smashwords vs amazon kdp selectAmazon’s KDP Select program is changing the rules for self publishers. It wants exclusivity, which means you cannot offer your book for sale anywhere else. Judging by the number of comments and on my recent post about Smashwords vs Exclusivity, it is clearly an issue that has a long way to run before the dust settles.

I am sure that most self publishers, have up until now, made their ebooks available on both Kindle and Smashwords and in doing so have been able to have their books made available via Smashwords distribution to Apple, B&N, Sony and a number of other online retailers. A sensible and logical approach.

But now the game has changed. If you want to join Amazon’s KDP Select program you have to remove your books from not only Smashwords (and there goes your distribution to Apple, B&N and Sony) but also from selling directly from your own website or blog.  Here is an excerpt from KDP Select’s FAQs:

What does it mean to publish exclusively on Kindle?

When you choose KDP Select for a book, you’re committing to make the digital format of that book available exclusively through KDP. During the 90-day period of exclusivity, you cannot distribute your book digitally anywhere else, including on your website, blogs, etc. However, you can continue to distribute your book in physical format, or in any format other than digital.

So we know the rules, but will it be worth deserting Smashwords and selling ebooks yourself and signing up with KDP Select? There is only one way to find out.

Being in the fortunate position of having ten books already published and not relying on my book sales as my primary source of income, I decided to enroll three books in the KDP Select program to test the water so to speak. I chose the following three books because of their diversity of genres and potential readership:

Louis. A book I published 2 years ago and has a steady sales record that I can compare to KDP Select performance.

The Vandal. A new title that has not been published on any other platform but replaces an existing popular title, ‘Vandalism of Words’.

My Take Away Vampire. A novella published a few months ago that has been doing well with young paranormal readers with very little promotion.

Over the period of the 90 day enrollment I will use the following criteria to measure success or failure.

  1. Do the ‘free days’ of promotion increase a book’s exposure and gain reviews as well as a marked increase in sales following the promotional days? Or is it just a wasted exercise in giving away books that only serves to enhance the Kindle platform’s popularity?
  2. Do sales via Kindle  increase and adequately replace the percentage of sales that will be lost via Smashwords and its distribution?
  3. Will there be a measurable increase in overall revenue from sales and ‘ Prime borrows’ for these three titles that would justify the granting of exclusivity?
  4. Will the offering of free books during promotions damage or enhance book sales?
  5. Which of the 3 books performs the best, and worst in the program?
  6. What percentage of income will be derived from ‘borrows‘ by Amazon Prime members?


As I write this footnote to this post, the first book, Louis, has just completed a 3 day promotion and was downloaded for free nearly 1,000 times on Amazon US, UK, FR and DE. The second free period was for My Take Away vampire but for one day only. Over 400 free downloads. The third book will commence its free period at the end of the month.

One observation I did make that was a little concerning was that these first two free promotions showed up instantly on a large number of ‘Free Kindle Ebook’ listing sites and leads me to think that many of the downloads came from exposure on these sites rather than directly from Amazon. Hard to prove, but it does put doubt in my mind already as to the worthiness of the free promotion days.

As my experiment continues over the enrollment period, I will post updates to keep you informed about the results.


Before You Desert Smashwords For KDP Select
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21 thoughts on “Before You Desert Smashwords For KDP Select

    • 24/01/2012 at 8:58 pm

      I’m starting to feel the same Barry. Self publishing used to be fun. Now I get the feeling I’m just a little foot soldier in a corporate war.

  • 24/01/2012 at 5:37 pm

    Amazon certainly took a huge risk with their KDP Select program. But I think it will pay off for authors and for Amazon, making Kindle the only ereader that really matters.

    • 24/01/2012 at 9:02 pm

      I don’t think Amazon took any risk at all Karen. Encouraging authors to give away their books is hardly risk. And they get paid by Prime members anyway fro the new borrowing program.

      And half a million a month for these borrows is chicken feed when Amazon are selling millions of Kindles each month.

  • 24/01/2012 at 8:41 pm

    I am reading a few mixed view on this subject. My own view is I would not like to be confined to one place if I am self published. I can accept being bound by restrictions for a publisher, but not sure I would enjoy it as a freelancer. Amazon is doing great things for authors and I will watch your experiment with interest.

  • 24/01/2012 at 9:27 pm

    I dislike the exclusivity of the kdp select. I had a book that went free on Amazon last May (and stayed free – price matching and all) and I gave away thousands in the first few days though I believe it had more to do with being listed on the free kindle sites and what promotion I and a handful of other people did than anything else because, once I stopped promoting it and it dropped down the list on the free sites, the downloads also dropped off.

    With everyone rushing to put their books free with this kdp select there has been a huge glut lately. I imagine it’s getting harder to stand out, even with a free book.

    • 24/01/2012 at 9:47 pm

      Hi Jo, some great info / replies to your post…i am not keep either…i am already a minnow in the publishing soupbowl ….think i will keep out ot it …so … or should i say SOS ! ha ha

  • 24/01/2012 at 9:33 pm

    A truer word never spoken Joleene.

    ‘it’s getting harder to stand out, even with a free book.’

    It certainly is getting very crowded on the Kindle Store. I’ve had the same experience with ‘price matching’ and have had a book for free because of this for nearly a year now. Great for promotion perhaps, but it doesn’t pay for food for me or my dog!

    Btw, I just did a Google search for ‘Free Kindle eBooks’ and got 1,500,000 listings. Tells a story methinks. Why buy a book?

  • 24/01/2012 at 9:42 pm

    My objection to the Kindle exclusive is on principle – it locates too much control in one place. Sure, I want to sell – not give away – my books, and I also care about the whole structure of book production and sales so that the widest range of books and idea are available to the widest range of people. So no exclusive deals for me. Sorry if this sounds pious, but I think the whole deal of how books get out into the world is more important than individual sales.

    • 24/01/2012 at 9:47 pm

      I agree Pat. Amazon’s exclusivity demand to join KDP Select is totally predatory, as Mark Coker from Smashwords amongst others say.

      My reason for enrolling 3 of my books is to learn from doing. To try and make a valid judgement. But my gut feeling at the moment is that I will only last the mandatory 90 day period.

  • 25/01/2012 at 5:05 am

    I’m not self published, but I work with my publisher very closely. I’ve talked with her about the KDP but she said to wait and see. The exclusivity is scary but at the same time it’s ear marking self published works as seperate from traditionally published books.

    I’ve read quite a number of self pubbed books and I’m very glad I got many of them free because they were very poorly edited and the content was near next to impossible to get through. Now when I see a free book from Kindle I know it’s self pubbed and am very dubious of reading it.

    Karen Dales
    Award Winning Author

  • 25/01/2012 at 6:38 am

    That’s an awfully sweeping statement, Karen. Yes, the pool of novels is diluted by lots of bad ones with bad covers and bad editing and bad plotting and on and on. But there are some amazing works there, too, works that fall between genres and a tradipub won’t consider.

    The bottom line is that the reader is now the gatekeeper. I recognize a poorly written novel by reading the sample pages and I don’t buy — whether it’s a Big 6 product or indie pubbed. I’m rarely disappointment. Ineptitude shows up in that first 20% that is the sample. Amazon has completely pulled all the ladders out of the pool, and the occasional free offering is the only way left to indie pubbers to elevate their books above the pool. And those who participated in December, it’s first month, had good success. Not so now. But then, of course, everyone is jumping into the pool now that some brave souls demonstrated success by assuming the risk.

    To say that only a tradipub editor can choose my reading material for me is diminishing to me. I’m quite happy with the influx of some wonderful new indie authors.

  • 25/01/2012 at 7:07 am

    I feel a need to warn other authors what my experience with offering a free Kindle book was like so that they can be better informed.

    Mine is a cautionary tale about a subset of people attracted to free books who also dominate the Amazon message boards.

    I offered my book up for a two day free promotion. At the time, I had over 60 positive (5 and 4 star) reviews and two one 1-star reviews — one left vindictively by a former acquaintance. On the vindictive review, I had simply left a comment saying that I was sorry that she felt the need to take her issues with me out on my book. That was all I said. A couple of other reviewers had left objective comments disagreeing with her assessment of the book’s merits.

    That particular review and comment were two months old when my book went free. Almost immediately, one of the Amazon forum users found the comment, posted something about “authors who behave badly” and then the attacks started coming. That review was hit by 37 additional comments, all condemning me for not being able to take criticism.

    I found the source — an Amazon message thread in the Romance forum (my book has nothing to do with romance) — and was surprised to find me, the author, a hot topic of discussion. Those who were posting seemed to have an almost pathological hatred of self-published authors and some sort of need to grind them down, especially if they had largely positive reviews.

    Still, I thought perhaps they just didn’t understand that the review I responded to wasn’t an actual review at all, but came from someone I personally knew. I made the huge mistake of going on the board and responding very politely to the charges being leveled against me, which had grown over the course of 24 hours to include “all her good reviews are from friends and family” or somehow otherwise faked. I found it incredible that they couldn’t understand the concept of a fake one-star review at all, but believed that I had enough friends or accounts to fake 60 positive ones.

    My response, which again was very polite, was met with absolute vitriol. How dare an author “stalk” them, they cried. Who did I think I was to come to their forum to defend myself? They were going to spread the word to others to never buy my book. They were going to have me banned from Amazon. I was a bully. I was a terrible person. They seriously began just making stuff up, including conspiracy theories after my ex-acquaintance’s review was removed either by my ex-friend or Amazon, perhaps due to all the off-topic and personal comments that these same posters — none of who were readers of my book — were leaving.

    I realized what I was dealing with then and didn’t offer further response. And the same people who said they’d never read my book? They started leaving one and two star reviews. One of them was even a “Vine” program reviewer. They then went and “upvoted” each other’s bad reviews while “downvoting” my most positive ones.

    And what does Amazon do about this obvious abuse? Nothing. They do absolutely nothing. And a single author against 10 or so obsessive forum users, some of whom may have multiple accounts, is essentially powerless from seeing their book’s ratings destroyed — not because it’s a bad book, not because it’s not well-written, but solely because forum users needed a new self-published target and in scoping your free book out found *something* you did wrong according to their rule book.

    I haven’t been the only author that this set of forum users have targeted. If you peruse Amazon’s message boards, you’ll see a pattern of hateful campaigns and condescension toward self-pubbed authors. It’s an ugly situation and as said one that is carried forth by a handful of truly nasty people.

    • 25/01/2012 at 10:00 am

      To Burned Author, I feel your pain. Though I don’t know if your book is any good, I feel that 60 positive reviews cannot be faked, so I’ll take their word for it.
      I am a reader of romance, and regularly check out the forums, though I don’t get involved. I have also noticed the viciousness of these persons, and even once came across a forum labelled “How to avoid Indie Authors.” This aggressiveness towards Indie authors seem to be limited to Amazon, perhaps because they offer the forum discussions.
      I believe that reading is supposed to be about flights of imagination, and shared enjoyment when discussing a book. I feel that these people have completely lost the plot. But you know how the saying goes, “Sometimes the only taste of success some people get is if they take a bite out of a succcessful person.” They deserve your pity.
      In your mind, imagine these people living empty little lives, where their only excitement is tearing a budding young author to pieces. Shame.

    • 25/01/2012 at 1:53 pm

      @Burned Author: It saddened me to see your experience. And my thoughts on the matter, for what they are worth, is that Amazon, and the leviathan it is becoming, should show some responsibility and monitor those forums. And shut down the abusive kind.

      I don’t subscribe to forums or participate for one simple reason…I have seen grown people (in all types of forums) behave badly and irresponsibly and use the forum platform as a weapon. As far as buying books, I read excerpts and take reviews with a grain of salt. My tasted in books and reading is eclectic, so I judge for myself. I have enjoyed reading many indie books, and supporting deserving authors by paying for their work is something else I believe in.

      Good luck with your writing and hopefully things will go better.

  • 25/01/2012 at 10:25 am

    Hi Derek,

    Thanks for the heads up on this. I am, just today, planning on signing up for all the various distribution channels. I think I’ll pass on the KDP Select for now and go with my original plan. I look forward to your future posts on the subject!


  • 25/01/2012 at 1:54 pm

    This will be interesting to watch Derek. And smart of you to test the waters this way. :D

    • 25/01/2012 at 1:57 pm

      Thanks Cath. I’m in a fortunate position to be able to do this and I really hope it helps fellow authors make up their own minds about the pros and cons. I’ll probably post an update in about a month.

  • 25/01/2012 at 2:00 pm

    Unfortunately BurnedAuthor, the Amazon and Kindle forums have a reputation for this type of behavior. I, and I know many of my author friends, stay well clear.

  • 25/01/2012 at 4:20 pm

    Not going to do the KDP select – it’s like saying you can sell your book in only one bookstore. I’ve been published too long and worked too hard to limit myself that way. I’ve been traditionally published and have done some self publishing. My books are on Kindle but they’re also available through Smashwords, Barnes & Noble and some other outlets. So far, Kindle hasn’t been the ‘BIG’ seller. for me – others have beat it out. I’m with Derek and Pat – uh uh, no way.

  • 28/01/2012 at 4:21 pm

    If you join KDP Select, you can just try it for 90 days, and also you do not have to do any promotions unless you want to. I wonder if the Amazon lending program is enough of a good reason to try this. I figure I can experiment for 90 days. Maybe Amazon hopes that most people won’t bother leaving it once they join.

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