Tuesday, January 6, 2015

To KU or Not to KU

I've heard grumbling in various quarters about authors losing money because of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program.

In my opinion, whether or not Kindle Unlimited works for you depends on your situation. As a mid list author, doing my best to get noticed and read, KU isn't too bad an idea. Still, it could be better.

If I want to take advantage of either the Amazon free days or the Countdown promotions, I need my books in the Kindle Select program, which automatically makes them eligible for borrows, not only by Prime members, but also Kindle Unlimited members. Prime usually pays around $2.00 or more, while KU has lagged behind, not even getting up to the $2.00 mark. I've heard the December payout might be in the $1.30+ range, but have not officially been notified by Amazon for verification.

A few of my books are priced at $2.99, which means KU borrows would not net me as much as sales @70%,  or even the Prime borrows, so I'd lose money on those.

However, I also offer books priced from 99 cents through $1.99, which only net me a 35% sales rate. For those books, KU and Prime sales are golden.

Christmas Carol, my recently released seasonal Kindle Short Read romance of 57 pages, priced at 99 cents, went free the five days through Christmas Eve. Considering it's a short book and ineligible to be promoted at many of the big name sites, I was happy to pull in 2,315 US downloads, 145 UK, and some smaller amounts in other countries.

From those downloads, I've already received 14 new reviews, and am getting more KU borrows than sales. Also, I'm seeing sales and/or borrows in my other romance books, which readers hadn't noticed before. In this case, my move to write a short seasonal book to get noticed as an author achieved my goal and was beneficial.

Authors with longer books, and those priced higher than mine are understandably not happy with KU. They're losing money on the deal. They're opting out of Kindle Select as fast as they legally can. Since KU is so popular with readers, in many instances, these authors aren't even getting the $2.00 Prime rate for borrows.

Some are splitting larger books into a series in an attempt to countermand the drop in royalties.

Although I'm disappointed KU isn't at least matching the Prime price, in my case, so far KU is working fine for me. Also, if popular authors opt out of Kindle Select, I may even net more. Time will tell.

What are your thoughts on KU?


Experience the diversity & versatility of Morgan Mandel. Romantic Comedies: Her Handyman & its sequel, A Perfect Angel, or the standalone reality show romance: Girl of My DreamsThriller: Forever Young: Blessing or Curse. & its Collection Sequel: the Blessing or Curse CollectionRomantic suspense: Killer Career. Mystery: Two WrongsTwitter:@MorganMandel Websites: Morgan Mandel.Com Morgan Does Chick Lit.Com

35 comments :

  1. I'm in the "not for me" school. I've built up enough of a following at all the other sites that anything that requires exclusivity gets an automatic "no way" fro me. With the exception of my recent collection of novelettes, I write long. I've also seen my overall Amazon sales drop since KU came into being, and although it's anecdotal evidence, authors are blaming KU. I don't know whether that's the case, but given the drop in Amazon sales, I'm grateful to have the other venues making up the difference.

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    1. All but one of my titles are in Kindle Select. That book doesn't get many sales either way. The Amazon free days do seem to help my sales, so that's why I stay in Kindle Select.

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    2. I don't do a lot of price pulsing, but when I've set a book's price to free at the other venues (which have no limits), Amazon has price-matched and it's worked out great without having to go exclusive. In fact, iBooks had a 'first in series free' promotion for mysteries, advertised it on the home page and elsewhere, and my Apple sales jumped over 10,000% that month, and they're still doing well. I left it free everywhere for several months, and it does drive traffic to the other books in that series.

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    3. Terry, your method is certainly something to think about. Have you done a post about all the venues you use? I need to learn more about the other venues.

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  2. I think both Select and Unlimited can be used to effect: as you stated with shorter content to get your name out, perhaps the first book in a series, additional short stories related to a series, old books molding in a drawer that were good, but not picked up. The problem with the "free" downloads is they are often done by book hoarders and may never be read. Even book lovers may not get around to reading it. Buying a book does not guarantee someone will read it all the way through (as my discard pile illustrates). But if they invest the money, that accusing, toppling to be read pile eventually gets read, if for nothing more than to make space for new arrivals. The demand for free or really cheap entertainment is not going away: hence Oyster - the digital book Netflix. It is a concern about getting paid. But I loved the library growing up and all of those books were free. As an investment, it paid off. Now that I am a grown up with a healthy book buying budget, I buy books every chance I get. So, there is that aspect. I think the best use of Select as a promotional tool for a stand alone book should be limited. I unenrolled all of mine from KU and KS, and am back to earning my usual monthly royalties. In my case, I'm not certain the promotions drove sales. But mine are not romance or mystery - the top selling genres. Still, thousands of people have purchased or downloaded books that would never have gotten published traditionally. I consider that a win. I know several indie authors who have done exceptionally well for themselves.

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    1. Yes, taking advantage of both sides of the coin is a good thing, if you're willing to take the time and effort to promote more than one venue for sales.

