Amazon ™ just today announced in a letter to its authors, that instead of their previous method of reimbursing authors for borrowed books, they are moving to a system that awards a certain amount per page of the borrowed book that was read. Few authors realize how often a book -in fact this is true even more so with bestsellers – does not get read.
People buy a best selling author because everyone else is buying it: word of mouth, reviews, and several obtuse factors (“I want it on my shelf”) can all lead to the purchase. But often there is not enough due diligence. Too frequently there is not any questioning about whether you would actually enjoy reading that best seller. Indeed romance readers are far more likely to read to their HEA ending of a romance, than the typical best seller.
But as Amazon with its KU (TM) program and others move to reimbursing authors based on reader involvement, the question becomes, how will worth be translated into metrics like pages read? Will pictures count for 1000 words, or none? That will effect coffee tables and children’s authors. Will dialogue-intensive genres like romance get a bonus (i.e, more pages) or, as I expect will happen with Amazon’s page count method, will they be penalized?
As a writer of mostly nonfiction, I wonder what will become of information intensive books in which chapters 10 and 13 may be more compelling than Chapter 3? I have faith in technology to be able to eventually handle these issues, but in the interim, when retailers make business decisions based on imperfect technology, this could really impact the field, more than people imagine. Will the next James Joyce give up because his readers put the book down after 8 pages, only to pick it up a month or two later?
Overall, I think that big data will win the most from this, and it will be a way to commoditize writing content, that the distributors have only dreamed of until now. Will writers make two cents a word (at least for borrowed books) or three, and will an upstart company, paying more per word, be the next Amazon? It is a slippery slope that the retail giant has embarked on, and it depends on Jeff Bezos and his peers, and how well they play their hand, and whether a free market economy can bring out the best in writers. I believe this move could easily be the kind of over reach that opens the door to more competition, buy we shall see.