Monthly Archives: August 2012

Inside Ray Bradbury’s FBI File

30 August 2012

From The Daily Beast:

Ray Bradbury, the science-fiction writer who died at age 91 in early June, was the target of FBI investigations over a period spanning more than a decade, according to 40 pages of government documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request by The Daily Beast.

. . . .

The FBI’s investigation of Bradbury in the late 1950s centers on alleged communist activity, and it reveals more about the author’s talent for holding up a dystopian mirror to reflect society’s flaws than actual communist tendencies. These government documents were first obtained by Bradbury biographer Sam Weller and described in his 2005 book, The Bradbury Chronicles.

“I remember distinctly his response when I visited him and presented him with the files,” Weller told The Daily Beast. “He beamed ear to ear and dismissed it with a wave of his hand and laughed and he said, ‘I’ll be damned, I’ve had nothing to hide over the years—what are they going to investigate? What a bore.’”

Link to the rest at The Daily Beast

Self-publishing itself is equivalent to our business with one of our major publishers in terms of volume

30 August 2012

From The Globe and Mail, an interview with Mark Lefebvre, Director of self-publishing and author relations at Kobo:

What is your role?

It’s sort of two-tiered. I am responsible for overseeing the self-publishing aspect of Kobo, so I work with small publishers and authors who want to come to Kobo but aren’t necessarily equipped with all the technical skills that a Random House Canada person will have. I’m tasked with making it easier for the smaller folks to deal directly with Kobo.

And the other aspect of my job is author relations. I work with the author directly if they don’t have a publisher, or the publisher if they have one.

. . . .

Why is this an important role at Kobo?

The relationship between reader and author is important, and the role I have is in helping that relationship to exist.

Self-publishing itself is equivalent to our business with one of our major publishers in terms of volume. My role is to making sure that those authors know that at Kobo we’re not just a digital company. Yeah, we built a platform where you can do it yourself, but there are really people behind the processes.

. . . .

What do you do in your role on a typical day?

I’m on the phone talking to authors, publishers, and retail partners.

I spend a lot of time responding to queries that are coming in [from authors], and then trying to ensure all of the various needs from our users are being incorporated into our ongoing rollout plans, because we have four- to six-week cycles where we add improvements to the Kobo Writing Life experience. (Writing Life is the online publishing platform authors can use to self-publish with Kobo.)

Link to the rest at The Globe and Mail and thanks to Phil for the tip.

What’s The Point of Publishers in a Digital Age: Response

30 August 2012

From author Bob Mayer on Digital Book World:

This blog post is a response to Rob Eagar’s post here at Digital Book World:  What’s The Point of Publishers in a Digital Age.  I was going to just make it a comment, but then it grew too big.  I recommend you read his post first, and then mine, and the reality probably lies somewhere in the middle.

While human nature must certainly be factored in, and emotion does usually trump logic, when running a business, one must focus on logic.  Publishers do indeed help the author ego, if that author happens to be in the top 5% of the ranks at their publisher.  Below that, the experience is often the opposite.  The midlist is usually the living hell of getting blown off by harried editors, being promised promotion just so you don’t call or email any more and when the book actually arrives, there is no promotion, and the reality is that when you don’t earn out, you are in essence going to get ‘fired’ by not getting renewed.

This was my experience over 42 titles with 4 of the Big 6.  Even when I sold over a million books for Random House, they could have cared less.  I didn’t see much ego stroking going on for most authors.  But if you are in the elite 5%, certainly.

Actually, the more I think about it, publishers are running a business, not a therapy center.  The bottom line rules for them and it needs to rule for authors.  Publishers might stroke your ego if you’re earning big bucks for them, but like in professional sports, stop producing and bye-bye.

. . . .

“Authors want to get paid for their work.”  Yes, but fairly.

Advances?  Dangerous and a way of doing business rooted in the past that I believe is now outdated.  Profit sharing is the way of the future.  At my publishing company there are no advances, but authors make just about 50% of cover price on their eBooks.  The level of motivation for the author to participate in promoting and marketing is much higher when their share is higher.  I can resist an advance when I’m earning on the back end.  In fact, I just did—more on that later.

Enjoy the accolades?  I really could care less.  What I love about being an indie author are the multiple checks arriving ever month from all the platforms equaling from a “Very nice deal” to a “good deal” in Publishers Lunch parlance.  Every month.  I know exactly how much money is coming in at the end of September.  I have a very good idea already how much at the end of October (both “very nice deal” months).  How many traditionally published authors are earning and paid a very nice deal every single month?  Few and far between.  But the same is true for indies– a handful of us, and mostly because we owe a debt of gratitude to traditional publishers who published us in the first place.  Although they did divorce us too.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Apple Destroys The Enterprise

30 August 2012

Thanks to Susan for the tip.

Will This Move Save Barnes & Noble?

30 August 2012

From The Motley Fool:

While most American businesses are trimming their exposure to the troubled economies of Europe, Barnes & Noble is steaming toward it with all hands on deck.

This morning, the ailing bookseller announced that it had chosen John Lewis, the British department-store chain, to launch two of its newest e-readers in the United Kingdom.

. . . .

The main reason the move won’t save B&N is that, not unlike its belated entrance to the e-book arena, the move is years behind the already established U.K. presence of Amazon.com.

When Amazon opened its fourth massive fulfillment center in the country in 2008, national and local dignitaries lined up to heap praise upon the e-commerce giant, calling it an “iconic global company right at the forefront of the e-economy” and “one of only a handful of truly world brands that have emerged since the interest changed the way we live our lives.”

Meanwhile, when B&N lauded the “award-winning Nook reading experience” and noted that the move will “fortify [its] newly announced presence in the U.K. and enable shoppers [there] to see, touch and experience Nook devices,” nary a whimper was heard from the wider world.

Why? Because the Nook doesn’t matter. Leaving Amazon aside for the moment, despite B&N’s protestations to the contrary, the Nook is a second-rate device in a market populated by the likes of Apple and Samsung, both of which have dramatically better technology and more money to invest. Speaking from personal experience, I can tell you that B&N can hardly get its devices to work within its stores.

Link to the rest at The Motley Fool and thanks to Tony for the tip.

Promiscuous Reading

30 August 2012

From The New Yorker:

Over lunch about a month ago, a friend asked me if I had read any good books recently. After some vacillation, I settled into an eager endorsement of Ben Lerner’s novel “Leaving the Atocha Station.” My friend accepted the recommendation and told me that he would seek out a copy. “I’d loan you mine,” I said, “but I haven’t finished it yet. I actually sort of stopped reading it a few weeks ago, about two-thirds of the way through. I should probably get back to it.” My friend narrowed his eyes, sighting me skeptically down the barrel of his burrito. He didn’t get it. If it was such a good book, and such a short one (a hundred and eighty-six pages), why had I abandoned it? An excellent question, maybe even a necessary one, but I didn’t have much of an answer. Abandoning books was just something I did, I told him, and something I was increasingly unable to stop myself from doing. I’ll start a book, get about halfway through it, and then, even if I’m enjoying it, put it down in favor of something else. My friend just shook his head sadly, perhaps a little dismissively, and resettled his attention on his burrito.

This reading habit is something I’d self-diagnosed over the past few years, but this was the first time I had admitted it to anyone. I worry that perhaps it’s a symptom of some larger weakness of character or fatal atrophy of the intellect. On my bedside table, there’s a precarious column of half-read paperbacks that taunts me with the evidence of my own readerly promiscuity.

. . . .

I wasn’t always this way. It used to finish what I started. Not out of any greater sense of obligation or commitment; I just wasn’t as prone to restlessness. If I liked a book, I stuck with it; if I didn’t, I put it down. That dichotomy is no longer nearly so clear. This is partly due to that most contemporary of conditions, the degenerative disorder of the attention span that now affects pretty much anyone with an Internet connection. Many of us have been training ourselves, over the last decade or so, to look at texts (or to not look at them) in a different way. You click on a link to an article that someone has put up on Twitter or Facebook. Sometimes the article will interest you and you’ll read it to the end; sometimes it won’t and you’ll take your business elsewhere.

. . . .

So it worries me, this promiscuity; I often feel as though I’m a bad reader, an unfaithful reader, a reckless literary philanderer. But I can usually assuage this guilt by reminding myself that if I were to impose some sort of embargo on starting a new book before finishing a current one, I would end up reading fewer books. I would be a more methodical and orderly reader, certainly, but a less varied and prolific one.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

An Odd E-Book Lawsuit Absence

29 August 2012

From Seeking Alpha:

Since it was filed in April, the Department of Justice’s price-fixing lawsuit against Apple and five major publishing companies, and the proposed settlement the Department entered with three of those publishers, has certainly seen no shortage of opinions.

A Tunney Act public comment period on the settlement resulted in 868 public comments, 90 percent of which opposed the settlement.

. . . .

But conspicuous by their absence from this gabfest is one key player:Amazon.

. . . .

Amazon has cultivated a public belief that they are in favor of the settlement. At the time the settlement was announced, Amazon gave a statement to the press saying the case was a “big win for Kindle owners” and claiming they were looking forward to lowering prices as soon as they could. But this statement was not an official court filing -it was not even an official press release.

. . . .

Yet Amazon has held their tongue. They did not file a public comment during the Tunney Act process and they have not filed an amicus brief. While this does not automatically ruin the Department of Justice’s case, it certainly can’t be helping.

I can only think of two possible explanations for this:

1. They believe the DoJ case is a lost cause and the settlement will be thrown out

I’m not an attorney or an antitrust expert, so I’m not fully qualified to comment on the soundness of the case or the likelihood of the settlement recieving court approval.

But given the number of issues raised by the various opposition filings, it certainly seems plausible that the settlement will be rejected for some reason.

-or-

2. Amazon’s statement is a bluff to sell Kindles in the short term; they have no intention of lowering prices even if the agency model is banned.

