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There’s a Question We Should Be Asking Re Kindle Unlimited and Its Impact on eBook Sales

3764248859_72a3412b60_m[1]For the past month or so, Kindle Unlimited has been one of the hot topics in digital publishing. A number of indie authors are reporting that their revenues have dipped since KU launched in July.

I was one of the first to report on the story a month ago, and now it has hit the NYTimes. David Streitfeld covered it for the technology section, writing that:

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

Streitfeld’s piece is a detailed reiteration of what has been said before, and it raises a couple interesting points – including why Amazon might not care if KU guts the ebook market:

Amazon, though, may be willing to forgo some income in the short term to create a service that draws readers in and encourages them to buy other items. The books, in that sense, are loss leaders, although the writers take the loss, not Amazon.

As I sit here writing this post Sunday morning I can see that, even though a month has passed on this story, no one is asking the right question.

Right now everyone is asking whether KU is worth it for indie authors, and that is not the right question.

What we should be asking is whether traditional publishers are seeing a similar impact on their sales.


Yes, I know that all the talk is focused on indies and KU, but that is not the problem itself; it is just the way that the problem is expressed in the market.

When you get down to it, the actual cause of the drop in revenues is a shift in consumer book-buying behavior as consumers sign up for ebook subscription services and stop buying as many books at retail.

Or at least that is what everyone is assuming; as I pointed out a few weeks ago I am not completely convinced (there are other possibilities).

But leaving my doubts aside for the moment, if a radical change is occurring then it would most likely affect a consumer’s entire book-buying behavior.

This means that if a consumer really does buy fewer books after getting into Kindle Unlimited or another ebook subscription service, they’re buying fewer books over all – including ones published by legacy publishers, indie publishers, and indie authors.

Now do you see why I want more data on trad pub ebook sales?

And that’s not all; I also want more info on indie sales. The fact of the matter is, folks, we can’t know for sure that KU is negatively impacting the ebook market without first collecting a broad cross section of revenue data.

Another way to detect the impact of KU would be through consumer surveys, which is why I am going to be following Nielsen’s press releases closely (I really hope they’ve thought to ask about ebook subscription services).

At this point I only have reports from a double handful of authors. While they could be the tip of the iceberg, they might also simply be seeing the impact of unpredictable market fluctuations (which may or may not be part of an annual cycle).

People have a tendency to see patterns in chaos, or in this case see a market trend in a handful of reports. It may or may not be true, but we won’t know that without getting a better view of the market as a whole.

And that’s why I want more data.

If you have access to revenue data, please look to see what patterns you can find. I’m not asking for you to share your conclusions with me (although it would be appreciated), just look at the data.

But if you do want to share some details (off the record, of course) you can look me up at the DBW conference in a couple weeks.

images Alan Stantondocoverachiever


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Bob Mayer December 28, 2014 um 10:55 am

I was quoted in the NY Times article today; but I also posted a blog where I brought up the point about trad publishing being affected by the glut of content. I think they are, but they haven’t realized it.

To me the bigger problem than KU is the content flood which isn’t going away. I think most authors, indie and trad, are going to see a flattening of sales as readers simply have so many more choices.

Think back to when there were three main TV channels. A show’s finale could draw 70 million viewers. Now drawing 10 million viewers is considered a major success when we have hundred of competing channels.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 11:08 am

Thank you.

Somehow I missed your post, sorry. I’ll add a note to my post.

Edit: Ah, I see you posted today, so I hadn’t had a chance to miss it. That makes me feel better.

Carolyn Jewel December 28, 2014 um 1:14 pm

Sure, but 3 choices means bland choices that stay safely in the white male middle.

More choices tend to mean more products that fill niches and that provide more satisfying entertainment to people who aren’t usually fairly represented or represented at all in their entertainment.

I am specifically not commenting on the impact of KU. I’m disagreeing with a subtext that suggests we need a smaller pool of content and uses an example of network TV vs. Cable TV as its framework without recognizing how horribly exclusionary and -ist Network TV offerings are.

Bring on more content, I say. Communities spring up for works that voice other views and experiences. Savvy authors will figure out how to reach those communities if they’re not already members.

This is a far more complex subject, but if formerly monolithic middle of the road markets fracture into smaller niches, I’m just not all that broken up about it.

