Friday, January 27, 2012

Guest Post: One Author's First Month in KDP Select

Last December, I blogged about Amazon's KDP Select program, which allows KDP authors to participate in Amazon's Kindle Owners' Lending Library and be paid per borrow from a fund established by Amazon.

Two weeks ago, Amazon issued a press release charting KDP Select's performance during its first month. KDP Select books were borrowed 295,000 times in December, with authors earning $1.70 per borrow. Total earnings for the top ten authors exceeded $70,000. The press release features four authors who each earned four figures.

These are amazing numbers. But as Laura Hazard Owen of PaidContent notes, questions about KDP Select remain--such as, how much money did the average participating author make? Today's guest blog post from author Heather Wardell provides some insight into that question.

-------------------------------------

by Heather Wardell

Thanks to Victoria for allowing me to let you know how my first month in the KDP Select program turned out. I don't usually broadcast my sales numbers, since I try hard to focus more on the books than the bucks, but I think it's important to give my fellow authors the benefit of my experience.

But first, a brief summary of my career so far, so you can see where you are in relation to me.

My first book, Life, Love, and a Polar Bear Tattoo, went up as a free download in December 2008 everywhere but Amazon (because I couldn't figure out how to make it free there) and has been free ever since. I listed my second book at Amazon for 99 cents in May 2010 and sold a grand total of 3 books that month. I continued on anyhow, releasing two more 99-cent books in 2010 and two more in early 2011. My sales were better than three a month, but not by much!

In June of 2011 Polar Bear finally went free on Amazon. It shot straight to the top and dragged my other books along with it, including the two books I released after it in 2011. I prefer not to give all my sales results but I will share the details of my KDP Select book and a comparative novel in this post.

When Amazon called to offer me access to the KDP Select program, I was interested, but the exclusivity clause (a KDP Select book must be available only on Amazon) gave me pause. While I sell easily ten times as many books on Amazon as I do at all other retailers combined, my Facebook fan page is almost evenly split between Kindle and Nook users. The idea of taking my books away from those people, many of whom have been loyal readers since the beginning, did not appeal.

But neither did missing out on KDP Select entirely, so I decided to enroll Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many (hereafter called Seven) in the program because it's my only pure stand-alone book. All the others are set in Toronto and feature returning places and people, so removing one of those from the other retailers didn't make sense to me. I felt this would be my best way of testing the program without unduly inconveniencing my readers.

I won't spell out the details of the KDP Select program since I know they've been well-covered elsewhere (such as right here at Writer Beware). Essentially, I would earn a share of the $500,000 pool for each borrow of Seven. I was hoping for additional exposure and possibly a huge payout from the program. Let's see how it turned out.

Seven's raw sales numbers don't tell much of a story, really, since any number of things could affect sales of a given book. Therefore, I'm going to compare its sales to those of my book Stir Until Thoroughly Confused (Stir for short). Both of these books have been out for a while (since June 2010 for Seven and January 2011 for Stir) and their sales are relatively close.

I usually only check my sales numbers once a month (which lets me see what's going on but also prevents me from obsessing over the numbers) but I took a snapshot each morning from December 8th to 31st. I won't bore you with all the numbers (although a graph below shows them if you're interested), but I will share three key dates with you and then tell you what I think those numbers say.

On December 8th, right after KDP Select was announced, Seven had sold 138 books in December (and already had 2 borrows) and Stir had sold 140. At this point, both books were 99 cents. I know all the arguments for raising prices for full novels, but I also know how many emails I get thanking me for keeping the price low because it makes it easier to buy all my books, so I hadn't planned to charge more.

Over the next week or so, borrows trickled in, a few a day, and by December 19th Seven had been borrowed a grand total of 14 times. While I didn't know how many borrows other people's books were receiving (one of the real oddities of the KDP Select program is the whole "I make less if others move more books" thing) I suspected it was more than 14.

I also suspected I knew the cause. Why would anyone borrow a 99 cent book when they could borrow a $9.99 one instead? Frankly, having 14 borrows surprised me. So I decided to try raising Seven's price to $2.99, both to see how it affected borrows and what it did to sales themselves.

Between December 8th and the 21st when the price increase kicked in, Seven had sold 255 books, with 14 borrows on top of that, and Stir had sold 222. Reasonably neck-and-neck.

