There are only a few things in this world that really, truly tick me off. One of those things is dishonesty. Another one is crunchy peanut butter, but that is a post for another time. For now, I'm going to talk about dishonesty, Amazon and Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), and the "gaming the system" mentality that seems to be over-shadowing the emerging market of self-publishing.
KDP is not a playground
When I log into my KDP account, I'm not going there to socialize (although the KDP forums are a nice place to hang out most of the time). I'm going there to work. This is the platform where the magic happens, where my manuscript becomes a book. (Another thing I hate is when people distinguish between a book and an ebook - that distinction died a decade ago.)
More and more often these days, however, there seems to be an entire segment of the population who go to Amazon's publishing platform to play writer. They throw words onto a page and without so much as a cursory proof read, they hit that publish button and giggle. Those folks are bad enough, but what happens when supposedly serious authors begin using tricks to lure unsuspecting readers like lonely sailors to a Siren? What happens when authors who are otherwise talented and professional start to play the games that well-known scammers play?
They piss me off. That's what happens. And little else, apparently.
Book Padding for Page Count
Amazon pays authors a royalty in two ways. First, there is a royalty on a direct sale, when someone purchases the right to download a book. That is pretty straight forward. The other way they pay some authors is by dividing the Select Global Fund among qualifying authors. Specifically, authors whose books are available through the Kindle Unlimited book subscription service. The fund is distributed to each author based upon how many pages of their books have been read by the subscribing readers. The exact amount paid per page fluctuates with the number of books enrolled in the program, the number of subscribers, the total number of all pages read across authors, but it's been hovering at roughly a half-cent (USD) per page for a while now. It doesn't sound like a lot, I know, but it adds up if you have a quality product to offer.
It would add up more quickly if some folks would stop gaming the system every way possible.
Most recently, some authors have taken to padding their books. For example, a well-written, engaging novella-length book that sells for 99 cents (USD) is worth every penny, or more, of that 99 cents. Personally, I think novella's are worth 2.99 to 3.99, but that's just me. Lots of authors sell them for a buck.
A reader purchases said book for 99 cents and reads it. Only, the book ends at the 30-40% mark, and the rest of the book is filler. Ads for other titles. Sample chapters of either the author's backlist or books written by their friends.
Now, I'm not saying that the reader has been robbed. They paid 99 cents for a novella I would have charged even more for, certainly. But they expected to received the 300+ pages advertised as a novel for 99 cents. They did not agree to buy a 125 page novella and a slew of marketing for 99 cents. I'm not talking about one sample chapter or a page of links to the author's back list. I'm talking about a couple hundred pages of apparent marketing.
To me, this is false advertising, plain and simple.
Why do authors game the system at Amazon?
Not many readers know about the return policy at Amazon. And many more readers wouldn't waste the time to return a 99 cent book just because of superfluous ads; or perhaps they simply don't want to make the author feel badly about their work. But it's not the buyers that the author is actually trying to game. No, no, it's Amazon and the Global Select Fund. It's me, and you, and every self-published indie out there.
Remember that second way that Amazon pays authors for their work? That Global Select Fund will pay an author for every page of their book that gets digitally turned. It doesn't matter if the reader actually reads it or not.
What would you do if you stumbled across the end of a book so early in the file you're reading that you are simply taken aback? Would you scroll through a few pages to see if it picks up again? Would you scroll absently to try and figure out what happened? Would you, perhaps, use the Table of Contents to jump to the back of the book to see if there is a note of some kind?
If you're a KU subscriber and you've downloaded the book for free, that's exactly what these authors hope you'll do because they will be paid for every single one of those page turns. When you jump to the back of the book, Amazon's computers count that as reading the whole damn thing... hundreds of pages of ads at a half-cent per page.
The author of a 99c book receives about 35 cents in royalties. The author of a 400 page KU-downloaded book that is read from cover to cover will earn about 2.00. That's a big difference. So what these authors are doing is marketing to the KU reader and hoping they will jump to the back of the book as soon as they've hit that premature ending, thus upping the payment to themselves.
Why I'm upset about authors gaming the system
That Global Select Fund is pretty huge. It's almost 15 Million bucks, actually. That's a lot of moolah! But it's not infinite. When we consider the number of pages read (or pages turned) in KU every month, it's actually pretty finite. Remember, the going per-page rate is about a half-cent.
The more pages turned, the smaller the payout per page. When authors who are otherwise talented game the system by padding their books with unnecessary and unprofessional fluff, they are deliberating taking more than their fair share of the pot and deliberately reducing the value of mine; of all the other authors whose works are just as valuable. It's greedy. And by not telling unsuspecting readers what they are REALLY buying (or downloading), it is fraudulent business practices.
In short, it's criminal behavior, and it makes me angry.
What can you do to stop authors gaming the system?
Several avenues are open to authors and readers who prefer to play fair.
First, don't fall for it. If you come across a book that is LOADED with ads or "previews," skip it. Don't turn the pages. Return the book to the Kindle lending library without adding one single half-cent to the author's pocket. If you paid outright for the book, utilize the return policy and get your money back. You've been taken for a ride. Don't stand for it.
Secondly, don't do it. Don't be one of those authors who deliberately reduces the intrinsic value of your peers' books out of some sense of greed or importance. It's tacky. Just don't.
And finally, leave a review so other readers can be prepared for what they are really buying. Every book on Amazon has either a file size or a comparable paperback page count listed in the description. If the Kindle version of the book says that it's 350 pages and you finished reading at position 30%, then the "actual" number of pages is 122. Let readers know this. Whether you adjust your star rating on the review is entirely up to you, and I would always leave a review as to the story quality honestly, as well. But let the author know that you were not pleased to have been duped into lining their pockets for something you never agreed to buy.
Honesty isn't hard. It's a good thing. A real thing. It's something that we indie authors should treasure as we face off against the old guards of the publishing world. The last thing we need is to be judged based on the dishonest actions of a few authors who don't understand that everything they do reflects on us, on the infancy of a new industry, and has the potential to bring everyone down with it.