Is Amazon KULLING Off Romance Writers?


Over the last week or so there has been an enormous bun fight ­— or should that be “bum fight”? — within the self-publishing book industry. Writers’ forums have been filled with outrage, hand-wringing, ridiculous in-depth mathematical analysis and much soap-boxing. In other words, some very serious dummy-spitting. You see, a lot of really successful authors are about to lose a shitload of money. We’re talking Scrooge McDuck Money Bin amounts of dollars. Huge bundles of cash.

Bear with me while I explain how and why. Don’t worry, there will be lots of sex.

Anyone who self-publishes anything as an ebook has to sell through Amazon. Okay, you don’t have to, but Amazon controls the lion’s share of the ebook market by selling titles for its own Kindle eBook Reader and basically you’re mad, if you don’t sign up to ‘Zon.

Amazon offers a subscription service for people who read tons of books every week. It’s called “Kindle Unlimited” (KU) or the “Kindle Owners Lending Library” (KOLL). I won’t bore you with too much detail, just know that rather than buying each book you want, you can instead pay $10.00 a month as a kind of lending fee and read as much as you like. Authors like me can choose to enrol our books in KU/KOLL and in addition to being paid a royalty fee per-borrow we get exclusive access to marketing tools, advertising… stuff like that.

How does Amazon figure out the royalty fee, if it’s giving your book away? It used a fairly complicated formula that took into account the amount of KU subscribers (and therefore a “pool” of money), how many titles were enrolled in KU and borrowed, what Jeff Bezos paid for lunch on any given day, the penguin population in Antarctica and… well, shit I don’t know exactly and it doesn’t really matter. All you need to know is that the last KU payout per book was around $1.35 each borrow.

Get it? Every time someone borrowed one of my books in Amazon’s KU/KOLL library program and read more than ten percent of it (very important, remember this 10% bit) I got paid a royalty fee of $1.35. Brilliant.

Hang on, but many of my books are over 350 pages long, while others are less than 100 pages. But it’s a flat rate? So, everyone still gets paid $1.35 per borrow regardless of the book’s length, retail price and rating? How does that work?

It doesn’t. Yes, it wasn’t long before a lot of writers saw a unique opportunity.

Now we get to talk about Erotica and Romance books. You may be aware, erotica and romance books are a gigantic business. Truly enormous. It’s a huge industry of porn-without-pictures. To name just a few, there’s normal erotica, gay erotica, vampire erotica, dystopia erotica, shape-shifting erotica (getting shagged by werewolves, prompting a bestiality backlash), even something called “dinosaur porn”, but I really don’t want to know what that is – I really don’t. Anything you can imagine, it exists in erotic writing. Plus lots of stuff you’ll never imagine – I hope.

Here’s your standard Erotica story/plotline: A ridiculously handsome and buff-looking plumber is called to the home of a really lonely, bored housewife to fix a blocked pipe (no, don’t go there yet). In the process his shirt gets soaked, the distraught young woman offers to clean and dry it for him — and roughly one page later the bored housewife is getting rogered into a coma on the bathroom floor. A happy ending.

That’s about 5000 words or maybe 12-15 pages, right?

If it’s a romance novel, while the bored housewife is cleaning and drying the plumber’s shirt, he’ll explain how he rescues abandoned kittens off the street and donates them to the elderly. She’ll tell him of her terribly misunderstood relationship with her cruel, career-driven husband… and eventually leads the plumber by the hand into the bedroom (that’s like something out of a Disney fairytale film) where likewise the bored housewife is shagged into exhaustion among lots of fluffy pillows. A romantic ending, if a tad adulterous.

That’s about 7000 words or possibly 20 pages, okay?

You can write this sort of stuff in a day, if you know your chops. A lot of erotica and romance writers were producing one or two titles per week, publishing on Amazon and enrolling them in KU/KOLL to be snapped up by a voracious readership. You can’t underestimate just how huge this market is, believe me. Lonely and bored housewives are being indiscriminately deflowered by shirtless tradesmen all over America and readers can’t get enough of it. Some authors claim to have published 100 “books” in a year. Many have in excess of fifty or sixty and more. For each one borrowed by the million-odd sex-starved subscribers to KU/KOLL they got paid $1.35.

