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History Repeats Itself: KDP Select Is's 'Payback For Playback' 70

New submitter brennanw writes "Anyone who was active on during the late 90s/early 2000's will find's KDP Select awfully familiar: authors who make their works exclusive to Amazon compete for a pool of money. Any time someone 'borrows' one of their books, they get a cut of a monthly sum (700K in January, 600K for February) based on how many of their books were checked out vs. how many other author's books were checked out. This is almost identical to the 'Payback for Playback' service provided musicians a little over a decade ago. Payback for Playback effectively destroyed the original artist community, and I don't think KDP Select is going to be much different for the self-publishing community that is growing on Amazon."
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History Repeats Itself: KDP Select Is's 'Payback For Playback'

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  • by Jackdaw Rookery ( 696327 ) * on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @07:56PM (#38961319) Homepage Journal

    Authors are going to get less from this. Even if it works, 600K is not that much, what happens when the pool runs out?

    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      Amazon gets their stuff for free, I suppose. Amazon ultimately is the greatest enemy authors have ever known, but they'll be so busy attacking Google and the pirates that they won't realize that they just cut off their balls and handed them to one of the most repugnant back of crooks in the world.

    • Re:Such a dumb move (Score:5, Informative)

      by ynp7 ( 1786468 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @08:13PM (#38961465)

      They don't pay out based on the retail price of the "borrowed" book so the pool isn't going to "run out." The payout is your percentage of "borrowed" books times the monthly fund amount, like this:

      [your borrowed books] / [total borrowed books] * [monthly fund]

      Amazon has stated that the program will receive at least $12 million in funding for 2012. Whether that means that they'll provide at least $500,000/month or if they'll dip lower (considering they're up to $1.3 million already) later has yet to be seen.

      One point that the original article seems to be missing is that KDP Select titles can only be borrowed by people who a) are Amazon Prime subscribers and b) own Amazon Kindle devices. While this doesn't completely inoculate the service from the sort of "gaming" that he refers to on, that's a much higher barrier to entry than signing up for an account and downloading a file for free. Additionally, each account can only borrow one book a month and only the first borrow for each title from an account counts toward the bounty.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by uigrad_2000 ( 398500 )

        One point that the original article seems to be missing is that KDP Select titles can only be borrowed by people who a) are Amazon Prime subscribers and b) own Amazon Kindle devices. While this doesn't completely inoculate the service from the sort of "gaming" that he refers to on, that's a much higher barrier to entry than signing up for an account and downloading a file for free.

        So, the idea is that one fan can no longer download your book 50 times, so that will stop the fraud. Well, it doesn't stop the fraud, it just makes the fraud more creative.

        Kings of Chaos [] is a game built around this very principle! Each player gets a unique link that they share with their friends, and every time it is clicked on, you get more troops for your army. Each of your friends can only click on your link once every 24 hours.

        So, people form giant guilds (thousands in a guild), and they all store th

        • by Anonymous Coward

          You missed part of the GP's point. You can't go through an "borrow" 50 different books to help people you've grouped up with: you're limited to one per account. Given the cost of entry, unless you really aren't reading anything anyway you're going to use that one loaner a month for yourself, and otherwise most people either aren't interested in trying to game the system or don't make a big difference with one or two extra downloads.

        • KDP Select appears to me to be KOC again, but it's no longer a game, and real money is given out. I fully expect it to be a complete disaster.

          But in order to "game" the system you need a unique Amazon account - that has ALSO paid the $75/year for Amazon prime. Given the amount of money coming out of the system how do you think someone looking to game the system can justify purchasing straw man accounts at $75/pop?

        • by ynp7 ( 1786468 )

          Considering that you don't have a clue I reckon that your expectations won't amount to much in the real world. A year of Prime costs $80, a Kindle device costs $80, so far each borrowed book has earned less than $2, each Prime member with a Kindle gets one book a month. Only a moron or a clueless twat looking for free hits from Slashdot would think that's a profitable "game" to play.

        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          *After your free trial, Amazon Prime is just $79/year.*

          if people want to play like that on this then they'll be paying for it and they'll only get to affect one book dl per month anyways?

          the real kicker is that there's not that much money to share, though that depends on the number of how many writers get to dominate it. if you managed to get half the borrows that would be really something I suppose.

    • Re:Such a dumb move (Score:4, Informative)

      by inflex ( 123318 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @11:34PM (#38962983) Homepage Journal

      It would be a dumb move if that was the only financial pool authors could draw from - but it's not; it's only there for the lending/borrowing. Sales via the normal channels are still sales that you obtain money from directly - it's the best of both options. The KDP-Select "free" days are a nice addition, it gives you a chance to release a new book with minimal barriers of adoption - though the uptake rates are dropping significantly from the original "tens of thousands per day" when KDP-Select free was announced - however, it's still useful for a product launch.

