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Amazon's New Experiment Could Change How Authors Are Paid

Last year, Thomas Piketty's 700-page tome Capital in the Twenty-First Century made it to the top of the Amazon 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.

See the Factories Where Amazon Can Move 426 Items a Second

Employees collect merchandise ordered by customers for shipment from the Amazon.com distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2012.
Employees collect merchandise ordered by customers for shipment from the Amazon.com distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2012.David Paul Morris—Bloomberg/Getty Images
Employees collect merchandise ordered by customers for shipment from the Amazon.com distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2012.
A worker collects order items at the Fulfilment Centre for online retail giant Amazon in Peterborough, central England, on Nov. 28, 2013.
Merchandise sits on shelves before shipment at the Amazon.com Inc. distribution center in Phoenix, Arizona, Nov. 26, 2012.
An employee packs merchandise for shipment at the Amazon.com Inc. fulfillment center in Phoenix, Arizona, Dec. 2, 2013.
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Interior view of the hall of a logistics center of the online shopping company Amazon, taken on March 26, 2014 in Leipzig, eastern Germany.
Packages sit in regional delivery dividers ahead of distribution at the Amazon.co.uk Marston Gate 'Fulfillment Center,' the U.K. site of Amazon.com Inc. in Ridgmont, United Kingdom, Dec. 3, 2012.
Employees collect merchandise ordered by customers for shipment from the Amazon.com distribution center in Phoenix, Ariz
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