Kindle Unlimited (KU), a subscription service through Amazon that allowed readers unlimited access to books for just $10 a month, was unveiled by Amazon in July 2014. The reception by readers was mostly positive, finally a Netflix for Books! The reaction from authors and publishers was mixed. Kindle Unlimited was doing to independent authors what Spotify did to musicians. By offering their work for free to subscribers, they were potentially lowering the revenue that an author or publisher could make from each book. In this article we explore how KU has evolved over the past 5 years and its current impact on authors.
Kindle Unlimited & KDP Select: A History
Since the inception of KDP Select, there has always been a KDP Select Global Fund, which is a pot of money that goes to authors whose books are downloaded for free through Amazon’s eBook programs. Authors who enrolled their eBooks in KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) Select prior to the launch of KU could have their books downloaded for free by Kindle owners who were allotted one free eBook per month through the Kindle Owners Lending Library. In the days prior to KU, the Global Fund totaled around $1 million, and was divided proportionally amongst the authors who had their books downloaded.
In July 2014 with the introduction of KU, the Global Fund increased to $2.4 M, and over the next year as more readers signed up for KU and more authors enrolled in KDP Select, that Global Fund increased to $11.5 M by July 2015, and today sits right around $25 M.
A whopping $267.9 M was paid out to authors through the KDP Select Global Fund in 2018. If the pot stays at its current size ($25.6 million per month) for the rest of 2019, Amazon will pay out $299.4 M to authors this year. It is possible that the Global Fund will continue to grow in the remaining months of 2019, which would make the total Global Fund payout for 2019 north of $299.4 M.
For the first year of KU, the payouts were simple: Each author was paid every time someone downloaded and read at least 10% of their book.
When KU was a year old, in June 2015, Amazon announced that they would begin paying participating authors by pages read, instead of by the number of books downloaded. At the same time, they introduced KENPC (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count), which accounted for type size and line spacing to prevent anyone from cheating the system and artificially making their books longer. Amazon calculated the payout per page by beginning with their monthly KDP Select Global Fund and dividing it by the total number of (KENP) pages read. That first month it was decreed that each page was worth $0.005779.
As more readers and more authors entered into the KU system, the Global Fund size did not compensate for the increasing number of pages read every month, so the payout per page read dropped steadily in 2015.
In January of 2016, Amazon announced yet another change in how they were going to pay authors with the introduction of KENPC v2.0 (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count). This was supposed to standardize for additional spacing and text features. Some authors saw their page counts, and thus their total potential payout per book, drop, while others saw them rise. Amazon claimed that the average change across all KDP titles would be under 5%, but individual authors saw up to 10% changes in page length.
An additional change implemented in V2.0 was the capping of payouts at page 3,000 for longer titles. This affected mostly dictionaries and large reference books but did have some implications for larger boxed sets as well. Since these changes, the payout per page has increased back up toward $0.005 per page.
Take a look at how these changes have affected payouts from the past year:
Calculating Payout by Book
Under KU, using July 2019’s payout numbers, these are the maximum payouts per book based on total pages read:
|KENP Pages Read||Payout Per Page*||Max Payout|
*based on payout numbers from July 2019
Looking at these numbers, it is easy to see why many authors were upset by the change to pay per page. Before KU, if you wrote a 150 page eBook, and priced it at $2.99 you would make $2.09 (after Amazon’s 30% royalty) off of a sale of that book and you would realize that revenue as soon as a reader downloaded the book. Under KU, that same book nets you $0.75, and that is only once a reader completes the entire book, which may happen within 24 hours or 6 months of the reader borrowing the book. Additionally, as an author, you do not know what the payout per page will be until the following month, so it’s hard to determine what the max. value of your book in KU is in any given month.
Authors do have a choice of whether or not their book is included in KU. An author can simply opt-out of KU altogether by not enrolling their book in KDP Select. This decision proves agonizing for many authors, and there are authors who make good arguments for both sides.
Hugh Howey, a successful indie author, offers some perspective in his blog post Why KU Short Fiction Still Makes Sense. He argues that the KENP system is leveling the playing field among indie authors. The amount of work that goes into writing 60,000 words is the same, regardless of whether or not you publish those 60,000 words as one novel or six, 10,000 word short stories. Under the KENP system, both scenarios are compensated equally, instead of being skewed in favor of short stories, which were often priced the same as full-length novels before. Howey is supportive of Amazon, and sung their praises in a recent interview with Digital Book World:
“Kindle Unlimited is just one example of the enormous sums of money an author misses out on by going with a major publisher. We’re talking $150,000,000 a year going directly to authors, and if you sign with a major publisher, you are taking yourself out of that pool.” – Hugh Howey
However, some authors argue that inclusion in KDP Select (and by extension, KU) authors are losing out on other revenue streams and becoming increasingly more reliant on Amazon.
Kindle Unlimited has sparked its fair share of complaints and controversies.
From a promotion and payment perspective, the biggest downside to KU from the beginning has been that authors no longer get paid for books that readers borrow and never read them. We all have that stack of books that we keep telling ourselves we want to read, but never seem to get to. In the early days of indie eBook authorship, if your cover and blurb were good enough to prompt a sale, then you got paid. Now the game has changed and is rewarding increasingly higher quality, engaging content. As competition increases, covers and blurbs become more important to make ebooks stand out from the crowd, with the crux of success coming from the content of a book and the quality of its storytelling.
The most notable and most recent controversy concerned the placement of the table of contents in books enrolled in KU. Some authors were placing a link at the beginning of their eBooks which directed the reader to a table of contents that lived at the back of the book. Since the number of pages read by a reader (which is what the payout is based on) is measured by noting the furthest page in a book that a reader views, some believed that authors were cheating the system by preemptively pushing readers to the end of their books. It turns out that this was not as impactful as many believed.
How Do Authors Drive KU Borrows?
