Amazon’s Latest Idea

Josie Leavitt - June 23, 2015

I read with increasing fury the news of Amazon’s new royalty payment for authors who self-publish books for the Kindle. The Telegraph reported this new plan this morning. Rather than paying a royalty when the book is purchased like a traditionally published book, self published authors are now going to paid by the number of pages of the book the customer actually reads. This is a frightening way to value books and a very scary way to observe readers’ habits. So, if someone downloads a book but only reads 10 pages, then the author gets that percentage of his or her royalty. 
I am having a very hard time wrapping my head around this. Let’s start with the tracking what and how people are reading. That Amazon knows just how far into a book people read is creepy. What’s even creepier is they are using this information against authors. Let’s face it, not every book gets finished, but that doesn’t mean the author should be paid less. I can see the devious minds at Amazon, who allow just about anything to be self-published and available for Kindle download, trying to figure out a way around someone getting their friends and family to buy their book when they have  little intention of actually reading it. To penalize authors for working within this system seems wrong.
The larger issue for me is the keeping tabs on when people stop reading a book. I have left books unfinished for months and then gone back to finish them. Does Amazon have a time limit for how long a book remains unread? Do they allow for an illness, new job, or addition to the family before someone finishes a book? This is a flawed system. Can you imagine what would happen if all royalties got paid this way? Someone buys a physical book, but only reads half of it, then does the author get half the royalty? And if this strategy is seen all the way through to its logical end, shouldn’t authors whose books are read repeatedly get more in royalties?
I was not a fan of reading on a device before I heard about this, now I’m even less of a fan. Yes, e-readers are convenient, but reading is a private pleasure that should not be tracked. And if someone buys a book, the author should be paid for it, plain and simple.

10 thoughts on “Amazon’s Latest Idea

  1. Peter Glassman

    Like you, Josie, I have no desire to read novels on devices — I spend enough time glued to my monitor responding to emails at work each day! And I also agree with you that it’s very creepy that any company should be tracking how many pages readers choose to read — especially a company as clearly lacking in any morality as Amazon (just look how it treats its warehouse employees and how it lied to its own customers by telling them Hachette wouldn’t ship them, when they were actually refusing to order Hachette’s own titles —which was obvious to everyone in the industry since they had no supply problems with Hachette’s distribution clients, Disney, Abrams, and Chronicle at the time they were claiming Hachette wasn’t shipping to them).
    However, to be fair (even though it pains me in this case), Amazon did not announce it would pay self-published authors based on the number of pages read from books “purchased” from Amazon. Rather, they announced they would do that for titles — or pages — read by those reading them via Amazon’s new subscription services. Mind you, I think this is awful too — but authors will still get full royalty on the books their friends and family purchase — or anyone else — just not on those viewed via the subscription services that are not read cover to cover.
    I’ve heard that Amazon claims that this new policy is the equivalent of paying bands and songwriters based on songs listened to, not whole albums, via the various online music subscription services — but I think that’s a totally inane and bogus analogy. It’s more like paying bands and songwriters based on how many bars of music in a song are listened to — but however you view it, apparently Amazon see books as merely an amalgamation of pages, not an artistic expression of the author.
    Of course, Josie, I can see how you were misled by the rather vaguely written article you site in The Telegraph. The Atlantic, CNBC, and The Seattle Times all make it much clearer. Here’s how The Seattle Times put it:
    “Amazon is adjusting its royalty payments for writers who publish with its Kindle Direct Publishing platform to encourage addictive page turners. The e-commerce retailer says it will pay its authors for books read with its Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners Lending Library service based on the number of pages read, starting July 1. Currently, Amazon pays its authors based on their share of total qualified borrows — borrowed and at least 10 percent read — under these programs.”
    Still, however you put it, this policy really stinks. Will they next start paying picture book authors like me based on how many words are read?

  2. Debbie W.

    If this makes sense to them, maybe the customer should only pay Amazon for pages read. What’s good for the goose……


    Amen! And this is yet another reminder, if anybody still needs one, that ‘E-books’ are really only books in a metaphorical sense.

  4. Harold Underdown

    Josie, you might want to update your article, since the whole premise, which you based on bad reporting by the Telegraph, is wrong. This change only applies to the Kindle Unlimited subscription program, NOT to the Kindle publishing program as a whole.

  5. laura purdie salas

    And if they’re basing it on pages read (and not on % of book), then children’s books and poetry collections (and their authors) are already at a disadvantage. I like reading novels on my Kindle, but this makes me super angry.

  6. Sarah

    For those saying the policy is less troubling because it involves Amazon’s subscription service and not direct e-book sales: I think this should sound a warning bell precisely because it *does* involve a subscription service. (Of course Amazon would never link payments for individual book purchases to pages read; they would lose money, too!)
    My partner is a musician, and I’ve long wondered why the music industry isn’t studied more when approaching the future of publishing, and in devising long-term strategies to preserve authors’ rights. Obviously the two industries are not direct parallels, but the example is still illustrative. The lack of protection for artists in the initial introduction of music subscription services has carried over into a huge loss of royalty income– with the end result that it’s now nearly impossible for most musicians to earn money from the sale of albums (or songs). I know people have been pushing back against Amazon’s subscription services for a while– to me this policy just clarifies the need both for that continued push back, and for proactive strategies to preserve authors’ royalty earnings in the future (long after Amazon inevitably bites the dust.)


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