Kindle Unlimited

KindleUnlimitedYou’d have to have been living under a rock for the past week (or on vacation somewhere where there’s no internet) to have missed Amazon’s big news about its newest feature, Kindle Unlimited.

For the low, low price of $9.99 a month, will let readers download an unlimited number of ebooks and audiobooks from its special Kindle Unlimited store. (Those of you who are forced, by geographical happenstance, into shopping from Amazon’s other storefronts are out of luck. Sorry about that.) And this month, Amazon’s making the service free, so everyone can try it out.

This would seem to be a boon for the voracious reader. One trad-pubbed novel can set you back $9.99 or more, and a single audiobook costs easily twice that. The drawback for readers, though, is that Big 5 books are severely under-represented in the KU store. So people who pick books based on the bestseller lists are going to be disappointed. There are other factors limiting reader interest in KU, but I’d rather talk today about what this means for indie authors.

The good news for indies is that we have an easy way into the KU store: all you have to do is enroll your book(s) in KDP Select. Which is also, of course, the bad news, as all of the usual complaints about participating in Select apply here. (Amazon opted in every title in Select to start with, but you can opt out.)

Moreover, Amazon hasn’t been terribly explicit about how we’ll be paid, other than to say that KU purchases will be paid out of the same fund Amazon uses for Kindle Owner Lending Library borrows. But author payments on KU purchases will be treated differently. For KU, authors will be paid only when the reader gets to ten percent in the book. Amazon beefed up the fund for July due to the KU rollout, and I think it’s reasonable to expect the Zon will increase the funding level every month, going forward. In his article about KU, David Gaughran says the KOLL fund has historically averaged about $2 per borrow. So assuming you can hook readers into getting to the magic ten percent mark, you can count on about that much per KU purchase.

Indies love to talk strategy, of course, and a number of folks are already trying to make this new feature work to their advantage. If you write shorter works, the reasoning goes, and throw them up on KDP Select with a list price of 99 cents, you’d have a good chance of a reader getting to ten percent very fast – and you would earn twice as much on each book as you would for a purchase at the list price. Moreover, it appears that for now, at least, Amazon is treating KU purchases the same as full-price paid sales for ranking purposes. This could be a great way to boost your visibility and maybe bring in sales for your other books.

By happenstance, I’m bucking the trend to a degree. I only have a couple of things in Select right now – a short story called “Lulie” that never sells, and the Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus. KU downloads of the omnibus will cost me money, as I’ll earn less on them than I would on a regular purchase. But if people read the omnibus and like it, then maybe they’ll shell out for the Land, Sea, Sky books, which are not in Select. And if anybody ever bought “Lulie,” I’d make money on the sale.

There’s a very real chance that reader interest in KU will drop off next month, when people have to start paying for it. And there’s also the problem of promotion for KU titles. It’s unclear as I write this how Amazon will treat affiliate earnings on these books; that may limit advertising opportunities on the big promotional sites, at least in the short term.

In the meantime, though, Amazon has given us one more tool to reach new readers. How is it working for you?

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

56 thoughts on “Kindle Unlimited”

  1. I’ve spent the last few months moving my books off Amazon to Smashwords, iBooks, Nook, and Kobo. When I read about Kindle Unlimited I knew I wanted in. I took all my books off sale on the other sites and went back to KDP Select. It’s been amazing so far. I’ve had close to seventy borrows this week, and just as many sales.

    If you’re an Indie author I think you’ve got to give it a shot.

    it’s similar to Amazon Prime. For voracious readers, or even for readers who just check out two or three books a month the price is right at $9.95. The other benefit for indies is – there’s no price barrier to try your book. Just click the Read for Free button. It’s like offering your book for free every day…but, you get paid!

      1. I’m starting to use some free days on four of my books. And I have five Kindle Countdown Deals setup when my 30 day wait is up. I’m running them one after another, so I should get consistent sales for that five week period.

