Amazon Tweaks Its Kindle Unlimited System. It Still Sucks For KDP Select Authors

Now that I’ve returned to the US and have parked myself in front of the computer again, people are asking me what I think of Amazon’s plan to tweak the way its Kindle Unlimited system pays KDP Select authors. In the past, Amazon would designate a certain amount of cash ($3 million this June, according to this Verge article, although in the comments Annie Bellet quotes a higher figure) as a payment pot, and all KDP Select authors participating in Kindle Unlimited would get a small bit of the pot if someone who downloaded their book read more than 10% of it. This predictably led to authors making short books in order to get to the 10% mark as quickly as possible, and equally predictably diluted the effectiveness of the tactic. It also made authors of longer works complain quite a lot, as they had to compete with bite-sized books for the same tiny bit of the pot.

As a result, Amazon is now tweaking its system so that instead of getting paid when one reaches that 10% marker, KDP select authors will get paid for each page read — a move that will, within the context of the KU system, at least, address the “small book vs. big book” disparity. The system will also define a standard “page” so fiddling with margins and type size won’t fool it, and somehow track how much time you spend on each page, so just clicking through all the pages as quickly as possible won’t do the trick (this makes me wonder what Amazon defines as a decent amount of time to read a page). The short version is: You get paid for what your readers read. If your readers don’t read the whole book, you don’t get paid for the whole book.

I have a lot of questions about how this will play out in theory — will an author get paid if you re-read a book? What about if you go back and re-read a page? Does that count? Doesn’t this mean that authors of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books get really screwed? Not to mention any author who is writing anything other than a page-turning narrative? — but ultimately any objections or praise I might have for this new Amazon model is irrelevant, because of a simple fact:

Amazon is still making KDP Select authors compete against each other for a limited, Amazon-defined pot of money, and no matter how you slice it, that sucks for the authors.

Why? Because Amazon puts an arbitrary cap on the amount of money it’s possible to earn — and not just a cap on what you, as an author, can earn, but what every author in the KDP Select system participating in Kindle Unlimited can make. Every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited can not, among all of them totaled up, make more than what Amazon decides to put into the pot. Why? Because that’s the pot. That’s how much Amazon wants to splash out this month. And the more pages are read in the month, the smaller any bit of the pie that you might get for your pages read becomes. It’s a zero-sum game for every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited. Next month, who knows what the size of the pot will be? You don’t — only Amazon does. But whatever amount it is, it’s an amount designed to benefit Amazon, not the individual authors.

This is a bad situation for the authors participating — bad enough that ultimately the minutiae of how the money is allocated is sort of aside the point, because the relevant point is: You will never make more for your work than Amazon wants you to make. And yes, just Amazon, as the work KDP Select authors put on Amazon are exclusive to Amazon.

I’m not one of those people who believes Amazon is glowy-red-eye evil — I remind people again that I’ve rather happily had a fruitful relationship with its Audible subsidiary for a number of years — but Amazon is looking out for Amazon first, and when it does, it’s not an author’s friend. There is no possible way in this or any other timeline that I would ever, as a writer, participate in the sort of scheme that Amazon runs with its KDP Select authors on Kindle Prime. I don’t approve of putting a cap on my own earnings (particularly one I have no say on), and I don’t approve of being in a situation where my success as an author comes by disadvantaging other authors, or vice versa. In the system in which I currently participate (i.e., the open market), there is no limit to the amount I can make, and no limit to what any other author can make. It’s a great system! I support it, and so should you.

So, yeah: By page, or by percentage, KDP Select authors on Kindle Unlimited still can’t make more than Amazon says they can. That sucks, and that’s the long and short of it.

93 thoughts on “Amazon Tweaks Its Kindle Unlimited System. It Still Sucks For KDP Select Authors

  1. I wonder if you have any insight into the way the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library works. It seems to have a lot of the same authors and books available as does the Kindle Unlimited program, but not complete overlap. I ask because I have enjoyed some books I’ve read that way, and I’ve gone on to buy other books from those same authors (e.g., Marko Kloos and Hugh Howey), as well as using it to re-read books I only own in dead-tree format (the Harry Potter series).

    I don’t want to rip those authors off, but at the same time I probably would not have read either messieurs Kloos and Howey – and recommended them to others – without the KOLL program.

  2. I bought a Kobo reader last year because of some issues I’ve had with the way Amazon has always dealt with small publishers. I recently closed my Amazon account because I had issues with the way Amazon deals with customers. Thanks. I’m delighted to have another valid reason to avoid them.

  3. Dang, this living in the future is turning out to be complicated. Who’d’a thunk it?

    I tried KDP Select for six months. Didn’t do any better than spreading my titles over Kobo, Snashwords, and my own webstore.

  4. This is why I buy things on Nook, or sometimes GooglePlay Books, or even ye olde Smashwords occasionally. Back in the day, I bought some books on floppy disc (!)

    The only ebooks I have purchased from Amazon are either freebies or heavily discounted specials. If a book is Amazon-exclusive, I wonder what’s wrong with the author… do they NOT want to sell as much as possible, to everyone in the world? What of iBooks and Kobo?

    This money pot is basically Amazon telling KDP authors “May the odds be ever in your favor.”

  5. I’ve owned a Nook for quite a while now, and am very happy with it. I don’t expect to get a Kindle, and actually don’t even buy books from Amazon. Every time you talk about things like this Kindle Unlimited, it just confirms to me that I am not missing much by not using the Amazon eco-system. They might not be red-glowy-eye evil, but they don’t seem to care about the way stuff like this looks to prospective customers.

  6. I buy from Amazon and am not likely to stop, short of discovering that they are red-eyed evil. Partly that’s because I bought a Kindle and like it a lot, and partly it’s because I don’t think B&N are any paragons of virtue. But if I were an author, I’d probably not get involved with anybody who tried to limit my possible earnings.

  7. The arbitrary “enough time” to read a “standard” page is, well, arbitrary. I am a very very fast reader, especially in ebooks, and I bet they wouldn’t deem my speed slow enough to count towards the pittance. Last month, sure. This month, nope. Next month, who the hell knows? An author who has a lot of speed-readers is penalized vs. an author who has a lot of slower readers, which seems completely backwards.

    Will they change the rules again, will they change the amount in the prize pool every month? No writer or reader can possibly know that, and I’ll bet AMZ itself doesn’t even know what the rules are going to be in a couple of months.

  8. @Lurkertype, it’s all Amazon for me. They own audible. And I always never get in my car that I don’t start listening to my book.

  9. I’m on the Amazon fan side of things – I’ve discovered a number of new authors, mainly self-published, using their lending library along with their low-price deals ($0.99 – $2.99).

    That said, I’m not a fan of the ‘Unlimited’ (mainly because I like to have the copy myself) AND I don’t like their deal for the authors. $3MM wouldn’t be bad IF it was the floor, using a percent of revenue model to have it move past that if more and more subscribers join. But by having a cap, there’s no real way to play fair, especially if the service grows with more and more book available and read.

  10. It makes me wonder what the terms are for the trad pub books. I can bet you they’re different! From what I know of the publishing industry, that would never fly. Partly because it’d be impossible for them to manage on their sides (given how much of trad pub is still done in DOS style programs, on paper, and in triplicate. How anything gets done/organized, I’m still not sure), but partly because they’d never agree to “We’ll pay some nebulous amount a month”.

  11. Scalzi, so how should Amazon manage this instead of a flat pot each month? Not trolling, genuinely wondering – a significant percentage of what they make off it every month based on all the readers it draws in?

    I don’t think Amazon’s Red-Eyed Evil – more like Cold-Eyed Ruthless. I use a Kindle app on my iPad because it allows me to have it, a Nook, iBooks and just about any other third party eReader app on it, and if you don’t like iPads you can get roughly the same collection of apps for Android of Windows Mobile. But honestly – most of the books I buy on Amazon are “junk reads” that I get for free or under $2.99, from authors I haven’t really heard of or aren’t sure about. The books I want to keep, I usually buy on a Nook, because while B&N is Cold-Eyed Ruthless as well – I’d rather have two or more Cold-Eyed Ruthless corporations competing for my dollars than one who doesn’t even have to bother.

    Oh, and I buy everything I can through Baen, because Baen is more like Wild-Eyed Idealistic Futurist (some of their publishing choices aside, of course!), so I don’t have to worry about DRM.

  12. Oh, and I buy everything I can through Baen, because Baen is more like Wild-Eyed Idealistic Futurist (some of their publishing choices aside, of course!), so I don’t have to worry about DRM.

    You don’t have to worry about DRM with Tor either.

