Conspiracies Abound: Is Amazon Really Giving Indies the Boot?

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In recent days, news began to spread of the closing of CreateSpace as the service is being migrated with the current print option through the KDP dashboard. Several months back when they announced CreateSpace was discontinuing its editing and cover creator services it was theorized CS would eventually close its doors. Well, it was theorized by me and other authors insisted I was just being paranoid. Who’s being paranoid now? So – when Amazon finally shuts down indie publishing through their platform, just remember you heard it from me first.

But why would Amazon want to discontinue selling books? They are pretty much the world leader in book sales. In fact, it’s estimated that about 35% of their total annual revenue comes from book sales. It would not make any sense for them to stop selling books.

Well, I didn’t say they were going to stop selling books. They were selling books long before they introduced KDP (the indie publishing platform which allows anyone to create an author account and self-publish an ebook to Amazon’s Kindle) and allowed everyone with internet access to start uploading junk files. It’s safe to say they’ll probably be doing it long after they’ve taken their toys and kicked us all out of their sandbox. What I’m saying is Amazon is eventually going to close down their direct publishing platform, potentially giving indies the boot for good.

The signs have been around us for years, but no one seems to want to pull their heads out of the sand long enough to see what has been staring them in the face for a good five years now.

First, Amazon closed down Kindle Worlds. For those unfamiliar with KW, this was a section of Amazon which allowed authors to write in worlds already  well established by other authors. While I personally had not heard of the majority of them on there (they were mostly composed of worlds created by successful indie authors as opposed to well-known trad published authors), there were a few that I recognized, most specifically the Pretty Little Liars world created by Sarah Shephard.

Most indie authors who wrote in KW were making more money than they were with their own books. But that’s to be expected. Fanfiction is big business (hello EL James & Cassie Clare). You already have a built-in reader base who are just itching to get their hands on some new material. I can see why both the authors who created the worlds, and those who chose to step in to fill the gap with fanfiction, would find it so appealing.

For whatever reason, Amazon chose to close out KW. Maybe the authors who had agreed to share their worlds were having second thoughts, maybe they wanted a larger royalty cut and the Zon didn’t want to part with more money, maybe they just didn’t want to hire the manpower it was taking to ensure the books were up to par. At this point, it’s literally anyone’s guess, but the fact remains they chose to shut down this part of their publishing business, a part that was largely successful by self-publishing standards.

Second, there was the announcement earlier in the year regarding CreateSpace discontinuing their editing and cover design services. Now comes the obvious next move – closing down CS altogether and migrating the Print-on-Demand feature over to the KDP dashboard. Doing this makes no sense from a business perspective. They already had the CS site up and running, and it had been running long enough that most of the website bugs had been worked out. In fact, Amazon wasn’t the original owner of CS, having purchased the POD company from BookSurge back in 2005 when it was still called CustomFlix (the name was changed to CreateSpace  in 2007). It begs the question of why they would want to pull a website their creative audience had been using relatively pain-free for fifteen years.

But the questions do not just stop there. Why would Amazon then hire programmers and coders to reinvent the wheel over on the KDP dashboard? The interfaces are nothing alike, and God only knows how much of a disaster the new “cover creator” is going to be for full wraps on the paperbacks. From a business standpoint, it would have made more sense to have simply created a click-through button on the KDP dashboard to take authors over to the CS dashboard where they could have continued on with business as usual. I’ve paid for my own webhosting. The price is not so astronomical that most authors can’t afford it, much less a multi-billion dollar powerhouse like Amazon. So getting rid of the website that had been around and working fine for nearly two solid decades makes little sense on either side of the fence. But I digress.

