Monday, September 12, 2016

KU for Today, No Promises for Tomorrow

I want to throw up. I've just moved all three of my Huntsville Pack novels into Kindle Unlimited.

Amazon is winning the market with KU. How do I know?

Look at what other retailers are doing...

1. iBooks' last promotion invitation required books to have a minimum of a hundred reviews. Which I have, easy, just not on iBooks. I'm not alone in that either, and if you're new, how are you going to claw your way into a promotion?

Well, first you have to get on their email list, which good luck with that. I have funneled dozens upon dozens of authors into iBooks' system, but I've never seen another author do that. (And, no I'm not currently collecting emails.)

To get a foot—wait, make that a pinkie toe— in the door at iBooks, you must go to a conference and network or have an author friend who is willing to get you in. Oh and make sure your book breaks out on iBooks so it gets 100 reviews ASAP. (Tip: iBooks readers don't review as much as Amazon readers. So good luck with that.)

2. Want to be a bestseller in your genre? Target Kobo. As of last week, for around 50 sales you'll be a bestselling big deal in your book's genre. You might even be able to buy a pizza with your earnings. Or, at least a cup of coffee. (This means to hit their top 100 you need a couple hundred sales, but if rank in your genre peaks at 50 sales, where are those other couple hundred sales going to come from? The readers aren't there! Literally!)

3. Nook makes me want to ugly cry and have Victorian era hysterics. They're a great market for ebooks, but they are dying. Rapidly. 95% of my books have hit the top 100 on Nook dating back to 2012. A few years ago you needed 300-500 sales to hit the top 100. Now, it's around a 100-150. The sales volume isn't there anymore.

4. a black hole. Your books go in and you hope money comes out. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. And then, they fark up your pricing (even though you marked it up per all the charts floating around in indieland), resulting in all sorts of alarming emails from Amazon.

There is no mid-list on these retailer sites. There is top and bottom and almost nothing in between. Outside of Bookbub, there is no mechanism of discoverability. KU, however, has discoverability tools, rank boosts for books in its program and there is a mid-list.

So go make money in KU then, right? Well, yes and no. Authors pay a price for KU. It's not an altruistic system to benefit the arts.

Think about this: Do you want to be a USA Today or NY Times bestselling author? If you do, guess what? Low sales volume or Nook just outright dying makes that almost impossible to achieve. To hit bestseller lists your book needs to be published wide and there needs to be some semblance of sales volume for it to count. USAT and NYT curate their lists. You have to have strong sales across the board so they don't pass you by for someone else who is selling better outside of Amazon than you are.

In the past, Nook was the most reliable source of sales volume outside of Amazon for anyone hoping to make a list. That's eroding pretty damn fast.  Where are you going to get your non-Amazon sales from for a bestseller list run?

Seriously, where?

KU is changing the entire game.

All the old problems remain:

-It's a book prison. Authors can't list books anywhere but Amazon while we're in KU.
-The royalty rate and paid-for-page-reads scheme are not equitable.
-The royalties are gamed by spammers constantly, stealing millions of dollars from the shared pot every month.
-If KU doesn't suck for long books, it sucks for short books. There is always a book length that loses in KU. (Do you want art controlled by such arbitrary metrics? Don't bother to answer that, Amazon doesn't care what any of us think. eBooks are data driven now. Either get with the data, or get left behind.)

But now, we may be in the process of losing access to bestseller lists, too.

Further, the next pain point is coming. Here's how internet businesses work: They need something from people, so they pay well enough to make it attractive to get folks to do what they want. Once they hit their internal benchmarks, they cut or suspend pay. I've seen it happen over and over again. Tomorrow is never promised in ecommerce or epublishing. Authors are expendable pawns in a larger game.

With weakening sales on other retailers,  Amazon can further cut payments in KU as well as reduce royalties across the board. There is no check and balance. So you can bet, once they hit whatever internal goal they are aiming for, authors will be the ones paying for it. It's just a question of when.

What's an author to do? Sell books while you can. That's all you can do. I stayed wide as long as I could because I didn't want this to happen, but there's no fighting the forces at play in the market anymore, they're too big. Sell what books you can before it all goes sideways yet again.

I think that we are moving out of ebook retailer sales completely and into alternative models of distribution like KU. Look where the growth is. It's in KU and Wattpad. Not iBooks or Googleplay or any other bookseller.

Wattpad is using ads to pay authors.  It's all about free content now and authors are either paid by the page read or via advertising.

The race to the bottom is done. Now we see who survives.

Tomorrow is never promised.

PS: And yes there are always outliers. But for every one person I find doing well wide, I have 10 who aren't. The ratio needs to flip before you'll convince me I'm wrong. Three years ago it was flipped. Lots of people did well. Now, lots of people don't. (Or the person who is wide is growing, but in increments of like, $20, which is great, but it's not evidence of there being big money on retailers outside of Amazon.)

If you'd like to read a happier post, I have this one about hitting the top 100 free on Amazon. It's full of tips for those of you who haven't hit this milestone yet.

If you want more industry analysis like this, I have an irregular marketing newsletter where I pass on the tidbits I find.


  1. I've been thinking hard about this for my upcoming release, too. Release wide or release in KU for the first 90 days or just keep writing and self-publishing like Hugh Howey says? It's so depressing I have days where I tell myself to just give up and get a real job. At least I'll be making some money.

    I've been on Wattpad for years and have a strong following, but couldn't afford to keep my popular works for free, but now I'm considering putting them back in full and not just samples, hoping I'll be one of the lucky ones they'll pick for their ad program.

  2. Thanks for sharing, Michele. Not an easy post to write, but truthful nevertheless. Or, sad but true...however we authors want to look at the reality of self-publishing.