(Welcome new readers! This newsletter was recently mentioned on Jane Friedman’s The Hot Sheet. Thanks, Jane!)
It’s official! Kindle Vella launches next week (still no exact date).
If you thought that the launch announcement might provide more answers, well, you’re probably a little perplexed by the lack of information in this update.
The general consensus of the independent author community seems to be excitement (“it’s about time”) mixed with anxiety (“I thought I had more time to get this together!”) mixed with a bit of letdown (“Where are the efforts to get readers?” and “Why hasn’t this part of the Terms of Service (TOS) changed yet?”)
In general, the people who were here for the party from the beginning are gearing up, while still more people are hopping on the bandwagon last minute to join the fun. The people who were against it from the beginning remain largely unimpressed with Vella’s rollout so far, and it doesn’t surprise me, given what I’m seeing.
Since I only have another hot minute or two to speculate on Vella’s rollout, I thought I could give my last-minute thoughts on how this will all play out.
What Day Will Kindle Vella Actually Launch?
The lack of an actual date is a bit concerning to myself and other authors for good reason. For starters, we kind of need the app/website to be live in order to do any promotion, so there’s no real way to schedule things ahead of time. For those of us who like to work ahead, this means that whatever day next week it launches, we have to be ready to go—newsletters, social media, and more.
I don’t doubt that Amazon knows the date they intend to launch—and given that they told us a month ago that it would be mid-to-late July, I suspect it will be later in the week. Thursday, July 15th is the date that makes the most sense, as this would be decidedly mid-July and would mean that they gave a week’s notice (which is what I would do). It’s also a month from when the original announcement of mid-to-late July came out (which was on June 15th).
(Sidenote: IMHO I shouldn’t have to be parsing this together as if I’m scrolling Taylor Swift’s Instagram for hints about her next album launch, but I digress.)
That said, “next week” could be as early as Sunday, which means there will be a mad rush to upload episodes over the next several days. Given that there’s a delay in approval, I’m planning to upload sooner rather than later.
Will There Be Any Other TOS Updates Before Launch?
There is a big conversation happening right now over how exactly we as authors are supposed to market our content on Kindle Vella. The TOS + KDPSam have been clear and explicit over and over again: you cannot use any excerpt of your content in any format to attract readers through social media, ads, and more. Many of us had hoped and expected that this would change after a recent TOS overhaul, but so far this is not the case, despite the Vella team hearing this request over and over again (it is likely the biggest request they’re hearing right now).
This is challenging for most of us who have been in the industry awhile and a little confusing on Amazon’s part as well, seeing as they have the same data we do:
The best way to get someone to buy a fiction book is through an excerpt; authors use this in advertising, newsletters, and more to get readers hooked on their stories
The way that Radish, one of the most successful English-language fiction apps, is building their user base is through posting a long excerpt (2000+ words) in their advertising on Facebook and other platforms
Amazon makes prominent use of samples all over its website and app to encourage readership
We know excerpts work—so why isn’t Amazon letting us use them?
Do we think Amazon have some other mechanism—landing pages for each story (or even better, each episode) on their website that you can link to, for example—to help authors direct traffic to their stories?
To be honest, I’m not sure. It’s possible that Amazon wants everyone to just send their audience to Kindle Vella itself, where they will control the homepage and reader experience. Over the long-term, this is likely a bad growth strategy, since no author is going to send advertising traffic to a general landing page or an app. On the other hand, this is how other fiction apps work, so perhaps Amazon is copying this model.
It’s also possible that Amazon believes they have access to all the readers through their email list and sheer number of app downloads to devices, but to me this still seems like a missed opportunity. There’s a huge readership out there that likes these apps but doesn’t have an Amazon account. I would imagine that Amazon would be happy to grow their readership in addition to getting their current user base to start reading content this way.
I don’t know how it will play out, but I know what I would do, which would be to create a landing page for each story so authors could send more traffic to that page. I would then use that page to convert website readers to the app reading experience. Amazon has data on this, as readers can currently read purchased books on their computers through the cloud reader. We will see what they do!
Is This a Soft Launch or Hard Launch?
Right now, all data points to Kindle Vella rolling out as a soft launch—a little softer than many authors had hoped, perhaps. If Amazon is planning to throw all their resources at this, it’s clearly not going to happen until the day Vella stories are available in the app. So far, we’re not seeing:
Advertising rollout to let readers know what’s coming
Emails to readers
A reader-facing landing page on Amazon’s website
Landing pages for authors to send their readers to (preferably with notification or follow buttons when a new episode launches) (Note: each episode has an ASIN attached, but it’s not clear whether that will eventually be used for a landing page, or if it’s just for payment tracking, since each episode costs a different amount based on word count)
Any sort of notification in the Kindle app on iOS devices
It’s possible that these things will roll out over the next several days and into the next week, but right now it feels like a missed opportunity to create buzz prior to launch.
This may be why for many authors, this launch feels both dragged out and fairly sudden. It’s clear at least that you don’t need to be present on the app on Day 1 of launch, since readers will be coming on board over weeks or months as both authors and Amazon educate readers on what the app even is.
And that doesn’t bode well for the success of Kindle Vella overall. It needs to be a must-use for authors, and the lack of urgency around getting on the app is going to make it hard for them to make a huge impact on publishing right out of the gate.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and updates on the Kindle Vella rollout in the comments!