Amazon unleashes new subscription program: Kindle Unlimited

Written By: Jackie Weger - Jul• 20•14
Jackie Weger

Jackie Weger

Unleashed July 18, 2014 on all indie authors published in KDP Select on Amazon and Amazon readers, too,  Kindle Unlimited is a new subscription service. $9.99 a month. Readers can download unlimited titles for $9.99 as opposed to Amazon Prime that allows only a single title borrow per month. Critical to authors–in order to get paid a portion of the global fund $ set aside in KOLL, a reader must read at least 10% of the book.  Subscribers to  Amazon Prime need only to ‘borrow’ the title for the author to get a royalty. No reading required. Indie authors across the internet and in blogs and forums are looking askance at Kindle Unlimited and wondering what the heck it means. Asking how they’ll get paid for the download–if ever.

I’ve said it before and  I’m saying it here again,  Jeff Bezos does not eat stupid for breakfast. There is more going on than meets the eye and you better believe there are some new algorithms toting up facts and figures.  Algorithms already count reviews separating them into one to  five star.  An algorithm counts how fast those reviews come in during  and after a promotion on FREE or a launch book and determines where or NOT a book will get placement in front of Amazon browsers.  If a readers gets past that 10% of your book which is just beyond the “look inside” limit–the author gets paid. That’s great. I like it.

Here’s the snag and I’ll bet a Bingo $ on it. The new algorithms are gonna be toting up the reviews on those indie books by subscribers who stop reading before 10%.  Amazon has always kept an eye on reviews.  Now it is taking a closer look.  The indie book market has matured. Most indie authors are producing well-constructed, if not grammar-perfect–books that are at least as fine as trad pubbed titles.  We’ve learned on the mistakes of others to format to perfection.  But! This continues to happen: Indie authors scramble for early five star reviews from friends and family. They trade five star reviews with a covey of authors pals. Those five star reviews don’t hold up once stranger reviews arrive on the book. Readers are ticked.  Here is a savvy reader/reviewer comment I plucked off of Amazon recently:

“Because my time is valuable and I work quite a bit for the extras I have, I try to wisely choose how I spend both my time and money. I felt duped by the excellent reviews and went back to the [5*] ratings to see what [other books] the reviewers had commented on. I was not that surprised to see that several had only reviewed BOTH of the author’s books and not single other book. Hmmm. That is what I call ‘stuffing the ballot box.’  Very disappointing!” And woefully misleading. 

Whoa! That detailed one star review was well-written and scathing.  It was followed by a dozen other readers rating the book one and two star. Even the kindness of a reader rating the book  three stars mentioned how awful the writing, the stilted dialogue, story threads unfinished, grammar and punctuation mishaps. The reviews killed

Sears Catalogue Reading Room

Sears Catalogue Reading Room

the book’s sales.  I feel bad for the author. Her enthusiasm was once lovely to behold. Now she is scrambling for an editor for a fix.

Now, I am only a year into indie authorship but IMO Amazon is going to start weeding out these awful indie books. Indie publishing on Amazon is a privilege. The privilege has been abused by authors  who do not produce a decent book. Readers are becoming more and more vocal. Not just in reviews but in Amazon forums, where they really let loose. It ain’t pretty. Any indie author brave enough to go live in one of the forums would probably be drawn and quartered. More than that, Amazon does not make money on a book that doesn’t sell.  The development of the Kindle Countdown Deal is a tool to help indie authors sell books to benefit both the indie author and Amazon. Hey! Pennies add up.  Sometimes it is more than pennies. On a recent KCD  I earned almost $700. Amazon earned $318. My book picked up 17 five star stranger reviews. Those won’t be discounted or looked at askance. Not every reader will like my book–but they won’t  be lead astray because there are some 3 and four star reviews , too.

The Kindle Unlimited program includes all titles enrolled in KDP Select.  Amazon is boasting of 600,000 titles for your reading pleasure. Every single indie author enrolled  in KDP Select is included. That’s telling. IMO it will serve well those indie authors producing a good story and a quality book. It will not serve the indie author who does not. Amazon does not need those badly written, badly produced books to anger its readers and subscribers. You watch. Amazon is gonna clean house. May take a while because it is a dang big house–global in structure. My business sense says it is gonna happen sooner rather than later.

