Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited last month with much fanfare, establishing a subscription model for its offerings – pay one low fee each month, read as many books as you like. You’re restricted to downloading ten at a time, though, and you have to delete one to make room for your eleventh, but hey, tomato, tomahto. The point is that you can now read whatever you like without having to pay more than $10 a month.
An awesome deal, right?
I signed up. Of course, I have no time, so it was all I could do to make it through Michael Lewis’ latest, Flash Boys, before my 30 day free trial was over (fascinating reading for anyone wondering why the markets are so broken, and who’s behind it).
For that reason, I canceled my subscription at the end of thirty days. I just don’t have the time. I have a backlog of a year’s worth of books. I’m not the target customer.
There was a SNAFU on Amazon’s side with respect to payment during that first month. Apparently the reporting dashboard was reporting all borrows, regardless of whether they were read at least 10% (the threshold for an author to be entitled to the borrow fee payment). To Amazon’s credit, instead of saying, hey, there was a glitch, you actually only are entitled to a quarter of what you thought (or whatever it is), they paid a reduced amount on all borrows, regardless of whether any of them were read or not. That was a classy move from the retailer, who could have just as easily not paid on the ones that weren’t at the 10% + read point, and been 100% in the right.
A couple of observations: Because the borrow fee looks to be somewhere in the $1.50-$2.25 range (the historical norm for Select borrows), it encourages only one sort of participation – very short works, which are hard to or impossible to sell for anywhere close to a price that will net you the amount paid for a borrow (I think of that as Amazon inefficiency arbitrage), and books that are priced in the $2.99 or under price range (for whatever reason – length, lack of popularity, whatever). Above that and you’re receiving less for a borrow than for a sale. Now, while you can argue that you are perhaps seeing borrows from folks who otherwise wouldn’t have tried your fine work, it’s impossible to know that, so I file it in the wishful thinking bin. What I do know is that there is an inverse relationship between borrows and sales. Borrows go up, sales adjust down by some amount. In my case, it’s often that the borrows cannibalized the sales at an almost 1:1 ratio. Others report different ratios, so I might just be weird, or it could be my genre, or whose shirts I wear, when I wear anything at all – and don’t judge, hatahs.
One thing I noticed as I was browsing the titles was that none of the books I have been holding off buying to read are in the program, so for me there was little value to it, even if it was only one or two books a month I could get to. Because if the ones I’m interested in aren’t in the program, then the program’s only offering me stuff I don’t much care about.
For instance, I really, really want to find the time to read I Am Pilgrim. I’ve been told by multiple people that it’s a marvelous spy thriller, right up my alley. I looked for it but it wasn’t in the program. Ditto for James Lee Burke’s latest, Wayfaring Stranger. Not in it.
These are trad pubbed titles, but my point is that I have limited time and when I get to read, I either do so for research or because it’s an author who really impresses me. A program that doesn’t give me what I’m looking for loses me.
Does that mean that the program itself is a loser? Not at all. I see the wisdom of it for voracious readers. But for authors, well, that depends. Take me as an example. The majority of my titles aren’t in the program, because to be in it requires the titles be exclusive to Amazon. Now don’t get me wrong. I have six or seven titles exclusive with them. I view that as diversification, just as I view having 23 or whatever on different platforms to be diversification as well. I want some in the program, some out, just in case the program is a windfall – I don’t want to miss out, but I don’t want to risk too much to see, either.
To be exclusive on all my books? Makes no sense because my average novel is $5, and new releases are $6. Why would I want to accept $1.80 when a sale will pay me double to triple that, and forgo the 20% or so of my sales that are not on Amazon? See the problem? Because it requires exclusivity from me, it’s created a binary decision. Perhaps if it didn’t require exclusivity I’d be more tempted to toss a few more onto the pile, but as it is, it doesn’t make financial sense. Maybe I’m wrong – the test will be how my Amazon exclusive titles do over the next months. I’ll report back on that. So far it’s a wait and see.
What do you think? What’s been your experience? Inquiring minds want to know.