Sunday, January 18, 2015

Of shawls and sales and Kindle Unlimited.

First off this week, since I know you're all dying to know: Yes, I did receive the black yarn as promised, and yes, I did finish the Eden Prairie shawl. It turned out spectacularly well, if I do say so myself. Here's the picture of the finished product, in case you missed it when I posted it on Facebook.

And if you want all the details, including a link to the pattern, here's my Eden Prairie project page on Ravelry.

The shawl came out so well, in fact, that I'm toying with the idea of modifying the pattern to make a blanket or throw with the same idea. It's pretty far down on my list of priorities, though, and I will probably come to my senses before I buy the yarn.

There's been a fair amount of weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth in the indie world lately over Kindle Unlimited, a feature Amazon instituted a few months back. The Zon envisioned it as their answer to Oyster or Scribd. Basically, readers pay Amazon about ten bucks a month, and in return they get unlimited borrowing privileges for every book in the program -- as many books as you want at a time, for however long you want to borrow them.

The program has some drawbacks. For one thing, it's obviously not a good deal unless you read a lot. For another, at least initially, a number of traditional publishers were unwilling to opt their books into the program.

Indies didn't have a choice. If your book was enrolled in Kindle Select, Amazon opted it into Kindle Unlimited. When some indie authors complained, the Zon allowed us a one-time opportunity to opt our previously-enrolled-in-Select books out of KU. However, at this point, if you put a book in Select, it will be in KU, period.

At first, it wasn't such a bad deal. Amazon has set aside a separate pot of money for borrows. At the end of each month, they announce how much money they'll put in the pot for borrows during the previous month, as well as how much each borrow was worth that month.

Before KU, the only way to get a piece of that fund was if a reader with an Amazon Prime membership borrowed your book. Prime members are allowed to borrow one book per month (along with all the other Prime perks, including free two-day shipping and free streaming movies). Back then, a borrow was worth about two bucks a book to the author -- which is more than twice what you could get as a royalty on a 99-cent book if the reader just out-and-out bought it.

But after KU was instituted, that per-borrow payout began to drop -- until a borrow paid just $1.33 in October.

At that point, the anti-Amazon faction started howling about how the Zon had finally turned on indies. Some indie authors who had been making a living from their books found that Kindle Unlimited borrows were gutting their sales. Some said they planned to pull their books out of Select. Then Joe Konrath mentioned, almost offhand, in a comment on one of his own blog posts that he was evaluating whether to pull out. Konrath has been an Amazon cheerleader since the inception of KDP, so an admission that he's evaluating his participation in Select was big news indeed.

The noise got loud enough that I wrote a column about Kindle Unlimited borrows for Indies Unlimited last month. My fellow IU minion Martin Crosbie followed up with his own take this past week. Martin intends to let his books stay in Select for now, even though his earnings, too, have taken a hit with the advent of KU.

I'm planning to let mine ride for now, as well, for three reasons:

1. The payout-per-borrow is trending back up. Since the low of $1.33 in October, Amazon raised the amount to $1.39 in November. Last month it went up to $1.43. To me, that's a sign that the Zon realized they'd taken the per-borrow rate too low. I expect further rate juggling over the next few months. It may never go back into $2-per-book territory, but I don't think we'll see $1.33 again any time soon.
2. A lot of authors talk about the wisdom of not having all of your eggs in one basket. To that end, I have only a few things in Select, so there are only a few books of mine that KU readers can borrow: the Pipe Woman Chronicles Omnibus, the Land Sea Sky Trilogy, my short story called Lulie and, for right now, Seasons of the Fool. Everything else, including the individual books of each series, are available all over.
3. Frankly, my sales were never so robust that I could turn down money, whether from a borrow or a sale.

I created the omnibus editions for the express purpose of putting them in Select, so I expect I'll leave them there, no matter what. Seasons has another two months in Select before I can move it out. (Enrollment periods for Select are in 90-day increments.) I'm planning to keep an eye on the borrow rate and the per-borrow payout, and I'll decide at the end of next month whether to release the book to other markets or leave it in Select for another 90 days.

And in the meantime, I'm going to keep writing.

These moments of borrowed blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell.

No comments: