Business, Indie Publishing, Marketing, Publishing, writing

Should Authors Go Exclusive With Amazon in 2017?

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Image via Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Amazon’s KDP introduced their Select program which allowed authors who published through them to give away books for free on their site if they signed a 90 day exclusivity agreement.  Thinking 90 days wasn’t much of a commitment, many authors agreed to it.  Fast forward to 2017, where Amazon is selling over 30 million books and nearly one million of those books are free on any given day flooding the market.  The numbers alone have authors questioning whether going exclusive with Amazon is even worth it anymore?

Your Goals Matter

No matter what the latest marketing tricks are at the moment they mean very little if you haven’t a clear definition of where you want to go.  It’s vital that you ask yourself before you sign any long term contract, why am I doing this?  Do I wish to…

  • Make money
  • Get more reviews
  • Build up an email list
  • Sign with a traditional publisher and go hybrid
  • Become an influencer in a chosen field
  • Build a publishing company
  • Republish a back catalog of work
  • Build a career as an author

As you can see there are a myriad of reasons why people self-publish and many of them don’t require you signing an exclusivity contract.  For example, if you want to sign with a traditional publisher then it might not be wise to lock your work up for any period of time.  If interested, a publisher may insist you take down the book and you can’t do that if you’re only 10 days into your 90 day exclusivity agreement.

Why Ask For An Exclusive?

It’s not uncommon for retailers like Amazon, to ask for exclusives, most retailers do.  It gives them the competitive edge because they offer something their competition doesn’t.  However the manufacturer or vendor (in this case you), usually gets something in return like favorable product placement in exchange for the temporary inconvenience and loss of profit.  Yet with Amazon, there is no such negotiation and instead of favorable product placement, books that are put into the Select program are put on a special list away from the paid books when they go free.  This is the reverse of favorable product placement since the paid books are the default page that shoppers are sent to.  It’s great for Amazon, who gets exclusive content but bad for indie authors who get relegated to a nebulous tab.

Amazon's KDP Select Program

The Psychology Behind it

Lots of authors believe that exclusives are done because retailers and publishers are greedy and though that’s debatable, retailers actually do it because it works.   It’s been proven that products which are available on a limited basis create a scarcity mentality in the minds of shoppers.  It triggers the buy impulse when customers believe this opportunity may never come by again.  Exclusives also make customers feel a sense of appreciation because the retailer is offering them this valuable product making them feel part of a privileged group.

Yeah, But Why Free?

In retail the competition is fierce, these days customers are much savvier and do their research before making purchases.  If they find a product at an online retailer at a cheaper price, that’s called showrooming and it forces brick and mortar stores to match that price or even beat it.  This is how Amazon kills the competition after all, what’s cheaper than free?  Even other book retailers like Barnes & Noble can’t compete with this and have begun positioning their business away from books.

Exclusivity Vs Expanded Distribution

Believe it or not, many startup companies claim exclusivity as the secret ingredient to their success.  However, it’s not the only ingredient, exclusivity should be part of a deeper marketing strategy.  Authors should be leveraging this exclusive period to collect reviews or email addresses for their lists.  Don’t just sit on your duff during this period, there is still work to do —plan the next move.  Ultimately that should mean branching out to other retailers like Kobo, Apple and Barnes & Noble.

 Authors Remaining Exclusive: A Thought

There are experts who used to advise indie authors to remain in the KDP Select program permanently.  They proposed that indies use one book as a loss leader and forgo immediate profits for long term ones.  They suggest that authors use their free book to collect email addresses and sell the next book.  However this may not be a good idea today because several indie authors now report their downloads dropping after the second or third time around in Select.  So going exclusive with Amazon will work but only for so long.  Today, we have no choice but to make our books available everywhere you possibly can because the old tricks don’t work anymore.  Another thing we indie authors have to consider is the inevitable fact that sometime in the future another company will knock Amazon off its perch and wouldn’t it be nice if all our eggs weren’t in one basket?

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