Felipe Adan Lerma December 28, 2014 um 3:00 pm

"Bring on more content, I say. Communities spring up for works that voice other views and experiences. Savvy authors will figure out how to reach those communities if they’re not already members." –

ditto that! 🙂

Richard Adin December 29, 2014 um 4:18 am

Yes, bring on more content — as long as I do not have to pay for that content.

As I see it, historically, the more content we have been given, the more I have to pay for content that I do not want. The TV example is a good one. When there were 3 broadcasters, they were free, over-the-air. Then came the subscription service: cable. More content was offered and then more content was offered, and then even more content was offered — but I had to pay for that content even if I didn’t want it. The a la carte option disappeared and even if I never watch a single sporting event, I have to pay so you can.

And this is the potential problem with subscription book services. If they eventually end the a la carte option of buying a single book and force readers into subscriptions or no books, then readers will be required to support genres (read TV channels) they never read or want to support.

I understand that the evolution to subscription-only for books is a ways down the road and that it might never come to pass, but then who would have thought in 1970 that emails would supplant snail mail.

Mackay Bell December 28, 2014 um 5:52 pm

Ignoring KU (Nate’s right that there isn’t enough data/time to draw firm conclusions) if we compare this to the television channel model, it’s important to remember three things.

First, yes, overall ratings per program are down. But some programs, like the Superbowl or Oscars, are up. And that means that if you have something unique/valuable enough, it will cut through everything else. And that material becomes even more valuable. Who Wants to be a Millionaire and American Idol are short term examples of that. So on the top end, there can be more money with more competition.

Second, more competition might also mean more money for more players. There are certainly more television shows being produced, which means more writers are being paid. So there is money there.

Third, television is a ton better than it was when there were only three channels. There’s a lot of really great television and in more variety.

It’s not so simple as everyone gets less if there is more competition.

If you own a burger stand, and someone opens one up across from you, you might make less money. But you might make more. That’s why certain areas have ten Thai restaurants or half a dozen coffee shops. The bigger issue is always how much demand there is in the area.

And if a burger joint opens across from you and you make less money, maybe your hamburgers suck.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 6:39 pm

One shopping center in my area has both a KFC and Popeyes. A few miles away there is a cluster of 4 Chinese restaurants within a few hundred feet of each other.

Both situations have been stable for 7 plus years.

Mackay Bell December 28, 2014 um 9:36 pm

Also, question: when You Tube started, no one made any money posting videos. Nowadays, some people do. (Not a huge percentage but some.) Some make a lot of money. Some You Tube production companies have been bought for millions by Hollywood companies.

So will all that money vanish if too many people keep posting too many You Tube videos? Would they have made more money if less people posted to You Tube?

Daniel Vian December 28, 2014 um 10:40 pm

What needs to be discussed are the reasons for the NYT war with KDP and KDP/KU. Here are some thoughts:

1. NYT gets most of its revenue from advertising.

2. A substantial part of NYT advertising revenue comes from the big trade publishers who advertise new major releases–often with expensive full page ads.

3. At the present time, the big trade publishers are trying hard to maintain printed books as the major source of their revenue because the prices of new printed books are extremely inflated.

4. What the NYT is afraid of is that a switch by readers and authors to digital books will reduce the NYT advertising revenue–especially for KDP and KDP/KU books because they are self-published and there is hardly any print advertising revenue to the NYT from new releases of those books.

5. So the front office of the NYT has advised (over friendly cocktails or whatever) the business section editor (who controls Streitfeld) to whenever and wherever possible be negative in news and features about Amazon KDP/KU–and such is the current NYT policy. In general, Amazon is characterized by NYT as dangerous monopoly. (Editorial likes to say the front office keeps their hands off–but that’s baloney when revenue is at stake.)

All of this is speculation but indeed possible. If anyone has any better ideas about the NYT agenda re Amazon and KDP/KU, please make the ideas explicit. Frankly, I am more bothered by the possible editorial interference than I am by the threat to Amazon digital publishing. The NYT is now struggling to survive, chopping heads and turning itself into a gift shop and travel agency and a fashion magazine in a desperate search for revenue. My guess is Amazon will still be here when NYT is gone–or at least gone in its present form. In 50 years current newspaper journalism and media methods will be considered primitive. Who in 1950 predicted the death of major magazines? Nobody.

