Should You Enroll Your Book in KDP Select? The Basics

*Update: As of May 10th-ish 2012, it seems that Amazon have changed their algorithm and the KDP Select free days are not having nearly as much impact on ranking and sales afterwards as they once were. For more info on these topics, see here and here.*

Several people have asked me whether I think enrolling their books into the KDP Select Program is a good idea. Like most things in life there is no one answer for everyone, and it really will depend on your situation – your sales, your books, your publishing model, your audience, your long term strategy.

Yes I’m all about the Strat!

Without one, what are you doing?

It’s good to know the pros & cons in order to decide what’s best for you. But please, please, please DON’T jump on the bandwagon because everyone else is doing it. What’s your ultimate goal in publishing? Short term sales or long term sales? Finding readers or making a decent living? Whatever your strategy is, make sure it’s forward thinking: i.e. it won’t harm you in the long term. Is it wise to cut your ties with B&N, Smashwords, iBookstore? If your sales say otherwise, don’t give it all up for a greedy couple of hundred bucks this weekend. I’ll say it again. Have a strategy! 

As you most likely know by now, Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing is their digital content publishing program. By enrolling in the KDP “Select” program, it allows you to lend your book through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library to anyone who has Amazon Prime membership. You then earn money for every borrow per books.

One of the attractive features of the KDP Select program is that you can set your book free for 5 days out of 90 hence which is otherwise not allowed on Amazon ($0.99 being the minimum price). Later this week I’ll talk about what happened when I listed one of my books as free for 3 days in January.

According to the Amazon KDP Select homepage, here are the pros of enrolling your book into their KDP Select Program:

  • “Reach a new audience – Distribute books through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and reach the growing number of US Amazon Prime members.”
–> I won’t argue with this one. Reaching a new audience means more reviews, and potentially higher rankings since “borrows” counts towards your sales in the ranking system. If you set your book as free you might increase your ranking significantly too. You’ll also show up in more ‘Customers also bought this’ listings which is fantastic exposure; one of Amazon’s many free marketing tools.
  • “Earn a whole new source of royalties – Earn your share of at least $6 million throughout 2012 when readers borrow your books from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.”
–> December 2011’s KDP Select Fund was $500,000, January 2012’s was $700,000, February’s is $600,000. With more people buying Kindles each month, the slice of the pie is getting smaller. They explain the monthly fund on their homepage as such:  “For example, if the monthly fund amount is $500,000, the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000, and your book was borrowed 1,500 times, you will earn 1.5% (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%), or $7,500 for that month.” 
But this is all speculation since we don’t know how may KDP titles are participating and when we are not told what the fund for the next month is until the last minute, it’s a little worrying. The December figures look pretty good though: on January 12th Amazon released a press release stating that authors reportedly earned $1.70 per borrow for that month.
  • “Promote your book for free to readers worldwide – The newly launched Promotions Manager tool will allow you to directly control the promotion of free books.”
–> While previously the only way to set your book to free on Amazon was to lower the price elsewhere, say on Smashwords, and then alert Amazon of the competition (a slightly dodgy, and not exactly accurate way of going about it), KDP Select now let’s you set the price of your book to free for up to 5 out of 90 days. This does not mean that you get any royalties, simply that you benefit from the added exposure that comes from having a free book. 
  • Instant feedback – Check real-time performance of your books in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

–> I’m not exactly sure how this is any different from KDP in general. I think the sales reports on there are real time, too.

Recap of the Pros: added exposure, better ranking, puts you into the ‘Customers Also Bought/ Viewed This’ line, hopefully some new reviews.

Yes, but can I make lots of money through it?

According to Amazon, the total earnings for the top ten authors on the KDP Select Program exceeded $70,000. Now us average selling authors always need to hold our horses when hearing these Kindle millionaire stories.

Sure it’s nice to dream, but when making important decisions on such things, it serves us far better to think about how an average seller might fare in such programs and what pricing our book as free might do in the long term.

My reason for going free. 

I’m using KDP Select to sell a short guide for $0.99 in order to find readers for a second book. This short guide is helping me to promote a book that I hope to get more sales on, and I don’t really mind if I make money from this $0.99 guide or not – that’s not the goal of it.

My main book is a 60,000 word wedding guide that sells for $3.99 and $14.95 in paperback. I refuse to lower the price of it, but since eBooks are selling so cheaply these days, even finding new readers to fork out $3.99 is more challenging. In order to find new readers who would hopefully like my writing style and therefore be willing to shell out $3.99 or $14.95 for the paperback, I needed to draw them in with a cheapie, or a freebie. I therefore wrote a 10,000 word guide that sells for $0.99, and while in itself it’s a valuable resource, it also serves to spread the word about my main book. If I were to give away the same thing for free from my website, I doubt I would get the same exposure that Amazon affords me. [edit: 3000+ downloads over 2 days]

If you can publish a short guide, or short story in your genre, it might well be worth your while submitting into the KDP Select program in order to grab your readers’ attention in the first place. Readers will take a chance on a $0.99 book if it’s by an author they are not familiar with, but you’ll never get rich on $0.99 price points.

Cons: 

– Exclusivity: In the small print of the KDP explanation, they ask that you publish exclusively on Kindle. Or in their words:

“When you choose KDP Select for a book, you’re committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP. During the period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital. See the KDP Select Terms and Conditions for more information.”

This may or may not be a con for you depending on your current sales patterns. Since all of my sales seem to come from Amazon (I don’t publish on Smashwords and B&N lands me a sale once in a blue moon), I wasn’t at all upset about taking the book off sale there for a few months. You can still sell physical copies anywhere you like, you are only committing to exclusivity of the digital format.

(What does concern me more is the bigger picture; the monopoly that Amazon is potentially causing and I agree somewhat with the argument that Amazon isn’t exactly playing fair here.)

Lending books isn’t really selling books and we don’t know what one borrow means in terms of royalties. It’s all a bit like going to market expecting to sell apples for a $1 each, and then selling a bunch but being told you won’t find out how much you’ll make on them until next month. Would you do it? Is the uncertainty unfair? Or perhaps it’s better than selling no apples at all (unless you could be selling them over at the Barnes & Noble/ other digital retail store market).

Be wise, don’t jump in.

Next week I’ll be talking about what happened when I enrolled my book into the KDP Select program for 3 days over the weekend of January 27-29th.




Laura Pepper Wu is the co-founder of 30 Day Books: a book studio. She has worked with a variety of authors to successfully promote their books, including many Amazon best-sellers. Laura is the author of wedding non-fiction guides and book marketing guides 77 Ways to Find New Readers for Your Self-Published Book and Fire Up Amazon!

Laura also runs Ladies Who Critique, a critique-partner finding site. When she's not working at the studio, you can find her walking her dog, "yoga-ing" or at a coffee shop in Seattle.