Editorial

By: Hidden Gems on October 20, 2016

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Some of your favorite authors might be forced to pull out of Kindle Unlimited because they aren’t being paid for the pages you’re reading… and here’s why.

Amazon considers their much ballyhooed new Page Flip feature a navigational tool, intended simply to casually browse or flip through a book. However, mounting evidence is starting to show that many readers use Page Flip to actually read parts or even entire books. They do this for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Preference – they prefer the reading experience in Page Flip mode
  • Ignorance – some books open into Page Flip and customers may not realize it
  • Software issues – some are reporting bugs that force them to use Page Flip to read

But whatever the reason, when Page Flip is used to read a borrowed Kindle Unlimited book, authors are not getting paid. And according to Amazon, that’s by design, because Page Flip wasn’t built to be used to read.

What is Page Flip?

Back in June, Amazon announced a new feature designed as a “reimagined navigation experience”.  The goal was to make exploring ebooks easier and faster, and it was pushed out to Kindle e-readers, fire tablets, and the free Kindle App that can be used by all iOS and Android devices.

The feature seems well suited for heavily graphical reference material or textbook use, where finding particular passages and easily skipping around is a common use case. With novels, romance or otherwise, the practical usage for this feature seems less clear.

However, because it makes navigation faster (as you can see from the images on the above link, and we experienced from our own testing), it turns out that some customers are choosing to actually read books (entirely, or in part) while using Page Flip. With smaller devices, like phones or even some kindles, this case is likely more limited, however on larger tablets and devices, the reading experience is actually preferable to some people. While the actual page size is slightly smaller, the speed by which you can flip to the next page more than makes up for it.

It’s a trade off of reading more words per page and having to wait longer to turn to the next, versus slightly less words and flipping instantly and smoothly. A personal preference, but one that page flip allows customers to make for themselves.

So What’s the Problem With That?

The issue is when Page Flip is paired with Kindle Unlimited (KU) books. Amazon has stated publicly that any pages flipped using this new feature do not count as pages read with KU books.  That’s an issue, because KU borrowed books are specifically paid per pages read.

So how does Amazon justify this?

It does so by making the extraordinary claim that it has been monitoring the situation and has determined that Page Flip is “not being used for reading in any material way.”

That claim seems to fly in the face of the anecdotal evidence being reported by customers and authors alike, that some actually do prefer to read while in Page Flip. Some are even reporting app crashes if they DON’T read in page flip, forcing them to do so. And in fact, many others might even be reading in it without knowing, because in some cases, books are opened automatically into Page Flip mode the first time they’re opened. We here at Hidden Gems have experienced this happen first hand. And if a reader doesn’t realize this, or prefers this new experience, they will just carry on and continue to read the book while in this mode.

Can Amazon Really Tell If Customers Are Using Page Flip to Read?

This is the most interesting question, and either way the answer is troubling.

The interesting part of it is that for Amazon to know whether Page Flip is being used to “materially” read a book, it implies it must be able to track all of the pages being flipped on each book, across each device, by each reader. Yet, as we noted in our previous blog, since day 1 and despite initial claims to the contrary, Amazon has lacked that ability. That same tracking deficiency has led to certain people taking advantage of the system to scam tons of money from the communal pot. So it really would have been in Amazon’s interest to track each page individually, if it could.

So if Amazon couldn’t track each individual page read before, does it make sense that it can do so now?  That would mean that not only did it finally build this new tracking system, but then added it to Page Flip – a feature it claims is designed NOT to be a reading tool and NOT to pay out per page read. What possible reason could Amazon have, then, to put that sort of tracking into this new tool instead of simply backporting it into the very system that could not only make use of it, but that Amazon originally claimed had it in the first place? The argument seems to defy logic.

And yet, what other ways could Amazon know that users are not using Page Flip to read books?

Self reporting?  Possible, however it sounds as if the customers Amazon are talking to and the customers authors are talking to are in complete disagreement on that point.

Or is Amazon simply assuming that since the feature wasn’t built for reading, it doesn’t make sense that anyone would use it for that purpose? While it is believable that reading wasn’t the intended use case, this wouldn’t be the first time customers used a product for something other than which it was originally designed?

So it seems questionable, at least, that Amazon can accurately determine whether this feature is being used to read books or not. But whether they can or not, Amazon has a big problem. Because if even a single page is read using this feature, the authors should be paid for it. Saying it is never used to read seems like an impossible argument and in fact, Amazon didn’t even make that claim. They simply said it wasn’t being used in any “material way” to read books. But that implies that it is being used for that purpose on some level.

And that means authors should be compensated.

Here’s Amazon’s Real Problem:

If we assume that there is SOME level of reading within Page Flip going on, as anecdotal reports suggest, and that authors in KU who were promised to be paid for pages read should be compensated for those reads, then how this plays out really depends on which of the following two scenarios is correct. But each represents its own headache for the retail giant.

Scenario 1:  Page Flip cannot actually track which pages (or how many) are actually being read.

Why it’s bad: If this is the case, and it seems the most likely given the scope of that feature and their proven inability to track at that level in the past, then Amazon has no ability to compensate authors for these lost pages. This essentially amounts to data loss and it means even if Amazon wants to pay authors for these pages, it can’t.

Scenario 2: Page Flip can track pages being read.

Why it’s bad: In this case, the problem amounts to Amazon acknowledging that readers are using Page Flip to read “some” pages, but an amount that they consider to be “non-material”. Questions of perspective on what non-material is to a billion dollar corporation vs an independent author aside, is it fair to withhold even a single page read’s worth of money back simply because a customer chose to read it via a feature that wasn’t designed specifically for them to read with?

Solutions?

There are probably many possible solutions, some of which depend on the answer to the above question. However, one obvious solution would be to pull the entire Page Flip feature. Obviously, after how much marketing Amazon has put into its announcement, that is unlikely to be a choice it would want to pursue. But it doesn’t actually have to be so black and white. There’s a much simpler solution, and one with precedent from Amazon’s ebook submission process itself.

Make Page Flip an Opt-In feature at the book level, at least for KU borrows.  Let authors decide for themselves whether or not they want their KU books to have Page Flip enabled.

When an author submits a book, they already make some choices about the availability of their book. They can choose whether or not to enroll the book in the Kindle Matchbook program, or whether to allow the book to be enabled for lending to friends and family.  

Page Flip should just be another option that shows up if you choose to enroll your book in KU. If authors decide not to allow it, then Page Flip would be completely disabled for borrows. That doesn’t mean that it has to also be disabled for purchasers of that book (since page reads only matter for books borrowed in KU).

For novels, at least, this seems to be a very acceptable trade-off since the intended navigational use of the Page Flip feature seems to have very little value in fiction. If readers miss it on a particular title, they would still be free to purchase the book outright and have Page Flip enabled.

This may be the only solution that can assure authors that they will be paid, as promised, for all of the pages read from their book.

What Does This Mean to Readers?

Until something is done, many authors have begun to say via social media that they are considering dropping out of KU entirely. If that happens, readers may find the Kindle Unlimited selection begin to diminish. Some may be forced to make a decision if their favorite KU author stops offering books in the program.

Buy the books at full price, or stop reading that author?

And if they want to read their authors, it may not make as much sense to continue subscribing to KU if they have to start buying all of the books anyway.

Furthermore, the days of the 99 cent novel may be numbered as well. That price point is generally only profitable for authors when paired with page reads. If they have to withdraw from KU, it is likely that standard pricing will begin to rise back up to the $2.99 or higher level.

Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that.

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