Recently there’s been talk of whether Kindle Unlimited is beneficial to authors. Some authors have taken their books out of Kindle Unlimited, going back to the old model of “if you want my book, you have to buy it.” I hope that decision works out for those authors. And I hope the decision to stay in Kindle Unlimited works out for me and the other authors who are staying in.
We can find many stories and explanations for some authors’ recent dissatisfaction with KU, but what it comes down to is the per-page rate. When you read a KU book, the author or publisher is paid per page you read. That per-page amount has fallen about 20%, from around 0.5 cent (that’s cent, not dollar) per page to around 0.4 cent per page.
Is the fall in pay because Amazon hates authors? Is it because we’re not valued? Is it because Daddy Bezos needs a new Learjet and is making authors pay for it? None of those. Here’s how the per-page payout is set: at the beginning of every month, Amazon sets a total cumulative amount that will be paid to all KU authors. Nowadays it’s around $20 million per month. Then, all the authors share that $20 million, based on how many pages each author had read.
In past months, the per-page amount used to come out to around $0.005 per page read. This past month it was closer to $0.004 per page read. That means that a 200-page book in KU went from paying authors $1 for a read to $0.80 for a read.
But Amazon increases the size of the pot every month, if you adjust for the number of days in every month. (That’s why February always has a “smaller” Amazon pot than other months: because it has fewer days.) Amazon has never cut the size of the pot, other than for shorter February.
So why does the per-page payout fall? There’s really only one reason: people are reading more. An author who’s complaining about the falling per-page payout is forgetting that the only reason the per-page payout falls is that they are generally getting more pages read every month. It’s always confounded me a bit when authors care so much about per-page payout, rather than about how much money they’re actually taking in every month. For me, personally, my monthly earnings are what count. Per-page rate is just an abstract statistic as far as I’m concerned. I can’t buy a cup of coffee with a per-page rate. I can buy a cup of coffee — sometimes several — with my total KU earnings.
Your earnings are the per-page rate times the count of pages read. But everybody seems to only watch the per-page rate, and not the count of pages read.
Here’s a thought experiment for my fellow authors: suppose there was a new subscription service. Suppose it paid twice as much per-page as Amazon. Sound great? Would you sign up? Well, I can assure you that any service that’s not Amazon is not going to bring you even half as many page reads as Amazin. I can assure you that your monthly income would be lower with this imaginary new service than it is now with Amazon — despite the double per-page rate.
There are more page reads every month. Pretty much for everybody. All authors are experiencing more and more page reads. The total amount of money paid out to authors has not fallen since the days of $0.005/page; it has, in fact, gone up, significantly, since the days of $0.005/page. We’re just getting more page reads. And since you, as an author, don’t have to work any more to supply those extra page reads, isn’t that always a good thing?
Are there more authors sharing those page reads? Yes, but I would say, not appreciably so. Only Amazon has the numbers. But I would estimate that the great bulk of page reads goes to the same top 100 or top 1,000 authors every month — not to the new upstarts who may have put a book on Kindle Unlimited as a hobby project (which is great!) and might get a few hundred page reads over the course of the month. The heavy hitters, those writers with monthly page reads in the hundreds of thousands and even millions, are largely the same month in and month out.
Are there cheaters, “authors” who pay for automated systems to fake page reads? Sure. Just as there are bank robbers, pickpockets, and three-card-monte scams. Wherever there is money, there will always be thieves. Are these cheaters the major cause of the rising number of page reads every month? I really, really don’t think so, at least not on a regular recurring basis — especially since Amazon doesn’t issue payment until about two months after the reads happen, and therefore has a lot of time to weed out scammers.
Simply put, any decreases in pay you might see are due to there being more readers and more pages being read. That means more fans, more dedicated customers, more people to read or buy your books. That makes me happy. If you’re an author who cares about long-term total income, rather than about abstract yardsticks like per-page pay, it should make you happy too.
The rising number of page reads represents the overwhelming trend of more readers, reading more, every year and every month. No matter what your cranky uncle says, people aren’t reading less. They’re reading more, all the time — especially in romance, but also all across the board.
