KU Conundrum Continued…

12-15-16

[Disclosure: This BLOG imparts my own opinion. I’m not an expert. Editing *might* occur as I continue to analyze DATA. Read with that in mind]

 

gladiator Hello Dear Readers & Fellow Authors,

First, a big thank you. My initial BLOG >> KU Conundrum << has been getting quite a bit of traffic and on Monday, I received a follow-up email from a member of Jeff Bezos’ Executive KDP Customer Care team letting me know that they wanted to call me and discuss the KENPC issue. Wednesday, we talked over the phone.

Before I share what was discussed, I must tell you that I feel like a Gladiator taking on a Goliath-like giant. How did my love-hate affair with Amazon start? First, I have to make the personal – professional, and then back again. And around and around we go.

Before I started writing and publishing full-time, I worked as a corporate professional in Seattle. In 2010, the MMORPG gaming business I worked for gave every employee a KINDLE as a Holiday present. For a couple of months, I left the unopened box on my desk, collecting dust and thinking about selling it on eBay. You see, I’ve always been an avid reader and bookworm, and at the time, wasn’t yet sold on the idea of being able to keep books electronically via an eReader.

Black digital tablet PC A friend visited, and when she saw the KINDLE sitting on my desk, unopened – collecting dust, she chastised me.

“You have a KINDLE?!”

I grunted, “Yeah. It was a gift from my employer.”

“I want one! They’re pretty spendy though…”

(At the time, I think they were like $2-300??? Can’t remember exactly…)

“Why haven’t you opened it?” My friend asked.

“I dunno… I like real books.”

“That’s a shame, at least try it out. If you don’t like it, I’ll buy it from you.”

“Okay, I’ll give it a whirl. See if I like it. If not, you can have it.”

Fast forward to a holiday weekend and I finally decided to open it up. I searched on Amazon (this was how I became a CUSTOMER at Amazon too. I’d never ordered anything from their website before the KINDLE). Lots of classics were FREE, so I downloaded some of those. I read ALL WEEKEND LONG.

By the end of the weekend… I WAS IN LOVE. In love with my KINDLE.

One of my life goals has been to become a published author and writer. To earn my living as an author. With the KDP platform, this became more-so of a reality as indie publishing was taking the world by storm.

So, starting in 2012, I came up with a plan. I wanted to be living on my writing income instead of as a corporate professional. I gave myself 3-5 years to reach that goal. So, I worked 40-50-60 hours a week at my corporate day job and each week I made word-count goals. Between writing, editing, promotion, marketing, advertising and social media – I spent another 20-30 hours a week growing my publishing business. I did this for FIVE years.

Then, last year – due to health issues, including one that is potentially terminal, I needed to step away from the stress of my corporate professional work. I put all my efforts into writing full-time and recuperation, instead. For the first part of the year, things were looking good. For the first time, it appeared that I could earn my living solely on my writing and publishing projects with other authors.

Then Summer happened. Then the KU Conundrum. Then the Election. And now the Holidays.

Now? My publishing business is headed into possible bankruptcy and I’m not ashamed to say it. We authors struggle to make a living. Sometimes our books sell well, sometimes they don’t. A lot of blood, sweat and tears are put into the publishing process. We wear many hats, being our own marketers, book cover designers, editors, etc. and putting $$$ into advertising that doesn’t always provide a ROI (return on investment).

So, I was grateful – very grateful to get a phone call from an employee at Amazon who works directly with Jeff Bezos’ Executive Customer Relations team. 

We spoke today and here are some of the issues / concerns we discussed:

First, I shared with the rep that I like the KU (Kindle Unlimited) program. As an Author and a Reader. I told her that I liked being able to provide my stories in a way in which readers could borrow since I typically make more from an eBook being read than sold at $0.99. I explained that Readers reach out to authors, asking us questions about Amazon eBooks, KU and anything connected to both. That we are often ‘educating’ our Readers, their Customers and that currently, there have been lots of questions and concerns about why Authors are pulling their titles from KU. In this, Amazon and Authors share a common concern – the READER. Amazon’s CUSTOMERS.

I shared examples of marketing and advertising dollars spent on specific title campaigns and the poor rate of return that is unlike years prior.

