KDP Select is dead, Long live KDP Select
A reflection on my recent KDP Select Free Run “Success” and Initial Thoughts on Kindle Countdown Deals
Visibility = Sales
That’s really the great “secret” to having a best seller. Visibility is more powerful than a cover blurb by a famous author, than the most alluring cover, or than having just plainly written a really good book. And while all these can contribute to increased visibility, initially having your book appear as if by magic in front of someone’s face, is what lights up the sales charts. You’ll hear many marketing professionals and best selling authors tell you that commercial success is sometimes just a stroke of luck. I’m here to inform you, luck has nothing to do with it. What is true is that sometimes commercial success is a stroke of serendipity. Now, I know some of you are thinking I’m pulling a toMAYto-toMAHto comparison here, but let me explain. You are powerless to create luck. Luck would be if you were walking down the street while carrying your book and ran into someone who, you suddenly discover by chance, is intrigued by that tome you have in your hands and wants to buy it. Serendipity takes a bit of happenstance engineering. With serendipity, you also run into to someone while holding your book, but you happen to be strolling through a huge literary convention packed with readers when the collision occurs.
For indie authors like me, creating visibility opportunities is H-A-R-D. In late 2011/early 2012, Amazon implemented a powerful tool in the form of KDP Select that helped us fledgling indie authors engineer some serendipity. In exchange for making our ebooks exclusive to Amazon customers, we in turn could offer our books for free for any 5 days of our choosing during a 90 day period. Readers risked nothing but a little time and disappointment by downloading titles from authors with whom they weren’t familiar, and some of them discovered authors they’d never forget. The visibility created by this no-risk exposure to Amazon customers sent many a heretofore unknown books shooting up the charts, landing them not only on the top of the charts of Amazon, but regularly hitting the New York Times and USA Today bestseller lists in the months that followed. Even authors whose books didn’t garner as many downloads still could see significant bumps, selling hundreds, sometimes thousands in the weeks following the promotion on titles that before they might have been happy with selling a few dozen copies. KDP Select let indie authors play against the big boys, because it provided us an opportunity to garner the one thing in which they had a huge advantage: visibility.
And then, that system changed. The very algorithms that finally gave indie authors a fighting chance fizzled. KDP Select was (and is) still a great and mostly free way* to find new readers and build an audience. (*Free if you don’t consider opportunity costs of not being on other sites. Most indie authors will tell you, however, it’s more or less an Amazon world at this point. If you want to sell a lot of popsicles, you’ll get more business on the sidewalks of Miami Beach than the corner stores of Siberia.) However, the bump in sales most authors experience afterwards is a portion of those legendary sales early participants of the program saw, due to changes that curbed the visibility gained by a successful run. Such changes including decreasing the weight of a free download when calculating popularity charts and hiding the free chart behind the standard best sellers list, making it less visible, breaking serendipity’s kneecaps.
Case in point: In September 2013, I ran a two-day promotion of my historical romance, A Love by Any Measure. This wasn’t the first time I had had a free promotion of it, nor the first time the book had been enrolled in KDP Select. In January 2012, I ran a two-day promotion during which there were more than 11,000 downloads, pushing ALBAM to #44 on the U.S. free charts and resulting in nearly 200 sales of the title in the week that followed. In a standard, non-promotional month, I generally see 30-50 sales of that title across all retailers (about 80% of those via Amazon), so this represented a big bump for me. This was all in the pre-algorithm shift world. Last month, I again ran a two-day KDP free promotion of this title, and was blown away when I had 41,000+ downloads in the US (45,000 worldwide). On September 22, 2013, ALBAM hit #1 on the U.S. Kindle Free List (not just in a genre, the WHOLE list), and stayed in the Top 10 during its promotional period. I knew from hearing the stories of countless others that the visibility earned through a big KDP Select Free showing had diminished, but I did expect to see sales at least on par with what I experienced when it had had a fraction of the prior response. In the week following the #1 showing, I didn’t sell 200, however. I didn’t sell 100. I didn’t sell 75. I sold 50. True, 50 copies I might not have sold otherwise, but only 1/4 of the copies I sold following a prior promotion with 1/4 the numerical success.
The title of this post is a bit of a misnomer. I don’t really think KDP Select is dead, but I do think it’s a player past its prime, a former heavy weight champion that still has a mean right hook. However, it clearly is not the Everest it once was, nor, I believe, it was meant to be. There are a number of reasons leading to or consequences following the algorithm shift that made this so, not all of which incidentally I take issue with. However, even Amazon has seemed to understand that Sister Serendipity has one hell of a cold, and that it would really be in its best interest to get her some medicine. This morning, Amazon announced a new facet of its KDP Select Program, Kindle Countdown Deals, which allows participants to discount their enrolled titles for a short price pulsing blitz. While not free, books may be marked down as low as .99 (while still allowing authors to earn the higher 70% royalty generally granted only to books priced 2.99 or above). As with the Kindle Lending Library, another advantage of KDP Select participation, they are creating a new venue to allow for serendipitous discovery by readers. While at first this seemed to me a shot in the arm that indie authors really needed to embrace exuberantly the KDP Select program, the fact that many of the titles being featured with the launch of this program are Amazon-branded titles makes me uncertain what the results will be. I do have one title currently enrolled in KDP Select, and I am trying to push it into Countdown Deals to see if there is any traction. As with my other experiences, I have little to lose by doing so. At this point, however, I’m just not sure that there’s too much to gain.