What is Kindle Unlimited?
Kindle Unlimited (KU) is a subscription service for Amazon’s books. You pay about $10 per month, and can read as many books as you want.
(It’s just like your public library, but online and instead of a bunch of little old ladies using your money to simply buy more books for you, it’s a hungry, giant corporation with a bottomless greed for money taking your membership fee. But they pay nothing to acquire more books, therefore having far fewer expenses.)
Amazon executives decide on a total pool of money they’re going to split equally between ALL KU authors together each month. (This has zero correlation to how much money Amazon is actually making.) The pool is divided by the total number of borrows. It doesn’t matter if we write a 500 word blurb or a million word novel, with the corresponding amount of time and effort invested, every book ‘borrowed’ earns the same amount after someone reads 10% of it.
(Guess how many people are going to chop all their novels up into 500 word sections and sell them? Lots. Now, every author is just going to publish each chapter separately in order to try to preserve revenue.)
Is it good for readers?
In the short term: One might be forgiven for thinking, yes.
In reality and especially the long term:
Right now, the majority of titles in the service are from self-published indie authors. These are both successful established authors and hopeful writers struggling to make writing a career. They have filled Amazon’s online self-publication service, KDP Select, with hundreds of thousands of books and short stories. Currently, these writers produce an ongoing stream of new content which is made available to readers in an ever growing pool. They’re who is really providing the product: books. Not Amazon.
To produce really good books, writers work best when writing full time and dedicating themselves to their craft. Most indie writers cannot work full time and that’s becoming even more rare under KU because the system causes their revenues to drop. So the number of indie works being produced will drastically decline as authors simply can’t afford to do it any more.
Short Term: Readers have a huge pool of existing books to choose from. Yay! Happy!
Long Term: Readers won’t find that pool books increasing as much any more. Want to see more books about your favourite characters? Or more books by your favorite authors? Sorry, they can’t afford to write them. So:
- Fewer new books coming out.
- Lower quality books produced.
- Shorter stories produced.
- Financial hardship for authors.
It’s really going to suck when we’re halfway through reading a series and, thanks to KU, the author had to quit it. Oops, now we’ll never know how it ended.
Is it good for Authors?
No. No. No. No. It is NOT good for authors.
Right now, when an author sells a book, it’s like selling anything in any store. They get a percentage of the sale price. And they have control over that sale price. If readers buy books, authors get a percentage of that revenue. The more people spend, the more authors get in return for their work. Amazon, the middleman providing the online marketplace, gets a percentage for providing that service. Fair.
BUT Amazon isn’t playing by those rules any more. They’re not necessarily paying authors a fixed percentage from the amount of revenue KU makes. The pool of money they use to pay authors can be ANY AMOUNT they want. They’re a corporation who exists to make money by maximizing profits. They are going do this by paying authors a smaller percentage using the pool system, than they would using a retail system.
Under the retail system, authors can make either 35% (books priced $0.99-2.98) or 70% (books priced $2.99+) of the retail price. But in the pool system, Amazon could decide (and probably will) that it only wants to pay out, say, 15% of its subscription revenue to authors. (Or some other much lower amount than authors could earn before.) Why? Because Amazon makes way more money that way.
Don’t be fooled that formerly $1 titles may earn $2 in the sharing system of KU. Because all the titles that previously earned $6 under the retail system see revenue drop drastically when they only earn $2 under the pool system. The author earning $6 used to be able to work full time as a writer. The author suddenly earning $2 is now scrambling to put together a new resume and get another job. Readers, take note, because when that happens, less creativity happens. Fewer books, and fewer good books, are published.
And remember when I said that everyone will simply chop up novels and sell chapter instead? That won’t work long term. Because the payout pool doesn’t increase. We’ll just split it more ways. So that ‘wonderful $2’ you thought you would get will go down even further. At some point, you’ll be earning next to nothing because there will be too many titles up there.
Readers, Amazon’s out to screw you too.
They’re laughing because they’ll even make money from readers who don’t read a book some months on their recurring subscription. Go on vacation? Get busy with work? Forget you have the KU service? You still pay for it. That’s income that doesn’t go to authors, only Amazon. So if you don’t borrow a book during a subscription month, you lose money, authors get nothing, Amazon gets everything. (And probably giggles gleefully with greed.) Pure profit for them.
The Only Way Kindle Unlimited (KU) Can Work
There is only one way that Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service can potentially work. It starts with Amazon no longer working alone as a shady behemoth, and starts working in partnership with – it’s partners! That includes all the indie authors it wanted to be partners with – and created in the first place. KU wouldn’t even be possible without them. It’s time for Amazon to stop being selfish, and start being ethical.
1. The payout pool MUST be a fixed percentage of income. That means that the more people who become subscribers, the bigger the payout pool becomes for authors.
2. The revenue earned by the subscription service MUST BE TRANSPARENT so that we can see that Amazon is honestly paying out what they should be. Because no one trusts Amazon any more. They created greatness in establishing self publishing. Then they turned around and started screwing all the indie authors who made it a success. KU is not the first time this has happened.
3. A system MUST be put in place to differentiate between books. A massive novel someone took five years to write should not be worth the same as a quick short someone wrote in twenty minutes. That’s ludicrous. I wish there was another way to differentiate, something based on quality, but at least size is a good start.
4. Subscription service fees MUST GO UP. $10 is far too small. I’ll bet that the average shopper is spending a hell of a lot more than $10/month on books, so this is a huge loss of revenue for authors. For the amount of content being accessed and read, it needs to be way higher. As a reader, I don’t want readers to get screwed. But look at cable TV, for example. We pay so much more per month, and have less content, and we can’t choose that content. Look how much we pay for phone service each month. $10/month for all-you-can-read is chump change, and while it seems great, knowing it comes at the direct expense of the people writing what we love, I can’t support that.
5. Amazon MUST stop forcing indie authors to be exclusive to its service. Publishing houses and big name authors aren’t exclusive. Only indie authors. Because Amazon can push them around. With the indies, they trumpet having 700,000+ titles. Take out all the indie authors and their program would have so few titles that no-one would sign up. The publishing houses certainly aren’t rushing to join up. Authors need – and damned well deserve – the ability to sell to people who aren’t buying Amazon KU subscriptions. Exclusivity is just another word for monopoly, and in case you haven’t heard, monopolies are BAD. You can read a nice little blog post from Smashwords founder, Mark Coker, here. And his Huffington Post article here. It outlines why he too is respectfully against Kindle Unlimited, for this very reason.
6. If readers don’t access the service,, they shouldn’t be charged for it. So when readers get busy for a month and don’t have time to read, or we forget we’re signed up for a while, or for whatever reason, if we don’t actively borrow anything, we shouldn’t be paying for anything. That’s extremely fair, right? I mean, anything other than that is just – stealing.
What can WE do?
Can we change the system? Yes, we can!
Stop participating in KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited. Yes, for those of us earning money it’s scary to stop. Especially with real bills to pay. But blindly participating means we’re shooting ourselves in the foot. The system is hurting us and we either take a stand and change it, because we’re a HUGE part of it, or we let someone else abuse us for their profit.
As authors, the providers of content, we demand respectable and fair treatment. We demand what’s on the above list. Publishing houses fight for their side, we need to as well.
Stop participating in Kindle Unlimited. Why? Because it’s hurting authors.
Why should we care? Because authors are the ones creating all those wonderful stories we love reading so much. Without them, we won’t have any books. Every writer who turns away from their dream because they can’t make a living from it, is another Harry Potter or Twilight or other Best Selling author who may never create their masterpiece. Appreciate those who create. Help them. As readers, it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s also in our own best interests.