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Amazon Adds to Speculation that Kindle Unlimited Might Drop Exclusivity Requirement

31890a2[1]Whispers have been going around for close to a month now that Amazon might be considering dropping its requirement for exclusivity for any title in KDP Select, and now Amazon is adding fuel to the fire.

Daniel Slater, Amazon’s Independent Publishing principal, was speaking at the Ninc conference a couple weeks ago when he was asked about Kindle Unlimited (I just now read about it). Porter Anderson quotes him:

Slater pointed out that Kindle Unlimited is "a very new programme" — launched in July, in competition with other "all you can read" subscription services Oyster and Scribd — and said that Seattle is watching KU’s development and reactions to it carefully. "It might be possible that we’d look at that," he said in reference to the controversial exclusivity component of the programme.

Is that real interest, do you think, or is it just the usual non-definite answer one offers when cornered?

If it’s the later then I am guilty of following Anderson into clickbaiting, but if it is the former then authors are going to want to pay attention.

One of the chief objections many authors have with Kindle Unlimited (and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library before it) was that it required authors to forgo selling ebooks in other ebookstores.  Depending on the market, that could represent a lot of money. And even without the money, many authors have a principled objection to offering any single retailer exclusivity and would love to see that requirement go away.

So do you think this quote is real?

And does anyone have more information on what else Daniel Slater said?

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Felipe Adan Lerma November 3, 2014 um 7:44 pm

"It might be possible that we’d look at that" –

Though not definite, it’s not non-definite. Firmly a "maybe" in my reading of it. Otherwise why say it at all?

But then that’s my preference-bias anyway, to do away with exclusivity in KU.

So I might just be coloring the sky my favorite color, regardless what it really is 🙂

fjtorres November 3, 2014 um 7:58 pm

Non-denial denial.
Amazon doesn’t want too many titles in KU in the first place and if it becomes too attractive to readers and gets too much participation it will cut into sales.

Daniel Vian November 3, 2014 um 8:47 pm

fjtorres says: "Amazon doesn’t want too many titles in KU in the first place and if it becomes too attractive to readers and gets too much participation it will cut into sales."

There’s a counterargument to that. The subscription business model is based on research about how many books subscribers actually download in a month. If that is independent of how may titles are available, it makes no difference whether Amazon has 10 million titles in KIndle Unlimited or 10,000. Most people don’t read more than a few titles a month and those that do are counterbalanced by many people that do not. In KU it’s the reading that costs Amazon money (payment to authors) and not the mere downloading. The author gets paid only if at least 10% of a book is read.

As far as the benefits to authors of non-exclusivity, it really depends on the kind of books the author writes and what other platforms require in terms of formatting, etc. In any medium, the creation and marketing of content varies according to the type of content, so that using the same strategies for documentaries and sitcoms, for example, can produce disasters.

Daniel Vian November 3, 2014 um 8:49 pm

Change "how may titles are available" to "how many titles are available"

fjtorres November 3, 2014 um 9:06 pm

Amazon is billing KU as a discovery tool. Implied is that once readers discover an author through KU reads, they will buy their books.
But if all their books are in KU there is no need to buy.

The way most authors are using KU now is as a (paid) replacement for permafree: put the first title in a set in KU, sell the rest. That suits Amazon just fine because if the first title in a series is exclusive to Kindle, it increases the odds that the follow-up sales will be at Kindle.

No free lunch, folks.
No added KU visibility for free. After all, it *is* paying for books that would otherwise be free. It’s Amazon’s game and they set the rules.

Daniel Vian November 3, 2014 um 11:09 pm

Many authors report that KU revenues are four or five times ordinary revenues because their titles are titles that people more easily borrow than buy, so I don’t know where the idea that KU is used by most authors as a loss leader comes from. An author’s revenues from KU depend on the type of book in KU. Category fiction does very well in KU. Other titles may not do well. So where is your evidence that most authors use KU as a replacement for permafree? There may be 100,000 authors in KU and there is apparently no data at all on who is doing what. You say "It’s Amazon’s game and they set the rules." You will not hear this sort of complaint from people who make serious money in KU, especially since the most important "rules" in KU are set by authors: content, cover, blurbs, and ordinary price. If you’re an Amazon author and not in KU, try writing something that people will want to borrow rather than buy and you may make a pile of money.

Fbone November 4, 2014 um 2:43 am

“It’s Amazon’s game and they set the rules.”

Amazon supplies the cash and platform for KU authors. That sounds like it’s Amazon’s game and rules to me.

Frankly, I don’t think KU authors have any reason to complain. They have a sweetheart deal.

fjtorres November 4, 2014 um 7:33 am

I didn’t say most, I said many.
And you just agreed with me: if authors see an increase in total income by going on KU, despite exclusivity, that makes KU a valuable platform so why should Amazon give away that access to all comers?
(Some, maybe most, of) The authors might be seeing higher net income but Amazon almost certainly isn’t; all those free trials and audiobooks add up fast.
Besides, a good part of the visibility value of KU is from a title being one of 700K instead of one in 3M. And when you slice it by genre and subgenre, a KU title might be just one in a thousand…

Let everybody in and the visibility/discovery aspect loses value.
So instead of gatekeeping books, Amazon sets a fairly high bar and lets the authors chose to pay the toll or not.
KDP is still open to all comers for those that value multiplatform presence.