Here is another half-formed thought hanging on the edge of my primitive brain stem. The KCD was designed to prompt indie authors to promote and sell books. Here’s why:  Many indie authors do not overtly promote their books. KCD  jacked them up.  Some indie authors didn’t sell ten books a year. Now they do. Yes, I understand the internet is vast and infinite and it is no skin off of Amazon’s nose if a book lingers until death into infinity, rotting away in stats sucking mud to China. But it has been ever true from the innovation of a Sears Catalogue–which you may be too young to recall–smart business owners (Sears) dropped every single item from their catalogue that didn’t sell year in and year out, or that didn’t work as described or were returned as unfit for use in daily living as promised. When we write a book and publish it, we are making a covenant with the  publishing venue and the reader that we’ve produced the best product we can. Some indie authors forget that and fail the test.  Skewing reviews is cheating the reader. They don’t like it.  Amazon doesn’t like it. It is not good for business.  We’ll  know more once thousands of subscribers sign up for Kindle Unlimited. I’m gonna be a subscriber. I’ve got a new Kindle Fire to fill up. On the flip side, I’m gonna make dang certain all of my reviews are legit.

Just saying….

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  1. Mike Markel says:

    Very interesting post, Jackie. I thought the KU program was just another aspect of the Netflixification of Amazon, but your argument is sensible.

    I hope you’re right. If Amazon gets more aggressive in separating the professional books from the amateur ones, you and I and all the rest of us who work hard to deliver a decent product will prosper.

    Thanks very much for sharing your thinking about KU.

  2. Rich Meyer says:

    There are select traditionally-published books in it; Harry Potter, Life of Pi, Hunger Games, etc.

    But naturally, most of the “Chicken Little” mentality is coming from the indies. It is NOT the end of the world. It may be a VERY good thing for us. But it is way too soon to tell either way. Wait for two or three weeks, when the end-of-the-month reports are generated, and see what kind of return anyone in Select gets for their books. That’s the proof in the pudding.

    I signed up for the KU free trial as a reader. Did some tests on it, which I’ll post about sometime soon. I’ve downloaded about twelve e-books in two days (after returning some, naturally). That’s a lot of reading I wouldn’t normally have done simply because of the price points of the books. That’s nine (three books I downloaded twice in my testing) books that will be getting an extra review, as well as a slice of the KU pie, that wouldn’t have been getting anything from me.

    I’d like to think that’s a good thing for everyone involved.

    • Jackie Weger says:

      I own the trade pb on the Life of Pi. The Hunger Games and Harry Potter didn’t have any appeal for me. As you say–those are a select few–and I see them as ‘leaders’ and/or camouflage. Perhaps even being used to test market saturation. The key element in this program is the 10% line. That’s the fallout. A lot of indie books have magnificent first chapters and start losing the reader by the second. Reviews say so. We’ll see. Patience is everything.

  3. OK, all of you have seen the joke on Facebook or Google+. Netflix for books? You mean a library? That’s still the best bang for your buck IMO, but you won’t get a lot of self pubs or indies from the local library. Scribd and Oyster both have deals in place with the top 5 traditional publishing houses. So, Jackie is right. The Amazon deal is really aimed at the self pub or indie author, unlike the other two similar services. (although Scribd and Oyster do offer many indie and self pub titles as well, they are depending on the lure of big 5) So, yes this could be a Amazon house cleaning. I was unaware of the 10% rule, but I did read where KCD books were automatically included in the kindle unlimited library. Evidently, there is a little fine print reading that authors may not have been aware of that kept that decision from being their own.
    This is certainly a hot topic at the moment and it’s especially important to the indie author because Amazon has not apparently secured any kind of deal with the top 5 for their unlimited service. So, the spotlight is on you. Jackie’s thoughts are interesting. I never thought of it like that. Food for thought. Frankly, I think a good housecleaning is in order and has been for a long time. I have always advised against the “friends and family” plan when it comes to reviews. It will come back to bite you big time. I think this could really help the indie and self pub author gain some much needed and warranted respect. However, as a reader…. well, I’m personally overwhelmed but even if I weren’t I would have to watch the way I used the service. I don’t get all my books from the kindle store so although I read enough to warrant a subscription I don’t know if I would really get my money’s worth out of it. It’s a tough call from a consumers standpoint. The average American reads less that 13 books a year!! Crazy. Maybe this type of service will encourage more reading. The climate is always changing and this could be a real turning point. It will take time to see what the true impact of these all you can eat buffet services, but you can bet I will be watching it closely. Excellent article Jackie. Very exciting times for the indie I think. You have given me a lot to think about.

