“A dime at a time”: why does Amazon limit us to ten borrows at a time with Kindle Unlimited?

“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

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

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?


Prime Day

Amazon gave Prime members the opportunity to pre-pay for KU…at a considerable discount.

Did we do that?

You betcha! 🙂

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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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.

22 Responses to ““A dime at a time”: why does Amazon limit us to ten borrows at a time with Kindle Unlimited?”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    How many books do I have on my Kindle? Which Kindle? I have 5 Kindles with different amounts of books, though the same books may appear on more than one Kindle. On the Kindle I read most often, I have 237 items. Most are books. There are 3blogs, one magazine with several back issues, abd 5 games. Five of those are KU books. I’m actively reading 3 of the KU books. The other two are on my “next up” list. I’ve discovered that books that are on the KU list when you borrow them don’t always stay on the KU list, but until you return them, they will count as borrows, and those backups are ones I wanted to make sure didn’t revert back to full price.

    I tend to have a talent for picking out very long books for my KU borrows, so quite a few of them have taken me awhile to read. I’m still reading the second “These are the Voyages” book, which is my oldest borrow. After I read a chapter, I watch the episode. Financially it might have been more sensible to buy than to borrow, but like you I read more than one book at a time, so other books have come and gone more quickly.

    I hope eventually the major publishing companies realize that KU is a great way for readers to discover new favorite authors. Offer a few of the author’s earlier books for people to discover and you’ve generated sales for the author’s remaining books. I’ve already discovered two authors I would probably never have tried if I’d had to pay for those first books. In fact, I used my breezefall settlement credit to buy the sequel to a book I’d borrowed from KU. That book was priced near $14, so I don’t think I would have purchased it if I hadn’t gotten the settlement credit. The other author’s books are all at the $9.99 price point or lower, and two of them have been recent KDD offerings, so I’ve been buying those. I will eventually read all of her books.

    Since I’m retired, I probably read way more than the average reader. I buy more books than I borrow.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Your point on the tradpubs putting older books into KU is exactly what I mean by their backlist titles. The backlist books are the ones that would be in the back of the publisher’s catalog I would get when I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager. The front of the book would have new releases (and maybe something like a tie-in to a movie). The backlist might just pretty much the title and the author…you don’t need more than that for a book that’s been around for decades. 🙂 Those older books are also part of what is called the “long tail”.

      I think we’ll see one of the Big 5 put some of their backlist into KU this year. They are in some of the other subsers. I also think we may see them do some things like short stories in KU which tie into the series they want to sell.

      I do want to clarify: some major publishers are in KU, like Scholastic. It’s the Big 5 that aren’t. 🙂

      I do understand the idea of borrowing a book to lock it into KU…although I don’t think that many go out (certainly, though, some do).

  2. Karin Says:

    I have 7 Kindles and I have two friends on my account (my family members use one of the 7 Kindles), I typically keep over 200 books on each of my Kindles.

    I keep 10 Kindle Unlimited titles on my account all the time, as I finish one, I replace it with another title. There are two things that I love about the Unlimited program. One: I can take my time reading the books, there is (at this point) no time limit for the borrows, unlike a library. I have had a couple of books out for over 5 months. Two: There are some authors that have all their titles on KU, and I can marathon their books, one right after the other. I might not have read those books if I had been paying full price for them.

    • Lady Galaxy Says:

      One of my Kindles is a loaner Kindle as well. It’s currently with a friend who injured her foot and is unable to get around much right now. She likes mysteries where cats are involved (an interest we share) so I loaded all my cat mysteries onto the loaner Kindle for her to read. She’s never had a computer, so she was a little concerned about the technology, but she’s managing the Kindle just fine.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Karin!

      Do the ten books which you have all the time seem like a reasonable value for your $9.99 a month?

      I agree with you on keeping books out…I have had some for a long time as well.

      Your last point is an excellent one. Let’s say there are ten books in KU, and the latest book is not. Do you think you would buy the eleventh, or wait to see if it showed up in KU later?

      • Karin Says:

        Yes, the 9.99 is reasonable because my friends read the books along with me (and request the next books as well). There are months that we read 4 or 5 books in the KU. I think 2 – 3 dollars a book is definitely worth it. I love the fact that the author (or whoever has published it), does get some money from it. My guess authors are divided about whether it is worth it to them.

        Yes, I would go on to buy a book at regular price if I liked the previous books in the series (I have to admit, that if it is over $7, I would have to think about it a bit).

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Karin!

        Great! I’m glad you are satisfied with that, and the fact that you would buy another book is exactly the way I think it will work in the next few years. The majority of books read will be through subsers…and then other books will be bought.

  3. Tom Semple Says:

    I keep at most only about a couple of dozen books on each of my active Kindle-reading devices. These include books in my ‘Current Reading’ collection, which includes audiobooks and magazine issues. A couple of these are borrowed from public library, and those tend to get highest priority as I like to finish them within the 21 day borrowing period. About four from KU, and another four from my backlog of purchased content, plus an audiobook or two. And the rest are books I happened to purchase with that device. I generally have other KU titles which I catch and release after partially reading them (as reference books or just to sample). I have another subscription for technology books and videos (Safari Books Online) that is ‘all you can eat’, and so no longer purchase anything of that ilk. I have a Scribd account, but have never signed up for a subscription, and doubt very much that I have any capacity to derive value from one.

    I like having all the options. Overall, I think I’m spending less than I was before adding the two subscriptions I’m paying for (or at least not much more, and with much more flexibility). In a world where subscription service offered ‘everything’ (or at least some semblance thereof) I’d probably go with that, up to

    One thing that theoretically would make KU a better value would be if it extended to Family Library (as does KOLL and anything borrowed from the library). And they should at least give people with both Prime and KU the ability to choose KOLL or KU borrowing when those are both options.

    • Lady Galaxy Says:

      I totally agree with choice of KOLL or KU. I’ve only managed to snag 3 KOLL books since I joined KU. If they can’t allow both, then it would be really nice if they gave prime members some sort of discount on KU.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        Well, I guess Amazon was “really nice” on Prime Day, then! 😉 Those deals were only available to Prime members, and I took advantage of the discount on KU. If they offer that every Prime Day (and I think they’ll repeat that annually), and you pre-pay for at least a year, you’d be covered with a Prime discount on KU…

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      Yep, sounds like a good mix…and also a bit indicative of the embryonic nature of subsers at this point. 🙂 When those are more mature, you might only need one.

      I do think it’s a bit odd that you can’t choose KOLL (Kindle Owner’s Lending Library) or KU. After you borrow your ten KU books, then you use KOLL, as I understand it. Or, you can find a book in KOLL that’s not in KU…

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        It doesn’t work that way. If you have 10 KU books and try to borrow an 11th, you get the message that you need to return one of the KU books. I’ve never tried to borrow an 11th book at a time when I had no KOLL books, so perhaps that might make a difference. After I finish my current KOLL book, I’m going to return [it if I can remember how to return a KOLL book without first attempting to borrow another KOLL book] and then see if the 11th borrow will be treated as KOLL instead of KU.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing Lady!

        I tested this quite a while ago…and it didn’t seem to be very consistent, and Amazon seemed to be confused about how it worked. 🙂 I’ll be interested to hear about the results of your experiment if you try it.

        You can return a KU book by going to


        and then selecting Kindle Unlimited instead of books. You should see the choice to return one of your books there.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        Apologies to Tom for hijacking his thread! I know how to return Kindle Unlimited books. It’s the KOLL books I’ve forgotten how to return other than to borrow a new one and click the button that pops up telling me I can’t borrow a new one until I return the old one. I checked the link you provided, but KOLL isn’t listed there.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        There is a choice there for “borrows”…maybe that’s it?

      • Tom Semple Says:

        I am probably wrong, but I think you can borrow from KOLL if all of your KU slots are taken. But I will need to return my current KOLL borrow, and wait until next month to check this. As you know one must do this on a KIndle or Fire device, you cannot borrow from KOLL on the web site. A lot of inconvenience was built into KOLL to begin with, and KU has not helped matters.

        There are only two books I know of that are in KOLL and not in KU. One is ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’, which is what I am currently reading (again) and “The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story”. There must be others, but it is a needle in haystack problem since there is no way to search for ‘KOLL but not KU’. The best method I have found is to: Go to Books. Check the ‘Prime’ checkbox towards the bottom of the column on left. This brings up search results. Now choose a category. Then click on ‘Kindle Books’. This will list both KU and KOLL titles. You need to look for things without the KU logo, but as you will discover, these are few and far between, and you have to scan all of the search results to discover what may be there. ‘History’ had both of the above books, but no others (I looked through all 100 pages of results). I was just lucky to find these.

        The most relevant use case I can think of is this: KOLL borrows can be shared via Family Library, but KU borrows cannot be shared. So the idea is that the primary Prime member should be able to select one title a month to share with family members. This is at best very inconvenient, and could well be impossible (with at least the 2 exceptions noted above), pending the outcome of the experiment described above.

        Returning a KOLL title has to be done at the Manage Your Content and Devices web site.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Tom!

        What you are describing is the way I remember it worked when I was testing it before…but I’ve just been ignoring KOLL for some time.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        The only other book I’ve found that is KOLL only is “The Bible: A Biography (Books That Changed the World).” Unfortunately, it goes into more detail than I was interested in, so I returned it without finishing it. That was before they applied the new rules, so I’m assuming the author got paid in full. Early in the morning of July first as Amazon was in the process of moving the previous month’s Kindle Firsts over to KOLL and KU, three of them had the Prime logo but not the KY logo, so I traded out “Guns, Germs and Steel” for one of them. Later in the day, they had been added to KU as well. It will be interesting to see if the same thing happens this month.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        I’m sure all of the Kindle First books become KU, but you are right, it may not happen right away.

  4. Tom Semple Says:

    Note that there is now something called ‘Amazon Household’:


    This give both adults access to:
    – Prime video streaming using their own credentials
    – KOLL (not sure about Kindle First)
    – Prime early access (not sure what this is, the link just goes to the regular Deals page)

    Pursuant to this discussion this means that one person can be KU subscriber, the other can borrow a KOLL title and share it via Family Library. So at least somebody can use the ‘borrow’ directly.

    I wish this also gave both access to Prime Music streaming, but it does not. Would be particularly useful with Echo, since you can switch music libraries via voice command. That would allow both members to have their own collection of Prime Music, and you would not bump up against the ‘one stream at a time’ limit.

    As it is, there is not enough of an additional benefit to sign up.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Tom!

      I haven’t had a chance to thoroughly review it yet, but this appears to perhaps be connected to a change to Prime that gives us less options than it used to give us. I need to look at the Prime rules, and then I’ll know more.

      Since the Kindle First book is owned, it should be treated like any other book you own. It’s possible that someone else in your household won’t be able to select the book, but everybody should be able to read it.

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