Amazon’s Profit Triples as Sales Show Resilience Leading Into Holidays

From The Wall Street Journal: said profit tripled to nearly $10 billion from July to September as strong sales in its cloud-computing, advertising and retail units helped the company continue its rebound from postpandemic lows.

Chief Executive Andy Jassy said the company would reap tens of billions of dollars in revenue in the next several years as customers turn to generative AI opportunities available within its cloud-computing business, known as Amazon Web Services, or AWS. Business customers are likely to be less cautious with their spending, he said. 

“There’s so much more to provide,” Jassy said. “It’s going be a long time before we run out of services.” He noted that Amazon has seen a positive reaction to its AI platform, named Bedrock.

The company’s revenue increased by 13% to $143.1 billion for its third quarter, beating Wall Street expectations. Profit was $9.9 billion, more than triple the result from the same period last year. Amazon signaled net sales would be between $160 billion to $167 billion in its fourth quarter. Its shares rose by more than 5% in after-hours trading Thursday. 

Amazon has been trying to engineer a rebound in its core e-commerce business following a slowdown after pandemic-induced heights. The company has reined in costs across its North America unit, slashing roughly 27,000 corporate jobs and streamlining its operations following a cost-cutting review led by Jassy. It has also said it saved costs through an overhaul of its delivery operations meant to place packages closer to customers.

. . . .

While Amazon has tried to boost growth on its retail side, its cloud-computing business has seen less demand in the past year as corporate clients have looked to curtail their spending because of economic uncertainty. The unit has historically accounted for a large portion of Amazon’s profit. Sales in Amazon’s cloud business rose 12% to about $23 billion in the third quarter. Revenue in Amazon’s advertising segment, which has become a major business at the company, increased by 26% to about $12 billion, beating expectations.

The company has tried to promote its efforts in artificial intelligence, which it has largely done through AWS, as it competes with Microsoft and Google. Amazon in September said it had agreed to invest up to $4 billion in artificial-intelligence company Anthropic. AI startups spend much of their money on cloud-computing costs. AWS Chief Executive Adam Selipsky has said the unit’s strategy is to give its corporate customers who want to build AI features as much flexibility as possible.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

USA – Bookstore Sales Fell 17% in August. Ebooks fell, or rose, depending on where you look.

From The New Publishing Standard:

Publishers Weekly carries news of a US census Bureau report showing that US bookstore sales “dropped 17.3% in August, falling to $872 million.”

Per PW, “traditionally, August and January are two of biggest sales months for bookstores, since they incorporate the rush period at college campuses.

Jim Milliot notes, “For instance, Barnes & Noble Education, one of the nation’s largest college store chains, is making a major effort this semester to promote its First Day Complete program, which provides students with all the course materials they need—mostly digital—which are included as a fee or as part of tuition; the strategy has resulted in the decline of print textbooks.”

Thus far, it is not clear just how much college books shifting to digital are contributing to the 17% August decline, but the overall message is clear – print sales in bricks & mortar stores slumped in August compared to last year.

At the same time, the AAP BookStat reports book sales overall (inc. online) up 8.5% in August, with PW’s John Maher running with the headline “Publishing Industry Sales Rebounded in August“, but noting ebooks were down 5.4%.

Important to remember here that, while print sales, easily tracked by ISBNs, cover pretty much all the market, the ebook numbers tell only a partial story.

Contrast the 5.4% AAP-recorded decline in ebook sales against the 10% rise, year on year, in the Kindle Unlimited pot pay-out for August.

August 2023 saw Amazon pay out $49.6 million in royalties, mostly to self-publishers and small presses, all untracked by the AAP.

(PG note: This report appears to include only Kindle Unlimited payments, not the almost certainly higher total for royalties on sales of indie authors who don’t participate in KU or participate with some books, but not all books.)

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Do Amazon and Google lock out competition?

From The Economist:

Anti-monopoly cases have been known to reshape corporate America. In 1984 AT&T’s telephone network was found to have excluded competing firms. The company was controversially broken up in a move that ultimately led to a boom in innovation among its rivals. Meanwhile, a case against Microsoft in 1998 may have kept the door open for Google’s subsequent rise. Microsoft had bundled together its Internet Explorer browser with its Windows operating system, and made other browsers more difficult to install. Some business historians think the case, by stopping this practice, made life easier for new browsers. It may also have distracted Microsoft from developing its own search engine.

Today, two big cases could redefine the limits of monopolies in the internet age. On September 12th America’s Department of Justice (DOJ) began its court battle against Google over the firm’s deals to obtain default status on phones and browsers. On September 26th the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), chaired by Lina Khan, sued Amazon for allegedly penalising third-party sellers that offered lower prices on other sites, among other harmful practices. In both cases, the government thinks the tech giants are so dominant that their attempts to preserve market power are suspect. This raises a question: what counts as anticompetitive?

Historically, practices that might be ignored for a startup have not been tolerated in a dominant firm. John Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was broken up in 1911, in part for striking deals with railroads that made it impossible for other oil firms to compete. Antitrust historians still debate the extent to which these deals were abusive—after all, Standard Oil benefited from economies of scale and bulk orders commonly receive discounts. But its size and bargaining power led to scrutiny. Before the firm’s break-up, it had cornered 90% of oil refineries. Microsoft’s bundling was found to be problematic because it had over 90% of the market for operating systems on personal computers. In both cases, the courts believed that dominant firms had made life too difficult for newcomers.

Today’s cases have echoes of those past. Start with Google. It pays more than $10bn to Apple and other companies to be the default search engine on their platforms. The DOJ argues this creates a barrier to entry for competitors. Because having lots of data lets a search engine show users more tailored advertisements, a dominant search engine has a larger expected ad revenue from an extra user. The twist is that if a smaller competitor happened to grow, it would be willing to pay more for additional users, thus bidding up how much Google would have to pay—and explaining why Google may be willing to pay large sums to prevent rivals from gaining a foothold. Yet it is easier to use a different search engine on an iPhone than it was to download a new browser on Windows. And Microsoft’s dominance in operating systems seems to have been greater than Google’s is in search. So the case is not airtight.

The case against Amazon is stronger. Luigi Zingales of the University of Chicago thinks that if the alleged facts are found to hold, the FTC should win. Sellers complain that Amazon penalises them for offering cheaper prices on other platforms by downranking products or removing them from the “Buy Box”, which allows instant purchases. Antitrust scholars call practices that force sellers to behave similarly across platforms “most-favoured-nation” (MFN) treatment, and they have come under growing scrutiny. In the past Amazon has had explicit mfn contracts with sellers.

The problem, according to the FTC, is that Amazon has raised the cost of doing business on its platform. It charges sellers a fee for selling, one for using its logistics services and more for advertising. Sellers say that it is next to impossible to qualify for the Buy Box without paying for logistics, and that buying ads has become a must because search results are increasingly cluttered with them. Although the exact figures are redacted, regulators allege that Amazon now collects a larger share of sales on its marketplace as fees than it did a decade ago. In a competitive market, Amazon’s cost hikes and restrictions on pricing more cheaply elsewhere would cause sellers to leave the platform. And in fact, some large retailers, like Nike, have done so. But Amazon’s market share in e-commerce has grown (it currently stands at 40-50% in America), suggesting most sellers feel that the platform is too important to quit.

Amazon denies all this. As with Google, there is a chance that the case becomes a debate about how dominant the firm really is (Amazon argues that it is dwarfed by the multitude of brick-and-mortar stores). American retail is efficient and broadly consumer-friendly—hardly the sign of an industry in need of repair. Amazon also says that if a seller can offer a lower price on another platform, it should do so on its site, too. One can imagine a seller thinking that Amazon Prime customers are rich and price insensitive, and therefore charging more on Amazon than other platforms.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG says to be prepared for a long and very drawn-out case.

What is Amazon’s [redacted] ‘Project Nessie’ algorithm?

From TechCrunch:

The FTC’s lawsuit against Amazon alleging anti-competitive practices is largely full of things we already knew in a general sense: price hikes, pressure to use Amazon fulfillment and so on. But then we get to a sea of redactions and the mysterious “Project Nessie.” What is it, and could it possibly be as alarming as the unredacted sections make it sound?

The project, product or process is referred to more than a dozen times in the complaint filed by the FTC. And it’s one of those situations where the redactions probably make it sound scarier than it actually is.


The first reference comes on page 6:

Amazon has also [redacted] through a [redacted] operation called “Project Nessie.” [redacted] Amazon’s Project Nessie has already extracted over [redacted] from American households.

What is it extracting? Money? Data? Something quantifiable, or else the document would not say “over.” Though I wouldn’t put it past Amazon, the context does not suggest anything physical or private, like video or biometrics.

An Amazon blog post from 2018 spotted by GeekWire describes Nessie as “a system used to monitor spikes or trends on” Much of the timeline in the lawsuit takes place since then, however, so this definition (such as it is) may no longer be accurate, if it ever was.

Then, on page 11, among discussions of “anti-discounting” tactics, we have:

Amazon has deemed Project Nessie [redacted]: it has generated more than [redacted] in excess profit for Amazon.

In addition to overcharging its customers…

So Nessie does result in profit, but not necessarily directly, even though the last sentence implies it.

A bit of redaction sleuthing: An earlier sentence describes Nessie as a “[redacted] algorithm,” with the blackout text composed of no more than five or six characters (and note, “a” not “an”). Price? Profit? Sales? “Search” would just about fit too.

Last in Nessie references in the lawsuit is the whole section 7, which is four pages dedicated purely to Project Nessie.

Project Nessie is an algorithm [redacted]. Aware that this scheme belies its public claim that it “seek[s] to be Earth’s most customer-centric company,” [redacted].

How distressing. It later refers to “Part VI.A.3, above” in the middle of a redacted paragraph; the section is about how “Amazon maintains its monopolies by suppressing price competition with its first-party anti-discounting algorithm.”

Amazon recognizes the importance of maintaining the perception that it has lower prices than competitors. Behind closed doors, however, Amazon executives actively [redacted].

Instead, [redacted] “prices will go up.”

So what are we to make of this mysterious Project Nessie? It’s a highly secret internal algorithm and associated operation that makes them a lot of money, likely by manipulating price or search.

Are those small, seemingly arbitrary changes to price we see on items — up by a few cents today, down by a few tomorrow — Project Nessie in action, increasing or decreasing the price as needed based on the immense amount of sales data they have access to? This seems the most likely explanation, and the ability to dictate price based on what a customer is likely to pay would be both highly profitable and fit the description of “belying” the customer-first narrative.

Or could it be that search — which we know Amazon heavily manipulates in favor of certain sellers — is also being juiced in some unknown way? It could also be something else entirely, more arcane or technical.

One thing is sure: Amazon doesn’t like talking about it. (I contacted the company for comment and have not heard back yet.)

Will we ever find out what it is? It seems very unlikely that this entire lawsuit and trial will not shed at least a little light on it.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

Book Business Applauds Government Lawsuit Against Amazon

From Publishers Weekly:

The Federal Trade Commission, supported by 17 state attorneys general, finally filed its long-awaited antitrust lawsuit against Amazon yesterday. In a 172-page complaint, the government alleged that the e-tailer “uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power.” The use of that power, the government continued, allows Amazon “to stop rivals and sellers from lowering prices, degrade quality for shoppers, overcharge sellers, stifle innovation, and prevent rivals from fairly competing against Amazon.”

The immediate industry reaction to the news of the suit was uniform: “What took so long?” Or, in the words of Melville House publisher Dennis Johnson, that it was “about ******** time.” An industry lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, gave a more nuanced view in wondering why it took the government so long to act, pointing to the infamous buy button case in 2010, when Amazon pulled Macmillan’s buy buttons in a dispute over e-book terms.

Even with Amazon’s dominant position over the sale of e-books and print books, the suit doesn’t mention books, which, of course, were Amazon’s first line of business. The suit does, however, highlight Amazon’s hold over the companies who use its online marketplace to sell a range of products, including books, to consumers.

Jed Lyons, CEO of Rowman & Littlefield, was skeptical about how the case will play out, pointing to the government’s “sketchy” track record in lawsuits against major corporations. But even though the FTC lawsuit is more about third party sellers, Lyons said, if “it shuts down unauthorized sellers of new books, which we know are not new books, then that will be a win for book publishers.”

Independent booksellers, which were the first physical retailers impacted by Amazon and the steep discounting on books it employed to attract customers, praised the FTC’s long-awaited action. The lawsuit, said ABA CEO Allison Hill, “is good news for indie bookstores and good news for all small business. ABA applauds the FTC and states’ effort to release Amazon’s stranglehold, and we look forward to the transparency this lawsuit will provide into Amazon’s business practices.”

. . . .

Other industry groups, including the AAP and Authors Guild, have also long advocated that the government investigate many of Amazon’s practices.

No bookseller has been more active in attacking Amazon’s book practices than Danny Caine, owner of the Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kans., and author of How to Resist Amazon and Why. Caine acknowledged that, “while the suit doesn’t go after Amazon’s book business in particular, it can still do a lot to level the playing field. For one thing, it can prove that Amazon is acting illegally or anti-competitively via tactics like preferencing its own products, placing unfair pressure on sellers who list their products for lower prices elsewhere, and forcing sellers and customers onto their Prime platform.”

