Privacy AND payment issues raised in response to ebook retailer data mining

I feel it is only fair to say upfront that, in my personal capacity, I have to this point been an Amazon supporter. They’re wonderful for customers, which is the sphere in which all my interaction with them has been to date. However, I have to ask if they have finally come up with a plan intended to antagonise traditional publishers, indie authors and readers alike?

Their latest scheme is a pay-as-you-read plan as reported in papers such as The New Zealand Herald and the UK Telegraph. If a reader doesn’t read a book in full, the author will only be paid a percentage of their royalties. So Amazon keeps all the subscription money but gets to give a smaller percentage back in royalties to the author/s.

Amazon is implementing the system on 1 July, initially only with authors who self-publish their books via the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program that makes books available to borrow from the Kindle Library and to Amazon Prime customers. Amazon’s ‘logic’ is that this is a ‘fair’ way to reward authors who write lengthy books but have previously picked up the same royalties as someone who writes a 100-page novella. Length is not the primary factor in determining whether a book is popular or well written. In fact,  it is a very poor determinant of either popularity or quality. Besides that difference in length should be reflected in the book’s price and then authors will be rewarded accordingly.

Of  course, all books in the Kindle Unlimited program are priced the same ($0), so why should  certain authors who have chosen to give Kindle Unlimited a go be penalised? Books that are more popular will be ‘borrowed’ more often and their authors will (or should) be rewarded accordingly. An author whose book is borrowed from a library – presumably the model for Kindle Unlimited – does not receive payment based on the length of their book or on how many pages the borrower read. The pay-as-you-read concept borders on farcical. Why not just pay authors on their reader review rating? No rating, no royalty. Then you really could ensure that all authors starve in garrets.

I have to ask the question: has this come about because the Kindle Unlimited borrowing program has not worked as Amazon anticipated, especially from a company income perspective? Or is it simply that Amazon wish to promote the business models of their rivals? Smashwords, for example, could benefit if self-publishing indie authors moved their business across to them. You can download a mobi (Kindle) file from Smashwords to your reader. It’s not quite as convenient as buying direct from Amazon because books bought from Smashwords don’t seem to sync to all devices, but hey, I can live with that. It’s a bit indulgent to carry my library on more than one device anyway.

One of my pleasures as a reader is to know that when I buy a book the author I am supporting earns income. Sometimes (erm, okay, let’s make that ‘quite often’ … okay, ‘very often’) I buy books that I know are going to go to the very bottom of my TBR pile because I want to read them in the future, or I want to support a promising new author or a friend, or because I am looking for something different I may or may not like, or just … because.

I intensely dislike the thought that Amazon may use my buying patterns to penalise authors, especially when one of the reasons I am a big ebook and Amazon supporter is the price factor. eBooks are much cheaper than paperbacks. I’ll take a chance on a new author and stack my virtual bookshop with appealing reads because we’re talking a price range that averages $0.99 to $6.99. I can easily get anywhere from two to seven ebooks for the price of one paperback and spread the love. But my love is intended for the author. I don’t want Amazon or any other retailer gorging on it.

And, on a creepy note, I am starting to feel stalked. Both Amazon and Kobo have openly admitted to accessing reader data on how many pages of a book on average are read; how long it takes between purchase and reading etc etc. If they are doing it, presumably other eretailers are too. My request to ebook eretailers is to kindly stick to your business, selling, in your shop and stay out of my living room and my bedroom. I didn’t invite you in. I didn’t respond to a survey. If my local bookseller came and peered through my window every day to check on my reading habits, I would have them arrested. I’m wondering why you don’t suffer the same fate? I certainly don’t buy the ‘anonymous’ line. It doesn’t work for the Peeping Tom spying on a woman he doesn’t know, and it shouldn’t work for Big Business either.

What are your thoughts as a reader, author or publisher? It would be particularly interesting to hear back from authors who use the Kindle Direct Publishing Select program.


Leave a comment


  1. Oh, well said, Laura! I, too, am quite creeped out by the idea that the company that sold me a book is policing my reading of it. I have lots of part-finished books on my devices, for a host of reasons, most of which are that I just got distracted by new shiny TBR, or that I wasn’t in the mood for that particular book at the time I started it. I have many times done that and then gone back later and read to the end. To penalise the author because of my peripatetic habits is bizarre. If we took that to the rest of the world, that would mean that the top I bought that stayed in the cupboard because I decided, on reflection, that I really didn’t love the colour, would give no income to the manufacturer – only, and here’s the kicker, to THE RETAILER. I’m sorry, the idea of the retailer making money and then denying their share to the creator is outrageous. And I don’t care if it’s only part of their service or not. It’s way, way out of line.

  2. If you want to support authors, continue buying their books. Amazon isn’t making any changes to the way authors are paid for purchased Kindle books (and if Amazon knowing how much you read bothers you, perhaps you’d better go back to paperbacks).

    This change ONLY applies to books available through the Kindle Unlimited library. This isn’t available for New Zealand readers, and I didn’t think it was available in Aussie either.

    It also only applies to books sold through KDP Select and therefore eligible for Prime lending and Kindle Unlimited. If you sell ebooks via any other source, you’re not part of the scheme.

    Personally, I think this is a good thing for authors. Do you really think it’s fair that a borrow on your full-length novel is paid at the same rate as a borrow on a 2000 word scamphlet? Especially as the borrow was registered after reading just 10% … turning to page 2 of the scamphlet was enough for that “author” to earn their $1.33 for the borrow. Now you’ll be paid 40-50 times more than the scamphlet author every time someone finishes your book.

    It doesn’t surprise me that the New Zealand Herald misreported this story, and it confirms why I don’t subscribe.

    • It is interesting, Iola. I still have issues with this, but since I read the original reports, I’ve also read things that point out that some people were gaming the system (or at least perceived as doing so) by deliberately putting in a lot of short works – sometimes even like a serial of what others put in as a full book. I suppose that does seem unfair, but there is a small, marketing-oriented part of my brain that says that if they can do that successfully (without ticking off their readers) then they’re just better at using the system and maybe they deserved the reward for that skill… I’m still a bit torn about this. I see the point of people who ask why should writer X be rewarded the same for 5,000 words as writer Y for 70,000. But I am also still disturbed by the idea of the merchant taking the same amount and the author being the one who is docked is the reader doesn’t like it. Or have I not understood that properly?

  3. vickij12

     /  June 26, 2015

    Hi, I’m a reader and I buy ebooks from Amazon all the time – although ‘buy’ is not really the right word, is it? That’s one of my peeves!
    I don’t like the sound of “pay as you read”, at all. It’s not really “pay as you read” either, is it? It’s more “paid as you’re read”, and very unfair to authors. I certainly won’t be subscribing to Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime!
    On the subject of cheapness or otherwise of ebooks, it’s sometimes hit and miss for me because I live in Australia. For example: A particular ebook is showing a cost on the Aus site as AUD $12.86. Current exchange rate this = USD $9.94, which is the USD price I see on the US site. But, using a proxy, I can see the cost to US purchasers is actually $5.99!! That’s AUD $7.75 – bit different to AUD $12.86!! And who’s pocketing the difference? (Bit of a rant, sorry 😐 Obviously that’s another peeve!!)

  4. Vicki, my understanding is the publisher sets the price, and can set different prices on different Amazon websites (or different regions on the US website, which is why books advertised as free in the US aren’t free for me in NZ). I personally still buy via Amazon US – they keep asking if I want to change to the Australian site, and your example illustrates why I don’t.

    • vickij12

       /  June 26, 2015

      Hi, Iola, That’s true about publishers setting the prices, and they differ from region to region. Amazon actually indicates that on some books – not all though, and the particular example I gave didn’t have that. The thing is I, too, buy from the US Amazon site, not the Australian one, but I’m not saving anything by doing that. I’m afraid to change though, in case it doesn’t offer the same range of titles!! (a la Netflix, but that’s another story!!)

  5. Amazon’s new policy only applies to books borrowed through Kindle Unlimited, which isn’t available in Australia. It doesn’t affect purchased books.

    IMO this change is fairer than the previous system in which all books that were borrowed through KU were paid the same fee regardless of length. It remains to be seen what the payment per page will be.

    • Ooh, Coleen, that is interesting. That’s not what I’ve seen reported, but then, perhaps that’s just because I don’t understand the KU system – evidently. I thought there were sales through KU as well. Am I mixing it up with KDP? Or am I just thoroughly confused? I still have have a bit of an issue with it though, in the policing of reading part. I would have no problem with the hire fee being different for shorter works, or a scaled hire fee. But to track people’s reading seems dodgy to me. I know they do it anyway, but what I said before about not reading on because I just wasn’t in the mood still holds. Whatever I pay for the hire, I still want the full author’s share to go to the author.

  6. I have to agree with Iola and Coleen. I make my books available to the KU lending because I figured those people that borrow won’t be buyers anyway.
    There was a lot of talk going around when KU hit the airwaves and I had to think it was unfair then for someone who wrote a 10k novella to get paid the same as someone who wrote a single title of 100k plus words.
    Not only does this new system give writers a fairer deal IMO, it will also eventually weed out those writers who don’t use an editor (which we all moan about, be honest here) and give indie writers a better name. (Because indie writing still have a certain amount of stigma attached to it and badly written books don’t help at all.)
    I’m all for it and if you aren’t, don’t subscribe to it. Your choice. It won’t effect you selling in the Amazon store.

    • I see your point, Ann and I suppose it is an argument that quality will out. But I still don’t like the idea of Amazon looking over my reading shoulder! Mind you, I’m not in the borrowing scheme, so maybe you’re right about the borrowers not being buyers anyway.

  7. This is really frustrating! I have just set up an author’s account on Kindle to start self publishing and was planning on going Kindle Exclusive to see how it went. Now I’m not sure I want to do that!

  8. Excellent article. Thank you.

  9. Carol

     /  June 27, 2015

    IT is disgraceful. I also have a pile of TBR books that takes time to get through. I also buy to support authors. I feel violated..

  10. suzannebrandyn

     /  July 1, 2015

    My novels are enrolled with KDP, and by doing this my books are available through the Kindle Unlimited Program. As Ann Harrison said, it is not available in Australia although our books are in all countries and does affect Australian Authors.
    I agree with Iola and Colleen. Personally, I think this is a good thing for authors. Do you really think it’s fair that a borrow on your full-length novel is paid at the same rate as a borrow on a 2000 word scamphlet?
    IMO this change is fairer than the previous system in which all books that were borrowed through KU were paid the same fee regardless of length.

    • I see there is more to this than I understood Suzanne! I do see your point about the fairness, but I still think a sliding scale would be better – or would it be too complicated? Would it affect borrows, do you think?


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