Amazon

Amazon.com Announces the Most Well-Read Cities in America

24 May 2016

From the Amazon Media Room:

Amazon.com revealed their annual list of the Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities across the U.S., just in time for summer reading season. The ranking is determined by a compilation of sales data from cities with more than 500,000 residents on a per capita basis and includes purchases of all books, magazines and newspapers in both Kindle and print format from April 2015 to April 2016.

The Top 20 Most Well-Read Cities are:

1. Seattle, Wash.

2. Portland, Ore.

3. Washington, D.C.

4. San Francisco, Calif.

5. Austin, Texas

6. Las Vegas, Nev.

7. Tucson, Ariz.

8. Denver, Colo.

9. Albuquerque, N.M.

10. San Diego, Calif.

11. Baltimore, Md.

12. Charlotte, N.C.

13. Louisville, Ky.

14. San Jose, Calif.

15. Houston, Texas

16. Nashville, Tenn.

17. Chicago, Ill.

18. Indianapolis, Ind.

19. Dallas, Texas

20. San Antonio, Texas

. . . .

  • Seattle, Wash., the home of Amazon’s headquarters, kept its title as the Most Well-Read City for the second year in a row with the most purchases of all books, magazines and newspapers in both Kindle and print formats.
  • The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins was the top-selling Kindle and print title in five of the top 10 cities: Portland, Ore.; Austin, Texas; Tucson, Ariz.;Albuquerque, N.M.; San Diego, Calif.
  • Readers in four of the top 10 cities cleaned up their act this year, with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing as the most sold print title in Seattle, Wash.; San Francisco, Calif.; Tucson, Ariz.; Albuquerque, N.M.

. . . .

  •  Denver, Colo., Las Vegas, Nev., San Diego, Calif., and Albuquerque, N.M. all channeled their inner child this year, with adult coloring books being among the top-selling print titles in each of the cities.

Link to the rest at Amazon Media Room

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How the Kindle won the e-book market

24 May 2016

From Chris Meadows at TeleRead:

Columnist David Gewirtz discusses how the early Kindle—a fairly ugly and really expensive block of plastic—managed to conquer the nascent e-book market in a way no other device had managed since the Palm Pilot first prompted commercial e-book sales back in the ‘90s.

. . . .

I think Gerwirtz fundamentally misses the mark on what the Kindle’s innovation was, however. He puts the Kindle’s success down to combining device-agnosticism with the vertical integration of selling books, but he doesn’t even mention what I see as the Kindle’s real secret—the way it used its always-on 3G connection and its one-click purchase patent to make e-book purchasing dead simple.

Earlier e-book platforms, from the Palm Pilot all the way up to the Chinese OEM e-ink readers that used to be a drug on the market, required their users to download a file, plug the device into the computer, and then copy the file across. It might seem simple to you or me, but we’re techies. In my experience working phone tech support for Best Buy TVs, I’ve had people have endless trouble with the simplest of cable-connecting procedures. Even if people can figure it out, they just don’t want to mess with it.

The Kindle was the very first platform where you could simply tap a link on the e-book you wanted, and then start reading it seconds later. No need to download files, plug a cable in, and sideload. You tapped, and then you started reading—just like magic. Hence, it was the first e-reader that actually had a broad appeal to ordinary people—people who couldn’t figure out how to make their VCR stop flashing 12:00 could buy and download an e-book with no fuss or muss.

Link to the rest at TeleRead

Books’ Prices and Writing’s Value: Careful What We Asked For?

23 May 2016

From Writer Unboxed:

Blurring ‘Our Dignity, Our Value’

“The biggest issue is one that will be difficult for us to recover from…the degradation of our worth as creatives.”

That line is from a piece here at Writer Unboxed a year ago, in May 2015. Our colleague Heather Webb, in As Writers, What Are We Worth?, was anticipating a groan heard ’round the world.

Last month, when I led a round-table discussion at Berlin’s Publishers’ Forum, our topic was “Re-Thinking Ebook Sales and Understanding the Consumers.” But what drew the biggest response was book pricing.

“The consumer,” one of our publishers said, “is in perpetual confusion. No way to understand what a single book costs or how to value our authors’ work.” And at the influential publishing house Bastei Lübbe AG, executive board member Klaus Kluge is calling book prices “staggeringly low” in an interview with Sabine Schwiering Tert at Boersenblatt.net.

In the UK in January, Penguin Random House CEO Tom Weldon told my Bookseller colleague Benedicte Page: “”One of the biggest challenges in 2016 will be e-book pricing: how do we maintain the value perception of our quality content and maximize revenues across all formats for both authors and publishers?”

