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.

Quality and Kindle Book Publication

A few weeks ago, I posted some recommendations for Kindle-based reading material.  One of the books I brought up caused some problems for people because, while the book itself was great, the copy on the Kindle Store was overpriced and has some pretty glaring errors that indicate inferior quality control.  This got me thinking about the current arguments for and against self-publishing in the digital world.

One of the things we’ve heard over and over again from publishers is that when you price your ebooks too low, it cuts down on the money they can afford to spend on the typical overhead that goes into book publication.  That is, editors, publicists, etc, all fall away.  This particular book (Dune by Frank Herbert for anybody that’s interested) was clearly not more than a step or two removed from a scan of the paper book run through some OCR software.  Where’s the advantage to paying the extra money in situations like these?  I’ve chosen this book as a good example, but I’ve found that it isn’t uncommon for books originally published pre-ebook to have these errors in them while still being sold for the same price as newer books with proper quality control.

In case you’re unfamiliar with OCR, or Optical Character Recognition, let me explain as briefly as I can.  You start with a scanned image of a page.  Just a picture basically. You then feed it into your OCR software which “looks” at the page and tries to pick out words and formatting to make it into a text-based document.  You need to do this in order to have the resizable text, font choices, text to speech, etc that make the Kindle so neat.  Sometimes the resultant text is nearly pristine, sometimes it is highly flawed.  OCR has come a long way over the years, but even so it’s unlikely for you to ever get a completely perfect scan the first time through.  You need a human, usually with no tool more complex than a basic spell checker, to run through and look for instances when the software mistook an ‘h’ for ‘l n’ and other such near equivalencies, not to mention random brackets and semicolons that for some reason just appear out of nowhere sometimes.

These are not difficult problems to address.  Your average underpaid intern could manage to get through most novels in an afternoon or two.  Maybe a little more for books like Dune that make up a lot of dictionary-unfriendly words and force you to pay attention, but the point stands.  If all the fuss over pricing really stems from the value present in a professionally published eBook rather than a potentially poorly edited self publisher, then why aren’t we getting finished products?

I didn’t mind these sorts of things when ebooks were still basically a hobbyist thing that people on the internet did for fun.  We’re a good long way beyond that, though.  No, it doesn’t make a book unreadable most of the time, but it shows a distinct lack of interest in real customer satisfaction.  Like I said, so far it seems to me to primarily apply to older books, but some people do still enjoy books more than five years old.  Wasn’t the point of an Kindle that I would be able to carry my whole library in a pocket?  The device lives up to it, I just want the publishers to do so as well.

Considering the Future of Kindle Publishing

We can take it for granted today that the future of book publication revolves around the eBook.  Yes, I will acknowledge that it is unlikely to ever be the sole medium available to readers, but I would definitely say that it will be increasingly seen as the standard from here on out.  This was obvious even before Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) announced their recent comparison of paperback and Kindle book sales.  So, where does this leave the publishing industry?

In many ways instances, new authors had come to see the big publishing houses as unapproachable.  They had their big names that they were banking on and the chances of being the one new author in a hundred, or a thousand, to get a positive response was daunting.  People have said that more authors are springing up than ever before.  I don’t buy that.  People write and it’s only now that it’s been possible for even hobbyists to get their work out there.  That is what the move to digital book platforms like Amazon’s means for writers.  A chance to survive, or fail, on your own merits without the need of attracting a patron.  At least in theory.  You’re going from a traditional payment play to some form of micro-payment system where every person with a Kindle is a potential backer of your work.  Sure you lose security in the process, but you’d have only had that if you managed to break in in the first place.

It’s an interesting new environment that emphasizes different values than we might expect.  The downside of self-publishing, no matter how easy the actual process of book creation is, is self-promotion.  Not much of a chance that you’re going to be the next big thing if you can’t let people know that you wrote a book, that your book is about something they might be interested in, and, at a slightly later stage, that there are people who have read your book and enjoyed it. Word of mouth is useful, of course, but really this seems to turn writers into public figures to an unprecedented degree and would seem to cause success or failure to rest on the endurance and adaptability of the author rather than the strength of the work they have produced.

I’m going to admit that when I started writing this, I was taking a negative view on that.  It seems to cheapen the experience and draw value away from what I really believe to be the only thing that should matter when you’re deciding what to read: the Book.  But really, what’s new there?  The only difference now is that readers really have a chance to vote with their wallets.

