Saturday, August 15, 2015

Konrath Kindle Unlimited Numbers

I might be pretty good barometer for this experiment, because I have a large backlist, I haven't released anything new in over a year, and I didn't do any BookBubs or other promo in June or July (May was the last one I did.)

So the only real difference between my numbers in June and my numbers in July is the new KU 2.0 payout system. I'd already shared some thoughts about it last month.

Let's take a look how I did.

I have 28 novel-length works in KDP, all over 60k words. I have 17 shorter works, ranging from 8k-50k. Genres include mystery, thriller, horror, humor, erotica, and sci-fi.

In June, I made $9300 in KDP sales.

In July I made $10,550 in KDP sales.

In June, I made $5700 in KU/KOLL borrows.

In July, I made $11,600 in KENP reads.

So my KU income doubled under the new payment system. I have no idea what to attribute the extra twelve hundred in sales to, but it's pretty clear that KU 2.0 benefits me.

Under the old system, I earned as much for With A Twist, which is 23 pages, as I did for The List, which is 310 pages. That number was $1.35. To earn it, a reader had to read 10%. So they had to stick with The List for at least 31 pages, and With A Twist for 2 pages.

I didn't complain about this system. Nor did I exploit it. I thought about breaking my novels into chapbooks, and writing shorter work, but I was doing other things and never go around to it. Many of my peers, however, were taking advantage of this system by writing a lot of short work.

Good for them. Make hay while the sun shines.

Under the new system, estimating $.005779 per page read, a full read of With A Twist earned me $0.16, and a full read of The List earned me $1.79.

I wrote With A Twist for Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, years ago. I believe I was paid $450 for it, and EQMM was one of the highest paying markets for mystery shorts.

With a Twist had 45 borrows in June, earning me about $60. It also had 50 sales in June, at $0.99, earning me about $17.50.

The List had 161 borrows in June, earning me $211. It also had 87 sales in June, at $3.99, earning me about $221.

I have a few thoughts about this.

First, I wonder why I didn't pay more attention to KU 1.0 while it was in full effect, because I should have written a ton of short stories. The short story market prior to Kindle was dismal. Getting into a top market was very hard. There was a lot of competition. Most markets paid $0.05 a word, so With A Twist was worth about $300, and I was lucky EQMM paid more. But the fact that I was making $60 a month on a short story is insane. Never before, in the history of publishing, have short stories been worth so much. I was fortunate enough to get that story into one of the top paying markets in the world, and I made $450. Under KU 1.0 I was on track to make $720 a year on that same story, just in borrows.

Second, even though short stories were finally lucrative, thanks to Amazon, my readers still seem to prefer longer work. With a Twist is a Jack Daniels short. Cherry Bomb, my weakest selling JD novel, had 313 borrows in June, and 179 sales. This is true for all of my shorts and novels; the novels had more sales and more borrows. Anyone who needs more proof of this, look at the thousands of reviews I've had for novels. whereas my shorts are lucky to garner a few dozen.

Third, readers really seem to like KU. I was getting more borrows than sales.

Fourth, even though readers did more borrowing than buying, I was earning almost twice as much via sales than borrows.

Maybe this is why I didn't pay a lot of attention. I saw the numbers, saw that sales were still financially superior to borrows, and decided not to worry about borrows.

Now, there's no doubt KU was cannibalizing sales, but I wasn't complaining. I was in KDP Select, but it wasn't my only source of income. So I didn't worry about it, nor did I take advantage of it. It was what it was.

Then along comes KU 2.0.

With a Twist had 2200 KENP reads in July, earning me about $12. It also had 82 sales in July, at $0.99, earning me about $27.00.

The List had 59,411 KENP reads in July, earning me $343. It also had 105 sales in July, at $3.99, earning me about $255.

While it is impossible to figure out how many readers read all of The List without Amazon releasing how many downloads there were (and I'm continuing to press Amazon to release this info), we can do some quick and dirty math.

59411 pages reads divided by 310 pages (the length of The List) equates to 191 borrows, assuming everyone read the whole book. I think this number is pretty worthless for a few reasons. First, there must have been people who didn't read it all. Maybe they started it in June and it carried over. Maybe they borrowed it at the end of July and didn't get very far into it. Maybe they hated it and stopped.

But comparing the 161 borrows from June, 191 in July sounds somewhat realistic.