  13. I tried switching to a Kobo, but the actual ebook reader was dreadful. The touch interface for turning pages only worked 1/3 of the time. There was no way to enjoy reading a book when you had to fight with the ebook reader just to get to the next page. So we sold the Kobo on ebay and went back to the Kindle. All hail our dark trifecta, Amazon, Google, and Facebook. May they be merciful with the souls of humankind.

  14. I’m a Kindle Unlimited user and I like it, even though I generally don’t read enough of their books in a month to cover the monthly cost (I have a huge backlog of bought books that I also want to get through).

    Thing is, sometimes it happens that a book that a friend insists on lending me is also available on KU. In these cases I always chose to read it via KU, so that the author will make some money off it (albeit a little). However, it seems that the more pages are read in a given month, the less each page is worth, and the less money each author makes, right?

    So do you think I should give up KU (thus no longer reading any pages through them) ? Or should I just avoid using it when I can (such as in the case of books I can borrow from my friends/from the library) ? What’s the best way for me as a KU user to behave, so that the authors will get to benefit the most out of it?

  15. Kay, speaking as an author who has a couple of books on KU that will soon no longer be on KU because I don’t like the changes in terms: what I want you to do as a reader is to read lots of books and review and recommend the ones you like. That’s it. :-) Don’t worry about the economics; as far as I’m concerned that’s our problem, not yours. But if you happen to read a book you like on KU, maybe make sure a couple other folks know you liked it.

    (Longer take here: http://infinitefreetime.com/2015/06/18/in-which-thats-enough-of-that-on-leaving-kindle-select-again/ )

  16. Apple tried something similar with their music service and after a virtual tsunami of protest, reversed its strategy: http://appleinsider.com/articles/15/06/22/apple-will-now-pay-rights-holders-during-apple-music-trial-period-eddy-cue-says

    There’s some anecdata to suggest that a high-profile protest by Taylor Swift played a significant role in motivating this (to continue a metaphor) “sea change”: http://appleinsider.com/articles/15/06/21/taylor-swift-praises-apple-but-calls-90-day-free-trial-of-music-service-shocking-disappointing-for-artists

    Possibly, John, you can be our Taylor Swift? “Dear Amazon: your policy on Kindle books sucks, and as a result, you’re not getting any of my books, ever. In losing the right to sell my books in Kindle format, you’re sacrificing $??? annually in potential revenues. Just thought you’d want to know. Love, John.”

    Get a few of your best-selling friends to co-sign the letter and perhaps you’ll make your point Swiftly. *G*

  17. paid by the page? you would think that this was already the case based upon the bloated books that come out these days particularly in the fantasy category..

  18. How hard is it to make a business entity and call it a publisher? Then get amazon to accept that, so you are not technically considered self published. Its easy to make a business entity in the US. I have mafe 2. If Vox Day can call himself a publisher it should not be that hard to call yourself one that publish yourself. This way you avoid amazon lock in.

  19. I got a Kindle for Christmas last year, and enjoy it, but haven’t seen any reason to get Kindle Unlimited. This sounds like another good reason to steer clear of KU — I’ve been a speed reader all my life, so any author I would read through that program will get even less of the pot than normal.

  20. I have two Nooks, but I read ebooks using the Nook app on a Samsung tablet. The app works well, allows bookmarks, notes and the typical ereader controls for font size and brightness. Pages turn smoothly and I’ve not had any problems even switching between my tablet and phone. I really try not to buy from Amazon. I still like “dead tree books” and I want my local bookstore to stick around. (Barnes & Noble is the only one left in the area.) I love to go in and touch the books, open them, read the cover notes and think about whether I want to buy it. I’d prefer paper, but I’m out of room. I would prefer books without DRM. How can I give them to my Nephew when I’m done? I’d rather OWN my books rather than lease them.
    John

  21. What I think might end up working better would be if the size of the “pot” that Amazon splits between authors was based on how many Kindle Unlimited subscribers there were.

    Which basically means that the more money that Amazon makes off of Kindle Unlimited, the more money goes to the authors.

  22. There’s a KDP Select / Kindle Unlimited issue that you’re not mentioning: exclusivity. The KDP Select / Kindle Unlimited terms are perhaps not horrible for someone like me who’s created something for fun and expects to sell zero copies, and so could benefit from a little exposure – but there’s an exclusivity clause. That is to say, as I read the rules, if you’re distributing your ebook through any other channel, possibly including putting it on your own website for free, you’re not eligible for KDP Select / Kindle Unlimited. This seems unnecessary and abusive.

  23. Is there any way to run a subscription service without authors competing against each other for money? Even if the pot scales with the number of subscribers (and it should), if readers aren’t paying for each book then Amazon would risk a huge downside if it paid per book.

  24. A few key distinctions:

    @Guess “How hard is it to make a business entity and call it a publisher? Then get amazon to accept that, so you are not technically considered self published. Its easy to make a business entity in the US. I have mafe 2. If Vox Day can call himself a publisher it should not be that hard to call yourself one that publish yourself. This way you avoid amazon lock in.”

    The type of business entity is irrelevant. Many indie publishers have DBA/trade names, LLCs, S or C Corps, etc., but if they go to sign up for KDPS and/or KU, they will get the same terms as anyone else. To the best of my knowledge, larger publishers and bigger-name authors are not under the same exclusivity terms (e.g., the Harry Potter books are available in KU, but you can still go to Pottermore and buy them there), but that will have to do with having the contacts and leverage to negotiate individual terms with Amazon, not because they have a DBA or have “Inc.” or “LLC” after their business name.

    —–

    Not all authors using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) service are enrolled in KDP Select or Kindle Unlimited. You can publish e-books to Amazon without participating in KDPS or KU, and many authors do.

    My biggest beef with both programs is the exclusivity factor. For example, I can’t imagine Scalzi agreeing to being exclusive to one store or distributor (unless, perhaps, the revenue involved made it worth considering and negotiating). If Amazon removes exclusivity, I could see more authors/publishers being interested, but not at the expense of giving up iBooks, Kobo, direct selling, etc., for their e-books.

  25. You know, as a reader that sounds downright scary to me.
    Amazon measures how Long I take to read a page and how much I’m going to read of a given book? What next, measure the level of satisfaction I’ve got from my read?

    Everyday I find new reasons not to buy a Kindle…

  26. Yeah, I’m with Gerd D. If I use KU, Amazon watches everything I do and tracks me like a radio tracker on a bear? And then it takes that data and it sells it to advertisers, which is where the real money is actually coming from. I’m okay with a company keeping track of what I buy from them — they have to for accounting — and even taking a bit of demographic data on me to sell to advertisers, largely because that data is actually useless and advertisers believe in the tooth fairy. I’m not okay with Amazon watching me read and then selling that data like I’m their free science experiment. That’s creepy.

    And that’s what is going on with all these streaming services. They don’t really care if you download the stuff or not (which is why they don’t care about paying the creators for it.) What they care about is watching what you do and to what degree and selling that data to marketing and advertising.

    The other day, I was looking up some very specific, localized information on Google to help out my sister who lives no where near me. And then when I’m on a magazine website, an ad for what I was looking up is right there. Not the first time it’s happened — it’s not coincidence, but targeted marketing. What I do, what I look at, is tracked, no matter how accidental or if I’ve already researched whatever I’m researching, and Google sells it to marketing companies whose bots then pull up completely useless waste of money ads for those samplings. And then those marketing firms sell the data again to other marketing firms.

    There’s not much I can do about that, since all search engines do it, and it’s largely funny as a waste of trying to dangle things at me. (Obviously, since they get a five-ten percent return on it and they get paid anyway, they don’t really care if it’s a waste.) It funds the Internet at least. But to willingly volunteer for in depth computer probing of my behavior seems pointless.

  27. This is coming at an interesting time for me, because I have a friend and co-author who has been using the KU model and has benefited greatly from it (because she’s extraordinarily talented and a good promoter…oh, and because we both write smut, which is probably more lucrative than anything else on KU). She’s been suggesting both that a) we put our co-authored works on KU, and b) that I move to KU because she thinks it could be good for me.

    I’ve been going with Patreon for a little while, putting up my stories for free and asking people to contribute. It’s been going well for the first month, I feel, and I think it has a very high potential upside. I’m not crazy about her suggestion, even though I know she’s making good money the way she’s doing it and she’s a smart person whose advice I don’t discount lightly. This might be clarifying why.

  28. Yeah, I’m a self-pubbed writer and wouldn’t go within a thousand miles of KDP Select, even were it not for the exclusivity (which I find morally offensive), for precisely this reason. I have no interest in taking part in a zero-sum game run for someone else’s benefit, and writers, no matter what level they’re at, should not be competing with each other for slices of a pie whose size someone else has arbitrarily set, but should be working together to make the whole pie bigger. KDP Select is both morally wrong and against authors’ long-term self interest.