Between December 21st and 31st, the race changed. Seven at $2.99 sold 154 copies during that time, and had an additional 21 borrows for a total of 547 sales and 35 borrows during December. Stir sold 310 copies in that time for a total of 693 in December. The graph below shows that Seven was hit hard by its price increase. While Stir had a nice post-Christmas peak, and my other books showed a similar pattern, Seven didn't even reach its early December levels during that time.
Raising Seven's price certainly reduced the number of sales in the last ten days of December. However, earnings during that same time period are a different story. I earned about $2 on each copy of Seven at $2.99, so around $308, and only 35 cents on each Stir, for a total of $109. I think it's important for authors to decide whether they want to maximize copies sold or income; it seems to me that you can't go after both goals at once.

(For the record, I haven't yet decided whether to leave Seven at $2.99. I am firmly on the "as many readers as possible" side of the question and the lower sales for Seven don't sit well with me. However, I did put out a collection of four of my books for $2.99. I actually earn more from one sale of the collection than from selling each of the books individually, and the reader pays less. Win-win!)

Back to KDP Select. Raising the price to $2.99 did increase the borrowing as I'd expected, since Seven had 14 borrows from December 8-21 and 21 in the shorter time from December 21-31. Still, the total was only 35. On its own, though, the number meant nothing. Whether it was good, bad, or indifferent depended on how the other KDP authors had done.

If you've read the Amazon press release you know how the other authors did. If not, here's the scoop: there were 295,000 borrows in December, and each borrow therefore earned $1.70 of the $500,000 pool. I received 0.0119% of the borrows, and my 'huge payout' was $59.42.

In that same press release, Amazon stated that the average payout was 26% of what that particular book earned. Seven earned $549.60 on sales in December, so its payout was almost exactly 10%. This, of course, doesn't mean that the average isn't 26%, but it certainly wasn't in my case.

So, was I smart to sign up for KDP Select? I can give that a qualified maybe. The pool for January has been raised to $700,000, and as of January 24th Seven (still priced at $2.99) has already been borrowed 40 times. Financially, I'm not sure being in the program is doing me a huge amount of good but I also don't think it's damaging me too badly.

At this point I see the biggest benefit of the program, ironically, as the option to earn no money at all. A book in the program can be made available for free for up to five days every 90 days. I'm doing a blog tour January 23-27 and so made Seven free for the same time period. It's now been free for about 1.5 days, and it's currently ranked #6 on the free books list and has had over 25,000 downloads. Granted, I make no money from those downloads, but I'm certain I've reached new readers and some of those readers will buy my other books.

Do I regret joining KDP Select? Definitely not. I wanted to know what would happen and I suspect I have reached a few people who wouldn't otherwise have heard of me. Will I register all of my books? Also definitely not. I don't like the exclusivity clause; even though financially I wouldn't be that affected I hate the idea of cutting out potential readers who chose not to buy a Kindle, and I'm also not a fan of putting all my electronic eggs in Amazon's basket. While I do get most of my sales there, I am reluctant to cut off the other avenues. It's obviously good for Amazon to have exclusivity, but I'm not sure it's good for anyone else.

I hope this has been informative for my fellow authors. Please feel welcome to pick up my always-free Life, Love, and a Polar Tattoo for any ebook format, and Seven Exes Are Eight Too Many is free on Kindle until January 27th.

Heather Wardell writes women's fiction with depth, humor, and heart. Visit her at www.HeatherWardell.com.

30 comments:

J. Viser said...

Thank you for sharing your experiences. I chose not to join the KDP Select program, because of the exclusivity clause.

An interesting thing happened in December and so far in January. Prior to the KDP Select program, I was selling about three times as many copies on Amazon.com than B&N. Now, that has reversed. My Nook sales now outnumber Kindle by a factor of three, and total sales have increased.

I am positive that the KDP Select program pulled interest and sales away from my novel, but for some other unknown reason, my B&N sales have tripled. I may never know why, but it is an interesting development.

For now, my efforts are concentrated on finishing the copyedit on my second novel!

Thanks again for sharing.

AlvaradoFrazier said...

I feel like I went to a free seminar and received great information in return. Thanks for your post and the free download links.

steeleweed said...

For another author's experience:

http://www.fonerbooks.com/selfpublishing/?p=1506&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+SelfPublishing20+%28Self+Publishing+2.0%29

Interesting that he also expected the borrows to be the more expensive books, but it didn't turn out that way.

Victoria Strauss said...

Adding linkage to that article.

One of the keys to high earnings in KDP Select (as in the KDP program in general) seems to be having multiple books on offer.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thank you, Heather, for sharing your data. Having as much data as possible can only help us make the best decisions for our books.

My experience with two books in the Select program has been vastly different. But I also used the free promotional tool with both of my books, which influenced the number of borrows. Note that Amazon tends to display a book that has come off a free run on the front page of its category in the Lending Library for a time. That visibility leads to more borrows.

I've detailed my experiences over the past month on my Dare to Dream blog (you can find the link on my profile, if interested), but a couple of quick highlights:

SECTOR C, a near-future medical thriller, had 13,000+ free downloads on Jan 6-7, hit the paid bestseller list at #224 and was for a short time the #1 high-tech SF book, the #5 SF Kindle book and the #2 medical thriller on the paid side in the Amazon store. It went from selling 244 copies and earning $85 in December to selling 1858 copies so far this month and, with a price increase, earning over $3723 in sales. It's been borrowed 272 times, which at December's pay-out per copy is $462.40. So it's gone from earning $85 to over $4000, an increase (of far more than 26%) I can attribute directly to the Select program.

A nonfiction book, Vet Tech Tales, released mid-December, went free for 2 days and had a modest 1300 downloads followed by 311 sales plus 88 borrows in one week. I was very surprised to have so many borrows for a 99 cent book, and in fact earned more on the borrows than on book sales: $108.85 in sales vs $149.60 in borrows.

I do have a third book that is not in Select that is doing well on iTunes (ranking between #1 and #3 in historical fantasy in each of the English-based stores). Still, its earnings pale in comparison to the boost the medical thriller got through Select.

For the right books at the right time, Select is a good choice. But I always caution the decision must be made book-by-book based on the long-term expectations for each book.

Heather Wardell said...

"Seven" has been free since January 23rd. In the 4.5 days so far, it has had over 47,000 free downloads. I will be watching with interest to see what happens to its sales and borrows once the free offer is complete.

Phoenix, your data is very interesting, especially the impact on borrows after the free period. You're clearly right that different books have very different results!

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Heather, based on the book's free rank now and the trends I've been noticing, here's what I predict for "Seven":

When it comes off free, it'll have a rank that'll make your stomach fall (anywhere from 50,000 - 100,000). Don't panic! The algorithms need time to reset as the book's data is handed off from the "free" server to a "paid" one. The rank will straighten out by the end of the day.

Day 1: At the end of the day, the book will rank about #400 and you'll have about 250 sales.

Day 2: Rank will be #110 and you'll have 500 sales.

Day 3: #80 with 600 sales.

Day 4: #65 with 800 sales.

Day 5: #90 with 650 sales.

Day 6: #180 with 550 sales.

Day 7: #340 with 400 sales.

Day 8: #600 with 300 sales.

Day 12: #2000 with 40-50 sales.

Day 16: #3000 with 30 sales.

Plus in the first two weeks, I'm betting you have 600 or 700 borrows.

Come back mid-February and let me know how close I am! :o)

Heather Wardell said...

I will, Phoenix! :)

Morgen said...

Heather and Phoenix, thank you both!

authormbrown said...

This was extremely helpful! Thank you!

alberta ross said...

Thanks for very informative post - I decided straight way that I wanted nothing to do with an exclusivity clause - that is only for the benifit of Amazon - so I will not be going that route but I was interested in the post - for those who dont find that clause a barrier I can see it might well be a good path to follow

Wilson James said...

This has one of the most interesting pieces on Amazon marketing I've ever seen, so a great big thanks to Heather and those who commented.

I've had some very good success with my six YA fiction titles elsewhere, and in particular at B&N (especially for Playing the Baseball Card) and Sony. Therefore, I had dismissed any thought of trying KDP Select. I certainly didn't want to lose my sales ranks and good reviews.

However, I'd been considering putting my new YA novel Zac and the Reluctant Prince (release March 2012) into the KDP Select program, and this information has really helped convince me that it will be a good idea.

I'll be very interested to see how Phoenix's prediction for Heather's book will work out.

Thanks again, to all.

Wil

Frances Grimble said...

Here is another author's report:
http://www.cherylktardif.blogspot.com

Cheryl Tardif said...

Hi Heather, it was great to read about your experiences and to see some numbers. From day one I said that authors should not expect big bucks with the lending payout. There are too many authors. That $1.70 will get lower and lower as more sign on and more titles are borrowed.

I too have blogged about my experience with KDP Select, and like you I went in with my eyes wide open. I've enrolled 2 titles (of 9 ebooks), and will be enrolling 2 more shortly. I won't be enrolling all my titles either.

I invite you and anyone else to come visit my 7 Part experiment at www.cherylktardif.blogspot.com

Cheryl Kaye Tardif

Cheryl Tardif said...

Oops, I guess I should have read the comments to the bottom and I would have seen that Frances already mentioned my blog. lol

All the best!

Steven Ramirez said...

Heather, thanks for the great post. I am just starting out with KDP Select. Originally I had posted twelve short stories in the Kindle Store and the Nook Store. I decided to try KDP Select for a couple of titles. Immediately I saw a healthy number of downloads when I ran my 5-day promotion. Now sales are just trickling in.

Like you, I am on the fence about KDP Select. I plan to stay in it—but only for some titles. Cheers.

Cyndi Tefft said...

Very interesting information. Thanks for sharing!

Cyndi

Doug Brunell said...

Exclusivity is great ... if you are well enough known and people will come to you. When trying to attract an audience, however, you want to be as available to people as possible, which is why I stayed away from KDP Select.

Heather Wardell said...

Thanks to all who've commented so far! I am tracking Seven's ranking post-free and I will post it here tomorrow!

Peter Dudley said...

Heather (and Phoenix), thanks for posting this. You certainly don't have to, and your generosity to the community of authors is deeply appreciated.

Jody W. and Meankitty said...

After a "Select" month I've had zero borrows and 8 sales. I ROCK!

Heather Wardell said...

Well, I've remembered very clearly why I do NOT like tracking my sales daily - it interferes with my writing because I pay too much attention to what the buyers are doing and not enough to my own activities. Therefore, today is the end of my daily tracking process. :)

However, I thought I'd let you know how the first few days post-free have gone.

Day 1 (Sat): 128 sales, 31 borrows, rank moved from approx 36,000 to 953

Day 2 (Sun): 130 sales, 27 borrows, rank moved from 953 to 577

Day 3 (Mon): 109 sales, 23 borrows, rank fluctuating between 550 and 600

So I am not meeting Phoenix's projections!

However, Seven sold just over 20,000 copies last year on Kindle (I had an amazing summer, with huge sales results in June/August :) and I wonder if perhaps that's part of why it isn't rising as fast. A significant percentage of its target market either bought it last year or just picked it up for free!

I think the biggest factor in how your books do on Amazon is recognition on Amazon - tweeting and blogging and all that is great but it doesn't always influence people right as they buy. Now that I have eight books out there, my books are showing up frequently in the "people who bought this also bought" section of other books, and I know from my email that I'm gaining new readers as a result of this.

And to Jody, if that's a new book, I think it just takes time. I have a ton of reviews now (if you haven't sent books to appropriately chosen book bloggers for review, DO IT) and that makes people more comfortable giving me a try. Don't give up on it! My sales were miniscule for all of 2010 and the first half of 2011 - this is very much a long-haul process!

David Bazzett said...

Very helpful article. Thanks!

Michelle Louring said...

Thank you for sharing your experience with KDP Select! You gave a lot of great information here.

Peter w Collier said...

Wow! I don't find myself reading so intently Blog Postings... I really did find your overall experiences interesting. I tracked my first Amazon-Kindle activities almost compulsively, watching 10 more here and 10 more there. I have 18 children books at .99 cents so it added up. I started watching the borrowers, borrowing and still my numbers were 3 times stronger in Jan. (over 10,000) than I have had in these last following months. ..go figure! If you have children...www.readingtochildren.com ... you will enjoy.

Vicki said...

Many thanks for sharing and was also interested to read others' comments as well. I'm just feeling my way in ebook publishing and the more I know, the less I seem to know about electronic publishing as a whole. Fascinating.

AJ Knauss said...

Thank you for the detailed information; that is very helpful!

kamran said...

uhh interesting post. I enrolled my book in the KDP program recently. and after using the free promotion days . my small e book "how to blog" has been borrowed 489 times in 3 days . so just curious about your figures of borrows.. i thought every one's book gets borrowed thousands of time. i hope i make some money from this

Karen E. Martin said...

Heather, Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing some concrete data on this subject! It is so hard to make informed decisions when everyone remains so tight-lipped about the numbers game. I really appreciate what you've shared here.

Anonymous said...

Really informative text. Thanks!