Amazon’s deal spree raises ‘No. 1 question’ from investors

From Yahoo Finance:

Amazon (AMZN) has telegraphed to investors and the world that deals are key to its future, but those transactions create antitrust risks — and investors are taking notice.

. . . .

Amazon has made headlines for its big-ticket dealmaking in recent months. The company acquired both subscription health care provider OneMedical (ONEM) and Roomba-maker iRobot in quick succession, for $3.9 billion and $1.7 billion respectively. However, investors have been concerned that Amazon’s deals, including the buyout of vacuum-making iRobot, are primed to face an Federal Trade Commission (FTC) challenge.

“It’s the No. 1 question asked,” Thill said. “It comes up in every investor conversation and I think, clearly, they’re not going to block a vacuum cleaner company from being bought. I don’t think they’ll have an issue there, but [antitrust scrutiny] does prevent Amazon from doing other software acquisitions and e-commerce acquisitions.”

Amazon has famously made some of the biggest deals out there in the last decade or so. In 2017, the company bought upscale grocer Whole Foods for a jaw-dropping $13.4 billion. Soon thereafter, Amazon dropped another near-billion to acquire online pharmacy PillPack. It hasn’t just been recent either — back in 2009, even in the depths of the recession, Amazon closed its deal to buy online retailer Zappos for $1.2 billion. Earlier this year, Amazon also closed its $8.6 billion acquisition of MGM.

However, major deals aren’t all that’s on the table for Amazon and other mega-cap tech companies. The innovation coming out of companies like Amazon and Alphabet-owned Google (GOOG, GOOGL) means they aren’t incentivized to exclusively focus on huge deals, according to Thill.

“There’s tons of innovation right now at Amazon and Google and others in tech, so I don’t think they necessarily need to go out and do big deals,” he said. “They’ll do smaller tuck-in deals.”

Still, it’s a question of what’s small to Amazon and which of these deals could finally push lawmakers over the edge. For example, Amazon’s iRobot buyout came under renewed scrutiny last week, when Sen. Elizabeth Warren and a group of lawmakers requested that the FTC reject the deal.

Amazon’s deals haven’t spurred federal action yet, but FTC Chair Lina Khan is a noted critic of Amazon, and her ascension has been linked to a series of her writings exploring what a breakup of the company would involve. Notably, the company has so far been subject to antitrust action at the state level. Recently, California sued Amazon, alleging that the restrictions it places on its third-party sellers are anticompetitive

. . . .

“It’s a question, it’s an overhang, it’s certainly in every investor conversation, in every meeting we go into, it’s the No. 1 question,” he said. “I think that the way they mitigate this risk is that they’ve been able to do M&A.”

Thill has a point. Though doing more deals is a risk, it’s also a safeguard. The Information has referred to it as Amazon’s “whack-a-mole” dealmaking strategy. The FTC can’t logistically challenge every single acquisition, so like Amazon, the regulator is going to need to pick its battles. While Amazon has to be careful going forward, so does the government, said Thill.

“They have to be careful… [Amazon’s] doing the right thing for their employees, their shareholders, and the ecosystem… Amazon is a huge employer, so the government also has to be careful with how much they regulate them, because they are an incredible, incredible vibrant source for the economy that’s helping many in their daily lives. So, there’s a fine balance that we have to walk and I think Amazon is doing that.”

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

PG notes that he hasn’t seen a whole lot of innovation in the KDP world. Indeed, he hasn’t seen much creative development in Zon’s bookselling business. An increment here and an increment there, but nothing very interesting.

Sponsored ads and Stores launches in Egypt

From Amazon Ads:

What launched?

Sponsored Products, Sponsored Brands, and Stores are available to use on Amazon.eg. Sponsored ads can help you achieve your business goals by reaching customers as they shop for relevant products on Amazon, gaining product visibility and building your brand.

Grow your business in Egypt with Amazon Ads

Souq, now re-branded to Amazon, is a trusted online retailer. As 72% of Egyptian consumers are shopping online more frequently than before since the start of pandemic1, it’s a great opportunity to leverage Amazon’s self-service sponsored ads to engage with those customers.

Choose the appropriate ad product for your needs:

Help increase discoverability of your products

If you don’t know where to start your online advertising, Sponsored Products is a great way to begin your advertising journey in Egypt. Sponsored Products appear in shopping results and on product pages, it’s an effective approach to engage customers as they shop for similar products on Amazon.eg.
No experience necessary, in just a few clicks, you can create your first Sponsored Products campaign. We recommend leveraging our automated features, including automatic targeting, dynamic bidding, and suggested bids. You only pay when shoppers click on your ads.

Link to the rest at Amazon Ads

Amazon Is Changing Its Ebook Return Policy in Major Breakthrough for Authors

From The Authors Guild:

The Authors Guild is proud to report that our discussions with Amazon’s senior executive team concerning the platform’s policy that allows readers to return ebooks online within seven days of purchase, regardless of the amount read, have resulted in a major breakthrough. Yesterday, Amazon informed us of its plans to change its ebook return policy to restrict automatic returns to purchases where no more than 10 percent of the book has been read.

The planned change will go into effect by the end of the year. Any customer who wishes to return an ebook after reading more than 10 percent will need to send in a customer service request, which will be reviewed by a representative to ensure that the return request is genuine and complies with Amazon’s policies against abuse. This process will create a strong deterrent against buying, reading, and returning ebooks within seven days, and readers who attempt to abuse the return policy will be penalized under Amazon’s policies. The Authors Guild and the Society of Authors, its counterpart organization in the U.K., had taken up this issue with Amazon’s senior executives earlier this year. We applaud the scores of indie authors who advocated for this change.

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

PG notes that traditional publishers will also experience a financial gain as well, more than the author will.

Kindle Unlimited paid out over $250 million to indie authors in H1 as APA reports total H1 ebook market of $500 million

From The New Publishing Standard:

The industry journals are reporting the latest APA figures, summing up June and the first six months of 2022, painting a bleak picture for the ebook format, down 6.3% in June to $83 million compared to 2021, and down 8.5% to $500.4 million for the first six months of 2022.

By value ebooks accounted for just 12.7% of the trade market.

Except that it didn’t. At least not the total market. These figures are just those from the publishers reporting to the APA, and to be clear the APA itself makes no claim to be reporting the whole market. Not that you’d know that from some reportage, which treats the APA numbers as a definitive statement on the US ebook market.

What isn’t the APA counting? Essentially any publishers that do not report to the APA – which means all indie authors, APub, and countless small presses.

Indies of course are famously digital-first publishers, and many are solely ebook focussed. Many non-reporting small publishers are digital first or have a strong digital portfolio. APub publishes ebooks, audio and print, but given Amazon owns the Kindle store it’s a given that its titles own the Kindle store charts, as any glance at the ebook charts will confirm.

Given none of these report to the APA it’s also a given – but not one many in the industry want to say out loud – that the APA statistics only show us part of the picture.

But just how much more in trade value might the APA be missing?

We cannot know for sure, but we can be sure APub is the single biggest player in this uncounted field, and that it won’t be sharing its numbers any time soon.

But Amazon does share the amount it pays out to indie authors through the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription platform. This doesn’t tell us total revenue, but the “royalty” paid through the “pot”.

To be clear, the pot is paid out only to indie authors and small presses loading to the Kindle store via KDP and that are enrolled in the Kindle Unlimited programme.

Bigger publishers with titles in Kindle Unlimited are paid à la carte quite separate from the pot. The same applies to APub authors.

But what we do know is how much Amazon paid out to indie authors as “royalties” in June – the same month the APA reported a total of $80 million in cold ebook revenue.

In June Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited pot totaled $43.4 million.

That’s more than half as much again as the total APA reported ebook revenue, and again this figure does not include à la carte sales from indies.

Over the first six months of 2022?

The Kindle Unlimited pot value has risen every single month except February. Here’s the running count:

• $42.2 million in January
• $39.4 million in February
• $41.4 million in March
• $41.5 million in April
• $43.3 million in May
• $43.4 million in June
• $251.2 million = H1 total

Yes, read that again, In the first six months of 2022 the Kindle Unlimited ebook subscription service paid out a quarter million in ”royalties” to participating indie authors and small presses, quite separate from its pay-out to APub authors and to bigger publishers with titles in the programme.

That’s more than half as much again of the total ebook revenue – not royalties but hard revenue – reported by the APA, that has not been counted.

Subscription services notoriously do not pay much to authors/publishers – the June rate for indie authors was $0.00458496 per page read, equivalent to a royalty of $1.37 for a 300 page book assuming all pages parsed.

. . . .

Let me end with this thought: if we take the APA’s June count and add only the Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out we know of, and still exclude all other Kindle Unlimited revenue and all other ebook revenue, that alone takes the ebook total to $123.4 million, compared to the $80 million the APA tells us.

And if we take the H1 APA numbers and the H1 Kindle Unlimited indie pot pay-out together we are looking at a revised ebook value of $751.6 million, compared to the $500.4 million the APA numbers alone tell us.

And of course we are still nowhere near counting all ebook revenue.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Amazon moves to block website it says sells fake 5-star feedback

From The Seattle Times:

In another effort to crack down on fake reviews for products on its digital store, Amazon has sued a Massachusetts company that it says sells fake 5-star “verified feedback” and creates accounts for sellers who have been suspended.

The lawsuit comes weeks after Amazon sued the administrators of more than 10,000 Facebook groups for allegedly coordinating fake product reviews in exchange for money or free products. Amazon is ramping up ongoing legal activity against fake review brokers, the company said. The most recent lawsuit is the first aimed at stopping fraudsters who are posting fake seller feedback, which is separate from product reviews.

“Every day, millions of consumers who shop in Amazon’s stores use customer product reviews or seller feedback to assist with purchasing decisions,” reads the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in King County Superior Court and first reported by Axios. “The bad actors who pay for product reviews and seller feedback erode that customer trust, compete unfairly with the millions of honest entrepreneurs who sell in Amazon’s stores and tarnish Amazon’s brand.”

In this case, Amazon sued Trey King, a Rhode Island resident, and his company, Auction Sentinel, as well as Sentinel Solutions, a corporation organized in Massachusetts.

Auction Sentinel bills itself as the “#1 marketplace for third party sellers” and offers services for people selling their goods on Amazon, eBay, Etsy and Walmart. “If you want to sell and profit in E-com [e-commerce], you need a coach who has been in the game for a while and not just a glorified Instagram or YouTube personality who flashes luxury cars,” King wrote in a pitch for Auction Sentinel’s services on its website.

Amazon claims Auction Sentinel creates fake 5-star “verified feedback” for sellers on its platform in order to “artificially inflate” a seller’s ratings. One package offers 10 feedbacks for $200 and another promotes up to 100 for $700.

Link to the rest at The Seattle Times and thanks to C. for the tip.

PG to Amazon: Keep up the good work! Your lawyers already have copies of their pleadings ready to add other phony review sites with a simple cut and paste.

Amazon’s One-Stop Shop for Identity Thieves

From The Intercept:

Imagin if a budding identity thief had a free, user-friendly, publicly searchable database that contained the name, location, date of birth, and mother’s maiden name of millions of people. Enter Amazon registries. We already know that Amazon collects plenty of personal information and data that can be arduous for its users to obtain, but the company also readily shares your information for anyone to access when you set up a registry. Because the default visibility settings of registries for weddings, birthdays, new babies, and other occasions are preset to public, Amazon reveals to the world information that financial institutions and other service providers request for identity authentication — and that identity thieves can use to take over your life.

Amazon requires that certain information be provided when setting up a registry. For a wedding registry, Amazon requires the first and last names of both partners, the wedding date, the number of guests attending, and a mailing address. The default share setting is to make the registry searchable not only on Amazon but also via the third-party wedding planning website The Knot. This has led to confusion from Amazon wedding registry users over how The Knot received their registry details. Similarly, when creating a baby registry, Amazon asks for a first and last name, expected due date, whether the baby is the parents’ first child, and a mailing address. The default visibility setting is also set to public and to appear on pregnancy and parenting websites The Bump, What to Expect, and Baby Center.

Anyone can search for a public registry (even without an Amazon account) with just a name or further specifying a date and location. In addition to the list of desired products, wedding registries show the names of both partners, the event location, and the event date. Baby registries return either the name of the upcoming baby or the names of the parents, their city and state, and the expected due date.

At first glance, only wedding registries for weddings happening between 2020 to 2032 and baby registries with due dates between 2020 to 2023 can be searched for. However, there are ways to bypass the date restrictions to access registries from years prior. In the case of multiple results, wedding and baby registries display the top 100 matches, and if no date parameters are entered, search results may contain entries outside the default date ranges. For example, even though Amazon only lets you select dates from 2020 onward, if you don’t specify an exact range when searching a common name, you could get results from, say, 2008.

Perhaps the more critical vulnerability in Amazon’s date range search, however, is that the fields can be modified using the developer tools functionality available in browsers like Chrome and Firefox. A cursory search with modified date fields brought up wedding registries dating as far back as 2004, and baby registries dating back all the way to 2006. So someone could discover the details of a registry set up for a present-day 16-year-old. Who knows how this information could be weaponized in two years, once such a teen becomes a legal adult?

Knowledge-based authentication, known as KBA, is a form of identity authentication favored by service providers such as financial institutions that relies on shared secrets: information that is only known to you and your bank, email provider, or other service. For example, if you lose the password to your bank account, you can regain access by entering information that most people likely don’t know about you, like your mother’s maiden name or your date of birth.

Link to the rest at The Intercept

PG hadn’t seen The Intercept before finding the OP in his online wanderings looking for Amazon stories. He will leave it to others to judge how credible the threat described is.

Amazon might own your doctor’s office after latest acquisition

From Ars Technica:

When Amazon launched Amazon Care to its employees in 2019, the goal was to test the product before rolling it out nationwide. After that rollout happened earlier this year, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy told Insider that the expansion would “fundamentally” change the health care game by dramatically enhancing the medical-care process. He predicted that patients in the future would be so used to telehealth and other new conveniences that they’ll think that things like long wait times and delays between in-person visits commonly experienced today are actually “insane.”

Now, The Wall Street Journal reports, Amazon has gone one step closer to that future by agreeing to a $3.9 billion deal to purchase One Medical, a company that operates a network of health clinics. With this move, Amazon will expand the number of patients it serves by gaining access to “a practice that operates more than 180 medical offices in 25 US markets and works with more than 8,000 companies to provide health benefits to employees, including with in-person and virtual care.”

. . . .

Echoing Jassy’s enthusiasm, Neil Lindsay, Amazon Health Services’ senior vice president, told WSJ that the company thinks “health care is high on the list of experiences that need reinvention.” Purchasing One Medical is a way for Amazon to break further into the $4 trillion health care industry at a time when Amazon’s revenue is down and costs are up.

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

PG is waiting for Alexa to say, “I sense that you have a fever. I can make an appointment with your Amazon physician. She has an opening in 45 minutes.”

Authors are protesting Amazon’s e-book policy that allows users to read and return

From National Public Radio:

Earlier this month, Lisa Kessler, a paranormal romance author, logged into Kindle Direct Publishing to check her earnings from the previous month. On her publishing dashboard, she saw something she had never seen before in her 11 years as an author: a negative earnings balance.

The reason for the negative balance? Kindle e-book returns.

Authors are protesting Amazon’s e-book return policy, a system they say allows readers to “steal” from self-published authors. Amazon’s current return policy for e-books allows customers to “cancel an accidental book order within seven days.” But, for some readers, seven days is more than enough time to finish a book and return it after reading, effectively treating Amazon like a library.

When an Amazon customer returns an e-book, royalties originally paid to the author at the time of purchase are deducted from their earnings balance. Authors can end up with negative balances when customers return books after the author has already been paid by Kindle Direct Publishing, an Amazon spokesperson said.

. . . .

Authors and readers want to change the policy

Reah Foxx, a book lover from Louisiana, started a petition to change the policy after seeing “life hacks” circulating on social media that teach readers to abuse the Amazon return policy and read for free. To date, the petition has garnered almost 70,000 signatures.

Kessler said prior to the “read and return” trend, she would normally have one or two book returns a month, something she attributed to genuine accidental purchases. Now, she sees entire series of hers being returned.

“It really rattled me,” she said. “You think, ‘Can I still make a living if this continues?’ and that’s very disheartening.”

Kristy Bromberg, a romance author, said she’s had more returns in the past two months than she had in the entire eight months before that combined.

Those suggesting the read-and-return practice think they’re “sticking it to Amazon,” but in reality are only harming the authors, said Eva Creel, a fantasy writer who publishes under the name E. G. Creel.

“I have my book available at the library. If somebody wants to read it for free, they can,” Creel said. “But reading it and making me think that I’ve made an income and then that income being taken away from me, that feels like stealing.”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

PG wonders if this happens for Kindle Unlimited books where authors are paid by the number of pages read.

As it brings its bipedal robots to market, Agility announces a $150M round

From Tech Crunch:

Yesterday, Amazon announced that Agility Robotics is one of the five initial startups benefitting from the company’s $1 billion innovation fund. If I had to guess, I’d say that meant the retail giant was eyeing the Oregon State University spinoff as a potential addition to its warehouse robotics arsenal. After all, logistics has become an increasingly import piece of Agility’s go to market strategy for its bipedal Digit robot, while Amazon’s hundreds of thousands of robots are a big part of how it manages to turn around package deliveries so quickly.

This morning, however, the company raised a massive $150 million Series B, including funds from the aforementioned Amazon Industrial Innovation Fund. This time out, however, it was DCVC and Playground Global leading the way for the investment.

“Agility is set to make a powerful impact, developing and shipping robots that are built to co-exist seamlessly in our lives,” Playgound’s Bruce Leak said in a release. “Since Agility’s earliest days, we’ve believed their unique technical approach stands alone in being able to deliver on the promise of practical everyday robots.”

Born out of bipedal locomotion work on a research robot named Cassie, Agility has continued to impress investors along the way, including names like the Sony Innovation Fund. Ford also famously announced plans to utilize Digit as part of a last-mile delivery strategy, though Agility’s more recent focus has shifted to unpacking trucks and moving boxes around warehouses — a need that has only accelerated during the pandemic.

Link to the rest at Tech Crunch and thanks to F. for the tip.

