What The Hell’s Happening With Kindle Unlimited?

A very quick unpleasant injection of (self-)publishing prattle —

So, Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s subscription service, yeah? Those who subscribe get access to a variety of e-books that they can click and download for one monthly price. Something-something Spotify, blah-dee-dah-dee Netflix, whatever.

I like the idea as a customer, though I’ll admit a cynical sphincter-clench at the very idea of subscriptions for e-books — e-books are already so fantastically inexpensive that I can’t help the hesitation at seeing the ceiling drop even lower. I feel like Indiana Jones in a cave that’s trying to crush him. This might be my encroaching Old Man Syndrome (“NEW THINGS SCARE ME, NOW EXCUSE ME WHILE I GO USE INTERNET EXPLORER TO CHECK MYSPACE”), but I’m always hissing and spitting at anything that might undercut any author’s ability to earn a living wage.

Regardless, right now, it’s still looking like Kindle Unlimited is troubled waters.

Here’s the news:

Last month, the payout per book checked out was $1.33. A pretty steep drop from what was hovering closer to two bucks per download — which isn’t too far off base with what you’d earn from a buyer buying the book outright (er, presuming you’re in that self-publishing sweet spot of $2.99, which is already cheapy-cheapy). But $1.33 cuts that sharply — average royalties on that e-book from a purchase would be 70%, but this drops it to 44%. (Now, there’s an argument to be had that suggests broader exposure yields to greater sales and thus softens that drop — maybe even erases that drop — though I’ll also note that this is the argument some traditional publishers use to justify the 25% or less of royalty rates in that space.)

This month — and here’s a Publisher’s Lunch link but it requires a subscription, so if anybody has a better link, toss it to me — Amazon added $3.5 million to the fund, which dramatically raised the per-download-payout to, drum roll please…




Three cents.

Which is puzzling, really. It’s suggestive of a couple things. Either nobody’s checking out Kindle Unlimited, or they are, but Kindle Unlimited is getting tons of use across a huge array of books. To reiterate, that means either nobody is subscribing, or there are just too many books in the program getting read to make the payout viable (meaning, the money is spread thin across a glut of books and readers). Amazon puts money in the KDP fund, and nobody really knows where that money comes from or what it’s connected to — it’s a button with tangled pipes and convoluted wiring and it’s hard to know what actually affects that number. Is Amazon just making it up? Is it tied to subscribers? Is there some mad algorithm forged in the brine-pickled belly of an Elder God?

(That’s a larger issue with Amazon, I think, in terms of self-publishing: so much of what happens there is behind the curtain. They change algorithms and suddenly a bestselling self-published book drops through the floor. Discoverability and programmatic cataloging are mysterious processes there — it is all unseen alchemy. It’d be great to have a larger sense of what they’re doing, but they’re not really forthcoming with that information for self-published authors.)

Amazon added three million to bump the payout by three cents. Meaning, without that fund bump, the payout would’ve likely been significantly lower. No idea how much, because nobody’s privy to that information.

So far, at least to my untrained eyes, it seems like Kindle Unlimited is spinning its wheels a bit — I was in for a month and didn’t see a great variety of books available (and though folks seem upset by my insistence on the “shit volcano” effect, discoverability and visibility there is trending toward zero). And stranger still, they require that exclusivity arrangement to be a part of it. Exclusivity to a single retailer and distributor is usually a thing that rewards the seller in some way. If I sell my Fabulous Donglewidget to many retailers and suddenly K-Mart is like, “Nah, fuck that, we want to sell that exclusively,” then we make a deal where I benefit to hang out only on their shelves. Because being on K-Mart’s shelves is not a reward to me — it’s not a privilege. It’s to their benefit, so it has to benefit me and my Fabulous Donglewidget (note: not a euphemism for my or anybody else’s penis). Here, though, where’s the value? “JOIN OUR EXCLUSIVE PROGRAM AND LOSE MONEY PER DOWNLOAD. WERE YOU EARNING TWO DOLLARS A DOWNLOAD? NOW IT’S A DOLLAR THIRTY! FORTUNE FAVORS THE BOLD, AUTHOR-HUMAN.”

Possible I’m just not seeing the value where it exists — I do not have my books enrolled. And here is a good time for any self-published authors to stop by and speak to me of their experiences, because while I’m hearing a lot of dissatisfaction from the KDP ranks, that might just be the loudest voices complaining (and remains anecdotal — aka, “artisanal data”). And I should note here that the program does make sense if you’re offering up smaller e-books: a short story priced at $0.99 earns you thirty cents on a purchase, but a dollar-thirty-ish on download from KU. That’s earning more than the actual cost of the book itself. But, if you’re selling an epic fantasy priced at $4.99 — well, the drop becomes precipitous.

I respect Amazon for being the LET’S JUST FUCK UP SOME SHIT company that they are — but I worry that they’re trying too hard. Even going so far as to competing with themselves. KDP! KDP select! Kindle Unlimited! Kindle Worlds! Amazon Publishing! Kindle Scout! I seriously cannot keep up. The Amazon ecosystem is starting to feel too jungley: choked with its own vegetation and hard to parse. (Though, again: beware my Old Man Syndrome coloring this view. GET OFF MY LAWN, YOU DAMN HOVERKIDS WITH YOUR E-COMICS AND YOUR KINDLE DRUGS.)

