Back in mid-July, without any warning, Amazon launched a new subscription service: Kindle Unlimited. For a flat $9.99 monthly fee, subscribers could download and read as many books as they wanted from the 650,000 or so available (about a third of all Kindle books on Amazon). Now the same deal has started up in the UK: all you can read for £7.99 a month.
For a voracious reader, this can be a terrific deal. You don’t have to read many books a month, even at cheap prices, to cover the subscription cost. You can download a book, read a few pages, decide it’s not for you and get another one. You can experiment outside your comfort zone, trying new genres and authors. You don’t have to feel guilty about the number of books you read, and the price of a book is irrelevant. You can read the first of a series and, if you like it, immediately download the rest. It’s a great deal.
But there are some gotchas. The first is that you don’t get to keep the books. Unlike a book you buy, which can sit on your Kindle indefinitely, or can be redownloaded from the cloud at any time, a borrowed book is only temporary. You can download ten books at a time, but after that if you want another one, you lose one of the ten. And if your subscription lapses, all your borrowed books are zapped. Gone.
The other constraint is choice. There are a lot of books to choose from in the KU program, but most of the big-name publishers are missing. If that constitutes your regular reading, you may be disappointed. Then you may find yourself paying extra on top of your subscription to get your favourite authors. Two thirds of all Kindle books are not available in KU.
Will I be joining in? Probably not. I’m very selective about what I read, and I hate to be limited to just a subset of what’s out there. And if I’ve paid a monthly subscription, I’m not going to want to pay for extra books, apart from a small number of must-reads. Besides, I’m still struggling to reduce my backlog of books on my Kindle, books I’ve already bought and paid for.
But what does Kindle Unlimited look like from an author’s point of view? What do authors get out of it? A royalty for every borrow, that’s what (although the royalty only kicks in if the borrower reads at least 10% of the book; if they download and then delete it later – no royalty). In July, the first month, the royalty was $1.84 per borrow, and in August it was $1.54. And that’s a flat rate, regardless of the price of the book, so a $0.99 and a $7.99 book get exactly the same payout for each borrow. Amazon has full control of the royalty rate each month.
Whether an author sees that as a bonus, on top of sales, or regards borrows as stealing sales is a matter for the individual to decide. Some authors have had plenty of borrows with no loss of sales, but there’s a lot of variation, and it may be that some genres do better in KU than others.
The big catch is that in order to be in KU, an author has to sign up to Amazon’s KDP Select program, and that means exclusivity. The ebook can’t be available for sale or even for free download at any other retailer, or on the author’s website, or on reading sites like Wattpad. Signing up is only a 90 day commitment, but even so, authors making good sales at Google Play or iTunes will probably not want to consider it. The print version is excluded from all restrictions.
‘The Plains of Kallanash’ has been in KDP Select from the start, and not just for the borrows (there are other benefits, like free or discount days). While the price is $0.99 (which means a royalty of only $0.35 per sale), each borrow I’ve had racks up several times that rate. A borrow is worth at least 4 sales to me at the moment. So I’m quite happy with that, even though borrows have only been a fraction of sales. It will be interesting to see what effect there will be when I raise the price to a normal level of (probably) $3.99. My prediction is that sales will drop, but borrows will go up. But with this game, who knows what might happen?