By Layce Gardner & Saxon Bennett
As readers we adore Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program. We each read at least 100 books a year. Our daughter reads, too. (Mostly graphic novels.) We each have our very own kindle. (I want to be buried with mine.) So it only makes sense financially, as a family, to invest in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program.
For those not in the know, here’s how Kindle Unlimited (KU) works: You pay a $10 per month subscription fee and you can then borrow an ‘unlimited’ number of books. You can check out up to ten books at a time. When you finish reading a book, you return it. Just like at a brick and mortar library.
It’s a pretty good deal for voracious readers. We pay $120 a year and we read 200 plus books a year. (We read both mainstream and Lesfic novels.) We have found some wonderful new authors that we wouldn’t have gambled our money on otherwise.
Some readers have expressed to us that they don’t do KU because the author doesn’t get paid for the borrows. That is wrong. The author does get paid. They just don’t get paid as much as for a sale. (Want to know how much an Indie author earns? Click here for our blog “How Much Money Does a Novelist Make?”) For the past three months, Amazon has paid out $1.39 per borrow. That’s not a lot. However, if you go to the library and check out a book, the author gets nothing. If you buy a book from a used bookstore, the author gets nothing. If you loan your book to a friend, the author gets nothing. We’re not saying it’s wrong to go to the library or used bookstore or borrow from a friend. We do the same things. I’m just putting it all in perspective for you.
Now, how do authors feel about Kindle Unlimited? This is where things get a little messier. KU has both pros and cons for the writer.
More of your books can get read by more people because some people who read your books on KU may become a part of your fan base and then read all your books.
If you publish a short story and charge 99 cents to buy, you only make 35 cents per sale. KU has been paying $1.39 per borrow for the past three months. That is considerably more than 35 cents.
Each borrow is given the same weight as a sale by Amazon and borrows help to put your book up higher on the Amazon charts. And the higher you are on the charts, the more you sell.
It could be that people are now borrowing your book instead of buying it – KU could be actually cannibalizing your sales.
If sales are being cannibalized, the $1.39 per borrow is significantly less than what you make per sale on a full-length book.
You cannot sell your books anywhere else if you enroll your book in KU. You have to grant Amazon exclusive rights for three months. That’s like putting all your eggs in one basket—a scary proposition.
We have been testing the waters by both having our works on KU and not having them on KU. We have crunched the numbers, done some soul searching, asked questions on Facebook and come up with this conclusion: KU does not significantly cannibalize sales. In fact, our sales have stayed the same or slightly increased when our book is enrolled in the KU program.
Our book Crazy Little Thing was in Amazon’s top ten immediately after publishing. It hung around there for a while then when it started to drop into the fifty range, we put it on KU. It immediately shot back up the charts and stayed for another two months on the strength of its borrows. And because those borrows pushed it up the charts, it then sold more.
Last month we took all our full-length novels off KU and put them on Smashwords, BN and Kobo. (We kept our short stories on KU.) What we found out is that we make more on borrows with KU than we make selling our books anywhere off Amazon. In fact we make hundreds more on Amazon borrows than on selling the books anywhere else. (We have written sixteen books between us that were traditionally published. Those are not ever on KU.)
We are still fine tuning the best possible way to do things, but here is what we have decided for now: We are going to sell our books on Amazon, BN, Kobo and Smashwords for the first few months of a book’s life. Once sales begin to taper off we will de-list our books on those other platforms and publish exclusively on Amazon, enrolling it in KU. Then borrows will breathe new life into the book and give it new legs.
Each writer has to decide for herself what is the best way to maximize her profit, but I hope this helps to shed a little light on what has become a very misunderstood and controversial subject.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask them in the comments below and we’ll try to answer as quickly and honestly as possible.
Making the world a happier place—one book at a time!