I've recently noticed some readers dragging authors to hell and back on the interwebs for taking their books out of Kindle Unlimited. I've seen authors being called greedy and heartless for not making their books available there. And I can't even tell you how much that pisses me off. But I'm not going to rant at readers here. I'm going to assume they just don't totally understand how Kindle Unlimited works or WHY an author might decide to not be part of the program. So, that's what I'm going to do here today. Educate. I'm a giver like that. :) Here it goes:
Note: Before any KU authors decide to jump on me with both feet over this issue, I'm not saying KU is bad. If you've made the decision to be in KU, I totally support you. It definitely works out great for some authors. This post is just letting readers know why SOME authors have decided to leave. You do you. I'm not here to yuck anyone's yum. These are just my thoughts based on the authors I've spoken to about the issue.
What's good for the reader isn't always good for the author
KU is a GREAT program for readers. It lets you read up to 10 books at a time, and you can return one when you're done to pick up another. It's a lot like a digital library that charges you $11.99 a month. And historically, there have been tons of authors (lots of big-name authors, too) with books enrolled in the program. Sounds perfect, right? Well, it is...for readers. For authors? Not so much...
How KU pays authors
Amazon puts the money they get from reader subscriptions into a big pot, then uses that pot to pay authors a few fractions of a cent per page read. (That's fractions of one single cent per page--NOT one whole cent per page.) Amazon determines what constitutes a page read. If someone reads half the book, the author only gets paid for what's been read. If there's a glitch and page reads aren't recorded for some reason, the author gets screwed and Amazon just kind of shrugs and goes, "Oh well." (And sometimes they're not even that polite about screwing over authors. The great customer service that readers get from Amazon absolutely DOES NOT translate to authors.) So, if you're a Negative Nancy (like me) who questions whether or not they can trust Amazon to accurately pay them when there's absolutely NO oversight or recourse to dispute any of their data...well, KU might not be for you.
And after it was announced that the cost of a KU subscription would be $11.99 per month versus the $9.99 it had been, you'd think that authors would get a cut of that higher income, right? Wrong. The payout for page reads in KU is at an all-time low. Authors are paid less now for their KU books than EVER, even though Amazon's income when up substantially. (Note: Amazon will tell you that the KU program loses them money each month. I'm side-eyeing them. But I have no proof that they aren't telling the truth. All I have is my gut feeling that a billionaire dollar corporation isn't worthy of my trust. *shrugs* I regret nothing.)
In short, authors often work for months (or years) on books. Self-published authors have to pay for cover art, editing, marketing, formatting, sensitivity/beta readers, and TONS of other incidentals to get their books on the market. And for their efforts, Amazon pays them fractions of a cent per page with no guarantee or proof that they're being compensated correctly. Sound like something you'd want to sign up for if you worked for months or years on a book? Me neither. But that's just the beginning...
If an author publishes their book on Amazon and opts into the KU program, they are not allowed (by Amazon's terms of service) to publish the book ANYWHERE else. That includes other big sellers like Apple, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo. I imagine the exclusivity thing isn't as big a deal for authors who are making a buttload of money on page reads. But with the new, abysmally low pay rate, is anyone making so much that they aren't concerned with the idea of having all their publishing eggs (i.e.: earning potential) in one basket?
(NOTE: the exclusivity clause only applies to ebooks. Paperbacks and audio can exist on non-Amazon platforms.)
Pirates & account shut downs
Authors have absolutely zero control over who pirates their books. Book pirates are like cockroaches. You might be able to step on one, but there are probably twenty others ready to pop up and darken your day. Unless large corporations (*cough*Amazon and Apple and Google*cough*) and publishers decide to step up and sue book pirates into oblivion, they unfortunately aren't going anywhere anytime soon. Whatever. I wrote more about why book pirates suck ass HERE. That's not the point. The POINT is that Amazon has a history of shutting down the accounts of authors they perceive to have broken their KU exclusivity contract...even if that exclusivity was broken because someone stole their book. You can do a quick Google search and you'll find tons of authors this has happened to. The receipts are available for all to see. The incidents are not isolated. And frankly, Amazon gives not one single CRAP about the authors they ban for no good reason. Some are lucky enough to possess enough tenacity to argue with the Amazon bots until they get their accounts reinstated. Others aren't.
