To KDP Select or Not to…

The Kind Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program is one under which an author gives Amazon exclusive right to distribute his or her book. The most touted advantage of this is that it allows the writer to give away copies of the book, in the Kindle store for a period of five days every three months. This may sound like a dubious perk, but supposedly it sparks interest in your title by interesting more readers, who will generate some buzz about your book. Also, I’d heard that Amazon does pay the writer a royalty on every free download of his or her title. Finally, an advantage of the free downloads, so I’ve heard, is that if enough people download your title, it moves your book up the bestsellers list. In the Kindle store titles are listed in the order of sales, and the higher the place of your book on the list, the more customers will see it. I’ve read statements from authors that this enhanced placement on the bestsellers list dramatically improved sales of their book.

So I was thinking about enrolling my novel in the program. I wrote to my editor at Penumbra Publishing, Pat Morrison, about this. Pat is a sharp, tough-minded person, whose views on contemporary publishing I respect. Her reply was illuminating, and I want to share our correspondence on this. I think it should be of interest to a lot of writers, who like myself wonder about the KDP Select program. So here goes:

On Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 10:59 AM, Kent wrote:
Hi Pat,
As an experiment, I’d like to try putting Jimmy Stu Lives! into the KDP Select program for a couple months. What do you think of the idea? Could you set it up for me? Kent

From: on, Penumbra Publishing ;
To: Kent ;
Sent: M Jan 21, 2013 6:10:41 PM

Hi Kent,

We can enroll your book in the Kindle Select program, but I will emphatically warn you that this program will probably do absolutely nothing for you except perhaps to allow a bunch of people to download your book for free. Amazon loves this, because you agree to take down your book from all of Amazon’s competitors with the hollow promise that you’ll earn great royalties from Prime members borrowing your book. The sad truth is that in the year one of our more popluar writers had all his books enrolled in this program, he had less than 20 people borrow. That means 20 borrows out of almost a score different books over a 12-month period … hardly worth the disadvantages of signing up for exclusive representation with Amazon. The writer was adamant about sticking with this program until he finally had to admit that it did nothing for his sales, and may have even hurt them.

Additionally, the 5-day giveaway every 90 days during the enrollment period sounds like a great promotional scheme to get people to notice your book, but again it is a false claim that doesn’t produce for 99% of authors who buy into it. Free giveaways earn the author nothing and do absolutely nothing for sales ranking on Amazon, because Amazon has changed the algorithm by which sales ranking is calculated on their site to discount for the surge in ‘free’ downloads. This means your book will not ever appear ranked with other ‘best-sellers.’ Authors who tried this program in its early days may have experienced some success, but because of Amazon’s ‘tweaks,’ that success cannot be repeated by others.

And, while you may think you are getting your book noticed by a lot more readers, the sad fact is that people have learned that they can scope for free books, download all that sound even slightly interesting, and then move on to the next day’s batch without ever bothering to read any of them. Generally with KDP Select, you don’t get reviews from people who do happen to read your book for free unless they absolutely despise your book.

Several other authors have tried this, and none have experienced a boost in sales that could not have been accomplished by some dedicated promo activity. Guest blogging and tour blogging on high-traffic blogs does a lot more to get dedicated readers to buy your book, even if you want to discount the price or hold a giveaway promotion. Another of our most popular writers experienced 18,000 ‘free’ downloads of his first book in a three-day span of the Kindle Prime giveaway feature, and yet his sales did not increase significantly during or after that run on free downloads. Which means 18,000 people that might have potentially purchased his book will never pay a dime, and may not even bother to read his book. If it’s free, it’s not worth anything. That’s the idea people get from a campaign like this. With a controlled and limited giveaway where you engage with readers, there’s a communication link between the author and the reader (like on blog venues), and the giveaway is more direct and meaningful rather than some random readers running across your title among literally hundreds of others being given away by other desperate authors hoping for a miracle. And what do the readers say? ‘Oh, look, another free book. Yadda yadda yadda.’

