July 22, 2014

Kindle Unlimited:  One Writer's Take

The writing world was thrown into an uproar last week with the announcement by Amazon of a new eBook subscription service called Kindle Unlimited. Social media lit up with thoughts from worried writers and both readers and writers asking each other, "Do you plan to enroll?"

Subscription plans are nothing new.  Think Book-of-the-Month club or the about-to-be-dismantled Black Expressions (African-American titles in special hardcover editions will now be available strictly through its parent company, the Doubleday Book Club, where it first began).  The same things existed for music, dating back to the days of the LP.  The big difference is that Kindle Unlimited, for a monthly membership fee of $9.99, allows its members to borrow (it is my understanding that books will be returned after reading rather than remain on members' Kindles--which I've heard are the only devices accepted on this plan; no apps allowed) an unlimited number of books, hence its name.

There are two catches for authors that I see immediately.  One, their book has to be enrolled in KDP Select, requiring it be sold only on Amazon and nowhere else. Indie authors with huge followings are given the option of enrolling in Kindle Unlimited without being on Select, obviously because of name value. Let's face it, no one back in the day would want tickets to a Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes concert if Teddy Pendergrass wasn't going to be performing with them, and the same concept holds true today. Amazon needs big names to draw in readers. 

The other catch for indie authors is that they only get paid when/if 10% of their book is read. The amount paid to indies per borrow is the same as the amount received for books borrowed through the Prime plan (a discount plan on all types of merchandise Amazon sells, which includes the ability to borrow one book per month), which is currently in the $2 range. The effect of this new plan on the KDP Select Global Plan remains to be determined. Amazon has added an additional $800,000 to the fund, but if the plan catches on big, the possibility exists that the author's share of the pie can be significantly reduced unless Amazon substantially increases the funding.

I've heard it said (I haven't been able to substantiate this, but I feel I can trust Hugh Howey) that the payments differ for books published by traditional publishers, with each borrow being paid at the full 70% royalty, as if it had been purchased (I'm unsure whether or not there is a reader obligation to complete a portion of the book for the writer to be compensated). This strikes me as a back-of-the-bus type of attitude that frankly makes me uncomfortable. (In the interest of full disclosure, I see that three of my traditionally published titles are enrolled.)   

I recently had one of my eBooks (Isn't She Lovely?) enrolled in Select to run a Countdown deal celebrating five years as an indie author. Unfortunately, I forgot to un-check the box to prevent automatic re-enrollment at the end of 90 days, and it rolled over for another 90-day term. I have since learned that Amazon is offering writers the option of removing their book(s) from Kindle Select, effective "right away." I don't know a) if this works, or b) if it is as quick as they claim, but I did submit a request form. Amazon simply asks writers to include the book's ASIN with your request. (Update: It took about 15 hours for this book to be removed. Once I confirmed its removal I added a lower-priced book, A Love of Her Own, to the program. That went into effect in just about 1 hour, so I presume there's somewhat of a backlog for removals.)

This action on my part might give you the impression that I'm against Kindle Unlimited, but that's not true. I just don't happen to feel that Isn't She Lovely? is the right title for the program. At over 100k words, it's (reasonably, in my opinion) priced at $4.99. I would be taking a loss on borrows that pay about $2.  It makes more sense to me to enroll a book priced in the $2.99 range (or even less than that, since I don't believe Amazon has minimum word counts for participation, meaning that a 99-cent, 50-page tome can be enrolled and possibly earn the author double the cover price per borrow).

Everyone's experience as an author is different...some sell well on Amazon but not in other places, others sell well at Amazon and at other retailers as well, while still others sell better at Barnes & Noble than at other retailers. Because of this, everyone's experience with Kindle Unlimited will be different. There is no right or wrong; there is only what is right for you as an individual author.

That said, I've also noticed that these newfangled ideas regarding publishing have bred many a success story for those who get rolling with it right away...people whose careers got jump-started by enrolling books in Kindle Select upon its introduction...people who advertised on Bookbub in its early days who made five figures from a single ad...people who sold one of their books at 99 cents and made tons of money on their other titles before Amazon changed their algorithms. I'm not much for jumping on bandwagons, but nor do I see a need for prolonged hesitation. I feel that if it's not a lengthy commitment (each Select enrollment lasts for 90 days) and it isn't something illegal or underhanded, what can it hurt by giving it a try, preferably while other authors are sitting on the fence (or waiting for indie publishing guru Joe Konrath to weigh in)?

I've seen many authors objecting to taking their "books" (plural) off the cybershelves of other retailers to give Amazon exclusivity, but this is not an all-or-nothing deal. To date I have indie published 12 full-length novels and two short prequels, and I don't see the harm in taking one of those full-length novels and enrolling it in Select, and therefore in Unlimited, and leaving the others where they are. Yes, there are still unanswered questions, among the most pressing being what will happen to the program after all those 30-day trial periods people are currently signing up for expire...will it thrive, or will people decide not to continue past the trial; and also how this will work out financially for indie authors. The way I see it, the sooner I get in, the sooner I can get out if I decide it's not working for me.

That's my opinion. I'd love to hear yours!


Ey Wade said...

Good points. Totally something to ponder. I do have a .99 cent book I can enroll.

Barbara said...

I agree 100%

Chicki Brown said...

This was one of the best explanations I've read so far. You helped me make my decision. Thanks, Bettye.

bettye griffin said...

Glad you guys found it helpful!