Kindle Unlimited: Author-Publisher As Second-Class Citizen?

Having talked a little about Kindle Unlimited the other day, I thought it was worth calling attention to this article by noted hybrid author, Michael J. Sullivan, over at Digital Book World. Relevant passage (though you should read the whole darn thing):

Historically, Amazon has been good about treating self-published authors and traditionally published authors equally. There are some exceptions (for instance traditionally published titles can be pre-ordered, and most self-published authors cannot get this feature. Again there have been exceptions made for best-selling self-published authors), but for the most part both self- and traditionally published authors have enjoyed equal treatment. They share similar exposure on best-seller lists and top-rated lists, and Amazon’s “cut” from sales have been the same for both groups (30% under the agency model). In fact, when the agency model went into affect, Amazon raised self-publisher’s royalty from 35% to 70% to match what traditional publishers were getting. But now with the roll-out of Kindle Unlimited, we see two very different treatments:

Self-published authors MUST be exclusive to Amazon (except for a handful of best-selling authors) and can’t sell their books on other sites. Traditionally published books have no such exclusivity requirement and can be sold wherever the publisher wishes.

Self-published authors are paid from a pool set by Amazon each month. They have no idea how much they will be paid per book. Traditionally published books get paid exactly as they would if a sale were made. They know exactly what the unit price will be for each book and are not relying on the Amazon’s whim as far as what their unit price will be.

Now, a few comments.

Some of my books are there, not through KDP Select, but through Amazon Publishing (Skyscape, in particular). The books seem to be doing well — noticed a jump in my ranking (which is a number may or may not be attached to anything, like a child’s steering wheel toy).

But this isn’t that. This post is more relevant to author-publishers.

As noted, if you want into Kindle Unlimited, you have to be exclusive through KDP Select.

Which means — well, it means tough tee-tas, is what it means. It means if you’re willing to shut the door on other sales avenues, Amazon will reward you by… giving you a different, in some ways lesser, deal than if you entered KU with a publisher.

Someone will correctly point out that the average $2/month payout is potentially better, though, then what a published author will get. That’s likely true (though not guaranteed) — but it doesn’t change the fact that the price of your self-published book becomes irrelevant. Control over price is a meaningful aspect of acting as your own author-publisher, and this takes that away from you. Sure, it’s nice if you wrote a 5,000 word story at $0.99, but a 100,000-word fantasy for $5.99 –? Hey, two bucks either way. And nobody knows how the pool is calculated or if it’ll go up, down, or sideways. To reuse a phrase — it doesn’t seem to be attached to anything.

So: if you’re an author-publisher, maybe be a little wary of Kindle Unlimited. I don’t know that it’s worth an, ahem, big petition or anything, but it may be worth sending Amazon a polite note to suggest that they tie the compensation to the price of the book and, further, eradicate any exclusivity demands. Because, again, diversification will help make a writer — exclusivity can help break one. Particularly one just starting out.