Tag Archives: Kindle Unlimited

Your Kindle Doesn’t Know How Much You Read

I write mysteries, and I know there are some people out there who like to skip to the end before they read the rest of the book. I’m not a big pain about spoilers, but this one has never made any sense to me. I’ve heard that for some people it eases the tension, or gives you an idea if you’ll like how the book turns out before reading the whole thing, but part of being a mystery writer is trying to build tension and interest, not reduce it.


But if my book were on Kindle Unlimited, then those people who skipped to the end would be making me more money.

So here’s what happened.

Last summer Kindle Unlimited changed its rules for how it pays out to authors from the lending library fund. Prior to the change, authors were paid by the borrow (if the reader read 10%). This system resulted in a lot of short books getting paid the same as longer ones. In fact, this happened to me with my Fractals You Can Draw booklet (unintentionally I might add). I made about $0.35 for every sale, and $1.35 for every borrow.

The new system was supposed to pay you by the page read (at a rate of roughly half a cent per page). But as it turns out the system was flawed. Kindle reported the number of pages read by the farthest position in the book, not by the number of actual pages read. So if your readers skipped to the end without reading anything else, instead of counting for just 2 pages, that read counted for the whole length of the book.

Scammers naturally took advantage of this, using click-bait techniques and phonebook sized dummy books to rack up as many “pages read” as possible. In February, Amazon limited the maximum number of pages to 3000, which could still net you a little over $12 a book.

And here’s how it affects indie authors like me.

For starters the scammers are taking a big chunk out of the total lending fund, which is a fixed pool we all fight for a piece of (you can read a great analysis of this situation here). And if the scammers are top performers, they not only get the pages read, but some nice bonuses as well. And they negatively add to the reputation that all self-published books are crap.

But the other side of the coin is that Amazon’s failure to write good pages read detection code affects authors who use “scammy” techniques to provide what they think is a better reading experience.

One of the best ways for someone who’s never read your book before to decide if they want to buy from you is to read as much as possible. So a lot of authors chose to put the Table of Contents at the back of the book instead of the front, since the eReader can take them straight to it anyway. This meant that the TOC wasn’t taking up valuable sample book real estate. And even those who didn’t make this choice deliberately may have inadvertently done it by using book conversion tools like Calibre. In fact, some older eReaders prefer the contents to be at the back, otherwise they can’t detect them.

All of my eBooks actually have a front TOC and a back TOC to have the widest range of compatibility. Newer eReaders, like my current Fire, render the TOC as a side-bar, giving me direct navigation. To take advantage of similar navigation techniques on older readers, both TOC locations were required. But I have a hunch that at least some of my pages read (particularly the 582 spikes), resulted from someone going to the back TOC before reading the book. Again, not the reason I put that TOC there (for a book that was published several years ago I might add), but a factor nonetheless.

Earlier this month Amazon starting sending quality notices to authors requesting that they reformat their books or have them removed from sale. Amazon later revised this policy, stating that the back TOC is not recommended, but not in and of itself a violation of the publishing guidelines. I haven’t received a quality notice for any of my books (and Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is the only enrolled in Kindle Unlimited anyway, though that hasn’t necessarily mattered to those getting the notices). If I do get a notice I will give my strenuous objections for why I want to retain backward compatibility. And then I may end up reformatting the book anyway.

The funny thing is, if my book were purchased by a regular library I’d get a tiny chunk of that sale, once per book, not per read, or per pages read. Kindle Unlimited, as a subscription service, is a different animal, and I think authors are entitled to a chunk of that pie. But I’ve always looked at it more like the library model, a way for people to try before they buy, or to get my book to people who can’t afford it, but still want to read it (though this last falls apart a bit with a $120 a year service).

I think Amazon needs to act with a more nuanced hand and instead of painting all indie authors with the same brush, try to enact better controls for getting rid of crappy books. And they need to write the code to actually detect pages read, rather than try to punish others for their lack of foresight.


Some other great articles on this subject are here and here. If all this is kind of making you annoyed with Amazon, there are many other great places to buy eBooks including Smashwords, where my latest cyber-noir mystery, Surreality, is available for all of your eReaders and without the nasty DRM.

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Paid by the page, first month results

Those of you who participate in Kindle Unlimited or KOLL as an author have probably been curious to see how per page payouts would shake out versus getting paid a fixed amount per checkout. The reason given for the change was to balance out self-published authors who were getting the same money for 50 page pamphlets versus those who wrote 500 page epics. Reportedly, some authors were abusing this system by putting out a lot of small books. As the author of both short and long books, I can offer a little perspective (and numbers) from both sides of the change.

coverMy “pamphlet” book Fractals You Can Draw is 52 KENP (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages) and sells for $0.99. Before the change I was getting about $1.35 for each checkout, which is four times the royalty I got from someone buying the book, and 33% more than the purchase price. Under the new system, according to the payouts I received for July, each page is worth approximately 0.57 cents. If someone reads the whole book, I get 30 cents, pretty much the same as if they bought it and never read it. Sure, it was nice to get a 133% royalty for a while, but that’s kinda silly.

My other book Fractals: A Programmer’s Approach is 582 KENP and sells for $4.99. Because of delivery fees I make about a 50% royalty on each copy sold. The $1.35 payout was a little more than half that royalty, which at the time was balanced out with checkouts of Fractals You Can Draw, but it was still less money than if I had made a sale. Now, at 0.57 cents a page I make $1.35 if someone reads 239 pages, $2.50 for 439 pages, and $3.32 if someone reads the whole book. Holding a reader’s interest does pay off.

coverHere’s where the loophole might still exist. Both of these books are picture, equation, figure and source code heavy, sections readers will often skim. Now in my case it probably took as much if not more work to create each image as it did a block of text the same size. But they are pages more likely to be read because they have less of an opportunity cost for the reader, at least in theory. A 130 page self-published book of webcomics takes much less time to read than a similar book of text, and might be more likely to be read all the way through.

So, if you’re an artbook inclined person, this is your time to shine.

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Kindle Unlimited: Look Before You Buy

Amazon announced last week the introduction of a new service, Kindle Unlimited, which gives you access to a library of 600,000 books for $9.99 a month, or a $120 a year. There’s been a lot of buzz about how this might affect libraries , even though most libraries are a free public service. But we do live in a both/and society and frankly my consumption of eBooks is at a level that $10 might actually be a steal, until you dig a little deeper.

In case you haven’t read this, seen the movies, got the t-shirt, or dressed up as a character at a con.

What are the 600,000 books Amazon is offering you? Their advertising features the Harry Potter Series, The Hunger Games, The Lord of the Rings, and Life of Pi. All excellent and popular books. And if you haven’t read them by now, what’s been keeping you? All of these are books you could find in the Half Price Books clearance section for $1.00 a piece, or check them out from your library, or borrow them from one of countless friends. (Full confession: While I’ve seen a lot of the Potter movies I haven’t actually read the books myself, but I’m a bit of a contrarian when it comes to popular culture).

I’m sorry we don’t have any Grisham, though we do have Grasham.

I did a quick run down of books my wife and I like to read. Like many people, my wife likes John Grisham. Amazon offers dozens of titles by this prolific and excellent legal thriller author, but virtually none are offered in Kindle Unlimited (and the ones that are are short stories or unofficial collaborations). Same goes for Kathy Reichs (author of the Bones series), Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody mysteries), Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse), Marc Maron, Isaac Asimov, Jeffrey Deaver, the list goes on.

All of these authors are available in my local library’s digital lending program. For no cost I can borrow an eBook for 7-21 days, read it on my Kindle, Nook, tablet or computer, and return it with no overdue fees.

So again, what are these 600,000 books exactly? Well a lot of them are KDP select authors, like John Grasham.

Now I love Indie Authors, but…

If you’re the average consumer, who wants to read the latest popular titles for free or for a nominal fee, you might be a little dismayed to find that what you actually can borrow is by an author who’s only sold a couple of hundred copies.

By the way, I’m not picking on John Grasham or any other indie author who publishes on Amazon (considering I am one and Surreality will also be released on that platform). In truth I succumbed to the resemblance of Grasham to Grisham and the fact I peripherally know the author’s relatives (and his book is quite good).

So some consumers will be disappointed they can largely only read self-published work, and the ones that aren’t may be cutting into an indie author’s livelihood.

We all want exposure, to get our name and our books out there. That’s why some authors give books away for free or deeply discounted. But exposure isn’t everything. If you’re enrolled in Kindle Select, you may be kinda hoping for that higher royalty of 70%. Sure Indie Authors get a cut of the lending fund, but that’s nothing compared to what they’d get if they actually sold a book.

And from the looks of it, this wasn’t on their own terms. A number of KDP Select books from authors I know seem to have been automatically enrolled, including work by M. S. Fowle and several author guides in my Kindle wish list.

Okay what about audiobooks?

Audiobooks are probably one of the most price inflated ways to read. A recent indie audiobook bundle advertised containing over $1000 worth of audiobooks, or 11 audiobooks. Audible is an expensive, DRM mired service that is difficult to listen to in the manner you see fit.

My library, on the other hand, offers many books as easily lended audiobooks, many in MP3 DRM free format which makes them easily burned or transferred to devices.

Nutshell time

So in my case, my library actually offers a better service for free than Amazon’s paid service. And by actually buying indie author’s books, I’m supporting their work as I hope they’ll support mine. Kindle Unlimited may have something for you, but your tastes will have to be pretty specific.


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