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The KU Conundrum

11 December 2016

From author Ruby Madden:

I’m re-assessing how I run my publishing business for 2017 and wanted to share some of my frustrations as an Author.

Recently, many authors have noticed that over the last few months, the pages-read numbers for our eBooks that are borrowed at Amazon and read, have decreased dramatically. Some say it is just a slump resulting from an Election Year. Others say that something is amuck with Amazon’s pages-read reporting system that lets us know how many pages were read for stories that we have enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited (KU) program.

. . . .

Up until Oct, Nov, & Dec – I was pleased. But something has shifted and many authors have been left scratching our heads. Our pages-read numbers (how we earn money from the KU program) are seriously decreased. Many of us have been in the indie publishing business for a while now and we are savvy about using reporting and tracking programs to understand the trends. We know when book-buying or borrow-reading tends to be at its best and worst. We plan ahead with publishing dates, marketing & advertising campaigns. Like any business, some times are better than others.

. . . .

So, I have a favor to ask…

Amazon listens to their customers. They don’t quite seem to value their content providers (writers & authors) as much as they do their customers. Would  you be willing to send an email and express your concern as a reader? Here, I’ll make it easy. Here is a cut & paste letter you can copy and amend:

Dear Jeff & Amazon,

I’m a customer of yours who likes to read and buy and/or borrow eBooks from your website. Over the last couple of months, I’ve heard concerns from authors whose books I read, that they are experiencing an atypical decline, overall, in the pages-read numbers for their stories that are in KINDLE UNLIMITED (KU). 

They’ve shared that they have contacted KDP support and are being provided unsatisfactory responses or cookie-cutter type replies.

It’s important to me that authors are fairly compensated for the work and content they provide. As entertainers, they are important to society and deserve to regarded with respect. I enjoy the books they enroll in KINDLE UNLIMITED and I’m concerned that they will start to pull them out of the KU program. 

Can you please look further into this matter and research it? 

Kind Regards,

Your Name

EMAIL to send to:

jeff@amazon.com; ecr-kdp@amazon.com

Link to the rest at Ruby Madden and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Here’s a link to Ruby Madden’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

UPDATE: PG has received several emails, including links to online discussions, claiming that Ms. Madden has not paid royalties for some boxed sets she has published that include works by other authors.

PG is not acquainted with Ms. Madden and has no personal knowledge about these matters, but felt an obligation to update in light of the warnings he received.

Amazon, Ebook Borrowing/Lending, Royalties

41 Comments to “The KU Conundrum”

  1. I’ve got a diverse catalog, and reads have been dropping every month since September, though the sharpest drop was the beginning of October. My reads are now at a year-long low.

    I have a feeling going wide won’t be much better, but I think I’ll be happier not having to worry about KU and whether or not to pad books with bonus books (like so many are doing), having them pulled down randomly for TOC issues, changing the formatting to disable pageflip functionality, etc.

    But, just like flushing a toxic friend out of one’s life, I suspect I may miss the drama.

    • Now that you mention it, my Amazon sales have been going down since September as well, and none of my books are in KU. Until now I figured out was just me, but maybe there’s been something like an algo change. Or the elections.

      • Same here, except since July with the sales downturn. There’s been lag in order/sales reporting as well. I tested it with one of my books, using my Amazon store card, and it took 2 hours for the order to be reported, and another 5 hours before the sale was reported.

        The only other US sale reported that day, the order was reported early in the AM (by 4 AM, anyway), and the corresponding sale wasn’t reported until around 7 PM.

        Only US sales seem to be experiencing that lag (and downward trend). Had another author mention she’d been seeing Amazon heavily promote the books its imprints publish.

    • how do you disable it?

  2. I haven’t had that much quantity in KU lately, but the quality has been excellent: I’ve received some very good reviews from KU readers.

    Which is an honor, because people who read many books have even less time to write about them, and more to write about.

    And being in KU doesn’t keep you from doing the marketing of your ebook, unless you can spend the time to do the promotions on a wider distribution.

  3. “As entertainers, they are important to society and deserve to regarded with respect.”

    Even after I hand her a “be,” I’m still not buying into the enthymeme here.

    • “As pizza cooks, they are important to society, and deserve to be regarded with more respect than entertainers.”