  29. Technically, the 3 million is the base of the pot. They added 7.8 million for a total pot this month of 10.8 million.

    They stated in the email about the changes that the pot for July and August would be over 11 million each.

    However, that said, I think your criticism is fair. KU is an arbitrary system where you have no idea what you’ll be paid. I know some people (myself included in a small way since I have a few tester pieces in even though most of my books are widely available) have done quite well with it, but there are plenty of things about it (exclusivity, arbitrary payout, etc) that bug me enough I don’t think I’d ever throw all in. I did the calculations on what not having my main series in and collecting borrows would be (going on a guesstimate of borrows to sales ratio based on my other stuff and experiences of well-selling indie friends in Select), and I’ve probably given up at least $25k over the last 9 months by being on the other sites instead of exclusive. I prefer to the comfort of having my books available widely so I’m not totally relying on one vendor though, but I’m the first to admit that I’m probably paying a premium for that comfort if you just look at it from a money angle. Sigh.

  30. For someone like you, would it be worth it to participate with a very select set of titles? For example, if ONLY Old Man’s War was available via KDP and not any of your other work (ESPECIALLY not any other titles from the OMW universe) a broad audience would get introduced to a very high quality work. If you get some cash from participating, then bully for you. BUT, it is a great book and a wonderfully compelling universe and so you would get add on sales from people who got an introduction to you through KDP, but went on to give revenues that far outstrip the amount you got from KDP itself.

  31. Dan- KDP is just the self-publishing arm of Amazon. To be in KDP, John would have to self-publish OMW which I pretty sure he can’t do, hehe. What you are looking for is Select, which is the program through KDP that puts you in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and in which you have to be exclusive.

    There are trad published books in the KU system, but they go in through a different route and no exclusivity is required. Also the publishers get paid for each borrow as though it were a sale. That’s how Amazon enticed some publishers into allowing it with their books.

    It’s a different story and a totally different portal for the self-published side, though initially some big name indie authors were offered the same deal in a trial period. Amazon is not an even playing field, it’s a business. The rules and offers aren’t the same for everyone. If you think you can make more profit and reach more readers by being exclusive, it’s always something to consider. If you can’t, best to go wide with everything. It’s something all self-publishing authors have to consider for themselves with the best information we can glean.

  32. Annie: Scalzi did originally self-publish Old Man’s War. But then he sold the reprint license to Tor. Tor decides where the book sells as part of their license agreement.

    Self-published authors can sell e-books, including short fiction, on Amazon’s regular Kindle platform. And they can then also sell those e-books on other e-book vendors’ platforms. And usually self-pub authors sell pretty cheap. That would seem to be a way better sales model. And if I want to buy a self-published e-book, then I can do so through Amazon or another e-book vendor and they don’t track me reading it. That’s a way better customer experience.

    Amazon seems to be saying, hey this will give you exposure, lock you in to only working with us and let us mine even more marketing data on our customers to sell for profit. Which makes sense for Amazon. I’ve yet to hear a good argument for why it makes sense for self-pub authors when another, better sales model exists, including on Amazon and beyond Amazon. We have heard from a number of self-pub authors that their sales dropped on going on this streaming service.

    And instead of a 30%-50% fee cut from your e-book revenues, (which is a lot,) Amazon is keeping almost all the money and paying the self-pubs pennies. It’s basically just a permissions fee. So long term, I would think it’s not a plus, and that includes if Apple tries to do it with iBooks, etc. The problem with a lot of self-pub authors is that they don’t know much about the business they are in, and so Amazon can basically get thousands of them to do anything they like.

    That’s not being an evil red eye — it’s typical corporate behavior. (Taylor Swift just got Apple to blink, thank her shiny pony tail.) So my advice to self-pubs is look very carefully at any service agreements you are agreeing to and make sure you understand the terms.

  33. And then there are people like me, who buy from Amazon, slap the book into Calibre and convert to ePub for my various other platforms. Amazon probably thinks I never read a page.
    But I do buy, rather than renting, so that probably works out.

  34. Kat- I make a living on my self-pub books. I’m aware of the various models. ;) I meant more that Scalzi can’t self-pub OMW right now because I assume his contract with the publisher says so. He’s perfectly capable of self-pubbing other stuff if he wanted, I’m sure. It’s just that if he even wanted OMW to be in Kindle Unlimited, his publisher would be doing it, and it wouldn’t be subject to the per page rate thing we’re talking about, because publishers have a different deal with Amazon and are not part of that pool.

  35. I am a self published author on Amazon. Whenever I have looked into the other publishing places for E-books, I see a lot of people who make less than I do with KDP Select. Once my name is much more established, then I will branch out to the others. I’m extremely curious how the pay per page is going to go and I will find out after July. If I make less money that way, I will pull out of the program and publish with B&N and the other platforms. It is true that Amazon has things set up to be able to pay us whatever they see fit and that is uncomfortable. The next few months will tell us a lot.

  36. Amazon adds to that 3 mill pot every month to make up for the extra readers but the amount they add is totally up to them. They find a price that authors will accept and that’s how much they add to the pot. For months it’s been about 1.40 per book. I’m guessing it will work out somewhere along those lines again. The pay per page will do one thing. It will make sure the better writing gets more of the money and that’s alright with me. If your writing is good your writing will be read. 1000 pages of crap won’t help an author. 100 pages of good writing will be read all the way through.

  37. Is the open market that different? A certain number of people in the world are going to read a certain number of books, and authors compete for a slice of that paper flavoured pie.

    Amazon is more closed and arbitrary, but is somewhat similar to a microcosm of the real world. Except for the all-you-can-read aspect…open market books don’t decrease in value with each purchase. But still.

    The big improvement I can think of would be to directly tie the pot to the number of KU subscribers. Amazon isn’t big on that sort of transparency, but they may need it if good authors keep fleeing from KU’s sketchiness.

  38. Jaminord asked, “It makes me wonder what the terms are for the trad pub books.”

    Well, that’s the really sucky part. Amazon has different rules for trad and indie books. Trad publishers up until now have gotten compensated for Kindle Unlimited as thought it were a SALE. They are not reimbursed from this giant $3M pie. Which means, essentially, that a book is not a book is not a book.

    I’ve gone back and forth on this myself time and again. I’m a very successful indie author. KU has been very good to me–a lot of people gave me a chance that wouldn’t have otherwise and I converted a lot of those people to fans. When you sell in the kind of volume I was selling, it gets very lucrative–and then amazon piles bonuses on top of that, which I earned three months in a row. That is really hard to walk away from, but walk away from it I did. For a while.

    In November of 2014 I experimented with withdrawing from KU and diversifying across platforms. It was a disaster. I couldn’t get any traction on those other platforms. It was an INSANE amount of work (and I’m not lazy by any means). I lost a lot of potential revenue that month. I skittered back to KU for a few months and now I’m back out again. My book has gone over to the far end of the bell curve and I’m not counting on that income anymore.

    KU is really good for a brand new author, like I was, that is just saying, “please take a chance on me!” But for established authors…no bueno.

    It feels better on my conscience to be out of it, honestly. It’s a really shitty system for authors.

    Now I just have to figure out what I’m going to do when I launch me next book. *sigh*

  39. Fiction authors don’t directly compete in the open marketplace. They help each other sell, because the market is symbiotic. If some books do well, that brings in more readers, some of whom will browse over to other books as well, and then the market (the pie) expands for everybody to potentially attract readers.

    In KU, Amazon creates a pie that does not expand with the market of monies for authors. It creates the same symbiotic browser market for the readers — they get a volume of books together to browse through looking for what they like. But the expansion of the KU pie isn’t really passed on to the authors, like it is in the self-pub/partner pub open market. Instead, Amazon pits the authors against each other for the prize money they’ve set aside for you.

    Except, readers streaming with KU don’t buy written fiction that way. They look at what they first see, try some of it. They may read a whole lot of a story that they don’t actually like that much. They may completely miss fiction that they’d like more than what they try. It’s that way in the open market too, but you have a lot more potential readers and more ways to attract their attention to your work’s existence, including symbiosis and word of mouth, and you get money for doing so. In KU, you are supposedly taking away another author’s readers/share of the pie, but that’s not really what’s going on. So it’s a bad mash up of a gladiator philosophy with the actual non-competitive way the fiction market works, seems like.

    You can get people to try you selling cheap self-pub books and short fiction on Amazon’s regular Kindle platform. You can build a small following from that, and they spread word of mouth. And that pie can expand and can expand from working promotionally with other authors (guest blogs, etc.) And you get your actual revenues, minus Amazon’s cut, rather than just a bit of prize money Amazon gives you.

  40. “Make the pie higher”, as our previous President once said.

    Amazon is keeping all the pie to itself in KU, and giving the authors crumbs of an arbitrary-sized pie.

