Kindle Unlimited – Is It Worth It For Authors?
There is a seemingly endless procession of decisions to make when publishing a new book, not least of which are the platforms through which you want your work to be available. Generally speaking, making your book available through Amazon is a no-brainer. Amazon is easily the largest retailer of books (among other things) online. After all, the company started life exclusively selling books.
But if you’ve looked into publishing your work on Amazon, you will likely have come across the Kindle Unlimited service. We’ll get into what the service entails shortly, but for now, you can think of it as “Netflix for Books”. From an author’s perspective, there are upsides and downsides to having your book available on Kindle Unlimited, and we’re going to explore them in detail later in the article. Is Kindle Unlimited worth it for authors? We will say up front that we believe Kindle Unlimited is worth it for new authors, but perhaps less so for established authors.
What is Kindle Unlimited?
While no analogy is perfect, “Netflix for Books” is pretty close-at least from the reader’s perspective. Kindle Unlimited allows users to pay a flat monthly fee of $9.99, and in exchange, they can read as many books, magazines, and listen to as many audiobooks as they like.
Like Netflix, the selection is not unlimited. There are over a million titles available through the service, but there are many more that are not. Indeed, back in 2010, it was estimated that around 130 million books had been published, and there have no doubt been many more since. Still, over a million titles make for a lot of reading material.
Authors are paid per-page basis from the Kindle Direct Publishing Global Fund, the total of which is announced at the end of each month. The nature of “all you can eat” media consumption means that users will try many books that they never finish. For a traditional publishing model, the author would already have been paid for the sale of one unit before this happened, but obviously, that isn’t the case for what is essentially a rental service. By paying per page, authors receive at least some compensation any time their book is opened, even if the reader only makes it a few pages in before deciding it’s not for them.
How and Why An Author Would Want to Use Kindle Unlimited
One of the main reasons an author would want to have their book on the Kindle Unlimited platform is exposure. As mentioned, Amazon is the largest retailer of books in the world. And, while the number of ebooks on Amazon’s digital shelves makes for a lot of competition, there is also the largest amount of readers browsing those shelves.
For an established author with a substantial reader-base, Kindle Unlimited will be a less attractive prospect, as they will be able to make more headway with traditional sales and marketing. For an unknown-particularly self-published-author, Kindle Unlimited represents a great way to get noticed. Readers can be a little cagey about spending $9.99 on a book by an unknown, self-published author, but if they are already a Kindle Unlimited user, taking that plunge will cost them nothing but time. And not even a great deal of that if they decide they don’t like it after a few pages. This represents a great way to build an audience without having to spend exorbitant amounts of money on promotion.
Pros and Cons
We mentioned we were going to get into the advantages and disadvantages of Kindle Unlimited for authors in more detail, so let’s do just that. Many of the points we’re going to address here are two-sided coins-there is typically a negative aspect to every positive. To that end, we’re going to approach this from a point-counterpoint style.
Pro: Free Exposure
As mentioned above, being on the Kindle Unlimited service puts you in the position of having a lot of readers with virtually free access to your book. Readers will seek out the kind of books they want to read; if they come across your book, and it looks the part, they will be more inclined to give it a try. If your work is up to the task, word of mouth and algorithms will do most of the work from there.
Con: Heavy Competition
Despite the advantages of not having to convince someone to buy your book, you are still in a situation where you will need to grab a readers attention in a sea of other authors all attempting the same thing. Practically speaking, this means you will likely still have to spend money on making your book as marketable as you can: sales copy, book covers, even advertising. There’s always a chance that merely publishing your book and enrolling in the Kindle Unlimited program will net you some success, but it’s a small chance.
We touched on the payment model that Kindle Unlimited works from. At the end of each month, the total amount is announced. This constitutes the entire fund that is to be divided up among Kindle Unlimited authors and is done so based on pages read.
The advantage here is that you, the author, are paid for any reading of your work, even if it is only a few pages. Granted, you won’t earn much from someone reading the first chapter of your book, but it’s better than nothing.
Con: Lower Rates of Pay
Earning something rather than nothing for a few pages being read may be enticing, but if you are successful enough to have a significant number of readers reading your book cover-to-cover, the Kindle Unlimited’s payment model starts to look less appealing.
For example, the figures for Kindle Unlimited in January 2019 suggest that an average length book read from start to finish would have made its author a little over a dollar. Compare this to a regular $5 book sale through Amazon, which could make you almost $3.50 (depending on your royalty option) and it’s easy to see why more established authors might be less keen to put their work there.
Pro: The Largest Book Selling Platform in the World
If you are going to try and sell anything, being available in the largest marketplace for that kind of product will be a big help. As mentioned above, Amazon is undoubtedly high up on the book-selling mountain, having being responsible for an estimated 74% of all ebooks sold in the U.S. in 2015.
It can often be surprising just how much of an impact convenience plays on your average consumer’s purchasing decisions. There is a reason companies like Apple and Amazon try so hard to get users onto their platform early on-once you have a library of digital content, it is harder to justify moving to another service. Many people exclusively use Amazon for the book-buying needs, so it makes sense that you would want to be available there, given the percentage of the market that Amazon represents.
Unfortunately, in the case of Kindle Unlimited, that percentage of the market that Amazon represents will become your only market, as exclusivity is part of the deal. In order to become part of Kindle Unlimited, you must enroll in the KDP Select program, and in order to do that, your book must be exclusive to the Amazon platform. This exclusivity only applies to the digital version of your book and only whilst it is enrolled in the program.
Once again, this is a situation where established, successful authors may find the platform less appealing. For new and unknown authors, however, this may not be that big a barrier. For those authors, the chances of getting sales outside of the Amazon platform can be much lower, so being limited to Amazon isn’t so bad. And you can always choose to publish future books elsewhere. Kindle Unlimited is a per-book agreement and has no bearing on your future releases.
So, Is Kindle Unlimited Worth It For authors?
The Kindle Unlimited program is a great way to start building an audience for new authors. Readers can try your work without it costing them, so the risk of getting something they don’t like is neutralized by the fact that they don’t have to pay for it. And, if your work is compelling, those readers will be more likely to seek out more of your work-perhaps even work that is outside of the Kindle Unlimited platform. And, of course, word of mouth advertising is always a possibility. For these authors, Kindle Unlimited can help get a self-published career off of the ground.
For established authors with an existing following, or authors with a respectable marketing budget behind them, Kindle Unlimited is not as useful. The advantages of discovery brought by the platform are less enticing, as you will already have a good deal of exposure, and the money to be made on the platform is far less than more traditional book-selling models. For authors with an existing fan base, the exclusivity required to be on Kindle Unlimited will also be unwelcome, as it means potentially excluding part of your established reader-base.
As with many things in life, the suitability of Kindle Unlimited for any given author will depend on their circumstances. There is no absolute right or wrong here. So take the information we’ve provided you here, consider your current situation as an author, and make the best decision for you.