Does Kindle Unlimited Pay Per Page Pay Authors Fairly?

Is KU Pay Per Page Read Fair For Authors

Kindle Unlimited Edition Normalized Page Count (KENP) pays between $0.004 and $0.005 per page. But does Kindle Unlimited pay-per-page give a viable return for authors?

If you are an author, your answer is probably going to be a resounding no.

However, the reality is that Kindle Unlimited (KU) is proving very popular with Kindle ebook readers.

So in all likelihood, ebook subscription services and cheap reading are now very much here to stay, fair or not.

Why buy an ebook?

The days of reading one book and buying and reading another are over.

Now it is as many books per month that you can read for $9.99 after a one-month free trial. (Update: The subscription price has increased to $11.99 as of May 2023.)

In fact, a KU subscription can cost even less.

The price is only $3.00 per month for Indian Kindle Unlimited subscribers.

It is an excellent bargain for avid readers who want to save money.

But will it mean that authors starve for an income as a result?

It’s not easy to compare pay-per-page reading income against selling a copy of an ebook.

This is because there is no way to know if a KU reader reads the whole Kindle book.

So income for authors can come from only a few pages of an ebook that are read.

But how is that calculated?


Pay per page read of 187 words

The only basis to use is that Amazon calculates an ebook page to be about 187 words.

This number was stated by Amazon a few years ago.

But any reference to it has now disappeared from its site.

The only way to calculate reasonably accurately now is to divide the total word count of a book by the number of pages Amazon shows on the Kindle ebook details page.

I just did a quick check on two of my ebooks.

The results were 174 and 188, so this number can vary slightly.

For every 1,000 pages read, authors get between $4.00 and $5.00, which equates to $0.004 and $0.005 per page.

On average, Amazon pays around $4.78 per 1,000 pages. (Update: KU royalty rates are falling well below this level now for many authors.)

With KENP, it doesn’t matter if the 1,000 pages were read by a couple of readers who finished the book or by 500 readers who only read a few pages.

It’s all about page reads per 30 days and not about books read per month.

Ultimately, it all boils down to the number of 187-word pages, not the number of fully-read books.

Quite simply, this means that getting more readers to read more pages is the only way to increase an author’s income from readers with a Kindle Unlimited membership subscription.

Then you can add Amazon Prime Reading to the menu, where Prime members can read an ebook for free every month.

Are the days of simply selling an ebook finished?


Comparison of KENP earnings to ebook sales

It’s a choice for authors to enroll their ebooks in Kindle Unlimited.

However, your royalty earnings will usually be less than you would earn for an ebook sale.

In particular, if you sell a short ebook for $0.99, the KENP return will be much less.

Here are two charts to give you an idea of the differences in earnings.

KENP Earnings by Ebook Word Count

The calculation of the earnings in the chart above is based on an ebook word count divided by 187.

Then it is multiplied by $0.005 per KENP page.

Quite clearly, the higher the word count, the better the return.

70% Amazon KDP Ebook Royalty Earnings by Selling Price

The chart above shows why lower-priced ebooks earn much more from sales than KENP page reads.

Higher-priced ebooks usually have a much bigger word count, so the difference is not quite so profound.

For new self-publishing authors, it’s your decision to make.

But it’s worth adding that when you enroll your ebook in Kindle Unlimited pay-per-page, you can still earn per-copy sales.

If you are happy with that, then you can take advantage of both options.


Making ebooks more attractive to KU readers

Everyone loves a bargain.

For readers with Amazon Kindle Unlimited subscriptions with an Amazon Kindle device or using the free Kindle app, getting to read Kindle ebooks with a cover price of $5.99 will be far more tempting than those at $0.99.

Your ebook price in the Kindle store needs to be tempting for Kindle owners and KU users.

But at the same time, setting the price too high will dissuade ebook buyers and have a detrimental effect on your per-copy ebook sales.

Alternatively, for ebooks that don’t generally sell many copies, increasing the price may lead to a better return from KU than from unit sales.

