Friday, March 8, 2013

Are Darker Days Ahead for Amazon Select?

Amazon appears to be heading in a different direction in the mega-retailer's relationship with indie authors. It wasn't hard to figure out early in 2012 that the main reason Amazon created the Prime/Select system (that gave participating indie authors up to 5 "free" days to promote their ebooks) was to actually promote and sell the company's ebook reader, the Kindle. And now, in early 2013, Amazon has told ebook bloggers like Pixel of Ink (POI) and Ereader News Today (ENT) that they need to pare back on their advertising of "free" Amazon ebooks.

The future is now here.

So, what are concerned Writers Cafe indie-authors thinking Amazon should do for them, for the folks who helped the company make millions by selling Kindles?

"Free has lost its appeal for Amazon, as well as for some writers. Acknowledgement of this by Amazon (algorithim changes followed by the recent strong disincentive for affiliates to promote free books) is a tacit admission that the key benefit for writers in Select--free days--is now of questionable value. Jeff Bezos has not made many mistakes so far, and I suspect that plans to restructure Select are well advanced. Unless the law forbids it, I'd like to see a minimum price for every book available through Amazon."

"Lowering royality? I hope not. Lowering my royalty isn't going to entice to me go into Select. I'll still do better being spread out on various outlets. I have trouble believing they will go that route with Apple and Kobo offering 70% and B&N not too far behind them."

"Lower royalties would be a stupid business move, and Amazon is not stupid. You don't take away something that has been given. Plus that would give a competitive advantage to other platforms. However, I could see .99 promotions taking the place of 'Free' for Select and elsewhere. It would be nice to see .99 become the new 'free'. Everyone makes more money that way."

"Completely agree with this. Amazon would be stupid to lower royalties for existing authors.
Instead, I see an expansion of the current "Select is 70% in India, 35% for non-Select". I suggest they'll do the following:
- Non-Select book royalty remains exactly the same.
For books in Select:
- 70% royalty for all regions, worldwide, irrespective of price (so yes, 70% for 99c works).
- Amazon-lead promotion for free giveaways, think "POI run by Amazon". If so, I'd expect it'd be like submitting a story to Kindle Singles in that there'd be a review process to get on the list, which also allows them to weed out the Wikipedia-scraped books, etc. I don't expect that these will be heavily promoted.
- New and different types of promotions, such as "50% off!" or "Buy Part I, get the sequel free!" or even "Buy a print copy, we'll ship you an ebook version!". I'd expect these will be much better promoted by Amazon since they still make money on them.
- I expect that free downloads will be Prime-only, but will hopefully be re-weighted to account for this. It could be that in the future 300 downloads is considered a very successful promo. I expect that Erotica will either be put in the smut-jail where it's almost a separate store, or is otherwise ranked down, but yeah. I think Select's future is still bright, but only if they change things for the better."

"I would love to have that nifty line through the original price with the listing saying 'on sale for 99¢' or something to that effect. Then it's really clear that people are getting a deal."

"Amazon already lowers the royalty rate for non select books to 35% since the launch of India and will continue for every new market going forward. They can get away with this simply because they are pretty much the only player in some of these markets. I don't see them lowering it for the existing 70% domains unless every retailer does it. One thing to remember about e-books is that Amazon makes incalculable profit off of them. They get 30-65% plus delivery fees off of the retail price of every book sold. They have nothing else at risk, they don't write, edit, format, create covers, or advertise. Amazon just makes money. Their customers come first, but they are not going to intentionally sabotage authors or drive them away with policy changes. We make them a LOT of money and they make us a LOT. Price matching is an Amazon policy.  If they don't want free books, they just don't have to price match anymore.  There won't be any less books sold if they did this, but they won't do this because it will drive customers to other websites like Smashwords and Apple where they can get free books and while they are there, buy others. I still think that Amazon should create a top layer/filter for select free books over the normal free listing.  So when you click on a genera listing and see the top 100 free. It defaults to the top 100 free that is exclusive only available on amazon. This will promote the exclusivity that we give them, as well as highlight the value of a prime membership. This also showcases why you should be using Amazon and Kindle readers/apps. Books that can't be found anywhere else.  This also reduces the effectiveness of price matched free books. To see ALL free books you would have to click another link that displays the perma-free, public domain, and select free books like it is now. Another boon to defaulting to select only free books is that you won't see the same books day after day because a select book can only be listed 5 days out of a 90 day period. I would think a lot of people would be visiting the site every day to see what's newly free.  Right now if I see what's free for sci-fi/adventure all I see is that same damned 'The Time Machine' perma-free public domain book that's been there for the last two years. No wonder everyone gets their free book lists from ENT and POI. Amazon's list never changes! I can't compete with 5 days against books that are free everyday. Even when I do manage to spike past 'The Time Machine,' I'm gone the next day when my promo is over and 'The Time Machine' simply moves back up a slot."