      We recently moved a couple of books to KDP-Select strictly for the free days and it has helped (easier than managing coupons!), though after 90 days we're putting our books back to normal KDP and then sharing the eBook editions out via LightningSource/INGRAM. [] - Fantasy - Vampires - Zombies

  • Why destroyed? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Zardus ( 464755 ) <> on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @07:58PM (#38961343) Homepage Journal

    What did the PfP program do that was so bad to Honestly curious.

    • Re:Why destroyed? (Score:5, Informative)

      by Seraphim1982 ( 813899 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @08:05PM (#38961389)

      People basically had bots (or a bunch of their friends) play their songs over and over allow them to rack up large play numbers.

      I believe Amazon charges a significant fee to use their borrowing service (IIRC you need Amazon Prime) and puts limits on the number of books you can take out in a given period of time, so this shouldn't be an issue with them.

    • Re:Why destroyed? (Score:5, Informative)

      by brennanw ( 5761 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @08:08PM (#38961421) Homepage Journal

      The main thing to understand about PfP was that it was a fixed pool of money that never changed. It was one million dollars a month, which is nothing to sneeze at, but in the beginning (before they required you be a premium member) there were a LOT of artists on who were eligible, and that one million dollar pool started looking pretty shallow. So in order to increase their returns, some artists began to game the system:

        - get their fans to download PfP songs over and over again to maximize their count
        - coordinate with other artists to pool their fans, increasing downloads for both
        - a few tried to start PR campaigns against some of the more popular PfP artists in an attempt to reduce their downloads

      Essentially by putting all these artists in a fixed pool, it turned a community of allies into a community of competitors, and it got pretty nasty. There wasn't much left of the original community once that started.

      • by ynp7 ( 1786468 )

        While there's some chance that may happen in some degree with KDP Select, I don't think it's reasonable to assume that it will happen here because it happened with The main reasons being:

        1) Customers must be Prime subscribers with Amazon Kindle devices to participate.
        2) Each customer can only "borrow" one title a month.
        3) Only the first time a customer "borrows" a title does it count toward the bounty.

        Considering that the one copy of my book that was borrowed in December only netted me $1.70, I can

        • I had overlooked the Prime thing, and yes, that will probably cut down on gaming. However, you could still game by trying to stuff the ballot box on your end by putting tens, fifties, hundreds of titles into the pool... the wiki-rippers come to mind.

          • by ynp7 ( 1786468 )

            Which would require that people waste their one monthly borrow on that garbage content, which is unlikely. You may also wish to note that in order for this type of content to be included in KDP Select two things would have to happen 1) the "publisher" would have to fail to check the "public domain" box when publishing (a violation of Amazon's terms of service for KDP) and 2) Amazon would have to fail to catch this inappropriately published content.

            While they clearly don't do a perfect (or maybe even good) j

      • by biovoid ( 785377 )

        I was active in the scene both before Payback for Playback (we called it P4P not PfP), during P4P and up until the demise of While there were musicians who were gaming the system (and it was fairly obvious who they were), it by no means destroyed any communities, nor turned artist against artist. I was lucky enough to earn over ten thousand dollars during P4P without any gaming (up to US$3k during my best month), and I know several other artists who did much better, and just as honestly. Th

        • I miss Quite a few electronic acts simply disappeared after it folded. Too bad no one archived the site, there were quite a few tracks I didn't have a chance to get, and I have long since forgotten the artist's names.
    • The blog entry says that it effectively ruined the musician community that had been surrounding by turning them all against one another in order to increase their own share of the pie. Previously, they had apparently had a rather good community with decent camaraderie, but once they were splitting the money based on the number of downloads they had, it resulted in the artists encouraging their fans to repeatedly download their tracks, colluding with other artists to pool their fan bases so that thei

      • Sounds like an interesting social study into what happens when you introduce direct competition into an otherwise cooperation based system.

        Has implications in terms of, for example, the UK NHS reforms (who's sole stated aim is just that- replace cooperation with competition to "increase efficiency").

    • What did the PfP program do that was so bad to Honestly curious.

      Popular shit got money, everyone else cried.
      It didn't ruin anything, it worked exactly as functioned.

      • ... not for the most part, anyway. The gamers never reached the upper tiers of revenue as far as I remember. But they were pulling out all the stops to try to get there and it wrecked the place.

      • Only problem was the "popular shit" wasn't always popular. If your authentic song dared reach the first page in its category, you'd almost immediately get a flurry of inflammatory comments from the guys trying to game the system and basically libeling you on your own pages.