My advice to Amazon is, at this point, drop exclusivity for Kindle Unlimited. Though that might dilute the payouts further, I dunno — at the very least, it’ll ensure that by signing on exclusively with Amazon, a self-published author isn’t also having to pay in for the not-actually-a-privilege.

Curious to hear people’s experiences. Share and share alike, folks.

And then get off my lawn.

104 responses to “What The Hell’s Happening With Kindle Unlimited?”

  1. Wow…. just…. wow.

    I was already super unimpressed with the KU initial offering (“enroll in our pretty good sales tool, take your books down from everywhere else, be forced into this subscription service, make a vague amount of money based on how many people are enrolled!”), and the more I hear about how it’s developing, the more glad I am that I withdrew my titles from KDP Select. THIS IS MESSED.

    Anyone else get the feeling like Amazon is trolling us? *peeks behind curtain* Is that you, Andy Kauffman?

    • I don’t think they’re trolling us — I just think they’re throwing everything at the wall and hoping something sticks. I don’t see KU succeeding without more traditional publishers on board, though that may be my bias showing.

      I did see on Kboards, I think, that the subscriber base is up (from 1.5 million around the start to over 4 million now), which is fairly huge, and I would hope that would mean the payouts would be higher, but apparently not? Dunno. Also not sure where that data is even coming from, or how real it is.

      — c.

  2. I personally love the idea of a book subscription service, but Kindle Unlimited is actually kind of lame. The percentage of books available through the subscription is really small, and they tend to be lower priced anyway, like you said. The fund thing is confusing too. It’s like they’re subsidizing…and that’s really bad business. Shouldn’t the money for the book royalties come from the subscribers? Maybe there simply aren’t enough subscribers to support the program which then begs the question–why create it in the first place? You know Netflix is paying serious money to creators, but they still manage to only charge about $10/month for their service.

  3. I’ve always been for Amazon getting rid of the exclusivity requirement, mainly because it wasn’t good for me, but more recently, because I truly believe Amazon doesn’t need it anymore. Folk trust Amazon’s product ordering structure, and don’t need exclusive books to draw them to Amazon anymore. Might be true of some film or TV stuff, but that’s a different game, with other distributors heavy on exclusive content.

  4. I’m not a fan of KU. It’s gotten flooded with scam ebooks and encourages the worst aspects of the sea of crap of self pub. There’s very little incentive to make good ebooks if you’re putting it into there and at those kinds of price points, it’s better to just crank out a ton of crap and hope people grab a lot of your stuff instead of making stuff that takes time.

  5. I don’t spend 120$ per year for books (yes, this totally breaks my heart)… so no, I would not sign up for Kindle Unlimited.And what cracks me up are the number of e-books on the details of Kindle Unlimited and if it’s for you, or how it’s not for you, etc. priced from .99 to 2.99.

  6. I considered putting Lady Raven into KU, but I’d just come from a set of contracts that restricted my control over my work and I wanted to keep as much of Lady Raven as possible, so I held off. I’m glad I did. At best, I see KU as a way to draw attention to one or two books in your back catalogue, but it’s not looking remotely viable as a primary way to do business through Amazon.

  7. I have one of my books in Select. Clearly comparing different books for a tiny sample set is so not-rigorous it approximates tossing a coin and not really looking, but to date the total of borrows+purchases for that book is both the same as before KU and about the same as books that aren’t in Select.

    So I am not seeing any benefit in terms of numbers or income.

  8. What is a new author to do? Spend weeks upon weeks writing to receive $1.30. $1.30. That’s what my days will be worth? The more I learn about it, the more I contend that this publishing world is not just a vast ocean, it is more like a parallel universe. Does it really have to be that way? I remember reading a writing book long ago that suggested taking self-publishing slow and to not be impulsive. Generally, in my life I am a bit jumpy, but I have taken my time with this. The more time I take, the more nervous I get about screwing something up…

  9. You forgot to mention/notice that KU ONLY pays when the READER has read at least 10% of your book. That’s right TEN PERCENT. I have over a dozen ebooks I’ve yet to open because time/life/my own writing gets in the way. I’m glad I paid for those books vs. utilizing the ‘unlimited free’ madness. As an author, I’ll be damned if I’m going to INTENTIONALLY screw over another who’s trying to make a go of this crazy business. I think Amazon has gotten too big for their britches and will soon be feeling the brunt of some of their decisions regarding indie authors. I’ve also noticed that, by no longer being exclusive to them, my rankings don’t make a lick of sense; however, if I sign back up for the exclusivity, suddenly–BOOM! I’m back in the running.
    If it smells like a skunk…

  10. Amazon is teaching us about personal commerce, isn’t it? But the lesson does feel “jungle-y.” Thanks for this post. You are writing what NO ONE ELSE does (because no one else knows how). I’m giving you an Indiana Jones Award for your ability to parse.

  11. I live in Canada and so far, sites outside of the main US site, retailers aren’t set up for KU and foreign customers can’t subscribe via the US site either . If Amazon thought this was such a good idea and really wanted to compete, I would have thought they’d make the program available to all their retailers.

  12. I’m glad you chose a different tone for this than some people do — I don’t understand the moral outrage. As you say, Amazon is just trying something, throwing an idea against the wall. It sounds like it isn’t especially working. I don’t think I’d go for something like it, because I don’t like vagueness in how I get paid. 😀 I want numbers and crazy stuff like that.

