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Is Amazon The Big Bad Wolf?

So you’re an indie author and you’ve published your novel on all the online retailers, but now you’re wondering whether you should have gone exclusive with Amazon. Is Amazon the Big Bad Wolf? Is it wrong to leave all the other retailers out in the cold?

Mark posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:


First off, I just want to let you know that I LOVE your blog, and read each post as soon as it comes out. You have a lot of great knowledge and information, and I’m really thankful that you’re willing to share that with the world.

So, my question is about KDP Select. (Being an indie author, I’m sure you’ve heard of it before.)

What are your thoughts on it? There’s a lot of conflicting opinions out there, and I’m wondering what yours is. I know that you currently publish with smashwords, so that means you’re not presently enrolled in KDP Select, but would you consider jumping aboard in the future? Why, or why not?

I currently have several non-fiction books out (and am planning on self-publishing some fiction pretty soon) and all of them are enrolled in KDP Select, but I’m considering withdrawing some of them.

What are your thoughts?


Randy sez: That’s an excellent question, Mark.

First, let’s talk about what “KDP” and “KDP Select” are, to make sure everybody’s on the same page with us.

“KDP” is “Kindle Direct Publishing.” It’s a web site at, run by Amazon which allows anybody to publish their book online as an e-book at no charge.

KDP is a great program for authors. You can upload your e-book, set the price you want, and Amazon will create a sales page for you, collect the money, and pay you a percentage every month (either 35% or 70%, depending on the price and certain other factors).

KDP has several competitors. Here are the most prominent:

The great thing for authors is that you can work with ALL of these at the same time. This gives you more places to sell your book, and that’s good for you. It’s also good for readers, because different readers like to shop in different online stores.

“KDP Select” is a special option within KDP. If you choose the KDP Select option, you agree to work exclusively with Amazon. This means that if you choose the KDP Select option, you CAN’T also publish your e-book with B&N, Apple, Smashwords, Kobo, or anyone else. You work only with Amazon.

Why on earth would any author agree to do that?

Because Amazon offers you several perks if you choose the KDP Select option. Here are some of them:

  • You get paid when people borrow your book from the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.
  • You earn higher royalties for books sold in certain countries (currently, Japan, India, Brazil, and Mexico, but this list is constantly changing).
  • You can list your book for free for 5 days during each 90 day period.
  • You can run a Kindle Countdown Deal, where your price is temporarily lowered and a countdown timer shows when the deal will expire.

These have value to you as an author, and Amazon gives you these perks in exchange for giving up the right to sell your e-books on other online retailers.

A lot of people believe that Amazon is evil, that they’re the Big Bad Wolf and they intend to eat up their competition and then jack up prices when they have a monopoly.

My own opinion is that Amazon would definitely like to eat their competition. But I can see no evidence that they intend to raise prices, should they ever get a monopoly. So I don’t consider Amazon evil. They’re just a very strong competitor.

Competition is not bad. Competition is good for readers and for authors. Competition keeps prices low for readers. Competition keeps options attractive for authors.

I won’t tell you what to do, Mark. I think that the markets work best when readers and authors do what’s in their best self-interest. This keeps competition working correctly. It’s a free market and you can do what you want.

My own choice, so far, has been to refuse the KDP Select option. I’d rather work with multiple retailers, because I want my readers to have as many options as possible. Not all my readers want to buy from Amazon. I’ve posted my e-books directly on Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Smashwords.

Smashwords is not just a retailer–they’re also an aggregator, which means that they can get you distribution into other online retailers. So you can use Smashwords to put you onto Amazon, B&N, Apple, Kobo, Sony, Diesel, Oyster, Scribd, Library Direct, and more. So I use Smashwords to put my books into all the places that I don’t deal with directly.

For the last couple of years, some authors have done very well using KDP Select to promote their books for free for 5 days each quarter. This gets them lots of downloads (sometimes tens of thousands of downloads in a single day), which makes their books visible. And some authors have then gotten sales traction because of that visibility. However, the word on the street is that this isn’t working as well as it used to.

In fact, the biggest lure of KDP Select that I can see is this ability to make the price free for 5 days each quarter. Because this is no longer as effective as it used to be, there is less and less appeal to choosing the KDP Select option.

