Kindle Unlimited - An Indie Author's View

Last week, Amazon announced the new Kindle Unlimited program, which will allow readers to "enjoy unlimited access to over 600,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks on any device for just $9.99 a month." The Internet, in a wholly unprecedented move, became flooded with opinions. 

Here's another one, from an indie writer's perspective.

My thoughts about Kindle Unlimited are, on the whole, mixed. On one hand, having the book enrolled in a program that gives more people simpler access to my books is a good thing. Someone who doesn't want to pay $3.99 to read Apocalypticon (ludicrous!) might just read it for free. (There is, in fact, strong evidence supporting this claim, as my first free day for Apocalypticon resulted in over 4,500 downloads, which is far greater than the number of purchases.)

And that's good. Money or no money, it's good when people read your work. Theoretically, it helps you build an audience for future works. Which is a bonus. Plus, Kindle Unlimited downloads are eligible for revenue through the KDP Select Global Fund. We're not sure yet how this new flood of books will impact the fund and the amount of money that each download receives, but, hey, money is always good, right? So that's fairly positive.

But that's pretty much where my positive feelings about the program end. Because on the other hand, I am not a well-known author. That means there's basically a 99% chance that if someone is searching out Apocalypticon or Pants on Fire, it's because I or someone else who enjoyed the books convinced them too. That means that these individuals are prepared to pay for a copy of my book, because they're searching it out specifically. So what's the value for me in giving them the book for free? They're going to read it whether or not they have to pay for it because they've been given a reason to seek it out. If given the option, I'd much rather have them pay for it.

The reason I got 4,500+ downloads from my free day is because I worked to promote that free day through a few dozen different channels. Word of the promotion reached thousands of people I wouldn't have otherwise been able to reach, which led to the large swarm of downloaders. If Amazon plans on sending recommendations for my free books to its gajillions of users, then yes, please, by all means, spread the word and give the book away for free! But if I'm doing the work to drive customers to Amazon, I should probably get something for that work, no?

The other thing that bugs me about Unlimited is that if your book is a KDP Select book, you're automatically enrolled. We weren't asked if we would like to be included, and we weren't even notified in advance. All of a sudden, it was, "Oh, by the way, your book is free to millions of people who will pay us money that you won't receive a portion of!" I should have the power to say whether or not my book is given away for free or not.

At the very least, I should be given a heads up.

To pile on to the whole "Amazon didn't ask" thing is the fact that while you can request your KDP Select books be removed from Unlimited, it's a clunky process. You have to fill out a general online request form that isn't terribly easy to seek out through the website. 

One of the reasons I enjoy self-publishing so much is because of the amount of control I have over my production and distribution. Unlimited limits some of that control.

Overall, I think I have to say I'm anti-Unlimited. If Amazon (or a third party promoter) releases a good method of promoting indie titles to new potential readers, that might change the game a bit. But for now, it seems like Amazon's using the huge number of self-published works (because I guarantee the Big Five aren't giving the green light to give away 600,000+ titles for free) to open up another revenue stream for themselves. Which is just business. Amazon's not stupid. Their customers are the readers, not the writers. But one thing's for sure; I'm getting more and more anxious for a new, competitive book marketplace to open up around here.

Clayton SmithComment