Amazon Ads: Step-by-Step Walk Through for Beginning Authors

From Jane Friedman:

Amazon ads have long been a valued (and sometimes expensive) tool for self-published authors and traditional publishers alike to drive visibility and sales. But one key group has always been excluded from placing such ads: traditionally published authors. Such authors must rely on their publishers investing in ads or seek out alternatives, such as Facebook or BookBub. But that changed earlier this year when Amazon opened up their advertising platform to anyone with an Amazon Author Central account (which is, effectively, anyone who has authored a book).

. . . .

Traditionally published authors typically earn far less than self-published authors per copy. Despite pricing much lower, self-published authors earn more per copy than traditionally published authors, regardless of format. Since Amazon ads can easily cost 50 cents per click or more (with only a small percentage of clicks leading to a sale), it’s obviously challenging to profit off a campaign as a traditionally published author.

. . . .

This isn’t stuff they teach you in school, and most authors learn how to run Amazon Ads by first buying a course or book, then conducting lots and lots of testing.

. . . .

I’m not going to lie: there is a lot of terminology to learn and it will likely take you several months to fully understand what works for you (or if it works for all), in addition to investing money you can afford to lose.

What book(s) should you advertise?

A good opportunity for investment might be the first book in a series. Even if a traditionally published author earns only $1 per sale on average, if there are four or five books in the series and the reader goes on to buy the entire series, the advertisement can lead to positive earnings. This means genre fiction authors, who more often write in series, may be better positioned to benefit than, say, a debut author of memoir or fiction.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

PG has a feeling he’s going to be returning to Amazon advertising (and advertising elsewhere) in the future since he’s been on a learning curve about the nooks and crannies of Amazon ads.

However, he will comment on Jane’s thoughts about advertising only the first book in a series. Here are a few reasons that might not be a brilliant idea:

  1. People tend to be interested in new things. If a new book that is #3 in a series and has a good cover, good copy and some social media support, PG doesn’t think it’s a waste of money to promote it. Promoting any book in a series promotes the series as well. If someone buys #3 and likes it, she/he is a very good prospect to purchase #1 and #2 as well.
  2. As mentioned, New is generally a positive for attracting attention and the most recent books can generate their own publicity through reviews, etc. If you’re pushing #1 in a series that was published four years ago, you lose the “new” piece. Also, if readers of #1 in a series aren’t watching closely, they may miss subsequent volumes if those volumes don’t get meaningful promotion.
  3. Finally, advertising can build an author’s brand so when a reader sees yet another book by Author A, the reader is reminded that maybe they should check out some other books Author A has written.

Amazon Holds Bad Actors Accountable, Protects Customers and Brands from Counterfeit

From Amazon:

Amazon today released its second Brand Protection Report, which highlights Amazon’s commitment to the authenticity of goods sold in its store and to fighting bad actors so that customers can shop with confidence.

Amazon and its millions of selling partners—the vast majority of which are small and medium-sized businesses—serve hundreds of millions of customers worldwide. Customers expect that when they purchase an item in Amazon’s store, sold either by Amazon or by one of its third-party selling partners, they will receive an authentic product.

In 2021, Amazon invested more than $900 million and had more than 12,000 people—including machine learning scientists, software developers, and expert investigators—who were dedicated to protecting customers, brands, selling partners, and their store from counterfeit, fraud, and other forms of abuse.

. . . .

The second Amazon Brand Protection Report details a wide range of progress against three key areas: powerful and highly effective proactive efforts to protect Amazon’s store; industry-leading tools enabling rights owners to partner with us to better protect their brands; and holding bad actors accountable. Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Deterring and Stopping Bad Actors: Amazon stopped more than 2.5 million attempts to create fraudulent selling accounts, preventing these bad actors from publishing a single product for sale. This is down from more than 6 million attempts the prior year, thanks to robust seller and product vetting, along with efforts to hold bad actors accountable that are deterring them from attempting to sell on Amazon.
  • Increasing Adoption of Brand Protection Tools: Brand Registry, which unlocks a suite of tools to build and protect a brand on Amazon, grew to include more than 700,000 active brands, an increase of 40% from the prior year. At the same time, the average number of valid notices of infringement submitted to Amazon by a brand in Brand Registry decreased by 25% from the prior year, as continued growth in the adoption and efficacy of automated brand protection tools continue to reduce the number of issues that brands are able to find and report.
  • Holding Counterfeiters Accountable: Amazon’s Counterfeit Crimes Unit (CCU) continued to focus on ensuring that counterfeiters are held accountable—stopping them from abusing Amazon’s stores and those of other retailers across the industry. In 2021, Amazon’s CCU:
    • Filed civil litigation against more than 170 counterfeiters in U.S. courts.
    • Sued or referred more than 600 criminals for investigation in the U.S., UK, EU, and China, an increase of more than 300% over 2020.
  • Identifying and Seizing Counterfeits: Amazon identified, seized, and appropriately disposed of more than 3 million counterfeit products, preventing them from harming customers or being resold elsewhere in the retail supply chain. This includes counterfeits that were sent to Amazon’s fulfillment centers and situations where Amazon worked with brands and law enforcement to find counterfeiters’ warehouses and facilities, and get them shut down.

Link to the rest at Amazon

Is Amazon Sabotaging a Pro-Trump Kids’ Book?

From PJ Media:

Earlier this month, former Trump official Kash Patel published The Plot Against the King, a kids’ book taking the real-life Russiagate plot to sabotage Trump’s campaign and presidency and turning it into a family-friendly tale set in medieval times. The book was published by Beacon of Freedom Publishing House, an imprint of Brave Books.

As of this writing, the book is in the top 100 of all books on Amazon and had previously been in the top ten; however, the author says that Amazon is now trying to sabotage his book.

Amazon has restricted the book to verified purchase reviews only. If you attempt to write a review without having purchased the book first, Amazon won’t let you, giving you the disclaimer: “Amazon has noticed unusual reviewing activity on this product. Due to this activity, we have limited this product to verified purchase reviews.”

However, despite this restriction, the author says that Amazon is throttling five-star ratings from verified purchase reviewers by not allowing them to be posted.

“I have received numerous complaints from supporters that after purchasing my book, The Plot Against the King on Amazon, they were not able to leave a review,” Patel says in a statement obtained by PJ Media. “Like I have experienced numerous times in the past, with the documentary The Plot Against the President, Amazon is actively throttling my book.”

In addition to five-star reviews being throttled, Patel notes that there are about 70 unverified one-star reviews from customers who most certainly did not read the book, and haven’t been taken down despite the limitation placed on the book’s reviews. Patel wonders why Amazon allows these bogus one-star reviews to remain, “but doesn’t allow real verified customers that have read the book to review it.”

Link to the rest at PJ Media and thanks to K. for the tip.

Per GeekWire, as of February this year, Amazon had over one million employees. PG suggests that any organization with that many employees is bound to be paying wages to multiple crazy people and fools.

Ideally, an employer identifies a crazy person/fool pretty quickly and takes appropriate action, but, as a wiser person than PG once said, “The problem with fools is that they can be so ingenious.” Crazy people can pass as non-crazy people for a period of time.

In PG’s experience, sometimes large organizations have to fire a crazy boss before they recognize that most of the people that boss hired are also crazy.

So, a crazy person decided to manipulate the hidden levers of Amazon to sabotage a book he/she/they/it didn’t like. PG suggests that spreading the word about this unfair practice/treatment of the book was likely the best way of remedying the problem.

Evidently, somebody else at Amazon doesn’t share the view of whoever glitched the book in the first place. PG just checked and The Plot Against the King is ranked #1 in Children’s Action and Adventure Books on the Zon.

PG would have put up a Look Inside widget for the book, but evidently, someone at Beacon of Freedom Publishing House, an imprint of Brave Books, didn’t think anyone reads ebooks and the paperback link to look inside doesn’t work with the Amazon’s Look Inside WordPress Widget. PG will not indulge in speculation about whether another crazy person working at Brave Books or not.

PG also notes there’s a nice photo of the author with former President Trump or “King Donald” as he is apparently called in the book.

How to Upload Your Book to KDP, Easily and Correctly [Text Instruction + Screenshots]

From The Book Designer:

I recently published my 21st book to the KDP platform, having been self-publishing for the last 7 years. And as I was going through the self-publishing steps again, it occurred to me how the platform has evolved over the past decade. This text-based, step-by-step tutorial is your most current and up-to-date process to upload your book to KDP.

. . . .

Uploading Your Book to Amazon KDP: a Step-by-Step Process

Uploading your book to KDP is relatively easy. You don’t have to have a lot of tech know-how, and if you run into any issues, KDP support is excellent at walking you through the process, either by email or over the phone.

In order to upload and prepare your book for publishing on KDP, there are several key elements you need at the ready. 

  • Your completed formatted book (eBook and Paperback). The best formats are ePub file for Kindle eBook and a PDF for the paperback/Hardcover
  • Keywords for KDP as researched with Publisher Rocket
  • Categories list as research with Publisher Rocket (eBook and paperback categories)
  • ISBNs—purchased through Bowker.com

You can hire a professional formatter if you want, or you can format the book yourself. Here’s a guide that walks you through the formatting process for KDP.

If you plan to publish more than one eBook—or simply want to do the formatting yourself—you may want to invest in a user-friendly book formatting software such as Atticus.io. It’s a relatively low investment for $147.00, and it’s simple to use.

. . . .

Step #5: Write a Compelling Book Description

A compelling book description sells lots of books and builds your fanbase. This is why you need a powerful book description in order for potential buyers to read what the book is about.

Here’s why your book description matters:

  1. It is a sales page crafted to capture the interest of your reader.
  2. Amazon’s algorithm bots scans the book description for relevant keywords indexed by Amazon.
  3. It is the critical decision-maker for browsers to make a final decision on buying your book

Here is a great resource for learning how to create a compelling description: the Free Amazon Book Description generator by Dave Chesson at Kindlepreneur.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

For PG, this was a nice summary of the steps to indie publishing. He usually doesn’t include live links in the excerpts he posts on TPV, but he found the ones included in the OP were high-quality and helpful locations.

Amazon Best Sellers Rank Explained for Authors

From Tough Nickel:

As she looked at her book’s product page on Amazon, a new traditionally published author asked me what the Amazon Best Sellers Rank means. Did it tell her anything about how many sales were being made? Why are sales rankings always changing?

When it says “only 2 books left,” what does that mean? Though this author was traditionally published, many self-published authors struggle with figuring out what it all means, too.

So let me explain what all these confusing numbers and terms mean for authors.

Author Central

Whether you’re traditionally or self-published, you can claim your author profile on Amazon through Author Central. After your identity and claim to book titles are verified, you’ll be able to do the following:

  • Establish an author profile page on Amazon where you can post your bio, videos, and links to your blog or podcast RSS feed.
  • Access reports for Amazon Best Sellers Rank and NPD Bookscan rankings.
  • See the most recent customer reviews for your book without having to constantly visit your book product pages on Amazon.

Amazon Best Sellers Rank

The author who contacted me said she was checking “the numbers,” which I presumed was Amazon Best Sellers Rank, “a million times a day.” Dear authors, please don’t do this! Let me explain why.

For the Amazon Best Sellers Rank, sometimes referred to as “BSR,” the lower the BSR number, the higher you rank. Note that for your Kindle editions, your BSR shown on Author Central is for “Paid” books, meaning it doesn’t include Free Kindle Book Promotions. Also, note that this number tells you nothing about the number of books sold.

Your book’s BSR is a constantly moving target. The Amazon Customer Service documentation as of this post date had this to say about Best Sellers Rank:

The Amazon Best Sellers calculation is based on Amazon sales, and is updated hourly to reflect recent and historical sales of every item sold on Amazon. [Emphasis added for hourly.]

With hourly updates, your BSR could vary widely and wildly within the span of just one day. So unless you have the iron emotional stamina of a stock market day trader, basing the evaluation of your book’s success on Amazon’s BSR doesn’t help your physical and mental health.

Here’s something that freaks out authors. Your BSR can improve, sometimes dramatically, without you selling even one book. Or it can decline dramatically, even if you make sales, because there may be a flood of sales for other competing titles. This is because BSR is a calculation based on both recent and historical sales in comparison to other books, though KDP Support documentation says that recent activity is weighted more heavily.

I could not confirm on Amazon documentation if Kindle Unlimited KENP page reads impact BSR. What’s confusing is that KDP says sales ranking is based on “activity.” So are Kindle Unlimited reads considered “activity?” Logically, it seems like it might. But only Amazon knows.

In case you’re wondering, no, we don’t know the exact formula Amazon uses to calculate BSR. Like Google, they are not going to share that to prevent gaming of the system. Since BSR is a metric over which you have zero control, you should have zero worries over it.

. . . .

Different Format, Different Sales Rank

Something to also note is that your book title will have a separate BSR for Books, Kindle Store, and Audible, depending on which formats you’re offering. On the “Formats and editions” dropdown box next to your title on Author Central, you can choose which format’s BSR you’d like to view.

Sales rank can vary dramatically from edition to edition. Looking at mine for one particular day, I had a rank in the high 600K range for Kindle, 2.5 million for the paperback print edition, and in the 300K range for the audiobook.

Again, this tells you nothing valuable.

Historical Sales Rank

You can also click the “View historical Sales Rank” link for each of your titles on Author Central to see changes in your BSR over time for that title and each format. Let’s take a look at my first book, which I first published in 2011, then moved to KDP in 2014.

Looking at the graph of the BSR of the Kindle edition of my book, SWAG, for the period of 2014 to 2022, my highest BSR was in 2017 at 2,844. That’s pretty high! And that was three years after I published it on KDP. But it swings wildly from that high point, plummeting to rankings down in the millions.

Category Rankings

On your books’ listings on Author Central, you’ll see a link that says “See category rankings on Amazon.” This will send you to your book’s product page on Amazon. You’ll need to scroll down to Product Details to see your book’s ranking in topic categories and subcategories for each format.

This is where you’ll see how your book ranks in comparison to other books in your genre or topic. This is a more valuable ranking report than the placement in the overall BSR. Amazon shows where your book ranks highly within a few of the most popular categories.

Link to the rest at Tough Nickel

Digital Printing: The New Normal

From Publishing Trends (July 31, 2020 – mid-Pandemic):

In the olden, pre-pandemic days when most books were printed offset, digital files were stored in case a book needed to be reprinted quickly. But this March, that dynamic was upended: everything shut down, some publishers’ warehouses and bookstores closed, and even Amazon slowed its bookselling to prioritize sanitizer over bestsellers.  

All of these abrupt shifts resulted in enormous strains on the supply chain, says Ingram Content Group’s Kelly Gallagher. Publishers couldn’t access their inventory; books couldn’t be shipped even to the few retailers who were open; printers couldn’t get their titles where they were supposed to be. Within weeks, Lightning Press, Ingram’s print-on-demand division, found itself creating everything from “virtual warehouses” for some clients, to print-to-order titles that were delivered direct-to-consumer via orders through bookstores and online retailers. 

Then, just as stores were coming back, protests erupted around the country and readers rushed to read up on social justice – often opting for backlist titles with low or no inventory on hand. Again, publishers looked to Ingram and other printer/distributors to supply those titles. While some, like Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility (2018), went on to sell hundreds of thousands of ebooks, print versions often had to be produced using short-run and print-on-demand (i.e. digital) techniques just to satisfy immediate demand.

“The pandemic has accelerated the move from print to digital by three years,” estimates Books International’s David Hetherington. Now, “more and more titles are born digital.” This isn’t simply a shift to ebooks, though some outlets, such as libraries have doubled their ebook downloads. Instead, “born digital” content refers to the shift from traditional first printings using offset, to smaller first runs that are printed digitally. Though the quality is not (yet) as good and the costs are higher, savings come in time and the ability to customize. 

Baker & Taylor’s Eric McGarvey agrees that digital-first is on the rise but says the shift has been taking place over the last five years, especially with university presses eager to keep overhead down while making the full range of backlist available. University presses have been in the forefront of innovation over the last few years, in part because of funding issues that forced efficiencies, and in part because some have been folded under their academic libraries, which have long embraced digital resources.

Many of these transitions are a result of improved technology. Digital presses can now handle everything from roll-fed printing and heavy paper stock to full color, a range of formats, and customization. Even the Big Five are looking to third parties to ensure books can be quickly printed and distributed through the appropriate channels. McGarvey cites a new largescale backlist title effort between a new PRH Publisher Services client and Baker & Taylor as an example. 

And BISG Executive Director Brian O’Leary sees a possible “broader conversation” than one dedicated solely to how the book is printed. “This technology enables the shift in publishing from fixed to variable expense and the ability to match capacity to demand,” he says. In other words, the old model of looking at the unit cost of a manufactured book has morphed into looking at the cost per unit sold. And, as printers close and consolidate, he and others note that flexibility becomes more important, forcing publishers to look at “total cost of ownership.” How do the advantages of having inventory on hand in your own warehouse weigh against the carrying costs – or the possibility that the warehouse closes, or the inventory can’t get to the end user? It’s possible to play this scenario out, as publishers like Duke University Press are already doing, where the printing, warehousing, inventory, and fulfillment of all books are handled by third parties, leaving the publisher to focus on only on acquiring, editing, and designing the IP.

The other looming question of the moment is this: What happens when all the frontlist titles that publishers held off launching this spring and summer need to be printed this fall and winter?  Tyler Carey at Westchester Publisher Services has worked with Macmillan to make its files, including active backlist titles, ready for digital printing. Speaking at PW’s Publishing Now conference, Princeton University Press’s Cathy Felgar said that, though the press didn’t hold off on publishing their new titles this spring and summer, they are expanding their digital printing because of concerns about printer capacity this fall.  

Meanwhile, the move to custom printing this spring has increased direct-to-consumer sales.  Though born of necessity – bookstores and other retailers wanted their customers to receive their books even when there was no physical place for them to pick them up –  having D2C options is an important (and, many would say, overdue) step for publishers and their distributors and wholesalers. 

Link to the rest at Publishing Trends

PG posted this to illustrate how far behind the technology curve publishers were and continue to be with respect to printing.

PG started TPV over eleven years ago and has been exclusively digital ever during that entire time. For at least 20 years before that, PG was exclusively digital, printing only what had to be printed due to lagging technologies in the business and court systems. As a matter of fact, PG typically developed PC-based home-brew document assembly systems for any documents he had to prepare more than 2-3 times.

There are few American institutions that change more slowly than the court systems, both federal and state. US Bankruptcy Courts began allowing digital filing of the voluminous paperwork involved in starting a personal bankruptcy petition (30-50 pages, sometimes more) twenty years ago. Various state and federal trial courts have different rules regarding whether/how they’ll accept paper filings (or won’t).

PG thinks that individuals who aren’t represented by an attorney in bankruptcy court may be able to obtain paper forms and submit those, but in his brief dive online, he couldn’t confirm that, but can confirm that trying to dig through a government website looking for forms of almost any sort is definitely not an easy task.

If traditional publishers are behind the courts in the move to exclusive digital, they have to be the last in line.

Those who use Kindle Direct Publishing know that everything is digital. PG doesn’t think it’s ever been otherwise (but he’s not certain about the dawn of KDP).

Digital Publishing, Then and Now

From Publishing Perspectives:

One of the major developments in our industry has, of course, been the ability for us to publish digitally as well as in print. This column is all about digital publishing and, given my extreme age and waning faculties, I’ve been assisted on the recent developments by the much younger and more digitally-savvy Emilie Marneur, the director of audience and business development at Bonnier Books UK. She oversees Bonnier Books UK’s digital strategy and manages its digital-first imprint, Embla Books.

It all started for me 40 years ago when I heard about a New York-based start-up, which was developing electronic versions of reference books for distribution on quaintly-named “floppy disks.”

I managed to license them various smaller Oxford dictionaries for an absurdly high advance with promises of untold royalty wealth to follow. I don’t think we ever saw a royalty check but we did have some electronic products to boast about, and the advance helped pay for a few lexicographers. Less than a decade later, we were able to sell the whole of the 20-volume Oxford English Dictionary on just two CD-ROMs.

General book publishers in the 1990s were way behind. It wasn’t until the launch of Amazon.com in 1994, opening up a completely new sales channel, and the subsequent launch of the Kindle in 2007, that publishers began to wake up to a new world order.

How would traditional bookshops survive? Public libraries? What would be the appropriate royalty rate? Is the sale of an ebook a sale or a license? How to protect the content from piracy? How to avoid monopolization of the distribution channel without breaking antitrust regulations?

In parallel, the 1995 launch of Audible.com opened up new markets and new commercial issues, particularly when acquired by Amazon, thus cementing the superpower’s position as the undisputed heavyweight champion of the intellectual property distribution world.

Authors and publishers had to adapt. Major booksellers tried but with little or no success. But the book in all its formats sailed on into the new worlds of self-publishing, Kindle Direct Publishing, subscription models, and new supply-chain imperatives. This brings us to today and the new opportunities and challenges for our industry, for authors, retailers, and of course publishers.

. . . .

While Amazon, including Audible, remains the dominant retailer for ebooks and audiobooks, we’re seeing the emergence of many new online retail platforms and business models.

Most of these start-ups focus on English-language content, but some of the most innovative may well be operating in Chinese, Spanish, Hindi, and other heavily-used languages. The English-language businesses range from highly-specific entities serving the higher-education market such as Perlego or Kortext and professional support such as nkoda supporting music and musicians. There are more general offerings for foodies such as ckbk and for people with limited reading time such as the German-based book-summary service Blinkist.

And of course these and other businesses can interact directly with authors, potentially cutting out the publisher’s role altogether. Substack has attracted significant authors and has earned some of them significant income from their writing. And there are more traditional self-publishing sites for authors. How much these sites will suck revenue and energy from traditional publishers is unknown but they’ve represented a wake-up call for publishers to focus more on the value of services they offer authors.

. . . .

Then we come to the so-called audio boom.

There can be little doubt that listening to books, radio, and podcasts online has increased and this growth is reflected by industry statistics. Audiobooks again saw double-digit growth in sales in 2021, and continued growth for the 8th year running. With that growth has come an appetite among retailers for exclusive and original content, not unlike what we see with video-streaming players.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Kindle Singles is publishing on skates

Kindle Singles is publishing on skates. It prints like lightning; our book meets readers in hours. I’ve spent so many years waiting for publishers to consider whether they wanted to print a book of mine, making contracts, taking months to fit it into the Fall list or the Spring list, fitting it into an advertising plan.

Richard Bach

Amazon used a sneaky tactic to make it harder to quit Prime and cancellations dropped 14%, according to leaked data

From Insider:

Amazon intentionally drew out the process of canceling a Prime membership under a project code-named “Iliad,” according to internal documents obtained by Insider.

The project created multiple layers of questions and new offers before a Prime member could cancel their subscription in hopes of reducing member churn. After the project’s launch, the number of Prime cancellations dropped by 14% at one point in 2017 as fewer members navigated to the final cancellation page, one of the documents said.

The multistep cancellation process — a version of which remains active — is just one example of subtle user-experience design choices Amazon has used to complicate or confuse Prime’s subscription and cancellation processes.

In recent years, multiple complaints have been filed with the Federal Trade Commission asking for an investigation into Amazon Prime’s cancellation process and its use of so-called “dark patterns.”

“Throughout the process, Amazon manipulates users through wording and graphic design, making the process needlessly difficult and frustrating to understand,” the Norwegian Consumer Council said in describing its findings in January 2021.

In an email to Insider, an Amazon spokesperson said the sign-up and cancellation processes for Prime are “simple and transparent and clearly present customers with choices and the implications of those choices.”

“Customer transparency and trust are top priorities for us,” Jamil Ghani, vice president of Amazon Prime, said in a statement. “By design, we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership. We continually listen to customer feedback and look for ways to improve the customer experience.”

. . . .

The “end membership” button can be found under the “manage membership” tab, which then leads to a series of prompts and offers.

The first prompt says “don’t give up on movie night” and flags to users how many days are left until the next billing cycle.

The next prompt lets users know how much money they would save by switching from a monthly to an annual payment plan. Starting February 18, Amazon’s annual Prime membership fee increased from $119 to $139, and the monthly fees increased from $13 to $15.

The last prompt asks users to confirm the cancellation of their membership. The first three yellow buttons on the page offer to pause or keep the membership or be reminded later.

Farther down the page are two final yellow buttons listing options to cancel or pause the membership.

Link to the rest at Insider

PG failed to see any “dark patterns” in the OP description.

Are there really a lot of timid souls who couldn’t possibly get through that process? Maybe, they’ll have to call Mommy and Daddy for help.

The OP mentions the ancient Greek Illiad as being similarly difficult. PG wonders whether the author has actually read the Illiad.

PG read the Illiad when he was still in high school. St. John’s College (original campus in Annapolis and, more recently a second campus in Santa Fe) includes the following on its website:

Greek life has a different meaning at St. John’s. Freshmen begin their classical studies with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, before diving into the histories of Herodotus and Thucydides, the comedies and tragedies of Aristophanes, Sophocles, and the philosophy of Heraclitus, Plato, and Aristotle. Students go from tackling the elements of ancient Greek grammar and exploring the ways it differs from English, to reflecting on the relation of thought to language and translating Plato’s Meno. Attic Greek can be daunting, but tutors and language assistants are ready to help.

For the record, PG didn’t read the Illiad in Attic Greek.

Amazon Closes Deal to Acquire MGM

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. closed its $6.5 billion acquisition of the MGM movie and television studio on Thursday, even as the Federal Trade Commission continues to examine the deal.

The move comes after Amazon certified to the FTC that it had provided all the information requested by antitrust investigators reviewing the transaction. That step put the deal on a regulatory clock with the agency that has now expired, leaving the company free to move forward, a person familiar with the matter said.

Amazon provided the FTC with more than three million documents over the past eight months as part of the review process, the person familiar with the matter said.

Even though the deadline has expired, the commission would still have the ability to challenge the acquisition later, if a majority on the FTC votes to do so.

. . . .

The FTC’s investigation has been closely watched because the commission’s chairwoman, Lina Khan, has long been a vocal critic of Amazon. In 2017, while still a law student at Yale, Ms. Khan published a law-review article that raised concerns about Amazon’s market power and argued the government had failed to restrain the company. Ms. Khan later worked as legal counsel to a congressional antitrust subcommittee that led a 16-month investigation into four technology companies including Amazon.

Last summer, Amazon filed a motion requesting that Ms. Khan recuse herself from antitrust-related investigations of the company. The FTC hasn’t commented on that request.

European regulators approved the deal earlier this week, saying that the transaction wouldn’t significantly reduce competition.

The deal marks Amazon’s second-largest acquisition in its history, following its 2017 deal to buy Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.

. . . .

Last week, a U.S. congressional committee asked the Justice Department to investigate Amazon and some of its executives for what lawmakers say is potentially criminal obstruction of Congress related to the committee’s investigation into Amazon’s clout.

MGM will be part of Amazon’s Prime Video and Studios unit and will be overseen by Senior Vice President Mike Hopkins. Amazon didn’t announce any additional leadership structures for the studio’s operations. Amazon said it isn’t planning any layoffs at the studio.

With MGM, Amazon will add 4,000 films to its holdings including the iconic James Bond franchise. MGM also has a deep library of 17,000 episodes of television content. Amazon is investing heavily to boost its Prime Video platform, which is competing against Netflix Inc. Walt Disney Co. Disney+ and other large rivals.

. . . .

Entertainment isn’t the only area where Amazon is increasing its video presence. The company is investing heavily in sports. Last year, it struck a deal with the National Football League for exclusive national video rights to Thursday Night Football at a price tag of around $1 billion per-season, people familiar with the matter said.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG did a bit of Wikipedia research on Ms. Khan when he saw that she’s only five years out of law school.

From Wikipedia:

In 2017, while still a student at Yale Law School, Khan rose to prominence when the Yale Law Journal published her article “Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox”. The article made a significant impact in American legal and business circles, and the New York Times described it as “reframing decades of monopoly law”. In the article, Khan argued that the current American antitrust law framework, which focuses on keeping consumer prices down, cannot account for the anticompetitive effects of platform-based business models such as that of Amazon. The title of Khan’s piece was a reference to Robert Bork’s 1978 book The Antitrust Paradox, which established the consumer-welfare standard that Khan critiqued. She proposed alternative frameworks for antitrust policy, including “restoring traditional antitrust and competition policy principles or applying common carrier obligations and duties.”

The article was met with both acclaim and criticism. As of September 2018, it received 146,255 hits, “a runaway best-seller in the world of legal treatises,” according to the New York Times. Joshua Wright, who served on the FTC from 2013 to 2015, derided her work as “hipster antitrust” and argued it “reveal[ed] a profound lack of understanding of the consumer welfare model and the rule of reason framework.” Herbert Hovenkamp, who served in the Clinton and Obama administrations, wrote that Khan’s claims are “technically undisciplined, untestable, and even incoherent”, and that her work “never explains how a nonmanufacturing retailer such as Amazon could ever recover its investment in below cost pricing by later raising prices, and even disputes that raising prices to higher levels ever needs to be a part of the strategy, thus indicating that it is confusing predation with investment.”

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

Amazon is shutting 68 retail stores, ending Amazon Books, 4-star and Pop Up shops

From CNBC:

Amazon is shutting down all its Amazon Books physical bookstores, as well as its Amazon 4-star and Amazon Pop Up shops, which sold a variety of electronics and other hot items.

The closures affect 68 stores across the U.S. and U.K., Amazon said. Closure dates will vary by location and Amazon said it would help affected employees find roles elsewhere in the company. Workers who opt not to stay will be offered severance packages, it said.

. . . .

Amazon has gradually launched an array of brick-and-mortar concepts, from supermarkets to retail stores offering branded electronics like Fire tablets and Echo smart speakers. The 4-star stores, in particular, attempted to mesh Amazon’s in-store and offline operations by featuring top-selling products in its web store.

But sales growth of the physical stores unit has noticeably lagged the company’s overall retail business. Physical stores, which includes Whole Foods and Fresh outlets, reported lower sales in 2021 than in 2018.

Amazon is trimming its physical retail footprint after coming off its slowest growth rate for any quarter since 2001. Shares are down more than 8% so far this year, and the stock was the worst performer in the Big Tech group last year.

. . . .

An Amazon spokesperson said the company “remains committed” to building long-term physical retail concepts and technologies, citing the recently launched Style stores, the first foray into physical clothing stores. The company also said that it would continue to focus on its Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods Market grocery chains, Amazon Go convenience stores, and to embrace the Just Walk Out cashierless technology.

Link to the rest at CNBC and thanks to WO for the tip.

Exclusivity in 2022 Part Two

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’ve owned a lot of businesses. I have some ethical issues that do not benefit me as a business owner. There are business practices that I do not like that, if I did them, would make me a lot more money than I am making right now.

Those practices are stupidly easy to do. They rely on the gullible side of human nature. People want to believe that the other people they’re doing business with are good-hearted and have their best interests in mind. Many business people do not have other people’s interest in mind. They only consider their interest.

So let’s look at exclusivity through that prism.

As a business model for a publishing or related industry, exclusivity makes complete sense. The more a business can bind an author to that business, the better off that business will be, particularly if the author is famous.

The problem with publishing businesses is that they don’t create anything. They buy other people’s creations and then put those creations in a form that can be distributed. Generally speaking, a writer or an artist who licenses their work to a publishing company is relying on that publishing company’s expertise in design, marketing, and distribution to get that book/project/writer out to as many readers as possible.

This is the deal writers make with traditional publishers. With the Big Five, and others that operate just like them, the writers have been brainwashed into believing those companies are the only route to distribution. And they were once, but ironically, they licensed fewer parts of the copyright in those days…when a writer, by necessity, had to be exclusive.

Now, though, there’s indie publishing and a million other ways for a writer to maintain their rights and distribute their work, if the writer is willing to run their own business. Which means that distribution companies, publishing companies, streaming companies, and others must up their game if they want bestselling writers in their fold.

. . . .

As long-time readers of this blog know, the writing business is not linear. Fortunes rise and fall. They never really go down to their lowest level. The rise always results in a much higher floor than the writer had before, but the rise itself is never permanent.

So, at some point the most popular writer in Company A will be superseded by some other writer who will sell more or whose product is fresher or more attuned to the moment. The original popular writer will still be popular, just not the Flavor of the Month. And slowly, ever so slowly, the original popular writer will be neglected.

Company A will still benefit from original popular writer’s latest releases, but original popular writer will run into new problems.

And that’s charitable. Sometimes original popular writer will fall off a cliff.

First, let me give you an example from my own business. And then, I’m going to show you some other ways that permanent or superstar or long-term exclusive can go horribly wrong.

My example has to do with Audible. Fifteen years ago, Audible was not just new(ish), but it was the only real digital audio player in the game. Unless a writer had access to a recording studio—and had the chops to read a book—the writer couldn’t even record their own work, let alone distribute it.

I’d had some audio books—on tape—from some of the best companies in the business…whose business soon got subsumed or at least offered through Audible.

Audible came to me with a great deal. I got up-front money on all of my books including backlist (under Rusch only at first, and then Nelscott, but never Grayson). In addition, I got paid a hefty bounty for each book sold, a bounty that did not get counted against that advance money. I got royalties and a bounty, and all of that translated into tens of thousands, and in one case hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I had my eye on it, though, and I had voice training. I knew that Audible would eventually get real competitors. One of my main priorities in setting up WMG was setting up our own recording studio, and we did it just as ACX got started. I was going to run the recording studio, but I got sick. We hired an audio director who turned out to be horribly unsuited for the work. (My fault: I thought she could grow into it. I was wrong.)

Had we followed my lead at that time, we would have had a lot of WMG-produced high quality audio that we could still market now.

But I was sick, the audio program fell apart, and so I relied on the money that Audible provided through the equivalent of its superstar program.

Which no longer exists. They use other incentives now.

My editor at Audible moved, a new editor got hired and then fired. He was replaced by one of those corporate employees who comes in as some kind of hatchet man—someone who wipes out all trace of the previous employees. I can’t even get my new editor on the phone or contact him by email.

Needless to say, Audible and I have parted company on new work. The old work has pretty good contracts—I can get out of them at any time—but that would make my backlist unavailable in audio, something I’m not currently willing to do.

It’s a mess, and it’s one I need to clean up.

Audible asked for exclusive, I granted it, and now, fifteen years later, I have a major mess to clean up. Part of that mess are my audio fans. There are a lot of listeners who don’t have time to actually read a book, so they listen on their commutes or whatever. And all that reaching, growing, and developing will fall by the wayside if I don’t do something in the next few years.

Yes, it’s on my ever-growing to-do list.

Here’s the thing: I benefited from Audible’s superstar program back in the day, but I’m paying the price now.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch and here’s a link to Part 1 of her two posts.

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

Why Amazon’s New LGTBQ+ Children’s Category Matters

From Publishers Weekly:

“The addition of this category is certainly something to celebrate. It also raises the question: why was queer representation an afterthought?”

As the marketing director for a small publisher, I’m very familiar with the power of Amazon categories. Although I am Team Bookstore, not Team Bezos, Amazon is not just a reseller—it has become the search engine for books.

Amazon has more than 10,000 book categories to choose from—including subjects as niche as woodworking and Arthurian folktales. Choosing the right category affects a title’s discoverability and even credibility with bestseller lists.

Which is why it was surprising when an author I work with, Julie Schanke Lyford, noticed something missing from the Amazon page for her children’s book, Katy Has Two Grampas: there was no LGBTQ+ category for kid lit.

This felt like an oversight—Amazon is known for its sophisticated algorithm. Many general categories have children’s books counterparts, such as physics, Renaissance history, and disaster relief and preparedness. Classification gets granular: fiction vs. nonfiction, print vs. Kindle, and even paid vs. free e-books. But representation for queer kid lit was noticeably missing.

“The hardest thing was having LGBTQ+ still thought of as something other than family,” Lyford explained. Her picture book, which she coauthored with her father, Lambda Literary Award finalist Robert A. Schanke, is one of the few picture books to depict married, gay grandfathers as part of the family unit.

So beginning in December 2020, Lyford contacted Amazon’s support team via emails, phone calls, and even snail mail. Sometimes representatives expressed surprise that the category didn’t already exist. Other times they recommended that she choose an existing children’s category, like Growing Up and Facts of Life.

But Lyford was persistent. And the LGTBQ+ Families children’s book category launched just a few days before January 2022. [Amazon declined to comment for this article.]

“Amazon adding this category is a huge win for the LGBTQ+ community,” says Alaina Lavoie, program manager at We Need Diverse Books. “Many people intentionally seek out children’s books that include LGBTQ+ parents and families. This makes it much easier to find these books as the category grows.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG will remind one and all that he does not agree with everything he posts on TPV.

