Unlike many other indie authors, I’m actually a fan of Kindle Unlimited. I think it’s generally a good thing for indie authors. Believe it or not, I think it’s especially good for indie authors that don’t sell very much. The downside is, KU is harsh. Unlike straight book sales, KU makes a clear and important distinction between two groups: buyers and readers.
Authors and publishers aren’t used to tracking those two groups separately. In the information era, this is a critical mistake. In the past, big name authors and publishers could get away with selling books nobody actually read. Today, you can’t do that. If nobody’s reading your books, it will ultimately be the kiss of death in the only market that matters: Amazon.
Because whether you track the data or not, I can assure you that Amazon tracks the data. They know who buys your book. They know who downloads it for free. Thanks to the Kindle’s wireless connectivity, they can tell you who has ever bothered to even crack it open (whether you’re in KU or not). They know how many pages that person read – and more importantly, what page they stopped reading. And if people aren’t reading your book all the way through, they know it.
If you’re not selling very well, you can know it, too. Got a five hundred page book? Did you just register 500ish page reads? I guarantee you that wasn’t 500 people trying one page of your book and giving up. Somebody just read the whole thing. On the other hand, if you’ve only got 15 page reads, that’s not good. Somebody tried it and didn’t like it. Unfortunately, this data gets lost as your book becomes more popular. It’s hard to tease this information out when your KU page read count is several multiples of your book’s length. You’re back to guesswork.
And that’s where I think Amazon has missed the boat. Releasing some of this data, in an anonymized way, would provide valuable feedback that would help authors – and Amazon – make more money.
Here are some things that I’d really like to know as an author and publisher:
- How many people actually saw my book’s listing on Amazon.
- What percentage of them bought the book?
- What percentage downloaded it through KU?
- Of those that downloaded it (free or purchased), what percentage actually read even a single page?
- What percentage actually finished the book?
- Of those that didn’t finish, where did they stop reading?
Each of these data points gives me a spot where I can improve my product – the book – or the marketing of it. If people aren’t actually seeing it, I can improve that end with external marketing. When people aren’t buying or downloading it, I know I have a presentation issue: my cover, title, description, or genre selection needs work. If people never open it, then I know I still have a presentation issue. When people stop reading it, then I know the book itself has problems. If I know where they stopped, then I know where it has problems.
In the digital age, I can actually update my books to fix these problems – but only if I can pinpoint and identify them! Amazon has this data. They could easily anonymize it enough to present it to authors and publishers, especially if they made you wait until you had enough sales before you could see it. I could live with that constraint.
But it’s frustrating as hell to know that data is out there and not be able to use it.