A Roundup of Kindle Vella Questions

Stuff I haven't seen talked about much, with my commentary.

Hey there, Igniter!

I was originally supposed to post this yesterday, but with so much new news coming out about Kindle Vella, I decided to push it back to cover more immediate content. Today, I wanted to look at a few major questions I have about Kindle Vella, along with what I think the answers are—or at least, what I think the key factors will be when Kindle Vella launches.

#1 - Who Gets to Fave Stories?

In the promotional video for Kindle Vella, they describe their “Fave” system, which is one of visibility mechanism they intend to use to bring popular stories to the forefront. Reedsy summarizes it like this:

“Faves are only available to paying readers — who can fave a maximum of one story every week — and are used by Kindle Vella to curate and feature the most beloved stories on their app.”

I’ve spoken to a number of authors who have said, “If thumbs up/faves can be gamed, I’m not writing for Kindle Vella.” Amazon has a lot of reason to not allow the scammers in, and if they limit the faves to only people who have purchased coins, that could be an interesting way to place additional barriers around gaming the system.

But is it still gameable, and will Amazon need to keep adjusting this to avoid the average black hat entrepreneur creating a “fave” farm where they get paid to turn around and pay people to fave specific stories?

My guess is that Faves is going to be one of many ways to get your story featured, with Kindle Vella also offering in-app promotions and featuring authors who already sell well in their store or who have a personal relationship with them. I’m keeping a running list of places you’ll likely be able to be featured:

  • Most Thumbs Up

  • Most Faved

  • Top in Category

  • Top in Tag (major ones only)

  • Top Authors

  • Vella’s in-app merchandised promotions

If I’m missing any, please let me know!

I’m also keeping an eye on the Faves and will be interested to see if they become pay for play. I know Amazon will be too!

#2 - How Many Reads Will Authors NOT Get Paid For?

There is much speculation that Amazon does not want to pay Apple’s 30% fee on in-app purchases—hence why you cannot buy a book from Amazon through the Kindle app on an iPhone or iPad. (Side note: You can only buy books from the Apple Books app on Apple devices, as none of the other ebook retailers want to pay the in-app purchase fees either, so Amazon is not alone in this.)

Why? The math doesn’t work out for them, since they already pay authors 70% of royalties.

Small history lesson for those who don’t know: the only reason we get 70% royalties on Amazon, up from their original 35%, is because when Apple Books launched (under a different name, same store), they raised royalty rates to 70% and Amazon had to match them to stay competitive.

Many authors speculate that Amazon wants to get around this bad math with the launch of Kindle Vella by obfuscating and ultimately passing through the fees with their Vella payment structure.

On their website, they say:

Here's how earnings per episode will be calculated:

  • (Number of Tokens to unlock episode) * (Tokens bundle price/# Tokens in bundle - taxes and fees) * (50% rev share) = Earnings per episode

For example, here's how we calculate earnings for a 3,025 word episode (30 Tokens) when the Tokens are purchased on the web in a 200 Tokens bundle versus an 1,100 Tokens bundle. In this example, we are assuming no taxes or fees.

  • Episode purchased with 200 Tokens bundle: 30 Tokens * ($1.99/200 Tokens - 0) * 50% = $0.1493

  • Episode purchased with 1,100 Tokens bundle: 30 Tokens * ($9.99/1100 Tokens - 0) * 50% = $0.1362

A few things about this: for starters, “we are assuming no taxes and fees” is a terrible assumption as we already know that there will be a tremendous percentage in taxes and fees from in-app purchases. Again, Apple takes 30% of in-app purchases, so we already know that this number is significantly less than what they are stating. The reality is it’ll be taken out of the earnings before Amazon splits it with the author, which is something they can’t do with ebooks.

I like to give Amazon the benefit of the doubt; I don’t think there is necessarily anything malicious in how they state this. They may be stating it this way in the example because they don’t know how many token bundles they’ll sell from their website versus how many they’ll sell in the app. Either way, I see far too many authors quoting this example verbatim. Do not count on the numbers stated in the example, as they seem like very optimistic estimates.

Another potentially more important thing that’s obfuscated, however, is that if the reader has free coins, the author doesn’t get paid at all. Take note that in this equation, if they token bundle price is zero, the earnings per episode value is zero, too.

So my question is, where and why would Amazon offer free coins?

As far as I can tell from my research, Amazon can do absolutely anything. For example, we expect that they will need to give away coin bundles to get people to start reading on the app. Most authors know that some readers might read far more than three episodes before the author gets paid.

But can Amazon do other things? For example, give token packages away with purchases via their website, bundle them with Prime memberships, offer them as a digital reward for “shipping my order in as few packages as possible,” and so on?

A lot of authors compare the coin system to pagereads, but I have to push back on this. From what I can tell, Amazon is actually developing their own currency/rewards program here, and they are able to use this currency/rewards points system to then cut operational costs across their many other businesses and programs. I’m not seeing anything in their marketing copy that suggests that they couldn’t do this. (PLEASE message me or comment if I’ve missed something, of course—I definitely do.)

It’s worth watching not only the value per coin, but also the how, why, and amount of coins given away. Because we won’t be paid for the latter.

#3 - How Will Readers Find Stories? Short-Term? Long-Term?

We already know that Vella is only launching in the Kindle iOS app and the website. This is good for many reasons:

  • The Kindle app is already installed on tons of iPhones and iPads, which means there are readers on these apps already

  • The readers are varied in genre and age (to an extent; Apple’s demographics do tend to skew younger but we all still know people in their sixties and seventies who own an iPhone)

  • The Kindle app can likely do push notifications, which means that people who read on Kindle on their Apple devices will definitely hear about this, if not via email, via push.

There are some things about this, however, that could be good or bad depending on where you land:

  • The Kindle app already offers push notifications for authors that people follow—will established authors/pen names thus have a significant leg up, beyond their email list or author platforms off of Amazon? Will they get push notifications for their stories?

  • Is Amazon going to focus on readers who buy books regularly or KU readers? Will being established in one area or another be beneficial?

  • Is Amazon trying to find new readers through this app? Will there be a flood of new readers (perhaps younger readers) who don’t currently buy books? And how will that play out for authors who have struggled to fit serials, short stories, or novellas into the “novels priced between $2.99-$9.99” business model?

All of these questions could affect your approach to Kindle Vella and change the equation around who does well through it and who doesn’t.

#4 - Will Kindle Vella Kill Kindle Unlimited?

One thing I’ve been trying to understand about Kindle Vella is how it fits with Amazon’s other KDP Select program, Kindle Unlimited, where readers can read for the all-you-can-eat subscription price of $9.99.

If authors can bundle their serial episodes and sell them as they go, won’t those books go to wide retailers? They can’t go to Kindle Unlimited because it breaks the KDP Select TOS.

I’m curious where exactly Kindle Unlimited fits into these plans. I’m sure they will run alongside each other for a time, potentially several years. But in some ways, it seems like the two programs will have competing interests and be going after some of the same readers and content for exclusivity.

#5 - What Rights Are We Truly Signing Away With Kindle Vella?

Exclusivity is a challenge in the indie author world and the conversation is moving far beyond Kindle Unlimited versus Wide. There are mixed messages coming from Amazon about what is included in their format exclusivity, which requires that the story remain in paid serial format and not be turned into a book or other long-form content for 30 days.

A BIG question authors are wondering about is audiobooks or audio serials. Regarding the newest changes in Content Guidelines, KDPSam states:

The Content Guidelines we posted apply to publishing Kindle Vella content in another format including audio.

Later in the thread, someone asks:

So I am a bit confused by the 'AUDIO' content...

My current understanding is that for the entire story (i.e. an entire audiobook based on the story) that this has to be 30 day out

BUT

What if you want to publish your story in a 'SERIALIZED AUDIO' formal which is not free of charge (e.g. as a PAID PODCAST / EPISODIC AUDIOBOOK) ?

In my personal opinion that is the same like having the serialized story in a written format available to readers when they have to pay for it on another platform.

To which KDPSam replies:

Yes, you can publish serialized audio content that is not freely available on the web.

Vella also states that the serial cannot be in any other language outside of English, which leaves a lot of questions as to when and if you can translate the material while still maintaining your serial on Vella.

If you’ve read Get Your Book Selling Wide, I discuss this a lot: how exclusivity in any form always encroaches on your ability to exploit your intellectual property in ways that you often don’t see—in a different language, different region, or different format, usually. You’re effectively signing away your rights without actually signing a contract or getting paid for what’s effectively an option on your rights. This is something to watch out for, as companies use exclusivity to kill the value of your intellectual property in other markets and formats.

What Else Are We Missing About Kindle Vella?

I’d love to know what questions you’re thinking about as we get closer to Kindle Vella’s launch! I expect more updates from the Kindle Vella team as the date nears.

The next several articles I’ll be posting here are:

  • (Wednesday, June 23rd) My Experimental Kindle Vella Strategy (How I’m Hoping to Get Readers to Flow Between Stories) (paid subscribers only)

  • (Saturday, June 26th) A Checklist For Marketing a Kindle Vella Story (A brain dump of my marketing ideas) (paid subscribers only)

This will finish up the serialized fiction series (unless there’s a Q&A as I know this series has generated a lot of questions) and the next series will be focused on Apple Books as a platform: how the algorithms work, what marketing strategies work, and more.

NOTE: There are a ton of past posts in the Kindle Vella series and when you subscribe you can read the archives along with any additional updates I do as Kindle Vella rolls out to authors and readers.

As stated, I’ll be sending about 2-4 emails a week through this newsletter, with about half of them for paid subscribers and half for free subscribers.

If you are interested in the paid subscribers only articles, I encourage you to upgrade your subscription. There are two ways to do it and you can learn more here under the “Becoming a Subscriber” heading: https://aggressivelywide.substack.com/about

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