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

From About Amazon:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

2020 shopping trends

Building a safe haven at home

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

Work and play from home

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

Opting outside

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

Link to the rest at About Amazon

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

The Goodreads Bot Problem

From Book Riot:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes that Goodreads is owned by Amazon.

How Amazon and Bookbub Will Help You Sell Books–FREE

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

Yeah, we know…

A BookBub feature will rocket your book skyward.

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

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

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

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

Then what?

What if your Book is a Dud?

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

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

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

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

Do you give up?

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

Of course you do.

Who doesn’t?

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

Did You Know that Amazon Wants you to be Successful?

It does?

You’re kidding. Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

An email or call to Author Central can help:

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

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

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

BookBub is On Your Side, Too

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

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

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

FREE Bookbub Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bookshop.org:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do most people who buy books really dislike Amazon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See even more at Bookshop.org

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

From Gizmodo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Gizmodo

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

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

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket: Amazon Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I’m putting up this post in the middle of the fear sequence as it appears on my website, not because the post fits in the fear cycle, but because I don’t want to monitor the news for weeks to see what, if anything, has changed.

On June 9, here in the States, Democrats in the House of Representatives introduced a package of five bills which theoretically have bipartisan support. In a nutshell, the bills are aimed at stopping anti-competitive practices among the tech giants. Some of the provisions could even force companies like Amazon to break apart into smaller units.

Now, realize, that here in the U.S., just because a bill gets introduced doesn’t mean it will pass. It needs to pass both houses of Congress, and then the President must sign the bill into law. If the President refuses, Congress can override his veto…with enough votes.

In other words, there’s many a slip twixt cup and lip.

. . . .

For a decade now, I’ve been railing against writers who go exclusively to Amazon. I’ve been say, as clearly as I can, that as a business person, you should never, ever, ever put all your eggs in one basket.

Back in the early days of the new world of publishing, indies from the Kindle Boards would screech over to my website (usually on a Saturday) to call me stupid and ignorant, especially when I “attacked” Amazon.

Amazon is too big to fail, they said. Amazon will be around forever, they said.

And it didn’t matter how many examples I gave them of too-big-to-fail companies that did, indeed, disappear, they didn’t listen.

Those indies are mostly gone now, not because Amazon failed, but because they burned out or didn’t understand what kind of success they actually had and therefore gave up.

But for every screamer who left, another took their place. Usually quieter, and often just as dismissive. They’ve now moved to other places to share information because they know I’m inhospitable to exclusivity and Kindle-only. They’re stuck in Amazon’s algorithms, believing their writing careers are safe.

When these writers “go wide” as they call it, selling their books on sites other than Amazon, and lose Amazon’s exclusivity and “page reads” and deals, their income goes way down. Because these writers don’t understand that they need to build a new audience on each platform.

Building audiences takes time, but it protects against the eggs-in-one-basket problem.

. . . .

When a company gets hit with antitrust violations, there are a lot of remedies. Breaking up the company is one. Forcing the company to divest itself of parts of its business that help it create a monopoly is another. And there are so many more.

. . . .

“For Amazon,” [Michael Cader at Publisher’s Marketplace] writes, “that would likely mean divesting most arms of their publishing octopus, including much if not all of Audible, plus Brilliance, Amazon Publishing, Kindle Direct Publishing, and probably CreateSpace. It might apply to divesting AbeBooks as well.”

Sit with that for a moment. Amazon might have to get rid of everything that makes their indie publishing arm possible. Amazon could do a few things with it. They might sell the pieces. If those arms aren’t making a lot of money (in corporate terms), they might simply shut them down.

That’s not a big deal for people who are wide. They’ll still be able to publish.

But indies whose entire career is based on Amazon’s ecosystem? Those indies will go through a year or more of turmoil—if Amazon sells those pieces. If Amazon shuts those pieces down, the indies will lose their careers overnight.

. . . .

I’m just going to use Cader’s pull quotes here, since he really does very little editorializing, except at the end. (Although the choice of quotes is instructive.)

Here’s how he describes that Act:

The Act “prohibits discriminatory conduct by dominant platforms, including a ban on self-preferencing and picking winners and losers online.” In particular, it prohibits conduct that “advantages the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user.”

Significantly, covered companies may not “interfere or restrict a business user’s pricing of its goods or services.”

It blocks the use of “non-public data obtained from or generated on the platform by the activities of a business user or its customers that is generated through an interaction with the business user’s products or services to offer or support the offering of the covered platform operator’s own products or services.”

And it would keep Amazon from putting its thumb on the scale of their various promotional levers, blocking, “in connection with any user interfaces, including search or ranking functionality offered by the covered platform, treat the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business more favorably than another business user.”

There’s so much to unpack here. Note that this act covers pricing and promotion and, once again, competition. Instead of the Amazon ecosystem favoring Amazon, it would have to level the playing field in all areas.

That would mean, indies, there’s no competitive advantage to being Amazon-only.

. . . .

Amazon itself would survive. If the American Innovation and Choice Online Act is the only one that passes, then all those publishing services would remain intact, but the promotional deals that favor only Amazon products—and yes, your exclusive book is an Amazon product—would disappear.

All the advantages you have at Amazon would disappear if either of these two Acts pass in the current form.

They won’t. They’ll be different, if they ever make it out of committee. They’ll be significantly different after random House members get to put their imprint on the bills. They’ll be even more different after the Senate messes with it.

. . . .

Eventually, the U.S. government will take apart Amazon and the other tech giants. In the 1920s, the U.S. government took apart the tech giants of the late 19th century. When the tech giants’ power rivals the U.S. government and/or trumps the government (pun intended), the U.S. government—in a bipartisan way—will defang a tech giant. It sometimes takes years. But it will happen.

What do I recommend for those of you who are Amazon exclusive? I recommend that you watch this legislation for one thing. For another, I would start—slowly—divesting yourself of the exclusivity at Amazon.

I’d take my lowest performing works and pull them out of the exclusive ecosystem, going wide with them. I’d focus on promotions outside of Amazon for those particular products. I’d learn how to be a business person without Amazon, so when the Amazon ecosystem changes—and it will—you will be prepared.

. . . .

I have watched countless writers go under when the book publisher goes bankrupt. I  have watched non-publishing businesses go down because they have, essentially, one client and either that client stops paying or that client goes out of business.

See this as the shot across the bow that it is. The changes might not happen in 2021 (most certainly they won’t). They might not happen in 2022. But by mid-decade? Maybe.

. . . .

The system Amazon built that has—as a sideline—benefitted some exclusive indie writers will change in the next five years. I can guarantee that.

It might change sooner.

The indies who act now to slowly go wide will survive.

Those who cling to the old ways of doing things—exclusive, through Amazon—will lose their entire business, maybe sooner rather than later.

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 shares some of Kris’s concerns but doesn’t think some of her concerns, while legitimate, are as serious as she does.

PG also thinks other factors Kris doesn’t mention may impact Amazon’s future.

When a strong personality steers a large company, there are upsides and downsides.

Even though the company becomes very large, the strong personality can make the ship turn more rapidly than a similar company under more conventional corporate governance could. Bezos and Amazon have demonstrated the benefits of this agility and willingness to take risks on more than one occasion. Steve Jobs and Apple are another example.

Sometimes, when there’s a strong personality at the top of an organization, the organization develops responsively to their leadership style. A new leader with a different style can lead to organizational stumbles. Organizations governed by several strong leaders acting in various roles may transition to new leadership more easily than single-leader organizations.

Another potential drawback of strong personality leadership is that subordinates with similar talents and personalities will go elsewhere instead of remaining in the organization. Would a clone of Jeff Bezos go to work at Amazon today? Suppose a clone of Jeff Bezos was an Amazon vice-president. Would they stick around to see how the CEO-successor game played out or jump to a leadership role in a different company when a head-hunter called with a good opportunity elsewhere?

The problem of a Big Tree CEO stunting the growth of smaller trees in the lower ranks is a real possibility. Some CEOs deal with that problem better than other CEOs do.

Amazon today is two large businesses – The Everything Store, where zillions of people go to buy stuff, and Amazon Web Services.

Of the two, Amazon Web Services earns the most money and is the most valuable. At root, The Everything Store is a retailer, and retailers, large and small, almost always operate on tight margins. AWS is a money machine.

Perhaps he has missed it, but he hasn’t seen anything that suggests that AWS is the focus of any serious antitrust scrutiny. Most of the public heat is focused on The Everything Store because it competes effectively with all sorts of retailers and touches on the distribution and sales operations of a whole bunch of manufacturers and suppliers of goods.

The Everything Store also competes with lots and lots of other retailers. Its enormous success in this sphere has gained the company a lot of enemies, including dedicated Amazon-haters. Most of traditional publishing falls into this segment. So do the many culturally influential individuals who are hopelessly in love with the idea of the little bookshop on the corner.

PG opines that most middle-class people in the US have no beef with Amazon and are happy to continue buying all sorts of things from the company.

For politicians, all the potential glory lies in attacking The Everything Store.

That’s the background as PG sees it.

What’s the future of legal attacks on Amazon?

PG thinks the timeline of any antitrust litigation against Amazon is very long.

He’ll summarize the timeline of the Microsoft antitrust of the last century:

  • Serious investigations began in the early 1990’s
  • Suit was filed by the Justice Department in 1998 after Netscape lost the browser wars to Internet Explorer
  • In mid-2000, the trial judge handed down his verdict. Microsoft appealed.
  • In mid-2001, The Court of Appeals acted rather quickly, reversed the trial court’s decision, and sent the case back down for a brand-new trial with a different judge.
  • At this point, the US Department of Justice got serious about settling the case instead of going through the trial-and-appeal process again. Microsoft exited the antitrust litigation in November, 2001, almost unscathed.

So, Microsoft’s antitrust litigation problems lasted over ten years from the beginning of serious investigations until the case was resolved. Today, Microsoft is the second most valuable company in the US by market capitalization.

In 1969, following a comprehensive investigation, the Justice Department filed an antitrust suit against IBM for monopolizing the personal computer market. That case lasted 13 years and IBM survived, remaining in the top ten of the Fortune 500 until 2006.

So, PG’s bottom line on Amazon is that, unless the company does something truly stupid, antitrust problems are, at most, a distant cloud on the horizon.

As far as harmful new legislation impacting Amazon, there is less predictability, but Amazon is #2 on Fortune Magazines list of the World’s Most Admired Companies.

Amazon is a very popular company with a great many American voters. Amazon has an estimated 147 Prime members in the United States. PG speculates that a letter to its customers asking them to contact their congressional representatives to head off anti-Amazon legislation might be quite effective.

PG is not aware of any law that would prevent Amazon from sending an email to each of its Prime members (or each of its customers) in the United States (or anywhere else) asking them to send a letter or email to their Congressional Representative and each of their two Senators.

Typically, Amazon’s customers provide a physical address to which purchases of non-digital goods should be sent, so the company has a very good idea of which state and congressional district in which a customer lives and/or does business. With that information, Amazon could provide relevant names, offices and email addresses, etc., for the relevant representative/senator.

Amazon’s letter or email to its customers could encourage customers to contact their representatives to tell them not to do anything that would harm Zon, including voting for any legislation that would force Amazon to change its business or stop selling popular products to individuals.

There would be a huge uproar by the anti-Zon press and other of the usual suspects, but PG thinks congressional representatives would get the message that their constituents like Amazon just the way it is and don’t want anybody voting for laws that would prevent them from buying whatever they want from Amazon.

Moving Forward or Onward or Whatever

From The Mad Genius Club:

By now, you’re probably tired of reading about my journey away from being Amazon-exclusive. In some ways, I am as well. It’s been an interesting voyage. Not because of the move away from Amazon but because of things it’s made me consider, things I’d been taking for granted or had let slip for much too long. In other words, I’d gotten too comfortable and that is a bad thing for writers, especially right now when we don’t know what is going to happen with Amazon’s KDP program or its publishing arm.

Before I head back to going wide, let’s talk about some of the changes coming to Amazon that may impact some of us. Jeff Belle has headed Amazon Publishing since 2009. He’s leaving–may have already left–and Mikyla Bruder is taking over. She’s been with Amazon for 10 years–that’s a good thing because it means she’s familiar with the system and the authors–but she comes from a traditional publishing background. That could be good or bad.

According to Publisher’s Weekly, Bruder doesn’t anticipate any problems in the transition or plan to make any big changes. That’s pretty standard boilerplate for any exec taking over a company or division when there’s no real problems the public is aware of. However, PW is quick to jump on the PC wagon:

Though Bruder does not see a shift in the overall vision for Amazon Publishing, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes. Most importantly, she brings a completely different life experience to her job than Belle did. Bruder, who is Asian American, said she has lived as an “other” in the largely homogenous world of trade book publishing and knows how tiring that can be. “I have seen firsthand how difficult it can be to work in that environment,” she added.

What this means beyond the fact PW is being, well, PW is up to interpretation. We’ll have to wait and see if Bruder continues to buy books from authors based on how well she thinks they will sell–and thus make profit for Amazon–or if a political/social agenda takes the forefront. If it is the latter, I don’t expect her to have the lengthy career with the ‘Zon her predecessor enjoyed.

Speaking of Amazon, while other companies are recovering from the limitations put on them by the pandemic–fewer employees, more working from home, etc–it seems Amazon’s KDP support staff is still at a low. I contacted them a week ago about an issue with my Honor & Duty series. For some reason, I can’t edit the series information. So I sent an email–always have a paper trail, even with the ‘Zon–detailing the issue and what I needed done. Usually, I get a response and resolution within a few hours. The longest I’ve waited for anything since trying to go wide has been 18 hours. This time? I was told they’d get to it within a week or so. Color me not happy. But they will be even less happy if I have to contact them again about this.

. . . .

I knew when I started it more would be involved than just uploading my books to the various storefronts or 3rd party aggregator. I hadn’t anticipated having to retrain myself to think in ways I haven’t since going exclusively with Amazon. 

Without going into too much detail, I had to look at how to get my books into the various storefronts, which storefronts I wanted to go with, etc. Initially, I decided to upload direct to BN, Kobo and Apple. I’d use Draft2Digital for the rest. I’ve changed my mind. The time saved alone by using D2D for everything is worth the few pennies per sale I pay to D2D to handle things for me. All I have to do is upload a generic ePub of the book, fill in the blanks and they do the rest. 

There is an added benefit of allowing them to handle it. Draft2Digital has a “sister” site called Books2Read. I’ve mentioned the site before but I am really starting to appreciate how powerful of a tool it can be for a writer. For example, here’s the landing page for Witchfire Burning. It shows the cover, gives the description and below lists other books (showing covers) I’ve written. It’s a much more attractive landing page than the product page at Amazon. If you click on the “get it now” button, it will take you to a new page where you can choose which storefront you want to visit (and I need to update it to pull in the Amazon link). 

The great thing about something like this is you can use it as your landing page for the book on your website. But even better is you can use this universal link in your books and promotional material. Think of it as a one-size-fits-all link you can use pretty much anywhere. That includes in your ebooks.

. . . .

Going wide has also made me look at book covers. Some of my covers were five years or more old. Let’s face it, genre cuing has changed in that time and sub-genres have grown. Because of that, I’ve taken time to redo a number of my covers. Some have been subtle changes: a change in font, the addition of a visual element. Others have been complete redesigns. It takes time but it helps give the books a fresher “image” and it will help draw in new readers.

. . . .

I know going wide isn’t for everyone. But I do urge each of you, whether you are Amazon only or wide or whatever, to take a long, hard look at what you’re doing now. Are there things you could do better? How much time and effort are you putting in on promotion? When’s the last time you updated your website? Do you blog on a regular basis? When you are on social media, are you on it as a private person or in your writer persona and how much time is spent in each?

Yes, going wide has me scared. I know my income will probably take a bit of a hit for the first few months until everything is released across the board and new titles are hitting. But, and this is interesting, as the number of books in KDP Select decrease, it appears that my Amazon sales are actually increasing. It will be interesting to see if this trend continues.

In the meantime, here’s my Books2Read author page. It is a work in progress, partially “thanks” to Amazon and the issue with the way they have the Honor & Duty series listed. But it is a quick and easy landing page to send your readers to, one that certainly looks nicer than your Amazon Author Page. I do wish it listed your website and blog the way the AAP does, but you can’t have everything and it is just one more tool in your author’s toolbox.

Link to the rest at The Mad Genius Club and thanks to T for the tip.

Kindle Vella: Return of the Serial

From Indies Unlimited:

Amazon, never content to rest on its laurels, has announced a new avenue for storytelling: Kindle Vella. Many writers have already discovered the lure of publishing a serial, a short episode or a chapter at a time. Hugh Howey’s Wool, if you remember, started as a short story, then he expanded on the series little by little. It was already wildly popular before he accepted a six-figure deal with Simon & Schuster.

We’ve all seen how some series, either books or movies or both, can garner a large following. If we’ve got a captivating story line with complex characters interacting in interesting and surprising ways, our readers want to know what happens next. And while some of us might go months, even years between books — possibly losing readers during the hiatus — a series of short chapters released relatively quickly can keep those readers engaged and wanting more.

Okay, so how does it work?

First of all, Kindle Vella will only be available to US-based authors writing in the English language; our counterparts in other countries will have to wait to see if it gets expanded. Readers will be able to access it on the Kindle iOS app and on Amazon.com. The program is not operational yet, but should be by mid-July, according to Amazon. Even so, authors can submit their work prior to the launch, and their stories will go live as soon as the program does. If you’d rather wait until the program is fully operational, you can publish your work with a scheduled release date.

Amazon suggests publishing your series as one 600-5,000 word episode at a time, and also recommends publishing the first few episodes quickly so readers can dive right into the story. There will be a Kindle Vella store where your stories are marketed, and readers will pay by buying Tokens that unlock the episodes. The first few episodes of any series will be free, but then the number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode will be determined by word count: one Token per 100 words. Authors will receive 50% royalties on the amount readers spend on Tokens.

In order to keep the Kindle Vella experience unique, authors may not publish the same content as a book. If, at the end of the series, you do decide to format it as a book, you must unpublish it from the Kindle Vella library. Likewise, you cannot break down a previously published book into episodes for Kindle Vella. If your work is a continuation of a previously published book, you may, however, include up to 5,000 words from that prior book in your first episode to set the stage. Content that is freely available in the public domain or online is not eligible for Kindle Vella.

Amazon is also introducing some new features that will allow readers to interact with your story in ways similar to social media. Readers can follow authors and sign up to be notified as soon as new episodes are released, and they can give episodes they particularly like a thumbs up. They will be able to assign a Fave every week to the story they enjoyed the most, and the stories with the most Faves will be featured in the Kindle Vella store. 

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

Mikyla Bruder Steps Up at Amazon Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

Mikyla Bruder doesn’t anticipate any surprises when she takes charge of Amazon Publishing in July, following the departure of Jeff Belle, who has headed the operation since it began in 2009. “We’ve worked together for so long, I expect it to be an easy transition,” she said. June marks her 10th year with Amazon Publishing, and she has been publisher since 2015.

Prior to joining Amazon, Bruder worked at a number of West Coast publishers in several different roles. She was executive editor and publishing director at Chronicle Books and then associate publisher/director of sales and marketing at Workman’s Portland, Ore.–based imprint Timber Press. Like many West Coast publishers, she believes being outside of the New York City metro area has given her a different view of the book world. She said she sees her mission as helping Amazon Publishing, which she described as a midsize publisher, take the next steps forward in its evolution while remaining “an author-centric publishing house.”

Though Bruder does not see a shift in the overall vision for Amazon Publishing, that doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes. Most importantly, she brings a completely different life experience to her job than Belle did. Bruder, who is Asian American, said she has lived as an “other” in the largely homogenous world of trade book publishing and knows how tiring that can be. “I have seen firsthand how difficult it can be to work in that environment,” she added.

Bruder has no doubt that the types of books that are published reflect the sensibilities of the editors who acquire them, making it imperative that publishers, including Amazon, hire people from diverse backgrounds. Her goal, she said, is to release titles that reflect the makeup of American society.

Bruder also hopes to be a role model other people of color can follow as they enter the publishing industry. She sees herself as being a problem solver, and as the leader of Amazon Publishing, she said she will encourage more debate about the best steps forward to make the company and the industry more inclusive. She knows that making some of the necessary changes won’t be easy, but it must be done. “We need to do it together—people need to be willing to be uncomfortable in facing some of these issues,” she said.

Noting that publishing is a business of words, Bruder said the industry has a responsibility to develop a more inclusive vocabulary when discussing diversity issues. “This needs to be an industry-wide conversation,” she added.

. . . .

Amazon Publishing has had its share of commercial hits, and Bruder said she is prepared to make some bets on new books. Mark Sullivan, author of one of Amazon’s bestsellers, Beneath a Scarlet Sky, has just published The Last Green Valley through the Lake Union imprint. In July, the Thomas & Mercer imprint will publish Choose Me by Tess Gerritsen, writing with Gary Braver. On the nonfiction list is Mothertrucker, a true story from college professor and writer Amy Butcher about the connection she forged with Joy “Mothertrucker” Wiebe, an Instagram celebrity and the nation’s only female ice road trucker, over their shared history of spousal abuse. It will be published in November by Little A.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

ABA Brings Back #BoxedOut Marketing Campaign

From Publishers Weekly:

Hoping to take advantage of new government scrutiny aimed at Amazon and other high-tech powers, the American Booksellers Association is bringing back its #BoxedOut marketing campaign. The campaign is designed to highlight Amazon’s dominance in bookselling as well as what the ABA says is the danger that it poses to local communities.

The new campaign will be rolled out on June 20 and 21, ahead of Amazon’s June 21 and 22 Prime Day sales event. Last year’s effort featured independent bookstore storefronts covered with cardboard facades in an attempt to reflect the Amazon brown boxes that appeared in growing numbers on porches and in lobbies during the pandemic. The cardboard facades, which included quotes such as “Don’t box out bookstores” and “Books curated by a real person, not a creepy algorithm,” were augmented by a social media campaign conducted by hundreds of indie bookstores. The ABA said new boxes are being sent to stores and new materials will be available online.

