Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Amazon Changes Its Game

"I dunno, guys, I don't think we've got the writers quite helpless enough." -- Every publisher, ever. Image source: Sex and

So, up until July of this year, Amazon was encouraging its authors to participate in a program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers, for a $10 monthly fee, to load books onto their kindles (or kindle readers for Windows, Mac and Android computer and devices) for free, if they are in the program.

Amazon threw money into the pot to make it a good deal for writers. How good a deal? Well if you sell a short story for $2.99 and opt for 70% royalties, you get about $2.02 on every sale. A borrow on Kindle Unlimited gets you about $1.35, provided the borrower reads 10 percent of the books. (That's right, Amazon knows, not just which books you read, but what percentage of the books you borrow that you actually read. But wait, it gets worse!)

There's less money for a Kindle Unlilmited borrow than for a sale, but since the people who belong to Kindle Unlimited typically don't buy books, it's extra sales, or as they say in comics, "Ka-Ching!" KU has been a good addition to the income I get in sales, in fact, it runs about equal to my sales worldwide (that's right .. people in England, Germany and Australia buy my books, among other countries!). Some people have done GANGBUSTERS on KU, though, with borrows outpacing sales 10 to 1. "Ka-Ching!" indeed!

The catch for KU, as far as authors are concerned, was that in order to have a book in the program, you had to publish it only on Amazon. Exclusivity was the price, but it was still a pretty damn good deal, and most authors went with it. Once again, "Ka-Ching!"

That was true until this July, when Amazon implemented a new Kindle Unlimited compensation plan: authors get paid for every page a reader reads, not every book a reader borrows. How much do they get paid? Half a cent. (Ok, the actual number for July was $0.0057791577669113). For most erotica writers this means a huge decrease in income, because most erotica is in the form of short stories, and short stories have fewer pages to be read.

But it's not just a matter of how many pages get read ... there's also the matter of linger. Linger is Amazon measuring how long you spend reading each page. If your readers don't linger over a page long enough, you don't get your half penny for it. So Amazon knows how many pages you read, and how long you spend on each page. I imagine that must give a lot of erotica readers the creeps, thinking of Amazon metaphorically peering over their shoulders as they read. If you're an erotic speed reader, be sure and take a break every five so I get my KU2 credits!

The new KU payment system, dubbed KU2, cut the incomes of a lot of erotica writers severely, since they mostly write short stories. Being adaptable sorts, erotica authors are changing their game. Those with a lot of stories in their bibliography (some have hundreds) are "going wide" which means they are selling to markets other than Amazon. The theory being that with much less income from KU2, Amazon's exclusivity is no longer something they are willing to put up with.

But they aren't pulling out of KU2 wholesale, because of another little "catch" to the KU2 program. When you enroll a book in KU2 (or in the old KU, for that matter) Amazon's search algorithms are optimized to make your KU2 book more visible than books that are not enrolled in KU2. That's not just for Kindle Unlimited searches, that's for ANY searches. So your book is going to be a lot more visible, and hence sell more copies than it otherwise would have, if it's in KU2.

The strategy I plan to adopt, which I picked up on a Reddit author's forum, will be to put all my new books in KU2 initially and keep track of them. If they sell well, I will keep them in KU2 for as long as they sell well. When and if sales tank, I'll go wide with the books.

I like going wide for its own sake. Giving Amazon exclusivity is a bad thing in and of itself. I tried to convince other erotic authors of this back before KU2 but was roundly ignored. Now that KU2 has changed everything for them and hurt their sales, a lot more erotic authors are going wide. Now that Amazon has altered their deal, they see that Amazon might alter it again, and again, in anyway they like, and if Amazon is the only functional marketplace for ebooks remaining, they are pretty much in the position of the young lady pictured at the top of this post.


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