Amazon’s payment for Kindle Unlimited KENP pages read has dipped a hair below $0.005 per page.
There is a downward trend for KENP pages read, although is a reason behind the most recent dip, and, as we shall see, there may be good signs to offset this trend.
July, 2015: $0.0058
August, 2015: $0.0051 (11% drop)
September, 2015: $0.0051 (1% drop)
October, 2015: $0.0048 (5% drop)
It started in July at $0.0058, likely to match the projections forecast when Amazon shared their pages read data for June.
It dropped 11% from July to August, likely because there were changes in the readership and/or reading habits when the Kindle Unlimited changes were implemented, and perhaps also Amazon was adjusting KENP settings and measurements.
We saw nice stability from August to September. When we finally see some long-term stability, that will be nice. I think we’ll get there.
The drop from September to October has a simple explanation: Amazon expanded Kindle Unlimited globally, introducing it to India. The subscription price is much cheaper in India (around $4 US per month).
This global expansion pulled more readers into Kindle Unlimited, which is a good thing. But the lower subscription price in India effectively lowered the pages read rate by 5%.
That’s about to change. Starting in November, Amazon will pay different pages read rates in different countries. So pages read in India will likely pay less than pages read in the United States, for example.
Does that mean the US pages read rate will rise back up to $0.005 per page? Good question! Maybe it won’t go up, or up much, maybe it will. But hopefully it won’t drop as much next month, if at all.
But I continue to see good news in the data. For example, the KDP Select Global Fund keeps growing:
July, 2015: $11.5M
August, 2015: $11.8M
September, 2015: $12M
October, 2015: $12.4M
I see two potentially good points for authors in these numbers:
continued increase in the number of Kindle Unlimited subscribers
continued increase in the number of Kindle Unlimited pages read
Not everyone is seeing growth, but overall, I’m seeing improved pages read data for my books on average.
Of course, there is another piece of data equally important: 38,500 Kindle Unlimited books added in the last 30 days. There are now over 1.1M books in the program (it was closer to 0.6M when Kindle Unlimited started). There were 85,000 Kindle books added in the last 30 days, so competition for sales is even more fierce than for pages read.
Most authors must keep writing, publishing, and marketing to keep up in the current marketplace. Otherwise, most likely, both sales and pages read will drop.
I researched the answers to two common questions about Kindle Unlimited. I obtained my data directly from Amazon.com, as I will show.
Is Kindle Unlimited being flooded with short books?
Are KDP Select authors dropping out now that the KOLL payment had dropped to about $1.40?
I hear a lot of speculation about these two points. Most of the answers are based on guesswork and emotions such as fear.
So I decided to find out for myself. I didn’t know the answer for sure. I researched the data and let the numbers speak for themselves.
DATA STRAIGHT FROM AMAZON
I gathered my data directly from Amazon. No, I didn’t ask them for it. I didn’t need to; you don’t either.
Rather, I simply browsed the Amazon.com website as follows:
I visited Amazon.com. I browsed the Kindle Store. The left-hand column tallies numbers of books in various categories.
On February 17, 2015 I did my first search. I recorded data for books in Kindle Unlimited, new releases, new releases in Kindle Unlimited, Kindle short reads, Kindle short reads in Kindle Unlimited, Kindle short read new releases in Kindle Unlimited, and many other numbers.
I repeated my search on March 17, 2015, one month later.
I compared the numbers. For specifics, see below.
(1) Are Short Books Flooding Kindle Unlimited?
In the Kindle store at Amazon.com, the left-hand column actually displays the number of books in Kindle short reads. If you click on the Kindle short reads link, it further breaks these down by page count. Kindle short reads have 1 to 100 pages.
Here is what I found:
On February 17, there were 301,747 Kindle short reads in Kindle Unlimited out of 864,164 Kindle Unlimited books. That’s 34.9%.
On March 17, there were 314,020 Kindle short reads in Kindle Unlimited out of 894,423 Kindle Unlimited books. That’s 35.1%.
This percentage is up slightly: 0.2%. But don’t panic yet.
Let’s look at another pair of numbers:
There were 42,638 books added to Kindle Unlimited in the last 30 days.
There were 12,273 more Kindle Unlimited books in Kindle short reads on March 17 than on February 17.
Only 29% of the books added to Kindle Unlimited in the last 30 days are short reads. 71% of books published and added to Kindle Unlimited in the past month have 101 pages or more. That’s definitely not flooding the market with short reads. (In fact, this 71% exceeds the 65% of books in Kindle Unlimited presently that are full-length books. Imagine that!)
However, 12,379 books were removed from Kindle Unlimited. If you account for this, there were 30,259 more books in Kindle Unlimited on March 17 compared to February 17.
Of those, 30,259 books, 40.6% were Kindle short reads.
(Furthermore, 23% of the books in Kindle short reads are 65-100 pages in length. Many of the short reads books aren’t all that short.)
What does this mean?
