New Opportunities with Kindle Unlimited?

Images from ShutterStock.

Images from ShutterStock.


Now that Kindle Unlimited pays a royalty based on the number of pages read instead of the number of books borrowed and read to 10%:

  • Some KDP Select authors of longer books who see customers reading 100% of their books are jumping up and down with joy.
  • Some KDP Select authors of shorter books who are accustomed to seeing $1.35 per borrow are complaining of their frustrations.
  • (There are more than just two camps, of course.)

Complaining and feeling frustrated isn’t a strategy for publishing success. (Turning that frustration into motivation to unite others who feel the same toward positive action, that’s different.)

What seems disappointing and frustrating to some may serve as an opportunity for others.

Suppose that you had a series of 30-page stories, where the Kindle Edition Normalize Page Count (KENPC) is 50 pages. (This is just an example.)

In this case, based on the projected $0.0058 per page, these stories would earn 29 cents per borrow if read to 100%.

Naturally, you would look at the prospective 29-cent royalty for prospective borrows and complain that you were losing 80% of your royalties. But remember, that complaint isn’t a strategy toward publishing success.

(You wouldn’t? Really? You might be right. I’ve heard several authors step up and say something like, “I stand to lose 50% with the new Kindle Unlimited policy, but I agree that it’s more equitable.”

If you said something like that, stand up and take a bow. You’re my hero! You deserve a round of applause. Applaud, everyone. The world needs more positive attitudes in the face of adversity. And fewer people who want to take advantage of that positive outlook, or who want to try to change that positive outlook.)

I hear authors complaining—now think about this—of only seeing 1000, 5000, 10,000, or 20,000 pages read in their reports. Per day.

I really don’t mean this in a condescending way, like, “Oh, poor dears.” I just want to look at this same statement from two different perspectives.

On the one hand, an author might have 10,000 pages read per day, but the author is still earning 50 cents or less per book. This author is complaining because he or she is used to earning $1.35 per book, and 50 cents or less is a huge change, especially when 100+ customers are reading your books every day.

I agree, it’s a sudden change, it’s a big loss, you deserve to feel frustrated.

(Maybe one could have seen this coming. Maybe they shouldn’t have been making $1.35 for short works all along. Let’s not open that can of worms, too. It is what it is. You can’t change what it is or how it happened.)

But there is another perspective. Imagine that you (A) are just entering the publishing scene or (B) you have some publishing experience and have been thinking about writing shorter works.

  • You see people talking about 10,000 pages per day as if it were a bad thing.
  • You get out your calculator and realize that comes to $60 per day, or nearly $2000 per month. (Because when you’re wishful, you round up.)
  • You remember hearing that most authors never sell 100 books.
  • You start to think that 10,00 pages per day with 29-cent royalties per book don’t sound so bad.
  • You hear this author talk about leaving Kindle Unlimited.
  • You hear other authors in the same genre talk about leaving Kindle Unlimited.

So what do you do? You start to view this as an opportunity. $60 per day sounds pretty enticing to you.

(Note that I’m speaking of short books with text. Illustrated short books are a separate issue.)

The new Kindle Unlimited policy favors reader engagement. It doesn’t favor longer books.

It pays per page read.

Whether you write 200,000 pages in one book, 5 books, or 10 books, you’ve still written the same number of pages, and you still earn the same amount if customers read 100% of what you wrote.

What matters are:

  • Getting more customers to try your book. Some shorter books have an advantage here.
  • Getting more customers to read 100% of your book. Some shorter books have an advantage here, too.
  • Getting more customers to read your other books.

Authors who are used to getting $1.35 per borrow feel that the new Kindle Unlimited policy disfavors short books.

But if you’re thinking, “What should I write now?”  Well, Kindle Unlimited may actually favor shorter books in many genres by favoring reader engagement.

Basing what you should write solely on how Kindle Unlimited has changed my not be wise.

Kindle Unlimited may very well change again.

You should consider the whole market, and how it might change, when you come up with your writing and publishing strategy.

You should also consider such things as:

  • What genres are you familiar with?
  • What kind of writing are you a good fit for?
  • How long of a story can you tell well?

Writing short romance novels, erotica, etc. isn’t easy.

Just because you see a few authors leaving (or saying that they will, or might, leave), doesn’t mean it will be easy to jump over and fill those holes.

If they were getting 10,000 pages read per day and walk away from KDP Select, just because you jump in with similar works doesn’t mean you’ll get any pages read.

