Episode 63 – KU Page Reads, Author-Customers, and the Oblivion Principle

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Question of the Week: Will the new KU payout structure be good or bad for authors and why? How will it impact your own business? (Answer in the comments)

In the beach edition of the Sell More Books Show, Bryan battled sharks and hermit crabs to record the latest episode with Jim. Before they talked tips, Bryan launched his new service, Best Page Forward: A Description Writing and Marketing Service, which you can check out at http://bryancohen.com/bestpage
Jim and Bryan discussed three tips this week on marketing services, procrastination, and book piracy. While the news included stories on direct-to-brain book downloads, Amazon’s publishing imprints, the  Oblivion Principle, and authors as customers, the focus was Amazon’s recent announcement about Kindle Unlimited and page reads. This week’s Question of the Week: Will the new KU payout structure be good or bad for authors and why? How will it impact your own business?
What You’ll Learn: 
  • How you can get a punchy book description that sells
  • Which author marketing services are worth it
  • How to defeat procrastination
  • Why you shouldn’t worry so much about book piracy
  • What makes ebooks still worth reading in the future
  • One author’s inside experience with an Amazon imprint
  • Why it’s unlikely any tricks will save the publishing industry
  • How trad pubs have ignored an important customer segment: authors
  • What Bryan and Jim think about the latest KU announcement

get show updates

  • I’m listening now and Bryan just said: “… it seems like the Amazon books do do an extremely good job of staying up in the best seller ranking …”

    “do do”

    So we have a doo doo here, then we will get a Number Two later . . . what’s happened to this show!?


    • I let that one go during the show. 🙂

      • You’re a stronger man that I. I don’t know if I could have let that one slip by. 🙂

    • LOL I thought I was the only one who caught that.. XD

    • Bryan

      I knew it when I said it, ya bums :).

  • QOTW: I’ve read through this email from amazon about fifty times. I like the idea of having the fund pay out by page count versus number of books. The numbers they put forward sound great but that’s some big “ifs” they have. If it’s 10 million, if there are these number of pages. When it switches to a two million dollar fund and there are twice as number of pages then it’s back to the paltry pay out that we have now. Bottom line, it’s all wait and see.

    • Bryan

      Exactly. Wait and see and keep writing :).

  • I recently decided to stop being exclusive with Amazon, as I have a third book in my series The Olivia Chronicles nearing completion. I have been exclusive with Amazon up until this week. In large part, my decision was driven by the fact that I’m a Mac user and wanted to be on iBooks, but my decision was also made because of the changing Amazon landscape. I am a KU reader, so I love the program as a reader, and I did get quite a few borrows there. Ultimately, I think the page reads thing is not going to be a good thing for authors. Having just made the time investment to direct publish on iBooks (with all of its quirks and multiple app learning curves) and direct publish on Kobo, as well as going Premium with Smashwords for other outlets, the change at KU/KDP Select won’t impact me.

    • Bryan

      Good for you! We’re big fans of the multi-platform approach :).

  • Crissy Moss

    The change to KU will be great for authors writing novellas and longer who have great content that people like to read. It will be okay for authors of really good short stories who have lots of them available to read, and high read through rates. They might lose a bit of their income, but if they keep producing good content it will work out.

    It will be horrible for anyone gaming the system, anyone who is just a bad writer, or anyone who doesn’t put the time in to make a good product.

    Ultimately this will be the best for the readers. The gold rush will end and they will be left with good books they want to finish.

    How will this effect me? It won’t. I don’t have anything in KU because it didn’t help me sell books. Maybe I’ll give it a try again some day, but not any time soon.

    • Bryan

      Hooray for the end to a scammer gold rush!

  • This is my take. I’ve been following indie publishing since I started writing my first novel in April 2012. It seems like every year or so, Amazon does something that sends the indie world in a tailspin. They’ve decreased the visibility of free books, decreased the impact of sales ranking after going from free to paid, they’ve introduced KU, and now they’ve changed the KU payment structure.