The same marketing tactics that work for selling books also work for driving KU borrows:
- Promote your title to readers (through your email list, Facebook or Google ads, features on deal sites)
- Drive enough sales or download volume to rise in the bestseller charts
- Activity on the title spurs Amazon’s algorithm to recommend your book to other readers with similar tastes
- Halo sales continue after your promotion has run; KU borrows turn into KENP read
- Run another promotion 90 days later once momentum declines
KU has two fundamental perks for indie authors who are actively marketing their titles:
- It is thought that Amazon gives preferential treatment to KU titles, although there is no definitive proof. A glance through the Kindle Top Charts shows a large portion of the best performing books as eligible through KU. Perhaps this is simply because a KU borrow counts the same as a normal sale or download, so it is easier for these titles to climb the charts. The effect of this is discussed in the most recent Author Earnings report.
- The major publishing houses don’t publish their books through the KU program, so the competition within the KU program (which includes the books listed in the Kindle Countdown Deal charts, and elsewhere) are other indies or small presses. The major traditional publishers are not currently competing.
The primary difference when marketing a title enrolled in KU is how quickly you can measure the results of your efforts. For a title not enrolled in KU measurements is simple: authors watch their sales graph spike and then watched halo sales come through in the following days. Authors tally up the total earnings from the promotion and compare it to the time and money spent actively marketing the title.
The standard formula
RETURN = Total Sales – Amazon Royalty – Marketing Cost
For a title that is enrolled in KU, there is an additional component to measure: KENP read. The challenge here is twofold:
- Readers who borrow a title during the promotion may not read that book until 6 months later. So there is an extensive time lag between the promotion and the results of the promotion.
- Authors don’t know what the payout per page will be until the following month. So it is difficult to ascribe a value to pages read that do come through in the days following the promotion.
The KU formula
RETURN = (Total Sales – Amazon Royalty) + (KENP pages read * KENP payout rate) – Marketing Cost
Many authors make a best guess by using the prior month’s payout per page to get to an approximate value of the KENP read in the weeks following a promotion. Sophisticated authors will look back at promotions over a 3 or 6 month window to aggregate the full effect, and the corresponding full cost of their promotional activity, to account for the lag.
What’s Next for Amazon KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited?
Kindle Unlimited has changed the way that many people read books. By giving independent authors an arena in which they can sell their books without the competition of mainstream publishers, KU has empowered them to find audiences in new ways. But all the while, Amazon reminds authors that they hold the keys to the coffers, and can always change the rules. It’s impossible to predict what new perks and programs Amazon will release in the coming years, but being at the top of the eBook and book markets appears to be a top priority.
Authors still have control over many things: whether to enroll in KDP Select at all, the packaging of each book and the quality of the content inside. Successful authors focus on these elements and experiment with programs like KDP Select to determine the best path to success for each of their titles.
89 comments on “Amazon KDP & Kindle Unlimited: What It Means for Authors and Publishers”
“eschewed in favor of short stories”
I think you mean ‘skewed.’ To ‘eschew’ means ‘to deliberately avoid or abstain from’
Thank you for pointing that out! You’re correct and it has been fixed.
The one point you did not mention is that subscription services ALWAYS mean less money for authors – look at Harlequinn’s model. It ran a subscription service and their authors earned less than most other authors. No way is any subscription model going to be good for authors earnings. KU sucks and is not something most authors will touch. What’s worse Amazon are using their might to ensure KU has an unfair advantage – look at the top 100 in any genre and it’s all KU. KU is not an authors friend. It’s Amazon’s friend to draw customers to their site.
Hello, Bronwen Evans. Sharing this: Yes, Harlequin sold books via subscription. Still does. And sells in volume world wide. As for making less $$$. While Avon was paying advances of $500 for 100,000 word historicals, Harlequin was paying advances of between 7500$ and $22,000. One of my colleagues nailed a $30,000 contract with Harlequin. Those contracts are few and far between, if at all now. A new contract today might see a $2500 advance. And the online division, Carina, offers no advance at all. The market has changed with the innovation of Kindles and the ability to self-publish. LoveSwept faded. Harlequin owned Silhouette, too. Print editions have less shelf space today across all genres because so many bookstores have closed their doors. I network with more than 50 indie authors every single day. Some publish wide, some are exclusive to Amazon. I don’t know a single author in my group whose books outsell Amazon. At the most, other sales venues account for 20% of their sales. For a newish indie author it takes at least a year to top sales of 1000 books on B&N, with Kobo close behind. If the author is not a savvy promoter they won’t even see those numbers. More often than not, successful authors selling across all venues built a readership on Amazon first. Yes, there are exceptions. I cannot address your comment that most authors won’t touch KU. I don’t know most authors. But I do know a 100. It is true Amazon is customer centric. Has been since inception. That is Amazon’s foundation. Works for me. But it is always Author Choice.
While I do not question your satisfaction with Amazon–if it works for you, great!– I do question some of your facts, especially the ones that looked back a few years as opposed to today’s situation. Avon, in my 15 years in the business, never offered advances as low as $500 for books they brought out in print as well as ebooks (their ebook only line is very recent), and Harlequin (not Mira or HQN) never offered advances for one book of $30,000 for their series books (well, of course Nora got even more but she was an outlier). That latter figure might be received on a long, multi-book contract, with each book receiving a portion of it. The *earn out* on a book published with them could rise to the level of 20-30K, after some years. But its subscription model that produced those numbers was for many years, and still is, in print, so I am not sure that applies to the topic of this blog post, which is about ebook subscriptions. Also, a Harlequin subscription to those print books was not open-ended, as in pick any books you want from among millions. Harlequin picks, and sends them to you.
Perhaps some apples got into the mix of oranges in this discussion, or perhaps I misunderstood something.
You know what would be nice is if the publishers gave other websites the chance to compete, but sadly they refuse to do so, Amazon makes a hell of a lot of money from authors both from publishers and non publishers, If the authors guild or whatever it is called had to even pay for a website with all there books available from all publishers and gave everyone a chance to upload and sell there books amazon would not have the monopoly they have, As for amazon not paying them enough, it is a fact that if an author used amazon only they would be paid 70% of every sale, meanwhile they are only getting a very small portion of each sale from the publishers.
