How do you feel about pay per page read?

How do you feel about pay per page read?

I recently wrote about Amazon’s new “pay per page read” royalty plan for borrows in

Kindle Unlimited (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL):

Pay by the page read: Amazon revolutionizes royalties

While certainly, there has been some pushback on it…in particular, from authors (and in some cases, their agents), who feel like it might radically reduce their royalties.

It will…for some people.

It will also likely increase royalties for other people.

Before the new plan (which went into effect July 1st), all borrows in Kindle Unlimited (from publishers using Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing) shared a pool of money, based on the number of borrows.

Whether a title was three hundred pages, or three pages, everybody got the same amount.

The only requirement was that a borrower read 10%  of the titles.

Let’s say the books had the classic 250 words per page.

That three page book had 750 words…so 75 words would be enough for payment (you’ve read twice that many in the post already).

The three hundred page book had 75,000 words…so, 7,500 words (thirty pages) before someone got paid.

It’s different, but making the longer book more valuable seems reasonable to me.

Note also that it’s not just that the book is longer…it’s that the reader actually read more of it, presumably getting more value out of it.

I’ve been trying to come up with analogies for this, to help me understand it. I wanted to know why someone would be passionately opposed to it.

Suppose you wanted one bottled water. Further suppose that you could only buy a six pack.

Does it seem reasonable that the person who drank one bottle and threw away the rest paid the same amount as the person who drank and got value out of the six bottles?

How about at a restaurant?

Would you shop at a restaurant where you always had to pay for a salad, soup, appetizer, main course, and dessert, even if you only wanted the salad?

People do order “prix fixe”, where they pay one price for several courses.

On the other side, I can see the argument that if you order a medium pizza and only eat two slices, the restaurant still had to make the whole pizza…it’s not their fault if you don’t eat the whole thing.

That doesn’t feel quite the same, though…the restaurant used up resources on the pizza. The writer did use resources (time, creative energy), but it’s not limited in the same way.

I want to hear from you, my readers, as to what you think about it. You can certainly make comments on this post, and I’m going to do a poll. Tell me why you don’t like it, or why you do.

If you are both an author and a reader, please approach the poll as a reader…you can express your writer’s perspective in the comments. 🙂

Join thousands of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

22 Responses to “How do you feel about pay per page read?”

  1. Donald T. Marion Says:

    No pay for short reads? How about E=MC2, when it come to value?

  2. Donald T. Marion Says:

    Sorry, my Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 changed what I wrote…please add a mental S, to the word,”come”- in my previous post…”No pay for short reads? How about E=MC2, when it come(s)to value?” If you do that, add this conjecture…Compare, “E=MC2 to War and Peace,” No? Okay, compare, “The Old Man and the Sea,” with The Da Vinci Code,” for payment based on size.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Donald!

      First, no one has said no pay for E=MC2…that would be paid for one page. 🙂

      Second, while, as you indicate, length is not the only measure of value, it is, I would suggest, a relatively objective one.

      Let’s look at this a bit deeper.

      Suppose you bought a book, and the entire contents of the book, everything in it, was just Einstein’s formula: “E=mc2″…just those five characters (the 2 would be a superscript, of course). Does that have the same value as

      Relativity: The Special and General Theory (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)


      I would think that the latter, having explanation and context (which inevitably lengthens the book) is probably of more value.

      In term of fiction, it seems to me that is very likely to be subjective. Who would decide which of two novels is more valuable? Would you charge more for The Old Man and the Sea, than for The Da Vinci Code? If you would, wouldn’t that tend to make “better literature” less available to the disadvantaged?

      Suppose we look at an encyclopedia. I have read a dictionary cover to cover (as a child, but it was unabridged). However, I had the means to have the opportunity to do that. A disadvantaged person might only need it initially, for certain uses. Making the price pay per page (and remember, this is for borrows, not for purchases) makes it more accessible to more people.

      I also think this is intended as a measurement of engagement. If a reader abandons a book after a chapter (whether fiction or non-fiction), it could suggest that the book could have been better for that person. Note that the payment is based on what an individual does. In other words, if I like an obscure topic and read an entire book on it, the author/publisher would get payment from me for the entire book. It’s not that they average how much 100 people read and base it on that.

