The $1.41 Sausage Inside The eBook Reader

The Kindle Select royalty for February was $1.41, the fifth straight month it’s been below $1.50. While that’s more than 30% below the levels of a year ago, the number of borrows seen by some publishers must have risen drastically, since Amazon is spending nearly seven times as much on the royalty fund, $8,000,000 in February.

February 2015 Select Royalty

I’ve always been a data fiend, driven to learn as much as possible about anything I’m getting involved in. It’s not the professional opinions of experts or mentors I crave, it’s the raw data. I make a lot of mistakes, but at least they’re my own.

One of my mistakes is always assuming that anybody who contacts me is looking for a data dump as well. When I was writing nonfiction full time and hearing from a dozen strangers a day in the pre-Facebook era, I eventually learned to just give my best answer to the question I believed correspondents would have asked had they all the facts at hand, rather than trying to supply said facts. It saved a lot of time and frustration on both sides.

Now that I’m writing fiction full time, I get a trickle of fan mail from readers. The nice things people say are worth a lot more to me than the thirty-five cent royalties on ninety-nine cent books, or even the $1.41 on a much smaller number of borrows, and I tend to state that, with an explanation of the Amazon royalty system, in my responses. WRONG.

Readers don’t want to hear that an author, whose books they enjoy and are looking forward to reading in the future, is earning well below minimum wage. They don’t want to hear about expenses like cover art and proofreading, or how much time it takes to put a self-published book through the production process. They don’t need a backgrounder on  the choice between making book #1 of a series free for everybody, or including it in Amazon Select so that Kindle Unlimited members can borrow it free.

Just a reminder to myself to stop showing fans what goes into the sausage that feeds the eBook reader.

And If My LCD Should Break, I Hope To Die Before I Wake

Alright, maybe I’m exaggerating the trauma of a broken LCD, but if you own a Fire HD 8.9″ or similar tablet, it’s at least a near-death experience for the device. When my editor’s Fire HD LCD quit on her, I thought, “Great! Here’s my opportunity to replace it and come up with some great new content for my tech website.” So I ordered up a replacement LCD through eBay and started looking for existing repair info on the 8.9″ Fire screen. I was surprised not to find any detailed HD 8.9″ LCD replacement procedures on YouTube, but that just meant that mine would be even more popular.

Separating the top from the bottom of the Fire HD is mainly a question of prying and popping, something I would end up doing at least four times on this particular unit, and the bulk of the old LCD came out, though it separated from the outer polarizer in the process. Here’s where we hit a snag. The outermost layer of the LCD was fused to the digitizer, and the application of heat didn’t do much to loosen it up. Just for grins, I put in the new LCD, snapped the unit back together, and it worked, except the screen looked like it was under about a foot of not-very-clean water. Obviously, leaving the extra filter in place wasn’t going to cut it. So I got out the heat gun and began scraping.


That worked out well, didn’t it? You might ask why I bothered to keep scraping away after it began to crack and peel, but I was hoping to save the digitizer.


That worked out well, didn’t it? The glass isn’t entirely starred up, however. Much of the white you’re seeing is the glue or film that was sandwiched between the two pieces of glass, much like the plastic film in windshields that keeps them from shattering in accidents. So I was left with a choice. I could reassemble the Fire with a new LCD and a new digitizer, but without the glue, or buy the whole top half either new (from China) or used. On a large screen area, I was afraid that if I put together a new LCD and digitizer without the special glue or film in between, it would end up getting condensation inside, rendering the screen blotchy. I didn’t want to wait another month for a new LCD/digitzer/bezel unit to ship from China (around $75 with free shipping) so I paid eighty-something for a supposed Grade-A pull from a failed Fire.

Fire HD 8.9 Screen Replacement

Snapped it all together (that’s my neighbor’s fingers making the cable connection, I have too much of a tremor to do fine work these days) and wallah! No power or volume buttons! That’s right, the highly rated eBay vendor (Gagetfix) who sold me the screen, shipped the top half of the Fire without the buttons or the audio jack assembly, even though they were plainly shown in the picture of the product.  I should have known not to trust anybody under 99%, he was 98 point something on tens of thousands of sales. I hadn’t thrown out the old plastic bezel yet, so I scavenged those parts and transferred them over. The three small screws are no problem for anybody with a 00 Philips (electronic or jewelers) but the metal retainer was also glued down, and took very careful prying to release without destroying it.


On the plus side, I have to admit that other than the LCD dying in the first place, that Fire HD was remarkably resilient to stand up to my breaking it apart at least four times, storing it somewhat haphazardly for weeks at a time between repair efforts, and accidentally turning it on halfway through the repair process more than once. This last bit is particularly difficult to avoid, and if you don’t get the screen going, there’s no way to actually turn it off again, you can only put it to sleep. On a scale from replacing and iPod battery to replacing the carburetor on my 1986 Omni (I just got a bargain on a factory rebuilt Holley, though that rebuilt took place in 1991), I’d put the Fire repair in the middle of the spectrum.

Fortunately, I should be able to pay for it with Select royalties for January, which came in at $1.38 per borrow for January.


