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Does This Idea Float?

Let's talk about the insanity (?) of offering books for free. I speak, naturally, from the author's point of view, not the buyer's, or the librarian's. We live in a world where is to books what the blue whale is to saltwater. How big is it, Johnny? Here's what says: Amazon's $34 billion
in revenue is larger than the GDP's of half the countries in the world; Amazon serves more than 137 million customers each week - that's a third more people than voted in the 2010 elections; and Amazon's warehouses total the square footage of 700 Madison Square Gardens.

Recently, Amazon began its KDP Select program (Kindle Direct Publishing), whereby members who pay a fixed fee per year can "borrow" ebooks for free for as long as they like. These people are called Amazon Prime members; does that mean the rest of us are subprime? Amazon throws at least $600,000 into the pot each month and splits it up between the authors who have signed on. Authors are also entitled to list their books for free for 5 days during the 90-day contract. I'll get to the catch in a minute.

Amazon obviously thinks listing books for free is a big deal, otherwise why would they tout it as a benefit to joining KDP Select? Something tells me they have more to gain than the authors who publish on their site. How do I know this? It's easy to get more than somebody who is getting nothing. Unless someone out there can show me something I'm missing, I can only see two valid reasons to (temporarily) list a book for free: 1) to raise your ratings on Amazon so that potential buyers find your book more easily; the effect has a short lifespan, but if it keeps the book 'visible' after the freebie long enough to make some sales at money, so much the better. And 2) if you're about to publish the second novel in a series, making the first book free may generate sales for the latest arrival.

Now about that catch: authors who join KDP Select must not publish their ebooks
anywhere else. As if Amazon wasn't big enough already. By the way, is the company name a reference to size, as in the river, or are they a company of half-naked warrior women? I hazard a guess it's the former, but wish I was wrong. So. Amazon is not content being Amazonian; the publishing pachyderm's pernicious plan is to pulverize any remaining competition under its prodigious paw. (Sorry, I got carried away.)

Which is why I feel guilty, and something of a traitor. I first published
The Bow of Heaven on Smashwords, the upstart house that distributes to all booksellers, as well as selling ebooks from authors the world over, giving our lonely profession an outlet of great artistic freedom. At first, I naturally scorned any attempt by Amazon to squash this helpful little firm who walked me carefully through every step necessary to ensure that my book would upload and be viewed properly on all the world's e-readers.

Six month's later, Amazon - 6,000 downloads, Smashwords - 250, or about 24:1. Need I say more? Apparently. I have this theory that writers are egoists, and though they slave alone in the dark, crave fame and fortune just like any other artist. Well at least I am, do. And I want to reach the largest possible audience. I caved, and decided to try KDP Select, but my altruistic self, that wee, small voice of ethical fair play overwhelmed by capitalistic greed on an almost quotidian basis, is hoping the free price offering, of which I am taking advantage of March 15 and 16, will bomb horrifically. Even if a bunch of penny-minding readers throng to get a book which would have only cost them 299 pennies more to buy at retail (which makes every single one of them my loyal and cheap fan), if the ploy doesn't boost my ranking high enough and for a long enough period of time to generate more real sales, I ask you, what good is it? (Well, that reason number 2 above seems pretty self-explanatory, but aside from that.)

Wish me luck. Or don't. I'm on the fence.
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