KDP select, Amazon Unlimited and the mystery KENP score of doom.
Many new self-published authors these days (myself included) will tend to gravitate towards Amazon to launch their titles, as the process is simple and the market largest. You can either chose to publish it alongside other bookstores such as Barnes and Noble or iTunes, or sign a 90 day rolling exclusivity deal with KDP Select which gives you access to things like countdown / free book promotions, advertising and Kindle Unlimited (KU).
Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service which allows users to read as many eligible books they want for a fixed fee per month. In the old days with KU an author got a royalty payment per download after 10% was read, regardless if the recipient actually read any more of it. This resulted in some people trying to short-circuit the system by splitting their books up into as many parts as possible.
Last summer Amazon changed the KU royalty system to the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC, recently changed to v2) in which the total number of pages read are taken into consideration. A page is calculated based on a normalised ‘average’ page measured across thousands of books. The upshot is that for full length novels the more a reader likes your book the more you get paid. For shorter books, however, you’ll need more downloads to take up the slack.
The royalty payments are taken from a monthly fixed pot called the KDP Select Global fund, so the more pages get read, the smaller the payment per page. For February 2016, the fund is ‘at least $12 million’ which, going by recent history, will work out at about half a US cent per page read, give or take a bit.
So, is it any good and is it worth it for you?
The biggest hurdle facing new authors is the no-sale/no-review/no-sale trap. No one knows you or cares who you are, and the odds of them actually buying a book with no reviews from someone they don’t know is pretty slim however much you pay a company to blast their Twitter stream. This is especially true for authors outside the US wanting to grow their audience there, as most of their early sales (and therefore reviews) are likely to be on their home Amazon sites (in my case .co.uk) to people they know, or at least the second degree of separation based on personal recommendations.
Most consumers have an odd concept of worth and prefer to stick with what they know, being happy enough to blow a few quid on a Latte every morning on the way to work but unwilling to buy a book for 99p in case they don’t like it. You could of course give your book away for nothing and hope that builds an audience, but that’s a commentary for another time!
The KU service however removes the activation energy barrier to spending actual money, and more people therefore may be willing to give you a chance. For example my book has sold pretty much bugger-all copies so far in the USA, but I’ve had a couple of thousand KENP page hits. Amazon don’t release any useful metrics unfortunately, so I have no idea if 200 people just read 10 pages and gave up, or five people read the whole thing. Because my book is cheap at $2.99, if someone reads the entirety of it the royalty payment won’t be hugely different from if they’d bought it anyway. They get to enjoy my book risk-free and (hopefully) spread the word, and I get paid a bit of cash. So yay for my situation!
On the other hand, I’m not a professional writer (I have a day job as a research scientist) who’s relying on my sales to pay the bills, which leads us to…
One big argument against the KENP system is that it’s a fixed pot of cash, and you’re basically in competition with everyone else in the system for a finite resource that Amazon determines. It’s therefore very difficult to make a lot of money from it. For example, if you are an established author getting thousands of KENP reads a day and your book retails for $7.99 or more, then you’re starting to lose out big time per copy.
At this point most amateur authors are now probably sarcastically going ‘oh boo-hoo for them’, which is unfair as you’re probably not relying on the income to pay the mortgage, feed the kids etc. A small drop in royalty KENP payments, over which you have no control, can make a big difference when it all adds up at the end of the month.
The other main argument is the book length issue, and while in the past the shorter the book was the better, now it’s swung the other way towards full length novels. This is a major issue if you write books for children (especially very young children) where the number of pages will be very small. In this case, the KU payment for a book read will be practically nothing. This is coupled with the fact that they tend to have pictures in, making them potentially more expensive to create in the first place if you have to pay an illustrator too.
The new v2 of KENPC also puts a maximum length of 3000 pages, after which you don’t earn anything extra. Most authors won’t get near that (for me 100,000 words worked out at about 450 pages) but for a minority it may be an issue. The other problem is that for authors with OCD tendancies the pressure to check your book report every 30 seconds just in case someone else read a page can be annoyingly overwhelming!
These issues (well, possibly not the last one), combined with the exclusivity deal KDP Select imposes mean that some authors are turning their back on the system and relying on pure sales instead from a variety of other outlets.
Conclusions; ‘well it depends really’
So, coming back to my original point of ‘is it worth it?’, I would say that it depends at which point your writing career is at. For people like me just starting out and doing everything ourselves, I would certainly recomend it as it brings a new potential audience and therefore the hope of more (or indeed, any) sales in the future. If your writing career takes off, however, there will be a transition zone where it stops making sense and begins to hurt profits. At this point it’s worth taking a detailed look at sales vs KENP to see if it still makes more sense, or if you’d be better off looking at alternative avenues.
Plus some people just hate Amazon out of principle for basically now owning the literary world on the internet, so it’s probably not for them either. The KU system is biased towards Amazon making the most money, but hey they are a commercial company so it amazes me when people are surprised by that. A commentary piece for another time that one!
If you search the internet you’ll get many opinions on the subject most of which will differ from each other, so as in all things it’s good to read around as much as possible before making any decisions.
Disclaimer and disclosure: My novel is currently enrolled in Amazon KDP Select.