So…. about Kindle Unlimited

I’ve been hesitating to write this post, because I know some people will come out swinging and saying I’m doing it all wrong or something.

That’s fine. This is just my experience.

The first thing I want to say is that programs like Kindle Unlimited — or even publishing platforms. I knew mystery writers making big money on Barnes and Noble, while for sf/f they paid pennies — when they stop working, it might be for a genre, a sub-genre, a novel or even a particular author.

I decided to talk about it, finally, because it might be useful to some of you who are puzzled.

I’ll point I have a friend in space opera and friends in romance and erotica who are quite happy with their kindle unlimited royalties.

Me? I noticed something going…. odd about two years ago. But we were locked down, and I was super depressed, and then I was moving, and it wasn’t till I released Odd Magics (really putting out cleaned up and also hard cover edition probably in two weeks or so) that it came into focus, and I went back over records.

So, when I switched over to Kindle Unlimited back when, I found that I made about half my income from reads, and half from sales.

This made perfect sense, since reads per page totaled about half the price of the book, and I was getting about the same number of people reading/buying.

Now, back then I made about $5k or so per book reissue, so, 2.5k was nice. While B & N, Kobo, etc. paid me pennies. Maybe $140 per book?

No brainer. I took it off all the other platforms and went exclusive and into KU.

Only…. either the shifters reissues, or Rhodes, or even Odd Magics, even though I still get the same proportions of reads to buys, the reads only pay me about 1/100th of what I get from sales, because …. well, I don’t know. I assume the price per page has gone down. (It’s always been fairly opaque.) Or maybe I’m really getting fewer reads, and miscalculating?

At any rate, Kindle Unlimited has now become what the “also rans” used to be. You know, I might make $140 a year. Is that worth giving them exclusive, and upsetting fans who buy in other formats, and not being orderable by bookstores, etc?

Um…. let me think about it. No. No, it’s not.

Is it worth the time it will take me to put everything out again on all the other stores, including new covers, etc?

Well, you know…. all the covers are due for a refresh, pretty much (successful authors do that, every so often) and there are other things I want to do, including integrating shorts-in-series as part of the series.

So — again, for me, at this time, in this place, and in the genres I write in (Mostly sf/f and mystery) — it is worth the time and effort, starting next week, or so, to start removing a series at a time from KU, recovering and re-releasing, and going wide.

I’m not saying everyone should be doing this, okay? I’m just going “If you’ve noted your royalties look funky, that’s not just you.”

The other thing I’ve noticed is that though I’m a KU subscriber, I’ve started spending money on books, because — unless I’m spectacularly unlucky — anything but say fanfic (austen) or romance (and even that depends on the type) that is on KU just…. is blah. Most of it isn’t bad, it just doesn’t hold me. To get interesting stuff, I end up paying.

Divided between quitting KU (we have a discounted rate subscription) and just paying for all books, or staying in for fanfic jags. (I’ll probably be leaving my fanfic on the program. Even though there too the quality of KU seems to be down.)

Look, it’s not as bad as the 99c novels used to be, but it’s not…. far off. Which means tiredness sets in after browsing a while.

And eh, going wide has the added value of bolstering the competition, which Amazon badly needs.

Yes, I know some of my fans are in strained financial circumstances. To compensate, I shall run sales, as usual (when I’ve remembered. The last few years were heck, okay?) between my birthday (mid November) and the end of the year.

I’m also exploring selling books in conjunction with my newsletter, but more on that later.

Anyway, this is just “What I’m seeing and what I’m doing.” Your mileage may vary. But…. something is wrong in the kingdom of the zon, and things aren’t as they were.

27 comments

  1. For a little while, I would read something on KU, and then buy the book so that the author could get paid twice from me, but lately I’m just buying them. I haven’t actually read much on KU because I have so many ebooks that I have paid for and not yet read.

  2. There are books that I’ll only read via KU (none by Sarah), books that I’ll read via KU until I have the extra funds to purchase, and books that I read via KU that while fun I wonder if I should save funds for other books. 😉

  3. I used to follow the Kindle Unlimited payouts regularly. That was when I was mostly functional.
    I still have the site bookmarked, though, and the total Kindle payout for March 2022 was the second-highest ever, at 41.4 million.
    The per-page payout has been ~4/10 of a cent almost every month, excepting the start-up months and a rare foray into the 5/10 cent range.
    These two facts taken together fail to explain why your income stream changed from about 50% each to 99% purchases:1% reads; ESPECIALLY when you still get the same proportions of reads to buys.
    BTW, a couple of years ago, when I was still able to review, I asked the owner of a small publishing house about it, and he said his income was about 50-50 as well.
    My conclusion is that something is really messed up. I see no way that you experienced THAT kind of income drop-off.
    Here’s the link to my source for Kindle payouts: https://www.writtenwordmedia.com/kdp-global-fund-payouts/

    Peace be on your household.

  4. I’ve seen that sales have more or less stopped, while KU reads are 90% of my income stream. Which means lower income. Now, granted, I have been very slow with releases in the past 6 months, so that hurts. Thanks be for my long-tail sales.

    I have real mixed emotions about leaving KU and going wide. I probably should. But right now is NOT the time for me personally to be digging into it. I need to be writing, and Day Job is in crunch-month. So for now, I’m going to sit tight. This summer? We’ll see.

    1. Your post reminds me that I’m a few books behind in purchasing the latest additions to Familiars and the Merchants/Magic series. I’ll probably get around to catching up sometime next month.

  5. I only have KU because it came with my newer Kindle (Which I haven’t really switched to because the 3G in my Kindle Keyboard is still working for now), and I haven’t bothered to cancel it. But I find I use it for “Popcorn” books, things I’m not really committed to, which I will read once and never revisit. But since I get through maybe one book a week at work, it’s about a wash vs. buying (Since some books I have to buy).

  6. Sarah, we need to talk. Seriously. KU works to bring in big bucks these days (on the whole. There are exceptions to every rule) if you are putting in the time and money to run Amazon ads as well as FB ads. But doing so becomes a crap shoot because FB can and does throttle some ads, the “rules” surrounding the best way to make those ads effective change all the time, etc. I’ll admit my income has dropped a little the last few months–when I don’t have a new release that month–but part of that is because I have fallen off the marketing wagon again. However, since going wide, I have pretty much gotten my non-Amazon sales to the point they make up for or surpass what I was making in KU and my Amazon sales have gone up. And, even though I have been wide on almost every book for close to a year, I am still getting page reads because folks had downloaded my work while it was in KU and are just now getting around to reading it.

    My next step is to pick up my promotions again, start running a few ads again and move away from D2D on certain platforms that I can direct upload to instead. I also need to get more of my books up on SW (only for their store and the outlets that D2D doesn’t reach). But the real key I’m finding out is that you have to get something new out every 2 to 3 months. It doesn’t matter if it is long or short. It just has to be a new title. That keeps the Amazon algorithms happy and it helps with the other outlets as well.

  7. My single book died about 6 months ago on KU and ebook. Somebody bought one last week, thank you unknown customer, but my sales are essentially dead now on the Amazon platform. Sarah’s combined $140/book/annually estimate is about my experience. I did almost that well, within a case of beer or so. Given it took me 20 years to write that, there’s probably thousands of hours involved. Good thing I’m not in it for the money. 😡

    Unfair Advantage by Edward Thomas, if anyone wants to go check the Amazon page. #1,185,438 on the best sellers list. Yes, Edward Thomas is a pen name.

    But now let us consider: Me, Some Guy with one book, has ~ the same result as Sarah, Real Author with many, many books over many years. Sarah works at the business end of it it, I don’t. (I’m really going to release that next book one of these days…)

    Sarah has a fan following. She actually knows how Amazon works (certainly more than I do.) Sarah has many, many reviews. I have ten. (10)

    Okay? That, taken all together, seems doubtful to me. Noob with one book and established author with existing fan base… same income per book? Sure.

    Now, that aside, the other thing is this: I’ve squeezed about all the dime-juice out of Amazon I’m going to at this point. “It’s dead, Jim.” Do I have anything to lose by going wide to other platforms? Probably not. It’ll be a ‘new’ book on those platforms, right? I’ll (theoretically) get a pop from getting on the New Releases list on a bunch of platforms, all of which are smaller by far than Amazon. It’ll get noticed, at least.

    On the other hand, the first six months of KU I did pretty good. Not setting the world on fire by any means, but a comparatively decent sales rate, especially compared to the deadness that now rules.

