Monday, 20 May 2013

The Cost of "Free"

Many authors are lining up to question the wisdom of staying with Amazon KDP Select these days. Their defining characteristic, that of allowing authors to offer five free book giveaway days for every ninety they remain in the program, is becoming something of a sore spot with many. 

There's no doubt that established authors, those who've made a name for themselves amongst readers, are finding a lucrative home on Amazon. If you look at the Amazon Top 100 Kindle sales, a good portion of the titles are often priced higher than their corresponding print version. But what does this mean for the indie author, someone who often had little choice but to go the self-publishing route, due to traditional publishers no longer willing to take a risk on an unproven book? It just makes clawing their way up from the mud even more challenging.

Remember that final giant warehouse scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark? Having an unrecognized book on Amazon can feel like that. To help, Amazon KDP Select was created, in part to allow unknown writers to offer their books for free to the public in an attempt to build up name recognition. How successful a writer is in this endeavor varies greatly on the aggressiveness of their marketing to coincide with the giveaway. For every author claiming the initiative helped their book sales after the promotion ended, there seems to be three more who noticed no change. Once the promotion has ended, the author switches back from their elevated ranking on the "free" list to the "paid" list once again. Unless sales remain constant once the price returns to normal and all of the free publicity received during the promotion disappears, the book's ranking immediately begins to decline, falling further into obscurity.

The ineffectiveness of free giveaways as a means of bolstering a permanent ranking in Amazon, coupled with the exclusivity requirements preventing members of the Amazon KDP Select program from sharing their work with other vendors, has already rendered the service counterproductive for many relatively unknown authors. Without a serious change of their business model, I think many new initiates into the self-publishing industry will begin to see that Select isn't in their best interests.

Many authors are choosing to opt out of the Select program, while keeping their prices above the $2.99 limit required to achieve 70% royalties. Instead of offering free giveaways, they are taking advantage of social media to advertise book sales at a reduced price of 99 cents - not only to earn something on each sale, but also as a means of improving their permanent standing within Amazon's flawed ranking system. The lack of exclusivity also means they're free to distribute their book with other vendors, thereby hitting a market of readers in countries like Canada, where Kindle sales dwindle behind Kobo and Sony eReader.

With the appearance of sites like, offering not only .epub and .pdf, but also Kindle .mobi versions as well - all without the limitations that Amazon forces upon authors - the need for Amazon KDP Select only falls further into question. With indie authors forced to publish themselves on external social media sites, there's no practical need to direct readers to a page on Amazon's website anymore. As more readers embrace ebooks as their preferred method of reading, Amazon, once the big kid on the block, may one day find itself just another small fish in a very big pond.