The Visibility Gambit

6 September 2017

From David Gaughran at Let’s Get Digital:

Kindle Unlimited has received a fair bit of bad press over the last couple of years – some of it from me – but I want to balance that by looking at the positives.

Most pertinent is KU’s popularity with readers, meaning there can be huge opportunity for authors. Especially so if you make full use of the tools Amazon gives you, and understand that it’s all about visibility.

Enrolling in KU comes at a well-documented cost: exclusivity. But it’s the potential benefits I want to focus on today because some of that might be getting lost in the (well justified) complaints about scammers, transparency, and falling pay rates. Even though those rates have dropped by around 20% this year alone, KU is still paying out more dollars to indie authors than all non-Amazon retailers combined. And I think indies need to be selfish and do what’s best for them – whatever they decide that may be.

The other price of staying out of KU is arguably the bigger one: visibility. Each borrow is counted as a sale for rank purposes, and borrows can make up 50%-80% (or more) of a KU book’s rank – unless you are down in the telephone number rankings and invisible to everyone.

Borrows Cannibalizing Sales

When KU first launched the big debate among self-publishers was whether borrows would cannibalize sales – an important consideration when sales are more lucrative and puny humans tend to need food several times a day.

And it turns out they do, but of the books not enrolled in KU.

Think about it from the reader’s perspective, where the experience really is frictionless. Let’s say you have already shelled out for the KU subscription. You go scooting around the charts on Amazon looking for a new read and spot a few books that look interesting. One is $2.99, the next is $7.99, and the other is in KU. Which do you download?

The answer is obvious.

Link to the rest at Let’s Get Digital

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Amazon, David Gaughran, Pricing

18 Comments to “The Visibility Gambit”

  1. My advertising on Amazon needs work, but earlier this year I had as many borrows as sales – because of my pricing.

  2. I stayed out of KU for years, until a few months ago. My sales had dropped 80% in the meantime. After a few months of exclusivity my sales have increased by 20%, but my KU reads have exploded from 0 to well over a million a month – nearly tripling my take home pay.

    I give most of the credit to increased/improved visibility, as Mr. Gaughran helped me realize that giving away free books helps in that regard.

    • Did you run a marketing campaign concurrent with the KU entry or just pop your books in?

      • Oh yeah, I gave away 127,315 free books in August at a cost of about $1450 with promo sites. Also had some $0.99 promos in there too resulting in a few hundred sales, nothing dramatic. No Bookbubs. I found the Countdown deals to be nothing special either.

        I had popped my books in and out a few times over the years – just a series or two – and with zero promo I got, surprise, pretty much zero sales/reads.

        My genre is light paranormal/mystery. 90% female readers, but I gather so is Bookbub and the like. Not a massive genre, but not terribly competitive either (yet). Overall Amazon Author rank varies between 700-1200 for example.

        Was 3000-7000 before KU, ouch.

        • Thanks for the info. I’m working on the fifth and final book in my series and trying to decide what would be the best way to go with it. I may hold off publishing until I can get a good marketing campaign ready.

  3. My main problem with KU is the blithe ease with which people would “borrow” the book, then copy it to Calibre, thus stealing the book with no pages read.

    Now that Calibre can’t read Kindle books, I will wait a year to see if that still applies. If somebody comes up with an easy technical fix that lets people once again load Kindle books onto Calibre we will see. If there is no fix, we will see how Calibre and KU are both doing.

    Until then, I’m staying with paper books, not ebooks.

    • Huh? Calibre can’t read Kindle books? There must be some specific type of Kindle book you are thinking of. I have no problems with it. Can you elaborate?

      • I’ve only played with calibre briefly, but given the difficulty of managing a kindle library (for me anyway) it has been recommended as a solution.

        Anything digital can be copied by those who want to

      • Dazrin said: Huh? Calibre can’t read Kindle books?

