Kindle Unlimited Scores a Knockout

After 40 days in the Kindle Unlimited program, and after going through my first royalty statement that includes KU pagereads, I have a few observations.

First, a little background for the uninitiated: Over a year ago, Amazon launched an ebook subscription service known as Kindle Unlimited. For $9.95 a month, readers could enjoy unlimited access to over a million ebooks. For authors, the program was contentious, because it required making those titles exclusive with Amazon. You couldn’t sell them elsewhere. This was the price of admission.

To entice their bestselling authors to try the program, Amazon allowed several dozen indies to keep their titles in KU for a limited time without the exclusivity requirement. I was invited into the trial, and I could see the benefit of being in the program immediately, but it wasn’t clear whether my readership was best served by being in KU or not. When the time trial expired, I pulled my ebooks out of KU. Looking back, I can see that this was a huge mistake.

A month and a half ago, Amazon changed the way they pay authors in KU, moving to a per-page-read method rather than a flat fee (once 10% of an ebook was read). The idea was to reward reader engagement with longer works, rather than pay short story authors the same amount as novelists. As a data geek, I was dying to test this program out and see what difference it made for earnings, reader engagement, and sales rank. Entry to KU would require me being exclusive with Amazon for at least 90 days. With several of their competitors in disarray, and with KU free of competition from books by major publishers, I thought now was a good time to give it a go.

Even though the new KU seemed to reward novels over short stories, I immediately began publishing shorter works and making them available in KU. I wanted to see if short fiction — an area I’m fond of and have made a career exploring — was still viable in KU. After joining the program, I released several titles in the 7,000 – 12,000 word range. KU is no longer as generous when it comes to short fiction, but the pay-per-page estimates seemed fair to me. I went all-in with my backlist novels, and I published my new short stories.

I knew within a week that I’d made the right decision to join KU. My KU ebooks saw an immediate boost in ranking. Not only were the page-reads mounting, but the sales of those ebooks were also on the rise! My overall income doubled, even with the loss of the other retail outlets, and I’m reaching more readers. This is like advertising that I get paid for, and advertising that leads to more paid sales. The only cost is exclusivity.

I’ve written at length about exclusivity, but I’ll sum up here what might seem paradoxical at first: You can sometimes reach more readers by making your products available with fewer vendors. By concentrating sales in one location, sales rank gets a boost and more reader reviews are compiled in a single place. This means more visibility and more word-of-mouth sales. It can also mean more readers.

If you were an author and you had to choose between 1,000,000 sales to readers in the state of Illinois and 100,000 sales to readers all around the world, which would you take? Arbitrary designations of where readers come from are just that: arbitrary. The total number of readers is what should matter. This is especially true considering the fact that Kindle ebooks can be read on practically anything that has a screen. More and more readers are moving to cell phones for their consumption, and even Apple devices can read Kindle ebooks. What’s more, I don’t put DRM on my works, so they can be downloaded, converted, and read as epubs or PDFs. By concentrating my works in a single place, I’m not making them unavailable to anyone; I’m just amplifying the signal of all those purchases and reader reactions. It’s a funnel, not a sieve.

I’m doing something more important than this as well, something that the last 40 days highlighted for me. I’m ensuring the best possible reader experience with ebooks. I see people all the time bemoan what might happen if we put all our eggs in one basket. Not only does this ignore the fact that I own the eggs and can move them at any time, it ignores the damage we do by trusting our eggs to bad baskets.

What is the collapse of Nook doing for the adoption of ebooks? Barnes and Noble goes back and forth on whether or not they’re going to support their own device. That causes those who bought a Nook to become wary of committing to buying more digital books. And what about Apple’s refusal to make iTunes a web-based store rather than an application? This makes sharing links and buying ebooks more difficult across devices. And let’s not even start on B&N’s storefront. Or Google’s hubris when it comes to dealing with authors.

Indiscriminate business partnerships does not move the industry forward, and making my ebooks available at places that don’t provide the best reader experience does not help my career. When I saw that KU was going to help me reach more readers —and more than make up lost income from all other outlets combined — I was swayed. But it was when I blogged about unlimited access to ebooks with readers, and heard what kind of experience those readers were having with KU, that I saw why it was important for me to only make my works available at top-notch retailers.

The reason is this: I want greater and greater ebook adoption. I want more and more readers to move to ebooks. It is the artistic medium, the environmental medium, the democratic medium, the literary medium, and the indie medium. The best way to increase the adoption of this superior medium is to ensure that readers have a great experience. The Amazon storefront and their Kindle devices are the absolute best experience for readers. I know a prominent supporter of the big publishing houses who recently admitted that despite his rhetoric, he uses a Kindle and shops on Amazon, because both are so much better. What he can’t see is that being open about those advantages is the only way to get other retailers to raise their game. And it’s the best way to get consumers to jump in and partake in this form of entertainment as well.

Another way to think about it is this: When Guinness allows a bar to sell their beer, this comes with a commitment to excellence. Guinness’ reputation is at state. Barkeeps learn how to provide a proper pour, and Guinness reps will drop in to make sure things are going smoothly. A bad experience is not worth it to them to say, “Let’s sell our stuff everywhere, no matter what.” That’s how you lose control of and dilute a brand.

Major publishers messed up royally by not throwing their weight behind Amazon in order to sell as many books to as many readers as possible. Fear of upsetting existing retail accounts caused them to hurt their authors, their readers, and themselves. The battle for control — out of a fear of what might someday happen — moved those awful consequences from a hypothetical future to a very real present.

The same is happening with a lot of indie authors. Fear over what Amazon might do in the future is hurting growth of a better reading medium today. The smart (and selfish) thing upon realizing this would be for me to put my works in KU, not say a thing, and enjoy all the benefits of a large slice of earnings coming to me from a limited pool of funds. But that’s not something I care to do. I’m here to tell you today, that as an indie author, you might want to give KU 90 or 180 days to see for yourself. You might want to promote the heck out of Kindle devices and the Amazon storefront. This company knows how to pour a great ebook. When a company comes along that does it better, you can bet I’ll be jumping ship. They’re my eggs, and they’re going to go into the best basket(s).

How we promote reading is important as authors. The more people we get reading on the democratic medium, the medium that allows artistic freedom of expression, the medium that ships electrons and not fuel-costly paper, the better our tradecraft as writers and pastime as readers will be. Right now, the best experience for readers, and the way to reach more of them, is through Kindle Unlimited.

This isn’t a commercial for the service; this is professional advice from someone who has tried both routes with a keen eye on the data. Try it for yourself and see. If you ask me, KU is a KO. I just wish I hadn’t waited until the later rounds to realize this.



118 responses to “Kindle Unlimited Scores a Knockout”

  1. I agree Hugh. Ultimately it’s the reader’s experience that makes or breaks an author. If your book or short story is compelling & professionally edited, the readers will keep swiping. My income has not decreased; it has gone up.

    1. I’ve just looked over my Kindle sales report for July 2015 and I am shocked.

      Here is what the new KU program pays: for one of my books, readers read 500 pages via KU, Amazon pays me 2 dollars and 89 cents for these 500 pages read; for another book, readers read 1000 pages (normalized pages on KU), and Amazon pays me for it about 5 dollars; the third book, 3000 pages read via KU, Amazon pays me 17 dollars for that.

      This is about 0.56 cents per normalized page. Hence, when a reader reads one 100-pages book on KU, Amazon pays for it 56 cents.


      1. Why is this not good income?

        You seem to assume that a 300 page book that costs $14.99 (@5c a page) is what constitutes a good standard of income.

        This is an arbitrary evaluation of standard income and smacks of greed from authors.

        I see no problems with a page of prose being valued at .56c.

      2. Good income? For publishing, heck yeah. How much do you think you would make from a traditional sales channel on that volume?

        Lets say 3000 page reads is the equivalent of selling 10 copies of your 300 page paperback at a $7.99 cover price. That’s $80. Of which, standard royalties can be between 7.5% and 10%. Lets be gracious and say the royalty is 10% (because, math.) That’s $8. Of course, then you have to pay your agent 15%. So, you pocket $6.80.

        That means, as a traditionally published author with equivalent page reads (or at least, pages paid for), you would have made $.0022 per page. Which, as you know Bob, is HALF what KU paid out to you.

        So, yes, making twice as much as a traditionally published author has been making for the past 20 years sounds like good income to me.

        1. Its also worth noting that KU is mostly page reads that you wouldn’t otherwise get in sales. So, this is like that extra little bit of meat they sometimes throw on at Chipotle that you got for free.

