Oh the whining and whinging – repost and update

(Apologies first for doing a repost and brief update. I have to leave the house shortly to take my mother to a doctor’s appointment that will last all morning and possibly part of the afternoon. It is one of those marathon testings that will, hopefully, finally give us at least some insight into what’s been going on with her the last few months. It’s nothing serious and is only intermittent but she has no warning before an episode happens and, once it does, she is wiped out for a good 24 hours after. So, I hope you understand that my mind is elsewhere today. As for the update, I will post that at the end of the original article. Until later!)

I do so love how some folks have to hunt to find some sliver of something that might, in some faraway galaxy, be construed as ill-will by Amazon. Once they find it, they run with it, doing their best to make it into a “big” deal, never considering what the actual facts might be. After all, it’s Amazon they are condemning, so why worry about such minor things like facts? The haters are going to hate, no matter what.

The latest example comes from the New York Times. Yes, yes, I know. It is a bastion of journalistic integrity. How could I doubt it when it hosts headlines like this: Amazon Offers All-You-Can-Eat Books. Authors Turn Up Noses.

The article starts out by saying that authors are mad — again — with Amazon. It goes on to note that “[f]or much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.”

Now, the teacher in me would take the reporter and the editor who approved the article to task for that sentence. After all, it implies that all mainstream novelists were “furious” with Amazon over the Hachette issue. Funny, I don’t remember it being every mainstream author. In fact, the only ones who seemed to really be furious were the favored few and those who felt it necessary to align their names with those same little darlings of the Hachete world. Most of the other so-called mainsteam authors — and what is a mainstream author? Could the article actually mean traditionally published authors? — were busy doing what writers do. They were writing. Note also how the article doesn’t mention once the suggestions made by Amazon to help these so-called furious authors, suggestions that would have put money into the pockets of the authors and that were summarily tossed aside by Hachette. But I digress.

According to the article, there is too much competition out there for writers now. Without the gatekeepers to limit the number — and “quality” — of books available, there are just too many choices for the poor reader to choose from. This is a variation of the argument that is also going around that Amazon is a purveyor of lettuce and shouldn’t also be selling books because, duh, they sell lettuce.

But the real issue the article has with Amazon is the new Kindle Unlimited program. For those of you not familiar with the KU program, it works like this. From the reader’s standpoint, you pay a monthly fee of $9.99. In return, you get the option of downloading up to 10 books at a time for free. These books have to be enrolled in the KU program, so most will be indie books. There is no time limit on when you have to read the books. You can’t loan them and you don’t own them. Think of it as a for pay library. You are paying for the ability to borrow a book for an unlimited period of time.

From the author’s point of view, you have to enroll your title first in the KDP Select program. That means you cannot sell your title anywhere else. Then, if you want to go into the KU program, you check the little box and your book is now enrolled. But don’t get your knickers in a twist — yet. You will get paid for those loans.


At some future point in time.

The problem with KU from an author’s point of view is two-fold. The first is that you don’t know how many times your book has been downloaded. You only find out about a download when it is read to a certain percentage of the book’s length. When that magical number is reached, you get your share of the common “pot”. And therein lies the second issue.

As with the Kindle Only Lending Library (KOLL), authors get paid out of a monthly fund set up by Amazon. The fund can vary in amount from month to month. Worse, there is no limit on the number of books that can be in the program at any one time. So, the more books downloaded and then read to the magic percentage point, the lower the monies paid out per download.

But the real problem with KU is the fact that there is no payment tier based on title price. Someone who puts up a title that normally sells for 99 cents will get the same amount of money per download as that $9.99 title gets. What that means is that those who are putting up titles that fall under the 30% royalty structure normally will get more money per download than they would for a straight sale. Conversely, depending on how much a title sells for you might make close to what you would for a sale if your title is priced at $2.99 but you will make substantially less for those books priced higher than that.

Now, how you look at that is up to you. Amazon is not, contrary to what the article says, making e-books an all-you-can-eat proposition. Most folks aren’t going to pay basically $10 a month just to maybe be able to download 10 books every 30 days or so. Some will, of course, but the average reader will quit the program after realizing they aren’t getting their money’s worth out of it.

