One Publisher’s Experience with KDP Select

A mistake, pure and simple.

Back in December, I wrote “Amazon’s Bribe to Publishers: KDP Select and the $6 Million Fund,” a blog post where I discussed the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Amazon.com’s attempt to fill that library with books: the KDP Select Program.

The Deal

KDP Select offers Kindle format ebook author/publishers a chance to earn a piece of a monthly $500K or $600K fund. Enrolled books must:

  • Be available for sale on Amazon.com only. In other words, if you enroll a title in KDP Select, you cannot sell the same title as an ebook anywhere else. Amazon.com gets the exclusive right to sell your ebook on Amazon.com.
  • Allow Kindle owners who are also members of Amazon Prime to borrow the enrolled book for as long as they like for free.
  • Keep the enrolled title in the program for complete three-month terms. Once you sign up, there’s no getting out. And if you don’t turn off the automatic renewal option — which is enabled by default, of course — the book is automatically re-enrolled for another three months.

There are other “benefits” as well. For example, you get the option of making your book available for free to anyone on Amazon.com. (Imagine that! They let you give it away!)

The Bait

Compensation comes in the form of a share of the fund. Here’s how Amazon explains it; note the big numbers they use to make author/publisher mouths drool:

Your share of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library Fund is calculated based on a share of the total number of qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles. For example, if the monthly fund amount is $500,000, the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000, and your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 1.5% (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%), or $7,500 for that month.

So according to Amazon, although you’re letting a whole bunch of people read your book for as long as they like for free, you could still make $7,500 (or even more!) in a month on that book.

I Bit

My only ebook title at the time, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs, was selling a few copies here and there on Amazon.com’s Kindle store, Apple’s iBookstore, and BN.com’s NOOK store. Not anywhere near enough to make me feel good about my first attempt at ebook publishing.

I thought for a while about KDP Select. I blogged about it. And I figured, what do I have to lose? So I signed up in December and even did a free book promotion for Christmas Day.

The Results

Over the next three months, I saw the following results:

Transaction Type Units Earnings Per Unit Avg.
Sales at 35% Royalty 2 $2.80 $1.40
Sales at 70% Royalty 37 $92.46 $2.50
Free Book (Christmas Promotion) 333 $0.00 $0.00
KDP Select Borrows 10 $18.40 $1.80
All Transactions 382 $113.30 $0.30

Let’s take a moment to analyze this. Here are the points that jump out at me:

  • Over a three-month period, the KDP Select program earned me a total of $18.40 for this title.
  • During the same period, regular Kindle earnings totaled $95.26. These are actually people who bought my book. I would have earned at least this amount if I had not been on the KDP Select program. I might have earned more if the 10 people who borrowed my book had bought it instead.
  • The average earnings per book borrowed was $1.80; the average earnings per book sold was $2.44 per book (that’s $95.26 ÷ 39).
  • Factoring in the free books, my KDP Program average earnings was less than 6¢ per book (that’s $18.40 ÷ 343).

Of course, this does not take into consideration sales that were lost because the book did not appear in buyer-preferred markets such as the Apple iBookstore and BN.com NOOK store. Based on sales figures before and after the book’s enrollment in the KDP Select program, that could be anywhere from 5 to 15 units per month.

So the KDP Select program earned me $18.40 and possibly lost me quite a bit more.

I don’t see any good from this at all. None. Do you? If so, explain it to me.

The Exposure Argument

A friend of mine who published his first novel on the Kindle platform enrolled his book in KDP Select about a week or two before I did. He and I had discussed it briefly via email before I dove in. He had the same “it’s worth a try” attitude that I did.

The other day, I contacted him with the following question:

How did your KDP Select deal go? Did you make any money worth talking about? I’m about to blog about my experience and was wondering what you thought about it.

His response:

Definitely no money worth talking about, unless that would be about $25! And no borrows at all. However, I’m letting it run for another 3 months. What has been encouraging is working with World Literary Cafe’s free promotion day, which runs through KDP Select’s free promotion days. That doesn’t bring in money directly but does at least bring exposure which has resulted in some sales and hopefully reviews at some point.

And that brings up an interesting point: exposure.

A writer who is just beginning to publish his work (such as my friend) has different goals than a writer who has been publishing her work for years (such as me).

