My Take on the KDP Select Debate

kdp-select

To KDP Select or not to KDP Select? That is the question, for Indie publishers who choose to self-publish using the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform to publish and sell eBooks on Amazon.

In a nutshell, KDP Select is a program where publishers give Amazon exclusive digital rights to their eBooks in exchange for a set of promotional advantages not available to those who publish eBooks using KDP but who choose not to enroll in KDP Select.

Regarding KDP Select, exclusive digital rights mean that books enrolled in the program may not be published digitally or offered for sale anywhere but Amazon, including the publisher’s or author’s own website.

Also, except for advance review copies, digital versions may not be given away free by the author or publisher other than via the KDP Select free days. Exclusivity means exactly that, exclusive. The books are not available in digital form anywhere but Amazon.

As with most things in life, there are both advantages and disadvantages for those who choose to enroll their books in KDP Select. Many Indie publishers swear by the program, insisting that it has brought them great success. Others consider enrollment in the program a poor decision that not only doesn’t help them succeed but costs them money.

That’s where the “debate” I alluded to in the post title comes into play.

While all my books are available on Amazon, only my recent novel, Come What May, is enrolled in KPD Select. When I started writing and publishing in 2010, I published my books on multiple platforms via Mark Coker’s Smashwords.

I’ve sold a lot of books through Amazon, but the truth is most have sold just about as well on other eBook retailer sites, most notably Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and iTunes.

I didn’t decide to enroll Come What May in KDP Select seeking book selling success I felt had eluded me in the past. I was merely curious to learn whether there was any real advantage to going the exclusive route with Amazon.

The purpose of this post isn’t to throw shade on Amazon’s program or to tell other Indie publishers they shouldn’t enroll their books in KDP Select.

The purpose is to share my own experiences with KDP Select which might be useful to others when making their own decision about whether to hand over exclusive digital rights to Amazon or to retain the option of publishing their books on multiple platforms.

Advantages of KDP Select Enrollment

First, let’s look at the advantages of the KDP Select program that Amazon trumpets to entice Indie publishers to enroll in the program—

Chance to earn higher royalties

Enrollment in the program makes a book eligible for sharing in the KDP Select Global Fund when customers borrow and read the book from Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. Enrollment also makes a book eligible to earn 70% royalty for sales to customers in Japan, India, Brazil and, Mexico, which otherwise would earn only 35% royalty from sales to customers in those countries. These advantages can potentially produce higher royalties.

Opportunity to maximize a book’s sales potential

Indie publishers who enroll books in the KDP Select program get to choose between two promotional tools unavailable to other KDP publishers; Kindle Countdown Deals, a time-bound promotional discounting program or free book promotion where readers worldwide can download the books free for a limited time. Books enrolled in the program may be offered free to interested readers for a total of 5 days during any 90-day enrollment period. Many believe these free days used in combination with active marketing efforts can raise the visibility of a book and result in greater long-term sales.

Possibility of reaching a new audience

Amazon peddles enrollment in KDP Select as a means of reaching more readers. Enrollment in KDP Select automatically makes books available through Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) in the U.S., U.K., Germany, Italy, Spain, France, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, India, Japan, and Australia. This, according to Amazon, makes it more likely that a book will attract attention from readers in those countries, who might otherwise never discover the book.

Access to Amazon Marketing Services

Enrolling a book in KDP Select provides the author or publisher access to Amazon Marketing Services (AWS) where PPC campaigns can be conducted that at least theoretically may increase the ranking and sales of the book. Only books enrolled in KDP Select are eligible for AMS advertising.

Disadvantages of KDP Select Enrollment

Next, let’s consider the disadvantages of enrolling a book in KDP Select—

Potentially lower royalties from surrendering exclusive digital rights

The 70% royalty incentive notwithstanding, enrolling a book in the program could actually result in lower royalties. Let’s use my own past experiences as an example. As mentioned previously, my other books sold just about as well on the sites of several other eBook retailers as on Amazon. It’s possible that I am missing out on sales and losing money with Come What May that I might have realized if the book wasn’t available exclusively on Amazon.

