While I’ve not been directly impacted by this recent crackdown of Amazon’s on what they deem suspicious page reads (in the Kindle Unlimited programme), I have watched with interest how authors I know have been affected.
Kindle Unlimited has worked for me in the past. I regularly pay for Freebooksy features and through Freebooksy, my ROI has been 300%-400% on good days. For me, this was a revelation when I first discovered it and because my books were in Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s algorithms were triggered and my KU page reads were always boosted as a result. I have found that running regular freebie promotions for first books in a series has been the most reliable method of book marketing I have ever used. This, coupled with good covers, good content inside my books, plus characters you want to continue reading about for 2 books or more, has worked for me.
Back when I first published novels in 2012, I would put books on sale or free – and using Facebook and Twitter alone – I would always manage 2,000-3,000 free downloads during the period of one promotion (the most consecutive free days you can do in a row with KDP select is five, and I would normally do a promo lasting 2-3 days). Nowadays, I would never get that many downloads for a free promotion without using email marketing (newsletters to my personal mailing list, or Mailchimp promos; Freebooksy emails; Bookbub; or other sites like these). Without boosting posts on your Facebook pages, audience reach is very, very small these days, unlike back in 2012 when I had maybe 1,000 page likes and I’d still generate 2,000 free downloads with little effort at all.
For some of us who’ve been doing this a long time, it feels like our ability to speak to our readers is being crushed and squeezed, bit by bit, unless we bury ourselves away in private FB groups or try to use other emerging social media platforms. It is a challenging time to achieve discoverability, to say the least.
Book marketing is evolving, ALL THE TIME. I’ve monitored it for six years and the pendulum swings from one end of the spectrum to the other, depending upon the day itself. For me personally, I’ve found that the sweet spot when paid promotion really works is either in the holidays when everyone is loading their kindles ready for a foreign trip or time off work, or around Christmas when everyone has a bunch of gift cards to spend. I have yet to try AMS ads, but given that my books are often heavily erotic, this explains why.
Kindle Unlimited is designed to give hungry readers access to as many books as they like. Readers who read 4-5 books a week or more are significantly better off if they subscribe to KU because they pay one fee and get all these books for that one set fee. You can take a max of 10 titles out at once and then return them once they’re read, then “borrow” more after that. Amazon has opened their own digital library and given readers the keys to the kingdom for a reasonable price. It seems like nobody has anything to lose, right?
Honest authors are losing out, and they are losing BIG TIME. Not because of readers, who legitimately pay their KU subscription and legitimately read books, but because of click farms and book stuffers and other nefarious people out there who have concocted ways of abusing the KU programme and consistently make money from fake pages read. FYI for people not in the know: KU allows customers to read as many KU books as they like, and authors submit their book into the KU programme (which requires exclusivity), then the author gets paid X-amount per page read. If the customer reads all of your book and not just part of it, then obviously you’ll get paid more. Legitimate authors are losing money day after day after day… and as I mentioned before, I have not been directly impacted by page scammers… but I have heard what is going on…
My longest novel, Unbind is over 150,000 words long and when it was in KU, it made good page reads because of its length (777 pages in terms of Kindle Pages) – but unless your books are really long, you’re not going to make that much money from page reads. It’s all relative. Which is why certain dodgy authors are book stuffing, the practice of advertising ONE book, but then hiding quite a bit more material at the back of the book from other titles, or as some are labelling it, “bonus material”. I’ve seen recently that people have started pointing out that bonus material shouldn’t exceed the 10% “extra content” guideline that Amazon recommends you include. Maybe this is starting to be rolled out, but I don’t know. Some of these book stuffers, I am led to believe, have been including links inside their e-books which encourage readers to skip all this extraneous matter, and thus the guilty authors receive royalties for those “page reads” which are not legitimate. Therefore, when Amazon is dividing the KU pot out at the end of every sales period, book stuffers are being awarded a certain % of “sales” while legit authors who’ve had real readers reading each page legitimately are robbed of their rightful % of the pot because these book stuffers are nicking fake pages read. (Does that make sense? It doesn’t to me…) All this, quite frankly, makes a mockery of Amazon’s technology – and the authors who opt in to KU in good faith, only to be shafted, whether they know it or not.
We haven’t even got started on click farms yet (dodgy websites or whatever they are), which dodgy authors employ to download their books through KU, skip to the end, and therefore earn them money for not even reading a book. They just skip to the end and Amazon still registers it as “pages read”.
I have been told of instances where authors have released a new book which has done well, only to be told their KU reads were suspicious and that Amazon won’t be paying them for any of those pages read, most of which were legitimate. The rest weren’t legitimate because click farms have started targeting honest, hard-working authors in a bid to confuse Amazon even more – making it more difficult to differentiate between ruthless money grabbers and genuine authors.
For a while now, I have been pulling my books out of Kindle Unlimited for marketing reasons. A lot of my books were in Kindle Unlimited for ages and I judged that it was time to take them wide and gain success elsewhere. And they have – they have gained success in different markets, elsewhere. In some cases (because I am a multi-genre author) some of my books have done better on iBooks, B&N and Kobo, than they ever did on Amazon. Maybe there’s no logic to that. As I said, everything is dependent on the mood of the day/week/month/year/season.
For all these reasons above, whenever I come to publish a brand-new title in future, I will not be clicking the “Enroll in KDP Select” box in the same automatic way that I used to. Nope.
Integrity and enjoyment of what I am doing is paramount for me. I do not enjoy seeing innocent people robbed of their hard-earned monies because of criminals abusing the Kindle Unlimited Programme. I do not enjoy Amazon accusing innocent authors of malpractice and not giving them a chance to fight their corner. It is my understanding that Amazon have been rather hard-line on this and once they’ve decided your “page reads” were gained illegally, they won’t be paying you for those page reads that were REAL, i.e. from regular, hardcore fans you’ve had for years in some cases. This is because they don’t have the means to find out which page reads were authentic, and which were from click farms. The only way they have been handling this is to discredit all the page reads of authors/books which have suddenly dropped onto their radar as suspicious – even if the author has appealed and tried to fight back.
While these injustices continue – book stuffing, click farms, authors being stripped of royalties, not to mention books being taken down from Amazon randomly, sometimes without warning – my choice will be to take my books wide and take my chances in the broader marketplace.
True fans and readers will read your book if they really want to, no matter how you are selling it. Many readers don’t like KU because once you return a book, that’s it. You can’t keep it forever like you can if you buy a book outright. KU doesn’t work for my reading preferences. That’s just me. I prefer paperbacks, but I also don’t read enough books that are in KU to warrant me paying the monthly subscription. Those are just my personal habits.
Amazon’s algorithms favour books in Kindle Unlimited. They promote those more than they promote non-KU books (check the top #100 charts). As an author, pulling your books out of KU is a difficult call to make if you’re not yet where you want to be in terms of sales and discoverability, because Amazon is where many have started off, been discovered and gone on to do a lot bigger, better things with different publishers. Also, for many authors (particularly the KU All Stars), let’s face it – their page reads are their bread and butter, and Amazon has been good for them. But even they are now finding themselves coming up against more and more restrictions, for instance in the way that Amazon allows blogger/critical reviews to be added on release day. Instead of allowing them to pour in like they used to, reviews are now heavily monitored and restricted. What other new rules is Amazon going to impose in the future? Will these restrictions protect Amazon, the reader or the marketplace as a whole? I think, to be honest, Amazon is like the proverbial headless chicken right now, desperately scrambling about – seeking a way of controlling this huge monster they have created with Kindle Direct Publishing, whereby books written by “ghost writers” available for hire on Fiverr are written and uploaded within a day – and still, no matter the tripe within, these titles make 1000s of dollars, no matter how badly written they are, because there are disingenuous “authors” out there who’ve figured out ways of manipulating the system.
It’s the enablers… always the enablers.
So while the possibility exists that even if I release a book in the correct way and gain loads of legitimate page reads in the first week(s) of release, only to be told that I may lose all that money generated from page reads because illicit activity has been detected – I will therefore choose not to opt my books in Kindle Unlimited. I would rather earn NO MONEY from pages read, than earn money which also comes with the risk of maybe being told I will have all my hard work stolen from me – and there’s absolutely nothing I can do.
Until Amazon finds a way to protect the 100% innocent authors in all this, I encourage fellow KU authors to seriously consider whether voting with their feet is the only way to make Amazon realise that there are innocent authors who are the victims of other people’s abuses – and despite how much they’ve made for Amazon in the past – these authors are faced with a non-negotiable stance on an issue which, so far, Amazon seems to have handled poorly.
My bottom line is this: I want to sell my books on a platform where I, and my books, have value, and I won’t give away exclusivity for anything less. While I personally have had no bad dealings with Amazon, I fear that if ever I were to have massive sales with them, I would suddenly come under scrutiny and they would probably have something to say about that. That’s how it feels right now. A culture of mistrust, doubt and suspicion is spreading, all because there are problems in the way Kindle Unlimited page reads are monitored…. #NotTheAuthorsFault