Kindle Unlimited: The Key Questions

amazon_kindle_unlimitedAmazon launched Kindle Unlimited on Friday, giving self-publishers a big decision to make.

The long-rumored subscription service will allow users to download unlimited books for $9.99 a month, and reader reaction has been, from what I can see, overwhelmingly positive – especially because they will be able to test the service with a month’s free trial. Writers have been a little more cautious, for all sorts of reasons I’ll try and tease out below.

The main stumbling block for self-publishers is that participation in Kindle Unlimited is restricted to titles enrolled in KDP Select – Amazon’s program which offers various additional marketing tools in exchange for exclusivity. Author compensation will be similar to borrows under the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library – a percentage of money from a fixed pool. The only real twist is that payment will be triggered when 10% of downloaded books have been read.

At the moment, it’s far too early to know what effect this will have on the market as a whole, and it seems like authors have more questions than answers right now, so I’d like to address some of those.

How much will we be paid for borrows?

There’s actually no way of knowing right now. Authors had the same questions when KDP Select launched in December 2011, and I remember estimates ranging from $0.30 to $2. In the time since, borrow payouts have averaged $2.19. It seemed like Amazon was always keen to keep the rate around $2, adding and subtracting money from the fixed pool each month to keep things at that level.

It could be the case that KDP Select and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library was (at least in part) a giant experiment paving the way for Kindle Unlimited, and it could also be the case that Amazon will maintain borrow rates at around $2, but we can’t be sure until it happens. It’s possible that Amazon could let borrow rates slip and hope that increased volume makes up for it. We’ll have to wait and see.

Will this cannibalize paid sales?

This is the big question. It seems safe to assume that paid sales will be cannibalized to some extent, but Kindle Unlimited could also grow the pie. We don’t know how popular it will be with readers, but I’d be very surprised if it was a flop.

So which kind of readers will it attract? Will it be all the bargain-hunting readers that swamp sites like BookBub and make limited-time 99c sales so effective? Will it gobble up the freehunters that make permafree such a winning strategy? Will it wean the power readers off box-sets? Will it increase the amount of reading (and, by extension, payments to authors) by those on tighter budgets? Will it be used by readers in addition to their normal purchasing habits, or will it replace them? Will it make short fiction and serials more attractive to readers? All interesting questions that will be answered over time.

Is this the future of reading?

Authors are understandably nervous about all reading moving to a subscription-model (whether Amazon or Scribd or Oyster). Self-publishers lose a key tool (price) and it looks like this will generally muddy the little drips of data we do get. Writers in general cast fearful eyes at the music world and Spotify, and its paltry rates. But I think books are very different. Music has a much higher replay value, so I can’t see our compensation ever degrading to that level. And I also don’t think that subscription services as a whole will grab as much of the market as they will in music – my gut says there’s a hard limit of how much of the pie they will grab. Maybe 25%… tops.

How popular will Kindle Unlimited be?

Oyster and Scribd have a headstart, but Amazon has proven it can eat up that ground in no time. While the competition has more big books from big names, thanks to its deals with major publishers, Amazon has two key advantages (aside from the obvious). To my knowledge, Kindle Unlimited is the only subscription service that will work on the tens of millions of e-ink Kindles that are in circulation – the others are app based. And it’s also the only major subscription service combining e-books and audiobooks. The audio market is growing faster than the e-book market at the moment, and Amazon clearly feels that it’s only getting started. It is pushing the audiobook angle in all the marketing and PR, so it views that as a big selling point to readers.

Don’t Oyster and Scribd have better terms for writers?

For most self-publishers, the only way into Oyster and Scribd is via a distribution service like Smashwords, where you will get 60% of your list price every time that 10% of your book is read. Unless you are writing lots of very short/cheap books, the terms there can be much more lucrative (assuming Kindle Unlimited borrow rates do indeed come out at around $2 – which is still an open question).

However there’s a flipside to that. There’s no way in hell that the terms that Oyster and Scribd are offering are sustainable. Obviously, both companies are happy to eat the losses today in exchange for market share tomorrow, but those compensation terms will have to deteriorate at some point. The only question is how much. I have issues with Amazon’s compensation model – I hate the fixed pool on principle, and I don’t like not knowing what I’ll be paid in exchange for my work – but it’s definitely more sustainable.

Doesn’t this devalue books?

No more than libraries devalue books, or remainder bins, cheap paperback classics, supermarket specials, or my Dad giving me his old copy of The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafón – excellent by the way – which is to say: Not At All.

How will this affect deal sites like BookBub?

That’s an interesting question. An all-you-can-read proposition for $9.99 is obviously attractive to bargain hunters, but there’s another wrinkle here. I’m guessing (but don’t know for sure) that Amazon won’t treat Kindle Unlimited downloads as a paid sale for affiliate purposes, so this doesn’t look like something that could be an income generator for deal sites – aside from the short-term action in encouraging sign-ups.

On the other hand, deal sites have been walking a fine line since the restrictions came out on how many free downloads they were allowed push per month, and this could be a way around that. Maybe. At the very least, self-publishers will be looking for some way to get attention among the 600,000+ titles in Kindle Unlimited, and I’m sure the market will respond with something.

How will this affect the algorithms?

It’s pretty early to be definitive, but it looks like each borrow will be treated as a sale for ranking purposes. This was always the case with KDP Select and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, but Prime subscribers were restricted to one borrow a month so the overall effect was always going to be limited.

With Kindle Unlimited however, readers can borrow up to ten books at a time, with no due dates, and have unlimited borrows per month (as long as they keep returning books). At the moment, it looks like that “sale” is credited to your rank right away (and not when the reader hits 10%), but I’d imagine that could change – given the obvious possibilities for gaming the system. The Kindle Unlimited “store” seems to be a function of the Popularity List, with all that entails.

Will this be lucrative for self-publishers?

The other big question. Will Kindle Unlimited be a springboard to success? Or will it be more like a goodie bag at the Oscars – an additional reward for those already doing very well? Will the prizes go to the savvy first movers? Or is adopting a cautious approach more prudent?

This is really tricky to answer. KDP Select free runs were undoubtedly a springboard to success – at least initially. A book that was selling poorly and had no visibility whatsoever could catapult up the charts and continue selling well for an extended period that sometimes lasted for weeks after the promotion. Countdown was a little different, and tended to reward books already doing well (for the most part).

I could see it going both ways. Those who dive in now could benefit from all those readers testing out their trial month. All those borrow-boosted books could zoom up the charts. I’m seeing some of the launch-featured books jumping from around #2,000 to #200, and general volume seems to be way up – i.e. it looks like it’s taking a lot more sales to hit the usual ranks.

Naturally, if this phenomenon continues it will squeeze out many non-Kindle Unlimited books from high-visibility spots in the Kindle Store. That would seem to make enrolling the smart move, but it’s not that simple. For starters, the first month could be a poor guide to how things will pan out – maybe most readers won’t renew their subscription when their free trial expires. And there are other considerations too.

I mentioned above that the Kindle Unlimited “store” looks like it’s a function of the Popularity List. This was one of the reasons why Countdown tended to predominantly reward books already selling well. So Kindle Unlimited could result in an overall win for those participating, but that “overall win” could contain a vicious power curve which disproportionately rewards those already selling consistently. It really is too early to know.

What happens if you don’t participate?

The obvious cost of not playing is that you will have no borrows – which have a monetary benefit and a ranking one. There’s also the opportunity cost of the lack of visibility from not appearing in the Kindle Unlimited pages and charts. My gut says that things will get harder overall on Amazon for those who don’t participate, but time will tell to what extent that’s true.

The flipside, of course, is that there will be less competition on the other retailers. To varying extents, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google have been reaching out to indies and including more of their titles in store promotions, as well as generally making improvements to their stores in terms of discoverability. They all still have a long way to go to catch up with Amazon, but I’d imagine they will respond to Kindle Unlimited.

Don’t forget that the launch of KDP Select was what first prodded Apple into throwing some treats our way, like pre-orders and participation in store promotions. Self-publishers are much more important to the retailers now than two years ago, and this will force them to raise their game again. Indeed, it could be argued that the launch of KDP Select improved things for self-publishers overall both on Amazon and outside Amazon. But then I’m an (argumentative) optimist…

I’m confused! How do I decide?

I don’t blame you, I’m confused myself. I haven’t decided yet whether to participate or not, for all the reasons outlined above. I probably will experiment with my latest release and take it from there. I’m keenly aware that I was too cautious when KDP Select launched, and only began experimenting with it after the algorithms changed and free runs were less powerful. On the other hand, I’ve never really gained anything by participating in KDP Select so I’m not tempted to go all in at the start.

