A Chronicle of the Amazon Page Flip Controversy: Or, how to piss off a ton of your vendors all at once

For the past several weeks (and in some case months), authors publishing through KDP Select have been noticing a massive decrease in pages read (KENP = Kindle Edition Normalized Pages). I blogged about his before here and here, mostly about how it has hit me personally. In this post I would like to attempt a summary of what’s been going on and what the authors affected think might be causing it.

Most of what I know comes from a discussion thread on Kboards, a forum for indie authors. The thread was started on Oct. 2, and authors quickly began chiming in with information on decreasing numbers of pages read on Amazon. A few authors said they had seen no decrease, but the vast majority have observed decreases of between 30% – 90%.

Naturally, once we noticed that we weren’t the only ones taking a huge hit to the pocketbook — and it wasn’t just because everyone who borrowed our books had started hating them after reading the first page — we started to collectively look for answers. We also started writing Amazon Support to complain and try to find out what was going on. In the new KDP Select system, authors have no information on how often their books are actually borrowed, only how many pages are read. But all of us keep records of sales and income, including KENP, which makes it easier to compare notes.

Soon, authors began narrowing in on the new “Page Flip” mode as a possible culprit. Page Flip was announced on June 28, but it was several weeks later before it was available on most newer Kindle devices. This fits with many authors noticing a decrease in pages read beginning in around August. If you don’t know what Page Flip is, here’s an article about it in TechTimes.

Once Page Flip was identified as at least one possible reason for the decreases authors were seeing, a number of those on Kboards tested it for themselves, including David VanDyke, whom I reblogged a couple of days ago. But in this context, it’s important to take a look at one of the passages in that post again:

“Using my KU account, I borrowed one of my own low-selling books that gets fewer than 100 page reads per day, normally zero. I used my iPhone and the Kindle app, so that the book opened automatically in Page Flip mode and kept it there. I paged through the entire book. Result? One (1) page read exactly, up from zero (0). Yup. One. Just as many others are reporting on KBoards and elsewhere.”

Now, all this time, Amazon is apparently getting a deluge of complaints from angry authors. Since we were sharing things in the discussion thread on Kboards, we were all well aware that we were getting the same canned responses. Here is the first one a number of authors received, starting on about Oct. 4:

“I understand you are concerned about lower than expected pages read in your reports. We’ve thoroughly reviewed all of your KU/ KOLL borrows and can confirm that the pages read displayed in your dashboard are accurate.”

On Oct 5, Amazon posted this announcement on the KDP support forum:

We’ve recently received a number of contacts regarding KENPC counts and have been investigating each case to make sure our KENPC reporting is timely and accurate. We regularly monitor pages-read systems for accuracy and to ensure we are recording all legitimate reading activity, including a month-end audit. In the past week, we uncovered one timing-based reporting issue affecting less than 0.2% of pages read which we fixed on 9/28. We are also now in the process of completing our September month-end audit.

Should you have specific questions about your account, please contact us at https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/contact-us.

Followed on Oct. 6 by this announcement:

We have completed our monthly audit of September pages-read data. We regularly monitor pages-read systems for accuracy with a particular focus on making sure we have correctly filtered out fraudulent reading activity, while including all legitimate customer behavior. Total audit adjustments for the month were an increase of roughly 2% of pages read (though the amount will vary from author to author). We are currently updating reports and changes should be visible within the next day.

We expect the September fund to increase again compared to August and will release the new figure by mid-month as usual.

Thanks for the recent questions from some authors about how Page Flip is being used by customers and its possible impact to pages read. Page Flip is designed to make it easy to explore and navigate in books while automatically saving your place, and that is how customers are using it. We checked for effects on pages read before launching Page Flip, and investigated it again to re-confirm that there is no impact. We do not see any material reading volume happening within this feature, but we will continue to monitor it closely.

And this on Oct. 12:

Some authors have asked questions about Page Flip’s usage not counting towards page counts. Page Flip is a navigational tool. By design, using it for navigation does not count toward pages read. We are monitoring Page Flip usage data and it is not being used for reading in any material way. We will continue to monitor for any changes in reader behavior.

This statement is patently misleading. Either Page Flip does record pages read and Amazon just isn’t including any reading done in this mode as counting towards KENP, or it doesn’t “by design”, and Amazon doesn’t have any data on which to base any assumptions regarding reader behavior when using Page Flip. But as you can see from this promotional Amazon video, it is quite possible to read in this mode:

Kindle Page Flip mode

Amazon’s argument is essentially that since Page Flip wasn’t designed to be used for reading, using it that way doesn’t count toward pages read, whether they are actually recorded or not.

Finally, here is the answer email most authors are getting when complaining that since the introduction of Page Flip, their pages read have taken a nosedive:

Thanks for providing these details. The business team audited our systems using the specific information you shared regarding pages read and sales and did not find any systematic issues impacting your results.

Once again — how can they really know? Are they interviewing their KU customers to find out how they are using Page Flip? Do they even have data on the number of pages “navigated” rather than read?