That said, although PG is and has always has been a throughgoing heterosexual, he had a couple of college friends who were in and out of the closet over a period of years. Their problems were significant during that era and each had a tough, closeted life until reaching their 30’s.

Thereafter, one took the path toward homosexuality and the other was eventually married to a member of the opposite sex. PG has only heard about them and not seen them since leaving college, but he has always wished them well and respected them as intelligent, kind and capable human beings.

Amazon To Shut Down Publishing House Westland, Authors Say “Rotten News”

From NDTV:

New Delhi: Much to the disappointment of book lovers, Westland, one of the largest publishing houses in India, is being shut down by e-commerce giant Amazon, they announced yesterday.

The publishing company, which was acquired by Amazon from Trent Ltd, a subsidiary of Tata Group, in 2016, has published works of several bestselling authors, including Amish Tripathi, Chetan Bhagat, Ashwin Sanghi, Rashmi Bansal, Rujuta Diwekar, Preeti Shenoy, Devdutt Pattanaik, Anuja Chauhan and Ravi Subramanian.

“After a thorough review, we have made the difficult decision to no longer operate Westland. We are working closely with the employees, authors, agents, and distribution partners on this transition and we remain committed to innovating for customers in India,” said Amazon in a statement.

The news regarding the closure came as a shock to the editors, Westland team members and its public relations agency, who according to a staff member requesting anonymity, were informed about the decision today only. It was particularly sad for bestselling fiction writer Ashwin Sanghi, who wrote his debut novel with Westland in 2008 and went on to publish a “dozen books” over that many years.

“It is sad to see the exit of a publishing institution. The Westland team is one of the finest in the business and there are many emotions and memories of my publishing journey with them that shall always remain with me,” Mr Sanghi told PTI.

Founded in 1962, Westland is one of India’s largest English-language trade publishers, bringing out print books and e-books in genres ranging from popular and literary fiction to business, politics, biography, spirituality, popular science, health and self-help.

Its key publishing imprints include ‘Context’, which publishes award-winning literary fiction and non-fiction; ‘Eka’, which publishes the best of contemporary writing in Indian languages and in translation; ‘Tranquebar’, home to the best new fiction from the Indian subcontinent, the eponymous Westland Sport and Westland Business; and Red Panda, which publishes a range of books for children of different ages.

Several of the Westland’s authors and readers took to Twitter to express their disappointment on the shutting down of a “great publishing house”.

Link to the rest at NDTV

PG doesn’t know if this is any sort of portent for Amazon’s English-language in-house publishing imprints, e.g. Lake Union Publishing, or not, but PG suspects someone in the bean-counting division that oversees Indian operations has dropped this bomb.

PG will be happy to see comments from those who are knowledgeable about this particular move by the Zon.

Metamorphosis: Facebook and big-tech competition

From The Economist

There comes a time in every great bull market where the dreams of investors collide with changing facts on the ground. In the subprime boom it was the moment when mortgage default rates started to rise in 2006; in the dotcom bubble of 2000-01 it was when the dinosaurs of the telecoms sector confessed that technological disruption would destroy their profits, not increase them. There was a glimmer of a similar moment when Meta (the parent company of Facebook) reported poor results on February 2nd, sending its share price down by 26% the next day and wiping out well over $200bn of market value. That prompted a further sell-off in technology stocks.

Along with low interest rates, a driver of America’s epic bull run of the past decade has been the view that big tech firms are natural monopolies that can increase profits for decades to come with little serious threat from competition. This belief explains why the five largest tech firms now comprise over 20% of the S&P 500 index. Now it faces a big test.

Since listing in 2012 Meta has exemplified big tech’s prowess and pitfalls. For a glimpse of the caricature, consider the American government’s antitrust case against it first launched in 2020. It describes an invincible company in a world where technology is perpetually frozen in the 2010s: “this unmatched position has provided Facebook with staggering profits,” America’s Federal Trade Commission wrote in its lawsuit.

Examine the firm’s fourth-quarter results, though, and its position seems rather vulnerable and its profits somewhat less staggering. It comes across as a business with decelerating growth, a stale core product and a cost-control problem. The number of users of all of Meta’s products, which include Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, is barely growing. Those of the core social network fell slightly in the fourth quarter compared with the third. Net income dropped by 8% year on year and the firm suggested that revenue would grow by just 3-11% in the first quarter of 2022, the slowest rate since it went public and far below the average rate of 29% over the past three years—and below the growth rate necessary to justify its valuation.

Meta’s troubles reflect two kinds of competition. The first is within social media, where TikTok has become a formidable competitor. More than 1bn people use the Chinese-owned app each month (compared with Meta’s 3.6bn), a less toxic brand that is popular among young people and superior technology. Despite attempts by Donald Trump to ban it on national-security grounds while he was president, TikTok has shown geopolitical and commercial staying power. Just as the boss of Time Warner, a media behemoth, once dismissed Netflix as “the Albanian army”—an inconsequential irritant—Silicon Valley and America’s trustbusters have never taken TikTok entirely seriously. Big mistake.

The second kind of competition hurting Facebook is the intensifying contest between tech platforms as they diversify into new services and vie to control access to the customer. In Facebook’s case the problem is Apple’s new privacy rules, which allow users to opt out of ad-tracking, in turn rendering Facebook’s proposition less valuable for advertisers.

So are Meta’s problems a one-off or a sign of deeper ructions within the tech industry? Strong results from Apple, Alphabet, Amazon and Microsoft in the past two weeks may lead some to conclude there is little to worry about. Apple’s pre-eminence in handsets in America and Alphabet’s command of search remain unquestionable. Yet there are grounds for doubt.

The competition between the big platforms is already intensifying. The share of the five big firms’ sales in markets that overlap has risen from 20% to 40% since 2015.

. . . .

Even in e-commerce, where Amazon remains pre-eminent, serious challengers such as the supermarket giants (Walmart and Target) or rival online platforms (Shopify) are making their presence felt. In any case, Amazon’s thin margins and vast investment levels suggest that consumers may be getting a better deal than investors. Although a strong showing from the cloud division divulged on February 3rd may buoy the e-empire’s market value by more than half as much as Meta lost, the cloud business is unlikely to stay as lucrative for ever. Alphabet, Microsoft and Oracle are already trying to compete away some of Amazon’s lofty cloud margins.

. . . .

The second change involves how investors and governments think about big tech, and indeed the stockmarket. The narrative of the 2010s—of a series of natural monopolies with an almost effortless dominance over the economy and investment portfolios—no longer neatly reflects reality. Technology shifts and an investment surge are altering the products that tech firms sell and may lead to a different alignment of winners and losers. And, as in previous booms, from emerging markets to mortgages, high returns have attracted a vast flood of capital, which in turn may lead to overall profitability being competed down. Given the enormous weight of the technology industry in today’s stockmarkets, this matters a great deal. And the mayhem at Meta shows it is no longer just an abstract idea.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG recently signed up for Walmart’s Free Delivery service. So far, he’s been able to get some ordinary household items delivered that are substantially less-expensive than the same/similar items offered on Amazon for PG’s Prime Account.

Amazon is closing Westland, the Indian publishing company it acquired in 2016. What will happen to its catalogue and authors?

From The New Publishing Standard:

Amazon’s latest triumph of hope over experience comes to an end with the slow realisation that the India publishing industry, even if you own the largest digital platform in the world and have bought a successful home-grown publishing house with some of the country’s biggest author brands, is not a get rich quick scheme.

India has long been a triumph of hope over experience for Amazon, which has invested billions in the hope of one day returning profit from this huge market of 1.4 billion people, 755 million of whom are online.

. . . .

We don’t know, and likely never will, whether Westland ran at a loss for Amazon, but we can safely say Amazon is taking a loss by not selling on the company, rather choosing to close it down and absorb the human assets into the system. That of course being a reflection of how Amazon does business, not of Westland. Amazon buys, grows and profits from its acquisitions or buries them, to ensure a competitor doesn’t pick up the pieces.

In this case Amazon acquired Westland from Tata Trent back in 2016, and of course used its own platform to promote the books of its publishing company, just as it does APub – although interestingly Amazon never sought to meld Westland with APub.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

A+ Content on Kindle Direct Publishing

From Kindle Direct Publishing:

PG stumbled on something he hadn’t seen before on KDP, A+Content capabilities.

Basically, this appears to be a new tool to allow you to perk up your indie book descriptions with breakthrough formatting such as Bold, images, images with text overlays and stuff your fourth-grade relative has been doing in html since three months after she/he was born.

However, instead of using sophisticated html creation programs, you have to use a clunky-looking set of tools that the bosses at KDP have ordered their underlings to create.

In addition, the Zon has special content guidelines that appear to be different than the usual KDP book description content guidelines.

To wit:

Before you create A+ Content, review the A+ Content Guidelines. Amazon has specific terms and policies regarding types of content that may not be allowed, so review these carefully. Violating these guidelines may lead to a rejection by our system, which can require updates.

Just because KDP has a marketplace where you’re promoting your books now doesn’t mean that it will support A+ Content.

A+ Content must be created and published in each marketplace where you would like it displayed. From kdp.amazon.com, you can publish A+ Content in these marketplaces:

  • Amazon.com
  • Amazon.ca
  • Amazon.com.mx
  • Amazon.com.br
  • Amazon.co.uk
  • Amazon.de
  • Amazon.fr
  • Amazon.es
  • Amazon.in
  • Amazon.it
  • Amazon.nl
  • Amazon.com.au
  • From kdp.amazon.co.jp you can publish A+ Content in Amazon.co.jp

The languages that A+ Content can be published in vary by marketplace.

And, finally, the book description police have upped their game as well.

All content in compliance with our A+ Content Guidelines will appear on your detail page within eight business days. If your content requires changes, we’ll send you an email with further instructions.

For PG, this feels like going back to Web Design 1.0 again. You can check out Content Examples of A+ Content to see what the A+ people think is cool online merchandising.

Link to the rest at Kindle Direct Publishing

PG has speculated before that Amazon’s KDP tech and management people live in a world of their own that is apart from the mothership tech and design group. For Amazon’s other product lines, there are lots and lots of ways of presenting information, formatting marketing messages, putting up images, etc., etc.

You can even create your own branded store – here’s a link to one for Cuero, a leather-goods company PG hadn’t heard of before stumbling on it when he was looking for an example of a visually-interesting store on Zon.

For some reason books and authors seem to get the brown shoe set of marketing design tools. For example, if you look at JK Rowling’s author page, you’ll see that it looks pretty much like Rosie Graveltruck’s author page. Aside from her family, Rosie has not made any sales on Amazon. JK has been a money machine for both her publisher and the Zon. Cuero is way cooler than JK is.

PG just used a free app he found online while creating this post – PIXLR – to create an Author Page graphic that is far more eye-catching than Amazon can manage for JK.

Libraries, Publishers Battle Over Terms for E-Books’ Use

From Bloomberg Law:

States that want to give libraries a better deal on e-books are watching a publishers’ suit against Maryland, the first state to set terms for how digital books are distributed for public borrowing.

Library associations, including the American Library Association and several state groups, have been pushing for state laws to require publishers to distribute digital works to libraries on “reasonable” terms that the states would set. The groups say libraries pay too much for electronic books and should be able to get them at lower prices.

The bills and the law enacted in Maryland have set off alarm bells for authors and publishers who fear the legislation encroaches on copyrights.

Similar suits to the one in Maryland by the Association of American Publishers might follow if bills in other states move forward, copyright attorneys, publishing industry lobbyists and others said. They say the bills propose a radical rewriting of the copyright system that only Congress is able to change.

. . . .

“The Maryland case is very, very significant because we’re hoping and believe the court will say, ‘You can’t do this. This is unconstitutional,’” said Keith Kupferschmid, the president of the Copyright Alliance, a nonprofit that represents a broad group of creators. “And, presumably, other states would at least be a little more cautious. Hopefully they wouldn’t introduce the bills at all.”

. . . .

Library officials back the bills so they can loosen restrictions on the number of digital works that can circulate and not let publishers dictate pricing terms, said John Chrastka, the executive director of the EveryLibrary Institute, a nonprofit that advocates for library funding.

The Rhode Island and Massachusetts bills are based on the Maryland law. Supporters hope the bills can either be redrafted to avoid similar lawsuits or that the Maryland court will throw out the case.

In New York, Brianna McNamee, the New York Library Association’s director of government relations and advocacy, said the bill Hochul vetoed will likely be tweaked based on recommendations from her office.

“The bill’s viability in its current form is contingent on that pending litigation in Maryland,” McNamee said. “In a perfect world, if the suit goes away it would be our hope that it would provide reassurance to the governor and her staff that New York state won’t be sued upon enacting similar legislation.”

It’s not clear that the Maryland law is preempted by the Copyright Act, said Alan Inouye, the senior director of public policy and government relations for the American Library Association. The AAP’s claims aren’t valid in terms of copyright law because it’s actually a matter of contract law, Inouye said.

. . . .

The Maryland law and the similar legislation are preempted by the federal Copyright Act, which gives copyright owners a bundle of exclusive rights, including being able to decide when and how their works are distributed, Mary Rasenberger, the CEO of the Authors Guild, said.

The AAP and proponents of the lawsuit said they support public libraries and that libraries are essential in expanding readership, but the Maryland law has the potential to harm creators and weaken the copyright system.

“The public libraries are an important piece of providing public access, but they don’t operate alone in a vacuum,” said Maria A. Pallante, the CEO of the Association of American Publishers.

The Motion Picture Association, the National Music Publishers Association, and the News Media Alliance also oppose the bills because they say there could be a potential domino effect in states also creating compulsory licenses for other creative works besides e-books.

“The other industries are concerned because if states start doing this,” Rasenberger said, “then the next thing down the line is going to be movies and television programming.”

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

PG has suggested on many prior occasions that traditional publishers are foolish in their pricing strategies for ebooks because, after the first copy of an ebook is created, additional copies cost the publisher no more to produce.

In a perfectly-sane publishing world, ebooks would always cost much less than printed books and still generate a much higher profit margin without killing any more trees and shipping physical books long distances from the low-income nations where they are printed.

PG suggests that Amazon’s pricing sweet spot for ebooks per its KDP royalty structure is $2.99-9.99. That’s where the 70% royalty is payable. Everywhere else in the 99 cent to $200 price range permitted by Amazon, the royalty is 35%.

To the best of PG’s recollection, this pricing/royalty strategy is identical to the policy created by Amazon at or near the introduction of its ebook self-publishing option for authors that gave authors who didn’t feel a publisher added value (or couldn’t find a publisher for their books) direct access to what has become by far the largest bookstore in the world.

One of Amazon’s motives for setting and maintaining this royalty structure, indeed for putting a lot of effort to make self-publishing easy in the first place, was the attempt of major US publishers to force Amazon in increase its prices for all books to the suggested retail price set by publishers.

Amazon hadn’t grown into the international giant it is today and American publishers were more focused on killing Amazon to avoid this sort of discounting below their fancifully-created suggest retail pricing structure in order to preserve their effective monopoly over the market for books found in traditional bookstores.

Times have changed greatly since then – lots and lots of physical bookstores have gone out of business in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) and ebooks have become a significant source of income and far more significant source of profits for traditional publishers selling through Amazon.

With respect to ebooks licensed to libraries, traditional publishers have forgotten nothing and have learned nothing. The incremental cost of ebooks licensed to libraries over ebooks licensed to Amazon and other online bookstores is also effectively zero, but publishers still want to charge libraries more for exactly the same collection of electrons as Amazon offers for much less.

PG thinks there are some copyright issues in the states’ litigation claims, but this collection of lawsuits and the potential for yet another loss in court for traditional publishers reflects (in PG’s stupendously humble opinion) the ongoing stupidity of those individuals and conglomerates running traditional publishing in the United States.

Too much greed in the library sales department could end up costing publishers much, much more over the long run. It’s a risk the publishers didn’t have to take, but they did so anyway.

How This Woman Spearheaded Amazon’s Kindle Vella Platform Providing Indie Authors New Opportunities

From Forbes:

Virginia Milner, principal product manager for Kindle Direct Publishing and head of Kindle Vella, changed the creative landscape for writers. In a technological world that is ever-changing, many platforms assist artists in generating income. But what about the quality of the content for the users? When designing Amazon’s latest creator’s platform, Milner kept the reader’s perspective at the forefront to provide a more engaging experience. As a result, Kindle Vella launched as a new reading format for serialized stories.

“We were hearing from customers that they were interested in shorter reading experiences, content that they could read quickly, and more in-between moments during their day,” Milner explains. “They really enjoyed having a connection with a longer story or feeling a connection with an author that you get from reading a series. So the idea for Kindle Vella was basically to combine those two things and create a product where authors could tell stories one short snippet at a time, but the reader could follow the story as it was told for weeks, months, or even years. As a result, catching up with their favorite characters becomes almost part of their daily routine.”

. . . .

“I was looking at the opportunity cost of going back to school versus what options would be available to me if I didn’t. I could see a career path very clearly in PR or making a pivot into a broader marketing role. But I knew that my passion was really being able to create something and build something. … There were a lot of things that I needed to learn to make that first step and also tools I was going to need to grow in an alternate career as a product manager, ultimately leading a technology team or leading a technology company.”

. . . .

After graduation, she joined Amazon as a product manager, helping independent brands build their businesses selling merchandise on the platform. Then, four years ago, she transitioned over to the Kindle Direct Publishing team.

“Both my parents are authors,” she smiles. “I’ve watched them spend many hours trying to get their works published. Just the idea that an author can just spend their time writing and then publish and immediately make their book or their work available to all of Amazon’s customers is so powerful and very inspiring to me.”

As Milner witnessed how customers consumed content and began to understand their needs, the idea for Kindle Vella flourished. She envisioned how a new platform could change the landscape for indie authors. Kindle Vella allows authors to continue their content but not necessarily in the long format required on other platforms. For example, authors could produce a prologue in Kindle Vella for books that they’ve already published or write a story based on one of their secondary characters.

Milner and her team also found ways for the author to engage directly with the reader. At the end of every episode, authors can leave an author’s note explaining the process or excitement for the chapter. It allows the reader to go behind the scenes with their favorite writers. Since the launch, thousands of authors have published thousands of stories, totaling tens of thousands of episodes.

