KU titles dominate paid bestseller list

KU titles dominate paid bestseller list

One of my regular readers and commenters, Tom Semple, noted that there seemed to be a lot of Kindle Unlimited titles on the Amazon Kindle bestseller list.

The books in

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

can be borrowed by customers who pay $9.99 a month for the service (although there is a free month available right now). The publishers are compensated with a royalty based on when the customer has read 10% of the book.

Would that count as a sale for the paid bestseller list (as opposed to the free list)?

I have asked Amazon, but haven’t heard back yet…and they might not reveal that information (I’m sure they wouldn’t be obligated to do so).

So, I thought I’d take a look at the paid and free bestseller lists, and see how KU titles are represented.

Let’s start with the paid list. I’ll indicate if it is KU or not, and if there is an icon (there isn’t alway) indicating if it has been rising or falling:

  1. KU, rising
  2. KU, none
  3. KU, rising
  4. Not KU, falling
  5. KU, none
  6. KU, rising
  7. Not KU, falling
  8. KU, rising
  9. Not KU, rising
  10. Not KU, falling (recent freebie)
  11. Not KU, falling
  12. Not KU, falling
  13. KU, falling
  14. Not KU, falling
  15. Not KU, falling
  16. KU, falling
  17. Not KU, none
  18. KU, rising
  19. KU, rising
  20. Not KU, falling

Well, that’s pretty obvious!

Seven books are shown as rising…and six of them are KU!

It certainly suggests that KU books are pushing traditionally published (by places other than Amazon) down the Kindle paid bestseller list.

That’s not good for discovery for the tradpubs (traditional publishers)!

The Goldfinch (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) by Donna Tartt (a Pulitzer Prize winning novel) is down to #11.

How does it look on the free list?

  1. KU
  2. KU
  3. KU
  4. Not KU
  5. KU
  6. KU
  7. KU
  8. KU
  9. Not KU
  10. Not KU
  11. Not KU
  12. Not KU
  13. Not KU
  14. Not KU
  15. KU
  16. Not KU
  17. KU
  18. KU
  19. Not KU
  20. KU

Interesting that so many more of the freebies are not Kindle Unlimited…no icons for rising and falling on that list that I saw.

I also have to tell you: the list order changed while I was compiling the second list: it’s done every hour. I think it’s a pretty good representation, though.

My guess is that KU counts as sales (at least at the ten percent point), and not as freebies.

It would be possible that the initial KU download is a freebie “sale” and the 10% point is a paid sale, but I doubt that.

The ones that are not KU on the free list may not be in KDP Select, meaning that they aren’t exclusive to Amazon, and also would not be available through the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

Indies and Amazon tradpubs have been pretty well represented on the paid bestseller list before, but this does really look different to me…especially with the trending indicators being what they are.

If KU books really are causing even a relative drop on the Kindle store bestseller lists for tradpubs, there has to be some worrying going on at the Big Five, and some high fiving at Amazon.

I may look at this in more depth later, and it’s possible that there is an initial rush to borrow from the KU which may slow down (especially if there doesn’t continue to be a first free month available), but this really could be seen as a turning point for publishing.

If this looks like a significant enough trend, it might even give Amazon leverage in dealing with Hachette, and the with the other publishers.

It wouldn’t be enough to end anything…but it could portend some real changes in readers acquisition habits.

Thanks for suggesting I look at this, Tom!

Update: Amazon has responded to my inquiry, and it confirms (and clarifies) what I thought was probably happening:


If your book is borrowed from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library or Kindle Unlimited, the borrow will affect your book’s sales rank the same way a normal sale would.

When a Kindle Unlimited customer chooses your book for the first time and reads more than 10% of it, their choice qualifies as a borrow and toward royalty payment for you. Customers can always read your book again, as many times as they like, but that won’t qualify toward your royalty payments. You can even choose your own book and receive one royalty payment—as long as you’re reading it only for the first time, and read more than 10% of it.

These requirements apply to books in both the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library and Kindle Unlimited.”