. . . .

What have we done to the idea of writing’s value? How fuzzy is this math going to get?

That’s my provocation for you today. How are today’s pricing problems affecting what Webb characterized here last year as “our dignity, our value, and the viability of this industry”?

Books were always commodities of a kind, and buying second-hand romances by the grocery-bagful didn’t start yesterday.

. . . .

With both the trade and the self-publishing sectors in rampant over-production as they are today, you’re facing a sheer rock face of competition for every glance your book might get, let alone a read, let alone a sale. Your price is in free-fall.

And we can look to our cohorts in Hollywood for a little guidance here, too. You may not remember what the advent of Blockbuster video and then Netflix did to film. But those of us who watched those developments roll in know. Suddenly there were films everywhere, peopled with actors who are not quite the stars they look like speaking dialog that’s as wooden as they are, in strangely unsatisfying knockoffs of other films.

We can’t entirely blame independent authors for this gauzy focus on pricing in books. As the indie insurgence began to impact the trade a few years ago, authors who had never been able to get past the agents and editors, the dreaded gatekeepers, found that they could self-publish in our digital age. But self-selling was a different thing.

When you have no marketing department behind you, when you’re not even listed in a publisher’s catalog or recommended to a Barnes & Noble buyer—and no one’s ever heard of you in the world of books—the one way you might turn the head of a potential buyer cruising Amazon is offer a low price. Or no price.

. . . .

If the trade was aghast at Amazon’s institution of $9.99 as a viable price for the ebook version of a hardcover hit, it’s tempting to mutter “all is forgiven” now. I know many authors who’d love to get $9.99 for their ebooks. Free downloads by the hundreds might feel exhilarating, but your take-home pay? And while it’s popular to hunker down in the bloggoria and shoot the breeze about the “sweet spot” between $2.99 and $4.99, what frequently is not mentioned is frequency: how many of those things do you have to sell at $3.99—even if you’re getting 70 percent—to put together an income?

. . . .

And nobody forced the industry to follow the self-publishing sector in driving the car right on over the cliff. For a time, a UK publisher staged a 20-pence promotion on some of the hottest titles of the year. Now, the bigs are in “new-agency” pricing contracts with Amazon that somehow have them charging high “this price set by the publisher” prices for ebooks at the very moment that the industry needs to energize its digital investments, not price them out of reach.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed and thanks to Kristian for the tip.

PG says successful indie authors are very savvy about pricing their books at a level that maximizes author income. And more than a few earn their living from their writing. And nearly all authors who were traditionally published earn more as indies.

Yes, there are exceptions, but PG hears and reads success stories often enough to feel confident these are reasonably reliable generalizations for mid 2016. Simply put, in 2016, an author is much more likely to be able to support themselves as an indie than as a traditionally-published author.

The “pricing problem” that bothers Big Publishing is centered around the unfortunate reality that ebook prices which will maintain an indie author in fine fashion don’t generate nearly enough money to support a large publisher, regardless of how little it pays its authors.

One of the pivotal stages in a disruptive innovation comes when low-priced producers learn how to satisfy an economically significant portion of the overall market and use that position and their low prices to keep garnering more and more customers. These customers are satisfied with the quality of the product the low-priced producers offer and the low-priced producers have reached a point where they sell enough products and earn enough money to continue their business without interruption and without infusions of new capital. In short, the low-priced producers – indie authors – aren’t going away.

Speaking generally, more and more purchasers of ebooks are making purchasing decisions that say they don’t see enough added value from large publishers to justify the higher prices they have to pay. If $2.99 buys them an enjoyable reading experience, why would they pay $14.99 for an enjoyable reading experience?

The more enjoyable reading they experience for $2.99, the less likely they are to ever go back to paying $14.99. They’ll spend time digging around in the $2.99 bin to find a good book instead of paying $14.99. If they get stuck with a $2.99 clunker, they won’t give up on $2.99 books because experience has taught them there are more than a few good reads available at this price.

The question that Big Publishing can’t afford readers to ask is “Will I get five times more enjoyment if I pay $14.99?”

PG has been in the tech business for long enough to see the disruptive innovation process play out in many different markets. In each case, the incumbent market powers believe they add some special sauce to their products for which customers will always be willing to pay incumbent prices. Names like Novell, Lotus 1-2-3, Digital Equipment and Sun Microsystems come to mind, names once associated with the finest products, products that customers were happy to buy at the prices these companies set.