          1. The way I see it, KU is an exclusive Public Library (exclusive in that people pay $10 a month to be able to check out books). The difference is, everytime a book is checked out, I get paid SOMETHING. Many of the people who “check out” my books wouldn’t otherwise buy them because they have never heard of me, but since it’s available, they might give it a try. Sure, I could put my book out on perma-free, but then I make nothing on it EVER. This is the epitome of having your cake and eating it too. If someone wants to buy it, I get paid. If someone in the club wants to check it out, I get paid. If they like it, they might just go buy something else from me…but even if they just borrow the next book, I get paid on that one too, and it is a book they likely would never have found had the first one they read not been in the program. Also, this goes on forever, which is why you can’t judge this on the first month. Maybe someone read a few chapters of your books and put it down. You get paid for what they read this month, but if they finish it slowly over a few months, you eventually do get paid. The trick is to make books people will read cover to cover.

        2. You seem to confuse completely different services. Yes, a traditional publisher will pay an author around 10 percent royalties. However, the publisher will pay for proof reading, copy editing, editing, book cover design, submitting book to several sales channels, marketing. Amazon does not provide these services. Amazon is an online store, not a publisher.

    2. As one of the millions of authors languishing (reluctantly) in obscurity, I can say that not one but of KU page reads has done a Damn thing for me. Now, this might be due to any number of factors. Low visibility. Poor advertising. I’m not a good writer. My books might suck.

      Be that as it may, from the standpoint of one NOT earning anything these articles don’t shed a bit of light on the procedure or way to garner more reads/sales. While I realize that is not the point, and I read them anyway, I had to chime in and gripe about my own travails.

      Carry on.

      1. The best book on marketing ebooks was “Let’s Get Visible” by David Gaughran. Essential reading. Boosted our sales by a sizable margin. Dollar for dollar, though, your best promotional money can be spent trying to get BookBub to feature your book(s). Good luck!

  2. As a reader (not an author), there are two issues I have with Kindle Unlimited:

    #1 – Still doesn’t include enough of the books I want to read. Every month, I go through the top twenty books on my “want to read” list to see how many of them are available through Kindle Unlimited. Generally, it’s only around 50-60%.

    #2 – The public library is still FREE, which is a lot cheaper than $10/month.

    The bottom line is that there are still relatively few books, at least in my case, for which using Kindle Unlimited is the best option for a reader.

    1. you’re right on both points, however there’s a third point to consider. Books are a hard sell. Even ebooks have a much larger barrier to uptake than similarly priced items such as a cup of coffee or a hamburger, etc. For some reason, we’re averse to spending on books as it seems to be a sunk cost (like burgers aren’t). KU removes that risk for readers. For a flat fee, there’s a bufett of choice.

      As a writer, I find a massive amount of follow through to other books I’ve written. Once the unknown is overcome, readers are keen to read more, and KU facilitates that for writers like myself, who you won’t find in the public library.

      In KU, readers can pick up or drop books on a whim, and writers are only rewarded for how much the KU reader actually reads, so KU weeds out the crap, rewarding good writing.

    2. Shannon Bouchet Avatar

      I am a reader as well. I was on the fence about KU but then I started reading Hugh Howey books and short stories – and psychologically it is easier for me to pay a membership to read short stories than it is to purchase them single. Also I keep KU because I like the notices for the authors I follow. And while the library is free, I like my KU membership because by getting charged I am a bit more enticed to “use” my membership – I get lazy about the library and am reading more now that I have KU. I find myself choosing authors I wouldn’t otherwise consider because it is so simple to return if I don’t like it – and often I do. While the library does offer comparable systems, I find the systems a little more difficult to navigate. And I like the idea of Indie authors being supported by my money and am reminded gently to keep reading new stuff. Okay, back to working now… and reading later! :)

  3. Hear, hear! As an author, I totally agree with you, Hugh! I won’t list my reasons here, but I fully agree with you!

  4. Thanks Hugh. Well thought out and well worth the read. Your commentary regarding getting more devices in the hands of readers puts me in mind of Tesla’s decision to make its battery patents public. More electric car drivers equals a greater need for charging stations equals greater public adoption.
    It will be interesting to see how the e-publishing landscape unfolds as I close in on publishing and hope you don’t mind that I am merely calling out soundings while you pilot the ship through the narrows. You’ve also got me wondering if Guinness will one day be paid by the sip.
    Many of us appreciate these posts. Thanks. Munk.

  5. The problem is that you are going exclusive with Amazon. There are lots of people such as myself that do not have a Kindle. I have a Kobo Aura H2O and it reads ePub. You are denying me and many others the ability to buy you eBooks in our native format. What if we do not want to buy from Amazon? Also you are making it harder for other Reades brands to compete. Do you really want Amazon to be the only Reader brand left? I don’t. If you don’t than please pull out of KU and tell as many other authors to do the same.

    1. As Hugh pointed out in his article, he does not use DRM. This means you can download his Kindle ebooks to your computer and then convert them to epub. It is not as easy as downloading them directly to your Kobo reader, but it is not true that he is denying you access to his books.

      1. A lot do use DRM and for a lot of people, this means a lot of eBooks are unavailable to a lot of people. To me, this is unfair. Also what if I don’t want to buy eBooks only Amazon sell? I don’t because then this makes it seem like I support Amazon’s exclusivity which I very much do not as it takes eBooks away from readers.

        1. When I buy books, I am not making a political statement. I pity you that making that statement means more to you, jswolf, than reading the book.

          1. “If you won’t stand for anything then surely you’ll fall for anything.” Some consumers care about the world around them. Those who are apathetic benefit from the actions of those who care and should not be quick to mock them.

          2. “Some consumers” will not pay for Joe Author’s electricity bill if “going wide” in service of sticking it to Amazon costs him money. Are you?

          3. You don’t get it. I don’t have a Kindle. Kindle on a cellphone is crap. I don’t carry my iPad around. I own an iPhone 5s and a Kobo Aura H2O. Why should I have to use an app I don’t like because it works very poorly on a cell phone and why should I have to buy a Kindle just to read a book I should be able to buy in ePub. I don’t support Kindle exclusive eBooks. I never have and I never will. We need more competition. We don’t need eBooks to be Kindle only. It’s not good for business and it’s not good for innovation. Amazon is not innovative. The software on Kindles is nothing special. You get limited settings and poor ones at that with wide margins, wide line height, and limited fonts.

            The point is that we need eBooks in all usable formats or we end up with just one brand Reader that stifles innovation.

        2. Ultimately, authors will go into KU if it benefits them better than other distributors. I make the same amount in a year at B&N as I do in a month at Amazon. I’ve tried going with a wide distribution or just with Amazon and over and over again Amazon is the one that’s helping me, as an author, find readers.

          So if you want books for a different, non exclusive device, then you need to talk to that retailer about WHY so many authors are deciding not to use them. It’s a business decision. B&N and other sites do absolutely nothing to encourage new or mid-list authors to join in a business agreement with them. So really, if you want to complain, then go complain to the retailer. They are the problem.

      2. Also, Amazon pays the authors and publishers a higher percentage if they agree to NO DRM (among other requirements, like lower pricing).

    2. You’re missing the point. For example: I’ve sold thousands of 1 novel on Amazon, and have had equal amounts of downloads on KU. This is in contrast to the 3 books I’ve sold on Nook, 0 on Kobo, 4 on ITunes, and 9 on Smashwords.

      Why would I sacrifice thousands of sales for just a 10 or 15?

      As authors, we want to get our books out to as many readers as possible. Amazon’s platform allows that while the others are not as friendly.

      Why take back roads that will make you indefinitely late when you can jump on the highway and be there a thousand times quicker?

      Though it may be “noble” to sacrifice sales in that way, it is a poor professional choice if you want to get your books into as many hands as possible.

      1. Same experience here – with regards to limited results with non-Amazon distributors. I finally (just recently) gave up on the other distributors and have been switching my stuff over to Amazon exclusively. I’ve had a few things Amazon-exclusive for a while, with other things available other places. The Amazon-exclusive stuff has reached a lot more readers, and I mean A LOT. The other outlets have been very disappointing, indeed. It takes time to format documents for all those different outlets, even if you only use 2 or 3 of them. Why spend the time when so few readers will end up reached (maybe 10 if you’re lucky) compared to doing one document that reaches hundreds or thousands or even more?

        If non-Kindle readers want to see more authors’ works available on B&N, Kobo, etc, they need to talk to those distributors about being more competitive instead of bad-mouthing Amazon for being business-smart or authors for being concerned about reach. I can empathize with the dilemma of such readers. I bought a Nook a few years ago. I understand why more Nook users are going to Kindles or tablets.

    3. I recommend you read the article more carefully. Each of the concerns you express are satisfactorily addressed including readers not wanting to do business with Amazon.

    4. The problem is that you are going exclusive with Amazon.

      Uh, isn’t the reverse true as well? The problem is that you are going exclusive with Kobo?

      Back in the day, I had VHS, Beta, and a laserdisc player. Mainly because there were some movies I could only get on one of those formats. So if I wanted that movie, I had to have more than one format.

      Kindles are $49 or less if you watch for Amazon sales. Used Kindles are $20. Kindle apps are available for all phones, computers, and tablets, and are free. I’m sure you love your Kobo and don’t want anything else, but if you want to read certain ebooks that they way the cookie bounces.

      1. Owning a Kobo device does not equate to being exclusive with Kobo, any more than owning a Kindle equates to being exclusive with Amazon. Readers can always sideload content received elsewhere, as well as using multiple platforms. There’s no analogy to be drawn between authors being exclusive with a vendor and reader choice of platform.

        1. Geez, give it up! If you want to read a book, it’s your responsibility to use the format required. It’s not the writer’s responsibility to cater to your philosophical positions.

        2. So a Kobo owner can sideload any content onto his or her device. What’s the problem with an author being exclusively available on Amazon then? (Given that the author’s books, like Hugh’s, are DRM free.)

  6. Smart article, and the point I agree most with is that the other platforms (Nook, ibooks, Google, Kobo) are essentially incompetent.

    I hate that Amazon is so much better at this than everyone else. There are things they do that I really am not super comfortable with.

    But you are correct that the other players are so weak that it’s getting difficult to justify being in wide release. It’s a problem. I don’t celebrate that, but I do see where you’re coming from.

  7. First, I am glad to hear KU is working out so well! I have a few irons in the fire and hope to get a couple of smaller works self-published before Christmas. I’ll definitely give KU exclusivity a go.

    Now, I have one tangential pain point regarding Amazon and Kindle right now. If I’m on my phone in a browser, I can buy/borrow a Kindle book. But for whatever stupid reason, I still can’t buy/borrow a Kindle book in the official Amazon app for iPhone, and am prompted to do it via my Kindle instead. Any idea why this currently isn’t supported? It’s just…weird. It seems like they’re losing a lot of sales that way.

    1. Diana St. Gabriel Avatar
      Diana St. Gabriel

      Amie, this is a restriction created because Apple takes a percentage of in-app purchases. Amazon does not want to give a percentage of ebook sales made in their app to Apple.

    2. I have Kindle on my IPhone and IPad.

  8. Huey, I love your blog, but I make up my own mind when it comes to what I do. ~~~ I decided a long time ago to go Amazon exclusive for my own convenience, and I couldn’t care less what other authors have to say about that. It’s my life, my finances and my business. I know what I can do and what I can’t do. Furthermore, my sister is a partner with a major corporation. One of their clients is Amazon. She’s confident about Amazon and so am I. I may not trust Amazon 100 percent, but I don’t trust any of them 100 percent. I do believe, however, that Amazon is a stable business that’s not going down anytime soon. ~~~ That said, you’ve stated some things that I had already been thinking. So it’s nice to see another author agreeing with some of what I’ve been thinking.

  9. I keep calling you Huey instead of Hugh. Sorry about that.

  10. It seems that KU would be an ideal forum for new and unknown authors (in addition to established authors, of course). There is no risk to a KU reader for trying unknown works.

  11. Hugh, while I appreciate the effort you’ve made experimenting with KU, unfortunately your results are no longer valid. As an extreme outlier, your audience is already in place, rabid and ready to buy anything you publish. Your results don’t prove that readers will buy and read good books, they only prove that they’ll buy your books.

    Believe me, a great number of the average midlist authors on Amazon are having very different results from those you’re experiencing. I know dozens of authors who have gone from mid 4-figure royalties to only hundreds per month in KU2.0. They’re good writers with solid fan bases, but they’re not in the same financial league as you. The new order may have been good for you, but for the rest of us down in the trenches, not so much.

    1. How would they know what their royalties are yet with KU2? My understanding it that it was introduced July and the royalty rate hasn’t been announced yet. Those who had KU2 haven’t received their royalties yet and that has nothing to do with having the best reading experience for the reader.

      1. LL Gonzales – Today (8/15) is the day that authors found out what the per page payment for KU2 is. They also got their reports on July earnings — the first month KU2 was in effect. We don’t received the money until 60 days after the end of each month, but we get earnings reports on the 15th of the month immediately after. So July earnings were revealed today to each author in all of KDP/Amazon.

        1. I’ve just checked my Kindle sales report for July and I am shocked. Here is what the new KU program pays: for one of my books, readers read 500 pages via KU, Amazon pays me 2 dollars and 89 cents for these 500 pages read; for another book, readers read 1000 pages (normalized pages on KU), and Amazon pays me for it about 5 dollars; the third book, 3000 pages read via KU, Amazon pays me 17 dollars for that. This is about 0.56 cents per normalized page.

          Hence, when a reader reads one 100-pages book on KU, Amazon pays for it 56 cents.


          1. You’re making the same amount for a “borrow” that you would for a paid sale. More, in some cases. That seems amazing to me. Some of those borrows will lead to more actual sales.

            This is like the KDP “free” days that we used to beg for more of, but we’re getting paid now, rather than giving our work away.

    2. Believe me, a bunch of midlisters are having my exact results. I’m hearing from them. Many of them are reporting the same thing in FB groups and on forums.

      1. Victoria does have a good point, Hugh. You have already established yourself as an author and have become so popular that you can publish a piece of crap and people will most likely still come flocking to read and buy what you preach. Short reads are no longer good for unknown authors in KU, regarding earning money, but you will make money with anything you publish now that you are a “somebody author” If I were you, I’d publish as many short stories as I can since I’m so popular. Writing long singles no longer is required for a man of your current status. I see what you’ve done, dividing your shorts stories into parts, that will help your ranking. Way to work the system, not that it is a bad thing, but every sale counts into the rank system. I also noticed on book 4 of your new series, you raised the price from the rest, of the .99 cent books, that seems kind of shady to do that. why would book 1 2 and 3 be .99 and book 4 2.30? Trying to make up for lost wages? Seems to me deep down you are still an amateur that just got lucky

        1. Weird. I see all 5 parts at 99 cents. Maybe a regional thing?

          Combined, the 5 parts cost less than the full novel will (5 cent difference).

          I stand to make less with the book divided up. I’ll lose readers along the way. It’s an artistic choice, not a business decision. But people see what they want to see, and I get that.

      2. I hope Hugh doesn’t mind an anonymous comment by way of reply here. I’m a midlist author writing in the Mystery, Thriller and Suspense genre. KU 2.0 added 35% to my bottom line for July, and looks like it’ll be even better this month. It’s only ~$500, but that’s $6,000 a year from one book for rentals.

        Two or three more books and I could live on KU money alone.

      3. I’m not a bestseller, or a mid-lister, or an outlier. I’m a newb. Just 4 books in an incomplete series in the steamy romance genre. KU has been amazing for me. My sales have dropped a tiny bit, but that’s been more than made up for by the 100,000 page reads I got in KU last month alone. 6 months on Google Play, B&N and iTunes resulted in less than a dozen sales. I’m all in with Amazon and feeling fine about it. Thanks for your blog Hugh.

  12. Royalties were announced today. Which is the reason for the blog post.

    Yes. Hugh is an outlier. And part of the reason I’ve stayed exclusive with Amazon is that Nook is incompetent, iTunes requires me to buy a Mac or go through a 3rd party, and Kobo is very small. And I see no promotional ability on Kobo other than my perma-free book.

    But his comment is a great observation, We own the eggs.

    I would add, yes, you can choose to not keep your eggs in one basket.

    But not all baskets are equal.

    Not even close.

  13. The thing that really bothers me about this new KU structure is the “engagement” angle. The theory is that better books will get more engagement and thus have more pages read. Unfortunately, that doesn’t play out in reality.

    The winners are longer books. (fiction, mostly)
    The losers are short premium books. (nonfiction, mostly)

    My book, Mini Habits, sells at $5.99 and is 126 pages. It’s been the #1 selling self help book in both the US and Korea. It’s sold over 80k copies and is being translated into 12+ languages. And it’s rated 4.6 stars from about 450 reviews on Amazon. It would be hard to argue that “people who borrow it aren’t reading it” or “it’s not engaging” when it’s been as popular and well-reviewed as it has. In fact, Amazon is featuring it this month as one of their monthly deals (one of only 300ish books).

    It’s a short read though, and with the KU change, my earnings from borrows dropped 66% month over month. (Fortunately, it still sells copies.)

    Hugh, you can do well with shorter books because of your fanbase and number of books. I only have two books and they’re relatively short nonfiction books. While I’ve done very well with them in KDP select up to this point, now I have to pull out of KDP select. The changes made benefit a specific type of author and crush other types and it has very little to do with book quality!

    Imagine this scenario:

    Author A has 10 superfans.
    Author B has 2 superfans.

