The Official Blog of Iain Rob Wright: My letter to KDP executives concerning Kindle Unlimited...

Monday, 17 November 2014

My letter to KDP executives concerning Kindle Unlimited...

For the first time since becoming a full-time writer, I have begun to see my sales drop below previous years (basically my sales are now going down year by year instead of up). This shouldn't happen as I have more books out and more fans. I am keeping my part of the deal by regularly releasing new books that people enjoy, so my earnings really should not be going down (they should, in a perfect world, go up). The slump began for me with the advent of Kindle Unlimited. My books were automatically entered into this 'Netflix for books' scheme and I at first had no problem with it as I trust Amazon a great deal and have always been treated fairly by them. However, in the last 3 months I have watched the average royalty drop from over $2 to $1.33. If the trend continues then my full-length novels will soon be making me less than a $1 per sale (I then lose even more money on the exchange rate which is very poor once Amazon's bank take their cut). Rather than do nothing, I have forwarded my concerns to a contact I have on the KDP UK team. The letter is below and hopefully it will get taken seriously as I feel confident that I am speaking on behalf on many many panicking authors.

Please leave your comments below so that I have evidence that my concerns are representative of others (I know my contact checks my blog and will see your comments).

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Hi "my contact at Amazon":

I’m really disappointed and let down by Amazon. About 50% of my traditional sales (which make me roughly £2 a sale) have migrated to Kindle Unlimited (which last month made me 80p per sale). Amazon is steering the business in its own favour and trying to create a 'Spotify for books'. Incidentally, Spotify artists make roughly 0.0006 per listen (should we be preparing to expect the same type of renumeration). The last three months I am 30% down on last year, which is crazy considering I have more books available, more fans, more platforms (ACX etc). I should be growing, not shrinking.  Prior to Kindle Unlimited, I was beating last year’s figures every single month without fail (which should be the case as I continue releasing books and growing my fanbase). Now I am going backwards, earning less and less despite releasing new work.

The main problem with the Kindle Unlimited program is that it is penalising authors who write decent, novel-length work. I know a few a authors who write nothing but shorts and are benefitting because they are are getting $1.33 for titles they sell at 99c! This doesn’t seem sustainable to me. Amazon obviously want the price point to be between $2.99 and $9.99 (as they apply the 70% royalty rate to this range), so why are they making Kindle Unlimited more appealing to authors who write cheap, short books while penalising those such as myself who take a long time writing decent books with professional artwork and editing. Amazon is incentivising the wrong section of it’s author-base. It is endorsing cheap, throwaway fiction. Authors who write and release books at $2.99 “Which is what Amazon want) expect a royalty of $2, but as their sales are being eaten up by KU, they are receiving only $1.33. It is even worse for authors, such as myself, who were selling well at $3.99 and higher.

Here is an example of the problem.

This person has spammed Amazon with hundreds of 20-page leaflets (check the samples and you’ll see they barely even qualify as that) under several pen names. He is benefitting more by doing this than I am by taking my time and releasing good work and growing a readership (I’m being penalised for being a professional). This is crazy. How can Amazon give money to people doing this at the expense of its loyal authors who have supported the platform for years.

My earnings have plummeted since KU came out and I have seen droves of authors saying the same (the only exception is the prolific short story writers). Many have decided to pull their books already from Select after watching the royalty slowly dwindle from $2.20 to the latest low of $1.33. I am considering doing the same. I have been exclusive to Amazon for 4 years, but I am for the first time considering taking my work to other platforms as the benefits to being a member of Select are no longer existent. I’m really upset that my livelihood, after having worked so hard, is starting to dwindle away in favour of those looking to make a quick buck. I have been a massive advocate of KDP and have steered dozens of authors in your direction, but I feel suddenly that Amazon doesn’t care less about me.



