Four Reasons Why Amazon’s Pay Per Page Is No Bad Thing

Borrows of this book will now earn me somewhere between diddly and squat, and that's fine.
Borrows of this book will now earn me somewhere between diddly and squat, and that’s fine.

Last week, Amazon announced that they are going to change the way they pay authors for books read on Kindle Unlimited, the Kindle subscription lending library. There’s been a lot of opinions expressed about this, of course, but here’s my two pence worth.

I think the pay-by-page thing is a really good idea in the context where it’s being applied – Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited lending library. It’s going to slightly reduce my income through there, as most times people borrow me on Unlimited are for a very short book, but that’s fair enough. It’ll stop people gaming the lending system by deliberately filling it with short books, while still letting those with legitimate short books make some money off it. The suggestion I saw that Amazon might later extend this to sales is an interesting one, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for it, but right now it would go completely against Amazon’s self-publishing business model. They very carefully give control to authors, including control over pricing, within some fairly generous limits. It’s a good model to motivate authors in a way that profits Amazon, and pay-per-page for lending achieves the same goal in a different way. I’d be surprised to see them spread pay-per-page to sales, but then we live in surprising times.

Someone suggested that this model might lead to padded and unedited stories, so people are reading more pages. I’m sure a few unscrupulous and stupid publishers will do that, but in the current market, which contains a huge amount of choice, I don’t think it will get them far – especially in a subscription service like Kindle Unlimited. People reading from the front end of this pay-per-page model have access to a huge library of books to choose from, and the real money for an author is in getting them to stick with you. If you present a 200 word story padded out with 200 words of crap, lots of readers won’t continue to the end, never mind the next book, so you might only get paid for fifty pages. Whereas the leaner, better 200 page version is more likely to get 200 pages of payment and maybe more on later books, as well as taking less work. Sure, some people will game the system, but the more I think about it, the more I think this whole thing could reward good writing.

Looking more broadly, this is a change in Amazon’s relatively new lending library platform. The whole thing is pretty experimental. Their self-publishing sales platform is now well established, and making a change like this there would be much more disruptive and create far larger backlash, for better or for worse.

Looked at in the broadest sense, Amazon are too smart to try applying a single model to everything. They understand that’s not how the internet works.

In short, I think this is probably a good thing. It more closely aligns the interests of authors and readers within Kindle Unlimited, and that should lead to rewards for authors being more closely connected to a good reading experience. Surely that’s a win-win situation.