Subscription Services and My Writing

People have asked me if I have any particular thoughts on Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited subscription plan, and whether my own work will be on it (and one presumes, on other similar subscription services, like Oyster and Scribd). So, some thoughts:

While one should never say never, I don’t anticipate any of my novels being on subscription services in the immediate future, no. One, Macmillan, who has published all my novels to date, hasn’t started working with any of the subscription services. Speaking with no direct knowledge whatsoever of their corporate thinking on the matter, it seems unlikely to me that they will, unless there’s a clear economic benefit to them in doing so. Two, even if Macmillan decides to opt in, contractually they’ll probably have to ask my permission first — at which point I have to decide whether there is a clear economic benefit in doing so.

And is there a clear economic benefit to me putting my novels on a subscription service right now? At the very least, some early analysis suggests there would be a better economic benefit for me than for many self-published authors, thanks to the fact I am “traditionally published” — an irony for those who still labor under the impression that publishing is an “us vs. them” sort of business — but I have to say I would want to see some actual, useful data on how writers actually get paid from subscription services before I’d want to jump in with the novels.

Part of that hesitation is based on the experience of musicians with their own streaming services, such as Spotify or Rhapsody — many musicians earn substantially less from streaming than from sales, and unlike musicians, most writers can’t really try to make money from touring (some could. Not many). Now, to be clear, early reports say that the subscription services credit a full sale after someone reads 10% or so of a work (although how much a “full sale” counts for seems to be contingent on several factors, including whether one is “traditionally published” or not — again, see the link above).

That’s not bad. But I’m less than entirely convinced that there won’t be near-immediate pressure to push that compensation downward; say, by trying to cut into the money credited for a “full sale,” or by pushing back the percentage of a book read before a “full sale” to 25% or 33%, or by any other number of ways which I can’t now think of off the top of my head but which the subscription model will in some way enable. For me the question is not if such a push will happen, because it will. The question is when.

So the question becomes: Why would I want to do that?

(Note: This question is asked not in the “why would I want to do something that stupid?” sense but in the “so, what’s in it for me?” sense. As is the next question –)

Why would I, as a writer and a businessperson, want to enable a model that introduces another layer of opportunity for others to drive down the amount I can make from my work? The uninformed may fulminate about how publishers are parasitic middlemen, but in point of fact my publisher does a lot of work for me: Editing, copy-editing, art and design, marketing and publicity and distribution. I argue with my publisher on what my cut of the takings should be (these are called negotiations) but there is an exchange of services. So what is the exchange of service a subscription model would offer me? Does it offer enough to compensate for another potential slice to be taken out of my income? Does it offer enough to replace or at least augment the distrubtion model which already exists, and from which I benefit?

If it does — and it might! — then that’s great. Let’s get to it. If it doesn’t, however, then we have a problem.

(This line of inquiry does not consider at all whether a subscription service might be good for readers. It may or may not; I suspect the answer will entirely depend on how many books one actually reads a month. Be aware that buffets make money because they charge you more for the food you eat than you the amount of food you can on average consume, and that this is a buffet, with books instead of crab rangoon. Also be aware, in the case of Amazon in particular, that the long term plan is to make it so you never ever have to go anywhere else to buy anything, ever, and that running Kindle Unlimited at a loss for a while would be fine if it serves that long-term goal. Neither of these things are particularly good or evil in themselves — once again Amazon (and other subscription services) is acting in its own self-interest, as businesses do.

However, none of that conversation is of interest to me when I have my “working writer” hat on. My immediate focus is my own interest — whether a subscription service is good for me, and my business, and my ability to make a living. And you may see this as immaterial or even selfish, especially if you like the idea of drinking from the book subscription firehose. But I gotta tell you, if the amount I can make writing fiction falls through the floor, so will the amount of fiction that I write, as my time will have to be spent doing things that pay my mortgage. We do not live in a glorious socialist paradise here in the US; I have to make money. So do other writers.)

The flip side of this is that every new distribution model offers opportunities tuned to that particular model of distribution — the question is whether one is smart enough to figure out what the strengths of any distribution model are, and then saavy (and lucky) enough to capitalize on them. For example, I think a subscription model might be a very fine way to make money from shorter works: short stories, novellas, less-than-book length short fiction and so on. That’s something I could definitely see pursuing aggressively, while (if necessary) keeping longer-length work in distribution channels that are more profitable for it.

The key is not seeing any distribution model as a threat, even as you’re looking at it critically, but in finding the way it can work for you, and how you can take advantage of it. Right now, I’m in the “still looking at how it can work for me” phase of things. We’ll see how it goes from here.

73 thoughts on “Subscription Services and My Writing

  1. Note:

    Cheerleading “us vs. them” stupidity regarding Amazon and publishers presumably being two sides in a war for the soul of writing is going to get Malleted because I find it tiresome at this point. Be smarter than a bunch of talking points, people. I thank you in advance.

    Also note:

    This piece is about me in particular, and I am aware that I have some particular advantages and options when it comes to my career that other authors (including and possibly particularly newer authors) don’t. Please factor that in for the discussion in the thread.

  2. I would think a good way to use the subscription services is to have the first book in a series on it, that way you get people hooked.

    As a reader, the big titles they are touting as being available on the Amazon subscription I already own for my Kindle. And I like it that way. I already own most of John Scalzi’s books for Kindle, for example. Also own: Hunger Games trilogy, Lord of the Rings, entire Harry Potter series.

    It might be good for business books, or other books I don’t necessarily want/need to own. Most of the time when I purchase novels I want to be able to re-read them.

