Updated: 10/25/21

Several years ago, Amazon introduced their KDP Select program which allowed authors who published through them to give away books for free on their site if they agreed to a 90-day exclusivity agreement. Thinking 90 days wasn’t much of a commitment, many authors agreed to it. But Amazon didn’t stop there today, there are several tools they use to entice authors to publish exclusively through them. Here are just some of those benefits:

  • You can giveaway your book for free for 5 days
  • Kindle Unlimited: $9.99 subscription service where books are offered for free and authors are paid based on page reads.
  • Kindle Countdown Deals

In the beginning, it worked and some authors claimed to have made more money with Amazon than they did with a traditional publisher. Fast forward to today, and authors are questioning whether going exclusive with Amazon is even worth it anymore? Today, if you go to the free list and Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program, you’ll see it’s not only indie authors taking advantage of these programs. Trade publishers are also entering the game creating more competition. As I was browsing Amazon for this post, I saw 2 Harry Potter books being offered.  

Oct 23rd 2021

However, even with all that there’s the concern of becoming too dependent on one company for all of your income.  I’m not saying Amazon’s KDP Select doesn’t work, I’m saying one size doesn’t fit all and I’ll explain why…     

Your Goals Matter

No matter what the latest marketing tricks are at the moment they mean very little if you haven’t got a clear definition of where you want to go with your career. It’s vital that you ask yourself before you sign any 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 or go hybrid
  • Create a publishing company
  • Republish a back catalog of work
  • Build a brand

As you can see there are a myriad of reasons why people publish and many of them don’t require going exclusive. For example, if you want to sign with a traditional publisher then it might not be wise to lock up your work 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 Do They Ask For Exclusives?

It’s not uncommon for retailers like Amazon, to ask for exclusives, most retailers do. It gives them a 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. Amazon doesn’t offer any of that in fact, most free books are relegated to a separate list away from the paid ones. Here is Amazon’s free ebook list here: 

 

Oct 24th 2021

When Amazon first launched this program some writers scoffed at the idea of giving their books away for free. However, as more and more people tried it, they started reporting back with positive results. If you could leverage the opportunity, giving away your book could help sell it long-term. Many authors were able to secure reviews, build up email lists and even increase their social media following by simply asking readers in their book’s back-matter. For them, the 90-day exclusive period worked.  

The Psychology Behind It

Lots of authors believe that exclusives are done because retailers and publishers are greedy and though that’s debatable, retailers do it because it works. It’s been proven that products that 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 thus making them feel part of a privileged group.

The Problem With Kindle Unlimited

As of this date, book subscription services haven’t really taken off in the U.S. unlike, subscription music and movie services like Netflix and Spotify. It’s estimated that there are only 3 million subscribers to the Kindle Unlimited program and that’s not much compared to Netflix, which has 209 million subscribers. So there’s no real advantage to being in this program in a traditional sense. You won’t get preferred placement or extra marketing.

In one of my author groups the subject of remaining in Amazon’s KU program came up and of the 25 authors who responded only one said she had success with KU. However, she admitted to using Facebook ads to drive traffic to her book which makes sense. If you can figure out how to drive traffic to your books, you will naturally make money. Here’s an example of one author who used Bookbub advertising for his KU book here:

Price Pulsing Using KDP Select

One thing I learned from my authors group is that some authors use KDP Select to price pulse their books if they’re in a series. For those of you who don’t know what price pulsing is, it’s where you lower the price of your book for promotional reasons. This is a good way to get visibility for your other books if sales are lagging. Remember the screen pic of the author who used Bookbub to promote his KU book? If you look at the pic you’ll see it’s book #9 of a 13 part series. It’s working for him because his book is currently ranked 19 in International Mystery & Crime. Another thing to note is that it’s an older book that was published in 2017. So he didn’t get any special push from the Amazon algorithm which favors new content. 

Kindle Countdown Deals

Amazon also has a countdown feature for those authors who don’t want to give away their books and want sales which makes Kindle Countdown Deals (KCD) kind of a compromise. Here authors can set their books at a discount for a specific amount of time. The maximum amount of time is 7 days and the minimum duration is one hour.  

Keep in mind, your book needs to be enrolled in the KDP Select program for at least 30 days and cannot be sold outside of Amazon. However, the results for KCD aren’t too impressive, unlike the free days which is why indie authors don’t bother with it much. It’s also worth noting, you’ll be getting a reduction in profits since the book isn’t at full price. However, some authors use this in conjunction with KU and get results like the author above. As you can see, his book got the #1 Best Seller tab.

Authors Remaining Exclusive: A Thought

Marketing gurus used to advise indie authors to remain in the KDP Select program permanently. They proposed indies use one book as a loss leader and forgo immediate profits for long-term ones. During this time authors could 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. 

Also, for some those benefits don’t outweigh the risk of being tethered to one company. If one day Amazon decides to cut royalty rates to the point where publishing isn’t profitable anymore, lots of people are going to find themselves out of business. However, we can mitigate these risks by not having all of our books exclusively on Amazon. In fact, some authors have made the smart decision to put only a series or two into KDP Select and go wide with the rest of their work. This way their eggs aren’t all in the Amazon basket and this will probably serve them well in the future.

Anyway, I hope you found this post helpful if so, please like and share.