What the Chinese dragon reveals about Kindle Unlimited, Amazon books sales, rankings…

122 uc dragon


This is a screenshot taken on January 22, 2015 of my Amazon dashboard showing sales for Unexpected Consequences, a 3-year-old book for sale on Amazon. The shape reminded me of a Chinese dragon, but beyond that, it illustrates some interesting tidbits about book sales, and the effects of Kindle Unlimited borrows on sales and rankings.

First, I should point out that the red line shows book sales. The blue line shows Kindle Unlimited borrows.

Second, I should note some history and figures: When rights to Unexpected Consequences reverted to me in September 2014, I self-published it and re-released it in the Kindle Unlimited program, which allows readers to borrow a book for free. If readers read 10 percent of a borrowed book, its author is compensated from a pool of money provided by Amazon. Since I’ve been in the program, per qualifying book borrow, I’ve received $1.51

This is part of a series of blogs about my adventures in self-publishing.

This is part of a series of blogs about my adventures in self-publishing.

(Sept), $1.34 (Oct.), $1.39 (Nov), $1.42 (Dec). If I sell a copy of UC, my royalty is $2.79 minus a delivery fee of a few cents.

When its 90-day  KU commitment on Unexpected Consequences expired on December 23, 2014,  I did not renew it because I wanted to test a theory that by making a book available for borrow, readers were less apt to buy it. That is: sales would be greater if it wasn’t in the borrow program (And remember, I receive much higher compensation per book if it sells, than if it’s downloaded as a borrow).

So what does the dragon show?

  • On the farthest point left (Dec 23-25) , the absence of a blue line shows where the UC was removed from the KU program.
  • The blue line picks up again on Dec. 26, and from Dec. 27-Jan. 7 shows borrows at a rate of 1-2 per day. How can there be borrows when it’s not in the program? Well, remember the 10%? The blue blips demonstrate that I receive credit for a borrow not when a book is downloaded but when it’s been read. These are previous borrows that readers finally got around to reading. This explains why I always see a spike in borrows (but not sales) when I look at my dashboard very early in the morning–readers were reading the night before!
  • I suspect–this is a new hypothesis requiring further observation & number crunching–that while borrows are not credited as “units sold” until they’re read, they affect sales rankings immediately. I have seen my rankings shift in the positive when there has been no spike on my dashboard, and have seen no positive ranking shift (or a downshift) when I’ve gotten a surge in borrows credited.
  • In the middle of the dragon’s body, from Jan. 7 to Jan. 16, there are no borrows credited and the blue line is gone. Everyone who previously downloaded the book has read it. What you can’t see here is that my sales rankings (and thus visibility) had plummeted. UC was ranking in 90,000s during this period, after being in the 20,000s. On January 16, I put Unexpected Consequences back in the KU program and you can see the blue line spike in the dragon’s head, far right.
  • On Jan. 19, at the height of the spike, there were 10 borrows and 5 sales–so 15 total units of Unexpected Consequences downloaded. Sales ranking on the morning of Jan. 19 shot to 11,755.

Since it’s been back in KU, my rankings have bounced around in the 10,000s and 20,000s.

I crunched the numbers for a 10 day period before it was removed from KU and after it was removed from the program when there was no more KU revenue coming in:

  • In KU, UC averaged 3.3 sales per day and 8.3 borrows ($20.98 average total revenue – Dec. )
  • Not on KU, UC averaged 4.7 sales per day and no borrows ($13.11 average total revenue per day)

I’d heard stories from “big name” authors who reported a big loss in income when their fan base started borrowing their books instead of buying them.So why did I do better in the KU program than out of it? Because I’m not a big name author whose massive buying fan base has shifted to borrowing. Instead, I’m attracting new readers who are more willing to try an author new to them if the book is free.

My conclusion is that at least at this point in my writing career, Kindle Unlimited is beneficial to me. However, I will keep my eye on the numbers.

CaraBristol_RandCSociety_UnexpectedConsequences_200x300Unexpected Consequences on Amazon

Newlywed Melania Traynor loves life, shoes, and most of all, her husband Jared – a tall, handsome, protective man with a commanding side. He’s a member of the secret Rod and Cane Society, an organization of men who maintain discipline in the home with a loving heart and an open hand. When he tells her he believes in domestic discipline and will spank her if she misbehaves, she enters into their marriage with eyes wide shut confident she’ll never be on the receiving end. But when she disobeys Jared, she discovers that discipline isn’t all talk.


CaraBristol_RandCSociety_ReasonableDoubts_400x600Reasonable Doubts now on Kindle Unlimited!

