Is the world really ending with pay per page read?

End of the world

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Anyone even slightly interested in publishing will have seen a number of apocalyptic headlines recently regarding Amazon and their plan to pay authors by the number of pages read. Most of these articles have been either deliberately or accidentally misleading so let’s just cover the facts.

  • The new system only involves ebooks downloaded as part of the Kindle Owners Lending Library program (which is a benefit of having Amazon Prime Membership) or those downloaded by Kindle Unlimited (the pay monthly, download as many books as you want) subscribers.
  • Only authors who sign their books up to the KDP Select program (a program which offers authors benefits such as promotional days etc. in return for Amazon exclusivity) are involved in KOLL or Kindle Unlimited. It’s a voluntary program. You do not have to be part of KDP Select to sell your books through Amazon.
  • If an author sells a book, they get a percentage of the total sale price as before, regardless whether they are part of KDP select or not.

What this means is that Amazon aren’t revolutionising the publishing industry, just changing the terms of their own voluntary author program.

That said, this will have an impact on a number of authors. In the past, for any KOLL or Kindle Unlimited download, the author received a payment after 10% of the book had been read. This was to stop people gaming the system by downloading thousands of books they had no plans to read, just so an author received payment. The actual payment itself was calculated by a fund (or pot of money) decided by Amazon. These payments have varied month on month but have recently been as low as the $1.30’s per download.

Now indie authors being the entrepreneurs that they are, saw this 10% payment trigger and decided to react by publishing shorter books, often by cutting up longer novels into separate parts (I toyed with the idea myself but decided against it). This meant instead of publishing one, three hundred page novel, they might publish three, one hundred page serialised novel. The advantage being you only had to read ten pages (instead of thirty pages with the original novel) to trigger payment, and you get three payments instead of one (if the reader reads all three).

The new system has been designed to counter this. Paying per page read is, in theory, a fairer system. It encourages writers to publish novels in their most natural form and pays all authors equally. It is also more difficult to game. However, a lot of authors who’ve made a lot of money from the old system are quite understandably concerned about the new changes, especially as they were announced at short notice. Also, a number of people are unhappy with the premise that a book of 500 pages has more worth than one of 200 pages. Then there is the concern that this new system will change how authors write, forcing them to put a cliff-hanger at the end of each chapter to keep people reading.

My thoughts

I have some issues with the KOLL and Kindle Unlimited payments system but as a relatively new author the benefits of joining the program outweigh the potential downsides. I don’t have an issue with being paid per page ready, I think it’s a better system than the one they had in place before, but it’s not perfect. My main issue is that by all payments coming from a finite pool, as opposed to stating a fixed page fee, Amazon have made publishing into a zero sum game where authors are fighting each other for a limited amount of money. That said, this was the same in the old system and my sales aren’t large enough for me to believe my income is being significantly affected.

I have some sympathy with the view that a 500 page novel will now have a higher potential value than a 200 page novel. There is some fear that writers will start to pad out their books to gain a higher income, but I don’t believe this will happen, because readers get bored with bloated text and stop reading, and the one thing all authors want is for readers to actually read their books the whole way through.

While I’m sure some authors will change their style to add cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter, in reality all writers are want to write a compelling story that grip readers through to the end. We have a number of ways of doing that, through the development of compelling characters, a gripping narrative, the use of mystery and so on. I don’t see the new system changing how the majority write because wanting readers to read to the end is already an author’s primary goal.

I don’t plan to remove my books from the KDP Select program because of these changes but will be interested to see how much, if any, impact it has on my income. What I would love to have, as an author, is the ability to see where readers have read up to and if there is a pattern to where they drop out. This information could make a big difference to what and how I write, and if Amazon made this available for a fee, they could be sitting on a goldmine.

So what about you? What are your thoughts about the changes to the KDP Select program? Are you worried, intrigued or not bother? I’d love to hear from you.


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