Publishing is a tough market to crack. First, you have to read and understand the genre and what the audience expects. You need to be able to tell the story well. You need to be able to tell a shorter story well if you’re aiming for shorter books, and that’s not easy.

You need to write several books to have a chance of breaking through, and there are no guarantees, even when you feel that you’ve done everything right.

And, as always, you need to market your books.

And you need to be passionate about what you’re writing.

It won’t be easy. It wasn’t easy for the authors who have been successful with those kinds of books. But they learned the genre, and others can, too.

While it won’t be easy, there is potential.

A lower royalty with the new Kindle Unlimited doesn’t mean that opting out of KDP Select is the best decision.

It’s easy to walk away out of anger or frustration, or to try to make a statement (more of a whisper if only a few walk away, but an exclamation mark if a huge percentage do—in most categories, I haven’t observed much movement).

But if your main goal is to earn the most royalties (or to reach the most readers), walking away isn’t necessarily the best choice.

You have to weigh the benefits of staying against the benefits of leaving.

Here are some of the benefits of remaining KDP Select:

  • Sales rank. Every Kindle Unlimited borrow helps sales rank. If you take away a large number of borrows, that will hurt your sales rank, which in turn may limit your exposure on Amazon.
  • Borrows. Even though the new Kindle Unlimited royalty may be less than authors of shorter books are used to, it’s still a royalty. You lose the borrows when you opt out of KDP Select.
  • Indie-friendly audience. Amazon is paying $11,000,000 per month presently (over $100 million per year) for Kindle Unlimited borrows. That’s a huge market, and it’s a fairly indie-friendly audience. Kindle Unlimited customers are unlikely to buy books outside of the program when they can borrow for free.
  • Countdown Deals (and freebies). Some authors don’t use these tools effectively. In that case, they don’t matter much. But for those who have used them effectively through external promotions, these are tools that you lose when you walk away.

There are also benefits of leaving KDP Select:

  • New markets. You can potentially reach customers at Nook, Kobo, and other e-book retailers. These are not necessarily easy markets to crack, and they may not be as indie-friendly.
  • Less competition. At other e-book retailers, there is less competition, since 1,000,000 e-books are exclusive to Kindle. However, through a potentially lower Amazon sales rank as a result of giving up exclusivity, you might have to exchange lower visibility on the #1 e-book retailer to gain visibility elsewhere.
  • Wider exposure. You spread your brand wider by selling at multiple platforms.

Which set of benefits outweighs the other? That’s a tough question, and it varies from one book to another.

The problem with testing it out is that your Amazon sales rank is apt to slide considerably while you’re testing the waters elsewhere.

Another factor is marketing. Do you have ideas or strategies for marketing at other e-book retailers?

It’s not bad for everyone!

On average, about half the books will earn more money for borrows through Kindle Unlimited.

Shorter books will earn lower per-book royalties.

However, many shorter books have an edge when it comes to reader engagement.

Many authors are benefiting from the new Kindle Unlimited policy.

It is the way it is. How do you make the most of it?

Whether you have a short book or long book…

Whether you are experienced, starting out, or switching genres…

Regardless of your genre or category…

You should be asking how to make the most of it, how to find a proactive solution, how to find a strategy for success.

That’s the way forward.

Write happy, be happy. 🙂

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2015

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
  • 4-in-1 Boxed set includes both volumes and more
  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

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13 comments on “New Opportunities with Kindle Unlimited?

  1. Thank you for the comprehensive post on this topic! I was shocked when I heard about this and went back and forth with my critique partners about the advantages and disadvantages (none of us are published, but we worry over these issues). Things to think about.🙂

  2. I think it’s fairer. I don’t have a problem with it at all. Authors of shorter books should probably never have been paid the same as authors of longer books. Now the playing field has levelled… We’re all getting paid for what the customer actually reads. The best writers are going to win, regardless of the length of their books. That’s got to be good! Although, it’s all a bit ‘big brother is watching you’, don’t you think?

  3. The more I look into it (meaning the more posts I read here) the more I like it. Big Brother is a government thing this is a private company we can opt out of.

  4. Thank you, Chris, as usual for making sense of the nonsensical. I rely on your posts to help me figure out what everyone is talking about whilst I’m lounging in my hidey-hole of books. Any possibility that part of people’s problem is that they think this applies to all books being sold and not just certain programs? .29 cents seems like it is better than amazon going broke and not paying anything.

    • Yes, I have seen confusion with sales. Some of the media didn’t make that point clear, which probably didn’t help. That’s right, Ionia, if Amazon goes broke things will get a lot worse before they get better. A hidey hole of books sounds like a good place to be.🙂

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