In February 2017, my friend Ann Winters and I published the first installment of a serial work of science fiction called Hybrid. We had a lot of fun writing it and were eager to get it out into the world. But recently, Amazon made some changes to their treatment of authors that will make it necessary, come this October, to move Hybrid to another platform.
Chasing Authors Away
Why exactly are we leaving Amazon?
Before I answer that question, I want to give you an idea of how Amazon’s royalty schedule works here in the US. When you publish on Amazon–and I’m talking self-publishing here–you’re given the option to enroll in Kindle Unlimited, which allows users who subscribe to the service to read for free.
When you enroll, there are some stipulations:
- You are then eligible for 70% royalties on sales of your item
- You are eligible to receive a portion of royalties from the Kindle Unlimited fund
- Your item must be published exclusively on Amazon for the entirety of the enrollment period (90 days)
- You can renew or cancel your enrollment once the contract period ends
If you don’t enroll, you only get 35% royalties on sales of your item, and you’re not eligible to receive royalties from the Kindle Unlimited fund. You can publish your item anywhere you want, but you give up half of your royalties to do it.
Recently, Amazon changed the way they pay authors from the Kindle Unlimited fund so that authors receive a percentage based on the number of pages subscribers read, and how many of those pages are published by the author.
This means that if someone elects to read Hybrid, and they read everything but the last page, Ann and I might get $0.10 for that read instead of the $0.70 we’d get if they just bought our $0.99 short story. If we’re not enrolled in the program, we’d get $0.35, which is still better than $0.10. (That figure is an example; some months it could be more, some less. It’s calculated as a ratio dependent on how many pages are read in any given month.)
So what’s the problem? Amazon is getting the lion’s share of the money for Kindle Unlimited, and authors are doing the work to produce the product.
But wait, you might say, it’s Amazon’s website. They’re publishing it for you, providing you an ASIN, and handling all the sales and distribution. This is true. But if a user pays $9.99 a month and only reads Hybrid in that month, Ann and I might still only get the $0.10. So in that hypothetical example, Amazon is getting $9.89 off of our work and we’re getting $0.10.
See the problem?
Forget the fact that Ann and I then have to subtract taxes (that brings it down to $0.07), and then split that in two after any overhead such as cover design or social media ads. Basically, we’re paying to have people read our work.
We’d be better off publishing it on a free WordPress blog and letting folks read it for free. We’re not against sharing, and we’re not against just writing Hybrid to enjoy producing a series of short stories together.
What we are against is lining Amazon’s pockets with our hard work.
Disclaimer: Traditionally publishing and distributing to Amazon is a different beast altogether. I love Amazon for certain things. I have a Kindle (though I don’t subscribe to Kindle Unlimited because I’d rather support the authors. This is about independent and self-published authors getting hosed by a giant company.
Where do we go from here?
Hybrid: Part II is written, edited, designed, and ready to go. But we’re not publishing it yet because Hybrid: Part I is stuck in that 90-day contract with Amazon until early October. This isn’t a bad thing because it gives Ann and I time to decide where to go from here.
One option popular, especially for serial fiction, is Wattpad. The downside to Wattpad as I understand it is that you don’t get paid. As I mentioned earlier, this isn’t our primary goal, and we wouldn’t mind sharing the Hybrid stories for free, especially if it starts to build a readership. But it’s definitely worth considering.
Another option is to self-publish on other platforms, like B&N and iBooks. This could potentially get sales for us but I’m hesitant. What’s to stop them behaving as Amazon did and making money off of our creation while we effectively pay people to read it?
There are some publishing sites friendly to serial fiction, such as LeanPub. If we want to earn money and reach a broad audience, this is probably our best bet.
We can always make our own website and sell copies of the serialized short stories. This allows us to earn money, but we’d be reaching a potentially limited audience. While we’re grateful to friends and family who bought, read, and reviewed Hybrid: Part I, I’m not entirely certain this is our best bet.
Where I would consider our own website to be a boon would be if we were publishing installments on a blog. But again, that might result in a limited audience. Other sites might give us a broader reach for free distribution.
So, here’s what we need to consider:
- Is making money on the Hybrid short story series important?
- Do we want to reach a larger, broader audience?
- Logistically, which option best suits multiple authors working together?
- What are the costs, if any, incurred with publishing via these platforms? Do we need an ISBN, for instance?
- Do we want to keep writing in short stories that are about 8,000 to 9,000 words long, or would we rather break it into smaller chapter-size chunks?
Another option not discussed here is to go the literary magazine route. However, I am leaning away from this myself because of how many parts there are to this serialized story. While each part is meant to stand alone, it might be confusing for readers to have to track through different literary mags.
Which of these options would appeal most to you as a writer? As a reader? Have you tried any of these in either role? What did you like about it/them?
Let me know in comments! You might just sway Ann and me.