Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited and Why I’m Out

Kindle Unlimited

On July 20 of this year, I wrote a post about why I was going all-in with Kindle Unlimited (KU). KU is one of those things where you don’t know if it’s something that will prove beneficial unless you actually try it. I can now report that I did try it, I did have some success with it, but, ultimately, I personally have not seen a great enough benefit to remain with the program moving forward. Today is therefore the last day the books in my Alchemancer series will remain in the KU program. The remainder of my books will fall out next month.

As a reader, I like the idea of KU and the idea of having an unlimited selection of books to read (yes, I know, some refer to KU as “Kindle Limited,” because the selection is not as good as Amazon will have you believe). However, my schedule does not allow me to read enough to justify the $9.99/month cost. I enrolled in the 2014 Goodreads Reading Challenge, where I committed to reading 50 books in 2014 (I’m currently at 49, so almost there). That’s about 2/month, meaning I’d pay $5/read if I was enrolled in KU. Not bad, actually, but then what if I don’t read 2 books? What if I only read one? I don’t know if I could handle the pressure! Of course, there are a number of short stories and novellas enrolled in the program, so it’d be nice to read those without having to “pay” for them.

As an author, the program started out fair. I was “selling” multiple copies of my Assassin Without a Name shorts and novellas each day, which was kind of nice because I can see some light at the end of the tunnel in terms of recouping some of the costs associated with producing those little gems. Also, I started moving a good number of my novels. In terms of units moved, KU worked out well. But only in the beginning. More on that in a sec.

Then there’s the payment thing. KU works like this: someone downloads a title, but the author isn’t paid until said reader gets past 10% of the eBook. Amazon pays for each read out of a monthly pot. So, each author receives a share, which is basically the total pot divided by the number of reads in the entire program to determine a ‘per read’ dollar figure. The dollar figure for the months I’ve been enrolled has been somewhere in the range of $1.33 – $1.50 (I can’t remember the exact numbers, but it really isn’t important). For a 99 cent short story, this works out great because, before KU, I would get $0.35 per book sold. However, for a $4.99 novel, where I get $3.50 for an actual sale, KU isn’t such a good deal.

NOTE: There’s a bit of back and forth amongst my peers about if a ‘read’ really replaces a ‘buy.’ In other words, just because someone ‘read’ your book via KU doesn’t mean you lost a sale (i.e., that they would have bought it). It’s impossible to know this, so difficult (and pointless) to debate.

The greatest benefit, and the reason I initially was happy with KU regardless of the payout, was that I was moving units. Not thousands or even hundreds, but some, every day and consistently. This was enough to keep me in the program. But then something happened. Right after Thanksgiving, reads dropped off a cliff. Literally. To the point where, this month, I think I’ve had 2 KU reads credited to my account. Fortunately, sales are going pretty well, so this has been offset. But, with no rhyme or reason to the drop-off, and no way to stimulate things back to where they were before, I don’t have any choice but to ‘go wide’ once more and release all of my titles to BN.com, Google Bookstore, iBookstore, Kobo, and others.

So, the first books to drop out of KU are The Five Elements and The Nullification Engine. The rest will fall out of the program around January 15 of next year.

This is actually good news, though, because I have been invited by various parties to participate in some fantastic opportunities in the near future. Since Kindle Select requires exclusivity, I need to get out of the program anyway. You know that saying, when one door closes, another opens? That’s pretty much the situation I’m happily in. I’ll have more on these opportunities as soon as things solidify enough for me to talk about them.

In the meanwhile, I’m in the process of restoring the first of my books back to wide distribution whilst saying a fond farewell to Kindle Unlimited. See ya!

Kindle Unlimited and Why I’m In

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is a new program just introduced by Amazon that allows readers to read an unlimited number of Kindle books each month. Think of it as Netflix for books. The cost is $9.99 per month, though if you sign-up now Amazon starts you off with a free 30 day trial.

The ‘all you can read’ subscription based idea isn’t new. Others, like Scribd and Oyster, have been in the game for a short while now. But it says something about the viability and potential of the model given that Amazon has decided to also offer their own version of it. I think if I were Scribd or Oyster, I might be worried. Those services currently contain a wider selection of titles given their license agreements with some of the big publishers, but this is Amazon we’re talking about. With 60% of the eBook market and an army of independent and hybrid authors marching to their beat, Amazon once again has the potential to be a huge industry disruptor.

