When Amazon announced they were changing their Kindle Unlimited payment scheme from ‘flat rate per loan’ to a payment for each page read there was a lot of debate about its impact on publishing. One thing missed, however, was its impact on authors themselves, specifically being able to ‘see’ people read your work.
When Amazon KDP launched their new scheme they also launched a report allowing authors to see how many page reads were captured per day, and like KDP’s other reports, this one is updated on a regular (hourly?) basis. For many authors, especially those selling at reasonable volumes, the report will show the thousands or tens of thousands of pages read per day in a steady stream. For those of us with more modest sales, the experience is very different.
It took a couple of days before I received my first KU download under the new system. I’d seen the sales rank bump – because I monitor my sales more often than is healthy – and waited with excitement to see the pages read appear on the new report.
Nothing happened. Perhaps the report has a few teething problems, I thought, or the reader is finishing another book before starting on mine. I tried not to let the lack of activity bother me, but the lack of activity needled me more than I wished to admit. Then, on the second day, the graph had changed. It registered 51 pages read from the day before. Somebody was reading my book!
The most logical thing to do at this point would have been to close the report and get on with my life, but no, I had to know more. So I tried to work out the exact point they had read up to. The Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) for Second Chance is 524 pages. The print book has 305 pages so at roughly 1.72 KENPC per print page I deduced that the reader had stopped at page 30 or the start of chapter 5. I was thrilled, it’s the point where the multiple threads of the opening chapters start to pull together. They were clearly enjoying the story.
At the same time, another emotion surfaced, one I hadn’t expected. Most authors will recognise the emotional rollercoaster when somebody you know reads your book. On the one hand you’re desperate to find out if they like it but you know it’s bad form to ask – there’s nothing worse than a needy author badgering you for your thoughts on the mine of their book to put you off a story. So whenever you meet your friend you deliberately don’t mention the book but at the same time you hope they bring it up in conversation to satisfy your need for validation.
Or maybe that’s just me.
Anyway, watching somebody read my book remotely elicited similar emotions, but this time I had both more and less information to go on. I believed I knew exactly where they’d read up to but had no visual signals, no reassuring smile to comfort me. All I had was the data, so being a story-teller I built my own narrative. In my head they’d loved the book so far and couldn’t wait to read on.
The next day I registered a KENPC of four, the day after that eleven and then a big fat zero. I was mortified. What had gone wrong? My imagination went into overdrive. When I’d first published Second Chance, a number of friends mentioned that it took four or five chapters to get into the story and then boom, everything started to fit together and they were hooked. Yet this reader had got that far and stopped. Did that mean they hated what I’d written? Had they given up and moved onto another book? Had they found it – god forbid – boring? It was torture. What had started as a wonderful new experience to remotely bond with my audience had turned into ego death by a thousand cuts.
Before the new payment process was introduced, all I had to worry about was whether I sold (or rented out) a book or not. Clearly I wanted the reader to enjoy what they’d bought as I had another book for sale and a third on the way, but once a sale was registered, it was a sale. It was a small piece of success, a balm for my ego.
Not any more.
Now I had the agony of watching somebody dump my novel for something more interesting. It took me back to my youth, bringing back feelings of dating the most beautiful girl in high school only to lose them to the football team captain the very next day.*
I woke the next morning and immediately checked my report. I had a KENPC of 485. Woo hoo! The football team captain was clearly a jerk and she loved me all along. I knew it. I’d always had faith in the wonderful, anonymous reader. Doubts? Pah!
Since then my KENPC graph has taken along the look of the Himalayas, with high peaks of many hundreds of pages read to low troughs of none. And it makes sense. For a start, many people don’t read every day, and even if they do they may not necessarily connect their Kindle to the internet until they’re ready to download their next book, only then passing on the data of where they’ve read up to. At the same time I’ve picked up more KU downloads, so it’s become almost impossible to build a narrative as I’ve no idea whether I’m seeing one person reading 300 pages or one hundred people reading 3 pages (actually, I know it’s not one hundred people at a time – I wish – but you get the point). The point is, my short-term obsession has waned, settling down to monitoring my KENPC score as often as I do my sales (which is still far too frequent than is healthy).
Although it’s early days, I’m finding the new KU payment scheme is much better for me than the old one. I’m only halfway through the month, have had similar downloads than previous months but have made over three times as much money (if the $o.oo6 per KENPC figure widely publicised is correct). I’ve no doubt things will change as the scheme settles down but for the moment I’m happy.
The best part, though, was seeing my first reader, having enjoyed Second Chance so much they’d read it in three days, move on to Absent Souls and do the same thing. At least, that’s the narrative I’ve built in my head and it’s one delusion I’m happy to maintain.
So what about you? Are any of your books in Kindle Unlimited and have you had similar experiences? What are your thoughts about authors being able to remotely look over your shoulder and see what you and other readers have read? I’d love to hear from you.
*This never actually happened in real life, but I’ve seen enough movies to empathise.
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