The head of one independent publisher, who wished to remain anonymous, said that if the government prevails, “it could be very beneficial to publishers.” She then laid out the many challenges publishers face in dealing with Amazon: “I think [the suit] could affect tactics around the negotiation of discounts and fees, etc., with publishers. This would also be a good thing. The negotiations over the years between publishers and Amazon have been brutal. At first, Amazon got big discounts since they were buying non-returnable. Then, predictably, they started returning books and kept the discounts.”

She continued: “Publishers were simply too fearful and too powerless to stand up to their biggest customer. And then Amazon started added all manner of fees, effectively increasing their discount even further. To the extent that Amazon was able to discount books to lure customers away from other booksellers, publishers were effectively subsidizing Amazon’s growth and dominance while watching their margins erode.”

Melville’s Johnson made many of the same points, lamenting that the government’s lack of action up until now and allowing Amazon to use books as a “loss leader” got the company to where it is today. The government further strengthened Amazon’s hand, Johnson maintained, when it sued the major publishers over their e-book pricing policies. That decision “really pounded Amazon’s suppliers, and thus altered the business of making and selling books, probably irrevocably.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Here are a few questions PG would like to put to the traditional publishers celebrating the FTC’s suit against Amazon:

  1. Do you really want your biggest customer to stop selling your books? That’s an option for Amazon. Traditionally-published books are a minuscule part of Amazon’s total sales, a rounding error.
  2. If Amazon decided to shut down its book business on a temporary or permanent basis, would Americans buy more or fewer books? Would Americans change their behavior and travel to physical bookstores once again (assuming they live within a reasonable distance from a remaining physical bookstore)?
  3. Do you really not care about readers who live a long way from a physical bookstore? Have you ever even visited North or South Dakota? Nebraska? Wyoming? New Mexico? Idaho? Nevada (outside of Las Vegas)? Kansas?
  4. Do you understand that the internet provides endless reading material at no charge to readers, reading material that doesn’t include commercial books?
  5. Do you really think your books are not competing for reader attention against free reading material on the internet?
  6. Do you understand how many more Americans log on to the internet every day instead of visiting a physical store of any sort, let alone a book store?

Amazon’s latest actions against fake review brokers: 2 fraudsters found guilty of facilitating fake reviews in Amazon’s store

From Amazon:

Two individual fake review brokers were found guilty of illegal business operations intended to deceive Amazon customers and harm Amazon selling partners through the facilitation of fake reviews. These verdicts are the result of local law enforcement’s investigation and a criminal referral supported by Amazon.

From March 2021 to March 2022, the China-based defendants used third-party messaging applications to advertise and sell fake reviews to bad actors operating Amazon selling accounts. In exchange for a fee, the defendants left fake positive reviews to boost a bad actor’s product ranking, or fake negative reviews to lower the ranking of a competitor’s product.

Following the criminal referral, local law enforcement conducted an investigation and confirmed the review brokers’ illicit activities in Amazon’s U.S. store. The defendants were officially sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and three years of probation in China, marking Amazon’s second criminal judgement of this kind.

“Amazon is pleased to see that these fraudsters are being held accountable for their actions,” said David Montague, Amazon’s vice president of Selling Partner Risk. “The verdicts are a testament to the partnership of local officials in bringing down those who attempt to deceive our customers and harm our selling partners. We look forward to continuing to partner with law enforcement toward the mutual goal of bringing fake review brokers to justice.”

Link to the rest at Amazon

The most impressive part of the OP to PG is that Amazon relied upon local Chinese law enforcement to handle the arrest and whatever trial procedure China uses to punish the fake review scammers.

FTC Sues Amazon for Illegally Maintaining Monopoly Power

Today’s Press Release from The Federal Trade Commission:

The Federal Trade Commission and 17 state attorneys general today sued, Inc. alleging that the online retail and technology company is a monopolist that uses a set of interlocking anticompetitive and unfair strategies to illegally maintain its monopoly power. The FTC and its state partners say Amazon’s actions allow it to stop rivals and sellers from lowering prices, degrade quality for shoppers, overcharge sellers, stifle innovation, and prevent rivals from fairly competing against Amazon.  

The complaint alleges that Amazon violates the law not because it is big, but because it engages in a course of exclusionary conduct that prevents current competitors from growing and new competitors from emerging. By stifling competition on price, product selection, quality, and by preventing its current or future rivals from attracting a critical mass of shoppers and sellers, Amazon ensures that no current or future rival can threaten its dominance. Amazon’s far-reaching schemes impact hundreds of billions of dollars in retail sales every year, touch hundreds of thousands of products sold by businesses big and small and affect over a hundred million shoppers. 

“Our complaint lays out how Amazon has used a set of punitive and coercive tactics to unlawfully maintain its monopolies,” said FTC Chair Lina M. Khan. “The complaint sets forth detailed allegations noting how Amazon is now exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them. Today’s lawsuit seeks to hold Amazon to account for these monopolistic practices and restore the lost promise of free and fair competition.”

“We’re bringing this case because Amazon’s illegal conduct has stifled competition across a huge swath of the online economy. Amazon is a monopolist that uses its power to hike prices on American shoppers and charge sky-high fees on hundreds of thousands of online sellers,” said John Newman, Deputy Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Competition. “Seldom in the history of U.S. antitrust law has one case had the potential to do so much good for so many people.”

The FTC and states allege Amazon’s anticompetitive conduct occurs in two markets—the online superstore market that serves shoppers and the market for online marketplace services purchased by sellers. These tactics include:

  • Anti-discounting measures that punish sellers and deter other online retailers from offering prices lower than Amazon, keeping prices higher for products across the internet. For example, if Amazon discovers that a seller is offering lower-priced goods elsewhere, Amazon can bury discounting sellers so far down in Amazon’s search results that they become effectively invisible.
  • Conditioning sellers’ ability to obtain “Prime” eligibility for their products—a virtual necessity for doing business on Amazon—on sellers using Amazon’s costly fulfillment service, which has made it substantially more expensive for sellers on Amazon to also offer their products on other platforms. This unlawful coercion has in turn limited competitors’ ability to effectively compete against Amazon.

Amazon’s illegal, exclusionary conduct makes it impossible for competitors to gain a foothold. With its amassed power across both the online superstore market and online marketplace services market, Amazon extracts enormous monopoly rents from everyone within its reach. This includes:

  • Degrading the customer experience by replacing relevant, organic search results with paid advertisements—and deliberately increasing junk ads that worsen search quality and frustrate both shoppers seeking products and sellers who are promised a return on their advertising purchase.
  • Biasing Amazon’s search results to preference Amazon’s own products over ones that Amazon knows are of better quality. 
  • Charging costly fees on the hundreds of thousands of sellers that currently have no choice but to rely on Amazon to stay in business. These fees range from a monthly fee sellers must pay for each item sold, to advertising fees that have become virtually necessary for sellers to do business. Combined, all of these fees force many sellers to pay close to 50% of their total revenues to Amazon. These fees harm not only sellers but also shoppers, who pay increased prices for thousands of products sold on or off Amazon.  

The FTC, along with its state partners, are seeking a permanent injunction in federal court that would prohibit Amazon from engaging in its unlawful conduct and pry loose Amazon’s monopolistic control to restore competition.

Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Nevada, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Wisconsin joined the Commission’s lawsuit. The Commission vote to authorize staff to file for a permanent injunction and other equitable relief in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington was 3-0.

NOTE: The Commission issues a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest.

Link to the rest at The Federal Trade Commission

PG will spare visitors to TPV by not embedding the entire 172-page complaint.

If you need a bigger US v. Zon fix, the complaint is available for download at the FTC link above.

FTC Sues Amazon, Alleging Illegal Online-Marketplace Monopoly

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Federal Trade Commission and 17 states on Tuesday sued Amazon AMZN -4.35%decrease; red down pointing triangle, alleging the online retailer illegally wields monopoly power that keeps prices artificially high, locks sellers into its platform and harms its rivals.

The FTC’s lawsuit, filed in Seattle federal court, marks a milestone in the Biden administration’s aggressive approach to enforcing antitrust laws and has been anticipated for months.

The agency’s chair, Lina Khan, is a longtime critic of Amazon who wrote in the Yale Law Journal in 2017 that earlier generations of competition cops and courts abandoned the law’s concerns over conglomerates such as Amazon. She has had trouble convincing courts of her antitrust views, however, having earlier lost cases against both Microsoft and Meta Platforms.

The federal agency and the states alleged that Amazon violated antitrust laws by using anti-discounting measures that punished merchants for offering lower prices elsewhere. The government also said sellers on Amazon were compelled to use its logistics service if they want their goods to appear in Amazon Prime, the subscription program whose perks include faster shipping times.

The FTC said sellers feel they must use Amazon’s services such as advertising to be successful on the platform. Between being paid for its logistics program, advertising and other services, “Amazon now takes one of every $2 that a seller makes,” Khan said at a briefing with the media Tuesday.

“The lawsuit filed by the FTC today is wrong on the facts and the law, and we look forward to making that case in court,” said David Zapolsky, Amazon’s general counsel and head of public policy. “The practices the FTC is challenging have helped to spur competition and innovation across the retail industry, and have produced greater selection, lower prices, and faster delivery speeds for Amazon customers and greater opportunity for the many businesses that sell in Amazon’s store.”

The federal agency’s claim that Amazon prevents vendors from offering lower prices on competing websites echoes a claim made in a suit brought last year by the state of California.

“Amazon is now exploiting its monopoly power to enrich itself while raising prices and degrading service for the tens of millions of American families who shop on its platform and the hundreds of thousands of businesses that rely on Amazon to reach them,” Khan said in a statement.

The FTC said it is seeking a court order “that would prohibit Amazon from engaging in its unlawful conduct and pry loose Amazon’s monopolistic control to restore competition.” The lawsuit doesn’t say whether the FTC will ask the court to break up the company, and Khan declined in a briefing with reporters to say whether it would.

“The FTC doesn’t have a particularly good history of bringing monopolization cases,” said Rick Rule, who headed the Justice Department’s antitrust division during the Reagan administration. “Most of the last ones that they brought were in the ’60s and ‘70s and lasted into the ‘80s, and there were various theories but they never went anywhere.”

. . . .

Until recently, it has been rare for federal agencies to file monopoly lawsuits seeking to break up companies accused of anticompetitive behavior. While the FTC and Justice Department regularly seek to block what they see as illegal acquisitions, the government doesn’t often move against companies for anticompetitive behavior unrelated to acquisitions.

. . . .

The FTC’s lawsuit alleges that Amazon, despite its reputation for low prices and convenient delivery among many consumers, steadily grew from an online bookseller into a gatekeeper of online commerce that used its size to squash any budding rivals.

The Justice Department, in its lawsuit over Google search, similarly alleged that Alphabet used its scale to thwart competition. In that case, the government said Google used restrictive agreements with Apple and others to be the default search provider. That enhanced Google’s reach while starving other search engines of the data they needed to improve, the DOJ alleges.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

On a list of the many things PG is not, an antitrust expert or a political analyst would be among the most prominent.

That said, he wonders what the PR issues will be in the Justice Department suit. Amazon has about 230 million customers in the U.S. (out of a total adult population of about 260 million.)

Amazon is unlikely to do anything as a company to stir up the populace, but PG would be surprised if various groups of Amazon customers don’t arise to encourage their elected representatives to criticize the Amazon lawsuit.

Amazon also has 1.1 million sellers in the U.S. Per PG’s quick and dirty online research, KDP has over 1 million authors that publish through the platform. Informed estimates of total royalties paid by KDP to authors in 2022 place the amount as over $500 million.

In a popularity contest, Amazon would crush the Federal Trade Commission and, likely, the entire government of the United States.

Antitrust counsel representing Amazon will take a firm grip on official comments about the lawsuit coming from Amazon and its executives.

However, PG expects the formal and informal web of Amazon sellers will get vocal about this once the word gets around. Ditto for authors who earn most of their royalties from Amazon sales.

Antitrust lawsuits against large, well-known companies in the United States are relatively rare. In 2022, the Justice Department filed only 242 antitrust lawsuits, mostly involving companies/parties even the well-read group of people who visit TPV are unlikely to recognize.

PG is going to follow the progress of this lawsuit from afar and will provide whatever reports he believes would interest visitors to TPV.

Amazon restricts authors from self-publishing more than three books a day after AI concerns

From The Guardian:

Amazon has created a new rule limiting the number of books that authors can self-publish on its site to three a day, after an influx of suspected AI-generated material was listed for sale in recent months.

The company announced the new limitations in a post on its Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) forum on Monday. “While we have not seen a spike in our publishing numbers, in order to help protect against abuse, we are lowering the volume limits we have in place on new title creations,” read the statement. KDP allows authors to self-publish their books and list them for sale on Amazon’s site.