        It’s been several months since I’ve done Countdown Deals but three of those books usually sell 90 to 125 copies during the Countdown Deal. Otherwise I don’t do any promos other than my blog.

    1. Nick! Your books are NF greats in ecommerce #! And hot! Everybody wants to know how to sell right on ebay. My titles are in Romance and LItFic…I don’t get a peep on the ladder with 140 books sold. But–perhaps KindleUnlimited will help move a few.
      Congratulations. that is great and positive info. Much appreciated.

  2. I’m with Yvonne. All my books are listed in numerous places and would be hard to ‘unlist’. Maybe if I publish a new book, I’ll give it a try.

  3. Thanks for this, Lynne. I inquired about this a week or so in another article that you did, and I’m thrilled to see a write-up on KDP. I might give this a shot with my brand-spanking new book, since it will take a few months to generate purchaser, reviewer and Goodreads reviews anyhow. A 90 day window isn’t too terrible of a commitment. I’ll let you know how it goes! It makes for an interesting Blogger journey too.

      1. 🙂 Thank you! You folks are great. Some really incredible resources on this site.

  4. Thanks for this, Lynne. I’m sitting KU out for now, until the dust settles and we have more of an idea of how it’s actually going to work. Fingers crossed I’m not missing out on an incredible opportunity by holding out. 🙂

  5. Thanks, Lynne, for the rundown. It’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out. I have put my last 3 books in KDP Select, just because I’ve never seen much action from Smashwords with my earlier books. When I just checked my sales, I seen an entry of KU/KOLL, so they’ve already updated the sales reports to reflect the new avenue. It’d be nice to think we’d all see results like Nick is getting! Fingers crossed!

  6. My books were all already enrolled in KDP Select, and I’ve already had a boost in the number of “borrows” for my two novels. I’ll be interested to see how that pans out once the funding is divvied up.

  7. I don’t like monopolies on moral principle, so I don’t do Kindle Select. Yet another great strategy on my part to limit sales and exposure :/

  8. None of my books are enrolled in KDP – choice made by my publishers although I might try it out in the future just to see how things work out.

    As for KU – I’m doing the free 30 days and will probably continue, because the Reader Me enjoys 2-3 books a week and my taste leans towards the lesser known writers.

  9. Lynne, I had looked fwd to the day Amazon would have a subscription program, and put my newest short story in it, but decided, by the last day of their 3 day option, to back out.

    None of my other titles are exclusive, and I just couldn’t figure how to promote my title, which would require readers joining Kindle Unlimited, then not have my other work there.

    Numerous articles from folk I respect indicated that most of the benefit in Select the last year had been heavily skewed to already succeeding writers, and new authors, in general, were getting little promo and discovery. Having been in Select, all in, during that time, and made almost nothing, that jived with what I’d had experienced.

    The word then was the “possibly” the same thing would be happening with KU. My aborted 3 days bore that out, though, admittedly, in a very limited run.

    Either way, I do plan to do the 30 free trial, once I catch up titles I have I want to read from Scribd. Joe Konrath is exclusive in KU, as are a few other top Amazon sellers, and I do want to read more of his work.

    For those going into Kindle Unlimited, I wish you the very best of good fortunes.

    I’m always open to avenues to improve my sales. 🙂

    1. Three days isn’t much of a test run, Felipe. But I hear you. Amazon gives authors almost no support with Countdowns — you still have to buy ads to get the word out. The only good thing about KU is that it’s obvious, when you find a book you’re interested in, that it’s enrolled in KU. But again, and as usual, the biggest stumbling block is getting someone to discover your book in the first place.

      1. Well, I had a real nice reply and lost it lol!

        Basically I was saying I’d tried Select 3x times, including Oct-Dec last year, all in, but it was bad, so much as I want to be in and try Kindle Unlimited, just not worth the risk for me right now.

        Am very much enjoying being in Scribd and Oyster and OverDrive.