  41. As an author with her debut book in KU, I have to disagree. You say it’s not a good deal for authors, but I would argue that there is nothing that is a good deal for all authors. I am absolutely certain that including my book in the program has put more money in my pocket than I would have made by sales only or with a trad contract. Some of that is the borrows themselves, many of which I’m sure come from people who would never have purchased a book from a new author, but the borrow payment of $1.34 is not exactly shabby either and I suspect the changes in the program will increase that amount for novel length works.

    That equation would be very different for a best selling established author and these seem to be the people who have felt the program hurt them or at the least didn’t benefit them. Once you graduate into that “must read” list like a John Scalzi, an HM Ward, or a Hugh Howey; the program makes far less sense. Best selling authors command higher prices that the borrow payment doesn’t live up to and a must read is a must read–people aren’t going to pass simply because it’s not in the program.

    I understand the issues of the KU model creating a zero sum game and I do agree that’s an issue. Nevertheless, for new writers, midlisters, or people with dormant backlists, this can be a significant venue.

  42. @Lurkertype Why do people go exclusive with Amazon?

    Because often, they don’t sell enough on other platforms to make it financially reasonable to do otherwise. (Some people sell more on, e.g., Nook or iBooks than on Kindle. From anecdotes, those people seem to be rarities — though some people have a few books that sell better elsewhere than Amazon, often for no obvious reason.)

    I sell all over the place because I don’t want to ride just one tiger. >_>

  43. many of which I’m sure come from people who would never have purchased a book from a new author,

    See, that’s the thing about written fiction — readers LOVE new authors. They take chances on new authors all the time. New authors are the life’s blood of the fiction market. The category “genre” markets exist only because millions of readers are completely willing to try new authors as long as those new authors are writing some form of romance, SF, fantasy, horror, westerns, or suspense, and if they happen to hear about them. Scalzi, Howey (and as a self-pub,) etc. were new authors and people happily tried them any way and then spread word of mouth. They aren’t must reads — there are no must reads in fiction unless you’re taking a class and have a reading list required. They are just people who developed a fan base over time.

    Bigger names can certainly charge more for books. But Howey didn’t raise his prices that much and self-pub e-books remain very cheap. (Other e-books are also mainly cheap relatively, because the majority of books published are still done so in print purely as mass market paperbacks.)

    If you buy a lot of books and read them very quickly, then Amazon’s streaming service might be a good deal. But otherwise, you’re paying a monthly fee for access to books that you then don’t actually get around to reading. (I have the same problem with Netflix — we don’t use it that much unless the daughter is home, yet we pay them every month to sit on our television. If it wasn’t that my relatives are addicted to Orange is the New Black, I’d dump them.) I’d much rather buy a couple of books for $.99-$2.99 that I’m actually going to get around to reading than pay a monthly fee for basically a service I don’t use much. And if I do that, the author gives Amazon their cut and gets to keep the rest of the revenue. And I spread word of mouth if I like the book and other people buy. That’s how Howey became a bestseller before any publisher came and asked for reprint rights.

    If you’re on the streaming service, you’re giving Amazon exclusivity to be seen by people who mostly will never get around to noticing that you are there. It might work out, but you also get the chance to be seen on Amazon’s main platform, non-exclusively to largely the same people plus many, many others. And readers are as willing to buy new authors there as they are elsewhere, because again, they like new authors.

    So why stream if you can sell as a new author on Amazon’s regular platform and get to make more money per sale? This is the question — are self-pub authors who give exclusivity to Amazon and do streaming getting more sales than when they regular self-pubbed? And are they making more money than they would have by regular self-pub through the percentages? I’ve heard self-pub authors say that they are making less streaming and that it was a concern. I haven’t heard a self-pub author saying they are making more from streaming than they were from regular self-pub. If there are, it would be interesting to hear about it. If you get enough word of mouth, it might work, but the long term effects could have a downside, and you can get word of mouth going the regular way. Your audience may not follow you off the streaming service if you get bigger. And every fiction author needs their base built.

  44. I don’t have anything in KDP Select so I’m not directly affected by this change – although I think it’s positive overall and will kill some of the scammy stuff that was clogging up the charts. I don’t like the cap on principle either, but I wouldn’t have much problem throwing books into KDP Select if I thought it would make more money than going wide with distro.

    Anyway, I wanted to ask about this: “Amazon is looking out for Amazon first, and when it does, it’s not an author’s friend.”

    What company is an “author’s friend” exactly? Penguin Random House?

  45. Thanks for talking about how much that system sucks for authors. I’ve been trying to decide if KU would be worth my money and noticed some of my favorite authors weren’t in there. Now I know why.
    I’m happy to give my limited entertainment funds each month to a service if it’s good to the creators on the other side of the exchange, but I keep finding out that things like KU make writing a losing game. I hope Amazon gets smart about taking care of authors leading to better content, but till then, I guess I’m still buying books one at a time.

  46. @ David Gaughran It depends what you mean by friends. I’d say with that Tor and Scalzi are friends in the way that a friend will help you move in exchange for pizza and the expectation that you’ll help them move. Friendship as in common (self) interest and exchange of favours.

    They are not friends in the way a friend will help you move a body, however. Tor will not risk itself or its profits solely in order to help Scalzi. No company should be depended on for such favours.

  47. I used to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, but unsubscribed after it became completely overrun with all of these serialized parts. If a reader got past 10% of one of these 25-to-30-page “parts” (i.e., flip through two or three pages) then the author would get the $1.35. Meanwhile, authors of novels who didn’t chop up their books into parts would have to keep the reader’s attention for much longer (even more than 30 pages for an average-sized novel) to earn that same amount that someone else would earn for someone glancing at a couple of pages.

    I’m wondering if Amazon has noticed a huge drop in the number of subscribers because of all of this type of stuff going on, and that’s why they implemented a new system to attract back authors of full-length works. I think the new system is fairer to all authors, though I know people who publish books by the part don’t think so because they will likely see a huge drop in income, as they will no longer be awarded $1.35 each time someone opens up one of their stories and clicks through a couple pages. But I don’t necessarily think authors of those 30-page parts deserved that royalty amount in the first place—they found a loophole in the system and took advantage of it, and it was only time until Amazon would catch on and close it up.

  48. This makes no sense at all. Will they be refunding part of the purchase price to the reader? No — they’ll just NOT share with the author, the creator of the content for which Amazon will continue to be paid!

    Would a customer at a restaurant who only eats half the purchased food then be able to only pay for the portion of the food they eat? This is corporate THEFT! Theft of my effort and creativity!

  49. deserved that royalty amount in the first place

    Again, and forever, when Amazon pays a self-pub author a fee for the downloading of their work listed on the KU, it’s NOT a royalty. It’s simply revenue for the type of sale. When Amazon gives self-pub authors on the regular platform their revenues minus Amazon’s service and marketing fees, it’s NOT a royalty either. They like to call them royalties, but royalties are when you have licensed creative content to a producer who then has the usually exclusive right not just to sell it, but to produce it and has the production copyright. Self-pub authors don’t enter into licensing agreements with Amazon. They enter into sales services agreements with Amazon as a particular type of vendor. Amazon is not the publisher of self-pub authors. That’s the whole point of being self-pub authors.

    I bring this up because it does actually affect self-pub authors’ business decisions and I’m starting to wonder if a lot of self-pub authors are getting into trouble on their taxes because they are accounting their revenues incorrectly. It also makes me wonder what Amazon’s service contracts say exactly, whether they are giving themselves production licenses that they haven’t really paid for.

  50. No one is an “author’s friend”. Not a publisher, not an agent. It’s business; friendships can end when the numbers are tabulated. They can also continue as a friendship between two people but not author and business partner. I doubt Amazon will ever be anyone’s “friend”, although tax codes might say otherwise. I tell everyone, not just authors, to read The Everything Store to get an insight into what we’re dealing with. I like pretty much everyone I deal with at Amazon but it’s still a business and that’s how decisions get made.

    This issue is about a choice some authors make (those who can make a choice and are not restricted and compensated by a contract) whether to be in Select or not. In a quarter century I have not seen a single thing occur in publishing that was all good or all bad. Everything is nuanced.

    I like what Kristine Rusch wrote about “Gaming the System.” http://kriswrites.com/2015/06/17/business-musings-gaming-the-system/

    Treat it like a game and authors will strike out. It’s about good writing and being a professional business person. Ultimately it’s about producing stories readers love.

  51. I am completely out of date here. Could someone give me one sentence that defines of differentiates the following?

    Kindle direct
    kindle select
    kindle unlimited

    I would have thought ‘select’ would be the better deal? But apparently not. How many different programs does kindle have?