Amazon told the Guardian that the limit is set at three titles, though this number may be adjusted “if needed”. The company confirmed that there had already been a limit to the number of books authors could list a day, but declined to say what this previous limit was.

The post stated that Amazon is “actively monitoring the rapid evolution of generative AI and the impact it is having on reading, writing, and publishing” and that “very few” publishers will be affected by the change. Authors and publishers will also have the option to seek an exception to the rule.

The rule change will “probably not” be a “gamechanger for managing the influx of AI-written content on Amazon’s platform,” said Dr Miriam Johnson, senior lecturer in publishing at Oxford Brookes University. “It will dent the numbers a bit, but for those who are making money by flooding the market with AI-generated books and publishing more than three a day, they will find a work-around.”

The three-book limit announcement comes a week after Amazon introduced the requirement for authors to inform the company when their content is AI-generated and added a new section to their guidelines featuring definitions of “AI-generated” and “AI-assisted” content. Johnson said that though the disclosure requirement is a “nice idea”, she questions how Amazon would check whether authors are disclosing AI-generated content.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Amazon’s Latest Actions Against Fake Review Brokers: 2 Fraudsters Found Guilty Of Facilitating Fake Reviews In Amazon’s Store

From Public.:

Two individual fake review brokers were found guilty of illegal business operations intended to deceive Amazon customers and harm Amazon selling partners through the facilitation of fake reviews. These verdicts are the result of local law enforcement’s investigation and a criminal referral supported by Amazon.

From March 2021 to March 2022, the China-based defendants used third-party messaging applications to advertise and sell fake reviews to bad actors operating Amazon selling accounts. In exchange for a fee, the defendants left fake positive reviews to boost a bad actor’s product ranking, or fake negative reviews to lower the ranking of a competitor’s product.

Following the criminal referral, local law enforcement conducted an investigation and confirmed the review brokers’ illicit activities in Amazon’s U.S. store. The defendants were officially sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison and three years of probation in China, marking Amazon’s second criminal judgement of this kind.

The Counterfeit Crimes Unit is a global team dedicated to partnering with law enforcement, brands, and other stakeholders to disrupt counterfeiters and their networks.

“Amazon is pleased to see that these fraudsters are being held accountable for their actions,” said David Montague, Amazon’s vice president of Selling Partner Risk. “The verdicts are a testament to the partnership of local officials in bringing down those who attempt to deceive our customers and harm our selling partners. We look forward to continuing to partner with law enforcement toward the mutual goal of bringing fake review brokers to justice.

“Amazon pioneered online customer reviews 25 years ago, and we are committed to ensuring that our reviews remain a trustworthy, insightful resource for customers. Amazon will continue to protect customers, our selling partners, and our stores from fake reviews by investing in proactive tools to detect and stop fake reviews from appearing in our stores. As a result of continued investments, Amazon proactively blocked more than 200 million suspected fake reviews from our stores in 2022, and as of the end of August, we have taken legal action against 147 fraudsters across China, Europe, and the U.S.”

Link to the rest at Public.

Amazon is encouraging sellers to use AI-generated product listings

From engadget:

Amazon is launching a new AI tool that generates product listings for sellers. The feature uses a large language model (LLM) “trained on large amounts of data” to make it faster and simpler for vendors to describe their products. The company describes the tool as distilling the “significant work” of creating titles, bullet points and descriptions down to “just one step.”

Amazon says its Generative Listing Content tool only requires sellers to provide a brief product description in a few words or sentences. From there, it will “generate high-quality content for their review” — including a title, product description and bullet points — which sellers can peruse before refining or submitting as is. The company says many sellers have already tested the tool during the last few months, and their feedback indicates most of them use the generated content directly without revisions.

“These new capabilities will help sellers create high-quality listings with less effort and present customers with more complete, consistent, and engaging product information that will enhance their shopping experiences,” Amazon VP Mary Beth Westmoreland wrote today in an announcement blog post.

. . . .

“With our new generative AI models, we can infer, improve, and enrich product knowledge at an unprecedented scale and with dramatic improvement in quality, performance, and efficiency,” Robert Tekiela, Amazon VP of selection and catalog systems, wrote today. “Our models learn to infer product information through the diverse sources of information, latent knowledge, and logical reasoning that they learn. For example, they can infer a table is round if specifications list a diameter or infer the collar style of a shirt from its image.”

The new tool joins Amazon’s AI-generated review summaries, launched earlier this summer. That feature uses generative AI to train on a product’s reviews and spit out one-paragraph recaps, including clickable keywords. The company teases that it’s still getting started with incorporating generative AI into its storefront: “This is just the tip of the iceberg on how we plan to use AI to help improve the seller experience and help more sellers succeed.” CEO Andy Jassy said last month that, from now on, generative AI “is going to be at the heart of what we do.”

Link to the rest at engadget

Unlocking Amazon A+ Content for Books: The Ultimate Handbook

From The Book Designer:

Advantages of A+ Content for Books

Now, let’s dive into the irresistible advantages of Amazon A+ Content for your books. First and foremost, picture this: enhanced discoverability. In a digital sea teeming with books, A+ Content acts as your lighthouse, guiding potential readers toward your literary treasure. By showcasing your book’s unique features, be it stunning cover art or gripping excerpts, you make it more enticing and stand out among the vast competition. Think of it as your book’s red carpet moment, where readers can’t help but stop and take notice.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. A+ Content goes beyond mere visibility; it’s your key to higher conversion rates. When potential readers click on your listing, they’re not just met with a wall of text – they’re greeted with an immersive experience. This engagement factor can turn curious browsers into enthusiastic buyers. Furthermore, A+ Content lets you tell your book’s story like never before. You can weave in narratives about the inspiration behind your masterpiece or share behind-the-scenes glimpses of your creative journey. This personal touch establishes a deeper connection with your audience, turning readers into loyal fans. In this section, we’ll explore these advantages in detail, showcasing how A+ Content can be your secret weapon in the world of book publishing.

How to Access Amazon A+ Content in KDP

Accessing Amazon A+ Content in KDP is your ticket to transforming ordinary book listings into captivating showcases. Here’s a step-by-step guide to get you started:

1. Log into Your Amazon KDP Account: Begin by logging into your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account. If you’re an author or publisher, you’re likely familiar with this platform.

2. Select Your Book: Once logged in, navigate to your bookshelf, where all your published titles are listed. Choose the book for which you want to create A+ Content.

3. Click on “Promote and Advertise”: Under your selected book, you’ll find the “Promote and Advertise” tab. Click on it to access the marketing and promotional options for your book.

4. Choose “A+ Content Manager”: In the “Promote and Advertise” section, you’ll find various promotional tools. Select “A+ Content Manager” to begin creating your A+ Content.

5. Start Creating Your A+ Content: Follow the on-screen prompts and templates to build your A+ Content. You can add images, descriptions, and other engaging elements to enhance your book listing. You can use tools like Canva to create graphics for your A+ Content.

6. Submit for Review: Once your A+ Content is ready, review it, and make any necessary adjustments. After ensuring everything looks perfect, submit it for Amazon’s review and approval.

7. Monitor Performance: Once approved, your A+ Content will go live on your book’s listing. Monitor its performance through Amazon’s analytics tools to gauge its impact on engagement and sales.

In just a few simple steps, you’ll have unlocked the potential of Amazon KDP A+ Content to transform your book listings into compelling showcases that captivate readers.

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

Amazon has Hollywood’s worst shows but its best business model

From The Economist:

As bullets fly around a high-speed train carrying a former Miss World and a gang of spies through the Italian Alps, shopping is surely the last thing on viewers’ minds. Yet should they press pause, they will see an option to buy items from the show: the heroine’s gold necklace, her red dress, or the teetering stilettos in which she is improbably running rings around the villains. Only her exploding perfume is not yet for sale.

“Citadel”, a thriller on Amazon Prime Video, shows what happens when the world’s biggest online retailer becomes one of its biggest entertainment producers. As well as buying merchandise from the show on Amazon’s e-commerce site, audiences can listen to its soundtrack on Amazon Music, or read about its production on Amazon’s sister site, Its multinational cast and plot, and planned spin-offs in different languages, are chosen to appeal to shoppers around the world.

Hollywood old hands are snooty about Amazon’s video efforts, and understandably so. Despite a reported budget of $300m, making it the second-priciest tv series in history (after “The Rings of Power”, another Amazon project), “Citadel” received lukewarm reviews and failed to crack the top ten most-streamed shows in America (Amazon says it has done better internationally). Critics see it as emblematic of the company’s high-spending, low-impact record in video. This year Amazon will blow $12bn on streaming content, second only to Netflix (see chart). It has had some hits, including “Reacher” and “The Boys”. But its 45 streaming nominations at the upcoming Emmy awards—a record for Amazon—is less than half as many as Netflix or Warner-Discovery’s service, Max. “Amazon’s hit rate is not good, nor consistent with its spend,” admits one former executive.

Yet despite its creative misfires, Amazon is quietly assembling something that has eluded most of its rivals: a model for how to make streaming pay. Its shows may underwhelm, but it is preparing to pair them with its formidable advertising machine, and is turning its streaming app into a high-margin marketplace for third-party sales, along the lines of its all-conquering e-commerce site. Hollywood might snigger at Amazon’s output. But the Seattle firm may yet have the last laugh.

Amazon has been in the video business since 2006, when it launched Unbox, an iTunes-like downloading platform. Since then the company has deployed its tech-sized chequebook to become one of the biggest forces in Tinseltown. Its main streaming service, Prime Video ($8.99 a month, or free as part of Amazon’s broader Prime membership), attracts some 156m monthly viewers—about as many as Disney+ and second only to Netflix. Freevee, its free streaming service with ads, has another 40m or so. Fire tv, Amazon’s range of internet-connected tv sets and streaming sticks, outsells every brand bar Samsung, with nearly 100m devices in use worldwide, according to TechInsights, a data firm.

The most obvious motive for Amazon’s video experiments is to increase the value of the Prime bundle, which keeps members shopping on the e-commerce site. But video has the potential to become a moneyspinner in its own right, in two ways.

First, advertising. In little more than a decade Amazon has created a digital-ads business that has disrupted the duopoly of Google and Meta. Its ad revenue this year will be around $45bn, making up about 7.5% of worldwide digital advertising, estimates Insider Intelligence, a research company. It is already more than a third the size of Meta’s ad business. But whereas Google and Meta both have healthy video-ad operations (through YouTube and Reels, respectively), Amazon’s inventory is mainly sponsored search results on its e-commerce site.

That seems to be changing. Amazon has kept Prime Video largely ad-free to preserve a “premium” feel, says one senior executive. But the introduction of commercials last year by Netflix and Disney+ has given a green light to others to do the same. Amazon has been experimenting with running ads alongside sports shows on Prime, and has shifted more of its back-catalogue to Freevee, its ad-supported streamer. Analysts expect to see more commercial breaks on Prime soon.

Among streamers, Amazon is uniquely well placed in the advertising game. Whereas Netflix acknowledges that it is mainly limited to generic “brand” advertising, Amazon has enough information on its customers, through its e-commerce site and its Fresh grocery stores, to serve highly personalised ads. What’s more, it can measure the effectiveness of those ads, by observing viewers’ subsequent behaviour in its shops. It has yet to exploit this ability fully, but viewers will get a taste of it in September when Amazon plans to run targeted, measured ads alongside its “Thursday Night Football“ programme. In November it will show a blizzard of ads when it airs the first American football game to coincide with Black Friday, an annual holiday to honour the shopping gods.

It makes this a “foundational year” for Amazon’s video-ad business, says Andrew Lipsman of Insider Intelligence. “The future of their advertising strategy on video is going to really take hold.” Morgan Stanley, a bank, forecasts that within two years Amazon’s nascent video-ad business will be worth more than $5bn a year in America alone, and that in the long run its superior intel on its viewers could allow it to charge higher rates for its ads than any other video platform.

That ability will become more valuable as viewing shifts to streaming. Ads on internet-connected television make up about a third of tv ad spending in America. As that share rises, a “pot of gold” awaits sellers of digital advertising, says a former Amazon executive. What’s more, points out Mr Lipsman, “When you introduce data, it transforms markets.” tv ads are reckoned to be among the most effective, but their impact is hard to measure. As advertisers gain the ability to see how customers respond to their commercials, the tv advertising market, currently worth about $90bn a year in America, stands to grow, with the lion’s share going to the companies that offer the best measurement.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Booksellers Want Justice Department to Investigate Amazon

From BookRiot:

As the Federal Trade Commission moves towards what looks like a lawsuit against Amazon, several authors, booksellers, and anti-trust activists want Amazon’s bookselling to also be investigated.

The Authors Guild, the American Booksellers Association, and antitrust think tank Open Markets Institute sent a letter Wednesday to the Justice Department and the Federal Trade Commission requesting that they disrupt the monopoly on the book market that Amazon has.

The retail giant’s influence on the book world can’t be overstated — 40% of physical books sold in the U.S. are sold by Amazon, as are 80% of e-books sold. Amazon’s 2008 purchase of Audible has also helped it dominate the realm of audiobooks. The reason this is an issue for the world of publishing is that, for one, it has resulted in fewer books sold by physical bookstores across the country. And Amazon has a tendency to highlight well-known authors, making it even harder for other, lesser-known authors to get attention on their books.

The letter cites the importance of free-flowing ideas within a democracy as the reason why Amazon’s role as a bookseller should be looked into by the government, “The open access to the free flow of ideas is essential to a well-functioning democracy. The government has the responsibility to ensure that actors with oversized power cannot control or interfere with the open exchange of ideas.”

Link to the rest at BookRiot

PG suggests that it’s difficult to make a case that Amazon is harming consumers with its low prices and the huge variety of books on offer — far, far more than any physical bookstore can stock.

As far as ebooks are concerned, how many ebooks do the members of the American Booksellers Association sell each year and what is the price of those ebooks?

Does anyone know of any evidence that Amazon interferes with “access to the free flow of ideas” with its huge collection of print books, old and new, and ebooks, offered at lower prices than anyone else provides? As PG has mentioned before, being a large and successful business organization is not a violation of antitrust laws.

He further suggests that selling printed and ebooks from a stock far larger than any physical bookstore has for sale at significantly lower prices than the members of the American Booksellers Association routinely charge doesn’t hurt readers or other consumers in any measurable way.

Amazon Reverses Course on ‘Garbage Books’ After Public Uproar

From Decrypt:

When Professor Jane Friedman complained about books that she didn’t write being attributed to her on Monday, ecommerce giant Amazon initially said that it would not remove them. But after she took her case to Twitter, earning the backing of the Authors Guild, Amazon relented early this morning.

Friedman—a non-fiction writer, journalist, and educator—said Amazon had refused to remove the books even though they appeared to trade on her name and reputation as an author who has published how-to guides for other writers.

The “garbage books,” which Friedman says were probably churned out using generative AI, had the titles “Your Guide to Writing a Bestseller eBook on Amazon,” “Publishing Power: Navigating Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing,” and “Promote to Prosper: Strategies to Skyrocket Your eBook Sales on Amazon.”

When Friedman acknowledged that she could not prove that she owned the trademark on her own name, she said Amazon said it would leave the book up and for sale. But that stance changed late Monday night when the books began disappearing from Amazon’s website, and after the Authors Guild offered to step in on Friedman’s behalf.

“We have clear content guidelines governing which books can be listed for sale and promptly investigate any book when a concern is raised,” Amazon spokesperson Ashley Vanicek told Decrypt by email. “We welcome author feedback and work directly with authors to address any issues they raise and where we have made an error, we correct it.”

Other authors responding to Friedman’s tweet said the same thing had happened to them, and in some cases, the publisher of the fraudulent books did more than just use their names.

“Sorry you’re dealing with this,” author and poet Hattie Jean Hayes wrote. “I have had someone using my name to publish erotica on Amazon [Kindle Direct Publishing] for the last three years. It’s pretty clearly a targeted attack since they’ve used names of my (minor!) family members in the stories,” Hayes said. “Amazon/Kindle gave me the exact same answer.”

The Authors Guild said that its members could request the organization’s assistance in contacting Amazon’s senior management about fraudulent works.

“We’ve worked with Amazon on this issue in the past, and we will continue our conversations with them about advancing their efforts to keep up with the technology,” the Author’s Guild said in a statement shared with Decrypt. “Meanwhile, we encourage everyone to report these books that try to profit from your brand through Amazon’s complaint portal.”

Link to the rest at Decrypt

PG says Zon should police books that use an author’s name when they were written by someone other than that author. He understands that there are many people with the same names plus pen names have a long history in traditional literature. Legitimate authors named John Smith or Jane Smith will develop ways of distinguishing themselves from other authors with the same name.

Passing off a book as having been written by someone who writes good books when it is not written by that author means the fraudster is trying to sell a product under false pretenses. PG doubts that Amazon would run into no problems if it refused to sell such books to preserve its reputation as an honest online merchant. It is not in Amazon’s interest to sell junk.

PG has opined that the folks who run KDP are not the best managers of their business. He takes the OP as further evidence that Zon needs to pay more attention to management issues at KDP if for no other reason than to maintain the quality of Amazon’s brand name as a whole. Business organizations that sell goods or services have a lot to lose when customers have a bad experience with a purchase.

People who buy books on Amazon likely also purchase a whole lot of other goods from Amazon. From PG’s outsider view, it appears that Walmart is taking aim at Zon in the huge middle and lower-middle-class consumer goods market. PG has moved more than a few of his purchases of products that Amazon and Walmart both sell over to Walmart on the basis of some better prices and much faster delivery on items Walmart stocks in its nearby retail locations.

PG made a trip to his local Walmart to purchase some necessities for Casita PG a couple of days ago and was kicking himself while wandering around the large store wasting his time searching for products. He should have saved a lot of time by ordering online using Walmart’s version of Prime for free delivery of the goods to Casita PG’s front door, likely within a few hours.

Judge Finds Revived Amazon E-book Monopoly Suit Should Proceed

From Publishers Weekly:

For a second time in two years, a magistrate judge in New York has recommended that a consumer class action lawsuit accusing the Big Five publishers of colluding with Amazon to fix e-book prices should be dismissed. But while the judge recommended tossing the case against the publishers, the court found that monopolization and attempted monopolization claims against Amazon should proceed.

In a 59-page report, magistrate judge Valerie Figueredo found sufficient facts at the pleading stage to “plausibly allege that Amazon’s conduct has allowed it to charge supracompetitive commission fees, leading to reduced competition in the e-book platforms-transaction market and higher e-book prices for consumers.”

The case was first filed in the Southern District of New York on January 14, 2021, led by Hagens Berman (which was also the firm that sued Apple and five major publishers for colluding to fix e-book prices in 2011). It alleged that the Big Five publishers—Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—were co-conspirators in a hub-and-spoke scheme with Amazon to suppress retail price competition and keep e-book prices artificially high. In March 2021, a second, associated suit accusing Amazon and the Big Five publishers of a conspiracy to restrain price competition in the retail and online print trade book markets was also filed.

But last year, after a marathon July 27, 2022 hearing, Figueredo recommended that the presiding judge in the case, Gregory Woods, toss both cases for lack of evidence. In two brief September 29, 2022 orders, Woods accepted Figeuredo’s “well-reasoned” and thorough reports, and dismissed the cases without prejudice, giving the plaintiffs a chance to file amended complaints.

Which they did. In a 125-page Second Consolidated Amended complaint filed last November, Hagens Berman revised and refiled their claims, including arguments that Amazon’s dominance in the e-book market enables it to “coerce” e-book publishers into “entering into contractual provisions that foreclose competition on price or product availability,” which ultimately harms consumers by keeping e-book prices artificially high. “In a but-for competitive market, Amazon could not earn such a supracompetitive profit without price or product availability,” which ultimately harms consumers by keeping e-book prices artificially high. “In a but-for competitive market, Amazon could not earn such a supracompetitive profit without losing sales to a competitor and experiencing reduced profits,” the amended complaint argues. “Yet Amazon has been able to both maintain its market share and extract its supracompetitive transaction fees by exercising its market power to block competition.”

In its defense, Amazon insists that its MFNs and other contract terms are standard and “not inherently anticompetitive,” and that there is no evidence the company’s conduct “had the effect of raising agency commissions to anticompetitive levels.” But that’s not a question to be resolved at the pleading stage, Figueredo noted, concluding that the plaintiffs “have adequately pled anticompetitive conduct to support their monopolization and attempted monopolization claims.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

FTC Sues Amazon Over ‘Manipulative’ Tactics Used to Enroll Millions in Prime

From The Wall Street Journal:

The Federal Trade Commission sued Wednesday, alleging the retail giant worked for years to enroll consumers without consent into Amazon Prime and made it difficult to cancel their subscriptions to the program.

The FTC’s complaint, filed in federal court in Seattle, alleged that Amazon has duped millions of consumers into enrolling in Amazon Prime, a $139 annual subscription service with more than 200 million members worldwide that has helped Amazon become an integral part of many American households’ shopping habits.

“Amazon tricked and trapped people into recurring subscriptions without their consent, not only frustrating users but also costing them significant money,” FTC Chair Lina Khan said.

The complaint, which is partially redacted, is the culmination of an investigation that began in March 2021. The FTC, a federal agency tasked with enforcing antitrust laws and consumer protection laws, seeks monetary civil penalties without providing a dollar amount.

An Amazon spokesman dismissed the FTC’s allegations as “false on the facts and the law.”

The complaint alleged that Amazon used “manipulative, coercive, or deceptive user interface designs known as dark patterns” to dupe users into automatically renewing Prime subscriptions.

“Amazon leadership slowed or rejected changes that would’ve made it easier for users to cancel Prime because those changes adversely affected Amazon’s bottom line,” the FTC added.

The FTC has been examining the use of dark patterns—a term for design tactics that prompt users into actions that benefit the company but not necessarily the user—in online commerce for several years.

The agency has been looking for cases in which companies entice consumers into subscriptions with misleading offers and then create obstacles for them to cancel payments. Vonage last year paid $100 million to settle FTC allegations that it imposed hurdles for customers to cancel the internet-based telephone service and charged unexpected termination fees.

For years, Amazon made it easy to enroll in Prime with one or two clicks, but created a “four-page, six-click, fifteen-option cancellation process” known internally as “the Iliad Flow,” the FTC said, in an apparent reference to Homer’s epic about the Trojan War. The agency said the “labyrinthine” procedure was designed to make it cumbersome and confusing for customers to cancel Prime.

Amazon revamped its Prime cancellation process for some subscribers in April, shortly before the FTC filed the case, according to the complaint. Amazon knew its policies were “legally indefensible,” the agency alleged.

“By design we make it clear and simple for customers to both sign up for or cancel their Prime membership,” he said. “We look forward to proving our case in court.”

Amazon said the FTC filed the lawsuit without allowing the company to explain to the agency’s three commissioners why it shouldn’t be sued, bypassing a step that is typically part of the process for companies facing an enforcement action.

. . . .

 Amazon has said that it had it more than 200 million paid Prime members worldwide at the end of 2020.

. . . .

About 72% of all U.S. households, or 96 million, have a paid Prime membership, according to recent estimates from market research firm Insider Intelligence.

. . . .

The FTC is separately preparing a potential antitrust lawsuit against Amazon to be filed in the coming months that could challenge an array of the tech giant’s business practices as anticompetitive, The Wall Street Journal reported in February.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG acknowledges that there is likely a political element influencing the Federal Trade Commission”s decision. President Biden, a Democrat, nominated the Chairman of the FTC.

But Amazon management lives and works in a Democratic party stronghold.

The last time a non-Democrat held the office of Seattle mayor was in 1990 when it elected an Independent candidate. The last time Seattle elected a Republican mayor was 1969.

PG understands similar party affiliation patterns extend into most of the Seattle suburbs as well.

Thus, PG suspects that most Amazon employees in middle and upper management are Democrats.

Per PG’s search for Amazon-originated campaign information, Jeff Bezos has donated only to candidates who were Democrats. shows the Democrat candidates received about 5X the Amazon-originated political donations that Republican candidates during the 2020 elections.

The last time PG checked, a Democrat was occupying the White House and President Biden chose the Chairman of the Federal Trade Commission, which agency has filed this antitrust suit.

Evidently, political contributions originating from Amazon were not enough to keep the Feds from suing the Zon for antitrust violations.

Court to Hear Bids by Amazon, Publishers to Dismiss Revived Price Fixing Case

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It’s deja vu all over again: in a brief order this week, Magistrate judge Valerie Figueredo has set oral arguments for June 22 to hear motions from Amazon and the Big Five publishers to dismiss an amended civil lawsuit accusing them of an illegal conspiracy to fix e-book prices. The hearing comes some 10 months after Figueredo found insufficient evidence for the initial case to proceed, prompting a do-over.

The case was first filed in the Southern District of New York on January 14, 2021, led by firm Hagens Berman, the first firm to sue Apple and five major publishers for colluding to fix e-book prices in 2011. It alleges that the Big Five publishers—Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster—are co-conspirators in a hub-and-spoke scheme, with Amazon to suppress retail price competition and keep e-book prices artificially high. In March 2021, a second, associated suit accusing Amazon and the Big Five publishers of a conspiracy to restrain price competition in the retail and online print trade book markets was also filed. That case was also dismissed, amended, and refiled last year, though it is not clear whether the June 22 hearing will include the motions to dismiss that case as well.

From the outset, Amazon and the publishers have insisted the conspiracy claims are “implausible” and unsupported by any evidence. And after a marathon July 27, 2022 hearing, Figueredo agreed, recommending that presiding judge Gregory Woods dismiss both cases. Woods accepted Figeuredo’s “well-reasoned” and “thorough” reports, and dismissed both cases last September—but in a twist, the cases were dismissed without prejudice, giving the plaintiffs a chance to file amended complaints.

Amazon and the publishers insist there is still no case. “While the [second amended complaint] has swelled plaintiffs’ allegations by more than 30 pages and 100 paragraphs, those additions overwhelmingly consist of repetitions of the same alleged facts from the [complaint] that the court has already determined do not state a claim,” reads a December, 2022 letter from Amazon lawyers.

