I decided to drink the Amazon KDP Select Kool-Aid

by AA on 28 December 2011

All things being equal, I’d make my self-published novel Realms Unreel available through as many sales venues as possible.

But, in the rapidly-evolving world of self-publishing, all things are not equal.

In my first month selling Realms Unreel through Amazon and Barnes & Noble, the volume of sales I had through Amazon was more than twenty times what I had through Barnes & Noble. I expect the numbers to swing more heavily in favor of Amazon over time, just based on the reach of the Kindle and Amazon’s aggressive maneuvering to corner the physical and e-book markets. Since my goal is to get the book in the hands of as many readers as possible, if I had to choose a single sales venue, my choice would be Amazon, hands down.

However, there was no question in my mind at the outset of this self-publishing journey that I’d make the book available not just on Amazon, but on the iBookstore and Barnes & Noble as well, and possibly more venues if I could deal with the hassle of managing more formats. Kindle, Nook, and iPad combined must make up a pretty big chunk of the e-book market, I figured, and there seemed to be no reason to exclude myself from the consideration of any would-be reader, especially since I’m an unknown author who needs as many readers and fans as possible to get the word out about my book.

So in the month leading up to the release of Realms Unreel, I signed up for a publisher account with all of the “big three” platforms: Amazon KDP, Barnes & Noble PubIt!, and Apple iBookstore.

(You might wonder where Smashwords fits into this lineup. I decided not to use Smashwords to centrally manage my ebook distribution, partially because the UI/UX is bad, but more importantly because I wasn’t happy with the limited control they give authors over the formatting of their ebook content. When you publish with Smashwords, you end up with the lowest common denominator of e-book formatting because of the centralized file conversion process they use to generate all the different e-book formats they support. I read somewhere that they’re improving this conversion process in 2012, so I might take a look again later.)

Now, just two months since I first started gearing up to sell the book online, I’m already planning to shut down my sales efforts on all platforms but Amazon’s.

Why would you stop selling through B&N and Apple if there are potential readers who prefer those platforms?

As I write this, it’s been two months since I submitted my business info to Apple to open my iBookstore publisher account. I’m still waiting for them to review and approve my application. (On Amazon, this account setup and verification process took a grand total of maybe 10 minutes.) A fellow author on Authonomy told me it took her a couple of months to get her title on the iBookstore using Smashwords, so it could be that this long lead time might exist going direct through Apple, too. Since I haven’t even gotten through the door with Apple yet, all I can say about them is, if you want to publish on the iBookstore, you should start the account application process well in advance of your planned book release date.

Barnes & Noble’s PubIt! signup process has its own problems. While I ended up getting my book available for Nook within two weeks of getting it up on the Kindle store, the process was fraught with complications and frustrating customer service interactions, from the day I started the application process all the way up until I decided to withdraw my book from Barnes & Noble, which turned out to be even more complicated than getting it on sale in the first place.

Based on my experiences thus far with Amazon, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and Apple, I’ve decided that I’m happy to abandon all the other platforms for the near-term future in favor of exploring the upside of selling exclusively through Amazon’s KDP Select program. Since the paperback version of Realms Unreel is now for sale, I don’t feel like I’m being so evil. If you don’t have a Kindle or one of the many other Kindle-enabled devices, you can still read the book on paper. Or you can just email me, and I’ll send you the Nook/iPad-compatible ePub format.

The Amazon KDP platform, while awkwardly designed, has been improving since I signed up and started using it. With the KDP Select announcement came an application front-end overhaul that fixed some of the most annoying parts of the user experience (such as a fixed-width page that seemed to have been designed by someone with a 24-inch monitor — on my 13-inch Macbook, this meant a lot of horizontal scrolling, a problem compounded by the OS X Lion upgrade that changed how the touchpad handled left-right swiping). Amazon also improved the KDP email notification system to provide helpful updates when your in-review Kindle title has been published.

Amazon’s KDP Select announcement holds out the tantalizing prospect of new promotion tools that are a boon to little self-published authors like me. One of the “big deal” features of the KDP Select promotion toolset is the “Free Promotion” option. Basically, Amazon lets you put your e-book on sale for free for up to 5 days in each 90-day period your book is enrolled in the KDP Select program. Anecdotally, offering your ebook for free guarantees a huge bump in reader downloads — a boon if expanding your readership and garnering reviews is a priority, as it is for me as a new author. Up until the KDP Select announcement, Amazon wouldn’t let you make your book free as a promotional tool — the only way to get your book listed for free on Amazon was to make the e-book version of your book free on some other sales venue (like B&N) and then report to Amazon that you found the book for sale at a lower price. There’s an entire Kindle Boards thread for authors trying to get their books listed for free on Amazon using this roundabout method with the help of other authors. Now authors who have gone through the effort of making their book free on Amazon will have to consider whether it might be easier to just withdraw their titles from other venues so Amazon will let them make the book free without any of these hack workarounds.

Now that I’ve finally been able to withdraw Realms Unreel from Barnes & Noble, I can start to explore the KDP Select benefits and see if they’re worth going exclusive.

Smashwords, for its part, doesn’t seem to think so. When I wrote to them asking to cancel my Smashwords account so my Smashwords profile page and book page would stop showing up on Google search results, they helpfully completed my request but also provided a link to their own blog post warning indie publishers about the insidious fine print of the KDP Select Program.

Yeah, I read the fine print, too. But, as someone with an as-yet irrelevant sales rank on any site other than Amazon and statistically insignificant sales, the potential reward of climbing the Amazon Kindle sales rankings with the help of the KDP Select tools seems worth the risk of losing a few sales through other venues.

Also, Smashword’s use of the phrase “contractually obligated” in the aforelinked blog post suggests that enrollment in KDP Select is a lot more restrictive than it is — you can, after all, un-enroll at any time, with the only consequence being that you won’t get any compensation from Amazon for Prime users who “checked out” your book for free from the Amazon Prime Lending Library. It’s not that punitive.

To Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, and the Apple iBookstore I say: the gauntlet has been thrown. Even if your e-reader device is great, it’s not an excuse to let the quality of your publishing platform or publishing tools slide. Step up your game, and I’ll take a second look at your platform.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kerri Wood Thomson January 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Thank you for this article, I am also using KDP Select. I had no idea about the ability to list your book for free by lowering your price on other sites, very interesting.

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