To Kindle Unlimited, And Beyond

You want to talk about Kindle Unlimited.

I know you do because folks have tweeted me, asking me about it.

I even got a couple e-mails. A whole couple. Almost a few.

(People, when will you learn I’m no expert on anything?)

First up, if you want to talk about it, I will point you to Mike Underwood’s post here. Also, this GigaOm article is worth the direction of your uncertain, questioning gaze. (If you don’t know the core gist of the Kindle Unlimited service, it’s this: unmoored from the Prime Kindle lending library is another service which you can pay $9.99 a month for in order to read a whole host — around 600,000 e-books — on your Kindle device or app. It consists mostly of Amazon Publisher books and KDP Select author-publisher books. You can do a free month trial right now.)

My thoughts — unfocused and rambly, because it is Friday and at this point I’m not even sure I’m sitting here typing on a keyboard and not nude in the woods somewhere banging on a yellow-jacket hive, hallucinating from anaphylaxis — are as follows:

a) Amazon is interesting because it is a big company and yet it moves like a spry, tiny company. Which is awesome and scary because when big companies move quickly, it is often tectonic.

b) I don’t know yet if this is tectonic. It is interesting to me as a reader and a little scary to me as a writer because all new things are scary to me as a writer because writers are ultimately flinchy since being whacked in the nose so many times with bad deals. I think if this becomes a truly dominant model, then it will be tectonic, shaking How Books Are Consumed and How Authors Are Paid to the molten, trembling core.

c) I think it’s a good price point.

d) I think there’s an argument to be made where this devalues books.

e) I think there’s an argument to be made that high e-book prices hurt authors more than low e-book prices, so, blah blah blah book value exposure something snore.

f) I think Spotify was bad for bands but this isn’t Spotify.

g) Most of the time, your money triggers based on people reading to a certain point in the book — 10% or so. If this becomes a dominant model, maybe easy to game? It’s like, someone reads as far into your book as they would the available free sample, that triggers payment. Which is nice. But potentially subject to some kind of abuse.

h) Contrary to the narrative about Amazon, this could be interpreted as them hoping to keep actual e-book prices high. If you look at the language that’s being reported (this bit found at Publishers Lunch) —

Filling in one of the unanswered questions for authors, Amazon Publishing authors will be compensated in a manner similar to that to for authors of publishers that agreed to participate. As Amazon Publishing executive Jeff Belle wrote to agents in an email, “every time a customer reads more than 10% of your author’s book through Kindle Unlimited (about the size of the current free samples available for Kindle books), your author will earn their full ebook royalty rate based on the average sale price of their book for the given month.”

— that suggests an incentive for keeping your e-book prices higher, not lower, particularly if Kindle Unlimited becomes truly popular, or even as noted, dominant. (I bolded the relevant bit suggesting this.) The higher the e-book price, the better that average becomes. It ostensibly even discourages sale prices. Prices too low, too often, and authors will be paid less.

i) You will find some of my books there, including Under the Empyrean Sky, Blightborn, and the short fiction set in the Heartland world, The Wind Has Teeth Tonight. You’ll also find Kick-Ass Writer there. (Full list here.) None of my self-published work is there, as this appears to be only open to those in KDP Select. KDP Select is the “I’m with Amazon exclusively” program, which I don’t dig because I do well selling my author-published work elsewhere.

j) No, I didn’t know about Kindle Unlimited before a couple days ago. I was not given a chance to opt-in or opt-out. This isn’t exactly abnormal for publishers, mind you. I do not believe KDP Select people received any warning, either — so, if they’re in, they’re in for at least 90 days or so, I believe. They can, I expect, opt out thereafter. (Correct me if I’m wrong.)

k) That said, worth realizing that Amazon not giving authors any overt choice or head’s up suggests they’re more like regular old publishers than you might believe. Which isn’t good or bad — it’s just worth noting.

l) Ten bucks a month isn’t as good as I’d like, but one assumes (hopes?) that the roster will grow, and not shrink. Then again: could this be tied in at all to current publisher discussions? Did publishers know much about this? Some did, presumably.

m) But but but, it contains audio, which is big.

Overall: it’s interesting.

I am cautiously optimistic.

I like being read and I like being paid. I hope this does both.

I am, as always, wary of Amazon corralling all of the book world under one tent — e-books! Kindle! Goodreads! Audio books! Publishing companies! Print-on-Demand! And now, subscription services! — because monoculture makes my butthole clench.

Still — I’m trying the free month because free month.

Still: stay tuned, surely more to come, with further clarity.

Feel free to comment: what do you think about Kindle Unlimited?

Play nice in the comments. (None of that “Amazon Is EEEEEEVIL” rhetoric, please.)

83 responses to “To Kindle Unlimited, And Beyond”

  1. Amazon is ev– Oh. Wait. Can’t say that. My first thought as a reader was “Heya! that’s cool!” My second thought as a reader was “Oh, lord, that’s a lot of really bad books I can wade through 9% of.” “My first thought as an author was “HEY! What? Since when?” And my second thought as an author, looking at how they were going to pay (which was vague in the extreme and could be anything from a penny on up) was “Hell, no.” But that’s just me. I eagerly await your report. Unless, of course, the bees get you.

  2. What’s your opinion on Oyster? Oyster’s been around for a while (A year, maybe?) and has been touted as “Netflix for books”. This – much like Amazon Prime Instant Video was to Netflix – seems like Amazon’s direct response.

    • The payment model to authors is a bit different. In Oyster the publisher author is paid as if there was a sale similar to how much they would make on Amazon – They keep a % (30% or maybe 40% I forget) and the publisher gets the rest. For self-published authors Amazon has a pool that is divided by a number of books loaned/read in KU. In the past that has been about $2.00 a unit. It doesn’t take into account the price of books so whether you sell it for $0.99 or $2.99, the income is the same.

    • Hunger Games isn’t put out by the big 5? Harry Potter?

      Going through a couple of my genre wish-lists I found a mixed bag of trad and indie for what was available.

      • I owe an apology Hunger Games is by Scholastic. As is Harry Potter.

        Makes you wonder if some of the negotiation problems between Amazon & Hatchette had anything to do with this.

      • They are in…but not participating….

        Harry Potter – Amazon has a special deal with them where they pay a lump some to sell their books it is likely they increased the sum to include it in KU.

        Hunger Games – was added to KU without the publishers consent…which Amazon is allowed to do under their current contract. The catch…they have to pay the publisher 100% of what they would have gotten if someone bought it.

        Under such an arrangement the 1% authors will make out well. Amazon will throw them into the program to get people to adopt it and they will make much more than if they weren’t in the program as they get 100% no matter what.

    • Agree the exclusivity aspect, and the fact there are different payment models for traditionally published authors and self-published authors are the two things that bother me the most.

        • Yeh, exclusivity is the bug bear for me too. I sell very little anywhere else but I do not believe in putting every single egg in one basket. Because when I do that, I, or someone near me, drops the basket.



  3. I signed up for the 30 day trial too, but I’m interested to see if this model allows them a way to rotate titles in and out like Netflix does (though I hate the whole “Netflix for books” tag subscription services get). Publishers seemed very wary about opting into Prime lending, perhaps they’ll be more comfortable with opting titles in for a limited time. A fixed base of regular material (KDP/Amazon published) supplemented by larger traditional titles available for “rental” after a fixed purchase only period, but only for a limited time, could be an interesting model for publishers to get in on.

    • Based on the way publishers are compensated for KU – they should…as they get paid just as if a sale occurred. But my prediction, they won’t opt in…publishers are very slow to adopt change and this will scare the stuffing out of them. Amazon will put some selected books of each publisher in to attract readers (they can put any book into KU without the publishers permission as long as they pay them as soon as a download happens). And the publishers will see huge additional income on those books. That “might” make them consider opting in, but I think they will feel that it would be hanging themselves with their own ropes, so for the most part they’ll stay opted out. My prediction at least.

      • From what I read at Pub Lunch, only publishers with wholesale contracts can be opted in without their express consent. It sounded as if the presumption was that agency lite publisher contracts prevent them being added without direct consent, which explains the presence of Scholastic but not big fivers.

        • As part of the settlement, agency agreements were terminated some time ago. There was a period that publishers couldn’t enter into new agency agreements, but I think that has expired, or will be soon. Personally, I think agency vs wholesale is probably at the heart of the Amazon/Hachette dispute. Long story short, I think all the contracts are currently non-agency.

          • Right, no full agency contracts currently, but all the big five are on “agency lite” aka non-wholesale contracts post-settlement. The July 16 issue of Pub Lunch discussed this in detail, why some pubs are included but others maybe are not–can’t link directly to the newsletter, but here’s the link to the story ( and the relevant paragraph:

            “Agency Lite publishers we were able to reach this morning declined to comment on the coming program. From our previous queries, we do not know of any of those five publishers that accepted Amazon’s offers. HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster are the only two of the Big Five currently participating in competing subscription programs. In the past, full agency contracts were known to prevent an offer like this without the publisher’s direct consent. It’s less clear to us whether that is the case under the newer agency contracts as modified by the consent decrees.”

  4. This is priced the same as Scridb and Oyster which would be Amazons existing competition. The read to 10% point is also same/very similar to Scribd/Oyster.

    As to keeping book prices high – that only works if the subscriptions are going to pay enough that the subscription company, Amazon in this case, is making a profit. I don’t know if high book prices work well in this context – a lot depends on how many people subscribe but don’t read much to subsidize voracious readers (like me).

    I signed up for Kindle a Unlimited as a reader and expect to continue past my trial if Amazon is able to a add more books.

    I’m disappointed that it’s only open to self-published authors through KDP select and:

    Once a customer reads more than 10% of your book, or a Kindle Owners’ Lending Library customer downloads your book, you’ll receive a share of the KDP Select Global Fund.

    If you are currently in KDP Select they have a way to immediately remove your book

    It was a pain to find out on the author side how Kindle Unlimited works. They really need to make help for authors easier.

  5. On the one hand, I’m with you as ‘cautiously optimistic’, as I often am with new things and stuff. It is what it is. And most of my mp3 purchases are between Amazon and eMusic anyway, so I’m not exactly anti-Amazon.

    On the other hand, I’m not a Kindle user and don’t plan on being one any time soon. Not out of spite, just that I already have a Nook and a tablet and have no reason to buy what would technically be a third tablet just for Kindle files. This is the problem I have with exclusivity, and one of the issues I’ve had with Apple in the past w/r/t music purchasing. If an ebook is exclusively Kindle, I’ll bypass it, because I just can’t be bothered. [If there’s a physical version, that’s different. I’m talking e-only here.]

  6. How does library lending in America work? I was just reading about the Public Lending Right (PLR) where authors are compensated for books that are lent out in public libraries. But America doesn’t participate. So does that mean that a library buys one copy and pays one price and lends it out until it falls apart?

    I still have to say that I like amazon. Twenty years ago, I was living here in Germany and had no acess to English language books. Except from amazon. I wrote a book and I wanted to publish it independently and amazon made that possible. I am no longer in KDP select, but when I have my second book finished, I may go back in. Am I a writer? Am I an author? Who cares.

    • As to your question about libraries – you are correct, although typically they buy a slightly different version (library binding) which is more sturdy and lasts longer. These “library versions” cost more than the books bought by consumers so yes they buy once but at a higher price.

  7. Jeff Bezos’ comment about a 10% read initiating a full royalty payout is either wrong, or not for everybody. On the indie author FAQ at Amazon, we writers are being offered the same deal as Select before – a flat rate based on sharing a predetermined pool of money. Now, Amazon has more than doubled that pool for the remainder of the month. That sounds great to me.

    Personally I am thrilled at the concept that discovery algorithms will now include *how much people read of your book* as a factor. That means better books = better rankings. Not just price or ad budget. This makes me all SQUEE on the inside. And on the outside, if anyone wants to check.

    • That’s with Select though, not with published items. (And it wasn’t Jeff Bezos saying that, but rather, Jeff Belle.)

      “Personally I am thrilled at the concept that discovery algorithms will now include *how much people read of your book* as a factor.”

      And that is definitely an item worth noting!

  8. I had the same thought you did regarding potential abuses, but I think that would tend to whack Amazon–until they figure out a way to keep it from occurring–rather than authors.

    But I could be wrong.

    I know that books I have in the KDP Select program priced low tend to earn more for Prime borrows than they do actual royalty. I don’t know if this will be similar or not. Since the catalog available for this program (from what I understand) is only a fraction of the bazillions of Kindle books available for purchase, I don’t think it’ll hurt book prices overall any more than their Prime program did, or any more than Netflix hurts digital movie and TV show prices to buy from various outlets.

