To KU, or not to KU. That is the question.
First of all, for those who don’t know what KU is: KU is a subscription service started by Amazon. For $10 a month, readers get unlimited access to the books available in the Kindle Unlimited (KU) program.
So what’s the downside for authors? Well, it’s two-fold. For one, in order to get your books into the Kindle Unlimited program, you have to put your books into KDP Select, which means your book has to be exclusive to Amazon for at least 90 days. So because you’re unable to publish your books elsewhere, you’re missing out on sales from users of other devices, such as Apple products (ipads, iphones), Nook Books and Kobo e-readers.
The second downside is that under KU, you don’t get paid the full royalty that you would be paid for a sale. You get paid per “page read”, which Amazon calculates, usually in the 180-200 words per “page” range. Right now, payouts are hovering around the 0.0045 cents per page read rate, which means for a 50,000 word novel that’s read all the way through from beginning to end, you’re getting somewhere in the $1.20 range. Not bad, but also not great, especially when you consider that most people are not going to read your book all the way through.
I know what you’re thinking.
“Well, Liv, what’s the point? This KU stuff sounds like garbage. Shouldn’t it be avoided at all costs?”
The thing is, it can make some people a lot of money.
Who benefits from being in KU? Here’s a short, general list. Of course, not all of this is going to be correct 100% of the time, but it’s a good guide.
- People with long books. Obviously the more words on the page, the more pages read, the more money earned in KU.
- People who write romance, cozy mysteries, and other genres with a super high read rate. Romance readers are voracious. Probably more so than any other single group of readers. As a romance writer, I can attest to this. I make a lot more money from borrows with my romance novels than I do from sales. Like, 10 times more.
- People who already make >90% of their income on Amazon. If the amount of money you make by “going wide” is fairly minimal, definitely consider KU. For sales rank, as soon as a person clicks that “borrow” button, it counts as a sale. So even if a person never even opens your book, if they clicked borrow, your sales rank goes up. This means books in KU have a relatively easier time getting better sales ranks thanks to these “ghost borrows”. If the money you’re making elsewhere is minimal, it’s probably actually worth putting all your eggs in one basket, or at least with what you already have published that doesn’t really sell elsewhere.
And here’s the list of, in general, books/authors who would benefit from not going into KU.
- People with short books. Especially short shorts. What’s the point of getting paid $0.20 for a read-through? You’re much better off publishing wide.
- Authors of genres with a low KU entrance rate. Have a look at the bestsellers lists for your chosen category. Are a good number of them in KU? Like, more than 20%? If so, consider it. At this point a lot of the established people in your genre will have tested KU out enough to know if it’s worth it or not. If you’re not seeing a significant number of Indie publishers actually using KU in your genre, chances are it’s not really worth it.
- People who make good money elsewhere. I have a couple old pen names that make over 2k a month outside of KU. It’s nowhere near the money I make in KU with my main pen names, but a lot of these books are 2-4 years old, are short, and quite frankly it’s not worth the risk of losing the passive income that covers my rent every month to risk putting them in KU.
“But Liv, what about my readers from other platforms? Won’t they be disappointed?”
Yes! But of course, there are a few ways around that if you have a number of readers on other platforms but you still want to use KU. For one thing, you can invite them to your ARC email list. You do have an ARC list already, right?
Another thing you can do is only leave your book in KU for the first 90 days to start with. As soon as those three months are up, unless the book is getting a ton of borrows, send it wide.
You can also do the inverse and publish your book wide for a pre-set amount of time – say one week – for those fans to buy the book, before you delist from other publishers and enroll in KDP Select. A word of warning though: some websites (I’m looking at you, Kobo) take longer than others to delist books. While Apple and B&N tend to take 1-2 business days tops, Kobo also sends your book to a number of other partners of theirs, and one of them, FNAC in France, is notoriously slow to remove books from sale. If I were to use this method, I would absolutely not publish on Kobo.
“Liv, I’ve heard that KU is really bad for authors. Shouldn’t I avoid it?”
Well, I’m not going to lie to you: KU does really, really suck for authors in a lot of ways, even those for whom it makes more sense to enter the program. For one thing, it pits everyone against each other as we’re all fighting for a fixed amount of money from the same “pot”. Also, we’re training readers to expect things for free, as they see that they can get unlimited books for “free” with their subscription to KU. And, on top of that, Amazon has been lowering the amount of money they’re paying per page on a regular basis.
So yeah, KU sucks. And in the long run, we might end up being the frogs in the slowly boiling water because of it. But the fact is, right now, it makes money. And that’s what you’re here to do, right? Make money. I hate KU, but I still use it. Every novel I’ve ever written is in KU, because it makes me money. When things change, I’ll adapt. That’s business. I might have ethics and preferences, but they don’t pay my bills. You may feel differently, and you may avoid KU on principle, knowing that it will cost you money. I have no problem with that whatsoever. But to those of you who treat this as a business, you may want to consider doing whatever you can to make as much money as possible now, and when things change, you’ll have to learn to adapt. But at this very moment there’s a lot of money to be made in KU. It might backfire on all of us horrendously in the future, but this is my business, and right now, this is my life and I love it.
So all in all, decide for yourself whether or not you want to put your book(s) in KDP Select so that they’re available in KU. And don’t forget, this isn’t an all-or-nothing thing! You can always choose to put some books in, but not others. Either way, I wish you the best of luck with your decision. And if you decide you made the wrong decision, don’t worry! It’s still not permanent. After 90 days you can remove your books from KDP Select, or you can put them in as soon as you unpublish from elsewhere. It’s not the end of the world if you made the wrong move right off the bat.