Last month Amazon grabbed the attention of its independent authors with the rollout of the new Kindle Unlimited program. For $9.99 a month Amazon customers can now read all the books they want (that are included in the program). Amazon also offers a 30-day free trial. This means you have 30 days to gorge on books for free—just remember to opt out of the program before the renewal date if you don’t want to pay for the service.

For an independent author’s book to be included in Kindle Unlimited’s library, it must be in Amazon’s Select program. This mean the independent author must exclusively publish the eBook on Amazon’s platform—it can’t be offered on other sites like Barnes & Noble or iTunes. The author is paid each time the book is downloaded AND read past 10% (as of now). If you download an author’s book and don’t read it past this point, the author doesn’t get paid.

How much an author will be paid is the big question. For the first
month the amount came in at $1.81 per borrow. Depending on the book’s cover price, that amount might be significantly less or more than what the author earns with a traditional sale.  Of course, the theory is there will be far more borrows—since theoretically it cost the reader nothing to download the book (aside from the flat monthly fee)—so the author might see a considerable spike in readers which means bulk will be the key to making this a financial win for authors.

Or will it? If members of the program gorge on books, this means the amount paid back to authors will dwindle in size.

I see this program as possibly great for readers—and great for authors. But only if it works out like medical insurance. In medical insurance, the insurance company banks on most of its customers not ever using the policy. Each month customers pay the premium, yet what the insurance company pays out is considerably less.  But then someone actually uses the insurance, like we had to in June when my husband ended up in the hospital. It will take more than five years for our insurance company to recoup its money from our premiums—and that is assuming we never see the doctor again during that time.

The Kindle Unlimited program might work out great for both readers and authors, providing a majority of the members don’t gorge on books.

As a reader, I signed up for the free trial, and when it came up for renewal, I didn’t opt out. One of the reasons was the non-fiction books in the program—books I have wanted to read yet couldn’t justify buying.  For example, when exploring the possibility of buying an RV, I found a slew of books on the RV lifestyle that were in the program. Instead of figuring out which one I should spend my money on, I just tried them all out. Yep, I gorged.  Read one after another.

As an author I might be tempted to start writing shorter books that might fit well into this program and earn some serious buck. But the fact is, who knows where this program will go? It is too soon to tell, and imprudent for any author to spend too much time developing a project exclusively based on KU.

A case in point—eHow.  Back in the day eHow allowed anyone to write short how-to articles and then earn monthly revenue based on what eHow brought in from ads. I wrote some of those articles, and was quickly earning over $500 a month—passive income that came in each month without me writing another word.  There were a number of writers who devoted their time to building their bank of articles. I remember one author who was making over $2000 a month. But then as quickly as it started it was over, when the people behind eHow shut down the program. Some lucky writers—like me—were offered a chunk to sell their articles to eHow. I took the money and didn’t look back. Of course, my nice monthly passive income stopped.

My point being, before authors get too excited about the possibilities, don’t get carried away by devoting all of your time building a product based solely on an untested platform. I am not saying not to write books for the program, just don’t make that the only reason you are writing the books.

As for me, as a reader I will stay with Kindle Unlimited for a few more months and see if I continue to borrow enough books to justify paying the monthly fee. I will continue to pay full price for eBooks—buying something I want to read that isn’t in the program.

As for me, the Indi author I have a couple books in the program, just to test it out. At the end of 90 days I’ve the option to pull out and republish at the other sites, or renew with Select. Way too soon to tell how this will all pan out. Even if it looks like a winner at the end of the year, who knows what 2015 will bring. One certainty about self-publishing, the rules are constantly changing.

(Photo: Havasu Palms, A Hostile Takeover — the eBook is currently in the Kindle Unlimited program. If you’ve signed up or have the free trial, you can download the book for free.)

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