Meanwhile, people who shop at Kobo, Diesel, Apple, B&N, and a host of other distributors will not find your book because you have severely narrowed your distribution. Additionally, Smashwords provides controlled free downloads with a coupon code that can be set for a given period of time. This will allow you to give copies to reviewers and promote your title on specific venues like blogs, reader groups, and so forth. If you limit yourself to Amazon, you have no way to give a copy of your book to anyone outside the free five-day giveaway. That means if you want a copy of your book to go to a reviewer, you have to buy a copy from Amazon and ‘gift’ it to the specific person you hope will review your book. It is not an easy situation to deal with. A writer’s best bet for success is to have a collection of engaging published books to offer readers, and do a lot of concerted promo to specific groups that might have a unique interest in the subject matter of his or her books.

I also should mention here that it is a misconception that authors earn royalties on free downloads of their books in the Kindle Select program. That is not true and never has been. Royalties on the ‘free promo’ downloads don’t earn anything at all for Amazon or the authors. They are given away free.

The distinction here is between KINDLE SELECT and KINDLE PRIME. Kindle Select is the program authors enroll in that gives Amazon exclusive distribution for their books and gives them five days out of every 90 days of enrollment to offer their book to readers for free. Kindle Prime is a customer membership program that costs $75 a year and gives the member discounts on items and also other perks. Specifically for ebooks, Kindle Prime allows a member to borrow any book enrolled in the Kindle Select program, for free, as long as the member wants to borrow it. ‘Borrows’ by Kindle Prime customers earn royalties for the author. The amount of royalty earned varies based on the total number of all books borrowed by all Prime members and the amount of ‘seed’ funding Amazon puts up to pay for borrows.

Given all the factors mentioned, I strongly suggest you reconsider this particular experiment. However, if you are adamant about doing this, then you will need to be aware that the enrollment period is 90 days, and you should define which five of those 90 days you wish to use for free giveaway. The giveaway is not required, but it is seen as a promotional perk as part of the Kindle Select program. Your book will have to be unpublished from all other venues, and republishing it later will take extra time and effort on our part, another reason we are opposed to this program.

Let me know what you’d like to do. Thanks.


On Mon, Jan 21, 2013 at 2:51 PM, Kent McDaniel wrote:

OK, I’m dissuaded. Maybe I could use this as a guest posting on my blog?

OK, SO THAT’S THE CORRESPONDENCE. I’d be interested to know what other writers think on the subject.

About kentmcdanielwrites

Writer and musician.

4 Responses to “To KDP Select or Not to…”

  1. Hmm not sure about this one. I do know some authors that have used this and it has generated interest and reviews. The reviews are worth it if they are good and lead to more sales at a later date. I would prefer to not limit everything to one retailer, but I need to finish writing my book first 🙂

  2. I was looking at Kindle Direct in regards to self publishing The Adventures of Oswald Trumpet, and what’s kept me from doing so in the first place is the knowledge that it’s highly likely my book will just become lost in the ever growing sea of self published works. Was it good? Was it bad? I’d likely never know.

    Actually, I did have an idea for a digital serial novel, and it was because of the serial novel that I did research into their program. The idea:

    Pay once up front for the novel. The novel is incomplete. Sizable, but incomplete. Every month you receive a new episode (at no additional cost). The question this answers is: what happens to your favorite characters when the book is over? Wait a month and find out.

    The problem with using Amazon’s service for this is that, based on my interpretation, readers would have to repurchase with every new update. Also, readers would not be notified with updates to the novel. And they might have to pay downloading fees.

    Amazon self publishing seems like a decent idea, but in practice, for a writer who has spent so much time and effort bringing their book to life, it would be better to pursue other venues of distribution.

    • You know if you did publish through Amazon’s KDP, you wouldn’t have to particpate in their Select program, Nick. If you don’t, then you’re free to also distribute your book elsewhere. What a lot of people do is upload their book to Amazon but not opt in to the Select program. Then they upload their book to Smashwords sells the book on their site and also distributes it to Barnes and Noble, iTunes, and Sony, Koby, and all the other download sites. As far as the possiblity (probability?) of your book being lost in the flood of self-published titles, I’m not sure that that should keep you from getting it out there. At least it’d be available, and there’s no charge for uploading, either at Amazon or Smashwords. Your only costs would be for a cover and to copyright your work. I think that it’s $35 to copyright an e-book and there are a lot people out there who’ll do a decent cover for under $100. Course, an artist such as yourself could probably craft his own cover.

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