Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Yesterday David Carr’s piece in the New York Times seemed to surprise a lot of us. In short, Amazon dropped a Buzz Bissinger’s new ebook to “free” to match a promotion happening with iTunes that granted readers with a redemption code a free copy of the ebook. In Amazon’s price match, the author and his publisher netted zero.
It’s a frustrating story, but I’m not sure it’s surprising. Bissinger was published by Byliner, but if you’re an author or agent who has used KDP, you already knew this could happen at any time.
Or did you?
If you didn’t, let Bissinger’s frustration encourage you to familiarize yourself with Amazon’s KDP Terms and Conditions
Amazon’s Terms allows them to match any competitor’s price, no matter what price the non-agency publisher or the indie author chose. Section 5.3.2 of the current Amazon/KDP Terms and Conditions grants Amazon “…sole and complete discretion to set the retail price at which your Digital Books are sold through the Program.”
Amazon is clear: they will calculate royalties based on the sale price, not the list price chosen by the publisher or author. That’s a condition many authors overlook or ignore in their infatuation with those 70% royalties.
Of course no bookstore works this way. If a bookstore drops the price for a promotion or to match a competitor, the author will keep getting standard royalties on those units. You don’t hear B&N refusing to pay the publisher or distributor for titles it chose to discount at point-of-sale. The same is true for most of Amazon’s ecosystem. If you’re with a non-agency publisher, Amazon can sell your book for, say, half off, but you’ll still get paid what you thought you would.
Not the case with titles published by KDP.
But perhaps comparing this to the print market isn’t helpful. Digital goods are different, of course, and so the behavior of digital retailers is different too. But what defense has Amazon for dropping an author’s work to free, and then paying them zero royalties for every download, negating an author’s interests in Amazon’s efforts to retain customers?
Perhaps unintentionally (or perhaps not), this condition seems punitive: if you give another retailer a promotional opportunity like Bissinger did with Starbucks, you could be punished under the Amazon terms. That 70% doesn’t seem so generous when it’s 70% of nothing, and indie publishing doesn’t seem so independent when the carrot of access to the largest online marketplace for ebooks becomes simply a big orange stick.
Something for self-publishing writers to consider. But of course every small publisher already knew this. Byliner knew it. Buzz Bissinger knows it. And now you know it too.