Sunday, December 28, 2014

Broader Distribution vs. KDP Select

Yesterday I posted about putting The Crown in the Heather permafree as an e-book on all channels. Today, as promised, I'm expounding on why I did that. My apologies if this is lengthy and a little disjointed -- it's a very complex issue. I could write ten blog posts about it, but I try not to wade too long in the muck, so I'm going to be as brief as possible.

Last year I put my two standalone books, Uneasy Lies the Crown and In the Time of Kings, into KDP Select, an Amazon digital publishing program where you agree to offer books exclusively on Amazon, meaning they can't be available for download anywhere else. (Since 97% of my readers were Kindle owners, this made sense for me). In return, your books are available in the Kindle Owner's Lending Library (KOLL), where Prime subscribers can 'borrow' one book per month. THe author then gets paid for that borrow. Also, the author is allowed to offer their book for free for seven days in a 90-day period, or as a bargain book for 5 days as a Kindle Countdown. These perks can increase your book's visibility in the Kindle store. Both of mine benefited from it. So I put the Isabella Books (Isabeau and The King Must Die) in Select, too. Then, when I launched Say No More, a new genre for me, I put it directly in Select, which turned out to be a good thing. All was well, relatively speaking.

For a while.

And then ... it wasn't anymore. Sales stalled. Borrows dwindled. I thought putting out a new release (although not in Select) would provide a boost, but I'm still waiting to see that.

The only books I didn't place in Select, and never have, were those in The Bruce Trilogy, because CITH was part of a boxed set this year -- and I'm glad I kept those books up elsewhere ... for reasons I, and no one else, could foresee.

This summer, Amazon rolled out their Kindle Unlimited (KU) program, which allows subscribers to borrow ten books at a time for $9.99 a month. Not all Kindle books on Amazon are available in KU. Even so, if you're a voracious reader, this is a great deal because there is still a lot to choose from. If you're an author of epic novels that take a while to write (like me) ... not so much.

There's a place for shorter length fiction and I'm not knocking that. I love a quick read on occasion myself. What KU does is take away an author's right to determine the price of their book, as all books in KU are valued equally for self-published books. Traditionally published books, however, get a different deal entirely that I won't go into. For self-published books, what authors get paid per book is independent of that book's length. So a 50-page 99-cent book gets an author just as much money as a 500-page, normally $5.99 book. In addition, the payment to author per borrow went from over $2 per book in Select's early days, to $1.33 after the start of KU this past month. Ouch.

Here's a blog post that explains the pitfalls of exclusivity.

Many authors found that although borrows increased, regular sales decreased. Subsequently, so did their income. A few big names, all of them KDP All-Stars (meaning top 100 earning KDP authors, like H.M. Ward and J.A. Konrath), have left KDP Select as well as SF author Ryk Brown. Of course, there are authors who have done very, very well in Select, even with the initiation of KU. And they should stay in it. But each of us has to do what's right for both our careers and our readers.

As an indie author, I love Amazon KDP. It has done so, so, so much more for my writing career than all the other vendors put together. But it's hard to stay loyal and remain exclusive when such sweeping changes can occur without prior notice. Writing is more than a hobby to me. It's how I make my living.

So I'm going wide with distribution, even though leaving Select appears to be putting a ding in my Amazon visibility and sales. Hopefully, sales at other vendors will grow with time and make up for those losses. If they don't, I'll reconsider. Right now, I'm not sure if this is the right move or not. Ask me a year from now. Who knows what will happen in the months to come? I could be washed up in a ditch, never having written another word, or I could be on top of the New York Times Bestseller list (always think positive, I say). We'll see. I've gone from barely selling one book a day, to regularly selling over a hundred a day, to having a good day when I hit twenty, despite having more books for sale and there being more people reading e-books than ever. Times change. Roll with it.

Digital publishing is an industry that can change wildly in a day. The great thing about being an indie author is that we can adapt on the turn of a dime. It can be quite the roller coaster ride, so you have to take the ups with the downs.

Right now, I'd like the ride to smooth out a little.Spreading my support base a little wider seems like the most sensible way to do that.

Until later,

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