That means that KU and the KOLL are affecting the paid bestseller list and not the free bestseller list. The impact on the paid bestseller list is significant and will add significant momentum to the “discovery of disruption”, to coin a phrase.

People will continue to do things the way they usually do things, unless something changes them. As a trainer, that’s a major part of the challenge of my profession.

Are people trained to buy things from major publishers? I’d argue “no”: they are trained to buy things in certain places and certain ways…and that includes getting them from the bestseller list.

I don’t think most people look at the top ten bestsellers, and then look at the publisher to make a buying decision. Yes, I do think they look at authors, but I would guess that buying an interesting title from the top ten is a common purchasing habit for folks.

If KU disrupts the top ten, that will disproportionalize the non-tradpubs versus the tradpubs…which will in turn tend to move the former up the lists. It becomes a “virtuous cycle” for Amazon and indies…the more books on the bestseller list due to KU means that more of those books will be bought outside of the KU…which will make them again more likely to be on the bestseller list, which means…well, you get the idea.

Sure you want to ignore this, Big Five? I go back to what I suggested before: we may see non-canonical works (short stories, reference works) to major series in the KU, with the main books staying outside of it. That gives the tradpubs discovery (and in a big way…how many people would borrow a story about Grandma Mazur from Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series…when she was in college? I’m guessing that would sit right on the top of the KU list. It wouldn’t have to be long…if you don’t pay additionally for it, who cares if it is ten “pages” long?), and could give Amazon exactly the kind of material it wants in KU. With that, they could even work out exclusivity…Janet Evanovich could indie publish it with the author’s tradpub’s tacit approval.

What do you think? Are you borrowing books from Kindle Unlimited? Have you borrowed when you would otherwise have bought a book (the same one or a different one) from a tradpub? What will be the “stickiness” of KU? In other words, what percentage of people who try the free month will keep it to pay for at least one month? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

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* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.



6 Responses to “KU titles dominate paid bestseller list”

  1. Connie Abbitt Says:

    I have yet to figure out how to borrow one!

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Connie!

      If you’ve signed up for

      Kindle Unlimited

      you should see a button that says

      Read for Free

      on the Amazon product page for books which are part of Kindle Unlimited (shopping in a browser). Tap or click that button, and you should be good. I haven’t had a problem with it. Are you not seeing the button?

  2. Edward Boyhan Says:

    I’m really confused 😀 . I haven’t used KOLL much, but recently I borrowed a book just before KU, and that was fine. The book appeared on my home page, and I could put it into a cloud collection. Then when I finished with it, I returned it — the title then reappeared on my home page as “[Returned] Title of book” — I long pressed on this and selected add to collections; picked my “already read” collection, and I got the message that this item would NOT be shared with my cloud collections — although it appeared in the “already read” collection on my device.

    Then I went to see what I could borrow next went to the menu item to browse KOLL books on my PW2. Breadcrumb said I was in the Koll library, but every book there had a “Kindle Unlimited” tag on it. Selecting any title takes me to a KU sign-up page — I can’t find any way to get into KOLL anymore — it’s as if KU has completely overlaid KOLL.

    Similarly in the Kindle book store on an individual book page it will say buy for $x.xx or read for free. If I pick read for free, I’m again taken to a KU sign-up page. Does KU have a category of “free” books that are outside the $9.99 monthly fee? Or is the read for free button misleading? BTW that read for free button used to indicate if the title was KOLL eligible.

    None of the big five tradpubs are participating in KU — most of the titles are from KDP. One indie author commented on John Scalzi’s (former head of SFFWA) blog that payment to KDP authors under KU would be the same as under KOLL — I don’t understand that — he also said that all KDP KOLL participants were given the opportunity before KU started up to withdraw from KOLL/KU — this author took them up on it — as he had not had a single borrow while under KOLL. John Scalzi said the decision to participate in KU was not his but his publisher’s (MacMillan), but even if it was his decision, he probably would not participate.

    Seems like KOLL is no longer accessible — I get the impression that perhaps they are trying to combine KOLL and KU?