  52. I use kindle unlimited mostly for trad books which I consider overpriced since I’m only renting them (can’t loan, resell, leave in inheritance). If I see a KU book by an indie chances are it’s within my “buy book price” <$5 and let's me lend to 1 friend over the lifetime of kindle. I pick up between 500-1000 books a year

  53. @greg:

    Kindle Direct: Is not a thing, as far as I know.

    Kindle Select: Allows authors, generally but not exclusively independent authors, access to certain sales tools and faster sales rank updating in exchange for making their books exclusive to Amazon.

    Kindle Unlimited: A program offered to Amazon customers by which they pay $9.99 a month to read as many books enrolled in Kindle Select as they can. AFAIK only KS books are available in KU and an author cannot choose to put their books in Select and opt out of being available for Kindle Unlimited.

  54. Actually, that last sentence probably isn’t true. I suspect the KU library is all the KS books plus whatever traditional publishers Amazon has been able to wrangle into deals. I also suspect that this current change in terms won’t apply to them.

  55. Just to clarify, Amazon will only pay for the first time a page is read on borrowed books, so re-reading a book or flipping back to an earlier chapter will not earn the author any extra. And please note that this only applies to ebooks borrowed on Amazon’s subscription service. It does not affect the author’s earnings when someone buys the book for the listed sales price, and it does not affect what the subscribed reader pays as the subscribers to the subscription service pay a flat monthly fee of $9.99 no matter how many or how few pages or books they read.

    Overall, if Amazon is going to have a flat rate monthly subscription service, this seems like a very fair way to divide up the payments. It seems likely that up to now, Amazon is not making money on this program. If so, 100% of the money after direct expenses is going to the authors and Amazon is not making a penny (which is typical for Amazon with new programs). It is optional for authors to decide if they want to have their books available for loan, or if they only want to sell their books outright on the Kindle platform. All of this taken together suggests that no one is getting screwed over here. The terms are clear and if as an author you do not like them, remove your book(s) from the lending library.

    Same for readers: if you like the idea of unlimited reading for $9.99 and can find enough books you want to read on the Kindle Unlimited lending library, then it might be a good deal for you. If not, you can still buy Kindle ebooks and know the author is still earning their fair share from ebook sales (typically 70% for self-published ebooks).

  56. Well, if that’s the set up, it really shouldn’t matter how much or how little a subscriber reads of something downloaded on KU. If they access it, the author should be paid a set fee for the subscriber having selected it. (The set fees could be staggered for length of the product.) What the subscriber then does with the work as a loaner file should be up to the subscriber (not counting limiting them to one inter-Kindle loan to a friend,) and Amazon shouldn’t be spying on their subscribers through the Kindle. That’s the way most streaming services work — if you download a song, the artist/studio gets paid. If you select a movie on Netflix, the studio gets paid, etc., no matter whether you finish it or not. So what the hell does it matter how much the subscriber reads of what they pick?

    What it matters is that it lets Amazon collect extra data on the subscribers, and then they turn around and sell the data to marketers and that’s how they’re making their money on KU. (Other streamers do it too.) The authors see none of this money. But it looks like they aren’t getting paid for a lot of the times that subscribers pick their stuff either. They are now changing it so that authors get to have payment if they are selected, but it’s still based on a complicated page reading measure that has to be kept track of, instead of a straight fee per download, which is much easier to account. That’s because Amazon still wants to collect the revenue bringing marketing data by spying on their subscribers.

    What’s also interesting here is that Amazon used to give the self-pubs a lot of marketing tools and advertising stuff on their site free that they make publishers pay through the nose for. But now they’ve stopped giving some of that marketing for free to all self-pubs who use them and are making the self-pubs give them exclusivity as a vendor to get the marketing services with Kindle Select. This was expected to occur as the market developed, so it’s not a surprise. The costs to self-pubs are going to go up everywhere and Amazon still controls about 90% of their market.

    So then the question is, does being with Kindle Select and limited to Amazon sufficiently raise sales over not doing it and being able to use multiple vendors? A lot of self-pub authors don’t really want to try to do a lot of vendors besides Amazon, so for them, Kindle Select probably makes sense, as you get more marketing services for what you were going to do anyway. But, Amazon also requires that you are in the streaming service for that deal, where they used your book mostly for free. Now, they’re getting a bit better at paying so that they get longer material, but they still won’t pay a straight unit fee for it. So that’s interesting. But it’s still pretty tight-fisted, which is Amazon’s manifesto with content providers.

    And I still don’t think I’d be wanting to sign up for any streaming service and have Amazon track my reading activity like Big Brother.

  57. I freely admit I would have made at least $25,000 more these last 9 months on my main series if it were in Select/KU. Possibly more, since that is the conservative estimate of 4 sales to 1 borrow (most people I’ve talked to in my genre see 2 to 1 or 1 to 1 ratio). Potentially I could have lost six figures in income if it were more like 1 to 1 by being non-exclusive, but I try not to think about that, haha.

    However, I chose to release wide and stay that way, despite losing a decent sum of money that the sales on other retailers just can’t make up, because I prefer the stability and emotional/mental comfort it brings me to not be all-in with one retailer. This preference has cost me money. I can live with that since I make plenty.

    It’s a decision every author has to make for themselves with the data available. For some authors, being in KU is more profitable and they don’t mind taking the risks involved. Nothing wrong with that at all. This is a business, as business people we have to make the decisions that best fit our business. If what you write and how it is structured are designed for a borrowing ecosystem, being in that system makes a lot of sense. There are increased opportunities for visibility in Select as well and promotional options not available for non-exclusive authors. All things to consider when deciding what is best for your business.

    As for a streaming system that isn’t a closed system, Scribd and Oyster are doing it. Authors get paid the same as a purchase once more than 10% of your borrowed title is read. So you set the purchase price and you get normal royalties for borrows the same as you would for a sale. It’s a pretty simple system.

  58. Kat: The set fee is what Amazon has been doing up to now ( the author earns a share as long as someone read 10% or more of their borrowed book) and several authors gamed the system by putting up 10-20 page pamphlets (or scamphlets as some are calling them) that earn the author a full share even if someone just opens a page or two. A catchy title and cover and a page or two of promising text and then 18 pages of pure crap was good enough to earn a share equal to what someone else earned for a 500 page novel. Also authors split their books up into 10 or 20 chapters to earn 10 to 20 times as much. The reader did not care as they were not paying any extra for each additional chapter. Having a staggered set of fees would be better, but would still be open to gaming the system in all of the same ways at each staggered level. For dividing up a set pool of money, this seems the fairest approach.

    And by the way, Amazon has always been tracking the reading of everyone who owns a Kindle or uses a Kindle app. That is how they can sync your reading to the last page read when you switch devices, and was also necessary under the existing payment system where authors only got paid on borrowed books when someone read 10% or more. The data has always been there and Amazon has always been collecting it. Another author recently reported that when he was approached by one of Amazon’s own imprints, they told him part of the reason they wanted to publish his books is because readers would read his books for long stretches at a time suggesting a high level of reader involvement.

  59. The new KU system is a revenue pool, a zero-sum game, and a meritocracy.

    The old KU system was a revenue pool and a zero-sum game without the meritocracy.

    Here, “merit” is defined as “pages read” (aka “keeping readers happy”).

    This is designed to hurt scammers, and it probably will.

    It will also hurt the writers of shorter works, as compared to the old system.

    So there will be losers.

    Which also means there will also be winners.

    Who wins in this new meritocracy?

    Prolific writers of page-turners.

    And that’s a good thing.

    Maybe a great thing.

  60. The set fee is what Amazon has been doing up to now ( the author earns a share as long as someone read 10% or more of their borrowed book)

    No, they haven’t been doing a set fee per unit. They’ve been doing a proportionate fee based on the 10% thresh-hold and a fixed award pool. There’s a set of money and if you reach a 10% portion you get part of the money pool, and if you don’t, you get nothing. That’s not a set fee per unit of your work selected. A set unit fee would be that if someone selects your work, you get paid. If it’s a short work, you get paid a little bit; if it’s a longer work, you get paid more per unit. It requires no monitoring of subscriber’s reading habits — much simpler. Someone doing a bunch of shorter works or episoding their novels isn’t gaming the system. They’re just doing a different format of storytelling, one with a long tradition. And if subscribers pick the shorter works, they get a smaller fee. If they get a lot of smaller fees and that brings them a nice bit of money for it, good for them. (More on this in a minute.)

    It does not matter in a streaming service if subscribers actually read any of what they select or not. If they selected it, then it’s a kind of sale/rental. If one subscriber reads a half a novel, and another subscriber reads three quarters of a novel, it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with the novel. That they read half doesn’t indicate that they’re happy or not with it — readers will read a book they don’t like for quite awhile to see if it gets better. Some readers are slow, so they will spend longer stretches to read. Some readers are fast and don’t have to spend long stretches to read.