  3. Lanna Lee Maheux:

    Indeed, if I were to foray into subscription sites with a novel, Old Man’s War would be the one I’d use, for the specific reason that I could leverage it to sell the rest of the series, and because OMW is the book I’ve made enough from that I don’t mind experimenting with it (thus, I’ve let Tor give it away to drum up interest in its then-new Web site, and put it into the very first eBook Humble Bundle).

  4. I’ll admit, I don’t very much get the reader benefit here either. For one, I live in Indianapolis, which has one of the best eBook selections available at my library. This is an all you can eat buffet that may, on occasion, run out of a particular item that Imight have to wait a few weeks to consume. I’m okay with that wait. In fact, I’ll actually be moving slightly out of Indianapolis city proper and be donating to said library each year so I can still be a member for much less than 9.99 a month. Now, some cities do not have quite the selection my library has – and to them I say: instead of spending 9.99 on this service, donate it to the local library, get involved in making sure the local gov’t doesn’t whack the budget to nothing, etc. If that doesn’t work, then yep, this may potentially be an option if….

    For two, the average person in America sadly does not read nearly even one full book a month. Yes, they read _other_ things, but not novels. So I’m not seeing a value proposition here, unless this unlimited service allows you to buy one for an entire family.

    For three, major publishers are very slow on jumping on badwagons such as this. It took libraries years to convince the major publishers that eBooks are in their best interest – and they are still debating about when an eBook comes available, check out limits, and how much the things should cost so that eBook stay in the publishers best interest. And right now, Amazon and the publishers are in a spot of bother with one another.

    So, for these reasons, I don’t see the benefit to myself.

  5. Another interesting channel might be a similar one to movies and Netflix. So you get Hardback Release (Theatrical release), MM release (DVD/BluRay) and then it spends a year or so on the streaming service before getting pulled, with occasional (possibly coinciding with the release of a new title) “Hey look, my whole backlist is up here for the next two months!” with some sort of affiliate link for signing up new accounts (or maybe just more ‘streams’ from them.

    Also, wrt musicians seeing less from streaming, I wonder at what point that flips over? I mean, sure they get ~$0.30/track if I buy it (I think?) and only like $0.03 every time I stream it, but that means if I listen to a track ten times, they’re in the lead on that track. (Admitidly, I’m more likely to stream a song more often that re-read a book, but that’s mostly time investment. a) a song is like 5 minutes and b) I can listen to one and do something else at the same time. Hard to do that with a novel

  6. Speaking as a relative-but-not-complete newbie to the process– my one novella has been available for a bit over a month and a half– I removed myself from the KDP Select program when they announced this, since they gave everyone a chance to opt out if they wanted to. I’ve had about 500 downloads between paid sales (less than 20%) and my handful of free giveaway days, and not a SINGLE LOAN on the Kindle Online Lending Library. Not *one*. Kindle Unlimited pays more or less the same way as the KOLL does, with the additional requirement that the book must be read 10% of the way through, and I simply don’t see the benefit when the loan service that I was already enrolled in and which I already could have made money from had literally not made me a single dime.

    It’s possible that if you were higher-volume than me (and, let’s be honest, LOTS of authors– in fact, probably a horrifying majority, are going to be higher-volume than me) you might see some benefit from this. But I suspect putting a direct link to my book in this post (which I won’t do, because crass) would probably move more books for me than Kindle Unlimited would right now.

  7. Travis Young:

    The stream/purchase discrepancy is large enough that I have a rule for myself that if I intentionally listen to a song/album three times, I buy it, because if I’ve listened to it three times, I’ll listen to it several dozen times more, and the musician deserves to be better paid for that.

  8. I have six of your books. All in hardcover. That’s the way I like to read. Please don’t stop making them available that way.

  9. Another excellent post. I agree that this system works best with short stories which is why mine are there. Well, reprints of short stories I’ve already sold and thus any extra cash from KLL or KU are just that – extra.

    We’ll have to wait and see how it all turns out but people would be advised to remember that Amazon isn’t going to do anything that’s not in THEIR best interest.

    And this reminds me of the rush to join a fitness club every New Year… and how many people join up, sign off on a monthly membership and never get back to the gym after March. The gym keeps getting their money because the client forgets to stop payment.

    If you read a ton of books a year this might be for you… but if you’re a one-book-a-month reader or want a wider variety than what’s up on KU… yeah, that.

  10. I get the reader benefit. I can access one of the largest library systems in the country, and the ebook system seems too onerous to me. (Not to mention, the overview video of the system goes to a 404 error.) It’s so slow to request even physical books that I’d rather pay $10/month and spare myself the aggravation and my inevitable (physical book) late fees. (I have to enter my full library card number on every visit. No way to save it.)

    However, maybe others are more organized that I am and/or have more time to waste tracking down books.

  11. Given the speed at which I can read a book, as a reader, I love the *idea* of Kindle Unlimited. If it had the big publishers, I might even be tempted on a practical level. But even then, it’s not going to have new releases or anything that the publishers need to make money on. So I’m better off with my library (and they could probably do a lot more with $10 a month from me than Amazon might.)

    And for people who aren’t aware of this, libraries loan out kindle books, and it’s SUPER EASY to get them. http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=200747550

    Personally, as a reader/consumer I’d rather be able to ‘rent’ new books, like a video store or the like. I mean, it’s what most publishers (MacMillan) think I’m doing with an ebook anyways, I just object to paying full market prices for rental content. But if I could spend $1-$3 for intentionally limited access to a book–timewise or finishing the book-wise or something similar, I’d be okay with that.

  12. My question for the concept is what does it do for readers? (This is not unrelated to “what does it do for writers” because if not enough readers sign on for it, then it obviously does little for most writers.)

