I'm going to be writing and updating this post throughout the week-end.
*Sunday morning update at the end.
In a way, I'm writing this for myself, in an effort to understand exactly what happened, when, and how. Maybe no one else will care, but I do, for very selfish reasons. I want to be able to write and publish what I write and make enough money from it to continue.
This issue is pretty complex, and I know I've written about it before but I don't have links handy to all my posts and comments. (Will add links to my previous posts when I have time to find them.) Apparently, however, Amazon is finally trying to do something about it. This seems like a good time, therefore, to examine the whole situation. Maybe nothing can actually be done, maybe the scams will just continue, but at least we'll know what's going on.
My prior posts, related as well as sort-of related, added as I locate them:
Here's a link to David Gaughran's blog that has some of the other background information, too, on both the trademark issues going around Romancelandia and the Kindle stuffing.
If you are on Twitter, you should be able to find this thread, which gives a lot of information and has some links also. I followed Tymber and am now getting more information from others. There is also a lot of information being compiled under #GETLOUD.
Here is a sample of one apparent "stuffer."
Here are the stats on this book:
This is a screenshot of the "Look Inside" Table of Contents.
The TOC occupies several pages of the Look Inside preview, ending with this:
What this apparently means is that "Elizabeth" is the first "story" in this collection. The 15,000 word title story, "Sold," doesn't show up until the third or so page of the TOC, depending on your screen magnification. Yes, it's linked on the first page of the TOC, but that means the link takes you further into the book, which equates to more pages "read" for the Kindle Unlimited author.
So let's go to the background information, some of which I've shared before.
Kindle Unlimited is an Amazon subscription program. You pay a set fee each month and are allowed to read as many KU titles as you like. When you stop paying the subscription fee, you lose any/all KU titles. I think there's a limit to how many you can have out at a time, so when you've read one, you return it and can check out another, just like at the library.
KU books are enrolled by the authors/publishers. One requirement is that they be exclusive to Amazon, so you won't find many traditionally published ebooks on KU. Mostly it's author-published material, like my novels. As I've explained before, I never sold enough on the other platforms to bother with them; I'm happy to be just on Amazon.
When a KU book is downloaded to the subscriber's device, it shows up on the author's data as 1 page read. As the reader progresses through the book, the pages mount up. The author can keep track of her KU "sales" in almost real time. As far as I know -- and according to the screenshot further down -- the author is only paid for the first KU read by that account; you can't have Aunt Sophie read it over and over and keep getting paid, any more than you can get paid for re-reads of other books, either physical or digital.
Amazon determined that the fair way to pay authors for KU reads was to calculate a standard "page" -- called the KENPC, or Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count. They are currently on Version 3.0. This is important.
My most recently published novel, The Looking-Glass Portrait, was listed on Amazon in July 2016. It went directly to Kindle Unlimited and has never been listed anywhere else. Other than fixing a handful of typos -- think we found five altogether -- LGP has not been edited or revised in any way since July 2016.
The data hasn't changed either.
It's listed at 366 print pages; the actual trade-size print-on-demand paperback edition is 364 pages. But the critical number is the KENPC pages, which according to the publication data provided to me as the author is 637.
Previously, whether under KENP v. 2.0 or before, it was 827.
To be perfectly honest with you, there's probably a notification in one of the Kindle Direct Publishing newsletters I've received over the past year that explains this, but I haven't read them. At any rate, the current payment schedule is about $0.005 -- half a cent -- per KENPC actually read by the Kindle device. The reader herself may be just flipping pages or even using a link to get to the end of the book, but it's all about what the device records and sends back to Amazon as the furthest page read. That's how the author gets paid.
Again, to be honest with you, I earn about $2.00 for every Kindle edition of LGP sold. I earn about $3.00 for every KU edition read. As I posted on Twitter a couple of days ago, I keep the Kindle price low for those who aren't KU subscribers; I have no control over the KU price or payment. (Anything below $2.99 only earns a 35% royalty; at $2.99 I earn 70%, minus a small fee based on file size.) These numbers are set by Amazon, so they're the same for all self-publishing Kindle authors and Kindle Unlimited enrollees.
Please note the comparison:
LGP with a file size of 1985kb generates 366 print pages. Davinski's Sold is shown as 1850kb, but 1947 pages. What I don't know, obviously, is the KENPC on Davinski's book. As far as I know, that information is only available to the author/publisher. Here's the information on LGP, which shows that the KU rate is paid "the first time" the subscriber reads it.
Recently -- though I don't know exactly how recently -- Amazon decided to try to put a stop to this book "stuffing," which is the bundling together of various texts into a huge file, selling it at a low price but offering it on KU to get the payment for page reads. (Screen shot doesn't capture it all, so I'm doing just a text cut and paste.)
If you choose to include bonus content (e.g., other stories, or previews of other books that are not part of your book’s title), it should be relevant to the customer and should not disrupt the reading experience. To meet these guidelines, we require placing additional content at the end of the book, and listing the bonus content in your book's table of contents.
To provide an optimal customer experience, bonus content should make up no more than around 10% of your book. If you would like to include multiple stories within your book, consider creating a collection of works. When selecting your book’s title, always make sure to follow the Metadata Guidelines
Primary and bonus content must meet all program guidelines (e.g., bonus content in KDP Select titles must be exclusive
). Translated content must be high quality and not machine generated. Disruptive links
and promises of gifts or rewards are never allowed.
In other words, If you have a 15,000 word novella titled "Sold," you can't have 250,000 other words in short stories, novellas, vignettes, poems, or recipes to pad out the rest of the book. You could, I'm guessing, have a collection or anthology titled "Sold" and include a bunch of stories, novellas, poems, and even recipes, provided you made clear that it was in fact a collection. Even so, all of the material -- with certain exceptions -- has to be Kindle Select eligible. That means all of it has to be exclusive to Amazon, not published or available elsewhere. ("Kindle Select" means it's exclusive to Amazon; "Kindle Unlimited" means it's available for the subscription lending.)
She encourages readers to "get loud" and complain to Amazon if they encounter "stuffed" KU titles. There are several problems with this.
1. Most KU subscribers don't know stuffing is against the rules.
2. Most KU subscribers don't care that it's against the rules. They pay $10/month for unlimited reading, so if they get a dud once in a while, who cares?
3. Most KU subscribers don't care enough to take the time to collect the details necessary to report rule breakers.
4. Most KU subscribers are not directly affected by the stuffing.
Authors, on the other hand, are directly affected. As I posted above, my book has already been downgraded from 827 pages to 637, which cuts my KU royalty by almost $1.00 per book read. But when a scammer/stuffer book earns $15.00 or more for bogus bonus content, that's $15.00 taken out of the "pool" that Amazon sets aside for distribution.
Each month, Amazon determines how much will go into the KU fund. (This pool also includes funds for the Kindle Owners Lending Library, KOLL, which is part of the Prime package.) That total fund is then divided amongst all the pages read in the KU and KOLL programs. If a scammer/stuffer book is recorded as 1947 KENP, but mine is only 637, that author takes three times as much out of the pool for bogus content than I get for legitimate content.
If all the scammers and stuffers were prevented from cashing in on their scams, maybe the legitimate KU authors could make a little more and thus write a little more.
As I documented in this particular post
, it's very possible that some of the scammers could be earning $40.00, $50,00, or more per book
when the author of a legitimate book earns $3.00 or $4.00. However, as I've continued to research for this post, apparently there's basically a topping out point. Amazon now limits an individual title to 3000 KENP, or approximately $15.00 per book. From a very long Kboards discussion here in April,
there is some support among writers to drop the limit to 1000 pages, thus hindering the stuffers. Again, the more I research this, the more research I need to do. As one author posted in that thread, 200,000 words equated to approximately 1,100 KENP in April
. If those figures were accurate, then my LGP at 144,000 words would have come in at approximately 800 KENP, which is what it used to be (827). So, has the rate changed? I don't know.
More research needed.
Ultimately, we authors can't do much about any of it. Most of the scamming/stuffing is in the romance and erotica categories, and authors can't provide negative reviews of other books in their own genre. We risk having our Amazon privileges revoked, including the ability to publish via Kindle. Even if we don't review but only report suspected scammers, we have no way of knowing if that does any good -- there is no feedback -- and we don't have any way of knowing if even reporting can get us in trouble.
Amazon has also started a program of blocking users who have too many returns, but no one seems to know how many is "too many" (or whether there are different standards for other merchandise versus Kindle books). So a reader who returns a purchased -- rather than KU borrowed -- book that's been stuffed could be at risk of banning, and therefore hesitate to say anything.
As I said, it's a complex issue. The writers are hurt, and they have the least capability to defend themselves.
Obviously, I've called out a few here on BookLikes, but this platform is far too small to make a difference.
Monetarily, how have the Amazon changes affected the authors? This is crucial as well, because with the Kindle Select program, which is what permits an author even to enroll a book in KU, the author has no control over the pricing. Amazon determines the monthly fund and the amount that will go to each KENP read. (There are some who believe the fund amount is actually determined by the number of pages read and that the per page rate is what they play around with.)
As I did further research,
I learned that the formula for determining the KENP of an individual book was recalculated in January 2016, to KENPC v2.0. The Looking-Glass Portrait
was published in July 2016, so would have fallen under that calculation.
The formula changed again in August 2017, to KENPC v3.0, supposedly to help reduce scamming/stuffing. What little reporting I've had time to read so far doesn't show much of a decline in the number of KENP per book, so it's possible my own figures are incorrect. I will continue to research.
*Sunday morning update
Readers are now chiming in at #getloud that the stuffers have chased off new writers thus depriving readers of new material. Not that the scammers/stuffers care, since they are taking in big $$$.
I'm not sure how much research I can do today, and my own real work awaits as well. (Rock tumblers need changing, and plants need watering. Dusting? Cleaning? Are you kidding?) But I will keep you all posted.