In announcing the return of #BoxedOut, the ABA noted that while more than one bookstore a week closed during the pandemic, Amazon’s profits soared. And though the majority of indie bookstores, helped by new innovations and community support, managed to remain in business after last year, they still face a variety of challenges as the pandemic eases, ranging from supply chain disruptions to labor shortages.

The ABA also pointed to “a significant national conversation about antitrust and monopolies” that is already underway, and cited the lawsuit filed by District of Columbia attorney general Karl Racine against Amazon as an example of action that could temper the conduct of the online giant. In addition, the ABA, as well as the AAP, were cheered by the appointment of Lina Khan—a critic of the power held by high tech companies—as chair of the Federal Trade Commission.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Of course, the #BoxedOut Marketing Campaign has had such a devastating effect on Amazon’s book sales in prior years that everybody in Seattle is shaking in their boots.

PG hasn’t seen any third-party data about the number of bookstore closings resulting from the pandemic, so he’s not certain exactly what “the majority of indie bookstores . . . managed to remain in business” means. For those who are detail-oriented, 51% is a “majority.”

Lots of other business groups have placed their hopes on antitrust litigation to save them.

The 1998 antitrust suit against Microsoft certainly captured a lot of attention from MS executives, but didn’t save Netscape’s browser business or the company. (For the record, PG was a big Netscape fan and knew several people who worked there. He probably has an old Netscape t-shirt buried somewhere in his closet.) Microsoft is still the second most-valuable company in the US (after Apple).

PG thinks that physical retail stores aren’t going to disappear as a significant class of retailers, but many, including bookstores, aren’t going to be as numerous as they’ve been in decades past.

If the ABA asked his opinion (they haven’t and aren’t likely to do so), he would suggest a more positive and upbeat campaign about the benefits of local indie bookstores.

However, those bookstores have lots and lots of boxes they usually throw away (just like Zon customers), so #BoxedOut are easy for their underpaid staffs to stack up in front of the store.

Bipartisan House Bills Aim to Rein in Amazon & Other Big Tech Companies

From Shelf Awareness:

On Friday, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Representatives introduced five bills that aim to rein in Big Tech companies–Amazon, Google, Facebook and Apple. The moves parallel efforts by the European Union to regulate Big Tech more, and seem to be one of the few areas where Congressional Democrats and Republicans have found common ground. Still, the bills could take a while to pass, especially in the Senate, with some Republicans wary about changing antitrust law, and once passed could take longer to implement.

“The proposals would make it easier to break up businesses that used their dominance in one area to get a stronghold in another, would create new hurdles for acquisitions of nascent rivals and would empower regulators with more funds to police companies,” the New York Times observed.

One of the bills, the Ending Platform Monopolies Act, would make it unlawful for an online platform to own a business that uses “the covered platform for the sale or provision of products or services” or that sells services as a condition for access to the platform, the Wall Street Journal wrote. The platform company also couldn’t own businesses that create conflicts of interest, such as by creating the “incentive and ability” for the platform to advantage its own products over competitors. The act could require Amazon to split into several companies.

The Journal added: “If the Ending Platform Monopolies bill were to be passed, Amazon could have to split its business into two separate websites, one for its third-party marketplace and one for first-party, or divest or shut down the sale of its own products. Amazon’s private-label division has dozens of brands with 158,000 products. It is also a market leader on devices such as Kindle eReaders, Amazon Echos, Fire TV streaming devices and Ring doorbells.”

Another bill bars platforms from giving preference to “the covered platform operator’s own products, services, or lines of business over those of another business user,” or that excludes or disadvantages other businesses. This, too, could deeply affect Amazon.

Another bill seeks to limit mergers, “making it unlawful for a large platform to acquire rivals or potential rivals,” the Journal wrote. Still, “the bill would have prevented only ‘a small percentage of all technology sector deals’ over the past decade, the summary said.”

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

PG wonders if any of the relevant lawmakers are thinking about what consumers (AKA voters) would like to have happen to Amazon.

Consumers vote with their dollars and their votes say they love Amazon more than any place else online in the United States (and probably the world).

PG did a quick and dirty online check and found apparently reputable (at least by online standards) sites that placed Amazon as the #1 online shopping site in the UK, Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan and India.

Amazon came it at #2 in Mexico and #3 in Brazil. It didn’t make the top-ten in China.

So, because a large number of people love Amazon and a small number of people don’t like Amazon.

Some of the don’t-likes carry grudges against Amazon for one thing or another, mostly about changing things as they were. Of course traditional publishers and those with stakes in physical bookstores lead the way, but lots of other physical retailers do as well.

Nobody counts the millions and millions of people involved with third-party sellers on Amazon who are also very happy. Amazon’s nearly two million third-party sellers worldwide account for well over half of the platform’s total sales — 62% in 2020. Two million third-party sellers are much more than two million individual gals and guys working out of their garage. More than a few are large enterprises that employ dozens or hundreds of people.

PG found a website that lists the top one thousand Amazon third-party sellers world-wide based upon a formula it believes reflect the relative size of their sales volume. Amazon has 17 separate marketplaces, focused on geographical, cultural and/or language markets.

Within the top-ten third-party sellers world-wide, you’ll find:

  • German sellers – 3
  • UK sellers – 3
  • Indian sellers – 1
  • French sellers – 1
  • American sellers – 1
  • Japanese sellers – 1

In short, by attempting to disrupt Amazon’s operations, US politicians and their supporters are potentially harming a great many organizations and people who aren’t Jeff Bezos or Amazon millionaires at all.

And that’s not even talking about the the independent app developers that rely on Apple’s app store and those small businesses who use Google advertising.

PG suggests if you compare those who want to cut Amazon down to size to those who benefit from Amazon’s products and services, the Anti-Zon campaign is a war of the rich and privileged against much more varied and diverse worldwide group of individuals and small businesses for whom Amazon is both a valued source of good quality at reasonable prices and a way of earning a living when other avenues of financial advancement may be restricted and limiting.

And that’s not even talking about the gang of gatekeepers, thieves and con artists hovering around the traditional publishing empire.

But PG could be wrong.

He does feel better now, looking out the window hoping to see a unicorn or warm puppy walking by.

Senator Klobuchar Advocates Against Amazon, Other Monopolies

From Publishers Weekly:

Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar continued to make the case for stepping up antitrust actions yesterday, appearing in a webinar sponsored by the American Booksellers Association and Small Business Rising, a coalition of independent businesses advocating against monopolies.

Saying that “we can’t use duct tape and band aids anymore” in dealing with monopolies, Klobuchar noted that she and Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) had cosponsored a bill, the Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act, that will, among other things, provide $100 million to the Federal Trade Commission and the antitrust division of the Department of Justice to hire more lawyers to ensure enforcement of antitrust laws “to get the job done.”

Klobuchar said she hopes the bill will be approved by the full senate soon, since the government needs more tools in its arsenal to take on Amazon and other conglomerates. “This is all about cracking down on unfettered growth and abuse of market power,” she argued, advocating for a “reboot” of the antitrust movement in the U.S. by updating laws so as break the stranglehold of conglomerates upon the economy.

Klobuchar spoke of the negative impact of Amazon on the economy, describing it as “both a monopoly and a monopsony, because the people who sell things to Amazon don’t sell to anyone else and that is the definition of a monopsony.” She noted that “too much consolidation in concentrated markets” has a disproportionate negative impact upon “the minority community and small businesses within the minority community.”

It’s not just Amazon either, she pointed out, it’s also Facebook and Google and other Big Tech companies. Citing an email written by Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in which he’d written, “We’d rather buy than compete,” Klobuchar noted, “You buy all your competitors up, you lose that competitive force” in the marketplace.

“We know the stakes are high, the facts are stark, and if we don’t act now, the curse of bigness that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis once warned about will continue to threaten American innovation,” she said. “As Justice Thurgood Marshall once said of our antitrust laws, they are as important to the preservation of our free enterprise system as the Bill of Rights is to the protection of our personal freedom.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG wonders if Sen. Klobuchar cares about what consumers, including those living in Iowa, think about Amazon.

The reason Amazon is so big is that ordinary Americans really, really, really like buying things from Amazon. Do they have a voice in the monopoly/monopsony discussion?

Of course, consumers don’t hire Washington lobbyists and, to the best of PG’s knowledge there is no wealthy Political Action Committee that has been created by consumers that provides large campaign donations to elected officials in Washington or elsewhere.

PG doesn’t like to see any small business have financial problems, but one of the great strengths of the US economy is that it is constantly changing in response to what customers would like to have.

PG has mentioned this before, but he really, really doesn’t want to have to walk into a physical bookstore to buy a book any more. It’s just so much nicer to get what he wants from Amazon. The books are easier to find on Zon and he doesn’t have to worry about whether the store will be open or not.

Additionally, PG won’t say that he is forever swearing off of physical books, but it has been at least a couple of years, probably more, since he has bought or read from a physical book other than a couple of reference works.

PG is very happy to not have to worry about Covid when he walks out of his house these days (unless you live in PG’s neighborhood, your experience might be different), but he has been much more anxious to go to enjoyable restaurants where he and Mrs. PG can have a good conversation than he is to resume shopping trips to any locations other than a couple of grocery stores and Costco (when he needs a pallet-load of Raisin Bran or socket wrenches or some such thing).

Perhaps PG and most others will revert entirely to pre-Covid patterns of behavior, but PG doubts it.

You Won’t Find the Hardcover of Dave Eggers’s Next Novel on Amazon

From The New York Times:

Dave Eggers has a new novel coming out in the fall called “The Every.” But you won’t be able to buy it in all the usual places — at least not right away.

The hardcover of “The Every” will be published by McSweeney’s, which Eggers founded in 1998, and will be released on Oct. 5, but only in independent bookstores. The novel will have at least 32 different covers randomly distributed.

Six weeks later, Vintage will publish the e-book and paperback, which will have only one cover. They will be available everywhere, as will the audiobook edition, which comes out the same day.

But you still won’t be able to buy the hardcover on Amazon; that version will only be available at independent stores, and on the McSweeney’s website.

“I don’t like bullies,” Eggers wrote in an email. “Amazon has been kicking sand in the face of independent bookstores for decades now.”

The novel follows a former forest ranger and tech skeptic, Delaney Wells, as she tries to take down a dangerous monopoly from the inside: a company called The Every, formed when the world’s most powerful e-commerce site merged with the biggest social media company/search engine.

“One of the themes of the book is the power of monopolies to dictate our choices, so it seemed a good opportunity to push back a bit against the monopoly, Amazon, that currently rules the book world,” he said. “So we started looking into how feasible it would be to make the hardcover available only through independent bookstores. Turns out it is very, very hard.”

Eggers said that even distributing the book in a way that excluded Amazon was a challenge, because McSweeney’s usual agreement with its distributor, Baker & Taylor Publisher Services, prevented it from circumventing the retail giant. Vintage, part of Penguin Random House, would not be in a position to skip around them either.

“We’re retail-agnostic,” said Paul Bogaards, deputy publisher and executive director of communications at Knopf and Pantheon. But this arrangement, he said, is good for all parties involved. “They go out and they’re supporting indies,” Bogaards said of the hardcover plan, “and then six weeks later we get the trade paperback, which is great for us.”

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Awwww. How precious.

This will impress about 1% of the literate population of New York City and .000000001% of the rest of the world’s population.

PG says that, to support Dave, you should only purchase anything he writes from an indie bookstore that also sells strictly vegan food and snacks, recycles the entire store every week and donates 90% of its gross revenues to saving endangered furry lobsters wherever they may be.

Any store employee who takes a selfie after egging Jeff Bezos’ car qualifies for a free winter living in a commune outside of Yellowknife while providing volunteer snow-shoveling services for members of indigenous tribes and providing support services and counseling to needy musk oxen.

Rethinking and Book Wars

PG wishes he could say that he carefully positioned the prior two posts, Three Crucial Changes to the Book Publishing Industry and Dohle and Grant ‘Rethink’ the Book Business.

He didn’t. He just happened to read one shortly after the other last night and posted them when he had a bit of time today.

For PG, the Book Wars excerpt didn’t include much news or original insight. Regarding the OP comment, “commercially successful indie authors still represent a tiny fraction of the total,” the OP doesn’t mention that commercially successful traditionally-published authors also represent a tiny fraction of the total.

Additionally, PG doesn’t think that traditional publishing has shown any real signs of becoming more reader-centric. Look at the comments made by Dohle. Perhaps PG missed something, but Dohle’s remarks seemed to be exclusively focused on the industry and sounded like rehashed statements in corporatespeak that could have been made by any other publishing executive during the last thirty years.

“The Key Performance Indicators of this industry are all going in the right direction.”

PG will note that he first learned about and used Key Performance Indicators well over thirty years ago. Tailfins and flashy chrome hood ornaments are also going to be the big news coming out of Detroit this year.

Three Crucial Changes to the Book Publishing Industry

From Writers Digest:

The new book Book Wars: The Digital Revolution in Publishing documents in detail the changes in the book publishing industry in recent years. Author John B. Thompson gives a glimpse of three crucial changes.

When I set out, around 10 years ago, to study the impact of the digital revolution on the world of books, there was a great deal of uncertainty—and, in some quarters, considerable apprehension—about what might happen when digitization took hold in the oldest of our media industries. Many people in publishing were looking over their shoulders anxiously at what had happened in the music industry and thinking: This could happen to us too. The print-on-paper book could suffer the same fate as the vinyl LP—why not? The textual content of books could be digitized just as easily as music could, and the physical book could be swept aside by cheaper and more efficient forms of content delivery. Like the vinyl LP, the old-fashioned print-on-paper book could become a collector’s item, still cherished by the aficionado but banished to the margins of the industry.

In the years immediately following the launch of the Kindle in 2007, it looked to many like the physical book could indeed suffer the same fate as the vinyl LP, as e-book sales surged. But it soon became clear that the e-book surge was going to be short-lived: By 2012, the rapid growth of e-books had come to an abrupt halt. For some kinds of books, especially genre fiction like romance, mystery, and sci-fi, e-books were by then accounting for a sizable proportion of sales—as much as 40–50 percent. But in other genres, like nonfiction and children’s books, e-books represented a much smaller percentage of sales, and that percentage was either leveling off or declining. If the digital revolution in publishing was about e-books, then it seemed that this was, at best, a stalled revolution. In any case, it certainly didn’t look like a re-run of what had happened in the music industry.

However, the digital revolution in publishing was never only, or even primarily, about e-books: E-books were just one aspect of a much more complex and varied series of transformations that were disrupting the publishing world. In Book Wars, I take the reader on a journey through the decades of disruption that began around 2000 and continues unabated today, a period that has witnessed an enormous proliferation of new ventures and initiatives which, taken together, have radically altered the landscape of contemporary publishing. The world of books today looks very different from the way it looked 30 or 40 years ago. Among the many changes, three stand out as particularly significant.

. . . .

1. Amazon Online Retail

First was the rise of Amazon and the transformation of the retail side of the book business. Amazon was a child of the digital revolution—it wouldn’t have existed without digitization and the internet. In an astonishingly short time period, Amazon grew from its humble origins as a small tech startup in a Seattle garage to become the most powerful organization the world of books had ever known. Today, Amazon accounts for around 45 percent of all print book sales in the US and more than 75 percent of all e-book sales, and for many publishers, around half—in some cases, more—of their sales are accounted for by a single customer, Amazon. Never before in the 500-year history of book publishing has there been a retailer with this kind of market share, and with market share comes power, including the power to negotiate favorable terms with suppliers and to command the attention of readers. It’s hard to over-state the significance of this development: Its consequences are profound, not only for publishers and for other booksellers who struggle to compete with Amazon but also for the whole ecology of the publishing world, including the ways in which books are made visible to readers and discovered by them.

. . . .

2. Self-Publishing Boom

A second enormous change has been the explosion of self-publishing. Of course, self-publishing is not new: It can be traced back to the so-called vanity presses that emerged in the early and mid-twentieth century. But the new age of self-publishing that was ushered in by the digital revolution is very different from the old vanity presses. The key idea that underpins this new age is the idea that authors who want to self-publish their work should not have to pay for the privilege, and the organizations that facilitate self-publishing should not be making money by charging fees to authors. On the contrary, self-publishing organizations or platforms should be there to help authors publish their work, and these platforms would pay authors if and when their work sells, taking a commission on sales to cover their costs. It was this simple but fundamental idea, turning on its head the relationship between author and self-publishing organization, that underpinned the explosion in self-publishing that occurred from the early 2000s on, starting with pioneering organizations like Lulu and Smashwords and continuing through the establishment of Amazon’s self-publishing platforms, CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing, and including many other platforms and services. The world of self-publishing is now an enormously complicated world in its own right—a parallel universe that exists alongside the world of traditional publishing and that has grown enormously in recent years. Quite apart from the sheer volume of self-publishing output, the growth of this sector has altered the traditional power structures of the publishing world. The established publishers and agents who have long acted as gatekeepers in the publishing world, deciding which authors and projects should be published and on what terms, could now be bypassed by following entirely new pathways to publication that had been opened up by the digital revolution. Of course, publishing a book is one thing, getting people to notice and buy it is quite another, and traditional publishers continue to have much more marketing and sales clout than most self-published authors. But there are many indie authors who have managed to earn appreciable amounts of money from their writing, even if the commercially successful indie authors still represent a tiny fraction of the total. Apart from the financial rewards, the growth of self-publishing has massively increased the range of options available to writers, creating a more varied publishing environment in which authors can move back and forth between traditional publishing and self-publishing, depending on what they want to achieve and the options available to them at the time.

. . . .

3. Reader-Centric Business Model

The third change is in many ways the most fundamental: the digital revolution transformed the broader information and communication environment within which publishing existed, thereby creating both the necessity and the opportunity for publishers to adapt to a new and rapidly changing world of information and communication flows. For centuries, publishers had thought of themselves primarily as B2B businesses: They produced books and sold them to intermediaries in the book supply chain—to retailers and wholesalers. Publishers didn’t have a direct relationship with readers and they didn’t know much about them: The job of dealing with readers was left to the booksellers. But this traditional model of the publishing business was radically disrupted by the digital revolution. As competition from Amazon led to more and more bookstore closures, publishers realized that they could no longer count on physical bookstore to do what intermediaries in the traditional book supply chain had always done: make books visible and available to readers. They realized that they had to jettison the old model of the publisher as a bookseller-focused business and become more reader-centric: in other words, they had to re-orient their businesses in such a way that readers were not an afterthought but rather a central focus of their concern. And just as the digital revolution forced this shift upon publishers, it also made available to them a variety of new tools with which they could build direct channels of communication with readers and do so at scale. It is this fundamental shift in publishers’ self-understanding that is likely to be one of the most significant consequences of the digital revolution in publishing, one that will continue to play itself out in the years to come. 

Link to the rest at Writers Digest

Amazon Publishing, DPLA Ink Deal to Lend E-books in Libraries

From Publishers Weekly:

The Digital Public Library of America (DPLA) today announced that it has signed a much-anticipated agreement with Amazon Publishing to make all of the roughly 10,000 Amazon Publishing e-books and digital audiobooks available to libraries, the first time that digital content from Amazon Publishing will be made available to libraries.

In a release today, DPLA officials said that lending will begin sometime this summer, with Amazon Publishing content to be made available for license via the DPLA Exchange, the DPLA’s not-for-profit, “library-centered” platform, and accessible to readers via the SimplyE app, a free, open source library e-reader app developed by the New York Public Library and used by DPLA. Library users will not have to go through their Amazon accounts to access Amazon Publishing titles via the DPLA, and DPLA officials confirmed that, as with other publishers DPLA works with, Amazon will not receive any patron data.

The executed, long awaited deal comes nearly six months after Amazon Publishing and the DPLA confirmed that they were in talks to make Amazon Publishing titles available to libraries for the first time.

The deal represents a major step forward for the digital library market. Not only is Amazon Publishing finally making its digital content available to libraries, the deal gives libraries a range of models through which it can license the content, offering libraries the kind of flexibility librarians have long asked for from the major publishers.

DPLA officials said that Amazon Publishing titles will begin with four available licensing models this summer:

  • Unlimited, one user at a time access, two-year license
  • Bundles of 40 lends, available with a maximum of 10 simultaneously, with no time limit to use the lends
  • Bundles of five lends, available simultaneously, with no time limit to use the lends
  • 26 lends, one user at a time access, the lesser of two years or 26 lends license

. . . .

The deal will also serve to blunt a major criticism of Amazon, which until now had not made its digital content available to libraries under any terms—an exclusion that librarians have loudly criticized for years, and which was brought to the attention of lawmakers in an ALA report last year. In fact, an Amazon spokesperson revealed news of the potential deal with DPLA last year after reporters from The Hill contacted the company regarding a petition urging Congress to pursue “an antitrust investigation and legislative action to preserve and expand library services.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Outcry over book ‘censorship’ reveals how online retailers choose books — or don’t

From The Washington Post:

Crying “Censorship!” has become the right’s favorite book marketing technique.

Roger Kimball, president of Encounter Books, is the latest publisher to hawk his wares this way in the Wall Street Journal. Last week, on the op-ed page, Kimball complained that Amazon had stopped selling “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” by social conservative Ryan T. Anderson. Kimball called the move “a deliberate act of censorship” — presumably to placate critics who call the book transphobic. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)

Kimball went on to note that “When Harry Became Sally” has also been dropped by Bookshop.org, the indie alternative to Amazon. Far from providing an alternative, “Bookshop,” he claimed, “turns out to be little more than another minion for the Emperor of Wokeness.”

That’s silly, but one point Kimball made draws blood: How can Bookshop defend removing this 2018 book that offends liberal sensibilities while continuing to offer about 20 different editions of Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”?

