I do so love how some folks have to hunt to find some sliver of something that might, in some faraway galaxy, be construed as ill-will by Amazon. Once they find it, they run with it, doing their best to make it into a “big” deal, never considering what the actual facts might be. After all, it’s Amazon they are condemning, so why worry about such minor things like facts? The haters are going to hate, no matter what.
The latest example comes from the New York Times. Yes, yes, I know. It is a bastion of journalistic integrity. How could I doubt it when it hosts headlines like this: Amazon Offers All-You-Can-Eat Books. Authors Turn Up Noses.
The article starts out by saying that authors are mad — again — with Amazon. It goes on to note that “[f]or much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.”
Now, the teacher in me would take the reporter and the editor who approved the article to task for that sentence. After all, it implies that all mainstream novelists were “furious” with Amazon over the Hachette issue. Funny, I don’t remember it being every mainstream author. In fact, the only ones who seemed to really be furious were the favored few and those who felt it necessary to align their names with those same little darlings of the Hachete world. Most of the other so-called mainsteam authors — and what is a mainstream author? Could the article actually mean traditionally published authors? — were busy doing what writers do. They were writing. Note also how the article doesn’t mention once the suggestions made by Amazon to help these so-called furious authors, suggestions that would have put money into the pockets of the authors and that were summarily tossed aside by Hachette. But I digress.
According to the article, there is too much competition out there for writers now. Without the gatekeepers to limit the number — and “quality” — of books available, there are just too many choices for the poor reader to choose from. This is a variation of the argument that is also going around that Amazon is a purveyor of lettuce and shouldn’t also be selling books because, duh, they sell lettuce.
But the real issue the article has with Amazon is the new Kindle Unlimited program. For those of you not familiar with the KU program, it works like this. From the reader’s standpoint, you pay a monthly fee of $9.99. In return, you get the option of downloading up to 10 books at a time for free. These books have to be enrolled in the KU program, so most will be indie books. There is no time limit on when you have to read the books. You can’t loan them and you don’t own them. Think of it as a for pay library. You are paying for the ability to borrow a book for an unlimited period of time.
From the author’s point of view, you have to enroll your title first in the KDP Select program. That means you cannot sell your title anywhere else. Then, if you want to go into the KU program, you check the little box and your book is now enrolled. But don’t get your knickers in a twist — yet. You will get paid for those loans.
At some future point in time.
The problem with KU from an author’s point of view is two-fold. The first is that you don’t know how many times your book has been downloaded. You only find out about a download when it is read to a certain percentage of the book’s length. When that magical number is reached, you get your share of the common “pot”. And therein lies the second issue.
As with the Kindle Only Lending Library (KOLL), authors get paid out of a monthly fund set up by Amazon. The fund can vary in amount from month to month. Worse, there is no limit on the number of books that can be in the program at any one time. So, the more books downloaded and then read to the magic percentage point, the lower the monies paid out per download.
But the real problem with KU is the fact that there is no payment tier based on title price. Someone who puts up a title that normally sells for 99 cents will get the same amount of money per download as that $9.99 title gets. What that means is that those who are putting up titles that fall under the 30% royalty structure normally will get more money per download than they would for a straight sale. Conversely, depending on how much a title sells for you might make close to what you would for a sale if your title is priced at $2.99 but you will make substantially less for those books priced higher than that.
Now, how you look at that is up to you. Amazon is not, contrary to what the article says, making e-books an all-you-can-eat proposition. Most folks aren’t going to pay basically $10 a month just to maybe be able to download 10 books every 30 days or so. Some will, of course, but the average reader will quit the program after realizing they aren’t getting their money’s worth out of it.
But, as an author, you need to look at your sales stats — and that includes returns as well. My personal experience has seen a dramatic decrease in returns on the romance/paranormal romance novels. As I’ve blogged before, other authors I’ve talked to who write in the romance genres have complained of higher return rates for those books than for other genre novels they write. It has nothing to do with quality — usually — but more to do with a certain set of readers. Don’t get me wrong. Most romance genre readers are wonderful fans who would never think about buying a book, reading it and then returning it. However, there is a subset of readers who have no problem doing just that. It isn’t unusual for romance genre authors to have a return rate of 10% or more. Since KU premiered, my return rate for those particular novels has dropped dramatically. It is now at the same level as my other books, below 1% for most novels.
There is something else I’ve noticed. With the exception of my science fiction novels, sales — and borrows — of the other novels have picked up since KU began. That is a good thing. It means money in my pocket and kitty kibble for Demon Kitten and Her Royal Pussiness. Would I like a better way of accounting for the number of downloads vs reading to the magic number? You bet. Just like I’d appreciate knowing how long the average is between download to reading. But what I am finding out through reviews and emails is that a number of those who try a book on KU will then return the book and buy their own copy. Better yet, they will buy other books in the series. I know I am getting sales from KU that I might not otherwise because people do hesitate to buy from an author they aren’t familiar with.
I do wish Amazon would restructure the payment for KU to make it more difficult for authors to game the system. I don’t think something that normally sells for 99 cents should get the same payout that a $2.99 novel does, much less a novel that sells for $4.99 or more. For the system to really work, there needs to be modifiers based on price and length of the work. Without the latter, you will simply have those who want to game the system changing the price of their 2,500 work story from 99 cents to $2.99 (or whatever) to get the larger royalty payout.
The way I look at KU, however, is much like I look at the Baen Free Library. It is, in a way, a loss leader. People get my work for “free”. I don’t get as much money for their borrows but I do, hopefully, get sales out of it in the long run. Am I leaving everything in the program? I’m not sure. I think I will tweak my offerings a bit over the next month or so to see what happens. But, for now, I’m not going to completely abandon it. Not when I do see positive results from the program.
Now if Amazon would only adjust it so the payout was based on price and length of the work, I’d be a happy camper.