Are Amazon *Really* Paying Authors Per Page Read? No. No, They’re Not. [Pause] Well…

[Originally this post wasn’t very clear on the differences in lending programmes, and it was pointed out to me that Irish Amazon customers can avail of Kindle Unlimited through the Amazon.co.uk site. I’ve updated the text to improve/reflect this, and thank Kate and Caoimhe in the comments for pointing this out.]

I understand how the internet works. I know what click bait is. If I click on a headline like She Used a Pen To Open an Envelope. You Won’t Believe What Happened Next… or His Dog Pooped In His Shoe and the Shoe’s Reaction was PERFECT, I agree that I’ve no one to blame but myself. But headlines about Amazon paying self-published authors per page read has my blood pressure spiking.

They’re inaccurate because they’re out of context. The truth is buried in the posts themselves no sooner than five or six paragraphs down, but people don’t seem to be reading that far based on the tweets I’ve seen in my stream. And as for people outside the self-publishing world – well, they seem to be missing the whole point of it altogether.

Now, it’s been a while since I wrote a nuts-and-bolts post about a self-publishing thing but [rolls up shirtsleeves, takes a swig of espresso] here goes:

Amazon KDP 101

Let’s recap the basics first.

You publish your book to Amazon KDP because you want it to be for sale in the world’s various Kindle stores. A boatload of tees and cees aside, you get paid either 35% or 70% of the retail price depending on how much you decide to charge for your book. If it’s $2.99 or $9.99 or somewhere in between, you get 70%. If it’s not, you get 35%.

So if someone buys your book, you get paid. Got that?

Good. Now…

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Kindle Book Lending Programme

When you publish your book to Amazon KDP, you check a box that says you agree to make your book available for lending. You will check this box, because you won’t be able to click the “Publish” button if you don’t – if you want to publish to KDP, you have to make your book available for lending. Makes you wonder why they even ask, right? Well, maybe they’re just being mannerly. Either way, if you publish to KDP, your book is available for lending in the Kindle Book Lending Programme.

This is the system whereby a Kindle user can loan another Kindle user one book at a time for a lending period of up to two weeks. Authors get paid diddly squat for this but, hey, there’s little difference between that and me lending a paperback I bought to a friend, and you might get a new reader out of it. If you’re really lucky, you might even get a new review.

The Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL)

If you are a Prime customer, you can avail of the Kindle Owners Lending Library, or KOLL. This is where Amazon customers who use Kindle and subscribe to Prime get to borrow one book per calendar month from Amazon, for freesies, but it’s free like the hot chocolate and cookies they hand out at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, i.e. included in the ticket price.

Remember: this is for Amazon customers. And just the ones who pay for Prime.

Authors are compensated for this, which we’ll get to in a second.

Kindle Unlimited

Right. [takes another swig of espresso] This is where things start to get complicated, so stay with me.

In addition the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library, Amazon customers can avail of something called Kindle Unlimited. It’s basically a subscription service. For a flat fee ($9.99 a month in the U.S.), Amazon customers can download all the Kindle books they want.

Remember: this is for Amazon customers too.

KDP Select

KDP Select is when you and your Kindle book sidle up to Amazon and seductively whisper “There’s no one else. It’s only you.”

It’s when you, an Amazon author, make your Kindle book exclusive to Amazon and pinky-swear you won’t publish it in digital format anywhere else in the known universe.

In exchange you get some promotional stuff and higher royalties in some scenarios, but most importantly you get:

  • listed/made available to customers in the Kindle Owners Lending Library
  • listed/made available to customers of Kindle Unlimited
  • compensated for any borrows or downloads that may then occur.

This last bit? It was all about Amazon authors.

The Pot of Gold At The End of the Rainbow

How are you compensated?

When an Amazon customer borrows your Kindle book through the Lending Library or chooses it via Kindle Unlimited, they are not paying for it per se. No money exchanges virtual hands; the customer downloads it at no cost to them. But technically Amazon does get paid for it, because the KOLL is a benefit of being an Amazon Prime customer ($99 a year in the U.S.) and KU is $9.99 a month.

