Self-Published Authors Are Losing Their Shit Over Kindle Unlimited

Earlier this week I thought that taking a look at how self-published authors were reacting to the recent changes in Kindle Unlimited's new pay plan might be an interesting topic to blog about this coming weekend. Then Hugh Howey wrote this:

 

The Great KU Flip-Out of 2015

If you click on the link above, then scroll down through the comments, you'll eventually see this:

Good enough for me.

Good enough for me.

So, with Mr. Howey's blessing, I'll weigh in with my own thoughts. Now mind you, Hugh Howey has been in this game a long time, and knows a lot more about the publishing industry than I do and has enjoyed a lot more success than I have. If you're interested in publishing, you'd do well to scroll back up and read his post.

That said, my post will have  more funny pictures and gratuitous swearing.

And that's a Robert Bevan guarantee.

And that's a Robert Bevan guarantee.

I posted last week about my initial thoughts on Amazon's announcement of the changes happening in how authors get paid for their book enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited program. In that post, I did a bit of wildly speculative number crunching, based on what I hoped was the worst-case scenario of authors getting paid only one cent per page read. 

The good news is that the results of my calculations yielded an estimated dollar amount that I could live with.

The bad news is that I may have been optimistic about that worst-case scenario.

Just two days ago, when the big change took place, Amazon dick-slapped the hornets'  nest one more time with another email:

Hello,

In mid-June, we announced a change to the way we will pay for authors’ participation in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) (https://kdp.amazon.com/community/ann.jspa?annID=786). Starting today, the payout of the KDP Select Global Fund will be based on the number of pages KU and KOLL customers read.

In mid-July, we will post results for the fund in June, expected to be at least $11M, making June the largest monthly payout so far. As previously announced, the KDP Select fund for July and August will also be at least $11M.

KDP authors can now see the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC V1.0) for each of their KDP Select titles on the “Promote and Advertise” page in their Bookshelf (https://kdp.amazon.com/bookshelf). Please keep in mind that, because it is based on settings specific to this program and intended to normalize the count across all KDP Select titles, KENPC may well vary from page counts listed on a book’s Amazon detail page or page counts for a print book. As measured using KENPC, during the month of June, KU and KOLL customers read nearly 1.9 billion Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENPs) of KDP Select books.

For information about how we determine a book’s Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC V1.0), you can read more here: https://kdp.amazon.com/help?topicId=A156OS90J7RDN.

We welcome your continued feedback and ideas about how we can further improve Kindle Direct Publishing and Kindle Unlimited.

Best regards,
The Kindle Direct Publishing Team

According to this letter, June's KDP Select Global Fund is around $11M, and readers read an estimated 1.9 billion pages.

If June was a typical month, the math doesn't add up to one cent per page read (and it sure as shit doesn't add up to Amazon's crazy ten cents per page read example from their first email).

$11M/1.9 billion pages read = $0.0057 per page read. Just over half a cent.

"Can I pay you in tears this month?"

"Can I pay you in tears this month?"

As predicted, self-published authors are losing their collective shit over this. People are taking their books out of KDP Select. More are threatening to. I've read at least one call to arms for erotica authors to "pull out". (I'll leave you to make your own joke there.)

What are Amazon's motivations for screwing us over like this?  

While we lowly authors are roaming the streets in search of vendors who will sell us their wares for our bags of half-pennies, is Jeff Bezos standing on the top floor of his ivory tower, whacking off to the giant marble statue of himself paid for with money that should have gone to us?

Probably not. As Hugh Howey mentioned in the aforementioned post, $11M is the largest KDP Select Global Fund there's ever been. Amazon isn't paying us less. It's paying us more. That's "us" as in the collective group of all people with books participating in Kindle Unlimited. Perhaps not you, the individual currently reading this sentence. Probably not me, as my body of work is heavily populated with short stories.

So who's getting all of this money that we're not getting? Better and more prolific writers, of course. The people who deserve it, for writing more words that readers choose to spend more time reading. 

It may seem like a no-brainer that Amazon would seek to fix a system where an eight-page, poorly edited incest-porn book which readers abandon after the first two pages would earn the same payout as a 600-page novel which the reader read cover to cover. But when logic fails, you can always go for the heartstrings. Have a look at these excerpts from a recent article from The Guardian...

