The Truth About Amazon KDP Select

Hi there! Want to learn how to write and publish an eBook in just 48 hours? Yes, it can be done! Click here (opens in new window)

For a long time I ragged on Amazon’s KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select program for self-published authors. (Case in point.)

If you’re unaware, KDP Select is a program that allows self-published authors a few unique promotion opportunities in exchange for being exclusive to Amazon. That means if you enroll a book in KDP Select you can’t sell it anywhere else, including your own website.

The main benefits are your book is added to the Kindle Lending Library where you get ~$2 each time your book is borrowed. And you also get 5 free promo days for every 90 days your book is enrolled in KDP Select. That means you can make your book free on Amazon and hopefully earn a bunch of new readers. (Luxury of Less is free right now, for example.)

Late last November I decided to give KDP Select a shot. I didn’t feel I could keep talking trash about it without knowing personally how it worked and what it did.

The following are my results. After which I’ll share insights from five other self-published authors.

First KDP Select Free Promo: 3 Days (December 17, 18, 19)

From December 1 – December 16 Luxury of Less had 46 sales, 1 refund, and 7 borrows. Each sale is worth $2 and each borrow is worth about $2. 52 sales/borrows x $2 = $104.

This isn’t very good. And one of the reasons I decided to give KDP Select a shot. Throughout the year sales started dwindling. A few hundred sales/month turned into barely 100 sales/month. Increasing sales of this book isn’t anywhere near a priority for me, but if I could do it with minimum effort I’d do what I could.

I didn’t do any research into optimal free promo day strategy so I decided to initially go with 3 days free, beginning on December 17. Those 3 days were phenomenal.

11,577 people downloaded Luxury of Less for free and it shot up to #16 on the Top 100 Amazon.com Free List.

Luxury of Less Number 16 free Top 100 Amazon ebooks

The month ended up like this.

237 sales, 11 refunds, 235 borrows.

All told, $871.75 profit from Amazon US for December 2012. (Plus another ~$50 from all the other Amazon stores combined.) Granted ~$900 isn’t a King’s ransom, but it was the best month Luxury of Less had ever had on Amazon. The only month that topped this was when I launched Luxury of Less on October 4, 2010 and generated $45k (revenue, not profit), but that story’s been told (and they were direct non-Amazon sales).

The free promotion bounce-back (meaning, increased sales) I’d heard others mention was legit. I was on track to barely pull in $200 from the book in December, but pulled in nearly $900 instead due to the extra visibility of the free promo days.

Second KDP Select Promotion: 2 days (January 17, 18)

By now I was nearly convinced that KDP Select legitimately helped authors build a readership and sell books.

From January 1-16 I had 95 sales, 3 refunds, and 30 borrows so things began sliding back to normal again. There was still a little bit of the bounce-back effect, but I was looking at finishing the month with less than 200 sales and about 50 borrows.

Would a second free promo bring with it a second solid showing of sales?

Here’s what happened.

In 2 days I gave away 2,750 copies for free. Not bad, but no rushing up the Top 100 charts this time.

The month ended with 165 sales, 4 refunds, and 37 borrows. No sales bounce-back after the free promo. In actuality, it seems sales regressed even more.

Total profit for January 2013 was $390.32. To compare year-over-year, in January 2012 the book made $523.14 on Amazon and I wasn’t enrolled in KDP Select at the time. Meaning, I could also sell it from any other book seller I wanted.

What I was particularly interested in was Month 3, February, when I wouldn’t have any free promo days left to use. I failed to be clear earlier, but KDP Select is a 90 day program and you can either quit or re-enroll after 90 days. With where sales were headed I didn’t think I’d re-enroll and February would be a good indicator of the long-term effects of KDP Select.

February 2013 looked like this: 70 sales, 1 refund, 7 borrows. In other words: horrible. Total profit: $149.85.

Conclusion

My 3 month average profit during KDP Select enrollment: $470.64. This is less than Luxury of Less was making in an average month for most of 2011 and 2012.

March 2013 is even worse. So far (March 1-17) I’ve got 20 sales, 1 refund, and 5 borrows. The worst month I’ve ever had on Amazon. But even if KDP Select’s boost is only temporary, it was quite a boost the first time. Enough of a boost that I decided to enroll in KDP Select for one more 90 day period to see if I could repeat the same success

Which is why Luxury of Less is free again right now. Go download it. I’m using up all 5 free promo days all at once. I’ll report how it goes at some point in the future.