Top 25 Free SciFi Book One’s Over 4 Stars with 100 Reviews

I’m always searching the Amazon catalog looking at trends and trying to understand what makes the Kindle ecosystem work. Last post I wrote about the impending death of the “Perma-free Book One” model, so today I thought I’d take a look at the top performers in the Science Fiction category. The following linked titles (in alphabetical order) are all Book One of a series with over 100 reviews with an average rating better than 4.0 stars on Amazon. While some of my favorite Indy SciFi on Amazon has an average rating of less than 4.0 stars, I used it as a cut-off here to get the list down to 25 titles.

A Hymn Before Battle (Legacy of the Aldenata, Book 1) and in the UK

Ancient Guardians: Legacy of the Key (Book 1) and in the UK

Anywhere But Here: The Starborn Ascension Series (Book 1) and in the UK

Bypass Gemeni (Big SIgma Book 1) and in the UK

Code Breakers Alpha (Book 1) and in the UK

Dark Space (Book 1) and in the UK

Date Night on Union Station (EarthCent Ambassador Book 1) and in the UK

Daughter of Time (After Climeri Series Book 1) and in the UK

Deep Crossing (Book 1) and in the UK

First World (A Walker Saga Book 1) and in the UK

Lost Highlander (Book 1) and in the UK

Mercenary Instinct (Mandrake Company Book 1) and in the UK

Mindspeak (Book 1) and in the UK

On Basilisk Station (Honor Harrington Book 1) and in the UK

Open Minds (Mindjack Trilogy Book 1) and in the UK

Planet Urth (Book 1) and in the UK

Season of the Harvest (Harvest Triliogy Book 1) and in the UK

Silo 49 (Going Dark Book 1) and in the UK

Slow Burn: Zero Day (Book 1) and in the UK

The Blemeshed (Book 1) and in the UK

The Emperor’s Edge (Book 1) and in the UK

The Syncronicity War (Part 1) and in the UK

Transgression: A Time Travel Suspense Novel (Book 1) and in the UK

Wanderer’s Escape (Wanderer’s Odyssey Book 1) and in the UK

Zombie Fallout (Book 1) and in the UK

I actually found closer to 35 books that qualified by the Amazon category, but I dropped the ones that were more fantasy than SciFi, along with a couple of Thriller/Romance books that looked misscategorized.

In honor of the pending Blizzard of ’15, I’m including a link to Bellamy’s classic story:

The Cold Snap and in the UK






The Hundred-to-One Shot At Free Promotion

What fiction author wouldn’t like to have a bestseller? In the traditional paper publishing world, the size of the initial print run expresses the publisher’s faith in the book and often contributes to the willingness of stores to stock it on shelves. After all, if the publisher is that confident, who are mere bookstore owners to argue? Besides, a big print run means a big marketing budget to protect the investment.

But in Amazon’s Kindle ecosystem, there’s no such thing as a print run. A lowly first-time self-publisher gets the same number of copies stocked in the Amazon cloud as the biggest trade name. Whether you call that number ‘zero’ or ‘infinity’, the result is the same. So how do authors without the support of marketing budgets or social networks suddenly come out of nowhere to create bestsellers on Amazon?

In the pre-Select era, before self-publishers could promote a book for five free days every three months in addition to it being available for borrowing by Prime members, the best strategy was perma-free. Through price-matching with another major eBook retailer which allows a $0.00 price, self-publishers could get their titles set to free on Amazon. Because this meant zero royalties, the perma-free method was primarily employed by series authors, who could offer a free Book One or even just a fifty page teaser, and count on some number of readers buying the later works. And it worked! And it still works, sort-of, but…

A few years ago, Amazon changed the weighting of free “purchases” in their algorithm such that it now takes one hundred free “purchases” to equal a single paid purchase. In terms of search returns, Also Boughts, and other Amazon catalog suggestions, you need to give away 10,000 copies to achieve the visibility of a book with just 100 sales. And Amazon keeps on shortening the half-life of their weighting factors, so you need to keep making those numbers week after week and month after month to sustain visibility.

It’s a long-shot for a free book to remain popular month after month in the face of competition from new titles, both perma-free and paid  books on temporary free promotions, some of which will be long-awaited sequels from successful authors or heavily promoted. The contenders include not only  trade and self published titles but those from Amazon’s own imprint.

Given the hundred-to-one weighting of paid versus free, does it even make sense to use price matching for a perma-free Book One anymore? For the main part, I would say ‘No’. The penultimate nail in the coffin of perma-free is the Kindle Unlimited program, which in essence, makes all Kindle Select titles perma-free for an audience of voracious subscribers who are economically motivated to sample qualifying titles. And each time a Kindle Unlimited subscriber tries a new title and reads past the ten percent mark, that download counts as a sale, with one hundred times the visibility weighting of a “purchased” free book.

These days, most perma-free titles can only be found through searches that specify free eBooks. They rarely show up in Also Bought lists at all, even on the pages of the sequels they helped launch. I’ve been closely watching titles in the genre categories where I compete for the last year, and there are only a handful of perma-free books that can hang around for months in the top 20 “sellers” of free titles for each category. While it’s  difficult to say why these books and not others (with more and better reviews and subjectively better covers) hold onto their spots, my best guess is that the later paid books in the series have some catalog presence which ends up supporting the visibility of the free book.

And I’ve noticed something else about newly self-published books that come seemingly out of nowhere, backed by no obvious promotion and launched without any pre-publication review copies. Even though they are included in the Kindle Select program, they don’t always start by using their free promotion days, and may never do so. Sometimes, being new books well-matched to their genre with the right title and cover AND BEING AVAILABLE FREE TO KINDLE UNLIMITED SUBSCRIBERS can be enough to build momentum within just a few days that gives them a nice long stay in the top 1000 paid books on Kindle.

Speaking of Kindle Unlimited, the December payment to publishers for KU and Prime borrows was $1.43. My guess is that Amazon will soon announce that it took a major topping-up payment to get there.

December 2014 Kindle Select royalty

What remains to be seen is whether Amazon is now targeting $1.50 as the “standard” Select Royalty, or whether they will ease it back up towards $2.00 after the usual December/January draught.


Select Royalty Limbo – How Low Can It Go?

My favorite graphical series from Self Publishing 2.0 was the monthly update of Amazon’s royalty for books borrowed through the KDP Select program. This past summer, Amazon started their Kindle Unlimited program, which for $9.99 a month, allows subscribers all-you-can-eat access to books that were previously available free at a one-per-month rate to Prime Members. The first graph below shows the payment over the entire history of the program on a single axis, but you’ll have to click on it for full-screen size to read the values.

 History of Select Payments

And here’s the same graph trimmed back to the last sixteen months so it will be easier to read:

Select Data Includes Kindle Unlimited


Why do I show the last two Select royalty payments, $1.33 and $1.39, as negative values? Because I didn’t want to redraw the whole graph on a new basis.

My own income from the Select program has fallen sharply since Kindle Unlimited was introduced because I haven’t seen enough of an increase in downloads to compensate for the lower royalty. Most of my Kindle books are priced at $0.99, so at least I’m not hurt by cannibalization – I’d still prefer a $1.39 borrow to a $0.35 sale.

But many publishers whose books are all priced at $2.99 or above have seen a drop in income, as readers who would have purchased a book, resulting in a royalty of $2.00 or more, now read it through their Unlimited subscription, resulting in a lower royalty. If those authors don’t see a substantial increase in readership due to the free availability of their books to subscribers, the result is a net loss.

Prior to the introduction of the Unlimited program, it seemed pretty clear that Amazon was targeting a royalty of around $2.00 per borrow for publishers in the Select program. It’s no longer clear what they have in mind, perhaps $1.50? Beware the ides of December, a traditional low month for royalties.

I’ve heard from friends who keep up with the Kindle discussion groups that publishers of short “adult” fiction are the big winners with Kindle Unlimited. The new program of giving large cash bonuses on a declining scale to the top 100 KDP publishers and titles each month is also creating some new winners among the authors and publishers who need it the least.

Given Amazon’s penchant for loyalty programs, my guess it that the bonuses are meant to encourage those authors who have the option to sign trade contracts to remain with KDP. But perhaps they just feel that bonuses for a few are a more effective motivator than pennies for the masses.

Does Blogging About Publishing Still Matter?

As I lay awake last night, trying to figure out who I could complain to about Amazon erroneously blocking one of my family-oriented science fiction novels (written under a penname), I realized that I missed my blog. I’ll write about that situation another day, when it has been resolved one way or another. The best memories from my decade of blogging were those times I was able to help authors and publishers who reached out to me with news of underhanded happenings. A few such issues I was able to help solve, thanks to the power of the pen and the strength in numbers.

In the twenty-plus years I’ve been writing as a vocation, the “creative destruction” of the print world has turned into the march of the displacement technologies, and equally important, of displacement cultures. Piracy, in addition to being healthier than smoking, is now the more socially acceptable of the two, something you don’t have to step outside to do. The culture of publishing is being displaced as well, with humans replaced by automated filters that look for “naughty” words in eBooks. 

The domination of the modern publishing ecosystem by a limited number of large players (you can count them on one finger if you’re a self publisher) has left most of us dealing with a publishing process that becomes painfully Kafkaesque if anything goes wrong. Large companies, especially monopolies, eventually end up acting like governments. If their model was democracy, it would be a mess, but eventually justice might prevail. Unfortunately, the model most often chosen by corporations is the authoritarian system, with supplicants forced to practice self accusation, and the overworked staffers implicitly trusting their own internal processes over any bothersome facts that may appear.

My years of blogging about sales rank data, market research, and minutia of publishing are behind me. In fact, I moved away from the original “how-to” mission of this blog several years ago. But I think there is still a value in providing a voice for the little guy, to speak truth to power, to vent my spleen rather than swallowing my bile. So I decided to give blogging another go, if only to have a place to occasionally point and say – J’accuse.

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