be better informed in telling them. As for getting Amazon to put a title up for free — I’ve tried for several months. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t, and they don’t tell you why or why not. Again, just an experiment I’m trying. I will say that a fellow author whose numbers I’m privy to has gotten nearly a thousand downloads since joining the program last week and setting one book for free.

        As an aside, I just got a new Kindle Fire last week and a free trial of Amazon Prime, and there’s a decent selection in the Select program right now. I’m very curious to see how that changes and evolves over the next few months. As I mentioned, one possible outcome I foresee is, as you say, desperate (and less than professional) indies dumping their books into Select and Amazon having to totally rethink the model. I think that’s a real possibility. For one thing, I’m pretty sure the “one book a month” thing will not be an incentive to members and that will change. Beyond that, I’m just going to be carefully following developments. I’m sure in the future, David will be posting again on the subject as the picture comes clearer.

  56. Excellent as usual. Controlling what we get paid for our work and the exclusivity or both huge deals for me. I think every indie though, needs to keep their eyes peeled and see where this goes.

  57. David, this is a very good article and lays out many of the issues. I’m not participating at this time. But I’ll keep an eye on it and see what others say about it after a reasonable period of time (perhaps a year or two). I don’t like the idea of not knowing up front what I’ll be paid for each rental. At least with my self-published books I can set the price and know what I’ll make on each sale.

    OTOH, I don’t really know how many books I’ve sold each month. I know what Amazon tells me I’ve sold. But I don’t know of any way to verify that number. I’m surprised this point hasn’t come up for discussion as well.

    1. There is no independent verification of Amazon’s numbers, no. This became an issue during the summer when a L*dy G*ga (begone spambots!) sale seemed to crash KDP’s reporting systems. Rankings were jumping with no corresponding sales. Amazon said that the sales were added eventually in the monthly reports, but that’s hard to verify. Under this system, all we can do is trust the numbers were are given – which isn’t ideal. At least with print books, there is a paper trail – not so much for e-books.

    2. This discussion has definitely come up in community forums on the KDP website. I wonder if KDP has any plans to resolve these issues raised by concerned authors, or if it doesn’t make much of a difference to them yet.

  58. I don’t mind lending programs or even subscription programs, but I’m just not willing to submit to exclusivity. I told my readers as much on my blog: http://ryallon.blogspot.com/2011/12/note-to-my-readers.html

    The kdp program is generating hostility among consumers, other businesses and Indie Writers. I received this response from one of my fans and it strengthens my resolve all that much more:

    Hey there John,
    > I’ve been following your blog and this morning’s email made me cheer. I understand that you’ve gotta do what’s right for your family, but BRAVO to you for continuing to support all ereader formats as long as you can. This type of thing makes me glad that I didn’t buy a Kindle and determined NEVER to buy one of Amazon’s ereaders or tablets. FOO on them!
    > Sent from my iPad

    1. That’s nice to get that feedback from a reader. I know some authors received angry responses when they announced they were entering the program. Others had more understanding readers. It’s hard to say right now how readers will feel about all this – but I think it’s fair to assume that some will be angry that they can’t (easily) buy their favorite writers’ books anymore (or for a period). I know it’s easy to convert a Kindle book to read on another device (as long as there is no DRM), but considering the difficulty some readers have with using Smashwords coupons or sideloading books onto their Kindles, I think this is an issue (and of course the fact that many don’t know they CAN convert Kindle books to read on their device).

      1. That was one of my biggest fans, but I’ve had a few others express their gratitude in ways. I’m not going to go extreme and take my books off amazon like a few have, but I will avoid exclusivity if I can.

        Many people do have problems getting different files onto their eReaders. Nook readers would rather buy from B&N, Kindle from Amazon and so on. It’s much, much easier to buy direct, so I understand them not wanting to convert. I leave DRM off my books whereever possible for those that do though. 🙂

        I do like how you look at all sides in this post. The future of what will happen for us is interesting and frightening all in one. I wake up most days afraid that ALL the rules will have changed, destroying the Indie Author’s opportunities.

  59. David – great post.

    I look at this through many sets of eyes. First off, there is mess of free, which I am against. Too many books are free. If Amazon is going to regulate free with the Select program, then I can shut up. If they aren’t and it’s only going to increase the free books… good Lord, it’s horrible.

    This is a business and everyone needs to treat it like a business. I keep seeing authors with two books out who haven’t made a best seller list in panic mode giving both books away. People need relax and focus, and come with a plan that works.

    Then there’s the 95% group who get their sales from Amazon. I’d ask WHY? They should be out on the other sites, finding those customers too. I know personally that when I started reaching out to other customers, etc. I saw sales go up on all sites. Right now, Amazon is only 40-50% of our sales, which to me is a huge success. I don’t want to rely on one place to sell books.