    Libraries are free, and offer ebook lending.

    The primary differences/advantages I can see in a subscription book service are:

    1. If you already have a Kindle, then you’re already in Amazon’s ecosystem and sign-up is trivial. Library sign-up might involve a few hoops.

    2. Subscription services are accessible to anyone with an internet connection; libraries may be limited by region. Not sure how inter-library-loan of ebooks works.

    3. Instant gratification. Libraries generally are limited in the number of copies of an ebook they can lend out at once.

    4. No due-dates. (The flip side is you’re limited in how many books you can have out at once. Not sure if libraries have the same limit. OTOH, due dates intrinsically limit how many books you have checked out at once.)

    But again, LIBRARIES = FREE. It’s hard to argue with free.

    My sense (based entirely on nothing) is that if one likes to read a lot of recent, popular releases (which are more likely to be on library waiting lists, not readily available), then a subscription model may be worth the cost.

    Similarly if one has difficulties getting library ebooks for geographic reasons, or if one’s library is so underfunded that they can’t stock all the books a particular reader would like.

    (LOCAL GOVERNMENTS: FUND YOUR LIBRARIES, DAMN YOU.)

    But a great many backlist books are available readily from free sources on the internet, Openlibrary.org being the most obvious. Overdrive.com can help simplify the arrangement with you own local library. For older works in the public domain, Project Gutenberg is the grandaddy, though there are numerous sources.

    (A lot of those sources also supply audiobooks.)

    I don’t object to subscription models at all. But I prefer the average consumer be well-informed of all their options so they can decide where to put their limited dollars. Personally, I would rather donate $120 to my library every year than $120 to a subscription company, if my library can supply essentially the same service.

  13. I can tell you that your humble bundle experiment worked for me. A friend had bugged me several times to read OMW, but I had never gotten around to it. I saw it on Humble Bundle, said, “Why not? It at least benefits a good cause” and then proceeded to quickly read the entire series which I then followed up with “OK, What else has he written that I have never gotten around to reading yet?”

  14. I think the big appeal to Kindle Unlimited is kids books – when you have many kids, who read many books, often without a whole lot of discernment going on – the pricing is very attractive. Not sure how it will translate for the adult reader, much less the working writer, but it will be interesting to see how it plays out.

  15. “this is a buffet, with books instead of crab rangoon.”

    Can’t we get BEYOND CRAB RANGOON…?
    ::cue MST3K Theme!::

    I like the idea of using the subscription model for older works, short stories/novellas and promotional bits – same as a lot of indie writers current write an introductory novella to a series they’re working on and offer it on the Kindle Store for free or 99 cents to draw in an audience to their universe.

    I would absolutely pay for a subscription model for online magazines – but then they’d need to be curated in some fashion to separate the wheat from the chaff. I don’t think that’s what Amazon has in mind, myself….

    As for novels. Again, more for independent work or older work than the latest and greatest.

  16. KU is not that good a deal for the reader unless you read at least 3 books a month. most of the books I saw in the KU selection are already $5 or less so why would I pay $10 a month for “unlimited” books when i can just pay $10 a month for 2 books and keep them?

  17. Possibly stupid technical question: how easy is it to determine when 10% of a book is read? Especially given that footnotes typically occur at the end of the chapter/book. Every ebook with footnotes (pratchett for example) typically has farthest point read at 99% within the first couple of pages. As for the pricing, the value proposition is assuming one account/reader, so 5 books/year per account is bad economics at 120$/year. But per family (two adults plus kids) with divergent interests and it maybe makes sense. Especially if you could set up a kindle to access the subscription service without being able to purchase anything, so a kid could safely browse and no one need worry about accidental/nonobvious purchases.

  18. Of course, the crux of the biscuit is weather such a distribution model increases volume enough to offset, or even better from the writer’s point of view, overtake the presumed loss of revenue from the traditional distribution methods. Just like having a sale can increase profits (sometimes).

    I don’t have data to back up my views, so take them for what they’re worth ($0.00), but I would think more books would be “sold” overall if they were available in a subscription service, than if they were not (presumably some year[s] after initial release). Does that not increase your revenue?

    Netflix doesn’t seem to have destroyed the earning capability of the actors featured on the service, nor killed the movie industry.

    Again, I don’t know the answer. Maybe Amazon’s new service will be such a success that the major publishing houses will give it a try. Then again, maybe not.

    -Matt

  19. As a reader, I’m not interested. I already have the “Kindle Lending Library” through my Prime membership and I very rarely find what I’m looking for in that selection. There are so many books that I want to read, (based on recommendations from people, not Amazon or the NY Times lists) that I can’t imagine restricting my reading to what’s available from this service. I approach this from a focus on the content, not availability. When your next book comes out, I might check to see where I can get it for free, but I’m not going to say, “Oh well, Kindle doesn’t have it so I’ll read some other space opera by a guy who likes churros. Same difference.”, I will go out and get your book. There is no respect for the content. It’s a commodity to them. I hate to see books fall into the Netflix trap, where if it’s not streaming, then no one will ever watch it.

  20. netflix is monetizing older and less popular TV shows. they aren’t doing anything special. buying TV season DVD’s has always been too expensive, but $7.99 for netflix is a good deal

  21. @onibabamama: I guess I’ll never get how eBook systems are onerous. Sure, you usually have to have a USB cord and you might have to use the suckiest software developed by man (Adobe thingymajig), but once learned (and your library will gladly handhold anyone through the process – multiple times if need be), I just don’t get how those steps equal 120 bucks. But, I’m also one of those guys who report website errors to his library – and they’ve actually done what they could to fix them. I’m also one of those guys who requests the library purchase certain ebooks I think they should own – and they have bought every single one I’ve requested.

