Four Reasons Not to Publish Exclusively with Amazon

Feb 6, 2015

Yellow-naped Amazon 7Inevitably at some point, our self-publishing clients ask whether they should distribute their ebook exclusively through Kindle, or whether they should take a different approach. In most cases, we advise selling to a variety of ebook retailers. Here are four of the reasons why.

First, what is KDP Select?

You might have heard about KDP Select. It’s a program Amazon offers to ebook self-publishers. When you enroll in it, you agree to give Kindle exclusivity to your ebook for 90 days; you can’t distribute it through KOBO, Nook, your own website, or anywhere else. In exchange, you receive a few perks, including:

  • the right to offer your ebook free for 5 of those 90 days, which Kindle doesn’t allow you to do otherwise
  • higher royalty sales of your ebook in Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico
  • inclusion of your ebook in the Kindle Unlimited, a subscription program that allows readers to read as many ebooks as they want. You can receive royalties when someone reads your book through the program.
  • you get paid when your book is borrowed by a user of the Amazon Prime lending library.

So why wouldn’t you want those perks?

1. The value of those tradeoffs is unclear

Let’s break down what Kindle Select is offering.

This question of free In the early days of ebook publishing, giving your ebook away free was a smart way for self-publishers to build an audience. Hopefully enough readers would sample your free book that word of mouth would spread and your book would have momentum once you switched back to a paid edition. However, authors these days are reporting less spillover from their free days.

In part, that’s because of some algorithm changes Amazon has made. It’s also because so many self-publishers used “free” as their core sales and marketing strategy. Anecdotally, we’re hearing that many of those free downloaders do not buy the author’s next work; in fact, they may never even read the free book in the first place. Smashwords founder Mark Coker says on his blog, “Free is losing some of its gusto as the market becomes flooded with free ebooks.”

Higher royalties in certain territories Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico are large territories, but unless you’re doing something to market your book there, it’s unlikely that those sales will be notable. Therefore, a higher royalty in them is of questionable value.

Participation in Kindle Unlimited & Amazon Prime When you sign up for Kindle Select, your ebook will be made available to both Kindle Unlimited and Amazon Prime readers. Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service like Spotify or Netflix. Kindle owners can pay $9.99 a month to access a large library of Kindle titles. Amazon Prime is a premium service costing $99/year. With it comes free two-day shipping and a variety of other perks, including the ability to borrow one free Kindle title a month.

Amazon sets aside a pool of money every month that it calls the KDP Select Global Fund. If somebody reads 10% or more of your ebook, it will be considered a “sale” and you will receive a portion of that fund. The disbursements change from month to month, but authors report receiving around $1.50 per borrow.

These sound like great ways to reach new readers and earn more money, but reports on both of these programs are very mixed. On the Ink, Bits & Pixels blog, Nate Hoffelder says that the earnings of some authors whose ebooks were performing well through Kindle have dropped since Kindle Unlimited launched. Helen Barbara warns authors to be cautious of these programs. It’s early days, and their benefits to authors are unclear.

2. Amazon doesn’t dominate the Canadian market

 Canadian authors should think carefully before choosing to publish their ebook exclusively with Kindle. Kindle holds about 65% of the American ebook market. But in Canada, the situation looks quite different. KOBO originated in Canada as a division of Indigo, which sold the devices in its retail stores for many years. As a result, KOBO gained significant traction in Canada. Booknet Canada reported a couple of years ago that KOBO held 27% of the Canadian ebook market and Kindle only 19%. An Ipsos-Reid poll put KOBO at 46% and Kindle at 24%. These numbers are now a bit out of date, but the point is, authors with a large potential audience in Canada ignore KOBO with some risk.

3. You miss the chance to create a reader database

When you publish through Kindle Select, you’re not allowed to sell your ebook through your own website. For many self-publishers, direct sales are a crucial way of getting to know your readers, and building your reader database so that you can market future books or other products to them. This case study by Stephanie Chandler is an excellent example of what you can accomplish through direct sales.

4. Amazon can change its terms at any time

Those of you who followed the Hachette-Amazon dispute last year have a sense of how Amazon handles negotiations. When you put all your eggs in the Kindle basket, you are at the mercy of a large corporation that can change its terms unilaterally. The good news is that if you do participate in the Kindle Select program, you can opt out of it after your first 90 days.