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Amazon to Launch New Crowd Source Platform, Now Recruiting KDP Authors

22 September 2014

From The Digital Reader:

Here’s a new publishing program from Amazon which is so new that it doesn’t yet have a launch day, URL, or even a name.

Late last week Amazon started sending out emails to KDP authors, informing them of a new program which Amazon plans to launch soon. According to the email, which was forwarded to me by author Angela Kulig and by Amazon’s pr dept, when the new program launches authors will be welcomed to submit their unpublished book to what I would describe as a crowd sourcing program. 

Details are still scarce, but the email did say that it will work like this:

  1. Authors will be asked to submit their complete, never-before-published book and cover.
  2. After a few days, we will post the first pages of each book on a new website for readers to preview and nominate their favorites.
  3. Books with the most nominations will be reviewed by our team for potential publication.

. . . .

Amazon isn’t the first publisher to try crowd-sourcing (in fact, a couple have launched similar programs in the past couple years) but if and when this program launches they will certainly be the most visible.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader and thanks to Felix for the tip.

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83 Comments to “Amazon to Launch New Crowd Source Platform, Now Recruiting KDP Authors”

  1. Sounds a bit like Steam green light or something. Interesting in concept but far too easy to game.

    • Agreed. Anything with “voting” as part of its premise is ripe for abuse. It sounds a lot like Authonomy, which one of the Big 5/6 started few years ago (Harper Collins, I think) that never really went anywhere as far as I saw.

      • Perhaps. I’d expect you’d need to have an Amazon account to vote, and it would be fairly easy for them to spot a large number of accounts that had been created solely to boost an undeserving book to the top of the list. Even if they didn’t spot it at that stage, they’d chuck it out when they reviewed it for possible publication.

        Crappy authors gaming the system with lots of crappy books won’t result in lots of crappy books being published, but it might result in Amazon deciding that crowdsourcing (or at least, this type of crowdsourcing) doesn’t work for books.

        I struggled with Authonomy for a year or so soon after it started (managed to get to about 150 on the chart), then waved goodbye to it once I discovered KDP. I still get newsletters from them every few months, and each time I’m astonished they’re still around.

      • Amazon already has systems in place for dealing with this in other places, e.g. customer reviews. It’s not perfect but it does work pretty well.

        • And it sounds like they have final say on what titles make it through to the end, so they are only spending money on books they believe in. I agree the temptation to game this system will lead many to try, but I don’t think it’ll work without great writing. And ‘Zon will likely “see” any attempts on the back end.

  2. For me the interesting thing is the contract terms.

    • Wow! That’s an interesting take on terms. Something to think about, though I’d never win a popularity contest. 😆

    • Yeah, it’s like somebody at Amazon got a hold of the contracts Exciting Press uses, and I obviously think that’s awesome. Limited-term? Digital-only?

      So, so cool.

      Even the royalty terms are pretty good. And what Amazon seems to lack in terms of design/branding chops (I haven’t been very impressed by their covers, for one), they obviously make up for in data analytics and marketing muscle.

  3. Didn’t Harper Collins do that with Authonomy?

    • How friendly were the contract terms?
      Hydra-ish?

      • The prize for getting to the top on Authonomy is/was a review from a HarperCollins editor. There was never any guarantee that any of the winners would ever be published. A few have been, and I assume (though I’ve no way of knowing) that the contract terms were similar to what they’d offer to anyone who came in through an agent or the slush pile.

        • Life of copyright plus 70, then…

          • I take it you mean “life of copyright”? How do you enforce a contract with an author’s estate when the rights that allowed them to enter into the contract don’t exist any more? 😉

            • Yup, life plus 70.

            • I think that was meant to be “life of author plus 70.”

            • Correct jacintha. As Kris Rusch pointed out [google her name and copyrights for more info]… in the USA, copyrighted mss are assets that figure in various ways, depending on tax law of the moment, once an author dies. The assets of the author, such that they be, including the assets of the mss, can be passed to heirs. Not sure how it works in other parts of the world. The 70 years after death was to attempt to help those who inherited, depending on how they did or did not take care of the contracts in place, or create new ones. Thousands of such cases can be found in many a deceased and well known author’s estate left to a university for instance.

  4. The terms seem fairly good, if they actually do more to promote the book than just stick it in KU.

    • Sounds like they’ll be listed on promotional emails, similar to the way they promote the AP titles.

