Is Kindle Unlimited Good or Bad for Authors – Six Viewpoints

question-markIn the two days since Amazon officially announced their ebook subscription service, everyone and their cousin has posted an editorial on the question of whether KU is good or bad for authors. Being neither an author nor a publishers, I sat out the debate,  but as I looked over the links I collected for tomorrow's Morning Coffee post I realized that had an excess of links for this one topic. And even though I have no opinion either way on the question, I can see that I am in the minority.Here are 6 different takes on this question, including a couple which address the point from unusual tangents.

But first, some background.

Kindle Unlimited is a $10 a month subscription ebook service from our favorite ebook retailer, Amazon. The service boasts over 600,000 ebook and audiobook titles which can be read on Kindles or Kindle apps. KU is currently limited to the US, but that is almost certainly going to change in the next few months.

Like the Kindle Owner's Lending Library, Kindle Unlimited draws most of its catalog from KDP Select. This is a special subsection of Amazon's ebook distribution platform which offers additional promotional opportunities, requires exclusivity, and pays authors from a pool of money when an ebook is loaned in KOLL or KU. (That pool is worth $1.8 million in July, and will be increased next month).

Many of the posts focus on whether subscription ebook services are a good idea, while  others question whether anyone should be giving Amazon an exclusive.  I tend to think that is a bad idea, but I also think that this is a self-correcting issue which will fix itself in the long run. I'm basing that prediction on reports like the one from Nick Stephenson, an author who recently removed one of his ebooks from KDP Select:

I’m still a fan of free, but I’ve found that having books out of Select is (so far) having a positive effect. With KDP Select free days, I can drum up $1,500+ of extra cash in a 48 hour period, but that’s relying almost entirely on Bookbub, and things go back to normal almost immediately. And I can’t guarantee that the ‘Bub is going to feature me every month. With books up on other vendors and a permafree title to keep readers coming in, I’m seeing much more consistent results – and I can use the smaller advertisers to keep the permafree’s performance “topped up” when it starts to drop, removing my reliance on Bookbub to a certain degree.

If other authors are sharing Stephenson's experience, then I would bet the issue of Amazon exclusivity is probably going to solve itself in the long run. Or at least that's what I think, but not everyone is willing to let the market sort itself out.

Mark Coker, for one, is as much against exclusivity now as he was when KDP Select launched in late 2011, Writing on Friday:

Exclusivity is great for Amazon, but it's not necessarily great for authors and readers.  Exclusivity starves competing retailers of books readers want to read, which motivates readers to move their reading to the Kindle platform. This is why Amazon has made exclusivity central to their ebook strategy. They're playing a long term game of attrition.

Most indie authors recognize the value in fostering a diverse ecosystem of multiple competing retailing options.  Yet every book enrolled in KDP Select is a vote to put Amazon's competitors out of business. You know this to be true if you believe, as I believe, that indies are the future of publishing.

Not everyone thinks it's a bad idea; Will Entrekin, the publisher at Exciting Press, has not only signed up to use KU as a customer he has also submitted some titles from his catalog to KDP Select:

Look, I’ll be candid: of that I’m not sure yet. For quite a while, Exciting Press titles were in Kindle Direct Publishing Select. They were exclusive to Kindle, could only be bought from Amazon. We publish without DRM — always have and always will — so readers could convert their books for whatever device they were using, but let’s be honest there and note how tedious that is (if you even know how to do it in the first place, which a lot of readers may not). But if I may be further honest here I would argue that Amazon’s gained dominance in the ebook marketplace simply because its experience is so superior for readers, and I think that makes a difference.

I don't think his decision is a good idea (see the Stephenson quote above), but I also am well aware that there's no one size fits all solution.  We cannot discount the possibility that someone is making KDP Select work for them and generate more revenue than if their ebooks are available elsewhere.