"These two kind of go against each other. Amazon benefits from lowering royalties and a lot. I don't think they will do it, but since they are so dominant they can, there is not much competition from other retailers so far. Amazon not only has traffic of Buyers but also devices that dominate and unless Apple really start pushing iBookstore than they won't be losing too much authors either. Maybe they will add more money to borrowing pool or increase amount of borrows allowed per reader instead of once a month. I do hope Apple comes up with a push for iBookstore and more and more people read on their devices, in Europe, Apple has much much much more of them than Amazon. That would make Amazon sweeten the deal for authors more."

"Keeping Select titles only in the free 100 would be the only thing that works for me. If Amazon reaffirms their commitment to promoting select titles, then indie authors without a name will be enticed by this because it will be their best chance of getting noticed. Otherwise, I doubt mucking about with Free and Royalties is going to keep us away from the other platforms."

"From Amazon's past actions, I'd say the purpose of Select is to promote Prime. The cost of that promotion is the payment to authors for borrows. The benefit to Amazon is new Prime members. We don't know how Amazon evaluates the cost/benefit. Select allows free books. There is probably some daily volume of free books that results in the greatest revenue to Amazon. We don't know what it is. Amazon might not know, either, but I suspect they have determined a range for management purposes. I'd expect Amazon to manage the volume of free books to hit somewhere in that range. There are lots of ways they can do that. Visibility can be used. Affiliate pressure can be used, etc. But making Select attractive to authors? There is no reason to do anything as long as the number of books in Select is sufficient to attract the maximum number of new and renewing Prime members. It's 300,000 now. That's a pretty healthy cushion."

"It's certainly plausible that tying up books is a benefit to Amazon, but I'm not sure those exclusive books result in an addition to Amazon's total revenue. If Select did not exist, would consumers spend less money at Amazon? Is B&N selling less because of Select?The case for incremental revenue due to Select rests on the idea that without Select, a consumer would not just buy something else to occupy her eyeball hours. Perhaps they would buy James Patterson rather than Terrence OBrien. Really, that actually happened once. I've aways wondered at B&N's apparent indifference to independents. One explanation that is consistent with their behavior is that independents don't result in an increase in total revenue. Consumer demand may not change because of an increase in the supply of titles. It's always hard to measure what didn't happen, so I can't offer a robust defense of the idea that Amazon total revenues didn't increase due to Select. But lacking any good data, I'll acknowledge my ignorance. They still don't call me. I know they have a conference call with everyone else."

"When Select first started, the Free promo's were great. What we're experiencing today is 'Free Inflation' because there are too many books capable of going free. People need 15-25k downloads to get the same effect as 1k downloads did when 'free' first started. They can fix this by tightening the leash on how many times, and how often, you can list your book for free so that 1k free downloads is as effective as 25k is today. You have to get featured through these gateway sites in order to be seen, let alone achieve a 'bump' in sales.  Places like Bookbub you have to pay AND meet criteria, but the results speak for themselves.  But that's the economics of the "free" system, and Amazon is realizing it's not evolving into something they like. I have a feeling that Amazon has some interesting features in the pipeline that will gravitate people back to Select, and make it more effective. In the end, if their goal is to help authors have their book seen and achieve bumps in sales, whatever they offer will inevitably require some kind of leash to prevent what we're seeing now with the free "inflation" effect. They could offer paid services ala Bookbub, but then that means only people with money (or willing to spend money) will have their books seen. They could cut back on the number of free days from 5 to 2, but that would make all the free gateway sites more stingy on who they take in (or take you a lot longer to get on the listing). In the end, there has to be some limiting factor ... free is free, until it costs money or time to be useful!"