      I find it’s generally easier to find reasons why something won’t work than to find a thing that will work. 🙂 Do you prefer the current system, where someone can write a “book” titled “The Best Book You’ll Ever Read”, include in it just the word, “Sucker!” and get paid as much as any of last year’s award-winning books (pick your literature prize) to be preferable?

      Will pay per page be perfect? That seems exceedingly improbable. 😉 Will it be better than the current system? That’s really the question here.

  3. Lady Galaxy Says:

    A book is a whole thing. It is more than the sum of its part. Books are made up of letters which form words held together or kept apart by punctuation marks. But without the creative mind to put the letters and words and punctuation marks together, you have nothing of value. I value those creative minds that create the books, and I can see no reason for a pay per page plan other than to try to find a way to prevent authors from receiving full value for their ideas. It’s as if after launching KU, the bean counters decided that it was costing too much money and went looking for ways to cut the costs. Well, I’m sorry Amazon, but books ain’t beans!

    I don’t like it that Amazon is already tracking what I read, how I read it, how fast I read it. It has added a creep factor to reading on my Kindle. I don’t like feeling as if I’m being watched.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I’m going to take your last point in the first paragraph first…Amazon’s investors wish they had bean counters like that! 🙂 Amazon has never been big on making profit…well, at all, but certainly not at the risk of alienating customers. Arguably, authors/publishers are suppliers, not customers, and Amazon has been willing to alienate them…

      I, however, find it unlikely that this alteration this soon in the life of KU was because of an effort to squeeze more profit out of it.

      Amazon says:

      “We made this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors who asked us to better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read.”

      That seems to me likely to be at least partially true.

      I’m sure authors complained when they were compensated the same for a 350 page novel which took them three years to write as someone who wrote a book called, “How Do You Keep a Sucker in Suspense for 24 Hours?” with an entire content of four words: “I’ll tell you tomorrow.”

      Each borrow reduces everyone’s split. If there was $10,000,000 available for the month, and there were 1,000,000 borrows each person would get $10 (that’s an exaggeration…the amounts have been more like two to three dollars). If there were 2,000,000 borrows (and lets say that 1,000,000 of them are less than a page, designed to game the system, each borrow only gets you $5.

      As to your definition of a book…

      Certainly, there are novels where I would agree with you. I’ll throw out Hound of the Baskervilles as an example…you definitely need to read every word to get the full value. Of course, I think most people want to read every word (even though it may not be the best Sherlock Holmes work).

      However, there are other examples where they may be less true. How about an anthology, with one good story and a bunch of clunkers? I always finish every book I start, but I know most people don’t…and as I recall, you skip to the end of some books first? If you get a book that you read and then abandon (poor plotting, lousy proofreading…), should that person be as rewarded as a book you love and read completely?

      What about a cookbook or a collection of twenty biographies? I can see the sense of paying an author differently if everybody loves and reads every recipe, or everybody is just interested in a couple of them.

      As I mentioned to someone else, if an individual does read the entire book, the person does get paid the maximum amount.

      I’m curious: do you have a suggestion for what to do about books that are apparently intended to “rip off” the consumer? The seven day return policy protects customers in the case of a purchase…but is no protection in the case of a borrow.

      As to the creep factor…yeah, that’s there for a lot of people. 😉 Not sure this changes the situation that much, though.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        If Amazon can track how many words per minute I can read, surely it can track how many words are in a book, so perhaps if somebody self publishes a 4 word book Amazon might want to rethink whether or not to accept that book.

        How far are we going to take this? Do the folks who make the dictionary only get paid for the words people look up? If we’re only going to pay for the individual stories in an anthology, why have anthologies at all? Why not just sell the stories individually?

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        This time, I’ll take your first point first. 🙂

        As a publishing platform (Kindle Direct Publishing), as opposed to a traditional publisher (the Amazon imprints), I don’t want Amazon to do a lot of curation…I want the market to do that. If four words is too few, what about forty? Four hundred? Four thousand? The Cat in the Hat has fewer than 250 words…

        Amazon has some rules about what comes through KDP (there are some rules about pornography, for example), but otherwise, I see a parallel to free speech here. “Stupid” or “useless” shouldn’t be a barrier to a book being published through KDP, in my opinion.

        Let the reject things because of quality control (typos and that sort of thing) and because of legal risks to Amazon (some types of porn, copyright infringement), but otherwise, I’d let things use the platform.

