Image: Matthew Loffhagen
So your masterpiece is complete and you’re ready to start selling. You’ve done your research and know that listing on Amazon is a must for the Kindle market.
But should you go one step further and sign up to their Kindle Direct Publishing Select program? KDP Select demands the exclusive right to sell but boasts that it can ‘maximize a book’s potential’ and help you ‘reach a new audience.’ But does KDP Select actually work? What are the benefits and the costs? And which sellers stand to benefit the most?
To answer all those questions, here’s a summary of KDP Select’s services and what they mean to you.
What do you get?
A listing on Amazon’s Kindle store (including those for America, the UK, Germany, France and Japan) and a listing as part of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.
The Lending Library is a subscription service which allows Kindle owners to borrow a wide range of ebooks at no extra cost. You’ll be paid for every download through the KDP Select Global Fund, which varies on a monthly basis. While the amount you receive adjusts in accordance with the Global Fund, it remains reasonable.
KDP Select programs run for 90 day periods. For five of these days you’re entitled to apply either a Kindle Countdown deal (a limited time promotion where your ebook is discounted) or a Free Book promotion (where readers can get your ebook for free for a limited time).
What are the conditions?
Complete digital exclusivity. Amazon says it best:
All content made exclusive to Amazon in KDP Select must remain for sale on our site only; it cannot be available for free or for purchase in digital format anywhere else… However, you may choose to make up to 10% of your book available on other sites as a sample, as well as continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital.
The Kindle Owner’s Lending Library is the big draw, introducing your work to a vast audience who are particularly disposed to trying something new. Because readers are charged for use of the library rather than for individual ebooks, they’re far more likely to give you a try, and you still get paid per download.
On top of this substantial draw, the Lending Library comes with a chart of the top free and sold ebooks. Getting on this chart will bolster sales as more people are made aware of your ebook’s quality and popularity. In a sea of free books, this kind of suggestion goes a long way, although there’s no guarantee you’ll make the list.
As well as the Lending Library, your ebook will be listed on Amazon, although this is still possible outside the KDP Select program. During the 90 day period, you will earn 70% royalties for sales to customers in Japan, India, Brazil and Mexico. Outside the KDP Select program you can only earn 35% in these countries. This is only really an advantage if you think you are going to sell more books in these countries than you will on Barnes & Noble, Kobo or Apple during the 90 day period.
The Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Book promotion have as much value as you give them. If you advertise and draw attention to the offers, then they can be great marketing tools, if you let them pass by then no-one will notice. You’ll receive reduced royalties when your ebook is discounted and none when it’s free, so these promotions are more for raising awareness and gathering an audience than increasing sales.
While the Lending Library will get you more downloads than individually listing your ebook for sale, not every downloader will be a reader. Having already paid for the right to borrow ebooks, members of the library are prone to downloading as many as possible, with no intention of reading them all. While you’re still getting paid, it’s a hollow victory when your work isn’t getting read.
Worse, being downloaded on a whim could actually hurt your popularity. Downloaders who aren’t interested in your genre may give you a low star review when they realize your book isn’t for them. It’s a single click after being disappointed by a free product but the lowering of your average will be real enough.
Of course this differs by book and there’s no way to measure how common it is, but genres such as sci-fi and fantasy can provoke surprisingly vitriolic responses from those who don’t enjoy them. People who wouldn’t pick up a certain type of book can feel irritated, even cheated, when it turns out they’ve downloaded one by mistake (autobiographies in particular suffer from this kind of disapproval). It’s up to you whether you think your book will benefit more from a curious audience than it suffers from the uninterested.
KDP Select’s exclusivity requirement has obvious downsides, as you won’t be able to sell anywhere else. The program runs for 90 day increments however, so you’re free to opt out at the end of a run and keep your ebook listed for individual sale on Amazon. Exclusivity might also rankle fans who frequent a different marketplace.
It’s possible that the Kindle Countdown deal and Free Book promotion could also work against you, due to market savvy Amazon customers. Potential readers know a 5 day discount is likely and may wait to purchase at a point where you’ll receive little or no royalties.
Is it for you?
KDP Select is best used as part of a concentrated marketing strategy rather than as a permanent arrangement. The Lending Library and the 5 day promotions are good for building a readership but over a long-term basis, they don’t make up for the inability to sell through other stores.
It is most effective when you can make readers aware of a range of books. This is especially relevant if you have written a series. You might put the first book in the series on KDP Select in order to entice people to start your series.
If you’re selling your first novel, KDP Select probably isn’t for you; once a reader has your ebook at a reduced price or for free, there’s nowhere for them to go. They may know your name but will they remember it in six months when your second book is advertised at full price?
If you only have one book available then make sure you have a link to your email list at the back of the book. Readers who like your style will then at least be able to sign up to receive updates from you.
If you’re going to put the required effort into a KDP Listing, which means actively advertising your deals, then it could help raise awareness of your work and inform a wide range of readers that your name is synonymous with quality. Likewise, if your foremost concern is that people read your work, then there are few better paths than making it available to the curious readership that comprises the Lending Library.
You may of course only be selling your book on the Kindle store and have no plans to sell it elsewhere. In that case, you have nothing to lose, get on KDP Select and try and maximize the discount days to build your readership.
Have you enrolled in KDP select, or are you considering it? I’d love to hear about your experience in the comments.