From an author’s perspective, I’m embracing this new program. Not with all of my titles, but at least with my Assassin Without a Name shorts. That series is not performing well under the usual pay for each title model. Fine Wine and Killing the Dead have been free for a long time; they each rack up the free downloads on an almost daily basis. But I haven’t seen those downloads translate into a measurable amount of paid sales. So, as I write this, those titles, along with Night of Zealotry and The Goddard Affair, have been pulled from all other online retailers and enrolled into KDP Select, which is a requirement of the Kindle Unlimited program. I don’t particularly like the exclusivity requirement, but Amazon remains my number one source of sales by far, so it would be foolish for me to not at least give this new program of theirs a try.

When you get down to it, that’s what enrolling some of my titles—specifically my short ones—into this program amounts to: it’s something I need to explore. If it works out, great. If not, I learn what I can from the experience and move on to the next, big thing. Who knows? The subscription model may become the way the majority people of people consume books. In that case, I’m already at the forefront.

Free Kindles for Everyone!

Back in June of 2010, CNBC commentator Dennis Kneale proposed something that might have seemed farfetched at the time: Amazon should give away the Kindle for free.

Flashback to that time period, when the iPad had been released only months earlier and was widely being hailed as a "Kindle-killer". The Kindle was suddenly no longer hip with its primitive looking black and white display and no touch capability. Even the Barnes & Noble nook debuted with some touch functions and with limited color (on the lower browse screen).

Kneale's statement was in response to the populist opinion of the time that the Kindle was on its way out in favor of the superior experience provided by the iPad. In other words, Amazon would have to give away the Kindle for free in order for them to save the product. While it's true the iPad provides a much wider array of functionality, the Kindle is far from dead and, in fact, is now widely considered a far better device for reading than the iPad.

Still, Kneale's proposal doesn't seem all that farfetched, especially in light of some recent happenings. The first and most significant is Amazon offering free TV and movie streaming to Amazon Prime members. Amazon Prime started as a premium, member-oriented service that offered free 2 day shipping at a cost of $79 annually. Suddenly Amazon Prime is much more than just a free 2 day shipping gimmick. The potential is huge.

Let's take a quick step back to June, 2009. John Walkenbach of the J-Walk Blog posted an interesting chart showing a linear decrease in the price of the Kindle. After Kneale made his "free Kindle" comment one year later, Walkenbach posted again, updating his chart with the then latest Kindle price cut. Here it is for reference:

kindlepriceforecast2

Walkenbach predicts that at this rate the Kindle "will be free in the second half of 2011". This sounded ridiculous at first. Sure, the Kindle is at best a break-even product. Possibly even a loss-leader, with Amazon making most of its profit from the sale of eBooks. Considering the cost to manufacture the Kindle 2, how in the world could they ever give it away and still make money? This is where Amazon Prime comes in.

Imagine Amazon charging the same $79/year (or more, most likely) for free 2 day shipping and free TV/movie streaming whilst topping it off with a free Kindle. I'd foresee a time commitment similar to a cell phone plan or a commitment to purchase a certain number of eBooks/month, sort of like a Book of the Month club. This would be nothing for an avid reader, most Kindle owners fitting into that category quite nicely I would think.

Suddenly the whole notion of a free Kindle for all doesn't seem so farfetched. Bezos himself when queried about the possibility by The Technium said,

In August, 2010 I had the chance to point it out to Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. He merely smiled and said, "Oh, you noticed that!" And then smiled again.

Bezos is a smart guy. It wouldn't surprise me at all if this wasn't his master plan all along.

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Kindle: First Impressions

fancyfembot_kindle2Apparently I was good last year, because Santa brought me a Kindle for Christmas.

My overall opinion of the Kindle: I love it. So much so that given the option of buying an eBook over a traditional book, I'll take the eBook every time.

The following are some initial impressions. Note the word "initial". My opinions of these items might change in the future; it'd be interesting to revisit this topic maybe a few months from now when I've really had a chance to give the Kindle a good trial period.

Dimensions/Weight

The device is small—much smaller than I had anticipated even though I knew the dimensions ahead of time (the exact dimensions from Amazon's web site are 8" x 5.3" x 0.36", or 203.2mm x 134.6mm x 9.1mm)—and light, weighing in at 10.2 ounces (289.2 grams).

Comfort Factor

How often have you heard people saying how much they love curling up with a good book? I like that, too, except I'm now doing it with my Kindle. In an easy chair, my Kindle rests nicely in my lap/against my leg. In bed, about the same. Either way, because the device is so light, it rests comfortably in one hand. Turning pages with the device in one hand is as easy as a click of the thumb. There are "Next Page" buttons on either side, making page turning very convenient.

Performance

I recently read a blog post where the poster decried how slow the page turning on Kindle is. I'll be damned if I can find it, though, or I'd provide a link. Here's the post. I've found just the opposite: the Kindle turns pages in less than a second. I can't explain the disparity. Pulling up full dictionary entries is a little slow (Kindle gives you a quick definition almost instantly) and, as might be expected, accessing the Kindle Store varies based on the speed of the 3G connection at the time. Still, once you're on, I experienced very little lag when going from one item to the next.

