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Amazon amps up its lures to get indies to go exclusive....

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.

Kindle Countdown

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

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.


Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Noelle
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 04:38:56

    I think they must have created this new program because authors are leaving Kindle Select in droves because the free promotions on Amazon just aren’t as effective as they used to be for authors (in terms of sales afterwards). You’ll never hear me say a word against Kindle Select, since their free promotions were unquestionably the most effective way I had of building an audience early on, but the benefits of the free promotions have significantly declined, even since early this year when I was doing them.

    To get authors back, Amazon has to capitalize on the promotion tools that are actually working, which right now are limited-time $.99 promotions. I’m really interested in seeing whether this new program is going to be effective for authors.

    If Amazon really wants to get to more authors, they’d offer an easy way for different authors to bundle books together in a discount boxed set–with the royalties dispersed automatically to the various authors, since that’s the biggest hassle for authors in doing the bundle-promotions that are so popular now. I guarantee they’d get a new flood of self-published books in Kindle Select if they made it easy to do multi-author bundles.

  2. Ros
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 06:54:34

    Kobo pulled down Smashwords books and directly uploaded self-published books too. There was also no way of getting redress, whereas the Amazon system allowed for asking questions, making changes and getting the books back up. That’s why authors were more upset by Kobo’s actions even though, as you say, the potential loss of sales on Amazon was much greater.

  3. Sandy James
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 07:13:31

    I have had all kinds of trouble with Amazon on discounts. I lost a BookBub ad because they were so late in getting a discount in place, and I have one book that was discounted weeks ago that is STILL 99 cents despite its return to regular price at every other site. That, and they send rather nasty emails if they find the book discounted on another site, often threatening to pull it from their site if you don’t comply. The two times that has happened to me, they were wrong about the discount.

    Yes, I earn most of my self-pub income from that site, but I simply won’t go exclusive. I find them notoriously slow to respond to authors and stubbornly fixated on making every author Amazon-exclusive. I have fans who use other forums, and although I’d probably get better service from Amazon if I used them exclusively, I hate monopolies and want to reach all my fans, regardless of which ereaders they use.

    Wonder if they’ll ignore all my requests after this post? ;)

  4. Ros
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 07:28:45

    @Sandy James: I agree. Their desire to get exclusivity actually makes them the least user-friendly site for those of us who don’t want to go exclusive. I actually make about half my self-publishing income from other sites and for a long time I made about 80-90% at other sites. So I have no personal temptation to go exclusive, as well as agreeing with Jane’s more general point that exclusivity is a bad thing for the market. But I do wish they would make it easier for non-Select users.

  5. Laila
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 07:36:31

    For me, I think the reason resentment remained with Kobo is that we all know Amazon is… a business, which everybody uses and still everybody kind of disagrees with. They don’t pay their staff enough, they don’t pay their writers enough they are in the business of making money, and while they make it easy for indies to self-publish, they don’t do it for the indies, they do it because it’s profitable to Amazon. It’s how it is.
    But then kobo came along and styled itself as the new indie option, the one that works with indie bookstores and that actually cares about doing well for self-pubbers. It’s a different premise and so, it lingers. *shrugs*

    Personally, I have to admit, I am not sure how big of a deal 3 months exclusivity really is in the long run. It depends on what you write etc. but for indies, staggered releases can be renewed reason to drum up interest, actually.

  6. Lynne Connolly
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 07:40:55

    I completely agree. That’s why I’m not taking this carrot.

  7. Sandy James
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 07:55:54

    I think one service that has benefited me greatly is often overlooked. Smashwords has allowed me to distribute my self-pubs on many, many sites, including iBooks. I strongly recommend Smashwords to indie authors. The only “problem” is the hoops that must be jumped through to format the file correctly.

    I’ve had no problems with Kobo, but I sure haven’t made much money there.

    I simply don’t see that many benefits from going exclusively Kindle. They need to dangle a much bigger carrot to get my attention, and I’m with Jane. Monopolies are never a good thing. (Says the history teacher in me…)

  8. Rachel Aukes
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 08:17:02

    When I first released 100 Days in Deadland, I published to Nook, Kobo, iBooks, and Amazon. But, when I discovered over 99% of my ebook sales came from Amazon, it made more business sense for me to go exclusive because I’d make royalties off lending than I would from selling at multiple vendors. While I lose a sales from readers who don’t buy from Amazon or use Kindle (and disqualify my book from making a USA Today or NYT list), I still make significantly more money with KDP Select. Its a business decision that every writer should consider based on their readership demographics. There are pros and cons to each side of the equation.

  9. Elizabeth McCoy
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 09:35:31

    @Noelle: The thing about the bundles is interesting. If Amazon offered bundling-with-multiple-authors, not just to Kindle-exclusive authors, but to any self-publishing author… they might not lock authors into Select, but they’d surely be tempting readers with that deal. (And hey, if other retailers duplicated the trick (ahahahahahahah–okay, maybe Smashwords would try), Amazon could make bundling a Select-only thing. Having tasted the possible power, authors might be more inclined to try to follow it, or otherwise do 3-months-first on Amazon.)

    I think Amazon is focusing a bit hard on locking in authors. Yes, controlling the authors controls the readers, and “available on Amazon for 3 months, then other places” certainly trains readers to look at Amazon first… But they could get a lot of authors still pointing at Amazon in advertising, just for monthly payments (albeit with a 2-month lag), lending (“try for free!”), and say that hypothetical bundling. (Allowing multiple-author works, where authors signed off on the percent of the sale they were agreeing to, could also be done — split the royalties on the Amazon end, automagically, so you don’t have to have as much bookkeeping on the other end, and there’s indie anthologies, indie-coauthoring, indie-licensing-a-world-background… They wouldn’t need to bind people to Select for that — they’d just need to offer it and it’d be default Amazon-exclusive for a long, long time, betcha.)

  10. Melisse Aires
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 09:53:39

    Select worked very well for me in the past, well enough that I went back to Select after branching out to other e-tailers. I made more on borrows with KDP than I did at other e-tailers.

    This summer though, the borrows dried up so as my books age out of Select they are going up elsewhere. Also haven’t seen much (any) boost from free runs so am not doing them anymore. I am afraid I’ve picked up exclusively ‘free’ book readers instead of SFR readers or paranormal readers. Hmmm. Have thought about changing my pricing.

    I am adding a subgenre with an altered pen name right before Christmas, thinking perhaps moving to a romance subgenre (contemporary western romance) with a bigger readership will give more of a boost overall than free.

    Lol. Who knows!

    I have noticed that my sales at Smashwords this time around are much higher.

  11. carmen webster buxton
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 10:27:03

    I like the new feature a lot, except for the insistence on exclusivity. For the first year or so, after I started self-publishing, Amazon provided the lion’s share of my sales, probably 85 percent. Now, they are between 50 and 60 percent. Barnes and Noble and Apple complete for second place, but lately B&N is winning. I don’t see the new feature as a compelling reason to give that up. And quite frankly, once you launch a book to retailer platforms via Smashwords, pulling it down can be a time-consuming process. My solution is to launch new books in Kindle Select but to stay in the program for only 90 days. After that, I launch everywhere I can.

  12. library addict
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 11:36:28

    As a reader with a Sony and a Kobo mini, I prefer to buy ePub. And while I have been known to get some Kindle books (almost all freebies that were free on Amazon only and not elsewhere) Amazon is not the first place I look for books. It’s not even the second or third.

    I know I am in the minority. But if I know a book is Amazon exclusive I won’t buy it.

  13. carmen webster buxton
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 12:30:02

    Oh, and I forgot to mention, but I did see on a Kindle forum that Amazon is actively enforcing exclusivity and warning KDP Select authors that they cannot even make the book available for pre-order at a date that falls outside the 90 days. Apparently, “not for sale on other platforms” includes having any kind of link about the book on any other platform. This didn’t used to be an issue until Kobo started offering pre-order buttons.

  14. Mary
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 12:37:01

    As an owner of a Nook, if an author is exclusive on Amazon, I’m most likely not going to read the book. Amazon will sell the Kindle version for $2.99 – $3.99 but the print version is $10-$12, which puts a strain on the budget.

    There have been a number of books I’ve passed on because they’re not available for the
    Nook. What has been frustrating are authors of series who started out on both the Nook and Kindle but are now exclusive to Kindle.

  15. Estara Swanberg
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 13:42:58

    @library addict: ditto, unless it’s an autobuy author – of which I have maybe 5.

  16. Katie
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 14:31:57

    I read about two hundred books per year and spend a hefty amount of money on my hobby, but rarely over at Amazon. I would say more than half of my reads are from self published authors. I love trying out new stuff that hasn’t yet been picked up by the big houses , but 90% of my ebooks I either get from Kobo or ARe, just as a matter of principle because I would rather support them than Amazon. I always get annoyed when I discover that certain books are only exclusively available at Amazon. I honestly don’t understand this choice because in the long run it will just backfire and definitely not support midlist and indie authors. In my humble opinion I expect an author to make his/her work available to all kinds of readers in various formats. I know earning royalties is the author’s livelihood and I totally respect and support that. Nevertheless, I really get pissed as a reader when I have the impression that the author only cares about the number of sales at the end of the month. And if the number is just right with Amazon why care about a few hundred other readers who would prefer buying the book in epub format.

  17. carmen webster buxton
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 14:43:12

    @Katie, I agree with the principle, but in practice I plan to launch new books in Kindle Select because of the fact that I can get some traction from the free and now sale-priced book promotions. I don’t see it as being worth a long-term commitment– who wants to shut out whole groups of readers– but I do see it as worth it to get started. If they ever lengthen the minimum term for KDP Select from 90 days to something longer I will have to do some real soul searching, but in the meantime, I can live with being exclusive for 3 months in return for the benefits. There are so many authors out there, and so many books hitting the market at once, that it’s difficult to gain a foothold. I always announce my plan on my website, but I never upload the book anywhere except the Kindle store until the 90 days are up.