It’s a numbers game that amounted to big, big money. People were earning six-figure incomes courtesy of Amazon’s broken KU/KOLL royalty payment, making a fortune on ten-page porn fantasies. Nothing wrong or illegal — they saw the flaw in Amazon’s KU/KOLL system and exploited it to the full. Good on ‘em.

Starting a week ago, in this July, Amazon said, “Ooops…” and changed its KU/KOLL policy in a drastic way. Now it pays authors not per book borrowed, but by the number of pages read. If you have any doubts, just trust me that Amazon with its Kindle eReaders can easily track how many pages you’ve read. The expected royalty rate will be something like half a cent per page.

The erotic and romantic literary shit has hit the fan. Even if someone reads our illustrious plumber’s tale of sexual pipe-unblocking through to its entire 15 page epic conclusion, that equates to… $0.075 cents royalty fee, not $1.35. And here’s another kicker — to ensure the reader reached that magical “ten percent read” to qualify for royalties (I told you to remember that bit) a lot of erotica writers crammed plenty of rude bits in the opening pages. You don’t need to read the whole book to get your erotic fix and many didn’t. Housewives were being well and truly plumbed by page three, or about $0.015 cents worth.

All those authors earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year through KU/KOLL will lose maybe 95% of that income — if not more. Of course, an answer is to remove their books from KU/KOLL and force readers to buy them at full price (usually at 0.99 cents for which they earned 35% royalty), but without the almost indiscriminate method of mad, unlimited borrowing seen in KU, most discerning erotica and romance fans will spend wisely and turn to the well-established authors who write the genre well. It’ll be survival of the fittest.

Among all the teeth-gnashing about the new payment scheme many of these short (as in story, not in stature) erotica writers are screaming that “size doesn’t matter” — which is a really odd thing for purveyors of porn to argue. They say, “Why are we being punished for our books only being 10 pages long? Now novel writers will make all the money! It’s not fucking fair!”

Which is the kind of stupid mathematics I mentioned earlier, because it doesn’t matter if your book is 1000 pages long or only ten. You still only get paid for what someone reads and if your writing sucks, you don’t make any money. It’s about prolonged reader engagement and many authors are welcoming that. This is a serious challenge, by the way. Data tells us that a high percentage of books aren’t read to the finish and many are discarded very early. A lot of KU/KOLL authors aren’t only going to take a big hit in the wallet, but in the ego too as the sales reports reveal just how much of their books are read. Things are going to get ugly for some.

Meanwhile, ranting on the forums still insists that our “Shagging Plumbers-R-Us” saga has equal literary merit to Lord Of The Rings, that it takes exactly the same effort to write 5000 words as it does for 500,000 words, and that all authors should be paid the same KU/KOLL royalty fee for any book regardless of a title’s length, page count, quality, grammar, spelling and any discount plumbing vouchers included inside. Hysterical, panicked shrieking is being heard everywhere on the internet and there’s no plumbers involved at all. Some of it is possibly the gurgling death throes of a Golden Goose. One commentator even claims that most erotica is written by wheelchair-bound, disabled veterans and these changes will hugely impact health care system around the world as incomes are slashed. Hmm… right.

Me, I’m quietly confident my books will be read and in the overall scheme of things the new KU/KOLL system is fair and worthwhile. Besides, I haven’t any more time to worry about it.

I’ve got this idea for a new book that’s about a carpenter who’s called to the home of a lonely, bored housewife and when he arrives, she accidentally turns on the garden sprinkler, soaking his shirt… I’m not going to tell you any more, in case you guess the ending.


My latest Horror Story is available from Amazon.

Bedtime Story Cover

It was just a bed — an ordinary, albeit antique bed for the spare room. Until we learn that a hundred years earlier a woman called Rose, who practised in the occult and dark magic, slept in it. Now Rose’s unhappy spirit comes as part of the deal. Rose’s angry ghost comes with the bed.
Angela and Nathan are a young couple, married only two years before, both of them professionals. They’re happy and in love, although the pressures of modern life can be challenging some days. The antique bed is just right for the spare room in their expensive apartment.
Rose’s spirit doesn’t like happy marriages unless you’re prepared to wed the Devil.
Sleeping in the bed promises erotic dreams with perfect lovers — more passionate and daring than your wife, more considerate and satisfying than your husband. Before long, the dreams are much better than reality.
Three’s a crowd in any relationship even when one person is already dead.


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