Under the same math, With A Twist looked like it had 95 borrows in July, vs. 50 in June. That seems a little odd. But I'm not a math person, I'm not good at interpreting data, and I don't even know if there is anything here to interpret, other than the bottom line of how much I made.

Cherry Bomb had 148,000 reads, and 226 sales. So in June I made $422 in KU on that title, and in July I made $855.

My assessment:

Under KU 1.0, Amazon was rewarding writers for enrolling in KDP Select. Amazon wanted as many titles as possible, to build their Kindle Unlimited catalog. Shorts are easier and faster to write than novels, so Amazon rewarded short stories by paying authors much higher for shorter works, way out of proportion with novels and with the paper short story market, in order to get more titles into KU so it appealed to more subscribers.

Under KU 2.0, Amazon is rewarding writers for being good writers. Amazon wants writers to hook readers for longer than 10% of the ebook. Amazon wants good, meaty novels, which my numbers point to readers liking more than shorts.

My takeaway:

Under KU 1.0, I should have written a hundred short stories and made a fortune. Amazon was paying ten times more per word for shorts than they paid for novels. There was no incentive to write well, or to engage readers. The main incentive was to put out a lot of shorts and hook the reader for 10% of the length of the story.

Under KU 2.0, I'm continuing to do what all professional fiction writers have done throughout history; write novels. It's what readers want. With the rare exceptions of a few authors, no one made a living selling shorts. There was a brief moment, during KU 1.0, where shorts were valuable. Their market value has now dropped. Novels are going to earn writers more money. But they have to be good novels.

That said, shorts are still worth more than they were in the legacy paper world. I got $0.075 cents per word writing for EQMM. I got $0.5 cents a word for writing Whiskey Sour. In other words, as a professional mystery writer, I made about seven cents a word selling to a top short story market, and fifty cents a word selling to a top mystery novel market.

Under KU 2.0, I make the same per word/per page whether I write mysteries, or novels. And I like that a lot.

My conclusions:

1. My readers seem to prefer KU borrows over buying. This ties into my belief that subscription services will one day rule the world.

2. My readers prefer my novels over short stories.

3. Amazon is now rewarding authors for writing well. If you can hook a reader, and sustain that reader, you'll be rewarded financially for as long as you can keep their attention.

My predictions:

1. The scamming will stop. KU 2.0 won't allow anyone to get paid $1.35 for slapping together a 5 page How To ebook lifted from Wikipedia.

2. Short story reads will go down. I have a feeling that under KU 1.0, a lot of the shorts that were read to 10% weren't read completely. Kindle Unlimited is an all you can eat buffet. If you pick up a slice of pizza, and it isn't good, you don't finish it. You take one bite and move on.

I also believe a lot of readers didn't know they were borrowing a short story in the first place. A good cover, and a good blurb, made them download it without knowing the length. Why should they care about length when everything is all inclusive? Readers borrowing a lot of your shorts doesn't prove that readers prefer shorts. But if I'm wrong, and readers truly do prefer shorts over novels, then they'll be downloading more shorts than novels, and novel-length works shouldn't effect your bottom line much. After all, a novel may have more pages, but your readers will be downloading more shorts than novels to make up for that because they can read them quicker.

3. Some writers are going to leave KDP Select because they don't like KU 2.0. This is good. It helps competition, and will encourage Amazon to offer bigger incentives to get them back, so everyone benefits. The scammers who leave will mean a better KU experience for readers.

4. All writers are going to have to up their game and improve. This is good for everyone. A great cover and a smart blurb isn't enough. If we want to thrive in KU 2.0, we need to write great books that readers not only want to borrow, but that they also want to finish.

Never before have writers been so directly rewarded for writing well.

5. Kindle Unlimited, and ebook subscription services in general, are the future. Some writers may feel Amazon is punishing authors with KU. I don't think that could be farther from the truth.

Amazon is giving readers what they want. And Amazon continues to incentivize authors. We're getting the carrot, not the stick.

If you were killing it with KU 1.0, congrats. I hope you made money. Now move on. Common sense has to tell you that the more words you write, the more you should be paid, and that the longer that readers enjoy your writing, the more you should be paid.

That's what KU 2.0 is all about. And if you don't like it, remember that it's optional. You can leave anytime.

But subscriptions are here to stay. Roll with it.