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The issues with Amazon’s new payment structure for self-published authors

On July 1, 2015, changed how royalties for self-published Kindle books are structured. Rather than paying authors when a book is downloaded, it will pay for the number of digital pages that are turned (so to speak). Thus, if a book is downloaded but goes unread, the author gets nothing. If the buyer only reads the first 100 pages and puts it away, the author gets paid for 100 pages, even though the book might be 300 pages in length. Authors don’t get paid extra if someone re-reads a book.

Put another way, Amazon will pay authors based on their share of total page views of books in the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. KDP Select All-Star bonuses will also be affected. This new plan affects only those authors who self-published their books on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing platform.

Amazon says the scheme is based on feedback from self-published authors, who asked the company to “better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read.” Apparently authors are happy because the opportunity exists to get paid more through this royalty structure than the traditional one; however, there are a number of issues.

First, it’s just creepy. Amazon has bestowed itself the “right” to track what individuals read. Amazon already knows what you read because it tracks what you have downloaded, but now it will know which pages of that Kindle book you read. It follows therefore, that Amazon will know what content appeals most to readers; it will not be enough to know that 50 Shades of Grey was a popular book, but it will know which particular scenes held the most attraction. How long did you spend on a particular page? On what page did you finally stop reading? In what chapter do most readers put down the book, never to pick it up again? The danger of turning printed pages into electronic bits and bytes that can be stored in a database, searched, and tabulated, is that we lose control of what happens to that knowledge. Obviously, Amazon will use it to better target advertising and suggested reads to customers, but by coming up with an algorithm based on most popular content, plot lines, character traits, locations and more, can computer-generated novels be far away?

Right now, not all self-published authors are affected. But once this technology is perfected, how long will it be before Amazon and other companies implement it for all eBooks? Traditional authors and publishers must be shaking in their boots.

This payments structure has the potential to change book content. The longer the book, the more an author gets paid; to own a greater chunk of the total page view pool, authors will either need to write longer books or more books. (FYI: Amazon has fixed it so that authors cannot get away with using a bigger font to achieve a longer book length, but they will include in the page count, pages that contain pictures, charts and diagrams.) Assuming that, in the future, authors get feedback on what content appeals most, will authors write what is popular or write for artistry? As David Sanderson wrote in The Times of London, the ideal book “will now be a 700-pager with a cliffhanger every few pages and a couple of pictures in each chapter.”

Then there’s the issue of fairness. Amazon is paid for each eBook in full regardless of whether or not the book is read. If they believe this to be a better model, then Amazon’s compensation should also be calculated per page read, no? Amazon is taking care of itself at the expense of the very people responsible for its revenue—authors—and at the expense of their customers’ privacy as well.

If you want to learn more about the new royalties structure for Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, refer to this page on the website.