Select Royalty Limbo – How Low Can It Go?

My favorite graphical series from Self Publishing 2.0 was the monthly update of Amazon’s royalty for books borrowed through the KDP Select program. This past summer, Amazon started their Kindle Unlimited program, which for $9.99 a month, allows subscribers all-you-can-eat access to books that were previously available free at a one-per-month rate to Prime Members. The first graph below shows the payment over the entire history of the program on a single axis, but you’ll have to click on it for full-screen size to read the values.

 History of Select Payments

And here’s the same graph trimmed back to the last sixteen months so it will be easier to read:

Select Data Includes Kindle Unlimited


Why do I show the last two Select royalty payments, $1.33 and $1.39, as negative values? Because I didn’t want to redraw the whole graph on a new basis.

My own income from the Select program has fallen sharply since Kindle Unlimited was introduced because I haven’t seen enough of an increase in downloads to compensate for the lower royalty. Most of my Kindle books are priced at $0.99, so at least I’m not hurt by cannibalization – I’d still prefer a $1.39 borrow to a $0.35 sale.

But many publishers whose books are all priced at $2.99 or above have seen a drop in income, as readers who would have purchased a book, resulting in a royalty of $2.00 or more, now read it through their Unlimited subscription, resulting in a lower royalty. If those authors don’t see a substantial increase in readership due to the free availability of their books to subscribers, the result is a net loss.

Prior to the introduction of the Unlimited program, it seemed pretty clear that Amazon was targeting a royalty of around $2.00 per borrow for publishers in the Select program. It’s no longer clear what they have in mind, perhaps $1.50? Beware the ides of December, a traditional low month for royalties.

I’ve heard from friends who keep up with the Kindle discussion groups that publishers of short “adult” fiction are the big winners with Kindle Unlimited. The new program of giving large cash bonuses on a declining scale to the top 100 KDP publishers and titles each month is also creating some new winners among the authors and publishers who need it the least.

Given Amazon’s penchant for loyalty programs, my guess it that the bonuses are meant to encourage those authors who have the option to sign trade contracts to remain with KDP. But perhaps they just feel that bonuses for a few are a more effective motivator than pennies for the masses.

Does Blogging About Publishing Still Matter?

As I lay awake last night, trying to figure out who I could complain to about Amazon erroneously blocking one of my family-oriented science fiction novels (written under a penname), I realized that I missed my blog. I’ll write about that situation another day, when it has been resolved one way or another. The best memories from my decade of blogging were those times I was able to help authors and publishers who reached out to me with news of underhanded happenings. A few such issues I was able to help solve, thanks to the power of the pen and the strength in numbers.

In the twenty-plus years I’ve been writing as a vocation, the “creative destruction” of the print world has turned into the march of the displacement technologies, and equally important, of displacement cultures. Piracy, in addition to being healthier than smoking, is now the more socially acceptable of the two, something you don’t have to step outside to do. The culture of publishing is being displaced as well, with humans replaced by automated filters that look for “naughty” words in eBooks. 

The domination of the modern publishing ecosystem by a limited number of large players (you can count them on one finger if you’re a self publisher) has left most of us dealing with a publishing process that becomes painfully Kafkaesque if anything goes wrong. Large companies, especially monopolies, eventually end up acting like governments. If their model was democracy, it would be a mess, but eventually justice might prevail. Unfortunately, the model most often chosen by corporations is the authoritarian system, with supplicants forced to practice self accusation, and the overworked staffers implicitly trusting their own internal processes over any bothersome facts that may appear.

My years of blogging about sales rank data, market research, and minutia of publishing are behind me. In fact, I moved away from the original “how-to” mission of this blog several years ago. But I think there is still a value in providing a voice for the little guy, to speak truth to power, to vent my spleen rather than swallowing my bile. So I decided to give blogging another go, if only to have a place to occasionally point and say – J’accuse.

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