Is Amazon Exclusivity Right for You?

amazon kdp select

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Today’s guest post is by author Robert Kroese (@robkroese). Read his previous post on how authors can best use Amazon KDP ads.


As most self-publishing authors know, Amazon offers marketing incentives to authors who sell their ebooks exclusively through Kindle, through a program called KDP SelectKDP Select requires that authors sell their ebook (but not print book) exclusively through Amazon for at least 90 days. The agreement automatically renews unless you decline to enroll again; however, you can always go back and re-enroll at any time.

It might seem like common sense to distribute the digital edition of your book as widely as possible, to as many retailers as possible, rather than being exclusive to Amazon. However, there are some advantages to enrolling in KDP Select.

Going Wide Can Hurt Discoverability

Yes, you’ll lose out on some potential sales by not having your ebook available at all retailers, but probably not as many as you think. While the sales of a well-known author like Sue Grafton or George R. R. Martin will likely be spread widely across several retailers, if you’re a relatively unknown author, you are very dependent on how “discoverable” you are on each site.

Although it’s not easy to rise to the top of the Amazon bestseller lists, at this point Amazon’s algorithms still provide the best hope for a new author to be discovered. Unless you spend a lot of time researching the idiosyncrasies of each online marketplace and expending time and money marketing in those venues, your book will probably languish unseen among hundreds of thousands of others.

Additionally, there is the possibility of sales on other sites cannibalizing your sales on Amazon. A sale is a sale, of course, but the more you concentrate your sales on a particular venue, the higher your book will rank there and the more visible it will be to potential readers. It’s better to be highly visible on one site than buried on five of them.

Generally speaking, then, Amazon exclusivity makes more sense for authors who are just starting out or who are relatively unknown. More established authors can leverage their popularity by selling more widely.

Enrollment in KOLL and Kindle Unlimited

Enrolling your ebook in KDP Select is the only way to make it available in both the Kindle Online Lending Library (KOLL) and Kindle Unlimited (KU).

KOLL, as the name indicates, is Amazon’s online ebook-lending service; anyone with a Kindle device can borrow up to one ebook per calendar month at no charge. KU is Amazon’s ebook subscription service, which allows readers to pay a flat monthly rate to read as many ebooks as they like.

Indie authors do get paid for these borrows—based on pages read—but the system is somewhat arcane. Basically it works like this:

  • Every month Amazon establishes a fund used to pay authors for KOLL/KU page reads.
  • Amazon determines how many pages of each book were read during the month, using its Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) algorithm, which is a fancy way of saying that you can’t get away with that trick you used in college of making the margins smaller and using 14-point font to make your paper seem longer.
  • Amazon divides the fund amount by the total number of pages read and pays you your share.

For example, the fund total in a recent month was $16.3 million. The total number of pages read that month was around 3 billion.

$16.3 million / 3 billion pages = $0.0054 per page read

A couple of technical notes on this:

  1. Amazon doesn’t publicly release the “total pages read” number, but you can estimate it yourself using the information provided on your KDP royalty statement. Just look for any line where the Transaction Type is “Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP) Read.” Divide the Royalty value by the Net Units Sold or KENP Read value. This tells you how much you are being paid per page read. To estimate the total number of pages read across the program, divide the KDP Select Global Fund amount by this amount.
  2. A “page,” according to the KENP algorithm, seems to be somewhat shorter than a normal paperback page: my novel City of Sand is 255 pages long in paperback, using a 6 x 9 trim with standard margins and font size. But according to Amazon, it’s a whopping 402 pages using the KENP algorithm. So if someone downloads City of Sand and reads the book in its entirety, I would make about $2.17 per copy read (402 pages x $.0054). That’s nearly what I make on a sale (70% of $3.99 = $2.79).

In the early days of KOLL and Kindle Unlimited, some authors made a killing by manipulating loopholes in the program. When Amazon changed the rules to prevent this sort of manipulation, there was a lot of weeping and gnashing of teeth, most of it unjustified. That said, Amazon continues to tweak its algorithms and KOLL/KU have steadily become less lucrative for most authors. Two years ago, I was making almost as much on page reads as I was on sales. These days, KOLL/KU income makes up about a quarter of my income. This is due to a confluence of factors, including:

  • A decrease in the number of pages of my books being read (probably due to the increased competition as more books are added to KOLL/KU)
  • A slight decrease in the amount Amazon pays per page read (due to the KDP Global Fund not keeping pace with the total number of pages read)
  • A change in the KENP algorithm that reduced the number of pages in my books. For example, KENP 1.0 considered my novel City of Sand to be 455 pages; KENP 2.0 says the same book is now only 402 pages.

