Monday, September 16, 2013

Should You Use KDP Select?

One of the surest ways to get your book into the hands of new readers is to offer it for free. This makes the KDP Select program look very appealing at first glance. The biggest downside is that it requires you to publish and sell your book ONLY on Amazon for 3 months. Signing up is as easy as simply selecting a checkbox in your KDP dashboard next to the title of the book.

In exchange for exclusivity, Amazon give your books the ability to be free for 5 days across 3 months--just 5 and only 5. To be in the program, you have to take the book down from all other channels if it's already published. In fact, there is a list of rules and you should read them carefully before entering the program. Amazon will check to make sure your books are not up for sale elsewhere before they give you the free days.

I put my single title book THE RIGHT THING into this program. During the first two "free" days which I independently promoted on Facebook, Twitter, and other sites, I saw just over 2300 downloads in all Amazon channels (US, UK, DE, ES, IT, FR).  This is not great--I had more than that already on DAC, my original "free" book which is still free. I used promo sites that will let their users know it is free. I also used a couple book tweeting #hashtags for "free books" recognized and shared by Twitter groups. I did see some improvements in downloads from that, around 600-700.

In the KDP Select program, during the rest of the 3 month's time the book is not free, the book is available to Prime Members to "borrow" for "free", but the author does receive a token for each "borrow" usage. The token has been somewhere around a $$2.00 or so this summer. My loans have been less than twenty in all channels over 3 months. People tend to buy $2.99 books I think. They tend to borrow the more expensive ones. At the end of 3 months, you can either re-enroll the book in the program and start over, OR take it out of the program and put it back for sale everywhere else. My plan, based on my results, is to put the book back for sale everywhere.

So what did I learn?

Judging from the history of my sales, I would have to double my Amazon sales on any title for all three months for the program to make sense financially and cover my losses from other channels. What was my take-away from my experiment? I will never use this program with any of my series books.

Here's an example of what I'm describing. Just among our tiny writer's group of 20+ published authors, sales vary greatly from author to author and channel to channel. Amazon is only 40% of my sales. It is around 80% of another author's. That's a huge difference in Amazon's value as a sales channel to just two of us. I make 20% from Apple sales and 25% from B&N. Why would I make my Apple and B&N readers wait three months? That would not only be three months of Apple and B&N sales lost for me, but it would also mean a bunch of frustrated readers. They already hate waiting days for their own channel to offer it once it's available anywhere, much less weeks. So my specific situation makes KDP Select a much riskier marketing tool for me than for the author who definitely gets 80% of her earnings from Amazon already. For her, she is gaining "free days", more Amazon marketing, and maybe even more other benefits.

Now I do know authors who use the KDP Select program to "pre-announce" new titles, essentially using Amazon to launch books. Again, I would not do that based on the spread of my sales over all channels, but if you were in the 80% bracket of your profits coming from Amazon this could make sense too because you would get the free days during your "pre-announce" time period. Other than price matching to free which is done at Amazon's discretion, the KDP Select program is the only method Amazon backs legitimately for making something "free" and the bonus is that they love you for taking part in it.

The dollars of my results are not worth mentioning because my sales never broke more than 150 books in any one of the three months. Sure, I had around 4000 downloads of it for free, but did those help other sales? Not as much as publishing a new release in the first series did. Sales of the first series shot up tremendously when I came out with the new book.

Two months into the KDP Select program did not help or hurt my book sales much. It was during the third month, when little was happening with rank, sales, or anything when it became clear via the math that I was actually losing sales. Since the average sales amount per month for that title was relatively small compared to the series books anyway, the financial impact was low enough not to be a serious detriment to my overall earnings. I probably lost no more in than I did doing a Kindle Fire giveaway earlier in the year that netted me pretty much nothing in the way of new customers or sales. Next time I do a serious giveaway or contest, I will be running the campaign myself.

There are now lots of articles stating the best case and worst case scenarios for using KDP Select. My advice for everyone is to never forget it's an experiment, like most marketing endeavors end up being to some degree. Many articles you will find are from those who have put several books through this program and found some do better than others. Those I think reflect the widest range of possibilities and would help your research. Read both the good results and the bad so that you can make an informed decision.

Yet before even considering the KDP Select program, you need to research your own sales to know exactly what you will be giving up being "Amazon Only" for 3 months. Maybe it will be nothing and the program will work magic for you. Sure, you can just take a chance with a book like I did. I think many authors are doing just that. The truth is there is no one marketing method that is guaranteed. Like all other serious marketing efforts, KDP Select requires some planning and some networking work to get the word out to potential buyers that your book is going to be free. Hoping for random interest generated by massive amounts of Amazon traffic is not going to get you the most for your strategy. List your book with sites that will notify their interested readers on the days your book will free. The best list of promotion sites I've seen collected into one spot is available on the blog of author, Rachelle Ayala.

New authors always seek a clear marketing answer, but there usually isn't one when it comes to finding new readers for your work. You have to try a lot of things and then keep trying more. My advice? Keep KDP Select on your list of options to consider, but also keep looking for others.