Widow Liz Davenport assumes when she begins to date, her new man will be like her late husband–a member of the Rod and Cane Society and an experienced disciplinarian who can provide her with loving guidance she requires to feel grounded and secure. So why is she attracted to Grant Davis, an ex-Naval  JAG officer who works for her nemesis and has never spanked a woman in his life?

Events in his recent past have forced Grant to take stock of his life and try some new things. But spank a woman? He’s never considered that before, but with Liz’s coaching he’s willing to try.

But when the past collides with the present, will he be able to step up and become the disciplinarian Liz needs?

Amazon | Amazon UK



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36 Responses to What the Chinese dragon reveals about Kindle Unlimited, Amazon books sales, rankings…

  1. Wonderful information, Cara. Thank you for sharing it. I’ve got a book in KU until the end of this month. I haven’t made a decision about whether I’ll leave it there or take it off. I think the potential for sales elsewhere has to be considered. It’s a piece of the pie (though Amazon’s wedge is pretty massive).

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I was hesitant at first. I put my books in one-by-one, hesitantly. Right now, all my self-pubbed books are in the KU program. The last big holdout for me has been putting in a brand new release. To date, I’ve only put in books that were re-releases or new books after sales had started to drop.

  2. Helen Karol says:

    Hi Cara

    This has been my experience as well. From July to November my sales were less but my borrows rocketed increasing my revenue significantly. I also have a lot of smaller e serial books that do well in KU.

  3. Interesting. Very interesting (she says while rubbing chin).

    I am glad to hear some positive thoughts on KU. I’m waiting and watching how this will all play out in the coming months. Thank you for sharing all of this.

  4. Excellent post, Cara.

    I have been happy with KU. I released a book in September and put it on pre-order, which many of us thought would help sales but it had the opposite affect, but having the book in KU saved it and I’ve been pleased with the results.

    As a KU member, I have been devouring books in a variety of genres and I have to assume others are doing the same. As you said, people are much more willing to try a new author if there’s no real risk to them.

    Where I see this being an issue is w/publishers. I think they are hesitant to put books in KU because now they are splitting the approx. $1.50 w/an author, which is a significant decrease for both. But, I’d be curious to see how KU could affect older books that aren’t selling much as it is.

    For writers there can be a real advantage to shorter books since the compensation for borrows is the same for a 99 cent book as for a $9.99 book.

    Some people have good sales with other venues (B&N, ARE, Smashwords) but that has not been my experience so I am fine w/sticking to Amazon.

    Also—since I am a subscriber, I always borrow KU books by my writer friends and read at least to the 10% mark (even if I already bought and read the book). This way I am supporting my friends and feel like I get the most bang from my monthly subscription.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Thanks for sharing, Celeste! You raise several really good points:
      1. KU is probably not a good program for authors published by publishers because the royalty split would leave them with very little money.
      2. It’s a no-brainer that short books (that can be written quickly) and 99 cent books should be in the KU program. On a 99 cent book salethe author receives about 34 cents from Amazon v. $1.33+ for a borrow. It’s also a boon for $1.99 books (author receives about 70 cents for a sale).
      3. Pay it forward! If you borrow a book thru Kindle Unlimited,
      please scroll through 10% of the book even if you don’t read it or don’t plan on reading it for a while. The author does not get compensated until that 10% mark is reached.

  5. Michelle Howard says:

    Thanks for sharing Cara. I just took a book out of KU to see how it performs. I know there’s a harder bounce in rankings when it first comes out from what I heard. I also think I read that traditional books in KU still receive a full 70% royalty making it a better benefit to publishers to put books in. As with everything else its a testing game to see what works best 🙂

  6. Thanks for sharing , Cara.
    So the smaller fan based authors are doing better with this?
    Does this mean Amazon might stop the program if their bigger authors aren’t doing as well with it?
    Or is this supposed to help get everyone on closer footing. (kind of like a draft for football? Not meant to hurt the better teams, but rather to help the weaker ones get a bit more footing? At least, that’s how my husband explained the draft to me. It kind of sounds the same)


    • Cara Bristol says:

      Actually, Katherine, I think what Amazon is doing is giving a boost to self-published authors to build up its own publishing operation. KU gives a boost to those authors whose books are listed exclusively on Amazon. Only Indie authors are likely to do that. Random House, Penguin, Loose Id, Blushing, etc. etc. are not likely to release their ebooks only on Amazon.

  7. Cara Bristol says:

    I think that Kindle Unlimited is the new “Free.” A few years ago, Indie authors could give away their books for free on Amazon for a limited time. Of course, their rankings shot way up. When the free period ended, that high ranking carried over to paid sales–so they got a boost in visibility, which led to more paid sales. A lot of indie authors built their readership base and ultimately made a lot of money doing that. But it doesn’t work that way anymore. You can still offer your book for free, however, the algorithms have changed so that the sales rankings don’t hold after the free period ends.

