The Pros and Cons of KDP Select

In my article Maximize Free Days on Kindle Select, I shared the results from my early experience on Kindle Select in January 2012.  After such a huge success, I enrolled all of my titles in Kindle Select and experienced varying results.  So, here’s the rest of the story on my KDP Select experience and why I’ve decided to pull out of the KDP Select program.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the KDP Select, here’s the cliff notes:

  • You enroll in KDP Select and agree to go exclusive with Amazon (ebooks) for 90 days.
  • Your ebooks are made available to Amazon Prime Members for free.  These show up as “borrows” on your sales report and a different royalty applies to these books.
  • You are allotted up to 5 days in the 90-day period that you can offer your book for free.

Pros

Here are the stats for the 90-day exclusive period for all 4 of my titles that were available at the time:

  • Over 100,000 free downloads
  • Almost 1400 borrows
  • Over 11,000 books sold
  • Over $33,000 in royalties on sales, plus $2,800 in royalties on borrows

Those numbers look pretty good to me and made for a fantastic start to the year.  I got a great deal of exposure that I never had before and was positive it would turn into long-term sales.

Did it?  No.

Cons

The longer I ran free promotions, I noticed they seemed less and less effective.  I also started noticing a few disturbing trends that had me strongly evaluating the viability of staying in the program long-term.

  • Increase in 1-star and 2-star reviews from readers who never wrote a review on another book.  These are what I consider suspect reviews meant to reduce a book’s credibility.
  • Increase in unqualified readers.  What do I mean by this?  Well, in sales marketing, a lead is a potential customer.  A qualified lead means that the customer has somehow been vetted and matches a seller’s target market (or audience).  In the case of KDP Select, readers were (and still are) downloading freebies in massive quantities without looking at anything more than the cover of the book.  I had several readers email me or post negative reviews because they were unhappy that a free book would have a religious message (which is clearly the genre I write for).  Thus, many of the 100,000 free downloads were not qualified readers—they don’t match my target audience.
  • Expectation that all future titles will be free.  This one really sticks in my craw.  I mean, I’ve worked really hard and logged thousands of hours writing and marketing these books.  Then when I get comments from readers like this, I just about go through the roof:  “I can’t wait until your next book is free.  I download all of your others for free and am looking forward to reading the next.”  While I love writing, I don’t love it enough to do it for free.
  • Exclusivity turns away readers who have a Nook or other non-Kindle eReader.  In this case, I think it was a mistake for me to pull books that I already had on Nook, etc., in order to go exclusive.  I had several Nook readers contact me when they discovered the next book in my series was no longer available on the Nook.
  • Borrow royalties were less than my royalties if the readers would have bought the book outright.

All of the cons can be summed up in one word:  Credibility.  By participating in the KDP Select program and taking advantage of all of the features of the program, I damaged my credibility to readers.  I got tons of exposure, but some of it turned out to be very negative.  I turned away fans by removing books that they were looking forward to reading.

Can we still be friends?

So, why have I decided to part ways with the KDP Select program?  In the end, I felt that the cons outweighed the pros and the program does not help me meet my marketing goals.

Do I think all authors should avoid the program or not re-enroll?  No.  I still think KDP Select has value – especially for authors who need to build recognition.  Just go into it with eyes wide open.  Weigh the consequences carefully.

If I had a chance to do it all over again, what would I do differently?

  • I would not have enrolled my series in the program at all.
  • I would only have enrolled my stand-alone novel.  (If I didn’t have a series, I would probably still enroll just one title instead of all my titles).
  • I would not have been so eager to make sure I used all of the free days.  In fact, on some of the titles towards the end of the 90-day period, I decided not to use the remaining free days because it wasn’t generating sales.

What kind of results have you had with KDP Select?  Did you decide to re-enroll?  Why or why not?  Please leave a comment below to share your KDP Select experience.

UPDATE 01/27/2013:  KDP Select is a great tool for new releases, but I strongly encourage authors to expand to other retailers after the first 90 Days.  After I left KDP Select, within 6 months, B&N made up 27% of my income.  If you want more figures on how the different retailers stack up (based on Bowker Data), check out my article Retailer Market Share.  I think you may be surprised to find out that Amazon is not top dog everywhere.

