Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The sky is falling: Amazon changes the way it pays on Kindle Unlimited.

     In case you missed it -- and the odds are you did -- Amazon changed the terms of its payout to authors with works in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners' Lending Library (KOLL). For convenience, I shall refer to KU and KOLL together as KU.
     What was it before?
     Before, if a reader read more that 10% of a work -- in essence, the 'LOOK INSIDE' portion plus one more word -- that read qualified the work as a 'borrow'. Five readers read the same work past the 10% mark, that made for five borrows. For the author, each borrow earned a portion of the KU pie; that is, a portion of the monies that Amazon allocated from KU subscriptions to pay authors who entered into the KU arrangement. I shall steal from Brad Vance and call these monies BorrowBux.
     I and many others noticed that the Great and Powerful 'Zon did not distinguish among borrows. A borrow of my Skid Row 'Bots (14 pages) counted as much as a borrow of War and Peace (1,298 pages) (not to be confused with Warren Piece, about whom, the less said, the better). The Great and Powerful 'Zon had biased the game in favor of short stories. My reaction was to leave my short stories in KU and withdraw my novels. I got a feeling I'm not the only one.
     How much each borrow earned Amazon determined by dividing that month's BorrowBux by the total number of borrows of all titles enrolled in KU. Each month's BorrowBux amount has been significantly north of $10 million. The consensus among authors was that each borrow earned $1.33 to $1.35 depending on the month. A good deal for any work priced south of $2.99. A bad deal for any work priced at or north of there.
     The amount of monthly BorrowBux is noteworthy for a program that started July 2014 and costs $9.99 a month for each subscriber. Eyeball the numbers and you can see that Amazon has enrolled a million subscribers and then some.
     The question in my mind is whether the Great and Powerful 'Zon was satisfied with a million subscribers and then some. I'm thinking not.
     I'm thinking the Great and Powerful 'Zon wants to move that number up. I'm also thinking a library of short stories ain't gonna make that happen.

     I'm going to step off this logic carousel and catch it at another location. Fear not. I shall put all this together.

     Among KU authors . . . well, among some KU authors there is much crying and moaning and gnashing of teeth. 'Zon changes one thing and everyone loses their minds. "Why, the Great and Powerful 'Zon gave us only two weeks notice of the change! We can't change our business plan that fast! The Great and Powerful 'Zon shoulda woulda coulda given us six weeks notice. Then we would be able to adapt."
     Cry Me a River. 
     July 2014 KU was not there. August 2014 it was. You adapted. So did I. Adapt now or die.
     Me? I'm surprised Amazon futzed up KU with BorrowBux per borrows to begin with. From the beginning, everybody could see that pay-per-borrow skewed the game in favor of short stories. Why did 'Zon do it that way?
     Have you ever worked on a large, I mean truly large software project? I have. Did it deliver when scheduled?
     I think the Great and Powerful 'Zon wanted to launch KU to compete with Scribd and Oyster. The original design was to pay by pages read, the system KU will go to starting July 2015. But the Great and Powerful 'Zon could not get the software to work by the launch date. So the minions of the Great and Powerful 'Zon threw together this pay-by-the-borrow kluge which they could get to work by the launch date. And after it launched, the minions returned to work on the original design. Now that they have it working, the Great and Powerful 'Zon is taking it public. I think the Great and Powerful 'Zon wanted to make the switch yesterday, but that would have turned June into an accounting nightmare. Instead, 'Zon did the next best thing: first of next month.
     You get that, kiddies? The pay-by-the-borrow was a caterpillar. The pay-by-the-page is a butterfly. KU was never meant to be a caterpillar. It was always supposed to be a butterfly. The period from its inception to now was just chrysalis.

     Now another location on the logic carousel.

