Is Kindle Unlimited Worthwhile For Self-Publishing Authors?
Is Amazon Kindle Unlimited worth it for authors? After twelve months, I probably have to say thank you, but no.
Like all new ideas, it takes time to decide whether it works. But after trying it, here is my Kindle Unlimited review from a self-publishing author’s perspective.
Does Kindle Unlimited fairly reward authors? The answer depends on many factors, so there is no way I can give a definitive yes or no.
Kindle Unlimited (KU) uses the KENPC page reads scale to calculate the royalty Amazon pays to authors. I have to say that compared to a regular ebook sale, the return is quite modest.
The Kindle Unlimited library of cheap reads
The fundamental problem I have with KU is that it undervalues the price of an ebook.
If a reader completes a whole ebook, the return is approximately fifty-percent or even less than a standard ebook sale.
Avid KU readers have unlimited access to so many ebooks per month.
Of course, they can save a lot of money by reading from the selection of one million books or more that are available to them.
Yes, it’s a great deal for avid readers with a Kindle device or app.
But what about a self-published author?
For an ebook that retails at $3.99, the return to an indie author for a full read on KENPC is around $1.35.
Also, keep in mind that this return can vary each month.
It depends on how much money Amazon allocates to the KDP Select Global Fund for KU.
All of this means that Amazon will heavily discount your ebook.
How readers use KU
So many of the page reads I obtained were for only a few pages of a Kindle book.
You might think readers could easily have read these few pages for free in the preview or with Prime reading.
But KU has over a million titles. For a KU reader, it is easier to flit from one book to another and take a quick bite before deciding to read on.
Quite honestly, can you give back a hamburger after two bites and only pay for what you ate?
From my experience, having my books included in KU was not too dissimilar to offering free ebooks.
But then again, I suppose I have to add some balance here. I got paid a tiny royalty payment for those few pages that could have been read for free.
Do you want real ebook sales?
Amazon has over a million ebooks available for its Kindle Unlimited subscription service of $9.99 per month.
There is also a 30-day free trial period, so it is as close to free access to as many ebooks as one can try.
A few pages here, a few pages there, until a reader finds a book they like.
As an author, I have to say no to this pick and choose because I can, way of reading ebooks. But I might be old-fashioned in my thinking.
A reader has plenty of opportunities to assess an ebook before purchasing through reviews and preview reads.
Buying an ebook should not be a try-before-you-buy or take-one-bite experience.
I’m sorry, but if a reader wants to read one of my ebooks, paying for it on the Amazon Kindle Store is the customary way to reward my efforts.
From this, you will understand why I exited KDP Select and Amazon exclusivity and returned all my ebooks to open publishing.
If Amazon gave me a choice to opt out of Kindle Unlimited but stay in KDP Select, I might have taken a different approach.
But clearly, Amazon needs cheap KU ebooks for avid readers.
I said goodbye
Kindle Unlimited is great for a voracious reader who likes to read on the cheap. But for an author, I’m still not sure it’s such a great deal.
I said goodbye to KDP Select and returned to open publishing on all available retailers.
It took a couple of months to get all my ebooks out of Amazon exclusivity. But it was heartening to see that there were still real ebook sales from Amazon.
I saw some sales again after a slow restart for my ebooks that I returned to being available through Draft2Digital on Apple B&N, Kobo, and others.
Thank you, Kindle Unlimited, it was nice knowing you, but you were not my cup of tea.
But it is not so simple
For authors, there is no perfect world. In fact, book publishing is always a very tough business.
The ebook market is over-supplied, and sales are much harder to get compared to a few years ago.
It applies not only to self-publishers but traditional publishers as well.
I am sure you have noticed that some big publishers now have titles available in KU. It is a sign of the times.
Sometimes you have to bow to market forces and go where the market is most active.
If you are not getting a lot of regular ebook sales, is it worth accepting that the smaller return from Kindle Unlimited is the best bet right now?
Is Kindle Unlimited worth it? It’s a difficult decision. But it is one that authors, including me, will have to make.
Perhaps, for now, I have only said au revoir to KU instead of a definite goodbye.
Further reading: Kindle Unlimited Has A Problem – It Can’t Count
15 thoughts on “Is Kindle Unlimited Worthwhile For Self-Publishing Authors?”
I write high-action, suspense stories. Once I had published about 10 (300-400-page) novels, I started to earn enough money to supplement my retirement income. I publish my ebooks for Kindle, exclusive to Amazon, and I put my ebooks in KU. About 10% of my income comes from sales and 90% comes from pages read. As long as I write good page turners, I can’t complain about my earnings.
Thanks for the update. Hard to find much news on the Kindle Unlimited and Amazon outside the wave of get rich schemes from con artist these days. I put a lot of thought into it and expected as much. The market has been crushed by a flood of cheap and readers are willing to pay much of anything right now.
