Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

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.

Kindle Direct Publishing: Error in conversion… resolved!

2011/12/2 Update: Big thanks to the Amazon rep who reached out to me after I tweeted my issue with uploading The Five Elements to KDP as well as to Amazon's engineering staff. It looks like there was a combination of things going on here, but all is well now. I was able to upload the latest version of my book after a software glitch was fixed and the rep ran through some things which ultimately showed the error as being a false positive.

2011/12/1 Update: I've tried many formats: .docx, .doc, .rtf, .html. None work. I even tried uploading an old version of my document since it *did* work previously. Even that won't upload/convert. Bummer. I sent the rep the .doc file that was previously working to pass on to their engineers. Hope they find something.

2011/11/29 Update: A representative from Amazon saw the tweet I posted giving a shout-out to this post and contacted me via email. We went back and forth a few times, the end result being that while Amazon thought they had the problem fixed I'm still unable to successfully submit anything through the KDP interface.

I've been trying to upload the latest version of The Five Elements to the Kindle store for the past day and a half, but keep getting an error stating there has been a conversion error.

image

Not particularly helpful, and entirely unexpected considering I haven't changed the format of my submission. In fact, that exact format has worked flawlessly for some time now.

I'm assuming Amazon is having some issues on their end. I'm not the only one experiencing this issue, either. Unfortunately, the error is so generic there are many reasons one might hit upon it, legitimate or not.

Given that we're just coming out of Thanksgiving weekend, I'm going to give Amazon's guys a break here. This post is really just to document the error for my benefit or yours. Hopefully they get back in bright and early tomorrow and take care of the problem.

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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Amazon to remove free eBooks from Kindle Bestseller List

The news about how Amazon intends to remove free eBook titles from the Kindle Bestseller List is a couple of days old now, but I still wanted to comment on a few points.

The article states that currently "the top ten bestselling titles on Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list are free downloads". I took a quick look and found that, actually, the first nine out of ten are free. The tenth is not. Not a big deal, and not one of the points I wanted to make. But here's the list for nostalgia purposes if nothing else:

Top 10 on the Kindle Bestseller List What's interesting about this list is that none of the titles are self-published. In other words, publishers put these titles in the Kindle store figuring (or hoping) they'll show up on the bestseller list. Getting noticed in the ocean of titles that is the Kindle store is hard. But if you get on the Bestseller List… People readily see the titles there and when you can download it for free, what's not to like? Of course publishers are hoping that if you do like that one book that you'll then pick up another by the same author, except this time putting down the cash for it.

HarperCollins did this with Robin Hobb's Dragon Keeper. It's the first of a trilogy, so assuming you like it, you're probably going to get books two and three. That's usually how it works with me, anyway.

But this game is about to change. Amazon intends to split the list: one for pay titles, another for free. The effect of this is that publisher's free promotions might become less effective:

An executive at HarperCollins said she thinks Amazon is certainly doing the right thing by splitting the list, noting that consumers “want to know what books everyone is reading, and buying, ” and that a list which combines free downloads and books for sale doesn’t deliver this information. When asked if she thought the separation of the lists might make promotional e-book giveaways less effective, she said it might.

Time will tell. Amazon will start splitting bestsellers based on price in "a few weeks".

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