We want to make one thing perfectly clear. We love Amazon. Like, a lot. We’re firm believers that if something isn’t sold on Amazon, we don’t really need it. So, this post is not—nor will it ever be—an attack on Amazon. What it will be instead is a polite call for change to a policy that has recently been brought to our attention and troubles us deeply—and that policy is how authors are paid for their work that is downloaded through the Kindle Unlimited (KU) program.
Kindle Unlimited: An all-you-read smorgasbord
For those of you who aren’t familiar, KU is like Netflix for books. In exchange for a $9.99 monthly subscription fee, readers get unlimited reading access to any book enrolled in the program. KU is especially exciting for romance readers, since we are a particularly voracious bunch. Romance readers sometimes devour up to 10 books a week, which in many cases, would be cost prohibitive without a program like KU. Here at Romance Rehab, we’re KU subscribers for that very reason.
KU and authors
So, KU definitely makes sense for readers. But what’s in it for authors? Well, newer authors might use KU to build a readership, since KU readers are generally more likely to give authors they’ve never read before a shot. More established authors might choose KU because it allows them to focus their marketing efforts on one platform instead of many. (And let’s face it, Amazon is the 800 lb gorilla in the room. No other platform can come close to competing with them in terms of book sales.)
Or, authors may choose to enroll in KU simply be because that’s where the majority of readers are for a given genre (like romance). Regardless of their reasons, a surprisingly large number of authors (newbies and mega-sellers alike) are trying KU these days. It’s a win for authors and readers alike, right?
Trouble in paradise?
We recently came across a post by author Krista Lakes that opened our eyes to the somewhat ugly reality of what this beloved program means to authors.
To be part of KU, Amazon expects exclusivity, meaning a KU author cannot sell his or her books anywhere else (iBooks, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc.). But missed opportunities with other book sellers aren’t the real problem. The real issue is how KU authors are compensated.
As Ms. Lakes states, “Amazon pays us by the page read. There is no set page rate for how authors are paid. There is a monthly pool that authors all have to split. Amazon calculates how many pages the entire KU reader base read and then splits the pot between everyone. Traditionally, the page rate has been around half a cent a page. That’s not great, but it was workable. This month, the split came to $0.004 a page. Not 4 cents a page. Less than half a cent a page. This is the fourth month in a row that the rate has gone down, leading to a 20% decrease in pay over the last year.”
And as if that’s not bad enough, scam artists have figured out ways to steal from the communal author payment pot, and to date, Amazon hasn’t been able to stop them.
Holy crap! Authors we adore are only making $1.20 for a 300 page book that took them months—or even years—to write? And that’s to say nothing of our indie author friends who had to pay out-of-pocket for professional cover design and editing in addition to their time investment. We had no idea this was going on!
Say it ain't so Bezos
Now we feel like horrible people who are contributing to author abuse by participating in the KU program. And let’s face it, folks. How long can authors who are being grossly underpaid afford to keep writing? That’s a thought that wakes us up screaming in the middle of the night. What happens if, because of unfair payment practices, our favorite authors are forced to stop writing and get regular nine-to-five desk jobs to pay their bills? We’ll tell you what happens. There will be fewer and fewer titles to choose from as even established authors become discouraged and drop out. Some aspiring authors may choose to not even get in the game. In short, there will be fewer authors and fewer books.
Let's do this
But we’re not the type of people who sit around all day feeling horrible about themselves and scared all the time. So what—you ask—are we going to do about this situation?
Well, we’re glad you asked:
Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why would Amazon care what we think or about losing our measly little $9.99 a month?
We’re glad you asked that, too, because that’s where YOU come in.
It’s true that Amazon probably won’t make changes based on one lost subscription or one little blog post. BUT, if we all band together—authors and readers—for the greater good, our chances of being heard are MUCH greater. Strength in numbers and all that, you know?
Here’s what we propose. If you agree that Amazon should re-evaluate their KU author payment program and fairly compensate authors for their work:
Long-story-short: We love Amazon, we love KU, and we love authors. We don’t want to bash Amazon and we certainly don’t want to lose KU, but if we want our beloved authors to keep writing (which WE DO), change is needed. We hope you’ll help us enact that change, because let’s face it: if there’s anyone who can start a book lover’s revolution, its romance readers!
(Brief aside: We're aware that authors aren't forced into the KU program. It's a choice. But does the fact that it's a choice mean that these authors are somehow less deserving of fair compensation? We don't think so. Sometimes the choice is just the lesser of two evils for authors who need to build a fan base.)
Thank you for your support!! And a special thanks to author Krista Lakes for bringing this to our attention.