So [Innocent Whistling], About That KDP Select…


Apologies in advance, but today I’m going to do something a tiny bit cruel. I’m going to tell you the first half of a very long story, and then make you wait a couple of weeks for the second part. Okay? Okay. Let’s go.

You may recall that the day after Amazon announced KDP Select and the “indie” blogosphere proceeded to lose their tiny minds about, I blogged about why I wasn’t going to blog about KDP Select, which of course was blogging about KDP Select. I also said that I’d enrolled one title, Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too, which was a special combination of both Mousetrapped and Backpacked (you’d never have guessed, eh?) that had never been available anywhere but in the Kindle store.

What I didn’t tell you at the time is that I also availed of KDP Select “promotions” which allows you to offer your enrolled title for free for up to 5 days out of each 90 enrollment period. And let me tell you today what happened with that.

(Or the first part of what happened with that, anyway.)

What KDP Select enrollment does to your Kindle listing

Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too was priced $3.99 and essentially, a dud. I’d sold 7 copies of it in September, 13 copies of it in October and 6 copies of it in November. But of course this was just a combination of two books I already had for sale—two books that were doing really well, my top 2 sellers—so it was no big deal. It was just another Amazon search result, just another chance for a reader to discover me, and save a dollar by buying two books at the same time instead of each one separately.

Which was why when the KDP Select train rolled into town, I was happy to enroll it, to use it to find out what all the fuss was about.

Oooh, free stuff!

It became free on Saturday 10 December across all Kindle stores. At the time its sales rank was in the 300,000-350,000 region on, I’m not even sure it had a sales rank on and it wasn’t ranking in any bestseller lists on either site. (I don’t really sell much of anything in the other international Kindle stores, so I’ll be leaving them out here.) And remember: I’d sold just 26 copies of it in the three months or so prior to this.

After three days (Saturday-Monday) of it being available for free:

  • 193 copies of it had been downloaded from where
  • it was #2 in Kindle Books –>Non-fiction -> Travel -> Essays and Travelogues
  • and #1,856 overall in free Kindle books.

Over on (a smaller Kindle store):

  • 209 copies of it had been downloaded
  • it was a#1 in Kindle Books –>Non-fiction -> Travel -> Essays and Travelogues
  • and hovering around #300 overall in free Kindle books.

Impressive, considering I didn’t even tell anyone about it until the evening of the third and last day, when I tweeted about it, so it’s clear that the sudden increase in sales was solely down to its price suddenly being free.

Now if I’ve sold those books, I would’ve made over $1,000. But I wouldn’t have sold those books. Going by the previous months’ sales, I would’ve sold more like 8 copies, making $22. And am I happy to pay $22 to inform 400 or so new people about my existence, improve my visibility on Amazon and potentially secure some paid sales in the future?

In a word, yes.

A big benefit of being free: a few hundred transactions worth of “Customers Also Bought” data. Great for transforming your Amazon listing from Johnny No Mates into Johnny “People Are Actually Buying This” Mates.

But that was just the first 3 days of a 90-day enrollment in KDP Select. What happened next? And what about borrows? Well, when it comes to being borrowed under the KDP Select scheme, I think the self-publishers pushing each other out of the way to spit bullets about Amazon missed two crucial points:

  • You, the cheap self-published book, are not first in the list to be borrowed
  • If you earn 70% on your e-book through KDP, you’ve already enabled lending for Kindle owners who’ve bought your book anyway.

I’m joined Audible where for a small monthly subscription fee, I get to download one audio book free per month. (Free really meaning heavily discounted because of course I’m paying a subscription, although that’s always much less than the cost of the book to buy outright). I never buy any additional books but since the books I buy are usually a day long and I only listen to them on the treadmill, a book a month does the job. Now do you think I’m going to use my one audiobook credit to download anything other than the most expensive audiobook I want? Do you think if you, the self-published author, created an audio version of your book, I’d even consider making it my one free download? There is more chance of me willingly getting on the treadmill than there is of that happening, which is to say it will never occur.

Back to Amazon KDP Select. You’re a Prime customer and a Kindle owner, and you have one free book a month. (Let’s dispatch with the lending terminology; they’re basically getting the book. It doesn’t matter.) Do you think you’re going to use that one credit to get your hands on a book priced 99c, $1.99, $2.99 or even $4.99, when in all likelihood there’s ebooks on your wishlist priced $9.99 or more? I never would. So I was kind of surprised I got borrowed at all—shocked, more like; I was fully prepared to never be borrowed—but 9 people used their one credit to borrow Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too in December. Now I know I wrote the book and I should happy about this, but a part of me wants to grab these people by the shoulders and shout, “You should borrow something that’s expensive!”

I don’t know yet how much I was compensated for these borrows out of the much fabled KDP Select fund of $500,000 for the month of December, but I’ll let you know when I find out.

The 3-day offering had gone so well I decided to use up my other two days over December 23rd-24th. In this period, a further 217 copies were downloaded for free from, and 117 copies from

Here’s what’s really interesting though, and what should be especially interesting to those who believe that enrollment in KDP leads to losses.

This is what I’d sold of Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too before I went anywhere near KDP Select:

  • September 2011: 7 copies
  • October 2011: 13 copies
  • November 2011: 6 copies.

But up to December 23rd 2011 (and so, before the Christmas rush became responsible for an increase in sales), I’d sold 26 copies of it that month, at $3.99 a go. In the first five days of January, I’ve sold 6 copies of it, and its been borrowed another 6 times. After KDP enrollment and a 3-day free offering, my sales of the enrolled book jumped up to the point that they equalled the total sales of each of the three months prior combined.

What is us being able to enroll in KDP Select is really about? After my limited test run with the service, I had improved sales ranks, more readers and even a bump in my paid for sales. I’d found a booster rocket for my e-book sales. But we’re talking tiny numbers here, and not a book really but a combination of books that were already doing well.

What would happen if I took a book that wasn’t doing at all, and applied the enrollment/free offering to that? Would it help kick start that book’s sales? Would it be a booster rocket?

And as luck would have it, I had a book that needed a booster rocket—Results Not Typical. And when I offered it for free from December 24th until December 28th, it was downloaded over 3,000 times and, from what I can see so far in January, is now selling significantly better than it was before. KDP Select might—might— be just what the doctored ordered for an e-book with sluggish sales.

But you’re going to have to wait a few weeks to hear more about that.


23 thoughts on “So [Innocent Whistling], About That KDP Select…

  1. Debra Eve says:

    Hey Catherine, I’m totally with you on this one. My little half-a-book (32,000 words), that I simply intended to be promotion for my blog and future (unwritten) books in the series, continues to do well after my 3-day KDP experiment. I’ve kept it at 99 cents, it’s selling about 10-20 a day, still in the top 50 for it’s category. Plus, it’s been downloaded hundreds of times. (I had it on Amazon for a month before with no discernible movement.)

    I’m an Audible member too, and get the analogy. I’m guessing, though, that people are borrowing books based on the fact that they can “check it back in” and get another if they hate it, so price doesn’t really matter.

    Anyway, looking forward to the next installment of your grand experiment!

  2. Lani Wendt Young says:

    I enjoyed reading abt your experience with KDP select and the optional FREE listing. I did the same thing, offered my book free for 48 hrs after reading about another author’s experiment – David Wisehart on his Kindle Book blog. I too would defn recommend other authors try it. TELESA had over 12,000 downloads in 48 hrs, improved its sales ranking in three diff categories. But the neat thing? Once the promotion was finished the rankings continued to rise and so did sales. TELESA even made it onto a couple of the sold books bestseller lists whereas before, it didnt even come close.

    Im sure it will eventually taper at some point but the essential thing is – there are 12,000 more people in the world with an ecopy of my bk than there were before the promo. Yes, some wont read it. Yes, some will read it and hate it because they only chose it because it was free. BUT (hopefully) many others will read it, enjoy it and share it/review it. I for one would encourage other amazon authors to enroll in KDP and take advantage of this promotional feature.

  3. Mary says:

    Hi Catherine, recently found your blog and really enjoy your thoughts here. I’m currently working with my mom as she launches her debut women’s fiction. We plan on using KDP Select too, and it will be interesting to see how that affects sales/buzz, as well as reaching a new audience. Glad to see it is going well for you, hope you’ll continue to share on this …

  4. Sally Clements says:

    Morning Catherine! Thanks for all the info on your kdp experiment, I’ve blogged about mine this morning too. I agree, its a rocket, am totally stunned by my results.
    I took my ‘Bound to Love’ which had made 16 sales in in December (and I was going woo about that)
    Went free 31 Dec and 1 Jan. 19,000 downloads!!
    At at this morning, I’m looking at sales since of 1,200 plus, and 256 lends in the lending library. To say I’m happy dancing would be a severe understatement, I’m lying on the floor, panting a little.
    I reached #4 in fiction, and #1 in romance, and was in single digits in the movers and shakers list. Woo!

    • tracy sumner (@SumnerTracy) says:

      I had a similar experience. 20,000 downloads — hit the Top 100 in Paid and Free (Paid once the three-day free promo ended) and sales have remained strong. I also hit Movers and Shakers twice that I know of. All this for a .99 novella. And I’ve very surprised by the # of borrowers for such an inexpensive title. I also feel the new readers are worth the expense, however you calculate it, for my other full-length romance novels. Sales of those has been strong since releasing in Oct & Nov as well. Though they are backlist re-releases–and perhaps this changes the dynamic in some way.

      Great discussion!

  5. Peter Jones says:

    Morning Catherine – another food-for-thought post!

    I’m curious though (and maybe a bit confused) – is KDP Select the only way to make an ebook free on Amazon?

    When I sign into my KDP account and select pricing I’m told what the minimum price can be and it isn’t zero. So assuming you put your novel into the KDP Select scheme that means you also had to un-list your novel from smashwords? Have I understood that correctly?

    • catherineryanhoward says:

      If you enroll your title into the KDP Select program, you have to give Amazon exclusivity. You can’t be selling a digital version of your book ANYWHERE else, including your own blog/website.

      Mousetrapped and Backpacked Too was a combination title that had never been available anywhere else; I’d only uploaded it to the Kindle store. I had to pull Results from Smashwords, but that wasn’t a big deal either because thanks to a formatting problem I didn’t fix for a while, it had never made it into the Premium Catalogue and so was only available from, where it had sold, like, 6 copies or something. I don’t see myself ever pulling Mousetrapped and Backpacked (i.e the individual titles) because they do sell a bit in iBooks, B&N, etc. and anyway they sell fine as it is.

      You can’t sell a book on Amazon through KDP for nothing. You have to charge something (I think 99c?). There is a rumor that if you set your price to zero on Smashwords (you can do it there) and then filters down to your book listing on iBooks, etc. Amazon will make your book zero on Kindle to price-match. But that’s no guaranteed. So yes, enrolling in KDP Select and using their promotions option is the only way to actually make your book free in the Kindle store for up to 5 days out of every 90.

      • Lucy says:

        Does that mean you recommend the KDP Program? I’ve heard it’s not a wise idea to allow only one outlet for your ebook…but Amazon has always been convenient for me so far. What’s your opinion on self-publishing with KDP? Is it worth the time and the effort? And does it make you enough to compensate for not being able to sell your ebook anywhere else? Thanks in advance!

  6. Katherine Owen - Author says:

    Great post! Thanks for sharing your results. I put my new release into KDP Select and used three “free” days 12/25-12/27. Results were similar, although mine is a new release. After I have some reviews I will utilize the “booster rocket” again.

    Katherine Owen

  7. SJ Byrne -Author of Mo Dearbadan~de says:

    Thank you so much for this! Ive been kicking the idea of KDP around for a bit and had decided recently that it really couldnt hurt my sales! LOL they are pretty much around what yours were pre-KDP. Now I will go into it with a much bigger smile on my face and less trepidation!

    SJ Byrne

  8. Wordpreneur - Eldon Sarte says:

    Nice post! Looks like I want to hang around here more. 🙂

    Similar results for me. Have a number of kindling titles up on Amazon. Have a few 99 cent loss leaders, which I then KDP’d and started giving away free for a spell. Like you, some Prime folks have been borrowing them (no takers for my $5.99 title). Have a different theory on why that is, though…

    …I just think they didn’t know they could borrow only one title a month, and wasted it on a 99 center. Why do we always assume people read the details. 🙂

    Nice blog. Will definitely be back!


  9. Grace Bridges says:

    Hi Catherine! I stumbled on your site while looking for backup info on running my own free promo. I’m kind of surprised (but happy!) that your free promo book is a combination of two others – the exclusivity clause has that bit about us not being allowed to sell “a book or content that is reasonably likely to compete commercially with your Digital Book, diminish its value, or be confused with it” – but it looks like that definition is not as broad as I thought. Hmm, so maybe I *am* allowed to enroll those short stories that also appear in anthologies? Not for lending of course, but for free promos and digital visibility.

    Anyway, good food for thought here! Say hello to Eire for me. I shall return someday… it’s a long way from New Zealand.

  10. susanweidener says:

    Over two promotional periods of 2 days and then 3 days, my memoir Again In a Heartbeat was downloaded 12,000 times. It was ranked No. 1 in memoirs in the free Kindle store for three days. It now continues to sell several copies a day. The KDP Select program offered awesome exposure and jumpstarted my book – and my motivation – to work hard to finish my second book. I am a great believer in the Amazon Kindle as a way to sell ebooks to large audiencees.

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