Kindle Unlimited—Good or Bad for Authors?

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Read Unlimited Kindle E-books

Today, Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited:

  • For $9.99 per month, a customer can now read (and listen to) an unlimited number of Kindle e-books.
  • There are 600,000 books to choose from. The books are enrolled in KDP Select.
  • All KDP Select books are automatically included. (But authors can opt out of KDP Select by completing a form. See below.)
  • Customers don’t need to be in Amazon Prime to enjoy the benefits of Kindle Unlimited.

You can read more about it at Amazon, including the terms of use:

Authors can learn more about it at Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), where there is also a new form for those who wish to opt out of KDP Select:

Is Kindle Unlimited Good for Authors?

In order to participate in Kindle Unlimited, an e-book must be enrolled in KDP Select.

Here are some advantages of enrolling in KDP Select:

  • You will be paid the equivalent of one ‘borrow’ when a customer (A) downloads your Kindle e-book and (B) reads past 10% of the e-book as part of the Kindle Unlimited Program. Historically, a borrow has equated to approximately a $2 royalty.
  • Many customers will be trying out Kindle Unlimited in the coming months. These customers probably won’t be buying books any other way except through Kindle Unlimited for as long as they remain in the program.
  • You can use either Kindle Countdown Deals or free promos (but not both) as a promotional tool. The value of these promotional tools will probably be diminished as any customer who has Kindle Unlimited won’t gain anything from Countdown Deals or freebies. However, there will still be many customers who aren’t in Kindle Unlimited.

The main disadvantage of enrolling in KDP Select is that you must make the e-book edition of your book exclusive to Kindle:

  • Your e-book can’t be published through Nook, Kobo, Smashwords, your own website in PDF, or anywhere else in electronic format as long as your book is enrolled in KDP Select. Amazon is very strict about this and does automatic checks to find e-books violating the terms and conditions.
  • This exclusivity persists for 90-day periods. If you decide to opt out of KDP Select, you must go to your KDP bookshelf and uncheck the box for automatic renewal. Then you must still wait for the 90-day period to end before you’re eligible to publish your e-book elsewhere. (But if you’re presently in KDP Select, there is an immediate opt-out option available right now. See below.)

Is it worth enrolling in KDP Select? That’s the million-dollar question. This was a heated debate prior to Kindle Unlimited.

The only way to really know for sure is to try it both ways. (Note that you can experience lengthy delays and problems trying to unpublish your e-book from other retailers in order to switch back into KDP Select.)

Kindle Unlimited may be a compelling reason to enroll in KDP Select. There will be many authors returning to KDP Select to try it out. There are also authors opting out with the introduction of KDP Select. Everyone is trying to decide which side of the fence has the greener grass. By the way, I’m staying in KDP Select.

  • Many customers will be trying out Kindle Unlimited, so the program will be popular during the early months.
  • Customers in Kindle Unlimited won’t be buying any books that aren’t in the program.

Want out of KDP Select?

Suppose you’re already in KDP Select and you’re thinking, “They didn’t ask me if I wanted to participate in Kindle Unlimited.”

Not a problem. Visit your KDP bookshelf. Click the Learn More link where it mentions Kindle Unlimited. Then there is yet another Learn More link to click. Then you can click the link entitled, “Complete this Contact Us form.”

Complete that form to opt out immediately. You don’t need to wait until your 90-day period ends, but only if you complete and submit this form (so don’t use the usual method of unchecking the box for automatic renewal).

You might want to consider this choice carefully before you opt out.

What about Amazon Prime?

Amazon Prime charges a hefty annual fee (though it turns out to be a little cheaper than 12 months of Kindle Unlimited) and only allows one borrow per month.

Kindle Unlimited costs $9.99 per month, but allows unlimited reading of KDP Select titles.

That one borrow per month pales in comparison. However, there are still many other benefits of Amazon Prime, such as free 2-day shipping.

Customers who bought Amazon Prime primarily to borrow books for free are likely to switch to Kindle Unlimited when their Prime memberships run out.

Customers who bought Amazon Prime for other reasons will probably keep it, whether or not they join Kindle Unlimited.