Bob Mayer December 28, 2014 um 10:46 pm

I can only write about something I saw: An author’s publisher bought the center two page spread of the book review on Sunday. Over 100k to buy that. The next week her new release was #1 on the fiction hardcover list. The next week (no ad) it wasn’t even in the top 15. Or even the extended list. A bit amazing sales could drop off that quick.

And remember– the list is reporting stores. Not actual sales.

Let’s face it– money talks.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 11:12 pm

I think it’s simpler than that: Streitfeld hates Amazon.

If this were an editorial policy and not a personal hatred then fewer of the attack pieces would have his byline.

Daniel Vian December 29, 2014 um 10:19 am

Maybe not so. It’s hard to imagine a junior business reporter steering policy of the business editor and the front-page editor instead of the other way around. Streitfeld is not a columnist, he’s a reporter. His editor can spike any story he turns in and the front page editor can ignore any story suggested by the business editor. The most simple hypothesis is that the "hate" (business interest) comes from the front office.

Nate Hoffelder December 29, 2014 um 11:13 am

I’d like to argue the point, but you are right that his attack pieces wouldn’t have made the front page without management signing off.

And it’s certainly possible they have a policy of hating Amazon; that is true of

Felipe Adan Lerma December 28, 2014 um 11:10 am

I like Bob Mayer’s point above about the number of viewers per channel now. And I hear all the time that "only" ten million people like some really well done program, so it’s being pulled. So some of the lessons are either still being ignored, or used as an excuse to pull content advertisers aren’t so keen on.

I’d like to add too, in re to "…we can’t know for sure that KU is negatively impacting the ebook market without first collecting a broad cross section of revenue data" –

That this is ignoring the impact of Scribd and Oyster, both of which began before KU, and were rocketing in subscribers (free and/or paid) before KU blunted that advance.

It’s the subscriber model, I believe, not Kindle Unlimited or Scribd or Oyster, which is apparently appealing enough to readers to cause a buying shift.

Beyond that, and saying that my own experience (passing the 3 month mark) in KU is a growth from nothing to ok to not bad at all, I’m curious too what the new stats and info will reveal.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 11:14 am

"It’s the subscriber model, I believe, not Kindle Unlimited or Scribd or Oyster, which is apparently appealing enough to readers to cause a buying shift."

Exactly my point – although I’m not yet convinced this trend exists.

Felipe Adan Lerma December 28, 2014 um 11:24 am

Gotcha, thanks Nate.

I do think, though, subscription models as a trend in general, have existed from way back, and that people in general tend to like them.

And I don’t think they automatically mean lower revenue for content producers. The latter have generally always been screwed one way or the other.

That’s what will need changing.

Which doesn’t mean writers won’t also have to change. Much like writers all the way back to Dickens did, producing small bite size content to fit the medium of his day.

Phones, time constraints, competition from other entertainment, ability to read on trains lines and standing sitting or laying down, all seem to be pushing for either smaller complete content portions (short stories, novellas) or larger work easily broken down into small segments or chapters (like Patterson’s work, and even Joe Konrath’s in Stirred).

Just my thoughts. 🙂

Bob Mayer December 28, 2014 um 11:28 am

I agree– later in the article today, it’s mentioned how I broke apart one of my nonfiction books into seven bite-sized, one-sit, readings just for KU.

We adapt and flourish.

Felipe Adan Lerma December 28, 2014 um 12:51 pm

Bob, do you have a link to one of the bites, uh, books 🙂

Maria (BearMountainBooks) December 28, 2014 um 11:28 am

I do see a trend on several reader forums where readers are trying out SCRIBD or KU, etc. I am also seeing a trend/discussions about readers trying to start reading all the freebies they have downloaded. I think we may be at the point where between the freebies and subscription model the "buyer" has timed out. They have been slowly getting out of the habit of buying books other than the few "Must buy authors" we all have. For a while there, it was grab every 99 cent sale. Grab every trad publisher sale. Grab every freebie.

Readers now have a plethora of books on their e-readers with a large number of them having failed to sort them (some are better at this that others). It’s like having bought too many socks. Sometimes you see a cute pair, but by and large, you simply aren’t looking. The subscription programs make it easy to stick to one area and browse–when you feel like reading. Most subscription readers feel OBLIGATED to choose a book from that selection because they are paying 9.99 (or whatever).

If it is reader fatigue, the trad publishers will see the results as well. If it is a combination of Amazon not giving visibility to indie authors as much as in the past, we won’t see much change from the big guys.

I’d like to see more data as well. My sales overall have certainly taken a hit this year–and I’m not in KU. That doesn’t mean KU isn’t affecting me because if readers in the program are sticking with KU books, well that causes a lot of sales to drop. I do see some "leasing" on Scribd from the books I have up there, but not enough to close the gap in the overall slowdown I’ve seen.

For me that slowdown started with the freebies. It’s only continued with KU, but I’m not convinced that KU is the total impact/reason for it. Not enough data.

Bob Mayer December 28, 2014 um 11:39 am

I don’t think it’s mainly KU. I think it just accelerated something that’s been happening for the last few years: the content glut.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 12:37 pm

I like the content glut theory. It would explain KU and other trends.

Juli Monroe December 28, 2014 um 11:31 am

2014 was my first full year in Scribd, and I keep assuming I’m purchasing fewer books, but I’m not. I’ve crunched the numbers twice this year, and I’m still buying about as many as last year (maybe even a couple more). I didn’t look at the total dollar figure, but even with Scribd (and two months with KU), I’m still buying books.

eric welch December 30, 2014 um 10:49 am

Ditto. That’s been precisely my experience as well.

Richard Herley December 28, 2014 um 11:39 am

I have seen a marked decline in sales, though I have not signed up to KPD Select or KU, and it seems quite a few other indies are having the same experience. The glut of content is important, as Bob Mayer says, but so is the increasing expectation that reading should be cheap or free. Permafree titles have encouraged this, likewise the vast catalogue of public domain texts.

That mindset was there at the start, influenced by public libraries and free-to-access books in schools, ditto paper copies that could be borrowed or bought cheaply second-hand, but with the advent of the net it is becoming entrenched. It is in the nature of books and reading that many "reads" are free, and authors have lived with and accepted that for a long time. Sooner or later, though, if writing doesn’t provide some minimal recompense, the only people able to do it will be those who don’t need financial reward.

I can’t imagine that trade publishing isn’t feeling a difference too. This can only exacerbate the shrinking of publishers' lists and, maybe, bring forward the day when the Big 5 consolidate still further or even lose the support of their parent groups. However, they are better placed than indies, since they cater not so much to voracious readers as to the vastly more numerous readers who buy a handful of heavily promoted titles a year.

Interesting times.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 12:38 pm

"The glut of content is important, as Bob Mayer says, but so is the increasing expectation that reading should be cheap or free. Permafree titles have encouraged this, likewise the vast catalogue of public domain texts."

I’m not sure that there is an expectation that it should be free. I think it’s more that readers are becoming aware that is a possibility.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) December 28, 2014 um 12:56 pm

I do get emails asking when the first in my various series will be free. I wouldn’t say that I get MORE of such emails than when I started, but I still do received such emails on occasion. So there is SOME expectation out there than the first in a series will be free or that various books may go free at one time or another by some part of the reading population.

I have also seen threads where some readers basically say the only way they will try an unknown author is if at least one work is free.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 2:09 pm

There’s a difference between expecting the first title will be free and not wanting to have to pay at all. The former is a common marketing method, while the latter is a disturbing trend.

And I can understand how those readers feel about experimenting with new authors; there’s so much cheap content now that I have a low tolerance for paying for a book I may not like. In fact, I had to force myself to buy Wool to read it over Christmas, even though I knew it was probably good.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) December 28, 2014 um 2:44 pm

Yes, there is–but when I receive emails asking about freebies, it leads me to believe they are people who are expecting books to be free or else they won’t buy them. If authors or publishers choose to market their books that way, that’s great for readers, but readers can’t/shouldn’t expect authors to make their book free. That expectation will likely lead to less books, shorter books, more "teasers" and higher pricing on subsequent books in the series.

Mackay Bell December 28, 2014 um 9:44 pm

You could have got Wool free on Kindle Unlimited.

Paul December 28, 2014 um 11:51 pm

"Sooner or later, though, if writing doesn’t provide some minimal recompense, the only people able to do it will be those who don’t need financial reward."

Writing, like acting or singing, is one of those fields where there are always people who want to do it badly enough that they will do it for free. This tends to screw up the normal cause and effect of financial incentives.

Sharon December 29, 2014 um 5:14 am

I agree with Nate that it is probably not really an expectation. It’s just happening. People get as much free stuff as they want – many of my retired relatives simply don’t buy printed books at all, and they get ebooks for free at their library. They aren’t worried about the content providers. Why should they be?

Subscription services remind me, in a weird way, of all those book clubs that used to be around – History book club, SF book club, etc. I would sign up to get the (4 or 5 or 6) free books, stay in for the required amount of time, and then quit when I had bought the required amount of books and/or the remaining books they listed in their catalogue no longer appealed to me.

It could be the subscription services will continue to keep their customers happy, but who knows what will happen?

What I find disturbing is the very public announcements of so many (both prominent and non-prominent) authors that they’re leaving KU. It seems to me, uninformed as I am, like they’re trying to provoke people into abandoning the plan. I could be wrong about that. But I don’t like being manipulated, so I’ll take the time to make my own decisions.

Thomas December 28, 2014 um 1:36 pm

Even if you had the data you want, I think you still couldn’t make a good judgement on how this will play out long term. Most subscribers are still in the first few months. I recall signing up for Netflix online once. I watched movies like crazy for a month and half, then I ran out of must-sees. My viewing time dropped way down, and I quickly dropped the service. Every now and then I sign back up for a month, but I’m never going to be their ideal customer. If I were to sign up for an ebook subscription, it would probably play out the same way.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 3:40 pm

This is true (my Netflix activity followed a similar trend).

And it is also an argument against getting worried about the current KU trend.

Why I’ve Opted for Another Ninety (90) Day Term With Kindle Unlimited | Felipe Adan Lerma December 28, 2014 um 2:00 pm

[…]… […]

Reader December 28, 2014 um 2:40 pm

Richard Herley
Sooner or later, though, if writing doesn’t provide some minimal recompense, the only people able to do it will be those who don’t need financial reward.

A cousin + spouse have made their living for decades by freelancing in the art world. If they don’t sell their products, they don’t eat. My cousin maintains that a lot of people in the art world have inherited income which they can live off, so making a living off their art is not essential.

Sharon December 29, 2014 um 5:19 am

I get this, too. I have a good friend. She and her husband both have dedicated themselves to living from their art. She recently had to abandon her studio and 'downsize' to continue to do that. But to sell her work effectively , she has to show at galleries where the well-off congregate. It gives the impression she also belongs to those circles.

Paul December 28, 2014 um 4:45 pm

Scalzi has some thoughts on the matter too. His take is that the cap on the pot of money available makes KU more and more un-viable for a lot of authors.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 4:53 pm

I hadn’t seen that yet, thank you.

Fbone December 28, 2014 um 6:33 pm

Traditional publishers receive the full 70% of list price whether it’s sold at Apple, Kobo, B&N, Google, Scribd, Oyster or KU. To them a sale is a sale. If they see a drop in sales at Google, they may see an increase at Scribd. Same money. Same revenue.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 6:49 pm

Yes, but –

Only two of the Big 5 are in Scribd/Oyster, and none are in KU.

Trad pubs in general are sparse in KU, so if they see a drop in sales at Google they probably won’t be able to make up the sale in KU. The sale is _lost_, not transferred. And the situation is almost as bad at Scribd and Oyster.

Fbone December 28, 2014 um 7:32 pm

You asked if traditional publishers are seeing a drop in sales. For them a sale is a sale when it generates the same revenue. No difference except who sends the check. At current terms it can make sense for trads to join a subscription service even if it may cannibalize sales at Google.

Macmillan hinted at being the 3rd to join. If they do, the others will be forced to follow.

KU was never a threat to trad publishers. Different market.

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 8:29 pm

Yes, but you made a generalized statement that a sale is a sale is a sale and then listed venues where publishers aren’t. The second part of your statement invalidated the first.

And even when it comes to Scribd and Oyster it doesn’t really matter that a sale is a sale is a sale. Those services are limited to $10 per month per person, so at some point they will have to either raise costs, cut back, or reduce the royalty. They will one day have a problem similar to KU; it just hasn’t happened yet.

Mackay Bell December 28, 2014 um 11:32 pm

Also, aren’t the publishers who are working with Scribd and Oyster only putting in their back catalogue and a few best sellers? Aren’t they still hoping to tier their new releases? But if it kills sales for their new (higher priced) releases, it will hurt their bottom line. Or force them change their business model.

