Myths about the new Kindle Unlimited Pages Read Policy

Image from ShutterStock.

Image from ShutterStock.


First we had the Information Age. It was quickly followed by the Misinformation Age.

Here are some common myths about the change in Kindle Unlimited policy regarding pages read.

Authors of Kindle books now earn royalties based on the number of pages read.

Read that carefully. Can you spot the mistake? There is indeed a mistake. An important one.

Yet, much of the media has made this same mistake.

What’s wrong? An important clarification.

  • Royalties for sales are completely unaffected. Authors earn their usual royalties for sales, which does not depend on how much of the book is read.
  • Only royalties for borrows through Kindle Unlimited (and Amazon Prime) are affected by the change. Therefore, this only affects authors who enroll their books in KDP Select. Only 1 million of over 3 million Kindle books are affected by this change in policy (and even then, the sales of those books are not affected at all, only borrows are).

The new Kindle Unlimited pages read model favors long books.

No it doesn’t. It favors reader engagement, regardless of how long the book is.

The new Kindle Unlimited policy doesn’t pay based on the length of the book, but on how many of the pages are actually read. Hence, it favors reader engagement.

It’s simple math. Ralph writes one 200-page book. Susan writes four 50-page books.

  • When a customer reads 100% of Ralph’s book, Ralph will earn about $1.16.
  • When a customer reads 100% of Susan’s 4 books, Susan will earn about $1.16 combined.
  • Ralph and Susan wrote the same number of pages.
  • Either way, the customer read 200 pages.

In many genres, with the new policy, Susan may actually earn more money than Ralph, not the other way around.

Why? Because customers in many genres may be more likely to:

  • take a chance on a shorter book
  • read a shorter book
  • read 100% of a shorter book
  • read the next book after reading a shorter book

But there are certainly genres and audiences who favor longer books,Β  so it depends.

The new Kindle Unlimited pages read policy encourages authors to pad their books.

Like what? Adding filler? Adding back matter? Adding unnecessary images? Breaking paragraphs? Using a larger font? Adding space between paragraphs? Adding more page breaks? How about putting every word on its own line?

First of all, some of these things won’t have any impact on the KENPC, the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count. Amazon puts every book in a standard font size with standard linespacing to figure the KENPC, so writing with a larger font or adding space is foolish.

Second of all, the new program only pays for pages read. Adding pages that aren’t likely to get read is a waste of time.

Third of all, customers aren’t going to put up with nonsense. Pad your book in a way that customers don’t like and they will stop reading your book, which gives you fewer pages read, and they will post bad reviews, which gets fewer books read.

The original Kindle Unlimited policy was an invitation to abuse, hence the origin of the term ‘scamphlet.’ (I’m not referring to a quality short story as a ‘scamphlet.’ By scamphlet, I mean a short work intentionally designed to abuse the original policy.)

The new Kindle Unlimited policy is sustainable because it’s harder to abuse. And while it’s possible to think of a few ways to try to abuse the system, these would be easy to catch, and Amazon has publicly announced that a monitoring system is in place to catch potential abuse.

Paying $0.0059 per page is highway robbery.

Suppose you self-publish a 400-page novel and price it at $2.99. Your royalty will be $2.09 (maybe less because of delivery charges).

You would earn $0.0052 per page for sales. You would actually earn more per page for borrows, if the $0.0059 figure turns out to apply.

Suppose you traditionally publish a 400-page novel and the publisher prices it at $14.99. You earn a 10% royalty (or maybe it’s 8%).

You would earn $0.0037 per page for sales. The projection of $0.0059 per page for Kindle Unlimited borrows looks good in comparison.

Actually, when people project $0.0059 per page, it’s based on the KENPC (Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count). Authors are paid based on KENP Read (Kindle Edition Normalized Pages Read).

The KENPC provides a generous page count. Many books are nearly twice as long according to the KENPC as they are in print. For example, a 200-page printed novel may have a KENPC of 350 to 400 pages.

So when you factor in the KENPC and the fact that Kindle Unlimited royalties are now paid based on KENP Read, the figure of $0.0059 for KENP Read may actually translate to more than a penny per real page. It’s better than it seems.

Amazon is paying per page so that they can pay out less money.

That is patently not true right now.

The KDP Select Global Fund is set at $11M for both July and August, 2015.

That’s a record high. Amazon is paying more than ever for the first two months of the program.

