Publishing a book is like riding a roller coaster. After the book launches, you're constantly checking your sales and reviews—first up, then down, then, if you're lucky, back up again—hoping that readers will find value in all the hard work you’ve done.
The key here is that sales of hard copy books on Amazon are updated daily or weekly, but Kindle sales are updated hourly, giving me the opportunity to watch overall selling trends but also to see the effect of Kindle Unlimited on the sale of this book.
My launch went very well, and after about the first week, the standard Kindle sales of my book had leveled off to about 50 per day. The day Amazon introduced Kindle Unlimited, my sales dropped to 25 a day.
At first, I panicked. But then I looked more closely at the numbers. Though sales have continued to fluctuate somewhat, if you add the “free” downloads for Unlimited members to my sales figures, the number of my books being read is actually up slightly, compared to sales before the Unlimited program began.
Behind the Kindle Curtain
The subject of payment for books that are part of the Kindle Unlimited program is an interesting one. Typically, when you list a Kindle book for sale, you get a percentage of the selling price, and Amazon keeps the rest. The way that authors' payments are determined in the Unlimited program is different, though. For this new program, Amazon has established a pool of money, which it distributes based on the percentage of the free downloads your book generated, as long as readers read at least 10 percent of your book. At this point, because it's so new, It’s hard to tell how profitable the Unlimited program will be to authors.
Because I self-published my first book, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur, I didn’t have a publisher to consult, so I immediately put the book into the Unlimited program, and downloads have increased dramatically. While I don’t know exactly how much money I’ll bring in by adding it to the Unlimited program, I do know that more people will be reading my book as a result of Kindle Unlimited.
So I know that Unlimited is increasing my exposure, but here’s the really interesting thing: The big publishers—Simon & Schuster, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Penguin Random House—have opted out of the program. According to news reports, they’re waiting to see if the program will serve their interests.
While some self-published authors may see the big houses’ reluctance as a cautionary tale, I see it as a huge opportunity. As the number of Kindle Unlimited users grows (and it will), my chance for exposure is that much greater—the longer the big publishers steer clear, the more readers I have access to.
I understand why publishers want to hold off to see if the financial gain is worth it, but here’s why I know it’s already been worth participating in Unlimited for me: Since the launch of my most recent book, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the number of requests for me to speak at a variety of events. I've booked speaking engagements all over the world, and that increase must be due to the greater number of people who’ve been reached by my book.
Beyond Book Sales
Self-published authors—a rapidly growing category—would do well to realize that there’s more to the bottom line than just book sales. If you can distribute a boatload of free downloads, you’re helping to build your brand, and there are a host of other ways to turn that exposure into dollars. Whether you collect fees for speaking engagements or use the popularity of your free downloads to generate interest in your next book, readers are readers, and favorable impressions build your brand.
Profit First has done so well for me already that I’m considering stepping up the schedule for my next book in order to capitalize on the opportunity to reach readers before the current 600,000-volume Kindle Unlimited library becomes even more crowded from the entry of a major publisher.
Authors would do well to think about the example of the music industry. Artists and labels who, at one point, had opted out of participating in services like Pandora and Spotify are changing their tunes (pardon the pun). Exposure is everything, and as the way that people interact with music continues to evolve, artists who choose not to move forward will have a dwindling market share to show for their decision.
Savvy writers who get out in the forefront of this new trend will cash in big time.
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