15 Ways To Improve KDP – Progress Report

kindle-direct-publishingThe London Book Fair is underway again which makes it a perfect time to review the list of suggestions I presented to KDP last year.

As regular readers will know, I crowd-sourced a list of feature requests, bug fixes, and common problems via my blog and the most popular self-publisher hangout, Kboards.

The KDP reps at the Fair spent a great deal of time going through your list of suggestions. They asked for clarification at various points and I was able to follow up with them by email afterwards.

At the same time, a parallel effort led by Marie Force, Laura Florand, and Diana Peterfreund presented a similar list of suggestions at NINC in October last year. There were probably more such efforts too.

In any event, here’s the checklist, with progress (if any) indicated.

1. More Data! (see original request here)

A very common demand was for more data. While many agreed Amazon was unlikely to share traffic numbers (to our book pages), we expressed a hope that KDP could give us aggregated conversion percentages, sample percentages, and conversion rates on those samples. Anything really, we don’t get a lot of data.

Progress: Meh. We get a little more data now when we run Kindle Countdown promos, but nothing outside of that. And most of that is stuff we probably could have figured out anyway.

2. Coupons (see original request here)

Another popular request was for Smashwords-like coupons. We don’t have an easy way of giving free books within the Amazon system.

Progress: Fail. Amazon seemed to experiment briefly with coupons in December when giving free copies of Guy Kawasaki’s APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur to those who completed Nanowrimo. I had hoped this was a test for a wider roll-out of coupons but nothing has happened since. 

3. Full Territorial Pricing (see original request here)

With the rapid expansion of Amazon into developing markets like India and Brazil, many self-publishers want full territorial pricing (like on Kobo). Right now, if you choose the 70% royalty option in one market, you can’t price below a certain level in all markets.

Progress: Fail. In fairness to Amazon, this might be technically difficult to set up now, after the fact. Kobo had the advantage of building their platform with international pricing in mind.

4. Categories (see original request here)

If I could have picked one change out of all those presented last year, it would have been categories, and Amazon has come up trumps. The category system has been greatly expanded, redressing the sub-category imbalance between fiction and non-fiction.

Progress: Great Success! There’s more work to do here but I can only congratulate Amazon on listening and acting on this issue. A hugely popular change with writers and readers alike.

5. Customer Service (see original request here)

Opinions may differ on this, but I’ve noticed a significant improvement in KDP’s customer service over the last twelve months. It was pretty shabby this time last year and any dealings with KDP were frustrating. Have you noticed an improvement? Did I just get lucky?

Progress: Pass.

6. Payment (see original request here)

It’s always tricky being non-American and dealing with American companies. They don’t seem to release how verboten checks are in Europe (and many parts of the world). Many banks simply don’t accept them at all anymore, and many of the rest charge horrendous fees for processing them.

Progress: Success. Amazon has expanded the number of countries that can now get paid electronically, and payments have also been speeded up. A feature we didn’t request – the KDP dashboard showing exact amounts paid and exchange rates used – is very welcome. So far so good.

7. Pre-orders (see original request here)

Probably the most-requested feature, even if it’s not one that I personally want. Amazon has also fallen behind here now that pre-orders are open to all self-publishers on Kobo and Apple (and Smashwords). KDP is reaching out to more and more top-selling self-publishers, and offering them a pre-order facility, but I think it is still undecided about making it open to anyone (which I can understand, given issues with delivering on time etc.).

From those I know who have done it, results have been mixed. Unlike Kobo and Apple, Amazon doesn’t roll-up all pre-order sales for a launch-day ranking burst. Without that feature (which might be controversial, to be honest), pre-orders don’t have the same attraction/effect and can dilute sales from core fans and mute authors’ actual launches.

Progress: Fail. But do we want it in its current form anyway?

8. Removing Books (see original request here)

The automated nastygrams that KDP sends out for perceived breaches of its ToS seem to have calmed down a touch. I hear about fewer cases of bots/reps demanding that “typos” like objet d’art get “fixed.” A welcome development, but the heavy handedness remains in other areas.

Authors can still receive one of these terse messages (threatening removal of books within a matter of days unless action is taken) when they have done nothing wrong, e.g when a bot sends out a request to prove you own the rights to a book written by you! As I mentioned to KDP reps, what happens if you are on vacation?

Progress: Mixed. Amazon should implement some kind of tiering here. If an author has never breached the ToS or engaged in anything shady, the system shouldn’t go to Defcon 5 just because a bot isn’t sure if someone owns the rights to their own book. I’ve little issue with such treatment being given to repeat breachers of the ToS but some perspective is needed here.

