Amazon’s real-time experiment with the livelihoods they have provided to their exclusive self-published KDP authors through Kindle Unlimited (KU) continues to draw concern on online forums. The most recent scrutiny stems from a post by bestselling author Holly (H.M.) Ward on Kindle Boards from the Friday after Thanksgiving, which continues to draw follow-up remarks.
Ward said that her Amazon income dropped substantially when she participated in Kindle Unlimited: “[I] had my serials in it for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income [from KDP]. Thats counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t compliment each other, as expected.” She added, “I planned on giving it 90 days, but I have a kid in the hospital for long term care and I noticed my spending was going to exceed my income–by a lot. I couldn’t wait and watch thing plummet further. I pulled my books. That was on Nov 1, & since then my net revenue has gone up. I’m now at 50% of where I was pre-KU. During the time I was in KU, I had 2 new releases. Neither performed vastly different than before. They actually earned far less (including borrows).”
Perhaps more resonant for self-published authors broadly, she wrote, “This model needs to be changed for it to work. Authors shouldn’t be paid lottery style.” (In the current system, Amazon decides, retroactively, how much money to allocate to authors for each KU borrow. The amount paid per borrow has been dropping since the program launched in late July.)
In follow-up comments, Ward added, “That’s why I posted this info. I assumed I was the only one. I thought I was too stupid to make KU work, but both months I was an ‘All Star’ so something just doesn’t work. Plus other heavy hitters starting talking, telling me a similar story. The model itself is flawed….I have 60+ books, lots of new titles, and if I’m at the top of the KU list for the entire 60 days I was enrolled and lost a LOT of money, then something is wrong with the model.” (By our own data, Ward has had 12 works appears on bestseller lists during 2014.) She also indicated the KU experience affected all of her titles at Amazon, even the ones that were not part of the subscription service, “because buyers changed into borrowers, who in turn did not spend money on my other titles.” And “Ditto on audio sales. They’ve vanished.”
A number of other authors joining the forum tell stories similar to Ward’s, though there are also authors who say that KU has increased their net earnings. One common belief is that the current KU economics favor short works — “KU has allowed for shorter works to steal marketshare from longer works, pushing them out of sales rankings, search result rankings, also boughts, top 100 lists, and overall visibility. You think I’m wrong? Go read any of the popular erotica forums, those writers are cleaning up like it’s 2012 again.”
Self Published authors. We need to keep our eyes open for more info on this subject.