If 40% of the books added to Kindle Unlimited each month are short reads (100 pages or less), then the ratio of short reads to full-length Kindle e-books will approach 40%.
That means at least 60% of the books in Kindle Unlimited will be full-length books in the future, based on the current rate. That’s a majority that are full-length.
That’s certainly not flooding the market with short reads. There are currently 35% of Kindle Unlimited books classified as short reads, and this is approaching 40%.
Based on the current rate of growth (0.2% per month), that’s not too different from how things were back in July before Kindle Unlimited was introduced. It was nearly 35% then, too. If Kindle Unlimited changes the ratio of short books to full-length books from 35% to 40%, that’s not significant in the grand scheme of things.
You don’t have to worry about it exceeding 40% until the ratio of books added to Kindle Unlimited per month begins to exceed this. That’s not happening now. I’ll keep an eye on this number, but I’m not worried about it at this point; it hasn’t changed much in the past six months.
On the related question, “Are full-length books dropping out of KDP Select?” let’s look at the next question. It turns out that very few books are dropping out.
How about those really short books?
Only 4% of the books in Kindle Unlimited have 11 pages or less (and this number isn’t going anywhere either). Of these, many are short stories (and not “scamphlets”).
If you hear all the rumors about people trying to game the system with very short books in Kindle Unlimited, or the stories of websites encouraging people to do this, just discard it unless and until this percentage starts to climb. It’s just 4% and Kindle Unlimited was introduced way back in July; it hasn’t changed noticeably in all that time. We’ll keep an eye on it, but there is presently no reason to worry about it.
(2) How many books are dropping out of KDP Select?
There appears to be a 98.6% renewal rate in KDP Select, as I’ll demonstrate below.
There were 864,164 books in Kindle Unlimited on February 17, 2015.
There were 894,423 books in Kindle Unlimited on March 17, 2015.
42,638 books were added to Kindle Unlimited in the last 30 days.
I subtract 42,638 books from 894,423 to get 851,785. That removes the new releases since February 17. (Actually, this number should be somewhat higher than 851,785 if you adjust for the fact that February only has 28 days. It will just make the renewal rate even higher.)
Comparing 851,785 to 864,164, there is a 98.6% renewal rate for KDP Select books staying in KDP Select. (The percentage is higher if you adjust for February’s short calendar.)
Only 1.4% are opting out, and more new books were added than opted out, which means the overall number of Kindle Unlimited books is climbing. (42,638 new books were added, compared to 12,379 that opted out.)
Amazon KDP has publicly advertised a KDP Select renewal rate in excess of 95% since July, 2014, and my data easily backs this up. Very few books are dropping out.
Note that some of the books that have dropped out are Kindle short reads! It’s not just the full-length books that are dropping out. 15,539 books were added to Kindle Unlimited short reads in the last 30 days, yet there are only 12,273 more books in Kindle Unlimited short reads compared to one month ago. The difference opted out of Kindle Unlimited. (So if you wish to claim that only full-length books are opting out of Select, it won’t be true.)
Two myths frequently rumored are absolutely BUSTED:
Myth 1: Soon, there won’t be any good books left in Kindle Unlimited. With 98.6% of Kindle Unlimited books renewing their enrollment, and with many more books being added each month than are dropping out, this is an unfounded concern.
Myth 2: Soon, the vast majority of Kindle Unlimited books will be short reads. Actually, 65% of the books in Kindle Unlimited have 101 or more pages, and 60% of those added in the last 30 days have 101 or more pages. More authors are adding full-length books to Kindle Unlimited than are adding short reads, so this concern is also unfounded.
If you haven’t already done so, please participate in a survey on how people read books. The more participation we get, the more meaningful the results will be.
Here is one question, for your convenience. (If you’ve already answered this before, please don’t answer it a second time.)
Toward the end of July, 2014, Amazon introduced a new subscription service called Kindle Unlimited, which allows customers to read unlimited books for $9.99 (US price) per month.
This includes 100,000 traditionally published books in addition to 600,000 KDP Select books.
Most of the traditionally published books are from smaller publishers, but include some popular books such as Harry Potter.
Customers can borrow up to 10 different books at a time (whereas Amazon Prime allows just one borrow per month).
Kindle Unlimited only pays a royalty when a customer reaches 10% of the book’s length.
All Kindle Unlimited downloads affect sales rank, regardless of whether or not the customer reaches the 10% mark.
Royalties for Kindle Unlimited borrows have been as low as $1.30, down considerably from around $2 prior to Kindle Unlimited.
Many books receive numerous Kindle Unlimited borrows, while borrows were much more scarce when it had been only Amazon Prime.
The KDP Select Global Fund has increased dramatically, from around $1 million to around $5 million per month.
Self-publishers must enroll in KDP Select in order to participate in Kindle Unlimited. The trade-off is exclusivity: You can’t publish your e-book elsewhere while your book is enrolled in the program (and you can only opt out when your 90-day enrollment period is about to renew; you must deselect the auto-renewal first).
