FREE READS, Amazon, and the Price of Beans

For SEO purposes, what is our subject? The rip-off that is Amazon Kindle Unlimited. There. Now that we have the keywords in the first graf, let us move on.

So…here’s the thing: You can come here to my site and read my golden words, FREE, any time you please. Not one, not two, but three of my bookoids are serialized here, for your delectation, as *FREE READS* — oh, hallelujah brothers and sisters. But if I’m going to give my stuff away for free, I am going to give it away for free. That would be I and only I. No one else is going to profit on it, except maybe you. And that would be in the sense that maybe you will be able to derive some mild pleasure from these scribblings, in an idle moment, without having to pay for it.

Amazon, however — that fine disruptor of the publishing industry — tries to arrogate that privilege to itself. It offers several plans through which you, the “author,” can make your literary properties available to the public. One of them is “Kindle Unlimited,” a sort of lending library, whereby customers pay a small flat rate to access as many books as they please. In theory, these subscription payments are aggregated into a pool, a part of which is to be divided up among the writers who agree to offer their books through the plan. Writers are to be paid, we’re told, according to the number of pages readers read in the books they download onto their devices.

Now, we won’t even get into the matter of how fuckin’ outrageous it IS that Amazon peers over its customers’ shoulders, spying not only on what they read but on how much of it they read and when they read it. To my mind, that is unacceptable, and it is one of several reasons I do not read books in Kindle or any other electronic format.

But that is a different outrage from the outrage at hand. The outrage at hand, delivered today in the form of a report of the amount of “royalties” Amazon direct-deposited to my bank account, looks like this:

You may have to click on this image to see the details. Or not: WordPress really does not want to reproduce it in a reasonable size. But here’s what the graph above shows in spreadsheet format:

The book that I posted to Amazon using this “lending library” scheme is a cookbook and diet guide called 30 Pounds/4 Months. Somebody, somewhere, elected to download it and look at it. (To my mind one does not exactly “read” a cookbook, although it does contain chapters on dieting and healthy eating that an enthusiast might sit through from beginning to end.)

On March 31, Amazon registered that someone (or ones) read 334 print pages. The book  contains 281 pages. Explanation? a) Amazon is counting the front and back matter as “pages”‘; or b) Amazon weirdly defines a “page” as something much shorter than the standard 220-250 words; or c) more than one person read the book during an arbitrary period measured by Amazon’s software and reported on arbitrary dates. Probably, I think, the second, but who knows? Certainly not the peons who write the content Amazon peddles.

On April 3, person or persons unknown read 61 pages.

On or by April 14, someone read another 346 pages.

That adds up to 742 pages. Since the book is only 281 pages long, it means the equivalent of 2.65 copies of the book was accessed and read on Amazon.

And how much did I earn on the rental of three books?

Nothing.

That’s right: $0.00.

Not that a tiny fraction of $9.99 would matter. But it would at least not be effin’ insulting.

To add injury to that insult, Amazon embargoes any book you post on Kindle Unlimited. Give it away for free at Amazon, and you are not allowed to sell or give it away anywhere else.

No. Not even on your own website.

So if I wanted to add 30 Pounds/4 Months to the *FREE READS* here at Plain & Simple Press, Amazon could (and very well might) sic its lawyers on me.

Why, you ask, did I choose to avail myself of this self-defeating merchandising plan?

Mostly out of curiosity: I wanted to see if it actually would move books.

And yeah. It does. But interestingly, that is beside the point.

Basically what it does is force me to give away my work for free, or next to it.

Well, folks, here’s how I see this:

If you’re going to give your books away for free, you might as well give them away for free yourself, on your own site or to your favorite charities or to your friends and relatives or to your business customers or to your local libraries.

Forking them over to a vast monopolistic corporation that has set its sights on pushing all its competition out of business, homogenizing retail in the US and around the world, and dictating what manufacturers, writers, publishers, and retailers will be allowed to earn on their products is, in  a word, self-defeating.

Working for free is nothing more than slave labor. You’d do better to teach college courses on an adjunct basis — bringing up another whole generation of sheeple to work for vast monopolies for free.

You can look at it through another lens: as a hobby. And that is how I do regard the three works I’m making available to you just now, here at P&S Press. I write as I breathe…it’s what I do. I can, in the same way that I can knit a sweater or cook up a pan of lasagne, make the product of that hobby activity available to one and all for free.

That’s pretty much the definition of a hobby.

Amazon is working to redefine publishing as a hobby. If that’s what you want to do — make a hobby of your writing skills — fine and good. But don’t fool yourself into thinking it’s anything else.