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Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Predatory Business Practices

I first started having doubts about Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing when I did a word search for my novel Police State within the Kindle Store menu. The book didn’t show up in any of the search results. When I brought this to the attention of Amazon tech support, they looked into it. It turns out Police State does show up. On page 40 of the search results.

Another one of my novels, The Horn, doesn’t show up in the search results at all. Amazon tech support, in India, claims it is impossible to fix this. You must enter the search term “The Horn by Michael Burns.” One of my novels, The Peninsula, shows up on page 3 of the search results, even though there are no other books with that title.

And so I began to scrutinize the way KDP operates. As an independent writer, I rely on KDP to help get my books properly promoted. To this end, all of my books are enrolled in KDP Select, a program that binds authors to Amazon because the writers guarantee they will not distribute their books elsewhere, for example with Apple Books.

If a writer is enrolled in KDP Select, they are allowed to run a Kindle Countdown Deal every 90 days. Here is what KDP says, verbatim, about their countdown deals:

Benefits of Kindle Countdown Deals:

  • They’re time-based. Not only does this give you more control over how long your book is discounted, but the time remaining for the promotion is visible to customers to increase excitement for the price discount.
  • Customers see the regular price. It’s easy for customers to see the great deal they’re getting, as the regular price is included on the book’s detail page, right beside the promotional price.
  • Royalty rate is retained at lower prices. You will earn royalties based on your regular royalty rate and the promotional price. As a result, if you are using the 70% royalty option, you’ll earn 70% even if the price is below $2.99. (As per the KDP Pricing Page regular delivery costs apply.)
  • There’s a dedicated website. Customers can discover active Kindle Countdown Deals.
  • You can monitor performance in real time. Your KDP report will display sales and royalties at each price discount side-by-side with pre-promotion performance.

Based on the above, KDP leads one to believe that their books, when under a countdown deal, will appear on a landing page which customers can readily “discover.”

However, recently I realized that almost none of my books was showing up on a landing page when I was running a Kindle Countdown Deal on them, and if they were showing up, it was only for a few hours at a time. When I brought this to the attention of customer support, I was promised that their tech people would look into it. Nothing happened. When I aggressively pursued the issue, I was told that Amazon could not guarantee books running on a Kindle Countdown Deal would show up in “Kindle Book Deals.”

Regardless of what Amazon says when they entice you to join their Select program, customers will not discover the books because the books running on a countdown deal aren’t going to be seen on a Kindle Book Deals landing page. And with millions of eBooks available on Amazon, landing pages are crucial to a proper promotion.

I recently ran a Kindle Countdown Deal for my science fiction novel, Starship Hunters (Book One.) Once again, I noticed that the book wasn’t being shown on a Kindle Countdown Deals landing page. Starship Hunters falls within the KDP categories of Science fiction; military/space opera. I immediately called Amazon and got the usual runaround. There was nothing they could do.

So I decided to investigate further and I closely examined what books were being shown in these categories, Science fiction; military/space opera, and lo and behold I found that almost all of the books being shown in Kindle Book Deals were Amazon imprints: 47 North and Kindle Press. This, to the complete exclusion of independent authors like me.

Then I looked at the Kindle Countdown Deals landing pages for romance books. None of the books being shown were by independent authors and almost all of them were published by Amazon imprints: Montlake Romance and Lake Union Publishing. I wondered how an independent author who writes romance can compete against a publishing powerhouse like Amazon.

I finally came up with an answer. They can’t.

It should be noted that Amazon has placed its own imprints on a pedestal in terms of Kindle Countdown Deals. Does that mean that independent writers aren’t worthy of the same attention? Does Amazon feel that only books published by them are better than those published by independent authors? Does Amazon make more money using this particular business model? These are questions requiring heavy-duty analysis, but I don’t believe Amazon will be too forthcoming with any answers.

Amazon really touts its KDP Select program. Here is what they say about how your books will be promoted:

Why Enroll in KDP Select?

Maximize your book’s sales potential

Choose between two great promotional tools: Kindle Countdown Deals, time-bound promotional discounting for your book while earning royalties; or Free Book Promotion where readers worldwide can get your book free for a limited time.

But as it turns out, Kindle Countdown Deals is not such a great promotional tool, not the way Amazon is manipulating the system to their advantage.

So what about independent writers trying to publish with an Amazon imprint so their books can be seen? Sorry. This is not an option. Amazon is using the same agency-based model the big publishers use. Your work must be submitted to Amazon by a valid literary agent. And by the way, Amazon no longer uses Kindle Scout.

However, there is one promotional took still available to independent writers. Recently, Amazon began allowing us to advertise our books using an advertising program called Sponsored products related to this item. There’s only one big hitch. It’s expensive and really cuts into your royalties, especially when you try to tie the advertising into a countdown deal.

It now appears to me that Amazon only cares about its own and making even more money by forcing independent authors to buy into their advertising program. Given their current predatory business practices, Amazon’s attitude seems to be that independent authors can take it or leave it.

***

Michael Burns lives in southern Arizona with his dog Chewie, a rescue dog named after Chewbacca from Star Wars (Chewie kind of looks like a Wookiee). He served 14 months in the Central Highlands of Vietnam in 1969/70 with the Fourth Infantry Division, mostly working for his battalion’s civil affairs team, a volunteer assignment. He has a master’s degree in education from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, Arizona. His last day job was working as a language arts teacher for the Bureau of Indian Affairs for nine years on a very remote Indian reservation west of Tucson, Arizona. The author of twelve novels and a collection of short stories, and two non-fiction books, he has been self-publishing with Amazon since 2009. Besides writing, his other interests include the environment, music, health, gardening and landscaping, current events, World Cup soccer, and his two quarter horses, Millie and Shimree, both mares. Michael also writes short stories for Nikki Finke’s Hollywood Dementia.

 

 

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