While those of us not content with buffet-style subscription reading services such as Kindle Unlimited should certainly not make the mistake of assuming we are the inevitable winners in this war over the future of storytelling and narrative fiction, we also should not make the mistake of assuming we are alone.
I received an email update from the Sterling and Stone Studios (Sean Platt, David Wright, and Johnny B. Truant) this week. This one came from the pen/keyboard of Johnny and explained why he doesn't like Kindle Unlimited. The post was diplomatic while being honest. His complaints are the same ones shared by most of us pro-narrative folk. (Is "pro-narrative" too cheeky of a title to use? Does it suggest that pro-KU folk are anti-narrative? Hmmmm.)
The Most Common Criticisms of Kindle Unlimited
Johnny listed his key criticisms of the buffet-style reading promoted by KU as:
- creating writers who are beholden to Amazon and their ever-changing rules.
- lowering the standards of "all-you-can-read" readers.
- driving a race to the bottom for authors who obsess on gobbling up pages read from the voracious readers who make Kindle Unlimited work.
Of course, I'm paraphrasing and boiling down everything he said, but I think I maintain the spirit of it. Both near the beginning and the end of the email, Johnny apologized for any possible offense he might be causing. Honestly, that was the only part of the message I didn't totally agree with.
I Won't Apologize
I'm not sorry I feel the way I do. I'm not sorry for expressing strong opinions that appear closer and closer to being proven as cold, hard fact. Buffet-style reading is proving dangerous for the publishing industry. It's proving detrimental to society.
I'm certain the percentage of writers and storytellers who agree with the above statements is still a minority, but the percentage is increasing. It's important at this point to note the difference between the growing percentage of malcontents and the not-so-growing number of writers turning away from using Kindle Unlimited to make money.
Johnny points out that Sterling and Stone still begrudgingly uses KU. I begrudgingly do the same. And I'm not going to guilt anyone for doing so. I addressed this a couple weeks ago in my post about Penguin Random House withdrawing their titles from buffet-style subscription reading platforms. It's okay for the pragmatist and the idealist to live under the same roof. We have financial responsibilities.
This is exactly the tension I would like to draw attention to.
This tension is the reason I believe a sudden, mass-exodus from Kindle Unlimited is not only possible but likely...eventually.
While support for Kindle Unlimited looks strong right now, the number of reluctant users is rising. I think the number of reluctant users is rising fast. How many of us don't want to say anything about our distaste for KU out of our fear of rocking the boat? or due to not wanting to seem or feel hypocritical? After all, we risk sounding like bitchy whiners or politicians when we complain about something for which we have no solutions. Didn't our mothers teach us, "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything at all?" Mine did. (Hi, Mom!)
So here we are, an increasing lot of disgruntled yet impotent storytellers. What are we waiting for? We're waiting for an alternative. We aren't just waiting, we're actively seeking. Every entrepreneur knows what that means. That means an opportunity in the market.
As more and more storytellers become aware of their discontent and pinpoint the fact that buffet-style reading (coupled with competitive ad spend) is the epicenter of that discontent, the market will become ripe for disruption.
The viable alternative must be new, not better.
To be totally clear about what I mean by an "alternative," we need something new, not something better. We don't need a better Amazon. We need a viable alternative essentially different from Amazon ads and KU. While I realize the immense challenge involved in accomplishing the above statement, I am certain it is only a matter of time before it happens. The market will demand that it does, and this market demand will eventually be filled.
When this viable and essentially different alternative to Kindle Unlimited appears, I predict the shift toward the new platform will be sudden and significant. The presence of Amazon's non-KU book store will prevent the tidal wave from shifting away from KDP altogether. And while struggling writers will migrate to the new platform quickly, successful indies will remain committed to the tactics that have worked for them in the past. And due to the vast expansion of the number of successful authors since the emergence of KDP, as compared to the number of successful traditional authors before KDP, the shift away from KDP will be must less violent than the shift toward KDP.
But the deflation of KU will be sudden as 80% of the authors propping it up flee to the new viable alternative that values their content as narrative and not leverage for gaining Prime subscribers. Within three years of emerging, the alternative platform will have stabilized itself as the number two in the market behind Amazon. And that will be huge. Yuuuuuge, I tell you.
That's what we are waiting for. That's what is coming. Don't apologize for knowing the truth. Of course, we should all be polite and diplomatic when discussing the matter. We should also remain enthusiastic that we won't have to continue our begrudging use of KU forever.
Power to the Pirates!