As an author, the real problem with Kindle Unlimited is not that readers read your books for free.
(I have no problem with the concept of readers reading my books for free. “Free” to the reader need not mean “unpaid” to the author. There are many alternatives to charging readers per-book, including subscription fees and ads.)
The real problems with Kindle Unlimited are a.) the Amazon exclusivity requirement, and b.) the fact that the sales ranking system within Amazon is rigged in favor of books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited:
Amazon requires authors to make their books EXCLUSIVE to their store in order for them to be enrolled in “KDP Select.”
Among other things, checking the KDP Select box puts your book into the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. For as long as it’s enrolled there, you are forbidden (yes, they enforce it) from selling the books on other stores or even your own website.
So, why do some authors go along with this?
As I write this in May of 2019, each borrow through Kindle Unlimited counts as a sale in regard to determining sales ranking and overall visibility in the Amazon Kindle store.
I’ll pause for a moment so you can debate whether that actually makes sense. When you’re a KU subscriber, you essentially get any books in the program for free with your subscription. Yes, you pay $10 a month for the service, but that money gets automatically sucked out of your account every month before you even notice. It feelslike those books are free.
And yet Amazon weighs borrows the same as sales in determining sales rank.
And sales rank determines how visible your book is in the store, i.e. how many people (potential new readers) have a chance of seeing it when they’re browsing the Top 100 lists in their favorite genres.
Thus, it’s a clear benefit to authors to have their books in Kindle Unlimited. Putting aside how much they make from borrows of books (payment is on a per-page-read calculation and, for all but very long and very inexpensive books, is less than an author would make from a sale), the authors are more likely to have their books seen by readers in their target audience.
Is there a solution to what Lindsay Buroker calls “the Amazon conundrum”?
None that I can see…at least not in the immediate future. The exclusivity clause starves the other stores of content. This keeps many readers locked into the Amazon system, as well.
Amazon realizes this, of course. Amazon isn’t stupid. Amazon never does anything haphazardly or without intention.
But the other stores are also partially to blame. Barnes & Noble, Apple, and Kobo have all known for quite some time that they need to create alternatives to Kindle Unlimited. I have mixed feelings about book subscription services; but it’s clear that some readers (especially devotees of certain genres) have a strong preference for them.
Until there are clear alternatives to Kindle Unlimited at the other stores, there is a huge swath of both readers and writers that are unlikely to leave the Amazon compound anytime soon. And that’s the simple fact of the matter.