Another factor is naturally that the higher the ranking an ebook has, the more interest and attention it will attract.

But with way over a million titles available in KU, that’s a tough task.

KENP counts towards an ebook’s sales rank.

So while the return might be less than the sale of a copy, every page read helps lift your book ranking.

Again, it doesn’t matter if a reader finishes the book or if 100 readers only read a few pages.

Because of this fact, it may be worth reconsidering your free ebook promotions.

Gaining 1,000-page reads will do far more for an ebook’s ranking than giving away a few hundred free copies of your ebook.

So instead of putting a lot of marketing and promotional effort into a KDP Select free ebook period, perhaps putting the same effort into promotion aimed at Kindle Unlimted readers might be more beneficial.

When it comes to maintaining an income, authors with their ebooks available on Kindle Unlimited will have to make smart decisions about finding a balance between the two reading markets – buyers and subscribers.


Is Kindle Unlimited pay-per-page fair for authors?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s fair or not for hard-working authors.

It is the new reality in ebook publishing, even for big publishers like Random House and Simon & Schuster.

With some big publishing houses starting to add their titles to Kindle Unlimited, including the Harry Potter series, The Hunger Games, and Wool, the writing is on the wall.

The only way ahead is to have your books included in KU, accept the fact, and adapt.

Or, remove your ebooks from Kindle Unlimited and KDP Select and rely on old-fashioned ebook sales by going wide with as many ebook retailers as possible.

There is no doubt that readers find Kindle Unlimited a very attractive deal.

Why wouldn’t they, with over a million books to choose from, for their modest monthly subscription cost? It’s very close to as many ebooks as you can read for free.

But for authors? Even when KU can’t seem to be able to count words read accurately?

Well, you will have to make your own decision about whether Kindle Unlimited pay-per-page is fair and if it works for you or not.


Related reading: Can You Opt Out Of KENP Kindle Unlimited With KDP Select?

39 thoughts on “Does Kindle Unlimited Pay Per Page Pay Authors Fairly?”

  1. Avatar for Christina Hampton
    Christina Hampton

    Does a “reborrow” and a reread a while later have an effect? If I read and returned a book in January, then reborrowed it in June – does that count as a second borrow? As a second read?

    I always assumed that if I reborrowed and reread book a few month’s later that the author would get a second royalty payment. It is taking up a valuable space in my 10 book queue. Plus, I believe libraries just go by borrows and not by who borrowed it. Do they at least get a boost in the book’s ranking?

    As a reader I’ve often wondered if the authors were getting fairly compensated – especially since I can easily plow through 20 books per month and that’s a mere $0.50 per book cost to me. I worried that they only got a fraction of my average cost per book. It’s actually a bit more comforting that it’s by pages read (and means I don’t need to feel bad that a bad author got rewarded for trash).

    KU makes my reading addiction more manageable and allows me to try a wide variety of authors and not stress so much about “buying a bad book” – if it’s bad I can return it before finishing it – I’ve only wasted time. I’ve also found a lot of great authors that I would have never even thought to try if I had to “pay” to read their books. I honestly read very little that is no KU anymore.

    1. In answer to your question, Christina, no, authors are not paid for a second read or reborrow.

      Amazon states this is its terms for royalties for KU:

      A customer can read your eBook as many times as they like, but we will only pay you for the number of pages read the first time the customer reads them.

  2. “If you are an author, your answer is probably going to be a resounding, no.”

    Don’t really see a reason why. 5$ per 1000 pages is almost as good as selling your book directly. Let’s say your book is 500 pages and costs 3$, you are going to get only 2$ per order. Of course, if you set the cost higher it’s another thing, many authors sell their 500-pages-long books for 6$ or more, making it two times more profitable, but… you get way more visibility thanks to KU, often even doubling your ABSR. I also have a short 100-pages-long book that costs 1$, but I only get 0.30$ from each sale. With KU I get 0.5$ instead for each full read.