        • by gl4ss ( 559668 )

          Only problem was the "popular shit" wasn't always popular. If your authentic song dared reach the first page in its category, you'd almost immediately get a flurry of inflammatory comments from the guys trying to game the system and basically libeling you on your own pages.

          hows that different from the normal pop music market?

    • Botting.

      The PfP idea was fine, and I made a few bucks from it, but there were some very obviously shit tunes that got ridiculous numbers of plays/downloads because people were gaming the system. Their metrics were flawed and little was done to curb this cheating, which was quite disheartening to us since all uploads were supposedly reviewed (to avoid copyright infringement). They had all this manpower making sure you didn't upload commercial music, but nobody monitoring the fraudsters. Then the site just

      • Darn it, I cheerfully would have paid per playback out of my own money, and still might do so, at certain price points. If I can listen to the 30sec sample for free, then it might make sense to listen to the entire song for oh, a dime, and then either decide to buy a copy, or to bookmark it and see if I still remember it a week later. No doubt there's a reason why no-one is doing this, but it escapes me.

  • by nurb432 ( 527695 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @08:03PM (#38961373) Homepage Journal

    Aside from the kickback ( is that legal or does it get into the anti-competitive arena? ) aren't dead tree books exclusive to one publisher?

    While i would like choice of format as much as the next guy, the precedent has been around for a LONG time.

    • by brennanw ( 5761 )

      Exclusive to one publisher, maybe. Exclusive to one distributor? That's pretty new. You can buy the same book at Barnes and Noble and Amazon... you don't publish a "B&N Edition" and an "Amazon Edition..." With eBooks, the distributors are trying to push people in that direction, though.

      • All of the national book chains have long had "exclusive to x" lines. Granted, it's been more common for distributors to do exclusive editions but exclusive titles are not all that rare. Usually, but not always, the exclusive titles are of poor quality: cook books, how to books, coffee table books, et cetera.

    • Not really. There are several publication rights that can be had on a written work. You often see one publisher release the hardcover, another the paperback, another the audiobook, etc.

      Now, to be sure, one publisher usually gets a share of those other formats, but that's on a case by case basis. There's no reason why a written work couldn't have more than one publisher over time.

    • by Lehk228 ( 705449 )
      it's perfectly legal, just as there are whole lines of products only available at certain stores

      this is why it's vital for customers to make it crystal clear that that shit is unacceptable and will be punished
    • The difference is that even though generally only one publisher is granted the right to publish a "dead tree" version, publishers do not own the retail outlets. So, if an author signs a deal with Random House, the book is still sold to the general public through Barnes & Noble, Amazon, and any mom & pop bookstore that cares to sell it. If an author signs a book deal with Amazon, the only way for consumers to get the book is from Amazon.
      I am not saying that any laws need to be written, or that any a
  • by Sasayaki ( 1096761 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @08:11PM (#38961449)

    As a KDP Select author (I wrote Lacuna: []), I have to say I'm a huge fan... and the borrows are just a nice perk.

    Essentially what happens is this. Amazon puts $X in an account, your payout is that sum divided by total borrows, times by your borrows. So if there's $500,00 in the pool, and 500,000 borrows total, and you have six, you get $6. The cost of your book or its popularity don't matter.

    HOWEVER... not everyone can borrow. The only people who can borrow are Amazon Prime members ($79 a year), and they can only borrow one book a month. Prime's main attraction for most people is the ability to get free priority shipping (as I understand it). The book borrows are just a perk and from what we've seen so far most Prime members aren't even using that feature.

    Over January there were a lot of borrows because Amazon gave anyone a one month free trial of Amazon Prime. That's why they upped the amount from $500,000 to $700,000 in January. For reference, the borrows in December paid out about $1.70, which equated to a pretty good deal for those who publish at $0.99 since the 35% royalty meant those people were getting $1.70 per "purchase" rather than 35 cents.

    Rumour is that Amazon felt that $1.70 was still too low, that's why the pool in February is $600,000 (up from $500,000) even though the free month has expired. Since we're expecting a lot fewer borrows this month, it's anticipated that borrows are going to be worth a lot more. My own borrows have dropped off a fair bit even though sales have picked up.

    All that said... the main benefit of Select is not the borrows. The borrows are just a nice perk. The main benefit is the KDP Free Days... you get 5 days per 90 days where you can set your book as free ($0). Doing so gives you a huge publicity boost since in every way (aside from pay, and paid rankings), Amazon treats these as paid sales. That means that if you push a lot of free books you get on the "movers and shakers list" and for people who bought your free book and something else, your book has a good chance of appearing on that other books "Customers Who Bought This Also Bought..." list, which is a fantastic way to get a lot of publicity.

    KDP Select has been a huge boon for unknown authors and in fact has encouraged the community over at to grow substantially; there is now a massive so-called "MEGA THREAD" regarding KDP Select free days results and it's one of the most popular threads around.

