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Publishing News: Stats from Amazon's KDP Select program might require a decoder ring

Amazon released KDP Select stats, self-publishers shared publishing tips and the digital rights quagmire continued.

Here are a few stories that caught my eye this week in the publishing space.

Amazon’s KDP Select stats raise more questions than they answer

AmazonLogo.pngAmazon released statistics from its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select program this week, but deciphering what the numbers mean is tricky — the program may or may not be lucrative for authors. Reuters explained the program:

KDP Select is an off-shoot of Kindle Direct Publishing, a system developed by Amazon that lets authors publish their books themselves online. If authors make a title exclusive to Amazon’s Kindle e-book store for at least 90 days, the book is eligible to be included in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and authors can earn a share of a $6 million annual pot of money based on how frequently the book is borrowed.

The Amazon press release said author Carolyn McCray “earned $8,250 from the KDP Select fund in December,” and quoted her as saying that “[p]articipating in KDP Select has quadrupled [her] royalties.” The release cites increases for Rachel Yu and Amber Scott as well, and says that “[t]he top ten KDP Select authors earned over $70,000 in the month of December from their participation in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, a 30% increase on top of the royalties they earned from their paid sales on the same titles in the same period. In total (paid sales plus their share of the loan fund), these authors saw their royalties grow an astonishing 449% month-over-month from November to December.”

But don’t drop your publisher and jump on board the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select train just yet. As with most statistics Amazon releases, there are nearly as many questions raised as stats provided. Laura Hazard Owen at PaidContent laid it all out on the table, presenting Amazon’s press release statement with stats and then listing a variety of questions those stats sparked. A couple important questions she raised include:

  • “How much money did the average participating author make? The top ten are doing well, but what about the rest? How many authors made $0 from their participation (or actually lost money because, in order to participate, they had to remove their e-books from all other etailers?)”
  • “Also, how does the top ten break down? What did the #1 KDP Select author make from his or her participation, and what did the #10 author make?”

Owen’s breakdown of the situation is thorough and well worth the read.

And in a nice rounding out to the issue, Forbes called out Amazon on the data — or lack thereof — it provides to self-publishers:

“If we are to approach self-publishing as a business proposition, we need to understand not just the market for ebooks but also the performance of our own works within that market. Just as a web publisher needs to understand traffic stats, so ebook publishers need to understand ebook stats. Except Amazon’s Kindle store gives ebook publishers only the barest minimum of information.”

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Books in the digital age are an entrepreneurial exercise

Regardless of where and how you self-publish, the process isn’t as easy as it might seem on first blush. Author Daniel Markham put together a nice list of lessons learned and details to keep track of after publishing his first ebook, “ScrumMaster.” He said: “The content is the least of it … If my marketing and sales pipeline don’t work? Hang it up. It was a waste of time.”

Along that same vein, a post at The Atlantic took a look at publishing in the digital age. Referring to the most recent issue of Nieman Reports, The Atlantic piece says:

“… books are an entrepreneurial exercise, combining the selection of a subject, the self-confidence to stay with it through the reporting and writing ordeal, and a commitment to marketing the results, which for many authors is an especially unfamiliar process.”

The Guardian also put together a panel of self-publishing experts who came up with 20 tips for self-publishing. Those particular tips mainly are directed at academic publishing, but many could apply to any genre, and some of the linked resources were genre neutral as well.

The digital rights quagmire continues

The topic of rights reared its murky ahead again this week. Jane Friedman tackled the topic in a post inspired by a question posed to her by author Dr. Liz Alexander: (in short) in a traditional publishing situation, who holds the ebook rights, author or publisher? Friedman says it’s “a very slippery issue” and lists several reasons why:

  • “Contract language may be ambiguous as to who holds rights, and the language may be interpreted differently (there is little legal precedent to refer to in these situations).”
  • “Who retains ebook rights — author or publisher — is a controversial issue.”
  • “Who holds rights to the text versus images may be different.”
  • “Who holds e-book rights based on territory can be even more confusing.”

Friedman’s post addresses each issue in-depth and provides a nice summary of the rights controversy thus far.

Digital rights issues, however, weren’t purely theoretical this week — the Wall Street Journal took a look at the lawsuit HarperCollins recently filed against Open Road Integrated Media in regard to its plan to release the ebook edition of “Julie of the Wolves.” Open Road’s COO Chris Davis responded to the suit:

“It appears to us that HarperCollins is trying to intimidate authors, overturn established law and grab rights that were not in existence when the contracts were signed many years ago. We are confident that we will successfully defend authors’ rights and we look forward to filing our response in court.”

For more insight, here’s transactional and intellectual property attorney Dana Newman talking about digital rights issues at last year’s Tools of Change for Publishers conference:

Correction note: The original post indicated that the Jane Friedman who tackled the digital rights question is the same Jane Friedman who runs Open Road Integrated Media. This is not the case; the post has been edited to correct the error.

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