Kindle Unlimited and the only Amazon numbers we know for sure.
Amazon is notoriously opaque. It does not reveal the number of devices sold or books sold or movies downloaded. It’s hard to measure the success of any one program and the algorithms it uses to construct its bestseller lists are a closely guarded secret. There are those who guess but no one knows anything for certain.
But since the announcement of Kindle Unlimited, Amazon has shared (albeit reluctantly as you will see) actual numbers which show the performance of one of its most recent consumer launches. Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service and was launched on July 18. I suspect that the launch was prematurely moved up due to inadvertent discovery of the site by enterprising people on the internet who found cached pages with the KU branding.
The way self published authors are paid for participating in KU is through a fund that is underwritten by Amazon. By tracking the amount of the fund in any given month against the individual payout, we can see a little transparency in the program.
- July 2014: Global Fund $2.875M with a $1.81 payout = 1,588,398 borrows
- August 2014: Global Fund $4.7M with $1.54 payout = 3,051,948 borrows
- September 2014: Global Fund $5.0M with $1.52 payout = 3,289,474 borrows
- October 2014: Global Fund $5.5M with $1.33 payout = 4,230,769 borrows
In September 2014, Amazon introduced a Kindle All Stars program where the top 100 authors in the KU program and the top 100 titles in the KU program received a monetary bonus. Based on the KDP FAQ page, however, it appears the All Stars program is above and beyond the Fund.
The percentage growth between July and August is almost 100% but it slows dramatically between August and September and then improved between September and October.
Kindle Unlimited launched in several different countries:
- UK – Sept 24
- Germany – Oct 7
- Spain & Italy – Nov 4
The KU service costs $9.99 per month. In order for Amazon to break even on the Fund it underwriters, there would need to be the following number of subscribers:
- July 2014: 287,788
- Aug 2014: 470,470
- Sept 2014: 500,501
- Oct 2014: 550,551
The launch into other countries hasn’t seem to improve the subscriber numbers dramatically. The percent growth in the last three months has been very modest.
It’s hard to draw many conclusions from this other than there appears to be a sharp decline in the rate of adoption of Kindle Unlimited. I have a subscription but I only borrow approximately 3-4 titles a month which means I’m not getting my money’s worth out of the program. I’m a fan of Scribd and I find a lot more content on Scribd, in part because of Harlequin’s participation but also because of HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster’s participation, than I do with KU. If I had to choose between the two, I’d drop KU.
If nothing else, it will be interesting to see the evolution of these numbers. Are you using a subscription service? If so, why or why not?
Note: If I did math wrong, let me know.