Earlier this week Amazon released a statement tangential to the ongoing problem of cheating in Kindle Unlimited, but as with many of Amazon’s statements the bigger story is what was left unsaid.
To recap, Amazon has a problem with people gaming the system in Kindle Unlimited. This issue has been around since the beginning, and as Amazon changed the rules to thwart the cheats, the cheaters changed their tactics in what is no more or less than a game of whack-a-mole.
In the early days people were uploading really short books, and were getting paid for a loan when the 10% threshold was reached (with a 10 to 20 page book, this didn’t take long). Amazon fixed that by switching to a system where they paid based on the number of pages read by subscribers, and in response the scammers invented the book-stuffing con and started uploading really long books.
The way that the book-stuffing con works is that scammers stuff lots of extra content into an ebook before uploading it to Kindle Unlimited, and then trick readers into jumping to the end of the book. This worked because at the time Amazon could only track a reader’s location but not which pages they had read.
Amazon announced this week that the jump to the end trick no longer worked:
In response to concerns we’ve heard from authors, we wanted to take a moment to clarify in more detail how we measure pages read to calculate the monthly allocation of the KDP Select Global Fund.
We have worked steadily over time to improve the fidelity of the KENPC system that measures the number of pages read. For the vast majority of cases, KENPC v3.0 records actual pages read with a high degree of precision. For the few remaining cases, such as very old devices, we employ several processes and technologies (both manual and automated) to accurately measure pages read. In addition, we regularly audit the pages read of top titles.
Our commitment to the fair allocation of the KDP Select Global Fund remains a top priority. That includes addressing attempts to manipulate our services. If you have direct evidence of these types of activities, we will review every single example provided to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There were reports last fall that this had been fixed, but I have also heard from authors who disagreed, so it is good to finally get a statement from Amazon.
But even so, while Amazon may claim to count pages read with exactitude, authors argue that the way Amazon measures a page size is less an exact science than a wild guess or perhaps a randomly generated number.
Authors are saying over on KBoards that it is possible to make minor changes to an ebook’s formatting and end up with significantly different KENPC. One said he could format his ebook fiver different times and get five different KEPNCs, and another wrote:
I contacted my rep about this just a few months ago when I was reuploading a few books and watching the KENPC change. I waited, made a small tweak, uploaded again, and got another different page count. Often by 20+ pages. Using Vellum for formatting, no hacks, and there’s significant variability among books with similar word count. This is one of the most frustrating things for me. It needs consistency or it will forever be gamed.
And a third wrote:
My two most recent books (1 and 2 in a series), formatted exactly the same with identical front and back matter. 66,006 words=369 KENP. 62,445 words=308 KENP. On one book, 202 words per page. On the other book, 178 words per page. My writing style and language doesn’t vary that much between the two books. One book has 6% fewer words, and 5% fewer characters including spaces, but it is allocated 17% fewer KENP.
The thing is, folks, if one page in Book A is equal to 1.2 pages in Book B and 0.8 pages in Book C then it really doesn’t matter how carefully Amazon counts the pages.
Any count reported by Amazon is fundamentally bullshit because there is no single standard page size.
Let me phrase it another way: Amazon’s accounting system in Kindle Unlimited is broken on a fundamental level.
Cheaters are and will continue to be a serious problem (they already know how to format their books to maximize page counts) but the much larger problem is that no two authors are being paid the same way.
The emperor truly has no clothes, folks.
image by bdesham