Amazon KDP appears to be a well-designed assembly line that mass-produces Kindle e-books and takes the lion’s share of the e-book market. It’s structurally optimized to deliver solutions to all problems that may arise from all aspects and stages of book publishing and marketing, with KDP as the chute to market for e-books, CreateSpace as that for printed books and Author Central as the shared portal between the two. You have a question? Amazon has an answer!
Behind this impressive façade, Amazon is no more than a Darwinian monster who is frantically and constantly realigning itself to better process the books in its pipeline. Without a doubt, Amazon is a superb survivor who is always able to innovate in order to stay ahead of or catch up with its competitors.
Need an example? Just reflect for a minutes on the major steps Amazon took in the last couple of months in 2013: It introduced Kindle Book Countdown as an alternative to the conventional Free Book promotion; it introduced Kindle Matchbook program; it started offering matte finish of covers for printed books and last but not least, it stopped charging $25 for Extended Distribution for printed books.
It’s fair to say that Amazon knows what it is doing. Nevertheless, do not assume that Amazon holds the crystal ball for the future. Your guess about the future of e-books is just as good as Amazon’s. All Amazon has in its power to maintain its lion’s share in the e-book market is the will to survive and the agility to adapt.
And adapt it does, sometimes ever so frantically. If you use KDP Bookshelf as often as I do, I am sure you have noticed the unannounced service down notice and the rather frequent changes of the user interface. And if you are as “lucky” as I have been, you would have observed absurd incidents. For example, in the month of October, 2013, I often got to see a French writer’s royalty report, when I refresh my KDP royalty summary page. To prove that I am not just making this up, I have pasted in the screenshot as follows:
I remember saying to myself when I saw this page in my own KDP Royalty report: Damn, these books are doing great for eight days into the month; I wish they were really mine!
Prior to that, I’ve also once seen the author Jamie Adams’ royalty summary, as shown in the following screenshot:
Judging from the sales number, she’s also doing great and making me wish that this royalty summary was really mine.
These two freak incidents both happened when I was doing something completely normal – just clicking around after I had logged into my KDP account. Weird. Totally bizarre.
But there is a perfect explanation for them: the coders at Amazon were having a bad day in the office. They were trying to pull off a quick fix instead of methodically revamping a cog in the KDP machinery. It also appears that they were in a hurry, or else such bizarre incidents should never have happened in the real KDP production environment. They should have tested the fix thoroughly in their QA environment.
Whatever. Amazon is not as strong as it would let on. It has its own Achilles’ heel. And when it strives to fix its weaknesses, it exposes vulnerabilities.
For as long as I have been publishing on KDP and CreateSpace, I have kept a close eye on Amazon’s weaknesses. I see my KDP publishing career as my personal David vs. Goliath.
If I want to survive in the Jungle of Amazon, I need to gain the upper hand sometime in my battle against Amazon. There is no way I can gain any upper hand if I do not have any clues on Amazon’s weaknesses.
This book is a result of my observations on Amazon’s weaknesses. I am sure as time goes on, I will discover more and share with you. But as of now, I think I have enough to pack into a little book and make the readers happy.
But before I go into the details of what I want to share with you in the subsequent chapters in this book, I would like to summarize the principles I employ in devising strategies that target Amazon’s weaknesses I have identified.
Ask, and You Shall Not Receive
I am sure that you have seen those arbitrary prices big publishing houses put on the Kindle editions of their book. Like you, I can’t help wondering about the wisdom of their pricing. I have seen many prices above $1.00 but somehow mysteriously below $2.99. I have also seen prices between $10 and $18.
They do not make sense to me. By Amazon’s rule, Kindle books priced in between $2.99 and $9.99 are entitled to the 70% royalty rate. Any Kindle book priced below $2.99 are subject to the 35% royalty plan. Why would the big guys price their Kindle books below the $2.99 threshold?
By the same token, any Kindle books priced above $9.99 are also subject to the 35% royalty plan. In order to get the same royalty a $9.99 book gets on the 70% plan, a book with a price higher than $9.99 would have to go up to $19.98. Again, why would the big guys bother to price a book at $15 when they can get more royalty out of it at a price of $9.99?