        Now, as to why have anthologies:

        A good anthology doesn’t simply randomly collect works, but involves a creative effort on the part of the anthologizer. Apeman, Spaceman by Leon Stover and Harry Harrison is a great example. Not only did I want to read all the stories in that book, I wanted to read them in order.

        Copyright in the USA recognizes this, with a separate copyright available for a collective work. Someone who puts together an anthology of public domain works, if putting it together has a significant creative element (again, not just random, but commonly with some sort of theme) can copyright the anthology (without gaining a copyright for the individual works).

        So, you publish and read an anthology because of the creative element of the anthologization.

        The dictionary issue is an interesting one.

        Let’s say you create a dictionary of terms used in special education for literacy (I apologize if that’s not a proper term).

        You sell it through the Kindle store: if someone buys it, you get the typical royalty, a percentage of the price. Unless, of course, the person just looks up one word and then returns it within seven days for a refund…then, you get nothing. Your primary intended market is professionals in the field. They will want to own the dictionary, since they will use it many times in different circumstances.

        On the other hand, you can also see the value for, say, a legal guardian who has just gotten a “diagnosis”. They’ll just want to look up one or two terms. Under the old 10% threshold, you would get nothing when they look up those words, despite your hard work.

        Under the new plan, you’d be compensated for those look-ups…it wouldn’t be much, but it would be something. If a thousand people looked up the same term (and if there are 1,000 terms in the book), you’d get paid the same as if someone had bought one of the books.

        I flipped an interesting article from Tech Crunch this morning by John Biggs about authors reactions to the new plan, including Hugh Howey’s support of it:

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        I suppose there are people unethical enough to “buy” something for a single purpose and then return it for a refund even though they got what they wanted. I’m not one of them. I have paid full price for anthologies knowing it was likely I’d only read one story, but I looked at the price of the book and calculated whether I was willing to pay the cost of the book for a single story. All the stories were by the same author and filled in gaps in a series of books, but not all stories in those books were by the same author. In a few cases, I found other stories I liked. In others, I didn’t. Eventually, the single author of the stories I was wanting put all of those stories into a single anthology along with a few more stories, and even though I had already purchased all those other stories in all those other anthologies, I still bought the anthology where they were all together in a single book. It never occurred to me to read the single stories in the anthologies and then return them because that would be dishonest.

        I want authors to be paid fairly. I agree that the 10% rule was not a good one or a fair one. In that plan, authors have no idea how much they will receive per borrow. If longer books get more per borrow, then will authors pad their books with unnecessary descriptions and endless meandering conversations to pad them out? What is fair? I don’t know. But the more I think about borrowing vs buying and how it affects the authors’ payday, the more I think I don’t want to be part of it any more.

        How many people actually read the entire John Galt speech in “Atlas Shrugged”? Who is John Galt?

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        I agree: I wouldn’t have returned the book because I got the value. Since you say you were willing to pay that price for that story, suppose you had the option to buy just that single story or the anthology for the same price? Would you have bought the single story?

        Just as some authors/publishers write very short “books” now to game the system, certainly, some authors/publishers will pad the books. However, I think that will be foolish, and won’t last. Remember that it isn’t the length of the book that matters: it’s how much someone reads. If the meandering, flabby book makes people abandon it after the first chapter (most people aren’t like me and read the entire book even if they are unengaged, I believe), that strategy will fail.

  4. Tom Semple Says:

    Overall I think this is a better idea: publishers and authors get paid based on what actually gets read. It is a crude estimate of the worth of the written word, but it is less bad than the former 10% metric.

    With the 10% rule, there was a lot of artificial packaging of material into small page count books, to the point where it almost guaranteed payout, even extreme cases where you’d have 10 page ‘books.’ And there were even more blatant abuses, entirely nonsensical short works (computer generated?) which might come up in search results, trigger a ‘curiosity borrow’ and subsequent payout. I think it may also have been a way to workaround the KU ‘exclusivity’ clause, as one could publish individual chapters to KU, and complete works to other platforms. As a KU subscriber, I will appreciate having to wade through less of this chaff (hopefully), and no longer having to even think about ‘10%’ and what it means to publishers and authors (it didn’t seem ‘fair’ that it was so easy to trigger payouts just by navigating to the end of the book or whatever).

