Books

Books
Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Createspace Expanded Channel - What's the Point?

Like most sensible self published authors I publish through Amazon and all the other mainstream publishing outfits via Smashwords distribution. Not that I'm selling particularly significant numbers, Apple, Kobo, Barnes & Noble and Smashwords itself have all sold copies of my books recently whereas Amazon has literally flat-lined following the launch of Kindle Unlimited. I can't join that club because I refuse to publish exclusively through Amazon, my choice and one that I'm sure Amazon don't care about.


I also publish through Amazon subsidiary, CreateSpace. This permits those who want to read my books but prefer to kill trees as opposed to reading eBooks. The quality is good, the service is really author-friendly but the unit costs are high. Consequently I sell even fewer paperbacks than through any other channel and expect that most other self published authors have similar experiences.


A few months ago CreateSpace invited me to add some new sales channels to my books - they call it expanded distribution and it aims to get your books in front of libraries and universities in the US. I didn't pay too much attention when I added the new channels - I hardly sell paperbacks -but did notice that the US prices were automatically hiked by about $3 - $4 a book, making them even more expensive. I did briefly consider reversing the choice as I don't want to penalise readers for choosing print, but I guess I ran out of time and never revisited the situation.


Then the other day I discovered that a copy of Project: Evil had been sold in the US at the inflated price and had net me $0.06 in royalties. Now I guess Amazon, CreateSpace and possibly some middleman bookstore have all made some money from this sale and I'm guessing I'm the only one who only racked up $0.06, less 30% US tax as I can't get my head around the exemption documentation for the IRS, so nearer $0.035 by the time we're done. I'll take a cheque if it's alright with Amazon.


Needless to say I've removed the expanded distribution option and dropped all my US prices to suit, so if you've been looking at my print books and thought they are pricey - they are but they were more so - then please note I've trimmed the price pretty much as low as I can without paying Amazon for the privilege of printing them for you. If anyone knows of an author benefit from this distribution channel then I'm all ears, because I can't find anything on the CreateSpace site that explains it.


If you are a self published author using CreateSpace then I suggest you review your channels.



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Saturday, 1 November 2014

Has Amazon taken the eBook market?

A few months ago Amazon launched an aggressive campaign to get the eyes of eBook readers on books offered through them.  They launched Kindle Unlimited, which provided access to all the books in the Kindle library - but not necessarily in the Kindle store - to subscribers.

About a month ago they launched the same scheme in the UK and I have no doubt it is being progressively rolled out across all the main eBook regions. It has its merits; all the eBook subscription services have their merits.  The main one is that the reader pays a monthly subscription and gets as many books to read as they want, much like Netflix and Lovefilm do for films and TV shows.

The downside of all subscription services is that, unlike films and TV shows, books tend to be read by individuals.  They generally take longer to consume, or read, than films and TV shows do to watch.  A year or so ago we could have argued that at least you can consume books when streaming internet services were unavailable, but that is less valid today.  Many of us have access to 3 and 4 G services with ever increasing monthly allowances (mine is currently 2 Gb over 4G).  My top tip for anyone wanting to use an eBook subscription service is to create a family email account and use that for multiple devices.

I can't speak for all authors, but since the US launch my sales have quite literally flatlined.  Hardly surprising, mind, given that whenever Amazon launched the service it included the first month free as a trial, so many would have used that month to fill up on eBooks and are probably now all read out for the time being.  Many of them would have cancelled their membership once the month was up but Amazon have gambled on a significant amount liking the service so much that they stay, others will just keep forgetting to cancel - it's not like Amazon care.

Some might have been frustrated that the books they wanted weren't available - many big sellers aren't in the library, possibly never will unless Amazon hammer out a loss leading deal with them.  Others, such as myself, are also absent - I refuse to give in to Amazon and sign over exclusive rights to them.  I'm not going to bang on about my views - again - just search my blog for KDP Select if you've missed my rants.  However, despite zero sales since Kindle Unlimited started my books have been perused more than ever on Smashwords.  I don't see Smashwords as a major outlet for books - I never think to look there to buy - but they provide metrics that let me know if there's any interest in my books.  Probably I've seen more activity on there than ever before.  I've been cautious about over-interpreting the metrics, it could be one person continually visiting my book page and downloading the 20% samples time and again. However this last 30 days sales have kicked in again - not large amounts, but first Apple, then Barnes & Noble, now Smashwords reporting sales.

While I hope those who subscribe to the Amazon Unlimited scheme get what they want out of the service, while Amazon insist on exclusive rights to any books listed there you won't find me there.  If they lift that requirement I'll be on in a flash.  But I really hope they don't dominate the eBook market any more than they do right now, we need competition, you need choice. 

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    Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

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Monday, 25 August 2014

Cheap as chips

There's an oft used phrase in the UK, 'cheap as chips.' I've always assumed that it refers to the ubiquitous and usually inexpensive food (fries to you guys across the pond, not the wafer thin slices of baked potato we call crisps). Probably, but perhaps there's a 21st century version ready to take over.

