Amazon KDP Select: Good, Bad or Ugly? Pt. 2

Welcome back! Hope everyone had a restful weekend, and also hope some of you are getting to enjoy the holiday away from work.

We left off Friday with an opening discussion of the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Select program as part of my new (and ongoing) N00B VIEW take on publishing whathaveyous.


It was more of a 'leading up to' account of how we got to this point, so if you're not familiar with what's been going down in electronic publishing (particularly as it pertains to Amazon shenanigans) it might be worth a read. I included a number of links within the article just in case you want to skip the shower and plunge into the deep, murky water head first.

Also, there were a number of tremendous comments I'd encourage you to read even if you don't have time to get to the entire article. Lots of smart folks chiming in!  Looking forward to more discussion as we wrap this up.


"You think these'll give you cancer? Just wait 'til I explain this publishing stuff..."
To understand KDPS we first need to wrap our noggins around the Amazon Kindle Owner's Lending Library (KOLL). Announced in September of last year, KOLL was to be a program for books akin to what the Netflix streaming service is to movies. 

Pretty ingenious from a reader's standpoint, right? Who wouldn't like a steady supply of electronic reads for one monthly or annual price, after all? Especially those of us who read multiple books in a month. Score one for the Amazon! Er, maybe... 

Amazon eventually launched the program late last year. Basically, if you enrolled in the Amazon Prime program ($79 US per year) and owned a Kindle device (NOTE: Doesn't work with Kindle applications on iPad, etc. from what I've read.), you could 'borrow' one book a month so long as the book was enrolled in the KOLL program. The KOLL program was to run in conjunction with other Prime benefits (like video streaming and free shipping for many Amazon products). 

So it wasn't the open barn door to reading Nirvana many had imagined, but definitely a step in an interesting new direction for book lovers.

For folks in the publishing business, however, it was tantamount to landing on a big, dark and scary moon. A foreign world was opening up, a world in which Amazon was making the rules. Independent authors were quickly welcomed into this unusual new landscape as well, so long as they followed those rules.

What the heck is Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDPS), and why do we care?

The easiest way to conceptualize the KDPS program is to think of it as 'the independent author's' side of Amazon's Kindle Owner's Lending Library. The afore mentioned rules, as it were, for enrolling your work in the  KOLL.

Here's the dirty: Independent authors (trad authors are bound by their agreements with publishers; i.e. don't do anything without asking your agent, publishers and the Good Lord first) can opt to enroll either new or existing eBooks published via the Kindle Direct Publishing program in the KDPS program. You don't have to. You can simply upload your Kindle versions or leave them be if they're already up. Once they are enrolled (and published), your books (s) can then be borrowed by KOLL users. Easy as gettin' wet in a thunder storm. 

(I know those of you familiar with KDPS are screaming, WHAT ABOUT THE FLIPPING GINORMOUS CATCH, EJ?! Wait for it...)

After reading the above, (assuming you're an author-type) you have to be a little curious as to what the author gets out of this book lending stuff. I know I was! Here it is: 

1) Publicity: You get the relatively undivided attention of oodles of Amazon Prime members. Well at least the ones that own a Kindle... Well, at least the ones that own Kindles and read on them. (Hint - the new Kindle Fire is more of a tablet than an eReader, which translates to lots of people using them to do stuff other than read.) Furthermore, the program is in its infancy so there aren't THAT many books available. Yet.

2) Money! That's right, this ain't your grandparents' library with all the smelly sofas, burnt coffee and AA meetings. Folks pay for Amazon Prime, and the Big A was at least foresighted enough to know that authors would want their slice of cheese for playing along. Amazon has allotted a designated amount of funds to pay as royalties to all independent authors who have books enrolled in the program. Straight from the mouth of the giant commerce horse:

"Earn your share of at least $6 million throughout 2012 when readers borrow your books from the Kindle Owners' Lending Library."

(…)Your share of the monthly fund is based on your enrolled titles’ share of the total number of borrows across all participating KDP titles in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

For example, if total borrows of all participating KDP titles are 100,000 in December and your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn $7,500 in additional royalties from KDP Select in December.

Enrolled titles will remain available for sale to any customer in the Kindle Store and you will continue to earn your regular royalties on those sales. (…)

As near as I can tell the amount of funds available to KDPS enrollees is going to fluctuate based upon the number of books being downloaded, Prime Memberships, and Agnes knows what else. (If you are enlightened to the exact formula, please enlighten the rest of us.) 

