So, remember that new Amazon payment scheme that’s going to revolutionize self-publishing by dolling out royalties based on pages read rather than copies sold? Remember how that was going to reward authors who can keep readers hooked rather than folks who can crank out 500 page-tomes that nobody has the gusto to finish?
There’s one teensy problem. Amazon’s self-published authors could be paid as little as $0.006 per page, or in other words, diddly squat.
Until yesterday, authors who self-published through Amazon’s KDP Select Program received royalties each month based on the number of times their e-Books were borrowed through Kindle Unlimited, a $9.99 per month library-esque subscription service, and the Kindle Lending Library, an Amazon Prime membership perk. But as Amazon announced several weeks back, that would all be changing in July. In the new world, KDP select authors would be paid for each page of their work that remains on an e-reader screen long enough to be parsed, the first time the borrower reads the book.
In theory, certain writers could stand to benefit quite handily from such a payment scheme, as The Atlantic explained in an excellent article on e-publishing last month. Some authors of longer books had voiced their frustration to Amazon that they were being shortchanged by the pay-per-borrow scheme, and that they in fact deserved a slightly higher rate to align with their beefier book. Nobody really expected Amazon to take things one step further, and announce that it would pay start paying its authors per page read. That’s a system that—again, in theory—stands to benefit authors based on something ostensibly more important than book length: How engaged the readers are. If you write a 20,000 word page-turner, you could make out better than the author of a 100,000 word snoozer. On the other hand, if you can write the next Harry Potter—a book that’s both long and highly addictive—you win the jackpot.
That is, if Amazon decides to pay you a per-page rate that’s economically viable. As the The Guardian reported, in an email Amazon sent to its authors Wednesday, the company revealed exactly how little that per-page royalty might end up being:
The company said that customers of its two services read nearly 1.9bn pages in June, while it expected to pay at least $11m a month for June, July and August.
That means the payment per page read could be as low as $0.006, meaning that an author will have to write a 220-page book – and have every page read by every person downloading it – to make the same $1.30 they currently get from a book being downloaded.
Casey Lucas, a literary editor who works with self-publishing authors, says she has lost six clients already. They have decided tostop writing after “estimating a 60–80% reduction in royalties”.
“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.”
Not everyone will lose out, as Amazon intends to still pay out the same amount of money to its writers overall. But the ridiculously low per-pay royalty virtually guarantees that the only real winners here are likely to be those who write long books that are read in full. According to The Guardian, this has led to some speculation that Amazon is trying to alter the composition of its library by forcing out certain types of work—for instance, nonfiction books and children’s books.
Who, for instance, is going to read a cookbook cover to cover?
Whatever Amazon’s end game is here, creating a more free publishing market where any author with an appealing product has a shot at supporting himself doesn’t seem to be it.
Top image: Zhao / Flickr