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?