Among the things that authors war over, the existence and use of Kindle Unlimited is way up there on the list of things that they are unable to reach agreement about. Some authors think that it’s anti-competitive, because Amazon requires exclusivity on the part of the authors who participate, diminishing the competitiveness of the other book-selling platforms. Other authors believe that it devalues books and sends book prices into a downward spiral toward free as readers get used to the idea that they ought to be able to go online, choose any book they want, and read it at no marginal cost to them. A third group resents the lack of control they have over their pricing and the fact that they are losing the opportunity to grow a readership on the other sales platforms.
I was doing some editing work last night and came across a character who, in the face of three brothers who believed that justice, bread, and faith (respectively) were the basis of civilization, said that they were all wrong: that money is the basis of civilization. If you’ve followed my blogwork at all, you’ll hear that my voice harmonizes with hers. With intense respect for the value of all three of the others, I believe that a dispassionate investigation of economics often reveals the most virtuous decision, and I think that that’s the case, here.
My books are in Kindle Unlimited, today. Where there are legitimate arguments against it (particularly the one that complains that I have no idea what a borrow is going to be worth until after it happens – that’s a wild business model: I send you product, and you sell it, and then you tell me what you’re going to pay me for it… hmm…), the economic incentives favor being there over not being there, and so I stay. The moment that those incentives tip (well, within the three months after that), I’ll drop and sell everywhere. In the meantime, if you are in the market for a book and faced with what is sometimes cast as a moral decision between buying my book and borrowing it (Did you know that you can borrow one book a month using Prime? You do now.), let me say quite happily: borrow it.
The way that Kindle Unlimited is currently stacked, short books get penalized for each reader who chooses to borrow over buy (assuming that reader actually reads the book…), but longer books have to be priced pretty dearly before that ratio shifts over.
And I write long books.
Going over my list of novels that are presently available, all but one of them make more money for a borrow than a sale. Looking at the list of ones in the production line, there are another three that make more for a sale, compare to seven that prefer borrows, but that doesn’t entirely capture it. For a book like Portal Jumpers – not just long, but very long – the ratio approaches 50% higher for a borrow than a buy. For all of my written work, there’s a difference of 15% between KU and a regular purchase.
Not only that, but KU gives me an opportunity to reach readers who might not otherwise be willing to risk a new series and a new author. A very large fraction of my readers are using KU, and I’m grateful that Amazon gives them this path to reading my work that’s more akin to a library experience than a bookstore experience. I get paid (pretty well, actually) so long as they like my work and actually read it. And these particular readers tend to read *all* of my work, if they like any of it.
That’s a relationship I love to have.
I’m sorry to miss out on the Apple shoppers, and the ones who prefer to use Nook or Kobo to get their books, but that ease of interaction that Amazon gives me and my readers – they’re not going to get any complaints from me about that.
Now. I’d love to know what I’m going to make on the things I’m selling before I sell them. I’d love to see more consistency from book to book on what my per-read compensation is (I have a 10% variation across my current library, and that’s after a 20% devaluation earlier this year that I never found an explanation for). I’d love to get more transparency on how Amazon calculates the length of a book. (And no secret devaluations, dawgonnit.) I’d love to have a book market where Amazon’s competitors were stronger and made this a bad economic decision, because Amazon having to compete for my products is better for me. But I also believe that subsidizing a poor business model that doesn’t efficiently put in front of readers books that they absolutely want to buy is not in my best interest, because it diminishes the pool of readers. (If everyone could find a book they could not put down until they finished it, a lot more of them would buy books instead of watching movies or TV. First-world consumers have plenty of entertainment dollars to compete for in aggregate, and the book market is not exactly a stellar example of how to do that, outside of Amazon. Strictly my opinion.)
I have similar complaints about the audiobook market, though, and notwithstanding those complaints, I will jump in with two feet the very moment it appears that using the best tools-to-market for audio is going to generate revenue in alignment with the effort it takes to generate it. I certainly wish I had access to mass market paperback distribution channels, but I only have access to trade paperback, and so I will put my books out in trade paperback – slowly, compared to e-book, because the revenue per effort for paper is much smaller than e-book, but inevitably, because I want my books to live on my bookshelf – and I will be glad to have the readers I get in that format.
I have to take the world as it is, not as I wish it would be. So does everyone else. Should I try to change it when it’s unpalatable or unfair? Sure. But only when the other option is better. KU is a great option for me, right now – bonus – and I’m glad for the opportunities it gives me.
So borrow a book.
If you enjoy it, there are more where that came from, and I’m endlessly glad that we got a chance to meet.
Shameless update: Dragonsword, book 5 of Sam & Sam is due out any day. Keep an eye out here or on Amazon for the release, or check out book 1 (Rangers) for only $0.99.
What I’m reading: La Morte d’Arthur by Thomas Malory
What I’m watching: Chopped (it’s good dinner fare)