The authors caused amazon to get a majority of authors to put there books on amazon and it is the publishers fault for this as they do not want to compete they want amazon to do all the work and to just reap the benefits even if authors receive less as publishers pay less to them.
One advantage to readers of KU is the freedom from paying for books which they will not finish due to any of several reasons. Among these are unexpected subject matter, improper spelling or grammar, and other features indicative of inferior works. Editing is often subpar or nonexistent. As a reader, buying a book based on a blurb or “recommendations” is at best a roll of the dice. Many times I have read only a short portion before abandoning a book completely. I do wish for authors to receive fair compensation for their work, but do not wish to finance their literary educations.
But that doesn’t factor in those who read many more books under KU. I read a novel every couple of days. I would read nowhere near that without KU, so I hope I and others like me make KU more profitable for authors. I feel like I want to thank each and every one for letting me enjoy their works so much more.
Very Informative. Thank you. I have been so confused by all of Amazon’s methods of paying. You have cleared the muddied waters somewhat.
You’re very welcome Jane! Happy to hear that our article was informative and helpful 🙂
Very interesting article. Thank you. I still haven’t figured out how or where to view on Amazon how much one has earned with this program. I check reports and unit sales but that doesn’t give me the amount that will be paid for pages read. I had over 30,000 pages read on one book last month thanks to Freebooksy.
Thanks again… I do have a clearer understanding of how this works.
Now I’m confused again. Are you saying that there is a cap of 6,000 pages read? Does that mean that my 30,000 pages read is still worth only $15.?
Hi Susan – The payout is capped at 3,000 per book. So if you have a book with 4,000 pages and a KU reader completes the entire book, your total pages read will be 3,000. If 10 people complete the book, your pages read will be 30,000 and you will get paid out on that total amount. The max $15 is a limit on the payout per book borrowed, not a cap on the total amount you can get paid for KENP read for the full month.
Ricci that is a good question. In any case getting 1/2 a cent per page read is not fair and does not inspire one to be a writer because to make a $1,000 you would need 200,000 pages read.
I write books to sell not pages. They don;t sell you pages at a book store. Someone can download your book read the first ten pages and decide they don’t like it. It didn’t cost them anything so they feel no need to read it further.
If they don’t like your book and got no value out of it, do you really deserve to be paid?
Authors should be creating engaging books that capture the readers’ attention and give them lasting enjoyment. Authors should not be paid to create “click-bait” books that look good on the outside but offer little substance inside. Amazon’s model seems to be aligning incentives the right way, and that’s a step in the right direction for readers.
That is good news. Thanks for clearing that up for me.
Hi, I just finish my book editing, and I am going over the contract with Amazon, and it dosent sound fair to the authors. I have not decided if what Amazon is right for me., especially the part of pay per pages. I DONT like that. Many people sometimes don’t read the whole book, that means, you are out of luck and never will get paid.
They do give the choice to enroll or not in KDP Select. I am NOT. It took me 5 years writing my life story, as Pharaoh Hatshepsut. And Ithe reason I decide to write it is because I wanted the world to know what happened to me, 3,500 years ago.
Good luck to everyone.
Dear Madam, Greetings and I have authored 15 books in KDP and it’s 90 days. I haven’t got any payment. Please advise me. Thanking you, Yours Sincerely Arockiasamy
Hey there, I would recommend contacting Amazon KDP here, and explaining the issue to them. They should be able to help answer any questions and resolve the problem.
Do you have BookReport? That’s one way to get an idea of how much you earn over the month with KU, and you can adjust the per-page payout under settings (I usually keep mine lower than projected just so I’m not disappointed :P).. I think the address is getbookreport.com if you need it. And it’s free until you earn over 1K a month.
Very helpful, Chloe, since I’m currently enlisted in KU and I’m asking fellow authors about up-and downsides.
Question: under your title “Calculating Payout by Book” where you list the KENP, price per page and max payout, you
write that 3,000 KENP leads to a max payout of $15. Under that, you write twice the read of 6,000 KENP also grant you $15, which I believe is a mistake.
It will result in about $30, because twice the pages read means twice the profit.
Thanks, we are glad you found this helpful! The pay out for 6000 pages is correct. When Amazon released KENP 2.0 they capped the number of pages read that they were willing to pay out at 3000, so any book longer than that has the same maximum payout as a 3000 page book.
Ah, I just understood it by rereading your post. Sorry for my false accusation. It makes sense on Amazon’s side–they want to avoid paying out fortunes for people reading through gigantic tomes or dictionaries etc.
Glad I found out about it.
PS-I just bookmarked your site. Keep up the good work.
Who has a 3,000 page book. Not even War and Peace is that long. I have converted all my books, 18 novels that average 270 pages (print) per book to KDP Select and Unlimited. As an example, I have a 7 book western series that I posted first in Aug. Dropped the price to .99 cents and watched. Not much improvement until Dec, then BAM, they took off. The first book in the series was written and published originally in 2012 with a print length of 324 counting front matter. Dec. alone showed 618 downloads and 126,087 page reads the oldest and first in the series was the highest seller/page reads. Adding the others came to: 2,605 downloads and 568,218 pages read for the 7 novels. It tripled what the same seven sold in Nov. and so far Jan. is tripling Dec…I love it. Just wish I had started earlier. I think the key is cutting the price to .99 cents (from 3.99). The increased downloads (more readers) extrapolated to more page reads…Do the math.
Ken, could you help me out here. I just began posting books on Amazon (KDP Select) in March, 2018 and began promoting them in April and May. The sales are not very high but I have a 14 book set that has been generating 220,000+ pages read. They are priced at 2.99. On your post you said that you reduced the price of yours to .99 and had many downloads. My report page doesn’t show DOWNLOADS. If I reduce the price of mine to .99 and get 35% royalty, will I be able to see downloads somewhere? And how do the downloads work into the pages read? Please forgive my ignorance of this but your post sounds promising to me.
