On Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited ‘borrow’ pay structure

J.M. Aucoin . Self-Publishing, Writer's Life, Writing about writing 2336 4 Comments

Earlier this week, Amazon announced a new pay structure for books borrowed via their Kindle Unlimited & Prime programs. Like it’s wont to do, the Internet is crapping it’s pants over the change and getting a whole mess of information wrong.

Critics are spinning the news to make it sound like every book is falling under this new structure, and folks who are strongly in the anti-Amazon camp are seeing the change as the big mean corporation pushing authors around. “The sky is falling. Amazon is screwing the little guy!” It’s all hilarious, considering Amazon has done more to help the little guy get publish than any other company out there.

Just a quick Google News search brings up a bunch of similar, misleading headlines:


Confirmation bias is awesome

Each one of these makes it sound like this new pay structure is for purchased titles, and if you buy a eBook on Amazon, the writer only gets paid for the pages you’ve read. Bought a book and never read it? The author gets $0.00.

The pay scale is not for purchased  books. It’s only for “borrowed” titles (y’know, like a library or Netflix) that are part of the Kindle Select program. Alas, most people are seeing the headlines, reading only the lede (if they’re adventurous), and then going all “Psshh… tl;dr.” They assume it’s for all books on Kindle and sharing this news with gross misinformation.

Best part, Select/Unlimited is a completely opt-in program. If a Kindle author doesn’t like how Amazon is running Unlimited (and there are some), they don’t have to opt-into Kindle Select. They can still publish their ePub on Amazon. How monstrous of Amazon, right? Additionally, if a reader buys a book and never reads it, the author is going to get their full royalty. If you borrow a 100 page story and read only five pages, the author will get only paid for those five pages. Make sense?

Here’s what the new structure looks like (via Amazon’s email to KDP authors):

Under this new model, the amount an author earns will be determined by their share of total pages read rather than their share of total qualified borrows. Here are a few examples illustrating how the fund will be paid out. For simplicity, assume the fund is $10M and that 100,000,000 total pages were read in the month:

•       The author of a 100 page book which was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

•       The author of a 200 page book which was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $2,000 ($10 million multiplied by 20,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

•       The author of a 200 page book which was borrowed 100 times but only read half way through on average would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters cover

You can ‘borrow’ Jake Hawking & the Bounty Hunters on Amazon. Starting July, I’ll get paid per page read on borrows. Or, you can buy the book and I’ll get my full royalty. The power is yours.

Note: the above numbers are inflated for easier math.

I’ll admit the new structure is a bit convoluted. It’ll pay authors per page read on of their titles that are borrowed from Unlimited and Prime customers. It also means Amazon will come up with a standard page count, called Kindle Edition Normalised Page Count (KENPC). It probably would’ve been easier (and better) if Amazon just said “books under this word count and read at A percentage will get paid X amount per borrow and titles over this other word count and read at B percentage will get Y amount.” C’est la vie…

I didn’t mind the old pay structure. When readers borrowed one of my short-stories (and read 10% of it) I’d get paid somewhere in the $1.30-$1.50 range instead of the measly $0.35 royalty I get off a sold short-story (this royalty is based off the $0.99 price I came up with myself). Meanwhile, novelists selling their books at, say, $4.99 and normally getting $3.42 per sale were getting half that. It made short stories more lucrative than books in Select, and some authors were writing super short titles and formatting their ePubs so as soon as you opened the file the 10% ticker went off and they got paid. It was gaming the system, and a lot of Kindle authors were asking for change. Change is what they got.

What it comes down to is Kindle Select and Unlimited are programs authors don’t need to get involved with if they don’t want to. If they don’t want to be Amazon exclusive, they don’t have to sign up for Select. If they don’t like this new pay scale for borrowed titles, they don’t have to opt-in. But they can still sell eBooks via Amazon and get their usual royalty. Like everything else in life, Kindle Select is not for everyone. It’s up to each individual author to decide if it’s worth it or not. For me, it’s been an additional source of revenue, and I’ll take every dime I can get. At least Amazon is paying me when a title of mine is borrowed. Y’know, unlike US libraries.

Of course, with this new pay structure it may not be worth my while to keep my short stories on KDP Select. Up until now it’s been more lucrative to have my short stories as Amazon-exclusives, but with the new pay scale, it may be time to experiment with other publishing platforms. I’ll have to see how this change affects my revenue and go from there. It’ll be interesting to see how many pages people are reading of my stuff instead of just the total downloads.

But let’s stop acting like Amazon is a super villain because of this change. Change authors were asking for.

J.M. Aucoin

Author. Fencer. Sometimes actor. Full-time nerd. I write swashbucklers & historical adventure novels.

Comments (4)

  • Melissa


    Very informative and helpful! Thank you so much. I opened my KDP and saw the blue line and I had no idea what it meant. I read both your posts (the first one I read, about the new normalized pages, led me here). I agree Amazon does a lot for authors, and I have benefited on both sides. I’ve gotten my books into more hands because of their programs, and I’ve also discovered authors and enjoyed books I never would have when I was looking for a cheap or free book.


  • Dorian Box


    Thanks for the great post. Very informative. I was laughing as I read your other post on the subject about giving indie authors something additional to obsess about. It is fun watching “the blue line.” To me, it’s not for the extra pennies so much as when I see the line zoom up on a given day, I get excited thinking, “Someone has really got into my book and just can’t put it down.”

    Do you know if a Kindle Normalized Page is an estimate of a print version of the book or just Kindle “pages”?

    I wrote a post recently titled “Are Kindle Ad Campaigns Worth the Investment?”, which gives info about another Amazon program I think is worthwhile for indie authors. Might be of interest.


    I look forward to reading more of your blog.


    • J.M. Aucoin


      Thanks for the link. I’ll give a read!

      I think the KPN is close to a print version, but it’s not exactly the same. You can manipulate a page count in a print version easily with margins, font size, book size, etc. So my paperback of HONOR AMONG THIEVES is 330 pages, but the KNP ebook version is clocking in at like 370. So it’s close. I’m not sure how if Amazon is working off like a word per page average or something else for figuring it out.


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