Bookshop did not respond to a request for comment. But the reason you can buy the Führer’s memoir from a woke online bookseller says a lot about how Web-based merchants function and how they’re changing our relationship to retailers.

Consider that your local indie bookstore contains titles that have been carefully curated according to how much physical space is available, which books the managers consider worthy and what they anticipate customers will want to buy.

The World Wide Web is a different world. Large online book retailers are essentially search engines. They populate their sites by automatically sucking up inventory data from vast wholesalers, such as Ingram, so that they can, in effect, offer every book that exists. In the 1990s, that was part of Amazon’s great innovation, which allowed it to be the World’s Largest Bookstore, despite the fact that it began in Bezos’s garage.

But the convenience of having more than 10 million titles at our fingertips fundamentally changes retailers’ function in ways people don’t often acknowledge or readily understand. There is, it turns out, a price for that infinite inventory. Unlike the cozy bookstore in your town, online booksellers don’t choose each book they’re offering. The role of curator — if it exists at all — has effectively been passed from seller to customer.

Under this system, if a title attracts sufficiently convincing and public objections, that title is taken down from the website. I saw this process firsthand in 2019 when I asked Barnes & Noble why it was selling David Icke’s antisemitic book “The Trigger.” B&N blamed “an independent publishing distributor,” and the book vanished. Earlier this year, I asked Walmart why it was offering the racist “Turner Diaries” on its website; I never got an answer, but the title stopped showing up.

It’s highly unlikely that anyone at Barnes & Noble or Walmart ever looked at these bizarre and hateful books and decided, “Yes, I think our white supremacist customers will love this!” Instead, these books were simply swept up in the retailing equivalent of bottom trawling that drags a net across the ocean floor, catching cod and shrimp along with old barrels of toxic waste.

This feels like a problematic way to curate literature. I don’t want to read antisemitic, racist or transphobic books, but I also don’t want the marketplace of available titles to be shaped by my own or other customers’ objections. If these massive book retailers aren’t really choosing which books to sell except in rare occasions when a few titles are excluded — then perhaps they’ve relinquished their editorial control and become merely administrators of public space, in which case the public may have the right to make certain demands on them.

. . . .

[Justice Clarence Thomas] went on to suggest that Amazon (along with Twitter, Google and Facebook) may be what’s called a “common carrier,” like a railroad or a telephone network. These older entities don’t choose whose freight or data they carry; if you can pay and you have a legal product, they must take it without discrimination.

He went on to suggest that Amazon (along with Twitter, Google and Facebook) may be what’s called a “common carrier,” like a railroad or a telephone network. These older entities don’t choose whose freight or data they carry; if you can pay and you have a legal product, they must take it without discrimination.

Thomas wrote, “There is a fair argument that some digital platforms are sufficiently akin to common carriers or places of accommodation to be regulated in this manner.”

If that’s true — or if the court later decides it’s true — large online booksellers could find themselves in a very different universe. At the moment, Amazon, Bookshop and others are playing two different characters simultaneously: They essentially function as common carriers, offering everything their wholesale databases and distributors can supply. But when a particular book attracts negative attention and offends public sensitivities, these same booksellers act as private businesses and remove that title. The time may be approaching when that clever maneuver is no longer tenable.

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

PG wonders who exactly decided that book curators were necessary or desirable.

He suggests that “book curation” was and is, more or less, a marketing slogan designed to attract potential purchasers who want to elevate themselves above the hoi polloi who don’t see any particular virtue in a self-appointed tastemaker deciding what they will or won’t be permitted to ready.

For those outside the US, the reference to a “common carrier” is a US legal term that describes is a person or company that transports goods or people for any person or company.

Per Wikipedia:

A common carrier (also called a public carrier in British English) is distinguished from a contract carrier, which is a carrier that transports goods for only a certain number of clients and that can refuse to transport goods for anyone else, and from a private carrier. A common carrier holds itself out to provide service to the general public without discrimination (to meet the needs of the regulator’s quasi judicial role of impartiality toward the public’s interest) for the “public convenience and necessity.” A common carrier must further demonstrate to the regulator that it is “fit, willing, and able” to provide those services for which it is granted authority. Common carriers typically transport persons or goods according to defined and published routes, time schedules, and rate tables upon the approval of regulators. Public airlines, railroads, bus lines, taxicab companies, phone companies, internet service providers,[4] cruise ships, motor carriers (i.e., canal operating companies, trucking companies), and other freight companies generally operate as common carriers.

An important legal requirement for common carrier as public provider is that it cannot discriminate, that is refuse the service unless there is some compelling reason. 

(per Wikipedia)

Generally common carriers have a competitive advantage over private carriers because they are cost-effective and convenient. Common carriers typically offer standard or quite similar terms and conditions and often compete on pricing.

In many cases, common carriers are regulated by law in various ways to provide a more predictable and reliable service to shippers as opposed to a private carrier which may not be operate according to industry standard terms and expectations.

Back to bookstores, PG tends to prefer a store that is likely to have a book that he desires, regardless of whether the book PG desires is part of the book mainstream or not. For that reason, if Amazon starts to delist a wider range of books because one or more pressure groups find objectionable, PG will begin to look elsewhere on a regular basis rather than wasting his time on a site that is not a reliable purveyor of books he likes.

Additionally, rallying groups of people to demand book banning can definitely go more than one way. People with a wide variety of beliefs and opinions are fully capable to organizing themselves online to bring pressure on Amazon or any other vendor that has shown it will respond to pressure to delist this or that book.

A Tale of Two Platforms

From Marker:

Jeff Bezos is the world’s richest person, and Amazon, the company he founded, one of the world’s most admired and valuable. Two recent books, Invent and Wander: The Collected Writings of Jeff Bezos, with an introduction by Walter Isaacson, and Working Backwards, by longtime Amazon executives Colin Bryar and Bill Carr, offer lessons from the company’s enormous success.

The Family Business, by Keel Hunt, due out April 20, tells the story of another company, Ingram Industries, which, not coincidentally, played an indispensable role in enabling Amazon’s initial success as the world’s largest online bookstore. Ingram is a family owned business, founded in 1857 as a sawmill in Wisconsin but reinvented multiple times, eventually becoming a transportation and distribution company based in Nashville. 50 years ago, it branched out into book wholesaling, later adding video (and in the heyday of that industry, packaged software.) When Amazon was founded In 1995, it was essentially a web front-end to Ingram’s warehouses and its database of virtually every book that was commercially available. Even today, the Ingram Content Group is a key part of the hidden infrastructure of publishing and bookselling in the US, including Amazon.

Reading these corporate biographies in parallel provides a lot of food for thought. I spend a lot of my time these days studying marketplaces and the technology platforms that enable them: Amazon, Google, Shopify, Alibaba, and of course, my own O’Reilly learning platform. I’m interested in what makes marketplaces succeed and what makes them fail. And in particular, I’m trying to understand how modern technology-based platforms decide the central question of economics: who gets what and why?

. . . .

The core narrative of Silicon Valley is of the invention of a new, magical user experience so transformative that it draws hundreds of millions of users: a storefront from which you can order any product with one click, a search engine that gives access to all the world’s information, a phone that is “insanely great,” an app that summons a car and driver to pick you up within minutes wherever you are and take you wherever you want to go. Exponential user growth is seen as the ultimate measure of success. Today, Silicon Valley companies look to be valued at billions of dollars on that metric alone, when some of them can hardly be called businesses, since they have no profits and may even lack a plan for earning any.

Jeff Bezos founded one of the first of the internet’s hyper growth companies, but he understood that the reality is far more complex than simply growth in users. In 2001, he supposedly drew Amazon’s strategy on a napkin. The picture looked something like this:

Jeff pictured a flywheel in which sellers provide a big selection of products, and the unique Amazon customer experience of unparalleled access to those products drives more traffic, drawing even more sellers. Growth of a super-scale business allows a lower cost structure, allowing Amazon to lower prices for customers, which drives an even better customer experience, which drives more traffic, draws more sellers and more products, around and around, faster and faster.

Companies like Amazon, Uber and Lyft, and even Google and Netflix, are marketplaces, connecting and enabling both buyers and sellers. Amazon connects buyers to hundreds of millions of products; Uber and Lyft connect riders with drivers, and Google and Netflix connect readers and viewers with content providers.

One of the big problems in these hyper-scaled marketplaces is building up both sides of the market at the same time. 

. . . .

It’s a lot easier if you only have to build one side of the market. When Amazon launched in 1995 as “the world’s biggest bookstore,” it didn’t have to spend money assembling a critical mass of books, publishers, and authors. Ingram had already done that. Starting in 1970, Ingram had been connecting publishers and bookstores, such that any bookstore — not just Amazon — had access to every book in print. Jeff’s revolutionary insight, the one that launched Amazon, was that the web made it possible to create a friendly online interface to Ingram’s enormous catalog and that technology could be used to radically simplify the process of ordering and delivering. And the flywheel began to spin.

By 2001, when Jeff drew his flywheel diagram, Amazon was already selling electronics and music CDs as well as books, and before long, it was the interface to virtually anything its customers might want to buy. Amazon also created its own, much faster, real-time distribution layer, while continuing to rely on Ingram (and other wholesalers of different kinds of products) for those products that have less demand. As its flywheel spun faster and faster, Amazon took in more and more products and vendors, built more and more infrastructure for warehousing and delivery, and became the master of logistics that we see today. With the success of its third-party marketplace, millions of sellers now compete to offer hundreds of millions of products.

. . . .

In his 1998 Letter to Shareholders, Bezos wrote, “Our customers have made our business what it is, they are the ones with whom we have a relationship, and they are the ones to whom we owe a great obligation.”

And there’s the rub. Because Amazon understands so well that delighting the customer with lower prices, faster delivery, and a better customer experience drives its growth, it can sometimes forget that it operates a two-sided marketplace in which its merchants also matter. Rather than considering its merchants as among those “with whom we have a relationship, and … the ones to whom we owe a great obligation,” Amazon seems to view them as a resource to be exploited, an inexhaustible fount of redundant supply to whom no obligation is owed.

This is the Achilles heel of Silicon Valley. Focus on the user, taken as the only gospel, becomes a liability. Amazon faces antitrust investigations in both Europe and the US based not just on strongarm tactics against competitors but against its merchants. Google is likewise being investigated for competing against the web sites whose content it was originally created to help consumers search. Uber co-founder and CEO Travis Kalanick’s palpable disdain for one of his drivers led to a massive PR backlash and his ouster from the company.

Amazon’s treatment of its merchants seems like a curious blind spot in a company that has been so prescient, so innovative, and so capable of creating value for those in its ecosystem. Looking at Bezos’s flywheel, it should be clear to the company that merchants are as important to the flywheel as customers.

Why does this happen? Unlike many critics of Silicon Valley, I don’t think it’s because the leaders of these companies are making decisions solely motivated by profit as is so often claimed by their critics. In fact, Jeff Bezos, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, and Mark Zuckerberg are profoundly thoughtful individuals working to do the right thing. The problem is that they are working within an economic system that values growth above all else, disdains small businesses as inefficient, and tilts the playing field against them.

. . . .

Jeff Bezos has told his team that “[other companies’] margin is our opportunity,” and accordingly, Amazon works to eliminate anyone it considers a middleman between the consumer and the ultimate source of supply. As Business Insider pointed out, though, this didn’t eliminate costs so much as it “shifted them to different, often hard to police and control places instead.”

“Before online retail, supply chains relied on friction to achieve quality. Becoming a vendor to Walmart required years of work and experience. Those vendor relationships were precious and would last for decades. Because of how hard it was to build one, Walmart could trust on the network of vendors to keep up the quality. In turn, they were invested in vetting their suppliers. Friction in the system meant the supply chain could be trusted. And if anything went wrong, there was a clear path to follow to find the responsible party.”

For Amazon, competition with its merchants also means that those merchants have an incentive to look elsewhere for a better deal. Over the years, Amazon has rebuffed competitors from Ebay to Walmart. Shopify, a platform company that provides infrastructure for companies to operate their own ecommerce sites, is the first rival that has begun to catch up to Amazon, with Gross Merchandise Volume now about $120 billion to Amazon’s $490 billion (versus $38 billion for Ebay, and Walmart in the “single digit billions.”) One executive at Shopify said to me, “Amazon went down the wrong path enough for us to exist.”

What does all this have to do with Ingram?

Ingram is a private company. That means it doesn’t have a public stock price that allows it to receive decades of future earnings today. In this sense, it’s an old-fashioned company, which provides a service and makes its money in the form of each year’s profit. A dollar of earnings is worth a dollar to the company, not $1100 (Tesla), not $77 (Amazon), not $34 (Apple) or $37 (Google or Microsoft.)

Unexpectedly, this allows a company to take a longer-term, more balanced view. If you can achieve an astronomic valuation on user growth alone, it is easy to convince yourself that any improvement that delights users and speeds user acquisition is worthwhile, whether it be lower prices, faster delivery, or more corporate efficiency to enable those things, even if it is at the expense of other elements of the flywheel, such as the merchants who sell on your platform or the drivers who deliver the packages or the passengers to their destination.

Ingram doesn’t have “users.” It is a B2B platform. Both sides of its marketplace are businesses: that is, publishers and bookstores (in the segment of its business that we have always dealt with.) And it has to thoughtfully balance the needs of both of them. It can’t sacrifice one to please the other. And it doesn’t have to do so to please Wall Street. Ingram’s management understands that the businesses on both sides of its marketplace are its customers, and obsesses about both of them.

Ingram’s innovation began with support for booksellers. In 1973, the company provided a weekly microfiche feed of new titles, radically improving the ability of small bookstores to keep up with the output of the fast-growing publishing industry. However, much of what has driven Ingram over the years is innovation designed to support its suppliers (authors and publishers). 

. . . .

There’s no question that Amazon has also introduced many services that benefit the supplier side of its marketplace. But Amazon’s innovations on behalf of the supplier side often come with costs designed to soak up their margin. Merchants on the platform are expected to compete fiercely with each other for attention. Amazon’s huge and fast growing advertising business, for example, can be seen as a tax on merchants. Before the addition of this lucrative business, merchants mostly had to compete on product quality and price. Now, they must also pay to play.

Link to the rest at Marker

As PG read the OP, he was reminded of an old quote which is attributed to many different people:

What you see depends on where you stand.

The author of the OP, Tim O’Reilly, is the founder and CEO of O’Reilly Media, a company that may be most known by those who formerly spent time in college bookstores or the technology section of traditional bookstores for the distinctive covers of its technical publications.

PG can’t say for certain, but he expects O’Reilly’s book business was pretty well decimated by the Web which was, from the very beginning, jammed with free information on the topics covered by pretty much any book O’Reilly sold.

As far as the OP’s assessment of who Amazon’s “customers” are, the question for any business is, “What’s the best price (from my standpoint) I can find that will maximize my profits from everybody necessary for my business to survive and succeed?”

Paying close attention to both outgo and income is essential for survival and success.

  • If Amazon is not willing to pay enough to its suppliers to ensure it has products its customers want to purchase, Amazon has a problem.
  • If Amazon is not willing to price its products/services at a level that customers are willing to pay, Amazon has a problem.

These calculations are not subject to a one-and-done approach for Amazon. It has to constantly consider what prices will result in its having products to sell and what prices its customers will pay.

If O’Reilly is willing to sell Amazon a box of tech manuals today for $1.00 less than yesterday’s price, is Amazon treating O’Reilly badly or unfairly if it says it wants today’s price not yesterday’s price?

Nearly everything Amazon sells is available from a variety of other retailers. Hardcopy books, ebooks, toothpaste, diapers, are all available from a zillion other vendors.

PG just checked and Amazon’s top five bestselling products included four different brands of disposable diapers and one brand of baby wipes for cleaning up while changing a diaper. PG is not an expert on diapers and baby wipes, but he expects that a great many other vendors, both online and IRL (in real life) are offering to sell disposable diapers and baby wipes.

Amazon is never free from price competition, service competition and every other sort of competition known to humankind for 99.9% of the products it sells.

PG just checked and Amazon’s percentage net profit margin over the last ten years is in the low to mid single-digits, typical of a great many other retailers, small and large.

Censorship Competition Heats Up

From The Wall Street Journal:

By now it is clear that wokeness is a contagious malady. Amazon.com made headlines in February when it suddenly delisted Ryan Anderson’s book “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment,” a thoughtful, humane and deeply researched investigation of a controverted subject of public debate.

As the publisher of that 2018 bestseller, I was taken aback by reports that Mr. Anderson’s book was unavailable at “the world’s largest bookstore.” At first, I wondered whether there was some mistake.

But no. It was a deliberate act of censorship. Moreover, like the earl of Strafford, Amazon’s motto was “Thorough.” They didn’t just stop selling the book. They pushed it into the digital oubliette, erasing all trace of it from the Amazon website. They did the same thing at their subsidiaries Audible, which sells audiobooks, and AbeBooks, which sells secondhand books.

Now it turns out that Bookshop.org, which bills itself a scrappy alternative to the Bezos Behemoth, is up to the same game. A couple of weeks ago, a reader alerted us that Mr. Anderson’s book had gone missing from the Bookshop.org website.

The organization never responded to our queries. But on Friday we learned from our distributor that Bookshop had deep-sixed the book. “We did remove this title based on our policies,” Bookshop wrote to our distributor—without, however, explaining what those “policies” might be. “We had multiple complaints and concerns from customers, affiliates, and employees about the title.”

Perhaps other customers, affiliates and employees expressed “complaints and concerns” about Heather Mac Donald’s “The War on Cops,” another Encounter bestseller. That book has also been disappeared from the Bookshop website.

. . . .

I couldn’t help but note that at least one of my own books, “Tenured Radicals,” is missing in action there. Apparently there were no “complaints and concerns” about Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf,” however. That book is available in a variety of editions, as are the anti-Semitic lucubrations of Louis Farrakhan and many other similarly unedifying effusions.

Underdogs make for good copy, so it was no surprise that Bookshop was hailed as a brave upstart, a feisty David to the Goliath of Amazon. “Bookshop.org hopes to play Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire,” ran the headline of a valentine in the Chicago Tribune.

Bookshop turns out to be little more than another minion for the Emperor of Wokeness. For the past couple of weeks, the first item advertised on its home page is that bible of antiwhite woke sermonizing, “How to Be an Anti-Racist.” Many readers, I’d wager, would have “complaints and concerns” about that screed. But that doesn’t mean that Bookshop should stop selling it. Nor would it, regardless of how many complained.

The move to squash Mr. Anderson’s book is the vanguard of a larger effort to silence debate and impose ideological conformity on any contentious issue in which the commissars of woke culture have made an investment. It has nothing to do with principle and everything to do with power.

Amazon and now Bookshop have sided firmly with the bullies. Doubtless there will be more interdictions, delistings and suppressions. They can do it, so they will do it.

One of the more tiresome canards from the courtiers is that entities like Amazon and Bookshop are private companies and therefore that they can choose to sell, or not sell, whatever they want.

This is true, but also irrelevant. What we are witnessing are not the prerogatives of the free market but the clashings of a culture war. Those clashings may adopt, as camouflage, the rhetoric of free enterprise, but their end is control and obliteration of opposing points of view.

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

Lest any visitors to TPV should have any doubts, PG is concerned about viewpoint discrimination on the part of Amazon.

He acknowledges that, as a private business, Amazon has the right to choose what products it will and will not sell, but this decision drops the company into the middle of a political controversy that it needn’t have joined.

Amazon is a very large target for those across the political spectrum and a serious antitrust investigation of the company’s activities and policies could substantially harm its business.

More than one giant US company has been hamstrung and permanently impaired by a lengthy antitrust probe. Classic examples are AT&T, Kodak and Standard Oil.

Most recently, Microsoft was involved in a lengthy antitrust suit.

Bill Gates later said that the antitrust suit prevented Microsoft from completing development on Windows Mobile, its cell phone operating system (which left the field open to Apple and Android). Apple’s annual revenue is now about twice as large as Microsoft’s.

Gates also cited the stress of the antitrust suit as a contributing factor in his decision to step down from the leadership of Microsoft in 2000. PG is not alone in believing that Microsoft has not been the same company since Gates left.

There has been a growing sentiment in the United States that the big technology companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have become too large and powerful.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos had what was widely regarded as a poor showing in his videoconference testimony before the House Antitrust Committee last summer. He recently declined an invitation to testify before a Senate committee investigating “The Income and Wealth Inequality Crisis in America.”

PG notes that TPV is not a political blog and requests that comments not devolve into political name-calling. He is concerned about Amazon’s future primarily because it is the only significant marketplace where indie authors can publish their books on an equal basis with books from traditional publishers and Amazon provides a very large portion of the royalties that indie authors earn from their books.

Kindle Vella Royalties, Content Guidelines and Publishing Process

From KDP Publishing’s Kindle Vella section:

(Note: PG has removed all the embedded links in the excerpts below. A link to the particular Kindle Vella section is included at the bottom of that section.)

Kindle Vella Royalties

Use Tokens to unlock episodes

Read episodes

To give readers a chance to check out a story, they can read the first three episodes of every story without redeeming Tokens.

Use Tokens to unlock episodes

Readers can purchase and redeem Tokens to unlock later episodes. The number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode is determined by the episode’s word count at the rate of one token per 100 words. For example, it takes six Tokens to unlock a 638-word episode. You can view the number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode on the episode setup page.

We plan to have several bundle options available for readers to purchase Tokens on the web and in the Kindle for iOS app. Token pricing may change before Kindle Vella stories are made available to readers, but here is an example of the Token purchase experience on the web:

Royalties

You’ll earn 50% of what readers spend on the Tokens that are used to unlock your story’s episodes. You’ll also be eligible for a launch bonus based on customer activity and engagement. To make it easy for readers to find stories they love, the first few episodes of every story are free. The number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode is determined by the episode’s word count at the rate of one token per 100 words. You can view the number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode on the episode setup page.

We plan to make Tokens available through mobile channels that charge a fee. In this case, the fee will be deducted from the revenue that is shared.