Remember the early days of self-publishing?
The naysayers claimed that it would ruin literacy, that it would be impossible to find quality books, that it would devalue books, that customers wouldn’t support it.
Traditional publishers and their advocates either ignored it or marketed against it, highlighting its faults and the benefits of traditional publishing.
Thousands of authors who had heard successful self-publishing stories sought to get rich quickly with little effort. They soon realized it wasn’t as easy as it seemed, that you really have to produce quality content for a target audience and package and market the book well, and the worst tend to fall to the bottom where they don’t get in the way.
But millions of readers continue to support self-published books, it’s not too hard to find good books with a little shopping wisdom, and self-publishing now takes up a significant share of the publishing industry.
History is repeating itself with Kindle Unlimited.
Some authors see the low payout (around $1.30) and the 10% threshold and feel that Kindle Unlimited favors shorter books. But those authors who plan to use Kindle Unlimited to get rich quickly with less effort will find, just as with self-publishing in general, that you still need to produce quality content that pleases and attracts a target audience. Nothing is easy, and there is much competition. Just turning out crud isn’t likely to be rewarded.
Naysayers continue to complain about literacy being ruined and books being devalued, especially now that you can read books for a low monthly subscription. But really, this works out to $120 per year, which isn’t cheap in the long-term. Kindle Unlimited may actually encourage more reading than ever before, as you need to read more books to feel like you’re getting your money’s worth.
Traditional publishers and their advocates aren’t sure what to make of Kindle Unlimited. Hoping it will go away doesn’t appear to be a viable solution. Some self-publishing books landed on bestseller lists when Kindle Unlimited launched.
There is a significant audience for Kindle Unlimited. Just compare the $5 million or so global fund to the $1.30 or so payout. There are very many books being read through Kindle Unlimited.
What Kindle Unlimited really does for the publishing industry is divide the digital audience into two distinct groups:
Customers who purchase e-books.
Customers who borrow e-books through Kindle Unlimited.
Both audiences are significant.
A Kindle Unlimited subscriber isn’t likely to purchase an e-book. Not when you can get 600,000 for free. For the most part, a borrowed book isn’t a lost sale. It’s in addition to sales.
The real question for authors is this: Would you sell enough e-books through Nook, Kobo, and elsewhere (keeping in mind that Apple customers can use the Kindle app) to compensate for the borrows that you would get through Kindle Unlimited?
For new, self-published authors trying to establish themselves, it may be wise to start out with Kindle Unlimited. Many feel that Kindle Unlimited customers are more likely to give their books a shot, since there is nothing to lose. If you’re not happy with Kindle Unlimited, you can always opt out when the 90-day enrollment period ends (but you have to uncheck the auto-renew box).
I’ve read a few articles about various ‘problems’ with Kindle Unlimited. To me, these articles are ‘validating’ Kindle Unlimited more than anything else, even when they highlight drawbacks.
When I visited Amazon’s home page today, there was a large advertisement to receive $40 off of a Kindle with a free six-month subscription to Kindle Unlimited.
That’s a compelling offer. It will surely create many new Kindle Unlimited customers.
It’s a temporary promotion, but it seems like a sign that Amazon may be working to bring more readers into Kindle Unlimited.
The readers will go where the authors are and the authors will go where the readers are.
Presently, there are 700,000 titles in Kindle Unlimited. It’s not all from KDP Select: There are about 100,000 books in Kindle Unlimited from smaller traditional publishers (including some popular titles, like Harry Potter).
If you love to read books, you can surely find worthwhile reads among those 100,000 titles from smaller traditional publishers or the 600,000 KDP Select titles.
There may be some indie authors pulling out of KDP Select because they aren’t happy with the $1.33 payout from October, 2014, but there are still many attractive authors and books in the program. No matter how many indies pull out, there are still 100,000 books from smaller traditional publishers (and those traditionally published books aren’t available through Amazon Prime).
The $1.33 also shows that the population of Kindle Unlimited customers is very large, considering that the KOLL Global Fund was $5,500,000.
Now Amazon is attracting new Kindle Unlimited customers this holiday season. The Kindle Unlimited readership will grow, and with free six-month subscriptions, many will use the program actively for half a year (and perhaps become hooked on it).
Here is another thing to consider: The more customers who subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, the fewer customers there are outside of Kindle Unlimited.
Authors must choose which side of the fence to stand on. It’s not an easy decision. I’m staying in KDP Select, as my sales have improved a little and my borrows are way up. Not every book is thriving in the program, but the potential is there.
Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.
Kindle Unlimited paid $1.52 per download read to 10% in September, 2014.
This is nearly the same as August, 2014, which was $1.54.
Both are down significantly from $1.81 for July, 2014 (which was a partial month of Kindle Unlimited), and are down from the usual $2 or more from the Amazon Prime days (but customers can only borrow one book per month through Prime).
Update: Kindle Unlimited payments dropped further, down to $1.33, for October, 2014. It’s back up tof $1.39 for November, 2014. It’s further up to $1.43 in December.
