Is Kindle Unlimited worth it in 2023?
While some authors publish wide across multiple online storefronts, there are a great many others that are exclusive to Amazon due to their KDP Select enrollment terms. As part of that enrollment, their books are available to readers with a Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscription, and the authors are paid per pages read from a common pool of money. But as KU Page Reads hit their lowest payout ever this past July, those same authors may be asking themselves “Is Kindle Unlimited worth it in 2023?”
That’s exactly the question that Ginger is looking to answer this week, as he examines the pros and cons of remaining in KU as the main benefit to authors continues to fall, month over month. There may not be a single answer that applies to everyone, but knowing the facts can help make an informed decision for anyone still on the fence, or simply deciding whether it’s time to make a change.
In July 2023, Kindle Direct Publishing’s payout rate for KENP page reads reached its lowest level ever – just $0.003989. That’s over 30% less than the highest payout recorded, in October 2015.
This precipitous drop in royalties has many authors asking a very familiar question: Is keeping your books in Kindle Unlimited even worth it any longer? In this article, I’ll cover the pros and cons of remaining part of Kindle Select as it stands in September 2023.
Wait – how does Kindle Unlimited pay authors again?
When an author self-publishes a book using the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, one of the most important questions they’ll have to ask themselves is whether or not to tick the box that makes their book part of Kindle Select – allowing Amazon shoppers with a Kindle Unlimited subscription to download and read their book “for free.”
The book won’t actually be “free” of course. The reader’s monthly Kindle Unlimited fee gets added to the KDP Global Fund, and Amazon pays authors a percentage of that fund each month based on how much of their eligible books have been read. So essentially, the KDP Global Fund is a pool of all the Kindle Unlimited subscription payments (minus Amazon’s cut, of course) divided among all the billions of pages read that month.
In July 2023, for example, the KDP Global Fund was $49.5 million dollars. With a per-page payout of $0.003989, that means Kindle Unlimited subscribers read approximately 12.4 billion pages that month.
Amazon provides a few benefits for making your books part of Kindle Unlimited. For a start, there’s access to that global pool of funds each month. For certain authors in certain niches – romance, for example – this is a huge opportunity, and many romance authors make 50% of their monthly revenue, or more, through KDP Select page reads.
Additionally, Amazon provides the opportunity to give your book away for free for 5 days every subscription period – a once-powerful marketing tool that I’ve previously argued has lost its effectiveness. You can alternatively take advantage of a Kindle Countdown Deal, which offers your book at a steadily-decreasing discount, urging readers to buy it before the deal runs out.
Finally, there’s the additional organic marketing and visibility that Amazon gives to books that are part of Kindle Unlimited; maximizing reader awareness amid all the paid-for advertising spots on Amazon’s homepages.
But there’s a condition attached. To take advantage of all the benefits of KDP Select, the eBooks that you make part of Kindle Unlimited have to remain exclusive to Amazon for that 90-day period – you can’t have them for sale through Apple Books, Barnes & Noble, or any other retailer.
I’m one of many authors who thinks there are benefits to remaining part of Kindle Unlimited, so all my books are available via KU through the Amazon platform – and only that platform.
However, there’s a very vocal group of authors who believe authors should “go wide for the win” and many of them are earning the kind of royalties that prove the merits of that approach.
Craig and I even discussed this opinion at length with the owner of the influential “Wide for the Win” Facebook group, Erin Wright, in one of the earliest episodes of the Fully Booked podcast (and a couple of times after that, as well).
But given the changing landscape of self-publishing, it’s not a black and white question to answer. Changes in the industry offer both new challenges and new opportunities for authors choosing to go wide, or remain part of Kindle Unlimited. Here are some of the biggest changes I’ve come aware of recently.
There’s one fact about keeping your books part of Kindle Unlimited that the “Wide for the Win” crowd often ignores, and that’s the amount of money involved.
In July 2023, the KDP Global Fund was $49.5 million dollars – the highest it’s ever been. In 2022, Amazon paid authors over $522 million in royalties. It’s clear that there’s still a ton of opportunity in Kindle Unlimited for authors who write in a genre that’s popular in KU and know how to reach readers with Kindle Unlimited subscriptions.
As of September 2023, there’s another massive advantage to keeping your books part of Kindle Unlimited – the fact that Google and Apple charge such exorbitant fees for transactions on their mobile platforms that Amazon have removed the ability to buy Kindle ebooks on the Amazon app.
Over 97% of Facebook users access the platform on their mobile device, which has made advertising eBooks incredibly difficult. Each click you pay for drives a user to your book’s product page on Amazon – but often, they can’t buy the book! There’s no simple solution to this problem except for making your book part of Kindle Unlimited, since for these readers, clicking on the “Read for Free with Kindle Unlimited” button is the only guaranteed way to earn revenue from your advertising budget right now (at least in that scenario)!
These advantages compound one of the other plus-points for being part of KDP Select – simplicity. Publishing wide – especially if you want to make money – involves a lot more work than putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket. Many authors who’ve found success with Kindle Unlimited value the time and mental effort they save by only having to sell on the Amazon platform – something that outweighs a lot of the revenue they might otherwise be making by selling on platforms like Apple Books and Smashwords.
Of course, nothing is won without sacrifice – and as of September 2023, there are several opportunities authors have to sacrifice in order to keep their books in Kindle Unlimited.
The first and most significant is the opportunity to sell your books on platforms beyond just Amazon. As of writing this, the biggest platform authors are missing out on is Apple books.
In the United States, more than 57% of mobile users are on the iPhone platform – which comes with Apple Books baked into the operating system. Authors who drive their ads to Apple books rather than Amazon overcome the major hurdle holding writers back right now – the inability to buy eBooks on mobile devices.
Similarly, there are a lot of authors experimenting with selling their eBooks directly to readers, using their own website and a transaction platform like Shopify. Once again, you can’t use this approach if your books are in Kindle Unlimited as they have to be exclusive to Amazon for each 90-day subscription period – but for those selling “wide” it’s an opportunity to bypass the roadblock that Google and Apple have created for those of us previously limited to selling on Amazon.
A third disadvantage of remaining in Kindle Unlimited is just how much revenues have dropped in recent months – and how that drop shows no sign of reversing. July 2023 might have had the lowest per-page payout in the history of Kindle Unlimited, but it was merely the lowest payout yet. For over a year now, page read payouts have been shrinking incrementally and the influx of AI-generated garbage being allowed onto the Kindle platform is driving that decline even faster.
Writing a book hasn’t become any easier since 2015 – yet in 2023 authors are being paid 30% less for them through Kindle Unlimited.
These factors combine to make a pretty compelling argument against remaining in Kindle Unlimited – but it’s still far from a no-brainer for most authors.
While I’ve outlined where we stand in terms of Kindle Unlimited in September 2023, like everything with a date attached to it, the situation is bound to change.
Amazon remains committed to the Kindle Unlimited subscription program and the fact that July 2023 was the biggest month ever for the KDP Global Fund suggests that KU subscribers are similarly committed. Whatever happens, Kindle Unlimited will continue to grow – and if Amazon is able to crack down on abusive users and AI generated books, that means opportunities for authors who keep their books in KU might also grow.
But it’s very far from certain – and authors looking to build a sustainable publishing business that isn’t reliant on the whims of tech giants are continuing to lean more heavily towards publishing wide, or direct-selling to their readers.
For the moment, I’m going to stick with KU – but I’d love to know your thoughts about where you think the future of digital publishing will take us. Are you going to keep your books in Kindle Unlimited? Or has Amazon already lost the opportunity to keep your books exclusive? Let us know in the comments section below!