    There is still a notion of “getting one’s money’s worth” from KU, which is optimized by reading shorter books, but given the ease with which you can borrow and return books, there are plenty of opportunities to treat KU as a reference library for reading a chapter here and there rather than feeling a need to read entire works, which in my mind makes KU ‘worth having’. And again, I don’t think it is fair to pay out at the same rate for that sort of access. Reading books in their entirety is a luxury and publishers have to appreciate that. I don’t recall if Amazon provides a level of detail to say what is getting read, but if not, that would be a great service to offer to KU participants. We have crude measures, like ‘popular highlights’, but specificity would be much better to inform marketing, promotion, and production of future works.

    I do have some technical questions about how Amazon actually measures ‘page access’, especially with reading devices which have not been updated since well before KU launched. As some bloggers have pointed out, someone may jump to a footnote reference at the end of the book and then sync. Does Amazon have a way of determining that none of the intervening pages have been accessed? And is it sufficiently accurate? Again, it seems that sync has become more sophisticated over the years, so newer devices and apps probably permit a better estimate than those which have not been updated since KU launched. I’m guessing that the bulk of KU reading (90% or more) takes place on devices and apps updated since KU launched (or in anticipation thereof), and even if it is not perfectly accurate, it will be a better metric to use than ‘10%’ was. And I’m guessing that it is only by virtue of device/app updates that they had the capability to estimate this at all.

    It would be nice to see some major publishers experiment with this with a few high profile books, for example last year’s Stephen King or John Grisham or James Patterson. It seems Amazon is flexible enough to include books in KU even without the exclusivity clause that applies to KDP titles (Open Road Media for example). And by avoiding it, publishers are leaving money on the table, and more importantly, are not learning anything about how KU is affecting their sales.

    • Lady Galaxy Says:

      Hmmmm…the idea of James Patterson being in the pool brings up another angle on how to slice up the pie. How much of each James Patterson book does he actually write and how much is written by the co-author?

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        That is worked out by the publisher with the authors, and Amazon is paying the publisher. Nowadays, in many cases, the author is the publisher.

        It’s possible that a contributor is paid a flat fee, or that they have a percentage…

  5. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I wonder if part of the reason that we differ so much in our opinions about this lies in the difference in the way we read books. You will read the whole book even if you don’t like it. I bail on books when they stop holding my interest. You read books beginning to end. I frequently skip from beginning to end to middle. Sometimes I completely skip the middle.

    I worry that Amazon’s tracking tools might not be able to keep up with how much of the book I’ve actually read. Considering I do all of my reading on my K3 with software that hasn’t been updated in a long, I’m not sure how well that Kindle tracks what I’ve read.

    When I read the beginning, then the end, then the middle, I usually read the ending again knowing I will understand it better after having read the middle. So I eventually read the whole book once and the ending twice. Sometimes I’ll go back to the end again midway through reading the middle, so I may even read the ending three times. I once even bought a book after having read the sample because I really needed to know how it ended even though I knew going in I’d never read the middle. And no, I didn’t return it for a refund. I bought it for the ending, and I got what I paid for.

    • Tom Semple Says:

      Actually the Kindle Keyboard had an update earlier this year (to 3.4.1). Ostensibly it was to fix a security issue with the web browser, but there could have been other changes as well.

      I do bail on books, particularly KU borrows. But that’s another reason I think ‘pay for what you read’ is a fairer measure for payouts. Why should authors get full payout for books people don’t enjoy enough to actually read? But yes, this is different than what publishers/authors are used to, where a sale is a sale.

      There are not going to be any 100% fair payout schemes (any more than there is a perfect voting system) but I think Amazon is making reasonable adjustments.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        But I only applied that update to the one K3 that to which I had already applied the 3.4 update, the one that took away left justification and replaced it with full justification and totally ruined the comfortable reading experience I’d come to expect from Kindle. Fortunately, I still had my older K3 with 3.3, and I picked up a second one when a batch unexpectedly turned up at Amazon. I will not update my other two K3’s past 3.3 because full justification at the font size I need causes gaping holes in lines making it hard for my eyes to track.

        I keep hoping that each new update of Voyage will fix the problem of larger fonts and full justification, but until then I’m making sure I don’t use wi-fi with the two Kindles that are still readable. The DX is still readable, but it’s so heavy I don’t use it often. The K1 will still let me download books from the cloud, but it won’t recognize me as a shopper in the Kindle Store.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      Yes, I suspect our different approaches are part of it. On a novel, a publisher will always get the maximum payment from me…eventually. It could be years, though.

