Tag Archives: Amazon

FUCK YOU AMAZON! Fuck you for being right! Again!

Sigh. Writers and publishers are again up in arms about Amazon, this time because of a letter sent directly to thousands of self-published writers by the book behemoth, and repeated on a new Readers United website. Full text of the email below for non-KDP authors who are curious.

So here we are again. Amazon is correct, 100% so, in every major point they make. The comparison with paperback publishing is HUGELY relevant and the price elasticity is absolutely in line with every major consumer product that has transitioned to digital. And how have many writers and publishers responded? Basically by screaming…

FUCK YOU AMAZON!

Yeah Amazon, fuck you! Fuck you for being right! Again! What have Amazon ever done for books eh? Pioneered a postal delivery market publishers ignored? Yes ok, but what else? Invested millions in an ebook infrastructure publishers deliberately ignored? Fine, but what else? Opened up publishing to thousands of independent authors of all kinds, many of whom are making entire careers in digital sales with 70% royalties? Well, damn yes that’s pretty good I guess, but what else?

What else? Look people, there is no scenario where publishing isn’t utterly transformed by digital technology. Do you know what the real threat to book publishing is? Total and utter irrelevancy. If books aren’t present in the digital market places where people now buy music, films, tv shows, games and apps, they effectively cease to exist for the VAST MAJORITY OF PEOPLE. Remember record stores? Remember video rental stores? You’ll soon be remembering book shops as well, beyond a handful of well run independents in rich neighbourhoods. Where the hell do you expect people to see your books if not on Kindle, iBooks or Google Play? And in what possible universe are people going to pay $19.99 for an ebook when that pricing is waaaaaaaaay over the value of other digital media?

People are justifying this “FUCK YOU AMAZON” response by the “tone” of Amazon’s letter. Read and judge for yourself. It may be assertive, or it may be patronising. It’s still right.

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From: Kindle Direct Publishing
Subject: Important Kindle request

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at http://www.readersunited.com

The troll reviewers targeting women writers

Online abuse reminds us that while technology is upgraded, human qualities of jealousy and bitterness are not.

It may contain some passages judged by one Amazon customer to be “brilliantly written”, but that isn’t enough to spare Monica Byrne’s The Girl in the Road a two-star kicking. The reason? Byrne has committed a political sin in presenting the scientific reality of climate change – or according to this customer “a fantasy future where it turned out that Global Warming fanatics actually got something right”. Worse yet in this user’s eyes, Byrne’s depiction of women fighting back against male violence makes her guilty of misandry “thick enough to plow”. Climate change and gender politics, two hot-button issues for reactionary conservatives who have found a new outlet for their hate speech – online reviews.

Negative book reviews are a reality of life for all professional writers. And the proliferation of user-generated reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads make readers’ opinions just as important as those of professional critics. But for authors like Byrne, politically motivated reviews are easy to spot. “There’s an unmistakable tone,” Byrne says. “And if they’re using condescending or otherwise gender-coded language, that’s a dead giveaway.”

Read more @ Guardian Books

Where are my international Amazon Associate commissions?

Many book bloggers and even writers earn commission from Amazon by linking to books and other products sold by the giant online retailer. But many of them are leaving money on the table by not directing their international readers to the right international Amazon store! Jesse Lakes of GeoRiot steps up with a great guest post which shows the problem and offers some handy solutions. Answer The Question is my regular slot for guest posts, you can get details on how to contribute here.

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Where are my international Amazon Associates commissions?

Marketing products online has many mysteries – few of which are easily solved. However, without a crystal ball it’s nearly impossible to know the answers, so you may be missing the “thing” that crumbles your efforts or propels them into the stratosphere. 

If you use affiliate links from the Amazon Associates Program you have likely come across one of the many questions GeoRiot got a little obsessed with – “Where are my International Amazon Associates commissions?” Fortunately, we have our own crystal ball of sorts, and are happy to share our findings.

The Answer

It turns out that most marketers fail to consider their international audience when promoting items, using something we call “raw links.” Raw links are ones that only go to a single destination (such as amazon.com). Users who normally purchase in other stores (amazon.co.uk, amazon.de, or one of the other 11 international Amazon stores) are often inconvenienced due to language, currency, shipping, or account barriers and likely won’t buy anything.

Think about it, if you were in LA, would you buy something from Germany if it were also available on Amazon.com (with Prime!)?