It really is a decision you have to make for yourself, because there are so many variables. How much do you sell outside Amazon? What price do you normally sell at? How much will borrow rates actually be? Are you willing to forego hard-won momentum on the other retailers for what is, essentially, a risk? Does going exclusive with one or more titles effect any marketing plans already in motion?

If you are already in Select, it’s a pretty easy decision – your books were enrolled in the program automatically. (By the way, if you have a problem with that, Amazon is allowing authors to remove their titles.)

And it’s less difficult decision to experiment with a title that either isn’t selling well at the moment in general, or hasn’t got any traction yet outside of Amazon.

However, I hate exclusivity. I don’t like it on principle, and I don’t like telling readers that they can’t buy my book for any reason. So I haven’t decided yet. I’ll probably throw something in there and see how it goes, but it won’t be with gleeful abandon.

But I’m also interested to hear your thoughts. And if you have seen any good posts on the program or strategies etc., please share them below – I’ve been out of the loop this weekend while working on edits of Digital 2 – which is going to need a new chapter!


David Gaughran

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time spent outside. He writes novels under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership with his books, blogs, workshops, and courses, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

163 Replies to “Kindle Unlimited: The Key Questions”

  1. Hey David, this is brilliant and appreciated. I’m adding my book to KDP select next week. Hey, can you or anyone else here tell me if I add my paid book on Monday, can I run a countdown or giveaway on Tuesday? Someone said the book must be on KDP for 30 days before you can do any promotions, but she wasn’t positive that this is true. Thanks for a great post.

    1. I seem to be subscribed to these comments so I saw your question in my inbox, Mark. Keep in mind this post is from LAST YEAR and that KU terms for authors have changed since.

      If you add your already-published paid book on Monday, you can run a giveaway on it on Tuesday (as long as you schedule your freebie days by mid-evening Pacific Time on Monday) but NOT a Countdown. You have to be in Select for 30 days AND the price cannot have been discounted during those 30 days before you can run a Countdown. Similarly, the Countdown must end 2 weeks before your Select term ends. Once you’re enrolled, the calendars provided for you to schedule your Countdown Deal will show you exactly what days you can/can’t run your deal, so don’t worry about having to keep track of that yourself. But no Countdown in that first 30 days allowed.

  2. I have never been in KDP Select, therefore not KU. My sales have dropped on all sites, not just Amazon, since KU took off–even the free downloads of my permafree short story have dropped. With the free Kindle apps for other e-readers, KU seems to be discouraging subscribing readers from buying books by authors they don’t know yet. If they can’t borrow it, they go without it. As a Nook owner I’ve been frustrated by Amazon-only books and just skip them–the way I suspect KU subscribers are skipping the books they can’t borrow. I’d rather market my way out of this situation than go exclusive with Amazon, though. My most paranoid thought is that KU kills off all indie sales altogether and we’ll all end up stuck with an Amazon monopoly and a culture of borrowing only. I hope it won’t happen.

  3. Because I´m a lazy reader I don´t have lot´s of interest in buying books BUT NOR IN E-books either… E-books WON´T BE POPULAR AMONG US who are hyper sensitive to elecrisity or other electromagnetic radiation…
    SO DON`T WORRY ABOUT KINDLE UNLIMITED…. It won´t last forever…

    A 35 year old Finnish guy, From Finland

      1. Thank you Matthew for your KIND words ! 🙂

        For not knowing all the acronyms of English I had to check “FTW” because it looked almost the same as “WTF” 😉
        But still there were two explanations for it. I wonder if it was the KINDer one of those.
        Yes, the puns or same kinds like puns are intended and maybe even IDENtified by you…

        The sensitivity to elecrisity and such is very selectable between many sensitive people.
        I can use the internet through wires BUT NOT WIRELESS so WI-FI (Wire-Fire ?? ) is a real FIRE on my head or maybe even on other parts of the body sometimes…
        So if I don´t like to get migraine or such I try to avoid some of those wireless network places where I notice they are at use.
        SO TABLETS or such IS ON BAN FOR ME…. And long hours even in the good conditions might fuzz my head a bit when talking about staying next to the computer screen.

        And its tested that even so called normal people will be effected by their bloodcells in these radiation situations as to get more immobile (not moving?) bloodcells around their body….

        SO BYE BYE KU already !
        KU, WE´LL NOT CU!

  4. Thanks so much for this informative and thought-provoking article, David. You gave everyone a lot to hash over. Since I’m not a big seller anywhere, but I am enrolled in KDP Select, all I can hope is that my books become more visible under the auspices of Kindle Unlimited.

  5. Most balanced and thoughtful post I’ve read on this often-inflammatory topic; thank you.

    I’m all but certain that borrows are indeed being counted only when readers reach the 10% mark. On Day 2 of the program, I showed 220 borrows. Now, a week later, I’m showing 339 borrows for that day.

    I’m also seeing some “borrow dumping.” This morning just after midnight Seattle time, I had 110 borrows. I suspect that’s the servers catching up. FWIW.

    Borrows cannibalizing sales: so hard to know. I’m at a point between promos, between releases, when sales would be slow anyway. My borrows have EXCEEDED sales almost every day since KU. Good thing? Bad thing? Less money per “sale,” as I’m priced at 3.99/4.99, but more visibility, that’s for sure–rank has jumped. And visibility as we know is key! I’ve always been in Select; am adopting a wait-and see strategy for now. For NOW, I’m getting visibility. My strong suspicion is that Amazon will ensure that remuneration per borrow stays decent, at least in the short term. They are trying to entice writers into the program. They won’t shoot themselves in the foot with a plunging payout, not in the short term. At least I hope not. 🙂

    Interesting times.

  6. Hi David. I would have to say kindle is very ‘limited’. As a Canadian author I am appauled at the fact that kindle countdown sales are only available to U.S. and U.K. citizens. I argued with them on the phone today of the injustice. On their description of this promo it makes it clear that if you are American or British the sale price will show up on you page. I’m wondering how fair is it to the rest of the world when I pay money to use this promo as a Canadian author and my readers aren’t from these countries and see the sale in my ads yet they have to pay a higher price? Does Amazon think they are sliding it by the rest of the world by not showing the sale price on our pages? What do you think about giving a sale to a select few and everyone else in the world has to pay a higher price. I think it’s unheard of and unjust, and I’m not letting go of this issue.

    1. On the scale of injustices in the world, I would say it’s not worth organizing a march. Amazon usually tests new features (and this is quite new) in the US before rolling it out to other markets. You can think that’s fair, or unfair, or whatever, but I doubt that’s going to change. Aside from wanting to test, collect data, and tweak accordingly, there are often regulatory issues in different markets which can present engineering or legal challenges to rolling out new features. For example, Germany, Spain, France, and Italy have fixed book price laws. Canada has different sales tax statutes to the US. The EU has VAT instead of sales tax. And so forth. Amazon not only has to legally account for those things, but it also has to write new code to make sure the right price is displaying in the right territory, or it can get it in the neck from authors, readers, and the respective regulatory bodies.

      tl:dr It’s not necessarily a simple situation.

  7. Amazon had to do something. They’ve been left holding the bag for distribution of ~1,000,000 books a day given away by Indie authors who think FREE means new fans. Amazon has infrastructure to pay for, why not monetize the giveaway business? Clever solution.

    The big question isn’t for writers. Look at the reader’s POV: Why join KU at $120/year when you can join Prime for $99 and get free shipping on your shipped product? As a reader, I don’t see it unless they’re planning to segregate books/video/music out of Prime.

    GREAT article, David. Comprehensive, well written, and spot on. Thank you for all you do for Indie writers.

    Peace, Seeley

  8. I wish this article were more tightly written. Writers should learn to self-edit. Strunk’s injunction to “omit needless words” should be regarded as gospel

    1. Wait a minute, you’re putting the rules of fiction editing onto a blog post? Should his main conflict be driven in every blog post too? Should he not have a prologue to his blog posts? (that would be removing the homepage, right?)

      I’ll agree with editing a genre fiction for reader access, but blog posts, non-fiction and lit-fic live by different rules. In fact, in some forms of non-fiction, wordiness is expected. Have you ever written corporate copy? I have. It’s all wordiness and no content. Hell, I’ve written literary essays where one paragraph is a whole page because that is how they are supposed to be written. If you want to see wordiness, you should read my dissertation.

      *scratching my head at this comment.* You can’t edit someone’s blog as if it’s a work of fiction. Well, you can, but it makes you look a bit stupid.