Not everyone, though, is looking at this in terms of its affect on authors; some commented on how it might affect the ebook amrket as a whole. Saying he is "cautiously optimistic", Chuck Wendig wrote:

a) Amazon is interesting because it is a big company and yet it moves like a spry, tiny company. Which is awesome and scary because when big companies move quickly, it is often tectonic.

b) I don’t know yet if this is tectonic. It is interesting to me as a reader and a little scary to me as a writer because all new things are scary to me as a writer because writers are ultimately flinchy since being whacked in the nose so many times with bad deals. I think if this becomes a truly dominant model, then it will be tectonic, shaking How Books Are Consumed and How Authors Are Paid to the molten, trembling core.

c) I think it’s a good price point.

d) I think there’s an argument to be made where this devalues books.

e) I think there’s an argument to be made that high e-book prices hurt authors more than low e-book prices, so, blah blah blah book value exposure something snore.

f) I think Spotify was bad for bands but this isn’t Spotify.

Wendig isn't the only one who is optimistic; the team at Archangel Ink were in high spirits when they read about Kindle Unlimited:

I’ve noticed several of the articles on Amazon’s bold decision to offer a subscription for unlimited eBook downloads seem to claim that this move is “bad for authors.” That’s probably because these articles were written by people who aren’t authors or publishers and certainly not indie authors. We’ve published 40 books here in the last 70 days, and I’ve been active in the publishing industry since before there was such a thing as en eBook. I can assure you my predictions about how this will affect authors and the publishing industry in general is much better informed.

In short, don’t worry authors. Bezos hasn’t suddenly declared war on you. In fact, Bezos is continuing to take bold steps to declare with no ambiguity that indies are his friends, and publishing companies are his bitter rivals–at least until they change their business model and start publishing exclusively on Amazon instead of trying to sell books on every retailer imaginable. And no, Archangel Ink is not necessarily a “publishing company” so we’re not threatened either. We’re more like a steroid dealer for indie authors. Do you even lift Poe?

Some like Chris McMullen are more ambivalent:

The only way to really know for sure is to try it both ways. (Note that you can experience lengthy delays and problems trying to unpublish your e-book from other retailers in order to switch back into KDP Select.)

Kindle Unlimited may be a compelling reason to enroll in KDP Select. There will be many authors returning to KDP Select to try it out. There are also authors opting out with the introduction of KDP Select. Everyone is trying to decide which side of the fence has the greener grass. By the way, I’m staying in KDP Select.

So what do you think? Who is right?

About Nate Hoffelder (10951 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader: "I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

18 Comments on Is Kindle Unlimited Good or Bad for Authors – Six Viewpoints

  1. I think the best answer to “good or bad?” is “yes.” Kindle Unlimited is probably good and bad for authors and publishers and readers. Good in some ways, not so good in others.

    And I should clear up: Exciting Press titles were in KDP Select. Up until late last year, I think, our titles were all in (without DRM). But we started moving away from that, to move into iBooks and Kobo’s store, in favor of diversification.

    After the Kindle Unlimited announcement, that’s changed again. Looking at what’s sold (or not) in the iBookstore, it seems like something to try.

    I put Meets Girl in KDP Select to be part of Unlimited. It’s been on the iBookstore, but not really sold much. And Nick Earls–who spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald about Spotify and author rates–confirmed he’d like to try it, so we worked out that some of his books are there. Other aren’t, though. We just finished publishing his Brisbane Rewound trilogy, and that will remain, for now, on both Kindle and the iBookstore.

    Just wanted to make that clarification. The only Exciting Press titles I really make those sorts of decisions about are my own; about others, I defer to the authors with whom I work.

    As a reader, I think KU is awesome. As a publisher and author? Not sure yet.

    • Will, I like your honesty – “Not sure yet.”

      I myself just placed a new short I’d been working on for a few months (longer than my usual time frame) in KU.

      I’ve very strongly felt that subscription programs are where we’ll be at (libraries also), and after a “lot” of reading of Scribd’s and Oyster’s CEO’s thinking and plans earlier this year, decided to try them. So I’m glad Amazon has also opened up a similar plan.

      There is one and only one thing I have qualms about KU as currently configured, and that’s exclusivity. In general, obviously because I don’t sell much 🙂 yet 🙂 and specifically because it hasn’t worked for me in the past.

      As David Gaughran points out in his well thought out piece ( http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/kindle-unlimited-the-key-questions/ ) , especially regarding the popularity rankings, “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”.

      Personally, my feeling is the exclusivity clause is actually now limiting Kindle Unlimited in carrying the range of titles possible.

      Amazon, imo, doesn’t needed exclusivity for indies anymore.