 

Karen BaneyBest-selling self-published author, Karen Baney, enjoys sharing information to help authors learn about the Business of Writing.  She holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University and has worked in various business related career fields for the past 20 years.  She writes Christian Historical Fiction and Contemporary Romance novels.  To learn more about her novels visit her website:  karenbaney.com.  Authors can find tips and information on self-publishing and marketing at:  www.myauthorservices.com.

Karen and her husband, Jim, also run several online businesses.  They make their home in Gilbert, AZ, with their two dogs.

Her latest book, 10 Keys to eBook Marketing Success, is now available on Amazon.

Connect with Karen on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.

24 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of KDP Select

  1. I just ran across your site while doing some research of my own regarding KDP. My first book enrolled in the program is coming due and I have been less than enthusiastic with the results I’ve achieved so I wanted to get the opinions of others as to whether to continue or not.

    My problem – as with others I would surmise – is one of recognition. Without a huge budget to market, virtually no one knows my book exists and thus, have no reason to purchase it.

    I ran my “free days” all at once for my first book and gave away quite a few, but as in your experience, this did not result in any hard sales. I guess at this point, I am trying to figure out what I should do next. I am finishing up the third book in what is a planned five book series and I am wondering if I should bother. Additionally I have the drafts of three other books not part of this series which I had planned to eventually sell via Amazon, but now I am not certain.

    I realize every author faces the same hurdle; how do I get noticed, but it appears that some are far better at getting attention than others. If there are “secrets” to this, then they have been very effective because I certainly don’t know about them.

    Thanks for allowing me to vent.

    • Karen Baney says:

      Matthew, the biggest “secret” to marketing is persistence. It takes time to grow an audience. Readers have to see your name and your book many times before they buy. My marketing strategy uses a combination of approaches. I tweet about 30 times a day, facebook inconsistently, occasionally use google+. I also try to keep at least one fresh blog post a week (usually my author interviews). Those are all free.

      I also budget between 5 – 10% of my sales on paid advertising. But, I’m picky. I look for sites specifically related to ebooks, like http://www.christianebookstoday.com, http://www.digitalbookstoday.com, and http://www.indieauthornews.com. I will sometimes advertise on other sites like mommy blogs because that matches my target audience (female readers) well.

      For your books, you might try a social media blitz on Christian eBooks Today (or one of the other sites I mentioned)for a day to get out to a new audience.

      To give you an idea of how free books stack up against sales: Since Dec. 2010, I’ve given away over 160,000 copies of my books (mostly the first book in the series, which is free for an ongoing basis). I’ve sold over 27,000 books in the same time frame. That’s about 17% sales to free ratio. So, free is not the best strategy for generating long-term sales…

      Unless we’re talking a series. Then it’s a different ball game. The reason I give my first book in my series away for free (price matching, not KDP Select) is because I want readers to feel free to try me out as an author. If they like it, maybe they’ll buy the rest of the series. In this case, I have about a 4 to 1 ratio (for every 4 free Book 1, I sell 1 Book 2). It took several MONTHS of staying with this approach before I really began to see a difference.

      Anyway, hope this helps.

      Karen

  2. Dana Pratola says:

    Still new. I ran 2 free days and had a bunch of free downloads but not many sales. I was going to offer a free day right before Christmas because I know money’s tight for readers then. But now I’m wondering if the two days I ran are enough. Thanks, Karen, I always learn something from your articles ;-)

  3. Sebastian Di Mattia says:

    Dear Karen,
    Your article is very compelling and honest. I had nearly the exact same experience as you when I enrolled in KDP.
    When the giveaways ended there were no sales. Sometimes the hoarders took the books so quickly(1300 in eight hours) that I had to cancel before the day was over. These giveaways sometimes arouse a one-star bomber who has little regard for authors and can cause considerable damage to your rating. As you know, it can take a very long time to and many favorable reviews to repair this kind of senseless damage.
    I didn’t mind the borrows, but they also tailed off after Christmas and the free trial period.
    I have withdrawn from KDP, re-activated my other channels and have converted some of my titles to print through Createspace.
    I am looking forward to this new adventure. I went with the Extended Distribution with one of the titles. I know nothing in this arena, but I feel free now that I am no longer with KDP.
    Thank you for the article, and I wish you continued success.
    Sebastian

    • Karen Baney says:

      Sebastian, Since I wrote this article, I found that Amazon has changed their “best seller” algorithm so that the freebie sales have less impact (or no impact) on a book’s sales ranking. That means that the “success” many authors saw in the earlier days of the program are no longer happening today. It’s just one more reason I’m glad I got out when I did.

      I’m now exploring the options of expanding into new distribution channels. Kobo.com has a huge presence in Canada and internationally. They just recently announced their Kobo Writing Life self-publishing platform. I have most of my books posted up there (instead of going through Smashwords for Kobo) so I can see real time sales reports. Haven’t sold anything yet, but they’ve only been live a few days now.

  4. Lada Ray says:

    This is a very interesting post, Karen. And it agrees with my experience. I have recently written a blog post entitled: A MUST Read if You Are an Author! Does Amazon KDP Select FREE Promo Work?

    In it, I discuss my own experience and sales stats; pros and cons; the disturbing trends of KDP Select; recent change in the KDP rankings algorithm and how it effects authors. Check it out here: http://ladaray.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/a-must-read-if-you-are-an-author-does-amazon-kdp-select-free-promo-work/

  5. I’ve been using Select since January when I tripled my monthly income. In February I earned over $13,000.

    In March I earned over $42,000. $32,000 of that was from one title, CHILDREN OF THE FOG, which ended up at #4 in the Top 100 Paid Kindle bestsellers list–right under The Hunger Games trilogy.

    At the time, I had 6 ebooks enrolled in Select. I held 3-day and 2-day promos approx. every 6-8 weeks.

    It’s now June and I’ve earned over $100,000 so far this year–from Amazon ebooks alone! And the year is only half over.

    Yes, I have more 1-3 star reviews, but my 4-5 stars still outweigh the lower ones. That’s only to be expected as this is a “numbers game” as is ALL sales. Any reader at any time, with or without Select, could discover one of my books isn’t for them. Look at any of the bestsellers. The more sales, the more low reviews…BUT the books still sell.

    Yes, I’ve reached readers who aren’t my target audience. Most won’t bother with writing a review. Some will return my ebook. Some will write a negative review. Some will comment that they were expecting something else. That, too, can happen with or without Select.

    And before you think I was a huge success before making lots of money, let me assure you, I wasn’t. I’m a Canadian author, only published once by a “traditional” publisher, now back to indie publishing, who has made ten times more than I did last year, with a potential to earn $200,000 this year BECAUSE OF SELECT. Not because of anything else.

    I don’t recall one reader asking me when my next book would be FREE. In fact, I get the opposite–readers who got one free are BUYING my other titles. The momentum with one free promo for one title has rolled over to my other titles and they consistently see high sales–even without a free promo. This goes for the couple of books I have that AREN’T on Select.

    I did not spend a ton of money on advertising my free promos. I talk about HOW I promoted my Select free days in my marketing book How I Made Over $42,000 In 1 Month Selling My Kindle eBooks. And I give the resources I used, where to advertise for free and for a small fee. Plus lots of tips you can use right away. Everything I did to earn my income is in this book.

    I’ve had two readers email me to ask if one of my books is on Nook or Kobo. I directed them to the free Kindle apps, which they downloaded. Then they got my books. I don’t like that a reader can’t get my book from B&N or KoboBooks, but it’s the sacrifice I’m willing to make in order to earn a decent income from my career. I don’t write to be broke.

    As for borrow (KOLL) royalties, I was paid MORE for some of my titles than I would have made if they’d sold at full price.

    Yes, like you, Karen, I’ve noticed that some of my promos are less effective, but I have to take into account the natural ebb and flow of book sales. There are high sales peaks and low ones. The next high one is coming–July and August. Then it’ll go into a lull for a month or two. Then it’ll peak again, especially right before Christmas and after. We can’t expect the numbers to keep rising every month. That would be unrealistic.

    This is the bottom line for me, the question I ask myself any time the thought of getting out crosses my mind (which is rare): if I went back to what I was making without Select, would I be earning MORE than I’m making now? The answer for me is NO. I urge each of you to ask this same question before pulling out. Then make the best choice for you.

