When I signed into my KDP account today there was a new banner right beside the logo announcing KDP Select and showing a link to the details of the new program. (For those of you who do not know the acronym, it stands for Kindle Direct Publishing and it’s the arm of Amazon that lets me distribute those ebooks you see in the right hand column of this blog.) The basic information is interesting.
In return for going exclusive with Amazon for 90 days you get access to some bonus features. You can make your book free for 5 days out of 90. (This is a bigger deal than it seems since free can be an important promotional tool and it is very difficult to get your book to go free on Amazon without jumping through a lot of hoops. This is particularly true if, like me, you don’t live in the US.)
Perhaps most interestingly Amazon has established a fund of half a million dollars from which it will pay out a lending fee to those whose books are borrowed in December. This library is open to its Prime customers. Amazon is apparently going to be doing this every month from now on. This is a bit like the Public Lending Right system that the UK has except that it is being used by a private company.
I suspect some people are going to make a fair bit of cash from this to begin with, mostly the people who are already doing well from ebooks, and maybe a few others if not very many people sign up. However long term I am not so sure this is a great benefit for writers although it is for Amazon. It effectively establishes a fixed amount for them each month to provide a well of free content for their Prime subscribers.
It’s worth taking a moment to think through some of the implications of this. This is a prototype subscription model. It takes a fixed amount of money and it divides it among a number of suppliers whose content is then going to be made available to Amazon’s fee paying Prime Members. Remind you of anything? Of course, Netflix, HBO, your cable supplier all use a similar model. It has one huge advantage for Amazon though—Amazon gets to set how much money it’s prepared to spend each month. It is not being negotiated with the providers save by an opt-in or opt-out measure.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think this need necessarily turn out to be a bad thing or that it’s the final model. I think this is a scale model, being run with indies as guinea pigs, to see how this whole system will work out. If it works fine. Amazon will then have a working prototype for something bigger that it can show to the big boys in New York or London. And by big boys I don’t just mean publishing houses, I also mean megastar authors. This is a whole new revolutionary system as far as the book business is concerned, a whole new business model. Nothing like it has been seen in the business of publishing before, other than the limited state sponsored initiatives by the British, Irish and German governments and these were not meant as business systems at all.
What are the benefits for Amazon: lots of exclusive content. Short term: a small perk for its Prime customers. Competitors locked out. At first in the relatively unimportant indie market (sorry fellow indies but its true) and possibly in the much more important big publishing markets if Amazon can make the system fly. It’s not about locking out Big Publishing either. I am sure Amazon would be delighted to cut a deal with New York. It’s about the competition with Apple and Google and Microsoft and whatever new disruptive competitor might leap into the market. It’s about being a monopoly on distribution or part of a limited monopoly (an oligopoly if that’s the word.)
As an indie writer, what are the consequences for me? I will try it. The truth is that Amazon represents something like 97% of my sales anyway. I can’t do it with the old books because they are quite tough to pull out of general distribution. I was thinking that freebie promotions would be a good way of boosting sales on a series and you would only need to go exclusive with the opening book in the series. It did not too long to spot the flaw in my logic there. (It’s not much use making all the other books in a series non-exclusive if readers can only get the first book from Amazon!) I strongly suspect that going exclusive with Amazon might lead to a little extra cash for a writer like me, and a lot of extra cash for the big name indie success stories. In either case, I am not sure that it will make difference to the big picture for us.
I think what’s important here with Select is that it gives us a clue as to what Amazon is thinking, and the way in which it is looking to the future. Select could be the start of the long discussed rental model for ebooks. Because of the way it’s set up, it looks like it’s just one small skirmish in a greater struggle, but I think it’s a harbinger of things to come. I think that, as far as publishing is concerned, the content wars have well and truly begun.
Addendum: David Gaughran has put up an excellent article on the pros and cons of the Select program here.