Kindle writers: Keep ’em hooked, or pay the price

Any good book should keep readers turning pages towards the end, shouldn’t it? Why reward authors who fail to do so?

That’s basically what Amazon’s new payment plan for its Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Lending Library programs boils down to. If readers stick with an author’s book ‘til the end, the author will be rewarded. If readers close the book midway and move on to something else, again, authors will be rewarded, just not as much.

kindle screenOn the surface, there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with that concept.

The old plan provided authors with a flat rate for each borrow through the program. The payout was guaranteed regardless of how far the reader actually flipped into the book. The new plan pays according to how much of the book the reader reads.

According to Amazon, the plan was developed after extensive feedback on how to improve its payment system. Many authors with longer works apparently complained that they weren’t getting a fair deal compared to authors with shorter e-books. It didn’t matter how much prose you wrote, the payout was the same.

“Our goal, as always, is to build a service that rewards authors for their valuable work, attracts more readers and encourages them to read more and more often,” Amazon says in its statement.

So, why is everyone upset over the new payout plan?

Simply put, it means the author now has to earn his or her pay. If a reader doesn’t keep flipping the pages, for whatever reason, the buck stops on whatever page they left off. That’s a big risk for authors who thought they could bank on a certain amount of money per book download, no matter whether the reader finished or not.

Not that we’re talking a lot of money here, in any case. According to recent reports, the amount comes out to about .006 cents per page read. A reader would have to read the whole book or pretty close to it (something like 70,000 words) before the author is able to recoup the previous payout of $1.30 per book.

It also means authors who thought they could cash in with shorter stories or novellas may now have to rethink that strategy.

Few readers even cross the finish line

Most people downloading ebooks don’t even finish their books, according to a New York Times article. Authors, as a result, will likely lose out on this per page read plan compared to the flat rate plan.

The reasons for not finishing a book are numerous. A story that starts out with a bang may become muddled by the middle.  Readers get bored and find there’s something better out there. Life often intervenes and readers lose track.

Generally, my cutoff point is around page fifty. If the book hasn’t thoroughly engrossed me by then, I will cut my losses and move on to something else. Or, in the alternative, I may put the book aside for a while and begin something else. At some point, I may return to the book and give it a second chance. (I wonder if authors would get paid twice in that case?)

Another potential reason for stopping midstream: the format itself.

I’ve talked about this before, but the bottom line is I don’t like reading books on the Kindle or on the computer. It’s a fascinating irony given that I spend most of my days at the computer either reading websites or social media feeds or typing on my own book. But the fact is I prefer to hold a physical book in my hand, flipping through the pages at my leisure, or flipping back to a previous chapter if I so choose. I like being able to gauge where I am in the book by looking at my bookmark or thumbing through the pages to see where the next chapter starts. You get none of that by reading on a computer or tablet.

Case in point, I’ve got a lot of books stockpiled on my Kindle waiting to be read. None are of the KU or KLL variety. Most of the e-books were either purchases or freebies picked up during a promotional sale. I’ve flipped through some of them and even managed to read a couple in their entirety. But most have sat unopened and unread, mainly because of my preference for physical books.

Write your own guarantee

Nothing comes easy for writers.

The writing itself can only be described as a love affair with the written word. Most writers must realize by now they’re not going to get rich from it. They may just barely eke out an existence, let alone a career. Though, of course, that is the dream of all writers.

Traditional publishers take around 70 percent of the costs for the books, leaving royalties of just 30 percent for writers. Advances for books are small or nonexistent.  Independent publishers sometimes offer royalties only, leaving writers with no guaranteed paycheck.

Even marketing books is being pushed more and more on the authors rather than the publishers. Building a fan base through social media is becoming paramount to success, and even then it’s no guarantee.

So, what’s an author to do in the face of all this?

The answer is simple and it comes right back to the crux of Amazon’s new payout plan: write well-crafted books that keep readers hooked and turning pages.

Does that mean you need to rethink the way you write? That you need to write more cliffhangers, shocks and twists in your story? Not necessarily, though that may be a tactic to consider.

Flooding the market with inferior products and get-rich schemes won’t work. Finely written stories will find a way. As a writer, you have to believe that. That’s your only guarantee.

Author’s note: I posted a previous version of this article, but have since modified it to reflect the newest information.

Other takes:

JA Konrath answers questions about e-books, Amazon

What authors really think about the pay-per-page plan