Is Kindle Unlimited Pay Per Page Read Fair For Authors?

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Is Kindle Unlimited fair for authors

Kindle Unlimited Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) pays between $0.004 and $0.005 per page, but is this 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 to be 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.

As many books as you can read for $9.99 per month after a one-month free trial, and even less in some markets, is a bargain for hungry readers who want to save money, but will it mean that authors are starved of income as a result?

There is little point trying to calculate pay per page read against copies sold, as there is no way of knowing if a KU reader read the whole Kindle book.

The only basis to use is that Amazon calculates a page to be about 187 words and for every 1,000 pages read; authors get between $4.00 and $5.00. Last month Amazon paid $4.78 per 1,000 pages.

With KENPC, 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 couple of pages. It’s about page reads per 30 days and not about books per month.

In the end, it is all boils down to the number of 187-word pages and not the number of ebooks.

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 subscription.

So, how can you make your ebooks more attractive to KU readers?

Everyone loves a bargain, and for KU readers with a Kindle device or using free Kindle reading apps, getting to read an ebook with a cover price of $5.99 is going to be far more tempting than one at $0.99.

Your ebook price in the Kindle store needs to be tempting for 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, in fact, 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 over a million titles available, that’s a hard task.

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

In the end, though, to maintain an income, authors who have their ebooks available on Kindle Unlimited will have to make smart decisions about finding a balance between the two reading markets – buyers and subscribers.

So, is Kindle Unlimited fair for authors?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s fair or not. It’s the new reality. With major publishers starting to add their titles to KU, 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 and accept the fact and adapt. Or, remove your ebooks and rely on old-fashioned ebook sales by going wide with as many retailers as possible.

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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

23 thoughts on “Is Kindle Unlimited Pay Per Page Read Fair For Authors?

  • 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:

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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

  • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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).

    • 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.

  • Thank your for your extended comment, KL. I agree wholeheartedly with your conclusions. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with our readers.

  • 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.

  • You get nothing under KU if the minimum read of 10% is not achieved

  • 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.

  • 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?

    • 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.

    • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.


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