    Maybe this is supposed to complete with libraries? Like, hey it’s a library you get to carry with you and not have to go there, plus yay writers you make more than you would from a library? Sort of halfway between a library and having to buy everything? Or maybe competing with used books which, once again, gets an author nothing.

    I dunno. I do know that it’s just one option among many and people should just objectively pick what they want to try and adjust as needed. I really don’t get the people who find it morally troubling.

    • Amazon does things that have engendered a little moral outrage in me, but this isn’t one of them. I like them swinging for the fences, but swinging for the fences is better when you’re controlled at bat, and so far their strategy with all these programs and KU in general feels a little uncontrolled. Just wildly swinging instead of a measured, capable hit (to carry the metaphor forward).

  13. What I’m seeing from authors is mostly negative, so I’m going to share my positive in hopes of balancing things some.

    Since enrolling 8 of my books in KDPS, my sales have TRIPLED, PLUS, I’m getting the added bump of money from the KU borrows. KU borrows are more weighted in terms of Amazon ranking as well (I just read a post on this somewhere, but can’t remember where), so it’s not only providing me with more income, but more visibility as well. All but one of my books are priced at $2.99 (the other being a 99-cent loss leader), so while those titles are making a little less on borrows than sales, I’m moving more copies than I was before because of the increased visibility, and it’s more than made up for it.

    I’m not so blinded by this moderate success that I don’t have jumping ship from KDPS in mind the moment it doesn’t work for me. The fact of it is that I wasn’t selling more than 3 copies of anything (PER YEAR) on any other platform, so exclusivity was never an issue for me. I think most of the dissatisfaction was coming from authors far more successful than me who took a hit to their incomes with KU borrows (most of what I’ve seen is this, anyway). I don’t blame them at all for leaving the program, but they likely don’t need the bump in visibility like I do, as they’re far more likely to hit lists and top rankings. The moment KU stops being a boon for me, I’ll be out. For now, I’m very happy with the results and I’ll be staying the course.

  14. Speaking as someone who came from a subscription based industry (newspapers) I think they bit off more than they could chew on this one. You need a very high numbers of subscribers who are willing to part with $10 a month to make this work. But by and large, the books in the pool are not high quality, and subscribers are fickle people. And they aren’t that aggressive marketing the subscriptions, which in a subscription based product is essential. I just get the feel that they don’t know what they are doing with this, that it is some bigwig’s brainstorm during a “let’s increase revenue meeting.” That is what it feels like to me.

  15. I tried KU for about a month as a reader, but I didn’t see all that much I found that useful. And part of we would rather purchase the book anyway and keep it forever, so I guess I’m not the right target audience. I read a lot of “how-to” as well as fiction, and for some reason, I prefer to OWN “how-to” books and if I think they will be valuable in the long-term, I actually prefer physical copies. So as a pretty avid reader, but one who doesn’t read all that much mainstream fiction, I just didn’t see the value.

    I know that there is another subscription service for ebooks, Oyster. As an author or a reader, has anybody used that? Is it better than Kindle Unlimited?

  16. I look at any exclusivity requirement from the standpoint of “what does this tell my readers?” To me, going exclusive makes it all about the author, and since KDP Select and this new KU both came about after I’d been distributing books and gathering readers at other sites, even though they represent a minority of my sales, I’m not going to dismiss their loyalty and/or reading preferences to pull my books from other sites. With the exception of the Amazon reps, at a recent conference, ALL the industry professionals recommended casting as wide a net as possible. That being said, I am in a position where my writing income isn’t needed to put a roof over my head or food on the table, so I can take what might be a lowered income in order to have my books available everywhere. About all I can say about KU is that my Amazon sales plummeted when they started the program, and while it might be a coincidence, I’m thinking it’s pulling readers away from buying books.

  17. Just to be clear, this wasn’t the only month they added money to the fund. I think they’ve been doing it since KU rolled out. In October they added $2.5 million to a base of $3 million.

    The payout for each month is set by Amazon not by sales or customer base. It’s whatever they want it to be. That’s why they’ve done this low base with a bonus structure. It lets them control the actual payout. (My theory, not inside knowledge.)

    Personally, KU has been great for me for some new pen names. I’ve had borrows in the hundreds and I can say with almost absolute certainty that I wouldn’t have had sales in the hundreds for those same titles. I self-pub mostly shorter works, so my experience is very different from those who write novels. (Although I do have a novel in there that’s doing quite nicely by my standards.) Since I’m finally seeing some real movement on my writing, I’m very pleased with it.

    KU has definitely shown the rift between those who write longer works and those who write shorter works and also across the various genres, at least if you read all the kboards talk about it. This is the first time I’ve seen so many indies turning on each other, but maybe I just wasn’t paying attention before.

  18. I’m with riznphnx on this one — I’m one of the authors whose sales have gotten better since putting a number of my books in KU. I realize that it is politically incorrect, but my sales on other platforms were dismal, and when Amazon introduced KU, my sales there dried up there as well. So from a practical pov, it was a fairly easy decision to go exclusive with Amazon. I gave up a few bucks income on B&N and Kobo, etc., and am making quite a bit more now on Amazon, mostly with borrows.

    Of course, KU makes no sense for those writers who sell regularly on other platforms. But I never got a toehold elsewhere, so for now, this is the best thing for me to do, since it brings in the most money.