    Summary: For me, there are no cons to KDP Select. Not yet anyway. Only pros. If this changes, I’ll get out. That’s the great thing about this program–Amazon gives you a choice. You aren’t locked in for life. :-)

    Cheryl Kaye Tardif
    International bestselling author of CHILDREN OF THE FOG and more

  6. Author says:

    I don’t think anyone should be afraid of giving away books. The more books you give away, the more exposure you get. I’ve been in the publishing business for several years now as a Big 6 author and this advice was given to me years ago by an author who went on to hit the NYT Bestsellers list.

    With Kindle Select, I gave away over 40,000 copies of my book last month. Since then, I’ve sold over 13,000 copies, remain in the Top 100, and sales are still strong (knock wood). This would not have been possible without Select.

    Will it work every time? Hard to say. Different books have different results.

    • Amanda says:

      I think the effect of giving away books depends a great number of factors. In the above case, all of those reasons point to not this author, not these books, and not in this way.

      If exposure is what you’re lacking, targeted give aways are one way to get it. But if you’re selling something that doesn’t go over with a mainstream crowd all the time — a mystery, for example, would have wider appeal with less backlash than a religious novel — casting the net wide won’t catch you a network of people recommending the book to their friends, and them to theirs in turn. Giveaways: worth considering. But not the be-all end-all to book marketing.

  7. Thanks for sharing your experience, Karen. It helps me assess the KDP program more objectively. It seems as if it can be used for certain goals; for example, helping a new fiction author gain some attention. But it also seems like a marketing tool that should be used but not over-used. All of your eggs in one basket is rarely a good idea.

  8. Owen Banner says:

    Sounds like a very balanced view of the KDP Select program. I’ve been planning on using it to release my first novel, Hindsight (a thriller), this summer. It seems like the right move for me in order to build recognition, but what I’ve heard is that it’s best to just use it to market one book if you have multiple titles. The promotion of your one book gets your name out there, which leads people to look at the rest of your titles. Your comment about hashtagging #nook is something I haven’t thought of yet. I’ll be using that when the book comes off the free shelf. Thanks for the insights.

  9. Staci Stallings says:

    I, too, have had great success with KDP Select. My book went #1 for 36 hours as free, then climbed into the “real” Top 100 for four days while hitting four category #1 Best Sellers lists. Because I have about 16 books available and I was marketing ALL of them at the same time, the KDP Select success translated into major sales of my other books. I have been “hit” by a few 1 star reviews that made it clear the person reading was not Christian or did not understand “pray without ceasing.” That’s okay. I think anyone who reads those won’t be turned away.

    One thing I definitely agree about is not “running” your books through one after the other. That will only hurt you big time. I ran my first book for 2 days, and then let the program run its course. At the END of that one’s 90 days, I enrolled a different one and ran it for 2 days only as well. This was 3 months apart. I think that makes a big difference.

    If you are interested in KDPSelect and how I marketed my days, I have a new ebook available at: http://www.amazon.com/Successful-KDPSelect-Free-Day-Campaign-ebook/dp/B00850HVKY/ref=sr_1_24?ie=UTF8&qid=1338567907&sr=8-24 This book will help you maximize your free days step-by-step explaining EXACTLY what I did as well as the new changes to Amazon that you should be aware of if you are going to do free days.

    So, overall, I think the program in the right context with the right books and marketing is AWESOME for authors, but you do have to avoid the pitfalls and go into it with your eyes wide open!

    • Karen Baney says:

      Staci – Wow! Sounds like you’ve got this down to a science. I’m glad to hear it has been working out so well for you. Thanks for sharing the info on your book.

  10. M.P.McDonald says:

    I’ve had a good experience with Select and still feel like I have nothing to lose by keeping my books there. My sales at Amazon were at least 100:1 vs B&N, and even worse when compared to other outlets. I haven’t been clobbered by negative reviews when giving my books away. I’ve given away about 100k copies of my first book in the last year, as it also went free a few times the price-matching way. The only time I got burned was when it was free at B&N, and within a couple of hours of going free there, it was hammered with 3-4 one star reviews. I call them bogus because no way did those people/person (I think it was the same person leaving 3 reviews) have time to read the book. B&N lets reviewers protect their past reviews, so it’s impossible to report the reviewer for questionable behavior. That totally soured me on B&N.

    I also haven’t had anyone ask me when my other two books in my series will go free. In fact, I had someone on my FB page (who got the first book on sale for 99 cents), that he would have paid double what I was asking for my other two in the series, and others have also stated that they immediately bought the next two.

