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Kindle Unlimited - good or bad for self-pub authors?

Discussion in 'Publishing' started by Puck, Nov 30, 2021.

  1. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    What do people think of the Kindle Unlimited program - in particular is this a good or bad route for self-pub authors? Beyond that, is it good or bad for publishing and readers in general? What do you think? What are the pros and cons, when it comes down to it?
     
  2. Ban

    Ban Troglodytic Trouvère Article Team

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    So far haven't had any success with it, but then I haven't spent much time marketing. Do note that my only work up on Kindle is a poetry collection, which will definitely skew the results. I'm assuming Kindle Unlimited can be successful for prose works with strong genre appeal.
     
  3. Slartibartfast

    Slartibartfast Minstrel

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    I've only published non-fiction and this was so obscure that I didn't bother putting it in KU. However, watching that book get lost in the unfathomable catalogue of Amazon has convinced me that any chance to get some sort of initial foothold has got to be worth it. At something like a million and a half books published per year, that's a book per twenty seconds. One person couldn't even keep up reading the title and blurb of each as they came out. I'm sure things are different for those who already have a strong brand but for the likes of me I'm considering it a no-brainer for upcoming fiction until proved otherwise.

    Part of that conviction is based on my utterly unscientific casual conversations with ebook readers (the people not the devices). I think that KU is an audience unto itself. I'm not convinced that an increase in KU reads would end up reducing paid sales; I think this is an additional audience. The KU readers I've spoken too take the attitude that they've already bought entry to an all-you-can-eat buffet so why would they order off the menu at additional cost except under very special circumstances. I have no illusions that my pulp fiction will ever consistute a special circumstance.
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    The usual advice is to start with KU, make your mark, then once you have some traction you can look at going wide.

    The killer phrase in all that is "make your mark," a thing nearly impossible to do. Releasing a book on Amazon opens a tiny window that slams shut quickly. Releasing in KU as well open that a fraction more, but it's still small. To cite Usual Advice again, write a series. Release quickly, like once a month or so (advice varies on the point). Spend money on advertising and not just at Amazon. Meanwhile write another series. Release that on the heels of the first. What you're trying to do is to create a series of waves of recognition that breaks through to the Amazon algorithm that starts to give you some breathing space. That tiny window is not only larger, you don't have to keep opening it.

    Now, if that isn't you, if you don't write series, if you don't write at that pace, then KU ain't going to be much help--which is not the same as saying no help. But it becomes less a question of how much money you're going to make as a question of how much you're willing to spend just to get noticed.

    Is KU a bad thing? I dunno. That's where I've been from the start. People buy my books (few, few) and KU readers do read. This means that some people have read my books, and more have read them because of KU than if KU didn't exist. I'm content with that.
     
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  5. I'm not in KU because I'm not from an Amazon country (though they did recently open a Dutch store), so my mind set isn't Amazon first and because I think it's bad business practise to be exclusive to one shop. Amazon can (and has) shut down an author account without second thought, they can (and have) change the payment rules around KU, and so on. All of which has made author royalties disappear overnight. Being that dependent on your income is something I don't want (though my sales are at a point where it doesn't matter either way).

    For the English book market KU is about as big as the non Amazon stores together. So you have about the same number of readers you can reach.

    For a beginning author I think KU is a good deal (yes, I'm silly for not being in it...) for several reasons: you can focus your advertising on one place. And especially Amazon advertising is more profitable because you're getting both buys and page-reads. Profitable ads means you can reach more and more readers over time if you put the profit back into your ads. It also makes it easier to rank well. If all your readers are on the same platform then with the same number of sales your rank will be higher. And the higher your rank the easier it is to sell. Same with reviews.

    You also get some extra options in KU, like free days (yes, you can sometimes get Amazon to price-match, but it can be a pain). These then help with getting paid newsletter spots (where also having all reviews in one spot helps). There's also rumors that Amazon favors KU books over non-KU books in their ranks. Though that's hard to prove and Amazon is not talking.

    For the publishing industry as a whole I think it's a bad development. It really devalues the worth of a book. You need long books to make the same amount of money from page reads as from a sale. It instills the idea in readers that books are free (or should be), which is a bad development. yes, they pay a fixed monthly sum, but that's forgotten about when borrowing a single book.

    And the exclusivity with a player that big makes it harder for other platforms to compete. And competition is important since it keeps the bookstores honest. if the other large bookstores disappear there's nothing stopping Amazon from changing the royalty rates the give. If you can't take your book somewhere else, then you're screwed if they decide to only give out 35% royalties on sales instead of the 70% you get now. They already force you to stay below $9.99, but then they could force you to go for 2.99 for all your books. Or they could have the royalties they pay for page reads. Or any of another dozen or so things which would screw over authors.
     