If you have a nearly unlimited field of books to choose from, it can’t be worse than an industry that seems to have basically coasted along on a couple dozen big names for as long as anybody can remember, can it?  Yes, we’ll lose some great authors at the side of the road because they didn’t have the drive, personality, time, skills, or whatever, to be their own publicists, but there’s not much doubt in my mind that we’ve been losing far more than that before now than ever will be the case again.  So…gonna go with the Kindle platform and its attached self-publishing options as being a good thing in my opinion. The draw away from the big publishing houses should help more than it hurts, I hope.

Any thoughts from you guys?

An Interview With the WOWIO CEO

Some Background:

We’ve talked quite a bit here in the past about the potential for advertising entering into digital book media.  The convenience provided by eBooks, both for readers in easy acquisition and for publishers in terms of easily and instantly updating an “edition” of a text without need for the delay of printing and shipping, is undeniable and provides all sorts of potential for advertisers.  Intuitively, it would seem like you’re more receptive when doing something relaxing like laying back with a Kindle than you would be while watching the nightly news’s depictions of the day’s horrible political gaffs or crime sprees, wouldn’t it?

The big roadblock, so far, has been the reader response.  Readers seem to absolutely hate the idea of ads in books on principal.  In the interest of being fair, I’ll admit that I used to be of the same opinion.  Over the past several years, however, I’ve gotten some great eBooks at discounted rates through sites like WOWIO at times when books would have been otherwise out of my budget for whatever reason, and I’ve been impressed with how they handle the ad insertion.  It’s tasteful, unobtrusive, and doesn’t interject into the reading experience in any way.  All the things you wouldn’t think advertising likely to be.  And it made my books cheaper, which I like.

After I commented on the site a while back, our editor Andrei, actually got invited to do a little Q&A session with WOWIO CEO Brian Altounian.  Needless to say, the opportunity was more than welcome.  Here’s the result, for your enjoyment:

The Interview:

Please describe how WOWIO does its business and what sets it apart from other online book stores?

WOWIO isn’t so much a book store as an online destination and community that serves as a digital media distribution marketplace. Through our family of sites which includes,, and, we provide opportunities to create, share and consume digital media content, including comics and eBooks. Our goal is to provide the best, most entertaining content possible while helping generate revenue for creators and publishers.

The thing that really sets WOWIO apart from others is our business model. We’ve developed a model that is driven by advertising which allows us to reach the 18-35 year-old audience, and we’ve proven that this model can work. We’ve worked with several major partners such as Maxim Magazine and to bring rich, interactive content to our customers.

Another differentiator is our mobility. While some eBook providers limit where their customers can access their content, we allow our customers to access libraries over multiple devices and screen sizes. Since our library is synched to our website, as long as you can access the web you can access your content.

Lastly, our members are not just consumers, but also creators. They are a very vocal and creative community that provides insight and new, sharable content that similar online content providers cannot match. For example, budding comic book writers can upload their strips to DrunkDuck and allow others to view, comment and share the work.

What made you decide to go into eBook business?

I knew that media was headed in a digital direction, had watched the challenges faced by traditional media in making that transition, and saw an opportunity to establish a model and content experience that could scale appropriately for publishers, authors, creators and advertisers as this convergence occurred. We wanted to create a better business model that could change the landscape of eBooks and I think with our patent issuance and some of our recent advertising programs, we have begun to realize that vision.

In addition to the advertising subsidized model, we wanted to establish industry innovations around the blended media eBook “reader” experience – we add other forms of media, such as audio and video, into the text – to enhance levels of engagement, creativity and immersion and are on pace to set that bar again with some of our forthcoming projects.  Basically, we saw a lot of needs that would emerge in the traditional publishing space as the digital transition occurred and felt that we could accelerate the gap between technology emergence and content provision through our family of digital distribution sites.

DRM-free is highly supported by book readers but it is not a popular idea with the publishers. How do you find the balance between the two? Do you believe that more good has come from it than harm for WOWIO so far?

I think more good will always come from increased solutions to digital innovation in the publishing space. The good thing about WOWIO is that we are fans, readers, publishers and creators, too – so we get perspective from all sides, we welcome healthy debate, and make the best decisions we can on behalf of our creators, publishers and customers.

People inherently have an attachment to the products they purchase and the DRM-free model allows us to fulfill those goals for customer experience. Customers will buy more books and go deeper on the list once they experience an author. Customers do not feel disconnected from a product they purchased and this model provides a sense of customer experience and loyalty to the product. It also rewards authors and publishers that provide a great reader experience with new and recurring customer bases.

Many consumers have strong negative attitude towards ads in eBooks because they fear that ads will be intrusive and disruptive to book reading experience. Has it been a problem for WOWIO so far? Do you foresee it being a problem in the future?

We understand the concerns consumers have with ads in eBooks but we’ve created a model that not only avoids the intrusion so many fear, but one that allows users easier access to their favorite content.

For example, ads do not pop up throughout the book. There is an ad at the beginning before a reader starts a story and one at the end when the book is completed. And since we use an ad-supported business model, that means ads help make the titles more affordable or even sometimes completely free. It also provides an additional source of revenue for our publishers as well as an opportunity to get their content into the hands of more readers.

The feedback on our model has been very positive so far. But we think that others jumping into this space will need to be mindful of how the ads are presented because if the ads are too intrusive or take away from the reading experience, it will have an extremely negative impact.

Ads in books have been tried before but with little success. What makes you believe that eBook ads will be more successful?

One of the reasons this model has not worked before is that the ads were presented in a very obstructive way. The ads got in the way of the content and discouraged people from finishing the book.

Ads in eBooks present a different kind of opportunity for publishers, advertisers and consumers because the new technology allows the ads to be presented in completely new ways. We can ensure that they remain unobtrusive but we can also include additional elements to enhance the user experience, such as outbound links and video content.

Also, the ads placed within eBooks on WOWIO allow us to offer our books for free or at a discounted price making them much more attractive to readers. For example, in the deal we did with Fandango, they provided a free copy of Gulliver’s Travels on WOWIO for users that purchased tickets to the recent Jack Black film through their site.

But the only way it will work in eBooks is if publishers and advertisers keep the experience simple, clean and refrain from ruining the reader’s experience.

Current ads in sponsored WOWIO eBooks are static and pre-defined when the book is published. Do you have plans for dynamic ads or ads that are more targeted to a specific user?

Absolutely. The technology allows us to insert multiple forms of advertisements, such as video or animated content. But our ads are not pre-defined – the type of ad and the titles that include ads will depend on the sponsor, the publisher and sometimes the author. We work with all parties involved to determine which titles are best suited for ads, how long they run and what content is included.

What devices do customers use to read eBooks sold by WOWIO? Is Amazon Kindle a popular choice?

Amazon Kindle is definitely a popular choice, probably due to the compact size and ease of use. Users can take it and access their library anywhere. But what’s great about WOWIO is that our customers aren’t limited to a specific device. So if your Kindle’s batteries are low and only have a laptop available, or if you don’t own an eReader at all, you can access your library and continue right where you left off.

Where do you envision eBook industry and your company in five years from now?

I see WOWIO emerging as a leading blended media distribution provider. WOWIO will continue to serve as a leader in eComics and eBooks, bringing on leading publishers in both comics and traditional publishers.

The publishing industry is going to change several times over the course of the next five years, all of which will be impacted by our patent, our advertising model and, most importantly, by our innovative blended media immersion approach. It will be an exciting space that we look forward to helping define with great end-user products and experiences in the years to come.

And in Closing:

Admittedly, this was a fun one for me, so maybe I’m slightly biased.  Not going to try to deny that.  To me, however, the points made here make sense.  If you can provide a customer with something they will enjoy for less money than they would pay for it elsewhere, they are likely to buy from you even if it means flipping through two pages of ad material.  Kindle books can make this happen in a way that print books never could, which seems to me like it makes the use of ads inevitable.  The only fear is that people new to the concept will take it too far rather than knowing where to draw the line and avoid damaging the reading experience.

To be honest, this solution even works out better for publishers than the current DRM model does.  If you can provide an eBook cheap to free, people are unlikely to bother pirating it.  And let’s be honest and say that it takes far less work to remove the DRM protection on your average eBook than it does to edit individual pages from said book.  What’s in there is staying there unless it’s truly obtrusive or offensive.  Publishers love security.  There will always be a large portion of the audience who would rather pay more for an untouched copy of their book, but this is going to happen in order to make a connection with everybody else.  Let’s hope that a company that really does understand their audience does play a big part in defining the future of this aspect of the industry.

How to publish a Kindle eBook

So, you’ve written a book?  Congratulations.  Whether it’s the work of years or simply your latest NaNoWriMo entry, it was almost certainly a difficult and demanding project that it would be great to get some recognition for.  Sure, you can go through the traditional routes and send out your manuscript to the publishing houses in hopes that you get a bite, but should you be looking for another route, whether due to rejection, disinterest, or simple distaste for involving yourself with those companies, Amazon’s DTP(Digital Publishing Platform) for the Kindle might be right for you.  Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Create an Account

One of the advantages to going with the Kindle for your digital platform is that any account should basically be good for this already.  Simply head to the DTP Log-in screen and enter your usual information.  If this is your first time playing with the DTP service, you’ll be asked for some basic publishing-specific settings such as tax information and preferred payment method.  It’s pretty straightforward and you should have little trouble.

Step 2: Format your eBook

Presumably you’ve already taken the time to do any sort of content editing you’d like to do.  Dwelling on the details of that would turn this post into a book of its own, as I’m sure you’re aware.  What is important, however, is making sure you’re setting things up properly to be accessible on the Kindle platform.  The supported file formats at the moment are:

Unencrypted Mobipocket(.mobi and .prc)

This is pretty much the ideal, if you can do it, since it is the format that the Kindle-specific file format is derived from.

Unzipped EPUB

These should actually make the conversion very cleanly in most cases.  It is basically the current generation of the old Mobipocket format(yes, I know I’m oversimplifying) and can be brought back to that earlier iteration in eBook formatting pretty easily.  If you’re hoping to get your book set up for more than just the Kindle, you’ll likely be using this format anyway, at some point.

Plain Text

Obviously not much you can do wrong in this one, though it is a bit limiting.

Microsoft Word .doc File

Definitely usable, but with some complications.  Avoid anything like headers or footers.  No page numbers(remember that the Kindle reflows the text to respond to size adjustments and such).  For the same reason, don’t bother playing with Margins or anything.  Also, for whatever reason, Amazon recommends you add in images using the “Insert” command rather than copy/paste for best results.  Something to keep in mind.

*IMPORTANT* Don’t mistake this for the new .docx file format.  That is a different and wholly incompatible thing.

Adobe PDF

This is the poorest option, by all accounts, but it will still work after a fashion.  There is simply too little formatting information in your average PDF to hope to get much of anything besides the bare text and most minimal formatting out of Amazon’s conversion process.  You might actually be better off finding a third party utility to break down your PDF into something that can be played with in MS Word or a similar program that can be converted into a more useful format.

Zipped HTML

There are a number of specific things to be aware of in using an HTML document for your Kindle book.  While this is the most finely controllable method for formatting your book, by most accounts, it is also complicated and requires great attention to detail.  In most cases, until and unless you have extensive experience using this sort of an eBook format, you might be better off using something else.

To be honest, speaking from personal experience, the best thing you can do to get something ready for publication is to take what you have finished, convert it to either .mobi or HTML, and send it to your Kindle to see how it works.  Flipping through on the device itself will save you a world of trouble in case something goes wrong.

kindle for pcStep 3: Upload Your Book

They’ve made this part really simple.  Assuming you are still logged into the DTP system, you will see a button that says “Add a New Title”.  Click on it and enter all the information it asks for.  You’ll need to provide not only your book file and a description of the work to sell it with, but also any important publication data, an assurance that you have a right to publish the book, a decision about whether or not to enable DRM, and a cover/product image.  The product image is important, since it is what will appear on the product page in the Kindle store.

You will then be prompted for information on countries where you hold the rights to your work, and to select a pricing/royalty option.  You can choose from either 35% royalties, in which case you get to set your price in stone, or 70% royalties, which means that Amazon has a lot more say over how much your book is going to be costing if they decide they need to price match or anything like that and that they deduct a small delivery fee based on file size for each sale.  Either way, you set your price(s) in the little box below that area and you’re done.

Step 4: Promote it

Let’s face it, getting the book on the Kindle marketplace is the easiest part of things.  The hard part, aside from the writing itself, comes next!  Now you’ve got to spread the word.  Many recent authors have had luck with creating a public presence for themselves through creative use of blogging, web promotion, and plain old word of mouth.  Whichever method you choose, you’ve got a good start going already.  Good luck!