Why I won’t publish my eBooks on Kindle Unlimited

I don't often talk about the business side of my writing on social media but after receiving some comments on Facebook and emails from readers earlier this month asking why my books aren't available on Kindle Unlimited, I posted a short overview of my reasons why I choose not to do so.

Woman reading a Kobo eReader on holiday feature image for blog

That post received such interesting feedback from readers and writers alike (all of it supportive – thank you) that I thought I’d expand on the original text and share it here.

What’s the difference between publishing using Amazon’s KDP Select and “going wide”?

Before I go into the reasons why I don’t make my eBooks available on Kindle Unlimited, let me first explain the business side of Amazon’s ecosystem as far as writers are concerned.

When you publish a book, you have to decide to whether make your books available only to Amazon stores (Kindle Unlimited), or to Amazon plus other retailers such as iBooks, Kobo, Google Play and more.

Authors put their books into Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited via an opt-in system called Kindle Select. This means that for 90 days at a time, we can’t publish our eBooks anywhere else and, unless we give Amazon a very good reason to release us from that 90 day contract term, we’re stuck there.

Alternatively, if we choose to ignore the Kindle Unlimited/Select option, we’re free to publish anywhere we like – and that’s what I do. This is referred to within publishing circles as “going wide”.

The issues with Kindle Unlimited for authors

Remember that if I put my books into Kindle Unlimited, it means I can't sell them anywhere else – Amazon won't let me, and if I did try to sell my books elsewhere while they were in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon would start by sending me threatening emails and would then close my publishing account if I didn't comply. 

If I agreed to the terms of Kindle Unlimited and lock my eBooks into that via Kindle Select for that 90 day period, any of you who don't have a Kindle, or who don't have a Kindle Unlimited account wouldn't be able to read my books. 

The benefits of not being in Kindle Unlimited

I don’t know about you, but I love the fact that my books can be read by anyone anywhere in the world. Amazon’s Kindle store only publishes to seven territories at the time of writing this.

Personally, I love hearing from readers in far-flung exotic places – it makes me stare longingly at my passport for starters!

To demonstrate what I mean, this pie chart depicts the breakdown of eBook sales for the past 12 months. That mid blue bit that takes up just over half the pie is Amazon.

The other colours are all the different retailers outside of Amazon where you can buy my books – including my own eBook store (which also stocks .mobi format for Kindle).

Amazon's portion is shrinking year-on-year as I reach new readers on Kobo, iBooks, Google Play, Nook and others and continue to grow my own store.

Pie chart showing where my books are published

To give you an even better example of the reach I have worldwide by not putting my books into Kindle Unlimited, take a look at the following picture of a map. This is a behind-the-scenes snapshot of my Kobo account.

See all those turquoise dots? That’s where I’ve sold eBooks via Kobo over the three years I’ve been selling direct with them – and some of you I’ve gotten to know really well through exchanging emails!

None of that would be possible if I locked my books into Kindle Unlimited.

Why I don't publish on Kindle Unlimited - Kobo map

What about readers who want to read for free?

As I said above, the original post I wrote on social media was inspired by a person who pestered me for a week or more, demanding that if I wasn’t going to put my eBooks into Kindle Unlimited so she could access them for free that I provide her with free copies instead.

This was a misunderstanding on her part, as readers pay a monthly subscription to access books on Kindle Unlimited. However, I still wasn't going to hand over my books for free, and I never will. Here's why.

I run a publishing business, exactly like traditional publishers do. I have overheads, I pay myself a very modest salary and any profit from my books goes directly back into the business for editing, cover design, maintaining this website and contracting experts for ad hoc work, etc.

If you would like free copies of my books, then please – support your local library. All my books are available in libraries in eBook, print, large print, and audiobook. Moreover, if you have the Overdrive app on your phone or tablet, you can access the eBooks and audiobooks without even leaving home.

Libraries pay UK-based authors for borrowed books via a system called Public Lending Rights. It’s equal to a few pennies per borrow, but as you can imagine it builds up over time. Australia and Canada have a similar system in place.

It’s that easy, and it’s a fairer system. Besides, we need to support libraries before they’re gone forever!

Final thoughts about why I don’t publish my books in Kindle Unlimited

As a business owner, any system whereby I’d have to forego other sales options and incur the risk of that retailer changing their terms of trading without warning (it has happened with Kindle Unlimited, and will continue to do so) is a huge no-no for me.

And like I’ve said above, I really like chatting with readers from all around the world, so I hope you'll agree that Kindle Unlimited, for me, isn't a good idea.

Can you see a blue spot on your country in the map above? I’d love to hear from you in the comments – let me know where you found my books!

16 Comments

  1. This is a great article, Rachel, and I totally understand and have nodded at all your reasons!

    I am staying with KDP and love having my books on KU. I find that I get more KU units than actual sales, which says a lot to me; ie, that my books appeal to avid readers who finish one and download the next, immediately. They are very ‘English’, so it doesn’t bother me that most of my sales are in the UK – though I do get a fair few in the US and, oddly, India, particularly one book.

    I tend to look at my own reading habits – I read 2 or 3 books a week and almost always buy from Amazon (I prefer to read on Kindle), and I am 100% more likely to download a book if it is on KU. That’s how I often start reading series, so I assume that is the same for my readers. But what works for one does not for another – I completely get why you have made your decisions. Also, I am extraordinarily lazy when it comes to promo and can only really be bothered to do book blog ARCs and Twitter, so making sure my books sell via Amazon’s algorithms totally works for me; I believe almost all my sales/downloads come via Amazon itself.

    Always good to see other points of view!

    • Thanks, Terry – I enjoyed reading about your strategies, too. I think we’re in a really lucky position with regard to publishing choices these days where we can choose what works best for us!

  2. Why should your work be sent out free and rob others of enjoying your amazing gift of story telling, I don’t get fee chocolate because I use a set shop for all my purchase of chocolate. It’s your work your living and send that big companies like to dictate like supermarkets in the UK pay farmers low rates but make millions a day as well Amazon. I think you are using a wise business head and I for one support you completely. Thanks for all your hard work and sharing your gift with us all. I think your amazing so Amazon should pay you.

    • Thank you, Dave – much appreciated. I’m finding more and more readers who want to support readers outside of Amazon via libraries and other (fairer) eBook stores, so I’m really glad you enjoyed this post.

  3. Thanks for taking the time to explain this. I signed up for a trial of Kindle Unlimited through Goodreads & couldn’t understand why I couldn’t find very many of my favorite authors’ books there. Now I understand. I wouldn’t appreciate the 90-day lockdown either. I think I’m just going to let Kindle Unlimited lapse at the end of the trial as I’m not getting much out of it.

  4. I have just read this and applaud you. I don’t have kindle. I love actual books, some I buy some I borrow from the library. I don’t want our libraries to disappear.

    • Anne, thank you – I agree with what you say. Libraries are so important, and sadly aren’t supported in the way they should be. Thanks for taking the time to read this article!

  5. I’m no fan of Kindle Unlimited, but this post is quite misleading. Amazon customers enrolled in Kindle Unlimited are not reading the books “for free,” whether they believe they are or not. They pay $9.99 per month for access to the library. Furthermore, authors are paid as well, for the number of pages the customers read. Overall, I agree is a very bad deal for authors, (I have none of my books in Kindle Unlimited, except some anthologies), but to imply the KU customers read the books for free, and also imply you don’t get paid anything when they do, is simply wrong. I think you should update your article to make this clearer. There are some authors who have all their books in Kindle Unlimited and are making high incomes from the pages read. To me, that’s a short-term, self-defeating approach for any author to use, but there are plenty of them doing it.

    • Hi Mike – you’re right, and thanks for clarifying. I’ve updated that part of the article accordingly.

  6. Hi Rachel, I haven’t read any of your books, yet, but I happened upon this article and found it very helpful. I’ve shared it on a couple writers’ group pages. Thanks for sharing your knowledge!
    Cheers!

  7. For me that I’m thinking where to publish this is a great article because I’m upset about how Amazon treats his clients.

    I’m a kobo binge-reader and I’ll publish on there.

    Thanks for giving me further reasons to do that.

    • You’re welcome, Luca. A mixture of using KDP (non-Select), direct to Kobo and Draft2Digital is a great strategy for starting out.

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