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  • [Reality Check] – Amazon’s Kindle Lending: Pennies or Progress? by Jim Brown
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[Reality Check] – Amazon’s Kindle Lending: Pennies or Progress? by Jim Brown
Written by
Zetta Brown
July 2015
Written by
Zetta Brown
July 2015

Could the days of making big (if not easy) money selling your ebooks through Amazon be over? 

If you have ebooks on sale through Amazon and participate in Kindle Unlimited  and/or the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, chances are you have become aware of the change with regard to your Kindle royalties.

If you are starting out and considering whether or not you want to participate in Amazon's Kindle Unlimited and/or the Kindle Owners' Lending Library, this is for you too.

This week on [REALITY CHECK], Jim Brown offers some background on and insight into Amazon's latest game-changing strategy, and it is something you need to understand because it could affect the way you publish through Amazon--if you do so at all.


Amazon’s Kindle Lending: Pennies or Progress?
By Jim Brown


It’s not unusual to find myself back on the subject of Amazon. After all, they are currently the big player in the publishing world, so it’s kind of hard to get away from them. I’m neither a supporter or a detractor of Amazon. I see myself as a commentator on what I see happening in the publishing world, and believe you me this is a world that will never return to its old ways. Amazon saw to that with some sweeping developments in the way books are published, both print and digital. Let’s face it, overall it’s a good thing— it has to be. Sure, there will be issues along the way. Amazon will try to corner as much of the market as possible (hey, they’re a business, and that’s business), and competitors and the government will do their best to keep it an open, free, market—as it should be.

Publishing had been stuck in the old, Depression-era methods for FAR too long, whereby publishers of books essentially stocked the bookstores for free because bookstores could return unsold books, often in huge quantities, long after they ordered them. Brick-and-mortar stores resist change and stick to the old ways when print-on-demand is the way forward if they wish to survive alongside, let alone compete with, Amazon.

Amazon has helped change the publishing industry by allowing authors and small publishers to publish books easily and quickly. The drawbacks include a huge influx of lazy authors and publishers who don’t take the time to make a quality product with proper editing, proofing, and artwork. They will suffer and fall off the bandwagon first. So, while there are essentially more books out there than readers, take heart from the prospect of still being in the game if you are producing a quality product.

But I shan’t digress too much, because it’s Amazon time. One of their latest moves is to change the way authors/publishers are paid via the KOLL (Kindle Owners' Lending Library) and Kindle Unlimited. These two opt-in features are part of Amazon’s Kindle Select publishing program, which is aimed more at self-published authors but is also utilized by some independent publishers. Initially, participants were paid per title read, so long as a certain (smallish) percent was read. However, and in some ways it’s fair play to Amazon for listening, authors/publishers complained because that meant a short story would earn as much as a novel. So on July 1, 2015, Amazon’s new payment model went into effect. Now, Amazon will pay on how much of the book is read as determined by their method, KENPC.

How KENPC works:

“To determine a book's page count in a way that works across genres and devices, we've developed the Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count (KENPC). We calculate KENPC based on standard settings (e.g. font, line height, line spacing, etc.), and we use KENPC to measure the number of pages customers read in your book, starting with the Start Reading Location (SRL) to the end of your book. Amazon typically sets SRL at chapter 1 so readers can start reading the core content of your book as soon as they open it.

This standardized approach allows us to identify pages in a way that works across genres and devices. Non-text elements within books including images, charts and graphs will count toward a book’s KENPC.”

How the new Kindle Unlimited payment method works:

Here are some examples of how it would work if the fund was $10M and 100,000,000 total pages were read in the month:

  • The author of a 100 page book that was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).
  • The author of a 200 page book that was borrowed and read completely 100 times would earn $2,000 ($10 million multiplied by 20,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).
  • The author of a 200 page book that was borrowed 100 times but only read half way through on average would earn $1,000 ($10 million multiplied by 10,000 pages for this author divided by 100,000,000 total pages).”

Is this fair? There has been a revolt against this new method by some authors already, especially those who believe that authors of short stories and children’s books will earn a fraction of a cent per download/lend.

I’ll be honest. My first thoughts in reaction to this were negative. Let’s face it, when businesses change things like how and what they pay people, it’s got to be something in their favor. Like I said, that’s just business, and it’s tough to make comment on a direct comparison of the old and new methods because Amazon is in control of the total amount of money set aside each month for Kindle Select purposes. But let’s look beyond the basic payment model and try to see the implications.

Note the last part of the KENPC explanation:

Non-text elements within books including images, charts and graphs will count toward a book’s KENPC.”

Interesting. Because if a book had numerous large images in the book, they would count as a “page-read.”

Also note that the very idea of wanting your readers to read more of your book, so as to give you more money for a lend under the new payment method, actually encourages writers to make their stories more interesting, more gripping, more page-turning. If your book is poorly written or doesn’t hold the reader’s attention, they’ll close it down and give it back to try someone else.

In conclusion, whether Amazon’s new payment method for loaned Kindle books turns out to be better in a direct comparison or not, the new method should encourage writers to write better stories. Imagine that.

Was that Amazon’s goal in all this? We’ll never really know, but logic tells you that’s what’s going to happen.

Personally, I have been saying for a long time that Amazon is going to force change on the publishing industry, and they have and still are. I have also been saying that this self-publishing bubble is going to burst, and that is already showing to be true, with reports indicating that ebook sales have leveled off, and some reports actually indicating a drop.

