I was asked a question on Goodreads about KU. This reader heard different things from different authors about whether or not it was good for authors. She wanted to make sure she was supporting us the best way she could, and she’d cancelled her KU subscription because she’d heard that it was screwing us. I wanted to share my answer to that more broadly…and that answer is, NO, it’s not. Not yet.
Kindle Unlimited is, right now, the best way for me to get a big piece of the pie. I say “right now” because of course Amazon can and does change the rules we play by all the time… The “borrow rate” varies from month to month, but lately I get around $1.33 to $1.50 for each book borrowed (if you read 10% or more, which your Kindle/Kindle app reports back to the ‘zon). And while I’d get around $2.80 for a $3.99 book, the fact is that more people are using KU and borrowing than buying now. So the borrowers aren’t cannibalizing my sales – they’re people who couldn’t afford to buy all the books they want to read, but will borrow on an “all you can read” basis. So the added volume in borrows more than makes up for the diminished royalty on sales.
I think some authors don’t understand that a borrow isn’t a “lost sale” – there are a LOT of readers out there with very limited amounts to spend on books, and for them, KU is a godsend. And, if they like one of my titles…they can turn right around and borrow 24 more 🙂 So again, I get a big boost in volume, because people will take more risks on a book that costs “nothing” than they will on one that costs $2.99 or $3.99. They would *never* read some of my stuff if they had to pay list price. I “lose” $2.80 in royalties on a novel, but two borrows makes up for one lost sale. I used to get upset about pirate sites, thinking, that’s a “lost sale,” but no…the kind of people who pirate books were never planning on buying them in the first place. It’s not a zero sum game where people are borrowing what they would have bought.
Also, borrows count the same as sales towards my books’ sales rank, so the rank goes up, which exposes more people to it, which equals more sales from people who don’t have KU.
It was a no-brainer to have my books exclusive to Amazon, which you have to do to be in KU. I always had 90% or more of my income from Amazon anyway. Most of my stuff, even my romances, was banned on Apple Store, because they are the worst prudes in the world, worse than Amazon – I mean, they banned “A Little Too Broken” for fuck’s sake! For authors who get enough money on Apple, AllRomanceEbooks, even Nook or Kobo, it may not be worth ditching them all for Amazon.
For some authors, who only write novels, the program can be advantageous, but not as advantageous as it is for someone like me who writes novels AND shorts. I’ve moved back into erotic shorts because Amazon’s math is crazy. For a 4k word, .99 list price story, I get .35 a sale…but $1.33 a borrow. For a 80k word novel, at $3.99, I get $2.80 a sale…but also, $1.33 a borrow… But, nobody is stopping any other writer from writing shorts, too. Mine are successful because I just happen to be very good at them 🙂
How is this possible? Isn’t this crazy math? How can Amazon sustain a model where I’m making more on a single stepfucker short story than I am on a novel? Aren’t they taking a loss on this program?
Hell yeah, they are, but I’ve pretty much figured out the three reasons that Lord Bezos is willing to take a loss on it.
- Crush your enemies, see them driven before you! He wants to push other ebook retailers out of business, and by getting more and more popular authors to go exclusive with Amazon, he drives more and more ebook buyers to Amazon.
- One Site to Rule Them All. If KU makes Amazon a “stickier” site, if it gets book borrowers to buy more stuff, especially more stuff with higher profit margins, it’s worth it to Beezie to take the loss he’s taking by paying us so much money for borrows. As my Goodreads questioner noted herself, “Amazon gets plenty of my money on lots of other sh*t.” Paying me more money every month is chump change to Amazon if it keeps that happening.
- The propaganda value to Lord B. Amazon takes a rap for driving small bookstores out of business, and when Bezos answered a question about that in an interview recently (paywalled), he immediately pointed to all the “small businesses” that Amazon was creating in the form of self-published authors. The propaganda value of making us well-off through KU is worth SOLID GOLD BY THE TON in terms of good publicity for Amazon.
So I guess the last question would be, does this make Brad Vance a Bad Person, because he’s “enabling” Amazon to do this? Your call. I know that I would not be able to do this full time, and support my charities at the level I’ve been doing, if I wasn’t bringing in this level of income from Amazon. I know that I’m making new fans, and that those fans have access to my entire catalog. Also? This is a business. And some business fail and some thrive. Businesses that don’t adapt, fail.
So I would say, renew your subscription 🙂 All this may change in the future and Amazon may start screwing us, but for now, it’s great for me.