    Author A has a 100 page book. The 10 superfans read the entire book = 1000 pages read.
    Author B has a 600 page book. The 2 superfans read the entire book = 1200 pages read.

    According to Amazon’s new policy, Author B deserves more compensation! Really? REALLY?? Whoever tries to bring “quality” into the argument, you’re saying that it’s possible for 2 superfans to be better than 10 superfans.

    By ANY other analysis, it’s far more valuable to have 10 superfans than 2, regardless of how long your books are. If the 600 page books are soooo much more valuable, then why aren’t they priced that way? Because nobody would buy them. My 126 page book is regularly priced at $5.99 and sells well. By this logic, 400+ page books should be selling at $18.99. Instead, many 400+ page fiction books are free or 99 cents. That’s just to say, one page of my shorter book is absolutely worth more than one page of many longer books. (It also takes me longer to write these books because of their density.)

    Quality is only a factor in KU when comparing titles of similar word count, genre, and popularity.

    600 page fiction books are not 6x more expensive than 100 page nonfiction books because like all products, value is up to the market and the consumer, and it’s independent of page count. On a page count system like KU, the longer your books, the fewer readers you need to attract to be successful. This encourages authors to find clever ways to beef up word count without alienating readers.

    Of course, I’m leaving KDP select. Problem solved, I guess. But nobody can tell me it’s because my books aren’t engaging enough. It’s because I write short, premium nonfiction books.


    1. You’ve nailed it, IMO.

      But the good thing is, you can command premium pricing, and thus, you should be fine outside of the KU system.

      KU is still ultimately catering (for now) to the bargain basement customer. I want my books to be bought by those who have more disposable income and are therefore not always bargain shopping and pressuring me to lower prices.

      I think it’s a better model for the long run, because those who cater to discount buyers will be far more subject to the whims of these platforms.

      Hugh has an entirely different ethos from mine, and he has every right to it.

    2. As you mentioned, Hugh, I’m a bit worried that being in the other stores is a waste of time. I might end up as the rare person who is exclusive with Amazon and yet opted out of KU.

      Here’s an important question: How many current KU borrowers will buy a book if it’s not in KU?

      Here’s some interesting math on my situation:
      In June, I had 438 borrows ($593 revenue)
      In July, I had about 40k pages read ($238 revenue)

      My royalty rate per book sold is about $4 as the regular price is $6. Given that number and my new terrible KU payout, I’d need 59 more sales per month to make up for dropping out of KDP select, which is about 2 sales per day. Using 438 borrows (June’s number of borrows) as the benchmark, I’d need only 1 out of every 7.5 KU borrowers to choose to buy the book over passing on it because it’s not in KU. I think that’s very feasible. And that’s not including the sales I might get on other platforms.

      If anyone else has experienced a severe drop from the new KU, I’d recommend doing this calculation as well. You can do this for one book or your whole catalog. This determines what you’d need to make up in SALES to recover lost KU revenue.

      1. Add up revenue from July’s KU payout (my example: $238)
      2. Divide revenue number by your royalty rate (my example: $4 per book sold. 238 / 4 = 59)
      3. This number (59) is the equivalent number of monthly sales you’d need to match your KU payout.
      4. Take this number (59) and divide by 30 to get the daily sales needed to match your KU payout. (my example: about 2 sales per day)
      5. Use a prior month (June 2015) to estimate your typical number of monthly borrows as this info is not available in the new KU Page Count Method. My example is June’s 438 borrows. Now divide this by the number for step 2 (the Sales equivalent KU number) to get your required KU customer conversion rate. (my example: 438 monthly borrows / 59 needed full book sales = 7.4) This means that if I drop out of KDP Select, for every 7.4 KU borrows I’d typically get, I’d need one of them to choose to BUY my book to break even.

      I’m guessing my number of 7.4 is high, which is why it’s a no brainer for me to leave KDP Select. For people who are doing really well in this program, their number could actually be less than one, because they are getting more revenue per borrow than per sale.

      I hope this helps someone!

      1. There is one thing you aren’t factoring: this is the first month. You can’t judge this new system on the first month, it needs a little time to catch up. What I mean by that is before you got your borrow royalty when the reader hit 10% read. I rarely download a book and start reading and don’t get to at least 10% of the book. In the old system, you would have gotten paid within minutes of my borrow. Now, however, you get paid over the time it takes me to read the book. I have 3 small children and a full time job, and I write on the side, so it takes me quite some time to finish books. It might take you 2 or 3 months to collect on my full borrow while getting paid by the page. Ask yourself, in this first month or the new system, how many pages of the books borrowed for that month remain to be read? I think we need to be at least a good 3 to 4 months in to this system before we can even start to look at numbers.

        1. Next month the total number of page reads will go up, adding new books borrowed plus the remaining pages in books that were not read yet. Since the payments come from a shared pool, the average payment per page read will decrease. That will happen again every month. So before where you were paid in that month for each book borrowed (and read 10%), and shared in the pool, now every month the number of sharers increases exponentially because of the pages left in the first month’s borrows. So pages worth 59¢ today may well be worth 10¢ in a month or two.

          I saw the amount paid for borrows sink too low in the original pay scheme. It was an insult to authors. It will only get worse here, O think. And the complexity of keeping track will avail no way to check up to see you were paid correctly. With the fluctuating exchange rate, VAT, and all the pricing rules you have all kinds of fluctuating payment on royalties already. When quieried Amazon gives the same stock, generic, non-commital replies that you cannot verify.

          In the end you just have to play the game. But you can choose whether you will help them sell more kindles and make more money with membership programs. I will not. I use all available publishing outlets and give the readers choice.

    3. Finding a clever way “to beef up word count without alienating readers” kind of sounds almost indistinguishable from good writing. If someone can write a long read that keeps readers happy, what’s wrong with that? Should they be encouraged to keep everything short? What about readers that prefer longer works?

      I’ll take your word for it that your writing is more dense, and better, therefore you should be paid more than other writers per page. But you really don’t expect Amazon to make those kinds of judgements do you? I’m sure there are 100 word poems that are more beautiful and compelling than 100,000 page novels, but I would prefer Amazon not pass subjective judgements about what is more valuable in terms of content and quality. Whatever system they use, in my opinion, should not be trying to judge quality.

      The current system is just about as fair as you can get. If you feel it isn’t right for you, great, charge as much for your books as the market will allow.

      I personally disagree with you that two readers who get many hours of pleasure from a long book are less valuable than ten readers who enjoy a shorter work. That doesn’t add up to me from the reader standpoint, or Amazon’s with a subscription service. The purpose of the service is to provide enough of reading enjoyment to satisfy the customer. If the customer wants to focus on longer works, that’s a win for Amazon. Likewise, if many customers enjoy shorter work, that’s fine too. Engagement is the key.

      It doesn’t seem that the new system punishes short work. It simply doesn’t favor it anymore.

      1. Amazon doesn’t have to make ANY judgements of value. That’s exactly the problem. I wish they’d stay out of it. Instead of letting the market determine value in KU, they have decided that a book’s value can be measured by the total number of pages read.

        With regular book sales, the market decides value and it works wonderfully. With KU, Amazon has changed the rules to heavily favor longer books. It’s their program and they can do what they want, but it’s not “fair” as the market is fair.

        The only people who say it’s fair are the ones making bank from it. Some authors will have a $0.99 cent book that’s 400 pages and get $2.50 per borrow. Meanwhile, my $5.99 book (which sells well at this price) is netting me about 50 cents per borrow. I’d love to hear anyone try to explain how that makes sense. This aberration is only possible because Amazon collects the money for KU and then distributes it as they wish, not as the market dictates.

        I’m writing some fiction now, and you can bet I’m going to put it into KU. It’s a great opportunity to benefit from an uneven playing field.

        1. Sorry, Stephen, but your arguments are not working for me…

          1. “Amazon doesn’t have to make ANY judgements of value. That’s exactly the problem. I wish they’d stay out of it. Instead of letting the market determine value in KU, they have decided that a book’s value can be measured by the total number of pages read.”

          They ARE letting the market determine “value” (under KU). It’s called “pages read,” and it’s way more balanced (fair) than the prior version. KU v1.0 was obviously flawed, and they fixed the flaw. You just don’t like it.

          2. “With regular book sales, the market decides value and it works wonderfully. With KU, Amazon has changed the rules to heavily favor longer books. It’s their program and they can do what they want, but it’s not “fair” as the market is fair.”

          Which “market” are you talking about? And who says it should be the same for Sales vs. Borrows? Your “fair market” was being scammed left and right in KU1. I am NOT accusing you of doing that, but everyone knows that was happening.

