Subscriptions, 'know your readers': #FutureChat recap

Subscriptions, 'know your readers': #FutureChat recap

Last August in his two-part essay for us here at The FutureBook, "On streaming, subscription, and big data," CyberLibris' Eric Briys (pictured) wrote of "understanding reader frustration."

Briys joined us from France Friday for #FutureChat with a timely reminder that knowing readers is really the key to right decision-making in the bounding changes of marketplace strategies. He's right: it's been interesting to see how easily we can focus on author frustration and overlook the fact that reader satisfaction — consumers — drives Amazonian decisions, even the new per-page payout in ebook subscription and borrowing.

And if you see something called "The Exclusivity Enigma" listed among Hugh Howey's titles soon, you'll know that he finally collected all his writings and ruminations on the subject of Amazon ebook subscriptions and loans into a nice, plump novella.

Seriously, for two years, Howey has been among the most assiduous in weighing-out-loud the pros and cons of the Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select programmes and their implications for authors.

And following our #FutureChat Friday on the topic of those service's new per-page payout and Scribd's de-listing of an unspecified number of romance titles, Howey has written twice more, once on Saturday (4th July) and once today (6th July).

The upshot:

All of my novels and stories are now in Kindle Unlimited (KU). 

This is hardly Howey's story alone, far from it, and our emphasis on his commentary here today shouldn't be misconstrued to suggest that it is. 

In many ways, however, since the inception of Kindle Unlimited last summer, Howey's sorting-through of the variables faced by authors has held a certain coherence because of (a) his "hybrid" status as a traditionally and self-publishing author, (b) his data work in a consistent if controversial analysis of authors' income potentials, and (c) his study of the Amazon subscription question as a shared conversation with readers and authors.

The volume and popularity of his work have put him into a class somewhat of his own, and they've also given him the scale with which he could analyse better than some others what made the most sense. He held out for a year. In recent days — many times when suffering outright nastiness from authors who don't like the new per-page pay structure or his support of it — he has been at pains to clarify that he does not have a "sweetheart" deal with Amazon. He, too, he says, must agree to Select's exclusivity. Today, on that topic, he writes to his fellow writers, in part:

Like many of you, the exclusivity requirement for KDP Select is hard [for me] to accept. Like you, I wish I could get all that KDP Select offers in incentives, but without having to pay the cost of membership. Getting something for nothing is always a great idea when you can legally get away with it. But membership is a choice, one each author should make for him or herself, and what’s right for one author won’t be for another. It might not even end up being the best choice for me! But I think it’s the best for my readers; I think the Kindle platform is the absolute best for reading; and I think concentrating my works there is not only the best way to grow my readership, but to grow the marketplace for ebooks and e-reading in general.

Early on, Howey was allowed to test some of his material on KU without the same constraints placed on other participating authors. He wasn't persuaded. It would take the change to the per-page payout for him to see his way clear to make the leap.

Join us today and every Friday for #FutureChat live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).  

On Saturday, Howey criticised Amazon for its "biggest screwup in this affair thus far" — the company's rollout of the KENPC, the standardised page the company is using to calculate authors' compensation:

People are concentrating on the per-page price rather than the computed size of their works, and a more accurate version of the latter would’ve led to a higher value of the former. That is, Amazon would’ve been better to have the calculations come out to a penny per page, and the KENPC more closely match print editions, than the way they went around it. I think they thought people would balk at the KENPC, and wanted to make that generous, but indies think more in terms of dollars, and that’s the number they ended up diluting, and which has become the headline for media outlets.

But despite the heat he was taking from many furious indies last week, he has not let up on the fact that these are the dynamics of a digitally driven market:

If you think it’s unfair that the marketplace change on you, I’m sorry. The producers and retailers have to deal with this as well. It all comes back to the consumer, of which we are all a small part. Have your expectations changed, as a shopper? Your habits? Your budgets? Multiply out any of these small changes by a billion. That’s what’s happening.

