Warning: Author rambling ahead.
In this article, I discuss the reasons why, as an Indie author, I chose not to enroll my books in Amazon’s Kindle Select program.
A bit of context before we start: Kindle Select is an Amazon program destined to author publishing their books interdependently on Amazon through Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). The Kindle Select program offers authors some marketing advantages (mostly the possibility to run free or count-down promo, and possibly more visiblity) in exchange for making their book available as a Kindle Unlimited title exclusive to Amazon. As a corollary, authors are paid on number of pages read basis whenever a customer borrows their book through KU rather than purchasing it.
The freedom of distributing widely
To be honest, I make almost nothing outside Amazon and Audible. On a great month, e-book sales across other platforms amount to less than 4% than my income. Make that 1.5% the rest of the time—By the way, I’ve heard authors who did well on Itunes. In my case, while it does represent 99% of my non-Amazon income, it’s still 99% of next to nothing. 😊
That being said, back when my books were in KU, I would receive occasional inquiries from readers looking to purchase my books from Kobo or Itunes. It might just be a handful of readers, but I’m glad they don’t have to pirate my books.
Marketing-wise, being wide doesn’t make much of a difference since Amazon price-matches promotional prices, so there’d be no point in trying to run a promo exclusive to Kobo, for example.
So, this point is not so much a matter of income across other platforms than a philosophy—I know, big word. I like the idea that I can do whatever I damn well please with my titles, make them widely accessible or even hand them out for free, and that my marketing and distribution are not limited by an exclusivity clause.
Here’s the major reason. I may be a bit of a literary hippie, writing whatever my mind conjures up rather than what sells, but it doesn’t mean I can’t use a calculator…
If you’re reading this, you probably know that when a book is enrolled in Kindle Unlimited, your income is based on the total number of pages read over a month, multiplied by a magic number called the KENP. And if you are currently enrolled in KU, you know that lately, the KENP, like Donald Trump’s tweets, has been consistently soaring to new lows month after month.
Now, here’s a little math: I sell my books $3.99 with a 70% royalty rate. That means I earn on average $2.79 per sale, minus 15 cents for delivery. $2.64, then.
Supposing that one of my books was enrolled in KU and someone read it cover-to-cover (unlikely, as there’s necessary a percentage of readers who are going to skim, or even give up), that’s 330 pages on average, at $0.0040 cents/page (KENP rate for July 2017). In this scenario, I earn $1.32 for one book sold and read entirely.
Using my faithful calculator, I can therefore determine that, were I to enroll my titles in KU, I’d need to not only sell twice as many books, but also for each of those to be read cover-to-cover to break even.
That ass ain’t cheap
This third point is, as you’ll see, tied to the second one.
When a book is in KU, it is marketed by Amazon as being “Free” (Actually, it’s not, since you pay your KU enrollment on a monthly basis). In my limited experience, this changes the reader’s attitude towards the book (yes, even mine, as a KU user). The book is free, so I’m going to grab it even if I’m only vaguely interested, if I want to take a cursory glance at a specific piece of information it contains, or sometimes, because a combination of evidently fake 5-star reviews and outraged 1-star ones guarantee that it’ll make for a terrible read—I happen to enjoy pain.
Writer-side, I’ve received several positive reviews that started with “I had no expectations for this since it was in KU, but it turned out to be good.” One reader even stated that she didn’t expect the book to be edited, since it was in KU… That’s obviously a gross exaggeration, and a slap in the face of all indies who pay for solid editing, but I think there’s a lesson to be learned here about the public’s general perception of a free product.
A free or $.99 promo once in a while might drastically increase my readers base—and later my daily sales as word-of-mouth and Goodreads reviews help build the book’s popularity—but I don’t want to market my books a permanently free. (Even if, again, book in KU aren’t in fact free).
There’re certainly fewer people buying my books now than if they were in KU, but, on the other hand, I get next to no refunds, which means that the people who purchased them made the decision to spend a little money based on their tastes and, likely, the reviews. There’s a good chance that they finished the book and enjoyed it. If I doubled my sales in KU only for people to skim through my books or not to read them at all, I’d basically lose a sizable chunk of my income.
Note, however, that if someone writes to ask me for a free book, I rarely turn them down, unless the request sounds fishy.
The Pageflip fiasco
Ruth Nestvold wrote an excellent article summarizing the issue here: https://ruthnestvold.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/a-chronicle-of-the-amazon-page-flip-controversy-or-how-to-piss-off-a-ton-of-your-vendors-all-at-once/
Back in September 2016, Amazon released an updated version of its Kindle app including a feature called Pageflip. Pageflip, as its name implies, is a new mode allowing to preview a book’s pages and flip through them faster to reach the content you’re looking for.
Remember, above, when I say that, as a KU reader, I’ll sometimes borrow a book just to check a specific piece of information, rather than reading it entirely? Fellow authors, you can put down the stones and tomatoes: I don’t use Pageflip because I read almost exclusively on my laptop. But if I did… Well, all the pages I’d flip through to reach that one page I’m interested in would no longer count as pages read for the author whose book I purchased.
Even worse: Pageflip’s user interface makes it possible to comfortably read a book in Pageflip mode, just scrolling left from page to page. As a result, KU authors saw their number of pages read take a brutal nosedive after Pageflip was introduced.
Of course, even relying on my sales count implies that I trust Amazon to diligently record each of them. Maybe they do, maybe sometimes a sales gets lost somewhere in the big cloud, and I guess that what I don’t know doesn’t hurt me… Either way, Pageflip was the final nail in the coffin, as far as I’m concerned.
TL;DR: Amazon has been very good to me even though I turned down exclusivity, and there’s a very real risk that my income will plunge if I enroll my books in KU. So, as long as things are going well, I see no reason not to keep distributing them widely.