I’ve been away from blogging reviews for quite some time now, and I was arguing with myself for quite awhile about which book I should review. Do folks care what I thought of Ann Rule’s Green River, Running Red ? Maybe, but I’m sick of thinking about it, and have no desire to write 500 more words about Ann Rule’s insertion of herself into something that only involved her because it happened in her town. Are folks really going to be interested in my opinions on a 5 year old thriller about Jack The Ripper? Probably not. Then I thought about all the Zentangle books I’d “read” and I was reminded of Kindle Unlimited. I want to talk about that. I want to talk about it because it’s not a book review. It’s a review of literally thousands of books and how they are consumed and produced.
Kindle Unlimited is Amazon’s version of “Netflix for books”. There are other services available for smartphones and tablets; this is the only version available for the Kindle. For about $10 a month you can read all you want from among the “Unlimited” selection. (The fact that not every book on the site is included in the program might give you an idea of just how “Unlimited” it truly is[n’t].) For someone like me, who reads about 4 books a week, this is a stellar deal. It’s also a good deal for those of us with a Tsundoku problem. In the 4 months I’ve participated in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited I’ve saved anywhere from $80 to $155 a month. Instead of buying books to “read someday”–for that is the very definition of Tsundoko–I can add books to my “Kindle Unlimited To Read” wishlist. This is especially helpful because most of the Amazon Daily Deals have been KU titles since the program started, and that was my biggest book expense. “Hey, this is only $2. I better get it before the price goes up!” has become “hey, I can read this when I’m in the mood, no matter what the list price is.” For me that’s been the biggest value I’ve seen.
But there is a fly in this ointment and that’s what I really need to talk about. You’ll see lots of people reviewing the economics of the program but I’m starting to wonder if anyone is calling Amazon out on the sheer abuse of the system that some “authors” are doing.
Anyone can self-publish to Amazon, and anyone who self-publishes can elect to include their book in KU. Amazon’s royalty payout and ways of measuring who gets what are murky, but it’s become known that if people download and read your book to 10% you can make about $1.50. So here’s what some nasty people are doing. They’re uploading what are essentially no different in depth and breadth than Wikipedia articles on popular subjects–the ones I stumbled upon accidentally where about the art discipline Zentangle and the TV shows “Bletchley Circle” and “Downton Abbey”. Since these things are short, you pretty much automatically get read to 10% whenever your file is downloaded. And since the topics are popular, you’re going to get downloaded a lot more than someone’s lovingly-crafted dystopian YA fantasy. So a lot of the books that look like books are, in fact, poor excuses for humanity masquerading as the written word. This is a problem and it’s a huge drawback to using the Unlimited service. I’m less willing to take a chance on unknown authors, and that’s a problem. It’s a problem that Amazon needs to fix because the perception of value is eroding rapidly. With so many of the curb-appeal titles failing to deliver, the Kindle Unlimited program is looking more and more like a pig in a poke. Readers should be outraged. True authors should be outraged. And Amazon should pay more attention to what they offer for sale. Is this fraud? Not on Amazon’s part. But they’ve given fraudulent “authors” a platform that should be curtailed.