9. Improve Reporting (see original request here)

There have been some minor graphical improvements to the KDP reporting dashboard, which indicates a bigger change is in the works, but little other progress has been made (aside from showing payments made – which is very handy). I’ll say exactly what I said last year: copy the reporting system from Createspace. It’s great.

Progress: Fail. But something is in the works – as per Marie Force’s feedback.

10. Short Stories (see original request here)

Short stories are a hard sell. We can’t price them individually below 99c and they struggle for visibility. Last year I suggested adding a Short Story sub-category to each genre and shaking up the pricing/royalty structure.

Progress: Great Success! KDP is currently in the process of adding Short Story sub-categories to each genre, giving them greater visibility, and is looking at paying 70% royalties for short stories priced below $2.99. In addition, Amazon has also launched StoryFront and DayOne.

11. International Surcharge (see original request here)

This issue isn’t on the radar for US self-publishers/readers, but is a big one for users in those markets where Amazon adds a $2 Whispernet surcharge on many ebook purchases – a problem compounded when local sales tax is added on top of that.

Progress: Mixed. Amazon’s continued international expansion is rendering this issue somewhat moot but there are still many markets affected. It would be a great PR move to abolish the charge altogether. It can’t make Amazon that much money and the upside is significant: preventing competitors from getting a toe-hold before Amazon is ready to launch a local Kindle Store.

12. Fix Author Email Notification (see original request here)

Last year, Amazon launched a new feature on author pages where readers could get an automatic email when selected authors release new books. But it didn’t work. I asked them to fix it, or drop it, as it was probably cannibalizing our own mailing lists… and wasn’t working!

Progress: Mixed. Whatever was gunking up the system seems to have been fixed a couple of months ago and readers began receiving new release notifications. However, I don’t seem to get them for all the authors I’m signed up for, but do receive them for authors I haven’t signed up for.

13. Allow bundling (see original request here)

Box sets have become hugely popular with readers but the only way of serving that need is to shoehorn books into one giant file, then battle with delivery fees and file sizes, and deal with the hassle of accounting for multiple authors. I’m sure there’s a simpler, more elegant solution where KDP could allow us to offer bundles of content. A sub-category for bundles/boxes would be nice too.

Progress: Mixed. Rumor is that Amazon is looking to do something here. At the very least, it is going to try and make the revenue/accounting side easier for those managing multi-author box sets.

14. Boost Select (see original request here)

This time last year, savvy self-publishers were fleeing Select and focusing their energies on gaining traction outside of Amazon. Even among those who stayed, the consensus was that KDP needed to do something to sweeten the pot.

Progress: Success. Kindle Countdown isn’t quite the game-changer that Select free days were but it’s definitely something. The deals page is a function of the Popularity List, so if your book isn’t already selling somewhat well, then you will struggle to get much out of a Countdown promo, unless you can boost it with an ad – which can be a lucrative approach given the higher royalties paid on lower priced books during Countdown. Amazon deserves praise for trying something different, even if it’s not quite enough to lure many back to Select.

15. Scheduled Discounts (see original request here)

Given the gremlins that can sometimes attack when you have to drop price in time for an ad, another popular request was for scheduled price drops – like we can now do at Kobo. I suggested that Amazon could curate such deals on special page, broken down by category.

Progress: Success. Amazon did all of that, as part of Countdown, but only made it available to those enrolled in Select. I’d still like to be able to schedule price drops for titles not in Select. Alternatively, let us change prices without going through the whole publishing process again – which would avoid a lot of problems/stress with regard to promo campaigns.

OVERALL VERDICT

KDP should be congratulated for making a huge amount of progress on such a substantial list of issues and feature requests. Out of all the retailers, Amazon seems to be the one most willing to listen and make changes requested by authors.

Some requests were probably either unrealistic or technically difficult (More Data, Coupons, Full Territorial Pricing, Pre-Orders), but even then I got the sense that they were trying to understand the issue from our perspective and seeing if anything could be done.

I was extremely heartened to see progress on the issues that would have the biggest direct effect on authors (Categories, Payments, Select, Discounts). And there are plenty more developments in the works we can look forward to. Amazon is always tight-lipped about those but, for starters, we can certainly expect KDP reporting to be improved.

