Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
Kindle Direct Publishing Demystified
Self-publishing eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform is pretty straightforward and easy, but it can be hard to figure out where you stand as an author with all the various Kindle programs. You may wonder if you’ll get paid and even if you have any choice in the matter.
Let me break it down for you.
What Is KDP Select?
At the heart of this discussion is the KDP Select program. KDP Select offers authors the opportunity to participate in promotional programs such as Kindle Countdown Deals and Free Book Promotions, as well as Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners' Lending Library royalty shares. These can help build sales, royalties, and visibility through Amazon and its Kindle Store.
Participation in the KDP Select program for any Kindle eBook title is optional, and it does require exclusivity. What that means is that you cannot sell your eBook direct to buyers on your website, blog, or any other third-party site. Of course, you can include links to your eBooks on Amazon (I’m sure they want you to do that!). You just can’t sell them directly to buyers (as PDFs, downloads, etc.) through non-Amazon sites.
As well, participation in KDP Select is by title. So you can pick and choose which of your eBooks you want to have in the program. Participation is also for a 90-day period of time, giving you the opportunity to opt out or renew at the end of the period. You can also choose to have a title renew its KDP Select status automatically, but even that auto-renewal can be cancelled if you choose in the future.
What Is Kindle Unlimited?
The Kindle Unlimited (KU) program is an Amazon subscription program that allows subscribers to read an unlimited number of eBooks for a monthly fee. KU subscribers can borrow a maximum of 10 titles at any given time, with no due dates, and the ability to get another book when one is returned... just like a library. So how does this impact self-published KDP authors?
Authors who publish on KDP and have eBook titles participating in KDP Select are eligible to receive a share of royalties from Amazon’s KDP Select Global Fund. The Global Fund is an amount of money that Amazon sets aside to pay out royalties to KDP authors enrolled in KDP Select. It was set up as an incentive to encourage authors to enroll in the program. The total fund amount changes monthly, and payouts are dependent on a variety of factors that are beyond the control of authors.
What royalties do you get? Well, it depends on the amount in the Global Fund, uncontrollable factors such as exchange rates, and how many pages the KU subscribers read. Since eBooks don’t have “pages” as would be understood for print books, Amazon has devised the KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) metric to figure out how much a KU subscriber has read of your eBook. You will only receive royalties based on how many pages the subscriber reads the first time he reads the book. So if he reads only 10 KENP pages when he first opens the book, you’ll only get royalties on those 10 pages, not the possibly hundreds of other pages in your book that he'll read sometime later. Re-read pages are also not included in the total.
Don’t want to have your eBooks in KDP Select? Well, no KU royalties for you. Sure, you’ll still get your regular royalties from actual sales of your eBook title. You just won’t get any Global Fund royalty because your book isn't in the KU program. That's certainly an incentive to participate in KDP Select, which, of course, requires your eBook to be exclusive to the Kindle Store.
You can imagine that some authors find all this troubling with good reason. But today’s consumers are becoming accustomed to subscription programs for everything from software to shavers to soup. So are you going to go with the trend or lose out on royalties?
How Many KENP Pages Are in Your Kindle eBook?
You can't figure out how many KENP pages (sometimes noted as KENPC for Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count) are in your book by yourself. Amazon's system figures that out based on your uploaded manuscript.
Your KENP page count is not the same number of pages that may be showing on your Kindle or print book's product page. In the following screenshot, you'll see that the KENP read for my book, How to Network, is 126. However, on the book's product page on Amazon, it shows 114 print pages.
You can see what your Kindle eBook's KENP page count is by going to your Bookshelf in KDP and clicking the "Promote and Advertise" button for your title.
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What Was the Kindle Owners' Lending Library?
The Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL) was a program that launched around 2011 and allowed Kindle owners to read one Kindle eBook title for free each month. It was not available for the Kindle app, just on Kindle devices. Members could take as long as they wanted to read that one eBook but could only have access to one title per month.
On January 4, 2021, Amazon discontinued the KOLL program. Though not confirmed, my guess is that this was discontinued since the Kindle eBook market is now very mature. Incentives are no longer required to build market adoption.
As with Kindle Unlimited, only authors whose eBooks were in the KDP Select program got a share of royalties from the Global Fund for KOLL reads. Also, as with KU, royalties were figured based on the KENP pages read during the first read of the eBook only, and no re-read pages were included in the total. Now that the program has ended, KDP will show historical royalties earned from KOLL reads prior to January 4th, 2021 only.
What Is Amazon Prime Reading?
Further confusing the Kindle lending issue was the introduction of the Prime Reading program. This is a book and content borrowing program exclusively for Amazon Prime members.
