Amazon exec: Here’s why it pays to make your ebooks exclusive to us

Amazon’s ebook subscription service, Kindle Unlimited, has attracted criticism recently, with some self-published authors complaining that the service devalues their work and chafing at the requirement that they make their ebooks exclusive to Amazon in order to participate.

But Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s VP of Kindle Content, suggested at the Digital Book World conference in New York on Wednesday that the vast majority of authors participating are satisfied with Kindle Unlimited — and he said that the program is helping them achieve earnings that have doubled since the program’s launch in July.

Authors who want their books to appear in Kindle Unlimited have to enroll in KDP Select, a program that requires them to make their ebooks exclusive to Amazon for three-month periods. “Every month authors have renewed availability of titles on KDP Select in excess of 95 percent before and after the launch of Kindle Unlimited,” Grandinetti said — suggesting that they are satisfied with the program despite a few high-profile complainers.

Furthermore, in the six months since Kindle Unlimited launched, “à la carte sales of authors in KDP Select are growing faster than KDP at large and Kindle at large,” Grandinetti said. Combine that à la carte income with “the money that authors earn or have earned from the subscription service as well as the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library,” and “sales from August to December 2014 are more than double what they were in 2013.”

“I do think there will be ways that we tweak it over time,” Grandinetti said, but “overall the system’s pretty healthy. We’re incredibly motivated to make this work for that community. They only have to participate for three months.”

“The most successful independent authors are most often so successful because they speak out,” said Mike Shatzkin, a book publishing consultant and conference chair who interviewed Grandinetti along with co-chair and Publishers Lunch founder Michael Cader. “It’s not surprising they become a noisy community at any point in time.”

Not necessarily, Grandinetti said. “We can see who the top authors are, obviously. There are many successful authors who just choose to focus on writing and not engage in the discussion of the business.”

Kevin Kelly’s cool tools for self publishing Cool Tools

cool tools book

Kevin Kelly’s Cool Tools

I guess it’s not surprising that Kevin Kelly, the co-founder of Wired and now the magazine’s Senior Maverick, would be using state-of-the-art business practices and tools. He recently decided to self publish the next issue of Cool Tools, comprising 1,500 curated reviews of all kinds of tools in an 472 page book:

Cool Tools is a highly curated selection of the best tools available for individuals and small groups. Tools include hand tools, maps, how-to books, vehicles, software, specialized devices, gizmos, websites — and anything useful. Tools are selected and presented in the book if they are the best of kind, the cheapest, or the only thing available that will do the job.

Kelly details the path to self publishing in a recent post, and the part I found most interesting had to do with his use of Elance and Dropbox:

I used some cool tools to keep the costs low. Much of the work was outsourced to the freelancers of the world on Elance. About a million freelancers enrolled in Elance around the world will bid on a job. I had several jobs I outsourced to Elance (although many, if not most, of the freelancers work in the US). The layout design of the 472 pages was specified with the request to bid the job on a per-page cost. Out of the 30 or so Elance designers who bid, we picked 8 to do test pages, and then selected 6 to get the work. Their bids were not the lowest. They were in the middle range, but had good ratings from previous work. The 6 designers worked in parallel. The ones whose work we liked best we gave more pages to. The amount we paid was low for San Francisco area, but most important was the speed. We could design the entire mammoth book in only 4 weeks. We hired proofers on Elance as well, and again we hired them in parallel. We took bids on a per-page basis, winnowed the best candidates down with a few test pages, and then got them going all at once, giving more pages to those who did the best work. We proofread the entire book in several days. We also used Elance to find graphic artists who could remove the backgrounds from product shots; one worker hailed from Turkey. Elance has a very intelligent and easy-to-use interface, which aids in protecting buyer and seller, managing bids, and keeping track of work submitted. I consider it one of the chief tools in self-publishing.

A near-perfect case study in small, socially scaled fast-and-loose production, leveraging the Elance placeform (marketplace + platformplaceform) as the foundation of finding participants in the project.

The other indispensable tool we used was Dropbox. This allows folks to work remotely on files anywhere in the world, while also backing them up to the cloud. The book was prepared in InDesign, the layout program from Adobe. It’s been around for more than a decade, and it keeps getting better, integrating nicely with Dropbox. We kept our InDesign files, plus thousands of pictures, and other large files in our respective Dropboxes, and never needed to move them the whole time. (We upgraded everyone’s account to the pro unlimited storage version.) This made working remotely and collaboratively and rapidly easy and smooth. I don’t believe we could have done a book this large and complex over the net without something like Dropbox.

This supports the Distributed Core model that I believe is the heart of creative work in the new form factor of work (see Social third-quarter 2013: analysis and outlook and The future of work: new paths to productivity). Dropbox and other file sync-and-share applications, like Hightail, Box, and Intralinks, are filling the gap of a distributed virtual file system. And, as Kelly stated, we just couldn’t do our work anymore without a distributed core for working socially.