Is Kindle Unlimited Bad for Authors?

Is Kindle Unlimited Bad for Authors?

Indie authors and avid readers have been debating the good versus bad of Kindle Unlimited since its release. Readers love it because it’s like the Netflix of e-books. Authors aren’t so sure of its benefit because of the restrictions Amazon imposes. Is Kindle Unlimited bad for authors or does it have a positive side?

The Unveiling of Kindle Unlimited

Smashwords, a respected distributor of indie e-books reported on Kindle Unlimited the day it unveiled. If you haven’t heard of Smashwords, then let us concisely fill you in on the need to know:

  • Smashwords is the largest distributor of indie e-books in the world.
  • They are avidly used by authors, publishers, literary agents, retailers, and readers.
  • They are dedicated to fast, free, and easy distribution to a worldwide audience.
  • If you’re publishing (or have published) an e-book of value, you had better be leveraging Smashwords because not doing so is just plain dumb.

This e-book giant shared our sentiment of the unveiling of Kindle Unlimited: raw excitement. It followed in the footsteps of Smashwords’ successful partners: Scribd and Oyster. But it quickly became apparent that the concept was somewhat flawed.

The “Netflix of E-Books”

Subscription service models for e-books are much like the Netflix of e-books. When Scribd and Oyster launched as two high-profile e-book subscription services, the aim was to do for electronic books what Netflix did for film and television and what Spotify did for music. The business model holds merit as making books more accessible and affordable equates to greater exposure and more sales for those writing them.

Indie authors opting to add their work to Kindle Unlimited are required to agree to KDP Select exclusivity. The problem arising from this requirement can be summed up in one word: exclusivity.

The Facts about KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited

The KDP Select program is optional. It’s important to realize you, as an indie author, are not required to agree to the program or use a program requiring KDP Select. You have a choice, which means you need to be well educated prior to making it. Here are the facts, straight from Amazon:

  • Kindle Unlimited: It’s Amazon’s cyber library. Subscribers can read as many books as they want and keep them for as long as they want. Any Amazon customer (Prime member or not) can subscribe.
  • Kindle Owners’ Lending Library: Available to Prime members, the Lending Library allows Kindle owners to select from thousands of books for free reading once per month. There are no due dates or strings attached.
  • Higher Royalties: According to Amazon, participation in the KDP Select program grants authors higher royalties. Amazon claims that when readers read your books via Unlimited or the Lending Library, you will earn your share of the KDP Select Global Fund. The fund is a constantly fluctuating factor, which is reported on monthly by Amazon. Based on a series of monitored factors, Amazon determines the amount to be paid out to authors. Additionally, if your KDP Select enrolled book sells to customers in Brazil, India, Japan, and Mexico, you’ll earn a 70 percent royalty.

Chris McMullen recently published a blog about Amazon paying out $8.5 million for January 2015. There’s no doubt the KDP Select Global Fund is growing significantly.

  • Maximized Sales Potential: According to Amazon, participating in Kindle Unlimited via KDP Select gives authors two promotional tools: Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Book Promotion. The first allows authors to earn royalties by selling their book on and via a time-bound promotional discount. The Free Book Promotion allows readers to nab a free copy of your book for a limited time.
  • Reach a New Audience: Amazon says you’ll reach a growing audience by participating in KDP Select and Unlimited. As their consumer base grows, your audience reach will likewise grow.

At a glance, leveraging Kindle Unlimited doesn’t sound like a bad idea. It offers the potential to increase earnings, gain exposure, and introduce new readers to your work. But it comes at a price.

In order for an e-book to be eligible and accepted to Amazon’s cyber library, the author must give exclusive rights to Amazon. The book must be 100 percent original and unpublished. For example, if you published your book via Smashwords, you cannot put it in the KDP Select, Kindle Unlimited, or Kindle Owners’ Lending Library programs. If you were to add bonus chapters or new content, it still wouldn’t qualify.