The plaintiffs argue that the case should be allowed to proceed. “The question at this stage is not whether Defendants have in fact violated the antitrust laws but, rather, whether Plaintiffs have met pleading requirements so that their claim—accepting all allegations as true and drawing all reasonable inferences in their favor—should get past a motion to dismiss,” the plaintiffs argue, insisting they have cleared that bar.

While the revived complaint adds details about the “supracompetitive” profit margins on e-book sales Amazon is able to reap and invokes Judge Florence Pan’s October 31 decision to block Penguin Random House’s acquisition of Simon & Schuster on antitrust grounds, it appears to still suffer from the key deficiency of its predecessor: the lack of any direct evidence suggesting coordination among Amazon and the publishers.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

So why are algorithms still so bad at recommending books?

From The New Publishing Standard:

Over at Book Riot, Arvyn Cerezo takes us through the process and then explains why they will still recommend a book you have absolutely no interest in.

Machine learning systems called recommender systems, or recommendation systems, use data to assist users in finding new products and services … These algorithms, however, need a decent amount of data to choose a recommendation strategy in order to produce meaningful and personalized recommendations. This data may include past purchase histories, contextual data, business-related data, user profile-based information about products, or content-based information. Then, all of these are combined and analyzed using artificial intelligence models so that the recommender system can predict what similar users will do in the future.

All very clever, but…

The limitations of content-based filtering include its inability to comprehend user interests beyond simple preferences. It knows some basic stuff about me, but that’s as far as it can get. What if it recommends a racist book? What if it recommends a book that might trigger readers without some heads-up? What if it recommends a book that is problematic? The keyword is nuance, and algorithms can’t tell the difference between two books that have similar stories.

And don’t we know it? Fifteen or more years buying books on Amazon and it will still recommend books I would eat shards of glass than read.

I always figured that was just Uncle Jeff getting revenge for one of my less complimentary posts about Amazon, but it seems in fact it’s just that the recommendations system is as useless today as it was fifteen years ago.

Cerezo concludes:

“With all the pitfalls of algorithms — and AI in general — it seems like nothing beats book recommendations done by an actual human being. They are more accurate and more personal. Most of all, you can also find hidden gems that you really like rather than the bestsellers (and what everyone’s reading) that these machine learning systems always spit out.”

Two points arise.

First, “rather than the bestsellers (and what everyone’s reading) that these machine learning systems always spit out” is fundamental to the problem. Algorithms – especially for a commercial operation like Amazon – have the sole purpose of selling more books. They and the company do not give a flying fig about our personal preferences.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

BooHoo, Amazon presents books it thinks that the person who signed in will want to buy based on their past buying, browsing and searching habits.

As far as “personal preferences” are concerned, PG supposes that some people have “personal preferences” in books that they don’t want to buy or read or do something with, but is Amazon somehow required or expected to understand someone’s personal preferences that have not been reflected in their previous and current activity on Amazon?

If PG was as concerned about Amazon and his personal preferences, he would open a new Amazon account and be careful not to let anyone else use it. Within a few weeks, Amazon would understand PG’s personal preferences by what he did on the site with the new login ID.

As far as “book recommendations done by an actual human being,” without being a snob about it, PG has never met a person working in a bookstore who would have been likely to give him a good and precise suggestion for a book that PG would like to read. The most PG has ever received is something like, “Our twentieth-century history books are over there,” or “Fantasy and Science Fiction is on aisle three.”

To be fair, if PG in his current instantiation ran into PG at age thirty working in a bookstore, current PG doubts his thirty-year-old self would understand much about PG, the elder’s preferences in books.

If PG was good friends with a bookstore employee and had spent hours talking about books with that person, the results might be better if PG showed up when the bookstore was open and the employee was working at the time.

Go Wide or Run Away or Amazon Fail

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

[Note on 5/5/23: As most of my regular readers know, I’m dyslexic. I have a first reader to catch errors, but this post–which was late–went live without the assistance of that first reader. As a result, I made two typical errors for me, which have been discussed in the comments. Normally, I leave my mistakes and let the comments speak for themselves, but because the KU people are here, these two small errors have grown all out of proportion. At the request of a few folks, I’ve removed the mistaken passage and corrected a math error, but I’m leaving all the comments, which I think are valuable. If you want to read the actual removed section, download the audio version. The errors remain there.]

I’m writing this on the last day of April. I’ve been planning this post for months now, as the drumbeat of bad news out of Amazon escalated from rumors to asset sales to major layoffs. The reason I’m posting the date in this blog is because by the time you read this, there might be even more news that has somehow affected writers.

I’ve been worrying about this year since at least 2011. Maybe longer. I knew at some point, the world’s largest retailer would mess with their ebook program(s). Amazon is not a book retailer. They’re no longer a bookstore, and haven’t been one since the last century.

They’re an online retailer, currently the largest in the world by most measures, but they might not be number one by the end of 2023. Others are rapidly climbing the list, and aren’t suffering from the same kind of missteps that Amazon made during the past few years.

When big companies have bad earnings reports, the people running the big company must make changes—even if changes aren’t warranted. The CEO answers to the stockholders, not to the customers, and stockholders generally demand some kind of change…or the CEO gets fired.

In the past two years, Amazon has had bad earnings reports. 2022 was terrible.

. . . .

Keeping an eye on earnings reports, both expected and actual, are important for writers to do with any business they’re tied up in, because then the writer isn’t blindsided by changes that come from above.

The losses started in mid-2021, but they were small. Year over year, though, which is how most publicly traded companies now look at earnings, were devastating in 2021. After all, 2020 was filled with phenomenal growth. A year later, the growth was slowing, and by 2022, reversing.

Amazon made a lot of money during the pandemic and, like many tech companies, seemed to think that the gravy train would continue. Apparently no one in the company thought it through: what we were going through was a true Black Swan event. It happened worldwide at the same time, and no one alive had gone through anything remotely similar.

Rather than seeing the event as something unique, with its own set of rules, the people in charge of the tech companies decided the future had arrived. We would all be shopping online forever now, talking to friends and family on Zoom, and never leaving our homes. Apparently, these starry-eyed CEOs and prognosticators weren’t listening to their own friends and family, who were probably chomping at the bit as much as everyone else, waiting for the day when they could burst out of their little bubble and return to “living” again.

When living returned, the tech companies saw quarter to quarter losses, and many of those losses were major. Some companies are doing just fine because they didn’t expand during the pandemic. But others are doing poorly.

Like Amazon.

Amazon spent the newfound wealth like it was a growing start-up again. They bought or rented warehouse space all over the country, and added a huge number of employees.

And now, with the financial losses, Amazon is reversing a lot of those decisions.

Most writers wonder why that’s important. After all, big companies are just big companies, right? They have money. They’ll continue.

But they don’t always continue. Take a look at Bed, Bath, And Beyond. In fact, take a look at this article in Business Insider, which is illustrated with large bold subheads. It gives a quick overview of how a company can go from a juggernaut 20 years ago to bankruptcy and possible closure today.

For more than a decade now, I have fought with writers old and new about relying solely upon Amazon. I’ve written blog after blog recommending that writers go wide, and yet many writers never listen.

. . . .

I kept saying that someday Amazon will change, and that change will hurt writers, particularly those who tie their entire writing career to Amazon. The writers who have gone exclusive through Amazon via Select are really going to be in trouble.

And the trouble has already started.

Some of that trouble was built in from the start. What actually got me taking notes for this blog post was a Facebook post from one of the best-known Kindle Unlimited writers who claimed that writers never have a passive income off their work. Writers must constantly write and release to be successful.

Um…what? Really? News to me and most writers who have gone wide. One of the best things about writing is the passive income. If Dean and I quit tomorrow, we will continue earning for years to come. Sure, some of the revenue will go down a bit if we don’t put out new product, but mostly, the income will plateau.

Apparently, goosing payment through new releases is one of the few ways that K.U. writers survive. And if they don’t do it, they don’t get paid as much or as well. Or maybe not at all, given what he (and all of the people in the comments) said.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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.

PG acknowledges that Amazon is far from perfect. However, at the present time, it’s still the best friend indie authors have.

A handful of stats from a TPV post a few days ago:

  • Amazon sells over 487 million ebooks through Kindle every year.
  • The company’s market share in ebook sales stands at least 67%, climbing to 83% when Kindle Unlimited is included.
  • Amazon is estimated to control over 87.9% of yearly ebook sales in the UK.

PG prognosticates that ebooks are the future of publishing, indie or otherwise. Compared with the dead-tree side of publishing, ebooks have a much higher margin. All you need is a website, the ability to process credit card purchases and enough cheap online disk space to hold a bunch of electrons in one or more ebook formats.

Amazon’s management decisions have definitely gone downhill since the Bezos era, but even less-talented management has definitely established the best way to sell ebooks at a profit. It’s a reliable cash generator. However, the book business as a whole, traditional or indie, is not a huge money-maker on either the gross or net column in a giant company’s annual report.

Amazon’s huge overhead numbers and sunk costs are in the bricks and mortar side of things. Lots of physical warehouses being stocked with lots of physical products which are then sold and shipped all over the place, mostly on trucks, but also on planes. Amazon has certainly modernized the way physical warehouses are operated, but physical warehouses and physical shipping is a very expensive way to distribute goods compared to a bunch of spinning disks hooked up to the internet. Bits are always more efficient than atoms.

PG would like to see more than a few upstart competitors to Amazon’s book business pop up. It’s not difficult for PG to envision a much better internet bookselling platform than Amazon’s.

However, while he doesn’t have definitive inside information, PG suspects that trying to fund a company to compete with Amazon in ebook sales is a very, very hard sale to any venture capitalist.

With respect to ebooks, The Zon has fallen into the same pit that has claimed or almost claimed a whole bunch of tech companies – keep the servers running, collect the easy profits, but send a lot of money and a great many smart people in the organization off pursuing this or that flavor-of-the-month in the start-up world.

Amazon Publishing Statistics

From WordsRated:

Amazon was initially founded as a bookselling platform in 1995. Since then, the company has gone through massive changes, becoming the world’s biggest retail company in which bookselling represents just a fraction of profit.

However, even in the book sales sector, the company dominates the book publishing industry with an upwards trend, threatening to overtake the market in the future completely. On the other hand, the company did a lot of positive things for the book industry, such as the emergence of self-publishing accessible to anyone. In this report, we’ll cover all the aspects of Amazon’s book publishing business.

Amazon book sales

Even though Amazon’s book sales make up only 10% of the company’s profit, they are still the biggest seller of books in the United States and worldwide.

Amazon generates around $28 billion worldwide from book sales every year. The company is responsible for over 50% of sales from the Big Five publishers and controls between 50% and 80% of the book distribution in the United States.

  • Amazon sells at least 300 million print books every year.
  • The company reportedly controls at least 40% of the print book sales in the States.
  • Some estimates show that by 2025 Amazon could take over more than 70% of the US print book market.
  • In the UK, Amazon controls at least 50% of the market, selling over 106 million copies each year.

When it comes to ebooks, Amazon is dominating the market by a wide margin.

  • Amazon sells over 487 million ebooks through Kindle every year.
  • The company’s market share in ebook sales stands at least 67%, climbing to 83% when Kindle Unlimited is included.
  • Amazon is estimated to control over 87.9% of yearly ebook sales in the UK.
  • Even though the company sold more ebooks than print books in 2011, nowadays, Amazon sells 3x more print books than ebooks.

Self-publishing on Amazon 

Amazon has been the driving force behind the massive emergence of self-published books in the United States:

  • Amazon releases over 1.4 million self-published books through its Kindle Direct Publishing every year.
  • This doesn’t even take into account self-published ebooks with no registered ISBN number, so the extent of Amazon’s self-publishing figures is much higher.
  • Kindle Direct Publishing is regarded as the largest ebook publisher of self-published ebooks, even without official numbers available.
  • Amazon pays over $520 million in royalties each year to over 1 million authors who decided to self-published through KDP.
  • Only 1% of audiobooks on Audible are self-published
  • Self-published books account for 31% of Amazon’s ebook sales
  • Self-publishing authors have the option to publish their work in 40 languages.

Amazon’s Royalties Paid to KDP Authors

Link to the rest at WordsRated

Amazon Advertising Analysis Tools

PG has been looking at various tools for analysing Amazon Advertising.

He has tried out a bunch of these types of tools over the years and has not found one that really fits him.

He won’t name names, but the UI on more than one of these tools is pretty crude.

PG has mostly used Excel spreadsheets, but would like to find something that could do a better job of showing him what ads and advertising strategies work and what don’t. He just checked and he has detailed data from 118 advertising campaigns on his Mother of All Excel Spreadsheets.

He’s also looking into various key word generators. Again, he’s tried out more than a few and hasn’t found his true key word love either.

Feel free to share suggestions in the comments, including likes/dislikes about the tools you’ve tried. You can also use the Contact PG link at the top of the blog to share your thoughts and opinions with PG privately.

