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Amazon Releases Kindle Unlimited with One Major Problem

Kindle Unlimited There’s been a lot of fanfare about Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited program – a service where you can read any book for $9.99 a month.

Well, not any book.

Indie authors hoping to be a part of this program face one obstacle: you need to be in the Kindle Select program, meaning it requires exclusivity to Amazon. Mark Coker laments:

Exclusivity is great for Amazon, but it’s not necessarily great for authors and readers.  Exclusivity starves competing retailers of books readers want to read, which motivates readers to move their reading to the Kindle platform. This is why Amazon has made exclusivity central to their ebook strategy. They’re playing a long term game of attrition.

Most indie authors recognize the value in fostering a diverse ecosystem of multiple competing retailing options.  Yet every book enrolled in KDP Select is a vote to put Amazon’s competitors out of business. You know this to be true if you believe, as I believe, that indies are the future of publishing.

Authors must weigh the benefits of KDP Select’s many enticing features against the alternative benefits of broad and diversified distribution.  How do you measure what you’ll lose from either decision when missed opportunities are immeasurable?  And is it the indie author’s responsibility to support Amazon’s competitors?  Should an indie author feel guilty for giving KDP Select a try?  I don’t envy authors who must make these decisions.  Amazon forces these difficult decisions upon authors.

Perhaps this isn’t a problem at all for some authors. If 99% of your sales come from Amazon, it does make sense to put your eggs in that basket. One test to see if Kindle Unlimited is worth your time is to check your lending stats so far. Before Kindle Unlimited, prime members could benefit from more or less the same service. If you have profited from that pool then Kindle Unlimited may be for you. Kindle Unlimited is actually more than signing up for Prime by $20 a year, albeit with fewer books.

On the plus side, one thing Amazon has done is create a way to opt out of the KDP Select program if you don’t want to be in Unlimited or Select anymore. Before you were tethered to Select for three months. If it didn’t seem worth your while, you could be caught in the system. Now there’s a way out.

Bad for Authors?

There’s a lot of speculation (and hyperbole) about what this all means. The Guardian warns,

Amazon’s move will be as discombobulating for the book publishing industry as the advent of Spotify was for the music industry. Stand by, therefore, for howls of protest from publishers and authors on how streaming produces infinitesimal royalties compared with the old publishing paradigm. All true, and a reminder of Joseph Schumpeter’s conception of the waves of “creative destruction” with which capitalism renews itself. Each wave has two dimensions: a creative one in which new possibilities, industries and business models emerge; and a destructive one in which old ways of doing things (including things that were genuinely valuable) are destroyed.

If Kindle Unlimited really does become Spotify for authors, this is terrible news for author profits. Good E-reader counters,

Is Unlimited good for indie authors? I would say yes. Amazon has not signed any of the big publishing companies, so that means you aren’t competing against the James Pattersons or Neil Gaimons of the world. Instead they are only doing business with Algonquin, Bloomsbury, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Open Road, Scholastic and Workman. Amazon intends on paying them a wholesale rate for each title opened and read, so indies might actually make more money.

Potentially, but only in the interim. If this proves to be viable, more and more publishers are going to jump on board.

From the Huffington Post – Amazon Wants You To Pay $120 For A Glorified Library Card:

The service, “Kindle Unlimited,” is essentially an e-book version of your free neighborhood library, except it costs money. For $9.99 a month, or about $120 a year, you can read more than 600,000 e-books and 2,000 audiobooks. (It also comes with a three-month Audible membership, giving you access to another 150,000 audiobooks.) In its press release, Amazon highlighted available selections like those of the “Harry Potter,” “Lord of the Rings” and “Hunger Games” series.

The argument for Amazon’s service and against buying a freaking library card is that going to the library requires putting pants on and… going to the library. But library systems from New York to Los Angeles actually do lend e-books for free over the Internet, meaning you can download them in your home with your pants off.

Well, not quite. Libraries don’t always have access to a full range of ebooks, especially small local libraries. The main issue isn’t if it’s a good deal for readers (it is, if you read a lot), but if it’s good for authors. David Gaughran asks,

Will this cannibalize paid sales?

This is the big question. It seems safe to assume that paid sales will be cannibalized to some extent, but Kindle Unlimited could also grow the pie. We don’t know how popular it will be with readers, but I’d be very surprised if it was a flop.

So which kind of readers will it attract? Will it be all the bargain-hunting readers that swamp sites like BookBub and make limited-time 99c sales so effective? Will it gobble up the freehunters that make permafree such a winning strategy? Will it wean the power readers off box-sets? Will it increase the amount of reading (and, by extension, payments to authors) by those on tighter budgets? Will it be used by readers in addition to their normal purchasing habits, or will it replace them? Will it make short fiction and serials more attractive to readers? All interesting questions that will be answered over time.

Is this the future of reading?

Authors are understandably nervous about all reading moving to a subscription-model (whether Amazon or Scribd or Oyster). Self-publishers lose a key tool (price) and it looks like this will generally muddy the little drips of data we do get.

That’s a lot of questions, and they seem to point to one thing: it’ll probably be harder for authors to be profitable with this model.

Finally, the Digital Reader has more with Is Kindle Unlimited Good or Bad for Authors – Six Viewpoints