On Monday, I found out that some bug hit a German e-book site causing the reactivation of long-dead listings, including one of mine, putting myself and some other authors in breach of KDP Select’s exclusivity rule.
Amazon pounced into action and cancelled my Countdown deal which was scheduled for this week, screwing up a carefully planned promotion. And despite pledging to resolve the matter and restore the promo, Amazon has not done so.
I’m going to go through what happened in detail so you can be sure that I acted correctly at all points – because there is a lot of shadiness going on at the moment – but feel free to skim some of the details if you wish.
Let’s Get Digital and Let’s Get Visible had never been in Select, so I decided to throw them in for one term as an experiment at the start of July. It was a short-term play, I was curious to see what KU could do for these books. Once they were down from all other retailers, I enrolled them.
Visible had never been free, so I was particularly keen to see how it would perform as a virgin freebie in KU, so I set up my promo days for August 9 to August 13 and a concurrent Countdown Deal on Digital to run at 99c.
It’s usually a good KU tactic to run a free promotion on the first book of a series and a 99c Countdown Deal on the second. Both promos will feed into each other, and the step up from free to 99c is quite small so you will get a decent amount of sell-through. And as Digital and Visible are more akin to companion books which boost each other than a linear series which must be read in a certain order, there is no loss running that in reverse.
I bought ads on a variety of reader sites, drew up a Facebook campaign with a carousel ad pushing both books as the centerpiece, and planned some action on the BookBub CPM platform. I also wanted to push the deals myself on social media – figuring Visible in particular would get a lot of play as it had never been free – and then try and give things a final shove on this here blog, if I could shake off the virus that had been dogging me all month. In short, there were a few moving parts.
And then I got the dreaded email.
KDP’s Exclusivity Compliance team contacted me on Monday August 7 to say that Let’s Get Digital was breaching the exclusivity requirements of KDP Select. They gave me a link to some German store called Weltbild.
Straight away, I could see something was off because this store was selling the first edition of Digital – which hadn’t been available anywhere since 2014. I emailed them straight away asking them to take the book down and to explain why it was on their site etc. (They never replied at any point.)
I also replied to the KDP Exclusivity Compliance team, explaining that it looked like this German store had inadvertently put an old 2014 edition of my book on sale without my permission. I told them I was trying to get the listing down but was facing some difficulty as I didn’t know how it had gotten there in the first place, and asked them to take all that into consideration. I further explained that the situation was urgent as I had a Countdown deal scheduled to commence on Wednesday August 9.
At the same time, I tried to conduct my own investigations, knowing the clock was ticking. Amazon had given me five days to comply or I would be booted from KDP Select, and KU payments would be blocked (further sanctions were also threatened). I also emailed KDP’s Executive Customer Relations seeking a resolution to the matter, explaining my predicament, particularly pointing to the Countdown deal, worried that Digital would come down mid-promo.
And then a friend warned me that I should check if my Countdown deal was already cancelled.
I logged into my KDP Bookshelf, and, sure enough, my dashboard said that the Countdown deal had been cancelled. Clicking on the “Why?” link beside the cancellation status brought up some boilerplate text about KDP Select exclusivity, with a link to the KDP terms and conditions.
At no point did Amazon inform me that the Countdown deal was cancelled – even though I had referred to the impending Countdown deal in all of my communications. If my friend hadn’t warned me to check my dashboard, I would never have known. And when I tried to reschedule the Countdown, that ability had been blocked on my account.
Another round of emails to Amazon finally got a response on Tuesday August 8. A member of the Executive Customer Relations team said that he was trying to find out what had happened with my book and was re-instating my ability to run Countdown deals in the meantime.
I scheduled one for Digital immediately, but the earliest date I could select was August 10 – not the original date of August 9. Far from ideal, but better than nothing. Starting late would still mess up my promo though, so I emailed Amazon and asked if they could manually shift the date back to the original of August 9, as I had ads booked.
In the meantime, the helpful team at Draft2Digital had established that this German store had listed my book without authorization and provided me with a form of words to that effect so I could show Amazon that the breach of exclusivity was through no action/inaction of mine, and that it was working to get the book down ASAP.
(Note: Draft2Digital was not at fault here at all, and was excellent throughout.)
I passed all of this on to Amazon and stressed that I needed the Countdown deal manually changed to August 9, arguing that it was the least they could do given the circumstances. Amazon subsequently phoned me to say they would endeavor to make this change, but that they couldn’t promise anything, given the tight timeframe. I explained how angry I was about all of this, and contrasted how Amazon treats scammers with kid gloves and comes down like a ton of bricks on honest authors for no good reason.
Finally, I received an email from Amazon early Wednesday morning (August 9) to say that the problem had been rectified, and that my Countdown deal could commence as originally planned. The Exclusivity Compliance team also emailed to confirm that the German store had taken down my listing and that I was no longer in breach of the exclusivity rules.
Problem solved… until it wasn’t.
On Friday night, a friend warned me that Digital’s price wasn’t reduced. I checked my dashboard and saw that the Countdown deal was cancelled again, in the middle of my promo period, without warning, without telling me, all while I had ads running promoting the deal. This is the message that now appears in my dashboard.