    For reference, I usually sell about 1-2 copies of Lacuna: Demons of the Void a day. Post free-days I get a massive boost, usually in the order of 10-50x more sales, usually 2-5 days after the free periods end as that's when Amazon does their "also boughts" recalculation.

    KDP Select is awesome and the exclusivity of it doesn't matter to me since Amazon is the 300kg gorilla in the eBook market. It's important to note that the exclusivity does NOT apply to paperback versions of the same book, and in fact in the "Welcome To KDP Select!" email you get they actively encourage you to use various non-Amazon paperback publishing services.

    All my works (including some shorts published under a pen name) are all in KDP Select and for the moment I'm sticking with it. The borrows are just a nice little garnish... the real benefits, especially for lesser known authors, lies elsewhere.

    • Prime's main attraction for most people is the ability to get free priority shipping (as I understand it).

      It's also availability of quite a few titles from Amazon Video-on-Demand for free.

    • by RyuuzakiTetsuya ( 195424 ) <taiki AT cox DOT net> on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @08:25PM (#38961551)

      Here's another author with a similar experience. []

      Unlike payback for playbacks, Amazon's got a solid monetization plan behind KDP. It's also difficult to game too.

    • by gknoy ( 899301 )

      I realize this is almost completely off-topic, but thank you for mentioning your book. (I noticed it and was replying before I read far enough to see your sig. ;)) I'd wanted to read it back when all that was out was the teaser bits, so now I've added it to my wish list so that I don't forget it. Is there a non-Kindle version? I normally prefer to read on my Nook, and am unaware of how easy it is to convert files. Does Amazon put any pressure on you to keep it in a Kindle format?

      It's pretty neat to have su

      • Heh, thank you! I'm always happy to jump in on Slashdot articles I find interesting. Since KDP Select is one such area, and no other authors had posted, I thought I'd chime in.

        At the moment there's no non-Kindle version, and any other electronic version would break the exclusivity agreement of KDP Select; I can't publish it on Nook, or I would. Note that you don't need a Kindle to read Kindle books, there's a free app for Androids, iPhones, iPads, PC and Macs. Pretty sure there's not a version for Nook as t

    • by inflex ( 123318 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @11:18PM (#38962891) Homepage Journal

      Except the big gain of the KDP-Select, the free days as you say, are already starting to lose its impact. We see each other on KB (Hi, I'm MrPLD) and we can see it falling away in front of us. We pulled ~2000 freebies last week over 3 days, but when it originally came out people were getting 10,000+, now more and more people are only seeing 50~200 freebies.

      Sooner or later, we're all going to have to go back to the traditional way of getting our readership, we're running out of "pricing as marketing" strategies, unless we want to start paying readers $1/book (and yes, it will happen, I'm fairly sure).

      I'm off the auto-renewal after 90 days on KDP, the free days were a nice thing, but I do wonder in some ways if Amazon isn't trying to make the independents destroy their own kind with this strategy [cynical hat on]. []

    • KDP Select is awesome and the exclusivity of it doesn't matter to me since Amazon is the 300kg gorilla in the eBook market.

      The right expression is 800 lb gorilla [] or 362.87 kg gorilla.

  • by p88h ( 446549 ) on Tuesday February 07, 2012 @08:16PM (#38961479)

    The money is for the books being borrowed by paying customers (Prime members); and one per month at that, so while it's still possible to game the system, it'd be rather tricky.

  • Subscription services for books like Safari Books Online [] already "loans" books with a model like this. They pay out from a pool based on the number of times a book is selected from their library. Of course a single use isn't going to pay out as much as a purchase, but the alternative is for a Safari-like subscription library to buy a single copy, or as many copies as would be used simultaneously, and do license management. And that opens the whole DRM can of wor

  • Payback for playback killed the original artist community? That's funny, 'cause I could've sworn it was the RIAA lawsuit that shutdown the site for a while that did that.
    • The original community was broken into pieces and moving over to other sites (like the ill-fated before the RIAA lawsuit came to be.

  • A while back, the EFF proposed a similar payout scheme which would allow pirates to voluntarily pay a monthly fee and the money would get paid out to creators who's work was pirated based on the number of downloads. It sounds a lot like the EFF's suggested plan. []
  • I got my book into the KDP thingy ... the biggest thing is that you can make your book available for free for 5 days, hence I now got my book available for free on amazon until tonight.

    The worst part of using amazon is that your book is effectively "lost" in the hundreds of thousands of crap that is there. Even doing a verbatim search for the title of my book doesn't result in a showing on the first page, you have to go to it directly like this []. I was hoping to get a few reviews, but no go - for every 50

Things are not as simple as they seems at first. - Edward Thorp