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Writer Wednesday: Authors & Kindle Unlimited

Good morning and welcome to another Writer Wednesday where we talk shop, industry and more. Today we talking about the recent Kindle Unlimited boycott and what that means for authors. Now, if you are a Kindle Unlimited or KU author, or considering becoming one, first it is relevant to understand how the KU system works to see how and where the boycott impacts authors.

Amazon's KU System: The Reward of Exclusivity

The Kindle Unlimited system works based off the subscription pool of users, providing royalty payments to authors for 'pages read'. If a subscriber borrows an author's book through the KU system, the author will be paid for each page read. In the example given through the Kindle Unlimited information page, it uses a $10 million pool as an example. If an author's 100 page book is borrowed and read in full 100 times the author would earn a royalty of $1000. $10 Million x 100 Pages / 100,00,00 total pages. Maths!

The goal of the KU program is to entice authors to enroll their work exclusively to Amazon's KU library, rather than a wide release on multiple platforms like Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Apple, and more. Amazon even offers further enticement with a rewards system for authors who earn the most pages read. However that system has garnered a great deal of controversy due to some authors manipulating the pool through a method called page stuffing, or adding more content to increase the page read without properly listing the content.

Despite that issue, KU could prove more profitable for authors because of this royalty based system, however the KU pool changes from month to month and if the pool dropped, then the base funds for author royalties would drop too. Most of the time, the month to month difference has not been significant enough to effect an author's livelihood, but with something like a boycott, well, there lies the rub.

According to author reddit threads, this past March had the lowest royalty payouts for authors since July of 2017, a factor that has Amazon laying the blame on the boycott and lack of subscribers. However, is this really the case? Especially considering March had a larger KU pool than February by 1.5 million. Was there that big a surge in authors to the KU program to offset the payout balance? If you account for the surge in ChatGP written books, possibly. There could have been enough of an uptick in KU Authors and enough of a down tick in subscribers to account for the significant loss to royalties, but it is hard to tell without solid numbers.

What is for certain is that trying to shake up a corporation like Amazon is difficult and often back lashes on the authors trying to maintain their livelihoods from the system rather than creating actual change. Amazon is a bit of a hydra. It can and will shut down operations it deems no longer profitable or useful, such as the culling of Book Depository after almost two decades. Amazon has also already proven that it will punish authors for overreaching issues beyond their control, such as the pirating of their books.

So, is a KU boycott truly the root cause for disappearing royalties? As of now, there is no concrete proof that this is the case. This isn't even the first time a boycott has been attempted but again, Amazon is a hydra. Publishing is only one facet of their income and one they can easily shift in their favor. The worst outcome: would dumping the KU program entirely be the end game move for the company? As an author and consumer, I want to say the prospect is currently unlikely, and there are other programs and incentives that will likely receive the ax before Amazon does anything so drastic. The fact that KU operates using its own subscriber pool helps, however, if the deflating profits continue, there may be some policies coming down the pipeline to account for it that will effect authors in the long term.

For those considering entering their works into the Kindle Unlimited library, it would be worth keeping an eye on what happens in regards to the program for the next few months before making the commitment.

Resources and Further Reading

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