We have been waiting to report on Amazon's "Unlimited" subscription program, which it officially rolled out to its readers last Friday, July 18, because we have had a difficult time assessing exactly what we want to say about it
At this point, we will simply say that everyone SHOULD know about it as well as its potential implications, and we will attempt to outline some of the more "unknown" mechanics of how the program is affecting authors and leave the macro-economics and discussion points to others who track and report on industry issues as well.
If you haven't heard about it, you can read Amazon's official press release here:
If you want to read a more "insider" analysis about the program and its potential impact on the publishing industry and all the controversy and consternation, you can go here:
If you want to be clued in to more specific implications that not many people seem to be addressing, you can read on...
1. Book participating in Kindle Unlimited are not all created equal
There are traditionally published books that are participating with and without their consent. There are indie self-published authors whose books have been put into the Unlimited Program without Amazon requiring "exclusivity" from them. And then, there are indie authors who have been left out of Kindle Unlimited because their books are not participating in KDP Select -- Amazon's exclusivity program which requires that authors only publish on Amazon and no other distribution outlets. If your book is currently and automatically part of KDP Select, your book is part of Amazon's new Unlimited program.
2. Books that are participating in Kindle Unlimited are currently benefiting in their Amazon's sales ranking
We can now confirm that books participating in Kindle Unlimited are receiving a significant bump in ranking due to the fact that the new inflated number of "borrows" seem to be counted towards the book's overall daily sales. Why? Read #3.
3. The "Blue "KU/KOLL" number represents books that have already banked the 10% reading threshold - and thus, will receive payment
Many authors who are participating in Unlimited are reporting a spike in their KU/KOLL borrow numbers. In some cases, 3 to 5 times more borrows than what was normal while their books were simply in KDP Select (recently, KDP Select borrows paid authors approximately $2 per borrow from a global fund managed and funded by Amazon).
Everyone wants to know... are those inflated "borrow" numbers REAL sales numbers? Or will they be adjusted in some way later on? We believe the blue borrows being reported in the KDP dashboard are confirmed "reads" -- representing readers who have reached the 10% reading threshold -- and thus, triggering payment to the author.
4. How much will Amazon pay for each of these Unlimited "borrows"?
This is the BIG question, and the answer goes back to #1 -- all books participating are not created equal.
Most of the Unlimited books are KDP Select books from indie authors and they will receive a pro-rata share amount-- to-be-determined -- by the overall Global Fund provided by Amazon. Yes, this is the same Global Fund earmarked for KDP Select borrows, but now, it will all be one big pool. Currently, payment for each Select "borrow" averages about $2 per borrow. Readers who were enrolled in Amazon's Prime program were limited to one borrow per month, so the total number of "borrows" was seemingly capped on a macro-level.
Now, all bets are off... borrows are skyrocketing for participating books and everyone is buzzing about the implications and the $$. How much is each borrow now currently worth? And ultimately, how much will Amazon now be willing to pay for a book's "exclusivity."
And then there are traditional publishers and successful indie authors who are receiving different payment terms under their participation in Unlimited -- in some cases, receiving full wholesale payment for a "borrow" without needing to adhere to the exclusively requirement of the average KDP Select author.
5. If you are confused and have no idea what we're talking about, you're not alone -- but you're also falling further and further behind the curve.
We would like to point out that Amazon's Unlimited program has likely just radically changed the publishing landscape and you don't even know it.
The implications are going to be so complex and so far-reaching and so long-term that we can't even begin to report on how and why.
What we WILL say is that if you are a newbie who was contemplating self-publishing and have been waiting on the sidelines, things just got significantly more complicated for you to jump into the pool.
If you have been indie publishing for a while and your books are not part of Select/Unlimited, and you are currently wondering why your Amazon sales rankings have been getting worse all weekend -- it's likely because of the launch of Unlimited.
If you are a traditionally published author and you think this is just one more way that Amazon is hurting you and your publisher -- it may or may not be true, depending on your publisher and their willingness to play in the sandbox with the 'Zon -- and under which payment terms. Some publishers seem to be working with the 'Zon and they seem to be getting favorable payment terms in return.
Remember -- an "unlimited" subscription service has to provide content that Amazon readers WANT to read and pay $9.99 per month to access, and Amazon can't successfully launch and maintain an unlimited subscription service without participation from the major publishers and their content. Sorta like how Netflix was five years ago.