      • mmmhmmm. I was thinking in refutation: “As mimes, they are entertainers and therefore important…” Or “As Carrot Top, he is an entertainer and important to society…”

        Respect them, for without them civilization itself is at risk.

  4. And after Amazon’s computers see a few ‘form’ letters they’ll be ignored (though those same computers might save a list of who sent them.)

    Ah, that new plastic smell of freshly laid AstroTurf(TM).

  5. Does Joe Konrath still advocate going KU?

    Does DWS still advocate going wide?

    What’s a peon to do? 🙂

    Dan

    • Yeah, I wonder that too. Radio silence from Konrath for the last several months.

    • Nothing but wide, always. No exceptions for us. KU has far too many issues to take the risk. My opinion. You asked. (grin)

      • agree with you DWS. It looks from the outside like a strange game of 21 where the dealer most often wins but most of the players dont. Never liked it. Go wide, you are right.

        and also this: I belong to the first month free, 9.99 a month jobber to read ebooks enrolled in program for free. Prob going to cancel it, for this reason. I often dont have the time to give 100% attn to an ebook because of other commitments to write. And then there’s writing. And often, I write. And havea family and other commitments. BUT, I loathe the idea that authors are paid
        for what I read. When in fact I often dont crack the ebk for a while, or for forever, depending on time.

        I have none of my books in it, mainly because of what to me seems unfair pay to many of the writers without increasing their sales in noteable amounts, esp authors who are still being discovered.

        I figure I can buy two ebks a month there abouts for what I pay amz to belong to their read for free club, more or less. And that buying the hard copy is often desirable esp for reference books, so I can write in them without haveing to do more than pick up a pen.

        I think the amz payout from a pot, is not just. Enriches amz with tons of pp paying 10 bills a month. But authors can be zip, esp from the kind of reader in KU like me. That just makes no sense. Amz wins no matter what. Reminds me a little of odds at Vegas

  6. Thank you for the reblog!

  7. I wonder how many people at the big 6 blamed the bookstores when sales slid? It seems to me maybe something has shifted in the market. Not everyone was effected the way a systemic problem would have, which leads me to think there is another reason for it.

    • People have done tests with getting friends to read their KU books, and never seen any page reads turn up even though their friend read the whole book. Others claim that KU doesn’t show any page reads if you use the new Kindle page-flipping interface, and that they only get one page read if the reader flips back to the start of the book after reading the whole thing.

      So, if they’re telling the truth, the KU algorithm would appear to be completely broken (which isn’t surprising, as there is no algorithm in existence which can tell how many pages a reader actually read). Since some writers claim that Amazon let them drop out of KU before the sign-up period was up with no questions asked, it would also appear that Amazon may be aware of this.

      • They must be. Enough writers are telling them about it.

      • If you are having a few enough sales that the lack of your friend reading the book is detectable, there might be other problems. Also, I don’t think the page reads are in real time. My page is updated hourly, and there is no guarantee this is the previous hour. I’ve read these threads on kboards. The immediate assumption is there is something wrong with page reads. There is no exploration of any other issue because other issues would be people’s writing. As for amazon letting people drop out of KU, that is hardly rocks lid. Amazon lets people do a lot of things with a simple phone call or email that would otherwise be a violation of a ToA. There has been so much “aha Amazon has gone evil” on kboards one would think this whole thing has been fueled by the publishers. The truth is, very few people have actually been impacted. If it were systemic wouldn’t everyone be seeing the results? Wouldn’t the entire author population being going down on earnings? I don’t have an answer for any of this, but I won’t ever just assume my failure to sell is someone else’s fault. If there isn’t a problem with Amazon, what would these authors do? What will I do? If I take the easy route and blame others for my trouble, then I will be sitting on my high horse, slowly starving to death while blaming everyone else for my books not selling. If it wasn’t my fault it broke, it isn’t my fault to fix it, right?

        • People have run tests with completely unattractive books left up only long enough to test. The sort no sane person would click on, with a pea green cover titled in Hobo, a look inside written in Martian, and a snoozefest of a description. And then clicked through it all the way to the end. And had someone else click through it and circle back to the beginning. The problems are real.

  8. Sales and reads fluctuate, but could the new program Prime Reading have something to do with it?

  9. Same boat here, everything down since Nov. 1 exactly. Too much drama here. I’m unchecking this week. Just pay me for a complete book at the price I’m selling it. No more ups and downs and OMG look what’s happening now’s. I can’t partner with a borderline personality.

