Amazon’s new system will cut the royalties for self-published authors who fail to hold a reader’s attention until the final page
If you are an author whose book fails to grip in the opening chapter, it could prove costly.
Amazon is to begin paying royalties to writers based on the number of pages read by Kindle users, rather than the number of books downloaded. If a reader abandons the book a quarter of the way in, the author will get only a quarter of the money they would have earned if the reader stuck it out to the end.
The move has dismayed some authors, who believe it sets a dangerous precedent and could spread across the industry.
It has also raised concerns about the amount of data Amazon is able to mine from its customers.
Amazon claims its method is a fair way of rewarding authors who write lengthy books but have previously picked up the same royalties as someone who churns out 100 pages.
“We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read,” the company said.
“Under the new payment method, you’ll be paid for each page individual customers read of your book, the first time they read it.”
To prevent authors beating the system by enlarging the type and spreading out their work over a larger number of pages, Amazon has developed a “Kindle Edition Normalised Page Count” (KENPC) which standardises font, line height and line spacing.
The new system, which begins on July 1, initially applies to those authors who self-publish their book via the Kindle Direct Publishing Select programme, which makes books available to download from the Kindle library and to Amazon Prime customers.
However, Hari Kunzru, award-winning author of The Impressionist, said the system “feels like the thin end of a wedge”.
He tweeted: “Now Amazon want to pay writers only for pages read. Feel like I’d be best off retraining now, before the rush.”
Peter Maass, the writer and editor, said: “Amazon to pay writers based on pages read on Kindle. I’d like same in restaurants – pay for how much of a burger I eat.”
Were the system to cover every book available for download, some popular authors would find their income significantly curtailed.
The Goldfinch, by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Donna Tartt, was one of 2014’s biggest sellers. But data released by Kobo, a rival to the Kindle, claimed that only 44 per cent of readers who downloaded it read to the end.
Kerry Wilkinson, whose Jessica Daniel crime series propelled him to the top of the Amazon best-seller list before he was picked up by a publisher, believes the system is fair.
“If readers give up on a title after half a dozen pages, why should the writer be paid in full?” he said.
“If authors don’t like it, they don’t have to use KDP Select. It’s opt in, not opt out.”
However, Wilkinson said the “eerie” aspect of the story was Amazon keeping tabs on exactly what – and how – we are reading. “This is monitoring on another level,” he said.
“Every time a reader is online, Amazon can see what they’re up to. Even if it’s anonymous, that’s a lot of data mining.”