Third, there are the continued problems which have plagued the Kindle Unlimited (KU) from its conception. In the beginning, long-form authors (those who wrote full length novels and enrolled them into the KU program) soon learned there were sub-par micro-fiction pamphlets with less than 10 pages being uploaded to the KU program. Since the initial KU program paid per book read, these micro-fiction scammers were able to push out thousands of these 10 page-or-less shorts and upload them to KU, netting them upwards of $2 per borrow, a feat which hardly seemed fair to the long-form authors who were only getting paid the same amount for a 100K word novel. After everyone took to the streets screaming for an improvement, Amazon then rolled out the KU 2.0 program, a system which paid authors per page read rather than a fixed amount per borrow.

It didn’t take the micro-fiction scammers long to realize this new program took them to the opposite end of the spectrum. Now if they wanted to make bank, they would have to fill a book with as much recycled garbage as they could to net them as large of a payout as possible. They used all kinds of dirty little tricks to game the system, something which had authors utterly livid for years before they had finally had had enough of getting shafted and once again threw a big enough of a collective fit to get Amazon to take notice and do something about the scammers.

Then there is the simple fact that KU isn’t a very sustainable model, at least not in its current form. It’s estimated there are only approximately 100K KU users. At just $9.99/month for a subscription, that is only netting the Zon approximately $1M a month. Yet, the payout global fund for the KU program for participating authors has routinely been $20M/month for several months. It’s obvious Amazon is funneling money into the program in an attempt to keep authors in the program. But how long can they continue to pour money into a sinking ship? The payout per page is already less than half-a-cent, meaning authors have to have hundreds of thousands of page reads each month to even bring in a living wage. With more and more authors jumping ship to push their books to other platforms, one has to wonder just how long they can keep their own ship afloat.

Fourth, Amazon has absolutely zero quality control over on KDP. Literally anyone who has an internet connection can slap up a file, a cover, and be up and running as a “published author” in under a day. This means there are now literally hundreds of thousands of books hitting the Zon every single month. This translates into hundreds of thousands of new authors using KDP each and every day. But why does that matter?

If you are in the indie world, you have no doubt seen the drama in previous months surrounding #CockyGate, #GetLoud, #BookStuffers, and all the other drama. It basically all boils down to far too many “authors” using the KDP platform to game the system, screw Amazon and readers out of money for shitty product, and push legitimate, quality authors and their books right off the charts. The amount of money and manpower it would take for Amazon to put real people in charge of quality control over this platform far outweighs the amount of revenue it is generating.

Amazon doesn’t have to worry about any of this with trad publishers (well, they mostly don’t have to worry about sub-par books. We’ve all seen the questionable content some of these publishers have produced). They know they are going to get properly formatted books that have at least seen a cursory glance by an editor, something you are less-often to come across from a self-published book. So from a business standpoint, it makes much more sense for them to close down the KDP platform for good than to attempt to overhaul it and bring it up to the same level of quality throughout the platform as you are currently going to get from a trad published book.

And this brings me to my last point – all the bad publicity. With all the drama that has been going on, and with so many of us indies, we have all pretty much had it up to our eyeballs with shitty books hitting the #1 spot on Amazon, we’re sick of the bookstuffing scammers screwing legitimate authors out of a huge chunk of profits, we’re sick of the Zon not treating us as equals in the publishing business, and we’re really tired of being forced to compete with shitty books. Basically, we are all shining a very bad light on how the Zon operates its indie publishing platform. And as I noted above, it would cost way too much money and manpower to get that platform under control and up to trad publishing standards than what they are willing to spend.

I always knew it would eventually get to a tipping point. For many years we were all on a see-saw, teetering back and forth, talking among ourselves. But in the past few years, authors like me who have practically been forced to give up writing because Zon won’t get their shit together have become more and more vocal about just how unsatisfied we are with them, demanding we be treated better, demanding they have better quality control, demanding they actually mind their damn platform. We’ve all felt these complaints had fallen on deaf ears. But I don’t believe they have.

