What’s So Interesting About Kindle Unlimited?

Big news today: Kindle Unlimited.

Ten bucks per month for unlimited access to any Kindle book in the program, on any device.

Who’s got two thumbs and started his free trial within ten minutes of the announcement? Yeah, this guy.

Let’s be honest: from a reader perspective, this is awesome. Ten bucks per month? Hell, I’m lucky if I don’t spend three or four times that every first of every month on the Kindle Monthly Deals.

From an author perspective? A publishing perspective?

Look, I’ll be candid: of that I’m not sure yet. For quite a while, Exciting Press titles were in Kindle Direct Publishing Select. They were exclusive to Kindle, could only be bought from Amazon. We publish without DRM — always have and always will — so readers could convert their books for whatever device they were using, but let’s be honest there and note how tedious that is (if you even know how to do it in the first place, which a lot of readers may not). But if I may be further honest here I would argue that Amazon’s gained dominance in the ebook marketplace simply because its experience is so superior for readers, and I think that makes a difference.

According to my KDP page, by enrolling in KDP Select, my books can be part of Kindle Unlimited. And when a reader reads 10% of my book, I’d get paid. It’s not clear how much, but my guess is that, as with the Kindle Owners Lending Library, authors get an equal share of a fund dedicated to all participants eligible to get paid.

Is that more or less than I get from the 70% I get now? I’ve no idea. It may be less per book but ultimately more overall, depending on the success of the program and my hypothetical book’s performance within it.

I’m not here to tell you it’s awesome or terrible. It may be both, depending on your perspective. Who knows? Arguably nobody writing about it today, or yesterday, or the day before.

But I did want to highlight why I think it’s interesting. Because every article I’ve seen about the idea in general– that of streaming ebooks, basically–compares it to Netflix. The shorthand is it’s “the Netflix of ebooks.” It’s “Spotify for stories.”

What I think is interesting, though, is it seems like it’s precisely the opposite.

Netflix? Spotify? They worked with studios and labels to get the content their platform would use. Which I think prompts a question, and maybe a couple: How much do the artists get paid? How much do the labels get paid?

I don’t know the answer to that question. I’ve heard that it’s a low number–for some reason, 11 cents sticks out in my head. But I may have just made that up.

Point is, though, in the case of Spotify, authors make their royalties based on their agreements with their labels — whom Spotify pays.

You probably see where I’m going with this.

What’s brilliant about the way Amazon did this is they didn’t have to talk to anyone beforehand. They didn’t have to go to the corporate publishers. They spent years building this awesome digital reading platform, and then they spent more years attracting some terrific authors, and offering incentives to those authors to go all-in with them. “Let us be the only place people can buy your ebooks,” they said, “And we’ll make it worth your while. We’ll give you free promotions. Countdown deals. We’ll let people borrow your book.”

“We’ll make you part of Kindle Unlimited.”

For authors who are already in KDP Select, they are automatically pulled in to Kindle Unlimited. I’ve already heard people complain about the opt-out versus opt-in system (I think it was more efficient than anything else. They were authors who were already exclusive. Now they get access to this really cool program a ton of readers are going to sign up for).

Now, I don’t know for sure they didn’t talk to the corporate publishers, but I do know they didn’t launch with any.

That’s huge.

This is the number one online retailer of both print and ebooks. Amazon accounts for at least 60% of the market, and I’d posit that’s a gross underestimation there. They built the best digital book experience — from shopping for them to reading them — from the ground up, and when it came time to offer its customers a method by which they could spend $10 per month for unlimited access to ebooks, they did so without having corporate publishers’ titles in their libraries.

This may just be the largest endorsement of independent authors and their work . . . pretty much ever.

Those 600,000 books? There are some from publishers, small and somewhat larger alike. Open Road Media is there with some Michael Chabon titles. There are a few other big names from popular presses. But the vast majority of them are by independent authors. There are 55,000 books in fantasy and science fiction alone, and most of those titles appear to be independent.

Amazon believed strongly enough in the quality of all that work to launch Kindle Unlimited without the support of a single corporate publisher. And it didn’t just believe, mind you; it likely has all the data it could possibly want to bear out that this was a good move for them.

7 Comments

  1. Another amazing move by Amazon. I love the way they move so fast (once I get over my initial fright). The new borrow program will be wonderful exposure for kdp authors and probabaly just in the nick of time, too. I notice a lot of authors going farther and farther afield in an attempt to draw in more readers. We all know, deep-down, that that is an ass-backwards way to go about things. Amazon has given writers a huge boost that way. Now we can spend more time concentrating on our primary purpose: writing and publishing the best books we can.

  2. I think it’s exciting, and I expect the program will expand my readership. Both my KDP and Thomas & Mercer titles will be listed, and I’ll be paid a full royalty for download. Every time I get on board an Amazon innovation, I benefit in remarkable ways.

    • Thanks for the comment, LJ. When you say “paid a full royalty for download,” you mean the full 70% of list price, I take it? That’s interesting; is that because you have the T&M relationship in place? As I’ve understood it, KU payments will draw from the same pool as KOLL always has. But that may be wrong.

      I think it’s exciting, too.

  3. Thanks for the great post, Will.
    As both a traditionally published author and an indie I have been more than happy to put my lot in with Amazon. When I first indie-published my second book I had it up on all the sites (B&N, Smashwords, Kobo, etc) and I can count on ONE HAND how many copies I sold on those sites combined. Amazon was a different story, and I finally decided to go to KDP Select.
    Granted, I don’t sell a whole lot of books to begin with, but I’m definitely selling many, many more than I would have on all the other bookselling sites.
    And I must say I’m very excited about the latest addition to Amazon’s arsenal for independent authors – Kindle Unlimited.

  4. Will, I took a look at my Royalty Reports on the KDP Dashboard and was able to figure out what KDP paid per “borrow” on the Lending Program. Download the Prior Months Royalties and open the Excel spreadsheet. There’s a column titled Net Units Sold or Borrowed, and there is a row marked for KOLL under Transaction Type. At the end of that row there is a dollar amount. If you divide the dollar amount by the units borrowed under KOLL, voila — the payment For me, it was $2.17 per borrow in May and $2.24 per borrow in June. That’s higher than I would have be paid as a royalty for a “sale” of an ebook at $2.99. I don’t know whether Amazon will provide the same information for Kindle Unlimited. Let’s hope so.
    Of course, I can only find out after the fact. There is still the problem that Amazon gets to decide how much to put into the fund.

Comments are closed.