Kindle Countdown – just another example of Amazon extortion?

Earlier this month Amazon announced Kindle Countdown for authors wishing to put their ebook(s) on sale. The service allows the author to set a specific time frame for an ebook to go on sale, and advertises the original price alongside the sale price. However, similar to Amazon’s free book promotion and their Kindle Owner Lending Library, the service is only available for titles enrolled in KDP Select. By way of reminder, KDP Select is only available to authors who agree to give Amazon exclusivity on a title; the exclusivity is intended to help lock up the ebook market for Amazon and increase sales of Kindle devices.

In addition to Kindle Countdown, the Lending Library program, and the free ebook giveaway option, Amazon also lure authors into the KDP Select program by paying 70% royalties for sales in India, Japan, and Brazil only on KDP Select titles. Authors who refuse to give Amazon exclusivity are punished with the 35% royalty, in the same way that Amazon punish authors who price their books outside Amazon’s target ebook price range of $2.99 to $9.99.

More interesting, however, is that all these programs still require the author themselves to advertise the sale or free book giveaway: Amazon do nothing to advertise an author’s promotions, and yet unless you do advertise, the promotion is moot. For example, Vancouver author Meghan Ciana Doidge recently promoted her 2011 title After the Virus by reducing it to $0.99 for a few days on all sites. She advertised the promotion with a one-day paid ad on BookBub. The result was 1100 sales over three days: 1039 on Amazon, 3 on Kobo, and 58 on Apple. Compare this to another author (who asked to remain nameless), who put her book in Kindle Countdown but without any attendant advertising, and sold 8 books.

In other words, if you still have to do the work yourself, and if you still likely have to pay to promote your sale, why would you give Amazon exclusivity and give up sales on other sites? Why would you help Amazon destroy the competition, a feat which in the end will only harm you and other authors by destroying diversity in the marketplace? (And once Amazon has killed the competition, do you honestly believe they will continue to pay you a 70% royalty?)

And compare this to the handful of promotions I have taken part in on Kobo. Kobo run a number of promotions each year, for example on holiday weekends, and invite authors to submit their titles and set a discount of usually between 30% and 50%. Kobo then heavily advertise the promotion on their site (at no charge to the authors) and encourages authors to supplement this with social networking efforts. Submitting a title does not guarantee a spot, but at least these opportunities exist on Kobo and authors lucky enough to be included can see their sales ranking shoot upwards. After my first promotion for Baby Jane, its ranking on Kobo went from obscure to #12 in its category, and remained in the top 50 until changes to the Kobo site messed that up (but that’s another story).

Personally, I find Kindle Countdown just another example of Amazon’s coercion of authors, and is part of a worrying trend.

Amazon’s predatory strategies are no secret in the industry, and Amazon’s fights with the Big 6 publishers and rival Apple have become pervasive; the KDP Select program and its attendant “perks” is simply Amazon’s way of using authors, in particular self-published ones, to undermine Amazon’s business rivals while thinking they, the authors, are benefiting instead of being punished by selling exclusively on Amazon. Yet as the second example above shows, simply enrolling in Kindle Countdown does nothing to improve your sales; it is of little to no benefit. So what would you gain by enrolling?

I know that many of you will argue that the bulk of your sales have and always will be on Amazon anyway, so what is the difference? With Doidge’s After the Virus promotion, most of the sales were on Amazon. But that is partly a function of BookBub’s demographic; sales were also highest in the USA, which is also a function of BookBub’s demographic. For Baby Jane, sales on Kobo, where I have had the opportunity to promote, outdo sales on Amazon by two to one, and are strongest in Australia, where until now Amazon have not been much of a presence. But more importantly, the question is beside the point: simply enrolling in the program does nothing for your sales. It’s no perk, and you can achieve the same effect by merely reducing your price on specific days and advertising the sale — all without undermining diversity in the marketplace and the future of publishing.

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