Kindle Unlimited: Enough of a reason to go exclusive with Amazon?

Kindle Unlimited


The answer to the question raised in the blog title is: No one knows yet.

For those unfamiliar with Kindle Direct Publishing (“KDP”), let me give you a little background.

KDP is the portal through which authors and publishers can upload digital books for distribution on Amazon. For the most part any rights holder can use it to make a book available to the world market.

Within KDP is a subset known as KDP Select.

kdp select


KDP Select requires an author to have an exclusive arrangement with Amazon for ninety days, and those ninety-day commitments renew automatically unless the author opts out of Select, which she can do whenever the next enrollment period approaches.

Many Indie authors have opted in and out of Select over time.

What are the advantages of Select?

Historically the big leverage Amazon had with Select was an author’s ability to run five free day promotions each ninety-day period his book was in the program.  Early on, a couple of years ago, free days produced a lot of downloads and gave a book a significant jump start which carried over when the book reverted to the paid store.  As  more and more free books glutted the market, the shine on “free” diminished, and many authors opted out of Select.

Then, Amazon added “Countdown deals” to the mix as an inducement for authors to join Select. A countdown deal is a time-specific period of  discounted pricing for a book, which, in theory, drives readers to purchase a book before the deal expires. Another benefit of the count down deal is that the author retains a full 70% royalty during the deal, even if the price of the book drops below the 70% royalty threshold of $2.99.

I have seen little data about how well countdown deals work, which makes me believe they haven’t produced stellar results for authors.

In the last few days, Amazon announced a new program for authors who are a part of KDP Select: Kindle Unlimited.

Kindle Unlimited is a subscription program that gives readers unlimited access to eBooks (and audiobooks) in the program in exchange for a monthly payment of $9.99. Several other subscription programs are available places other than Amazon, but Amazon has taken the concept to a new level.

What books are in Kindle Unlimited?  According to Amazon’s introductory material, 600,000 titles are in the program.  How those titles got in the program I don’t know, but I suspect they come from two sources:  Deals Amazon cut with certain publishers and books already in KDP Select.

For an Indie author that means the only way for her to get in the Kindle Unlimited door is to sign up for Select, which, of course, means she must go exclusive with Amazon for that particular book.

Amazon has created a pool of money out of which to pay royalties to authors for their books readers purchase through Kindle Unlimited.

But there is a kicker.

reading habits

The author only earns a royalty through Kindle Unlimited when a reader reads at least ten percent of the book.

No big deal, you say.

You would be wrong about that.

How far does an average reader go in a book before she stops reading?

About twenty pages.

How long is the average book on Kindle Unlimited?

I’m guessing at this, but I imagine it is around 60,000 words or so, which brings it in around 250 pages. Under the Kindle Unlimited formula, an author would not receive a royalty payment for such a book unless the reader completed twenty-five pages of it.  My guess is that at least eighty percent (80%) of books Kindle Unlimited customers download will never reach the 10% threshold, and authors of those books will receive no royalties for them.

If a book does make it across the 10% threshold, how much does the author receive? If she is an Indie author, she will receive the same payment as she would for a “borrow” in the Kindle Lending Library. That is a moving target, but usually amounts to about two dollars a crack.

What about Audiobooks?


acx logo

Amazon says Kindle Unlimited includes them.

Which ones?

A person does not upload audiobooks through KDP.

Rather audiobooks are created and uploaded through Audiobook Creation Exchange (“ACX”).

Since I have a dozen audiobooks live on Audible now, I have a high level of curiosity about what advantage, if any, going with Kindle Unlimited would create for me.

I talked with the folks at Amazon about this issue, and they said I would have to speak to the folks at ACX to get the details.  I called ACX and had a nice conversation.

“What audiobooks are going into Kindle Unlimited?” I asked.

“We’re not quite sure yet.”

“Does a book have to be in the Whisper Sync for Voice program to be included in Kindle Unlimited?”

“I’ll ask the people who are working on the program and get back to you,” she said.

“How much would I get paid for my audiobook if it is sold through Kindle Unlimited?”

She paused a minute.  “You’re not the first person to ask this question,” she said.

“That seems like a pretty fundamental issue,” I said.  “It would be nice to know  much money I would make on the sale of one of my audiobooks.”

She laughed an understanding laugh.

“Like I said.  You’re not the first person to ask the question.  I should have an answer for you by the end of next week when they finish ironing out the details.”

So here’s where I am with Kindle Unlimited right now.  I have at least one of my books I am considering putting in the program.  It is a book that has an audiobook version live on Audible, but that version is not part of the Whipersync for Voice program. I don’t know if signing up for Kindle Unlimited will put the book in the Unlimited audiobook pool or not or how much I would make on the book when it is downloaded.  Neither do I know if a listener will have to listen to at least 10% of the book before I receive a royalty.

Such unknowns make the current world of digital publishing hard to decipher, especially for Indie authors.

Can I get an amen?



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