Monday, January 23, 2012

What Do Authors Owe Readers?

What I'm reading: Contest Entry #2 of 8

First, a warm welcome to my newest followers. Thanks for coming on board, and I hope you'll stop by often. Next, please check the sidebar. I'm teaching an on-line workshop on Point of View next month, and would love to see some of you there.

There's been a lot of heated discussion on the new Amazon Kindle Select program for indie authors. In case you haven't heard, Amazon created a new program which benefits authors. It makes books available for readers to borrow (provided they've paid the $79 to become a member of Amazon Prime), and also gives authors the perk of promoting their books as free for a specific number of days per quarter. Free books raise the recognition factor.

The catch? You have to agree to publish ONLY at Amazon for a minimum of 90 days.
Authors are jumping on the bandwagon to mixed results. A lot seems to depend on whether they're well known to begin with, and whether they're selling established books or new releases. Since the program is less than 3 months old, it's impossible to make generalizations. Obviously, the authors who are the most excited about the program are the ones seeing immediate results.

Clearly, Amazon is in it to suck up as much of the market as it can, and that's simply doing business. The same goes for the authors who choose to participate. Indie authors are no longer controlled by their publishers, and they get to make their own choices.

I've not opted in to the program for a variety of reasons. First, my books are distributed at just about any e-bookstore I can get them in. Sony, Kobo, B&N, All Romance eBooks, OmniLit, Smashwords as well as the Kindle store. Joining the program would mean I'd have to opt out of all the other sales venues, something I'm not ready to deal with. I also couldn't give books away at my blog, or Goodreads, or anywhere else other than Amazon.

But I've got a new book coming out in a couple of months. I could easily put that book up only at Amazon for the first 3 months and see how things shake. Will I? I don't know.

First, I have a Nook, so any authors in the Kindle Select program are no longer on my "buy" list, even if it means saying good-bye to some favorites. Yes, I have the Kindle app for my phone and my PC. I don't read books on my PC. I work on my PC. I have a book on my phone that I won in a contest. It was a Kindle edition, and is DRM protected, so I can't move it to my Nook. I've been reading that book for almost a year, and am just past the halfway point. Phone reading is something I do in tiny bits and snatches when, for example, my husband says he's going to run in to the Post Office and I didn't expect to be needing reading material.

Authors who love the program say they're making more money with the new Lending Library at Amazon than they make on sales at all the other venues combined. Good for them. Everyone needs to decide what works for them, and most are definitely in the writing game to make money. They don't owe those readers who have Nooks, or Sonys, or iPads anything. They owe the reader the best book they can write, but after that, the distribution is up to them.

Yet to me, exclusivity makes my skin crawl. One of the reasons my first books did poorly with the publisher was their exclusive distribution system. They were using the wrong marketing model, and authors suffered. Maybe that soured me on the whole system. To me, exclusivity is not fair to my readers, even though I have very few of them. Don't want to deny them my books or tell them they can read them on a phone or PC (which, of course they can still do with all the other reading apps out there, but that's their choice).

And, because I'm not yet on board with the program, I CAN give away a book here today. So, leave a comment, tell me how you feel, and I'll give you any one of my e-book titles from either Amazon, Barnes & Noble or Smashwords. You've got until Friday. I'll pick a winner and announce it over the weekend.

Tomorrow, my guest is author Mike Nettleton, who's talking about how a pacifist writes violence, and why. And he's giving away 2 of his books!

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ManicScribbler said...

Thank you for this useful information, Terry. It's not something I've looked into in any detail myself, but I have been curious about how it works. I was, however, completely unaware of the catches.
A writer-friend of mine tried it with considerable success in terms of free downloads. Of course there's no guarantee that those would ever have been paying customers, but that seems to have been her nagging doubt. Her overall sales have not been affected either way as a result and she remains unconvinced.
It seems to me that the only party to be the outright winner in this arrangement is Amazon.
The statistics and long-term effects for authors will make interesting reading.
I hope your post will generate comments from other writers as this is a topical and fascinating subject.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

I found your discussion interesting even though I don't self-publish (not savvy technically). Also don't have an e-reader. But I do want to keep aware of what's happening in the realm of ebooks. Right now, three of my novels, The Inferno Collection, The Drowning Pool and Stacy's Song, are out with L&L Dreamspell in all ebook formats. However, the advantage to self-publishing as you point out is that the author makes the rules and sets the prices--good things.

Terry Odell said...

Manic, it's a new program, and there will be those who see success and those who don't. I'm hoping that once the first 90-day period is over, we'll see some honest reporting from participants.

And I hoped to generate some discussion when I wrote this post, so send your friends this way.

Keta Diablo said...

This should be interesting in several months -- the results. I have enrolled one of my new releases in the Kindle exclusive so I'm particularly interested to see the difference. I also own a Nook and a Kindle Fire, love both and read on both.

While we might not owe our readers anything when it comes to distribution, a part of always hopes they can purchase my books and read them however they like.

I think we're just on the top of the iceberg here. I'm hoping for the ereader that allows people to read everything without having to worry about formats, etc.

Great article, thanks so much, Keta

savannah said...

I don't know much about this kind of stuff, but I can understand why you wouldn't want to just limit yourself to one selling revenue. Not only that but you would be limiting your customers too, not everyone has a kindle. Sorry I pretty much just repeated back to you what you already said, but I really know nothing about this kind of stuff :( I hope it works out for the best for everyone!

Christy said...

Hi Terry, From a readers perspective... I am more willing to try a new author if the book is free and looks interesting than if I had to buy the book. If I really enjoyed the book, I will buy other books from that author and become a fan. I do enter a lot of contest to try new authors. I'm not sure about this amazon program. The fact that it is just one book per month is a negative. I've noticed that a lot of these books are free to buy on and off. christina_92 at

Diana Layne said...

Hi, Terry, I'm a new author. I have one indie pub book and one small press book from TWRP, both released this month. I chose to go with Select because I am unknown. I figured I could hold out for 90 days before going to other venues, just to see if it would help get my name out. So far I've only had 2 "borrows" which is one of those things about select, your book is available to borrow for "free" to the Prime members. I've also been selling one-two a day. I've done little promo so far, my first promo is really today where I'm on, and I've done no free days yet. I'm still thinking about those. I think if you already have books up and your name is known that Select would be of no real benefit. JMO. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Terry. thanks & here it is-some 'honest reporting' :-) I fell for the exclusive part because I wasn't aware of the 79 buck catch (1); or the l book limit (2), nor that a reader could only get the list to choose a book is only on the Kindle reader (the coup de grace as far as I'm concerned.) A friend had just told me she's getting an ipad instead of the Kindle (a reader who likes and has read all my books to date except the latest which are not in print but are ebooks)The other reason I put 11 items on Share is Amazon had put so much into it I thought it might work(?) For me IT HASEN'T. Not one of my eleven entries has had even one borrower! Thank Heaven I didn't put my Maryvale series on it and I have already enquired when is the soonest time I can retrieve what I did put on - answer was 90 days, and I will receive an e-mail before that giving me the option of removing or renewing. I will MOST DEFINITELY BE REMOVING all 11 so if any of my readers see this, just go to Kindle. All of them are still available there and the prices are from 99 cents to 3.99 which is as close as I can get them and still buy ink cartridges-:-) Happy reading and writing and I hope 2012 is a good year for all of us. Thanks for the opportunity to share this, Terry - sorry it's so long...
Jackie Griffey
Author of The Maryvale Series

Jo-Ann said...

Thanks for the thought provoking post. It's so hard to know which way to go when you're in the middle of a white-out blizzard, and that seems to be where we writers are right now. I appreciate you offering your POV.(

Celia Yeary said...

Interesting. I knew about the program, but not all the details. I'm not Indie pubbed, but I may have one in the near future--depends on how much courage I gather.
The thing I didn't like from the beginning is the exclusive clause. But if it's for only 90 days, that might make a difference in whether an author chose it or not.

Terry Odell said...

Jacqueline, as others will say, if you have a smart phone or a computer, you "have" an e-reader. But using them for that function is something else again, as I noted in my post.

Keta - I've for that one-size-fits all format. I fear it's a long way off: too much vested interest from the e-book publishers.

Savannah - many of us IN the business don't understand it. It's new ground for authors, since publishers used to do it all.

Christy - Amazon is one of the few places that won't let "regular" indie authors set 'free' as their price. But all of them do have the free sample option, which is usually enough for me to decide whether I want to click "buy now" when I get to the end.

Diana - I hope you'll come back after your 90 days and let us know what happened.

Jackie - thanks for sharing your experience. So much of what we're hearing in these early days are the success stories.

Liz said...

I think there are ways to use the "Amazon toolbox" better than giving them exclusivity for certain. thanks for explaining this.

Maryann Miller said...

You are so right about the program working well for some authors and not so well for others. I opted into the Select program because my books were not selling in those other venues and I thought I would give this new venture a try. I offered each of my titles free for two or three days this month and got good response to that. The spillover to more sales has not been what I hoped, though, and people who have Prime are not borrowing my books at the rate they are some others. I may opt out when the first 90 days are over.

LK Hunsaker said...

Asking indie authors for exclusive rights is taking away what it means to be indie.

Experts constantly say to get your book in as wide a market as possible - put it everywhere readers buy. I won't ever buy a book from Amazon so if it's not somewhere else, I won't read it. It's that simple. Many of us are starting to feel the same.

Yes, maybe it will work for a handful of authors, but it's like an investor putting all of their money in one portfolio. Very risky. It could go up high. It could stagnate. Or the bottom could drop out and you have to start again. That's not for me. My ebooks aren't even on Amazon because I refuse to put them there. They are at Smashwords in Kindle format for readers with Kindles, though.

erikamoran said...

Thanks for an interesting and thought-provoking post.
My indie-pubbed debut novel has been up since 12/26/2011, and it's been a learning experience. I keep close track of sales, and my percentages are Amazon 59%, Nook 40%, and Smashwords 1%. I just can't see giving up 41% of my proceeds for something brand new and untried. From the comments here and elsewhere it looks like it works if you're well-known, but otherwise no. My plan is to come out with a book every 3-4 months, to price the new book at $0.99, and to migrate all the old ones up to $2.99. I hope to make enough of a name that I don't have to give things away for free - thus far I'm happy with the results with promo increasing as I lean what I'm doing :) - around 250 copies the first month.

Terry Odell said...

Jo-Ann -- I love your analogy. Yes, we're pretty much flying blind.

Celia - I agree, it's saving grace is that it's NOT forever.

Liz - I hope I "explained" it ... I didn't read the fine print in the contract once I saw the 'exclusive' requirement.

Maryann - thanks for sharing your experience. Hope you let us know how everything turned out at the end of your 90 days.

LK - I love your explanation. Thanks!

Erika - I don't sell many at Smashwords per se, but because I have them distribute to the other vendors, I'm seeing sales from Sony, Apple and Kobo that way. And it's not just the money you're giving up--it's readers.

Jemi Fraser said...

I've been hearing positive and negative about this new program - it will be interesting to see how it all pans out in the long run.

Janet Kerr said...

Thank you Terry for the information. Although I am new to all this I do have reservations about the "exclusivity" clause. It sounds like Amazon is getting ahold of Writers and not giving out much.
Also, the only downloads at Amazon are on Kindle. Sure... on the PC too, but this is not a comfortable way to read a book.
This cut out all Readers with their own brand of e-readers. sounds like too much "control" over the material.

Teresa K. said...


That's great information you have there. As Director of Marketing for a e-book Publisher I think this is wonderful information for me to know.

Especially if any of our authors ask about it. It sure does sound like Amazon is trying to be like AT&T in the old days.

I like you are very curious to see how it will all play out later down the road.

Thanks again,

Teresa K.

Nancy J. Cohen said...

I, too, am leery of pulling my book from all other venues and letting Amazon give it away for free. While as a reader I love freebies, as a writer the notion makes me cringe. What kind of value do we place on a work that cost us six months or more to write when we give it away? As a month long incentive, perhaps, it might draw reader attention and gain an author new followers, but after that? Writers have to value their own work before readers will appreciate its worth.

Terry Odell said...

Jemi, I totally agree. I'm waiting to hear.

Janet - yeah, it pushed my "Don't tell me what I can and can't do" buttons.

Teresa, thanks for stopping by. We're all waiting, I think (except the ones making all the money)

Nancy - with the program, you're limited to how many titles you can post for free, and how many days you can do it--"free" has brought some authors more visibility, but the jury is out on whether there's carryover to their other books. I'm willing to give away books or have low promo prices, but I agree that our work has value.

AquarianDancer said...

Personally, Amazon is where I buy e-books. I've found several new authors through the free books they sell. BUT not everyone buys that way. Maybe, like you said, releasing a new book on Amazon to see how it goes and then spreading it out after 90 days would be a good trial. Either that or maybe a re-release?

AquarianDancer at gmail dot com

Terry Odell said...

AquarianDancer - everyone has their own favorite "store" -- usually determined by the kind of e-reader they have. Since I have a Nook, I buy my e-books from B&N. That's why the exclusivity bugs me--you're restricting your readership, even though it might be a minority of your sales. I had an email from someone who said her B&N sales outrank her Amazon sales by 2 to 1. Clearly, this program wouldn't be worth it for her.

Karen C said...

I found the post to be very interesting. I looked at Amazon's Prime membership, but opted not to participate - too much money, too little value (for a reader, IMO).

Terry Odell said...

Karen, I had the same feeling when I saw the price. When I ordered print books, I always had enough to qualify for free shipping.

Morgan Mandel said...

I'm not in the Kindle Select Program either because my books are all over the place. If I had one to sacrifice, I'd try it. I just wonder how many people who get the free books will actually go back for more from the author, or will they just keep going after the freebies.

Morgan Mandel