I'd like to be paid per-page for everything written about Amazon's KDP Select since the 15th of the month.
And certainly, I've tried to hold up my end. I wrote about it here. And then I wrote about it there. And now I'm writing about it once more, hoping that you'll join us in this week's #FutureChat on the subject.
Far less attention has been paid to Seattle's announcement that its hands-free voice-activated info-thing, the Echo, will actually be available on 14th July in the States. One of the more interesting aspects of this long-heralded product (you address it as "Alexa" or "Amazon") is the Alexa Fund, just unveiled on Thursday, offering "up to $100 million in investments to fuel voice technology innovation." Lots of emphasis is going into what Jeff Bezos in the announcement calls "experiences designed around the human voice." Developers are being invited to use an Alexa Skills Kit (ASK) which comprises the self-service APIs they need to design "voice-driven skills and capabilities for Alexa." I'll add a generous 50 cents of my own to the Alexa Fund for the first developer to enable the Echo to take Cooper the Literary Beagle out for a walk.
Note that number: up to $100 million in the Alexa Fund to encourage development. There's $10.8 million in the KDP Select Global Fund from which KDP Select authors are paid for May — and this includes a "bonus" added by the company of $7.8 million.
Correction: The size of that bonus, company spokespeople tell me, is not related to the coming changeover to the per-page payout structure, as I had surmised in an earlier edition of this column. And with bonuses added, the monthly pool has been above $3 million for 10 of Kindle Unlimited's (KU) 11 months so far. (The KDP Select Global Fund predates KU, having come into play in December 2011, when the Kindle Owners Lending Library was opened to KDP books.)
Since KU's inaugural month payout total of $2.78 million (July 2014), the KDP Select Global Fund has risen each month, with the single exception of February, when it stepped back to $8 million from January's $8.5 million. The figure then went to $9.3 million in March, $9.8 million in April, and the $10.8 million for May.
As I read the figures provided to me by Amazon, in fact, the grand total of the KDP Select Global Fund since KU's inception comes to some $78.135 million. And Amazon's announcement of the KDP Select changes ahead notes that the July and August KDP Global Select Fund totals will be "in excess of $11 million" — which will tip that fund, during the life of KU alone, to a grand total that surpasses the Alexa Fund for the Echo. You may not have to write code instead of novels, after all.
The echoes most bookish folks have been hearing from the Greater Northwest for the past 10 days have seemed to reverberate from roughly a year ago, when Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select launched the Kindle Unlimited all-you-can-read subscription. Noisy with controversy at the time, it's now noisy with controversy again, and well worth our attention in #FutureChat.
Reactions to the news that the payout will change from per-borrow to per-page-read run from, "Oh, everybody will make just about the same amount as they did" to "Most authors will leave the programme, it's all going to hell." Somewhere between that shrug and that ebook-a-geddon we'll find the actuality, of course.
This story was written for the #FutureChat of 26th June. Join us each Friday 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).
As we get into this, let's stress one point that can cause a lot of confusion.
The change coming Wednesday (1st July) affects only Amazon KDP Select authors. Not others.
Those who enroll in the Select programme agree to Amazon's widely disliked exclusivity requirement and, in exchange, are allowed to place their ebooks in both the Kindle Unlimited subscription (KU) and the Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL). On 1 July, nothing changes for authors who are not in the Select option. Nothing changes for authors whose books are sold by their traditional publishers at Amazon, either. Only the self-publishing KDP Select writers are involved here.
And it's worth noting that quite a bit of this story has to do with reader analytics. Until Alexa gets hooked up in your home, Amazon may not know everything you're up to, but the company does know how many pages of an ebook you've read on their standardized page format, the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC — not enough K's in this thing, are there?).
We'll be joined in #FutureChat by another user of reader analytics, Jim Hinks of Comma Press' new MacGuffin self-publishing platform, which launches Tuesday. You can read Hinks on that approach, which will include the sweetly termed "open analytics" feature of announcing to the world at which point some cad has stopped reading your deathless prose.
When we extol the virtues of the digital dynamic and all the publishing "democracy" it enables, we do well to remember that digital also is what makes it possible for some systems to monitor us, track us, report on us.
Several points to consider
In the walkup to our session, I'd point to three bits of reaction worth your consideration.
The author John Scalzi has been one of the most outspoken critics of the money factor in the KDP Select Global Fund, writing:
Amazon is still making KDP Select authors compete against each other for a limited, Amazon-defined pot of money, and no matter how you slice it, that sucks for the authors. Why? Because Amazon puts an arbitrary cap on the amount of money it’s possible to earn — and not just a cap on what you, as an author, can earn, but what every author in the KDP Select system participating in Kindle Unlimited can make. Every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited can not, among all of them totaled up, make more than what Amazon decides to put into the pot. Why? Because that’s the pot. That’s how much Amazon wants to splash out this month. And the more pages are read in the month, the smaller any bit of the pie that you might get for your pages read becomes. It’s a zero-sum game for every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited.
The author Chuck Wendig able to see both light and dark in the coming change to per-page payouts, writing:
I’d argue that this is better. It fixes the weird inequity and stops punishing people who wrote… y’know, actual-size novels. And it stops incentivizing people to write tiny little no-nothing stories, or for writers to break up actual-size novels into hitching seed-spurts of “serial content” (“My novel, THE RAMTHONODOX CONSPIRACY, is broken up into 215 downloadable chapters!”)...[But] the entire program continues to demand exclusivity from those enrolled. Meaning, you still have to be all in with Kindle Unlimited. No direct sales (though some say Amazon doesn’t really watch that closely). No B&N. No nothing. Exclusivity has always in the publishing world been a thing you get paid for — or, should be, anyway. If someone says to you, “I want you to being with us, and out with everybody else!” then that offer better be an actual offer. It’s not a favor to you — it’s a favor to them.
And the Authors Guild has wasted little time getting out a "we told you so"-toned reaction, writing:
Announced just weeks before it takes effect, the change is a reminder of Amazon’s power not only vis-à-vis traditional publishers and authors, but also among those self-published authors who have often been the e-tailer’s most vocal apologists. It’s never been more clear that indie authors who publish with KDP Select are dependent on Amazon’s business decisions, including how much money to distribute via the monthly royalty pool.
This is also a powerful reminder that traditional publishers—whose unsavory contract terms we’re focusing on as part of our Fair Contract Initiative—aren’t the only ones who offer writers take-it-or-leave-it publishing contracts. The changes Amazon makes to the terms it offers indies are imposed unilaterally; writers don’t even have a chance to negotiate.
Ready to rumble? See you in #FutureChat.
Join us each Friday 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).