    • Jackie Weger says:

      Julie! I seldom disagree with a word you say. But that ‘average American reads 13 books a year,” doesn’t sit right with me. There actually is no such thing as average, and there this…those figures are extrapolated–but we don’t know from whence they come–census data or the organization that still says 73% of American can’t read. We are a polyglot nation and many readers continue to read in their own language. I know this much: There are not less than 56 million romance readers world-wide. Because when I wrote for Harlequin they sold 56 million books a year to those readers worldwide. More books were sold in English language-speaking countries. The USA is the largest English-reading nation on earth. Every author and publisher outside the US wants to break into the US market. Authors will never be short of an audience. That is not the issue. The issue is badly written books and dishonest reviews. If Amazon does clean house, there will be another side benefit: Review Trolls will be immediately identified and have to go back to living under bridges. Thanks for posting. Yu made a lot of good points. Some of which are not on my radar.

      • Jackie Weger says:

        Indie authors can opt of KDP. Still price and promote their books. I hear so many complaints about Amazon as ‘Big Brother.’ I go look at the titles by those authors–they ain’t selling. They don’t promote. Sour grapes. Amazon is not the only selling venue in town. It is the most successful. I’m there. I work it. I’m good with it. If I were not–I’d move on.

        • Jackie Weger says:

          I was waiting for somebody to comment on FREE promos. The Kindles Unlimited does not put a price limit on the books we can download. Which means we might sell more books on priced. If subscribers enroll in the thousands…it might change how we promote our books. We would still have to use FREE for visibility–but a readers will take chance on an indie author book priced at 2.99 and up on unlimited downloads. Kindle Unlimited will expand our audience. Another way to wean readers off of free and discounted books. I like that aspect, too.

      • I love Amazon too. It’s the marketplace of the world and the absolute best place to be if you are an author. I preach the same sermon all day every day. For the normal person KU might be a good thing. For me, not so much. I just now finished my June Kindle Lending Library book and haven’t even touched my Kindle First book for July yet. I’m just too swamped. But, most people don’t review books all day either and don’t get books from all over the place. So, I don’t really count on that point. It is off topic. I was just thinking out loud. I really want to join it, but I know it’s a waste of money right now for me personally. Again off topic- literacy and reading. I think my numbers there were high. 5-9 books per year is the mean number on that. Yes, America reads more than most but still not enough. My hopes are that e books will make books easier to access and more affordable and will raise those numbers!! That’s another one of my pet projects along with other campaigns for women and animal rights. I have been a “friend of the library” for years and these statistics are really jarring. These numbers have surfaced over the past few days because people are calculating the number of books they read per year in order to justify spending 120.00 a year on KU. It’s a slippery slope for the casual reader. For the avid reader, it’s a dream come true. But, ON TOPIC. I could not agree with you more about trolls and reviews being honest. I am an honest reviewer and the one thing that discourages me more than anything is seeing a below average book out there with multiple five star ratings, then a bunch of pissed of consumers who trusted those reviews. I have heard people remark countless times that they do not trust Amazon reviews. They have had too many bad experiences and no longer rely on the reviews to make their choices. That’s not good. They do rely more on Goodreads although the same trolls are there as on Amazon or B&N. You will find GR reviewers are little more blunt though and while authors complain GR reviewers are too opinionated, I personally find them refreshing albeit sometimes they take it too far and get a little bit nasty. I do hope KU weeds out the bad books and the trolls and I hope it does make the fake reviews stand out. It’s long overdue. Feel free to disagree anytime. It’s allowed. I think the dust needs to settle a bit before we really make any judgments. Right now there is so much info on KU and the whole “do authors get paid and if so how.” I did read that KDP did not have a choice when it came to having their books included in the KU and that opting out was not a choice due to the terms they agreed to, but that is only one article and I have nothing to back that up with. So, there is bound to be a lot of misinformation out there right now. It will get interesting when the free trial ends. I personally would like to see this service become a part of Prime and be offered as a discount or something. I am curious to see how many people join and what the overall impact will be. It’s just funny to me that no one cared a hoot about any of this until Amazon jumped in. Scribd and Oyster have been around for little while now and have yet to generate this type of interest. Yes, you can get the Scribd app for kindle, you just have to side load it and it is a dollar cheaper per month. Oyster cost the same as KU, and I have not researched their terms or know if they have an app for Android or IPAD. Interesting times for sure. I’m beat so that’s all for now! Goodnight everyone !

      • Rich Meyer says:

        13 books? Hell, I read that in a week. I’ve read and reviewed 210 books so far this year, three of which have been under the KU system. I belong to a number of FB readers groups, and most of the folks in those read 20-300 books a year.

        I don’t see how a reader can go wrong with this. Sure, not everything you want to read is going to be included; but I myself am not a best-seller kind of guy – I didn’t even read Harry Potter until after the final movie.

