Monthly Archives: March 2017


31 March 2017


Bestseller Lists and Other Dreams

31 March 2017

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

 In March, Marie Force announced she would no longer chase the bestseller lists when she released her latest book title. She wrote a great, honest, and direct blog about her thinking, and I urge you to read it all.

In the blog, she describes a trajectory of obsession and disillusionment that is very familiar to me. I’ve gone through that range of emotions several times in my long writing career. Ironically, the change in my attitude toward the bestseller lists and the status they confer (or don’t) came when I was still a 100% traditionally published novelist. (I’m hybrid, traditional and indie, although I don’t publish my novels [in English, anyway] traditionally any more.)

Why is that ironic? Because by the time it became easier to chase a bestseller list, I was no longer interested. Yet the entire focus of the first wave of indie writers after the introduction of Kindle Direct Publishing was on the various bestseller lists, first on Amazon, and then the established ones, like The New York Times and USA Today.

. . . .

Whenever I write a blog post that upsets a certain group of indie writers, they discuss the post on their blogs and cite whatever Amazon rankings they can find of my books at the moment. Often the books they find have low rankings, and they use that to say I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Okay. Fine. Whatever floats your boat. My business is based on a lot of product, published wide in a worldwide market, using print, audio, ebook, translations, and more. I don’t usually look at an individual book’s ranking in one format in one marketplace—and even though Amazon is the biggest marketplace at the moment, it’s certainly not the only one.

I write that with complete calmness, and a bit of a shrug, but believe me, that calmness and shrug came years after I got rid of my bestseller list obsession.

. . . .

I knew I wanted to be a fiction writer from as far back as I can remember. I wrote my first novel in grade school (and, sadly, illustrated it too). I didn’t know any professional fiction writers. I firmly believed in the myths, that it was impossible to make a living as a fiction writer—unless you hit a bestseller list, specifically The New York Times, which was the only one I saw in the books around my parents’ house.

So, I imprinted young: bestseller list = enough money to make a living = success.

And as I got older, I met a lot of writers. Some were journalists (making a living: check); some were poets (working as professors: check); some were fiction writers (making money…how?). It took me a long time to realize that you could make a good living without hitting a bestseller list. A lot of successful writers taught me that, sometimes directly and sometimes through example. To say I’m grateful is an understatement.

Before Roc Books bought my first novel, I had made friends with an outspoken book dealer. He was trying to qualify as a New York Times bookstore—the first I’d ever heard of such a thing. He ran an sf and fantasy store, and he was campaigning to be one of the stores that the Times spoke to on a weekly basis to compile the sales.

I have no memory of whether or not he succeeded. I don’t think he did. Over the years, I met many booksellers who were Times qualified. They were required to keep their status quiet, but some didn’t. And some told me years after they were no longer on the Times list.

I remember being shocked at what I learned: no one independently verified the bookseller’s numbers. No cash register receipts were submitted, no one checked shipping orders. The bookseller could have conflated his best friend’s book if he wanted to.

I don’t think any bookseller did that—at least not any I knew—but the temptation was there. And my outspoken friend was most worried about being told which books to include in his list, because he had heard the Times sometimes nudged a bookseller in a particular direction.

True? God knows. Maybe true in the late 1980s when these discussions took place. Maybe a beloved conspiracy theory among genre booksellers. I have no way to verify.

. . . .

Then in the year 2000, the New York Times got really peeved at J.K. Rowling and the YA writers who “hogged” the adult hardcover list. The Times introduced a “children’s book list” for bestselling books, and made no bones about why they were doing so:

The New York Times Book Review will print a separate best-seller list for children’s books starting on July 23. The change is largely in response to the expected demand for the fourth in the Harry Potter series of children’s books, editors at the Book Review said…. With an enormous initial print run of 3.8 million in the United States alone, it is widely expected to reach the top of the list.

”The time has come when we need to clear some room” on the list, said Charles McGrath, the editor of the Book Review…

The phrase missing here is “for more worthy titles.” Adult titles, even though adults were reading Harry Potter.

