How Do Kindle Unlimited Subscribers Behave (And How Does it Impact Authors)?

From Written Word Media:

Kindle Unlimited has revolutionized the eBook experience for both readers and authors. Last year we took a look at how Kindle Unlimited affects authors and publishers. This year we want to take a closer look at the habits of KU readers compared to non-KU readers, and what that means for authors whose titles are enrolled in KU. We surveyed almost 1,000 readers and analyzed the results to find out what the takeaways are for the author community.

. . . .

The service currently costs $9.99/ month, and there are over 1.4 million titles available to enjoy. Most of the books available are either classics or titles published through Amazon imprints and Kindle Direct Publishing. This means that if, as a reader, you most frequently read titles by popular, best-selling authors, you may not find the names you recognize available in the KU library. To date, none of the major publishers have opted to make their titles available through KU.

KU readers can read as many books as they want per month. The one limitation is that readers can only have 10 Kindle Unlimited books downloaded to their devices at a time. This means that readers can’t “hoard” books the way that they may normally feel inclined to.

. . . .

When you divide the global fund by the payout by KENP payout, you get the total number of pages read in KU for a given month.

For this exercise let’s use the data from February 2017. The Fund was $16.8 million and the payout per KENP was about $0.005.

KDP Global Fund / KENP Payout = Total number of Pages read in the month on KU

16,800,000 / 0.005 = 3,360,000,000

That’s over 3 billion pages read! If we assume the average novel is 250 pages, we can back into the number of novels read: 3,360,000,000 divided by 250 gives you 12,440,000 average length novels read through KU subscriptions per month.

Based on our survey data, KU subscribers read about 5 books per month. We can use this data to estimate a subscriber count for KU.

Number of KU Novels Read / Number of Novels read by one Subscriber = Total Number of Subscribers

12,440,000 / 5 = 2,488,000 KU subscribers

2.5 million readers in KU is a lot of readers, and because our calculations are based on pages read it’s likely that the 2.5 Million number represents the active readers enrolled in KU. We would guess there are even more inactive users who are subscribed but are not reading. There are limitations with our data, and we’re making quite a few educated assumptions but we think it’s safe to assume that there at least 3 million readers in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited.

. . . .

Over 71% of KU subscribers read 5 books per month or more. Compare that to non-KU readers, where only 57% of readers read 5 books per month or more. That makes sense since KU subscribers pay $9.99 per month for the service, there is an incentive to get your money’s worth. Also, people who read a lot of books will get the most value from KU as they were likely spending more than $9.99 per month purchasing books. 20% of our KU subscriber sample said they read more than 20 books per month!

Link to the rest at Written Word Media and thanks to Lucy for the tip.

24 thoughts on “How Do Kindle Unlimited Subscribers Behave (And How Does it Impact Authors)?”

  1. There is a problem with assuming “Page” means the same thing in both of these places. KU calculates ‘page’ differently than what constitutes a page in a print edition.

    • The KU page definition works out to roughly 250 words.
      Assuming the average novel is 250 Kenp long makes it about 60,000 words.

  2. I scan the free scifi lists, download books that seem interesting, and then read everything by any author that catches my attention.

    A couple of weeks ago this lead me to an author that has ELEVEN books in one series and three in another. He was in KU. So I joined KU. I’ve read 9 books already. And, I got the first month free 🙂

  3. 75% of KU readers read more than 5 books a month, yet the average is 5 books a month.

    that seems like it’s rather unlikely math.

    • The other 25% are too busy to read more than one or two or but won’t cancel because they expect to have more free time next month. Or the month after. Or…

  4. As a KU reader, here’s how I prioritize my Kindle book reading:
    1. Ongoing series I enjoy (and follow the author on Amazon, so I get notified of updates)
    2. Related series by an author I’ve already enjoyed.
    3. Authors recommended by Amazon as similar to what I’ve read — frequently from the Kindle popup that appears when the book is done.
    4. Tie between free books on eReaderIQ/BookBub and browsing Amazon’s top/recommended KU list for my genres.

    So, if you want to target me — and presumably other KU readers — you should do the following:
    1. Write a series rather than a one-off book — and clearly label it as a series in the title (Book 1 of Dark Mage Saga)
    2. In your bleg at the end looking for reviews and newletter signups, remind me, in bold letters, to follow you on Amazon (or Goodreads, or my platform of choice) if I enjoyed the book. If possible, include links.
    3. Promote your first book, including free give-aways via standard sites. You have two goals here: first, raise your first book’s overall ranking and second, get enough people with similar tastes to read it so Amazon links it in the “similar books by other authors” section.