One of the questions she asked was what tools I used for sales, borrows and royalty reporting. How I was able to tell that something was amuck. I shared that I, along with many authors use BOOKREPORT as it aggregates the data into simple charts that make it easy to analyze. I explained that I’ve been using it for more than a year and that I look at my #’s every-day. I use it to manipulate to see daily, weekly, monthly and quarterly data. As a result, I am very intimate with how many sales and/or pages-read (from Borrows) I average. I can tell what was the best day of the week, month, year and the worst.

bookreport

example-br

peaks

She asked for examples and I was able to provide her with two that I thought best showed the issue and concerns I had. Both were for titles that are very similar. The exception being the DATE when the books were published. Also, they were in the same genre and same pen-name. As we discussed those, she was able to see that there was a large discrepancy between the comparable examples and acknowledged my concern.

I’ll share one of those examples.

I have a Paranormal Romance pen-name (Emerald Wright) that publishes SHIFTER fiction. SHIFTER: Black Bear, Part 1 was published on February 4, 2016. It has 53 eReader pages, sells for $0.99 and is available in KU. It performed 93% BETTER than SHIFTER: Polar Bear, Part 1 (in terms of PAGES-READ due to KU Borrows), which was published November 1,2016, has 63 pages, also sales for $0.99 and is in KU. Each had 40+ reviews averaging 4.4 to 4.5.

THEY EACH SOLD ALMOST THE EXACT SAME NUMBER OF COPIES (one sold 8 more copies than the other) in the same amount of time (2 months from their publication date). However, the KU PAGES-READ is drastically off with SHIFTER: Black Bear being in the tens of thousands (77,460) and SHIFTER: Polar Bear barely breaking 3K (2,684) PAGES-READ. I found this hard to believe as my Newsletter for that author name more than quintupled over 2016. If anything, SHIFTER: Polar Bear should have had a higher number of pages-read just by sheer readership interest in my pen-name and those kinds of stories.

The Executive KDP rep expressed that Amazon has been doing ongoing audits to see if they can find any system-wide issues that might be creating an unidentified problem. And, as many have shared with us, thus far – they haven’t come across anything that seems off or wrong.

I asked if the PAGES-READ overall in the KU Program had decreased at all over the last few months. She shared that she wasn’t sure and would look into this. I asked because I aready had access to the DATA and wanted to see if she was acquainted or not. This would tell me how informed she was on the issue. This is a red flag for me. In all seriousness, it would seem that we, as authors, are having to educate the Amazon KDP team on their own program/business. Hence why we are all pulling our hair out these days…

Below is a graph with the KU Program DATA that is being provided by Michele Keep.

ku-monthovermonth

The thing to pay attention to is the total estimated # of pages read per month. For the life of the KU program, we can see how this has grown, along with the # of eBooks borrowed. Until September. When we all started to notice that something was up. This should be another red flag for Amazon to pay attention to. What’s causing the decline?

The chart reveals what Authors are paid PPR (per-page-read) each month. With this type of information, you can see how the KU program is growing (or eroding) month over month and at what rate (percentage %). These numbers provide clues overall and once you get acquainted with the DATA, it becomes a bit easier to understand the overall success of the KU Program.

Many authors have speculated that the KU Program is failing, with readership slipping and KU members cancelling their subscriptions. This is where I have to step in and from anyalyzing the DATA, quite the opposite was true through August 2016, the KU program was constantly growing. But since September, it has been eroding.

So, if we take the # of pages read in November and compare against August, we can get a rate of overall erosion –> 13%.

So, its safe to say that many of us would have experienced an individual decrease of about 10-25% in PAGES-READ (allowing for variance). But instead, we’re seeing anywhere from 30-90%. Way too much! WTF?

?????????

Ultimately, I made the decision to withdraw all of my titles currently in KDP and have deselected them for renewal in KU. Also, stories to be published in the new year will NOT be in KU. I shared this with the Executive KDP rep and explained that it was a business decision. I told her that I didn’t want to do this, but as a business decision, I could no longer justify keeping my eBooks content exclusive to KU. I shared that this was made with a heavy heart as I have loved providing borrowed reads to my readers who also love the KU program.

