As a Kindle eBook author, how terrified should I be of Kindle Unlimited?
July 16, 2014 9:39 PM   Subscribe

A few months ago I started selling kinky eBooks for the Kindle, and it's been great. I'm paying my rent doing something I enjoy! But tonight I read this article, and it's scary as hell. Amazon is reportedly testing Kindle Unlimited, a service allowing readers to download unlimited books for a flat monthly fee. I've spent hours tonight trying to determine how this will affect self-publishers. Can anybody walk me through the likely scenarios, and talk me down from this panic attack?

I'm encountering all sorts of speculation about what the KU will do to self-publisher royalties, but I'm hoping some calm, knowledgeable soul can give me a real idea about what Amazon is planning here, and what it means for indie types like me. I hear people grousing about how we're going to end up like musicians, getting 15 cent royalties, and it is genuinely terrifying.

Right now I'm earning 70% on each sale, and that's enough for me to survive. It's a nice, relatively stable amount, every month. But if those numbers take a steep drop, I will be in real trouble, real fast. Some people are speculating that self-publishers will earn the same amount we'd earn for borrowed books. I can't find anything on Amazon about the actual royalties for borrowed books. What freaking percentage of the cover price are we talking about, here?

I also worry that as a self-published erotica writer, Amazon is going to make it extra hard for me to earn a living. For instance, maybe their subscription service won't even list self-published erotica. So, that's one more worry to aggravate my ulcer.

Over and over again in my life, I've thrown myself at a career, started to make some real headway... and then the whole industry collapsed overnight and I had to crawl out of the wreckage. Is this that, yet again? As an eBook author, am I headed for yet another Epic Fail?
posted by Ursula Hitler to Work & Money (12 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Just gonna throw this out there: kboards is a perfectly awful place to go if you are prone to catastrophizing about selfpubbed ebooks in any genre.

I'm gonna memail you here in a sec. Bottom line: deep breaths, yo. Roll with the punches, think of this as a long term game, and you are gonna be ok. On the other hand, if you are a warrior forum kind of person then yeah this is the doomsday scenario, might as well quit now.
posted by Sternmeyer at 10:03 PM on July 16, 2014

Kindle Direct Publishing, help: You're eligible for royalty payment from Kindle Unlimited each time a new customer reads more than 10% of your book for the first time.

This kind of pittance royalty is not new-- it was already "available" if you allow your book to be "borrowed" by Prime customers (Kindle Owners' Lending Library. It's opt-in through Kindle Select). The royalties come out of of the KDP Select Global Fund
posted by morganw at 10:11 PM on July 16, 2014

Also keep in mind that Amazon hasn't officially announced anything yet. All of these details come from a leaked site, and things may change between now and launch time. I'd save your worrying for when there is something publicly announced with more concrete details about the program.
posted by Aleyn at 11:57 PM on July 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think it's good that you are thinking ahead. I watched a lot of writers enjoy a bubble-- about a year ago?-- by participating in Kindle Select and then have their earnings go down again. Then they started looking for other avenues. As Sternmayer points out, you need to look at this in the long term. Sell your books elsewhere, for one thing. Nook will probably never be as lucrative as Kindle but publish some stuff on there anyway. Make some available directly through a website. Experiment with different price points. Try Kickstarter for a longish project. And look for the next bubble.

Where can I see your stuff, anyway?
posted by BibiRose at 6:34 AM on July 17, 2014

In the short term, this shouldn't spell disaster. The theory is that authors will be paid the way they are now for the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, as if each new read (defined by morganw above) were a purchase.

However, the game is not going to hold up forever, and you should definitely be thinking ahead. Amazon's goal is to create a publishing monopoly. What happens after a company gains a monopoly? It can dictate all the terms, which will be great for that company and very bad for everyone else.

This can be a good source of cash for now. But you absolutely shouldn't plan for it to be your lifelong career. Too many things are going to change within the next 5-10 years, let alone 25+. Use your current cash and free time to get yourself into a career with long-term potential.
posted by booksandlibretti at 8:32 AM on July 17, 2014

The accusation that Amazon is trying to create a publishing monopoly is kind of hilarious given that trad pubs have been trying to do exactly that for the history of publishing. Now that something else has come along, trad pubs are panicking about their inability to compete without cheating, viz. the recent and ongoing antitrust and anticompetitive findings against five big trads and Apple in their price fixing scheme.

As well, Amazon would have to treat authors very poorly indeed to match the shitty treatment that trad pubs heap on their authors.

OP, don't fret. Remember what they say about eggs and baskets and get your work in front of as many readers as you can. The means by which you do this will change over time but the shift to ebooks and the accompanying opportunity to self publish is here to stay no matter how hard the old guard whines. Keep on top of your research, adjust as you need to, and above all keep writing!
posted by Sternmeyer at 9:34 AM on July 17, 2014

Amazon does not want to kill the geese that lay the golden eggs. There's other ways to sell ebooks than Amazon. They've got to offer terms that are at least grudgingly acceptable to most of their authors.

That said, there's a lot of new ebook authors out there, and my guess is self publishing is going to get pretty tight over the next decade or so. If there was no KU you might still be looking at other authors giving you pressure to sell at .99 or less.

Like BibiRose, I suggest keeping your options open, and trying to build your brand independently. Do you have your own website where you sell your books yourself? Have ways of selling that doesn't depend on Amazon, ideally multiple ways. That puts you in the best position to roll with the inevitable changes coming along.
posted by mattu at 11:33 AM on July 17, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks so much for all the responses, here and in memails! You folks gave me a lot to think about, and offered some very good advice. METAFILTER FOR-EVAH!

For now, it seems like this is just a big question mark hanging over the heads of eBook authors. Maybe it will be a huge disaster that ruins careers and lives, or maybe it'll be a small thing, or maybe it won't even happen. Maybe it will actually be beneficial, somehow. (Right.)

While I wait to find out, I'll just keep writing the smut.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:27 AM on July 18, 2014

It went through. Sorry, Ursula :(
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:04 PM on July 18, 2014

Response by poster: Yeah, and the bastards are gonna make me wait for a few months before I can opt out of the damn Amazon exclusivity agreement. (They automatically re-enroll you.) So, most of my books are now available on Kindle Unlimited, whether I want them to be or not! I can't get them off of that damn thing until September.

Oh, brave new world! I guess I'm about to find out what kind of royalties this thing will cough up. Having my fate in the hands of an uncaring and capricious mega-corp is so exciting.

I just know they're gonna start sending me checks for, like, two dollars. Bastards.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:04 PM on July 18, 2014

Response by poster: I apologize if this is threadsitting, but I wanted to update in case anybody else goes looking for info about this situation. According to Amazon, you CAN opt out of being listed on the Kindle Unlimited, if you contact them and ask to have a book removed from KDP select.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 8:58 PM on July 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

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