So just like Mickey’s hot chocolate in Magic Kingdom (again), it’s a perk you get for “free” that in reality is included in the ticket price.

But what about you, the author? Well, this is where the infamous pot o’gold comes in. Amazon compensates its self-published authors for these KOLL and KU borrows by giving them a share of a finite fund, which changes monthly. As I type this on Tuesday 23rd June 2015 at 9.21pm, the fund for this month stands at $3 million. If you’re a self-published Amazon author, you’ll always know how much the current month’s fund is, because you’ll get an e-mail about it.

How is your share determined? First, Amazon counts all the times that KDP Select books were borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded through KU in a calendar month. Let’s say that in May that was 1,000,000 times and that the fund was $3,000,000. DIVIDE! That means that every time a KDP Select book was borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded through KU – don’t you lurve acronyms? – the action was worth $3 to the book’s author.

So, if you have three titles enrolled in KDP Select (i.e. exclusive to Amazon) and those three titles were borrowed from the KOLL/downloaded through KU 8, 42 and 103 times respectively, you make $459, because you were borrowed/downloaded a total of 153 times and 153 x $3 = $459 if my iPhone hasn’t had a stroke.

Authors have been complaining about there being a “cap on earnings” which some might take to mean that there is a limit to how much you can earn through selling your books on Amazon’s Kindle store because the money comes out of a shared, finite pot. But that’s not what’s happening. What they mean is that there is a cap on how much they can earn from having their books borrowed via the Kindle Owners Lending Library or downloaded via Kindle Unlimited, which is, of course, a different thing.

Because – presumably – more and more books will be added to the KOLL and KU list, and Prime and using KOLL will grow in popularity (it certainly will if they roll it out in more countries – hey! Hey! *WAVES FROM IRELAND*), customers will have more books to choose from and there’ll be more (times) borrowed/downloaded, but the fund might not grow at all. So you might still be borrowed/downloaded 153 times, but because there were 3,000,000 borrows/downloads overall, now your share is down to $1 per borrow/download – and because of all the increased competition, you had to work a hell of a lot harder to earn it than you did your $3 two paragraphs ago.

Or, to put it more simply: in the future, this situation may suck.

Please note: I’m not using the words compensated or downloads to make a political statement. I’m just using it to differentiate from getting paid for actual sales.

PAYING PER PAGE READ? REALLY? IS THAT A THING NOW?

Okay. [drains cup of now cold espresso] After all that, are Amazon really paying authors per page read?

No. If you self-publish to Amazon KDP and someone buys your book, you get paid for that book regardless of whether or not they even glance at it on their device.

But

Remember those “times borrowed/downloaded” we were talking about above? Well, they only qualified as a time borrowed/downloaded if the borrower – the Amazon Prime or KU customer – read past 10%.

In other words, KOLL users and KU customers could do what we all do, which is download book after book to our Kindle and then never read past what amounts to the free sample that we should’ve really just read first, and Amazon – cleverly – didn’t think the authors of those books should get paid for that. (Personally, I agree. We don’t get paid when they download samples. Less than 10% of a book is a sample by another name.) But Amazon have decided to change this.

Now, authors will be compensated for the times their books are borrowed from the KOLL or downloaded via KU based on how many pages the customer then reads of their book. 

Instead of the “read past 10%” thing.

(And yes, before you ask, they’ve come up with a way to “normalize” the length of books to compensate for personal font size choices, etc.)

It will still be out of the aforementioned pot o’gold, or shared fund.

So I ask again: are Amazon really paying authors per page read?

If we are talking about self-published Kindle books that have been enrolled in KDP Select/have been made exclusive to Amazon’s Kindle store and are then either borrowed from the Kindle Owners Lending Library which is only open to Prime customers and/or Kindle books that are downloaded via the Kindle Unlimited subscription service that costs just under ten dollars a month then, yes, Amazon are paying authors by per page read.

But who’s going to click on that?