But, as an author, you need to look at your sales stats — and that includes returns as well. My personal experience has seen a dramatic decrease in returns on the romance/paranormal romance novels. As I’ve blogged before, other authors I’ve talked to who write in the romance genres have complained of higher return rates for those books than for other genre novels they write. It has nothing to do with quality — usually — but more to do with a certain set of readers. Don’t get me wrong. Most romance genre readers are wonderful fans who would never think about buying a book, reading it and then returning it. However, there is a subset of readers who have no problem doing just that. It isn’t unusual for romance genre authors to have a return rate of 10% or more. Since KU premiered, my return rate for those particular novels has dropped dramatically. It is now at the same level as my other books, below 1% for most novels.

There is something else I’ve noticed. With the exception of my science fiction novels, sales — and borrows — of the other novels have picked up since KU began. That is a good thing. It means money in my pocket and kitty kibble for Demon Kitten and Her Royal Pussiness. Would I like a better way of accounting for the number of downloads vs reading to the magic number? You bet. Just like I’d appreciate knowing how long the average is between download to reading. But what I am finding out through reviews and emails is that a number of those who try a book on KU will then return the book and buy their own copy. Better yet, they will buy other books in the series. I know I am getting sales from KU that I might not otherwise because people do hesitate to buy from an author they aren’t familiar with.

I do wish Amazon would restructure the payment for KU to make it more difficult for authors to game the system. I don’t think something that normally sells for 99 cents should get the same payout that a $2.99 novel does, much less a novel that sells for $4.99 or more. For the system to really work, there needs to be modifiers based on price and length of the work. Without the latter, you will simply have those who want to game the system changing the price of their 2,500 work story from 99 cents to $2.99 (or whatever) to get the larger royalty payout.

The way I look at KU, however, is much like I look at the Baen Free Library. It is, in a way, a loss leader. People get my work for “free”. I don’t get as much money for their borrows but I do, hopefully, get sales out of it in the long run. Am I leaving everything in the program?  I’m not sure. I think I will tweak my offerings a bit over the next month or so to see what happens. But, for now, I’m not going to completely abandon it. Not when I do see positive results from the program.

Now if Amazon would only adjust it so the payout was based on price and length of the work, I’d be a happy camper.

Update: I have tried a couple of things since the KU program went into effect. I’ve done the countdowns and I’ve let titles time out of the program to see how my sales were impacted. The countdowns didn’t give much push but there were some additional sales. But what surprised me — and yet didn’t — was what happened when I went out of the KU program. My sales for those titles went down. So not only was I missing out on the borrow payouts but I also lost traditional sales. What that tells me is that there are those who “borrow” a book under the KU program and then go back to buy it. I still wish Amazon would adjust the payouts for the titles in the program so it is more fair — a short story should not get more for a borrow than it would for a sale and a novel should get more than a short story, imo — but the borrows are still money I might not have made. I will keep tracking and will update later, after I do a few more promotions. What have been your experiences, as a reader and as a writer, with the KU program?


  1. According to my understanding, the author gets 20% of the book purchase price (after the borrower has read 10% of the book borrowed). Therefore the payout is not a flat rate, based on the number of books, but is also of the function of the book price. However, I’m a Reader, and not an Author, so I may have misunderstood what Amazon and other Authors have told me.
    And to clarify the 10 book limit: That’s 10 books AT A TIME, not 10 books within 30 days. So far in the month of March I have reviewed 20 books. A couple/few of those were loaners or advance review copies, but way more than 10 came from KU. So, in that sense, it IS an all you can eat program. I still pay the $10 bucks that everybody else pays, since I read like a wild man, my authors collectively are getting paid more than the person who just likes the subscription service and doesn’t eat books like popcorn.

    1. We appreciate both your support and your reviews, Pat. And I’m sure that Amazon is counting on the fact that not everyone can read as much as you do, just like an all-you-can-eat buffet is counting on the fact that not everyone will eat like my middle son. Seriously, the kid is six, has hands almost as big as mine, and an appetite to match. I’m going to need to be selling hundreds of books a month by the time he’s a teenager just to buy food.

    2. Actually, there is a fund Amazon announces each month, so it changes and can even be changed during the month, that the authors are paid out of. That means you can’t be sure how much you are going to get per sale. It also means that everyone gets basically the same per sale, no matter what the initial price (I’m going by memory here but I do know my payout/unit changes month to month).