Probably not.

However, sending international visitors to their local version of Amazon is only half of the answer. The second half stems around using storefront specific Associates Programs. Of those 13 total Amazon storefronts, 11 have separate Amazon Associates Programs (Mexico and Australia don’t have one – yet), and commissions can only be earned when the Associates ID comes from that Amazon store’s Associates Program.

For example, a German visitor should be sent to Amazon.de using a tracking ID from the Amazon PartnerNet (the German version of the Associates Program) while a Canadian visitor goes to Amazon.ca with the Canadian version of the Amazon Associates Program to get credit for that sale.

To sum it up, this means that not only do you need a link that sends a visitor to their local Amazon store for the product you are promoting but you’ll also need to affiliate it with the tracking ID from that same Amazon Associates Program.

Great!  …So then how do you manage to send users to the right store, with the right ID attached for each individual click?

The Solution

Some marketers add separate links for each of the Amazon stores for each product you are recommending, or create different geo-targeted versions of your site for each segment of your visitors, but those solutions can be cumbersome for your audience and time intensive to maintain.

Alternatively, you could check out a “Link Management” service (such as GeoRiot) designed to tackle exactly these types of problems automagically.

When researching be sure that your solution not only “localizes” (changes the domain of the URL to the correct store), but also “translates” (finds the same product in a foreign storefront even when the ID changes) for every click.  This provides the best experience possible for every user, leading to a higher chance of a conversion, and makes you a happy marketer.

Now that you’ve stared deeply into our crystal ball, hopefully that helps explain one of affiliate marketing’s greatest mysteries. With the extra money you earn from international commissions, you can hire someone to solve the rest. Happy linking.

Will the next wave of publishing technology favour writers?

Independent author Susanna Shore expresses the bottom line on the state of independent publishing in a well thought out post on Kindle Unlimited.

As a KDP author, it’s impossible for me to remain completely neutral, even when keeping outside the dispute. Generally, I tend to favour the opinion that all big companies look for their best interests. For now, Amazon’s interests are favourable to me, but that doesn’t mean they are on my side, or that their interests will continue to be in my favour. Moreover, I don’t have to be on their side to benefit from their desire for profit. In this, I’m firmly on my side, which doesn’t mean I didn’t feel sorry for the authors affected by the dispute.

Read more of So…Kindle Unlimited

The high emotions engendered by the transition from print to digital publishing often cloud the basic facts. As Shore bluntly states, that transition, lead by technology innovated by Amazon, has fallen firmly in favour of writers, and particularly those writers with the energy and skill set to publish independently. Digital eliminates the entire print, distribution and retail chain that once sucked so much value from the wealth generated by publishing books. Now a writer can write and then publish a book to one of a half-dozen ebook marketplaces, Amazon Kindle being by far the largest, and keep hold of most of the wealth the book generates. Even after a substantial cut has gone to the marketplace, the author still gets a far higher percentage return.

But we live in fast moving technological times. The model of a few centralised ebook marketplaces is likely to disappear as fast as it appeared. I personally doubt it will last beyond the end of this decade, 2020. But what might replace it, and will the next wave of publishing technology continue to favour the author?

One way to understand the success of the Amazon Kindle marketplace is as a byproduct of the limitations of internet search. What do I mean by that somewhat jargon heavy statement? We need a central marketplace for ebooks, because Google search doesn’t quite fulfil that function. A Google search can help you find an author or book, but it quickly hands you over to anther information source that actually holds more extensive meta-data on that author or book. Amazon, or the Amazon owned Goodreads, are nearly always the top returned result for any ebook search. And of course it’s in the Amazon marketplace that you actually buy the book, and download it to your e-reader.

But the next stage of internet search has the potential to entirely bypass the Amazon marketplace, and other similar marketplaces for digital goods like ebooks. The semantic web is a simple idea made complex by a somewhat off putting name. In brief, it is the idea that every piece of information on the internet is tagged with the meta-data that describes it. For example, my name “Damien Walter” would also be tagged with my place and date of birth, web address, email etc etc and thousands or millions of other pieces of “meta data”. An ebook, let’s say Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, would be tagged with all the meta-data relevant to it. For instance, it’s current sales data, recent related tweets, reviews, and all kinds of other useful information. Once you have extensive semantic data on most ebooks, Google can effectively displace Amazon as the marketplace for ebooks.

Why? Because when you search, say, for “Science Fiction” on the semantic web, Google will return a far more useful result to you than the current Amazon science fiction category. It will be able to show you bestselling titles, top authors, most talked about books on social networks, and a huge amount of other data tailored to your needs. And all of this data will be decentralised. It will be provided directly, by publishers, by authors, and by readers. And of course, with it’s own robust payment systems, Google will happily deal with the translation to buy this product directly from the author, again without the involvement of Amazon. Instead of uploading an ebook to the Amazon marketplace for a 35-70%, authors might instead upload their new book to their own website, tagged with all relevant semantic data, and sell it via google for 97%, minus only Googles 3% transaction fee.

This is of course speculative. But given the current trends in our technology, there’s every reason to believe that the next technological developments in publishing will give even more power to authors than the Amazon marketplace has done already. Authors are, until computers start writing fiction, the only essential worker needed to create novels. As such the tendency of technology to automate all kinds of work will also tend to shift more and more power away from publishing professionals of all kinds, and towards the author.

Meta-content is the future of the book

This evening I bought Jeffrey Eugenides ‘The Marriage Plot’ from the Amazon Kindle store. I would love to say that I always buy books when it would be just as easy to download a pirate version for free, but I would be being  dishonest. But buying the book has recently become a far more likely outcome, for the simple reason that I want to see what other people are saying about it.

Reading through The Marriage Plot I am able to see where other readers have highlighted passages. I find this really quite interesting. It would of course be much, much more interesting if readers could share comments on the text directly through their Kindles. We may read books in isolation but we love to talk about them together. Books are about our shared human experience, so it’s good and natural that we want to exchange thoughts about them. Take it a step further. Think about the commentary that accrues around a text over the years. Reviews. Academic studies. Reader comments. Author interviews. Social media gives us the technology to connect all of these materials directly to the text. That’s incredible added value, which has hardly even begun to be tapped.

The publishing industry has been chronically slow in exploiting the unique added value of user generated meta-content around the product they publish. Particularly as it provides an absolutely compelling solution to the problem of piracy. Only the authorised text allows you both to read commentary, and to comment upon the text. Readers are in effect paying not for the book, an increasingly worthless product, but for entry to the community of the book’s readers, an increasingly valuable experience. My prediction is that the first players to provide a seamless commentary and meta-content system for published texts will gain an advantage in the game of modern publishing. It will almost certainly be Amazon, unless the major publishers suddenly gain a gift for innovation they have previously lacked.

Are 70% royalties the future?

It’s possible that 27th January might be remembered as the day that destroyed publishing. But if it is, it may be a day of joy for writers.

Unless you are living under a stone or a raving technophobe you are probably aware that on 27th January, Apple, the people who brought you the iPod and the iPhone are likely to announce the iTablet (or iPad, or iSlate, depending on the rumour mill you listen to) The iTablet may do many things, but the consensus of opinion seems certain it will operate as an eReader, and that Apple will launch some form of eBook market place to provide content, with Harper Collins in the frame as a major content provider.

In what is almost certainly a pre-emptive strike against Apple, Amazon, the people who brought you the Kindle and its Ebook marketplace, have raised their royalties from their current 30% to a wapping 70%. Given that Amazon is unlikely to give away 40% of any income stream without good reason, it is likely that Apple’s eBook marketplace will offer royalties at a similar level.

Which marketplace will win is difficult to predict, although given their preeminence at cornering markets my money is on Apple (but only just, as Amazon are no slouches either) The really interesting question is this. If a digital eBook marketplace gains the same dominance in publishing that the iTunes music store has gained in music, is there any role left for publishers?

Standard author royalties run at 10-15%. That is a low figure by any reckoning. But it is a level most authors have had to accept in order to do business with publishers, because publishers control the means of distribution. Yes, publishers do many other things as well – editing, marketing, production and so forth – but it is the reach of a publishers distribution chain into bookshops that makes them a necessity. A dominant online marketplace would seriously threaten publishers monopoly over distribution.

If the effect of digital downloads is any indication, publishers will survive just as record labels have. But their role will be significantly altered. If it transpires that authors can publish work directly to an eBook marketplace for a 70% royalty, is it possible that those authors will continue to accept a 10% royalty from a publisher to put them into the same marketplace? Likely not. Cold hard numbers will ultimately answer that question, but it seems very likely that significantly higher royalties will be an early outcome of the eBook revolution.