I’m looking at my sales spreadsheet right now for my novel Oxygen, which was the first e-book I released, so I have the most data for it. Here are the percentages of units sold for the various retailers that I can track:

  • Amazon: 84%
  • B&N: 13%
  • Smashwords: 3%
  • Apple: I don’t track sales on Apple because their accounting is such a pain in the ***. Note to Apple: Please clean up your act. Your accounting tools suck.

Why work with Smashwords, if sales are so low there? Several reasons.

  • Smashwords lets you price your e-book free anytime, all the time, with no restrictions. (Amazon and B&N don’t let you do this.)
  • Smashwords is international, and the price they charge is the SAME anywhere in the world. (Amazon sometimes adds a surcharge to certain countries, and you have no control over that. This can be horribly embarrassing when you run a promotion at a special price, and then learn that people in some countries are having to pay a higher price.)
  • Smashwords will sell your book in ANY format, including Kindle, ePub, PDF, RTF, Sony, text, and a web-readable format. (Amazon sells only the Kindle format, and most other retailers sell only the ePub format.)
  • Smashwords lets you create coupons so you can easily give away copies to friends and family by giving them a coupon code.

Why work with Apple, if their accounting tools are so bad?

  • You still get paid, even if it’s a pain to learn which books earned you the money.
  • You can set the price to free on Apple, and Amazon will usually match that price. This is called the “permafree” strategy, because it lets you make your book free ALL the time. I’m told it’s much harder to get Amazon to match a free price on Smashwords. Permafree is a nice marketing tool for the first book in a series, because it gives readers an easy way to try before they buy.
  • Apple sells in most countries and you have complete control over the pricing in each country.

I will note that all of the online retailers do a poor job at making accounting information available. Sure, you can easily find out how much they’re paying you total. But the real numbers you care about are these two:

  1. How many copies did each individual book sell?
  2. How much did I earn in US dollars for each individual book?

The number of copies sold is important for marketing purposes. If your book has sold 100,000 copies, you’d like to be able to brag about that in your ads. But you can’t do that if you don’t know the number. And none of the retailers lets you easily find this out. They do make the information available, but it’s fragmented.

The number of dollars earned is important if you have a co-author. You need to know how to split the money.

It is bizarre that NONE of the online retailers lets you easily get these two crucial numbers, and two of them make it impossible. Smashwords does the best job, but you still have to manipulate a large spreadsheet to get what you want. Amazon gives you all the data, but not all in US dollars. If the book was sold in Europe, you’ll see a line-item for sales in Euros, and they don’t tell you the exchange rate. And ditto for books sold in the UK, Japan, Mexico, Brazil, etc. This makes it impossible to do an accurate split if you co-author some of your books and write others on your own. B&N provides the data you need, but you have to manipulate a spreadsheet. And Apple is simply crazy to work with, so I’ve given up trying to get data out of them.

Well, Mark, I hope that helps. I’ll repeat my advice–do what makes the most economic sense to you. If you believe that KDP Select will earn you more money, then go with it. If you believe you’ll do better with multiple online retailers, then work with them all. The choice is yours.

Mark, you asked if I’d consider going with KDP Select in the future. Yes, possibly. For me, a major concern has been what’s best for my readers. More options for them is better for them, and this outweighs in my mind the advantages of KDP Select. But I might consider a test of one book on KDP Select to see how it works out. Every author would like to get the word out on their books, and one way to do that is to use the 5 days of free pricing on KDP Select.

If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.

What if You Had a Secret Crush on a Co-worker and Then Realized…

What if you had a secret crush on a co-worker and then realized she was probably trying to kill you?

My Loyal Blog Readers may be interested to know that I’m running a 99-cent special on my e-book Oxygen on Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Smashwords. Here’s a blurb:

Oxygen, A NovelBob Kaganovski has had a secret crush on his fellow astronaut Valkerie Jansen for over a year.

Halfway to Mars, an explosion leaves their crew of four with only enough oxygen for one of them to make it the Red Planet alive.

The pilot is left in a coma.

The mission commander is coming unglued.

Valkerie is the prime suspect.

Bob has to make sense of it all, but his head and his heart are in violent disagreement. And somebody has to figure out who gets to live and who has to die in order to save the mission.

If you’ve ever dreamed about having a geeky romance on a sabotaged mission to Mars (admit it, you’ve dreamed about this millions of times), then Oxygen is for you.

