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.
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!)
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.
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.
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|
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.
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.
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.