    If its something I want right this very instant, then that’s not a subscription service (since even if they get publishers on this bandwagon, they aren’t going to throw day 1 books out there), and if the library doesn’t have it in stock, then that’s a purchase. For me, that’s a handful of times a year because I already have a backlog of books that could probably keep me reading until the day I keel over and die. So it takes a very special book to make that list.

  22. This model makes a lot of sense to me for technical books- both as reader and as someone who has considered writing one (and so far decided it wouldn’t be worth the amount of time it’d take to write it well). O’Reilly has had a model like this with Safari for ages, and as far as I can tell, it is quite successful.

    But I don’t like it for pleasure reading, or even really for other work-related reading I do, such as reading books about management. I am speaking purely as a reader, here, by the way. I don’t think I’d save any money, for one thing. But even more than that- I, as a reader, care DEEPLY about writers getting paid for their work. I want writers to be able to build sustainable careers from writing. I want writers who have other careers to be able to make enough from writing for it to be worth their time. I worry that if we,as a society, don’t figure out how to make this happen, the diversity of points of view we find in the books and articles we read will slowly shrink, until we’re left with a situation where we only have the points of view of people wealthy enough not to need the money and people so over the top invested in sharing their ideas that they don’t care about money at all. And corporations, who will use the funding of writing as a way to advance their other interests. There will still be a lot of things for us to read, so we may not even notice what we’ve lost.

    I don’t want that world. Reading has always been a way for me to expand my horizons. I want it to stay that way. So I use and support my library. And I buy books.

  23. Wearing my reader cap, subscription services work beautifully in a number of genres where someone is looking for a quick, entertaining read (romance, thrillers, children/some types of young adult). They also work out well for people like me who do not have easy access to huge physical lending libraries and/or read a large number of books a month.

    Wearing my writer cap, my second book is coming out soon and I’ve put my first book in Kindle Unlimited as a trial to see if it can help with exposure. I suspect that my genre (fantasy action-adventure) is not a good fit for the service, but part of working in the current publishing climate is trying out new ideas and services. I know that some people are already quite happy with the service, both readers and writers, and others are less so. I’m more interested in seeing how this settles out after a year or so of service.

  24. Libraries are free, and offer ebook lending.

    Some. My local library doesn’t, for instance (they offer audiobooks but not ebooks).

    And the ones I’ve investigated seem to be based on ePub rather than Kindle. No way am I going to purchase another device to read ebooks when my Kindle lives in my pocket.

    For me, the KU model would work just fine: I read between 20 and 40 books a month.

    But I can’t find out anything useful about it- I just get the “You don’t live here- sod off” response from Amazon.com, and the co.uk site doesn’t carry it.

    I’m assuming that the books are *rentals*, but as long as you can always get them again to re-read, a tenner a month would be a bargain.

    Amazon thinks we’re only renting them anyway. Personally, I think if I’ve bought an ebook, I’ve bought it: Calibre is my friend.

  25. znepj, this doesn’t address your problem with your own library not offering e-books. I just wanted to mention that my library system does offer e-books in Kindle as well as epub; for many books, I have the choice of whether to download epub or Kindle. Sometimes they are Kindle only. Same for my mother’s library system, which is in a different state. I don’t know how widespread that is, but I was encouraged that it was so easy to get a reasonably good selection of Kindle e-books from these libraries, especially for my elderly mother, who hasn’t mastered the epub reader on her iPad but happily uses the Kindle app.

  26. > This line of inquiry does not consider at all whether a subscription service might be good for readers. It may or may not; I suspect the answer will entirely depend on how many books one actually reads a month.

    I thought about this, from a reader perspective.

    I read enough that in theory a $10 monthly subscription would be a massive win – I reliably spend between $70 and $100/mo on books. (!!)

    But then I looked at my wishlist (where I store books i’m interested in, until I come to them later), and had a less than 5% match between “books i’ve marked as wanting to read” and “books that are available via amazon unlimited”.

    Which makes it a bad value proposition, at least for now.

  27. As a writer who’s fiction output is currently indie published, although I used to be traditionally published (and I make my living as a freelance writer and editor), I looked into this. At least for indies such as myself, you need to commit to Amazon exclusivity. Not much of my income comes from Nook, and even less from Smashwords, Apple and Kobo, enough comes that I’m not inclined to give Amazon more than exclusivity on a few books. I know some writers who’ve done quite well with the KDP borrowing program (I’m not one of them), so I don’t, at the moment, see a financial benefit to me that would make it worthwhile to go for exclusivity.

  28. As an avid reader and Kindle user, KU makes good sense for me. I presently spend $40 to $50 a month on Kindle books. I almost never buy new release bestsellers and seldom pay more than $7.99 for a book. The majority of my purchases are $4.99 and under and many of them are $1.99. Not many of my books are free or $.99 books. In my case, this translates into about 15 to 20 Kindle book purchases a month.

    In the case of your OMW series, John, I just checked my account and found that I bought the Kindle edition of OMW in December 2012 when it went on sale for $2.99. I loved the book and had no hesitation buying the rest of the series at $7.99 each. My point is that if I hadn’t bought OMW on sale, I probably wouldn’t have bought any of your other books.

    So, to me, it makes good sense for a bestselling author to put the first book in a series or older backlist books in subscription services but I wouldn’t expect to find many newer books that are still selling well in a subscription service.

    I read so much and have such varied interests that there are almost no “must buy” books for me. I can easily find all the good books I want staying within my monthly budget. However, if I can get half my books through KU, say 10 to 12 per month, this leaves me with more money to spend for higher-priced books for the other half of my monthly purchases.

