So…this Bezosteroid crashed into my mailbox today, announcing an “exciting” change to the KU borrowbux compensation. Fuck me, corporate America, do you have to use the word “exciting” for everything you announce? It’s usually either terrifying for some portion of the affected population, be they customers or employees, or some boring bullshit you’re trying to make smell like a rose. I guess terror is exciting, literally speaking. Anyway. Here’s the nut of it:
“One particular piece of feedback we’ve heard consistently from authors is that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers. We agree. With this in mind, we’re pleased to announce that beginning on July 1, the KDP Select Global Fund will be paid out based on the number of pages KU and KOLL customers read.
“As with our current approach, we’ll continue to offer a global fund for each month. Under this new model, the amount an author earns will be determined by their share of total pages read rather than their share of total qualified borrows. Here are a few examples illustrating how the fund will be paid out. For simplicity, assume the fund is $10M and that 100,000,000 total pages were read in the month:
“The author of a 100 page book which was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).”
[Followed by the same example repeated twice with different amounts. Reading it three different ways didn’t make it any clearer for an innumerate like me, only more confusing. Math gives me subdural hematomas.]
So, how do they count pages? Here’s the answer, ruthlessly edited by me to cut out the blah blah.
“We’ve developed the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC)… based on standard settings (e.g. font, line height, line spacing, etc.)… to measure [pages read, from] the Start Reading Location (SRL) to the end of your book. Amazon typically sets SRL at chapter 1 so readers can start reading the core content of your book as soon as they open it.”
In other words, your pages and pages of copyright blather that pirates ignore anyway, your lists of this that and the other, acknowledgements out the wazoo, etc. won’t count.
All-Star bonuses will also now be paid based on page counts vs. # of units. I got one of those…once…
To discuss this I’ve invited my Formidable Opponent, Brad Vance, an expert on these matters. Welcome Brad!
Thanks, Brad! You’re looking well today.
Let’s talk turkey. Was this handled well?
No, it was not. Two weeks’ notice on a major program change is not nice. This should have been a notice for a change starting August 1, not July 1. It’s quite rude and not very author-friendly, especially for something that could have a huge financial impact on us.
Are you allowed to eat anything at all in July?
No, I am not. All KU authors will be flying blind financially in July…at least in the current system, I could guesstimate my earnings per month, based on prior months’ borrowbux rate, but there’s no way to tell till August 15 how this shake up will hurt or help me. After a few months’ time, we’ll all be able to compare notes and come up with a rough “pay per page” estimate on which we can recalc current earnings, but for a while it’s all sorcery, guesswork and hope.
Brad, in the Game of Borrows, you win or you die, right? So, who wins and who dies?
Excellent question, Brad, and an apt analogy! To me, it looks like the big losers are going to be the authors of short-shorts. The Chuck Tingles of the world, their gay dinosaurs forcing unicorns gay in ten page stories.
On June 30, Chuck gets $1.33 for his ten page story, and I get $1.33 for my 300 page novel. 50/50 split.
On July 1, that split goes 97%/3% in my favor. Now, that’s bullshit math, because I don’t know how many Tinglers comprise what portion of the total borrowed books, and what percentage novels make of the total. If Chuck has 300 times as many copies of his stories fully read as I have of each novel, then it’s still 50/50. Also, if someone reads only 10% of my book and quits, I still get paid in full under the old system, but not the new one.
All the same, I’m 100% sure these “pet rock” novelty stories will die out – the audience for them is not going to get any bigger than it is now, and when the compensation on them goes from $1.33 apiece to, let’s say, fuck I’m guessing but let’s say .10, these guys are going to go out of business.
So does that help brilliant novelists like yourself?
It could. Now, we all know that it’s written into Amazon’s corporate charter that any employee will instantly burst into flames if ever they tell us anything, even in an official press release, that might uncloud the waters. BUT. I’m guessing from the syntax of this email that it will definitely benefit long form writers over short purveyors – at least writers of long form work that gets 100% read.
Let’s parse this awful piece of Corporatecommitteese into English – “One particular piece of feedback we’ve heard consistently from authors is that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers.”
In English, “We’ve heard from authors that you feel shafted. We won’t tell you what percentage of borrowed books are ten pages and which are a thousand. We’ve run the numbers and we pretty much know if this will be better, worse or the same for you, if you’re a S, M, L or XL writer. But we won’t tell you. The important thing is that it looks more fair, so that’s that. In the end you may all still make about exactly what you’re making now (that’s Hugh Howey’s guess and he’s a mathemagician), but you will just have to live in financial terror for a few months before you find out.”
Right now, you get your borrowbux if someone finishes 10% of the book. Most people will endure 10% of a book before giving up, in which case the author gets paid under the current system. So your DNF rate (“did not finish” in the reviewer’s parlance) will affect your continued compensation. Again, only Amazon knows that and they don’t share it with us. Would be nice if they did, and wouldn’t cost them anything since they’re already tracking % read. I don’t get a lot of DNF reviews on Goodreads or Amazon, but then, people who DNF are probably not going to bother to review it.
