Smashwords: Is Kindle Unlimited Devaluing Books? The Dark Side of Exclusivity

Monday Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, the company I use to distribute my ebooks to stores, posted an article on the downside to making ebooks available to Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited service. When I decided to publish my fiction writing as ebooks I turned to Smashwords to help get my ebooks to readers. Smashwords has a long list of online stores that they distribute to they have a caveat with Amazon: Due to the way Amazon has set up their Kindle Direct Publishing service they can’t do bulk uploads to Amazon like the other stores do. Fortunately, I can upload my ebooks to Kindle Direct Publishing myself so Kindle users can find my ebooks. But when it came to Amazon’s Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited I channeled Charles Emerson Winchester III and said, “Thank you, no.” 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad I can make my ebooks available on the Kindle. Amazon happens to be the #1 place where readers have gotten He’s With the Band, with over a thousand of the over 1500 downloads of my free ebook going through the Amazon servers. My problem with Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited is that they insist on exclusivity for a few months first so that their customers can get your book without it being available anywhere else. While that sounds like a nice thing for marketers for an author I think it sounds terrible.

When it comes to computers I am a supporter of Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) and a user of the open source Linux operating system. Some may think it’s because I’m cheap and don’t want to pay for software (it’s more because my income is so small President Lincoln has permanent laryngitis from my pinching pennies so tightly) but that’s not even close to the main reason. I like open source software because instead of turning to the developers of proprietary software to try to get technical support I can turn to the community of users  who are not only willing to help other users they love being able to help others the way they were once helped themselves. I know users of proprietary software can do the same thing, but it’s a lot different with open source software. With open source software the users can not only help each other, they can also fix problems in the software and even add new features if they have the programming chops and are willing to put in the time to write the code.

What does this have to do with Amazon’s request for exclusivity? Rather than the open source philosophy of community Amazon wants to be selfish, not wanting to let the stores down the street let their customers enjoy the writing authors have done. That can really stink if your preferred e-reader prefers Epub files over Kindle’s Mobi or AWZ files. You’d better hope there’s a Kindle reader app for your device. If there’s an author who truly wishes only one select group of readers to get their ebooks please let me know because as an author myself I want everyone to be able to read my writing if they so choose to. That’s part of why I decided to make He’s With the Band available for free to give people a chance to read my writing and decide if they want to buy my other ebooks.

It turns out there’s a problem with Kindle Unlimited that I wasn’t aware of. With Kindle Direct Publishing, as with all ebook retailing services, the author is allowed to decide not only how much he wants readers to pay for his writing, they also get to say how much they want to get for each copy of their writing that gets purchased. With subscription platforms like Oyster and Scribd the author gets paid not for each copy sold but for each time a reader reads more than a set percentage of the particular ebook. Both Oyster and Scribd have multiple points at which authors and publishers get paid, which is a pretty good idea. PBS’ MediaShift has a nice comparison for authors looking to make their ebooks available on Kindle Unlimited, Oyster or Scribd.

Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited, however, make no guarantees how much a publisher or self-published author will get for making their ebooks available through Kindle Unlimited. Instead they have a pool of money and all the participating authors get a share of the pool at the end of the month. This may be good for authors just getting started developing a following but if you have an ebook that’s really popular you may feel rather cheated. To make matters worse many independent authors have seen dramatic sales drops since Kindle Unlimited was launched back in July, thus impacting their ability to make a living as an independent, self-published author.

Whether you’re an author or a reader check out Mark Coker’s Is Kindle Unlimited Devaluing Books? The Dark Side of Exclusivity on the Smashwords blog. Please read it especially if you’re a reader. You may be getting a good deal on the ebooks you read, but you may be hurting the very authors whose books you love to read.

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