My father grew up in a rough, rural area where his family’s neighbors were bootleggers and backwoods mobsters. One of these mobsters liked him and, when my father turned 12, announced my dad was old enough to carry a gun for self-defense. He then gifted my father an illegal sawed-off shotgun covered in black tape to hide fingerprints.
“Be sure to hide it from the deputies,” the mobster said.
Growing up around all that, my dad learned a good bit of life wisdom. And one bit of advice he shared with me is that if someone’s rigged a game, don’t play it unless you’ve got no choice.
Sadly, sometimes we have no choice. Which brings us to Amazon.
In December, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld said that “In an absolutely devastating announcement (right before the holidays) Amazon has informed us that they are ending their Kindle Subscription program in 2023 and trying to get magazines to switch to Kindle Unlimited.”
Michael Damian Thomas of Uncanny Magazine echoed this news. “If you are an SFF short story writer, the sky is falling today. This Kindle news couldn’t come at a worst time with what is also going on in social media. We were all barely scraping by. This is an extinction-level event for the ecosystem unless we all figure something out.”
The reason for the alarm is that over the last decade, Kindle subscriptions have become a significant part of the overall circulation for a large number of science fiction and fantasy magazines. Essentially, people like the convenience and ease of buying and reading e-books and expect the same from their magazine subscriptions.
By ending the Kindle Newsstand program, Amazon would no longer allow people on their platform to subscribe directly to magazines. Instead, Amazon announced it would allow certain magazines to remain on the platform through their Kindle Unlimited program.
As Rajiv Moté said, this means Amazon would be “moving e-magazines to a Spotify model, just like music. You pay the sales platform, not the producers.”
Because Kindle Unlimited (KU) allows subscribers to read as much as they want for a monthly fee, KU pays authors and publishers based on how many pages people read. The problem with translating this to magazines is many people don’t read every page in a magazine. Instead, they may pick out certain stories and articles to read, or may even stop reading a story if it doesn’t work for them. (Update: One anonymous source has told me Amazon’s KU for magazines won’t be based on pages. But specific details are not available.)
With an actual subscription, a publisher receives guaranteed revenue from each subscriber. With KU, the revenue magazine publishers receive will be far more uncertain.
Worse, as Uncanny pointed out about their own magazine, not all genre magazines were offered the chance to join Kindle Unlimited.
Since that initial announcement during the 2022 holiday season, genre magazine publishers have been trying to figure out their options. During a call with Amazon, Neil Clarke learned that “KU for Magazines is different than KU for books. It will not prevent us from publishing/selling our magazine elsewhere. It is not paid per-paid, but based on an annual projection based on ‘qualified borrows.'”
Link to the rest at Patreon