Many years ago, as a teenager, I got into electronics. My parents gave me a science fair solderless electronics kit to cut my teeth on and I progressed onto buying radio kits, dabbled with simple synthesizer circuits and bought electronic magazines for a few years. I didn't delve into the theory or mathematics too deeply - I wasn't much of an academic back then and in fact left school without a qualification to my name. In fact it wasn't until I was in my thirties that I started building up an academic profile that now includes a good honours degree in mathematics, professional recognition as a mechanical engineer and a teaching qualification.

I had thought about a career in electronics back in the day but where I was raised was very heavy industry and one of my first jobs was in the local steelworks with thirteen thousand other locals. The steelworks is a shadow of its former self now, employing less than a thousand, but the area is quite high tech these days. Nonetheless, my lack of qualifications would have been a major barrier back then. I'm guessing my colour blindness would have hindered me somewhat, too. Or maybe not, my first job, before the steelworks, was as an apprentice electrician. They never asked about colour sight and I didn't mention it at the interview. I guess they worked it out reasonably quickly - pulling red and green cables in the wrong order, which looked much the same to me before they were coated in a lubricating chalk dust, was probably a bit of a giveaway. However the bosses were probably a bit embarrassed that they didn't check when they offered me the job so, after 15 months I unilaterally bailed out without my colour sight ever being mentioned to my face.

The Air Force were careful to check my colour sight as part of the entrance medical, in fact they initially categorized me as too colour blinds to drive Service vehicles - all those pesky green and red traffic lights - until it suited them to have me drive a van full of armed guards. Then a deft change on a database - no medical or book full of seemingly random coloured dots - did the job. But they weren't up for me meddling with multi- million pound electronic kit, so it was mechanical engineering for me. In fact, at around the time I was building a useful set of qualifications, I became a bit of a specialist in hydraulic engineering which I discovered through my applied maths course is entirely synonymous with electronic engineering. You can use what is called an H state transformation matrix to convert any hydraulic formula up to and including second order differentials to the equivalent electronic formula and vice versa.

Anyway I decided to start dabbling in electronics again recently. My wife bought me a starter kit of components for my birthday and the relevant 'for dummies' book. I'm not a big fan of the 'for dummies' books with their patronising and stupid jokes, but I do find them useful for doing a shallow dive into technical subjects. By the way, I suggested the book, my wife was only following orders! The book, for anyone contemplating it, is ok. Just. There are a few circuits I'm currently adapting and I found the chapter on capacitors blew away a number of misconceptions I'd held since my teens. The descriptions for semiconductors isn't that clear, but my hydraulics background helps here. For diodes I read check valves, for transistors I read pilot operated check valves. You can't stretch the analogy too far - hydraulics is much wetter but burns less. Throw in flow control valves for resistors and accumulators for capacitors and any hydraulic engineer worth his or her salt should be able to understand basic electronic circuits quickly.

The starter kit didn't match the projects I wanted to build so I popped over to eBay to see what was available. I'm blown away by the affordability and range of components out there. 100 general purpose transistors, similar amounts of GP diodes, about a pound or so including postage (sometimes from the UK, others from China). Timer integrated circuits and decade counters a few pence each if you buy enough. So the chips are as cheap as chips, literally, and probably healthier, although the amount of time I'm spending hunched over a breadboard (chip butty, anyone?) probably isn't too healthy. My alter ego, B L O'Feld, has a list of evil projects he wants me to build including the staple of evil genius', the countdown timer. Just a heads up, if you try to disable one of mine in the time honoured tradition of choosing to cut the red or the blue wire - oh the dilemma - just remember that with a colour blind builder the options are nowhere near as easy. Careful with those snips!

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------                                                         
Visit my Book Website here


 
    
    Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Life in .... the fast lane?

I'm in rant mode right now, so apologies to anyone straying onto my blog in search of tech analysis, science evaluation, Sci-Fi concepts, comedic inputs or another poke at Amazon.

I've just completed the weekly shop at ASDA (the UK arm of Wal-Mart) and, because our shop this week was small, elected to use 'the fast lane'.

Now I love technology, and I can see the benefits to the consumer of reducing the weekly shopping bill, but I'm not sure I'm up for the price. Like many retailers ASDA have chosen to provide more self-service tills than staffed tills. The idea, I assume (in the heads of the gurus who decide these things), is to reduce the staff levels by making the customer do the checking out, after all we happily fill our trolleys ourselves, have done so for years. But fast lane?