I had never noticed the Times monkeying with the list before, not like this, and not so blatantly. I was offended, upset, and crushed—in my dreams.

. . . .

This was when I really learned that the lists were based on velocity—how fast a book sold—not on actual total sales. This finally answered my questions about the way that genre writers could earn a hefty living while literary (and critical darlings) often had to teach. “Sales” were based on books shipped, not on books sold, which really came home to me from traveling.

I went through O’Hare around this point, saw a book by a writer I knew, and the book was on every bookstand, at every checkout place, even at the restaurants. The book was there on Thursday, as I flew out, and in seemingly the same numbers on Monday when I flew home. At the time, I thought that the books had been replenished.

Nope. They hadn’t sold.

But for that week, my friend was on the bestseller list. And he couldn’t sell another book after that, because his sell-through was so abysmal as to make him untouchable under that name.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

PG says it’s great when indie authors appear on bestseller lists, but the point Kris makes about velocity of sales is key to understanding bestseller lists and in placing them in their proper business perspective.

If you sell 1,000 ebooks in a single day, you’ll likely be at the top of an Amazon bestseller list and probably more than one list. For marketing purposes, you can probably advertise yourself as “#1 Amazon best-selling author” forever because it actually did happen one time. Lots of traditionally-published authors have been promoted as a “New York Times best-selling author” many years after any of their books actually appeared on an NYT list.

However “best-selling author” is used so often that PG expects it may not be a terribly-effective marketing claim regardless of how much it impresses Uncle Jake. Just like all the students in Lake Wobegon who are above-average, a lot of authors have been bestsellers.

PG thinks a better mark of business success in writing is whether an author can quit their day job and support themselves with their books or otherwise generate a reliable income stream. Still a better indicator is if they can support themselves by writing year after year after year. If an aspiring writer wants a model to emulate, the author who quit the day job ten years ago is probably a better example than someone who was #1 on an Amazon romance list three years ago and still works the swing shift at 7-11 to make ends meet.

To be clear, PG is not denigrating anyone who works at writing, day job or not, and who has been or is listed on a bestseller list. That’s an accomplishment that many indie authors never enjoy.

However, earning your living and making a career as an author is more of a long game. Selling 1,000 ebooks in a single day won’t pay the rent next year. Writing ten books that each sell 40 copies per week on average won’t make you an Amazon Sales Rank queen for a day, but they’ll be a far more significant benefit to your household budget. If you work hard and add another ten books then another and keep doing the sorts of things that generate that 40 copies per week in sales for each one, you’re looking at a successful business career as a professional writer.

That’s the sort of thing that Kris has done for a long time and why PG believes what she says about how she’s done it is worth considering.

Amazon and Walmart are in an all-out price war that is terrifying America’s biggest brands

31 March 2017

From Recode:

Last month, Walmart gathered some of America’s biggest household brands near its Arkansas headquarters for a tough talk. For years, Walmart had dominated the retail landscape on the back of its “Everyday Low Price” guarantee. But now, Walmart was too often getting beaten on price.

So company executives were there, in part, to reset expectations with Walmart’s suppliers — the consumer brands whose chips, sodas and diapers line the shelves of its Supercenters and its website.

Walmart wants to have the lowest price on 80 percent of its sales, according to a presentation the company made at the summit, which Recode reviewed.

To accomplish that, the brands that sell their goods through Walmart would have to cut their wholesale prices or make other cost adjustments to shave at least 15 percent off. In some cases, vendors say they would lose money on each sale if they met Walmart’s demands.

Brands that agree to play ball with Walmart could expect better distribution and more strategic help from the giant retailer. And to those that didn’t? Walmart said it would limit their distribution and create its own branded products to directly challenge its own suppliers.

“Once every three or four years, Walmart tells you to take the money you’re spending on [marketing] initiatives and invest it in lower prices,” said Jason Goldberg, the head of the commerce practice at SapientRazorfish, a digital agency that works with large brands and retailers. “They sweep all the chips off the table and drill you down on price.”

But this time around, Walmart’s renewed focus on its “Everyday Low Price” promise coincides with Amazon’s increased aggressiveness in its own pricing of the packaged goods that are found on supermarket shelves and are core to Walmart’s success, industry executives and consultants say.

The result in recent months has been a high-stakes race to the bottom between Walmart and Amazon that seems great for shoppers, but has consumer packaged goods brands feeling the pressure.

The pricing crackdown also comes in the wake of Walmart’s $3 billion acquisition of and its CEO Marc Lore. Lore now runs and has said one of his mandates is to create new ways for the retailer to beat everyone else on price, including Amazon.

. . . .

One piece of the battle, executives say, is an Amazon algorithm that works to match or beat prices from other websites and stores. Former Amazon employees say it finds the lowest price per unit or per ounce for a given product — even if it’s in a huge bulk-size pack at Costco — and applies it across the same type of good on Amazon, even when the pack size is much smaller.

So let’s imagine Costco is selling a pack of 10 bags of Doritos for $10 — or $1 per bag. Amazon’s algorithm notes that one bag is $1 at Costco and, in turn, lowers the price on Amazon of a single bag of Doritos to $1.

That is a great deal for customers — something that is likely driving the decision at Amazon, where an obsession with customer value dominates its strategy.

But now, Amazon is selling individual items at Costco prices while not getting the same wholesale price that Costco enjoys. In short, it’s going to be really hard for Amazon to turn a profit on those goods.

When Walmart sees this, it freaks out on the supplier, industry executives say. And it doesn’t matter to Walmart that Amazon may not be getting the same wholesale price that retailers like Costco or other membership clubs receive. In other words, even if Amazon isn’t profiting from its extremely low prices, Walmart is still demanding the same bulk-rate discount applied to individual items.

. . . .

Unprofitable items are known inside Amazon as CRaP products — the acronym stands for “Can’t Realize a Profit.” And Amazon is not afraid to kick off big and small brands alike.

Case in point: On a Friday afternoon last month, all Pampers diapers sold by Amazon were unavailable on the site. Industry speculation was that Amazon may have kicked Pampers off the site as part of a negotiation over prices.

Neither Amazon nor Pampers parent company Procter & Gamble would comment on whether this was the case. But the bigger point may be that senior industry executives thought such a move was even a legitimate possibility.

. . . .

As Amazon Prime becomes a bigger part of Amazon’s business, Amazon ships more orders that consist of just one item. These orders can typically be tougher to make profitable than multi-item orders — a trend that could explain the renewed focus on profitability.

. . . .

The longest-term solution, however, is perhaps the most difficult: Reimagining how a product should be designed and packaged from the ground up, specifically for e-commerce sales. That often means cutting the weight of low-price goods since shipping costs tend to eat into a product’s profitability. (Amazon, in fact, is trying to capitalize on this potential shift by asking brands to reformulate their packaging to make it easier to ship — all done via Amazon, of course.)

Link to the rest at Recode

Amazon Tickets

31 March 2017

From Amazon Tickets:
Access to tickets for live music, theatre, comedy and more at least 24 hours before the general public

Choose premium seating options at selected events, including luxury Amazon lounges and more

Amazon Prime lounge at The SSE Arena, Wembley

Enjoy premium seats and entry to the cool backstage Amazon Prime lounge at The SSE Arena, Wembley. Each ticket purchase includes:

  • VIP entry
  • A welcome drink on arrival
  • A unique backstage perspective where you can watch the set-up of the show
  • Access to a private bar and facilities

Link to the rest at Amazon Tickets and thanks to C. for the tip.

When Reality Kicks Back

31 March 2017

From author Sarah A. Hoyt:

Well, yesterday this was doing the rounds of our circles: Sales, Earnings Fell at PRH in 2016.

First of all, what doesn’t this mean?  It doesn’t mean Random Penguin is in serious trouble.  Not yet.  It doesn’t mean the entire edifice of traditional publishing is going away, either.

