The Uncertainty of KDP Select for Indie Writers

Exclusive: unshared and/or restricted. When you’re talking book distribution, being exclusive with any distributor seems a bit…well…crazy, right? Why put all the eggs, so to speak, in one basket – or all the books on one shelf?

Enter in Amazon’s KDP Select.

The program is an exclusive distribution deal for writers that offers a handful of promotional perks. This program locks a book title in to be sold only by Kindle for 90 day periods, in which it automatically renews at the end unless the book is pulled from the program. During that time, the book cannot be distributed elsewhere.

This isn’t an anti-Amazon or anti-Select post, let me just put that out there. I’m not stupid; I won’t bite the hand that feeds me. Amazon sells more books than any other distributor and my Amazon royalties alone account for nearly 3/4 of my income. However, that being said, Amazon isn’t perfect, and Select is even less so. And here’s why I think that:

  • Exclusivity sucks. It’s limiting. It means the author must rely solely on one distribution channel and one group of readers to sell books. Sure, there’s a ton of readers on Amazon looking for those specials, deals and freebies that Kindle Unlimited or the Lending Library offers, but what about those who don’t have a Kindle or don’t use a Kindle app? They won’t find Select titles elsewhere.
  • The numbers don’t lie. My Select sales have always been infinitely small. Always. I’ve never seen a tremendous amount of success from any of my titles that were enrolled in Select. Never. Consider me unlucky.
  • Promotional flops. With Select-only available promotions such as Countdown Deals, authors are afforded the option of putting their Select title on sale or listing it for free, for a limited time. This should help a title attract new readers, preferably a good amount of new readers, during the promotion, thus increasing sales afterwards. There’s no guarantee of success with these promotions though, as Amazon doesn’t suddenly advertise the title under promotion, and my most recent one totally flopped. It happens. It sucks.
  • It’s risky and we know it. All of my Indie writer friends have bounced around with the idea of using Select for all their work, one book/series, or just a few (like I do, for my novelettes) pretty regularly. It’s a hot topic amongst writer friends. Does it work? Who does it work for? Is it worth it? The answer is: Yes, it works really well for some, but not for everyone and not for every genre; Select is not a golden ticket, it’s a risky business move. I don’t know why it doesn’t work for all of us. If I had the answer, I’d have taken advantage of it a long time ago. I’ve some Indie friends who bring in big bucks from Select with some of their series or titles, which is fabulous. I also know of author friends who’ve pulled their Select titles and seen a tremendous drop in sales, or the opposite – a tremendous spike from being able to use multiple distributors. I’ve been on both sides myself. I’ve tried Select for most of my titles initially, to hopefully give it a good foothold via Amazon’s large amount of users. But that no longer seems to work for my titles or genres. And 90 days is a lot of time to lose sales via other platforms like B&N’s Nook or iTunes/iBooks, Kobo, etc… In fact, I’d lose money if I pulled my books off NOOK and elsewhere to list them all on Select. Not only would that suck for the non-Amazonites out there, but it would be a bad business move for me.

So, I may not have the answers, but I do have some numbers. My Station novelettes have been in Select since publication. They don’t sell a whole heck of a lot – really it’s the hardcore Station series readers that invest in them, which I’m very grateful for. I don’t do promotions often because there’s a limited amount you can do in any 90 day period – so perhaps that’s my fault.

Anyway, skip forward to this week. From Monday – Friday, I’ve had a Countdown Deal going for each of my three novelettes. It was an experiment, really. Even though there’s still Friday to contend with, I know at this point, that the promotion didn’t work. The sales for each title are down this week, not up. How is that possible with a promotional deal? Doesn’t seem to make sense, but yet, it happened.

Compared to last week’s sales, NILES is down 56%, MALLORY is down 50% and Kerry-Anne is also down 60%. What the actual F? I kind of want to spell out the word ridiculous to emphasize how absurd those numbers are, but that’s a lot of dashes. I won’t do that to you. I’ll just let you go back now and read those numbers one more time. Like I said: ridiculous.

Here’s a secret – I did NO promotion for this week’s Countdown Deals on purpose. WHY? Because I wanted to see if they work organically to improve sales. And the big fat answer of the week is NOPE. I’ve promoted such deals in the past and seen small bumps in sales, but the real promotion success has come from outside advertising – not with Amazon. Like I said, nothing from Select has ever worked for me, and I’ve had all lengths and genres in there. I actually sell more books on Amazon without being in Select where the ‘promotional deals’ taunt writers. Yeah, scratch your head at that one.

So, what’s the answer? You’ll be mad when I tell you this, but there is no right answer. Because every author’s work, their experience, their email contact list, their overall visibility in the writing world, their social media presence, their covers, their luck, their everything – is different – there’s NO right way for all of us.

Bummer. I know. Select failed me this week, this month really. But I won’t pull my titles just yet. I’m trying to be the glass is half full kind of person. I have another promotion for the novelettes that I can do in the future before their current Select term is up, and it will be another experiment. And the next time – I’ll promote it myself to see if that gives a different outcome. I want Select to work for me. I really do. But it’s a fight. And how long should I fight before I’m ready to submit defeat with Select and win the battle with someone else?

Sure, it could be worse, but it could also be better. This is Amazon we’re talking about. I hope someone is listening.

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