Kindle Unlimited’s Decision: Why It’s Actually A Good Thing

The self-publishing community has been in an outrage lately over Kindle Unlimited’s decision to base payments on how much of your book has been read instead of the fact that someone downloaded it. Many authors hate that decision with a passion. I think it’s actually a good thing. Here’s why.

First, let’s take a look at the decision itself. Kindle Unlimited is a service that allows readers to download as many ebooks as they want in exchange for a monthly subscription. Participating authors get paid in shares based on  whether their books have been read up to the 10% mark. According to KU’s new policy, authors will be paid differing amounts according to what percentage of their books have been read, with a special bonus for copies that have been read to the 100% mark. The new policies would also pay extra based on the length of a book. As they put it in their emailed newsletter on June 15,

For simplicity, assume the fund is $10M and that 100,000,000 total pages were read in the month:

•       The author of a 100 page book which was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

•       The author of a 200 page book which was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $2,000 ($10 million multiplied by 20,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

•       The author of a 200 page book which was borrowed 100 times but only read half way through on average would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).

Why do so many authors hate this? Well, it strays from the bookstore model of simply getting paid royalties based on how many copies sell–not how many copies are read. That’s the big thing, and it’s unprecedented in the bookselling world. It also means that if you write shorter books and novellas, you won’t get paid as much as the Stephen Kings out there.

That being said, there’s been a problem with Kindle Unlimited ever since it was first unleashed on the public. It’s easy to get a book on there, and the book can be of any length you want. Large areas of Kindle Unlimited were becoming, well, scamfests, because it was so easy. You write a ten-page pamphlet, upload it twenty times under different titles, and then buy a pack of five-star reviews (because yes, you can do that). Kindle Unlimited customers download it, read the cover page and maybe one more, and then realize that it’s garbage… and the scammer got paid just as much as the most talented aspiring writer out there simply for having his cover page opened, leading to the 10% mark on his ten-page pamphlet.

The long-term effects were even worse. Not only were the scammers getting paid as much as everyone else, but the pool of income shares was shrinking down to nothing. No one was getting paid much of anything at all.

And behold, your hard-earned wages for your work!
And behold, your hard-earned wages for your work!

If you’re a talented writer, this change should be an exciting one. You might not get paid as soon, but when you are paid later, you can take a much more serious pride in your work. Not everyone will profit, and it’s true that longer books will likely earn more than shorter ones–but I expect that with the new payment policies, you can actually expect your novels to earn more through Kindle Unlimited.

In short–don’t panic, and keep writing. Kindle Unlimited has always been and is still a risky venture for authors, but now there is a much smaller chance of your payments getting shrunk down to nothing because of a series of pamphlets written by scammers.

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