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).

What’s So Interesting About Kindle Unlimited?

Big news today: Kindle Unlimited.

Ten bucks per month for unlimited access to any Kindle book in the program, on any device.

Who’s got two thumbs and started his free trial within ten minutes of the announcement? Yeah, this guy.

Let’s be honest: from a reader perspective, this is awesome. Ten bucks per month? Hell, I’m lucky if I don’t spend three or four times that every first of every month on the Kindle Monthly Deals.

From an author perspective? A publishing perspective?

Look, I’ll be candid: of that I’m not sure yet. For quite a while, Exciting Press titles were in Kindle Direct Publishing Select. They were exclusive to Kindle, could only be bought from Amazon. We publish without DRM — always have and always will — so readers could convert their books for whatever device they were using, but let’s be honest there and note how tedious that is (if you even know how to do it in the first place, which a lot of readers may not). But if I may be further honest here I would argue that Amazon’s gained dominance in the ebook marketplace simply because its experience is so superior for readers, and I think that makes a difference.

According to my KDP page, by enrolling in KDP Select, my books can be part of Kindle Unlimited. And when a reader reads 10% of my book, I’d get paid. It’s not clear how much, but my guess is that, as with the Kindle Owners Lending Library, authors get an equal share of a fund dedicated to all participants eligible to get paid.

Is that more or less than I get from the 70% I get now? I’ve no idea. It may be less per book but ultimately more overall, depending on the success of the program and my hypothetical book’s performance within it.

I’m not here to tell you it’s awesome or terrible. It may be both, depending on your perspective. Who knows? Arguably nobody writing about it today, or yesterday, or the day before.

But I did want to highlight why I think it’s interesting. Because every article I’ve seen about the idea in general– that of streaming ebooks, basically–compares it to Netflix. The shorthand is it’s “the Netflix of ebooks.” It’s “Spotify for stories.”

What I think is interesting, though, is it seems like it’s precisely the opposite.

Netflix? Spotify? They worked with studios and labels to get the content their platform would use. Which I think prompts a question, and maybe a couple: How much do the artists get paid? How much do the labels get paid?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ve heard that it’s a low number–for some reason, 11 cents sticks out in my head. But I may have just made that up.

Point is, though, in the case of Spotify, authors make their royalties based on their agreements with their labels — whom Spotify pays.

You probably see where I’m going with this.

What’s brilliant about the way Amazon did this is they didn’t have to talk to anyone beforehand. They didn’t have to go to the corporate publishers. They spent years building this awesome digital reading platform, and then they spent more years attracting some terrific authors, and offering incentives to those authors to go all-in with them. “Let us be the only place people can buy your ebooks,” they said, “And we’ll make it worth your while. We’ll give you free promotions. Countdown deals. We’ll let people borrow your book.”

“We’ll make you part of Kindle Unlimited.”

For authors who are already in KDP Select, they are automatically pulled in to Kindle Unlimited. I’ve already heard people complain about the opt-out versus opt-in system (I think it was more efficient than anything else. They were authors who were already exclusive. Now they get access to this really cool program a ton of readers are going to sign up for).

Now, I don’t know for sure they didn’t talk to the corporate publishers, but I do know they didn’t launch with any.

That’s huge.

This is the number one online retailer of both print and ebooks. Amazon accounts for at least 60% of the market, and I’d posit that’s a gross underestimation there. They built the best digital book experience — from shopping for them to reading them — from the ground up, and when it came time to offer its customers a method by which they could spend $10 per month for unlimited access to ebooks, they did so without having corporate publishers’ titles in their libraries.

This may just be the largest endorsement of independent authors and their work . . . pretty much ever.

Those 600,000 books? There are some from publishers, small and somewhat larger alike. Open Road Media is there with some Michael Chabon titles. There are a few other big names from popular presses. But the vast majority of them are by independent authors. There are 55,000 books in fantasy and science fiction alone, and most of those titles appear to be independent.