For those yet to use one of these shopping options, here's how it works. First, place your basket alongside the scanner or, for larger shops there are conveyor belts running up to the scanner. Yes, you can do the big shop yourself too. Then press the screen to start. Now there's an added complication because here in Wales there's an environmental charge on bags to encourage us to reuse them, which most of us do most of the time. England has this on her horizon. So I advise the terminal that I've brought my own bags. Then, and only then, can I put them on the exit platform where I pack the bag. Forget and put your bag down early and you'll get automated invective remonstrating you that an unauthorised object is in the bagging area. Unauthorised? I'm shopping, not attempting to overthrow the State.

So now the fun starts. Scan your first item, or at least attempt to. My view is that the staffed scanners are more capable than the customer ones because when I've located the bar code I have to offer it up to the scanner window (either or more likely both as there are two) then jiggle the product about until the scanner recognises it. If you do this close to a staffed till you will notice they will have scanned between three and five items while you've been doing the baked beans hand jive. Sure, the paid operatives will be more experienced at scanning, but they just seem to slide each item in approximately close proximity to the scanner for it to record the item, but not for us mortals.

Even if you manage to scan as fast as the experienced shop assistant, you will still be quite a way behind them in the scanning stakes. Because the professional scanners can scan subsequent items while the previous item is still in their hand, and certainly before you've bagged it (another task us customers accepted without a moan years ago). Not the fast lane, mind. That is programmed to not accept your next item until the scanned item is bagged and weighed. So no matter how slick you get, you still need to load the bag. And do load it carefully, the software does seem to be rather picky, shopping every third or fourth item, stopping until one of the assistants nearby come to your rescue, unlock your screen and allow you to continue. Obviously if ASDA and the myriad other retailers jumping on to this bandwagon wanted to provide lots of staff they'd just open more staffed tills. They don't, so you may find the staff sorting out your issues are very busy, so the shopping handbrake is often on more than it is off.

Then there is the tricky issue of alcohol. Go through a staffed till and one glance at me with my grey beard and worn looks suffices, the operator confirms I'm over eighteen (just) and off we go. In the alleged fast lane I need to wait until the overtasked staff member can get to my checkout to confirm that I'm old enough to be her grandfather. And then there's paracetamol; a recent government decided to lower suicide rates by limiting the sale of these popular painkillers to people aged sixteen and over and to a maximum of 32 tablets per pass through the checkouts. They probably anticipated the arrival of the fast lane, as I often think about taking a few packets of tablets after being told off by a computer for putting unauthorised items in the packing area, have tried to scan each item at least five times, and dared to try and buy something alcoholic.

So, you finally get all of your shopping scanned and there is the little issue about payment. Quick tip here, the only quick part of this tale as many other shoppers gave come and gone through the normal lane while you've tried to buy a dozen items using the alleged fast lane. Use a card. Credit, debit, playing, birthday, whatever. Just don't try cash. They take cash, of course, but notes find themselves dragged in and pushed out several times before being accepted. Nowhere near as slick as a till operator taking the tenner out of your hand, reading out that the bill is nine pounds and twenty pence and slipping the eighty pence change into your hand. Once the tenner is accepted by the machine it goes into a trance as it decides on how to pay you back. Then it drops your eighty pence change eventually, advising you that notes are dispensed below the scanner. What - bloody - notes?

So you stagger out of the supermarket with your dozen items. It is now dark ( it was morning when you arrived) and, because you've been parked for more than three hours in the supermarket car park your car is clamped. And because you only popped in for a few items you realise that the one item you needed isn't in your hand. So you turn around and re-enter the store. It's one item, you could afford to try the slow lane for one item. Please.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------                                                         
Visit my Book Website here


 
    
    Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Unpublish - and be damned

Following on from my last blog post I've done some more research and I'm gearing up for my protest against Amazon.  I'm hoping I'm not a lonely figure on the virtual picket line out there!

Why would I want to bite the hand that feeds me? - OK, throws me the occasional titbit then? Well I guess I need to formalise what success in this needs to look like before I try and convince anyone else to sign up. 

Like all KDP authors I was and to a large extent still am grateful for the way that Amazon liberated the book market for those of us struggling to secure a publishing contract.  They've played a very influential game over the last few years, opening up KDP for free, providing tools to help authors, letting us use their extensive marketplace for selling our books.  Like most KDP authors I've sold a few books through Amazon, but also like most authors I realise that this is a saturated market and consequently I still have the day job, almost certainly will need to until I'm ready to retire.  For me that isn't an issue - sure I've day-dreamed of being a runaway success and able to pay the mortgage, put food on the table and stock up on a few luxury items purely off the back of my writing but I'm realistic enough to know that's unlikely.  As I mentioned in my last blog, the median annual income for traditionally published British authors is £11000 (about $18000 at today's exchange rate), which is about half the average UK wage, so most traditionally published authors will need supplemental incomes to support an average lifestyle.  So, given the support and love a traditional author gets, why should self published authors expect more?

