I’ve been hearing a lot lately about some hi-jinx going on dealing with the Kindle Unlimited program at Amazon. The stories just illustrate that if there is money to be made, people will come up with any way they can to cheat the system.
If you’re not aware of Kindle Unlimited, it’s a program that is similar to Netflix but with books. Subscribers to the program can download and read an unlimited number of books for a monthly subscription. Only books by authors who choose to be in the KDP Select program (which is Kindle Direct Publishing at Amazon) are eligible to have their books in Kindle Unlimited. Amazon requires an exclusivity agreement with authors to be in KDP Select and the period runs for 90 days. This means that the author won’t digitally publish their work anywhere but Amazon, though they can sell print copies wherever they would like.
An author gets paid for books that are read under Kindle Unlimited from a massive pool Amazon sets ever month, and they break it down by how many pages are read. Amazon has some mysterious algorithm (or maybe it’s a wizard) that takes an author’s book and gives it what is called a Kindle Edition Normalized Page Count. These rarely correspond to how many pages are physically in the book and some have reported getting lower page counts than what their book has. Either way, this represents how many pages a book is in Amazon’s eyes for calculating people that read it in the Kindle Unlimited program.
When someone in Kindle Unlimited reads a books and then syncs their device, the number of pages they’ve read gets reported to the author along with anyone else that’s read it. At the end of the month, the total number of pages are tallied and the author gets a portion of the pool that Amazon has set aside. Recently this has been between $0.0047 and $0.0048 per page read. Not a whole lot of money, but scammers, schemers, cheaters, whatever you want to call them, have found a way to manipulate the system, as they often do.
The first way I read how they go about this involved placing some sort of deal at the back of the book and informing the reader that they needed to go all the way to the end to get some super free stuff or whatever. Pretty clever. What this did was make the person move all the way to the end of the Kindle edition and when they synced their device it showed they read the book 100%. And 100% meant all the pages would be recorded as read.
Another scheme involved click farms where people would open multiple accounts in Kindle Direct Publishing and Kindle Unlimited, enroll in KDP Select, and then publish a bunch of gobbledygook that had a high page count. They would then move through each book until they got to the end. This is supposedly done a very large scale. All the pages would be recorded, and they would get a piece of the pie, or in this case, a piece of the KDP Select Global Fund that is split between all authors in KDP Select.
You can see where this is going and has gone. Fake page reads take away funds from the global fund and lower the per page payout at the end of the month. Not that any of this is new. Under the previous system with Kindle Unlimited, authors got paid per much more liberally. A few opportunists saw their opening and began publishing very short works. All someone had to do was read 10% and they would be credited for having a book read and would get a payout from the global fund. After a lot of authors protested, since a tiny ten page book got the same payout as a 300-page novel, Amazon came up with the current system.
But scammers are always looking for a new angle, and they certainly found it with this new system. There’s no telling how many books are floating around that continue to use these same techniques. I’m sure Amazon is trying to stop them somehow, but unfortunately there’s always someone coming up with some new technique to game the system. Only time will tell if Amazon can jump one step ahead, but I’m afraid if Amazon tries to crack down and make that move they’ll only end up creating collateral damage–namely to authors who have played by the rules the whole time.