Monday, 19 December 2011

Kindle News: The Select Rush

Amazon has recently announced a new fund to pay royalties to writers whose ebooks are used as part of the Owners' Lending Library programme. In much hyperbole the online retailer has announced $500,000 will be paid per month to writers who take part in the lending programme and who provide Amazon with a three-month exclusive on their ebook.

I've noticed some of my friends in the ebook publishing world see these headline figures and leap into action. But my own recommendation, when they've asked, has been to hold back just yet.

$50K sounds like a lot of money on the face of it, but actually, the maths isn't exactly on an author's side. Let's say 100,000 books are included in the KDP Select programme. Even if every book was lent once, that would be just $5 each per month. But the more realistic guesstimate is that a minority of books, say 1,000 or less, would get checked out a lot more than the rest. So writers might expect to get a significantly lower royalty. It remains to be seen how 'select' KDP Select will actually be, as the programme is being promoted far and wide.

Let's face it: it benefits Amazon to invite as many writers and publishers as possible, as the Amazon lending library has so far faced resistance from presses. If this is what entices them to join, it will hardly matter if Amazon get 10,000 books enrolled or 1,000,000. Indeed, if the number of books enrolled were at the higher end, they'd be getting more for their money.

And this is what worries me. Amazon has put a limit on the royalties so the corporation won't pay out more money even if every book in print were to be transferred to the programme. If 500,000 books are enroled for KDP Select, that leaves $1 each per month, if split equally. Since some books might be borrowed hundreds of times and others only once or twice, you might end up with pennies.

I'd much rather see a fixed, lower-rate royalty per 'copy' borrowed. When KDP Select was launched, 8,949 titles were already enlisted in their Owners' Lending Library. It would be safe to assume there will be at least 10,000 titles in the library once KDP Select launches, and that the number will increase over time. If they're launching the programme in the first place, it's because they want more books enrolled. If this is the case, we can estimate that they want at least twice as many books as they currently have (or 20,000, to make it nice and round). But with the wide publicity this has received, I wouldn't be surprised if they wanted five or ten times as many books in the programme.

Also the insistence on authors offering their titles exclusively to Amazon may have promotional benefits attached, but for some writers this means cutting off all revenue from the iBookstore, Smashwords, and other retailers. It depends what percentage of your sales are currently from each distribution channel, but it bears thinking about. Will exclusivity hamper your sales? More importantly: will giving Amazon this much influence of the ebook market be beneficial or not to writers and publishers in the future? Are we merely paving the way towards a future where Amazon is the only option for writers?

The extra marketing made available amounts to, according to Amazon, five days in three months. Not a whole lot of publicity for the deal but better than nothing. What remains to be seen is how many other books yours will be contending with during these five days.

Self-published authors also get the worse end of the bargain. Traditional publishing houses have been paid royalties upfront, regardless of whether their books have been borrowed or not, and this presents the possibility that Amazon will champion their books over all others to make back that initial investment. Self-publishers only get paid when/if their books are borrowed.

What isn't clear is if you can enter one ebook into the programme with one ISBN, and make that edition exclusive to Amazon, but then make alternative editions with different ISBNs available elsewhere. That might be the perfect way to take advantage of the better marketing and retain wider distribution. It might also be a useful exercise for comparing different retailers.

There is another possibility here, though. Other ebook retailers may offer their own exclusive deals in the face of this. It might therefore benefit the patient author, as we see what developments spring up in response to this. I for one will be waiting it out.

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