Do you love books? Do you think that it’s fair that when you buy a book, you only pay for the pages that you actually read?
Well there was uproar recently when Amazon announced that it would be paying authors not according to the sales of each title, but rather the percentage of that title that gets read. On the one hand, it’s a move allegedly designed to encourage authors to write better books, to make each page count, but on the other hand, it doesn’t take into account how cultural products actually work.
After all, I can’t watch an hour of a two hour movie at the cinema and then demand half of my ticket price back. I can’t take a DVD back because I gave up on the film after twenty minutes. We enter into a sort of contract when we purchase a cultural product that we’re buying the finished article, but we’re also buying all of the time and talent it took to create it in the first place. So if you buy (*shameless plug*) The Necromancer’s Apprentice, you’re not just buying a horror/fantasy novella, you’re also buying the part of me that wrote it. Even if I pay for a pay-per-view sporting event I don’t get money back if I don’t watch all of it.
I was going to blog about it when it first cropped up but I thought I’d wait to see how it develops. At first it looked like it would apply to all authors, but now it turns out that as of the 1st of this month, the ‘experiment’ to pay per page actually only applies to authors who self-publish through KDP Select on Amazon. Those are the authors whose books are ‘borrowed’ through Kindle Unlimited, which is the monthly subscription service, and the Kindle Lending Library, which you get with an Amazon Prime membership. According to Gizmodo, “[i]n the new scheme, authors will be paid for each page that remains on the screen long enough to be parsed, the first time a customer reads the book”. 
I’m not about to start running around crying that the sky is falling in because as it stands, none of my three self-published titles (The First Tale, Checkmate & Other Stories and Dead Man’s Hand) are available through KDP Select. BUT. It’s only a matter of time before Amazon tries to force the same rulebook onto all submissions.
The only advantage that I can foresee is that it’s going to force writers to write better books – which will hopefully circumvent the problems that are still inherent with self-publishing, such as bad formatting, typos, and generally horrific writing. Still, that’s what the sample option is for. In most cases, if a book is going to be badly written then it will be bad from page one, and if that’s the case, you just don’t buy the whole book. If you get 75% of the way through and disagree with the turn of events? Well the writer isn’t writing a book by committee. It’s not a choose your own adventure novel.
That said, there’s always been a way to make your feelings known about that. You can return Kindle books. I’ve only done it once, because the sample was incredibly misleading as to the later content of the book, and judging by the reviews it got, I wasn’t the only one to think so. But I digress.
I’ve bought books by authors I know to support them, and sometimes I just don’t have time to read them because I have so many other things to read. In the current climate that’s fine – they still profit from the sale. If the pay per page idea takes hold? They don’t get paid until I read it. That’s no good for writers whose books are bought by serial downloaders who rarely read most of what they download. It’s also going to be problematic for people who want to offer free e-books – in the early days, readers downloaded them in copious amounts because there was less to choose from, but now there are so many titles to read, free e-books have lost their value. A reader is more likely to buy a book they’ve paid for, and thus invested in, than one they haven’t.
How is the system even going to work? In the current KDP Select program, where your ‘profits’ are divided up according to lending patterns, you don’t get paid until after its been borrowed in the first place. But are Amazon going to then charge a reader for a book, and hold the funds in escrow until the book is finished, only paying out when the reader reaches 100%? What if they don’t? Will Amazon refund the difference, or keep it themselves? The reader certainly doesn’t benefit from that, and nor does the writer.
I’m assuming the model is going to be based on a percentage system – after all, if you’re literally being paid by the page, then surely those who write the equivalent of 100,000 word behemoths are going to benefit more than the 40,000 word novella folks.
Quite simply, I think as a system is a dangerous idea, and it also adds fuel to the fire that an electronic book is somehow not a “real” book. If I want to buy a real book then I have to walk into Waterstones and pick one up – I can’t go back a week later and ask for money back because I lost interest after page ten. So if I can’t do it with a real book, why should I be able to do it with an electronic book? Besides, I buy beautiful books of art or photography but because the pages are images and not text, then I’m technically not ‘reading’ them. What about that?
If Amazon REALLY want to promote better fiction then Kristen Lamb has a good proposal for them. “If I were Amazon, I would start promoting works based of rates of completion. Could we be witnessing the birth of an entirely new form of ranking? … Sure Big Shot Mega Author with a gajillion-dollar marketing budget sold X books, but the book only had a 34% rate of completion. But Jane Newbie who has thus far only sold Y amount of books and has only her social media for marketing has a 97% rate of completion. Hmmm, this might impact my decision.” 
So it’s really quite a shame that Amazon are in a position where there’s no real viable alternative. I’ve started buying more paperbacks from other retailers such as Waterstones, The Book Warehouse or even Tesco, but I still read an awful lot on my Kindle. Sure you can download books for your Kindle from Smashwords, but how many ‘general’ readers are going to do that? Falling sales for the Nook by Barnes & Noble have removed another competitor , and how many people actually bought a Kobo?
I’ll be keeping an eye on how this develops because quite honestly, I like my Kindle, and I don’t want Amazon to screw it up.
 Kristen Lamb – Brave New Publishing—Amazon Testing Paying Authors by the Page.
 Good E Reader – Barnes and Noble Nook Sales Decrease by 40%
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