As with so many things in the publishing world, the answer to that question is not a straightforward one.
I recently received a message from a reader, she told me she loved my books and wanted to buy my latest but she was unsure the best way to go about it. She’d heard that purchasing directly through a publisher website was the best. She’d also heard that Kindle Unlimited was the devil for authors, but she loved reading and was looking into signing up to the subscription service.
I wrote back and told her that reading my book in any manner at all is supporting me, whether she buys a paperback, an eBook, reads through Kindle Unlimited, or borrows from the library… I’m just happy she’s reading my work.
But while that is the case for me and many authors, I know that readers are still confused and want an answer on what is the best way to support an author.
So, it’s time for a maths lesson.
For the sake of ease, let’s say you want to buy a book that cost $10 for an eBook and $16 for a paperback and the author is with a publishing house. You probably have three options;
1) buy the paperback from a third party distributor such as Amazon
2) buy the eBook from a third party distributor such as Amazon, iBooks, Nook etc
3) buy the eBook from the publisher’s website
Let’s break these down. Publishers take on all the risk and provide all the investment capital in order to get a book to publication. They pay an author a royalty rate based upon each copy they sell. Most publishers will pay a different amount depending on what type of copy and where it was sold.
I’m going to use dummy royalty rate figures, these will give you an idea of the difference between the three options in terms of author pay but not an exact figure as royalty percentages change from author to author as well as publisher to publisher.
So, let’s say a publisher will pay an author 5% for a paperback sold, 20% for an eBook sold, and 25% for an eBook sold on the publisher platform. In the event of that $10/$16 book sold, here’s the money that will go to the author:
Paperback – $0.80
eBook (distributor) – $2.00
eBook (publisher own site) – $2.50
As you can see, although you have paid more for a paperback the amount that goes to the author is the smallest amount. This is because POD (Print On Demand) publishing is not cheap and paperbacks are generally expensive to create.
Things are a little different for self-published authors, because they don’t get paid a royalty from a publishing house… they keep all the profit they make. But they do have to pay production and distribution fees.
Therefore, if we take the same $10/$16 book, the figures are very different. The paperback figure will change a lot depending on the size of the book, the number of pages, and the finish. I’m going to take an average of a 60,000 word book, printed on 5″ x 8″ format with a glossy cover.
Paperback – $2.50
eBook (distributor) – $7.00
eBook (own platform) – $9.80
As you can see, self-published authors make much more per each copy, taking almost all of the amount paid for books sold on their own platform.
Now, many self-published authors—like myself—also use subscription services like Kindle Unlimited. And this is where it becomes very complicated. Because books are produced in different font sizes and page layouts, Kindle Unlimited applies a specific algorithm to assign every book a number of pages. This is different from the paperback and the eBook as it’s attempting to even the playing field with all the different books in the Kindle Unlimited fund. So, to do this calculation you first need your Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC), for a book for around 60,000 words we’ll guess that this is 325.
The next part of the puzzle changes from month to month, and this is the fund. Amazon looks at how many people are enrolled in Kindle Unlimited from month to month and then how many books are enrolled and every month they issue a monthly fund size, something like $23.5 million. This figure is then broken down into a payout per page, usually something around $0.0048.
So, a self-published book in KU with around 60,000 words will pay the author around $1.56.
Now, this figure is far less than any other copy of a self-published author’s book, but not much less than a published author’s royalty. But a Kindle Unlimited sale remains the second lowest income to an author.
But that’s not the whole story.
There are many authors, myself among them, who believe in Kindle Unlimited and are happy to take this drop in income for the other benefits it brings.
You see, trying to reach potential readers is hard. No matter how many Facebook fans, Twitter followers, or email subscribers you have… there are still hundreds, if not thousands, of potential readers out there who have no idea who an author is.
Like it or not, Amazon is the one of the biggest marketplace for books. Many publishers and authors report that the majority of their sales come from Amazon.
And Amazon, like many bookstores, has best seller charts. Amazon also has a complicated algorithm to decide how those charts rank books and one of those factors is… Kindle Unlimited.
And this is why the question is so difficult to answer. If you’re a publisher who wants the largest slice of profit, you want books to be bought from your own website—which is why some publishers will have an exclusivity period on their own site.
If you’re a traditionally published author and you want more income, you’re also likely to want a sale through your publisher’s website. It would bring you $0.50 more than a sale on Amazon.
But, if you’re a big picture marketeer… you don’t put as much emphasise on an individual sale. That extra $0.50 won’t go far. But selling 10 books at a reduced price through Kindle Unlimited will push your book up the charts and make it visible to hundreds of readers who don’t know who you are. And those readers are more likely to pick up a book they consider to be free, because they are paying a monthly subscription, rather than spend $10 on a book by an unknown author.
Authors often give away free books for marketing. They may give books to readers and ask for an honest review in return, they may give a book to a large review site, or influencer, or book blogger. It’s a part of the business to give away some copies of a book in order to get the marketing benefit in return.
To me, Kindle Unlimited is no different. Except I get paid for it. A much smaller amount than I would have been paid if everyone had paid full price, but I know that not everyone would have paid full price. And those who read my book through Kindle Unlimited are pushing my books up the charts.
And it’s not just the charts, Amazon recommends books via emails and lock screens, ads, and more. They are more focused on books that are in the top of the charts and that is nearly always dominated by books enrolled in Kindle Unlimited.
So… in answer to that question, how should I buy an author’s book in a way that best supports them… it depends.
For me, buy in whatever way you please. I’m simply grateful for your support.
If you are a member of Kindle Unlimited and you don’t like that so little goes to the author, then you might want to check out that author’s website and see if they have a Patreon page or a Ko-fi account so you can send a few dollars their way now and then.