I hate subscriptions for the same reason companies love selling them: recurring expenses. However, I am a heavy fiction reader and am planning to self-publish. Both from a user standpoint and prospective author side, I wanted to try out Kindle Unlimited.
I read and write romance, which is popular on KU, so there is a large catalog to choose from. In particular, I’m interested in science fiction romance, which is poorly represented by trad publishing and primarily concentrated (currently) in self publishing. I also wanted to read a lot of self-published works to understand the market.
How much I read from KU
I tried Kindle Unlimited for two months this spring. I previously tried it for several months in 2022.
This year, over two months:
- I read 20 KU titles
- I DNF’d 11 KU titles
Last year, over five months:
- I read 38 KU titles
- I DNF’d 9 KU titles
Cost effectiveness of KU
Combining all seven months I subscribed, I read 58 titles and started but didn’t finish 20 more. That’s an average of reading 8 books a month and quitting 3. Considering each book costs $3-$5, subscribing to Kindle Unlimited did save me a good bit of money.*
The cost savings only works out if:
- Kindle Unlimited carries titles that you want to read,
- you read fast,
- you read a lot, and
- you don’t care about owning the book.
Kindle Unlimited is perfect for romance readers in that respect.
* It bears noting that I probably would not have read most of the KU books I did if I’d needed to buy them 🤷♀️ I suspect I would have bought 7-10 of the titles I read. From that perspective, I would have spent probably about $50, which would have been cheaper than seven months of Kindle Unlimited at full price (about $80). Granted, I got a promo deal for several months of KU, so I probably paid closer to $50 anyway.
But I also hate subscriptions, and I did cancel after my cheap trial. Part of that is to cut expenses while we have less income, but it also feels like a commitment to pay $11+ a month for something I’m not sure I’ll use. In 2022, there was one month I was subscribed that I didn’t borrow anything new from it.
Over the two months I had KU this year, I read 35 books total, meaning just over half of what I read was from KU. Most of the rest were from the library.
Kindle Unlimited did shift my reading habits. I read books I probably wouldn’t have tried if I’d had to pay for them individually. That could be good or bad — for me, it’s a good thing. I also put off reading books I’d need to buy individually in favor of books participating in KU. Beneficially from an author perspective, I was more willing to try works by new-to-me authors since the cost had already been paid. I read books by six authors I hadn’t read before, as well as nine authors that I had.
I am making an effort to quit more books (reflected in the ratios of read to did-not-finish). That also makes Kindle Unlimited make more sense, because I’m willing to try a new book or a new author I may quit after a few pages if I won’t feel I’ve wasted money by buying something I didn’t like. I know that Amazon has free samples, but traditionally I have not actually read them — I prefer to just try reading the book.
Book selection on KU
It was a bit challenging to find books to read in KU, which is why several of the books I read were from series or authors I already knew. The search is flooded with low quality books, especially in romance, though at least a lot are easy to visually screen out based on the cheap cover art. I did manage to find 58 books I decided were worth finishing, but still felt both underwhelmed and overwhelmed by the selection at different times.
Despite Amazon’s recommendations, it’s hard to find books in sci-fi romance specifically because of the market trends. That can make it easy to skip over books with tropes I’m not into (anything with a baby on the cover 😝) but still takes a lot of scrolling and searching. Fantasy romance seems easier, though there you get a lot of YA crossover which is the kiss of death for me (and they always have the prettiest covers! 😭). Additionally, it feels like there are as many or more promoted books than “similar books” on each book’s page.
As someone who actively seeks out book recommendations constantly, if it’s hard for me to find books to read on the program, I assume it’s hard for most people. What I’ve found most effective is to save up a list of books in KU* while I don’t have a subscription, then I have a bunch of things to try reading while I do. Goodreads is for me a better place than Amazon to find recommendations for books to read; unfortunately, there isn’t a way to filter my Goodreads TBR by books in KU, so that’s a manual process (come on Amazon, you own Goodreads).
* Some books tagged in my TBR as Kindle Unlimited were no longer participating in the program. I’m not sure whether that’s a trend in authors moving older titles to a purchase model or mere happenstance.
So is Kindle Unlimited worth it?
For (romance) readers: KU is worth it, but maybe not all year
For me, Kindle Unlimited seems worth it to subscribe to for part of the year. I can build up a list of books to read on the months I’m not subscribed — and wait for the release of new books in ongoing series I’m reading — then subscribe for a few months at a time during seasons of the year that I’ll have time to read a lot.
Outside of romance readers, I’m not sure KU would be as worthwhile if you have a good ebook catalog at your library system. It could make sense if you read another genre that’s flourished in self-publishing.
For authors: KU is probably worth it for new authors
The willingness of KU readers to sample new authors, and the lower barrier to entry, makes it a winning proposition for first-time (romance) authors building up a readership. It may make less sense for established authors, especially outside of sci-fi romance.
For sci-fi romance authors, there are so many titles in KU there may be little reason for readers to pay individually for titles that aren’t. That said, there are several sci-fi romance authors whose books were not in KU, like Susan Hayes and Mina Carter.
I have heard that promoting your book is almost required, which makes sense given the poor discoverability on the platform.
At this point, I am sticking with my plan to publish on KU rather than “go wide” on multiple platforms, but will be paying attention to market shifts over the coming months as generative AI may impact the self-publishing world.
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