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An Author Speaks Out on KDP Select

I’ve been watching the fallout ever since Amazon announced the KDP Select program yesterday morning, and the response has not been what I expected.

Sidenote: It’s only been 36 hours since KDP Select launched, and it’s already up to 37 thousand titles. About 1300 are priced over $10, and about 600 are free to buy. That suggests that most of these ebooks are from KDP authors who were already participating in the 70% royalty option. That’s a telling detail.

I don’t like the program because I don’t think it’s a good idea to give that much control to a single retailer. I also think authors should have their ebooks available in as many places as they can manage. This gives potential customers the option of buying your ebook in their preferred store.

But I will admit that I don’t know everything about ebooks, so I’ve been reading what authors say about KDP Select. In at least some cases, it might be in the author’s best interest to join the program.

Jeff Bennington offers the best argument in favor of joining. If you go check out his blog, you’ll find that he did the math. He signed up with KDP Select because the Kindle Store accounted for 97% of his ebook sales. Out of nearly 6 thousand copies sold (since he started in March), over 5800 were sold in the Kindle Store. Giving up on the other markets isn’t going to cost him anything.

I suspect that’s going to be true for a lot of authors who join, which makes perfect sense. The whole point of self-publishing is to retain control so the author can get the greatest benefit. Self-pub is a business, so this should be treated as a business decision (ignore all the naysayers). If the best deal can be had by giving Amazon an exclusive, then do it.

But first authors need to ask themselves a question: What are the chances that KDP Select will pay me more than I earn elsewhere?

On the other hand, I don’t expect the earnings from KDP Select to amount to too much for any single author. For the sake of simplifying the math, let’s say that the total number of books hits 50 thousand, and that they are all checked out equally. That probably won’t happen, but if it does then the mean earnings per title would be $10 a month.

If you already get more than $10 from outside of Amazon then KDP Select is probably not the best choice.

To be honest, I’m not certain whether KDP Select is the best option in Jeff’s case. He’s selling his ebooks for between $1 and $3, and while I don’t know how much he’s earned elsewhere, it seems likely that he might be earning less than the nominal $10 a month I mentioned above. But it does appear that Jeff is an excellent edge case for testing the value of KDP Select.

In any case, most everyone who condemned KDP Select yesterday (including me) really should have waited for authors to weigh in. We' also should have waited 3 or 4 months to see what income it can generate for the average author. That’s the true deciding factor for whether anyone should sign up.

I’d like to hear more about what authors think of this program. Little that is said by non-authors matter in this case; it’s your situation that is important. Are you signing  up? Why? I’d like to know.

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Richard Adin December 10, 2011 um 6:32 am

Nate, while I think the authors' opinions are important, you have to be careful about how much weight you give them. Some author opinions are very valuable, others have little to no value at all, when it comes to economics and exclusivity.

Consider how many authors, for example, do not hire professional cover designers and editors, claiming the skills to do it all perfectly well themselves. We know what disaster that has been for the most part. If they do not think professional designers and editors provide value, how likely is it that they will really know how to evaluate the benefits or detriments of exclusivity for their book.

You mention Bennington’s decision because 97% of his books have sold via Amazon. One needs to back up a bit from giving that fact too much credence. For example, that number represents past sales not future sales. More important than past sales is the sales trend: has growth on Amazon plateaued while sales at B&N are growing at a 30% rate? What has the author done/not done to promote his book at the Sony store? Have all his promotion efforts been geared to Amazon? What other stores are the book available in?

Ultimately, the exclusivity arrangement will hurt lesser known authors for several reasons: (1) once on the exclusivity bandwagon, it will be difficult to get off (not only must one take affirmative steps to get off, but one has to overcome the fear factor of doing so). (2) Amazon dominates the U.S. market but does it dominate elsewhere? (As I understand it, and I may be wrong, the exclusivity is worldwide, not just in the U.S. even if KDP is not available outside the U.S.) (3) Authors face the same problem in KDP that they face outside KDP — who knows of them or about their book? If KDP already has 50,000 participating titles, what are the odds of someone picking your book over another book? . . . The list goes on.

More importantly, is the deal offered Bennington the same deal Amazon is offering, say, Konrath and the Agency 6? Rumor has it that the Agency 6 would be paid a set amount per book, not a percentage of the pot. Why treat authors and publishers differently based on size or product if the deal is such a sweetheart deal?

Here’s one more question that has yet to be mentioned but is important: What KDP participants earn is based on the percentage their sales represent of all sales (unlike the Agency 6 who get paid a set amount each time a book is "borrowed"). Who has the right and is going to audit the program to verify that the numbers are correct? As far as I can tell, authors are not given the right to audit the entire program, which seems to me to be fundamental to determining whether exclusivity with Amazon is the right move for your book.

Some things to ponder.

Alan Cramer December 10, 2011 um 11:42 am

I have four pen names and eleven ebooks selling on various websites. A year ago amazon generated 99% of my sales. Today it’s about 80%. My best selling book still brings in about 60% and most of those sales are on amazon. But all my other books seem to be selling better on B&N’s nook format.

This makes KDP Select’s exclusivity requirement not good for me. Because when my best seller dries up, B&N will produce most of my sales. And this brings up another point. Most of my readers are African American women. And for some reason in the NYC area they own a disproportionately high number of B&N NOOK readers.

Originally this was probably based on price, but now it’s girls getting, what their girlfriends have.

Amazon may be trying to lock down the market, but they are also locking out customers, customers who will still probably buy books. This may be an opportunity for authors who don’t sign up for KDP Select, especially with certain demographics

Nate Hoffelder December 11, 2011 um 12:20 am

Excellent example. That kind of organic growth can’t happen if you restrict a title to just the one ebookstore. Thanks, Alex.

Alan Cramer January 14, 2012 um 3:35 am

I have a caveat now. Amazon announced that they would pay 1.70 for each download in December. I included some books in the program. They only sell for $0.99 but I will get $1.70 for each borrow as apposed to $0.35 cents royalty on a sale.

I didn’t get many borrows, but the books I included weren’t selling at all.

Nichole December 11, 2011 um 6:55 pm


Your math is incomplete! In your scenario, you noted $10 a title, but you have to multiply that by the number of borrows you have! So it’s not per title, but the number of borrows. So if you have 10 borrows that would be $100.00 in the scenario you gave.


Nate Hoffelder December 11, 2011 um 8:02 pm

Actually, I assumed that they would be borrowed an equal number of times. And since there are 50k ebooks in this scenario and each title would get an equal share of the $500k, the average per title would be $10.

Stephen Graff December 15, 2011 um 12:40 pm

Could someone explain the difference between "units sold" and "units borrowed?" I was under the assumption–much to my chagrin having learned of it after signing up–that sales don’t really count. If so, it makes the program a poor decision for any author who’s been selling a book at a bargain price. As many have said on a number of forums discussing KDP Select: who’s going to borrow a book at the current allowed rate that sells for under $2.00 when you can get a $10.00 book for free?

Camille December 19, 2011 um 1:29 am

Actually, I’d like to weigh in to say that waiting for a while to see how it pans out for those who enroll now wouldn’t really give a true representation. While there are fewer enrollees, the program would obviously seem extremely lucrative.

For now, as you have noted, the pool is shared among 37 thousand titles. Unless that represents the majority of authors who would conceivably enroll, that number is likely to grow exponentially. That would diminish each share of the pool considerably.

Frankly, I am more concerned with Amazon attempting to edge out all the other eBook publishers. That’s unfair competition at its finest.

Attila Lukacs January 9, 2012 um 2:56 am

My Book "SLOW BUT GROWING – THE HUNGARIAN EBOOK MARKET" "[Kindle Edition] is also a KDP Select title now!

Attila Lukacs

Mishu Joseph January 13, 2012 um 10:14 am

It is unreasonable to think for 50K downloads, since there are more than 2 million Kindle users, i believe the downloads to be atleast 1million which brings the avg price per borrowed book to 50 cents only.
I dont think its a good deal to sign up for KDP select it helps amazon to increase their customer base, but not for self publishers.
I have self published a book in amazon " Stimulate Job Growth during Times of Recession" I don’t want to waste my research for free, anything given for free will not be taken seriously by readers too.

David Crookes February 3, 2012 um 7:57 pm

I put my latest novel, The Bookkeeper’s Daughter, on KDP Select just to test the water.
Result after two months: no books borrowed but good sales.
Since my total sales of all my titles sales at Nook are almost as good as at KDP I see no advantage at all in using KDP Select.

Jason Matthews February 15, 2012 um 1:31 pm

I’ve also opted out of KDP Select. The reason is because one of my books teaches how to sell ebooks from every location possible including our own websites, so participating in Select would be contradictory to what I preach. Part of me wants to because I also sell 90% from Amazon.
These past 2 months I’ve watched many of my author friends and students have high hopes and exuberance after receiving hundreds to thousands of downloads during their free promotion days with Select. Not sure how many of their books are actually being read though, since I imagine many of these Prime Kindle owners are stockpiling dozens upon dozens of freebies on their devices.
Time will tell, but I must admit to feeling skepticism if this is really a good thing for authors in the long run. It reeks of diluting the field with even loads more of free books out there that aren’t necessarily being read.

Mia April 1, 2012 um 9:40 pm

Since I’m so new to the game of ePub’ing I’ve gotta experiment, right?

I looked around at comments, reviews, poo-poo’s then calculated my own mental lists of pros & cons and the worst I "agreed to" is 90 days of exclusivity from a reputable highly successful, renowned seller of all goods under the sun.

They’re not just taking something from writers, their giving a piece of the pie ~ their earmarked special fruit pie. On top of my individual sales, that’s more cherries than I started out with by having books accumulate in my computer and not go anywhere without any cherries at all. I’ll take the special fruit. ; )

Thanks for the topic!
~ Mia

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