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?