The 1920 Fourpenny Boxes of Today

One of my short stories – approximately 3,000 words – made $0.11 through Kindle Unlimited after someone read the whole thing. Yes, this is going to be another one of those writers-complaining-about-KU pay posts. Just click away now if you know what's good for you.

Excerpt from A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (1929):

Hundreds of women began as the eighteenth century drew on to add to their pin money, or to come to the rescue of their families by making translations or writing the innumerable bad novels which have ceased to be recorded even in text-books, but are to be picked up in the fourpenny boxes in the Charing Cross Road.

Ouch. I read this several months ago and it really bothered me because it reminds me of what has happened to novelist pay as a result of Amazon's Kindle Unlimited program. Are we worse off now than we were in the 1920s?

I know can only imagine what Amazon was thinking: On average, our customers spend $5 per month on e-books. If we can get them to spend $10 a month with a KU subscription, we can double our money and generate more revenue for authors and us! Of course, it's good that people will be reading more, too …

From the beginning, authors knew that KU would create winners and losers. Once writer pay was reduced to ~$.0046 a page (half a cent per page) – which almost nobody can live off of – people with shorter works pretty much went crazy. But is KU pay currently worse than the fourpenny boxes of the 1920s?

I tried to calculate four pennies in today's dollars and pounds and it was harder than I thought. When using an online calculator, it's difficult to know whether it's considering England's non-decimal system before 1971. I ended up getting values between 0.58USD and £2.42. I'm sure that someone reading this will come up with a more reliable figure, but everything I came up with was still better than a dime. And $0.10 is so terribly close to ZERO. Are you wondering why I would even bother enrolling such a short read in KU?

It's true that KU can only (potentially) destroy the price of your product if you give in to it, but Amazon has already figured this out. If you don't agree to participate in the bargain bin, your non-KU book will get buried in the search results, allowing the cheap reads to float to the top. The Amazon search is, most likely, the primary method readers are using and have used to discover your book(s).

Many people have just given up on KU altogether, give up after the 90-day exclusivity period and 'go wide', or have given into the eternal purgatory of mediocrity at ~ $0.0046 per page. To each their own, of course. Depending on the quality of writing, author platform, existing fan base, etc, each author will have to experiment on what works best for them. Because I can afford to strike on principle alone and I'm not confined to the romance genre, when my last day of exclusivity is up with KU, I'll be out. For good ...

Notes:

pin money - pocket money generally used for nonessentials
Charing Cross Road - a street renown for bookshops (read more at bookdrum.com)
decimalization - monetary systems based on 10 – for example, ten pennies to a dime. Before 1971, there were odd values such as 12 pence to a shilling.

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