Amazon’s dominance ‘damages’ progress

27 March 2015

From The Bookseller:

Amazon’s position in the market is damaging progress in the book trade, according to the president of the Booksellers Association, Tim Walker.

Speaking on a panel about publishing and technology at the Nielsen BookInsights conference yesterday (25th March), Walker said that Amazon’s dominance of the e-book market was having a negative impact on bookselling.

“I do a have a concern that Amazon’s dominance is causing problems”, he said. “We estimate Kindle has a 95% market share of e-book sales in the UK and this is having a damaging effect… Consider the struggles of Barnes & Noble and the Nook platform, the problems of the established Txtr in Germany, and the decision here of Tesco to pull out of Blinkbox Books.”

Walker also spoke of concerns about free library e-lending, which he said “has to be done right, or it will do harm to the book trade”.

However, he said that publishing on the whole “embraced” new technology. “I think publishing can come in for quite a bit of stick but we’ve done a lot to embrace technology.”

. . . .

Gavin McLauchlan, consultant at Nielsen Media Services said publishers did not put enough money into advertising. “Only 0.67% of book revenue is put back into advertising,” he said. “It is very low, even compared with the fast moving consumer goods category.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Amazon devouring quarter of Seattle’s best office space

26 March 2015

From The Seattle Times:

Seattle could have the nation’s highest concentration of office space occupied by a single business if Amazon fills all the buildings it has lined up.

Amazon’s lease of a full city block in South Lake Union next to its global headquarters puts the firm on track to eventually occupy about 10 million square feet in downtown Seattle — or one-fourth of the market’s inventory of premium office space.

The company confirmed Tuesday it will move into 817,000 square feet at Troy Block, a two-building complex by Seattle-based developer Touchstone. One tower will open in mid-2016, the other a year later.
If the tech juggernaut fills all 10 million square feet, Seattle could have the nation’s highest concentration of office space occupied by a single business. Based on that footprint, Amazon could grow to nearly 50,000 employees, easily topping the University of Washington as the city’s largest employer.

“You’re putting a lot of eggs in one basket,” said Kip Spencer, a local real-estate expert who founded “In the event of a retrenchment, it could have a fairly significant negative spiral effect.”

. . . .

Amazon’s rapid growth has put pressure on rents for offices and apartments in the area, even as it’s ignited an unprecedented boom in apartment construction.

“Every Seattle office tenant who has negotiated a lease in the last couple of years has felt the ‘Amazon Effect,’ ” said tenant broker Brian Hayden of Flinn Ferguson. “The rate at which Amazon has been absorbing space has had a significant effect on Seattle’s overall vacancy rate, which increases landlord confidence and puts upward pressure on rents.”

Though Amazon doesn’t divulge how many people it employs locally, real-estate experts estimate the company has about 20,000 employees in Seattle. This assumes an average 200 square feet per person, which allows for common areas like cafeterias, meeting rooms and lounges.

Amazon’s head count could more than double to about 50,000 employees if it occupies the 10 million square feet to which it has committed.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times

PG suspects most long-time Seattle residents prefer this to the 15 years following big Boeing layoffs when a lot of Seattle landlords couldn’t find anyone to rent their property.

Amazon Adds New Review Options Via Drop Down Menus

23 March 2015

From Self-Publishing Review:

If you’ve tried to review a book on Amazon recently, Amazon has added a few options for users when reviewing a book via drop-down menus.


. . . .

At the bottom of the page it says: “Write your reviews using the traditional review authoring page” so this is a beta system. Time will tell if this will be helpful and/or abused. It could potentially lead to a more reviews, as it caters to people who might have trouble articulating themselves.

Link to the rest at Self-Publishing Review and thanks to Henry and several others for the tip.

A Bookstore has Value

23 March 2015

From the Letters to the Editor of The New Milford Spectrum:

To the Editor:

. . . .

In case you don’t know, Vanessa and I bought the Book Nook last year. We celebrated our one-year anniversary Feb. 21.

When we bought the store, we had no experience in retail and our only background with books was the time we spent buying them.

Despite the lack of experience, we saw it as a labor of love, not profit. We only hoped to break even.

For us, it was an opportunity to engage in a business that feeds the soul. After a year of ups and downs, plenty of sweat but no tears or blood, we still feel that way.

. . . .