        If I add up the prices of the KU books I have read or borrowed so far (not counting the first three I used to test out some parts of the system), the total is currently at $41.47. For nine books. So even if the authors may have lost a bit (one book was an astronomical $16.99), they will be getting a review out of the deal.

        I still will be buying hardcover and paperback and other e-books when I need to, but I may change my buying habits a tad. I still have about 20 books saved in my cart that are NOT available under KU.

        I do agree that people have to start working on putting out better books, i.e. edited, proofed, formatted ones. Several of the ones I’ve downloaded have been lacking in that. It doesn’t matter what the price is if indies as a group keep getting maligned justly and unjustly because of stupid mistakes.

        • Rich,
          You are like me. I have already read over 300 books this year. My social media friends on FB and twitter are like me. I am surrounded by books and authors, and others who have the same habits I do. But, I did some research on the subject and the sad truth is most people do not read over a book a month. Startling facts have emerged that 28% of Americans did not read a single book at all in 2012/13. My family is like this: My husband- tech manuals- I don’t even know if that counts. My daughter loves to read, is very literate, has a kindle fire- 1 and a half books a month. Why? She works and has family obligations which has her so tired that by the time she has a moment to read she can only manage a few chapters at a time before she crashes out. My son- is on the road all day everyday. He pops an audio book in from time to time but his day starts at 3 am and he manages about 2 books a year. My daughter in law is border line genius. She has a kindle fire and reads at a rapid fire rate. 1 book per month- maybe. long commute to work, family obligations and so on. She and my son manage a 30 minute show before they fall asleep. My son in law is also high IQ – 2 books a month in non- fiction. Yes, books are expensive. I don’t buy HC at 30 dollars a pop. I have always traded in paperbacks at Half Price books or my local paperback swap store or bought in bulk on Ebay. I never paid full price for books because I read so fast. But, when e readers came about I got thousands at .99 cents or free. Then I started doing book reviews and I have so many books I will never see the light of day again. So, still it could be a better deal to do Amazon prime. Two free books a month, free two day shipping, unlimited movie and music streaming. It just depends on the person and their lifestyle. But, remember too that for the service to pay for itself one must buy from Amazon exclusively and many folks still have Nooks, and there is always smashwords and a plethora of other books sites too. Scribed is the best deal in my opinion. Big 5, Smashwords, and a dollar less per month. But, I’m not signing up for any of those all you eat services until I get out from under the load I have now. I know how you feel about the numbers I quoted. It is shocking but by all means look it up. Research it. I hope to God I’m wrong about that. But, I know from experience what it is like to work 60 hours a week, take care of a household, shuffle around two active kids and find time to read. Back in those crazy days I was lucky to finish a book a week, if that. I’m a member of the ALA and TLA as well as a ” friend of the library” locally and we have seen these number worsen over the past 5 years or so. But, speaking of libraries, for the cost conscious person there is no better place to go. They do have e books on several apps- overdrive being the most popular. Lots of options out there. One question I always ask authors in an interview is “What are you reading now?” It’s shocking to discover that over half of them answered me with “nothing”. Too busy writing, too busy promoting to read. Wow! I would research it all before I made a choice. Yes, I know this not the topic Jackie was hoping to discuss here. Lots of talk on social media. Mark Cocker has some choice words on the subject as you might imagine. Check out his blog today.

  4. Dale Furse says:

    Interesting points. There’s so much speculation on forums and in blogs that I think it’s better to take a wait and see attitude. Try it if you want or don’t try it.

  5. A lot to think about here. The Kindle Countdown Deals have worked well for me, and I plan to continue using them. As for reviews, I think you are exactly right, Jackie.

  6. Mary Smith says:

    Thanks for taking the time and trouble to write up your thoughts on the new subscription programme, Jackie. What you say makes a lot of sense, especially about the reviews.

    Loved Julie’s library joke, which I hadn’t seen on FB!

  7. myra duffy says:

    A friend pointed me in the direction of this -very interesting.
    As an Indie author of cosy mysteries set on the Isle of Bute in Scotland I sell both eBooks and paperbacks and I suppose we couldn’t possibly expect the Amazon business model not to change.
    But I wonder if this is a trial run for a more sweeping change?

