Monthly Archives: July 2018

Amazon’s Curious Case of the $2,630.52 Used Paperback

19 July 2018

From The New York Times:

Many booksellers on Amazon strive to sell their wares as cheaply as possible. That, after all, is usually how you make a sale in a competitive marketplace.

Other merchants favor a counterintuitive approach: Mark the price up to the moon.

“Zowie,” the romance author Deborah Macgillivray wrote on Twitter last month after she discovered copies of her 2009 novel, “One Snowy Knight,” being offered for four figures. One was going for “$2,630.52 & FREE Shipping,” she noted. Since other copies of the paperback were being sold elsewhere on Amazon for as little as 99 cents, she was perplexed.

“How many really sell at that price? Are they just hoping to snooker some poor soul?” Ms. Macgillivray wrote in an email. She noted that her blog had gotten an explosion in traffic from Russia. “Maybe Russian hackers do this in their spare time, making money on the side,” she said.

. . . .

“Amazon is driving us insane with its willingness to allow third-party vendors to sell authors’ books with zero oversight,” said Vida Engstrand, director of communications for Kensington, which published “One Snowy Knight.” “It’s maddening and just plain wrong.”

. . . .

The wild book prices were in the remote corners of the Amazon bookstore that the retailer does not pay much attention to, said Guru Hariharan, chief executive of Boomerang Commerce, which develops artificial intelligence technology for retailers and brands.

Third-party sellers, he said, come in all shapes and sizes — from well-respected national brands that are trying to maintain some independence from Amazon to entrepreneurial individuals who use Amazon’s marketplace as an arbitrage opportunity. These sellers list products they have access to, adjusting price and inventory to drive profits.

Then there are the wild pricing specialists, who sell both new and secondhand copies.

“By making these books appear scarce, they are trying to justify the exorbitant price that they have set,” said Mr. Hariharan, who led a team responsible for 15,000 online sellers when he worked at Amazon a decade ago.

Amazon said in a statement that “we actively monitor and remove” offers that violate its policies and that examples shown it by The Times — including the hardcover version of the scholarly study “William T. Vollmann: A Critical Companion,” which was featured for $3,204, more than 32 times the going price — were “in error, and have since been removed.” It declined to detail what its policies were.

. . . .

Buying books on Amazon can be confusing, because sometimes the exact same book can have more than one listing.

. . . .

“Let’s be honest,” said Peter Andrews, a former Amazon brand specialist who is manager of international client services at One Click Retail, a consulting firm. “If I’m selling a $10 book for $610, all I need to do is get one person to buy it and I’ve made $600. It’s just a matter of setting prices and wishful thinking.”

One of the sellers of Ms. Macgillivray’s book is named Red Rhino, which says it is based in North Carolina. The bookseller’s storefront on Amazon is curiously consistent. One of the first books on the store’s first page was Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential.” It was priced at $607, a hundred times what it cost elsewhere on Amazon.

All the books on the first few pages of the storefront — including such popular standbys as “Fahrenheit 451,” “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” and “1984” — also go for $600.

Link to the rest at The New York Times and thanks to Nate for the tip.

PG says buying dishwashing detergent in Kroger can be confusing because Costco can sell the exact same detergent for a different price. And so can 7-Eleven. With all the confused consumers, it’s a miracle that there are any clean dishes in existence. Maybe that’s why Costco also sells clean dishes.


Top 100 Kindle Best Sellers

19 July 2018

Top 100  Kindle Books – Paid

Top 100 Kindle Books – Free

Flexing Export Muscle Ahead of Brexit: The UK’s Publishers Association Releases Its 2017 ‘Yearbook’

19 July 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

Pushing its position in book exports ahead of the March Brexit deadline, the UK’s Publishers Association’s annual “Yearbook” report for 2017—released today (July 19)—is touting an 8-percent rise in exports in that year to £3.4 billion (US$4.4 billion). Exports, according to the report, accounted in 2017 for 60 percent of the British book industry’s revenues. Europe accounted for 36 percent of 2017’s exports’ value.

. . . .

CEO Stephen Lotinga in his introduction calls UK publishing “a powerhouse of the creative industries.” Lotinga and others in the UK book business are working to establish the publishing industry’s standing as the country prepares to leave the European Union. It’s an important moment for traction.

. . . .

In the run-up to Brexit, this kind of hard data about the book industry’s contributions to the UK’s creative industries may well count more than any one year’s upbeat revenue figures. But, happily, that’s not to say that the news from 2017 is bad.

. . . .

As Lisa Campbell at the UK’s publishing trade magazine of record, The Bookseller, is pointing out, it can’t be overlooked that “While most areas of business performed robustly, domestic sales of textbooks to schools took a 12-percent hit, revealing that savage public sector cuts are starting to bite in the education” sector.

