Amazon’s new all-you-can-read subscription service is here.
Kindle Unlimited offers Kindle owners the opportunity to sign up for unlimited access to the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library for $9.99 a month. Subscribers are allowed to borrow as many books as they wish for as long as they wish, so long as they remain in the program.
KU features a few big name authors and their bestselling books, undoubtedly licensed at great expense by Amazon. These books include the Harry Potter series, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Hunger Games trilogy, Water for Elephants, The Life of Pi, Flash Boys and others.
For the most part, though, the books offered are self-published titles enrolled in the Amazon Select program, meaning they are available exclusively through Amazon. Many self-published authors find Select useful for its promotional opportunities–such as being able to give your book away for free for limited times–but it comes with the loss of distribution through all other channels, such as Barnes and Noble, Apple iBookstore and the competing book subscription services Scribd and Oyster.
These are the same books that are in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which allows Amazon Prime members to borrow one book per month. Under KOLL, the book needs to be “returned” (removed from your Kindle) and you have to wait for the next calendar month before you can borrow another book. The advantages of KU are that, 1) you don’t need to be a Prime member, and 2) you may borrow as many books as you’d like, for as long as you like, as long as you remain a KU member.
Authors are paid from the same pool that funds the KOLL. Amazon throws $1,200,000 into this pool every month and divviesit up among the books that have been borrowed that month. The payment usually works out to about $2 per borrow, paid to the author.
When you add in unlimited downloads through KU, that million bucks could get hit hard. Authors could find themselves making fifty cents a book. Or twenty cents. Or two cents. It all depends on how many people sign up for KU and how many books they download.
To counter this effect, Amazon needs to increase the size of that monthly pool. Will they? Probably. But… by how much? What will be the end payment to authors? Are we headed for a Spotify-like fraction of a cent per book?
Authors are already speculating on how to game this system by offering shorter works. Since each book is “free” to subscribers, take that 400-page novel, split it into ten 40-page volumes and offer it as a serial. That nets you ten pieces of the monthly pie instead of one, and it’s all the same to the reader who gets each book “free.”
While authors may not be quite this blatant–mainly because Amazon will find a way to smack them down–the principle will still apply, favoring novellas over novels, serials over complete works.
Another tactic will be to write a short work especially for KU, a short prequel to a larger novel or a series, the equivalent of today’s “permafree” first-in-series books, leaving the larger work or series out of KU, available only for separate sale.
For myself as a self-published author, I’m skipping KU for WSU–“Wherever it Sells Unlimited.” I’m not ready to spurn those epub readers, those Barnes and Noble shoppers, even those Scribd subscribers to go exclusively with Amazon for an unknown royalty.