      • That’s pretty cool, then. Might be a nice visibility booster for people with a good book and a great cover, who are struggling to be found.

        In fact, I might give it a whirl with my romance pen name(s).

    • 50% of net doesn’t sound so great to me… neither does the ‘you can’t get out of this contract as long as you’ve sold $5001/per year’ part.

      • If you believe in last year’s DBW report, few authors make that much.
        (Shrug)
        But I thought the escape hatch is at $500 per year, $5000 in 5.

        And since it excludes print, the rights are worth less (on, ahem, paper) that an all-format contract.

      • 50% of net is splitting net evenly between publisher and author, which is better than you’ll get in any other publishing deal I’m aware of.

        Authors who use this should look at it the same way authors look at any other contract with APub: as a means of boosting visibility of ALL their titles, including their self-published stuff. In a way, the signed-over title becomes a gamble: you hope you’ll expose your brand to WAY more people with that one APub title, which will increase discoverability of all your others, which still remain in your control.

        It won’t be a strategy that everybody wants to try, and I can understand wariness about gambling with one title. But if you’re prolific, you can always write another book to take its place, and at least APub has shown impressive returns for most of its authors, so that’s a much safer bet than gambling on Hachette!

  5. Authonomy is more like Wattpad, only in the case of Authonomy it’s a feeder tank. for a publisher.

  6. This is pretty much exactly what Amazon does with its original programming for its streaming video service. They make about 6-8 pilots, mostly one hour dramas, put them all up on the streamer (Roku, or their own version of that), viewers watch on demand and then vote to decide which ones Amazon will buy for a full season.

    It’s really a great idea. Among other things, it gives the viewer a sense of involvement. If you like a show, you kind of feel like you have a stake in in.

    No reason why that wouldn’t work with KDP too.

  7. In a sense, Amazon has always been about crowd sourcing. I am not sure what this adds, from the writer’s point of view. Couldn’t they just mine KDP sales patterns and offer Amazon imprint publishing deals to people with good sales? After all, readers have already voted with their dollars, in that competition.

    I just hope Amazon isn’t going to go all nurturey on us.

    • It sounds like they want new material, not necessarily a track record.

    • One reason: they are offering up an advance and not requesting a finished manuscript.
      They are aiming to expand their scope beyond entrepreneurial author-publishers by drawing in trad-focused authors.

      • My thinking as well. Self-published authors are sneering at the terms. Hachette authors are drooling over them.

        • Exactly.
          If you trust yourself and your material enough to go full indie, this is less attractive than Select. To say nothing of plain KDP.

          But if the upfront payment matters (and to hear the traditionalists, it is supposed to matter to many) then this will draw in a decent crowd.

          This might succeed, it might fail…
          But even negative information can be useful.

        • Yeah, that’s a good point. It does sew a seed of doubt into the trad author/trad publisher relationship.

    • Couldn’t they just mine KDP sales patterns and offer Amazon imprint publishing deals to people with good sales?

      They already do that.

      This is likely being seen as a way to bring a more social aspect to books — to get readers involved beyond their current level, which is pretty much just rating/reviewing. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this tie in strongly with Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads last year. They appear to have a sharp eye out for ways to increase reader engagement.

      • Good point about Goodreads. They don’t seem to have done much with it yet, and one doesn’t expect them to buy an asset without trying to exploit it. It could be an attempt to increase that elusive thing called engagment.

  8. This sounds good to me. Just when I’m wondering what to do with the series (two books so far) I’ve started. As someone pointed out, the terms are so much better than trad publishers offer. Amazon wins again.

  9. I’m in.

    I can see it being fun for readers, too. I’m guessing amazon’ll be pretty choosy so people will want to keep coming back to see what else is up.

  10. Who in the world has time to read through hundreds or thousands of excerpts that will be posted online? It will be the writer with the best marketing that will get their book read the most. Wattpad has done this previously with top honor of being published by Harlequin.

    • People will only read through the excerpts in the genres that interest them. Or so I assume. I wouldn’t waste my time reading genres I don’t care about, but historical fiction? lit fic? stories with talking animals? All over that stuff.

    • I don’t know who has the time. Is that an issue? Why?

