Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Does Amazon Hold a Grudge?

I've been quite clear about where I stand on the Amazon KDP Select program from the launch way over a year ago.  I don't like it.  For the initiated, it's a scheme that rewards absolute fealty by authors to Amazon with their eBooks.  In return for a substantial potential bribe authors have to commit to only distributing their books on Amazon for at least three months at a time.

What happens is that those books signed up for KDP Select are then offered to Amazon Prime subscribers to 'loan' for free - a massive electronic lending library.  There is a limit on how many books a month you can borrow but I understand it's not stupidly low.  Its attraction for the Prime subscribers is obvious - they can borrow books for free all year round so is a reasonable bonus in addition to their free shipping offer.  It certainly makes the deal seem more worthwhile and, if you are a frequent shopper with Amazon, is probably a good deal to consider as at about £1 a week it wouldn't take much postage to break even.

And of course, if you are an author then being in the library should gain you exposure to people who may never have heard of you, and exposure is one of the trickiest things to achieve in this crowded eBook world.

So, what does the author have to do?  Well, break all ties with Apple, Sony, Barnes & Noble etc, that's all.  No big deal, just deprive all of Amazon's eBook competition of the right to sell your books and Bob's your uncle.  To make this work, Amazon have pitched $700,000 a month for a year to pay for the scheme.  They divide the $700,000 each month by the total number of books borrowed by Prime customers, then multiply the number of book borrows for each book by that number to determine how much to pay each author.  No borrows equals sadness, lots of borrows equals happy days.

Which means that Amazon have given away just short of a cool $1M to authors to not only reward Amazon Prime subscribers but to prevent Apple, Sony, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords and lots of other eBook-sellers from selling your books.  Given that all of the competition sell the books in a format that is incompatible with Amazon's e-books, that's a little bit mean, I think.  And small minded, in my opinion.

I can understand the bit about rewarding and incentivising Amazon Prime customers, if they're such prolific buyers of Amazon products and services they've probably bought multiple copies of the Kindle in its many incarnations already.  This initiative rewards them and technically punishes non-Prime customers who have to reach into their pockets much more frequently.  Taking books out of the other bookshops isn't going to make the owners of Kobo, Apple, Sony, Google etc. netbooks, tablets and laptops  walk away from their machines and buy the Kindle.  In fact, I'd like to suggest that it should have the opposite affect.

If it was just about rewarding the loyal few, without restricting authors from selling through other channels, then I'd join.  But it isn't.

Anyway, it seems that one year down the line and some people are getting a little jaded with the program.

Amazon KDP Select author Derek Haines used the system for a year.  He claims he was getting good results - nothing startling, but certainly steady at two or three books a day.  They had been selling at this rate for the year before he started the scheme and continued in that vein.  But he didn't feel that comfortable about the exclusive retailer bit and pulled out.  His sales stopped immediately, stone dead.  Had the library membership kept his profile up longer than it would have stayed up if he hadn't joined KDP Select, or is there a more sinister reason?   Derek doesn't know, but is extremely suspicious, especially as the drop happened in the US literally on the day following his exit from KDP Select, but he didn't spot a hiccup in his UK sales.

Other authors responded to Derek's posting. Yvonne Hertzberger says that the same thing happened to her, as did Anne R Allen.  They both said independently that they hadn't realised it had happened to anyone else, so hadn't thought too much about it.  Yvonne actually hadn't fully realised the situation until she read Derek's article, but then put two and two together and concluded that it did look a bit fishy.

James C. Campbell reported that once he'd dropped out his books didn't appear in the 'customers previously bought this' section.  Paranoid?  Maybe.  Not all respondents felt that they had the same experience.  Terry Ravenscroft claims he didn't notice any change when he exited the program, but says he now has a mix of books in and out.  Perhaps it's too small a sample to make a judgement.

My view is that Amazon want to have full control of the eBook market and I don't feel that is healthy.  I also feel that by dropping the exclusivity clause they could attract a more diverse group of authors to join KDP Select and then use that to promote their Amazon Prime product.  They would lock in more customers using Prime, because that's its purpose, and let authors get on with marketing across all channels, increasing competition and keeping prices keen.

Do Amazon hold a grudge, or are they bigger than that?  I'd say they are bigger than any retailer should be, and that can be a distorting factor in any market.  Whether they explicitly go out of their way to impact sales on books that have turned their backs on KDP Select might seem unlikely, but as Amazon are so famously cagey about all of their stats its unlikely we'll never know.

Here's Derek's article here.


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