Why Kindle Unlimited is a Bad Idea

Amazon has certainly been making headlines recently. Their most recent foray in to new business is the launch of Kindle Unlimited. Setup like Netflix, $9.99 per month gets you unlimited access to Kindle eBooks. For people who are Kindle junkies (and I fully admit to being one), this seems to be a good idea on paper. In fact, my husband was shocked when I didn’t sign up on Day One.


Kindle Unlimited

The truth of the matter is, I think Kindle Unlimited is a bad idea. It’s a bad idea for publishing. It’s a bad idea for authors and publishers. It’s a bad idea for readers.


Kindle Unlimited isn’t Unlimited. Not really, anyway. Amazon bills it as 600,000 books. Sounds great. The only problem is that if you like reading books published by the Top 5 publishers, you won’t find them in the Kindle Unlimited program. To me, that’s not unlimited at all. It’s actually Kindle Limited with a $9.99 monthly fee. Now there are those that would say that they are perfectly happy with the 600,000 books available to them for their $9.99. That’s fine. I think it’s a lot like Netflix – not whole lot I want to watch. I have pay for (or rent) the movies I really want to see. 


Kindle Unlimited is Another “Limited” program for Self Published Authors. Just like Kindle Select, Kindle “Unlimited” limits the distribution for most self-published authors. Amazon does offer some great incentives in their Kindle Select program and we have recommended our clients try one 90 day period as a promotional tool on a case by case basis. However, because Kindle Unlimited requires self published authors to participate in Kindle Select, this ultimately means that Amazon is offering promotional tools at a great exposure cost to self published authors. As most of you know, enrolling in Kindle Select means making a book exclusive to Amazon. That, of course, means that Kindle Unlimited is definitely limiting self-published authors reach.


Kindle Unlimited limits access to books for Readers. This is the newest landscape of eBook subscription services that hurts readers the most. In today’s economic climate, committing $9.99 per month for a subscription program is a lot of money. It ties the reader to Amazon for their eBook “purchases”. But, it also means that for those readers who like to shop outside of Amazon, they aren’t getting access to as many books as they could. Many of the books in Kindle Unlimited are exclusive to Amazon. Readers won’t find them anywhere else. Therefore, readers who don’t shop Amazon and prefer other retailers are missing out on some great books.


Kindle Unlimited’s Terms are Limiting. There are some great eBook subscription services out there. Take Scribd for example: Their service costs $8.99; they make 400,000+ books available and work with major publishers on expanding their library on a regular basis. They do not require exclusivity. If you’re self-published, they work with some of the more common eBook companies such as Smashwords, BookBaby and more. Scribd also pays authors in a traditional way:  While Scribd subscribers enjoy unlimited books for a flat monthly fee, we pay publishers when a book is read as if the subscriber had bought it in a retail e-book store. Authors are paid according to their agreements with their publisherThat’s a little different than how Kindle Unlimited’s payment terms come together. Instead of being paid on a royalty structure, authors that go through Kindle Unlimited are paid a percentage out of a pool. From month to month, authors can look at their downloads but still not know how much they will get paid until Amazon sends a check. Rather than getting paid in a traditional manner, they are limited to the Kindle unlimited pool.


Kindle Unlimited Limits Books and Hurts Libraries and Access to Books. While the brick and mortar part of the library system and the sheer number of physical books available may be on the decline. eBook lending programs are growing exponentially. I know some eBook readers that only get books through library systems. This means libraries are staying true to their mission of making books available to readers everywhere. When books are exclusive to Amazon, they aren’t in libraries. This is a stunning violation of the spirit of libraries (in my humble opinion). Readers must commit to paying their $9.99 per month to Amazon to have access to some books.  Yes, those same books may be in the Kindle lending library, but that’s not the point.


But where does that leave authors and indie presses who are working hard on a daily basis to market and get the word out about their books? While I can comfortably make the case that I think Kindle Unlimited is a bad idea for a variety of reasons, I can also see it’s appeal for self-published authors. I know that Amazon makes some great tools available to authors who do enroll in Kindle Select (and therefore Kindle Unlimited). Those same tools are not available for authors who do not choose those programs. Authors must weight exclusivity with marketing potential. This is not an easy decision to make. We know for a fact that many of those tools help with findability, searchability and exposure.


In a perfect world, books are accessible to everyone. I know that’s not the case and bills must be paid and investments must be recouped. I know that Amazon is making brilliant bottom-line business decisions – even if I don’t like them. I also know that in the world of Amazon and big business, there are still moments that I walk down a street in my neighborhood and realize that people do still care about sharing great books. 


Free Library
And, there’s not a fee attached.


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