KDP Select or Not?

Yesterday, a FB friend asked whether she should set her new book up on Amazon so it could be “borrowed”. The discussion turned into one a number of people were interested in — in fact, one of the participants asked Sarah if MGC could do a post on KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited from an author’s point of view. Since Sarah is away from home and I didn’t have a topic ready to go this morning, I’m stealing the idea.

I’ve been on the record for some time telling writers that they need to explore how well their books sell on the various different platforms available to us. I know some who sell well on Kobo or Barnes and Noble. Some love Smashwords. But, most of the writers I know have all come to one conclusion: the majority of their sales come from Amazon.

For myself, I had my books on all the major markets for awhile. I used Smashwords first to get into some of them and then moved to Draft2Digital. Of the two companies, I far and away preferred Draft2Digital for ease of use and ease of understanding their reports as well as payment schedules. However, the one thing that was consistent between the two of them was that my Apple sales were almost non-existent. Kobo not much more. B&N I uploaded myself and if I made double digits between them, I had to call it a good month. At the same time, my sales on Amazon were well above 1o to 1. Well above.

So I pulled my novels from the other stores and took them exclusively to Amazon. The first thing I did was sign up with the KDP Select Program. The basic requirement for this program is simple. You agree not to offer your book or short story anywhere else for a period of 90 days. You can set it up so the title is automatically renewed at the end of the 90 day or not. So you aren’t tied into the program if you select it.

The benefits of the program help too. Enrolled titles earn 70% royalties in Japan, India, Brazil and Mexico. You can also choose to enroll your title in the Kindle Unlimited program. More on that in a bit.

Another of the benefits of the KDP Select Program is you can enroll in the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL). What this means is that Prime members can choose to borrow one book a month from the KDP Select books. There is no due date. So they can read the book at their leisure. They can’t borrow another book until that first one is returned. And, as with Kindle Unlimited, you are paid for each “normalized” page read of a book borrowed under KOLL.

Kindle Countdown Deals is another benefit of being enrolled in the KDP Select Program. These are limited time discount deals you can set up.

1) They’re time-based: Not only does this give you more control over how long your book is discounted, but the time remaining for the promotion is visible to customers to increase excitement for the price discount.
2) Customers see the regular price: It’s easy for customers to see the great deal they’re getting, as the regular price is included on the book’s detail page, right beside the promotional price.
3) Royalty rate is retained at lower prices: You will earn royalties based on your regular royalty rate and the promotional price. As a result, if you are using the 70% royalty option, you’ll earn 70% even if the price is below $2.99. (As per the KDP Pricing Page, regular delivery costs apply.)
4) There’s a dedicated website: Customers can discover active Kindle Countdown Deals at http://www.amazon.com/kindlecountdowndeals.
5) You can monitor performance in real time: Your KDP report will display sales and royalties at each price discount side-by-side with pre-promotion performance.

The keys here are that the customers can see they are getting a deal and how long the deal is available for AND you maintain the same royalty rate throughout the sale.

You can also offer your book for free, up to 5 days during the 90 day enrollment period. Note, however, that you receive NO royalties for books downloaded under this promotion.

Then you have Kindle Unlimited. For readers, this is a subscription service that allows them to download up to 10 eligible books at a time without actually buying them. For authors, it is a variation of the KOLL. We get paid not for the number of times a title is downloaded (how it used to be) but for each “normalized” page read. To find out how many “pages” are in your title, you need to go to your Bookshelf. Click on KDP Select Info. Scroll down to Earn Royalties from the KDP Select Global Fund. At the bottom of that section, you will see the number of “normalized” pages for that title.

Now, what does all this mean to an author?

For exclusive rights to your e-book — and it is e-book only, not print or audio — Amazon will automatically enroll you in the KOLL program. From a personal standpoint, I never earned all that much from KOLL. It was great when it first started and I was an early adopter. But as more indies and small presses started taking part, and as some unethical “authors” learned to game the system, the payouts lowered. At that time, everyone earned the same thing. We were paid X-amount per borrow. It didn’t matter how long or short the book or story happened to be. That meant it helped writers of shorter works but penalized those of us who wrote novels. We complained, and so did some readers, and Amazon reworked the payout scheme.