    Since books that are only available in KDP Select (if I read it correctly) are eligible for this program, I don’t expect to see any of the Big 5 involved in it in a large scale (barring the few instances the GigaOm blog listed) or even the larger digital-first indy presses out there. Mostly self-pub or single-author publishing houses, would be my guess. Maybe a few limited “big names” as bait with enough sales pull to ink independent agreements?

    And no, as a participant in the KDP Select program, I did not receive any advance warning other than the rumors I saw over the past couple of days and then the email I received this morning from them.

    I’m curious to see what they do with the books, however, if someone’s subscription cancels or doesn’t renew. Do they pull the books from their account? How about people who download backups to their computers and then strip DRM?

    My initial gut reaction is one of cautious optimism, with more than a sploosh of hesitation. As with anything new, it’ll take a few months to see what trends start to shake out.

    • As an indie author your only way into the program is KDP Select. Trad published books are in the program under separate agreements.

      When a subscriber reaches 10% of your book in KU you will be eligible for payout from the KDP program moneys. Trad publishers will get a different payout based on their agreement with Amazon when a subscriber reaches 10% of one of their books in KU.

      If someone cancels their subscription Amazon will remove the books from their kindle (it’s trivial they do this when I lend books or for other reasons). Anyone who copies files to make backups and/or strips the DRM is in violation of their kindle use agreement – it was there to be read & agreed to if we wanted to when we signed up with KU.

  9. The e-mail I received from Amazon [as a KDP Select dude] indicates that I would receive a “share” of that month’s pot. Currently, this is two million dollars. I didn’t see anything about me getting the same percentage of what my story costs normally.

    • The vital question is how that share is calculated. One assumes it is based off of the cost of your story as it stands. Higher cost book = more share. Either that, or size of text? No idea.

      • No…it’s not based on price of book. It’s a straight division Total pool / number of books borrowed or read to 10% in KU times the number of books that are yours. So a $0.99 book has the same payout as a $9.99 book. I expect that will change at some future point.

  10. I have to say this: there is no security here. As an experiment I signed up for the 30-day trial and chose The Princess Bride (I already own an ebook copy). I sent it to my PC Kindle app…and then copied the file to my computer where I could now do anything with it (were I an unscrupulous scoundrel and bounder) and the author would receive nothing.

    Just sayin’.

    And yes, I did immediately delete the copy.

    • Yes, but people can do the same thing with a regular Kindle book ported over to their PC. It isn’t just this program, but all programs that are open to it.

      When you have an opening, you’ll have people who will exploit it. Besides, we live in the economy of free. People often justify taking bits and bytes, but won’t flat out steal a physical copy. It’s just the way a generation is used to getting their material.

      And before anyone gets their stuff in a twist, those people will be our leaders some day. They’ll be the core market and we’ll be sitting in our chairs arguing over IP rights that were signed over way before we hit our twenties.

  11. I’ve seen so many authors up in arms over this and I fully confess to not understanding. Maybe I’m missing the issue? Maybe I’m caffeine deficient? How is this (apart from electronic media and a per month fee) different from my local library? I’m very open to being educated on this point.

    • I don’t think it’s “up in arms” time yet — and it’s quite possible that eventually it’ll be “arms up in total celebration Muppet flail woo” time. The ground hasn’t finished shifting, and this also won’t affect most authors, as yet.

      As for how it’s different from a library — well, the monthly fee is obviously a big difference there. Libraries also don’t pay you per checkout. They buy the book outright and then rebuy the book either depending on time/circulation or if the book just plain falls apart.

      Oh, and public libraries are a public good/service. 🙂

    • I’m not “up in arms” – I’m much like Chuck…waiting to see how this all pans out. But I’ll weigh in on how it is different than libraries. Libraries have a limited number of copies so that only a few people can have the book at any given time…and the others have to wait. If there is a lot of waiting, they generally buy more copies which puts more money in the publishers/authors pockets.

      With ebooks there is no “limited number” so it can go to thousands, or tens of thousands, or millions of people all at once. Publishers and authors get money for each of these – though how much will vary wildly – quite a bit for a traditionally published author (as they get essentially a full sale…the self-published author gets a % of a pool. So if the number downloaded goes up more than the money pool they will make less per book….now they may make more because their volume will increase, but there really is no way to know until we start getting some data in.

  12. I love the monthly subscription model for books. As a reader, this offers me a much more feasible option to replace my library habit compared to buying each individual book I want to read … and for me at least, it would mean that a lot more of the authors I read will actually get $ for my eyes on their words.

    As a writer, I have to think that a model that is good for avid readers and also gets authors money simply has to be a step in a good direction. To me, the priority would be for my book to get in front of as many readers as possible, regardless of the format, even if it’s through a library where I get no money, because I believe the synergy from those readers builds to a greater overall profit for a writer regardless.

    As a consumer, I give Amazon points for being both able AND willing to experiment with this format for book-reading in digital, and I think its the most realistic structure for all consumer art in digital media (so, video and music as well as books). However, I’d also prefer to give that $ to a less contentious third-party in the publishing biz like Oyster. But hey, great step forward.

    • “As a writer, I have to think that a model that is good for avid readers and also gets authors money simply has to be a step in a good direction. To me, the priority would be for my book to get in front of as many readers as possible, regardless of the format, even if it’s through a library where I get no money, because I believe the synergy from those readers builds to a greater overall profit for a writer regardless.”

      Just to clarify, as I see this point a lot —

      Getting read through libraries is not “no money” for authors. Libraries have to buy books and have to rebuy books based on circulation and readership.

  13. @Tasha Turner: Potter and Hunger Games are not from the Big 5. Harry Potter digital rights are controlled by Pottermore (aka — Rowling herself), Hunger Games are Scholastic products — at least the print (not audio) editions are.

  14. They didn’t give the authors a heads up, but they are giving the authors whose books are already in Select the opportunity to opt out of Select before the end of the contract term. This new Unlimited is just replacing the old borrowing system that Amazon already had in place. I’ve gotten a decent share of the pot from my past Amazon borrows. I’m going on the hope that this will be pretty much the same thing.

  15. I just signed up for Kindle Unlimited, and it is pretty damn incredible. Millions of ebooks are flying through the air to my kindle overhead right now, like little piece of Mike in Willy Wonka. It really is incredible. Kindle Unlimited killed the radio star.

  16. I found out about Kindle Unlimited, oh, about ten minutes ago, when I saw that little logo next to my book. Just sent an email to my publisher asking for a few details, so I have yet to really form an opinion about all this, aside from “more people reading my book=good.”

  17. With Netflix and Spotify and all the other streaming services, I feel like something is missing. I like owning my favorite movies and TV shows. I like owning (e)books. I like giving my money to other authors.

    It doesn’t appeal to me as a reader. As an author, I am trepedatious.

  18. It is interesting that the KU rollout is treated differently for traditionally published authors verses self, and many small press authors who get books up via KDP.

    As you mentioned traditionally published authors, including Amazon published) get paid (assuming 10% was read) based on how much they would have gotten if a reader bought the book. But those in KDP get paid based on the KOLL pool divided by number of books loaned/read through KU. Typically this has been about $2.00 a book (some months more, some less). And it doesn’t matter whether your book usually sells for $9.99 or $0.99

  19. @dotti4 – For readers, this doesn’t replace the Kindle Lending thing. That service was only available on Kindle devices. This service is available anywhere you’ve got a Kindle device OR Kindle application.

    @emilywenstrom – I’d say you’re on to something. I discovered the esteemed Mr. Wendig on 8/5/13 via the Kindle Lending library. I then bought that same book (along with the audio) and consider myself a fan (purchasing fan).
    I’m no writer, but as a reader I’m looking forward to seeing where this goes. I can try new authors without much risk, and since I’m a ‘re-reader’, I’ll purchase books for future use.

  20. It’s probably in Amazon’s best long-term interest to get as much traction with this “pool” concept as possible. It’s like a company de-linking bonuses from performance and instead limiting total payouts to a percentage of a pool, which it sets in advance or as needed. Bad year? Need to show higher profits? Shrink the pool. It’s usually in a worker’s/author’s best interest, though, to have payouts be directly linked to performance. Getting hooked on pool payouts sucks if you don’t ultimately control the size of the pool.

