So Kindle Unlimited Gives Traditionally Published Books an Advantage – What Else is New?
Kindle Unlimited may have only launched on Friday but it’s already having an affect on the Kindle Store rankings. A check of the Kindle Store "paid" best seller list this morning has revealed that 45 of the top 100 titles on the list were included in Kindle Unlimited.
Among the 45 titles were 17 titles from Amazon, 15 traditionally published titles which are included in Kindle Unlimited, and 13 titles which are part of the KDP Select program. The best seller list also included 14 self-published titles which are not part of KDP Select and thus not exclusive to Amazon.
This is a marked change from the week ending July 13, which Publishers Lunch says had 14 titles from Amazon Publishing and KDP Select on the list (as well as 25 additional self-published titles and 1 traditionally published title which is now part of Kindle Unlimited). And the week before that the best seller list included 7 titles from Amazon Publishing and KDP Select, 26 additional self-pub titles, and a single traditionally published title which is now part of Kindle Unlimited.
Kindle Unlimited launched on Friday with a catalog of 640,000 plus titles which Amazon customers in the US can read for a fee of $9.99 a month. Most of the titles (over 550,000) are drawn from KDP Select, with a levening of titles from traditional publishers including Wiley, Scholastic, WW Norton, HMH, and more (but no titles from the Big 5).
That program is only 5 days old but it is already having an effect on Amazon’s best seller list.
Far from being a simply tally of units sold, Amazon has long used many different factors to generate their best seller lists. At one point free ebooks affected the rankings, but their influence has lessened with time. Loans made via Kindle Owner’s Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited, on the other hand, can have a significant effect, and the free ebooks given away as part of the Kindle First program also can cause a spike in sales.
As you can see from the data summarized above, the launch of Kindle Unlimited is having a positive effect on any titles included. Whether this translates to actual sales is another matter.
It’s not clear how the rankings affect the revenues of indie authors, who are paid shares out of a pool of money, but the traditional publishers with titles in KDP Select are probably quite pleased. At least some of those publishers, including (at a minimum) Scholastic, are paid full price for each loan made via KU and KOLL. Others were recruited to the program and are paid when 10% of an ebook is read.
This does unfortunately relegate self-published authors to second-class status, but that is not new. The payment terms for Kindle Unlimited are identical to the terms for KOLL, including how the traditional publishers are reimbursed. In other words when sites like DBW make claims like "Kindle Unlimited’s Two-Tier System Makes Some Authors Second-Class Citizens", they are wrong from the get-go.
Are self-published authors treated as second class citizens? Maybe(*), but if that is the case then it’s certainly not a new situation. There are several privileges that the majority of indie authors don’t have (including pre-order buttons) which are available to traditionally published authors. So if you really want to label them second class citizens then they’ve always been mistreated by Amazon.
On the other hand, self-pub authors have the option of removing their titles from Kindle Unlimited, and traditionally published authors do not. Also, indie authors get 70% (ish) of retail, while traditionally published authors do not. So who exactly is the second-class citizen?
I find that term absurd, and that goes double when you consider the current debate in its historical context. As Hugh Howey pointed out yesterday, much of the hand-wringing going on right now is a repeat of the debate surrounding KDP Select in 2011:
I’m having a Groundhog Day moment, here. Indies are getting screwed. Exclusivity is death for authors. We are in coach and Big 5 authors are in first class. Our pay is going down.
The same discussion exploded on KBoards back in 2011. They were the Kindle Boards at the time, and self-publishing was a lot more stigmatized than it is today. Amazon launched a program called KDP Select, and if you went exclusive with them, you gained two marketing advantages: Your ebooks became part of the Kindle Lending Library, and you were granted 5 “free” days for every 90-day period of Select.
There is really little to differentiate between the treatment of indie authors in KOLL and KU, aside from perhaps the fact that the increase in the number of publishers participating in Kindle Unlimited.
That increase might negatively affect the net gain an indie author sees from Kindle Unlimited, in which case they might be better off if they pull out. But as I pointed out on Sunday, there is no one size fits all for the ebook market and there never has been.
P.S. Do you know the absolutely crazy part about the idea of indie authors being second-class citizens? It’s that traditional publishers would have treated those authors worse, including shutting out the majority of authors.
image by Emily Carlin