        Go ahead and Google – problems with calibre reading kindle books

        And see the various posts. Be sure to look at those for 2017 for the latest problem.

        This is the error message Calibre gives when it fails:

        KFXError: This is an Amazon KFX book. It cannot be processed. See for information on how to handle KFX books.


        Have you updated your Kindle software lately. Starting with version 1.19, Kindle stores the ebook on your hard drive as a folder rather than the AZW file. This is a form that Calibre cannot read. I have Kindle v 1.20.3 right now and it creates the same folder.

        People have come up with a temporary trick, go back a version and don’t update the Kindle software. Problem is, at some point Amazon won’t let you download more books unless you update.

        Plus, in the various articles it seems Calibre is aware of this problem and has no intention of fixing it on their side, thus my comment about waiting a year and see what happens to both. The popularity of Calibre is based on copying ebooks.

        What happens to both Calibre and KU when that is no longer possible.

        • Well, for starters Calibre can’t process DRM’ed ebooks from any source.

          Second, the plugins that allow stripping the DRM so the ebooks can be added to Calibre come from third parties and are not an integral part of Calibre so one should not expect Mr Goyal to do anything about DRM-cracking issues. It literally is none of his business.

          Third, nobody should have any expectations about the effectiveness of DRM removal. It’s not as if any of the tools are commercial products you pay for. 🙂

          • That’s weird. I’m not talking about DRM, and neither are the people who can no longer load Kindle books into Calibre.

            They clearly state that they cannot read an “Amazon KFX book”. Please pay attention. HA!

            • Kfx is the enhanced typography format that is encrypted with symbol tables. It is not meant to be read everywhere, by design.


              Amazon only delivers ebooks in Kfx to devices or apps that can render it. Trying to load them anywhere else requires cracking encryption and converting to something else. Simply put: all KFX files have DRM. Some have two levels.

              • Awesome link. That explains so much. Thanks…

                I routinely download the free sample of a book I am studying. They are short excerpts with no DRM protection. I convert them to text so I can do word counts of the book, set up mock book layouts duplicating the physical book to see how they did their book design, flow the prose into classic manuscript pages so I can see the pacing, story density, get a feel for the book and understand what they were doing. All from the “free sample” and the physical book in hand.

                I “could” take the books apart and understand, that’s now impossible for me to do, because even the “free sample” that normally has no DRM, suddenly is locked down.

                This is “game-changing” as the article says.

                This comes back to my original question:

                “The popularity of Calibre is based on copying ebooks.

                What happens to both Calibre and KU when that is no longer possible.”

                The next year will be telling.


                • Calibre isn’t a copying tool.
                  It is a library management tool.
                  It is in no danger of fading away.

        • The reply went to my junk mail so I didn’t see this till now.

          Yes, KFX can’t be read but not all Kindle books are KFX and (at least for now) there are work-arounds for it. Your statement made it sound like Calibre couldn’t read any Kindle books, that was my confusion.

          Regarding DRM, well, try Apprentice Alf. Again, it’s not going to fix everything but a good portion of the problems can be solved. I haven’t used it recently so I don’t know if it works for library books or other loaned books. I know it didn’t in the past and I liked that. (You don’t need to save a library book on your own computer for future-proofing. It isn’t yours.)

          • The ebook format that Amazon delivers depends on the reading app or device so even enhanced typography books can be had in mobi7 format if you have an older kindle registered.
            Not much of an issue if you know what you’re doing. 🙂

            And using the tools on library ebooks shouldn’t work. Shouldn’t be tried either.

          • Well, let’s just say that if an epub is the only version of a book I can check out, I don’t worry about it because Calibre will certainly convert it, with the add on tools. Calibre itself is not intended to do such things, of course.

            I think KU can be used wisely to boost visibility and to help build an audience for eventual wide distribution. It’s like free books, in that it is a tool, not a revenue stream (for most of us, anyway) because Amazon is always tweaking something so it can’t be depended upon as a never-changing pool of money.

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