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.

The days of read one book and then read another are finished.

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 avid 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. On average Amazon pays around $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 read per month.

In the end, it is all boils down to the number of 187-word pages and not the number of fully read books per month.

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 for free.

Are the days of simply selling an ebook finished?


How can you make your ebooks more attractive to KU readers?

Everyone loves a bargain, and 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 is going to 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, 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 in KU, 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 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.

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.


Is Kindle Unlimited fair for authors?

It doesn’t really matter if it’s fair or not. It is the new reality in book publishing even for big publishers such as 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 and accept the fact and adapt.

Or, remove your ebooks from KDP Select and rely on old-fashioned ebook sales by going wide with as many 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 reading for free.

But for authors? Well, you will have to make your own decision about whether it works for you or not.


Further reading: Kindle Unlimited Has A Problem – It Can’t Count Words


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Derek Haines

Derek Haines is an Australian author, living in Switzerland.

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

  • October 10, 2017 at 5:58 pm

    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.

  • September 8, 2017 at 5:47 pm

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

  • September 8, 2017 at 5:28 pm

    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).

    • September 17, 2018 at 9:33 pm

      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.

  • January 25, 2017 at 8:47 pm

    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.

  • December 9, 2016 at 4:19 pm

    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.

  • October 19, 2016 at 10:29 pm

    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.

    • October 19, 2016 at 10:36 pm

      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.

  • March 22, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    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

  • March 21, 2016 at 7:21 pm

    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.

    • March 21, 2016 at 8:05 pm

      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.

      • November 3, 2018 at 5:12 pm

        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.

  • March 20, 2016 at 9:24 pm

    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.

    • July 19, 2018 at 2:04 pm

      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.

  • March 20, 2016 at 9:07 pm

    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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