Sunday, 5 August 2012

KDP Select and the Compulsion to Hoard

Like many writers, I've put my book into Amazon's KDP Select programme. This lets Amazon Prime members download it for free, and it lets me choose up to 5 days to make the book free worldwide to everyone.
My pen-named book, Little Sacrifices, is in the middle of its last two free days, and I've been thinking about my decision to put it into KDP Select.

I didn't do any marketing or notification beyond letting the big free eBook websites know about the free days. These included Free eBooks Daily, fkbooksandtips.com and The Digital Inkspot.

The first time it went free, for three days, 28,680 people in the US downloaded it. Wow, amazing, right? Think of all the people who'll read it!

But wait a minute. Does that mean I gave up nearly 29,000 sales?

The short answer is: No, I didn't give up those sales because the vast majority of people downloading the book wouldn't have bought it. In fact, only a tiny fraction will probably ever read it. And that's why I don't think KDP Select is worthwhile for me.

Goodreads is a very imperfect tool for seeing who's reading your books, but it does give an indication, and I can compare what's happening on there pre- and post-giveaway. After the 3 day promotion, around 50 people add Little Sacrifices to their to-be-read lists, and around 15 people started reading it... out of 28,680 free books downloaded. That's 0.05% of those who downloaded Little Sacrifices. Four have written reviews. So we've given away tens of thousands of books, but only a handful are being read and reviewed.

Compare this to how many people put Little Sacrifices on their to-be-read list in the 3 months before the promotion, when they heard about the book through bloggers: more than 200, with 44 writing reviews.

Ah, you may say, but perhaps those who downloaded for free will read it in the future. I don't think so. Because I think that we're inundated with free books on Amazon, and it's making hoarders of us all.

Amazon, and the free eBook websites, make it easy to download any free books that look like they might be interesting. But I'm guessing that Little Sacrifices is already buried under piles of books on readers' Kindles that have gone free more recently. As I write this, there are nearly 14,000 free books on Amazon.co.uk and 98,000 free books on Amazon.com. And like that really really Really important thing we decided to squirrel away for safekeeping in case we want it in the future, we forget about it unless and until we happen to run across it. Which we only do when we're clearing out, and then that really really Really important thing tends to go in the bin.

The chances of the other 28,665 people coming across Little Sacrifices and reading it are slim indeed.

KDP Select is a winner for Amazon because it entices more people to sign up for the Prime programme. In fact Amazon now offers a 30 day free trial to anyone not enrolled, which allows people to download a book.

Perhaps it's a winner for readers, but I'm starting to question that. How many of the free books that you download do you actually read? Do you value them less because they're free? I know I do. In fact there's a pecking order to my bookshelves. If I've bought a paperback I'll always prioritize that over an eBook. And if I've paid for an eBook I'll read that before I read free books. I wonder if the reading community is actually benefiting from free eBooks, or whether, for the most part, they're just cluttering up our Kindles.

From this writer's point of view, KDP Select doesn't seem to be good for my books. Sure, lots of people are downloading, but they're not reading. This might be because they forget about Little Sacrifices once it's hidden amongst all the other books on their Kindle. Or it might be because they value free books less than they do paid-for books. And of course, by signing up for KDP Select, Amazon prohibits my book from being sold through any other channel, so readers with Nooks, Sony readers, Kobos, etc. can't get the book through their device's sales channels. 

And that's why I don't think I'll enroll my books in KDP Select in the future. I think that it's a good business for Amazon but not necessarily for writers, or readers. Sometimes too much of a good thing can be too much.


  1. Great article Michelle. I tend to agree. I have two books enrolled, and one ends on August 14th, and I can't wait to get it out of there. I never took advantage of the free days, but I have had a decent number of paid borrows...however, I think those dwindle out over time anyway.

  2. Thanks Dina, interestingly I just got a review that said, "This was a free Kindle ebook and I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the writing", which implies that people downloading free books don't expect them to be of high quality. It's this devaluation that alarms me about the programme.


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