Amazon Introduces “KDP Select” For Kindle Direct Publishing Authors

The big news of the day is Amazon’s introduction of a potentially huge incentive for authors to make their content exclusive to the Kindle platform.  Starting immediately, any author or publisher who chooses to go entirely Kindle will be eligible for a share of the monthly Kindle Owners’ Lending Library fund after 90 days. it isn’t a guarantee of immediate profit any more than self publishing is an inevitable path to success, but for successfully marketed books it can spell some great new income in return for withdrawing from overall less profitable competing stores.

The payment scheme is based on the total number of rentals in the Lending Library, the percentage of rentals of a given book within that larger number, and the amount of money placed into the monthly fund by Amazon.  The promise they have given in the press release is for equal distribution based on the popularity of a title, meaning that if 500,000 people each borrow a book then every rental will earn one dollar.  If fewer than that join in, which seems likely at first since the pickings have been slim enough to prevent much excitement in the program so far, then each could be worth significantly more.  Best case scenario, this has the possibility of being more profitable than actual sales revenue for some authors.

Since at present the monthly installments are expected to remain at $500,000 through at least the entirety of 2012, the only real question is how much interest can be drummed up for a given title and the service as a whole.  Amazon does not release numbers on this, but the success of both the Amazon Prime program and the Kindle in all its many iterations would seem to indicate an impressive amount of overlap being likely, especially as the Kindle Fire continues to enjoy ongoing popularity and extra Amazon Prime functionality.  Each such instance is eligible to participate, supporting a favorite author if nothing else.

The fact that this requires the authors and publishers in question to completely withdraw from the Nook, Kobo, and other platforms will likely cause more ideological upset than financial distress for participants.  In general many make as much as 90% of their digital sales revenue through the KDP program already, according to some sources.  In doing so, however, these individuals may incur some bad press overall.  No author wishing to make a living on their craft is likely to easily make the decision to turn down an increase in income, but there is the very real possibility that this could be a crippling blow to other eBook vendors.

This is clearly a move on Amazon’s part to increase the Kindle platform’s lead over the competition.  Not only does the new program mean that more high quality titles will be showing up in the free-ish category that the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library represents, it decreases the value of competing devices by taking away the content they need to thrive.  Self publishing is an increasingly important area to control, given how much the Agency Model pricing scheme imposed on digital book vendors cripples competition over pricing of products passing through traditional publishing. It’s easier to get your books out on the market than ever before thanks to Kindle Direct Publishing, but it’s worth weighing the decision carefully when it could mean fewer options in the long run.

Don’t mistake me for being against the program.  I’m not.  Anything that supports authors and makes books more readily available to readers with Kindles is wonderful in my eyes.  There is definitely reason to worry about it being too successful in the end, however.

Kindle Books and Lending: The Complicated Relationship

Over the course of the eReader race so far, one of the biggest points of contention has been the potential for book lending. For quite a while, this was a major factor in the Nook’s favor when people considered the Kindle vs Nook question. Later, when the Kindle managed to get an equivalent to the long-standing Nook Lend Me feature, it pretty much because a moot point.  Now the focus with regard to lending has shifted in large part from an individual concern to questions of institutional lending.

At the moment, it is significantly easier for somebody to walk into a library and get themselves an eBook loan if they have an EPUB compatible eReader.  This is a pain for Kindle owners, but overall it makes sense given the current state of eBook formatting and such.  It just makes more sense to go with the more widely accepted, more advanced, and more likely to last of the available options when you think about the problem from the point of view of eBook lending system developers.

Putting aside Kindle-specific concerns for a moment, eBooks in general have problems involving the lending concept.  Take the recent issue with HarperCollins.  They’ve decided to put an arbitrary cap of 26 checkouts on their eBooks on the assumption that this is roughly equivalent to the average number of uses a paper book will see before needing to be replaced.  Even assuming this is correct, which seems doubtful, this is nothing short of ridiculous.  It works to highlight an important point, however.

Can we truly expect to treat eBooks the same way we do their paper counterparts?  There are arguments on both sides, but most of the pro-lending ones seem to stem from either the idea that the improved circulation will be inherently good for a given author or that given the long-standing precedent for lending which goes along with books it will be impossible for eBooks to be a comprehensive replacement for many people while lacking this ability.  I admit scepticism.

The fact of the matter is that as eBooks gain popularity, certain changes will have to be accepted.  Among these will be a reinterpretation of the appropriateness of unrestricted lending.  I don’t agree with the publisher reaction on this one, but I do think that you need to either have your books be freely lend-able or remove the option entirely.  It is impossible to productively compare the durability of a paperback to the period over which a purchased license to lend a Kindle book, or any eBook, should retain its value.

The problem I run into is that I can’t think of where to draw a better line.  Time-based licensing is out, because it would force libraries to repeatedly pay to maintain access to books which may never see use. If you’re going to have a checkout-based system, it should obviously account for the inherent lack of publisher expense involved in re-granting a license, but where do you draw the line fairly for consumers while still making sure authors get the money they deserve for their productions?  Overall, more questions than answers, but I think that for now the issue of lending is going to be more trouble than it is worth for everybody while people get over the idea that free book lending is a necessary part of the reading experience.

Kindle Book Lending – Some Thoughts

One of the more eagerly awaited Kindle features lately has been book lending.  While lending was announced a while go, of course, it’s only just been turned on.  Guess what?  It works!  There’s still some question, however, as to how much good this is going to do for people in the long run, or the short run for that matter.

The Nook has had its lending feature available pretty much from the start, of course.  A lot of people have held it up for quite some time as a major selling point in favor of the supposed superiority of Barnes & Noble’s offering.  In practice, we’ve not noticed a whole lot of use.  The problem in both cases is the limitation of a single borrower per book purchase even on those books that offer it as an option at all.

Book lending is simply something that lends itself to the physical exchange of materials.  You take something off your shelf, hand it to somebody, and hope to get it back later on time.  Sure, you get added wear and tear that way and the possibility of never getting the book back, but that’s an accepted risk.  The point of this observation is that it is a risk taken on by the owner of the book.  Such loans aren’t considered a slight to the author or a major impediment to the success of book sales, right?  So why is it necessary, I wonder, to prevent such things from taking place in the book market of the future?

Apparently lending is one of the many things undermining the very fabric of the book production industry today.  This current state of publishing in the eBook marketplace provides us with this little bit of paranoia in addition to the already widely “loved” pricing model that puts new releases at a slightly higher price than their physical counterparts on many occasions.

It’s not all bad though.  On the plus side, many people have never really been big book lenders in the first place and may well get everything they need out of this.  Given the wonders of the internet, many people may even get a chance at books they are uncertain about buying.  Successful communities have sprung up for Nook owners allowing for exchanges between complete strangers with similar interests, and those like the GoodReads Kindle Lending Group are already finding uses for this recently activated feature.

You  can’t say this is a bad idea (the popularity of the Nook’s LendMe stuff speaks to that), it’s just not quite there yet.  The technology obviously exists to make sure that a single instance of a digitally purchased book can be restricted to one device at a time, so the first step to a larger system is taken care of.  All we need to wait for is the hopefully inevitable loosening of restrictions on text lending once companies realize how little good it’s doing to keep a tight hold on them.  I like that the feature is there, but until more is done with it, I can’t help but view it as basically a trial run for a much more useful potential Kindle feature further down the line.