So, why again would authors agree to stay in a program where they're penalized because someone has stolen and illegally downloaded their hard work?
Scammy scammers have discovered that they can have AI crank out terrible, awful, no-good books, then publish and enroll those dumpster fires into KU. From there, they hire bot farms to download and click on all the pages hundreds of thousands of times. (You can Google bot farms and click farms for more technical info. I never claimed to be a technical writer.) What's wrong with that, you ask? Well, these scammy scammers are getting a part of the KU pay-out pot that all the legitimate authors are being forced to share. The scammers are literally taking money out of authors' hands, and at this point, Amazon has done next to nothing to stop them. I'm sure they eventually will. But for now, why would authors agree to share earnings with scammy scammers who paid a fancy toaster oven to write their books for them? (Yes...I know that AI is not a fancy toaster oven. It's still a machine. And I, for one, remember Terminator when SkyNet became self-aware and starting eliminating humans. That all started with fancy toaster ovens and AI. They won't be tricking me into ever using that garbage. And that's all I have to say about that.)
Amazon is notorious for ignoring their own rules when it suits them. One example of this is authors from big publishing houses. If you're a popular enough author with a big publishing house behind you, you're allowed to break the KU exclusivity clause. So, for example, if Nora Roberts' publisher wanted to put any of her books in KU and still be allowed to sell them on all other booksellers, they'd be allowed to do that. But for less popular authors, self-published authors, and other indie authors from smaller presses, the wrath of the 'Zon will come down on their heads if they attempt such a thing. So, why would anyone want to agree to Amazon's terms of service when they're willing to change the rules at any time?
Long story short
All those words above can be summed up as follows: Authors are leaving the KU program because they feel it can be unfair, unstable, and not financially feasible. It's just not always a sustainable business model. And authors have EVERY right to make that determination for themselves.
Also, please understand that I'm not telling readers to cancel their KU subscriptions. You need to do what's right for you. All I'm saying is that authors shouldn't be villainized for their choices, because there are many valid reasons for leaving the program.
What can I do about this?
If your favorite author has decided to pull their books from KU, there are several things you can do to support them. Here are a few:
1. If you can afford to pay for their books (in any format), please do so. I guarantee the author appreciates every reader who buys one of their books.
2. If you can't afford to pay for their books, you could email them and let them know you're a huge fan that would love to be part of their ARC team. ARC teams read for the author pre-publication and agree to leave reviews on release day. There's no guarantee this will work for you, but trying is free.
3. If their books aren't at your local library, request them. Librarians can usually help. And libraries buy their copies (even the digital ones), so the author is getting paid. (Note: you can't request KU ebooks from your local library because of that pesky exclusivity clause we discussed earlier. This will only work with non-KU ebooks. But you can still request the paperback/hardcover, even with titles that have KU ebooks.)
4. Don't pirate their work. Book pirates are dicks. Don't be a dick.
5. Check out Kobo. Kobo offers a program similar to Kindle Unlimited. It's cheaper, AND it doesn't require author exclusivity. So, a lot of non-KU authors have decided to offer their books in the Kobo program. (And personally, I find the Kobo reader to be delightful, and Kobo's customer service blows Amazon's out of the water. But that's just my opinion.)
6. This one is most important. Whatever you do...DO NOT berate the author for pulling their books from KU. They didn't do it to hurt you personally. They didn't do it because they're greedy, unfeeling jerks. They made the best decision they could for their business, and they shouldn't be made to feel bad about it. Have some compassion, would ya?
But those are just MY thoughts. How about it, authors? Did I leave anything out? Let's discuss!