    • Lots of readers who actually read (you do know what readers are, don’t you? I hope so, since you’re a “publisher” and it wouldn’t look good to not understand how dedicated a good number of readers are… readers who are HUNGRY to find new books, new authors, new worlds to enjoy).

      Good lord, Steve Z, Publisher to the Stars, I was right. There IS nothing you won’t say.

      “Who the hell has time to read a bunch of words??? Words on the internet!?” ~ Steve Z, Publisher to the Stars

    • ‘Excerpts that will be posted online’ sounds remarkably like the samples one can download of any Kindle book. Download the sample, rate the book. Done. How long does it take to download and read a book’s sample? Maybe 10 minutes? Power users could knock out a bunch of ratings and reviews daily.

  11. I think you are all missing the most interesting part of this. Look at the details. This is Amazon telling you what they think sells ebooks. Amazon isn’t necessarily right, but they have a helluva lot more data than you do. Study every detail. This might look like the stuff that came before, but it has some unique features. Like the giveaways to the early supporters.

    We should assume that every aspect of this is backed with “Big Data”. If you sell ebooks, you should be asking yourself whether you can emulate this.

    • Yes indeedy — I thought that, too, William. The freebies and early reviews: obviously Amazon has reason to believe that these are important to a book’s long-term success. Also interesting to me is the reversion threshold and what that could be saying about average earnings.

    • @William Ockham

      I missed the details you speak of. Link please?

      • I’m not the razor-wielder, but I think he meant this:
        —–
        Early downloads & reviews: One week prior to release date, everyone who nominated your book will receive a free, early copy to help build momentum and customer reviews.

        Featured Amazon marketing: Your book will be enrolled into the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, Kindle Unlimited as well as be eligible for targeted email campaigns and promotions.
        —–

        The free copies will encourage readers to play the game and let them serve as gamma testers. Not unlike the Kindle first program or launch day freebies. Early reviews sell books.

      • They want complete books, i.e. ready to go. They post a sample (they think that is all that is needed and makes it easy for readers to play). Amazon picks the winners (plural) from the ones with the most nominations. Forget gaming, their editors make the call. Readers who agree with editors get free books. Over time, that system is self-correcting. Readers with good judgment are rewarded. This is not about literary merit. This is about identifying books, writers, and readers who drive sales. Amazon is all about driving sales and customer satisfaction.

        Read Nate’s article and think about the system Amazon is setting up.

        • The problem, William, is a lot of authors are already chomping at the bit to be part of this, and they are so excited that they don’t seem to notice that part about “50% of net” which can basically be no better (and possibly worse) than BPH contracts currently are.

          Then there’s the Amazon “rights grab” that is pretty much the same open-ended crap that BPH offers with their deal of the century “lifetime + 70.”

          If you really take some time to look at this whole venture again, you’ll see it’s not really such a great deal (other than for Amazon, and I don’t blame them, they are a business and it’s in their charter to make some money).

          Authors… you really should take some time to read the terms and think about what you might be getting into. You didn’t bypass (or leave) BPH just to have another BPH (Amazon can be considered a pretty big publisher these days) offer you the same s***** terms, did you?

          Even BPH’s offer more than $1500 for an advance (not much more, but $1500 from Amazon? Seriously?).

          • Rights grab?
            I must’ve missed that part: what I saw was a 5 year deal with renewals and clear, achievable reversion… ???

            Yes, it *is* a tradpub contract…for those unwilling to go full indie.

            It’s not as if this replaces KDP or even Select.
            It’s more of a halfway house/transitional phase for tradpub refugees.
            And a shot across the bow to the syndicate.

          • Life is a gamble. The gamble here is that Amazon’s marketing muscle can help you reach new readers. Writers need to think in terms of customer acquisition costs. Let’s say you get one of these deals. Amazon has the email addresses of millions of potential readers and the insight into their behavior to have a decent idea of which ones might like your story. They will be motivated to sell your title to the people most likely to buy it. Some portion of those folks will be motivated to buy your other work.

            This is just one more option for writers to consider. It won’t work for everyone, but it offers a fricking amazing opportunity for some folks. Rather having a knee-jerk reaction for or against (and I’m not implying yours is, just that some folks are having one), writers need to take a hard look at this.

            Even if you don’t choose to participate, you can learn a lot just by carefully examining the way this is set up.

            • Publishing is becoming a buffet: lots of choices to try and see which one(s) work best for you.