The E Ink Display

The eInk screen is amazing. When I first unboxed my Kindle I peeled away a clear, protective covering that covered the front of the entire device. There was another film—this with basic instructions for activating the Kindle—over the screen itself, or so I thought. As I went to peel it away I realized that what I thought was a film of printed instructions was actually instructions on the screen itself. The clarity is a thing of beauty. There is no flicker (eInk displays do not refresh like traditional CRT's or LCD's) and the crispness of the characters and text is of no less quality than an actual printed page. I've read for hours without any eyestrain issues. I could probably read all day and not have any problems.

Battery Life

Battery life is a non-issue. I've been using it for days—off and on of course—and the battery level has barely budged. I'm keeping the wireless off, which extends battery life even longer. I believe the Kindle with the 3G wireless off will go for over a week without a charge.

5-way Controller

The 5-way controller (the little joystick-like thing) is a nice navigation device, but it's a bit difficult getting a hold of it. It barely rises above the plane of the device (probably a good thing otherwise you might accidentally break it off), but because of that it's sometimes hard to manipulate. I've been kind of getting the tip of my nail on it, which seems to work ok. I guess what I'm afraid of is pushing down on it (the fifth 'way') when I really just want to move the cursor over.

Built-in Dictionary

The built-in dictionary is a nice touch. Just move the 5-way controller to the word you want to retrieve a definition for and a short definition appears at the bottom of the screen. You can then press one of the small keys at the bottom of the device to get a full-page, more thorough definition.

Bookmarks and Annotations

Bookmarking and adding annotations is easy. Bookmarking is achieved with the press of a button. Likewise, adding notes/annotation is just as easy: just use the 5-way controller to navigate to a word and start typing.

Probably the coolest thing about annotations and bookmarks: with the introduction of Kindle for PC, I have instant access to all of my bookmarks and annotations while I'm on my laptop. All Kindle applications (Kindle for PC, Kindle for iPhone) are automatically synched with my Kindle eReader. eBooks, bookmarks, annotations, even my current reading location are all synched across the full spread of Kindle devices/apps for which I have registered. What this means for me is that annotations and bookmarks I add while reading on my Kindle will automatically show up in the Kindle for PC app, so when I'm writing up a book review I have instant access to all of my thumbnail information. No more bending pages or writing down page numbers.

Free PDF Conversion

Kindle supports native viewing of PDF's now, which basically means you can copy PDF's to the device and view them without any conversion. The problem I found with this is your average page in a PDF is not formatted correctly for viewing on an eReader. An initial experiment yielded a page where the type was so small it was unreadable. Not only that but it cut off lines at the bottom, or chopped them in half, anyway. You cannot resize fonts when viewing PDF's.

There is a cure for this: Amazon offers free PDF to AZW (Kindle format) conversion. Also, Kindle reads MOBI/PRC format natively, also. Another way to deal with this is to use calibre, a free, open-source eBook management application. calibre supports the conversion of many eBook file formats, one of which is MOBI. Kindle can read MOBI format natively, though I'll sub-note this for now with the disclosure that I have not tried this process out myself yet to see how Kindle renders MOBI files. The best option I've found for converting files to MOBI/PRC format is the free Mobipocket eBook Creator software. MOBI/PRC files (the file formats are the same though they do have different file extensions) look just fine on the Kindle, and Mobipocket Creator seems to produce the best MOBI/PRC formatted files.

Conclusion

Like I said at the start, these are only initial impressions. I think I'll revisit this topic in maybe 6 months if not sooner just to see if my opinion of any of these points has changed.

Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com

This is the next post in a multi-part series about self-publishing your eBook. Posts include:

1. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 1: Introduction
2. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 2: E-book Formatting
3. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 3: Book Covers
4. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 4: Amazon.com (this post) 
5. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 5: Smashwords
6. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 6: Scribd
7. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 7: Lulu
8. Selling Your eBook Without a Publisher, Part 8: Selling Strategy

While I've written a post or two about Amazon, their Kindle e-reader, and how much you'll make selling your e-book in the Kindle store, I never have delved into the details of how to publish with Amazon. In this post I'll therefore jump into the tools and resources available to make this happen, including information on Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program, their Digital Text Platform, Digital Text Platform Community Support forum, and Amazon Author Central.

First thing's first, though: publishing an e-book in the Kindle store is not exactly the same thing as having a traditional print book listed on their site. For one, anyone can publish to the Kindle store regardless of your current or previous publishing status (or lack thereof). The only requirement is that you have an e-book to sell (and that you own the rights to it).