With Prime Reading, members and adults in the Amazon Prime member's household can each borrow up to 10 titles at a time from the Prime Reading catalog for Kindle. Like KOLL, they can return books when they're done to access another one. However, unlike KOLL, Prime members and eligible members in their household don't have to have a Kindle device; they can access this content with the Kindle app.
Unlike KU and KOLL, authors and publishers do not get a share of the Global Fund royalties. What? That's not a big deal because it's unlikely that KDP self-published authors' titles will be a part of the Prime Reading program. The titles in Prime Reading are specially selected by Amazon and do not include most titles available through KU. For example, as of this writing, there are a few thousand titles in the Prime Reading catalog versus over 1 million in KU. From what I've read in author forums and blogs online, authors' and publishers' titles featured in Prime Reading may have other compensation arrangements with Amazon.
What Is Kindle Book Lending (Or Lending for Kindle)?
Kindle Book Lending is not the same as the Kindle Owners' Lending Library! Here's how it's different.
Buyers who purchase Kindle eBooks are allowed to lend them to family and friends for a 14-day period. During that 14-day period, the original buyer does not have access to the title. This lending privilege is just for actually purchased titles; in other words, it's not for KU or KOLL programs. All eBook titles published on the KDP platform are enrolled in the Kindle Book Lending program automatically.
Of concern for authors is that titles shared through Kindle Book Lending do not receive any royalties of any kind. There is a somewhat confusing rule that Kindle eBooks in the 35 percent royalty level can opt out of this lending program, but those in the 70 percent royalty level cannot. This rule is no doubt employed to help recoup sales revenues Amazon loses through lending. Also, the good news for both you and Amazon is that each Kindle eBook can only be loaned one time by a Kindle eBook buyer. But if the buyer has hundreds of eBooks on his Kindle...well, he's eligible for lots of lending.
But you shouldn't really be surprised at not getting anything for this lending program. Why? Because the same thing has been going on for print books for centuries—literally! When you buy a print book, then loan it to your friend, the author and publisher don't get anything extra for your friend's reading of the book. And your friend is now unlikely to buy the book. Plus, you or your friend could subsequently loan a print book to even more people, further decreasing the chances for additional royalties and revenues for the author. Admit it, you yourself have loaned print books (maybe even eBooks!) to others. And then there's this thing called a public library (you're familiar with that, I trust) where a book could get loaned and read hundreds of times without the author getting another dime. So don't get all righteous and upset about it now that you're on the author end of the equation.
I think why this practice emotionally hurts Kindle eBook authors more is that they've already had to reduce the price of the eBook up to half or more of the print price, even though it's the exact same content. While they may accept the sharing that goes on, they don't feel they'll ever receive enough in royalties to account for lost sales due to the free loaning to others.
Is It Still Worth Self-Publishing on KDP?
While these programs are good for readers, they may not always be the most beneficial for authors, except in that they expand the reading (not necessarily buying) audience for your work. This is not to discourage you from publishing on KDP or Amazon! They are the leading publishing players in today’s marketplace. Rather, now that you understand how these programs can impact you, you can make more informed decisions on your investments in self-publishing and marketing your Kindle eBooks.
Of course, for full and current terms and conditions (which are always subject to change) for all these Amazon and Kindle programs, see the Amazon and KDP websites.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Questions & Answers
Question: Is there there also download fees applied to authors/creators of eBooks based on the file size when selling through the KDP Select programs (lending Library and Unlimited)?
Answer: KDP Select's KU/KOLL programs split a royalty fund with authors based on number of pages read, not file size. I'm sure you're questioning since the KU/KOLL royalties seem so small, but you have to remember that the Global Fund is split among maybe millions of authors. I know that might be discouraging, but it's better than getting nothing.
Question: Are there any download fees charges as per the normal Kindle program, and second what if one has, say, only 20 pages compared to other authors who may have 200 pages? Is there a set fee per page? Do some with 20 pages make a lot less than someone with 200 pages (that have been read in the 1st opening of course)?
Answer: By the "normal" Kindle program, I presume you mean regular book sales (NOT Kindle Unlimited, nor Kindle Online Lending Library). Whether you have the titles enrolled with KDP Select or not, the file size download fee (delivery cost) applies. The fee is based on the megabyte file size for the book. The price for the download per megabyte varies by country. In the United States, it's currently $0.15/MB. So look at your file size to determine what that would be. This only applies only if you've chosen to receive the 70% royalty rate; also note that the 70% royalty rate is only available for eBooks that are $2.99 and above. If your book is in the 35% royalty rate, there are no delivery costs. The delivery costs are deducted from your royalty. For full and current terms, visit: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G200634500...