  19. Tried one book just to see if Amazon would “throw me a bone” and “promote” me better because of exclusivity, and you’re right, Chuck, it got me nothing. If you want exclusivity, I expect better promotion and vets. So, no books on KDP Select. Won’t do it ever again. I know authors strongly disagree with me, but I’m tired of authors giving away their books to promote the rest of the series–heck, SELL it! Readers claim the one free/99cent book encouraged them to spend money on the remainder of the author’s books. Great, but I still say to authors: Sell it!! You could have made more money. Readers are expecting free/discount all the time. I’m tired of it.

  20. I am not seeing much benefit from KU. At the end of the month, when my two remaining titles go off KDP Select, I’ll be totally out of it. I agree with you: authors should have access to Select without automatic inclusion in KU. Some non-Select authors might want to use/try KU. And now that the benefits of KU are in question, I anticipate many may opt out of Select to avoid it. That should provide a clue to Amazon that they need to rethink things.

  21. They add money to the fund every month. Basically, they make a decision about how much they want to pay, which is nice for them and aggravating for the author. I’m sure they want the amount they pay to be as low as possible…but the lower they go, the more authors will pull their books. I don’t like that when enrolling, we have to commit for 90 days, because what if the payouts get super low during the first month my book is enrolled? I’m stuck with them for two more months.

    And I hate the exclusivity. HATE IT.

    That said, when I launched a new book into KU, it did really well, and when its ninety days were up, I re-enrolled it. I’ve also done well in KU with a $1.99 novella. KU books have a visibility advantage on Amazon because they get sales rank credit for a “sale” every time the book is borrowed, even if the reader never gets to 10%. This is why nearly all books not enrolled in KU dropped in sales rank when KU rolled out; they were suddenly competing not just against other books’ sales but against their borrows. My book launched into KU benefited tremendously from this because it had a lot of borrows, and those borrows kept it on the bestseller lists and highly visible for months.

    Some bestselling authors, however, have been reporting an earnings LOSS from KU, even without having to go exclusive (Amazon gave them a special deal), and are pulling their books. I think KU is detrimental for many authors, probably MOST authors, but can be good for a debut or relatively unknown author looking for visibility, and for anyone publishing books, short work, or serials priced under $2.99.

    • “…even without having to go exclusive (Amazon gave them a special deal)…”

      Yeah, that’s another unsettling thing. Amazon creating something of an uneven playing field with bigger self-pub authors. (And I’ve seen some of those authors defend it, but it’s also behavior that they found execrable on the traditional side, sooooo, yeah.)

      — c.

  22. I’ll add my voice as an author who’s getting KU borrows where I wasn’t getting sales. It boosts my *cough* pathetic *cough* ranking, and adds my books to the “customers who liked…also liked…” lists. So, for those of us trying to build a fanbase, I think it helps. I’m staying in.

  23. First, I think the pay out was $1.39 per borrow the month. But it’s still sucky low.

    Second, I was an author who was offered non-exclusivity to enroll in KDP Select back in June. Those of us offered the opportunity couldn’t discuss it because of a NDA. No, I’m not breaking it now because a lot of indie authors who weren’t offered exclusivity figured it out on there own, even suggesting we were making the same royalties as traditionally pubbed books–we weren’t. We made the same as all other authors in KDP Select. But this was all a surprise to us the day it was rolled out. I told an Amazon rep that first day there was no way the “pot” could payout anything over $1 per borrow based on the massive borrows I saw in the first eight hours it was live. (I had every book in the program with the exception of my boxsets.) I pulled out every book with the exception of the first book in every series and the second book in series that had permafree books. I wanted my OWN evidence to study the program and not base my conclusions off of hearsay. (Although, one author’s experience is far from empirical, but I was most interested in my own sales and results.)

    When I saw the payout had dropped to $1.33 last month, I pulled all of my books. Until that point, I had been a Kindle All-Star each month with one book and in author rank. Part of the reason I had kept the first books in the program to that point was visibility. KU participation definitely increases ranking. Other authors have told me their ranking on a book increased within hours of joining with no recorded sales or borrows. Also, i saw my own rankings on the most popular book I had in the program. (a Kindle All-Star book) fall from the #400 rankings to #1500 in only a day or two. The borrows I lost were almost entirely made up in sales.

    Most of my books are priced at $4.99, so $1.40 or less is a huge pay cut with very little payout.

    Third, to receive the borrow credit, your book must have 10% read. This is incredibly easy to achieve if your book is ten pages long. Authors are trying to work the system and some are putting out super short works to get the borrow. An already glutted market is seeing a tsunami of crap rush in.

    Fourth, I know several authors who have put their books in out of pure desperation when they saw their rankings tumble into obscurity. It reminds me of when Select was unrolled in December, 2011. I myself joined in an attempt to save my rankings. Except in 2011, it worked. Now, the authors joining are seeing very few borrows. It’s working to raise their rankings, but their sales aren’t increasing much either, so one would argue if it’s working at all.

    In my opinion, which may not mean squat but here it is anyway: KU Is significantly hurting the indie publishing world, but I don’t think Amazon cares.

  24. I don’t download enuff books for Kindle unlimited. I still love to hold a real book and turn the pages. If I download something on my Kindle it is either free or super cheap like 99 cents. And I use those books for when I am out and forget my book I am reading. Hope they work out the problem and let people get whatever books they want they though.

