Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
Just recently I subscribed to Spotify so the artists I listen to would receive a few micro-pennies every time I stream their songs. Add this to my Pandora subscription and the occasional CD or mp3 I buy, and I’m able to say that I support the hard-working artists I appreciate most. I wish I could do more.
When I hear musicians complain about the payments that Spotify metes out, I step away from my self-satisfaction and wonder if this is the future of most of the arts. Including fiction. We’ve already seen some experiments in book delivery with Oyster and Amazon Kindle Unlimited that appear to be modeled on services like Spotify. In other words, the consumer pays a monthly fee that allows her access to as many books as she wants, and typically the service pays the author on the basis of how many pages she gets through — or rather, a “sale” isn’t recorded until she gets past a certain point in a book (often 10%).
(By the way, Oyster also keeps data on where in a book the reader bails out; you know, to help the author see where he failed.)
Now we learn that the Kindle Lending Library, which is part of Amazon Prime, is going to start paying writers on the basis of pages read as opposed to books “borrowed.” It’s an experiment in delivery and payment that raises all kinds of red flags with me, even though I can’t quite put my finger on why.
Catherine Ryan Howard does a nice job analyzing the situation here, though.
Maybe my paranoia has to do with Amazon itself. We all know it’s a fanged juggernaut that seeks only to maximize its control of the entire publishing business. How adorable. But I don’t find it unreasonable to assume that the new program is a prototype Amazon is testing for greater use that will result in greater profits. You can easily imagine a new royalty structure for all KDP books based on pages read as opposed to copies sold. Maybe we’ll have a choice for a while, but if the new structure works best for Amazon then that choice will be taken away. And the upshot will be that writers will adapt by making sure readers keep turning those pages.
Bye bye literary fiction.
It’s hard enough getting people to try indie lit fic, even at bargain prices. Couple low low pricing with minuscule royalties and the only motivation to self-publish is to “keep your name out there.” At what point will it cease to be worth the effort?
I probably shouldn’t worry until there’s evidence on the horizon. But the power Spotify is gathering in the music business makes me think that Amazon likes the model and hopes to translate it to publishing. Micropayments (according to Jaron Lanier) are the wave of the future, and that’s not just for artists and musicians. We’ll all get paid tiny amounts for things we do, so those who are able to modify their behavior to maximize these payments will thrive. It’s like we’ll all be working for the Mechanical Turk.
Let’s keep an eye on the new program together. I have a sneaky feeling Bezos has a surprise or two up his sleeve.