[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?
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.
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 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.
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.
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.)