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Monday, July 21, 2014

Kindle Unlimited - Threat or Opportunity for Kindle Authors?

If you're a self-published Kindle author, you will probably have received an email from Amazon KDP in the last few days regarding the new Kindle Unlimited program, which has just been launched.

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription-based service for readers in the US (initially). Subscribers (who pay a monthly fee of $9.99) can read as many books as they want from over 600,000 titles. All books enrolled in KDP Select with US rights are automatically included in Kindle Unlimited, along with thousands of audiobooks.

Remuneration for authors is on a similar basis to the Kindle Owners' Lending Library (part of the Amazon Prime program), where the author of any e-book downloaded free receives a royalty payment from Amazon. The company say:
KDP Select authors and publishers will earn a share of the KDP Select global fund each time a customer accesses their book from Kindle Unlimited and reads more than 10% of their book-–about the length of reading the free sample available in Kindle books-–as opposed to a payout when the book is simply downloaded. Only the first time a customer reads a book past 10% will be counted. 
KDP Select books will also continue to be enrolled in the Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL) available to Amazon Prime customers in the US, UK, Germany, France, and Japan, where authors will continue to earn a share of the KDP Select global fund when their book is borrowed. KOLL borrows will continue to be counted when a book is initially downloaded. 
The launch of Kindle Unlimited has been the source of considerable controversy on author forums and websites, with many fearing that it will be another nail in the coffin for independent authors. I'm not so sure myself, but it certainly does have some interesting implications for us.

First, if Kindle Unlimited becomes popular (and that's a big 'if' still) it is likely to impact especially on sales of longer, more expensive e-books. After all, why would someone pay $10 (say) for a single e-book when for the same price they could download virtually unlimited numbers of titles as a Kindle Unlimited member?

Yes, as an author you could enrol your e-book in KDP Select as well, but with more expensive books you will earn a lower fee per download than you would previously have received per sale. In addition, you will only be paid if someone reads 10 percent or more of your e-book. With a long book of 100,000 words, that means that unless they read at least 10,000 words, you will receive precisely nothing. And, of course, if you enrol your book in KDP Select, Amazon requires exclusivity, so you won't be able to offer it via any alternative sales platforms.

So, in my view anyway, Kindle Unlimited is likely to make writing and publishing long books increasingly unattractive to authors.

On the other hand, writing short e-books starts to look an increasingly sensible strategy. Say you publish a 5,000-word short story and publish it on Kindle at the minimum 99c price. If a Kindle Unlimited reader downloads it free, he/she will only have to read the first few pages to trigger a payment to you. That payment will be exactly the same as the one that would be received by the author of a 150,000-word blockbuster - and much more than you would have got in royalties on a 99c book sale.

And just think how many 5,000 word stories you could write in the time it takes to pen a 150,000-word novel.

I've also heard it suggested that Kindle Unlimited will create an incentive for authors to split their books into shorter instalments. In the case of fiction, for example, you could create a series of stories, each ending with a cliff-hanger and a link to the next. Marketed well, this could be a lucrative strategy. I don't suppose that is what Amazon intended, but it could certainly be a consequence of this program.

Of course, all of this is hypothetical at the moment. Kindle Unlimited has only just been launched, and it remains to be seen whether it will be a triumph for Amazon or a damp squib. Even so, it's already given Kindle authors plenty to chew over.

* So what do you think about Kindle Unlimited - is it a great opportunity for Kindle authors or a threat to their very existence? I'd love to hear your views. Please do post them as comments below.

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Blogger Nick said...

I just checked my KDP stats and there has been a big increase in the number of 'borrows' of my e-books in the last few days. This is almost certainly down to new KU members downloading anything that catches their eye.

5:32 PM  
Blogger Patricia Slocum said...

I can see where it may prove an opportunity, but as it sits I believe it will hinder Kindle sales. If a book does not grab you by the seat of your pants, or your throat and hang on tight, why would you read any more than that 10%? Especially if you have an "read all you want free" card.
Patricia (AWAI) Slocum.

6:15 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thanks, Patricia. You may well be right. With shorter books you only have to read a few pages to get past the 10% threshold, though, so I suspect it will create an incentive for authors to break up longer books into series of shorter ones.

8:06 PM  

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