    2. Your comment might carry more weight if you didn’t have a typo… in your own name! LOL.

      Happy to fix errors if pointed out, but couldn’t resist. Also, you’re missing a full stop after “gospel.” I don’t usually point out typos in comments because I think that’s pedantic. But you sound like the kind of guy who would want to know that he’s made two mistakes while pointing out someone else’s errors. Physician, heal thyself!

  9. If you wish to sign up for Kindle Unlimited, one would have to enroll KDP select. Ergo exclusivity. Personally I prefer that KDP select wasn’t a requirement. I rather spread eggs in other baskets. Considering the post WH SMith ban of all indie authors from selling their works on their site. It takes on knee jerk, one self righteous jack ass to have an ebook removed from online store.

    If you look at it, what it boils down to, is profit, money is king. Kindle Unlimited is basically a library. Still, how would it affect an indie authors. Would the indie authors get paid pennies or what. Or would indie authors get screwed. There’s the chance that in all likely that it would make it difficult for a self pubbed writer to earn money.

  10. hi David, thanks for laying this out so clearly. I was undecided before. It seems obvious to me now to give it a try. I post my ebooks exclusively on Amazon. I find I can’t include clickable links in ePub ebooks, and I’ve had other problems with ePub, so I’ve only left 1 title up as ePub. I have 4 up at Amzn, 3 in regular KDP, 1 in KDP Select. So i’ll transfer another one of the regular KDP’s into Select and see how those 2 fare over the next 3 months.

    I have another, quite pressing, question. It’s unrelated to this issue. It’s about getting reviews in this context of book blogs’s reading queues being overwhelmed with books. I’ve sent out emails to 75 book blogs over the last 2 weeks. The emails were very detailed, clear, well-structured, and asked for reviews of 3 upcoming titles (to be released in October, December, & next March). Those 3 are each the 2nd book in a series. So I also attached mobi files of the 3 live titles, Book 1 of the series in each case, so reviewers could get a sense of the story in those 3 series. I asked for reviews of those 3 upcoming Book 2 titles. Well, thus far I’ve had 2 ‘maybe’ responses, 9 ‘no’s’, and the rest were no replies. So it seems getting reviews from book blogs this year, & possibly in 2015, will be difficult. That’s all by way of preamble, my question is: Are there any alternative sources of reviews? It’s just a matter of finding readers willing to read and write a 1-paragraph review, and I would provide the mobi file of the eBook. Is there any other way of generating reviews? If you have any ideas I’d be grateful for the advice! Thanks.

    1. Hi: I’ll reply as a reader and a reviewer. I review about 125-130 books a year on Goodreads, cross-posting to my own blog, Leafmarks, and the LibraryThing. You have to understand that readers are often inundated by requests from authors to read and review their books, assuming we have nothing to do but sit around and review *your* book. I’m an eclectic reader, but if I were to get a request to review a YA fantasy book or a romance novel, it would go right in the trash since I just don’t read those genres. So #1 know your audience. Don’t even think about sending off a review request without doing a lot of homework on the reviewer and what they read and like. #2. Get on Goodreads or other social site (LibraryThing is more bibliographic than social) and read and review. Make some friends. Get to know some readers. Post your own reviews of books but DO NOT EVER get on with the idea to just promote your books. I have made many author friends on Goodreads and read, liked and reviewed their books but only after reading some of their reviews and comments on other books that showed me they were good readers interested in other authors. #3 (a minor point) make your book available in multiple formats, i.e. epub, pdf, not just mobi, but it’s imperative you do your homework. Let readers find you because you’re an interesting person who loves to read and just happens to write. Note that I purchased David’s book because I like what he has written on his blog, but I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but I will and then will review it if I like it (I don’t review books I don’t like.)

    2. It can be tough getting reviews from book bloggers – many of whom have reading queues that seem to stretch into forever. There are two things you can do. First, check out the dedicated areas of sites like LibraryThing and Goodreads where you can offer freebies in exchange for a review (an honest review, no quid pro quo, and no offering anything other than a copy of the book in question in exchange for the review). LibraryThing has a formal area for such giveaways. Last time I checked, Goodreads still doesn’t have a formal area for e-book giveaways (it does for paperbacks), but there are plenty of genre-based informal ones (you’ll have to nose around – I don’t do much on Goodreads myself).

      A more effective, but more long-term, approach is to form your own ARC circle/street team. This isn’t something I’ve done on an organized basis, but I did sent out a lot of ARCs for Digital and Visible and it really made a difference having lots of reviews in place on or near launch day. I’m going to try doing that in the future with all releases. In simple terms, put a list together of hardcore readers who will happily review your books on launch day and give them a free copy in advance of the release. They are excited to get your book free (and ahead of time). You lose a sale but you gain a review, and a happier reader. You might have readers coming to you asking for ARCs, or just emailing you in general – and you can ask them if they want an advanced copy of your next book. But you will probably have to be a little more proactive (the bit I don’t like) in reaching out to your readers to get it all going.

  11. Scribd is more sustainable that you think as you have your figures wrong. A payout is triggered after 30% is read, which is why Kindle Unlimited’s 10% was such a shock. It is also less sustainable as every member who gets someone to sign up for a trial gets a free month.
    Simon and Schuster have joined HarperCollins in Scribd.
    An issue you have not dealt with in relation to Scribd is that most (like me) spend most of our time reading Big Pub. Not once has the Scribd recommendation zoetrope recommended a self-published title.

    1. Thanks for the clarification on Scribd’s payout trigger, but I don’t think that changes the sustainability question. Readers are paying Scribd $9.99 a month, and if they borrow two $14.99 tradpub books, then Scribd has already made a loss on that customer, and that’s just on two borrows!

      Hence, unsustainable.

      1. Yeah, a full or regular payout on that would be tough to sustain 🙂

        Well, if both parties want to keep a competitive presence in the ebook subscription field, they’ll have to come up with something agreeable. My guess is, with KU around, there’s some pressure to do that.

        I hope so. Scribd’s selection and non-exclusivity is a big help to me, both as a reader and a writer.

      2. Came across a quotation today from the Scribd CEO that the average Scribd Premium member reads only one book per month. The real unsustainability comes in their offering of free months by the dozen, but that is easily fixed by withdrawing the market share promotions. I suspect that their model is sustainable, because many people will forget to cancel or refuse to do so as they expect to have more time to read the following month. On average I read a book there every two months, but I have not paid a cent to Scribd and won’t for a least a year.

  12. Perhaps you have already made this correction; if so, I apologize. KU has a limit of 10 books on up to six devices. It’s not unlimited as you stated. From their terms: “You can access up to ten books at a time from the Kindle Unlimited catalog and read each on up to six devices or reading apps.”

    1. I could have made that a little clearer up top. You can actually borrow unlimited amounts per month, but you can only have ten checked out simultaneously. I was trying to draw a contrast between Prime (1 book at a time, 1 per month max).

      1. Yes, I see that now. I read and review about 125-130 books per year on Goodreads, so I’m not the most prolific reader, and I buy a lot of books (way too many.) I also subscribe to Scribd and signed up for KU, but I don’t think I’ll renew KU after the trial is over. I read a lot of history, biography, mysteries and science/technology and I find the selection on KU is not what I had hoped for so I’ll continue to buy. Ironically, the KU model reminds me of the library model more than anything else.

  13. Good post, David. My take on this is that a lot of people are assuming this is going to be way bigger than it will end up being. KU is offering subscribers about 1/5 of their ebook catalog which consists of 99.9% Kindle Select authors with a sprinkling of bestsellers that Amazon is paying full freight on (so they can make it look respectable). There’s going to be a month or two where this throws all the rankings, etc. out of whack, but after the 30-day free trial is over, this will settle down into a tiny percentage (as people become unhappy with the selection) of overall sales unless Amazon can get some of the Big 5 to play ball (fat chance). So making decisions on what happens in the next 30-90 days seems pretty crazy. That Amazon makes it so hard to opt-out tells you something. And, as much as I love them, their crazy obsession on trying to get authors to go exclusive continues to give easy fodder to their critics.

  14. It’s a really easy decision for me. I make $500 a month on Amazon…and $7 on the others (3 titles published to ALL the other e-tailers). Now, I’m not going to take out the books I already have on the others (too much effort and I like the idea of visibility outside Zon), but I just published a story the other day…and you can bet your bottom dollar that I enrolled in KU! Already has 2 borrows lol. Going forward, I plan to enroll everything else i write in KU.

  15. Amazon policy has always being kill the creative fellow. They have succeded in killing music sales with a subscription service now they want to do same to authors, i pray they fail, if they don’t i wont publish my book with them. After all itunes has 800 million accounts and if i sell to only 10% of that audience, i’ll be fine. No service can ever be more lucrative than sales.

