Kindle Unlimited – a good thing for authors?

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KU (Kindle Unlimited) is an Amazon subscription service which allows readers to download up to 20 books at a time for about £10/$10 per month. Amazon encourages authors to put our books into KU, and when we do, we get paid a small amount for every page read.

Many authors angst about going into KU for two reasons. Mainly it’s about the exclusivity. If an eBook is in Kindle Unlimited, it can’t be on any other platform, such as Kobo, Apple, B&N. Having your eBook on other platforms is referred to in the author community as being ‘wide’. (See the end of this post for a view on wide vs non-wide.)

The other disadvantage is that the amount earned per page read is tiny, and normally returns the author far less than a straight purchase, especially if the reader doesn’t finish the book. I said normally, because this is of course dependent on page length and what the regular purchase price is. But the general feeling is: ‘that’s all I get?’

So why do we do it? Interested to dig into this a little more, I asked the reliable and forthcoming Twitter community.

Twitter poll

My poll asked readers whether they used KU and why or why not. As you can see, there were over 600 votes, and as you can also see, the vast majority were not enrolled. Still, 30% of all the readers in the world is a pretty good absolute market size.

Poll results from twitter
Twitter poll March 2023
Reasons for enrolling

Those readers in KU were enthusiastic!

  1. A cost effective way of reading: It’s not uncommon for KU subscribers to plough through more than their prescribed 20 books a month, returning them so they can keep topping up. A few also shared a subscription with one or two family members. For these people, the cost was easily justified vs buying books.
    ‘I would be broke if I bought every book I read.’
  2. This one is important for indie authors: A common theme was that it’s a low risk way for readers to discover new authors. This was an eye-opener for me, especially when many added that if they liked the author they then bought the book or other books by that author. Made a lot of sense.
    Yep. Especially when I’m looking for new indie authors to read. If I like them, then I buy.
    ‘… this gives me the chance to try out new authors I might not have otherwise. I’ve found a ton of great indie authors this way.
Reasons for not enrolling

These were mainly, and sensibly, about being unable to justify the cost for the number of books read, rather than for any inherent reasoning that KU was a poor product. There were a few comments about KU being full of ‘cringe-worthy’ writing, but that’s true all over, and does depend on your definition of ‘cringe-worthy.’ Not going there!

Facebook book club

I asked the same question in a FaceBook book club I belong to. Sadly, I couldn’t poll them, but the post received over 130 comments.

This is a group which loves to read, but is mostly into traditionally published and well known books. It wasn’t surprising then that the majority did not have KU subscriptions. Two key reasons came across:

  1. They couldn’t find the authors they wanted there. Well, yes, trad published authors are highly unlikely to be in KU because of its exclusivity.
  2. These people are solid library users, and use BookBox (I had never heard of this) and other such means to access eBooks on loan for free. They didn’t need KU and had a wider choice in that they could access other platforms, not just Amazon.
So, for authors, KU or not?
  • There’s a market. As noted above, 30% of all readers is a big absolute number. A couple of authors who responded pointed out the value to them, one saying that 85% of their royalties comes from KU reads.
  • It doesn’t appear to cannibalise sales – KU users read to explore. They won’t buy a book by an unknown author, but once they like what they read many will purchase.
  • KU users read A LOT: so once they find you, you can expect a ton of page reads.

The disadvantage remains that you can’t go ‘wide’, you can’t be in things like BookBox. However, while by no means scientific, I conducted another poll. This one asked where people purchased their eBooks from. It had far fewer respondents, but came down heavily in favour of Amazon, with 88% saying they purchased either exclusively or mostly from that platform. Whether that’s a good thing or not is another topic!

Making the decision

Hopefully, this bit of information has been helpful to you. Whichever way you choose to go with your books, I wish you all good things. (And, a confession, all but one of my books are in KU and I’m moving that one over soon. Explore them here.)

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