Kindle Unlimited’s New Wrinkle: Pay by Pages Read

Kindle Unlimited BooksIndie-author-land has been agog this week over Amazon’s latest changes to its payment system for borrowed books. In case you’ve been living under a rock (or don’t have any books in KDP Select), here’s what’s going down.

In the past, Amazon has paid authors on books borrowed from either of its lending programs, Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, only when a reader reached a certain percentage of the book. The amount the author was paid varied from month to month, depending on the size of the global fund that Amazon designated for these payouts. In other words, you wouldn’t know what you were earning on your borrows in June until mid-July, when the Zon announced the per-book royalty it would pay authors for qualifying borrows.

Under the new system, which goes into effect at the beginning of July, Amazon will still be paying authors for borrows out of the global fund – but the method of calculating those payments will change. Instead of paying when the reader reaches a percentage of the book read, Amazon will pay out based on the author’s percentage of the total pages read in that month. We don’t know yet what the per-page payout will be. That’s a big what-if, so I’ll say it again: We don’t know yet what the per-page payout will be. Just keep that in mind when you see authors doing speculative math based on some number that nobody at Amazon has corroborated yet.

Yes, Big Brother Amazon can tell how far you got in that book before you bailed. Of course they’re keeping track. How else could they keep your place in the book synced across all of your Kindle apps and devices?

As usual when Amazon makes any changes to its payout system, sturm und drang erupted on Kboards and elsewhere after the email went out on Monday. Some authors plan to pull out of Select now (although you have to wonder how many follow through on those threats – Monday’s email from the Zon indicated retention rates of titles in Select hover around 95%). But others – primarily, it appears, authors of longer works – are thinking of opting in.

Here’s why: Since the introduction of Kindle Unlimited last year, there has been a faction of authors who have been gaming the system by writing short “books” and letting them ride in Select. It’s much easier to get the reader to the magic percentage of a 10-page “book” than to reach that same percentage in a 100- or 200- or 500-page book. So some people have been writing short works and slapping them up on Select, and as long as the reader opened the book and read a page or two, the author would get paid for the borrow.

That strategy won’t work anymore. Now, the more you hold your reader’s interest, the bigger your payout will be. And the longer your books are, the bigger your payout could be. In fact, if your books are so fabulous that readers typically finish them, your Kindle Unlimited payday could be pretty darned great.

One more change Amazon is instituting: once the changeover happens, we’ll be able to see how many pages of our books readers have read – and supposedly it will be broken out by title. This could be a huge help to authors who want to keep people reading. Which ought to be all of us, right? If folks bail within the first few pages, okay, the book wasn’t for them. But if readers are consistently hitting a certain point in the story and putting the book down, or if nearly every reader is bailing after just a few pages, that would seem to signal a problem that the author would want to fix.

One question that came up when the minions discussed this around the gruel cauldron aboard the death star: What happens if a reader puts down the book partway in, and then picks it up again later and finishes it? Would the author get paid twice for that book? And what if the per-page payout was markedly lower or higher during the first go-round?

Amazon is giving disgruntled authors until mid-July to opt their books out of Select without a penalty. (Don’t worry, our RJ Crayton will tell you next week how to opt out of the program.) It will be interesting to see how many people pull their books out.  The backlash may be fairly small; an unscientific poll at Kboards shows nearly three-quarters of the respondents in favor of the change.

Perhaps the best thing that may come out of this change is a renewed emphasis among authors on quality over quantity. Personally, I’m looking forward to it.

What do you think?

Author: Lynne Cantwell

Lynne Cantwell grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan. She worked as a broadcast journalist for many years; she has written for CNN, the late lamented Mutual/NBC Radio News, and a bunch of radio and TV news outlets you have probably never heard of, including a defunct wire service called Zapnews. But she began as a fantasy writer (in the second grade), and is back at it today. She currently lives near Washington, DC. Learn more about Lynne at her blog and at her Amazon author page.

43 thoughts on “Kindle Unlimited’s New Wrinkle: Pay by Pages Read”

  1. This non-author thinks it is a good change overall. I’ve been expecting a change due to the rush to put up short books (mainly serializing novels where that doesn’t make sense), but what the change was surprised me. It seems to me the toughest system to game in some way. It encourages authors to make their books/stories whatever the “right” length is for the story. That’s good. I think there are still some serious issues with how they determine the payout on borrows, but it isn’t this. 🙂

    I think it will be interesting to see what the reporting shows. What I’ve heard (may or may not have come from Amazon) is the reporting on your dashboard will be number of borrows and number of total pages, I believe by title as you’ve said. Something more detailed would be more useful but there might be some information you can glean even from this minimal reporting.

  2. It will indeed be interesting how this all shakes out… they claim to be “normalizing” the page counts so cheats like huge fonts and double spacing won’t work, but I wonder how those of us who include photos in our books will fare? We shall see. Thanks for a great explanation of it all!

    1. You’re welcome, Leland. I think children’s books are going to be in the same sort of bind. I hope the Zon has already taken that into account.