      • Also, if you can, try to track your ‘borrow ratio’ — the number of borrows of book 1 vs. book 2 vs. later books. This lets you know how many KU readers are reading additional books after picking up the first book, or where the KU readers are dropping your series.

        I’d be interested in seeing typical borrow ratios for different genres, but I suspect they should be high (50% for the first book in a series, >75% for later books if the quality series).

        Of course, borrow ratios don’t help get your first book in front of a KU reader; they just help you verify KU readers read more books once they pick up your first book.

    • This doesn’t really help all that much, though, now that Amazon is no longer reliably paying by pages read. I’ve been testing the waters again now that some authors have reported an increase approaching levels previous to the autumn 2016 washout, but it doesn’t induce me to return to KDP Select in force.

  5. Based on our survey data, KU subscribers read about 5 books per month. We can use this data to estimate a subscriber count for KU.

    This is a critical variable. How did they conduct the survey? Sampling technique? Sample size?

  6. As a sci-fi writer, I found my one, 3 month stint on KU to be very disappointing. Not being well-known probably has a lot to do with it as well but…I published 5 novellas at roughly 1 week intervals just before Christmas last year. The novellas were episodes in one, very long story and each one was promoted separately with a competition and the full, 5 day free period.

    I found that a lot of people were actually buying the episodes /after/ the 5 day free period was over. By contrast, very few people were even giving them a try on KU.

    I made a lot of mistakes from a marketing and promotion perspective, but I still think sci-fi readers buy more than they ‘borrow’. I’d love to know if there are any stats on KU and science fiction. Anyone know?

    • I’ve stuck with KU for my sci fi series (plural) and I find the KU borrow to paid sale ratio to be about 60-40. Talking with peers at a similar stage and sub-genre, that seems to be a common ratio. And yet when I talk to authors who aren’t so well established yet, the proportion of KU borrows is usually much lower. Seems counter-intuitive to me, but that’s the anecdotal evidence I keep encountering.

      • Thank you! This information is pure gold.

        Is it possible that the KU borrows are from readers who are already familiar with your work? As in, do reviews correlate at all?

        The only explanation I can think of is that KU encourages binge reading, much like Netflix encourages binge viewing. So once you’re reasonably well known, readers on KU might binge-read everything you’ve ever written.

        If that is the case then I hope I become that well known one day. 🙂

        For now, you’ve taken away the last bit of self-doubt I had about withdrawing from KU. Thanks again.

        • That behavior makes sense to me; KU readers likely get most of their recommendations through Amazon recommendations, and Amazon recommendations are likely based on a combination of Amazon ranking within your genre and customer purchase patterns (eg., how many people who bought books from Author X also bought books from Author Y).

          For KU readers, I suspect the marketing and promotion of the first book matters far more than the marketing and promotion of additional books. If your first book is good enough, KU readers would likely pick up your other books. The hard part is breaking through to get them to read your first book.

        • I’m sure you’re right. In fact, I’m sure there are multiple factors all operating simultaneously, which is why it’s so difficult to interpret the data. I recently published a debut author, launching simultaneously with two novels, the first at 99 cents. This first novel was also selling at around 60% KU borrows. So far, his borrow rate is only increasing. A possible explanation is that his books are in a slightly different sub-genre, and one in which those voracious readers we all desire to excite are even more prevalent and in mine.

          Glad to help confirm your decision in such an uncertain business

  7. As always, an insightful post.

    I’ve found that the benefits of KU depend on the genre–I have 3 pen names, and only 1 of my pen names is all-in for KU, and that’s a romance name. For romance, I’ve seen ratios more like 20/80 purchase to borrow.

    I didn’t have success with KU for sci-fi/fantasy, so I’ve been wide with that name. And my other name is hybrid, so I have currently 1 title in but the rest wide.

    • J.T. Hall: me too. I only have one book out–an erotic romance I published almost two years ago that’s always been in KU, and my months are pretty consistent: 20% of my income comes from sales and 80% comes from borrows.

  8. I am a KU reader, on average I read a book every one and a half days.
    Mostly series in SF and Paranormal & Urban.
    The stand alone’s that I read are mostly from writers that have a series that I have read and liked.
    When I go to a Amazon authors page I will especially skip that author if the only KU books are the first or first couple in a series.

    T. C. Taylor your comment above led me to your amazon author page, following now.

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