Want to know the dirty little secrets behind Kindle Unlimited? – 10/04/17

Jasmine the Writing Cat looking slightly drugged

aka: What you wish authors would tell you about Kindle Unlimited (but usually won’t!)

(WARNING! WARNING! WARNING! This post is really long, but I hope it is also both entertaining and informative. If you just want to skip down to find out if you won the gift card, scroll down to the next section. I promise that it’s easily marked out. I’m giving the “inside scoop” on Kindle Unlimited in this post, but if you’re not interested in that, I promise I’m not offended).

Last week, I sent out a survey (which, if you missed it, check it out here. I’ll be drawing winners for gift cards for the rest of the month, so if you haven’t filled out the survey yet, go take it now and enter for your chance to win!) ?

One of the questions that I asked in the survey was whether or not you, dear reader, belong to the Amazon program Kindle Unlimited, and in return, I got several readers wanting to know more about what that program is and how it works. One question (hi Pamela!) summed up the questions on the topic pretty well:

“I was wondering how authors are compensated for KU books. I’m not sure why I am curious about this, just that I thought you were compensated on purchased books.”

Just to be clear, as an author, I do not belong to that program – I am a “wide” author, which means that I publish on all major storefronts (Amazon, B&N, Kobo, GooglePlay, and iBooks). You may be wondering why I don’t belong to Kindle Unlimited, especially if you (as a reader) use it a lot.

Short answer? Because unlike how the name makes it sound, it is very limited…for an author.

In order to be available in Kindle Unlimited (or KU, as it’s widely known), your books can only be available for sale on Amazon. If your book is found to be published on other storefronts while also enrolled in KU, Amazon can punish you pretty hardcore, up to and including shutting down your Amazon account. This is obviously not something to be trifled with.

Let’s be honest about something: Amazon is the 800-pound gorilla in the room. I get about 55% of my sales through them, and 45% of my sales through all of the other storefronts combined together. My split is actually pretty even; some wide authors get 80% to 90% or more of their income from Amazon alone.

From a reader’s POV, KU works pretty well: The reader pays $10 a month and can read as many books as they want for that $10. The reader can have 10 titles in their “library” at any given time, but they have to return a title in order to check out another one, above the ten-book limit.

So it’s basically an unlimited buffet of choices…as long as the reader is only interested in reading KU authors.

From an author’s POV, KU can also work pretty well. Amazon makes books that are enrolled in KU more “visible” to readers, so they find them easier. Amazon puts those books higher on the results page, and they give more “juice” for each buy than they would for a book not enrolled in KU.

I actually did an experiment on this topic. I took a book that was out of KU and enrolled it in KU, just to see what would happen to the book ranking. Without any sales or borrows, the book jumped about 100,000 in ranking overnight.

Amazon does not try to hide the fact that they reward KU authors with higher visibility and more algorithmic love – this is a big part of the draw of being enrolled in KU, and they make no bones about it. (Total side note: Now I want to write a book called Algorithms of Love and have it star a computer programmer. Haha! Okay, focusing…)

Along with higher visibility, Amazon also pays authors for books that are read through the KU program. Let’s pretend for a moment that I was enrolled in KU and had a book that was 100 pages long. I would receive roughly $0.41 if a reader read it all the way through to the end. When a book is borrowed through KU, I do not receive any money for a “sale” – I receive money when the book is read.

However, (and this is weird and a little hard to wrap your mind around): Authors receive a bump in ranking in the Kindle store when a book is borrowed, even before it’s read.

So, let’s say that you borrow, but then never read a book, and finally just return it. The book will go a little higher in the rankings because of that borrow, but the author will not be paid. These are called “ghost borrows” in the author world, because authors will see their rankings increase, but their income stays the same.

Side note: As an author, I am never told when my book is borrowed, nor how many pages are read by a particular reader. I am simply told how many page reads I’ve received in a day. So let’s say that I have a book that is 100 pages long, and I have 100 page reads show up on my dashboard. Possibilities:

  • 100 readers read 1 page of my book
  • 10 readers read 10 pages of my book
  • 1 reader read 100 pages (all of) my book

There’s literally no way to know as an author. It’s a big ol’ black box of nothing but, “100 page reads.” This drives KU authors insane, lol. There’s a big difference between 100 people reading one page of my book (why only one page? Is the first page that bad?? Why are they all quitting so early in the book? WHAT DID I SCREW UP??! AAAAHHHHH!!!) vs 1 person reading all of my book (yay! My book was good enough that the reader finished it! Coolio).

All right, so now let’s discuss why I’m not in KU. ?

