Can You Publish Public Domain eBooks on Amazon Kindle?

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Can You Publish Public Domain eBooks on Amazon Kindle? The answer is no, so don’t be fooled by those who sell expensive online courses about doing this.

These days I was bombarded by some video ads about selling e-books for free on Amazon Kindle. This was about earning money while you sleep. The author offered a free online video lecture for which I had to reserve a place.

I became curious, but who wouldn’t? I love to sleep and to earn money simultaneously, what a great combination. This tells you that the ad did its job. So I did what was necessary to see how it works and to read between lines, or should I say between sentences?

The excitement was at a high level, and this was partly so because I received many emails from the author reminding me about the great moment. One came also 10 minutes before the beginning of the live lecture telling me to take place and be ready.

To skip details, in the ad, she was promising a business without investment, free from advertising, Amazon would do everything for you, etc.

However, during the actual video lecture, she presented two main ways:

  1. Self publish e-books on Amazon, and this means hire a writer who will do the job for you, and you publish books on Amazon under your name.
  2. Find public domain e-books that are 100 years or more old, and publish them as e-books on Amazon Kindle. My first thought was –  great, this will be The Bible, and Quran, those are surely old enough. Though, there was a puzzle about what to put as the author, so eventually I gave up.

Regarding the first option, obviously, nobody will write a book for free. So how much is this? I realized in the lecture this would be of the order of $1000 or so. So this is not exactly a business without investment but the price looks fair, assuming that you can indeed find a writer that would not ask much more.

How about the second option, the old books that are in public domain? I searched around and realized there were many books available to download, including the two mentioned above. So I picked up 4 of them as a test, and registered myself as a proud publisher on Kindle Direct Publishing on Amazon.

Indeed, after an hour or so, I had 4 books published with nice covers using templates which they have available. I found some appropriate cover pictures on Pixabay.

So, am I now making money with this? Well, not really. There is an approval procedure, the person in the lecture conveniently forgot to mention this important detail. I realized my great books were blocked. Pity, see how they look:

My blocked books.
My blocked books.

This is how I failed, but I decided to ask Amazon what happened and why they would not allow me to become a publisher of such great books.

Here are two different answers I received, I did not change anything except setting a few words in bold:

Hello,

Thank you for publishing with Amazon. Copyright is important to us – we want to make sure that no author or other copyright holder has his or her books sold by anyone else. To publish your book(s), please respond with documentation confirming your publishing rights the following book(s):

“De Bello Gallico” and Other Commentaries by Caesar, Gaius Julius (AUTHOR) (ID: 46208948)
The Grand Inquisitor by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (AUTHOR) (ID: 46209855)
Acceptable documentation includes:

– A contract or statement from the author or publisher verifying you retain publishing rights
– For authors using a pseudonym, copyright registration or statement of pseudonym use

As a reminder, since publishing books which you do not hold the publishing right is against our guidelines, we may suspend or terminate accounts that repeatedly try to do so. For any questions, please reply to this email.
Amazon KDP


Hello,

During our review, we found that the following book(s) causes a disappointing customer experience because the content is freely available on the web.

The Grand Inquisitor
Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (AUTHOR) (ID: 46209855)

Some types of content, such as public domain content, may be free to use by anyone, or may be licensed for use by more than one party. We will not accept content that is freely available on the web unless you are the copyright owner of that content. For example, if you received your book content from a source that allows you and others to re-distribute it, and the content is freely available on the web, we will not accept it for sale on Amazon.

As a result, we’ve set the book(s) to “Blocked” in your Bookshelf. We will not be making the book(s) available for sale on Amazon.

For more details about KDP’s content guidelines, visit Help:
https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G200672390

If you have questions or believe you’ve received this email in error, reply to this message.

Thanks for your cooperation,
Amazon KDP.


I did not really have any more questions, in fact I became worried. As I mentioned, I tried with 4 different books, the third was The Idiot, and the fourth was Crime and Punishment, both from Dostoevsky. I simply could not resist, this is my favorite writer and thinker.

No doubt you will agree that the title of the third describes me well as the “Kindle publisher”. They “may suspend or terminate accounts that repeatedly try to do so.” The word repeatedly is a bit ambiguous, not sure if 4 could be understood as a repeated action. I should have read their guidelines, and I feel that the title of the fourth book covers my behavior and prospects nicely.


This is an addition, there was a third reply related to the 3rd and 4th book, see what they write:

Hello,

During our review, we found that the following book(s) is matching to a public domain work that is offered freely on Amazon:

The Idiot by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (AUTHOR) (ID: 46210499)
Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (AUTHOR) (ID: 46210225)
Crime and Punishment by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (AUTHOR) (ID: 46210225)
The Idiot by Dostoyevsky, Fyodor (AUTHOR) (ID: 46210499)
To provide a better customer experience, we don’t publish undifferentiated versions of public domain titles if a free version is available in our store.

In order to publish the book(s), please complete one of the following options within 5 days:

Option 1: Resubmit differentiated works
Ensure that the book(s) meets our differentiation guidelines and resubmit it in your account.

Differentiated works are unique. They meet one or more of these requirements:
• Translated: Unique translations
• Annotated: Unique annotations (additional content like study guides, literary critiques, detailed biographies, or historical context)
• Illustrated: 10 or more unique illustrations relevant to the book

Books must include (Translated), (Annotated), or (Illustrated) in the title field. The product description must also include a summary of how the book is unique in bullet point format at the beginning.

To resubmit your book(s):
1. Go to your Bookshelf
2. Click the ellipsis button (“…”) under KINDLE EBOOK ACTIONS next to the book you want to update
3. Choose “Edit eBook details.” This will take you to the Details page
4. Edit your details
5. Click “Save and Continue.” This will take you to the Content page
6. Upload a revised file including any added annotation and/or illustrations, if needed
7. Click “Save and Continue.” This will take you to the Pricing page
8. Click the publish button at the bottom of this page

For more details about publishing public domain books, visit Help:
https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G200743940

Option 2: Delete undifferentiated works
If you don’t want to submit a differentiated version of the book(s), you can delete it from your account.

For more details about unpublishing or deleting books, visit Help:
https://kdp.amazon.com/help/topic/G4QJH4ENN4FZRFMP

If you have questions or believe you’ve received this email in error, reply to this message. Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

So this was an interesting experiment for me. I gave these replies on purpose, so you can understand what is expected to do if you plan to publish a public domain e-book. They expect you to add value and to make the book unique. This implies some work, though this is easier than writing a new book, but there is no guarantee you will really make sales. It may be worth trying.


Now, back to the mentioned live lecture which I watched. The point of it was an online course that the author was selling. Close to the end of the lecture, she outlined that her course was more than $8000 of value. However, those who would enroll immediately would get it for less than $500. You get the idea?

So do not be fooled with such stories. You will lose money, and your account at Amazon might be suspended. But it is fair to say, it is indeed possible to hire somebody to write a book for you, and you may try to sell it on Amazon.

The whole procedure at Amazon side is really easy, they provide a cover design tool, and in just a few clicks you can have the book ready. Amazon takes its part, 30% if I remember correctly, but this is only after somebody buys the book.

All in all, you do not have to pay for an expensive course to do this. Just to add, it seems this time my account is not going to be suspended, I am safe and I might try again but in a correct way. Thank you for reading. Let me know if you know more about this issue, there is a comment box below.


This is an addition several weeks later, they informed me that my account was suspended, I guess I deserve it:

Hello,

We are terminating your account effective immediately because you submitted titles containing content that is freely available on the web, which is a violation of our Content Guidelines.

You can see the violations reflected in the following title(s):

The Grand Inquisitor- external_id:46209855

As part of the termination process:
• We will close your account
• You’ll receive any unpaid royalties you have earned
• You’ll no longer have access to your accounts. This includes, editing your titles, viewing your reports and accessing any other information within your account
• All of your published titles will be removed from sale on Amazon

Additionally, as per our Terms and Conditions, you aren’t allowed to open any new KDP accounts.

You can find our Terms and Conditions, here: https://kdp.amazon.com/terms-and-conditions

If you have questions, please reply to this message.

Regards,
Amazon KDP

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