Kindle Unlimited expands again, but is it worth it to enroll?

[UPDATE December 2014: Now available on Amazon Brazil.
UPDATE February 2015: Available on Amazon Canada and Amazon Mexico.
UPDATE September 2015: Available on Amazon India.
UPDATE November 2016: Available on Amazon Australia.]

Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited has expanded to Spain and Italy, adding to its availability in the UK, U.S., Germany, France, and Japan.

Titles enrolled in KDP Select are automatically enrolled in Unlimited, and authors do not have the ability to remain in Select but opt out of Unlimited. This is problematic for authors

who support the concept of the Kindle Owners Lending Library — where authors are paid for every download regardless of whether or not the consumer reads the ebook — but who do not support the subscription service model in which authors are paid only if the consumer reads more than 10% of the ebook.

Authors/publishers whose ebooks are downloaded via the Owners’ Lending Library, or streamed via Unlimited, are compensated through a special fund, the KDP Select Global Fund. The fund varies monthly and royalties are divided as follows:

We base the calculation of your share of the KDP Select Global Fund by how often Kindle Unlimited customers choose and read more than 10% of your book, and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library customers download your book. We compare these numbers to how often all participating KDP Select titles were chosen. For example, if the monthly global fund amount is $1,000,000, all participating KDP titles were read 300,000 times, and customers read your book 1,500 times, you will earn 0.5% (1,500/300,000 = 0.5%), or $5,000 for that month.

While the figures mentioned sound very alluring, I see in them a tactic of inflating the numbers.

What are the chances that your ebook will be downloaded 1500 times and you will be paid $3.33 per download? Back in 2012, when Amazon were first pushing the program and reporting figures, the average royalty was $2.04 per loan. The website Indie Reader reported a September 2014 royalty of just $1.51 despite an increase in the fund to $5,000,000. This means the royalty for KDP Select has been steadily going down despite the incremental increases to the fund.

And what of the number of downloads? A colleague of mine whose ebook spent a few months in the top ten in his category saw his KDP Select downloads peak at only 40 per month, not 1500. And if you read Amazon’s initial press release on the subject, the majority of KOLL and Unlimited downloads are ebooks already on the bestseller lists, and indie authors are competing with established authors such as J.K. Rowling.

There is a catch as well: any ebook title enrolled in KDP Select must be exclusive to Amazon for a minimum 90-day period; authors caught violating that term, or any other terms and conditions, are subject to forfeiture of all royalties earned through the program.

The other catch is that the exclusivity clause only applies to indie authors; traditional publishers (at least the big ones) are not subject to the same conditions. Keep these facts, and the downward trend of the royalty, in mind when deciding whether or not to eliminate all other sales opportunities in favour of KDP Select.


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