KDP Select, Kindle Unlimited, and Kindle Lending Programs Explained

Updated on June 15, 2018
heidithorne profile image

Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing expert, nonfiction book editor, author of 21+ books and eBooks, and a former trade newspaper editor.

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Self publishing eBooks on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform is pretty straightforward and easy. What’s sometimes not so easy is figuring 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.

So 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, Free Book Promotions, Kindle Unlimited, and Kindle Online Lending Library. 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 direct 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. 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 a 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 if they read your book through the KU program. 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?

What is the Kindle Online Lending Library?

The Kindle Online Lending Library (KOLL) program is open to Amazon Prime members. Prime members who are Kindle owners are allowed to read one Kindle eBook title for free each month. They can take as long as they want to read that one eBook, but can only have access to one title per month.

As with Kindle Unlimited, only authors whose eBooks are in the KDP Select program get a share of royalties from the Global Fund for any eBooks Prime members read from the KOLL. Also as with KU, royalties are figured based on the KENP pages read during the first read of the eBook only, and no re-read pages are included in the total.

What is Kindle Book Lending (or Lending for Kindle)?

Kindle Book Lending is NOT the same as the Kindle Online 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, 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.

Disclaimer: Both the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparation of this information. No representations or warranties for its contents, either expressed or implied, are offered or allowed and both parties disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for your particular purpose. The advice and strategies presented herein may not be suitable for you, your situation or business. Consult with a professional advisor where and when appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential or punitive, arising from or relating to your reliance on this information.

Questions & Answers

    © 2017 Heidi Thorne

    Comments

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    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      2 months ago from Chicago Area

      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 profile image

      Kay Near 

      2 months ago

      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!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      6 months ago from Chicago Area

      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 profile image

      Natalie Frank 

      6 months ago from Chicago, IL

      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.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 months ago from Chicago Area

      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 profile image

      FlourishAnyway 

      7 months ago from USA

      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 profile image

      Venkatachari M 

      7 months ago from Hyderabad, India

      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.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      7 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the information, Heidi. The details definitely sound complicated. Like Bill, I'm going to save the information for future reference.

    • heidithorne profile imageAUTHOR

      Heidi Thorne 

      7 months ago from Chicago Area

      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!

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      7 months ago from Olympia, WA

      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!

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