Tuesday, October 2

Amazon's KDP Select: The Best Long-Term Strategy?

Amazon KDP Select: The Best Long-Term Strategy?

Last week I discussed how Kris Rusch, in her weekly business column, urged writers to prioritize their writing and only check sales of their books once a month. She also called Amazon's KDP Select program bad for writers and laid out why. She writes:
The million words are under my control. The number of sales, once a book is released, is not under my control. Not when you look at the worldwide market, at all of the distribution channels. I can get the work out there, then I have to trust it to sell.

Write more. Fret less. Stop watching your sales numbers. Beat my million words this year.
As you can imagine, this created a terrific discussion in the comment section. Dean mentioned this on his blog but, since I was on vacation at the time, I didn't read it. I have now, and want to share a few of the comments with you. I don't feel right posting an entire comment without the author's permission, but I'll post enough of it that you can get the gist of what is being said. (Also, I've embedded a direct link to the comment in each subtitle, below.) If you'd like to go directly to the comments section and read them for yourself, click here: Watching The Numbers, Comments.

Two main, and interrelated, discussion threads developed, both centered around questions. First, should writers spend most of their time writing as opposed to, say, marketing? Second, is using Amazon's KDP Select program the best long term strategy? Kris says yes to the first and a resounding no to the second. Here's why:

1) Writing versus Marketing

Kris: Writers should write what they like, not write what they believe will sell.
This was what kicked off one, sometimes heated, conversation:
Writers should write what they want to write even if no one wants it. Because the latest break-out book is always a surprise. We readers never know what we want until we see it. (That was in response to William Ockham.)
Blanche: Writers need to eat
It’s easier not to worry about your sales numbers when you have a day job or when you’re established enough to have enough income saved up that you don’t depend on them for rent.

I went into this year with four months of income saved up, and I’m very good with money. I’ve done the best I could with what I had. I made budgets and I stuck with them, even when it looked like I had more money that I could spend. I saved it. But it doesn’t matter how much you save when your sales dry up and they don’t revive. When they keep getting worse. At some point, there’s just not going to be enough money.
This is just the beginning of Blanche's comment, it is truly excellent. If you are a writer trying to make ends meet, you need to read this. It won't provide any answers, but it'll show you you're not alone.

Kris: We've all been there
Unfortunately, Blanche, what you’re going through happens to all writers at various stages in their careers. Sales drop off for unknown reasons. Read Lawrence Block’s essays. He couldn’t sell a book into traditional publishing for (I believe) two years, after years and years of making a living at writing. I’ve gone through those downtimes. Other writers have too. Back when we taught the Master Class, we had writers participate in a role-playing game that showed them the ups and downs of a freelancer’s career. There are always periods of no money, periods of too much money, and almost no periods of steady money.

I wish I could be more encouraging than that. The key is to get a part time job to go through the lean times and to keep writing. You’re right to have only one career–writing–but sometimes you must support it with supplemental income. If you read back through my blogs, you’ll see that I considered doing the same thing as recently as six or seven years ago. It happens. It’s hard.
Again, this is just the start of Kris' answer and the rest is absolutely worth reading.

That was an interesting exchange but it soon transformed into an, at times, heated debate about the thorny question of whether Amazon KDP Select was worth the price of exclusivity.

2) Is Using Amazon's KDP Select The Best Business Strategy?

Here is what Amazon's KDP Select offers writers:
1. Your ebook is available exclusively on Amazon for 90 days.
2. You have the right to promote your ebook for free for 5 out of the 90 days.
3. Your book is automatically enrolled in the Kindle Owners Lending Library from which Prime members can borrow one book per month.
4. You are paid for each time your book is borrowed from the Kindle Owners Lending Library. The payment varies from month to month, depending upon how many books are borrowed, but typically is a little over $2 per borrow, so it’s pretty close to the royalty generated from selling an ebook for $2.99.
5. The most recent change is that KDP Select enrollment allows you to earn 70% on ebooks sold through Amazon’s new Indian store. (From: KDP Select – Worth the Exclusivity?)
Kris: Bargain hunters don't become loyal readers
[B]argain hunters are rarely long-term clients of anything except the bargain store. Wal-Mart has done hundreds of studies of this. It’s found that customers who shop at Wal-Mart want the lower prices, not the brand names. So if the brand doesn’t show up at Wal-Mart, the discount customer buys something similar.
Good point! Or so I thought ...

Lisa: Amazon KDP Select helps sell books. Period.
My novels priced at $2.99 and $5.99 after a free run have helped me to sell in the one thousand to four thousand dollar range in the months following the free run.

And yes, sales on the rest of the books in my series which have never gone free and are not in Select, pick up dramatically after a free run.

So a free run can positively affect the sales of all books in a series and enable a new self-publlished author a chance to make real money. There is nothing bargain priced about my books. I sell several hundred (and one month broke a thousand) of my titles.
Very impressive! What is the key to success? Lisa offers that it is discoverability. She writes:
Discoverability is key.

Select, if used correctly, can assure your book is in several of those short stacks on the front row. Hot new releases, also boughts, best sellers in your genre, popularity, Koll Lending Library, suggested for you, and emails of the top ten best sellers they send out to genre buyers.
The chances of making these lists goes up when releasing a book through the Select program. Making any of these lists increases sales because suddenly a reader has your book in front of them at full price after the free run.