5 Self-Published Authors Weigh In On KDP Select

Hearing from me is one thing, but my results and opinions on KDP Select are just that, mine. So I reached out to some friends to see what they had to say.

Let’s do this round-table interview-style. (Not as cool as Gangnam Style, I’m sorry to say.)

1) Why did you decide to use KDP Select, thereby making your book exclusive to Amazon and unsellable everywhere else?

Colin: I thought I would give it a try. I only have one book tied up in negotiations from outside parties, and 3 months isn’t a terribly long time. The benefits also seemed interesting — being able to promo books for free through the Kindle ecosystem, especially.

Joshua: I like to test things out—to grow by learning, by doing, by failing from time to time. Fortunately, this little experiment wasn’t a failure for me.

Johnny: I think KDP Select is unparalleled as the start to a marketing funnel for books, meaning that it is, IMO, of limited use to people who only have one book and no backend off of that book. But for a series, KDP allows me to make one book free to drive sales of the others, which it reliably does. It gets people off of their asses to check me out who wouldn’t have otherwise.

Also, KDP Select plus an email list is the fucking magic formula. Take my book Fat Vampire 3. I made it free and it sold some on its own, but then I told my list and 505 people clicked through in the first few hours to get it. Those downloads drove it right up the chart and will continue to do so. It’ll peak tomorrow in all likelihood, then possibly back down as the promo ends. Right now, it’s ranked 515 overall and #15 in the horror charts. Once it’s visible like that (horror is a big, popular category), the “WTF” factor and a good cover/title will cause people who wouldn’t otherwise have seen it to download it, causing it to rise higher. The current #1 horror book is ranked #62 overall. I’m not saying I’ll got that high, but if I did, top 100 is a BFD in terms of maximizing the funnel stuff and the sales bump that happens when a book comes off of free.

The other stores don’t let you play this little game. You have to get “discovered” there, whereas free promos on Amazon allow you to send yourself up the charts, driving sales on all of your books.

Sean: We have specific funnels for all of our titles, with several episodes leading into a season. Because of this, using KDP Select to make an episode free drives purchases towards sales of that first season. While building our publishing business last year, and trying to move as many different series to market as possible, it made most sense to focus our efforts on production, and keep our titles in one place. No one besides Amazon had the reach, and coupled with the ability to flip a switch and turn our titles free and work our funnels, it was an easy decision. When we were on Nook and iPad, they accounted for roughly 5% of our sales.

Betsy: Another author friend recommended the program to us as a way to climb in the rankings using the 5 “free” days. We had 2 books out at the time, and the majority of our sales were already coming from Amazon (more than 90%), so we didn’t see it as a big risk.

2) What have been your results? # of free downloads? # of sales (and lending library borrows)? Or more generally, did you see an increase in sales after joining KDP Select or after a free promo?

Colin: For the free promos, I’ve had about 5-10k for nonfiction, and 1-3k for fiction (though these numbers may be skew, since I’m very new to fiction). I’ve had little traction on the lending library — a few dozen reads, tops.

Joshua: I made my last book free for five days and received just over 21,000 downloads. I’ve had other books get 5,000–13,000 downloads in a five-day period. Part of the success (i.e., the reason for these numbers) has to do, partly, with the my already-established audience. That said, I’ve been able to attract a ton of new readers by offering my work for free for a short period, which has led to increased sales after the promotional periods, as well as on my other books.

Johnny: I don’t see any benefit of being in Select other than during promos except for borrows, but there aren’t many of those. Typically 10ish a month for a decently popular title, maybe. But during the promos, I’ll often see 750 downloads or so in the first day. That’s what I can get on my own if I’m lucky. But what you really want is to get picked up by pixelofink.com. It’s kind of a crapshoot (except that they pick up popular books with a lot of reviews more often than others), but if they DO pick you up, a 2-3 day promo can drive 20K plus downloads. I haven’t seen this yet, but Sean and Dave have.

Promos benefit sales in two ways:

  1. Sales of the book that was on promo after the promo ends. There are always a handful of these. It’s a nice bump and always exceeds what you’d normally get in the same time by maybe 2-3x… if you’d have gotten ANY sales without the promo. This effect used to be huge, but Amazon changed their algorithms, so now this is an “icing on the cake” thing that ends up being minor.
  2. Sales of other related books. THIS is why you do promos. For instance, downloads of Fat Vampire 3 are already driving sales of FV 1 and 2, because people what to read those first. Last month, a promo on FV 2 did the same for immediate sales on FV 1. Conversely, when I do a promo on 1, I see sales of 2 (and next time, surely 3 as well), but those sales take longer to trickle in.

This effect is cumulative, and you’ll get more out of it each time. It’s like having regular sales to boost your business and is pretty damn reliable if you have several related titles.

Sean: Yes, 100% of the time we have seen a spike in sales after a KDP Select promotion. However, I must clarify that this is primarily due to us having funnels in place, built to capitalize on one free title leading into other paid titles. Most authors do not do this and are then disappointed when they don’t see results, post promotion.

Betsy: We had over 5000 free downloads of our first KDP Select book, Getting Rid of It: Eliminate the Clutter in Your Life. This pushed the book up in the Amazon algorithm, meaning more shoppers saw it as a recommended book, and we saw our sales increase 20% long-term because of it. In fact, it is still our best-selling book. What helped even further was having a sneak peek of our other book, Dream Save Do: An Action Plan for Dreamers, at the end, which also boosted its sales over time. But we were lucky to get our book in during the early days of KDP Select, because later the algorithm changed to make free downloads count for much less than actual purchases. We didn’t know this, of course, because Amazon doesn’t publish this info. So when we launched our third book, Strip Off Your Fear: Slip Into Something More Confident, the thousand downloads on launch day didn’t do a thing for our ranking or long-term sales. In hindsight, it was a mistake to launch as a free day and to count on the bump in the algorithm from it.

3) Did you previously sell any of your books on other platforms? If so, how did they do?

Colin: I used Smashwords for a while, but the books that seem to do best there are romance and mysteries — things where people get favorite pulp writers and stick with them. I’ve also used iBooks, but the extra hoops you have to jump through to publish wasn’t worth it (I may try them again soon, however, as the process has changed since I last used it, and it does seem to be the best option for image-heavy published materials at the moment). I tried Nook and only had a few sales, so despite it being crazy-easy to publish to, it wasn’t worth spreading myself that thin. Interested to see how Kobo does, but I think for the moment it’s Amazon’s game and we’re all just playing it.

Joshua: Yes, I’ve tried all of them: Nook, Smashwords, taped to the side of bathroom stalls, etc. But now, all seven of my books are available only in print (high-quality trade paperback via Create Space) and on Kindle, five of which books are available in audiobook format (via ACX.com which distributes to Audible, Amazon, and iTunes), all of which formats (i.e., paperback, Kindle, audiobook) are linked to my Amazon Author Central page.

Johnny: I put my book “The Bialy Pimps” on Nook and Apple. I don’t believe it sells at all. It’s an effort vs. reward thing. I could do it and get sales, but it’s not enough to be worth my time, IMO, when I could spend that time writing more instead.

However, The Bialy Pimps wouldn’t be a good KDP Select candidate anyway, because it’s only one book.

Sean: Yes, we originally had Yesterday’s Gone on all other platforms. It did abysmally. We do believe it will do better the second time around, once we have the additional titles to back up the first. We are now starting the process of migrating our entire library, starting with Yesterday’s Gone Season One. All other titles will follow, on all platforms.

Betsy: We previously sold both Getting Rid of It and Dream Save Do as PDFs on our website and through E-Junkie. They did okay, but you really need a bigger platform. Your audience will either buy it or not, and after that you need new visitors. A site like Amazon is perfect for aligning your books with buyer needs.

4) Will you continue to renew your KDP Select membership every 90 days? Are you open to testing other platforms or are you convinced Amazon is the way?

Colin: I will for my fiction, for the time being. I think it really has the potential to be a great program, but at the moment there’s little draw for folks who aren’t already heavy-sellers. If Amazon provided more promo — did some digging for hidden gems — I think they’d draw a lot more authors to the dinner table and expand their library greatly.

I’m absolutely open to testing other platforms. Amazon has the best ecosystem right now, but I’m hoping someone else steps up and becomes the Pepsi to Amazon’s Coca-Cola. We need that kind of competition, as much as I generally like how Amazon does things.

Joshua: I’ve renewed several times already. I will continue to do so as long as I continue to find value.

Johnny: As above, I just don’t see the need right now [to test other platforms]. It’s not that I’m convinced Amazon is the way, but applying the 80/20 rule, it’s where I want to put my time. I do continue to renew.

Sean: Yes, I believe for us 100% of our titles for the time being will start their life as Amazon Select titles for the first 90 days so we can take full advantage of the free promotion, then they will “graduate” away from Select and onto other platforms.

Betsy: We decided not to renew after our last couple of free days didn’t give us good long-term results. Nothing ever beat our first experience, which was back when free downloads were counted the same as purchases. How I wish it were still true! Now we have our books in print and ebook through all the major retailers.

###

Thanks to Colin, Joshua, Johnny, Sean, and Betsy for their insights.

Bonus: Sean and Johnny (along with Dave Wright) have a great podcast for self publishers called The Self Publishing Podcast.

###

Luxury of Less is free from March 18 until end of day March 22.

Adam

What a great discussion, thank you all for talking about your experiences on KDP select. It didn’t work very well for me, but maybe I’ll try it again using some of your techniques.

I’ve got a series of books self-published on most of the major bookstores, and in the last six months I’ve seen huge growth in my sales on iTunes. The last two months I sold almost twice as much there as on Amazon. It is a pain to get through the upload process (and you have to have a Mac computer to do it) but it’s been worth the effort for me. Google Play has not been worth the effort, their interface is terrible and hard to deal with, and sales are quite slow. B&N is really easy to use (as one of your mentioned) but sales aren’t anywhere near where iTunes and Kindle are. Kobo has been picking up a bit, but is still about at the level of B&N. (I’m selling quite a few Chinese books on Kobo, that and iTunes are the only stores I’ve found that allow Chinese books at the moment.)

Thanks again for the great information. I look forward to hearing more at the end of your second period in KDP select Karol!

Karol

Seems it really is a “mileage may vary” scenario. My current free promotion is going exceptionally badly in comparison to the previous two. Interesting to hear about iTunes doing well for you now. If my free promo doesn’t perk up I’m going to un-enroll in KDP Select and add the book back to other platforms. (If you un-enroll after joining all that happens is you don’t get paid for Lending Library borrows. No big deal when it’s only $10.)

Karol

Guess I spoke too soon. Currently #278 on the free list. Haven’t cracked Top 100, but it’s doing better than I thought it was gonna do based on the first half of the day.

Charles Franklin

Thanks for the info about Amazon KDP and also thanks for the information about “unenrolling from Amazon KDP select”. As a book publicist, I have had some clients who loved it and others who hated it. I had a recent client who wanted to unenroll. After seeing your comment, I wanted to get some insight into how the process of unenrolling is. Was it easy process and are there any consequences (that you are aware of) if an author does unenroll?

Any help would be appreciated. I want to make sure I can help indie authors who enroll in Amazon KDP and those who choose to leave.

Karol

I guess I should clarify. I don’t know if there’s an official “un-enroll,” but what can Amazon do if you start selling on other platforms? Nothing really. (Except not pay you for borrows.) But I also don’t care what they do as much as an author who is trying to make it might. I have one book that I wrote 3 years ago and it isn’t a focus for me whatsoever.

Charles Franklin

I understand.

Thank you for taking the time to write the post and answer my question. I did get a lot more insight from someone who has been through the process and that’s exactly what I needed!

Regards
Charles Franklin

Jayn

You have to opt out before the end of the 90 days or they automatically re-enroll you. If you upload and start selling elsewhere, they can shut down your entire KDP account and withhold *all* of your money, not just what you earned in borrows on that book, but for all books on the account. It’s in the TOS.

Karol

Actually, here’s the truth, from the horse’s mouth: “If you don’t comply with these KDP Select terms and conditions, we will not owe you Royalties for that Digital Book earned through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library Program, and we may offset any of those Royalties that were previously paid against future Royalties, or require you to remit them to us. We may also withhold your Royalty payments on all your Digital Books for a period of up to 90 days while we investigate.”

Big deal. Exactly what I expected they would do.

Charles Franklin

Thank you guys for sharing this information. I appreciate it!

Thank you Karol Gadja for sharing your experience and insight into Amazon KDP. A lot of authors jump into this program (expecting huge payouts) without looking to the experiences of previous authors on KDP, like yourself and others.

Amy

Thank you for posting such a helpful discussion. It answered many of my KDP Select questions. As a traditionally published author switching to self-publishing for the first time there is certainly a lot to wade through online information wise. Any other favorite sites for up to date, relevant info?

Karol, your gratitude journal app looks wonderful! I am going to download it today.

Karol

JA Konrath’s blog http://jakonrath.blogspot.com

Thanks re: gratitude app!

Barbara Raghavan

I have joined KDP select ‘free download days’ yesterday. My results are nowhere near satisfactory. I guess I don’t do enough to promote my book.

Thank you for sharing your experiences.

It’s going to be a great help to me.

Karol

I’ve done free promos quite a few times. They no longer provide anything tangible. That first one was great, but afterwards they’ve been bad.

Robert Gregory Browne

Most of my books are in Select, largely because the library borrows far outweigh any sales I get from B&N or Kobo.

Going free last year with my first book TRIAL JUNKIES netted about 46,000 downloads and the bounce ultimately sold even more than that number of books, putting the book in the Top 100 and making it the #1 legal thriller. I’m hoping to repeat that success now that the follow up to TRIAL JUNKIES has been launched, but have yet to run a free promo. And I’m not sure I will, for various reasons.

KDP Select is wonderful for authors. But free promos do not seem to have the same effect they did a year ago, and I’m considering playing with price instead to experiment. That’s the name of the game in this new world of publishing. Experimentation.

Rawfitsungazer

Good article Karol, thanks!

Here’s my experience from KDP:

I ran a free promotion of my non-fiction book. The book reached #2 in the Top 100 Free list under “Non-fiction>Self-help>Spiritual” genre. I was under a false impression that Amazon let’s you keep the rank even after the promotion ends (by counting the free downloads as actual sales). My hopes were soon dispelled when I noticed the book returned to ranking of a whopping 625,o00 soon after the promotion ended (in contrast of the 1400 ranking during the promotion). It’s been a few days since the promotion ended, and I haven’t sold a single additional copy. The book takes a while to read, so I am hoping that at least 10% of the people who downloaded the book would read it and recommend it to their friends.

However after this experience, I am not sure if I would run another free promotion, or would enroll any of my future books in KDP select. I think I made a mistake by not enrolling my book in 2011 where it may have been beneficial to do so (It seems Amazon let you keep your rank gained during promotion, improving visibility of the book). At that time I was against exclusivity and wanted my book to be available in various formats to all readers, but after seeing that I was hardly selling any ebooks outside of amazon, I thought I would give KDP a shot. I guess, it was a little too late, as Amazon seems to be hide the free books (not easy to find top free books unless you look carefully), and takes away the rank after the promotion ends.

I am considering offering my next book free on smash words so that Amazon does a free price match. I will be better able to control the duration of the promotion from there and wouldn’t feel stuck with a 90 day contract with Amazon (I don’t believe in exclusivity). So I say yay for free promotions, but nay to KDP. (Not to mention I have had a grand total of zero lendings after I signed up for Prime).

BTW I am a fan of minimalism, so I might check out your book….thanks!

Leann

I just had a question about KDP select: does the exclusivity only refer to electronic versions of the book? I am interested in publishing an e-version and a hard copy and wanted to know if I would not be allowed to sell my hard copy because off the exclusivity.

Karol

KDP is digital only.

Loy

Almost everyone will tell you, you will not make money as a writer. However, you will make money if your a MARKETEER. However, I need a product to sell, and if I don’t write I don’t have a product to sell. Ergo, I must write. I hope you will forgive you simplicity of this concept, but I think a lot of people get hung up in the details and forget what they really doing to sell their work. The secret as far as I’m concerned is: write as many books as you can; put your work on KDP Select (the best now and probably in the future. I feel sad for Nook, etc., but eventually reality sets in); use whatever promos available; go back to your keyboard; write another book and put it on KDP Select; then write another book and . . . After you have done your WORK–say 20 books later– THEN sit back and intellectulize and calculate. Sorry, Gotta go now one of my character is in trouble and needs my help.

Karol

I don’t think that’s necessarily good advice, but I also don’t necessarily think it’s bad advice. If you’re writing 20 books of crap it’s not going to help. But hopefully by the 20th book you’re writing something solid. In any case, KDP Select has proven to be worthless *for my particular book* … a work of non-fiction.

Shelby

Hello there!
Great information! It made me really want to consider KDP Select. My only question is, do I only get one shot to do this (when I first publish)? In the beginning I won’t be published anywhere else so I won’t be selling anywhere else. But say I publish through other outlets (Draft2Digital, my own website etc) including Kindle KDP then suddenly wanted to give Select a try…how would I “unpublish” from these other sites? If I did have to do that, would that ruin by getting rid of reviews/stats/etc. and when I re-published would it be like starting from scratch again? This exclusive thing is a real pain…

Jill

Thanks for this article! Your honesty is very refreshing & much appreciated.

Jeannie

Thanks for sharing your experience! I hadn’t seen anyone break it down like this. You’ve provided loads of helpful information for anyone considering the program.

Comments on this entry are closed.

{ 2 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: