KDP Select: Worth its Weight?

On January 12, 2012, in Events, Opinion, The Market, by rsguthrie

So I made the plunge. Took a dive. Crossed over to the Dark Side. That’s right, I am now officially an Amazon Minion. (Why do I suddenly feel like even blogging about this puts me at risk of a stern visit from a dark, robed figure with a ugly plastic mask and a half-broken breathing apparatus?)

But that’s just silly, there couldn’t possibly be—

Wait a minute…

{{Throat tightening}}

Can’t. Speak.

Oh, hold on—{{whew}}—false alarm. That was just a panic attack. No biggie. I get those every time my books’ rankings fall too far into oblivion.

Truth is, I was an Amazon fan before they were trying to control even the far away galaxies. Back when they were a (perish the thought) b-b-book store. Seriously, people used to scoff at me when I told them I ordered (insert non-book product here)—thinking I was crazy for putting my trust in a glorified bookseller.

I’ve purchased just about everything except an automobile from that site (and one day, when they sell those, I will likely one-click a Land Rover, too).

I was also one of the first to sign up for Amazon Prime.

So why did I hesitate when it came to signing up for the KDP Select program? I mean besides the John Maynard Keynes in me that cringes at the idea of any serious monopoly in a free market?

I guess I wasn’t completely sold on the idea.

There. I said it.

{{Crap! Is that a pair of Stormtroopers banging on my door? Hang on a sec…}}

YO! These aren’t the droids you’re looking for, homes!

I think that took care of them. They always fall for that gag.

Now where was I?

Oh, not sold on KDP Select. Yeah, I wasn’t. But I caved. And last week I ran my new book free on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Imagine my elation as I climbed the “Free” charts.

(You do know that there’s a Paid Bestseller List and a Free Bestseller List, right?)

Not sure I really understand the value of a Bestseller list for free books. For one thing, you aren’t selling them. (George Carlin would have loved that one.) But seriously—are you supposed to be glad your book gets downloaded more when it’s FREE?

Hey, look, more people think my book should be free than anyone else’s on the planet!

Truth is, I didn’t promo my book to see it on the top free rankings…I read somewhere that the free downloads count toward your ACTUAL sales rankings. So my goals in running the promo were:

A) Get exposure for my new book.

B) Perhaps also garner some exposure for my first book (particularly since they are in series).


C) Boost my sales ranking a bit when I made the other side of the giveaway.

Well, one out of three ain’t bad.

Waaaait a minute. To hell with that! One out of three SUCKS.

And did you know that studies show something like 99.9999998 percent of “readers” who download free books belong on the television show Hoarders? They clutter their Kindles with books like the cat lady clutters her living room with collectible spoons and cases of toilet paper that were on sale. In fact their massive cadres of books become like white noise and relegate the chances of your book getting read (much less spread through word-of-mouth) about as likely as Ralph Nader being elected President. (Apologies to Mr. Nader, but, well, c’mon Ralphie.)

Now I will spill the beans and tell you that as far as “B” went, my first book actually DID see a very nice boost in sales during the time my second book was being offered for nothing. And yes, the pick-up and eventual slow-down most definitely coincided with the start and end of the promo. What I can’t tell you is how much the fact that the books are one and two in a series had to do with the boost.

What most decidedly did NOT happen, however, was an overall boost in the sales ranking of my second book when it went back on the market. In fact, it had slid tens of thousands of slots! Yes, exactly as if it had died for three days and not gotten a single sale.

Hmm. Something fishy in Albuquerque?

(Sorry, mixing my Bugs Bunny metaphors.)

I had two thousand downloads in three days. If they counted as anything at all I should have at least climbed a few spots in the sales charts. Nope. Dropped out of sight. Took me a few days of regular sales to get back in the saddle again.

So I decided to write an email to Darth…I mean, Amazon. I asked them WTF, dudes?

Here is the official response (imagine loud respirated breathing and a deep, rich voice, like that guy in Field of Dreams):

The Bestsellers Rank calculation is based on Amazon sales and is updated hourly to reflect newer and historical sales of every item sold on our website, with recent sales being weighted more heavily. With this in mind, titles that are part of a free promotion may see a drop in the sales rank under Paid list after the promotion is over.

Hmm. Doesn’t sound to me like you get any credit at all for free downloads as it pertains to your actual sales ranking. Which of course makes total sense, but when a fairly reputable someone (who I shall not name here, but who is an industry expert who purports to be “in the know”) published a treatise on the subject and sent it out to writers, I decided to check it out.

