Indie Authors – More Bad News If You Use Amazon Select

indie author handbook

Indie Author Handbook

As many of you indie authors who read this blog know, I’ve become very ambivalent about Amazon’s KDP Select program.  It seemed a great thing at first, but then came algorithm changes in the spring of 2012, more changes through the summer, and now there are even more changes that most likely will negatively affect indie authors who use the freebies to promote their books.  Read on for all the details…

Indie Authors And Amazon’s Affiliate Program

In recent weeks, Amazon made some changes to their affiliate program.  Now, before you as an indie author say what does this have to do with me, read on.  First, here’s the change that indie authors need to be aware of:

“In addition, notwithstanding the advertising fee rates described on this page or anything to the contrary contained in this Operating Agreement, if we determine you are primarily promoting free Kindle eBooks (i.e., eBooks for which the customer purchase price is $0.00), YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO EARN ANY ADVERTISING FEES DURING ANY MONTH IN WHICH YOU MEET THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:
(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and
(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks.”

Now, how does that affect those using KDP Select?  Read on…

Indie Authors, KDP Select, and Freebies

What this means is that if you’re using KDP Select and giving away free books, once these kdp selectAffiliate changes take place (March 1st, 2013), you may have a lot fewer places to promote your free books.  Because of the changes, sites like Pixel of Ink and ENT will likely have to feature a lot less free books (for a great analysis of the numbers, read Ed Robertson’s great post, Amazon is About to Throttle Free Books).  And smaller free ebook sites may end up shutting down.  The remaining sites are going to be much more selective in what free books they feature.  So fewer places that feature your free book means less downloads, and less boost in sales.

Indie Authors, Is Amazon Out To Get Us?

Why the changes?  Let the conspiracy theories begin.  Now, I highly doubt that Amazon is out to get us indie authors.  I’m sure it’s all about money.  I suspect Amazon realized that it was losing money to sites that are giving away tons of freebies, and it corrected the problem.  How were they losing money?  Amazon’s affiliate program is supposed to be used to advertize products sold on Amazon.  But the freebie sites promote free books and hope that they get a commission on products they didn’t promote.  Amazon is now sending out a clear message that this is not okay.

Amazon also wants to sell all its ebooks, not just those of indie authors.  But let’s be clear.  If you as an indie author continue to put all your marketing efforts into KDP Select, and you neglect other sites, beware (more on this below).  Always remember Amazon cares about Amazon, and that’s it…

Indie Authors And Amazon As Search Engine

Even with all this, Amazon is still king when it comes to selling books.  The big Zon is a search engine (more on this in a future post), and boy, do they do this well.  And Amazon’s recommendations is powerful, too.  For a great read on this, and for more on the Affiliate changes (read the insightful comments), check out David Gaughran’s post.

Indie Authors And A Possible Silver Lining

So what’s the good?  It may be that sites will feature bargain books again, and we indie authors can exploit the 99 cent novel again.  And as Ed Robertson notes, it may be that free books actually have a change to rise in the ranks organically, without the aid of these huge promotion sites that push some authors into the 15-20k downloads in a day or two.

Indie Authors Have To Adapt

indie authors adapt and changeSo what’s the takeaway?  In my humble opinion, it’s that indie authors who define success as growing sales will have to continue to adapt.  The book publishing business is forever morphing, and if you don’t stay current on changes, you’ll likely be left behind.  The end-game is getting your book(s) into the hands of readers…how you do this is always changing.  So adapt, adapt, adapt.

What do you think about the latest Amazon changes?  Will it hurt KDP Select and freebie promotions?

About Renée Pawlish

Award-winning author Renée Pawlish writes the bestselling horror book, Nephilim Genesis of Evil, the Reed Ferguson mystery series, short stories and non-fiction ghost stories.
This entry was posted in Indie Author Handbook and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to Indie Authors – More Bad News If You Use Amazon Select

  1. Renée, your post is spot on. And I can’t say I’m surprised: this business of going free is extremely irritating (to me as a reader) and counter-productive. At this point, the minute I see a free book I run in the other direction. And I suspect a lot of other readers do too: we’ve all been burned too often by indie books so poorly edited that they were unreadable. The only times I’ve downloaded a free book of late was if it came from an author I know and respect…

    So if Amazon is out to kill free downloads and do a little cleaning up of the system (from their point of view of course), well, that’s ok by me. It does look like Amazon is doing a lot of “cleaning up” these days, what with getting rid of sock puppet reviews, the “likes” system and tags…Wonder what’s afoot!

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      I would put myself in the category of the hesitant buyer of indie books because what I’ve read hasn’t, overall, been that good. But many authors still seem to make free work for them…I’m honestly not sure how, but I think it’s that they were early adopters of KDP Select and got a good following, or they’re connected to other places that promote free books so they don’t have to pay for advertizing, thus the overall cost has been okay for them (when I went free, I made some money, but the outlay for advertizing was not cheap). Or both of the previous were true.
      I wonder if those authors will be able to sustain their sales over the long haul, or if and when Amazon changes things yet again, will they be left in the dust.
      Thanks for your comment.

  2. I just have one comment when it comes to Amazon and their apparent new problem of sites offering/promoting free books: why do they care?

    Yes, I realize it’s about the money, but when a person clicks through on an affiliate link they are directed to that Amazon page, however, I believe the next few paid purchases on Amazon are also credited to the affiliate. Therefore those people brought Amazon sales/money, they may not have otherwise gotten.

    They’re just making it so that these sites won’t use the affiliate links to promote Amazon (at least on the freebies?). Some may start promoting books on B&N or Kobo, for example. I think it’s a mistake in judgement on Amazon’s part.

    Just my input.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      I’ve wondered about that, and it’s hard to say. I do think Amazon has lost a lot of money with the Kindle (it’s well known that they were selling it at cost or even lower, banking on making money with book sales), and is it possible that they feel that they would now make more money without free books, so this is a way of curtailing that. Who knows…but I don’t believe we’ve heard the last on this.
      Thanks for commenting.

  3. I think there was a mentality early on amongst indie writers that if they were giving away something for free than readers should expect lower quality. I mean, putting together a quality product takes $$$, and if you’re just going to give something away for free who wants to put forth that kind of investment? I’ll admit I was right there with that line of thinking.

    But then I saw how many other authors were doing this and having their burgeoning reputations hurt as a result. You can learn a thing or two by hanging out in reader discussion groups or after you’ve gotten a bad review or two citing typos, etc.

    A lot of us (don’t want to speak for everyone, but it seems to be the trend) have learned our lesson and are now very focused on “getting it right the first time”. Seems obvious, but it’s been a learning process for some.

    My point is that “Free” has been a catalyst for a lot of poorly written books because it’s almost a sign of acceptance when thousands of ppl download your eBook. It inspires authors to keep putting out trash.

    I, for one, am glad Amazon is removing the emphasis on free. I think a lot of quality products will rise to the top a lot easier if some of the noise is diminished. A quality product takes $$$ (editing, covers, etc.) and this conditioning of consumers to expect free books has got to stop. At some point there won’t be any money to be made and those who do it full-time (I don’t) won’t be able to support themselves anymore and may stop writing altogether. Even for us part-timers if the ROI continues to not be there, some are going to drop out of the game.

    Sorry for the rant. Amazon diminishing free is one of those industry changing moments, I think. IMO, those authors who are really serious about their writing will keep going and moves like this may chase away the ppl who think this is some sort of “get rich quick” thing. That’s a good thing, as far as I’m concerned.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      Wow, some indie authors were really thinking/doing that? That wasn’t thought out very well, nor is it thinking long-term, IMHO. I’ve never done that and I constantly say put out your best product in the first place because you don’t want to turn away even one reader. If the trend of publishing poorly written/edited books is changing, I’m glad.
      Free has been an interesting thing to watch. Some early adopters (those before KDP Select) found some success, but I’ve seen many of those still struggling now…makes you wonder if free does last long-term.
      I think you’re also correct that many indie authors will eventually drop out of the game, not just because Amazon is changing, but because they realize that writing is actually hard work (at least if you do want to put out a good product), and marketing is even harder. Very few make any decent money at it, and all of this will discourage many.
      And you weren’t ranking :). Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Renee, as you say it is all about adapting to the changes in the market and those who control it. This move will squeeze out some sites as you say, but other venues will figure ways to keep promoting free books without regard to the Amazon associate connection. I saw a post yesterday about a site that is in beta. It will offer free books with advertising inserted. Authors will make a royalty on the advertising revenue generated from the ads in the books. It is just like TV of old when we watched for free and advertisers footed the bill. So I think we are long way from seeing the demise of free. Thanks for the very informative post.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      That site sounds interesting. I would think the success would be based on the kind of advertizing…if it’s not targeted properly, will the reader of the book even care or just skip past it?
      I think free will continue, I just wonder if it will lead to big bucks on Amazon, like it has for some. I think those days may be over….
      Thanks for your comment.

      • Anthony Wessel at Digital Book Today has a blog up about how his site is adapting to the new policy and what other sites may do. A site could still offer nothing but free books and sell ads for other books and services. So long as they were not dependent on the income from the associate links the new policy would have no effect on them. The sites that have used free books to lure people to a site in hopes that those people would buy something else through an Associate link are the ones who are in trouble.

  5. Mary Pax says:

    Adaptation is definitely the name of the game in publishing. I publish through B&N, Smashwords, and recently started uploading to KOBO directly. So I’ve never used the Select program. But I can see why it was popular. Anyway we can get notice we should take advantage of. I guess Amazon didn’t anticipate the ways the program could cost them.

  6. ron askew says:

    But isn’t it good if free books are throttled? Don’t they undermine the market?

    I am happy to pay for quality. If a writer has a quality book it seems folly to give it away.

    I can’t think of many things I’ve received free that I have actually wanted or valued.

    I am happy to give street musicians tips.

    So, too, how many people who actually hoover up freebie books bother to read them?

    My gut instinct screams at me .. never, never, ever, never give it away.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      You bring up the other side of the argument. Even though some indie authors see great success with free, there are downsides, not just in perceived quality, but as you say, are the books read? And when they are, you risk getting poor reviews because the reader didn’t get a book they might really like. I found that with THIS DOESN’T HAPPEN IN THE MOVIES. The reviewer said she got the book for free, it didn’t really interest her, and she stopped reading it. If the book hadn’t been free, she probably wouldn’t have bought it, and thus I wouldn’t have a one-star review.
      Another concern is many readers are now saying they’ll never buy books again because so many are free. Will that ever end up hurting the publishing game? I doubt it, but you never know.
      Thanks for your comment.

    • >> So, too, how many people who actually hoover up freebie books bother to read them?

      I’m finally getting around to wading through my stockpile of free eBooks on my Kindle. I had downloaded some of these years ago. I had two from one author that I started reading back-to-back. The first had a typo in the very first paragraph. The second, a typo in the second paragraph. This is why some readers don’t even bother looking at 99 cent or free books. Some won’t even dive into the $2.99 price point.

      • Renée Pawlish says:

        I hear that is true (people downloading the books and not reading them). As for price versus quality, that argument continues to cycle. I, for one, don’t understand why you would take the risk of publishing without getting your books professionally edited, but many authors do. They do, however, reap the consequences, whatever they may be.

      • Rebecca Stroud says:

        I have a very, very short story about the grief following that of a beloved dog and it is as ‘clean as a whistle’. Yet I cannot in all good conscience price it higher than 99-cents. So now what?

        • Renée Pawlish says:

          There still seems to be a market for 99 books, and it may remain that way for short stories. It’s hard to gauge pricing, you might just have to play around with your prices and see what sells.
          Good luck and thanks for your question.

  7. Alana Woods says:

    I’m happy to say that this isn’t going to affect me in the least as I’ve never considered making my books free. I do have them in the KDP Select program because to date I’ve made the decision to sell only on Amazon — so offering them in the library was a by-the-way. I may well look at other book retailers in the future but for now I subscribe to the notion that I’ve seen several other authors also subscribe to — and that is that while you’re not making big sales it makes sense to funnel all customers to one sales point in the hope that it makes a difference to rankings and visibility.

    • Renée Pawlish says:

      That’s interesting to be exclusive to Amazon but not use KDP Select. I’ve heard of other authors who have success in other markets and I am looking at this. The sales may be small, but that is better than nothing :).
      Thanks for your comment.

  8. Thanks, Renee. I appreciate your efforts to keep us informed and able to adapt. Much appreciated.

  9. Susan Faw says:

    I read every one of these blogs that I can find a link to. I am just beginning my journey as a an author. I am not published… I have not even completed my first book. I am 2/3 the way through my first book of my fantasy trilogy.

    Everything I read really seems to come down to one simple adage. “Garbage In, Garbage Out.”

    I am not so far away from my consumer roots to have become lost in the game yet, I think. As a consumer, I want to read a book that is engaging, that pulls me in, that captures my mind and my heart and transports me to a world that could be. The really good ones make me WANT to go there and stay there… never to return.

    Quality content and product must be king. Achieving that standard is the hard part. If your work is truly amazing, I think it is a stone that can gather no moss. It might be a bit hard to get it rolling, but once the momentum is there, it will just gather speed.

    Write well and true… and (I hope i am right on this) the rest will come with time.

    Keep posting… I’m a sponge! :-)

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