The Great KU Flip-Out of 2015
It’ll be fun to tell our kids where we were when KU 1.0 turned into KU 2.0. We’ll tell them how in the aftermath we roasted rats and pigeons over upturned and burning cars. How we tended to the wounded, finishing off those we knew would not make it. How we drank our own urine in order to survive. How the blood-red moon set over a charred and ruined landscape. Yes … it was a long day. Full of complete and utter nonsense.
A few observations from yesterday:
1) It’s too damn early to observe anything. Authors were predicting the effect KU 2.0 would have on their careers and sending requests to Amazon customer service to PULL, PULL, PULL! from KDP Select like Wall Street traders on the floor of a panic. All based on a dashboard graph on Day 1 of reporting.
That anyone trusts a brand new reporting system after eight hours of being live is bizarre enough. But what I can tell you from looking at my report at 7am this morning is that yesterday’s reporting was LOW. I’m at over half of yesterday’s page count at 7am. And Amazon often works off PST. So 4 hours today is already over 60% of what 24 hours yesterday gave me. And I haven’t released anything new.
2) The second thing people are doing is equating their old page count for works to the new KENPC. But many are reporting a nearly doubling of KENPC. A 300 page work can come out to over 600 pages, as measured by the new system. It appears that 40,000 – 50,000 words, fully read, will equal the lowest range of the KU 1.0 borrow rates. This doesn’t mean short story writers today are being screwed; it means novella and novel writers for the past year were being screwed. Amazon fixed 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.
5) Getting hung up over the pay-per-page of $0.0057 is silly. Amazon is paying out $11,000,000 in July. That money is being evenly split based on hours of enjoyment provided to their customers. Those hours should correlate more closely to hours invested by the author than in the previous system. The point is, all of that money is being disbursed. The amount of pay going to authors just went UP in absolute terms. Freak out when the pool starts to go down, not when the metric of division gets a fancy new decimal point.
6) KU is voluntary. These changes only apply to KDP Select and those authors who have some works that are exclusive to Amazon. You can take your works out of KDP Select. You can try a few works for 90 days and change your mind. You can do whatever you want. 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.
Compare that with mine and colleagues’ dealings with other online retailers, whose response to frequent criticisms has been, “But, we’re _______” (Insert name of large tech company). Whether or not Kindle Unlimited and subscription services are good for authors is a separate issue from the change to KU 2.0. I think much of the arm-flapping is coming from people who don’t like KU at all and wish all subscription services would go away. If so, they spent their time yesterday talking about the wrong company.
On Monday, another subscription service, Scribd, pulled 80% – 90% of its erotica, because its financials do not make any sense. Scribd’s business plan has been to beg for venture capital and distribute it to publishers and indies, without any model for turning a profit. When their system collapses, everyone will be out of a steady market for reaching readers and earning pay. They’ll have been greedily bled dry and bankrupted. They provided no warning that this would happen, just yanked works right off their shelves.
What do I think about subscription services, now that we’ve had one for over a year? I’m glad I asked.
I see KU as being far better than a used bookstore, which leaves authors out of the money altogether. I see them as being better than libraries, because they pay more, and they funnel more readers into purchases by mixing rental and retail in one location. I see KU as better than permafree. And these are all things I support and love. I love used bookstores and want my books in them. I love libraries and want my books in them. I love and employ permafree. KU is better than all of them.
The change to KU 2.0 has me revisiting whether or not to move my novels back into KDP Select. But you know what? I might take an entire day to make that decision. Hell, I might take a week. Or even a month! And I might try to take a deep breath somewhere in there, and think about this program for what it is, and not what it used to be, or what I wish it were, or equate it with retail, or pine for a program that can be gamed and provides a worse experience for readers.
ETA: Holy heck, I haven’t seen this much vitriol over an Amazon move since … the last time Amazon made a move. I’ve got people on Twitter telling me to go *&#@ myself, you entitled piece of &@$%, and things normally reserved for authors doing Twitter PR.
I would say that I’m sorry that people are losing income over this, but I’m not. I don’t say that with spite or with warm fuzzies. I’m not happy people’s income went down. I’m also not upset for them. The system wasn’t fair before, and it’s more fair now. I’m happy that the system has been improved.
For people making a livelihood off a subscription service that didn’t exist 14 months ago, I don’t know what to say. I’ve never banked on earning a living from a rental system. KU has always felt like a bonus, but it appears that for some authors, the borrows were more important than the sales. I’ve never considered this might be the case for writers. All I can suggest is no one quit their day job over these brand new and untested systems. This isn’t book retail. This is the exploration of something new. And it might suck for all of us in the long run. For me, it’s too early to tell.
I’ve been accused in multiple places for having a sweetheart deal with Amazon that gives me KU status without the exclusivity. This isn’t true. Probably won’t stop the claims. Just putting the truth out there to see what people choose to do with it.
I’m sorry I’ve offended anyone. But I’m not sorry for these changes to KU. I think they were needed from the start. I don’t think Amazon could’ve predicted the outcome of an even split based on a 10% read. They are correcting, and they’ll correct again. So compile your ideas, your wishes, what you think would be fair for children’s book authors and authors of non-fiction, and make your voices heard. I wish you all the best of luck. Write good shit and be kind to one another.
ETA: Comments closed. It only takes a small number of abusers to make it so we can’t all have nice things. :)