Notes on Kindle Unlimited for Authors

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One of the most common questions I get asked when discussing my books is, “What is the Kindle Unlimited program?” When I answer those questions and mention the word “subscription,” most people will snap their fingers as the light bulb of recognition goes off in their head. They’ve seen the advertisement, they tell me, but never clicked on it. Not surprising, really. I know I skip over subscription services all the time. Then again, I’ve also signed up for a few as well. And the very fact that there are so many different types of subscription services out there speaks to their success.  It seems that everything from razors to underwear and all points in between can be covered by a subscription to a blog, a retailer, or a lifestyle consultation site.

And, when you get down to it, that’s what the KU program is for readers. It’s a subscription service. You pay a monthly due and you get access to titles. To find out more, you’d have to check out their website. Amazon goes into great detail about it, but that gives you the general principle of the thing from a reader’s perspective. But I’m more interested in the Kindle Unlimited program as an author. If you do a web search for articles written on the subject of Kindle Unlimited, you’ll find a ton of them. And many are, let’s say….”less than flattering.” I thought it might be time for someone to tell a different side of the story. This is not intended to be an endorsement of the KU program or an advertisement. This is just my experience, so take it with a grain of salt.

For me, the KU program is a footprint amplifier. The downloads of my books through the KU program are factored along with direct sales to determine rankings. And higher ranking means more visibility, which drives sales, and raises your rank. You get a nice positive feedback loop going and your footprint can explode.

My second book Storm Tide Rising had 277,430 page downloads in the US market alone through the KU program in the first 26 days on the market (April 4th-30th). That is more than 10,000 pages being downloaded and read every day on average for twenty six days straight. For a 524 page book that means, rough numbers, 19 copies a day were being read cover to cover. And that’s on top of the direct Kindle sales per day. If you combine the KU pages and the direct Kindle sales I was distributing between 30 and 35 copies a day total.

As a self-published author, that’s the kind of circulation and immediate response you dream about. And, for me, a lot of that response comes as a direct result of the exposure and increased visibility gained through the KU program. To top it all off I get paid for that distribution, and for this past month that payment actually resulted in more direct profit per copy than my royalties for direct sales.

The Kindle Unlimited program is certainly not perfect, and there are trade-offs, as there are in any business agreement. The authors do have to give up some things in order to participate. For instance, we can’t sell our digital work online anywhere outside of Amazon, which includes offering ebooks on an author’s website. I can offer hard copies all I want, and intend to one of these days, but I can’t offer direct sales of the ebook through any other outlet as long as the book is enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program.

For some, that exclusivity is a deal breaker. I would like to see it changed, to be honest, but I can at least understand why Amazon is doing it. They want to protect the content delivered through their system and one of the best ways to do that is to make sure that it isn’t available anywhere else. The exclusivity of Kindle Unlimited also creates an incentive for successful authors to remain in the program.  The more successful you are in their system, the more likely you are to be willing to sacrifice that freedom of multiplatform availability.

Every author has to weigh those trade-offs on their own scale and see where they measure up. Right now my distribution is at a 2:1 ratio between Kindle Unlimited and direct Kindle sales. With the premium for the KU equivalent of one copy being sold, I’m actually getting roughly 6% more than the royalty for a direct Kindle sale.  For me, to gain that exposure and that increased footprint along with a higher return per unit distributed, it’s worth giving up a few things here and there.

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