Why Kindle Unlimited is Doomed to Fail

Amazon has just announced their new “Netflix for Books” called Kindle Unlimited. You pay US$9.95 a month and you can download and read all the content you want to your heart’s content. For readers it sounds like a great deal, but for writers it’s a mixed bag. Either way, it’s doomed to failure or at least in for a lot of hard times.

Why?

Well, the first thing you need to understand is that Kindle Unlimited (KU) is part of the Kindle Select program for writers. Kindle Select is a bundle of incentives that Amazon gives writers to publish their eBooks exclusively on Kindle. You promise to only have your book on Amazon for 90 days, and they give you a bunch of extra ways to promote your book and profit from it. One of the biggest parts of this is membership in the Kindle Lending Library, wherein members of Amazon Prime can “borrow” one book each month for “free”.

Actually, the reader doesn’t pay (beyond what they paid for Amazon Prime membership), but Amazon does pay the writer for each borrow. Amazon does this by having a giant monthly pool of money (say $1 million a month) which gets divided among the Kindle Lending Library authors based on the number of borrows they have. So if there was only one book borrowed from the Kindle Lending Library this month, that one author would get $1 million because it was only divided by one. Two authors having books borrowed would get $500,000 each, and so on, with the real numbers being in the hundreds of thousands of borrows and the actually profit per book likely less than $1 per borrow. (I’m pulling most of these numbers out of my butt, however you still get the idea of how it all works.)

However, Select has been actually less profitable and worthwhile for independent authors the longer it’s gone on, mostly because of the sheer number of people in it. So, Amazon is constantly trying to come up with new ways to incentivize authors to join Select, and one of these things is Kindle Unlimited. Basically, all Select books are now part of Kindle Unlimited, and a book “bought” by a KU user counts towards the Kindle Lending Library Pool of money, so in theory Kindle Select authors now how two great ways to access Amazon’s Monthly Money Pool and get a bigger slice of the pie. Which on the surface seems like a great incentive to join.

However, by linking the two programs to the same money pool, they may have just doomed both the Kindle Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited.

Let me explain.

With the Kindle Lending Library, each member could only get a limited number of “free” ebooks a month, so they chose carefully which ones they read. However, with Kindle Unlimited, you can read as many books as you want, and each of them counts towards a share of the money pie, and there’s no limit to the number of books an author can sell. This creates a huge problem for Kindle that I don’t think they saw coming.

For example. Let’s say I’ve got a book on the market that has 31 chapters. If I was a smart man, what I would do is take that 31 chapter book and divide it into 31 mini-books, which I would then put up on Kindle Unlimited as a “serial”. Then, I would go over to Fiver and pay a stranger who has a Kindle Unlimited account $5 to “read” and click through each of those 31 chapters. (Which might take them minutes, so totally worth $5.) They make $5, and I get 31 shares of the pie, which is likely more than $5 in value- at say 50 cents a read, that’s $15.50- triple my money! Even with my initial cost out, that’s $10.50 in profit.

Of course, I can take this even further. Say my book has 350 pages! Well, that’s 350 mini-books, and 350 shares of the money pie! Even at each share being worth 2 cents, that’s still a profit! Good times! And that’s just one Fiver person doing it, soon there will be dozens or hundreds of them offering this service, because they get $5 for 10 minutes work, or $30/hour doing this. (Or more!) I don’t even need real readers, or ratings or reviewers to make this scheme work! I can be doing this over and over, and making bigger and bigger profits as I do it.

So, while the people who enroll in Kindle Unlimited with their books are getting 1 share if they honestly enroll their book, I’m getting 31 (or 350) shares of that same pie. Which quickly means that it’s stupid for them not to do the same thing I’m doing, and in fact if they want to profit they have no choice but to start gaming the system and fighting for their slice of the pie just like me!

A few further thoughts:

  1. It will quickly become impossible to make a profit on it, so nobody will enroll their books there. No content means nobody will use Kindle Unlimited.
  2. Amazon could make KU invite only to stop this, but if they did so then it would defeat the whole incentive to get people to be part of Select.
  3. Amazon could set minimum lengths of books, but this is irrelevant since the point isn’t the content, but the number of “reads” a book gets, which is meaningless in this scheme. I can fill books with gibberish and still profit from them using this system.
  4. Amazon could ban “Fiver Readers”, but how to spot them? And they can just make new accounts and keep doing it again and again, whereas Amazon will quickly find their own resources limited. (Unless they employ armies of checkers, which gets expensive.)
  5. This will kill the Kindle Lending Library, because it means the share prices there will tumble down to nothingness.

So, as you can see, Kindle Unlimited isn’t just a race to the bottom for Authors, it’s actually a race to the bottom for Amazon. It’s too gameable to work, and by the time they figure out a solution, nobody will care.

Rob

 

The Stories of Ken Liu

One of the hottest names in Science Fiction today is Ken Liu, a Chinese-American programmer, lawyer and writer who seems to jump into everything he does with heart and amazing dedication. He has won the Nebula, Hugo and World Fantasy awards more than once for his short fiction, and recently announced he’s going into Epic Fantasy with his debut novel The Grace of Kings due out next year from Simon and Schuster’s new genre fiction imprint Saga Press. He’s a rising star who blends both Asian and Western sensibilities into his work, taking advantage of both to produce unique works.

I first encountered Ken’s work when the sci-fi and fantasy blog Io9 shared one of his stories, The Perfect Match, that was published in Lightspeed in 2012. While not a perfect story, it extrapolated the idea behind Apple’s Siri to its logical and disturbing conclusion with the personal assistant Tilly in a way that really caught my attention. I have since recommended his work to many of my media students to read as a glimpse into the future, because I think he’s captured it all too well.

Today, after hearing about Ken’s new novel, I wandered to his personal website for more information and was delighted to discover that he has placed 14 of his published and award-winning short stories (and more!) up for anyone to read for free on his website. So check them out, and learn why the name Ken Liu is on lips of both many a fan and publisher alike.

Rob

The Technique of Mystery

http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_OCWXw6InF70/S7VpSd3LMlI/AAAAAAAAAng/ePGngOo_QnU/s1600/Mystery+Machine3.jpg

In my travels across the net, I recently came across a book from 1914 by Carolyn Wells called The Technique of Mystery. This book is her thoughts on the theory and practice of writing mysteries, and while Ms. Wells may not have been a particularly successful mystery writer, she did put a lot of thought into the subject that even a modern writer might want to consider.

Google’s Great New Tool for Finding Royalty Free Images for Blogs and Covers

Google has recently added an amazing new tool for bloggers to its image search function. You can now search for images that you can use on your blog or whatever based on the license the image is released under. Using this, you can easily find blog-safe images you can use for different topics and not have to worry about the copyright police hunting you down and hauling you out of your house in the middle of the night. (Always a plus!)

Here’s how you do it:

Go to Google Advanced Image Search and enter your keywords.


AdvanceImageSearch1 AdvanceImageSearch2

Now, there is another similar option in the basic image search, but the wording is very different for the options so I’m not really sure how to interpret that. It’s probably better to stick with the Advanced Image Search since it has clearer wording, but in case you want to know, here’s the other way to do it:

Image Search 1

Image Search 2

Image Search 3

Why I Launched my New Novel Ascenion by Giving it Away For Free!

I blame Goodreads.

During the two years it took to write and prep my new novel Ascension, I worked hard to make sure that I could release the best product I could. I wanted it to be a book I could be proud of, and something that could start my journey as a writer on a positive foot. I also wanted it to be something I would be compensated for, after all, while I did it because I love writing, I also did it in hopes of making a little extra cash.

So, why did I give it away for free my opening weekend?

I’ve read quite a bit of theory on the subject of playing the Amazon book marketing game, and I noticed a while ago that many authors have had success by making their books free. Usually, they made their books free for a short-ish period of time, and then after that they found their sales jumped. There has been a lot of speculation as to why, but it usually comes down to Sales Rank. By making your book free, you ship a ton of copies, which drives up your sales rank and makes your book more visible for new readers to find when you return to charging for it.

There is also the theory/hope that by selling lots of copies in a short time, you are increasing the chances of people leaving reviews of your book (vitally important) and possibly increasing both awareness and word of mouth. People become aware your book exists, and they also may be telling their friends- both good solid benefits of getting as many copies out there as possible.

So, are these the reasons why I was extremely happy that 230 people took advantage of my special weekend offer?

Yes, but there is another factor at play here.

A few months ago, I started using Goodreads.com more actively, and when I did, one of the things I started to use was their recommendations service for new books I might like. I’m always looking for new things to read, and wanted to try it out. However, before I could use it, Goodreads required that I rate at least 40 books so that the system could figure out what types of books I liked. At the time I considered it a pain, but afterwards I realized Goodreads had given me a great gift.

You see, I came to realize that the most powerful marketing tool Amazon has to offer is its recommendation system- “People who bought this book, also bought…” It’s using this system to match the item you’re looking at with other similar items bought by similar people. If you haven’t noticed, Amazon is also constantly putting books in front of you it thinks you’d like, which it does by slowly analyzing your tastes based on what you search for and look at it.

But, Amazon’s system doesn’t just have to understand you, it also has to understand each book in its library. It has to know what type of person buys that book, what else they buy, and what categories to really place the book in. In other words, the system needs to figure out how to market the book, and it does it based on past sales.

So, what if you have no past sales? Then Amazon doesn’t know how to market your book properly, and you won’t sell many copies unless you spend a lot of time and money pushing it elsewhere to produce those sales.

Therefore, I reasoned, I needed to “prime the pump” and get Amazon to analyze my book’s profile as quickly as possible so that they could start marketing it to the right people and do a lot of the heavy lifting for me.

How to do that? By offering it for free, of course! Every one of those wonderful people who downloaded my book were actually doing me a favor, they were helping me teach Amazon’s system how to find other readers for it. Now, the system knows who and where to market my book to, and will find them accordingly. If I’m right, this will speed up the marketing process greatly. I will still have to make an effort to market my book elsewhere, but it’s a good start.

I hope, anyways! Only time (and sales) will tell!

Rob

Ascension- A Novel of the Twin Stars Is LIVE!!

Ascension Cover

My very first novel, based on the Parsec Award Nominated Podcast (which has had over a Quarter of a Million Listeners)  is now up and available for Amazon Kindle. Check it out!

The ePublishing Scammers come out to play…

Author David Gaughran has posted an article over on his blog warning about the growing minefield of people out there looking to sell overpriced services to self-publishing authors under the pretense of being real publishing houses. The sad thing is that the real publishing houses have smelled money and are now also trying to get into the game!

Most of this is being done by Author’s Solutions, a modern Vanity Press company David gives these stats about:

1. 150,000 customers have only published 190,000 books, meaning there’s very little repeat business – esp. when you factor in all the authors publishing multiple titles right off the bat. For comparison, the average Smashwords author has published over four titles with them.

2. The average Author Solutions customer spends $5,000 publishing their book, and only sells 150 copies.

3. Only one-third of Author Solutions’ income comes from book sales royalties. Two thirds comes from author services – their whole model is based on making money from you, not with you.

These are leeches preying on people’s hope and dreams, and not giving anywhere near back what they take. Note #2, how they charge $5000 on average to “help” you get your book ready to market. Do you know how much most self-pubbed authors pay reputable services for editing and a cover? $300-$500 for the whole package! (It can get up around $1000 if you want more extensive work done and you hire a high-end artist for the cover.) And actually, many pay ZERO dollars if they have friends and family who can help them do it, since the actual publishing side is free for eBooks (and costs around $40 to set up Print-on-Demand services through Amazon or Lulu).

And no matter how much you pay to whom, you still have to do all your own marketing!

