Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s all-you-can-read book subscription service. Pay $9.99 a month, and read anything enrolled in the program without having to pay more. Full disclosure: Before I joined Laterpress, there was a couple month period where I was subscribed to Kindle Unlimited, and I didn’t like it from the reader POV either. I felt pressured to have to read at least 2-3 books a month through their ecosystem for it to feel “worth it” and for the amount I was using it, both myself and the authors I read would have been financially better off if I’d just bought their books. I cancelled my sub long before I joined Laterpress. As I’ve learned more about how the program works, and reflected on its influence on the publishing landscape, my opinion of it has only grown more and more negative.
I’ll tell you straight-up, if your book is enrolled in KU, I’m not going to read it.
Authors whose books are in KU get paid per page read, at a rate that fluctuates, but is usually between $0.004 and $0.005 per page. Let’s split the difference and call the rate $0.0045 for some math.
At that rate, if someone reads your 400 page book completely, you just made $1.80. If you priced that book at $4.99, you’d be netting in the neighborhood of $3.50 after Amazon’s take. A KU read is half as profitable as a sale, and the deal only gets worse if your book is shorter. So why make your book available for pennies on the dollar?
Amazon gets away with this because they’re the world’s ultimate Mega Corp. They have a large user base, and so while each read generates less revenue, the idea that “it’s free” from the reader perspective could get readers to nibble on books they otherwise wouldn’t, so the volume of page reads compensates for less actual sales. In theory. Amazon also heavily promotes KU – so some authors will put there books there and rely on Amazon’s algorithms to do their marketing for them (or at least, a generous portion of it) — good luck with that when your book is just one is a sea of others in KU.
This unlimited subscription model turns books into commodities. KU readers are not loyal to YOU, they are loyal to KU. That readership won’t follow you elsewhere if you decide to leave the program. Personally, I’d rather cultivate an audience I know thinks by books are actually worth paying for.
I hear a lot of “Well, I have to be in KU for my genre.” I hear this particularly with romance and LitRPG. Yeah, well, things don’t get better for authors if everyone just submits to Amazon’s terms. Amazon is in it for Amazon. Because the worst part of Kindle Unlimited, worse than the paltry per-read rate vs. sales and how the program devalues an author’s work – is that Amazon requires exclusivity for your book to be in the program.
Giving Amazon sole power over your ebook, and thus having a single point of failure in your author career, is a dangerous decision to make. Yes, I’m absolutely aware some authors make crazy bank in KU – but anger the Amazon gods, and it can all go up in smoke in an instant.
But this post is titled “Why I Won’t Read Books Enrolled In Kindle Unlimited” so let’s get to the heart of that, shall we?
I don’t care that some authors are making bank in KU. I think the program devalues author’s work, and conditions readers to think they shouldn’t have to pay for books. It locks people into exclusivity to a faceless megacorp who can blow of your career with a couple clicks of a mouse, if they wanted to. It’s a great deal for Amazon, locking up so much exclusive content, and a poison pill for the health of the greater publishing industry.
I also have my self-interest to consider. I work for Laterpress, trying to build the most author-friendly publishing platform in the industry. We DON’T have any exclusivity nonsense. We take an extremely modest 5% of each sale. We want more money in AUTHOR’S pockets, not to become billionaires and book ourselves passage on space flights. Authors publishing in KU are deciding to run their author business in a way that is antithetical to our mission. And I consider this a dream job. I want our company to succeed and never have to look for another job ever again.
My time is limited. I already have a TBR pile that is 400 books deep. So, when I venture out to look for new indies to read and support, why would I support authors publishing in a way that is contrary to my best interest? Why support the competition? I’d much rather support indies going wide, and not submitting to the monopoly, unlike authors chaining themselves to Amazon. Whether they ever come to Laterpress or not, I’ll support the wide indies. Yes, I do buy ebooks from Amazon, but if indie authors give me an option to buy direct from them, I take that option. Every time.
Don’t be lazy. If an author’s selling a book off their site, buy it off their site. (Whether they use Laterpress or not, my opinion is the same on this.) It takes like 60 extra seconds at most, and you’ve giving them WAY more money for the same book price. Authors need your dollars. Not Amazon.
So I’ll say it again, if your book is in KU, I’m not reading it.
There are exceptions to this — those being authors who are personal friends of mine. Would I prefer they weren’t in KU? Of course! Would I love it even more if they were part of the Laterpress community? Naturally! Banding together will be how we chip away at the Amazon monopoly. But I’d be a crappy friend if I effectively gave my friends the finger and didn’t support them because they’ve made business decisions I don’t like. Friendship is more important than ideology. It’s true with politics, religion, and where you publish your books. I’ll do for my friends what I wouldn’t do for strangers.