How does Kindle Unlimited work for authors?

how does kindle unlimited work for authors

KDP Select/Amazon KU vs Going Wide

Choosing the right publishing route can be intimidating. Worry not. Let's go through some of the options you have.

What is Kindle Unlimited or KDP Select?

Kindle Unlimited, or KU is Amazon’s subscription service is specifically for books, audiobooks, and magazines. KU is part of Amazon's Kindle Select program (KDP Select) where authors have to sell exclusivity to Amazon for 90 days.

With KU, you can borrow up to 10 titles at a time that works like a virtual library. There are more than 150m subscribers who have access to over 1 million titles. It's free to publish Kindle ebooks on the Kindle app.

Is Kindle Unlimited Worth It?

Indie authors are faced with an important decision when self-publishing ebooks. Go “wide” or enroll only in Kindle publishing?

Either side can argue that one is the better choice. If you’re a member of any online author forum, you’ve probably seen this conversation play out. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. It comes down to your goals, preferences, the genre you write in, and more.

To help you understand these options, let's take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of Kindle/KDP and going wide for self-published authors.

What does Going Wide, Direct, and Exclusive Mean, & How Does Kindle Unlimited Work?

Before we get started, it’s important to understand what “going wide” in publishing and related terms mean.

Going Wide

Going wide means publishing your book on multiple platforms and not remaining exclusive to Amazon’s KDP Select program. When going wide, some authors go direct to Amazon KDP and then use a self-publishing aggregator like PublishDrive. This allows for distribution to other major stores like Apple Books, Google Play, Barnes & Noble, or Kobo.

Using an aggregator can also get your books in hard-to-access sales channels. There are digital libraries such as OverDrive. There are other subscription services like Scribd too.

Many authors use aggregators for simplicity’s sake. It’s much easier to manage global ebook distribution and more under one roof. For example, PublishDrive distributes to Amazon and 400 other book retailers. PublishDrive also offers a built-in Amazon advertising tool.

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Amazon KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing or KDP) is one of the major self-publishing platforms. By publishing through KDP, your ebook will be listed for sale on Amazon’s Kindle books store and purchasable through Kindles (Amazon ebook readers). This is called going “direct” with Amazon. This is opposed to using an aggregator to list your books on the Kindle store.

Many authors also set up their own Amazon account to sell other merchandise related to their books. But “going direct” typically refers to KDP only.


Within Amazon KDP, you can enroll your book in KDP Select. Books enrolled in the KDP Select program become part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL), as well as Kindle Unlimited (KU). This is Amazon Kindle’s book subscription service. In the KDP Select program, you can also take advantage of special marketing features (we’ll explore that further below).

A subset of the best Kindle Unlimited books and Kindle Unlimited prices are also included in Amazon Prime’s “Prime Reading” program.

Enrolling your ebook in KDP Select means the title must be exclusive to Amazon for a 90-day period. So when we say a book is Amazon exclusive, we mean it’s enrolled in KDP Select and it is not published anywhere else.

KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited are sometimes used interchangeably on blogs and forums. But KDP Select is the author’s side, while Kindle Unlimited or KU is the consumer/reader side.

In both cases, ('Exclusive' and 'Direct') authors earn 70 royalty rates. Also, Amazon offers print-on-demand books as well as audiobooks via Amazon's Audible platform.

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When you distribute to Amazon through PublishDrive, you earn FULL royalty rates up to 70% whether it is for ebooks, or print books. You can also promote your book with Amazon-specific promotional tools and features. These include price promos, Amazon advertising, more.

Pros and Cons of Being Exclusive to Amazon - kindle unlimited exclusivity rules:

Kindle Unlimited

Kindle Unlimited is full of voracious readers who want bingeable content. It can be a goldmine. And you can bet these readers are ready to get their money’s worth by flipping through your books! Especially for certain genres, like romance.

For Kindle Unlimited authors, Amazon sets aside a fund called the KDP Select Global Fund. When Kindle Unlimited/KU was first introduced, authors earned a share of this fund every time a reader borrowed their book (typically about $1.50 per borrow).


Nowadays authors are paid per page. Your book’s pages are based on the word count (Amazon’s system for determining this is called KENPC, or “Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count.”) In my experience, a 50,000-word ebook will have a KENPC of about 250 pages.

The KENPC pay rate changes every month by the way, depending on the KDP Select Global Fund and the number of enrolled books. But it’s usually around $.004 to $.005 per page.

So, a fully read 250-page book will earn you about $1.25. (Keep in mind that you only get paid for the pages that are actually read. A 250-page book won’t automatically earn $1.25 from a borrow).

For some authors, page-reads through KU make up a huge percentage of their income (which can be a good or bad thing). KU tends to perform well for specific genres. Take a look at the most popular KU books and you’ll see some trends (lots of romance, sci-fi, and thrillers).

Kindle Owners’ Lending Library

Books enrolled in KDP Select also become part of the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. This is available for Kindle users with Amazon Prime memberships. Borrows through KOLL earn the same royalties as those borrowed through KU.

Exclusive Marketing Features

Another perk of enrolling in KDP Select is the exclusive marketing features. You can boost discoverability by allowing potential customers to read for free, for a limited time. You can also use the Kindle Countdown Deals feature for discounted price promotions. While certain marketing features are only available in KDP Select, PublishDrive gives you plenty of options.

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Amazon’s exclusivity policy is very strict. While enrolled in KDP Select, you cannot distribute copies of the book in any digital format. This includes free copies and samples. If you violate these terms, Amazon may keep your royalties (or even block your account!) which is obviously not good if you’re a full-time author.

If you are offering a free sample of the book anywhere, (such as a lead magnet for building your ARC team), the sample can be up to 10% of the book’s content. Be sure to either take down free samples before enrolling in KDP Select. Or make sure the sample is no more than 10% of the book.

One Income Source

Thanks to KU’s lucrative model, some authors have managed to become full-timers while remaining exclusive. But putting all your eggs into one basket carries some risks. You have to be okay with the fact that if KU ends someday. Or that readers will lose interest in their Kindle Unlimited subscription.

We saw a mini version of this happen when Amazon changed KU from a pay-per-borrow model to pay-per-page. Authors who were making a killing in KU1 suddenly faced a massive drop in income and scrambled to build up their wide audience. In a post-KU1 world, I prefer to play it safe.

Limited Reach

There’s no doubt that Amazon’s market share of ebook sales is significant (especially in the U.S.). But remaining exclusive to Amazon prevents you from reaching rapidly growing markets. And that’s the beauty of self-publishing as opposed to traditional publishing. You can explore new book markets with the help of technology like never before (like innovative reading apps!).

Also, there are millions of English-speaking people in China who can buy your books through non-Amazon retailers. By distributing wide, you can reach other markets and expand your reach even more.  

Exclusivity also means that you are missing out on many potential readers not using Kindle devices. For example, there are many other readers on Google Play Books on Android devices or Apple Books on Apple devices. This represents literally billions of readers; are you willing to risk giving them up?

Pros and Cons of Publishing Wide



If you’re interested in building a long-term, sustainable career as a self-published author, discoverability is key! If you remain exclusive to Amazon, you’re closing yourself off from so many sales channels and avenues for discoverability.

Maybe your goal is to become a New York Times or USA Today bestselling author. Or you’re hoping to turn your book into a movie or TV show. Going wide is likely the best choice.

And don’t forget that there are plenty of reading subscription services besides KU – including Scribd and Kobo Plus – where readers can binge on your books while you earn.

Did you know PublishDrive distributes to popular reading subscription services, including Scrib and Kobo Plus? We can also list your books on the Dreame Reading App, where readers pay to unlock “episodes” of your content.

Less Risky

As already mentioned, relying solely on KU to support yourself is risky. By distributing wide, you have a successful author career with different income streams. Having your books available in multiple formats also makes readers happy. Some readers are loyal to their Nook (Barnes & Noble device), while others prefer Kobo ereaders or other devices.

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Gaining traction while going wide does take some time. Amazon’s intuitive platform does a fantastic job of getting readers’ eyes on your books. Other platforms, not so much. This is another reason why the lure of KU is so strong.

But since you’re not restricted by exclusivity while wide, go ahead and take advantage of tactics like distributing free review copies to generate buzz. For example, PublishDrive offers free review copy distribution to readers and influencers through some of the top stores.


Time and investing in marketing are the keys to succeeding while wide. In terms of marketing, KDP Select does a lot of the legwork for you. So when you go wide, you’ll have to take care of this yourself.

That’s why it’s great to have partners like PublishDrive who can help you ease into going wide. For example, they have marketing opportunities for getting featured in stores or retailer newsletters. Overall, investing in advertising, professionally designed covers, and other costs for your author business can really make a difference. 

Final Take

KDP Select is an excellent choice for newbie authors. It’s a great way to learn the ropes of self-publishing and ebook marketing. But after your 90 days of exclusivity is up, consider going wide. Experiment with FB ads, offer the first book in a series for free, and try out other marketing techniques.

When you’re ready to go wide, sign up for PublishDrive! While you can go direct to wide stores, using an aggregator service like PublishDrive offers detailed feedback during the book upload and great benefits beyond:

  • Saves Time: Going direct while wide means you have to upload your books separately to each platform. With PublishDrive, you can manage distribution to 400+ online stores (including Amazon publishing!) and over 240,000 digital libraries through a single platform.
  • Earn FULL Royalty Rates: Most aggregators charge a commission, but with PublishDrive, you can say goodbye to giving up your royalties! You’ll earn direct-like royalties, and instead of a commission, just pay a flat monthly fee.
  • Robust Distribution Network: When you sell books globally with PublishDrive, you can list your books in stores that cannot be reached by indie authors directly. We partner with hard-to-reach sales channels, such as Google Play Books, Scribd, and Odilo.
  • Marketing Benefits: PublishDrive users get to use a built-in marketing suite to boost sales and increase discoverability. These include both free book promotions and paid placements.
  • Streamlined Analytics: Distributing through an aggregator allows you to track sales and income from a single platform.
  • Royalty Splitting: Do you work with co-authors or publishing teams? You’ll love our automatic royalty splitting tools used by top authors, like Michael Anderle.
  • Customer Support: If you have any kind of problem and need assistance, PublishDrive top publishing experts are ready to support.

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