Where previously there was a note about me apparently breaking the exclusivity rules, there was new text which now said:
If a price (print or digital) for your book is found to be lower than the Kindle price, the promotion will be cancelled prior to completion. Click here to learn more.
I don’t know what this message means, to be honest, or how it pertains to my books. I can only presume it’s an error of some kind because it doesn’t make any sense. I emailed Amazon but didn’t get a response. As it was late on Friday, I probably won’t get one until after the weekend, which will be after my promo ends.
Needless to say, I’m pretty annoyed. This has totally screwed up my promo – one which I had invested considerable time and money in. Amazon has also put me in a position of promoting a deal which didn’t exist to readers – I had Facebook ads running, and was tweeting about the sale, all without knowing the Countdown was cancelled, because I was never told.
This situation is particularly galling because right after complaining to Amazon that they should inform people if they are cancelling Countdown deals, Amazon again cancelled mine without informing me. Worst of all, I’ve wasted the one shot I had at promoting Let’s Get Visible as a virgin freebie. And the bitter irony of all this is that I only enrolled these titles in Select so that I could run this promo.
Okay, enough about me. I’d like to widen the scope a little here.
Authors regularly get caught up in situations like this because of Amazon’s poorly designed enforcement system – which treats authors with contempt. I’m far from the first to be caught in its maw. Self-publishers have been warning Amazon about this kind of thing repeatedly over the last few years, but we have seen no improvements. Books still regularly get removed for typos, sometimes without warning, and for breaching exclusivity, often through no fault of the author (whereas those engaging in much shadier practices seem to get a pass).
This needs to change.
We deserve to be treated with a basic level of respect. Authors shouldn’t be put in a position where they have to chase down unauthorized editions of their books against a ticking clock threatening serious sanctions. We should be informed if Amazon is going to apply sanctions like cancelling Countdown deals. At the moment, Amazon just acts, without affording a right of reply, often without even communicating the sanction.
The whole matter is compounded by the (often terrible) customer service levels at KDP. When I emailed about this issue, I was first received a canned response that had nothing to do with what I was asking. Then I had to wait a further day for the next response. If I didn’t have contacts at KDP Executive Customer Relations, I would have gone through that canned response loop with customer service agents a number of times before someone began to address the actual issue.
All of this with a ticking clock in the background.
Again, this is normal. But it shouldn’t be. We deserve better treatment than this. Amazon needs to institute appropriate escalation procedures for serious cases – something we have been calling for since 2013.
Also, since Kindle Unlimited was launched we have seen a massive uptick in scamming, and Amazon has been very slow to act in response to same. Scammers generally get ignored and Amazon only seems to click into gear if it suffers a PR embarrassment. And even then the reaction will be fairly half-hearted.
But if an author inadvertently breaks the exclusivity rule, or is subject to some bug which accidentally re-lists their books, Amazon drops the hammer right away.
It’s the only rule Amazon truly cares about.
UPDATE August 15:
Amazon has been in touch several times over the last few days, but only to say that it was still investigating the matter. I’m not sure why exactly it’s taking so long to determine what happened, but there you go.
The last email included a proposed “goodwill gesture” – which was a fairly pathetic offer of an additional KCD or five free days for Let’s Get Digital.
I told Amazon that fell far short of what they need to do to make this right, but before the conversation moves on to that, I wanted some kind of explanation for what happened.
I’m surprised it’s taking this long.
UPDATE 2 August 16:
OK, so finally heard back from Amazon. They are now claiming I never scheduled a second countdown deal and any messages I saw pertaining to same were just an “error” – which is total and utter BS.
UPDATE 3 August 18:
I’m not getting anywhere with Amazon, unfortunately.
Amazon has now conceded that I did set up a second countdown deal, which was cancelled, but is essentially saying that its my own fault as I “can see the status of any KCD, at any time, within your KDP account from the “KDP Select Benefits” tab.” Of course, this is notwithstanding the fact that Amazon never told me that my KCD was cancelled – either the first time or the second time – so I would have had no reason to check my KCD. It’s also notwithstanding the fact that Amazon should never have cancelled my KCD in the first place.
More worryingly, Amazon appears to be taking the position that if you are in Select, and your book appears anywhere else, even if it’s an unauthorized edition (e.g. a bug by a retailer, a publisher not yanking down something when they should, or someone pirating your work), then you will be culpable, and Amazon reserves the right to cancel your promos without reference to you, and without right of appeal, and also reserves the right to boot you from Select and withold any KU funds if you can’t get these unauthorized editions removed in time.
This is pretty abominable treatment of authors considering it pertains to actions outside their control. For example, giant media conglomerates with an international army of lawyers and a budget of billions are unable to stamp out piracy, but individual authors are now expected to get them to tow the line? It’s ludicrous.
Given all the stories I’ve heard since going public about my own experience, it seems like it is increasingly normal for authors to find themselves in this position (and through no fault of their own). Obviously, one can draw quite a stark contrast between the above, and the light touch regulation we have seen of serious scammers.