Sturmund Drang December 28, 2014 um 7:43 pm

This made me smile 🙂 When we had three channels we did not have fight night three times a week and baseball and football and roller derby every other night. What we had was soap operas from 9am to 5pm, Peyton Place and romance movies in the evening, and insipid game shows scattered throughout. It wasn’t the white male middle that was being pandered to.

Bara Minata December 28, 2014 um 9:53 pm

Just wondering… why all the hulabaloo over KU now but we never heard the same complaints over Scribd or Oyster?

Nate Hoffelder December 28, 2014 um 10:25 pm

KU gets more attention because Amazon. That’s not flappancy, just the way the news works.

And because it gets more press attention, KU might have more subscribers and thus be having more of an affect on revenue than Scribd and Oyster, which operate on a more traditional payment plan.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) December 29, 2014 um 10:31 am

Also for all those kindles out there, SCRIBD doesn’t work on Kindles. If you have already bought into the ecosystem and want to click/read, you have to go with KU.

Nate Hoffelder December 29, 2014 um 10:38 am

That is another reason KU could be having a greater impact, yes.

Felipe Adan Lerma December 29, 2014 um 11:27 am

Not true as a blanket statement.

I read on my Scribd app on my Kindle Fire all the time.

Disclosure: I’m subscribed to both Scribd and Kindle Unlimited, and enjoy both on all my connections: phone, tablet, and laptop.

Nate Hoffelder December 29, 2014 um 8:36 pm

She said Kindle (also ecosystem), not the Fire tablets (this is a reason why Amazon now calls them Fire tablets, and not Kindle Fire tablets).

Deborah Smith December 29, 2014 um 1:32 am

Because Scribd and Oyster pay on a different basis (fairly.)

Deborah Smith December 29, 2014 um 1:30 am

Small presses selling pop genre fiction saw an immediate and significant downturn in sales when KU launched. It can’t be explained by any other factor. Sales at Scribd and Oyster are good to excellent. Sales at other platforms are steady or trending upward. Since Amazon does not allow (most) small presses and (most) medium to large presses to participate in KU, it’s hard to say what the comparative results would be. Amazon is negotiating new wholesale contracts with small presses that seem designed to bleed them dry, with a wide majority of profit going to Amazon. Those are the facts, Nate.

William D. O’Neil December 29, 2014 um 1:33 am

Nate, you seem to be assuming that revenues are strictly proportional to sales, at least if you count KU reads as sales (as Amazon does). Not so if the revenue per full-price sale is significantly greater than the ~$1.35 Amazon pays per KU read. My latest book brings me more than four times that amount per full-price sale. So when KU started my sales (including KU reads) went up but my revenues went down, and since I left KDP nearly a month ago my sales have gone down while my revenues have gone up. I see the indirect effects of KU as very much a mixed bag for the individual author and surely not positive enough overall to compensate me for the revenue cost.

I further believe that the specificity of nonfiction books creates a very different dynamic, one in which the advantages of KU (such as they are) are attenuated still further.

Nate Hoffelder December 29, 2014 um 9:57 pm

Proportional? I’m not sure where you’re seeing that. Can you elaborate?

Greg Strandberg December 29, 2014 um 1:40 am

$1.39 for a borrow. That’s pretty good. I mean, I’m not making $0.35 on many books because there are no sales. But now I can get that borrow. Wow, that’s a game-changer and my income has gone up.

If I can get that borrow. Who says I can? I didn’t get the sale before, and even when messing with categories and keywords, that sucker won’t move in ranking without a sale or borrow. So I sink.

But wow, the chance to be seen by being in KU? That’s a much smaller pool than out of it, and maybe I’ll get that $1.39 this month. I mean, that’s 4 sales I’d usually have to get. Gosh KU is good to me.

Or is it? I dunno, but if you’re struggling to get $100 from Amazon at the end of the month, or even $50, then it might be good for you. And there’ll always be new, freshly-minted authors coming off the boat, just ready to put their book in. How do you compete against that?

I suppose that’s what everyone is scrambling and trying to figure out, huh? We’re trying to figure out how to compete against Amazon, and we can’t. I have a feeling it won’t get any easier, either. Might be best just to bite the bullet and get a job in January before all the mid-listers start looking later this spring.