Possibly fewer sales as a result of Kindle Unlimited and KOLL

With more and more people borrowing and reading KDP Select-enrolled eBooks for free, there obviously has to be some effect on the number of eBooks being purchased. Also, while many publishers believe that they earn as much or more in royalties from borrowed, read for free books through sharing in the KDP Select Global Fund, that is likely only true when the books are borrowed and read by U.S. Amazon customers. Customers in other countries pay less for Kindle Unlimited subscriptions and Amazon pays publishers less for pages read by customers in those countries. Not to mention unless a book earns a high ranking in its category, it likely will not even be visible to many potential borrowers in the first place and won’t earn much of a share from the KDP Select Fund.

Having to pay Amazon to promote a book they own exclusive digital rights to

While many Indie publishers jumped for joy when Amazon opened up Amazon Marketing Services to them, to me at least, it intuitively seems a bit unfair that after surrendering exclusive digital rights to my book to Amazon, Amazon expects me to pay them to promote my book. That seems tantamount to a traditional publishing house telling an author that they aren’t going to put any effort into promoting the author’s book unless the author reimburses them for the advertising expenses. I’m not quite sure then that AMS is a real advantage at all to anyone but Amazon.

Debates aside, here are three things you can be sure of when facing the decision about whether to enroll your book in KDP Select—

KDP Select is not a marketing plan

If you believe that you can publish a book via KDP, enroll it in KDP Select and then sit back and watch the royalties roll in, you’re in for a major letdown. It’s just not going to happen. The program may have some real advantages. Yet no matter how good your book, how great the cover, or enticing the blurb unless you are willing to put your own blood, sweat, tears, and money into marketing it, it will permanently be all but invisible on Amazon. Few potential buyers will ever even find it. There are simply too many eBooks on Amazon now, nearly 5 million, with an estimated 100,000 more new titles uploaded every month. That means “book visibility” has become the number one problem for Indie publishers. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to make your book stand out in such a vast crowd.

Amazon is not going to promote most books unless they are paid to do so

Amazon puts significant effort and resources into promoting only those books that are bestsellers in their genre categories. Books that have few or no reviews and that aren’t selling in significant numbers from the marketing efforts of the publishers are not promoted by Amazon at all. This is true whether or not the book is enrolled in KDP Select. And you can’t blame them. Amazon is a for-profit company. They aren’t going to devote attention or resources to books that don’t make them significant money. And think again about the numbers. Even if all of the nearly 5 million eBooks were great books, worthy of promotion, it would be literally impossible for Amazon to effectively promote them all even if they wished to do so.

With one month remaining in my first 90-day KDP Select enrollment, I’ve all but decided that I will not renew when it expires. I said all but decided only because my book has done reasonably well in light of my own personal expectations and metrics of success. So, before making my final decision, I have decided to give Amazon Marketing Services a try.

For me to decide to enroll in another 90-day period of KDP Select, it will take some positive results from the AMS experiment. By positive results, I mean seeing consistently high ad placements, substantial numbers of click-throughs, and conversion rates that produce a positive ROI. If after the 30-day campaign I don’t see that kind of results, I’ll drop KDP Select, return to Smashwords and publish the book on the other eBook retailer platforms. And chances are, if I decide that is the best way to go, I won’t be enrolling another book in KDP Select.

In conclusion, besides the very crowded eBook playing field at Amazon in general, something else I find worrisome is the glut of free and 99 cent books now enrolled in KDP Select. I think that’s a real problem and one that is only going to get worse.

I’m well aware of the theories behind authors literally giving their books away or selling them cheaply on a more or less permanent basis, but this situation is a major contributor to the “book visibility” problem. It also makes KDP publishing less profitable for everyone concerned.

Not only that, I think that the recent changes in the Amazon algorithm have largely rendered perma-free and 99 cent book strategies effectively worthless, but too many authors just don’t seem to want to accept the reality of it. I’ll talk about that more in the next post.

Hopefully, if you are facing the decision on whether or not to enroll your next book in KDP Select, I hope this post has at least given you food for thought. On the other hand, if you have a very favorable opinion on KDP Select, and feel you have really benefited from it, I’d love to hear from you. Please share your opinion with a comment.

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