Half-formed thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

To add onto SgL’s last post — I have been wondering if Amazon’s latest program, Kindle Unlimited, the subscription service released back in July to compete with Scribd and Oyster, is part of their ongoing experiment with non-traditional models. (And if Kindle Serials, which functioned much like a subscription service, has become obsolete and will ultimately be phased out.) A lot has been said already about KU from a reader’s perspective, as well as a lot of ongoing chatter/controversy at various writer boards, so I’m wary of adding much more to the conversation.

But. A few things that have been on my mind:

1. The rise of paid serials outside of existing programs (in particular Kindle Serials)

– I think this started roughly in 2013 with H.M. Ward and her (still ongoing) “Arrangement” serial. Each installment is short novella length (~20k?) and published for $2.99.  She’s been wildly successful, obviously. This led to a surge of serialization in various romance subgenres.

– To be precise, there was stuff going on with the form as early as 2011, and 2012 is probably where it first started hitting its stride on Amazon, especially in the erotica/romance realm (H.M Ward among them). I remember this being the impetus (or one of them) for the Kindle Serials program (unleashed late 2012). I wasn’t paying as much attention at the time though, so please do correct me if I’m mistaken. (2013 is only when it seemed to me serials started becoming “mainstream” due to a variety of factors.)

– 2014 in particular saw the rise of serialization in paranormal romance, with several writers finding great success there, all without relying on Kindle Serials

– I believe SF was the other genre that saw an indie serialization boom thanks in part to Hugh Howey (but I did not watch this as closely)

2. Ye Olde Pricing Dilemma

– H.M. Ward prices each installment at $2.99, as mentioned above. A fair number of serializers follow this model too. But there are also a lot of 99c per installment serializers, who then price higher for “bundled” versions of the story. Installment lengths vary (especially depending on genre), but are generally in the 10k-30k range.

– There was a lot of vocal reader complaint about these pricing models, especially since way back at the start of the Kindle/self-publishing movement the fad had been full novels priced at 99c (with $2.99 being the other common option). There’s been a definite shift in pricing models over the years, but it’s also undeniable that the math can be harsh for the serial reader: last I checked “The Arrangement” is now on part 17, for example, with several offshoots. That’s $50+ in all for maybe 3-5 novels’ worth (if we count strictly by words and assume a base of 20k)… which actually isn’t that outrageous compared to equivalent print pricing*.

Of course, either way it hasn’t really stopped these installments from selling like hotcakes. Despite complaints, there has clearly also been a large contingent of readers who are perfectly happy paying for what they love (or who complain about it but pay up anyway).

* sure, apples and oranges, but probably just as much so as comparing serials with novels in the first place

– 99c may be a friendlier price for readers (from what I observed there were complaints even at that price point though), but disadvantages authors due to the lower royalty rate

– This was an issue Kindle Serials faced as well. The program seemed to approach the matter essentially as if serials were novels: a reasonable one time payment per serial with all subsequent episodes free. Great deal for the reader and fair for the author, but potentially not as profitable as independent releases as above, and also not good for writers with really lengthy serials.

3. Enter Kindle Unlimited

– For $9.99 a month, a reader can read anything they want in the program. Authors are paid per read out of a fixed pool (which may just be there for show, considering the fact that Amazon has manipulated the size of said pool every month of the program’s existence thus far to ensure [or so it seems to me] deliberately calculated payout rates). For the serializing community, this is a win-win for both sides… assuming, of course, that the reader is voracious (i.e. reads other writers’ material in the program too) and/or there are enough installments published and/or the writer publishes frequently. Reading either three to four $2.99 installments or ten 99c installments in a month is enough to make that fee worth it.

– But the program’s exclusivity requirement (anything in KU cannot be published anywhere else) may or may not be to its detriment, as well as the fuzzy payment pool issue. H.M. Ward (who was allowed to experiment with KU without being bound by the exclusivity requirement) recently claimed to have seen a drastic loss in revenue due to the program and has since pulled her work out. Whether or not the loss of revenue for her is true, it’s certainly true that readership will be limited to the Amazon customer base (which is nothing to sneeze at, mind).

(NOT, however, limited to KU subscribers. Those who don’t subscribe can still purchase, as before.)

– Also, KU was not designed specifically with serials in mind. Whether or not it has succeeded for novels is kind of a touchy issue among writers. But the impact of the program has definitely been far broader than Kindle Serials. And even half a year in, it’s really tough to gauge the full implications — in particular the question of “who is really using/will continue to subscribe to KU in the long run?”

4. Differing paths of evolution…

Over the past few years it’s started to appear to me that “webfiction” and “serials” have been evolving along different (but not necessarily contradictory) paths — one with a free/community-based model (Wattpad et al), and another, more aggressive commercial model. KU feels like a gamechanger, and yet it’s hard to say how things will develop from now on. The market is in constant flux. I’m not convinced the dust has settled, and even when it does (if it does), I’m sure there will be more changes waiting ahead of us.

Either way, as 2014 comes to a close, there are a lot more options now to consider, especially for a new writer interested in serializing. Having experimented with a few options myself by now (some under another, secret name), I’m not convinced any path is easier/superior to the others.

But that freedom of choice is what makes this all really so exciting.


Where to read serials or list your serial

This post is now a page: . Please refresh your bookmarks. Thanks! 


Semiweekly News Roundup, Ending 4/14/2013

From royalty to fugitive

In this showbiz article from Asia comes news of a live action adaptation of a successful online novel from China.  Again, no surprise here. As has been discussed on Pandamian and in other blogs, the serial prose/online novel format works quite well overseas.

Paywalls are Scary Growth Killers

In these two pieces, the authors reflect on paywalls. In general, there’s a great deal of uneasiness about paywalls and whether anyone truly is going to be able to monetize off a largely closed content system.

More data and observations from Kindle Serials

In another interesting piece from PaidContent, author Laura Hazard Owen summarizes several pieces of information related to webcontent. Of note is her link to the WSJ which then links to another piece from April 11 on serial novels.  Catch this one before it goes behind the firewall. To summarize

* Their Kindle serial update frequency worked best for them on weekly basis
* Their best selling entry came in at 80,000 copies. Wow.

I think the comment on the bad reaction to the one story that sold episodes at 1.99 e ach was pretty insightful. I think the tolerance for the format largely is underwritten by the low price. The Kindle Serials model works more like a subscription and I think that while there may be room to experiment upwards with pricing… not by too much.  Serials are still very much a gamble for readers unless they know the author well and asking someone to invest beyond the common currency of the internet (which hovers around 0.99-2.99) is a lot to ask.

Waterstones founder to launch Spotify-like service for books in 2013

If you recall from a previous news post, Waterstones was experimenting with adding “in store/book only” copy to their in-store books.  This sounded like a measure to try to drive people back to their stores to buy books.  Now it appears they’re jumping into serials as well. 

All well and good, I wish them well. I’m fairly sure that Amazon’s success along with a lot of media profiling of serials end of 2012 and in early 2013 is going to mean more folks entering into the marketplace this year.   Hopefully this is good news for the rest of us independently serializers 🙂

Self Publishing Podcast talks Free Serials

Several of the podcast’s hosts are serializers on Kindle. They have done it both ways — releasing “episodes” of a season as different books as well as participating in the formal Kindle Serials program.  I mentioned their experiment in a previous post. In this podcast, they reflect on their free episodes experiment.

It sounds like the experiment has had some mixed results, including a disappointing lack of reviews.  This spurs a conversation about their readers and some pondering about what direction they should take for future episodes. I think this is a great podcast, but if you can’t spend the hour to listen or watch on Youtubetake a look at the show notes at the youtube channel.  Warning for moderate language :p.

I still wonder had this run as a donation model off their website if this might have resulted in folks simply providing money out of their good will as opposed to it becoming about reads for reviews or motivating other sales.

Admin notes /

So folks, the Blogger UI is kind of irritating me with its tendency to code clunky html.  So I will be experimenting with a WordPress version of this site.   I apologize for the confusion and encourage those of you using RSS feed trackers to use

Two – as I said in the last post with Najela Cobb – if you are a serial writer with webfiction cred doing something new and are interested in being interviewed, please contact me with your name, URL (of your past or current work), and briefly describe what you think you have to share with other readers (current and future) of this blog.

Captive Prince builds steam, Wattpad ruminations, and the story of paper books

This post is mostly a reaction to three separate things that are rattling around my brain at the moment. Other than they are rattling in there together, the topics are disparate and unrelated. (Or maybe not!)


First, for those that watch my tweets you would have noticed a few pointers to “The Captive Prince” earlier in the year. For the uninitiated, it is a serial fiction that has been running on Livejournal for years.  Finally, finally, the ebook/paperbacks came out this year.   and it has been gathering quite a bit of attention overseas but not here.

Until now perhaps.

