DBW Interview with Data Guy, Co-Founder, Author Earnings

23 February 2017

From Digital Book World:

In the past two years, Data Guy’s Author Earnings reports have become an increasingly popular resource for authors, shedding light on aspects of the publishing industry that were going previously unreported.

But the reports have also spurred a great deal of controversy. While some within the industry think they are vital tools for authors everywhere, there are others who criticize the data and think the conclusions resulting from them are worthless. There are of course many in the middle who believe the reports are admittedly far from perfect, but necessary nonetheless.

. . . .

Why do you choose to keep your identity anonymous, and is there anything that you’re willing to divulge personally?

I think the anonymity kind of goes back to where I was at when we started. Much by happenstance I discovered there are some advantages to staying anonymous. Back when I first pulled the data, it was really for my own information. I had just been approached by one of the top imprints in my genre, and they were making an offer on one of my books. It had done really well as an indie published release, and they could see it was selling well, ranking high on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, featured on devices, racking up reviews, etc. So they approached me, and I was negotiating with them and I was pretty excited. But, you know, I’m a numbers guy by my other career—my non-writing career—and I was looking for data to help me make my decisions. And there really wasn’t any data out there on what I needed. The official industry stats were kind of blind to half of the story. They didn’t cover indie publishing at all. And so I’m in the middle of negotiating with that publisher, when I pulled this data, and I look at it. I share it with Hugh, and we decide to publish it. But I didn’t want my involvement with Author Earnings to interfere with the discussion that I was having with the publishers.

. . . .

So based on all the research that you’ve done into ebook sales and where the money is going, is there one piece of strategic advice that you’d offer to Big Five publishers to do things differently than they do now?

There definitely is, and I think that DBW may be an opportunity to dig into some of these trends in more detail. In general, my observation is not something that Hugh and I alone are saying. High ebook prices don’t really hurt mega-selling authors with long established careers in all of the airport book stores and Walmart, but what they do that is not good is they damage the discoverability and also earnings of mid-list authors. And particularly the vast majority of debut authors who are brand new. No one knows who they are. They need to first find their own audience and fanbase among avid readers before their publisher will put a significant amount of marketing and funding behind pushing them to a more casual, broader audience. The industry’s changed, and the dynamics are not the same as they were when today’s traditionally published mega-sellers first came up a decade or more ago.

Most avid readers today read digitally. When you look at who’s reading 50 books a year, 100 books a year, those are the folks who are giving new authors a shot. I’m not talking about the seven-figure advance, Pulitzer Prize, one-of-them-a-year mega-debut author; I’m talking about the vast majority of traditionally-published debut authors who are trying to build a name for themselves. And the digital readers, these avid readers, are basically bypassing those authors, because they don’t recognize the names, and the price is off-putting to them.

. . . .

This is a bit of a long-winded question, but it’s the one that I’m most curious about. Your feelings or anyone’s feelings toward the Big Five publishers aside, how do you personally think the rise of self-publishing has affected our literary culture as a whole? Not too long ago, we had gatekeepers who let only a minority of potential authors past. Now with self-publishing and further avenues to get a book out there to an audience, literally anyone can be an author, and as a result, the number of books published per year has, frankly, exploded. For individual authors, this is great news: they can now achieve their dreams and publish a book. But taking a step back, with the gatekeepers not holding all the power, and a surge in books published, how do you feel this has changed the culture surrounding books? To put it another way, is the value of a book at all watered down now that anyone can be an author?

This is a question that I’m not going to be particularly good at answering. After all, I’m known as “Data Guy,” not “Literary Subjective Opinion Guy.” [Laughs] But with that said, first off, I have no particular feelings about the Big Five publishers, positive or negative. And I think this makes me a little different than a lot of the folks we hear from on various author groups. I’m a brand new author and a new entrant into this industry. I’ve never submitted a query to anyone. I hear a lot of this angst, and there seems to be bad blood one way or another. It’s just lost on me. I don’t get it. I get that some people in this industry feel very strongly about the things that have happened in the past, but for me it’s just a brand new, wide-open field. Let’s see what there is to learn.