Ken Farmer exactly! People griping about a non-reality … 3K+ pages in a book. That’s 750,000 words for crying out loud.
Awesome article, Chloe!!!!!
What does Kindle Unlimited mean to me?
Discrimination! Unethical marketing practice.
Policies whereby a company offers privileges to one group of clients that are not available to another. It should not have been released if it was not being made available to all countries. I feel the same outrage that the lowest price one can set a book in the US for at 70% commission is $2.99 but it must be $1. higher t customers is Australia. I think that, allowing readers in some countries to buy for less—stinks, and is discriminatory.
KU means manipulative marketing, running a loss leader product aimed at trying to drive competitors out of the market and gain a monopoly. I thought that sort of marketing was illegal. It certainly lacks ethics. I try to run an ethical business and I do not support monopoly policies. I am not in KU and I don’t plan to be in KU,
Totally agree – KU is not an authors friend except if you are a new author and need exposure. But as an author you also need to make a living. KU won’t help you do that.
Informative read, thank you.
I’m curious about lack of a mention of the very large pie which is taken by scammers that get paid legitimate royalty.
Overall, the negatives seem to outnumber the positive benefits. Obviously the majors see it this way, otherwise they’d be into it, too. One thing is clear, both sales and borrowing respond to promotion but promotional costs rise while effectiveness diminishes in the tried methods. One needs new ways to promote constantly because what works today won’t work tomorrow since everyone and their cousins jump onto whatever works.
Very good point
Great article! I do agree that KU rocks right now but the point is that we *are* at the mercy of Amazon’s whims. For example, the authors who wrote short stories originally saw their income completely changed overnight with the first change.
I’ve had well over a million page read so far this month – KU accounts for 80% of my sales so I’m not going anywhere quite yet but what if they suddenly changed it? KU makes me $8k a month, and it’s frightening because that could just disappear. I truly believe that distributing our books widely is the best solution for authors in the long run. Once we’ve built a nice following, in any case.
One of the problems I’ve run into with KDP is that I’m not able to offer first book in a series as permafree in order to attract readers to the rest of the series. That’s why I’m taking some of my novels out of KDP. I also want to set up a book giveaway when people sign up for my newsletter, again difficult to do this if your book is enrolled in KDP.
This is a really great article on the history, plusses, and minuses of KU. I like the comparison to Spotify. My only beef with Kindle Unlimited is they *require* authors to be exclusive to Amazon in order to participate in KU, unlike Spotify. I’d be happy to put all my books in KU, but I’ve worked pretty hard to establish my platform and build relationships with other vendors. That’s asking a lot of me to burn my bridges with those vendors to participate in an Amazon-exclusive program.
Otherwise, I’d be happy to participate in KU! I’ve found a lot of great musicians I listen to regularly now using Spotify.
This has definitely been the best breakdown of pages/dollars of KU I’ve seen yet. I think I’m actually doing better with KU than I am with actual sales. It’s nice to be able to guesstimate how much is coming in from KU.
OPEN LETTER TO MR. BEZOS, AMAZON CEO, and Staff
From: Thomas H. Ward, Author of the Tocabaga Chronicles
Dear Mr. Bezos, Amazon/Kindle Mangers, and Fellow Authors:
First of all I would like to thank Amazon Kindle for providing the opportunity for small unknown writers, like me, to get their books published. Kindle inspired me to want to write more books because I was making money and it was very satisfying knowing that people liked my stories.
Believe me, I know how hard it is to get a book published. I have spent thousands trying to do so. So again I want to thank Amazon for making it possible for small unknown writers to publish books.
The purpose of this letter is to point out some flaws with the new pay by page KENP system. I also have some suggestions on how to improve Amazon profits while not hurting the small Authors. First however, please read my short summary.
Like all Authors, I have struggled to promote my books and increase my sales. Then I found Kindle in 2013, and man was I happy. I was finally making some money. Yes, it’s a small amount but enough to pay some of my bills since I am retired and on a fixed income. It was such a thrill to write, have people enjoy my stories, and make some money at the same time. In 2014 my total Royalties were slightly over $9,000.
I’ve been writing books since 2012, but didn’t start making money until late 2013 on Kindle. I want to thank Amazon for that but it was under the old system of pay by the book using KU/KNOLL. Here’s an example: February 2015 through May I had standard sales of 876 books and KU/KNOLL sales of 1,165 for grand total of 2,041 books. My total Royalty was $3,737 for these months or about $934 per month on the average.
Then in June something changed at Amazon. I think they stopped promoting books that had somehow moved to the top ten in their categories. I don’t really know what Amazon really did, but my sales and Royalties dropped to $316 for June 2015.
In July Amazon started the new KENP system which is getting paid by the page not the book. For July, I had Standard Sales of 85 books, which is far less than my 500 books per month average. I had 9,282 pages read in KENP. Royalty for the 85 books was $206.89 and for the KENP it was only $53.64 for a grand total of $260.53 vs. my per month average of $934. I took a $674 cut or reduction. Why? I don’t know, but can only assume it is something to do with the new KENP pay by page system.
If you calculate this out then I made: $53.64/9282 = $0.00577 per page. Typically my books are usually about 100 pages long. This means one of my books is valued at 57 cents. Come on, 57 cents is ridiculous. Writing is hard work and takes a lot of time along with research. No book Royalty should be only half a cent per page. Under the old KU/KNOLL system paid by book I made Royalties of $1.34 per book which I deemed as fair. This comes out to $0.0134 per page for a 100 page book.
Under the new system KENP we are paid for pages read. I write books to sell and not pages. If someone downloads a book and they don’t have to pay for it, they may never read any of it, other than a few pages. If you have to buy the book you feel somewhat obligated to read it.
Charge more than $10 per month to read as many books as you want. This would allow Amazon to increase profits and enable you to pay the Authors more per book like the old KU/Knoll system of $1.34 per book. I would suggest $20 per month is fair fee.
