Amazon Kindle Unlimited – Five Strategies Indie Authors Need to Put in Place RIGHT NOW!

Yesterday Amazon made an announcement that is another incredibly disruptive move in the sale of ebooks. As a self-published author… an ‘indie’… the implications of what this means hit me like a bolt out of the blue, a ton of bricks, the metaphors could go on all day. I felt like Wiley Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoons being hit by a ten ton safe that fell from the sky.

Why should I feel like this? Shouldn’t I be elated that Amazon has now provided another means to expand my potential readership? Shouldn’t I be thankful that I have another mechanism to get my work discovered and by doing so, increase my sales? I should be dancing a jig down the street but instead I just want to curl up into a fetal position under the bed.

Let me tell you that I’m not an A-listed celebrity self-published author like Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath or Bella Andre… someone who has risen from obscurity or has unshackled the Big Five chains that bound them and climbed the best seller lists on the wings of the Great Zon. I’m not someone who is ready to make a YouTube video telling my boss, “I quit!” because of a new found income stream from self-publishing that has allowed me to retire to my cabin in the woods and write prose all day in my pajamas.

No, I’m exactly like YOU. I just dream of being able to do that. But I can’t afford to quit my day job. I’d love to spend more time writing and I squeeze every ounce I can out of a busy day of work and family to do just that. I continue to write in some misplaced hope that I can supplement a modest traditionally earned income (in a job I fell out of love with a long time ago) so I can just pay off some debts or perhaps take a nice vacation. I’m fundamentally not greedy in my dreams about this. But I can still dream about being the next Hugh Howey. I mean why not? More importantly, I write because I love writing whether I get paid to do it or not. But that’s another post for another time.

Amazon has now released Kindle Unlimited to an adoring public. Do you as an indie author embrace it with your heart and soul and just dive right in? Would you climb Mount Everest without breathing apparatus? Okay, that’s a definite no.

So, disgruntled paranoid Charles, what happened that made you so afraid? And by the way, if you’ve read this far, you’re also wondering… Charles, where’s the beef? C’mon, ante up the strategies, I don’t have all day.

Here’s what I know after working for 38 years for one of the largest corporations in the world. Amazon didn’t do this out of the kindness of their hearts. They didn’t do this out of some altruistic reason to raise indie authors to the next plateau of success. They did this for one basic reason… return to shareholders. It’s called the profit motive and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, their disruptive business model has almost single-handedly created an ‘open source’ playing field for self-published authors where none existed before. If you want to know what I think about Amazon and self-publishing then all you have to do is read Hugh Howey’s blog or JA Konrath’s because I’m in lockstep with what they say about Amazon and there’s no point in repeating any of it here. Not now.

The key point about Kindle Unlimited is that your fiction has to be enrolled into KDP Select first in order to participate and more importantly… you are automatically enrolled if you do that, you can’t opt out! You can’t just have the old Free Days and the Countdown Deals without also enrolling in Kindle Unlimited. They’re bundled together.

So what, you say? I like KDP Select. I love the Free Days and the Countdown Deals. Use them all the time. I get some extra income when Amazon Prime subscribers borrow from the Kindle Lending Library (KLL). Sign me up for Kindle Unlimited. I don’t mind. Let’s rock n’roll!

Okay… Strategy #1… Don’t Publish for ePub!
Let’s put our cards on the table. You and I and the other thousand bloggers out there don’t know how this Kindle Unlimited thing is going to play out in the digital book marketplace. But here’s what we do know. You can’t participate unless your novel is in KDP Select and you can’t do that unless you are exclusive to Amazon and you can’t be exclusive if you’re published for Nook, Apple, Kobo, Copia, etc in ePub format. So Strategy #1 applies to NEW works. Before you hit the ‘publish’ button with Smashwords or BookBaby or Lulu or any of the others… don’t! Just wait. Release it for Kindle and then wait. Amazon has a 70%+ market share for ebooks and Kindle Unlimited might just grow that even more, so there’s no rush to get an ePub version out there. If you learn there’s no danger ahead in the KU ice fields above base camp, you can still create an ePub version later. If there’s a reason not to, then publishing for ePub is a supreme waste of money right now. Read on and find out why I’m considering becoming a Kindle-only author.

Am I advocating withdrawing your existing novels from ePub distribution? Well, that’s not a new question. You had to consider that if you wanted to participate in KDP Select before now. The answer is, you might have to withdraw. Amazon has given you even more reason to withdraw. That, in part, in my opinion is why they created Kindle Unlimited in the first place. Remember Borders? How are they doing? Is Nook a viable alternative to a Kindle? Makes a nice historic collectible though. Can’t you get a Kindle app for iPad or for your Android phone? Oh. yeah, you can. Hello Oyster, I’m published on your platform! Sorry, but those days are numbered.

Strategy #2… Start that Sequel Now!
Do you have standalone books? Or do you plan to write a sequel or a series? Kindle Unlimited has just given you the absolute no-shit reason to get that sequel out ASAP, pronto, toute suite. It involves someone I’m going to call… the ‘Voracious Reader’ or VR for short.

Here’s a quote from a random ‘Voracious Reader’ on GoodReads:

“I hate to be some place without a book – especially if I’m waiting. I travel for business and take full advantage of drive time by plugging in my ipod with an audio book. I can sometimes have 2 or 3 books going – one on each device type.”

I don’t have to tell you that there are people out there that can read a book a day. On GoodReads there are people challenging themselves to read 100, 200 or 300 books in a year. Okay, how are the VRs getting their books? Do they buy them all? And are they only reading traditionally published novels? Hardly. Do the math. The Kindle version of best-seller ‘Gone Girl’ by Gillian Flynn (Random House) sells on Amazon for $8.52. So let’s round that up to nine bucks to represent a typical price for a trad-published ebook. If I want to read only traditionally published books and I’m a VR, then my book addiction is going to cost me $9 X 200 = $1800 per year or $150 per month. Sign me up all day long for Kindle Unlimited at $9.99/month if that’s what I’m doing and then I’ll have a near infinite universe of top notch best sellers to read and save myself $1680 per year.

We all know that’s not what’s happening. Check your own Kindle Library and count the number of free ebooks you have downloaded, how many you’ve read and how many you think you could possibly read if you read a book a week until the day you died. I’m not a VR. But VRs get their books from your Free Days, Countdown Deals, Lending Library, etc and now they’re able to get all-they-can-eat from Kindle Unlimited for $9.99 per month.

This is the danger that made me crawl under the bed. Here’s a question for you. If (and this is a big if) the traditional publishers sign on to Kindle Unlimited, why would a Voracious Reader read an indie self-published novel when they can get their fill from the big A-Listers on the NYT Best Seller List? They don’t need free days any more to put books in their Library. At $9.99 all books in the program are essentially ‘free’.

By the way, guess who owns GoodReads and the data on the reading habits of the 30 million readers registered there? You guessed it… Amazon. GoodReads is to Amazon like South Africa is to De Beers Diamonds. It is the data mine about readers’ habits to end all data mines.

Strategy #3… Use Ultra Caution When Enrolling in KDP Select

So here’s some more beef… you need more than one novel to be successful as an indie author. Write this fifty times on a blackboard: ‘I must write a sequel, I must.’ Because? You’re going to be giving that first one away for free, forever. So you need to think very carefully about how to do that. Do you throw all your work into Kindle Unlimited/KDP or just some of it? You can be sure that the Big Five publishers have special ops strategy teams working around the clock on this issue right now as we speak, as they mull over whether they participate or not, and I believe they all will eventually. If they’re smart, they’ll throw their backlists into Kindle Unlimited so our Voracious Reader has to step outside Kindle Unlimited to pick up that new release he/she is dying to get their hands on. Especially in a series. First three or four books of Harry Potter? No problem. Want to know how it ends? Well, I guess you’ll have to pay a premium to find out.

So yes, throw your first novels in there. But I would hold back on the newest ones. Most of us don’t have the luxury of offering a big backlist to the Great Zon’s new reading machine. But over time we might, so don’t automatically push the ‘Enroll’ button on your newest work until you’ve thought this through.

But Charles, you say, don’t I get a nearly equal amount of royalty from a KDP loaned book (now a Kindle Unlimited book) as I do selling outside of those programs? Yes, you do. Now. But not in the future. The indie pricing sweet spot is $2.99 or $3.99. Let’s go with $2.99, so at a 70% royalty minus delivery charge your portion of that is about $2. Yes, today you can get even more than that from the ‘Fund’ that Amazon uses to compensate writers when readers pick up the book via the KLL. And that’s the problem. Amazon pays you $2 for a ‘sale’ where they do not directly receive any income. They are relying on the general subscription revenue of Amazon Prime to put money into the ‘Fund’. Look at it another way. They get about $90 per year for a Prime subscription. Every time one of these subscribers ‘borrows’ a book as they are entitled to do, Amazon pays you $2. So they are down to $88 of revenue. Eventually, if the reader reads more and more, this retained income drops and drops. Who knows, maybe it now costs Amazon more than $90 to give out the free books along with the other benefits of free shipping, etc and they make nothing?

The key here is the ‘Fund’. If the ‘Fund’ is $2 million and there are 1 million downloads, the payout is $2. But what if the ‘Fund’ is still fixed at $2 million and the downloads rise to 4 million? Payout is $0.50. At 10 million downloads it drops to $0.20 or 1/10th of what it was before. This is potentially the impact of Kindle Unlimited. Amazon can continue to fix its payout ‘Fund’ while reaping an exponentially rising revenue stream of $9.99 per month from subscribers. But you say correctly, Amazon will raise the money in the ‘Fund’ as their KU subscribers sign on, won’t they? Uh, they have other rooms full of accountants figuring that one out. With Kindle Unlimited, they now have a way to control the amount of payout by limiting the size of the ‘Fund’ in relation to the total downloads and to the growth of their subscribers. Amazon’s executives didn’t get where they are today by being poor businessmen. They’ve got it all worked out.

And guess what? Your novel is now lumped in with those from the Big Five’s A-listers, the guys and gals that the Big Five will have to let participate once the ‘fog of war’ dissipates. Who is going to discover you now in this ‘Lending Library at the End of the Universe’? And if they do, will they make a ‘purchase’? Amazon knows. They have the data mine of GoodReads to draw from, remember? And if they do make a ‘purchase’ in KU, what will be your royalty? $0.50? $0.25?… $0.02? Depends on the ‘Fund’. See above and file under ‘profit motive’.

Here’s the deal… think very, very, very carefully about which of your books to put into the new Kindle Unlimited Library. Perhaps if you have a series or a backlist, you should only put the early ones in for now. If you don’t have a series, then you need to write more stuff! And that brings me to…

Strategy #4…. Write Short Fiction Now!

Self-publishing short fiction is not a new idea. ‘Short’ is the new long. People are reading on their smartphones, on the subway, on commuter trains, in the car (not while driving) and short fiction priced at $0.99 has a definite market.

What is short fiction? It could be a single short story or a collection. It could be a novella or that new mini-version, the novelette. Something that can grab enough of the reader’s attention to fork out less than the price of a truck-stop coffee and then come back for more.

Why is this an important strategy? Because you can put the short fiction into Kindle Unlimited. I mean our Voracious Readers will eat up that stuff while they’re brushing their teeth! So you can get some nice change from whatever royalties you are given from the ‘Fund’ while keeping your longer novels outside the ‘Fund’ where the payout for a sale is higher. I mean if our VR can consume more than $9.99 of value every month and still not be totally satisfied, they will likely venture outside the program and make specific purchases of interest, especially if they fall in love with the writer or the series. That’s you.

If you can make your short fiction about characters in your main novel ie as companion pieces to the series, then you’re adding value to the reader’s experiences with your work. That piece of backstory that didn’t have a place in the main novel? Write about it. That piece of action that was on the cutting room floor as too distracting? Ditto. How about a short story from one of your other character’s POV? You get the idea.

Strategy # 5 – Create Collections & Anthologies

Series collections & anthologies seem to be all the rage these days. Bundle your backlist? Check. Create a short story anthology? Double check. Add these anthology sets into Kindle Unlimited? Uh, not right now I wouldn’t.

Why not? Because you don’t need to. Put the individually published novels or short stories into Kindle Unlimited by all means. But until the dust settles on Kindle Unlimited regarding what kind of payout you can expect, why let a VR download the collection with a single click? They can pick up each title one at a time as they plough through the buffet with fork in hand. Leave your collection or anthology outside KU and get a higher royalty payout for a purchase. But I can’t use Free Days and Countdowns? Yes, that’s true but you can do that with the individual titles anyway when they are in KU. I recommend a wait and see approach on this one. Don’t enroll your collections automatically. In fact if they are enrolled, I’d pull them out and keep the individual titles in there instead.

This is early days in the rollout of Kindle Unlimited. The watchword here is CAUTION. Until more is known take some conservative steps to protect your indie portfolio as you climb that peak. Remember oxygen masks are not deployed automatically upon a loss of altitude. Make sure you bring your own breathing apparatus.

5 Strategies Indie Authors Need to Put in Place RIGHT NOW!

– Don’t Publish for ePub
– Use Ultra Caution When Enrolling in KDP Select
– Start that Sequel Now!
– Write Short Fiction Now!
– Create Collections & Anthologies

Charles

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Post by Charles A Cornell

As an author, my overactive imagination fills my mind with three dimensional puzzles of stacked what-if questions that cry out for answers. You can find me fueling my creativity amidst the chaos of a very busy life in my writer’s den where I dream up whimsical adventures that range from the satirical to the macabre which I then blog about on CharlesACornell.com

3 Responses to Amazon Kindle Unlimited – Five Strategies Indie Authors Need to Put in Place RIGHT NOW!

  1. Really thought provoking assessment. I’m inclined to agree with you. Amazon is a great tool, but one must look at what their business model is, and whether or not your business model lines up with it. Writers who don’t think like businessmen will be left huddling on the wayside if they’re not careful. One has to be quite savvy when it comes to their options for publishing.

  2. I agree, very thought-provoking. I generally agree with all except #1 on moral grounds. Exclusivity is fascist. Amazon’s business model, seems to be the same as Walmart and Microsoft – shove enough competition into extinction and then… what? Treat the content providers like kings? Not if past experience is any indication of future performance. Once the Amazon in the room has sucked all the submissions from its competition and all those pesky epub outlets are history, how will Amazon maximize it’s profits even more, buy increasing royalty percentages, or allowing authors (who now have nowhere else to go) to set their prices? My suspicion is no. Once a gorilla owns you, it owns you. A few shekels in your pocket now for the golden manacles later? Hm.

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