    So monitoring the reading speeds and amounts of readers is fairly pointless and doesn’t really have to have anything to do with paying the author for having their work picked. Amazon does it for the marketing data because marketers don’t care that it doesn’t actually measure reader interest and satisfaction when they sell it to advertisers; Amazon doesn’t need it to pay authors. (And the same for the other streaming services mentioned.) If it was actually about how happy the readers are with the products, they’d just use a rating system with subscribers hitting a number and paying the authors based on that, (and maybe they do that too, don’t know.)

    And more to the point, fiction isn’t like laundry detergent with consumer rankings of things that objectively little different from each other. The market is subjective and relies on variety — works different from each other that are only going to appeal to a slice of audience with as many options for different slices as possible — spread, not volume. Authors don’t compete with each other, and an author may sell a lot of one thing and not that much of another, so past records really don’t have much to do with future ones.

    But Amazon doesn’t want to pay authors on a per unit price in the streaming for what is selected. So it sets up a fixed pool and it says, we’re collecting this marketing data anyway, we’ll use it as the measure of whether you get a share in the money we’ve assigned, rather than the fact that they picked your stuff like normal sales (or even library borrowing.) So this new system is fairer in that you are getting paid no matter how little readers read of your work, but it’s basically still pretty arbitrary, (and is not the same as being paid per word publication,) whereas payment per unit selected is not, because of how most readers usually use subscription services. They select a lot of stuff because it sounded interesting to them; they just usually don’t get around to reading it or finishing it, even if they liked it, and they often read a fair amount of stuff they don’t find that interesting when they read it. (The same way you tape shows you like hoping to get through the season off your cable but never quite manage to get through them, while occasionally watching a two hour movie you find okay or sort of awful but you’ll just get to the end.)

    So the big problem with streaming services is that the companies that are doing it for written fiction won’t do per unit payment, but set up more hoops and fixed pools. In this case, though, streaming service is a concession authors make to Amazon to be on Kindle Select. So the question is again, do you sell more on Kindle Select (not even counting the streaming,) than the regular Amazon platform as a self-pub and elsewhere, and if so, why (again before you even count the steaming.) And then there’s the streaming — is it really building you a fan base, are you getting enough from it or other benefits that make it worth it. So those are all factors the authors have to sort out, with different circumstances for each author.

    But Amazon could not give a crap about how much of your work a subscriber actually reads; they just use it for data mining. They don’t care about authors at all — they make up a very tiny part of Amazon’s business. They are going after bigger fish elsewhere with streaming and other services. So again, authors need to look very closely at the terms of the service contracts and make their choices accordingly to what will work best for how they individually want to operate.

    I’m not as pessimistic about it as Scalzi, I think. There are a lot of people who want to sell just with Amazon, in any form they can, so KS/KU may work best for them.

  61. I have not seen how the ‘Zon thinks to handle KU hoarders, or owners of TBR piles. How many of us have bought or borrowed a book only to have it sit on a device for months before getting to it? And when a person borrows a 100 page book, but only reads ten pages a month, does your payout get stretched over ten months?

    I understand why they’re doing it–it will really cut down on the scams. And my stint in KU (which was a strategic choice for a series of novella-length “episodes” that I would have been happy to distribute in some sort of serial form, as Kindle Serials did at one time, but now offers no way to do so) is ending as my episodes roll out of Select. And as I roll out of “kindle jail,” I do notice that I take a hit in rankings and visibility. For a nobody, KU does have a lot to offer, and while principles are great, you can’t eat ’em. KU should be *a* tool in your box, but not a magic pill.

  62. Note: John9234 was apparently annoyed when I asked him not to post multiple sequential posts, and created a sockpuppet account in order to post multiple sequential posts, so as a result all his posts are now punted into the trash, and he has lost posting privileges in this thread.

    Also, really? Sockpuppets over this? I’m embarrassed for whoever this jerk is.

    Additionally, updated post to include Annie Bellet’s information.

  63. Can I ask, are there any ePublished authors with Amazon here? A few author friends of mine are under the impression, thanks to The Author’s Guild, that if you ePublish with Amazon, you must be exclusive to Amazon. I’m pretty sure that’s not the case, and that Amazon uses incentives (a higher percentage) rather than intimidation to get ePublished authors to publish exclusively with them.

  64. Honestly, this has little impact on book sales. You don’t have to enroll in Select. If you make more money from other venues, you wouldn’t want to. I made like 3 sales in as many years through Smashwords, so I felt I had nothing to lose by enrolling in Select. I get an occasional KU payout. It’s better than what I got from Smashwords, which was nothing. I’ll take something over nothing. My Amazon sales have not been affected by enrolling in KU – I still get just as much money in sales each month as I did before. I just get a little bit more from the KU payments in addition to that. So, it’s all good. Interestingly, this new KU model may give authors incentive to release really long books, or compendium volumes. A certain subset of readers will finish a book if they get a fair distance into it – and many will finish a series if it grabs them. Keeping the reader occupied with one really long compendium could be the way to maximize KU earnings.

    This stuff is all voluntary – if you don’t like the KU payout.. don’t enroll your book. No big deal. People will buy it just the same as before.

  65. Timliebe:

    “A few author friends of mine are under the impression, thanks to The Author’s Guild, that if you ePublish with Amazon, you must be exclusive to Amazon.”

    I can answer that: Nope. It’s entirely possible to put your work on Amazon and other outlets as well. You are correct that Amazon offers incentives (particularly a bigger cut of the revenue pie) for exclusives. KDP Select is the exclusive program.

  66. @nate Hoffelder – the title’s a bit linkbaity, isn’t it? The author admits that Scalzi’s right – just that he didn’t consider the other reasons an author might go with KDP that have nothing to do with how much money KDP makes you. It’s like why an author will release the first book in a series for free on Kindle for a limited time – hopefully, you like the first book enough to buy the rest at full freight.

  67. @Happyturtle – Oy, tell me about it! When the Kindle 1st Gen Tammy gave me (it was hers originally – but she didn’t like how limited it was) kept breaking down, and Amazon finally refused to fix it after a year (admittedly I’d sent it back for repairs/replacement four times by then – and it wasn’t as if I misused the device, any more than I misuse my phone or iPad which I haven’t had to to that with yet!), I went with a Kobu while waiting for B&N to come out with their first Nook. It was a piece of garbage that barely worked, and didn’t have any wireless capability at all – and if I remember right, it only worked on non-DRM’d files, so all I could load on it were my Baen books.

  68. timliebe:

    “The title’s a bit linkbaity, isn’t it?”

    Well, you know. You want eyeballs on your stuff, you gotta put Scalzi in the headline! It is known!

    Also, Tim, please aggregate your posts, if you would.

  69. Ok, so, did some reading. I think i got the basics. Kdp is basic electronic publishing for people through amazon. Kdp select appears to put your work on kindle unlimited and kindle loaning library for what appear to be vaguely defined or well hidden amounts of payment in exchange for … for the life of me i cant sort it out. I think you get what amazon called “marketing” tools but it seemed like you basically get more detailed buyer information? With a finite amount of money in the pot? And requires you to list your ebook exclusive to amazon?

    Kindle unlimited is for customers who pay a flat monthly rate and … get to read as much as they want for that rate, from amazons list of ebooks that are in the program?

    So, i think kindle unlimited only has ebooks that are in the kindle select program? Maybe? Or are standard kdp ebooks there too? If standard ebooks are in the unlimited program, then every kdp author should just bite the bullet and go with select. If theyre not, then the unlimited library clearly wont have every book available to it.

    Gods I feel old and want my paperback.

  70. To clarify a couple things.

    Kindle Select is the program through KDP in which you have to be exclusive to Amazon with ebooks. You can still have print, audio etc selling elsewhere, it only applies to the ebook. As well as being able to get borrows through the KoLL and KU programs, books optioned into Select can be advertised directly on Amazon through paid-by-author ads, they can be put on a sale price countdown, and they can be set to free for up to 5 days each 90 day period. There is a ranking boost as well, because rank bumps when your book is borrowed as well as sold, even if the borrowed book is never opened. Amazon also often chooses their highlighted sale titles from the Select pool, so there are added visibility benefits as well.

    Kindle Unlimited borrowers can check out up to ten books at a time. If you check out ten, and want to read another, you have to return one. So that does limit the hoarding somewhat. It’s like if a library told you that you can only have ten books at home at a time, basically.

    So, the only authors getting paid by the page in this change are those who were just getting paid by the more than 10% read of a borrow authors. The biggest change will be that a short story that gets read all the way through will automatically make less per title than a novel that gets read all the way through. Under the old system, they would both make exactly the same amount. So there will be some redistribution of funds there. I imagine Amazon is trying to encourage more novels into the system.

