Sunday, July 21, 2019

Leaving Unlimited?! Thoughts on going wide...


After a couple years of being exclusive with Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program -also known as Select- I've started to remove my books. Some have already come out. The rest will expire over the next few weeks. If you're a subscriber and haven't read any of my books, now is the time. If you have no idea what I'm talking about, here's a paragraph from their website describing the program:

"Kindle Unlimited is a subscription program for readers that allows them to read as many books as they want. The Kindle Owners' Lending Library is a collection of books that Amazon Prime members who own a Kindle can choose one book from each month with no due dates. When you enroll in KDP Select, your books are automatically included in both programs. Your books will still be available for anyone to buy in the Kindle Store, and you'll continue to earn royalties from those sales like you do today" 

So, if you have a monthly subscription to Amazon's free ebooks, you have Unlimited, and if you just have Prime, you have access to the library. With Unlimited, you get to download all the freebies you want from authors like me, who then get paid a little less than half a cent per page that you read.

So why would I leave? Well, that half a cent thing for one . Depending on the book's price, authors can lose a LOT of money in that program. They're also forced into exclusivity, meaning no sales from B&N, Kobo, or anywhere else. Sometimes that exclusivity pays off, sometimes it doesnt. My sales have been lagging for two years -about as long as I've been in KU- and while the extra money I've earned from borrows has helped to make up the difference in the past, they don't anymore. I can only assume this has to do with Amazon's "tweaking" of their algorithms. 

I've noticed recently that Amazon's system is working tirelessly to push my books off the charts. If I run a promotion, or  get a little boost in sales for some other reason, the improvement in rank disappears almost immediately. It seems that no matter what I do or how much readers enjoy my books, Amazon is constantly trying to force me off the charts. When my rank gets worse, sales lag because my books aren't visible to new buyers. And thus begins the death spiral.

I've also found that searching for my books generally leads to about 15 pages of completely unrelated results. Not just a little unrelated -I mean books that don't even contain the words He said, She said (for instance) and aren't even in the same genre. In fact Harry Potter books were coming up in search results before He said, She said. As were nonfiction and historical titles. In other words, these were search results that no one would even want to see! My books were buried. WTH, Amazon? 

I ran a few experiments to test this. With my book He said, She said "Murder," I couldn't even find the book in a general search. I searched by title and author. No better. I edited the book to put the words He said, She said in my keywords. Supposedly, the keywords for my books will help people find what they're looking for, like using the word "mystery" or "thriller" so that the book comes up when buyers search for that word. In this case, the keyword He said, She said made ZERO difference. I couldn't even find my own book searching by title, author, and keyword. 


So I gave the book a subtitle: "He said, She said 'Murder': A He said, She said Cozy Mystery."  That helped a little. Now, the book came up within the first few of pages of search results. But that was after other books which still had no relevance whatsoever. In other words, my book was now almost visible, but still buried in irrelevant search results. Now, I'm no expert, but I do have some experience with this interwebby thing and I'm pretty sure searching for something in a store should produce results that at least sound similar to that item. I don't know how the results could be this screwed up without it being intentional. But why? Would Amazon really screw up their own store like that on purpose? Common sense and a vague understanding of how capitalism works would say "No."

So I'm not pointing the finger at Amazon. Not exactly. They're a huge company, and I believe they are trying to do best by their customers. Unfortunately, Amazon is inundated with thousands of fake reviews and fake products every single day. They're up against a tsunami of crooks trying to exploit the system, coming at them from every direction, and every time they tweak something to fix problem "A," something else happens that no one expected. Now "A" is fixed, but "C" is acting up and nobody even knows where "Q" went. (Let's not even mention the internal problems, like employees who take bribes to alter reviews and search results.)
 
Let's face it: Amazon is like a monkey trying to ride a tiger. In that kind of situation, all you can do is try to hang on and hope the thing eventually tires out. 

So, I tried one more thing: I made it free

Guess what? Booom! Now, it shows up on page one. Right near the top. Yep. If you want people to find your stuff on Amazon... give it away for FREE. As far as I can tell, that's the only reliable way to get their search engine to notice you. But you'll have to pull your title out of Unlimited to do that. And in the meanwhile, you'll have readers on other sites finding your free book, enjoying it, and then wondering why they can't find the sequels -which aren't there, because they're exclusive to Amazon. So these potential customers get pissed and move on to another author. 

Now, as I said before, there was once a certain payoff for my exclusivity with Amazon. It's the "big" store in ebooks, and by far the best place to sell your wares. Those borrows didn't pay a lot, but they paid something. The thing is, now that Amazon's system seems to be working so hard to hide my books, I'm not getting many borrows or sales. What I'm getting paid in borrows lately I can easily make up by selling my books wide. In fact, I could probably make as much selling paperbacks on the street corner. So there's really no reason not to try. I just don't see much benefit to that exclusivity anymore.

That's not to say I think this is the answer for everyone, or that it's a permanent solution. I may bring some books back. I may decide to rotate -Say, one series this month, another next month. Or, I may get an offer to go exclusive with someone else. One that's even more lucrative... Who knows what might happen? All I know is that right now competition is stiff, and the only person on my team is me. So I'll stay limber and keep moving. That's how you survive.

I have my own tiger to ride.




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