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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31 thoughts on “Is the world really ending with pay per page read?

  1. On the whole it does seem like a fairer system and might just encourage more good and creative writing rather than less. I do have some sympathy with the page count issue, where a short book, for instance one based on factual references, may have taken far more hours of research than a longer, but lighter, purely fictional work. Perhaps a pay-per-page-read plus a completion bonus would level that out a bit, though I can’t see Amazon offering more to authors than they actually have to!

    • You make a great point regarding non-fiction and reference books. I’d be interested to know just how many non-fiction works are part of KU. I see Memoirs and biographies being similar to fiction, but how-to & reference books could seriously lose out.

      • They could. Many of my books are rooted in fact, though presented as fiction. There is a huge amount of research behind each one, so I know what goes into that end of the scale. A seriously studious work may be years in the making and as ebooks are taking such a share of the market, I can see a lot losing out there.

  2. I’d heard about this on social media, but I didn’t know much about the KDP program so I didn’t really get the specifics. Thanks for taking the time to explain it. Makes much more sense to me now. I guess since I’m not in the program, I don’t have a stake in it, but it will be interesting if they decide to take this to the next level and apply it to all e-books. Bet even more authors would weigh in then.

    • I think it’s a major leap from opening a lending service, offering authors the option of joining in and paying them per lend (or page read) to telling authors how they should price, and be paid, for the sale of their books. I think they would be on shaky legal ground (anti-competitive practice, price fixing).
      I’m not saying it won’t happen, but it looks unlikely. They would need to find an incentive for authors to opt-in, rather than force the issue, and how many authors would be interested in doing it voluntarily?

      • Not sure about UK law, but in US employment law, company control of certain behaviors (such as dictating prices) could influence whether a worker is considered an independent contractor or an employee, so I have to believe it is extremely unlikely that Amazon would require authors to price their books according to some formula Amazon created.
        Just adding a disclaimer here to say that I’m offering my opinion as just another loud mouth on the Internet, and this isn’t actual legal advice.

      • That’s interesting. My first thoughts were around price fixing (they can give benefits to authors so they price in certain ways but they can’t force them to do it, given their market size) but I didn’t know about the employment law angle.

  3. I like the new approach. I believe people should write the best book they can, without trying to ‘play the system’. That’s what will, in the end, result in better stories – and a better reputation for the self-published author.

    • I’m with you on that, I just wish they set a payment for page views and kept to it, rather than limiting the total amount available (although I understand why they do it from their perspective).

  4. I would hope that any writer who tries to pad their books by adding unnecessary cliffhangers and bloated text will have that noted in the readers’ ratings and reviews. It’s like buying a big expensive book: there’s no guarantee they’ll like what they’ve read. Just need to hope that ratings/reviews affect sales and borrows enough to encourage writers to do their best, rather than write extraneous fluff for maximum profit. …Though that might be too much to ask.

    • To be honest, I’m not sure this will really change how the majority of authors write. There will be some who try to pad out their work but most of us see it for what it is, a risk without any real gain. The one major change I do see is there will be more collections becoming available on Kindle Unlimited. In the past it never made much sense as, if you had written a trilogy for example, it was better to have three individual downloads (and payments) than just one for the omnibus. Now an author will get paid per page, there’s no penalty for making the collection available as one volume.

    • Good grief, isn’t this (” pad their books by adding unnecessary cliffhangers and bloated text”) exactly what George RR Martin has done (along with too many others to count)? 😉

  5. I’m still contemplating all this, wondering if it will ultimately prompt people to write a little differently in the hopes that readers keep reading. Action scene/sex scene/action scene/sex scene… As you say, it only affects the borrowed/unlimited titles, so I’m not sure what kind of volume we’re talking about. I’m naturally suspicious, though, so I have half a fear that it’s an experiment that will bite us one day!

    • If you look at the advice given to new writers looking to write commercial fiction, it all follows similar lines. Have an engaging opening and keep the reader hooked throughout. The hooks don’t have to be action scene / ex scene / action scene etc. but there should always be something to make the reader want to turn the next page.
      I agree with you regarding not knowing the impact this experiment will have for the future of publishing and it’s right to remain cautious and watchful. The only thing we can be certain of is that there will be more change in the future and we have to best work out what it means to each of us and how best to react.

  6. I like that point you made about the potential intelligence of those analytics, Dylan…imagine knowing if everyone got stuck at a similar place, or how long it took them to get through certain chapters…I’m surprised this stuff isn’t out there already. Thanks for an informative and well-reasoned post!

    • The information is already being captured but Amazon isn’t sharing. I wouldn’t be surprised if they don’t start offering it to publishing houses in the near future, possibly not to us indies. As you say, I’d give my back teeth* to know if there is a pattern to where people drop out from any of my books.

      *If anyone from Amazon is reading this and has just pulled out a large pair of pliers, I wouldn’t literally give my back teeth…

  7. Some good points here, Dylan. To be honest, when I read about the changes, I actually was cheered by it, because it did seem fairer than the previous system. But it’s important to look at the bigger picture. Obviously, the financial rewards are important, but for a lot of us that’s going to come from gaining a readership. Frankly, if readers are borrowing the books and only reading so far, they’re not going to come back and either borrow or buy more of our books in the future, are they? So ultimately it’s down to us as writers to engage the reader sufficiently for them to actually finish what they’ve started – and then they’re much more likely to read more of our work as we produce it.

    • I’m agree, Graeme. I can see how some authors making a lot of money from KU after publishing serialisations of their novels may be upset, but for the majority of us we’re happy to keep expanding our readership.

  8. It seems like a much more fair system to me. My hope is that it leads to more well-written and edited works coming out that can hold a reader’s attention to the end.

    • Which is really the main point of publishing. I think the self-publishing industry has come a long way in this regard in a very short space of time. As you say, hopefully this will continue that drive forward.

  9. Since I know next to nothing about the KDP program, I just have a quick comment regarding this bit: “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.”

    I don’t know if you need a cliff hanger at the end of every chapter, but every page you write should make the reader want to keep reading. The harshest criticism I ever got regarding my own work was this comment: “It was easy to put down.”

    • You’re right, of course. I think the concern was that it would force writers towards melodrama, but as I mention later, I don’t believe this will really be the case because we want readers to continue reading and use many techniques to try to achieve this, cliffhangers being just one.

  10. I honestly don’t even pay attention to things like this. I write my stories. I publish them and if people want to read a page or a thousand of them that’s great. Pay me for what you read, pay me for what I sell. It really is of no concern to me. I’m just trying to find an outlet for my work. Amazon has helped me to do that. If you limit your craft to get an extra buck or two then you are probably in the wrong line of work. Publish what you write in its complete form. People will know if it is crap or not. Great post.

  11. I’d say I’m not bothered. I’ve never been able to write fast enough to make Select worth it. I need my eggs in every possible basket because it takes me 18 months to write a book. I do sympathise with folks who have been serialising stuff but I can’t see it changing the way people write. The only sure fire way to sell books is to write a good one, I reckon.



  12. I can say that, as a reader, I HATE when books are ‘split’ unnaturally into trilogies–so much so that I quit reading the ‘series.’
    If other readers think as I do, amazon authors aren’t losing anything from us because we didn’t buy their books anyway.

    • I don’t mind if the books have been written to be episodic clearly labelled as such (I’m about to start reading a series of book ‘episodes’ by an author whose work I’ve enjoyed). What I hate is starting what I think is a novel only to find it’s an opening that stops dead just as it is getting going.

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