Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited just went live, offering readers “unlimited” kindle books for a subscription of $9.99 per month. When I first read this, I cringed. As a traditionally published author, I’m all too familiar with Amazon’s full-on assault on the book industry. Jeff Bezos has made no secret of his plan to put every bookstore out of business, and to cripple publishers who won’t fall in line. Kindle Unlimited is just one more step in that direction.
Amazon has been tight-lipped on how authors—independently or traditionally published—will actually make an income through Kindle Unlimited titles. The model has long been that, when an ebook is purchased through Amazon, traditionally published authors make a 25% royalty on that purchase, while indie authors make 30% to 70%, depending on how the book is priced. Kindle Unlimited will change all that. It goes without saying that authors will not receive the normal royalty on books lent through Kindle Unlimited.
One can imagine that Amazon will “pay” authors a tiny percentage from some impossible-to-decipher ledger, as they supposedly do for books in the Kindle Select program. Speaking of which, at the time of this writing, it appears that books enrolled in KDP’s Kindle Select program will automatically be put in the Kindle Unlimited program. It’s unclear if there’s any way to opt out.
As reported in The New York Times, the Big 5 publishers have not made their books available through Kindle Unlimited. That means that readers will quickly discover that many current titles–from blockbusters to highly touted literary newcomers–are unavailable with their subscription. Sure, they’ll be able to download indie titles to their heart’s content. However, readers looking for the latest by Stephen King or Lorrie Moore will be out of luck.
I’m thrilled to see the Big 5 taking a stand against Amazon, which is trying, in no uncertain terms (and with quite a bit of help from the Department of Justice, unfortunately), to create nothing less than a monopoly on books. Or, as enormously popular YA author John Green put it, “What’s ultimately at stake is whether Amazon is going to be able to freely and permanently bully publishers into eventual nonexistence.” The latest battle with Hachette, in which Amazon refused to ship books by Malcolm Gladwell, Robert Galbraith, and other big-name and not-so-big name authors, was just one more in a long line of tactics Amazon has employed to squeeze the life out of publishers. Readers were not amused.
Authors who rely on their books for part of their income simply cannot afford to give them away for next to nothing, as Amazon thinks we should. But readers, too, will eventually suffer. I don’t think we would have a Paul Auster or an Ian McEwan or Grace Paley or Alice Munro if they had started out in this publishing climate, earning pennies per book sold. Think of any successful literary writer who slowly built a following by putting out great books every few years. This model is simply no longer viable, thanks in large part to Amazon.
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I image that Amazon will make a big push to promote a few indie authors, as well as children’s and young adult titles (Scholastic books are available), and books published by Open Road Media. However, you won’t find “any of the top five current New York Times fiction bestsellers,” as Hayley Tsukayama points out in the Washington Post. And book lovers hoping to read Lorrie Moore or Lydia Davis, Alain de Bottom or Emma Donoghue, Herman Koch or Stephen King, and most of the books on any current must-read list compiled by anyone other than Amazon, will be sorely disappointed.
Because when you set down your Kindle and walk out your door, you may discover a bookstore where the booksellers have actually read the books they’re recommending, a bookstore that cares about readers, authors, and, yes, BOOKS.
And contrary to what Amazon wants you to believe, these booksellers are not luddites. The Kobo ereader, which you can pick up at many independent stores, has a gorgeous interface and more than million titles. To top it off, when you register your kobo with your favorite brick-and-mortar store, the store will receive a small commission on every ebook you purchase. Everyone wins. Authors. Readers. Publishers. The towns where bookstores invest money and goodwill.