      And, I do love the KU program as both an author and a reader. My only issue is the discrepancy in payouts. I also appreciate all the reviews you do.

  2. I’m running more sales than borrows, about 2/1 most months.

    I’ve never had a problem with returns, so I’ve never really tracked them. Anyone else notice any changes?

    1. I never had a huge problem with returns, but would run 4-6 a month, that has dropped to 1-2, and usually those are on the second book in the series – the one that isn’t in KU – so I’m sure it’s people reading and returning a book they won’t pay full price for.

      1. Does Amazon charge anything for a Kindle return? Once upon a time, when people bought software, it was non-returnable. Seems like there ought to be a restocking fee equivalent to >>>undetermined sum<<< or thereabouts. Which should be split with the author. Maybe only for users who had a history of such returns.

        1. I think from what I have heard that Amazon penalizes people who do a lot of returns for no good reason. I don’t really care about one or two, I just think it’s a funny pattern.

        2. Amazon doesn’t charge for a return. You have a 7 day window in which you can return a title. However, as Cedar said, they have been known to take action and suspend or even cancel accounts for serial returners. That is something I appreciate because there are folks out there who will buy a book, read it immediately and the return it, using Amazon as a library and not in the KU sense.

    2. The PNRs have more borrows than sales but the sales have picked up overall because of the borrows. Everything else is at a 2:1 or higher sales to borrow ratio. As for returns, I have seen a dramatic drop off where they are concerned. It seems that the PNR audience is notorious, or at least some of them are, for buying, reading and then returning books. With the KU program, that has stopped. Something I am very glad to see.

  3. As a reader I love KU. Since it has started I have averaged 5-6 books a week which use to be 1-2. Many of these books leads to me buying from authors I would have never would’ve found otherwise. Some of them lead me to run screaming into the night they are so bad.

  4. I haven’t finished Pam’s “The Lawyers of Mars” yet, but Reader/Reviewers have to keep their audience satisfied as well. So, I decided to write my first gun review. I look at the Hi-Point .45 ACP carbine as a possible alternative to the 12 gauge shotgun for home defense. It’s on my blog, but not on Amazon (because Amazon doesn’t SELL Hi-Point carbines).

  5. My husband and I have 50+ titles on Amazon – all of them NSFW – and we’ve noticed that the KU program has had a small impact on outright sales but has improved our overall revenue because of borrows. In fact, our KU income is now up to 40% of our sales income.

    The one amusing phenomena, although entirely predictable, is that our more expensive books have more borrows than sales. As most of our books are pictorial they all take roughly the same amount of time to make so this is simply fun rather than a huge problem.

    One tip for authors: if you are out promoting your books make sure that you are an Amazon Associate and use your associate link. On the one side it adds a few pennies per sale, but often people will buy your book and then buy something else on Amazon. 7% on a $100 “pond pump” – no really – makes up for a few missed sales.

  6. As a reader, I’m not seeing the value in KU. I can usually find something I want to read at an asking price of under $3. If it’s an Ebook that usually sells for more, at a temporary low price, I sometimes buy immediately, especially if it is something I already know I want in my permanent library. On the other hand, if I missed a temporary low price, I almost never go ahead and pay more. Rather, I wait for the next temporary price reduction. The problem with KU is that I can’t add its books to my permanent library afterwards without buying them again at full price. I always read the sample first, unless I’ve already read the book in print, and never buy a book whose sample doesn’t reveal anything about the book. If I were writing for publication again (last done 25 years ago), I’d go through Amazon, and set a price at or below $3. That would still give me a higher royalty than I ever got from a publisher.

  7. As a reader and fairly heavy user of Amazon’s KU program, I can say that I will take a chance now on an unknown author or new book series that I would had hesitated on previously, especially if the book is more than several dollars. Also if I like what I read, I will usually return the borrowed book and then purchase my own copy of it for my Kindle library; as well as purchase future books if it there are some. For me as a reader, it is a win, win.

  8. Once the program started, my sales went down, but then the borrows were up. The ratio of borrows to sales for my books is more than two to one. I am writing non-fiction on a particular topic that sells well, and my royalty deposits are rising.

