The other day there was a simultaneous meltdown among the writing groups that I follow on social media. It happened when Amazon announced that they were changing their royalty structure for books downloaded on Kindle Unlimited and in the Kindle lending library. Authors will now be paid per page as opposed the former system in which an author was paid a reduced royalty when a reader reached 10% of the book.
Initial reactions were that this was some way for Amazon to screw authors, as if someone were only required to pay for a book if they read it. Writers were looking for publishing’s version of what Taylor Swift did to Apple this week. In fact, it has nothing to do with what authors make off books sold digitally to anyone not in Kindle Unlimited (which most people aren’t) and the Kindle lending library (I have no clue how much this happens, but I lent a book once and the recipient was confused.) So we’re talking about a small, but growing, sliver of the eBook market. I just got my dad a KU subscription for Father’s Day because he has a tendency to read all the free samples, and not splurge on the book. So far, Amazon can’t come to your house and take a physical book off your shelf if you don’t read it.
Will this mean less money for authors? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve downloaded a “book” from Amazon, only to find it’s about 20 pages of very large print… almost like a PowerPoint presentation. The business category is full of these “books.” Life is a little different for a fiction author. Books take longer to write, edit and publish. The new system rewards longer books that are good enough that people read them!
I reminded some fellow writers that until Amazon came along and upset the apple cart, unpublished authors had to spend years, decades, or a lifetime in the query process, hoping for a break, or use a “vanity” press who was more interested in how much money the author would part with to hold their book in their hand. I still get calls from Xlibris asking me when I’m going to publish my book (answer: last year.)
The fact is, Amazon is in this to make themselves money. And to make money, they need product. Good books sell for a higher prices, and sell more downloads. If they don’t pay authors well enough, we won’t use them. No wonder they pay the highest royalty to authors who publish exclusively on Amazon (I am doing that, for now.) People place Amazon in the same class of corporate villain as Wal Mart. Yes, they prey on vulnerable markets, but at least they don’t need to destroy 10 acres every few miles in every city from Miami to Anchorage. As far as I can tell, a lot of people have jobs delivering these packages and it looks better than retail.
So what is a reader to do? How do you read with a clear conscience? Is Amazon killing small book stores? No. Barnes and Noble, Books A Million, and Borders did that a long time ago. Amazon is killing the big book stores (also a long time ago.) Ironically, it seems like small book stores are finding that they are better at being local book stores than the big stores. The jury is out, but Amazon might be the best thing to happen to the small book store.
When record stores died, music didn’t die. In fact, music is thriving. Never has more music, more variety and more quality been so easy to obtain. Artists are adapting. There are some who think that more people are making a living in music today. It might not be through record sales, but through touring, merchandise, and selling their songs for commercials, television and music. Commercial are the new music video. (So… in a way, MTV does play music videos, between pregnant teen shows.) Fewer people are getting rich but more musicians don’t need day jobs.
I don’t care how people are reading, as long as they are reading. To beat an overused meme to death:
The Grandfather Clock is the book club selection next Wednesday at Critical Drinking. Gulfport Historical Museum. 7pm, July 1. People are going to drink and critique my book in my presence. No switchblades allowed.