Is the honeymoon over? KU comes between Amazon and its self-publishers

Image - iStockphoto: Nadezhda1906
Image – iStockphoto: Nadezhda1906

A kind of downgrade for Amazon, and nowhere near Wall Street

The most significant change is that Amazon KDP has slipped to third and also reflects the growing discontent self-published authors have with the introduction of Kindle Unlimited and recent communications regarding the new VAT law in Europe for 2015. We also have five new providers entering the Index this month.

That’s Mick Rooney in his Independent Publishing Magazine, introducing his December edition of the monthly Publishing Service Index he produces.

In case you’re not familiar with it, Rooney’s index, more than four years in operation now, is intended, as he writes, to help “guide authors to services on the up, and those, gradually on the down.” He likens it to a kind of stock-market ratings service for appraising author-facing operations.

Think of it as a “sentiment index,” if you will, based in feedback that authors provide to him. An author and mainstay of the self-publishing sector, Rooney co-wrote with Giacomo Giammatteo the original Choosing a Self-Publishing Service guide for the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi).

Mick Rooney
Mick Rooney

Notice that he mentions five new services added to his index. One of them is Unbound, the London-based crowd-funding publisher that last month took The FutureBook Innovation Award  for best Web site and was profiled by our colleague Philip Jones for The Bookseller in August.

The significance of a total 89 companies, great and small, on Rooney’s index may not lie in the number itself but in the fact that author activity is expanding to include — and report on — an increasing number of service providers. If this index were named Moody’s, we’d be calling what just happened to Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing a downgrade.

What happened? Kindle Unlimited (KU) happened — Amazon’s answer to Oyster and Scribd and 24symbols and other ebook subscription schemes.

KU opened in July. And things just haven’t been quite the same in the honeymoon suite ever since.

Holly goes less lightly

I had my serials in it for 60 days and lost approx 75% of my income. That’s counting borrows and bonuses. My sales dropped like a stone. The number of borrows was higher than sales. They didn’t complement each other, as expected.

H.M. Ward
H.M. Ward

Granted, it’s not as if the KBoards (“K” for Kindle) are a place authors go to practice diplomacy and gracious deportment.But the comments you’re reading are those of the romance writer Holly Ward. She’s H.M. Ward on her book covers. And boy, does she have a lot of book covers, lots of work for shirtless men kissing beautiful women:

At the time of enrollment [in Kindle Unlimited], I had about 60 titles total.

With more than 6 million copies sold since 2011 — and 11 titles becoming New York Times bestsellers in 2013 alone — Ward is one of the leading corps of “indie outliers,” those 20 or 30 authors who headline conferences, minister endlessly to the wider field of aspirational self-publishing authors, and can make everybody stop and listen when they have something to say.

Ward has everyone’s attention, and she is fond of the vernacular:

Taking a huge ass pay cut while I’m still working my butt off, well that’s not ok. And KU affected my whole list, not just KU titles.

That last bit is especially interesting, or flat-out disturbing if you’re an author. Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader may not seem like the kind of guy to hang on the KBoards, but he’s watching this operetta pretty carefully. Last week, he followed Ward past her main bombshell post on down the hallway of comments and brought out this potentially pivotal observation:

[Ward] also indicated the KU experience affected all of her titles at Amazon, even the ones that were not part of the subscription service, “because buyers changed into borrowers, who in turn did not spend money on my other titles.” And “Ditto on audio sales. They’ve vanished.”

Ward reports that her income is rising again with her titles yanked from the KU subscription system:

I pulled my books. That was on Nov 1, & since then my net revenue has gone up. I’m now at 50% of where I was pre-KU. During the time I was in KU, I had 2 new releases. Neither preformed vastly different than before. They actually earned far less (including borrows).

And she pulls no punches, Million Kindle Club star that she is. This is one ticked-off standout among the sisterhood of Seattle:

This model needs to be changed for it to work. Authors shouldn’t be paid lottery style. For this system to work we need a flat rate for borrows, borrowed or not borrowed (not this 10% crap), and it needs to be win win for the reader AND the writer. <– That is the crux of the matter. I’d like to see Amazon create something new, something better instead of falling in step with Scribd and Oyster. Example: subscribe to an AUTHOR. Easy, clear. When Author X has a new book it automatically gets sent to your kindle, & the card provided is charged. As a reader, I’d want that. As a writer, I’d want that. Amazon, stop following other companies and break the mold.

Ok, I’m done ranting. Back to writing.

Can she sway others? You bet she can. Right up top among comments responding to Ward’s Black Friday post:

I know if a mega-seller like you can’t make it work, I definitely won’t be experimenting with it again.

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By Porter Ander­son | @Porter_Anderson

The FutureBook: Is the honeymoon over? KU comes between Amazon and its self-publishers

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