Amazon Brings Down the Hammer

Evil Amazon LogoLast month, I wrote about Ch-ch-ch-changes in Indie Publishing. I chose to write on that topic at that time because June has been a month of changes for the last few years. In June 2014, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited. Last year at the same time, they announced the changes we’ve all come to call KU2.

Will there be more changes to KU rolled out this year? I think it’s highly possible — potential changes including further limiting the page counts allowed under KU, possibly as low as 1,000 pages. (Please note, this is complete speculation on my part, although it is informed by years of watching Amazon deal with things.) I’d say it’s even possible that KU might ban box sets altogether. After all, if all the books can be borrowed and read individually for the monthly KU fee, what, really, is the need to bundle them together? If I’m dreaming big, I might hope that Amazon will announce that they are implementing the ability to know how many pages a reader actually reads, as opposed to the flawed method they have now, which is so easily exploited by scammers.

whoosh of publishing industry changes orange-222085_960_720Whether Amazon implements changes to KU or not, they’ve already made a big move that is likely to echo through our individual publishing businesses for the foreseeable future. Earlier this week, many of us were shocked to get an email from the excellent book recommendation site Pixel of Ink that they were closing their doors. This was particularly surprising because they had sent an email out just a few weeks ago that they would be accepting applications for book slots very soon. POI didn’t give specific reasons for shuttering their site, instead saying, “Due to changes in the eBook world and in our life, it is time for us to move on, and Pixel of Ink must now end.”

Shortly after, Nate Hoffelder at the Digital Reader shared an announcement from eReaderIQ, saying they were “no longer eligible to participate in the Amazon.com affiliate program. What this means is that we are no longer able to monetize this site simply by having users click on our links. Because of this, we will need to rely on our users’ support to keep the site running. Our short term goal is to generate enough user support to cover the costs of operating the site.” Long story short, eReaderIQ wasn’t going to make money off affiliate links anymore and is at least contemplating making a go of it as a subscription site.

What we don’t know yet is whether this is the last of this, or the beginning of a purge. Many (if not most) of the book promotion sites have been in violation of Amazon Affiliate’s TOS by using affiliate links in mass emails. Amazon was obviously aware of that and had chosen not to enforce those TOS. Until now.

As authors, I don’t think we should try and stand on the moral high ground and say, “Well, it’s their own fault, they knew they were in violation.” That’s true, as far as it goes, but how many authors have a permafree title? That is also technically in violation of Amazon’s TOS not to list a book lower on any other seller. Of course, Amazon has chosen not to enforce that TOS. Until they do. How much squawking will there be if a handful of authors get not a slap on the wrist, but their accounts shut down for violating those terms? The author blogosphere might implode. That’s essentially what has happened to these promo sites.

I have always believed that one reason that Amazon dominates the bookselling marketplace is because of its affiliate program, which converted thousands and thousands of people into Amazon shills, happily plugging products and providing an Amazon link on their blogs, FB posts, etc. These book promotion sites, which could move the needle to the tune of 50,000+ downloads of a single book (my second book had a 74,000 download free run over four days) also played a large part of that. Amazon is famously customer-centric, and I think this move, along with almost everything else they do, is intended to somehow provide a better customer experience.

If nothing else, sudden changes like this reinforce the need for each of us to build a strong mailing list, which doesn’t depend on algorithms, or access to someone else to reach your readers.

So, where does this leave us? At the moment, the vast majority of book promotion sites are still up and running, but I’m guessing they are feeling pretty nervous. If those sites dwindle in number, indie authors will lose a valuable tool for selling books and building a platform. I can honestly say that without those sites, I wouldn’t have the platform I do today. As I mentioned in my last post, I’ll just have to roll with the changes.

Author: Shawn Inmon

Shawn Inmon hails from Mossyrock, Washington — the setting for his first two full-length books, Feels Like the First Time and Both Sides Now. His newest release is Rock ‘n Roll Heaven. By day he works in real estate with a side of public speaking. Learn more about Shawn on Facebook or his Author Central page

42 thoughts on “Amazon Brings Down the Hammer”

  1. Thank you Shawn, it is difficult to keep up with Amazon’s changes and stay on your toes. This informative post will get me up and running, hopefully staying at least in the game.

  2. Never a dull day. 🙂 It will be interesting to see what Amazon does next.
    Until I get my next series out, I’m not, personally, that worried by any of this but I know I will be. Thanks for keeping us updated, Shawn.

    1. That has been in the back of my mind for a long time now. It wouldn’t surprise me at all. Amazon obviously likes to have authors be exclusive to them. What would happen if they began enforcing their TOS and said you couldn’t price a book anywhere else for less than you do on Amazon – no more price matching, no more permafrees on Amazon. The only way to have a book free on Amazon would be to enroll in Select. That would have a number of ripple effects – far fewer free titles, almost certainly more authors enrolled in Select, possibly making free promotions more effective once again. Interesting times. 🙂

  3. Thanks, Shawn. You’ve provided some new information. I decided a few days ago not to participate in KDP Select any longer due to reports of authors having their accounts closed when click farms drove their stats up. This makes me nod and think right decision.

