Half-formed thoughts on Kindle Unlimited

To add onto SgL’s last post — I have been wondering if Amazon’s latest program, Kindle Unlimited, the subscription service released back in July to compete with Scribd and Oyster, is part of their ongoing experiment with non-traditional models. (And if Kindle Serials, which functioned much like a subscription service, has become obsolete and will ultimately be phased out.) A lot has been said already about KU from a reader’s perspective, as well as a lot of ongoing chatter/controversy at various writer boards, so I’m wary of adding much more to the conversation.

But. A few things that have been on my mind:

1. The rise of paid serials outside of existing programs (in particular Kindle Serials)

- I think this started roughly in 2013 with H.M. Ward and her (still ongoing) “Arrangement” serial. Each installment is short novella length (~20k?) and published for $2.99.  She’s been wildly successful, obviously. This led to a surge of serialization in various romance subgenres.

- To be precise, there was stuff going on with the form as early as 2011, and 2012 is probably where it first started hitting its stride on Amazon, especially in the erotica/romance realm (H.M Ward among them). I remember this being the impetus (or one of them) for the Kindle Serials program (unleashed late 2012). I wasn’t paying as much attention at the time though, so please do correct me if I’m mistaken. (2013 is only when it seemed to me serials started becoming “mainstream” due to a variety of factors.)

- 2014 in particular saw the rise of serialization in paranormal romance, with several writers finding great success there, all without relying on Kindle Serials

- I believe SF was the other genre that saw an indie serialization boom thanks in part to Hugh Howey (but I did not watch this as closely)

2. Ye Olde Pricing Dilemma

- H.M. Ward prices each installment at $2.99, as mentioned above. A fair number of serializers follow this model too. But there are also a lot of 99c per installment serializers, who then price higher for “bundled” versions of the story. Installment lengths vary (especially depending on genre), but are generally in the 10k-30k range.

- There was a lot of vocal reader complaint about these pricing models, especially since way back at the start of the Kindle/self-publishing movement the fad had been full novels priced at 99c (with $2.99 being the other common option). There’s been a definite shift in pricing models over the years, but it’s also undeniable that the math can be harsh for the serial reader: last I checked “The Arrangement” is now on part 17, for example, with several offshoots. That’s $50+ in all for maybe 3-5 novels’ worth (if we count strictly by words and assume a base of 20k)… which actually isn’t that outrageous compared to equivalent print pricing*.

Of course, either way it hasn’t really stopped these installments from selling like hotcakes. Despite complaints, there has clearly also been a large contingent of readers who are perfectly happy paying for what they love (or who complain about it but pay up anyway).

* sure, apples and oranges, but probably just as much so as comparing serials with novels in the first place

- 99c may be a friendlier price for readers (from what I observed there were complaints even at that price point though), but disadvantages authors due to the lower royalty rate

- This was an issue Kindle Serials faced as well. The program seemed to approach the matter essentially as if serials were novels: a reasonable one time payment per serial with all subsequent episodes free. Great deal for the reader and fair for the author, but potentially not as profitable as independent releases as above, and also not good for writers with really lengthy serials.

3. Enter Kindle Unlimited

- For $9.99 a month, a reader can read anything they want in the program. Authors are paid per read out of a fixed pool (which may just be there for show, considering the fact that Amazon has manipulated the size of said pool every month of the program’s existence thus far to ensure [or so it seems to me] deliberately calculated payout rates). For the serializing community, this is a win-win for both sides… assuming, of course, that the reader is voracious (i.e. reads other writers’ material in the program too) and/or there are enough installments published and/or the writer publishes frequently. Reading either three to four $2.99 installments or ten 99c installments in a month is enough to make that fee worth it.

- But the program’s exclusivity requirement (anything in KU cannot be published anywhere else) may or may not be to its detriment, as well as the fuzzy payment pool issue. H.M. Ward (who was allowed to experiment with KU without being bound by the exclusivity requirement) recently claimed to have seen a drastic loss in revenue due to the program and has since pulled her work out. Whether or not the loss of revenue for her is true, it’s certainly true that readership will be limited to the Amazon customer base (which is nothing to sneeze at, mind).

(NOT, however, limited to KU subscribers. Those who don’t subscribe can still purchase, as before.)

- Also, KU was not designed specifically with serials in mind. Whether or not it has succeeded for novels is kind of a touchy issue among writers. But the impact of the program has definitely been far broader than Kindle Serials. And even half a year in, it’s really tough to gauge the full implications — in particular the question of “who is really using/will continue to subscribe to KU in the long run?”

