Early experiences with short fiction via Amazon Kindle

(Edits: I removed the word ‘fair’ from my post and replaced it with ‘reasonable,’ which I think is a better term and doesn’t present such a moral implication, and I added two notes: about DRM and Disclosure.)

Posthuman Studios publishes a few pieces of short fiction via Amazon’s Kindle service (Well, technically one piece—the second one is in the processing queue.) These are short stories that have already appeared (or will appear) in our rulebooks—they’re on the Kindle store to boost awareness of the game’s super-sweet setting and because I like experiments. I didn’t expect to make more than pocket change with them, and with almost no promotion beyond our usual game-related channels, that certainly seems to be holding true in the early stages.

I think that $0.99 is a reasonable price for a digital copy of a short story that has appeared elsewhere. Format agnostic: PDF, ePub, mobi, Kindle, whatever.

Here’s some fun stuff I’ve learned:

  • If you publish via Amazon’s Digital Text Platform, you have two royalty choices: 35% and 70%.
  • If you want 70% royalties, Amazon will deduct an additional service charge per download. In my tests, it was only $0.01 for a relatively small file.
  • If you want 70% royalties, you have to set the desired sale price to $2.99 or greater. If Amazon decides to sell lower than your desired sale price, you get 70% of the actual sale price. If your royalties are 35%, you get 35% of the desired sale price or the actual sale price, whichever is higher.
  • If you price your desired sale price to $0.99, Amazon will honor that price in the USA, but not internationally. It will automatically bump the price up to $2.99 in non-USA markets. If you bump your desired sales price up a little bit, the international price will get bumped, also. (I tried to see if a slightly-higher USA price would convince Amazon’s algorithms to lower the international price, with the USA dollars subsidizing the international costs. No luck.)
  • You get sales reports that include, on a per title basis: units sold, refunded, net units, royalty %, average list price, average file size, average offer price, average delivery charge, royalty total. No other information at all; there are no ways to contact the buyers. These people are not your customers, they are Amazon’s customers.
  • Basic math: One sale of a $0.99 title at the 35% royalty rate is $0.35. One sale of a $2.99 (minimum price!) title at the 70% royalty rate is $2.09 (minus the service charge.)
  • Edit, DRM: You can turn DRM off. Amazon doesn’t promise that this option will stick around forever. Turn DRM off, unless you hate your readers.
  • Edit, Disclosure: The Digital Publication Distribution Agreement forbids you from discussing your sales data and other such stuff. It also forbids you from disclosing the terms of the agreement, even though it’s publicly available!

Open questions:

  • Should we price the Eclipse Phase short fiction at $2.99 at the higher royalty rate and make 6 times more money per sale? I like those numbers, but I don’t think it’s the right thing from a propagation/social point of view.

And finally, have some affiliate links:


  1. No; the Kindle terms of service say you can’t price the same title lower at different stores.

    (I would argue that the PDF + ePub + Mobi bundle we sell on DriveThru is NOT the same thing, however.)

    Oh, one other thing that you and I care about: the Amazon Digital Publication Distribution Agreement prohibits you from talking about your sales figures in public. Their confidentiality clause is a complete load of bunk, and I am going to violate it by pasting it right here:

    7 Confidentiality. You will not, without our express, prior written permission: (a) issue any press release or make any other public disclosures regarding this Agreement or its terms; (b) disclose Amazon Confidential Information (as defined below) to any third party or to any employee other than an employee who needs to know the information; or (c) use Amazon Confidential Information for any purpose other than the performance of this Agreement. You may however disclose Amazon Confidential Information as required to comply with applicable law, provided you: (i) give us prior written notice sufficient to allow us to seek a protective order or other appropriate remedy; (ii) disclose only that Amazon Confidential Information as is required by applicable law; and (iii) use reasonable efforts to obtain confidential treatment for any Amazon Confidential Information so disclosed. “Amazon Confidential Information” means (1) any information regarding Amazon, its affiliates, and their businesses, including, without limitation information relating to our technology, customers, business plans, promotional and marketing activities, finances and other business affairs, (2) the nature, content and existence of any communications between you and us, and (3) any sales data relating to the sale of Digital Books or other information we provide or make available to you in connection with the Program. Amazon Confidential Information does not include information that (A) is or becomes publicly available without breach of this Agreement, (B) you can show by documentation to have been known to you at the time you receive it from us, (C) you receive from a third party who did not acquire or disclose such information by a wrongful or tortious act, or (D) you can show by documentation that you have independently developed without reference to any Amazon Confidential Information. Without limiting the survivability of any other provision of this Agreement, this Section 7 will survive three (3) years following the termination of the Agreement.