  3. I’m simply a reader, and also a teen. My parents bought kindle unlimited for me, and I would like to share my perspective. I am an avid reader who enjoys being transported into books very much, and I used to only be able to get books by dragging my parents to the library, coming home, then piling books at the door for my parents to take, accruing fees, etc, or browsing the library’s limited supply of ebooks. I almost never bought a book except for at book fairs, and I assume there are other teens like me, who enjoy reading, but can’t due to their inability to get to a library, or pay for every book. So I think for authors targeting people in my age range, it might be wise to stay on KU. I might be wrong, but these are my thoughts.

  4. I’m a reader and have waffled on wanting to sign up for KU. I finally decided to research the issue and landed on this page. I have to say it sounds most unfair to authors, sad that Amazon doesn’t pay by the book. I’ll stick with just Prime Reads and be happy to know I’m supporting as I do buy books a lot since Prime Reads gets stale with it’s offerings.

  5. Thanks for the article. I’m considering putting my next book on Unlimited. My first novel was not widely purchased, but I got some good reviews and a lot of people downloaded it from free sources. My readers have told me they got hooked early in the story, so I imagine I might do okay when the reader can continue reading without having to buy the book. My only concern is whether readers of my genre are subscribed.

  6. I want my favorite authors to continue writing, so I decided to check into the pay scale for KU. I didn’t know they were paid by page, so I will make sure I read all pages to the end. There have also been a few that I read again, and if a book warrants a second read I should definitely make sure the author is paid appropriately, by buying the book.

    1. This is what I do. If I really really like a book or series I will purchase it after reading even if Im not sure if or when i will read it again. If it has a great satisfaction factor I will buy it and consider it payment for a great read.

  7. I’ve thought about this for a while now, and I’ve decided to stop enrolling my books in KU. There is no value in it, in any way, shape or form from what I can see, and KU subscribers are a fickle lot. They have no thoughts at all about the hard work the author puts in…it’s just a freebie (even though you pay for it, it is automatically deducted from your checking account each month so, ergo, it “feels” free) and if they don’t like the first couple of pages, they’ll just return it and shop for something else. I find that now I have some followers who are only too glad to pay $2.99, I want to tell KU to KMA. When the agreement on the ones having KU are up, there will be no more.

  8. Interesting thread. I searched this subject because I will probably remove my book from KU soon. KU is terrible for my category, children’s picture books. My book is less than two hundred words, as opposed to tens of thousands, but I spent several hundred hours illustrating and formatting it for Kindle.

    KU was introduced while I was working on the book. I knew the pay structure was bad for me, but I hoped the free reads would lead to paperback (CreateSpace ) sales. They haven’t.

    In paperback, my book is the standard 32 pages. Since the artwork is all done as two-page spreads, the kindle version is only 16 pages. I get less than a dime per read.

    1. Yes, this is the problem I am having. This model is really unfair for picture books and I am really not sure why there are so many picture books in the program. I have a picture book of 628 words and so get between 2c and 3c when someone reads the entire book. I would have to get a LOT of downloads to make this worthwhile.

      1. I agree with you, Christine. Kindle Unlimited is definitely not suited to picture books. I really don’t understand why any picture book author would enroll. It’s a guaranteed loss maker.

        1. Avatar for Christine Draper
          Christine Draper

          I have enrolled some of my picture books temporarily for two reasons:
          * I want to be able to offer it for free, for honest reviews.
          * I want to try and increase the rank of the books so that they are more easily visible and therefore attract more buyers.

          However, I view it as a short term measure, to help kickstart a books sales, rather than a long term decision.

  9. Amazon just sent me a message saying there was illegal “page count” on my book and that they are correcting it by removing this illegal activity. they also told me they could not give me details as it may compromise there security. I had over 16k pages read removed. I asked them for some clarification on this, with things that would not compromise their security but they have given me no response. Now I am wondering where they hacked or are they “stealing” pages read from authors as I am positive I am not only author who got this message.
    Only way someone can illegally influence their system is if they hacked amazon or if Amazon does not have a proper page counting system in place. One simple line of code stating the max amount of pages per that book lent would prevent ‘over counting”.
    I am a first time author and 16k pages is a lot for me. There message made little sense actually and left me wondering exactly how there program is working.