  25. KU is killing me. My income from indie books was cut by half, and since I make my living as a writer now and live on Long Island (aka The Most Expensive Place On Earth), I can’t really afford that. The only thing that keeps me from kicking my own ass into oblivion is the fact that I got suckered into this mess before all the details were out. In other words, my Kindle rep promised a lot of stuff I’m just not seeing, and like a gullible idiot, I went all-in on something that was only described in the vaguest of terms.

    The exclusivity is a huge problem. And you’re right, if I give them the exclusive, I damn well expect something in return. I was promised some things and so far, as I said, I’m just not seeing them. Unfortunately, unlike some of the mega-big sellers, I was not offered the option to get out at any time. Hell, I can’t even get out at the end of the regular 90-day Kindle Select cycle. No, I’m stuck for a YEAR. Yes, yes, I know… I’m an idiot. 🙁

    So as a reasonably successful, hybrid mid-lister, I have to say, the KU model just isn’t working for me. It’s not gaining me new readers and it’s not really increasing my visibility. Also, several of my traditionally published books were put into KU (without my knowledge) and I have seen a decrease there as well. I expect it to get worse as the bookkeeping catches up, so things are only going to get worse for me before they get better – if they get better at all.

    Bottom line: KU sucks.

  26. Amazon’s KU is a great way for an aging book or book series to gain new fans, I wouldn’t recommend it for an established author who is releasing a new book, however once that book’s rankings begin to tumble or completely drop off the charts, KU could be the gateway to gain a new audience. I also think it’s a good way for an unknown author to get a following, I’ve tried different genres and authors that I wouldn’t have tried had the book not been on KU. Even though I do have a subscription, I purchase most of my books, and the number of books that I read through KU are between 1-3 monthly.

    I have read comments by several authors who are disappointed with the payout from KU, and encourage readers to drop their subscription because they say that it is hurting them. I don’t follow that logic because no one is being forced to sign with KU, it’s a decision by the author. While KU can increase a books rankings, the downside is the profit made from the sale of a book decreases substantially. It would be a no-brainer if the author saw an increase in rankings, yet received the same amount of profit for the book. An author can choose to do a sale on the book and hope to increase sales, but speaking from experience, I am more likely to read a book recommended to me by KU, than to spend $.99 to $2 on a book that is advertised on sale, unless it’s a title or author that I recognize and have delayed purchasing.

  27. As an indie author who–foolishly–signed up for KDP Select, I can tell you it sucks from the other side too. My sales are recorded and easy to see, but the lends or dl’s from KU/KOLL are recorded but as to what I’ll actually see royalty-wise is a complete mystery. Just yesterday I sent an email to Amazon asking them to clarify when I would see the royalties from the KU/KOLL and received a broken English word-salad of figures and dates and time frames and–inexplicably–the amount of times some OTHER book not written by me was leant to someone.

    Then it asked me if my question was answered satisfactorily. Ha ha it is to laugh.

    I can get out of KDP Select on Jan 26 and let me tell you, that date can’t come fast enough.

  28. I have a friend who’s put one of her pieces out on KU, which she says is getting her more money than she was getting before — not because of some major jump in readership, but because Amazon allows ebook returns, and if you have a short story available you run a big risk of people “buying” it, reading it quickly, and then “returning” it within the allowable period (seven days, I think?). So… there are places where it helps authors get around a different instance of Amazon’s author-screwing policies? I’m not sure that’s anything like a recommendation.

  29. Laylah, I do think that Amazon’s return policy regarding ebooks needs revamping. Too many readers take advantage of returning books that they have read.

    • Seriously. If they can count 10%-or-more reads for KU purposes, they could easily also institute a policy where ebooks are only returnable before you’ve read 10% or 15% of them. Gives customers a way out for accidental one-click buys, but stops screwing authors out of those royalties.

  30. I’m going to add something from a blogger perspective. Bloggers do not get associate commissions on KU books, and most bloggers I know have seriously scaled back or completely cut promos for KU books, because why encourage our readers to join a program that will take money away from our blogs?

  31. In 2011 I self-published a novel that sold about ten e-books per month with no marketing. In other words, something about merely being on Amazon drove some sales.

    For the past year, my sales have been zero, even with a bit of marketing.

    I enrolled in KDP Select and did some giveaways. Each time I did that, between 500 and 1000 were downloaded.

    The result of which was nothing. No reviews, and no additional sales, so far as I could determine.

    I withdrew from KDP Select. Shortly thereafter my sales were zero.

    Thinking that perhaps I was being punished for withdrawing, I rejoined. There were still no sales, and the giveaways were very low. Still no reviews, and no resultant sales.

    It became clear that about a year ago Amazon modified its algorithm to push indie authors to undiscoverability land.

    I read somewhere that in order to keep up sales, you have to publish more. So I recently published two novels.

    Sales due purely to being on Amazon, i.e., no marketing, have been zero. Dick-point-squat.

    The thing is, although I’m not a well-known author, all things being equal, my books should now and again appear as a book similar to the book the person bought. There should be, and always has been, a certain amount of visibility from the mere fact of being on Amazon. That is now clearly not the case.

    There is very little meaningful advertising and marketing that the average indie author can afford to do. That has always been the benefit to being on Amazon. Now, it seems, they have pushed us to the side.

    There may be a good reason for that. Most self-published works are crap written by those who don’t know how to write. Not all of it, but most of it. All you have to do is look.

    In any event, Amazon is holding all the guns. You can rest assured, though, that whatever Amazon decides to do, it will be to the benefit of Amazon, not you. You are nothing.