  71. @Greg books in KU are either KDP Select Or one of the following:
    1. Trad published books/authors
    2. Amazon imprint
    3. A few special self-published authors
    These 3 are paid differently than KDP Select authors. KDP Select author may not sell/giveaway (except contest I believe) their ebooks anywhere except Amazon. I believe they may sell paperback and hardcover editions elsewhere.

    KDP Direct authors may sell their ebooks and paperbacks/hardcovers anywhere and are NOT included in the KU program. Depending on how they price their books Amazon pays them 30 or 70% (I believe things constantly change – 30% is paid if you price your work really low or “too high”).

    Some authors have had great success with being an Amazon KDP direct only author (only selling on Amazon by choice but could sell elsewhere if they wanted). Others have had great success with KDP Select and it’s marketing tools including several free days over the 3 months they are committed to the program. Other self-published authors have found the extra work to be on multiple sales outlets pays off over time. Other authors have success traditionally publishing. And then some authors hybrid combining any number of the above. Maybe they have a work or two in kindle select but most of their work is available everywhere. Maybe they are trad published but they dabble in self-publishing.

    I don’t understand why this is so confusing to people who hang out on blogs which talk about publishing regularly.

    We are in a great time as both readers and writers. We have options as writers for how to publish and can try multiple ways at the same time if our contracts let us. As readers we have so many new books, diversity in outlooks in genres, new genres, cross-genre works, differing lengths, standalone, serials, series, zines, anthologies, authors experimenting, world culture being available.

  72. This stuff is all voluntary – if you don’t like the KU payout.. don’t enroll your book. No big deal. People will buy it just the same as before.

    It is all voluntary sort of, but it’s not that simple. If you sell e-books on Kindle, Amazon only gives you certain marketing and publicity services. If you enroll in the Kindle Select, giving Amazon exclusivity — no e-books sold elsewhere — then Amazon will give you more marketing and publicity services and let you buy other ones if you want.

    But in addition to the exclusivity arrangement (one market,) to be in Kindle Select, you have to also be in Kindle Unlimited (streaming) and library borrowing. To be in Kindle Select, you don’t have the option to opt out of Kindle Unlimited. So Kindle Select is voluntary, but Kindle Unlimited is not — it’s part of the requirements of Kindle Select and getting the extra marketing/publicity service.

    Kindle Unlimited does additionally expose your books to the subscriber customers for cheap. But, you aren’t getting as much out of those sales as you do when customers buy from Kindle Select. And, since it’s streaming sampling, there’s no guarantee that any of the Kindle Unlimited customers will then become part of your core audience and follow you to Kindle Select or Kindle regular.

    So again, the issue is are the extra marketing and publicity services of Kindle Select worth putting all your eggs in Amazon’s basket and letting them farm you out for revenue that mostly goes to them and may not increase or even possibly decrease your non-streaming buying audience. But it might also add income, if in smaller amounts. So that’s the assessment that self-pub authors have to make — Kindle regular or Kindle Select, which requires being part of Kindle Unlimited. And it may require some sales experimentation, with people going in and out of Select, to find that out. (Though Amazon will never release numbers.)

    Amazon is trying to make Kindle Unlimited more attractive to authors, so they’ll opt for Kindle Select and Amazon keeps its 90% monopoly on the self-pub e-book market. Authors have to assess whether Kindle Select will be the more lucrative e-book market for them, and whether the way lower, less controllable streaming loaning of Kindle Unlimited that is part of Select works for them or at least is a cost that is workable in return for better profit on Select.

    The improvement to Unlimited payout may make sense for more authors to try Select without worrying about Unlimited. But if Select doesn’t provide significantly higher sales than Kindle regular, then having only one vendor may not make sense for that author. Since Amazon does let people roll in and out of Kindle Select fairly easily? then self-pub authors again can experiment.

  73. Tasha, thanks for the info.

    Sorry I’m playing catchup. I feel a slight pang of guilt saying this, but I dont have an ereader of any kind. I drive by a used bookstore on a fairly regular basis and just go in there once in a while for most of my reading. There is so much that I havent read that i can get used stuff and still have plenty to read. I dont buy a lot of stuff from amazon, so I havent really been paying attention to their programs like “unlimited” or “prime”. (Honestly, the only reason I know about prime is because a friend of mine has prime and channels all his purchases through amazon to get the most out of the free shipping benefit. As best as I can figure I have free shipping because the bookstore is on one of my normal driving routes.)

    Anyway, thanks for bringing an old fart up to speed.

  74. Just a minor correction: June 2015 isn’t $3 million but will be almost 4 times as much. And the “cap” is a flexible one as it grows as Kindle Unlimited gain more subscribers.

    Amazon has been increasing the pot each month based on how many subscribers there are. The $10.8m for May is an increase on the $9.8m for April, the $9.3m for March, and so on. The pot when KU launched last year was $2.8m – so you can see how much it has grown in about a year.

  75. @Greg you don’t need an ereader to read ebooks – I started reading ebooks on my iPhone while in the hospital after being hit by a Mack truck. At that time holding paper books was difficult due to physical damage to my body. I then moved onto reading on a tablet (consolation gift for accident)l David Weber & Robert Jordan among others were much, much too heavy for me to comfotably handle for 6-9 months post the accident. Plus all the various ereaders have app software so you don’t need an ereader. As do libraries (Overdrive for example) so I could borrow ebooks without leaving home when I was forbidden to drive due to injuries. Once one gets past “books must be physical” or you can’t read at all (way to insanity if you physically can’t hold books for long) one might be surprised how quickly one gets over “I’ll never switch to ebooks”.

    I’m also fairly big on seeing authors paid for their work when possible & their careers flourish by whatever path of publishing they’ve chosen. With my “what I’ll pay cap” this means some authors mostly get read when my husband can get (remember) the books from the library.

    One of the changes, for me, of social media and getting to know authors was a better understanding of how little they get of the list price and how many have a full-time job in addition to writing unless they have a spouse with good income and healthcare so they can write full-time. This impacted my spending habits.

  76. “You are correct that Amazon offers incentives (particularly a bigger cut of the revenue pie) for exclusives. KDP Select is the exclusive program.”

    This is incorrect. There is not a bigger cut of a revenue pie for KDP Select (which requires exclusivity) authors. It’s 70% of the sale price for a certain range of prices and 30% for any other price, regardless of enrolment in KDP Select.

    There is an entirely different pie for Kindle Unlimited, which enrolment in KDP Select entitles authors to. But it’s not a “bigger” cut; those outside of Select aren’t even eating at the same table. Select offers additional incentives too, such as the ability to set up temporary sales, but it does not affect the basic structure of selling books.

    I hope this helps clarify. All this misinformation makes it seem like Amazon is pulling off some scheme for every author publishing via KDP. Rather, it’s an optional program that will some authors will benefit form opting in to. Yes, it will suck for others, but they can always leave and go back to selling books normally.

  77. Tasha, i think i tried an ebook on my phone once. Screen was too small. My desktop was good sized, but i do a lot of reading in bed or some reclined position far away from the desktop. I have been thinking it might be time to breakdown and buy a laptop.

    Phronk, my understanding is the capped money (3 mill or whatever) is for “page turning” and loaned books. Not sure how much an author gets per turned page, but I assume it is less than the amount they get for an outright purchase price because books you read through the unlimited program are not actually purchased and you cant keep them the way you can keep a purchased ebook.

    My guess is most books read through unlimited and “page turning” do not get purchased outright. Thats the point of being in the unlimited program, you pay a flat fee and read all the books you want. If you want to read a book again, you just read it through the unlimited program. Why buy it?

    If I understand the unlimited and select program correctly, it seems to be that amazon is saying they want to give author works away at a reduced price to increase amazons long term profit by increasing kindle membership. It is quite a lot like their prime program, you pay them money to promise to only buy stuff from them and they give you a price discount in the form of free shipping, which has the effect that prime people buy even more stuff from amazon to get free shipping to justify the cost of prime membership.

    The thing about unlimited and select is if the long term model is that everyone is an unlimited member, then book sales will plummet and royalties will plummet. And what amazon pays out in capped amounts means that amazon takes zero risk and all profit in exchange for monopolizing the market towards themselves.

    It seems to be one of the more sneaky/evil things I’ve seen in a while. They get membershil fees, take their cut, then set aside some amount for paying authors but if that money runs out, amazon loses nothing, it all falls on the authors to give their works away for free.

    Does amazon publish how many members they have in unlimited? How much money they get from memberships? What percentage of that goes to authors? And how many pages are read for free because the money ran out?

