As an author who has some books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited. I often get asked questions by readers (and other authors) about KU and how it works from an author’s perspective. I may end up writing more than one post about KU, but today I’m answering the most common question I’ve been asked by readers, which is some variation of:
Which is better for the author a sale or a borrow?
Firstly I’d like to say that every author I know is always grateful for any sales/borrow/interest in their books. And readers who care enough to ask about which is best for the author, make me want to reach through the screen and give them a hug 🙂 But seeing as more than one person has asked me this, I will break it down and give you an answer.
However, before I do that, I think I need to explain what KU is. This is a very brief description for anyone who isn’t familiar with the concept.
What is Kindle Unlimited and how does it work?
Kindle Unlimited is a subscription service run by Amazon for books. It’s basically Netflix for readers. A reader pays a monthly fee of $9.99 (or the equivalent in their country). Once you’ve signed up, you are allowed to borrow and read any book that is currently enrolled in KU. There is no limit on how many you can read, but you are only allowed to borrow ten at a time.
Authors are paid by pages read. So if someone borrows a book and returns it without reading, the author gets nothing. If someone borrows a 200 page book and reads it all the way through, the author gets paid whatever the going rate per page is x 200. At the time of writing, the last known rate was $0.0048 per page. So for that 200 page book, read cover to cover, the author earns 96c.
Authors who self publish can choose whether or not to enroll their books in KU. In order to use the program for a book, the author has to make that title exclusive to Amazon while the book is enrolled. The minimum time is 90 days. If an author is with a publisher then the decision whether to use KU or not, is in the hands of the publisher.
So… back to the question above that I’m answering today.
Does an author earn more from a normal sale, or from a borrow on Kindle Unlimited? Which is better for the author?
The short answer
Authors usually earn more from a sale than they do from someone reading it on Kindle Unlimited. The exception to that rule would be a long novel with lots of pages, that is priced at $3.99 or lower.
The long answer
Because some people might be interested, and I’m a bit of a number crunching geek… I present to you my (hopefully accurate) calculations of what different lengths of book earn on Kindle Unlimited.
Please note that for the purpose of these calculations:
(1) Book length is calculated at 147 words per page (based on those of mine that are in KU). This ratio may not be the same for all authors.
(2) KU earnings are based on $0.005 per page which was the rate at the time of these calculations. It is slightly lower at the time of posting this blog post. So far the trend has been downward every month.
Update Feb 2016: With the advent of KENPC v2.0 my books are more like 190 words per page, so they are all earning less per borrow than they were at the time of these calculations. The payout per page is also less than at the time of writing. Currently $0.0046.
Short story
A 10k short story is approx 66 pages on KU
KU earning for a full read = $0.33
Royalties based on selling price of 99c = $0.34
For a book of this length and pricing, there is no significant difference. The author earns almost the same for a sale as a borrow. For a short priced higher than 99c, the author would earn more on a sale.
Novella
A 35k novella is approx 233 pages
KU earning for a full read = $1.17
Royalties based on a selling price of $2.99 = $2.09
Difference in earnings = $0.92
The borrow earnings are only 56% of the sale earnings. A sale is worth more to the author.
Short novel
A 60k novel is approx 400 pages
KU earning for a full read = $2.00
Royalties based on a selling price of $4.99 = $3.49
Difference = $1.49
The borrow earnings are only 57% of the sale earnings. Again, a sale is worth more to the author with this example.
However, If the 60k novel is priced at only $3.99 then the difference is $0.79 and the borrow earnings are 72% of the sale earnings. A sale is still better, but the different is smaller.
If the novel is priced at $2.99 then royalties based on a sale compared to a borrow are almost the same.
Longer novel
A 90k novel is approx 600 pages
KU earning for a full read = $3.00
Royalties based on a selling price of $4.99 = $3.49
Difference in earnings = $0.49
The borrow earnings are 86% of the sale earnings. A sale is still better in this example.
However, if the 90k novel is priced lower at $3.99 the author earns *more* on KU ($3.00 for a borrow vs $2.79 for a sale).
If the 90k novel is priced higher at $5.99, the royalties are $4.19. The difference then is $1.13 and the borrow earnings are only 73% of the sale earnings
In conclusion
Whether an author earns more from a KU borrow/read vs a normal sale depends on the length, and the sale price of the book. But based on prices that are fairly standard among indie authors I would say that novellas and short novels lose out the most on KU. Shorts earn the same. Long novels lose out a little, and they lose out more if they’re priced high. So, if we’re simply looking at earnings in isolation, then the authors who benefit the most from KU borrows are those who write long books and normally price them low ($3.99 or less).
However, there are a myriad of other factors that determine whether KU is good or bad for an individual author. Obviously there are other advantages of being on KU—as well as some disadvantages—and I will probably address those in future blog posts.
If there are questions you’d like me to answer, please leave them in a comment. I’ll either answer them here, or will use them for a follow up post.

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