For all the talk in the publishing
industry about Amazon–from
its pricing practices, to a recent
article about working
industry has yet to recognise
Amazon’s true competitive
threat: its self-publishing
business, writes Mark Coker.
In fact, when I ponder the
industry’s ignorance of
strategy, I’m reminded of a scene in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker
novel, Life, The Universe and Everything, in which an alien space
ship lands in the middle of a cricket match, but no one notices–it’s
an “SEP”. As described by the character Ford Prefect, an “SEP” is
something our brain doesn’t let us process because it’s “Somebody
Else’s Problem”. That’s how traditional publishers have viewed–
and some still view–self-published authors, as somebody else’s
problem. Amazon, on the other hand, has been quick to recognise
the shifting balance of power. And it is recruiting legions of self-published authors to feed the beast that could eventually devour
traditional publishing–Amazon’s KDP Select.
KDP Select 101
Introduced in 2011, Amazon KDP Select is an opt-in ebook self-publishing service that requires authors to make their books
exclusive to Amazon worldwide for a period of at least three
months. In exchange for exclusivity, KDP Select titles receive
preferential discovery, merchandising and sales ranking in the
KDP Select has been enormously successful for Amazon. And,
perhaps more importantly, it is damaging Amazon’s competitors.
There are more than one million ebooks enrolled in KDP Select,
titles that cannot be purchased at other retailers. And the flip side
of Amazon giving preferential treatment to KDP Select titles is that
it punishes those authors not in the programme, by making their
books less discoverable, less desirable and seemingly more
expensive to Kindle customers.
Thus far, KDP Select has been largely ignored by traditional
publishers–which is not a surprise. Titles in the programme are
almost entirely supplied by self-published authors, and most
traditional publishers still hold the belief that self-published books
are low-quality, and not worth their attention–they’re “somebody
else’s problem, right?” Wrong.
KDP Select is publishing’s problem. While the publishing world
(and to some extent, the media) still focuses on the prices of
bestselling ebooks from the Big Five publishers, Amazon is using
self-published exclusives to drive prices lower, and to slowly
undermine the single-copy sales upon which traditional publishers
and retailers depend. And the lynchpin of Amazon’s self-publishing
strategy is Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s ebook subscription service.
Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s end run around agency pricing
because, with Kindle Unlimited, retail price becomes irrelevant.