Paul December 29, 2014 um 9:18 am

I think the main point to consider once again is that there is a cap on the amount of money Amazon is paying out. Say its $1 million and there’s 1 million books read that month. That means you’ll get $1 per book read. But if the following month 1.75 million books are read then it drops to 57 cents per book read. As the number of books or articles increases (as people are chopping their books into smaller chapters to get Amazon to pay out more) then the numbers drop again so its a no win scenario. There is no way you can have a stable financial stream of cash on a month to month basis.

It also depends on how much money publishers and authors make from casual readers compared to hard core readers. If most of the money is made from hard core readers (and I suspect that depends on the field) then you’ve just gutted your main source of profit. From Amazon’s perspective they will probably make more money as most of the subscribers of KU will be casual who don’t read that much and hence outweigh the hardcore subscribers (remember, a reader would have to read more than 6-8 books per month for Amazon to start losing money under this model) so their business model is more successful in terms of profit than selling books.

As Scalzi says, Amazon is in the business of making money for itself, not the authors, and its important to remember that.

And to the earlier comment that claimed the NYTimes hates Amazon. It doesn’t. Like most publications its there to make money and get people to read its content. It would be insane for them not to take a look at the biggest book seller on the planet, and write about their practices.

Greg Strandberg December 29, 2014 um 12:08 pm

$0.57 is a lot better than $.35, and Amazon knows this. I just don’t see them worrying, but I do see a lot of authors worrying. And guess what – no one knows what to do.

Rick Chapman January 6, 2015 um 11:29 am

+++ I think the main point to consider once again is that there is a cap on the amount of money Amazon is paying out. Say its $1 million and there’s 1 million books read that month. That means you’ll get $1 per book read. But if the following month 1.75 million books are read then it drops to 57 cents per book read. As the number of books or articles increases (as people are chopping their books into smaller chapters to get Amazon to pay out more) then the numbers drop again so its a no win scenario. There is no way you can have a stable financial stream of cash on a month to month basis. +++

Ah. An intelligent man!

You have put your finger on the problem, from the standpoint of the independent author (though you have undoubtedly annoyed AAAG and the Amazon fanboys).

The book subscriptions service strongly resembles the SaaS (Software as a Service) model, and, indeed, is a SaaS service.

There are several reason why SaaS has displaced on premise software as the new de facto standard in business software and increasingly on the consumer side as well. One of the key factors is revenue predictability in the case of both the supplier and consumer of the services. Businesses like SaaS because they can understand and forecast their expenditures. Suppliers like it because the because they can understand and forecast their earnings.

The KU program is black hole from the standpoint of the supplier and unsustainable in its present form. It also is a contradiction in terms as it fails to provide one of the fundamental reasons to subscribe to a service.

Rick Chapman
Author "SaaS Entrepreneur: The Definitive Guide to Success in Your Cloud Application Business"
Read Excerpts from all 10 chapters at

There’s a Question We Should Be Asking Re Kindle Unlimited and Its Impact on eBook Sales | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing December 29, 2014 um 10:00 am

[…] Link to the rest at The Digital Reader […]

William Ockham December 29, 2014 um 12:29 pm

I don’t think the Big 5 will see much of an immediate impact from KU because the target market for KU didn’t buy very many Big 5 ebooks. The dynamics of KU are such that the most negatively affected authors (in the short term) are the ones who were most successful in KDP Select before. The positive impacts went to indie authors who were "on the bubble" for KU readers (i.e. stories looked interesting, but reader wasn’t willing to spend money finding out).

Indie authors who are not in Select and whose ebooks would have appealed to KU subscribers are negatively impacted because they’ve lost a large pool of potential customers. One way for indie authors to look at the decision to stay in Select would be to estimate the potential total revenue from other platforms vs. the potential revenue from KU subscribers + the Amazon revenue due to increased visibility that borrows bring. Of course, no one has any idea how to do that calculation.

Dogzilla December 29, 2014 um 12:33 pm

So many of these books are not very good. It takes little time to decide if music, TV, or movies is something of interest, where it might takes hours invested in a book. I think people are much more careful about investing time in books, so we are less inclined to take the all you eat approach of Netflix or one of the music services.

William D. O’Neil December 29, 2014 um 2:00 pm

It’s interesting to see how many seem to see KU as a sort of moral litmus test, black or white. In fact for the author/publisher it is in effect simply a set of incentives, positive and negative. They’re quite asymmetric, affecting different books authors/publishers differently, and it’s scarcely surprising that it should have more appeal to some authors/publishers than to others. Although I’ve pulled two books out of Select to keep them out of KU, I’ve kept one in because it is a case where KU on balance appears favorable. As I publish additional titles I’ll decide on an individual basis whether to go Select and if so for how long.

