It’s 2011 All Over Again

I’m having a Groundhog Day moment, here. Indies are getting screwed. Exclusivity is death for authors. We are in coach and Big 5 authors are in first class. Our pay is going down.

The same discussion exploded on KBoards back in 2011. They were the Kindle Boards at the time, and self-publishing was a lot more stigmatized than it is today. Amazon launched a program called KDP Select, and if you went exclusive with them, you gained two marketing advantages: Your ebooks became part of the Kindle Lending Library, and you were granted 5 “free” days for every 90-day period of Select.

There was a lot of consternation and hand-wringing from self-published authors at the time. Was it worth going exclusive for the added exposure? Were we crazy to give our books away for free? How much would a borrow pay? Would borrows affect our sales? Our rankings? What about the freebies? Who would be dumb/brave enough to sign up for this?

Those who did sign up tended to do very well. Those free days were as good as gold, and soon we were complaining that we didn’t get enough of them. I know of quite a few indies who credit Select as the tool that allowed them to transition to writing full-time. In fact, it was just a year and a half later that KBoards would erupt with threads complaining about the reduced efficacy of Select. Free downloads no longer had the same effect on ranking. The system was too beneficial for indies, and so Amazon tweaked it.

I’ve been updating my KU thread as more and more thoughts come to me. A couple days ago, I listed the ways that indies have been treated unfairly compared to traditionally published authors. Cutting and pasting here:

Amazon’s model for KU is to pay a mix of full price and a flat fee. Traditionally published authors get the full price, because their publisher gets the full sales commission. Self-published authors get a flat fee, probably something around $2 per read. There have been howls over this bifurcation, with people claiming that Amazon, for the first time, is treating indies worse than traditionally published authors. But that’s not true. Amazon has often treated indies worse than traditionally published authors.


Indies don’t get pre-orders, for instance. This has changed a little recently, with some select high-selling indies able to get pre-order buttons. (More on favoritism in a bit.) Indies can’t get into the Kindle Lending Library without being exclusive to Amazon; traditionally published authors can. Indies don’t get the full retail price paid when Amazon discounts or does promotions; traditionally published authors do. Indies only get two category listings on their ebooks; major publishers can often get more than this. Indies have their pay cut if they price below $2.99 or above $9.99; traditionally published authors have no such limitations.

While it’s awesome to see pundits like Michael Cader express—for the first time ever, perhaps—concern for self-published authors, the way it’s being framed is completely bonkers. Self-published authors have never had a level playing field on Amazon. (Despite this, they now earn more daily ebook royalties than all the authors at the Big 5 combined.) What we do have is limited control over our prices, 70% royalties in a sensible range, an equal sales platform, and no rank manipulation, like we see elsewhere.

Another thing I mention in my previous KU thread is the danger of paying too much for subscription borrows. That’s what I think is taking place elsewhere. Paying full price for a borrow is not sustainable, and Amazon shouldn’t do it either. Oyster and Scribd are doomed, or they will have to alter their pay structure or charge more for their services. What I wish Amazon would have done is make KU indie-only and invite publishers to play by the same rules. Asking Amazon to give us full sales commission for a borrow and a 10% read is like asking a manufacturing plant to pay starting wages of $60/hour. It would be fun for a little while, but then they’d have to close the plant. We need something that will last, something fair to readers (who don’t get to keep these books), writers, and retailers.

I’d be happy with $2.50 – $3.00 per borrow. I’d also be happy with a tiered payment system. I don’t think 99 cent short stories should be treated the same as $8.99 novels. I think Amazon should add a “tip button” at the end of the reading process to quickly and easily send 1 dollar directly to the author. Or create a way to subscribe to the author’s upcoming content. Or allow us to tie our own newsletters into the Amazon architecture (or build a newsletter system for us, since MailChimp can get expensive).

These are all tweaks we should be pushing for as we see how this plays out. Maybe after we see how the first month pays and what effect it has on sales. But freaking out the way people did in 2011, when the end result was amazing for authors, seems crazy to me. Or disingenuous from some sources, as the regular players who enjoy driving wedges are pulling their usual stunts.

Remember that nothing is permanent. We’ve seen Amazon tweak the KOLL structure. We’ve seen Amazon open foreign territories at 35% for non-KDP Select members, and then more recently open territories at 70%. The indies who are in KU without being exclusive? That’s not a permanent deal either. There is no permanent favoritism, just a last-minute trial offer. My guess is that it was to score top-selling content when the Big 5 balked. More than that, it’s probably to try and lure indies back into exclusivity. A lot of us cut our teeth on Select. We were the idiots who went exclusive and gave our books away for free three years ago, and then quit our day jobs due to the enormous exposure.

KU now gives us a system that pays authors for what will feel like a free read to the customer. And yet we are hearing a lot of the same worries that people had over Select and KOLL with giving books away for free. Amazing, isn’t it?

At least one thing has improved (and it isn’t the defense of indies from people who have never shown a lick of concern for us in the past; that’s just people deriving glee from stirring up discontentment within the indie community), what has improved is our expectation that Amazon should treat us as equals. Think about that for a moment.

Gradually, the indie and traditional experiences are merging. Amazon has been experimenting with giving indies pre-order buttons. They have created price tools and pressures to move self-published prices higher, and the fight with the Big 5 has been to get price points lower. Over the last few years, all the pressures in both directions have been for a unified platform, so much so that we are coming to expect it. That’s mind-blowing to me. Are we second class citizens? Hell, yeah. We always have been. Third-class, even. But we no longer expect to be. We demand parity. That’s a helluva change.

