Kindle Select and the madness of crowds

GeneDoucette_Eve1400First things first: I just finalized the last draft of Immortal Stories: Eve, more or less on schedule.  It’s done and submitted and I love it and you’ll forgive me if I don’t want to look at it again for a long time, because that’s how self-editing works.

You can pre-order it from Amazon by following the link above, and expect it to be delivered in all its glory on July 14th.

In a day or two–because I just submitted that final draft–Amazon should enable the ‘look inside’ functionality, so you can check out the first few pages ahead of time, if you’re so inclined.

Now, let’s talk about availability.

Actually, let me back up.  A lot has happened.

Kindle Select

You are probably not a self-publishing author, so it’s likely this information is either not important or not interesting, except that it involves a lot people saying bad things loudly about Amazon, which may interest you and might be something you’ve caught snippets of already.

First, I’d like to discuss my business plan up to this point, as it pertained to my self-published series The Immortal Chronicles:

  1. Publish book exclusively in Kindle Select for the first 90 days
  2. Release book ‘wide’ at the end of that 90 days

To you, the not-a-self-publishing-author, this may raise questions, such as: Why exclusively?  Or perhaps, What on Earth is Kindle Select?Kindle-icon

Amazon offers a subscription service called Kindle Unlimited, which is $9.99 a month to borrow as many books as you want. (It’s up to ten books at once before a user has to return one to borrow another, but they can do this as often as they feel like it.)  However, the only books available to users of this service are the books that are in Kindle Select.

What books are in Kindle Select?  Mostly, books by authors who have agreed to put their books there.

There are benefits to doing so, which I’ll get to in a second.  First, understand that in order to get one’s books in Kindle Select, one has to agree not to sell them anywhere else while the book is enrolled.  The minimum enrollment period is 90 days.

Why would anyone do that?

Here’s where things start to get complicated.

Amazon pays the author for each borrow a book receives, provided the renter reads at least 10% of the book.  The amount they pay has varied from month to month. (Payout is based on money earned from the total number of subscribers in Kindle Unlimited in a month, plus whatever additional money Amazon feels like throwing into the pot, divided by the total number of books borrowed.  It is, in other words, a number arrived at by arbitrary manipulation of already self-reported sales numbers.  The number is whatever Amazon wants it to be.)  The figure per-book has come in around $1.35.

All of my books in The Immortal Chronicles are priced at $2.99.  A sale nets between 60%-70% domestically, depending on the vendor, so, about $2.00 a pop.  The difference between this and the borrow payout is not huge, so these numbers make sense to me, especially when considering these points:

  1. A borrow is not necessarily a lost sale
  2. a reader who finds one of my books via Kindle Unlimited may be someone who would never have discovered my work otherwise
  3. that reader may like what he/she has read enough to go find my other books, which are not in Select, and have to be purchased

images-3Add all that up and the fact that I can see the borrows for my books start to peter out after 90 days, and the whole plan makes decent sense.  By day 91, I’m making sales on other vendor sites that earn more than what I was getting from borrows at the tail end of the book’s time in Select.  (For the record, my best non-Amazon sales are from, in order: Nook, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo, Google Books.  If you’re alarmed that Smashwords outsells Kobo and Google, so am I.)

I was not planning on releasing Eve by following the above plan.  Eve is longer than the Chronicle stories and is priced at $3.99, so that gap between per-borrow and per-sale is more daunting.  Also, I’m trying to encourage those other vendors to sell my books a little bit more aggressively, and releasing wide from day one is a way to do that.

But then Amazon went and changed everything.

The madness of crowds

You may have heard about this.

GeneDoucette_RegencyImmortal1400Amazon recently announced a change in the way they pay contributors to Kindle Select.  Whereas before–as described above–an amount was arrived at based on blah-blah-Amazon-Math divided by books borrowed and read up to 10%, they were going to pay based on pages read, full stop.

in other words, take that big pool of money Amazon invents using some sort of internal back-of-the-napkin arithmetic, then divide it by the number of pages read, total, for the month, by Kindle Unlimited subscribers.  If that number is, say, two cents a page, pay each author by # of pages read in their books X $0.02.

This has, predictably, caused the entire industry to lose its goddamn mind.

Part of the problem is nobody knows what the per-page payout is going to be until Amazon provides the figure for the first month (July) which will be around August 15th.  This means a lot of people have a lot of time to bounce around incredibly low-sounding numbers like less-than-a-penny-per-page.  Amazon did not help matters at all when they gave an example in their announcement that was $0.10 a page, which is simply way too high to be believable.

Part of the problem is a whole lot of people hate Amazon and/or don’t understand the difference between Kindle Direct Publishing (a service all self-published authors have to use to release books through Amazon) and Kindle Select (an entirely voluntary program).  This led to a number of hysterical articles declaring that Amazon is paying ALL authors by the page.  This one is my personal favorite.

In my mind, the biggest problem is that nobody knows what their read-through actually is.  I would like to think the people who have picked up my books have finished them, but I don’t actually know this.  In Select, all I know is if they’ve read up to 10%.  Outside of Select, I can only speak to the rate of returns (if a book is bought but returned unread) which is low enough–one or two a month–to be ignored.

Reader engagement

The new Amazon approach is rewarding authors who engage readers, and I like to think I’m one of those authors.

Assuming that:

  • people read my books all the way through
  • the per-page payout is at least $0.02*
  • the readers in Kindle Unlimited are (again) not people who would otherwise purchase the book outright

…I should make out nicely.

Those are a lot of assumptions.  But here’s one more point:

  • the new Amazon payment plan is really, really interesting and I really want to see how it will play out

I can’t resist following my curiosity and seeing what happens.

So I owe some of you readers an apology, because a little while ago I said I would be releasing Immortal Stories: Eve wide on July 14th.  I’m going to back away from that promise to give this new Kindle Select a try.  The book will still be released wide after ninety days, but at first it will be exclusive to Amazon, just as the Chronicle books that came before.

I’ll let you all know how it goes.

*   *   *

*UPDATE: Since the day this column went live, Amazon has supplied more information.  Two bits are of particular interest.

  1. Using the June KDP pool provided by Amazon and the total pages read in June also supplied by Amazon, intrepid persons with calculators have come up with a figure of $0.0057 per page.  This is considerably less than the $0.02 I hoped for above.
  2. July 1 also dawned, which was day one of the new program, and the first day anyone had a chance to see what Amazon considered a ‘page’.  Generally speaking, the Kindle Edition Normal Pages calculation is worked based very short pages.  It also appears to favor books with chapter breaks.

My hope for two cents per page was based on an understanding of a page count about three times smaller than the page count Amazon is using.  I don’t know what their page count for Eve is going to be right now–I may not know until it goes live, which is really annoying–but I’m still more interested in staying in and seeing what happens than I am in watching from the outside.

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No Comments

  1. Karl Maier on July 12, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    I’m not sure how this Amazon Select works, but I pre-purchased the book on July 7th, so evidently the book can still be purchased during the 90 day Amazon Select exclusive period if you buy it from Amazon.

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