    1. If you backed your claims up with numbers, you might have a case. As it stands, you’re spouting nonsense. Few entities have done more for the “creative fellow” than Amazon in the last 15 years. As for your “no service can be more lucrative” comment, ever heard of Netflix?

  16. A possibly mundane question, but still one to ask – how did you calculate your average – “borrow payouts have averaged $2.19.” I’m working on a post on this myself – darn you for beating me to it!

      1. Cheers – I’ll be putting up a little table on my post, but you’re right – it’s bounced between $1.86 (12/2013) and $2.51 (10/2013) in the e-mails I’ve received since June 2013.

  17. Thank you for this informative post…I have been in Kindle Select for two years, have yet to receive any of “that pool”. Sales are not the best…but if you chose that route I thought the “pool” would be an asset. And unless you go auto with the payments you may never receive sales money. Most use this method for self publishing which is zero cost. Like all good things this too was bound to change if it did not make money. thanks again

  18. The information about the lists is alarming but no more than I expected. Like you, I really loathe tying myself to one supplier. As a Brit I can only access some retailers through Smashwords and I am absolutely certain that their books are given lower precedence against those uploaded to retailers direct. Personally, I can see myself writing some Amazon only books to give subscribers a chance to read my books but leaving the majority of my stuff distributed universally.

    The more power Amazon gets over author publishers, the more they tie us in, the harder it will become for us to a) succeed anywhere else – in print sales for example or b) resist when they start to reduce the amount of money they pay. At the moment indie authors are enjoying a massive carrot from Amazon. I’m afraid that as someone who has been in business a fair while, I am looking for the catch. The scheme strikes me as a kind of Child Catcher’s van: lots of fancy decoration and candy incentives to lure us in but at some point that will all disappear, leaving just a cage.

    Here’s hoping I’m just cynical.



  19. I’d like to like this idea, and I’m going to pursue it — but I think your guess that it’s really going to benefit producers of short fiction is a solid one, so that’s what I’ll be putting into the pool. We’ll see how it floats.

  20. Thanks for a great post David and the comments are really thought provoking too. I’ve reblogged this if that’s okay. I mostly write shorter books, novellas and am about to do a series of short reads so I think I will put something into KU and see how it goes. I don’t seem to sell much through Smashwords but make a nice income from Amazon, mostly from Ireland and the UK, so I don’t stand to lose anything at the moment by making one of my books exclusive to Amazon.

  21. Okay, so here’s my honest flat out opinion, as a reader/subscriber: I don’t consume books at the rate in which I consume TV shows and film on Netflix, Hulu and AmazonPrime. Now, don’t get me wrong, I devour books, too, but not at the rate where I can justify another subscription. I’m not sure I will use the subscription to its fullest, plus I hate waste, not to mention, I already have so many titles on my Kindle that I haven’t read. As a book consumer, so far, I’m not interested in another subscription; I’d much rather spend $100 in one month on a dozen books I know I will want to read, rather than the same amount over the course of ten months just because I have access; perhaps this is the wrong way to look at this, maybe I’ll change my mind down the road, I’m not sure.

    As a writer, who is about the launch my first book this fall, the very idea of this kind of exclusivity makes my skin crawl. I don’t want to feel trapped or limited while I’m just starting out of the gate. However, I can’t deny the fact that I carefully watched the whole KDP Select program – I observed your opinion of it at the time David, because it was right around the time you released your Let’s Get Visible book – but even then I had an inkling that KDP Select would be a boon to writers looking to increase visibility if they got in early on. I also know that Amazon pours all their cash into R & D, and certainly they used KDP Select to test the viability for the Kindle Unlimited. However, today, the only way I could consider Kindle Unlimited as an option is depending on how gracious the algorithm gods at Amazon are, I might – and I say that with a huge trepidation – consider Kindle Unlimited for that reason alone, still, for me, it would be a big risk. This is a conundrum I can’t see through.

  22. Well *sigh* here are MY thoughts for what it’s worth (not too damn much). It doesn’t matter what I think or how I feel about this new venture of Amazon’s. It’s certainly no surprise because I’m a nerd girl and I read TechCrunch. My mother inlaw also throws me her Better Home & Gardens magazine when she’s done with it. I pretend to read and while I was reading, I noted the large ads for Oyster this past spring. It was only a matter of time before Amazon came up with an alternative to services offered by Oyster and Scribed. Do I think it’s a particularly good business model from an author’s perspective? Do I believe all the fear mongering on other loops? Do I think it’s fair that trad publishers and select indies don’t have to be exclusive? It doesn’t matter what I think! They’re the ones that impact Amazon’s bottom line so they get to enjoy different terms. Business is business. What matters is how I react to the change and if I’m willing to adapt to it. What I do believe is that it will erode sales to some degree, but certainly not the doom and gloom I’ve heard circulating some author loops. Amazon believes in one thing which has made them largely successful—the customer experience. KU is a tool that authors can choose to use (or not) at their discretion. Personally I had intended to put a particular book permafree. I think I’m going to use KU instead. I’m just waiting for B&N to pull the title. The beauty of indie publishing is the ability to experiment. If I’m not happy with the results in ninety days, then I can still make the book permafree.

  23. I decided to put all my novels back in KDP Select after Countdown came out. I know a lot of indy authors are unimpressed with Countdown but they don’t seem to figure in that 70% royalty on Countdown promotions. When I pay close to $500 for a Bookbub promotion, that is an important consideration. Of course, my sales on other venues were always anemic, so I wasn’t losing much by going back to being Amazon exclusive.

    Which of course brings me to KU. I haven’t seen any substantial increase in ‘borrows’ since the start of KU although they seem to have increased slightly, but not enough to be significant. But the possible effect on Bookbub and other advertisers does make me bite my nails to the quick. This looks like another possible game changer in a game that changes almost constantly.

  24. I’m a fan of the concept of unlimited. I think new readers to Amazon benefit greatly from this kind of service because it simplifies the reading process. They can read any book on any device with no hassle, and they can access as many books as they like. It removes the hassle of downloading files and software etc.

    But, I think the authors would benefit more from having their own individual subscriptions at a lower price. Like say, $2.99 a month to read all of David Gaughan’s books. I can see fans enjoying that, and the author benefiting from regular royalties from it too. Even if they only sign up for a month, you get paid and they get to read all your books. If you regularly update new content, the readers will probably continue subscribing.

    In some respects, lumping everyone together costs the reader more because it’s unlikely they’ll read all 600k books, and it costs the author more because their cut pf the pie is that much smaller when split between so many other authors, not to mention the smaller amount of visibility in the mix too, which will mean many books don’t even get seen.

    I would have thought it more beneficial to make it niche, either by author, or genre or some kind of categorisation. I’d have rather seen a science fiction subscription, for all the sci-fi books, a romance one for all the romance books etc. Using more categories would target more readers. Some won’t want to pay for everything. They’ll have their favourite kind of read, and they won’t want to pay an overall fee for everything. By having multiple subscription choices at lower prices, the chances of people signing up for the ones they like are greatly increased.

    So yes, I like the idea, but I think Ammy could have drilled it down a bit to attract the right readers to the right kind of subscriptions, which would probably be cheaper per month, but it would also give more authors more chance to reach the right kind of readers. The current system seems too broad, which means some authors won’t get a look in, and some readers will end up paying for some with books that they don’t want to read. I wish Ammy had looked at it on a niche level. I think it would have been more beneficial to everyone.

    On how it’s going so far, I’ve got a couple of books that were in Select anyway, so they’ve gone into it. I haven’t seen much of a change in how my books perform. The sales seem exactly the same. Right now, it’s not convincing me to add more books to it, which is a shame because I still think the idea is a good one. I just think it’s been made too broad to be attractive to readers or writers. I guess time will tell though.

  25. For someone who has just pulled out of KDP and managed to get his book into the Smashwords Premium catalog (after much fiddling with the EPUB file), this presents a bit of a dilemma. What struck me first was the big difference between the “lending to premium subscribers” model in KDP (1 title a month) and the fact that this new service allows unlimited access. Like you say, it’s impossible to know how consumers will react, but if the number of people signing up to this matches the number of Premium subscribers, there’s no way in hell anyone will be getting $2 at a time, or anywhere close to that.

    What we might find out though is how many of the bargain hunters out there are serious enough to pay $120 a year for open access to the Indie market. Will there be any way to find out how many people sign up?

