Wednesday, 19 November 2014

I've been selfish, arrogant, and maybe even wrong...

I've recently done something I always strive not to do...I've been selfish. And I've also been arrogant. I recently posted my reservations about Kindle Unlimited and instead of looking into the matter properly and trying to make a balanced argument, I assumed that how I felt was correct and that everyone else would feel the same way. Turns out that not everybody does feel the same. In the last 48 hours I have heard differing opinions and would like to amend my previous statement. While for the most part my opinion is the same, I have become aware of some things that I would like to address. Again, feel free to rip me apart if I'm talking rubbish.

The first thing I would like to say about my previous post is that I in no way intended to lump short story writers in with 'scammers', I realise that when I wrote the article (in an emotional state) I didn't look at the situation from all sides and I ended up making it seem like I see short stories as somehow unworthy. I do not. Short stories are as valid as any novel and I do not wish to see their earning potential taken away. However, I do maintain that they hold less intrinsic value than a novel. Now, many people will shout at me now, saying things like: 'I've read some short stories far better than some novels I've read. Short stories are a valid art form. I work just as hard on my short stories as any novel.' These arguments are all subjective. Quality is not part of the argument I am making here. If a short story or novel is good or bad will be determined by reviews, word-of-mouth, sales ranking etc; therefore the argument here needs to be about what the fundamental differences between novels and short stories are. One is short and one is long. Both are the same medium that provide the same type of entertainment. But one is short and one is long. Let's assume that all short stories and all novels are perfect masterpieces with ultimate enjoyment factor. The short story entertains a person fully for one hour. The novel entertains a person for 10 hours. Which is worth more? To make an analogy: a starter is just as delicious as the main meal but costs less. Why? Because it is smaller. It isn't worse quality--it is just as delicious--but it is smaller. The amount you pay for a starter is less than the main meal (in most cases) for no other reason that there is less of it. Taking quality out of the equation and thinking only about what the two types of writing fundamentally are, a short story is just as enjoyable as a novel, but there is less of it. Thus, it is worth less.

One of the problems I have with Kindle Unlimited can be explained thus: My novel 'Ravage' is 100k words long. It counts as one title in Kindle Unlimited. If I were to cut Ravage up into ten chunks of 10k words and release them all separately, I would have ten eligible title entries in Kindle Unlimited. Who does this help? My readers wouldn't benefit from a choppy, cut-up novel. I wouldn't enjoy having to slice up all my work into segments, knowing that the power of my stories would be diluted. Other authors don't benefit as me doing that would force them to do the same to their novels.

Furthermore, the current system forces authors to write for an economic framework instead of for their fans. One of the beauties of Kindle was it allowed authors to write whatever the hell they wanted and find an audience for it. This was one of the benefits over traditional publishing which ignored anything that wasn't part of their normal gamut (mainly autobiographies and whatever is 'hot' during that 15 minutes). Authors are now being nudged to write short, serialised work, not because they or readers want it, but because that is the best way for them to make money. I fear it will lead to a very stunted catalogue of titles. I'm an avid reader too and I don't like to read short works. I want long novels, but the number of these is in danger of reducing.

My next point is that most short stories are priced at 99c. Most novels are above $2.99. The authors and readers have already decided that there is a difference in value (if not then why are novels and short stories not priced identically on the open market?). If the novel is worth more on the open market, then why is it valued equally to a novel when sold within Kindle Unlimited?

Again, taking quality out of it, I take on average 3 months to write a full length novel (working 30 hour weeks), whereas a short story might only take me 3 days. My writing is the same quality for both, but one took a great deal more manhours to complete--which makes it intrinsically more valuable. I expect a higher compensation for the novel because it required much longer to create. I would have to pay a decorator more to paint my entire house than just one room, because it requires more manpower. Doesn't mean his painting of that one room was any different to when he did the entire house, he just did more of it.

Now, these are just my opinions, and if I suddenly find out that even 60% of people disagree with me, I will shut up. I embrace whatever suits the majority, even if I am not a part of it. If I suddenly find out that Kindle Unlimited suits 90% of authors than I will no longer complain. The reason I am complaining now is because I feel it is hurting the majority. Now, I have had people tell me that I am just whining and that Amazon can do whatever it wants. If I don't like it then just leave, sell my books elsewhere. Of course Amazon can do whatever they want. Doesn't mean we have to embrace bad decisions, though. Look what happened with Microsoft when they launched the Xbox One. It had all kinds of features that people hated (always online, DRM, no pre-owned sales, mandatory Kinect use). Now, Microsoft could have gone: 'we're a free company, we'll do whatever we want. You don't like it, buy a Playstation (many did)'. No, they did a complete 180 on many of the things consumers didn't like. People complaining changed the product. Amazon can do whatever it wants, but it's up to us if we let them succeed. We always look at Amazon and say 'well, they have all the power,' but they do not. We have all the power as consumers, authors, and suppliers. We helped grow Amazon because we decided we like to use them. If tomorrow we all stopped using Amazon, the company would go away. We have the right to complain and our opinions do matter.

