“The Desolate” and KDP Select

When I published my horror novel, The Desolate, near the end of July I purposely opted it out of KDP Select. Kobo’s Writing Life platform had just gone live and I wanted to give it a try. I also wanted to give Smashwords, Sony, Apple, and Barnes & Noble another chance. After opting both of my other books into KDP Select back in February of 2012 I’d been exclusive to Amazon for the better part of the year. I thought maybe things had changed with the competition while I was away.

Well, it seems things are pretty much the same outside of Amazon.

After nearly three months on the market, 90% of The Desolate‘s sales were through Amazon. That left 10% to be shared across all other reader platforms combined. It sold 2 copies on Smashwords before that channel went dead. 1 copy sold on Kobo, but they won’t pay out until I accumulate $100 in sales. At that rate my grandchildren might see that money. Barnes and Noble’s Nook platform performed the best out of all the non-Amazon channels, selling a whopping 11 copies. And after nearly three months Sony still didn’t have the book available in their store for sale.

So I decided to give KDP Select a chance with The Desolate and see how it fared.

I opted the book into Select about a week ago. I also decided to run a free promotion for two days, despite being skeptical of the free days. We all know the magical sales bump that used to occur after a free promotion has been non-existent for some time, but I thought there still might be value in going free. Here’s why:

First, I do still hold out some hope that simply getting onto reader’s Kindles will garner some exposure and future sales. I have more than one novel out now, so the potential is there.

Second, I figured it’d get my book onto the “also bought” lists of more books. That’s at least a little more exposure, if nothing else.

I didn’t really do much to advertise the free days, aside from a couple Twitter and Facebook posts. Folks seem to find out through mailing lists and other services that identify which books are free for the day. At the end of the two day period, here were the results:

  • 893 copies in the US
  • 195 copies in the UK
  • 7 copies in Germany
  • 1 copy in Italy
  • 1,096 copies overall

It’s interesting to note that The Desolate hit #10 in the “Horror” category in the US Kindle store. It went as high as #9 in the UK. It also made it to within the top 300 or so in the overall Kindle stores.

I do realize people will take chances on books that are free much more readily than they will for books that are not free. However, I do still look at the free “sales” as an indicator of interest. I very much doubt that most folks will take just any old book simply because it’s free. There has to be at least some interest in the material, otherwise why bother? Assuming that, it tells me that over 1,000 people thought the book was interesting enough to take up space on their Kindle.

The free days ran Saturday and Sunday (10/6 through 10/7). It’s been over two days since the end of the sale. What’s happened since then? The good news is that sales are up just a little from before. Not much, but a little. Borrows, however, are really filling the gap. In the two days since the free promotion, the book has been borrowed 7 times. So while 7 borrows doesn’t sound like a lot, compare that to my non-Amazon sales for the past three months: 14 copies.

And this goes back to what I think is the most compelling reason to choose KDP Select: the Kindle Owner’s Lending Libray (KOLL).

Amazon asks for 90 days of exclusivity when you opt into Select. In return, they allow Kindle owners who are also Prime members to borrow your book for free, and Amazon will pay you around two bucks per borrow.

My debut novel, Into the Badlands, has been in Select since February of this year. Since then it’s been averaging 32 borrows per month. Now while I don’t expect borrows of The Desolate to match those of Into the Badlands (Badlands sells significantly better than Desolate), I do expect borrows to cover the non-Amazon sales I’m losing by opting in exclusive with Amazon. And the borrows don’t seem to be cannibalizing my paid sales on Amazon with either title. Hell, even if they were, why would I care? I still get paid the same either way, sold or borrowed.

I’ll say it again: KOLL is the reason to go with Select. Think about it; I’m a nobody to most of the world. Even at $2.99 some people aren’t willing to take the chance on me. They will, however, make that leap by cashing in their free borrow. If they hate the book, so what? They forfeited a borrow for that month. They’re not out anything aside from a borrow that came with their already paid for Prime membership. Next month they’ll get another borrow, so their risk is minimal.

I’m also convinced folks read the books they borrow. Freebies, maybe not. I think the reason is because a borrow isn’t exactly free. They still have to give up something to get the book: their one allotted borrow. While I do admit it’s a trivial “cost” it still maintains a value in the readers mind and I still believe it compels them to actually read what they borrow. A freebie, on the other hand, requires nothing from the reader and might very well sit unread on someone’s Kindle.

I know people are reading their borrows because of the reviews I receive on my other novel, Into the Badlands. Many of the reviews folks are leaving are not marked with a “Verified Amazon Purchase”. This only happens when someone either unchecks the box before posting their review (unlikely) or they never purchased the book at all. Since I figure most folks are not stealing the book and then coming back to Amazon to review it, that leaves the only other option: they got the book for free through the KOLL. To further prove this, one reader even mentioned how happy they were that they were able to read the book for free through KOLL.

My point? KDP Select allows Prime members with Kindles to try you for free, while also compelling the reader to actually read the book. I get paid the same either way. This is a true win-win. With over 275 borrows since February, this had added up for me over time. I also find it hard to believe it hasn’t garnered me more than a few new readers.

I also have another theory, though I can’t substantiate it. I have a sneaking suspicion that Amazon gives KDP Select books a little nudge. Maybe it’s more exposure through e-mail blasts, maybe it’s a higher ranking in the “also bought” lists. It’s conjecture, I know, but I have my suspicions.

The next three months will tell the tale, but I fully suspect that KOLL borrows will compensate me for anything I lose by opting out of the other ereader stores. As much as I’d love to have my books everywhere (including Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, and Sony), I can’t deny that most folks get their indie books through Amazon. Until that changes, putting all my eggs in the Amazon basket is most beneficial to both me and my readers. With exclusivity requirements of only 90 days, I’m not taking a terrible risk. If Select stops working for me and my readers, I simply wait out the 90 days and opt back out again.

The proof will be in the pudding, of course, but for now it appears that opting The Desolate into KDP Select is the right decision.

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