Here’s how earnings per episode will be calculated:

  • (Number of Tokens to unlock episode) * (Tokens bundle price/# Tokens in bundle – taxes and fees) * (50% rev share) = Earnings per episode

For example, here’s how we calculate earnings for a 3,025 word episode (30 Tokens) when the Tokens are purchased on the web in a 200 Tokens bundle versus an 1,100 Tokens bundle. In this example, we are assuming no taxes or fees.

  • Episode purchased with 200 Tokens bundle: 30 Tokens * ($1.99/200 Tokens – 0) * 50% = $0.1493
  • Episode purchased with 1,100 Tokens bundle: 30 Tokens * ($9.99/1100 Tokens – 0) * 50% = $0.1362

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Reader Experience

Kindle Vella FAQ

Frequently asked questions

1. When will my story be available to readers?

Readers will be able to enjoy your stories when we make the Kindle Vella store available in the next few months. Learn more about the reader experience.

2. What happens if I publish an episode before the Kindle Vella store is available to readers?

With Kindle Vella, you can choose to publish your episode immediately or schedule publication on a future date. If you publish a story before Kindle Vella is available to readers, all stories in compliance with our content guidelines with a Live status will be ready and waiting when Kindle Vella stories become available. We recommend publishing at least 5-10 episodes before stories become available so readers can dig in right away.

If you’re not ready to publish or don’t want all your episodes to go live at once, we recommend leaving episodes in a Draft status, then publishing or scheduling publication after the Kindle Vella store is live for readers. Learn more about episode release dates.

3. What kind of content should I publish?

To provide the best experience for readers, Kindle Vella stories should be written specifically to be released in a serial format, one 600–5,000 word episode at a time. If you have a story in this format that is available elsewhere, you can also publish it with Kindle Vella. To ensure a good customer experience, Kindle Vella does not accept content that’s freely available. Learn more about our content guidelines.

4. How will I earn royalties through Kindle Vella?

You’ll earn 50% of what readers spend on the Tokens that are used to unlock your story’s episodes. You’ll also be eligible for a launch bonus based on customer activity and engagement. To make it easy for readers to find stories they love, the first few episodes of every story are free. The number of Tokens needed to unlock an episode is determined by the episode’s word count at the rate of one token per 100 words. 

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella

Kindle Vella – Content Guidelines

Existing content and metadata guidelines for eBooks apply for Kindle Vella content. In addition to our existing guidelines, we’ve listed new content guidelines related to Kindle Vella below.

Content

Kindle Vella is a serial reading experience. To protect readers from purchasing Kindle Vella content they have already read in a different format, you cannot:

  • Incorporate your Kindle Vella content into other long-form content (e.g., a book) in any language. If you wish to incorporate an episode or story into other content, you must unpublish all episodes of that story from Kindle Vella.
  • Publish in Kindle Vella content that is in the public domain or freely available on the web.
  • Break down your previously published book or long-form content into Episodes and republish in Kindle Vella, even if that book or long-form content is no longer available or is written in another language. If your Episode or Story is derived from another work you have authored (e.g., it continues the story from a book), you may include up to 5,000 words of content from the other work in the first Episode to bridge the story, provided you control the rights to do so.

Tags

You can add up to seven tags for each story. To ensure tags help readers get a feel for your story and make good purchasing decisions, please avoid:

  • Information covered elsewhere in your Story’s metadata (title, contributors, etc.)
  • Subjective claims about quality (e.g., “best”)
  • Time-sensitive statements (e.g., “new”)
  • Information common to most items in the category (“story”)
  • Spelling errors
  • Anything misrepresentative, like the name of an author who’s not associated with your Story. This kind of information can create a confusing customer experience. Kindle Vella has a zero tolerance policy for metadata that is meant to advertise, promote, or mislead
  • Amazon program names like “Kindle Vella”
  • Language promoting violence or intolerance
  • Sexually explicit language

Note all eBook keyword guidelines also apply to tags.


Author notes

This is a tool to build engagement on your story, so avoid including any links or prompting readers to leave the reading experience.

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Content Guidelines

Kindle Vella – Publish an Episode

Share your story by publishing one short episode at a time.

. . . .

Publish an episode

After you create a story, you can publish episodes.

To publish an episode:

  1. Go to your Kindle Vella Library.
  2. Select the story to which you want to add an episode.
  3. Click Create episode or Continue episode draft.
  4. Type or import your episode text.
  5. Choose your release date.
  6. Click Publish.

Update an episode

You can edit a published episode at any time.

To edit an episode:

  1. Go to your Kindle Vella Library.
  2. Click Manage your story.
  3. Select the episode you want to edit.
  4. Click Edit Episode.
  5. Enter your changes.
  6. Click Publish.

Delete an episode

You can delete a Draft episode to remove it from your Kindle Vella Library. You can’t delete episodes that have been Live. After you delete or unpublish a story, that action can’t be undone.

To delete an episode:

  1. Go to your Kindle Vella Library.
  2. Click Manage your story.
  3. Go to episode you want to delete.
  4. Click Delete draft.
  5. Click Yes to confirm you want to delete the episode.

Tell us about your episode

Episode detailsDescription
Episode title (optional)Enter a name for your episode. An episode title isn’t required. If you don’t include a title, episodes will be titled by number. For example, Episode 1.

Note: We add episode numbers automatically, based on the order they’re created.
Episode contentImport your episode from a Microsoft Word document (DOC/DOCX) or type it directly in the online editor.

Episodes must be in English and between 600-5,000 words. At this time, Kindle Vella supports basic formatting, such as bold, italics, and underlines.

The following formatting is not currently supported:Indented paragraphsImagesChartsTablesSpecial charactersEmojis
Author Notes (optional)Add Author Notes to share additional details or behind-the-scenes thinking with your readers. This is your opportunity to communicate directly with readers in your own voice.

You can use Author Notes to:Give insight to readers on your writing processShare details on a character’s developmentShare teasers to get readers excited for the next episodeThis is a tool to build engagement with your story, so avoid including any links or prompting readers to leave the reading experience.

Author Notes appear after the episode and can’t exceed 200 words. These notes are not included in your episode word count.

HTML is not supported.

Author Notes must comply with our content guidelines.

Preview episode

View your episode as it will appear to readers. To create a consistent reading experience across all Kindle Vella episodes, we’ll remove paragraph indentations and add a line space between paragraphs during publishing.

If you want to make changes after previewing your episode, make them directly in the online editor or in your original Microsoft Word document and import the new file.


Tokens

Readers can unlock episodes by purchasing and redeeming Tokens. Readers can read the first three episodes in your story without redeeming Tokens. For later episodes, the number of Tokens required to unlock an episode is set automatically based on word count. You can see the number of Tokens a reader needs to unlock an episode on the Episode setup page.


Release date

To keep the story reading experience sequential, we can only release an episode after you’ve released all previous episodes. You can publish your episode immediately or schedule publication on a future date. After your episode goes Live or is Scheduled, we’ll send you an email.

  • Release now. Publish your episode immediately. After we open the Kindle Vella store to readers, we’ll make all content in compliance with our content guidelines with a Live status available.
  • Schedule release. After we open the Kindle Vella store to readers, we’ll make all scheduled episodes available on the scheduled release day. Scheduled episodes go live at midnight Eastern Standard Time on the selected release date.

Episode status

Your episode status appears in your Kindle Vella Library. After we open the Kindle Vella store to readers, we’ll make all content in compliance with our content guidelines with a Live status available and publish Scheduled episodes on the scheduled release day.

StatusDescription
DraftYour episode is created, but not published.
In ReviewYour episode is under review to ensure it meets our content guidelines.
Failed PublishingYour episode failed publishing due to a possible technical issue. Please try republishing.
Action RequiredYour episode requires changes before it can move to Live status. Check your email for instructions.
PublishingYour episode passed review and will move to Live status shortly.
ScheduledYour episode will be available in the Kindle Vella store after we open the Kindle Vella store to readers on the release date you scheduled.
LiveYour episode is ready and will be there for readers when Kindle Vella stories become available to them.
Live with Unpublished ChangesYour episode is ready and waiting for readers, but you have made changes that haven’t been published yet. Publish your updates to make them available to readers after the Kindle Vella store becomes available.
BlockedYour episode is unavailable for further editing due to a violation with our content guidelines. Check the email you use to access your KDP account for details.
UnpublishedYour episode (and story) will no longer become available in the Kindle Vella store at reader launch.

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Publish an Episode

Perhaps PG missed it in the various links and sub-links, but he didn’t see anything that looked like a typical Amazon Terms & Conditions section that looked like it had been written by Amazon’s legal department.

PG has had prior dealings with Amazon’s in-house attorneys and they have impressed him as being very competent. What passes for terms and conditions in the various Kindle Vella sections is more than a little scattered and vague. He suspects that either Kindle Vella was put together without any legal assistance or Amazon’s legal department had just returned from an offsite meeting that involved a few hallucinogens during the breaks.

If any visitors to TPV locate something that looks like the T’s&C’s for Kindle Vella, PG would appreciate a link either in the comments or via the Contact PG link in the top menu bar.

Kindle Vella

PG hasn’t checked the Terms of Service to see what Amazon’s royalty structure is for Kindle Vella.

Amazon Is the Target of Small-Business Antitrust Campaign

From The Wall Street Journal:

Merchant groups are forming a national coalition to campaign for stricter antitrust laws, including measures they hope could force Amazon.com Inc. to spin off some of its business lines.

The effort is being launched Tuesday by trade groups that represent small hardware stores, office suppliers, booksellers, grocers and others, along with business groups from 12 cities, organizers say. Merchants plan to push their congressional representatives for stricter antitrust laws and tougher enforcement of existing ones.

The groups, which collectively represent thousands of businesses, want federal legislation that would prevent the owner of a dominant online marketplace from selling its own products in competition with other sellers, a policy that could effectively separate Amazon’s retail product business from its online marketplace.

Members of the House Antitrust Subcommittee are considering legislation along those lines as they weigh changes to U.S. antitrust law, though no bill has yet been introduced.

The merchant groups also want tougher enforcement of competition laws and legal changes that would make it easier for the government to win antitrust lawsuits against big companies.

In a statement, an Amazon spokesperson said the company’s critics “are suggesting misguided interventions in the free market that would kill off independent retailers and punish consumers by forcing small businesses out of popular online stores, raising prices, and reducing consumer choice and convenience.”

“Amazon and third-party sellers complement each other, and sellers having the opportunity to sell right alongside a retailer’s products is the very competition that most benefits consumers and has made the marketplace model so successful for third-party sellers,” the spokesperson added.

Members of the coalition, dubbed Small Business Rising, include the National Grocers Association, the American Booksellers Association and the Alliance for Pharmacy Compounding.

They aim to capitalize on local business owners’ connections to their hometowns by meeting with members of Congress and staff, writing letters, seeking coverage in local media, and other efforts.

“Those stories are powerful and are motivating for lawmakers,” said Stacy Mitchell, co-director of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, a research and advocacy group that has previously partnered with unions and others to oppose what it views as excessive corporate power and spearheaded the campaign. “It’s a real business that is really going to go under with a real community that is going to suffer as a result.”

. . . .

The business owners come from different industries, but competition from Amazon is a common thread.

Doug Mrdeza, a Michigan-based merchant on Amazon’s marketplace, said he laid off close to 40 employees in late 2019 after Amazon raised his fees and struck deals with some of his suppliers to sell products itself, cutting him out of the supply chain.

David Guernsey, chief executive of Virginia-based office supplier Guernsey Inc., says government agencies are buying more on Amazon’s site, but he is wary of selling there because it would mean giving Amazon access to data on his prices, transactions and customers.

“I’ve never had a competitor that had that kind of insight to my business,” he said.

. . . .

Allison Hill, chief executive of the American Booksellers Association, said some of the group’s roughly 1,800 independent bookstores have started “sleeping with the enemy”—selling on Amazon’s marketplace—to survive.

“If a company was operating that marketplace and was not your competitor, they would be offering very different support and services,” she said.

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

So what does the American Booksellers Association want its members to do – survive or die? Trying to force someone to come to your store by denying them their preferred way of purchasing books is a loser’s game.

Clamp down on Amazon, force its book prices up and you’ll see a zillion mini-Amazons springing up online, following the same recipe that made Jeff Bezos rich.

Every day, those who purchase books and everything else vote for their favorite way of purchasing goods and services. There is no standard method consumers use in making this decision that can be captured by a single style of retailer.

If PG runs out of milk at 10:00 AM, he’ll probably put together a list of other things Mrs. PG tells him he should purchase and make a grocery run at a convenient time (which he selects based on his own personal calculations and preferences and what’s happening that day) and pick up milk and a number of other items.

If PG runs out of milk at 10:00 PM, he’ll think about waiting til morning, but he’ll probably take a trip to the closest place to buy milk, purchase that and whatever candy catches his eye at the checkout counter, and get home a few minutes after he left.

Is PG going to buy milk from Amazon? He might if 1. the price was good, 2. He could get it delivered within a reasonable period of time and 3. Amazon provided some means of keeping 8 gallons of milk cold until PG used it all because there is not enough room in PG’s fridge to hold that much milk.

PG doubts that Amazon is going to try to sell him milk any time soon.

Amazon is succeeding because consumers are voting with their dollars. PG suspects that 99.9% of those who purchase books through Amazon know that there is such a thing as a physical bookstore, so knowledge of alternative ways to purchase books is widespread. They still choose Amazon.

Action to impair Amazon’s ability to sell books the way it does so successfully impacts people across the country, including:

  1. Those who live twenty miles (or more, sometimes much more) away from the nearest bookstore.
  2. Those for whom the closest bookstore is a hellhole that’s run by a nasty old man who smells like cheap cigars and doesn’t stock any books for women other than Harlequin Romances (nothing specifically against Harlequin – some intelligent people who read a lot like Harlequin, but others don’t.). The old man leers at women who buy romances (or anything else) as they wait for him to count out their change. Some women use a disposable wipe to clean their hands and their change after they get out of the store.
  3. Those who like to buy and read hardcopy books, but are on a limited budget.
  4. Those readers whose interests Barnes & Noble and its New York purchasing department don’t understand.
  5. Those who like to read books by indie authors and indie presses.
  6. Those who prefer ebooks and barfed the last time they picked up a Nook.
  7. Those who really enjoy Amazon’s ability to suggest other books they might like to read. (PS: Amazon is much, much, much better at this than any bookstore clerk anywhere with whom PG has held a conversation about book recommendations. Traditional bookstores and their low-paid employees (regardless of how pleasant they may be) are quite crude tools for book discovery compared to the Zon. The farther your tastes stray from the NYT bestseller list, the worse they are.)

Amazon reportedly explored opening discount stores to offload unsold electronics

From Yahoo Finance:

Amazon has been examining the idea of opening discount stores or outlets selling unsold electronics and home goods at steep discounts, Bloomberg has reported. The products would reportedly be sourced from inventory in its warehouses, and the company has weighed opening permanent locations and pop-up stores in malls and parking lots. The stock would consist of smaller items that don’t take up a lot of space, like home goods, toys, kitchen items and electronics, but not clothing.

A 2019 report detailed how Amazon destroys millions of items it can’t sell, ranging from TVs to diapers — though Amazon later pledged to donate unsold goods. “It’s a way to be able to clean out warehouses and get through inventory without having to destroy it,” one of Bloomberg’s sources said.

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

PG says there are plenty of large empty retail spaces around the US which would be available for this sort of operation.

OTOH, Amazon receives so much attention from its critics for its warehouse working conditions (despite $15 per hour wages (more than double the US minimum wage) plus a set of employee benefits much broader than most hourly workers receive that it might think discount stores (which often pay low wages) would attract more negative attention.

Bookstore owner suing Amazon over alleged price-fixing scheme that makes it impossible for other retailers to compete

From The Chicago Sun Times:

An Evanston bookstore owner wants to take on Amazon.

Nina Barrett, owner of Bookends and Beginnings, signed on as the named plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit filed last week that accuses Amazon of orchestrating a price-fixing scheme with the nation’s leading book publishers that makes it impossible for other retailers to beat their prices.

According to the suit, contracts that Amazon has with the nation’s “Big Five” publishers — Penguin Random House, HarperCollins, Hachette, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster — block the publishers from giving other retailers better prices.

“I, along with most independent bookstore owners in America, feel incredibly frustrated because we’ve seen that the playing field is not level,” Barrett told the Sun-Times. “We have to talk to our customers all the time about why we can’t match Amazon’s pricing.”

. . . .

The suit, which was filed in New York, seeks to include all booksellers that bought books from the Big Five after March 25, 2017. It seeks damages and an injunction on the “anti-competitive” practice.

“It’s been very frustrating to watch the growth of Amazon and think, ‘Me, just little old me by myself, I can’t stop this, but I can see that it’s unfair,’” Barrett said.

. . . .

Attorney Eamon Kelly, who lives in Evanston and regularly shops for biographies at Barrett’s store, pitched Barrett to his fellow attorneys and then pitched Barrett, who said she “jumped on the idea.”

Barrett’s shop, with its alleyway entrance, is “a magical place to look at books,” Kelly said.

Barrett, 60, opened her bookstore in 2014.

The financial pain felt by her bookstore due to Amazon’s pricing is real, Barrett said, and would have been more acute during the pandemic if not for an online fundraising campaign that raised nearly $50,000, money her business received through the Paycheck Protection Program and the fact that a Barnes and Noble about a block from her store closed last year, funneling more customers her way.

She called Amazon a “juggernaut” and a “bully.”

“We think that being a place matters, that the browsing experience matters,” she said.

“We get up and battle and fight every day to make our business model work, and we do it out of passion. But no one of us would ever have the power to be able to take on Amazon,” she said.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Sun Times

The OP makes Ms. Barrett and her bookstore seem quite nice. PG is very familiar with Evanston and can report that it’s a pleasant tree-filled upscale university town on the shores of Lake Michigan filled with lots of people who have plenty of disposable income. If any location could support a traditional bookstore these days, Evanston could.

The OP didn’t mention whether Ms. Barrett buys the books she sells through a wholesaler like Ingram or not. At least some of Ms. Barrett’s cost of goods can be attributed to Ingram’s markup and shipping fees.

There are a lot of good attorneys in Chicago, although PG is not acquainted with any of the attorneys or firms named in the OP. If they’re not already familiar with the strange and expensive supply chain used by major publishers to get books to retail bookstores, they will certainly become familiar with it soon.

That said, regardless of how much some people think traditional bookstores “matter”, that doesn’t mean they will necessarily continue to be financially viable or have any sort of “right” to be viable.

All sorts of business that were common in PG’s youth are non-existent or effectively non-existent these days. More than a few businesses that have closed their doors during the Time of Covid are not going to reopen.

Perhaps the closure of the Barnes & Noble near Ms. Barrett’s bookstore was indicative that it had problems with a business model quite similar to the model Ms. Barrett is fighting to make work in her store.

Book sales are up, but bookstores are struggling. It matters where you shop.

An Opinion Piece from The Chicago Tribune:

Two striking statistics recently reported by Publishers Weekly:

  • Print book sales rose 8.2% in 2020 versus 2019, according to NPD BookScan.
  • Bookstore sales fell 28.3% in 2020 versus 2019, according to preliminary estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The year-to-year increase in book sales was the largest since 2010, and was led by demand for books to keep children occupied during the period of remote schooling. Juvenile nonfiction was up by 23%, young-adult nonfiction by 38%. But adult books were up as well. By every measure, more books were sold in 2020 than in 2019.

Those gains aren’t reflected in bookstore sales, though, as pandemic-related closures and restrictions kept us away. The worst months for bookstores were April and May, the leading edge of the lockdowns, but even as restrictions loosened, sales remained 20% or so below previous year levels.

. . . .

I want to suggest that books are not merely a consumer product. Instead, I’d like us to consider books as part of a larger ecosystem, which includes writers, publishers, booksellers and readers, and that good books depend on all parts of the ecosystem being healthy. As such, we cannot be indifferent about where we buy them.

Bookstores are a key component in making sure there is an interesting variety of books that connect with readers of differing stripes. If we lose bookstores, we will lose the places where word-of-mouth hits are born. We will lose the places where we may discover something we’d never heard of, simply because we brush past it on a table. We will lose one of the important congregating places where people who value books come together in fellowship. We will lose the place we might stop in after brunch on a beautiful afternoon when we need to walk off a meal and aren’t ready to go home yet.

We will lose booksellers, the people who tend to book system the same way a gardener works the greenhouse.

. . . .

Right now, with publishing and books, we could be at peak variety. The somewhat worrisome consolidation in corporate publishing is being offset with a greater thirst for diverse voices and books, not to mention the continuing growth of scrappy independent publishers.

But if we narrow the channels through which books are sold, we will also narrow the kinds and varieties of books that will be sold. Books will still sell, because just like apples, you have to have books, but we will be missing something if we lose that variety.

It is fantastic news that book sales have weathered the pandemic — better news than we could have hoped for — but to revivify the ecosystem as a whole will require us to examine our patterns of purchase. We need to make intentional choices about where we shop to seed the return of bookstores.

Link to the rest at The Chicago Tribune

PG suggests that this is one of the weaker special-favor pleas for traditional bookstores that he recalls reading during the past few months.

The very best place to find diverse voices and for diverse voices to flourish is online.

What about costs for readers of varying income levels?

Ebooks are usually less expensive than printed books. They certainly cost less to manufacture, transport and warehouse.

What about environmental impact? P-books v. E-books = No Comparison.

Ebooks win production, transportation and disposal/recycling hands-down.

Available inventory to allow a customer to buy the book they really want?

Every physical bookstore in constrained in exactly the same manner – it has only so many linear feet of shelf space.

That shelf space must be used to sell books. The fewer copies a book is expected to sell, the less shelf space it will be allocated by the operator of the store.