More Notes about Kindle Unlimited

  • How many books can you really read in a month? That comes out to $120 per year. Would you spend that much in a year on books? $9.99 is a great deal for those who read avidly, but not very enticing for those who don’t.
  • You can’t just horde books. If you cancel your Kindle Unlimited membership, you automatically lose access to all the books you downloaded through the program.
  • Amazon has added $800,000 to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) fund for July, 2014, bringing the total July fund up to $2,000,000. This will help to compensate for the additional downloads through Kindle Unlimited.
  • Borrows usually pay a little over $2 each per month. When Amazon launches a new program, borrows usually pay $1.50 or less per book for the first month or so, but then Amazon has historically been pretty good at adjusting the KOLL fund so that they pay $2 or more per borrow. However, there will be many more downloads through Kindle Unlimited than there ever were borrows through Amazon Prime, so borrows might pay significantly less than normal, at least in the early months.
  • Kindle Unlimited is presently only available to US customers, but there appear to be plans to expand.
  • You won’t receive any payment for downloads through Kindle Unlimited until a customer passes the 10% mark. Just downloading your book isn’t sufficient. So your friends and family, for example, might think they’re supporting you through the download, whereas they won’t be supporting you at all if they don’t pass the 10% point.
  • Unlike Amazon Prime, you don’t have to return your book before you can start reading another one. However, the terms of use do include a paragraph entitled Restrictions, where Amazon will clearly monitor abuse of the download privilege. Customers must not only download the e-book, but must also pass the 10% point before the book will receive a royalty from the KDP Select Global Fund.
  • Amazon is promoting Audible Audiobooks through Kindle Unlimited. Not only do you get free downloads of KDP Select books, you also get free audiobooks. This will entice audiobook customers to try out Kindle Unlimited.
  • What about those really short books? Now customers can read short books for free (but they can read long books for fee, too), provided the books are in KDP Select and they customer has Kindle Unlimited. A customer might read 2 paragraphs of a very short story and that author will earn just as much of a royalty as if a customer read several chapters of an epic fantasy or perhaps a whole book of an omnibus. But will customers be buying short stories? They might feel it’s a better value to shop for books that are ordinarily priced $5.99 and up and have hundreds of thousands of words. Time will tell.
  • This may be great for children’s books. You can read your child 30 different stories in a month for $9.99, reading one bedtime story every night. Children’s authors should be advertising this benefit to customers. It can help children’s authors sell more e-books through Kindle Unlimited.

What do you think about Kindle Unlimited?

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

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41 comments on “Kindle Unlimited—Good or Bad for Authors?

  1. Smashwords has joined up with another company that does the same thing. I figure if our books are getting read then it’s great.
    There are so many authors out there. This might be a way for all authors to get their work seen and read. Lets face it in a sea of indie authors it’s a crap shoot. How bad can this be?

    • Yes, this appears to be the new trend. I think it will help authors. For example, it won’t cost a penny to give a new author a shot. It also is a risk-free way for readers to explore a new genre.

  2. Thanks for weighing up the pros and cons for us! Its difficult to always know what is best to do. I am not in KDPSelect as my ebooks are availsble elsewhere, but I’m seriously considering it. KDP seems to have a lot going on right now which could work in the Indies favour.

    • No doubt, it’s a tough decision. Often, new programs have the most activity in the early going (which may mean both more readers, but also less money per download). The more popular this becomes, the fewer readers will be shopping elsewhere. Subscription pricing is a current trend with dvd’s (Netflix), computer software (Adobe), and more, which suggets to me that this could be more than just a passing fancy. On the other hand, $120 per year is only for avid readers…

  3. Got an email about this today but have not opened it yet. I’m sure this article explains it all better. I’m not in kdp select because my book is offered elsewhere. As far as joining the program of Kindle unlimited myself, I probably won’t – I like to horde my books – even ebooks, and if I understand correctly this program only allows you to borrow. Is that correct?

    • I believe you can store a limited number (perhaps 10) books on your device, then you have to return a book to get another… if I understood an recalled correctly. And if at some point you cancel your membership, you will lose access to all the Kindle Unlimited books from your device and account. So if you prefer to keep your books indefinitely, buying them the old-fashioned way seems to be the way to go.

  4. Having omnibus editions will hurt authors’ payouts. They would only get one download and need readers to cover more ground before hitting the 10% mark. While I’m not recommending gaming the system, I would take down all my grouped books and only offer books individually while participating in this program.

