Kindle Unlimited 2.0—Fair? Or Conniving Plan?

At the beginning of the month Amazon switched over to what many authors are referring to as Kindle Unlimited 2.0 or (KU 2.0). The change was simple, but significant: instead of a flat royalty rate when someone borrows your book, you now get royalties for every page of your book that is read. See? Simple. But also significant.

I admit, when I received the e-mail alerting me to this new plan I was very skeptical at first. Even though I was only making about half the amount on a borrow as I would on a sale, it was still nice that this was a guaranteed royalty rate(so long as the reader made it past the sample 10% of the book). So when I saw they were changing it to be pages read, I got nervous. With the old plan, if someone borrows my book, but doesn’t like it, I still made the money on it. But now, if someone borrows my book and reads only a few pages before tossing it, I might get a couple pennies. This would drastically change my royalties earned being enrolled in KDP Select, which made me decide that I was not going to re-enroll in the program for another 90 days. But then the strangest thing happened—I stepped back, looked at this change after my knee-jerk response had settled, and realized it’s actually not only fair, but if my books are good then it has the potential to pay far better than the old plan.

Though I was skeptical of KU 2.0 after reading the email, I think I really got jaded after I saw the reaction from many in the indie author community. A reaction that seemed to be filled with nothing but moans and groans about how Amazon was screwing them over again. It was then I realized how we were complaining about the very company that made it possible for authors of all types of skill sets and stories to actually get their work in front of readers. When I started looking at it that way, I was shocked (and still am) at how much some folks complain about Amazon. How Amazon doesn’t care about indie authors, how they are greedy, conniving, yadda yadda yadda. These people have already seem to have forgotten that Amazon has not only given us all publishing deals (deals far more favorable than most traditional publishing deals), but that they are the pioneers for this indie author boom we live in. Without Amazon, many of us would have a lot of words written in a file that is collecting digital dust for no one to enjoy. So to those people, I say show a little appreciation for what Amazon has done, and stop expecting them to just give you more. Which leads me to this stunning realization…

Amazon is giving indie authors more! But there’s a caveat—you have to give more. The people pitching the biggest fits (at least from what I observed) were those who have quite a few short stories published, many of which were listed at 99 cents, and taking advantage of the blanketed borrow royalty. Weren’t we just talking about conniving? Time to do some math (don’t worry, it’s not too hard).

When you list a book at 99 cents on Amazon, you earn about 35 cents per sale. However, under the old KU plan, all borrowed books, regardless of sale price or length, earned the same amount or royalty. Amazon KDP select has a pot of money each month (KDP Select Global Fund), and the amount of borrowed books was divided up against that pot. The average was around $1.35 per borrow. That meant a book that would normally yield the author 35 cents per sale (if listed at 99 cents) would make them a dollar more if it was borrowed. And since the only requirement to earn a borrow royalty was for the reader to get past the sample 10%, this method was quite effective for books that were 40-50 pages long (meaning the reader just needed to get through 4-5 pages in order to earn the author the $1.35). Do you see where this starts to become a little lopsided for novelists? So someone who writes a 40 page short story or novella in a month or less would earn the same amount my nearly 700 page book, As the Ash Fell, would earn on a borrow. But all of that has changed. Now, if the estimates are accurate, and Amazon will pay $.005 per page read (that’s a half a penny), then my book would earn $3.5 for a borrow that someone reads cover to cover, while that 50 page book would earn a quarter. So, as I said, a simple, but significant change in how things work.

My biggest worry about this, in terms of negative impact, is: what if my book stinks, and every time it gets borrowed only a few pages are being read? Well, if that’s the case then I have bigger problems to worry about. If people are buying/borrowing my book, but not reading it, then fixing that issue is my biggest priority as a writer. Thus far, I have been pleased with the results from the KU page count on As the Ash Fell—in fact, it’s trending to exceed my expectations by nearly double this month. The only thing I wish Amazon would add (and perhaps it’s in there somewhere and I haven’t found it yet) is to let me know how many people make up my total pages read, so I can know how many people finished the book versus how many people stopped halfway through, etc.

Another benefit to KDP select, which hasn’t changed recently, is the Kindle Countdown deal or free giveaway. I recently ran a countdown in the US that ran for a week. And in that week alone I had more sales than my first month total, and darn near cracked the top 100 in Post-Apocalyptic genre (which is no easy task).

So, for the people fussing about Amazon not caring about the indie authors, I would fully disagree. In fact, to me it sounds like they are looking out for the indie authors, keeping things balanced with the people who were capitalizing off of the flat borrow rate from before. They’ve honestly created a platform that has the potential to get out as much as you put in. That’s about as fair as it gets.

So to summarize: write good (ugh, my wife/editor is going to kill me for that one), write long (whether you take a year and write one longer novel, or crank out 10 short stories), do your best to let the world know about your book, and KU 2.0 will benefit you. On the flip side, if you write the literary equivalent of click bait that is only a few dozen pages, it may not pan out so well.

So if you decided not to enroll in KDP select so that your book will be available to other folks like Nook, iBooks, etc, then I salute you—may your book do extremely well on those other platforms. To those who do it just to “get back” at Amazon for making things “so terribly unfair”, I say “Thanks for making the KDP global fund a little bit bigger for the rest of us.”

I will now go hide and wait out the inevitable assault from those I have angered with this post.

5 thoughts on “Kindle Unlimited 2.0—Fair? Or Conniving Plan?

  1. Excellent post, AJ! Honestly one of the best observations of KU 2.0 that I’ve read. Folks are quick to judge Amazon when they make change, which they do often. It it weren’t for Amazon, I personally never would have launched my writing career. I think Amazon is doing a good thing here, but I agree that it would be nice to have some more specific data on the amount of readers that are actually borrowing the book. Congrats on almost reaching that top 100 mark in the post-apocalyptic genre. It’ll happen.

  2. Nice job on the post. I’m one of those who left KU before they made the changes because I don’t like the exclusivity. It’s working for me and I don’t plan to go back to KDP Select unless Amazon changes and allows other platforms. But I didn’t see the KU 2.0 changes as a bad thing, pretty much as you describe them. If you’ve written a good book, then you shouldn’t worry.
    I think a lot of folk just read the headlines and rumors and don’t always understand what a change really is about from Amazon. The whole review kerfuffle is another one of those. People haven’t read the Amazon guidelines about reviews so when Amazon removes them for what I think are mostly correct reasons, they kick up a fuss. I’m sure that some reviews are getting picked off by mistake but it’s not the huge masses of reviews that you’d think by the headlines. I’m actually more worried about the voting up/down change they made in June. I can see a lot of potential for fraud there – people on Fiverr offering to vote up reviews.
    Anyway great post.

  3. Good post…and I agree with a caveat. It is not a fair system for illustrated books. I have a few, and my illustrations are what ‘make’ the books…which are short. There is no way we are fairly compensated for the time/effort of the illustrations when they are counted equivalent to text pages. I hope amazon will make a special category for illustrated children’s books and the KU rate for those.

    • I agree, that’s a difficult, and unique situation that Amazon should take into consideration for sure. I wonder how they will handle that in the future.

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