Kindle Unlimited Changed Everything

If you have followed me on social media, you know I have gone back and forth about Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select). For those of you not familiar with KDP Select, it’s a service provided by Amazon to “help” self-published authors by giving them a few promotional tools. You can publish through Amazon and not be enrolled. But if you do enroll, you have to only publish your books through Amazon.

Last year, the only question was the % you would earn if enrolled in KDP Select vs. listing your books elsewhere.

This year, there is the issue of Kindle Unlimited. If an author enrolls in KDP Select their books will automatically be listed in Kindle Unlimited (KU). For those of you not familiar with KU, it is an all-you-can-read buffet of books. Readers subscribe for $9.99 a month and read as many books from the enrolled books as they’d like. Authors are paid a cut of the money Amazon sets aside for this purpose each time a reader reaches 10% of their book. It does not matter how long or short the book is. Every read equals the same pay.

Big publishers are not faced with the choices indie-publishers must make. Major publishers can participate in KU without pulling their books from other stores. Indie-publishers cannot.

So, I had a single book, Winter Seedlings, published last year through KDP Select. It went very well for a debut novel. My first check was $75 and that was for only a couple of weeks at the end of September.

I pulled Winter Seedlings from KDP Select in January of this year and tried listing it for a month at Barnes and Noble. I sold nothing at B&N.

So when I published my second book, a sequel titled Winter Suns, in late January, I enrolled both books in KDP Select again. This time, sales were noticeably different. Though sales did pick up, they were mostly through KU, and they never reached the heights of sales I experienced with the first book.  Not only were sales not exceptional, but KU began paying less per read. Instead of the nearly $2.00 I expected, I was receiving only $1.33 per read.

Not only was I being paid less per read through KU, I was also getting very little feedback from those readers. I suspect, as many have, that readers getting books for “free” (as it seems with unlimited reading), are less likely to value the content. However, the reasons for not receiving feedback could be many.

Frustrated, I dropped out of KDP Select, and so by default I dropped out of Kindle Unlimited. Now my books were no long available on the buffet.

This time I listed both of my books with B&N, Amazon, and Smashwords which made them also available through Kobo and a number of other booksellers. With so much exposure, I was certain I was making the right choice. Even if I only sold a handful of books at each place, I would still be making more than I did through Amazon’s KU.



In the month my books have been listed “everywhere”, I have sold a single copy outside of Amazon. ONE. One book was sold through Barnes and Noble. Guess how many I sold through Amazon during that time?

oneThis is my one sale. You can see that I earned a total of $2.04 for the entire month I’ve been out of KDP Select.

How does that compare to before? See if you can tell what day I dropped KDP Select:

ManyThe blue lines you see are KU reads of at least 10% which trigger a payment of approximately $1.33 each.
The red lines are actual sales.

This is not sustainable.

As authors figure out that a few short books will earn them more, quicker money from 10% reads than a longer book, the market shifts to provide a plethora of quick reads. I do not object to quick reads. As a matter of fact, I’ve written a novella which comes out a week from now. I created it, in part, with KU in mind. That’s just one more area where the booksellers, not necessarily the market, are influencing the art we produce, whether intentionally or not.

Another effect is the reduction in prices of ebooks. Even authors not enrolled in KU are finding it increasingly difficult to sell books for over $5 when there’s a monthly unlimited buffet being offered for $9.99. We could say the truth, that our work is worth every penny of $7-$12 a read, but it won’t matter if readers can buy comparable books for less than $2. In an attempt to generate sales, I dropped my prices a few weeks ago. I have yet to see an increase in sales as my rankings have now dropped drastically.

I am torn as to what I should do now. I could be stubborn and not return to KDP Select on principle. I could refuse because it feels like my hand is being forced and I am resistant to being herded like a sheep.

But, not making any money sucks. And what sucks even more is not having my books read by a single set of eyes.

I think back to the first day I published my first book, Winter Seedlings. I think of all the readers who gushed over the story and made me feel like I had produced something important and memorable. I remember thinking that all I wanted was to matter to however many readers came along. I didn’t want to get rich. I didn’t want to be famous. I just wanted my book to matter to those who did, by whatever means, pick it up and read it.

So maybe I should just give it away for free. The only problem with that is the book wasn’t made for free. I had to pay someone to make a cover and I had to pay for ISBNs. I had to pay to rent a PO Box.

You might say, “Well, all of that is already paid for. So you aren’t technically losing anything by giving your books away.”

If I wasn’t going to write anymore books, sure. But I still have to pay for the cover of Silencer and haven’t yet earned enough to do so. I’ll take it out of my personal funds (as in, my family’s funds). And so what about the next book’s cover? And the P.O. Box payment due in August?

Books aren’t free to make, no matter how easy you think Amazon makes it for us. And yes, some people eek out a living at this, but most of us don’t even hope for that. At this point, all many of us want is to be able to afford the next book cover and ISBN.

I hope this was informative and not nearly the whine-fest I feel like I’ve just written. I hope authors and readers will have a better understanding of how the industry helps/hurts indie-authors.

And, seriously, consider buying one of my books or leaving a review if you’ve already read one. I’m flat-lining here.



3 thoughts on “Kindle Unlimited Changed Everything

  1. Even when I was part of KDP select, I never had a single KU download. And then I had people asking why the titles I enrolled in KDP select weren’t available on Smashwords, because they didn’t want to purchase from Amazon. *shrugs* Overall, I’ve done better through Smashwords than through Amazon, but I’ve still barely made $400 in three years. Maybe it makes a difference if you sign up for KDP select when you first release a title. It’s a mystery to me.


  2. Pingback: How the Amazon Kindle changed reading | The Ultimate Cheat Sheet on Emerging Media

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