    1. I am sorry to hear of your problem with Amazon, Erinn.

      There have been many reports of issues with clickfarm scams on the KU Kindle Store. You can read about them in this article.

      While the article is nearly a year old, it clearly explains how the scam works.

      However, what the article doesn’t explain is that these clickfarms often use the books of innocent authors to cover what they are doing for their paying clients. In other words, spreading their activity wider to try to avoid detection by Amazon.

      I can’t say for sure, but this may have been a possible cause of your illegal page count. I can only suggest that you contact Amazon again and ask for more details.

  10. Just adding a few factoids: My book is 60000 words. The paperback is 283 pages. The Kindle version is according to Amazon 311 pages and in KU it’s counted as 351 pages, or so my dashboard says. 170 words per page in KU. This makes me $1.58 per book if fully read. As it’s priced at $2.99 I earn $2.09 when I sell a copy. I assume that not everyone who borrowed the book would have bought it, so I think that allowing borrowing is a good idea. I’m a bit surprised that a couple of weeks after publishing, I have sold about 200 copies, but only 2000 pages have been read on KU, amounting to about 5 to 6 fully read books. Or maybe 56 borrowed books, but only 10% read. Who knows. Anyway, direct sells are much higher than borrows.

  11. Even with Ben’s math, KU offering $1.92 for an 80K novel is less than selling it for $2.99 (an acceptable rate for a self pub full novel) and earning 70% off it as $2.09 (I hear Amazon keeps 30%)

    KU is a bad deal if your goal is strictly making money off books in it. I did hear a tip that if you are writing YA (or younger) books, KU is handy because kids don’t have credit cards but parents can set their Kindle Fire up and let them read “free” books.

  12. The math doesn’t compute. You say Amazon calculates a page to be about 187 words. That means an 80 000 word novel is counted as 427 pages. At o.oo45 that’s $ 1.92 fully read. Or did I miss something?

    1. Your arithmetic is perfect, Ben. That is what an author gets from KU page reads for 80,000 words. KU readers are only paying $9.99 per month, so that can only spread so far for authors.

    2. My novels are about 110,000 words and work out to about 500+- KU pages. I get about $2.25 per full KU read through.

  13. As a reader, I will say that kindle unlimited is a dream for book hoarders. I will read an entire book, even if I’m not particularly enjoying it, because I cannot stand a DNF. I just will be careful about selecting that author again. Because I do hoard books, and I can only have 10 books in my KU library, I will then purchase the book after reading if I enjoyed it. I’m sure I’m not the only reader to do so. In that way the author is paid more than once. I have also noticed that most of the authors now have taken a full length novel and chopped it into tiny ones for a “series”. 100 pages isn’t a novel.

    1. I have had readers enjoy my work enough to purchase in multiple formats, and I make sure I make them available as soon as practical.
      Right now my KU is about 80% of my income as a Fantasy/Adventure author. Probably 18% is Ebook, and 2% online paperback. I do pretty well when attending events and selling paperbacks, and am interested to see how the hardcovers perform this year when they’re finalized.
      My least favorite format is Vella, but Amazon is trying, with author support incentives in the early stages. A generous first month bonus and steady low stipends for monthly submissions is a small consolation to the dismal chapter reads. If engagement stays low, I may unpublish and slide into a novel, which is something I swore I wouldn’t do before seeing the numbers.

  14. Yeah that sounds harsh, wonder what that will do to writers. It seems in all art mediums things like this are taking place, Spotify, Netflix, etc where the artist get’s less but it invites more artists to share a market. I really wonder what is going to happen and if this will be sustainable for artists.

