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Self-publishing News: Kindle Unlimited And TikTok Hint At A Future Where Creators’ Earnings Potential Is Capped

Self-publishing News: Kindle Unlimited and TikTok Hint at a Future Where Creators’ Earnings Potential is Capped

In this week's Self-Publishing News Special, ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway looks at whether creator pools like TikTok's latest, and Kindle Unlimited, will place a hard limit on author earnings in the subscription age.

Dan Holloway head and shoulders

ALLi's News Editor Dan Holloway

The new Self-publishing News Podcast is out in which Howard and I discuss, among other things, why Amazon removed  indie authors' books without warning or explanation earlier this year. I very much look forward to seeing many of you on tonight's #indieauthorchat at the usual 3pm Eastern, 8pm UK time when Tim will be taking us through the delightful topic of tax!

Is BookTok Driving a New Generation to Read?

It’s sometimes hard, when reading what senior figures in the book industry have to say, to work out whether you are reading something new or whether they are simply being slow to catch up with something you reported on several months ago. James Daunt’s latest comments on BookTok are a perfect example of this.

Daunt’s comments came during a keynote at The New Future conference. He heralded a new era of excitement for bookselling. And the reason for that excitement? BookTok. Daunt claims that BookTok is driving young people to bookstores in a way not seen since Harry Potter. Daunt’s comment that, I, er, kid you not said, “the kids are getting excited about it” understandably had social media posting a certain Steve Buscemi Gif. And it’s not just that BookTok sends people to books. BookTok sends people specifically to Barnes and Noble. Daunt claims between half and two thirds of market share in this new movement. Interestingly, the titles he cites include Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles and, in the last few weeks, James Joyce’s Ulysses. I have to say, if Ulysses is the new Harry Potter among the same demographic, then something interesting is certainly happening. 

Clearly, BookTok is doing great things for books. And if you want to know more about how to use that, I recommend you start with the recent #indieauthrochat on the subject. But Daunt’s comments stand in contrast to the last story I’ll share this week, on what 2022 has in store for print. 

TikTok Creator Fund: How Do We Pay Creators for Subscriptions

I talk about subscription a lot in this column. That makes sense because subscription is a rapidly growing model for the way people consume culture of all kinds. And literature is no different. I also talk to some extent about what issues, if any, the growth of subscription will cause for writers in the long term. But what I rarely report on are the different mechanisms through which subscription services pay writers for the content which subscribers read. This week two different stories offer an insight into this issue. 

First up, let’s go back to TikTok. I hope I can talk about it in a slightly less cringe inducing way than James Daunt. TikTok has just announced that it will be using a creator fund to reward the site’s most popular creators. The $200m sound generous, but the important detail is that this is a defined value pot. It doesn’t matter how much TikTok’s revenues grow. And growing views are equally irrelevant to the size of earnings. The earnings pie is a fixed size and creators will all compete for a slice of that fixed sized pie. This stands in contrast to sites like YouTube, where creators draw an income from uncapped sources.

If this sounds familiar, it should. It’s how Kindle Unlimited works. The author pool may grow (more on those details in the next story), but Amazon decides the size of the pool in advance. And the pool doesn’t change if the number of pages subscribers read changes. More reading simply means less money per page read. And that’s a phenomenon we all know about. The interesting thing is that the whole subscription sector seems to be shifting to this fixed pot model. And that’s something we should all be concerned about.

Kindle Unlimited Pays $450m in 2021 but How Much Are Indie Authors Earning from Subscription?

That last story leads perfectly into this. Kindle Unlimited paid indie authors $450m last year. But Mark Williams asks typically pertinent questions about what that actually tells us. And the answer is very little when it comes to the big question of what we’re earning from the overall subscription market. 

What the previous story also illustrates is that even if ebooks continue to grow as a medium, and even if subscription continues to grow as the way people want to read those books, that is no guarantee that the pie we get a cut of will also grow.

Are Print Sales about to Decline?

After a largely unexpected surge during the pandemic, Kristen MacLean of Bookscan expects print sales to fall in 2022. If she is right, that would suggest maybe James Daunt is wrong about the new dawn for booksellers. What's really interesting is the reason she gives. The big danger on the horizon is the increase in shipping and production costs I mentioned last week. She expects these to push through into higher costs, and warns that publishers need to pay close attention to the impact of those higher prices on sales. Fortunately we can respond much more quickly than traditional publishers. Unfortunately, we have tighter margins on print sales than they do. That is perhaps something we need to bear in mind when thinking about using BookTok to send readers to print copies of our books.

Will subscription services mean a hard limit on author earnings and other top #selfpub news stories for #indieauthors, in one quick read, by #ALLi News Editor Dan Holloway @agnieszkasshoes #digitaleconomy #publishingopenup Click To Tweet

Upcoming Conferences and Events

Help us fill this with great online events in the coming weeks and months. I highly recommend this great list of online writers' conferences from Nate Hoffelder, some of which are indie-inclusive.

Bay Area Independent Publishers Association (BAIPA) – Zoom meetings the 2nd Saturday of each month

Over to You

Author: Dan Holloway

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines, which has appeared at festivals and fringes from Manchester to Stoke Newington. In 2010 he was the winner of the 100th episode of the international spoken prose event Literary Death Match, and earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Transparency-Sutures-Dan-Holloway-ebook/dp/B01A6YAA40


This Post Has One Comment
  1. Well written and informative. Thank you for the insightful perspective, giving us authors much to consider about our future.

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