    • “It’s probably in Amazon’s best long-term interest to get as much traction with this “pool” concept as possible. It’s like a company de-linking bonuses from performance and instead limiting total payouts to a percentage of a pool, which it sets in advance or as needed. Bad year? Need to show higher profits? Shrink the pool. It’s usually in a worker’s/author’s best interest, though, to have payouts be directly linked to performance. Getting hooked on pool payouts sucks if you don’t ultimately control the size of the pool.”

      Well-said and well-seen, yeah.

  21. You know what this sounds like? A library. I have one of those, so I will skip the 9.99 monthly price and read the books my library has. The library will borrow any book they don’t have from another library so that I can read it. The library has e-books, e-audiobooks, hardcover books, paperbacks, DVDs, CDs, free music from Freegal, magazines, newspapers…and I don’t have to pay a giant corporation to become bigger.

  22. Yeah, this isn’t even a little interesting to me, because my library already offers more ebooks (and even audiobooks) than I could ever read. And it’s free. So…yawn, is my reaction.

  23. The pool payments killed it for me. They only maintained the $2 per borrow payout because Prime members could only get one book a month. It’s unlikely it will stay that high for unlimited.

    The worst part though as you won’t know how much you made until well after the end of the month.

  24. This is the first I’ve heard of this – I must have been under a rock the last few days. It’ll be interesting to see how things play out. I don’t think Amazon are an evil company, but they are a company who look at the bottom line. How will the bottom line affect the authors in this instance?

  25. As someone who attempted – unsuccessfully – to go the self-pub route, I’m grateful for any information on this topic (no matter how obscure it might be). All knowledge is worth having, I believe an author once wrote. I’m filing this away.

  26. As I currently understand the set-up at KU, the KDP authors will get paid a flat cut of the pool for each 10 percent read of their book(s). Whether the “book” is a 10-line poem or a 200,000-word epic. Same pay-out per read. I know authors who are already busily cutting their full-length novels into bite-sized pieces in order to hit the 10 percent every time. I’m betting that some of my well-known genre friends are prepping tons of short fiction and even short-shorts for KU, all based on that equal-pay-no-matter-what from the pool. If that really is how it’s going to work, the feeding frenzy is going to be a sight to behold. I’ve got some short fiction and short-shorts I self-pub on the side at KDP. I popped them into Select last night, to see what happens.

  27. I think they’re looking to squeeze self publishers out of any other outlet, they make it sweeter and sweeter to stick with them and nobody else…. but like the Child Catcher’s van, I expect all that financial sugaryness to fall off the sides and to be left with nothing but bars.

  28. My first thought when reading this was “Wow, ten bucks a moth for unlimited books? That’s incredible!” But then my second thought was “I would have to wade through the usual e-book garbage to find anything worth while. I’d rather just try to whittle down my Goodreads to-read list at Barnes and Noble than fool around with this ridiculousness.” Besides, there’s just something about paying for books the same way I pay for Elder Scrolls Online that just rubs me the wrong way.

  29. It strikes me that this is going to be a lot like Netflix Instant Watch, where I’ll think “Oh, I want to read that book,” go on Kindle Unlimited, and discover that the title I really want to read is only available as a pay-to-purchase e-book. That’s happened to me too many times recently with Netflix (all the titles I want to watch are only on DVD) for me to be tempted by this right now.

  30. Right, well I know this is the author side of things and I understand and respect people for what they do (if often I close the book after a sentence or a paragraph), but allow me to point out two things:

    1) This is certainly a direct answer to the raise in the PRIME costs. If they can save some of their customers (like me) from not completely going away after paying $100 / yr, they’ll do it. Even if the cost is actually MORE, the marketing is enough to fool the consumer brain into getting this program. Heck, I came pretty close to starting a trial myself.

    2) This actually gets more eyeballs on material. I know everyone hates the fact that free this, free that, I can’t money things and whatnot, but the amazing turn of events are you get more readers who look into your back catalog and buy the products you have. You’ll actually earn more readers, which at the sacrifice of a few pennies could be a greater way to leverage your fan base to get something else in the future.

    But that’s just me. I’ll probably explore it a little, delete the books after a few sentences, stop payment, and move on.

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