Now maybe the payout will reduce in the future. Sure, that’s possible. But you can’t accuse Amazon of reducing the payout unless and until they actually do so. It hasn’t happened yet.

If you want to say that Amazon changed the program so that they can pay less, don’t make your argument while Amazon is paying more.

At least wait for it to happen first.

To be fair, all authors enrolled in KDP Select or considering signing up should be prepared for the possibility of a lower payout in the future. Preparation is wise.

The pages read model is bad for all authors.

How so?

Amazon is paying $11M for Kindle Unlimited (and Amazon Prime) borrows in July and August.

That’s the same as for June, slightly more than May, and significantly more than previous months.

What the change in policy does is redistribute the way that $11M is allocated to authors.

It isn’t changing the total payout. (At least not at this time. If it reduces in the future, then at that point in time you might have a case. But it hasn’t happened yet. Again, prepare for the possibility, but don’t make accusations until you have data to support them.)

About 50% of the books enrolled in KDP Select will benefit from the change in policy (some slightly, some substantially), while about 50% will earn lower royalties than before.

It’s certainly not bad for all authors.

Amazon is only committing $3 million to the KDP Select Global Fund.

Amazon committed $11M to the KDP Select Global Fund for July and August.

If you want to make this statement, make it about the old program, or make a prediction that it will happen again in the future, but don’t make it about the current program when the current data says otherwise.

The pages read model may be more sustainable as there is an upper limit to how many pages customers can read, whereas there was significant risk with the original program of customers blitzing through dozens of short books.

Therefore, it’s conceivable that the initial monthly commitment will go way up from the $3M of the past.

Sure, it could drop back down to $3M. But again, why not wait until it actually happens (if it does) before claiming that’s the way it is? Or at least phrase it as a prediction rather than a statement.

Books are dropping out of KDP Select like flies.

This hasn’t happened yet.

Look, you don’t have to guess about it. Just visit Amazon and check the enrollment numbers yourself and track them over time.

I’ve tracked this data, and I’ve seen very little movement overall.

The children’s category actually increased by 700 books since July 1, which surprised me. (Though a few of the subcategories have dropped a little, while others have increased. Still, I don’t see anything major yet.)

Romance dropped a little, one category in particular, but a little drop in any category isn’t a call for alarm. Authors like to write romance and the number will likely grow again once things settle down.

Maybe more books will drop out once authors have more data. It’s possible.

But there is no sign of a mas exodus from Kindle Unlimited at this point. The numbers are fairly stable.

At least wait for the data to support a significant dropout rate before claiming that there is one.

Enrolling in KDP Select ties you to one company.

It’s just a 90-day period. You’re not stuck with it forever. You aren’t marrying Amazon. (If only. Amazon, I do, I do, I do. Why won’t you propose?)

If something comes up and you want out, at worst you have to wait 90 days to get out. (Probably less unless you have really bad luck.)

And two times, Amazon has offered authors the chance to opt out without waiting. When Amazon has introduced major changes to KDP Select, Amazon has provided authors the chance to opt out immediately by email.

What if the worst happens and Amazon goes under? Well then that agreement will be meaningless and you can instantly publish elsewhere. You won’t be losing anything because you had a 90-day contract with Amazon.

It’s not like when you traditionally publish. Then, depending on the terms, you might be tied to one company for years, and might find it difficult to get the rights reverted to you later, and might find it difficult to retrieve the actual published files.

Amazon makes opting out easy. 90 days is nothing compared to what opting out usually entails in the publishing industry.

The Amazon apocalypse has finally come.

Okay, maybe this myth is true.

Run for the hills, everybody!

Maybe Jeff Bezos has made a billion clones of himself and they all turned into zombies.

The zombies are trained to only eat the flesh of people who aren’t enrolled in Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime.

At least, write a book about this. You might become a bestselling author…

(Though you might want to seek the advice of an attorney before you publish a book about Jeff Bezos or Amazon.)

Look, the bottom line is that the new Kindle Unlimited policy encourages authors to write engaging books and rewards reader engagement. Gosh, that’s such a bad thing, isn’t it?

Some truth about Kindle Unlimited.

I’m not saying that the new Kindle Unlimited policy is the best thing since the invention of the wheel.

What I am saying is that a lot of information out there just isn’t true.

To help present a fairer picture, here are some things that aren’t myths:

  • Authors of shorter books stand to earn much less for Kindle Unlimited borrows than what they have earned in the past. The cutoff is about 230 pages of KENPC. (But that’s only when you compare the past to the present. When you forget the past, the present doesn’t favor longer books. It favors reader engagement.)
  • You must agree to make the e-book edition exclusive to Amazon if you enroll in KDP Select. You must weigh the possible benefits of enrolling in KDP Select against the possible benefits of publishing with Nook, Kobo, etc. Authors can’t have it both ways (at least not at the same time: you can enjoy the benefits of Select for 90 days, opt out after 90 days, and then publish elsewhere).
  • Illustrated children’s books, photography books, and other picture-heavy books are impacted by the change. The images do count toward the page count, but the KENPC isn’t as generous with fixed layout books. For an author who invested heavily (time or money) on illustrations and can sell a short picture book for $2.99 or higher, earning around 20 to 40 cents for a borrow doesn’t make much sense compared to earning $2 or more for a sale. Perhaps Amazon will find a way to address this in the future, but illustrated authors are concerned about the change.
  • Some nonfiction books may be impacted by the change. Customers sometimes read just one or two chapters of a nonfiction book. I’m not saying Amazon has to address this. (I’m a nonfiction author, and I’m content.) But it’s something for nonfiction authors to consider.
  • Amazon sales rank favors books in Kindle Unlimited. It doesn’t necessarily give KDP Select books a direct boost, but every Kindle Unlimited borrow helps sales rank, so books not enrolled in KDP Select miss out on this potential sales rank boost, which also helps provide exposure on Amazon (for example, those borrows can help get onto customers-also-bought lists).

Write happy, be happy. πŸ™‚

Chris McMullen

CopyrightΒ Β© 2015

Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing
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  • Kindle Formatting Magic (coming soon)

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47 comments on “Myths about the new Kindle Unlimited Pages Read Policy

  1. Selection bias toward BAD news:

    Have you ever wondered why, when you get change in a store, it seems as if they’ve always cheated you?

    For the same reason, Amazon always seems to screw authors?

    BECAUSE AMAZON PAYING ITS AUTHORS WELL IS NOT NEWS. So feed the news with bad stuff only, or NO ONE WILL READ your blog post. And if you can’t find something bad that is true, MAKE SOMETHING UP.

    Humans! Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.

    The world is a more dangerous place because every single tiny bit of news that is bad from anywhere in the world (if it bleeds, it leads) will be placed in your newsfeed instantly. The ‘news’ model is seriously broken – and is being seriously scammed – by this model – and publishing is no different.

    But EDUCATED adults should be able to see through the intentional fog. Except we don’t. The constant barrage of bad news makes us all feel unsafe in our houses and neighborhoods, all the time, in SPITE of the evidence in front of our own eyes.

    It’s getting awfully tiresome.

    Keep up the good reporting, Chris – and that is an awesome graphic.

  2. Is Amazon Lying ? My post in KDP Community

    Why do they put up an Example stating that authors would get $10 if a customer reads there 100 page book (amounts to 10 CENTS a Page) .. This is very miss-leading and and Out N Out LIE … You know they have the figures. In their example they say if there’s 100,000,000 page reads and the KDP Global Fund is 10 Million Dollars that we would be getting 10 cents a page or $10 for a 100 page book completely read by a Kindle Unlimited member .. They know that the Page Reads for June were 1.9 Billion so why LIE ?

    NY NY

    • Why they use 100 million page reads and 10 cents per page is a good question.

      I do know that they posted this example two weeks before June ended. So they didn’t actually have June’s data when they created that example (June hadn’t ended yet). However, May’s data probably wasn’t that different from June, and once June ended, they could have updated the example.

      If they wanted to use round numbers, 1 billion would have been better than 100 million, leading to 1 penny per page. Still not quite right, but it would have been much more realistic.

      I don’t quite think it’s an outright ‘lie,’ since they used the word IF in their example. The purpose of the example is to illustrate how the math works, and using round numbers is best for teaching math. But the example may seem somewhat misleading if indeed they wind up paying less than 1 penny per page.