"Do Bookbub-style promotions for every country (except at no cost to the author and using Amazon's existing mailing list)]. Each author gets one promotion per month where they must agree that Amazon lowers their book price to 99c (or whatever) for a day, and Amazon sends out the special promo emails. This would greatly help indies expand into the markets of other countries (as long as your book is written in the language of those countries).
It would also help indies be seen. Books would have to meet criteria - over 4 stars, a certain amount of reviews and perhaps even a manual score. (Customers should be able to choose the genres they wish to receive alerts about, and also opt out of these special promo emails if they wish.) Yeah, yeah, I know with so many indie authors it would be a logistical nightmare to implement, but still it would be great, no?"

"Let us choose one book page a month where we can have a guaranteed appearance in their also-boughts for five days. Let us be featured in an Amazon e-mail once a month. Either of those would be very helpful."

"There are 270,000 ebooks in Select, last count I saw. Is it even viable to assure folks that they'll get into an email once a month? What happens if there are 600,000 Select books?"

"Several people have suggested Amazon provide special promotions for Select books. There are 300,000 books in Select. If each book was promoted once per year, that would be 822 promotions per day. And emails? I like the emails I get from Amazon because they are usually correct. I like the books they recommend. But I doubt I would like the books if they were simply email payment to authors for being in Select."

"That's why I suggest a complex combo type of promo, not a one-size-fits-all, and much of it focusing on specific categories. It can be done for all 822 titles every day, cleanly automated, and dispersed over various Amazon visibility real estate. In fact, we might even be offered a tick box menu of promo options to choose from at the time of signup, and we pick a fixed number of items:
keywords blast
search results
daily deals
also boughts
kindle powerup ad
front page placement
residence on new release list

"I'd like an option where I'm not exclusive, and I don't get any free days, but my books can be part of the Prime lending thing. You can pay me less, since I'm not exclusive or whatever. As someone who has Prime and uses the lending feature, I couldn't care less whether or not I can buy the book elsewhere. I have a KINDLE. I can't read other stores' formats on it anyway. Exclusivity really doesn't matter to me. It's not a selling point. Likewise limiting the free books I can choose from isn't a selling point. I don't get why they made it exclusive anyway. Unless, of course, they really are the evil empire that the trad people think they are, and they want to own the world."

"Free's done, I think. I just gave away 13,000 copies in the US and I've had just 32 sales in the following two weeks on a book with a pro cover averaging 4.1 stars. Won't be doing it again. Discounted books is where it's at. If only Amazon would wise up and stop allowing free. Even 10c sales would make a bit of money for people."

"I really dislike the exclusivity of Select, but I don't see them changing that. It's sort of the whole point of giving perks with Select from a business standpoint. Anyway! My first thoughts as to new perks were:
Allowing more borrows for Prime members - With so many books in the lending library, and some readers reading very fast, I think one a month is a little a stingy. Especially since, don't they allow unlimited streaming for Prime videos? I think 2-4 borrows per Prime member would be a nice bump.
More keywords - I believe I read that at one time Amazon allowed 20 keywords for books. It's only been 7 since I've published, and that IMO just isn't enough for browsing discoverability. Offering double (or even back to 20) would be a very nice perk. Unrelated to Select, but I never understood why blurbs/descriptions aren't searchable (I've searched key phrases in my blurb(s) and my book(s) don't come back in the results). For being such a large, successful store, their search engine is... well... kind of bad. Long before I published, I felt this way as a buyer. But anyway, that's a little off topic so moving on. I'm not sure what it would take for me to grant exclusivity to Amazon again. It would really have to come with some sort of guaranteed visibility, but I don't know how they'd be able to guarantee that for so many authors. It'll be interesting to see what they come up with, if they do decide to change Select at all in the near future."

"Thing is with Free, I've found it it gets my name out there on Amazon whereby I would've never had a chance before. I've had sales, not like most people here, but I think it's better than nothing. If your a writer with only one book and you only want one book out than I understand, but for someone who wants to keep writing I love the free feature. The other thing is there is competition, Kobo has no restrictions on free, BUT Amazon is probably King of Free in this regard because there is NO ranking system and NO way to figure out how many free downloads have been made. Last I read free doesn't even translate to sales on Kobo like Amazon does. The cool thing is I did get a 5 Star rating for my serial though so that's worth it.
For restructuring:
- Lower Select contract from 90 days to 60 days
- Lower Free days from 5 days to 3 days
- Allow more free borrows for customers
- Bonus Royalty for Select-Only authors"

"Here's what would get me running back into Select: A special one-time Release Day promo for every book I enrolled. This would mean a complex combo of Daily Deal type mailing, high visibility on various Also Boughts, front page placement in the book's category, etc. Whatever it takes to make the book shine, to kickstart its sales. What would Amazon get? It gets to debut my book and have it exclusively for 90 days!"

"I'd like to see customers have the ability to subscribe to authors so that when that author has something new out, the customer gets an e-mail. It wouldn't have anything to do with select, would be entirely opt-in, and probably wouldn't even be that expensive to implement."

"The ability to do sales for X days, where the sale shows up as the % off the normal price. Higher royalties on .99 and 1.99 books. Maybe something like 50%."

"I think we're asking the wrong question. Instead of our little fantasies of a return to January 2012, we should ask: 'What is Amazon getting out of Select and what changes are they likely to make that will help AMAZON?' Because it doesn't matter one bit what writers want. It could be that Amazon is trying to winnow the KOLL--after all, they aren't getting appreciably more borrows than when they had 100,000 exclusive books. And it's clear they were already increasingly using freebies to segregate indies off into a high loan/sale ratio and away from the paying customers. Amazon wouldn't blink an eye if 100,000 authors left Select. Because what is the difference between 35,000 free books a day and 50,000 free books a day? Most of the borrows are taking place near the top of the charts anyway (believe me, I've had books both high and low forever, so I know the ratios.) For me, Select is all about the chance to get loans--as long as I believe my loan income beats my potential earnings in other markets, I stay in. Because I have a daughter to put through college, I don't care one whit about philosophical issues, monopolies, or corporate politics. I do what feeds the beast. And the loan pool is one source of income not available anywhere else in the world, and the competition is still only 300,000 books instead of the millions elsewhere. If the rules change, I change. I'd be just as happy if 200,000 writers left Select. While book sales aren't a zero-sum game, the loan pool is. If Customer X borrows Book A, then Customer X can't borrow my book that month. I don't expect Amazon to develop strategies that serve indie writer, or traditional publishers, or necessarily even their own imprints (believe it or not, aside from the occasional special promotions, Amazon doesn't do anything to artificially game the system to boost their own books). As David Gaughran and Edward Robertson recently wrote about, Amazon has a meritocracy built on showing the person the book they are most likely to buy, no matter where it comes from."

"Amazon's job is not really to concern itself with indies per se. Amazon's job is to use its massive pool of consumer information to put the products a consumer is most likely to buy in front of said consumer's face. Things that benefit indies may or may not help with that. But Amazon could very well care less is 100,000 indies left. I think indies have gotten an inflated idea of their collective power. Forget what goes on here at KB. You have a small but more business savvy group of indies here. The majority of indies will just deal with whatever Amazon does. And those that leave will be replaced by more wide-eyed new authors who have been lured to indie publishing by the opportunity. I don't know why everyone seems to think Amazon WON'T eventually rescale their royalties. They have already moving in that direction. The only way to get 70% in certain countries is to be in Select. Otherwise, you get 35%. Amazon won't "lower" everyone to 35%. They will "increase" their bottom tier payout to 45-50% and simply offer 70% to Select only. Think about it, if Amazon started to pay 50% on books below $2.99, who is going to complain? And insofar as the argument that the competition will pay more, newsflash: the competition ALREADY pays more on books priced below $2.99. Your 99 cent book on Apple earns 60% against Amazon's 35%. I'm looking at my Smashwords dashboard and everyone pays more than Amazon on books below $2.99."

"A huge part of Amazon's benefit from Select relates directly to the Kindle. I would say for the past few years, Kindle device sales have been a huge part of Amazon's income. At one point they reported selling a million kindle readers a week. Selling kindles gives them income, and also gives them a hold on the ebook world into the future. The person who sells the most ebooks isn't the person with the best ebook store, its the person who sold the most readers. Select helped Amazon sell kindles. As soon as a customer opened their new kindle they had thousands of free reads to choose from. That's fun for the customer. We all know how important it is for cell phone makers to have thousands of apps available at launch. Our free books were the equivalent of having apps available. Why would anyone buy another reader when kindle was linked to the KDP free promo party? Once Amazon has sold enough kindles, it will start to focus on ebook sales again, and giving the books away for free won't be so cool. This is why they're hitting the free promos every few months. Weaning us away from them. I think they want $2.99 to be the new free."

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