  9. Amanda, I haven’t signed up for UK yet but I am a prime customer. So I can borrow and I get 2 free amazon First books free each month. When I see an interesting book I add it to a UK wishlist. Years ago I used to haunt remainder book stores looking for great books at 69 cents each. And sometimes I ended up buying lots more books by the same authors. For example Keith laumer (earthblood) and weldon hill (a man could get killed that way ).

    So I know I am price sensitive! ! I find myself downloading free books from the best seller list.

    I have one question. When you say that KU readers go back and buy the book, do you mean they buy the Kindle version? That would never occur to me – one time amazon recalled a Kindle book that I bought and removed it from all my devices. Sometimes I buy a used printed copy of a Kindle book that I enjoyed. Guess I am old- fashioned

  10. KULL has just (as of about a month ago) gone live in Canada, and I love it as a reader. It makes a lot of sense as a loss leader to get people reading a series. For personal ethical reasons, I do not wish to return a book unless the purchase was accidental (a total of two out of perhaps two thousand purchases). I am therefore slightly cautious about buying completely random indie authors. KULL changes that completely.

    It also means I’m willing to read Kindle singles, which otherwise make no economic sense to me. ($2.99 for 20 pages or something? Forget it).

    And yes, I write more reviews.

    I actually view the % read requirement as a great idea for everyone: it prevents an unscrupulous author from trying a “clickbait” strategy to draw in readers the way many journalists do these days.

    The “paid the same regardless of length” seems a ripoff/defect for authors, as does being paid the same regardless of price.

    The conversion of reads to a sale is quite interesting; I’d assumed this would take place for books in a series, especially when the sequels were not in KULL, but evidently it’s taking place outside of solely that condition.

    I admit, I’ll probably end up buying Marko Kloos’ novels, even though I read them for “free”. Similarly, if Kate Paulk’s The Impaler had been on KULL, I’d have bought it as it was an unexpected delight.

    As a result of KULL, I will definitely try something of Cedar Sanderson’s … which I believe I’ve yet to do despite reading her on this blog for quite some time. The descriptions and covers of her books simply haven’t quite appealed enough to me — absolutely no criticism intended. It’s horses for courses.

    What I’d do with KULL if I were a successful author? (Probably much of this is wrong, but I’ve at least thought about it).

    – put up my very best short stories individually, marked clearly as such.
    – put up every single “first book of a series”
    – Make certain every KULL work has a bit of advertising/info in the back about me; who I am, what other works and series, etc. Links are not very useful here since Amazon implements this poorly, but keep a bit of mindshare as the reader has reached the end of a hopefully enjoyable work and is well-disposed towards you at that moment. Hopefully.


  11. I understand there is/was a lot of ‘dark magic’ going on with the so called ‘noble’ publishers like Hachette when it comes to providing authors with their royalties.
    Book returns: what a strange concept. I believe I returned exactly one book in 16 years of buying from Amazon. That particular novel had water damage from delivery, so I sent it back and Amazon sent me an undamaged copy. I would assume that I did not make the ‘list’ for that action.
    I like the ‘loss leader’ $.99 concept. I’m willing to spend a buck on practically anything either Instapundit or accordingtohoyt recommend, I’ve even read a couple of torrid romance novels, one was good enough for me to go out and buy the entire set. Not my usual reading, but if left to Hachette, you are not going to get me to plop down $20.00 for an unknown off-normal-genre no matter who recommends it.
    Personally, I have never considered Amazon’s unlimited reads, too reminiscent of the book-a-month club.

    1. Donald, I’m the same way. I have returned one physical book to Amazon and three (?) ebooks. The physical one because it wasn’t the book I ordered (came from an associate and not Amazon proper) and the ebooks were returned because they were so badly formatted that they were unreadable.

  12. Reblogged this on The Worlds of Tarien Cole and commented:
    I’ve never wanted to spend the money on KU as a reader. Perhaps that will change in the future. After all, it’s the same as buying 1 book a month, which I really do. But I don’t read books that fast on Kindle presently.

    As an author, I haven’t made up my mind which way to go yet. It does mean going exclusively Amazon. Of course, Amazon is 90% of the Indie Sales market. So that’s not as big a deal as it used to be. But I have heard of people who make Smashwords work still. Since most of what I write is Fantasy and Steampunk, that also plays in.

    Market research, I need to sit down for a week sometime soonish and see how fantasy sales are falling out.