              The scary thing is that the majority of options are coming from Amazon. As they say, you can’t win if you don’t play. Amazon is playing and laying down a lot of side bets.

            • Exactly, William. This is a gamble, and if you feel you can safely risk ONE book to play (they’re not asking for more than one) then this could pay off hugely.

              Because of NDAs, I can’t say much about the terms compared with their plain-old APub contracts, but I will say that this looks plenty fine and fair to me given that the trade-off is potential for massive reach with my brand and, as William pointed out, the potential to be identified as one of the big movers and shakers by Amazon.

              I write fast, so I see no drawback to putting something in from one of my other pen names. If it takes you a year-plus to write a single book, then yes, this will look like too risky a gamble to take — and it might be too risky for authors who don’t work at a breakneck pace. It won’t be the right scenario for everybody, but for those who can take the risk, you might as well give it a whirl.

              I carefully considered the “gamble” aspect of working with APub before I gave them the OK to even just take Tidewater to an acquisitions meeting. I decided that the potency of their marketing and their monthly pay schedule made this a safer risk than many others I could take with my career. This new crowdsourcing thingy looks like it will probably provide similar reach.

          • There’s this…
            —–

            5-year renewable terms, $5,000 in royalties: If your book doesn’t earn $5,000 in royalties during your initial 5-year contract term, and any 5-year renewal term after that, you can choose to stop publishing with us.

            Easy reversions: After two years, your rights in any format or language that remains unpublished, or all rights for any book that earns less than $500 in total royalties in the preceding 12-month period, can be reverted upon request – no questions asked.

            ——

            But they don’t say what happens when you make more than that and want back your rights. That’s what I’m interested in. Though, if they were making me a whole bunch of money, I would probably stick with them.

            • Define “whole bunch”.
              One person’s big payday is a Preston/Patterson busboy tip. 😉

              It is a tradpub deal aimed at tradpub authors.
              It might work for newcomers looking to build up name recognition. (Or it might not.)

              Indies, though…
              If you don’t need the advance, Select might be a better fit.

            • Yes, they do. It’s 5-year renewable terms. If you’re unhappy after 5 years, you don’t resign. One hopes. I’d have to see the renewal clause.

              • If I’m reading it right, if you made $5000 though, you’d be renewed? Happiness isn’t mentioned anywhere in that first 5-year term.

                “Whole bunch” is a completely relative term 😉 I like this idea for the trad authors. I’ve been self-published for a year, and I’ll keep it up. This is not for me but I’d love to mention it to other authors if the terms were more clear!

                • Keep this in mind: if you get crowdsourced all the way up to the top of the pile, you will have the OPTION to sign the final contract. (I assume.) So I sincerely doubt it hurts to play the game, but if you get to the point where you have to decide whether to enter the final gate, you’ll be able to look over the full contract at that point and decide whether it’s right for you.

          • You’re leaving out the ultra effective Amazon marketing, which for some books, could change the equation dramatically. For instance, I’ve got a vampire book under a pen name that’s never found an audience, partly because it’s something of a genre-straddler and partly because marketing is not my best subject. For that book? 50% of net with Amazon’s targeted emails and promotions is a whole lot better than the 70% of nothing it earns now.

            I’m sure there are plenty of books like mine that for whatever reason haven’t found their readers, and here comes Amazon to the rescue. I know that book’s been out and doesn’t qualify, but I’m almost done with the sequel…

        • They’re missing out on some good entries by not allowing previously published works. My first book has only sold about 500 copies. I’d love to put it in this contest, but I can’t.

          They should do this for published indies who have yet to find an audience.

          • Worth suggesting…
            But, does it offer that much more visibility than select?

            I’m really curious to see how it plays out and the broader effects, if any…

    • I find anything Amazon puts out as a experiment as something to watch. Whether it succeeds or fails, it’s worth looking at, because of what Wm says. They don’t do stuff willy-nilly or impulsively. They have tons of data and they want to make money. And if this makes them money, it makes the fortunate chosen money. And maybe career-launching exposure.

      Because we don’t know yet just how much promo power they will put behind this. It may be a juggernaut. We’ll see.

