Straight talk from the sisters about blood, sweat and ink
4 Book Categories that may Suffer under Restructured KU
Last week I wrote about the royalty restructuring of the Kindle Unlimited program. The new system goes into effect July 1, 2015 and it’s going to drastically change how authors are paid when a program subscriber borrows their participating book. This new system only affects writers in the Kindle Unlimited program and authors are given the option of taking their books out of the program should they choose. Currently everyone is arguing over how these changes will effect participating authors. Some writers are convinced every author will benefit under the new system. They believe the new royalty split will help remove some of the authors currently manipulating the system for higher gains, thereby leaving more funds for the remaining authors to share.
I’m less convinced and I’ve picked four groups of authors I predict will suffer under the new system. However, in the interest of fairness, there are some groups I think stand to gain, and I will have my predictions for that group next week.
Facts to remember:The new KU royalty system only pays for the number of pages the borrower actually reads. We have no idea what Amazon considers a page. Amazon intends to establish a universal system for counting pages. The new system will eliminate any variables created by white space, layout differences and font sizes. Once Amazon formulates an official Amazon KU page count for a title, they will post that information in a book’s description. We currently don’t know what the page royalty will be, or how the new system will effect the algorithms Amazon uses to rank and promote titles.
Now my best calculated guesses for the writers that stand to lose under the new system.
It will hurt anthologies: Prior to these changes, if a small press (or indie author group) talked one hugely popular author into contributing a story, everyone benefited from a KU loan. The anthology creator could count on the full loan revenue from every rental as long as the readers read past the 10% mark. Under the new system anthology editors looking to take part in KU are more likely to skew page counts toward the most popular writers, if for no other reason than to help recover their production costs. However, this sort of defeats the egalitarianism of making an anthology, the whole point in the past was to give unknown writers a leg up by using the star power of one or two respected authors as bait to entice readers to buy the book. I’m sure anthologies will still be made, but now the organizer behind the anthologies are bound to perceive unknown writers as an even greater liability, especially if they’re under pressure to earn back costs or turn a profit. It also might shove anthologies out of the the KU program altogether.
It will weaken payouts for children’s ebooks. This one upsets the mom in me the most. School is out so the kids are home and bored. Summer is when they can and should power down some books. Yet younger kid’s books from picture book to beginning chapter books are (in deference to their fledgling readers) shorter, often just 16 to 50 pages long. Also the cost associated with image heavy books in all forms are fairly high, and these books get the double whammy of paying higher Amazon downloading fees, something that comes out of the author/publishing side during a sale. They didn’t need to pay the downloading fee on a KU loan, letting those authors keep a bit extra with each unit borrowed under the old system. I’m also concerned that under the new KU universal page count system, a 16 page picture book might end up counting as only a few pages. The current Unlimited picking for younger kid’s books has never been fantastically large, I can’t see how reducing these author’s payouts is going to help that situation.
Nonfiction of every kind stands to lose out. It’s hard to know how the page count system will effect image-heavy books. Will a graph or table count as a full page? What about an illustration or photo? As I mentioned above in kid’s books, image heavy books get charged a different download rate, making the KU loan program attractive to both fiction and non-fiction authors with larger graphic loads. However, non-fiction books are notoriously under-read or skimmed. It’s not uncommon for me to get a cookbook and only look at a few recipe categories. Other readers might read only one or two chapters of interest. Granted, as other bloggers have mentioned, nonfiction has seen some heavy abuse from writers trying to game the old KU system. Reports of repackaged Wikipedia pages or books (where only the first 10% of the book is legibly written) show up as common complaints. Obviously, everyone wants to see KU abusers weeded out, but even if the new official page count system fairly takes into account images, this change could adversely impact many nonfiction writers.
We may witness the end of the serial fiction boom. Readers will still want serials, they’re hooked. But writers who relied on the profitability of serial installment are in for a big shock. Before the Amazon loan program, serials (and most short stories) grew in popularity because of their sale price, usually under one US dollar. It was easy for readers to sample unknown writers without a huge financial commitment. For authors, that under-a-dollar sales price means about .35 US cents for each copy sold. Not great unless you sold a ton of books. Under the old KU payment structure, that number skyrocketed to over a US dollar per title borrowed. Remember, short stories were getting the same pay rate per title as a full length writer was getting on each book. Writers jumped into the format, creating a boom in short works. The profitability of short fiction created resentment with longer fiction writers and led to claims of widespread abuse, namely writers carving up single novels into parts in order to create more borrows. I think it’s safe to say popular short format fiction writers will still do okay under the new pay structure, but only if they don’t lament the advantages they’ve lost. If you are one of those people who thinks longer books should have the royalty advantage, you might not be too worried about this one. But I enjoy reading a tightly constructed short story or serial and I would hate to see the format lose all its steam.
So what does this all mean to you?
If you’re currently publishing (or planning on an ebook career) in one of these areas and counting on the Kindle Unlimited program to power the bulk of your revenue, you might want to rethink that! I don’t see any of these types of books doing particularly well under the new system. Come back next week when I’ll announce the 3 types of books I predict will be big winners under the new system.
What do you think? Will some authors take a larger hit with the new KU royalty rate? Will it drive some authors out? And if so is this still an acceptable loss so that book length writers can enjoy a better royalty ratio from the program?
Robin trained as a professional historian and worked as a museum curator, an educator and historical consultant. She writes dark young adult fiction, with diverse characters. She's currently querying a novel, and working on two new manuscripts that started off as NaNoWriMo projects. You can follow her on Facebook(https://www.facebook.com/robin.rivera.90813) or on Twitter @robinrwrites. However, Pinterest (https://www.pinterest.com/RRWrites/) is where her inner magpie is happiest of all.
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