“A lot of self-published romance authors are disabled, stay-at-home mums, or even a few returned veterans who work in the field because a regular job just isn’t something they can handle,” she says. “People are shedding a lot of tears over this.”

Let's read between the lines, shall we? What's really being implied here? Amazon might as well be sending their goons all over the world to kick over wheelchairs, rob stay-at-home mums blind, and take a big steamy piss on veterans.

"Thanks, Obam-- Oh shit, I mean, Amazon."

"Thanks, Obam-- Oh shit, I mean, Amazon."

And here's a bit more from the same article...

Rachel Manija Brown, who publishes on the platform as Lia Silver, is one. Brown volunteers as a therapist, working with PTSD sufferers and as a crisis counsellor for the police.

“I can afford to do this work for free because up until today, I was earning a living writing paranormal romance,” she says.

“If I can no longer make a living writing, I’ll either have to take a paid internship which would not be serving the same population, or find some other day job which wouldn’t be as flexible and would mean I’d have to cut back my hours at the agency I’m at now. I would also have less availability as a crisis counsellor.”

Holy shit! Those heartless Amazon bastards are denying PTSD sufferers and police the counseling they're responsible for providing! And they're actually making this poor woman stoop to the level of getting a job? The fucking monsters!

It's every writer's dream to be able to support themselves and their families on their writing alone. The nobility of what one might do with the free time afforded them by not having a day job doesn't play a relevant role in the discussion.

I'd like to quit my day job and spend more time with my kids. That's a good thing, right? If Bezos were to cut me a check for a million bucks, I'd do just that. But the selfish fucker won't even answer my emails.

It's probably a good time to point out that Kindle Unlimited is actually supposed to be a benefit for those who choose to enroll their books in KDP Select. It's an extra, a little bonus to entice authors to grant Amazon exclusivity. It was never meant to be the primary source of a participating author's income. That's what sales are for, and sales are not at all affected by this change in KU policy. 

That's like choosing your breakfast cereal based on the toy inside the box. KDP Select is optional. You have every right to say "Fuck this shit! I'm eating Apple Jacks!" And maybe you want to round it out with some Kobo Krispies, and some Barnes and Noble bacon, or even a Smashwords slice of leftover pizza from the night before. Amazon isn't forcing you to go exclusive.

If you don't feel like the benefits of Select are worth it, go wide. It's an option I'm not ruling out for the future. But even though I expect my KU earnings to drop with these new changes, I'm going to continue to hang on for a while, and I'll give you a few reasons why.

1. The Kindle Countdown. 

I don't know why nobody seems to talk about this. It's the single most effective weapon in my promotion arsenal. I only get to fire that gun once every 90 days, but that's what puts my books up on my chosen Amazon Top 100 category lists. And the exposure I get from that is what keeps them there. 

2. Ranking.

I don't know how much pages read via KU count toward a book's Amazon ranking, but I'd speculate that they'd contribute significantly. It makes sense for Amazon to want to give KDP Select books an edge. The exposure is more valuable to me, in the long run, than the money I make from KU. 

3. Exodus.

I'm interested to see how many of these authors make good on their threats to bail out. If it's a large enough number, it could have a significant impact on that $0.0057 number everyone's been losing their shit over. Fewer total KU pages read make my KU pages read all the more valuable.

"I'm telling you guys. This e-reader bullshit is a passing fad anyway. STONE is the way of the future!"

"I'm telling you guys. This e-reader bullshit is a passing fad anyway. STONE is the way of the future!"

Yes. Things are changing. Some people will be affected more and differently than others. We've been through changes before. Bigger ones than this even. A year ago, people were losing their shit over the introduction of Kindle Unlimited (many still are). I gave it a fair shake, though, and waited a good six months, after I had a clearer picture of the effect it was having on my writing career, before speaking out against a lot of the bullshit I'd been reading

Likewise, I think it's important to give this new change some time, and wait for some actual data to roll in so that we can fling our shit against the asylum walls in a more informed, dignified manner.


All of Robert Bevan's novels and short stories are available on Kindle Unlimited, and will remain so for the foreseeable future.

If you'd like to fling some shit on his wall, here's his Facebook page.


Oh, and Hugh, if you're reading this... I'll be running another Kindle Countdown sometime in the next couple of weeks. If you feel a strange sensation on your leg, don't worry. It'll go away in a week.