Well, maybe we could achieve much more - we're not feeding an industry, at least in principle - but our biggest problem is discoverability.  Who buys a book they don't know about?  Then there's trust - how many ebooks do we all skip by, on the basis of 'never heard of him/her'?  Not just me, then? The next biggest problem limiting our sales is the sheer amount of books out there - good, bad and indifferent.  No shortage of readers, they seem to be on the increase, but they all have a finite amount of money to spend on books and also a finite amount of time to spend reading.  I guess they have day jobs, too.

Now if Amazon was the only kid on the block we'd have bow and scrape to them.  They're not, but they are the biggest, so perhaps the more subservient amongst us should tug the odd forelock as we pass.  The other big players - Apple and Barnes&Noble particularly, perhaps also Kobo are not as big as Amazon in the ebook world, but in aggregate are close.  The way Apple is swinging behind ebooks suggests that they could challenge Amazon toe to toe on their own at some point in the near future.  What links these non-Amazon retailers is Smashwords, which has just been identified as one of the fastest growing businesses around.  I'm not going to regurgitate Smashwords CEO Mark Coker's words about their phenomenal growth here, but you can link to his blog post here to read up on his story and success.  For those who don't know, Smashwords is the primary distributed to virtually every ebook retailer bar Amazon, also provide amazing tools to help the authors and work hard to help authors sell books.  Smashwords makes money only by us authors selling books, so they have a very strong interest and do it very well. 

The difference between Smashwords and Amazon couldn't be greater.  Smashwords passes a greater percentage of the book price to the author, especially in the sub $2.99 bracket.  On one level consumers don't normally care who gets their money as long as they are happy with the price; in the arts though it's traditional to want the artist to receive a decent remuneration above the promoter.  Smashwords does, Amazon doesn't.  Both know that  most authors won't sell many books each - they both make their money due to the volume sales across all the titles they stock.  Smashwords is very upfront about this, Mark takes every opportunity to temper authors' expectations.  Amazon only tries to sell the success stories.  There's plenty of room for that, too, but a bit of realism doesn't harm.  Smashwords is very keen to see authors follow each and every avenue for sales - Mark encourages Smashwords authors to use KDP, even though Amazon are seemingly very inhospitable to himself and Smashwords. As a result I'm certain Mark would not condone my call to boycott Amazon.  Amazon are trying every trick in the book to gain exclusive rights to books.

There is chalk and there is cheese.  In this world, both are good, both have their places.  Amazon only wants us to have cheese.  I learned to write using chalk (honest - I was probably the last of my generation to use chalk and a board in primary school) and I'm starting to gain an intolerance for some dairy derived products.

What do we want to achieve?  Well, parity on royalty rates would be a good start, especially on sub $2.99 ebooks. Then an end to their call for exclusive rights to enter the KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited programs should be there, too. As I've said before, their insistence on exclusivity is limiting the potential for expanding these initiatives, they are just too damned blinkered by their vision of one retailer for all ebooks.

So that is why I think we need to send Amazon a message.  Unlike the banks, they are not too big to fail.  So on 1 September I'm unpublishing my books on Amazon for a week.  It's a simple process and entirely reversible.  Within 24 - 48 hours the books are removed from sale on Amazon and within a week or so they start to remove them from the listings.  Which is why a week is about perfect - we keep exposure, prevent sales for at least five days then just as they gear up to remove the books (which is probably automated) we reinstate them.  The books will still be available on Apple, B&N, Kobo etc and for Kindle readers frustrated by their disappearance they can still download them in a suitable format on Smashwords.

As I said in my last post, if only I do this then Amazon are not only unlikely to notice, they won't care.  If a hundred of us do this they might notice.  If a thousand do it I'm convinced they'll become aware.  If all one hundred thousand Smashwords authors, who in the main will also be KDP authors, do this, they will notice.  And given that traditionally published authors are now railing against the Big A, perhaps some of them could talk to their publishing houses to see if they could join in?  What if every book worth buying was unavailable on Amazon for a week, how cool a message would that be?  So, if you are an author published on Amazon, consider joining the picket line.  Even if you decide to not join in this time, please pass this blog onto your author friends and colleagues for their consideration.  If you Tweet, please use #boycottamazon, let's see if we can get a trend going.

I'm planning on putting information on my website advising potential buyers of where they can buy my books, including on how they can still fill their Kindles up via Smashwords.  I'm also hoping to put the protest on my Kindle author page - I don't know how joined up Amazon are and whether they could notice little old me protesting.  My guess is that they aren't and won't.  If a lot of us do this then by the time they notice and start taking the author pages down it will be over and everything will be back to normal.

This is only one way of sending a message to Amazon - I have another strategy waiting in the wings to follow this one.  For a given period, say a week again, lots of authors raise the price of their books to unrealistic levels - say £100 or $100 per book - on Amazon only.  It will make Amazon look a very expensive place to buy and although it is easily circumvented through their price matching process, if enough authors participate it will make Amazon work unnecessarily hard for a period.