If my emails are any indication, I’m building up a loyal fan base for both my series. Select does help bonafide buyers “discover” books after a free run because now they’re on the lists.
Kris: Amazon's KDP Select is a way for Amazon to promote its brand
Kris wasn't responding to Lisa when she wrote this, but I thought it was instructive:
Of course we’ve explored Select, and saw it for what it is: a way to promote Amazon’s brand. That a few writers are making money on it is good for them. But Select benefits Amazon more than it benefits anyone else. Not that that’s a problem: Amazon has the right like all of us do to improve their business. But it is something that writers should realize.
Breakaway: KDP Select Works
Breakaway knows a thing or two about marketing and he holds that Select works not because those who download the book for free reading it, love it, and search out your other books but because it gets your book in front of the eyes of people who do buy books. He writes:
Those who claim (in the few comments I did read, as well) that most people won’t read the freebies are 100% correct. Those who do search in the bargain bin will probably always search in the bargain bin, I agree as well. Those who use this as a mark against Select fail to understand the true power of Select. I recently gave away 26k books in 4 days. I don’t expect most who downloaded it for free to ever read it. That is not the goal. I use their bargain bin mindset, to utilize the promotional power of the Amazon algorithms and their calculation of free ebooks, to boost my books in the catalog/store shelves/bestseller lists/popularity lists on Amazon… TO GET MY BOOK IN FRONT OF THE EYES OF THE PEOPLE WHO DO BUY BOOKS, via the bestseller lists. THAT is how I use Select free promotions, to great effect. Not to Konrath or Grisham effect, but to enabling me to make 2x more monthly than I did at my highest-paying job ever, with less than 10 books published total, publishing my first book in March of 2012. That is success in my eyes, even if not compared to a Konrath, a DWS, or others.
 That is just a small part of Breakaway's comment and the rest is well worth reading.

Kris: The flaw in Select
[H]ere’s how it happens. The writer writes a very good book. He puts it up on Select, gets great word of mouth, and gets lots of other readers from Amazon/Select to find/read his book. Then they go to other books by the same author.

Here’s the problem. The book is what’s causing the growth in sales, not Select. If the writer used Select as a tool, and then dropped Select after 90 days and went to other markets, the writer is using Select correctly. But if the writer says the sales are because of Select, and then throwing everything into Select, the writer is making a mistake.

The writer isn’t crediting his good work, and isn’t believing in it, letting it grow over time. Sure, he jumpstarted it, and then he’s driving around the neighborhood and never seeing the world. If readers on Select are buying it in large quantities, then it stands to reason they’re discussing it with readers not on Select. Those readers will want the book and won’t be able to get it causing a loss of sales.

And that’s what I’m arguing against. Essentially writers are crediting Select when, in fact, it’s their own work that continues to bring in the readers–not the platform.
I'm stopping there. This is the best discussion of KDP Select I've seen and it just keeps going! Again, you can join the fun here:  Watching The Numbers, Comments.

If you don't read Kris' weekly business post on the business of writing, you're mission out. And don't forget to read the comments, often the blog post is just the beginning.


Update: PG has a great post about Amazon's KDP Select program over at The Passive Voice Blog: KDP Select – Worth the Exclusivity?. A lot of great comments, too.
PG also recommended: Risks and Rewards of Kindle Select Publishing

Other articles you might like:
- How To Start A Blog
- How To Build A Platform: Why Every Writer Needs A Website
- Writing Rules! Advice from The New York Times

Photo credit: Unknown


  1. Thanks for summarizing this discussion. Well worth considering all the comments on this. I have used KDP Select to various degrees of success in terms of downloads and sales post-free. The comments I agree with the most are from Lisa and Breakaway-discoverability and using KDP Select to make your book visible to potential readers is key. KDP boosts books into the "visibility zone" and this is where readers find you and sales happen. So far, for me, it HAS been worth exclusivity. But I weigh its worth periodically and think of it as another tool. When it is no longer effective, I will naturally reconsider exclusivity with Amazon. BTW I've added your post my collection of KDP Select Experiences on my blog.

    1. I agree. My feeling is that Amazon's Select program can be a great marketing tool, especially if a writer is just starting out. Discoverability is key, especially for someone just starting out. Kris had many great points, though. I think she's right, there may very well be diminishing returns to leaving a book in Select year after year.

      Love your blog! Glad you liked my posts on Select. Thanks for your comment.

  2. I also agree KDP Select can be a great marketing tool for a new writer, but I did my part and now I'm done with it (wrote a blog on my site). I'm using another method that seems to be working pretty well: I've made an e-book free on other channels (like Smashwords), Amazon eventually matched it and now it's also free on Amazon. That free book (which was originally 99-cents) averages 300 downloads a month and has boosted sales for one of my other novels. Simply put: I don't like the 90-day exclusivity.

    1. James, glad to hear you've found a marketing strategy that works for you. That's the key. Publishing through Smashwords is a fantastic way for a writer to get his work into dozens of online stores. Thanks for the comment!

  3. I've been incredibly depressed with the results of amazon kdp. We ran our books for free at each publishing, and people downloaded hundreds of freebies, but the minute it went to purchase instead of free we've barely garnered $60.00 in sales in two months, and that's with a best selling product line to back it up. Painfully disappointing and the pricepoints coerced for ideal promotion are pretty ridiculous. Who would write anything worth reading for .99-$2.99? It's a waste of effort and energy to put powerful quality content into something that cheap. It sets the perceived value so low to start that no one will take it seriously. So far I really don't like KDP in case you couldn't tell.

    1. Hi Jeff, sorry to hear you weren't happy with your select experience.

      I'm trying to see if I understand the situation. You've published one ebook and over two months it's earned about $30 a month?

  4. Thanks for the great tips :) I'll try to follow them to sell my own book.

    Greg from France

    1. Thanks Greg! Appreciate you dropping by. Best of luck selling your book. :-)


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