  18. Katie
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 15:01:01

    @Carmen Webster Buxton. I am no aspiring author but from what I’ve garnered life as a new, unknown author is hard and I understand that writers use whatever tools they have at hand to get word of their work out there. I just think that giving Amazon so much power will backfire in the long run, as Amazon doesn’t care shit (pardon the word choice) about its customers or authors, so much should be clear for everyone. I don’t even mind the three months exclusivity as a marketing tool. I am talking about the many other authors who never consider publishing their work with other vendors. I know nothing about self publishing, but obviously it’s possible for some authors to sell their work at ARe, Kobo, Barnes & Nobles and Smashwords, so there is an option. And I can’t imagine I am the only reader who because of that fact sometimes decides to ignore a certain author’s work.

  19. Sandy James
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 15:04:07

    For me, it boils down to two things.

    First, I want to reach ALL my readers, and that means I need several venues they can use to download the books and that the books are available in multiple formats (one of the biggest benefits of Smashwords).

    Second, I ventured into self-publishing as a way to keep some independence. I refuse to let Amazon dictate exactly what I can do with MY books. There are things I have to work around–like their ridiculously slow responses–but I always know I can turn to another vendor and direct my readers there should Amazon not want to allow me to participate in things like a week of free downloads. Doesn’t help that they allow returns, which has resulted in many people treating it like a library. Read it; return it.

    There are other fish in the publishing sea… :)

  20. Melissa
    Nov 03, 2013 @ 23:44:33

    I have done this in the past, but I am about to get the rest of my books off KDP select. I did it to test something out but to make lists, you need B and N. Or at least I do. I sell really well there and it hurts me every time I do that. This last one helped a bit because I could do the freebie, but that was about it.
    I wish some of the other retailers would get busy with something to compete with Amazon. I make a ton of money at Amazon, but I am with you. Competition is a good thing and best for authors and readers.

  21. Destination Infinity
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 05:55:14

    I don’t understand why anyone would want to publish their books on multiple platforms and slow down/split their income. The competing sites could also give compelling privileges to authors who publish with them exclusively. I don’t understand the USP of most of Amazon’s competitors, if there is one.

  22. Sandy James
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 06:33:32

    For me, it’s being available to as many readers as possible. It’s a bit of a pain in the butt to have to format for each different site, but I reach far more people being available in multiple locations. There simply haven’t been enough of those “privileges” you mention to make me choose to stay on only one site. The KDP Select benefits just aren’t compelling.

    On the other hand, by going through B&N, Kobo, AllRomanceE, and Smashwords (which makes my books available on iBooks–a place I’ve sold a lot of copies!) I can reach readers with any brand of ereader. :)

  23. Ren
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 06:37:54

    @Destination Infinity: And I don’t understand why anyone would limit their income to buyers who shop at one store. The “convenience” of having only one 1099 at tax time? I’ll keep the 50% of my income that comes from other retailers and spend an extra twenty seconds per year on accounting, thanks.

  24. Lexxi
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 06:59:37

    It’s my understanding that you have to choose either the free days or the countdown discount in one 90 day period. That really makes it less attractive. If you could run both promos in the 90 day period, it would be tempting.
    My problem with kdp select is I can’t sell my book on my personal website, or have download codes or give free copies if it’s in select, which if I understand the TOS includes giving review copies…

  25. Will Entrekin
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 07:44:48

    I’m among the authors/publishers who’s largely moving away from exclusivity, but not just for the sake of moving away from exclusivity; rather, it’s because finally there’s another digital ecosystem whose reading and shopping experiences can compete with Amazon (it’s Apple’s iBookstore).

    You say:
    “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.”

    And I think that’s important; so far, the only way anyone’s been able to compete with Amazon–in terms of experience–has been to collude with publishers to raise prices and unfairly influence the market. Barnes & Noble’s reading and shopping experiences are terrible, and worse, their strategy for digital is unclear (and seems to reverse itself every few months). I think we saw in the past few weeks just how much we can rely on Kobo.

    I also think that the arguments like “What if Amazon suddenly stops selling ebooks” and “If Amazon doesn’t have competition they’ll stop being innovative” have very little support. In fact, a lot of times it seems like Bezos and company continue to innovate solely for the sake of innovation, improving solely for the sake of improvement; last year’s Kindle Paperwhite was already the best e-ink e-reader on the planet, and yet this year’s is even better, with huge improvements in the display.

    The digital market is currently Amazon’s bazooka fight everyone else brought knives to. Apple’s managed to recently get some guns, but they still have a ways to go. Everyone else seems to be content simply sharpening their tools, and that’s why they’re losing right now.

  26. Three points worth adding to the excellent account of the Amazon story in The Everything Store - The Shatzkin Files
    Nov 04, 2013 @ 15:48:32

    […] shelves. Weakening the diverse bookstore ecosystem weakens the wholesalers. At the same time, Amazon competes with publishers for authors, both through their publishing programs and through their self-publishing […]

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