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How Much Do Average Indie Authors Know about Their Pricing Options?

I was reading a post on Forbes today about KDP Select. The author, one David Vinjamuri, had just released his first novel and he was extolling the virtues of Amazon and the KDP Select program.

Just to refresh your memory, KDP Select is a program where authors grant Amazon an exclisuve on a given ebook title in exchange for fees generated by the title being lent in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library. Amazon also throws in the option of 5 single days where you can give away the ebook for free. It’s this last feature that has captured David’s attention.

In the rest of book-land, however,  Amazon is using “free” in a novel way – to level the playing field between large publishers and self-published authors.   The open question is whether this is just to improve Amazon’s store of proprietary content or if it’s a radical play to totally disintermediate publishing.

Now, the post was about as ignorant of the ebook market as I have come to expect of Forbes; the author didn’t mention any other ways he could give away his ebook and in fact framed his post with the assumption that Amazon was special because they let authors give away their ebooks.

Either way, Amazon has built an economic and promotional model for self-publishing that is too compelling for any author not signed with a six-figure advance by a big publisher to ignore.  Remember that Kindle books are not just read on Kindles but on any device with the Kindle app – including iPads, iPhones and Android phones.

As you might know, there are other options for giving away free ebooks. Smashwords, for example, lets authors set the price at zero. I knew that, and so I was planning to criticize the Forbes article for basic ignorance of the ebook market. But then I got to wondering if this author was really all that ignorant.

I can recall past reports from Mark Coker and others about situations where authors lacked basic information. There’s the Lendink debacle, as you well know, but according to Mark Coker he has encountered many other situations where authors lacked basic knowledge:

Over the last four years, here at Smashwords we’ve faced probably hundreds if not thousands of mini-panics, many of which might have developed into raving angry mobs as developed around this one had we not taken steps to diffuse them. For example, dozens of times we’ve had authors claim illegal copies of their books were being distributed by our retail partners, simply because the author didn’t realize we were a distributor.

And so I started wondering whether David Vinjamuri was more or less knowledgeable than the average author. He just published his first indie book, so arguably he’s really just starting out. Do you think a more experienced author would know more?

The thing is, I knew better. And while I would expect someone writing for Forbes to also know better, there’s a chance that he represents the average author. But then again  I am also an information junkie that learns about stuff just for the sake of learning it. Most authors don’t have the time or the obsession I am blessed with. (And to be honest, even I don’t know everything.  Much of what I know is who to ask and how to find information.) And rather than assume I know better than everyone, I decided to leave this question open.

What do you think?

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david vinjamuri September 4, 2012 um 8:49 pm

Hi Nate,

Thanks so much for engaging with my Forbes post. You are absolutely right, there are many ways to give away a book for free – even with DRM. I did consider Smashwords but I chose KDP Select because of the lending option. My perspective is that for indie authors Amazon is the make-or-break but I’m happy to engage.

I think I provided a more nuanced evaluation of the overall indie market in my longer (4,500 word) article on the state of publishing …

Anyway I don’t take any offense from all of this – I’m actually going to cover some of the comment wars/sockpuppet issues next, so feel free to reach out and inform me.

By the way, I’m not a first-time author. I published Accidental Branding: How Ordinary People Build Extraordinary Brands with Wiley in 2008.

carmen webster buxton September 4, 2012 um 9:30 pm

I consider KDP Select is worth it for a limited time. The thing is, their numbers are so much bigger, even on a giveaway, that it’s hard to ignore Amazon. And making the book free can be a great way to get your book in lots of people’s buying histories, and (hopefully) get more reviews.

I have 5 ebooks out; for the first 3 KDP Select did not exist when I launched them, and once books are on Smashwords' retail platforms, bringing them down can take a lot of time and hassle, so I never even tried KDP Select with them. For my two latest books (a fantasy novella and a sci-fi novel) I launched in KDP Select and made them free for 5 days out of the 90 they had to be exclusive. Interestingly, the fantasy novella went like hotcakes when it was free but has not sold that well since, in spite of having more reviews than the sci-fi novel, which is now selling much better than the novella.

