Wednesday, July 30, 2014

How to Game Amazon Unlimited

Today’s blog is courtesy of Seamus McCree, who has always had an interest in how people can scam any financial transaction. Since he is a fictional character, take his advice with a pinch (no, make that a saltshaker) of salt. ~ Jim

Mr. Jackson’s recent post demonstrated that Hugh Howey needs a course in remedial math, given the faulty design and interpretation in his Author Earnings Report. I have some good news for Howey on how he can afford to take a little time off for coursework.

If he follows my advice, he will accrue two benefits. He’ll earn substantially greater profits from Amazon Unlimited than he otherwise would. And, because Amazon apparently uses loaned-book data from Amazon Unlimited as part of their bestseller determination, it will have the added benefit of maintaining or improving Howey’s ranking on Amazon’s bestseller lists, which should help drive further sales.

It's FREE!

Howey (or any KDP Select author) needs to rally his fans to take advantage of the 30-day free trial of Amazon Unlimited. Here are the actual Amazon Unlimited Terms of Use, and they don’t appear onerous. Remember to cancel to avoid the $9.99 a month charge.

Gallons of e-ink have been spilled (a decent summary that includes links to other articles is this from CNET) either decrying the difference between the way Amazon pays KDP Select authors and those with standard publishing contracts, promoting what a good deal it is for everyone, sounding the death knell for books as we know them—or something in between. For authors, it comes down to how they are paid, and this is the key to helping Howey (or your favorite KDP Select author or even a legacy published author who has been included in the program to make it look good.). Every time a member of the Amazon Unlimited program reads at least 10% of a book under the program, the author is credited with a sale.

Now, if you happen to be a nonKDP author and your publisher has agreed to have your book included in Kindle Unlimited, when the reader hits the magic 10% mark, your publisher is credited with a sale at whatever price Amazon is charging to the Kindle ebook. The author will get royalties based on the sale. Good deal, huh? Unfortunately there aren’t many traditionally published novels currently available as part of Kindle Unlimited; most of the 600,000 titles are from the self-published folks using KDP Select.

So, back to helping Hugh Howey. When I was writing this article, Howey had 20 books listed in Kindle Unlimited. Here are the steps to give Howey some extra money, whether or not you like his books:

1. Register for your 30-day free trial.
2. “Borrow” Howey books (you can borrow a maximum of ten at a time).
3. Take your favorite print book (or a second e-reader) and start reading. Every time you turn a page, click page turn in your borrowed Howey book until you get to 10%, then close that book and start another. (To be safe, go to 11% or 12 % since there may be some junk in the beginning that Amazon won’t count.) Howey will be credited for a book sale for every book on which you reach the magic 10%. This approach should at least temporarily fool any Amazon algorithms to avoid counting any speed-readers who just flip through books.
4. Once you have “read” the ten books, borrow the next ten. If more have appeared, do it again.
5. With twenty books available on Kindle Unlimited, all you have to do is read two or three print books in your 30 days, follow procedures in item #3 and Howey gets credit.
6. Cancel your subscription before the 30 days are up if you don’t want to continue.

Because Amazon isn’t giving KDP authors the same deal as legacy publishers, it is not clear exactly how much Howey will make with every book your “borrow” and “read.” Anecdotal evidence I’ve seen indicates for books borrowed as part of Amazon Prime, KDP Select authors have been paid around $2. If the same amount holds, you can give Howey $40 of Amazon money just for having your reader open and flicking pages in a method that won’t tip Amazon off that you aren’t actually reading the book.

Oh, and if you are a fan of the Hunger Games or Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings, you can do the same thing and make sure Suzanne Collins, or JK Rowlings or the estate of Tolkien (and their publishers) receive some of Amazon’s largess.

There is an added bonus. Amazon is counting any book “read” in Amazon Unlimited as a sale for purposes of their various bestseller lists. This should help keep the KDP readers on top of those comical compilations of cosmic content curation, which will help justify Howey’s claims that independent authors are making more money than those published by Big-5 publishers. Except, that while KDP Select authors may be credited with a couple of bucks for each read, the Big 5 publishers will be paid full ebook list price for any of their books you read.

Buying Your Way to an Amazon bestselling author

We’ve learned how authors and their agents can buy their way onto and even to the top of the major bestseller lists (here and here are two articles). There’s a way KDP Select authors can get in the game with a little help from their friends. Let’s say a new company forms. Call it Bestsellers-Guaranteed (B-G for short). B-G’s plan is to collect a cadre of “readers”—people who are willing to have B-G control their ereader between (say) midnight and six every day.

Aspiring Bestselling Author Ian Desperate hires B-G to propel his sales to the top of the charts. For every book read by one of B-G’s “readers,” Amazon pays Desperate (say) $2.00 for each book “read.” He turns $1.00 over to B-G. They in turn pay their “readers” fifty cents for every book “read.” [Actually, B-G will require upfront payment and guarantee Desperate a certain number of “reads.”] Utilizing the app placed on their cadre of robot ereaders, B-G turns the page at the actual reader’s normal pace. The app reads a book a night, earning about $15 each month for the owner of the ereader and for B-G. Since the monthly subscription costs only $9.99 the ereader owner makes $60/yr. for leaving their reader on and connected to a network overnight. B-G makes $360/yr./device less expenses. The author makes plenty of money they wouldn’t have gotten before, offset by the few sales they would have gotten anyway from this group of people.

Presumably, an author who wants top bestseller status will have to pay extra for Bestseller-Guaranteed’s services, but I’ll leave the contract terms to the fictional enterprise and author to figure out.


You heard it here first – but you heard it from a fictional character, who can’t be sued or brought to trial for aiding and abetting fraud. My creator, James M. Jackson, disavows this get-rich scheme. He’s not suggesting it as a strategy for any author or for any individual or corporation. You do it, he is not responsible.

Do I think some people will try to game the system? Yes, I do. It is something Amazon will need to combat, because if a fictional character can figure this out, some human will as well. And while I have a decent set of scruples, many humans don't.

Of course, if Howey wants to send me (Seamus, that is) on a fully paid (fictional) holiday for bringing this to his attention, that would be okay.

~ Seamus McCree


  1. Turns out Amazon Unlimited is not all good news for KDP Select authors. DWB has removed their titles from consideration for its digital bestseller lists because of Amazon's unwillingness to disaggregate sales from loans in the figures it provides. Here's the article:

    ~ Jim

  2. Very funny, but reading the 10 percent does sound like it would bump things up.

  3. A really complicated situation, Jim. As a Select writer, I'm noticing a lot more borrows. This was better when my books were $2.99 but at $3.99, not so much because the payout is less than a sale. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out. I've already mentioned to someone that I don't think it will last, but I've been wrong before. Once.

    1. Polly -- are you going to share with us the single occasion of your being wrong? Inquiring minds want to know...