Friday, January 27, 2012

Is Amazon Select Really The Big, Bad Wolf?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

I woke up Wednesday morning to a barrage of emails. It appeared an independent author’s sample anthology, to which I belong, was being taken down. The reason was that it violated the terms of Amazon’s new Select program (several of the authors are enrolled in it). The anthology offers excerpts from our books, and according to the exclusivity agreement, enrolled work cannot be distributed digitally elsewhere. This includes excerpts shown on websites (that's right folks, if you're a Select author and running excerpts from your book on a website or anywhere else, you may want to take them down).

Word of this sent the emails a flyin’.

Very quickly, the discussion turned hostile with lots of anger aimed at Amazon and its Select program, as well as the authors enrolled in it. Some complained that they were being punished because of the actions of a few. Others insinuated that Amazon is underhanded, manipulative, and self-serving. One person even went as far as calling them an “evil empire.” There was even talk of staging an indie author boycott of Amazon. For my part, I chose to stay out of it. I didn’t agree with much of what was being said and felt the facts were being skewed.

Now I realize I'm going to take some flack for this, but I'm having a hard time understanding all the anger directed at Amazon. I mean, let's face it--we wouldn’t even be here having this discussion if it weren’t for them. There would be no indie movement, no platform to showcase our work, no audience to read our books. Many of us would still be on the outside looking in, trying to break through those iron-clad gates, the ones kept locked up for years by the mainstream publishing industry.

Amazon helped us find our audience much more than any traditional publisher ever did. They gave us a platform, then they gave us the tools necessary to make money at it, offering an unprecedented seventy percent royalty for our books, something previously unheard of with traditional publishers. 

In short, they let us in and put the power where it belongs: with the readers. 

As for  the Select program, I don’t understand the anger there, either. Amazon isn’t forcing anyone to enter exclusive deals; they’re offering them an opportunity. The program is completely voluntary. Those who wish to enroll are free to do so; those who don’t, can go on with business as usual, selling their books wherever and however they wish. For those who do choose to go that route, they're being compensated with cash which Amazon has taken out of their own pocket.  Many authors would still jump at the chance for an exclusive deal with a publisher, and yet they're balking at the idea of doing the same thing with Amazon.

Amazon isn’t evil; it’s a business just like any other. Lest we forget, they invented the e-reader. Everyone else jumped on board after that with their own versions. Is anyone faulting them for trying to cash in on the craze? Of course not—it’s business. So what’s so wrong with Amazon trying to stay competitive in a market they created? I say, nothing.

Are they forcing a monopoly?  I doubt it. Even if Barnes & Noble goes under, the Nook will likely live on under another name, and there is this other company called Apple, who, when I last checked, is getting ready to launch their own digital publishing platform. And I'd say they have the muscle to be a formidable competitor.


  1. I'm a little confused. Doesn't an exclusive deal with a publisher get your book into [most often] all the stores, not just one?

    And I believe the issue with the sampler was the fact that some of those authors didn't choose to opt into the Select program yet they were penalized by the removal of the sampler.

    Am I wrong?

  2. Good point on the first comment, Jaimey. On the second, you are also correct, which I acknowledge in this post.

  3. This is a timely post for me. Peg Brantley (my lovely, wise critique partner) and I have been discussing the pros and cons of the Select program a lot lately, and we know some authors who've done great things with it and others who've been burned by it. I still don't completely know what to think about the terms, but I believe a non-compete clause that prohibits excerpts is too limiting for authors. :(

  4. I also feel gratitude to Amazon for helping me connect with readers and finally find an audience for my novels. But it goes beyond that. My Amazon royalties allow me to write full time and plan for my future. And the Select program has expanded my audience in huge ways. It's not ideal, but it's darn close.

  5. As someone who doesn't yet have a dog in this fight, my perceptions aren't quite as personal, but my interest level is high.

    I think every author needs to examine their current postiion in the market and evaluate what their options are. There are probably far fewer who wouldn't benefit from Amazon's programs then there are who would. But they're there, and they need to make a business judgement, just as a publisher would. No one is forced to do anything in the independent world of publishing. That's really cool news.

    I also think Amazon makes a very handy target. And it's big. As a consumer, I think they're fabulous. As a future business partner, I'll have to evaluate them at that time, but unless they drastically change in the next few months, I think I'll be pleased.

  6. I'm in a bit of a quagmire. I'm a new author with only two novels. My latest novel is doing well, in fact better, on Barnes and Noble than on Amazon. As a result, sales of my first novel have picked up. I risk losing an important platform of readers if I join KDP Select right now. I don't mind doing so, but I feel that their exclusivity clause is unfair to authors. My novels, although only at 99cents, are being overlooked on Amazon because of readers who want eBooks for free. On Amazon, my sales haven't increased tremendously when I brought them down to 99 cents from $2.99. That only happened on Barnes. What guaranty will I have that I'll sell better through KDP Select?

  7. If you join, you can give your book away for a few days and get great exposure...which will boost your sales. But I've never sold well on B&N, so I had nothing to lose.

  8. I've been participating in the KDP Select program for about a week now and have had some great results. In fact, I blogged about my KDP Select Experiment.

    I also heard that we weren't supposed to post excerpts. However, this issue was clarified by an Amazon rep today. The rep states that we CAN post excerpts on our websites and blogs etc, providing the excerpt is not more than 10% of the full book. I quoted the email in my last blog post.

    So for authors who post a chapter or two of a novel, you're fine. You can keep your excerpts up without any worries as long as you haven't posted more than 10% of the book.

    For those of you who have works in an anthology, you should avoid posting excerpts. If all of you posted even a few pages of your short stories, you'd more than likely go over the 10% margin.

    If you'd like to read about my experiment, including my stats, please drop by The Suspense is Killing Me.

  9. Cheryl, there seems to be mixed messages going out from Amazon over the use of excerpts and whether or not they're permitted for work enrolled in the Select program. A member of the above mentioned anthology received this answer from Amazon when they inquired about it:

    When you choose KDP Select for a book, you’re committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP.

    During the period of your book’s enrollment in KDP Select, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital.

    Similarly, you cannot offer a sample or teaser on any platforms. With this in mind, you may certainly link to your Amazon detail page from other websites; a sample of your book will be available there.

    Be sure to take a look at the KDP Select Terms & Conditions here:

  10. LJ & Cheryl,

    Do you have experience pulling your books down from other digital platforms? I used smashwords and I'm getting ready to enroll in KDP Select. I'm wondering if the books will come down from B&N, Kobo and all the other sites by unpublishing at smashwords and how long that process will take.

    Did you have to go to these other sites directly?

    I'm in LJ's camp. I've never done well anywhere but at Amazon, so for me all those other retailers are irrelevant. This wasn't by choosing.

  11. Hi guys! I'm posting this here, since I wrote that I'd do so. And I hope it will give you food for thought.


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