    Now, on the flip, I will say that I respect Amazon for this program in the sense that they were willing to think out some ideas, talk to indie authors, and offer something. Is it good? Maybe, maybe not. But it’s a start. I hope this isn’t the only thing Amazon does for us, but it’s clear they are moving into the future.

    Maybe the future is subscription… if so, we have to find a way to survive.

    I will say though that our focus as authors needs to be writing. We need more books out. The more that are out, the more that will sell. And don’t forget the other vendors! B&N has made great changes to their site and it seems more friendly than over the summer. Whether you think Smashwords is a pain in the ass to work with or not, they are a great company, providing a great service with great royalties.

    Other vendors such as OmniLit who support indie authors… you won’t retire from selling books there, but they have customers! And one little thing I’ll note… I’ve noticed a HUGE surplus in people downloading the .PDF formats of our books sites that tell us the format. I’m okay with that. Maybe someone doesn’t want the Kindle App on their computer, or the Nook App. Maybe they are comfortable with a .PDF file. Good for them, I say, and here, enjoy my books!

    For those who pull from other vendors, that just makes it easier for my book to get noticed.

    I’m not for Select, nor am I against it. I do hope that everyone takes the time to consider all the options and make a business smart decision. What works for me may not work for David. What works for David may not work for you. Etc. etc. etc.

  60. I have entered a book into KDP Select which has sold zero copies, although it has reasonable reviews (via coupon ‘purchases’) – since none ever sold through Smashwords et al, I lose nothing by making it exclusive to Amazon, and I think the extra visibility may help. Certainly a 90 day trial period can do little harm, and it remains listed on Amazon with my other stuff.
    Now that is purely a trial, and only for the one book.
    I have no intention of entering any others into this.
    Subscription seems a good option for ebooks, with a limited reading period. This forces selectivity on readers, who currently may download any quantity of free ebooks, and never actually read them.

    1. If your book is borrowed (and considering readers only have one borrow per month), you can be pretty confident that it will be read, whereas with a free (or even 99c) book, you can’t be so sure.

  61. I’d like to know if Amazon will post the results after the first 90 days. For example, what was the lowest number of downloads of a Title. No need to mention the title. The reason I ask, is because to me 0 downloads of my unknown title against other well known titles means $0 of the $500,000. Will the numbers be available? Will they post the lowest number of downloads vs the highest to make our decision easier? The $500,000 may seem like a lot, but divide that amongst all the titles – if each one gets downloaded once, how much do you get? Am I doing the math wrong here? It’s not like the pot will increase, at least not in the first month. I’m really skeptical on this program. I don’t like the anti-competitive structure of having to pull your title from other sources. But then again, I may be wrong. Sometimes those who take a chance are better off. We’ll see…

    1. Amazon rarely shares those kind of hard numbers. What we usually get are vague pronouncements like “e-books are now outselling all print books combined” or “the new Kindle model has now replaced Harry Potter as the top-selling item on Amazon”, so I think you will be disappointed.

      All I think they will post is the per-download fee – once that has been calculated – in participating authors’ monthly KDP statements. And the monthly pot will be announced a few days before the beginning of the month (January’s pot will be announced on December 25th).

      $500,000 sounds like a lot (and Amazon’s example of an author earning $7,500 in one month are more than a little disingenuous, that’s like saying “you should self-publish, you could sell 10,000 books a month”), but it’s not so impressive once you run the numbers. It’s hard to be definitive about the math because it’s not so much about how many titles are in the program, but more about how popular it will be with readers and how many downloads they make (overall), and what effect that has on the following month’s pot. For example, if 1 million books are rented in December, then each download is only worth 50c (I’m earning $2.60 per copy sold on my best seller). However, if there are 1 million downloads, Amazon could increase the pot, making the download fee more lucrative the next month. The problem is we have no idea how they calculate the pot, how popular this program will be, and how many downloads would be enough to trigger an increase (or decrease).

      That will become a little clearer next month – but there are still so many questions.

  62. Thx for posting about this (I admit I was waiting for you to – bit like the UK veto of the EU treaty, I needed someone in the know to properly explain it!).

    KDP Select has horribly messed with the neat design of my KDP dashboard. It is a little worrying the way Amazon are pushing it/ramming it down our throats. I too have resisted the lure of increased visibility, wanting to hold on to non-exclusivity.

    And as for the divvying up of the booty, it’s a bit like getting PRS if you’re a songwriter – unless the Beeb put you on a playlist and your song gets constant airplay, you see very little money with the ‘one big pot’ model.

    Us self-pubbing authors have got to stand united.

    The Loyal Servant http://www.evahudson.com

    1. Don’t even get me started on the current EU mess. I’m Irish, and our future has been sold down the river to pay for the gambling debts of others. All successive governments have done is provide perfect case studies for a book on what not to do in a banking crisis. It’s awful and Ireland will be an economic wasteland, with high unemployment and crushing debt, for some time to come.

