Part A – Dependent Publisher or Independent Publisher: What’s the Difference? — The Eritail Show, S1E2

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Join King Benson in this first segment of this new episode where he challenges the status quo of self-publishing with his own in-depth understanding of business and investing.

King Benson starts with a brief history of how the publishing landscape has changed starting from 2011 when he first joined the industry to its current status today in 2024.

King also shares his personal experiences of self-publishing with SmashWords and Draft2Digital for more than a decade, and the lessons he learned along the way.

King has an alarming message for authors who are self-publishing on other people’s platforms, whom he calls outside investors and dependent publishers. He explains why self-publishing success will elude most self-published authors, and he points out what self-publishers and self-published authors should watch out for if they don’t want to lose control of their publishing businesses.

TRANSCRIPT

[Transcript]

Welcome to The Eritail Show where we bring you the good news and bad news of self-publishing and authorship. I’m your host, King Benson…

Hello, hello, good morning! This is King Benson, host of The Eritail Show. The year 2012 remains one of my most memorable, cherished years of my life. 2012 was the year when I took my own leap of pure blind faith at self-publishing and authorship.

Several events took place in 2012. Personally, I lost my sister after a prolonged illness and I was feeling broke again after almost two years of quitting my job. A former high school classmate had just lost her father, with whom I had become quite acquainted. So I felt her loss personally. To me it was a double loss.

Meanwhile, in the same year of 2012, so much was happening in the publishing world. A number of ebook retailers had sprung up to compete with Amazon’s list of Kindle e-reader devices. Sony was a major player in the ebook market selling their own line of e-reader devices.

Amazon could not take all that new competition. It was difficult enough to share the ebook market with the likes of Apple, Sony, Kobo, Barnes and Noble. For reasons best left unknown, Amazon decided that there was still a lot of uncontested market space for the ebook market.

Most people don’t know this, but Amazon began operations in 1994 as an online bookstore, and it took them 10 good years to report a profit. So everybody was pleasantly surprised when Amazon announced the KDP Select program in 2011. But some authors were particularly critical. I remember Mark Coker, founder of SmashWords, was highly vocal on the SmashWords Blog about his warnings that enrolling in Amazon’s KDP Select program would erode more of our publishing freedoms.

Mark Coker also warned us that if self-published authors signed their books into exclusivity with the KDP Select program, it would put many of Amazon’s competitors out of business. Mark tried to explain to his Blog readers why Amazon’s competitors were important for self-published authors. But not many authors listened.

Shortly thereafter, we saw a few of Amazon’s biggest competitors exit the market one by one. Dozens more reappeared and disappeared again within five years. Sony’s exit was a painful one because their royalty payment was a big part of my sales income. Amazon won the hearts and minds of self-published authors worldwide with a single revenue-sharing program called KDP Select.

What is KDP Select? Think of a big gambling table where the winners share a pool of money while the losers are encouraged to try again. But you’re not betting your money, instead you’re betting your book. And once you bet your book, you’re prohibited from offering that book on any other platform but Amazon’s for the next 3 months.

You also can’t remove your book after you have enrolled it. So if after one month you figured that ‘maybe this Select game is not for me,’ you can’t get out. You’re stuck for the next 2 months. That is Amazon’s KDP Select in a nutshell.

In 2011, the monthly pool or prize money was 500 thousand US dollars. Today, it is over 51 million. Suffice to say, over this same time, the number of KDP Select authors has risen from 1 to 10 million, more or less.

But are KDP Select authors making more money from all this growth? Most authors in my focus groups report that their overall sales from Amazon have either declined or completely ceased. Millions of KDP authors have not received a royalty payment from Amazon in the past 18 months.

By dissuading entrepreneurial liberty and encouraging personal dependence on Amazon’s platform, Amazon overtly introduced a new method of self-publishing that we call Dependent Publishing due to Amazon’s unique requirements that authors should give up their independence before they can participate.

Before KDP Select, self-publishing was all about independence and the goal of self-published authors was to be available in as many outlets as possible. Self-publishing did not begin with Amazon, however. More than 100 years ago, authors who were determined still found a way to publish themselves. It’s still not a domain for the faint of heart. But by making it easy for any Tom, Dick and Harry to self-publish a book, the result is many self-published authors don’t know how or have forgotten how to be independent.

Most new authors don’t understand what dependent publishing means because it was called KDP Select and not Dependent Publishing. Yet when many authors look outside their KDP account, most of them can see that they own nothing. If Amazon terminates their account, most KDP authors will walk away with nothing but their manuscripts, no matter how many years of hard work they may have poured into building a sales rank at Amazon. That is the meaning of Dependent Publishing in pictures, and that’s the stark reality for the millions of self-published authors enrolled in KDP Select.

Amazon loves self-published authors so much that they want to keep you weak and dependent. That is why they launched their second gambling table years later, called Kindle Unlimited. Today with both KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited, Amazon has enslaved the hearts and minds of millions of authors worldwide. And although the pool of prize money keeps growing, the earnings for numerous KDP authors have been free-falling since 2020.

While it is easy to blame other people and situations such as the economy and politics, I like to point out that the reason most authors don’t make any money from these KDP programs is because they’re games for the rich and famous. Both programs are designed to attract the rich and famous. And while everyone is welcome to play at the tables, the bulk of the prize money still goes to the rich and famous. For the ordinary authors, their only reward is hope, sufficient hope for the next 90 days.

On the other side of self-publishing are the authors like myself who are publishing independently, investing in their own website platforms and minding their own businesses. They are sending traffic to their own website, and their customer base is growing. They are not waiting and counting on hope because they’re in control.

The question to ask is, what is more important to you in your life? Do you want to depend on others for your success while hoping the people you depend on are acting in your best interest? Or do you want to acquire the skills and knowledge you need to control your investment and build your own success? If you’re comfortable with having others dictate the course of your life and finances, then tune out of this show and keep doing what you’re doing.

The Eritail Show is for those people who are intelligent enough to ask the right questions. Questions like: Am I on the right track? Is this my business? Am I investing my time and effort into something I control? How can I serve more people? Who controls the future of my business?

There are two types of investors when it comes to investing in a business such as the publishing business. Inside investors, and outside investors.

If you are a self-published author operating your publishing business through Amazon KDP, you’re an outside investor. But if you’re Jeff Bezos, then you’re an inside investor.

Here is one more example. If you are operating your business on your Facebook page or profile, you’re an outside investor. But if you’re Mark Zuckerberg, then you’re an inside investor.

The benefit of publishing and operating on your own platform is so glorifying, and you can be your own Mark or Jeff if you possess equal or more faith in yourself.

So authors who publish independently and operate on their own platform are inside investors. While authors who publish and operate on other people’s platforms are known as outside investors.

The danger of publishing and operating on other people’s platforms is such that we have all experienced it. It’s that moment when you cannot login to your Facebook account because your account has been disabled. That’s when you realize that when you thought you were in control, you actually had zero, nothing but an illusion of control.

Although I was only 19 years old in 2012 when I first stumbled on Mr Coker’s article where he articulated the need for competition to exist among ebook distributors, yet my brain could understood what Mark was ranting about. I just somehow knew that authors would get better terms and benefits if there were several retailers and distributors competing for market space.

And I saw Mark Coker putting his rant to practice when he started his own e-bookstore. Years later when Draft2Digital sprang up with Kris Austin as their CEO, Mr Coker was one of those who approved. Mark’s article also inspired me to start my first e-bookstore and distribution company in 2014 where I signed over 200 authors from different parts of the world.

Today, both SmashWords and Draft2Digital have not only been acquired, they’ve been merged to become one company. Once more, the competition is squashed, and Mark Coker and Kris Austin now have the same employer. Again the dream is lost, and the history and lessons get buried in the dust.

I was an evangelist for Draft2Digital for many years until 2022 when they froze my royalty payments. SmashWords and Draft2Digital have been quiet for many years, and nobody could suspect that either company was being sold. Mark Coker really smashed his words in that sale. The entire sale happened unceremoniously but, of course, the merger was announced.

I was recommending Draft2Digital to thousands of authors because I genuinely thought it was a reliable company. I personally helped 100s of authors create their Draft2Digital accounts for the same reason, and the reason is because I believed that this was a business you could trust, and build and grow with.

That was until I reached out to their support in 2023 to know why my royalty payments aren’t being sent, and they responded by deleting my account along with all my unpaid royalties. This is the accumulation of nearly ten years of marketing and promoting my D2D links in blood and tears.

My sales at SmashWords were far smaller and negligible to me when compared to sales at Draft2Digital. And that was because I distributed few books through SmashWords but I distributed nearly a hundred books through my Draft2Digital account.

For a few years I was the D2D expert, but because I was an outside investor, meaning that I was participating from the outside, so I didn’t know that the company was being sold. And what was the first thing the new owners did? They kicked me out. I didn’t do anything wrong. All they told me in essence was, they don’t want me anymore. And that was it. They didn’t even answer my only question of what did I do? They didn’t even feel the need to explain why.

Are you publishing your book on someone else’s website and you feel that you are in control? Just wait for the real owners to arrive and they’ll show you who is in control. Draft2Digital kicked me out and deleted my account after I sent them an email asking about why my royalties were not paid. That was my only offense. I thought the money I earn through someone’s website is MY money. I thought it was my right to ask for MY money. And I believed I was in control. I didn’t think I did anything wrong.

So that’s the focus of this program today. Imagine you built an author following for nearly a decade using Draft2Digital to reach stores like Apple, Kobo, and more. Then one fateful day, somebody you’ve never met brings it all down and erases your history. What will you do? What if you were depending on that income? It’s your money. You’d deserve every cent of it after 10 years of hard work. Or don’t you agree?

So if you’re self-published author, no matter where you’re publishing your books, the questions you may want to ask yourself right now are: Who controls my self-publishing business? Who controls my book production? Who controls my book sales? Who controls my book customers? And if the answer to those questions is not YOU, YOU, YOU and YOU, then what are the alternatives? And what can you start doing differently? Those are the questions I will be answering after we return from this short break…

Break…

Music…

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