    But they do with Kindle Unlimited borrows.

    • An excellent observation. I got on the “free” wagon too late and it killed the momentum of my book. Grr. So I am determined to not let KU opportunities pass me by.

      Which means I probably need to get to work and quit reading the comments here, but this is such an interesting topic. Thanks!

  8. Gem says:

    I’m an Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited customer and as a reader I love KU. I am a voracious reader/buyer and have discovered authors and genre I never would have sampled before. After I find an author whose voice I like, inevitably I buy their work whether it’s in the KU program or not.

    Thanks for sharing this info, Cara. I have been ambivalent about putting my Missouri Hess series in the KU program and your experience really helped me make up my mind.

  9. Livia Grant says:

    As always, a very informative post. I can’t thank you enough for sharing this awesome data with all of us. It helps me so much to see ‘behind the curtain’ like this.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      As an Indie author, one has so much more data available. This is only the tip of the iceberg. When I was only was published by a publisher, the only feedback I had was sales rankings–and a royalty statement that came 4 mths (or longer) after a book was published.

  10. Rollin Hand says:

    Whether it works well or not has a lot to do with pricing. It works best when your book is priced at $2.99 or less since you are getting close to 70% of your $3 price with a borrow. But for me, the borrow numbers never approached what I could sell through other platforms, so in May of 2013 I left KU for good and since then the royalties from B&N, Apple, Blushing Books, etc have left KU in the dust.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That’s wonderful, Rollin. I’ve heard other authors say that also, but for me, sales on BN, ARe, Sony, etc. have always been just a dribble–even when I was with Loose Id. Perhaps it makes a difference where one has built one’s audience?

      In the 2+ weeks that Reasonable Doubts has been out, I’ve sold 320 units on Amazon, 9 on Barnes and Noble and 3 on ARe. I’ve had 43 KU borrows in 2 days.

  11. Katalina Leon says:

    Thank you Cara. Your insights educate and amaze me!

  12. Lisa Medley says:

    Great post!! Post like this help us all not have to continually reinvent the wheel. I love learning from others! Well done.

  13. Holla Dean says:

    Thanks for this info, Cara. I have several (23) books under a few different pen names and have considered putting a few of the older ones in KU. But some of them are doing better on Smashwords and all their distribution outlets than on Amazon. I’d have to take them down from there before putting them in KU and I’ve been reluctant to do that. Maybe I’ll try it with one book first and see how it pans out.
    Either way, this is great info!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      If, like Rollin, you are doing well on other outlets, it may not make sense for you to pull them and use KU. I’d be interested in hearing your secrets on how you achieved good sales on those outlets.

  14. Thank you Cara for giving us all a peek at your private parts! ( wallet and actual sales figures) It’s hard to make a good business decision without facts to back it up.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      The last taboo! I hope everyone understands that the averages I gave for UC were daily figures for an old backlisted book. I’ve had 17 published, 12 of which are currently available, including one new release and one that’s only a few months old.

  15. Sue Lyndon says:

    Excellent post, Cara! Thanks for sharing your experiences with KU. I’ve had some luck with KU titles published under pen names. The first six to eight weeks are always really good for me, then the borrows start slowing down. I’ve noticed that the closer I release titles, the better my borrows are all around. I’ve also seen some authors write a bunch of books ahead of time and then release one a week in KU, and that seemed to give them more momentum with sales and borrows. I think having a series in KU is probably very smart. Great info!

    • Cara Bristol says:

      I think that holds true for sales, too, Sue. The more frequently you can release titles, the better you do. You have to feed the kitty.

  16. Kayla Lords says:

    I’ve considered putting at least one title exclusively on Amazon again – I tried it in the beginning of my self-publishing career and didn’t like that I was missing sales from other venues. But I’d be curious to see what would happen with my next title if it’s only on Amazon, and specifically if I try KU. Hmmmm, something to think about.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      Again, you have to weigh how well you do in other venues. The indie market is lot different now than it was a few years go.

  17. Laurel Lasky says:

    I trie KU for a month and dropped it. Most of the bestselling books were not on KU and many that were series, like one chapter at a time for 99 cents to $2.99 for 8 to 20 pages.
    It would be a place to tryout some short stories to see how they do. After I read some of these I thought I could write better than the very short one.
    Thanks for the helpful information.

    • Cara Bristol says:

      That’s because the publishers and authors of the best sellers would loose money on Kindle Unlimited. And the program is skewed toward shorter works because on short works, authors make more in KU than they do for sale.

  18. Sara Curran-Ross says:

    I agree with your last comment Cara. I have been doing really well on KU and getting extra money for it. I definitely recommend it. Thanks for sharing.

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