To me, the big number is $2,000,000. KDP started the KOLL global fund at $3,000,000 for September, and added another $2,000,000 to prevent KOLL from paying less than $1.50 per borrow.
This shows two things: (1) Amazon doesn’t want the KOLL payment to drop too low and (2) Kindle Unlimited is still very active. The second point shows that there is a significant Kindle Unlimited market presently.
Books with list prices of $2.99 or more draw a greater royalty through sales, but it’s quite possible that many customers who are reading books through Kindle Unlimited wouldn’t have purchased many of those books otherwise. There is some trade-off. Opting out of KDP Select opens up other opportunities at Smashwords, Apple iBooks, Kobo, Nook, etc., but will ‘your’ book sell well through those channels and will it make up for leaving KDP Select? It’s a tough call. And it’s possible that Amazon sales will go down if opting out of Kindle Unlimited (as Kindle Unlimited has a positive impact on sales rank).
Every book is different. I’m keeping my books in KDP Select. My sales ranks seem to have dropped somewhat, yet overall my monthly Kindle royalties have steadily risen from July onward. This shows that many more Kindle e-books are being read as a result of Kindle Unlimited. (Sales themselves have improved slightly for me, and the borrows make for nice gravy.)
Imagine a Black Friday type of event just for book lovers.
Amazon just launched Kindle Unlimited in the UK (for the amazon.co.uk website).
Now UK customers can subscribe to Kindle Unlimited for £7.99 per month (with a free 30-day trial period).
This allows UK subscribers access to unlimited reading of over 650,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks. This includes all KDP Select titles selling in the UK, plus about 100,000 other titles, such as Harry Potter.
The KDP Select Global Fund for September is presently $3 million. In both July and August, more than $2 million was added to the projected KDP Select Global Fund each month to bring the KOLL payment up to $1.81 and $1.54, respectively, per book read to 10% through Kindle Unlimited.
The introduction of Kindle Unlimited to the UK will increase the borrows for September somewhat, though with only a week remaining in September, this effect will be somewhat limited.
Many KDP Select books will see a surge in borrows in the UK for September and October.
Don’t sweat the myth that Kindle Unlimited promotes shorter works. It doesn’t.
There is an opportunity to market shorter works through Kindle Unlimited. But it won’t be easy.
If you have short stories that you want to market on Kindle, the second point will present ideas for how to do this effectively.
However, as the first point will stress, Kindle Unlimited won’t open the door for the get-rich-quickly-through-short-works bandwagon.
I’ll explain why I believe that Kindle Unlimited doesn’t actually favor short fiction, while at the same time showing that it is possible to market short stories.
It’s not really contradictory: The key is that selling shorter works is neither easy, automatic, nor obvious. This explains why most short pieces won’t take off, even though it will be possible to market them effectively.
SHORTER BOOKS, BIGGER PROBLEMS
A big myth going around presently is that Kindle Unlimited favors shorter books.
The underlying idea seems to be that it’s easier for customers to reach 10% of shorter books, and 10% is the critical number for getting paid for Kindle Unlimited downloads. (Need an introduction to Kindle Unlimited? Click here.)
Customers could easily get 30% through a short story before realizing that they don’t actually want to finish it, but for a 200,000-word book, they must read 20,000 words before the author will get paid.
But here’s the thing: All books aren’t created equal. There isn’t equal likelihood of customers downloading shorter books and longer ones. This is where most short books are greatly disadvantaged.
Here are several hurdles that authors must overcome in order to succeed in the short reads market with Kindle Unlimited customers:
Kindle Unlimited customers tend to be avid readers. It costs $9.99 per month, which amounts to $120 per year, to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited. This will attract avid readers, who will easily get their money’s worth. Spending $10 per month to read short stories won’t seem like a good value to many customers.
Avid readers tend to be smart book shoppers. They aren’t likely to be fooled by authors trying to game the system. They are likely to consider the value of books when they shop. Page count will be a factor. So will price.
Kindle Unlimited customers may prefer to download higher-priced e-books. It takes ten 99-cent e-books just to get your $9.99’s worth for the month, but if you download five $6.99 e-books, you get a $35 value. Short books are likely to be priced at 99 cents. Simply raising the price of a short story to $5.99 won’t work: Customers will see a large price on little content… and… remember, avid readers are smart book shoppers.
Shorter books require even better writing. A few mistakes in a 300-page novel: no problem. One mistake in a 20-page short story: ouch! It’s not just the mistakes, but the mechanics of the writing, the flow of the story, the characterization, the plot, a satisfying ending… the idea has to be fantastic. When you write 100,000 words, you can have a few weaknesses provided that your strengths make the bulk of the book intriguing and enjoyable. In a short work, mistakes of any sort really stand out. The challenge of writing an effective blurb shows how much harder it can be to write much less and do it very well.
Writing that works for short stories is different from the kind of writing that works for novels. So if you simply produce a very short version of novels that you’re familiar with, it probably won’t work. You have to research which kinds of short works sell and come to understand how they are effective. (Now the devil’s advocate will say that all writers should try writing short stories—despite the fact that they might be much harder to sell, in general—because learning how to write a short piece well can be highly instructive for writers. Write a short story for what you can gain from it in the long run.)
Although readers could take a chance on a short story since little commitment and investment is involved, it’s also true that readers may be pickier when choosing which short stories to read. There certainly are enough short stories out there to choose from. One story doesn’t satisfy a reader for long. What’s the reward for liking the short story? Will there be another 200,000 words worth of writing to enjoy by the same author? You see, when you find a novel that you like, if the author has a few other novels, the reward is a lot more where that came from. If you just have a dozen short stories out, a reader could blitz through the whole collection in a day; you aren’t offering a huge supply of reading material as a potential reward if the reader likes your style.
There is much competition from free and low-priced stories. Why should people read your short stories when they can get the entire Sherlock Holmes collection for 99 cents or free? There are many classic short story collections out there at great prices. This comes back to my last point: If you like Sherlock Holmes, or any other classic short work, there is a ton of similar material to satiate your craving for it. If you like a short story by a modern author, often there are just a few more short stories—not enough to satisfy a reader for long.
Visibility is a huge issue. Suppose, for example, you want to write a short romance story, hoping to take advantage of the huge romance market. Do you think Amazon wants your short story to show up among hundreds of popular novels when customers search for romance? That could create confusion. So instead your short story should be listed among Short Reads or short story collections. 99% of romance readers will instead be browsing the romance category, looking for novels. There is a marketing challenge here: You’re not just selling a book to romance customers, you’re selling a short story specifically to the very few romance readers who want to read a short story. There is a market for that, just not nearly as wide as the romance novel market.
Another marketing challenge is the Look Inside. The shorter your ‘book’ (if you can call it that in this case), the shorter the Look Inside. The Look Inside is a valuable sales tool. A short story has a very short Look Inside. There may easily not be enough there to catch the reader’s interest. You could just give the title, author name, and start the story, moving the copyright notice to the end, but you still need the Look Inside (10%) to be long enough to sell the book.
Effective marketing is more costly and time-consuming for a series of short works. It’s fairly affordable to hire out quality cover design and editing for a full-length novel, but can be quite expensive to buy several covers for short pieces or have several short works edited.
For those hoping to game the system with short works, customer reviews will be an equalizer. Especially, if they are hoping to benefit from Kindle Unlimited, as avid readers tend to be smart book shoppers.
Another equalizer is experience. Customers don’t have to get ‘burned’ too many times to become wiser shoppers. Time favors quality and good value.
Even if short works do gain traction, as soon as it becomes popular and fashionable, the market will be flooded with short works. (This really doesn’t affect other authors, as the cream rises to the top. It’s always easy to find books that have achieved success; the not-so-good stuff really isn’t in the way—it falls to the bottom, out of the way.) The thing is, the flood will make it ineffective for authors hoping to generate high rewards with little effort, which means the flood won’t last. Those who succeed through quality writing, satisfying a niche audience, will continue to thrive—hard work, good ideas, and effective marketing will always help such authors thrive.
There are different kinds of short books. Let’s do authors a favor and not generalize them. Some authors slap something short together quickly, hoping to get rich. Other writers craft short pieces with masterful storytelling. These are the two extremes, then there is much in the middle. We would do a great disservice to masterful storytellers who specialize in short fiction by saying bad things about all short works.
A few of my points above specifically address the gamers, but the rest are hurdles that all short works authors must overcome in order to thrive in the short reads market.
Okay, there is another extreme that I should address: book chopping. Again, I can’t imagine this being effective, and I will explain why.
Here is what I mean by book chopping: An author takes a regular-length novel and divides it up into smaller chunks (as short as a chapter, perhaps, or it could just be a few parts).
The idea behind this ‘strategy’ is that Kindle Unlimited customers can download several books without paying an extra penny, while the author earns a royalty every time a customer reads 10% of one of his or her books.
So, you could sell a novel and earn $1.80 or so for one download, or you could split that same novel into 5 parts, earning $9 from every customer who finishes the novel. Why stop there? Split it into 20 parts and you make $36 for that single book, right?
Except… Kindle Unlimited customers aren’t likely to reward this behavior, for the many reasons listed above.
On top of that, you have several ‘chapters’ cluttering up your Kindle, and you can only store 10 Kindle Unlimited downloads at a time. Suppose you’re reading Chapter 32 and would like to go back to Chapter 4 to refresh your memory of something that happened earlier. INCONVENIENCE doesn’t sell books!
Sure, some unscrupulous authors might find a way to abuse the system in the short run with this, but (A) they won’t find substantial or long-term success by chopping books and (B) Amazon tends to learn how to prevent authors from taking advantage or catch and provide a fit punishment for those who game the system. It’s not going to work to achieve anything significant, and even for those who are so unscrupulous, the benefits definitely don’t outweigh the risk.
Series are an exception. When each volume of a work reaches a natural division, and where each volume provides a complete, satisfying reading experience, then it’s not a chopped book—it’s a series. Many customers appreciate series, and series authors often do well. You can be a successful series authors, and marketing a series has many advantages. It’s even possible to develop and market a series of short pieces, but this won’t be a chopped novel—each piece will be effective by itself.
MARKETING SHORT WORKS
It is possible to succeed with short fiction or nonfiction pieces.
It’s not easy. You have to overcome the many challenges that I’ve outlined above.
It will take hard work and effective marketing. Find ways to use hard work and brain power to overcome these challenges, and you can stand out from the crowd and succeed with short pieces.
Following are some ideas to help you with this.
You need to cultivate a culture for your series of short works. You need to play an angle that gives your short reads an edge. You need to find a concise way to announce this clear and up front, e.g. in a subtitle, through a strap line, as a cover byline, in your blurb, with a slogan, on all of your marketing materials, etc. It’s the card you have to play. Take full advantage of it. Sometimes, it’s not enough to fill a need: You have to show people that they have a need, and you have what they didn’t know they needed. See my next bullet for some specific suggestions. But, whatever angle you play, focus on fostering a culture. This is the key to long-term success.
Here are some possible angles. Commuter fiction—read on a plane, subway, or train: Market to commuters, show how your series is tailored for this. Lunchtime reading—have some free time at lunch, but can’t really go anywhere to enjoy it. Morning inspiration—short motivating reads to help people get their days started on the right foot. Bedtime reading—a leisurely way to wind down for a good night’s sleep. People aren’t going to think of the angle for you. You need to find the angle that suits your short works best, and make this point abundantly clear. Don’t sell the book: Sell the benefit.
You can get good visibility through wise choices for your categories and keywords. The problem is that you only get to choose 2 categories and 7 keywords, so you must do some research and choose wisely. Find short works similar to yours selling well on Amazon and see which categories they are listed under, and see which keyword searches they show up in. The most relevant category may be Kindle Short Reads (click here) at Amazon.com, but this category is not available through the publisher’s choice (see here); yet there are 700,000 Kindle e-books in this category (with 250,000 in KDP Select), so although it’s said to be ‘restricted,’ evidently it’s easy (or automatic) to get in just by having your book the proper length.
Check out the Kindle Short Reads page, as it provides a useful guide for how long it takes to read how many pages. You need to know this. If you’re selling your book as commuter fiction or lunchtime fiction, for example, you need a reliable estimate for how long it will take to read your book. This number is valuable. “Have 30 minutes to read on your lunch or on a train ride? This 15-page book will hit the spot.”
Research a couple of specific keywords that may be relevant for your short work. Start typing in the search field at Amazon and it will show you popular matches. You want matches that are both popular and specific to your book; that helps you gain visibility (it doesn’t help to be the last book in a search with many results). Note that popularity varies whether you search in all departments, books, Kindle, Short Reads, or a specific category: So test them all out. Note that “commuter fiction,” for example, doesn’t even pull up a match presently, so don’t waste your keyword with things like this that are never searched for. “Short reads,” on the other hand, is a popular search (with 1250 results, though, so you need to be high up on that list).
You want to create a series of short works that stand out and are easy to find. You could put “commuter fiction,” “lunchtime fiction,” “Lisa’s shorts,” “inspirational stories,” or something in a subtitle or series title (though you have to number series with Kindle) or in parentheses, making it easy to find your brand—while also declaring it a short work. If the subtitle or parenthetical note, which will be visible in search results, also emphasizes the advantage of your book’s length (e.g. Commuter Fiction), even better.
The covers of your series need to send a clear, unique brand. Have a dozen short stories? You want them all to look uniform. You want them all to be very easy to find. A customer sees any of your short books and immediately recognizes the series. Branding is vital. You want new customers to see that you have a wealth of similar books, i.e. the reward for trying you out and liking your writing is much more where that came from. You want old customers to easily find your other pieces. An appealing (to your target audience) visual brand that creates a unique signature, that’s what you want.
Write several similar short books. You’re not likely to sell a ton of short books if you only write one or a few; one-hit wonders aren’t likely in short fiction. If you succeed in hooking some customers on the benefits of your short works, where you really stand to benefit is when you get customers to buy several of your books. It also shows new customers that you’re a serious author, and that there is plenty of reading material similar to any of the short pieces that you offer.
Once you succeed in growing a fan base, you want timely releases. They’re short, so you can write, say, one a month. (Say, you spend a month writing. You pass it onto your editor, getting it back weeks later. You also wait for your cover designer. It might take a few months before it’s publish-ready. But once the train gets started, you can have one to publish every month.) You want to publish regularly, so fans start to look forward to the 15th of every month (or whenever, but they know when to expect it). An advantage of releasing a short piece in 30-day intervals is that you always have a book in the Last 30 Days new release category.