      I wonder if another issue might be that I am paid for writing…and that I’m a relatively verbose writer. 😉 I doubt there is any other blogger writing in this field who writes as much as I do. I suspect it’s a rare blog of any type. When I set one of my goals for the blog, it was to average 1,000 words a day…I was already measuring its value in part by its length. 🙂 That was, in part, for me…it’s like wanting to walk 10,000 steps every day. It’s a big part of my creative exercise.

      I think it’s fine that you buy a book for a certain purpose and first determine that the price is appropriate to you for that purpose. I like that. 🙂 I think there are other legitimate approaches, and I would guess you would agree.

      It’s an interesting question about how well different models of Kindle/Fire/Apps will work with this…is it possible that if someone reads a book on an older model the publisher will get different compensation than if it was read on a newer generation? I don’t really know.

      • Tom Semple Says:

        Lady Galaxy,

        I had the same problem with my Kindle 1, which I picked up on eBay a couple of years ago for $25. I found that Kindle Store stopped working at some point. Then I remembered that I’d changed my Amazon password some weeks before that. I de-registered, re-registered, and it works again. They must be using a hash of the password to authenticate with the store on that device. At any rate, give this a try. You will not lose any content as long as you don’t Reset to Factory defaults.

        A bit of trivia about my K1:

        There was a book that the previous owner had left on there that had hyphenation! I suspect the K1 pays attention to ‘soft’ hyphens, which the publisher had thoughtfully embedded. Later models ignored them (and I think even displayed placeholder characters instead of inserting a hyphen).

        It’s ironic that (with the improved typography features they are rolling out) it has taken so long to recover hyphenation features that were latent on the very first Kindle. I understand there are people that hate hyphenation, because it has been implemented so poorly in the past on computers, but I like what I’ve seen on my iPad and Fire so far. Together with improved letter placement, and ‘normalized’ margins, it should do a lot to improve justification.

        It’s difficult to understand why they insist on full justification. But Amazon seems to mimic Apple in minimizing customization options and so they have only a bare minimum of these. Kobo goes to the other extreme and offers tons of options on their e-readers to adjust appearance. I think that would drive me nuts. I just want it to look good with little or no effort on my part.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        Yes, if I could have bought the single stories, I would have. The stories were to fill in some of the gaps in Kim Harrison’s “Hollows” series. She did offer the final story as a Kindle short or single or whatever they’re called.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        Thanks for the tip about the K1 Tom. I’ll give it a try as soon as it charges up. I have changed my Amazon password several times since I got it.

        I’m hoping when the new Paperwhite is launched they will give an update to the Voyage that will make it more readable. I try out new purchases on the Voyage, and occasionally I find one with left justification, so I’ll read it on the Voyage, but since it doesn’t do games and most books are unreadable, I rarely use it. I should have sent it back when I still could.

  6. tuxgirl Says:

    I think it’s great! I gave up on the koll and ignored kindle unlimited because of the amount of complete junk. So much of those programs is under 15 pages long, and extremely poor quality. Having a poorly written pamphlet get as much money as a well-written 200 page novel doesn’t make sense, and I believe that it is the reason why being a part of kindle unlimited or koll doesn’t make sense for many of the quality authors.

    I actually saw a site talking about making money with amazon kindle, and it suggested making sure that your short books are under 10-11 pages so even if someone just opens the book after borrowing it but doesn’t read past the first page, you will still be paid.

  7. Donald T. Marion Says:

    I wonder if Critiques were bought by Amazon, would they pay the same for a brilliant critique, that appears to have motivated many to purchase a book as they would for repetitious critiques that are long and boring.Their efforts made boring by the plot being revealed in one posted critique after another. Or, am I missing out on being paid because I never detail the plot? JJ.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Donald!

      You’re saying if Amazon hypothetically paid for customer reviews?

      My guess is that it would be a flat rate, although they might also pay based on how many people voted it as useful. I wouldn’t see that being based on length.

      I do agree with you about summaries. I very often skim past paragraphs even in professional reviews. I think that’s a relatively new phenomenon…maybe the past thirty years or so. As I’ve written before, my favorite thing in pop culture works is to be surprised, and that’s part of why I’m perhaps unusually wary of spoilers.

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