Amazon shouldn’t give any books away for free. Let the Authors do that using Free Promotions.
Authors are permitted to publish books free of charge. This is a great feature and this attracts a lot of new Authors who want to write just one book.
Amazon should charge a fee of $10 to publish a book. This is another method to increase profits and also weed out writers who aren’t serious.
MY FINAL SUGGESTION: LET AUTHORS CHOOSE BETWEEN, PAYMENT BY PAGE, OR THE OLD SYSTEM ROYALTY BY BOOK. AMAZON DID NOT GIVE AUTHORS ANY CHOICE IN THE MATTER AND WE ARE SUPPOSED TO BE PARTNERS.
The new payment by page is geared to reward those Authors with a large reader base. Some Authors who write longer books and who are popular may like the KENP because they have a large following and sell thousands of books. But others like myself don’t see any benefit because we have a much smaller fan base. The new system by page works against us.
Let the free market operate. Those that write short books may have many readers which is a good thing for Amazon. Actually any book sale is good for Amazon. Don’t short-change short book Authors because someone thinks longer books are getting a bad deal. You are taking from one group and giving to the other.
I believe my suggestions would allow Amazon to increase profits and permit Amazon/Kindle to pay Authors a fair and reasonable amount for books. The KENP, pages read payment method, is too complicated and I am sure very expensive for Amazon to keep track of.
Amazon/Kindle needs to be fair about payment methods and the KENP system it is not fair to everyone. This system may discourage Authors from writing and reduce the quantity of new books and new Authors. I am sure most feel the amount of effort and time they spend writing a book is certainly worth more 0.0057 cents per page. This is basically being paid nothing.
Currently my books standard sales generate $3.99 per book which means a 70% Royalty or $2.78 per book. Putting this into pages, that comes to $0.0278 per page. Under the old KU/KNOLL paid by book system I made $1.37 per book, which seemed very fair to me. This is a big difference from $0.00577, ½ penny per page, or 57 cents per book.
Has Amazon increased their profits by taking advantage of small Authors? I don’t think so, but the system needs to be reviewed and revised so it is fair.
How about helping us small Authors out? Thank you for your kind attention to this matter.
Thomas H. Ward
This is one of the best analysis articles of publishing I have read in years and provides great insight to the KU program, of which I have become “all-in”.
Thank you for your article. What I don’t see in it is this; What is a ‘KU page?’ One of my books is approx 120,000 words, 400 pages in paperback. How many KU pages does that equal? This is the crux of the matter. If A re-defines a KU page, it could make a big difference in the payout to the writer. Thank you!
Hi Paul. As far as we could find, Amazon has not disclosed the exact parameters that they use to decide how many KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) your book is, but they definitely do re-define what a “page” is. Your book’s Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count will vary from it’s paperback page count depending on the formatting of your book. Roger Packer in his article did the math, and one KENP seems to be about 200 words, although that number too varies by book: http://rogerpacker.com/blog/the-long-and-the-short-of-the-new-kindle-unlimited-kenpc-recount/
Mmmm. I read the article. Read the comments. The article need a little more balance. The 3000 page limit that came down in January was because scammers were publishing clickbait books up to 10,000 pages and grabbing a huge slice of the KENP pot and those lovely bonuses Amazon was awarding to most read authors/books. Amazon is a store front. We may populate it with our books or not. No book buyer is obligated to read a book. Or write and post a review. As for Thomas Ward’s suggestion…he can write directly to Jeff Bezos or Amazon’s Marketing guru: Here are the addresses:
Jeff Bezos – CEO of Amazon – firstname.lastname@example.org
Nader Kabbani, VP of KDP – email@example.com
Kindle Unlimited has a 10 book rotation system. Avid readers don’t hoard and hide KU books. A KU book gets downloaded and if it doesn’t appeal to the reader or provide what the description promised, it is rotated out of the reader’s list. The indie author does not get paid for a book that isn’t read. That works for me. I’ve download KU books that the formatting was so skewed, it was impossible to read. I returned it for another. I do the same with indie books that are in serious need of an editor or proofreader, or snag me with a cliffhanger. I hate ’em. I was once legacy published. I can testify that I earn more per indie unit published than I did legacy published. Plus, I get paid every dang month. As for not knowing how much we are gonna earn from one month to the next as indie authors…we don’t know that with a legacy publisher either–until we get a royalty check six months or a year later. Less the 15% or 20% oru agents creamed off the top. Keeping a healthy perspective is key.
Y’all have a good one.
Jackie’s reply is very well considered. I agree with it all. The average KU reader doesnt hold onto books for months. In some genres they feed like sharks and go through a lot of books in one month.
I also recently realised a contract with Amazon for KU is similar to a contract with a publisher. They help you market and they take a slice of the royalty pie, but far less than any legacy publisher. I have friends who have recently published through one of the big six, or is it five now? They make a tenth of what I do per book, even with KU. There are pluses and minuses with anything. My experiment with KU is recent but I can already see that I have greater visibility on the Amazon site, greater sales, greater longevity. My books are not falling off the rankings and sales cliff after thirty days.
Have I foregone sales on all other retailers? Yes, but I have few sales there anyway. Other retailers just don’t bring me sales when I am there. For my latest series, when I was on other retailers, the total sales from all of them, after a month, was a tenth of what I was getting through Amazon.
Excellent summary, Jackie Weger. I’m 100% in agreement.
Despite saying there’s “no proof” Amazon favors or skews listings and recommendations towards books enrolled in KU, an Amazon rep confirmed that yes, they do indeed practice this regularly.
What does this mean? If you are not enrolled in KU, aka allow Amazon to be your only source of income, therefore, your boss, you are put lower on bestseller lists, not posted as “recommended other reads”, and ultimately your books are suppressed and all but hidden. This forces authors into a tight corner, allow Amazon to have ultimate control over your income OR perish under a landslide of KU books.
