For anyone still living under a rock, or perhaps a particularly voracious shrub, you’ll probably already know that Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited program launched over the weekend, spurring a veritable explosion of opinion (both optimistic and doom-mongering) across the interwebs. Of course, much of what people are speculating is, well, just that – speculation.

So, in an attempt to add a little objectivity into the mix (God forbid) I figured I’d let you know how the new Kindle Unlimited service has affected me in the few days it’s been live.

But, before I get to that, I promised I’d put a comprehensive post together explaining how I’ve been building up my email list over the last few months. I’m seeing some steady growth – going from just a few hundred subscribers at the beginning of the year to over 4,000 readers as of today. For me, especially in light of potential game-changers like Kindle Unlimited, having my own ready-made list of followers is more important than ever. If you want to find out more about what I’ve been doing to build this up, head on over to indie legend David Gaughran’s Blog – David was kind enough to invite me over for a guest post about email tactics, and I’ve included a full breakdown.

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. What exactly is Kindle Unlimited? It’s being touted as “Netflix for Books”, and is essentially a competitor to the already established offerings from Scribd and Oyster. The key points authors need to know are:

  • Most* indie books are only eligible to be featured in the Kindle Unlimited catalogue if they are enrolled in KDP Select
  • Readers can borrow up to 10 books at once, with no limit on the total number of titles read, and there are currently more than 600,000 books to choose from
  • Authors get paid a percentage fee from the KDP Select fund. Much like a borrow through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL), this payment is triggered when a Kindle Unlimited (KU) book is read past the 10% mark. For the last year or so, this has been around $2 – $2.20 and it goes up and down each month, depending on the amount in the pot. Authors get the same payment regardless of list price or book length

*Hyper-successful indies seem to be included without having been enrolled in KDP Select. Such is life, I’m afraid. For us mere mortals, we need to be exclusive to Amazon to get into the catalogue.

So, what effect will Kindle Unlimited have on sales? Well, nobody knows for sure yet. There are two main schools of thought:

  1. A whole bunch of new readers are going to find my work, because the competition is lower in KU and there’s no barrier on pricing. Hooray!
  2. Nobody’s going to pay full price for my work if they can get it for free. And Amazon might lower the amount they pay on a borrow any time they like. Boo!

And, of course, a fair few opinions somewhere in-between. As far as speculation goes, I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about this. Initial results have been promising (more on this in a minute) and I’m excited to think about all the people trying out my work who might not have done if they’d been expected to pay full price. The optimist in me sees this as a potential replacement or complimentary approach to perma-free as an overall strategy – one that sees a much better read-through rate, and, more importantly for my accountant, actually earns me money.

The niggling voice in my head wonders whether making all my books exclusive is going to tank my overall sales, and makes the worrisome argument that Amazon will lower the borrow payments to pennies, leaving me up a certain creek without a particular rowing implement.

But, in the end, whatever my opinion, whatever’s going to happen is going to happen. I figure I might as well find out what I can in the meantime. As I mentioned, initial results have been promising – here’s the breakdown of my experience with KU so far:

kindle unlimited

  • I already had one book in KDP Select. My newest novel, “Ratio”, had been in the program since July 4th priced at $3.99. The book has been earning, on average, $66 per day, which includes around $11 worth of borrows and $55 of sales per day.
  • When “Ratio” joined the Kindle Unlimited catalogue on the 19th, earnings have been $85 per day, including $20 worth of borrows and $65 of sales per day.
  • I dropped my novella, “Paydown”, into KU to see what might happen. Earnings on Amazon had been $43 per day, with no borrows (it wasn’t in KDP Select).
  • When “Paydown” joined KU, Amazon earnings went up to $60 per day, including $13 of borrows and $47 worth of sales.
  • Outside of Amazon, “Paydown” has been earning a whopping $3 per day. “Ratio” had been earning around $13 per day outside of Amazon before it went into KDP Select.

Early conclusions: full-price sales have remained steady, or have increased slightly. Borrows have increased, which, in turn, has boosted each book’s sales ranking. Those books not in KU have dropped in rank, although they have not dropped in sales. This suggests a bunch of people are reading KU books IN ADDITION to people buying books at full price. This is a nice thought.

So what’s my long term plan? I reported on my sales results when I left KDP Select – particularly noting the surprising success at non-Amazon retailers (especially Nook). Well, those sales have since dropped by around 40%, while Amazon sales have grown 20%. My suspicion is that non-Amazon sites perform best when partnered with a permafree book that’s been featured on Bookbub (or similar). My first month of non-Amazon sales using this strategy totaled $1,300 across Nook, Kobo, and iTunes, or $45 per day. This month, with the Bookbub ad more than 30 days behind me, that figure is looking to hit around $800 – or $26 per day. With only one series permafree to promote, I can only have one Bookbub ad every 6 months, meaning I only earn well for the first 2 months, then earn poorly for the remaining 4. Without any other sites (that I know of) offering decent performance outside of Amazon, it looks like I’ll be stuck with this pattern until I get another series done.

amz vs nonamz

Ultimately, the boost in sales I’ve seen from putting 2 titles into KU has surpassed the total earnings for all my books on Nook, iTunes, and Kobo combined. That’s potentially a pretty powerful incentive to put my books back into the KDP Select program.

