Is there a more prominent question to be asked and resolved right now for indie authors? There certainly isn’t a more pressing time, as many of us are coming up on our first renewal window. And, as that window approaches, I’m seeing more and more authors take a stance on this issue. Question is, what areyou going to do?
In case you’re new to the game, or you’ve lived under a rock for the last three months, Kindle Direct Publishing is the means by which you can publish your ebook on Amazon. About three months ago, KDP announced the select program, whereby an author could take advantage of a huge promotional tool in exchange for your ebook being listed exclusively on Amazon. The huge promotional tool is the ability to list your book for free for five (5) days during your three month KDPS agreement with Amazon. Going free, in and of itself, is just the first of a one-two punch. The second punch is that your free downloads “transfer” over to your paid ranking when you come off of free. Thus, you do not get any royalty credit for the free downloads (obviously), but you do get credit in terms of where you rank when your free period is over. To be clear, this can be HUGE (which is why I put it in caps, okay?)
Let’s start with this–I have experienced and witnessed some amazing results in the KDPS program. First, as to my own book Enemy in Blue, I have gone from being in the 20,000-30,000 ranking range to the 1,000-2,500 range. That’s going from maybe a couple books sold a day to around 50. Second, I was part of an Indie Book Collective event where one of the authors (Nina Bruhns, Catch Me If You Can) experienced an almost unimaginable jump. Her book reached the top 10 in all free books, came out onto free and reached the top 30 in all of paid, and her backlog of books is now completely kicking ass. She is selling tons of books. Would that have happened without KDPS? Maybe, but it certainly didn’t happen before KDPS.
If the results were a one-off, I’d let you know that and probably counsel against KDPS. However, the results are not anomalies, which leads me to my conclusion that KDPS is the most significant marketing tool that we indie authors have at the moment.
I ended the last second with the caveat “at the moment” because things can change on a moment’s notice with Amazon. From my own personal experience, I seemed to get a bigger “transfer” based upon the number of downloads in my first free giveaway than my second. There are rumblings that Amazon is not giving as much credit for free downloads in KDPS now as they were at the beginning of the program. Essentially, they are making it more difficult to climb the rankings based solely upon your downloads. This could make the value of the primary benefit of KDPS less attractive.
Adding to the changing landscape is saturation in our target markets. This is purely speculation, but I think there’s an upper limit to what people are willing to throw onto their devices. If they have 50 books that they have downloaded for free, are they really going to add the 51st, 52nd, etc.? Even if they do, will they ever read them? This also begs the question, are people going to become accustomed to getting books for free? Will they still pay $2.99 for a book when they know that it may go free in the next several months? Is that the world we (as indie authors) want to create…and do we have any say in it to begin with?
I think a very interesting indicator of where readers are headed is the report generated by Kindle Nation Daily with respect to the successes of their sponsors. Here’s the link to the results: https://spreadsheets.google.com/spreadsheet/pub?key=0AlfzLsx6vYzodHZaUWJ6QS0tdC1Rb1pFay1sNW5pSHc&gid=18 If you take the time to analyze the results over the last few months compared to the last year, for instance, you’ll see two things. First, many more authors listing their books for free and paying for advertising space to do so. Second, the numerical jump in ranking for books that are free versus those that are paid is significantly different. To me, this means that readers are becoming accustomed to free rather than paid. (Now, this may largely be a result of the shift in who advertises on Kindle Nation Daily, i.e. more free books, but it is the only empirical data we have as to results from advertising).
STILL THE BEST GAME IN TOWN
Things can change on a dime. Just look at what KDPS did to our world. As things currently stand, it is a must to use the KDPS system as an indie author. Nowhere else are you going to get 5,000, 10,000, or 20,000 downloads of your book. Even if 1-2% of those people actually read the book, you’re still better off. Further, no other distribution system (i.e. Apple, B&N, Smashwords) provides usany marketing tools of anysignificance. Will all your ebook eggs be in one basket for 3 month periods? Yes. But, is there really only one basket that’s going to lift you to success as an indie author? Eh, kinda. At least right now. I don’t see many authors gloating about how they sold 1,000,000 books on Smashwords or B&N.
In sum, I simply don’t think there’s a better way to expose your book right now, and I don’t think there’s a better way to climb the bestselling ranks. Could that change in a year? Sure. Could that change in a month? Absolutely. Until it does, I’ve got to stick with KDPS.