Amazon’s “Automatic Renewal” of KDP Select Terms Is a Deceptive Practice

Warning: this post is very much “insider baseball” for e-published authors, probably only of interest to those who are marketing books with Amazon or who like to keep tabs on various predatory corporate tactics.

So Amazon has this program, “KDP Select,” which is designed to increase the number of e-books that are Amazon-exclusive. The KDP Select program offers authors some increased visibility and promotional tools on Amazon’s site. In return, authors agree not to sell their e-books through any other retailer for a period of three months. This is in contrast to “vanilla” publishing with Amazon, which doesn’t require exclusivity but also doesn’t allow for things like free promotional giveaways. So far, so good—there’s a lot of chatter on the author boards about whether the Select program is worth it or not, and about the effects of the exclusivity agreement on the larger e-book marketplace, but plenty of authors have found the program at least worth a nibble. I decided to launch my book through KDP Select, which is why I delayed publishing in other formats for three months.

Unfortunately, I’ve just discovered that Amazon considers the three-month Select term to automatically renew, unless you find a hidden checkbox in their user interface (it is literally hidden; you have to find and click a special link to make it appear) and “deselect” the auto-renewal “convenience feature.”

Now, I’m pretty sure this kind of practice is not legally enforceable. My state, California, was in 2006 party to a settlement against Time Inc. that alleged automatic subscription renewals to be a deceptive business practice. In that settlement, “Time Inc. agreed to refund $4.3 million to more than 108,000 eligible consumers who made payments for magazine subscriptions that were automatically renewed between 1998 and May of 2004.” Other suits have been brought, generally successfully, against companies that engage in automatic renewals of products or services.

The problem is that Amazon dominates the e-book marketplace and few self-published authors are going to want to risk having Amazon drop their titles altogether, as it threatens to do if the Select exclusivity clause is violated.

I’m personally weighing how I want to proceed. I’ve sent a few polite-but-clear emails to Amazon’s KDP Select customer support, expressing my displeasure with the auto-renew policy. I’m also going to be linking to this post on various author boards. I’m hoping that with enough outcry from their authors, Amazon will voluntarily drop the deceptive “automatic renewal” policy. However, while I’m lobbying for the change, I may have to delay publishing to Smashwords for another three months.

And speaking for myself, I’m offended enough by the auto-renew trickery that I’ll never enroll another title in KDP Select.

Update: After a couple of go-rounds with customer support, they cancelled the “re-enrollment.” Hooray!

3 Responses to “Amazon’s “Automatic Renewal” of KDP Select Terms Is a Deceptive Practice”

  • Megan Says:

    That does indeed suck. I had previously classified KDP Select as “probably not worth it but also not a very big hit” (since my understanding is that catalog rollouts tend to happen in a somewhat staggered fashion anyway) but I’m downgrading it. (I’ve moved my online book-buying away from Amazon in the past few months, and this sort of stuff does precisely nothing to change my mind.)

    They do need to be hit with a suit…but even the big publishers, overall, do not have sufficient will to stand up to them, so yeah, there’s not much a single author can do.

    Three months isn’t a long time. And while you can leave Amazon editions up for readers who only use Kindle and only ever shop there–that is a real market, but not the only one, especially looking worldwide–there’s no reason you can’t focus your promotion on other editions.

  • shawn stjean Says:

    Hey Shannon: Thanks for the backlink from my discussion of this issue about 6 weeks ago.

    While I agree with Megan that [objectively] three months isn’t long, you want to note that it’s by definition SIX months because of the deception–adding to this, it’s probably that crucial FIRST six months of the book’s debut.

    I personally found many readers who don’t own Kindles and did not wish to read the book the way Amazon offers it. No one wants to be bothered with conversion (assuming you haven’t agreed to DRM-lock the file anyway, another sneaky little legal trick to keep you AZ-exclusive.) The overall point here is that every week AZ can lock a text out of the wider market, by whatever means, is a win for them.

    • shannon Says:

      I updated this post! Amazon removed my book from KDP Select this morning. Note that it *wasn’t* my first message to customer support that effected the change (my first message got only form text in reply, confirming that “Your book is enrolled in KDP Select until 03/30/2013 and cannot be excluded from the program during this time.” But I sent a follow-up, again politely-but-clearly expressing my dissatisfaction (and citing the Time, Inc. settlement), and this morning I got notification that the book has been removed from the Select program. So I guess being a troublemaker by nature kind of paid off!

Leave a Reply