    1. I think all of us should arm ourselves with as much information as possible, then make the decision for ourselves. Glad you did.

      For me and mine, all my books are still in KU. I’m waiting to see what emerges over the next 30 days before I decide whether to renew or not.

    1. I didn’t forget, actually. I just chose not to mention them, since their death was prematurely reported, and they are still functioning at this time.

        1. I did read your post, Nate. When I first read it, (because of the way you phrased it) I thought you had said Fussy was out of business. Then, I re-read it, and realized what you meant. However, when I went to a number of author hangouts, I realized that everyone else did think that was what you had reported. I believe you decided to change the way you had written it eventually, yes?

          You can be as snippy as you’d like, but based on the way you wrote the first article, there are a number of authors who still believe that Fussy has gone under, as they never saw the change. Because of that, I chose to leave them out of this article, as I thought they had already been damaged enough.

          1. Oh, you’re referring to last week’s post. I was thinking of the post from May where I was careful to say only that they lost their affiliate account.

            Now, when I referred to that May post I was less precise and implied TFL had shut down (that wasn’t what I meant, or what I thought I was saying). I later corrected the reference to be more clear.

          1. Right. I was referring to last week’s post (the one I linked to in the article above.)

            Glad we got everything figured out.

            To me the bottom line is, the promotional sites just lost a tremendous stream of income, and it will almost certainly have a trickle down effect to indie authors who use them to promote.

  4. wow, I am so glad I don’t use KDP select. Yes I miss out on some of the benefits, but by the same token I don’t get caught up in the razing that seems to be going on right now. Thank you for the great article!

  5. I read Shawn’s post about permafree violating the TOS. Is it really true because a while ago I saw price matching button in the help section of kdp. Can you provide me a link if possible?

    Thanks!!

    1. Here’s a link to the Amazon TOS regarding pricing: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A29FL26OKE7R7B

      One key term there is: “You must set your Digital Book’s List Price (and change it from time-to-time if necessary) so that it is no higher than the list price in any sales channel for any digital or physical edition of the Digital Book.”

      Obviously, they’ve been choosing to not enforce that to this point, but they could at any time. What’s reasonable is, if they do choose to enforce it, they will send out a warning to authors and give them a chance to respond. In the case of Fussy Librarian eReaderIQ and Pixel of Ink, they brought the hammer down, hard.

  6. The only constant in this business is change! What I don’t get is that Amazon chooses to honor a permafree request. I asked them to make one of my titles permafree; they did it. If that’s against policy, why accept in the first place?

  7. If amazon eliminates these “hotsheet” sites like BookBub and Fussy and ENT they will have REALLY shot themselves in the foot. That whole “amazon ecosystem” is the most attractive thing about being on Kindle Select. Without it, if promoting a discount or freebie being totally a matter of promoting in your own sphere of contacts and postings and mailings, there’s no reason to stay on their with that monopolistic exclusivity. Better to go on SmashWord Premium and get on all those other stores and use their much more efficient and user-friendly coupon system for discounts/freebies. Losing all these third party promo sites would make Select a really stupid option.

    1. Linton,
      I can guarantee you that Amazon runs the numbers every day. I would not be surprised if they had more data in their computers than the IRS. Amazon knows the outcome of every move before they do it.

      1. Don’t be too sure. Like Microsoft, amazon has a very egotistical top level corporate culture. There are no numbers they can run to figure out when an email hotsheet will toss in the towel, or when writers will decide they’re better off over at SmashWords. Select is not the sort of thing you can really measure out. Certain segments of the indie market are already figuring out that they’re better off not enrolling. Poetry, for instance. The idea that amazon is some infallible God is not real, and not helpful to writer/publishers.

  8. I’m not surprised to see that these changes have had some impact on sites. It did the last time, too, when Amazon moved to restrict payments if a site’s free to paid ratio went past a certain level.

    The Fussy Librarian was never set up to **need** Amazon affiliate money as we knew they could change their mind at any time and that’s no way to structure a business. Our affiliate money was nice to have but it didn’t cripple us when we lost it. We’ve replaced that lost money by growing our copy editing and proofreading business for authors, while continuing to accept ads to run promos in our two daily emails. We’re also working on a few new things that we hope to put into beta testing later this summer.

    I don’t see the affiliate system (for websites) ever going away entirely because of how much revenue it generates for Amazon. Reduced payouts? Sure. Amazon will try to get away with as little as possible. But they’ll always offer some incentive for people to refer traffic to them.