Dear Author – one of my favorite review blogs to read (because the reviews are personal and funny in tone) – took on Captive Prince and voila, endorsed the opinions of many thousands of readers (perhaps tens of thousands?) who have followed the serial for years with a rare RECOMMEND.

I think this is really one of the true success stories in serial fiction. It’s not a serialized novel (released in novellas) like Hugh Howey’s Wool (which is FANTASTIC and comes out in hardback TODAY and should be another inspiration to self-publishers everywhere) but a true text based novel.  It’s not a Kindle Serial that is designed solely to live in the ebook realm.  Rather this was a free work that built up a fandom that pushed the author to seek out publication.  As of this writing, the Livejournal site is still up there at Sucat’s livejournal  living simultaneously as a free read while her paper and ebook versions become available as a paid entity.

This is a demonstration, a true one, of how social communities can make fiction viable.

So my hat’s off to Freece/Sucat and her fans.  I hope they realize they’re breaking ground. I hope the publishing world realizes it too.


It’s been a month since I completed my story on Wattpad.  I figured I should ask for a feature and was politely declined by the tech /social media people/help desk for a feature within 24 hours of submission. I wasn’t surprised as much by the polite ‘no,’ as much as the last sentence in the response.

“Due to the high volume of submissions we receive daily, we are not able to feature every story we receive. Our aim is to create a list that represents a variety of genres and showcases some of the best writing the community has to offer. We did a quick review of your story and unfortunately, we are not able to give it Featured Story placement on the site at the present time as we are giving preference to stories that have not yet received the kind of attention your story has already gotten.

I honestly do not consider the story to be successful. (ETA: Stats link) But when examining the response, one wonders then if the average Wattpad experience is pretty dismal in comparison.  Yikes.

Wattpad is a bit odd in its current evolution. Its featured section is becoming much more populated with published authors seeking to get more readers at the existing Wattpad base.  While I think that can be good for the visiting authors and readers (who get free books to read), there really are two Wattpads still operating… one that is user created/curated and the other that is corporate curated.

While some of the featured stories do go on to huge success, it’s the efforts of those who rise to the top in the “other pool” that interest me more.  In particular, as of late I’m enjoying the success of  82 year old retired writer, Gwen Madoc, whose story (as of this posting) ranks #2 in the historical romance and #9 in the non-teen romance genre.  I am gathering she must be too, for she has been personally responding to every comment on her work thus far!

It’s an amazing thing sometimes how in spite of the designs of the curators, the social network discovers what they like and, even more amazing, how generations can come together in such an unusual place.  My hats off to this classy dame and the readers of Wattpad for their hand in a second season of writing for Ms. Madoc :).

As for me, my natural experiment on Wattpad continues without interference.  I had worried over length of my serial and entertained some concern about earlier comments from community members that “stories shouldn’t be longer than X parts.” Well, I broke that rule, but at least am glad to report that readers did not fall off a cliff, never to return. In the last month I’ve had 300 more readers cross the finish line.  I will hope there will be more.


This weekend I was back in the Artist Alley at Momocon, doing my crazy art thing.  I’ve been giving away bookmarks for my serial since last June, but this year I was able to stick them next to copies of the first proof I ran for the compiled print version of the serial.  There was nothing fancy about this display – as you can see  here  for reference). Truly, the book is lost in a table of generally shiny artwork.

To my surprise, I had a few people beeline for the book. In spite of my telling them that the book was online for free and the proof itself had an extra blank page, they purchased the copies anyways.

This surprised me honestly. The convention I was at largely caters to those who are careful about spending and I honestly thought the idea that a book was already online for free would deter them.  But while I didn’t get to chat extensively with these customers about their thoughts on why they still wanted the copy, they still quickly confirmed that they preferred print to “everything else” and/or wanted something to read at that very moment.

It’s given me much to ponder as I wrestle with the issue of putting out a paper copy.  In spite of all the flaws that exist in this work, I still think that the paper book in itself is a marketing tool on its own. I shall have to talk shop with selfpublishers who sell at conventions a bit more in the future.

Increasing serial readership needs better models

Recently, news articles have generated excitement about serials and installed some hope that these new developments will bring more readers, money, or attention to these online novels out there on the web. That said, there is something fundamentally wrong with the ecosystem right now.

Any standalone website with a story on it has two avenues to finding visitors. First — luck of the draw based on your social media capital. (How popular are you online. Or how popular are your online friends. Or how can you go viral?) Second – sharing traffic from a hub or network of existing readers.
There are a few problems I can see right now that mean some problems for the standalone serializer.

Readers exist, they’re just more likely to end up in a colony