  12. Amazon is setting up expectations for the terms a fair Digital-First publisher should be offering.

    If this program takes off, the pressure on Tradpub to raise rates and loosen the lockdown terms on their contracts should go up significantly. Doesn’t mean they will, but they are offering 50-50 on *net*. Which for Amazon should be the same as retail but not if they are going to sell through other channels. Of course, for the Syndicate the real poison pill is the reversion terms. Where the BPHs are moving to lock down as many cooyrights as tightly as possible, Amazon is offering time limits, mutual renewals, and clear unambiguous, attainable terms.

    For all their teeth grinding and whining about Amazon being a competitor, Amazon has so far done little to compete broadly for manuscripts. They’ve competed for a few high visibility presumed bestsellers but mostly they’ve mined KDP top sellers and hunted for foreign bestsellers for translation.

    At this point the big question is how many books Amazon editors can process. Will this lead to a dozen, a hundred, or a thousand new titles each month?

    This has the smell of preemption to me: the BPHs are finally gearing up to try to bypass Amazon so Amazon is gearing to hit them where they are most vulnerable: manuscripts and contract terms.

    • The 50-50 on net is, to me, an invitation to compare Amazon terms to BPH terms. Once writers get that far and see the rest of the terms…well, the BPHs are going to have “some ‘splaining to do”.

      And, of course, there is the not so-subtle message that print is nothing they care about.

    • Very good point, Felix! You may be on to something there.

    • Good comment, Felix.

      I hope it’s a raging success and the next big thing(s) that everyone wants to read and talk about comes out of this.

  13. I used to be on Authonomy in 2009-early 2010, and all I can remember is all the time spent reading, reviewing, and backing other books in hopes that the author would return the favor. I tried not to let the system sway my thoughts on books I didn’t care for, but there was pressure to ‘I’ll back yours if you back mine’ even if most didn’t actually say that. Sort of like the review swapping I hear about on Amazon.

    I’m getting exhausted thinking about all the time that an author would need to promote their book in this crowd-sourcing thing–and that’s not even to sell it, but just to get votes. Ugh. I have a hard enough time promoting the books I already have that are earning me money. I can’t afford to take time away from writing and promoting those books to promote a manuscript on the small chance it might get picked up, and I might get a somewhat decent contract in comparison to trad. publishers.

    • Well, keep in mind: Goodreads. Amazon owns it now. That might reduce a lot of the mutual author-exhausting back-scratching. 🙂

      • Might Goodreads be the rating vehicle?

      • That’s a good point. I try to avoid Goodreads as much as I can though. It scares me! lol.

        • The only times I go there are 1. a friend puts up a review and links me on FB or 2. I do a google search for a book and click on random links and end up, sometimes, annoyingly, on Goodreads. Maybe I should visit more, but really, eh. I don’t get excited about it. Not before Amazon bought it and not after.

  14. Okay, here’s another thought–it says a complete, unpublished manuscript. I’m assuming someone would send in one that is as clean and edited as possible–maybe even spent money on an editor. How long is that manuscript tied up in this contest? Three months? Six?

    Is there only one winner? One per genre? A hundred winners? I apologize if this info was in the email, but I never received an email.

  15. I haven’t seen anything yet, but I bet this gets promoted very heavily to Amazon’s top 10,000 reviewers.

  16. Well, I’m Amazon Top Reviewer #269 (yesterday, dunno today). Let’s see if they send us something.

  17. “Authors will be asked to submit their complete, never-before-published book and cover. ”

    The “and cover” leads me to believe they will not be providing a cover.

    “If you value an advance, creative control, competitive royalties…”

    The “creative control” part leads me to believe they will not provide editing.

    “Books with the most nominations will be reviewed by our team for potential publication.”

    Note that it’s “potential” publication. So even if you get all the votes, you may still be turned down.

    I’m guessing the $1,500 advance will draw a lot of submissions. My publishing house gives a 50/50 split, so that’s not unheard of. But we can’t afford to pass out advances.

    I think some will enter for the promotional opportunities, too. That’s a strong pull.

  18. “…when the new program launches authors will be welcomed to submit their unpublished book…”

    Is it me or does it sound like this is going to be an invitation only program? If so, Amazon won’t be developing too much of a slush pile because they’ll probably choose authors who already have a proven track record.

  19. Oh, wow. Seems like I started doing this about three something years ago! I put the book up, people vote with their wallets, and the more deserving receive the visibility they deserve.

    I new I was innovating and not just desperate.

    Phew.

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