    Jeffrey

    1. Here’s my impression. There are sites like F.L. and BookBub, etc. that work of “writer money”, and many other sites what rely mostly on “amazon money”. The latter will dry up if amazon money dries up. And it is THOSE sites, which only list books that are on amazon, that will disappear… and that are reasons to do Select. If you get a book accepted to BookBub, you can point your listing there to SmashWords or Audible or iTunes or whatever you want. Same for Fussy. But for a lot of them it’s not true. A lot of them have already gone out of business. And that’s what I mean when I say those “hotsheets” for books are what fuels Select membership. Why else would you elect to enroll in an exclusive program, when you could do your freebies/discounts easier and on many sites without out it?

  9. Hi Shawn,

    Thank you for the insightful article. I agree with what you have said. Here are Some future thoughts on this: We as authors forget, Amazon is the worlds largest publisher of indie books and also sells trade books and used books. Amazon is a business based on the low price product profit model. And it is slowly changing this to increase their profit. Think about it, basically amazon is trying to a Monetize their various paperback book, e-book and affiliate programs. This means eventually Amazon will need to:
    1) tighten the screws on perm-a-free by reducing the time a book can be permafree before it is ignored by the amazon search engine. If your permafree book is not in the top 100 free in a category then forget it. When was the last time you tried to find number 3560 in any category? You can’t get there, unless you know the author or title name.
    3) eventually amazon will limit the amount authors receive from KU select to payment for the lenght of their book up to 120,000 words and no more than the price of the lowest cash e-book royalty the book is selling for, this means someday permafree free books will get nothing on KU Select.
    4) Eventually, authors and publishers participating in Kindle Worlds or other kindle programs will be favored over the rest in the listings, because they are the top 1 to 5% of authors selling 95% books on amazon. Just read the KDP special offers for them if you don’t believe this.

  10. Great article @Shawn
    I’d love to throw out another thought:
    If the top 1 to 5% of authors sell 95% books, how many books do the bottom 10% sell? Especially books from authors who penned only one book but also books from authors who have given up and don’t promote their books any longer. (I know at least one couple; he is the writer, she is the illustrator, genre = kids books, they stopped promoting in 2012, and haven’t sold one book since then.)

    There are 32 million books on Amazon, so the bottom 10% are 3.2 mio books. If, on average, these 3.2 mio books sell 10 copies per year, is that worth Amazon’s expense of keeping up the pages, server space, running their algorithms…

    Absolutely no store would keep “carrying merchandise that doesn’t sell.”
    Will Amazon do it forever?

    I realize that they’ll keep the p-books, so they can run their “used book” market, but what about ebooks?

    1. Hi Gisela,

      I don’t know if Shawn has an answer for you on this, however, I might. We all have personal failures because at first we do not understand the amazon market place, so please consider the following: In 2011 I published a short chap book of 22 pages “Our Seasons of Ardent Love” on createspace to amazon, it sold 2 books in 2011. I have not promoted it, it was a short poetry book for my wife, on amazon the print version sits at number 14,000,000 and the kdp version does not have a ranking because none have been sold. Therefore, if I am so bold as to say that if you consider my print copy book as a cut off point, and if there are 32 million books on amazon, then 32-14 million = 18 million books go unsold and are just sitting there unsold.

      1. Interesting @JB. Thanks for replying :))

        I am not a computer guru so I don’t know what it takes and how much it could cost if this keeps on going. You published your book 5 years ago. I think it is fair to say that today more books get published than 5 years ago. But, for the sake of the argument, let’s assume that in 2021, 36 million books never sell and only occupy space in Amazon’s webstore. Will Amazon keep going? Does it matter to them – financially, logistically, or any other way?

        My personal pet peeve are nonfiction books which are copied and pasted from blogs.

        Setting that issue aside, at some point enough books will be published that each one contains ONLY information which has already been published by other authors. Will Amazon’s next scandal be that journalists discover how many percent of books are basically “recycled”?

        I believe that Amazon has more at stake than other book ecommerce stores because almost everybody publishes on Amazon which increases the chance that readers find recycled books.

  11. Thanks very much for the update. It’s difficult to keep up. Perhaps groups of authors cross-promoting their books might survive, but otherwise it will be people who really understand marketing (and with the changes even the experts seem to have a hard time adapting) or people who have a very good budget for paid advertising or to get a marketing machine behind their title will survive. There are other options that I haven’t explored yet (but I know people who have) to do the perma free book in Amazon, for instance using an aggregator (Street Lib or perhaps Pronoun). They don’t accept individual writers uploading a free book but they seem to not query it if it comes from a publishing company or a distributor.

    1. Well… if you are going to work off amazon, you can put it on SmashWords. Permafree without any weirdness about it, or use a coupon to make it free any time you want for as long as you want.
      You can also offer it free for leaving an email address–not a bad way to go, build a mailing list.

Comments are closed.