    • Showing up on another title page is usually books that have been brought by people who have brought the original title – i.e. with my books, some of my other books also show on the sales page because I write a series and people buy more than one of my books. Other author’s show up on there as well, which is good because it gives me, as an author, the chance to see what else my readers are reading, but your books will only show up on other sales pages if your readers have brought more than one book. I do hope that helps. Incidentally I don’t use KDP at all because although I don’t make a lot of sales on ARe or Smashwords, I do make more than being exclusive with Amazon. I prefer to retain control over all of my titles.

  32. Payout was 1.39 this month (not 1.36), but keep in mind that (as others have noted) they have been adding money to the pot every month since KU launched. This is worrying because it suggests that Amazon will either have to continue to add significant funds, or they will slowly allow the fund to go down to what is actually being paid in by customers. That would put borrows at less than a dollar (if the ratio of borrows to customers holds).

    That being said, I’ve also seen a huge boost from the program. Although that is partially due to a new series launching at a good time in a hot genre. I do wish they’d drop the exclusivity clause for self-published authors, but given Amazon’s desire to rule the ebook world, I doubt that’ll ever happen.

  33. As a consumer, a reader, I’ve looked at Kindle Unlimited, because, like you said, Spotify, Netflix. Who doesn’t like paying a low fee and getting a lot out of it. However, I didn’t see anything that interested me. It’s like loading up Netflix and seeing that all there is to watch are 80’s B-Beach Blanket Bingo Horror movies, not really attention grabbing.

    As a writer, all I can think is WTF are they thinking? Other than padding their bottom line with subscriptions coming in and cutting the author’s profit. 🙁

    • Agree 100% dhsayers. It seems like a great way to pay less royalties and, as Chuck stated, we don’t know from whence the 3. 5 million is coming from to pad the fund, there’s no way to know if this is even fair or not as far as the percentage supposedly owed. If there’s no transparency about how much they’re making from the KU program, how can we know if authors are getting their fare share per lend?

  34. Loved it to start, now I am not so sure. Also, you can scam the darn thing. Subscribe for a month, at the end of such month, load your book up with ten new KUL titles, take your kindle off wireless, cancel your subscription. You still get those ten books to read at your leisure, and they won’t be taken off until you connect to wireless again.

  35. KDP Select is Amazon’s strategy to make tenant farmers out of indie authors while starving competing retailers of the books they need to remain competitive. With KU, we see Amazon’s strategy is shifting more transparently to one that is all about stripping the author-supplier of their pricing control and their control over margins. KU is Amazon’s end-run around Agency pricing (where the author/publisher sets the price and earns a pre-determined margin), and a neutering end-run around their pseudo-Agency obligation to pay certain KDP authors 70%. If Amazon can move readers to KU, it forces more authors into KDP Select, forces effective book prices lower, and it further punishes authors and publishers who refuse to bow to Amazon’s terms or exclusivity by making the non-conformers less visible and less discoverable in the store. Indie authors created the cancer that is KDP Select. Indie authors are the only ones who can kill it before it achieves such a critical mass that a sizable portion of the power-reading, power-buying reading public has little incentive to ever purchase another standalone ebook again. I spoke out against KDP-S from the very first day it was released in 2011 – http://blog.smashwords.com/2011/12/amazon-shows-predatory-spots-with-kdp.html – and there I drew parallels with the Irish Potato Famine. People should study it – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_%28Ireland%29 Ireland had the ability to feed its people, but didn’t due to economic greed, political corruption and indifference. Sadly, nearly all my warnings in that original KDP-S post have come to pass, and will get worse unless indies start reasserting their independence. It should come as no surprise to anyone that Amazon’s business model, like Walmart’s, is entirely dependent on their ability to force concessions from suppliers by forcing suppliers to take lower margins. Amazon is not evil in the way that the landlords of the great famine were evil (evicting tenant farmers who couldn’t pay rent, knocking down their homes and forced displacement), though the impact on many authors’ livelihoods will be severe. Amazon’s strategy and its implications have always been transparent to anyone who cared to look. They are genetically programmed to force lower prices otherwise their business fails because the lowest possible price is one of the most important pillars of their business model.

    • What Mark says. Times a thousand. My small press moved into ebooks starting in 2007 and scored some really big moments with Amazon in the glory years of 2009-2011. Even then my biz partner and I believed the friendly 900 pound gorilla was hiding its real agenda. When KDP launched we said this is not good for writers in the long run, and we’ve kept saying it ever since. Our analogy was “turning authors into piece-workers in a factory.” K-Select and now KU, along with Amazon’s manipulation of its algorithms and rankings to favor its own imprints, is quickly destroying not only the indie fantasy of a benevolent publishing platform but undermining the ability of all authors to make a reasonable profit for their work.

      • I think the real damage KDP Select has done is to make people expect ebooks from indie authors for free. They now have no value, while those of the big houses are selling for $10 or more.

        At the same time, I’ve sold virtually nothing through any other seller. B&N, for example, seems to list indie books separately, making it impossible to find through the regular channel. At least Amazon sells indie books and traditionally published books all together.

        I tried making my book 99 cents through KDP Select with no result. Even when the book was selling, I never saw a change in the number of books sold when I changed the price to 99 cents.

        The bottom line is that Amazon giveth, and Amazon taketh away. They gave us the hope of making a living as writers, but have now have made it so we either do as they say, which is to take whatever they decide to give us, or forget selling books. They apparently know that the other venues are useless.

        Before long all books will be sold electronically through a subscription service. That means Amazon, because no one else will be able to build the selection.

      • And I forgot to add that that puts us all back where we were forty years ago, which is you must find a real publisher. Actually, we’re worse off, because even real publishers are not paying read advances, except in rare situations.

        KDP Select is having the effect of killing self-publishing, because who is going to download a self-published book under their subscription when they can get a Stephen King or Donna Tartt for the same ten bucks?

  36. So, first up and as a mild disclaimer, this is actually in a freebie report I’m giving away from my website after Xmas, so that and if someone else has beaten me to the explanatory punch makes me feel like I should be posting a disclaimer on my commentary. That and I’m on the bus home from new job, so if there are spelling/grammar mistakes, I blame both the fact that I’m bone, dog weary and that I’m writing this on my Bluetooth keyboard and I’m not used to it.
    Right, to the important bit.
    I use KU much like a sample library. I’ve enrolled anything under 1.99 in it, and promote it as exactly that. Because you’re right -1.36 sucks if you’re looking at royalties on a 3 dollar book, but it’s not so bad when you were only getting 0.35.
    And yes, I know some people are going to kick and scream that the pot is lower because some of us ruthless writers are TAKING THE MICKEY and not playing fair but y’know what? From where I’m sitting, it’s great for discovery and means I’m not losing money too often. And if I choose to put a novel in as a loss leader, so be it. It’s our choice, we make what we can of it.


  37. The service just doesn’t seem worth it because even if your only paying about ten dollars a month for downloads the downloads are automatically erased from your device if you stop payments. If you don’t buy a lot of e-books it seems better to just buy what you want and be able to keep it in your kindle library than to pay for a blanket service that covers more books than you can possibly read and many not of good quality.

    @Chuck : Amazon has the $9.99 kindle version of your “The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience” available for free download on Kindle Unlimited.

  38. I quit my day job this year based on a business case of how much I was expecting to earn from e-books in a small, but growing genre. I’m a pessimistic/realistic kind of guy, so I went with the worst-case scenario and then created a worst-worst case scenario based on that. It was a case where I can pay my mortgage and food and eventually make enough to contribute to a pension. I was prepared to work very,very hard for it (5-8 novel releases a year, plus small stuff like novellas and short stories).

    When KU launched, my sales went down 40% – that is, 40% lower than my worst-worst case scenario. I was shocked until I realised that some authors saw a 75% drop. 50-60% seems about average in my field (I’ve asked some people). Even people with big backlists felt it (mine is 30 deep).

    Now that Amazon has so rudely changed the game (they enrolled my one self-published, 107K novel in KU without me even knowing what KU was… and I’m losing money on it, as it’s $5.99), I’m looking to join the job market again. In fact, I have an interview tomorrow. I can’t plan on this, I can’t rely on anything Amazon does or says, and 85% of my sales are on/from Amazon. Thanks to KU I went from, “tough, but I can make it” to “holy hell, will I be able to pay for food if the trend continues?” And panic/anxiety is not a productive mindset for me, so I’m looking at alternative options, aka, hopefully I’m scoring that new day job tomorrow.

  39. I used to use KDP Select when I was simply publishing non-fiction titles, but since moving into fiction I find I get a lot better results by staying out of it. I can put my books on other sites, which I do, and while the payout on other sites isn’t as good (at all), it is still better than leaving my income in the hands of an Amazon algorithm.

    The rankings system is hard to work out, and I know I don’t understand it. When my books are released, because I have an established reader base, my books do rank well for their category. What I don’t understand is that for the first time this month I released a book (book five in a series) and I put another book out in the same genre (but not related to the series) on pre order. Yesterday I saw that my books (one of which hasn’t been released yet) is showing as ranking first and second in my genre. While I’m thrilled because the increased ranking does improve sales heaps, I don’t understand that a book no one has read yet, can do so well in the sales ranking.

    In the meantime I will stick to retaining my rights. I got invited the other day to publish my next book through AllRomanceebooks as one of the top 100 authors. I was understandably delighted until I read the terms – they would promote and do the covers and editing for me, which was great, but they wanted all rights for three years and exclusivity. They would publish to Amazon for me but I would only get 50% royalties instead of 70%, but to be honest this is how I make a living. I will be keeping all rights to all my books and spread them across as many different platforms as I can.

  40. I’m fairly new at this, I’m a hybrid, and I write in a fairly small romance sub-genre. That said, KU has been good for me. I have nothing over 2.99 in it, and probably never will. I write a lot of shorts, and I can’t in good conscience charge more than .99 for 6000 words. I make more on a borrow than a sale, and I’m getting more borrows than I ever did sales. I check my figures fairly frequently and I can see little flurries where someone clearly worked their way through a series of shorts. It’s definitely increased my visibility, and I am suspicious that Amazon algorithms may weigh borrows a little differently. I have a series of historic LGBT shorts, of which the first one is not in KU and the others are. They were all around the same general ranking a couple of weeks ago, but the KU titles were charting in gay and lesbian short reads and the non-KU title was not. It’s definitely a game changer, but I’m not so sure it’s an across the board negative. From the beginning, I’ve thought KU was the natural habitat of short works and slow sellers. Now, I’ve also been pleased with the results of free promotions, and many other authors have not had great success with those.

    As a reader, I’ve been enjoying it. I definitely haven’t stopped buying books, but KU lets me try out all kinds of things I would never, ever have bought.

  41. I’m not subscribed to KU (at least I don’t think I am, sometimes it’s hard to tell what connections you have with Amazon). I am, however, a member of “Amazon Prime” since, you know, I’m “Prime” and all that – plus I hate waiting for my shit to arrive, so I get “Before-I-Ordered-Delivery” which is great although I sometimes get confused with all the boxes in the lobby of my building.

    But, because I belong to AP, i just received an email (which seems a somewhat antiquated method of communication for a futuristic behemoth like Amazon) letting me know I have a FREE Kindle book waiting as a benefit of my AP membership.

    So I wonder how they pay the author for my “free” book? Is it taken from my AP annual fee? Is it part of some giant Kindle slush fund? Do they not care because you can literally create an unlimited number of e-Books for nothing?

  42. Off-lawn reader comment, using Android systems: can I go back to the tree bookstore and uninstall Kindle altogether? It’s messing up my phone anyway. Time to read before Christmas: nil! 🙁 The fir needs trimming.

  43. I too am one of the few authors here that have done amazingly well from Amazon and KU, and I only have two books to my credit. Let me give you some details. My first book (at $2.99), released this April, caught Amazon’s algorithmic winds and sailed the high seas of bestseller-hood fairly quickly. When KU came out, I had sold over 8000 copies and my Select borrows were around 4%, but my title’s BS rankings were coming down fairly quickly at that point (around 4000-5000). You need to know, I also utilize Amazon’s Countdown ($0.99) at every chance I get (along with some advertising), and each time my book pops up in the rankings (albeit less each successive time). When KU kicked in (I tracked this on a spreadsheet), my BSR held steady. It still dropped, just not as quickly even though my sales continued to trickle down. That’s when I realized that borrows are treated the same as sales, and by then my borrows were around 30% to 40% of total downloads.

    By the time my second book came out (10/31), my first was trickling in sales of about 5 per day and and an equal amount of borrows, and it had stayed in the top 100 of one of my sub-genres the entire time: because of the KU borrows. We all know what happens with the release of another book in a series; the high tide lifts all boats, and it did the same with mine (one boat). Through today, KU borrows have represented 40+% of my overall downloads and have been the reason my second book has stayed in the top 20 of Amazon’s BS lists for my two sub-genres and kept my first book in the top 40 of those same lists. Oh, they’ve been coming down, as it seems most all books do after the initial pop, but KU borrows have continued to provide that visibility to cause them to be sold and borrowed more than without.

    I’ll add one other positive not mentioned here. I believe that a borrow to the KU audience is not a lost sale, but a new reader I would not get otherwise. KU subscribers are probably not going to be buying books–why would they if they’ve committed to spending $10 per month for all the books they can borrow. True, if you’re a Stephen King nut and you HAVE to get his newest best-seller, you might pony up the $10, but that would be the exception. I may never sell a book to the KU subscriber crowd, but neither would you selling through some other platform. At least I have the possibility of them borrowing my book (and others in the Select program) and in the mean time I’ll get paid in dollars and rankings. Seems like a fair tradeoff to me.

    Long and short is that I believe Amazon provides authors, with little to no followers/readers, the opportunity to gain visibility through their Select program. With the combination of KU and Countdown, I get enough eyeballs from Amazon’s vast treasure trove of readers to sell a pretty good number of books. You still have to write a decent book and package it well and so on. But, from all I’ve heard and read from other authors over this past year, I seriously doubt I could have done any of this without Amazon’s help, through their Select program. So, I don’t disagree with much of what you’ve said, but yah, I drink the Amazon Kool-aid and will continue to do so as long as it seems to work for me.

    BTW Chuck, great blog and great comments from authors. Thanks!

  44. Another thing I noticed is that the payouts aren’t consistent from market to market. My UK payout in November was 1.13 per book, and in Germany 89 cents a book. While I’m a new author that benefited from KU, I’m planning my exit strategy. Anything under 1.99 works well for KU, but like so many other have said, it’s a poor business plan for anything priced for than that.


  45. I pay for KU and I mostly like it for the audiobooks. My younger brother doesnt like to read, but he likes when we listen to audiobooks in the car and so KU makes it way more affordable (considering that getting a new book with audio on Audible is like, $30).

    They dont always have the best selection, but we’re listening to a really good one right now. And I like a lot of the books I have read on KU. But sometimes it’s like… download it, read a little, dont like it, return it. Which is fine cause I have a big book list anyway =D

  46. Amazon will never – NEVER – get rid of the exclusivity requirement because it believes it IS offering a benefit to authors (viz-a-viz “exposure”). The sad irony is that exposure in this case is synonymous with risk. The market is evolving and more and more readers are finding their reading material elsewhere. amazon is struggling to retain it’s iron-fisted (or ham-fisted, if you prefer) hold over the customers by trapping the suppliers. As John Sargent of Macmillan reported in an open letter today to his authors, agents and illustrators, Amazon hold 64% of their ebook market. That was me until April, when I started seeing my other outlets grow. Now, Amazon holds a third of my market. Being exclusive to any one vendor is just tempting fate. They could do anything (and have) to knock your sales off whatever precarious perch you might be enjoying at the moment. Or, someone could come along and disrupt the market in a very specific way (like Sony of late).

    Go wide, folks. Don’t succumb to the siren song of exclusivity.

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