Show Me the Money

I’m in it for the money, pure and simple. As print publishing dies and my existing titles no longer warrant revision, I need something to fill in the income gap if I expect to maintain the freelance lifestyle I’ve enjoyed for the past 20+ years. I need to create a book for a definable market and sell to that market at a price it’s willing to pay. In the ebook world, that price appears to be under $10 — more likely under $5. I did the math and realized that in order to succeed on this path, I need to build a library of long-lived titles and sell an average of 60-80 books a day. That’s why I was initially so disappointed in the sales results for my first book. It wasn’t even a drop in the bucket I needed to fill if I wanted to continue earning a living as a writer — which is what I’ve been doing for 20 years.

But I’m not in it for exposure. I have exposure. I’ve written and published more than 80 books, the vast majority of which are with major publishers such as McGraw-Hill, Peachpit Press, O’Reilly, and Macmillan. I support my books via a Website that gets about 1,000 hits per day. I’m occasionally interviewed on podcasts and video podcasts and have appeared numerous times at Macworld Expo. I may not be a “name brand” like some others who write the kinds of things I do, but I’m certainly quite a step up from those just entering this field.

Expose Yourself

My friend, however, is not in the same position. He’s new to writing novels and, as anyone who has done so can tell you, it’s extremely tough to break in. There’s lots of competition, much of it from best-selling authors that people turn to every time a new title comes out. It’s hard to get recognition for your work, let alone try to sell it when there’s just so much competition.

He’s doing the smart thing — the same thing I did years and years ago when I started out: he’s trying to build a name for himself. To do that, he needs to get his work in front of as many people as he possibly can. He needs his book read and reviewed, preferably with lots of stars and good comments. He needs to begin building a base of readers who not only like this first book, but will be anxiously awaiting his second. And third. Readers who will be willing to show support by paying to read his work.

And that’s why he sees KDP Select as something that might help him in the long run.

Is KDP Select Worth It?

In my mind, no. Definitely not. The exclusivity is enough to convince me that it’s not something I ever want to do again. After all, my third Maria’s Guides book, iBooks Author: Publishing Your First Ebook, is selling like crazy on the iBookstore. If I did an exclusive on Amazon.com, I’d lose out on all of those sales.

But for authors/publishers just starting out and trying to do the best thing for the long haul, it might be worth a shot. My friend seems to think so.

6 thoughts on “One Publisher’s Experience with KDP Select

  1. This was very interesting to read. I recently wrote my first book and after a few rejections on the traditional publishing route, I opted to upload to Kindle as an ebook.

    Due to having absolutely no exposure or idea of how selling ebooks even works, I accidently chose the ‘enroll to KDP Select’ option, unaware of the implications.

    I have to say, perhaps I’ve been extremely fortunate with timing or luck but within 3 days of enrolling and my book being online, I used a free promotion for 36 hours which resulted in 7000 downloads and number 3 on the kindle top 100 free list. As a consequence, after going back into the ‘paid’ catergory, I’m averaging at least 100 sales daily and high ranking numbers.

    I honestly don’t know whether I’m the exception or if things would have been just as successful had I chosen to not enrol in KDP select, but as a first time venture, its paid off in my opinion in terms of exposure.

    Thought this may be helpful for other first time ebookers who are unsure if Select is worthwhile.

    • I think you are fortunate. Everyone I know who has used KDP Select has no trouble using the free book promotions to give away the book, but few readers are interested in paying. If you’re selling 100 copies a day — for real money — that’s not bad.

      What I’ve seen is that there are lots of books out there and the free and cheap ones are the fastest to sell. While some new authors might use this as a way to build readership, you need to sell a lot more than 100 really cheap (or free) books every day to make a living.

  2. I dont agree with you. and i really wonder why your Kdp borrows are that low/ only 10?
    I have enrolled a book in kdp recently and after using the free promotions days my book “how to blog” is borrowed 489 times . and i am hopefull to make some profit from that.
    PS: its a simple book of 19 pages so i think a well written book might get much profit and exposure from kdp select .

  3. I am trying hard to decide how to market my first novel The Little Pawn… I am not technology minded and I Am now more confused. I am swaying against kdp select though

What do you think?