As a Purveyor of Fine Publications, I have to be constantly aware of how the public is consuming media. It’s not a surprise, I think, to those who visit the Mad Genius Club to hear that consumption of entertainment is in the throes of another sea-change, and has been for a while. You will still, however, run across those who wonder who moved their cheese, or who think that consuming media in one way is the best way and no other way is valid. Friends, we cannot think like that. We have to remain nimble, and ahead of the curve, or at the very least just behind it. We cannot afford to remain at the flat bottom shaking our fists at the wave telling it to stay off our lawn. Not only is the general public not interested in our lawn, they have moved past lawns into xeriscaping and polyculture and are wondering why we’re still insisting on that boring old monoculture of grass. Grass doesn’t do anything, except dry up and get brown when it stops raining every August.
I published a blog post yesterday – and how long have blogs been around? I mean gosh, I remember publishing the school newspaper on the stinky printer in the principal’s office and if a paper jam happened we were flat out of luck. And it wasn’t that long ago fanzines were mimeographed, and now they’re on efanzine and delivered conveniently to your email (I highly recommend Uncle Timmy’s The Revenge of Hump Day, by the way). But I digress. I published a thing, about books and how cranky I was about certain trends (speaking as a reader) and a lively discussion was sparked in the comments and on social media. Time was, you’d have to go to a con to have that many geeky voices chatting on one subject in that time frame.
One of the facets of the conversation was about Kindle Unlimited. I know we’re all familiar with it here, and have discussed the pros and cons as both authors and readers, but I still find that I have to explain it when I bring it up on social media, and there are a lot of misconceptions out there surrounding it. One seems to be that if a person reads in KU, the author isn’t compensated – we are. We might not get as much as we would were the reader to buy the books, but frankly I understand limits to book spending money, and I’m happy to get a little money than none at all. I suppose if the reader really wanted to support an author for their work (or for, say, their nonfiction outside of paid-work) they can look at the author’s website for a tip button like I have on mine in the upper right corner. Ahem. Or they can read and return the book on KU and then buy it outright. We get paid twice!
Kindle Unlimited, I explained yesterday, is like Netflix, for books. It is, in short, part of the new trend in media consumption. On Demand.
Consumers demand what they want to watch, read, or play right now. They don’t want to wait, they don’t want to sort through what’s on the shelf of the bookstore or video shoppe, and settle for second choices (or third, or fourth, or…). They don’t want to check and see if it’s in the budget. And they aren’t too concerned about re-consumption, if you think about it. Netflix offers the ability to binge-watch a TV show (check out Father Brown if you love crime and humor), a series of movies(Captain America is the best superhero), or discover stuff you didn’t know was out there (Australian crime shows are a lot of fun). As Netflix became more and more popular Hulu came on the scene. You can now purchase passes to most TV channels on-demand. The days of having to subscribe to a $200 a month cable package are gone, folks. And it’s the same way for books. You could buy all the titles you wanted individually, or you can get a reading pass subscription to something like KU (I haven’t tried the others out there, like Scribd) and binge-read to your heart’s content.
I think that’s the way of the future. I watch my kids, and I see them reading. A lot. Not always what I’m coaxing them to read, but they read massive amounts of fanfiction. My Junior Mad Scientist showed me her open tabs on her laptop the other day, and um, yeah. She’s my kid. I didn’t know you could have that many open tabs without crashing the browser. I strongly suspect that as she gets older and her tastes more sophisticated, she will move (as I did, around her age) to a different reading format that isn’t so… unreliable. However, I don’t think that she’ll move on to bookstores and libraries, at least not as I knew them as a teen and young woman. I suspect her world will look a lot more like on-demand access to books, movies, and games. She already has a Steam account, for videogames, as does her brother. I have the admin rights to both, so I can give them games (and see how much they are playing). She has access to my Kindle Library and I can buy her books… like Howl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones (I got a dual SQUEE! over this one. My girls had seen the movie and didn’t know there was a book).
I appreciate and understand the love for paper books. Heck, last week I was posting glamour shots of some of my dead tree collection here on this very blog, and I’m likely to do so again. (Pulps, anyone? LOL) The reality is that paper is dead, and in more ways than just one. E-ink readers, which I remember reading about a mere 15 years ago as being novelties presented at some Japanese tech convention, are not only common, but relatively cheap. Tablets that can do more than my first computer are so ubiquitous I’ve given one to my 11 yo son, repeatedly. I read on the computer, on my tablet, on my phone… and rarely, in paper. I know I’m not an outlier in this.
So I put all my novels and most of my short works in KU. For the moment, that restricts me to Amazon, but frankly my sales outside Amazon were not sufficient to offset the ‘reads’ I’m paid for through KU. It appears that my monthly royalties are about a 50/50 split between purchases and KU reads. It’s been well worth the move to having my work in KU. And as a reader, it’s great to have access to on-demand books.