The alarm bells are ringing for Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited library service after best-selling author H M Ward pulled all her books out of KU and called for a rethink to the scheme after seeing her income plunge by 75% over two months despite getting a Kindle Select All Stars cash award for both months.
There were hopes initially that Amazon would continue to pay a fair amount for borrows at around the $2 level it had been paying out on the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library scheme.
But despite adding massive amounts of cash to the KDP Select fund each month, the Kindle Unlimited payout has been sinking steadily and hit a new low of $1.33 per borrow in October, down by nearly 40% from $2.20 in June before KU launched in July.
Writing on the kboards forum, H M Ward says: “I had my serials in Kindle Unlimited for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income. That’s counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t complement each other, as expected.”
Ward’s New Adult Romance books are generally big sellers and she is an experienced and skilled marketer, but it seems she couldn’t make Kindle Unlimited add up, even with the cash bonuses from All-Stars awards.
She adds: “KU affected my whole list, not just KU titles. At the time of enrolment I had about 60 titles total.
“I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further. I pulled my books. That was on Nov 1 and since then my net revenue has gone up. I’m now at 50% of where I was pre-KU.
“This model needs to be changed for it to work. Authors shouldn’t be paid lottery-style. For this system to work, we need a flat rate for borrows, borrowed or not borrowed (not this 10% crap), and it needs to be win- win for the reader AND the writer. That is the crux of the matter. I’d like to see Amazon create something new, something better instead of falling in step with Scribd and Oyster.”
Withdrawing her popular books from Kindle Unlimited must be a blow to Amazon which had persuaded Ward to test out Kindle Unlimited. She says “Amazon was hellbent on the model being awesome and talked me into trying it. I should have trusted my gut and stayed away.”
Ward points out that Amazon has helped thousands of authors but needs to carefully consider the effects of changes. “KDP isn’t just a service, they’ve taken many families out of poverty and put food on tables. They’re like an employer and when they make changes it affects thousands of people.
“We need a win-win idea. I’m rooting for KDP, hoping they’ll re-examine things and try again. And this time when the writers with biz brains point out the flaws, plz listen. Too many families depend on you guys, and until this whole KU incident I couldn’t think of one bad thing to say about KDP.”
The big traditional publishers have steered clear of Kindle Unlimited, although Amazon is paying trad firms the same price for a borrow as they would on a sale, while paying self-publishers out of the monthly KDP Select fund. The KDP All Star bonuses, which offer up to $25,000 a month for top performers in KU, were seen as a significant financial inducement to entice self-publishing stars into Kindle Unlimited but they don’t appear to be providing enough compensation for having to quit other sales outlets and stay exclusive to Kindle.
Recent analysis by self-publishing star Hugh Howey shows that Kindle Unlimited authors wer making 13% more cash per title on Kindle than non-KU authors. But the research adds that by being in Kindle Unlimited, authors may be giving up at least 30% of potential earnings from other outlets to get that 13% extra from a single source. One of the conclusions from Howey’s research was that authors just starting out can gain visibility by being in Kindle Unlimited.
But, with Ward’s withdrawal, it looks like those at the top end of sales are losing too much from going exclusive, even with All Star bonuses.