Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Advantages of Kindle Select

For those unfamiliar with Select, it's part of Amazon's "Prime" program that -for a subscription fee- allows users numerous advantages, like free 2-day shipping, movie streaming, and access to the Kindle Library. New users can get a month of Prime free by signing up, and new Kindle owners also get a month free. The obvious value lies in how you use the service. Big internet shoppers and Kindle Fire owners will probably get a lot of use, especially since the Fire allows you to watch streaming video and listen to music. The flipside of the coin is what it does for authors. 

Select offers two big advantages for authors. The first is inclusion into the Kindle Library. I wasn't sure how this system would work at first, but after signing up I must say I've been surprised. My "borrows" (for which I am paid) have far exceeded the number of sales I had through other e-book outlets. That's the trick, though. To enroll in Select, a novel must be exclusive to Amazon. In my case, this has proven worthwhile for the reasons I already stated, but some view this exclusivity as an issue. I can certainly see their argument. I struggle with it from time to time myself, especially when I get emails from people asking why they can't buy my book at a competitor's store. 

For me, it came down to the bottom line. I've tried those competitors and they did nothing in terms of sales. At the end of the month, I'd go over the numbers usually find less than ten sales. I frequently have that many lends in a single day at Amazon. Part of this is due to the fact that Amazon promotes its authors equally. If you sell books, you get promotion in various forms. The competitors don't do this. In fact, some of them do a pretty good job of burying the books by Indie authors, so that you can't even find them if you search for the exact author or title. Not cool. (The worst of these is circling the drain as we speak, even though it has been a runner-up in the category of e-books for several years).

The other advantage I referred to is the opportunity to give titles away for free on Amazon. This is a double-edged sword. I've tried it a few times and I have found that it does give a boost in exposure and sales. I'm doubtful about the long term viability of doing this. Most people who've used this and done well with it report that, at the end of the year, they've given away 2-3 times as many books as they've sold. In many cases, we're talking tens of thousands. I'm left wondering how many of those freebies would have been sales at some point. I'm also wondering if the notorious drop-off that occurs after the bump makes sales worse than they would have been otherwise.

Some people use 'free' and do quite well with it, but others report no bump whatsoever. Those who use it most successfully seem to put a lot of energy into advertising the free days. They go to special websites that advertise the free days and they promote like crazy. I guess the payoff is that they do see improved sales, if only briefly. The downside is that it tends to water down an author's brand, and probably poaches future sales for the sake of today. And of course, it's somewhat gimmicky. Some buyers out there are asking how good these books can be if they're free: Why can't the author sell them?  

I do believe the massive flood of free e-books has hurt the market for everyone in terms of sales. Few people will pay for what they can have free.I've also noticed, during the few experiments I did, that freebies tend to draw bad reviews. I'm not sure if that was because people picked up a book they wouldn't normally have read, or if it was a 'competitive author' trying to damage sales. Either way, the bad reviews are certainly not helpful and I think they're one more reason to consider very carefully before going free. 

I face these questions every few months, as my titles expire in Select and I have to re-enroll. I have re-enrolled all my titles at this point, really because of those unique advantages that apply to me. I'm not sure what the rest of the Indie community is thinking about this right now. I'm sure some are loaning books like crazy, others are giving away and selling thousands of titles every month. Yet others will try these things and see no benefit whatsoever. The downside of this is that we've all got to try these tools and see what works for us. The upside is that we have the freedom to do just that. 

Personally, I'm not married to Select, but at the moment it seems to be a valuable tool. That's why I'm still enrolled. I do think free might have its uses, but I'm still experimenting. I may give away a short story in the near future and see what it does for the rest of the brand. I probably won't be giving away any novels, though. I've already tried that and didn't find much benefit.