Kindle Scout’s potential landmines

LAST UPDATED 9 September 2015

Back in October 2104, when Kindle Scout was first launched, I wrote a blog post of my opinion on the program. I also directed readers to Writer Beware’s post evaluating the program’s contract. Recently, I was approached by a journalist for my current opinion on the program, and the request made me take a look at the contract myself, a contract that was updated just recently, on 3 March 2015. In it I found two items in particular that raised a red flag for me, and which I shared with the journalist.

Firstly, there is the gift of a free copy to everyone who votes for your book.

The author is expected to utilize their own marketing lists/social media contacts to generate votes; if successful, the author’s existing reader/potential buyer list is exhausted by those who will now get a free copy of the book, copies for which the author earns no income (clause 8.3 of the Kindle Scout contract).

Had the author simply self-published and advertised their book to that same database of readers, the author would earn an income on any resulting sales that could exceed the $1500.00 advance. And it must be remembered that an advance is payable against future earnings; it is by no means free money.

Further to this, if one does not have an extensive database of contacts with which to generate votes, one’s book is unlikely to be selected since it will not meet the threshold of popularity the program claims is the criteria for publication; yet even if your book does generate a great number of votes, its popularity does not actually guarantee publication; it is still solely at Amazon’s discretion. So where, exactly, is the goal post? What is the actual criteria? The author does not know.

Secondly, on their website Amazon advertise that the author’s rights revert upon request if the book earns less than $25,000 in royalties in five years; but the contract (clause 6.1) actually states that the author must earn $25,000 in royalties in five years, not the book.

Since the author earns 50% (or less, depending on the format; see clause 8.3 of the contract) of royalties, the book has to earn $50,000 in royalties in five years. And that $50K is net, since Amazon first deduct any fees or commissions paid to third parties who sell or publish your ebook (clause 8.4).

Moreover, Amazon retain the exclusive right to set the price of your ebook; if Amazon price it below $2.99, the author earns only 17.5% of the purchase price (that is, 50% of 35% of the sale price). If Amazon turn your book into a daily deal, they might price it as low as $0.99; the author then earns only $0.175 per book. Imagine how many copies you have to sell to reach $50,000 in net sales!

Worse, most authors will assume that Kindle Scout pays at the same rate as Kindle Direct Publishing; that is, 70% of the sale price if the ebook is sold between $2.99 and $9.99. But this is not actually indicated in the Kindle Scout contract. No mention is made at all about how royalties are calculated. Amazon pay 45% of list (regardless of the price) through their Publisher to Kindle (P2K) program, so which gross royalty rate is applied?

(UPDATE June 28, 2015: As per the comment below, Amazon pay 50% of the sale price regardless of the price of the book; this seems to contradict the contract, which states Amazon pay 50% of NET revenue and “net” is not defined. In any case, if your book is priced above $2.98, then you earn less under the Scout program than you do under KDP directly.)

Author rights also revert upon request after two years if one earns less than $500.00 in a 12-month period. If so, the book is now two years old and has failed commercially. What chances do you think the author can then resell it to another publisher, or self-publish it with any success?

Lastly, the reversion of rights is restricted by any subcontracts that Amazon have entered into with regards to your work, and the right to sublicense is granted to Amazon by the author. More importantly, although Amazon do not buy your print rights, the contract is contradictory regarding the sublicense of the work: on the one hand Amazon state that “all rights not expressly granted to us in this Agreement (including the right to publish print editions) are reserved for your sole use and disposition,” yet on the other hand you give Amazon “the rights to develop, license, sublicense, reproduce, publish, distribute, translate, display and transmit, your Work …,” not just the digital formats of the work. Thus, the “easy” terms of release are not guaranteed.

It seems to me that Select is really just another way for Amazon to obtain exclusivity on self-published books for which the author still bears all expense to publish.

In the Eligibility and Content Guidelines, Amazon state:

You can increase the likelihood of selection by adhering closely to our Eligibility & Content Guidelines and by submitting a fully finished, professionally copyedited manuscript.

Your manuscript and cover should be ready to publish. If your book is selected, we will do another internal review to see if your book is ready to publish (you’ll also get a chance to fix any last minute typos). If it isn’t, we may reach out to you with guidance to make your book ready to publish.

Amazon reserve the right to reject your book even at the submission stage if it is poorly edited. Is this a means to solicit new customers for editing services provided by Amazon subsidiaries like CreateSpace? And if Amazon do select your book but it still needs more work, they will “reach out to you with guidance”; at no time do Amazon say they will pay to bring your book up to publication quality.

