Self-publishing low content books on Amazon KDP has been big business for a long time now.
You don’t need to do much research to discover that publishing books with no words can make a lot of money.
YouTube is full of instructional videos about how to publish diaries, notebooks, journals, planners, and agendas. A quick search on Pinterest for free low content book interior templates will give you hundreds of results.
But Amazon has now made some changes that will make it a little more difficult for self-publishers.
What are low content books on Amazon?
Here is Amazon KDP’s definition:
A low-content book has minimal or no content on the interior pages. These pages are generally repetitive and designed to be filled in by the user.
If you want to find examples, try a search o Amazon for a diary notebook.
The result for me was over 80,000 titles. Yes, that is quite some number.
But when you look at some of the titles, you will notice something different.
Can you see what’s missing? Yes, there is now no Look Inside feature.
But even if it were there, it certainly wouldn’t be very informative. Here is the interior of the book above.
It is a simple and popular publishing model
In all honesty, Amazon had to react sooner or later.
Can you imagine how easy it is to use Amazon KDP to publish 10, 20, 30, or 100 different versions of the same book?
All you need to do is create a template for the cover design and interior for paperback and hardcover versions. Then simply modify the title and cover image over and over again.
It doesn’t take much imagination to come up with Grandma’s Diary, Auntie’s Diary and Mommy’s Diary, Wedding Schedule, Baptism Schedule, or Vacation Schedule.
Without much effort, it would be possible to publish ten new books or more each day.
Luckily for publishers of low content books, Amazon has taken a rather light-handed approach with its changes to this business model.
Low content books on Amazon lose free ISBNs
In a community announcement, Amazon ran this seemingly positive headline:
Low-content books can now be published on KDP without an ISBN.
It sounded more like an opportunity than a penalty. But when you click through to the new Help topic, the changes became more apparent.
There are three changes to low content books on Amazon.
1. Expanded Distribution is not supported for low-content books, regardless of the ISBN option you select.
2. The Look Inside feature is currently not supported for low-content books published without ISBN. If you’d like to activate this feature for your book, we recommend you to buy your own ISBN from Bowker or through your local ISBN agency.
3. Transparency codes are not available for low-content books that are published without an ISBN.
Why did Amazon make these changes?
I can only take a guess here, but free ISBNs must come at some cost for Amazon, either directly or administratively.
Fiction self-publishers might use one or two free ISBNs per year. But low content book publishers could use ten, twenty, or more in a day.
Amazon is in the business of selling products and making a profit. But with the proliferation of low content books, it probably had to act to slow things down a little.
What will change for publishers?
I doubt that low content publishers will entertain the idea of buying ISBNs for their books.
The price for a single ISBN from Bowker is $125, but it reduces down to $295 for 10, or $575 for 100.
The business model works by publishing hundreds of titles but knowing that perhaps only a few copies of each will sell each month.
So even at $5.75, it’s probably too much for low content publishers to consider paying.
Without an ISBN, Amazon will still add a barcode to a book. But it will not include a transparency code.
The removal of expanded distribution is not a significant penalty because I don’t think that many sales eventuate from this channel.
But the big loss is obviously the Look Inside feature. It removes the possibility of a buyer being able to quickly check the interior design and layout.
The obvious workaround is to use KDP A+ Content to display an image of the book interior.
But for publishers that rely on pumping out titles as quickly as possible, this requires a lot of extra work.
I did a quick and random check of some low content titles on Amazon.
It seems that some titles that were published with a free ISBN before the change still have the Look Inside feature.
However, Amazon doesn’t address the issue of existing titles in its documentation. So it’s possible that it might remove the feature from existing titles over time.
Will these changes have a dramatic effect?
I suspect it won’t make a lot of difference because the no or low content book business is very adaptable.
Amazon might be trying to slow things down a little or trim some costs.
But it also makes a lot of money from the business, so it is certainly not going to apply too many handicaps.