And as he concluded Saturday, he offered a helpful summations of the calculations going into his analysis of the new Select payment structure ("KU 2.0") and its potential for success:

  • KU 2.0 pays per page a higher rate for an ebook borrow than major publishers pay per page for a print sale.
  • KU 2.0 seems to be an attempt by Amazon to pay the same per borrow that they pay per sale, if ebooks are priced according to their recommendations.
  • KU 2.0 more fairly rewards time invested by authors and time spent by readers than KU 1.0.
  • I have yet to see an argument by anyone showing how KU 1.0 was more fair to authors than KU 2.0.
  • If you think change is scary, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

The 'flying monkeys' still soar

Don't assume that this kind of thinking is winning Howey a big renewal as favourite indie son. While he enjoys the success so many authors (of any stripe) dream about, he is still a punching bag for a lot of the people who liked being paid for a full book's read when someone perused 1.5 pages of their 15-page erotica.

Howey effectively announces in his comments section that he's done with the vituperative hassles of the KBoards.

And those working near his opinions can be strafed along with him, too. The author Alan Tucker, for example, writes in comments to Howey on Monday, that his own post in which he compares per-page metrics to a per-listening approach in music, "unfortunately fanned the flames and was locked and eventually taken down after a couple of pages of replies."

Howey commiserates:

The quickest way to get a thread locked at KBoards these days seems to be mention me, have me start a thread, or have me butt into a thread. I’m getting the hint. Maybe in my old age, I’ve become cranky, or senile, or insensitive, or dumb. Probably a little bit of all of these. I think the forums will be a-okay without me.

Carla Baku, in those comments, calls this the "howling minority" of a "snarky, ignorant echo chamber." It's the same tendency toward pile-on rudeness we saw in the recent dive over the cliff for E.L. James, when her UK-based Twitter chat called down the fury of the Internet banshees on her.

Not that books, overall publishing, and self-publishing are the only arenas struggling with the incredible amount of unhappiness that seems to surface on the Net: Ben Mullin over at Poynter today is reporting on The Verge's decision to close comments for the summer. "A little too aggressive and negative," is how Nilay Patel is describing the situation. Verge-on-the-verge makes me want even more to have someone get up a really good study of what everybody's so angry about. The analysis of this problem is normally about why people feel free to vent their hostilities on others online; I want to know why they're so incredibly hostile in the first place.

It would be interesting to see Trip Adler, chief of Scribd, jump back into his "A Message From Our CEO" blog post about de-listing romance titles in the subscription service — and open it to comments. 

Meanwhile, here is a selection of input from our highly civilised #FutureChat on Friday, with our thanks to everyone who joined us. We were especially glad to have INscribe Digital's Anne Kubek with us. Her company offers a white paper for authors on subscriptions, which Charlotte Abbott there tells me will be updated soon. 

The author Jane Steen made the cogent point — concurred with by my colleague Philip Jones — that the Scribd and Amazon subscription-related moves were prompted and executed for different reasons and in different ways. As Steen put it, "Scribd's move looks like a desperate attempt to keep themselves from going under. Amazon's seems a reasoned resopnse."  And, as Jones clarified, "Worth remembering, Amazon pays trad publishers a wholesale fee for Kindle Unlimited, it can withstand losses longer than Scribd."

More than one person who has books in KDP Select said they were finding it interesting (read "addictive") to watch their page-view tallies. And early in the discussion, author Sandra Hutchison made a good point about the quality data needed from Amazon by Select enrollees.

Join us today and every Friday for #FutureChat live on Twitter at 4:00 p.m. London (BST), 3:00 p.m. GMT, 5:00 p.m. Rome (CEST), 11:00 a.m. New York (ET), 10:00 a.m. Chicago (CT), 9:00 a.m. Denver (MT), 8:00 a.m. Los Angeles (PT), 5:00 a.m. Honolulu (HAST).

Main image - Pixabay:  makunin