As a freelance ebook developer in my spare time, I am often interested in the ebook news floating around the Internet from time to time. From exciting announcements about new technologies to the most mundane update on code validation, I am totally into the technological side of publishing.
One news item floating around this week that caught my eye was The Atlantic’s take on some changes to Amazon’s payment structure. Amazon is often in the news for duking it out with publishers, but this particular change does not affect the multinationals or even indie presses like PQL. This change affects Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) authors—the self-published authors who often rally behind the Amazon Gods as the great equalizer of publishing. The announcement states that as of July 1, authors whose works fall under Kindle’s subscription-style programs Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library will be paid not by copies sold but by pages read.
My initial reaction to this was instantaneous: “Ew.” But at first I couldn’t put my finger on why I found the idea so distasteful.
I can’t fault Amazon for looking out for their own interests. They’re a business. It’s what they do. They would not consider the new model unless they thought it would in some way help their bottom line, to whit—keeping their most popular commercial authors from jumping ship and signing a traditional publishing deal.
But what does it mean for us as readers? It is not difficult to see how the new pay structure will reward certain genres of publishing at the expense of others. You can bet that a 300-page thriller or romance can be consumed over a rainy afternoon, but what about poetry or literary fiction? They are certainly more likely to be put down, considered, perhaps forgotten. Does that make them less worthy? Or just less consumable?
And I suppose that is the crux of my issue. The new Kindle payment model really validates the short-attention spans for which our culture is infamous. It rewards those books that offer instant-gratification, non-stop action and page-turning suspense. Whether they are of literary merit is completely beside the point.
Will this announcement revolutionize publishing? Probably not. It might tick off a few KDP authors who see a dip in their revenues, but for the most part, literary production will continue as always. But this change, though probably of little note to the many readers, does offer an opportunity for us to take a good look in the mirror when it comes to our reading habits. We might not like what we see.