89 responses to “It’s 2011 All Over Again”

  1. Hugh – great article, and right on point.

    As a “small” indie author, this change is awesome. In the 4 days that we’ve had KU, my borrows have QUADRUPLED, which in turn has raise my sales rank, which in turn has lead to more full price sales as well. I roughly expect that KU is going to push my earnings up 50% or more per month.

    The other great thing about KU is that it has some positive impacts on different types of books. For instance, I have a children’s book that has never sold well. In fact, most children’s books don’t sell well on Kindle unless you’re Dr. Suess. However, with KU, you can read a TON of kids books without paying a ton of money. Kids like to collect hardbacks, but imagine having KU on a road trip, and your kids having unlimited access to all these books!

    I know one things for certain. Amazon is innovating faster than anyone else in this space, and small indie’s can only benefit from this.

    1. Damn. My borrows have only tripled. :P I’ve seen ranges of responses at KBoards from tripling to one person who went from 40-something borrows to over 200 in a day. Be interesting when everyone starts sharing their results and findings a month from now. I’m already screenshotting my sales dashboard, and I haven’t done that in years.

      1. From your short experience with KU, do you recommend joining in? Cecilia and I were hesitant in jumping in. Our concern has always been the exclusivity.

        1. Depends on your sales elsewhere. I think those just starting out have the most to gain. Those with so much sales that they don’t care about earnings have the freedom to choose. And those right in the middle, who rely on their sales elsewhere to pay the bills, are probably the ones who will have the hardest time making the call.

          There’s no right solution for everyone, that’s for sure. But I like being on the ground floor of things to help sort it out for myself. 90 days is a short time to experiment.

          1. Thank you for your input. :)

      2. Thanks for sharing, Mr. Howey. My borrows have gone up five times.

  2. The “no pre-order without a reputation” thing I can at least understand, since it opens customers up to the possibility of an unscrupulous person taking their money and not delivering a book. Unless Amazon wants to be thought of as Kickstarter for indie authors, they should probably avoid offering pre-order.

    I guess they could hold pre-order sales in escrow until the book is delivered, but that kind of defeats the point of a pre-order from the author’s perspective.

    1. Amazon doesn’t charge for pre-orders until release date. It’s all about maximizing first day sales to shoot it up the chart. With pre-orders you can have three months of sales all on the same day.

      1. Pre-order sales are paid in one chunk, but rank is determined as pre-orders are taken, just like any other book. Wish it were the other way around.

        1. rank may be determined day by day, but bestseller lists count all those sales as the first day it’s available.

          1. Pre-orders do show up on the Kindle bestseller lists… (right now #12 Rain Girl is released August 1st)
            I don’t suppose that they are counted twice so I don’t think that they’d get a boost from pre-orders on release day, just the regular boost that they usually get from regular purchases and added exposure…

    2. One way around that would be to limit pre-orders to 2 months prior to release day. There’s a 60 day wait for payment for sales within the period anyway so if the author didn’t deliver as scheduled, the sales would be pushed back another period until delivery was completed.

    3. Apple offered me a pre-order button a few months ago, but Amazon refuses to do so. I’ve got eight 90-100k novels out and several shorts. Apple requires me to load the full final book 10 days prior to release day, and if I miss my deadline, I lose my ability to have a pre-order button.

      All has gone smoothly so far, yet Amazon still refuses to allow me a pre-order. *sigh* I’m a mid-lister indie, and I just don’t have the clout that the big dogs have, yet Apple has taken a chance on me.

      Still, I’ve pulled the first in my series off all the other distributors and gone Select to see how it impacts sales. If I don’t see results in 90 days, I’m pulling it from Select and going back. Fingers crossed this gamble pays off!

  3. While it doesn’t feel great to think of being treated as a second class citizen, people with more experience get better treatment, almost across the board in any scenario. So, while I would like to be treated as an equal with traditional publishing titles, I understand that they have been around longer and have more clout to demand better terms than I do.

    1. Agreed. But I think Amazon is out of their mind to lure Big 5 titles in by promising them a full-price sale. What Amazon should do is make lending a pro-author scheme. Tell publishers they can put books in the Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited, but they are going to pay on an inverted scheme. That is, the publisher gets 25% of net, and the author gets 75%.

      1. Actually, I have a different view on this. It works so long as Amazon is not paying Big-5 authors out from the fund.

        By paying full-share on the sale price, it keeps the big-name authors out of the kitty pool, leaving it for self-published authors.

        What happens if Danielle Steel (sells 1.2 million copies per month) releases her newest book into KU the same day I release mine? She’d be the elephant in the kitty pool and walk away with most of the money available because her fans would flock in and borrow like crazy.

        By maintaining a two-tiered system, it could help maximize what independent writers can earn from that fund.

        1. That’s an interesting point.

  4. Hugh, as you and Dataguy have been ably demonstrating, indies are producing revenue, a lot of it. It won’t be a new-found respect for the writer at Amazon that leads us out of second class status. It will be the fact that we can make them money.

    The opposite is true, too. I started writing because every time I took off on a run, the story would loop through my head and I’d find myself standing still in the middle of the trail. I had to get it out of my head. I wrote, some people liked it, including a major magazine that specializes in my subject matter, and now it’s snowballing. Second novel is out, third is in production, and more ideas than I can possibly tackle in a couple of lifetimes.

    If pushed against a wall and told I won’t make a dime, I’d still write. The costs on production are low, so I can effectively give the work away it I want to without putting to big a dent in the family finances. That doesn’t mean it won’t be professional – I run a small business and everything I do is the best I can manage/afford. Writing is no different.

    So picture an environment in which the writer produces work, gives it away for free, and has built systems to find his or her fans. If I’m Amazon, that possibility is a bit scary. The big publishers should be terrified but I’m not sure that they look past the next quarter.

