Numbers Game

How delightful.

If you don’t care about the publishing industry, you can skip this post.

Last July, I wrote about Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t feel like re-reading that post, the gist of it was that while KU and similar subscription services were a good deal for readers, they were less so for writers. Amazon is about to make it better for writers*.

* No, I couldn’t type that with a straight face.

The way KU pays royalties today is simple: If a reader makes it through 10% of your book, you get paid. Less than 10%, you get nothing. Of course, you don’t know how much you’ll be paid, because what you get is a share of the “KDP Select Global Fund,” which varies every month according to a formula that Amazon keeps secret.

So if you publish a 250 page novel through KU and ten people read at least the first 25 pages this month, you get ten shares of the June pool. Mind you, your writing buddy who specializes in shorter works only needs to get ten people to read two pages of his 20 page novella to get the same ten shares, but who cares? You’re getting paid.

And here we see part of the reason why the value of a share keeps dropping. KU has been flooded with novellas, the number of qualifying reads has gone up faster than subscription income, and the per-read payment shrinks. In May, the payout was $1.37 per read.

Amazon’s got a fix. They’re going to reduce the value of a quickly-written, indifferently-edited novella. Effective July 1, payment will be made per page read. Can’t find anyone who can make it through the first chapter of your 500 page epic about Swedish worm farmers in the first century BC? Don’t sweat it, because you’ll still get paid for both of the readers who made it to page 2.

The only real question is how much you’ll get paid per page read. As far as anyone can tell, the fund will still be fed the same way as it has in the past. According to Roger Packer, Amazon has promised that the fund will be “in excess of $11 million” for July and August. The May fund was $10.8 million.

Amazon’s examples are based on a payout of 10 cents per page read; Packer points out that means authors will receive the same amount of money under the new plan if the average read is fourteen pages. Fourteen pages seems like an awfully low number, even for a pool dominated by 20-25 page novellas, but who knows, maybe it’s correct. If so, all I need is for ten people to make it through the first chapter of my worm farmer novel, and I can take Maggie out to dinner at the burrito joint down the street to celebrate.

Since Amazon doesn’t release figures on how many pages have been read, it’s all guesswork at this point. I’ve seen estimates of per-page payouts as high as Amazon’s 10 cents per page and as low as half a cent per page.

At half a cent per page, I’ll need those ten people to make it all the way through the book before Maggie and I can have that celebratory dinner. Hope everyone loves the round-up scene (“Ya! Git along there, Little Squirmy!”)

Seriously, I can’t see this working out to higher payments for anyone except the authors whose works are so awful that nobody ever made it past the 10% mark. There are probably a few–but they’re going to have to attract a lot of eyeballs to pay for the bottle of bubbly they’re buying to toast their first royalty check.

4 thoughts on “Numbers Game

    • Just to be clear here, we’re talking about e-books. As far as I know, they can’t track your reading with physical books.

      But yes, if you use a Kindle or the Kindle software on a tablet, phone, or computer, they track everything you read. So do the other subscription services (Scribd, Oyster, and so on.) I’d be willing to bet that Barnes and Noble track everything you do in the Nook software, and Google does likewise for the three people who use the Google Books app.

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  1. Oh dear, so my choice to de-DRM Kindle books and read them with a different e-reader would leave KU authors with no royalties. Not that I use KU anyway, but I hope publishers / ebook providers don’t start using these “pages-read” formulae with books that people deliberately purchase rather than coming across them in an all you can read service.

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    • Yes, but. Let’s keep the distinction between rental (KU) and purchase in mind.

      Amazon can unilaterally impose whatever terms they want on KU (which requires authors to only offer their titles through Amazon), but simple self-interest would result in massive defections if they introduced a “we’ll keep all the royalties if a buyer doesn’t actually read your book” model on purchases. If nothing else, the traditional publishers would instantly yank all of their titles. And despite the claims of self-publishing fanatics, any service without the trad-pub titles everyone is talking about (be it Harry Potter, 50 Shades, or Dragon Tattoo) is a service that’s doomed.

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