Today I have 2 new promotional tools that have just been released into the wild. One is KDP Select from the world's #1 retailer, the behemoth that is Amazon. The other is Brand Pages from the #1 social networking site in the world, Twitter.
Being #1 should automatically make these two tools great, right? Well, not so fast. Let's take a look at the fine print and workings behind the scenes before hopping up on that band wagon, shall we?
Before I say anything else about the new Amazon program, I should note that the entire discussion applies only to US-based Indie Authors and US-based Amazon customers. If you are based outside the US, these programs and services are not available to you, whether you are a customer or content provider. It is possible that some of the content providers participating in the new KDP Select program have made their products available outside the US; however, their business activities are based in the US. That is, they receive their revenues in US Dollars paid to a US bank account.
If you are located outside the US and would like to participate in a program similar to KDP Select, I suggest you contact Amazon's Vendor Customer Support and let them know you are interested in being notified if and when a similar program is launched for Indie Authors in your country. I know it sounds like sending a call into a black hole, but they do actually receive and review a lot of these emails--and it makes a difference. Slowly and not always the difference we want but a difference nonetheless. ^_^
Click through the jump-break to start sifting through the details of both new promotional tools now.
Newness over at Amazon's Kindle Store
There's a new program at Amazon's Kindle Store (US only) called KDP Select. Mark Coker, the Founder of Smashwords, discussed this program in a featured column over at Huffington Post's site and reproduced that column on the Smashwords blog, so you can read up on it if you'd like to understand the program. The 100 or so comments on the Smashwords blog are where the real discussion and gems are hidden.
The gist of it is this: Amazon's letting Indie Authors offer their books for free in a limited and controlled fashion via the Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL). Making your book free for a limited time is something we Indie Authors have asked for and Amazon appears to be delivering. Appearances can be deceiving.
Amazon is luring Indie Authors into this program by offering revenues for enrollment based on how popular your book really is. That is, if your book is downloaded by a bunchaton of people, let's say 10% of all KOLL downloads, you're going to see 10% of the revenues in the pot. Amazon's offering to pay a maximum of $500,000 each month for the first 13 months, starting with this month, December, 2011. The percentage system and cap on the revenues that can be earned are actually pretty fair. I don't take issue with any of that theory. Basically, you get to offer your book free to customers while still potentially earning money off each download, so what's not to like, right? Well, there are a few catches.
Mark goes over several of the catches in his article so I won't repeat everything here. Instead, I'll look at how this program affects the customers. Remember them? Yeah, the readers actually have to be careful of this new program, too. You have to be sure you're right for the program and the program's right for you, but if you fit the profile, Amazon's new KDP Select might be a real boon to customers and content providers. It's not right for everyone, so proceed with caution. Click through the jump-break to learn more.
For Readers/Kindle Customers:
The new KDP Select program is going to make a huge number of books available to you to read--free of charge--via the Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL). That is, it'll be free if you're paying the $79 annual subscription fee to be a member of the Amazon Prime service. The KOLL is just one of the many "benefits" you'll enjoy as a subscriber to the Prime service. Like the other "benefits," you have to actually want these things to make them beneficial. If you do, then this is a great little bundle to buy for one flat, annual fee. There are no "hidden costs" from what I can tell, just restrictions on the products and services to which Prime "benefits" can be applied. Briefly, the benefits are as follows:
The Prime account subscribers get a free upgrade to 2nd-day expedited shipping of any or all products from the Amazon store--paper books, widgets, whatever you buy that is eligible for expedited shipping options.
2. Streaming Video
Prime account subscribers get unlimited streaming of videos available on demand from the Amazon web site. These are movies and TV shows available on a per-episode basis and are limited to what titles Amazon has rights to stream. Amazon has license to stream tens of thousands of titles available. Unlike Netflix's streaming video "Watch Instantly" library, the Amazon titles are mostly new DVD/BluRayDisk releases and currently-running American television series.
3. Kindle Owners Lending Library (eBooks)
Prime members who are also registered Kindle owners can download as many as one title per month, free of charge, from the KOLL. Many books are already opted into the library so you may want to have a look through the titles before you decide if Prime membership is worth $79/year to you. That's about $6.58 a month for those who can't do the math in your head.
It's not a bad price--so long as you actually need and want the services offered and might use them more than once per month. If you only ship something twice a year, you'll pay a heck of a lot less than $79 to upgrade to 2nd-day-delivery speed for the individual purchases. If you want to read 12 books in the KOLL this year, do you think you could buy all 12 for that $79 annual fee? Possibly if they're all 99c titles, but you might be able to get a $9.99 best-seller--free--each month and that would nearly pay for the entire $79 annual subscription fee right there.
Two catches on the KOLL for readers: (1) You're only allowed to borrow one free book a month. Most voracious Kindle readers I know read a heck of a lot more than one book a month but hey, it's free. (2) You're only able to access the titles and download the books directly to your registered Kindle device. This service is not available through the Amazon web site, nor is it available to users of other eBook devices. That's fair. The Kindle platform has plenty of eBooks and is Amazon's product, after all.
