On KDP Select Losing Its Luster
|Amazon Makes an Offer You Can't Refuse|
Disenchanted as ever, I dug in my heels with Amazon's KDP Select program for another 90 day cycle as I tried to figure out what to do next. Might as well, right? I mean, with KDP Select, at least I get to do some free promotional days and maybe a Countdown Deal or two. I feel a bit like an addict trying to justify why drugs are so damn awesome, but Amazon had always been decent to me. I mean, I get good sales reporting data that's as close to real time as one can get in this business. They pay every month instead of quarterly, and they even removed that pesky $10 minimum threshold so even the pennies I make from the overseas stores come to me every month. Also, if I've ever had a problem, their customer service has always been timely and helpful.
But the truth is Amazon likes to position itself as the kindly and benevolent godfather that's doing right by you and looking out for you, even as he's whacking your family members in dark alleyways and building an empire with your own blood and sweat. It's hard to hate Amazon, even when you should at least be cautious, or when things start to smell a little off, like maybe they've put a decapitated horse head in your bed.
It used to be if you did really well on a freebie day, there would be a nice little sales bounce afterward. Those days have since passed. I can't remember the last time I had a sizable post-freebie bounce. Hell, I can't remember the last time I had any bounce at all, even after a day where I had nearly a thousand downloads and topped the free charts. It's difficult to put my finger on what has happened over the last six months or so, but making money via Amazon has been like squeezing blood out of bone. Sometimes it feels like the ranking gods are flogging me, or like they've decreased the visibility of my books on the site, but it's not like I can verify that. I also realize I've played a part in this. I shouldn't have stayed exclusive for so long, for one thing. For another, I'm questioning whether it was wise to put all my work into collections while removing the availability of more individual downloads. But I'm also a firm believer that for the most part, you get out of self-publishing exactly what you put into it, and in my drive to finish a new novel and acquire an agent, I have let my indie work slide a bit. I haven't had many releases at all this year, and I haven't promoted much either.
But the slide was happening even before the turn of the new year, and around January, I was pretty sure the luster was wearing off. I intended to start distributing wide again in April, but then due to a snafu on my part, I wasn't able to do so. While all my PUBLISHED work was free and clear, I had forgotten to uncheck the "renew" boxes on the individual short stories in my collections that I had since unpublished. Even in that case, Amazon still holds you to the terms of exclusivity (again, publisher beware, read the fine print). I could have risked violating that, but I didn't want to enter a potential kerfuffle with Amazon. So I unchecked those boxes and then reupped with my other titles for another three month term so that everything would be coming free around the same time in August. With KDP Select, it feels like you're living your life in three month blocks of time. Mini prison sentences. Hopefully my parole will not be delayed by another technicality next month.
But What About Kindle Unlimited?
|So I give you everything, and I get pretty much nothing? Where do I sign?!|
No, actually, it really ain't. While Amazon is branding it as another revenue stream, you'll probably be lucky to get five subscription downloads a month, same as the Amazon Prime Lending Library. Is that worth giving Amazon full exclusivity? No, sorry. Most of the readers signing onto this KU program will be doing it for free access to the big names Amazon is using to rope them in. They won't automatically be sniffing out self-published or small press indie authors that had to hand over their only set of keys for the opportunity. But there you will be, another temporarily embarrassed bestselling author, acting against your own best interests, letting Amazon hold the ropes to your work in the off-chance it'll really pay off this time.
Chances are overwhelming that it won't. And like other authors have pointed out (check out this blog post over at Terrible Minds), you're not getting paid based on the value of your book like the traditionally published authors. You're making a percentage of a pot of money that Amazon is setting aside, just like with the Lending Library. Most times, you're topping out at about $2 per download. That's great if you're selling books below $2.99. But anything above that, and you're losing money on the sale. That's not a great deal. And if people start using Kindle Unlimited as their standard for acquiring new books, they will likely be buying fewer of them outright, which means you can say goodbye to your actual paid royalties. You'll be making less money on each sale indefinitely. You know how a lot of musicians hate streaming services like Spotify? It's for similar reasons as this, except unlike musicians, you'll be locked into an exclusivity deal with one retailer for the dubious privilege of making less money on a sale. It's a little frightening to think about what this might do to the future of indie publishing if everyone starts going this way. Hopefully terms will improve, but I doubt it. Not with the Self-Publishing 1-Percenters distributing petitions of undying love and devotion for Amazon. Gee, it must be nice having such shiny gents speaking for us unwashed masses plugging away to make enough money to buy a cheap dinner every month. I'm pretty sure Amazon would prefer to use those guys as their spokesmen rather people like me, who outnumber them 100 to 1.
I've long considered my indie publishing life an experiment. I mainly use my short stories to test the waters of the author-publisher market, and I'm not afraid to move my goalposts and change my strategies when need be. If you become too ardent, too set in your ways, you run the risk of losing your ass. This is why if you find yourself falling under the spell of certain self-publishing demagogues, back the hell away. They may have found success at this great gamble, but they're no different than the skeevy politicians who will tell you that one day, you can be rich and sell millions of books just like them, if you don't give up and if you keep writing awesome books and believing in the big American dream and the Great White Hope that is Amazon. Don't look for that man behind the curtain. Don't question the questionable business practices of Jeff Bezos the Great and Powerful.
It's nothing more than lyrical bullshit designed to divide writers into distinct camps, when really you should be steering a much more dynamic ship that can weather all markets and all conditions. Take it from me what can happen when you fail to diversify even for a little while.
So What's Next?
|There is life yet|
If you're testing the KDP Select waters for a little bit, fine. More power to ya. Maybe it'll pay off and get you some additional readers. Just don't overstay your welcome. Being in the program is like standing in the sun too long without sunblock. You'll walk away bitter and blistered.