This I can explain. When Amazon first began selling ebooks in 2007, there were no apps or PC programs available to read them. You had to buy a $399 Kindle to read them, and Amazon was probably making a pretty penny at that price. It made sense to take a bit of a hit on the books to encourage hardware sales.

. . . .

disclosure: I am short AMZN

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

Passive Guy usually leaves posts with which he doesn’t agree without comment. In this case, he will opine a bit.

PG believes that, from Amazon’s viewpoint, the antitrust case is going swimmingly. The public comments opposing the settlement that PG read were, in PG’s unfailingly humble opinion, insufficient to raise a legal eyebrow. Hiring a skywriter to fly over New York spelling out “I hate Amazon” would have had the same effect.

The DOJ’s formal response gave no impression that it thought much of any of the arguments. The issue here is whether the publishers who want to settle will be allowed to settle. Judges seldom overturn settlements. That’s the most common way that civil litigation ends, after all.

Why is Amazon going to spout off about/in the antitrust case when it’s proceeding along a lovely path? Better to stay above the fray and allow impartial justice to proceed. The DOJ is writing the same sorts of memoranda that Amazon would.

As far as the conspiracy theory that Amazon only lowered book prices to gain market share, but will raise them at some time in the future, Amazon’s commitment to lower prices is a fundamental business strategy, part of its DNA. When PG price-compares on all sorts of things other than books, Amazon has the lowest price more than 90% of the time. Free two-day shipping with Prime plus Amazon’s excellent customer services takes care of most of  the remaining 10%.

The conspiracy theories about Amazon destroying competition, then raising prices to the sky remind PG of similar theories about Wal-Mart. Wal-Mart’s secret plan was supposedly to move into small communities, destroy local retailers through price competition, then raise prices when it was the only game in town. The destruction of local retailers was real, but the prices never went up. Wal-Mart wanted to sell a lot of stuff and you do that by keeping prices low.

In Wal-Mart’s case, the conspiracy theory had a bit of credibility because of geographic considerations. People in a small community might not want to drive 20 miles to find lower prices if Wal-Mart raised its prices.

This theory has no credibility in Amazon’s world because, the last time he checked, PG noted that you can’t drive 20 miles on the Internet. You can leave your car in the garage because everybody is right there on your screen. Price competition for Amazon is a click away.

Bezos started a bookstore on a shoestring and creamed Barnes & Noble with lower prices. He doesn’t want some other shoestring operation to do the same thing to Amazon.

Besides, Amazon isn’t as big as Wal-Mart yet and Bezos knows he can’t beat Wal-Mart if he raises his prices.

 

Kobo to Replace Google E-Books for Independent Booksellers

29 August 2012

From The Wall Street Journal:

 Kobo has struck a deal to sell e-books and its line of e-readers through independent U.S. booksellers, giving the Toronto firm a new chance to establish a foothold in the American digital books market.

. . . .

Many of the estimated 400 members of the ABA that signed up to sell Google e-books on their websites are expected to migrate to Kobo. The ABA has about 1,600 members operating about 2,000 stores.

While Kobo has been selling e-books since 2009 and e-readers since 2010, in the U.S. and internationally, it has failed to establish a significant presence in the U.S. Its key U.S. bookseller distributor, Borders Group Inc., went out of business last year.

. . . .

Oren Teicher, ABA’s chief executive, said the Kobo agreement will let booksellers share in revenue from e-books sold to any of their customers regardless of whether the sale comes via a Kobo reader or a Kobo app on another company’s device. Kobo will also provide a display for independent booksellers to sell the company’s devices, and provide online training materials and in-person seminars.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Link may expire)

Love Your iPad? Miss Your Typewriter?

29 August 2012

Are Consumers Sensitive to E-Book Prices?

29 August 2012

From Jeremy Greenfield on Forbes Blogs:

Consumers believe that e-books cost very little to produce and therefore should cost very little to purchase — and, certainly, e-books shouldn’t cost $12.99 or (gasp!) $14.99. It’s just a file, right?

In April, I spoke with many consumers about e-book pricing and their expectations. They almost uniformly told me that they thought e-books were too expensive and that they should cost almost nothing to buy because they cost almost nothing to produce*. At the time, consumer ire was raised by the Justice Department’s e-book price-fixing lawsuit, which had just been filed. A choice quotation from my piece:

“Why the frick-frack do these major publishers think it’s okay to put out a paperback at half the price of an e-book they can upload and forget?” said Diane Castle, 36, a writer from Dallas. “To me, this defied logic – until I stumbled upon a news article about the Justice Department’s price-fixing lawsuit yesterday. Now it all makes sense.”

. . . .

I’m convinced that e-book sales are also extremely price sensitive. The Hunger Games had a $1.99 promotion last week and skyrocketed up to No. 3 on the [Digital Book World E-Book Best-Seller List] list (from No. 8), loosening the Fifty Shades stranglehold on the top of the list somewhat.

Link to the rest at Forbes Blogs

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