This month's ‘We need to talk about…' opinion piece comes from guest blogger and ALLi Member, Morgana Best.
KDP Select or wide? It’s the age-old question…
Over the years, I’ve seen countless posts on social media asking, which is better, KDP Select or wide? As though making the ‘right’ choice will somehow guarantee success. Yet, there are six-figure and seven-figure authors in KDP Select and six-figure and seven-figure authors wide.
My view is, people can make money with either one — it simply depends how you do it.
How you do it is one thing, but should you choose KDP Select?
Choosing KDP Select means exclusivity with Amazon. Best Business 101 practice is to do a SWOT analysis, to look at opportunities and threats, strengths and weaknesses.
Clearly, exclusive reliance on Amazon is both a threat and a weakness. There are plenty of risks with choosing KDP Select. It would be poor business practice not to look at what Amazon has done and is doing currently.
When I have pointed out the dangers of Amazon exclusivity, people have accused me of scaremongering, but as a former academic with two PhDs, I look at matters through a research lens. Research is my strength, and one thing’s for certain, the business scene changes rapidly, often with little warning.
Remember Xerox and MySpace?
In 2008, Jim Keyes, the CEO of Blockbuster, said Netflix wasn’t “even on the radar screen in terms of competition.” In 2010, Blockbuster filed for bankruptcy with a debt of over $900 million. We all know what happened with Netflix.
What happens if Amazon shuts down KDP Select?
Amazon has shut down other programs with little notice. Select started out in 2011 as a paid-per-book system and then changed to pages read in July 2015. This happened with scant warning. In 2022, Kindle Select did away with Author Bonuses and also disbanded separate Author and Illustrated Kids’ Book bonuses.
Amazon shut down Kindle Worlds in August 2018, although it had stopped selling Kindle World stories in July 2018. Amazon informed authors of Kindle Worlds’ demise in May 2018.
At the end of 2022, Amazon announced it would end print textbook rentals as well as magazine and newspaper subscriptions:
Following an assessment of our print textbook rentals and our magazine and newspaper subscriptions and single-issue sales, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue these services.
Around that time, Amazon laid off several thousand people in the book divisions. In November 2022, the Amazon CEO, Andy Jassy, stated, “We communicated the difficult decision to eliminate a number of positions across our Devices and Books businesses.”
Amazon closed the online bookstore, Book Depository, in April 2023. The Kindle Publishing for Periodicals Program will disappear in September 2023. In November 2022, Mark Williams of the New Publishing Standard noted that Amazon added 98 million music titles and podcasts to Prime membership. He stated, “If Amazon will throw its music catalogue into Prime simply because it can, how long before audiobooks or ebooks are added too?”
Cross sells and upsells
Something else to consider. The money for retailers is in the cross sells and the upsells. Cross sells and upsells are where the customer is shown different items as well as more expensive products at every point in the sale: browsing, checkout, post purchase, and even through re-marketing.
Authors selling on the retailers might not be aware of these cross selling, upselling, and re-marketing efforts. A customer buys one author’s book, and then Amazon also sells other books to that customer. Have you noticed how many other authors’ books are on your Amazon product pages? And it’s not just books. Customers click through on book pages to buy a vast array of products.
A wonderful example is McDonald’s. They used to have 30c ice cream cones. There was no or little profit in these cheap products, and the money was made in the upsells. It was a rare customer who left McDonald’s with just one ice cream cone. Books to Amazon are the McDonald’s 30c ice cream cones of years gone by. The “Do you want fries with that?” has become a meme, but that’s where McDonald’s makes its money, by upselling to other products.
What does a 30c ice cream have to do with KDP Select?
It has more to do with Amazon itself. Amazon has always used books as their 30c ice cream cones, but now they are stepping up their efforts. Now Amazon “may add” ‘Transparency’ QR codes to the back of paperback covers to upsell and cross sell. Such print books will be Amazon branded, and this presents another opportunity for Amazon to sell other authors’ books to customers. I’m sure it won’t end there. This means it will be increasingly difficult for authors to gain traction or even keep their sales stable on Amazon whether in Select or not. Going wide is now more important than ever.
All that aside, Amazon is known to shut down accounts, and even though legitimate accounts are usually reinstated, the author suffers loss of income. KENP pay-out figures are decreasing. High-profile authors are already reporting they are pulling books out of Select due to pay-out drop-offs.
Sustainable author businesses
Some authors say they went from wide into Select and made a stack of money. Yet an author’s business has to be sustainable. There’s no point in having a few good months or even a good year and then not being able to make a decent income for the following years. I started on the retailers back when Amazon bought BookSurge and renamed it CreateSpace, and I have seen authors come and go.
If you’re starting, consider going wide from the outset. If you’re already in Select, consider moving your backlist wide when it stops doing well in Select. There’s good money in print books as well, so don’t neglect those.
People often ask me how Select works with selling direct. Authors doing well in Select do sell direct as well as part of their migration away from Select. When the sales of a backlist series start to drop off, they take those books out of Select and put them in their store. Meanwhile, they sell print books and audiobooks direct from their store. This has been a highly profitable strategy for some people in Select, and if Amazon shut down Select tomorrow, those authors would have their other stream of income.
So, what's my view? Whichever way you do it, consider going wide at the earliest possible opportunity. It is not wise business practice to be dependent upon one retailer, even more so now given the direction in which Amazon is headed. I will leave you with the words of Richard Paul Evans:
Any time you put all your eggs in one basket, you’re just one stumble away from catastrophe.
Find out more…
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