I once was exclusive with a Publisher. The Publisher decided to list all titles available on KU. This 6 month test reduced royalties by 56% from previous 6 months. They decided to exit program. Now I self publish almost exclusively. New work and rights regained work. Regained work exclusively published on KU and 2 year old work KU listed. It’s not because I’m greedy that I offer new work for $3.99 it’s just economics. On my last published work 5/1 book 4 in series it cost me $900 to publish and if it were KU after tax adjustment I would need 1206.5 KU full reads before I made a penny. I need the revenue from each new book to pay production costs on on the next one. With Amazon paying like they do the quickest I can publish is once every 4 months without going out of pocket. At $3.99 on Amazon I have to sell 703 ebooks before I make a penny above production and tax expenses…..and I have to do that within 60 days to pay for the next one. So for me, it’s not an option to be exclusive KU. Maybe as I grow my readership it would make sense…and I would love to be rewarded with bonus KU royalty incentives but right now I have to write and publish. Best Wishes
Thank you for this article. It was very helpful. I’ve recently gone wide with the two books I’ve independently published. Once you realize that Amazon (KDP) considers authors suppliers, not customers, you have a better understanding of why they do what they do. The customer is king at Amazon, the supplier, not so much. Also, I find D2D much more user friendly and customer focused. At D2D the author is the customer. Amazon (KDP) needs some competition and D2D and other book distributors are giving it to them. That being said, every author must make their own decision.
Wow, that was mean spirited. KDPS isn’t for everyone, with good reason.
You are a writer so I put over a table a couple of things to think about:
– have auto-critic.
– are you like Prince or George Michael fighting against platforms?
– a teenage will think that he can create a musical band and he will be freddy mercury and HE WILL BE that sort of god for so many people. Now… what the teenager doesn’t know is that the owners of the audiences, distribution channels aka scenarios, stadium contracts, and the owners of the “know how” to handle those contracts and put amazing girls in your videos, handle MTV and many other things… is not Freddy or George michael, but Sony, Warner, etc. They have the knowledge, they have the territory and they defend it, they fight anybody else trying to take the pie from them.
– Freddy is just a component, of course the artistic ego will make you believe you are the center of the universe, not knowing about the software technology needed to run amazon, not understanding that you need to pay 100k dollars per year to each software developer or it goes to Microsoft, Google, IBM, etc. And you don’t know about marketing, distribution channels and a billion things.
– Freddy kept the love of his fans.
– At the same time, you are not as exclusive as you think, there are thousands of writers in worst economies waiting for a penny to eat.
– that is what you are.
– Now… before subscriptions, writers could cash the “value of pages sold never read”, which generated a HUGE problem for the user which is having 10 books and reading 1. Of course you were very happy, more happy than anybody because that meant that 9 out of 10 of your sales were made by consumerism and people that bought into your marketing and wanted to read but actually the “human reading capacity” was not there. There wasn’t an actual person with free time and willingness to actually read your book. That “detail” did not existed.
– Amazon is the most customer centric company of the world, it’s their slogan, and now they handle the billion complexities behind this world to make things better to his audience and protect their customers giving them a change of paying for the material that actually transforms their own lives for better.
– Some people don’t like it. Well… when Uber appeared many taxi drivers got angry, but the industry was more democratic where anybody can drive even if they make less money than a taxi driver before.
I’m adding my two cents with the only purpose of making people think :)
For me, though I am just starting out, it is worth it, yet. but time will tell I think…. ;)
But a reader can do this without KU, by checking out a few pages on the preview then not buying it and you get 00.00$ ( you can do this at B&N site as well as Amazon, and I’m sure many others) It’s also the same in a bookstore. People can pick it up, read a few pages before deciding to buy or not. There’s very few times a reader will want to buy the book without at least seeing if it’s written well or something they think they might enjoy. A short summary isn’t always enough. This sounds like an issue with the way books are sold in general (to you) not KU, IMO.
Thanks for your insight on this, Derek. I’m bailing out of KDPS after a year and a half and will begin branching out to open publishing in time for my second book. Your discussion helped me with the decision to do so.
For longer works, the economics of KU are not that much different than ebooks on Amazon. I have a 450-page printed work that converts to 668 Kindle equivalent pages on KU, and at half-a-penny per page, the difference between selling a $4.99 ebook and having 668 pages read on KU is less than a dime. I’m happy with both distribution methods, but I can see how the inequity impacts shorter works.
I have also exited Amazon entirely for these same reasons. But the decline of ebooks goes back further to ‘free’. I know of no other product that that takes a year to produce which is then given away for free in the hope that the receiver will pay for something else. It’s retail madness at its best. And its not about the books, its about having free fodder for their Kindle sales. Writers have been thoroughly duped by Amazon – and hugely unfairly treated. I sell quite happily on B&N and Apple – and there’s no fuss. I’d rather that than go through the humiliating and restrictive rules and regulations of this ghastly monolith called Amazon. But good luck to those writers who are happy with it – or hanging in desperately waiting for the winds to change.
I’m very happy with amazon’s KU. I’m just happy about being able to publish my work all together. This is my success and amazon helped me with achieving my goal.
I have a lot to be thankful for. All I wanted was to be an author and this dream was finally realized a few years ago. Since then I haven’t looked back. I will be writing some more stories soon to publish them. It doesn’t take much for me to be happy.
I guess others have different goals in life. At first I wondered if being an author was going to make me wealthy, but I don’t think like that anymore. When I see a sale here and there it makes me happy that at least someone is reading my work.
Like everything else I get sales sometimes and sometimes I don’t, but no one can predict a sale from anywhere. When it does it will and if it doesn’t one day it will.
I know several other authors who have decided to ditch amazon exclusivity. If this becomes a trend, it will be interesting to see if amazon chooses to woo back departed authors.
Perhaps if your book was any good, people would read it. Just saying.
I agree 100%. I sold hundreds of a 100 page book on plotting and received (maybe) enough money for a Big Mac meal. I don’t understand the hoopla writers have about KU. As soon as my 90 day term expired, I exited, raised the price and have been selling 10 a month. I’d rather have the money than readers who chase the next best free thing.
Thanks for posting!
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