Smart Debut Author December 29, 2014 um 4:16 pm

The most unpalatable aspect of KU is Amazon’s unfortunate decision to make indies subsidize traditionally published participants. Sad, really.

William Ockham December 30, 2014 um 10:04 pm

That is false. Indies are not subsidizing traditional publishers in KU. Amazon is subsidizing all participants in KU. The presence of a handful of bestsellers in KU benefits every indie participant by attracting subscribers. The level of ignorance and FUD coming from people I respect (like you) baffles me.

Felipe Adan Lerma December 30, 2014 um 10:54 am

Nate, Maria – "She said Kindle (also ecosystem), not the Fire tablets (this is a reason why Amazon now calls them Fire tablets, and not Kindle Fire tablets)." –

My bad then, wasn’t aware of that, thanks.

ps – ran out of "reply" slots so had to post here separately

La Veille du Labo de l’édition #6 : En brèves | Le blog du Labo de l'édition December 30, 2014 um 5:11 pm

[…] fait l’écho des revendications des auteurs indépendants. Plus notable, Nate Hoffelder, dans un article daté du 28 décembre 2014 et publié sur The Digital Reader, s’interroge quant à lui sur […]

End of a year, and perhaps the end of a stage of the ebook transition – The Shatzkin Files The Shatzkin Files December 31, 2014 um 1:57 pm

[…] Nate Hoffelder at Digital Reader makes the point that we’d want to know whether it is just the indie authors feeling this pain or whether publishers are seeing revenues shrink too. But that’s a very difficult comparison to make. Amazon gets the attractive books from the big non-agency publishers by just buying them for each use (paying whatever is the publisher’s wholesale price). Amazon wins that way because they don’t have to get the publisher’s permission to participate in the subscription program, but they’re paying a lot more for each subscriber read than they pay the indies. So even if the reader balance shifts from “individual purchase” to subscription read”, the publisher wouldn’t lose income. […]

Scott Nicholson January 1, 2015 um 5:45 pm

The subscription service is just a blip on the way to the ad-supported books era. And if you think that isn’t coming soon, think how fast music downloads killed CDs, and that in 2013 download "sales" (or licenses, depending on what you want to call it) dropped 8 percent as more people moved to streaming services like Spotify. Did Apple buy Beats to kill it or to ride it? Doesn’t matter, either way they bought it. I know, I know, "music is different blah blah blah," But Spotify’s compensation model is likely better than what is going to happen to books, where the product is usually only consumed once.

I suspect Amazon’s goal for all its streaming or subscription content is to eventually sell advertising instead of the content. I also suspect authors are going to long for the days when they could $1.39 per download. I don’t see why digital books should be immune to the fate of all other digital products.

Nate Hoffelder January 1, 2015 um 6:29 pm

Music downloads didn’t kill CDs. Ten times more CDs were sold in 2013 than tracks were downloaded.

Felipe Adan Lerma January 1, 2015 um 6:40 pm

Scott, re "books, where the product is usually only consumed once" –

Do you believe there might be more of a comparison to Netflix?

I don’t know how that works out for the content providers, but I don’t hear the same kind of lamenting as in music, or books. But I honestly don’t know how that model pays out.

Amazon Counts Year-End Gains | Digital Book World January 2, 2015 um 8:05 am

[…] Amazon recently added to the pool from which authors are compensated. But as one industry watcher sees it, the bigger question is whether subscription ebooks are cannibalizing title-by-title sales in the […]

Giftige e-boekenberg bedreigt de markt | Digital Native January 8, 2015 um 2:46 am

[…] e-boekmarkt watchers zoals Nate Hoffelder wijzen erop dat dit een fundamentele verschuiving kan betekenen in de leesgewoonten van de consument. Als we […]

New Data from Nielsen Book Shows Kindle Unlimited Subscribers Spend More on Books ⋆ Ink, Bits, & Pixels January 27, 2015 um 2:30 pm

[…] last month I asked whether consumers were buying fewer books after switching to subscription ebook services like Scribd, Oyster, or Kindle Unlimited, and according to the latest info from Neilsen Book the […]

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