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Monday, 19 December 2011

SIGNING UP FOR AMAZON KDP SELECT.

Posted by RLL for REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE. © RLL, 2011.

HEALTH-WARNING.

This is a very long blog entry. Take frequent rest-breaks. Stay hydrated. Get out of your chair periodically. DVT kills. Regular blog-length will resume after this epic.

RUN-UP TO D-DAY.

Let’s kick off with the news that this is a post-publication blog. My plan was to publish Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords on Monday 12th December 2011. Did that happen? Yes. No. All writing is time travel. In the case of my book, publication was subject to time travel too.
   I run my vast publishing empire from the public library my top secret volcano base. Winter storms forced the closure of the public library my hidden lair, but not on the day itself. How many gremlins would throw themselves in front of my publishing train? LOADS.
   Initially, I couldn’t even get into the Amazon book factory. D-Day occurred in waves, of course. My Deployment-Day was no different. I pulled out a fictional flamethrower and roasted the gremlins barring my way.
   ACTION. THIS DAY. I was seconds from publication. Looking closely at the work on the special publication previewer inside the Amazon factory, I noted an error. To correct that thing, I had to retreat to my own computer. Wisely, I abandoned the unproductive assault and regrouped.
   What caused the upset? A wild week of random events. Four days before D-Day, my text changed. Events? First, Amazon contacted me to announce KDP Select. Of which, more in a moment. Second, I was given an early Christmas gift of an actual Kindle.
   It is possible to run a lone gunman type of outfit vast publishing empire without direct access to the internet. Up until that final week, I’d been a Kindle-less Kindle author-in-waiting. I used Kindle For PC and Kindle Previewer to check my work. Both pieces of software were free.
   Now I had the actual Kindle gadget sitting in front of me. With the use of the handy USB cable provided, I transferred Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords from PC to Kindle. That’s when I once again noted an effect I’d seen in going from the PC version of Kindle to Kindle Previewer and back, during my formatting war with my own fiction.
   Everything looks different, using related pieces of software designed to give a supposedly uniform reading experience. There are…quirks…in each system. I decided to overhaul the layout of certain sections, in the final weekend before publication, based on what I saw on the Kindle gadget. This was easy. Too easy. That book had the absolute hell edited out of it…
   The last-minute changes were done under ridiculous pressure, and I missed one tiny thing when changing a few items. Come D-Day, I was sitting there about to press the button, thinking, hang on. Well, I spotted one tiny thing and fixed the trouble. No problem. Then I went back on the assault…

SELECT OFFER.

D-Day -4. The rules change. It’s all set to roll. I check things out on the 8th of December. Getting close to the wire now. I receive a message from Amazon just as I’m looking at the book on the digital bookshelf. Last-minute checks. Endless last-minute checks.
   The Amazon message tells me that what I’m staring at, in my book’s publishing options, could be to my advantage. (Maybe. Possibly. Potentially. Could be. If.) What am I looking at? A new feature called Amazon KDP Select.
   I am four days from Deployment-Day and Amazon hits me with this. Is some guy trying to sell me magic beans as I stroll to market? (Selling magic beans is no crime if those beans turn out to be magic, after all.) What’s the deal?
   If I sign up for KDP Select, Amazon Prime customers in the USA can borrow my book from Amazon’s Lending Library at no charge.
   My book is still on sale for actual cash to regular (non-Prime) customers during this promotion.
   I am allowed to drop the price to zero for a number of sale days, so that the book is free to all who respond on a sale day.
   Amazon sets aside a slush-fund of cash, to pay me money based on the Lending Library borrowing statistics. If my book is borrowed at no cost to the borrower, I’m in line for a payout. The formula for that is fiddly, but I go by the rule that a formula is only truly complex if it includes a square-root.
   Anything else? Yes. I must make the selected work exclusive to Amazon for the period of the trial – which lasts 90 days. I can let the trial roll on for another 90 days, or quit KDP Select. My choice.
   Broadly, very broadly, that’s it.
   I trawled the internet, to see what the folks out there were saying. Some were in favour of the scheme, while others thought it a scheme in a derogatory sense. People sat on fences, embraced the notion, or ran screaming for the hills. Which is what you’d expect.
   After absorbing over 50,000 words of opinion, bile, rant, waffle, measured thoughtfulness, good pro- argument, good anti- argument, and general stuff, I felt confident enough to be able to make a comment here. The comment concerns something that didn’t appear in the tens of thousands of words I read through.

BUSINESS PLANS.

Sirens wail. The D-DAY -4 offer didn’t sweep in over an empty plain. I had publishing plans, and those bumped into the Kindle Select scheme. Any new business decision must take pre-existing plans into account. Have a think. Go and have a rant, by all means. Let off steam. Cool down. Throw emotion out of the window. Storm off, but walk back.
   This was my situation, on D-DAY -4. I would publish my novel as an electronic book, using Amazon Kindle Publishing Direct. First self-published book. Looking into assorted self-publishing options, I had already decided my work would be available exclusively through Amazon for the Kindle…to start off with.
   Why make that business decision? I could easily set the book up for many publishing platforms. Smashwords, for example. In starting a business, I opted to place my produce with one (very) large retailer, rather than creating a supply chain to various outlets.
   For every outlet I added, I’d likely have to format the book afresh. I was grappling with Amazon’s formatting system. (Someone’s idea of fun, I’m sure.) The first book would take serious time to format, as I picked up experience through much trial and ridiculous amounts of error. (So it went. After that initial stint of mountaineering, I had a go at formatting another book and sailed through the bulk of the work in a day.)
   The business option, when starting a business. Pick one. EXPANSION FOR PRODUCTION. Set up the production lines to handle the demands of different retail outlets and systems. Adjust the product to fit the networks. Alternatively, there’s PRODUCTION WITHOUT IMMEDIATE EXPANSION. Stick with one retailer, perfect that lonely production line, and get on with the job of selling produce through one major outlet.
   There are advantages and disadvantages to both options. (Must add this. There aren’t really two cast-iron options here. We’re talking about countless decisions and methods of operating. For the purposes of this part of the blog, I’m discussing the two main things I considered. Then I can get on to the other stuff. This may be a long blog entry…)
   EXPANSION FOR PRODUCTION. I’m going to ship my goodies to all these different shops. Advantages. I create multiple streams of revenue. Upshot. I’m all over the place like a rash. Availability is wonderfully widespread, and – theoretically – fairly easy, taking hard graft into account. I work like a maniac, gain skills in many different areas, and prosper. My work is EVERYWHERE.
   Disadvantages. I’m chasing a lot of detail, right at the start of my business. Quality control issues come into play, big-time. Am I REALLY selling the same product to different companies, using different construction methods and extra layers of detail management? All for that same product?
   Check, check, check. The chance that mistakes creep in is MULTIPLIED. Then there’s pricing on competing systems, which I won’t even get into here. (Pricing on different systems could be used to advantage as well as disadvantage.) Where can you buy my work? Here’s the list, which some may find off-putting.
   Dose of reality. Calm down – I’m going to be chasing a lot of detail right at the start of my business anyway. If I’m doing things right, I’ll be chasing a lot of detail BEFORE the business starts, AS the business starts, and long AFTER the business is up and running. So get over the notion that hard work is hard work. Disadvantages remind you that you are awake. Think of the revenue streams.
   PRODUCTION WITHOUT IMMEDIATE EXPANSION. I’m going to perfect the production line, sell through one major outlet, then sell more products through that one outlet. Availability is exclusive. Where can you buy my work? AMAZON. I work like a maniac, gain skills in many different areas, and prosper. My work is EVERYWHERE – if you shop at AMAZON.
   Disadvantages. Same as before. I still chase a lot of detail at the start of my business. Don’t shop at AMAZON? Oh. Zero sales to you. Not a fan of the Kindle? Oh. Zero sales to you. Sounds harsh. It is. That’s business.
   Dose of reality. Calm down – loads of people shop at Amazon. My business is flexible, and I’m willing to change once up and running – but I must set some sort of standard at the START of business. I can change things later. Don’t overlook the critical nature of start-up. Avoid a mess. Have a plan. Stick to it. Adapt, yes. But keep start-up solid.
   What am I chasing after, at the start? I think I’m chasing exclusivity with Amazon Kindle products. One set of formatting skills to learn, at the start of the business. Biting off what I can chew. Concentrating on produce, rather than multiple outlets.
   Would you rather sell one book through loads of outlets, or loads of books through one major outlet? Loaded question. You should be selling loads of books…somehow. That choice is yours. One outlet, or many. Make business decisions. Consider your comfort in dealing with different systems, say. The amount of time you can spend chasing detail. Hours of sleep you’ll manage.
   I am not in the business of somehow vindictively excluding potential customers. Including one set of customers with a welcoming smile doesn’t mean I am excluding another set of customers with a kick to the vitals. Be positive.
   As I understand it, there is a trend, concerning the young persons, for reading electronic books on mobile telephones. Not to my taste. For a start, I believe all electronic gadgets should be designed by arthritic engineers. Preparing young users for the future. One day, the young persons will be young persons no more. By then, knowing the way of the world, phones will come built into earlobes. Arthritis will be cured.
   My work is available on the Kindle. Do you have a Kindle? No. That’s okay. As a taster, you can download Kindle reading software for the computer. I’m sure some readers hate the thought of that. Don’t panic. I’m not asking you to read books that way…
   What, then? I am asking you to try free software on a device, as a taster of what the Kindle can do. After that, you may decide the Kindle isn’t for you. But at least you had a free taste, just to see. I am not vindictively excluding customers. Think you don’t like jam? Taste the free sample of jam. Then you’ll know. I’m just asking you to taste the jam. Got it? Taste the jam. Find out, one way or the other. You don’t have to spend money buying a gadget you think you’ll hate. Taste the free jam.
   Some people hate the Kindle. I think it unusual that they’d come to hate me for publishing only on the Kindle, as though a Kindle author goes hand-in-hand with the device down into the lower circles of HELL.
   Oh, I hate that author for publishing work on a device I was never going to use anyway. Even though the software is free to try out. Just as a taster. But I’d love that author for eschewing the Kindle, and all would be forgiven…
   Yes, I quite forgot that the Kindle is a political ideology – complete with flag and anthem. Hang on. No. It’s a reading platform. And it’s a reading platform I must come to adjust to myself. Reader of Folio Society books that I am. That’s right, the REALLY hardbacked hardback books. No Fahrenheit 451 on Kindle for me. Ray Bradbury’s on my bookshelf. No battery required.
   Is an opinion of an author’s work to be generated solely around the publishing platform the author adopts? FUCKING HELL. Did this sort of thing go on in the paper-only publishing days? Exclusivity, in paper publishing, meant signing your rights over to a publisher until you dropped dead and then some.
   “Thackeray’s signed to the Nook. What do you make of it, Dickens?”
   “D--n the swine! I mean to have him arrested for solicitation! It’s bad enough that Pushkin died in a duel over the Kindle! Now this! I’m a Kobo man, through and through. Well, that and the hardback.”
   Paper exclusivity. At the signing of the paper-publishing contract, the author had no say in the book’s progress through retail outlets. No say. All through the life, and afterlife, of the standard paper publishing contract. Did readers give a stuff about that? Was hatred of the author engendered? Feeling hard-done by when it comes to Amazon’s digital exclusivity clause, in light of what I’ve just said of paper?
   Okay. I’m starting to build up steam as I move to open rant. That is unproductive. Amusing, but generally unproductive. Stick to the point. Plans. Schemes. Contracts. I saw two broad options, on going to self-publishing.
   ONE. Hit every outlet at once. By which, I mean, hit the outlets in a rolling publication programme. At once hints at no sleep for the poor bastard who actually goes for simultaneous launching. Advice for writers. Get some sleep. Not some sleep.
   There’s the book. Done. Now I’ll create the Kindle version. Out it goes. Here’s the one for Smashwords. Out it goes. And so on. Rolling. My production process is for one product, heading to different outlets. If there’s a mistake in one, it must be corrected across all. Ouch.
   TWO. Set up the factory so that I’m selling through one outlet. If there’s a mistake in the book, I correct one version of the book. That’s easier, when starting out in business. I can move, swiftly, to publishing the second book, and the third. It’s not all about outlets and revenue streams. There must be produce, and lots of it.
   What were my plans, on D-DAY -4? To publish book one. In the notes at the end of Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords, I wrote about putting the book out exclusively for the Kindle. I covered Kindle exclusivity long before D-DAY -4 and Amazon’s offer. See. I had pre-existing plans.
   So what of my plans after D-DAY? It’s tight, but I still plan to release a second book 42 days after the first. And a third book 42 days after the second. Amazon contacted me on D-DAY -4, and I made a decision to go with Amazon KDP Select…because my plans coincided with Amazon’s. We were both looking to do some sort of exclusive deal.
   What if I’d had different plans? Publishing on Amazon and Smashwords, say. Had I started with that idea, I’d have held fast to my start-up plans. Sticking to my guns. Because sticking to my start-up plan was always part of whatever start-up plan I created. Solid start. Flexible follow-up. Launch over multiple platforms would have been a rolling affair…
   Play what-if. Out goes the Amazon Kindle title. I see temptation in signing up to exclusivity, but I’ve invested time in putting the book together for Smashwords. Out goes Smashwords. After such a multi-platform start-up, I’d hold off from Select and study data coming in from other authors on how KDP Select worked/didn’t work for them during the first 90 days. That’s how things would have played, had my plans not coincided with Amazon’s. I’d have ranted, and fumed, but looked to my own start-up plans.
   Back to my actual plans, though. After book three is out, I get into a formatting war with a very long story that I intend to split across four volumes. I’ll have to take a look at Kindle Fire, and see how my four volumes gain from that. This has been the perfect time for me to go into self-publishing with Amazon. For you, things may be wildly different. Exclusivity may add to your headaches. Don’t throw yourself under the train.
   Multiple books on sale, across several platforms? Rant and grumble. Vent hot air. Then check your sales figures. The KDP Select option is new, and I’m starting with a clean slate. So it’s an experiment for me. For you, if most of your revenue comes from Smashwords…why shut down that production line to cater to Amazon’s exclusive production line? Why? Don’t throw yourself under the train.
   You’d need hard data to convince you that there are gains to be made, before jumping into what could prove to be a cauldron. Those of us who opt in for 90 days are taking some sort of risk on your behalf – perhaps. You, on the other hand, with multiple platforms running, are not losing out by waiting to see data built up over the first 90 days.
   Very wise. Stay flexible. I can’t speak for you, or your pre-existing plans, except generally. What I can do is outline the specific plan I had, and the decisions I made…based on my circumstances four days before I launched my book.

CONTRACT.

Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords is available on Amazon.com for $6.30, though it is advertised to Amazon Prime members for $0.00. American Lending Library members can borrow that book for nothing. Then digitally return it to the library and check out another. One book a month. That’s what happened when I signed up to Select. The book was badged as free to Amazon Prime members in the USA. (Expect territories to be added.)
   KDP Select. I study the terms and conditions. What jumps out at me? A peculiar thought about a comment I made at the end of my then-unpublished book. In the notes at the end, I mentioned something called Public Lending Right and said that it had a digital future.
   Now I wasn’t making premonitory statements there. I was simply observing a basic trend, based on research into paper-based Public Lending Right in the digital age. PLR had a digital future – in terms of evolving government legislation. I wasn’t thinking of Amazon when I wrote about this at the end of my book.
   What is Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Select? More to the point, what is Public Lending Right? Let’s rake over the coals. I strolled onto the internet, to see what the good folks were saying about this Amazon KDP Select offer. Some people were jumping down Amazon’s throat, in an attempt to choke the life out of the concept. I waded through tens of thousands of words. Yes, a lot of rant. More questions than answers. Good questions. Some data. Comments on contract law.
   This is Amazon’s KDP Select offer…if I make a title of mine exclusive to Amazon for 90 days, provided I have rights to sell in the USA, then that title will be included in the Lending Library. The contract is on a book-by-book basis. I choose which products to opt in. US members of Amazon Prime are permitted to borrow my Select title(s) free once a month, with no due date. Operating on a one-book-back-in/one-book-out principle. (For now, anyway. Today USA, tomorrow…)
   What do I really get out of it? The chance to run a sale and promote an enlisted book, free, for five days out of the 90-day period. Does that sound good? Apparently, it’s better than the system that existed before. If you want to do an instant sale of one book to promote the launch of another, this is one very easy way to go about it.
   A semi-arcane formula is used to calculate compensation to me based on the number of times my book is borrowed from the Lending Library. Amazon will pay out money based on that formula. My definition of money is, at the lowest level, coins. If you read a contract, sigh, see MONEY and then think BILLIONS, well, ask yourself why that is.
   This unwholesome deal with J. Bezos and his Satanic Minions Amazon upset a load of people who kept hearing the word FREE in there. But if it’s FREE, what’s the point?! The point appears to be exposure to Amazon Prime customers…and to regular Amazon customers.
   My book is available on Amazon.com for $6.30, cunningly advertised to Amazon Prime members for $0.00. The Prime zero price listing sits above the regular dollar listing. A canny psychological ploy designed to appeal to Prime and non-Prime customers alike. One sees a freebie, the other sees a chance to join the freebie club. Moving up. Clever little placement. Pardon my cynicism.
   Yes. Exposure. Better to say, potential exposure. I’ve talked about pricing elsewhere. Bluntly, I should be able to make a purchase of something meaningful out of the proceeds of one book’s sale. I call that the MILK TEST. A financial outlook designed to transform my coffee.
   So my book isn’t out there for $0.99 in the Land of the Free. Say you are an Amazon Prime customer in the States. You can borrow one free book a month. (For now.) Do you borrow a $0.99-er, or a book that actually costs bucks? Depends on the book, but Prime members will be swayed by the chance to sample a free book that normally costs bucks. My milk-based pricing strategy put me at a modest advantage, when Select came in.
   The other word people are tripping up over is that part about EXCLUSIVITY. Nowhere in Amazon’s terms and conditions did I find the word ETERNITY. Not when I read the terms and conditions from stem to stern, and not when I ran a computerised search just to be sure.
   That contract runs for 90 days. I’ll get to the exclusive part soon. Which part of a contract would you be more scared of, given the choice? A clause mentioning EXCLUSIVITY, or a clause mentioning ETERNITY? Well, you should be equally-scared of both. Of course it was a loaded question. All questions are.
   Be scared of any contract that doesn’t specifically mention ETERNITY, though it strongly hints, through obfuscatory means, that ETERNITY is the duration of the contract. And be wary of any and all notions of EXCLUSIVITY. Don’t, however, take exclusivity out of context. Exclusivity can have advantages. Okay. Here’s an appalling piece of advice on contracts, with excellent advice to follow in the line below the appalling advice…
   Read the fine print.
   Rubbish. READ ALL THE PRINT! AND BETWEEN THE LINES!!!
   New to self-publishing? No books out yet? Decided to try this Amazon lark, just to start with? Selling your book for dollars rather than cents? Thinking about KDP Select? Go for it. Planning to put more books out soon? Go for it. Looking for more potential exposure, and noticing that your publishing plans coincide with Amazon’s ? Go for it. I did. Was there an upshot?
   Yes. Exclusivity. I ran the first chapter of my book on this blog, knowing that, when the book came out, Amazon would run free samples anyway. You can take a look inside my novel, on most of the Amazon sites, and read the first three chapters and a slice of chapter four.
   I didn’t think I was doing any harm in posting the first chapter here on my blog, prior to publication. Then I was faced with the exclusivity clause of the contract, and had a few thoughts. Let’s take a look at that clause.

Exclusivity. When you include a Digital Book in KDP Select, you give us the exclusive right to sell and distribute your Digital Book in digital format while your book is in KDP Select. During this period of exclusivity, you cannot sell or distribute, or give anyone else the right to sell or distribute, your Digital Book (or content that is reasonably likely to compete commercially with your Digital Book, diminish its value, or be confused with it), in digital format in any territory where you have rights.

   Quite a mouthful. Those who draw up contracts should be forced to read them aloud, to cut down on lengthy sentences. Okay. If you sign up for 90 days, the work you sign up becomes exclusive through Amazon. You can’t sell it on your own site. Others can’t sell it on your behalf. The same applies to DISTRIBUTING it, whether you call that selling or not. Site includes a blog as well as a website.
   This item you signed into the scheme is locked down. Amazon can sell it. More than that, there is a provision in the clause concerning digital CONTENT. Paper sales aren’t covered here. You can hawk those dead trees out of the back of your truck, and Amazon won’t come chasing after you.
   There is an awkward catch-all feeling to the last few words I highlighted…in digital format in any territory where you have rights. Hmm. If I sign up to KDP Select and I don’t have publishing rights in a particular territory, I can hawk my digital wares in that particular territory without tripping over Amazon’s contract. Even though I don’t have publishing rights in that territory. Follow the sign to Wonderland.
   I suppose it is possible to take a chunk of a book signed up for KDP Select, and place it on a blog that magically appears in a territory for which I don’t have the publishing rights. A special part of the internet that is cut off from the territories in which I do have publishing rights. That wouldn’t fall foul of the Amazon contract. Though it would fall foul of search engines and how they operate. Enough abstract chatter…
   What did the contract mean for me? I couldn’t distribute content from my Digital Book if the content were likely to compete commercially with my Digital Book, diminish my Digital Book’s value, or be confused with my Digital Book. Who holds the global publishing rights to the book? Me. Right…
   I stared at my free chapter. And I had this train of thought. Bearing in mind, I hadn’t published my book as I thought this through – so I was estimating sample size. Amazon allows a free sample of your digital masterpiece to sit there, on (most of) its commercial sites, letting potential customers try before they buy. This is especially useful in dispelling the myth that all self-published books are formatted by dyslexic centipedes. Look inside and see it ain’t so.
   My pre-publication estimate was that Amazon’s free sample of Neon Gods would cover three chapters. In the end, when the book went live, Amazon allowed a little over that. Here’s the train of thought…
   Given that Amazon’s free sample of my book, running to three chapters, is greater than the one chapter I am showcasing on my blog page, I could argue in a court of law that the publication of one chapter is not in violation of the exclusivity clause.
   A court of law, somewhere in the USA, of course, would then have to look at the notions of content likely to compete commercially with my Digital Book. I put one chapter up. Amazon gives away three. I’d strongly hint to Judge Judy that putting one chapter on my blog would be unlikely to compete commercially with my Digital Book.
   One hurdle tackled. Perhaps successfully. What about placing one chapter of the book on my blog, with the act itself tending to diminish my Digital Book’s value…well, if three free chapters don’t diminish the work on Amazon’s sites, how likely is one to on my own blog page?
   This state of free samples is open to Amazon authors before entering into Select contractual obligations, after all. Why would there be a sudden perception of diminishment for no reason other than going into the contract with that chapter up on a blog page? (One for Schrödinger’s lawyers, I feel. Look at the three chapters on Amazon and one on the blog before signing the contract, look at the three chapters on Amazon and one on the blog after signing the contract. Where’s this dead cat?)
   I go further, and state that the concept of the free sample enhances rather than diminishes the book’s value. Readers judge for themselves. They see quality, and like it…so they buy it. We’ve another part of the clause to get through…
   (Seems to me, I’m doing a lot of talking about signing contracts. I clicked a button, of course.)
   Is the placement of chapter one of my book on a blog page likely to be confused with my Digital Book…I’d hope not, the book is considerably longer. At this point, I concede Judge Judy would likely inform me that there is no place in this court for levity, Sir.
   Okay, what am I getting at? Vagueness in contractual clauses has no notion of the force of gravity. That is to say, the vagueness in a clause does not always automatically roll downhill into the shins of the person who signed the contract with the vast corporate entity.
   However, I must add one of Sir Isaac Newton’s laws of physics to the text. A contract at rest stays at rest, unless acted upon by an external force. So. To reiterate, in light of that point. Vagueness in contractual clauses has no notion of the force of gravity. However, in a courtroom, note that the force of gravity is applied in direct relation to the depth of one side’s pockets.
   What was I to do? Leave the chapter on my blog, and hope Amazon’s litigation-bots didn’t notice? Judge Judy wouldn’t have that in her court. Not for a moment. Actually go to court against Amazon? Across the Atlantic? Over a blog page? With the attendant contractual penalties hovering, scythe-like, in the wings? Over in the Land of the Free, far from my Heilan’ Hame?
   With both sides arguing through the merits and demerits of the concepts behind vague statements concerning CONTENT, LIKELY TO, DIMINISH VALUE, and REASONABLY LIKELY TO COMPETE COMMERCIALLY WITH. Hmm. Let me think it over.
   I’m just starting out in self-publishing. My pockets are shallow. The contract is at rest. Gravity lingers, in the deep pockets of the other party. What did I do? I asked Amazon’s help-squad. The advice was to remove the sample chapter from the blog.
   Good enough for me. Did I lose sleep over this act? No. Asking Amazon reduced the desire to litigate. Had I then gone to court, as I’d asked Amazon’s advice, whether that advice proved spurious or not, Amazon could, in court, argue that they had given me the advice. That e-mail exchange was a matter of record. More warm catapult than smoking gun. Still…
   Will other authors litigate, to establish what can and can’t be done in the name of exclusivity? Over a period of 90 days? Cheaper, surely, to thole your assize. Honour the 90 days, and get out if you don’t like the idea of continuing with the scheme. I took the sample page down, and published my book. You can see over three times the sample I was offering, at Amazon. Where it is possible to purchase Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords at the click of a button. Please do. That is a plug, for those who weren’t sure.

PUBLIC LENDING RIGHT.

Down to business. What I actually came here to blog about was Public Lending Right. What is that? It’s Danegeld for book-borrowing. Back in the Dark Ages of publishing, I tried to get into the paper book business. To do so, I didn’t just sit down and type stories. I read stuff. Copyright law. Things that sat to one side of © law. One of those items was PLR.
   PLR exists throughout the world. Here. There. Not everywhere. Certainly not in the United States. When I scurried around the internet looking for thoughts on KDP Select, I looked for mention of PLR. No mention. I knew that most of the people talking about Select would likely be American. So I made the point of also selecting comments by non-Americans. Still no mention of PLR. I should have gone to Danish sites.
   What is PLR? The concept first came about in Denmark. In some territories, PLR is tied to copyright law. Though in others, PLR sits to one side of copyright. I’ll keep this broad, as the rules are different all over.
   PLR is a government thing. Authors are entitled to a share of money from a contingency fund, if books by those authors are borrowed from public libraries. That’s a broad statement of fact. In truth, creators are entitled to a share of the money.
   That includes translators, cover artists, editors, and so on. Borrowing statistics are gathered from designated libraries over the year. That regional approach gives a chance for the clichéd local author to make good on a work of interest to the book-borrowers down in the valley, up in the hills, or off in the gloaming.
   When I first encountered PLR, it was clear to me that it couldn’t make people wealthy. No one went into paper publishing to get rich off royalties accrued from a slush-fund set up to pay out coin based on how many times a man’s granny borrowed his book from the library.
   I’ll state that again. No author, in the paper publishing business, ever decided to write a novel based on the view that he or she would become rich through funds dished out from a selective capped government subsidy. Got that? No author. Disagree? Name the author. I want to know the name of the deranged sod who embarked on a career thinking PLR would coin it in.
   Back in the day, I looked at the figures. The money earned was capped. It still is. Looking at the PLR website today, I see the figure is £1 minimum and £6,600 maximum. Tax-free and VAT-exempt, for the most part. This is not a full and accurate statement of the complexities of tax law. It would take a legal statement the size of a small moon…
   PLR. If you churned out a bestseller, and were lucky enough to be borrowed heavily in the designated libraries that year, you could pick up a few thousand tax-free. Nice little bonus. Not enough to buy a Rolls-Royce. Maybe just the bonnet ornament. Better than a kick in the teeth.
   I sit staring at Amazon KDP Select, and think…well, Amazon has come up with a digital variation on Public Lending Right. Admittedly, with extra corporate whistles and bells thrown in. Broadly, though, the concept seemed so markedly similar that I felt like writing about the idea on this blog.
   Who else was talking about PLR and KDP Select in the same breath? Well, I stopped trawling at 54,000 words. (See end note.) I gave UK sites a go, knowing that Americans were unlikely to have PLR at the top of their minds in staring at the Lending Library option.
   What to do, four days from publication? My plan was to publish exclusively with Amazon, and see how far I could run with that plan. That was the case on D-Day -5. Amazon’s offer on D-Day -4 didn’t run contrary to my plan. It accentuated the idea of exclusivity. Harmonised. Tied-in.
   Tellingly, nowhere in the offer did I see use of the word ETERNITY. Please remember that, in your reasoned criticism of KDP Select – based on your own background, plans, experience, and, where it exists, data.
   If I could stick to my publishing schedule, I’d have a book out on Amazon. Badged as being part of KDP Select. Just starting out on Amazon, why not. Planning to be exclusive to Amazon, so again, why not. Hoping to put out a second book 42 days in. With a third available 84 days in. Then I could see how things went at the end of the 90-day period. Mix and match offers. Or abandon the scheme.
   Here’s book one. Okay, here’s a second book – and it’s free on the day of launch as publicity for my first book. Getting close to the end of the first 90 days, book three comes out. I vary the sale options again, depending on what happened so far. That’s my understanding of how the scheme can work for me. Doesn’t mean it will.
   With that background to my tale, I’d be a mug to turn the Lending Library down. Am I bothered about free lending? It has the potential to get people talking about my books. Amazon is bound to cheer the top borrowed books on its list.
   Could I scrape enough of a fan-base together to hit the lower end of the charts, boosting actual sales? Eventually. For the record, I believed I wouldn’t make any money from the first book until I had the second on the shelf too. Publishing is not for those who drink deep at the well of instant gratification. Remember. When reading contracts mentioning money, my definition of money lies nearer coins than billions of notes. Rose-tinted spectacles conceal starry eyes.
   Publishing is constantly experimental. I’m at the start. An offer comes along. What’s to lose? A few sales? For 90 days. More or less the period over which I’ll be putting three books out. I liked the timing. And I know Public Lending Right when I see it. The ability to call a snap-sale of one book to promote the release of another is open to me. Once I have another book out.
   Why give the potential paying customer an option to read a book of mine for nothing? It’s a free sample. Might entice readers to buy my other books, once I have a shelf of books for sale. If that’s done according to plan, I’ll have another book out shortly. And a third following on.
   Does it make sense to join up now, even though I have just one book out today? Yes, I’m showing willing to the potential customers. Besides, the book was going to be an Amazon exclusive in any event. So why not sign up?
   And now, to your tale. You have one book out, and write slowly. Is there a point to signing up? You can’t do a sale of one book to promote another. Alternatively, you have six books out and they are all over the place in terms of retail outlets and reading platforms. Exclusivity rears its head.
   You must check your sales. If you are selling five books on Amazon to one on Smashwords, have a word with yourself. Can you afford to lose the sales on Smashwords for 90 days? Depends on the books, and possibly even the time of year.
   Scream from the rooftops, then dig into the figures. Don’t throw yourself off the roof just yet. We’re all on a clean slate in this start-up period. Let winter slide away into spring, and look for green shoots in statistics released by participating authors.
   Will my figures carry meaning? I’m afraid my slate is too clean. There’s no before and after to consider. I think I’d likely do a sale of my second book, to promote the first and second. That third book is going to be more expensive. Always part of my plan, though now I’m viewing the plan in light of the possibilities KDP Select offers. My start-up didn’t change. Follow-up is flexible.
   I have introduced some of you to the notion of money paid, by government, to authors whose books are borrowed from designated libraries. (The mechanism is different in each country. I go by the system that operates in Scotland.) A capped government subsidy, that is (generally) tax-free.
   No one gets super-rich off PLR. Remember that, when you are looking at Amazon’s corporate version of PLR. The notion of money paid, by a corporate entity, to authors whose books are borrowed from Amazon’s Lending Library. That money will be taxed.
   Were you pissed off at the Select notion of EXCLUSIVITY? That’s not for ETERNITY.
   Did you bemoan the notion that the slush-fund for KDP Select authors wouldn’t make you rich? PLR doesn’t make authors rich.
   Was the vague notion of EXCLUSIVITY too vague for you? Now you know that I took down a free chapter of my book, just in case. The penalties for breaking the contract are, indeed, harsh. Exclusion from Amazon KDP. (Goodbye, cruel digital world.)
   However, I stand by the contract I authorised. And I accept responsibility for my actions. If I want to leave the contract and put that free chapter back up thereafter, that’s my business. The business of change. Keep reviewing things. Look to your own circumstances. Stay flexible. Rant and rage, if you like. Don’t allow the poison to creep in. It’s business. Not vendetta.

LEGAL OBLIGATIONS BEYOND MERE CONTRACTUAL ONES.

The requirement for a copy of my digital book to be deposited with the British Library is, currently, voluntary. Mandatory enforcement will follow. We’re in a grey area as I type. Amazon’s KDP Select contract would not be expected to restrict authors from sending a library of record a copy of a digital-only work. Contracts don’t suddenly provide get-out clauses for committing murder. The law has a say.
   Archival of the nation’s heritage is an important function of libraries of record. Amazon, being a canny operator, won’t stand in the way of that legislation-based DISTRIBUTION of CONTENT. To litigate in that direction throws up the stench of very sour grapes. Hordes of authors would raise pitchforks, set torches alight, and race to the laboratory…a charge I’d be inclined to lead.
   Amazon does not concern itself with sending any library of record a copy of any e-book published on Kindle. The responsibility is down to the author-publisher. I suspect this non-arrangement may have informed the omission of a general library-of-record exemption clause in the KDP Select contract. Which is a shame.
   (Had it been included, the clause would have listed the Library of Congress first.)

