Amazon Tweaks Kindle Publishing Royalties To Encourage Page Turners

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Amazon is changing how it pays royalties to writers who have self published via its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) platform and opted to make their book exclusive to its platform to qualify for a cut of the royalties it pays out when KDP books are read via the Kindle Unlimited all-you-can-read subscription service, or via the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL).

The KOLL gives users of Amazon’s e-readers who also shell out for its one-year membership, Prime, the ability to borrow from a catalogue of Kindle e-books for free. Amazon sets a monthly global fund to incentivize authors to participate in its KDP Select program, dividing the pot of money between authors whose e-books have been borrowed or ‘read for free’ (via KU) that month.

Starting on July 1 Amazon says it will be switching how it calculates KDP royalties from the current situation, of “qualified borrows”, to paying out based on the number of pages read. It will also be changing the bonus programs for KDP Select authors to the same pay per page model. Currently it calculates KDP share of royalties based on either downloads (for KOLL), or how frequently Kindle Unlimited customers choose a book and read more than 10% of it (hence that “qualified borrows” phrase).

“We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read. Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it,” is how Amazon explains the change.

Given that the length of an e-book page varies depending on the device it’s being read on, Amazon has developed what it dubs a “standardized approach” to determine how many ‘pages’ of a KDP e-book have been read each month — coming up with yet another acronym for this (aka the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count or KENPC). So this ‘per pages’ royalties model is actually a ‘per unit of in-book content as determined by Amazon’ model (charts and images within a book’s text will apparently count towards the KENPC, so it’s not just ‘per unit of text’).

Add to that royalty generating ‘pages’ also only start when Amazon says they do — based on where it determines the book itself starts. So long lists thanking your myriad muses before chapter 1 kicks off won’t help bump up your royalties. Indeed, on the contrary, they might put a reader off from ploughing on any further and lead to no royalties being triggered at all. Don’t block your story from starting, and tell a compelling story is basically Amazon’s subtext here.

“We calculate KENPC based on standard settings (e.g. font, line height, line spacing, etc.), and we’ll use KENPC to measure the number of pages customers read in your book, starting with 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,” the company notes.

Amazon is not saying how many KDP Select pages are read on average per month. And the KDP Select royalties fund is also a moveable feast — with Amazon setting its level each month (it’s $3 million this month). So there are plenty of question marks about how the new ‘pay per page’ model will impact and incentivize indie authors using Amazon’s platform. One thing is clear: the ecommerce behemoth is deploying economic levers to shape creative content in the interests of e-book selling.

Paying royalties after 10% of a book is read likely encouraged authors to submit shorter e-books (to reach the 10% threshold faster) — which perhaps annoyed readers with the sense they weren’t getting much e-book for their cash (assuming they paid to read it). Amazon’s new payment mechanism will discourage indies from writing shorter e-books generally for its platform. Or from writing dull tomes that readers flee from.

Switching to a model that rewards authors for reader engagement, based on getting people reading as quickly as possible and keeping them turning the pages, is the sort of advice a commercially-minded publisher would be dispensing. So Amazon is using a payment mechanism to school indie authors as an editor might on a ‘winning formula’.

While that might be good for business it remains to be seen if it will be good for creative content. As ad-funded online publishing has generated a viral rash of clickbait, Amazon’s puppeteering of indie writers may well trigger a rush to cliffhangers and button-pushing formulas. This is, unsurprisingly, a drive to beget page turners exclusive to Amazon’s platform, not encourage indies to submit difficult literary works. But again, that’s the same impetus as any major publisher. And there’s nothing minor about Amazon.