        Also, just saw this comment posted on an article about OverDrive :

        Once OverDrive fully ingests of initial shipment of 200,000+ titles, they will activate all of them in their system. The last I heard, there were about another 12,000 books OverDrive still needs to receive. They can only handle about 10,000 a week or something like that. So, it should be soon now.

        Thank you in advance for your patience on these matters.

        Service Team


        So maybe that will work out 🙂

  10. I’ve had all my stories in Select for the last two years, but had just started to branch out to the other venues over the last 30 days or so. KU has persuaded me to put that expansion on hold for at least 90 days, though. I already have one serial out, which will have five stories between 10,000 and 20,000 words apiece when it is finished. I am finding that KU readers are starting with the first one and apparently reading right through them, which generates a lot of borrows. I have been planning an eight episode serial for 2015, but I’m going to move it up in my production schedule. This setup looks tailor made for serials.

    Thanks for the good and thoughtful write up, as always, Lynne. 🙂

  11. Thanks for this article, Lynne. Like you, I just missed out on the KDP gravy train. I suppose I really should give this a go, it’s just that I don’t know if I can be bothered going through the whole taking my books off the rest of the market again (wasted effort last time), but If I wait and see how it plays out before I do maybe I’ll miss out again.

    1. I hear you, TD. It does take a while to get retailers to catch up, once you’ve unpublished a book at Smashwords. And by then the trial month at KU would be close to being over. If you’re selling okay through the other sites, KU might not be worth the hassle.

  12. I have a very hard time believing that removing books that are selling on SW and partners in order to do this is a good idea. My guess is that this will be most used for more expensive and sought-after books, anyway. Unlike the usual Select benefits, which at least give you some numbers, this give you nothing if people just glom the book and stuff it away for later.
    For readers, it makes perfect sense. Much more than Prime, which I never figured out why anybody would pay for.

    1. LInton: I can tell you right now that KU has put a dent in FREE promotions. I am running The House on Persimmon Road on FREE and the downloads are miserable. I do know how to run a FREE campaign. I expected that the FREE titles on Bookbub would knock it off of AZ TOP 100 FREE as soon as Bookbub’s newsletter hit subscriber’s inboxes. Did not happen–yet. I almost wish it would so I know that FREE still has some punch for exposure. Maybe not.

    2. I pay for Prime because I buy a lot of non-book-type stuff from Amazon, when you add up the shipping that I get for free, I probably cost *them* money. 😀

      It would be helpful if the Zon would split out KU and KOLL borrows, though, so we could see which program is generating the borrows.

  13. At this point, I think less about profits and more about exposure. Since my promotion techniques yield less than impressive results, I’m hoping that Kindle Unlimited will help my books get in front of more readers. Only time will tell–that and more advertising!

    1. Pedro, I’ve found there’s more similarities than differences, though the latter can be significant, just depending on your needs.

      Amazon of course has an ease of use and reach that makes it the gorilla everyone either hates or loves or is unsure about 🙂

      I use Amazon and Scribd daily, both their apps and differing titles.

      Apps are continually being upgraded, so I haven’t found enough that Scribd’s or Oyster’s or Amazon’s reading apps have that would make me dump either of them.

      Scribd lets you keep in your library to read, I believe – unless its changed, up to 20 titles vs 10 from Amazon. I don’t find that a useful difference at my level either.

      Prices are also too close to matter for me.

      That leaves title selection.

      KU is exclusive, though I hope that changes.

      But while it is, one can legitimately say there is creative work in KU that’s not in Scribd.

      Unfortunately, the inverse is also true – all the titles in Scribd, though not exclusive to them, are excluded from Kindle Unlimited.

      Where the problem between the two has been for me, and why, though I have all my titles with Amazon’s regular store, I don’t have any in Select or Kindle Unlimited, is –

      If I like a title on one, and want to recommend it to a friend, I have a different experience with one platform over the other.

      In Kindle Unlimited, not all my friends buy from Amazon, and even less are in Kindle Unlimited. A recommended title within that subscription program, would mean my friend would have to join KU to enjoy that title, or buy it.