To reiterate: if I go onto the Kindle store now and buy your book and then never even download it, you will still get your 35 or 70% share of the retail price that I paid for it.

Therefore while “Amazon pays authors by page read” is technically an accurate statement, it is a fragment of a much longer statement that’s been taken out of context to make a prime cut of click bait.

Just Tell Me Why I Should Care – Or If I Should at all

Personally, I don’t really care. I see KOLL and KU compensation as an add-on to my royalties, not my bread and butter. (To be honest, I got more upset about misleading, click-baity headlines than I did about the changes to  KDP Select.) I don’t think it’s a bad thing, being compensated per page read. I’m essentially neutral about it.

The problem, I think, is the shared fund and its ever-decreasing share for you. But I’ve always had the same approach to problems with Amazon: like it or lump it, those are your options. You don’t have to self-publish through Amazon and fudge knows they don’t need us to self-publish through them. So you either play by their rules, or you don’t play at all. Or you play elsewhere. But I really don’t see the point in being annoyed about the terms of a thing that is entirely optional.

But anyway…

If all of this has any bearing on us self-published authors at all, it’s that we should be making every effort to make every single page as good as we can possibly make it, so that anyone who picks up – or clicks open – one of our books doesn’t even think about stopping before they reach THE END. 

But isn’t that what we should’ve been doing anyway?

What do you think of all this?

I know what I’m doing: getting back to Orange is the New Black… 

(Want more self-publishing talk? In Dublin this Saturday? I’ve got just the thing for you.)

Let’s Talk About Self-Publishing. In Dublin. Next Weekend.

(I know, I know – a blog post that’s not about The News. Surprise!)

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Next weekend, the Books Go Social Writers Conference takes place in Dublin. It promises to be an action-packed weekend with multiple “streams” or options for attendees to choose from, with topics ranging from how to get published to exploring in depth how to write a story that other people will want to read in the first place. There’s also a dinner for all speakers and attendees on the Saturday night, and the weekend will also offer some time to explore the city of Dublin.

I’ll be there on the Saturday afternoon talking about The Business of Self-Publishing.

You can find out more about the conference here.

(Being) On Submission Syndrome

I know it’s only been five minutes since I last mentioned it, but I got a book deal. In true Publishing “Hurry Up and Wait” Industry style, it happened in a flash after a couple of decades of waiting for it to. The offer from Corvus came just six days short of Mousetrapped‘s five year anniversary – I self-published Mousetrapped on Monday 29th March 2010; the offer was made on Monday 23rd March 2015 – and only five days passed between my agent sending my novel out to publishers and an offer coming back. (The moral of that story? Finish your damn book.) This was a good thing, because I did not take being on submission well…

DAY 1: Thursday 12th March 2015

I send the final, final, FINAL (for now) version of the book back to my agent’s in-house editor extraordinaire, Stephanie. Instantaneously I develop a host of flu-like symptoms, including but not limited to: headache, chills, sinus pressure, sore throat, cough, general feeling that death is imminent. I crawl into bed with Netflix and sleep for fifteen hours.

DAY 2: Friday 13th March 2015

I e-mail my agent, trying to be as breezy and casual as I possibly can be, trying to find out if I’m already out on submission or if that horror is ahead of me yet. In other words: should I have already assumed the foetal position on the floor alongside my phone, or can that wait until Monday?

Think Crocs with socks, in a tornado. I am that breezy and casual. “So,” I type, “just, like, whenever you have a chance – no rush! – could you, like, maybe possibly potentially just give me a quick update on what happens next? BUT LIKE I DON’T EVEN CARE. Laters.”

Day 3: Saturday 14th March 2015

No response. It’s the weekend.

Day 4: Sunday 15th March 2015

No response because it’s still the weekend.

Day 5: Monday 16th March 2015

I’ve been in bed for weeks, it feels like, because it’s difficult to fall asleep when you’re anywhere else and sleep is the only respite I have from wondering which way I will fall off this precipice: into my dreams (an offer!) or into disaster (thanks but no thanks).

It’s the day before Patrick’s Day – which is falling on a Tuesday this year – so in Ireland, it’s unofficially an extension of the weekend. No one is doing anything, including me. I decide not to leave my sick-on-submission bed for college, and sleep more instead.

Sniff.

Day 6: Tuesday 17th March 2015

News breaks of a colossal book deal that a female writer in the UK has signed, a female writer who I’m sure is lovely and talented and works harder than me, but who this morning I can feel nothing for except stone cold hatred and contempt, seasoned liberally with jealousy. But her book sounds really intriguing and I say so on Twitter. The publicist tweets me that it IS really intriguing and says he’ll send me a proof when it comes out. DOES THIS MEAN SOMETHING?

I venture outside, just to check it’s still there. I do this about half an hour before Dublin’s Patrick’s Day parade starts and therefore I encounter strings of tour buses and people from other countries wearing leprechaun hats. I go back inside.

I sit on the sofa, eying the bed.

I get back into bed.

Day 7: Wednesday 18th March 2015

I’ve made a doctor’s appointment for 9:00am so that I (a)  might score some antibiotics and (b) am forced to get out of The Bed and keep going, further, until I’m out of the house.

It turns out to be a gorgeous sunny spring morning, fresh and warm with blue skies, and I am hemorrhaging positivity (that’s a thing, right?) as I skip down the street, light-headed from the oxygen. The doctor refuses to give me any drugs but that’s totally fine, because while I’m in the doctor’s surgery I forget for a whole twenty minutes about my Gmail account and when I remember it again – GASP! – there’s an e-mail from The Agent…

HEART BEAT HEART BEAT HEART BEAT HEART BEAT HEART BEAT

… that says sorry for the delay in replying, but all is well and she’ll be sending out a short description of The Book to a number of editors later today. Which means I’ve spent a whole week of my life fixating on something that wasn’t actually happening yet. But I have learned a valuable lesson.

Well, I’m sure I have. I’ll realize what it is eventually.

So now we’re back to:

Day 1 (for realsies, this time): Thursday 19th March 2015

Between finishing the book and then being horribly diseased, I feel like I haven’t been at college much lately. Even when I was there, my mind wasn’t really. Today is my first post-rewrite, post-post-rewrite-flu day back and I have a busy schedule of lectures and tutorials and catching up with college friends to do. It’s another gorgeous sunny day and as I sit in the sun off Dawson Street sipping a flat white, it occurs to me that I’m feeling great.

So great that I only check my phone, like, 3,051 times during business hours.

Day 2: Friday 20th March 2015

I have two essays due in 6 days, so I better start them, eh? I spend the solar eclipse in the library reading about the symbolism of curtains in Dubliners.

That evening I head out to Dun Laoghaire to the Mountains to Sea festival, to see crime writing stars SJ Watson and Paula Hawkins in conversation with Sinead Crowley (also a crime writer) with my friend Sheena (also a writer whose novel The Lake opens with the discovery of a dead body). Not the ideal way to take my mind off being on submission, it turns out.

Day 3: Saturday 21st March 2015

Turns out it’s near impossible to resist stalking editors on Twitter who you suspect have been contacted about your book. Wait, she says she’s reading something she’s enjoying? WHAT DOES THAT MEAN? Could it be my book? How much praise is “enjoying”? Is that like pre-empt enjoying, or thanks but no thanks enjoying? What if –

Oh, it was just a magazine article about Paris. Unless… Is that a clue that she really meant my book but can’t just come and say so because it’d be inappropriate at this tentative negotiation stage? Does “Paris” really mean “Catherine’s book”? Is it CODE? Is she trying to communicate with me over the medium of Twitter? Or –

Oh. She’s not even at work. She’s on maternity leave.

DAY 4: SUNDAY 22ND MARCH 2015

[Sleeps]

[Wakes up briefly]

[Turns over]

[Sleeps more]

DAY 5: MONDAY 23RD MARCH 2015

This morning, I have a stern talk with myself. I remind me that it could be weeks before I hear anything – my agent warned that it would be – and when I do, it could be less than amazing news. I need to move on.

Or at least I need to pretend that I’m moving on.

I get up early and do some work on one of the two essays that are due now in approximately 98 hours. My plan for the day is hectic compared to what I’ve been up to since I started suffering from On Submission Syndrome: I have a Romanticism lecture at 2pm and am meeting writing friends – Hazel and the aforementioned Sheena – at Le Petit Parisien at three. We’re meeting to celebrate the fact that Hazel won the Historical Fiction category at the RNA awards a few days before, and the publication of Sheena’s The Lake.

But at exactly one minute to one o’clock, Monday 23rd March 2015 becomes all about ME.

Lecture smecture. I can’t possibly go to that now. Instead, I text Hazel and Sheena to tell them that I am now AN ONGOING SITUATION and to meet me at the cafe ASAP because OMG stuff is happening and I’m like WTF with the all caps and the acronyms.

*THE* PHONE CALL: 12:59, MONDAY MARCH 23RD 2015

I was about fifteen minutes from walking out the door when my phone rang with a UK country code.

Instantly I know: it’s my agent, Jane. My heartbeat starts thundering in my ears but I’m pretty calm, cool and collected when I speak to her. I actually miss her call – I don’t get to the phone in time – and I call her straight back without listening to her voicemail which will later tell me that there is “terrifyingly good news”.

I think she is calling with a general update – what else could it be? The book went out on Wednesday – so I’m not prepared at all when she says, “We have an offer.” Two books from Corvus, an imprint of Atlantic, and an advance that means I can be a student for the next three years without having to live off of Aldi’s instant noodles. With this, I’ll be able to dine on McDonnell’s Super Noodles instead. Major brand noodles instead of own brand/generic.

Major brand noodles, people. Hooray!

One small thing: it’s a pre-empt and it has a 5pm deadline.

A pre-empt is basically an offer  that says, “We want this book and we don’t want anyone else to have the chance to make an offer for it too. We want it off the FOR SALE shelf, now.” It is not the opening bid in a potential auction, because if you say no at deadline time, the offer doesn’t stand. It will definitely drop significantly – the Super Noodles would be gone and I’d be back to those mystery noodles in Tesco’s Everyday Value range that are so cheap (12c a pack! Whaaa….?) I’m not entirely convinced they can be a foodstuff – or it might go away altogether.

You know that sequence in 24 that plays on either side of a commercial break? The beep… beep … beep… of the ticking clock that speeds up until it’s more like beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep-beep? That’s what my afternoon was like that day. As I said I skipped the lecture, heading straight for Le Petit Parisien, where Sheena had thankfully dashed to a bit early so we could sit drinking coffee and staring at my phone together, waiting for my agent to ring back. Hazel eventually arrived too.

We did this for three hours. I forget how many coffees I had.

Beep…

Beep…

Beep…

Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep.

We waited while Jane got more information, which she called me at about a minute to five to relay. Everything she came back with sounded like good news.

The editor, Sara, seemed to be incredibly enthusiastic, as shown by her coming back with a pre-empt just five days after the book went out. (My agent said it was the fastest deal she’d ever done.) Now I’ve had a foot in the publishing industry for the last three years or so and knew way more than I needed to about it before that, and what I’ve learned is that enthusiasm is everything. It can be hard to maintain through the long process of a publishing contract – for both sides – and so if you don’t start with oodles of it, you’re destined to be short of it later on.

So, on Wicklow Street, standing outside the cafe with my phone to my ear smelling the lovely stuff on offer in L’Occitane next door, I told Jane to accept the offer.

I know I’m incredibly lucky to have to suffer through only five days of being on submission – and for it to end in a deal – but that’s just as well, because it turns out that five days of being on submission is about all I could take!

The featured image is a view from the famous promenade in Nice, France. I love it there, and have spent many an hour sitting on benches like the one pictured, sunning myself and reading great books. It makes me feel the opposite of how being on submission felt.