    1. You can’t know that ‘there’s no way in hell anyone will be getting $2’. If that’s what Amazon wants the figure to be at they will adjust the pot so that it happens. It really depends on Amazon’s intent, when none of us can possibly know.

      1. Okay, I’ll rephrase it: In my personal opinion I do not think Amazon will be up for paying out vasts sums of money to ensure authors receive the same financial benefit under Kindle Unlimited as they do under the Kindle Lending Library program. Why? Because a Prime member borrowing one book – if that – a month (remember, it’s only a side benefit) is not the same as a Kindle Unlimited member borrowing what could theoretically amount to far more than ten in the same time frame. Math: A Prime member pays $99 a year. If he/she borrowed one book every month and Amazon pays the author $2 for each one, that’s roughly 25% of the Prime membership fee. A Kindle Unlimited member pays $9.99 a month. If he/she borrows ten books in that time, Amazon makes nothing. If they borrow more than ten, Amazon is officially in the self-publishing subsidy business. And while it is true that Amazon is happy to run losses in the short run as a means of gaining market share in the long, at what point will people who pay a monthly fee specifically for access to books begin to tone down their borrowing? Surely if you’re not taking advantage of the benefits, you just opt out. No? No one joins Prime to borrow books, so we can assume only a fraction of them actually do. Everyone joins Kindle Unlimited to borrow books, so we can assume they all do. That’s my thinking.

      2. Except people pay for subscriptions and forget they have them all the time and this is auto-renew. Also people download books but don’t read them all the time – indies are only paid if a book is read past the 10% point. A reader might download 10 books, not get around to reading them, hear about a “new” book, have to return one if the unread books in order to download the new one – no authors are paid yet as none if the books have been read. Rinse and repeat.

        We have no way to know. But neither Scribd nor Oyster have declared bankruptcy yet and they pay indies 60%/list price on book while charging similar monthly fees and unlimited reading. I’m guessing this means lots of people sign up but don’t read as much as they thought they would.

  26. Reblogged this on WHAT THE HELL and commented:
    Wow. More complications, and I have a sneaky feeling that writers like me, in less-than-popular genres, are going to have a hard time gaining traction. Oh, Amazon, why are you making life so difficult?!

    1. How do you figure this is a huge slam on traditional publishers? Traditional publishers are getting paid full retail price and indies are sharing in a discretionary pool. I love the way that facts can be distorted sometimes.

  27. If there’s anything to be learned from this, it’s that the writing/publishing business is one hell of a roller-coaster ride and there are sure to be many more twists and turns along the track. Just when you think you’ve got it all nailed down, something else pops out of the woodwork awaiting a hammer.
    I think the whole subscription model rests upon the demographics of the reading public. How many books can one person read in a day, a month, a year? My bet is that Scribid, Oyster, and Now Kindle Unlimited have taken these demographics into account and are betting that people can’t read enough books to equal the cost of the subscription. It’s the only way they can make money.
    The average reader, no matter how fast he or she may be, can only read so much. Their jobs, carrying for children, watching TV, playing, or just performing the tasks associated with living, gobble up too much time, leaving little opportunity to finish a book.
    Although I’m a fast reader, I can only read one 90,000 word book a day and that leaves no time for any task other than eating and bathroom breaks. I’d be surprised if the average reader can read more than three a month and it’s likely less. Notice the subscription services only pay when the reader has finished 10% of the book. Borrows sitting on a hard drive unread don’t count, no matter how many the subscriber has downloaded.
    Also this applies to eBooks only. Many people who read stubbornly cling to print books. They refuse to change so they’re not part of the demographic, and they comprise a large percentage of the overall population of readers.
    As to short stories, most of the believable data I’ve read indicate readers prefer long books, principally as part of a series, books in which they can become invested in the characters and follow their lives. Shorts, unless skillfully written, are unsatisfying. Serials might stand a chance, but they’d have to be a Flash Gordon on steroids.
    The people who started this model aren’t stupid. If they haven’t now, they’ll eventually pay less per book if the work is below 30,000 words (or some other threshold.)
    I think I’ll sit tight, weather the storm and write another book.

    1. chulaslim, the other big plus to a subscription program, whether Amazon’s, Scribd’s, or Oyster’s, is signified in Amazon’s brilliant slogan, “Freedom to Explore.”

      Being able to sample creative work at whim, in any category, any time, and put aside, dip again, or read right through, was so similar to my wife and I’s experience the last few years with Netflix (regardless of how well they compare) it was the one crucial factor that sold me on being both a reader and and author on both Scribd and Oyster.

      With a new short that’s almost ready, and when I catch up a current stash of books to read and sign up for my KU free intro month (gonna start with Joe Konrath), I’ll be doing the same with Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

      But I won’t let go of my other subscriptions, or pull my other work.

      I’m hoping Amazon will decide, hey, I don’t need no stinking exclusive clauses!

      And they don’t, not for us small fry indies anyway 🙂

  28. Great piece (as always), David. I worry that this will greatly affect my permafree strategy, but I just received such a wonderful email from a Kobo reader who loves my series and I realized that it’s important not to feed the Amazon monopoly and allow other people to have access to my ebooks on different devices. I think Amazon could still offer such a program without the exclusivity and be even more successful. More authors signing up means more ebooks for their subscribers to have access to.

    1. Lauren, perma free should still be valuable for all the folk not on Amazon. Or if you aren’t exclusive, and in Select, for all the readers in Amazon too, that can get your free book where available.

      But esp liked, “Amazon could still offer such a program without the exclusivity and be even more successful. More authors signing up means more ebooks for their subscribers to have access to.”

      Ditto me that 🙂

      And that latter stmt, “more ebooks for their subscribers to have access to” applies equally to Scribd and Oyster.

      A welcoming arms Amazon could have all those folks too, in Kindle Unlimited.

      Best wishes 🙂

  29. I can offer some very early data from the front lines of this issue. All my books are in the program, and I’m seeing a serious uptick in borrows. Again, very early, but I’m up to about 25% of sales being borrows rather than direct sales. A week ago with 35 books in select I was seeing 5% borrows. The increase borrow rate has come with a cannibalization rate of about 10%, for an overall sales increase of 15%. Assuming I’m getting $2 a sale, I’m making money, but not dramatic money, as most of my books sell for $4 to $6 and I’m definitely getting less per borrow. For me at the top of the SF lists it’s pretty much a wash, but this is very thin data to base any conclusions upon.

  30. I have to say this is the best post I’ve seen so far regarding this new Amazon programme – I’ve been trying to find out more about it since I discovered that my book on KDP Select had already been made a part of it.
    Thanks for the information – lots to think about that’s for sure.

  31. I think of it this way: my trad published books are in the libraries here in Ireland and in the UK. I get 4 cents per borrowed book, Amazon gives me $2.00, roughly per borrowed book. So far my sales haven’t been affected at all, in fact they’re up. The same number of borrows as before in the US and in the UK (where KU does not apply).

    I have three (out of thirteen) books in Select and plan to take two of them out soon and publish them through D2D. The third one will go at the end of the year. But as I have a number of books not in select, maybe this will boost their sales if readers who sample books cheaply through KU go on to buy the other ones. So I see this (perhaps foolishly) as a positive thing and a chance to get my work out there in front of more readers.

  32. I think making ant long-term decisions based on the 1st month will be a mistake. I know I’ve gone crazy and downloaded 10 books last night through KU but there is no way I’m going to keep up at that rate because:

    1. I have other books waiting to be read & I’ll want to get back to those
    2. Even at my reading speed of 200+ books a year I can’t read 10 books a day
    3. Some books I read through KU I’ll probably “buy/license” just like I do when I read a library book

    A few of my thoughts (paraphrasing & expanding a comment I made on Passive Guy last night)
    1. Putting all your eggs in one basket can be dangerous for a career (retailer fails/changes game overnight like pulling all self-pubbed books or all erotica or all books with certain words in a title – these have all happened over the last few years )

    2. Having something perma-free in Smashwords, another story/book in KU, and possibly other books/stories exclusive elsewhere (if they call for that) can be used as loss leader/discoverability/thank readers on particular platform – make sure you put a list of all your books/stories at the back of everything you publish & where they can be found

    3. Have most of your work available for sale on as many retailers as possible (think outside the box) and also on your own website so your books are never unavailable

    4. Experiment with individual series or genres or standalone books but give experiments time (1-3 months may not be enough time to gain traction) – make sure you are promoting everywhere your book is for sale – if you put books up on Nook but never tell anyone they are there & promote Amazon you haven’t done a very good experiment IMHO & you may want to try it again 1-2 years down the road as the market is always changing

    1. I’d guess no. KOLL borrows weren’t reported (or NYT chose not to count them), and I’m pretty sure none of the major bestseller lists count them.