Where my income jumped was with the invention of Kindle Unlimited. I’ll admit I wasn’t sure it would make any difference. After all, how many readers would pay a subscription in order to borrow up to ten books at a time? Then I thought about my reading habits and realized I would save money with KU. First, it meant I’d be more likely to try a new author than before because I wouldn’t be out any money. I could download the book under KU, read until I was hooked or not and then return the book. Second, it is easy. When I go to a book’s product page, I see right there if I can borrow it or if I have to buy it. When borrowing it, I can download it to a specific device just as I can when I purchase it. When I try to download an 11th book, Amazon tells me my limit has been reached and shows me the oldest books borrowed and asks if I want to return it.

From an author’s standpoint, this is a wonderful tool to be used to reach new readers. As noted above, the new rules on payouts are also more fair for writers of longer work than the previous rules were. Yes, folks have gamed the system and Amazon has taken steps to stop it. That is going to happen, be it Amazon or some other entity.

What I have found with the inception of KU is that my normalized pages read has gone through the roof compared to what I used to get under KOLL. My KU payment now ranges anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of my monthly royalties. It is higher those months when I have a new title out. What I am hearing from readers who contact me is that they see the announcement for the new title and, if it is part of a series they haven’t read, they will borrow the first book under KU and, if they like it, will then buy it and the other books in the series. I get paid for the number of pages read for the borrow as well as for the subsequent sales.

So, how much do we get paid? It varies based on the money in the global fund (and Amazon sends an email each month detailing how much money is there) and how many titles are enrolled as well as how many normalized pages have been read. I did some quick math and it looks like it runs between $0.006 to $0.004? (or 0.6 cents to 0.4) per normalized page. Based on the figures for June, it came in around $0.0492 cents per normalized page (again, assuming my math challenged brain did the math right). That doesn’t seem like much until you start looking at the bottom line — and you realize that is money you probably would not have made had you not enrolled your book in the KU program. (Figures edited to clarify amounts — asg)

Something else I am seeing is that my short stories are not being borrowed under the KU program at nearly the same frequency as my novels. That may be because folks aren’t worried about spending 99 cents and not liking what they bought.

There is one downside to the KU program for both writers and those readers who also post reviews. Amazon’s algorithms place more weight on those reviews written by “verified” purchasers. Right now, they do not view a review from a KU reader as being from a verified purchaser. So those reviews don’t get as much weight. There has been push-back from both authors and KU reviewers about this. Possibly Amazon will change this in the future. I hope so. Until then, just be aware of it.

So, should a writer enroll in KDP Select and KU? That is up to you. I always recommend an author try other outlets before making the decision. Why? Because they may find that their experience is different from what mine has been. However, if you have done your research and have been following the Author Earnings reports, if you have talked to other authors and asked about their experiences — especially if they write in the same genre you do — then you may have enough information to make a decision without taking time to try out other markets.

For me, it has been an easy decision. I make much more from KU earnings than I did from the other outlets combined.

And now for some self-promo:

I am currently working on Dagger of Elanna, the sequel to Sword of Arelion (Sword of the Gods Book 1).

War is coming. The peace and security of the Ardean Imperium is threatened from within and without. The members of the Order of Arelion are sworn to protect the Imperium and enforce the Codes. But the enemy operates in the shadows, corrupting where it can and killing when that fails.

Fallon Mevarel, knight of the Order of Arelion, carried information vital to prevent civil war from breaking out. Cait was nothing, or so she had been told. She was property, to be used and abused until her owner tired of her. What neither Cait nor Fallon knew was that the gods had plans for her, plans that required Fallon to delay his mission.

Plans within plans, plots put in motion long ago, all converge on Cait. She may be destined for greatness, but only if she can stay alive long enough.

Like all my other books, Sword is available for purchase or for download through the Kindle Unlimited program.

48 Comments

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48 responses to “KDP Select or Not?

  1. I’m one of those with mixed feelings about KDP Select/ KOLL/KU. I too am up to over half my income coming from borrows. This is good. I made I think a grand total of $35 in two years with Kobo and just under $100 from B&N in the same time. Kobo lost my trust after the great December Upload Debacle of 2014. B&N, well, we all know about their search function problems. So I went to K-Select. I do have an inactive Gumroad account set up in case I want to sell from my website, but that starts to involve state and local taxes, registering as a business with the state in some new ways and . . . yeah.

    I’m not excited about having all my eggs in one basket. I like what Amazon provides, I like the ready-made customer base and sales-watching tools, but I also look forward to when someone new comes up with a good platform to challenge Amazon and open up more options.