Finally, I should note all the other stuff Amazon rolled out in the last year: KindleWorlds, StoryFront, DayOne, Matchbook, the new imprints Waterfall Press and Jet City Comics, new Kindle Stores in Mexico and Australia, and the opening up of ACX to the UK (although the extremely unpopular ACX royalty cut must be mentioned).

I’m impressed Amazon was able to squeeze in time to address our concerns. And a huge thanks to all of you here and on Kboards for taking the time to put forward requests and suggestions.

Note: As per Mark Coker in the comments, Smashwords provides a pre-order facility for Barnes & Noble, as well as Kobo and Apple. The only difference being that those pre-order sales at B&N aren’t rolled up for a ranking boost on launch day. See the comments for more from Mark and links to info on Smashwords’ pre-order facility.

About David Gaughran

David Gaughran is Irish, living in Prague, and the author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible, and this here blog.
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32 Responses to 15 Ways To Improve KDP – Progress Report

  1. FYI: Sorry this post was so long in coming. I had intended to do it in November but was moving house/country/tearing hair out over WIP…

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    • No worries; it was worth waiting for! Thanks for your unstinting support of the self-publishing community and sharing these important ideas. This is a fantastic summation of where we are and where we hope to go.

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  2. Vicki Lesage says:

    Thanks for the summary – very interesting to get some real information about what’s going on with Amazon. Seems like they’re heading in the right direction and they’re doing a lot of great things, but I’m still crossing my fingers for more data! If I knew which of my marketing efforts were driving the most traffic to Amazon and which ones resulted in sales, I could focus more in those areas, which would be good for me AND Amazon. Win-win!

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  3. Well done with your campaign. I do feel that Amazon (KPD) listens to us and the system has improved to the better.

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  4. T.A. Grey says:

    Reblogged this on Write On! and commented:
    15 Ways to Improve KDP Progress Reports by David Gaughran

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  5. David Thayer says:

    David, thanks for the update. I’m not as sanguine about Countdown as I once was; it’s too restrictive for me.

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  6. Deborah Jay says:

    Very interesting summary, and thanks for pushing the points, and for sharing results so far.
    As regards customer service, I had a big issue in January (I’d published a title through D2D and when they had their falling out with Amazon it, along with all D2D titles, was de-listed). Now they weren’t able to deal with some parts of this, because the system doesn’t permit (i.e. when I republished the book directly to Amazon it was treated as a new title, with a new ASIN, and so lost its previous good ranking), they were quick to reply, dealt with what they could promptly (helping me recover the book’s reviews) and were unfailingly polite and helpful.
    So although this particular book has suffered terribly (going from around 10 sales a day to less than that per week), I have no complaints about the customer service, only about Amazon’s somewhat inflexible system.

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  7. jbiggar2013 says:

    Reblogged this on jbiggarblog and commented:
    very informative thoughts on changes to the KDP system

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  8. Mark Coker says:

    Hi David, thanks for the shoutout. In addition to Apple and Kobo, we also distribute preorders to B&N. I wrote a post on preorder strategy at http://blog.smashwords.com/2014/02/hit-ebook-bestseller-lists-with.html and the original announcement

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    • Hi Mark, thanks for the correction. I’ll add a note to the above so it’s accurate regarding B&N.

      Re pre-orders in general, I think it’s a fascinating development (and really great that Smashwords authors can participate). It could certainly be a game-changer on Kobo and Apple – I don’t dispute that at all, and I’m watching results closely with an eye on experimenting myself at some point.

      For the retailers which don’t roll up pre-orders however, I think it’s less clear-cut – especially Amazon. While the pre-order feature may allow you to capture more orders overall, *when* those sales happen is crucial – for Amazon at least.

      Mailing lists are the most powerful tool we have. The logic behind them is to get as many of your core readers’ sales to happen in a short space of time – concentrated sales will lead to a higher chart position, greater visibility, and more sales from new readers who discover you while you are visible in those charts (or fans not on your mailing list who see the book is out while perusing the charts).

      The problem with pre-orders (on retailers who don’t roll them up for launch day) is that it spreads those sales out, you don’t hit as high in the charts, you are less visible, and capture less of those browsing readers.

      On top of that, some readers (like myself) just won’t pre-order a book. I don’t like to buy until I can actually get my hands on it – even for my favorite authors.

      I know that these last two phenomena had some author friends questioning whether the Amazon pre-order was worth bothering with in the future. They felt that the trade-off, on Amazon, wasn’t worth it.

      Perhaps the optimal solution is to put the pre-order up quietly for non-Amazon retailers (and Amazon if you have that option), but only announce to your list/reader base when it’s actually live everywhere.

      I don’t know, to be frank. But I guess best practices will emerge with more data. And, of course, all of this will become moot if Amazon adopt a similar pre-order “rolling up” policy as Kobo and Apple, which would make it a no-brainer IMO.

      P.S. I should also note that (AFAIK) the NYT bestseller list rolls up pre-orders and counts them as first week sales for the purposes of their lists. (I’m pretty sure this is how it works for print books, not as sure if it’s the same with e-books – maybe someone can verify.) So if you have a big enough reader base where you have a chance of hitting one of their lists, then you should consider that when deciding whether to do pre-orders. And that number might be smaller than you think for some of their lists – e.g. the E-book Non-Fiction list, where a couple of thousand sales in a week might be enough, as opposed to several times that for the Fiction list.

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  9. Mark Coker says:

    Oops. Forgot the second link of the original preorder announcement – http://blog.smashwords.com/2013/07/smashwords-introduces-preorder.html Even for retailers (like B&N and Amazon) that don’t credit the accumulated orders on day one, the preorder feature still allows the author to capture more orders than they would otherwise when everything’s said and done because a preorder listing allows authors to capture orders while they have the reader’s attention in advance of the release. Without the preorder, some fans might forget by the time the book goes onsale.

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  10. Thanks David for that update on Amazon. Their responses can be pointless at times, like the $2 Whispernet issue: just the trite corporate go-away reply. When I asked why reviews places on Amazon UK didn’t appear on their other sites, I had no response at all. Have you come across this issue before?
    Paul

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  13. Shah Wharton says:

    What a great overview of Amazon’s present state, including it’s present issues/changes. I’m encouraged by their instinct to listen and to change as much as possible, according to needs expressed. Although, it’s for their benefit as much as ours in reality, not many powerful companies realise this simple fact, and ultimately flounder. Thanks David.

    shahwharton.com

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  15. Jeff Chapman says:

    Hi David, I enjoyed Let’s Get Visible, very informative. I took your advice regarding drilling down in the categories. Amazon was very responsive to my request. Amazon lists a book’s placement in the best sellers list on the book page. Why do they not list a book’s position in the top-rated list on the book page? If you put together another list of suggestions for Amazon, please add that enhancement request to the list. Thanks.

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  16. Crowhill says:

    These are interesting, and I’m glad you’re pursuing them. I wish I’d know about this sooner because I have a few things I would have liked to have added to the list.

    1. I would like to be notified when a new review is posted on one of my books.

    2. I would like to be able to track order sources. So, for example, if I try a promotion on some web page, I would like to know how many orders came from that link. It should be trivially simple.

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  17. thestilling says:

    Hi David, this is not in response to the article above. It’s just a suggestion for a series of blog posts. I think a majority of struggling self-published writers want advice on how to make the first TEN sales. I have 3 e-books out and sales of 11 overall: Kobo 5, iBooks 2, Nook 1, Lulu 1, and KDP 2, and 8 free downloads. That’s been since 2012, and 5 or 6 of those were sales to family, I think. I have 2 writer friends who’ve had similar results. Really, very very few of us are trying to strategize how to get the next thousand sales. We want to know how to get the first ten.

    So a series of posts on how just to get started with sales. I read your Getting Digital, and it seems focused on the later stages, after a writer is established with a few hundred sales. Until recently I’d just assumed no self-published writer ever has sales, ever, period. That’s how it seemed from people I knew & talked to.

    I can’t write such a post b/c I still don’t think it’s possible, frankly. The last 6 weeks I’ve wasted trying to get Frisco software to work on a new website I bought, which it turns out was a mistake. I have all the design and content worked out, and no way to make it a reality via Frisco. I spent today working with Twelvefourteen, with mixed results. Your website rocks! I can’t imagine how you got WordPress software to allow so much room with so many pages and features, etc.

    I love writing, but my experience with self-publishing & promotion & social media have been very discouraging.

    All the best, and good luck in your fiction and blog writing!

    Stephen Carter

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    • I think that’s a great idea Stephen. Ed Robertson did a good post on just that topic a while back which I liked. I’m going to dig that out for you because it’s really really good. And if I can think of a different spin on the topic, I’ll certainly blog about it myself.

      In the meantime, in very rough terms, this is how I suggest getting sales going at the start. I haven’t looked at any of your books so I don’t know how much of this stuff you have already done. The first two steps are essential before commencing any marketing.

