Self-publishing through platforms like Kindle Direct Publishing has become a game changer for many authors, specifically for up-and-coming writers. They do not require the submitters to undergo extensive manuscript altercations, there are no negotiations with distributors, and the individualized creativity remains up to the discretion of the writer. However, the many positives can be diminished greatly if authors fail to understand the Terms and Conditions used by KDP.
What is Terms and Conditions?
The Terms and Conditions is a contract that authors must agree to in order to use the services offered. For Kindle Direct Publishing they outline many specifications that an author must adhere to in order to use the platform to publish their books digitally and make them available to Amazon users. There are agreements amendments, term and termination, account eligibility and registration, book distribution rights, ownership and control of Amazon properties and customer data/feedback, confidentiality, limitation of liability, force majeure, and general legal provisions. As of November 8, 2023, this contract was updated and revisions were made to many sections.
Where does it go wrong?
Reviewing a document such as the Terms and Conditions can be overwhelming and tedious, and there are many occasions where individuals are so enamored with the ideal of a service that they fail to take the time to look at the fine print before they blindly sign a binging agreement. Pair this with the platforms expressed right to alter the terms and conditions at any given time and the potential for a catastrophic partnership is made. “The Program will change over time and the terms of this Agreement will need to change over time as well. We reserve the right to change the terms of this Agreement.” (1) An article by The New York Times explores this exact problem, one interviewee states, “Nobody reads the terms of service, but these companies reserve the right to go in there and change things around,” said Jason Schultz, the director of New York University’s Technology Law and Policy Clinic and a co-author of The End of Ownership.
The Fine Print
In the Kindle Direct Publishing’s Terms and Conditions there is a very specific clause that they have worked into their wording that essentially gives them the right to alter a published piece if they believe that it does not adhere to their guidelines. “We are entitled to remove or modify the metadata and product description, information or images you make available for your Books and we may also remove all or any part of your Book’s cover art.” (2) This seems like a straightforward stipulation but what throws a kink in the process is the reference they make prior to this statement where it says that the content requirements are listed in a separate document called the Program Policies. An author is now having to read a document after a document to ensure that the content is complying with the company’s standards.
With the right to change firmly legalized in these contracts, publishers are entitled to follow the trends and revise the content to reflect societies stipulations on what is considered acceptable. A wildly popular series, Goosebumps, is a prime example of how the companies are flexing their power. “Owners of Stine’s “Goosebumps” books lost mentions of schoolgirls’ “crushes” on a headmaster and a description of an overweight character with “at least six chins.” (3) Due to society finding issue with young girls finding older men attractive and how a character was described as being big, they felt compelled to remove the content. This was not an issue when books were only available through print, nor was it an issue when digital publishing was introduced. This became a topic of contention due to the modern social turmoil.
Is it worth it?
Kindle Direct Publishing is not the only company that authors can use to publish their books digitally, but it is one of the most popular, ensuring a good amount of traffic for authors. However, these authors need to be mindful that by using their programs there are cons that can overpower the pros. Most especially the rights that the company has to alter the product after the contract has been signed. Many chose to use the user-friendly option because they believe that they are not required to jump through hoops and can maintain their creative integrity, but this is not always the case. They run the risk of having their work altered without the collaboration that they would experience by using a printing option. If digital publishing is the route that feels the best, authors need to take the time to review the Terms and Conditions extensively, as well as the accompanying documentation mentioned in the terms.