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This article was published on July 14, 2021

Amazon’s new Kindle Vella could be a boom for serialized fiction, but authors beware

The platform has launched on Amazon.com and the Kindle iOS app

Amazon’s new Kindle Vella could be a boom for serialized fiction, but authors beware
Thomas Macaulay
Story by

Thomas Macaulay

Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC. Writer at Neural by TNW — Thomas covers AI in all its iterations. Likes Werner Herzog films and Arsenal FC.

Amazon is trying to capitalize on the growing market for serialized fiction. The company today launched Kindle Vella, a mobile-first platform that lets readers buy stories in episodic chunks.

Despite the name, Kindle Vella is not available on Kindle devices, or Android, for that matter. Users currently have to access the platform on Amazon.com or the Kindle iOS app. It’s also initially only available in the US.

Background: Serialized fiction has been on the comeback trail in recent years.

The format helped built the careers of the likes of Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, before declining after magazines shifted their focus away from fiction in the mid-20th century. The rise of digital publishing mediums has set the stage for a revival.

Kindle Vella is Amazon’s latest attempt to cash-in on the resurgence.

The service could also give self-published authors a means to make money from their stories while maintaining a second income.

What’s in it for readers?

Stories on the platform are published one short episode at a time, each ranging from 600 to 5,000 words.

The pricing model is a little bit complex.

The first three episodes of every story are free. You can then read more of them by purchasing bundles of “tokens.”

A single token is worth 100 words, but the cost of each token depends on how many you buy. Prices currently range from $1.99 for 200 tokens (four+ episodes) to $14.99 or 1,700 tokens (34+ episodes).

The Kindle Vella Library shows the tokens you need to buy an episode.
You can find the number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode on the Episode setup page of the Kindle Vella Library.

Amazon says that that thousands of stories are already available on Vella, including works from best-selling authors such as Hugh Howey and Audrey Carlan.

The service also offers the following features:

  • Tagging: Readers can use tags to browse for specific topics and genres to find stories.
  • Following: Once a reader follows a Kindle Vella story, they’ll be notified every time a new episode is released.
  • Thumbs Up: Readers can leave a Thumbs Up on every episode they like.
  • Faves: Once a week, readers who have purchased Tokens will receive a Fave to award to the story they enjoyed most that week. Amazon will feature stories with the most Faves in the Kindle Vella store to help other readers discover popular stories.
  • Author Notes: Authors can speak directly to their readers at the end of episodes to share story insights and behind-the-scenes content.
  • Sharing: Readers to share the Kindle Vella stories they love right from their phones through Twitter, Facebook, and other social channels or via email and text with friends.

What about the authors?

Writers will get 50% of the revenue that their stories generate.

Royalty earnings per episode depend on which bundle a reader buys. For example, a 3,025 word episode purchased in a 200 tokens bundle would give an author $0.1493. But if that episode was bought in a 1,110 tokens bundle, the writer would net $0.1362.

Their precise earnings could be liable to change, however. Amazon has already reduced the cost of tokens since the platform was announced, which decreased potential payments to authors by around 30%.

Some authors say they’d rather serialize their story on the Royal Road website and seek payments through Patreon. That could give them greater control and a larger chunk of revenues, but would likely shrink their potential pool of readers.

Vella’s format also gives writers the chance to tweak their stories based on reader feedback. This could help them adjust their tales to the desires of readers, and also build a relationship with their audience.

Vella’s features for readers aren’t especially innovative, but they do offer ways to interact with writers that could raise their profiles. The Author Notes looks like a particularly helpful tool for building a following.

Amazon’s entry into the market could also force competitors such as Wattpad to improve their payments and terms for authors.

There are, however, strict terms for authors on the platform. Notably, writers can’t break down previously published books or long-form content into episodes and republish them in Kindle Vella — even if the original content is no longer available or written in another language.

Writer Monica Leonelle has raised concerns about rights grabbing. She fears that Amazon will snap up intellectual property on the cheap, and then turn the content into successful films and TV series that won’t net authors fair remuneration.

On the plus side, the platform doesn’t require exclusivity. Vella stories can be published else as long as they’re not “freely accessible.” Authors can also compile Vella episodes into a book, but it must contain at least 10 episodes, all of which need to have been on Vella for at least 30 days.

Quick take: Amazon’s expertise in data analysis suggests they’ve spotted signs that serialized fiction taking off. But the company’s reputation for undercutting authors and smaller booksellers makes me wary of their plans.

As a reader, I’m curious to see the impact that Vella has on serialized fiction. The format is already extremely popular in Korea, China, and Japan, where readers have also embraced reading episodic stories on mobile. If Amazon’s truly committed to Vella, it could help the US market catch up.

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