If you're a customer and you like the streaming video, expedited shipping and enjoy reading at least one book a month, you might be just exactly the customer for whom Amazon developed the Prime membership service. The KDP Select program has definitely added value to the Prime membership program.
For Indie Authors/Kindle Content Providers:
As noted above in the "for customers" discussion, there are also specific audiences of content providers for whom this new KDP Select program will--and will not--work out to be an advantage. Be sure that you're the correct target audience before you jump on board this bandwagon of newness.
There are two serious drawbacks I see with the KDP Select program from the perspective of Indie Authors: Exclusivity (non-compete) and Accountability (lack of accounting reports from Amazon) as well as the ability to easily "opt out" when and as you please.
I'll discuss these issues below and note why I feel they are so negative, but before I start down the negativity path, let me note, there are some authors for whom this new program could be a boon. If you're the right kind of author for this program, it could be a free and easy way to kickstart the launch of a new book--or new career. Just be sure you read all of the fine print. Twice. Carefully. Then measure your benefits a third time. Then go ahead and sign on the dotted line.
The non-Compete clause requires authors to restrict their sales platform to Kindle and only Kindle for the entire 90-day term of their enrollment in the program. This means you cannot sell your book anywhere else and if Amazon finds out you have, you have violated the contract and are no longer eligible to reap the rewards. In fact, technically speaking, you could be sued by Amazon for infringement.
One might ask why this is a negative thing. Amazon's the #1 retailer in the world. They are not, however, the one and only retailer in the world. I know it's hard to remember that, sometimes, when you get caught up in their exceedingly well-done promotional verbage, but it's true. I know other online retailers might seem to pale in the Great Amazon Shadow but hey, just because Amazon is the leader, doesn't mean they hold a monopoly.
Interestingly enough, in my Monday Marketing series, I've been discussing what to do when you are in a #2 spot and want to grab market share away from your direct competitor in #1. You do something bold, different, opposite from the competition and highlight it, boast about it, sell it as a strength.
That's precisely what Amazon--already in the #1 spot--has done with this attempt to lay exclusive claims on Indie Author content providers. They've made it sound as though signing with them will give you a shortcut to the long, hard, drawn-out path of selling your book in dozens (or hundreds) outlets worldwide. In case you didn't notice my introductory words, this program is only open to the US-based customers and content providers, so Amazon's solution isn't actually going to get you exposure on a worldwide level--and it precludes you from attempting to get any such exposure yourself for the 90 days in which you participate in the US-only program. That still might be okay by you, but you should know going in that this is the case.
So how does this affect you in practical terms? If your book is brand new and never been released, it's pretty easy. You just upload it to KDP, opt into the KDP Select program and wait 90 days before sending it off into any other distribution channels.
If your book is already present on other platforms like
the B&N Nook Store, the Apple iTunes iBookstore or some of the other distribution channels offered through Smashwords, or if your book is offered for sale
via any non-US based web site, you need to remove it completely before you're legally allowed to enroll it in the KDP Select program. If you don't, you are knowingly violating the Terms and Conditions
of the program.
Amazon reserves the rights to claim you misrepresented
your book's suitability--that is, they put the onus on you, not them, to
check it out and do whatever's necessary so you can swear it's not
present anywhere else. That's what you're doing when you agree to their Terms and Conditions,
swearing to a specific exlusivity. Be sure you mean it before you do
it. Don't think they won't pursue you just because you're a measly
little author. They have $6,000,000 at stake. Trust me, they've got a
list and they're checking it twice. Plus, as I discuss below, when you add up millions of authors, losing a penny per author is not small change anymore.
Amazon does not provide their Indie Author content providers with any stats or methods of tracking individual downloads (of free samples, free copies or paid copies) and they only reports paid sales -- and those only on a monthly basis at the end of the period. If you cannot track your daily downloads via the KOLL, you have no idea whether or not the reporting Amazon claims is correct.
The inability to track individual titles on a daily basis is a common practice in the publishing industry. Sometimes I think it's a deliberate and malicious failure on the part of the publishers, not merely being technically-impaired or ignorant of the available tools with which such reports might be generated (neither of which is particularly an inspiring trait for a business owner in the 21st century). Publishers have historically failed to report royalty earnings to traditionally-published authors in a timely fashion--and worse, failed to pay royalty earners to their content providers. At least, Amazon pays in a timely fashion on a monthly basis.
I've seen a lot of comments claiming that the KDP Select program might be good for those who have large followings, because those authors might see large revenues from the pot while getting into the hands of readers interested in new/free reads. I'm of the opposite opinion. I think the financially successful authors are at the greatest risk for not receiving the full amount of revenue they are due.
I'm not trying to be melodramatic here. As I said, publishers have an "industry standard" of not reporting or paying royalties to their most successful authors. I'm not sure what the deal is with that residual payment that makes it so painful for large corporations to just pay out to their "Little Guy" authors but it seems to be a bone of much contention--and has been for decades.
Often times, as I said, the publishers claim it's not even deliberate or malicious. They claim they simply don't have sufficiently-good reporting and accounting tools to track individual sales and report them to authors on a title-by-title or daily basis. Given that database-driven web site tools have been around since 1995 (I know because I used to design them!) I find this a little amazing. When it comes to Amazon, there's absolutely no excuse.
Amazon was one of the first database-driven web sites (in 1996--I was there and remember it!) and they have some of the most sophisticated metrics analysis tools out there for web site management. The very idea that Amazon could fail to report earnings to content providers on a per-title and daily basis due to a lack of technology is ludicrous.
Amazon's failure to do this level of reporting is knowing and deliberate. I don't know what they hope to gain by withholding this information. I take that back, because actually, I do know--money! Amazon can mistakenly fail to pay out pennies here or there and multiplied by the millions of content providers failing to notice the error, make millions of dollars a month in pure profit. Even if your book is only 99 cents a download and you only have 100 downloads a month, you're one of millions. Think about it a second.
So many Indie Authors don't even know they should object to not receiving this information--or worse, don't even know the information exists or matters!--that Amazon is probably just hoping to slide on by until this, too, becomes the new industry standard in ePublishing. If you care and want to band together, the thing to do is not agree to be a silent sheep. Object to errors in your reports--or request reports that don't yet exist. Demand accountability. If enough content providers shout the same demand, they might just hear us.
Again I say, this might not matter to you. If you're an Indie Author who's just interested in giving your book away free for 3 months and you aren't looking to earn money on it for those 3 months--or have it given away anywhere else for those 3 months--you might be the "prime" candidate for the KDP Select program. And after all, it's just 3 months. It's not that long, right? Well, let's move onto problem #2 then, shall we?
2. Opting Out, Not an Amazon 1-Click Service
If you don't remove yourself from the enrollment in the program within the specified period of time, you are automatically re-enrolled. Yep, you aren't required to opt-in a second time. You are assumed to be opted in unless or until you explicitly opt out. It's not a 90-day program. It's a lifetime exlusive, non-compete agreement with self-renewal. So be sure to know how to remove your book once your 90-day period nears its end if you want to start selling it anywhere else.
I heard a rumor--that is, not something I can link to so I cannot verify it's true or false--that you must cancel renewal within the 7 day period at the end of your current 90 days and that Amazon may take up to 3 days of those 7 to actually cancel (like they claim the right to delay your book going live on the Kindle Store for up to 3 business days) and that if your renewal cancellation is not approved by Amazon prior to the end of the current 90 day period, they will carry it over for "an additional 90 days" -- that is, until the next 90-day period ends.
I would really like to get someone who's in the program to confirm or deny this rumor. Of course, you can't do that until, at the earliest, March 1, 2012. Since the program just started December 1, 2011 and March 1, 2012 will be the first 90-day termination point. If you've signed up any of your books with the KDP Select program and have any personal knowlege of how the opting out process works "in practice" rather than in theory (or according to rumor), please speak up in the comments thread or tweet me @webbiegrrl on Twitter.
There is no risk to you even if this "7-day" rumor is true because your cancellation will go through and you won't be bound by the non-compete clause for the "additional 90 days" but you also won't earn any revenue given that your cancellation is on record. You'll basically just have lost sales opportunities at Amazon for an additional 3 months--sort of like having your book priced at $0.00 without your consent. At least you can sell it elsewhere after the first 90-day period has actually ended.
More newness over at Twitter
Finally, the other topic I wanted to discuss today! The new "New Twitter" is focused not on individuals but on business users. Yep, Twitter, the #1 social networking site in the world is going to join Facebook and Google Plus in selling services to business owners. They've already been selling "Promoted Tweets" to third-party providers (like Hootsuite) who offer free products with embedded advertising. Now, Twitter is developing what they call Brand Pages and they're coming soon--but not yet.
Although there are 21 Beta testers of the new Brand Pages (e.g., businesses paying money for the right to customize their Twitter profile page) actual Twitter users still can't see the Pages. Oops. Social Media Today discusses what the new Brand Pages will offer and why small businesses might want to pay for one--or not. As the beta Brand Pages roll out and are debugged, and the Twitter program starts figuring itself out, I'll blog again on this topic and include it in my ongoing Twitter Series if it seems to be a bang worth an Indie Author's hard-earned bucks.
I'm slaving away at the edits on Conditioned Response and wish I could be sentenced to this kind of slave labor 24/7!! This book--entire series--is just so fun! I can't wait to release this beast into the world, but it's almost definitely going to be delayed beyond the December 31, 2011 slated release date, so I'll be snippeting again. Tune in this weekend for more of Shayla, Joshua and the Seven Chiefs in Book 2 of the Phoenician Series.