  8. Pete Barber says:

    Hi Jackie,

    I don’t think you’re on the button with this post. The new AZ offering isn’t just for indie authors. It’s for anyone in Kindle Select. Check this piece by Michael Gallagher – http://www.fkbooksandtips.com/2014/07/18/amazon-announces-kindle-unlimited/

    Also, your idea about AZ changing their attitude toward reviews seems like pure speculation. I understand your logic and think it’s a good idea, but I don’t see where you extract that logic from their Unlimited announcement

    Also, I don’t really see AZ’s business driver to clear out poor sellers from the catelog. Why should they care if a book is good or not so long as the product is sold? When someone buys a shitty book, they don’t blame AZ. And if they read 10% and don’t like what they see, they have 1 week to return it anyway for a full refund without the new plan.

    I’m not sure what the ‘Unlimited” deal means, but I do think the Amazon model is changing. Subscription is good for the companies that control the channels—see Netflix, Pandora, Sirius, Apple, and all the phone & cable companies. It’s a natural progression, but $120/year commitment for books doesn’t look too appetizing to me; there must be more to come.


    • Jackie Weger says:

      Thank you, Pete: As we say in Spanish: Se feo, se gordito y viejito. I am ugly, fat and old! I have just as much right to make a fool of myself in print as the next person. Prolly Amazon doesn’t give a fig. I don’t channel Jeff Bezos–so I don’t know what is going on with his genius. Here’s the skinny: Hundreds of thousands of good and bad books listed on Amazon don’t sell. The awful books die a slow or fast death. Many terrific indie books are not promoted. Visibility is key and will remain so. As for how much I spend on books–it is easily $1000 a year. I love to read. Sometimes my writing suffers for it because I’ll have my nose in a book instead of my ms.
      P.S. I touched a nerve which is what a good blog post does. My Alexa rating is up! LOL.

      • Jackie Weger says:

        PPS: I know Michael Gallagher. I always promote with fkbooksandtips. He’s a Texas boy. Has a day job and runs his promo site on the side. Every single promoter from the giant Bookbub to the smallest FB site has got to be dancing and gloating…what this means for them is more $$$ in affiliate accounts. Yes, it does–because once Amazon announces how many subscribers to Kindle Unlimited, indie authors will promote priced books in hopes of snagging those subscribers. Some will even raise the prices of their books–which may be another goal of Kindle Unlimited–because free and discounted books drove the prices down.

    • Pete,
      You are right about the price structure. It boggles by mind that Prime members do not benefit at all from this. In fact, if you are a prime member, like me, then why bother? I have heard many people express that same sentiment. I do worry about the exclusive thing with select. I think an author should beware of selling their book on one site only. Amazon is very powerful and you should utilize it your advantage. But, there are lots B&N people out there too and many other places to sell your book. Gather all the sales you can. I don’t know if once the free trial ends if people will stick with the KU program. I think for awhile people might gorge themselves on it, then a quick budget check might have them reconsidering if it’s really that great a deal or not. Again, there is just too much information out there about this and much of it is probably overblown rumors , but I think we should be watching these developments very carefully. I think there is more to this than meets the eye. Amazon has always been a game changer and I would imagine they do have something brewing in the background. We shall wait and see. I didn’t know you could return a book after you had it for a whole week! That’s nuts.

      • Pete Barber says:

        My wife has a Prime account because we live in the sticks and shipping makes it worthwhile, so when we order we use that benefit. She hardly ever uses the monthly free book, though. I guess because KU is specifically targeted at books, it’ll get more revs.

        Like Jackie, I think it’ll tend to increase prices. It’s human nature, if you’re getting a book free, you’re gonna pick the expensive ones. For folk who shop on Bookbub for 99 cent books, that’s 120 books a year they can buy before the KU subscription is reached, but the audio angle is a powerful one as is the ability to read on any device. I have no idea how (or why) anyone would read a book on a phone, but that’s just because I’m an old fart who can’t see the tiny writing–many do.
        As you say, wait and see.

        • LOL! I can’t read on a phone either!! Actually, you get TWO free books on Prime. One library book and one yet to be released book. Too bad they didn’t offer Prime customer some sort of incentive. I might have been more tempted to try it.

  9. Jackie, thanks for your great in-depth post and the discussion it has sparked. Having read many posts since the announcement, I am still confused as to whether it’s a good thing or bad thing, but comments such as those above are great food for thought on this. I tend to follow authors such as yourself because you are so successful and obviously have a very good understanding of the best marketing pathways.

  10. Rich Meyer says:

    My preliminary report on KU:

    12 books downloaded and read since it started.
    12 reviews left.

    12 authors who I would not have probably read now have one more review in their stable.

    Now, not everyone reviews everything they read like me, but if even one or two readers do, that could help indies a lot!

    Gonna read me some of the First Chapter authors later this week. So sorry, but the Kaiju comes first! 🙂

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