Wednesday, December 21, 2011

How Amazon is winning the Indie Battle

Until the start of december, my life as an "indie" reader was really good, and went along with my convictions all right : When I felt I discovered an author I liked, or a book was recommended to me, I would look it up at Smashwords, ask about it in an epub version, and if none was available, would go to Amazon, and depending on the DRM status and my "wanting" level, sometimes would buy there.

The world as it used to be

I saw Amazon's pro-indie as a benevolent one, of course using it to put pressure on Big6 publishers, but that went all right with me. Amazon did not on the other hand put pressure on the concurrent retailers, at least regarding that market. They "courted" the authors, giving them a great review system, good visibility, consideration, non-discriminating conditions, and lots of customers.

On the other hand, the other retailers just were seeing indie writers and publishers as sub-par book providers, and did see no use to help them.

Smashwords, in it's role of distributor, was doing as it could, opening a channel to the retailers. However, since those did NOT do anything, sales were just more random, depending either on genre or on luck to get discoverability. Of course, these retailers having lots of distinct quirks about what is acceptable to them make it no easier for Smashwords to send ebooks, and forces it to use it's MeatGrinder to make sure the ebooks are distributed. Add communication lag between Smashwords and the distribution channels... Ouch !
So while some authors were making better on non-Amazon platforms, the big majority fared better at Kindle.

Still, publishing on multiple platforms cost not much more than on a single one, and sometimes brought more money, the "common wisdom" was to put eggs in different baskets and multiple platforms.

The blog reviews, in addition to retailer reviews and notations were helping "independent" publishing get notoriety and lose some of it's black mark. A few midlist, or unknown, writers GotLucky™ (JA Konrath), and became famous outliers, giving notoriety and credibility to the entire indie movement.  

Far from discouraging this, Amazon was only waiting for the right time to come. Indie was a great tool, but if it had tried to take it for itself, Amazon would have had trouble getting as much traction as it has now on it. On the contrary, it started its imprints, giving a a boost to a few writers, selected without risks among the successfull ones.

Harvest Time !

Beginning of december though, was the GOOD time to harvest, just before the Christmas season.
Enter the KDP Select program, in which indie-publishers can enroll individually (and for a renewable duration of 90 days) each of their book.

First, the author gets 5 "free days", during which he can set the price to "free". While it may seem a bad financial move, going free for limited time has often proved to have good results in generating reads, which generate reviews and recommendations, which generate additional sales either when the book is off-free, or on other non-free books by the same author.

Secondly, Select enrolled boks are put in the "Prime" library, which means they can be burrowed for free for "Prime" customers, at most one at a time. Some direct "money compensation" is done through a fund, divided between the authors depending on the total number of borrows, and  each author's books. With the program's success, we can now know that this financial compensation should be at best symbolic, but it's not the only compensation for the author : the borrows/lendings are taken into account by the ranking algorithm. This means that the more a book is borrowed, the more it climbs in the ranking, hence the more it is borrowed, but also bought by the non "Prime" customers. This seems to largely compensate for the dollars loss. As a nice side effect, it also adds value to the "Prime" membership, by giving them access to a greater number of titles.

Last, the author/publisher gives exclusivity to his book for the entire 90 days duration. Which means that "established self-publishers" not only lock themselves to Amazon, but also attract their followers in their wake. These new customers, will of course discover other self-publishers, buy from them through Amazon, augmenting Amazon's share in their revenue, and finally prompting them to subscribe to Select.

Additionaly, by asking for the exclusivity, Amazon ensures that books will be designed primarily for its Kindle platform, and as a second thought for the other ones. Once an author has put it's book exclusively on Kindle Select, he will be less inclined 90 days later to start formatting anew for the other platforms, especially if he had good results on Kindle.

These 3 effects combine to create a "virtuous" (for Amazon) cycle, that attracts authors, who attract customers, who attract authors ...

How has it worked, so far ?

Well, from what I see at the KindleBoard's Writer's Cafe, where a great number of self-published authors spend some time, the big majority of those who made more than 70% of their sales at Amazon went "Select" for at least a few books. And those who DID go Select, have done so with (so far) gret results, getting more visibility, and climbing the rankings.

I can direct you to Kevin McLaughlin's Early Evaluation of KDP Select Program post to show you how it all went... Basically, Large Publishers are toast, Indie get a BIG visibility boost.

As an other result, some of the authors I like are going exclusively Amazon, and since I decided to not buy there ... Poor me !

For those who decide to go exclusive, I'd suggest something though : What if you planned ahead, twice a year, a 5-10 days of "No Select" period for all your books ? You could put them for sale directly on your website, in epub format, so that us, non "Kindle" owners could buy and read them ?

Update : a list of links to Author's blogs about this (on their blog, or forums),94067.0.html


  1. I put three of my ten books into the Select program, and the results of the giveaways have been terrific. Even if the profit share never amounts to anything much, I've already benefited financially.

    I've also been have trouble with other retailers discounting my books and causing me to lose money at Amazon, so I'm pulling books from Kobo, Sony, Books on Board, and iTunes.

    My biggest concern is reader access, so I love your idea of having chunks of time when I withdraw from the Select program to offer epubs direct to readers from my website. Very creative. And easy to implement.

  2. Thanks L.J. for the comment. You are indeed one of the many who benefit from the Select effect, and thus beeing "harvested" in the Kindle program.

    (updating the post to add links to your post,and others...)

    Really, Amazon does it really better than the (pseudo)competition the others do, giving so many GOOD reasons for authors to put eggs in its foxy paws...