A Few Thoughts on the Latest Change to KU

So for those of you who missed the announcement yesterday, Amazon is changing up their Kindle Unlimited program, the program that lets readers pay $10 a month and borrow as many of the enrolled books as they want.

For the last few months the payout to authors for each borrow has been hovering around the $1.35 mark.  This led to some bitter complaints from writers of novels who didn’t think it was fair that their novel could get paid the same as a 5,000-word short story got paid.  (Although, interestingly, some of those authors were just as happy to sell their novel for 99 cents right next to all the short stories that were also 99 cents…)

Well, Amazon has made a change to address that concern.  And the novel-writers seem to be pretty darned happy.  But I think people will come to some ugly realizations once this thing rolls out.

Because I’ve seen enough reader comments over the last few years to know that many many readers do not finish a novel.  And that this is even more the case with indie writers than non.

Now, under the old version of KU that was fine.  As long as a reader read 10% of your published piece, you got paid.

And a sale was a sale was a sale.  (Except for those people who return books.  Sometimes legitimately and sometimes as they read their way through an entire series.   There’s a special place in hell for the latter group.)

With both of those models the key to making money was category, key word, cover, title, blurb, and Look Inside.  Put your book in a place where people who like that sort of thing will find it, draw them in with a strong cover and title, entice them to buy with an intriguing blurb, keep them reading for the first ten percent, and you were golden.

Worked with borrows or sales.  Because most people who read the first ten percent of a book weren’t going to then return it if it lost their interest.

This adjustment to KU changes that (for those who participate–remember that KU is optional and requires exclusivity to Amazon).  Now to make the most off of a borrow you have to keep the reader reading for as long as you can.  And while many can assume that that’s what happens with their stories, I can pretty much guarantee from my own sampling of KU works that that’s not the case.

Now, I’m a cranky person so before I would try to stop before the 10% mark if I realized a title wasn’t engaging me.  Why pay someone for work that wasn’t up to par?  Many readers didn’t do this.  So authors were getting credits for borrows on books that very well could’ve fallen apart at the 15% or 20% mark.

And I’ll go out on a limb here and say that readers are far more likely to abandon a longer work than they are a shorter work.  Read an entire 5,000-word short story even though it’s a little rough?  Eh.  Alright.  If it starts strong enough might as well keep with it.  The ending could redeem it.

But a 90,000-word novel?  If it bogs down at the 15,000-word mark?  Nah.  Set it aside and find a better use for your time.

Which, if you’re reading between the lines here means that I think, page for page, short story or novella writers may still do better than novel writers even with these changes.

Now, I know some novel writers will do very well with this. Ones that already see strong sell-through of their titles.  If you have a five-title series and you see people devour the whole series, this change in KU will be great for you.

But if you’re a novel writer that struggles to get people to read that next book?  Take every borrow you’ve been getting and figure that only about 10% of those are being read all the way to the end.  If that.

And here’s the other thing to think about: Amazon isn’t stupid.  They’re in this to make money.  And they won’t make a change that doesn’t ultimately benefit them.  Sure, some early results may result in a nice payout per title for those successful authors, but most of us?…

I don’t think so.  I think the average title will have a lower payout than the current $1.35 or so that they’ve been paying and that only a very small group of very popular, strong writers will see a significant increase in their revenues from the program.

But, honestly, at the end of the day it doesn’t matter to me.

Each of the stories I choose to tell has a natural length that works for that story.  Some are 1,000 words, some are 100,000.  How I’m paid won’t change the length that story needs to be.  It might change which story I choose to write next…

Or not.  Because some just beg to  be written more than others.  And if I can’t write what I want to write then what’s the point of doing this?  (Staying home with my puppy?  Oh yeah.  That.)

Anyway.  I have a freshly-painted office and a new laptop I was forced to buy, so best get back to writing SOMETHING that pays the bills.


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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