Taking a look at the signs from the past few years, I’d be willing to wager the Zon will eventually get tired of all the bad press we keep giving them and shut out indie publishers for good. They’ve already proven they do not care enough about us to offer up any type of real change. And the changes they have implemented, like closing down KW and CS, and making the KU platform so easily manipulated while making it nearly impossible for the little author to make any money, have not exactly been in indie authors’ best interests. We do not help their bottom line enough to warrant spending any more money on us to create a viable platform which weeds out the scammers and the sub-par books, much less give us an equal footing in the publishing world. We are a thorn in their side, the squeaky wheel which keeps getting louder as more and more of us hit the platform and voice our displeasure at their treatment of us.

So, all you conspiracy theorists out there. When KDP finally does go the way of the dinosaur, just remember you heard it from me first. I’ve already made several predictions which have come to pass, and I figure this one is coming. It’s just a matter of time.

Why I Chose AGAINST Amazon’s KDP Select Program

A recent discussion in an online community through LinkedIn for independently published authors got me to thinking. Sure, I had seen countless SPA’s in my FB feed blast me with advertisements about their books going up for FREE and the aftermath of them proclaiming they gave away X number of free copies. So, I began researching into how to do this for my own titles.

To begin with, many authors swore the only way to get your titles up for free was to have a few hundred of your readers email Amazon and ask them to do a free day. As it turns out, anyone who chooses to enroll their books in the KDP Select program can put their book up for free or do a “countdown deal.” These programs sounded interesting enough. But what is KDP anyway?

KDP stands for Kindle Direct Publishing. The KDP Select program offers two promotional tools, the “free” promotion where you can put your title up for free anywhere from 24 hours to 5 days. The countdown deal allows you to start your work at a lower price, even free, and then gradually increase the price. The countdown deal can last from 1 hour to 7 days.

The only stipulation to be enrolled in KDP is that your work must NOT be available in any format anywhere else. That means no B&N, no LuLu, no Smashwords, etc. In addition, your work must have a regular starting price of $2.99 minimum and must stay at the regular price for 30 days in order for the work to qualify for either a free promotion or a countdown deal. The last stipulation is that each book can only be signed up for one of these promotional deals ONCE every 3 months.

After seeing this apparently work miracles for other SPAs – according to THEIR recollections, that is – I decided to take a chance and enrolled 3 of my novels into the KDP program.

Before my books qualified to start a free or countdown deal promotion, a fellow independently published author started a lovely conversation in one of the groups I joined on LinkedIn. He had basically posted his observances and experience with doing a free day on Amazon. His experience was much like everyone else’s experiences: hundreds of copies given away, ZERO reviews, a plummeting Amazon ranking once the free day was over, and a slow pick up on return to sales for months after the free day.

Here’s a breakdown of my own experiences and those other authors who are openly honest about their experiences.

First, I did not want to give away hundreds of copies. These days readers pop books like PEZ candy, so I knew that the more books I gave away and the more people who knew about it, the less likely I was to attract customers who would become repeat purchasers of my work.

I set one of my most popular, but not most recently released books, to go for a 2 day freebie. The first day I posted about it on my FB page about 4 times. A few readers picked up the link and shared it on their FB pages. On day two, I hit a few FB book promotion groups. I think I only posted in 4, and 2 of those did not actually approve my post until the day AFTER the promotion was off. I think I posted about it 2 or 3 times on my private account.

There were no blogs announcing it except my own, no other authors mentioning it that I saw nor did I have my street team out pimping it. In all I gave away a few hundred books, not bad considering there were just a few token posts on my own FB account and no real coverage of the giveaway days.

Before I get into the breakdown, we have to look at why we run promotions in the first place.

A. Reviews. We hope that the more people who get their hands on our books, the more likely some of them will leave reviews.

B. Repeat customers and more sales in the long run. We hope that by making the books more affordable, we can get them into the hands of more readers. In turn, those readers will become repeat customers, wanting to read additional books that we have published.

