Kindle Unlimited

After last week I was asked to write a blog post explaining Kindle Unlimited. Someone might have also screamed "Dance, Monkey, dance!" at the top of their lungs. Never on to avoid pandering to the masses, I've put on a tapping clogs.

So Kindle Unlimited is a service where you pay Amazon $9.99 a month for unlimited reading of selected books. While the A-List titles aren't there, over a million titles are, so if you're a voracious reader, this might be the service for you. There also seems to be a feature where a certain subset of titles also include the audiobook version. These have a set of headphones next to the Kindle Unlimited logo and say, "Read or listen for free." For instance, every third audiobook I listen too is project-related. Right now I've been working on Death by Clichรฉ, so I've been listening to a lot of comedy.  Right now Scott Meyer's Magic 2.0 books seem to be available for listening as well, but his book, the Authorities isn't.

My wallet was stolen Friday night, and Amazon won't let me test the audio version (it's too busy panicking about my cancelled credit cards), but the Kindle versions seem to work well.

So how does this impact authors?

Well, when you download the book, the Amazon ranking changes as if you made a full sale. I can't say it changes "instantly," because amazon rankings change on a delay, probably about 12 hours behind the actual sale. I'm doing a test of this today, and will hopefully have solid data on that by midnight. I've been told that the Kindle Unlimited downloads count for more in the sales rank change than normal purchases because Amazon is pushing the platform, but I can't prove that without a lot of data. (Even if I found a book that didn't have any sales in a day and I could both download and buy on separate days, I'd need them to be at the same ranking both times and I'd need every other book on amazon to perform the same as well, since all rankings are relative to all other rankings.)

Sales are delayed, however, because a lot of people download a lot of bad books on Kindle Unlimited, and Amazon doesn't think all downloads should be equal when actual money is concerned. The barrier of listing a book is just too low. So instead, Amazon pays authors based on how many people actually read the book. They used to judge that based on a single book read, with 10% of the book being the payout threshold. Evidently, that was too easy a system to game (For instance, I'd be tempted to write a lot of ten page books... I wouldn't do it, but boy would I be tempted). Now they pay by the page, and that's a Kindle Normalized Page (I assume that means that you can't game the system with font size). This means, and my math is loose here, that if both Douglas Adams and Brandon Sanderson were on KU, every time you read a Brandon Sanderson book, the payout would be a billion times higher than a Douglas Adams book.

This is the first read of the book, and it's judged by percentage of progress. Kindle doesn't have a way of actually counting page flips. It just goes by your furthest point you've hit, and Amazon looks for cheesiness like people putting their table of contents at the end of the book. There are other ways people try to game the system of course, but I won't dignify them in a post about Kindle Unlimited working properly.

So if you read 10% of my book, I might get 5 cents. If you set it down and picked it back up a year later and finished it, I might get another 45 cents then.

The point is they aim to reward writers who write the books their readers actually finish while minimizing the profit disparity between people who write novelettes and publish them on Kindle alongside giant epic fantasies.

How does this work for the author?

250 pages is probably about the size of my book. For every 250 pages read, in my first month, I made about 30% of what I'd make from an ebook sale. That is probably going to change from month to month due to subscribers and number of reads.

Would I prefer ebook sales?  Absolutely. However, those pages were almost certainly read. Also, I suspect a great number of my Kindle Unlimited readers wouldn't have plopped down $6 on an untried writer. Also, I have a good job. I don't need the extra money in the short term, and in the long term, I'm certain that building a readership is way more important to my long-term success than immediate profit.

So I think I'll stick on Kindle Unlimited, at least for my first book, for the foreseeable future.