Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Why Amazon KDP Select and I are 'On a Break'

To those of you who follow my Blog and writing / publishing journey you will know that earlier this year I started the KDP select experiment. Here are links to previous posts if you're interested in starting the journey from the beginning:

- if not here is a very brief summary: I was very, very excited by it all; like the first flush of any romance I could see nothing but brilliance about the whole thing. I did my research, my sales analysis and I came to the conclusion that, like a virginal bride, I was willing to commit body and soul to Amazon - my big strong protective husband.

It's not that Amazon KDP Select has done anything particularly wrong - on the whole I can look back and say we've had some good times - it's just that a lot (and I mean A LOT) of people have been having 'good times' with it. As a result I feel that the whole thing has become so large that the effect has become diluted.

Not only that, but in my humble opinion, Amazon stabbed us indie's in the back. What I admired about Amazon was that it allowed a democracy for writers and readers - that finally there was a platform where quality independently published books could stand along side traditionally published books, shake hands and salute 'may the best book win!' - As a result we saw a diverse and interesting market place where the reader made their demands and preferences clear.

In March, it seems that Amazon altered it's algorithims so that traditionally published (and more expensive) e-books were weighted so they travelled up the best-selling and most popular lists quicker; gaining more exposure and allowing them to once more dominate the sales shelves. I didn't really understand this until I read a great post May 27th 2012

Suddenly I had an understanding as to why, despite selling far more books than I had in the past, my rankings slid way down. (as in from being within the top bestselling 1,000 e-books to averaging being in the 20,000s) When I looked at the graphs on Amazon.Central there was a direct correlation between the 'suspected' algorithim changes in March, my increase in sales and my slide down the charts. It seemed my once loving and supportive hubby had got into bed with the boss - once more closing ranks with the big publishers. I can understand this; the pressure must have been intense what with the traditional publishing companies going into free fall chaos over the whole thing.

And then there was the Free Promotions - what promise they delivered, and to be fair in the first contract they delivered, seeing a sudden spike in sales of #1 and #2 of the Trilogy following a promotion - but it wasn't the tipping point that it should have been. I believe that part of this is the psychology of the freebie.

Everybody LOVES a freebie, my kindle is full of them, but the thing is with freebies there isn't a personal investmnet of value. Despite having loaded by Kindle up with tens of freebies, guess how many of them I have actually read - ZERO. Yep, zero. Books which I have purchased on offer, books I have purchased after blogger and friend recommendations, books I have discovered by accident, have all taken priority on the TBR list. This is what I believe has happened to a large percentage of the books that I gave away on Amazon.

The uncomfortable truth is that as much as people love the idea of getting something for free, very often there is a correlating subconscious judgement made that the book can't be that good if the writer is giving it away - it smacks maybe of a certain desperation, and if I'm totally and brutally honest there is an element of desperation for my books to be read - otherwise there would be little point.

These thoughts have also played into recent pricing decisions and link to the 99c debate. For a year I put 'The Forest of Adventures' on at 99c with the belief that this would lead to greater exposure and tempt readers 'to give it a go' - then as an experiment I upped the price to $2.99 to see what the impact might be. Interestingly the impact was minimal in the amount of copies sold (although it did allow me a 70% royalty option which made a significant impact on my income) To check it wasn't the price determining sales I have recently set up a May / June promotion as part of my third book release promotions, reducing the price of book one to 99c. Again there has been little change in the number of sales.

I'm coming to the serious conclusion that far from pricing and freebie promotions being the key to good sales, building a strong network of fans, readers and online presence is the key. If you have connected with a potential reader, tempted them to take a look at your website, your sample chapters, reviews and kindled a curiosity, they don't give a stuff if the book is free, 99c or $2.99. They've already connected with your work and will be willing to pay a 'fair' price. More than that they are now predisposed to 'like' and positively review and recommend your book to their reader friends: this is how sales and readership really grow.

And this is another reason why the straight-jacket of Amazon exclusivity is not necessarily constructive. Although Kindle is a very popular e-reader choice, it is by far not the only e-reader device and so immediately exclusivity to Kindle is limiting the potential for that readership growth. This is especially the case with the emergence of the Apple reading systems on iPhones and iPads. I announced today that from June 6th The Knight Trilogy would be available for all e-readers and within minutes I had several responses of glee from readers who had been desperate to get their hands on the trilogy but had not been able to.