Hmmmm, I wonder what someone needing to feed their family would do?
Unfortunately, creating this Amazon-vacuum is going to prove detrimental to authors and their livelihoods. When Amazon suddenly drops their payouts or does who knows what else, you’re screwed, stuck, without other options or other platforms to fall back on.
KU is going to reduce our income to pennies per book.
Hello. In our research we never found a direct quote from an Amazon rep admitting that they do indeed have their algorithm set to favor KU titles, although we know t hat many have a hunch that they do. If you have found a source that includes a quote from Amazon, we would appreciate you sharing the link!
Of course Amazon Kindle favors those books that are in KU. I did a test of this by taking all my books … a total of 18 … out of KU and sales dropped to a all time low. Putting them back in sales picked up again. I think Amazon has a right to favor those books in KU, after all it is their business. I just want to be paid fairly for the hard work I have done writing my books and receive more than 1/2 cent per page read. I’d rather be paid for the whole book a fair royalty. But if we just received a fair payment by page of just 2 or 3 cents it would make a big difference in your income.
How is the author paid if I am not enrolled in KU and I just buy the Kindle format?
How is a author paid if I am not enrolled in KU and just buy the Kindle version?
If your book is not enrolled in KU, and a reader purchases your book, you receive the amount the book is priced at minus Amazon’s royalty. Amazon takes a 30% royalty for books priced at $2.99 and above. Amazon takes a 70% royalty for books priced at $0.99 or $1.99. So for a book that sells for $2.99, the author receives $2.09. For a book that sells at $0.99, the author receives $0.30.
I withdrew one of my book series from KU and found a significant drop in sales. I added it back and after some time it popped up again in sales, so I can fairly assume that Amazon DOES favor KU books.
On the other hand, I have noticed that my sales have not only increased since they are in KU – if I add the average number of KU readers (easy to calculate by dividing the total number of pages read by the actual number of KENPC pages), I have almost doubled the number of “sales”. So, even though KU does not pay as much as an actual sale, it’s still good business.
(Note: I saw a comment asking about the actual number of KENPC pages – in KDP, go to Bookshelf, KDP Select info – the information is at the bottom of the page.)
My view may be skewed. I do not see Amazon favoring books enrolled in Select. Kindle Unlimited subscribers FAVOR books in Select. I do. And if a title is not available via my KU subscription, I look to see if it is available in my Amazon Prime subscription. If not, I rethink it. That is when I dive into Look Inside, and read a few reviews. When the book says to me: Must read, I buy it. When I visit a brick and mortar bookstore, I may browse 10 or more books before I choose one or two. My choice. My $$$. I don’t give a fig who the publisher is or anything about the author’s fair or unfair contract with a publisher. Most readers don’t.
If Amazon favors books enrolled in Select, it damned sure doesn’t favor mine. To get my books visible I have to engage in smart promotions and hope for sales and borrows.
I’ve now got five self-published, full-length novels, ranging from 65,000 words to 123,000. I’ve had books enrolled in KDP Select but also taken books out of the program at times.
From my experience, I’ve learned to stay in Select.
Last year I had a book enrolled in Select and it was staying in the top 20 of its category and selling well with plenty of pages being read in KU. After three months, I took the book out of the program to sell the ebook on iTunes, etc. Result? Immediately (and I mean the very day that book went out of Select), book when from 10-30 sales per day (+ pages read) to zero. Nada. Zip.
The only change was the book going out of the program. Overnight, sales evaporated.
I re-enrolled the book very soon after, but the momentum was gone.
It can be scary to put all the “eggs” in one basket and cast your lot with one seller. But what I’ve learned is that as things are presently situated, if you want to earn a living from writing novels, KDP Select provides the best way to do that. And KU adds additional income for independently published authors and boosts the book’s ranking. Add to that the Free days and countdown deals, and it’s a powerful set of tools that in my experience – leveraged properly – can lead to organic sales that I’ve not been able to achieve through any other promotional tool or venue.
What this article does not address is KU returns? Why should a reader be able to purchase a book, read it, and return it? That’s what libraries are for.
Just came across this article.
Nicely done, for the most part but there are a few things worth bringing up, especially for some of the writers commenting above:
1- Kindle unlimited is not a store, it is a library. Readers buy access to the library; they do not buy the books nor acquire any property rights to the books. Hence the relatively low pay out. And why the payout is tied to pages read: readers’ subscriptions buy them reading time so Amazon distributes the pool funds according to the readers’ “votes”. In the Kindle ebookstore, readers vote their wallets; in KU they vote their eyeball time. Both are finite, both are currency. (Eyeball time is the currency that pays for ad-supported content. Just as the broadcast networks.)
2- Amazon does NOT favor KDP Select titles in promotions. They DO favor titles with high ranking in their category and BECAUSE KU pages read are INCLUDED as a factor in the rankings, KU popularity BOOSTS a titles popularity/visibility, which raises KDP Select titles over equally good non-select titles. (That is what going Amazon exclusive buys you; a small boost dependent on the title’s inherent merit.) Amazon rankings are a marketing aid (raising visibility) based on the number of customers choosing the title in question. Amazon decided that for ranking purposes they don’t care how the customer pays, whether with cash or with eyeballs. Their game, their rules. Besides, there is a good reason for this:
3- Amazon bills Kindle Unlimited as a discovery tool. Go ahead: read their sales pitch. They mean it. Seriously. Of course, what is to a reader a discovery service is to calculating authors a visibility tool, a promotional service. (Which is why KU reads count towards ranking: people noticed the title, people *chose* the title.) To the extent that a KU payout is lower than a discrete sale payout, the difference can be considered a marketing cost. (Or reader abandonment but we’re too polite to discuss reader disenchantment.) KU is not necessarily designed for Authors to enroll their full catalog full time. Many authors do but it is not required and it might not be necessary. If treated as a marketing tool in and of itself, an author can choose to enroll the first title in a series, as a replacement for permafree, or an assorted subset in rotation over time. All Amazon demandsis 90 days exclusivity at a time. That these other tactics aren’t more prevalent is a reflection on other ebookstores’ weakness more than anything. But quite a few indie authors who do have some success outside the Kindle ecosystem do use KU that way. If you think of KU titles as replacement for permafree, suddenly even the smallest of payouts starts to look… interesting… One KU supporter (I think it was Joe Konrath) said KU is a service that “pays me to promote my books”. Obviously it doesn’t work the same for everybody. But nothing does.
