The Dark Side of Kindle Select-Unlimited for Short Stories

As a publisher of books, I am very happy with Kindle Select/Unlimited and the revenue generated for Digital Fiction and the authors I work with through that program. Every digital novel published by Digital Fiction is retailed exclusively on Amazon through its Kindle Unlimited program. We answered the “should I go wide” question a long time ago, and we answered in the negative. The reason Digital doesn’t use other eBook retailers is because of Amazon’s exclusivity terms and conditions to be in the Select program, not because we have anything against the other retailers for eBooks. Testing and experience convinced me that focusing on one market, and maximizing revenue through sales and page-read earnings on Amazon, was the way to go – for Digital.

There’s a dark side though, in my opinion.

Digital Fiction got its start in 2011 with an anthology of original science fiction short stories called First Contact. Although some of the stories were alien first contact tales, the title was really more about Digital coming onto the scene for the first time. Through 2012 we published three more science fiction anthologies, then took a break because some stuff happened, and then came back with a vengeance in September 2015. Since then we have published over 200 authors, 20 plus anthologies, about 20 novels, and more one-off short stories in eBook format than I can count. We have been having a great time and meeting the most terrific authors.

From 2015 on our anthologies were sold on Amazon in the Unlimited program, and were part of the Amazon page-read revenue stream. The majority of earnings from 2015 to the middle of 2017 for anthologies came from KENP income on books read in the Kindle Unlimited program. Frankly, the Unlimited reading program was what made the anthologies worthwhile from a revenue standpoint. * They’re fantastic and beyond worthwhile from a great read standpoint, if I do say so myself. So all was well, until one day I got an email from the Machine Spirit at Amazon.

Basically, the Machine Spirit said we couldn’t sell one of our anthologies because the title wasn’t exclusive to Amazon. What!? I dug deeper. We weren’t being ripped off by pirates any more than usual, so that wasn’t it. I took the anthology out of Select, it was removed from the Unlimited page-read program, and it became fully dependent on individual sales. Then I got another email for another anthology – with threats to close the Digital KDP account for non-compliance with the exclusivity terms. I took that down. Then a third email – the rush was on – I contacted Amazon to see what the problem was and why the anthologies were suffering this fate…

In short, they explained that ANY content (even just one story) in an anthology that was available online at another retailer rendered the entire anthology ineligible for Kindle Select, and therefore no longer a candidate for Unlimited page reads.

In short, they explained that ANY content (even just one story) in an anthology that was available online at another retailer rendered the entire anthology ineligible for Kindle Select, and therefore no longer a candidate for Unlimited page reads. If one of the 34 fantastic authors in Killing It Softly sold a story to another anthology that went wide (ie. selling on Google books), or sold it online from a website, then that one story in some other book wipes out Killing It Softly. Bam! No longer exclusive to Amazon. No matter that the 500+ pages of Killing It Softly are only available on Amazon, the fact that even just one story becomes available somewhere other than Amazon, stand alone or in a collection, made Killing It Softly ineligible for the Select program and the corresponding Unlimited page-read income.

This was true of every story in every anthology that Digital published, according to the Machine Spirit. Since Digital wasn’t so bold and restrictive as to want exclusive rights to an author’s short story in perpetuity, coupled with Amazon threatening to close the Digital KDP account for violation of their program, the choice was pretty damn obvious. Yank every Digital Fiction anthology and collection of short stories out of Select and either try to make them work on Amazon sales alone, or spend a considerable amount of time and effort “going wide” with them. (Pronoun, we’ll miss you…sigh.)

The long term choice is less obvious, and here is the dark side in my opinion. If Digital wants to keep doing short story collections and be in Select, we will have to look for original stories we can license exclusively for eBook distribution for as long as we can. We will also have to completely ignore the wonderful reprint short story market, shying away from titles that don’t have available exclusive eBook rights. The margins for an independent publisher that wants to publish short fiction don’t really warrant exclusive original content, for the record. Similarly, we don’t think too many authors would want to license their short fiction exclusively. There are so many excellent “Best Of”, “Year’s Best”, and award based anthologies for short fiction that this would be a very limiting choice for them.

I find this policy difficult to comprehend. If our anthology is unique, a unique collection of stories (even if not unique individual stories), and Digital only sells it on Amazon – then where’s the harm? Why does Amazon feel the need to lock up the short story content market to go exclusive. If they are squeezing other retailers, then why push the short-fiction market back to them because one story might (one day) appear in some other book? Oh, and months ago when the emails started I reviewed the Amazon Imprint(s) short fiction anthologies and pointed out to the Machine Spirit that those Amazon imprints weren’t following the newly interpreted Select exclusivity rules. I was told Amazon doesn’t discuss the accounts/business of other publishers… How convenient.

Take for example¬†Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond, available through the exclusive Kindle Unlimited program from Amazon’s own 47North science fiction imprint, and containing Blown Away, by Jane Yolen. You can also magically find Blown Away in her eBook collection, The Emerald Circus, available in eBook from Google Play.

Take for example¬†Oz Reimagined: New Tales from the Emerald City and Beyond, available through the exclusive Kindle Unlimited program from Amazon’s own 47North science fiction imprint, and containing Blown Away, by Jane Yolen. You can also magically find Blown Away in her eBook collection, The Emerald Circus, available in eBook from Google Play. It took about 2 minutes to find this example on just one of Amazon’s own imprints, and it’s one of the books I pointed out to the Machine Spirit – months ago – but there it is still available through Select and with content on Google Play. Kind of makes me wish it was my sandbox; a sandbox worth something like 450 billion dollars.

Anyway, I’m either ranting or whining here and I’m not sure which it is. I don’t like it. I thought I’d explain it. I suppose the final choice is stay away from short fiction or work harder to make it work going wide. I don’t give up easily and I haven’t given up on short fiction – because I love it!

Michael

Digital Fiction

* Kindle, Kindle Unlimited, KDP Select and Amazon are all trademarks of the Machine Spirit and we make no claim to those marks whatsoever. We would like one, just one, for Christmas though – please.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *