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 (mysteriouspress.com, 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 audible.com 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.

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A Checklist for Indie Authors – E-Book Retailers (Post 2)

To get my e-book into the hands of readers, I had decisions to make. Should I upload my book through a Distributor/Aggregator with bundled services for multiple retailers or load them directly onto the sites of individual retailers? If you have a number of titles from your backlist, this could seem daunting, but bear with me. Some retailers are easy to upload into directly, regardless of the number of titles you have, while others restrict authors who don’t have enough offerings to meet their initial minimum requirements.

As I stated in my first post on this series, if you upload to Amazon and B&N, you’ve covered 60-70% of e-books sold today. That’s a good place to start. I could have formatted my own books to save money, but I went through a service provider to do this as I continued writing my contracted books. My formatters created my e-book files for Sex, Death and Moist Towelettes & Dark Kiss through Amazon (Mobi), B&N (ePub), and Smashwords (.doc), plus my e-book and pdf file for my Print-on-Demand (POD) non-fiction book with a cover design for the front, spine, and back of One Author’s Aha Moments.

To optimize an indie author’s outreach and distribution efforts, I’m listing other options beyond Amazon and B&N in this blog series. Stay tuned for more in the weeks to come when I post about Distributors & Library Sales, Retailers with Volume Restrictions, and I draw some conclusions from all this in my final post on the indie author topic. I plan to launch a page on my Fringe Dweller blog where I will list indie resources and maintain them.

Below are the e-book retailers that allow anyone to upload content, no matter how many offerings you have or your publisher status. (Kobo will be mentioned in the next post, but there are many interesting changes happening that will put them on this list soon.) Please be aware that each of these sites operates under different formats and you should get familiar with their guidelines.

Amazon’s Kindle Digital Publishing (KDP)Amazon’s primary e-book format is Mobipocket (Mobi) files, with or without DRM. Amazon currently dominates the market on e-book retail sales. Authors and publishers have access to an effective online retail outlet. Their royalty percentages are split by price point. Currently, that is 70% if your e-book is priced between $2.99 & $9.99, or 35% for all other price points. There is a small delivery charge based on size of file and royalties are paid monthly.

Barnes & Noble – B&N’s upload service is called PubIt!. PubIt! is similar to the Amazon KDP and gives indie authors the ability to upload a higher quality of ePub file that will not be lost through an automated conversion process where standards might be lower. The system also accepts Word, HTML, RTF, and TXT documents, which will be auto-converted to the ePub format.

Apple’s iBookstore – Apple’s iBookstore is open for authors and publishers to upload their own content. You must have a Mac computer to use the iTunes Producer program to upload the files. The signup process may seem intimidating, but an indie author can earn a higher royalty percentage by going direct and not through a distributor/aggregator. If you are unable to use Apple’s system because of limitations, the iBookstore provides a link of Approved Aggregators you can go through.

Google – Google’s e-book store allows readers to purchase PDF and ePub versions of your book, protected by the Adobe DRM. (Digital Rights Management is a term for any security measures designed to inhibit piracy.) The Google e-book store is part of the Google Books Partner Program. HERE  is a link on their system requirements.

LuluLulu uses ePub, PDF, and Microsoft Reader (LIT) formats, with and without DRM. Lulu is well-known for its Print-on-Demand (POD) services and an indie author can sell e-books through them. Lulu takes a cut of sales and there could be an additional fee to use the DRM option. Lulu is an Apple-approved aggregator for the iBookstore.

ebookMall – A $19.95 submission fee is waived until June 30, 2012. ebookMall uses ePub and PDF file types. Lightning Source could be an alternate source into this retailer.

ScribdScribd uses PDF files only and cannot sell other formats.

Smashwords – Smashwords works off a specific Word document style (HERE) that must be in accordance with the Smashwords Style Guide. That Word doc is auto-converted into 9 different formats at the author’s option. In addition to selling books at its own online store with the lowest fee of any retailer listed here (15%), the Smashwords Premium Catalog offers authors and small publishers a way to distribute their titles across a variety of retailers, including Apple’s iBookstore, the Sony eBook Store, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and others.

In my next post, I will go into more detail on the various issues with a middleman distributor. Be aware that an indie author can have format issues by going through the conversion process and this can translate into downstream retailers taking issue with e-book quality from that distributor and YOU. Bottom line is, uploading directly to a retailer with relative ease might be your best option. You’ll see why in my next post when we talk about issues beyond formatting, like cumbersome and untimely price changes when going through a third party.

Some of this sounds daunting, but remember, if you’ve got your book onto Amazon and Barnes & Noble, you have your digital baby with the largest e-book retailers. Fine tuning your retailer outreach can be done as you have time. It doesn’t have to be done all at once. Many of these sites will take time away from your writing, so weigh the benefits against the time it takes for you to focus on this, but once you see how things go, you can fine tune where you will focus your retail and promotional efforts.

If you’re an indie author, please share your experiences with the retailers I mentioned and what has worked for you. If you are exploring the idea of self-publishing, do posts like this help you or intimidate you?

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Blood Remains: A ghost story

This week the Killers are blogging about The Kill Zone’s new e-collection of original short stories, Fresh Kills (available on Kindle, Smashwords, and Scribd). I’m excited and honored to have my short story, ‘Blood Remains,’ included in the anthology. At its heart, ‘Blood Remains’ is a ghost story. I was inspired to write it after reading a newspaper headline (it would be a spoiler if I told you what the headline was). When I read the article I started to wonder, “What if?” As in, what if this happened, and then that?  That thought process energized my creative “boys in the basement” (Jim discussed this creative process in his Sunday post). The end result was a paranormal story: A victim of childhood abuse returns home after many years  only to discover that while memories fade, blood remains. 

The story breaks ground for me in a couple of ways: It’s my first published short story; it’s also a new genre for my writing. A bit of background: I had been developing “Blood Remains” as a novel until Jim suggested that we publish an e-collection of short stories. I narrowed the focus down to what would have been the end of the novel, and reshaped it as a short story.

About making the e-jump

Plunging into the e-book world can be as intimidating for authors as it is for readers (And for publishers, too: Here’s a recent update on the Amazon vs. Macmillan spat). I received a Kindle DX from Santa for Christmas, and I felt very tentative as I downloaded my first few books. I  soon discovered to my delight that some classic books are available on Kindle for free. Then I learned how to enlarge the text so I don’t need reading glasses. Now I’m an e-book convert, carrying my Kindle around with me everywhere. A Kindle application for PCs is available for free, by the way (Click here). Of course, Apple has now debuted the iPad, so the e-book war is officially on. It’s going to be like Rome versus the Barbarians. (Although I’m not sure which side is Rome, and which the Barbarians). It’ll be interesting to see what the e-book landscape is like a few years from now.

Have you made the e-book plunge? How’s the water?



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Scribd’s new e-book store: A sea change in publishing?

I was still recovering from Sunday’s 4.7 earthquake in LA when I heard the news that must have sent a shiver of apprehension through the publishing industry: scrbd, the publishing web site that gets around 60 million hits a day, began selling books online. Authors who upload their books will get an 80/20 split of the revenue from books sold on the site. That’s 80 per cent to us, folks.

NPR’s Marketplace pointed out that the two-year-old scribd has an advantage over other e-book publishers because its e-books can be read over many different types of reading devices, including laptops and “smart” phones. By contrast, Amazon’s e-books can be read only on a pricey Kindle.


We’ve been talking quite a bit on this blog about e-books, and debating their merits. I think that scribd’s move into selling books online, in a range of formats, at a price split that dramatically favors the author, has the potential to upend the publishing totem pole. The scribd platform could finally provide the grassroots publishing momentum that puts more revenue and power into the content creator’s hands, rather than the distributor’s.

In her farewell Newsweek column this week, Anna Quindlen described how, in the journalism field, young people have “created online outlets from the ground up…they are quite properly part of the action, not because we made room for them, but because they made room for themselves.”

Most novelists aren’t all that young, but scribd’s publishing model could provide the way for them to “make room” for themselves in the publishing paradigm. We’ll now be able to publish our own ebooks on a site that reaches sixty million potential readers. Sixty million!

But perhaps not all authors would consider taking hold of the reins of their publishing. I can imagine that even established authors might hesitate before taking the plunge into publishing on scribd. Would there still be a publishing contract, for example? Would uploaded works suffer from a stima from being “self-published”?

What do you think? Do you think the scribd book store has potential to change the publishing business paradigm?

Have you browsed through the new book store? Do you think it will become a morass of self-published drek as it develops, or is it going to become a juggernaut to be reckoned with?

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Coming up on our Kill Zone Guest Sundays, watch for blogs from Sandra Brown, Steve Berry, Robert Liparulo, Alexandra Sokoloff, Thomas B. Sawyer, Paul Kemprecos, Linda Fairstein, and more.

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