    Indies tend to be flexible and intelligent. This, like every other change, is not the end of the world. Innovative, smart indies will move on and do well, adjusting where they need to. The ones who aren’t serious will bail.

    I think this further shows that it’s best not to rely on one retailer for your game plan. Anything can change, and without much warning. Think long-term and not short-term, and you’ll be able to weather the changes that hit.

    Personally, I’m not a fan of exclusivity. Even though I think these changes to KU are an improvement, it’s not enough to draw me in.

    • Bryan

      Agreed, Stacy. We need to be ready for anything and not freak out when the inevitable changes hit :).

  • Nakeesha Seneb

    I’d published a five-part serial when the email turned up in my inbox. I was inside the three day window where I could change my mind and pull out of KDP. I immediately pulled out. I can’t operate my business on hypotheticals and guesses. I was already shaky with the shifty monthly KU royalty, but now it’s just ridiculous. I don’t put up draft manuscripts and tell readers that I’ll get them the polished one before the end of the month. The least Amazon can do as are our business partners is give us solid numbers before we give them the work.

    • Bryan

      We want the numbers!

  • The KU changes will be good for authors. However, as long as exclusivity is a requirement of KU enrollment, then KU is less benefit than it could be. As for my own business, it is a non-issue. I am in the midst of editing and rewriting the rough draft of my fourth book, and won’t enroll my titles in KU as long as exclusivity is required.

    • Bryan

      I’m right there with you, Anthony.

    • Eddie Jakes

      Jim hit the nail on the head a long time ago. People pay for convenience. Is it convenient to have your work on one platform or all of them?

      • Those are different things. If an author sees heaps of revenue from KU, then exclusivity can make good business sense in that circumstance.

        Not sure what you mean about paying for convenience. It only costs your time to use one or a half dozen distributors. Convenience for readers is a matter of those who are enrolled in KU subscriptions vs those using other platforms or purchasing via Amazon without KU.

        How many distributors you use should be based on your publishing and marketing strategy, not on how much or how little you like to copy and paste.

        My series has a global scope, so I want wide distribution. As long as you have your materials in order, it is easy to post to multiple distributor platforms.

  • robertscanlon

    Oh no, the sky is falling!

    I agree with others here … over-reliance on any one internet traffic platform is risky. There’s no business sense in getting feathers ruffled about any changes Amazon makes – it’s their business, they can do what they like. We either:

    – Vote with our feet
    – Work with the changes
    – Get out of the game

    In my opinion, it pays to follow those much smarter than I, who will work out the new algorithms and advise accordingly. All these changes do is echo the importance of building a direct relationship with your customers – whether you’re selling books, chickens, houses or kitchenware.

    PS. Haven’t actually listened to the show yet, but I keep forgetting to answer the question, and by the time I listen, it’s “old news” haha!

    Love the show, keep it up!

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Robert! I love it when the smart algorithm people tell me what’s what ;).

  • Carol Bodensteiner

    Thanks for sharing my experience working with Amazon Publishing. The GO AWAY HOME launch is July 7. If you’d like to do a follow up with my results somewhere down the pike, let me know.

    • Bryan

      You’re welcome, Carol! Best of luck with the launch. Drop us a line in August and let us know how it’s going!

      • Carol Bodensteiner

        Will do.

  • QotW: I heard the news a few days ago. I think the new change makes it very fair for authors. Longer books will be more valuable. So will Anthologies and Book Bundles (omnibus). I am not a KU author or subscriber, but I don’t think it will affect my current business too much. Authors need to stop with the panic mode every time Amazon makes a change. As Jim said, you shouldn’t put all your eggs in one basket. Isn’t that one of the top rules in Business 101?

    Great show as always, guys!

    • Bryan

      Thanks, Marie! Agreed. Many baskets needed!

  • Thomas Diehl

    This is great for readers and that’s what is important imho. No more scammy 5-page pamphlets obviously created to reach those 10% by just opening the book.
    As an author I find it a little annoying for my internal statistics I can’t even guesstimate what I get for a KU lend come July. But overall, it’s good for readers, making KU more attractive to readers, thus it’s good for business. Now, if only exclusivity was dropped as a requirement for KU.

    • Bryan

      Yeah, I don’t love the unpredictability either, Thomas.

  • A D Davies

    I think it’s the right thing to do. Amazon serves READERS not authors. It’s a bit of a shame for some authors who are genuinely servicing customers, but most will likely benefit overall. I have seen a lot of “books” that are maybe 5000 words long, and are actually just a few chapters which ends on a standard plot-point rather than a true cliff-hanger. Clearly the author has written a standard length book and chopped it up into a “season” and called the 3-4 chapters an “episode.” We have seen this format implemented successfully by folk like the SPP guys (who are not in KU), but they INTEND their seasons to be episodic, and each episode is a genuine part of a larger whole which is an example of how this method SHOULD be implemented. But when people copy them in order to string out a few more dollars without actually planning their episodes, it harms the reputation of indies, and – probably – makes readers less likely to take a chance on new authors.

    I wonder how a KU box-set will impact. a 6-episode season on KU might be 100,000 words, so maybe we will see more box-sets in KU?

    • Bryan

      I think once we find the payout for those books, we’ll see if authors with larger sets go for it. I have a 700 page box set, and I keep hearing the number 2 cents a page going around. It may be less, but if it’s not, that’d be a $14 royalty. I can live with that :).

  • Eddie Jakes

    Thanks for the confidence boost, Jim. I’m still finishing up my first book and this is my pen-name. On the KU issue. There are soooooo many platforms to publish on. The SPP recently did an interview with Draft2digital and during the interview Johnny commented that they did not really promote Scribd and had little movement there. Well it’s a consumers market, authors should be doing more to promote some of these platforms. Kindle Unlimited seems fair, but exclusivity without an advance is kind of a turnoff.

    • Bryan

      Don’t worry so much about the many platforms. Get the words done and then worry about all that junk :).

  • Mikael Barstow

    I think the KU changes will benefit and encourage authors who naturally write longer books to join (or stay with) Select. Not everyone writes 80K+ word books (middle-grade and lower level kids books), so these authors may not consider putting their books in Select (which could mean less variety). Also, not everyone paying for KU is looking for longer books to read. I wouldn’t find much value in paying $9.99 for the month and only getting through one or two books because they were so dang long. I don’t believe that longer necessarily means a book or story is more valuable. I’ve read plenty of long books that were just instances of authors who like to read their own words, so they stuff their books full of them.

    • Bryan

      Oh yeah. Definitely have read a lot of authors who love the sound of their own pen :).

      My future plans for my 2nd series involve shorter books (40-50k) vs. my current series (70-80k).

  • Jacob Williams

    I think I’m going to side with @jimkukral:disqus when he says shorter books are the future. I’ll also point out that everyone just assumes those with shorter works are going to start making less money with these KU changes. To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if they start making more income. Particularly those that write romance and erotica. (Would you stop reading after the pants come off?) I’m going to go out on a limb and guess shorter books have both a higher download and higher completion rate as well.

    Finally, if you’re writing fiction novellas these KU changes should slow the flood of 15 page nonfiction books (*blog posts) that are taking a lot of the pie. Which is good for everyone.

    • Bryan

      I always stop reading after the pants come off.

      • Jacob Williams

        You can avoid that by wearing a kilt instead.

  • Spider McGee

    I trust that with the episode over, I can finally have my (fake) name back. As for using it to sell tons of books, therein lies the irony.

    I’ve previously put out some short fiction on Amazon. I can’t seem to get it together enough to write a full novel yet, but I have a new short story almost ready and am reissuing my previous stuff on…wait for it…JULY 1st. I mean…what the hell, man. Bad timing.

    Now I gotta rethink my strategy. I can’t go Amazon-only, because KU is not gonna work for me. I might have to set up Draft-to-Digital and try my luck in several places, or group the stories into sets of 2 or 3 and see if larger collections will sell. The odds were already stacked against me because short stories don’t move…not even in collections, and usually not even for free. I only have about 10 days to do this now, and I have a strict self-imposed deadline on my new story (because if I don’t impose one, it will never get done).

