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JA Konrath Decamps From Kindle Unlimited

4831358924_67c5f92a3c_m[1]Noted author and firebrand JA Konrath was one of the first indie authors recruited by Amazon to join KDP Select when it launched with Kindle Owner’s Lending Library in late 2011 and now he’s the latest high profile indie author to make an exit.

Konrath revealed on his blog today that he’s in the process of pulling his titles from KDP Select, which supplies indie ebooks to both Kindle Unlimited and KOLL. He made the decision a few weeks ago, and the ebooks will be out of KDP Select by the end of January.

When one commenter assumed that Konrath knew all along that subscription services devalued books and asked why leave the party now, Konrath explained:

I still don’t know that. Some authors' sales have dropped. Others have risen. I need more data, so I opted out several weeks ago. But the period is three months, so they’re still enrolled until January.

Here’s what you missed; a KDP author CAN opt out. It’s our choice.

McM doesn’t seem to be offering a choice. That’s bad. Really bad.

The reason most writers sign legacy deals, other than getting an advance, is legacy’s ability to get paper books onto retail shelves.

This sounds as if McM is foresaking paper–the one part of the industry they controlled–and short-selling their authors.

If I was a McM author, I’d be worried, pissed off, and wondering why the hell my publisher did a complete about-face from the stance that made them collude and price-fix.

392132869_5c721bb262_b[1]Konrath is at least the second prominent indie author to announce his exit from KDP Select in the past month. He follows HM Ward and other authors in abandoning an idea which had seemed so promising 3 years ago.

As you may recall, for the past several weeks indie authors have been debating whether Amazon’s indie focused subscription ebook services offered enough value to indie authors. While the more limited Kindle Owner’s Lending Library had proven over the course of a couple years to be a net positive, in the 5 months since it launched the all-you-can-read Kindle Unlimited has not.

HM Ward sparked the debate earlier this month with her dramatic announcement that she was pulling all of her titles out of KDP Select in response to a shocking decrease in revenue. In the days that followed, numerous authors agreed with her, revealing that they too had seen dips in revenue following the launch of Kindle Unlimited.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnd now Konrath is joining the exodus. He hasn’t shared details on how KU impacted his sales, but Joe is not one to make a business decision without first crunching the numbers. And if he is departing for greener pastures, indie authors who are still in KDP Select need to seriously consider whether they should stay.

So long as KDP Select is a net positive, I think they should stay in. What’s more, if the number of prominent indies pulling out of KDP Select increases, the situation for the less successful authors might improve.

At this point it is really too early too say.

What do you think is going to happen next?

image by Krysten_NAbode of Chaosjorgempf

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John December 21, 2014 um 10:31 pm

Joe, Hugh, and HM Ward and others may be out, but on the bright side if your reading habits begins and ends with curvy heroines who are highly sought after by supernatural creatures that also happen to be alpha billionaires, then welcome to KU! I swear there is one person writing these books under 50 different names given the identical "plot" of these books.

Nate Hoffelder December 21, 2014 um 10:36 pm

Is Hugh Howey out?

i missed that.

Felipe Adan Lerma December 21, 2014 um 11:28 pm

Hugh said something along the lines that possibly better selling authors might not benefit as much as less well authors in KU. It was tucked inside one of his author earnings reports, but don’t remember which one. I’m on my phone & away from my laptop.

Felipe Adan Lerma December 21, 2014 um 11:29 pm

less well known, geez, sorry, my clumsy

Ron H. December 23, 2014 um 7:51 pm

In many cases, the 'less well known' can also be less well. B^)

Deborah Smith December 22, 2014 um 12:28 am

Every author who isn’t selling well on KDP bashes romance authors.

Deborah Smith December 22, 2014 um 12:30 am

I like how Konrath, even in his wounded state, tries to blame something one one of the traditional publishers. ROFL.

William D. O’Neil December 22, 2014 um 12:58 am

To a large extent I expect Amazon to get what they pay for. Right now they seem to have concluded that it doesn’t make sense for them to pay authors more than $1.35 per giveaway of their books. Since they’re only charging $10/month for the service I’m actually a bit surprised it’s that much.

There are at least three considerations. The first is immediate revenues to the author. It’s easy to calculate the tradeoff between revenue sales and KOLL/KU giveaways, but it’s not necessary to do the actual math to see that the higher the revenue per sale the more sensitive the author’s income is to even a little cannibalism by the giveaways. The author who only charges $2.99 is in a very different situation from he who charges $8.99. But as Amazon knows best of all, for many titles $8.99 is much closer to optimal pricing than $2.99.

Next comes the value of KDP Select promotions. There certainly is a short-term boost for most books from a well-planned countdown sale. Many titles don’t seem to see much if any long-term effect, however.

Finally, there is a more elusive reputational effect. There’s a lot of marketing research showing that giving products away or selling them very cheaply affects customer assessments of their worth. If very many of the higher-value authors follow Konrath and Ward to the exit it could become suicidal to remain in what would increasingly be perceived as a program for junk books.

I expect that Amazon will try to find gimmicks to prop the program up without spending much additional money. For instance, they could slip financial incentives under the table to selected high-profile authors. It might cost them several hundred thousand dollars, but at that it would be a lot cheaper than raising KDP Select reimbursement rates for the hoi polloi.

I think it’s guaranteed that in the long run KU subscriptions are not going to appeal to to those whose reading tastes are very specific or selective. It will be something for people in search of anything to fill long idle hours until they die. Deciding what your target market is will be a major factor in rational author choice to participate or not.