Page Flip does not seem to the be the only cause of the huge losses many authors are seeing in their income from Amazon, but speculation regarding other things like another change in algorithms computing rankings, or some new policy to combat scammers and fraud, or the effects of the new “Prime Reading” program (you can read about this here and here) can remain only that — speculation. Eventually, with more data, Kindle authors will probably have a better grasp of how sales and pages read in the new Kindle environment translate into rank, but whatever is going on right now is just too new for any realistic conclusions. By contrast, Kindle authors have proven by testing it on themselves that reading a whole book in Page Flip mode only results in one page read. Searching for “Page Flip” either on Google or Twitter is all that is necessary to see that readers ARE using it to read books.

So why is Amazon not addressing this problem, and basically telling us authors that we are suffering from a collective hallucination? Speculation on Kboards is rife about that as well. It’s been pointed out that Amazon has been taking a beating financially after introducing Kindle Unlimited in Japan. A number of people think KU has become too expensive for Amazon and they want to phase it out. But why then not just do it, rather than making a huge number of your authors angry at you first? We will probably never know.

Anyway, to get back to me, after I received the (very insulting) email about the page reads in my dashboard being accurate, I sent them this very angry email:

Given the admission by Amazon that Page Flip does not count pages, combined with extensive evidence on the Internet and Kboards (among others) that readers are using Page Flip to read ebooks — not to mention that Page Flip is the default mode on a number of devices — Amazon is guilty of breach of contract regarding my books that are in Kindle Unlimited, by which I am to be paid for each page read for borrowed books. Since that is not possible with Page Flip, I hereby regard the exclusivity required by Kindle Unlimited as null and void. If I am not being paid for pages read, I see myself as free to publish elsewhere, seeing as Amazon broke the contract they had with me.

The next day, I received notification that the last four books I still had in Select had been removed. Now I no longer have to sell my books for one KENP — or half-a-cent — each. I just have to learn how to sell on other platforms. 🙂

Wish me luck!

Note:
If you found this blog post helpful, perhaps you would be interested in the book, Starting Out as an Indie Author! You can learn more here.

Advertisements

34 thoughts on “A Chronicle of the Amazon Page Flip Controversy: Or, how to piss off a ton of your vendors all at once”

      1. I use Facebook Ads to my website landing pages with links to all the retailers. I emphasize in the Ads available for Kindle, iBooks, Nook, Kobo, and Google Play. I also build my email list with books available for all devices and it seems to organically bring in a mix of readers across platforms.

  1. Ruth: same as on Amazon. I was wide until going KU-heavy last year. You can use an aggregator like D2D, or save 15% by going direct, but it takes more work. Get your prices properly set, have your loss-leader 99c intro or (better) a permafree intro. Get on every single possible platform, some of which can only be accessed via aggregators. Apply for BookBub every chance you get (for the permafree title preferably) and promote using the other sites every 90 days or so to keep that permafree title gathering eyeballs. Make sure your promo points to every possible site. Set your retail prices appropriately, usually in the 3.99-4.99 range. Make sure your foreign currency prices are rationalized (like 3.99 Canadian, not some wonky conversion number). Make sure your covers and blurbs are tip-top. Take advantage of any vendor-specific promo possibilities (Kobo especially does a lot of in-house ones with an easy system). Make sure you have a good website and gather your curated subscriber list for your newsletter. Write series of 3-5 books. It’s okay if they are related to another series (say by expanding a minor character) but IMO I’ve found series longer than 5 create diminishing returns vs. starting another series in your genre. Good luck!

  2. Ahh … I see. They didn’t ‘design’ it to do what it’s obviously doing, so therefore, it doesn’t count. You’d almost expect them to stick out their tongues and go, ‘so there!’

    Many ‘good-lucks’ for your immanent wideness. 🙂

  3. Ruth, thanks for the great article. Reinforces my decision never to us KU for my books! Going wide means that whatever shenanigans Amazon pulls on authors, we have other sales venues.

  4. Quite an overview – I first read VanDyke’s Teleread article and made my way here. It would seem someone should video tape themselves reading a book with Page Flip and then check against the numbers reported in their dashboard. (Essentially a variation of VanDyke’s experiment, albeit with a bit more “proof.”)

  5. Anyone talking about a class action lawsuit?

    I finally checked my page reads. I have 2 books on Amazon.

    Jan-Jun: ~2,400 KENP pages read per month

    July-Nov: Less than 300 KENP pages read per month.

    Plus, there are random days where there will be only 1 page read for a day, with no page reads the days before or after.

    I’m serious about a class action lawsuit. If one’s out there, I’m jumping on 🙂

    1. I just threatened Amazon with breach of contract in order to pull all my books out of the program early. I have no idea what kind of legal recourse would be possible, but the Kboards folks didn’t seem to think it would have much chance.

  6. Interesting post. I received the same generic e mails. I used to have thousands of pages read each month and then over night it was like someone had turned the switch off. Amazon don’t seem to care about their authors so I’ve decided to pot-out of KDP Select as it offers no rewards. I’ve now joined Draft2Digital and am selling through their vendors. Amazon really need to get their act together.

    1. I was already wide with a number of books when it happened, I just pulled my biggest sellers and went wide. I presently have one book in KU, which did absolutely nothing wide, just to test and see if things change.

      1. It’s bizarre that they treat us in such a cavalier manner when they’re surely aware of the problems that exist. Still, when I’m an international best-seller they’ll be sorry! 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s