And unsurprisingly, the problem lies with Amazon once again. I don’t think I’ve made a secret of my dislike for Amazon’s treatment of Indie authors; it’s hard to like a company that tries to force us into exclusivity deals and whose constant undercutting of competitors is putting many smaller outlets out of business. I’ve also always felt that as authors, we should be allowed to offer our titles for free if we want. Other retailers allow it; and after all, it is our book. We own the exclusive copyright to it. Right?
But Amazon have always insisted on a list price of at least $0.99. I planned to get around this little limitation by distributing to Amazon via Smashwords, which allows free titles without a quibble and which ships them as such to other retailers. Before Dark has now shipped (free) to Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, and several others, but I’ve just had some rather unwelcome news regarding Amazon. Apparently Amazon isn’t eqipped to upload large numbers of titles at once as other outlets are, and as such only accept a few hundred of the 200,000 strong Smashwords catalogue. In order to choose which few hundred these are, Smashwords have had to impose a set of criteria that most of us will never manage on their store – i.e. we must have earned $2,000 via Smashword in order to qualify for distribution to Amazon. I don’t blame Smashwords. Their ethics have always been above reproach and it’s not their fault that Amazon’s system isn’t up to the job. That’s if you believe the bulk uploader excuse, which I have to say I don’t. I think there’s a chance it may be another ploy by Amazon to force us Indies into exclusivity. Here’s why:
As it stands, the only way to get a book listed free at Amazon (apart from joining the KDP Select program, which allows us to list for free a total of five days in every three months in exchange for exclusivity) is to first list it for a price, and then, if another retailer offers the title for free, they’ll price-match the competition and list for free, too. That works out great if it’s the other retailer who chooses to list your book for free, but don’t think that you can list your own title for nothing elsewhere and let Amazon price-match. Amazon have the strictest Terms & Conditions of any of the ebook stores and they’re not afraid to enforce them. One of these conditions is that no title you list on their site will be made available for less elsewhere. Break this, and you’re booted off the Kindle store entirely, not just the title in question, but everything. Now, if you can prove it was the retailer and not you that dropped the price, all well and good. If you did it yourself, then it’s bye-bye, baby.
It all sounds very complicated, I know. What it comes down to is that at present, there is no way for me to list Before Dark for free on the Kindle Store, and if I charge the default $0.99 there then I have to charge $0.99 everywhere. And I promised this book and subsequent short stories would be free. Maybe a lot of readers would still give it a go at that price and maybe they wouldn’t, but the truth is that I wouldn’t feel comfortable changing the goalposts at this late stage. I’ve been saying for a year that it would be free. I can’t just go back on it now.
BUT the good news is that readers with Kindle devices aren’t left in the lurch. Smashwords offers their titles in a large variety of formats, including the Kindle .mobi, and I also plan to provide free download links of all these formats right here at carriechester.com. I won’t say I’m not disappointed at having to do without Amazon; the fact is that that’s the place to get noticed, get seen, get read. A free book there would have boosted interested in the series as a whole far more than on the other retailer sites, although they are starting to catch up. I’ve sunk ten months into a free promotional tool only to find it’s not welcome at my main target store. But until they get with the program and either update their upload facility or allow authors to list their books for free if they wish, there’s nothing I can do.