Amazon to Pay by Pages Read: Good or Bad?


Amazon has been in the headlines a little bit recently. This time it’s because they are making a change to the way they pay royalties for independent authors.freak-out-279x300

And from what I’ve seen, a lot of people have thoughts about the program. And by thoughts, I mean, emotions. Lots of emotions. Most of them negative, assuming this change can only be bad.

But personally, I’m taking a wait and see position. I’ve learned that expending a lot of emotion, positive or negative on theoretical outcomes is a waste of effort. I prefer to save my freak outs and emotional outbursts until I have facts. But then I usually do it up big. BIG. But that’s another topic.

However, I’ve realized, in my chats with authors and people who care about how Amazon pays royalties, that there is a bit of misinformation and misunderstanding going around. So I just want to take a minute and break down exactly what this change is, who it effects and how:

The Change: Amazon has announced that for their authors (and small publishers) who publish through their KDP program (self-published books sold EXCLUSIVELY through Kindle) royalties for books purchased within the Kindle Unlimited program, or shared via the Kindle lending program, will be calculated based on numbers of pages read, and not for each time the book is downloaded or shared within either of these two programs.

Who it affects: A pretty small subset of all the authors publishing through Kindle:

1. ONLY authors who use the self-publishing Kindle platform AND join the KDP program by making their book exclusive through Kindle, AND THEN, its only those books that are “purchased” via the Kindle Unlimited program, (which is a subscription based program through Kindle where customers can pay $10/month and have unlimited access to the catalog of books that participate in the Kindle Unlimited Program.) It is also worth noting that membership in the KDP program is done for 3 month periods, and is reversible at any point.

2. Authors who choose to have their books available in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library – which means you’re OK with your book being shared, much the way most people pass around print books. This option is COMPLETELY voluntary on the part of the publisher/author, and requires you to click a box before the book is published. It can be un-clicked at any time. Currently, authors who participate in this program are compensated via a percentage of a fund that Amazon establishes, which makes sharing Kindle books better for the author than sharing paperback books where the author gets no compensation. For more details on this fund and compensation structure, visit Amazon’s KDP Page. But instead of getting a percentage of the fund every time a book is loaned out, authors get a percentage of the fund based on how many pages are read out of each borrowed book, relative to the total number of pages read of all the books lent within the program each month.

Who/what it does NOT affect:

1. Authors whose e-books are bought directly from Amazon at the list price. EVEN if your book is also available within Kindle Unlimited but the customer doesn’t purchase it through the program.

2. Royalties on sales of print versions of the book.

We have several of our e-books enrolled in the KDP program currently because we’ve found it to be a great tool for selling some of our back list, and for aiding discovery of some of our books, so this change could a very real impact on this company. My instinct is that it’s not going to be a catastrophic change.

Philosophically I do like the idea that well written books – books that encourage a reader to keep reading – will get compensated more than books that are boring or badly written. Although, what counts as a good or bad book is highly subjective of course. But I do think it’s an idea worth considering. Self-publishing has gotten a very bad rep (not undeserved in many cases), for low quality books – either in terms of content or production value. This reputation makes my life harder, even though my books are not technically self-published, and as a result, I’m for anything that might elevate the quality of self-published books, even if it’s a stretch.

All things considered, I’m just taking a wait and see attitude about this change before I start getting too worked up about it. And I’m not gonna lie – there’s a part of me that simply applauds Amazon’s willingness to play with a model that has been in place as long as publishers have existed. And I may be naive, but I can’t jump onto the bandwagon of assuming that because Amazon is a big capitalist company that everything they do is aimed at screwing the rest of us.

If we don’t try out new ideas and new models, nothing ever changes, nothing ever evolves.  I may well change my tune when I see the royalty payouts, but until then, I’m enjoying seeing how many pages are being read out of the books that I’ve enrolled in KDP, and for the first time, having an answer when my authors say “I just want to know that people are reading my books.”

So, let’s all just take a breath, and wait until we see how this is going to play out. And then we can all freak out together.

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