  10. Just a guess, but maybe the problem is that authors are enrolling tons of ebooks in KU every month — making it less likely your (meaning authors in general) book will even be seen when customers scroll thru the KU offerings.

  11. Maybe the author of the piece linked here is seeing page-read drops because she’s not paying out the authors in her box sets and they’ve been telling people not to read them…
    http://www.kboards.com/index.php/topic,243297.msg3390628.html?PHPSESSID=c575091770414167499ab987e76dded6

    I’m loathe to troll the comments section of one of my favorite sites, but this woman has serious issues and owes thousands of dollars to multiple authors and had gone radio-silent to their requests for several months. But she has time to write blog posts asking people to contact Amazon. Top-notch behavior.

  12. I’m giving KU another six months, and then I may bail if things do not improve. My sales dropped considerably in September and have not improved despite one major release and several smaller ones.

  13. A question from a reader (as opposed to author):

    With KU, if the number of reads are down has the payment per page gone up?

    If there is a change in the algorithm to measure reads, and the number of reads has gone down overall, then the payment per read should go up as the pool remains the same (I think?).

    • The ‘pool’ is just some number Amazon picks every month, which may or may not bear any resemblance to the number of KU subscribers or the amount they pay Amazon. There’s no reason it should remain the same or increase.

      For KU, Amazon seems to take one made-up number that might vaguely relate to the number of KU subscribers, divide it by another made-up number that might vaguely relate to the total number of pages read (where ‘page’ is some vaguely-defined concept), multiply it by a third made-up number for each book that might vaguely relate to the number of pages read in that book, and give that amount of money to the writer.

    • With KU, if the number of reads are down has the payment per page gone up?

      If the number of books in KU increases at a rate larger than the rate of increase in the number of pages read, average pages per book falls.

      The total payout can increase, dollars per page can be constant, yet each author can make less.

    • No, Tim, the amount per page is not going up. It’s been holding pretty steady, but due to this issue Amazon raised it slightly last month (to about .0051, if I recall). We won’t know the amount for November page reads until the 15th of this month.

      So, we actually have no idea what we’re going to earn until half-way through the following month, and we have no real assurance that our pages read are being accurately counted. Amazon has pretty much admitted they can’t count the pages, or that they even have to.

      Anyone who thinks this is only an issue for a very few authors should pay more attention. If they get away with cheating the “little” people, don’t think for a minute they won’t be coming after others.

      Just because I’m not some big name author doesn’t mean suddenly losing almost all my income from one month to the next — through no fault of my own — doesn’t hurt and doesn’t matter. If that’s how little you care for your fellow authors, then I pity you.

      I had a release in August and one in September, and other than a few days once the follower email finally went out — four weeks later — did I see any indication the releases even happened. That is not usual, normal behavior. Something happened. Amazon doesn’t want to admit it, but they screwed up.

      • Amazon has pretty much admitted they can’t count the pages, or that they even have to.

        How have they done that?

        They pay by page read. Did they really say they don’t have to count pages read?

  14. I have a question for those enrolled in KU. Is there a clause in your agreement about auditing amz’ results/bookkeeping?

    • You get a spreadsheet every month with sales and page reads by region. On the other hand, if you mean you want to audit their algorithm, then no. I’m not sure any business in the world would let a vendor audit proprietary software. I could be wring though.

      • Jeff thanks, you’re right, I wonder how that would work to audit an algorrithm… if its proprietary. But given the trad pubs offer author ability to audit, I wonder if asking for recounting could be an option without an outside auditor. That would seem easy enough.
        And easily done in seconds if one has fast calc setups, which I imagine amz does.

    • No, USAF, I just looked through the T&C’s and it’s very much an at-will relationship without many guarantees on their part.

      • hmm I wonder why not Scott. Seems like good business. Our trad pub contracts, all of them, carry the right for author, at author’s exp, to audit. Seems like if totting up is done electronically, it wouldnt take long to audit.

  15. If I were going to write that letter to amazon I’d leave out any mention of deserving authors, which pretty much shouts that it’s an author writing the letter. Besides, no business anywhere, anywhen, cares about how deserving their vendors are.

    Write it as a concerned subscriber, having discovered her favorite authors might be dropping out of Ku, and worried there will be fewer choices of books to borrow. And who is considering dropping out of Ku herself because of that reason. Only.

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