4- That the Big Publishing Houses in Manhattan glass towets don’t participate in KU says nothing about whether KU is a good deal for Indies because, as the table listed in the article points out, KU payouts only approximate the typical author payouts of Indie-priced books. There is no room in that pricing for middlemen. That, people, is by design. Think about it: if KU is intended to boost a title’s visibility above its visibility in the Kindle storefront, it would be self-defeating to fill its virtual shelves with household names like Tobetts, King, and Patterson. The paucity of traditionally-published titles in KU is not a failing but a virtue. Or, as they say in the tech world: “It’s not a bug,it’s a feature.” KU would not work as a visibility enhancer if it included all the exact same titles as the Kindle store. And, because it is NOT a store, it doesn’t have to. KU works, to the extent that it works, because its catalog is an Indie-heavy subset of the Kindle store catalog. Which is the reason for the 90 day exclusivity requirement. What Amazon did is, instead of acting as gatekeeper, they let the publishers self select.
5- Finally: No, KU isn’t for everybody. If a writer already has a large following buying their books at well above the KU full-read psyout levels, KU is probably not the place to put all thrir books. If an author is mostly interested in sales and doesn’t care if the book gets read, KU is vefy likely not the place to put anything. But for a writer ramping up a career, looking to get their stories and theif ideas out, looking to build towards the “one thousand true fans”… well KU just might get them a toehold. Just keep in mind thst Amazon doesn’t want *all books* from *all authors* in KU. They do make more money off discrete sales so, no, they do not want to move the entire ebook business to subscriptions. What they do seem to want is to build up Indie publishers as a group, Indie, Inc, as it were, as a counter to the collusive cartel from NYC and their multinational masters.
Because the stronger Indies get, the less power the Big Publishing Houses have over Amazon.
For now, the interests of Amazon align with Indies.
Use it in your best interests, people, wherever they may lie.
Amazon is nobody’s friend, no corporation is, but they can be useful allies.
That should be Roberts, Patterson, and King in point number 4.
Auto-corruption system at work there.
Not sure if it was mentioned above, but if your book is in KU and your reader has their Kindle in airplane mode, you will not be paid for any pages read. This means, if they download it, go to airplane mode, read it, release it, and sign back on… You just lost a sale.
I think KU is not a good option for authors, but as an author, what can you do? Amazon owns the indie market. 🙁
To: Mana Findley: I put your remark to a second tier Amazon responder and you have been misinformed. Once a reader signs in again or goes on wifi, Amazon grabs those pages read and posts in KENP.
Does anyone else think that KU might be a good way of generating reader reviews? That’s the main reason I’m considering it, as an alternative to Netgalley before going wide. As I’m a debut author and it is hard to generate customer or blogger/ reviewer interest. The rumors of Amazon algorithms favoring KU titles certainly don’t hurt either.
Liz May: Reader reviews are generated by readers who buy or download your book–whatever the sales venue. Just being in Amazon Select does not generate reviews. A book has to be promoted and visible and read. Reviews do NOT sell books. Promotion does. Amazon algorithms do NOT favor KU titles. Algorithms note sales, also boughts and a myriad other data. It is far easier for a new author to promote a book within Amazon Select than when a unit is on all sales venues, because the author must revisit all sales channels to price a unit for a discount in a planned promotion. You may, of course, have a following and a substantial newsletter subscriber base and be skilled at uploading on all venues. Merely going wide, does not generate reviews either. Sharing this: I have above 600 reviews on a title. They just sit there unread unless I put the book in promotion…then the reviews get a little traffic, helping a reader decide if my book is of interest or worth a try–or not.Good luck!
As a reader who does not own a Kindle and buys probably about 20 ebook titles or more a month, I have to say KU sucks because it cuts out all other book sites. I do realize that Amazon is the big dog for ebooks and means the majority of your sales, but for the book industry as a whole I have to say that it makes me sad that this monopoly is growing and pushing out other ereaders. There is nothing more disappointing than reading a review of a book and getting excited about it, and then finding out that it only available through a Kindle or Kindle app, thus locking me out.
hey i have enrolled my book in kdp select program,i read my book once using my KU subscription. but its been 5 days now there is no change in the reports.Is there any way you can help me?
Written Word Media sent the link to this article out on a October 20, 2016 email, so I’ll point out that there’s a new angle to the KU experience. They’re not counting all page reads, so many authors are seeing a dive starting in September (and in some cases earlier).
Here’s an in-depth thread on the topic: http://www.kboards.com/index.php?topic=242225.0
Thank you for sharing the link and yes, recent changes in page reads changes everything. I released a new title in May and the two books in the series, both enrolled in Select, generally earn a 1/3 to 2/3 income ratio for reads vs. purchases. While I have changed nothing, the reads are now virtually zilch (from 1-3000 per day to less than 50). This also affects sales rank. My ranking for both of these books tanked dropping out of top 25 in their category so I” losing organic sales. This all came about in last week of September.
I’m going to pull my data together and email Amazon and ask them to investigate.
Great content, never seen such breakdown of Kindles basic business model. I am new to kindle and publishing, Does anybody knows how kindle handles plagiarism and copyrighted content in its store?
Howey is wrong about one thing: More work goes into ten stories than one because each story requires a satisfying beginning, middle, and end.
