Amazon – ‘Pay per Page’

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This week’s stories about Amazon’s new payment method – “Pay-per-page: Amazon to align payment with how much customers read” was the headline here – gave the impression that the system would apply to all self-published authors whose books are available on Kindle, and that their royalties would be brutally cut if readers didn’t get very far into the book. At first blush, it looked bad, and my first reaction was anger. The reality proved more complicated.

The new method of payment doesn’t apply to books that have been purchased but to those that are borrowed as part of Kindle Unlimited, which allows for – you guessed it – unlimited reading of KU books in exchange for a subscription fee.

Self-published authors can opt in via Amazon’s KDP Select programme, which gives them a cut from a fund calculated by Amazon on a monthly basis: for June 2015, it’s $3m (£1.9m). This naturally puts a cap on author’s earnings, as they can never earn more than the fund allows and are competing for a share with all the other authors on the programme.

Amazon used to start paying royalties on the borrowed book once a reader got to 10% of the way through, but this was proving unfair to authors who wrote longer books. A reader perusing a short book reaches the trigger point for payment much faster than one reading an 800-page tome. The result was a flood of very short reads as authors spread their writing over as many books as possible.

the 2014 Baileys women’s prize for fiction 2014 including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (third from top). Facebook Twitter Pinterest
Heavy reading … the 2014 Baileys women’s prize for fiction 2014 including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (third from top). Photograph: Rex
The new pay-per-page method means that payment is made every time a reader turns a page during their first read. The precise meaning of “page” is set by Amazon via the Kindle Edition Normalised Page Count (KENPC) to ensure that inflated fonts, wide line-spacing and big margins won’t fool the system. You also need to spend a particular amount of time on a page before it counts as read. (I won’t linger on the surveillance point, as that’s a slightly different issue.)

On the surface, it makes sense not to punish those who write longer books, and much of the controversy seems to have stemmed from misinformation and confusing headlines. But while Amazon’s new system has solved one problem, it may yet spawn another. Instead of penalising long books, the system could penalise shorter reads – assuming the amount paid per page is the same for any book, regardless of length.

What do you think?

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