Lapsing Out of KDP Select

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As self-published writers, not only do we write the books, we also price them and market them. One of those pricing and marketing tools is KDP Select. I’ve written about Select before (and the reasons behind my choice to opt in), so I won’t bore you with those details here.

What I’m discussing here today is my choice to opt out.

I opted my debut novel, Into the Badlands, into KDP Select back in February of this year. Each month after it averaged around 35 borrows. I left it in Select for nine months (three ninety-day terms). I began seriously considering opting out after the second term, but I opted for a third term anyway. At the time I leaned pretty heavily toward opting in because of the poor performance of non-Amazon sales channels.

Mark Coker wrote an article about Amazon playing authors like pawns in a chess game. While he made some good points, the tone of the article made indie authors sound naive and gullible. Like we didn’t think about what we were getting into. He also did not place enough responsibility on Amazon’s competitors’ inability to step up their game and actually compete (including Smashwords).

But what really compelled me was this article by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. It really got me thinking about my long-term readership.

While I contend that what I’ve said about KDP Select and Amazon’s competitors is still true, I’ve come to the conclusion that Select is a short-term tool. I plan on writing for the rest of my life (and self-publishing for as long, should the existing system hold up), so the decisions I make should be geared toward the long-term.

Simply put, making my work available everywhere, to anyone, regardless of device, is a better long-term plan to acquire and retain readers.

But I had concerns about opting out of Select. Badlands is my best-selling title and I didn’t want to risk damaging that. My first concern was the fact that I’d lose all my borrows, about 35 per month on average, or around $70.

My second concern was that Amazon would “punish” me for opting out by knocking my book down in the rankings. If true, not only would I lose the borrows, but I’d lose paid sales.

I decided to risk it in the end. Long-term it was the right decision, so I allowed Into the Badlands to lapse out of KDP Select in November.

What happened was surprising.

Sales increased. I actually ended up selling more books than the two prior months. I have two theories around this. One theory is  it’s all seasonal. We are approaching Christmas and Amazon likely sold a ton of Kindles on Black Friday. Those Kindles need books.

The second theory is that borrows were cannibalizing my paid sales and once folks couldn’t borrow the book for free they simply ponied up and bought a copy. Badlands is ranking higher than it has for months. Simply stated, it doesn’t appear that Amazon is penalizing my book for lapsing out of Select.

Also, non-Amazon sales have improved since last year. Barnes and Noble, while not stellar, performed best, with Kobo ushering in a sale. Alone, these sales didn’t cover the gap I lost with my borrows going away, but combined with the additional Amazon paid sales it went a long way toward filling the gap.

Utilizing Select Short-Term

That said, I do think Select can be utilized short-term. My second novel, The Desolate, got off to a slow start when released. For three months it languished until I opted it in to Select and ran a two-day giveaway. After that sales nearly doubled. I think the trick was the giveaway, placing my book on many different “also bought” lists for other horror novels and getting it in front of more paying readers.

I think that a “Kindle First” approach might be valuable. The idea being: give the book to Amazon for 90 days and do a giveaway to seed the “also bought” lists. Let it ride for 90 days and then let it lapse out and get it into the non-Amazon stores (B&N, Kobo, Apple, Smashwords, etc).

And some books, like novellas and short stories, might be better suited for utilizing the free promotions that come with Select, since Amazon’s algorithm changes don’t boost paid sales after a free day anymore. Giving away stuff you don’t make very much on (with previews to your full-priced novels included) is like cheap advertising.

It’s hard to say how long Amazon will extend the Select program. If it goes into next year I’ll likely take the “Kindle First” approach with my upcoming sci-fi thriller. My sequel to Into the Badlands, however, I don’t plan on opting in to Select at all. The first book already has a readership, so I don’t need to seed “also bought” lists with a free promotion. The book should sell on its own.

No Reader Left Behind

So as Kris Rusch suggests, I’m taking the “no reader left behind” approach. It’ll probably cost me a little in the short term, but with the long tail of this new publishing paradigm I think that I (and my readers) will benefit more in the long term if I make my titles available to everyone, everywhere.

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