Imagine putting your writing career in the hands of people this dense.
Over at Melville House, a publisher normally known for praising Amazon and being rational and objective about Amazon’s decisions and how they affect the industry at large, the news that Amazon will now pay KU borrows on a page-read basis has led to this absolutely insane interpretation:
What if … KU subscribers have convinced themselves that buying a book and reading a book are the same thing? Amazon will pocket the subscription rate, and KU authors will not receive a royalty if subscribers are taking out books without getting around to reading them.
The fear-mongering here is that Amazon is going to keep readers’ money and not pay authors! Bizarre. How can people who know so little about the industry not only comment on it but be allowed to participate? Amazon is paying its KU authors out of a monthly fund, which is usually in the eight figures. Every penny of that fund is paid out to authors. It will now be paid out according to how many pages are read.
Even in the absurd case where every KU book borrowed is never opened, Amazon would distribute those funds equally to every author whose book was borrowed. Here, the page-read average would be zero, so every author would get an equal number, exactly like what we had before, where the payout was around $1.30 per month. If only a single page was read, by a single reader, out of a single book, that author would get $11,000,000!
If two pages were read, one each out of two separate books, that number would be split in half, and both authors would feel like they won the lottery. But of course, that’s not what’s going to happen. Millions of pages will be read. Tens of millions. And authors will get pennies per page, just as Google pays pennies per click-through. These are New Media mechanisms, and they are being commented on by Old World thinkers.
Imagine when I was a bookseller, that I ran up to every browser who picked up a book and read a few pages, and I shouted:
“Hey! Are you gonna pay for that? The author worked really hard to write that!”
And the browser says, “Uh, sorry. Just seeing if I liked it.”
“Well, now you have to pay for the whole thing. Because I want your money.”
“I’m not even sure if I want to—”
Before they can finish, I’m rushing off to accost someone else who just touched the spine of a hardback without first plunking down their $30.
It’s crazy. Look, some books won’t be opened, and some will be read to completion. And the ones read to completion will get a larger share of the fund. But ALL OF THE FUND will get paid. Amazon isn’t “keeping” money. They are most likely losing money with KU in order to compete with Scribd and Oyster.
The fear that authors will no longer get paid to produce books that no one cares to read is amusing to me. Maybe because I’m a genre author, my knees aren’t trembling. Subscription systems are not like retail systems. Authors and industry pundits need to wrap their heads around this. A borrow is not a lost sale. Often, a borrow leads to a duplicate sale, the winning of a new fan, and more future purchases. Pundits and trad-pub editors need to learn to see subscription ebook services like webpages, where page-views on adverts equals dollars. You don’t reward a website that users don’t like to browse and never click through to the next page.
Readers don’t own KU ebooks. And readers by the millions (myself included) are cool with that. I don’t own all my Netflix content, or all the music I listen to on Sirius/XM and Spotify. I pay a small monthly fee to have access to more content than I can ever consume, to not have to manage my library, to not have to organize thousands of files, and to not have to back up my purchases. Instead, it’s all in the cloud, and I can access it at any time.
That’s worth my $10 a month. I can always find something on KU that I want to read. And yeah, that’s taking money out of the pockets of the Big 5, who refuse to participate in the program because they want to minimize the market size of their number one retail partner!
That’s a whacky decision. Then again, when you see how traditional publishers reason through the simplest of things, you can see why their decisions often make no sense. Can you imagine getting plot advice from people who can’t follow the plot?