Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Amazon’s KDP Select Program – Is it for you?

There has been a lot of brouhaha (a state of social agitation when a minor incident gets out of control) lately over Amazon’s KDP “Select” program since its inception a few months back. So what is it and what’s all the fuss about?

In a nutshell, books enrolled in Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Desktop Publishing) ‘Select’ program are subject to an ‘exclusive rights’ clause, meaning that during the period of enrollment in the program, your book may only be sold through Amazon and nowhere else.
You will have to remove your book from anywhere else you have it on sale, including your own websites. And this is what has the writing community up in arms.

While the idea of ‘exclusive rights’ clauses makes some of the community cry out in agony, remember that the Select program runs for a mere 90 days, after which time you can either re-enrol your book, or it automatically drops out of the program and you’re free to sell it anywhere you like again, which means re-publishing and re-marketing again.

Also, during this enrolment period, you are free to promote your book in ways not possible outside the program. For example, whilst in the Select program, you can make your books available for free on Amazon – the only time you can have free books on Amazon.
What a great way to make ‘sacrificial’ or ‘honeypot’ books available in order to entice readers to buy other books from your back catalogue. You can make your book free for up to five consecutive days during your 90-day enrolment period.

Sounds like a good deal to me, with one small caveat; during your free promotion days, your book is not made available in the Kindle Lending Library, the entire point of the Select program. It is, in effect, temporarily dropped from the program. Hmm, what went wrong there, one wonders?

But why enrol any books in this program in the first place? The answer is our old friend, the Mighty $$$. Yes, the whole idea is that books enrolled in the Select program are placed in the Amazon Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (KOLL); meaning that Amazon members with a ‘Prime’ account ($80/year) can borrow books for free from the KDP Select lending library.

Now before you throw a wobbler over the word ‘free’ here, what Amazon have come up with is their own little ‘honeypot’ in the form of a ‘kitty’, which is shared among books borrowed during the Select period. Every time someone ‘borrows’ your book from the Select program, you are paid a small amount (a percentage) from the variable ‘jackpot’ they have running. This jackpot is set to be some six million dollars for 2012. Not exactly chicken feed, is it?

While I am not going to go into the logistics of how it all works (you can read it for yourself here), I am going to try and explain why you should - or should not - enroll any of your publications in this program, for better or for worse.

Remember, though, at the end of the day, it is nothing about fame and glory, and all about the money. Publishing as an industry is now fiscally-driven as opposed to vanity-driven, meaning that people now write for the money, as opposed to the fame, although the two do go hand-in hand in a kind of reverse symbiosis: the more you sell, the more famous you become. The more famous you become, the more you sell. It is, effectively, a monetary positive feedback system.

So is this KOLL idea for you? Ask yourself this question: if I were a Prime member, which books would I be looking at borrowing from the KOLL? All those books in the Top 100 list, or anything from new and unknown indie writers? Not exactly rocket science.
But . . . let’s say that, as an indie writer, you have several books sitting at various online bookstores that have not sold a single copy since their publication - a very likely scenario for many indie writers. Why not enrol these books in KOLL?

They’re not earning you any money elsewhere, but they might just earn you a few dollars through the KOLL. And is the ‘exclusive rights’ clause a problem at this stage? Especially if you haven’t sold a single copy since the book’s release. Of course not. What do you care about exclusivity on books that are effectively dead-in-the-water, anyway?
But if your books are dead weight elsewhere, why would they suddenly fly off the shelves in the KOLL program?
The raison d'ĂȘtre is that the public are more likely to stumble across your book in the Amazon KOLL program than they are anywhere else, so you may just sell a few copies and in the process gain some popularity.
And as the enrolment period is only 90 days at a time, why not take a chance? At the very least, your name will be seen. Even if you don’t sell any copies through KOLL, think of it as a kind of free promotion utility, which is what it actually is.
On the other hand, if you do have books elsewhere that are flying off the shelves, should you enroll them in KOLL?
And this is where they’ve got you by the proverbial.

Chances are, if your book is already selling a lot of copies elsewhere, it will sell many, many more copies through KOLL, but . . . you will also lose all the income from the places you currently have the book listed because of the KOLL exclusivity rights clause. You will only be able to sell through KOLL for 90 days. If it is selling like crazy now, why enroll it? For my money, I wouldn’t. That would be pure avarice. Or clever marketing – the two are difficult to differentiate.

Ultimately, the decision is yours and it’s very much a case of ‘swings and roundabouts’. What you win on one, you lose on the other. But for new writers who are not seeing any sales elsewhere, I do not see any harm in placing these books (or a few of them) in the KOLL program and seeing what it does for you. Even if you don’t sell any copies, your name will have been seen and readers may go hunting for your other publications, which may sell.

At the end of the day, you have to decide for yourself what is better for you. I think the KOLL program works best for those writers with a deep back catalogue, who can afford to toss in a few books to see what happens. If you only have one or two books published, then the KOLL program is probably not for you, as the exclusivity rights clause will tie you down to one distributor, with no guarantee whatsoever that you will sell a single copy or make a single penny.

Of my 110 or so publications, I have enrolled 10 books in the KOLL program. So far, I am not seeing where it has been of benefit to me financially, but what I have noticed is a sudden surge in sales from other distributors. Coincidence? I don’t believe in coincidences.
The Amazon KOLL program is an option for writers. Whether you go along with it is entirely your own choice. You have to speculate to accumulate. All of life is a gamble; this is no different.
Do you play the Lottery? You do? You take a chance that you may win, with odds in the tens-of-millions-to-one? Where exactly, is the difference? It’s a 50-50 chance; either you win, or you do not. Make a decision.


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  2. I have three books included in the Kindle Direct program. The first was submitted the beginning of August; the second at teh end of August, and teh third the beginning of October. To date the first two ebooks have acheived downloads of about 2000 free, and over 4000 paid. So I'm still a long long way from my million seller, but previously (since 2006) I had four published novels. In the six years approximately 150 paperbacks (in total) sold. On that basis I am doing a lot better with ebooks. How I would have done had I not signed up to Kindle Direct I don't know. I feel taht the KDP setup has benefitted me. However, whatever route you take the books won't sell themselves. You have promote and publicise constantly. Twitter, Facebook, whatever it takes.