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  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I don't dispute Amazon might do all sorts of mad things, but Amazon's book business is huge. They aren't going to do something that ruins their own business model. There have been adjustments, but overall the business relationship has been pretty stable over the seven years I've been publishing there.

    But they *might*. If that's the concern, remember that every KU deal last only for 90 days and can only be renewed by the author. So however trapped and awful the relationship might become, it won't last long.

    Anyway, there is a *ton* of advice out there on this very question. I strongly recommend you do a great deal of reading before deciding. And be aware of how dated each article is. You'll start to see some common threads.
     
  7. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Inkling

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    If you're going to do this, do it first. Don't build up a relationship with readers on another platform, then abandon them (and their reviews) to test KU. Personally, I've always gone wide, purely because I don't like the idea of all eggs in one basket. Some writers report increased sales by switching to KU; some report fewer sales. From what I've read, it's, at least, partly based on the genre you write in. I've never heard anyone talking about fantasy and KU, but I know that romance readers love to devour books on KU.

    I tried a one-month free trial as a KU reader. In the first week, I found some good books, but by the third week, I was struggling to find anything I wanted to read. All the books I was interested in were not in KU.
     
  8. Amazon is a business and they will (and probably should) do what is in their best interest to grow their business. KU is actually a good example of this. It is in their best interest that KU has exclusivity attached to it, and they can get away with it, so it is there. They could easily remove the exclusivity requirement and leave everything else the same, but they don't because they make more money that way.

    And there have been plenty of examples in the past where they changed the rules of KU and some authors saw their income disappear overnight. Same with closing author accounts for little reason.

    Yes, the exclusivity is only for 90 days. And you can even get out faster if you simply ask politely. But it takes time to build an audience. And if your writing is your main source of income, then you can't spend a year cultivating a wide audience with little income. You've got to eat and all that. And switching in and out of exclusivity is a bad idea as Ned MarcusNed Marcus mentions. You lose readers and reviews that way. It messes with all sorts of algorithms and it pisses of readers who now need to switch to another platform. None of those is a good idea.

    I'm not anti-Amazon. I think KU is a pretty good deal for a beginning author, and if you don't mind the exclusivity then I would recommend most authors to start there because it's a lot easier. But I do think authors should be aware of what it means and what possible consequences can be.

    And I personally don't like the exclusivity. Since I can only vote with my wallet and where I put my books in this case, that's what I do.
     
  9. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    I guess I am in two minds myself on this one. I can see the appeal of KU as a vehicle for getting started. It's probably easier to get traction on that platform than elsewhere. My reservations about it are, from a personal point of view:

    1) My novels will be fairly short 60k-90k word count range & the KU model tends to favour the brick.
    2) I doubt I can churn a novel a month & to be honest, I would be dubious of the quality. (I do however plan to have a second novel pretty far advanced before publishing the first, so as to maintain momentum).
    3) One interested would be reader has already told me they don't do Kindle. (OK that is a sample of just one person but it does go to show the KU route has limitations as well as opportunities)

    On balance I can see a net advantage in the platform when starting out however. But I remain open minded at this time.

    On a general level I do have reservations:

    1) Exclusivity = an attempt to establish monopoly. Amazon may not be gunning for authors directly but they are gunning for other e-book stores.
    2) Monopolies, once established, mean less money for everyone, except for the monopoly owner. The KU model will generally remain nice to authors whilst it is buying Amazon market share. But in the longer run, I can imagine royalty payments getting squeezed if Amazon become dominant enough. Let's face it, Jeff has to pay for those space rockets somehow.
    3) KU kind of encourages churn and brick generation (and padding by the cynical). That can't be good for quality. I do worry about the industry wide effect of that side of it.

    I guess that sums up where my thinking is on the subject at the moment. So still open to persuasion either way.
     
  10. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Inkling

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    This wouldn't make any difference because if they don't do kindle (I take this to mean ebooks) then they would be buying a paper book, which is not affected by KU.

    I think these are valid concerns. My immediate concerns are a little different. If Amazon suddenly changes its business model, for example changing the percentage it gives on each book, or doing what it has done with Audible and offering refunds to readers for up to a year (and then deducting the money from authors' earnings) then I'm stuck.

    Something else that's important for me is that I've actually built up a customer base on Kobo and I sell books on that platform (and sometimes in countries where Amazon has no presence). I'd be giving that up for uncertain gains.
     