The answer is simple: The big guys do not play by the rule Amazon sets for the small guys. The big publishing houses work with Amazon on negotiated royalty plan. I do not know what royalty rate they are getting, but I am sure it makes perfect sense for them to price their books with total disregard for Amazon’s $2.99 and $9.99 thresholds.
I do not know about you, but I, for one, would like to get the 70% royalty rate when my books are priced below the $2.99 threshold. I do not really care much about the other end: Pricing a Kindle book above $9.99 seems to be rather extreme.
But, would I get the 70% royalty rate for a book of mine that is priced at $1.49 if I ask Amazon for it? Of course not. Who do I think I am? The most I will get out of my inquiry is the predictable form email from KDP support with links to KDP’s pricing rules.
I am using the above example to illustrate a point: You can ask Amazon for a favor, but you will not get it. Amazon will always act in its own best interest and not grant favors to authors. Think of Kindle e-books’ one-week return policy. It is very generous to the buyers but has irked so many authors, of whom so many have written to Amazon or vented on forums to complain about it. What has Amazon done to ameliorate the pain for authors? Nothing.
Remember, when dealing with Amazon, it is “Ask, and you shall not receive.”
Push the Right Button, and You Shall Receive
On the contrary, if you push the right button, Amazon hands you what you want on a gold plate.
Why? You may be asking. Well, think of Amazon as a giant robot playing a game of chess against you. It is wired together with a plethora of complex algorithms. Unlike the human brain which can act on hubris, intuition and other illogical instincts, these algorithms are 100% logical and reactive – hence predictable.
This robot will outsmart you if you keep making logical – hence predictable – moves to advance your own interest. It analyze, evaluate and predict your follow-up moves in nanoseconds and make a move to block your planned route. Along any series of logical moves, if you see three steps, the robot probably sees eighteen hundreds. Forget about it. You will never beat Amazon if you play like a robot.
You can only beat the robot if you make disjointed moves. For example, you make move “A” and then move “B,” each of which indicating to the robot that you have a hidden goal to achieve. The robot instantly ascertains that the two goals are disjointed and they cannot be achieved at once; it also establishes after a tremendous amount of calculation that when A and B are made together, the overriding likelihood is that the perpetrator is trying to achieve the goal associated with A.
Therefore, the robot makes a move to block you from getting any closer to the goal of A. For the sake of easy reference later, let us call this move of the robot R1.
Game is over, if you are indeed trying to achieve A. You cannot change plan to achieve B either, as the robot has the upper hand now in the game and can easily block you from getting closer to B with its next move, R2.
But, what if all you really wanted is R1? You make A and B so that the robot reads your mind the way a robot predictably would and it is bound to make move like R1. And R1 is what you have really been craving for, not the goals affiliated with A or B.
Wouldn’t you consider the mission accomplished when you see R1 on the table? I would. And that is what I refer to as pushing the right button.
With Amazon, when you push the right button, you shall receive. If all this strikes you as too abstract, do not worry. You will get all the details and specifics when we get into the game moves of pushing the right button so Amazon hands us the 80% royalty plan, among other goodies covered in this book.
Don’t Get Mad, Get 80% Royalty
If you hang out in virtual places like GoodReads’ Author Feedback Group, you will notice a lot of complaints about Amazon. It is an understandable sentiment: Everyone loves to hate the Yankees. Being at the mercy of a giant will do that to you. Many Indies find many reasons to feel bitter about Amazon and wish for Amazon’s instant demise just for spite. This is evidenced in the waves of rumors we hear about flight of quality among Indies from KDP to other platforms.
I have read and heard about so many shocking statistics that indicate that pretty much everyone currently enrolled in KDP Select is thinking about leaving it, if not already did. Theoretically, that should have made it easier for the few foolish ones like me who have chosen to stay behind.
Not so. Amazon is as ever a competitive battlefield for anyone to survive. In fact, it may be tougher than it has ever been.
My humble advice is: Don’t get mad, get the 80% royalty rate. That ought to increase your odds of success on Amazon.
Get the 80% royalty rate how? The secret is all in Ka-Ching! The 80% Royalty Formula for KDP: Buyer Beware: You Will Never Settle for 70% Again!