Why I Canceled My Amazon Prime Account (Following Amazon's Spamming of My Inbox) (via @HuffPostBooks, HT: @katengh)

I almost don't have to add any commentary to this, because I also have cranky-faced opinions about Amazon, mostly revolving around their DRM and author-exclusivity contracts, neither of which are of any benefit to anyone except Amazon's attempts to become a publishing monopsony. Brooke Warner says:

For those of you who follow publishing news, or who are KDP authors, you know that on August 9, Amazon sent a very bizarre email to all of its KDP customers, which has been dissected best, in my opinion, here and here.

You can read the full email here, but this post is really about why I canceled my Amazon Prime account the next day.

Read her account and reasoning here:

Influence of Kindle Unlimited on Amazon "Bestsellers" Grows (via @PublishersLunch, HT: @JaneFriedman)

I don't much like the exclusivity clause, and the impact on authors who don't sign up to that. It feels a bit like handing your wages to a bank to manage, but the bank doesn't care about you, oh and also if you don't hand your life savings to that bank they stop bothering to maintain your credit history.

Amazon's hourly list of the top 100 "paid" Kindle bestsellers appears to be under the steadily growing influence of Kindle Unlimited "checkouts," which are counted as part of paid sales. In this morning's check, 45 of the top 100 titles are also available through Kindle Unlimited --  and 24 of the top 50 titles. Amazon Publishing's own titles still appear to be benefitting the most, and self-published authors who are not exclusive to Amazon (and therefore not part of KU) seem to have lost the most bestseller slots. (We still have no idea whether this is affecting actual paid sales, or just bestseller list slots.)

Read on for stats here:

Life After Amazon (via @PublishersWkly)

Welcome back and a happy 2014 to you, if you subscribe to the Gregorian calendar! Today we're looking at the consequences of biting one's thumb at Amazon. I'm no fan of Amazon at the best of times, so these kinds of experiments are always important to me.

What triggered this story was the following:

In late February, 2012, after months of deliberation, taking a variety of factors into account, I made the difficult decision to stop selling our Kane Miller and Usborne books on Amazon. It was a bold move (or a misguided one, depending on your point of view), with little support in an industry where many were experiencing record growth through Amazon sales.

This is the two year follow up to that decision. Read here to see what happened:

Lessons in Bestsellerification (via @ian_sales)

Ian Sales has a quick look at the top 10 Science Fiction list on Amazon:

So what does this tell us? That most sf sold on Amazon these days is sold via Kindle. That self-published sf is out-selling sf from major imprints on Amazon. That the best way to build a platform for a self-publish [sic] sf novel is to serialise it on your website.


Aside from the last point, all of the above seem to run counter to what is actually the case.

Ian has a look at other bestseller lists and draws some comparisons, leaving us with:

So if there’s a conclusion to be drawn from all this, I’m not entirely sure what it is. It seems self-evident that Amazon has “massaged” its figures… But to what end?

I found it amusing that Les Misérables is number 10 on the Amazon SF bestseller list. I don't try to understand these things.

Read the rest here:

Amazon Shafts Former Indie Author (via @sarafawkes)

'Amazon shafts someone' is hardly a headline worth noting. However, finding out the sneaky way in which they will shaft you can help you brace a little for the inevitable. In this case, Amazon published a new edition of independent author Jamie McGuire's book. This author had previously self-published the same book on Amazon. Amazon therefore decided it would offer all previous purchasers the chance to get a refund for the original self-published version of the book (in direct contravention of their own within-7-days-of-purchase refund policy). The kicker? Well, the difference being refunded was going to come straight out of the author's pocket, since that's how refunds work:

It appears that Amazon has sent a mass email to everyone who’s ever purchased the self-published version of Beautiful Disaster. They are encouraging readers to request a refund. When asked why they are offering this refund, Amazon customer service has given several different reasons, the most common is problems with content. THERE IS NO PROBLEM WITH THE CONTENT OF BEAUTIFUL DISASTER, and it makes no sense for them to encourage a refund for a book that has already been read and enjoyed 6+ months later, but that is the only information I have for now.

Customer service admits that if you do NOT get the refund, your copy of BD will NOT be affected. If you get a refund, they are offering to reimburse the $4+ difference it costs to purchase the $7.99 version, but what they aren’t telling you is that **I** am paying for every refund.

Sara Fawkes breaks down the email that Amazon sent to Ms McGuire, and details her own experience when she received an email from Amazon, generously offering to help her save money by shafting the author:

I found this story difficult to believe; Amazon surely wouldn’t be this stupid, would it? I purchased BD as an indie book in 2011, long before the author signed a contract allowing the novel to receive a wider, worldwide distribution.

Yet, an hour ago, this is the email I received in my inbox[.]

Read on here:

The Tyranny of Amazon (via @pattyjansen)

Patty Jansen describes her terrible experience dealing with Amazon after her account was locked, including going through some of the publisher-unfriendly business structure that makes it almost impossible for a small self-publisher ever to be paid by Amazon:

What is more, with each regional sub-store they open, they will withhold a threshold of at least $100 per store before they pay out. There are eight regional stores at the moment. They will potentially hold onto $800 of my royalties. What are they? A fucking bank? Do I get interest? (Answer: noooooo!)

Add to that how Amazon charges international customers more money, takes extra royalties, and helpfully withholds tax you don't have to pay...oh, and this: I was a warehouse wage slave.

My opinion on DRM is widely known (or at least widely guessable), so I've never supported the Amazon Kindle ecosystem of locked files, but these kinds of nightmare hoops just emphasize how unhealthy Amazon's bookstore really is for self-publishers and small/indie publishers. And don't forget Jon Page's comments about how Amazon strangles independent bookselling.

Patty advises her readers:

While this goes on, I ask people who want to buy my fiction to PLEASE DO SO ON KOBO. You’ll notice that the right-hand panel of this blog has changed. I’ve deleted all the Amazon links from this panel. Instead, the images link through to my author website. Yes, you will see the Amazon options still linked there. This is because I respect the fact that some people like to buy on Amazon and like the streaming and synching and whatever. But if it’s all the same to you, please don’t.

Full link here (do read it):

Kindle user claims Amazon deleted whole library without explanation (via @boingboing)

Whoops. Cory Doctorow writes:

If my conjecture about Linn's offense is correct, then she has not violated copyright, nor has she done anything that would upset a publisher. She's merely violated the thousands of words of impossible fine-print that comes with your Kindle, Nook, Kobo, and iPad, as have all of us. This fine print will always have a clause that says you are a mere tenant farmer of your books, and not their owner, and your right to carry around your "purchases" (which are really conditional licenses, despite misleading buttons labelled with words like "Buy this with one click" -- I suppose "Conditionally license this with one click" is deemed too cumbersome for a button) can be revoked without notice or explanation (or, notably, refund) at any time.


And here is the original article and series of emails from the affected user, via Martin Bekkelund:

PS: For the record, I never buy DRM'd files.

Bad, Amazon Reviewer! BAD! (via @michaelkrose)

Michael Krose shares his experience berating an Amazon reviewer who left an unhelpful 3-line, 1-star review of a book she hadn't read:

No! You cannot leave a 1-star review on a book you have not read. I said "no!" Stop it... stop! I had to firmly make this point to a reviewer recently who admitted, in her three-sentence review, that she did not get through the first chapter of a book (not mine) because she encountered the word "anyways." Her unpithy review:

I couldnt even gt through one chapter. Someone please tell this author that "anyways" is not a word. Enough said.

Review ratings are, unfortunately, pretty important for midlist authors, or anyone trying to break through. Having a throwaway 1-star review like this is an example of a reader putting in very little effort (in both reading and reviewing) and causing disproportionate harm to the overall rating of the book.

Michael responded to the reviewer as follows:

I searched my copy for use of the word "anyways" and found only one, in a bit of dialogue. It may not be an official word, but it is slang that is used by teenagers--who are the main characters in this book--so this complaint is a bit ridiculous. If one doesn't approve of the way teenagers speak, perhaps one shouldn't read YA paranormal fantasy.

Have a read of what happened next: you will be faced with this in your career, and of course it is advisable never to get involved in arguing about reviews of your own books. Thankfully people like Michael are around to offer at least a token push back to reviewer laziness.

Read it here:

"Alot Was Been Heard" Automated eBook art project floods the Kindle store

This is a nice alternative to all the plagiarism-filled junk eBooks flooded onto the Kindle store:

A pair of artist-coders have unleashed a small army of bots designed to flood the Kindle e-book store with texts comprised entirely of YouTube comments. According to the artists, even they have no idea how many books their autonomous bots are posting to the store.

