Writers Are Going Cuckoo For KU

If you haven’t been following the Indie writing market I don’t blame you. It’s pretty crazy right now. After Amazon decided to tweak the royalties payouts to reflect how much readers actually read the books they downloaded as part of the Kindle Unlimited service writers have gone into an absolute tizzy over what’s fair and not fair and what it means to get paid for writing.

First, a bit of background. Kindle Unlimited, as you know, is essentially Amazon’s all-you-can eat digital service. If you subscribe to it you get access to thousands of ebooks for free as long as they are part of KDP Select, a service that Amazon offers authors. KDP Select isn’t amazingly valuable but it does allow you to “give away” your book for a brief period – a trick that used to get Indie fiction to the top of Amazon’s bestseller lists (but no longer) – and set up pre-orders. I’ve gone back and forth about the service but now my books are part of it.

KU also has a pool of cash that it pays out to writers. Right now that pool is about $11 million. This means that popular authors get a lot of that money and everyone else gets a little – a long as someone reads you. But the news that is leading is that Amazon is paying Indie authors $0.006 per page read on the Kindle which sounds far worse.

This means many Indie authors are losing money now but a few aren’t. That’s the bottom line. There are two ways to make money in Indie publishing and neither of them are lucrative for the long tail. First you can write one or two amazing, long books and hope people buy them. Let’s call this the Wool model. Then there is the equally enticing Write, Publish, Repeat model that encourages writers to upload lots of small chapters and give them out for free via KU. As I’ve noted before, both of these models are potentially lucrative as long as the quality is there. However, if you subscribe to the W,P,R model, the fact that your “books” are 10 pages long will hurt you in the new KU market.

But cooler heads seem to be prevailing. A post on the Passive Voice breaks things down for us:

$0.006 per page
300 pages
$1.80 received by author
Let’s compare this to the amount received by a traditionally-published author for a 300 page book sold by Amazon:
$9.99 e-book sales price on Amazon
70% royalty rate to publisher
$6.99 received by publisher
25% royalty rate to author
$1.75 paid to author’s agent
85% received by author after agent deducts 15% fee
$1.49 amount received by author
$0.005 per page

If the reader downloads the book and doesn’t read it, the writer gets nothing. But if the reader even hits a few of the pages, a few pennies will come the writer’s way. However, compared to what happens when a publishing house gets ahold of your novel, KU is a godsend. Furthermore, novelist Hugh Howey adds this:

3) The only people who should be complaining about KU 2.0 are the ones who think it’s fair for writers to be renumerated based on the number of titles they produce, rather than the hours they spend writing, or the hours readers spend enjoying their works. I keep seeing people say it’s not fair that they no longer get paid the same for a 5,000 word short that everyone else gets paid for a 100,000 novel. Seriously. People are saying this. Because both authors wrote 1 title, right? And 1 = 1. It’s not fair!
I don’t even know how to process this. It doesn’t take as long to write a short story. You shouldn’t get paid as much. End of (short) story.4) Kindle Unlimited and the Lending Library are not retail systems. They are cloud-based rental systems. When you pay $100 a month for cable or satellite TV, you don’t get to own and keep any of what you watch. You can delay losing the work on your DVR, just as you can keep an unread book for weeks from the library, but you aren’t buying those TV shows. Authors are acting like rentals should equal sales. In what universe does this make sense? And yes, the shows that get watched the most come with the highest price tag from distributors. This is a normal model we’re freaking out over.

Ultimately, writers need to face the sad (or, for some, happy) fact that Amazon is changing the way books are sold. Whereas the old method of proposal, advance, distribution, and substandard PR push has worked for most of this century, it was always inefficient. Publishers never knew what would sell, distributors didn’t care what sold, and PR people didn’t know how to sell more. Now that all of this work is in our hands I find it empowering and a bit frightening. Making a book popular is amazingly hard. I try lots of things and fail all the time. But I do know that there is no reason to go back to the old model as long as I am moderately smart about how and what I publish. Best of all, Amazon tends to listen. “You can even complain and hope that Amazon will change back to the old system, because … shocker … it appears that they listen to the indie community and take our opinions seriously and make changes accordingly,” writes Howey, and I agree with him. It’s a fun time to be a writer even if the rules are changing every day.