Of interest in this area, however, is a figure from the report that shows digital school books up an impressive 32 percent, to £27 million (US$35 million), “suggesting,” as the association’s media messaging modestly puts it, “that the use of digital teaching resources is becoming more prevalent.”

That may cheer observers concerned that sales of consumer ebooks in the home market—again, meaning in-country as opposed to in exports—are reported to have come in 9 percent lower in 2017, bringing their figure down to £139 million (US$181 million).

Perhaps never as comfortable as the Stateside market with ebooks—which is hardly to say that everyone in the US industry likes them, either—the UK industry on the whole has remained predominantly fond of print, and many will be pleased to know that print saw its revenue rise in the UK in 2017 by 5 percent.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

On Amazon, Fake Products Plague Smaller Brands

19 July 2018

From The Wall Street Journal: Inc. has made it easy for small brands to sell their products to large numbers of customers, but that has also enabled some counterfeiters to cut into their business.

Sassa Akervall gets much of the sales for the SISU-brand mouthguards that her family invented from Amazon. The Michigan-based entrepreneur said fake versions of the product on the site have undercut her price and hurt her business. She has reported the problem repeatedly to Amazon, but the fakes keep resurfacing.

“It’s frustrating,” Ms. Akervall said, adding that the fake products and their reviews have hurt the brand’s reputation.

Amazon said it prohibits the sale of counterfeit products. “We invest heavily to protect the integrity of our stores,” a spokeswoman said in a statement, and “will continue to aggressively pursue those who harm our customer and seller experience”

. . . .

Counterfeiters, though, have been able to exploit Amazon’s drive to increase the site’s selection and offer lower prices. The company has made the process to list products on its website simple—sellers can register with little more than a business name, email and address, phone number, credit card, ID and bank account—but that also has allowed impostors to create ersatz versions of hot-selling items, according to small brands and seller consultants.

When sellers are logged into Amazon’s Seller Central, most pages have a “Sell on Amazon” button next to the item that makes it easy for someone to list the same product. That strategy works well for widely distributed items like shampoo and sneakers. When it comes to closely held small brands, typically their owners are the only authentic manufacturers. So, in some cases, counterfeiters are listing their versions of hot-selling items on the same page and at lower prices.

Amazon’s pricing algorithms sees the lower price and then places the counterfeit in the “buy box”, which is where customers click to purchase, elbowing brands out of selling their own goods.

. . . .

Cal Chan said recent counterfeiters on the Amazon listing for the teeth-whitening product his company created have posted prices less than a third of his usual $20 to $25, and he has matched pricing and lost money to ensure customers get the authentic product. He has tried changing the labels for his Active Wow teeth-whitening charcoal powder—which is one of Amazon’s hottest-selling items by unit—to differentiate from impostors who have grown increasingly sophisticated at imitating his packaging.

. . . .

Amazon has said its platform has helped millions of small businesses start new products. More than half of sales on its site, by unit, now are from independent merchants, including those who sell their own brands. Those transactions typically are more profitable to Amazon than selling its own stock, because it takes a roughly 15% cut and avoids inventory costs.

. . .

Still, fakes continue to pop up. After Rob Ridgeway, inventor of a musical board game called Spontuneous, registered his brand with Amazon, a new Ukraine-based seller showed up, undercutting his $29.99 price by about $5.

The Austin, Texas-based entrepreneur tried to order the game to get proof it was a counterfeit, but the item never arrived—its tracking number was fake, too.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

How to read

19 July 2018

From Robert Heaton:

Five years ago I realized that I remembered almost nothing about most books that I read. I was reading all kinds of non-fiction – pop-psychology, pop-economics, pop-sociology, you name it – and felt like quite the polymath auto-didact. But one day, after I had finished blathering at a friend about how much I had enjoyed Thinking, Fast and Slow, they asked for a quick summary of the book’s overall thesis. I thought for a while, mumbled something about System 1 and System 2 and how I had only really read it for background knowledge, and adroitly changed the subject. As I was falling asleep that night it occurred to me that calling yourself an auto-didact doesn’t mean you actually know anything.

. . . .

As adults we read non-fiction books because they are fun, and because we want to know and remember the things inside them. However, it’s not surprising that we don’t remember much about what we read. Learning comes from repetition, and few people have occasion to think about capital-income ratios after finishing Capital In The Twenty-First Century. Even fewer spend much time immersed in black holes post-A Brief History of Time.

One completely valid way to deal with this fact is to decide that you are fine with it. Reading Manufacturing Consent is an enjoyable experience and worth doing for its own sake; you don’t want to be viewing all of your leisure activities through the lens of a strict cost-benefit analysis.

. . . .