Amazon believed strongly enough in the quality of all that work to launch Kindle Unlimited without the support of a single corporate publisher. And it didn’t just believe, mind you; it likely has all the data it could possibly want to bear out that this was a good move for them.

Martin Lastrapes & Signal over Noise

Not long ago, an author with whom I work via Exciting Press, Martin Lastrapes, asked me if I’d participate in a blog tour for him. I first encountered Martin several years ago when he wrote a post about being independent and what it meant for him and his passion for both telling stories and getting them out there.

When I was in my early to mid-twenties, I used to go to bars to see my buddies play in a band which went through several line ups and iterations. In those bars, I often felt like a lot of those aspiring bands attempted to use volume to make up for their lack of talent. I feel the same way about a lot of the current writing/publishing scene lately, which is why I’m so happy to work with Martin–dude’s got chops. I don’t know what sales of his novels are like, but I know his debut, Inside the Outside, is among the best I’ve read. It’s just so creepy and surreal and so utterly matter-of-fact about both. I can’t imagine anyone else who could make a lesbian’s escape from an incestuous, cannibalistic religious cult seem un-extraordinary, and that’s the highest praise I can offer.

I know what sales of his short stories are like, because those I’ve worked with him to publish. Healthy, certainly, but short stories are still a difficult thing to market.

What we share in common is the idealistic hope that, ultimately, quality will bear out. That things like “building a platform” and etc. are all just noise when what we really need is writers who produce a signal.

So this is his blog tour, I think. I haven’t blogged much lately. Sometimes I think about it, but there’s always something else to write or publish. I might not have blogged much in the past year, but I’ve published like a dozen books, and they’re all amazing.

That’s actually the answer to the first question (there are four).

What am I working on now?

Exciting Press. Independent digital literature. Sure, I’ve got half a dozen works in progress, including two or three novels, a non-fiction piece, a couple of scripts, and several short stories. My ideas aren’t going anywhere, though, and for now what feels vital to me, what feels important, is what I’m making possible. I’ve written two novels I’m damned proud of, both of which have been received positively and one of which was, for a brief and shining moment, the most popular ebook in the world.

And that’s why I’ve wanted to focus on Exciting Press. That’s why I wanted to focus on the amazing authors who’ve given me a chance to produce their stories as ebooks. That’s why I wanted to break publishing, once and for all, by totally up-ending How Things Are Done. That’s why I’m using a limited-term license (7 years) and offering my authors 70% of everything that comes in.

In a time when corporations think that 25% royalties is fair, I want to be the signal demonstrating it’s not.

To that end, I’m working on the final installment of Nick Earls’ new Brisbane Rewound trilogy, Bachelor Kisses. I’m also working on a couple of other novels from some other authors I’ve signed, but Nick’s latest novel The Fix was just published by Amazon, so it’s in front of me.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

To be honest, I don’t even know what this question means anymore. Genre is really just readers’ way of sifting through books on the Kindle bestseller lists. I don’t really write to genre: I write to story. I want to write the most exciting and visceral stories I can manage, and I usually want to subvert any genre they’d ostensibly be part of. My first novel, Meets Girl is sort of an urban fantasy, but really it’s a debut literary novel that in addition functions as a satire of debut literary novels.

My time travel novel probably bears the influences of Michael Crichton and Dean Koontz more than anyone.

Like I said, I work backwards. I just have the story, and I want to tell it as excitingly and realistically as I possibly can. I really don’t think about genre until I go to Amazon to click ‘Publish.’

Why do I write what I do?

Because nobody else has. If the books I wanted to read existed, I wouldn’t have to write them.

How does my writing process work?

One word at a time.

That’s it from me. Go check out Martin Lastrapes. And PS, it’s Lastrapps, in case you thought it was Lastrayps, as I did.

And PPS, sorry this was a day later, Martin.