      So, meanwhile 🙂 best wishes on your titles in KU, on mine also 🙂

  2. I like the way you collected several different viewpoints here. It’s handy. (Thank you for including mine, too.)

  3. Uneducated Guess // 20 July, 2014 at 10:48 pm // Reply

    They demand exclusivity. They control the size of the payout pool. They control the payout threshold. They reserve the right to throw you out of the program at their sole discretion. They control Every. Damn. Thing.

    How “indie.”

    • Yeah, I agree with @UG on this one. This strikes me very much as someone saying, “Windows is horrible. They’re bloated, out-of-touch and patronising. I’m buying myself a Mac!” o_O

      In order to escape the bars of trad publishing, it looks like a lot of authors are willingly putting themselves into a prison called Amazon. I’m all for making money but I don’t know if I’d be comfortable going this far. And, in fact, I’m not. So I won’t be joining KU.

  4. And this is what is wrong with the entire thing, everybody talks about the financial aspect and only that.

  5. KU is good for authors. Simply because more books will be downloaded through that program. This, eventually, will increase the revenue as well.

  6. Depends on how much of that money reaches the author.
    At 10 USD/month, you’d pay ~$1 per book if you read one every three days. So, sure, for those customers it’s a good deal, and obviously not so good for the authors.
    But the truth is … consumers like that are rare. Most will read one or two books per month. If that. And it means that no matter how it’s split, both the author and Amazon stand to make a lot of money.
    The problem is … what if they download 40-50 books, but only read one of those? Does Amazon know or care which author gets the money? Probably not.

  7. I’m with Will on this one. As a reader, I’m all over it. As an author, I’m not sure yet either. I could see it going either way, but I think it’s going to take time before there’s enough data to draw any conclusions. I’m toying with pulling my (short) first book in my series and making it Select. This year is the first one where its sales have dropped, and it’s selling even worse on other platforms, so it seems to make sense. On the other hand, hassle factor of pulling it out of other places! I’m in no rush to change anything, so I think I’ll wait for now.

    However, I’m very seriously considering making my next book Select for 90 days. It’s in the same universe as my main series, but has a different main character and is aimed at a slightly different audience. I’m thinking I won’t piss off too many people by making it Select for a short time, and it might give it a nice boost. Won’t be until next year, though, so I’ll have plenty of time to see what the market does.

  8. I’m a very-new author, with few sales of my two novels so far (science fiction). From what I’ve observed on Smashwords, it can take many weeks for a change to work its way through all the outlets, so if I unpublish there, it could be quite a while before I could really say the book is exclusively on Kindle – what will Amazon say to that? I think if I try Amazon exclusivity I will wait until my next book, start exclusive on Amazon for maybe 90 days, and then decide what to do.

    Most of my sales have been through Amazon, but not all, and until I find a readership, I feel like I need to look for readers everywhere.

    • Kate, from my own limited experience so far, I would definitely recommend Scribd and Oyster and even OverDrive, if you’re not already distributing to them.

      None of them require exclusivity, the royalty rates are good, and they seem to have a good and growing reach (based on their news releases etc).

      Either way, best wishes 🙂

  9. “So what do you think? Who is right?” –

    Geez, if I knew I’d be creating / moving content to their right now 🙂

    But more seriously, this is a nice mix of viewpoints, a more direct experiential approach to how folk are viewing Amazon’s response to Scribd & Oyster ( see also : http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeremygreenfield/2014/07/18/when-amazon-acts-like-a-start-up-why-amazon-has-entered-the-ebook-subscription-market/?utm_source=followingweekly&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=20140721 ) .

    My own choice is I’ve decided to place (did this last night) one new short into KU, and get first hand experience of the latest subscription program 🙂

    I’ll also be signing up for the free first month, and probably stay a few more months, as a subscribed reader, and thus compare directly to Scribd and Oyster.

    Eventually I’ll do the same via my local library, and their digital content.

    So, to answer the first part of the question, what do I think –

    I think exclusivity as a general requirement has out-lived its usefulness.

    I think Amazon is big enough, established enough, and trusted enough, to not only survive, but thrive in an open market. It would be openly be a good guy, like Scribd and Oyster, who’ll take any writer.

    I don’t think this would kill either Oyster or Scribd (like I’ve read some folk hope Amazon will do). Worst case, someone like Apple would probably be glad to take an already well formed well organized well subscribed entity like either one.