The beauty of using Smashwords as a sales platform is that it sells formats for all e-readers and PC apps. You can also arrange coupons and gifts of your books so you can really target your promotional 'gifting'. This is something I am really looking forward to re-establishing; it also makes it a lot easier to approach reviewers and bloggers as you can literally offer them review copies and send them a voucher in one easy step - regardless of what e-reading device they have.

So for the time being me and KDP Select are taking a break - who knows what the future might bring. My sales might plummet without being on the programme and I might find myself on my knees grovelling to be taken back in - time will tell.

I would really love to engage with fellow writers and readers on this topic. How much of this is ringing true to your own experience? Do you have a kindle stacked full of freebies never likely to see the light of day?

And if you think that you have fellow writers who might find this post interesting I'd really appreciate you spreading the link :)

FURTHER READING Understanding Amazon's new Algorithims is as easy as ABS by D. Gaughran

Did Life Just Get Harder for the Indie Authors by Publishers World

Failure Ahoy! Edward Robertson

Why I won't renew with KDP Select


  1. Katie, your experience is EXACTLY what mine was with KDP Select for the last few months. I too am leaving and going back to the real world of distribution. I spoke with a few authors who make easy five figures in sales a month and although they claimed KDP was the reason, they already put in hard years of promotion and had a big fan base that was already buying their books. I believe you hit the nail on the head saying our focus should be building true fans (I wrote a few posts on the 1,000 true fan concept at for anyone who is interested in this great idea!) Maybe if hordes of us writers give up on KDP Amazon will get the point. Thanks for sharing all your thoughts on this and I will RT your post!

  2. Hi. It's amazing how in the last few hours I've heard the echo of my own experience. It's never dull in the indie publishing world - everything is changing at such a pace!
    Thanks for stopping by to read, engage and share. Going off to read your post :)

  3. Thanks for the link. Yup, times are changing again. I think Amazon may be rethinking the change in algorithm because I have noticed a sudden, unexpected increase in ranking - similar to my first time around. But I do believe in the long run the keys are writing good books and building a fan base. There are no substitutes and no shortcuts.

    I signed with KDP as an experiment and I feel positive about my experience, however I realized from the beginning that Amazon probably could not sustain the momentum and readers would become more and more discerning. Readers have so much to choose from. They don't want to waste time on bad books, free or not.

  4. Exactly, Julia. The cream will rise to the top. There is absolutely no substitution for quality storytelling and crafted writing.

  5. Thanks for the information; I'm planning on e-publishing my short story this summer and did not realize the change with Amazon. I'll look into Smashwords and what they have to offer.

  6. Katie, I like the way you think. Thanks for your very valuable post.

    I'm going to pull all four of my novels off of Kindle Select at the earliest opportunity. I may put my latest on KS for 90 days just to see how it flies, first. But, with the saturation of free books and all the indie books out there, it's difficult to understand how this new industry is shaping up--especially when Amazon plays with the algorithms.

    BTW, I've linked to your blog from my newsletter and my own authors' blog as well as my Indie Writers Alliance blog. This is great content for the relatively uncharted course we've chosen.

    1. Thanks for your comments and linking, Gordon - it's really appreciated.
      Yes really interesting times - lots of possibility but also a bit of a mine-field.
      Please post your links here - I'd love to go and check them out and subscribe.

  7. Is it possible things are changing again. I've just had a quite successful free promo with my novel. It was fairly invisible before and I did the free promo to get it some ranking and exposure. I had over 8,500 free downloads globally (most in the UK as it's a very British type of chicklit, humour, romance, soap opera). It rose to # 2 in free best sellers on Amazon UK then proceeded to rise to # 53 in the top paid bestsellers in UK kindle. I've sold getting on for 2000 books since the promo, way in excess of my sales before, and i've had some excellent 5 star reviews. Sales are slowing down to about 50 a day now and my ranking is only 245, so the gradual decline has set in - but it's been a fantastic experience. Was i just lucky or are things chagning again?

  8. That is very encouraging. Maybe it's a case of timing - days and times of month. Did you do a single day or a block of days?