4. Differing paths of evolution…

Over the past few years it’s started to appear to me that “webfiction” and “serials” have been evolving along different (but not necessarily contradictory) paths — one with a free/community-based model (Wattpad et al), and another, more aggressive commercial model. KU feels like a gamechanger, and yet it’s hard to say how things will develop from now on. The market is in constant flux. I’m not convinced the dust has settled, and even when it does (if it does), I’m sure there will be more changes waiting ahead of us.

Either way, as 2014 comes to a close, there are a lot more options now to consider, especially for a new writer interested in serializing. Having experimented with a few options myself by now (some under another, secret name), I’m not convinced any path is easier/superior to the others.

But that freedom of choice is what makes this all really so exciting.

Amazon and Write-On: Take Two on Serials

I apologize for months of radio silence. Work decided to have its own crisis which I hope will subside in the next few weeks.

While Amazon seems to have been in publishing news this entire year irritating the traditional pub world, I think it’s worth noting their interest in “non-traditional” models like serials. I’m not sure what has become of Kindle Serials which I’ve discussed in previous posts.  I haven’t seem much sign that it is currently growing nor many post-mortems on the program. Its current submissions page  remains closed — closed for so long so you wonder if it’s considered retired .  As I don’t see much publicly stated from the participants or Amazon themselves online, I point you instead to Jane Friedman’s post from earlier in the year trying to dissect the serial landscape.

While in a work-induced delirium, I caught an article very late last month on TechCrunch   regarding Amazon WriteOn (beta). The headline implied it was a counterpoint to Wattpad which is everyone’s favorite Canadian startup (if one reads all the  venture capital hype).

Like any sufficiently curious and sometimes informal reporter, I signed up to poke around. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed moderate benefit from Wattpad in terms of finding new readers (but no sales, alas) although having a work that doesn’t hit the ideal Wattpad demographic squarely in its face. (I like to say that I am on the Wattpad demographic dartboard but my work is too long, language somewhat complex, and not strict romance so I tend to graze the dartboard and then fall off it!)

I signed up for the beta and within a few days was provided an access code to log in using my existing Amazon account (currently linked to my Kindle Publishing account). As promised, it did appear to be what was advertised and has mostly writers (not readers as of yet) onboard.  What is particularly nice is that the writing quality (as a baseline) is far higher than Wattpad . My guess is that part of this is because the beta is tied to existing Amazon accounts which, I suppose, need bank/credit card info attached so skews the age of participation higher. (That said, who knows?) And I guess that the earlier invitees were all authors or people who hung out in writing forums in Kindle perhaps… makes sense… and the pay off is that the baseline quality of work is much better than what’s currently out there on a lot of “serial sites.”

I found the previous requirements in the open submission phase for Kindle Serials to be too onerous. If you weren’t done with your book and able to produce on weekly/biweekly installments at a proscribed word count, it wasn’t for you.   This looks far less restrictive and, in the beta, ideal as a writing community goes.

However, as it is a beta and everyone is starving for feedback, I haven’t yet jumped in. Tossing in a book and not engaging likely would be seen as obnoxious based on some of the forum conversations I was reading. Also, I clearly would need to bring my A-game once I do start posting my current serializing piece of fiction. The covers I see are really great and Kindle-worthy.  What passes muster on Wattpad won’t work here. (And so I need to enter when I’m ready. Not now.)

Let’s hope this effort matures. I think we need more than one Wattpad out there to help shape the serial market . Who better than Amazon?

I hope to start in on reading works in a few weeks but do have an account. If you sign up and are wanting to connect, let me know! Would be great to have some other points of view from the writer community!

Online-novel News and Views, Stories from around the web

In China, you can actually do this and make a living

For the long-time readers of this blog, you know from time to time we get hints that digital fiction actual works somewhere.  Light-novels are a viable format for publishing in Japan.  Cell-phone and web novels thrive and even can be lucrative in China.  In this piece, online novelists in Hong Kong get a shoutout. One thing I find particularly intriguing is the mention of a publisher, Sun Effort, whose catalogue focuses specifically on online novels.  Also think this is a first as well for a web/online novel as “Red Minibus” was turned into a live-action film with a debut on the international circuit.   So there we go, Hong Kong has charted the way. Now if we could only get a small piece of their success in the English speaking world ;)

Sparkler Monthly Creator Contest

Sparkler Monthly is running a low-key but interesting creator-driven contest. This contest asks creators to share how you as a creator share what you do with your audience.  Entries can be in any format (drawn, sung, video’d) and will be accepted through the end of June.  Good luck!

Jukepop community overhaul

In this latest blog , Jukepop announces a new facet to their comment/review feature.  Jukepop (Serials) initially began as a vote-driven site. In more recent months, they’ve added a comment feature for various stories.  Now, comments have become front-page territory as the main JP page not only shows updates but comment activities of authors and readers. It’s an interesting move and certainly will reward activity by authors and readers for simply “being present” on the community.

I’m sure those who benefited from the previous layout (i.e., Top 30 stories being top  real estate) will not be too thrilled but this shift in the other direction might actually at least let us evaluate the level of activity on Jukepop and encourage people to “delurk.”  Hopefully at some point, however, they adjust the layout so that the feed is not the center of attention  vs. the actual stories or randomize the feed. The idea of a feed can be abused easily by authors seeking to constantly have front-page real estate and can take away from the books that the site features.

Wattpad Fanfiction Writer gets a Deal with Simon and Schuster

In one of the more interesting acquisition stories out there– the series “After” written as a “One Direction” fan fiction has gotten picked up for both a book deal and movie deal.  It’s not the first Wattpad work to go both book and movie but it certainly is the first time I’ve heard of a fan fiction being optioned without little scrubbing as those of us in the fanfic community term it.  Basically the statement in this Time article is that the story will go on with just the band member names being removed.  I wonder how One Direction fans feel about their fandom being used to leverage promotion for the book, particularly since the content is purportedly “Fifty Shades of Gray” inspired.

Other news stories:

Have a story? Want to write a story?  See the Submissions link!

starterserials

News: Starter Serials Enters the Fray and other “serial player” changes

Hi guys – Back from a fan convention with a few stories to tell whenever I can recover from all this traveling and crazy convention prep!

The end of May marks the soft launch of StarterSerials.com by Drew Hayes and his posse.  (The man doesn’t sleep apparently). He had written me via email to solicit my thoughts about “what’s needed in the indie community” and where a new webfiction or web serial site might fit in.

To give you some background, Drew was part of the Digital Novelists network launched more than five years ago.  That site was essentially a webring/hub of site and a close-knit community of writers who posted works and helped one another out by sharing traffic. They had a community that gathered at weblit.us (defunct) and via social media.

He shared the below pitch in its protoform a few weeks back. This is the new version, hot off the presses.

StarterSerials.com is a site with a single purpose: to make it easy for authors to start their web-serial without having to choose between ease and appeal. There is no monetary cost, no lessons on hosting, no domain registration, none of it. Just submit, get approved, and begin.

On top of just simplicity, StarterSerials.com is about new web-serial authors learning about the process, making their early mistakes (because we all make a few) in a safe environment with a community for support. Established authors will be volunteering their time as Mentors: offering guidance, writing blogs, and answering questions as they arise. Problems and challenges are inherent to the task of running a web-serial, but the writers won’t be facing them alone.

So if you’re an author, head to the site and send us a submission; join the incredibly talented people already writing. If you’re a reader then make sure you bookmark it, because come July there will be an explosion of exceptional content.

 

In that email exchange, we discussed a few things including his motivations in establishing the site and discussed my thoughts about what was being done well on other writing communities and what wasn’t.   I gave him my feedback on where he could consider going with a new community. There are, after all, lots of places popping up trying to do the “publishing house on the web/social community” concept.  While there are several “free” places that combine reading with writer/reader interaction there aren’t any that want you to “graduate” from them and end up working on your own in the web publishing sphere, namely taking your stuff and going to your own site.

We also talked a bit about platforms, including Drupal and WordPress. As many of you know, I find WordPress a pretty nice content management system. Its ability to export/import entries to a lot of different blogsites gets it major points with me. (Anything with dummy-proof backup wins as I’m one of those dummies when it comes to accidentally deleting or messing up a website.)   I was pleasantly surprised when looking at the website to see that WP will be the choice platform for community members.

In the emails, I did ask him up front about monetization. Social sites can basically take your page views and monetize them and mine your data.  I have no illusion that some of the big guys I’ve talked about are much different from Facebook or Tumblr in that regard.  But the value they return (i.e., free reads/books for those who can’t afford them or have access to them) often diminishes any background concern I have about data mining or ad-revenue . At least for now there are no ads and Drew was up front that if any advertisements do appear on the site in the future, the intent is primarily to cover operational costs.

This, for now, is openly different from the other models out there (which are really about page views, ads, and social network data).

Of course, we all know that on the internet there are no guarantees of anything but if the site is able to help bridge the gap for some webfiction authors to get to their own site and writing in a healthy, sustained manner, I’m all for it.   The webfiction realm has lots of casualties in terms of stories that never complete and it’s not healthy in the long-run.