    On the gripping hand, as it were, many of the Mad Geniuses report you get a pop in first book sales and KU when you release a second book. So when I finally get off my fundamental whatsit and release Book Two, maybe I’ll just take that first six months before going wide with both books.

    Very interested to see how other people are doing.

  8. Looking at this month, my gross income is about two-thirds KU and one-third sales.

    I target my Amazon Ads mostly at other KU writers, so I’m not surprised to see most of my income coming out of KU. On the other hand, it makes me nervous that most of my readers appear to subscribe to KU so that if I went wide, I’d lose a bunch of them. (I’ve been noodling going wide for quite a while but doing precisely nothing about it.)

    I went looking for examples just now but couldn’t find any of something I noticed a few months ago. I think Amazon was testing how to drive readers to sign up to KU by making the Buy button almost invisible on books in KU. If it was doing that, nice for Amazon’s KU program but not so good for individual writers.

    1. If a book is in KU, there is a small line of text under the borrow button asking if you want to buy it. You have to click on that text to get to the buy button. I’m not sure how long it has been like that, but it is a little annoying if you want to just buy the book.

  9. Thank you for bringing this up. I’m coming at this from the clueless newbie end of things. I launched ‘Texas at the Coronation’ as Kindle exclusive at the beginning of March, and my book / KU royalties for that month seemed to be pretty even. I also did an ad campaign through Amazon but ended up stopping it before the end of the month because it wasn’t worth it. I’m pretty sure I got more sales from being promo’d by Sarah and Old NFO than from the ads.

    This month it looks like KU is going to top book sales. I haven’t done any other promotions yet, and I’m not on Facebook or Twitter (didn’t see much point since I’m one of those horrible Deplorables). I do have a short story in an anthology that’s coming out next month, so we’ll see what kind of bounce I can get from that. It certainly sounds like I have some things to think about for the future.

  10. I chose to go wide when I released Whirlwind of Stars, mostly because I dislike putting all my eggs in one basket. Long term it seems best to reach the widest audience possible and offer the most avenues of approach even if building an audience on multiple platforms is rather daunting. (I’ll worry about more details when I have more than one book.)

  11. I’m not a writer. I do wonder what assurance writers have that Amazon and the other platforms are reporting sales of e-books honestly. At least with paper there’s the hope of an physical audit trail.

    1. Depends on who’s selling them.

      Amazon does report physical book sales, they can be checked against inventory– but the publishers, notoriously, use Bookscan estimates for paying authors. (In addition, unless they changed it just recently, Bookscan doesn’t use Amazon’s numbers, either.)

      Amazon can at least be audited for individual sales, while remainders and reselling and all kinds of other complications in the “how many did we actually sell?” calculation are why publishers use Bookscan.

  12. For most mainstream books, I use our library. They have a great app which also has audio versions. I never have to go in, so it’s almost like KU/Audbile paid with my taxes. The only problem is some of the authors I like aren’t on it.

    I decided to try the KU, for the free trial, and I’m finding it a slog to try and find ANYTHING outside of indie authors I know. I spend more time trying to go through the many titles, eating up what little reading time I have these days. I’ll probably cancel it as soon as it’s charging, and just buy the indie authors books I like.

    This makes me wonder from a business perspective as an author, how does one stand out from the crowd?

    1. Everyone says it, but it’s because it’s true: good covers and good blurbs help you stand out. This is after writing something people want to read, of course.

      I’ve found advertising also helps. Amazon Ads work for me. I dipped my toe in Facebook ads a few years ago and thought they were pretty good, but then FB changed the way to target your ads, so the FB ads stopped working for me. I haven’t tried them again in the past few years.

  13. So let’s pretend that I have never published a book, that I know absolutely nothing about the business and stand at the precipice with a book about ready to drop, and that longing to jump is excruciating. When you publish on KDS is that the same as kindle unlimited? I was under the impression that it was two separate things. If you go wide, can you still do KDS? With whom exactly does you go wide with? I read one of the MGC articles on this… Published several years ago now. The industry has changed so much I wonder if the info is stale. From what I read here, I need a title to drop every one t tow months to keep from getting back to the discount rack, like another can of beans.* Should they be in-series? I could rustle up some shorts that might fit the bill. I’m working on the second installment but gee, writhing 80K plus seems to take time!
    *Thanks Billy Joel!

    1. Kindle Unlimited is its own program.

      The more you write, the more you’re looked at, the more Amazon will show you to people.

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