Today, major publishers assume today’s market will support the same prices as the book market of 2-3 years ago. They want to believe customers will agree that ebooks should be priced like printed books. They want to believe that ebook purchasers pay close attention to how much printed books cost and will use that price to determine the reasonable price for ebooks.

PG says these publishers do not understand consumer behavior.

Referring back to the OP, the relevant question in 2016 isn’t “As Writers, What Are We Worth?”

The real question is “Publishers, What Are They Worth?”

 

Why Understanding One Retail Trend Is Worth 50% More Than All Of Wal-Mart

22 May 2016

From Seeking Alpha:

Wal-Mart announced 1st quarter results on Thursday, and the stock jumped almost 10% on news sales were up versus last year. It was only $1.1B on $115B, about 1%, but it was UP! Same store sales were also up 1%, but analysts pointed out that was largely due to lower prices to hold competitors at bay.

While investors cheered the news, at the higher valuation Wal-Mart is still only worth what it was in June, 2012 (just under $70/share.) From then through August, 2015 Wal-Mart traded at a higher valuation – peaking at $90 in January, 2015. Subsequent fears of slower sales had driven the stock down to $56.50 by November, 2015. So this is a recovery for crestfallen investors the last year, but far from new valuation highs.

Unfortunately, this is likely to be just a blip up in a longer-term ongoing valuation decline for Wal-Mart. And that value will be captured by those who understand the most important, undeniable trend in retail.

. . . .

Wal-Mart’s assets are greater than the company’s total valuation. This is because the return on its assets, today and projected, are so low that Wal-Mart must borrow money in order to make them overall worthwhile. And the fact that on the balance sheet, at book value, the assets appear to be some $50B lower due to depreciation, and the difference be cost and market value.

This is because Wal-Mart competes almost entirely in the intensely competitive and asset-dense market of traditional brick-and-mortar retail. This requires a lot of land, buildings, shelves and inventory. And that market is barely growing. Maybe 1-2%/year.

Compare this with Amazon. Amazon has about $30B of assets. Yet its valuation is over $330B. So Amazon captures an extra value of $300B by competing in the asset sparse market of online retailing where it needs little land, few buildings, far less shelving and a lot less inventory. And it is competing in a market the Commerce Department says is growing at 15%/year.

The trend to online sales is extremely important, as it has entirely different customer acquisition and retention requirements, and very different ways of competing. Amazon understands those trends, and continues to lead its rivals. Today online retail is 10.5% of all non-restaurant, non-bar retail. And that 15% growth rate accounts for 60% of ALL the growth in this retail segment. Amazon keeps advancing, growing as fast (or faster) than the industry average, especially in key categories. Meanwhile, despite its vast resources and best efforts Wal-Mart admitted its online sales growth is only 7% – half the segment growth rate – and its growth is decelerating.

By understanding this one trend – a very big, important, powerful trend – Amazon captures more value than the current value of ALL the Wal-Mart stores, distribution centers and their contents.

Link to the rest at Seeking Alpha

The Google Home Is Like the Amazon Echo, Only Smarter. And Maybe Creepier.

19 May 2016

From Slate:

For more than a year now, there has been a popular tech gadget that is the only one of its kind on the market. The Amazon Echo, a “smart speaker” that you control by voice, was the company’s end run around the smartphone industry, which it failed to break into with the Fire Phone. Widely viewed as quixotic upon release, the Echo gradually won over many of its critics, and a surprising number of consumers, with its dead-simple interface and just enough practical use cases to insinuate itself into one’s daily routines. It was only a matter of time before one of the other big companies copied it. And now Google has.

At its annual developer conference Wednesday, the company announced Google Home, a “smart speaker” that—well, I probably don’t need to repeat it. It does basically the same stuff the Echo does, plus or minus a few features. It’s also very similar in design, if perhaps a little friendlier-looking. It bears some resemblance to an air freshener, or perhaps a modernist salt shaker.

. . . .

Usually when big tech companies copy each other’s ideas, they put up some pretense of originality. Google, to its credit, barely bothered to pass off Home as its own innovation. In fact, in a moment of honesty and magnanimity that is nearly unheard of in the world of tech product launches, Google CEO Sundar Pichai explicitly cited the Echo’s success, saying, “Credit to the team at Amazon for creating a lot of excitement in this space.”

I can think of a reason, beyond politeness or human decency, why Pichai might feel comfortable offering this sort of credit to a rival product before extolling the virtues of his own. It’s that he’s supremely confident that Google can beat Amazon at its own game.

. . . .

But what Google knows is that “speaker” isn’t the operative word here, and the Echo isn’t the real product. The operative word is “smart,” and the real product is the voice-control virtual-assistant software that animates the speaker. In Amazon’s case, that’s Alexa. In Google’s case, it’s the newly rebranded “Google assistant,” which builds on the company’s already successful Google Now software.

Viewed through this lens, it’s actually Google that’s the incumbent here, with years and years of experience developing industry-leading voice recognition, natural language understanding, and conversational search technology. What Amazon found with the Echo was really just a fresh use case for the type of software that Google has been building all along.

As a result, Google Home will enjoy two big advantages over the Echo right from the beginning. First, the virtual assistant that lives inside it (or, more precisely, that resides in Google’s server cloud), will be essentially the same one that already lives inside some 1.5 billion people’s Android devices. As a result, it will connect directly and seamlessly to the many Google services that people know and use, like Google Maps, Gmail, and Google calendar.

Second, Google assistant is likely to be far more intelligent than Alexa, in the sense that it will be better at both understanding your queries and answering them. Ask Alexa a question about the world, and it will recite an answer straight fromWikipedia, one of a very limited number of information sources to which it has access. Ask Google assistant a question about the world, and it will tap into all of the knowledge and power of Google search. Not only that, but it will draw on Google’s state-of-the-art “conversational search” technology, which intuits not only the denotative meaning of a given query, but some of the conversational context that surrounds it.

So, as Pichai demonstrated, Google assistant will not only answer the question, “What is Draymond Green’s jersey number?”, but if you then ask it, “Where did he go to college?”, it will recognize that “he” refers to Green and will answer that question too. Alexa simply can’t do that yet. Which is why Pichai was not exaggerating when he bragged that Google assistant will boast capabilities “far beyond what other assistants can do.”

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Matthew for the tip.

Amazon Plans More Stores, Bulked-Up Prime Services

18 May 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos on Tuesday promised more retail stores as well as new services for the company’s Prime unlimited shipping membership.

Mr. Bezos said he wants the $99 Prime membership to offer so many benefits that consumers will feel they “are being irresponsible” if they aren’t members. He didn’t, however, indicate exactly how Amazon plans to continue bulking up the service. The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that the company is introducing several lines of private-label food, cleaning products and baby goods available only to Prime members.

Amazon also plans new brick-and-mortar stores beyond its sole bookstore in a Seattle outdoor mall, Mr. Bezos said. The company is constructing one near San Diego.

“We’re definitely going to open additional stores, how many we don’t know yet,” he said. “In these early days it’s all about learning, rather than trying to earn a lot of revenue.”

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

Learn to Self-Publish

18 May 2016

From Delano:

Girls In Tech Luxembourg and Amazon Luxembourg are hosting a workshop on how to independently publish with the online vendor. Guest speaker Martin Gehmacher will teach participants everything they need to know about self-publishing with a hands-on introduction of actually publishing a book.

A former TV and radio journalist from Austria, Gehmacher crossed the Atlantic to discover North America and ended up in Seattle working for Amazon. He joined the Kindle Direct Publishing team in 2010, just before they launched Kindle annd Kindle Direct Publishing in the UK and Germany. In 2012 he moved with his family to Luxembourg, where he works mainly with independent German top authors and literary agents who publish via Kindle Direct Publishing

Link to the rest at Delano

Amazon Wants Alexa to Take Control of Your Smart Home

18 May 2016

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc., having conquered online retail and cloud computing, is reaching ever deeper into the workings of everyday life by throwing its weight behind voice-controlled devices.

In the past year, Amazon has provided ways to dim the bedroom lights, summon Uber rides, play song lists, check bank balances and, yes, order merchandise simply by speaking. Alexa—a robotic voice assistant—is the power behind Amazon’s quirky, cylindric speaker called Echo.

The Seattle retailer is pushing Alexa into the hands of startups, even funding some along the way, while also forging partnerships with companies. By speaking to the Echo, customers with thermostats from startup Ecobee Inc. can turn down the heat without leaving the couch. Last month, startup Invoxia SAS released a portable speaker it says is the first to directly integrate Alexa. More is on the way, including Ford Motor Co.’s plans to let drivers of some coming vehicles use Alexa to open the garage or start the engine.

. . . .

“Voice is just so natural. It’s much quicker than typing,” said Howard Morgan, a partner at venture firm First Round Capital, whose investments include Uber Technologies Inc. and food-delivery startup BlueApron Inc. “We’re encouraging our portfolio companies to consider using Alexa. Simply, it removes one barrier to getting people to use your service.”

. . . .

Amazon’s engineers were spurred by Chief Executive Jeff Bezos’s vision of a living room that was equipped with a device like the spaceship computer on his favorite “Star Trek,” according to people familiar with the matter. That conversational computer helped control the ship’s critical functions and answered complicated questions.

. . . .

Amazon’s Lab126 hardware unit is working on an Alexa-powered device featuring a tablet-like computer screen known internally as “Knight,” designed so that users can summon Web pages, videos or images when, say, their hands are covered in flour.

. . . .

Scout began offering voice functionality for its home-monitoring devices last summer so customers with an Echo device can tell the alarm to turn off or ask if a window is open.

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

A New Way to Promote Your Ebooks to Millions of Goodreads Members

17 May 2016

From the Goodreads Blog:

With the launch of Goodreads Deals in the U.S., we’re now offering authors and publishers a new way to amplify ebook price promotions to our millions of members. The Goodreads Deals program comes with built-in personalization options based on members’ Want to Read shelves, the authors they follow, and the genres they prefer—all designed to help your deals reach the readers with the highest interest in buying your books.

Goodreads Deals is unique because we’ll enable you to reach existing fans andintroduce your ebooks to new readers:

  • Existing Fans: Every second, our members add 6 books to their Want to Read shelves—that’s 15 million books per month that have captured the interest of readers. With Goodreads Deals, you can now tap into that interest. We’ll email members when a book on their Want to Read shelf has a price promotion. We’ll also email any members who follow the author on Goodreads.
  • Prospective Readers: At the same time, members can choose to receive even more deals by opting in to daily emails featuring books in the genres they prefer. For many of our members, their hunger for books often outpaces their wallets, and they are interested in hearing about price promotions that will help them read more books. With Goodreads Deals, you can drive discovery and sales of your ebook with a broader reader base in your genre.

Finding out about book deals has been a popular request from our members.

. . . .

I’m a publisher—how can I get my ebook deal featured by Goodreads Deals? We hand-pick deals on ebooks that will most appeal to the Goodreads community. Publishers who’d like to nominate their ebook deal should reach out to their Goodreads Account Manager to get started, or send an email to advertising-inquiry@goodreads.com.

I’m an author—how can I get my ebook deal featured by Goodreads Deals?
We haven’t opened up deal nominations to authors as we are in beta, but we’re working on it. Our plan is to have something to announce very soon, so stay tuned.

Which genres will be featured at launch?
At launch, we will offer daily emails for the following genres:
• Bestsellers
• Romance
• Mystery & Thrillers
• Fantasy & Sci-Fi

If you don’t see your book’s genre, don’t worry. Our readers love a wide variety of books and our goal is to increase our range of genres in the coming months.

Link to the rest at Goodreads Blog

Amazon Poses a Problem for Facebook, Alphabet

16 May 2016

From The Street:

In short, the destruction wrought by Amazon on the traditional retail business model soon will be extended to Facebook and Alphabet.

Although the synergies among the three organizations have allowed them to succeed coincidentally, they are not symbiotic. Amazon does not need Facebook and Alphabet to succeed; indeed, it already has the capacity to disintermediate both companies.

The reason is that Amazon is already a self-contained social media enterprise, but without the substantively formalized structure. It’s similar to Facebook or Google Plus, yet in place for consumers to take advantage of.

I think it is logical that Amazon soon will focus on offering such a structure to consumers, but I’m not aware of any plans to do so yet.

In such a structure, Amazon could bypass the perceived necessity of offering content that is financially supported by advertisements, which is the method Facebook and Alphabet employ. Instead, the advertisements would be the content, with the social media engagement by consumers being about products (goods and services) and the financial support coming from end sales directly, rather than the indirect route of paid advertisements for products.

. . . .

Technology has allowed for more focused and targeted advertisements, which has helped Facebook and Alphabet provide more cost-effective campaigns to advertisers than traditional media. However, the focus of both companies is on how to integrate ads with content and not irritate users in the process, which is the same thought process and means of engagement with consumers that always has been the case.

I don’t think that needs to be the case any longer, though.

Amazon could provide a platform for users to enter their profiles to any degree of specificity they are comfortable with; they could share information about age, sexual orientation, marital status, medical status, location, interests, aspirations and so forth.

The platform then could provide a dynamic, anticipatory and constantly updating stream of products and services that meet the potential needs and desires of each distinct user. That stream is the content.

In that model, traditional content — such as cat videos and your cousin’s new drill press — is considered an encumbrance to meeting the real desires of the user, and is therefore deleted.

This approach is the exact opposite of the current model for interactions among producers, intermediaries and consumers. I think that’s the trajectory for the industry, though, and specifically for Amazon.

Link to the rest at The Street

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