Hugh Howey’s latest blog post talks about his experimentation with the Kindle Unlimited subscription e-book program. He had participated in the program before as part of a trial, but had pulled his books once the trial ended. However, since the change to payment terms, Howey wanted to try it out again and see what the effect would be on selling his works, so he wrote some short stories for it and added his backlist titles back. What he found was that not only were more people reading his books, more people were outright buying them, too.

Howey notes that the Kindle Unlimited program does require Amazon exclusivity, but argues that sometimes concentrating on one vendor can actually help you reach more readers, by boosting your sales rank in that one spot and concentrating all your reviews in one place. Since Kindle titles can be read on so many different devices, including the increasingly-popular smartphone, it’s not really that limiting; also, he doesn’t use DRM, so his titles can be easily converted to PDF or EPUB.

Yes, Howey grants, he’s putting all his eggs in one proverbial basket. But, he points out, he owns the eggs and can move them at any time—and unlike some of Amazon’s competitors, at least it’s not a bad basket that could hurt his career by making it harder for readers to get his e-books from there.

What is the collapse of Nook doing for the adoption of ebooks? Barnes and Noble goes back and forth on whether or not they’re going to support their own device. That causes those who bought a Nook to become wary of committing to buying more digital books. And what about Apple’s refusal to make iTunes a web-based store rather than an application? This makes sharing links and buying ebooks more difficult across devices. And let’s not even start on B&N’s storefront. Or Google’s hubris when it comes to dealing with authors.

Howey holds that fear of what Amazon might do (but currently isn’t doing and never yet has done) is leading the major publishers and a lot of self-publishing writers to make bad decisions, to try to keep from being too dependent on Amazon rather than throwing their weight behind it to sell as many books as possible—at least for as long as it’s the best at doing that. He adds, “When a company comes along that does it better, you can bet I’ll be jumping ship. They’re my eggs, and they’re going to go into the best basket(s).”

Howey has some good points. This is the same sort of calculus that led me to put my (currently unavailable due to licensing issues) Indianapolis tourism guide on Amazon-only, so that I could put it into Kindle Unlimited. I also offered it without DRM, and included in the introduction an offer to email an EPUB copy to anyone who could send me their Amazon receipt to prove they’d bought it.

The conventional wisdom used to be that Amazon didn’t offer enough benefits from exclusivity to offset going universal. But that was before Kindle Unlimited came along. Has KU changed the calculus enough to make it worth reconsidering that decision? I suspect that, despite Howey’s excitement, it may take a few more months before we really know enough to have a good idea.


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