    That said, I will probably take my books out in September–the next time they are up for renewal. Maybe by then, B&N will have better marketing tools. I was really hoping that Select would spur other book retailers to step up their game to entice authors with new marketing tools, but it hasn’t happened yet.

    • Karen Baney says:

      M.P. McDonald – thank you for sharing your results with us. While I’m getting decent B&N sales right now, it’s not close to my Kindle sales, but it’s enough to make it worth having the books on B&N.

  11. Tonya Kappes says:

    I ran with the program when it first came out. AND I couldn’t wait for the three months to be up! Although I had a great outcome, I do feel the same. I got a lot of “I love your free….” and “I can’t wait to get the next one for free….” AND I lost those Nook readers. NOT to mention the royalties on borrowed was MUCH less than if the reader bought the book. I won’t enroll again.

    • Karen Baney says:

      Tonya – I had a feeling others had similar experiences. I think I might do a novella specifically for Kindle Select. But other than that, I probably won’t do any full length novels on it in the future.

  12. Chris Ward says:

    Dear Karen,

    I enjoyed reading your blog. While I have my own issues with giving books away for free (in short, I hate doing it), the ONLY success I’ve seen has been from knock on sales after free promos. With one novel, one collection and nine individual stories on Amazon, I’ve been offering the shorts as free promos to try to encourage sales of the novel. Despite my best efforts to market everywhere I can, I’ve had no more than 250 downloads on any one promotion, which has resulted in roughly one or two knock on sales. I’ve done everything I can to promote my book and nothing seems to have any effect. I might try putting the novel on a free promo once I have another book available, but having crawled to about 30 sales in ten weeks (half to family/friends) and getting ever decreasing returns from my short story free promos, I’m starting to feel like I can’t even give the thing away. If there is magic formula, I have no idea what it is, but I commend you on your success. It’s very encouraging, and such stories are the reason why I continue to soldier on!

    Happy writing and selling!

    Chris Ward

    • Karen Baney says:

      Chris – On this side of trying KDP Select, I can say I agree with you wholeheartedly about not liking the idea of giving books away for free. I don’t mind doing small giveaways here and there, but at such large numbers of free downloads, I don’t think it was really worth it.

      Sorry to hear you’re not having much success with your promotions. If you’d like, you can email me at info(at)karenbaney(dot)com. Tell me what you’ve tried with your marketing efforts. Maybe I can give you a few tips on some different things to try.

  13. Thanks for the information! Your post is very concise and loaded with information. I eagerly waited for the day when my series books were available again so that I could post to B&N.

    (I still use KDP Select and still plan to selectively, but this month, my B&N numbers outgrew my Amazon numbers for the first time.)

    • Karen Baney says:

      Jeanette – congratulations on the great B&N sales! That’s wonderful. Did you know that they just released an affiliate program? It’s a great way to make a little extra when readers buy from your site or your promotion efforts.

  14. Karen Baney says:

    Traci – thanks so much for sharing this information. What I’ve been doing for B&N is dedicating 2 days a week to specifically promoting my books on B&N using Twitter with genre hash tags and the #nook hash tag. I’m seeing much better B&N sales now than I did in November.

  15. Traci says:

    I have heard that between your January free promotions and the later ones several things at Amazon changed as well. (I am pretty sure you know this, but I’ll post it in case anyone else reading hasn’t heard.)

    For one, they now pull books off of the free list faster so that you don’t get quite as much post-freebie exposure.

    Another was changing the amount that a borrow effected your rank (Sorry! I can’t remember if it was the popularity or best seller list.)

    I let my KDP select expire and gave the books a month on Barnes and Noble. Barnes and Noble has its own issues as far as exposure for books is concerned and I didn’t sell a single title the whole month! Some people had said their sales were higher over at BN now, but before KDP select I had sold at least a dozen a month at BN.

    Anyway, I hopped right back over to select because a handful of borrows looked better to me than no sales. ; )

    I don’t know what I will do next. I’ve given away about 10,000 total on my freebies, not enough to attract suspect reviews but not enough to make more than a couple hundred extra ales either…

    I hesitate to write BN off forever, but…but…I’ll just have to pray and see I guess.

    Traci

Leave a Reply