Christopher Mims over at Technology Review interviewed the creators of such timeless classics as 'Alot Was Been Heard' and 'Sparta My Have':

"The KINDLE'VOKE machinary is based on three major parts. (1) The "Sucker" a clever suction apparatus to gather comments from Youtube. (2) the "Ghost Writer's Table": the book compiler that handles generation of books content, book covers, authors at the same time. (3) The "Amazon Kindle Scatter Bots" that make the brand new digital literature available for all of us.

This is really original (and possibly annoying), and it's worth having a look at the kind of publishing chaos/market subversion our new digital world allows.

I suppose an alternative reading is that this is a kind of public graffiti, smearing digital feces over a shop front, but let's be a little upbeat about it for now, right?

Original here:

Amazon’s markup of digital delivery to indie authors is ~129,000% (via @andrewhyde)

Andrew Hyde walks us through his ebook launch experience, with excellent infographics and an account of his marketing strategies.

This post is about [...] where the sales of the book are coming from, and why Amazon takes 48% of digital book sales.  Surprising eh?  I thought Amazon was the BEST for indie authors, right? We will get into that later.

Andrew isn't hiding in the low thousands on the Amazon sales list. He describes a very successful launch, including:

The book had a great launch, even getting to the #1 Hot Releases spot for for the travel section.

He discovers that the Kindle accounts for the greater of his sales on his $9.99 book, but then:

Wait, Amazon pays out the worst?  What? This can’t be right! They are the best right? Everyone loves them.  I love them.  I dig a bit deeper and find this little gem[...]

Do read through. I'm no fan of the Kindle myself, specifically because Amazon explicitly refuse to support .epub files, but this is a really shady trick by Amazon.

Read Andrew's analysis here:

PS: In the comments to Andrew's article we find a link to where Amazon apparently discloses their delivery service fee. That link seems to be broken now, and a quick search through their help page didn't turn up anything. Sorry folks, I tried.

Book Pricing in Australia: A Personal Story (via @peterdonoughue HT: @alexadsett)

Peter Donoughue does some analysis of Australian book prices (always a hot topic here), and shows us how he cleverly tried to save money and time by ordering from Amazon:

I immediately placed a backorder for [Paul Krugman's new book] on Amazon, knowing I'd get it within a few days of release, and knowing also that Norton invariably sells Commonwealth rights to every Krugman title, and the Commonwealth edition comes to Australia weeks or even months later with far lower production standards but at an inflated price.

Of course this didn't quite work out as well as he hoped.

Have a look at Peter's rough formula to estimate expected Australian book pricing - there's a counter example of Someone Doing It Wrong (that would be Random House), which I found interesting. Are there any booksellers who can comment on their experience/approach with this?

Read it here:

My Experience with KDP Select (via @epublishabook, HT: @vacentaylor)

We've discussed the KDP select experience before, but here is a more recent post at the blog, by author Kirkus MacGowan:

I searched the internet for information about KDPSelect. Not about the program itself, but about how things work, or about any author’s particular experience. I’d heard rave reviews and I’d heard others who say they barely gave a book away.

Kirkus lists his concerns, providing some numbers for what constitutes a bestseller in various categories, and set down to promote his book:

I promoted my giveaway 4-5 days before my book was free on the KDP Select program. This explains why I went from a 30K rank down to about 190K in one week. Everybody knew my book would be free! The night before, I climbed into bed wondering which group my book would fit into the next day. Would it rocket up the Amazon free bestseller list? Would I even come close?

Read about the results of his experiment here:

Epiphany on the future of publishing (via @dboshea)

Dan O'Shea had a moment of clarity that helped him reconcile the huge range of options out there in publishing:

I guess this was more of a thought, but it was a thought that pretty much put my mind at rest on this whole self-publishing or indie-publishing versus traditional publishing/e-book versus paper book/what’s the future of publishing/oh my god, are we’re all screwed or is this the dawn of a brave new era brouhaha that’s the dominant topic of discussion whenever writers gather in our benighted little crannies on the interwebs.

Dan's admission of his struggle with the implications of the new 'anyone can publish' paradigm are entertaining (naughty words ahoy!):

Still, something was eating at me. The crap-through-the-pipe thing was eating at me. The idea that every asshole out there could now call himself an author.  That gatekeeper shit the self-pub crowd likes to whine about? I’d gotten past a big gate – I’d signed with an agent. A reputable agent. An agent with proven editorial judgment who used to be an editor at one of the major publishing houses. An agent that’s sold an impressive number of books into the traditional system. And now any dickhead in East Bumblefuck with an internet connection and a few thousand words on his hard drive has the same right to call himself an author that I do? Pissed me off.

In fact, the whole post is entertaining and worth a read. Dan talks about the market, which like it or not sorts itself out, and how big players like Amazon are throwing their weight around, and how to cope with it all. His assertion that quality wins out in the end is comforting!

Read the original:

Spam clogging Amazon's Kindle self-publishing (via @ben_hr)

This older article from June last year ties back to a recent article on plagiarism that I linked to, as well as complementing this similar piece from July 2011 about spam on Amazon's Kindle store. With a vast number of self-published e-books flooding into the market, it's not trivial trying to separate out real content from dross.

Aspiring spammers can even buy a DVD box set called Autopilot Kindle Cash that claims to teach people how to publish 10 to 20 new Kindle books a day without writing a word.

This new phenomenon represents the dark side of an online revolution that's turning the traditional publishing industry on its head by giving authors new ways to access readers directly.

Read it here:

How Amazon's KDP Select Saved My Book (via @DavidKazzie)

This is an interesting and detailed report by David Kazzie on his blog, relating how his generally positively reviewed book, which barely sold, rocketed into to the top 100 on Amazon.

One week ago, my book was dead in the water. And I mean dead. After a promising start last summer, sales crashed, completely, totally and spectacularly, despite wonderful reviews (from people who didn't even know me!). From December 1 through January 24, I sold 21 copies on Amazon. One on And that was it. Barely enough to fund a lunch date for me and my wife. The previous couple months hadn't been much better. To be honest, I was trying to forget the book even existed as I worked on my new manuscript, my internal doomsayer wondering how badly I'd effed my career with a self-publishing disaster.

What's also quite interesting is this comment about his sales on non-Amazon platforms:

At first, I wasn't sure what to think about it, especially given the exclusivity requirement. Part of me was aghast -- how dare they ask me to pull my book from the other retailers! And then something occurred to me. Between October 1 and December 31, I had sold a grand total of .... ONE book on all the non-Amazon platforms -- that one sale on Barnes & Noble.

There are a lot more goodies in there, so worth reading.

Which you can do right here:

Discussion on Ebook pricing using the Starbucks pricing model (via @sydneywriters)

The Sydney Writers centre reposted a great article by Elle Lothlorien about how she adjusted her ebooks prices upwards and increased sales. She postulates that a few different reasons account for the behaviour, and compares this to expensive coffee at Starbucks. There are a couple of insights into reader approaches to pricing. Having started at $2.99 she says:

The first revelation took place at the beginning of October. While skimming various Kindle reader forums, I ran across a thread on the topic of pricing. One reader wrote that she never bought a book that was $2.99 or less because it was sure to be self-published “indie crap” riddled with typos.

This reader perception doesn't even have to be true; the simple fact that it exists needs to be taken into account.

Consider this: In mid-October I raised the price of The Frog Prince to $3.99. I immediately saw a jump in sales. And when I say immediate, I mean overnight. Within a few days the book had leap-frogged for the first time onto two Amazon Top 100 lists.

The article is fascinating and pretty detailed. But if you are feeling a glimmer of excitement, read what happened next:

At the beginning of November, I raised the price to $4.99. In November I sold 224 copies. I raised it again to $5.99 at the beginning of December, and that’s when the whole thing began to pick up steam.

Even more excitement! If you're interested in managing pricing on your self-published books you could do worse than read it:

How much does a 99c ebook cost on Amazon (via @jane_l)

The answer, it seems, is 'however much they want, as long as you only get paid as though it cost 99c':

Sellers with a strong US base can expect a bonanza this Christmas season for sure.

But spare a thought for the rest of the world. Because the vast majority of your potential readers don’t live in the USA. And if you’re thinking, So what? Amazon is the world’s biggest book store and my book is available for 99c anywhere in the world, then think again.

