What Kindle Unlimited Means for the Indie eBook Publisher


If you are an Indie eBook publisher with books currently enrolled in KDP Select, your books are automatically included in Kindle Unlimited. Perhaps you already know that. But do you know all the details about what Kindle Unlimited inclusion potentially means to your bottom line?

In July 2014, Amazon rolled out Kindle Unlimited, an eBook subscription service that currently offers subscribers unlimited access to over 1.4 million Kindle eBooks in all categories for $9.99 per month. For the avid reader, who spends $9.99 or more each month on eBook purchases, Kindle Unlimited seems like a no-brainer. But not so fast.

As pointed out in the Ebook Friendly.com article, “Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription – 12 things to know,” there are both pros and cons for readers when it comes to Kindle Unlimited subscriptions. But what I want to focus attention on in this post is what Kindle Unlimited means for those of us who write and self-publish and elect to participate in KDP Select, and by default Kindle Unlimited.

As much as a great many authors would rather view writing books as an art form rather than business, at the end of the day, the fact remains that authors who self-publish are also engaged in a business that sells a product, namely books. After all, since most writers write to be read, you must sell books for that to happen.

Take the innate desire (often desperate desire) of writers to reach readers and add to the mix a giant retailer that controls around 70% of the entire global eBook market. Not only that, but the retailer has a business model wholly predicated upon offering its customers the greatest possible selection of eBooks at the lowest possible prices. What you get is the potential for a “perfect storm” when it comes to the devaluation of eBooks, both regarding what readers think an eBook should cost, as well as regarding what authors can expect to be paid for their books.

Like the pros and cons of Kindle Unlimited for readers, there are also pros and cons for authors with eBooks included in the service. One advantage is the potential for reaching readers who might take a chance on a new author they otherwise wouldn’t when they can read his or her book for free. But that potential for increased exposure and readership does come at a price.

To maintain its huge share of the global eBook market, Amazon must continue finding ways to offer lower prices which in part means the company must continually find ways to force suppliers to accept lower prices and margins. Kindle Unlimited, especially with the relatively recent pages read tweak is one way Amazon accomplishes that. Indie authors earn significantly less from books borrowed and read by Kindle Unlimited subscribers than he or she would realize from an actual book sale. I’ll use my book, Come What May, as an example.

The book is 277 pages in length. If a Kindle Unlimited subscriber in the United States borrows it, I’ll receive about a half cent ($.005) for each page read so if someone borrows the book and reads it in its entirety, I stand to earn only about 68% of the royalty I’d earn from an actual book sale. Perhaps the potential for wider exposure to readers could justify the difference. But what if the person borrowing and reading my book happens to live in another country like India as one example, where people can’t afford the $9.99 per month KU subscription.

Amazon reduces the subscription price for KU India subscribers, so the company also reduces the pages read payment to me for pages read by KU India subscribers. There my book might earn only a third of what it earns in the US, or about two-tenths of a cent per page.  At two-tenths of a cent per page, a reader would have to read about five pages for me to earn a single penny.  My 277-page-book that might earn me 68% of the royalty from a book sale might earn me only about 55 cents in India.

Participation in KDP Select and by default Kindle Unlimited is, of course, a decision each individual Indie publisher must make for themselves. But you need to understand that Amazon is not some benevolent player in the book marketing business that always has your best interests at heart, but a heartless mega book retailer with its own profitability firmly in mind. A part of that includes forcing self-published authors to gradually accept lower prices and lower margins for their work. Kindle Unlimited renders royalty based on list price irrelevant and allows Amazon to pay authors less.

Honestly, Kindle Unlimited is only one of a host of reasons why participation in KDP Select is increasingly becoming a poor business decision for many Indie book publishers. We will take a behind the scenes look at that topic in my next post. But for now, as a teaser, think about this.

The much-ballyhooed roll out of Amazon Marketing Services eligibility for Indie publishers is being touted by Amazon as the means to achieve greater visibility that will help authors compete more effectively for readers’ attention in highly competitive, high-traffic areas on Amazon.com? Isn’t that the whole point of enrolling in KDP Select?

I’m inclined to believe that Indie authors unwilling to pony up more of their margin to pay for Amazon Marketing Services aren’t getting what they were promised as a perq for enrolling in KDP Select. I’m of the opinion they aren’t getting anymore added visibility and competitive advantage for their books by enrolling them in KDP Select than are authors who choose to eschew making an exclusive arrangement with Amazon in favor of marketing their books on multiple platforms. We’ll talk about that and more next time.

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