What if we lived in a world where authors earned royalties not based on how many books they sell, but on how many pages we read? The idea, which would have been preposterous 10 years ago, is not only possible with modern technology, it’s something Amazon will be test driving this summer.
Beginning on July 1st, authors who self-publish through Amazon Kindle’s Direct Publishing Programme will become part of a new publishing experiment. Currently, Amazon divvies up a pot of money to its native authors each month, based on the number of times their e-Books are “borrowed” through two separate Kindle services: Kindle Unlimited, a standalone, £7.99 / month subscription service, and the Kindle Lending Library, an Amazon Prime membership perk. In the new scheme, authors will be paid for each page that remains on the screen long enough to be parsed, the first time a customer reads the book.
What this system will essentially do is reward authors who write cliffhangers and page-turners; books that can keep the reader hooked. As The Atlantic explains, the payment scheme will also help neutralise the sentiment among authors of longer books that they’re being shortchanged:
Amazon’s letter to writers who publish through its Kindle Select program explained that the formula was changing because of a concern “that paying the same for all books regardless of length may not provide a strong enough alignment between the interests of authors and readers.” Amazon is being clever: While the authors of big, long, and important books felt that they were shortchanged by a pay-by-the-borrow formula, they probably didn’t expect that Amazon would take their proposal a step further. Instead of paying the most ambitious, long-winded authors for each page written, Amazon will pay them for each page read.
Book length is still going to matter under the new system, but in a slightly more nuanced way. On the one hand, authors will have more incentive than ever to keep their work from growing tediously (an unreadably) long. But on the other, the author of an action-packed, 100 page novella might stand to earn more if he can stretch his book out without letting the pace suffer.
One way or another, it seems, some authors are about to bid farewell to the old publishing saying “It doesn’t matter how many people read your book, only how many buy it.”
Top image: Zhao / Flickr