I don't feel like Amazon owes me a living or that I am entitled to anything, but when I have worked hard for 4 years to play by the rules and give readers what they want, do I not have the right to feel aggrieved when everything changes on a whim? I hate to complain, because I am so lucky to do what I do. I feel lucky and that I have no right to whine, but then I look at my son and my wife and I want more. I want to be as successful as I can be. I don't want to just sit back and let money be taken out of my pocket. I want a great life for my son and wife and that is what I am fighting for. If that makes me come of as entitled then I am sorry. I'm just trying to do my best for the people I care about.

Anyway, my point is, I am not against short stories.  I value them and understand their worth. I just feel that authors do a job like anyone else and their compensation should be equal to their work. I have written 13 full length novels, but suddenly the market has shifted out of my favour to benefit shorter works. If that is what people want (and feel free to tell me) then so be it, but if readers still want full length novels, then why am I being penalised for giving them what they want?

Overall, Kindle Unlimited frightens me because of what it represents. For the last few years, Amazon has been conditioning us to demand fair pay for our work and to charge whatever we think it is worth. The pricing decisions have belonged to the author. Inside Kindle Unlimited, Amazon is deciding at the end of each month how much they think our work is worth. One month they decide to put 3million into the pot that values our work (all placed into a homogeneous lump) at $1 a title. The next it may put 10million into the pot and value our work at $3 a title. Why should Amazon ever be in a position where it tells us what our work is worth? Wasn't that the problem with the old publishing industry? The old system of sales was fair, because good books rose to the top via reviews, rankings, etc. A good book could charge more and people would pay it because reviews and word of mouth said it was worth the money. A good short story could charge more, too, if it was noteworthy. This new system lumps everything together and takes away individual success. It doesn't matter how good a book is, it will make the same as a 20 page leaflet that's been cut and pasted from Wikipedia. A bestseller, no matter the length is destined to earn $1.33 a download. Why? Because Amazon are decided that that is how much they want to pay. It also means none of us have any idea what we are earning each month, which makes it harder to manage our lives.

Now, my hope is that Amazon have launched KU with the best of intention. They may be aware of these issue and already working on them. They may still care a great deal about the welfare of authors and these problems will be corrected. We will just have to wait and see. But if Kindle Unlimited continues to get worse, then we all need to think seriously about what we are supporting here. Our livelihoods depend on it.

I have seen many suggestions from people far smarter to me on how to fix things and I just hope Amazon is paying attention. I have seen a payment tier suggested that would account for title length. I have heard calls for Amazon 'curators' to get rid of spam. Someone said a short story should count as one entry in KU whereas a novel should count as 2. I do not know which answer would suit the most amount of people. What I would like to see myself is a royalty commitment from Amazon (ideally a minimum $2 per download, although I would probably accept $1.50 if I had assurances it would go no lower). We need to know what we are earning month to month. Currently all we have been sure of is that the royalty amount will drop each month, and that is what has happened. What id that continues. What if we suddenly find KU paying the same rates Spotify pays for music downloads (0.006c). Would any author reading this be happy with that?

Monday, 17 November 2014

My letter to KDP executives concerning Kindle Unlimited...

For the first time since becoming a full-time writer, I have begun to see my sales drop below previous years (basically my sales are now going down year by year instead of up). This shouldn't happen as I have more books out and more fans. I am keeping my part of the deal by regularly releasing new books that people enjoy, so my earnings really should not be going down (they should, in a perfect world, go up). The slump began for me with the advent of Kindle Unlimited. My books were automatically entered into this 'Netflix for books' scheme and I at first had no problem with it as I trust Amazon a great deal and have always been treated fairly by them. However, in the last 3 months I have watched the average royalty drop from over $2 to $1.33. If the trend continues then my full-length novels will soon be making me less than a $1 per sale (I then lose even more money on the exchange rate which is very poor once Amazon's bank take their cut). Rather than do nothing, I have forwarded my concerns to a contact I have on the KDP UK team. The letter is below and hopefully it will get taken seriously as I feel confident that I am speaking on behalf on many many panicking authors.

Please leave your comments below so that I have evidence that my concerns are representative of others (I know my contact checks my blog and will see your comments).

Hi "my contact at Amazon":

I’m really disappointed and let down by Amazon. About 50% of my traditional sales (which make me roughly £2 a sale) have migrated to Kindle Unlimited (which last month made me 80p per sale). Amazon is steering the business in its own favour and trying to create a 'Spotify for books'. Incidentally, Spotify artists make roughly 0.0006 per listen (should we be preparing to expect the same type of renumeration). The last three months I am 30% down on last year, which is crazy considering I have more books available, more fans, more platforms (ACX etc). I should be growing, not shrinking.  Prior to Kindle Unlimited, I was beating last year’s figures every single month without fail (which should be the case as I continue releasing books and growing my fanbase). Now I am going backwards, earning less and less despite releasing new work.

The main problem with the Kindle Unlimited program is that it is penalising authors who write decent, novel-length work. I know a few a authors who write nothing but shorts and are benefitting because they are are getting $1.33 for titles they sell at 99c! This doesn’t seem sustainable to me. Amazon obviously want the price point to be between $2.99 and $9.99 (as they apply the 70% royalty rate to this range), so why are they making Kindle Unlimited more appealing to authors who write cheap, short books while penalising those such as myself who take a long time writing decent books with professional artwork and editing. Amazon is incentivising the wrong section of it’s author-base. It is endorsing cheap, throwaway fiction. Authors who write and release books at $2.99 “Which is what Amazon want) expect a royalty of $2, but as their sales are being eaten up by KU, they are receiving only $1.33. It is even worse for authors, such as myself, who were selling well at $3.99 and higher.

Here is an example of the problem.

This person has spammed Amazon with hundreds of 20-page leaflets (check the samples and you’ll see they barely even qualify as that) under several pen names. He is benefitting more by doing this than I am by taking my time and releasing good work and growing a readership (I’m being penalised for being a professional). This is crazy. How can Amazon give money to people doing this at the expense of its loyal authors who have supported the platform for years.

My earnings have plummeted since KU came out and I have seen droves of authors saying the same (the only exception is the prolific short story writers). Many have decided to pull their books already from Select after watching the royalty slowly dwindle from $2.20 to the latest low of $1.33. I am considering doing the same. I have been exclusive to Amazon for 4 years, but I am for the first time considering taking my work to other platforms as the benefits to being a member of Select are no longer existent. I’m really upset that my livelihood, after having worked so hard, is starting to dwindle away in favour of those looking to make a quick buck. I have been a massive advocate of KDP and have steered dozens of authors in your direction, but I feel suddenly that Amazon doesn’t care less about me.

Rather than just complain, I would at least like to say something constructive. I believe Amazon needs to do 1 of 2 things. Either commit to a $2 payout per borrow via KU, or introduce a minimum word count of 20,000 words (although I would prefer to see it at 40,000). This would immediately eliminate these ‘spam titles’ and ensure that the royalty pot is shared only with deserving authors. The pot is going to dilute even further with the introduction of the foreign platforms, so I dread to think how low the royalty will go. If authors have any sense they will remove their books as this entire scheme seems designed to help Amazon at the expense of the authors who have helped it build the superiority it currently has.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

The Second Captive

My good friend Maggie James has released her latest novel at only 99p/99c. She's a great writer so grab a copy while you can.  Here is the description:

"Stockholm syndrome: the psychological tendency of a hostage to bond with his or her captor.

What happens when you love the man you should hate?

Beth Sutton is eighteen years old when Dominic Perdue abducts her. Held prisoner in a basement, she’s dependent upon him for food, clothes, her very existence. As the months pass, her hatred towards him changes to compassion. Beth never allows herself to forget, however, that her captor has killed another woman. She has evidence to prove it, not to mention Dominic’s own admission of murder.

Then Beth escapes…

And discovers Dominic Perdue is not a man who lets go easily. Meanwhile, despite being reunited with her family, she spirals into self-destructive behaviour. Release from her prison isn’t enough, it seems. Can Beth also break free from the clutches of Stockholm syndrome?

A study of emotional dependency, The Second Captive examines how love can assume strange guises."

You can buy the book here:  UK    US

You can visit Maggie's Official Website at: