In today’s mega post, Part 1 of 3, I explore Amazon’s change of Terms of Service that throttles free ebook promotion and what it might mean to you.
Amazon’s Terms of Service have changed.
Amazon sent out this decree recently:
“In addition, notwithstanding the advertising fee rates described on this page or anything to the contrary contained in this Operating Agreement, if we determine you are primarily promoting free Kindle eBooks (i.e., eBooks for which the customer purchase price is $0.00), YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO EARN ANY ADVERTISING FEES DURING ANY MONTH IN WHICH YOU MEET THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:
(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and
(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks.”
Free is throttled.
That’s okay. For most of us, free was in a coma, anyway.
From the flaking, protective teflon coating of your brain pan to the tip of the peak of Despair, indie authors everywhere wonder, “Amazon is discouraging websites that publicize free books? What Next?” Amazon doesn’t make emotional decisions. It makes business decisions. Now it’s time for us to make business decisions, too. I come to praise Amazon, not to bury it. (I’m relieved Free is over or at least reined in, but that’s because of Parts 2 and 3 of this thought train. If you only depend on KDP Select free days to promote your work, it’s time to get new egg baskets.)
Why Amazon’s bad news is a good thing and what we can do about it in three parts:
You’re going to hear a lot of uproar about free days going away. It’s understandable. Websites promoting free ebooks won’t be getting those juicy affiliate commissions anymore, so there are fewer choices in promoting our books. Authors need help to get the word out about their books. Some thoughts on our predicament:
1. For some, Free rocked as a short-term strategy. Free was always a poor long-term strategy. It undermined the market. Many readers, feeling entitled and smug, filled their kindles but never got around to reading all those hoarded books. I sure couldn’t read them all. Aim a 500-pound-per-square-inch fire hose at a teacup. That teacup will not retain a lot of water. Our overly full kindles are teacups.
2. Free was over, anyway. Everywhere I look, someone’s offering a giveaway but I’m already overloaded. I’m giving Six Seconds away as gifts to get honest reviews, but I’m not trying the scatter shot of Amazon free days anymore. Free helped for a short time. The biggest bumps came in the earliest KDP Select Days. If you got in early, you had a good shot at making money. After the algorithm changed? For most of us, the answer is “much less so”.
3. Some people still made money, and will continue to do so, with Free. These sturdy outliers have good books, but just as important, they have marshalled forces to get the word out about their books without relying on those throttled websites to spread the word. I know a couple of authors who did so well with free listings that they don’t cower one bit at paying a bunch for advertising their books. They’re happier because we can expect more signal and less noise since free ebooks won’t crowd out the paid ones as much.
4. Some of those free ebook websites will continue without the affiliate sales. Amazon is like the cops announcing it’s time to shut off the stereo, end the party and go home. Some other sites will simply shrug and start referring their subscribers to non-Amazon platforms.
5. Some websites will adapt well. The TOS changes were pretty much met with a shrug at Digital Book Today because their business model doesn’t rely on free book links to make them rich.
6. Fore sites that do rely heavily on those affiliate links, far fewer free ebooks will be pushed and it will be harder for us to be among the chosen few. For many of those sites, it was already darn hard to get your giveaway listed anyway, so many authors won’t notice a difference.
7. Cheap books can be pushed without punishment, therefore 99 cents is back in play. The “I’d buy that for a dollar!” price point is back. It had a brief spike before Free rose up to crush it, but now 99 cents looks fresh and ready for vengeance. Thirty cents or so isn’t an impressive pay out to authors. It is more than zero, but the bad news is you’ll still have to sell whatever tattoo space that is left on your body on Fiverr.com to pay for a can of beans to share with the other hobos under a bridge.
8. The good news is that there’s a huge gap in the buyer’s mind between free and cheap. With that tiny investment, you’ll get fewer one-star reviews from disappointed people who mistakenly grabbed up your book in a free book spree. (You know the sort. They blame you for their unwillingness to read a product description.)
9. We’re going to have to adapt more. Even more. Sure, you probably aren’t making money and this profession is usually a glorified hobby that disappoints your parents. Your friends make encouraging sounds with their mouths, but their sidelong glances say they’re worried about you. Nonetheless, this is the game. Calling this a game suggests this is play. That might help you get through this. Take it too seriously and you’ll be out here with me on a ledge worrying about bills. If you’re a worried indie author out on a ledge, take comfort in the fact that (look left, look right) twas always thus and plenty of traditionally published authors are out in the wind contemplating doom, too.
10. KDP Select has less and less to offer. Are those library sales worth it? Are five free days (over 90-day, exclusive commitments) going to pay off when you have a harder time promoting them? Probably not, in most cases. It’s a reasonable guess that Amazon throttled back on free because they were paying out too much for those affiliate referrals. Will Amazon come up with another program to address our problem created by their solution? I don’t know. No one knows (but I do doubt it.)
Despite the TOS change, a lot of authors are still stuck in KDP Select until their 90-day term is over. It happens I have only one book left in KDP Select and I used up all my free days before Christmas as I launched Murders Among Dead Trees. Lucky timing. If I was stuck with all my books in KDP Select now, I would be very annoyed at being in that canoe without a paddle.)
11. Kobo and Apple smell opportunity. Draft2Digital rises and maybe Smashwords will, at least and finally, update their look. The great migration across other platforms had already begun. KDP Select has been steadily turning off authors since last spring. Now there’s more reason for us to explore our options. Perhaps the #2 contender, Kobo, will offer a new program to lure us to their lair. Or maybe you’ll get around to selling books straight from your website.
12. As detailed in Crack the Indie Author Code and Write Your Book: Aspire to Inspire, the only book promotion tool I have confidence in (that isn’t unethical) is: Write More Books! I amended that decree with: Write shorter books. And more of them.
But what else can we do to promote our books?
I have some ideas about what we can do and
some strong ideas about what we shouldn’t do.
- Amazon Squashing Affiliates who Promote Free Kindle Books (goodereader.com)
- Authors face change as Amazon tightens affiliate policy on free Kindle books [GigaOM] (paidcontent.org)
- Amazon May Have Just Have Completely Killed Free eBook Promotions (the-digital-reader.com)