A quick look at Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing

When Amazon initially launched the Kindle device they also introduced Kindle Direct Publishing, an online entity where authors and publishers can independently publish their books directly to Kindle and Kindle Apps worldwide. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows you to upload documents in several formats for delivery via Whispernet including Word files (.doc or .docx), MOBI, ePub, text, HTML (Zip), RTF and PDF files which they will convert into their own eBook format (.mobi). The service is completely free, the interface is intuitive and simple to use and within 24 hours of a successful upload (manuscript and cover) your eBook will be published and available for sale.

The Kindle Previewer allows you to view your uploaded file to ensure it looks ok, and you can upload your file again if necessary. The author dashboard is also simple and easy to use for editing your published eBook or viewing sales. Authors can upload and charge between $0.99 and $200.00 per sale (download). Amazon takes a 30% royalty cut on books priced between $2.99 to $9.99. For books priced out of that range or for buyers outside Amazon’s specified countries (like Australia) they take a 65% royalty cut on each book sale. Since Amazon is the biggest eBook player in town, you have to be on Amazon, either directly via KDP, or indirectly via the other related services.

In a December, 2009 interview with The New York Times, Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos revealed that Amazon.com kept 65% of the revenue from all eBook sales for the Kindle. The remaining 35% is split between the book author and publisher. After numerous commentators observed that Apple’s popular App Store offers 70% of royalties to the publisher, Amazon began a program that offers 70% royalties to Kindle publishers who agree to certain conditions. Some of these conditions, such as the inability to opt out of the lendability feature, have caused some controversy.

Do the costs outweigh the benefits?

With a line of extremely successful eReaders and a gigantic user base, Amazon and its Kindle Direct Publishing service seem like a no-brainer for independent authors. But Andrew Hyde tracked the performance of his recently released title, This Book is About Travel, through the retailer’s digital store and discovered that Amazon may not actually be the wisest way to distribute one’s work. Despite accounting for a vast majority of his initial sales and a spot as Amazon’s number 1 ‘Hot New Release in Travel’, Hyde’s book brought in a considerably lower amount of income per sale than if sold as an Apple iBook, Barnes and Noble Nook book, or a PDF file.

When looking at Kindle Direct Publishing’s advertised 70% royalty rate, one would assume that 30% of each sale would go to Amazon with the rest going to the author. The service’s pricing page specifies that Amazon’s percentage does not take into consideration delivery costs but, since it’s digital, the added fees should (at least theoretically) be minimal. On the contrary, Hyde calculated that Amazon was charging an average of $2.58 in delivery costs for every sale of his $9.99 book. Add that amount to the 30% already owed to the online retailer and the author’s cut drops below half of the product’s sale price. Hyde now advises potential customers to purchase This Book is About Travel as a PDF file through Gumroad.com — where he gets $9.25 for each sale — but only time will tell if losing Amazon’s popular storefront will be beneficial in the long run.

The above scenario took place in mid 2012 and it is interesting to note that the author, Andrew Hyde, has since updated the This Book is About Travel file. When originally published, his book was over 18MB, as opposed to the average eBook which is only several hundred KB (with a delivery cost of approximate $.05). His book is now just over 2MB, so he is now making $6.42 per sale.

Other criticisms involve the business model behind Amazon’s implementation and distribution of eBooks. Amazon introduced a software application allowing Kindle books to be read on an iPhone or iPod Touch. Amazon soon followed with an application called ‘Kindle for PCs’ that can be run on a Windows PC. Due to the book publisher’s DRM policies, Amazon claims that there is no right of first sale with eBooks. Amazon states they are licenced not purchased; so unlike paper books, buyers do not actually own their eBooks according to Amazon. This has however never been tested in the courts and the outcome of any action by Amazon is by no means certain. The law is in a state of flux in jurisdictions around the world.

Amazon has reported the Kindle version of Fifty Shades of Grey sold more than double that of Amazon’s print sales of the book, and, in June 2012, the Kindle edition became the first to sell more than one million copies.

So, if you like the idea of your self-published eBook being available on the online retail giant Amazon.com’s Kindle device, then Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) should be a service to consider. Kindle Direct Publishing offers eBook-only publishing, a format popular with authors such as genre novelists. If you wish to produce a paper version of your manuscript then you will need to utilise Amazon.com’s paperback publishing service CreateSpace. For digital publishers here are some of Kindle Direct Publishing’s highlights.

Editorial and Design Services Kindle Direct Publishing doesn’t offer editorial services per se (though those services are available for a fee from KDP’s Amazon sister company CreateSpace). In order to format the file for your eBook, KDP does offer a compact booklet (both in Kindle and PDF form) that provides detailed technical specifications for publishing your eBook successfully on the KDP platform.

Book Package Kindle Direct Publishing offers eBook only format and, as stated above, gives parameters and instructions for the technical specifications for formatting the file. In addition to the instructions for the file format, Amazon.com strongly suggests that the book have a compelling cover image, though for those books that don’t have an image, the service will fill in with a simple placeholder.

Cost and Pricing There are no upfront charges to self-publish on KDP. The author chooses his or her own list price; Amazon.com offers options for 35% author royalties and 70% author royalties, each option comes with its own set of parameters. KDP allows the author to switch royalty options, if desired, but it’s advisable to review the options carefully.

Book Distribution The Kindle Store provides KDP-published authors with a distribution channel. Amazon Kindle owners can purchase KDP content on the Kindle Store site and download it for reading on the Amazon Kindle wireless e-reading device. Readers who do not own an Amazon Kindle are also able to read KDP content on their PCs or Macs by using Kindle for PC or Mac software; or read KDP content on their mobile phones or PDAs with the Kindle for Mobile Devices app.

Publicity and Marketing When an author publishes through KDP, it is included in Amazon’s merchandising algorithms. While it’s not explicit on how quickly a new book will be entered into the clickstream (presumably it has to do with topic, sales movement, etc.), online merchandising may include the book jacket and description appearing when a customer is viewing another book’s page, under such cross-promotional areas as ‘More Items to Consider’, ‘Customers with Similar Searches Purchased’, and ‘Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought’. Promotional programs also may include customer sampling.

Proprietary Advantages In addition to the obvious distribution potential of Amazon.com’s retail site, those who publish with Kindle Direct Publishing, are offered the opportunity for additional advantages, such as added royalties, through feature called KDP Select. By enrolling in Amazon.com’s KDP Select, authors make their book accessible to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (a readers’ service whereby Kindle/Amazon Advantage users borrow books for free). Each month, Amazon sets aside a pool of funds and KDP Select authors share in them, according to the number of times their books are borrowed.

An author’s share of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library Fund is calculated based on a share of the total number of qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles. For example, if the monthly fund amount is $500,000, the total qualified borrows of all participating KDP titles is 100,000. If a book was borrowed 1,500 times during that period, the book’s author will earn 1.5% (1,500/100,000 = 1.5%), or $7,500 for that month. Those who have already published to KDP can also enroll with KDP Select.

Blogs Blogs published by popular media outlets such as TechCrunch and Ars Technica have been available on Kindle as early as 2008. In May 2009, the program was opened to everyone. Amazon, not the publisher, set the monthly subscription rate for each blog between $0.99 and $1.99. Since the blogs may contain pictures, and wireless 3G access requires no monthly subscription fee, Amazon retains 70% of the revenue from blog sales, remitting 30% to the content publisher. The program status is still listed as beta.