[Before purchasing our store] I gave no further thought to [having ordered a book from Amazon after the bookstore didn’t have it] until I saw the store was closing. I understand now what I failed to then; the difference between value and price. A book has a price; a bookstore has value.

We sell more than books at the Book Nook. We provide a place to browse, pick them up, get a feel for them; we provide a place to talk about books, make suggestions, research what you may like; we are a welcoming light after dinner or as you come blinking out of the movie theater.

If we simply sold books, we could never compete with Amazon. We provide a place in our town and in our world for you, our readers and customers.

. . . .

And when we don’t have the book you want, think about letting us order it for you. We can’t match Amazon, but if you’ve stepped foot in our store, we’ve already provided something that Amazon cannot.

David and Vanessa Gronbach

Bank Street Book Nook

New Milford

Link to the rest at New Milford Spectrum

An Important Notice from Amazon

22 March 2015

From The New Yorker:

Dear Amazon Preferred Customer,

As you know, twelve years ago you registered for 1-Click, entrusting to us your name, address, and credit-card information. In return, you experienced the convenience of purchasing almost any item that we sell with a single mouse-click. The savings that you have enjoyed, in terms of clicks, have been substantial.

Then, eight years ago, you became an Amazon Prime subscriber. For an annual fee, you qualified for free shipping—a privilege that paid for itself when you bought a twelve-pack of Libby’s Peach Halves, Heavy Syrup, 29-Ounce Cans and a Hi-Grade 14” Bench-Top Drill Press.

. . . .

After five years of continuous Amazon Prime membership, in November, 2014, you qualified for Amazon Prime Plus+Plus. Since then, we have been sending you—every day, and twice on Sunday—a curated list of items that we think you’ll want to buy.

Naturally, you’ve taken advantage of this service. On January 9, 2015, you ordered Gname Brand™ Men’s Turkish Terry Cotton Cloth Spa Slippers Black Brown Navy, One Size Fits Most, with free packaging, free shipping, and free order fulfillment. So we rewarded you with membership in Amazon Ultra-Optimum Team Alpha Essentials Featuring IMELDA™.

What is IMELDA? It stands for Internet-Maximized Extrapolated Likes and Dislikes Algorithm. Thanks to “her,” we’re now able to analyze all your purchase information—and other online and Cloud-stored data newly made available to us, by ourselves—to serve you better than is humanly possible (literally).

For example, as you know, on Tuesday, February 10th, at 6:42 P.M., you used Uber to go to the Staples Center for an N.B.A. game between the L.A. Lakers and the Portland Trailblazers. You were accompanied by Jessica Goldstein, whom you met via OkCupid. Your Experian credit score; your electricity bill; last Thursday’s mu-shu pork and double-order of spring rolls, acquired via GrubHub from Panda Dynasty—IMELDA processes this information, and much, much more, to suggest to you the exact products you will need over the subsequent two-month period.

. . . .

Recent announcements by the Federal Aviation Administration (F.A.A.), along with cutting-edge developments in home-delivery technology, have enabled us to introduce Ama-zoom Intui-Shop with Insta-Air Fulfillment. And it’s heading right for you!

In fact, look out your window. Yes, right now. See that twenty-four-jar case of Royal Rajah Very Spicy Mango Chutney? It’s yours. You bought it. Well, not exactly. We bought it for you. When? About an hour ago, using your credit card, on file on our secure (from malware, from hackers, even from you) servers.

Link to the rest at The New Yorker

Amazon drone trial gets US regulator approval

20 March 2015

From The BBC:

The FAA said it had granted Amazon a certificate for people with pilot’s licenses to test the unmanned aircraft.

The drones must be flown at 400 feet or below during daylight hours, and must remain within sight of the pilot.

. . . .

Amazon had asked the US regulator for approval to begin the tests last July.

In December, the firm warned that it might begin testing the programme – known as Amazon Air – in other countries.

. . . .

Amazon announced in December 2013 that it was going to begin trialling delivery to some customers by drone.

Chinese internet giant Alibaba, Google and parcel service UPS are among other companies carrying out more private trials of drones.

Link to the rest at BBC and thanks to Joshua for the tip.

Which Bad Novel Is Perfect for You?