If you want to comment on this piece of protest then please email on the address below or send me a Tweet.  Hopefully I'll see some of you on the virtual picket line 1 September. Bring your own placard - use whatever font you want, I'm not like Amazon.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------                                                         
Visit my Book Website here


 
    
    Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

        Join me on Facebook -  use raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com to find me

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Should self published authors be concerned about the Amazon/Hachette dispute?

Nobody outside of Amazon and Hachette knows the fine details about their current dispute, despite the war of words and deeds being very public. At the popular book level readers are finding it difficult to find, order, pre-order or buy books by authors such as J K Rowling (under her pen name Robert Galbraith), Malcolm Gladwell and James Patterson. Gladwell has broken ranks with many of his Hachette co-authors in public, speaking critically about Amazon. His view is that although Amazon sales have made him a lot of money in the past years, they've also made Amazon a lot too. He feels their dispute is treating him unfairly, given the money Amazon have made out of him to date. Most affected authors are not speaking out publicly in case Amazon targets them long term. I think that's unlikely, but for the majority of Hachette authors who probably eke out a marginal income from their books (the median annual income for traditionally published British authors is estimated at £11000, according to recent research) the risks of upsetting Amazon are very real.

Patterson has been outspoken, too. He's pointed out the risks we face if Amazon gets a monopoly in every field it dabbles in, and lets be honest, there are very few fields it doesn't dabble in. He calls Amazon's attempt at forming monopolies 'a national tragedy'.

The dispute has happened because of a court ruling that determined that Hachette and the other four big publishers in America had colluded with Apple over pricing. Part of the ruling stated that publishers had to renegotiate with retailers like Amazon and Apple, taking into account the findings of the case. Hachette are the first of the big five to engage in these negotiations. If Amazon get their way with Hachette then it is likely that their subsequent negotiations with the remainder will be easier for them. It would appear that Amazon have seen the negotiations as an opportunity to leverage a deal that reaps them a lot of additional money and to erode the sales base of their competitors.

So, should self published authors care? As I've said in another recent post, the relatively high cost of Hachette books makes our self published books look more like a bargain. But let's not forget that behind all traditionally published books lie an army of editors, formatter, designers, marketers and the myriad other actors that play a part to get a book into a bookshop. Because we tend to carry out these activities ourselves we tend to forget that they are a value adding element of all books.  In part this is because many self published authors produce highly creditable book covers, write effective blurb and engage in reasonable levels of self promotion.  We also tend to do a reasonable job of editing, but probably miss the cutting insight of a professional editor who makes a good book great.  The detail management of our books is also generally good if rarely perfect, however I've read a lot of ebooks via the big five lately and the typos are unfortunately too frequent, so perhaps us loners are on or near a par.  Marketing is probably our weakest point, I can't afford to take out full page advertisements in national newspapers and most, if not all, book reviewers are and probably always will be, unaware of my books.

Let's be brutally honest.  If Hachette or one of the other major publishers showed an interest in publishing our books, most of us would give it serious consideration.  Sure, some well established authors such as Stephen King are moving the other way, probably in an attempt to strengthen their negotiating positions with the industry, but they are doing this from a position of financial security.  This isn't to say there's anything wrong with self publishing; I'm proud of the movement and the effect all of us are having on the industry collectively, but I think there is still a strong place for the traditional publishers too.  Their models may be dated and they will need to change the way they deal with authors and retailers, but they are needed.  A world of only self published books is as unhealthy as the one that treated self publishing as worthless vanity, a world that we left only a few years ago.

So we do need to care about the current dispute?  The problem is that we don't know exactly where the sticking points are, what the terms Amazon are trying to achieve.  But in the absence of hard facts it is not unreasonable to assume that Amazon are trying to railroad the publishers and long term that won't be great for authors or consumers, even if there is a short to mid term advantage in book pricing for consumers. I think we should care and we should do something about this. Individually we are but nothing; collectively we are kings. I think we should send Amazon a message, not an email such as it sent us attempting to procure our services to do its dirty work, but a collective statement that hurts Amazon where they care, in their wallet.

About 18 month ago I blogged about this, just after the DoJ ruling, and looked at the issue from self published authors.  I suggested we could present some passive resistance to Amazon by suspending our books for a week at a time, not just me and a few friends but a whole army of self pubbed authors.  You can read the blog post here.  The post was well read, but the reaction was muted to say the least.  A temporary boycott needs to be in numbers that Amazon will take notice of, so how about we revisit the concept.  Perhaps traditionally published authors would like to consider joining in too?

