The Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out for self-published authors’ ebooks is on target to exceed $50 million per month.

As Mark Twain famously never said, there are three certainties in life: Death. Taxes. And AAP Falling Ebook Numbers.

This week the Association of America Publishers (AAP) did not let us down, reporting US ebook revenue down 3.9% in June, compared to June 2022, and YoY ebook revenue for the first six months of 2023 (H1) down 1.3% compared to H1 2022.

What’s not to like? Everyone in publishing knows the official mantra is that ebooks are yesterdays news, a sideshow distraction in the world of ink on paper. Just 20% of the publishing market forever. Markus Dohle told us so, so it must be true! And the AAP reports each month simply confirm this. In June 2023, ebook revenues fell 3.8% to $79.8 million. H1 ebook revenues were down 1.3% to $493.8 million.

But what really happened?

To be clear, these numbers are not inaccurate, in that they count only part of the market: revenue from publishers that report to the AAP. That includes most of the US traditional publishers (approx. 1,240 of them), and so one might reasonably assume a fair reflection of the market.

And therein lies the problem. Its not that the AAP is deliberately misleading us. It’s role is to report the numbers traditional publishers report to it. The issue is what’s not included here.

Here’s the thing: For H1 2023 the AAP is reporting total ebook revenue of $493.8 million, down 1.3% on the same period 2022, which many industry reporters are headlining as representing the US market. But nowhere is it mentioned how much is not included in these figures: Revenue from self-publishers, from small presses that don’t report to the AAP, and from APub.

Again no blame apportioned to the AAP here, and the numbers for this uncounted sector are notoriously hard to nail down. APub doesn’t share, nor do small presses, and self-publishers are a disparate group for which no reporting mechanism exists.

But what little we do know is indicative of an ocean of uncounted revenue that Markus Dohle and the Old Guard stalwarts would prefer not to have out in the open, because it blows apart the Dohle playbook that wants us to believe ebooks make up no more than 20% of the market.

What we do know is that participating self-published authors in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s unlimited ebook subscription service, were paid a total of $278.2 million in royalties in H1, up 10.7% on 2022. The AAP, remember, is reporting a revenue fall of 1.3% in the same period.

For June alone? Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited paid out $47 million in June, up from $43.4 million in June 2022, up 8.3% compared to the AAP’s numerically-reversed drop of 3.8%.

It’s not rocket science to work out that that addition alone would take the total June revenue to $126.8 million, while H1 ebook revenue would climb to $772 million – way above the $419.9 million audiobook revenue figure touted by some in the industry as proof audiobooks are more popular than ebooks.

A caveat here that the KU pot pay-out is supposedly “global”, but the reality is the US market is pretty much all of it. And in any case the KU pot pay-out comes nowhere near representing all the US ebook revenue that the AAP is missing.

The KU pay-out is just for ebooks downloaded through the unlimited subscription service. It does not include an untold number of self-published sales from Amazon’s à la carte sales platform, which all KU titles are simultaneously available on. Nor does it include APub sales and downloads, from both the à la carte sales platform and from the unlimited subscription service.

Nor does it include self-published ebook revenues coming in from Apple, Kobo, Nook, Google Play, Scribd, etc.

Put simply, the KU pot pay-out figure of $47 million in June and of $278.2 million across H1, is simply the tip of an uncharted iceberg that, unlike AAP-reported ebook revenues, didn’t take a downturn after the Covid-bounce, and is increasing still as I write this.

Because just this week the July KU pay-out has been announced. Self-publishers will be sharing $49.5 million for their subscription ebooks, and a safe bet we’ll see that figure rise to over $50 million a month before this year is ended.

For the record, the July pay-out of $49.5 million is up from just $45 million in July 2022, a YoY increase of 10%. Anyone want to make a bet the AAP report from traditional publishers will record another percentage drop in ebook revenues when the July figures are announced in September?

Oh, and about that “Covid bounce” that has been steadily fading away for traditional publishers? Might that be another self-fulfilling fantasy from the Markus Dohle school of publishing?

The Kindle Unlimited pay-out for self-published books for July 2019 was a mere $25.6 million. Here’s what happened with self-published ebooks in the Covid-bounce and Covid retreat period.

  • Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out July 2019: $25. 6 million
  • Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out July 2020: $32.4 million
  • Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out July 2021: $38.1 million
  • Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out July 2022: $45.0 million
  • Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out July 2023: $49.5 million

And yes, that does mean the KU pot pay-out has almost doubled by 2023. Don’t tell Markus Dohle.