Are authors earning more or less with Kindle Unlimited?

Unlimited Reading


Now that customers can subscribe to Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 to read unlimited books, authors are wondering whether the grass is greener inside or outside of KDP Select.

One trade-off is exclusivity. Titles enrolled in KDP Select can’t be available in digital format anywhere other than Kindle.

Exclusivity actually works two ways:

  • The obvious way is that KDP Select books may lose potential sales to customers who love to read on Nooks, Kobos, etc.
  • Another way is that books not enrolled in KDP Select may lose potential borrows from Kindle Unlimited customers, who may strongly prefer not to purchase books outright.

There is another trade-off for higher-priced e-books: Kindle Unlimited has paid about $1.50 for the first two months, which is less than the usual royalties for most books priced $2.99 and up.

Another issue is that customers must read 10% of the book before the author will receive a royalty for the download.

In exchange for exclusivity, authors with books in KDP Select hope to:

  • Gain additional exposure through Kindle Unlimited. Customers may be more willing to try a new or self-published author through this program.
  • Improve sales rank. Every download through Kindle Unlimited helps sales rank, even if the book isn’t read to 10% (but no royalty is paid until the book is read to 10%). Better sales rank helps with exposure.
  • Get more sales. Even if the royalties may be somewhat less through Kindle Unlimited, more sales has word-of-mouth potential.
  • Occasionally earn double royalties. A customer who borrows a book may later purchase the book so as not to have to return it. This happens.

Authors with books not in KDP Select hope to:

  • Gain additional exposure on other markets, such as Nook and Kobo.
  • Sell more books on other markets than the sales that they may be losing by not being in KDP Select.

Kindle Unlimited is definitely affecting sales ranks of all books, whether or not they are in KDP Select. Some books are doing better, others are doing worse. Each book is different.

The question is:

Is it better to enroll in KDP Select, or is it better to opt out and sell across all digital markets?

It’s a tough choice. Some books do better in KDP Select, others do better outside of it, and some may net about the same either way.

Personally, I’m seeing a small increase in Kindle sales and the improved borrows are gravy. I sell many more paperbacks than Kindle e-books, yet I’m glad to see Kindle growing a little.

Following are a few very handy resources to help you with this decision:


  • This report breaks down author earnings and looks specifically at the impact of Kindle Unlimited.
  • On average, enrolling in KDP Select appears to reap a 13% reward. Again, it’s an average, so some are earning much more, some are losing.


Nicholas Rossis has a detailed analysis of the impact of Kindle Unlimited on his blog.

When you get about halfway through, you’ll start to see the Kindle Unlimited analysis.


This brief note from Hugh Howey is worth a read.

One thing Hugh stresses is that it would be nice to see KU pay a different royalty for very short books. Many authors who aren’t selling short books agree with this.

Just imagine earning $1.62 for a book with a list price of 99 cents (where the royalty for a sale is 34 cents).

Amazon is inconsistent on this point:

  • If you price your book under $2.99, instead of earning a 70% royalty, you earn 35%. It seems like a clear incentive to produce enough content so you can charge $2.99.
  • If you price your book at 99 cents, we’ll pay you a royalty of $1.62 if you enroll your book in KDP Select.

I don’t think authors with 99-cent books could complain too much if, say, Amazon paid them 50 cents for every Kindle Unlimited download, so that Amazon could pay a higher rate per download of higher-priced KDP Select books.

If you feel strongly about this, well, you could send a message to KDP to express your opinion. KDP has made changes in the past (the new sales dashboard, pre-order options, grade and age ranges), which many authors had been requesting. So if you really want to see a new feature, it may help to voice your opinion.

Read Tuesday

Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.

You don’t have to imagine it. It’s called Read Tuesday, and it’s free:

Please support the Read Tuesday Thunderclap. This will help spread awareness on the morning of Read Tuesday (December 9, 2014). It’s easy to help:

  • Visit
  • Click Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr and sign in.
  • Customize the message. (Optional.)
  • Agree to the terms. All that will happen is that the Thunderclap post about Read Tuesday will go out the morning of December 9.
  • (The warning message simply means that Facebook, Twitter, or Tumblr need your permission to post the Thunderclap message on December 9. This is the only post that Thunderclap will make.)

Halloween Reading

Looking for some spooky books to read this Halloween month?

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
  • Boxed set (of 4 books) now available for Kindle pre-order

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


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16 comments on “Are authors earning more or less with Kindle Unlimited?

  1. Interesting. So one could see that the 99 cent books have a slight royalty advantage under KU. Many of those tend to be shorter too, so you’ll have people reaching 10% at a quicker rate on those.

    • I think it shouldn’t. You still want to sell books, in addition to getting Kindle Unlimited borrows, so whatever price works best for that (with net royalties in mind, too) really isn’t changed.

      Kindle Unlimited subscribers may feel like they’re getting a better value by reading higher-priced books. But that doesn’t mean that authors can simply raise their prices and get more borrows: The book has to look like it’s worth the list price, else even Kindle Unlimited customers will be frustrated.

      Another way the price factors in is that higher-priced books earn a small amount from borrows than from sales. But that’s part of the risk, offset by the possible rewards. It doesn’t really affect the pricing strategy.

      Personally, I ignore Kindle Unlimited when I’m setting my prices.

      Promotional prices are another thing to consider. Free means nothing to a Kindle Unlimited customer. Similarly, a 99-cent sale isn’t more attractive than a $3.99 book (it may even seem like a lesser value). But promotional prices may attract more sales from non-KU customers.

  2. I’ve seen the borrow side of things go up on my end. I’ve never had many books borrowed – still not much – but they are definitely getting more borrows than sales. Maybe this new thing with Amazon is helping with that.

  3. I have removed all my books from KU.
    My royalties werere … $00.0002 per page read; and for a book with 260 pages that comes to the grand total of $0.052 = Five point two cents per book.

    For the same book cash sale I get $3.70 royalties regardless of the number of pages read.

    I much prefer the money from my books to go into my pocket and not amazon’s.

    If readers want to read my books they will have to pay the full price like readers have been doing for the past 6 years.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with Kindle Unlimited.

      Most recently, Kindle Unlimited paid $0.00461 per page for US pages read for December, 2015, which is the lowest it has paid (except in India, where it is less). (Were your pages read mostly in India? If so, that would explain the lower payment.)

      At $0.00461, for a KENPC of 260 pages, that works out to $1.19 per book for a book read to 100% in the US, which is still a far cry from $3.70. (Though the KENPC is pretty generous. It’s not uncommon for the KENPC to be 1.5 times the actual page count.)

      That’s right: KDP Select is an option. If you get strong sales, you can turn that into “all” sales (and gain access to other sales channels) simply by opting out. For books that can sell well on their own (or on other venues), that can be the best choice. (Personally, my books are doing better in Select, but it’s different for everyone.) Good luck with your book.

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