Rather than just complain, I would at least like to say something constructive. I believe Amazon needs to do 1 of 2 things. Either commit to a $2 payout per borrow via KU, or introduce a minimum word count of 20,000 words (although I would prefer to see it at 40,000). This would immediately eliminate these ‘spam titles’ and ensure that the royalty pot is shared only with deserving authors. The pot is going to dilute even further with the introduction of the foreign platforms, so I dread to think how low the royalty will go. If authors have any sense they will remove their books as this entire scheme seems designed to help Amazon at the expense of the authors who have helped it build the superiority it currently has.
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32 comments :

Mazie said...

I agree with you Iain 100%. It bothers me so much that these tactics are continuing that I have already removed myself from using Kindle Unlimited. I will continue to purchase books instead of ever using KU again. It does no favor to hard-working artists like yourself for me to use KU.

paula limbaugh said...

I so agree with you, especially with the word count. The way the system is now is akin to comparing apples to oranges. It just isn't fair to the authors who have invested so much of themselves to be shortchanged like this.

karen paul said...

I think this is a very unfair system. Out of principle I won't do ku as I believe in supporting good authors in making a living I believe they should be paid a good percentage per sale because without authors Amazon would not have the business it does ku is an unjust system and I would rather pay full price for a good novel and know I'm supporting an author to make a living than get unlimited drival... comes on Amazon play fair and support authors to make a living before we lose them and u lose a lot of business....

Christine Wheeler said...

I agree Iain, I buy all my books on kindle but would never join KU as it does not seem fair to profit from someone else's hard work. Amazon man up and play fair to these hard working authors and give them the chance to make a living doing what they are good at.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree with you. I buy all of my books on Kindle and I love Amazon. But I will never support Kindle unlimited. I like supporting my authors and they deserve to be treated more fairly for all of their hard work. I am losing my faith more and more by Amazon. And that makes me very sad.

James Mace said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gwendolyn Wallace-Davis said...

I had no idea! That really stinks. I love that Amazon has created a platform where anyone can publish, but there HAS to be incentive for the awesome successful self-publishers that have paved the way for so many others! There is no reason they shouldn't make more for their work.

James Mace said...

This is why I refuse to go exclusive with KDP Select. Yes, I make about 80% of my royalties off Kindle; however, when I was with KDP Select, I honestly did not see any tangible benefit, nor was there a quantifiable boost in sales. While I am grateful for all the opportunities Amazon has afforded me (and because of them, I am able to make a very comfortable living as a full-time author), I refuse to buy into any monopolistic exclusivity. I still enjoy solid sales, and in fact, my latest work is currently the #1 Best-Seller in Ancient History on both Amazon and Amazon U.K.

J. A. C. said...

Agree 100% with everything you've written. My works will no longer be in Kindle Select when my latest 90-day period is over, and I plan to use D2D to expand my market and will hope for the best. It is no longer financially viable for me to remain in Select as I, like you, create well-written, full-length works.

While I greatly appreciate the opportunity that Amazon KDP has provided to self-publishing authors, their business model must change if they are to retain high-quality, self-published works for both sale and rent and also attract the best authors.

Dawn Cummings said...

I couldn't agree with you more. People who don't care what they write are making the same, if not more than the authors (like you) who put their heart and soul into each and every one of their books.

Something needs to be done and what you are proposing is such an inexpensive, easy fix for Amazon that it wouldn't make sense for them not to implement something like a minimum word count to make KU fair for everyone.

I hope Amazon listens, and I stand behind you, no matter what.

Liane Spicer said...

I agree with you in essence. The system is somewhat unfair as it stands with novels earning the same payout as short stories. However, implementing a word count limit of 20,000 or 40,000 is not the solution. KDP has allowed a dying art form, the short story, to thrive once more. Yes, there are scammers uploading short crap, but there are also talented short story and novella writers who provide quality products in terms of story, editing AND cover art. Not only that, but short stories sell; the market can't get enough of them. (I'm arguing here as someone who has both trad and indie novels on KDP, and who also has several short stories there under different pen names.)