          3. “… Some authors will have a $0.99 cent book that’s 400 pages and get $2.50 per borrow. Meanwhile, my $5.99 book (which sells well at this price) is netting me about 50 cents per borrow. I’d love to hear anyone try to explain how that makes sense. …”

          Makes perfect sense within the new KU system that Amazon has created. And why do you keep mixing up different parameters like Price and Pages in the same breath? You will get the same Borrows payout for the 126 pages of “Mini Habits” (which looks great, BTW!) as the author of the 400 page tome that I only manage to slog through to page 126 before I dump it (and I’ve done that with doorstop novels many times, although typically way before page 126!).

    4. So, in your 10 super fans for a 100 page book, and 2 super fans for a 600 page book–would you have the 100 page book writer make 5 times more money? That doesn’t sound fair either, and 1/5 a much greater disparity then the 10/12 ratio you cite. Yeah, their new system isn’t perfect, but it seems much, much better and fair than what they had before where 80 page novels that weren’t even read were making as much as 800 page ones, and where the incentive was to write lots of short things–with no direct financial reward for them being actually read–over write short or long, doesn’t matter–just keep the reader reading.

      And while your results seem to say otherwise–$5.99 100 page books aren’t the norm in e-books from what I’ve seen. I wouldn’t pay that much typically–I see 100 pages are less, I’m assuming a $.99 price point, but might well pay that much (6 times more) for a 600 page one.

      1. This argument is missing the point. KU subscribers are the ones paying for the service. So. The ONLY thing that matters to Amazon is “What kind of books will bring in more subscribers.” Nothing else matters in the equation. Its not about 10 superfans verse 2 superfans or anything else. Amazon is going to set the price to encourage certain types of authors to enroll in KU because thats how they can driver subscribership. And yes, after a year, Amazon certainly has enough data to know that across a million titles better than any single author.

      2. Sorry, not Dan’s argument in particular, the whole thread Stephen started and responses as a whole is not addressing the only thing that matters in my mind: what does Amazon think drives subscribership, and do we really think any single author could know better than they do with our limited data points?

        1. You seem to have agreed with me. Amazon is rewarding specific book types in KU and punishing others to the point where they must leave. My only point is that it’s not a “fair and even” system and it’s not based on book quality as some have suggested.

          As I said before, it’s Amazon’s system and they can do what they want with it. My problem isn’t as much with KU as much as it is with anyone (including Amazon) suggesting that people getting screwed by this change “just need to write better books.” Among other data points, Amazon picked my book to be a Kindle monthly deal for August (only about 300 books a month get this privilege).

          The way it was before, authors in all genres and book types could succeed in KU because it was based on borrows. That is no longer the case. Of course, any system that tries to lump drastically different book types together will end up unbalanced. Only those who have been rewarded by this new method are claiming “it’s finally fair.” Some of us are shocked that our highly-rated bestselling books are suddenly worthless in KU.

          My books succeed in every other metric besides the new KU payout. Others are reporting now that most of their income is coming from KU. It’s now a niche program, and yes, within that niche, reader engagement DOES matter. But if your books fall outside of that niche, you need to get out! Many short nonfiction books, children’s books, and others have no chance against 400 page fiction books in a pages-read competition.

          1. I don’t disagree with you in that its not about “quality of writing” and I agree that those who have made that argument are not thinking outside of their own genre. But that’s not what determines better in this scenario. “Better books” as far as KU is concerned, are books that drive subscription numbers. That is fiction novels. Especially genre fiction novels.

          2. I am sure that’s true on a general basis. While I have to pull my nonfiction books out, I can’t wait to put some fiction titles into KU. If you can’t beat them, join them. I’ve been eager to write fiction anyway.

          3. I’m actually not sure WHY Amazon thinks thats true, though, when Self-Help books are by far the top selling genre. Maybe Self-help doesn’t do as well in eBooks as it does in print. Maybe Self-published self-help doesn’t sell as much. I dunno.

          4. I’m more familiar with the ebook market, and fiction trounces nonfiction in sales. When my book was the #1 selling nonfiction book, it was only #11 overall because the top 10 were all fiction books! I think fiction kills nonfiction in overall sales, and I don’t think it’s close.

  14. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I was strictly KU for almost two years. Then I read a ton of posts from best-selling authors leaving KU and going wide. Finally I broke down and went wide. It’s only been three months and I’ve lost money. I’m not even sure if I’d make more if I went back to KU. My short reads are still in KU, but they’re only making pennies. The thing I suffer from is lack of visibility and getting lost in the endless sea of books. It’s difficult to figure out what to do based on what best-selling authors are doing because they don’t have that problem. I’m not sure what my next step is. The only thing I can count on is everything changing again in about six months. Gotta roll with the punches. What gets me through is remembering how incredible it is that I’m publishing books and people are reading them.

  15. Hugh,
    What is this Nook and other book shop business? Nobody shops there… Everyone shops at Amazon…this Amazon exclusivity thing, ya, so? like I said, no one shops anywhere else… Amazon is the place to be… Nook? what a joke! Anyone that doesn’t shop at Amazon is living under a big rock. Why shop anywhere else?

  16. Hi Mr. Hugh. I thoroughly enjoyed your article (as always) but I just want to ask if the rumors are true. Are you really under Amazon’s payroll? Do you have a working agreement with them that you’ll serve as their unofficial spokesperson, much like the Subway Guy for Subway sandwiches? Please tell me it isn’t so, Mr. Huey… else my world will crumble…

    1. Hahaha! Is this what people are saying now? Awesome.

      Amazon pays me when I sell books, just like every other author. You can’t be a fanboy these days, I suppose. You can only be a shill. :)

  17. Having published my book at the end of May, I don’t have a lot of date to fall back on (that, and it’s my only full-length book). Having gone from borrow to page reads didn’t have much, if any, effect on me, either. I decided to go with the KU program as I don’t have a reader base and am mostly concerned with writing more works before I delve into the scary world of promotion and advertising.

    My big issue is with the lack of information. We used to be given borrows, but left in the dark as to page reads… now, it’s the opposite. I can see that people are reading my book, but can’t tell if they are finishing it or not, because I have no idea how many people borrowed it. Using the basic math example, I have no idea if my 1000 page reads of my 100 page book equals 100 people being completely satisfied and reading every page of my book, or 1000 disappointed souls having read the first page and given up.

    In the end, I’ve made money… and I like that aspect. Being in the dark as to HOW I made that money leaves me a bit on the confused side of things. I’m hoping, at a minimum, that the KU program will help me at least get my stuff out there so that it can do a little bit of pre-advertising for me.

    (now we just need Hugh to write up the perfect way to get reviews, and I’ll be completely set)

    Now I can run off and read the complete Beacon 23 series before I go to bed.

  18. I don’t think that the other retailers are bad so much as they aren’t as good as Amazon. Still, I made $20,335 on non-Amazon retailers like iBooks and B&N in May and a consistent $10K in other months so they must be doing something right. If I could be assured I’d make the same or more on Amazon by going exclusive, I might consider it, but a bird in the hand is worth holding onto. I have no assurance that I will do as well in KU as I do in wide distribution so it’s a risk I’m not willing to take at this time. In the future, I may reconsider if my sales on other retailers fall significantly.

    If Amazon could tell me my current stats, such as how many page reads I am getting now and what my KENP is for my books sold on Amazon, that might give me an idea of how well I would do in KU. They don’t share that kind of data with me so it would mean I would be going into KU blind. Why would I do that when I already make more on other retailers than most authors make on Amazon?

    KU may be good for many authors. It might be good for me, but I have no way of knowing unless I pull my books out of other retailers and go exclusive for 90 days. That’s a big risk for an uncertain payout.

    1. I didn’t know either. And I was making more than that at the other outlets combined. I wanted to know, so I told myself I’d try for 90 days. My income has nearly doubled. That means I’m reaching more readers as well.

      It’s a scary thing to try, for sure.

      1. Thanks for the ongoing stats, Hugh. I’ve put three of my titles back in KU and I’m seeing similar results. The rest of my works are still across multiple platforms, but as I see that slice of income pie getting smaller and smaller, part of me really wants to slide the rest of my catalog back to all-in status on Amazon.

      2. It kinda kills me to think that I’m losing money by not going exclusive to KU. If I had all my financial objectives for the year already accomplished, I might take a chance on it. I look on going exclusive into KU as a gamble. You should never gamble unless you can afford to lose the money you are betting with. As it currently stands, I can’t risk losing that extra $10 – $15K a month and I have to assume I would lose it. So I can’t go into KU until I’m able to lose it without feeling it.

        Still the option is open should I reach that point.

        1. you don’t have to try it with all your titles, try it with one title or series and see what happens.

    2. Just a quick tip – and I’m not advocating this, use it of your own free will – there IS a way to find out what your KENP is for a book without signing up (at least fully) with Kindle Select. I know, because I did it last night for one of our books.

      When you enroll a book in Kindle Select, you have three days to cancel that enrollment. Last night, I signed up a book (picked the wrong book by mistake cause it was 2am and I wasn’t thinking). I clicked on Promote and Advertise under Book Actions for that book on my Bookshelf, and I was taken to that book’s page “Promote your book on Amazon” page. Under the section marked “Earn royalties from the KDP Select Global Fund”, I *immediately* saw my KENP for that book. (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) v1.0: XXX).

      I then canceled the enrollment because I realized it was the wrong book. Again, I’m not advocating this because I don’t know what will happen if you do this over and over again for all your books just to get the KENP so you can crunch those numbers. But it IS possible to get that info WITHOUT signing up fully.

      1. I don’t know how people make money on KU. My novel has been there for almost three months now and nobody even opened it. Do you have any practical advice?

  19. Im really struggling to get my head round KU. My wife reads a lot, at least two books a month sometimes more if there books she just can’t put down. But she tends to buy from local charity shops, primarily because of the amount she reads. She wouldn’t pay for KU, nor would I as I read too slowly compared to her. So I struggle to see the point. I’ve got a novel that’s nearly finished. I could split it into parts and put it on KU as I’m a new writer so it might be of benefit? But what happens if I then want to pull it back together and offer it in print versions for example? And what sort of numbers of people have actually signed up to KU? I could potentially release part 1 fairly quickly and see how it does while finishing tidying up the rest? For me at the moment I guess it’s not about income as I have a demanding full time job. So I think I’ve not really got anything to lose, but I’m not sure I really get KU at all!

    1. Many avid readers read a book a day. For them, KU makes a lot of sense.

    2. I don’t read as much as I used to, but I’m still reading 50 books a year. I used to read 150 every year, till we started popping out kids. My daughter has read 47 books this year so far. Some of those are 60 pages, but most of them are in the 200-300 page category. She’s 9. My wife reads about 40 books a year. My mom reads a lot more than me. Both of my sisters read two or three books a week when I was growing up. I can’t speak to their reading habits now. Many of my friends are posting about 30, 40 books a year on FB.

      There is a whole lot of people that read at least 1 book a week. And there are a whole lot of those people that read 2-3 books a week. The point being, there is a wide swath of America that would love to have access to a subscription service… provided that it included enough books they wanted to read. KU doesn’t yet for me.

  20. Hello Hugh,
    Is there a movie coming out of Wool? Can you provide details regarding this? That be cool if the movie make 1 Billion in the box office. One more thing, do you play Fallout games? Not that you have time for games, but I’m sure everyone can set aside one night a week to play a video game. That way people can appreciate that one night instead of playing every night.

  21. You hit on the main reason I’ve stayed exclusive to Amazon. All the other options are horrible. The idea of grinding through the tortuous process of adapting and uploading my work to four other formats that have worse visibility and support than Amazon in the hope someone might want to buy it makes no sense to me

  22. Ebook Itch
    JULY 4, 2015 AT 11:54 PM

    Do you like
    KU 2.0 and
    Kindle Select?

    We do not like them,
    Ebook Itch!

    Would you like
    per page rates
    here or there?

    We don’t like them

    Would you, could you,
    read your Kindle on a boat?

    We would not!
    Not on a train,
    Not in the rain.
    We’re done with
    Bezos and his game!

    You do not like them,
    you say?
    Have you even seen
    the numbers yet?
    What if the PPRC
    was even higher,
    as “at least…”

    Ebook Itch, if you let us be,
    we’ll wait til August 15th and see.
    We will try it and you will see
    it’s crazy to pay per page read!

    [Time passes.]

    This KU 2.0
    is not so bad.
    In fact, it’s very
    not bad indeed.

    Wait, we need
    to improve our
    craft. We’ll be
    right back and
    spread the cheer,
    when KU 3.0 is here!

    We will love KU in our houses
    and with our spouses,
    we will love KU here,
    there and everywhere!

    [RIP Dr. Seuss…]

  23. It’s possible I would have never read any of your work if I hadn’t signed up for KU. I know of at least 3 people who’ve bought WOOL just because of me.

    1. Thanks, Bruce. And your identity is safe with me.

      1. Bahahaha – I love that Hugh tossed that gem in the mix

  24. Phyllis Humphrey Avatar
    Phyllis Humphrey

    Thanks for another great, information-filled article. You are a true friend to struggling writers.

  25. But if you put a book in KU, you can’t make it a permafree aa a lead magnet for the rest of the series. That’s a problem.

    1. I’m not sure permafree is as powerful on Amazon as it used to be. On iTunes, it still seems to work very well. But not so much on KDP. Just my sense.

      1. Having my first book be permafree on Amazon has resulted in over 40,000 copies downloaded – and over 2,500 copies of the second book sold at full price. And yes, for you data miners like Hugh, I can point directly to the number of sales of book 2 spiking and then remaining much higher after the book when permafree.

        I can’t say it will work for everyone, but making the first one free damned sure worked for me!

  26. Thank you so much for posting this. I love this post to absolute pieces!!

  27. The IRS allows you to deduct the interest on fundings that qualify as home acquisition financial obligation.

    1. ….and now back to our regularly scheduled programming.

  28. I’m a brand new author with a memoir about to be released in a few weeks. I decided to give KU a try, even though my book isn’t the most sought after genre, but I think it may give it more of a push. I like that I have 90 days to decide if I want to remain in the program, especially since, as a new author, I need to try a lot of things to see where the right ‘fit’ is with my audience.

  29. Your blog post proves nothing: only that Amazon is more patient than you because it has deeper pockets.

    The truth is that the authors who rely exclusively on Amazon are no more independant ones. Worse, Kindle Unlimited isn’t sustainable: it is subdisized by Amazon’s other more profitable activities.

    Authors like you, Hugh, are becoming subsidized authors for the ebooks borrowed through KU. There is not any economical reality behind KU, other than a scheme by Amazon to get rid of its competition.

    Just think about it: an ebook borrowed in KU is more visible than an ebook simply bought, because the borrowed book doesn’t have to be read to count as a sale, and the KU subscribers will download many more ebooks for a lower price.

    How is this fair? It should be the contrary. Amazon has flawed its own system, in an attempt to destroy its competition.

    Authors who opt to KDP Select are favoring a system that favors subscriptions over sales. They are helping Amazon lower their revenue in the long term. They are becoming dependant on a system that is not sustainable by itself, that is used as a loss leader by Jeff Bezos.

    It’s sheer madness. As Selena Kitt put it on Joe’s blog, it’s cannibalism.

    1. I don’t trust reasoning with this much hyperbole. The sky is not falling. People are going to continue to read until the end of time. I wrote some works that people seem to enjoy reading. There will aways be ways for me to monetize those works and meet that demand. I own the works, which means I can move them as the middlemen shuffle and experiment with ways to connect readers and writers. Why panic? What’s the point of all this noise and talk of “madness” and “cannibalization?” That sort of hyperbole is not useful.

      What’s the best way for me to reach the most amount of readers today? The answer, for my works, is Amazon. Let’s say that changes in ten years. I still own my works. I do something different.

      I believe I could make a living without the help of a retailer. I could entertain enough people on social media sites to cobble together 1,000 fans. I could then sell stories direct, or read my stories on YouTube and monetize that channel (which authors have done successfully). I could start a serialized newsletter epic saga. I could ask for donations and publish short stories for free. There are hundreds of ways I could approach being a storyteller and trying to earn a living doing so. None of them are easy. It’s never been easy. But we should look for the easiest way TODAY. And that’s Amazon.

      Why people deny this, or rail against it, or worry about what an unknowable landscape ten years from now will look like, is all beyond me. I leave that to the pessimists, the worriers, and the rabble-rousers. I’m here to have a good time, doing something I love, and sharing the results with those who have similar aims.

      1. To your point, Hugh… you’re established. Your audience will follow you. It is ridiculously easy to set up a paid download site. If Amazon conquers the publishing universe and decides to screw with everybody, including content creators… you’ll be fine. You can throw out a virtual shingle and your audience will follow. At least, enough of them. And audience I might add, you wouldn’t have had without Amazon to begin with.

        But what about those who aren’t established. What if Amazon conquers the publishing universe and screws over content creators? Well, I guess writers will be no better off than they were… before Amazon. When you had a better chance of being a professional baseball player than a published fiction novelist.

        In the meantime, the combination of Amazon, the Kindle and social networking have given writers of all stripes an amazing capacity to build an audience that they’ve never had before.

        1. I feel the same way. My company wouldn’t exist without Amazon. I’d never have published my first book — New York wouldn’t have looked at it, because zombies have been done to death (so to speak). Does that mean I’m a fan of everything they do? No, certainly not.

