Is Amazon KU exclusivity a velvet barrier for authors?

Image - iStockphoto: sidewaysdesign
Image – iStockphoto: sidewaysdesign

It “might be a possibility” at some point that Amazon would consider changing the the Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscription programme’s exclusivity requirement for independent authors, according to Daniel Slater, Amazon Independent Publishing principal.

He spoke Thursday (22nd October) on a panel discussion at the 25th anniversary national conference (#ninc14) of Novelists Inc., in St. Pete Beach, Florida. Slater was asked by an author-attendee during Q&A if there was a chance that Amazon would consider removing the exclusivity element.

Slater pointed out that Kindle Unlimited is “a very new programme” — launched in July, in competition with other “all you can read” subscription services Oyster and Scribd — and said that Seattle is watching KU’s development and reactions to it carefully. “It might be possible that we’d look at that,” he said in reference to the controversial exclusivity component of the programme.

Daneil Slater
Daniel Slater

A veteran of the original Kindle launch team and longtime member of digital product development elements of the company, Slater is a former desk editor with the Associated Press, editor with Simon & Schuster, and senior editor with Penguin who joined Amazon’s operations in 2005 and directed the development of the Amazon Shorts programme. At this conference, he is part of a strong team of Amazon executive representatives, who include CreateSpace director David Symonds, Audible-ACX “rights evangelist” Nicole Op den Bosch, Jon Fine, outgoing (as of year’s end) director of author and publisher relations, and several associates.

And the question for him was prompted by a sharp rise in resistance, this week and last, to that exclusivity constraint for independent authors in the KU programme.

Late last week, Kobo ceo Michael Tamblyn in Toronto took to Twitter with a series of 32 prepared tweets in which he laid out what he said are explicit dangers to authors’ marketplace hazards, as reported at The Bookseller by my colleague Lisa Campbell. Tamblyn tweeted, in part:

The mechanisms for the AMZN squeeze are in place,” Tamblyn wrote, “agreements allow it. Self-pub inclusion in Select, Unlimited, KOLL are early examples. Amazon can and will, as a business, do what it needs to do to _all_ suppliers in time to improve profitability and grow share…The litmus test for an indie author: could your income survive a conflict with Amazon? If not, it’s worth thinking about how you could.

A bit more from Tamblyn on his comments

Michael Tamblyn
Michael Tamblyn

In response to my request for further comment, Tamblyn — who is a speaker in the coming FutureBook Conference in London (#FutureBook14) on 14th November — took a moment to give me some thoughts about his decision to tweet his statement about Amazon’s programme. His comments regarding traditional publishers and authors being “in the same boat” have to do with his mentions on Twitter of the Amazon-Hachette sales terms negotiation tactics:

What prompted this? A few things. I’ve always believed that independent authors and traditional publishers are, for all of their obvious differences, in the same boat when it comes to the pressure that a retailer like Amazon can exert. But most stories being written about the Amazon/Hachette dispute put independent authors on one side and traditional publishers on the other. That seemed like it was worth talking about.

Also, I was sitting on panels about publishing and self-publishing at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and the one thing that didn’t come up was the question of exclusivity — the loss of books and authors behind the wall of Amazon’s terms. It seemed crazy to be talking about this absolutely real explosion of creativity that the indie publishing revolution allows, and at the same time not talking about those books possibly slipping into the orbit of a single retailer and the risks that could bring.

Others are talking about this already. I would never presume to think that authors weren’t thinking hard about these issues on a daily basis. Of course they are. It’s their living and their passion. But authors are still sometimes signing up for exclusive programmes and leaving the wider ecosystem of retailers and the readers they serve. Every once in a while, it’s good to remember that diversity in retail is just as important as diversity in authors. Both are always worth fighting for.

Of course, as many have noted, Kobo — with its Kobo Writing Life self-publishing platform directed by Mark Lefebvre who is also speaking at this weekend’s Novelists Inc. conference — is in competition with Amazon’s self-publishing programmes. My follow-up questions went unanswered about whether Kobo has seen some of its authors move way in order to participate in Amazon’s KU.

By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

The FutureBook: Is Amazon KU exclusivity a velvet barrier for authors?

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