There are some interesting strategic issues. First, while abandoning Select’s promotional features costs the author something, it costs Amazon too. The countdown sales aren’t gifts from The Zon; Amazon shares in the profits too. So do they want to punish people for leaving Select badly enough to take the hit themselves?

Then there’s the discovery issue that Amazon used to sell authors on the idea in the first place. Authors must decide whether it’s powerful enough to make it worthwhile to keep a teaser book or two in Select. It’s not too hard to make a reasoned choice if you understand your market.

I got out before it became popular; it was clear that KU is not in my interest. Others may quite logically reach the opposite tack.

The interesting question is what Amazon will do. The Zon makes no errors; the dead bodies are bulldozed under and the army marches on. We’re all interested spectators, like the gawkers at Borodino.

Mackay Bell December 22, 2014 um 2:27 pm

A couple thoughts, as someone with no experience, but who plans to put my just finished novel into KDP select, in part because I want to be in KU. I’m hoping it will help discovery.

First, it seems like it shouldn’t be an all or nothing issue. I would guess that for an author with a number of books, having one or two in KU has got to be of some help in gaining new readers. The better known the author is, the less value KU will have to them, but still, having the first in a series or an older work in KU would seem to make sense. Certainly it should be nice for very short works.

Second, I HATE the idea of writers dividing a pool of money, and hope Amazon changes that at some point to a fixed amount so authors can make better decisions about it’s value. That said, the split pool might work nicely for Amazon because it kind of creates a Thunderdome type situation where writers fight it out to see who can get KU readers. Those writers who get too bloody can opt out, leaving more for those willing to fight in the gutter. The less fighters left, the more money, which lures new writers… repeat.

If that is the zero sum game model Amazon continues to pursue, it could have some interesting effects over time. Specifically, the "hoi poloi," so to speak, might actually do better than established authors, they might be more willing to fight it out, and ultimately be more valuable to Amazon.

Because, people don’t get paid just for putting their books there, they get paid when readers read 10%. Writers who can crank out material quickly, that has a popular edge and is short and sweet and gets readers past 10% might have a better business model in KU than through sales. Maybe short pulpy series stuff. Maybe a ton of Zombie stuff, who knows? I’m not sure all (or even most) KU subscribers will be looking for classics and upscale books. It might particularly be popular to readers of trashy erotic stuff.

It’s an interesting experiment, and I can’t see how Amazon can be faulted for trying it. By the same token, Konrath is smart to experiment pulling his stuff in an out to see what happens and he’s doubly correct for criticizing the big publishers if they don’t allow writers to make their own choices about whether to be signed into subscription services or not.

Daniel Vian December 22, 2014 um 3:53 pm

The idea that if a book is in a lending library it demeans the book and the author is nonsense. Before the 2nd World War, all bestellers were in local pay lending libraries, usually lent out by greeting card stores at 10 cents a day. Authors built huge followings for ordinary sales based on new readers of lending library books. That’s the history. The problem with most analyses of KU is that pundits assume KU readers are readers who would buy the books if they were not available to lend. There is no explicit evidence for that assumption. Some people borrow certain kinds of books in high volume, books they would never buy. And some people buy books that are never available for borrowing or ever available as used books until years pass. There are different audiences. If Joe Konrath is not getting enough borrows to satisfy him, it’s because he does not write the books that borrowers want to read. That’s clear. What’s not clear, far from clear, is that if his books were not available to borrow, these borrowers would buy his books. We don’t know. Maybe it was true a few years ago but not now. Who has done a controlled experiment with borrowers and buyers and control groups? Anyone? Meanwhile the pundits keep guessing. Good luck.

William D. O’Neil December 22, 2014 um 5:23 pm

Many things have changed since the time of our grandparents, and KU is not all that like a lending library. I find contemporary reactions to be a better guide than those drawn from several generations ago.

Daniel Vian December 22, 2014 um 5:40 pm

Whose "contemporary reactions", please? There were over 4 million ebooks borrowed in KU last month. How many borrowers? No one kows. Maybe a million. Maybe less. Are these borrowers "contemporary" or what are they? Ghosts? UK and DE KU have this week suddenly jumped sky high. Does anyone know why? Really, too little is known to draw any conclusions–and yet some people still draw conclusions. Good luck.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) December 22, 2014 um 8:02 pm

I wonder if it might have to do with Amazon just not pushing indie authors hardly at all anymore, including Konrath and other names. Perhaps Amazon thought having the books in the lending programs was promo enough. Perhaps they are suddenly more interested in pushing books that are paying for advertising. In other words, maybe it’s not being in select, maybe it’s just that Amazon has changed ad tactics and indie authors aren’t a big part of a new campaign? "Placement" and paid ads have been taking up more and more of Amazon’s pages over the last few years, even leading to other sites.

I can’t say one way or the other because I only played briefly with exclusivity on one book and a few short stories. By the time KU rolled around I wasn’t all that interested in yet another "exclusive" program. A lending library is mostly a great thing for more expensive books.

It could also be that book sales are down for individuals because there are a lot more books available now in ebook then there were 5 years ago.

Darryl December 22, 2014 um 11:20 pm

Has Joe removed this post?
The last post I get on his blog is his fisking of Sargent on 19 December.

Nate Hoffelder December 22, 2014 um 11:27 pm

This was in the comment section of that post. But I see that I linked to the post and not his comment.

I fixed that, and this is what I quoted:

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