Payments by the Page

In yesterday’s Daily Telegraph there was an article “Amazon to Pay Authors by How Much We Read”.  It said that Amazon will begin paying royalties based on the number of pages read by Kindle users, rather than the books they download.  This system will begin on July 1 and “initially” applies to authors who self publish their books via the Kindle Direct Publishing Select (KDP Select), which makes books available to download from the Kindle library and to Amazon Prime customers.

The article said that if a reader abandons a book a quarter of the way in, the author will get only a quarter f the money they would have earned if the reader had finished the book.

Amazon claims its method is a fair way of rewarding authors who write lengthy books but have previously earned the same as someone who crafts 100 pages.  “We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payments with the length of books and how much customers read”, the company said.  “Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it.”  To prevent authors beating the system by enlarging the type and spreading our their work over a larger number of pages, Amazon has developed a “Kindle Edition Normalised Page Count” which standardises the font, line height and line spacing.

The article mentions Unfinished: Kindle’s most difficult books:

Capital in the 21st Century, by Thomas Piketty:  2.4% completed

A Brief History of Time, by Stephen Hawking: 6.6% completed

Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman: 6.8% completed

Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg: 12.3% completed

Flash Boys, by Michael Lewis: 21.7% completed

Also mentioned in the article was data released by Kobo, the Kindle rival, which showed that only 44% of readers finished The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, which was one of the biggest sellers in 2014.

Hari Kunzru, the award-winning author of The Impressionist, said the system “feels like the thin edge of a wedge.”

Peter Maass, a writer and editor, said on Twitter: “I’d like the same in restaurants – pay for how much of a burger I eat.”

Kerry Wilkinson, whose Jessica Daniel crime series propelled him to the top of the Amazon bestseller list as a self-published author, believes the system is fair.  “If readers give up on a title after half a dozen pages, why should the writer be paid in full?” he said.  “If authors don’t like it, they don’t have to use KDP Select.  It’s opt in, not opt out.”  But Wilkinson found it “eerie” that Amazon was keeping tabs on what – and how – you are reading.  Even if it’s anonymous, that’s a lot of data mining.”

To Kunzru’s comment, there is no reason this system could not be extended to all Kindle editions, so that whoever holds the copyright (usually the publisher) would be paid on the percentage of a title that is read.  And, of course, other e-books (like Kobo) could adopt the same system.  So, it definitely sounds to me like the thin edge of the wedge.

I think the system sounds fair for mass market books which are intended for a broad group of readers.  I suspect that readers of crime, thriller, romance, historical novels (and other genres) generally finish the books they have bought.  But I also suspect that non-fiction books (such as self-help, political, business, nature, science, environment, etc.) are probably not finished in many cases.  Does this suggest that their authors deserve a lesser reward?  I don’t think so (only one of my published books – from long ago – is in one of the latter categories).  A reader may buy a non-fiction book, read 25% of it, and still be pleased with the book: s/he may well feel that s/he got her money’s worth, and in such a case shouldn’t the author get the full royalty?

The other concern I have is about works of top-class, leading edge fiction.  The Hawk comes to mind.  I suspect that quite a few readers decided that the prose or the subject matter was not for them.  This may also be true of works by Salman Rushdie or Jonathan Franzen, where the writing just went over the reader’s head.  I suppose that one could argue that if a potential reader had to pay only say 25% of the cost of a book to try it, that would provide the reader with an incentive to buy it and at least try it.  And, it would provide the author with at least some compensation.  I’ll be interested to hear what the top-class authors have to say about the Amazon scheme.  I don’t think they’re going to like it.  After all, they’re probably selling a lot of books that end up on the I Once Tried to Read This shelf.


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