    It seems to me that this could be a win-win situation for readers, authors and publishers, particularly if many readers use it as a discovery service and buy other books at full price by the same author. I hope at least some of the major publishers and bestselling authors will think of it this way and participate to a limited degree in the program.

  29. My only problem with it is that, at this time, they want my titles to be exclusive to KDP Select. In order to enroll your work to make it available via Unlimited, up pops Ye Olde KDP Select ticker saying–you cannot offer your digital book anywhere else but here. So, that leaves me out. :/ -not a Amazon hater, I make more money with them than anywhere else…

  30. One point that I think hasn’t been made is that Amazon can put ANY book they sell in eBook format into Kindle Unlimited. However, any non consent hooks have to be given sale credit on download, not 10 percent read.

  31. “Also be aware, in the case of Amazon in particular, that the long term plan is to make it so you never ever have to go anywhere else to buy anything, ever, and that running Kindle Unlimited at a loss for a while would be fine if it serves that long-term goal. Neither of these things are particularly good or evil in themselves — once again Amazon (and other subscription services) is acting in its own self-interest, as businesses do.”

    Not evil perhaps, but entirely excessive. And imbalance is not a good thing (rhetorically speaking). Hence, an important part of the decision process, I believe.

  32. Amazon will make money on this service because the vast majority of readers will pay for it and—like their health clubs—not really use it.

    But for avid readers, those who read more than three books a month, this will be a major budget saver. I know people who read three or four books a WEEK. Such readers visit the local library on a daily basis.

    The only authors who will consistently make money having their books in a subscription service are those with a large and loyal fan base. Having at least 10,000 fans saying, “Oh, look! ‘Redshirts 5′ is available on XXXXX-stream! ” will drop a cool $20K in somebody’s pocket at the end of the month. (According to participants in the program, Amazon adds and subtracts money from the kitty for Select so authors routinely average about $2 per borrow.)

    Another way a popular author could make money at it would be to use a streaming service as the dumping ground for out of print or old material that doesn’t sell anymore. Or, for experimental work to see how it fares. This could be good or bad for readers. It could mean a lot of really cool but out there stories appearing, or a lot of drivel.

    A wise author would leverage the streaming service by rotating titles in and out of availability. Have a title that isn’t getting much love? Leave it in so it gets exposure. Have a title that is wildly popular? Rotate it out so the next time someone wants to read it, they have to buy it.

  33. Man, you’re all thinky and logical and stuff. Oof!

    For what it’s worth, the Tor free ebooks turned me on to you (and a few other authors) and then your Big Idea posts have turned me on to 10 or 12 more authors since then. Same goes for Baen Free Library.

    Definately could see this as a good way to get a taste of new authors. (Sounds kinda creepy. I mean, what if in the future books are passed from author to readers by RNA or something?)

  34. For me a “one-stop shop” really isn’t a selling point: I actually like the diversity in my book-obtaining habits. I like browsing the shelves bookstores large and small, frequenting one branch or another of the public library (my city has a great one), and reading samples online. My collection is a mix of physical books and ebooks. I don’t want to give up that diversity for a single service. (And it would mean giving some up–I don’t have time to use a subscription service enough to make it cost-effective without reducing my reading elsewhere.)

    So I’ll be sticking with my current book strategy. It’s less than optimally efficient, but for me that’s part of the point.

    (Now I need to go yell at those kids on my lawn.)

  35. William D Richards, and others who bring up libraries: I have the same problem with libraries – even the NYPL – that I am with kindle unlimited: too few of the books i want to read are there. :{

  36. I read several hundred books a year (400-500 a year for the last few years, the joy of chronic illness) and this still doesn’t appeal to me as a reader, because my intuition is that the selection will be limited.

    As a writer, I am not inclined to exclusive contracts with one vendor, period (though I don’t have anything new or mainstream enough out that I think they’d be interested, so easy for me to say!)

  37. I’m with Eric Mills on this one; book browsing in many places is a joy to me — thrill of the hunt, and like that. Of course, I live in a place that still has a substantial number of bookstores; I can see how this deal could be more attractive to those that don’t.

  38. William D Richards, and others who bring up libraries: I have the same problem with libraries – even the NYPL – that I am with kindle unlimited: too few of the books i want to read are there. :{

    @learhpa42: Well, I don’t think my local public library is any kind of outlier in being terribly keen from hearing from it’s users on that score. (There’s even a rather useful button on the website where you can make recommendations for purchase, which I use so much I’m tempted to bill ‘em for my services.) Like so much else in life, you get out what you invest into your public libraries.

  39. Thanks, John, for linking to my article – I appreciate you letting people know about it. I am curious about one thing though….as publishers generally have full control over where, when, and for how much books under contract sell for, why do you think that Tor would need your permission? Unless your contract with them is wildly different than my Orbit/Hachette contract (and I don’t think it is) we get 25% of net and that means net is coming from subscription or a per book sale, we don’t have any say in the matter…I think at least. I don’t think Orbit/Hachette will opt in, either. Some of your books might get “in” based on Amazon’s ability to put in books against publisher’s consent…and if so – bully for you as I think you’ll do well financially.

    In any case if you know something about when publishers have to ask us permission I’d love to learn more. I’m always interested in the various author/publisher relationships.

  40. You are just so damn reasonable all the time. Why would you look at this new thing in a neutral way and try to figure out if you could make it beneficial to you when it would be so much more satisfying to rant and froth, rend garments and thrash on the floor? You really don’t get this internet thingy do you?