    Anyway, I gotta figure it out. My brain thinks in short bursts, not in novels. There may be more fast food work in my future.

    • Nobody said you could have your fake name back yet. I’m keeping it.

      • Bryan

        Put the name down, Kukral.

    • Spider™

  • I don’t know – asking authors what they think of Amazon’s tactics is a bit like asking flowers what they think of the rain. Amazon will try to please its shareholders and its customers. BUT – we mustn’t just shrug our shoulders and give up. What we CAN do is stay informed and up to date (perhaps by listening to a certain duo of podcasters) and be prepared to change our methods as the need arises. Good luck!

    • Bryan

      Hehehe, great point, Mikey. Information and adaptation, for sure.

  • First, Bryan, thanks for not throwing me under the bus for thinking James Patterson was in KU – LOL. I hope my ignorance has educated many.

    I think the KU changes are fair for the writer and amazon’s customers. We all want to think we can find an algorithmic advantage and get us over the hump to reach a level of perpetual sales and customer awareness, but the reality is we need good books, and a lot of them, to make a living. And that is as it should be. It also makes KU less compelling to new authors outside of romance.

    I say all this and think, well, then there’s The Martian, which breaks all of those rules. 🙂

    • Bryan

      Hahaha, don’t mention it ;).

  • RachelMedhurst

    I’m a serial writer with one serial in KU. I’m about to release a spin off serial too. I don’t just write serials, I write novels too. For me, I’m going to lose money, even with my bigger episodes (25k words/80ish pages). Luckily, I’m not a huge seller so the impact won’t be as sorely felt. However, we all have a choice. I’ve already had a message on twitter from a serial only website inviting me to submit to them (Jim mentioned the hole in Amazon’s armour. I think it’s already started!).

    At first I was annoyed because of the principal…It reminded me of the chocolate subscription I have. The chocolate tasting club doesn’t get the customers money and then only pay the chocolatiers for the chocolates that were eaten. Netflix don’t pay HBO by episodes watched. Then my brain caught up because it’s a different business model. I realised that it’s a quick way to get rid of scammers and for Amazon as a business to make more money.

    At the end of the day, it isn’t as if we have to put books in KU. There are a lot of different platforms and I’ve read somewhere that other platforms are starting to sell more serial type work. If we write good books, we should be able to sell them on all platforms, regardless of length.

    As for me, my current Select term ends on July 7th, which is a bit of a pain. I’ve still not decided what to do. I think I may keep it in for three months and see what happens.

    • Bryan

      The most important thing is to keep writing. You’ll get a better feel for how serials sell if you have 5, as opposed to one. The old SPP advice still helps :).

  • C.C. Wall

    hey guys. great show. I have around 30 or so books in KU and and I write a lot of serials. At first, I was a little put off by the news of this, but really, as long as I’m making more than .35 a book with my KU downloads, it’s better than selling a book for .99 cents. A lot of people are saying that longer books are the way to go now, but at the end of the day, they are getting paid the same. It’s the same price per page. If you write good content and have a great relationship with your readers, this shouldn’t really have a negative effect on anything, but again, we won’t know exactly how that goes until Aug. 15th. Thanks again. 🙂

    • Bryan

      Thanks, CC. Definitely let us know if you’re happy or sobbing on the 15th ;).

    • I wonder if Amazon will ever relax the payout rates of purchased book under $2.99. Jim would have to be right that shorter books ‘are the future’ of course.

      I’ve long enjoyed shorter fiction (40-60k) so I’d like him to be right and Amazon to make a change. Already in Kindle Singles, you get full 70% for even a $.99 book, so there’s hope.

  • The new KU payouts are probably better in the long run for real authors, but worse for the guys gaming the system. It was really only a matter of time before Amazon took care of the issues in the current system.

    The only issue I have is that some short works are worth more than some longer works. In non-fiction, for instance, you can say a lot in few words, but a lot of research can go into it.

    It’s hard to find the perfect system for everyone.