Amazon amps up its lures to get indies to go exclusive. Will other retailers respond?
During the porn purge of 2013, much of the attention was on Kobo amongst authors even if the press was focused on Amazon. But while Kobo had pulled down the entire Draft to Digital catalog, a distribution service, Amazon had been systematically moving through the self published books and pushing books into draft mode that was erotic and had keywords like “virgin” or “child” or “father”.
Yet the lingering anger simmered against Kobo and not Amazon. Perhaps it is that authors know that Amazon butters the majority of their bread so while it is easy to vent steam against Kobo, a tiny portion of many author’s sales, Amazon might anger them but not enough for them to remain angry.
And in the last week, Amazon has unveiled a new powerful tool to push self published authors toward exclusivity called Kindle Coutndown. Amazon’s discounting tool available ONLY to Kindle Select authors. Kindle Select is a program that requires authors to pledge exclusivity to Amazon for three months. During those three months you get three major benefits that a non select author does not receive:
- You can set your book for free
- You can participate in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and receive a portion of an overall fund for KDP Select authors for each lend (usually between $1.50 to $2.00 depending on the number of borrows and authors participating)
- You can use the Countdown feature.
The Appeal of the Discount
The discounting tool from Amazon is particularly appealing to authors for a couple of reasons. First, it provides another place for authors’ books to be visible on the retailer’s website. In David Gaughran’s book, Let’s Get Visible, he talks about the importance of being on lists – not because of any perceived prestige factor – but because of the increased visibility for any book.
Second, discounting is one of the most effective tools a self published author has in marketing and increasing her visibility. One author mentioned in a recent blog post that while freebies hadn’t increased her income it had made it so that one of her books was now on someone’s kindle.
Third, Amazon has been notorious for not responding quickly to price changes. Authors are relying on major newsletter services like BookBub to spread the word about their sales. In order to make sure that the book’s price is reduced when the BookBub ad is run, authors have to reduce their price at Amazon and other places days in advance and then it often takes Amazon several days to return the price to normal. Every day that the price is on sale means reduced income for the author.
Allowing the author to set a specific time for a discount is a huge advantage but one available only to authors who pledge exclusivity.
For most self published authors, the majority of their income will come from Amazon. For major self published authors who receive the benefit of free publicity and promotion from iTunes or Barnes & Noble, the decision to be non exclusive is easy or for the rare few that catch the attention of one of the content managers at those sites.
None of the self published platforms for these retailers allow authors to promote themselves within the store in any tangible way. For instance, publishers can buy their way onto certain lists on the nook listings for Barnes & Noble but that is not available to self published authors. Publishers can pay for books to be included in certain promotional areas on the retailer sites. None of this is available to self published authors and so Amazon exclusivity seems more and more attractive to a great number of authors.
Exclusivity is bad.
Exclusivity is bad. It is bad for authors and it is bad for readers. For authors, their sales will be limited to one retailer and their success and livelihood will be dependent on that one retailer. Should Amazon suddenly decide not to carry certain books or to reduce its royalty scale, the author’s financial situation can be seriously impacted. And Amazon can change. Just recently they increased the amount you have to buy in order to get free shipping from $25 to $35.
Exclusivity is bad for readers because innovation ends when there is no competition. If there was no competition for Amazon, there would be no need for them to continue to improve its feature set. They wouldn’t spend money to bring you the line at the bottom that tells you how long until you have completed the book. They wouldn’t have brought organization features, searches, or dictionaries. All of these things that we are taking for granted would likely not be provided if Amazon didn’t have competition.
But the onus for creating competition shouldn’t be on just the authors and/or readers. We are consumers and our choices are often driven by the bottom line. Am I getting a better deal at Retailer A than B? If so, I’ll shop at Retailer A.
Creating competition should be on the shoulders of competing retailers. Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and Apple have to make self publishing more attractive at their retail outlets as Amazon does because the sales for the majority of the authors aren’t as robust there. Authors should be allowed to buy coop and/or there should be a specialized indie section that is either hand curated or populated via an algorithm. There are readers who actively seek out indie titles. Cater to those readers with an easy to find category.
It remains true that the majority of books sold come from a small fraction of publishing. The biggest books in the business are those released by one of the big five publishing houses because digital is still about half of the readership in the U.S. and less than half globally. Assuming that self published titles make up maybe a quarter or less of digital sales (or maybe more) it behooves retail outlets to curry favor with these authors in order to prevent continual migration toward Amazon and its exclusive store.
B&N seems relatively tied to pushing traditionally published titles, probably seeing the publishing houses as allies in the fight against Amazon but Apple and Kobo definitely could do more with their stores and retail outlets to increase a buy in by authors and readers. Kobo is partnering with indie booksellers, but are indie booksellers interested in selling self published books? They don’t seem to be.
I think many of us can agree that Amazon exclusivity is bad but I can see why some indies go that route. It’s unfortunate but you can’t blame them if getting visible is easier at Amazon than anywhere else.