The monthly 'allotment' of money to be divvied up in December was $500,000 US, and they've raised the kitty to $700,000 for January. 

3) Open and Constant Data Feedback: Amazon promises to allow you to see all the numbers on how often your book is downloaded, etc. at any time. Additionally, your 'borrowed' books will count toward your overall sales rank. And we all know how important it is from a marketing standpoint for your books to be ranked high in genre sales lists. (We all know that, right?)

Some authors think it isn't fair to allow borrowed books to count towards sales rank as it can perhaps create some skewed data. They also believe that it's Amazon's way of allowing/encouraging Indies to price their work for free so long as they do it the Amazon way. Note: Amazon doesn't allow you to price (strictly speaking) your regular Kindle Direct works for free--a common practice by authors on other eBook retail sites to generate buzz.

4) Other Stuff: Amazon is also promising some kind of snazzy Promotions Manager tool that will allow you to control the pub for your free books. Not sure how it works, but I do know there has been some clammer from Indies for additional advertising perks from Amazon for a while. We'll have to wait and see if this helps.


Sounds okay, doesn't it? So why are there so many authors with their drawers all knotted up? Directly from Amazon:

"When you choose KDP Select for a book, you're committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP. During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital. See the KDP Select Terms and Conditions for more information."

What is the "period of exclusivity" you ask? 90 days. For 90 days you cannot offer your book in electronic form on iBooks, Smashwords, Barnes & Noble, your blog, your news letter, your dogs fun electronic banner collar you bought at Sharper Image (well, maybe that)--you name it. 

Amazon is basically telling you where, when and how you can use your work, which is something they've avoided like the plague up to this point. That kind of strong-arming was supposed to be how the big paper publishers worked, not the autonomous communal collective of the Wild Wild eWest. So 2008, Amazon! Hadn't we left that kind of neanderthal thinking behind? Maybe not...

Not sure it goes all the way to Neo-McCarthyism, but at best it's a glaringly obvious grab for power in the electronic reading arena, and many folks think it is out and out corporate bullying. 

So is it good, bad or ugly? 

As alluded to in part I of this discussion, I believe the modern independent (indie) author owes a tremendous debt of gratitude to Amazon. No matter what grievances have arisen since, this much is certain: Without the introduction of the Amazon Kindle to the general populous and the subsequent allowance of Kindle Direct Publishing (basically, the program that allows authors of any renown to upload their work for purchase on the Amazon site at no upfront cost), being an Indie would still mean vanity presses, eye-of-a-needle small print runs and local (if you're lucky) exposure. 

The popularity of Amazon as a book vendor and their strong longterm reputation as an Online merchant and innovator is why we can even have this discussion with a straight face. They and, to a lesser degree, folks like Smashwords have placed a tremendous amount authority back in the hands of the creators. For that, I think all authors, both traditional and independent, should be at least somewhat appreciative. 

Moreover, authors are already reporting some serious financial bumps from taking part in the KDPS. (Click for details and jealous convulsions.) Whether it be from their cut of the lending funds, or from the sales bump the rest of their 'pay' works are getting because of the exposure, there seems to already be some juice in the program. And we're barely a month in! So at the very least, Amazon seems willing to share at least some of the wealth with the authors filling out that robust Kindle library with content.

On the other side of things, I certainly think authors have a right to make their displeasure known to Amazon. The KDPS program DOES seem like a step toward Amazon taking control away from authors. Granted, at this point it's completely optional, but that's how most non-optional things start. No, I don't fault anyone for not getting involved with KDPS based upon principle so long as they can afford it. (The real question, perhaps, in all of this is just how long can they afford to hold out? The program seems to be off to a good start with readers, and that's ultimately who Amazon is going to cater to.)

If it were me, I'd probably not enroll my one and only book in the program. However, if I were an author with a large catalogue, I'd probably give it a shot on a few titles here and there. Or, if my one and only book had been out for a time, I'd consider enrolling it on a temporary basis to generate some new interest perhaps. 90 days isn't forever. (I certainly welcome any other thoughts and points I might have missed in the comments.)

In the end, I have to point to a recent blog post from celebrated independent author, J.A. Konrath. There's been a ton of pub lately about how he earned out $100,000 in three weeks just from his Amazon offerings. The post I'm referencing (and linked to above) he debunks some myths about how he accomplished it, and also reiterates two valuable points: 1) Only hard, hard work is going to make you successful--at anything. 2) You have to understand how the system works and keep practicing to find what works best for you

Ultimately, that's what this N00B VIEW series is going to be about: learning new ways to be successful, and trying to understand how it all works.  Hope you've enjoyed the first installment! Now go get to work...



