Here’s the thing about electrons: no one can see them. That means those of us who produce digital wares are wholly dependent on retailers to report our sales, borrows, or page-reads accurately.
There are some worrisome indications that this may not be happening at Amazon.
Specifically, romance author Becca Fanning says in a Kboards thread that a number of writers have noticed weird changes in their Kindle Unlimited page-read* rates:
For the past few weeks dozens of authors have been reporting that their page read counts on new releases have been … off. Not off by ten percent, but by 50-95%. These are for consistent releases with expected patterns of performance (as expected as you can be in this industry). I don’t want this discussion to get bogged down in conjecture about bad books, bad promos, etc. Sales numbers and sales ranks are as expected, but page reads are drastically lower.
The problem seems to be affecting new releases, and perhaps also books whose metadata has recently been updated, as reported in the same thread by nonfiction author Kara King.
Now, before you roll your eyes and dismiss this claim as yet another case of authors unfairly blaming poor sales on a retail platform, these are books that are “selling well, ranking well,” but not accumulating page-reads at the rate expected, given their sales numbers and/or ranking. Fanning uses the example of promoting a book, selling 80 copies, and only getting 100 page-reads, whereas similar promotions in the recent past would generate 80 sales and 2,000 page-reads. It’s the ratio of sales to page-reads that’s off.
And here’s the kicker:
Emails began to fly, initially meeting with a stalwart wall of “We looked into your pages read and can confirm that they are accurate.” Most of us took that and gave up. But one didn’t. They insisted on getting someone on the phone and elevating their issue up the chain.
After thirty minutes on the phone, insisting something wasn’t right, something kind of miraculous happened: On Friday Sept 30, Amazon admitted that there’s a problem on their end and that they have to get their legal team involved.
That really pricked my ears. Amazon? Admitting a problem? Involving its legal department? Hello, Nearly Unprecedented, it’s nice to meet you!
So far, according to Fanning, only a few authors have received adjusted page-read figures, and the adjustments have been small. But quite a few people are reporting significant disruptions in their expected page-reads/sales ratios. Fanning says that “the pool of authors who have noticed things aren’t right includes those with fewer than five books under their belt and NYT bestselling authors with over 100 books who regularly break into the top 100 or top 50,” so if there’s a problem with page-read reporting, it could well involve big numbers.
At this point, most of our info is secondhand and anonymous. So far as I know, Fanning and some other authors participating in the Kboards thread are the only ones who’ve made their concerns public. Nevertheless, it seems worthwhile to bring this possible problem to people’s attention.
If you have a book that’s selling/ranking well AND has been accumulating significantly fewer than the expected number of page-reads given its sales/rank, you may want to email KDP at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s also worth reporting discrepancies between book rank and reported sales.
*For those unfamiliar with Kindle Unlimited, it’s Amazon’s subscription book-borrowing program, populated mostly (but not entirely) but independently published books. For $9.99/month, readers can have up to 10 borrowed books at a time. Authors are paid not when someone borrows their book but page by page, as each book is read. In order to join KU, self-published authors must agree to sell their ebooks only through Amazon.
Edit: Hidden Gems has blogged about this issue here (near the end of the post).