In October I started an experiment where I put 19 of my older short stories into the Kindle Unlimited subscription program. (My reasoning is explained in this post.) My goal was to have at least 34 Kindle Unlimited borrows, since that would match the sales I lost by removing the short stories from non-Amazon sales platforms, assuming the rate that Amazon pays for borrows stays above $1. (For October the rate Amazon paid per borrow was $1.33, and in November it was $1.39.)
In October, the first month of the experiment, I had 49 borrows.
In November, the second month of the experiment, I had 61 borrows, and I also gave away 1,003 copies of short stories using the free days that come with Kindle Select. GHOST RELICS had the most borrows, 10 total, with GHOST PRICE, THE THIEF’S TALE, and THE ASSSASSIN’S TALE coming in second with 6 borrows each. 43 of the borrows were in the US, 16 of them were in the UK, and 2 were in Germany.
So, what conclusions have I drawn after 1 2/3 months of Kindle Select?
-I definitely would not put any full-length novels in Kindle Unlimited. I am entirely certain the amount of borrows would not make up for sales on B&N, iTunes, Kobo, iBooks, and Google Play. Granted, I suspect there are writers for whom that would be true, but I imagine only a few of them. That said, KU still seems to be a primarily US-based program. In 2014 I sold lots of books through iTunes UK, iTunes Australia, Google Play Australia, and Kobo Canada. I couldn’t have done that if those books had been in Kindle Unlimited.
-I have actually made more money off 61 borrows in November ($84.79) as opposed to selling 61 copies of those short stories on non-Amazon platforms. (Roughly $42.48, give or takes a couple of dollars depending on currency conversion rates, and specific retailers’ policies.)
That said, the math only works because I usually sell short stories at $1.99, of which I personally receive $0.70 or so. The math is very different for novels. For example, FROSTBORN: THE GRAY KNIGHT currently sells at $3.99, of which I personally receive about $2.79. So trading $2.79 of a non-Amazon sale for the $1.39 of a Kindle Unlimited borrow means I would have to have 2 Kindle Unlimited borrows for every 1 non-Amazon sale. That does not seem likely, and may become even less likely if the rate for borrows drops below $1.30 or so.
-There’s also a dark side to this. Lately I’ve been getting emails from people who are annoyed to discover that the short stories are no longer available on non-Amazon ebook platforms. Granted, there are not a lot of these emails. I suspect most readers prefer full-length novels over short stories, and I mostly write short stories to add value to my new-release newsletter. (I do also enjoy writing them.) Nonetheless, there are people who do read short stories. Essentially, I’m trading a slightly wider footprint on Amazon for a narrower footprint elsewhere. Since it takes a long time to build up a footprint on a retailer (reviews and ranking and so on), having a smaller footprint might be a bad strategy long-term.
-The ability to give away short stories for free is useful, but I’m not sure giving away short stories leads people to look at the rest of the books in the series. It’s much more useful to give away short stories to people who were already going to buy the book anyway (such as my new-release newsletter subscribers).
I don’t think there’s a right answer here. Going into Kindle Unlimited has one set of advantages and disadvantages, and not going into Kindle Unlimited has a different set of advantages and disadvantages. It’s a bit like choosing between a PC and a Mac, I suppose.
Currently, I am planning to drop my short stories out of Kindle Unlimited and back onto the other platforms starting in January, once the three-month term of Kindle Select for the various stories starts expiring. I think that is the best decision for the long-term. Though the fact that I haven’t had any Kindle Unlimited borrows since Dec. 15th does make it an easier decision.