Anyone who thinks Amazon is the author’s friend is seriously mistaken. I find it interesting that in the days of pulp magazines the publishers paid a set price PER WORD. Amazon has now reduce that to less than half a cent PER PAGE! I’ve seen my income gone down with every “benefit” Amazon introduces. I’ve noticed that sales of books has seriously declined as Amazon promotes KU. It’s too bad that the folks over at B&N didn’t recognize the potential for eBooks much sooner and give them some competition. If Amazon didn’t have a virtual monopoly on digital books, things would be very different.
Nice post dear, you really enlightened me
Authors should organize their own insiders book exchange and rip the benefits of KU, wouldn’t you think?
I’ll just leave this here for a short but entertaining read:
I’m a reader and want to insure that the author gets the most amount of the book I read. What all do I need to do this beside reading it to the end. I had someone tell me that I needed to return to the cover before turning the book back in. Is this true? Please give me some insight. I want the best for all of you indie authors that work so hard on your books.
Hi Lori – Thank you for being such an ardent supporter of indie authors! Aside from reading a book all the way through to the end, there are 2 other ways you can help indies: 1) Review their book on Amazon after you have finished reading it. and 2) Sign up for the author’s email address (there is usually a link at the back of the book) so you can support them when their next release comes out.
Lori, to answer the question about whether Amazon needs to see you go back to the cover before the book will be registered as completely read – no, that is not necessary.
Good article. I have to stick with Amazon, though. They are the only company that gave me a chance. I searched for publishers for years. They would never reply. My Amazon Author Rank has jumped to 5,275 from 20,500 or so three months ago. Sales are increasing daily. Without Amazon, I never would have had this opportunity.
I make a crapton of money from KU. Authors seem to think that KU cannibalizes their sales. Not for me, it didn’t. I still sell the same amount of books as I did before enrolling in KU. KU is an extra stream of income. And it has grown to the point where it is now 2/3 of my income. I have now been able to make a living solely from writing my novels. I was with a publisher for five years previous to going Indie and they paid me less than one dollar per book sold. With KU, I make at least $1.50 for every book read. I love Amazon.
What a terrific read. Love all the different view points.
To include mine I must say being in Kindle Unlimited has immensely helped establish my Dragon’s Gap series. Otherwise I am sure it would have taken much longer to get the readership.
Also KU is very inexpensive to passionate readers with a large appetite.
As a passionate reader with a large appetite KU is really helpful to my budget. I easily read 5 to 7 books a month. I also have my Kindle “read” to me while driving, knitting, cleaning, etc. If I enjoy a book by an author, that previously cost me .99 or nothing for 1st book in series, and 3, 4, 5, or more for subsequent books in series, then I will read the entire series really quickly as a KU subscriber. But, if I see that the author employs the cliffhanger method of selling more books, on principle I wouldn’t even take the free download for the 1st one, because I knew I couldn’t afford to continue in the series. Also, KU makes me more discerning as a reader. If I’ve purchased a book and it’s mediocre, I feel obligated to finish it, but with KU I just don’t waste my time anymore. Should make an author motivated to hone their craft. I will also follow the authors whose works I enjoy.
Thank you for this post. Very interesting and helpful. I’d like to point out another thing not mentioned in the article above or in the previous comments. KU has its own audience that the author has access to. That’s another thing to take into account.
As a reader. I also would be willing to help authors receive more for their payout from Amazon. What can I do??
I’ve only been at it a couple of years, publishing myself and others, and have made a lot more money off e-books and paperbacks than I have KU, and that’s not because readers are abandoning the books. It’s because the payout is small. I have seen our books get thousands of pages read on KU only to get a couple of bucks generated as royalties. Not one book I have written, or that my small press has published, has higher profits from KU. Again, I reiterate, many pages have been read. It’s not like customers aren’t reading. They are. It just doesn’t amount to much. I have decided to begin pulling our books from KU. Maybe we’re just better at marketing paperbacks and e-books than we are KU. That might be the issue. Either way, we’re going where the money is. Personally, I/we (meaning my own work/our presses) make the most money from print, with e-book not too far behind, with KU way behind.
Also, one has to consider the amount of money an author or publisher can make by doing signings and events. You can only do that with print. But that’s another story.
Just a reader’s perspective… I’m a big fan of KU and long books. I think, tell me if I’m wrong, I can better support an author by getting a single book at a time rather than getting the series in a set. I guess that only goes go books greater than 6000 pages. For me getting books individually makes my Goodreads catalog a lot more usable.
In 4 to 6 weeks I read Evan Curries’ 15 book series, Odyssey One, average of 375 pages per book. I can hardly wait for book 16! Same goes for Jasper T. Scott and Jay Allen.
Just as an FYI… I count on Bookbub, OHFB, Freebooksy and Reading Stacks. Also by following authors and getting their recommendations. If not in KU I check out our local used bookstore, paperbacks 50% off and return for 25% recoup. After used bookstore I check out BetterWorldBooks.
Just an aside. I would love it if I could click on an author’s name/icon in these posts and have a new page/tab open to their Amazon Authors Page 🙂
That’s a great idea! Don’t know if this will work, but I’m gonna try it:
Is there a program that could tell me which of my published books are Kindle Unlimited and which are wide?
I think the ten book limit that KU has for checked out books helps authors because readers cannot just download a bunch of books that they never read.
For what it’s worth, my wife and I read about 20 books a month from KU.
These are some interesting stats!!
I’m a dedicated KU customer. The main reason I like it is because I can easily “suck it and see” across a broad range of authors and genres.
I think putting some of your work on KU (if that’s possible) is a good idea to get new readers like myself. I’ve found several, and will probably be buying those books from them not on KU.
I will probably be on KU intermittently, stopping every now and then to buy books instead.
I’m probably their worst customer, as I read about 20 books a month, though.
This article had been a great help for me to understand the nitty-gritty of authoring and subsequently publishing a paperback or an e-book on KDP or the likes. Thanx a lot.
Thank you for this post. Very interesting and helpful. I’d like to point out another thing not mentioned in the article above or in the previous comments. KU has its own audience that the author has access to. That’s another thing to take into account.