Learning comes from repetition, but books are long and verbose and not designed with this in mind. You can get a macro, high-level form of repetition by reading multiple books about the same topic, but even this doesn’t guarantee that you will remember the specific things that you want to or how it all hangs together.

To try and get more reps in, I think that books should be read in two phases:

  1. Read and annotate the book in a way that makes it easy to scan and digest once you have finished
  2. Once you have finished the book, make a “writeup”. This involves summarizing the book, doing further research and making flashcards (using Anki)

Link to the rest at Robert Heaton

G.M. Used Graffiti in a Car Ad. Should the Artist Be Paid?

18 July 2018

From The New York Times:

There was a time when graffiti was perceived to be a scourge, a public nuisance made by outlaws who sprayed their work on subway cars then slipped into the shadows, occasionally pursued by the police.

But these days, graffiti is having a renaissance and is used by fashion labels and major corporations in their ad campaigns. Rebranded as “aerosol art,” it has now become what it rarely was before: a marketable commodity.

The law, however, is struggling to catch up with the change in taste and culture, especially when it comes to the issue of when graffiti — an ephemeral form of art — deserves the safeguards of a copyright. This month a federal judge in California will entertain exactly that question as he hears oral arguments in a copyright lawsuit that could determine if graffiti wins new protections, or if companies can use it for commercial purposes without having to compensate the artists who create it.

The lawsuit, Falkner v. General Motors Company, was filed in January by Adrian Falkner, a Swiss graffiti artist better known as Smash 137, who was commissioned four years ago by the businessman Dan Gilbert to paint a mural on the outdoor elevator shed of a 10-story parking garage he owns in Detroit. The garage, called the Z because of its zigzag shape, was designed both as a place to park your car and as a kind of public art gallery. Two dozen other graffiti artists adorned its walls with their creations, though Mr. Falkner’s piece had a privileged position on the top floor of the structure, surrounded by views of the city’s downtown skyline.

. . . .

For just that reason, court papers say, a freelance photographer working with General Motors used the mural in 2016 as the backdrop for a series of photos for a Cadillac ad campaign called “Art of the Drive.” G.M. posted the photos on its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts without Mr. Falkner’s knowledge or consent. So he sued the company in Federal District Court in Los Angeles, where the photographer is based, claiming that G.M. had infringed on his mural’s copyright.

. . . .

In theory, federal copyright law grants broad safeguards to graffiti; any original creative work that is “fixed in a tangible medium of expression” is automatically protected by a copyright. But not all graffiti is the same, and the courts have only just started to consider whether legal distinctions can be drawn between commissioned and unauthorized graffiti; or if a few words scribbled in the bathroom of a bar deserve the same protections as the works of established artists like Mr. Falkner, who has shown his pieces in galleries across the United States and Europe.

. . . .

Last month, lawyers for G.M. sought to end his lawsuit by claiming in court papers that the company was allowed to use his parking garage mural because of a provision in the law that says images of “architectural works” do not have copyright protections. In their papers, the lawyers argued that the parking garage was itself an architectural work and that Mr. Falkner’s mural was not protected under the law because it was “incorporated into a building.”

. . . .

“If the parking structure is a ‘building,’ then that is the end of the analysis,” G.M.’s lawyers wrote. They added: “Joe Public should not be required to research the history of the building and hire architectural experts before he snaps a photograph.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

With all the graffiti copyright cases popping up over the last several months, PG says, to be safe, just make your own graffiti and use that.

I’ve never listened

18 July 2018

I’ve never listened to an audiobook before, and I have to say it’s a totally different experience. When you read a book, the story definitely takes place in your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.

Robin Sloan

Russia’s Growing Ebook and Audiobook Sales in First Half of 2018

18 July 2018

From Publishing Perspectives:

The Russian ebook retailer and distributor LitRes appears to be having a good year in ebook sales and suggests that by year’s end, the country could see 47-percent growth—in a sector that still represents a single-digit percentage of the overall market.

In the first six months of 2018, LitRes reports, ebook sales have grown by close to 45 percent compared to the same period last year. This is mainly attributed to a fast-growing enthusiasm for mobile applications among Russian consumers. Sales of ebooks through apps reportedly have grown two to three times in recent months, along with an increase in demand for audiobooks.

LitRes says its ebook sales through mobile applications grew by 79 percent in the first half of the year, while revenue from audiobooks is reported to have almost doubled in the same period.

. . . .

The company says that based on its own performance, the market’s growth seems to be stimulated by subscription models. According to LitRes, its MyBook ebook subscription series posted growth of 85 percent in the first half of the year.

At the same time, some growth in the ebook market is also said to be in self-published ebooks, sales of which for the last 11 to 12 months in Russia are estimated in reports to have increased by almost 18 times year-over-year.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

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