Taking Sides in the Amazon-Hachette Battle

18 October 2014

From Forbes blogs:

“You’ll never work in this town again!”

My agent’s exact words were a bit different, but the message was clear: if I weighed in on Amazon’s side in its battle with Hachette, no publisher would ever publish another book of mine.  That is a risk worth taking, because publishing is an industry that seems bent on eating its young.

The fight between Amazon and Hachette is ostensibly about e-book pricing.  In reality, it is about much more: innovation, the business model, and the future of publishing.

. . . .

Amazon’s tactic seems to have backfired.  Some 900 authors, most of them not published by Hachette, signed a full-page ad in The New York Times criticizing Amazon for using authors as human shields in what is essentially a contract dispute between two giant corporations.

I’m supporting Amazon.   I think Amazon is far more likely to come up with innovations that may actually save book publishing.  And publishing is in desperate need of being saved. The long-term trends are not encouraging: people are spending less time reading books (even including e-books;) unit sales are down; and per-capita spending on books continues to shrink.

Yet book publishers seem unwilling or unable to recognize the implications of these trends. What other consumer business responds to flat or decreasing unit sales by increasing prices?  But that is precisely what book publishers do year after year.  Between 2003 and 2013, the price of the average hardcover fiction title rose 49 percent to $26.63; non-fiction books are priced even higher.

. . . .

Traditional book publishing is, at best, a quaint business.  The people who work in the industry are generally quite bright and typically nice.  But as a category, book publishing needs to be saved from itself.  Its business model and processes are relics of a long-ago era: the returns system – where retailers can return unsold copies at any time for a full refund – is a remnant of the Great Depression.  Such marketing basics as price-testing and package (cover) testing are non-existent.  Until Nielsen introduced Bookscan a few years ago, publishers really didn’t know how many books they sold; they only knew how many copies they shipped.  Returns could come back at any time.

. . . .

Amazon has given all authors – not just the big-name writers – a better chance of being discovered, and making more money.  Hachette is trying to maintain a paper publishing business model on an increasingly e-book world.  Authors  – and not just Hachette authors — aren’t pawns in this battle between two giants who have very different visions of the future.   They are the potential beneficiaries of an industry that needs to be reinvented.  I’m willing to risk siding with the innovator.

Link to the rest at Forbes blogs

Amazon’s Elite Reviewing Club Sabotaged My Book

17 October 2014

From The New Republic:

I’ll bet you don’t know what the Amazon “Vine Community” is. I didn’t. I was never even aware of it until my memoir was published earlier this year. Books offered on Amazon for pre-order have a notation: “This book is not eligible for review until publication date.” However, in the run-up to my release date there were already five reviews postedand they all were rotten; I mean inaccurate, insulting, and demonstrably written by dim bulbs. I was absolutely stunned. Who were these people, and why were they allowed to comment on a book before actual purchasers, when there was a clear prohibition.

Well, they were “Vine Voices” I found out. Amazon explains: “Amazon Vine invites the most trusted reviewers on Amazon to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make informed purchase decisions.” Well, swell. A fellow customer would have read those pre-publication “reviews” and thought the book was dreckalthough some people, I have to hope, would have spotted these attacks for what they were: ad hominem attacks. God and Bezos only know how many “trusted reviewers” there are. In any case, these people are given freebies … cold cream, sneakers, pots and pans, and … books! I submit to you that free stuff does not a book reviewer make. One could fairly think of Vine membership as offering an all-you-can-eat buffet of things.

. . . .

Another pre-publication pan from a Vine Voice was posted twelve days prior to publication. Her considered opinion was this: “I found the writing to be so sophomoric that I am still bewildered how the author, now in her 70s, ever made a living as a writer … Reading this felt like watching an aging singer past their prime still trying to perform in concert. I suppose if you want to learn more about Ms. Howard’s pampered life then you may enjoy this. I did not.” (I must say I appreciated the elevation from a Kardashian to an aging singer.) As for the writer’s “bewilderment” about how I ever made a living as a writer, please no one tell her that I was a syndicated columnist for decades, wrote cover stories for national magazines, and got a book advance in seven figures.

. . . .

If you do not detect the hostility in these Vine reviews, I bet your names are “Quirky Girl” and “Ms. Winston.” These people were not reviewing my book, they were reviewing me. Or rich people. Or something. And Amazon gave them the tools, through Vine, to damage my book for the casual browser. I can see the valuemaybefor man-on-the-street reviews of cold cream and pots and pans, but books?! Especially by people who collect free stuff, feel important because they’re getting this swag, and, forgive me, do not sound in the least like well-read people to begin with.

. . . .

Books, of course, can be and are reviewed pre-publicationbut by reviewers who are attached to magazines or newspapers. “Book Reviewer” is considered a profession, and reviews are done by other writers. Good sense would seem to mititate against any group of people unschooled in creative and critical reviewing coming up with a worthwhile review. The Vine people, who deal mostly with products for the home and the body, seem inappropriate bellwethers regarding products for the mind, if you will.

I was so distressed about this injustice that I looked up the list of Amazon’s board of directors. Great good luck, I happened to know two of them, so I pestered the one who was a lawyer, feeling all this slamming by the barely literate approached tortious interference.

Link to the rest at The New Republic and thanks to Margaret for the tip.

PG says someone needs to tell this author about Special Snowflakes United.

I have always loved to use fear

17 October 2014

I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from there.

Shirley Jackson

The past week or so has been passing strange

17 October 2014

From author Tom LoCicero:

The past week or so has been passing strange. Every day I’ve driven 15 minutes to the house I lived in for about two decades with the woman I divorced about seven years ago. When I moved out back then, I left behind almost all of my most cherished possessions, my books, stacked in boxes in a basement back room.

Now having decided to return to her New England roots, my ex had sold the house, in one of Detroit’s nicest suburbs, a place I could no longer afford. So the books finally had to be moved, and on each trip I filled my car, a smallish station wagon type, with those boxes and brought them back here to my small apartment to stash them in a garage where I had spent days throwing things out and shifting stuff around to make room.

Through all of this unusual (for me) physical exertion, as I hauled box after heavy box up the basement stairs to shove them in my car, I was teased and bashed by memories filled with hopes, regrets, dreams and disappointments. I must have moved about 60 boxes, but obviously this was not just physical labor.

In that basement I had practically all my books, from the beginning of my college days, first at Notre Dame and then at the University of Michigan.

. . . .

But, in any case, each time I grabbed a box marked “Prentice-Hall,” my publisher back then, I wondered why the hell I was doing this. It seemed almost like blind instinct was driving me. I knew only that I could not possibly leave those books behind to be thrown in a dump.

This was the third time over the past 40 years that I’ve moved them, from basement to basement to garage, and now (unlike those previous moves when I still clung to fanciful hopes) I was quite certain I would never be able to do anything with them that would be right and appropriate for books.

Online I’ve sold only a handful of those hard covers, with their garish purple dust jacket featuring a bullet-split menorah on the front and a photo of my hopelessly naïve 30-year-old self on the back. And there’s no place I can think of to even give them away now. Talk about the baggage of my life.

. . . .

A slim book of poetry by my favorite professor at Notre Dame, a brilliant, no doubt tortured man who had left his wife and children because he finally knew he was gay. My treasured copy of Crime and Punishment with all my scribbles and notes from my Russian Lit class at U. of M.

. . . .

And again they’ll all probably remain in boxes in the garage because I have only a few small bookcases in this crowded little apartment, and I’m very unlikely to live again in a place with enough shelves for my books.

Link to the rest at The Books of T.V. LoCicero

Here’s a link to Tom LoCicero’s books

Indie authors take note: Amazon is, among other things, a machine designed to optimize product prices in order to gain share and sales

17 October 2014

From Kobo President Michael Tamblyn via Twitter:

Rather than waiting for a podium, I’ll do it here. Call it “32 Short Notes on Amazon-Hachette-IndyAuthors”.

. . . .

1/ Indie authors take note: Amazon is, among other things, a machine designed to optimize product prices in order to gain share and sales.

2. AMZN, like every retailer that reaches a certain size, turns to its suppliers to grow profitability by demanding more favourable terms.

. . . .

4. Some vocal traditionally published authors (but not all) support Hachette and criticize Amazon and…

5. Some vocal independent authors (but not all) support Amazon and criticize Hachette…

. . . .

7. But it seems like self-published authors believe they are protected somehow – that what is happening to Hachette won’t happen to them.

. . . .

9. In the long run, I don’t think that Amazon makes a big distinction between a publisher and an indy author – they are both suppliers.

. . . .

11. Hachette is first because one negotiation with a big publisher makes a lot of bestselling books more profitable. That’s efficient.

. . . .

14. From Amazon’s perspective, how is an independent author any different than a publisher? Still a supplier, to be made more profitable.

15. The indie author’s situation is most tenuous of all. If >80% of sales come from AMZN, *no leverage when it’s your turn to be “optimized”

. . . .

28. To paraphrase: “First they came for the big New York publishers, but I wasn’t published by a big New York Publisher…”

Link to the rest at @mtamblyn and thanks to Tymber for the tip.

So, Kobo, compete! Do a better job of selling books and indie authors will beat a path to your door.

Indie authors are the ultimate fast, flexible entrepreneurs. The can change strategies and sales channels on a dime. No meetings with vice-presidents necessary.

Build a better website. Amazon is about 5000% better than you are at helping readers discover books. It’s time to up your game.

If you can figure out how to really compete, indie authors will come.

Man spends evening locked in Waterstones after staff shut up shop

17 October 2014

From The Telegraph:

Being locked in a bookshop over night with thousands of novels at your disposal might sound like a bibliophile’s dream.

But the reality is not so romantic, if one tourist’s experience in the Trafalgar Square branch of Waterstones in London is anything to go by.

David Willis, from Dallas, Texas, wrote on Twitter on Thursday night that he had been locked inside the shop after spending 15 minutes upstairs.

At 10.11pm, Mr Willis posted a picture showing a shuttered door and a rack containing pictures of Kevin Pietersen’s autobiograpy, along with a message claiming he had been trapped inside for the past hour.

He wrote: “This is me locked inside a Waterstones bookstore in London. I was upstairs for 15 minutes and came down to all the lights out and door locked. Been here over an hour now. Supposedly someone is on their way. #nofilter #london”

. . . .

Other Twitter users were quick to offer Mr Willis help with some telling him to call police, some offering him food, and others giving book recommendations to help him pass the time.

. . . .

And web developer Tim Archer said: “@DWill_ @Waterstones tell them you’ll be randomly moving the books until you are released, that should speed them up a bit.”

. . . .

Waterstones recently reported a rise in book sales again after years of decline due to competition from online retailers and the growth of e-books. The firm was unavailable for comment.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph

ABA, NAIBA Urge Veto of Bill Punishing New Jersey Indie Bookstores

17 October 2014

From The American Booksellers Association:

The American Booksellers Association and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association (NAIBA) are urging New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to veto a bill that discriminates against independent bookstores that mistakenly disclose customer information to the police and other third parties. In a letter sent last week, ABA CEO Oren Teicher and NAIBA Executive Director Eileen Dengler expressed support for legislation that protects the privacy of bookstore records but opposed Assembly Bill 1396, which authorizes customers to file civil suits against any bookstore that discloses customer information in the absence of a court order. A court can impose a fine of up to $1,000.

In their letter, Teicher and Dengler said that small stores are very aware of the importance of protecting reader records and noted that independent bookstores vigorously fought on behalf of customers’ privacy rights in several high profile cases.

. . . .

“Independent booksellers are committed to protecting reader privacy, but legislation should recognize the operational challenges facing small businesses, especially when it comes to the matter of paying fines,” said Teicher. “Bricks-and-mortar stores depend heavily on young and sometimes inexperienced staff members who may make mistakes. They should not be punished in the same way as large Internet companies that can direct all inquiries to in-house lawyers who have experience with these requests.”

Teicher and Dengler’s letter stressed that “reader privacy is a core belief of independent booksellers, [and] they have made a concerted effort to educate bookstore staff about the importance of protecting privacy.”

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

John Grisham: men who watch child porn are not all paedophiles

17 October 2014

From The Telegraph:

America is wrongly jailing far too many people for viewing child pornography, the best-selling legal novelist John Grisham has told The Telegraph in a wide-ranging attack on the US judicial system and the country’s sky-high prison rates.

Mr Grisham, 59, argued America’s judges had “gone crazy” over the past 30 years, locking up far too many people, from white collar criminals like the businesswoman Martha Stewart, to black teenagers on minor drugs charges and – he added – those who had viewed child porn online.

“We have prisons now filled with guys my age. Sixty-year-old white men in prison who’ve never harmed anybody, would never touch a child,” he said in an exclusive interview to promote his latest novel Gray Mountain which is published next week.

“But they got online one night and started surfing around, probably had too much to drink or whatever, and pushed the wrong buttons, went too far and got into child porn.”

The author of legal thrillers such as The Firm and A Time to Kill who has sold more than 275m books during his 25-year career, cited the case of a “good buddy from law school” who was caught up in a Canadian child porn sting operation a decade ago as an example of excessive sentencing.

“His drinking was out of control, and he went to a website. It was labelled ‘sixteen year old wannabee hookers or something like that’. And it said ’16-year-old girls’. So he went there. Downloaded some stuff – it was 16 year old girls who looked 30.

“He shouldn’t ’a done it. It was stupid, but it wasn’t 10-year-old boys. He didn’t touch anything. And God, a week later there was a knock on the door: ‘FBI!’ and it was sting set up by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to catch people – sex offenders – and he went to prison for three years.”

“There’s so many of them now. There’s so many ‘sex offenders’ – that’s what they’re called – that they put them in the same prison. Like they’re a bunch of perverts, or something; thousands of ’em. We’ve gone nuts with this incarceration,” he added in his loft-office in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Asked about the argument that viewing child pornography fuelled the industry of abuse needed to create the pictures, Mr Grisham said that current sentencing policies failed to draw a distinction between real-world abusers and those who downloaded content, accidentally or otherwise.

“I have no sympathy for real paedophiles,” he said, “God, please lock those people up. But so many of these guys do not deserve harsh prison sentences, and that’s what they’re getting,” adding sentencing disparities between blacks and whites was likely to be the subject of his next book.

. . . .

However Mr Grisham’s remarks are likely to anger child-rights campaigners that over the past decade have successfully lobbied the US Congress to demand tougher sentences for those who access child pornography online.

Link to the rest at The Telegraph and thanks to M.P. for the tip.

PG says several people at Grisham’s publisher immediately refilled their prescriptions for anti-anxiety medication.

The World of Publishing: 1991 vs. 2014

17 October 2014

From author Karen Karbo via PowellsBooks.Blog:

The Diamond Lane, published in May 1991, was my second novel, and what is most striking about the difference between the publishing process 23 years ago and now is not that the book was written on a Kaypro, Xeroxed at Kinko’s, and sent overnight in a FedEx box to G. P. Putnam’s Sons, but that after the manuscript was accepted and given a pub date, I asked my esteemed editor, “What should I do now?” and she said, “Just write the next one.”

. . . .

That said, in 1991, the main job of a writer was to just write the next one. Publicity-wise, you were expected to be able to show up to a reading (arranged by your more charming publicist) and read from your own work in a manner that didn’t put people to sleep. You were expected to be socially awkward, possibly unkempt, and a little wild-eyed — bonus points awarded for not being falling down drunk.You were expected to be socially awkward, possibly unkempt, and a little wild-eyed — bonus points awarded for not being falling down drunk. After your book tour, whether large or small, you were expected to disappear into your scribe-cave.

. . . .

[W]riters are outsiders, and usually not by their own choosing. It’s whythey’re writers. If they didn’t feel alienated from human experience, they wouldn’t feel so drawn to writing to make sense of their lives. It’s not the outsider’s facility for language that makes her a writer — many a student body president or homecoming queen can turn a phrase — but her ability to howl at the moon, on the page. To bring all his anguish, anger, sense of injustice, and loneliness to his work. This is true even for those of us who’ve been accused of being funny; in my case I wasn’t invited to the party, and was also the smart aleck at the back of the classroom.

In 2014, the landscape of a writer’s life is so different as to be unrecognizable. Every writer, whether legacy or self-published, is expected to be capable of launching a sophisticated, far-ranging, full-throttle, buzz-generating, platform-building, unending branding extravaganza. To do this, you must be charismatic, witty, attractive, selfiegenic, while also possessing the marketing chops of the team who rolled out the iPod, thus saving Apple from impending bankruptcy.

That the time-consuming, solitary indwelling required to build a world in your head and put it on paper and the zippity-do-dah extroverted glad-handing required to be a successful promoter of, well, anything rarely exist inside the same human being is immaterial. Publishers have always wanted to sell books, but historically they’ve tended to acquire books they believed they could sell; now we’ve entered an age where they acquire books which they believe the writer can sell. It’s a little like signing a player to the NBA based on his marketing plan to boost concession stand sales during half-time, and incidentally, his field goal percentage.

Link to the rest at PowellsBooks.Blog and thanks to Ron for the tip.

Here’s a link to Karen Karbo’s books

Amazon and the marketplace of ideas

16 October 2014

From The Volokh Conspiracy blog at The Washington Post:

I agree with most of the points made in co-blogger David Post’s excellentcritique of Franklin Foer’s attack on Amazon. As David points out, Amazon’s efforts to squeeze suppliers in order to cut costs end up saving consumers money. And there is no evidence that Amazon has somehow monopolized the market for either e-books or hard copies, given that both can easily be purchased at numerous other websites, including those of publishers themselves.

But the debate over Foer’s article has largely neglected one even more important benefit of Amazon’s efforts at cost-cutting. By reducing the price of new books, it facilitates the spread of ideas. Thanks to Amazon and its various imitators, books can now be bought more cheaply and quickly than at any time in human history so far. Moreover, the search technologies developed by Amazon greatly reduce the costs of finding new books that might interest readers. That, too, expands our access to the marketplace for ideas.

One of the nightmare scenarios posited by Foer is that Amazon might push prices so low that it will end up “deflating Salman Rushdie and Jennifer Egan novels to the price of a Diet Coke.” I for one would be thrilled to see that happen. It would mean more people can read more good books than ever before. I will be very happy if someday it becomes economical to sell my books, for the price of a Diet Coke too. That means a lot more readers for my ideas.

. . . .

In reality, of course, there is no evidence that falling prices have deterred authors from writing “quality books.” Admittedly, quality is hard to measure. But it seems highly likely that the number of quality books published today is greater than in the pre-internet age – in part because the possibility of reaching a much larger audience increases the incentive to write and publish them. That certainly seems to be the case in the fields that I follow regularly, such as books on constitutional law, property, and political participation.

. . . .

I don’t doubt that some authors of “serious nonfiction” prefer “the old system.” But some of us hold exactly the opposite view. By lowering prices and search costs, Amazon and other similar websites have enabled our books to reach a much larger audience than they likely would have otherwise. All my recent books involved negotiations in which I pushed hard to get the publisher to set a lower price, so that the book can reach more readers. When Amazon or Barnes & Noble discounts the prices of my books or offers a cheap Kindle or Nook e-book, I am happy to see it. In one case, I even successfully pushed them to lower the price of the Kindle version. For authors whose main reason to write books is to reach readers and influence public debate, Amazon’s efforts to lower prices are a feature, not a bug.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

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