I also have a friend who skyrocketed up the sales ranks upon coming off the free promo—so that to me was further evidence that the downloads should help your sales ranking, not hurt it. However, you saw Amazon’s official response.

My conclusion? I haven’t reached one yet. This weekend I am running Black Beast (my first book) as a free promo Thursday and Friday and L O S T (my second book) as a free pr0mo again on Saturday and Sunday. I go in now with jaded expectations and plan to really watch the numbers and see what happens (hoping that maybe I didn’t see a boost because something went wrong—i.e. maybe I will see a boost this time).

Trust me, I’m not holding my breath.

(Well, I am but it has nothing to do with the free promo or sales rankings.)


The blank page is dead…long live the blank page

Author known to use spontaneous satire, sarcasm, and unannounced injections of pith or witticisms which may not be suitable for humorless or otherwise jest-challenged individuals. (Witticisms not guaranteed to be witty, funny, comical, hilarious, clever, scintillating, whimsical, wise, endearing, keen, savvy, sagacious, penetrating, fanciful, or otherwise enjoyable. The Surgeon General has determined through laboratory testing that sarcasm can be dangerous, even in small amounts, and should not be ingested by those who are serious, somber, pensive, weighty, funereal, unsmiling, poker-faced, sober, or pregnant.)




18 Responses to KDP Select: Worth its Weight?

  1. I think we’re running a roughly concurrent experiment. I haven’t seen a huge boost in sales, but I have seen a huge spike in blog traffic, interestingly enough. The way I look at it, even if they are hoarders and never read the book, my name is at least somewhere in the recesses of their minds, so when they see the name again, there’s some sort of recognition. Sort of the same concept as why corporations brand their logos over everything.

    So from a pure marketing standpoint, I think it’s a win no matter what, as long as you get some downloads. It would cost me a whole lot more to get that many eyeballs with a Goodreads ad, and it would have about the same effect.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hey, Jonathan. Thanks for dropping by! Yep, I figure, in the end, the most important aspect may be that it costs nothing to try so—aside from a few missed sales whilst the book is on promo, it’s probably worth it just for the exposure. And in my case, it really did help the other book (noticeably so). Cheers, my friend. 🙂

  2. Bert Carson says:

    I’m in the program, however, I thought the free days were automatic. Do I have do select something, or do something, or call Darth Vader?

    • rsguthrie says:

      Don’t call Darth…he HATES questions and isn’t helpful at all when it comes to tech stuff. YOU have to pick the days. You get 5 every 90 day period. You can do ’em one at a time, or 5 in a row…however you want. So into your KDP Bookshelf and click on the book you want to promo…in the upper right you’ll see “Promotions Manager”. It’s easy…you just name it (ex. Promo 1) pick start day and stop day. That’s it!

  3. Thank you for posting this (enjoyed the humor too) as I’ve been flip flopping about whether or not to sign up and have pretty much decided against the Select program. Maybe foolish, but I want my book to be bought because people want to read it, not just because it’s free.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Darleen! Yes, I totally understand the flip-flopping. I guess I just decided to go ahead and flop! 😉 I figure it’s 90 days of commitment and I, like a lot of people, sell 99% of my books on Amazon for the Kindle. The question remains “do all the free downloads equate to positive exposure”…in other words, do more people know the author’s name after the promo? Like I think I said to someone earlier: the jury is still out! Thanks much for the comment and for reading, Darleen. 🙂

  4. Jbzimme86 says:

    Thank you so much for posting this AND the comments! I too was wondering how you access the free promo days and now I was able to put one of my books on its first promo. Thanks for the help!

  5. Fred Brooke says:

    Hi Rob, I’ve been following your saga here too. Is it correct that in order to opt for KDP select you have to opt out of all your sales channels on Smashwords? And does that mean your book is no longer available on the Nook, the iPad, Sony e-reader etc? How hard would it be to get back into Smashwords and those sales channels if you decided the exclusive thing wasn’t your cup of tea? Those are the questions going through my mind … if you can shed any light on them, much obliged …

    • Debbie says:

      Great post! Interesting point of view

      @Fred. Yep. You’re not even allowed to give away ecopies to friends or reviewers or have extracts or samples on your blog. Which for UK writers who can’t gift via amazon, means you can’t give away an ecopy of your novel to anyone. At all. So I can’t do it. I’d love to give it a try but I want to be in control of my book!

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Fred. Yep, Debbie is right…for the 90 days (you sign up in 90 day increments and can decide not to re-up) you are exclusively Amazon’s property, so to speak. My decision was based on a couple of things:

      1) The 90-day agreement. I figure at this point in my career, I can afford 90 days to test out the opportunity. Seeing your book appear on the genre charts on the free chart, right alongside bestsellers on the Paid ranking, has got to be some positive exposure (more than I am getting otherwise anyway).

      2) Like many authors, I sell 99% of my books through Amazon for the Kindle. I am not losing a thing by not being available on B&N or Sony. I know that stinks for Nook or Sony owners, but I have a feeling those devices are in trouble. Again, I feel for non-Kindle owners, but right now, that’s where it is heading.

      3) Republishing with Smashwords is the click of a button. Obviously it will take a few days to filter through the distribution channels, but your book is still there, you can manage it, it’s just not available for sale (and it’s taken down from the distributors).

      Hope this helps, my friend.

  6. Dawn Torrens says:

    Hi Rob,
    You are brilliant I love your wit and humour! As for KDP select, so glad you have rasied this topic as this is something I have been considering crossing over too also, I have been held back due lack of information and if I am honest lack of faith for want of a better word! So it’s definately worth a try then? or are you still experimenting? Please advise further, love your blog 🙂

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks, Dawn! You are a tweetheart extraordinaire! I am experimenting this weekend (Black Beast is free Thurs/Fri and LOST is free Sat/Sun). I will post about it next week and let everyone know how it went, what happened to my rankings, how one book affected the other, etc! (As of last night, Black Beast was #145 overall and #26 in Mystery/Thrillers on the free list (which, BTW, shows up right next to the Paid list at the same rankings). 🙂

  7. Dawn Torrens says:

    Hi Rob,
    You are brilliant I love your wit and humour! As for KDP select, so glad you have rasied this topic as this is something I have been considering crossing over too also, I have been held back due lack of information and if I am honest lack of faith for want of a better word! So it’s definately worth a try then? or are you still experimenting? Please advise further, love your blog 🙂

  8. Julie Duck says:

    You are amazing! Oh yes, and funny too. Nothing like climbing the free charts. I did that on Smashwords when I made my book free for a weekend. The numbers climbed, and so did my “God, if they would only download and pay for it” mode of thinking. It’s all good, though, because free puts your work into the hands and heads of readers. Who hasn’t bought something because they got a free sample? It works, albeit slowly.

    As for me, my Barnes and Noble sales are too good, compared to Amazon so I opted out of the program. Wish you only the best luck and I’m glad I found your blog!

    • rsguthrie says:

      Hi, Julie! The blog is crazy glad you found it! (As am I!) I totally agree with you that the free downloads can’t hurt (well, your overall sales ranking maybe, for a bit, but that rebounds quickly). Your situation sounds different than mine…I hardly sell anything on B&N. If I did, I would probably not do it either. For sales and for the readers–I just don’t have a readership right now on the Nook. I tell you, I’ve read an article or two about the projections of what this will do to the Nook (amongst others). I hope that isn’t true, because competition is good…I just wonder. Cheers, and thank you SO MUCH for reading and commenting. Glad to know you. 😀

  9. Kellianne Sweeney says:

    I was very leery of KDP. I am very interested to see how it pans out. I am glad that you are blogging about it because I know this will result in excellent information about this program. Part of the nature of a self published author is that we don’t like our hands tied and this seems very hand-tying. Thanks Rob 🙂 Hope it ends up being very positive for you.

  10. First, if you think Amazon is a trying to control the world, then you might also want to consider George Lucas. Using one of his creations in your post is a risky venture, my friend. I hope you live to make another post! 🙂

    As others have said, I’ve also been considering the KDP Select, mostly as a way to get more exposure. The thing that’s killing me though is that I’ve seen a spike in Nook sales recently, so I’m reluctant to take my books of B&N for 3 months. Oh, what to do, what to do?

    One thing that I will say about free book sales: from what I’ve heard (but haven’t tested myself) is that a free book promotion that gets you a lot of downloads also gets you on the “Users who bought X also bought…” lists. So, your book appears on more Amazon pages and may lead to more impulse buys.

  11. Rob, I love your writing style. Thanks for the laugh!

    What is baffling me is: how does offering a book for free work as a promotion? Does Amazon then do something on their end to promote it?

    I’m ‘this’ close to trying my first promo, since my sales suck anyway one free day won’t be felt in my pocket.

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