Kindle self publishing: Free but at what cost?

Just remember - Amazon always wins

Kindle self publishing Free but at what cost

The news today that an independent author managed to top the UK Kindle charts in 2011 by self-publishing his work on the Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing service seems to show that if you play it right, you can beat the big publishers at their own game.

No doubt the story has given hope and inspiration to aspiring authors everywhere, but the fact remains: no matter how you sell your book on a Kindle, Amazon is the real winner.

Kerry Wilkinson managed to top the UK charts with his self-published novel Locked In, with Amazon and his own site stating that hundreds of thousands of copies have been sold through the Kindle Store.

This is a fantastic achievement for an unknown author and shows that when you price something right, people will click on it and download it.

Because Locked In was sold on the Kindle Store for the bargain price of 99p – aside from being free, that's the most enticing offer you can have on any platform.

Emotional difference

There have even been studies into the allure of the 99p figure, with many a university paper published on the subject.

Robert Schindler, professor of marketing at Rutgers Business School in the US describes the '99' effect like this: "It is like when a 39-year-old turns 40, the birthday feels like a big deal. Or when 1999 ends and 2000 starts. It feels like an emotional difference."

And this is exactly what Amazon banks on with its 99p Kindle Daily Deals, much like iTunes with its micro-payment scheme. If it's under a quid then most people click and don't care because their bank account isn't exactly taking a beating.

But the 99p price has bigger repercussions for authors using Amazon to sell their books. If you go much higher, then the profit margin increases which is great news on the surface. But the problem is that users of the store usually dismiss books they haven't heard of before if they are over the 99p price point.

This is something Gary Marshall, long-time TechRadar contributor and author of Coffin Dodgers, has found publishing his work through Amazon.

"The big problem with 99p pricing is that there's very little money in it: Amazon's cut leaves you with about 34p per book, so you need to do enormous numbers to get an extra night in the pub, let alone make any proper money from it," he explained to TechRadar.

"As an experiment I tried upping the price recently from 99p to 1.53 so I'd move into Amazon's higher royalty rate bracket - £1.02 per book rather than 34p - and sales tanked. It was unbelievable.

"If I were a traditional publisher that'd scare the willies out of me, especially when so many name authors are experimenting with cheapo prices to shift their back catalogue and/or promote new titles.

"99p per book is ace for punters but, if it sticks, it'll be disastrous for firms that actually employ people."

Free but locked in

For Wilkinson, the 99p price point has worked wonders, though. He has sold thousands, hit the top of Amazon's charts and also showed that the Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) service can indeed work for some.

Marshall agrees that KDP is a great resource but it does come with caveats: "To be in KDP Select and go free you need to make the book Amazon-exclusive for 90 days, which is crappy for sites such as Smashwords that help indie authors publish to Sony, iBooks etc."

But going free did offer Marshall more exposure than ever before for his novel. Earlier this month, he gave away Coffin Dodgers on Amazon Kindle for 24 hours only and found he massively increased his visibility on the service.

"What's happened is that by giving away 3,516 ebooks in 24 hours, I've become much more visible: the book hit number six in the free charts, and when the freebie period ended sales started to climb: I went from 400-something in the overall chart to number 38 and topped both the 'technothriller' and 'humour' charts.

"My gut feeling is that freemium can work - I think when I've written the sequel I'll make the first one free again as a special offer but charge more for the new book - but there's a huge amount of luck involved.

"And the more people who do it, the less effective it'll be."

Given that Amazon doesn't really care if your books do well on the site – even if you only sell a few dozen, you are one of the thousands of authors who are selling a few dozen and giving profits to Amazon in the process and this soon adds up – it's no wonder it is welcoming all writers to its site with open arms.

Just don't expect to make millions out of the service - unless your name is Kerry Wilkinson, that is.

Article continues below