Read it here:

Cutting Their Own Throat - on Publishers, Amazon and DRM (via @cstross)

Charles Stross writes a good article about the perils of DRM to publishers. We already know that DRM is a fundamentally anti-customer technology which doesn't work (he refers to it, accurately, as 'snake oil', but it's good to see that even on the other foot (that of the publisher desperate for the illusion of protection) it is a potential disaster:

As ebook sales mushroom, the Big Six's insistence on DRM has proven to be a hideous mistake. Rather than reducing piracy[*], it has locked customers in Amazon's walled garden, which in turn increases Amazon's leverage over publishers. And unlike pirated copies (which don't automatically represent lost sales) Amazon is a direct revenue threat because Amazon are have no qualms about squeezing their suppliers — or trying to poach authors for their "direct" publishing channel by offering initially favourable terms. (Which will doubtless get a lot less favourable once the monopoly is secured ...)

Read it all here. His blog, in general, is a good source of interesting musing in the speculative fiction space. He says:

If the big six began selling ebooks without DRM, readers would at least be able to buy from other retailers and read their ebooks on whatever platform they wanted, thus eroding Amazon's monopoly position. But it's not clear that the folks in the boardrooms are agile enough to recognize the tar pit they've fallen into ...

Amazon signs up authors; Publishers need a new angle

You won't hear me saying that traditional publishing is dead. But I will say that if they don't pull their act together and reconfigure for the new world, they're going to be dead. The old model, where a good author didn't have nearly as much choice in getting their work in front of people as they do now, is becoming uncompetitive. Change-or-die, frankly. So to add to the old-school woes, the New York Times released an article talking about Amazon's role in signing up authors directly, offering them more creative control than a traditional publisher, and generally treating them like what they are: the actual source of  their income. This isn't news, of course, but the NYTimes article is pretty thorough.

Publishers say Amazon is aggressively wooing some of their top authors. And the company is gnawing away at the services that publishers, critics and agents used to provide.

I read about plenty of discontent with Amazon, often from booksellers (remember this?), but the reality is that if Amazon is offering a competitive package to authors, why would they go through the trials of self-publishing/traditional publishing at all?

“It’s always the end of the world,” said Russell Grandinetti, one of Amazon’s top executives. “You could set your watch on it arriving.”

He pointed out, though, that the landscape was in some ways changing for the first time since Gutenberg invented the modern book nearly 600 years ago. “The only really necessary people in the publishing process now are the writer and reader,” he said. “Everyone who stands between those two has both risk and opportunity.”

I have to disagree in part: there is an ever growing need now, more so than ever, for the hidden heroes of publishing, the service providers formerly hidden behind the walls of traditional publishers: the typesetters, the cover artists, the freakin' editors. Literarium is pretty much predicated on my expectation that these professionals will be more in demand than ever, from both self-publishers and small publishers who outcompete the traditional businesses. Saying that editors don't fall into the 'really necessary' part of the writing/reading process is foolishly overvaluing the quality of unedited writing out there.

Just sayin'.

He is right about one thing though: it's like the shift in the music industry (which almost destroyed them due to their inertia) and the shift in the movie industry (which despite their imbecilic decisions on content availability is thriving, contrary to fearmongering reports by industry bodies).

Amazon has started giving all authors, whether it publishes them or not, direct access to highly coveted Nielsen BookScan sales data, which records how many physical books they are selling in individual markets like Milwaukee or New Orleans. It is introducing the sort of one-on-one communication between authors and their fans that used to happen only on book tours. It made an obscure German historical novel a runaway best seller without a single professional reviewer weighing in.

There's also a reference to Kiana Davenport's dramas with Penguin. All very interesting, and interesting times. For people who are invested in the publishing industry, as opposed to a specific business model in the publishing industry, it's all pretty exciting.

Here it is:

The Indie bookseller vs The Amazon Imprint

Hm, I don't entirely agree with this, but I'm not an independent bookshop and can only view it from a writer/reader perspective. Basically the Seattle Mystery Bookshop has posted a polite series of emails they had with a writer being published through Amazon's new publishing venture. The writer asks for a stocking/signing opportunity and is politely rebuffed.

It's an interesting insight into the shifting relationships between traditional publisher/self publisher/self-promoter/book seller. As the author says:

I know your mind is set, and I do not expect my email to change it. But I do want you to know that my experience with Amazon as an author has been second to none. They are incredibly supportive and responsive and beyond author-friendly. They flew me to NY for a book signing at BEA, something unheard of for a first-time author in my genre. And the list goes on.

Although book sellers are affected directly by the market strength of Amazon, Amazon does offer a radically different publishing relationship for writers. So is the bookselling industry shooting themselves in the foot by rejecting work from writers who want better publishing terms? It's not as if a boycott has any practical effect, it is purely an ethical position.

It's a worthwhile read: