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UPDATE: as Catana points out in the comments, the analysis below is partly premised on a mistaken assumption that I made (and which Amazon is not in any rush to correct in their KDP Select Terms of Use). Namely, I’d assumed that the library consists of unlimited loans. But it doesn’t. It’s one per month. So, most users are likely to use their one “borrow” for books that are more expensive (~$6.50 or higher, to make it worth the $79 annual fee)–NOT books at indie pricing. This means that we’re still where we were before, but many indies (esp. people like me who aren’t in the US, and so are less likely to check the Amazon Prime Lending Library’s terms) won’t realise this, and will opt in under a false assumption. Tsk, Tsk, Amazon. No doubt it was just an oversight. I’ve left the rest of the post intact, because depending on your pricing and your popularity, this analysis might still be relevant in helping to determine whether you will opt in or not. /update

In Homer’s The Odyssey, Scylla and Charybdis were fearsome sea monsters who existed in sufficient proximity to each other that any sailors who wished to brave those waters had to sail very carefully indeed, between the two horrors. More contemporary speculations posit Scylla as a rock shoal and Charybdis as a whirlpool.

And at the moment, I find myself to be caught between the two of them. To break it down:

  1. my books are selling very slooowly on Smashwords, and via its distribution channels. I mean, seriously.
  2. they are doing somewhat better on Amazon.
  3. KDP Select is a paid, opt-in lending library. As a consumer (with a kindle), I’d love it. For $79/year, I can borrow as many books as I want, for as long as I want. I predict it will be immensely popular among the ever growing ranks of users (add the year’s subscription to the cheap kindles, for a fabulous Christmas gift to any book lovers)–and that many of the opt-ins will be those who would otherwise have bought the lower-cost, higher risk indie books.
  4. KDP Select is also, monstrously, exclusive. If you opt in, you cannot sell your e-books anywhere except through Amazon. Dayum. This is monopolistic behaviour at its most disturbing.  This move, coupled with #3, will tighten amazon’s chokehold on the market. Big time.
  5. The monopoly rankles. A lot. It means that friends with kobos, sonys etc. will not be able to download my books, if I make them available through this program. Which kinda sucks.
  6. But then again, I don’t really have that many friends with e-readers in the first place. And meanwhile, my first quarter results from the distribution channels via Smashwords have come through. They suck. Either people aren’t finding the books in the same way, or they just aren’t interested. Either way, it’s not a particularly viable channel, in one sense. But in principle, I love its populism.

It’s an example of the classic Economics problem known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma:

  1. If I opt in but most people opt out, then I profit personally because I get a bigger cut of the fund.
  2. If we all opt in, then we’re all trapped in the monopoly, but we all get some money.
  3. If we all opt out, then we all win, because then the attempted monopoly fails (this seems unlikely, esp. because this is such a good deal for the readers–and if there is demand, Amazon will figure out a way to get people in. That’s my prediction).
  4. Finally, if I opt out but most people opt in, then I run the risk of disappearing off the radar of many e-readers’ awareness. It’s amazon, and its integrated distribution, that makes it possible for indie authors to make a living these days, and that’s just how it is. We all might wish the other channels did better by us, but it’s just not happening.

I’ve been mulling this over in the back of my mind for a few days. Do I end up on the Shoals of Total Obscurity, with Scylla and the low distribution numbers of Smashwords, or do I allow myself to be pulled into Charybdis–the whirlpool vortex that is the Amazon monopoly? I think I’ve more or less come to a decision, which is to try both.

How? Well, once again, this is the advantage of having multiple titles available.

I’m doing this e-book thing in part because I’d love to be a successful writer–but also in part because I want to experiment. I’m curious to try different things and see what works. So.

My short story anthology is hardly selling at all (as in maybe three or four copies in total, in the last two months that it’s been out). I’ve therefore decided to give that one a try through the program and see if it makes any kind of difference. If it does, I’ll decide on my next steps.

It’s not an easy choice when it’s between being read, and making a little bit of revenue on books that I put a lot of work into creating, and protesting the monopoly. The latter road becomes that much more difficult to take when you know that for all the high-minded stuff about open competition in theory, the on the ground reality is that half the distribution channels aren’t actually displaying my books in a way that allows readers to find them (and one, Kobo, hasn’t bothered to display three of my four books at all!). I should add, here, that Smashwords is the exception. I think they’re fantastic, and I love their open, populist philosophy. Even if I end up opting into the amazon thing, I still plan to publish stuff on Smashwords–it’ll just be different material to what’s in the Select program.

As well, if I try it with this one book, and it doesn’t do particularly well at all, I’ll be able to go back to doing as I was, secure in the knowledge that things will sell as they sell and I don’t have to opt into the monopoly in order to succeed. And in the mean time, I’ll hope that some other competitors will deep pockets will be filing anti-trust suits against Amazon…

Check out these other takes on the cases for and against.

P.S.: Given the circumstances described in the update at the top of the post, and an additional “development” (in which “development” means something I kind of forgot and was reminded of), I’ve decided to leave Persephone’s Library on Smashwords. The other development is that when I went to KDP I was reminded of the fact that I have three contemporary romances and a 3-in-1 version of them that is already exclusively listed on Amazon because I didn’t want to bother with ISBNs and stuff for extended distribution on Smashwords. They’re comparably priced to my other books, and the 3-in-1 actually sells not too badly. So, I opted those in as part of my experiment. I’ll keep you posted if anything dramatic happens (as well as if absolutely nothing changes!).