Some Kindle authors fearing the worst as Amazon starts paying by the page, not download

As Amazon tries to roll out a more fair way of compensating authors for their work, many are fearing that it will result in a pay cut. And, some might be right.

On July 1, Amazon changed the way it pays royalties, and is now paying authors for each page viewed by a reader instead of the previous model, which compensated authors for every book downloaded. The new formula only applies to books that are self-published and distributed through Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, which essentially lend books to Amazon Prime subscribers for free, or to those willing to pay $10 a month.

Amazon compensates authors by setting aside a pool of cash each month to be divided among all participants. In the past, Amazon distributed the money based on the number of downloads. Now, it’s doing it based on pages read.

For the month of July, Amazon is estimating that the pool of money going toward authors will be at least $11 million, and last month the pages read was almost 1.9 billion. Based on those two figures, you can roughly assume that authors will get half a cent ($0.0058) per page viewed.

Most authors, who are doing the math, suspect they’ll lose about 50 percent of their monthly income. For instance, if an author has a 100-page book that was read to completion 100 times, an author would make roughly $60 for the month, or 60 cents per 100-page book. Before, an author would make $1.35 a download, regardless of the book’s length. That pencils out to $135 a month for 100 downloads, which represents 55 percent more revenue. These calculations are based on what authors are reporting in Amazon’s forums, which have lit up over the past few days with complaints about the pay structure.

“To stop authors from leaving the program in droves, Amazon’s going to have to do something even more drastic than their recent change…and something a little more thought through,” one comment said. Another echoed the opinion: “I was really hoping that Amazon was going to really make this program benefit the authors, but I think this is just another way to screw us over.”

Besides a revenue cut, the authors are also claiming that the new system will favor longer, more suspenseful novels, like mysteries. As a result, other genres will suffer. They also assume authors will now pad their books with additional pages and chapters to increase their revenue.

But the worst-hit are authors in the crafting or children’s book genres, say these authors.

“It would seem pointless for me to stay in [Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owner’s Lending Library] now,” said one author, who voiced her concerns on an online forum. “I do illustrated children’s books. The illustrations will count as one page the sum total for the book [and] will be about 5 cents….I don’t understand Amazon, length isn’t quality.”

An Amazon spokeswoman did not immediately return emails seeking comment.

Author Hugh Howey, who wrote the book series “WOOL” is not one of the authors to immediately jump to the conclusion this move hurts all authors. In a blog post, he writes: “[Kindle Unlimited] does not reward longer works: It rewards good works. It rewards gripping works.” But he totally understands why an author would be upset, saying it will result in a revenue cut. But he also doesn’t think it was right for an author of an 100-page book to get compensated the same as an author that wrote a much longer book.

“If you think the prior system was fair, then we just disagree. If you think what you made under an unfair system should equal what you make under a fairer system, then we again disagree,” he said.

Amazon tried to take into account how some authors could game the system, or be unfairly penalized for books with charts, or abnormally small print. To do so, it came up with what it calls the “Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC).” It calculates KENPC based on standard settings (e.g. font, line height, line spacing, etc.), and will use that to measure the number of pages customers read.

Another author pointed out how KENPC doesn’t work for all genres. He wrote a book about getting library audio books onto your Kindle, which has a lot of illustrations. He said the real page count is 54 pages, but based on Amazon’s adjusted calculation, it is now only 45 pages. Now, he’ll make only 25 cents, even though he normally charges $2.99 in the Amazon book store.

What’s particularly got people upset, however, is the example that Amazon used during its announcement, which may have set people’s standards artificially high. Based on a set of fictitious scenario, using round numbers, Amazon implied that people would get 10 cents per page read. Now, with the real numbers readily available, people are finding out that it’s closer to half a cent.

Howey sums up is feelings by saying that the new system rewards one thing only: Reader enjoyment. “This is how it should be…It’s hearts that we should concentrate on pounding, not keyboards. Write well and write efficiently. Write what you want. There’s a good chance there are more readers out there just like you, looking for the same thing,” he said.

There’s likely many more chapters to be written about this new pay-per-page pricing scheme. Are you an author? Are you a reader? What do you think is more fair?


Leave a Reply