Amazon has made some huge changes to how it’s paying authors for borrows under its Kindle Unlimited program.
Previously, all authors were paid the same for all books, regardless of length – an average of $1.39 that has constantly been dropping over the last 6 months.
Now, authors will be paid per page read.
Some of you may be cheering, saying this is much fairer of a system, and on its face, it appears to be. A novel takes more time to write than a short story, right? So it should be paid higher.
As a novelist, I disagree, and I’m going to outline why. I’d really like you to read through this and think about what the logical conclusions will be. I’m going to outline what the payout would have been in June, what it may be in July given the past fund amount and borrow amounts, and what it could be in 3 months time, so stay with me.
This is the information we have so far:
If this change had gone live in June, Amazon has given us the following information:
Base Fund: 11 Million
Pages Read: 1.9 Billion
Average pages per borrow: 210 (I got this number by taking the estimated borrows for June given the typical growth rate, and dividing it by the number of pages Amazon has released)
From this calculation, you can easily find for yourself that in June, we would have been paid $0.0057 per page, and some novelist may be clapping with glee.
So let’s look at July. Given the growth of the fund, and the growth of the borrows, we can estimate the following:
Fund: 13.7 Million
Average pages read: 2.4 billion
Average pages per book: 210
So it’s the same! Yes! Go novelists! Novelists writing over 240 pages (higher than the average) will be making the same as what they did before.
Except we have a problem…
Well, we have a lot of problems.
Firstly, this assumes that 100% of readers read 100% of the book. Now, traditionally when someone paid for a book, they are not likely to finish it.
Given the fact that Kindle Unlimited is a borrow program, people are even less likely to finish a book. Readers are able to treat the Kindle Unlimited program like a buffet, sampling different dishes to find their favourites, then going back to those for more. They leave the rest on their plate.
And there was nothing wrong with doing that.
So no, you won’t get 100% completion rate all the time.
Secondly, you’re not able to see when and where readers stop. Let’s say, for instance, you have a really strong book, with great cover, blurb, editing, the whole shebang. You do some promotion, except there’s something tripping people up at the end of Chapter 5. Let’s say that 70% of people stop here. Maybe it’s a clumsy or confusing paragraph, maybe it’s something the characters did. Maybe something shocked them and they didn’t like it.
So they stop reading.
Amazon isn’t going to tell you where they’re stopping reading. They know it, they just won’t tell you. They are taking the control that they could easily give you, and withholding it. This is vital information for people trying to make a living on their writing, and Amazon is not going to tell you how many people are even reading your books. You don’t know if you have 10 readers who only got to page 10, or 1 reader who read all 100 pages.
This is why the #releasetherate campaign started (which is created and supported by some of my favourite novelists, people who are making the vast bulk of their earning on their novels).
Thirdly, Amazon hasn’t informed Kindle Unlimited subscribers of these changes, but when their favourite authors start pulling out, they’re going to figure it out. If they’re only able to read 5 novels a month and 5 shorts a month, Kindle Unlimited is a bargain. But once they’re only able to read 5 novels a month, they might not be so inclined to go with the subscription model.
Readers are pulling out of Kindle Unlimited because of this change, make no mistake, and that will hurt novelists whether we want to admit it or not.
Fourthly, as novelists, we’re sacrificing the rights to publish our books with other companies for a three month period. In exchange, we’re able to discount our books or provide them for free for 5 days within that three month period. If your novel is selling for $3.99, you make $2.40-$2.80 per sale. I want you to keep this in mind, as it should affect your way of thinking about this all.
Finally, I want you to think in the future. What will these changes mean for novelists? The money has to be going somewhere, right? The borrows increase, the fund increases, the money is going into someone’s pocket.
However, let’s look at the Amazon eco-system of 2 weeks ago, when the changes were announced (I chose categories where short literature is most often present):
1,003,037 Kindle Unlimited Books
(9%) 94,155 Erotica
(2.8%) 28,864 Poetry
(4%) 40,517 Short Stories
(10%) 102,000 Children’s ebooks
(5%) 55,000 Teen & Young Adult
(34.7%) 348,032 Kindle Short Reads
Titles that are categorized as Erotica are unable to be in the Kindle Short Reads section, so let’s assume, for arguments sake, that of the 1 million titles in Kindle Unlimited, around 400,000 are under 100 pages long, and we know according to Amazon the average length of a book read is 210 pages long. I’m not positive that Kindle Short Reads includes Children’s ebooks or non-fiction books, and if it doesn’t, this would add on at least another 100,000 books (bringing it up from 40% of the books being under 100 pages to 50% of the books being under 100 pages).
What will happen to the fund and how it’s paid out when those 400,000 books are removed from the Amazon ecosystem?
That is the absolutely most important question that the novelist has to be thinking about, because when the average page length creeps up from 210 pages, to 240 pages, to 300 pages, that fund will be spread thinner and thinner over more and more pages.
That means that instead of getting $1.35 for a 240 page book, you might have to write a 300 or 350 page book and hope that every single reader reads through 100% of the way.
Right now, short reads are skewing the average down. Once the short reads are gone, the average will go up. When the average goes up, the Amazon fund will be spread across a lot less variety in books, with a lot higher lengths.
This is how the landscape has changed in two weeks before the system even goes live:
+19,439 Kindle Unlimited Books
-1,947 Short Stories
+2,408 Children’s ebooks
+2,364 Teen & Young Adult
+6,852 Kindle Short Reads
But people in these categories are removing their books now, enmasse. What will the landscape look like once short reads are no longer making up 40% of Kindle Unlimited? What will the payout be for a 240 page novel in six months? In a year?
Amazon is making novelists think they’re going to come away the winner in this, but once the shorts are disappearing because people don’t want to earn less than 15 cents for a short story, I don’t feel we will be.
Let’s say you disagree. Let’s say you feel that if all the Kindle Unlimited subscribers read 1.9 billion pages in a month, that’s not likely to go up or down, whether those pages are divided among shorts or novels.
Let’s say, for argument sake, that you’re right.
1.9 billion is a low estimate. We are in what is commonly referred to as the ‘summer slump’. June was a month when the nice weather was finally hitting, people spending time with kids, getting ready for school to finish up, preparing for their vacation so they’re busy at work, etc.
In short, June is a month that historically people do not spend a lot of time reading.
Come October, once people are getting chilly and want to cozy up with a book? Those pages read are going to go up by a lot.
So novelists, I’m begging you… don’t write this off as a way to get rid of people you don’t feel are real writers (and while I have your attention, please stop saying that. Some of my favourite authors like H.P. Lovecraft and Ambrose Bierce and Margaret Atwood all wrote short stories).
Don’t act like this is going to be perfect for you, and that if you come out ahead in June, you will always come out ahead.
They are changing the landscape in a fundamental way, and it’s not necessarily going to be great for the novelist, especially for midlist novelists.
Yes, this change hurts short story authors most. People who write children’s books, travel guides, cook books, erotica, serials, and poetry will hurt the most, as this is a direct slash to the bottom line. These people have been writing and publishing before Kindle Unlimited, and will continue without it, and consumer dollars will still be spent.
Depending on how the market reacts, they might make out better in the long run than novelists as the price normalizes and consumers return to paying for short books at the usual rates.
You might argue that this gets rid of ‘scamlets’ but there were better and more efficient ways to get rid of them.
Short fiction authors haven’t been ‘gaming’ the system. They’ve been writing these books for years and enrolled them in Kindle Unlimited as a way to expand readership and, yes, potentially increase their earnings. But people paid $2.99 for travel guides and erotic shorts before Kindle Unlimited, and authors were taking a hit if you assume all borrows would’ve translated to sales.
You might argue that this will encourage better writing, and you’d be right if Amazon #realeasetherate and gave us information to better our writing. You might argue that it’s only fair that novelists make more than short story authors, and I wouldn’t argue.
But this is a bad move for everyone.