So if your book needs to be of top quality to be selected, what are Amazon really offering you in exchange for 50% or more of your royalties? And Amazon do not buy your print rights: print requires significantly more effort and resources to produce and sell, effort and costs that Amazon obviously do not wish to expend. I have no doubt, though, that all authors who submit receive a solicitation to print using CreateSpace, though I do not know this as fact.

Kindle Scout strikes me as just a cheap and lazy way for Amazon to solicit new publications while incurring minimal costs to curate and publish.

(Update: and, of course, this is yet another way to created exclusive content for the Kindle format, thereby selling more Kindles and Kindle books.) Amazon are paying essentially the same royalty rate as a traditional publisher yet Amazon are not incurring the same expenses that traditional publishers incur on behalf of their authors, or at least not to the same degree: The cost of submission editors is decreased significantly because the public is providing the first level of curation. Amazon are not incurring any cost to publish except for the advance, which is minimal, and is payable against future royalties. There are no hard marketing costs since the marketing is restricted to the Amazon site. These minimal costs are more than offset by the increased traffic to the Amazon site: the program brings readers to the Amazon site through the collective marketing efforts of authors who submit; that’s just loads of free advertising for Amazon for which authors are not remunerated. Why would any critically thinking author submit to a program that pays no more than a traditional publisher yet offers no production benefits and restricts the author’s sales to a single retailer and its digital formats?

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11 thoughts on “Kindle Scout’s potential landmines

  1. Kindle Scout is a TOTAL SCAM. They make YOU do ALL of the publicizing and then they take far more from your earnings than they otherwise would have if you’d simply published it through CreateSpace while doing the SAME amount of publicizing. And don’t even get me started on their “editing.” Have you read some of the books they’ve published? Here’s just one of the many particularly horrible lines “approved” in a chosen book that was published by Kindle Scout:

    “She stepped down onto her sore foot and screamed loudly in pain and fear.”

    In case you have ZERO writing skills, that is a horrible sentence that would get your ‘script thrown in the slush pile in about point 5 seconds from any real publisher. Bad writing, plain and simple, and the entire book i chose that line from is the same throughout!

    Kindle Scout is just another money-making scheme that takes advantage of writers not talented enough to actually get their writing published. And it’s so very sad how many untalented writers there are out there who now think that just because Kindle Scout exists they can sit down and write a book even though they’ve never even written a book before. Because “it’s so easy” right? WRONG. And Kindle Scout has published some HORRIBLE books, if “books” is even what you could call them.

    If you are going to self-publish then do yourself a favor and stick with CreateSpace. You’ll have to do just as much publicizing on your own anyways, AND you’ll earn more money because of it.

    AVOID KINDLE SCOUT: it’s a total scam that was made to take advantage of untalented writers. Don’t believe me? Just read some of the “books” they’ve published. I’ve read several, and there hasn’t been one yet i didn’t cringe through because the writing was so terrible. Stop trying to take the “fast & easy” way to becoming a writer, because there isn’t one.

  2. I read through many articles prior to submitting to kindlescout, lots of pros and cons but all from the perspective of a successful campaign. Well my campaign just ended in failure and I have to agree with Sracey above, I feel like a chump. Thirty days of really hard marketing and the end result was kindlescout telling everyone I know that my book wasn’t worth publishing. I believe everyone needs to share their statistics, thoughts and experiences. I blogged about it here: http://hdknightley.com/2015/09/21/the-cons-of-kindlescout-fail-edition/

    1. Another interesting perspective: what happens to your reputation, and the value of the work, when KS rejects your book after you’ve marketed it to your existing readers/followers?

  3. I read your article about the democratization of publication offered by the Kindle Scout program with great interest. Very little has been written so far on the subject and you’ve clearly got a grasp on both sides of the issue as well as having a way with words. I am a bestselling author (Warner Books, which is now Grand Central) of 23 years who recently embarked on a KS campaign with my mystery book, ONE SWEET DEAL. What I learned during that process was disturbing.

    KS frames itself as crowdsourced or “reader-powered publishing.” Although their editing team makes the final decision, the selection of a book for publication is supposed to be in the hands of the readers. The campaign for each book lasts 30 days. During that time, a writer must get enough votes to keep her book on a short list of Hot and Trending books. The longer you stay on that list, the better your chances. At least that’s what KS says.