     The Great and Powerful 'Zon is seen by many and most to be solely concerned with its customers. "Customer first, last, and always." From this perspective, this move is incomprehensible.
     Some (Alan Tucker) say 'Zon changed to answer 'KU subscribers . . . complain[ts] about all the short trash that's been accumulating . . . in the KU pool'. Really? Show me the data.
     Besides, if that were true there are cheaper and more direct ways to clean out the trash. 'Short stories, outa the pool.' 'You must be this tall to ride this ride.'
     Or at the far end, 'Okay, you got a borrow. Your work is X pages long. You will be paid for X pages portion of the total number of borrow-pages as we -- the Great and Powerful 'Zon -- define the total.'
     I don't see how changing the way KU authors get paid directly improves the lot of the KU subscribers. I have strong doubts that 'Zon going to see a great flood of novel-length works entering into KU in July 2015. Looking at 'Zon's previous pattern of behavior, I have Herakles-strong doubts that such ideas cast even a shadow on 'Zon's thoughts.
    Why did the Great and Powerful 'Zon do this? Doing this now means change. Whenever change happens, some win and some lose. Win or lose, many gripe. (A side thought: This is the most remarkable thing about Apple. Apple changes crap all the time, and nobody gripes. Instead, they got fanboys camping out like they were buying tickets for the Rolling Stones Steel Wheelchair Tour, waiting in line to buy an iPhone 6. Man, if Apple could bottle that magic and sell it as perfume, they would drive Chanel out of business.)
     I'm just spitballing here, but I got a thought:
'Zon changed to pay-per-page-read because it's the right thing to do. 
     Who denies that that is fair? It's Truth, Justice, and the American Way!
     We have become so cynical that we mistake virtue for vice. Shame on us. (Yeah, I know, corporations cannot have virtue, but do not mistake for one second that the soul of the Great and Powerful 'Zon is Jeff Bezos. Jeff Bezos is a man, and men may have honor.)

     By now you have figured out that the Great and Powerful 'Zon means to pay you for each page read. That fee per page is going to be really, really tiny, so you need to get a lot of pages read to keep the money flowing your way. How do you do that?
     You could work your ass off trying to jigger the system.
     Or you could write the best story you know how and give it life. Put it in KU, don't put it in KU. What difference at this point does it make?
     Maybe it makes a difference.
     The consensus is that, in order to take advantage of the pay-for-page-read schema, you want to write page-turners. That means Chilton Publishing and their car-repair manuals are out of the picture. Oops! Chilton is out anyway because the company is dead. But while it was alive and kicking, besides giving me the info I needed to work on my Audi, it managed to publish two Hugo nominees and one Hugo and Nebula winner, Dune. (Rejected 88 times by conventional publishers, Frank Herbert had to turn to the publisher of frelling car-repair manuals to get his book into print. All you defenders of traditional publishers -- I'm looking right at you Mike Shatzkin -- suck it.)
     Who are the kurchatovium readers?
     They are the voracious ones, the ever-hungry. I bet they read two books or more a month, 'cause otherwise the subscription is not economic. They may read bestsellers, but they read more than just bestsellers.
     For KU, LitFic looks like a dead end. Who reads two books a month by Henry James anyway?
     Genre will be king. Romance will thrive; on the slow side, the readers of romance consume a book a week. Mystery/Suspense/Thrillers will do well. So will space opera and other scifi. And Fantasy.
     Maybe Westerns will stage a comeback.
     Erotica will earn its keep.

     Before I wrap this up, a word about how the Great and Powerful 'Zon counts pages.
     I use typesetter's count: 250 words to a page. Makes it easy to figure: 1,000 words = 4 pages.
     'Zon does not use typesetter's count. My count for Skid Row 'Bots is 14 pages. That is also 'Zon's count. But my count for Heart of Stone is 412 pages (novel) + 36 pages (bonus short story) + 5 pages (excerpt); 'Zon's count for everything is 307.
     As near as I can determine, 'Zon counts 325 words to a page. This is what I call editor's count 'cause that's the word count that Eric Flint, the senior editor at Baen Books, uses. It turns out to be the word count per page for mass market paperbacks.
     If you have a different estimate of 'Zon's word count, leave me a comment.

     That's it.
     Now you know
     1) how Amazon used to (and through this month, still does) figure each KU authors share of the BorrowBux;
     2) how Amazon is going to figure shares of BorrowBux;
     3) that Amazon always meant to pay this way but, you know, shyte happened;
     4) this is the right way to pay;
     5) that like as not, genre books will clean up with the changed schema; and
     6) that Amazon counts 325 words to a page.
     That's all folks!


  1. Of course, it actually does not matter how many words Amazon counts as a page as long as they use the same number for all the books in KU. Of course people may want to know the number, but if the number is higher or lower, it might change the rate per page that Amazon uses each month, but it will not substantially change the payments to authors. If Amazon used 10 words per page, each page would earn less but every book would have 10 times as many pages as if Amazon used 100 words per page. And if Amazon used 1000 words per page, each page would earn more but every book would have 1/10 as many pages as if Amazon used 100 words per page. It all comes out in the wash.