One reason for this is the utter crap quality of a great many titles that have been rushed out by those hoping to get onto the Amazon gravy train. Those are the ones I forecasted would suffer first when the wheels came off the bandwagon. Those wheels are getting looser and looser, and with this new payment method for loaned Kindle books from Amazon, I reckon they’re about to fall off.

I’d be amazed if other online book retailers don’t see the potential in this insofar as encouraging writers to produce quality books and quality reads. They will watch what happens with Amazon’s new payment method with interest. If it turns out to be a good move, others, like Smashwords, may follow suit.

Write well. Write good stories. Quality will win the day in the end.


Jim Brown is the founder/owner of JimandZetta.com, providing customized publishing services for individual authors and publishing companies since 2008. He has personally converted over 8,000 manuscripts into various ebook formats. Jim has been a publisher of ebooks since 2003 with his publishing houses LL-Publications and Logical-Lust Publications. Former secretary, and vice president of EPIC (the Electronically Published Internet Coalition), in addition to his publisher services, Jim is available for guest blogs, speaking events, and industry consultation.


©2015. Zetta Brown. All Rights Reserved. Zetta is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. She provides services through JimandZetta.com.

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  • Zetta Brown

    @Patricia - I would think so...eventually. It took years for ebooks and print-on-demand to be taken seriously, and those who still don't look like ignorant fools.

    It's just another form of prejudice and when more people fight against, the sooner it will go away.

    But if you feed into it, the longer it will stay. The person who wrote that article has the mindset of a "feeder" if you ask me when she says:

    "Almost all publishers only accept submissions through agents, so they are essential gatekeepers for anyone trying to sell a book in the traditional market rather than self-publishing."

    That's bull. Indie publishers don't require agents to submit manuscripts. And what's wrong with self publishing, if you do it right?

    If you're going to cave to "traditional" publishing practices, then expect "traditional" (read: old-fashioned) results.

  • Patricia Robertson

    Jim & Zetta, read article this week about continued bias in favor of male writers by agents and publishers. Do you think that will finally end as we go through this transition period in publishing? http://jezebel.com/homme-de-plume-what-i-learned-sending-my-novel-out-und-1720637627?utm_campaign=socialflow_jezebel_facebook&utm_source=jezebel_facebook&utm_medium=socialflow

  • Jim Brown

    @Preeva Tramiel I absolutely understand what you say, but if I was in that position having a reference book out I would certainly not be opting into any lending program, for that very reason. That said, lends are only for a short period of time, after which a person cannot access it nor can they re-borrow the same book. If they never finished the book, or needed further reference from it, they'd have to actually buy it.

  • Jim Brown

    Thank you for the comments, folks :) So far, the likes of the lending feature can be opted out of depending what scheme you want to use with Amazon (see a previous post of mine here that explains what your options are with Amazon). There are definite benefits to being on sale via Amazon but I've always stressed that the author should do what Amazon (and other vendors) do, and that is 'treat your writing as a business'. Amazon is simply a tool that you can use to maximise your sales. The tool comes with options you can use or not use, depending on what you think benefits you. It's important not to think it's personal. Amazon wants your content, because your content helps them make money. But individually, you are not a priority for Amazon. That's why it shouldn't be 'personal'. I've seen people go off on Amazon so much it's clear they think Amazon are solely there for their benefit. We just can't do business that way. Amazon will change what they feel is right for them to change. They're not stupid, they know they still have to come over as attractive to the content-supplier (in this case the author and publisher), so they're trying to get a balance. It's not in their benefit to chase us away, but ultimately they do what they do because it's their business to maximise their profits. If they really get it wrong they will know, because more of us will choose to opt-out of what they changed. Then they have the options of changing it back, if they're sensible.

    I do still firmly believe that those poorly-written, rushed-out books and bandwagon authors will fall by the wayside. Readers are smart, they can spot a badly written book and any author or publisher that rushes out several will get just as much a name for themselves as someone who writes or publishers great reads - except that name will be a lowly-regarded one, then sales will drop to zero, and the author disappears because there's no 'fast-buck' to be earned. This is a huge transition period for publishing - almost a revolution - and it's the dedicated ones who love their craft and want to write a quality read who will still be here in years to come.

  • Patricia Robertson

    I am encouraged by your statement, "They will suffer and fall off the bandwagon first. So, while there are essentially more books out there than readers, take heart from the prospect of still being in the game if you are producing a quality product." It's such a crowded market and when poorly edited books are independently published, they hurt all of us. They can't fall off the bandwagon too soon!

  • Velva Lee Heraty

    It's complicated but something has to filter out an author's unloved book. By that I mean a book that came to market without TLC. Without "parents" in the form of conscientious editors, O/C spellers, red pencil enthusiasts, etc. It's akin to sending your child off to school on the first day without clean clothes and a decent haircut. 

  • Preeva Tramiel

    The KENPC model, as I see it, works against the authors of reference books, which are the most likely to be borrowed and not bought. 

  • S. Ramos O\'Briant

    What Lisa said: ****

  • Lisa Thomson

    Well, I find it hard to believe that a huge corp. like Amazon cares about the quality of each book it lists. Their bottom line is profits, as is any business. This new measurement scheme is solely for their benefit. I agree the e-book craze has catapulted many poor quality 'books' however, if a reader can't finish a book it isn't always because of that. A page turner is different for every reader and what one reader can't put down, another is bored by page 4, barring its 'quality'. I also venture to say that books borrowed and not paid for are easier to abandon. A reader really has nothing invested in it. I appreciate this article and learning about the Amazon changes. Thank you!