    I think the real trend is for licensing exclusive content of wide recognized value, ala John Goodman and Kevin Spacey, ala Joe Konrath and Janet Evanovich, etc.

    And tying up and limiting one’s indie content in a subscription program is not as productive as not being exclusive about it.

    It may be it’ll be libraries that’ll finally force that final issue. I don’t know.

    So that’s what I really know, that I don’t 🙂

  10. As with everything involving Amazon, the real issue isn’t whether Kindle Unlimited is good for authors now. It’s whether Kindle Unlimited will continue to treat and pay authors well if Amazon succeeds in taking over the ebook subscription market.

    The fact that exclusivity (no retail markets other than Amazon) is required for most authors to get into Kindle Unlimited is a good warning, but there are others:

    * Note how Amazon as Audible recently slashed the audiobook royalties for independent authors. That’s the future.

    * Note how well CreateSpace pays in comparison to Lightning Source/Ingram Spark. Amazon still has competition in the POD market and may be subsidizing it. That would change if CreateSpace is able to take over the market, but the publisher/bookstore boycott of CreateSpace makes that less likely in the near future.

    * Note how poorly Amazon pays for ebooks outside the $2.99-9.99 price range. It pays only 35% or half what Apple’s iBookstore pays. If Amazon is able to rid itself of any effective competition in the ebook market (the covert goal of that Amazon-inspired DOJ lawsuit), it’s far more likely to cut royalties at all price levels than to raise them as the cost of ebook distribution goes down. Amazon has already told German officials that it thinks ebook royalties should be around 50%.

    Keep in mind that 50% slice of the retail price would be enormously lucrative for Amazon. Apple has been marketing music and apps for years with a 70/30% split and doing quite well at that. Ebooks are no different from music downloads. Both involve a host page, a financial transaction, and a file download.

    And, as I heard one of Amazon’s top web services gurus explain when I lived in Seattle, the cost of providing web services such as ebook sales is going down rapidly. Amazon could make a quite substantial profit giving authors 80% of retail at any price level and running its operation on the remaining 20%. That’s what it could do. It’s not what it intends to do. It intends to so dominate the ebook market that authors are forced to accept 50% or less.

    An 80/20 split of ebook revenue is what authors should be aiming for, with subscription services providing a similar 60-80% slice of revenue to authors rather than a mysterious funding of a royalty pot that takes no account of how much Amazon is earning.

    Indeed, does anyone know how much Amazon’s ebook business is earning? Given the sub-market royalties it pays along with an grossly inflated download fee for books priced $2.99-9.99 (about one thousand times as much as Amazon’s AWS charges for file downloads), those profits are coming out of the pockets of struggling authors.

    Amazon simply is not an author’s friend. The problem with anything Amazon does is always Amazon itself. It doesn’t lie in this detail or that detail.

  11. As a reader, I do like having an all you can read option, the problem is that by demanding that a book is exclusive to KDP Select, there will only be a limited number of books available to me.

    I would need to have subscriptions with Oyster and Amazon (and any other similar service) to get a full buffet option. This could end up being too costly, so I would just continue buying individual books as I do now.

  12. I’ve been wondering… what’s is to stop me, as a reader, from signing up for the new Amazon program for 1 month at $10.00, downloading a thousand books or so, and then canceling? Everyone is always looking for a deal and a way to game the system, right? And I can’t blame people for being frugal since they are following the rules. But Amazon’s program doesn’t look as though it is built to benefit authors. It’s built to benefit readers.

    • You can have only 10 KU downloads at a time. If you want book 11, you have to return one of the previously downloaded items.

  13. Uhm . . . “Exciting Press” is NOT an actual book publisher, so you should probably quit trying to fool everyone whom reads this article. Exciting Press is just a guy who does the “middle-man” work for you, so basically after you write your book instead of YOU doing the formatting then submitting to CreateSpace THEY take your novel and do the formatting and submit your manuscript-which makes NO sense why you would pay them to do so when you can do it yourself. Exciting Press should be ashamed of acting like a real publisher. Hell, ANYONE could be the next “Exciting Press” as long as they’re willing to accept manuscripts then publish them through CreateSpace with a fake publisher name then let the internet sell the book for them. That’s just sad :-/

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