    That’s the funny thing about us tool-using monkeys – you give us a new tool and we’ll take it in directions you never expected. I don’t think Amazon expected indies to be as successful, despite the uneven field, as they are.

  5. I don’t know if it was brave or foolish of me, but I jumped into the brand new scary KDP Select and did a free day back in December of 2011. The impact on my sales was covered in great detail on David Gaughran’s blog — — and that bold decision really launched me as an indie writer. Sometimes the new thing can be good.

    If we were looking for security, we wouldn’t be self-publishing. I’m prepared to be optimistic about KU.


  6. Interesting article as I was curious as I subscribed to KU the other day I was curious how authors got paid off of this. Specifically your name came to mind as my first downloads were several Hugh Howey books I’ve had on my “to read” list that were available under KU. I want good value, but I also want to support writers who are putting out great material that I want to read.

    It will definitely be interesting to see how this plays out going forward. Thanks for the insights!

  7. Alleluia! Finally, someone who’s done their homework and given us a very clear picture of what this all means — and, like everything else before, we have to give this new Amazon platform time to settle. Thanks for some great insight. Now, I’m off to share it…

  8. I’m not up in arms. My borrows have gone way up for the month. My income has been steadily increasing every month and Amazon just gave me a big boost. I’m sure the program will change, in part due to articles like this one. But I love Amazon giving people my books for free and paying me. I also love that they’re expanding readership, which helps everyone. I’ve downloaded a few titles this month I might’ve skipped otherwise. I’m excited and looking forward to seeing what sort of innovations Amazon brings next. I can’t publish books fast enough. I love being an author in the modern world!

  9. I’ve been at this indie-author thing since 2010, and I’m not worried. People always expect the sky to fall, but really things have only gotten better and better for indie authors over the last several years.

  10. Just wanted to point out that most traditional authors get 25% royalties on ebooks, only they have to share that with their agent. If they have a $7.99 ebook, they’re right at the $2 mark before the agent takes a cut. It’s different for bestsellers, of course.

    Still, if the KU borrows land at the $2 rate as they normally do through KOLL, indie authors are often making more per borrow even with traditional authors getting their full royalty. No agent fees.

    Thought that might be worth noting.

  11. My concern about the exclusivity of KDP Select—which I believe is required for books to participate in KU—has to do with leaving non-Kindle e-readers out in the cold. I’d be curious to hear others’ thoughts on this.

    I’ve been in and out of KDP Select several times over the last few years. While I personally prefer .epub to .mobi, my Amazon/Kindle book sales absolutely dwarf what comes in through other channels like Kobo and Nook/B&N. I’d love to participate in KU, but I don’t want to turn my back on readers using other platforms. (Yes, you can download the Kindle app for Mac/PC, but that’s not the same as curling up on the couch with your preferred e-reader.)

    Sure, we’re experiencing a digital survival of the fittest—or of the most progressive/aggressive. We’re not quite in the waning days of the old VHS vs. Betamax home video war, but I can see it on the horizon. No doubt that KDP Select and KU benefit indie authors. But are readers who chose Nook, Kobo, etc. being punished for not buying a Kindle device instead?

    Your musings? Snide remarks?

    1. My question would be: Which is bigger? The pool of people using Kindle Unlimited to find something to read, or the pool of people using iBookstore, Google Play, Kobo, etc.? If the latter will net you more readers, it’s worth leaving the KU users out in the cold. If the former will net you more readers, it’s worth leaving the latter out in the cold.

      It sucks you have to choose, but either way, you are limiting your readership. I don’t think anyone knows which readership is going to be bigger. I would suspect the iBookstore, GP, Kobo readership.

      1. Thanks Hugh for saying this. I have gotten tired of answering the charge that having gone with KDP Select (after trying to go broadly 3 different times to zero effect) means I am leaving readers out in the cold. If my market per month (people who actually see my books on Nook, Kobo, iTunes is tiny because I can’t get visibility there–and only about 5 buy the book a month, why is that tiny market more important than the huge number of potential buyers who can see my book on Kindle-because I can use the Select tools, or are visible in KOLL or KU?

        Each author has to judge what is best for their book, their series. I want my books read, and if I reached the widest group of readers by going broadly I certainly would do that. Right now that isn’t happening for me.

        Besides those Kobo, Nook, etc readers who really care–will find ways to get my books–getting the print copy, audio book, Kindle ap, or contacting me–so I can get them a copy. :)

      2. We’re always excluding some potential readers.

        Currently, my books are exclusive to the English language. The English language is a proven, successful platform for books. The English language has been very good for my business, and my books have found a lot of readers on that platform.

        I do sometimes consider going non-exclusive, because I know I’m leaving out billions of potential readers on other successful platforms like German, French, and Mandarin.

        But I’ve done the analysis: the cost of porting to those other platforms is too high and doesn’t fit with my current business model.

        Some day, maybe. But not today.

        For now, I’m choosing exclusivity.

    2. Hi Jennifer.

      The way I’ve always gotten around this is by opting not to put DRM on the books I publish exclusively though Amazon (though I wouldn’t opt for DRM regardless of where I was publishing). I’ve also linked on my website to how people with other types of reading devices can easily convert their DRM-free mobi file into an epub in under five minutes. Since that was a little over a year ago, I’m probably due to write up the instructions again and post them on my site.

      And the answer to your question is, yes, readers who chose Nook, Kobo or the rest are being punished for not buying a Kindle. But that’s happening at levels way above us. The only way an author is actually participating in this is when they put DRM on their books so that they can’t be converted to epub. (Okay, they can still be converted to epub, but readers have to take the extra step of stripping the DRM first.)