    • What the lady said: I was getting so little money from other sales channels that when KU came along, I took my SFF titles down from the Nook store and the Apple store and gave Amazon the exclusive that it wanted. (I never bothered with Kobo, having heard that it generates almost no sales.) KU is now 37% of my revenue, and I’m only getting out of first gear on my new, post-retirement SFF career. My intuition is that the more titles you have posted, the greater the proportion of KU revenue in your total revenue stream.

      Amazon is perhaps the world’s greatest current example of the “channel capture” effect, in which a single player comes to dominate a sales channel by whatever means. (The Internet makes channel capture a lot easier.) I’d love for there to be even a single competitor that generated more than hamburger money, but I haven’t seen it yet and in my darker moments don’t ever really expect to.

      • Robin Munn

        I’d love for there to be even a single competitor that generated more than hamburger money, but I haven’t seen it yet and in my darker moments don’t ever really expect to.

        My off-the-cuff guess is that as long as Amazon continues to Not Suck™, they’ll continue to hold the channel they’ve captured, and competitors won’t arise. But should Amazon, at some unspecified future date, start scoring high on the Suck-O-Meter™ (say, a 7 out of 10), that will create room in the market for a competitor. At which point the competitor that got started six months prior to that point will win a lot of the “Well, Amazon’s starting to suck, I’m out” business, by virtue of having timed the market perfectly. Or if nobody timed the market perfectly, several competitors will jump into the game at once and it’ll be a scramble.

        Kindles will be a problem for the scenario I just painted, as Amazon will have no interest in making it easy for a competitor to get their books onto customers’ Kindle devices. Amazon would have to reach a 9 or 9.5 out of 10 on the Suck-O-Meter™ before the average “I don’t care how it works, I just want to read my books on the device I already own” customer ditched their Kindle for a new $100 device.

        All this is off-the-cuff opinion with no actual market research behind it, so take it for the miniscule amount it’s worth.

        • An important issue on the suck side is whether Amazon starts to suck with respect to readers, or with respect to authors. Both matter, but both would likely happen in different ways, and I have a hunch that Amazon understands that authors will put up with more than readers. (This is why many new writers are willing to beg and plead and sign away big chunks of their creative lives for a tradpub contract.)

          Amazon’s mind-boggling galaxy of SKUs for non-book categories makes the emergence of a serious competitor even less likely. One-stop shopping is a big draw. Wal-Mart would be one of the few who could stand up to Amazon, and it would take a great deal of smarts and money on the book side.

          • Max

            Personally, I’d like to see Valve jump into the game and try something with ebooks. Honestly, Amazon’s services with respect to authors are actually pretty poor: You’re limited in sales, there’s no way to send out review copies short of making an unofficial one yourself or, as Amazon suggests, making the book free for a day and urging the reviewer to download it during that period. A lot of their systems seem more concerned with Amazon’s stake in things rather than the author’s or the readers.

            Sure, it’s the best out there, but it’s still not great. If someone came along and offered a service like Steam but for books, I’d jump ship in a heartbeat.

            • To send a free ebook copy, all you need to do is “gift” it to the reviewer(s). The recipient could use the certificate to buy something else, but one assumes a reviewer would use it to buy the book.

              • Max

                Even then, you’re in essence paying Amazon 30% of the cost to send out a “free” review copy.

                It’s using existing tools to make something work, but it’s still not a great solution.

            • The only time you are limited on sales on Amazon is if you do not opt into the KDP Select program. You can publish on Amazon without having to be exclusive with them. As for your review copies, you can take a cue from traditional publishers and send out e-arcs. It takes all of a few seconds to add the “This is an e-arc” language to the file before you convert it to send it out. Of course, then you need to make sure the reviewer understands that they need to disclose they received the copy for free — and this isn’t just on Amazon.

              As for hoping someone like Valve comes along, part of me agrees and part of me cringes. If you want to talk about having poor customer service, that is Steam. I have problem tickets I’ve submitted to them that have never been addressed. I can’t talk about how they are to game developers. That’s not something I do. But their customer service leaves a lot to be desired at times and just points out that folks have different experiences.

              • Yeah, Steam is the king of poor customer service.
                And understand, if you think Amazon treats authors poorly, just remember that everyone ELSE is WORSE.

              • Max

                The only time you are limited on sales on Amazon is if you do not opt into the KDP Select program.

                Maybe that option opens up if you’re making enough sales. All of my titles are part of the KDP Select program, but Amazon still limits each of them to one sale per quarter, which is a bit grating. It’d be nice if I could do holiday-specific sales, but Amazon has said no (contacting the, about this or other issues has returned me an e-mail with a variation of “this is not in out interests at this time”).

