My dear friend, Michelle at Beautiful Chaos blogspot emailed today to discuss Amazon's new Kindle lending policy. Little did she know it would lead to talk of devil-worshipping and selling one's soul. See the trouble you started, Michelle?
Full details are available from the Amazon website, but if I've got the gist of this: in the US only (for now), Kindle books can be loaned once for a period of 14 days, free to read on a Kindle device or any of the reading applications for Kindle. The lender has no access to the book again until the end of the 14 day period.While publishers and rights holder can determine which titles are eligible for lending, all titles made available through Amazon DTP have been automatically enrolled, which includes On Falcon's Wings and Michelle's Eldala. Great, right?
I must say, I initially thought so when the notification from Amazon DTP popped up on my Blackberry this morning. Then I remembered that age-old adage, "Why buy the cow, when you can have the milk for free?" It's applied to premarital sex, but works here, too. Why would you buy a Kindle book, when someone can just loan you their copy for fourteen days for free?
There's a few things in the FAQ section for Kindle authors that left me...concerned at first. Like the following:
Q: Will I receive royalties when customers choose to lend my book?
A: Loans of digital books through the Kindle Book Lending program are not purchases and thus are not eligible to receive royalty payments.
Hmm, okay, that's perfectly understandable. It's a loan for 14 days, not a sale. I can't reasonably expect any money from that.
Q: Will I be notified when someone has loaned my book?
A: At this time, notifications are not sent when customers loan your book.
Well, I reasoned, that's sort of okay, too. I mean, I don't know exactly where I've earned sales on Kindle in the US. In addition to not knowing who bought the book, I won't know if they lent it to anyone. It's like that, I just won't get access to that information either. Not a problem, really.
Q: Can I opt my title out of Kindle Book Lending?
A: Titles in the 35% royalty option may choose to opt out of Kindle Book Lending by deselecting the checkbox under "Kindle Book Lending," in the "Rights and Pricing" section of the title upload/edit process. You may not choose to opt out a title if it is included in the lending program of another sales or distribution channel. Titles in the 70% royalty option must participate in Kindle Book Lending and may not opt out.
If you're wondering why I bolded that last part, it's not because it gives me the warm fuzzies all over.
Over the summer of 2010, Amazon DTP began offering 70% royalties on titles that met certain criteria. Authors like myself cried, "Huzzah!" Score one for the author trying to earn a little more from his or her hard work. For me, that amounted to a net of $2.04 from each $2.99 sale, versus $1.05 at the 35% royalty option. Don't look down your nose at me. Yes, 99 cents does make a difference to a fledgling author. I still feel you doing it, by the way.
Why can't I just be as pleased as punch about the mandatory participation in this lending program for authors earning 70% royalties? It's not because I like to chafe at any mandatory restrictions on what I can or can't do, like some recalcitrant child. As I told Michelle, while I'm reserving full judgment on this new policy for now...the no opt out for those of us in the 70% royalty scheme bugs me. I can't describe it any better than that - it bugs me. The inability to opt out seems a bit like Jeff Bezos saying, "Hey author, you're already getting the better part of the deal anyway with your 70% and you should just be happy with that. No, you're not getting any royalties off the book loans and we won't tell you how many times your book's been loaned. Don't like that? Well, if you don't mind taking less of a percentage per future sale, feel free to opt out and go for the 35% royalty on your work. Happy New Year." Why does that feel akin to one of those offers from the Godfather, one you can't really refuse?
Let me be clear: I'm growing a career as a writer. Maybe JA Konrath and Seth Godin can afford it, but I really don't need readers lending my book to people who could otherwise be buying it. Same principle behind why I didn't give away a bunch of free paperback copies to friends and family. Yet here's Amazon telling me that because I'm enrolled at 70% royalty, I have no choice but to potentially give away free copies to others, who might have been paying customers. I've tried to look at this as a real benefit, but come away with only the potential for it, at best. Word of mouth is the most valuable tool an author has, and loaning the book has the same effect. But it seems only a potential for increased exposure, nothing more. If someone receives my book on loan, any guarantee he / she will read it in that 14-day window? Any guarantee of a recommendation to another person who will actually buy it? In the short term, I can't bank on possiblities.
As Kristie Cook, author of Promise and Purpose said in response to Michelle and me, "The more people who read your first book, despite how they get it, the more who will buy your second. And the more people who will be talking about it to others, who will buy it." Kristie, I sincerely hope you're right. For now, I'm eyeing this new Kindle policy and hoping for a positive impact, but also preparing for the probability that nothing may come of it that will benefit Kindle authors. In that, I'd love to be proven wrong.