With that, let's jump into it.

Amazon Kindle's Publishing Program

From the Kindle storefront you'll see a link at the left called "Publish on Kindle"

image

This is as good a starting place as any. From here, you can select the method by which you wish to upload content to the store (there are several methods depending on your relationship with Amazon) as well as a link to the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines, a pdf I found only marginally helpful. It really digs into the nuances of formatting a document, though, including information like this:

image

Reminds of something out of one of my computer science texts. I didn't find this level of detail terribly helpful, and, in fact, it really isn't even necessary if you use Amazon's Digital Text Platform.

Digital Text Platform

Amazon's Digital Text Platform, or DTP, is the small or self-publisher's software platform of choice for listing content in the Kindle store. Don't expect anything fancy here: DTP is pretty barebones, but it does the job. With DTP, you can upload content (i.e., your e-book) to the Kindle store as well as download basic earnings reports once you've made some sales.

The publishing/upload process consists of (1) signing up for an Amazon account (if you do not already have one), (2) providing some details about your book (title, plot summary, etc.), (3) uploading a cover image, (4) uploading and previewing your entries, and (5) publishing.

I'll spend a little time going over each step, but also refer you to Amazon's Digital Text Platform Quick Start Guide, which provides a nice step-by-step approach to the five steps I listed (they go into a bit more detail than I intend to).

Step 1: Sign-up for an Amazon account

I'll assume you can handle this one and move right into step 2.

Step 2: Provide details about your e-book

Here's a screenshot with the information filled-in for my fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood:

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This information flows into the product listing page in the store once you've hit "publish" and looks like the usual Amazon product listing:

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Step 3: Upload a cover image

It's a good idea to have a cover image to attract potential buyers and to hopefully help your work stand out from the rest. If you don't specify a cover image, Amazon will give you one that says "no image available". Not the best way to start a relationship with a potential reader. Personally, I'm much more likely to skip over a book that does not have one. Whether the cover itself is compelling or professional is another matter entirely, and goes beyond the scope of this post.

Here is the cover I went with for The Hall of the Wood:

hotw-fiction

And here it is when displayed in the store with the Kindle image attached:

image

Step 4: Upload and preview your content

This is where you upload and preview your e-book. It's a pretty simple interface: specify the location of your e-book, click "Upload", and you're done.

image

There is a note about file formats:

Note: For optimal results, please upload files in MS Word, HTML, or PRC format. Other formats such as PDF may lead to poor conversion quality. We are working to improve the conversion quality for PDF and other formats.

I uploaded in HTML format; it simply gave me the best results.

Previewing looks something like:

image

Here's another page, chosen at random:

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Step 5: Set Your Price

This is a topic I covered when I asked the question, how much do you make selling through Amazon's Kindle store? I'll therefore leave that post to explain how Amazon's pricing works and how you should set yours.

The screenshot in DTP looks like:

image

Step 6: Publish

Once you've got all your information set, you can publish to the Kindle store by clicking "Publish":

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Amazon has recently implemented a review process which states that new e-books or changes to existing ones can take up to five business days to gain approval, so you'll have to wait up to five business days before your e-book will be viewable in the store.

Digital Text Platform Community Support

One of the best resources for all things Kindle publishing is DTP's Community Support Forum. It's broken into 3 main sections: a general FAQ, Publisher Support, and Ask the Community. There's pretty standard forum sort of stuff in there, with a good mix of newbies and more experienced people contributing.

Amazon Author Central

Amazon Author Central is where authors are showcased. This is something new for e-book writers. While traditionally published authors have always been able to fill out their profiles here, it was only with the coming of the Kindle and then Amazon allowing anyone to sell books via the Kindle store that this area was opened to e-book authors.

Some of the things you can do on an author page include adding a personal photo and biography, you get an automatic bibliography based on the books Amazon has listed for you, and you can add an existing blog via your RSS feed or use the space to start a new one.

I added my own RSS feed to my Amazon Author Page and got this back:

image

I was kind of hoping it would have grabbed the older posts, but oh well. Sometimes a space like this is a good for raising older posts from the dead, after all. Imagine this post will be the first to show up there.

That's it for Author Central. I tried to keep my bio short and to the point. Seemed like brevity was the best course of action. I included a link to my Twitter account as well as this web site, though Amazon does not allow HTML.

Conclusion

Whew! That's a lot of information. Hopefully you've stuck with me and seen the possibilities opening up if you've considered publishing your e-book in the Kindle store. There's no doubt this forum brings with it a major plus: the fact that millions of people every day (every hour?) might find your e-book and buy it. These are numbers that most of us just can't get on our own sites.

Next time I'll take a look at another online e-book publisher: Smashwords.com.

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