Amazon’s new experiment could change how authors are paid

June 22, 2015, 1:59 PM UTC
Thomas Piketty, French economist and academic, poses in his book-lined office at the French School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), in Paris
French economist and academic Thomas Piketty, poses in his book-lined office at the French School for Advanced Studies in the Social Sciences (EHESS), in Paris May 12, 2014. The 43-year-old Piketty's book "Capital in the Twenty-First Century" has attracted praise and invective alike on its way to the top of the Amazon.com books best-seller list. Picture taken May 12, 2014. REUTERS/Charles Platiau (FRANCE - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY BUSINESS EDUCATION) - RTR3OZ0F
Photograph by Charles Platiau — Reuters

Last year, Thomas Piketty’s 700-page tome Capital in the Twenty-First Century made it to the top of the Amazon (AMZN) best-seller list, becoming so popular that the site temporary ran out of books. Piketty was rewarded for each sale. But if he had waited an extra year to publish, he might be out of luck: Amazon is rolling out a new sort of author compensation model, where authors are compensated for each page read. It seems like few readers got past page 26 of the dense read.

The change, effective July 1, will only affect self-published authors whose books are available on Amazon’s lending services. By paying authors by how much their books are read rather than bought, the site aims to address author complaints that authors of short books were compensated as well as those who wrote doorstoppers. But the payment model is likely to come with its own haul of complaints, since authors are already concerned that the pay-per-page system will reward cliff-hangers over more complex reads. Images also count toward the page-count, so Amazon books might get a lot more colorful as authors think of new ways to hold eyeballs for as many pages as possible.

That means, for Amazon, an author’s work is only as good as its ability to keep the readers’ attention.