About two months ago, I made my first novel free on Smashwords and this (eventually) made it free on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and Diesel. Because of that, Amazon price-matched it, and it’s been free on the Kindle for weeks. The sequel has been selling much better than it ever had in consequence.

Smashwords can’t match Amazon for direct sales but it does have a lot of outlets, and put together they come close to matching Amazon.

There are millions of Kindle customers, but the thing with the Kindle Owners Lending Library is it’s only people who own a real Kindle (or a Fire) and who have Prime. That’s a much smaller set of people. My novels are genre and even when they were in Kindle Select, their KOLL numbers were very small, but my nephew has a mainstream book in Kindle Select, and he did really well out of KOLL borrowing fees, some week almost more than he made in sales. If you put a book in KDP and it continues to do well in KOLL (and with Amazon, you will know right away when someone buys or borrows it), it would be worth it to leave the book there.

I like to say that KDP Select is a great place to start but I would not stop there. 🙂

Moriah Jovan September 4, 2012 um 10:38 pm

As you might know, there are other options for giving away free ebooks.

Yes, there are, but none are as effective for getting your book in front of eyeballs. For instance, I gave away my books a couple of years ago on my own blog. That got traffic, but offering it for free on KDP got it on LISTS, which are aggregated by many third-party websites.

Basically, I got far more eyeballs than I would’ve gotten just by offering it free on my website and/or Smashwords. NO ONE has more eyeballs than Amazon. NO ONE. My time in the KDP program has paid for itself in spades.

Lists and eyeballs are the value KDP offers. What I glean from my clients is that that’s what they know (sometimes ALL they know), and that’s exactly what they’re after. They’re not wrong.

Mike Cane September 5, 2012 um 6:59 am

Yes, there are tons of sites and Twitter accounts that tell people about free Kindle books. And ONLY KINDLE BOOKS. All the others are just blips that most people ignore.

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2012 um 7:49 am

But is it on those lists because you used KDP Select or because it is free in the Kindle Store? I’m not sure I made my point adequately, but you can do the latter without the former. I can recall getting free ebooks via ereaderIQ (the best of the list sites) long before KDP Select launched.

Yes, Amazon does make it incredibly easy to get pricing info out of their system (that’s how the lists are generated), but that has to do with Amazon’s general philosophy, not KDP Select.

david vinjamuri September 5, 2012 um 11:18 am

by the way, the reason I didn’t get into options for authors other than Amazon KDP Select was because the point of the article was to discuss whether Amazon is taking steps to influence bestseller lists in a way to help Indie authors. There is some debate about whether any influence is applying to the paid bestsellers list, but it’s certain that the free period affects the popular books list and that free books stay on the paid bestsellers list for more than a day after they come off of promotion and cost money.

Moriah Jovan September 5, 2012 um 12:49 pm

but you can do the latter without the former

No. You can ATTEMPT to fool Amazon into making your book free, which may or may not work (hasn’t for me yet), but you cannot CHOOSE to make it free on Amazon without KDP Select.

If it’s free without author intervention, it’s Amazon’s decision and, quite frankly, the luck of the draw. You, Mr. Purchaser Person, will probably never know (or care) how it came to be free.

Len Feldman September 5, 2012 um 11:40 am

Nate, this isn’t a dig a David Vinjamuri, but Forbes doesn’t exercise editorial control over its bloggers–it’s something of a "free-for-all" where bloggers can post on the Forbes site and are compensated according to the traffic that their posts generate. The site is run by Lewis D’Vorkin, who told PBS MediaShift that "Forbes has nearly 1,000 'topic experts' contributing from various areas of expertise." Here’s an article that explains how they operate in more detail: .

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2012 um 12:42 pm

That may be why and how Forbes is being sloppy with their online presence but it doesn’t change the fact that they _are_ being sloppy with their online presence.

Forbes used to be a highly respected business magazine, but each time they post an article like the one linked to above they hurt their reputation. In focusing on KDP Select while not mentioning any alternatives, David’s article fails to convey the proper context for the ebook market. I find this deeply annoying.

Len Feldman September 5, 2012 um 1:48 pm

I don’t recall whether it was in D’Vorkin’s interview with MediaShift or another article, but he said that they don’t do any fact-checking of posts by their contributing bloggers–they let commenters do the checking. I read that to mean that they’re also not doing any editorial review of posts before they go live on the site. I agree completely with you that it’s sloppy–it’s also lazy, cheap, etc. It shouldn’t have to be up to the reader to determine whether an article was written by an in-house reporter, and thus went through the normal editorial review and fact-checking process, or was written by an outside blogger and was posted with no review whatsoever. As you pointed out, Forbes' name is on both types of posts, and readers have the right to assume that an editor reviewed and approved them.

david vinjamuri September 5, 2012 um 2:22 pm


I am not going to comment on whether Forbes model is good or bad – I have my own thoughts about this but I’m a contributor so I’ll hold them.

I will say that in an era where even the New York Times and Wall Street Journal host blogs which are not fact-checked in the same manner as the regular news it is a bit unfair to call the practice "sloppy".

I don’t disagree with you that Forbes should segment online writing more carefully between "opinion" and "reporting" and that staff writers writing on assignment should be put in a different category.

The underlying assumption here is that the people writing are also unqualified and that’s not fair either. All of us were vetted based on our industry credentials (mine as a brand marketer) and previously published writing. I was published in Advertising Age and Brandweek (as well as having my own blog for six years) and have been quoted in The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, etc.

I see that you guys have a particular issue with the treatment of Amazon versus Smashwords and other self-publishing options but I think that the subject of the article (from the title down) renders that somewhat irrelevant.


david vinjamuri September 5, 2012 um 2:16 pm

Hi Nate,

Again, the article asked the question of whether Amazon was influencing its own bestseller lists to favor self-published authors enrolled in the KDP select program. In this context I don’t understand how an exploration of the publishing alternatives to KDP select was relevant. The article was not about self-publishing or even free promotions, it was about the question of whether bestseller lists were being influenced.

Nate Hoffelder September 5, 2012 um 2:32 pm

Your article implies that Amazon is alone in offering free ebooks. That is not the case.

But I’ll grant you that somewhere in their algorithm they could be tying ebooks offered free via KDP Select into their bestseller lists. That would make sense as a way of encouraging more authors to sign up for KDP Select. It’s also true that Amazon can generate a large number of downloads for free ebooks, but that predated KDP Select and is due to how Amazon’s wbesite in general is set up.

david vinjamuri September 5, 2012 um 2:47 pm


I don’t imply that Amazon is alone in offering free ebooks. I say that they are using "free" in a novel way – to influence bestseller lists. That is very different from what Smashwords or other are doing, isn’t it? I understand how you could have misread this but please read it again. It really does not say or imply what you are stating. And it’s not lazy.


RachelintheOC September 12, 2012 um 5:33 pm

'But I’ll grant you that somewhere in their algorithm they could be tying ebooks offered free via KDP Select into their bestseller lists.'

I shared my KDP Select experience on both my blog and personally with David via phone (in fact, he quotes me in his Forbes article). There’s NO QUESTION Amazon includes downloads in their bestseller lists. It’s no secret that the best reason to go free is to increase visibility and gain traction on lists.

Why authors like myself love the program is that when we come off free, we’re far lower on the lists (which in this case is a good thing) due to that increased exposure. My first book was available on Smashwords, B&N, iBooks, & Amazon. When it came time to look at KDP Select, the choice was easy: 93% of my profit came from Amazon. Why wouldn’t I do it? I also enrolled my second book and ended up in the top PAID 100 after my free days.

Because I could weigh my options based on empirical data, the decision was easy. For others, maybe not so much.

I don’t agree that David is in any way ignorant of the options out there and given that he teaches social media, is both a traditionally and self-pub’d author, and has a company that helps with branding, I must disagree with you here. Your statement of his 'ignorance or newbie-ness' is off the mark.

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