  1. I’m allergic to monopolies. ? Although I am a Prime member of Amazon and buy a fair amount from them, I also try to buy from other stores. When you get a monopoly, then they can do whatever they want, because they have no one to compete with; no reason to behave themselves. That worries me. So, I don’t wish to contribute to that problem by only being available to purchase on Amazon.
  2. As a former librarian, I like the idea of being available to all. Many authors out there are only available on Amazon so they can belong to KU; I personally don’t like leaving the rest of my readers out in the cold. 45% of my readers wouldn’t be able to read my books if I were only on Amazon, which is not fair to them.
  3. Most of my family uses Apple exclusively (we’re pretty much addicted to Apple, lol) and I would be disowned if my books were only available on Amazon. Okay, not really, but I have a few family members who would be shooting me nasty looks at the Thanksgiving table. ?
  4. Much more seriously: Amazon treats authors like garbage. ? That’s a cold, harsh truth, but ask any KU author if they like the program, and I can almost guarantee that about 90% of them will tell you they abhor it.

Here’s the reason why: Amazon chooses how much to pay for a “page read” each month, and they don’t tell the authors how much it’s going to be until after the month is over.

Imagine for a moment, if you will, that your employer tells you on February 15th how much you made in the month of January, and then doesn’t pay you that amount until March 31st.

That’s exactly how Amazon runs. That’s not a what-if scenario for authors; that’s reality.

On the 15th of each month, Amazon tells authors how much they’re going to pay those authors for the pages read through the Kindle Unlimited program, for the month before. This means that as an author, you can’t plan anything because you never have a clue of how much you’re making.

And they calculate it down to the nth degree. Their pay per page will look something like $0.004319842. When you have millions of pages read per month, just a slight change in that number can mean a huge change in your paycheck.

Also, just FYI, KU authors would kill for that rate I just typed out. The September 15th rate was in the $0.0041 range (I’m too lazy to look it up) which was tied for the lowest rate ever (the August 15th rate was also in the $0.0041 range).

For a historical perspective, Amazon started out this program paying out pretty close to $0.0049 per page. This doesn’t seem like a big difference, but for an author who is getting 1,000,000 in page reads per month (which is about average for a KU author), this is a pay cut of $800 per month.

What if your employer were handing out paychecks and said, “Oh yeah, I cut your pay by $800 for the work you did last month – hope you don’t mind!” and then if you protested, said, “Well, go get a job elsewhere!”

Because that’s what Amazon does all. the. time. to KU authors.

It’s gotten to the point where authors are getting a bit of PTSD around the 15th of the month. They’re waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares about it. They’re having panic attacks over it. I’m not exaggerating at all.

It’s awful.

So why am I not in KU? Because I like my stomach lining, thankyouverymuch. ?

Now, I’m not telling you all of this to make you feel guilty about reading your books through KU. If you use that program and enjoy the wide variety of books available through it, that’s awesome-sauce. The authors are getting paid for you reading through KU, so you shouldn’t feel like you’re putting authors into the poor house with that decision. It’s completely up to an author as to whether or not they’re going to be enrolled in KU. No one is forcing them into it by gun point.

But for me, it simply doesn’t make sense to do it, and so I won’t. ?  God bless capitalism.

So for the 45% of you who are reading me on other platforms (B&N, GooglePlay, etc), just know that I’m not going anywhere. I had some people panic when they took my survey, thinking that I was contemplating a switch, and I just want to allay those fears. ?  I’m wide, and I’m gonna stay that way.

And I don’t just mean because I can’t leave chocolate cheesecake alone (although that’s true too!)

Well, I hope that little insight into the KU world was helpful, and that you at least have a better idea of why some authors will choose to be in KU vs choose to be on all storefronts. It’s a very personal choice for authors, and can be a hard one to make, because there is no straightforward answer that is right for everyone.

Okay, with all of that out of the way…onto gift card winning time! Remember, I will be drawing one winner per week for the next month, and the winner will only be announced in my newsletter, so be sure to pay attention each week. ?

win a gift card to an eBookstore of your choice!

This week’s winner is XX. (I DON’T REVEAL THE WINNER ON MY BLOG! PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY NEWSLETTER). Please hit reply to this email and tell me which storefront you want your gift card for, and what email address to have that gift card delivered to. You’ve got until next Wednesday to claim your gift card, or I’ll go ahead and pick someone else. ?

Speaking of giveaways…

Melissa Storm is running a giveaway for five free romance novels and $100 – check it out:

Well, that’s it for me, while I finish working on the edits for Returning for Love and my Super Secret Plans that will be revealed SOON!

Until next week!


PS I’m loving, loving, loving all of the feedback from the survey – I’m reading each and every comment, and the answers as a whole are incredibly useful for me. So if you haven’t taken it yet, DOOO IIITTTTTT!! It’s fast, it’s easy, and it might be your ticket to a gift certificate for more books! ?

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