As a general proposition, having several copies of a given book on the shelf is more likely to catch the eye of a browser than having only a single copy of a book. Several copies on the shelf also means that if someone buys a copy, there are still other copies available to be sold. An employee doesn’t have to immediately recognize that a single book has been sold, then restock the shelf in order for a book to be effectively on sale for customers.

Limited size = limited inventory. Limited inventory = more white-bread, mass market books.

Like many others, PG has enjoyed exploring megabookstores like Blackwells in Oxford, Powell’s in Portland and The Strand in New York. However, giant bookstores are a dying breed. See, for example, Barnes & Noble. And even a giant bookstore has a limit to the number of books it can stock.

Plus, absent a lot of free browsing time, a customer’s discovery experience in a physical bookstore, large or small, can be less than ideal. If you like to wile away the afternoon looking for a good read, go physical. If you prefer to wile away your afternoon actually reading a good book, go online.

Back to inventory, online bookstores can and do stock a much wider variety of books than a physical store. Do you want to allow an author who is a member of an under-represented group in the book business a chance – online is your solution. Would you like to encourage Navajo voices to share their experiences and views with a larger audience off the reservation? Online, baby.

Plus a good online bookstore (like Amazon) makes it much easier for most prospective purchasers to locate a book they will like than Powell’s, even though PG has experienced excellent (for a physical bookstore) customer service in Portland.

There are simply far more methods of locating a desirable book online than there are in a physical bookstore and a much better likelihood of finding a book you will love online.

As one example, one word: Reviews.

Yes, some online book reviews are unreliable, but so are book reviews in newspapers and magazines. At least online, you are much more likely to be able to read more than one review by a single person, reflecting that single person’s class, education, preferences and biases.

Plus, on Amazon, in addition to seeing which books people are buying, Amazon Charts lets you see which books people are actually reading.

Hint for those purchasing gifts, particularly for young adults and children: Seven of the top Ten Most-Read Fiction Books when PG wrote this post were written by J.K. Rowling. The list of Most-Sold Fiction Books was much different.

Comparing the Top Ten Most-Read and Most-Sold Fiction Books, PG noted only two books that were on both lists:

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

and

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

Does anyone working in a Barnes & Noble store at minimum wage (or the equivalent of minimum wage for a wealthier community) have that knowledge?

As they say in movies and on TV (but not that often in the courtroom) PG rests his case.

Businessman Charged with Running Elaborate Scheme to Defraud Amazon

From The US Attorney’s Office, District of Rhode Island:

The former owner of an East Providence automobile transport company . . . was arrested and charged today with allegedly executing an elaborate scheme to defraud Amazon.

It is alleged in court documents that Michael Chaves, 40, former owner of CAT Inc., executed a scheme to defraud Amazon through fraudulent transactions and theft of inventory through falsely represented returns. It is alleged that Chaves ordered thousands of products from Amazon and replaced the original products with lesser value replacements, often items different than the ones he originally ordered, before returning the packages to Amazon for refunds.

According to court documents, since March 2017, Chaves has held approximately 30 Amazon customer accounts under various names and email addresses.  Over this time period, Chaves’ accounts placed approximately 10,795 orders totaling approximately $713,970.78, most of which have been refunded based on Chaves’ return of the items purchased. Chaves received a total of approximately $643,324.04 in concessions or refunds on approximately 7,450 orders, including nearly approximately 7,200 items that were physically returned to Amazon. Many of the returned items were sent back in the original packaging in an attempt to deceive Amazon’s incoming inspection process. Amazon’s standard inspection process flagged approximately 149 of the returned items as potentially fraudulent, valued at $23,872.89.

According to court documents, while investigating Chaves’ fraudulent activities associated with his now defunct automobile transport company, Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Division and U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General agents executed a court-authorized search of Chaves’ home and business.  At the business location, agents observed many opened and unopened Amazon packages and packaging materials. The room containing these items appeared to be a packing area for Amazon returns. The room contained a wide-ranging variety of items such as televisions, incense, European wall plugs (some for phone chargers), computer parts, small electronics, and a significant quantity of auto parts. At a later date, a United Parcel Service (UPS) driver told investigators that he would stop at Chaves’ business location every day delivering Amazon packages and picking up returns, often times dropping off an Amazon package one day and picking up the same package the next day as a return back to Amazon. 

According to court documents, currently Chaves has six active Amazon accounts. The majority of Chaves’ purchases and returns consist of auto and commercial motor vehicle parts. Chaves also purchased and returned many other non-vehicle related items, including, but not limited to; electronics including cellular telephones and televisions, household items including chandeliers, closet organizers, lawn sheds, lawn mowers and vacuum cleaners. Most of these items were returned in an unsellable condition.

According to court documents, Chaves’ schemes would, at times, include replacing an original product purchased with a substitute product which, at first glance, appeared similar to the original purchase. Other returns were placed in boxes to represent the approximate weight of the original product. Among the examples cited in court documents of purchases and fraudulent returns include Chaves having ordered a commercial truck tire and sending back two pieces of wood; Chaves having ordered Apple Air Pod Pros and returning an unopened package of mini light bulbs; Chaves ordering a vehicle suspension joint and returning an oil filter wrench; and Chaves ordering a stabilizer bar link kit and returned in its place doggie treats.

Chaves was arrested today by U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General and Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigations Division agents, with the assistance of East Providence Police, on a federal criminal complaint charging him with wire fraud and mail fraud.

Link to the rest at The US Attorney’s Office, District of Rhode Island

From Business Wire:

On Friday, March 12, The U.S. District Court of Rhode Island sentenced Michael Chaves to 30 months in federal prison for operating a fraudulent product return scheme and defrauding Amazon of more than $50,000, as well as other charges including bank fraud, wire fraud, falsification of records, aggravated identity theft, and tax evasion. Amazon supported the investigation, prosecution, and sentencing.

. . . .

Amazon has teams and systems in place to proactively detect, investigate, and stop suspicious behavior and prohibited activity. Amazon has an extensive history of protecting its customers from fraud and abuse.

Link to the rest at Business Wire

From The US Attorney’s Office, District of Rhode Island:

Chaves was sentenced on Wednesday by U.S. District Court Judge William E. Smith to 30 months in federal prison to be followed by three years of federal supervised release, announced Acting United States Attorney Richard B. Myrus Acting Special Agent in Charge of Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation Ramsey E. Covington, and Acting Special Agent-in-Charge Daniel Helzner, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General, Northeast Region.

A restitution order will be forthcoming from the court. In addition to restitution to be paid in the fraud schemes connected to the operation of his auto transport company, the order will include restitution to be paid by Chaves to Amazon. It was alleged in court documents that Chaves defrauded Amazon through theft of inventory through falsely represented returns. It is alleged in court documents that Chaves ordered products from Amazon and, at times, replaced the original products with lesser value replacements, often items different than the ones he originally ordered, before returning the packages to Amazon for refunds.

Chaves’ alleged Amazon refund scams were discovered during the investigation by Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation and U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General into Chaves’ auto transport company.

Link to the rest at The US Attorney’s Office, District of Rhode Island

PG doesn’t know the background of this particular matter, but the message from Amazon is that it watches for scams of all sorts and is capable of persuading federal law enforcement officials, including Internal Revenue Service Criminal Investigation agents (who are likely to be interested in any claim of financial fraud because fraudsters typically don’t report the fruits of their labors on their tax returns) to take the matters Amazon brings to them seriously.

IRS involvement means that, if for any reason, the criminal fraud claims fall apart, federal prosecutors can prosecute criminal charges for violations of the Internal Revenue Code.

That potential 1-2 threat is enough to persuade a lot of bad guys to plead guilty, even if they’ve managed to cover up some of the evidence of their involvement in the underlying fraud.

Amazon publicizes such prosecutions and convictions to help spread the word that anyone who would like to enjoy a richer long-term lifestyle than can be supported by their lawful labors should probably consider pursuing a softer target than Amazon in their pursuit of their goal.

If Amazon develops a reputation for providing detailed evidence to support a criminal fraud prosecution with federal and state prosecutors, District Attorneys, etc., they’ll find that almost anyone will take their call and schedule a meeting to review what Amazon has located.

It is very common for companies the size of Amazon to hire former law enforcement officials (often at higher salaries than they earned while working for their former agencies) to do this sort of work. Such men and women have a good idea about what it takes to prove a case and how to collect evidence to support criminal charges and successful prosecution of those charges.

Additionally, PG doubts Amazon’s people (unlike a few citizens without such backgrounds) ever try to mislead law enforcement officials due, in part, to the fact that everybody involved has the same backgrounds, values and character traits. They’re brothers and sisters who gain a great deal of personal satisfaction from putting bad guys away.

Know thy reader

From The Bookseller:

With the levelling off of e-book sales, many have begun to wonder whether the book publishing industry will be spared the kinds of disruption experienced by other sectors of the media industries. But the digital transformation of the book publishing industry was never fundamentally about e-books anyway: e-books turned out to be just another format by which publishers could deliver their content to readers, not the game-changer that many thought (or feared) it would be. The big question that the digital revolution posed to book publishers is just as pressing today as it was a decade ago: it’s the question of how publishers understand who their ‘customers’ are, and how they relate to and interact with them. 

For most of the 500-year history of the book publishing industry, publishers understood their customers to be retailers: publishers were a B2B business, selling books to retailers, and they knew very little about the ultimate customers of their books, the readers. The digital revolution has forced publishers to think again about this model and to consider whether there might be something to be gained by becoming more reader-centric. This fundamental shift in publishers’ self-understanding is likely to be one of the most significant and enduring consequences of the digital revolution in publishing. 

But how does a publisher actually become more reader-centric? Over the last decade or so, many publishers have come to realize that one of the most effective ways to make their businesses more reader-centric is to build their own dedicated databases of readers so that they can interact directly with readers via email. Building a customer database can be a slow and laborious process, but with focus and creativity, a publisher can grow a list remarkably quickly: one senior manager I interviewed at a large US trade publisher explained that they had decided to build a customer database in a particular area of their publishing programme and, using a combination of paid ads, partnerships and sweepstakes, they succeeded in getting half a million people to sign up in the first year alone.  Having these email addresses and customer information in your own database is much more effective than relying on social media and gives you much more control, as you are not reliant on the algorithms of social media companies to determine which posts get fed through to people’s news feeds. Moreover, with emails to readers, you can get a much higher level of engagement than with many other retail goods, in part because many readers have an emotional connection with authors whose books they enjoy and they want to know more about any new books written by their favourite authors.  The benchmark for email open rates is 20%, but the open rate for emails relating to books by brand-name authors can be as high as 60%.

But it’s not just mainstream pubishers who are using digital technologies to establish direct relationships with readers: some start-ups on the margins of the publishing field have taken this much further and are pioneering new kinds of publishing that integrate reader input into their decision-making processes. One example that will be familiar to many in the publishing world are the crowdfunding publishers, Unbound in the UK and Inkshares in the US.  While many people think of crowdfunding as an innovative way of raising capital (and it is), the real genius of crowdfunding is that it is an audience-building machine. The crowdfunding model means that every new author brings a few hundred new readers into the system – their friends and family members and the people who have a particular interest in the book they’re proposing to write, and the book goes ahead only when enough readers have pledged their support for the project. Crowdfunding models like Unbound and Inkshares are creating a new kind of relationship between authors and readers in which readers are not simply the buyers of books but, rather, their co-creators. At the same time, they are building networks of engaged readers that enable them to capture customer data rather than leaving it for Amazon to hoover up. By using crowdfunding to create a system of reader curation, they are turning the traditional model of publishing on its head.

. . . .

The real opportunity that the digital revolution opens up for publishers is that, for the first time in the long history of the book, it is now possible for publishers to do something they could never do before: build direct channels of communication with readers and do it at scale. This is a central feature of the digital transformation in publishing, and those publishers that succeed in making their businesses more reader-centric, learning not just how to market more effectively to readers but how to listen to them too, are likely to be the ones that will ride the wave of the digital revolution most successfully in the years to come.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Leveling off of ebook sales? Email lists? Reader-centric? Crowdfunding?

PG is certain that the author of the OP (and the book shown below), an Emeritus Professor of Sociology at the University of Cambridge is an intelligent and probably likeable guy, but PG was a bit surprised while reading the OP that The Bookseller (and, presumably, its readers) will think that anything described is actually new information or insight about the book business these days.

A bit of ebook history for those who may not know or remember it:

  • While ebooks predated Amazon ebooks, for all intents and purposes, as a meaningful segment of publishing, ebooks didn’t exist until Amazon started selling ebooks and inexpensive ebook readers. (Widespread adoption of small digital screens on phones definitely helped as well.)
  • As a classic example of Clayton Christensen’s Innovator’s Dilemma, the creative executives and companies that drove the dynamism, growth and profitability of print publishing, bookstores, newspapers and magazines during the second half of the twentieth century didn’t understand how important electronic media would become and how quickly electronics, including digital electronics and digital networks, would replace print as a means of written communication to audiences large and small.
  • Jeff Bezos moved to Bellevue, Washington, rented a house with a garage and became entranced with the potential of web commerce in 1995. He decided that books were a great product to sell online because of the large worldwide demand for literature, the low unit price for books, and the huge number of titles available in print. That decision started a business that would upend the business empires of the great publishers of New York, then move on to disrupt traditional bookselling and publishing around the developed world.
  • At the same time Amazon was going public in 1997, Barnes & Noble sued the company, claiming it wasn’t the the world’s largest bookstore, but was, instead, a book broker. Bezos settled out of court and kept going.
  • Barnes & Noble CEO Leonard Riggio would have been much smarter to use the money he paid his lawyers to buy Amazon stock because $100,000 invested in Amazon on the day it went public would have been worth more than $120 million as of May 2020.
  • Sometime in the summer of 2009, executives at the highest levels of Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Simon & Schuster started meeting secretly in the private dining room of a Manhattan restaurant to develop a strategy to prevent Amazon and other ebook retailers selling their ebooks at a discount from list price.
  • At the time, these five publishers were producing 48% of the ebooks sold in the United States.
  • In December, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services contacted these New York publishers to set up secret meetings for the purpose of discussing ebook pricing.
  • Apple planned to unveil the iPad on January 27, 2010, and start shipping iPads in April. As part of the launch, Apple wanted to announce its new iBookstore that would include ebooks from the major publishers.
  • The Apple VP told the five publishers that Apple would sell the majority of e-books for prices between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99, substantially more than Amazon was charging.
  • Apple planned to use the same “agency” model which it used in its App Store for distribution of e-books. Apple would be a sales agent and the Publishers would control the price of their e-books in the iBookstore. Publishers would pay Apple a 30% commission on each sale.
  • Apple didn’t want Amazon to be able to sell ebooks at a lower price. The agreement between Apple and each of the big publishers would include a so-called “most-favored-nation” or “MFN” clause which allowed for Apple to sell e-book at its competitors’ lowest price. If the big publishers allowed Amazon to discount prices, Apple could discount them an equal amount and take its 30% commission from that price.
  • The Big Publishers concluded that, if Amazon didn’t play ball, their ebook customers would simply buy iPads and buy their ebooks at the iBookstore. Finally, there was a powerful enough tech company to take on Amazon in the ebook game.
  • On the day of the iPad launch and the announcement of the iBookstore, including an announcement of Apple’s ebook pricing, a Wall Street Journal reporter asked Apple CEO Steve Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. Jobs replied that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.”
  • This public statement expressed the terms of the agreement. The big publishers, acting in concert, would jointly force Amazon to increase its e-book prices with the threat to cut off Amazon’s ebook supply. If Amazon refused to increase prices, Apple would be the only place to buy ebooks from the major publishers that controlled most of the book marked. If Amazon knuckled under and raised its prices, Apple would face no price competition.
  • The United States Justice Department and 31 states filed suit against Apple and the five conspiring publishers for violating longstanding US antitrust laws. Three of the publishers settled the claims on the date the suit was filed, admitting they had violated the law. The other two publishers settled the case prior to trial, also admitting wrongdoing.
  • News reports stated that the publishing executives had not consulted their own attorneys about whether their actions were legal or not. (PG notes that any law student who had completed more than three weeks of a one-semester law school antitrust course would have known that this scheme was a clear-cut violation of the law. No legal gray areas available for this hot mess.)
  • After a trial, Apple was found to have wrongfully violated US antitrust laws. Apple appealed the decision as far as it could go and lost. Apple was forced to pay $450 million in damages for its wrongful actions.

And the OP describes ebooks as “the wave of digital revolution” as if this is new information.

PG believes that no one would dispute that Amazon is by far the largest outlet for independently-published ebooks anywhere in the world. Amazon does not break out indie ebook sales in its own accounting reports.

Veteran publishing consultant, Mike Shatzkin, estimated that, between 2011 and 2013, self-published books grew from nothing to almost 30% of the book units sold in the US. This growth coincided with a period during which ebook sales also increased rapidly.

The Alliance of Independent Authors estimated that in 2016, in the US, fewer than 1200 trade-published authors who debuted in the last ten years earned $25,000 a year or more, compared to over 1,600 indie authors who earned $25,000 per year or more.

In 2020, ALLi reported that 8% its members had sold more than 50,000 books in the prior two years.

An Enders Analysis in 2016 found that 40% of the top-selling ebooks on Amazon were self-published.

PG won’t say the ebook and indie revolutions are over, but will say that the trends of the last ten years have undeniably been moving towards more ebooks and more money for indie authors. Any industry statistics that limit themselves to ebooks sold by traditional publishers are missing the majority of the overall market.

PG further suggests that for most authors, indie or traditionally-published, a dozen legitimate positive reviews on Amazon are worth more than a signing at your local Barnes & Noble.

The author of the OP is promoting a book he recently published.

Amazon withholds its ebooks from libraries because it prefers you pay it instead

From The Verge:

Amazon is withholding ebook and audiobook versions of works it publishes through its in-house publishing arms from US libraries, according to a new report from The Washington Post. In fact, Amazon is the only major publisher that’s doing this, the report states. It’s doing so because the company thinks the terms involved with selling digital versions of books to libraries, which in turn make them available to local residents for free through ebook lending platforms like Libby, are unfavorable.

“It’s not clear to us that current digital library lending models fairly balance the interests of authors and library patrons,” Mikyla Bruder, the global marketing chief at Amazon Publishing, told The Washington Post’s Geoffrey Fowler in an emailed statement. “We see this as an opportunity to invent a new approach to help expand readership and serve library patrons, while at the same time safeguarding author interests, including income and royalties.”

At the heart of the issue is a debate over whether libraries, which often pay far higher than retail price for physical and ebook copies of books, ultimately harm publisher sales by letting people check out copies for free. In the age of mobile apps and widespread Kindle usage, borrowing an ebook is now easier than ever — you need a library card and the Libby app, and you can then place holds and eventually check out ebooks that can be sent directly to your Kindle e-reader or app to access for a limited time.

Yet publishers, not authors, decide the fate of a book’s various distribution deals, and Amazon apparently does not want libraries lending its ebooks, at least not under whatever terms have been discussed. That means many of the authors the company has signed onto its publishing imprints — like Mindy Kaling, Trevor Noah, Andy Weir, and Michael Pollan — are available to read only if you pay the full retail price. That’s true when those same authors have expressed support for libraries and free book lending, as Pollan has to The Post.

Amazon is reportedly negotiating with a nonprofit, the Digital Public Library of America, to coordinate the selling of its ebooks to libraries, but The Post notes that the deal would not include any self-published works or Audible audiobooks. And making matters worse, Amazon is allegedly not negotiating — and hasn’t for years — a serious deal with OverDrive, the maker of the Libby app that’s used by many libraries around the country.

Instead, OverDrive CEO Steve Potash tells The Post the company and Amazon have an ongoing dialogue” in which OverDerive has communicated its “willingness to innovate in an effort to support their business strategy.” Amazon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Link to the rest at The Verge and thanks to Carolyn for the tip.

As regular visitors to TPV already suspect, misinformation is rampant in the OP.