With that said, I do think that today’s wide-open, democratic world of publishing is a good thing. It’s been a tremendous boon for literary culture and freedom of expression. The gatekeepers were an economic necessity in the past. It wasn’t so much about quality, although these two concepts tend to get tangled a lot, because nobody wants to think of themselves as just serving an economic function alone when working in the arts. It was more about choosing which manuscripts were worth taking a financial risk on. Well, today that risk is largely mediated by the fact that you don’t have to take a big risk to get a book out there in the public eye. At the end of the day, the only gatekeepers that matter are readers.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

Amazon Thanks Customers for #1 Corporate Reputation Ranking

22 February 2017

From The Amazon Press Room:

For the second straight year, Amazon ranked #1 in the annual Harris Corporate Reputation Poll. Amazon has now ranked in the top 10 for nine straight years and this year earned a record-high score of 86.27 for the 18-year survey. The survey, conducted by Harris Poll, surveys more than 23,000 people across the U.S. on six dimensions of corporate reputation—Emotional Appeal, Workplace Environment, Products & Services, Financial Performance, Vision & Leadership, and Social Responsibility—and respondents rated Amazon “excellent” in all six.

. . . .

To thank customers, Amazon is offering a discount today of $8.62 on orders of $50 or more. Customers can take advantage of the discount by entering the code BIGTHANKS at checkout.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room and thanks to Patricia and others for the tip.

PG says it sounds like a good day to buy something from Amazon.

9 Statistics Writers Should Know About Amazon

22 February 2017

From Jane Friedman:

1. Amazon’s print book sales grew by 15% in 2016—as estimated by Author Earnings. This gain was primarily driven by Amazon’s own discounting on print.

To the extent that print is “back,” one can connect it to Amazon’s discounting. Since 2013, the traditional book publishing industry has enjoyed about a 3% increase in print book sales. However, print book sales have grown largely because Amazon sold more print books. Barnes & Noble’s sales declined by 6% in 2016, and sales from mass merchandisers (Target, Walmart, etc.) also declined.

2. Ebook sales at Amazon increased by 4% in 2016 (again, as estimated by Author Earnings), despite Big Five ebook sales declining. Nielsen’s Jonathan Stolper said at Digital Book World, “Price is the most important and most influential barrier to entry for ebook buyers, and the increase in price [at publishers] coincided with the decrease in sales.” Any talk about digital fatigue, the consumer’s nostalgia for print, or a preference for the bookstore experience isn’t supported by the sales evidence—which Author Earnings’ Data Guy was eager to point out. If print is back, it’s partly because consumers are unwilling to pay more (or about the same price) for an ebook.

. . . .

6. When it comes to print book sales for the major publishers, Amazon represents roughly 50% of the pie; wholesalers, libraries, and specialty accounts are 25%; Barnes & Noble is in the teens; and independent bookstores are about 6-8% of the print book market.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Wal-Mart Posts Strong Holiday Sales, But E-Commerce Battle With Amazon Pinches Profit

21 February 2017

From The Wall Street Journal:

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported strong sales over the winter holiday season, a marked contrast with the weak numbers posted by many brick-and-mortar competitors including Target Corp. and Macy’s Inc.

Wal-Mart said Tuesday that sales in stores open at least 12 months rose 1.8% in the quarter ended Jan. 31, the 10th consecutive quarter of gains. More shoppers came to its stores and spent more when they did. But the strength of the company’s U.S. store business continues to come at the expense of profits, which fell 18% in the quarter.

The retail behemoth is investing billions to raise U.S. store worker wages, lower prices and expand e-commerce sales to better compete with Inc.

“Rapid advances in technology mean we need to become more of a digital enterprise—and that’s what we’re doing,” Chief Executive Doug McMillon said in a prerecorded call to discuss the results.

Still, Wal-Mart’s global e-commerce sales growth decelerated compared with the previous quarter. Online sales rose 16% including the first full quarter of sales from Inc., which Wal-Mart purchased in September. In the previous quarter e-commerce sales rose 21%.

. . . .

During the year spending rose 11% at online retailers and fell almost 6% at department stores, according to Commerce Department figures.

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

PG was interested that Wal-Mart is increasing salaries among its store workers to compete with Amazon more effectively.

Given that Wal-Mart employs about 1.5 million store workers, that’s a lot of money going into the consumer economy. In the US, Wal-Mart’s average, full-time hourly wage is $13.75 for store workers.

Amazon Launches Restaurant Delivery in Las Vegas

21 February 2017

From the Amazon Press Room: today announced that Prime members in Las Vegas can now enjoy delivery from popular restaurants, including Red Robin, Buca di Beppo, Brio Tuscan Grille, Island Sushi & Grill, Grinders Pizza Lounge, Jessie Rae’s BBQ, and many more. Customers can now order super-fast delivery from more than 100 restaurants and have it delivered to neighborhoods including the Las Vegas Strip, the Arts District, Winchester, Spring Valley, Paradise, and Summerlin, just to name a few.

“Las Vegas is a mecca for great entertainment and great food,” said Gus Lopez, general manager of Amazon Restaurants. “Whether you want delicious dishes after a night of gambling and dancing or an easy dinner option for a low-key evening in, Amazon Restaurants is the solution for a convenient and super-fast meal delivered in an hour or less.”

. . . .

Prime members in Las Vegas can order from participating restaurants, browse menus, track the status of their delivery, and watch as their delivery driver travels from the restaurant to the delivery address in real time. For Prime members placing orders for delivery to the Las Vegas Strip, Amazon Restaurants offers curb-side pick-up for fast service.

Once an order is placed, the food will be delivered in one hour or less. Amazon Restaurants offers customers transparent pricing—there are no menu markups.

Link to the rest at Amazon Press Room

Amazon to create 5,000 jobs in UK

20 February 2017

From The Bookseller:

Amazon has revealed plans to create 5,000 more jobs in the UK this year – boosting its workforce by over a quarter.

The company said the roles with “competitive pay” would be across the business, from software developers, engineers and technicians to entry-level positions and on-the-job training. They will be based across its UK head office in London; Customer Service Centre in Edinburgh; Fashion Photography Studio in Shoreditch and other fulfilment centres across the UK.

New jobs will also be created at its Development Centres in Cambridge, Edinburgh and London where employees work on global customer innovations like Alexa, Prime Air and Prime Video.

The extra staff will see the company’s overall UK employees grow by 26% to 24,000.

. . . .

Amazon said it plans to hire “as many individuals as possible” from staff occupying its seasonal positions into the new roles, and said that over 10,000 of its current 19,000 staff first began in a seasonal role.

The company has also announced a new apprenticeship programme today (20th February) , which it says will offer “hundreds” of apprenticeship opportunities in engineering, logistics and warehousing.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

While Apple’s iPad remained the Leader in Tablets for 2016, Innovation is needed to reinvigorate the Sector

18 February 2017

From Patently Apple:

While Apple toppled iPad expectations for 2016, the fact remains that for the year iPad sales dropped 14.1%, more than double the industry as a whole which fell 6.6%, according to the latest TrendForce report covering the tablet market. Apple’s total shipment for 2016 came in at 42.55 million units. Strong demand for iPad in North America and exceptional results from year-end holiday sales sustained iPad shipments last year.

. . . .

TrendForce report Anita Wang pointed out that “Apple has as many as three to four new iPad products lined up for 2017. In addition to an economically priced 9.7-inch model that is ready for market release, Apple will also launch a new 12.9-inch model. Furthermore, Apple will also introduce a new 10.5-inch iPad. This will be a new size category for the device series.”

TrendForce estimates that this year’s iPad shipments will fall by 6~8% annually to around 40 million units. There are reports of a “Pro” version of iPad mini being planned. If Apple decides to release such a product this year, the annual iPad shipments may stabilize and even register growth.”

Adding more “Pro” iPad models is simply means that more iPads will be able to use Apple Pencil.

. . . .

On the flip side, Amazon’s cheapo tablet market approach allowed them to double sales (99.4% to be exact) from last year and zoom to the number three spot worldwide with 11 million units. Anyone can sell cheapo tablets at a loss like Amazon, so on that count at least Microsoft is a pure competitor trying to innovate and make a profit. Microsoft also doesn’t want to enter the lower end of the model and compete with their Windows partners.

Link to the rest at Patently Apple

PG says disruptive technology always enters and builds in a market from the cheap side up. He doesn’t know if this is Amazon’s strategy, but bang for the buck is a powerful marketing and sales tool.

Google Home, Amazon Echo Could Soon Handle Voice Calls

16 February 2017

From PC Magazine:

This could be the year that Amazon Echo and Google Home replace your smartphone—at least when you’re at home. Reports indicate they might soon be able to handle voice calls.

According to the Wall Street Journal, adding the ability to make and receive calls is high on the list of forthcoming features, and it could happen this year.

