Matt Forney
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Rethinking KDP Select

Last week, I enrolled all of my books, including Three Years of Hate, in Amazon’s KDP Select program. As part of this, I had to take the Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords editions off sale. People who’ve already paid for those editions will still be able to download and read them, but no one else will be able to buy them.

Those of you who’ve read Confessions of an Online Hustler might remember that I wrote a couple of lines advising against KDP Select. What gives?

When I first published Confessions, my main experience with KDP Select was with the first edition of Three Years of Hate; as part of the deal (with the devil) I made to get it put together and online in a timely fashion, I had the book enrolled in KDP Select for three months. Up until recently, my view was that the bonuses that KDP Select offers in exchange for exclusivity—extra promotional tools, letting Amazon Prime members borrow the book for free (and getting paid when they do), and higher royalties from sales in Brazil, Japan and India—weren’t worth the lost revenue from Smashwords and other retailers.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I was totally wrong, but I can say that the jury is still out.

Last weekend, I was reading my bank statement when I decided to crunch the numbers on my e-book sales. As it turns out, a whopping 85 percent of overall sales and 81 percent of my e-book revenue came from Amazon Kindle. Going by the borrowing figures from Three Years of Hate’s KDP term, there are more people interested in borrowing my books on Kindle than actually buying them on Nook, Kobo and Smashwords combined. If those three websites were to go down tomorrow, I’d have barely noticed a drop in my income.

Everyone knows that Amazon is the number one online retailer in the world, but for independent authors, their dominance is so staggering that it nearly renders all other sales channels useless. It’s not just that Amazon is far more trusted and better known than startups like Kobo or Smashwords, but the fact that the Kindle is still far and away the most popular e-reader, and the least expensive one too; the cheapest Kindle model is only $69. If Amazon had 70 percent of my sales or less, then a program like KDP Select would be pointless; given that it has a near-monopoly on my sales, the bonuses it provides are more than worth it.

It’s not just positive benefits I get from KDP Select, though, but negative ones as well.

Creating a book for Kindle release is a pain in the ass all on its own; creating four different versions for four different sales channels is a nightmare. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and Smashwords each have their own methods for converting my raw .doc proof into a final product, and each of them have different requirements as to how the file needs to be formatted. Line spacing, margins, hyperlinks, line breaks: what’s acceptable for one retailer is anathema to another, and I’ve run myself ragged making my proofs conform to each one’s particular quirks.

If less than 20 percent of my income is coming from non-Amazon retailers, then why bother with all that work?

The only situation where I’d say that KDP Select wouldn’t be worth it is if you’re selling an obscene number of books, like $5,000 worth a month or more. At that sales volume, you’d be looking at hundreds of dollars of lost revenue every month if you limited yourself to Amazon. Additionally, it’d also be worth hiring a freelancer to do all the grunt work for you. If you aren’t getting mega-rich from book sales, however, feel free to skip the smaller retailers when you’re ready to publish.

The only other piece of advice I have here is that if you do decide to enroll your books in KDP Select, you absolutely must not include DRM with them. This will allow the tiny minority of your customers who don’t own Kindles to use Calibre or another program to convert your books to the file format of their choosing. Remember that as an independent author, customer satisfaction is paramount to your career.

Read Next: The Three Tiers of Online Hustling

  • In my experience, the online converters are nearly useless; they refuse to format chapter headings, et cetera, and you’re left with a B+ product (as anybody who bought the initial e-book version of Broken Roads can attest to – hopefully they all got the email about the update).

    The best method I’ve found is to use an online converter – either Amazons or one of the free ones – to get your book into basic epub/mobi format, and then crack open the free program “Sigil” and spend an hour making everything pretty; adding chapter links, et cetera.

    E-books are just basic HTML, so with the right program this is easy – then when you upload the epub to all the different sites they leave it alone, they don’t mess with it.

  • Any plans to drop print books altogether? I prefer them because they’re SHTF durable.

  • Spike: Nope. If nothing else, print books are great loss leaders; their mere existence will get people to buy the e-version who ordinarily wouldn’t, because to most people, a book isn’t “real” unless there’s a dead tree version available.

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