My solution: Tier the KU royalties. While I love the fact that my 99 cent shorts earn 1.33 per borrow, it's not fair that my 4.99 novels should earn the same royalty. Basing the tier system on price wouldn't work because authors would simply jack up the prices of their short works. Let the tier system be based on word count: one royalty for those that fall in the over 30,000 range, and another for those that fall between 10,000 and 30,000 and maybe a third for those under 10,000 words.

Another assumption here is that a longer book is intrinsically more valuable than a short work, and this is simply not the case, especially in the indie realm. I'll happily pay more for a taut, well-written short story or novella than one of those poorly written, unedited 'novels' littering the KDP landscape.

Margaret Brazear said...

I agree completely. I didn't find kdp until last year, so am still building up a following and while I know that Kindle Unlimited has helped me to get my name noticed, I too am not happy with the low rate now being given. It sounds more in dollars, but it is less than one British pound. I too have unticked all my boxes and will remove my books when the subscription runs out unless things pick up in the meantime.

Liane Spicer said...

Correction: as someone who has both trad and indie novels on Kindle.

Iain Rob Wright said...

Liane, I wholeheartedly agree that a tier system would be great and very workable. My problem isn't with short stories as a medium. My problem is that I could potentially make 10x the profit by releasing ten 10k word short stories than by releasing 1x100k novel. The same amount of work has gone into it, but by releasing ten short works I would be 10x better off than releasing a long novel that my fans want. The system is not rewarding work and effort fairly, that's the problem. A tier system would correct this, so I change my opinion to reflect that I think this would be the ideal option.

Iain Rob Wright said...

And Margaret, it works out to about 80p at the moment!

Craig Saunders said...

I've seen a drastic fall in profits, too, Iain, since the advent of KU. I have already emailed Amazon to withdraw from KU and KDP Select, too. Neither are helping my cause, certainly. And I agree - one rule, one system for all, simply doesn't not work for all...it never could. And the fact that people are scamming isn't a surprise, but it is a surprise that Amazon aren't able to figure out simple solutions to simple problems.

Maggie James said...

I agree, Iain, KU penalises those authors who adopt a professional approach. I am seriously considering withdrawing from KDP Select when my current term is over.

Kim Wilkins said...

If Amazon Kindle Unlimited allows garbage in, it will hurt them in the long run. I am happy to buy a collection of short stories, But I typically will not buy a single short story or novella.

It is wonderful that Amazon has provided their Kindle platform. I have not purchased a paper book since I got Kindle. It has given me the opportunity to find new authors that I might never had the chance to discover. For that I will always be grateful. While I enjoy saving money, I will not sign up for Kindle Unlimited. I firmly believe that the artists who provide me with great entertainment deserve to be rewarded for their talent.

I am not in the business. I am simply an avid reader. KU needs to figure out how to keep the scammers from hurting their brand and hurting the deserving authors who should be fairly compensated for their work.

The unwitting consumer will think they are saving money. However, if their .99 purchase gets them a few pages of drivel, they will soon cancel and the program will fail. Hopefully, Amazon will fix this soon so authors like Iain will be able to focus their talent on writing and not on how to scrape by and "authors" selling crap clean up.

Damien Richard said...

I agree with everything in Iain's post except one point. I don't believe there should be a word cap, I believe there should be a screening process to ensure that honest work gets published and scammers are ousted.

What I would like to see happen is any published works under 20,000 words constitutes one borrow, anything over 20,000 words constitutes 2 borrows.

That way the short story will continue to thrive and full length novels will get a more reasonable commission. It will also tell readers that novels are "worth more" in terms of amount of entertainment time, short story versus novel. A novel simply takes longer to read.

A payment scheme like this is the only way I can see KU working in an novel writers favour.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I have had a very similar experience to yours. KU has cannabalized my sales at a very low return. Next year, with some regret, I will remove my novels from Select.

Mike Fook said...

Sorry to hear your book sales are down. Mine are 25% of what they were at Amazon two years ago. No idea why. There is really no solution but to keep writing more books.