  11. Don't worry about this one. They already do this. You can return an ebook for 14 days after purchase for a full refund, regardless of how much you've read of the book. If you check some author facebook groups you'll come across a rant about this every now and then, where someone reads through an author's complete catalogue for free.
     
  12. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    I should have been clearer. She meant she'd want an ebook on a different platform (she doesn't like Amazon Kindle as a reader - for some of the general reasons that we've mentioned - i.e. the potential for it becoming a near monopoly and possibly screwing everyone, including readers, over at some future date).
     
  13. Jellyfists

    Jellyfists New Member

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    If you'll excuse a lurker jumping in with a long post, here are some of my thoughts on KU vs. wide. :D

    I've written romance novels, and I've done well in KU. That's not me saying you should do KU, though. It's really genre-dependent. My romance novels did better in KU because I wrote in a niche that favors KU readers. A lot of the big-name authors in the niche I write in are all in on KU, and everyone else just follows suit. Check with the genre and niche you want to publish in and see what the new releases favor. (And don't necessarily go by Amazon's bestseller lists as those tend to skew KU and Amazon imprints because, many believe, Amazon puts its thumb on the scale in that direction.) If your genre is heavy KU, then you might be better off starting in KU.

    It used to be you could publish a book in KU, and you'd be able to ride the algorithm wave for a solid two weeks with little work. But now, I think the work you have to do to make your books get noticed is comparable in both KU and wide releases. My first book, released in 2016 in KU, took only a couple newsletter promo spots for it to take off. Maybe $60 total in ad spend, and I did really well the first month nearly reaching five figures. But for my latest book, released this year in KU, I spent over $800 for the book to just barely scrape four figures in the first month. (Note that I'm not one of the aforementioned big-name authors. lol! And I had nearly two years of burnout with no releases, so that figured heavily into it as well. AAND, I dealt with some darker stuff in this last book after typically writing fluffy and happy. I think I scared off some readers. But whatever. I was happy with the book. And I've been doing a lot of post-mortem on this book since the release, so I learned a lot from it.) Above all, 2021/2022 is nothing like 2016 when you could almost set it and forget it in KU and make some money. Now you have to put in the leg work to make any kind of respectable money. And you likely won't be an overnight success like a lot of authors were when KU first started. So keep that in mind as you decide which way to go.

    And the legwork is even more true for wide. If you start off wide, you're likely going to earn slower. But, if you keep releasing steadily--which you don't have to do as quickly as in KU--and you spend some money in marketing, you can build a long tail into your books and earn over time. KU is all about the front-end earnings and wide seems to be more sustainable for the long-term.

    I know authors who do really well all in with KU, and I know authors who make a nice living wide. Some release monthly, but there are plenty who release every two to three months who also do decent. But KU is definitely a hamster wheel. You have to keep content coming out pretty regularly to keep readers and the Amazon algorithm happy. Going wide seems to be a little more accepting of slower releases, though, and if you feel like you don't want to get on that KU hamster wheel, then you might be happier going wide. I think, though, you're better off choosing one and sticking with it. If you publish KU, then you cultivate KU readers who don't tend to buy wide-released books, and that could make going wide more difficult for you in the future. I've tried the 90-days in KU then going wide, and my books have sunk like stones after I've taken them wide. That said, I know of one author who publishes in the same romance niche I do, and he's been wide from the beginning. He does well, but that's because he's trained his readers to expect to be able to get his books at their favorite store and not just Amazon. And he's put in the work to go wide.

    Just to note, though, I think you'd do fine with 60-90K in KU. I've written as short at 52K and as long as 154K, and I made more money off my 52K novel. But again, it comes down to genre. If the genre readers expect 90K+, then you're probably better off shooting for that top number.

    Honestly, after my last release and how much it flopped (at least in my perception and in comparing my ROI in that book), and considering I want to go all-in on fantasy/UF and leave romance behind (which is why I'm here now :D ), I'm thinking I'm going to go wide from the beginning. I'm planning on starting a new pen name, and I'd like that sustainable income you can cultivate with going wide. It will take longer, but I think for me, I'll be happier.

    Anyway, either way, I hope it works out for you! :D
     
  14. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >the KU model tends to favour the brick.
    In what way? I haven't seen anything along these lines, but I don't tend to examine market closely.