    1. Thanks for the reblog. I will be honest and say that I’ve wavered back and forth about KU but after seeing what happened with my bottom line when I went off of the program, I think that (for now at least) I will stay with it.

      1. And generally, that’s the opinion of people I’ve seen go on it. I do know some who make the multi-platform thing work still. But honestly, I can do the math on where the money is. Amazon can afford to do this because that’s where 90% of Indie Sales are coming from.

        So once I get my current editing project done, I’ll have to sit down with my Steampunk and do one last edit before taking the plunge.

        Thanks for the response. 🙂

        1. I did the math before initially going with the KU program. My amazon sales were magnitudes above what I got from anywhere else. I really didn’t lose anything by going exclusively with Amazon. That is especially true when I consider the amount of time it takes to upload to and monitor other sites.

  13. As a reader, I too love KU. I have found that I will try books that I doubt I’d otherwise read, and on numerous occasions I’ve found series that I like and have purchased additional books. I read 3 to 4 books a week, and was finding it difficult to locate things I really liked….KU has helped considerably with that.

    1. I have heard a lot of folks saying that. As an author, I appreciate it because it means you would be more likely to pick up something I wrote if you had never heard of me than you would be otherwise.

  14. Many new book prices are still too high especially when compared to DVD prices. I don’t get out to the library much, and I don’t have the money, or space to store them. I use kindle unlimited and scribd and I’m fairly happy with both services. I feel that this is the future of book reading and will never go back. Eventually as more people discover how wonderful this is your revenues will increase. Change is good. Embrace it.

    1. Revenue will increase only when the payment model changes, unfortunately. As long as it is one big pool and every download gets an equal share, no matter what the size of the download or the price of the item, it is still one of those love/hate relationships for authors.

    2. And reviews are good; the authors NEED them! The money is, I believe, almost second to finding out that people read and ENJOY their books. (I said ALMOST second… but I wonder. Real appreciation might triumph royalties, at least sometimes)

  15. I’m just trying this thought on for size, but I think the mistake in thinking of a KU “Sale” as the equivalent of an actual eBook sale is what leads to the feeling of injustice that all KU “Sales” are paid the same. It’s probably less annoying to look at them as “Rentals” since they have to give them up in order to open up another slot in their 10-books-at-a-time shelf. (I don’t know if they would generate another rental fee for the author if they wanted to download it again to re-read later after having given it up.)

    Basically, The commodity isn’t the same. the KU Borrow is a one-time throw away, while the purchase makes the book yours to keep forever. It’s the difference between getting a movie from NetFlix and going to buy the DVD.

    (BTW, does KU work ONLY on your Kindle, i.e. you can’t use the Kindle PC program or cloud reader?)

    1. The Kindle Unlimited deal definitely works for the Cloud Reader, which is the only thing that I use.

    2. I still have to question the payout, as do other authors. You don’t rent a 22 inch tv for the same that you rent that 60 inch big screen tv. I get what you are saying but it does irk to know that the 99 cent short story gets more per “rental” than it does for a sale, especially when you look at what your $4.99 ebook nets for both. Shrug.

      1. But you rent a 60 minute Children’s DVD from Blockbuster for the same amount as you do the 3 Hour Epic. (of course, that’s being paid by the customer, not paid to the studio, so it’s an imperfect metaphor).

        But still, the SKU from Amazon’s side is a “Borrow” Not a Big Borrow or Little Borrow, and I just imagine the wailing and moaning over which side of the classification line someone is.

        In any case, KU borrows do not represent lost sales as far as anyone’s been able to determine, but extra revenue, which sometimes can lead to additional sales.

        Amazon isn’t paying by the word. In fact, there’s no direct correlation between length and payout. Whether it’s 12 page, $4.99 Erotica or 99 cent loss-leader first volume fantasy novels (which still probably pay the author more than TradPub.) So “His book is shorter than mine, why should he get the same money?” really doesn’t play too well. And being an opt-in system, It’s a calculation each author has to make for himself.

    3. When I get a KU book, I’m almost always on my laptop, which uses the Kindle for PC. The Amazon page asks me if I want to read it in the cloud reader, or if I want it downloaded to another device, and includes my tablet as the default option. If I start reading on one device, then continue on another, a conversation box pops up, and asks me if I want to go to the farthest read page. That’s a handy feature.

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