Look, at this point, just like Hollywood is mostly supported by foreign releases of the movies that don’t do too well here, traditional publishing is owned and propped up by European media houses who, if I read the situation right, don’t even understand how obsolete they’re becoming on this side of the pond.

. . . .

I think the European overlords of publishing houses have no fricking clue what is going on with reading here.  Note that all the official publications still lie about it.  And the trend is masked with things like the adult coloring book thing, which has kept Barnes and Noble afloat for the last 10 years or so.  We went in before Christmas, looking for something for Robert.  We found it.  It was a book of Drawing prompts.

In fact, the part of Barnes and Noble that is still books is mostly what I would call “novelty books” — drawing prompts, writing prompts, ten things you can do to make your house smell better this afternoon, and adult coloring books.  A LOT of adult coloring books.  By comparison the fiction section, let alone the science fiction section, was almost impossible to find and paltry.

Which is okay.  I mean for years I went to Barnes and Noble and the only thing I bought were the sort of Barnes and Noble Published books like “ten tales of knights and dragons.”  Only of course, now that’s not such a good business, because all that stuff is on the net.  And their fiction still disappoints me, which is why I started buying from Amazon the year it started up, when it sold only books.  Because books were published that I wanted to read, they just didn’t get SHELVED at my Barnes and Noble.  Which is why now that the coloring book thing is receding, B & N posted a loss (I think 16%) OVER CHRISTMAS.

But hold on to that “Books were being published.  They just weren’t shelving them in my Barnes and Noble so I could buy them.”

Because that’s what this post is about.  Reality and the limits of manipulating it.

Barnes and Noble isn’t going away tomorrow, there are fifty shades of bankruptcy in the west before you even have to face you shat the bed and should change approaches.  They’re not close to that yet, or if they are they think they can fix it with more cowbe– toys.  And “lifetsyle” gifts like mugs and reading lights (not needed since I got the backlit kindle.  Never mind.) Yes, I believe they will eventually go the way of Borders, and it will be sudden and terrible when it happens, but I don’t think we’re close to it yet.  On the other hand I could be optimistic.  I’ve been so in the past.

The publishers are even less going away tomorrow, because frankly, the non-fiction side is still very profitable and besides they get money from Europe.  Mind you some of their lines might disappear with an earthshattering kaboom very suddenly, and I’ve heard rumors that better connected people than I expect it “in the next five years.”  Could be.  Could not be.  I don’t know.  Indie has moved both faster and slower than I expected.  The establishment has certain resources, including money to weather slow periods (which they don’t seem to realize is now permanent) and a lot of magazines and papers willing to do its bidding so it seems like it will recover TOMORROW.

. . . .

First let me take you to a time far away, where there were no mega bookstores.  No Borders, no Barnes and Noble, none of the others, either.  The biggest ones were two or three branches of a bookstore in a big city.

These businesses were managed the way such things are managed.  You hired people who like books.  You eventually promoted them to managers.  And then you had managers who liked books.

To communicate with these people who loved books, you had book reps who loved books. I met some of these before the great layoff.  These people read the books and pushed them at the bookstores with attention to “Well, old Joe who has a bookstore at the back of his feed store in rural Colorado has done pretty well for science fiction in the past.  So, this book I just read which knocked my socks off will interest him.”

The system worked pretty well.  Look, no one was going to get massively rich from running a bookstore.  And writers still worked on a hit or miss basis.  But there was always the possibility of a surprise bestseller.  You might not appeal amazingly to your publisher, and you might stand outside the narrative they’re pushing, but if you’re a fan and you love the genre you’re writing in, well, some rep or even a bookstore owner might read it, love it, and handsell it to everyone, and word of mouth spreads…  So, in a way writers could sell to the public bypassing gatekeepers.