Here’s a bullet-point list:

  1. At present, OverDrive is the only effective way for ebooks to get into libraries, at least in the US.
  2. Amazon Publishing, Amazon’s counterpart to a traditional publisher (albeit with better royalty terms) is a small fry compared to traditional publishers. Book wholesalers that provide physical books to bookstores don’t carry Amazon Publishing books and, even if they did, a great many physical bookstores would refuse to carry Amazon Publishing’s books because Devil Bezos.
  3. PG believes that OverDrive’s prices, to the extent he understands them, are also higher than they need to be for an online service that is effectively a complete ebook lending system with, to the best of PG’s knowledge, no need to integrate with the various physical book management systems libraries may employ.
  4. To the best of PG’s knowledge, OverDrive doesn’t have any serious competition in ebook lending, at least in the United States, and charges libraries accordingly.
  5. OverDrive is owned by KKR, a major US-based private equity firm.
  6. Private equity firms typically acquire assets with a plan to sell them or take other steps to take cash out of their investments. One strategy that some private equity firms utilize is to load an acquired firm up with debt, putting the proceeds of such loans into the pockets of the owners of the private equity firms, then sell the debt-burdened companies to someone else. As with some other Wall Street financial types, private equity firms are often ready and willing to throw sharp elbows on their way to a profit. PG doesn’t know if KKR has done any of these things with OverDrive, however.
  7. Per an article in American Libraries from December 31, 2019, reporting on the sale of OverDrive to KKR,
    • “OverDrive holds the dominant market share as the leading provider of digital content to libraries, with more than 43,000 libraries subscribing to its content lending platform. The OverDrive catalog currently offers 4.5 million books and audiobooks from more than 25,000 publishers. More than 95% of public libraries in the US and Canada rely on it for digital lending and other services. Though public libraries represent the largest portion of OverDrive’s customers, the company also works with schools and corporate libraries.
    • “[T]he acquisition of OverDrive is a “financial investment,” in which the buyer, usually a private equity firm or other financial sponsor, expects to increase the value of the company over the short term, typically five to seven years. Financial investments by private equity firms typically take the form of leveraged buyouts, where the buyer contributes only a portion of the purchase price and secures loans from investment banks to meet the full amount negotiated with the seller. Financial buyers control the business strategies and operations of their portfolio companies via placement of representatives on their board of directors, usually in proportion to their ownership stake. The company itself is saddled with paying off the debts, but these transactions provide the company with new capital to fund business expansion and product development.
    • “KKR also owns RBmedia, one of the major suppliers of audiobooks to libraries. In a transaction announced in July 2018, KKR acquired RBmedia from Shamrock Capital Advisors. As with OverDrive, this investment was made through its KKR Americas XII Fund. KKR’s investments in RBmedia and OverDrive were shepherded by Richard Sarnoff, a veteran of the publishing industry and chairman of media, entertainment, and education for KKR.
    • “RBmedia offers a subscription service for consumers in addition to its library lending platform. The company, at the time known as Recorded Books, was acquired by Shamrock in August 2015. The previous month, Recorded Books acquired competing audiobook publisher Tantor Media and in May 2014 it acquired HighBridge Audio, partially consolidating the digital audiobook industry.
    • “Will OverDrive and RBmedia merge? Such a union would signal a major consolidation in the digital content industry for libraries and schools.
    • “Ebook lending occurs within a highly consolidated publishing industry dominated by the Big Five and Amazon. Some of these corporate forces perceive library lending as intrusive and are not motivated to offer favorable licensing terms. Pricing models that place restrictions on the number of copies available for lending, the number of circulations allowed before the title must be relicensed, and temporary embargos on front-list titles present significant challenges for libraries. OverDrive’s dominant market share in this area could add substantial clout to library interests in negotiating more favorable pricing and terms.
    • “KKR’s Christmas Eve announcement sounded many alarm bells in the library community. Concerns include the negative impact of private equity ownership and industry consolidation.
    • “The possibility of a merger between OverDrive and RBmedia into a new superpower is a more valid concern. In sectors involving the sale of products and services, fewer competitors lead to higher consumer prices. But in an arena where pricing is controlled more by publishers than distributors, a larger player could optimize library interests in future negotiations of prices and lending terms.
    • “As library investments in digital content continue to rise and spending on print stagnates or falls, the dynamics of this sector bring high-stakes ramifications for public libraries.”
  1. In PG’s electronically-driven humble opinion, traditional publishers overprice their ebooks to Amazon and everyone else. That’s good news for indie authors because they can make a lot of money for each ebook licensed/sold via Amazon while still offering their readers a lower purchase price than traditionally published books would cost.
  2. PG expects that Amazon’s lawyers are worried about antitrust problems, but he wishes that Amazon would develop its own system to support library ebook lending. PG has no doubt that Amazon’s system would work better than OverDrive does (PG uses OverDrive via his local library to borrow books from time to time and finds it to be clumsy and outdated. KKR hasn’t appeared to have put much money into improving the user experience of those who use OverDrive.)

PG has one final note – Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post, which was the source for much of The Verge’s OP. When he acquired the paper, there was lots of Sturm und Drang among the Amazon-haters about how Bezos would ruin the Post and stifle the voices of opposition to Amazon represented by The New York Times, etc.

While PG believes the Post is fully-capable of ruining itself, it appears Bezos isn’t stifling the editorial side of the newspaper for Amazon’s benefit as predicted.

Amazon Recommendations and Also Boughts

PG put a link to this article at the bottom of a prior post but then realized that it definitely deserved its own post.

From David Gaughran:

Amazon recommendations drive millions of dollars of book purchases every single day, and Also Boughts are central to this system, which can lead to panic when they periodically disappear.

Also Boughts play an important role in Amazon recommendations — that process of pairing books to readers like some literary version of Tinder — but the exact role in Amazon’s recommender system can be misunderstood.

So let’s break it all down today, and show you the exact role Also Boughts play in Amazon recommendations, and why you need to protect yours.

What Are Also Boughts?

Also Boughts reflect the other purchases your readers are making, and also influence which readers Amazon recommends books to next. As a result, Also Boughts have become the focus of attention among savvy self-publishers in recent years.

You can view them on any book’s product page on Amazon, where you may have noticed a strip of books usually placed underneath the product description, headlined with “Customers who bought this item also bought.” It looks like this:

Also Boughts example - customers who bought this item also bought

The Also Bought strip doesn’t update as frequently as some parts of the Kindle Store, but it usually refreshes twice a week, on Thursday and Sunday evenings, which means they are a relatively up-to-date indication of how Amazon’s system views your book.

Meaning that authors watch them very closely.

Amazon’s system is always trying to determine what kind of products each individual customer is most likely to purchase, so it can make more accurate recommendations. One thing which is super important in this process is the connection between products. People who buy printers tend to buy ink, for example, and recommending a printer-buyer some ink to purchase will elicit a lot of clicks.

But it’s not just obvious pairings like leathers and feathers, Amazon’s system is constantly analyzing what everyone purchases and then using that to predict what they will buy next, in its never-ending quest to maximize sales by crunching All The Data.

The net effect when it comes to authors is this: if your book appears in the Also Boughts of a book in your niche which is selling well, this can lead to a considerable spike in sales. Conversely, if something goes wrong with your Also Boughts, it can lead to a measurable dip.

It was understandable that authors would begin worrying when Amazon seemed to remove Also Boughts from book pages, with some speculating that Amazon would stop recommending books organically and only give visibility to those using Amazon Ads.

But that’s not how the recommender system works. And I can show you exactly what I mean.

How Amazon Recommendations Really Work

Amazon makes millions of book recommendations to readers every single day — both on-site in various slots around the Kindle Store, and by email as well. These recommendations take many different forms.

Some Amazon recommendations are very top-down, but most are either personalized for each individual reader, or contextual — based on what the reader is viewing at that moment, or the place they are in the Kindle Store, or an action they just performed. And all of this is completely unaffected by Also Boughts disappearing from book pages.

Let me give you an example.

During the research process for my book Amazon Decoded, I conducted a number of revealing experiments.

Have you ever noticed what happens when you buy a book in the Kindle Store? Specifically, have you noticed what happens on-screen afterwards? Amazon never misses a trick and as soon as you complete payment, a confirmation screen appears recommending more books.

Amazon is split-testing things all the time, so you may see this play out slightly differently each time you purchase a book, but, commonly, you will see Amazon push the book in the #1 Also Bought slot pretty hard.

(Unless there is an audiobook edition which is Whispersynced, then Amazon will often favor that recommendation instead. It can experiment with other approaches, such as a carousel of books, but this will also be heavily influenced by the Also Boughts of what you just purchased.)

If that #1 Also Bought is also the next book in the series, then Amazon will helpfully flag that it is indeed the next in the series – which can really drive that spillover when you are promoting Book 1, especially if you have also discounted Book 2.

(Assuming your Book 2 is that #1 Also Bought, of course, and that your series metadata is in perfect shape.)

This is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen so much on the other retailers, because they simply don’t have recommender systems quite as sophisticated as the one powering the millions of recommendations Amazon makes every day.

Other retailers do have rudimentary recommendation engines, but Amazon is quite literally years ahead of the competition, and it doesn’t feel like that gap is closing because fundamentally different philosophies are at work.

Link to the rest at David Gaughran

6 BookBub Ads Features You May Not Know About

From BookBub Partners:

2. Browse “Related Authors” for your author targets

For many advertisers, choosing author targets is a critical part of creating successful ad campaigns. To help make it easier for advertisers to discover author targets with large audiences on BookBub, we added a tab to the author targeting module of the ad creation form to surface “Related Authors.”

BookBub Ads - Related Authors

After you select at least one author target for a campaign, we’ll generate a list of other authors who share readers with the author(s) you’ve already selected. Of course, you should always test your targets to determine which will be the most effective for your particular books and campaigns, but we hope this will help you find new audiences to test out!

3. View improved stats for individual author targets

When you’ve added more than one author target to a campaign, you can view the impressions, click-through rate (CTR), and cost-per-click for each target under the “Aggregate Stats” tab. These stats are now visible for each target as soon as your ad starts serving impressions.

BookBub Ads data

We recommend waiting to draw conclusions about an author target’s effectiveness until you have at least a few hundred impressions. The more data you have, the more reliable the results.

Note that many of our readers fall into the targetable ad audiences of multiple authors. If a reader who sees an impression of your ad falls into the audience of more than one of the authors your ad is targeting, we include the stats from that impression under each of those authors. This may help you collect data more efficiently than if you were to target each of those authors’ audiences with separate ad campaigns.

Link to the rest at BookBub Partners

PG notes that BookBub is not the only book promo service used by indie authors (there are quite a few).

However, PG included this excerpt because it highlights what can often be a useful principle for marketing and promoting a book (as well as a great many other things) – Watch what your competitors are doing to sell their books and try to determine if it’s working well or not.

One of the common things that advertising agencies do is to carefully monitor all the advertising and marketing activities undertaken by companies that are competitive with the agency’s clients. For example, Coke’s ad agency watches what Pepsi is doing for advertising and promotion and vice-versa.

Sometimes this practice results in copy-cat advertising, but more often, it may disclose something more subtle: the competitor has discovered a consumer segment (let’s use single women over 40 who have a reasonable amount of disposable income as an example) that responds positively to a certain type of message and has created advertisements that carry that message and is placing them in online locations that attract such visitors (or magazines focused on such readers or television programs with a high percentage of such viewers).

BookBub’s suggestion is the same. Very few readers only read books by a single author. One of the reasons that genres exist and are cultivated by publishers and bookstores is that the best way to sell more books to those types of readers.

We’ll take an example: Mystery and Crime Fiction (which are actually two genres, but are often lumped together):

Some basic sub-genres would be:

  1. Detective Novels (Agatha Christie, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Sue Grafton are some well-known examples)
  2. Cozy Mysteries (Dorothy L. Sayers, Elizabeth Daly and sometimes, Dame Agatha again)
  3. Police Procedural (Ed McBain, P. D. James, and Bartholomew Gill)
  4. Caper Stories (W. R. Burnett, John Boland, Peter O’Donnell, and (sometimes) Michael Crichton)

So, if you write detective novels, you might want to see if you can successfully promote your book by targeting readers who like Sue Grafton’s books. In a crude way, you might use an advertising headline that reads, “If you like Sue Grafton books, you’ll really love mine!”

However, as an indie author who has complete control over your advertising and needs no one’s approval to spend some of your hard-earned royalties to generate more royalties, you can be much more sophisticated and cost effective. You can use the techniques described in the OP and also learn more about Amazon Recommendations and Also Boughts.

David Gaughran has written an excellent post on that very subject.

Amazon Faces Alabama Union Election

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. for years has successfully fended off attempts by its U.S. employees to unionize. Now the tech company is preparing for a labor battle unlike anything in its history.

In the next two months, thousands of Amazon employees at an Alabama warehouse are set to cast mail-in ballots over whether to organize into a union, a vote that could reshape the relationship between workers and the nation’s second-largest employer.

The commerce giant faces a familiar opponent: the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, or RWDSU, which along with local organizers is helping to lead the pro-union campaign. The union has helped organize thousands of poultry workers in Alabama, a right-to-work state, and has become a frequent Amazon antagonist in recent years. The RWDSU fought the company’s plans for a second headquarters in New York in late 2018 and supported worker protests at some warehouses during the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, the current effort has had more success than other attempts to organize Amazon workers, according to labor experts. They note that a successful union push at the warehouse could spur similar actions at Amazon’s more than 800 facilities in the U.S.

“Amazon has seen their demand skyrocket” during the pandemic, said Arthur Wheaton, director of Western NY Labor and Environmental Programs for the Worker Institute at Cornell University. The company’s continued growth will bring increasing scrutiny over how it pays and treats its employees, he said.

The effort still faces formidable obstacles. Amazon has sought to postpone the election’s scheduled Feb. 8 start and appealed the National Labor Relations Board decision to allow a mail-in vote. While the vote is likely to proceed as scheduled, a decision to unionize could lead to years of bargaining over the first contract, labor experts say.

The company is holding frequent meetings at the 855,000-square-foot facility about 15 miles southwest of Birmingham to counter the union’s effort, employees say. It also hired a law firm that specializes in countering organizing efforts and set up a website asserting that employees already receive the benefits and pay for which a union would bargain and should vote no to avoid the cost of dues.

An Amazon spokeswoman said the company doesn’t “believe the RWDSU represents the majority of our employees’ views. Our employees choose to work at Amazon because we offer some of the best jobs available everywhere we hire, and we encourage anyone to compare our total compensation package, health benefits, and workplace environment to any other company with similar jobs.”

If workers vote in favor of the union, Alabama’s “right to work” rules mean employees aren’t automatically part of the union. Workers wouldn’t be required to join the union or pay dues, potentially making it harder to expand membership. Some workers interviewed by The Wall Street Journal said they weren’t supportive because they didn’t believe union representation would substantially improve their conditions.

. . . .

Organizers collected thousands of signatures from employees showing support for an election. In December, the labor board decided to allow the election to move forward and later set the February-to-March voting period.

The RWDSU has had success in Southern states, particularly within the poultry industry. The union said it represents roughly 15,000 poultry workers across the South, including Alabama. Early in the pandemic, it reported on deadly Covid-19 outbreaks in poultry facilities while urging employers to improve working conditions. Major poultry companies have implemented temperature checks, increased cleaning and issued protective equipment, among other measures.

Chartered in the late 1930s, the RWDSU now represents thousands of employees from retail chains that include Macy’s Inc. and Bloomingdale’s, as well as workers in warehousing and the service industry.

. . . .

The union was among a group of critics at the heart of a fierce backlash when Amazon announced plans to locate a part of a second headquarters in New York City in late 2018.

Amazon had selected the city as part of its so-called “HQ2” development around the same time the RWDSU had been rallying support for workers to unionize at a facility in Staten Island, an effort that ultimately fizzled. The union opposed the nearly $3 billion in government incentives Amazon would have received for creating 25,000 jobs in the city.

The union was involved in a last-ditch meeting with company executives organized by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to salvage the planned expansion. In the meeting, executives and labor leaders tentatively agreed to continue discussions related to the unionization effort, according to people familiar with the talks.

Amazon ultimately scuttled its plans for the New York expansion, but the company has recently announced plans to hire thousands of new employees in various major U.S. cities, including New York.

“We saw that they were large and big and powerful, but they were also arrogant,” Stuart Appelbaum, president of the RWDSU, said in an interview. “‘You can take on Amazon’ was an important lesson from HQ2.”

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

PG tends to be reflexively anti-union because of repeated corruption and criminal charges brought against union leaders.

He certainly believes there was a time when unions were an important force for improving the lives of blue-collar Americans, but, fortunately or unfortunately, that time has passed.

He also suspects that Amazon can afford to shut down the Alabama warehouse in question without seriously harming the company’s operations. At PG’s last check, Amazon had well over 200 general-purpose warehouses (including two others in Alabama plus 25+ warehouses in adjoining states) plus a bunch of additional specialty warehouses in the United States.

PG is not an expert on labor law, but he suspects that, if the employees in the warehouse described in the OP voted to unionize, Amazon might shut down the warehouse permanently or for a long period of time, ship all the computers and equipment to one or more new US warehouses under construction and either try to sell the building or leave it vacant for awhile. Amazon starts its warehouse employees at $15.00 per hour. The minimum wage in the United States and Alabama is $7.25 per hour.

(In the U.S., states can set higher minimum wages. After a quick check, it appears that California’s minimum wage is the highest state minimum wage – $14.00 in 2021 for employers with more than 26 employees.)

Does Your Cover Work In Book Thumbnail Size?

From Just Publishing Advice:

How well does your book thumbnail cover work? You might think that your cover image is fantastic. In a full-size view, it may well be.

But when it comes to book covers, the truism that people need to see something seven or eight times before they react is probably correct.

Readers looking for a new book to buy first have to notice, and then click, your thumbnail size cover to get to your buy page.

How does your tiny book cover image stack up for attracting attention-grabbing?

. . . .

Book thumbnail images are used on every book-related site you possibly think of, even on social media.

So it is vital that you consider your small image book cover size when you are making decisions about a new book cover. You need to pay attention to how your fonts and color choices look.

. . . .

Even the featured image of your book cover on your sales pages of Amazon, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and other retailers are reduced to default thumbnails.

On Amazon, your book cover is reduced to approximately 500 x 333 pixels in the top left of your book sales page. To put this in perspective, an extremely low-resolution ebook cover is around 1280 x 720 pixels.

The best way to start analyzing how well your book cover works is to open your cover file in an image editor. Then reduce the size to create a thumbnail.

Thumbnails can be very small. Start with setting your dimensions to 90 pixels wide x 144 pixels tall.

Then view the actual size. You will see your cover in an approximation of an online thumbnail. You can experiment with additional image sizes.

. . . .

It is also important to remember that on top of reducing the dimensions, all sites reduce the image quality or resolution.

It is usually, at most, 72 dpi to make sure the file size is as small as possible.

If you can also change the resolution in your image editor, it will give you a better estimation of how good, or not, it will look online.

. . . .

Quoting Amazon’s recommendations regarding Kindle book cover size, the ideal size of ebook cover art is a height/width ratio of 1.6:1.

This means that for every 1,000 pixels in width, the image should be 1,600 pixels in height.

A cover 1280 pixels wide is generally the minimum size you should use. You can use jpg, gif, bmp, or png file types.

However, the full size of your custom image upload will never be seen online.

Your original uploaded image file will be reduced to a range of additional custom thumbnail image sizes.

Each one to suit different reading devices, on-screen applications, search engines, and different website use.

Amazon automatically generates a lot of different custom thumbnail sizes on its site.

. . . .

Here are a few examples to help you understand the necessity of covers that work in small dimensions.

On the Top Charts page, covers are quite small to give the chart number significance.

New releases are shown in the most common thumbnail medium view size, which is 107px x 160 px.

Recommendations are a little smaller at 90 px  x 135 px.

Series books are usually a maximum of 135 px high.

In the You Viewed pane at the bottom of each book page, books that were viewed by people are squeezed into a 50 px x 50 px box.

That is insanely small.

Link to the rest at Just Publishing Advice

Three Authors’ Associations Address Status of Audible.com Talks

From Publishing Perspectives:

As we reported in late November, Audible‘s initial response to what writers called #Audiblegate was soundly rejected as inadequate by authors’ organizations.

Originally, Audible had allowed a subscriber to return or exchange an audiobook within 365 days—and had deducted an author’s royalties from her or his account when that happened if the audiobook was distributed through ACX, the Amazon-owned Audiobook Creation Exchange. This and a lack of an accounting for authors as to unit purchases and returns, the author corps stressed, was unacceptable, with some writers saying they’d seen between 15 and 50 percent of their anticipated ACX revenue withdrawn this way.

What Audible came back with was a reduction from 365 days for returns to seven days, pledging, “Audible will pay royalties for any title returned more than seven days following purchase.”

The writers were less than fully impressed, and a strong coalition of international author advocacy organizations and programs has continued putting pressure on the audiobook giant.

. . . .

It was in early February last year that the Association of American Publishers led an effort by seven major publishing houses to stop the company’s deployment of “Audible Captions” without a publisher’s permission.

In the current question about returns and transparency at Audible, an update arrived on January 20. In that statement, Audible’s ACX unit wrote that starting in March, its producing authors will be able to see details on returns, “including returned units by title” on their sales dashboards and in monthly financial statements, beginning with that month.

. . . .

The three organizations write that “at the heart” of the authors’ coalition’s complaints has been “a lack of transparency—around the implications for authors of key contract terms and in opaque accounting practices which make it impossible for any author to get a true picture of how their income is being calculated.”

. . . .

The original ask, the coalition reiterates, was:

  • “Provide a full and complete accounting of returns made pursuant to this policy since it was first implemented
  • “Limit the time period of returns and exchanges that could be deducted from royalty counts from 365 days to a reasonable period, such as 48 hours, and allow only ‘true returns’ (e.g., where less than 25 percent of the book has been read) to be deducted from royalty accounts
  • “Show the total number of unit purchases and returns on the author dashboards, not just the “net sales” already adjusted for any returns; and
  • “Take action against abuse of the ‘return and exchange’ terms by listeners”

Conceding that Audible “has made progress on some of these demands and other subsequent ones,” the coalition says, “our reasonable demands for a full and complete accounting of returns made to date—to recompense authors and narrators for returns unfairly charged back to their accounts, and to stop charging back returns when more than 25 percent has been read—have not been met.”

. . . .

Ability to Terminate Audible Distribution

Quoting the coalition:

“Starting February 1, all ACX rights holders (including authors who self-publish audiobooks through ACX, as well as independent publishers that rely on ACX services to create audiobooks)—both exclusive and non-exclusive—may, with notice, terminate distribution of any title that has been in distribution for at least 90 days. To withdraw titles created using a royalty share option with the producer, however, the ACX rights holder will need to obtain consent from the producer.

“Titles for which distribution is terminated will be removed from all sales and distribution through ACX including Audible, Amazon, and Apple. Audible will share details about the process for termination in the January payments letter, including details about how termination requests will be processed.”

The State of Play: ‘An Important Step Toward Fairness’

The coalition of three leading authors’ advocacy organizations in its summation, is indicating to the groups’ respective memberships exactly what good diplomacy dictates—an outlook that there is more progress yet to be made but that cooperation to date is worthwhile and to be appreciated. There are politicians working in many countries at this moment who could learn something from this.

What’s encouraging here is the bargaining efficacy these long-running authors’ organizations are able to show as they work through this thicket of rights holders’ and content providers’ issues with Audible. Even the leading writers’ trade associations in the field have been too easily dismissed at one time or another by some players—by no means all—in the publishing industry.

. . . .

“With input from independent authors,” the coalition writes, “we raised other issues, including the one-year commitment to exclusivity and the mandatory seven-year license term in Audible contracts, and are pleased to see that progress was made on these demands.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG is always happy for anyone to lobby for authors and other creators to be treated better by publishers of all sorts.

PG thinks that it would be great for authors’ organization to approach traditional print publishers to negotiate “a one-year commitment to exclusivity and the mandatory seven-year license term” in order to give authors of printed and ebooks the ability to move away from publishers who aren’t treating them right.