This is where my conversation with the Executive KDP rep is at, for now. I’m going to push for my follow-up into explaining some other concerns. If you would like to provide your own DATA to share, I will happily pass it on to the rep. We need specific EXAMPLES. Quantify your info, please. Paint a pretty picture.

For now, this is what I have to share. I will keep you posted on any upcoming information. Thank you for reading!

~ Ruby

KU Conundrum Continued

2016 Pages-Per-Read Rate for Authors with eBooks in KU

MONTH RATE Annualized
JAN  $ 0.00411  $  0.00411
FEB  $ 0.00479  $  0.00479
MARCH  $ 0.00478  $  0.00478
APRIL  $ 0.00496  $  0.00496
MAY  $ 0.00464  $  0.00464
JUNE  $ 0.00491  $  0.00491
JULY  $ 0.00481  $  0.00481
AUG  $ 0.00458  $  0.00458
SEPT  $ 0.00490  $  0.00490
OCT  $ 0.00519  $  0.00519
NOV  $ 0.00538  $  0.00538
DEC  ? 0
Annual Avg  $  0.00482

8 thoughts on “KU Conundrum Continued…

  1. BL says:

    Thanks for the information, Ruby. Much appreciated.

    It’s hard to understand how KDP still can’t figure out if the problem is real or not after all these months. Are they really unable to compare the actual borrows to the pages read? They have always refused to reveal the number of borrows, even though they must have access to that information. If a book was previously borrowed 100 times, and had page reads equivalent to 80 read-throughs, and now is borrowed 100 times, and has page reads equivalent to 3 read-throughs, that would clearly show a particular book’s page counting mechanism is “broken” in some way. From there it would be a matter of studying why certain books show this pattern and others don’t. That doesn’t answer every question (about non-sticky ranks, and visibility changes, and all that), but it would help to identify the technical problem with page reads.

    Like

    • Agreed, they really need to be much more savvy about understanding their own DATA. It’s disheartening to me that they may say they ‘value’ content providers (such as authors) but don’t see the disconnect to the success of the KU program in the long-term. They need to learn how to dig into the individual DATA to get answers. As is, enough authors have come forward, so all they need to do is analyze that Author’s KDP account and do comparisons. Year over year. Quarter over quarter. Month over month. Instead, they don’t seem invested enough to delve deeply into the DATA. Which oddly, goes against one of their corporate LEADERSHIP principles.
      [DIVE DEEP: Leaders operate at all levels, stay connected to the details, audit frequently, and are skeptical when metrics and anecdote differ. No task is beneath them.]

      Like

  2. Since we can see the drop of 420,000 pages read from Aug. to Nov., and we know that some authors are affected more than others, I would like to see a breakdown of pages read by genre. I would also like to see Amazon publish this type of data monthly. To give you an idea, my page reads dropped from 175,000 in August to 39,000 in November and 5,500 in the first twelve days of December. Like you, I’ve unchecked the renewal boxes on my KU enrollments.

    Like

    • Yup, they need to be more transparent with some of their info/data. There is no way that a 13% drop in overall pages/books read over the last three months in the entire KU program can explain those kinds of decreases in your eBook catalog!

      Like

  3. CW says:

    What about the issue with the last non-page flip page read being where the total pages read for a borrow is calculated? When page flip is being used to read (as it can be on larger screens like fire, ipad, and other tablets), that “last page read” is often the first page (with all the rest read in page flip mode). People will skip around in anthologies and other collections, people may, out of habit, go back to the first page. All of these factors are lowering an author’s page count by not giving proper credit for pages actually read. At least one person on kboards has tracked, on a low page read book, their count going back to zero after a borrower tested for them by going back to page one.

    Until an Amazon rep talks about that, they aren’t talking about anything. They are just saying “there, there, we feel your pain.” I’m surprised they didn’t try to sell you more ad services or editorial, etc.

    Like

    • I asked about page-flip and the rep insisted that it’s an app that transports the reader to the eBook but doesn’t play a role in counting KENPC. But I’m not so sure this isn’t part of the problem. The timing, for one – seems to be an indicator.

      Like

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