    As for changing algorithms in KU, most of what I've read about has been Amazon responding to various hacks that tried to exploit the platform. Such exploits include doing things like artificially expanding the size of the book, or finding ways to make it look like the whole book got read. Authors who relied on such hacks did in fact see their income plummet when Amazon made an adjustment that closed a loophole. I haven't read any coverage of Amazon simply changing the rules to be a jerk or to somehow squeeze authors. Amazon wants happy customers--readers, in this case. Second to that, it wants happy authors. Both those things go far in making Amazon buckets of money.

    None of which means we aren't at their mercy. So it has ever been, in the relation between publisher and author. I've heard no end of horror stories regarding traditional publishers.

    But. If ever I were to become a good selling author (not an author selling the goods), I very likely would end my KU membership and go D2D or something similar. Not to make more money, but to aim for wider distribution and larger audience. Books would still be on offer at Amazon, just not exclusively. Right now, though, I'd lose more than I would gain, and I'd have to put in even more effort toward marketing, which I'm disinclined to do.

    That's the wonderful/frustrating thing about the current environment. There are many different paths. The trick is finding the one that fits for you.
     
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  15. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Inkling

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    I know, but with Audible it was for up to one year. That's too much.
     
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  16. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Inkling

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    She may have a point. I'm actually buying more of my ebooks on Kobo; I want to reduce my dependence on Kindle, too.
     
  17. I'm guessing he means from an income perspective. If you're paid per page-read, then having more pages makes you more money. Depending on how you price your ebook, but there comes a point where a borrow makes you more than a buy because the pages add up. So to make the same income from a 50k words novel as from a 100k novel you would need to have twice as many readers.

    This is actually a place where Amazon changed the rules which screwed over some authors. It used to be that you would get paid a fixed sum if more than a certain % of the book was read (I think it was something like 20%). Which actually favors short books. After all, it's much easier to read 20 pages of a 100 page book than 200 pages of a 1000 page book. By changing the rules to paying per page, a lot of authors of shorter works saw their income disappear. I'd argue the system is now more fair, since it's based on the actual number of words a reader has read. But that doesn't mean it didn't suck for some authors.

    Another way in which KU favors bigger books is that bigger books tend to be priced higher. Which gives them a higher perceived value, which helps with getting people to borrow and read it. Yes, it's probably only a small effect, but all little things help.
     
  18. Puck

    Puck Minstrel

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    The way payment works. If you have a book of 50k words you get half the money of a book of 100k words as the payments all work of dividing it up by the total number of pages read.

    Fantasy genre books do perform reasonably on KU however, which is in its favour. For romance it is probably a no-brainer, as I think romance as a genre does very well on KU.
     
  19. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    Last I read, the payout is roughly comparable page by page. That is, two 50k books in KU will earn *roughly* what a 100k paperback earns. At least some of the adjustments made by Amazon over the years was to correct an imbalance that unfairly rewarded one approach or another. But there are so many variables, it's almost impossible to generalize reliably. It really comes down to each author finding whatever they're comfortable with.

    If you're trying to quit your day job and live off writing, then every choice is fraught. Worse, every choice has to get re-chosen constantly. Even in the Good Old Days of publishing (which were never that great), an author might lose their editor, their publisher might get acquired or divided, or the company might simply decide to let an author languish. Life in the mid-lists was especially perilous. Still is. Anyone deciding to write full time sooner or later realizes that they can't, but must be a marketer at least part time.

    Happily, it's also possible to choose *not* to live off a writing income and yet still write and publish. And to market however much or little you please. And that's new. In the so-called Good Old Days, such a person's work would simply never see the light of day, save for vanity presses.
     
  20. Svrtnsse

    Svrtnsse Staff Article Team

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    This sounds like a slight misunderstanding.
    The basic principle is that each month all* money paid for KU subscriptions goes into a pot. It's a pretty big number as KU has many members.
    Once the pot is decided, the money is divided by the number of pages read by KU subscribers. Usually, it ends up being somewhere around 0.42-0.44 cent per page, or so - it varies from month to month.

    Each author then gets a split of the pot, corresponding to how many pages readers read from their books.

    Take note that this is about how many pages are actually read (as tracked by each reader's kindle app/device), not about the number of pages in a book, and not about the number of books the pages are in.

    Also take note that the page number of a KU book isn't the same as the page number of a paperback book. Rather, KU books have a page count (KENP) that's likely based on wordcount and is somewhere between 200 and 250 words per page - apparently it varies a bit and no one really knows for sure (it's witchcraft).

    So, yes, the payment is based on the total number of pages read, and on the total amount of money paid by subscribers, but it doesn't matter how many pages there are in the book. All that matter is how many of those pages the readers read.
     
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