PG suggests there’s nothing special about what’s fair in audiobooks that should not also be considered for all the different formats for books that authors create.

PG will look forward to soon reading reports that the Authors Guild, the Society of Authors and the Alliance of Independent Authors are pressuring traditional publishers, large and small, for freedom from the onerous terms of typical print and ebook terms, such as exclusive contracts that are binding for the life of the author plus 70 years, twice-yearly royalty reports and payments, opaque reserves for returns provisions and practices that give authors no real information or rights to understand how such reserves are calculated and how long they will be held by publishers, etc., the ability to book sellers to return unsold printed books for full credit weeks or months after ordering and receiving them from publishers, etc.

Traditional publishing would be far fairer and more invested in the financial well-being of authors if it changed its publishing agreements in the same way these large authors groups, dominated by traditionally-published authors, are insisting Audible, an Amazon subsidiary, change its contract terms.

Class Action Suit: Amazon & Publishers Face Price Collusion

From Personanondata:

Attorney’s Sperling & Slater acting on behalf of three eBook buying plaintiffs are suing Amazon and the “big 5” publishers (Hachette, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harpercollins) for eBook price collusion in the Southern District Court in Manhattan.  These plaintiffs are deemed representative of the following class:  

All persons who, on or after January 14, 2017, purchased in the United States one or more eBooks sold by the Big Five Publishers through any other retail e-commerce channel in the United States other than the Amazon.com platform.

The filing alleges that Amazon.com employs anticompetitive restraints to immunize its platform from the negative effects of the Big Five’s inflated eBook prices and that these ‘inflated prices’ are a result of the imposition by publishers of the agency pricing model.

There are several exhibits in this filing including the following:

As the following chart shows,15 the Big Five’s eBook prices decreased substantially from 2013-2014, as long as the consent decrees prevented the Big Five from interfering with retailer discounts, but they immediately increased their prices again in 2015 after renegotiating their agency agreements with Amazon and have continued to maintain supracompetitive prices

.

What the above chart seems to be suggesting is that eBook prices from the big five are now at a level comparable to the 2014-15 time period which is when they were lowest.

In their argument the attorneys focus on the use of ‘most favored’ pricing models which Amazon requires of its vendors. Basically no other vendor (including the publisher) can offer better prices to consumers. Due to this according to the suit, Amazon removes any opportunity for price competition and therefore perpetuates higher (anticompetitive) pricing of eBooks. As follows:

27. Amazon’s and the Big Five’s continued anticompetitive use of MFNs in the United States is astonishingly brazen, given the DOJ’s high-profile enforcement against Apple and the Big Five in 2012 and the EU’s own proceedings against the Big Five and Apple in 2011 and subsequently against Amazon in 2015 for its own use of anticompetitive MFNs in eBook sales. Despite multiple investigations and censure, Amazon and the Big Five have engaged and continue to engage in a conspiracy to fix the retail price of eBooks in violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act.

28. Amazon’s agreement with its Co-conspirators is an unreasonable restraint of trade that prevents competitive pricing and causes Plaintiffs and other consumers to overpay when they purchase eBooks from the Big Five through an eBook retailer that competes with Amazon. That harm persists and will not abate unless Amazon and the Big Five are stopped; Plaintiffs seek a nation-wide injunction under the Clayton Act to enjoin Amazon and the Big Five from enforcing this price restraint.29.Amazon’s conduct also violates Section 2. Amazon has obtained monopoly power in the U.S. retail trade eBook market, where it accounts for 90% of all eBook sales. Through its conspiracy with the Big Five Co-conspirators, Defendant Amazon has willfully acquired its monopoly power in the U.S. retail trade eBook through anticompetitive conduct, fixing the retail price of trade eBooks and causing supracompetitive prices for eBooks sold by or through Amazon’s eBook retailer rivals. Such conduct is an abuse of monopoly power in violation of Section 2 of the Sherman Act.

Link to the rest at Personanondata


Trigger Warning: Those susceptible to any adverse reactions or consequences as a result of reading an extended opinion of PG should stop reading NOW.

If such persons take the risk of reading further, they should notify a relative or friend that an intervention may be necessary to pull them back to some semblance of sanity following their consumption of an excessive dose of PG.

You Have Been Warned!!

Love and Kisses, Your Buddy,

PG

XXOOXX

First, some language clarification. As used in legal parlance, especially in antitrust matters, “MFN” refers to Most Favored Nation clauses.

The term, Most Favored Nation has its origin in international trade and tariff negotiations.

From The Balance:

Most-favored-nation (MFN) status is an economic position in which a country enjoys the best trade terms given by its trading partner. That means it receives the lowest tariffs, the fewest trade barriers, and the highest import quotas (or none at all). In other words, all MFN trade partners must be treated equally.

Link to the rest at The Balance

While international trade agreements are, at least generally, not subject to lawsuits in US courts, at some point in time, US (and perhaps other nations’) antitrust lawyers borrowed the MFN term and applied it to describe a concept in antitrust law:

From Practical Law Company:

Most favored nation clauses (MFNs), sometimes also referred to as
most favored customer clauses, are agreements in which a supplier
agrees to treat a particular customer no worse than all other customers
(see Standard Clause, General Contract Clauses, Most Favored
Customer (www.practicallaw.com/8-510-7389)). Under most MFNs,
a seller agrees to provide a product or service to a buyer at a price no
higher than the price it provides to any other buyer, now or during the
term of the agreement. Contracting parties commonly use MFNs to:

– Reduce uncertainty about potential price fluctuations.

– Transfer risk of opportunism.

– Reduce the transaction costs of both initial and later bargaining.

While commentators and courts have found MFNs to be
competitively benign in most circumstances, recent actions and
comments by enforcement agencies have raised the possibility
that MFNs may be found to be anticompetitive in several specific
situations. This Note surveys those developments and discusses
some of the risk factors that a company should consider when
analyzing the legality of specific MFNs.

Link to the rest at Practical Law Company

Back to Amazon and Big Publishing.

Long-time visitors to TPV will recall that, in 2012, an antitrust case, United States v. Apple Inc., was filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against Apple Computer and five of the six largest traditional publishers in the United States.

The suit alleged that the six defendants had violated the US antitrust laws by agreeing to set fixed prices for e-books and force Amazon to sell e-books at those prices, which were higher than the discounted prices Amazon was then charging for Big Publishing’s ebooks.

Top executives of Big Publishing had been meeting secretly for some time to decide how to keep Amazon from selling their books at a discount. Apple was planning the launch of the first iPad and the opening of its iBookstore to sell ebooks and didn’t want Amazon to offer ebooks for discounted prices.

At the iPad launch, when Apple CEO Steve Jobs was asked by a Wall Street Journal columnist how the iBookstore was going to compete with Amazon when Amazon was going to be offering ebooks for lower prices, Jobs assured the columnist that the ebook prices would be the same on Amazon as they were at the iBookstore.

Such collusive price-fixing was and is, of course, wildly illegal under US antitrust law. In PG’s transcendently-humble opinion, only rank stupidity on the part of publishers and complete arrogance on the part of Apple’s highest execs can be concluded from such a stupid move.

PG is acquainted with some attorneys who work or have worked for Apple and is confident that if Apple execs had consulted inside or outside counsel, they would have been informed that it was a dumb thing to try and had a high probability of being slipping out into the light in one way or another.

Shortly after the suit was filed, each of the publishers caved, paying a fine and agreeing never to fix ebook prices again. Apple fought the matter and lost in the trial court, the US Court of Appeals and the US Supreme Court.

With that overlong background, now we find Amazon being accused of conduct similar to Apple, in company with the same group that got into trouble with Apple.

PG’s initial reaction was that Amazon would be too smart to fall into any sort of antitrust trap of the same general type that caused Apple embarrassment and money about 9 years ago. Why collude with convicts? (that’s a little over the top, nobody went to jail)

PG hasn’t had a chance to read the Complaint in this case in any detail, but it appears that counsel for the plaintiffs is focused on Amazon’s requirement that it receive the best price that the publishers offer anyone else for ebooks it licenses. Plaintiffs’ counsel also draws a specific parallels between what it alleges Amazon’s behavior to be today and what Apple’s was in former days.

In the former antitrust case, the publishers were threatening to cut off access to their products for Amazon if it didn’t raise its prices.

PG’s has not read anything about the present claims that suggest that competitors to Amazon are being forbidden from discounting their ebooks below Amazon’s prices.

Nothing in the idea of a free market guarantees that everyone is entitled to a profit on any sale. If a competitor of Amazon wishes to acquire ebook licenses from major trade publishers and chooses to resell licenses for less than it paid for them as loss leaders in order to capture market share, there is no harm to consumers because they’re given the choice to purchase a given title at a lower price than they can from Amazon.

Amazon was reported in past times to have engaged in such discounting for various products in exactly that manner – attracting customers to its store by selling some products at a loss in order to sell other things to a customer at a small profit during the same visit or later visits when the customer returned to purchase things from Amazon.

There is a distinction between Amazon requiring that large publishers sell ebook rights to Amazon at a price that is equal to the best price the publishers offer anyone and Amazon requiring that publishers somehow force others to sell ebooks at a price no lower than Amazon sells them.

PG has digressed too long in speculation, however.

One point PG hasn’t seen mentioned anywhere else is that Amazon offers a wide range of much lower-priced ebooks from indie authors.

Forget about traditional publishing. Lots of readers enjoy buying high-quality ebooks from indie authors on Amazon because indies are willing to price their books lower than New York or London corporate publishers are.

Some buyers may also be aware that, when they buy books from indie authors, a much higher percentage of each dollar they spend on Amazon ends up in the author’s pocket than if they buy a book from a traditional publisher.

PG would argue that looking at what has happened to the ebook prices of traditional publishers with their excessive cost structures and obligations to kick lots of money upstairs to their often privately-held overseas owners is only looking at the portion of the ebook market that is in slow decline.

The growing market for indie ebooks notwithstanding, if, as one of the OP’s claims, if Amazon is using:

“‘most favored’ pricing models which” prevent any “other vendor (including the publisher)” from offering “better prices to consumers

PG has no sympathy for Amazon and hopes it is punished for such activities.

If, on the other hand, Amazon is using its power to control its costs only (not the amount that competitors can charge for an ebook), Amazon is requiring that it be given the right to sell ebooks while paying the publisher a price that isn’t higher than the publisher is charging a competitor of Amazon to sell the same ebook, then Amazon is not demanding an uneven playing field.

In such case, Amazon is demanding a flat field, an equal cost basis upon which it it can set its own retail prices just as a competitor of Amazon can set its own retail prices.

In such case, Amazon is not saying, “You have to force any other ebook retailer to not underprice Amazon.”

Again, PG isn’t opining about the full range of ways Amazon may be accused of violating antitrust laws.

Amazon as the overwhelmingly largest seller of ebooks in the US is subject to antitrust restrictions different than Amazon as a scrappy little online bookseller.

For the record, PG is not saying that Amazon can do no wrong. Earlier in Amazon’s history Jeff Bezos was fully hands-on with a smaller company and he was able to know most of what was happening inside a smaller Amazon.

These days, a post-divorce/new girlfriend Jeff Bezos has reportedly handed off a lot of day-to-day management responsibilities to others.

While PG would like to believe that the corporate culture that Bezos impressed upon Amazon during the early and middle part of its explosive growth still governs the operations of the company, he realizes that those handling the day-to-day business decisions for the company may be motivated by other incentives.

PG has personal experience with the vast changes that can occur in an organization when the management who hired him was replaced by management with a much different outlook on business life.

Amazon.com and ‘Big Five’ publishers accused of ebook price-fixing

From The Guardian:

Amazon.com and the “Big Five” publishers – Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster – have been accused of colluding to fix ebook prices, in a class action filed by the law firm that successfully sued Apple and the Big Five on the same charge 10 years ago.

The lawsuit, filed in district court in New York on Thursday by Seattle firm Hagens Berman, on behalf of consumers in several US states, names the retail giant as the sole defendant but labels the publishers “co-conspirators”. It alleges Amazon and the publishers use a clause known as “Most Favored Nations” (MFN) to keep ebook prices artificially high, by agreeing to price restraints that force consumers to pay more for ebooks purchased on retail platforms that are not Amazon.com.

The lawsuit claims that almost 90% of all ebooks sold in the US are sold on Amazon, in addition to over 50% of all print books. The suit alleges that ebook prices dropped in 2013 and 2014 after Apple and major publishers were successfully sued for conspiring to set ebook prices, but rose again after Amazon renegotiated their contracts in 2015.

“In violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Antitrust Act, Defendant and the Big Five Co-conspirators agreed to various anti-competitive MFNs and anti-competitive provisions that functioned the same as MFNs,” the complaint states. “Amazon’s agreement with its Co-conspirators is an unreasonable restraint of trade that prevents competitive pricing and causes Plaintiffs and other consumers to overpay when they purchase ebooks from the Big Five through an ebook retailer that competes with Amazon. That harm persists and will not abate unless Amazon and the Big Five are stopped.”

. . . .

Hagens Berman sued Apple and the Big Five publishers for fixing ebook prices in 2011, in a case that would eventually lead to suits from several US states and the Department of Justice, which accused Apple of colluding in order to break up Amazon.com’s dominance in the ebook market.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

Connecticut Investigating Amazon’s E-Book Business

From The Wall Street Journal:

Connecticut is actively investigating how Amazon.com Inc. sells and distributes digital books, according to the state’s attorney general, the latest of several state and federal probes into the tech giant’s business practices.

The investigation is examining whether Amazon engaged in anticompetitive behavior in the e-book business through its agreements with certain publishers, Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement.

Connecticut asked Amazon to provide documents related to its dealings with five of the largest U.S. book publishers, according to a subpoena issued in 2019. The Tech Transparency Project, a nonprofit that investigates technology platforms, obtained the subpoena through an open records request and shared it with The Wall Street Journal.

. . . .

“Our office continues to aggressively monitor this market to protect fair competition for consumers, authors, and other e-book retailers,” Mr. Tong said in a statement.

The publishers cited in Connecticut’s Amazon subpoena include HarperCollins Publishers, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by News Corp ; Lagardere MMB; SCA’s Hachette Book Group; Penguin Random House, a unit of closely held German media company Bertelsmann SE; Simon & Schuster, the book publishing arm of ViacomCBS Inc.; and Macmillan. Penguin Random House has agreed to acquire Simon & Schuster, pending regulatory approval.

. . . .

The Connecticut investigation is one of several ongoing probes into the Seattle-based company’s market power. In October, the House Antitrust Subcommittee completed a 16-month investigation into Amazon and other technology companies, concluding that Amazon has amassed “monopoly power” over sellers on its site.

. . . .

Amazon is the dominant U.S. e-book retailer, accounting for 76% of digital books sold in the U.S. in September, according to Codex Group LLC, a book audience research firm. Rival sellers of digital books include Apple, Alphabet Inc.’s Google and Barnes & Noble.

The e-book market has been controversial for years. Amazon kick-started the business when it introduced its Kindle e-reader in November 2007, a launch that offered digital bestsellers for $9.99. The discounted offering helped Amazon build market share, but publishers believed it hurt the industry.

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

Thoughts about what Covid and 2020 mean for book publishing

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

A team of independent publishing consultants with broad and deep experience in the industry have produced an excellent report on the effects of the past year’s pandemic on the book publishing business called “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021”. Cliff Guren, Thad McIlroy, and Steven Sieck are real pros and they have been systematic and rigorous in their methodology. The report is free (here) and is bound to be among the most widely-read papers in our industry very quickly.

The notion was to look at the changes that have taken place in the worlds publishing lives in and work back to the impact on the publishers. This approach makes sense. You can’t analyze or predict the future about trade publishing without looking at what is happening in the world of retail. You need to understand what the impact of change is on schools and colleges to gain insight into how publishers will have to adjust. Indeed, that’s how publishers themselves will approach the challenge: they will try to understand the environments they have to live in to formulate their go-forward strategies.

And the authors have captured the reality that the pandemic was not really bad for the book business. In fact, for many publishers it has been a boon. The authors amply document that most book sales have been sustained and that most book publishing operations have managed to shift staff to working remotely and are still able to continue to produce effectively.

One impact of the pandemic on retailing that was thoroughly appreciated by Guren, McIlroy, and Sieck (and seldom remarked on elsewhere) is the rise in importance of the brick-and-mortar “equivalents” to Amazon: like Target, Walmart, and Costco. Those stores have long had the in-store presence of a limited number of book titles but in the online environment, with Ingram in the background, they can sell just about any book except some proprietary Amazon titles. Online non-book consumers can put books in their grocery basket with these retailers as readily as they can with Amazon and more and more of them appear to be doing that. Although it is more likely that many of these new book customers for them were filched from local brick and mortar retail rather than from Amazon, the net effect has been to really grow books in importance to them.

. . . .

Discovery that shifts from bookstores to online favors backlist. And publishers have been challenged to deliver new titles with the same marketplace impact in the readjusted book marketplace. Some new title production has continued, to be sure. But there are anecdotal reports of postponements with some publishers choosing to hold back quite a bit until things change.

. . . .

“Covid Impacts and Insights” discusses the relative ease with which publishers have maintained their operations without using their offices. Discovering how to work this way is bound to have implications on the future of offices — where they’ll be, how full they’ll be, and what percentage of each employee’s time will be spent in them — in our business. The report notes the fact that a lot of publishers spend big money on Manhattan real estate. In a margin-challenged business like ours, that is bound to come under closer scrutiny as the pandemic fades.

. . . .

One is touched on in the Executive Summary at the top and not returned to: the efforts by publishers to compensate for a declining infrastructure of intermediaries (particularly bookstores) with more D2C — direct to consumer — efforts. For well over a decade, even the most general of the general trade publishers have been building those efforts. They all have databases with millions of consumer names that they are able to use with varying amounts of success. This creates subtle distinctions between the sales capabilities of the houses based on their different abilities to reach direct audiences.

So when Penguin Random House acquires Simon & Schuster (assuming the sale is allowed to proceed), the chances are that they will both get some new books that are appropriate for some of their “captive” audiences and, conversely, that they will acquire some D2C reach that S&S developed that can now be applied to PRH books. Not much is known about the specific proprietary D2C capabilities the houses have, but those sales assets, however slowly they grow, become increasingly important as bookstore opportunities shrink. Both the publisher marketing efforts and the brick-and-mortar erosion are accelerated by the pandemic.

There is another change that has been slow and inexorable over the past decade or more and which the pandemic can only exacerbate. Since the center of gravity has shifted away from bookstores, a domain publishers “controlled” and which shielded them from competition from books that had no powerful publisher, it has become increasingly difficult for publishers to make new books “work”.

. . . .

How does new title production of the established trade houses today compare to what they issued ten or twenty years ago? (One hint: it is almost certain that the combined new title output of PRH and S&S will be less after the merger than it was before.) And how do sales of new titles compare to sales of backlist? And how much of the new title output survives to become contributing backlist?

This is a tough set of facts to compile, but it is almost certain they’d show that big publishers are living off their backlist and not making it grow like they did in past decades. The “moat” around established publishers was always the bookstores; real publishers could put inventory into them and mere aspirants could not. When there were thousands of bookstores carrying tens of thousands of titles (or even hundreds of thousands) and almost all the books were sold through brick-and-mortar retailers (a fair description of the world before 1995, or even before 2005), the big publishers had an advantage that no number of D2C names can win back for them.

. . . .

In pandemic times, when output is constrained in many ways, the ability to print at the point of distribution changes everything. The striking example of how much this matters was a NY Times paperback bestseller list at the end of June which had a majority of the titles being printed and distributed by Ingram.

Having learned the many benefits of being able to meet substantial demand without inventory in place, the publishers aren’t likely to forget it. The fact that a unit costs more to deliver when you print one was always well understood; now it can also be seen that shipping and handling and returns costs are avoided so the difference in profits is not as great as the difference in unit cost. Publishers know this now. It will change things going forward.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

Mike points out that the ability of traditional publishers to put product into physical bookstores (and the larger publishers could do this more successfully than most small publishers) was important for their success and prosperity. Fundamentally, traditional publishers controlled this retail channel and large publishers paid a lot of attention to large bookstores and even more to large bookstore chains.

However, Barnes & Noble is about the only large bookstore chain still in business. The latest pre-Covid data PG could find was that there were 633 BN physical stores in the US. Books-a-Million was second with 260 stores in 32 states and store numbers dropped quickly farther down the list. These numbers are almost certain to decline when the retail sector can finally open up and have a reasonable expectation of customers entering their stores. PG’s bet is that there will be a lot fewer physical bookstores after Covid than there were before.

A whole lot of readers who purchased their books from physical bookstores pre-Covid have learned that Amazon has everything and can deliver a physical book to their home tomorrow or the next day if they order it as soon as they leave Barnes & Noble. Even early books by current bestsellers may be a special-order item in a physical bookstore. And those readers will quite possibly pay less than if they waited for a BN special order to arrive in a week or two. Smaller bookstore chains may require an even longer wait.

PG was interested in Mike’s observations that publishers’ back list had become a larger contributor to revenue and sales than it had been prior to Covid. He rightly pointed out that the migration of sales from physical bookstores to Amazon and other online bookstores had been a primary cause of this rebalancing.

PG suspects that some veteran authors who were/are traditionally-published may wonder whether it’s fair for their publishers to be harvesting the large majority of the money from these backlist sales when the author’s advance has long been spent and the publishers haven’t devoted any significant amounts of money or effort promoting the author or her books for a very long time, particularly if the publisher isn’t providing much in the way of advances for new books the author has written lately.

You can download the complete COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021 HERE. While Mike focuses mostly on the trade publishing business (which is likely the most interesting part of for most visitors to TPV), the complete report includes some information about academic and research publishing which is under pressure because its primary customers – academic institutions – has been severely stressed by Covid.