    I had little trouble staying on the Hot and Trending list. Like I said, I have a huge following–I also have 5000 Facebook friends. And I was confident that a funny light-hearted well-written mystery like ONE SWEET DEAL would have no trouble passing muster with the review board. Imagine my surprise when I woke up the morning after my campaign was finished and had a Inbox full of emails from readers who wanted to know what on earth had happened.

    In my shock and bewilderment, I got in touch with a friend of mine–an ex-reporter at Reuters who’d written a book on data collection. He knew right away what had happened–and it’s not illegal, per se, but it is despicable. Kindle Scout Is using writers as unpaid data collectors. Writers slave away for thirty days drumming up votes and every time a vote is registered, Amazon gets to keep that information. It’s pure genius. Machiavellian genius.

    Meanwhile, those poor writers are deluded into thinking KS is a legitimate operation. And readers are gulled into thinking their votes actually matter.

    Since you have a platform and an eloquent one at that, I sincerely hope you will investigate and write about these egregious business practices. I will offer all the help I can. Please feel free to check out my bonafides.

    1. This is something that I touched upon in my two articles about Scout: the writers have to deliver the votes, like your 5000 Facebook followers, which is great for Amazon: “These minimal costs are more than offset by the increased traffic to the Amazon site: the program brings readers to the Amazon site through the collective marketing efforts of authors who submit; that’s just loads of free advertising [and free data, as you rightly point out] for Amazon for which authors are not remunerated.” There’s something Machiavellian about it, as you say.

      The other thing of interest was that I was approached by Daniel Lefferets, a journalist writing for BookLife.com, a subsidiary of Publishers Weekly, to provide comments on the program, but then never heard back after I sent my answers (which became this blog post). Not sure what that was about.

  4. My apologies to the two posters whose comments I accidentally deleted while cleaning out spam comments (duh!). Feel free to repost.

  5. Michelle,
    Thanks for the great article and your insight regarding the Kindle Scout program. As always, when you consider any publishing option, it’s best to see things from both sides of the argument.

    We’d welcome you to chat with some of the authors who have been selected through the KindleScout program. I myself had my debut novel, Housebroken, selected for publication through Kindle Scout and have found the experience to be quite honestly amazing. One author has already landed a contract with MontLake Romance for her next 3 books through having her novel published by Kindle Press and several of the selected novels are currently ranked in the top 100+ books on Amazon, a feat they wouldn’t have been able to manage without Amazon’s marketing prowess.

    Also please note, rates paid are 50% regardless of what the book is priced at (so if Amazon chooses to price the book below they typical 70% threshold an author still makes 50%, not 35% of 50% as stated in your article).

    I appreciate your comments and looking at the contract from the outside, just thought I’d toss in a perspective from an author who’s seen this as a defining moment in his career, not Amazon attempting a bait and switch program to cash in on unsuspecting writers.

    If you’re interested in chatting, you can find almost all of the Kindle Scout authors at the following Amazon Discussion board. We’d welcome your comments, questions and insights!

    http://www.amazon.com/forum/meet%20our%20authors/ref=cm_cd_notf_message?_encoding=UTF8&cdForum=Fx2UYC1FC06SU8S&cdPage=14&cdThread=Tx3TK4N4DVZQWSO#Mx29M25M4XHUBKW

    Thanks for all you do in promoting indie authors!

    -The Behrg

    1. Dear The Behrg,

      While I appreciate your comment, it oozes “paid for by Amazon.” MontLake Romance is an imprint of Amazon; as I said, Kindle Scout seems to be a way to vet new authors for Amazon imprints without having to pay a plethora of submission editors; your comment proves my point. As for the royalties, at 50% the author is making LESS than through Kindle Direct Publishing if the book is priced above $2.98; where’s the deal in that since you are still paying for the book to be published? If the advertising were guaranteed then perhaps that is a deal, but as Writer Beware points out, the contract does not guarantee advertising.

      There are many indie authors who have cracked Amazon’s top 100 lists, well before Scout. If anything, Scout now acts as a stick to anyone who dares to publish outside of Scout: Amazon have always used their website to give primacy to its own authors, firstly to authors of Amazon’s imprints and now Scout.

      Glad it worked for you, but the program is STILL just another means for Amazon to achieve control over the publishing industry. When they have it, you can say goodbye to Scout and to 50%.

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