All for average sales of 150 copies. (Lifetime.)

So do your homework.

Real publishers ask for ZERO money upfront, because they pay you to publish your work, not the other way around.

Reputable editors and services don’t charge you thousands of dollars to get your book ready.

Read the linked article, ask around, explore your options, and beware the traps! For there are many, and you will get screwed if you pick the wrong one!

Rob

Feeling a Little Evil? – Method to the Madness has been Unleashed!

The long-awaited handbook that belongs on the shelf of every world conquerer has finally been released upon the world!

Want to know the in’s and out’s of supervillain fashion? It’s in there!

Want to know about care and feeding of your minions? It’s in there!

Want to know how to decorate that new lair just right? It’s in there!

Want to know about how a real supervillain handles a public relations crisis? It’s in there! (And I should know, I wrote it!)

The world’s 24 worst villains were asked to provide their best tips and advice, and now these secrets will be shared with you!  Each copy been scanned for nanotech zombie plagues and hypnotic commands to bark like a dog, and found to be completely safe! (And if not- you won’t remember anyway!)

So, shamble on over to Amazon, Smashwords or visit the kind folks at Five Rivers Publishing and grab your copy today! (Remember- The early bird who hesitates gets wormed!)

My Advice to Aspiring Authors | Hugh Howey

Since some who read this blog are aspiring writers in the prose field, I thought I’d pass along this excellent blog article written by successful independent author Hugh Howey.

http://www.hughhowey.com/my-advice-to-aspiring-authors/

He really hits a lot of important points on being a writer in the new e-book focussed market. I also think he is spot-on about how the best thing a writer can do is write, get the product out, and keep writing, the marketing can come later.

For me the most interesting was the following:

“Know your gatekeepers. Appealing to readers is the endgame. They want story over prose, so concentrate on that aim for both, but concentrate on story. Agents and slush-pile readers are often the opposite, which is why they bemoan the absence of literary fiction hits and cringe at the sale of Twilight, Dan Brown, and 50 Shades. You are writing for the reader, who is your ultimate gatekeeper. Get your work in front of them, even if it’s one at a time, one reader a month or year.”

He really has an excellent point with this one. The truth is, if your core story is strong, then the average reader will forgive a lot in the area of style. Simple, clear prose without spelling or grammar mistakes is all most readers require to enjoy a story, and that isn’t all that difficult to achieve. It’s the characters and story that will bring them in and keep them reading, not the prose, as the authors he’s mentioned have proved.

Of course, the opposite is also true- you can polish a turd of a story all you want, and it will still be a turd!

via My Advice to Aspiring Authors | Hugh Howey.

How To Sell Ebooks

From Joe Konrath’s blog:

How To Sell Ebooks

I just hit a milestone that is hard for me to grasp. As of January, I’ve sold over one million ebooks.

That’s a lot of ebooks.

The question I get asked more than any other is: How can I make my ebooks sell more copies?

That’s actually not the right question to ask. Because there is nothing you can do to make people buy your ebooks, except maybe hold them at gunpoint or kidnap their pets.

This business isn’t about what you have to sell. It is about what you have to offer. And luck plays a big part.

But I’ve found you can improve your odds. Here are some things I’ve done that have seemed helpful.

GOOD COVERS

I can’t overemphasize how important a good cover is. Hire a professional. And keep these things in mind:

1. At a glance, it should convey the type or genre of the book you’ve written.

2. It should be readable in grayscale.

3. It should be readable as a thumbnail.

4. Your name and the title should be large and clear.

There are other little tips that I recommend. Usually legacy book covers have a lot of writing on them, and that makes them subconsciously identifiable as professional. Taglines. Blurbs. “By the author of Whiskey Sour”. That sort of thing.

Your artist should know what vectors are, and the rule of three, and the importance of the color wheel, and all the other tricks used to make a cover pop.

If your sales are slow, consider getting a better cover.”

This is just the tip of the iceberg, lots more great advice at…

via A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: How To Sell Ebooks.