  5. You beat me to it!

    One interesting thing is that you can’t enroll in the thirty day free trial with a debit card of any sort or a prepaid credit card. It has to be an actual credit card with an address attached to it. I wonder how many people will be disappointed by that.

    • Thanks to both “Chris”s! I found this through your reblog, dear Story Reading Ape, and now I have reblogged the original. It’s the most concise analysis of WTFrak is going on I’ve seen. My first novel is still in Select, so I qualify. I wonder how many readers will know (hopefully they’ll care, if they know) that the authors won’t see a penny unless they read 10 % of the book. Those of us with long books are wishing we’d broken them up, I suspect…

      • That 10% mark is so important now, especially for long books.

        Until now, many authors have been moving front matter to the back to maximize the Look Inside. I wonder if they will be reconsidering this strategy, now wanting to make it quicker to pass the Look Inside.

  6. Well, I was going to go with Smashwords to put my books into the Oyster and Scribd services, but Amazon Unlimited will far eclipse them. Sorry Smashwords, but I guess I’m staying an Amazon Author until the day I can afford not to be KDP Select dependent.

  7. This explains it all so much clearer to me. I wondered if this new program would be worth staying in KDP. Now I think I will stay put for the time being. Sales can’t get any worse with the millions of children’s books out there. This just may energize readers to try out more books in order to get their money’s worth.
    Thank you, Chris, for sharing this.

    • I think there is much potential for children’s authors to educate parents regarding how they can use Kindle Unlimited to read to their kids daily and encourage their older kids to read more. Plus, if the child doesn’t like a book, it won’t cost extra to replace it.

      Even teachers may be able to take advantage of this.

      I hope it works out for you. 🙂

  8. Thanks very much for that Chris, that’s helpful. You’ve set out he information in an easy-to -read, informative way. I’m with KDP Select and I’m gonna stay with them for now. It’s worked out OK for me so far. It remains to be seen whether Kindle Unlimited will be a good thing for us indie authors in the end or not.

  9. Great rundown Chris! I’ve been a subscriber on Oyster since last September. While it has probably cut the number of books I buy in half, I still do buy a fair amount. Based on my personal experience, I don’t think Kindle Unlimited members will stop buying individual books, but they will likely reduce the number they buy.

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with Oyster. I’m glad to hear that some customers are likely to still buy some books that aren’t in the program. If I take up one of these subscriptions (I plan to do so soon), I think I will feel inclined to mostly read books in the program, but I expect to occasionally read a book that isn’t.

  10. Unfortunately, I always stick at the exclusivity button. I don’t believe in putting all my eggs in one basket. So I see it as another little chip away at authors’ independence, one more thing to hold authors to amazon until the point comes when there’s no more competition and Amazon can do whatever makes it the most money. They will and it may be ugly.



    • Exclusivity is a big point. I see some authors who only sell 10% outside of Kindle jumping into Select right now. But authors with 25% or more elsewhere are likely to stay out, for now. If the current competition does fall, there will always be new investors with new ideas ready to emerge; my sense is that Amazon is aware of this.

  11. I am really on the fence about this, but KDP has worked great for me so far. The free promotions have been a valuable tool, and I hope this doesn’t effect them. I guess only time will tell. Thanks for the information.

    • One thing’s for sure: It will be easier to get direct evidence of how Kindle Unlimited impacts one’s books by having one or more books in the program. It will be a lot harder to tell from the outside, and then one still wouldn’t know how ‘their’ books would do. I bet a lot of Select authors are thinking it will be easier to opt out if things go south than to try and opt out early, then get back in. Maybe there is the opposite feeling from the other side of the fence, but I bet they will be trying to peek through the windows to see what’s going on. Either way, Amazon sure has our attention. 🙂

  12. Reblogged this on and commented:
    Very interesting article about Kindle Unlimited. I can see a potential benefit to Indie authors, if they are willing to go KDP Select. However, for small publishers, I’m not sure. Indie authors must go to KDP Select, and I assume traditional publishers have a choice, but what about the smaller publishers?

    Feel free to share your thoughts, concerns, or endorsements. And, if you have any experience with Kindle Unlimited, we’d love to hear from you.

    • Maybe it depends on how large or small the publisher is. Many of the in-between publishers evidently worked out some deal with Amazon, but perhaps weren’t bound by the exclusivity clause (and may have worked out some other royalty plan).

      Thank you for reblogging. 🙂

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