This didn’t make the gatekeepers happy for several reasons, the first being that after several mergers the houses behaved like normal corporations (which could be titled “death by bureaucracy”) and so an editor got incentives to accurately forecast how a book would sell.  Yes, your career could, justly, be ruined by giving millions to an author who no longer has a book in him and who writes something pathetically poor, but it could also be ruined because that book you bought for $5k had a runaway bestseller run with a hundred reprints, because it threw all the schedule out, and why didn’t you foresee this?

Link to the rest at Sarah A. Hoyt

Here’s a link to Sarah Hoyt’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

Amazon Wants Cheerios, Oreos and Other Brands to Bypass Wal-Mart

30 March 2017

From Bloomberg: Inc. has invited some of the world’s biggest brands to its Seattle headquarters in an audacious bid to persuade them that it’s time to start shipping products directly to online shoppers and bypass chains like Wal-Mart, Target and Costco.

Executives from General Mills, Mondelez and other packaged goods makers will attend the three-day gathering in May, Bloomberg has learned. Attendees will tour an Amazon fulfillment center and hear a presentation from Worldwide Consumer chief Jeff Wilke, who reports directly to Jeff Bezos.

Amazon is looking to upend relationships between brands and brick-and-mortar stores that for decades have determined how popular products are designed, packaged and shipped. If Amazon succeeds, big brands will think less about creating products that stand out in a Wal-Mart Stores Inc. aisle. Instead, they’ll focus on designing products that can be shipped quickly to customers’ doorsteps. Brands have been experimenting with such changes, so the Seattle event may well resonate.

. . . .

Amazon has been struggling to crack the food and packaged goods market—an $800 billion category still dominated by Wal-Mart and other traditional chains. Persuading brands to design their packaging and operations for the online world would make it easier for Amazon to ship common household goods to urban dwellers in less than an hour, potentially making last-minute dashes to the store obsolete. Amazon must convince brands that even though online purchases represent a small part of their sales, e-commerce is the future.

“Most of these people haven’t been interested in e-commerce because e-commerce has been such a small piece of their overall sales,” says Melissa Burdick, vice president of e-commerce at The Mars Agency marketing firm. “But we’ve reached a tipping point. We’re at a time when companies are ready to start figuring this stuff out.”

Amazon is looking to influence product makers the same way Costco and other club stores convinced brands more than 20 years ago to create bulk sizes sold at a discount.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

Ebooks Present the Greatest Opportunity

30 March 2017


Hong Kong English books publisher on the secrets to a best-seller, shops closing, and dangers and rewards of the trade

30 March 2017

From The South China Morning Post:

The closure of Singaporean bookstore Page One’s Hong Kong stores and branches of Australian franchise Dymocks over the past two years does not bode well for Hong Kong’s English book market. The corners in Chinese bookstores reserved for English titles are also getting smaller.

This hasn’t deterred Pete Spurrier, though, who continues to publish books in English with Hong Kong themes. From a penniless backpacker who arrived in the city in 1993, to the publisher of Blacksmith Books with a dozen local best-sellers to its name, the Londoner has come a long way. Spurrier has also written a series of popular hiking guides. He talks to about his love of books and Hong Kong.

. . . .

How do you choose which books to publish?

I am very flattered that I get manuscripts sent in from all over the world. I get three or four manuscripts every day. Often I can read the first three pages and know whether it will work or not.

English books written by local authors sell well. People see the Chinese names and think the books are bound to be interesting, as it’s quite rare for local [Chinese] authors to write in English. I have 80 writers now, with some having written several books already. If the first print run of 1,500 books sells out, the cost is covered. You make a profit from the second and third print runs.

Does the closure of English bookstores mean Hongkongers are losing interest in English books?

Not really. My book sales are quite steady. I don’t think English readership in Hong Kong is shrinking, but running a retail operation in Hong Kong is quite daunting now due to the high overheads.

Physical books still appeal, because you can make notes in them and give them to people as gifts. It’s not so easy to read an e-book in the bath. For the books I publish, the e-book version comes out six months after the paperback version. But they just make up 10 per cent of sales, with the bulk of the sales being paper books.

Link to the rest at The South China Morning Post and thanks to Dave for the tip.

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