A Few Thoughts on Kindle Un/Limited (and the Biggest Mistake Amazon Is Making With Writers)

Scott William Carter   July 20, 2014  

If you’re not familiar with Amazon’s new subscription service for ebooks, here’s two articles for background:

Those articles both offer more than a knee-jerk anti-Amazon response, which you’ll often find in the media, but both sum up what I’ve been hearing from readers: meh.


Been thinking about this a lot for the past week, as the debate on this is raging all over the Internet. The one area where I think Amazon is making a mistake is their bizarre fixation on getting authors to go exclusive. I have mixed feelings about what these kinds of book subscription services will do to the book industry in the long run (look at what Spotify and Pandora have done to muscians’ incomes), but as it stands right now, Kindle Unlimited (which should really be called Kindle Limited because it’s less than 1/5 of their ebook catalog) is a lot like Netflix. Netflix has some original content but it’s mostly backlist.

There are times when going exclusive makes sense for a writer, if you get some combination of money or exposure that makes it worth it. Think of selling a story to Ellery Queen magazine. That’s a short term exclusive. Or House of Cards on Netflix. Long term exclusive. Game of Thrones is exclusive to HBO, which is short term, because you can eventually buy it on DVD. A lot of shows put up their first couple seasons on Neflix hoping you’ll get hooked. You could do the same thing with Kindle Un/Limited, opt in with the first book in a series. But for me, I won’t do that because of their demand for exclusivity. I want my loss leaders on all platforms. Imagine if Netflix demanded that every TV show and movie had to be exclusive to them. They’d go out of business in a heartbeat. That Amazon thinks they can pull that off just makes me shake my head. They’re not asking traditional publishers to be exclusive in the program (most of which have turned them down; the name books in there Amazon is paying full royalty on), but they demand it of anyone who’s in Kindle Select.

If they uncoupled this from Select, it might be good for authors to use in a limited way, such as for the first in a series, but Amazon’s bizarre fixation on exclusivity prevents this. I happen to love Amazon. They really have done more to advance the cause of literature than any company in the history of the world, but their obsession with getting indie authors to go exclusive is a mistake, and it also gives easy fodder to their critics.