And Panic Ensues
Eight days ago, Amazon announced a change to their Kindle Unlimited Program. For those who aren’t familiar with KU, it is a two-pronged program. For readers who pay $9.99 per month, you can borrow e-books enrolled in the KU program. This also includes a number of audio books as well. There is no time limit on when you have to return the books except you can only borrow 10 books at a time. If you are a voracious reader, KU can be a godsend for you because of the money you can save. As an author, KU is simply another method to help promote your books. Under the current rules, you get paid a share of the global fund put aside each month by Amazon, once 10% of your book or short story has been read. Simple so far, right?
Now, from the beginning, a number of authors have had issues with the KU Program. Initially, there were the Amazon haters who saw this as a way for Amazon to make money while not paying authors. That was the knee-jerk reaction. The real issue many of us had with the program was that every title received the same share of the pot, no matter how many “pages” it might be. In other words, a short story that regularly sold for 99 cents that would receive a 30 cent royalty for a sale would, on average, receive $1.40 for a borrow. That is the same amount per borrow that the $4.99 full length novel received. It didn’t matter how long your story was or how many words you wrote. You got the same amount out of the global fund per borrow.
And that led to the system being gamed by a number of authors. It was a very well-known “secret” that certain authors would put out short, very short works and put them into the KU Program because they knew they would make more per borrow than they would per sale. Hitting the 10% mark in a short story often happened before getting past the legal page at the beginning of the story. So they would get paid before the reader even knew if they liked the story or not. Conversely, for a novel, several chapters — or more — had to be read before payment would be accrued.
Folks complained and Amazon listened. Eight days ago, the company announced changes to the KU Program that will take effect the beginning of next month.
One particular piece of feedback we’ve heard consistently from authors is that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers. We agree. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that beginning on July 1, the KDP Select Global Fund will be paid out based on the number of pages KU and KOLL customers read.
For novel and long non-fiction authors, this is a very good thing. But there have been a number of authors panicking over this announcement. It hasn’t been helped by articles such as the one posted by The Telegraph with a headline shouting “Amazon to pay Kindle authors only for pages read.” The misrepresentation continues in the first two paragraphs:
If you are an author whose book fails to grip in the opening chapter, it could prove costly.
Amazon is to begin paying royalties to writers based on the number of pages read by Kindle users, rather than the number of books downloaded. If a reader abandons the book a quarter of the way in, the author will get only a quarter of the money they would have earned if the reader stuck it out to the end.
I can’t blame any author reading that for worrying. It is an example of not only poor journalism but lousy research, not that it surprises me.
A couple of paragraphs down the author of the article then notes that such a change in policy brings into question just how much data Amazon can mine from its customers. Give me a break. Every time you sync your Kindle or your Kindle app, or any other e-reader for any other vendor, you are giving them information about what you have been reading and how far you have been reading. This is nothing new. If you read the terms of service you agree to when you sign up for their services and the FAQs, you will see this. But, this particular journalist has to reach for the most sensational non-issues possible. Don’t believe me, it isn’t until the fifth paragraph before she clarifies that this new payment method applies to the KU program.
This sort of reporting is fanning a flames of fear and Amazon hate simply because folks aren’t reading the e-mails sent out by Amazon.
Will this impact the bottom line for authors? Absolutely. How much, one way or the other, we won’t know until we see the new rules in action. However, it will do exactly what many of us have wanted — it gives novelists the opportunity to earn more per borrow than short story writers. I say it gives us the opportunity to do so because we still have to hook and hold a reader. If we can’t do that, then we need to know that. And guess what, we will be able to have an idea if we are doing our job because one of the new items to come out of the program is we will be able to see how many pages of an enrolled work were read. Something else to think about, we no longer have to hit that 10% threshold. So, if someone reads 15 pages and decides that book isn’t for them — and it will happen — we will still get paid for those 15 pages. That is better than nothing.
And I convinced that this new program answers all the concerns I’ve had about the program? No. One question I have is when we get paid for pages read. Say John borrows a book in June and starts reading it in July but doesn’t finish it until September. Do we get paid for the number of pages he read each month? Or do we get paid after he finishes the book in September? Or do we wait until he turns the book in? And what about if he reads the book again? Do we get paid a second time?
Still, instead of doing as so many are threatening and pulling my books out of the program before the changes go into effect, I’m going to wait and see what happens. Frankly, I am more concerned about folks finding new ways to game the system than I am about the change in payout levels. Amazon has already taken steps to try to prevent one way of increasing the number of “pages” an e-book has. It will implement a system of “normalizing” type. That should prevent folks from having a single word or two per page. (Not to mention how readers would react to that sort of thing. I can see the negative reviews now.) But, where there is a will, there is a way.
So, what are your thoughts about the changes to the program and are you going to stay in or pull your titles out until you see what happens?