Amazon tends to help authors who (scrupulously) help themselves. Effective premarketing and marketing can pay big dividends, not just in immediate sales. Another factor on your side is word-of-mouth. Learn the craft and produce quality short reads, and it can lead to long-term success.
Look for marketing groups, e.g. in Facebook or at Goodreads. Some groups will correspond to your genre, e.g. fantasy or romance. Also look for groups dedicated to short reads (heck, you could start a group). If you’re using Kindle Unlimited, look for groups associated with this, too.
Make one short read free. You should plan to publish dozens of similar books, so, really, why can’t you afford to make one good one permanently free? The freebie won’t be in KDP Select. Publish it on Kobo, Smashwords, etc. At Kobo and Smashwords, you can make it free, and then you (or customers) can notify Amazon of the lower price, politely requesting a price match. The hope is that your freebie will encourage many readers to try out your other stories. Remember, your work has to be good enough to make readers want more of the same. Making junk free isn’t helping anybody.
Educate your audience. Show them the benefits of Kindle Unlimited, e.g. how for $9.99 per month they can read your series of dozens of books without paying an extra penny. Show them how to find short reads (include the link to the Kindle Short Reads category). Explain how they might benefit from short reads, e.g. during commutes or lunchtime. Of course, you mention your series at the end of your marketing endeavor. If you’re promoting commuter or lunch fiction, remind your readers to stock up on the weekends, so they don’t waste precious time during their commutes or lunch breaks just searching for the next read.
For $9.99 per month, customers can check out up to 10 Kindle e-books from an extensive library of 600,000 titles at Amazon. All books enrolled in KDP Select are participating (plus 100,000 others from mostly small presses). Authors will receive royalties in the form of KDP Select borrows. The July, 2014 KDP Global Fund has been increased to $2,000,000. You can read more about Kindle Unlimited by clicking here.
Authors need to decide whether to opt in or opt out of KDP Select. The big question to ask is whether or not participation in Kindle Unlimited will improve the book’s sales.
Obviously, some books will thrive in this program, others will not. The difficult question is predicting how your book will do. I will discuss the pros and cons of Kindle Unlimited by focusing on how it could improve sales, and then I will discuss the opposite.
How Can Kindle Unlimited Improve Your Sales?
Kindle Unlimited customers can download KDP Select books for free. They can store up to 10 borrowed books on their devices, then download more once they return any of those 10. Every time a customer downloads a book and reads past the 10% point, you receive a royalty. For Kindle Unlimited customers, your book is permanently free (well, they do pay $9.99 per month for the privilege) AND you earn a royalty when it’s read. Customers are looking for books to download.
Kindle Unlimited offers customers the opportunity to try newbie authors or indie authors without risk. Bad book? Doesn’t cost a penny. Just get a new one. There are hundreds of thousands of indie authors, though, so just because many customers will be trying out indie authors doesn’t mean you’ll be one of those authors. As always, you need good content, good packaging, and effective marketing to make the most of the opportunity.
KDP Select books that succeed in getting numerous downloads will have an advantage over books that aren’t in Kindle Unlimited. It allows indie books to compete with traditionally published book more than ever. Every download improves your sales rank. That improved sales rank helps you generate even more sales. Books that thrive in the program can reap many benefits. Not all books will thrive; the better your book, packaging, and marketing, the better your chances (but that’s true even if you opt out of KDP Select).
Another benefit of frequent downloads is more exposure through customers-also-bought lists. Kindle Unlimited naturally helps books that help themselves through good content and marketing.
More downloads also leads to more reviews. Some books won’t get additional downloads, so none of this will help those books (but for those books, opting out might not be any better). Kindle Unlimited puts a premium on writing the best book you can.
The best benefit of more downloads is for books with excellent word-of-mouth potential. Here is where Kindle Unlimited can really favor fantastic books. Succeed in getting frequent downloads in Kindle Unlimited, and if you also have great content, you may see a very significant long-term growth through word-of-mouth sales. Many books don’t succeed in generating word-of-mouth recommendations, but those that do can really take off.
If your book is perceived as a great value, Kindle Unlimited subscribers might be attracted to your book. Since they can get any book free, they aren’t shopping for the cheapest book—they’re shopping for the best value. Suddenly, a higher price seems like a better value (since it’s free, why not read higher-priced books?). In addition to price, they will look at the length of the book and the quality (it could be that longer books are a better value; time will tell). But with a higher list price comes higher expectations, and your book better deliver on those heightened expectations to thrive in the long run.
If you have a great book that customers want to keep, the customer might want to keep it permanently. The customer can only store up to 10 borrowed books on the device. When a customer cancels Kindle Unlimited, all the books disappear. So the customer might want to buy your book—as a sale through Kindle, or as a paperback. This way, in time, outstanding books may actually sell two copies to some customers (once as a KDP Select borrow, once as a sale).