The breakdown:

In addition to the few hundred books given away on my free day, I have also donated to several blogs with free ebooks for giveaways. The results have been disastrous across the board.

a. ZERO reviews. After giving away all those hundreds of copies, I have received ZERO reviews from the recipients of these freebies.

Why? Due to the mass influx of SPAs and new books hitting Amazon every day, authors have slashed their prices down to $.99 cents on most books and are constantly giving away novels. This has bottomed out the market, virtually saturating it with so many cheap and free novels on any one day that readers no longer have to purchase books to keep their Kindles loaded with reading material.

Since readers are getting these books for free or nearly free, they no longer equate the books as tangible products with any worth. Because of this, whether they liked it or hated it, they don’t feel the need to leave a review like they do when they spend a substantial amount of money purchasing the product. My experiences have been mirrored by hundreds of other authors in my LinkedIn groups, each reporting virtually ZERO reviews despite giving away hundreds of books.

b. Plummeting Amazon rankings. One thing that I noticed while my book was up for free was a constant update on the book page on Amazon that gave its current rank in not only the free Kindle store, but also its current rank in the category that the book had been listed in. It topped out at #73. Once the free days were over, that ranking on the book page disappeared, giving only the current overall sales ranking of that book.

I also noticed while the promo was going on that while the category ranking was climbing, the overall ranking of ALL my books was steadily dropping in overall sales ranking. In addition, my overall author rankings on Amazon continued to drop during the free promotion.

Once the promotion was over, all of my books’ sales ranking AND my author ranking plummeted. I went from being ranked in the low 100K to nearly 500K. Why? As best as I can tell from reading articles on Amazon and other blogs, the sales ranking on Amazon only takes into account the number of books you are SELLING. So while the individual book that is being downloaded will rise in its individual category, my overall SALES ranking as an author went down. While this is not supposed to happen, and many authors do promotions trying to get their rankings up on Amazon, I noticed the opposite happening. The more books I gave away, the lower my overall sales ranking went down.

c.. No new sales. In the days and weeks after the free promotion, sales plummeted. Readers learn which authors are always running promotions and will usually wait until the author does one of the promotions to get the next book. They figure that the author will eventually do another freebie, so why buy something that will eventually be put up for free? This mentality in readers is why so few are buying books. SPAs are only compounding the problems for authors across the board by constantly doing free promotions. Readers never have to buy, and because of that, all authors are losing out on revenue.

In review, my reasons for pulling my works out of the KDP program are many. While I saw many, many books being downloaded, I have had zero return on this investment gamble. I have had no reviews, my Amazon rankings have plummeted, and my sales during the aftermath have been non-existent.

To be quite blunt, generally speaking, the only readers that a free promotion attracts are those who are always trolling for a free novel. Many authors do giveaways in hopes that it will hook the reader into buying the product. Unfortunately, the opposite is happening. Since they have so many free books at their disposal on any given day, readers rarely remember any author’s name. They are simply jumping from book to book to book, reading and then dismissing the author and the work when the next freebie comes along. Because of this market saturation, readers are not getting “hooked” on any one author or series. They are just following the breadcrumbs to the next free book for their Kindle.

In conclusion, I would advise any author who is thinking of joining KDP Select to think about their long term goals and review all of your sales data. Personally, I do not think that the return for giving away so many books is worth the revenue loss. The reasoning behind the promotions seems to be a good one, but when that rationalization proves to no longer be working to the authors’ advantage, it is time to take a long, serious look at the practice and decide if it is worth pursuing. From where I’m standing, if I am not at least getting a few reviews and a few paying customers after the fact, then the point of giving them away in the first place has become moot. It is for this reason that I have pulled my works from the program in favor of pursuing different avenues of promotions.

This does not mean that I will no longer offer promotional discounts or even free books. I have revamped my business plan and have decided to do the promotions through an alternative source outside of Amazon. I can only hope that this new business model will help me build my platform and bring in additional readers that the Amazon promotional tools are not providing.