Pay What You Owe?

June 22, 2015

Amazon quietly introduced a new “program” Kindle Unlimited Pages Read, that is billed as a response to author feedback. Specifically, there were concerns about the fairness of payment in relation to length of books and reader completion of said books. The result is a program that pays authors proportionally based on the number of pages that readers complete.

Seeing this from the reader’s perspective (I subscribe to both Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited), I do NOT approve of this program. I realize that I don’t pay any additional money to access each book under these two programs, but I find it problematic.  This new payment scheme unnecessarily penalizes authors for something not only beyond their control but also irrelevant.  When I purchase a physical copy of a book, I don’t pay the retailer for what I read. I pay for access to a full product. Whether I read it or let it sit on a shelf is not material to the transaction.  Just the same, when I purchase an e-book, I do so knowing I have full access to the book, regardless of whether I complete it or the timeline in which I do so.

This new program is meant to more equitably compensate authors, with the assumption that readers only complete good books and don’t finish bad ones. I’ve read more than my share of crappy book, simply because my conscience won’t let me put it down before finishing.  And let me tell you how many times I’ve had to step away from great books, simply because of life got in the way. I have at least 5 books in my queue right now that are great and I can’t wait to finish. The reality is that I don’t have the time to sit down and complete them all, but that doesn’t mean I think the author doesn’t deserve full compensation at my time of purchase or borrowing. The proportional payout as it relates to pages read is problematic, too.  I am a staunch believer in verbal brevity. If Amazon’s game is to pay authors based on page count, I’m sure the page numbers will tick up without literature quality increasing with it.

Amazon’s program seems to pit reader against author. I wonder how long it will take for readers to be bombarded with requests from authors to just finish the book for the sake of their compensation.  Instead of cultivating positive relationships, this will inevitably turn into a situation in which authors are forced to think of absurd ways to engage readers to the very last page, putting undue pressure on their backs.

I’m afraid a part of the question that I’m most concerned with is the pervasiveness of Amazon’s tracking of reader progress.  I’m sure permission is somewhere in the fine print, but it doesn’t sit well with me that Amazon is so attuned to the number of pages I’ve gone into a book.  I realize that the technological features of Kindle readers and software necessitate the storage and saving of this information, but it should only be at the user-level.  Amazon’s use of this data is problematic and reeks of  Big Brother. More than that, I don’t want authors being punished because I don’t swipe through to the end of a book.

I think Amazon has it all wrong with this new program. I hope they sincerely reflect on the service they offer and how they want to influence the reader-author relationship. If not, they might find they lose participation in these two programs because readers don’t want to be the reason their favorite authors can’t make a living doing what they love.

No Comments

Comments are closed.