Amazon is the big yellow and purple polka-dot gorilla in the room. There’s no getting around that. Mind you, I admire Amazon in a lot of ways. This is a fiercely competitive company who sinks profits right back into business so they can keep expanding like a supernova exploding in slow motion. It’s one of the largest employers in my state and it’s changed the way we think about commerce in many ways. But we’re only talking about one arm of this giant, Elder-godlike monster today.
From time to time, we get questions from authors about Kindle Unlimited and whether authors should or should not participate. In brief, KU is the system by which Amazon asks that authors upload to them exclusively in exchange for more visibility. There are advantages to this, of course, in the strange and arcane world of Amazon algorithms and eldritch listings, readers will (potentially) see you more.
I do think if you’re someone who wants to publish independently and who doesn’t have a lot of time to devote to the rigmarole of publishing to several different distribution sites, KU is an option to consider. One and done. No messing with different formats or different payment systems. One place for your tax stuff and, oh, hey, Amazon giving you special precedence. These are good things.
However, there are some serious drawbacks, and for the writer trying to make a living from stories exclusively, there are some things to consider. Full disclosure: I don’t do KU and none of my publishers do, so instead of me guessing, I’m going to defer to people with more informed opinions.
John Scalzi says: “I don’t approve of putting a cap on my own earnings (particularly one I have no say on), and I don’t approve of being in a situation where my success as an author comes by disadvantaging other authors, or vice versa.”
Brad Vance: “The first month of the New Economic Order, July 2015, it was a shocking and upsetting $0.005779 a page. December 2015’s rate, released yesterday? $0.004609. So the pay-per-page is now down…20% since the program started.” (Brad has several financially-based posts on the subject.)
Hugh Howey: “Fear over what Amazon might do in the future is hurting growth of a better reading medium today. The smart (and selfish) thing upon realizing this would be for me to put my works in KU, not say a thing, and enjoy all the benefits of a large slice of earnings coming to me from a limited pool of funds.” (Note: Hugh’s article was dated in August 2015, prior to the full impact of changes to per page payments.)
Experiences are, to say the least, mixed. I certainly won’t say do it or don’t do it. But read what’s happening out there and approach with your eyes open. The best thing about KU? You’re not locked into it long term. So if you’re starting out and wanted to try it, consider it a marketing experiment. You don’t have to stay with them if it’s not working.
(Also, don’t miss Chuck Wendig’s post on how Amazon could fix KU. It’s Chuck. What more do I have to say.)