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  3. I don't believe it's good business sense to put all your eggs in one basket. Even though Amazon represents the bulk of my sales at this point, I'm not about to give them exclusivity because you never know what changes they'll make next. I also find it interesting that Amazon insists indie authors be in Select to take part in KU but have cut deals with publishers that allow them to continue selling their ebooks across all platforms. Even though indie authors represent a huge source of income for Amazon, they've relegated us to second-class citizenship.

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    1. That is interesting, Lois. I did not know that there was that distinction between indie authors and traditional publishers. Shame on Amazon.

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    2. I didn't know about those deals. It sheds a different light on things.

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    3. Amazon has different rules for different folks; another reason I'm reluctant to change from my 'cast a wide net' approach. You never know where someone will find you. I have a Nook; I don't buy from Amazon, so I don't read books by authors who are exclusive (sorry, Morgan). But if I discover an author I love via my Nook, I'll tell all my friends, tweet, etc.

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    4. I dropped out of Nook after sales dried up for over a year, while sales stayed steady at Amazon. I had to take them down to try KU and Select anyway. But with apps now anyone can read on any tablet or phone, they don't need a dedicated reader device.

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  4. Yes what you said about the lower priced sales being "golden" with the KU program. Last month, my income from short stories that usually sell for 99-cents each was nice. The issue is that the payments for these are "direct pay-outs" and are not subject to the regular Amazon royalty splot. IOW, I get all of it. :-) Yes, the payment has gone down from over $2 to $1.39 (so far) and is likely to go farther down. But I'm only locked in for three months. I'd be in the Select program anyway because I like the freedom of offering my short work as promo items. I haven't put my novel or novellas into the program, and am not likely to.

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    1. Since my attention span is limited, and apparently others are now also, I kind of like the idea of doing the short books and getting rewarded through KU for them.

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  5. Assuming your post is directed toward self-pubbed authors, I'm not sure where I stand on this. My publisher decided against the KU program for all of us, which is fine with me. As a reader, I don't care for it because I would pay so much a month for "Free" books. This has never made sense to me. But I did learn if the book is free under the KU program, I can still get it Free by clicking The Buy Button--which work for Free Books. In other words I avoid the KU button. If I self-published, I'd need to study this a lot more to make a good decision for myself.
    Great article, Morgan--and the comments were, also.

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    1. Some authors are going both ways, using a publisher and also self-publishing. Depends on your contracts and also you willingness to make decisions on aspects of getting a book out by yourself.

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  6. My book marketing knowledge is almost as abysmal as my math skills ... however, I see Kindle as the General Motors of the 1960's ... and all the other digital publishing sites as the Datsuns, VW's and Fiat's ... just my humble, worthless opinion.

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    1. I hate math. I guess it's a good thing I don't make a lot of money to keep track of! Amazon does have the most name recognition, so that's another reason I use Kindle Select. That way I can do the special promos and people recognize right away where they're going for them.

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  7. I have moved in and out of Kindle Select with all of my books, and in the last year or two have not seen that either way impacts sales of titles that have been up for a while. When a new book comes out - just released Doubletake toward the end of last year and offered it free twice. The last time was about two months ago and it had over 6,000 downloads in the U.S. KU borrows were up for a week of so following, as were sales, but then it all leveled back to fewer and fewer each week since.

    I have decided that we can play with different approaches, juggle numbers, and still not have any guarantees.

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    1. My sales are definitely down from last year's, but I'm not sure what the answer is. Part of it is the attitude that free is best, and readers will go for the freebies and not even pay for the 99 cent books.

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  8. This is very helpful information, Morgan. Thanks!

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  9. Just for comparison. I set Deadly Secrets (regular price $2.99) to free at Kobo, Smashword, & iBooks. I set it to 99 cents at Amazon and B&N. B&N does not price match or allow indie authors to set 'free' as their price. But by lowering the price there and Amazon, I could respond to anyone who complained about pricing. Within a week, Amazon price-matched. I had 1900 downloads that day. It moved down slightly over the next week, but I had an ad in Ereader News Today, and that day, I had 3400 downloads. To date, I've had 26,895 downloads at Amazon without having to be exclusive, which boosted sales for other books in the series. At iBooks, I've had 17,000 downloads, and at Kobo, over 1100. I figure I'm reaching a whole lot more people, many of whom will even read the books (we all know there are plenty of fregans out there) and go on to buy the next. It's been working for me, but as with anything, everyone's mileage will vary.

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  10. Great strategy, Terry. I'll have to try that sometime with the lone book I have over at Smashwords as well as Amazon.

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    1. Yes, it's more work to upload to the various channels individually, but I've found it's paid off. Going through an aggregator can limit what promotions you can do. For example, Kobo has coupon deals that you can participate in. No up front cost, and they promote those via their newsletter, so it reaches more people than you can on your own.