So, yes, for regular book sales, the delivery costs go up as the size of the eBook file goes up.
On Kindle Unlimited/Kindle Online Lending Library (KU/KOLL) royalties, it's a different story. One, your book title has to be enrolled in KDP Select which requires selling it exclusively on Amazon. Two, you receive a share of the Global Fund based on the number of pages the reader reads the first time he opens the book. If he reads only a few pages, you'll only get paid for those few pages, regardless of whether he goes back to finish the book later. So it doesn't matter how many pages your book is. Your royalty share of the Global Fund depends on the reader's behavior. Sorry! I know that's disappointing.
Also, the KU/KOLL "pages" are determined by the KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Page) count. You also have no control over how that is calculated.
© 2017 Heidi Thorne
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on May 17, 2018:
Hi Kay! Yep, your non-exclusive books will be available through KU and KOLL, even though you'll receive no royalties. Bummer!
The Kindle Lending Program (for readers to share with other readers) does require your participation if you want to get the 70% royalty for your eBooks that are eligible for that royalty rate.
I know this can be disheartening for authors. But it goes with the Amazon territory.
Thanks for reading and asking for clarification! Have a wonderful day!
Kay Near on May 16, 2018:
Heidi, thank you for the great information! I am not exclusive to KDP (and so not eligible for KDP Select) and, if I understand correctly, my books must be available via KU and KOLL (although I won't receive any royalties for them), and also must be in the Kindle Book Lending program if I want to continue getting 70% royalties for book sales--is that correct? Cheers!
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 06, 2018:
Hi again Natalie! Agreed, there are so many rules and such for these programs, it's hard to keep them all straight. Ugh.
The only program that involves actually purchasing the book is Kindle Book Lending. If the person purchases the eBook, they can lend it to others. Under Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Online Lending Library, only the KU subscriber or the KOLL Amazon Prime member can read the eBook.
Enrolling a title under KDP Select is the only way you'll be able to get royalties from the KU or KOLL reads (and then it's only the pages they read in the first opening of the book). KDP Select also allows you to offer Kindle Countdown Deals and Free eBook Promos. The downside is that it requires exclusivity, meaning that you can't sell it direct to customers and/or on a non-Amazon bookselling site.
Does that help? If not, let me know and I'll do my best to sort it all out.
Thanks for asking some questions that other authors may have, too. Have a great weekend!
Natalie Frank from Chicago, IL on January 05, 2018:
I am working on a couple of novels I am considering self publishing on Amazon. This helps clarify somewhat but I still find it a bit confusing as to which programs involve the person actually purchasing the ebook vs. not. The Select, Unlimited and Lending programs allow the person to read the book for a certain amount of time but not keep a copy of it indefinitely while purchasing it means they keep a copy? With purchasing being a higher return for the author? Is Select and exclusivity required for all the other programs? Thanks for this article! It helps a lot.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 11, 2017:
Flourish, I do participate in KDP Select so I can get something from the KU/KOLL programs. Lately I've noticed that's where the "sales" activity (if you can call it that) is occurring. Thanks for asking and have a great day!
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 11, 2017:
Venkatachari, sorry to hear you haven't gotten the sales you've wanted from your Kindle eBook. But since Economics can be an evergreen topic, it might make some sales over time. Thanks for stopping by and good luck with the paperback edition!
FlourishAnyway from USA on December 10, 2017:
Given the pros and cons of these programs, do you mind sharing which ones you choose to participate in and which ones you pass on?
Venkatachari M from Hyderabad, India on December 10, 2017:
Very great information provided by you here. I have some idea of it. But, not this much elaborate and precise knowledge. Thanks for providing these great insights. I have one Kindle Book published which didn't sell a single copy (on Economics). I am revising a bit of it to get it into a paperback edition also. Your information is of much worth for me.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 09, 2017:
Hi, Linda! I think it's complicated, too! I can't even imagine the back-end computations and monitoring that Amazon has to do for these programs. Yikes! Anyway, thanks for reading and keeping it for reference. Have a great pre-holiday weekend!
Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on December 08, 2017:
Thanks for sharing the information, Heidi. The details definitely sound complicated. Like Bill, I'm going to save the information for future reference.
Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on December 08, 2017:
Howdy, Bill! As simple as KDP "seems" to be, it is truly a complicated infrastructure. Glad I could provide a for-someday-when-needed reference for your file. Thanks for checking in and you, too, have a great pre-holiday weekend!
Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on December 08, 2017:
Great summary, Heidi, of a rather complicated topic. This heads directly to my Heidi File in case I need clarification in the future. Until then, wishing you a fantastic weekend!