Some Thoughts: Kindle Unlimited

Okay, so last week, I wrote about how I recently enrolled The Wheel Mages in Amazon’s KDP Select program. With that enrollment, my book was automatically placed in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited library. As an aside, I don’t think that’s optional. I’m pretty sure if you’re KDP Select you have to be part of Kindle Unlimited. If any other authors out there want to correct me on that one, please do.

What is Kindle Unlimited, you ask?

Well, it’s basically like Netflix for books. For $9.99 a month, a reader gets unlimited digital downloads of anything in the Kindle Unlimited library. Keep in mind that as far as I’m aware, none of the Big Five offers its books exclusively through Amazon and as a consequence are not part of Kindle Select or Kindle Unlimited, so this library is entirely indie and small press titles. Simple, right?

For the reader, sure. For the author… not so much.

Figuring out how the royalties for Kindle Unlimited are calculated was a headache. I wanted to be a part of KDP Select for promotion purposes, and as far as I know, that means I get saddled with Kindle Unlimited too. But you only have to be a part of KDP Select for 90 days before you can decide to keep it or toss it, so I figured, why not? One of the nice things about being an indie author is this ability to experiment, so that’s what I’m doing.

In the end, I did figure out how royalties on Kindle Unlimited work… I think. And from what I can gather, there are a few things to be aware of.

The KDP Global Fund

The KDP Global Fund is basically a big pot of money where all those $9.99 subscriptions end up. Every month, Amazon calculates the total fund and pays authors who have had their books downloaded from the library out of that pot. In January of 2017, it was $17.6 million. 

Amazon’s Calculation of Pages

Amazon pays from the Global Fund based on pages read, not based on books downloaded. So an author only gets paid when a reader downloads their book and reads some of it. I have feelings about this I’ll discuss later.

But Amazon doesn’t use the page total of the book as formatted by the author. Apparently, to avoid authors trying to scam them by making the font super big or leaving blank spaces or something, Amazon uses its own algorithm or page counter of sorts. Why someone would risk losing readers by formatting his/her/their book in an ugly way just to get a few extra tenths of a cent is beyond me, but I suppose that’s for another time. Anyway, as this article points out, it all boils down to Amazon basically calculating a “page” as 187 words. For me, this actually turns out to be a good thing. My book is 334 pages on the Kindle, but for Kindle Unlimited royalty payout purposes, Amazon calculates it as approximately 556 pages, so score there.

The Royalties

Now we get to the part people are actually interested in, I’d wager: the calculation of royalties. Okay, so how this works is every month, Amazon calculates the amount of money in the Global Fund and takes a chunk of it as author payouts. How big that chunk is seems somewhat unclear. I’d hope it was something like the 70% an author gets in royalties when a book is sold, but who knows. Anyway, after they pull out this chunk, they divide it by the number of pages read and distribute it based on a price per page. From what I’ve read, it seems like this normally comes out to be about $0.004-$0.005 per page. So half a cent per page or thereabout. Meaning that if someone reads my 556 (Amazon) page book, I see between $2.22 and $2.78 in royalties. My $3.99 book garners me $2.79 in royalties when someone buys it outright, so for me, the payout is somewhat equivalent. But with Kindle Unlimited, I only get paid if the book is read.

My Feelings

As with everything indie, my feelings on Kindle Unlimited are mixed, and I’m sure they’ll evolve as I see how the program affects (or doesn’t) my earnings. Right now, though, they are as follows:

The Good:

I like that the book is essentially free for some users (including in limited circumstances to Amazon Prime users) because, as I said last week, people like free stuff. If someone can get my book for free, and I still get paid for it (if they read it), I think that’s a win-win for the author and the reader.

The Mixed:

I sort of like the fact that an author is paid by page read. In some ways, this function acts a bit like a gatekeeper, because you only get rewarded if your book is actually read. I think this serves as a partial remedy to the indie image problem of poorly edited and formatted books and might help get indie authors to up their game a bit by encouraging proper editing and formatting.

I also don’t like that authors are paid by page read because a reader may DNF a book for reasons relating to taste or personal preference. I very rarely DNF a book, but I’m also not incredibly picky when it comes to what I read. I know there are plenty of readers out there who are and who might only read 10 pages before tossing the book aside, especially if they have access to unlimited downloads. Does this mean that you really have to make sure your book is excellent? Yeah, absolutely, which is a good thing. But it also punishes an author for something out of his/her/their control–reader taste preferences, which isn’t something that happens on other platforms. I’ve read plenty of books I was “meh” about or DNF but spent $10 or $20 on and never thought about returning it to Barnes & Noble. I suppose there’s something to be said about learning how to deal with changing platforms and media in this, but as an author, it’s kind of rough.

There’s also this graph that I want to talk about.

Picture1

Okay so that’s the graph that tells you how many pages of your book have been read. If you can’t see it because it’s too small, the X axis shows the date and the Y axis shows the number of pages read. This is mostly blank because until the other weekend The Wheel Mages wasn’t available in the Kindle Unlimited library and also because it was given away for free for everyone (free downloads are different from borrowing a book from the Kindle Unlimited library).

What looks like happened is someone borrowed it from the Kindle Unlimited library on maybe Friday. So Saturday, I get up, and I see this graph. And it shows me only 10 pages have been read. As an artist and someone with anxiety, this made me kind of sick. I just kept thinking, “Oh my God, someone borrowed my book from the library and only read 10 (Amazon) pages. Which is about 1,800 words, which is almost exactly the prologue and first chapter. Then… nothing. They must have hated it. I’m a failure. I should never write again.”

All day Saturday, I obsessively checked that damn chart. Nothing, nothing, nothing. And I know this is totally irrational, but that really kind of broke my spirit. That chart just would not leave me alone.

But then, Sunday, I get up and I see the chart looking like this. It now sits at about 550 pages read. Meaning, I think, that probably whoever borrowed the book read it from start to finish. This had me on the opposite end of the spectrum. Instead of despair, now I was elated. Someone read my book in a weekend! THE WHOLE THING! I went from 10 pages read to someone finishing it! WOOHOO! I’m awesome.

In the end, though, I could honestly do without the chart. I am simply someone who takes things way too personally and way too hard and having that chart staring me in the face as a constant mirror of my self-worth or something is just a bit… much.

I should also note this chart doesn’t reflect pages read for any books downloaded for purchase, only books “borrowed” from the Kindle Unlimited library. So I have no idea how many pages were read or weren’t read from the hundreds of downloads I had during my free weekend. And you know what? I’m much happier not knowing.

In Conclusion

The jury is still out. I’m not 100% sure if I’m #TeamKindleUnlimited or #TeamFreeIndieAuthors on this one yet (I totally made those hashtags up, btw), but I’ll be sure to let you know in 90 days.

Any indie authors want to chime in? Love Kindle Unlimited? Hate it? Meh about it? Sound off in the comments.

And, as always, take care of yourselves.

❤ Aimee

Next week on the blog: My Characters Aren’t Pretty: Thoughts on morally gray characters in a time of black and white. Don’t want to miss it? Make sure to follow.

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