The Eternal Fire…I Mean, Kindle Unlimited

The rumors started earlier this week, but it became official on Friday morning: Amazon’s home page trumpeted something new called “Kindle Unlimited.” It’s the Kindle version of Oyster and Scribd, or the book version of Netflix and Hulu Plus.  Kindle Unlimited is simple for the readers: pay $9.99 per month, and one can select from “over 600,000 books” (more on that in a minute) and thousands of audio books (not so much about that in a minute) as many times per month as one wishes. Are you one of those readers who like to have two or more books going at once? Step right up, my friend; you can have up to ten books at once from Kindle Unlimited on your reader and for as long as you want (so long as you keep forking over that $9.99 per month, of course). Finish a book, and you return it with a click or two and pick another book of you want, or finish up what you have and then select away again.  Do you read a book a day? Two books a day? Help yourself. The first month is free, and yes, I joined. Amazon makes it easy (is that a surprise?). Click on the sign up button, log into your account, and all of a sudden every book that is part of the Kindle Unlimited plan has a red button next to it that 1) indicates that it is part of the Kindle Unlimited plan and 2) announces that it can be read for free.

I was pleased to see that every book that Hachette has ever published is included in Kindle Unlimited. Just kidding, of course; THAT woke you up, didn’t it? Actually, none of the big five traditional publishers are represented on Kindle Unlimited. All of the Kindle imprints are present, as one might expect, and Open Road Media (, anyone?), HMH, Algonquin, and Bloomsbury are there, as are authors’ works which are exclusive to Amazon. I also found a goodly portion of T. Jefferson Parker backlist to be part of it, and, if you are so inclined, The Hunger Games series, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Seven Habits…you get the idea. You know that business dispute between Hachette and Amazon? I am sure  that the participation of Hachette (and, down the road, the other major publishers) is an important element of it.

There is also an audiobook component to Kindle Unlimited through but at this point anecdotal reports indicate that there are only two thousand titles or so are included in Kindle Unlimited. This number will undoubtedly increase.  Further, if you borrow an eBook that has an audiobook version which is part of the program, the audiobook is included automatically. And, of course, there is also the whisper sync feature included with many books. So there is plenty for everyone.

Kindle Unlimited is not Amazon Prime. There’s no long-term commitment with Kindle Unlimited; it’s for books only; and if you are already an Amazon Prime member, Amazon apparently is not folding Kindle Unlimited into your Prime membership. The only elements both programs have in common are 1) uh, Amazon and 2) borrowing books. With regard to the latter, Prime lets you read a book per month for free and lend books you’ve purchased; Kindle Unlimited is, well, unlimited; but you can’t lend other books you’ve purchased.

There is an additional consideration, of course, for the authors among us: how are the royalties for those authors whose works are included in Kindle Unlimited get paid? I did some searching for the answer, and even made a few telephone calls. Responses ranged from “Amazon isn’t releasing that information” to “I don’t know.” One source told me that for an independent author to receive royalties the “borrower” has to read at least ten per cent (10%) of the book (and yes, as an aside, it kind of creeps me out that Amazon would have a way of knowing how much of a particular book I have, or haven’t read). Once the author has accomplished that threshold through the reader, royalties are calculated along the lines of an equation which looks something like 5(x)+3(y)-42+(-7)=zippideedoodah. To put it another way, no one who is talking is really sure at this point. Authors who are free to do so might want to seek further information before committing, which of course is a good idea before entering into any contract, agreement or commitment.

There will be more — much more — to be said about Kindle Unlimited in the coming weeks and months. For the moment, however…are you interested? Did you sign up for a free trial? Have you given it a test run? And what would you like to see? I’ve already answered all of the questions but the last. I’d like to be able to borrow…graphic novels. I think that will happen when we land a man on the sun, but I’ve been surprised, pleasantly and otherwise, before. One can always hope.

21 thoughts on “The Eternal Fire…I Mean, Kindle Unlimited

    • One thing that Amazon has, Roger, is presence and lots of it. I check Amazon constantly and am always finding new authors of whom I would otherwise not be aware. I think what authors might hope for is that if someone reads one of their books on Kindle Unlimited they’ll spring for other books not available through the program, or want to purchase an ebook copy to keep permanently. As far as what Amazon will actually pay for Kindle Unlimited views, I am hoping for clarification at some point and soon, in order to clear up the issue and — if the terms are favorable — to encourage authors to jump on board.

  1. We may eventually get rid of the one cent coin, but Amazon will be paying royalties in mils. It’s not enough to buy anything, but you can pay an author with it.

    • That’s a concern, Lance. A full discussion of what is going on in an equivalent platform — streaming digital music — is way beyond the scope of our corner here, but suffice to say that songwriters are getting royally hosed (or should I say royalty hosed) by the streaming services. Amazon has an opportunity to do things a bit differently here. Let’s wait and see if it does, and if there is verifiable transparency with respect to what books meet that ten percent readability threshold, and how often.

  2. To answer your questions; no, no, no, and don’t care. I’m a hippy in some regards. I distrust any corporation making lots of money and not being able to answer simple questions like ‘how are you paying your authors?’.

    I want readers to buy my books from my publisher, so I try to do the same for the authors I read.

    • Amanda, I’m as far from a hippy as you can get but I agree with the point on transparency in payment of authors (or anyone, for that matter). The formula may not be simple, but it should be understandable without the use of a mathematician or CPA. Let’s hope that there is quick clarification of that.
      As far as buying books from the author/publisher, I’m with you there as well. I actually get a physical copy and a ebook copy of James Lee Burke’s novels. I highlight the ebook copy and keep the physical copy pristine to lend out.

  3. Good morning, Joseph. Thanks for the techie update. You are always on the cutting edge, mi amigo. This program doesn’t interest me. It’s taken me awhile to come around to Netflix, Hulu intrique (although I haven’t tried these) if the selections are there & it saves me cable bill money (from what I’m currently paying). I would have the same questions for this book program, but I dislike the idea of paying each month. I’m afraid I’d be compelled to read or listen to anything to get my money’s worth, & be less discerning.

    You gotta hand it to Amazon. They’re always thinking…and redefining the reading/audio experience.

    • Good morning, Jordan. I totally agree on Amazon’s innovative attitude. Not everything they do works, but the things that do…whoa.

      What I like about the Kindle Unimited by the month plan (as well as Netflix) is that one can drop on and off at whim. If you see that you’ve got a month where folks will be waiting in line to stand on your last nerve, and you won’t have much time to read, you can opt out with a couple of clicks. If you have another month where you’re pretty sure that you’re going to be waiting for the phone to ring, you can jump back on.

      My guess is that Amazon will at some point offer a six month or one year Kindle Unlimited plan for a close to irresistible price, such as $40 for six months or $90 for a year. Disclaimer: that is only a guess and I have seen nothing to indicate that will happen, other than that past performance is the best indicator of future behavior.

  4. According to the email I got from Amazon, the Unlimited thing is now part of KDP select. Hence the pay you if they read 10%. I think KDP has become such a joke these days, they’re trying to make it more desirable. I might try it when my next book launches, but only for those first 90 KDP days. I don’t feel it’s wise to keep all my eggs in one Amazon-shaped basket.

    • My own viewpoint, Kessie (and Jordan, good morning again) is that if the idea behind all of this wonderful new technology is more access than exclusivity butts up against that. Get those eggs in as many baskets as you can.

  5. Two of the major publishers have deals with Oyster and Scribd, but not with Amazon. So I have to think this little wrinkle is part of the current Hachette negotiations. No wonder it isn’t simple…

    • Jim, it gets more and more interesting (complicated) by the day.It has been somewhat under-reported in the mainstream media (it doesn’t fit into the narrative they are spinning) but Amazon last week offered to pay Hachette authors a royalty of 100 per cent of the revenue from the sales of their ebooks for the duration of the current contract negotiation. Hachette did not agree (part of that 100%, is after all, Hachette’s, all other things being equal) but what a gutsy move. And this is only the start. Hachette is walking point on this issue for the other major publishers, who potentially will be facing the same issue down the road.

  6. Zippideedoodah…my oh my what a ____ (something related to doo doo) day.

    Wow, Joe, how do you keep up on all these things. And thanks for keeping us informed.

    I call it the Walmartization of the country. Small businesses are disappearing in small communities. The money is flowing to bigger and bigger corporations. The big six is now the big five. In our little community Walmart has leveraged their prices until several small shops have closed their doors. Etc, etc, etc.

    It sound like, with Kindle Unlimited, that the loser will be the author.

    On a tilting boat, people move to the opposite side to maintain balance. Everyone is served best when there is fair and EQUAL competition.

    Is it time for all of us to buy a Nook Glowlight. Is it time for authors to strengthen Barnes and Noble by offering their books on BN only. Will all authors be afraid to jump first.

    I recently checked out the Barnes and Noble Glow Light. After reading the reviews, I decided to stay with my Kindle. I think I’m going shopping at B&N today.

    Thanks, Joe, for this post. You’ve got me awake now.

    • Your comment made me chuckle, Steve. Not that long ago people were focusing on Barnes and Noble for being part of the Walmartization by forcing out independent booksellers. Now you’re wondering if authors should “strengthen” B and N in the face of an assault by Amazon. My how things change!

  7. Thank you for your kind comments, Steve. Re: the movement on the tilting boat, people usually move to the other side of the street when they see me coming. They’re afraid of losing thirty minutes while I talk about whatever.

    There are going to be some big changes in Barnes & Noble in the next six to eighteen months as they begin closing stores in an effort to cut costs as all of those extremely expensive leases which they are sitting on expire. I’m not counting them out entirely; they are quietly making moves in several areas to take over college campus bookstores (they have done that at THE Ohio State University, among other places) but I don’t know if they will continue to market their own tablet/reader or (more likely) spin it off. I’m not sure how B & N pays its authors who are on the Nook but I have had a number of authors (one yesterday, actually) complain about their formatting requirements. That said: the Glowlight looks like a cool (and relatively inexpensive) reader…I’d just check to make sure that of the authors that you want to read have a presence there. Thanks again!

  8. I heard about this yesterday, and yes, I’m interested. More as a mom than a writer. My son reads a lot and I think this may be a cost effective program for him. As for me the writer…well, it’s too soon to tell.

    • Julie, I’m totally with you on that parent viewpoint. I have a friend with twins who love to read — to the exclusion of everything else — and they will go crazy with this. As for me, as a reader/consumer…Kindle Ultimate has already turned into a time bandit.

  9. On the one hand I think if it sells more books and gets authors names out there, mine included, excellent!

    On the other hand, “Hey wait! $9.99 a month for unlimited books? That’s like 10c a month for me? Wait a minute! How am going to make a living? Are you doing Abbott & Costello Math?”

    On the other other hand, I made some absolutely delicious smoked halibut fillet, caught fresh in Homer Alaska and smoked to an amazingly tender texture and taste that has me currently in a state of smokey, fishy bliss. I will probably care more after this taste fades.

  10. I think it certainly will get author’s names and work out there, Basil. It’s kind of like the jazz lunch buffet at the Court of the Two Sisters in New Orleans…you can sample virtually every kind of cajun/creole dish and then decide what you like.

    That royalty thing…there may be some additional clarification coming. You’ll read it here second.

    Meanwhile…when’s dinner at the Sands’ house?

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