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Author Earnings Report: Kindle Unlimited is Bigger than iBooks in the UK, US

For the past 18 months I have been arguing that  Kindle Unlimited was one of the major ebook channels in its own right just based on what it was paying publishers and authors each month.

New data from the latest Author Earnings Report shows that Kindle Unlimited accounts for a larger share of the US and UK ebook markets than even iBooks.

Correction: Data Guy sent me an email, pointing out that my title is wrong. What he found was that KU earnings, when combined with the retail sales of all the titles in KU, accounted for a greater number of unit sales (which, in my opinion, is a pretty confusing way to measure KU activity).

The main focus of the report is the relative size of each of the five major English-language ebook markets, but a later section delves into Kindle Unlimited’s share of the market.

Indie authors often struggle with the choice of whether to make a particular title a Kindle Unlimited-enrolled Amazon-exclusive or to sell it at all retailers. For those authors, the breakdown of indie sales on the left side of the above chart is a particularly interesting one. But it’s worth keeping in mind that around half of the “KDP Select” indie sales are actually full-read-equivalent Kindle Unlimited payments to indies, rather than straight retail purchases.

So let’s now break those KU full-read equivalents out separately, as shown as yellow pie-wedges in the two charts below:

So what do the above graphs tell us about Kindle Unlimited and indie author earnings?

The breakdown of indie dollar author earnings looks nearly identical to the unit-sales splits shown above. Kindle Unlimited indie page reads (at a current run rate of $180M+/yr) are now paying Amazon-exclusive indie authors far more total dollars than “wide” indie authors are earning from their sales at all non-Amazon ebook retailers combined (a total run rate of roughly $50M/yr in non-Amazon indie author earnings).

So should publishers and authors go all in on Kindle Unlimited?

Maybe, but to be honest I would not make a business decision like that based on the above data.

I am not disputing the validity of the data; my point is that individual authors are so small and the market so large that (with the right marketing) you can make a lot of money with either option.

Hell, there are authors making a living on direct sales or from other channels that don’t show up in the broader market data.

So while Kindle Unlimited’s market share matters on a broader scale, it is less important to individual authors and publishers.

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Lemondrop March 9, 2017 um 3:11 pm

Data and anecdotal comments have shown that KU earns indie-authors less than sales. In fact, its taken quite a cut out of indie earnings.

Smart Debut Author March 9, 2017 um 7:34 pm

Data has shown no such thing, Lemondrop.

The complaints you hear are from the authors who write shorter works. The ones who write full-length 300-400 page novels, which is what the sweet spot for reader demand is, are making more money than ever under KU 2.0. Trust me, I’m one of them.

All you need to do is a little math. After all, Amazon’s ever-growing KU payouts are going to someone, aren’t they?

A typical 400 page novel, when converted to KENPC (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count), turns into 600-750 "page reads" and pays it’s author $3.00-$3.75… which is more than the 70% a novel would earn at a $3.99 or $4.99 price point, which is where most of them live.

KU earnings dropped for authors who were charging $3.99 or more for short 100-200 page works, or those who used to earn $1.10 from a download of a 25-page pamphlet. Or from those whose books usually get abandoned partway through.

But for every author who saw their earnings drop under KU 2.0, there’s another author or two (like me) who write longer books, and can keep a reader flipping pages all the way to the end. But we watch our KU earnings rack up and keep their mouths shut, and smile on their way to the bank.

Wouldn’t you? 😉

Mark Williams – The International Indie Author March 10, 2017 um 4:41 am

"Kindle Unlimited indie page reads (at a current run rate of $180M+/yr) are now paying Amazon-exclusive indie authors far more total dollars than “wide” indie authors are earning from their sales at all non-Amazon ebook retailers combined (a total run rate of roughly $50M/yr in non-Amazon indie author earnings)."

But here we are competing non-sales on Amazon against only sales on other retailers. Let’s factor in the 200 million OverDrive downloads (most of which will be in the USA) to see a fairer picture.

OverDrive reported 49 digital libraries clearing one million downloads each. Almost all US, which in unit sale terms would make those libraries alone bigger than Apple US.

No doubt the comparison is not quite that straightforward, but by any measure the absence of the OverDrive numbers means we are not seeing a fair assessment of the benefits of going wide over going all-in with one retailer.

Data Guy March 10, 2017 um 7:35 am

Hi, Mark,

Keep in mind that Overdrive doesn’t pay publishers and authors for each library borrow or read, however, the way KU does; only the initial purchase of a title by a library generates revenue. And that, as projectable from Overdrive’s $25M reported EBITDA, would add up to a far, far smaller number of paid unit sales, most likely in the single-digit to very low double-digit million units.

Overdrive’s actual paid sales for new-title acquisition fit neatly into 2% of the US ebook market we call "Other"

As to the large numbers of library ebook free downloads, we similarly don’t count Amazon’s vast volume of free ebook downloads, either, which is several times larger than their paid sales.

Our focus is author earnings, so we only count as unit sales the transactions that generate earnings for authors.


Mark Williams – The International Indie Author March 10, 2017 um 7:53 am

Thanks, DG!

Mark Williams – The International Indie Author March 10, 2017 um 8:38 am

Thanks, DG. Much appreciated.

tired March 11, 2017 um 4:40 pm

It really looks like the Big 5 are in free fall at least as far as ebooks go. A few years ago they had 80+% of the market now it’s flipped. Are they going to continue to take this lying down? I have a feeling that they will offer more discounts on ebooks, reduce prices, and offer up their back catalog to kindle unlimited when it’s too little too late. Like when Blockbuster started up a dvd service and streaming when they were already in their dying throws.

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