Two things you need to see for the following saga to make sense.

BN.com clipping
BN.com clipping
Amazon Clipping
Amazon Clipping

One of the things you sign up for when you publish with Kindle Direct Publishing is accepting that they may, at their discretion, match the price for your novel if they discover it elsewhere. KDP also requires that you give them complete control over your retail price, regardless of the price you set. Basically, they can put it on sale at will.

My saga began on 9/30/11. I checked my KDP dashboard in the morning to see if anything had sold over night, and the same 6 sales were there as appeared on Thursday. Okay. No big thing. I checked again later Friday afternoon, and 610 copies had sold.

Joy? WTF? PARDON ME?!

I went to my product page and discovered that my book had magically been discounted 100% (see image #2). Filled with WFT and panic, I dropped a couple of emails to KDP to find out what had happened. It took four days to get a response, during which time, thousands of copies of my first novel were given away.

The answer was what I described to you in the first paragraph. KDP discovered my book on BN.com for free, and matched that price. Alright.

Take a look at those images again. Do you notice anything different about the books, cover art or titles?

Yes. They aren’t the same book. The BN version is a free teaser of the first three chapters of the full novel, which is the one pictured in the Amazon clipping. KDP’s terms stipulate that they will change the price if they find the SAME work priced differently elsewhere. This isn’t what happened with me. They found something that is quite similar, asked no questions, and used their power to discount my novel 100%.

I have complained as much as possible, but KDP does not have telephone contact with the outside world, and I have this distinct impression that they’re in India. I even took the book down twice, hoping that something would reset. Nope.

My response from KDP, when it arrived on 10/7/2011 was this:
Hello James, I’m writing to follow up with you regarding your title, “Blood Soaked and Contagious.” We’ve taken necessary action to update the price of your title on our website. I see that you’ve currently unpublished your title from our website. We request your to republish your title, so it can be available for sale on our website with in 24-48 hours. Please be assured, when your book goes live on our website, correct price will be updated. We’re sorry, we’re unable to pay royalties for your sales when your title was listed at $0 on our website. As per our KDP Terms and Conditions, we retain discretion over the retail price of a Kindle book. For more information, please refer to our KDP Terms and Conditions at the below link. REDACTED

Thanks for your understanding and patience.

Regards,

Suresh Rao

Kindle Direct Publishing http://kdp.amazon.com

KDP does not even admit to the error. Nice.

As of 45 minutes ago, KDP has given away 5104 copies of my book for free. I do not know what, if any, recourse I have in this situation. I feel as though my potential future earnings have been impacted, to say nothing of my present earnings. Is it too much to expect that KDP’s price matching vigilance be ACCURATE when you sign over that control?

Oh, as a coda to this: my book price has NOT been corrected yet. It’s still up there for free.

Please boost this signal. There are a lot of new E-Authors out there who need to know that this can happen, and who might want to think twice about their distribution channels.

Note: This is the final communication from KDP customer service about the issue. http://wp.me/p1MKT2-33

18 comments

  1. wackamole520

    James – I feel crappy about reading your book for free now that I’ve read about what happened. I obviously didn’t know and I hope my review about how great the book was will help in the future. You’ve got a fan out here and I’ll wait and purchase whatever comes next.

    • admin

      I really appreciate your review. Like I said in my comment on Amazon, it makes me really happy when a reader “gets it”. No need to feel crappy. I would have taken advantage of something being free, too. My beef is with Kindle Direct, not the people who have my book. I hope to have the sequel finished by early next year, but will probably put up a few short pieces of other projects between now and then.

      Best wishes and thanks for your support,
      J

    • admin

      The teaser was published through Smashwords and distributed to BN as a freebie. It was intended to be a free product, based on my original plan of serializing the novel at $0.99 an issue, rather than releasing the full product at once. After the pricing issue was fixed by KDP, I raised the price, hoping to recoup some of the losses from the Freebie Fiasco.

  2. Michael

    Have you had a lawyer look over the terms? IANAL, but here’s what stands out to me from the KDP terms and pricing page.

    “From time to time your book may be made available through other sales channels as part of a free promotion. It is important that Digital Books made available through the Program have promotions that are on par with free promotions of the same book in another sales channel. Therefore, if your Digital Book is available through another sales channel for free, we may also make it available for free.”

    A three chapter excerpt most certainly isn’t ‘the same book’ by any stretch of the imagination. Any reader would agree.

    “We will have sole discretion in determining all marketing and promotions related to the sale of your Digital Books through the Program and may, without limitation, market and promote your Digital Books by making chapters or portions of your Digital Books available to prospective customers without charge, and by permitting prospective customers to see excerpts of your Digital Books in response to search queries.”

    At first this looks bad, because they invoke ‘without limitation’, however they then go on to limit the scope to ‘by making chapters or portions’ available for free. I don’t believe anyone would reasonably interpret giving away ‘chapters or portions’ to include giving away an entire book. The words themselves indicate something less than a whole.

    They have this scary bit at the end:

    “THE PROGRAM IS PROVIDED “AS IS.” WE WILL IN NO EVENT BE LIABLE FOR ANY LOSS OF DATA, LOSS OF PROFITS, COST OF COVER OR OTHER SPECIAL, INCIDENTAL, CONSEQUENTIAL, INDIRECT, EXEMPLARY OR RELIANCE DAMAGES ARISING FROM OR IN RELATION TO THIS AGREEMENT, OR FOR ANY EQUITABLE REMEDY OF DISGORGEMENT OR OTHERWISE, HOWEVER CAUSED AND REGARDLESS OF THEORY OF LIABILITY.”

    To me none of that seems to indicate they can’t be held responsible for negligence; however maybe it is covered by one of those weighted words. Considering they would owe you more than $20k+ in royalties if held accountable for their mistake, it may very well be worth getting a lawyer’s opinion. One possible angle to pursue is that you pulled the book to prevent any further losses, and were assured that once relisted it would have the correct price. If I understood correctly, it did not, and Amazon continued to give it away. I believe that Amazon’s assurance that it would be corrected can be considered a contract, and they breached that contract by failing to ensure the pricing was fixed.

    By no means am I suggesting going lawsuit crazy, but there may be some room here to influence them into doing the right thing.

    • admin

      Michael, you may well have a point. This has been put forth to me by a number of people, but there is one major snag for an independent author. If you poke around the copyright infringement area a bit, you’ll note that there’s a Sword of Damocles waiting for anyone who wants to press an issue. If I made suit and won, or not, Amazon can terminate the contract at any time, leaving me without 80% of the market. I might gain that XX,000 dollars at the cost of the largest distribution channel for my product.

      Is there something afoot at Amazon? Yes. I have yet to decide if I’m so bold as to court the Sword of Damocles.

      • Bob, Texas

        Michael, do you want the hard truth or are you content to have everyone commiserate with how you were treated? Man up. Amazon has treated you unfairly. Their own contract doesn’t allow them to give away your work product and they most likely violated common law.

        Why are you worried about pleasing the company that stole from you? If your attorney presented the facts and their responsibilities and they settled, your settlement would include a provision insuring you would not be discriminated against in the future.

        If you were to file suit, Amazon legal would not allow the company to act in a manner that could be considered as ‘unfair business practices’ before a resolution.

        If you sued, would Amazon put you on a ‘blacklist’? Are you kidding. You said yourself they have 80% market share. By preventing you (or any valid author) from publishing would open them up to a restraint of trade and monopoly claims. Plus, they only get paid if they sell books. So there is no reason to not publish your future books if they might sell.

        If you won’t stand up for your own property rights, no one will. However, you could look at it from Amazon’s perspective. You are a pretty good guy. You wrote a book and allowed them to make some 5,000 Amazon customers happy without them having to pay you anything for your efforts. Some of those customers may have made other purchases during the same transaction and they will all certainly come back to the Amazon website to look around. It is big win for them as all they have to do is have a minimum wage employee write you a ‘sorry’ message.

  3. Michael

    Understood. When you put it that way, I’m not sure what I would do either.

    On the bright side, 5000+ readers now who you are, which may do you some good with your next release. I’ve definitely added you to my TBR list.

  4. Matthew Peek

    IANAL either, however, generally any contract that is not negotiated in good faith isn’t a contract. Since all you did was click through their boilerplate in order to publish your book, this may still be actionable. And since there appears to be at least a few thousand dollars at stake, it may well be worth looking into. You might want to consider finding an intellectual property rights/contracts attorney who has some experience with electronic media. At the very least a consultation may be revealing as to your rights.

  5. Cas

    On the plus side, after reading your article, we got curious, and have just purchased! (and my other half’s just picked up another of your books!) may not be 5k sales, but at least its two!

    • admin

      Cas, I appreciate it and hope you enjoy your purchases. I didn’t expect Cory to retweet my thank you note… but I’m not going to bitch, either. Stick around and read the “Manleigh Cheese” story as it rolls along. I didn’t expect to be trying my hand at urban fantasy, but I’m having a lot of fun with it! Now, back to working on “Blood-soaked” book 3.
      -J

  6. Melissa Maygrove

    Coming over from Ashley Barron’s blog…
    I’m curious. I’ve read that authors will sometimes set their ebook price at 99c or Free to generate sales and elevate their book in the rankings. Even though it was an error in your case,  did you find that the promotion generated more sales once the price was changed back?

    • bloodsoakedandwriting

      Melissa,
      I wish I could say it did a lot, but I can’t be sure. I’d sold about 20 copies by the time the fubar occurred, and didn’t have much time to establish a sales history to work with. I would say something like 100 or so copies sold in the months following. Would they have sold without the extra press? I can’t say.

      Best wishes,
      J

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