The big difference between Google and Amazon in this regard is that Google does have an advantage in the form of Google Voice. Voice already offers voice calls, text messaging, voicemail, and call forwarding features, so Google could just hook Voice up to Home devices. Amazon does not have an equivalent service to simply bolt on.

Link to the rest at PC Magazine

While PG is a big fan of both the Echo and the Echo Dot and has a few sprinkled around Casa PG, he’s not certain if he wants his cell phone hooked up to them. He thinks he prefers to call up Alexa when he wants something rather than having Alexa initiate contact.

But he could be wrong and will check out the service when it appears. Amazon may add some compelling features that PG doesn’t anticipate.

Amazon’s Vision of Drone Deliveries Now Involves Parachutes

16 February 2017

From MIT Technology Review:

What goes up, must … then drop a parcel from a great height.

That’s apparently what engineers at Amazon think could happen with its much-touted delivery drones. While the e-commerce giant has already delivered packages to paying customers in the U.K. using its aircraft, it did so by landing in a large patch of open ground. Now, in a patent, it has outlined how it could drop packages from the air instead.

The patent describes a way to reliably eject a payload from a drone in midflight. Usually, such a drop would see the package descend along a parabolic arc, caused by the forward motion of the aircraft—but that might not jive too well with the neighbors. Instead, Amazon’s idea is to apply a force as the package leaves the drone to have it descend vertically.

It also suggests that the package container could have some simple built-in method of correcting its descent. It may, for instance, feature aileron-like flaps that can tweak its course, with instructions relayed wirelessly from the drone above.

Link to the rest at MIT Technology Review and thanks to Lacy and others for the tip.

PG reminds visitors to TPV that most patents never result in any actual products or services, but watching Amazon boxes descending from the sky around Casa PG is an interesting thought.

With Amazon Books, Jeff Bezos Is Solving Digital Retail’s Biggest Design Flaw

15 February 2017

From Fast Code Design:

Amazon is planning to open at least six bookstores across the country by the end of 2017.

Technically the stores are still an experiment. But after visiting one it’s clear that this is in some ways an ingenious refinement of the bookstore idea—what Warby Parker is to eyeglasses and Shake Shack is to fast food, Amazon Books is to Barnes & Noble. The store solves one of the biggest problems with online shopping: discoverability. The solution isn’t derived by stocking an infinite number of books; it’s just the opposite—this bookstore uses data-driven design to increase the likelihood that you will pick up a book that you didn’t know you wanted to read.

. . . .

Walmart acquired for $3 billion at least in part to figure out what to do with all those stores across the country. The competitive edge that Amazon has is its trove of consumer data, which allows the company to experiment and optimize—even if that means failing repeatedly—until it gets the formula just right.

. . . .

“I’ve been asked for 20 years, ‘Will you guys ever open physical stores?'” Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos tells me during an interview at his offices in November. “And I’ve answered pretty much the same way the whole time, which is that we will if we have a differentiated idea. You know it can’t be a me-too offering, because the physical world is so well-served already.”

. . . .

So what makes Amazon Books different? The first thing you’ll notice is that all of the books are facing out so that the cover is on full display. For a company that counts frugality as a core principle, stocking books in the least space-efficient way possible doesn’t seem to make much sense. But Amazon didn’t do it by accident; this was A/B/C tested. When the store concept was being tested in a warehouse south of town, the company procured old books from Goodwill and created three aisles for customers to browse.

“In one aisle we had all the books face out,” says Jennifer Cast, an early Amazon employee who returned after a long hiatus to oversee the Amazon Books rollout. “In another aisle we had 50-50, and another aisle we had two-thirds/one-third.” The face-out aisle won, customers liked it more. “What we realized is we felt sorry for the books that were spine out because they didn’t get to shine,” says Cast. “And your eye was drawn to the face-out books.”

. . . .

“If you walk into Amazon Books, the physical store, with a preconceived notion of the book you want,” Bezos says, “there’s a good chance you’re going to walk out disappointed.” There are only a few thousand titles in the store. But nothing here has less than a 4.6 out of a 5-star rating. And there’s a placard below each book offering some kind of Amazon-derived metadata about the title. Under Hillbilly Elegy there was an excerpt from an online customer review, the book Sprint had an “If you like . . . then try” suggestion, and The Way of the Shepherd touted that “92% of customers rated this five stars.”

Link to the rest at Fast Code Design

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