This is no different than in the gaming world where developers and publishers choose to be multiplatform or XBOX or Playstation exclusive. In the PS2 era many smaller developers were Sony exclusive because the PS2 market was big enough to support them and the added cost to port to Nintendo or XBOX not justified by the likely sales.

Eventually the market changed and it was XBOX on top and getting the default exclusives until Sony upped their game. That is how competitors compete, buy looking for an advantage and exploiting it. Not by giving it away.

Now, if authors were willing to trade exclusivity for lower per-read payments and said so, then Amazon might listen. If non-exclusives want in badly enough to agree to, say, a third of the payout…

Felipe Adan Lerma November 3, 2014 um 10:01 pm

"No free lunch, folks.
No added KU visibility for free. After all, it *is* paying for books that would otherwise be free. It’s Amazon’s game and they set the rules." –

RJ, I don’t understand the paragraph, sorry. Could you explain more fully, thanks so much.

fjtorres November 3, 2014 um 10:52 pm

A typical marketting tool many authors use to increase visibility is to set some titles permanently free in order to sell followup volumes. KU serves the same purpose but they now get paid instead of having to give their book away. The trade-off is exclusivity.
Without exclusivity, the authors would be getting paid for otherwise free titles *and* getting the extra visibility of being featured in KU without having to give Amazon anything in trade.
Readers would get "unlimited" reads for a flat fee, authors would get visibility and cash and Amazon runs the whole thing and gets… what? Nothing? (KU is almost certainly a money loser and likely to stay that way for a while.)

Don’t. Think. So.

Select Exclusivity gives Amazon bragging rights and the biggest ebook catalog around as a competitive edge. I doubt they’ll give it up any time soon.

Sharon November 4, 2014 um 7:15 am

But I don’t know how much 'established' content they’re getting in KU. Does anyone have any figures on that?

Most authors (some popular authors probably get special treatment) already on other platforms would have to pull their books/stories to go exclusive – and if they have a series, then it doesn’t make sense to just pull one book, you have to pull them all because who’s going to buy a second or third book on a platform where they can’t get the first book? What I’ve heard is authors using a 'bait' book or short stories to test the waters or to submit first books of their new series.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong and a lot of authors have pulled their books from other platforms to put into KU. I haven’t yet because the whole exclusivity thing rankles me. It’s possible that I’m losing a lot of money in the short term (or some money). I know that emotion should not cloud a business decision, but …I’m having trouble overcoming it (and I’ve only got four books of a series out – so nothing to experiment with).

And there’s also the experience of Select where Amazon changed the algorithms so that Select books on their free days got less exposure (ghettoizing the free books into their own category) and not giving the books that extra push after the free days ended. That kind of killed the Select idea for me. Who’s to say they won’t do something similar to smother KU after a while?

Sarah Ettritch November 4, 2014 um 7:51 am

Because of the low payout per borrow, I think most authors would still keep their longer work out. Perhaps we’d put in the first of a series (to replace permafree, as someone else mentioned), but keep the rest out. It would be a different story for shorter work because the low payout is a non-issue. For me to put all my books into KU, Amazon will have to pay for a borrow/read the same way Scribd and Oyster do, and I doubt it will do that.

fjtorres November 4, 2014 um 8:20 am

Not likely at all.
As I said above, Amazon makes money off sales whereas subscription reads cost them (and Scribd and Oyster) money. So swapping sales for reads at anything even close to parity is a non-starter.

Felipe Adan Lerma November 4, 2014 um 8:15 am

A lot of good ideas and thoughts about discoverability, but my own idea as applied to any ebook subscription service, is my very happy decade long experience with Netflix.

Simplest put, there’s no risk for me to try an unknown title (film or book) or author.

Recently, when I search for new things to read, I look for (in Amazon) the FREE KU icon, or I go on Scribd and search.

Only "very" particular titles at very reasonable prices get my attention when they’re not included in a subscription program.

So exclusivity, for me, is a limiting factor.

For Amazon, and this is just my guess, ebooks are a conduit to its other 93% of its business. And how KU channels and funnels folk to that other business would, it seems to me, ultimately matter more than whether to continue to require exclusivity or not.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) November 4, 2014 um 8:53 am

Well, they need more titles in their program to compete. And some of the better selling indie books aren’t in the program. I sell too well on Kobo books to even consider it. While not being in KU probably hurts my visibility on Amazon, I still can’t justify it.

That said, I don’t think they’ll do it. They should because SCRIBD is a far more attractive program and KU needs all the enticement it can get, but it sounded like a polite 'cover my ass in case' to me.

Jennifer Stevenson April 27, 2015 um 7:13 am

Nobody knows anything about the numbers except Amazon and to a limited degree the authors whose income dropped when KU launched.

Two subscription services don’t make for a free market.

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