Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Sky Is Falling

Once again, Kindle Unlimited has changed – at least for authors.

As with the last lot of changes, people are up in arms either in favour of or against the new regime. Well, tough. It’s changed. Them’s the breaks. Deal with it. Moaning about it doesn’t help. Either adapt to the new model or don’t. I doubt it’ll be anywhere near as dramatic as some of the predictions online – and you can’t do much about it anyway.

For those unaware how KU works, it’s like this:

Step 1: Readers buy a subscription for $9.99/month (/regional equivalent). See this post for our take on whether you should subscribe.

Step 2: Readers can have as many or as few books from the Kindle Unlimited selection as they like from a selection of over half a million books.

Step 3: Amazon takes the proceeds, put it into a pool and divvies the money up among the authors of the works.

It’s still like this. The experience for readers is exactly as it always was. The bit that’s changed is step 3.

Under the old rules, the fund was divvied up by ‘units’. A unit was any title read beyond the free sample (which is 10% of the book). That meant if a reader read beyond 2 pages of a 20 page short the author was credited with a unit. If a reader read past 30 pages of a 300 page novel, the author was credited with a unit.

Each month the number of ‘units’ earned were then given a proportional share of the fund which has averaged approximately $1.30 per unit.

Unsurprisingly, this meant authors who wrote short works made more as there was nothing to differentiate between a reader taking a 400 page novel or a 10 page short story (and because the shorter length meant unfinished works given up after a chapter could trigger payment for short stories but not for novels).

Authors of longer works moaned to Amazon they were being unfairly treated, and so Amazon changed the pay structure.

Now instead of units, the fund is divided by pages actually read. This is really two big changes:
  1.         Shorter works no longer benefit from being considered equal to longer works.
  2.         Books that are borrowed but don’t make it to the end lose money
That’s it. Books are now paid in proportion to length (so ten readers completing a ten page story is the same as one reader reading a one hundred page story), and books people don’t finish won’t get paid as much.

This latter point is a bit of a change because a large proportion of books don’t get finished. It’s the elephant in the room in the publishing industry. A mere 28% of readers on Kobo finished Ten Years a Slave despite it being critically lauded.

As an aside, not all bought books are ever opened - something like a third of books remain untouched after purchase, so the combined effect of "Opened + Read" is a much higher standard to hold books to than under a simple sale model.

A more typical book has something like a 50% completion rate (i.e. half of those who begin reading will eventually finish). That’s a respectable, normal, figure.

The effect of this will be that books readers love (as demonstrated by actually reading the book) will earn more than those where readers stop part the way through (where previously going one word beyond 10% triggered a full unit – which would be very early on for ten page shorts).

I still have reservations about KU. The selection won’t suit everyone. The long term downward pressure on author earnings is considerable ($10 split up between Amazon and all authors means no one is going to earn a fortune – unless readers pay but don’t use the sub, which doesn’t seem fair either).

As a reader, I don’t like my reading being tracked. It’s a real invasion of privacy… But Amazon have always done this (as have the other major eBook retailers to be fair).

The flip side of this is that some readers will choose to download and then side-load their books (/read offline)… which means those reads will never be reported as 'read' to Amazon, and thus never paid. I can only hope that these ‘shadow readers’ will be proportionally spread out among all authors (which would mean they have negligible impact – as the fund will still be the same, so the division would remain unchanged).

There we go. Yet another crisis averted by not panicking. Books need to be written. Readers deserve fair prices for quality books. Authors deserve to be paid for the value they add. Now authors will have to prove they deserve it – because if what they write isn’t good, it won’t be read and they won’t get paid.

Seems fair to me.

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