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    2. Terry, would you consider doing a step-by-step series for your next title? After the book is ready to publish in e-book format, how do you get it into each of the venues? One post for each with specifics, quirks unique to that vendor, promotional opps for each, etc. Would be interesting for all of us.

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  11. Hey Morgan,
    This is a topic very much on author's minds. You've done a nice job of presenting your experiences, and I also enjoyed reading all the comments. At this point, I've only indie pubbed backlist titles, and for those, being in KU has worked out for me. I believe many people have commented that 2014 was not as good for them financially as 2013. One of the things I've noticed is that the time of market reset after a "free book" promotion is shorter now than it was before. For example a free promotion in 2013 had a "tail" of about 6 months of increased sales of my books. A free promotion in 2014 had a tail of about 3 to 4 months until the sales reset to presale values.

    All in all, a thought provoking blog post. Maggie

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    1. Very true about the tail after a promotion, but at this point I'm taking what I can get and trying to figure out what to do next. The sad part of it is all this figuring out takes time away from writing.

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  12. Hey keep posting such good and meaningful articles.

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  13. One thing I didn't notice in this article was that the author doesn't get paid for KU "borrows" until the person who borrowed it has read a requisite percentage of the book. (or if it was mentioned and I missed it -- sorry). I've got my books with Scribid and there, it's a portion of the retail price, not a mysterious number that varies depending on... I have no clue.

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  14. Yes, Terry, I should have mentioned the reader needs to get through 10% of the book before the author gets a royalty. I've never heard of Scribid. I'll have to check that one out.

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  15. "What are your thoughts on KU?"

    I won't participate in either Kindle Unlimited or Kindle Select. I also refuse to price any of my ebooks below $5.97 unless it is a book of quotations. Offering my books for free or 99 cents or even $2.99 would cheapen what I have to offer.

    Marketing guru Seth Godin called the strategy of low-ball pricing: "Clawing Yourself to the Bottom."

    Seth stated:

    "Trading in your standards in order to gain short-term attention or profit isn't as easy as it looks. Once-great media brands that now traffic in cheesecake and quick clicks didn't get there by mistake. Respected brands that rushed to deliver low price at all costs had to figure out which corners to cut, and fooled themselves into thinking they could get away with it forever. As the bottom gets more and more crowded, it's harder than ever to be more short-sighted than everyone else. If you're going to need to work that hard at it, might as well put the effort into racing to the top instead."

    Indeed, "clawing your way to the bottom"
    costs you the chance to make a decent living.
    It also costs you your reputation.

    When your book doesn't measure up, the answer may be to charge a lot less for it and loan it out through subscription services. If you have a great book, however, the answer is to charge a lot more for it than the substandard
    competition charges for theirs. At the same time, there is no need to loan out a great book through subscription services because people who appreciate quality are willing to pay for it.

    Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi stated, "...if the next generation is to face the future with zest and self-confidence, we must educate them to be original as well as competent."

    Fact is, there is nothing original about following what practically everyone else is doing on Amazon. I have been thinking outside the box since I self-published my first book ("The Art of Seeing Double or Better in Business") in 1989.

    For example, I discovered that the best way to use social media (Twitter or Facebook) to market my books was to avoid it as much as possible. Indeed, there are many creative ways to market books that are much more effective than social media. I have at least 50 to 100 original creative techniques that I have used over the years to sell over 850,000 copies of my books (mainly self-published). I have used similar unique marketing techniques to get 111 books deals with various foreign publishers around the world. My books are now published in 22 languages in 29 different countries.

    Regarding creative marketing, I like this quip by an author whose nickname is “The Name Tag Guy”:

    “I once saw my book for sale on Ebay. For two dollars. (sniff) So, do you know what I did? I bid $250 on it. Then bought it. That’s marketing baby!”
    — Scott Ginsberg (The Name Tag Guy)

    I always advise that authors who want to be much more effective than 99 percent of authors in promoting their books go against conventional wisdom. Stay away from social media. Also stay away from other things the majority is doing such as the trendy free ebook promotions on Amazon. You will find, as I have found, that you will attain greater success than 99 percent of authors attain. As Scott Ginsberg says, “That’s marketing baby.”

    Incidentally, by using my own 50 to 100 unique marketing techniques, I have just had my self-published "How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free" reach $1 million in pretax profits. Results don't lie, in other words. Not too bad for a book that was rejected by 36 major American and British publishers, wouldn't you say?

    Ernie J. Zelinski
    The Prosperity Guy
    “Helping Adventurous Souls Live Prosperous and Free”
    Author of the Bestseller “How to Retire Happy, Wild, and Free”
    (Over 250,000 copies sold and published in 9 languages)
    and the International Bestseller “The Joy of Not Working”
    (Over 275,000 copies sold and published in 17 languages)

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  16. Ernie's approach works for him. Also, I notice his book titles and their subject matter are great. I'm afraid there's really no instant solution for everyone. What works for one may not work for another.

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The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.

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