My co-author and I had hoped to work in some cool controversy on science, faith, the meaning of life, the existence of God, and possibly even the Coke versus Pepsi debate. But we forgot, dang it.

Oxygen is 99 cents until midnight on Tuesday, August 27, 2013. (Please note that Amazon adds a hefty surcharge in some countries outside the US. This is way above my pay grade. Also, the Apple store may not charge the exact price-equivalent  of 99 cents outside the US, but it should be close. Smashwords seems to offer just about the same price all around the planet, and they have it in numerous formats, including Kindle, ePub, and PDF.)

Where To Buy Oxygen

Start your journey to Mars at Amazon.

Ride a rocket to glory on Barnes & Noble.

Take a deep breath of Oxygen on Smashwords.

Or search for “oxygen ingermanson” on the Apple iTunes Bookstore.

A personal note to my Loyal Blog Readers: Some of you know that this has been a difficult month for me. My dad has been suffering with emphysema for more than a decade. This summer, he began to decline rapidly, and he died on August 11. It seems horribly ironic to me now, but Oxygen was one of his favorite books.

Many people have asked how I’m doing. The answer is “better than I had expected.”

I hope to resume normal blogging soon. I’m blogging today mainly because this 99-cent special was scheduled a long time ago, as part of an ad campaign on BookBub.

A Code Even the NSA Can’t Crack

My Loyal Blog Readers may be interested to know that I’m running a 99-cent special on my new e-book novel Double Vision for the next few days on Amazon, B&N, Apple, and Smashwords. Here’s a blurb:

Double_Vision_150x233There’s a code even the NSA can’t crack.

But Dillon Richard can. Dillon is a straight-arrow genius with Asperger’s syndrome. He’s never told a lie. He’s never been kissed. And he’s never had a badass quantum computer for cracking codes. Until now.

In just a few days, Dillon will finish the software to crack the “unbreakable” code that banks and terrorists use to protect their most valuable secrets.

Everybody’s going to want a piece of Dillon. The Mafia. The NSA. And his two beautiful co-workers, Rachel and Keryn.

Who’ll get him first?

Double Vision is a hilarious geeky suspense novel about a guy who has no idea how attractive he is to women. In fact, he has no idea how women think at all.

Dillon is terribly strait-laced, and he’s a bit shocked when he sees that his sexy co-worker Rachel doesn’t wear a bra. But he’s in for a bigger surprise when well-endowed Keryn shows him where she hid the quantum computer.

If you’re mad at the NSA for violating the privacy of millions of citizens, then get away from reality by joining Dillon, Rachel, and Keryn on a geeky romantic suspense high-tech adventure.

You’ll still be mad at the NSA when you get done, but you ladies are going to love dense-but-delicious Dillon and you guys get your pick of hot-wired Rachel or warm-and-cozy Keryn.

Double Vision is 99 cents until midnight on Monday, July 15, 2013. (Please note that Amazon adds a hefty surcharge in some countries outside the US. This is way above my pay grade. Also, the Apple store may not charge the exact price-equivalent  of 99 cents outside the US, but it should be close. Smashwords seems to offer just about the same price all around the planet, and they have it in numerous formats, including Kindle, ePub, and PDF.)

Where To Buy Double Vision

Spy on Dillon, Rachel, and Keryn at Amazon.

Sneak a peek at them on Barnes & Noble.

Steal an eyeful of the three bosom buddies at Smashwords.

Or search for “geeky suspense” on the Apple iTunes Bookstore.

Don’t Forget To Breathe

A quick note to say that I’m currently running a giveaway on Goodreads for several signed copies of the paper edition of my award-winning novel OXYGEN, which I coauthored with John Olson.

The premise:  An explosion on the first manned mission to Mars leaves four astronauts with only enough oxygen for one to make it to the Red Planet alive.  Two of them are too proud to admit it, but they’re in love with each other.  And all the evidence indicates that one of the four planted the bomb.
This is the second edition of OXYGEN (the “Writer’s Journey Edition”) with four bonus appendices, (about 21,000 words) on fiction writing.
One of the appendices tells the story of how John and I sold this novel to a publisher in less than 7 weeks without an agent.
Another appendix reveals my #1 secret for writing fiction, along with a line-by-line analysis of the entire first scene of the novel.
Here’s all the info on the giveaway:

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Oxygen by John B. Olson


by John B. Olson

Giveaway ends June 08, 2013.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win