Let's set a date, 1st September push the unpublish button on your dashboard for all of your books and leave them unpublished for a week.  If you want to take part in a bit of active resistance then push this blog post out to all your author friends on your network.  Let's start #boycottamazon on Twitter to see if there is any support out there.  Email me at raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com to pledge support.  Let's make a difference.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------                                                         
Visit my Book Website here


 
    
    Visit Project: Evil Website here                                        Visit DLF Website here

        Follow me on Twitter  - @RayASullivan

        Join me on Facebook -  use raysullivan.novels@yahoo.com to find me
 

Monday, 18 August 2014

Hachettte CEO Responds to Amazon Spam Request

Just over a week ago Amazon astounded the self publishing world by emailing all of their KDP authors with a bizarre call to arms against Hachette, specifically the CEO of the publishing company.  They wanted all of the authors publishing through Amazon to email the Hachette CEO to complain about Hachette's position in its ongoing dispute with Amazon over pricing of ebooks.

Now most Amazon KDP authors are not published by Hachette.  The few who are will know that Amazon are suppressing their books, limiting their sales.  Potentially, if they believe the Amazon stance to be better for them, they could carry out Amazon's request and spam the CEO of the company that has invested in their books.  Edgy tactics for those who have probably striven for years to get that elusive publishing contract.  Pointless for the vast majority who don't have contracts with Hachette and who will probably never get one, may not even want one but for those that do they would probably not want to get the attention of the CEO in such a negative way.

My view, which many readers supported through tweets, is that CEOs shouldn't be inciting customers to spam other CEOs.  Unlike the craze of CEOs challenging other CEOs to pour iced water over their heads for charity this wasn't a one-on-one attack.  It was an attempt to bully the CEO of Hachette using a mob that had no business, in the main, getting involved.

So I wrote to the CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos instead.  In part I wrote to ask him to desist from invoking me to do Amazon's dirty work and to be fair, for the last week they haven't.  But the main reason for writing to Mr Bezos instead of Michael Pietsch, CEO of Hachette, was to point out that the competing pricing methods at the heart of the Amazon/Hachette isn't the issue, Amazon's attempt at dominating the ebook industry through KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited is.  I also pointed out that both of those services would benefit greatly by the dropping of the exclusivity clause Amazon insists on.  If you haven't seen my email, which I CC'd to Mr Pietsch out of courtesy, you can read it here.


Unsurprisingly Mr Bezos hasn't replied to my email, however Mr Pietsch did take the time to write me.  To be fair to Mr Pietsch I didn't write specifically supporting his side of the debate, I wrote to point out that Amazon were out of line with their attempt to recruit the KDP authors to do their bidding.  Mr Pietsch attached a letter that he put out after the Amazon email which explains Hachette's side in this saga but added a few words showing that he had taken the time to read my email.  Below is the full email from Mr Pietsch including his reply to all KDP authors, which has already been circulated on the web quite extensively.  It is well argued and worth reading, even for those of us not directly affected by the dispute.  As most of us are consumers as well as authors the outcome of the dispute is important - Hachette's approach may or may not price books higher than Amazon would like, but it gives consumers a choice. Amazon's approach, to gain absolute market dominance, is likely to cost consumers in the long run.

Here's the email:

  Your letter in response to Amazon's "Important Kindle Request"


Thank you for sending me your thoughts about Amazon’s letter to KDP authors.  Below is a note of clarification that I’ve sent to those who passed along Amazon’s complaints, which I thought you might want to see as well.

 

It’s heartening to hear your thoughtful comments.  Thanks again for writing.

 

Yours,

 

Michael Pietsch

CEO, Hachette Book Group

 

Thank you for writing to me in response to Amazon’s email.  I appreciate that you care enough about books to take the time to write.  We usually don’t comment publicly while negotiating, but I’ve received a lot of requests for Hachette’s response to the issues raised by Amazon, and want to reply with a few facts.

·        Hachette sets prices for our books entirely on our own, not in collusion with anyone.

·        We set our ebook prices far below corresponding print book prices, reflecting savings in manufacturing and shipping.

·        More than 80% of the ebooks we publish are priced at $9.99 or lower.

·        Those few priced higher—most at $11.99 and $12.99—are less than half the price of their print versions.

·        Those higher priced ebooks will have lower prices soon, when the paperback version is published.

·        The invention of mass-market paperbacks was great for all because it was not intended to replace hardbacks but to create a new format available later, at a lower price.

As a publisher, we work to bring a variety of great books to readers, in a variety of formats and prices.  We know by experience that there is not one appropriate price for all ebooks, and that all ebooks do not belong in the same $9.99 box.  Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue.  We invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more.  We recoup these costs from sales of all the versions of the book that we publish—hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and ebook.  While ebooks do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book. 

 

This dispute started because Amazon is seeking a lot more profit and even more market share, at the expense of authors, bricks and mortar bookstores, and ourselves.  Both Hachette and Amazon are big businesses and neither should claim a monopoly on enlightenment, but we do believe in a book industry where talent is respected and choice continues to be offered to the reading public.

Once again, we call on Amazon to withdraw the sanctions against Hachette’s authors that they have unilaterally imposed, and restore their books to normal levels of availability.  We are negotiating in good faith.  These punitive actions are not necessary, nor what we would expect from a trusted business partner.