      1. Sydney: Thanks! I’ve never opted for DRM on any of my books, because I want to make it easy for people to read my titles rather than introducing unnecessary hassles. I very much like your idea of offering conversion instructions on your website. I should go find your post and link to it from my site.

    3. I will mention it again even though it is probably pretty obvious, but if you have more than one book, then you can do both. That way you still reap some benefits from being on Kindle Select and also have a book or books on the other platforms for discovery by readers on those stores.

      1. Nirmala – WHAT?!? Stop it with your common sense.

        Seriously, good point! :)

      2. Nirmala: Yeah, duh! I’d been thinking in terms of my series as a whole instead of as individual volumes. Can you tell that the summer heat has dulled my cognition? I’ve now got two books outside of KDP Select and two books enrolled. We’ll see if KU makes a difference.

    4. I’m primarily a non-Kindle reader. I read Kindle books on my iPad, iPhone, Nexus-7, ChromeBook, PC, and iMac.

      I don’t feel left out because I don’t use the Kindle much anymore.

  12. Select gave me a five figure income.
    If I could figure out a way to give away a million of my books in every genre I write in, I would. Because a certain percentage go on to read my books, and become loyal fans. I only want a stadium full of loyal fans, you all can have all the other readers in the world.
    Regarding KU:
    How can we turn it to our advantage? is the question.
    I plan on writing a novella with a resolved main plot, but a character emotional turmoil so horrible, that downloaders will have to buy books outside of KU to find out what happens next. I will charge full price 9.99 for this novella (since they’re getting it for free, what does it matter?)
    For those that aren’t members of KU, I’ll weave the back story (flawlessly, of course) throughout the book, which will be available everywhere.
    Amazon cannot outsmart me. I used to be a ranked chess player in high school, so game on!

  13. Good points. The reality is this is a business. We have to treat it as such. Bottom line is writers have to write books. Then for more marketing, write more good books.

    And there’s no fairness in publishing, as I just blogged about, just like there really is no fairness in any business.

    1. Thank you, Bob! I also had to put my personal feelings aside and look at it from a business point of view. My numbers tell me KDP Select exclusivity makes sense, though I’d rather not have all my eggs in one basket.

  14. Here’s a question for you, Hugh. What do you think is going to happen in 30-90 days when the first huge wave of people who jumped in with the free trial have to start paying? Unless Amazon gets the Big 5 to play ball (fat chance), do you think people will continue to pay $9.99 a month when they can’t find 80-90% they’re looking for? I love indie books, but I’d be naive to think that people are going to pay when they can’t get their Grisham, Patterson, Roberts, and King.

    My prediction: there will be a mass exodus from the program and this will settle down into a tiny percentage of the overall pie. It will mostly appeal to the voracious super-readers, and they will use it non-exclusively so they can lower their overall book budget. In the meantime, though, it will probably be a nice short-term boost to writers who go exclusive with Amazon. Me, it doesn’t fit my overall strategy, so I’ll pass, but I don’t blame other writers for having a different strategy.

    I’ve talked to several readers who said they’re trying it out, but they’re already disappointed with the selection. Unless Amazon can change that, I don’t think this is going to go big long term. Most studios use Netflix for loss leaders and backlist. That seems like the best way to use KU, not just dumping all of your primary content into it, but the exclusivity prevents that for me.

    1. Amazon is known for launching services with limited selection and then building from there, such as their video service.

      1. Maybe, but I doubt it it in this case. Unless they get some of the Big 5 to play ball, then it’s more likely that 600,000 ebooks is their high water mark. Remember, they forced all Kindle Select users to opt in and are making it extremely difficult to opt out (you have to email them from a hard-to-find contact form). After the bloom wears off (60 days or so is my prediction, for the reasons I stated above), there will be a slow attrition away from this among indie writers. Anyway, that’s my prediction. I’m happy to admit I’m wrong if proven otherwise.

        1. Since Select was introduced, people have told us how Select is a failure, authors are rejecting it, Amazon has to change it to retain authors, and it will destroy the moon…

          And all that time, Select membership just kept increasing.

          1. Netflix has a few gems, series and films, that make the $9.99 a month worth it. It also has a huge selection of suck that I wouldn’t watch if paid. I subscribe for those few gems. I know I won’t always find a lot of films or series I like, but I keep my subscription for those few I do get, which makes the $9.99 worth the price. I imagine AU will be the same. These are the heavy readers, to whom access to unlimited books is like a drug. They will pay to keep access to that unlimited pool.

    2. I am a voracious reader (70-80 books per year), rather than an author, but here are my two cents…

      …the biggest issue for Kindle Unlimited will be its selection of titles. I’m not going to pay $10 a month if I still have to also buy certain titles I want to read because they are from Big 5 publishers.

      Of the past twenty books I’ve read, only thirteen are available through Kindle Unlimited. Of the twenty books currently on my Kindle, only twelve are available through Kindle Unlimited.

      So unless Amazon can negotiate deals with the Big 5 publishers that would allow their books to be part of the Kindle Unlimited pool, the program is going to have limited appeal to most readers, especially once the free trial ends and they actually have to start paying for it.

      1. Keep in mind you’ll also need to buy outside KU many indie authors not participating in KDP Select or KU–many of them leaders in indie sales. The 600,000 books in KU will just be a small subsection of what’s available. New York and possibly even your favorite indie authors aren’t going to put new releases in KU initially, so the ones available (much like now) are ones that have been out a while and could probably as easily be borrowed from your local public library (especially the NY published ones).

        I’ve never participated in Select because I want to keep my readers at other booksellers happy, too (all 21% of them). That would be a lot of readers to lose by going exclusive.

        I think KU will be like Netflix. The first couple months, you want to watch everything you see. Then you realize all you’re seeing are the same shows that were on last month–and very few new releases. Then you grab your hubby and head off to the movie theatre (or movie rental store, if they still exist) to see something new.

        Kallypso Masters

        1. So true. Well, except the part about heading off to the movie theaters. I never find a reason to go to the movies anymore either. I also don’t rent from Redbox more than a few times a year because the general selection isn’t that great. I actually really like Redbox too, so that annoys me. Selection really is everything with these low-priced services and I just don’t see how most of them can work long term. Most of the content providers (including the movie studios) are going to want more and many of them are just not going to get it. Those services work best for the already popular and the more popular they are, the more expensive they’re going to be to the service provider anyway.

    3. A number of my favorite indie authors are in KU. From what I’ve seen more are looking at going this way. I expect a number of the big backlist publishers and mid-size publishers will also work out deals.

      People looking for books by the latest books from the big 5 might not be on KU but they aren’t on Scribd, Oyster, or my local libraries Overdrive either. I think people will adjust once they think about this.

      It’s also auto-renew and if there is one thing Americans are good at it’s forgetting to cancel their auto-renew services.

      I think it’s easy to either see this as a golden opportunity or all doom and gloom. I suspect it will end up in the middle. Not the path to millions for all (nothing is) but not useless either. Some will have great success, others moderate, others none, and much time will be spent trying to figure out why it works for some and not others.

  15. I’ll be interested to see if my borrows increase once Amazon gets whatever problem they’re having on their end fixed with my book listings. Both my KDP Select titles aren’t showing up when I browse what’s available in women’s fiction for Kindle Unlimited. Books that are ranked 1.2 million in the kindle store show up, but my books don’t, even though one is top 100 ranked in its category and the other is available in whispersync. I heart waiting on technical support.

  16. Just as everyone’s sales are different at different retailers, everyone’s experiences with Kindle Unlimited are going to be different as well. Some will be successful, others will see little or even no results. What surprises me is the “all or nothing” attitude some authors have taken. If you have 10 books out, will it really hurt to enroll just one of them in Select? No one is saying you have to remove all 10 from other retailer sites.

    Regarding preorders, Amazon can always require authors to upload their book file and then select a pub date 4-8 weeks out, although I can imagine overeager authors uploading drafts and intending to replace it before their release date and then not being able to fulfill that obligation, which would be disastrous. I guess sales will always speak loudest, but it seems unfair to those of us who are hardworking with more than decent sales for new releases without being bestsellers.

  17. I just want them to open up the Kindle Worlds platform. And overhaul it in general. Add links to the source-book/author pages, add lists ranked by star-rating rather than sales, give a special spot for commentary/review by the original creator — and let ANY author make a World with any book they want.

    As is, the only people who buy Kindle Worlds books are people who open up google and type in “Kindle Worlds”. Amazon hides it so well (and the platform is so tightly-controlled / nepotistic; no offense Hugh) you’d think they’re ashamed of it or something!

  18. I love all the smarty pants out there who knows EXACTLY what Bezos is doing, and how it’ll destroy us all…barely 24 hours into KU.

  19. Hugh,

    What are your thoughts on the self-published authors who seem to be interested in trying to game Kindle Unlimited by doing things like splitting novels into pieces, overpricing works, or simply urging people to read 10% of a book?

    1. I think it is inevitable and misguided. Gaming the system in any way will just ruin legitimate uses. Retailers will find ways to crack down on stuff like this.

    2. But I wouldn’t bash authors for starting with a short work and building on it as readers get excited about where the story goes. After all, a little story called WOOL began that way….

      Is that “splitting a novel into pieces” or sharing the creative process as an idea turns into a longer book?

  20. “Or create a way to subscribe to the author’s upcoming content.”

    A thousand times this!

  21. Change always brings out the Chicken Littles.

    I only wish I hadn’t been dumb enough not to join Select when it first started and free days were like printing your own money. Hindsight and all.

    As others have said: it’s a business and you should make a business decision. Do the potential borrows outweigh what you make from other sites? People play the what if games all the time, wondering if Amazon will cut royalties or if Bezos will post videos of him kicking puppies. I never seem to hear “What if Nook shutters and goes away?” This seems like a much more likely possibility right now that any of the anti-Amazon rhetoric that gets constantly floated around.

    If Amazon starts treating us poorly, we’ll adapt and go somewhere else. Yes, it might suck, but I can’t see how anything could suck worse than riding the soul crushing query-go-round like we did previously.

  22. “I don’t think 99 cent short stories should be treated the same as $8.99 novels.”

    But what would be the reaction? Short story writers like me would be tempted to raise our prices.

    “Amazon should add a “tip button” at the end of the reading process to quickly and easily send 1 dollar directly to the author.”

    On personal blogs? Appropriate. On major vendors’ websites? Personally I feel this sends the wrong message, though I agree with the underlying sentiment.

  23. “What I wish Amazon would have done is make KU indie-only and invite publishers to play by the same rules.”

    Now that is a great idea. It would give Amazon a certain amount of leverage, too. I just put my books in Select yesterday. I make a minimal amount from other venues. And I want to see where this KU ship is sailing to. I have a feeling it will work out for everyone involved.

  24. I posted this on the other thread about KU, but here it is again:

    This just showed up in a Forbes article about KU:
    “Currently, the average Scribd user is reading a little less than a book a month, says Adler, assuaging publishers’ worries that subscribers would be voraciously taking advantage of the model when they could have been buying books separately.”

    That is a remarkably low average. Maybe the subscription model will turn out to be viable in the same way as a gym membership. But it is still a weird way to build a business.

    The article also said, “Having soft launched its product in Jan. 2013, Scribd is now seeing about 50% user growth month-over-month, though Adler would not disclose the actual subsciber number.”

    That is a pretty good growth rate.

  25. One of the first things I thought, when I first heard about KU, was that Amazon was using it to lure indies back into Select. Thanks for bringing that up, Hugh. I imagine they lost a lot of people when the algorithms changed. And Countdown has too many moving parts (as well as almost nowhere to advertise a Countdown sale).

    I also think indies tend to overreact any time the Zon sneezes, so none of this hand-wringing has surprised me in the least.

  26. I realized much of the same things that Mr. Howey pointed out this morning, and blogged about it again!

    Quoting from my own blog: ” With the advent of tablets, and smart phones, and Kindle reading apps that fit almost all of them, I wouldn’t be disappointing those readers at all, would I? They can always download the Kindle app for whatever tablet or smart phone they have, and can read my work there. Heck, I have the Kindle app on my iPhone, my desktop, and my mini-laptop.

    And, on my iPhone, I have the iBooks app, Kobo app, the txtr app, and the Nook app…and I’m assuming that most people can do the same thing.

    So, maybe being Amazon exclusive isn’t as exclusive as I thought it was. And, maybe, those readers that I thought were being dis-serviced have access to my work anyway.

    So, maybe I’ve been wrong.”

    End quote.

    Yes, I think I was wrong to reject Unlimited. Since it takes Smashwords a few days to notify all of their retailers, I took steps today to begin the process. As of Friday, I’ll have all of my titles listed with KDP Select.

    Let’s see what happens, shall we?

  27. I think KU would be a very interesting market to explore if you write short, serialized fiction. Shorter works will be easier to get through, and a reader would likely be more willing to commit to a long series if he or she didn’t have to also commit to paying for it regularly. Since that’s the kind of writing I’m currently doing, that would be potentially a very useful medium.


    KU will only be useful for the people who can use it. Duh, right? Well, OK, but nothing I publish is eligible for KDPS, for two reasons (my website is viewed as a competitor, and the way I license my work allows readers to distribute it in ways that violate the terms of KDPS). So it’s hard to excited about something that I can only experience negatively. If KU really takes off, well, I’m already locked out of it.

    It’s a little disheartening to see Hugh effectively conflate indie publishing with “publishing on Amazon” — disheartening both because right now it’s not true, but also because even if it’s NOT true, it’s hard to argue against the notion that it’s by far the most effective approach, by far, and it’s becoming *more* true as time goes on. Wouldn’t it be better to make the market wider as well as deeper?

    Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe focusing on building up a single part of a market as a rich ecosystem for indies is the best way to go about things. I admit my business sense isn’t terribly well developed. But it feels like you are effectively (though not technically) signing over your rights in order to contribute to hardware and software lock-in. From what I can tell that’s been a pretty miserable experience for artists on the Apple side of things.

    1. “…hardware and software lock-in. From what I can tell that’s been a pretty miserable experience for artists on the Apple side of things.”

      Please explain how you arrived at that idea. From the sounds of it, you are not an author whose works are available on iBooks. I am, and I have some of my works also on Amazon. I have no major complaints about either one. I certainly don’t feel “miserable” about dealing with Apple. In fact, using a Macintosh (as I do) to create my books makes the whole process extremely easy. I only have to create one file for my book (in EPUB format) that I can then use for iBooks, Kobo, Smashwords, Google Play, and even Amazon, whose computers convert a well-formatted EPUB into a well-formatted MOBI and KF8 file.

      I’m not “locked in” to Apple at all.

      1. Hello Peter, I’ll be happy to explain.

        First, I want to clarify: I am, in fact, an author whose books are listed on iBooks. All of them, in fact. However, I am forced to do so through Draft2Digital because I do not own a Mac–the only way to sell directly to iBooks is to load them using an application that is only available on OSX. I, along with every other author who uses another operating system, am forced to use a third-party service like Draft2Digital or Smashwords to get my titles listed.

        Second, I am not referring specifically to AUTHORS, but to artists in general. There has been plenty of press about people trying to sell things on the Apple Platform only to have their creations pulled because they violated a part of Apple’s ToS. Trent Reznor created a Nine Inch Nails app that would allow fans to listen to music he was working on before it was fully released. Pulled. Mark Fiore, a political satirist, had his app pulled because biting political satire violated Section 3.3.14 from the iPhone Developer Program License Agreement (he was allowed to resubmit after the Internet went nuts). Amazon, at least for a time, had to rework its Kindle reader because Apple didn’t allow in-app purchases. I think Amazon has found a way around that, at this point, but I’m not entirely sure. Also, this isn’t just an artist thing, it’s an “anyone who tries to sell anything on the Apple platform thing,” and some of its actions have bordered on outright censorship (wikipedia article here –

        That’s not to say everyone has problems with Apple. I’d go so far as to say that most of the people who sell on iTunes don’t. But if you step outside their lines, they come down hard, and they keep redrawing the lines without telling anyone and also sometimes the lines just move, and also some people are apparently immune to lines, but probably not you.

        I can say that I have run into problems with them three times. My most memorable experience: in the About the Author section of one of my books I placed a link to my website. The link was NOT an active link (i.e., you couldn’t click on it) it was simply a plain text link that let the reader know how to get to the web version of the serial that the book came from. Apple rejected the book because I was linking to a competing product. That’s right, my website is a direct competitor to iTunes.

        (This is also one of the reasons I can’t use KDP Select).

        You are right that of all the artists selling in Appleland, authors are the least locked in. OSX users can buy from iTunes/iBooks or Amazon or B&N or Smashwords etc. But we are something of an outlier. Other artists don’t have nearly as many options, and if Apple pulls their app from the store, that means “no money for you” until the app is redesigned.

        Yes, from what I’ve read, dealing with that is a pretty miserable experience.

  28. There’s been a lot of discussion about pricing on this blog, but I realized no one had done any analysis on the relationship between Amazon’s royalty rates, pricing policies, and inflation. I’ve done a quick analysis of all three.

    The numbers are very interesting and should make you think.

    Up at

    Rick Chapman
    Author “SaaS Entrepreneur: The Definitive Guide to Success in Your Cloud Application Business”
    Read Excerpts from all 10 chapters at
    Author “Rule-Set: A Novel of a Quantum Future.” Just Released

    1. I hope I’m making some ridiculous mistake, but from what I read of your calculations, you are making an incredibly stupid error when comparing the results of your conversion.

      You convert 1965 SF author earnings from 1965 dollars to 2014 dollars, and then for some reason you convert 2014 author earnings to 1965 dollars, and then compare the converted 1965 earnings to the converted 2014 earnings. Which is mathematically insane. Way worse than comparing apples to oranges. The only valid mathematical comparison to make is to compare the equivalent earnings in either 1965 dollars, or in 2014 dollars, but not upside down and backwards. If you keep your dollars equivalent, it shows 2014 authors earning 2-4X as much as 1965 authors.

      Why on earth are you making the comparison as you do? It won’t show you anything real at all. I’m not sure how I can explain this any more clearly, but I also can’t understand how you thought this was a sound mathematical approach in the first place.

  29. […] think was there. Just try to pin this dude down in his posts Kindle Unlimited (Friday, July 18) and It’s 2011 All Over Again (today, July […]

  30. One potential effect this may have will be to give more visibility to authors who remain in the Nook, iTunes, and Kobo pools.

    For example, if an indie author who is selling well on the Nook decided to flirt with KU, they will release their visibility slot to the next person in line. That might end up being a Big 5 book or an indie book.

    The question is whether the visibility slots at Nook et al drive enough sales to keep the folks there. There’s also nothing preventing Nook and the others from setting up subscription programs like this. If they remove the exclusivity clause, authors might find they do better staying out of KU and in all these other venues.

  31. Just got an email from Draft 2 Digital today. I made $180 off Scribd in June 2014.

    Until today, the mention of Scribd only made my skin crawl, because my books were mostly pirated there.

    Oh, what an interesting turn of events to be getting PAID by Scribd. And what did I have to do to earn this money? Click the boxes on D2D to distribute to that channel. That’s it. No exclusivity traps.

    I suppose I should grab a pitchfork and set something on fire…

  32. Agreed, and the tip jar idea is golden.

  33. […] think was there. Just try to pin down this guy in his posts Kindle Unlimited (Friday, July 18) and It’s 2011 All Over Again (today, July […]

  34. Amazon will never treat self published authors as equals because they’re not equals. And I don’t mean that just because most of the self published books out there are terrible, but because Amazon doesn’t care about self published authors as if they were authors at all. To Amazon, the self published authors, when seen as one massive unit, is muscle. They are the reason Amazon could introduce Kindle Unlimited with 600K titles and cause a ripple effect through the industry, which is exactly what Amazon wants.

    Amazon didn’t start KDP because they care about slush pile writers. They started it so they could throw their weight around without people laughing. But in return, they give people who, with the exception of a select few, would never see their books for sale and who would toil in obscurity without ever being published. So, it’s a nice trade off.

    Kindle unlimited shows the downside of self publishing. Sure, you get to control this and that and whatever and all the rest, but you also don’t have a voice because Amazon doesn’t care at all what you think, or if you feel mistreated. It’s their sandbox, and they opened it up to everyone who wants to play writer. If you want to play in it, you’re at their mercy.

    1. Smart Debut Author Avatar
      Smart Debut Author

      “…will never treat self published authors as equals because they’re not equals.”
      “slush pile writers”
      “everyone who wants to play writer”

      Hey, bro. Guess it’s hard not to sound bitter when you’ve sold out your I.P. to a publisher for a crappy little payday loan, only to watch us indies blowing past you in sales and earnings.

      Wake up and smell the coffee. It’s 2014. Nowadays, the best writers choose to go straight indie and leave all that old-school rights-grabbing ass-clownery for the slow kids.

      Sorry you got the memo late.

  35. Great post, Hugh. Keep up the great work of your analysis of all this stuff.

  36. I’m trying to imagine a scenario whereby McDonald’s says, “Hey, we’ let you have that Big Mac for our Super Special Price, but only if you agree not to eat at Burger King.” Or Target saying, “You can get our Special Customers’ Monthly Promo pricing, but only if you don’t shop at Wal-Mart.” They incentivize customers by offering a great deal for their loyalty, not by limiting their choices.

    This notion that Amazon will treat authors better, but ONLY if they don’t sell their products anywhere else, irritates the crap out of me. I believe it is fundamentally improper, and it sends me, as someone who wants my Nook and iPad customers to be able to get my product, a clear message: ‘We don’t like you as much, because you’re preventing our monopoly.”

    I know, I know: they can create financial incentives for their providers. Still, it irritates the crap out of me because I can only satisfy my Nook and iPad customers by agreeing to make myself less competitive at Amazon. If it’s a good program for business, because it attracts customers to Amazon, then that should be all that’s necessary. There’s no reason to tell providers they can’t sell elsewhere.

    I can’t help thinking authors will pay for this at some point. And I KNOW KU subscribers will, at least to some extent, pay a price, because they won’t have access to hundreds of thousands of books that are NOT exclusive to Amazon.

  37. Yes, there are other ways where self-published authors are not treated like traditional, so it’s okay to continue such practices and widen the gap? Look, I’m as grateful as any author for my career built largely due to Amazon, but just as I take traditional publishers to task when they treat me poorly, I’m going to call out Amazon likewise.

    With each passing year we see more progress with regard to race equality, gender equality, and acceptance of sexual preference but is the battle over? I don’t think so.

    Look, I’m not talking about differences between the top 1% authors (Steven King, James Patterson, J.K. Rowling) and the midlist. Will there be desparity between these groups – yes…and I’m fine with that. I’ve heard reports that Stephen King gets a 50/50 split of profits for the first year his book is released – Good for him – I’m not asking for that.

    But for the 99%…self and traditional alike this group should be treated similarly. I didn’t want to call out all the dependencies, between the two but that doesn’t mean I’m not upset about those either.

    1. ” self-published authors are not treated like traditional”

      I doubt self-published authors want actual parity with traditional authors; this would involve giving up control and revenue.

      What self-published authors should be agitating for is parity with small publishers, and they mostly have that already. I know everyone keeps forgetting this, but Amazon funnels a lot of indie publishers into KDP, and some of those publishers are also in KDP Select. Those small publishers are getting the same terms as indie authors.

      In short Amazon is treating indie authors like indie publishers. How is that not parity?

  38. […] Howey offers his thoughts and points out that indie authors have never been treated as equals by Amazon and that a lot of indie authors made a lot of money with the original KDP Select back between […]

  39. […] and that goes double when you consider the current debate in its historical context. As Hugh Howey pointed out yesterday, much of the hand-wringing going on right now is a repeat of the debate surrounding KDP Select in […]

  40. “But we no longer expect to be. We demand parity.”

    This is a rhetorical question, but parity with whom, exactly?

    Publishing is like most industries in that bigger companies get better treatment because they’re worth more in terms of revenue. Indie authors are often the smallest of the small, so they can’t really expect parity treatment with publishing houses 10 times their size.

    The real question you should ask is whether indie authors are getting the same treatment as small publishers. Given that authors can now distribute their work using the same tools as used by small publishers (KDP, Createspace, etc), I would say that they do get the same treatment. And BTW, the biggest flaw in the complaint about indie authors getting only $2 a read is that there are also publishers with titles in KDP Select who are also getting that rate.

    In short, indie authors already have parity with the bottom rung of the market.

  41. I decided to give Amazon Unlimited a try with my lower selling series, a PNR that has been out since December 2012. Here’s an update on my first week on Amazon Unlimited:

    Books signed up to KDP Select as of July 18/2014 = 3 (3 books in series)

    Sales in July prior to signing up to Select (July 1 – 17):


    Book 1: 85 or 5.0 / day
    Book 2: 50 or 2.9 / day
    Book 3: 44 or 2.6 / day
    Total: 179 or 10.5 / day
    Revenues: ~ $615.72 (ave 3.44 / book)

    B&N / iTunes (via D2D):

    Book 1: 22 or 1.3 / day
    Book 2: 16 or 0.7 / day
    Book 3: 11 or 0.6 / day
    Revenues: 49 * 2.97 = $145.53

    Total All Retailers Before Select:

    Book 1: 107 or 6.4 / day
    Book 2: 66 or 3.9 / day
    Book 3: 55 or 3.2 / day

    Grand Total Per Day All Retailers (series):

    228/17 = 13.4 books / day

    Revenues: $761.25 (estimate)
    Revenues per day = $44.78

    Sales for the first week in KDP Select / Amazon Unlimited:

    Book 1: 14 or 2.0 / day
    Book 2: 11 or 1.6 / day
    Book 3: 6 or 0.9 / day
    Total Sales: 31 or 4.4 / day
    Revenues: $106.64
    Revenue per day: $15.23

    Lends: 25 or 3.6 / day
    Revenues from lends: 25 * $2.00* = $50.00
    * estimation
    Grand Total Sales and Lends: 56 or 8.0 / day
    Grand Total Revenues: $156.64
    Grand Total Revenues per day: $22.38

    So, for me, Amazon Unlimited has been a total flop.

    My average sales per day have gone from 13.4 books per day to 8.0 books per day.

    My daily revenues have gone from $44.78 per day to $22.38 per day on KDP Select / Amazon Unlimited – sales dropped by almost 50% and revenues by 50%

    Just thought folks would like to know.

  42. One comment I wanted to make about all these subscription services:

    When I go to Walmart and purchase a mop, the retailer and manufacturer get paid no matter whether I use it or not. If I rent a carpet cleaner, the retailer and manufacturer get paid whether I use it or not.

    Why are authors accepting this requirement that they only get paid when a customer reads a certain portion of their book? eBooks are not special snowflakes but neither are they chopped liver…

  43. As a Canadian author I feel snubbed by Amazon in their kindle countdown select program and plan to get out of select. How can a company blatantly offer discount to two countries and exclude everyone else who knows the book is on sale? Oh yes, KDP states in their ‘rules’ that other countries won’t see the book for sale. Well that is sneaky in my books. When I spend money on advertising my sale on countdown and my Canadian readers and other country readers go to their Amazon to purchase, it is not on sale. This sabotages our sales efforts and leaves us with the explaining to do.

  44. […] the defense, I called up Hugh Howey, bestselling author of the Wool series: “It’s similar to a program [Amazon] launched in 2011, and a lot of us credit that program with the success we had as writers. It required us to go […]

  45. […] the defense, I called up Hugh Howey, bestselling author of the Wool series: “It’s similar to a program [Amazon] launched in 2011, and a lot of us credit that program with the success we had as writers. It required us to go […]

  46. Exceptional web site. Numerous information below. We’re submitting the item to some friends ans in addition discussing inside delicious. And naturally, cheers with your energy!

  47. […] Read another post about KU and similarities to 2011 here. […]

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