  15. Avatar for KL Forslund (@KLForslund)
    KL Forslund (@KLForslund)

    It’s a good question, but for the purposes of making a decision, I would not have framed the numbers the way you did. They don’t help make a comparison based on known assumptions.

    Let’s talk a generic 80,000 word novel, which a web site told me is 177 pages.

    I realize Amazon is gaming the system by paying for page reads in order to shave pennies off paying for unfinished books. Let’s ignore that for a moment and assume somebody bought and read this work of fiction.

    At $.0045 per page times 177 that’s a whopping $0.79 per book fully read.

    See why I say you can ignore the “partial read” scenario. Just knowing that at best you’re going to get $0.79 under the KU terms when you could have sold it for a measly $0.99 and came out ahead whether they read it or not.

    For fun, consider if you had submitted this to a magazine for the standard $.06/word. That’s $4,800. Interesting, but now that I see that, it’s not readily useful, other than hoping I make at least that in either method, or I should stop writing novels and write short works for $.06/word.

    Presenting the problem in the same metric we already work with (price per book) or price per word (ex. magazine submissions) makes the business decision more obvious.

    To the business decision. As you see, I’ve simplified it down so it’s apples to apples. Yes, we could hope everybody in KU reads our entire book. But if they did, we still don’t come out ahead as my average book math indicates.

    So we play what if. There’s no guarrantees somebody will finish what they started. But if you pay for the book, you have skin in the game and have a slight emotional tug to finish it. The sunk cost fallacy works on people. Under KU, you’re not paying for books. You have little reason to stick with a book if it doesn’t grab you right away. You are emotionally enticed to sample, rather than finish. Which means an even lower chance of getting the full $.79 per reader.

    That means, unless you can not only get more completions, but also more eyeballs under KU than non-KU, there is not incentive as an author to put your book in the KU pool. Outside of some other marketing plan, like giving away your first book (which KU might make a nice attractor to the rest of your catalog).

    1. An 80,000 word book, at 177 words per page, is 447 pages. Multiply by $0.0045 and that is $2.11 per book, not $0.79. My books are 110,000 words, 621 pages – however, they are calculated at more than 177 words per page, because they come out closer to 500 pages.
      Even at 500 pages, that’s $2.25 per book.
      At $3.99, I get 70% royalty. That’s $2.79. About 50c less than a sale. Then there is read through to others in the series. And, the bump in ranking is astounding! This means I get more exposure for my AMS ads at lower bid/click cost.
      I make DOUBLE or more from my KU reads than from sales. $2.25 is $2.25 more than $.0 My 99c novellas only get me 34c per book, but in KU, as part of the read through, each 24,000 word novella comes out to 133 pages, is 60c, nearly double.
      I’ve found that being in KU far offsets going wide. More than half my royalties are KU, and when I place ads for KU, I can use my author page as a link instead of directly to a single book.
      I only give away a book if I get someone’s email for my personal web blog. Not on Amazon. Too many freebies are just a waste – people rarely read freebies, they just suck up your book because it’s free. Also, they can return books (why, I don’t know, I’ve never returned a book in my life, even a crap book), but KU is paid per page and they can’t read and refund.
      I endorse the KU, even though it is somewhat mysterious and unpredictable in the background, I can’t dispute that 2/3 of my royalties are KU reads.

  16. In the brick and mortar world, about 25% of books are purchased as gifts. Most gift books are never read. So, KU book paid for and gifted. Gifted book is never claimed; Amazon keeps the money, author gets zilch.

  17. I have read many sites on this subject and have a different view on things. I began to write very late in life. I don’t think that I will get what I expected out of my craft, but at the moment I’m very glad I had the opportunity to publish my work at all.
    A little bit of change here and there is fine with me.

  18. I know a few authors who have pulled their books from KU in the last few weeks due to a glitch with the new page-flip feature resulting in no credit for pages read. From what I’ve heard, Amazon so far hadn’t made any efforts to address the issue.

