Since Amazon launched Kindle Unlimited in the UK in September there has been a lot of chatter, some, principally from established authors, that they are losing revenue and others who say unlimited free books for a fixed monthly fee is a great idea.
Why have Amazon gone down this road? You can bet it wasn’t for the benefit of authors. I suspect it is a move to increase Amazon’s margins and to combat eBook piracy, a subject I talked about in some detail last time. When books are being supplied for nothing ‘at the point of delivery’ making money from pirating them becomes rather difficult. From that point of view the scheme sounds promising but there are problems. Instead of fixed royalties, authors are expected to share the money in a ‘pot’ the value of which is announced by Amazon during the month. Although the original sum paid for each book was said to be $2 when launched in the USA in July the pay out has since dropped to $1.33. By the time I receive payment in £s for my October sales the amount will 84 pence per book. For authors who were previously selling books at £4.99 and earning £3.40 a book this is a disaster.
Take Holly Ward who has sold over 6 million eBooks since 2011. She reported a 75% drop in revenue and is not amused. To encourage the bigger sellers, like Holly, to take part Amazon have offered them special deals, presumably at the expense of the smaller indie authors. Even so, a considerable numbers of main stream publishers have stayed away and others are pulling out, even when they can stay without being subjected to the KDP exclusivity terms the rest of us are subjected too.
Hopefully Amazon will learn and improve the deal for indie authors or risk them leaving KDP and using other distributors, eager for the trade; and there are a growing number out there. In the meantime there are things that can be done to improve the situation. One of the first things to look at is the size of your book. Amazon pay a fixed amount for a Kindle Unlimited download regardless of size and pay when 10% of the book has been read. I have no idea how they know but apparently they do. When I published ‘The Iron Masters’ it was in one volume of 110,000 words. Now it’s split into five volumes and I’m using the KDP giveaway to offer the first volume free, containing links to the other four volumes. Result, my revenue has increased and I now have another useful marketing tool. Of course, scammers might be tempted to publish ten page books to cash in but they will soon be weeded out.
Another strategy is to revisit your pricing. Readers downloading free ‘to them’ books will gravitate towards more expensively priced books. There is of course a risk that paid for sales will decrease but the KDP pricing support tool will help find the optimum price. If you’re currently offering boxed sets it might be time to remove the set from Kindle Unlimited while leaving the individual volumes where they are. Whether a reader who has already paid a monthly subscription will pay again to finish a book is an interesting question which I don’t have the answer too.
There is one positive that indie authors can take from the situation. While the bigger publishers stay away indie books stand more chance of being seen and I’m not complaining at the moment. My sales have picked up nicely. What will happen next? I don’t know but if the Kindle Unlimited pay out per book gets much smaller I will be reconsidering and may well go elsewhere. If I’m expected to be exclusive, I expect something in return and it isn’t a boot in the teeth.