Over the past decade, Amazon Kindle has become the de facto standard for ebooks. The customer wins because they can read great books at bargain prices, and they don’t need the physical space to store them. Authors, however, don’t necessarily win. Authors often have to spend all their book profits on marketing just to get a few reviews. Many unscrupulous authors also game the Kindle Unlimited system to the detriment of honest authors. The system can be fixed, though.
Fixing the Reviews System
Customers depend on Amazon’s review system to make decisions about what to buy. Authors know this and they try hard to get as many reviews for their books as possible. But the truth is, few customers ever leave reviews on the products they buy. Of the reviews that are left, many of them are fake reviews. They are reviews left by people who never purchased the product, competitors, and internet trolls.
Amazon can fix the reviews system with two simple tweaks:
- Only let verified purchasers leave a review. Right now, you don’t have to buy a product to leave a review for it. Your competitors can leave 1-star reviews on all your products and there is nothing you can do about it. Furthermore, Amazon customers have grown accustomed to shunning any product with less than a 4-star review. It takes three 5-star reviews to bring one 1-star review back up to a 4-star rating.
- Offer a small incentive to leave reviews. I think all it would take is a $0.05 reward that can be used towards digital purchases for each review a customer leaves. Most people just need that tiny push to persuade them to leave a review. Amazon loses almost nothing. I think most authors would even be happy to absorb the small cost for getting more reviews.
Fixing the Kindle Unlimited Payout System
Amazon is pushing customers toward an ebook subscription model called Kindle Unlimited (KU). Authors can join KU if they agree to sell their book exclusively on Amazon. Readers enrolled in KU pay a monthly fee for unlimited access to any book in KU. It’s a very smart system for Amazon that is similar to what Netflix does for movies. The ebooks you find on KU are only available on KU. However, the system for paying authors for books on KU is not so smart.
Amazon pays authors by Kindle Edition Normalized Pages (KENP). KENP is basically the same as “pages read.” But they measure pages read by the furthest a reader goes in a book. So if a reader downloads a 300-page book on KU, then immediately flips to the back of book, Amazon will pay the author for 300 pages read. Amazon sets aside a “pot” of money each month to distribute evenly between all KU pages read. That means if the month’s pot is 1 million dollars and 200 million pages were read by everyone on KU, authors will make about half a cent for each page read.
Obviously, people can game this system. And people do. All you have to do is upload a 1,000 page book to KU, then trick or entice readers to skip to the back. When they do, it’s an instant $5 profit to the author. And since the payout depends on a pot of money, all the honest authors get paid less.
So how can we fix this system? Easy. Ditch the KENP “pages read” system. Instead, measure how much time readers spend reading each particular book. So instead of paying authors by “pages read,” pay them by “minutes read.” As a former software developer, I would guess that such a system would be fairly simple to implement. It can be as simple as measuring the amount of time a book is open in the Kindle reader. It would make it a lot more difficult and time-consuming to game the system.