19 March 2015

From Slate:

As the title of one of the new century’s most beloved novels reminds us, complexity can exist where we see only the absence of complication. A single color contains multitudes. That novel’s author, E.L. James, might have been commenting on the category to which her own work belongs: “bad” books. Fifty Shades of Grey is a bad book—cheesy, boilerplate, and silly, despite its silky dreams of sophistication and naughtiness. But man, the simple descriptor bad encompasses so many other vistas of badness, strange and terrible to behold. These are planets of implausibility and awfulness that revolve beyond our wildest imaginings.

Welcome to Kindle Scout.

Kindle Scout is a new initiative from Amazon, a “reader-powered” publishing platform for “new, never-before-published books.” It works like this: Authors submit their manuscripts, 5,000-word excerpts of which are posted on the website for a 30-day scouting period. During that time, Amazon members can browse the selections and nominate the ones they’d like to see published. A reader is allowed just three swappable picks at a time, to preserve the integrity of each recommendation. At the end of the trial run, a team of staffers tallies the nods, applying its own secret rubric to decide which manuscripts get released.

. . . .

Kindle Scout offers exposure (rose) on a swift timeline (rose) without much prestige or developmental support (thorn, thorn). Chosen manuscripts hit the digital shelves as-is, sans editing, proofing, or guidance on artwork, though a spokeswoman for the program did mention that Kindle Press had connected “some of the very first” authors with professional copy editors.

. . . .

In just a few months, Kindle Scout has become a murderously deft purveyor of books seemingly designed only to be inhaled like so many bibliographic nachos. It does not appear, for example, that writers are submitting their sensitive domestic novels or dissections of the Brooklyn literary scene.

. . . .

But the bigger problem with so-bad-they’re-good novels is that sometimes they’re just so bad they’re … bad. For every camp triumph on Kindle Scout, every daft splendor of weaponized pit bulls, you’ll find three corresponding duds. A writer will insist on, like, narrating all the muscle movements involved when a character opens a window. Or she’ll create exhausting pileups of irrelevant plot.

Link to the rest at Slate and thanks to Sariah and several others for the tip.

Authors Get BookScan – Sort Of

18 March 2015

From Off on a Tangent:

Already the veritable avalanche of nerdgasmic comments are piling up on Twitter and elsewhere now that Amazon is making available four weeks of free Nielsen BookScan data to authors signed up through the company’s Author Central program. And yes, this is a big deal – authors empowered! Data is gold! – but like any new and shiny announcements, there are a whole host of caveats and issues that must be discussed.

Four weeks of free data. That’s it. Granted, that’s a lot more than what was customarily available to authors before. In fact, it was frustratingly difficult for anyone outside of a publishing house to get data until Publishers Marketplace started selling annual Bookscan subscriptions to agents at $2000/yr a few weeks ago. But unless they ask nicely (i.e. pay) authors won’t even have instant access to what media people normally obtain by request: year-to-date and release-to-date data.

Knowledge isn’t power without context. So let’s say an author looks up his or her opening-week BookScan data and has a heart attack because the number is a lot lower than anticipated. Well, Nielsen may say they have 75% of reported data (and indeed, there are quite a lot of outlets listed!) but Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club are not included, and those can be very gaping holes for some commercially-minded writers. E-book sales aren’t included, though that data may be more easily obtainable, especially since Amazon still remains the dominant digital market leader. BookScan only accounts for U.S. sales.

And if there was some “Factor X” situation – a catastrophe at the printer, books not shipped out in time, surprise under-ordering from a major retailer like B&N or Borders – that will be reflected in the numbers. And of course, not all BookScan numbers are created equal, even if they may be exactly the same for two authors. But if one sold 1,000 copies (per BookScan) in week one off a print run of 2K, that’s phenomenal. Off a print run of 30K, not so much.

. . . .

As @russmarshalek said, “BookScan available to authors is like basically giving the bull a pair of tap shoes and presenting your finest china.” And if there’s no time to reflect and to put the numbers in proper context(either on their own or with the help of trusted advocates like agents, editors, etc.) then the emails and phone calls wondering what’s up (to put it mildly) will rise as high as a monster surf wave.

Link to the rest at From Off on a Tangent and thanks to SMH for the tip.

Asking whether Amazon is friend or foe is a simple question that is complicated to answer

17 March 2015

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

I’ve been invited to join a discussion entitled “Amazon: Friend or Foe” (meaning “for publishers”) sponsored by the Digital Media Group of the Worshipful Company of Stationers (only in England!) and taking place in London next month.

. . . .

The first thoughts the question triggers for me are three ways I think Amazon has profoundly changed the industry.

Although just about every publisher has headaches dealing with Amazon, very few could deny that Amazon is their most profitable account, if they take sales volume, returns, and the cost of servicing into consideration. This fact is almost never acknowledged and therefore qualifies as one of the industry’s dirty little secrets. Because they’ve consolidated the book-buying audience online and deliver to it with extraordinary efficiency, Amazon must feel totally justified in clawing back margin; it wasn’t their idea to be every publisher’s most profitable account! But since they are effectively replacing so many other robust accounts, the profitability they add comes at a big price in the stability and reliability of a publisher’s business, which feels much more comfortable coming from a spread of accounts.

. . . .

It took the combination that only Amazon could put together to make an ebook marketplace really happen. They made an ereading device with built-in connectivity for direct downloading (which, in that pre-wifi time, required taking the real risk that connection charges would be a margin-killer). They had the clout to persuade publishers to make more books, particularly new titles, available as ebooks. And they had the attention and loyalty of a significant percentage of book readers to make the pitch for ebooks. With all those assets and the willingness to invest in a market that didn’t exist, Amazon created something out of nothing.

. . . .

The other big change in the industry that is significant but might not have been without Amazon is self-publishing. The success of the Kindle spawned it by making it easy and cheap to reach a significant portion of the book-buying audience with low prices and high margins. Amazon added its skill at creating an easy-to-use interface and efficient self-service. Again, others have followed, including Smashwords. But almost all the self-publishers achieving commercial success have primarily Amazon to thank. It appears that, in the ebook space at least, self-publishers among them move as many units as a Big Five house and, in fiction, they punch even above that weight. Without Amazon, this might not have happened yet.

. . . .

The second big heading for this Amazon discussion is around the asymmetry between what Amazon knows about the industry and what the industry knows about Amazon. Data about the publishing industry is notoriously scattered and because of the large number of audiences and commercial models in the “book business”, very hard to interpret intelligently. Amazon, on the other hand, has its own way of making things opaque by not sharing information.

The first indication of this is that Amazon doesn’t employ the industry’s standard ISBN number; they have their own number called an ASIN. So whereas the industry had a total title count through ISBN agencies that required its own degree of interpretation, the titles published exclusively by Amazon, which only have ASINs and not ISBNs, are a total “black hole”. Nobody except Amazon knows how many there are or into what categories they fall.

Another piece of Amazon’s business that has critical relevance to the rest of the industry but is totally concealed from view is their used book business. There is an argument to be made that the used book marketplace Amazon fosters actually helps publishers sell their new books at higher prices by giving consumers a way to get some of their money back. But it is also pretty certain that people are buying used copies of books they otherwise would have bought new, with the cheaper used choice being offered to them from about the first moment a book comes out.

Link to the rest at Mike Shatzkin and thanks to Andrew for the tip.

China’s Amazon?

17 March 2015

From The South China Morning Post:

Two of China’s largest online publishing companies announced this week that they will merge, creating what some have called the ‘Amazon of eBooks’.

Tencent Literature and Shanda Cloudary will become Yuewen Group, the country’s largest online publishing and eBook company.

With 1,200 employees and more than three million books, the new company expects to attract around 100 million readers generating more than 200 million yuan (US$31.9 million) per year, said Yuewen CEO Wu Wenhui.

In a public letter to staff on Monday, Wu called on them to work together to achieve the dream of creating a “nationwide” reading system in the coming decade.

. . . .

He added that to achieve that goal, Yuewen will need to purchase more books, develop better reading apps, promote the creation of online literature and work to strengthen copyright protection for both electronic and print books.

Wu said the company will design eBook readers designed to satisfy Chinese useage habits, unlike the Amazon Kindle, which was originally designed for English readers.

. . . .

The company plans to achieve its ambitious goals by taking advantage of Tencent’s huge market share in online and mobile messaging and social media through QQ and WeChat, which have more than 800 million users between them.

Yuewen’s new CEO is an online publishing veteran, having been in the industry for 12 years. Wu was one of the founders of e-literature site in 2002.

Wu dedicated himself to promoting online novelists, writers who often went overlooked by traditional print publishers, and signed contracts with hundreds of them. Under his leadership, Qidian debuted an innovative system to let readers vote and pay for their favourite books and writers.

Link to the rest at South China Morning Post

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