“It was a product manager’s dream,” Milner states. “At Amazon, we have this culture where we write a press release at the beginning of a project for what our vision is for the product when we finish it, and we’re ready to release it to customers. So I’ve worked on Kindle Vella from the beginning, wrote that original press release, and then took it through launch a couple of months ago. So it was the full end-to-end experience of creating the vision, building a team, working with the team to build the original vision, and then taking it through launch.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG hasn’t taken the time to explore Kindle Vella yet, but would appreciate hearing the experience of visitors to TPV who have and their thoughts about what sort of writers might benefit from/thrive on the platform.

PG is also interested in how Kindle Vella may be similar to or different from a blog where the blogger writes all her/his own material.

Just how big in media does Apple want to be?

From The Economist:

AS VIOLINS PLAY mournfully, Jon Stewart, an American comic, makes a mock-emotional appeal to viewers. “Every year thousands of hours of high-quality content go unwatched,” he says seriously. “Because good, hard-working people…don’t know how to find Apple TV+.”

The world’s most valuable company can afford a few jokes at its own expense. In the past year the tech colossus has raked in $366bn in revenue, a third more than in 2020. On January 3rd its market capitalisation briefly exceeded $3trn (see chart 1). The mere billions that it is investing in media, including a new television show hosted by Mr Stewart, represent pocket change to the Silicon Valley giant.

Yet some 300 miles (480km) away in Hollywood, where executives used to snigger about the dilettantes from big-tech land up north, Apple’s dabbling in media is no joke. Though it lags well behind Netflix and the like, Apple has enough money to ride out the increasingly expensive streaming wars, which threaten to bankrupt other players. One question keeps its rivals awake at night: just how big in media does Apple want to be?

Apple became a big noise in music when it launched iTunes almost exactly 21 years ago. It took a cut of songs’ sales, and shifted hundreds of millions of iPods for people to play them. Later iTunes sold movies, too, and the firm hoped to make the same model work in television, where the market is an order of magnitude larger than music. But paying for downloads was superseded by all-you-can-eat subscriptions, pioneered by Spotify in music and Netflix in TV. Unlike downloaded music or films, subscriptions could be easily transferred between platforms. So Apple, seeing little opportunity to lock consumers into its devices, sat out the streaming revolution.

Today it is back in the media game, and a bigger force than Mr Stewart’s joke implies (see chart 2). Apple Music, launched in 2015, is the second-largest streamer after Spotify. Apple TV+, now two years old, is the fourth-largest video service outside China by the number of subscribers, according to Omdia, a data company. In the past couple of years Apple has made smaller media bets including Arcade, a subscription gaming package, News+, a publishing bundle, and Fitness+, which offers video aerobics classes. There is talk of an audiobooks service later this year.

Like Amazon, another tech giant with a sideline in media, Apple has been able to roll out its offerings more quickly in more countries than most of its Hollywood rivals, which have had to build direct-to-consumer businesses from scratch. And it can afford to be generous with free trials: less than a third of Apple TV+ subscribers pay for the service, Omdia believes. It has had some hits, notably “Ted Lasso”, which won a string of Emmy awards in September. But it lacks a back-catalogue, leading to high rates of customer churn. Smaller competitors like Paramount+ (part of ViacomCBS) and Peacock (from NBCUniversal) have limited new offerings but decades-old libraries.

. . . .

Apple’s renewed interest in media is best explained by the transformation in the company’s scale, which radically changes the calculation of which side-projects are worthwhile. Fifteen years ago, when Netflix started streaming, the billions involved in running a film studio would have represented close to a double-digit chunk of Apple’s annual revenues. Back then, Silicon Valley executives would fly down to Los Angeles, thinking “We’ve got a big chequebook, we could go and buy a bunch of content,” says Benedict Evans, a tech analyst and former venture capitalist. “And they would go and have their first meeting in LA. And the LA people would tell them the price”—at which point the tech people would go home. In 2021 Apple TV+’s estimated content budget represented 0.6% of company revenues: “play money”, as Mr Evans puts it.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Reading through the OP, PG thought it might be very interesting if Apple got into the book business. It could afford to buy any New York (or London, Paris, etc.) publisher it fancied with a few days worth of profits and could then give Amazon the first serious competition it’s had in the book business for a long time. Amazon pioneered the model and Apple could copy what worked.

By purchasing an established traditional publisher, Apple could also lock up a whole lot of non-Mickey-Mouse intellectual property for its video business. Amazon is too big in books to do that without getting caught up in significant antitrust issues, but Apple could play the anti-Amazon card to capture more than a little sympathetic noise from the book business.

PG also bets that Apple could buy Barnes & Noble at a very nice price and turn BN’s retail locations into Disney bookstores.

PG is just whirling his brain cells and hasn’t devoted any serious consideration of potential Disney antitrust issues that might arise. That said, PG thinks serious competition on this scale would sharpen up Amazon’s book business quite a lot.

PG is a big fan of Amazon for indie authors, but in his excessively-humble opinion, Amazon’s indie and commercial publishing arms haven’t done a whole lot of Amazon-brainy things for some time.

Exhibit A would be the difference between the POD backends of the Zon and Draft2Digital. Exhibit A.1 would be the limited and clunky POD templates Zon provides compared to D2D’s much more sophisticated looks.

NPD Projects US Print Book Unit Sales 17 Percent Above 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

In today’s release (December 13, 2021) of its United States print books weekly media report for the week ending December 4, Kristen McLean, executive director and industry analyst with NPD Books and Entertainment, shows the American publishing industry pressing into the holiday run with the strength that has distinguished it and several other world book markets in the second year of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.

McLean writes, “2021 and 2020 are converging as we reach the end of the year.

“This past week was essentially flat” in comparison to the same week in 2020, she reports, “crossing the 25-million-unit mark about a week earlier than the seasonal norms set in 2019 and 2018, and two weeks earlier than 2017.

“The market finished the week up 10 percent on a year-to-date volume of 726 million units, which is 67 million units ahead of 2020, and 118 million units ahead of 2019.

“If we finish the year as we project at 8 percent higher, year-over-year, on a unit basis, that will be 17 percent higher than 2019, a finish none of us would have foreseen on January 1, 2020.”

And this time, McLean has included what NPD Group calls its “Total Market Retail Thermometer” (from its “Retail Center of Excellence” material), to get a look at the sales revenue performance of all other non-book retail that NPD tracks as a percentage of 2019 performance.

“2021 has already exceeded 2019 by 4 percent,” McLean announces, “with four more holiday weeks to go.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The headline of the OP caught PG’s attention because he suspected 2019 was a typo.

PG will note that NPD’s data “covers approximately 85 percent of trade print books sold in the U.S.” so there is apparently no ebook sales data included.

Per Booksliced, in 2020, the share of market in ebooks looks this way:

Amazon 81%
Nook 9%
Apple Books 7%
Kobo 3%

PG hadn’t heard of Booksliced until he did a quick search for ebook market share. If anyone can locate additional data on ebook market share, feel free to share in the comments.

Amazon’s $4 Billion Holiday Fix: Half-Empty Trucks, $3,000 Bonuses

From Bloomberg:

Most cargo ships putting into the port of Everett, Washington, brim with cement and lumber. So when the Olive Bay docked in early November, it was clear this was no ordinary shipment. Below decks was rolled steel bound for Vancouver, British Columbia, and piled on top were 181 containers emblazoned with the Amazon logo. Some were empty and immediately used to shuffle inventory between the company’s warehouses. The rest, according to customs data, were stuffed with laptop sleeves, fire pits, Radio Flyer wagons, Peppa Pig puppets, artificial Christmas trees and dozens of other items shipped in directly from China—products Amazon.com Inc. needs to keep shoppers happy during a holiday season when many retailers are scrambling to keep their shelves full.

By chartering the Olive Bay and dispatching it to a relatively sleepy port a few miles north of hometown Seattle, Amazon did an end-run around the shipping snarls that have stranded holiday inventory in Los Angeles and other ports. Besides Everett, the company has also docked at the Port of Houston. Such extreme measures have given Amazon executives confidence they’ll have adequate inventory to meet yet another record-breaking holiday shopping season, when Adobe projects U.S. consumers will spend $207 billion online, up 10% from last year. Many retailers have exhorted consumers to shop early to avoid disappointment. Amazon’s unflinching message: Bring it on!

In addition to chartering ships like the Olive Bay, Amazon hired 150,000 U.S. seasonal workers to help pick, pack and ship items, boosting pay and offering signing bonuses of up to $3,000. It’s dispatching half-full trucks to get packages to customers on time. The logistical effort’s projected $4 billion cost threatens to wipe out the company’s profit during its most important three months of the year. But for Amazon, which burnished its reputation serving as a lifeline during the Covid-19 outbreak, the holiday season is an opportunity to extend its advantage over rivals.

If the company succeeds in meeting its promises to customers this year, that will be thanks to Amazon-chartered ships taking products from factories in Asia, Amazon Air cargo jets crisscrossing the U.S., Amazon-branded vans departing from hundreds of local delivery depots and the hundreds of thousands of employees and contractors at each step along the way.

“There are structural advantages you have in redundancy if you’re Amazon,” says Jason Murray, a former Amazonian who led teams working on logistics software. “Amazon has its own transportation network, it has access to all the carriers. Multiple ships, multiple factories.”

This logistical prowess hasn’t been lost on the merchants who sell products on Amazon’s sprawling marketplace. For years, they resisted using the company’s global shipping service because doing so means sharing information about pricing and suppliers, data they fear the company could use to compete with them. But container shortages in the leadup to the holiday season persuaded many of them to overcome their qualms and entrust their cargos to the world’s largest online retailer. “Amazon had space on ships and I couldn’t say no to anyone,” says David Knopfler, whose Brooklyn-based Lights.com sells home décor and lighting fixtures. “If Kim Jong Un had a container, I might take it, too. I can’t be idealistic.”

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

How authors are finding success on Kindle Vella

From MarketScreener:

Kindle Vella, Amazon’s mobile-first reading experience for serialized stories, lets readers follow stories they love. In the short time since Kindle Vella launched, thousands of authors have published thousands of stories, totaling tens of thousands of episodes across dozens of genres and microgenres.

Readers have a long history of loving serialized stories. Authors like Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Alexandre Dumas, and Leo Tolstoy are among the many who wrote famous serialized stories. They offer short reading experiences that also provide connection to a larger, layered story or to an author for a long period of time.

Continuing in this classic tradition, authors are publishing serialized stories on Kindle Vella for mobile reading during short breaks in busy modern life. We talked to five authors of breakout Kindle Vella hit stories and discovered how they are finding success, reaching readers, and stretching themselves creatively with Kindle Vella.

. . . .

Callie Chase
Bug

“The key to success on Kindle Vella is writing the best story you can, with each short episode complete, engaging, and satisfying for a reader in line at the grocery store or school pickup,” said Callie Chase, who was looking for the right opportunity to publish her dystopian paranormal story Bug when she discovered Kindle Vella.

Chase had finished writing Bug, but Kindle Vella’s episodic storytelling format enabled her to introduce a cohesive cast of characters, tell the story from varying the points of view, and play with the story’s timeline, all while each episode could stand on its own. “Even if it’s been a week since they last read, readers can easily pick up where they left off,” she said.

Bug is one of the most popular stories on Kindle Vella, which launched for readers in summer 2021, and readers have consistently rated it a top story. Kindle Vella readers show their support by giving episodes a “Thumbs Up” and voting once a week for their favorite story.

Bug has received over 2,000 Thumbs Up and is currently No. 15 on the Top Faved leaderboard. To keep up this momentum, Chase has stuck to a strict publishing schedule, releasing episodes three times a week, always on the same day, so her readers know when to expect them. She includes this schedule in the story description to help catch the attention of new readers looking for something regular to read. She pre-schedules the publication of all her episodes to ensure she doesn’t miss a release.

Pepper Pace
The Galatian Exchange

Using social media and a newsletter to promote new episodes of The Galatian Exchange is crucial for science fiction author Pepper Pace, whose Kindle Vella story has reached No. 4 on the Top Faved leaderboard. The Galatian Exchange has also earned over 2,000 Thumbs Up from readers.

This type of interaction with readers is natural for Pace, who got started writing in online writing groups and enjoys online multiplayer role-playing games. “Being able to see the instant response to each episode of my series in the form of Thumbs Up and ranking makes the storytelling experience fun and exciting for me and my readers,” Pace said. “I enjoy being able to track my stories’ progress on the Kindle Vella Dashboard, which updates continuously as the day goes on. I can also see, with the number of unlocked reads, the number of new readers that I get.”

Link to the rest at MarketScreener

Here’s a link to Vella Top-Faved, the most popular Vella Stories as voted by Vella readers.

This Founder Created A Social Media Platform For Authors That Aims To Disrupt The Publishing Industry

From Forbes:

When Allison Trowbridge was writing her book, Twenty Two, she found herself incredibly frustrated by the process. As she started talking to other authors, she found she wasn’t alone in that sentiment. This experience is what sparked the seeds of an idea – why was there no social media platform for authors to market their books and forge deeper connections with readers? That’s exactly what Trowbridge hopes to achieve with her soon-to-be-launched platform, Copper.

. . . .

Amy Shoenthal: How did you come up with the idea to create a social media platform for authors?

Allison Trowbridge: I wanted to build the tool I needed and wish had existed when I was early in my book journey. I wrote my book while getting my MBA at Oxford, which by the way, I don’t recommend doing. That was a crazy season of life. I found myself very frustrated with the clunky process of bringing a book to market. 

A lot of the real frustration came from this sense of shameless self promotion that an author is expected to do. We’re writers, and then we’re expected to know how to create visual or video content and how to reach an audience. The platforms that exist really serve readers but not authors. 

That’s why you see authors really struggling to dance on TikTok or do Instagram reels. It requires a very different skill set.  

Every author I talked to, whether a first-timer or multi best seller, had expressed a similar frustration. I shared this with a professor of mine, who pointed out that no one had yet disrupted this industry. That there might be an opportunity here. She really guided me in the right direction. 

 When you look at every social platform that exists today, they have taken off by targeting an underserved creator group and making them stars. So you have photographers on Instagram, dancers on TikTok, gamers on Twitch, crafters on Etsy and musicians on SoundCloud. No one has ever made authors the stars.  

Shoenthal: So how exactly does Copper work? How does it address this issue for frustrated authors?

Trowbridge: I like to call it the LinkedIn of the book world. It’s a two sided marketplace between authors and readers where they can go to connect with one another. Only authors can be verified so it’s very clear who is who. The user experience helps authors have meaningful conversations with existing readers while allowing them to reach new readers using the discoverability piece. 

 Copper is like a readers’ recommendation engine where you can share lists of book recommendations. Every author and every reader has their bookshelf on their profile. 

I was with a best selling author recently and she was giving me all her recommendations. I was literally writing them down on a scrap of paper at a restaurant and realized this should be easier. 

Books right now exist as independent products. We want to create a social experience around it. It uses the credibility of authors and readers to drive recommendations of different books. Readers can comment on the book and have discussions while they’re in the middle of reading it or once they’re done. So, if there’s a spoiler, we have a little ‘S’ icon that shows a little spoiler alert section, and then it blurs out. We want people to jump in and be able to discuss at any point while they’re reading without giving anything away. 

. . . .

This process gives the author insight into how people are reacting to their books as they’re reading them. It’s just wild to me that there’s no place right now where readers can have discussions about the book, and then the author can see in real time what people are reacting to. 

Shoenthal: It’s like a real time book club, which is a very ‘how does this not exist yet’ product. How did you come up with the name?

Trowbridge: I always associated copper with social movements. Abe Lincoln on the face of the penny goes back to the anti-slavery movement. Second, so much technology has been taking our full attention when it should be more like infrastructure around our lives. It should help us be more human, the way copper plumbing or copper wiring just helps us live our lives and connect with one another. It’s old timey but also new. It carries electricity. It has healing properties. These are all the things a book can do. Last, I also learned that the most iconic brand names have a “ca” sound in them.

Link to the rest at Forbes

Perhaps PG is missing something subtle about what’s really going on with the site described in the OP, but he found the following mystifying:

“I shared this with a professor of mine, who pointed out that no one had yet disrupted this industry.”

PG notes that his search of the OP did not disclose a single mention of Amazon.

The author of the OP is described as follows:

Amy Shoenthal writes about extraordinary women who are shaping culture and society.  

Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room.

Amazon has maximally disrupted the books business from one end to the other and is still doing so. Amazon sells the majority of books purchased in the United States.

Book sales make up a little less than 10% of Amazon’s total revenue of $280 billion and growing. So that’s roughly $28 billon per year in book sales for the Zon.

Per the Association of American Publishers Statshot for 2020, all of US book publishing totaled about $26 billion. But this number includes textbook publishing for schools plus other specialty-publishing areas where, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon doesn’t compete.

Per Statshot, trade book sales for 2020 totalled $16.67 billion. Unless PG’s math is wrong total US trade book sales are 59% of Amazon’s total annual book sales.

Per a January, 2019, Wall Street Journal article, “Amazon commands some 72% of adult new book sales online, and 49% of all new book sales by units, according to book-industry research firm Codex Group LLC.”

Again, with publishing statistics, it’s sometimes hard to find apples-to-apples comparisons for “total publishing revenues” in this or that country.

That said, to talk about connecting authors to readers as described in the OP without mentioning Amazon is still truly bizarre. The OP doesn’t mention that self-published authors on Amazon can monitor their sales on close to a real-time basis, can see the opinions of some readers in their comments on the book’s Amazon web page both in star ratings and written reviews.

How Amazon Changed Fiction As We Know It

From MSN:

During my interview with literary historian Mark McGurl, I glanced out the window to see an Amazon truck rumbling down my block. It was a fitting metaphor for our conversation about Everything and Less, McGurl’s provocative new literary history about how Amazon has reorganized the universe of fiction. “Amazon has insinuated itself into every dimension of the collective experience of literature in the United States,” McGurl writes. “Increasingly, it is the new platform of contemporary literary life.”

With its staggering American market share of 50% of printed books and upwards of 75% of ebooks, Amazon has changed literary life as we know it. But the Everything Store hasn’t just changed how we buy books: according to McGurl, the Albert Guérard Professor of Literature at Stanford University, it’s transformed what we buy, what we read, and how we write. In Everything and Less, McGurl draws a line from Amazon’s distribution model to the contemporary dissolution of genre boundaries, arguing that Amazon’s algorithm has effectively turned all fiction into genre fiction. In lucid and well-argued prose, McGurl goes spelunking through the many genres shaped by Amazon’s consumerist logic, from the familiar realms of science fiction to the surprising outer reaches of billionaire romance and Adult Baby Diaper Erotica.

Perceptive and often deeply funny, Everything and Less raises compelling questions about the past, present, and future of fiction. McGurl spoke with me by Zoom to discuss the Age of Amazon and all it entails: the dissolution of genre boundaries, the changing role of the author, and the reasons why all hope isn’t lost.

Esquire: Where did this book begin for you?

Mark McGurl: One day, I realized that I had become an inveterate Amazon customer. Then, as a literary historian, I got to thinking through some basic facts about the company. Amazon started as a bookstore, which itself is fascinating. 25 years ago, Amazon did not exist; now, it’s a dominant force in book publishing. That seemed to call for some analysis of what the rise of this company means. Not in any simple sense, like, “Amazon now dictates how literature is supposed to be.” It’s never that simple, but Amazon does illuminate the world in which reading happens. Literature now coexists with lots of other things in the world that it didn’t in the past; Amazon is a bright lamp illuminating that fact.

ESQ: How would you describe the characteristics of the novel in the Age of Amazon? What’s the house style of an Amazonian novel?

MM: There’s tremendous variety in fiction, so the task is not to simplify that variety. It’s a circus out there. From Amazon’s perspective, all fiction is genre fiction. In the early 20th century, literature was systematically divided between so-called genre fiction—entertaining fiction, escapist fiction, science fiction, romance, Westerns, thrillers, etcetera—and literary fiction. What Amazon does is look at the literary field and say, “It’s all genre now.” Genre is the overriding rule of literature in our time.

ESQ: When you say that Amazon looks at all fiction as genre fiction, do you mean that Amazon algorithmically sees it that way?

MM: Yes. One of the amazing things about Amazon is how many genre categories the platform has. It’s literally thousands. There are bestseller lists of a more conventional kind, but when you look toward the bottom of any book listing on Amazon, you’ll see it ranked at a certain number in hugely varied categories, from divorced women’s fiction to Swedish fiction. Amazon has created endless ways of dividing the novel to produce a generic form. This is continuous, of course, with marketing. The broader market phenomena we’re talking about are product differentiation and market segmentation. All big markets understand that certain products will appeal to certain audiences. In literature, genre is the marketing of that world of distinctions.

ESQ: Early in the book, you write about a story called “Wool,” by Hugh Howey, which started at 58 pages before sprawling into a 1,500-page opus, following reader demand. You use it as an example of how publishing to an eager readership can shape the continued life of a work of fiction. Looking at this, I ‘m reminded of someone like Dickens publishing serialized fiction. When an author self-publishing on Amazon is paid by the amount of pages read, how is that so different from the tradition of authors getting paid by the word?

MM: It’s very much continuous with that. Arguably, the strange hiatus was in the early 20th century through the mid-20th century, with the coming of literary modernism and a widespread assumption that literature should be something apart from the market. But in the longer run of the history of publishing, writing for the market has been the norm since the 18th century. The story of Amazon is in some ways deeply continuous with that, even though the mechanisms are fairly different. We’re not talking about serial publication where you’re waiting a month for the next installment, but you are thrown back into this sense of serial production. In some ways, it really is the roaring back of the Dickensian moment in literary history. If you want to make it as a self-published writer, writing one book will not do it. Even a great book won’t do it. The whole game is to gain some audience with a really good book, then continue to serve that audience. That’s what happened with Hugh Howey. He wrote a great short story, which really took off. Then, to serve that audience, he had to keep writing more installments. Before long, he had this massive epic, which has now been optioned for the screen. Certainly the Dickens spirit is back, and Amazon is its sponsor.

ESQ: That seems like the full life cycle of writing, these days. From self-published to runaway success to optioned for the screen.

MM: Cable is something we really have to think about. Only a very small number of novels can be made into cable series, but nonetheless, it really has become a thing. HBO hovers out there as a possible final destination for your work, which will explode its popularity. We live in a world where visual culture is the dominant culture, whether it’s cable television or the internet. Literature just has to relate to that however it can. Granted, I think writers are largely happy about this. As a novelist, you could very much aspire to see or participate in a well-made rendition of your story.

ESQ: Speaking of being an author today, you use this new term: “author-entrepreneur.” You write, “In the Age of Amazon, the job of writing fiction converges with the job of marketing it.” Can you explain the ways the role of the writer has expanded, and the ways in which it has absorbed the labor traditionally done by other people?

MM: In previous decades, the writer was supposed to write his or her book, then the publishing house would take care of the rest. You could remain innocent of how the sausage was made, except when you were asked to do readings. Self-published writers don’t have that luxury at all. Folks who make a living as self-published writers know so much more about marketing books than prestige writers. Apart from creating the book, there’s so much ancillary work they have to do. They have to know pricing strategies, email list cultivation, and cover design. It’s all very exhausting, which is why the most cutting edge of the phenomenon is for self-publishing to operate like a farm system. A writer develops an audience, an editor at a major publishing house will notice, and then they’ll convince the writer to go legit. What that writer gets is relief from all the ancillary work. That’s the argument that’s made to these folks: “You’re spending all these hours cultivating your email list. Do you really want to be doing that, as opposed to creating fiction?” The level of knowledge that a self-published writer has to have is orders of magnitude different from a more traditional writer.

. . . .

ESQ: For self-published writers, Amazon has removed traditional barriers to publication. If you’re self-published, you don’t need an agent or a publisher. What does that mean for the literary world? Is this freeing us from gatekeeping, or is the filtering provided by agents and publishers important?

MM: At some point in the middle of writing this book, I realized I wasn’t going to solve that conundrum. I’m populist enough and democratic enough that I can’t help but appreciate the idea of anyone being able to give this a try. On the other hand, there’s just no denying that the quality control issue is a real one. There’s so much c*** out there. Does the bad stuff impede your access to the good stuff? Do you trust recommendation algorithms and reviews to lead you to things that are actually good? I eventually stopped trying to resolve this dilemma. Quality matters, and the fact that lots of bad books are being published isn’t something I want to celebrate, even as I’m happy for people who can try their hand at writing. The way we think about self-publishing now is like a zombie apocalypse, with so many books coming at us in a zombie hoard—including many zombie novels! It’s hard for me to want to eliminate all the zombies. I think there’s just too much creative energy there, even as there’s certainly a limit to how much time we can or should give to works that aren’t great.

Link to the rest at MSN

“I think there’s just too much creative energy there” which the subject of the OP believes is a bad thing.

So the world would be a better place if we could just stifle a lot of creative energy?

Which, of course, leads us to the question, which voices should we stifle?

In a prior life, PG spent a lot of time in New York City and enjoyed his experiences there. He also spent a lot of time in Chicago and enjoyed his experiences there. A lot of different cities are wonderful places. PG loved his visits to London and Paris and would add Florence and Oxford as most enjoyable smaller cities outside the United States.

That said, PG suggests traditional publishing in the U.S. would be a much healthier business if it weren’t concentrated in one city. And if it weren’t populated by a quite narrow and extraordinarily homogeneous group of people.

Look at how much energy and creativity a Seattle company brought to the book business.

Jeff Bezos was a banker in New York City, but he headed to Seattle and started by hiring people from that area when he began building the biggest bookseller in the world, then the biggest seller of everything else.

Could Amazon have happened in New York? Count PG as skeptical.

Could Microsoft have happened in New York? Apple? Google?

Again PG loves New York (particularly when someone else is paying for his expenses) and it is clearly a world-class city. However, some parts of New York, included, but not limited to publishing manifest all the drawbacks of provincial business cultures despite the fact they are located in a large city.

Amazon Fake Reviews Scam Exposed in Data Breach

From Safety Detectives:

The SafetyDetectives cybersecurity team uncovered an open ElasticSearch database exposing an organized fake reviews scam affecting Amazon.

The server contained a treasure trove of direct messages between Amazon vendors and customers willing to provide fake reviews in exchange for free products. In total, 13,124,962 of these records (or 7 GB of data) have been exposed in the breach, potentially implicating more than 200,000 people in unethical activities.

While it is unclear who owns the database, the breach demonstrates the inner workings of a prevalent issue affecting the online retail industry.

How the Process Works

The information found on the open ElasticSearch server outlines a common procedure by which Amazon vendors procure ‘fake reviews’ for their products.

These Amazon vendors send to reviewers a list of items/products for which they would like a 5-star review. The people providing the ‘fake reviews’ will then buy the products, leaving a 5-star review on Amazon a few days after receiving their merchandise.

Upon completion, the provider of the fake review will send a message to the vendor containing a link to their Amazon profile, along with their PayPal details.

Once the Amazon vendor confirms all reviews have been completed, the reviewer will receive a refund through PayPal, keeping the items they bought for free as a form of payment.

The refund for any purchased goods is actioned through PayPal and not directly through Amazon’s platform. This makes the five-star review look legitimate, so as not to arouse suspicion from Amazon moderators.

. . . .

2. Data related to the reviewers

Messages on the ElasticSearch server also contained other forms of directly and indirectly identifiable personal data exposing the reviewers themselves, such as:

  • 75K links to Amazon accounts/profiles of review sellers
  • PayPal account details (email addresses)
  • Email addresses
  • ‘Fan names’ – supposedly usernames, often containing names & surnames

Leaked PayPal account details and ‘fan names’ outline email addresses and what seems to be the usernames of people providing fake reviews. These details could be used to indirectly identify individuals, while many of them contained full names and surnames.

The Gmail addresses of reviewers were also provided to vendors directly via message. In total, 232,664 Gmail addresses have been exposed on the server, though some of the email addresses were duplicates.

. . . .

The ‘Gmail’ figure covers only those individuals who use Google as their mail provider. When we factor in the presence of other types of email accounts, such as Outlook, the enormity of this breach becomes apparent. 75,000 Amazon accounts were leaked as well, although there are potentially several duplicates included in this figure. Along with Amazon vendors compromised through their contact details, it’s reasonable to estimate that around 200,000-250,000 people were affected by this breach.

The server appeared to be located in China, and it is thought the leak affected citizens from Europe and the USA (at a minimum). In reality, the leak could have affected individuals from all corners of the world.

Link to the rest at Safety Detectives and thanks to O. for the tip.

An Amazon shopper faces up to 20 years in jail for $290,000 fraud. Prosecutors say he bought Apple, Asus, and Fuji products, then mailed cheaper items as returns.

From Business Insider:

An Amazon shopper who for five years bought expensive items — including a top-of-the-line iMac Pro — and then mailed cheaper items as returns faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud, prosecutors said.

Hudson Hamrick, of Charlotte, North Carolina, on Tuesday pleaded guilty in the US District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, a court filing showed.

. . . .

US attorneys filed charges against Hamrick in September, saying he’d engaged in about 300 fraudulent transactions with Amazon. That included about 270 product returns — some 250 of which were “materially different in value” — that amounted to more than $290,000 in total fraud, said the charging document and another that detailed several transactions as part of Hamrick’s plea agreement.

Many of the transactions followed a simple pattern, prosecutors said: Hamrick would order an expensive item, initiate a return, then mail a similar — but less valuable — item. Sometimes he’d also sell the expensive item, netting him both the return and the resale value, prosecutors said.

In August 2019, for example, Hamrick ordered an Apple iMac Pro for $4,256.85, the US attorneys said. After about two weeks, Hamrick started the return process with Amazon, which then issued a refund.

“Instead of returning the high-end iMac Pro, Hamrick returned a much older, less valuable non-Pro model with a completely different serial number,” said a court document filed by Maria K. Vento, an assistant US attorney.

A week before Hamrick initiated his Amazon return, he sold an iMac Pro on eBay, Vento said.

. . . .

“Amazon has systems in place to detect suspicious behavior, and teams in place to investigate and stop prohibited activity,” the spokesperson said. “There is no place for fraud at Amazon, and we will continue to pursue all measures to hold bad actors accountable.”

Link to the rest at Business Insider

Perhaps PG is assuming too high a standards for Amazon’s fraud detection team, but he would think that the first incorrect return would have triggered some sort of red flag.

He certainly hopes that an Apple newby didn’t order a new $4K Mac Pro from Amazon and receive an old Mac instead.

France is trying to protect booksellers from Amazon. Is it a decade too late?

From Quartz:

French lawmakers are coming to the defense of booksellers who continue to lose business to major retailers like Amazon with a law that would set a fixed minimum delivery rate for books.

The bill, which was presented before the National Assembly today (Sept. 29), is the latest move to even the playing field for independent booksellers, who face competition not only from Amazon, but also French online retailers such as Fnac and Cultura.

“Small booksellers face costs that are far away from those of major retailers,” Géraldine Bannier, the law’s sponsor, said before the National Assembly. In the age of Amazon, she argued, booksellers have to make a choice between eating the cost of delivery themselves or charging their customers, in which case they may risk losing a sale.

French bookshops have for years been protected by a 1981 law that mandated books be sold at a fixed price, and not be discounted at more than 5%. The National Assembly passed another law in 2014 forbidding online booksellers from giving a 5% discount or free delivery to customers, though Amazon fought back by setting delivery fees at just 1 cent.

. . . .

Ryan Raffaelli, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied how bookstores remain resilient despite Amazon competition, says that independent sellers tend to do well by “bringing people into physical spaces and creating spaces for conversation.” This has proven challenging for stores during the coronavirus pandemic, and some French sellers have suffered for it. The iconic Paris bookstore Gibert Jeune closed its doors in May.

No matter whether France’s law passes, Amazon will continue to take risks that independent booksellers cannot, Raffaelli says. The retailer is willing to be a “loss leader”—that is, sell products at a loss—because it can bring in revenue across other categories.

This approach paid off for the company between 2008 and 2018, when independent booksellers’ retail sales declined by an annual average of 3%, whereas e-commerce sites including Amazon and Apple boosted book sales by 5.6% and captured 16.5% of the French market, according to the SLF.

Still, Raffaelli says the latest French tactic is different from similar anti-competition lawsuits brought by US booksellers against Amazon because the legislation is underpinned by the belief that bookstores are not just a form of commerce, but a cultural product. Culture minister Roselyne Bachelot echoed the same belief after the law was passed by the French Senate in June, saying “a book is not a good like others.”

“When you think about a bookstore as a cultural product, that creates a different rationale for why you would protect an industry,” Raffaelli says. “If you truly believe that bookstores are a form of art and culture, then you can potentially approach how you regulate it differently than if it’s just about transaction and free trade.”

Link to the rest at Quartz

Bezos as Novelist

From The Paris Review:

The first thing that needs to be noted about the collected works of MacKenzie Bezos, novelist, currently consisting of two titles, is how impressive they are. Will either survive the great winnowing that gives us our standard literary histories? Surely not. Precious few novels do. Neither even managed, in its initial moment of publication, to achieve the more transitory status of buzzy must-read. But this was not for want of an obvious success in achieving the aims of works of their kind—that kind being literary fiction, so called to distinguish it from more generic varieties. In Bezos’s hands it is a fiction of close observation, deliberate pacing, credible plotting, believable characters and meticulous craft. The Testing of Luther Albright (2005) and Traps (2013) are perfectly good novels if one has a taste for it.

The second thing that needs to be noted about them is that, after her divorce from Jeff Bezos, founder and controlling shareholder of Amazon, their author is the richest woman in the world, or close enough, worth in excess (as I write these words) of $60 billion, mostly from her holdings of Amazon stock. She is no doubt the wealthiest published novelist of all time by a factor of … whatever, a high number. Compared to her, J. K. Rowling is still poor. 

It’s the garishness of the latter fact that makes the high quality of her fiction so hard to credit, so hard to know what to do with except ignore it in favor of the spectacle of titanic financial power and the gossipy blather it carries in train. How can the gifts she has given the world as an artist begin to compare with those she has been issuing as hard cash? Of late it has been reported that Bezos, now going by the name MacKenzie Scott, has been dispensing astonishingly large sums of money very fast, giving it to worthy causes, although not as fast as she has been making it as a holder of stock in her ex’s company. Driven by the increasing centrality of online shopping to contemporary life, its price has been climbing. There are many fine writers of literary fiction, maybe too many—too many to pay close attention to, anyway—but only one world’s richest lady. 

But the weird disjunction between the subtleties of literary fiction and the garishness of contemporary capitalism and popular culture might be the point. The rise of Amazon is the most significant novelty in recent literary history, representing an attempt to reforge contemporary literary life as an adjunct to online retail. On the one hand, Amazon is nothing if not a “literary” company, a vast engine for the production and circulation of stories. It started as a bookstore and has remained committed ever since to facilitating our access to fiction in various ways. On the other hand, the epic inflection it gives to storytelling could hardly be more distinct from the subtle dignities and delights of literary fiction of the sort written by MacKenzie Bezos. 

It was she who, according to legend, took the wheel as the couple drove across the country from New York to Seattle to start something new, leaving her husband free to tap away at spreadsheets on his laptop screen in the passenger seat. If this presents an image of Jeff as the author of Amazon in an almost literal sense, it surely mattered—mattered a lot—that his idea for an online bookstore was fleshed out while living with an actual author of books or aspiring one. “Writing is really all I’ve ever wanted to do,” she said upon the occasion of the publication of her first novel in 2005. By this time Amazon was already the great new force in book publishing, although it had yet to introduce the Kindle e-reader, the device that made a market for e-books. Neither had it hit upon perhaps its most dramatic intervention into literary history, Kindle Direct Publishing, the free-to-use platform by whose means untold numbers of aspiring authors have found their way into circulation, some of them finding real success. It had not yet purchased the book-centric social media site Goodreads, or Audible.com, or founded any of the sixteen more or less traditional publishing imprints it now runs out of Seattle.

That self-published writers have succeeded mostly by producing the aforementioned forthrightly generic varieties of fiction, and not literary fiction, is part of this story. Romance, mystery, fantasy, horror, science fiction—these are the genres at the heart of Amazon’s advance upon contemporary literary life. They come at readers promising not fresh observations of the intricacies of real human relationships—although they sometimes do that, by the way—but compellingly improbable if in most ways highly familiar plots. 

In one recent self-published success, a man awakens to find he has been downloaded into a video game. Rallying himself surprisingly quickly, he lives his version of The Lord of the Rings, but now with a tabulation of various game statistics appearing in his mind’s eye. In another, a young woman is gifted with the power of prophecy, making her a target of the darkly authoritarian Guild. Run, girl, run! In still another, a woman has a job as a “secret shopper,” testing the level of customer service at various retail stores, stumbling into a love affair with the impossibly handsome billionaire who owns them all. Then there are the zombies. There are as many moderately successful self-published zombie novels as there are zombies in any given zombie novel—hundreds of them. Whether dropping from the air into the Kindle or other device, or showing up on the doorstep in a flat brown box, these are the works that Amazon’s customers demand in largest numbers and which it is happy to supply.

The Testing of Luther Albright is nothing like them, though no doubt it, too, has been delivered to doorsteps by Amazon on occasion. What I find fascinating is how the traces of genre fiction are visible in the novel all the same, if only under the mark of negation. Told in the first person, it recounts the strained but loving relationship of a repressed WASP father to his wife and son. He is a successful civil engineer in Sacramento, a designer of dams, and has built the family home with his own hands. Leaning perhaps too heavily into the analogy between the structural soundness of buildings and of family relationships, the novel has an ominously procedural, even forensic quality, reflecting the quality of mind of the man who narrates it. Luther is not a negligent father or husband, just a painfully self-conscious and overly careful one, so much so that he might be creating the cracks in the foundation of his life it was his whole purpose to avoid. 

But no dam breaks and nothing ever crashes to the ground. 

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Publishers, Amazon Move to Dismiss Booksellers’ Antitrust Suit

From Publishers Weekly:

In separate motions this week, Amazon and the Big Five publishers asked a federal court to dismiss the latest iteration of a potential class-action price-fixing claim filed against them on behalf of indie booksellers.

According to court filings, the booksellers’ Amended Complaint, which was filed in July, accuses Amazon and the publishers of illegal price discrimination under the Robinson-Patman Act. But in their motions to dismiss, both Amazon and the publishers insist there is no illegal agreement to fix or otherwise restrain prices, and that the amended complaint is legally deficient and must be tossed.

“The Complaint recites that Amazon is a leading book retailer, takes issue with ordinary price competition, and tries to illogically and conclusorily claim that Publisher Defendants conspired with each other and with Amazon to confer a monopoly on Amazon, despite Publisher Defendants resisting Amazon’s growing position in the market for decades,” reads the publishers motion to dismiss. “This is simply not plausible. After realizing its originally pled Sherman Act conspiracy claims had no basis, Plaintiff tried to repackage them in its Complaint and bolster them with a price discrimination claim under the Robinson-Patman Act. The Complaint, however, is fatally deficient under either statute and must be dismissed.”

In its motion to dismiss, Amazon lawyers also insist that there is no conspiracy with the publishers, no evidence of illegal collusion, and that its bargaining for lower print book prices is simply good business—and good for consumers.

“Bargaining between buyers and sellers is one of the most commonplace, precompetitive actions that can occur in any market,” the Amazon brief states. “As the Supreme Court has stressed repeatedly, it would do great damage to competition and consumers alike if the [Robinson-Patman Act] were misconstrued as having outlawed competitive bargaining.”

The suit was first filed in March, 2021, when Evanston, Ill.-based Indie bookseller Bookends & Beginnings teamed up with the law firm currently leading a sprawling class action price-fixing suit against Amazon and the Big Five publishers in the e-book market to file an antitrust lawsuit on behalf of a potential class of booksellers accusing Amazon and the Big Five publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster, and Penguin Random House) of a conspiracy to restrain price competition in the retail and online print trade book market.

Similar to the claims made in the in ongoing e-book price-fixing case, the initial complaint turned on Amazon’s use of Most Favored Nation clauses in its contracts with the Big Five publishers, which, lawyers for Hagens Berman claim, have “the intent and effect of controlling wholesale prices of print trade books and preventing competition with Amazon in the retail sale of print trade books.”

But in their motion to dismiss, Amazon lawyers note that the factual basis for much of the booksellers’ initial complaint—the use of MFN clauses—simply does not exist. And, Amazon lawyers insist, the price discrimination claims in the amended complaint are ill-conceived.

“The premise of Plaintiff’s Complaint was that [the use of MFN] clauses prevented other retailers from competing to ‘gain market share’ by negotiating better wholesale prices for themselves,” the Amazon motion notes. “Plaintiff withdrew its Complaint after Defendants demonstrated that there was no factual basis for Plaintiff’s core allegation: those agreements do not and never did contain any such MFN clauses. Rather than dismiss its claims, however, Plaintiff pivoted dramatically to allege effectively the opposite theory, that Amazon violated [The Robinson-Patman Act]…by negotiating for discounted wholesale prices and passing those savings along to consumers by charging ‘comparatively lower retail book prices’ to improve its market position…Plaintiffs new theory, in other words, attacks the very essence of robust and healthy competition that the antitrust laws overwhelmingly seek to promote. Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint is baseless and should be dismissed.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Publishing Ecosystem in the Digital Era

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

IN 1995, I WENT to work as a writer and editor for Book World, the then-standalone book-review section of The Washington Post. I left a decade later, two years before Amazon released the Kindle ebook reader. By then, mainstream news outlets like the Post were on the ropes, battered by what sociologist John B. Thompson, in Book Wars, calls “the digital revolution” and its erosion of print subscriptions and advertising revenue. The idea that a serious newspaper had to have a separate book-review section seems quaint now. Aside from The New York Times Book Review, most of Book World’s competitors have faded into legend, like the elves departing from Middle-earth at the end of The Lord of the Rings. Their age has ended, though the age of the book has not.

Nobody arrives better equipped than Thompson to map how the publishing ecosystem has persisted and morphed in the digital environment. An emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Cambridge and emeritus fellow at Jesus College, Cambridge, Thompson conducts his latest field survey of publishing through a rigorous combination of data analysis and in-depth interviews. Book Wars comes stuffed with graphs and tables as well as detailed anecdotes. The data component can get wearisome for a reader not hip-deep in the business, but it’s invaluable to have such thorough documentation of the digital publishing multiverse.

. . . .

One big question animates Thompson’s investigation: “So what happens when the oldest of our media industries collides with the great technological revolution of our time?” That sounds like hyperbole — book publishing hasn’t exactly stood still since Gutenberg. A lot happens in 500 years, even without computers. But for an industry built on the time-tested format of print books, the internet understandably looked and felt like an existential threat as well as an opportunity.

Early on in his study, Thompson neatly evokes the fear that accompanied the advent of ebooks. The shift to digital formats had already eviscerated the music industry; no wonder publishers felt queasy. As Thompson writes, “Were books heading in the same direction as CDs and vinyl LPs — on a precipitous downward slope and likely to be eclipsed by digital downloads? Was this the beginning of the end of the physical book?” That question has been asked over and over again for decades now, and the answer remains an emphatic No. (Note to pundits: Please resist the urge to write more “Print isn’t dead!” hot takes.) But publishers didn’t know that in the early digital days.

The words “revolution” and “disruption” get thrown around so often that they’ve lost their punch, but Thompson justifies his use of them here. He recalls the “dizzying growth” of digital books beginning in 2008, “the first full year of the Kindle.” That year alone, ebook sales for US trade titles added up to $69 million; by 2012, they had ballooned to $1.5 billion, “a 22-fold increase in just four years.”

Print, as usual, refused to be superseded. Despite their early boom, ebooks didn’t cannibalize the print market. Thompson uses data from the Association of American Publishers to show that ebooks plateaued at 23 to 24 percent of total book sales in the 2012–’14 period, then slipped to about 15 percent in 2017–’18. Print books, on the other hand, continue to account for the lion’s share of sales, with a low point of about 75 percent in 2012–’14, bouncing back to 80­ to 85 percent of total sales in 2015–’16. (Thompson’s study stops before the 2020–’21 pandemic, but print sales have for the most part been strong in the COVID-19 era.)

For some high-consumption genres, like romance, the ebook format turned out to be a match made in heaven; Thompson notes that romance “outperforms every other category by a significant margin.” But readers in most genres have grown used to choosing among formats, and traditional publishers have for the most part proved able and willing to incorporate those formats into their catalogs. That’s a net gain both for consumer choice and for broader access to books.

. . . .

Thompson quotes an anonymous trade-publishing CEO: “The power of Amazon is the single biggest issue in publishing.”

It’s easy to see why. With its vast market reach and unprecedented access to customer data, Amazon has made itself indispensable to publishers, who rely on it both to drive sales (often at painfully deep discounts) and to connect with readers. For many of us, if a book’s not available on Amazon, it might as well not exist. “Given Amazon’s dominant position as a retailer of both print and ebooks and its large stock of information capital, publishers increasingly find themselves locked in a Faustian pact with their largest customer,” Thompson writes.

That pact has proven hard to break. “Today, Amazon accounts for around 45 percent of all print book sales in the US and more than 75 percent of all ebook unit sales, and for many publishers, around half — in some cases, more — of their sales are accounted for by a single customer, Amazon,” Thompson points out. That’s staggering.

Does Amazon care about books? Not in the way that publishers, authors, and readers do, but that doesn’t change the power dynamic. Amazon derives its power from market share, yes, but also from what Thompson calls “information capital” — namely the data it collects about its customers. That gives it an enormous advantage over publishers, whose traditional business approach prioritizes creative content and relationships with authors and booksellers.

Workarounds to Amazon exist, though not yet at scale. Just as authors have learned to connect with readers via email newsletters and social media, so have publishers been experimenting with direct outreach via digital channels. Email feels almost quaint, but done well it remains a simple and effective way to reach a target audience. Selling directly to readers means publishers can avoid the discounts and terms imposed on them by Amazon and other distributors.

. . . .

Authors can now sidestep literary gatekeepers, such as agents and acquiring editors, and build successful careers with the help of self-publishing platforms and outlets that didn’t exist 20 or even 10 years ago. Self-publishing has become respectable; we’ve traveled a long way from the days when book review editors wrote off self-published books as vanity press projects. Newspaper book sections have mostly vanished, but book commentary pops up all over the internet, in serious review outlets like this one and in the feeds of Instagram and TikTok influencers. It’s a #bookstagram as well as an NYTBR world now. To me, that feels like a win for books, authors, and readers.

. . . .

Some authors hit the big time in terms of sales and readers without relying on a traditional publisher. Thompson returns several times to the example of the software engineer-turned-writer Andy Weir, whose hit book The Martian (2011) got its start as serialized chapters published on his blog and delivered to readers via newsletter. (Newsletters represent another digital-publishing trend unlikely to disappear anytime soon.) “The astonishing success of The Martian — from blog to bestseller — epitomizes the paradox of the digital revolution in publishing: unprecedented new opportunities are opened up, both for individuals and for organizations, while beneath the surface the tectonic plates of the industry are shifting,” Thompson writes.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

Amazon Dangles a New Perk in Fight for U.S. Workers: Free Bachelor’s Degrees

From The Wall Street Journal:

The battle for hourly workers is escalating beyond minimum wage across the U.S., as retailers, restaurant chains, garbage haulers and meat processors increasingly dangle the prospect of a free college education as a way to lure and retain staff.

Amazon.com Inc. on Thursday plans to announce that it is expanding its educational benefits by offering more than 750,000 U.S. hourly employees the chance to enroll in a fully paid bachelor’s degree program after 90 days of employment. The e-commerce giant says employees will be eligible to get degrees through educational institutions nationwide.

Amazon is trying to attract job seekers in a tight labor market and reduce turnover among some hourly workers. The company has hired 400,000 employees during the pandemic, but it is looking to bring on tens of thousands of additional hourly staffers to work in its fulfillment centers and delivery network over the coming months. Employees working as little as 20 hours a week will be eligible for the college benefit, though Amazon will pay 50% of the college costs for part-time staffers.

“Career progression is the new minimum wage,” said Ardine Williams, a vice president of workforce development at Amazon, who notes employer-funded training can help people prepare for a career that interests them. “Most adult learners don’t have the luxury of quitting their jobs and going to school full-time.”

The stepped-up perks also reflect what executives say is a reality across the corporate sphere: Even $15 an hour, Amazon’s base wage, is no longer enough to attract many workers. As more employers and cities have raised minimum wages, large companies have aimed to differentiate themselves through additional benefits, such as greater time off, more reliable scheduling, access to emergency child care and, increasingly, a path to a broader education and new skills.

Many of America’s biggest companies strengthened educational initiatives this year, or rolled out programs essentially matching the benefits offered by their competitors.

Walmart Inc., one of Amazon’s chief rivals, in July said it would fully subsidize college tuition and books for 1.5 million part-time and full-time employees in the U.S., dropping an earlier requirement that employees pay a $1 daily fee toward their education. Walmart employees can enroll in the program on their first day of employment. The retailer has expanded the number of educational partners over time, adding Johnson & Wales University and the University of Arizona, among others, this summer.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (This should be a free link, but if it doesn’t work, PG apologizes for the paywall, but hasn’t figured out a way around it.)

PG has become increasingly concerned about inflation hitting the US economy with so much government spending, current and proposed.

The rationale for this spending is to help the economy recover from the effects of the Covid shutdowns, but PG is worried about overheating the economy. For him, the challenges Amazon, Walmart and others are having with recruiting at minimum wage is an indicator of inflation. Additionally, he understands that real estate and auto prices (both new and used) have also experienced significant increases.

The last period of major inflation in the US was in th3 1980’s, about forty years ago. This means that the only adults who actually experienced this inflationary period is in their 60’s. He worries that those in their 40’s making government economic policy have only a theoretical understanding about how damaging inflation can be to an economy and to individuals trying to deal with this serious impact on their finances.

How American retailers have adapted to the Amazon effect

From The Economist:

After reeling from the shock of the pandemic, America’s consumers came roaring back early this year, fuelled by vaccines, stimulus cheques and their instinctive bullishness. Now their enthusiasm is starting to ebb. Retail sales in July were 1.1% lower than a month earlier and a consumer-confidence survey by the University of Michigan suggests that shoppers lost more of their swagger in early August. The Delta variant has played on their nerves while price spikes and supply-chain glitches have dulled enthusiasm for buying some products such as cars—sales of which dropped by 3.9% last month, compared with June. There is now a sense that the rate of growth in consumer spending is returning to a more pedestrian pace after 18 giddy months of wild shrinkages and splurges.

Yet even as normality beckons it is ever clearer that the pattern of spending has been transformed. One change is well-known: a lift in the level of e-commerce. The other is less familiar. An industry that was supposed to have been annihilated by Amazon has bounced back.

In 2017-19 all the talk was of a “retail apocalypse” and “retailmaggedon”. The fear was that a steady rise in e-commerce and Amazon’s relentless expansion into new products would drive traditional retailers towards extinction, just as Kodak failed to adapt to the digital-photography revolution and eventually went bust.

. . . .

Things have turned out rather differently. The pandemic has certainly sped up the shift towards e-commerce sales, which have risen from 14% of the total in 2018 to 20% this year according to JPMorgan Chase, a bank. Although the pace of growth has slowed in the past few months there will be no return to the past.

Meanwhile the industry’s structure is starting to look different. Amazon has thrived: its market share of e-commerce stands at about 40% overall and is far higher than that in some categories, such as books. Shopping centres have struggled to attract the same numbers of visitors as before, and some have defaulted on their debt. Nonetheless, the health of the non-Amazon retail industry looks better than it once did. At $2.5trn, for example, the market value of American listed retailers is 88% higher than at the start of 2018, while their total net debt burden has been easing since the end of 2019. The number of people employed in the retail trade is only 4% below its post-war peak in 2017.

Behind these numbers there are three types of fightback. First, the biggest retailers have embraced the digital world. This week Walmart predicted that its global e-commerce revenues would reach $75bn for the full year (about 13% of the firm’s total sales). It has made a big push in hybrid types of shopping that involve online activity but harness its stores, such as “click-and-collect” and online memberships. Target has promoted a similar service and digital sales now make up almost a fifth of its total.

The second fightback is from digital-only alternatives to Amazon. Although the veteran marketplace eBay has struggled over the years, Shopify, which helps merchants sell online and fulfil orders, has seen its share of American online sales reach 9% and its market value soar to $188bn. Many other digital firms are operating in lucrative niches, from Instacart in grocery delivery to Etsy in interactive shopping for artisanal goods.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG has checked out Walmart’s ecommerce interface and found it to be less sophisticated and well-designed than the ecommerce offerings of many much-smaller etailers, but perhaps he’s missed something.

Top-selling items on Amazon in 2021 reflect a shifting America

From About Amazon:

Amazon’s newly released shopping data shows Americans are embracing a more social 2021—but they’re not giving up their sweatpants.

Party decorations are now best sellers on Amazon. Purchases of dresses and tuxedos have tripled in the last year. Luggage sales are up a whopping 460%. And perhaps most telling that Americans are ready to leave home and socialize this summer: Teeth-whitening toothpaste sales are climbing.

Amazon’s latest year-over-year shopping data provides a snapshot of what Americans are doing now compared to last year. The data reflects a stark shift. In 2020, customers pounced on puzzles, garden tools, cookware, headphones, exercise bikes, and other products to help them stay healthy and entertained at home.

But at least one pandemic trend is here to stay. Purchases of sweats, leggings, and all things athleisure spiked in 2020—and sales remain comfortably strong.

After an unprecedented year, many Americans are adjusting back to normal routines. Shopping habits have shifted accordingly, reflecting how people across the U.S. are feeling, spending time, and even celebrating.

. . . .

2020 shopping trends

Building a safe haven at home

As people worldwide spent more time at home in early 2020, product sales increased across at-home entertainment, home office items, home improvement, and cookware.

Work and play from home

  • Arts and crafts items more than doubled in sales, while puzzle sales were up 75% and building blocks were up 70% from April to June 2020 (Q2 2020), compared to the same three-month period in 2019. Top products included Crayola Colored Pencils, Kinetic Sand, Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Art Easel, Ravensburger Cozy Retreat, and Melissa & Doug Solar System.
  • Laptop computer sales doubled from April 2019 to April 2020. Other top consumer electronics products included headphones (more than 50% increase from 2019), ink (90% increase), headsets (more than 130% increase), and gaming monitors (150% increase). Apple MacBook Air (13-inch) and Acer Aspire 5 Slim were among the most popular laptops, while the Sceptre 24” Gaming Monitor, LG 27” Ultragear Monitor, and Sceptre 30” Curved Gaming Monitor.were among the bestselling gaming monitors.
  • Home office desk sales more than doubled in Q2 2020 compared to 2019. Chair sales were up more than 135% year over year, with gaming chairs and Amazon Basics office chairs among the most popular. Sales in the shelves and storage category increased by more than 155%.
  • Exercise and fitness product sales increased by nearly 75% in the first three months of 2020 (Q1 2020), compared to the same period in 2019, with top process across weights, exercise bikes, and treadmill categories.

Opting outside

  • Gardening product sales increased by 50% year over year (Q1 2020) with AeroGarden Indoor Hydroponic Garden, Rachio Smart Sprinkler Controller Alexa and Apple Compatible, and Flexzilla Garden Lead-In Hose among the most popular. Sales of outdoor pools and bounce houses more than doubled, and sport games purchases are up 70% (Q2 2020) with top products including Amazon Exclusive LEGO Razor Crest, Little Tikes Rocky Mountain River Race, and Amazon Exclusive Bunch O Balloons.

Link to the rest at About Amazon

There are links to each of the mentioned products in the OP.

The Goodreads Bot Problem

From Book Riot:

Goodreads, the popular book cataloging website, functions as a hybrid social media platform and digital library. The social media aspect of Goodreads allows for interaction between users. Users can see their friends’ reviews, reading progress in a book, and even the giveaways friends have entered. The reviews on Goodreads are public, meaning anyone — even those without an account — can access and read reviews.

When anyone does a quick search for book reviews, Goodreads is frequently the first result. The problem with Goodreads being within the first search results for book reviews is that makes the reviews on Goodreads that much more desirable. Goodreads reviews, for many, feel more trustworthy because they are peer written.

For the most part, Goodreads reviewers are average readers. Their reviews are imperfect, full of grammatical errors, gifs, and internet slang. Goodreads users write their reviews in a way that makes sense to them. Some users write reviews for their own cataloging use, others write reviews to be helpful to others, some reviews are simple and short.

. . . .

Like many social media platforms, Goodreads can  feel like a competition. In addition to a yearly reading challenge, Goodreads offers stats on their users. Anyone can read and access these stats to see the Top Reviewers and Readers, Most Popular Reviewers, Most Followed, and Top Librarians. It’s a popularity contest no one signed up for. Stats are updated on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis, and can be sorted by country or worldwide ranking of Goodreads users. It’s important to note that clicking “Meet People,” under the community tab, directs to Most Popular Reviewers, even though it’s in the center of the list. Top Reviewers is second on the Meet People option.

On similar websites, Top Reviewer and Most Popular Reviewer might refer to the same type of ranking, based on community votes or interaction. On Goodreads, however, Top Reviewer refers to number of reviews written within a certain time frame. A Goodreads reviewer can be a Top Reviewer without being a popular one. This type of ranking makes it extremely easy for people and not-people to fake their ranking as Top Reviewers and Top Readers. The Top Readers are simply ranked by number of books read.

Weeding through the weekly Top Reviewers, many profiles appear ordinary. The astonishing number of books read and reviewed per week by the Top Reviewers makes it clear that these profiles are not average, albeit avid, readers. To read 400 books per week, every week, is simply not possible, by human standards. While there is nothing preventing actual people from inputting hundreds of books every week into their Goodreads accounts, there isn’t much of a reason to do so. So, what’s going at Goodreads? 

Bots. Bots are what’s going at Goodreads. Since Goodreads is also used by non-account holders, it is a desirable internet space for advertisers. What happens is that a company or individual will pay for hundreds of positive reviews of their product, so that when a potential buyer sees the reviews, all they see are positive reviews and 5-star ratings. In the case of Goodreads, the product is books. These reviews can be written by a bot or a person with multiple fake accounts.

Top Reviewers’ fake profiles might not always be easy to spot, as they often use stock images as the profile picture, or leave the avatar blank. Their reviews, though are fairly easy to spot. Hundreds of reviews per week? Check. Poor grammar and short reviews? Check. Strange, vague, or unrelated reviews? Check, check, check. If it sounds like the warning label on a blood pressure medication, rather than a review for a regency romance, a bot probably wrote it. Bot reviews are often copied and pasted from another book. Many fake accounts will post multiple reviews of the same book. Going down the list of the Top Reviewers, reviews will often trend towards the same book or topic.

. . . .

So why doesn’t Goodreads do anything about the bots, fake profiles, and scammers? Goodreads knows about the scammers. Users are asked to flag the reviews and keep it moving. That seems extremely unhelpful of them. Fake reviews and reviewers are a well-documented phenomenon. Goodreads isn’t the only website filled with profiles named “Keyboard” with blank avatars. In 2019, the popular skincare brand, Sunday Riley settled with the FTC for writing positive reviews on the Sephora website, for over two years. These reviews were written by Sunday Riley employees. Amazon, Goodreads’ parent company, is also riddled with fake reviews.

Amazon shops rely on reviews to get consumers’ attention. Five-star reviews, whether they’re genuine, or from a bot, boost the rating and boost the buying potential. Amazon is the top bookseller in the world, so of course it would want to boost reviews of books. Whether Amazon is paying for the ersatz reviews or it’s another party is unknown, but Goodreads is absolutely swarming with bot accounts. 

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes that Goodreads is owned by Amazon.

How Amazon and Bookbub Will Help You Sell Books–FREE

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris:

Yeah, we know…

A BookBub feature will rocket your book skyward.

Stacked promos can help you tickle the algos and ride the tsunami.

A great launch strategy well executed can get your book a bestseller badge.

But all these options are pricey—especially a BookBub feature if you can even get one.

And they don’t all necessarily work or don’t work as well as you hoped.

Then what?

What if your Book is a Dud?

What can you do if the book you’ve worked on had professionally edited, bought a great cover for, hired a pro blurb writer—is a wall flower? The lonely, overlooked guy or girl all primped and ready for the prom, but who just doesn’t get the love?

What if you keep submitting and your book just doesn’t click with BookBub?

What if you can’t afford a BookBub feature even if you could get one?

Or what if your book just isn’t a hot seller in a hot genre?

Do you give up?

Do you weep, wail, gnash your teeth and curse the fates?

Of course you do.

Who doesn’t?

Or, after a bout of weepy, whiny self-indulgence, do you pull yourself together and search for other ways to get where you want to go?

Did You Know that Amazon Wants you to be Successful?

It does?

You’re kidding. Right?

No. Definitely not kidding. In fact, you’re wrong.

Of course Amazon wants your book to sell, because the more money you make, the more money they make.

But how do they do that? And how do you get in on the goodies?

Amazon provides every author with access to an exclusive book page whose content you control.

Yes, you probably have a website, but think of your Amazon author page as a website on steroids with two huge advantages.

The first advantage is that every one of your book pages on Amazon contains a clickable link that takes a reader directly to your Amazon author page.  The more books, the more clickable links.

That clickable link takes a reader or a prospective buyer one click to find out more about you and all your books. One click ease leads directly to your author page where you can post photographs, videos, and blog posts, where they can view your complete catalog, come-hither covers, yummy blurbs, alluring bio, and reviews, the good, the bad and the not terrible but not-so-hot either.

The second significant advantage to your Amazon author page is that the author page has a big, clickable follow button when readers can sign up to received news about your new releases and pre-orders. Make the most of that follow button by using your email lists and social media to encourage your fans to follow you on Amazon.

Why?

The reason is that Amazon will send an announcement to everyone on your “follow” list whenever you have a new release.

Amazon with its powerful marketing muscle and tons of buyer data will send out an alert to each of your followers telling them you have a new book for sale for FREE.

So be sure to claim each new release on your Amazon Author Page and take the time to polish your author page to a high sparkle.

Here is Amazon’s own guide to what your Author Page can do for you.

Besides Amazon’s powerful Author Page and clear guidelines, they provide the responsive and helpful Author Central for any issues or glitches you might encounter along the way.

An email or call to Author Central can help:

  • *Fix and update metadata
  • *Clean up boo-boos
  • *Untangle issues with the Series Manager
  • *Remove scammy reviews because Amazon hates misuse of its review system as much as you do
  • *Remove early, outdated editions of your ebooks (but not print editions)

This detailed, easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide by Dave Chesson will  guide you through the process of setting up your Author Page in Author Central. There are pointers about how to make the most of your Author Page.

Tip: I have found that if your first attempt to resolve a glitch fizzles, giving Author Central a second chance can result in a different outcome—so don’t give up if the issue persists. Just try, try again.

BookBub is On Your Side, Too

BookBub, with 20 million followers, will also put its powerful marketing muscle to work for you and your books. At the BookBub subscriber sign up, readers indicate which genres they prefer and where they purchase their eBooks—at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple, Kobo, and Google.

Like Amazon, BookBub provides several tools for authors to get the word out about themselves and their books, and get their books in front of that large audience of readers. According to BookBub many of their subscribers are reading a couple of books every month. Some are reading a book a week, or even a book a day!

Bottom line: BookBub subscribers are avid readers and are always looking for new books.

FREE Bookbub Features

Along with its powerful, pricey, and hard-to-get Features, BookBub also provides authors with FREE ways to reach prospective readers whether or not you’re able to score a Feature.

Analogous to Amazon’s Author Page, BookBub offers an Author Profile Page with many of the same customizable features. Go to BookBub’s home page to find the Author Profile tab, and follow the instructions to set up your own Profile page. Any author — trad pubbed or self pubbed — can claim a BookBub Author Profile.

BookBub, like Amazon, will send out new book alerts to your followers and will help drive interest to your pre-orders.

BookBub’s own articles will step you through the process of setting up your author profile and offers tips about how to polish your bio with examples, and explanations of exactly what makes an author bio great. Plus a checklist to help keep you on track.

BookBub’s information-packed articles, like Amazon’s guidelines, offer specific help to step you through every part of the user process from setting up your account  to the specifics of launching a new book.

BookBub’s savvy book marketing team also goes into the details of their New Releases For Less program, tips on pricing and discounting strategies, and tutorials on how to target readers via BookBub ads. You will find all this — and more!, as the pitchmen say — on the BookBub blog.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog… with Ruth Harris

PG has become aware of discontent among some indie authors with BookBub. Basically, that BookBub is rejecting books for paid promotions it would have almost certainly accepted a couple of years ago.

PG hasn’t seen any online information he trusts as reliable about what’s changed with BookBub’s acceptance process, but a look at the free assistance mentioned in the OP might be useful.

New tips on Amazon are almost always helpful. Afterall, that’s where most indie authors want those who click on BookBub or other third-party promotional sites to end up anyway. (No insult to other, perfectly reliable online bookstores intended, just an opinion based on how many ebooks and other books the Zon sells.)

Note: PG usually doesn’t include links in his OP excerpts because they can lead who-knows-where. He’s left the links in this one because Anne and Ruth’s blog has been useful and reliable for a long time plus he clicked on the links to the OP and they link to the sites they describe.

Hot People Unlearn Fatphobia and Stories+Spells for the Dog Days – the latest from Bookshop.org

From Bookshop.org:

Bookshop.org Reaches $15 Million Earned for Independent Bookstores in Support of the Fight Against Amazon

Bookshop.org, the ethical online marketplace which supports independent bookstores, announced today that it has generated $15 million for its affiliated stores since the site launched in January 2020.

The platform financially supports over 1,200 indie bookstores across the US, with an additional 26,000 non-store affiliates contributing to the impressive results by offering online shoppers an ethical alternative to Amazon that supports local businesses. With a 17% year-on-year growth, Bookshop.org has demonstrated the value of the young start-up not only during the COVID-19 pandemic, but also as the bookstores, and the local communities they serve, face the ever-growing threat of Amazon.

Booksellers using the platform have reported the many ways in which Bookshop.org has been a financial lifeline in a particularly challenging time, with the additional income allowing many to survive the challenges of the pandemic, pay rent, create corporate orders for e-gift cards, and even open new stores.

Fawn Fernandes, Owner of Curious Capybara Bookshop (Hendersonville, TN), said: “I opened my children’s bookstore in September 2020 – right smack dab in the middle of a world-wide pandemic. I did it because I believed our area needed a children’s bookstore, now more than ever. And I was right! But of course, with the struggle of opening any new business, let alone a bookstore, let alone during a pandemic – well, it’s not been easy. We received our semi-annual Bookshop.org funds at a time when I wasn’t sure we would be able to make rent. And while it may not make a huge impact on some of the larger stores, for my small start-up it was literally a game-changer. But it gave me more than funds in my bank account. It gave me hope. It gave me encouragement that not only could I make this work, but I had a huge network of people – other bookstores, the staff at Bookshop, people who SHOP at Bookshop.org – that had my back, that loved books as much as I did, that wanted me to succeed with my little shop. These funds mean more than money. It means community to me. And for that, I will be forever grateful.”

In addition, Bookshop.org has been offering more than just financial support to booksellers: it’s been strengthening their online presence, helping them with social media exposure, enabling them to reach wider audiences, expanding their offer and inventory, allowing them to share personalised lists and recommendations with customers, and creating a sense of community.

Link to the rest at Bookshop.org via Midas Public Relations Ltd.

PG will be happy to hear contrary opinions, but primarily positioning your company as fighting against one of the world’s most-admired companies seems to be a marketing proposition that’s much more attractive to the PR firm’s client than it will be to the general English-speaking world of readers and other book purchasers.

PG doesn’t doubt that the owners of most physical bookstores don’t like Amazon, but how much further does that attitude extend?

PG is willing to agree that most of those working for traditional publishers don’t like Amazon, even though Amazon is their largest customer, miles larger than whoever is #2 this month.

That said, as regular visitors to TPV will know, PG is of the opinion that most employees of traditional publishers are there because they can’t get a job anywhere else (excluding the fast food industry), so what would you expect?

Do most people who buy books really dislike Amazon?

Do most people who don’t buy books right now, but might consider doing so in the future really dislike Amazon?

UPDATE: PG just went to Bookshop.org to check out what the purchasing experience was like.

One of the site’s featured books was How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith.

The following editions of Mr. Smith’s book were on offer:

  1. Hardcover English$26.68, marked down from $29.00
  2. Hardcover English – Large Print$28.52, marked down from $31.00
  3. Compact Disk English – $36.80, marked down from $40.00

A quick online trip to Amazon revealed the following editions of How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America on offer:

  1. Kindle – $14.99
  2. Audible Audiobook – Free with Audible trial, $29.65 otherwise
  3. Hardcover English – $17.84

All three editions of Mr. Smith’s book were ranked in the top five of Amazon’s best-seller list for African-American Studies/African American History and Historiography, which likely generated additional sales of the book.

Bookshop.org’s Bestsellers of the Week list did not include any of Mr. Smith’s books, although PG is pretty certain that Bookshop.org has a lock on the market for audiobooks on CD.

Additionally Bookshop.org’s other bestseller lists did not include any of Mr. Smith’s books. For your general information, other than Bestsellers of the Week, Bookshop.org’s bestseller lists which PG was able to find were as follows:

  • Queer Books by Black Authors
  • Special Abilities
  • Staff Picks, Summer 2021
  • The Natural World
  • All We Can Save: More Nonfiction from the Climate Anthology Contributors
  • stories + spells for the Dog Days
  • Ancient Greek Myth Retellings
  • Kristen Radtke’s Must-Read Graphic Novels for 2021
  • 100 Books Every Teacher Needs to Read 2021
  • Hot People Unlearn Fatphobia (PG’s personal favorite category)
  • History
  • Immigration
  • Pen Parentis Writers – Books adapted for the Screen and Stage
  • Celebrate National Foreign Language Month with Your Child!
  • In this Week’s Newsletter

PG finds some of these bestseller lists to be . . . whimsical . . . although he certainly knows where to go for all his fatphobia reading needs.

See even more at Bookshop.org

Amazon Gets the Go-Ahead to Track Your Sleep With Radar

From Gizmodo:

On Friday, the Federal Communications Commission gave the e-commerce giant clearance to create bedside radar devices meant to track how we toss and turn at night. And while Amazon’s putting the best face possible on the innovation, it’s still all about those ad dollars.

Bloomberg was first to notice the agency had quietly filed a memo that authorized the ecommerce giant to develop and deploy an “unlicensed radar device” meant to track any nearby movement. This was in response to an initial request that Amazon filed with the agency nearly three weeks ago, where the company described its vision for “Radar Sensors”. These devices, Amazon said, would fire high-frequency radio waves to map out movements from anyone nearby.

And because the FCC is the federal body responsible for policing the airwaves, Amazon was legally obligated to get their go-ahead before they began marketing this yet-to-be-licensed radar device.

“By capturing motion in a three-dimensional space, a Radar Sensor can capture data in a manner that enables touchless device control,” Amazon wrote. “As a result, users can engage with a device and control its features through simple gestures and movements.”

This kind of touchless device control, Amazon went on to explain, could be a godsend for disabled or elderly customers who can’t use the company’s bevy of voice-powered assistants because they’re unable to speak. And Amazon’s absolutely right. Despite the ever-growing list of privacy and security concerns packaged with Echos and Alexas, we’ve already seen that these devices can be life-changing for people who are blind or wheelchair-bound. Amazon’s done its best to make these devices just as accessible for folks that are deaf or speech impaired, but there’s only so much you can do when these tools are based on voice.

Thanks to this grant, Amazon has free rein to roll out a new version of the Echo that will let you set your alarms or turn off your TV using a nod or a hand wave or—maybe! hopefully!—sign language. It’s an objectively awesome idea! Less awesome was the other reason Amazon wanted this grant: contactless sleep tracking.

“These devices would enable users to estimate sleep quality based on movement patterns,” Amazon wrote in the initial filing. “The use of Radar Sensors in sleep tracking could improve awareness and management of sleep hygiene, which in turn could produce significant health benefits for many Americans.”

. . . .

 Adding sleep-tracking to its tech means that Amazon is one step closer to offering all the same bells and whistles you’d get from the two undisputed champs of the health-monitoring world: Apple and Google.

Link to the rest at Gizmodo

PG doesn’t know exactly where the line separating usefulness from creepy spy gizmo is for the Big Three Giants of tech, but suspect we’ll discover where the line is when someone crosses it in a grotesque manner.

Not all tech folks, including executives, are sensitive to the difference between really cool and weird.