The Two Hundred and Ninety-Fourth Post: The One Where I Explain Amazon’s Policies and How They Are Going to Change The Self-Publishing Field

Hello — now that I’m done spilling my guts out about next year’s project, I am going to bring up something that has started quite a kerfluffle on Facebook and on the Internet: Amazon’s new borrowing system.

Previously, Amazon did this: you borrowed a book from their service and in doing so, you read it and borrowed another.  To you, it was free…and it is as far as you paid nothing.  However, if you read 10% of it, it was counted as a “sale” and the author got a little something from it (I’ve been seeing $1.30, but I think it might have depended on the price of the book if bought).  This doesn’t seem bad really, if someone reads a book, but doesn’t like it, they return it by borrowing something else.  This is an excellent way to try new authors and even support them (Disclosure: I’ve had one of my books borrowed be people and got paid a very little bit).  I’m sure you can see where things could become gameable.

Example: you grab a fantasy novel, which could come in at 100,000 words easily.  If each page is on average 250 words, you’d have to read 10,000 words or 40 pages for the author to get paid for the borrow.  Most erotica comes in at around 5,000 to 8,000 words which comes out to 2 to 3.2 pages for the author to get paid (and less on average, something that small doesn’t usually get the 70% royalties that other things do).  Which do you think is going to happen?

Now, I have a friend who writes erotica and romance (Her books are to the left, feel free to buy one or two — she quite good) and she’s not happy about what’s going on.  What is going on is that Amazon is switching to a different pay scheme for borrowing books.  You are now going to get paid per page read.  Yep.  If someone borrows a book (and even at Kindle’s prices for books, how is someone going to turn down free?  Don’t think it’s possible?  The Quietest Heart had nothing May 31st — no sales, no borrows, nothing.  When I put it up for free the next day, 53 units given away and it went up and down for a while until the promotion ended in June 7th.  Doesn’t do a whole lot for my ego to be honest.), the writer is only going to get paid for what he reads.  If you’re a good writer, then you’ll get a good rate.  If you’re a middlin’ writer, then well you might enough so that you can take your family out to the upscale Outback restaurant right across the street from the mall.

Amazon has been clever enough to not release the formula that they’re going to use to determine who gets what.  I’m hoping that it’s going to be the royalty divided by the number of pages read…which could come out to something along the lines of 2 to 3 cents a page.  This is going to do a lot of harm to the self-publishing community.  Beyond a lot of people losing revenue (ever read a cookbook from cover to cover?), this puts a lot of advantage in Amazon’s court.  Books that don’t perform well hardly get paid (which makes a wonderful opportunity for Amazon to come in with their ad campaign for self-publishers — for mere $100, they can put your book in ads that most people are going to ignore) and books that get read cover to cover might not get the same royalty rate as if someone bought it.  If it is not royalty divided by page count, then what is it?  What is this going to do to the market in general?  If you only get a couple of bucks for a full read (consider that the average book is going to be $2.99 at a 70% royalty [not adding in the reseller 4 to 6 percent] is 2.09 minus Amazon’s “transfer fee” (yep, get you coming and going) and the average length of a novel is 60,000 words.  60,000 words translates into 240 pages which means each page is going to be worth… .008 cents.  Read 10% of that book and the author makes .048 cents.  Amazon’s Kindle Lending Program and Kindle Unlimited are how Amazon is going to stay solvent.  That money that’s not being used it going to go into the war chest, which they need to invest and grow.  Why?  Read this article (Amazon is #2 on the list) and the change in attitude will become clearer.

There is actually an upside to this beyond that company staying afloat to sell us Kindles.  Writers are now going to have to get better.  They write a kick ass 10% and a crappy 90% now.  I doubt that this is Amazon’s initial idea, but it’s going to be an unexpected benefit.  However, while I hope that it will make self-publishing a little more of a good idea rather than a ‘bless your heart’ notion, I am not in favor of something that is going to hurt the honest people out there (like my friends to the right).

What’s a writer to do?  People out there are going to go from making about $3,000 a month to maybe 10% of that on a good month.  The answer is three-fold:

1) Don’t use their system.  Amazon is not the only game in town when it comes to self-publishing.  They may be the best know, but there is Kobo, Barnes and Noble and iBook.  Draft2Digital is a good service to use.  Smashwords is another.  They may not have the heft or reach of Amazon, but they’re there.

2) Use Amazon’s referral service as well if you’re a writer.  See my links to the right of the page?  I get an additional 4 percent when you click on them and buy the book.  That helps a lot.  It doesn’t take a lot and it helps.

3) Be prolific as a (censored) rabbit.  This is the best way to game the system.  The more books you have being borrowed, the more money you’re going to get.  That’s the best way for a lot of erotic writers to work, since they’re used to churning out a lot of work in a short amount of time.

4) Sell it yourself.  This does hand in hand with number one.  You have to have a website nowadays (even for a modest blog like mine)  You’ve got a captive audience reading your works online — set up a small shopping cart and sell your stuff for the right price directly to the consumer.  There are free programs out there to format your book and places to store it online.

Amazon is not the great giant it thinks it is.  We are the underdogs and we are all still too pretty to die.

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