Based on what we discussed, I decided to sign-up and check it out myself as one of the volunteer helpers, time permitting.

Starterserials.com is open for interested writers to sign-up.

Writers have until July to generate a backlog between now and the official launch.   The forums are also open for casual hellos I guess as well :).  See ya there!

 

New Page (Old Post)

As a housekeeping note, the initial listing of  where to publish, read, or list serials has been moved from a post to a more permanent page at  http://theonlinenovel.wordpress.com/where-to-read-or-list-serials . This just makes it easier for all of us in later referencing. Also checked a few sites that were in my queue to evaluate. (Several now have made it very clear whether it’s free to post and/or read.)

Please update your bookmarks!

 

Open for advice

I have had a few emails come my way recently and that is perfectly cool to continue contacting me that way.  You can find my contact on the Submissions page.

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On Becoming Part of the Collective

I should probably start by introducing myself. I’m Jim Zoetewey, and I’ve been writing a web serial called The Legion of Nothing for the past 7(!) years that I’m turning into a series of ebooks. About a month ago now I announced that I’d become part of a group of superhero prose fiction writers.

PenAndCapeSociety_logo_smallSo before I do anything else, I should make it clear that this wasn’t my idea. It was Drew’s. In fact, I wasn’t even in the initial group of people emailed about it because Drew couldn’t find contact information for me.

Nonetheless, I was invited, and joined. Why? Because it’s an incredibly good idea.

In fact, it’s an idea that I proposed a couple years ago, but didn’t actually put into practice. The moral to that? If you have a good idea, sometimes if you wait a while, someone else will put it into practice and save you the work.

That said, I suppose I should explain what the idea is, and why it matters.

The idea is that people who write prose superhero fiction should join up, create a group, and promote each other’s work. The Pen and Cape Society includes people who write web fiction, posting only on their website. It also includes people who are focused solely on writing ebooks as well as a number of us who are doing both.

In my mind, that’s where the strength of the idea lies. It could only become stronger in my opinion if we also managed to connect with similar groups who are cross promoting each other’s superhero web comics.

The web has a long history of groups getting together and doing this exact same thing–cross linking sites in a webring, listing the comics or blogs you like on your own blogroll.

We could theoretically have gone with an “only webserials” group or an “only ebooks” group, but going with an “all of the above” group connects more people.

It assumes what I think is a fairly basic insight: websites and ebooks are distribution methods, and only writers care about the distribution method. Readers just care about a good story.

Web fiction writers have often fallen into the trap of promoting themselves only to people who already read web fiction. This is done in various ways, ranging from only promoting one’s work on Web Fiction Guide to only contacting other web fiction writers about crosslinking.

What this group does is make people aware that they can find the same thing in different forms in more than one place–not only ebooks, but also for free online as a serial.

In short, forget the distribution method, we’ve got the same kind of product in two different places. This has the side effect of introducing people who read ebooks to the idea that web serials can be good. It also has the side effect of introducing people who read serials to the current small, but noticeable boom in the availability of superhero fiction.

It’s funny. When I was working as a freelance computer consultant, creating websites and small businesses computer networks, I became part of a business networking group. It connected me to clients I would never have met on my own. More than four years later, I still do work for some of these people.

Similarly, this has been the best month for The Legion of Nothing’s first ebook since its launch. Plus, when the Pen and Cape Society’s website went live I received at least one hundred new visitors to my web serial in the first week. Not all of them stayed, but some definitely did. My stats have been up since then.

I can’t speak to the effect of the organization’s existence on everybody. Drew Hayes (Superpowered), Vaal (The Descendants) and Jeffrey Allen (Portal) report that their websites received a noticeable number of new visitors. Drew, Ian Healy (Just Cause Universe), and R.J. Ross (Cape High series) all report that their ebook sales are up. That said, they’ve all got other reasons that their sales might be up (like releasing new books), so they’re not completely sure of the cause.

Cheyanne Young (Powered series) only has one superhero book out, and feels like she’s got nothing to compare it to.

Aside from the group website, we haven’t done much cross-promotion as yet, so getting some effect from what we have done is a good sign. Hopefully this will grow with the release of an anthology we’re working on, and other projects we’re talking about.

If nothing else, we’re all now in each other’s “people who bought this also bought…” section on Amazon, something that can only help us.

It’s said that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. Creating a group of people who mutually benefit from promoting each other’s work expands your word of mouth whether it’s for a computer business or selling ebooks. In the end, that’s why groups like this matter.