But it’s early days. On principle, I dislike the idea of being exclusive to Amazon (or anyone, for that matter), even if it’s only for 90 days. I want to give readers more opportunities to find me, and I’d love to have a following on non-Amazon sites to fall back on, should the ‘Zon decide to slash the amount they pay out in borrows. On the other hand, Amazon still accounts for 85% – 90% of my total revenue, so any boost I can get on that channel will inherently deliver greater results. I also don’t see Amazon cutting KU payments to authors any time soon – they do want to build market share in book streaming, after all. If things get bad, authors have the option to jump ship, so why would Amazon want to run the risk of losing all their content?

At the moment, this is all speculation. I’ve only had 4 days of numbers to play with, and the results have, so far, been promising – if not spectacular. So I’ll be keeping an eye on how my two KU books perform over the next few weeks and make a more informed decision when I’ve got more data. In the meantime, I’ll be interested to see how advertising and promotion opportunities will reflect the new KU model. I reached out to Jason Letts, the founder of Booksends, for an advertiser’s perspective:

Will discount book buyers continue purchasing books or will they go all-in with the $9.99 subscription?

Jason: Although certainly there are some readers out there who won’t spend a penny on books, and presumably there’d be some who’d be happy to pay $9.99 and hold a tight line on that, everything I’ve seen for as long as I’ve been doing this tells me that an appealing book will have no trouble finding takers at a paid price, regardless of what programs a reader is in.

What might advertisers be able to do to take advantage of the new niche and target KU subscribers direct?

Jason: Kindle Unlimited, like the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library before it, leaves the essential challenge most authors face in tact. They need to find a way to gain visibility in a crowded marketplace. What Kindle Unlimited does is help reduce the barrier readers face to accessing their work, giving authors a “free for some” option. No doubt some of our subscribers will try and join Unlimited, but they’ll still be faced with the same challenge of finding the books they want to read. That’s why even for Unlimited subscribers, services like BookSends will be a valuable resource.

We’ll be noting which titles are available in the program, but what we won’t be doing (and some others are) is touting that the book is *FREEE* and burying that it’s only free for some in a footnote somewhere, leaving non-subscribers with sticker shock when they reach the product page. As we remember from the early days of Select, all that does is irritate readers who aren’t subscribers. Starting immediately, BookSends will be tastefully labeling Kindle Unlimited titles, and those who have it will know that even though a book has a paid price listed they’ll be able to start reading the title for free, resulting in more money for our advertisers once readers reach the 10% mark.

With more pressure than ever for authors to consolidate their income and go all-in with KDP Select, what are the pros and cons in your mind of authors ditching multiple retailers?

Jason: One of my most essential bits of analysis relating to Select has always been that the benefits of the program go disproportionately to authors who are doing very well. If an author is already seeing strong sales for a particular title, he or she will also see strong borrows and now strong Unlimited downloads because the book is already getting blasted with consistently high-levels of traffic. Some struggling authors might mistakenly conclude that the success of others is a result of being in Select, join, and then find that being in makes no difference at all to their sales numbers.

Authors who are in the unfortunate position of being willing to try anything in order to spur sales are the most likely to be disappointed, because simply being in the program and having that new revenue channel doesn’t by itself draw more readers to their product pages. So for those who are already doing well on Amazon only, this could be even more of a boon and enough to justify pulling titles from other retailers, but it’d be risky until we start to get an idea of how many readers are actually lured into Unlimited.

What are your key hopes for the KU program and main concerns with it?

Jason: I’m still torn between seeing KU as a token response to Oyster/Scribd and a genuine attempt on Amazon’s part to change the way readers consume their books. They must be calculating that it’ll both make readers read more and still result in higher profits for themselves. I think we’ll know Amazon is serious if they find ways to get more traditionally published titles into the program, similar to how they tout additions to their Instant Video catalog. My concern is that Kindle Unlimited subscriptions will turn into the gym memberships of ebooks, and Amazon is hoping they can get wayward customers on the hook for $10 a month before they drift away and never come back. That may not be realistic or even much of a concern, but it’s the best I could come up with. ;)

So, there you have it. Kindle Unlimited is undoubtedly good for readers, which, one hopes, means it will be good for authors too. It’s too soon to tell for sure, but early results have been promising and it looks like advertisers are on the ball with helping authors reach this new segment of the market. All in all, I’m excited to see how this pans out.

I’d love to hear from you about this – what are your key hopes / concerns? Will you be doing anything different? Are you tempted to opt-in to KDP Select? Are you running for the hills? Leave a comment below!


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