Let’s say you opt to publish your 100 percent original and unpublished e-book with Amazon. You can still publish it elsewhere, as long as you don’t give Amazon exclusivity. If, on the other hand, you enroll in the KDP Select program, you hand exclusive rights over to Amazon—permanently. Yes, you can un-publish a title from KDP, but it doesn’t null and void the terms and conditions of the program:

Capture from Amazon
Capture from Amazon

The Pros and Cons of Kindle Unlimited

There are no shortage of opinions surrounding Kindle Unlimited, but there IS a shortage of unbiased analysis. While it isn’t a program for everyone, it offers viable marketing possibilities when correctly leveraged.

Amazon has been plagued by authors and publishers questioning the e-book seller’s way of doing business. A fine example is the story surrounding Hatchette vs. Amazon, in which publishers and authors alike began to sound off regarding their disdain for Amazon’s marketing tactics.

Since the dawn of self-publishing, an issue has developed. The sea of literature has been tainted by a monsoon of mediocre material, a flood of electronic books from want-to-be authors that never pass the experienced eyes of a good editor, lack appealing content, and are just plain mediocre. For those who can really write, it’s become increasingly difficult to be seen. How do you levitate above the monsoon?

One answer is through smart marketing, like generating the right kind of book reviews. Another answer is to use programs like Kindle Unlimited smartly by weighing the pros and cons:


  • Readership: Kindle Unlimited users are growing in size every day for one reason: they like being able to read all they want for one low monthly fee. That means choosing to show a book on Unlimited opens up access to a potentially huge readership.
  • Exposure: The portion of Kindle users who subscribe to Unlimited are the diehard readers. They’re the most active, which is good news for those who put a book in the program. It introduces their work to a very active niche of readers; readers who are likely to look up books by author name. If you can prove your entertainment value in the book they fall in love with on Unlimited, chances are they will buy your other books outside of the program.


  • The Fat Lady Sang: Most of the readers who use Unlimited are hardcore, meaning they are diehard readers who go into shock without a book in their hands. They buy a LOT of books, and their days of spending obscenely on books is somewhat done thanks to Kindle Unlimited. These whales of the book market are now happy to pay one low price for all the books they want. If you want them to leave their cost effective setup, you had better be producing meticulously edited, awesome material—the kind that pops, fizzles and WOWs them beyond compare. They have to want it so badly that they feel they need it.
  • Exclusivity: The biggest drawback to the Unlimited program for indie authors is exclusivity. You have to enroll in KDP Select, effectively signing away your right to use the book for anything other than reaching the Kindle Unlimited crowd.

Our Recommendations

Is Kindle Unlimited bad for authors? The answer is no, but yes. It’s bad from the exclusivity standpoint, but it’s a viable marketing tool.

How can you use it without signing away a NY Times Bestseller? It’s simple. Pick and choose what you market via Unlimited. Understand the rights you hand over to Amazon via KDP Select and make a smart long-term decision.

Based on our experience, Kindle Unlimited is an excellent program for short books (4,000- to 10,000-word books). It’s a great way to market, giving hardcore readers a taste of your material.

If you take your time in writing an epic e-book, invest in meticulous editing, and attack marketing like the job that it is, a single book on Unlimited can eventually boost your overall sales. Not to mention, it will generate royalties via the KDP Select program. It’s almost like a two-for-one deal!

By enrolling in KDP Select, indie authors also open the door to discount deals and free promotions. Both of these tools can be incorporated into a social media marketing strategy to increase exposure and generate sales.

Bottom Line: Kindle Unlimited offers a viable means of stepping into a niche and marketing to a select, hardcore percentage of e-book readers, not the entire e-book market. Treat it as such, and it will be a powerful marketing tool capable of expanding exposure and contributing to bigger, better book sales in the future.

Feature Image Credit: bowie15 via 123RF Stock Photo

3 thoughts on “Is Kindle Unlimited Bad for Authors?

  1. I personally think that it is good, at least for me. I am a new indie author and I need all the exposure I can get, when someone download my book using KU, my book’s rank improve, and it makes my book more visible in the sea of millions and millions of books on Amazon.
    I believe KU users have a deadline to read the book and then it disappears from their shelves? If that is correct, then it is very good for me, even better than free days, most people that download the book on free days don’t read it.
    Maybe in a few years when I am not so new on the business I will like to take my book off the KDP Select program, but for now, it helps.


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