BEING CONTENT WITH CONTENT.

What can I put on my blog? The Chalice in the Snow. A stand-alone tale, sitting on the Hallowe’en page. You can read that story before Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords, or after it. Set in the same world as the novel, the short story stands alone. It’s a stand-alone tale. Did I mention that it stands alone, and well away from any property I shoved into the Select contract?
   The story does not compete with the novel. I know that. You know that. Amazon’s litigation-bots all know that. I am perfectly free to put that story on my blog – it is not featured in my novel. Same world. One character links the tales. Similar atmosphere. But I’m not worried about Amazon kicking my door in around midnight to drag me away for questioning.
   My book’s cover is all over this blog. On the page of links to Amazon, my book covers link to Amazon. So yes, I could probably have a Neon Gods T-shirt made, wear it proudly, and not be plucked from the street by a giant eagle sent from Amazon’s HQ.
   Anything I do to increase the chance of a purchase of the book, filling Amazon’s coffers, is unlikely to breach the contract. If Amazon sees things differently, I’ll be sent an e-mail. And we’ll enter into brief, zero-cost, non-litigious discussions. (As has already happened.)

MORE TO REPORT ON KDP SELECT IF/WHEN THERE’S MORE TO REPORT.

Closing statement. After writing this blog, I went back to the internet and looked for more on KDP and PLR. Another thousand words, and I found a comment on a UK site. In future, when trawling for background information, I’ll be sure to read 55,000 words rather than stopping at 54,000. How remiss of me.
   In writing each REPORT FROM A FUGITIVE, I set myself the goal of 1,500 words at a minimum. I see that I’ve pretty much quintupled that value here. Time spent blogging does sharpen the old writing skills, but it isn’t time spent writing fiction. I must see to book two, if I’m to make this publishing lark work. So if you’ll excuse me, and even if you won’t…
   Oh, yes. All writing is time travel. I published Neon Gods Brought Down by Swords on the 12th as planned. Even allowing for the American time-difference, the book should have been published in the States on the 12th as well. Uncle Sam listed the book as published on the 11th. So, sometimes publishing is time travel too.

NEXT BLOG: MY NOVEL AS A COMMENTARY ON MY COUNTRY.

4 comments:

  1. I haven't read much on Amazon's KDP Select program, but I think it would be next to impossible to enroll a book in the program that has been published on Smashwords. It would take a LONG time to take down all the copies of the book for sale at other vendors. Most of my sales are through Amazon, so it is tempting for me to release my next book exclusively on Amazon so I can take advantage of KDP Select. It's certainly something to consider.

    Thanks for the post! :-)

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  2. Given the 90-day window applied to the contract, the key to success here is flexibility coupled with output.

    Starting afresh as I did, I automatically gained advantages. Nothing complicated to take down from sites, except that one sample chapter. A few clicks and I was done.

    Removing a work from Smashwords would take time. I'd say it's unlikely that Amazon will litigate over cached pages in search engine results, all lined up and waiting to be flushed from the system.

    My sample chapter must have been cached for a short time after blog deletion. No one from Amazon went on the warpath over it.

    Beyond that, purchasers of your book on Smashwords would still retain a copy were the book to come down off Smashwords. If Amazon remains a canny operator, that, too, is unlikely to lead to litigation.

    Amazon would be scouring the web for illicit printing-presses, not rooting through every reader's digital bookshelves.

    Early days, yet. The first lawsuits may provide some indicator as to the nature of Amazon's thinking. Wait and see.

    Always have plans to release the next book. ;)

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  3. Interesting point, I hadn't even thought about cashed copies!

    Because I published through Smashwords my books are also on sale at Sony, Barnes & Noble and ... well, dozens of other online stores. Theoretically, if I unpublished my book from Smashwords then Smashwords would contact these other online retailers and they would take my book off their shelves, but that takes time. Sometimes days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months. So, if I did want to enroll my book, Until Death, in Amazon's KDP Select program I would likely have a long frustrating wait. That said, I'm happy with how my book is doing in Smashwords and don't regret my decision to publish through them, but that's likely a discussion for another time.

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  4. I've been thinking about mid-term and long-term publishing plans based around KDP Select. One thing popped up.

    A peculiar quirk of the notion of exclusivity, relating to a series of novels - all enrolled in the Select option.

    Thinking that through made me feel as though I'd just raked over the coals of the Three Laws of Robotics as applied to publishing. Cheers for that, Isaac Asimov.

    I'll leave off further comment here, and take advice from Amazon on the quirkiness of exclusivity before returning to blogging on that subject. As ever, stay flexible.

    ReplyDelete

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