Thank you again and best wishes,

Michael Pietsch

_____________________________________

Michael Pietsch | Chief Executive Officer

237 Park Avenue New York NY 10017




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Wednesday, 13 August 2014

Amazon picking on Micky Mouse Companies now

Following on from their dispute with Hachette, Amazon are now leaning on other companies that don't follow the rules that Amazon decide are right.  It appears that some Disney DVD titles will not be available for pre-order from Amazon in what is believed to be another dispute over pricing.

Don't get me wrong, I like any move that helps consumers, and if Amazon was battling on behalf of the little man I reckon they'd win a lot of support.  However it looks like Amazon really just wants a bigger slice of the profit margin from every sale - they've pretty much screwed every small to medium sized trader into the ground over the last few years, now it seems the big boys are getting it stuck into them.

In some ways this does benefit you and me: lowered prices should translate into more options with our disposable income.  However the market generally manages this without the assistance of a large corporation, arguably has made Amazon do some of the things it has done.  If they hadn't done their bit, someone else would have.  But there is a real price to be paid for too much aggressiveness in the market - those small traders working on miniscule margins disappear from sight eventually, usually with a backlog of creditors who weren't paid for their last delivery.  Eventually the cost of bankruptcies and other legitimate means of avoiding debts is transferred to the market, which means the we all pay a little more some way along the line to compensate.  So those ridiculously affordable but unnecessary DVDs you bought on Amazon last year may be why you are now paying more for essential goods in ASDA.

The big players are a bit more resistant to Amazon, but they don't underestimate the clout the company has.  Consequently Hachette is being bombarded with spam at Amazon's request - maybe, it seems I was far from alone in resisting that request - and now they are trying to strong-arm Disney.  Here's what I think:

Disney should consider making a movie, about a wicked retailer that tries to distort the market, rolling over the little guys day in, day out.  Then it runs up against the hero who has hitherto shown little interest in the activities of the wicked retailer, even though it sells through him.  A lot, by all accounts in fact. So here is the story arc; the complacent big guy turns into superhero, championing not just their own cause, but that of the little guys too. As the film approaches the dénouement we find the hero locked in mortal combat with the wicked retailer until, just as it looks like the hero has been struck by a mortal blow.... well, I guess you get the idea.  It might have to be PG rated, mind.  In fact, let's make that rating compulsory and insist that all adults watch it.  Including Jeff Bezos. 

In fact, especially Jeff Bezos.

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Sunday, 10 August 2014

Amazon look to self published authors to fight their battles

I received an email from Amazon today imploring me to step into their ongoing dispute with Hachette.  I'm not renowned for my diplomacy skills, so I'm guessing mediation wasn't on their agenda.  I'm more of a direct problem solver, willing to roll my sleeves up.  Which sometimes gets a little misinterpreted as aggressive, but there you go.

Anyway, Amazon didn't just email me, they emailed every KDP author as far as I can tell.  They outlined their case for not bowing down to Hachette's pricing policy for ebooks, with the upshot being that they are trying to bring ebook prices down, helping promote sales which, they claim, will help authors realise more royalties.  To that end they have requested every KDP author to email the CEO of Hachette to tell them to back off, or something like that. 

Now Hachette don't publish my books and probably never will.  So their pricing policy is irrelevant to me as an author.  If they want to overprice ebooks it just makes my books look like better value than ever.  Why would I want to meddle with that?  Because of the dispute many Hachette titles are not being stocked by Amazon at the moment, so if I did want to pay over the odds for one of their books I can't buy them from Amazon.  No problem, Amazon are big, but they're not the only option, which is a good thing.  I'll take my business where I need to.

But the real big issues for me are, firstly, that I don't like spam and really don't like being asked to contribute to a spam offensive.  Big companies like Amazon shouldn't be canvassing customers to do this kind of dirty work, surely?  Secondly, I don't think Amazon have got the point that ebook pricing isn't the problem, exclusivity in retail markets is.  And Amazon are trying to tie all ebook authors up to an exclusive deal with themselves through their KDP Select and Kindle Unlimited programmes.

