Yesterday, Andrew had a great rundown of the new Amazon Kindle Unlimited service, which if you haven’t heard is Netflixizing the book industry. I’ve tried out KU, and I especially like the potential it has for audiobooks, which are otherwise expensive.
Andrew made a point to talk about how KU works from an author’s perspective. It’s this angle that has me most concerned. Royalties become murkier in the Unlimited world. The reader pays Amazon for the ability to download books, then Amazon decides what each authors gets from their coffers. A author doesn’t get paid just because someone downloads their book. They have to read (or scroll) a certain percentage in order for it to count.
This is new territory. Things like Netflix pay studios for licensing rights. They get a contract that says they can stream a movie or TV show for a certain amount of time. I can understand that, because it is just like TV stations have operated for a while. KU doesn’t work that way. You grant Amazon the right to distribute your work. For a few extra benefits, you can sign up for KDP Select. When you do, you grant Amazon the right to distribute your work through their Unlimited program.
What is the benefit to the author? You do not receive a licensing fee. You get the chance at a piece of the pot that Amazon sets aside. Some might say you get the opportunity for exposure, if you’re a new or little-known author. I skeptical on the results. A few authors might catch on this way, but for the vast majority of the thousands of indie publishers, the results will be minimal.
And that feeds into a greater issue that I’ve discussed on the blog before. Why do writers write? Specifically, why does the modern, independent, self-publishing writer do what he or she does? I’ll tell you what my goals are. The two big ones are to be a good writer and to make a living doing it. Simple, right? But I often see these two at odds. I look at some of the success stories of self-publishing and I see authors that are making good money while writing, well, crap. One sci-fi book in particular that I’ve recently read was a grab-bag of stupid, but is consistently at the top of the charts. Conversely, the few self-published books I’ve encountered that I consider quality have not, as far as I know, sniffed the upper echelons of the Kindle rankings. This could be my tastes that are the problem, that my measure of quality is off. Nevertheless, I aspire to create vital works, so what does it say that I’m throwing my lot in with the self-published crowd and attempting to be commercially viable?
To be the best writer I can, I would love to dedicate all my energy to writing. But I can’t. I have a day job. I have to edit my works, I have to be active on social media and write blogs, I have to work with artists, I have to produce the ebook, write blurbs, and manage my titles. All of this takes away from time I could spend honing craft and perfecting stories. Is it possible to become a good writer while also being a successful self-published author? I don’t know.
Respect for self-publishing is increasing. Indies aren’t lazy, they work hard. But are the stories as good as they can be? What do you think?