I’ve held off on commenting on Kindle Unlimited as I really wasn’t sure what direction it was going to go in and I didn’t want to contribute to the mania. Incredible volumes have been written about it already even though very few people really knew what it would entail. Honestly, I’m still not really certain what to think — but here is what I know.
Here’s What We Know About Kindle Unlimited
- Kindle Unlimited is a $9.99 service that allows readers to theoretically downloaded an unlimited amount of books.
- In practice, a reader can have 10 books open at each time — they need to finish their books as they download them.
- Anyone in the Kindle KDP Select service is automatically opted into Kindle Unlimited but can choose not to be.
- Kindle Unlimited is rolled into the KOLL borrows service. In practice, it looks exactly like a KOLL borrow to a writer.
- Each Kindle Unlimited borrow amounts to approximately $1.81 cents. KOLL borrows used to be about $2.10.
For readers, the Kindle Unlimited service is a win all around. Voracious readers who go through more than a few books in a month will almost definitely save money through the use of this service. However, it’s important to note that Kindle Unlimited excludes books from most of the major publishers. Some believe Kindle Unlimited may be trying to take on the Big 5 in this way.
Here’s Why Some Writers Are Worried About With Kindle Unlimited
- If you have a $4.99 book and it’s borrowed, you’ll only get $1.81. If you have a $12.99 book and it’s borrowed, you’ll only get $1.81.
- Some writers may take advantage of this to start publishing in shorter “mini” installments rather than whole works.
- Readers may download large volumes of books and never actually read them, thereby reducing the pot for everyone.
It’s important to note that KU, like KOLL, operates with a pool of money. Under KOLL the pool was about $2 million. This pot is divided by the amount of downloads and then that amount, which was always around $2.00, is given to writers on a per download basis. In other words, the more downloads there are, the less money each writer makes. For a download to count, the reader must read at least 10% of a book — but that isn’t exactly a huge feat.
As for the other issues — this could be legitimate. Some writers have stated their purchases are going down while their borrows go up. This could reduce the amount of money a writer makes because each work gets a flat $1.81 regardless of pricing and length. It’s worth mentioning that many writers believe that their borrows are “on top” of their ordinary sales — that they aren’t reducing their actual sales at all. For writers that experience this, borrows are just gravy.
Finally — I’ve never found it useful to worry about what other writers are doing.
Here’s Why Some Writers Are Excited About Kindle Unlimited
- Writers may gain additional exposure through Kindle Unlimited.
- Self-published books finally have an edge against traditionally published books.
- Even $0.99 titles will get $1.81 per borrow.
Writers that write shorter non-fiction books and short stories may very well find Kindle Unlimited very good for them. Books that once did not merit a purchase may be read and consumed quickly. It will become a very new market. Kindle Unlimited is also one of the very few markets in which self-published writers will have an edge over books produced by the larger publishing houses.
Kindle Unlimited makes it much easier for readers to pick up books that they have only a passing interest in. It’s very hard for new writers to break through barriers, and this could make it easier for those who are not yet known in the industry to pick up new fans. Generally, anything that makes it easier for a reader to read a book is beneficial.
Here Are Some Other Important Things You Should Know About Kindle Unlimited
- Kindle Unlimited borrows count against book rank. This gives KU books an edge on other books on the ranking lists.
- The $1.81 figure may not be permanent. Amazon artificially boosted the fund during the first month of Kindle Unlimited.
- Kindle Unlimited is still brand new. It’s difficult to tell which trends will last.
The fact that KU borrows do count against book rank is almost unfair to books that are not in Amazon KDP Select. Though I’ve always been in KDP Select, I’m very torn on how to feel about this. On the one hand, it’s hardly fair to make KU borrows not count. However, it’s also punishing writers that prefer to diversify their income sources — and that’s really worrying.
During the first month, Amazon was not properly counting downloads. They counted all downloads rather than just the ones that were read up to 10%. To counter this, they boosted the fund with an injection of funds. Theoretically, the $1.81 figure (or a close approximation) should continue. But that’s not necessarily true.
Here’s What I Think About Kindle Unlimited
Kindle Unlimited is an attempt to create a Netflix-esque subscription service for books. There are already services like this out there, but Amazon has the infrastructure ready to easily become the biggest book subscription service. At the same time, this is Amazon’s attempt to disrupt the publishing industry and to grab power from the big publishing houses. Whether that’s a good thing or not is really a matter of opinion. I don’t believe it is a coincidence that this is occurring on the heels of the Hachette controversy. While there’s no direct link, I think both are symptomatic of Amazon’s desire to become a publishing powerhouse.
I’m wary of saying that Kindle Unlimited is either good or bad. I think, if it became very popular, it would devalue self-published works. If Kindle Unlimited catches on, all books are essentially “worth” $1.81, from short periodicals to longer epic novels. This will further drive writers towards brief snippets of work. (Of course, it could be really very good for the erotica industry, which has been flagging as of late!) There will always be writers who hold true to their own standards, but there are also many writers who just want to get paid (and there is nothing wrong with that).
Theoretically you could write flash fiction and upload it for $1.81; the second the reader read it, they would hit 10% and $1.81 would be sent to you! The reader would likely have no complaint — they didn’t spend any money directly on it, of course — they would just move on to the next “novel.” As more of these short stories and short non-fictions hit the press, the price will be driven down. Suddenly novels will be worth $0.99 and then $0.25. And the cycle would continue as readers became used to the idea of downloading books in small pieces.
But of course, this is the worst case scenario.
In fact, there’s one reason why Kindle Unlimited may not have a negative effect on writers at all. And it’s a big one: Kindle Unlimited is most definitely a niche product. The increase many writers are seeing in their borrows (and the associated decrease in sales that many report) is probably temporary as people try out the new subscription service — Amazon has allowed people to try Kindle Unlimited out for free for the first month. The fact is that there aren’t that many people out there who read so many books a year that they need a subscription service. It’s fairly likely that Kindle Unlimited will taper off and even out over time, unless it becomes bundled with Amazon Prime. Which is a possibility.
In any case, that was a lot of words to say: I don’t really know. And, as a final note, the following book is free today… and on Kindle Unlimited