          But it does mean that I’m going to continue publishing through Amazon — where we sell 89% of our books — until it doesn’t make sense to do so anymore. Hopefully, we’ll be big enough by that point to sustain ourselves through other means. If not, we’ll adapt. Worst case, we still sell books through our website, as we do now. But we’re taking the tiger by the tail and holding on for dear life for as long as we can, because Amazon is where the readers are.

        2. I love the “you’re established” argument.

          Bollocks. I wasn’t always established. I established myself selling POD books outside of Starbucks and at trade shows. I got my friends and family hooked on my stories, and then co-workers at my university, and then members of my writing groups. I sold a few thousand books the hard way, and I had rabid fans form in that initial group. I spoke at schools and had kids hounding me on when the next book was coming out.

          To make it as an entertainer, you need persistence, talent, and luck. And they rank in that order. I was going to make it as a storyteller with or without Amazon. Amazon just made it easier and more lucrative. But they didn’t make it go from impossible to possible.

          1. Hmmm… I think you may have missed my point, which was simply that you already have an audience, and that audience will follow you if you ever feel the need to pull up stakes from Amazon. Not sure what you thought I was saying.

      2. Hugh, I noted the figure of the KU titles yesterday: it was 975,049. A few hours ago, it was 972,785. That’s 2264 less. In less than 24 hours.

        Why do think so many authors leave KU? Because they have already been hurt by the changes Amazon introduced. So, it’s not worrying “about what an unknowable landscape ten years from now will look like”: it’s the present.

        The authors leaving also know the rules are much more variable with KU: there is no fixed price, what you get by borrow depends upon the number of page reads, the number of different titles, and the money Amazon pours.

        You don’t want to build your house on a shifting ground.

        I don’t think we should look for the easiest way today. I think we should prepare for the future, even if it’s more complicated. It’s only when the competition will become much more healthier than now, that more and more authors will be able to make a living on writing.

        Yes subscription services are good for the readers and will definitely stay. But Amazon shouldn’t favor so much a subscription service. It is definitely not good for the authors’ future.

        1. Why do I think they are leaving KU? Because they are having enormous success, and their readers are clamoring for these books to be on other outlets, so the authors are experimenting with publishing widely.

          Why do you think they are leaving KU? Are you using your biases to fill in the blanks and buttress your biases? Without hard data from these authors, we are both guessing, aren’t we? You aren’t going to persuade me that way, though you might persuade yourself. ;)

          1. Hugh, putting these figures aside, even you must acknowledge that previously, we had a system that was clear: a sale was a sale. Now, you have to use a complicated formula to establish what a borrow (and a page read) is worth in a given month.

            The more the system becomes obfuscated, the more the authors run the risk of being screwed.

            Besides, a borrow shouldn’t weigh as much as a sale. It’s unfair to the authors who are not on KU because they want to protect competition and keep a free market. It’s a monopolist strategy on Amazon’s part.

            On Spotify, when a track is listened, does it weigh as much as if the MP3 had been sold?

  30. If I may ..
    I would like to jump in here to offer the opinion/experience of a reader only, not a writer, of KU. I read prodigiously, sometimes two books a day, as I am cursed with a speed reading ability. I had exhausted the library’s selections of what interested me, and yet I was reluctant to buy books on Amazon from writers with whom I was not familiar, since that would be a money pit loss (not to mention the storage issue!). Since I can easily read 20-30 books a month, at the top end it was going to cost me 50 cents a book, or only 33 cents if I maxed out one a day, KU certainly seemed viable.
    Now, I had never heard of Mr. Howey, no idea what he wrote, and under ordinary circumstances if I had to weigh the cost a book over a possible disenchantment, I would still not know about him. But there he was, listed on KU, and I figured what the heck! 50 cents to try.
    I am now reading everything he’s written. I will recommend the Silo series to fellow readers I know in person, and I may even feel inclined to add hard copies to my library for the kids to inherit. In every way, the chance that KU offers the reader to sift through so much material without a huge price is its redeeming feature to a reader. As writers, remember, what you’re writing today will make you money, true, but as Mr. Howey understands, now I am reading EVERY PAGE he’s ever written and made available here. I am pretty sure I would not have found him under any other circumstances, as few of my friends and relatives are as well-read as I am.
    Glad that I found this, and I appreciate the opportunity given to share.

    1. Thanks for weighing in! We so rarely hear from readers, and your experience, magnified by millions, is what is creating all these awesome changes.

  31. Some things that a lot of commenters, both here and elsewhere, seem to be forgetting:

    1. Enrollment in Kindle Select (and thus KU) is not permanent. It’s in 90-day increments. Try it. Use the promotional tools (I recommend two separate free days). If you don’t like it, opt out, and click the “Put this back on sale” button on Nook Press, Kobo, iTunes, and elsewhere.

    2. KU 2.0 pays for pages read. KU 1.0 paid per book downloaded. In both cases, it costs the author NOTHING (leaving aside *for the moment* any potential loss from other sources). This is FREE MONEY. How is this a bad thing, either way?

    3. On exclusivity, with some real numbers for the dataheads:

    One of our books (“Lunch With Charlotte”) has been in KU 1.0 for over a year, because in the years prior it sold just 3% outside Amazon. It has done decently in KU 1.0, equaling the amount it made in the previous years outside Amazon. In July 2015, with KU 2.0 and using the free day promotions back to back, this book has more than tripled all of its non-Amazon income since being published, combined. And that’s just KU. Sales *at full price* of the book were TWELVE TIMES the average of the prior 30 months. We grossed nearly $1,000 on the sales of that book in July, with 7,451 copies downloaded free, 80 sold at full price ($4.99), and 125,853 KENP read.

    Even discounting the astounding income THAT DIDN’T COST US A DIME, more than 7,500 readers read the book (or at least part of it). For an industry that lives and dies on discoverability, that is HUGE.

    To sum up, at least for this book, KU 2.0 was exceptionally successful, and the book will remain in KU for the forseeable future.

    4. On Equatability: I’ve seen a lot of people say quality of writing/production/content makes no difference in this discussion. Believe what you will, but when anyone picks up a book and likes it, they keep reading it. If they don’t like it, they put it down. True, it’s subjective to the reader’s POV, but generally speaking, the better the book, the more pages read. With KU 2.0, the more pages read, the more money you get. Logically, that means the better the book, the more money you make.

    Yes, it means that authors who write primarily in short form will make less than those who don’t – leaving aside outliers like Hugh. But this has ever been the case with short stories vs longer works. Short stories have NEVER made as much money — for ANYONE — as novels have. Does KU 2.0 mean short-form authors have to work harder? Sure. But no harder than a novelist.(1) 100,000 words is 100,000 words, whether it’s in 10 volumes or one. The gravy train for short-form authors is over: the playing field has been leveled.

    Does that suck for authors who were making the same for a 1,500-word book as those who wrote a 400-PAGE book? Yes, sure it does. But I can’t be sympathetic to someone who lucked out and is now complaining that their luck ran out.

    And, for what it’s worth, 3 times as many of my own works are short stories vs novels. So I know whereof I speak.

    4. It’s not for everyone. No one is saying it is. It works better for some than for others. Some of the things I’ve heard supporters of one side or another say to each other are just ridiculous. You do you, and let everyone else do them. You’ll be fine. I promise.

    1. I know some authors write faster than others. This is not the fault of the faster author.

  32. Hugh,

    I mentioned you in the KDP forums General Questions. I think we are all curious.

  33. Tobias V. Langhoff Avatar
    Tobias V. Langhoff

    I would love to subscrib to Kindle Unlimited, but unfortunately it’s not available in my country (even though we don’t have our own Amazon web storefront and just use My Kindle is filled to the brim with samples; I’m sure I would have downloaded most of them as full books from KU instead if applicable.

  34. I’m about to start what I think will be the last draft of my first novel and I’m starting to make the time to figure out the new world of online publishing. I don’t know much at all about the ins and outs of what most of the commenters, and Hugh, seem to know at a deep level. Would someone post a few links to explanations of the ways to publish on Amazon? And perhaps a few on the other e-publishing outlets. I’ve read a few articles and most of Hugh’s related blog posts and a couple of the author’s earning reports, but they seem to be written for those that are well past the beginner’s hoops. Thanks for any sources.

  35. Mid 2014 our first book went up…wide. This was followed by a short story and another full novel in the beginning of this year. They sold a few, and mostly on Amazon, but we stuck with wide because we were looking at the long game and KU1 didn’t sit well with us.

    Then KU2 came out. Since we could count the number of books sold at other retailers on our shared fingers, it was time to try something else.

    The ranking for book 1 went from mid-high 5 with forays into 6 figures down to 4. The second went from mid-high 5 with forays into 6 figures down to riding the cusp of 4 and 5. Page reads are running 6-14k a day and the increased visibility adds sales as well. This is just in the last 7 days. We have gone from occasional dinner money to a a minimum wage job income stream. With new releases just around the corner it will only get better.

    We are in until it makes sense to find another basket.

    1. That’s the crux of it for me. Sure, I can find anti-Amazon readers on other platforms, who’ve gone that route for whatever reason, be it philosophical or otherwise. I can find, on average 11% of readers on those other outlets.

      Or I can increase my sales (and thus my readership) 1,200% by making a title Amazon exclusive. More readers = more of my other books sold, too. We publish several series, and this is vital for building a readership base.

      Will it work for everyone? No. And again, for various reasons, philosophical or otherwise. But for me and my 23 authors, we’re going to look at this VERY closely, because we want more readers. And they’re reading on Amazon, like it or not.

  36. Abigail Forester Avatar
    Abigail Forester

    I dabble in writing, but am a voracious reader! I was skeptical about eReaders, but decided to try the 30-day free trial for Kindle Unlimited, because I could use the Kindle App on my cellphone. Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve become a HUGE KU fan! After reading an eBook, I get this nifty list of suggested books and from those suggested books I’ve discovered authors I’ve never heard of…and…many of those authors don’t have books in my local library…I feel like a whole new literary world has opened up for me! I love KU so much that I just purchased an actual Kindle Paperwhite eReader, because I do so much reading that it uses up too much of my cellphone battery life LOL! I truly hope KU continues to expand! (Also…I used to collect books, but as I get older, I’ve become more of a minimalist and have slowly donated the many books taking up space at home. I was just using the public library to find reading material…didn’t want to spend so much money on hard copies that take up too much space anyway, lol, so this is the perfect alternative)

  37. Hi Hugh, Thanks for yet another well-reasoned and informative blog post. Having read all of the comments above, it seems to me the factors that will determine the bottom line with respect to KU for authors are (a) the ratio of selling price to KENP (i.e the royalty per page for a sale), and (b) the per page KU payout going forward. A book that sells for a high price (like $5.99) and has only 100 pages will not fare well in KU. I have just one novel in KU at the moment. It has 483 KENPages producing a KU payout of $2.79 per complete book read. I receive $2.73 in royalty for a sale. But I’m sure the KU payout will decrease in the coming months as more authors sign up to KU. Incidentally, I’ve also noticed that my sales of the book have dropped by exactly the number of KU borrows since I enrolled it in KU.

    I’m wondering what the KENP of your novels are. Your prices are hardly bargain basement!

  38. Thanks for the information that has helped me understand my options!

  39. I’m in the same boat as many here: I have objections to Amazon becoming the all-powerful dictator of the industry and to exclusivity, but, gee, it’d sure be nice to sell some books, too. Thanks, Hugh, for this article, which has started me thinking.

    Points I’m considering:
    1. Obviously, I’m against giving all the ebook power to one retailer, no matter how nice their product, or how good their business savvy. I’m also against making my own work only available to their customers and not to others.
    2. When the whole “pay per page” thing first came out, my first reaction was, “Amazon’s cheaping out on us again.” And that hasn’t changed in my mind. I assume they’re making a killing and passing the loose coins onto us, the sacrificial writers.

    On the other hand:
    1. The subscription service buffet is a nice way for readers to experiment on authors and books they might not otherwise give a try.
    2. Some of my books just don’t seem to sell well, no matter how many retailers I have them on, most notably the shorter works. And, yes, Amazon sells more than all the others combined. Only one month did I sell more on B&N than on Amazon.

    So between my conscience, my feeble sense of business, and my need for exposure, here’s the compromise I’ve come up with during my read here:
    I think I’ll pull some of my shorter books that don’t sell well anyway, and throw them up exclusively on KU for a little while and see how they do. The shorter page counts won’t yield much raw income, but maybe they’ll serve as “free samples” that will drive readers toward my full-length books, which they can purchase for a full-book price rather than fractional cents per page. And I’ll leave these primary books non-exclusive (which do sell, at least a little, with other retailers) so I’m not cutting out non-Amazon customers and I’m not willingly handing one company the fate of the universe.

    A good compromise for me, and a fun experiment to see how things change.
    Thanks again, Hugh, and everyone else who’s chimed in!

  40. As a former traditionally published author, and a current Independently published author, I have listened to everyone’s praises and moans about Amazon, the 800 pound gorilla. For those who have never been traditionally published, understand one important thing: Amazon is much, much better to deal with than were (are) the traditionally publishers, unless of course you have several mega-hits with them. Amazon also offers a much better royalty system.

    I have most of my novels, especially the sci-fi & Fantasy novels on KDP Select and in the KU program. One month of sales on Amazon is usually equal six months of sales on all other websites combined. This article, and Mr. Howey is 100% right on!

  41. As an author, I don’t mind KU … money’s up from it and I’m only a q-list writer in a very niche genre. I have some problems with the technical side of it, from some problems that Amazon refuses to address, and I dislike that Amazon had to look in on readers to see how far they read to determine that payment (I often delete a book after I finish it, since I have loads on my Kindle at any one time and I rarely sync the device; does someone doing that with a loan mean we don’t get paid?).

    I also wish that Amazon would give us some data on the actual number of subscribers, and particularly continuing subscribers.

    As a reader, I’ve been in KU for three non-consecutive months. I don’t look for individual authors -EVER; it’s the subject matter and genre of a book that matters. All the writers that matter to me are either dead and I already have everything they wrote, or already very accessible. I only join KU when I see enough books available that would warrant the price of the subscription rather than buying them outright; if I happen to be in a conspiracy-genre mood or want to read a mess o’ hard sci-fi, or what not, then I might sign up. There’s not nearly enough of the books I like to read in it to make me do it month-to-month. The number of free books and 99-centers available work against that every single month.

    Amazon’s really the only game in town no matter what. It’s their rules if you wanna play. Right now, it’s a good game. It could be a lot worse.

  42. I was googling another matter with Amazon and found this thread which is very interesting. I did the free trial for KU about 8 months ago and thought I would cancel but I love it! I was a monthly subscriber but renewed for a year via the July Prime Day special prepayment. I’m an avid reader and an avid amazon shopper. I just wasn’t an avid ebook reader even though I had been gifted a kindle several years back that I used occasionally. Last year prime no rush shipping credits could be used on physical books so I never used them on ebooks. Amazon changed that to only ebooks so I slowly adapted. I have a regular kindle and the app on my iPad and iPhone.

    What I liked about KU was finding new authors. I would be willing to take a chance on a new author. At least 50% of the time I do not finish the KU book I started but when I do find one I like, I go all out. For example I found one independent author and even though she had one book free and one book in KU, I clicked on the KU book. Loved it, and then proceeded to buy at least 10 of her other books (as well as the free one). Many authors I have purchased I found via KU. Because of the ten book limit, I am always trying to finish a KU book first vs a freebie one in my library because of the limit. I will admit only rarely do I buy the KU book I read.

    I am also an unusual customer because I am a heavy shopper on amazon and because I have to purchase items for my home business, I usually amass between $30-50 in ebook/mp3 credits a month from slow shipping. I now use most for books, some for music, none for video.

    I have noticed in the past few weeks more books/authors I like on KU. I read primarily romance/chick lit. For example one author I read her first book (of trilogy on KU) but the other books were 3.99. I liked the book but thought about just purchasing the last one (skipping the second) to save money but then realized the entire trilogy is now in KU. Yay for me. Another author who I found via KU, I bought her first book of a new trilogy for 99 cents, finally read it and noticed the entire trilogy was now available in one book on KU (over 1000 pages). Another yay! I have noticed this trend of trilogy books being available on KU and now I know why! I feel there are already less really short 20-40 page fragmented series which I couldn’t stand. I prefer one long read of the same story.

    The issue I was googling about was the digital shipping credits (which I love). Up until mid-late July (last day it worked for me) I could use the digital credits on any ebook by any publisher including random house, simon and schuster, macmillan etc…Many times the publisher’s books were 5.99-7.99, a couple 9.99 vs the 2.99-4.99 range of the independent authors I purchased so even $50 in credits was used up pretty fast. That changed and now I can only use the digital credits on books sold by Amazon (basically independents). I had credits expiring July 31 and had to quickly make a purchase. I ended up buying entire books in two different series (7 books total–none of them KU) even though I normally would buy one book, read it, then decide to continue. I had to make the choice after only reading the sample in the first book of each series. First I am very happy about getting “free” via prime credits independent author’s ebooks, but since I can’t use the credits on traditional books, I’ve already hesitated on a couple purchases. I wonder if this change could also be increasing sales of independent authors. I’m not sure how much amazon gives out in digital credits each month or if that is a factor.

    Okay that’s my two cents from a reader and avid KU user perspective. Overall I am happy for the change in the genres I read.

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