The KU Conundrum…

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

frustratedauthor

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 UNIMITED (KU) program.ku12-9

Most of my newer titles are enrolled in KU. I like the program, both as a reader and author. I’ve always enjoyed reading for pleasure and I also read for my job as a writer and novelist. I gain inspiration from my fellow authors and love to track my reading via GOODREADS. I like knowing that my readers can opt to borrow a book if they want. It’s a win-win.

frustratedauthor2 One of the things that has always helped me with my writing business is that I study my own reading behavior and habits. For me, spending $9.99 a month on a subscription plan actually saves me money. That is part of why it was easy for me to be willing, as an author, to put my eBooks into the KU program so that other readers who are members can borrow, read and return.

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.

frustratedauthor3 I review trends from a quarterly approach and the depreciation is significant from the first three quarters of the year. I’m usually able to depend on a certain number of sales and pages-read for a new release. The irony is that I’d rather a reader borrow and read my stories than by them as many are priced at $0.99 initially (I increase prices one month after publication) and I only earn $0.35 from a SALE.

My last two (Her Baller & SHIFTER: Polar Bear, Part 1) have both done poorly despite great reviews averaging 4.5 and higher from about 100 reviewers. Her Baller was published on October 8th and SHIFTER: Polar Bear, Part 1 was published on Nov 1st. They’ve earned about 30% of what I was anticipating. That’s a pretty big decline. For the first time, I didn’t get an ROI (Return on Investment) for the hundreds of dollars that I put into advertising and marketing. This has never happened before.

I have several stories I’m writing currently, to be published in January and February. I’d intended to include them in KINDLE UNLIMITED (KU), but now I’m not so sure… I’ve gone ahead and cancelled re-enrollment for my eBooks that are currently in KU. Most of those will fall out of the program by the end of January.

Part of the issue is that despite many of us reaching out to customer support at Amazon about this concern, we’re getting pretty-much a cookie-cutter response that everything is just peachy! No problems here…

—-

Thanks for your inquiry. We regularly audit and monitor pages read systems for accuracy. We particularly focus on making sure we have correctly filtered out fraudulent reading activity, while including all legitimate customer behavior. The KDP business team has not found any systematic issues impacting your results.

Please note that, as always, individual title performance can vary and be impacted by a number of different factors such as seasonality, genre trends, series age, etc. We always appreciate the feedback we get from content providers.

~ KDP Executive Customer Relations

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

—-

Thank you Dear Readers! I, for one, am glad that 2016 is almost over. I appreciate each and every one of you.

Cheers,

Ruby / Emerald / Maddy / Amber

>>> A follow-up to this BLOG. A reader reached out and asked some good questions <<<

Hi! Read your email about the KU Conundrum and have a thought for you. The drop in readership might be due to the election and holidays right afterwards- I know that I’m enrolled in KU and haven’t had a spare minute to read since the beginning of October.

I’d like to know 2 things- first, do you make more money actually selling a book for .99 or for people reading it on KU? And second- how does Amazon figure out how many pages a person reads? If I buy a book, read the first page, then zip through to the last page, will the author get paid for 2 pages or the whole book?

MY ANSWER:

Great questions… That was one of my guesses – that the election caused a dip in overall reading habits both to sales and borrows. However, we’ve collectively observed some other issues and want Amazon to address them. To your questions, most authors earn more from a ‘borrow‘ than a $0.99 ‘sale‘. Amazon has a tier system for indie authors/publishers when it comes to royalties earned for eBooks.

$0.99 – $2.98 = 35% profit for the author/publisher
$2.99 – $9.99 – 70% profit for the author/publisher

Per Amazon, they have a way of monitoring how many pages a reader reads via their kindles and we get ‘paid per page‘ (ppp) read. The rate paid out each month is a variable. That means, the rate changes. Here are the rates for 2016 so far:

MONTHLY RATE

JAN $0.00411
FEB $0.00479
MARCH $0.00478
APRIL $0.00496
MAY $0.00464
JUNE $0.00491
JULY $0.00481
AUG $0.00458
SEPT $0.00490
OCT $0.00519
NOV ?
DEC ?

We don’t know November’s rate yet but will know on the 15th. Each month, on the 15th, Amazon lets us know how many collective pages are read and what the $ amount of the pool of money they set aside for the KU program. It’s around $12 million currently. This is how they come up with the rate to pay the authors who have eBooks in the KU program.

For example…

Total # of pages read / $12 millon = ppp

This answer is probably more detailed than you anticipated, but I figure that other people (readers) will be curious and this way, it’s all spelled out.

