Kindle Unlimited is a hot-button issue among authors and readers alike, and any of you who follow me know that I’m the first one to speak up in support of the program and the reason is simple.
KU gave me a shot, and that shot changed the course of my life.
I have consistently heard (particularly from authors who got their start in the 2012 boom or prior) a number of myths that are touted as hard and fast reasons why the program is Satan incarnate, and how exactly it’s ruining the publishing industry. So, as someone from the inside of the KU game, I’d like to address some of those myths here, once again giving my opinion where it wasn’t asked for. It’s one of my most beloved and maddening character flaws.
Myth #1: KU Readers aren’t loyal
This particular myth offends me on all levels, not only for myself but for every reader who subscribes to the program.
First of all, it’s like Netflix for books. Who doesn’t like Netflix? No one, that’s who. How many shows or movies have you found that you’d never have otherwise watched because of that program?
KU is exactly the same way.
Yes, exclusivity is required. But that’s my choice, and I make gobs of money for that choice. But I digress. Back to my point:
READERS ARE READERS.
I yelled that, sorry. But it’s important.
So, around 2012 or so, ebooks became suddenly very accessible, in large because of Amazon. They pushed ebooks, pushed the Kindle, gave authors an avenue to publish their books not just for vanity, but for money and for readers. They opened the doors for us, all of us who are self-publishing today.
When this was new and shiny and exciting, a marketing strategy emerged: Make your book free, and a zillion people will read it.
Readers flocked to Amazon for free and 99c books, thrilled at the prospect of all of those books they’d soon put in their brains. Of course, we all quickly realized that the quality of those books was subpar at best, though we’d find that occasional diamond in the rough, a free gem that would spur us to buy a whole series or backlist from an author.
At the time, many readers only read free books, not necessarily because they were cheap, but because they didn’t have the budget to spend a hundred dollars on books per month. I was one of those people, which is probably another reason why I’m so partial to KU. I wished with all of my heart that this program existed when I couldn’t afford to buy my kids shoes.
I never, ever want to be a person who tells a reader they can’t read.
BUT, THE LIBRARY! you cry. Except that the library didn’t have any of the indie books I wanted to read.
KU allows for thousands of readers to fill their brains with story after story, while also freeing up their budget to purchase books outside of KU.
SUB MYTH DEBUNK: KU readers also buy books (GASP)! They even sometimes buy a book they’ve read in KU, paying the author TWICE for that read. Just absorb that for a second.
Once again, I digress.
So here’s the thing: Readers aren’t idiots. They still want to read a decent book. So within a year of the “free book” strategy, readers stopped reading free/99c books and instead went on the hunt for quality.
That old theory from 2012 about ‘free readers’ no longer exists. It’s not a thing. It died years ago. Those people didn’t go to KU to satiate some entitled, curmudgeonly attitude that they deserve free books (those people pirate books now). That myth is a thing that existed in 2012. It’s no longer a thing, and it’s certainly not the core reader in KU.
Every time you say that KU readers aren’t loyal, you’re speaking directly to your bloggers. You’re speaking directly to your readers. You’re telling them that because they subscribe to a book borrowing program, that they are not legitimate readers.
They are your readers. They deserve your respect, not your calling them disloyal. Accusing a KU reader of not caring about the authors they support or the books that they read smacks of prejudice and pomp. It’s insulting to the reader, that soul who probably buys your books for 6.99, who can probably only afford to buy said book because they are a part of KU and have the disposable budget to purchase them with.
Myth #2: Reading in KU doesn’t support authors
This to me is the most insane of all of the claims. Anyone, with a quick little internet search, could find otherwise.
Even on a bad month, if one of my books is read in KU, I make more (priced at 2.99) in KU reads than I do if it’s purchased outright.
KU gave me a shot because it opened me up to a readership that had the chance to try my books without the risk in paying for them — but even though they didn’t pay me directly, I got paid. I got paid well.
KU authors make a ton of money in KU. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.
Myth #3: There’s no money in KU
I wish I could show you all my sales without it being far too personal and dangerous a look into my life. I don’t say that to brag — I just want to prove to anyone who thinks there’s no money in this program once and for all that it’s just not true.
You do not have to hit Top 100 to make money.
I am not an exception. I believe that anyone can duplicate my success in one way or another.
There are authors who you’ve never heard of making upwards of 500K/year because of this program.
NOTE: KU is not a get-rich-quick scheme. You can’t just throw all your books in there and pray for rain. It’s still work, still involves strategy, a book that people connect with, requires consistency and quality. But the money is there.
Myth #4: KU is contributing to an Amazon monopoly
FACT: 98% of widely distributed authors make the bulk of their income in Amazon.
The most I’ve heard of anyone making in iBooks (the second largest ebook retailer) is 30-50%. Compare that to this: I currently make about 75% of my income in KU (considering it its own retailer)
Amazon will never be the only ebook retailer any more than WalMart will be the only place to shop. There will always be a Target. There will always be boutiques to purchase from.
You choose where you sell your books. I choose where I sell mine. I’ve been told that Amazon is using me. Well, guess what? I’m using them too. And when the symbiotic relationship no longer works for me, I will leave, taking my readers with me, using the money I’ve saved being in the program to cushion the massive pay cut I’ll take.
Why will those readers follow me? Because I’ve earned their trust through consistency. Will they all follow? No. But even if only 50% of them still purchase my books, that is one helluva win, one that I will be grateful for until the day I die.
Digression is my thing today, I suppose.
POINT: iBooks isn’t going anywhere. As powerful as the indie market is, consider the hundreds of publishers out there who will always distribute their books wide and the thousands of authors who have deep roots there that they don’t want to dig up.
Myth #5: Being in KU is essentially cheating the system regarding rank.
Amazon considers KU as a secondary distribution platform to sales, which means that not only do sales count toward rank, but so do my reads. I have two sources of revenue contributing to my rank – sales and pages read. Anyone wide only has one source on Amazon: sales.
The good news for KU authors is that by compiling the revenue sources toward rank, we rank higher, more easily. With that rank comes exposure. With that exposure comes more readers. With more readers comes more money.
See where I’m going here? (Subtlety never was my strong suit.)
It’s not cheating any more than the NYT and USAT lists cheat by not including Amazon-only sales.
Myth #6: BUT IT’S SATAN.
But what if it’s not?
For so long, KU has been blamed for the fall of the book industry. No, not oversaturation. No, not changes in the market itself or what readers are looking for in the novels they read. KU is the devil, a evil, red-faced demon with a bifurcated tail and the power to end us all.
But if you think KU or Amazon is going anywhere, think again.
They have owned online book sales since the internet bubble was just a little shiny concept. They have owned ebook sales because they pioneered ebooks. They will continue to dominate because they strive to dominate (unlike B&N, whose ebook platform isn’t a real focus for them) — they will continue to make changes to insure that they stay on top.
They provide the best marketplace for books. They’re the number one retailer for that reason.
Staying out of the program is your choice. But bashing the program under false claims that it’s ruining your career or the industry is irresponsible and harmful to your colleagues and readers who participate in it.
Stop blaming the boogeyman for where you find yourself in the ever-changing industry. Educate yourselves on the market. And most of all, support your fellow authors, readers, and bloggers who don’t make the same choices as you.