    • Hi Chris, Thanks for replying. With the Billions behind Amazon and all the tech people marketing people and everyone else, you can bet that this 100 Million figure is a LIE . You can bet money that they knew exactly what they were doing, and they didn’t want to put up the REAL FIGURE which you can bet your life on that they know (Knew). They didn’t want to scare authors so they put up misleading Figures when they knew Dam Well it was way off. Anyway, I do love Amazon, but I have not been a fan of KU from an authors standpoint . I’m a Cookbook Author and my sales have been pretty good since last September after dipping Down in July & August last year when Amazon instituted Kindle Unlimited . I’m afraid this new Page Count Payout may hurt as people don’t tend to Read Cookbooks the way you do a Novel, Biographys or other Non Fictions works. They’re not going to read my books “Cover to Cover” when they first get them.

      Love your Blog. Thanks for all the great Info.


      • Some nonfiction reference books, like cookbooks, may be influenced by the new policy. I usually try to avoid cooking at all costs, but if I buy a cookbook, the first thing I do is skim through it to check out most of the recipes, then later on I would return to those of interest. Of course, everybody has different reading habits. Good luck with your books.

  3. AND it is still a way better deal than traditional publishing of just a few years ago–or even today in some corners of the world. I think 99.9% of Amazon indie author’s problems are that they have no idea how absolutely terrible it was for a writer under the traditional publishing model.

  4. Zombie apocalypse? Well, if the zombies are gobbling up pages upon pages of good writing, because they prefer the taste of well-written books, I’m rooting for the zombies. πŸ˜€

  5. Thanks for this. We have been waffling, at least I know I have. That $0.0059 number is unappetizing but I can’t deny that KU has helped me get the book in more hands. We just have to remember that our pricepoint is the ‘buy’ number and this ‘rent’ number. To use a real estate analogy, you buy a house for $1M for it to be all yours. You don’t rent it at the buy price because it’s just ridiculous. Plus with enough renters, you very well may exceed the buy price but it will take time. So they’re renting our books for a short period. I’m not too worried about reader engagement; that’s not a problem for me thus far. I think it will definitely be interesting to see what happens but with this info, I can definitely have a more informed conversation with my publisher.
    Thanks Chris

  6. I disagree. Paying by the page does not align with reader engagement but length. A person who absolutely loves a 25 page story and reads it over and over is fuly engaged. A reader who reads fifty pages of a poorly written novel before giving up is barely engaged. Yet the bad novel earns twice as much as the great short story.

    It makes as much sense as a retail store paying Godiva very little and Quaker Oats a bundle because the canister of oatmeal provides a larger volume of food than a candy bar. You can look at the sales side and see that, by and large, those short stories are more valuable to readers than the novels – and they’re willing to pay for them.

    I suspect there was a wave of authors who opted out of Kindle Select after learning of the .005 payout. We won’t see the results of that, though, until 90 days have passed.

    • It seems that way if just comparing a short book to a long book. But it seems to reward reader engagement when I compare my writing options. Say I want to write 200 pages. Whether I write four 50-page books or one 200-page book, the royalty for the 200 pages written is the same either way, but whichever is more engaging will pay more overall. I don’t think it’s fair to compare one 50-page book to one 200-page book, as I personally would put much more work into one 200-page book.

      I don’t see that short stories are more valuable. Two-thirds of the books in KU have 100 pages or more, and most of the top sellers (overallβ€”within a few specific genres, short stories do sell better, but I’m looking overall) have closer to 300 pages. I’m not saying that short stories provide less value; I agree they provide great value to the program. But I don’t see where (looking overall) there is support that they are more valuable.

      Actually, Amazon gave authors the chance to opt out of Select immediately by email, i.e. not having to wait 90 days, and very few have opted out as of yet. The numbers are climbing. There are actually 400 more books of 11 pages or less than there were one week ago, which even I found surprising. I concede that could change, and will keep a watch on these statistics.

      • I agree that one 200 page title requires more work than one 50 page title. I’m just not sure that compensating for author effort is in the best interest of readers. Good things can come in small packages.

        I’m hearing a lot about authors losing 80% of their borrow revenue. I’m curious to hear if anybody has found himself to be a big winner. Or if any big names like JA Konrath will jump in now. (If your large novel is absolutely compelling, I’d think the difference between $1.33 and $2.00 isn’t enough to get you to join Select as it will probably sell at $9.99.)

      • There doesn’t seem to be much movement in or out at the moment, based on the numbers, though I have heard from authors doing each. Many 200-400 page print books have KENPC’s of 350-1000 pages, and stand to earn much more than $2 if the payout is anywhere near the projected $0.0058 per page. I have a nonfiction nook with a KENPC of 2000 pages, which pays me more than the monthly subscription unless the payout is much lower than expected.

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