Kindle Unlimited is often called the ‘Netflix of Books’. For $9.99/month, readers can borrow any book from a catalogue almost 600,000 books strong. Most of the books are indie and self-published titles and include fiction and non-fiction titles. KU is a subscription service hosted by Amazon and has gained increasingly popularity over the years.
Many others, myself included, often debate over whether or not to enroll our books into the KU program. The perks: “free day promotions”, discount promotions, access to a wider readership (potentially) and extra earnings. All in exchange for exclusivity on Amazon, meaning you can’t publish your book online anywhere else (for at least 3 months). As a reward, Amazon pays authors per KENP page read and pays you every month. Each KENP page nets authors approximately $0.0047, and an average 50,000 word novel is somewhere around 290 KENP pages. So if a reader borrowed your 50k word novel and read it from cover to cover, you’d earn $1.34. (Sidenote: if they only read half your book, you get around 60 cents etc)
Now if you were selling this book for $0.99, the royalty would be 33 cents. So the KU payout (for the whole book) is actually a lot higher than royalties alone. However, if your book is priced higher than $2.99 (at a 75% royalty), the KU payout is lower.
It’s no surprise that Amazon algorithms favor KU books and Amazon imprint books. I’ve read many articles and blog posts about this phenomenon as well as experienced it for myself. Many readers may not know this, but at any one time, the TOP 100 bestselling books on Amazon are dominated by Amazon imprint books and KU books. The rest are big publishing houses and even bigger names (i.e. James Patterson, Nora Roberts, David Baldacci, Steven King, Danielle Steele).
So how’s a newbie author supposed to compete without sacrificing exclusivity? Amazon dominates in ebook sales, raking in almost 60-70% of global ebook profits. Most self-published and indie authors make the bulk of their sales on Amazon. It is a giant not to be trifled with.
Which begs the question, with millions of books out there, do new self-published authors in 2016 stand a chance at getting noticed without enrolling in Kindle Unlimited?
The way I see it, for a self-pub author it kinda works like this:
Say you love baking and dream of people all over the world eating your delicious treats. You want to sell your homemade goods so you look for the best vendor to distribute them. One such supermarket called Amazon says if you sell your cupcakes there, and only there, they’ll pay you $0.0047 for every cupcake you sell, in addition to whatever you stand to earn by selling in bulk. Also, if you join their program, they’ll advertise your goods and deliver internationally for free. Sounds pretty good right?
You do a little research and find out that this Amazon Supermarket is fantastic. It’s super popular and pastry-enthusiasts worldwide frequently buy cupcakes from Amazon. Fantastic. Only one problem: there are over a million other bakers and chefs peddling baked goods there too. Sometimes they’ll give away thousands of free samples or price their goods at only 99 cents! And to make matters worse, most of the others bakers have already spent years, decades even baking, and have 20-50 different pastries to sell, whereas you, the newcomer only has 1.
Now you could sell your pastries elsewhere. Other popular pastry-selling businesses include Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBooks etc. But they don’t sell as much as Amazon. The good news is, they still sell.
At this point some of you may say, well, selling a physical product (say cupcakes) is not the same as selling a virtual product (ebooks). After all, you could give away thousands of ebooks at no loss to your bottom line really. But the thing is, creating ebooks cost something far more valuable than money: it costs time. That’s months, maybe even a year of your life you won’t ever get back. And time is money baby. Not to mention all the money you put into copyediting, proofreading, cover designs, formatting, marketing, research, giveaways, contests, workshops, conferences etc.
So just as you need to buy flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, butter etc. to bake, you’re spending time and money to make your ebooks too. And each copy you sell, minus the vendor’s cut, goes towards making back the money you already put into this book. And maybe profiting enough to finance your next book.
Now which model is better? Hard to say. Depends on how you value your book and how you intend to reach readers. Obviously the wider your distribution, the more readers you can potentially reach. Less obvious is whether or not the greater reach will equate to more profit and sales. Or even a bigger fan base. These are all issues I’m struggling with right now. And of course, it also boils down to whether or not you think getting paid per page read is fair or unfair practice for your work.
Anyway, those are a few thoughts for now.