  78. @Greg you might try a tablet instead of a laptop for reading in bed. It’s much more comfortable. I know this because I’m bedridden and do most of my reading in bed. Many apps for tablets so you aren’t tied to any one retailer/format. You can adjust the size of the font.

  79. Scalzi: You and I don’t agree on the matter of whether or not amazon is glowy-red-eyed evil. A few days ago, I started to put one of my books into Select. A little window popped up and informed me that since this book had been in Select previously and I had opted out of the program, if I wanted to re-enroll the book I would not be able to get out of Select again. I would be in Select FOREVER with this book. Also, they’ve apparently changed the way that authors can opt out of the program. I was used to checking a box to cancel the automatic re-enrolling. In reading new Select terms, I saw this “You can enroll in KDP Select at any time by visiting your Bookshelf. If you no longer want your book(s) to be included in KDP Select you may unenroll from the program by contacting us with the ASIN of the book you would like to remove.” I don’t know for certain if the latter statement means that the unchecking or checking or whatever we used to do to prevent automatic re-enrollment is now an archaic option, but I’m not going to trust amazon and hope for the best.

    Consequently, none of my books are in Select and won’t be until amazon succeeds at its goal of becoming a monopoly and there are no other book-selling sites left on this sorry earth.

  80. D. Lewis:

    LOL, it’s not quite that bad. Amazon did after all create a full fledged viable giant e-book retail market for all of publishing and created a very promising, low cost avenue for the self-pub market. There was an e-book market before Amazon launched the Kindle, but it was tiny. Everybody knew that eventually there would be a bigger retail e-book market, but publishers had already gotten burned by the CD market and so were waiting for it to happen before plunging in with expensive tech operations, and the electronics industry had very little interest in e-books.

    And Amazon said, we’re going to rocket it up to help launch the Kindle, and lo, everybody had to rush into the program and deal with probably the most rapid expansion the publishing industry had to deal with. The electronics companies saw an avenue to help them launch tablets, lots of people screamed that the industry should be fully formed already and all e-books free, etc., but the market developed, settle down, established and standardized and now its part of all. And when Apple came into the market, Amazon didn’t blink, which is impressive and even sicked the Dept. of Justice after them, which was ridiculous. They were not pioneering on the tech, but they were pioneering on creating the business market and that has been a potential boon to a lot of people. That there are book selling sites like Smashwords and that any of the other book chains do e-book selling is pretty much all due to Amazon.

    But while Amazon likes self-pub authors and finds them useful — mostly to sell things to them and their friends and relatives — they do not love them. Amazon doesn’t love anybody. It’s a company with a business policy of ruthless initiative seizing. And they decided to use self-pub authors to help them launch streaming and loaning services, just like they did the Kindle, on the hope that the self-pubs would also become major customers in the streaming service. The streaming service, like the Kindle, is a gateway to bigger things, while also providing lucrative marketing data selling.

    So no, they’re not going to give little old self-pub authors favorable terms. None of them do and Amazon will always milk you while giving you some rewards for being useful to them. So the best thing self-pubs can do is figure out what, among the regulations of Amazon for their various services, is going to work for them in the market.

    Amazon lost their monopoly in the e-book market, although they are still the major player. They will eventually lose their monopoly in the self-pub e-book market — or stop caring altogether. Remember always, Amazon doesn’t need to sell books. It’s 7% of their business — they could sell those operations off to someone else and not miss it. What Amazon likes are the demographics and incomes of those likely to buy books online. The books are just a fishing lure. So if you’re a fishing lure, figure out what is going to be the best, workable way for you personally with your circumstances, to get the maximum amount of fish out of it. Self-pub authors are publishers; they have to learn to crunch some numbers.

  81. D. Lewis- you misunderstood that message. Because of the changes, they are allowing people to opt out even inside the 90 day period right now. If you opted out before for special circumstances, you will not be able to again. However, you can still opt out of Select after the 90 days. Just uncheck the box that says to auto-renew Select and in 90 days you can take your book out again. It’s not in Select forever, just for the next three months. No need to panic.

  82. @phronk — Actually, Amazon does offer incentives to authors Kindle Select that aren’t just the pool. If you sell a lot in two of their country-stores — definitely Amazon.IN, and another I’m forgetting, they’ll let you use the 70% (minus their “transmission fee”) “royalty” option (if your price is in the approved range). Otherwise, you are stuck with the 35% one, no matter what your price is.

    I never sell there, so it doesn’t actually matter to me, but I kind of resent that gimmick of theirs.

  83. So if you sell well in global markets for them in Kindle Select, they take about 35% of your profits for their fees and seller cut. (Remember, it’s not a royalty — it’s revenue from the sales of your books, your revenue, not Amazon’s — they are just a vendor/distributor who you pay fees and a cut per unit sold. You’re the publisher, you do not work for Amazon nor have a licensing agreement with them.)

    But if you don’t sell that well in the global market, Amazon takes 65-70% of your profits as their fees and cut (mostly fees.) That’s quite a lot, especially as they are asking for exclusivity too. They should be taking lower fees for that exclusivity. And they should be giving you a great deal of marketing service for fees that are that high.

    The question is, what are you getting for giving them up to 70% of your profits, or even 35% of your profits. You have to calculate Amazon’s fees as a business cost that is deducted from your gross profits, which leaves you with your net profits from which you then deduct other business expenses. Can you afford that big a business cost from your distributor? Do you make up enough in bulk sales and streaming sales that you are still clearing a decent amount after paying that business cost? Those are the business decisions that self-pubs have to make — what are you getting for what you are paying Amazon to sell with them. Is it worth it? Does it help you because it’s marketing that otherwise you just can’t do? What happens if Amazon decides not to pay authors their fair share since they are using a pool of money for Kindle Unlimited streaming and you have streaming sales for free? Could you build up a bigger audience if you didn’t give Amazon exclusivity? Long term, short term? How many other expenses do you have? And so forth. Again, authors need to learn to crunch numbers.

    Amazon is not giving you money out of the kindness of their hearts. You earn the money through sales. It is your money, from sales through Amazon’s platform. In return for that selling platform, marketing services and accounting services for your account, Amazon gets a cut of each unit sold and charges marketing and other fees. The fees they charge self-pubs now are higher than they did when they first launched the Kindle. Earlier authors have had an advantage to build a larger audience at a lower cost. But now that the market is established and Amazon still has a almost full monopoly on self-pubs, they are treating the self-pubs like they do small presses. (I.e. Amazon will squeeze small presses for revenue through marketing fees.)

    And just like those small presses, you must calculate what your business needs are, what your bottom line is for business costs and vendor cuts, and how much of your revenue you get to keep after those costs. Kindle Select may work well for some authors who can’t do a lot of marketing and don’t want to search out more vendors or sell directly themselves. Since the Kindle is most of the market for self-pubs, getting more marketing to those customers may help.

    But for those authors who are doing fine on the regular Kindle platform, having to pay Amazon bigger fees at bigger cost only makes sense if what you are getting for those fees produces enough sales to cover the increased cost. Even if you don’t do Kindle Select, on the regular platform you have to look at what price points you can afford, since Amazon uses a scale where they will take more fees for certain prices. That can decrease your revenues substantially, and there are a lot of trade-offs when you price your works at one level or another.

  84. As a reader I have to say that I like KDU. I use it a lot like a library where I will take a risk on a book and read it. If I like the book at the end then I purchase it. Out of about 50 titles used I have not brought about 6. Five of those were when the story wasn’t what I expected i.e sexually explicit etc. Only one time have I KDU a book and not brought it after reading and that was because frankly the book wasn’t worth the cost. I can’t even remember what the book was it was so unforgettable.

    KDU is used when I am taking a risk and trying new things. It allows me to grow as a reader and supports new authors. Established authors probably don’t get a lot out of it but if its viewed as a library where people get paid then what is the problem?

  85. Wait, what? If you are in Select, you get 70% royalty option in some foreign Amazon stores like India etc, provided your price is in the range they dictate. If you are not in Select, in those stores you get 35%, same as you do in many of the foreign regions not yet with their own store fronts etc.

    It has nothing to do with sales numbers. It has to do with opting into Select or not. And it is just a few stores/countries. All of which is clearly laid out in the terms and all over the KDP information site.

    Do people really go into a business, put their work out through retailers, and then not read the information those retailers provide? Really? I don’t mean to be mean about this… but seriously? The information is easily available. Stop listening to the telephone system of “so and so said such and such and so I think it’s this” and just go read the actual documentation. Hopefully BEFORE you check the little boxes and agree to it…

    Publishing is a business. Read everything before you sign and make sure you understand what you are reading. Don’t count on random people on the internet to know what you should know for yourself. There is so much terrible misinformation out there it isn’t even funny unless I’m drunk and eating pie.

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