A purely digital metric in author payment: #FutureChat recap

A purely digital metric in author payment: #FutureChat recap

'Not just a writer thing'

As we get started here, a quick notice to the many UK and Ireland-based authors in our digital publishing community: The Sunday Times/Peters Fraser & Dunlop Young Writer of the Year Award is this year open for the first time to self-published authors as well as to traditionally published authors. Revived after a hiatus since 2008, the award is for "a full-length published or self-published (in print or e-book format) work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, by an author from the UK or Ireland aged between 18 and 35." My colleague Benedicte Page has more on it in her write-up here. Note: There's only a day to go, the deadline for entries is tomorrow, Tuesday, 30th June. The winner, to be announced in December, will receive £5,000, and three runners-up will get £1,000 each. More information is at the the site for the Society of Authors

And now, on the way to our chat recap, the issue in a tweet-sized nutshell:

Some of our #FutureChat participants Friday will not have seen the late-chat-session comment from Jeff Schwaner, formerly with Booksurge and LexisNexis, now at The News Leader in Staunton, Virginia.

"There are many valuable things we can learn as readers," tweeted Schwaner, "from our own failure to finish."

"So true," Carla Douglas in Kingston, Ontario, tweeted back. As an editor, she knows this: "Some readers are more inclined to hang in there longer; some bail at five pages."

And what they were discussing, of course, is an unknown factor in this week's (1st July) announced switch-over to a controversial per-page payout structure at Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select's Kindle Unlimited (KU) and Kindle Owners Lending Library (KOLL). For all the natural focus that writers and other industry players have had on the authors' view of the coming change, reading patterns remain largely out of sight for most of us.

They're not so hard to assess for Amazon, perhaps, because its technology shows it how Kindle readers are using their ebooks. One Twitter correspondent over the weekend insisted that Amazon's decision shows "a very narrow understanding of reading habits." I'd be careful about that one, myself. There's a good chance that at this point Seattle knows more about reading habits than anyone else in the business, at least in the digital publishing realm where it can track those habits — and will be doing so, to determine payouts to authors.

Join #FutureChat 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).

During Friday's chat, we also were joined briefly by Mathew Ingram (pictured), formerly of GigaOm and now a senior writer with Fortune. I've found that some of the points he made in his piece — Amazon's new way of paying authors makes sense, and here's why — can spark sharp retorts among writers. But, like Schwaner's and Douglas' points, Ingram's observations are customer-facing, reader-facing. Ingram writes:

If you look past all of the criticism, what Amazon is trying to do is what any retailer or middle-man does: It’s trying to figure out the right mix of incentives that will encourage authors to produce what it wants, which is books that sell and that readers enjoy. This may offend writers who don’t want to think of their books as retail products, but it’s a perfectly reasonable approach for Amazon to take. In fact, you could argue that traditional publishers would probably have done the same thing if they could have.

And while we won't know until the adjustments have had time to play out, this may be getting at the heart of the change, maybe at the heartburn, too: there could be qualitative implications here for writers. For the first year or so of Kindle Unlimited's life, quantitative evaluations were what drove the programme; authors were paid a flat amount (fluctuating each month a bit) for a borrow of a book by a customer who read 10 percent or more. Now that the question is exactly how many pages are read, what's on those pages could become a newly influential factor in one's paycheck.

KDP Select Global Fund-ing

I was glad to get some information from Amazon's spokespeople over the weekend that outlines the overall payments made by the KDP Select Global Fund (for both KU and KOLL) since the inception of Kindle Unlimited last July. The Global Fund itself dates back to December 2011, when the Kindle Owners Lending Library was opened to KDP Books. Our interest is in its numbers during the first year of KU's operation.

Except for KU's first month, July 2014, when the pool was $2.785 million, the Fund's total has stayed above $4 million. In fact, it 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. The 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 amounts will be "in excess of $11 million." By summer's end, then, the Fund can be expected to have passed $100 million in payouts since Kindle Unlimited made its debut in July 2014.

Month-by-month since KU was launched in July a year ago, the KDP Global Select Fund totals have been:

  • July 2014, $2,785,078
  • August 2014, $4,700,000
  • September 2014, $5,000,000
  • October 2014, $5,500,000
  • November 2014, $6,500,000
  • December 2014, $7,250,000
  • January 2015, $8,500,000
  • February 2015, $8,000,000
  • March 2015, $9,300,000
  • April 2015, $9,800,000
  • May 2015, $10,800,000

A purely digital metric: the disruption cranks up a notch

Since we're looking at the business of independent authors here, we should note for you that my Bookseller colleague Caroline Sanderson released this month's Independent Authors Preview in association with Nook Press, and it's online for you now to see here

And referring to the per-page approach under which so many indie authors will be paid, Ingram writes:

One of the things some authors seem to be worried about is the potential for Amazon to start paying all Kindle authors [beyond the Select programme] in the same way, or for its approach to catch on with other publishers. And it’s certainly possible that Amazon might expand its experiment, if it proves to have the right effect on production of new books. But it’s not entirely clear that this would be a bad thing—either for readers and book buyers, or for authors themselves. Whether writers like it or not, books are a product that consumers pay for, and encouraging better products arguably benefits the entire marketplace.

And if  you go back to one of our earlier quotes from Ingram, you get the gist of what's occurring. Remember he wrote, "You could argue that traditional publishers would have done the same thing if they could have." But they couldn't. This is a technology that at least for now is held by the retailer, not the publishers. That signals the arrival of a new level of digital disruption.

Beginning Wednesday, a new metric that only the digital dynamic could produce — pages actually read by readers — becomes the basis for the calculation of how our writers are paid. Even the basic unit of "a page" is being digitally devised: the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC) standardizes a book's content by, says Amazon, "font, line height, line spacing," etc. Not a piece of paper in sight. The same digital dynamic that has given authors the ability to publish their own work now begins to compensate them on its own electronic terms.

As usual, we offer you here a selection of tweets from #FutureChat, with our thanks to all who participated. Join us Friday for another round.

Join #FutureChat 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). Main image - Pixabay: HuskyHerz