This post, by David Gaughran, originally appeared on his Let’s Get Digital site on 12/11/11.
Things had been going pretty smoothly for self-publishers.
We were more or less done with the arguments about whether this was a viable path and whether you could attract an agent/publisher (if you wanted to) by self-publishing first.
We had generally agreed that e-books were here to stay and that print books and bookstores (sadly) were on the way out.
Then Amazon came along with a curveball, splitting the community: KDP Select.
KDP Select is an opt-in program where self-publishers can be part of Amazon’s e-book lending library. There has been a lot of discussion about KDP Select and the Lending Library – some hysterical, some measured – but I think it needs to be considered in the framework of subscription models in general.
I won’t spend much time on the pros and cons, they have been debated pretty exhaustively on The Passive Voice and this Kindle Boards thread, and I think most writers already know where they stand on this. I want to ask everyone to take a look at the bigger picture of subscription models and how we will collectively define future compensation for our work.
There had been murmurings about Amazon’s move for some time. With the launch of the Kindle Fire – and the obvious corollary that the device was designed to generate future profit on content – speculation turned to whether Amazon would attempt some kind of Netflix-for-Books. Indeed, rumors abounded that they had approached publishers on this and had been universally rebuffed.
For a reader, the deal is seductive: read as much as you like for a fixed fee. In practice, it’s only attractive if the books you want to read are part of the package. For the company selling the package, the clearest way to show value is by having content you can’t get anywhere else.
It was inevitable in one sense. Exclusivity was always going to rear its head. We’ve seen it in plenty of other content industries (software, games, music); it was only a matter of time before it inserted itself in the e-book game. It’s not that new – Amazon just got people talking about it.
Writers are used to being on the sidelines, watching these power plays. This time is different (partly because the publishers decided to sit this one out). We’re being asked to make a decision. And make no mistake, whether we participate, and how we participate, has huge ramifications for the whole publishing business: how readers pay for books, how writers get paid for those stories they read, and how publishers and retailers get to play in this new game.
Amazon arouses strong feelings (in either direction). But whatever your feelings are, you need to realize that subscription models of some sort are going to play a big part in the immediate future.