Amazon Pays Kindle Unlimited Authors $1.33 For Every Book Read

When Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited, a $9.99/month subscription to the books and audiobooks in Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing Select catalog along with popular, traditionally published titles such as The Hunger Games and Life of Pi, many self-published writers worried that they would lose money.

Why? Well, although self-published writers could still control how much a reader would pay for one of their Kindle titles, when a reader chose to borrow that title via Kindle Unlimited, Amazon would determine what payout the author received — and that number could, and would, change regularly.

Likewise, Amazon did not pay out every time a book was checked out of Kindle Unlimited; instead, Amazon only paid the writer if the book was read. (Amazon notes on its KDP website that for Kindle Unlimited purposes, “read” counts as finishing 10 percent of the book. I feel happy for KDP self-published writers, but sad that the bar for “having read a book” is set so low.)

I talked to a few self-published writers about Kindle Unlimited last August, in a piece I wrote for The Freelancer, and the authors I spoke to then said they were earning money from Kindle Unlimited and were, in general, happy with the KDP Select program.

But their payouts — which, remember, Amazon can change at will — have dropped significantly since last year.

According to data put together by The Digital Reader, writers enrolled in the Kindle Owners Lending Library — a precursor to Kindle Unlimited, where Kindle owners could check out one book per month — earned $2.24 per borrow in June 2014.

On July 18, 2014, Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited. Payouts dropped to $1.81 per either read or borrow (the data is unclear) and continued to drop and fluctuate around this current low point of $1.33 per read. Or, as The Digital Reader puts it:

The payout per ebook read hasn’t exceeded $1.54 since Kindle Unlimited really got started in August 2014, and my current financial forecast is that Amazon is going to keep it that way.

If a KDP Select writer puts a self-published book on Amazon and prices it at $0.99, the writer actually makes more money if people check out and read the book through Kindle Unlimited. But I took a look at Kindle Unlimited’s catalog, and when you scroll down you can see how authors are actually pricing their Kindle books: $3.99, $4.99, $2.99, and so on. Of course, if a self-published writer is working through KDP Select they don’t get to keep the entire $3.99 — Amazon pays out “up to 70% royalty” on every book sold — but 70 percent of $3.99 is $2.79, which is still better than $1.33.

It’s also worth noting that a self-published author with low Kindle sales might actually see income increase as Kindle Unlimited allows readers to check out books for “free.” (With a $9.99 monthly subscription, it’s only the illusion of free.)

Regardless, the payouts are lower than they used to be. A person who gets 1,000,000 Kindle Unlimited reads this month is still making less money than that person might have made last August — and The Digital Reader’s financial forecast is that Amazon is going to keep it that way.

Photo credit: Zhao !

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