I think this is the beginning, or we're in the midst of, the Amazon downhill slide. I expect it will only get worse there. I think the 'glory days' are over.

Anonymous said...

I love what you have done here and COMPLETELY agree that scammers are destroying KU and the customer experience on Amazon itself.

However I don't think that a word count is the answer. All it would take is an Amazon employee whose job it is to scan Amazon and gradually weed out scammy books.

Put another way, people respond to incentives. KU has created an incentive to dump garbage into the program so Amazon now needs to create a disincentive somehow...

Victoria Lamb said...

I agree also except for the word count. I have a long short story out there, near the top of the rom com category, which is just under 20,000 words. It would hardly be selling so well if it was churned-out rubbish. And I would certainly dispute that its length means it is in some way less 'worthy' than a full-length novel or less deserving of remuneration. Think of poetry. Longer is not always better, thank you.

Iain Rob Wright said...

I agree, however I can write a short story in a week, whereas a novel takes me months. I'm not saying that short stories are less worthy, but they are, by their very definition, shorter.

Craig A McDonough said...

Yep 40,000 words minimum for a book to be eligible in the KU programs sounds right to me.

Anonymous said...

I Feel like I can't withdraw from KU because my borrows are so much higher than my buys. That said, with the $ lowering each month, I am considering testing the waters elsewhere anyway. I too am grateful for the opportunity Amazon has given me, but they, as a business, will do what's best for them, and we must do the same. So why don't we take the power into our own hands. If the payout continues to dip, we authors need to band together and jump ship. Then KU becomes a cessppool of porn, scammers, and hastily written serials and shorts that most people won't be interested in. Another consideration is to adapt. Start writing shorter pieces too, and don't include your longer works in KU. I do like the idea about the tier system that was mentioned.

Bryan Alaspa said...

God, I agree with this. I even made the switch to Select, thinking that it would help with sales. As soon as I do, the introduced KU and now the sales royalties are plummeting, but the amount of books borrowed or read in KU are not taking up the slack. It's making me want to pull out and go exclusively to Smashwords or Google Play or something.

J. R. Tomlin said...

I have to add to my previous post, and I say that as a novelist, short stories and novellas are 'decent length' and are NOT scams. I don't think that KU works for novelists but calling short story authors scammers is not the way to go.

David P Forsyth said...

I have mixed feelings. I've seen a big increase in the number of borrows which more than makes up for the lower payout per borrow. I mean I was lucky to get one borrow a day when it was only for Prime Members and they could only borrow one book a month on their Kindles. Now I average dozens of borrows per day. Still less borrows than sales, but it's more readers and more $ from borrows than before KU came out. On the other hand, I agree with the blog post that changes need to be made to the system. I feel great if someone borrows my 99 cent novelette because I earn $1.33 (isn't that crazy?), but I am less excited about borrows of my $5.99 trilogy (or even $2.99 and $3.99 titles) paying the same return. Amazon needs to base the payout on borrows according to the list price (equal to say a 50% royalty rate). That would still be good for the 99 cent crowd (more than 35%) and would help keep authors of higher priced titles enrolled. I can see a flood of 99 cent shorts coming (some of them from me) if the system is not adjusted soon. Nevertheless, if you have KU titles, you should come on over to my new group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/602196313230557/ where you can promote them.

Pete Kahle said...

Completely agree, Iain. Amazon could easily implement a tiered system of remuneration. Each 20,000 words could count as a share. Therefore a book between 80-100K would equal 5 shares, where as one of those shorter spam pamphlet would only get 1 share. The payout algorithm would be aimplistic to implement, thereby benefitting authors with more content.

The system should not be so easily gamed.

Jeff Menapace said...

I agree 100 percent, Iain. For what it's worth, you've got my full support.

All the best

Jeff

Tara Oakes said...

I just came upon this blog post where you are encouraging authors to drop out of Select but i just checked Amazon and notice that you are still very much a participant in Kindle Select. How is this article to be taken seriously when you offer advice for others that you are unwilling to follow yourself?