Friday, June 26, 2015

Interesting Times?

As anyone who is serious about writing already knows, we are living under the shadow of an ancient Chinese curse:  "May you live in interesting times."

Where the writing/publishing industry is concerned, there has never been a period of greater change and upheaval than we are now encountering. The rules are changing by the second, it seems, and what was right yesterday is wrong today, and at this point I'm not even sure how much of the current "trending" is even legal (but that's another can o' worms to be opened at another time by far more qualified people in nice suits).  My purpose here is to shed some light on current trends and ask writers and readers alike what they think of it all? My secondary purpose is to appeal directly to Amazon - asking them to specifically consider whether or not the new pay-for-pages-read policy is going to be a money-maker or a potential albatross.

As many of you already know, Amazon has recently unveiled its intent to begin (as of July 1, 2015) paying indie authors for "pages read."  (To read a more fact-based article, please visit... The Telegraph.  There are also lots of interesting (and occasionally heated) comments following the actual article, which are also worth considering.

When I first heard about this, I was understandably confused, but also more than a little concerned. On the one hand, I said to myself, maybe this could be GOOD for good authors, in the sense that readers can generally tell by 20 pages or so into a book whether or not it is 1) going to hold their attention; or 2) reads like it was written by a dyslexic first grader; or 3) is not at all what it was hyped up to be in the product description.  So, from that perspective, I thought maybe GOOD books would find their way to the top (like cream floating), but then I realized... there are a lot of OTHER things that also float... and some of 'em aren't very pleasant-smellin'.

Part of the "logic"  to this new policy is that it will theoretically (but, hey, it was once an accepted "theory" that the earth is flat, but never mind...) pay more to authors who write well-crafted novels of a reasonable length (50,000 words or more), and "punish" scammers who write 10-pages and charge the same as legitimate writers. Okay - good theory. But... when you look at it more closely, it's probably nothing so altruistic at the core of it.

So when I began looking into the actualities of this new pay-for-pages-read idea, what it really boils down to is that even the very best writers are going to end up receiving less because it's a fact that a LOT of people have opted in to the "Prime" program (aka "Kindle Unlimited") and the word "unlimited" means precisely that. For $9.99/month, folks can download as many books, movies and music as they want. And what that means is that a lot of people are going to essentially "buy" books that they may or may not ever read.  In months past, the actual sales of my books outnumbered the Kindle Unlimited (Prime) copies 2 to 1, or more. Now... quite the opposite. More people are "borrowing" through Prime than those who are actually purchasing the Kindle books. What this means is that most of my royalties are (or were) coming through the Kindle Unlimited avenue, and those royalties will undoubtedly dwindle dramatically because - let's face it, folks - people are fickle. Instead of buying a book for $2.99, they will download it through their Prime service, and if they never even open it, the writer never sees a dime, even though the reader has the full book at their disposal. Seems kinda... weird?

Okay, so maybe they will read it. Or maybe they will only read 10 pages because, ultimately, people place very little value on things they did not really "buy". It's kinda like being handed a library card with an unlimited number of check-outs, no expiration date, and no obligation, so the books sit on the cybershelf gathering dust because there is simply no incentive to read them. They were "free" after all, and so they are without value in the minds of most.

When I contacted Amazon directly through our publishing company (Eye Scry Publications) to express my concern, here is a transcript of what transpired.

Eye Scry Publications wrote:
Subject: Paying for Pages Read?

Your new policy of paying writers only for "pages read" is more scary than not. When I opted in to KU and KOLL, that policy was never mentioned. Then, suddenly, writers were only paid if the reader got 10% into the book.  Now... THIS?  I have to ask - is the same policy being applied to movies and music purchased/borrowed through Prime? If a customer only watches 10% of a movie, is the motion picture company only paid 10%

The problem here is that - as always - writers are being short-changed as a way for the company  to make more money. Clearly, the company is offering a service to its customers for $9.95/month and since the service has now become popular, writers are being used to make up the difference - which is completely unfair, especially since most of my titles were opted in long BEFORE this practice was instated.

Yes, I know I can opt out (and I probably will). But I wanted to try to negotiate FIRST, since I have always SUPPORTED Amazon's treatment of writers and indie publishers. If I went into a book store and bought a book just for one recipe, I still expect to pay for the WHOLE book, and I expect the writer to receive FULL royalties.

