Periscope Depth

don’t look at my hands in my pockets, baby

Amazon attracted the Internet’s ire last week for its 5% discount for users who scan an item in a physical store, then buy it online. But amidst all this hubbub, Amazon also rolled out another program that’s stirred up similar furor, albeit in a smaller circle: Kindle Direct Publishing Select.

KDP Select allows independently published authors (read: me) to take part in the Kindle lending library. Every author who participates gets a share of a $500,000 fund, proportional to the number of times their book is “checked out” of Amazon’s Kindle library. They also get the opportunity to promote their book by offering it for free for up to 5 days, an option which was traditionally only available to legacy publishers.

The catch: the author has to remove their ebook from all other platforms – Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iBookstore – for 90 days. Failure to do so will result in getting booted from the program, and possibly getting barred from KDP overall.

Some authors (such as the ones in the article linked above) are thrilled at the notion. Other ebook distributors are furious, with Smashwords firing off the first response:

The new Amazon KDP Select program strikes me as a startling example of a predatory business practice. Amazon has the opportunity to leverage their dominance as the world’s largest ebook retailer (and world’s largest payer to indie authors) to attain monopolistic advantage by effectively denying its competing retailers (Apple, B&N, Kobo, Sony, etc) access to the books from indie authors.

I don’t know how compelling I find this argument, considering the monopolistic behavior that legacy publishers engage in to keep ebook prices on Amazon artificially high. I guess everyone’s a giant from a certain scale. But whether you like it or hate it, it’s a tactic in the same vein as their price-scanning app: going out of their way to deny competitor purchases by offering lucrative deals to consumers (price check) or producers (revenue sharing).

I received an invitation to add Too Close to Miss to KDP Select late last week. After giving it some thought, I decided against participating. Here are my reasons:

  • My reward: an unspecified share of a $500,000 prize. Amazon’s apparently bagged the biggest indie authors already, like J.A. Konrath and Patricia Ryan. They’ll likely take up the biggest slices of pie. So I’ll be sacrificing my availability on B&N and iBooks for … five dollars? Maybe less? Unlike every other aspect of the ebook market, this is a platform where another author’s success would hurt me.

  • I would also get to promote my book for free. This would be a bigger deal if I weren’t (currently) pricing it at $0.99. Maybe when I get to be a bigger fish that option will be worth it, but not today.

  • In terms of raw sales, Amazon is already beating out B&N and iBooks, combined, by 9X. However, it’s not about raw sales for me (currently). I have several friends who’ve already read Too Close to Miss on the Nook. I can’t afford to shut these friends out. I’m enough of an unknown quantity where I still need passionate advocates for my work more than I need some marginal revenue.

  • Finally, I’m new enough to self-publishing and e-publishing that this strikes me as a hassle at best, dangerous at worst. To take my book down from iBooks, Kobo and several other markets, I have to unpublish it from the Smashwords platform. What if Apple leaves it up a day or two longer, or if I miss some market that I didn’t even know I was live in? If Amazon spots my book anywhere else, I could get barred from KDP. Not worth the risk.

None of this is to say that I think KDP Select is a bad idea. The numbers just don’t make sense for me at present. And that’s the reason I elected to self-publish in the first place: because the numbers made sense there, not in legacy publishing. If you stick to your vision, understand the landscape and crunch the numbers, you can be sure you’re making the smart choice.

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