Today’s NYTimes article “With Kindle, the Best Sellers Don’t Need to Sell” waxes lyrical about the opportunities
independent writers smaller publishing houses have found by publishing their works free of charge for Kindle. By doing so, many have made it into the Amazon Kindle Bestseller List.
Indeed, at the time of writing this, the top two books in the Kindle Bestseller List (Cape Refuge and Southern Storm both by Terri Blackstock) are free. In total, 15 of the current top 25 Kindle Bestseller books are available free of charge.
(UPDATE: Terri Blackstock left useful comments below)
But what doesn’t add up is that Amazon forces authors publishing works into the Kindle Marketplace to set a minimum price of $0.99c (see notes in red near bottom of the page).
I’ve just checked and confirmed this important fact, missed by Motoko Rich who wrote the NY Times piece, with my partner Violet Blue. Violet is an Amazon Bestselling author herself who has published 24 of her books into Kindle format.
Using her account in Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) I confirmed she is unable to set any of her books below 99c. In fact, she told me she would like to offer some of them for free if she could. (Violet has screen-grabs of her DTP interface on Flickr)
Back to the New York Times article, it paints a now familiar “free culture kicks it to the old guard” story of how
independent writers smaller publishers are publishing their works to Kindle for free and then getting signed/distribution deals with publishing houses to sell hard-copy versions commercially.
Something fishy going on
But this doesn’t stack up, as it is impossible for an independent author like Violet to publish free for Kindle. From what I can see there is one of two possibilities here, both of which make a much more deeper and interesting story:
Possibility #1: Amazon is entering into special agreements with certain
independent writers smaller publishers – and thus not playing a square game with the rest of their authors. Perhaps this is to drive traction to their e-reader, but to the detriment of maintaining a level playing field and equal publishing ecosystem. Or…
Possibility #2: Mainstream publishers (who apparently use different platforms to publish ebooks into Kindle marketplace) are able to set a zero price on their books. I note this option because those two free books written by Ms Blackstock are also available as ‘hard-copy’ paperbacks for $10.19 published by publishing house Zondervan.
I’ll leave the fact that Zondervan is an overtly Evangelical-style Christian publisher, and thus the burning question as to whether they are gaming the Kindle ‘free gets you to the top of Kindle Bestseller” hack to spread covert pro-Christianity rhetoric in the forms of works of fiction, to the conspiracy theorists out there.
I write the above with the disclosure that I find the DRM-laden nature of the Amazon Kindle almost as abhorrent as the spreading of pro-religious rhetoric via means that appear secular on initial inspection (see Alpha Course, books by C. S. Lewis, etc.)
UPDATE: Upon a second read of the NY Times piece in follow up to a comment left below, I noticed that the piece was centered around smaller publishers rather than independent authors per se, so I have
struck out those references where made. However, there remains a big story here which is why publishers are able to offer books for free when the independent authors seemingly can’t.