(Today I’m going to ramble a bit about the business of self-publishing. Feel free to skip if it’s not a topic of interest!)
Recently, I decided to do an experiment with the DEMONSOULED series and Kindle Unlimited. DEMONSOULED will be in Kindle Unlimited for May, June, and most of July.
Kindle Unlimited (KU), if you haven’t heard of it, is basically Amazon’s version of Netflix for ebooks. Basically, you pay $9.99 a month in the US and £7.99 in the UK, and you can read all the ebooks you want from Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited catalog. For readers, especially the sort of power readers who can get through multiple books a day, this is a pretty good deal.
For writers, this can be a variable deal. Basically, once 10% of a borrowed book has been read, the writer receives a payment. The payment comes out of a fund of money Amazon sets aside each month for KU, which is then divided by the number of borrows total across Amazon for the month. The fund is typically set at $3 million, so the payment per borrow will be $3 million divided by the total number of borrows. So far, this has been about $1 to $2 per borrow. That said, Amazon seems to have stabilized the rate at around $1.30 per borrow by adding additional money to the fund every month, since (so far) Amazon seems unwilling to allow the borrow rate to drop below $1.30. It looks the rate for May came to about $1.34.
(ADDENDUM: The day I typed this, 6/15/2015, Amazon changed the payment structure for KU starting in July. It looks like instead of paying at 10%, KU will now pay roughly $0.01 for every page a reader actually reads. So July’s post will have to reflect that, though it doesn’t apply to May or to June.)
There’s a catch, though – to be in KU, a book has to be in Amazon’s Kindle Select program, which confers a number of benefits (you can set a book to free for 5 days every 90 days), but a book can only be on Amazon – no Barnes & Noble, no Kobo, no iBookstore, no Google Play, no Scribd, nothing. It has to be only in Amazon.
This wasn’t something I was willing to do. On any given month, about 75% to 80% of my sales are on Amazon, which means to do KU, I would have had to walk away from about 25% of my monthly book sales. I wasn’t willing to do that with my novels or technical books.
That said, I’ve written a lot of books – over forty novels and a bunch of shorter things, for a total of over 100 different ebooks available. So I have some room to experiment. I’ve also noticed that some writers do really, really well off Kindle Unlimited. Granted, a lot of these writers seem to write romance novels where the female protagonist is in a love triangle with a vampire and a werewolf (or, depending on genre, a werebear or weredragon), or in a love triangle with a 21st century billionaire and a 12th century Scottish lord, and I don’t write books like that. That’s not to knock romance books – I simply don’t write them. (I usually get four or five books into a series before the protagonist gets a love interest.) So I was curious whether KU only worked for romance writers, or if it would work for fantasy writers as well.
MASK OF SWORDS was what finally prompted me to try the experiment. That book didn’t sell terribly well compared to my other books. Typically, a new GHOSTS novel or a new FROSTBORN book will clear 1,000 copies its first month, and it took MASK OF SWORDS six months to get that far. I would like to do two other MASK OF THE DEMONSOULED books, but pausing on FROSTBORN and THE GHOSTS to write them would take a hit to my book sales.
So what to do? Perhaps if I put the first seven DEMONSOULED books into Kindle Unlimited, I could promote them and get more readers into the DEMONSOULED series, and then I could finish MASK OF THE DEMONSOULED.
I did some math, and between the seven books in the DEMONSOULED series, I typically sold about 100 a month on all the non-Amazon ebook platforms – Barnes & Noble, Kobo, iBookstore, Google Play, and Smashwords. Since KU pays about $1.30 a borrow, and a DEMONSOULED novel generally nets between $2 and $2.65 per sold copy, I would need to have about 200 borrows per month to cover the removal of the DEMONSOULED series from the other platforms.
So with that in mind, how did DEMONSOULED do in Kindle Unlimited in May?
In May, the DEMONSOULED series had 112 borrows, and sold 281 full copies. So if my goal was 200 borrows to replace the 100 sales DEMONSOULED would have had on all other platforms, the experiment was 56% successful.
Tune in next month for a discussion of June’s borrows – I tried some new marketing tactics in June, and I think it shall have some interesting results.