    1. I have heard similar. Amazon, as usual, is refusing to even confirm or deny that there is a problem, which clearly, there is. In fact, KU has been an ongoing problem, mystery and secret for all since its inception.

  19. Derek I notice that my rank jumps tremendously from pages read too. On a day where I had little pages read and little eBook purchases and then suddenly had over 700 pages read my ranking improved by over 100k. Thanks for the info. I had no idea amazon paid barely 0.04-0.05 per page. I thought you were paid if a reader read the first 30% .I guess quite a bit has changed since the last time I released a book. Looks like I have some more strategizing to do

  20. Derek, do you have hard data that shows page reads increases Amazon ranking? Many authors believe that the borrow increases rank, but the page reads have no effect. Can you please explain how you came to the conclusion that page reads are part of the calculation.

    1. Yes, JB, I do have hard data. I did not sell a book yesterday, but gained page reads through KU. My sales ranking jumped 250,000 in this one day of no ebook sales. Amazon now class page reads as incremental sales. So yes, they do count with regard to ranking.

      1. Hi Derek. I can’t agree that your “hard data” supports your conclusion. Your example could quite easily (more likely even) been the result of a KU Borrow occurring on the date you had no e-book sales. I tested the theory more than once and I have concluded that “page reads” do not impact sales rank but KU Borrows do, at the same rate as an e-book sale. One borrow equals one sale for page rank, whether or not the borrower reads 1 or 1000 pages.

        How I tested this and how you can too: I found a book on Kindle Unlimited in a very obscure category with a dismally low sales rank. Something that was so bad I was confident it hadn’t sold or loaned an e-book in months or more. 6,000,000 plus territory. I recorded the exact Kindle sales rank, then I used my KU account to borrow the book, but no read the book other than to open it to the table of contents. Then, I tracked the rank, and sure enough it spiked as though someone had bought or, per my hypothesis, borrowed the book. I left it for a day, watched the rank sink, then slowly “read” the borrowed book, which as I suspected did absolutely nothing to slow the decline of the sales rank. I repeated this experiment three times and worked through it with another popular Kindle blogger and tool developer. We agreed: Kindle borrows impact sales rank, Kindle page reads do not – but every page read starts with a borrow at some point – so this can lead to incorrect conclusions. Like, respectfully, yours.

  21. I can’t disagree with you, Nate. My article was primarily addressed to self-publishing authors, however, I understand that publishers are also using KU. As the article you linked points out though, this is not quite such a simple process for some publishers.

    With regard to KU returning a higher royalty than a sale, this would only be possible if an ebook was priced very low. I didn’t see any examples in your linked article to support your view, but I am open to being corrected.

    1. Using your KENPC numbers, this last month, a 100,000 SF novel (typical genre length) would make $2.46 per read. For a self published author, the purchase price would generally be $2.99 or $3.99 for the same book, because there is a lot of competition in that genre. At $2.99, the author would make $2.09 before transmission costs. At $3.99, that author would make $2.79 before transmission costs.

      A full read in KU falls right in between that. If an author can price their books at a higher price than $3.99 and actually sell them, then they definitely shouldn’t have those books in KU.

      KU is priced to be competitive with typical indie pricing and encourage people to write books of the proper length of their genre. For Romance, which is generally shorter in the 60,000 word range, a full read comes out to $1.47, and while that’s $.60 short of what a sale would be at $2.99, Romance competition is stiff, and there are a crap ton of $.99 titles at any given time, which only net $.33. I we had access to Amazon’s data, and averaged the payout per KENPC for all sales in Romance in a given month, it would be shockingly close to $1.50.

      KU pricing is anything but arbitrary.

  22. Avatar for Nate Hoffelder, editor of The Digital Reader
    Nate Hoffelder, editor of The Digital Reader

    The problem with the question in your title are the erroneous assumptions that this offer is only open to authors, and that a loan can’t be worth more than a sale.

    There are authors who say that they get more for a KU read than for a sale, and there are publishers who are signing up for KU under the same KDP Select terms as authors.

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