So, the longer your story, the more critical “user engagement” is going to be going forward.
What’s that mean, Brad?
Oh, it’s Corporatecommitteese for “addiction.” As you remember from reading “Would I Lie to You?” phone app makers need their apps to be like crack cocaine, quick hits that make you feel good but not satisfied. Books need to be written to keep readers going till the end.
We’ve all had books where our attention flagged, we put it down, and never came back to it – especially with ebooks, because out of sight, out of mind, right? It’s not like the book sitting by your bed, accusing you of being shallow because you’re watching “Orphan Black” instead of reading Thomas Piketty. You can easily forget about it, especially if you borrowed it and don’t even have that guilt you have with a book you bought.
This means we’ll see more of what we’ve already seen – data-driven writing. We already know that “readers are 25 percent more likely to finish books that are broken up into shorter chapters.” Now that income is being driven by finishes more than starts, I think the program is going to favor faster-paced books with shorter chapters and more excitement, like “mini cliffhangers” at the ends of chapters. In other words, romances, science fiction, mysteries and other genre work. Lighter fare will be scooping up more of the pot than it already does.
So, should I pad my next novel out with 100 extra pages of filler?
No. Definitely not. We’ve all read tradpub books that seemed to sag for days at a time, that would have been SO MUCH BETTER if they were shorter. But, the author had a contract for 100k words, and so that’s what she delivered, and the editor couldn’t shorten it, because that’s the size that dictated the cost and price of the book, which the production department had already factored into its forecasts for the coming year, and so it came out all baggy and full of bloat and nobody read it and those who did died of boredom and the author ended up living in a cardboard box, the end. Don’t do that.
I think I’m in the sweet spot with 70k books. It’s not so much that you get tired waiting for it to end, and not so little that you walk away unsatisfied.
Are there ways to jigger this system?
Of course! Systems are born to be jiggered! For instance, right now, I’m including a free excerpt of “Would I Lie to You” in the back of “Have a Little Faith in Me.” I put it there b/c “Faith” was a BookBub deal, and I wanted to expose that audience to “Lie.” Now, however, it looks like a good idea to put excerpts of other books in all my books, because then each page gets counted twice – once when read in the excerpt, and again when read or skimmed in the published book. Just make sure you include them in your Table of Contents in case Amazon’s software is parsing for that.
Also, it means putting “deleted scenes” or other Easter Eggs at the back of the book, either in front of or behind your “other books by” backmatter, to get credit for those pages. My “other titles by” content now counts for about 13 pages of each 300 page book I put out. So, if I get people to read another ten or twenty pages of something after that, I get another 10% payout on pages read. I’m going to add excerpts of all my books to all my other books now. Brilliant!
Won’t Amazon catch on to this?
Of course! But they’re a giant behemoth of a corporation who will Entishly take six months of meetings and presentations and who’s-pissing-on-whose-shoes corporate infighting, horse trading and other bullshit before they even catch on, never mind decide what to do, and change the system so that it can be gamed in another way!
So most importantly, Brad, what does this mean for you financially?
Well, Brad, I don’t know yet. Fortunately, my backlist is a pretty good mix of novels and shorts, so I don’t think the boat will tip me into the tempest-tossed seas either way. I am pretty sure about a few things, though.
I think my income will go up, for a while, anyway. My books are good, and I think they get finished more often than not. I only have a handful of short-shorts on the market, the Stepfucker stories, all of which have been bundled anyway. My other shorts are 10-12k, not 3-4k, so I’m okay there. So on bulk alone, I think I’m weighted towards the “plus” side of the see-saw.
None of this will matter to readers – July 1 will be no different than June 30 to them, meet the new ‘zon, same as the old ‘zon. Their habits won’t change because of it (unless Amazon is stupid and fucks with the subscriber cost at the exact same time which would be crazy). So I’m going to assume my borrows will stay about where they are now, basically.
Some people will panic and bail out of Select. Some percentage of authors whose 90 day KU renewals come up in the rest of June, or July, or even August, will bail out before seeing how it shakes out. The uncertainty will also prevent others from joining the program. Short term, this means more money in the pot for me! In fact, this may be why Amazon was so rude about the short notice – the shorter the amount of time between the announcement and the first set of results (60 days), the fewer authors will bail out or hold off.
How about creatively? Will this change your future output?
Eventually, this will of course TOTALLY ALTER the creative output of all authors who do this for a living. The most lucrative income streams will become apparent in a few months – one month, if the difference between one length/type of work another is immediate and drastic.
Should I write books with more sex? Should I write Vikings again? Should I stop doing shorts entirely? Amazon knows, but they won’t share that info with me. I’ll just have to wait and see.
So what do you do in the mean time, Brad?
Keep on keepin’ on. Finish the “Werewolves of Brooklyn,” of course. And of course Bradiobooks! It may be really insanely great timing on my part to have just branched out into Bradiobooks – there’s gold in them thar hills, and it’s always good to have a second income, right? By the time KU reveals unto me whether or not it’s all gone to shit, at least I’ll have some of my content ported to that format, and if that takes off, I’m saved. Only time will tell.