How Amazon’s New KU Offers Authors Way too Much and Way too Little Information All at Once

road-sign-808733_640We’ve seen an entire month of Amazon’s new way of paying authors of books available on the site’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) subscription service. Now that I’ve seen it, I must admit I think authors who aren’t moving tons of content should check their dashboard minimal amounts. Why? Because it’s maddening.

But before I explain why, let’s give a quick recap for nonauthor folks.  Back in mid-June, Amazon announced that starting in July, it would change the way it paid authors who participate in KU. On the reader side, KU allows readers to pay a flat fee (around $10 per month, last I checked) to read an unlimited number of titles in that program. On the author side, participating authors agree to exclusivity with Amazon, and they agree to be paid in a nontraditional way. Instead of getting paid a certain amount each time a book was borrowed (previously, to be counted as a borrow, the reader had to read 10 percent of the book), the author now gets paid based on how many pages of the book the reader completes.  Amazon can track this info via Kindle software.

Amazon devised a new way to count pages; one it calls the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC). This number is only available to the book’s author and, in most instances, is higher than the page count listed on the product description page.

So why is this new KU both too much information AND too little information? Well, if you’re not moving tons of pages, it offers authors too much data that’s open to interpretation. Let’s take me, for example. I don’t have tons in the KU program, but one item I have has a KENPC of 184 pages.

Not long ago, I was checking my sales graph to see how many pages had been read for the day. Well, wouldn’t you know it: 183 pages had been read. So, my first thought, was, Why would someone stop on page 183? Why wouldn’t they go to page 184? I can’t imagine what more I needed to have written on page 183 to propel them forward to the next page. Stopping on the next to last page of a book really makes no sense, right?

But, here’s why it’s too little information: Amazon doesn’t tell you how many times a book has been borrowed. It only tells you the number of pages read. So, that 183 number could be two borrows: one person having borrowed and read 60 pages, while another person borrowed and read 123.  And for those people to stop at those points makes sense. You expect them to simply pick up the book the next day and finish.  But if it was one person, you haven’t a clue why it went down that way.

Because you don’t know, you spend time speculating and wondering. Did someone really only read 183 pages? Is Amazon measuring the page reads from devices correctly? I wonder if they read the chapter preview somewhere (the book is previewed on some other sites, like Wattpad) and just decided to skip the book’s opening page? Or does the About the Author/Other books by this author count as one page? Does that mean people don’t read that page, that they choose to skip learning more about me and the books I publish?

See all the questions that plague you when you know the number of pages read but have no context for it (because you don’t have contextual information).

It’s just maddening. And then, of course, by the end of that day, the pages read for that book had jumped from 183 to 303. Another 120 pages of that book were read, meaning there were at least two borrows of the book. Or, it could have been three borrows, with each borrower having stopped at p. 101.  Or it could have been four borrows, split in some other, less even fashion.

Still, I felt even more curious a couple of days later when I had one page read. Yes, you read that right. My pages read graph showed a single page had been read. Did that person who read 183 pages go back and finish? If so, yay! Or what if someone new started the book, read page one and said, “What a piece of $#*%!”

I haven’t a clue what happened. And I won’t have a clue unless Amazon offers more information. I think it’s unlikely Amazon will, though. While I’d really like more info, I suspect there are competitive advantage reasons they want to keep that information in house. While authors’ goals often align with Amazon’s, they’re not the same, and for whatever reason, Amazon wants to keep that sales information private. Fair enough. I won’t complain.

However, since I don’t have it, I think it’s best to avoid checking the dashboard too often. Looking at that daily sales report offers just enough information to drive you mad with questions about individual readers, but not enough information to answer those questions.

Now, if you’re having massive sales, like Joe Konrath, who blogged about the new KU here (the comments are worth reading), you may not have the time, energy or inclination to examine your data closely enough to care.  And your numbers are going to be such that you’re never going to get that weird day with one page read that makes you ask, “what is going in with that one reader?” The person with high page counts may even get more skewed data, though. If a lot of readers are stopping at 25 percent, they may simply perceive that as 10 full reads per day, rather than 20  quarter reads and five full reads. (Now, on face value, that seems like a ludicrous statement to me–that 20 people would pick up a book, actually start reading it and quit, compared to only five who start and finish. I just made that up to throw out numbers. Still, I have no clue whether it’s as far fetched as I think, or quite likely, as we don’t get data on how many people have borrowed the book. We only get pages read data. You can try to extrapolate from your ranking, but a book gets a ranking boost the moment the book is borrowed, even though the borrower might not even open it to read for several days or weeks.)

So the new KU is giving us interesting information, but stuff we can overanalyze (even though we don’t have enough info to make good analyses). I would suggest taking a step back from the page reads and checking less often, so your brain spends less time tackling the inevitable questions. Well, that’s my take on the matter. But, I’m curious about your opinion. How’ve you found the new KU to be? Are you enjoying seeing the pages read tick in? Does the info make you happy to have or just drive you nuts with more questions?

 

About RJ Crayton

RJ Crayton is a former journalist who now writes fiction. She's reported for the Kansas City Star and Wichita Eagle, as well as the smaller publications Education Technology News and Campus Crime. She has two published novels, Life First and Second Life and blogs for Indies Unlimited and the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. For exclusive content and first looks at her new work, sign up for the newsletter at http://rjcrayton.com/subscribe.
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5 Responses to How Amazon’s New KU Offers Authors Way too Much and Way too Little Information All at Once

  1. Dale says:

    I like to check in the mornings and after five o’clock here when I know it’s after midnight in the US on most days. I do like seeing the blue line move up but I still like to see the red one go up as well. 🙂

  2. RJ Crayton says:

    Right, Charles. The payout amount, of course, is the 64 thousand dollar question. Sadly, we won’t know that until mid month. And I’ve heard a couple people speculate the initial payout will be higher than later payouts, to initially keep authors happy (and then a slow decline, as with the previous KU). We’ll see. Certainly, once there’s one payout, we’ll have a better sens of what pages read means monetarily.

  3. Charles Ray says:

    I agree that the information can be confusing, which is why I no longer pay much attention to pages read – I’ll just wait and see how much I get in royalties in six weeks. That’s the only number that really matters in the end.

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