      1. Ensure you are putting out the most professional product you can: a striking cover which allows the reader to identify the correct genre instantly (latter part is crucial), compelling blurb full of active verbs and constructions, a price firmly in impulse-buy territory, a sample which grabs readers right away, and clean formatting. The more professional your presentation the greater return you will get from any marketing.

      2. IMPORTANT: make sure you have a clickable sign-up to your mailing list at the back of your books. Make sure it’s one of the first things readers see. Make the copy text around the link compelling and tailor it to your content (“Sasha’s next adventure will be released soon. Sign up here etc.”). More on mailing lists: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/02/07/the-author-with-the-biggest-mailing-list-wins/

      3. Get 10-20 reviews ASAP for each of your titles – a pre-requisite for most ad sites worth the bother. Give a copy to anyone willing to review. Use sites like LibraryThing to pad out the rest if necessary. I wrote about LibraryThing here: https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2011/07/15/promo-tip-librarything-giveaways/

      4. Once you have your professional product, mailing list set up, and enough reviews, then you need to start running discount sales allied with an ad on a popular reader site. Drop the price of the book to 99c for a few days and run as many ads beside each other for that same book as you can arrange. Top sites: Ereader News Today, Pixel of Ink, Kindle Books & Tips, and the biggest of all, BookBub.

      5. Repeat (and keep writing).

      I’ve more suggestions in my recent post on marketing – https://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/01/03/if-you-dont-enjoy-marketing-youre-doing-it-wrong/ – but the above is the basic strategy I’ve been employing from when I was selling nothing to now.

      Everyone starts at zero, and the above (along with clever use of free) is the best way of expanding audience no matter what your sales level is.

      Just make sure not to skimp on steps #1 to #3 – that’s where many fall down, rushing through those steps without appropriate care. As Seth Godin said, the most important marketing you can do is baked into the product.

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      • thestilling says:

        Wow, thanks for the the 5 point plan and the Robertson links. I was setting up campaign plans for 2 new ebooks (within 2 series) that I expect to release in the fall, and this gives me a good handle on the sequencing & clustering of things to do, I’d minimized the importance of mailing lists and reviews, mostly b/c they’re difficult to generate until some sales are there. But I’m starting to see the need for both. This is the path you took, so it’s actionable and I’ll be intrigued to see what progress I can make. At any rate, I’ll keep writing regardless of sales, but some would be nice. LOL Thanks again.
        Stephen Carter

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    • Here’s Ed Robertson’s post on getting started as an indie author (sales wise). It’s the first of several posts, all worth reading: http://edwardwrobertson.com/getting-your-start-as-an-indie-author-in-2013-part-1-where-were-at-today/

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  20. Thanks for posting, David. All good information to know. I would respectfully take issue with the KDP customer service being improved though. There have been several authors, in the last few months, who have had erotica books not approved or pulled from the store due to confusing rules about what violates their “acceptable content” policy. When contacting customer service to get an explanation about what part of their book was too offensive for Amazon standards, the reply was lame boilerplate. Romance/Erotica authors make Amazon a lot (a lot!) of money, and they deserve a better explanation of what is and what is not acceptable content.

    Thanks for spreading the word on the international surcharge. Maybe getting rid of it would help curb piracy in our part of the world (Southeast Asia), which as you know is totally rampant, LOL.

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    • That’s a fair point Paul. Erotica issues are kind of separate – in that it seems none of the retailers have a great track record of handling adult material and issues which arise around it. I agree 100% that erotica authors deserve clearer guidelines on what is and isn’t permitted. At the moment it seems like everything is a CYA fudge.

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  22. thestilling says:

    This is great … clear, detailed, well-organized, with all the background materials ready-to-hand for deeper reading. Your posts are always productive, & give quality info. I pick up many false impressions online, and reading here usually dispels them. I really thought Amazon was closed to self-published writers except for KDP Select, and that people had to publish a print book through CreateSpace to be able to then publish same as an ebook. I don’t know how I got that idea. LOL I make it a point to read here most days to dispel my mistaken notions. I get the sense KDP Select isn’t so popular with many writers. The publishing landscape changes so fast. Thanks again.

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  23. Thanks for the article David, as a South African author the Whispernet Surcharge is really hurting the growth and expansion of Amazon. Almost as troublesome is the insistance of Amazon wanting to pay author royalties via posted cheque. As out postal service is not effective I can only recommend our author investigate the Payoneer service.

    Apprecaite your fighting on our behalf here.

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