Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Paid by the Page

Unless you’re an independent author, you probably don’t know about the payment policy Amazon has for its authors. Before we get into that, you need some history.

Amazon, the largest online retailer in the world, recently created a platform that allows independent authors to publish e-books that would be available for sale through their site. The program is called Kindle Direct Publishing, also known as KDP. It goes without saying that in exchange for selling the author’s book, Amazon takes a percentage of the royalties. Every publisher does this, even independent sites like Smashwords that don’t charge authors upfront publication fees will keep a percentage of the author’s royalties. That’s actually fair and should be expected.

There was recently a change in the royalty payment policy of KDP authors. Rather than getting paid the full amount of their percentage of the royalty, Amazon has opted to pay authors by the number of pages read. They apparently have computer software that can track this, which feels a little big-brothery if you ask me.

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that outraged authors have found a way around this, whether by accident or intent I can’t say. Supposedly, authors are starting to load their table of contents at the back of the book rather than the front. If the table of contents is opened at that point, the page counting software then recognizes that the entire book has been read and the author gets their full royalty payment. In sharing this here, I’m not divulging a huge secret that will expose my peers. 

Amazon is well aware of this glitch and already hard at work to correct it.
I have to admit, I’m divided on how I feel, both about independent authors being paid by the page and the way they have found to get around that. As an avid reader, I find the policy a bit skewed in favor of the retailer.

Ever since I got my hands on a Kindle, I’ve downloaded a number of books, so many that my husband can’t keep up with it when balancing the budget sometimes. Since that time, I’ve discovered great authors whose books I will buy from now until they stop writing. I’ve also found some really bad books; poorly edited with holes in the plot, bad dialogue and just too short for the price I paid.

Though I sometimes get burned by a bad book choice, I have never asked for a refund. Nor have I gotten a credit for only reading a few pages. Whether I read the entire piece of trash or stop in disgust after page one, Amazon is going to get their full share of the money I paid for it while the author is not. That hardly seems fair. If you’re going to pay authors by the page, you should give readers the chance to credit any unused portion of their purchase toward another book. Of course that’s not what happens.

As an independent author, I haven’t decided which side of the fence I want to sit on with this whole paid by the page policy. On the one hand, I don’t think Amazon is being fair to me. If a reader buys my $3.99 book and decides it was the worst thing ever written, I might only get five cents for the sale while Amazon will still keep their full share of my royalty payment. So if my fellow authors have found a way to stick it to the man and get paid in full for their hard work then good on them.

Not so fast. I am still on the fence. As an independent author following the rules, I’m more than a little peeved that some of my peers are getting more money than I am under the exact same circumstances. If two of us offer a book for $3.99 and a reader buys both and hates both and stops at the same point in both, we should be paid the same amount. This workaround some authors use means that my colleague might get his full royalty payment while I only get a few pennies. That boils down to it being the price I pay for honesty I suppose.

At the end of the day, how I feel does not matter. Amazon is paying its KDP authors by the number of pages read and not by the number of books sold. So please, do me a favor. If you buy one of my books, read the whole damn thing!