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KU, “Turniness,” and the Reshaping of Genre Fiction

There’s a marvelous weirdness about Kindle Unlimited that I have not yet seen anyone else comment on. For the last two weeks, since I posted The Cunning Blood on KDP Select, I’ve kept the reports dashboard open in a window, and every five minutes or so, I refresh it. Almost invariably, the KENP numbers go up by a hundred or two, sometimes more. It’s a very weird feeling: Somewhere people are reading my book Right Freaking Now. It’s like looking over God’s shoulder down at the universe of people sitting in chairs and on buses and trains and airplanes, and knowing for sure that a certain nontrivial number of them are following Peter Novilio’s adventures at this very moment. I have no way of knowing precisely how many, but I can guess (given that a person doesn’t read a hundred pages a minute) that it’s more than one or two.

I’ve had a number of surprises since my first novel went up on July 31, but KU was the biggest. I’m getting a lot of page turns; on August 11 alone I got 12,448. Given that the book is 643 KENP pages long, that’s 20 full copies of the book read in one day. Of course, it may be 30 or 40 or more partial reads. I have no way to tell. But at the estimated rate of $0.0057 per page turn, KU earned me $71 that one day.

The numbers since the beginning two weeks ago were surprising, and I’ll gladly share them with you: I’ve sold 662 copies of the ebook, of which 21 (3%) were sold to countries where the 35% royalty is in force. The rest (97%) were sold at the 70% royalty rate. I’m still not entirely sure how KDP handles royalty currency conversion, but I’m assuming the cover price is roughly equivalent to $2.99 USD in all currencies. That makes my total take on sold copies about $1,304.

The KU payout is a little simpler to calculate, although we’re still not completely sure what the July and August per-page rates will be. I’m going with the estimate of $0.0057. Since publication, The Cunning Blood has recorded 127,749 page turns. Multiplied by .0057, that gives us $728.17.

Adding that to the books-sold royalty of $1304, I get $2,032.17 as royalties earned so far, in the book’s first two weeks.

That’s pretty damned surprising right there. I was expecting about half that. But what really surprised me was that over a third of that revenue–36%–came from KU page turns. In truth, I had no way to guess how many borrows I’d get nor how many borrows would be completely read. My gut told me 10-15%. I was very glad to be wrong.

Now, there’s a number I would love to be able to calculate, but which I can’t calculate from the information Amazon gives me. Amazon does not tell authors how many KU borrows a book has gotten. If I knew how many page turns I’ve had across how many borrows, I could calculate how many pages were read per borrow. This factor could be interpreted as the degree to which a book grabs the readers’ attention and keeps them turning the pages. I might as well call it “turniness.” If I could calculate how turny a given book is, over time I could probably make them turnier. In the new Kindle Unlimited universe, the turnier a book is, the more money it will make. Smart authors will thus strive to make their stories as turny as possible.

It’s not quite that simple, of course. There’s no incremental cost to making a KU borrow, and a certain number of people who borrow a book purely on spec will read a few pages, realize it’s not their thing, and return it, irrespective of the book’s quality or its turniness. Then again, that factor is probably constant across books and cancels out. We don’t know yet and won’t know until Amazon gives us more data to play with.

What this means is that literary and experimental writing will not pay as well as engrossing genre fiction. What follows from that is that that authors may pay more attention to the factors in their writing that contribute to turniness (suspense, rapid pace, constant action, mysteries revealed over time, etc.) and strive to be better at them. Over time, genre fiction will follow the money and become better and better at its own stated mission of keeping readers entertained.

My conclusion: Kindle Unlimited is the best thing that’s ever happened to genre fiction.

Genre authors, if you haven’t tried KU yet, you’re missing out. The Turniness Revolution is upon us. Let us unroll our mats, boil those pots, tell our tales, and cash those checks.


  1. Jason C. Young says:

    I love the fact that KU is going to encourage writers to write readable books instead of just shoveling out a title into the Kindle ecosystem. There’s _so much_ dreck out there.

  2. One thing I find intriguing about KU is how it might impact the way that independent books get marketed. Your excellent commentary on turniness (great word!) nicely outlines the impact on the writing itself (the “product”). I think you are likely to be proven very correct on that.

    However, there is still the usual requirements of generating awareness, interest, desire, etc., to trigger both the initial borrow and the commencement of reading (to get them to the point where turniness kicks in). I suspect that the turniness considerations will have significant implications (both good and bad) on the pre-borrow marketing and on cross-selling (backlist and future books).

    An obvious implication is the role of pure over-hype (both the misleading kind and the rah-rah kind) — it might trigger the borrow, but the actual page views will likely be minimal if the book fails to live up to the hype, resulting in disappointment (too much rah-rah) or outright annoyance (misleading hype). Outside the KU universe, over-hyping a book might hurt backlist sales and might damage reputation a bit, but it didn’t really hurt the revenues from that book.

    Another implication is that the interest-desire-purchase elements of the marketing cycle are greatly simplified because the ‘purchase’ element is entirely removed — the user has already made their KU payment so authors do not need to get them over that very difficult ‘part with the money’ hurdle. Even ‘interest-desire’ is simplified since you only need to generate enough casual interest to get them to ‘take a look’ at the book. From there, turniness will do its job. In a way, that makes the marketing cycle like a short-circuited version of the book store browsing experience — except at the part where the potential customer in a retail bookstore is looking the book over and flipping through the pages is where you’ve already got them in the KU ecosystem.

    And one more: the value of the backlist massively increases since it will be easier to get readers to at least give a book a chance, thereby capturing them with the amazing power of turniness. From there, the author can work the backlist which thus affects the pre-borrow marketing of the author’s other books. Wash, rinse, and repeat…

    I find the changes in the publishing industry fascinating. As always where there are disruptive market changes such as this, there is opportunity – which makes it all the more exciting.

    What are your thoughts on the pre-borrow implications?

  3. Richard Clark says:

    First, I really enjoyed Cunning Blood. I’ve been reading your blog for some time now, so I know you can write, but it was a pleasure to have that confirmed at novel length.

    I agree completely with Eugene Mallay above about KU removing a major obstacle to purchase. I’ve “borrowed” several completely unknown books (with mixed results – not everyone can write like you), but I’m not as upset with the turkeys as I would be if I had paid even several dollars. My pain-free spending thresholds were set back in the days of library used book sales (10 cents for paperback, 25 cents for hardback), so I’m resistant to trying new things even at indy Kindle prices.

    Your Turniness factor would not only be useful to authors. That factor is perhaps the most accurate review of an unknown book – did readers actually read it? I’ve tried several KU books with four and five star reviews that were poorly written stinkers. I find it hard to believe that very many people actually finished them.

  4. RH in CT says:

    Imagine getting turniness detail displayed as a graph with the pages as the horizontal axis and the time spent on the page as the vertical. Figure out which pages put readers to sleep, which sections kept them riveted. It would be nice to have an idea how often people turned back, possibly indicating a reader who is confused but thinks it worth getting clarification.

    (Bought it right after it came out, haven’t started it yet. One of these days…)

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