      More and more of the people I know, are preferring and enjoying the ease and benefits of being in a subscription program.

      If I recommend a title from Scribd, and they don’t want to join Scribd, they at least have quite a few options for finding and reading it elsewhere : iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Oyster, Amazon’s regular Kindle store (though not KU) – and maybe most importantly – libraries.

      I’ve read that titles in Select and KU are excluded even from libraries.

      Amazon, in my opinion, simply doesn’t need exclusivity anymore to attract business.

      Even if KU gets bundled, or a combo bundle is optionally offered, with Prime – readers will want the spectrum of available titles.

      The only things I pay attention to as being exclusive, is a handful of currently wildly popular titles or movies or TV shows. And sometimes that desired handful shrinks to just a couple of fingers 🙂

      Hope that helps, Pedro. Best wishes deciding or experimenting which way to go.

        1. Yeah, sorry about that 🙂

          I’ve been figuring it out for myself really.

          All said, your own experience of each and your needs will be the deciding factor. Best wishes, Pedro.

          1. “sorry about that” – why? what I said was meant as a compliment not criticism. Your answer is very complete and thorough. Very useful for anyone trying to compare both systems.
            I just thought it strange that Scribd wasn’t mentioned on the article as the Amazon thing is clearly a copy of Scribd.

      1. Interesting point about libraries, Felipe. While it’s true that ebooks in Select won’t be in libraries (since KDP doesn’t distribute *any* books to libraries — only to Amazon), if the author has a print version of the book, that could well be made available to libraries.

        1. That’s true Lynne. Maybe even audio books, not sure.

          Obviously though, the title reach of print is shrinking fast vs digital. Some small but vital library outlets are even all digital.

          Of all the negatives associated with exclusiveness in Kindle Unlimited, besides not good for me 🙂 the greatest is the impact of prohibiting creative content to the common good, where titles are lent out one at a time, for a set amount of time.

          A time honored sharing of our collective intellectual creative output.

          It’s something Amazon could easily rectify, gaining, I believe, goodwill in the community.

          But just my opinion. 🙂

      2. You say that titles that are in Scribd are excluded from KU, but I’ve just received this email from Legend Press which seems to infer otherwise. I’ll transcribe:

        “Leading independent publisher Legend Press have announced that they’ve joined Amazon’s new subscription initiative Kindle Unlimited.
        Legend Press have always been champions of innovation in publishing and recently announced that they are now in partnership with more than ten different subscription platforms both in the UK and overseas, including Oyster, Skoobe, Bookmate, 24symbols, InkBok and Scribd.”

        1. That’s actually a good point.

          It is the informal collective of individual self-published authors without clout, those of us without bargaining power, that are restricted.

          Michael Sullivan, in a post at The Passive Voice, – has a great post on this.

          The comment thread is big, and very much worth reading. There’s a lot of perceptions and claims disputed, counter-claimed, rebutted, and defended. It’s like a novel 🙂

  14. So, I read this article this morning, and thought about it. Then, since last month I took my ebooks off Kindle Select, intending to put them up elsewhere as well as Amazon, but hadn’t got around to it yet, I decided, what the heck, give this a try. And shortly after noon, I put them back onto Kindle Select. I have already had one picked up by KU/KOLL. That’s pretty quick.
    I assume, if it shows up on my reports as a “sale” thru KU/KOLL, that means it’s already had the 10% read and will bring me money? Or do they list it as borrowed but just not pay you till it’s 10% read? Anybody know?
    Then again, no way to know if it’s just KOLL, right?

    1. As I understand it, if they get the book through KU, it will count as a sale, but your royalty won’t be credited ’til they hit 10%. Anybody else know anything different?

      Also, good for you, Jane Ann! 🙂

      1. Thanks, Lynne. For the congrats, and even more, for the article. I’ll see how it goes. Is there any way to breakdown payments, figure out how much is from sales, how much from KU/KOLL?

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