Thousands of customers are using the free 30-day trial. When the trial ends, some will cancel their subscriptions. Now suppose they downloaded your book during the free trial period and wished they could continue reading it. Well, they can. Now they just have to buy it. Many books will actually earn two royalties in the first couple of months of the program because of this.
Like any tool, the tool itself might not have much value to you, but if you do effective marketing with the tool, it can pay significant dividends. Kindle Unlimited seems like it may be just like such tools. The more sales you drive through effective marketing, the more sales rank, reviews, and word-of-mouth sales can help your book. The quality of the book and packaging are important, too. For example, try using the #Free with #KindleUnlimited hashtags, or look for Facebook groups specifically for Kindle Unlimited, or show parents what a value Kindle Unlimited can be for their kids. Where there is a will…
Remember, just because it can improve sales doesn’t mean it will. Some books will thrive in the program, but others won’t.
Even if the KDP Select per-borrow royalty goes way down (it’s usually around $2), if you have more customers than usual, it may be a fair trade-off. Additional readers gives you:
Long-term potential for valuable word-of-mouth sales.
Improved sales rank.
More reviews, on average.
If your book enjoys any of these benefits, in the long run, it may even be worth staying in KDP Select even if your net income diminishes slightly.
And if you opt out, there’s no guarantee that will turn out to be any better. But it could be, so let’s look at the other side of the coin.
Could Kindle Unlimited Hurt Your Sales?
Well, if you choose to opt out KDP Select, any customers in Kindle Unlimited may be reluctant to buy your book when there are 600,000 others that they can get for free. But for the remaining bullet points, let me focus on how staying in KDP Select may actually hurt your sales, or where opting out may be the better option.
The biggest drawback of KDP Select still is, and always has been, exclusivity. You’re not allowed to publish the e-book edition of your book (or one similar to it) on Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, or anywhere else. Some books sell primarily on Amazon; those books will probably be better off in KDP Select than not. Other books sell 25% or more through other sales channels; for these books, it’s possible that exclusivity isn’t worth the sacrifice. Though Kindle Unlimited may squeeze Kindle’s competition, reducing the potential to draw sales from other channels.
If your book doesn’t thrive in Kindle Unlimited, your sales rank will slip and that will in turn deter sales somewhat. You can actually get a few downloads every day and slip in sales rank because so many other KDP Select books are getting more downloads than you are. This will in turn diminish your prospects for reviews and word-of-mouth sales.
If Kindle Unlimited readers perceive that your book doesn’t have enough value, that may deter sales. They may deem that the price is too low (it would take 10 99-cent books just to make the $9.99 per month fee pay off), maybe the book is too short, or maybe they will scrutinize the Look Inside and pass on anything that doesn’t seem to be high in quality.
One of the bad things about freebies may be true of Kindle Unlimited: When customers can get something for free, they don’t always read the description or check the Look Inside carefully (or even at all!). Then they leave bad reviews because the book didn’t turn out as they had imagined. Sometimes bad reviews actually improve sales (especially, when it’s clear the customer made a mistake), but sometimes they do hurt sales, too. You won’t have to worry about customers hoarding books and not reading them, though, because they can only store 10 on the device.
If you’re used to stimulating sales through promotional strategies—freebies, 99-cent prices, BookBub, etc.—these marketing tools may become less effective. What will a Kindle Unlimited customer care about freebies or low prices? They can get $9.99 books for free!
Series authors are impacted by Kindle Unlimited. It may be wise to remove the omnibus from KDP Select (but you’re probably still bound by the exclusivity terms if your individual volumes are in KDP Select). The omnibus will lose its effectiveness with Kindle Unlimited readers (though this may help the sales ranks of your individual volumes). If you ordinarily make the first volume free or 99 cents, or price all of your books at 99 cents, this strategy may not be appealing to Kindle Unlimited readers looking for a good value. Maybe a higher price would appeal to these readers more. (Or if all your volumes are cheap, maybe it does make sense to leave the omnibus in KDP Select—that volume may offer enough value to receive a download, if the individual volumes don’t.)
Mismatched value could lead to frustrated buyers and negative reviews. For example, if you take a book that’s really not perceived to be worth more than $2.99 and raise its price to $6.99, customers hoping to get a $6.99 value may be disgruntled. Higher-priced books are only favored if they deliver on the higher expectations.
If you have a long book and customers aren’t enjoying the beginning enough to reach 10%, you could potentially receive a bunch of downloads, but never see the royalties. More than ever, it’s important to engage the reader immediately and hold the reader’s attention.
If your book wasn’t selling to begin with, Kindle Unlimited probably isn’t the answer to your sales woes. It could be the cover, the blurb, the Look Inside, reviews (maybe even the good ones), the idea, the lack of marketing… Don’t expect Kindle Unlimited to be that magic wand you were hoping for.
It doesn’t make any sense to compare July, 2014 to June, 2014, i.e. to compare your income with Kindle Unlimited to your income the way things used to be. The way things used to be just isn’t an option. What you really want to know is, will you be better off in KDP Select, or out of it?