  3. I agree with quality over quantity; I always have. However, not all readers are savvy about what constitutes a “good book.” Many are looking for a quick fix and a cheap thrill. So, I’m not sure how all of this will sort out…but with readers’ preferences today, I’m a bit skeptical about the “cream rising to the top.” Since I fit in the category of “Half & Half,” I guess it doesn’t matter!

    1. Linda, I hear what you’re saying. One look at the trad-pubbed bestsellers list is all it takes to note that the most popular books are not always those containing the most finely-wrought prose. 😉 But the quick-and-dirty ten-page wonders are an altogether different breed, as I’m sure you’d agree.

    2. Now all readers know what constitutes a good book? Why does that comment make me cringe. I get where you’re coming from (I think) but I’ve read lots of short, novella length books that are great and lots of great short stories. Do I think there are too many authors who think short is “easier”? Yes. I hate thinking I’m getting a novel when what I’m getting is a novella, but quick sometimes is really good. Bottom line, it will be very interesting to see what happens next!

      1. M.L., I replied from my email, but my post went to the bottom of the page instead of here. Believe me, I read many short stories and novellas I enjoy. The “length” of a piece of fiction has nothing to do with its quality.

      2. You raise a good point, M.L. All you have to do is look at the trad bestseller lists to realize that it’s not always quality fiction that rises to the top. And I’m not just talking about 50 Shades of Whatever.

        I agree that short fiction can be more satisfying, sometimes, than a doorstop-sized novel. What has frustrated me is seeing writers plan to enroll a bunch of short stuff into KDP Select *solely* to collect a payday when the reader first opens the book.

        I think the best strategy is the same as it’s always been: tell the story the best way you know how, to the length the story requires.

  4. I like the changes.

    I’ve always preferred writing to the story’s natural most entertaining length, and now I won’t have to feel guilty when I persevere and don’t pad (I usually run lean vs bloated).

    With quality taking the front seat, work suitable in other media then should become more apparent, to readers and multimedia hungry scouts. That’s my hope anyway 🙂

    1. I tend to run lean, too, Felipe, but not as lean as some of these folks. 😉 You raise some good points in your final paragraph. It will be interesting to see how this shakes out for any number of reasons.

  5. No system will ever make all authors happy… this one gets close. I have to admit, I thought the per book royalty was a failure because it was too easy to game. Even though some will still find a way to game the per page royalty system, it is going to be harder.

    This change should make KU a more viable option for the majority of authors and I look forward to seeing how this works out.

    1. There will always be those who’d rather try to game the system for a big payday than write a rewarding read. I think you’re right, Mike, that this change ought to be a win-win for readers and authors alike.

  6. I’ve been happy with KU for my romance series. I get more KU checkouts than sales. Hopefully, my readers are consuming the entire books. If that’s the case this new system should work out just fine. It changes my long term plan of writing more short work. Instead I’ll be focusing on novel-length books in the series – which most are, anyway.

    It should be interesting to see how the new pay-out system works. I’m glad it will help weed out the scammers who slap up a constant stream of 6-10 page “books.”

  7. I’ve been watching this latest development unfold with great interest. Amazon is obviously trying various combinations until it hits the right one, or at least the right one for now. But I don’t think this is it. Payment per page could lead to a decent enough story being padded half to death. Door stoppers anyone? That’s not quality either.

    If Amazon truly can see exactly how much of a book is read, why not simply payout only when the entire book has been read? At least then you’d know the reader had liked it enough to finish it. Then again, perhaps I’m being too old school here; a book has to be pretty awful for me not to finish it.

    1. I hear ya. I finish nearly all the books I start, too. But the thing is, Meeks, just padding out the story isn’t going to be enough to hold readers’ interest. It’s not percentage that the Zon will be paying on but number of pages read. So publishing a bloated story will do you no good if your readers get disgusted and quit by page 5.

      No system is perfect, but I’m willing to let this one ride for a little while and see how it changes the game.

  8. I agree that this system works well for novels, and that certain people were scamming the system. However, this new concept doesn’t work at all for picture books or chapter books which are shorter by design.

    Kidlit authors were already punched last year by the Kid’s Edition Kindle Fire which came preloaded with children’s literature selected by Amazon. Of course, they chose all the well known classics so that parents would be comfortable allowing their children to read.

    My Select period ends about 6/30 so I’m using up the last if my free days and am going to look into Smashwords for my children’s book and possibly both of my other books. I am usually quite concise so my books are short.

    I wrote to Amazon and initially got a very negative reply that basically said too bad. When I replied that I was pulling my books and reminded them about the Kid’s Kindle Fire, I received a nicer reply indicating that they are still tweaking the system and that my comments would be forwarded for consideration. How far that consideration goes probably depends on how many Kidlit authors complain.

    1. You’re not the only kidlit author doing the math on this, PJ. Hopefully Amazon will find a way to make it work for books that are shorter because of their genre.

  9. I see almost no downside to this. It will kill the cottage industry of creating pamphlets that pay the same as a full time novel. It will reward me when people actually read my book. I’m good with all of this.

  10. The change is pretty ludicrous on all counts. Why should Amazon give two hoots how much of a book is read? It’s the sale – or the choice of the borrow – that counts! They should pay either way, and not rely and that pointless 10% bull either. They have no need to invade our readers’ reading habits in this way.

    If they’re worried about the folks putting out short e-books, then put in a length requirement for novels and other books. I would have no problem with that, as it would set a standard and a level playing field for all authors.

    What happens when a book is downloaded to one’s computer and sideloaded onto a Kindle? There are a lot of people without regular wifi, without 4G, and who just don’t want to sync their Kindles with Amazon more than necessary.

    Here’s a couple of points about Kindle Unlimited I discovered, testing things with my own books (and a few I wanted to read and have since deleted):

    First, once you download a KU book to your computer and sideload it into your Kindle, when you return the book and sync the Kindle, it will disappear. Poof!

    However, if you re-sideload the original file onto your Kindle, you can read it to your heart’s desire! Re-syncing the device makes the book sit there like a lump on a frog. You can read that book forever. And for free! Woo-hoo! Who needs pirates when Amazon makes it easy for everyone?

    Amazon’s KU system, at least as of two months ago, DOES NOT REMEMBER WHAT YOU BORROW! Sure, if you sync a book, it’ll remember where you left off in it, but the KU system itself does not remember that you borrowed it, and doesn’t know to erase the book from your Kindle because you returned it or your KU subscription is up.

    It does seem to remember if you borrowed the book once, since it doesn’t give an author a second royalty if you borrowed it twice, but beyond that, if you download a book to shift over to your Kindle later, that book is basically yours, free and clear.

    Amazon has refused to address this issue; I did some in-depth testing of the situation the first month of KU, and then two months later, and everything was the same. According to their tech department, it is apparently it’s beyond their technical capabilities.

    All I have left in KDP Select/KU are some 99-cent books, since the borrows on those were better than selling them outright. With this new change, it’s just not worth it to put ANY book in Select.

    1. Rich, this is the first I’ve heard of it. I wonder how many people would bother to go to the trouble of doing what you’re describing, particularly when KU isn’t completely free.

      Do you think having a separate submission system or category for short stories, and another for kidlit/poetry/photo books, with differing rules for each, would solve the problem? Maybe that’s the direction Amazon should look into going. I dunno. I guess we’ll see how it all plays out.

      1. They can’t even get things right now. Adding categories will, in all likelihood, screw things up even more, even if it would be the logical thing to do.

        I love Amazon, as my rapidly-filling Amazon Card is proving, but they don’t need to know how much of a book someone is reading – it’s as simple as that. That’s just a completely pointless thing to measure when you’re selling books. I could care less how much of one of my illustrious tomes someone reads, as long as I get the dosh for them picking out from amid the millions of other books.

        1. In reply to both of your responses, Rich, I can’t help agreeing with your “spin” on things. Amazon doesn’t have to Big Brother readers or authors. I like the idea of tying payouts to various book length requirements. Seems fair and square to me.

  11. “I could care less how much of one of my illustrious tomes someone reads, as long as I get the dosh for them picking out from amid the millions of other books.” –

    Rich, totally valid when it’s a physical book being bought. Maybe digital has changed things in ways I’m only beginning to see. Maybe in digital, it’s content that sells, and in the case of KU, via subscription.

    That may mean, for monies to content creators to match monies from content consumers, the amount of actual content consumed is the buying-royalty point.

    I don’t really know of course, but it’s an idea.

    Either way, all the best wishes 🙂

  12. I read, read, read and write, write, write! My issue is that I am a KindleUnlimited subscriber, and I feel that I am being pitted against other authors since every page I read will be one less I am paid for! Anyone else worried about this?

    1. Beyond the obvious, that any one reader isn’t going to read enough to make a material difference, paying on page count rather than book count isn’t going to change that.

      1. Agree. And the same would apply to being paid by the books read anyway. The more books from other authors read, the less in a set pot for his own books.

        It still comes down to, maybe even more so, having work that folk will read and finish.

    2. You’re talking about the size of the fund, right? I agree with Big Al and Felipe — one author’s reading list isn’t going to make enough of a dent in the fund to make a difference in your own bottom line.

      Of course, you have an easy out: cancel your KU reader subscription. Then you’d know for sure that the books you read aren’t counting against your KU earnings. 😉

  13. My books do tend to be on the shorter side, about very specific topics. I will be happy to know how far into them readers are reading, because I am truly interested in providing the information the titles are proposing to offer. If I’m not doing that well, or I’m not answering the questions that originally brought them to my book, then I’d like to fix it and give readers what they’re paying for.

  14. I am definitely looking forward to it. Hopefully it will weed out people who are not really “writers” in the first place, but just quick-buck-schemers. Perhaps this will help quality self-published books to rise to the top.

  15. Sorry, I think you took my comments the wrong way. By a “quick fix” and a “cheap thrill,” I meant that some readers don’t care how a piece of fiction is written. They’re looking for something in particular, which may or may not meet their criteria, regardless of length. So, if one reader gives up after ten pages, but another finishes the story, it doesn’t reveal much about the quality of a book–but rather, more about the individual’s reading habits.

    I hope that makes more sense. If not, I apologize. 🙂

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