  1. As I said before, I'm with a small traditional publisher and they already issued a statement that they will not participate in the program due to the exclusitivity.

    1. This is probably the point I was trying to make the most, Alex: The exclusivity is viewed as something unnecessary and hurtful by many, many authors and/or publishers. As pointed out in these comments, Amazon already has the lion's share of all eBook goings on. Authors know it. Everyone knows it.

      Why require Indies to offer exclusively through Amazon if they want to take advantage of the KDPS program? Amazon is the only place on the planet offering a similar program (although, I'd be surprised if Apple doesn't announce something similar via their Cloud service, etc. and/or B&N through their member's program soon).

      I know the answers to those questions are obvious, but perhaps they're questions worth asking all the same?

  2. Whoa! Tons of info here~ thanks for the education! I'm bookmarking this post so I can come back and read more later (not quite finished and mommy duty is calling).

    1. Go! Be a parent! Then come back to us... : )

  3. Great summary. Amazon is smart, but I worry that they're a bit too ruthless at times.

  4. It is neither good, bad or ugly. It is simply a business decision. There's nothing underhanded, ruthless or smacking of the strong arm about it. It's simply an agreement between Amazon and the author. Amazon with give you such and such perks if you publish exclusively on Amazon for a while. Only the author themselves can decide if it's worth it.

    There are plenty of authors whose sale through other venues than Amazon are so miniscule compared to their Amazon sales that the perks are definitely worth it. And there are plenty of authors who don't think alienating their readers through other platforms is worth it. It's an individual business decision, not a moral one.

    Also, sorry to nitpick, but it's not a catch 22 since authors can so easily just not opt in.

    1. I think I agree pretty much with everything you're saying, Sarah. I've said many, many times that the independent author is in fact the owner of a small business. You have to at least partially be willing to make choices that aren't solely ruled by your artistic heart if you're going to pull the Indie thing off.

      Also, I think you make an excellent (if maybe unintended) point: there is nothing morally wrong with what Amazon is doing. Ethically, however, might be a different issue.

      Coffee suppliers are perfectly within their rights to pay workers a few cents a day in the countries they grow/harvest in. Shoot, they're oftentimes some of the better paying jobs to be had in those countries. Still, the majority of their workers live in dire poverty. Those workers have every right to not participate, but ultimately aren't left with a very attractive choice. My point: While not morally or legally wrong, I do think it's fair to raise some ethical questions about a process where a company makes billions and pays the laborers pennies.

      That's not an equal analogy to what Amazon is doing, but I think the authors opposed to KDPS are trying to raise a similar type of awareness/case.

  5. I completely agree with Sarah's above comment. It's a business decision from Amazon, and a very good one because it insures that they are now top of the game at selling ebooks, and it's a business decision by the authors and publishers who choose to participate. Judging from the link you included, it appears that it was a very good business decision for at least a few authors.

    1. I think it's going to become even more attractive as the program gets going, Karen. This'll most likely be a boon for both Amazon and authors when it's all said and done. In fairness, most of what Amazon has done for Indies to this point has been mutually beneficial.

  6. I believe that if you approach your publishing release model to figure out what benefits you the most it may be a different scenario for different books. We are trying it this year on one of our sequels and will be releasing a paperback also. So figured we'll put the ebook copy in KDP 30 days or so prior to the paperback release and then on release day open up the ebook release to all platforms. We'll see how it goes. We can't join KDP for our our other books since they are well distributed and it would take too much work to temporarily shut them off. But I have to be honest most of our ebook sales are on amazon.

    1. Lots of authors are saying the same thing, LM. Amazon is where the sales come from. I've also seen others talk about the rigorous process of trying to remove books from other catalogues, etc. being too much to make it feasible. There's probably a million dollars in app money waiting on the person who develops a way for authors to manage their catalogues on multiple sites from one source. Something 'drag and drop' on iDevice sounds pretty nice. : )

  7. I'm looking forward to your future blogs on this topic since I'm going Indie. Secondhand Shoes is due to be out sometime in April, my friend. Fingers, legs, and eyes crossed.

  8. More hard work? Shucks. Maybe I need one of those electronic collars from Sharper Image and I'll wear it myself. If I can program it to flash one sentence at a time....

  9. Lots of new information, EJ! Thanks for posting it!


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.