When Kindle Unlimited launched in the US 4 months ago there were many questioning whether it was good or bad for authors, and if the chorus of complaints over the past few days are any indication then the answer will be no.
HM Ward kicked off the discussion on Friday when she revealed that she was pulling out of KDP Select, the program Amazon uses to funnel indie ebooks into Kindle Unlimited.
Ward withdrew her books not because the average payment had dropped to only $1.33, but because her total revenues had fallen by 75%:
Ok, some of you already know, but I had my serials in it for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income. Thats counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t compliment each other, as expected.
Taking a huge ass pay cut while I’m still working my butt off, well that’s not ok. And KU effected my whole list, not just KU titles. At the time of enrollment I had about 60 titles total.
I planned on giving it 90 days, but I have a kid in the hospital for long term care and I noticed my spending was going to exceed my income-by a lot. I couldn’t wait and watch thing plummet further. I pulled my books. That was on Nov 1, & since then my net revenue has gone up. I’m now at 50% of where I was pre-KU. During the time I was in KU, I had 2 new releases. Neither preformed vastly different than before. They actually earned far less (including borrows).
When Kindle Unlimited launched in July, it was hoped that the increase in fees paid for loans would counteract the loss in income from authors not being able to sell their ebooks outside of the Kindle Store.
Sadly, a lot of authors are reporting that that is not the case. This story was picked up over on The Passive Voice, where Mimi Strong concurred with Ward:
I made the “All Stars” list for October. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but $1k is not going to make up for lost sales on other platforms. It doesn’t even cover the emotional toll of having to field emails from confused readers who can’t understand why they can’t buy my books.
In the end, I go with math and ignore emotions. I’m pulling out of KU. If my sales are better on other platforms, I’ll stay out. If my sales aren’t any better, I’ll go back into KU with gritted teeth and a few choice words. Nobody cares but me. I’ll go with the math.
Two authors complaining does not a trend make, but it is worth watching.
Speaking of watching, while looking into this story I noted what looks like the beginning of a worrisome trend. There are authors whose works weren’t in KU who are reporting that their incomes had dipped since it launched, almost as if readers were spending so much time reading the ebooks in KU that they stopped buying ebooks. With 750,000 titles, KU could be displacing ebook sales.
Juli Monroe, author and editor of Teleread, mentioned a dip a few weeks back, and there are similar reports from KBoards:
I’d like to add my voice to the choir of KU discontent. Before KU launched, I had seven novels, multiple serials and a few shorts through various names, and I was making a living solely writing fiction.
Along comes KU and now… well, I’m not.
My earnings are roughly 60% what they were back before KU launched with four releases since. I tried out KU for a few of my novels, saw a lot of borrows but a massive loss in earnings, so took them out again.
Now, earnings aren’t what they were, but they’re holding steady again. I have the great people at Kobo to thank for consistently spotlighting some of my books, meaning two months of bigger Kobo sales than Zon right now.
And there’s a similar report in the comment section at The Passive Voice:
KU definitely affected the visibility of my books, and as a result, my sales and revenues. When KU launched, my books not in KDPS/KU all dropped in rank crazy-fast. Luckily, I was running two upcoming Bookbubs and sales on other channels made up for the decline in Amazon revenue. However, once the Bookbubs declined in influence, my sales on the other channels declined as well so that I ended up being behind the 8-ball in terms of sales and revenue.
So I took the plunge and went all-in to KDPS again. Lends almost made up the difference and KU honestly revived my older lower selling series. However, I am still down overall from pre-KU levels. As soon as my KDPS terms are up, I’m back out, baby. I may keep my older series and my 99c shorter works in KDPS for the exposure and because even $1.33 is better than $0.3465, but I’m taking my longer better-selling and higher priced books out.
Again, two anecdotes don’t make a trend, but I am trying to keep this post to a reasonable length while also sharing a potentially important news story.
Even at 4 months old Kindle Unlimited is still too new for us to fully understand the effect it is having, and that includes the impact it may be having on authors who aren’t even in KU.
I plan to wait for more info on the effect of ebook subscription services, including Oyster and Scribd, before reaching any conclusions. Those other services offer publishers terms similar to ebook retail contracts, rather than paying them from a pool of money (like Amazon does with authors in KU).
I’m interested in finding out if the larger publishers are also seeing a drop in revenue elsewhere as readers spend more of their time reading books in one of the ebook subscription services.
Do you think that is what the publishers are seeing?
image by phooky