    My fear is that it will put the most pressure on those least likely to turn it to their advantage. But that is the way of the world. I hope its not too evil. As a reader I love the idea of unlimited access but I pretty much have that from my local library. They may screw over some segment of writers but at least that much of the game is already in place & known so it won’t come as a surprise to the screwee. I won’t hold it against (for for) any writer that does not participate, as you say, a writer has to look out for their own income.

  41. Michael J Sullivan:

    “Unless your contract with them is wildly different than my Orbit/Hachette contract”

    It might be.

    If Amazon puts them into the service without my consent and it acts like a sale without qualification I won’t complain too much, although I have some concerns from a philosophical point of view, i.e., the attempt to build a subscription service as a dominant sales format probably serves the retailer (in this case) rather than my interests, or the interests of my publisher. But again, we’ll see.

  42. I’m one of life’s big eaters, if you translate buffets into books. I don’t even know how many books I read each month but we’re talking buckets of surf.
    So at first glance it looks like this Kindle deal would work for me – but I do worry about the follow-up glancing. All you can eat sounds nice but the food needs to get to the restaurant first. In other words, if this new system doesn’t work for the cooks or the guys with the food trucks et cetera I will end up getting very hungry in a closed down restaurant.

    So, much more real info needed before I (greedy reader but not illegally free-loading reader) will get excited about this all-you-can-eat deal.

  43. Independent musician Zoë Keating was in the news cycles a while ago for publishing and discussing her earnings via the various streaming music services.[1]

    I seem to remember her saying in one interview or another that another way the streaming services could add incentive for content providers to use their service would be to provide them with the analytics data they collect with regard to their content. (Number of listens, demographics of her audience, whatever other numbers those crafty buggers collect about us that we would never even think of.)

    What non-monetary value could Amazon and other services provide, that would make the subscription model more attractive to authors would you think?

    [1] http://zoekeating.tumblr.com/post/16086277627/my-treaming-data

  44. I’m a voracious, fast reader … usually a book every day or two. I strongly prefer ebooks. I find deadtree books cumbersome and avoid them. (Also, being poor and disabled means that actual trips to the library are a bother.)

    The local library makes ebooks available, via Overdrive, but the selection is limited and there is a months-long wait for anything new and popular.

    I’m too poor to buy more than one (discounted) book a month.

    So I decided to try Scribd. This has some books I want (frex, complete run of Hillerman, Heyer, most of Steerswoman series) but is otherwise lamentably incomplete.

    Screwed. I read public domain books, for the most part, and pirate occasionally. I would much rather be legit and send some money to the author. If publishers changed the terms on which they made ebooks available to libraries (a fee for each checkout, many people can check out the same book at the same time) and if publishers and authors were more willing to release their books to subscription libraries, I would not have to hang out in the dark alleys of the net to feed my book habit.

  45. This is why I’m waffling: “As a member of Kindle Unlimited, you may read Kindle books and listen to Audible audiobooks from a designated list of titles an unlimited number of times for so long as you are a member of the program. From time to time, we may add or remove titles from the program and we make no guarantee as to the availability of specific titles or the minimum number of titles available. The program is currently only available to United States customers. If your membership ends, you will no longer have access to the titles you selected from the program.”

    I like to be able to get back to my books. I wouldn’t want to find something pulled, and I wouldn’t want to have to stay subscribed till I die. On the other hand, I already spend a couple of hundred a month with them, and this might cut that down depending on their inventory (I just discovered an author and read 14 books by her this past week; only 1 of those is in the KU inventory) and I can always buy something if I’m sure I’ll want to re-read it.

    But I haven’t joined it yet.

  46. I think it’s reasonable to toss time into the calculation. One of the reasons I like music streaming services (despite their notoriously low per play pay out) is that fact that for most of the music I listen to it takes me all of three to five minutes to enjoy. I tend not to stream really long stuff (Bach cello concertos come to mind) and choose to own those titles because I know that for creatives involved if I’d like to sit down and enjoy a full ensemble symphonic composition today, I need to make sure that there is money headed to them so I can listen tomorrow.

    The same goes for reading. Amazon, et al. already let me try most of the longer works I’m likely to dig into. If I know I’m going to dig into the next Cherie Priest novel or GRRM masterpiece it makes sense for me to buy the book because a) I can try it on Amazon already and know that I’m going to want more and b) because there is no way I’m going to be able to finish a novel length work in a short period of time.

    The only way I see this making any sense for me as an author is if I only put up short, easily consumable stories. If you’re a reader and a fan of streaming services it is likely that I could get you to trigger a payment on a shorter piece (while you’re listening to Spotify) because you’re using a streaming service, not despite that fact.

    Honestly, I love writing and reading short fiction and I’d love to see this “new” distribution model leveraged for a lot more short stories. From the creative POV it is eminently easier to publish something short this way, get paid, and realize a business value for fewer words.

    As far as Amazon Unlimited is concerned, at this point I’ll stick with Smashwords for shorts. In a month of writing, editing and production work I can have a novelette up on multiple subscription services for $0.99. Agreeing to exclusivity with KDP means I’ve lost wide availability and I get nothing for it in exchange. Amazon will likely need to come to grips with this reality before they’ll win authors into the Unlimited program.

  47. Right out of Atlas Shrugged: “Why would I, as a writer and a businessperson, want to enable a model that introduces another layer of opportunity for others to drive down the amount I can make from my work?”

    (I kid you John, don’t hurt me…really, don’t hurt me.)

  48. I do think in the long run, it doesn’t serve a reader’s interest to have this model be the dominant one, just because it never sounds like a good idea to adopt a model that puts one company more in control of access to books than another.