      Ok, now that’s off my chest.

      I agree that this current model will probably favor those already doing well and do little for those who aren’t, but time will tell, and I’m sure a handful will get lucky. I just think we can get a better deal if we vote with our feet.

  63. Excellent post as usual, David.

    I opted into KDP Select for my novel, Vestal Virgin–suspense in ancient Rome. After three months I’ll withdraw the book. Vestal Virgin has been out for about a year, and it sells well on Amazon so I’m viewing this as a promotional experiment.

    I don’t, however, plan to opt in my new novel, Hetaera. That book will be released sometime in the next few days, and I want it available in all formats. I’m hoping visibility I gain on KDP Select with Vestal Virgin will help drive sales to Hetaera.

    We’ll see how it goes. One thing is certain: the publishing market is constantly changing.

    1. Best of luck with Vestal Virgin in the program. I see some authors participating in a very targeted way (trying to hook readers into a series, attempting to breath life into backlist, or entering an older title into the program to draw attention to a new release not in the program) and those writers may well see best results. I see others just bundling everything in because they don’t sell much on other channels. I would respectfully suggest that those writers should (a) look at what they have done to try and sell on other channels (they may have tried and failed to get any response, but some haven’t tried at all) and (b) consider all the issues carefully. Whatever anyone decides, I honestly wish them the best and hope they get out of it what they aim to.

  64. Something I don’t understand. One of the key benefits is the opportunity to lower your price to zero for five days. But doesn’t anyone have that power to do that whenever they like, simply by dropping their price to zero for a day etc.?

  65. Good analysis of the overall picture, David, and thanks for giving authors some idea of the broader implications of this move by Amazon. I agree, subscription models will most likely play a part in the future of publishing. We have the benefit of being able to see how subscriptions have impacted other content creators and learn from them.

    As I stated on PG’s blog, I won’t be taking part in the Kindle lending program. On a personal level, I know other writers who are, and I wish them success. When I look at the broader implications of this program, however, I’m very wary. I don’t like exclusivity. I don’t believe it’s the best move for my work.

    1. I wish anyone success that is participating. However, I also hope that when the time comes to renew their 90 day period, they at least consider the bigger picture and how their decision may affect our collective compensation under future subscription models.

  66. Great post and sound reasoning all around. I’m with the ones waiting and watching and I’m completely with you on this running counter to my ideas about diversification. I’m not sure how much power the self-pub community has to negotiate with Amazon (as you imply), but we certainly can vote with our feet in this matter.

    I can see a future subscription type service that could be win-win for all the players involved, without having to have the trap of exclusivity. After all, netflix doesn’t offer you EXCLUSIVE content on all their titles, just easy access. Thanks for the (always insightful) article!

    1. Hi Susan,

      We certainly can vote with our feet. And I think Amazon are open to evolving the program. Obviously, they will try and get the best deal for themselves, but they also need to make it attractive enough to get self-publishers to enroll (and stay enrolled). If enough self-publishers don’t enroll (or opt out after enrolling), I’m sure Amazon will reach out to the community to see how they can make the program more attractive to us. When designing the program, they approached approximately 50 self-publishers and really took on board their feedback (which is heartening).


      1. That’s heartening to hear. Amazon will definitely do what’s in their best interest. If self-pubbers continue to do what’s in THEIR best interest (which I fully expect, if they are well-informed) then there’s at least the possibility of a win-situation for all. Thanks for the response!

      2. It’s not so much voting with my feet as abstaining for the time being. 1/4 of my income comes from outside Amazon, and I’ve had to fight for those dollars. I’d hate to give them up, but I also don’t want Amazon to penalize those who don’t participate.

        I am heartened by past experience, however, as you say. Amazon adapts and changes more quickly than you might expect from such a large company. They tweak. They try new things (remember the ‘percent of people who bought a different book’ feed they had on our product pages for a while? Thank goodness that’s gone). But that’s the point. They did listen. If the exclusivity aspect disappeared, I’d enroll all my books in a heartbeat. It will be interesting to see if B and N or Apple come up with something to counter this or compete with it, or just watch it slide by.

      3. “If the exclusivity aspect disappeared, I’d enroll all my books in a heartbeat.”

        Exactly. It’s the exclusivity that’ll stop me from enrolling in this. Otherwise there wouldn’t be much to lose for a new author signing up, and possible gains in the form of exposure (I doubt this will be much of a direct moneymaker initially).

  67. Excellent post (as usual).

    I think the exclusivity issue will depend a lot on what Amazon does and does not enforce. We already know today that there are parts of their TOS they do not enforce (unless pressured). Frankly I think the exclusivity is more bark than bite (but time will tell). If I had significant sales through other channels I would never try it. But, since I don’t I’m trying it just to see how the data looks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *