The Internet has been buzzing lately with news relating to the placement of our Table of Contents. Specifically, Amazon is now requesting that we place it at the beginning, not the end of our ebooks.
Has the company lost its marbles, as some claim?
Sadly, no. Scammers have been making millions off Amazon – and off any author enrolled in Amazon’s KDP Select program.
The KENP Scam
Authors know that when Kindle Unlimited was first launched, we were paid “by the borrow.” It was similar to a sale (on sales, we were paid 70% of list cost on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99), except now we were paid out of a general fund instead of a set percentage.
But Amazon changed that payment method from “per borrow” to “pages read.” Not pages written, but how many pages a reader actually reads.
You see, all you have to do it just upload “books” stuffed to the gills with anything, even unrelated material (romance books, cookbooks, South Beach diet books, foreign language texts, any and everything you’ve got at your disposal), then use a click-bait link at the front of the book (something like “Click here to win a Kindle Fire!”) to take the reader directly to the very back.
If a reader clicks it, the author is paid for all those pages. A full read. Even though a reader just skipped over your book.
The serious guys aren’t just using TOCs to inflate their page reads, but also links to the back of the book, footnotes, and all sorts of other tricks (like filling books with page breaks, filling books with the same text in 10 different languages – done by Google Translate – and then having a link go to the English version at the back, etc. etc.).
And these scammers are pretty successful. Many have been in receipt of All-Star Bonuses – taking that money from the authors who truly deserved it. Remember when Amazon capped the KENPC count at 3,000 pages per book per month? This is why. This also explains why KENP payments have seen a steady decline since the switch to payment per pages read.
Why Would you Put the ToC at the End?
There are a number of perfectly reasonable reasons why you might want to place the ToC at the end of your book. For example, author Ali Isaac places her TOC at the back because she writes short chapters and so it gets very long.
But the main reason is that the Look Inside feature only shows so many pages. With the ToC at the back, people looking inside your book can jump straight into your story, without going through copyright, acknowledgments, a 3-to-5-page-long (in the case of Pearseus) ToC etc. Hopefully, with them reading more of your story, the incentive to buy the book will be greater.
Besides, a ToC’s placement is irrelevant with ebooks. Although it makes perfect sense in print to have it at the front, with Kindle the ToC is always available, whether you’re in the middle of the book, at the start or at the end. You just click “Go To” and “ToC”.
According to David Gaughran, some individual authors are receiving Quality Notices warning them that their title will be removed from sale unless the TOC is moved to the front. Normally these notices – which appear to be generated by bots – give us just five days to comply. Other writers are having their buy buttons removed without receiving these notices – a rather blunt-instrument approach.
Given the bad publicity generated by the story of author Walter Jon Williams – who had his Nebula-nominated SF novel Metropolitan removed from sale during a BookBub promotion – it looks like Amazon is no longer using a sledgehammer approach to the matter. The company’s statement reads as follows:
We have recently received a number of questions on topics such as TOC formatting and our policing of abuse and fraud among KDP publishers. In many cases, putting a book’s Table of Contents (TOC) at the end of a book can create a poor experience for readers, and in general we suggest authors locate TOCs to the beginning of a book. If the formatting of a book results in a poor experience or genuine reader confusion, or is designed to unnaturally inflate sales or pages read, we will take action to remove titles and protect readers. That said, absent any other issues of quality, locating the TOC at the end of a book is not in itself outside of our guidelines.
An Inelegant Solution. But it Works.
Amazon is aware of the problem:
Some in the community have contacted us about the activities of a small minority of publishers who may attempt to inflate sales or pages read through the use of various techniques, such as adding unnecessary or confusing hyperlinks, misplacing the TOC or adding distracting content. We both actively police for this type of activity on our own as well as investigate when the community points out such abuse (thank you to those of you who have helped us in this regard). Any abuse we find results in the immediate suspension of a title. Some circumstances, including repeat offenses, will result in KDP account suspension. In any abuse cases, we will also remove related pages read from the allocation of the monthly KDP Select Global Fund.
When I first read about Amazon asking authors to move their Table of Contents (ToC) to the beginning of the book, it raised an eyebrow. How would that help?
And yet, Chris McMullen informs us that this month’s KENP payments are already 17% up. So, kudos to Amazon. I just hope they find a more elegant long-term solution, as implied by the message above.
Until the scammers figure something different out, anyway…