Despite all the complaints

Amazon exec: Here’s why it pays to make your ebooks exclusive to us

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Amazon’s ebook subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, has attracted criticism recently, with some self-published authors complaining that the service devalues their work and chafing at the requirement that they make their ebooks exclusive to Amazon in order to participate.

But Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s VP of Kindle Content, suggested at the Digital Book World conference in New York on Wednesday that the vast majority of authors participating are satisfied with Kindle Unlimited — and he said that the program is helping them achieve earnings that have doubled since the program’s launch in July.

Authors who want their books to appear in Kindle Unlimited have to enroll in KDP Select, a program that requires them to make their ebooks exclusive to Amazon for three-month periods. “Every month authors have renewed availability of titles on KDP Select in excess of 95 percent before and after the launch of Kindle Unlimited,” Grandinetti said — suggesting that they are satisfied with the program despite a few high-profile complainers.

Furthermore, in the six months since Kindle Unlimited launched, “à la carte sales of authors in KDP Select are growing faster than KDP at large and Kindle at large,” Grandinetti said. Combine that à la carte income with “the money that authors earn or have earned from the subscription service as well as the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library,” and “sales from August to December 2014 are more than double what they were in 2013.”

“I do think there will be ways that we tweak it over time,” Grandinetti said, but “overall the system’s pretty healthy. We’re incredibly motivated to make this work for that community. They only have to participate for three months.”

“The most successful independent authors are most often so successful because they speak out,” said Mike Shatzkin, a book publishing consultant and conference chair who interviewed Grandinetti along with co-chair and Publishers Lunch founder Michael Cader. “It’s not surprising they become a noisy community at any point in time.”

Not necessarily, Grandinetti said. “We can see who the top authors are, obviously. There are many successful authors who just choose to focus on writing and not engage in the discussion of the business.”

5 Responses to “Amazon exec: Here’s why it pays to make your ebooks exclusive to us”

  1. Who cares if over all sales have double. Tell us the average monthly sale for any author (eliminating your top 5%) and then we’ll see if we should really be wow’ed by those numbers.

  2. AnyWriter

    Because the borrow rate is so low and because successful authors going exclusive to Amazon typically lose 40% or more of their off-Amazon income, the greater combined sales and borrows of Amazon KU titles DOES NOT make up for the lost income for writers. Writers were hemorrhaging money to such an extent that Amazon desperately added a bonus program to sweeten the deal and try to keep in the books that people would normally choose to read, if they had to pay for the book. But this bonus program typically allows top authors to break even, at best, for one month, which is followed by steep declines in revenue.

    Amazon is suppressing the visibility of authors who aren’t agreeing to allow Amazon a monopoly on their content. This means that they are paying more and more authors the pittance of a “borrow” rate–which they have cut by nearly HALF since the program began–even though they try to manipulate some additional sales by giving KU titles a huge visibility bost.

    At the same time, Amazon is also allowing its top spots for promotions and visibility to be taken by its own in-house titles. Programs like Kindle First insure that Amazon’s own imprints–not traditional books and not self-published books–get the lion’s share of eyes and attention. Do the authors actually benefit, though? Only to a very limited extent. Amazon gives away tens of thousands of their books to Prime members and pins the books to the tops of the sales chart with free downloads that the authors don’t get paid for. There are additional buys at the $1.99 price, but the hope of most authors is that their sacrifice of their first book will gain enough readers that later books will actually make them money.

    The statement that there are self-published authors who don’t talk about “business” is abject nonsense. Every successful self-publisher is actually a micro-publisher and so is incredibly business savvy. While the handful–and I mean a handful–of people who are both selling well and doing better with KU than without aren’t being too loud about it, it’s mainly because all around them are writers who have been doing this fulltime for years and are now seeing income declines of 30-70% both inside KU (because of the reduced royalties and losing other vendors) and outside it (because of the reduced visibility on Amazon due to Amazon playing hardball with authors who are refusing to grant them exclusivity).

    All in all, there is just ONE winner. It’s not the writer. And it’s certainly not the reader. It’s Amazon.

    • Damn Yankee

      If Amazon’s really doing that to self-published authors (who, as “small businesses”, are considered “consumers” of Amazon’s services under the Federal Trade Act every bit as much as the purchasers of their ebooks and other products are), this might well constitute a “tying” violation under the Federal antitrust laws, as well as an unfair and deceptive trade practice under the U.S. Federal Trade Act, not to mention “unfair competition” under a number of other Federal and state antitrust laws. See, e.g., Affected independent authors therefore might want to bring the suppression of their sales for failing to participate in the KUP to the attention of the Department of Justice, in conjunction with the earlier request submitted by Authors United for an investigation. AN interesting development during the argument of Apple’s appeal of the lower court’s decision against it in the Department of Justice’s case against it and the Big 5 publisher’s is that at least one of the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals justices strongly criticized the DOJ’s premises for going after Apple and referred to Amazon as the “monopolist” of the ebooks market. Well, yes: 100% dominance in a market isn’t legally required to be considered a “monopolist” in that market for legal purposes.

  3. nerlecian

    NOPE. You can go through the bestseller indie lists yourself and see how many are in–and how many are out. The people who have benefited from KU have done one of two things: They’re written VERY SHORT books, usually novelettes, that they publish really fast to get the biggest hunk of KU money possible (all books get the same royalty), or they are authors whom readers weren’t interested in buying when they had to pay for the books directly.

    Decide, as a reader, how much you like either trend.