Gaining Access to Special Promotional Tools

KDP Select also allows you to access to advertising and promotion options you wouldn’t otherwise have. These include Kindle Countdown Deals and free book promotions. The advantage of both of these types of promotions is visibility.

  • Countdown Deals have a dedicated page on Amazon, and offering your book for free makes it possible to get into the top 100 free books in your category.
  • Out of the 90 days you commit to being exclusive with Amazon, you get up to five days where you can make your ebook available for free.

These are valuable promotional tools, but there is so much competition for low-priced and free ebooks right now that neither of these promotion types is likely to be the deciding factor in determining whether you go exclusive to Amazon. If you’re able to coordinate these promotions with other tactics (e.g. a BookBub listing or an effective Facebook ad campaign), you might be able to get enough visibility to move a significant number of books. But don’t expect a huge spike in sale just from a temporary price promotion.

The Value of Simplicity

One frequently overlooked advantage of selling ebooks exclusively through Amazon is simplicity: if you only sell in one venue, you only have one file format to deal with, and only one version of your book to maintain. If a reader points out that you’ve left the “l” out of the word “public” in chapter seventeen, you can fix the mistake in one place, upload the new version, and be done. If you want to lower the price of your book, you can do it in thirty seconds, without having to refer to a spreadsheet of passwords for five other ebook management interfaces. This may not sound like a big deal, but that time adds up—especially once you’ve got seven or eight books to manage.

There Isn’t One Right Answer for Everyone

Whether you enroll your books in KDP Select is going to depend on the above factors and also on whether you want to give Amazon that much control over your livelihood. Obviously Amazon controls the amount of money in the global fund for KOLL/KU page reads, as well as other advantages of KDP Select, and they can change the terms of the deal anytime they like. A self-published author has to keep a continual eye on whether the pros outweigh the cons. However, my suggestion for new authors would be to experiment with KDP Select for 90 days and see what kind of results you get.

This post, from an author who recently decided KDP Select is not for them, is worth reading. Randall’s experience is summarized in this paragraph:

My initial upward spike quickly turned into a long slide down. I’ll spare you the details and just say that by the time the ninety-day commitment was over I was pulling down the same numbers as I had been when I was wide. And that was with my first book Closure being offered FREE. (I’d been forced to put a price of $2.99 on it to justify going onto KU.)

Author Lindsay Buroker details her own experiences with KDP Select here, and gives a good breakdown of the advantages and disadvantages of exclusivity.

I know authors who do well selling exclusively through Amazon and authors who do well selling more widely. Bestselling indie author Hugh Howey enrolls all his books in KDP Select. Other authors, such as my friend Denise Grover Swank, prefer to diversify, making their ebooks available through Apple iBooks and other marketplaces. For me, it makes sense to enroll my books in KDP Select because a lot of my books are published by 47North, an Amazon imprint, so they are exclusive to Kindle anyway. Putting some of my books on other marketplaces wouldn’t make me enough money to make up for the lost KOLL/KU income, and it would probably frustrate people who can’t find the rest of my books. So for me, enrolling my books in KDP Select makes sense. Whether it does for you is going to depend on where you are in your career, where your audience is, what your goals are, and how you feel about being highly dependent on Amazon for your income. Again, it bears repeating: Even if your experimentation indicates that KDP Select is a good deal now, don’t assume it will always be.


Note from Jane: If you found this post useful, I highly recommend taking a look at the upcoming book from Rob on how to self-publish.

Posted in E-Books, Marketing & Promotion and tagged , , , , , , , .

Rob Kroese

Robert Kroese's sense of irony was honed growing up in Grand Rapids, Michigan—home of the Amway Corporation and the Gerald R. Ford Museum, and the first city in the United States to fluoridate its water supply. In second grade, he wrote his first novel, the saga of Captain Bill and his spaceship Thee Eagle. This turned out to be the high point of his academic career. After barely graduating from Calvin College in 1992 with a philosophy degree, he was fired from a variety of jobs before moving to California, where he stumbled into software development. As this job required neither punctuality nor a sense of direction, he excelled at it. In 2009, he called upon his extensive knowledge of useless information and love of explosions to write his first novel, Mercury Falls. Since then, he has four more books in the Mercury series; a humorous epic fantasy trilogy (the Dis trilogy), a space opera farce (Starship Grifters) and a quantum physics noir thriller, Schrodinger's Gat. His latest book is The Big Sheep.

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22 Comments on "Is Amazon Exclusivity Right for You?"

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Harald Johnson

Good post, Rob. I’m also in KU/KOLL for my growing novella series and am not regretting it so far. One added point to mention: a KENP read counts as a Sale in the Amazon ecosystem. This bumps your ranking, which increases discoverability, etc., etc.

Doris

“Enrolling your ebook in KDP Select is the only way to make it available in both the Kindle Online Lending Library (KOLL) and Kindle Unlimited.”
NOT EXACT:
I just uploaded an ebook, and did NOT choose KDP Select, but got a message from Amazon that ebooks are automatically enrolled into KOLL in these countries: USA, UK, Germany, France and Japan.

Jane Friedman
That’s interesting, Doris. I’m not exclusive to Amazon either, but as far as I know, my book is not available via KOLL, nor do I receive page read payments for KOLL. Amazon’s FAQ states, “If you make your book exclusive to the Kindle Store, which is a requirement during your book’s enrollment in KDP Select, the book will also be included in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). You can earn a share of the KDP Select Global Fund based on how many pages KU or KOLL customers read of your book (learn how payments are… Read more »
Carmen Webster Buxton

I always launch new books in KPD Select to take advantage of the ability of make the book free a certain number of days. Now you also get countdown deals, KU, and KOLL. However once the cash flow slows on those platforms, I don’t renew KDP Select. A lot of authors think it’s forever but it’s not; you only have to enroll for a 90-day commitment.

Jasmine Kelley

Thanks, Rob!

The ability to make books available for free is huge, I think. There are a number of sites that allow you to promote your book for free while it’s available for free download. You lose out on that publicity if you aren’t Amazon exclusive.

As for the downsides, does it worry you that Amazon has such a huge share of the self-publishing market? I worry that fewer options will lead to Amazon taking advantage of authors who sell through them.

Jane Friedman

An interesting side note or development: The ebook distributor Pronoun (http://pronoun.com) just announced today that you can make your ebook available for free on Amazon at any time – without being exclusive – if you use their services.

Anthony Pero
Been looking into that. The gotcha is if you want to do what Carmen Webster Buxton suggested upthread, and start a new book in KDP Select. Since Unlimited reads count as sales in Amazon’s charting algorithms, its a smart way to debut a novel. The problem is if you then switch to Pronoun, in order to take advantage of 70% on under $2.99 sales, and listing as free… you lose your sales rank on the book. I’ve had that confirmed by several authors who have pulled their book out of Select to republish on Pronoun. Reviews transfer, but you have… Read more »
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Frances Caballo
I always enjoy these posts on whether exclusivity via KDP Select is worthwhile. Some authors says that once you write three books, you should go wide with distribution. I see an advantage to starting with KDP Select for the first three months only, doing a promotion, and then going wide. However, the bulk of my sales are through Amazon, not other outlets. I would enjoy reading a post here on how to succeed on other online venues. As an aside, I find it interesting that Hugh Howey is exclusive to Amazon. He’s such a success and he seems willing to… Read more »
Jane Friedman

Thanks, Frances – appreciate your insight and I’ll see what I can do about getting some insights on sales through other venues.

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[…] There are advantages to selling ebooks only through Amazon, and makes most sense for authors who are just starting out or who are relatively unknown.  […]

Rosalind James
This is such a good explanation. It tallies with my own experience–especially the “Simplicity” part, which I’ve never seen laid out this well. That’s a big reason for my own decision. I did try wide distribution for six months, and boy, was it complicated and stressful! (To me.) I also made a lot less money. That was stressful too! I’m not a big name, I don’t write to market, and I don’t write fast, but I made six figures my first year in publishing with my first fiction in Select, and mid-six figures every year since. No “right” answers as… Read more »
Anne Hagan
I’ve started taking a hybrid approach by putting new books into Select for 3 months to take advantage of Kindle Unlimited and then, when that term expires, taking them wide to other sites. Long term, I’ve left a boxed set of 8 books in Select that isn’t available elsewhere. As I complete new series entries in two of my series, I’ll do them for 90 days as well, move the individual books to a wide position and offer boxed sets through KU. I’ll always have single books in KU and multi-book boxed sets but I’ll also be able to touch… Read more »
Jane Friedman

Great point, Anne – thank you for sharing your strategy.

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[…] https://janefriedman.com/amazon-exclusivity-right/ Is going KU/KOLL the best way? Or should you diversify? […]

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