So I did send the CEO of Hachette an email, actually as a cc correspondent,  The main recipient of my email was Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon.  I've little faith that Mr Bezos will read my email, CEOs are busy people, but by including the CEO of Hachette in the distribution I'm sure someone at Amazon will read it, to find out what Hachette are being told.  Possibly both CEOs will become aware, briefly, of the email.  It won't change the way either company works, I wouldn't expect it to.  But if it provides Amazon with a moment of reflection on their pursuit of exclusivity then my time will have been well spent.  Here's the email:

Dear Mr Bezos

I'm writing to you partly because one of your minions has undertaken to ask myself and, I'm assuming, every other KDP author to write a letter of complaint to the CEO of Hachette regarding the ongoing dispute between your respective companies. Although I'm cc’ing Mr Pietsch this email out of courtesy I'm not going to send him an email supporting your case for the following reasons:

  1. I don't think large companies such as Amazon should be inciting their customers to spam the CEO of other large companies.
  2. The dispute is irrelevant to myself and probably 99.999% of KDP authors - Hachette don't publish my books and probably never will. Spamming their CEO is unlikely to increase the likelihood of them choosing to publish me, either. Consequently, as an author, their pricing policy doesn't affect me, although their inflated prices will make my books look a whole lot better value.
  3. As a book consumer I'm relatively insulated by your dispute. I'm unlikely to pay their prices for an ebook, but if I decide one is worth it then I will source it from any ebookseller that is selling the book. If your dispute means you won't stock their books, then you just lose a sale to someone else.
  4. Hachette and their pricing policy isn't the big problem around ebooks today, Amazon's KDP Select programme is. Your company is trying to become the sole provider of ebooks through exclusive deals with authors, augmented by a brazen attempt to bribe us. Check your records, I've resisted this programme since inception because it is anti-competitive and we all know monopolies are unhealthy. The benefits of Amazon Prime and Kindle Unlimited are obvious enough for consumers, who won't care less whether the books they can borrow through these schemes are exclusive to Amazon or not. In fact, by dropping the requirement for exclusivity you will find you can offer many more books to make your programmes even better at no cost to your company. You would even be able to drop the monthly bribe slush pot, so you would save money while enhancing the attractiveness of Amazon.

I hope you resolve your dispute with Hachette amicably, however please ask your staff to avoid canvassing my support in such matters in future.

Regards

Ray Sullivan
 
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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Geneology - 21st Century Style

Up until the Cambrian period the fossil record is quite scant, but then suddenly life took hold and there was a huge expansion in the numbers and diversity of species of flora and fauna across the planet. Scientists studying the period had to create a richly described taxonomy to help them compile what could be described as the family tree of all life.

Creating the family tree isn't something that I've ever aspired to, not for flora and fauna or for, well, family.  One of my sisters has and I guess if I want to know something about my forebears then I've saved myself a whole load of research.  Or she has, bless her. While searching about who married who hasn't struck me as being something I'd like to spend my time on, clearly this family tree thing is a popular pastime.

It's also a big business, and not just for working out where the lump on your nose came from (mine incidentally came from cycling while drunk in Cyprus in 1980 - tarmac does that to a face).  Historians as well as amateur family tree sleuths spend a lot of money as well as time researching timelines.  The internet has made the process both easier and harder - you have less travelling to find stuff out but my word, there does seem to be a lot of it, and not all accurate I'll bet.  Actually, quite a lot is inaccurate, I'd guess.

Whether you are building a family tree or not, one thing that may not have occurred to you is that you will probably feature in someone else's tree in a couple of hundred years time.  Will they have it easier or will the process be more difficult? Well there will certainly be more data about you than there is about your forebears, so that should be helpful. Right now we can say that Fred Married Flossie in 1905, Fred was a labourer, accountant or policeman and Flossie, well Flossie was a mother, probably. Emancipation was still a way off back then. Also we can find out, thanks to the census, where they were living at ten year intervals. Anything more is down to any recollections of aging relatives and scant documentation.

Our history is more complete.  We have databases brimming with information about ourselves.  So much data exists on me that I'd hesitate to contradict some of it even if I believed it was wrong.  If future genealogists are given access to our credit card statements then what we overspent, and when, will tell a fair bit about us all.  Then there's all those tedious blogs and tweets some insist on posting - they must crack a window to shed some light on what we were.  Facebook, of course, lets whole swathes of people wear their hearts and prejudices on their online sleeves.

But the real goldmine for future family tree researchers could be our Google search history.  Recent research has shown that we now ask Google the questions we previously only reserved for very close friends. The answers are irrelevant from a historical perspective, the questions are everything.  If I've asked about specific political parties that could indicate I have a tendency to the right or left, possibly both at the same time. If I search for places, tools or hobby equipment then that may reveal aspects about my interests that might otherwise be hidden from view. Of course we all search for lots of things that are unrelated to the kind of people we are - we hear a word on the TV or are asked by our partner about something when we have the tablet in our hands. But if we start to trend on certain topics, that really does suggest an interest.

Put all this data - Google search, Facebook, Twitter feeds and so on, throw in the terabytes of photos we'll end up storing in the cloud and genealogists are going to have a field day. The data will look like the Cambrian Explosion, with small discrete amounts of information on ordinary people right up until the turn of the century before ballooning out of control. We've even got the basis of a taxonomy to help us classify these various data streams - today we call it metadata, but it isn't as structured as the lineal system used in natural history. Perhaps we should push for it to be standardised and quickly, because in two hundred years some poor sod is going to have to try and make sense of it all.

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