A few thoughts on Kindle Unlimited, or the program everyone loves to hate.

Except me. I’ve been pretty happy with it.

That may, or may not, be about to change. Amazon has addressed some of the more glaring issues with the service by switching to paying per page, rather than per download (read past ten percent), because there were sixteen gazillion ways to fiddle that system, plus it penalized authors who put longer works into the program.

It is probably an intrinsically fairer way to pay authors, although the issue is how much are they going to pay per page? Nobody knows that, and Amazon isn’t telling. Some fairly simple math based on published Amazon numbers would suggest that it’s going to shake out around half a cent per page, meaning that for a work to break even with the pay-out for the last couple of months, it would have to be around 220 pages. I don’t know for sure, but this page count is striking me a little high for a median KDP borrow, even with the optimistic KENPC tallies.

What I do know is that I regularly publish short stories to Amazon, and even before Unlimited, I would put them in Select so I could periodically promote them for free, mostly to generate buzz, and partly because while I know plenty of readers are okay with paying ninety-nine cents for a five or six thousand word story, plenty aren’t, and I’m interested in courting at least some of those readers. The theory is that if they like what they see, they may be willing to pony up for longer work. The KU payments, while they lasted, were kind of a bonus. I was getting over a dollar on twelve to fifteen page works with royalty payments of thirty-five cents when the work was purchased. I wasn’t complaining, but I’m not that surprised it isn’t sustainable. It does kind of suck for everyone who was making good money off shorts, but I can see the profit potential if you write door-stoppers.

The other thing is that the program only works for Amazon if they can get authors to participate in it. Particularly authors who write things that subscribers want. I probably won’t pull my stuff (and I’ll explain why in a little bit), but lots of people who were used to making that dollar-plus on each borrow will if they’re reduced to receiving pennies instead.

Buried in the Bezo-speak of the notice was the intelligence that they are changing the bonus structures as well as the payouts. Since we’re dealing with Amazon, I don’t know how exactly, any more than anyone else does (except for three high functionaries in Seattle who are sworn to secrecy). I suspect, although this is just a guess, that some of that restructuring is geared towards rewarding writers who have a high proportion of borrows that are read in full.

One of the things that I haven’t really seen mentioned is that the fraudulent and semi-fraudulent crap that was clogging up the program isn’t just defrauding Amazon. It’s defrauding us, the writers who put material into Select in good faith. And I’m not talking about the short erotica or even non-fiction articles that a lot of writers put out to take advantage of the structure, even the very poorly written ones. I’m talking outright scammery, such as the same illiterate “story” published twelve times under twelve different names. Two pages of material (sometimes plagiarized) followed by ten pages of gobbledy-gook (literally random qwerty strikes). Copyright violations up the wazoo (which Amazon probably had enough trouble with already). Ad infinitum. Since we, the authors of KU, are paid out of a pool, the payments for that chicanery came out of our earnings. I’m all for restructuring that discourages that, and I’m hoping that when it all shakes out, those “good faith” authors get well compensated.

Now, why aren’t I threatening to pull my books from the program, even if it does come to pass that I’m making six or eight or ten cents a pop on most of those short stories? And it’s not just the promotional benefit, although that can be significant.

I’m also a KU subscriber. I borrow all kinds of things (and sometimes read them all the way through) that I would never, ever have bought. I do still buy books, and it’s a nice bonus when something I would have purchased is available on KU, but probably ninety-five percent of my borrows don’t fall into that category. I’m a voracious reader, and my appetite far outstrips my pocketbook. There are writers I regularly borrow who write good books that I like but don’t fall into the “absolutely must have” category. I’m betting my books are the same way for some readers. I’m also much more willing to try writers I’m not familiar with if I don’t have to pay for each individual borrow. I check my numbers frequently (although now I can’t see individual borrows-just pages read) and I can clearly see patterns where one or more readers borrowed everything (and sometimes bought non-KU titles too).

So, while I’d rather have my old payments, pennies are better than nothing, which I think is mostly what I’d have if KU disappeared. More to the point, I’ll take the increased visibility too.


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