    Just from this discussion, it’s clear that the reading public has a huge range of habits and preferences and I don’t believe it’s in the reading public’s interest to narrow them unduly.
    Admittedly, I’m also one of those who gets annoyed when a company tries to make me use a specific version of a computer program instead of giving me the option of installing whatever the hell I want. Just generally I think it’s a bad idea that a company should be able to exercise control over my decision-making as a consumer – I think they should have to win my money through merit.

    If I felt like a subscription service would be one option in a vibrant market of options, I would be way less hesitant, but I feel like Amazon and similar companies are awfully prone to use stuff like this as a way to remove ever more choices for the user. Which is what they’re going to do, but I don’t have to think it’s good for the consumer.

  49. My considerations:
    1. Most of the books I purchase from Amazon are books I want to keep around for a while. Notably, I replace worn-out paperback copies of old favorites if I can’t find a HB edition. If I want to rent, I’ll hit the library’s e-collection first.
    2. I have no guarantee that books I will want to read will be in the KU collection. Granted, it’s pretty farfetched that NOTHING I want will be there, but I don’t want to spend chunks of time searching, only to discover that at this time, not one of the dozen or so I want to read are available.
    3. My Kindle is old, without audio capacity, and Audible is a young limb of Satan, from my few dealings with them. I do not wish to allow yet another subscription service to sink its hooks into my puir wee bairn of a computer.
    4. Do I really need it? Most of the authors I’ve discovered are either in the library system or available online for a pittance. While I can gnaw through 10-15 books in a month, I only buy maybe 2 because they are unavailable elsewhere, or on cheap Kindle promo.

  50. Honestly, I’d be happy with the publishers just agreeing to make every new e-book available for lending the “conventional” way through any public or privately owned library, with any particular e-book copy being accessible only by whoever is borrowing it during a particular period of time, and requiring the library to repurchase the copy after x number of lends. Especially since libraries could then have books available forever as long as they’re willing to pay for the new digital copies, without worries about space.

    Some type of universal agreement among them to do that would be nice. Right now some publishers are still mostly sitting out on it (I’m looking at you, MacMillan and Simon & Schuster).

  51. I suppose I’ve no problem with the concept as I’ve been very tempted with Marvel’s comic buffet (and Lord, if DC did one I would not get anything done for the next three years). But it does seem another case of power flowing away from the author (who gets to control the ‘If you liked that why not read…’?), and another case of Amazon trying to put the fun into fungibility.

  52. I guess the advantage-to-the-reader over libraries (libraries are great) is that the library is FAR AWAY from my house, and my internet connection is… well, actually, pretty much “in my pocket”. The question really is what books it has on it. I’m sure I read more than $10 worth of new books every month; and I’m actually OK with the “you don’t really own it” model of ebook sales because I so rarely re-read anything.

    For the writer I guess the question is whether people will get a kindle subscription instead of buying or instead of using the library or in addition to those things or will it bring new readers entirely.

  53. How can amazon legally put books into a subscription service without consent? Sounds like you need more even contracts with publishers. I’m not in the business so I could be wrong with this.

  54. As a self-published writer I did try KDP a year or so ago and got disappointing results. I don’t say it isn’t without merit. Just that it didn’t work for me.

    Part of my real issue with the service is the exclusivity clause. It makes no sense for me to pull a book out of distribution with iBooks, B&N et al, if I then can’t leverage the KDP exposure to increase sales.

    When I performed my experiment, I got very little out of KDP (I tried mightily, honest!) and certainly not enough to offset the loss of removing the book from other distribution channels. Therefore, for me, the experiment was a failure.

    Other writer’s mileage may vary, of course.

  55. Highly tangential to the original topic, may I say I am STAGGERED by the number of people who read a gazillion books per year?

    I just plain can’t read that fast. Even when I’m on vacation with nothing else at all to do, I can read maybe three novels (300-400 paperback pages) in a week, if I do very little else. If I’m on a big-fat-fantasy jag, I might be lucky to finish just one in a week.

    Do you all skim a bit? I’ve heard that fast readers read “chunks” of words, whereas other people (e.g., me) read every individual word in sequence, which is a lot slower.

    Not to mention, if a book is really intense, sometimes I have to put it down for a while. It took me more than a week to read Ancillary Justice because it ties the brain in knots a bit (in a good way). I had to keep stopping so I could assimilate what I had read before continuing on.

    I got rid of my TV about 2 years ago and I’ve read (and written) a lot more in that time, but I’m still lucky if I can read 40 new novels a year. (Plus maybe 10-12 rereads.)

  56. JS– this move by Amazon is fairly conclusive evidence that they have a large base of readers/buyers who treat books and authors as fungible within some parameters. It’s another confirmation by proxy that they are fairly certain that people will just read something else if their first choice isn’t available, especially if it’s convenient and cheap.

  57. $120/year is fair if they have enough titles that my KIDS are interested in. (as long as I can set up sub-accounts or parental controls or something) Kindle device + $120/year is low$$ for my family reading pleasure – plus encourages the young ones to read all they want/can.
    (I do not have check out rights at the libraries closest to me as I live in an unincorporated area, I can “join” or “opt-in” for approx. $1000- but I don’t have the money- this is about 10%!)

  58. I’m a high-volume reader. When I heard about the 3 month free trial at Scribd, and looked at their collection (they have a number of niche publishers that the public library is never going to stock in bulk), I only had to make sure I had the correct kind of device to use it properly before signing up. Unlike KU, Scribd has 2 major publishing houses signed up (HC, S&S)–which give it an edge–and a bunch of minor ones including self-pub authors participating through Smashwords. It costs less than KU (once I start paying). The only problem is I have to use their app and can’t use an e-ink reader for the books (annoying). I have read over 30 titles on Scribd. I have bought books from authors I first encountered on this service (it’s very typical to have mostly backlist available for subscription, while newer books are only available by purchase or at the public library; and I’ve gotten hooked on some good series). I think these services are very good for voracious, niche readers. I’m less sure it makes sense for the “average” reader who only reads 12 books a year. I can read 12 books in a few weeks. Based on what I’ve experienced through Scribd, though, I have no desire to switch to KU unless they get more big publishers on board.