  33. Figuring out the discoverability puzzle is the key (as it always has been). For those enrolled in Select and KU, books have the opportunity to be free for everyone for 5 days out of 90 and now can be free for some people EVERY day. Folks that may have missed your free days promo will now have the opportunity to try out your book for free any time. Again, the trick is: how will they know it’s there?

    I have two titles (my scifi series) in Select already, so we’ll see how it goes. Looks like I had a handful of borrows yesterday, which had been pretty flat until then.

    I’d say we’ve all been victims of the Chinese curse: May you live in interesting times. 🙂

    1. As a follow up to this, I’m seeing some major volatility in the rankings right now. In addition, I’m seeing movement indicating a sale (or borrow) where none appears on the dashboard. If I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that the rankings are counting downloads, not necessarily sales or actual borrows. That would also explain why gifting a book doesn’t show up in rankings until the receiver accepts it — at least, that’s been my experience.


  34. Reblogged this on akrummenacker and commented:
    Good information and lots to think about in this article. In order to be part of Kindle Select and be involved in Kindle Unlimited, you have to cut your e-books off from other avenues like Smashwords and other e-book distributors. Each author must decide for themselves what route to take.

    HOWEVER… this only effects e-books. Print versions of our books would still be available through Barnes and Noble and other booksellers.

    Still e-books seem to be what’s popular with their cheaper price tag. So much to think about…

  35. I’m looking forward for the experiment with my next novel. The program should be available to the French market by the Fall. Most publishers do not get into the KDP select in France, so I suspect that getting into the Kindle unlimited program in Amazon France should be a + for the selfpublished writers. I let you know. Thanks for this post David, you did raise very interesting questions about this new Kindle program.

    1. I’m guessing that USA Today, NYT et al won’t count borrows as sales. But I wouldn’t expect that to last forever. Music charts are now based partly on YouTube views.

      1. I find ebook subscription services don’t favor writers. Since summer 2013 I joined four. Two I left because the sites stipulated writers must purchase monthly memberships in order for their books to be read by subscribers. Now it appears noveltunity and Inkbok created similar rules. I’m fixing to leave those sites. No reads at all. I don’t own an ereader, nor to I plan to buy ebooks.

        I left Scribd; 38 copies of a novel were stolen – money out of my pocket. No reads on Oyster, but I’m not surprised. Books are supplied by Smashwords, the worst distributor on the planet. Another factor to consider: Traditional publishers flooded ebook subscription services with back titles and some new releases. Literally hundreds of thousands of books are available. Books by independent writers cannot be found among the clutter. Not many self published authors have a marketing strategy to compete.

  36. David, like you, I’m a bit conflicted. After resisting Select, I reluctantly went ‘all in’ in November, prompted by a desire to reverse six months of flagging sales and enticed by the introduction of the Countdown Deals. The higher royalties on the KCDs (especially when coupled with BookBub promos) did help the revenue stream, but the ‘after effect’ of the promos didn’t seem to hold up nearly as long as it did in the past. On the whole, it was pretty much a wash, revenue wise, and like you, I detest exclusivity. I’d already decided to un-enroll form Select when my current term expires next month.

    Then along comes KU, and I back in waffling mode, my indecision compounded by several unknowns, specifically:

    1. KU seems to be offering not just ebooks, but the audiobooks as well. However, I’ve heard that there are something like 600K ebooks available and only about 2K audiobooks. Have you heard how Amazon plans to treat the ‘bundled’ audiobooks? For those authors that have devoted a fair amount of time/money in audiobook production, it would seem to be reasonable to assume that ebook/audiobook ‘bundles’ would attract some greater benefit that a download of an ebook alone. Any thoughts?

    2. As you mentioned, the impact on BookBub and the growing number of similar sites is also a concern. Personally, I’ve found these to be pretty much the only paid promotion that works consistently (consistently being a relative term in this ever-evolving business). Just as rank speculation, I wonder if Amazon might offer such affiliates a ‘bounty’ on each new member signed up through the site (similar to the one offered to authors on ACX)? That alone, might not be attractive to the affiliates, but if it were coupled with a small percentage of the ongoing monthly revenue for each new member signed up via the site, that might be attractive in the short term. That’s rank speculation on my part, of course.

    At this point I feel as if it’s more or less, “in for a penny, in for a pound.” The only real question now is whether I just drift along and observe, or if I enthusiastically embrace the new model and promote it heavily. I’m still working that out.

    H. Howey takes the view that what’s good for the reader is good for the writer (eventually, at any rate). It’s hard to argue that KU is anything but a bargain, for power readers at least.

    So I guess I’m in. Or not.

    Still waffling in Tennessee.

    Thanks for your usual keen insights.

  37. Well, for some reason, I could not get my comment/reply above properly posted: I kept getting an error message. I had to retype it several times and I rushed the last one and I ended up with “rabod readers” instead of my normally merely rabid readers. Plus this site apparently does not allow for commenters to go back and edit their submissions. Leithscéal a ghabháil i . . .

  38. David, I quoted a few paragraphs from this piece and posted them on my eponymous site with a half-dozen (like, I lost count after a while) links to you and your work. I am quite certain that both of my rabod readers will scan the post and, hey, one of them may buy something! Please keep on keepin’ on. Sith agus Sláinte ‘bha!

  39. I happen to have a pretty long series in the KU. Early data, which could obviously change substantially, says that KU use is pretty much cannibalizing sales 1 to 1. In addition, lots of KU activity on later books in the series, so these are existing readers of mine, although for some reason not ones who own all my books yet. (Based on anecdotal comments from my readers, I think a number of these are KOLL folk who are very excited not to have to wait a month for each new book, so they’re blowing through the rest of my series while KU is free).

    Clearly this is all very early observations, and KU is free, so reader volume and behavior and consumption patterns could change very substantially over the next few months. But half the top 100 in the Kindle store last night were KU books, so obviously it’s going to shake things up quite a bit, at least in the short term! (Also, David, I think the answer about whether KU reads will count for sales rank is very definitely yes, at least for the moment).

    1. This is exactly why I think the smartest strategy is to use KU in the same way you’d use Permafree: first book in a series, or one designated stand-alone that will be your Loss Leader, from which you EXPECT to make no money (so anything you earn from KU downloads is a bonus.)

      You wouldn’t make your entire series Permafree, so why enroll an entire series in Select, now that KU is here? An entire series in Select might have made sense when it was just free days and Countdown, but KU changes the game.

      Here are my thoughts on a potential strategy. Granted, I won’t be in a position to try this strategy out for myself for a few more weeks, but I am going to give it a shot.

      1. Well, for many of the higher-earning authors like Debora (who, to my knowledge has never used free days nor participated in Countdown Deals), Amazon tends to play nicer with them and offer promo for them that lesser mortals don’t get. I know several authors who have been asked by Amazon to put their series in Select under promise of marketing boosts (which have come through for them). Remember, not everyone’s situation is the same.

    2. I believe that the issue of sales reporting and ranking has yet to be a fully thought out proposition and will change. Amazon reports sales to the NYT and USA Today. If they are counting downloads as sales on titles in KU, to the exclusion of the Big 5 publishers that aren’t in the program; they are skewing sales results and the bestseller lists might have a serious issue regarding this.

      1. Results are also skewed if non-Select titles are not being given the same discovery & promo (as seems might be the case), thus resulting in less sales.

        It could be argued, though, that big publishing does the same anyway, when they select (umm, no pun intended, really) an author to promote over another because of need within a category or whatever (forgive the latter less technical term 🙂 ).

        Either way, except for undeniable runaway title hits, the lists are being skewed everyday.

        Now that doesn’t mean efforts can’t be made to try and re-balance that.

        But honestly, I’ve no ideas how.

        Non-exclusivity for indies in KU would be good for me though 🙂

      2. Most books in KU are not eligible for the NYT and USA Bestseller lists anyhow (both lists exclude books that are exclusive to a single vendor). In addition, I’m fairly sure that KOLL borrows are not counted by those lists even when the books aren’t exclusive, so I can’t imagine they’ll count KU downloads either.

      3. Debora, I believe KU books will be counted towards bestseller lists as I understand the program now. I also believe that I’ve read that KOLL is included as well but I’m not sure of that.

      4. Steven, it may be that is true for publishers playing in the program. Those of us in Select don’t qualify for the bestseller lists, and I believe the Amazon imprint books don’t either, but perhaps things will be counted differently for participating publishers who sell on multiple vendors. My guess watching the data in the past has been that KOLL borrows don’t count, but that’s just a guess.

  40. When I published my first story a few months back, I put it in KDP Select because I didn’t know any better. I’ve had pretty good sales for a nobody (over 750 in 90 days), and had wondered what would have happened if I’d put it on other platforms. My plan was to pull the title from Select and distribute it more widely and see.

    Well, with KU showing up, I’m not. It’s a .99 cent story (8,500 words), and there’s a potential to make more money off of KU than by selling it. After all, I made more from my father borrowing it through KOLL than I did when my mother bought it. The difference is that my father only borrowed it because it was mine. When you can only borrow one per month, it doesn’t make sense to “waste” it on short fiction.

    Plus, I can definitely see readers taking chances with a flat subscription fee than when they have to put out actual cash. Will that happen? I think everyone agrees that we don’t know what will happen regarding that, but something interesting to consider. If the payout from Amazon remains consistently about $2, pricing short fiction at $2.99 suddenly makes a lot more sense. At worst, it will drive people who want read it to do so through KU rather than buying it, which is more money for authors. Basically, it becomes a win/win at that point.

    For the readers, it becomes another kind of permafree, but one where authors actually make money rather than simply having a loss leader.

    Of course, I’m being ridiculously hopeful here. In reality, I’m cautiously optimistic about what will happen. So, I’ll keep my novelette in KDP Select and see what happens. So far, I seem to be seeing an uptick in borrows, but it’s far too early to tell if it’s the result of KU or something else.

    (Apologies for the long comment :/ )

    1. T.L. I would be cautious about pricing your shorts above $.99, despite the fact that it makes sense vis-a-vis the KU model, the reason being that many readers get irrationally angry when they’re asked to pay the same price for a short that usually gets them a full novel.

      The quality and craft of the short rarely enter into this value proposition, which isn’t fair to you the writer, but that won’t mean much when you get a slew of 1 star reviews. Then you’ll lose your KL borrows because your title will have an abysmal rating and fewer readers will take a chance on you. YMMV, but I would rec staying at $.99.

  41. It’s early days, but I’ve noticed the following:

    – my one KDP Select Title has doubled its borrows, paid sales up slightly. Ranking gone from 15k overall to 4,700 overall. Revenue up 30%.
    – my non-KDP Select titles have kept the same sales, but rankings have dropped. 15k ish down to 25k ish overall. Again, sales are the same, but ranking down significantly.
    – I dropped another title back in to the program, as it was performing poorly outside of Amazon. I’ve seen the same effect already, and it’s only been 6 hours. Ranking went back from 25k down to 17k (and rising) and both sales and borrows look good considering it’s still early in the US

    If this works out the same over the other books, I’ll make more extra revenue from pulling out of non-AMZ stores and going exclusive (90 days is a drop in the ocean if I’m wrong). At least, for now.

    This program could offer an amazing opportunity for people with shorter works. The serial fiction model might finally have found a home!

    1. I don’t think KU will have any impact on humblebundle or storybundle – I suspect most people are like me support those to give authors money more than to get a deal – I adjust my giving to also support a charity. The books are DRM free & in multiple formats so I actually own the books and am not dependent on a retailer/ereader survival. For me that’s a big deal. Books I “buy” on a Amazon I don’t “own” I lease and books I get through KU I’m only borrowing.

      Or am I missing something in your comment?

      1. Who needs to save money on a book bundle when they can get “all you can read” deals? Most people are not loyal like you in so much that they “support those to give authors money more than to get a deal.” Most people are looking for a deal – the best deal they can possibly find. That’s why book bundles could be history – no one needs to get a bargain on a bundle of books when they can download unlimited books.

      2. I don’t think the average reader uses storybundle/humblebundle as it requires side-loading something most readers find difficult/won’t do. Books put up for sale on these sites may not be available as part of KU. So unless you believe KU is going to be the only book retailer left standing (which I don’t see happening it’s not in Amazons best interest) I don’t see why these other services will fail.

  42. I don’t understand the comment “Music has a much higher replay value, so I can’t see our compensation ever degrading to that level.” Could you explain? Having a higher value would seem to lead to a higher price, But then, perhaps I just don’t understand your comparison.

    1. My fault, I could have worded that better. Let me give you an example:

      A Stephen King fan might read Dr. Sleep once, but M.I.A. fan might listen to Paper Planes 100 times before they get sick of it. So comparing per-play artist payment rates in Spotify to per-read rates in Oyster or whatever doesn’t really fly. There’s also other differences in how people consume music versus books but that’s the main reason we’ll never see Spotify levels of compensation under sub-models in books (IMO).

    1. There’s not a lot I disagree with there. Diversification is good, yes, but we can’t just hand chunks of the market to players who aren’t trying just because a diverse market is the ideal – I’d totally agree with that. This is essentially what people like Mike Shatzkin are saying when they call for government intervention “of some sort” – they want to artificially protect market share for certain players.

      I’m totally against that because (for starters) it will lead to higher prices for readers. Look at markets where competition is constrained (like where there are fixed-book price laws, or restrictions on Amazon offering free delivery, or levels beyond which retailers can’t discount), prices are always much higher than in markets without those restrictions. This Shatzkin-type view of the world is a zero-sum view of the world and I can’t abide it. Higher prices will lead to less reading and more Angry Birds and Netflix. It’s a failure of imagination on their part because lower prices will increase the amount of reading (and purchasing) being done, which is great for the market overall, and its long-term health, and enables more writers to earn a living.

      As to your question in particular, Kindle Unlimited can be viewed in two ways. You could make the argument that it reduces competition by demanding exclusivity. But you can also view it another way. Amazon has just improved its offer to indies, and now the others must do the same. So in a weird way, Amazon’s demands for exclusivity is kind of stimulating competitive forces too.

      I think Amazon gives us a more level playing field (note: not a totally level playing field) than the other retailers, but I think the competition is improving – if not always at a rate of knots. But I’m fascinated to see how they will respond to Kindle Unlimited.

      For me, though, all this is largely academic. Writers should always make the choice that benefits their career – whether that’s signing a deal (or not) with Penguin Random House, giving exclusivity (or not) of their self-published titles to Amazon in exchange for marketing toys, or whatever. This is a tough game, and everyone’s gotta eat.

      1. Hello David,

        I mostly agree with you, except for the “Higher prices will lead to less reading and more Angry Birds and Netflix” part. I (from France) and other European writers/publishers have already talked about this on PG. Not to say that high price of books is good, but it does not really seem to correlate with less reading as long as they are reasonable. France and Germany have higher (and fixed) prices for books and people read much more there than in the US; moreover, is there any proof (I would love to see any), that lower prices for books since the birth of big bookstores chains and even more, the advent of Amazon, has allowed people to read more in the US ? I guess not. I think reading is a question of time more than money and people found ways to read for less money if they wanted to (like public libraries, used books etc);

      2. I think there are other factors in reading being higher in France and Germany than price. As for used bookstores, how much does an author or publisher make when someone purchases a second-hand book? Nothing. How much does an author make when their book is borrowed from the library? Nothing in the US, pennies in the UK.

        If books are cheap, more purchasing of books will be done by those on tighter budgets. If books are expensive, those who are short of cash are either going to resort to libraries and used bookstores (see above), or find alternative, cheaper sources of entertainment.

  43. Comprehensive coverage as always, David. Reblogged on

    I’m cautiously optimistic about KU. I, too, was pessimistic about Select when it launched so I missed that boat. I’m looking forward to the experiment.

    Since you asked for links, here’s my rationale for my shrugging acceptance:

    Thanks for your analysis.

    1. Getting $2 a pop for a borrow (if that is indeed what the rate will be, or settles at) is obviously far more lucrative than earning 35c per sale, but the other questions raised apply noted above, such as much are you selling outside Amazon? There’s an additional wrinkle too: will short reads become more attractive under a sub-model? What I mean is, readers mightn’t care so much anymore about getting value (in terms of length) for the price when they can read as much as they like. It’s hard to predict, but I wouldn’t be shocked if shorter reads became more popular. But that might take a while to shake out.

      1. NumerikLivres, One of the Pure Player small publishers in the French market, noticed that he was going toward longer works, since it looks like that’s what the readers want.

        But that’s in France, a country where shorts has not the same impact (far from it) as novels.

  44. “However, I hate exclusivity. I don’t like it on principle, and I don’t like telling readers that they can’t buy my book for any reason. So I haven’t decided yet. I’ll probably throw something in there and see how it goes, but it won’t be with gleeful abandon.” –

    Great coverage of the angles, but like the quote above the best.

    I’d only add, if Scribd and Oyster’s models aren’t sustainable, then probably Amazon’s payout isn’t either (unless they go with KU as a loss leader for the other 90% of their sales.)

    I’m putting in one short that’ll be finished very soon, and test it, but I’ve never had any luck with Select before. And I’m doing as well on Scribd as I do on Amazon.

    Also, don’t forget, because all those titles in KU are exclusive, all those titles not in there, but in Scribd and Oyster and Apple and B&N and Amazon non-Select,etc, “are” available to everyone. My free titles on Scribd are even available to folk without an account. That’s huge.

    And many of those titles ( not mine 🙂 ) are indies that have reached various best seller lists.

    All in all, a lot to think about, as reflected by your very comprehensive post 🙂

    Thanks David!

    1. There’s no way that Scribd and Oyster’s payment model is sustainable. They’ll either have to raise price (tricky when the competition is all $9.99) or cut rates. Cutting rates is easier, I’d argue. Or else they are hoping lots of people sign-up but don’t actually use the service (wishful thinking IMO).

      Amazon is paying similar rates to the handful of trad-pubbed titles that are in there, but for the vast majority of titles, Amazon will have to pay out less than Scribd or Oyster each time a title is read – hence more sustainable. Also, Amazon has far deeper pockets and can sustain a loss for longer. Scribd and Oyster don’t have huge funding at the moment, and may find it tricky to get further investment unless they grab market share quickly (and/or cut rates).

      But the picture could change quickly. Apple is moving into streaming music, so a sub-model for books would make sense. And they have deeper pockets than anyone – although they haven’t shown much appetite for getting into a price-war with Amazon. Google too.

      1. Amazon definitely has big pockets 🙂 My wife and I have shopped there since they began, and get many things from their regular merchandise. Plus I love my new Kindle Fire (along with my iPhone and Mac laptop).

        But I’m gonna play Devil’s Advocate here, so know I’m basically throwing out ideas and trying to do the same, make sense of a vast changing digital landscape.

        I don’t have specific (or even general) knowledge of Scribd or Oyster or Amazon’s game plans or finances. I don’t really know if the first subscription services to catch on, Scribd’s and Oyster’s, are sustainable. But I read a lot of initial articles and interviews early this year from the CEOs of both companies, and what they said made sense. They have a shot. And they have hundreds of thousands of indie titles that have been best sellers and are not in KU, and not by those authors’ choices (being excluded without exclusiveness).

        For me, it’s like someone saying all the small buffet restaurants in town will fail because some big chain comes in. And, ok, the chain has more money. Everyone knows who they are. And maybe they even get an exclusive on certain brands of fish and meat. But, just as many brands, of equal or better quality, are available at the other buffets.

        I’m not saying Scribd and Oyster aren’t on a calculated business gamble.

        I’m not saying they won’t have to adjust their royalty rates.

        Amazon’s may be more sustainable, I agree, because they’re not locking themselves into a promised amount – but that won’t do all the writers who won’t get visibility any good, esp not being able to sell elsewhere. That’s why I liked your quote about exclusivity the best.

        And I’m “still” gonna put one short new title in KU, very soon 🙂

        My bottomline opinion –

        Amazon doesn’t need exclusivity from indies to succeed.

        That requirement has, in my opinion, outlived its use.

        Thanks David.

      2. From what I’ve heard, there are no BPH books in Kindle Unlimited. A competing service from Apple might be different — the Big 5.5 are clearly more willing to cooperate with Apple than they are with Amazon (cough…collusion…cough).

      3. There are a limited amount of titles from publishers like Kensington, Scholastic, William Norton, Algonquin, Open Road, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. None from the Big 5 though. Last time I checked, some of the largest publishers had signed deals with Scribd (like HarperCollins), but I can’t remember if they all have at this point.

      4. I read an article where Scribd said that only 2% of their subscribers are heavy readers (borrowing more than 10 books per month, if memory serves). So the remaining 98% subsidize the loss they take on the 2% readers. Provided this customer makeup doesn’t drastically change, they might be able to sustain their current royalty rates. If not, I think they’ll have to cut royalties and/or raise prices to stay in business.

      1. Steven, thanks. Can you say why Scribd and Oyster may be carrying some of the titles?

        Older? Experiment? Though (pretty sure) I’ve read those in the two subscriptions recently added more titles due the success with the readers.

        Gotta say again, exclusivity is no longer useful. Amazon just flat doesn’t need it in my opinion. I’ll still shop there either way.

        But if they were able to offer Kindle Unlimited for all available indie titles…

      2. I believe that with the Agency model contract that Amazon would need permission to put those publisher’s books into KU. With publishers that are on wholesale, like Kensington and others, they’re able to do this without a problem as long as they pay us the proper agreed upon amount.
        With Scribd and others, it was a conscious decision and negotiation for publishers to decide if they wanted to go into the service. With Amazon this was not a negotiation as of yet…
        We are also with Scribd and Oyster.

      3. Steven, I am curious, can you say if you’re happy or if the reads you have through Scribd and Oyster have been what you like, or expected? Disclosure : I’m in both subscription programs as both a reader and author. Thanks!

      4. Felipe, we’ve been pleased so far with Scribd. The other services haven’t been as successful for us yet, but we just started with them. I’m sure KU will be the biggest without a doubt. I’m still very skeptical as to any of these succeeding for certain genre readers, like romance. The readers are too voracious and the services would lose money after two downloads.

      5. You know, I’ve come across the idea in a few posts that each subscription service, much like B&N vs iTunes vs Amazon, will tend to settle in a kind of preference or genre and thus draw that crowd subscribing to it. I did see some comparisons between Scribd & Oyster titles doing well, and there was a distinct choice difference (but unfortunately don’t have the link, will try and find it.) Thanks for the reply Steven, appreciate it.

    2. I saw an article on that quoted the head of Scribd as saying that so far they are averaging slightly less than one borrow per month per member, and also that their membership is growing 50% each month. These have got to be encouraging figures for them.

      1. @Nirmala, I’d heard a few things here and there, but no real details. I tried finding the info (article) on Forbes without any luck, do you have the specific link? Thanks so much!

      2. Here is the link to the article on Forbes:

        And here is a quote from the article:
        “Having soft launched its product in Jan. 2013, Scribd is now seeing about 50% user growth month-over-month, though Adler would not disclose the actual subsciber number. He did note that publishers were coming around to the idea of a subscription service, which pays them a fee every time one of their books in the collection is read. Currently, the average Scribd user is reading a little less than a book a month, says Adler, assuaging publishers’ worries that subscribers would be voraciously taking advantage of the model when they could have been buying books separately.”

      3. Thanks Nirmala, really appreciate it. 🙂

        Everything I’d read by the CEOs of both Scribd and Oyster was that they had a good handle on their ebook subscriptions being on at least a risk-able working model. Thanks again!

  45. People keep talking about “Netflix for books”. Speaking for myself as a movie geek, I use Netflix to browse and try out different films, but I often will buy a copy of a movie that is available on Netflix, because I think it’s worth owning.

    I suspect that we may see much the same here–people who really enjoy a novel may decide to buy it outright, even if it is available as part of a subscription service. I expect that this will end up being a net gain for indie authors.

    Also I think that it’s going to be helpful for referrals. People who read enough to make paying for a subscription service worthwhile also tend to talk about books, in person and on-line.

  46. I’m not finding the word- “Discovery’ in this otherwise erudite piece. Seems to me Amazon’s latest get rich quick scheme will help unknown authors build a fan base. Amazon is the General Motors of the publishing world. Maybe what’s good for Amazon is good for the US of A.

    1. The discoverability aspect was teased out a little above where I was talking about Springboards v Oscar goodie bags. The Kindle Unlimited store is a function of the Popularity List, so it could well be the case that it won’t be the magic tonic that free runs initially were, and that we’ll need to do something to get visibility first before borrows follow. But it’s all guesswork at this point. I can see it going either way, because it could act as a great discoverability tool – at the moment Kindle Unlimited is a smaller pool with many of the larger publishers and bigger authors absent. On the other hand, it could simply solidify the position of those self-published books already sticky at, say, #5,000 and up and make it harder for anyone outside to break in. Time will tell.

      1. Every novelist in the world should: (1) Get the story up in the dialogue to make it easy to transform the novel into a screenplay. (2) Break his chapters down into scenes after the format favored by Final Draft Pro. The only reason to write a novel is to get a movie deal. Doesn’t matter what the ebook sells for, what matters is the movie deal. Book sales will follow. Don’t write your life story, write something with curb appeal to the hollywood movers and shakers. (That’s my 4 cents)

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