Exclusivity vs. Openness

Posted on 15 March, 2013

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With the approaching completion of Tooth & Nail, I face a philosophical quandary: do I drink the Kindle Kool-Aid or do I stick to my idealistic principles?

Oh, wait, one thing: here’s the video of my talk to opensource.com’s #cc10 event in December!

OK, back to my quandary.

If you’re not familiar with the behind-the-scenes of self-publishing, Kindle Direct Publishing is the 900 lb gorilla in the room. No, correction, it’s the 900-ton gorilla. Amazon uses it to make it very easy to self-publish to their store and throughout that process they are ever eager to dangle a great big bucket of potential money in front of the author in return for a promise of exclusivity.

They do this via KDP Select. If a writer agrees to list their ebook nowhere but Amazon’s Kindle store then Amazon will do three things: let authors make the book free for five days every quarter, allow Kindle owners to borrow and lend that ebook and pay the author a deli-thin slice of a huge pie based on how often that happens. That’s all they explicitly promise, but there are lots of anecdotes about Amazon promoting KDP Select titles – without the author having to lift a finger – whereas they have never done anything to promote anything I’ve listed there, even to people who have already bought one thing by me. I’ve seen zero cross-pollination; the grapevine has it Amazon tries in some small way to make that happen for KDP Select titles.

This makes KDP Select a no-brainer for the vast majority of self-publishers if they’re looking at it purely from a perspective of sales and income. The conventional wisdom is that everyone who’s self-publishing sees 95% of their sales through the Amazon Kindle store anyway, so why not potentially make a few extra bucks? The money we’re talking about here would be, for most people, anywhere between zero and a few dollars every month, but a free coffee is a free coffee. (There are high-profile claims of thousands or tens of thousands of dollars being earned via lending and borrowing of KDP Select titles but those are obviously outliers.)

I can never settle for being normal, though, so of course the vast majority of my sales have been via Smashwords. Roughly 2/3 of my downloads have been via Smashwords because I can give the book away for free any ol’ time I feel like. For instance, I stuck a coupon at the end of my presentation to opensource.com’s #cc10 meetup in December; it doesn’t expire until something like 2016. I can use Smashwords to push my books out to iBooks and Nook and all the other stores. Only a tiny handful of sales have happened via those outlets but two of my close friends who have read Perishables are among that number and they both specifically asked if Tooth & Nail would be available via iBooks because that’s better for them. Beyond those, I want to make my stuff available via more means rather than via fewer and I love Smashwords for enabling me to make a work available for readers on basically any platform rather than tying works to device types.

The urge to tinker is strong, though, as is greed. As I see it, I could do one of five things:

1) Remove Perishables from Smashwords (and thus from iBooks/Nook/etc), enroll it in KDP Select, and then do the same with Tooth & Nail. Not what I want to do, but doing so wouldn’t break the laws of physics.

2) Leave Perishables alone but enroll Tooth & Nail in KDP Select for 90 days to see what it’s like. Authors are explicitly encouraged to fiddle with KDP Select by enrolling one book or some books but not others to see the difference.

3) Enroll Perishables in KDP Select to see how it does but release Tooth & Nail via Kindle and Smashwords as I’ve previously done with Perishables.

4) Leave Perishables alone, release Tooth & Nail via Kindle and Smashwords, and enroll one of my short stories in KDP Select to see how it does.

5) Stay out of KDP Select entirely.

Thoughts are, of course, most welcome via email, Twitter, G+ or in person.