Books written by Ray Sullivan

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Amazon Aiming For Exclusive Author Rights

I've been made an offer by Amazon that initially looks very promising.  They're putting a substantial amount of money aside starting this month and promised for twelve months, to compensate authors who allow their books to be loaned through their lending library system.  The deal is $500,000 a month, for the twelve months, a whopping $6 million out of their pockets.  In return for agreeing to their terms, all authors in the scheme will share a proportion of the fund each month based on how many of their books are loaned out as a percentage of all books loaned.  In the example they have emailed me (and I guess every Kindle author - I can't believe I've been singled out!) they suggest that if my books are loaned out 1500 times in a given month, and in that month there are 100,000 titles then my proportion of the monthly $500,000 will be $7,500.

Sounds too good to be true, doesn't it?  It's not getting the universal thumbs up, though.  Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords is understandably underwhelmed by the offer.  Part of that reaction is probably because of the terms of Amazon's deal.  To participate, I would have to let Amazon be the sole supplier of my books for at least 90 days, a deal that automatically rolls on unless I stop it.  So I'd have to withdraw from Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, WH Smith, Sony etc and I wouldn't be allowed to sell from my own website direct.  Heck, I might not be able to print off a hard copy for a friend.  So, if for no other reason, Mark Coker shouldn't like any deal that takes books from his company.  You can read Mark's point of view here.

But let's get realistic, it's not like I sell a shed load of books, certainly not $7,500 a month's worth.  If I did, I'd be writing full time, not in-between a full time job and sleeping.  So why not pull my books and sign up with Amazon exclusively?  Well, on one level I'm a firm believer in the adage that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.  I suspect that if this was a pitch to sell life insurance or some other financial service, then it wouldn't be allowed in the UK.  Apart from other objections, I suspect that the number of books that could potentially be signed up will number much more than 100,000, and I doubt I would experience 1.5 % of the loans, whatever the number of potential library size.  I don't attract 1500 speculative views, let alone sales, in a month now through multiple channels, in fact way less than that, so I can't realistically expect library browsers to be downloading that many copies from one source.  Hence I doubt I would see much of that fund.

When I uploaded my books on Amazon earlier this year I did agree to book loaning - it was a little vague on the application form about how it would work, but hey, I'm practically giving my books away anyway.  They're not priced at $0.99 because they're not worth more - I accept I'm biased, but I read a lot at that price point and above and believe they hold their own against the competition. I priced them at that level because I think all ebooks should be priced at around that level.  So signing up for exclusivity to give away my books to cash in on a fund raised purely to deny the rest of the ebook world my products feels wrong to me. 

So I'm not playing Amazon's game.  I'm all for a free market and that includes allowing competition to thrive, not trying to muscle it out of sight.  The only thing that Amazon has managed to achieve with me today is that I've removed the lending rights from my books - I'm all for altruism,however this doesn't feel like that to me.  It's possible that I will rue the day I turned my back on Amazon's offer - realistically if only a handful take it up they all stand a chance of a massive share of the fund.  But Amazon will have factored in the need to have lots of books in the library as an empty shelf isn't going to attract much traffic.  Perhaps if Amazon get their own way virtually everyone will sign up and I'll end up as the only books available to buy on Smashwords, Kobo, Apple, Sony and WH Smith - who'll be laughing then, Mr Amazon?

Finally, I can't help thinking that the Amazon move mirrors one of the more ludicrous plotlines from Da Dan Brown Code (Chapter Fourteen) - if you haven't read that far back, here's a taster:


The veal had been delicious, as had been the melon fan which had preceded it.  Lord Bartholomew swirled the large glass of brandy slowly, watching the medium dark liquid slosh around the rim; the strong, mellow aroma making his head spin.  He placed the glass back onto the table and looked across the expanse of the rosewood dining table to his beloved daughter nearly twenty feet away.

‘I can’t believe how McDonald’s has improved,’ he said, blocking out the birthday party group on the next table.  Kylie placed her triple thick milk shake down and leaned forward, feeling the love a daughter feels for an exceedingly rich father.  Lord Bartholomew leaned forward too, stretching his arms out to grasp his daughter’s hands.  She didn’t know how he did that but somehow it felt right.  ‘I want to tell you about my latest invention,’ he said.

‘Another invention?’ she exclaimed, so excited she nearly wet herself.  Luckily the napkin absorbed most of the milkshake.  ‘Tell me father, what is it?’  Lord Bartholomew pulled a crayon from the birthday party and started to sketch on the back of the paper plate coaster.  With a few deft strokes he completed the diagram and turned it around so that she could see it.

‘A book?’ she asked, feeling certain that they’d been invented already.

‘A library book,’ he’d answered.  Kylie felt her heart sink, a rare hereditary condition caused by inbreeding in popular fiction.

‘I think Franklin invented that one,’ she said, watching her potential inheritance slip away as her father squandered millions attempting to patent something that had been in use for over a hundred years.  He looked up, surprised.  He hadn’t spent a penny so far, let alone squandered millions.

‘I’m not talking about library books; I’m talking about PLR – Public Lending Rights.  It’s a vast funding mechanism designed to compensate authors for allowing their books to be stocked in public libraries.  Very contentious amongst writers who know they have to submit to it to gain public exposure but who feel they don’t get their fair share of the PLR payout.’

‘How much is it worth?’ asked Kylie, suddenly interested.

‘About seven million pounds a year.’  Kylie did the math, mainly in case Americans were reading, and felt a depression coming over her.  She decided it was velvety, a quality depression, probably one of the best.

‘Father, that’s not a lot of money.  Your last invention, an algorithm to prevent identity theft, raked in £150 million before the royalties.’

‘They’ll never pay, they think they’re too recognisable, especially the Queen,’ Lord Bartholomew said, amazed that she was telling him what his last invention was, as if it could have slipped past without him noticing.  ‘I’m not talking about tapping into the PLR fund; I’m talking about an algorithm for calculating how much the Government needs to pay each author.  I reckon they’ll pay about one hundred million for the software, another hundred million to make it do what it was supposed to in the first place and another hundred million to make it do what they decide it should have done after they signed the contract.  Then there’s the administration costs of about twenty million a year and the annual upgrades.’  Kylie was excited again.

‘Do you suppose they’ll want it to replace the CSA and the NHS software as well?’  Lord Bartholomew beamed.

‘Of course, they usually do.  I reckon we can flex a couple of hundred million out of them and if we can convince them it’ll solve the passport problem then we’ve got it cracked.’

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