5,000 words, but the Amazon CEO letter to shareholders offers little promise for the publishing industry

From The New Publishing Standard:

One cannot help but feel no news is bad news for an industry which has for so long allowed itself to become unhealthily dependent on one company and has for so long eschewed opportunities to build up alternatives and fully support rival players.

To be fair, neither Jassy nor Bezos could ever hope to cover even a fraction of Amazon’s many sectors in a letter to shareholders like this.

But in the past, publishing and the Kindle store and devices have been strong features.

This year the only mention of the Kindle is in historic context, and the nearest we get to a vision of publishing is an acknowledgement Amazon has closed all its bricks & mortar bookstores, and that ads in audio are the new black.

Jassy has previously made clear the Books element of the Amazon machine is a sideshow, and most recently we have seen The Book Depository marked for closure.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG suggests the author of the OP hasn’t really been paying much attention to Big Publishing for a long time. In short, there’s not enough money in traditional publishing to move any needles for Amazon. It’s small potatoes compared to any number of other things Amazon does to make money.

All the physical bookstores could simultaneously close and not have any meaningful influence on Amazon’s bottom line.

To be fair, indie authors are in a similar position as far as moving Zon’s needle, but Amazon has streamlined KDP and its underpinnings to the point that computers and automated presses pretty much handle the entire process of publishing, selling and shipping a physical book. Of course, taking an order for an ebook and delivering it is a 100% computer job.

With indies, Amazon doesn’t have to buy truckloads of printed books that have to be unloaded, taken to the right place in the warehouse and take up space gathering dust until Amazon sells them all or its computer decides to return the unsold physical books back to the publishers’ warehouses.

If the truth be told, Amazon would be much happier if traditional publishing used the same production process as indie authors do – print on demand.

4 Pillars of Book Marketing, or How to Sell More Books in Less Time

From Jane Friedman:

When I first started marketing my wife’s books, I thought we needed to be everywhere and do all the things in order to be successful:

  • Facebook ads
  • Amazon ads
  • BookBub ads
  • YouTube ads
  • Promo sites
  • Facebook groups
  • All other social media platforms
  • Newspapers and magazines

The list goes on—and on. The truth of the matter though, is that you don’t need to do even half of what’s on that list.

The do all the things approach likely does more harm than good, especially in the beginning. Sure, further down the line, you can start adding to the list, but even then, don’t feel you need to.

My wife’s books currently earn a healthy six-figure income. And we use two traffic sources:

  • Facebook ads
  • Amazon ads

Now three years into the journey, we are starting to explore other traffic sources so as not to rely so heavily on Facebook and Amazon. But these two platforms alone, along with a small spend on BookBub and promotional sites for launches and promotions, drive the results for us.

. . . .

Marketing for 30–60 minutes per day came about as more of a necessity than anything else; with three children under the age of three in the house, time isn’t something either my wife or I have much of! If you currently have young children or have done so in the past, you’ll know where I’m coming from. So I had to make sure every minute I spent was on the right marketing for us.

Avoiding the shiny objects discussed in Facebook groups, i.e. the latest fads, I identified what was driving results for us and doubled down on them, eliminating everything else.

This is when I (accidentally) identified what I now call the four pillars of book marketing. And, after speaking with many authors over the past couple of years, I believe these four pillars are critical for every author.

Without them, you’ll be spinning your wheels not knowing what to work on and when, or worse, spending your resources on things that don’t move the needle.

So, here’s what you’re going to learn:

  • What the four pillars of book marketing are
  • Why 30–60 minutes per day spent marketing is all you need
  • How and why to craft a strategy for your author business
  • Identifying your lever-moving activities
  • How to plan out your days, weeks, and months for maximum productivity and results

The 4 Pillars of Book Marketing

Some activities in your author business may not be exciting but are essential to keep your business going, such as accounting, taxes, replying to emails, and other admin/auxiliary tasks.

When it comes to marketing and driving book sales, there are really only four pillars that truly matter:

  1. Book product page
  2. Traffic
  3. Audience building
  4. Profit

Book product page

Something I say to authors a lot is: Your book sells your book.

No amount of marketing or advertising is going to sell a poor-quality book.

You could be the best marketer in the world, but if your book itself isn’t up to scratch, isn’t up to the standard it needs to be in today’s world of publishing, it’s not going to sell.

You may be lucky and get a few sales, maybe even a few hundred sales right off the bat. But when the reviews and ratings start coming in, the performance of your marketing is going to decline over time.

This is why, yes, you need to write a stellar book. But you also need to present your book in the best possible light. And you achieve that by creating a superb book product page.

After all, sales don’t happen in your Facebook ads, BookBub ads, Amazon ads, etc. They happen on your book product page. That’s where readers make the decision to buy or not to buy your book.

The key assets of your book product page you need to focus on are:

  • Book cover
  • Book description
  • Pricing
  • Reviews and ratings
  • Look Inside
  • A+ Content, specific to Amazon (optional)

With a compelling and engaging book product page in place, all of your marketing and advertising will perform that much better because your conversions (i.e., sales directly from your ads) will be higher.

And the more sales your ads generate, the more organic sales (sales that come as a result of your Amazon rank) you’ll enjoy.

. . . .

For my wife’s books, we are exclusive to Amazon. Authors who have books in the Top 500 of the Kindle store generate 80–90% of their sales directly as a result of their bestseller rank. These are all, essentially, free sales.

But to achieve a great bestseller rank and enjoy those organic sales, you need to tickle the Amazon algorithm enough to take notice of you, which you do by driving sales through your own marketing and advertising efforts, such as Facebook ads and Amazon ads.

. . . .

Audience building

As an author, your biggest asset is your books. Your next biggest asset is your audience.

I’m not talking about your Twitter followers or Facebook likes. I’m talking about true fans of your books, who you have direct access to through email.

The issue I have with building an audience on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook is that you’re building this audience on rented ground. If your account on one or more of these platforms is suddenly shut down, you would lose your entire audience overnight.

To avoid this situation, by all means, build an audience on these platforms, but, make sure you are de-platforming people by encouraging them to join your email list, which is best achieved through offering them something in return for their email address, such as a short story, a novella, a bonus chapter, or even a full book; this is commonly known as a reader magnet.

With an email list, you can contact your audience at any time (within reason, of course), ask them to buy your new release, leave a review of your book, and let them know about a flash sale you’re running.

When your email list becomes large enough, you can drive a LOT of sales of your new releases and your backlist, and it won’t cost you a penny in advertising. Your world really is your oyster when you have an email list.

Just respect your audience, don’t spam them, provide value (yes, even entertainment is considered value), and share a little or a lot, whatever you’re comfortable with, about yourself, your writing—even Tibbles, your cat, who accompanies you whilst you write!

Remember, you are communicating with real people, so be sure to treat them as such. And ultimately, be your true authentic self.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Amazon is Closing Book Depository at the End of April

From The Guardian:

The online shop Book Depository is due to close at the end of April, vendors and publishing partners have been told. This comes after the bookseller’s parent company Amazon announced it had decided to “eliminate” a number of positions across its Devices and Books businesses.

The Gloucester-based bookseller was founded in 2004 by Stuart Felton and Andrew Crawford, a former Amazon employee, with the mantra of “selling ‘less of more’ rather than ‘more of less’”. It aimed to sell 6m titles covering a wide variety of genres and topics, as opposed to focusing solely on bestsellers. While originally a rival to Amazon, it was acquired by the retail giant in 2011, causing some in the publishing industry to worry about the tightening of the American company’s “stranglehold” on the UK book trade.

According to the trade magazine the Bookseller, an email sent out to vendors and publishing partners explained that Book Depository will be closing, and that the last date customers will be able to place orders is 26 April. “Over the coming weeks we will complete a winding down of the business, including discontinuing our listings as a marketplace seller and closing our website,” Andy Chart, head of vendor management, wrote.

“I would like to take this opportunity to say a big thank you, from everyone at Book Depository and our book-loving customers, for your supportive partnership over the years in helping us to make printed books more accessible to readers around the world,” he concluded.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG doesn’t take any pleasure in anyone losing her/his/their job. That said, shipping physical books around is an expensive proposition compared to ebooks.

Like many US tech companies in the aftermath of COVID shutdowns, Amazon needs to cut costs.

Amazon’s Ending of Kindle Newsstand Could Severely Impact SF/F Magazines

From Patreon:

My father grew up in a rough, rural area where his family’s neighbors were bootleggers and backwoods mobsters. One of these mobsters liked him and, when my father turned 12, announced my dad was old enough to carry a gun for self-defense. He then gifted my father an illegal sawed-off shotgun covered in black tape to hide fingerprints.

“Be sure to hide it from the deputies,” the mobster said.

Growing up around all that, my dad learned a good bit of life wisdom. And one bit of advice he shared with me is that if someone’s rigged a game, don’t play it unless you’ve got no choice.

Sadly, sometimes we have no choice. Which brings us to Amazon.

In December, Neil Clarke of Clarkesworld said that “In an absolutely devastating announcement (right before the holidays) Amazon has informed us that they are ending their Kindle Subscription program in 2023 and trying to get magazines to switch to Kindle Unlimited.”

Michael Damian Thomas of Uncanny Magazine echoed this news. “If you are an SFF short story writer, the sky is falling today. This Kindle news couldn’t come at a worst time with what is also going on in social media. We were all barely scraping by. This is an extinction-level event for the ecosystem unless we all figure something out.”

The reason for the alarm is that over the last decade, Kindle subscriptions have become a significant part of the overall circulation for a large number of science fiction and fantasy magazines. Essentially, people like the convenience and ease of buying and reading e-books and expect the same from their magazine subscriptions.

By ending the Kindle Newsstand program, Amazon would no longer allow people on their platform to subscribe directly to magazines. Instead, Amazon announced it would allow certain magazines to remain on the platform through their Kindle Unlimited program.

As Rajiv Moté said, this means Amazon would be “moving e-magazines to a Spotify model, just like music. You pay the sales platform, not the producers.”

Because Kindle Unlimited (KU) allows subscribers to read as much as they want for a monthly fee, KU pays authors and publishers based on how many pages people read. The problem with translating this to magazines is many people don’t read every page in a magazine. Instead, they may pick out certain stories and articles to read, or may even stop reading a story if it doesn’t work for them. (Update: One anonymous source has told me Amazon’s KU for magazines won’t be based on pages. But specific details are not available.)

With an actual subscription, a publisher receives guaranteed revenue from each subscriber. With KU, the revenue magazine publishers receive will be far more uncertain.

Worse, as Uncanny pointed out about their own magazine, not all genre magazines were offered the chance to join Kindle Unlimited.

Since that initial announcement during the 2022 holiday season, genre magazine publishers have been trying to figure out their options. During a call with Amazon, Neil Clarke learned that “KU for Magazines is different than KU for books. It will not prevent us from publishing/selling our magazine elsewhere. It is not paid per-paid, but based on an annual projection based on ‘qualified borrows.'”

Link to the rest at Patreon

Amazon Book Sales Statistics

From Words Rated:

  • Approximately 10% of Amazon’s worldwide revenue comes from book sales
  • Although this sounds small, it still equates to $280 billion
  • Amazon is responsible for roughly half of all the sales of the big 5 publishers
  • Memoirs and biographies were the top-selling genres on Amazon in 2022
  • Amazon controls up to 80% of all book distribution in the US

. . . .

  • Amazon pays $250 million in royalties to self-published authors each year
  • Only 1% of audiobooks on Audible are self-published
  • More than 1,000 self-published authors made $100,000 last year from Amazon
  • Self-published books account for 31% of Amazon’s ebook sales

. . . .

  • E-books make up 21% of Amazon’s total book sales by revenue
  • However, because they are significantly cheaper than print books, e-books actually make up 36% of sales in terms of total number of books sold

. . . .

  • Amazon’s market share when it comes to e-books is 68% before even looking at the books that Amazon have published themselves or the books within Kindle Unlimited
  • With these figures factored in, it is thought that Amazon may be responsible for up to 85% of all e-book sales

. . . .

  • Amazon’s subscription services such as Prime and Kindle Unlimited earn the company more than $6 billion each year
  • Kindle Unlimited is estimated to have 3 million subscribers

. . . .

  • Best-selling is simply the books that have sold the most copies
  • Most read are the books that have been interacted with the most on Amazon devices rather than simply being the books that have sold the most copies
  • Up to 60% of the books available on Kindle Unlimited are thought to be self-published

Link to lots more info at Words Rated

Colleen Hoover Was Queen of 2022’s Bestseller List

From Publisher’s Weekly:

It is something of an understatement to say that Colleen Hoover dominated the 2022 overall bestsellers list. Hoover had the top three books of the year, and her novels sold 14.3 million print copies at outlets that report to NPD BookScan. Of the 25 books on the list, eight were Hoover titles, and two, It Ends with Us and Verity, sold more than two million copies each.

Last year was a very good year for adult fiction overall, as evidenced by the 8.5% annual sales increase posted by the category (see “The Winning Streak Ends,” p. 8) and by its prevalence at the top of the overall bestsellers list. Fifteen of the 25 top-selling books were adult fiction, and another five titles were either juvenile fiction or young adult fiction. The top-selling nonfiction book was James Clear’s Atomic Habits,at #6.

The only other author besides Hoover to place more than one title on the top 25 list was Emily Henry, who scored with Book Lovers and People We Meet on Vacation,at #21 and #25, respectively. The strong showing by Hoover also crowded out some perennial chart toppers, including James Patterson, whose Run, Rose, Run (written with Dolly Parton) was at #26 (with about 515,000 copies sold), and John Grisham, whose The Boys from Biloxi sold about 495,000 copies, landing it at #29 on the overall list.

The list clearly shows that readers were ready for some escapism in 2022, after nearly three years of pandemic concerns and an ever more divisive political environment. The bestselling title related to politics last year was Red Handed: How American Elites Get Rich by Helping China Win by Peter Schweizer, which sold about 245,000 copies. The top-performing book critical of former president Trump was Maggie Haberman’s Confidence Man, which sold about 127,000 copies; former vice president Mike Pence’s memoir sold approximately 112,000 copies.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

PG checked the NPD BookScan numbers which provided the basis for the Publishers Weekly OP against Amazon’s list of best selling books for 2022 and it was almost identical.

NPD data is based on roughly 85 percent of trade print books sold in the United States through direct reporting from major retailers, including Amazon, so the overlap is almost inevitable. For PG, the overlap is an indicator of Amazon’s domination of the bookselling business.

About That Englishman In New York Who Turned The Page On Barnes & Noble…

From The New Publishing Standard:

And somehow Daunt magically beat the ogre at its own game and apparently, they will all live happily ever after.

The Forbes headline ran “How an Englishman In New York Turned The Page On Barnes & Noble”. Unfortunately there’s not much “how” in this Forbes post.

Hedge-fund buys B&N, appoints British CEO. CEO fires lots of people, uses savings and hedge-fund money to open new stores. The end.

That said, I did appreciate this little gem that was new to me:

Barnes & Noble has two Boston-area locations that were formerly Amazon Books stores (oh the irony) slated among 30 new stores due to open in 2023.

It was worth reading the Forbes article just for that. But that’s one of only three mentions of Amazon, and the other two contribute nothing we didn’t already know.

For our plot we have a traditional retailer threatened by a huge, new-fangled corporate (that will be Amazon)”, and “Barnes & Noble, like other physical booksellers, struggled for about a decade as Amazon and other online book sellers ran roughshod through their market share.

And somehow Daunt magically beat the ogre at its own game and apparently, they will all live happily ever after.

Elliott Advisors is likely to exit its investment over the course of the next few years, which could see Waterstones and Barnes & Noble go public.

Well, yes, Elliott’s exit is a given, because that’s what hedge-funds do. Buy in, make a tidy profit, get out.

And exit becomes all the more likely given the supply chain crisis facing the entire industry amid a recession. 

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG was a bit confused by the OP.

James Daunt became the CEO of Barnes & Noble in August, 2019. According to PG’s online research, it appears that Barnes & Noble had about 627 store locations at that time, down from its peak of 726 locations in 2008.

Barnes & Noble is privately owned by a company called Elliott Investment Management L.P. , a privately-held investment/hedge fund which, among other things, means it does not have to tell the general public or anybody except its managing partners very much about what’s going on, including what’s happening with Barnes & Noble.

When Elliott hired Daunt to attempt to save Barnes & Noble, it is generally agreed that BN was in terrible financial shape. Daunt was chosen, in large part because he was credited with saving Waterstones Books in Great Britain.

One of the ways Daunt “turned Barnes & Noble around” is by firing about half of the corporate employees and moving out of Barnes & Noble’s former New York City headquarters into a smaller location.

As the OP says, Elliott is interested in selling Barnes & Noble. PG suspects that Mr. Daunt is in a position to earn a very nice bonus if Elliott can sell Barnes & Noble at a significantly higher price than Elliott paid to acquire the company, which qualified as damaged goods at the time.

In an April 15, 2022, New York Times article titled, How Barnes & Noble Went From Villain to Hero, a Times books and publishing reporter, produced what, in PG’s overwhelmingly modest opinion, was a puff piece for Barnes & Noble and James Daunt, rescuing hero.

Here’s a short excerpt:

Today, virtually the entire publishing industry is rooting for Barnes & Noble — including most independent booksellers. Its unique role in the book ecosystem, where it helps readers discover new titles and publishers stay invested in physical stores, makes it an essential anchor in a world upended by online sales and a much larger player: Amazon.

“It would be a disaster if they went out of business,” said Jane Dystel, a literary agent with clients including Colleen Hoover, who has four books on this week’s New York Times best-seller list. “There’s a real fear that without this book chain, the print business would be way off.”

To be fair to Daunt and Barnes & Noble, the organization was a sinking ship before the Covid lockdowns and even businesses who PG would not classify as sinking ships were hard-hit and are still in recovery mode.

Plus, for a variety of reasons, the US economy looks very likely to drop into a recession in the near future.

The combination of all the various things PG has blabbered about lead him to conclude that the future of Barnes & Noble is not bright and smart money is likely to steer clear of Barnes & Noble in the foreseeable future.

But PG could be completely wrong.

And PG definitely doesn’t discount the possible appearance of dumb money to save Barnes & Noble, Elliott Partners and Daunt from public embarrassment.

The Pandemic Still Made Its Presence Felt in Publishing in 2022

From Publisher’s Weekly:

Given all of the attention that the Department of Justice’s successful trial to block Penguin Random House’s purchase of Simon & Schuster drew, it can be hard to remember what other trends, challenges, and issues confronted the publishing industry in 2022.

In many ways, last year the industry was still dealing with the fallout caused by the pandemic. For one thing, return-to-office policies remained in flux throughout the year; just when a publisher would announce plans to bring back employees to the office for a few days a week, another surge would come along and scuttle those plans. In addition, executives at the big publishers were meeting stiff resistance from employees on any sort of mandate to return to the office. In PW’s most recent salary and jobs survey, respondents said that the creation of work-from-home policies was the most important benefit their company established during the height of the pandemic, and the overwhelming majority of respondents were concerned that their company would soon be requiring employees to be in the office for a certain number of days each week.

The supply chain problems that were prevalent for much of 2021 continued into 2022, though conditions did improve. Price increases for printing, paper, and shipping eased in 2022, though, as the highest inflation in decades set in, production costs still remained well above 2019 levels, squeezing profit margins. The printing capacity crunch also eased a bit, albeit not for a good reason—printers received fewer orders as book sales declined.

When the pandemic began, consumers moved more of their spending toward online retailers and away from bricks-and-mortar stores in 2020 and 2021. That shift led Amazon to place big orders for all items, including books, over the last few years. As consumers began returning to stores in greater numbers in 2022, increases in online spending slowed—a trend that hit Amazon hard. To work down the amount of book inventory it had accumulated, Amazon drastically cut back on new orders it placed over the summer, with some publishers reporting sales declines as deep as 70% with Amazon in the summer months. HarperCollins cited the plunge in orders from Amazon as the key reason why sales in its quarter ended September 30 fell 11%. The dramatic decline of orders from Amazon, along with the news that Amazon had cut some jobs in its Books group, led some industry members to wonder if the company was losing interest in the book market, speculation that Amazon firmly denied. Publishers did report orders from the e-tailer improved in the early fall.

The return of shoppers to physical retailers was good news for bookstores. ABA reported a record number of members, while Barnes & Noble began opening new outlets in the year and expects to open 30 new stores in 2023. Total bookstore sales through October were up 7.5% over the comparable period in 2021 and, following two years of declines, could return to 2019 levels in 2022. The improving retail environment didn’t lift all boats, however. In the spring, Amazon announced it was closing all 24 of its physical bookstores; Amazon opened its first bookstore in November 2015 to tremendous fanfare.

. . . .

With the easing of pandemic-related restrictions, the publishing calendar returned to a more normal pattern. In the U.S., the fall regional bookseller shows had solid attendance as they returned to in-person events. All of the primary international book fairs also held in-person events, though many still saw reduced foot traffic from pre-pandemic levels in the shadow of inflation, the ongoing threat of Covid, and the war in Ukraine.

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

Amazon will give your overworked delivery driver $5 if you ask Alexa to say thank you

From TechCrunch:

Last year, an Amazon delivery driver said that the high volume of orders during holiday season “makes life hell.” This year, these contracted workers can get a $5 tip if their customer says, “Alexa, thank my driver.”

. . . .

The new thank you feature is part of a promotion that Amazon says it’s running to celebrate its impending milestone of 15 billion packages delivered. If a driver is one of the first one million to receive a thank you, they get $5. The five drivers who receive the most thank yous will get a $10,000 bonus plus $10,000 donated to a charity of their choice.

That means that Amazon will pay about $5.1 million to workers through this promotion. For comparison, Amazon spent over $4.3 million on anti-union consultants last year.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

Amazon Advertising Strategies

Fewer posts than normal because PG has immersed himself in the Zon’s book advertising world.

First, some general observations:

  1. The Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) advertising reporting/monitoring system is past due for a significant upgrade. The online piece doesn’t really take advantage of the data PG is certain is generated during the book shopping and purchasing behaviors that Amazon monitors and collects, so reliable information on which to base advertising strategies is way too thin. KDP presents its authors with only the thinnest top slice of the useful information that would help indie authors and traditional publishers alike to connect with readers who would enjoy their books.
  2. The only other source of information on advertising performance is downloaded Excel spreadsheets that are next to useless unless one spends a lot of time constructing another spreadsheet that extracts and cumulates the useful bits. PG started to build one such spreadsheet a few years ago, but decided it wasn’t worth his time. Perhaps he’ll try again, but he suspects a database would work better than Excel for this job, but doesn’t want to relearn database configuration, etc., that he forgot ate least ten years ago.

End of gripes.

The last time PG looked at third party analysis tools to help with Amazon advertising, he liked Publisher Rocket, but wanted more. What he’s really looking for is a tool that does what PubRocket does, but combines that with a tool that sucks in all the info in Excel spreadsheets to provide a more complete picture of an author/publisher’s books in the context of the constantly changing world of the world’s biggest book store.

In the meantime, it has been a couple of years since PG took a look at books that claim to show an author/publisher how to locate and analyze key information that will help in the task of spending wisely and well in the world of Zon advertising.

PG was very taken with a tech company that offered a service to automate the management of ad spending on Amazon and included some good analytic data a couple of years ago, but encountered some glitches in the system that made it appear it wasn’t quite ready for prime time. He would be happy to hear about any experiences visitors might have had with anyone doing the same thing at present.

PG thinks a great many indie authors would like to find a tool/service that gives them actionable information concerning what works and what doesn’t for their books in the swirling cauldron of Amazon’s book promotion and sales world. There are lots of sources of good business rules to follow, but PG would like to see more detailed feedback than a royalty report that shows up after he’s tried one thing or another that may not be in anyone’s book of general rules.

Feel free to put experiences, observations, opinions, ideas, etc., into comments on this post. If it’s something that you feel you can’t talk about publicly, click the Contact PG link at the top of the blog to communicate privately. PG has been a lawyer for so long that he almost automatically treats anything anyone tells him in private as privileged and confidential and he’s not into sharing business or personal secrets he learns about with the wider world.

And, no, PG is convinced that no New York publisher uses anything like what he would like to see. The time between when a book deal is signed and when book returns start coming in from Joe’s Bait Shop and Book Store as well as Barnes & Noble (are they dead yet?) makes PG’s current rinky-dink Excel-based advertising analysis and ad spend tools look like Captain Picard on the bridge of the Enterprise (is he dead yet?).

End of rant. PG feels much better now. But he’s hungry.

Amazon makes a new push into health care

From The Economist:

As big tech companies face a brutal slow-down the hunt is on for new areas of expansion. Amazon, which is now America’s second-biggest business by revenue, is a case in point. In the final quarter of 2022 its sales are expected to expand by just 6.7% year on year. On November 17th Andy Jassy, Amazon’s chief executive, confirmed that the firm had begun laying off employees and would fire more next year. Mr Jassy said it was the most difficult decision he had made since becoming boss. But he also noted that “big opportunities” lay ahead. One that he highlighted is the largest, most lucrative and hellishly difficult businesses in America: health care.

Many tech firms have health-care ambitions. Apple tracks wellbeing through the iPhone; Microsoft offers cloud-computing services to health firms and Alphabet sells wearable devices and is pumping money into biotech research. But Amazon is now creating the most ambitious offering of all. Two days before Mr Jassy’s statement, on November 15th, it launched “Amazon Clinic”, an online service operating in 32 states that offers virtual health care for over 20 conditions, from acne to allergies. Amazon describes the new service as a virtual storefront that connects users with third-party health providers.

The Amazon Clinic launch follows the $3.9bn takeover, announced in July, of One Medical, a primary-care provider that offers telehealth services and runs bricks-and-mortar clinics (the deal has yet to close). It has 790,000 members. The deal was led by Neil Lindsay, formerly responsible for Prime, Amazon’s subscription service, who has said health care “is high on the list of experiences that need reinvention”.

These latest moves complement Amazon’s existing assets. Its Halo band, a wearable device that went on sale in 2020, monitors the health status of users. In 2018 it bought PillPack, a digital pharmacy that is now part of Amazon Pharmacy, for $753m. Amazon Web Services launched specific cloud services for health care and life science companies in 2021.

The move into primary care, jargon for the role of the traditional family doctor, is a big step but has an obvious logic. Walgreens, a pharmacy chain, reckons the industry is worth $1trn a year. Around half of Generation Z and millennial Americans do not have a primary-care doctor and One Medical’s membership has almost doubled since 2019. Amazon Clinic will accept cash for its services, rather than relying on America’s nightmare insurance system to recoup costs.

The company is betting that primary care will become more digital. And it is likely that it will seek to integrate these services with other parts of Amazon’s health-care offering. Amazon Clinic’s new users can buy drugs from Amazon Pharmacy. Over time the firm could add a feature to the Halo band reminding users to take medicine. It might also set up clinics in branches of Whole Foods, the supermarket chain it acquired in 2017. And it may wrap health care into Prime, which now has some 200m members worldwide. “The low-hanging fruit is offering discounts on membership to Prime members,” says Daniel Grosslight of Citigroup, a bank.

Amazon’s health push comes with several risks. One is that its own record is far from flawless. It is closing Amazon Care, which it launched to provide health services for its own employees and which expanded to offer some services to outside customers. Haven—a collaboration with Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett’s investment firm, and JPMorgan Chase, a bank—was set up in 2018 to procure lower cost health care for employees, but died less than three years later.

Another danger is competition. cvs, an American retail pharmacy, reportedly outbid Amazon for Signify Health, a large primary-care provider in September. In October, Walgreens increased its stake in Villagemd with a $5.2bn investment. JPMorgan recently opened primary-care centres of its own. Amazon’s new venture will also compete with the likes of Ro and Hims & Hers, tech startups dedicated to providing virtual health care.

Finally, Amazon will have to grapple with regulators. The Federal Trade Commission, a trust-busting agency, is examining the One Medical deal. The takeover, and the launch of Amazon Clinic, will raise questions about who should be allowed to hold sensitive health-care data. Amazon has said “we remain focused on the important mission of protecting customers’ health information”. The firm may need to set up hefty firewalls to separate customer information held by clinics from that gathered through other products and services. But satisfying data-privacy concerns could wipe out many of the data-sharing opportunities that Amazon deftly deploys across the rest of its business.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Two Bites of the Apple on Kindle Vella

From Writer Unboxed:

If you’re considering self-publishing and wanting to maximize potential income, do yourself a favor and take a peek at Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform.

If you haven’t already heard about Kindle Vella, it’s a place where you can serialize your novel over an extended period, instead of publishing one whole story all at once. Instead of chapters, you are publishing “episodes,” much like a television series.

This isn’t a new concept. Serialized novels first popped up as early as the 17th century and really took off in England during the 19th century when novels were published episodically in newspapers and magazines.

This allowed poorer overworked readers to enjoy stories that would have been too expensive for them to read as leather-bound volumes. In the modern era, Kindle Vella readers are reading on their phones, often during short breaks in their busy days, like while standing in line at the DMV or waiting in the carpool lane.

There was (and still is) a benefit to authors for writing serially. Many unknown 19th century authors were able to establish an audience and grow in popularity by first publishing in serialized format, including but not limited to Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Many modern-day authors are having similar success, building their fan bases through Kindle Vella. Why couldn’t this be you?

In a nutshell. The first three episodes of every Kindle Vella story are free to readers. After which, readers must redeem tokens to unlock future episodes. The number of tokens it takes to unlock an episode corresponds to the length of the episode. For example it takes 6 tokens to unlock an episode that is in the 600-699 word length. It takes 12 tokens to unlock and episode that is 1200-1299 words in length.

Readers can buy tokens in bundles of 200 ($1.99), 525 ($4.99), 1100 ($9.99), or 1700 ($14.99).

As they read, readers can give feedback such as marking your story as a “favorite” or giving an episode a “thumbs up.” This feedback will affect your bonus. More on that later.

How to get started. It is ridiculously easy to set up an author account. If you do not already have an Amazon account, start there. Once you have an Amazon account, access Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). Once you sign in to KDP, access the “Kindle Vella Library.”

After that, KDP will take you through the step-by-step process of entering your name/pen name, the title of your story, the genre, and the key words.

As for the cover image, you don’t have to pay for an expensive book cover. Traditional book covers aren’t even allowed. Instead, choose a simple image with no words on it that conveys the tone, theme, and genre of your story. You can find many images for free online. For example, explore Canva. The dimensions of a Kindle Vella cover image should be 1600 x 1600 px.

. . . .

Writing the Perfect Episode. Kindle Vella allows episodes to be anywhere from 600-5000 words; however, there does seem to be a “sweet spot” with readers. Because they’re often reading on their phones to kill time in between events in their busy days, the 12-20 token (or 1200-2000 word) episode seems to do the best.

Obviously, it is imperative that you make every episodes hugely compelling and end each episode on a devastating cliffhanger that leaves the reader desperate to know what happens next. If readers aren’t hooked, they won’t waste their tokens on your paid episodes. They’ll move on to explore other stories, and yours will wither on the vine. For this reason, you may need to end your episodes in the middle of what you might consider a “normal” chapter ending.

Again, think of the classic Batman episode. It always ended with Batman tied up and the swinging blade getting closer and closer to his neck.

Publishing an Episode. Publish one episode at a time (it’s as easy as a click of your mouse) and do so at consistent intervals so readers know when to expect the next installment. This is another similarity to Victorian-era serialized stories in newspapers that came out at regular intervals.

You can also write ahead and schedule several episodes (or even your whole story) so a single episode is released according to your pre-determined schedule. In fact, writing ahead and scheduling episodes is something I would strongly recommend so you don’t fall behind. I actually don’t publish Episode 1 until I have 5-6 episodes ready to go.

Royalties and Bonuses. You don’t earn any royalty on your first three episodes, which are free to readers. After that, your royalty depends on how many tokens are required to unlock your episode. Obviously, the more tokens the higher the royalty, but also remember that the more tokens required, the less likely it is that a reader will open the episode (see “sweet spot” above).

The royalty calculation is (number of tokens to unlock episode) x (token-bundle price/# tokens in bundle – taxes and fees) x (50% revenue share). For example, if it takes 12 tokens to unlock your episode, and those tokens were purchased in a 200-token bundle…

12 tokens x ($1.99/200 token bundle – $0 taxes) x 50% = Royalty

Or…12 x .00995 x 50%=6-cent Royalty

Not super exciting, BUT where the real excitement comes in are the monthly bonuses. It is a little unclear how bonuses are determined—it has something to do with reader engagement and the consistency of your episodes—but they can be surprisingly high.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Inside the Underground Market for Fake Amazon Reviews

From Wired:

RAJVARDHAN OAK STUMBLED upon an underground market for fake Amazon reviews by accident while scrolling through Facebook. 

“I saw this ad that said I could get a robot vacuum cleaner for free in return for a five-star review,” says Oak, a PhD student at UC Davis. He figured it was a scam, but he clicked on the ad. Over the following days, he saw a flood of similar Facebook ads, all with the same proposition: Buy a product, write a positive review, get a full refund, and the product is yours to keep. So he tried it.

Oak wasn’t willing to drop $300 on a robot vacuum, so he waited for something cheaper, which turned out to be a $20 neck pillow. With Amazon Prime’s 30-day return guarantee, he wouldn’t be out the money if things didn’t work out. He bought it, wrote a five-star review on Amazon, and received a refund. A decent neck pillow for almost nothing.

Pay to Play

After that first review, the ads kept coming. The scale of the operation piqued his interest, so Oak set up a few sock puppet Facebook accounts and began joining groups offering free Amazon products for review. Some of these groups had thousands of members with agents from countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India working for sellers in China to secure reviews on Amazon in the US and Europe.

Reviews are important. Sales data is hard to come by, but higher ratings generally lead to higher sales, according to research from the consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which covered the 70 highest-selling categories and hundreds of thousands of individual products over a two-year time span. It’s not only about high ratings but also about visibility. Most folks won’t go beyond a page or two of search results, so if your product isn’t in there, you can forget about making a sale.

“A quick search today on any big search engine or many social media sites shows how easy it is to buy reviews and how much more platforms could do to protect consumers and honest businesses from this deceptive practice,” wrote Samuel Levine, director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection in a recent blog post.

The Facebook groups Oak discovered were marketplaces where reviews and ratings were bought and sold. Agents shared lists of products available for reviewers—one of the spreadsheets Oak saw had more than 10,000 products on it—and while most options are relatively cheap, there are pricier ticket items like robot vacuums and even a $500 treadmill. 

Oak’s PhD research focuses on cybersecurity, reputation manipulation, trust, and safety. He also works as an applied scientist in the Network Protection and Fraud Prevention team for Microsoft Ads. He resolved to dig deeper. He devised a survey and convinced 38 agents and 36 reviewers to fill it out. The data revealed that people were writing an average of 10 reviews per month for products with a total value between $120 and $2,400. Agents earned $4 or $5 for each review they secured, with average monthly earnings of $150. (The top earner’s best month netted them $1,200.) For many agents, this was their primary job.

. . . .

Agents are trained on how to recruit reviewers (referred to as “Jennies” by the agents). Tips for recruiting folks on Instagram, for example, suggest following hashtags like #Amazonreviews, as well as experimenting to find the best time to post about products. Agents are shown an example of an attractive prospect or “Virgin Jenny,” an existing reviewer profile with a single review on it. 

These agents never give out direct links to Amazon, because the retailer can track where customers land. Instead, Jennies are told to search for the product and browse organically—click on related products, mark other reviews as helpful, and post queries in the “Customer Questions” section to build a believable pattern of behavior. Jennies are also instructed to mix up the sellers they buy from, wait a few days after receiving the product to write the review, add photos and video to reviews, and write reviews of 300 words or more.

Link to the rest at Wired

Amazon Tightens Its Belt as Consumers Do Too


It took more than two and a half years, but Amazon’s round trip is now complete.

This, as the eCommerce and cloud computing giant’s double-digit, post-earnings dive Thursday evening (Oct 27) pushed its already battered stock price even lower, touching levels not seen since the COVID lows in March 2020.

While Amazon’s top line grew a respectable — albeit below estimates — 15% during the third quarter, strong dollar foreign exchange headwinds and rising expenses simply devoured most of its profits, leaving the company with razor thin margins and very little to show for 90 days’ work.

“As we’ve done in similar times in our history, we’re taking actions to tighten our belt,” Amazon CFO Brian Olsavsky told analysts, before pointing to unspecified corrective actions such as “pausing hiring in certain businesses” or “winding down products and services” where Amazon believes its resources would be better spent elsewhere.

As for a fast fix in the all-important holiday quarter, Olsavsky told investors that wasn’t likely, noting the company’s lowered Q4 forecast was the results of its expectation that the challenging global economic environment and forex headwinds that just crimped Q3 sales by more than 5% would be at least as harmful going forward.

. . . .

As much as Amazon said it is obsessed with the customer experience and making “their lives better and easier every day,” repairing the investor experience would seem to be an equal — if not more difficult — consideration.

This, as the company continues to pile on the Prime perks to expand its already massive 50+ percent share of online retail sales in the U.S. in an effort to keep members happy and coming back for more of the one-click, free delivery deals that have made Amazon the juggernaut that it is today.

By all accounts, the customer experience is good and loyalty remains high — but something clearly has to give as Amazon’s formula and expanding stable of blockbuster movies and media content, its coverage of NFL games, growth of palm reading cashierless stores, and expanding ecosystem of voice-powered Alexa devices are individually delightful but collectively unsustainable.

Said another way, Amazon spent $124 billion over the past three months en route to generating $127 billion of worldwide revenue, leaving it with just $2.5 billion of operating income to show for all of that effort.  Along the way, its margins have gone from 6.8% at the start of 2021, to 3.2% at the beginning of this year, to just 2.0% at the end of September, and presumably lower still as it winds down the year in peak promotional fashion.

The news did not sit well with investors who have now seen the tech giant’s stock drop more than 40% in a year and its market value slip below $1 trillion — down from $1.9 trillion at its peak last November.

. . . .

Certainly there is ample room and many large targets where Amazon could — and will — seek to accomplish “more with less,” but that process of squeezing efficiency out of the greater system is not likely to be easy or feel nice for customers or its 1.5 million employees.

To be sure, belt-tightening is never fun, but that process is being made even more difficult at Amazon, at the moment, given the fact that it will be happening concurrently with a similar phase of budgetary constraint that households and businesses are undergoing.

“The continuing impacts of broad-scale inflation, heightened fuel prices, and rising energy costs have impacted our sales growth as consumers assess the purchasing power and organizations of all sizes evaluate their technology and advertising spend,” Olsavsky cautioned in speaking to the trend of a slowing top line growth rate.

Link to the rest at PYMNTS

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 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
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

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 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.