If you have "oversold" your "Prime" program, you need to raise your price to customers rather than trying to take it out of the pockets of writers. Without writers, Amazon would not exist as it does today.  Please consider that. And thank you for listening.
Amazon's response...
From Amazon:
I'm very sorry for any frustration this has caused.
I understand you're concerned about the recent change in our KDP Global Fund calculation for KU/KOLL borrows.
Please know, we're making this switch from July 1, 2015, in response to great feedback we’ve received from authors who have asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read.
In the current payment method, when a Kindle Unlimited customer chooses your book for the first time and reads more than 10% of it, their choice qualifies toward royalty payment for you. Though, the borrow will be counted only if the customer reads 10% of your book, you'll receive the payment for a complete borrow, not only 10% payment on the borrow.
Rest assured that, even if it takes the customer some time to read your book, we'll still pay you for the pages they read once they read them. For instance, if a customer borrowed a 200 pages book on July, and reads 20 pages in the same month, then the publisher will receive the share of KDP Global Fund for 20 pages on the month of July. Further, if the customer is reading the remaining pages in the September, the publisher will be paid for the remaining pages on September, and the publisher will not lose out the payment for any pages that read by the customer for the first time.
In some cases, the customer’s device might not be online, but once they connect, the pages they read will be counted. You will also be able to see total pages read and dollars earned from the KDP Select Global Fund in your Prior Months’ Royalties report.
However, I understand your concern and I've passed along your comments to our developers. We definitely value your opinion and will continue to listen and respond to our publisher’s concerns. We will make every effort to evaluate the information you have provided, and try our level best to lead it to program changes or enhancements.
It is always important for us to hear how publishers react to all aspects. Your feedback will help us to improve the selection and service we provide and we're glad you took time to write to us.
We look forward to support you as always.
Thanks for the understanding and using Amazon KDP.
It just seems to me (and many other writers I've spoken to) that this whole new policy is unnecessarily complex. If readers buy (or borrow) a book that they don't want, they have a very reasonable length of time to return it (yes, even digital books). That aside, I also find myself not completely trusting the software tasked with keeping track of how much a reader actually reads from here to eternity.  Seeing as how I get all sorts of ads for Viagra and penis enlargement strategies (and I'm not even of the male persuasion) it seems highly unlikely to me that computers can REALLY track whether a reader reads 10 pages or 12 or 2.5.  Big Brother is watching you? Really? Seems that Big Brother may be a bit myopic, since I also get ads thanking me for supporting the Republican Party (not!) and letters of appreciation from my own cell phone service provider thanking me for "choosing FiOS" (not!).

Ultimately, It's ALWAYS a case of "follow the money." I'm pretty sure Amazon doesn't work for free, so why is it expecting writers to essentially place their books in the Kindle Unlimited program and then NOT get paid. When the program was first launched, I opted in based on the contract at that time - and now that contract has been severely altered (more than once) to such a degree that it has gone from paying authors for their work to... well... figuring out ways not to pay authors for their work  Yes, writers and publishers can opt out of the Kindle Unlimited program and have their books only for actual sale, but in so many ways that seems like a drastically unfair alternative, since it is beginning to appear that there are more Amazon customers on the "Prime" program than those who might actually buy a book (even an e-book) outright. Cutting off nose to spite face... hmmm... is that really the only option here, or should Amazon perhaps reconsider this new policy? Surely there are other, more reasonable and viable solutions?

Instead of trying to punish scammer-writers who publish 10-pages of drivel, why not make a minimum-length requirement for books published on Kindle Unlimited? If you're going to call it a book, maybe it has to be a minimum of 100 pages or 30,000 words. And then there's the matter of quality-control - which is another issue for another time going off in another direction altogether, but it seems to me that a lot of GOOD writers are being buried in the mountain of garbage because there does not appear to be a way to auto-scan a book for "This is pure crap." I'm not talking about matters of taste. I'm talking about books that are one long paragraph, no punctuation, no comprehension of language, just run-on drivel that belongs (at best) in a 12-year-old's private diary and not on Amazon. Considering all the other cyber-spy technology, seems reasonable that some sort of quality-control software could and should exist.

Writing is an artform and also a creative right. But let's face it - much of what is written simply doesn't need to be out there for public consumption. In fact, since print-on-demand technology became easily accessible and the world opened up to "indie digital books," every other person I meet introduces themselves as a writer, when the harsh reality is that 99.9% of them have never sold a book professionally. Don't get me wrong - I'm not an advocate for traditional publishing. I've been screwed once too often through that avenue, but at the same time I see so many problems with indie publishing that I am inclined to conclude... we do indeed live in "interesting times."

I've also come to the conclusion that trying to make a living as a writer in today's world is ludicrous folly unless you happen to get struck by cyber-lightning for no reason anyone can discern. Mainstream publishers have cut advances and royalties to writers to such a degree that it would be professional suicide to go with traditional publishing, and now Amazon appears to be looking for ways to short-change writers as well. Personally, I think ALL writers should go on strike and just start asking, "Would you like fries with that?" Not a pleasant idea, but maybe the only realistic one. I'm tired of giving everything away to corporations who seem to think writers OWE it to them to line their pockets while our own bills go unpaid. It's absurd - but what can be done?

Then again - I just heard yesterday about Taylor Swift  forcing Apple to change its mind about its notion to give away a new streaming subscription service (free for 3 months, they say!). It was the fact that they would not be paying artists during those 3 months for any items streamed for free that caused a kerfuffle... and that's when Taylor Swift gave them a Swift kick... and good for her!  Too bad the writing world doesn't have someone of her stature to take this bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground! Any volunteers?

While I have always supported Amazon's treatment of indie authors and publishers, I am imploring them to reconsider this new policy, because it is really a poke in the eye to legitimate writers. If you want to punish the bad guys, Amazon, then punish the bad guys. The rest of us really are doing the work and the art we love, and when a writer and publisher can come together in a mutually beneficial arrangement, there's no limit to what can happen. Your new pay-for-pages-read policy may look good on paper, but the reality of it leaves a lot to be desired. There must be better alternatives.

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