  59. The way I see it, subscription services work well for readers particularly if it’s a “one stop shop” sort of deal. Having to pay for many different subscription services each month, and hunt through each to find what you actually want to read, is not conducive to customer (reader) satisfaction.

    Next step in my head after that is that the technical term in economics for that kind of “one stop shop” deal is “monopoly”. And that those rarely work well for consumers, or anybody else except the monopolists themselves.

    So I kind of like the idea of having access to all existing and new published works for a modest monthly subscription fee (and, if the subscription fee was split among the content providers in rough accordance with number of words read each month, it could be quite a good deal for them, too; of course that monopoly in the middle wants to avoid that if at all possible), but I don’t expect I’ll ever have that option available to me.

  60. I read a lot, and I own a Kindle, and I don’t think this service is for me. The books I’ve read in the last two months (counting the two books I’m still in the middle of):
    Barr and Wells, Category Theory for Computing Science
    Sean McMeekin, July 1914: Countdown to War
    Nail Gaiman, Fragile Things
    Phil & Kaja Foglio, Girl Genius Book 12: Agatha Heterodyne and the Siege of Mechanicsburg
    Charles Stross, The Rhesus Chart
    Phil & Kaja Foglio, Girl Genius Book 11: Agatha Heterodyne and the Hammerless Bell
    Phil & Kaja Foglio, Girl Genius Book 10: Agatha Heterodyne and the Guardian Muse
    C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle
    Ben Hatke, Legends of Zita the Spacegirl
    C. S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew
    Terry Griffin, The Art of LEGO MINDSTORMS NXT-G Programming
    C. S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy
    C. S. Lewis, The Silver Chair
    Peter Hart, The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War
    C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

    I looked it up, and found that none of those books are available on Kindle Unlimited; that’s zero for 15. Not worth it for me. Whatever criteria determine the available selection, it doesn’t seem to be a good match for my tastes.

  61. I don’t see any advantage to you as an author for signing up, with the plausible exception of Old Man’s War, as noted by another commenter early in the thread. You’re already an established author, you already have a base of readers willing to buy your books at prices higher than I would expect the library credit could be, etc. The first book in a series, or some short stories, as a loss leader to try to increase your reader base, maybe. I suspect if you included the bulk of your work you’d lose more money than you gained.

    Now, authors *without* an established reader base might gain from this. So might extremely prolific authors (even at a low price per book, the likelihood that someone who liked one of your books will go on to read your other twenty books is enticing.)

    As a reader, I’m dubious. First, fairly few of the books I want to read are included (I have a huge wish list of Kindle books and I went through them.) Second, I’m a voracious enough reader that the price is theoretically worth it, but I’m also a voracious enough reader that I’ve acquired a serious habit of rereading books, which makes me actually want to own the books that I like. Third, I live in NYC; I really should sign up for the NYPL ebook program now that it works & plays well with Kindle, which it didn’t went I last tried.

  62. @ –E:

    Do you all skim a bit? I’ve heard that fast readers read “chunks” of words, whereas other people (e.g., me) read every individual word in sequence, which is a lot slower.

    Yeah, but you know what else I do? A long time ago, I came to the wondrous realization that if something was boring me, I didn’t have to finish it unless it was required for work. Life’s too short, and the TBR list waaaay too long, for masochistic reading.

  63. I’ve got a fairly new Kindle. Most of what’s on it is free/very cheap classic work and some short fiction. (I did buy My Real Children, as I wasn’t willing to wait for the physical copy). I also use my university library and inter-library loan a lot for work I don’t want to buy. KU could work as an alternate means of feeding my book addiction, but so far I don’t see it as necessary just yet.

  64. I’m quite certain I lack a good deal of understanding about the situation. In my own circumstance I would like to read the rest of your books but my local library doesn’t carry them and I don’t feel like I can justify purchasing them right now. If they were on Amazon it would allow me to easily budget the exact same amount each month and I would read them and you would be compensated a little bit. Perhaps the volume of people in my same circumstance would outweigh the paltry profit-per-sale ratio. If I liked the book I would save up for and purchase the hard copy like I have done in the past.

    I may get around to buying the books and reading them eventually, perhaps used copies to save a few bucks, but if they were available right now on a subscription based service, I would go out and read them all within a few months because it would be easy and the ones I liked I would purchase new hard copies of.

  65. “Do you all skim a bit? I’ve heard that fast readers read “chunks” of words, whereas other people (e.g., me) read every individual word in sequence, which is a lot slower.”

    Sometimes, but it’s generally a sign I’m not really enjoying the book a whole lot and am either trying to get to a better part or finish it up quickly.

    Generally I find that I read genre fiction at a faster rate than something chewier, too. But m natural reading-for-fun speed is at the higher end of normal, without skimming.

  66. John, longtime fan – I’ve certainly read all of your novels, and look forward to more.

    I’m a book snob. I just plain like the feel of a nice paperback in my hand. My wife has a kindle, and she loves it – I’m basically uninterested.

    The one thing I love it for is getting short stories from authors I generally follow, which I otherwise would have missed in collections/magazines/etc.

    If I can get a subscription to “hey, just send me all short stories for authors x, y, and z”, I’m totally into the model as a consumer.

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