    KU seems a lot like a cellular calling plan — of benefit to some, but not all — depends on your ability to predict future usage. Most will get that guess wrong, and — wrong guesses will often be to the benefit of the service provider. Another way to look at it is that low frequency subscribers are subsidizing high frequency subscribers.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      What you are seeing is what I would expect you to be seeing, based on what I reported Amazon told me in this post:


      Basically what has happened, according to Amazon (and I asked them a detailed question) is that, if you are a KOLL member who is not eligible for a loan right now (because you’ve already borrowed a book this calendar month), you’ll see the KU “Read for Free” button instead of the KOLL “Borrow for Free”.

      According to them, it works like this:

      A Prime member and eligible for a KOLL loan will see “Borrow for Free” button on Prime eligible titles
      A Prime member who has hit the KOLL limit will see “Read for Free” with KU eligible titles
      Someone who is neither a Prime nor a KU member will see “Read for Free” with KU on KU titles which are also Prime titles, and will see “Borrow for Free” with Prime on Prime titles which are non-KU titles
      Quoting Amazon: “For the E-readers and Kindle Fires, you’ll see the above, except for Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite users will see the “Read for Free” button regardless of their current KOLL status.”

      It sounds like you returned your KOLL borrow for July, meaning that you aren’t eligible to borrow another KOLL book right now (not for a few days…August 1st). So, you are correct: at this point, KU overlays the KOLL for you, since you can’t use the KOLL right now.

      That does make it harder to research KOLL borrows ahead of time, but it doesn’t change your ability to actually borrow books.

      I also addressed the payments in that post. The payment structure for KU for indies using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (and they’ll be part of KDP Select for this) are getting paid basically the same way as KOLL borrows. They split a pool each month, getting a share based on the number of borrows they have.

      The KU uses that same pool, with the difference that they don’t qualify for the royalty until 10% of the book has been read (well, until Amazon knows they’ve read ten percent of the book).

      All subsers (subscription services) without limits have low utilizers subsidizing high utilizers…even a gym membership works that way. It’s interesting, because traditional publishing works the other way: wildly popular mass market books enable publishers to do targeted micro-market books, and to take chances on books which may or may not succeed.

      • Edward Boyhan Says:

        Thanks for your answer — I had wondered whether I was still within my monthly window.

        After I posted this, I realized it perhaps would have been better as a comment to your 7/23/14 post where you discussed the KU in detail rather than here — sorry about that 😉

        Still their behavior is confusing, and IMO tends to deprecate KOLL. Why couldn’t they put up separate KOLL and KU buttons for Prime subscribers, and give an informative message like “You need to wait until mm/dd/yy to next borrow” or something?

        Since so much of the KU/KOLL infrastructure is shared, I wonder why they don’t merge the two, and incentivize Prime members to subscribe to KU. One way this could work is let Prime members borrow a title as for KOLL now. If they attempt to borrow a second title tell them it’ll cost $0.99 to do so (and $0.99 for each additional borrow until they reach $9.99 — a month’s KU payment). To incentivize Prime members perhaps the additional borrow charge could be reduced — say $0.49 — still top out at 10 borrows, but at half the cost of a non-Prime KU subscription. Also the ability for Prime members to participate in KU on a month to month title by title basis could be an attractive additional Prime feature.

        I don’t know how this would sit with Amazon’s Prime/KOLL/KU business modelling — what do you think?

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Edward!

        No problem! A blog is like a swiftly moving river (at least this one is), and sometimes you might want to hail one boat and end up being heard by another. 😉

        I can’t see Amazon doing piece charges for borrows to Prime members…one of the joys of Prime is being able to pay a set fee (which is also an attraction of KU)…although they do charge for some faster kinds of shipping.

        My guess is that they may want to promote Prime members joining KU right now. It’s possible that after the first trial months are over, they’ll just give KU to Prime members, or possibly tier it in some way (not on a piece by piece basis…they could do have a higher annual fee). Another way to go would be to apply KU payments to the annual Prime fee. Yes, that might work well! It would be a way to get KU early adopters to switch to Prime, which is what Amazon really wants, in my opinion.

        I do think that the KOLL will eventually go away. It may be that they need contracts to finish for that before they kill it, though.

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