OK so what does ‘Kindle Unlimited’ author payment by the page really mean?

I’m not sure yet what to think of the Amazon plan to pay authors enrolled in their Kindle Unlimited programme on a page-basis. This system doesn’t replace the sale model –it runs alongside it and makes books available for Kindle readers, free. Amazon pays authors instead from an undefined ‘pool’.

Essential writing fuel!
Essential writing fuel!

This latest amendment simply changes the method of payment from a “10 percent” threshold to a “pages read” measure, in which Amazon defines the page length.

That concept of paying authors ‘compensation’ for royalties lost when books are provided free isn’t original to Amazon. A number of governments – including New Zealand’s – run schemes to provide compensatory royalties to authors that have been otherwise lost via public library borrowing. But it’s not defined on a ‘pages read’ basis.

I can’t help thinking that one outcome of the Amazon initiative will be a reduction of literature to a relentless succession of eight-word advertising jingles and characters dangling off cliffs because, in the author’s mind, they HAVE to get the reader to turn that next page so they’ll get another one half of one cent or whatever it is the Amazon ‘pool’ devolves.

I don’t like the idea that authors who want to join that scheme also have to be ‘exclusive’ to Amazon. That’s not original to Amazon either – I’ve written books that way for a major book chain in the past. But I made sure I was properly paid for it – a defined, up-front figure which I negotiated. It wasn’t dependent on sales. And nor should it be; a shop wanting to be the sole stockist of a particular item should be prepared to buy that monopoly. The difference with the Amazon scheme is that the return is undefined, and to me that’s wrong.

The other objection I have is that in order to pay authors by page, Amazon need to know which pages their customers have read. And they do, because Kindle phones home. A lot. This, my friends, is the age of Big Data and Big Intrusion into ordinary things we do. And on one level, who really cares if Amazon know what, how much, and when you’re reading, and on what device? But the collection of this little bit of trivia, or that, by a variety of service providers, has been normalised in all our dealings with the information age. We don’t know – can’t know – where that might go in a couple of generations. The risk is that the future dystopia we face isn’t George Orwell’s, it’s Aldous Huxley’s. The worry is that it will then become Orwell’s.

It’s not clear to me, yet, where this is heading for authors and readers. I think schemes such as Kindle Unlimited are symptomatic of the fact that we’re in the early days of a revolution in the way books are published and sold. It’s riding on the back of a bigger general change driven by the information revolution, which I think – certainly sociologically – will be in the same league as the industrial revolution 250 years ago.

Amazon are leading the pack at the moment, as far as books are concerned. But the more important outcome, I think, isn’t so much which company dominates as the systems and expectations that flow from the way that information revolution is applied to reading and writing.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2015


15 thoughts on “OK so what does ‘Kindle Unlimited’ author payment by the page really mean?

    1. It isn’t! Though it is to the Amazon shareholders, I suspect… From my perspective, all Amazon need do is take off the ‘exclusive’ requirement, which their lending system doesn’t properly compensate for.

      1. It’s a shame, really. I use the system. It has helped me find some authors I now follow, because I was able to read one of their books through Amazon Lending. Authors I may not have taken a chance on without that.

        1. The advertising side of it is definitely a plus – and, I gather, loans also boost a book up the Amazon ranking. The down side, for me, outweighs that. I donate a good deal of my time and resource already to writing in various ways – but there is a point where I also have to turn a dollar from it.

  1. This ‘Kindle Unlimited’ scheme seems almost like it was designed to rip off authors while being as creepily intrusive and obnoxious as possible towards the readers. It’s astounding. All they need to do is add auto playing video ads to the books and they’ll have perfect awful.

  2. Another problem, highlighted by both John Scalzi and Chuck Wendig, is that this scheme robs self-published authors of the power to determine the price of their novels. Amazon decides how much money is available to pay authors each month, and that pot gets split up between the available stories, or now pages, no matter how many there are. With traditional publishing and self-publishing you can extrapolate expected sales and income from past average sales and plan to some extent. With this model there’s no way to plan financially as you never know how much you’ll be paid – it all depends on how big a pool of funds Amazon wants to allocate this month. And as Scalzi says, we can be sure that pool of funds will be allocated to best benefit Amazon, not the authors.

    1. Absolutely true. And it makes clear where the power actually sits in the calculation. I think Amazon can do it because it’s still a buyers market – some authors WANT to be published as an end-game, and this enables them to be. The financial return means nothing to them. Whereas authors working for a living need to run what they’re doing as a small business, and the Amazon move means they can’t predict returns.

  3. I was sceptical when Kindle Ullimited was announced, but so many authors told me no ‘Amazon is our friend, look at the opportunities they’ve provided to self-published writers.’ It is a buyer’s market and will continue to be for as long as authors view Amazon as a benevolent giant rather than a rapacious corporate machine.

  4. I never joined that programme in the past, because I also sell at Smashwords. With my new book in the series, I have put it on pre-release at Smashwords.
    Reason – I sold fewer books through them, but received some royalties. Amazon – it seems that I have to earn a certain amount of royalties in EACH country before they forward a cheque. (Only option for international, last time I read.)
    I don’t think fiction books about the first century Christians will ever be a best seller. (My son suggested making them ’50 shades of – No thanks) But it seems to me that Amazon has the clout, and it is changing rules. Don’t like the goalposts being changed like that.
    Thanks for pointing out the latest move Matthew

    1. Yes, the Amazon threshold-before-payment of “foreign” authors (meaning you and me…) means they get the use of the money on sales of books for a protracted period before shelling out. And it means authors may never get paid for books if they don’t sell above the threshold in a particular market – which basically sucks, not to put too fine a point on it. The self-pub revolution has been looked on as a way of empowering authors, but the reality is quite different: there’s no question in my mind about who actually has the power in this particular calculation.

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