KU and subscription services have been a big part of that increase in reading. Nowadays we talk about KU, as if Amazon invented the subscription-based book model, but KU was actually the third such major service. The first two were Oyster and Scribd. If you are old and hoary enough to remember about three years back, Oyster and Scribd were going to tear the publishing industry apart and bring Amazon to its knees and so on. That didn’t happen. Oyster went out of business and Scribd is barely squeaking along. But Amazon has taken the subscription model and run with it. KU hasn’t exactly brought the publishing industry to its knees, but it’s tremendously democratized everybody’s idea of who can not just write a book, but actually make a living at being an author.
KU has absolutely knocked down the barrier to becoming a paid full-time author. The first step to knocking down this barrier was when Amazon announced that anybody could publish their books on Kindle, without needing a publishing house behind them. Imagine that: anybody, anybody could publish! Even if the publishing bigshots and your junior-high composition teacher and your online Rocky Horror fanfic group all thought your writing sucks, you could still publish it, and get an Amazon product listing that looks just like the one for Harry Potter or Moby Dick. Amazing. The second step was when readers, if they subscribed to KU, could read your books for no additional expenditure.
When people are spending real money, they’re going to stick with the sure thing: the writers with the publishing house logos on their books, with the English-teacher recommendations behind them, with the full-page ads in magazines, with the Oprah endorsements. It’s real money they’re spending. They don’t want to risk getting the book equivalent of a B movie. But with KU? They can go wild. They can take chances. On anybody. On Hugh Howey, on Amanda Hocking, on John Locke. Even on that weird Steve Milton guy.
I am confident that I never would have found most of my readers if it were not for Kindle Unlimited. People just wouldn’t have taken a chance on me if they had to spend $3.99 right off the bat. They would’ve given their $3.99 to the established names that carried a reputation and a guarantee, not some weird dude they’ve never heard of who has delusions of literary grandeur.
I don’t speak for other authors. Many other authors likely can attract new readers when starting out without KU. They are better promoters and marketers than I am. Maybe they’re better writers than I am as well. That is wonderful for them. But I know that for me and for a great many writers, even writers who aren’t so terribly bad at writing, KU is the only way we can get new readers.
So it’s only thanks to KU that we no-names can make a living at writing. Moreover, it’s only thanks to KU that you can see more variety in genre fiction than you’d see otherwise. I firmly believe gay fiction and gay romance never would have reached their current popularity without KU. Especially among readers who aren’t gay men, and for whom gay fiction doesn’t hold any deep personal resonance. They might have just gone on to the next MF romance bodice-ripper. But thanks to KU, they took a chance on our books, the jockstrap-rippers rather than the bodice-rippers, and well, here we are, full-time gay romance authors: I and many like me.
I’m not shilling for Amazon. I’m not shilling for anybody, other than for the community of readers and authors whose literary and financial lives have been enhanced by the existence of Kindle Unlimited. If you are an author who doesn’t want to use Kindle Unlimited, that’s great. If you are a reader who doesn’t want to subscribe to Kindle Unlimited, that’s also great. I only ask that you understand those of us who value KU for creating a new publishing landscape — and who see the increased page reads every month as a gift rather than as a curse.
About Steve’s Newest Release ~ Pretend Like You Mean It
“I’ll have the spatchcock. A big spatchcock. I’m gay.”
Rex is a 35-year-old rich boy trying to spice up his reality TV career by pretending to be gay. His pretending doesn’t leave anything to the imagination.
“And a dozen raw oysters. For power.”
On the stage, Rex is teaching career actor Jordan how to look straight when he kisses a woman. Even if the “lesson” consists of Rex grabbing Jordan on stage, hyperventilating, then sauntering off with stained underpants.
“We also need two straws. That’s for later.”
Rex’s family isn’t into his gay act, and Rex takes it out on his fake boyfriend, Jordan. But it’s only Jordan who accepts him. And pretending can become real.
Pretend Like You Mean It is a straight-to-gay romantic comedy with stage whispers, Costco food courts, sticks rubbing to make fire, and two gorgeous hunks getting a well-deserved HEA. No cheating, no cliffhanger.
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About the Author
Steve Milton writes gay romances with sweet love, good humor, and hot sex. His stories tend toward the sweet and sexy, with not much angst and definitely no downers. Steve crafts feel-good stories with complex characters and interesting settings. He is a South Florida native, and when he’s not writing, he likes cats, cars, music, and coffee.
He is happy to correspond with his readers one-on-one by email, whether about his books or about life in general. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.