    You can find the full Digital Publication Distribution Agreement here, no login or anything required.

  2. Are you allowed to price things differently elsewhere? I’m curious if you could price things at 99 cents on, say, DriveThruFiction but $2.99 on the kindle store and just be open about the fact you’re doing it. Some people may want to pay you three bucks because they’re excited about what you’re doing. The thing you’re selling is bigger than just the story itself, at least from one perspective…

  3. “the Kindle terms of service say you can’t price the same title lower at different stores.”

    If you sell it at $0.99 but the international store automatically resets the price to $2.99, how does that even work? Could you still sell for $0.99 at DriveThru, which sells internationally?

    (I’m assuming both that DriveThru sells internationally and that by internationally you mean outside of North America.)

  4. You aren’t supposed to set the “desired” price higher than it’s priced at other venues. Once you’ve set your desired price, Amazon is basically allowed to do whatever they like with the actual price.

    And yes, I mean “outside of the USA” when I say “internationally,” in this case.

    (DriveThru absolutely sells outside of the USA!)

  5. The right and fair price for a PDF always has been : how much money do you make with the traditional paper circuit for one item (i.e. the price your first intermediary buy it from your hands, minus printing, shipping and other direct costs)? That’s your price for a good PDF (which include services like multiple downloads, option to download a higher resolution version of it, of course is text and not bitmap of a text). If a PDF isnt’t, or if it’s some kind of rental (like with _any_ kind of DRM in it), it should be priced accordingly (i.e. much much less).

    Anything higher than that it’s just ripping of. There is absolutely no reason or plausible explanation as to why one’s making more money selling one PDF rather than one tree book (same book, of course). Well, with my rough math above one’s actually making slightly more per PDF than per book (you don’t have to handle returns, pay for printing and storage of books you won’t sell, pay insurance premium on that storage, etc etc etc.). Bah it’s ok, times are rough, a rpg publisher could use a break. And PDF has some micro, nano, incredibly small cost (like renting an internet server to handle sells and download) that are easily taken into account with that.

    Once you have that, it’s easy to answer your question. If your book is $10 (which is already somewhat pricey by the way), and 200 pages, it’s 5 cents per page of content. Adjust slightly if you have art and such.

    So, to me, 2 bucks is about the price of a big full novel in PDF (it’s ~7€ here, and usually the publisher makes at best a quarter of that). That should answer your question 🙂

    • Jérémie: I disagree with the notion that we should be basing electronic prices on the price of the work in print. This is problematic in that electronic releases offer different features/capabilities than print releases. The idea that an electronic release is somehow lesser than a print release is not one I subscribe to — it’s DIFFERENT, and for some consumers will be better, and for others, worse, on a product-by-product basis.

      And, of course, electronic-only releases have to stand on their own merits without comparison to the non-existant printed versions.

      The amount of profit on a print book isn’t that great, either, and many people think the print distribution and payment is seriously flawed. Why should we be basing “fair” on that system?

  6. For what it’s worth, $.99 is one of my personal price break points. If something is priced $.99 or less then I’ll likely get it if I have any interest at all in it, assuming there’s no inconvenience involved. Anything higher than that and I’ll stop to think about whether or not I really want it. This vastly increases the chance that I’ll pass up the purchase.

    That’s me though, other people may have higher impulse points.

  7. I tend to prefer paper to ebook (well, I want both in fact) but I globally agree. They each have advantages and disadvantages. It’s not about ebook being inferior, it’s about the publisher should make the same amount of money.

    Why shouldn’t he?

    Otherwise, it’s like saying “ok today I’m going to triple my price, just because… well I don’t know, I fancy it”. It’s the publisher’s right of course, but it’s perfectly fair to label it as it is and stop buying it.

    Price increase may be perfectly fair. You can tomorrow publish a new RPG and pricing it 20% higher (that’s a _huge_ increase by anyone standard) because you can’t make rent otherwise. I may buy it or not, but it’s fair.

    But most publisher are selling at best the same product (good ebook), more usually inferior product (like not selling at all because it has DRM, or text as bitmap, or bad scans) at 300% increase. Buying a PDF from them makes them more money than buying three books, the same books they were selling us one by one for 30 years without complaints. My inner bottom hurts quite a bit 🙂

    Btw I say RPG publisher, but it’s the same for most digital products (music, movies, TV series, regular books). It’s like when the CD came out… ok it was very costly to press them for a while (try a couple years) and they publicly promised than when the costs go down, the tag price will. Guess what? 🙂

  8. Fred: Hmm. That is doable in a roundabout way, I suppose. An interesting idea!

    Jérémie: There’s no real delicate way to say this. Posthuman Studios:

    * Publishes our work under a Creative Commons license.
    * Prices our core books at $15 for the PDF (But due to the CC license, you can share that file and have it shared to you totally legally).
    * Produces high-quality books and PDFs that aren’t scans, have bookmarks and other hyperlinks, have layers, etc. — we aren’t posting out-of-alignment scans or other poor-quality work.
    * Doesn’t put DRM on anything.

    So, it seems like the things you dislike aren’t things that we do at Posthuman … it’s great that you don’t like the same sort of stuff that we don’t do, I guess? 🙂

    If you buy one of our $15 electronic projects, we take home $10.50 from DriveThruRPG, not counting any other expenses. We made the conscious decision to price low because we believe that’s the right thing to do to encourage the playerbase to buy the game. We think that’s the right decision to make for the longterm health of Eclipse Phase, even if that means we are in some mighty lean financial times currently.

    And let’s be clear: I fancy making 3 times the amount of money I currently make, and that’s why we’re trying to grow and diversify what Posthuman does. And that means, sometimes, looking at the way “the old way” works and going “No, this doesn’t work correctly, and we aren’t going to emulate it going forward.”

    I think you should worry about what you think a reasonable price is to pay for the value you get, not how much someone is making on the back-end. If something is priced too highly relative to how you enjoy it, it is too high regardless of whether the producer is making $1, or $10, or $100.

  9. Sorry Adam, my comments weren’t written against you or PostHuman. They were a general comment on digital and rpg products.

    PostHuman are different because of the Creative Commons license for one.

    At $15 the rulebook game of Eclipse Phase seems quite ok for me. Yup that’s half the price of the printed version from Amazon for example, but Amazon usually have good prices on those things. And there’s the CC license. And you’re starting off (kinda).

    DriveThru sells it to me at 11.91€, when a printed rulebook is usually around 40€ around here (French SR4 is 39.90€). Back on my previous math, good fair and reasonable price for Eclipse Phase to me.

    I would appreciate a bundle with every printed book, something like “you bought the paper version? Get the PDF for $3” or something but that’s complex to achieve unless putting unique serial code in every book which has a cost.

    So, it wasn’t a rant against PostHuman which globally has the best commercial practices in the RPG industry as far as I can tell.

  10. Thanks, Jérémie, I appreciate the clarification. We’re certainly trying to do “the right thing” as often as possible — but sometimes, that’s going to be different from the established ways. And hopefully, in the end, that means it’s going to be more successful than the established ways. 🙂

  11. Adam, see my comments left over at FB. Although the Amazon terms aren’t particularly friendly, it’s not the same thing as RPGnow. There’s nothing wrong with that $2.99, but my suggestion is that you add something to the Kindle version to increase/justify the value and exclusivity, and use it for EP/PH marketing at the same time. Repurpose material on the EP universe from the Core book and add it at the end along with a “Find at more at…”. Perhaps add the QSR (although it might seem strange to have the game portion have more words than the story). Perhaps you should combine Lack and Melt and add the EP background material, and put that up on Amazon for $2.99. There’s all sorts of ways to make this work both to their system and your sensibilities. I appreciate the Kindle support (and the stories themselves!), and I think it’s worth keeping in mind that part of the value is the ability to discover, purchase and have it delivered, all through the reader itself (no web).

    As you said, it’s DIFFERENT, and the smart shopper always has other options.

  12. I suppose that my main question would be what format the Kindle files are in if you opt to (like a good human) turn DRM off; the lack of DRM is rather moot if the only reader that can (easily) read the file is a Kindle-based reader.

    With that said, I’m in favor of most any options that enable you to spread the EP setting around to people; I’ve turned quite a few of my friends onto Eclipse Phase by passing the PDF of the rules on to them…guilt-free!

    • The Kindle format, AZW, is Mobi + a wrapper: http://wiki.mobileread.com/wiki/AZW

      And I agree, I’m not fond of hardware/software lock-in, which is why we’re selling the same books in more open formats like ePub. But for those that like the convenience of the Kindle store, it’s good to give them the option. I find the Kindle store to be frustrating and if given good business reasons, at this point, would drop use of it, but right now supporting it adds less than an hour per title to my workload.

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