The Double-Edged Sword of Kindle Select

As discussed a post or so ago, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited on Friday. $10 per month, “unlimited” access to Kindle books. None of the one-book-at-a-time limit that the Kindle Owners Lending Library had, but it seems I do have to put “Unlimited” in quotation marks because there’s a limit of ten books at a shot. I don’t know how one reaches that limit–if it’s ten books at a one time or ten books in a month’s period. I have a feeling it’s the former, which I guess means you have to remove one from a device to read another?

I’m sure I’ll figure that out this month before my subscription ends. Depending on whether I re-up–and I probably will, because I think I mentioned before I usually drop twenty bucks as soon as I see each month’s new Kindle Monthly Deals.

But I wanted to talk a little more about it from an author/publisher perspective.

I’m both. Reader first, which led me to becoming an author (I had to write the books I wanted to read that didn’t exist yet), which led me to becoming a publisher of both my own books and then other people’s.

If not for Amazon, I wouldn’t be the latter. If the third-generation Kindle hadn’t finally, finally gotten digital reading right, I would have continued on the query carousel. I would have continued to send out both Meets Girl and The Prodigal Hour, hoping for an agent, an editor, a publisher, hoping to sign at the dotted line so that one day my book would be on a shelf at a Barnes & Noble. I don’t know that it would have happened. Toward the end there, I got a lot of rejections along the lines of “The writing is good and the story is well told, but the market is just too tough right now.” Particularly with regard to The Prodigal Hour (“Time travel is a difficult market,” said nearly every query response I received).

But then in 2010 I started reading using the Kindle app, and then bought a Kindle just as I was completing Meets Girl, and I looked at it and I thought: I can do this.

And I did.

And not long after I did, Amazon announced the addition of Kindle Select to the KDP Platform. Authors could offer their books for free, if they wanted, for just a few days out of 90, but it could lead to a nice sales boost, and the books could be part of the Kindle Owners Lending Library–

If you made the book exclusive to Kindle.

If you decided you’d sell your title through Amazon–and only Amazon–for 90 days.

And there’s the rub.

One of the great things about digital is how fast it makes things. Not long ago, Nick Earls and I decided to update his novel Tumble Turns. I wanted to put it on sale and give it a new, better cover. I sent him a handful of images, and as soon as he chose one, in a matter of a few hours I’d created a new cover and uploaded it. That’s how fast this all is.

As fast as digital speeds, the internet grows, “viral” becomes digidemic, 90 days’ worth of exclusivity feels like a long time indeed. That’s 90 days when if someone refuses to use Amazon for whatever reason, they can’t get your book. And 90 days when, if someone wants to read your book on an iPad or Kobo or Nook, they have to buy it from Amazon, use third-party software to convert it to an ePub (if it’s published without DRM), and then sideload it onto their reader–and not everyone knows how to do that.

More so, it’s 90 days when you’re not contributing to the growth of the digital ecosystem, of which Amazon is merely one part. Apple could make iBooks great. Barnes & Noble could finally figure out what the heck it wants to do with Nook. Smashwords could decide to redo its website to become a robust marketplace itself (its strength seems to be as an aggregator/distrubutor–which it’s really good at–and not a retailer itself).

But the thing is, those are all things that could happen–not things that have already. iBooks is fine, but it’s limited to Apple devices, of which there may be, like, a billion or so, but on how many is it actually installed? (I hold out hope that September will bring not only new iDevices, but improvements that make iBooks truly great.) Barnes & Noble hasn’t seemed to have a Nook strategy since it first launched the Nook Color, but I don’t envy its position, trying to innovate digitally while still keeping corporate publishers happy with their stores.

And in the meantime those things could happen, Amazon is already pretty much without peer in terms of the services it provides. Look at its customer experience index–that’s a measure of how satisfied its customers are, and this year it earned the top spot, according to Forrester Research’s survey of 7500 consumers, and specifically as a consumer electronics manufacturer for its Kindle (emphasis mine).

Is it really so bad to be exclusive to the number one customer experience in the US?

My feeling is it’s not. My feeling is that Amazon has created the number one customer experience and that’s one that it’s good to be a part of, and further that you know, for 90 days, why not give it a shot to see if it works?

My further feeling is that when authors sign contracts with corporate publishers, they basically agree to go exclusive with those publishers for the life of a copyright, which includes all the time up to authors’ deaths and then 70 years beyond, and surely 90 days worth of exclusivity to Amazon is pretty much nothing compared to that.

Mainly my feeling is that authors need to try things out and see what works. They need to explore options open to them (and it’s great when all are, but that’s not always the case). They need to decide what they want, what their goals are, and try to figure out how different tools and strategies and tactics might help them achieve those goals.

One of the things that Nick Earls has said to me he likes about how we work together is that we can try new things immediately, that we can be agile and flexible. To that end, I’m pleased to announce that Exciting Press is participating in Kindle Unlimited, if on a limited basis. You’ll find my novel, Meets Girl, which was available for a long while on the iBookstore but never really sold much there. You’ll also find several books by Nick, including the aforementioned Tumble Turns. We still have a dozen or so titles on the iBookstore (several free, so be sure to check those out), and we’ll also continue to explore new options as they make sense (so I don’t know if we’ll ever be on Nook again. When I see B&N has some strategy for it, I’ll consider it).