As to your last question, we’re not sure. We’ve been told different things. Initially, we were told that yes – they had a way of knowing if the reader actually read each page of an eBook. Then there was a lot of scamming that occurred and in the process of Amazon having to put a stop to the scammers, it came out that the system could be tricked into reporting that all the pages were read, but in reality the readers had skipped from the front of the ebook to the end of the ebook. So, honestly – who knows? All we know is something seems wrong about it overall…

Thank you for your questions and let me know if that helped?
Happy Holidays to you!🙂

Ruby

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26 thoughts on “The KU Conundrum…

  1. Tess Oliver says:

    Hey Ruby, I just caught the link for this post on Kboards. Thanks for taking the time to write it. It seems I’m having the exact same end of year as you. And this month, December, has been so bad, I have also unchecked all my KU boxes. I’ve been a bonus author every month since I decided to remove my books from the other sites. And I was doing really well on those sites. I just hope I can restart what I had. I don’t understand what is happening but I can no longer put my trust in Amazon. In my opinion they are pushing their own published books and now the prime books and making it much harder to gain any traction on the store. And as you mentioned, advertising dollars just aren’t getting enough return anymore. To me the only fair thing for them to do is to shorten the KU commitment to one month or even better remove the exclusivity clause. But I’m sure that will never happen.
    I will copy and paste your letter and send it along. Thanks for doing that. Good luck in the new year. I think we’re all going to need it!
    Tess

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    • Hey Tess, you’re welcome! I’ve been chewing on pulling together my thoughts about this & allowing a bit of time for them to do something besides ignore our concerns. In the end, they DO care what their customers think, so I hope our readers will help bring some awareness to this issue. I’m sorry to hear about your decline in earnings via pages-read. We never know what’s around the corner in the Wild West of publishing! Happy Holidays to you! 🙂

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      • Hard to say, really. I would love to not have to be exclusive to KU. What I do know is that many indie authors who publish WIDE will rotate what they have out WIDE. So, they might start with books all in KU and then after 3 months, they go WIDE. Or vice versa, they start WIDE and get those sales for a new release on all the platforms and then when the sales start to die down, the put the title in KU. I guess to each their own, for now. As long as Amazon plays fair, I like the KU program. But as of this last quarter, I’m not happy with what is happening.

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  2. Sharon Goodley says:

    Received your email and I have done as you requested and have sent my email . Good Luck to all you fabulous Authors and thank you for all your hard work in providing people like myself an escape from the real world xxx

    Like

  3. Reblogged this on David VanDyke's Author Blog and commented:
    Another perspective on the page-reads problem. It seems to affect certain books dramatically differently from others–especially ultra-long books such as box sets. There is probably some new piece to the algorithm that’s affecting things.

    For now, I’m hanging onto KU despite the decline I’ve seen, a decline of 30% or so for me, because all things considered I think my books do better in KDP Select/KU than out. But I do have two series “wide” on all vendors, and I’m always ready to make adjustments.

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    • My guess is that it’s a result of different variables but not completely noticeable. It would be nice to know why some titles are doing better than others (outside of reader’s preferences).

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    • Tess Oliver says:

      Hey David, You have a good point about the exclusivity clause allowing publishers to take part. Although they charge so much for their books, they’d hardly be happy with the fluctuating half penny payout.
      You mentioned something interesting about the ultra long books and sets. That was where most of my page reads came from back when things were moving along nicely. This weekend I had something odd happen and you might just be on to something. I put up a new box set of a 3 book series and made sure it was in KU, thinking maybe things would improve. I had a few hundred sales and only 200 page reads. Very low for a set with 900 pages. Now today my readers mentioned to me that the set is not in KU. It was in on the first day and I never clicked out of KU but the system seemed to have kicked it out on its own. No idea why . There was no email or problem. I know Amanda Lee has been insisting that they will eventually take only single titles in KU. I wonder if they are starting to implement that new policy in subtle ways like suppressing page reads and not allowing sets in. Sorry for the long reply but your post got me thinking.

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      • I’m with you on the wondering. I don’t see any problem with my trilogy, but I did some multi-author box sets that changed radically in the way they acted over this summer.

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  4. Tess Oliver says:

    5ngela–it might be because that’s how some of the scammers started. They had hundreds of books or what they passed as books in one volume. The borrow limit is ten at a time. If you borrow ten trilogies, you’re actually borrowing thirty books. But everything I say is just speculation. I’ve been at this since 2010 and things change so dramatically from one moment to the next, it’s hard to keep up with it. My wild theories and guesses just don’t flow that quickly.
    I do have one other theory on the page read problem but like all my other guesses it’s based on nothing but observation. I know that as my family and I start adding subscriptions here and there– Netflix, Hulu, etc, you start to realize that it all adds up after awhile. I wonder if some readers have decided to drop KU after the first couple years because it’s another monthly expense. Maybe there are just less people using the program.
    Anyhow Happy Holidays everyone!

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    • The issue isn’t page read drops per se. The issue is page read drops per borrow and per sale. Sales can be counted and borrows can be accurately inferred from ranking analysis, and what’s happening is these numbers are not lining up the way they should–or the way they have–until the algorithm changes in July. It’s very clear this is not a reader issue, but an algorithm and software issue that is not accurately counting page reads (given the common understanding of a “page read.”)

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      • I agree re the page reads. One of the benefits of ebooks is the fluid flow of text, so there are no pages, per se. Thus if I read ebook X, the so-called number of pages will be far greater than if someone with 20/20 vision were to read X. Why? Because I increase the size of the text so I can read without my glasses. So even if Amazon could count how many times I ‘turned’ the page, it would not give an accurate total of pages read. Percentages perhaps, pages no.

        I think Amazon is going to have to bite the bullet and admit that their technology isn’t up to the task.

        As for me, I’ll be going wide as soon as my 90 days are up. I’ve been wanting to try D2D for a while now.

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