“A dime at a time”: why does Amazon limit us to ten borrows at a time with Kindle Unlimited?
I’ve been a happy member of
since Amazon introduced it in mid-July last year (so it’s a bit over a year old at this point).
It’s what I call a “subser”: a subscription service. You pay a flat rate, and how much you read doesn’t affect that.
Why do I like it?
Interestingly, I’m not sure I’m saving money overall. The key difference is that I’m reading books which cost more than I might have paid for otherwise. In the old days, I’ve paid $100 for a single book. Now, I tend to read books which were free to me (I like 19th Century literature), that I got on sale for under, say, $3, or that were gifts.
That means that there are a lot of books which cost more than $3 which I wouldn’t read without KU.
I haven’t moved all of my reading into KU…I’ve enhanced what I read.
That also means that for me, it’s not about volume…how many books I read with KU. It’s about which ones I read.
That said, there are two of us actively using this account: my Significant Other is the, well, other one.🙂 We’ve had four books we are actively reading at once: two for each of us. By actively reading, for my SO that means having two on a plane…it’s a case of serial reading (finish one, start the next). I normally have several books going at the same time…I like to bounce between them.🙂
Why does the number matter?
Amazon gave Prime members the opportunity to pre-pay for KU…at a considerable discount.
Did we do that?
I’m confident that many people joined KU that day who might not have done so before.
They might also have jumped on it more precipitously than they might have. I don’t mean they made a bad decision…they just might not have researched it as thoroughly as they would have if they didn’t have the time pressure of a same day decision.
One of my regular readers and commenters, Man in the Middle, mentioned being surprised by one of the limitations of Kindle Unlimited: you can only have up to ten books out at a time.
I’m sure that’s a surprise to quite a few people who joined on Prime Day…so I thought it was worth expanding on my response.
Two things I want to get out of the way first.
I referred to it as the “dime at a time” rule…with a dime standing in for the number ten.🙂 I’m guessing some of my readers may not know…in the USA, a “dime” is our ten cent piece. It comes (indirectly) from the Latin meaning “tenth part” (it’s the tenth part of a dollar). “Decima” also gives us “decimate”…which contrary to the way it is usually used now, does mean “nearly wiped out”. It means “reduced by one tenth”. Taking a cue from our adult kid who is a linguist, I’ll say it “meant” that rather than “means”.🙂
Second, I’ve seen people on the Kindle boards question the use of the term “unlimited”, since there are limitations…even calling it false advertising. I think it reasonably communicates the product. You can’t read a book which hasn’t been written yet through KU: is that an unfair limitation?😉 You can’t read books which aren’t part of the program…there are a lot of limitations.
Okay, let’s talk the economics here (that’s your favorite part, right? When I get all mathy on you?).😉
Amazon pays publishers so you can have books to read in KU.
There are two types of publishers in this case.
There are publishers (and they might be just the author…if you make your books available to the public, you are a publisher) which use Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. Those publishers are paid by the page you read. It used to be that they got paid for the who book once you’d read ten percent, but now it’s pro-rated.
The other type of publisher is a traditional publisher (which I call a tradpub). We don’t know for sure how they get paid…and it may not be the same for all of them. It’s possible they are paid like a purchase. It’s also possible that they are paid a flat fee (like ten thousand dollars for a year, regardless of number of borrows).
Let’s work with the indies…the Big 5 of the USA trade (those are the kind of books you would have bought in a bookstore…not textbook and such) aren’t participating in KU yet (although I still think at least one may put at least some of their backlist titles into KU this year). Also, we know the numbers.😉
Well, sort of.
The amount that the KDP publishers get varies from month to month. They divide a pool of money, so how much each borrow gets depends on how many borrows there are. If the pool is ten million dollars and there are a total of ten million borrows (not just your book…all of the books in the program), each borrow gets you one dollar. If there were five million borrows, each borrow gets you $2…and so on.
That amount has been around a couple of dollars.
Let’s make this easy and call the pay out a penny a page read…a 250 page novel, read all the way through, gets a royalty of $2.50. That’s probably in the ballpark.
Amazon (without the pre-pay discount) is getting the money for 999 pages a month using that measurement: if we call it thirty days in a month, Amazon breaks even (not counting costs of sale) at about thirty-three pages read a day.
That sounds reasonable…committed readers may read more than that, casual readers (who may not be the best market for KU) typically read considerably fewer.
At thirty-three pages a day and 250 pages in a book, you finish a book about every seven and a half days…call it once a week, and that’s about four and a half books a month.
Of course, a lot of people want to have more than one book on their devices at the same time…I usually have about ten. Even in the case of novels, as I mentioned, I go from one to another. That’s even more true with non-fiction. It does seem okay to me that I can download ten a time if I want, and return one and get another one when I want. Unless I’m going on vacation somewhere where there is no wi-fi (as if!)😉 for a week or so, that works for me.
Here’s where it gets interesting…well, hopefully, more interesting.
The dime at a time limit isn’t per person…it’s per account.
If you have five people on your account, you still have that ten book limit…meaning you could each have two books at a time (on average).
That’s starting to get a bit tighter…but again, that’s not unreasonable to me.
How many people/devices can you have registered to your account?
That is unlimited!
Okay, okay…not literally unlimited. They might object if you had, oh, ten billion people on your account…since there aren’t that many people on the planet, and they might challenge the legitimacy of non-humans.😉
Also, and this is important, you can’t have you people on your account for commercial purposes. In other words, you can’t charge people to join your account and make a profit. It’s certainly okay to cost share…you just can’t be doing it as a business.
We’ll say you have…fifty people on your account.
Amazon would lose a lot on money on that!
You’d pay $9.99 for a month.
We’ll say all fifty people read on average thirty-three pages a day.
Amazon would pay out…$495 that month. Not a viable model.
Naturally, it would be unusual for someone to have fifty people on their account.
Also, there is likely a significant portion of KU users who use it hardly at all.
The low users subsidize the high users…but that can only go so far.
That’s why there has to be a limit to simultaneous borrows…and not one for sequential borrows. You can’t assign a novel to three people and have it read three times as quickly…well, you could, but most people wouldn’t.
One person reading a hundred pages a day loses Amazon money on that KU subscription…but that would be less of a problem than twenty people on the same account reading 33 pages a day.
Hope that helps explain it…having several people on your KU account will usually give you more benefit than having one, but having fifteen won’t.
What do you think? What is your favorite thing about KU? How many Kindle books do you have on your device? Do you find the dime at a time rule limiting? If you don’t have KU, why not? Do you have other KU questions? Feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post.
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