                As far as E-arcs, yes, sending them out is possible (I mentioned that option earlier, though not by name). Again, it’s something you have to handle on a case by case basis, however, compared to something like Steam where I could literally just send a free review key to someone through the service.

                Amazon has no tools for giving away set numbers of books, sending out reeview copies, sending out other free copies … marketing-wise their options are very, very limited. On Steam, for example, one can just give keys out that a person can put in like a gift card. Being on Amazon, when I do book giveaways, I have to collect people’s e-mails, then tell them to check their spam folder … I have books I’ve given out that have never been collected on because of how bad Amazon’s process is. And while customer service with Amazon might be good as a customer, as an author with the aforementioned asking after services, Amazon just doesn’t care because they’re on the top of the heap right now. From my experience as an author in dealing with Amazon, there’s a lot missing from their toolset that they have no interest in handing over to authors, because even as limited as they are, they’re still on top of things.

                I still use it, clearly, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.

        • TRX

          I was astonished to find that the various SF, Mystery, Romance, and Western genre guilds/associations didn’t have storefronts for their members and a service to manage their members’ backlist and non-tradpub stories.

          Most of the authors I’ve mentioned it to were like, “*why* would I want something like *that!*?”

          Silly me, I thought the goal was “AND THEN YOU GET PAID.”

          • There you are fighting the battle of having to get them to break out of the mindset beat into them by traditional publishing. Some make that break while others are having a very hard time. Shrug.

    • For the books under my name, they’re all KU on Amazon. Because I make more from KU than I was making from all of the other outlets combined. Like it or not, Amazon is the big dog, and Kobo can’t be trusted at all. When they did their ‘ban all indies’ a couple of years ago my sales, which had been doing well and going up, never ever recovered when months later they decided to let indies back in.
      Understand, they didn’t ban indies for porn, they banned them because they were outselling print.

      I have seen people get around the Amazon exclusiveness by altering titles, or selling compendiums (i.e. two or three under one cover, for a higher price). I’m not sure how Amazon views that, but I’m not interested in poking the big dog and getting bit, so I’m not going to do it.

      Now there are things that sell well in other venues, B&N really can do very well with romance, especially the more blue tinged stuff that Amazon bans indies from selling (but doesn’t ban publishing houses). The biggest problem with B&N is that the people running it have no idea at all what they’re doing and don’t understand the business one wit. If that ever changes, expect to see B&N make a comeback.

      Apple is pretty much a waste of time, the rest of the small venues are just that -small-, and they aren’t doing anything to distinguish themselves. Google is another one to be careful of, their abuse of authors is legendary and their book site continues very much in that vein (why would anyone do business with a company that you have to actively GAME in order for them to not screw you up? Why?)

      So, for the most part, KU is still the best deal out there for indies, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.

  2. I second the Draft2Digital recommendation. They are painless to use and give you access to a lot of market. I’ve used it twice, and everything seemed to work fine. Well, except the sales, which were horrible for me. On the other hand, I never put much effort in promoting across those other platforms, so YMMV.

    Right now all but one of my novels are on KU, and borrows are between 50-60% of my income; at the current rates, a full read gets me between $2.40 and $1.00 a book, trending towards the former (most of them are 100-120K words long).

    Another pro of using KU is that each borrow counts towards your bestseller ranking at Amazon, which is a big factor on a book’s visibility; the better the rank, the more chances a book will show up in the “Also Bought” list at the bottom of other books in the same genre.Visibility increases sales.

    My advice to beginning writers who are focused on long works (100K and higher) in genre fiction is to start out in KU for 90 days and then reevaluate. Short story or novella writers may do better going wide.

    • How many titles in all do you have on KU? KU is now 37% of my revenues with only four titles, and I’ve long wondered how that might change as title count goes up.

      • Ten titles so far: seven novels, an omnibus edition of three of those novels, a short story collection and a novelette. Most of my income comes from the novels, although the omnibus collection (almost 2,000 pages long) generates a nice chunk of KU change per full read (more than I charge for a sale).

    • The only reason I use Smashwords over Draft2Digital, is that Smashwords has their own storefront, and I sell more books via Smashwords than I do for all of the partners of theirs that I deal with, combined.
      There are also a lot of online bookstores out there that are really just Smashwords with a different storefront. I don’t think D2D does that either.

  3. My combat plan going forward is to put some older stuff permafree on the other markets. There I’ll hold it, and occasionally promote it to try and drive other sales. We’ll see how that goes. Eventually, when I have a third Usurper’s War novel, Acts of War will follow as a permafree as well.

  4. Christopher Woods

    Mine have been on KDP Select from the day I published Soulguard, my first novel. I haven’t regretted it at all. I did the research and asked questions but my decision was to go for it. About a third of my paycheck each month is from that.

  5. If a reader borrows under KU, reads the whole thing, and later purchases the title after returning, does the author get paid twice?

    • Robin Munn

      Good question; I’d also like to know the answer for the KOLL program. Because there’s one book I’ve borrowed through KOLL that I’m thinking of purchasing. (Vathara’s first for-sale work, A Net of Dawn and Bones, specifically). So I’m curious whether she’ll get paid twice for my borrow and purchase — something I’d be quite happy to have happen given how much I enjoyed the book.

    • As I understand it, borrows and unit sales are completely independent. If someone reads your book on KU and then buys a copy, you get paid twice, though the payments are not necessary equal. (Longer books generate more revenue in KU page turns than shorter books, even though both might be priced the same for single copies.) My first novel is 140,000 words long, and it generated $3.71 for a full KU read vs $2 for a single-copy purchase when it was first released. KU payments change month to month; that figure is now almost a year old. I think a full read generates less money now, but I’ve been too busy to update the spreadsheets.

    • Yes, the author gets paid twice — once for the pages read under KU and then once for the sale.

  6. garynealhou

    From a reader’s point of view, I’ll echo the point that borrowing through Kindle Unlimited is easy. It’s reached the point that I find new authors almost exclusively through Kindle Unlimited. I still spend money buying books; I just reserve that for known authors where the risk of getting a bad book — based on my preferences — is pretty low.

    • This. In spades. I’ve been told this by several readers: They use KU to scout out new writers, and because it’s a flat-rate service, there’s no incremental cost to trying unknown authors. I like the money, but a mechanism that encourages readers to try unknown writers is pure magic.

      • Yes. Which is why starting out in KU makes sense for new writers (at least in most fiction genres): it gives you access to a market that is very indie-friendly and which is increasingly less likely to buy any ebooks at all. My own ebook purchases has gone down dramatically as I do most of my leisure reading through borrows.

  7. My experience is almost a direct match for yours. Tried other outlets through D2D, made almost nothing, switched to Amazon Select and watched my income increase. It increased about five-fold as soon as the new by-the-page payouts kicked in.
    One comment, though; early in the year, my borrowed pages were way up. Now they’re down. April’s borrows nudged the million-page mark, but this month I’ll be lucky to reach 200,000. Not that $1000 is chicken feed, but have others seen similar results?
    Could this be because so many other authors are sticking their straws in the KU pot and sipping away?

    • My borrows have been down as well. I wondered about that and started looking back and summers, especially July, seem to be slow months for me. It usually picks up again, at least for me, once school starts back up.

  8. C4C here too… Three novels and a short story on KU. I’m seeing ups and downs that correspond to the summer break, and expect reads to go back up in September.

  9. Draven

    But what if i don’t want to sell on Apple and think they can kiss my shiny metal @55?

  10. Pingback: Tuesday Tidbits | Writing Observer

  11. I noticed that KNEP is roughly twice the normal number of pages at the standard font.

    I’ve also noticed that sometimes getting that last page is tricky. I’m not sure what kind of Fencepost Error Amazon is giving, but it’s hard to imagine someone reading 63 of 64 “Pages”

    • It depends on the book. It can be the “about” page, the footnotes, the index (academic non-fic seems to leave the index in the back but not hot linked [grrr]), appendices, “other works by” . . .

  12. jon spencer

    If I see a book that looks interesting I click on it and hopefully it goes to Amazon. Then I go to the authors page on Amazon. If most of that authors books are on KU then I look further to see if there are complete series on KU, if both occur then I will click to follow that author. If not then most times I just leave.

    • I’m hearing from more and more people who say basically the same thing. That is one of the reasons why my work is in KU.

  13. AetherCzar

    One big advantage of KU is for “new” authors. By offering books on KU, you lower the barrier for potential readers to take a chance on an unknown author. I released my science fiction thriller, The Hidden Truth, at the end of May. The Kindle Price I set was $3.99 and at “426” Kindle Equivalent pages (how they get that from a 286 page paperback is beyond me) and a half cent per page (which is about where KU rates have been lately) I make almost exactly the same amount from a KU borrow and read-through as I do from an outright sale. My KU revenue is about 1/3 of my ebook revenue.