Agent Laurie McLean Gives 10 Publishing Predictions for 2021

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

Hold onto your pens, people…it’s going to be a wild ride.

It’s that time of year again. I present to you Predictions in Publishing: the 2021 Edition!

It’s hard to believe that last year at this time I was bemoaning the fact that the book publishing industry seemed to have stagnated and not a lot was changing. Then, WHOOSH, in March everything changed all at once. And here we are counting down the days to the final end to the Year of the Great Pause, where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel into 2021. Let’s hope it’s not a train! (It’s not a train…)

. . . .

1) Publishing Professionals Leave New York

More editors, agents and other publishing pros have moved out of the New York City metro area, and are working from homes in other cities, and even states, where the cost of living is significantly lower. If they bought or rented a house with a yard and several bedrooms/office space elsewhere, or moved in with their parents and find it delightful, the thought of moving back into a comparably-priced studio or one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan or Brooklyn might not be strong enough to get them to return.

They have gotten comfortable with working remotely. They are now Zoom or Google Meeting pros. And they see how much more work they can get done (especially editing) if they don’t have to commute or do endless in-person meetings every day. Even art departments have developed successful workarounds. This has fundamentally changed the publishing process.

As we move into the future, I believe you’ll see a diaspora of publishing professionals, just like tech workers or other non-geographically-tied workers have experienced, and eventually they will either be located in a smaller building in NYC or will Zoom-in remotely when needed, only visiting the main office once a month or so. It has long been the case with agents and even the odd editor, but now it will be commonplace among the major houses. New York will be the center of publishing in name only. Virtual companies will have the edge.

. . . .

3) Reading on Screens Increases

Everyone got used to buying all kinds of things online, and that includes ebooks. But will this trend continue once bookstores are open again?

I believe so. Readers have become comfortable with reading on a screen as part of the total ecosystem of reading, just as they’ve become comfortable with shopping at their local retail stores as well as Amazon, Bookshop.org, indie bookstores, reading apps, etc.

They will consume hardcover, trade paperback, mass market, ebooks, audiobooks and any new format that comes along. Publishers need to understand that and work it into their P&Ls on stories and worlds they want to license.

. . . .

5) Bookstores Adapt

Indie bookstores (traditional publishing’s main retail outlet) have been severely disrupted. Do they survive and thrive or collapse? Will Barnes & Noble make it? Will Amazon continue to dominate or will Bookshop.org challenge them? I think all these issues will play out in the latter half of 2021.

I think indie bookstores have already pivoted successfully by being creative and community-minded. They rocked drive-by distribution and deliveries. They figured out how to do many of their promotional events and author “signings” online.

It’s the larger box bookstores like Barnes & Noble, now under a new management team led by Brit James Daunt, who I see fumbling the ball and perhaps not being fiscally viable much longer. Five years and they’ll either be gone or severely smaller. That’s my prediction. Amazon is hastening their exit. Look back at prediction number 3.

. . . .

8) Online Book Promotion Becomes the Norm

Virtual book promotion is here to stay. It already was not making economic sense to send an author on a multi-city tour to promote a book, when only a handful of fans would show up at the local Barnes & Noble in each city. If all bookstores, even small ones in rural locations, can get an author to do a 1-hour Zoom chat about their book with fans who’ve already ordered the pre-autographed book from said indie bookstore, it’s going to catch on. It’s affordable, easy to accomplish, and readers will like it if they can watch their author heroes while in their jammies.

Also, need I say, school visits will become a lot more accessible and affordable if done virtually. This way authors can earn a few dollars and bookstores can scale up or down depending on the popularity of the authors virtually visiting their locales.

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

It is 2021, but PG still does not always agree with everything he posts on TPV.

For one thing, Bookshop.org hasn’t a chance in hell of taking a hundredth of one-percent of Amazon’s share of the book business.

PG will note that, although more honored in the breach than in the observance, the .org extension was originally intended to be reserved for non-profit organizations.

In the case of Bookshop.org, the website is run by a Limited Liability Company (LLC) which, at least in the United States, denotes an organization that strives to earn a profit. Again, in the United States, a charitable organization is typically operated as a non-profit corporation. Corrected per CE Petit’s comment and superior knowledge of current LLC practices and law.

That said, regardless of its intent, PG suggests that Bookshop.org will have quite a bit of difficulty generating a profit of any sort and its business and commission structure is designed for traditional publishers, so it will generate teeny-tiny royalties for the authors who make books possible in the first place.

PG says that, if you or your reading friends wish to encourage and compensate authors, buying through Amazon is the only way you go.

How Amazon Wins: By Steamrolling Rivals and Partners

Note: PG doesn’t always agree with the items he posts on TPV.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Jeff Bezos built Amazon.com Inc. from his garage with an underdog’s ambition to take on the establishment. He imbued staff with an obsession to grow fast by grabbing customers using the biggest selection and lowest prices. Today, he has more than 1.1 million employees and a market valuation around $1.6 trillion.

But Amazon never really grew up. Mr. Bezos still runs it with the drive of a startup trying to survive.

That ethos helps keep Amazon booming. Aggressive competition—including wresting market share from rivals—is often a hallmark of a successful business. It’s also why the tech-and-retail giant is the target of rivals, regulators and politicians who say its tactics are unfair for a company its size, and potentially illegal. As the company has grown, so has its capacity to take on an ever-growing array of competitors.

To keep customers happy, which Mr. Bezos has long said is Amazon’s fixation and growth strategy, executives behind the scenes have methodically waged targeted campaigns against rivals and partners alike—an approach that has changed little through the years, from diapers to footwear.

No competitor is too small to draw Amazon’s sights. It cloned a line of camera tripods that a small outside company sold on Amazon’s site, hurting the vendor’s sales so badly it is now a fraction of its original size, the little firm’s owner said. Amazon said it didn’t violate the company’s intellectual-property rights.

When Amazon decided to compete with furniture retailer Wayfair Inc., Mr. Bezos’s deputies created what they called the Wayfair Parity Team, which studied how Wayfair procured, sold and delivered bulky furniture, eventually replicating a majority of its offerings, said people who worked on the team. Amazon and Wayfair declined to comment on the matter.

. . . .

From its start as an online bookstore 26 years ago, Amazon has expanded into an online retailer with a presence in nearly every major category. It is also the leading provider of cloud-computing services, a gadget maker, a major entertainment player and a rival to United Parcel Service Inc. and FedEx Corp. Mr. Bezos is the world’s richest man, with a net worth Forbes estimates at $187 billion.

He still exhorts employees to consider Amazon a startup. “It is always day one,” he likes to say. Day two is “stasis, followed by irrelevance, followed by excruciating, painful decline, followed by death.” Mr. Bezos originally considered calling his company Relentless, and www.relentless.com still redirects to Amazon’s site.

. . . .

Some rivals and partners say Amazon’s competitive zeal looks like unfair practices. The Journal this year reported that Amazon employees used data about independent sellers on its platform to develop competing products and that it has used the investment and deal-making process in ways that entrepreneurs and others said helped it develop products that competed with its would-be partners. Journal reporting showed how Amazon has limited some competitors’ ability to promote rival streaming devices and other gadgets on its dominant e-commerce platform.

Mr. Bezos in July testimony to the House Antitrust Subcommittee about the Journal’s private-label article, said: “I can’t guarantee you that that policy has never been violated.” The Amazon spokesman said the company doesn’t use confidential information that companies share with it in the mergers-and-acquisitions and venture-capital processes to build competing products. Amazon didn’t directly address the question of whether it hobbles rivals’ marketing, saying it is common practice among retailers to choose which products they promote.

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

PG says that US antitrust law is designed to protect competition, not competitors. The beneficiaries of antitrust law are intended to be consumers.

For as long as people have been making and selling products with a view toward improving their material conditions, other people have decided they might be able to improve their material conditions by doing the same thing.

No one forces a company, large or small, to sell on Amazon. No one forces a company selling on Amazon to keep selling on Amazon.

Absent patent, copyright or similar intellectual property protections, nothing protects any manufacturer or seller from a competitor, small or large, making a similar or identical product and selling it in competition with the earlier vendor. It happens every day of the week.

Per the OP, as an amateur photographer, PG can assure one and all that there are a zillion different tripod manufacturers in the world selling tripods of all different shapes, sizes and prices.

If PG is shopping for a tripod (no, he really doesn’t need another tripod, but . . .), he can find cheap tripods, expensive tripods, knock-offs of expensive tripods, etc., from all different types of manufacturers. A new idea for tripods appears approximately once every thirty years and manifests itself as a tweak, not a revolution. Certain brands appeal to photographers who want to impress others and have money to spend in order to do so.

If PG were to start a tripod business, he wouldn’t waste his time trying to interest camera stores (a rapidly disappearing phenomenon) in purchasing his tripods at a wholesale price for resale. He would sell online and almost certainly sell via Amazon because that’s where people go to buy tripods these days.

It would be easy for PG to set up his own online tripod store, but getting anyone to come to PG’s tripod website would be another challenge entirely.

What Amazon offers is people — eyeballs with credit cards. That is a very, very hard thing to do. Look at all the other etail websites and compare them to Amazon. PG suggests you’ll see why Amazon is the preferred destination.

Apparently, lots and lots of tripod manufacturers and sellers want to reach Amazon’s customers. PG just checked and there appear to be 400 pages of tripods (with 8-10 tripods per page) for sale on Amazon.

So, the small tripod manufacturer that the WSJ mentioned in the OP was in a very, very competitive world long before Amazon decided to make its own tripods.

From Amazon’s Beginner’s Guide to Selling on Amazon:

When you start selling on Amazon, you become part of a retail destination that’s home to sellers of all kinds, from Fortune 500 organizations to artisan vendors who make handcrafted goods. They all sell here for a reason: to reach the hundreds of millions of customers who visit Amazon to shop.

  • Since third-party sellers joined Amazon in 1999, they’ve grown to account for 58% of Amazon sales
  • Third-party sales on Amazon are growing at 52% a year (compared to 25% for first-party sales by Amazon)

KDP Select All-Stars

From Amazon:

If you enroll your eBook in KDP Select, you’re eligible for the KDP Select All-Star Bonus. In addition to paying royalties from the KDP Select Global Fund, each month we award All-Star bonuses to books and authors that are read the most in Kindle Unlimited (KU) and the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL). All-Star recipients are also eligible for All-Star badges on their book detail pages. Anyone with titles in KDP Select—even a brand-new author—is eligible.

We award All-Star bonuses to authors and titles that provide our customers the best reading experience based on how much they’re read in KU and KOLL. Authors who publish books together are considered a single “author” for the purposes of KDP All-Star bonuses. We email the award winners.

. . . .

KDP Select All-Star bonuses by marketplace

Amazon.com

Author rankingBonus amount
1-10$25,000
11-20$10,000
21-30$5,000
31-50$2,500
51-100$1,000
Title rankingBonus amount
1-10$2,500
11-50$1,000
51-100$500

Link to the rest at Amazon KDP Select Bonuses

PG notes that there are separate KDP All-Star sites with bonuses for Amazon UK and Amazon DE plus Illustrated Kids Book bonuses at the link.

Audible Returns and Indie Author Royalties – A Detailed Discussion

A couple of days ago, PG posted an item about author dissatisfaction with Audible’s return policies and the negative impacts they were having on indie authors’ audiobook royalty payments.

One of the comments was from a long-time regular on TPV, PolyWogg, and provided detail and discussion that PG thought deserved a more prominent position on this illustrious online stage.

Here’s PolyWogg:

In my view, there is quite a bit of disingenous hand-wringing here, and while part of it is the digital nature of the product that confuses things, two other elements are worse.

NOT ALL RETURNS ARE THE SAME. In a paper world, returns take two forms — seller returns and buyer returns. To be clear, the current issue is about buyer returns. People are not very careful with their wording though and some articles have referred to “longstanding conflicts over returns” which is the first type, not the second, and completely irrelevant to this discussion. Yet some of the authors fed that narrative.

For the “buyer” return, buyers return products for a bunch of reasons according to the popular research:

a. They already had it and didn’t need another one / they bought several and only needed one;
b. It was a gift and they didn’t want it;
c. It’s defective;
d. It didn’t perform as expected; or,
e. They used it and don’t need it anymore.

From market research, most people are generally okay with (a) to (c). A simple return. Almost all stores offer it, even when there is no legal requirement to do so. They can say, “All sales final” if they wish, subject to consumer protection legislation, but most places accept returns.

IRREGULAR RETURNS. A smaller percentage of the population are also okay with d (poor performance), but depends on the product. For example, if you bought a vacuum cleaner and found out it doesn’t pick up cat hair, it may not be defective but it doesn’t do what you expected. And if you return it soon enough, most stores will take it. They’ll reseal it, put back on the shelf or sell it as open box, and away it goes. There is, after all, nothing wrong with it. However, for the writer, what exactly does this mean? If you read 50 pages of the book, decide the author sucks, can you return it? Many buyers say absolutely yes, authors want to say, “Of course not”. But the publisher and the store makes that decision in paper world, not the author. And most of them will take the return unless the book is marred in some way. And even then, many of them will take it rather than alienate the customer.

The other area (e used/need) is a not-insignificant area of concern. The cliché is the girl who buys a party dress / man who buys a suit but doesn’t cut the tags off so that they return it the next day. They’re essentially converting their purchase into “borrowing” for the night cuz they either can’t afford it or see nothing wrong with ripping off the store. People do it with tools, computer equipment (like scanners), anything that can be a “use once” type situation where you need it but when you’re done with it, you don’t need it anymore. According to most market research, people are usually of the view that this is scummy behaviour and SHOULD NOT be allowed. I even bought a special purpose computer tool from a computer store about two years ago and the salesman told me to take it home, use it, fix my problem, and then bring it back afterwards. I bought it, I didn’t return it. It didn’t feel right to me, but not everyone feels that way.

For the author in the Audible situation, where they want to allow long-term returns, everybody wants to paint it as (e used/need), not (d poor performance), and therefore should not be allowed.

DIGITAL PURCHASES. The problem with all of this, which is exacerbated by the timeline, is that it is a digital product with no degradation from a return. It’s not “used” in that sense, just that potentially the buyer already got the benefit from it. Audible wants to give them the right to return something up to a year after they bought it. Which all the authors then say, “Well sure, you’ve listened to it by then, and NOW you want to return it?”. Putting it squarely in group (e). Bought, used, returned.

Except the authors are wrong. Sure, there will be people in that category, as there are for lots of industries, and for those people, it is similar to a subscription / all you can eat buffet. But market research puts it in the 5% category as legitimate purchasers (not pirates) believe it is wrong. They feel like they would be cheating, so they don’t do it. Pirates and pseudo pirates would, but they’re a small percentage and don’t really represent lost sales. They aren’t going to buy anyway. Would/could it increase? Sure.

But the real question is *why* would Audible want to offer that length of time instead of 1m, 3m, etc.? It puts no money in their pocket and actually costs them money to do it. Every business model out there (except two) would tell them this is a bad idea.

One exception to that general limitation on returns is the “lifetime guarantee” or “extended warranty”. Sears in Canada used to have their “satisfaction guaranteed” promise and the best story I ever heard was a refrigerator that crapped out after 20 years, the guy tried to get it fixed, couldn’t get the parts, and the STORE TOOK IT BACK SINCE HE WASN’T SATISFIED. He didn’t even ASK for it, they just did it. Of course, small differential in price to buy the new one, but that was their model. About 6 years ago, I returned a tablet within a 2-year warranty and they gave me the full original cost back because none of their current tablets had the same features to give me a replacement.

The new “disrupted” exception is digital purchases. Since there is nothing to repackage, check for defects, etc., it is 100% resellable (although not really since it is just a digital copy anyway). There is no added cost to the returns. So why would Audible embrace this model for long returns? Because the buyer isn’t using the product right away.

If you look at the number of books bought for Kindles the day after Xmas, another example, people load them up. Dozens of books. Do they read them all in a month? Nope. Some they might not get to for several months. Or perhaps never.

Audible is identical. People buy several books, and might take up to a year to get to listen to them. Perhaps they buy four books in a series so they can listen to them. And after partway through Book 1, they realize they really don’t like them. This puts it SQUARELY back in category (d poor performance). And for Books 2-4, those are more like category (b a gift they didn’t want).

Now, well after the purchase time, the reader/listener is sitting there with multiple books they don’t want, they bought in advance, and now they want to return them. More than 6m after they bought them. If it was paper, they probably couldn’t normally because too much time had passed.

If they can’t return them, what do listeners do? They stop buying in bulk. They buy 1 book now, and they wait until it is finished before buying the others. THIS is why Audible wants to offer the return. So that people will keep buying well in advance knowing that they might not read it for several months. And if they get to book 3 and find they don’t like the series anymore, they can return it.

Audible knows that if they don’t accept the returns, sales will go down in the short-term. People won’t binge buy. It’s part of the reason Kindle sales die off after a short while. Yet one of the other questions is why doesn’t Amazon offer it for ebooks?

In short, because the lead time from purchase to reading ebooks isa bout the same as it is for paper books, no differential. Audio books though tend to have strong purchasing from really busy people looking to timeshift their listening (commutes, workouts), and with COVID, many of them are NOT getting through their audio books as fast as they used to with commutes and gyms eliminated.

Audible is doing it because they’re tryign to keep buyers buying at sales and promotions, and buying in advance generally, not just when they run out of the previous one.

I agree there’s an issue of transparency, as there is in EVERY CORNER OF PUBLISHING, but there isnt’ a scandal here except that once again, a bunch of writers/authors are trying to tell you they are “artistes”, not business people making widgets that can be returned.

Audiblegate 2: The Emperor’s New Clothes Policy

From Susan May Writer:

Welcome back to Audiblegate, the place where things just keep getting weirder and weirder. Settle in, this is a long one but ends, no less, in Brussels after we visit the Emperor’s New Clothes Policy, the pot theory, unicorns, pirates and so much more. If you haven’t read my first blog post on Audiblegate, start here first. Everything, of course, is all ALLEGED.

One of my favorite stories is Hans Christian Andersen’s The Emperor’s New Clothes. You know, the tale of two swindlers masquerading as tailors who trick the vain Emperor into believing that the new clothes they’ve created for him are only visible to those who are clever and competent? Nobody’s going to admit they couldn’t see these clothes, not him, nor his most trusted minister, the courtiers, or those in the crowd as he parades by, nobody! That is until a young child calls out “but he hasn’t got anything on.” Still the Emperor continues with his parade even though he suspects the boy is correct and he has indeed been tricked. Who wants to admit they’ve been conned?

Well, we authors, Audiblegate whistleblowers, are not happy to be swindled, but we’re not ashamed to admit we were conned. After all, the swindle was well played and though some out there, including Audible and ACX, still want you to believe this isn’t as bad as it seems or that it’s part of business in the modern age, don’t you believe it.

THE SWINDLE

The swindler in our story, Audible/ACX (both pretty much acting together and residing in the same building, so let’s call a spade a spade) wrote to all those trapped in contracts with them on the 12th November, apologizing and offering “to show our appreciation for your continued support of ACX, for the month of December 2020 we will pay an additional 5% royalty on all sales of your ACX audiobooks through Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.”

They end with a heartfelt, “ACX would be nothing without you, the creators of more than 200,000 audiobooks that have delighted listeners for the past nine years.”

Gee, that’s nice, glad you feel that way guys. Please pay for those books then and provide transparency while you’re at it. This email arrived following more than three weeks of an avalanche of emails from authors, rights holders and narrators asking that we receive our returns data separated out from our reports. We replied immediately repeating our request for transparency and what with all the advertising of their returns “benefit,” we certainly felt as though the days of trust were behind us, and we’d appreciate seeing how much we were actually worth to them.

But something’s not right here with your offer, we added, because our math tells us that 5% of nothing, which is what we’ve been receiving for up to fifty to sixty percent of our audiobooks is, well, a big fat 0% nothing.

Link to the rest at Susan May Writer and thanks to R. for the tip.

Perhaps PG has been sheltering in place for too long because he had not heard about Audiblegate before.

Visitors to TPV are invited to share, fill in the blanks, debunk, etc., on this topic.

Amazon Promises $500 Million in Holiday Bonuses for Front-Line Staff

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. AMZN 0.32% will pay front-line staff a special holiday bonus as the e-commerce giant responds to a surge in online sales during the coronavirus pandemic that is driving record results.

Full-time employees at Amazon from Dec. 1 through Dec. 31 qualify for a bonus of $300, while part-time employees will receive $150, Dave Clark, senior vice president of world-wide operations, said in a blog post. The special bonus will total more than $500 million, he said.

. . . .

Amazon, which raised its U.S. minimum pay to $15 an hour in 2018, reported a profit of $14.11 billion on $260.51 billion in net sales for the first nine months of this year and projected $112 billion to $121 billion in sales this quarter. In 2019, Amazon reported a $11.59 billion profit on $280.52 billion in sales.

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

Audible bows to pressure and changes returns policy

From The Bookseller:

Audible has announced an alteration to its returns policy, following an open letter signed by over 10,000 authors and industry representatives calling for it to make changes.

From 1st January 2021, the company will pay royalties to authors for any title returned more than seven days following purchase. The company currently deducts royalties from authors’ and narrators’ accounts when a purchased audiobook is returned or exchanged within a year.

. . . .

“In instances where we determine the benefit is being overused, Audible can and does limit the number of exchanges and refunds allowed by a member. But as designed, this customer benefit allows active Audible members in good standing to take a chance on new content, and suspicious activity is extremely rare.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG can visualize how returning an audiobook an individual has purchased and listened to could be carried out. That said, thieves gonna thief and that has been a fact of life for centuries.

(“Visualize” means PG can imagine how it might conceivably be done, not that PG could actually execute his visualization with mere bits and hardware. PG’s visualized world works so much better than the alternative, it’s quite frustrating at times.)

Amazon Releases List of The Best Books of 2020

From BookRiot:

It’s that time of year for everyone to start releasing their “Best Of” lists. Here at Book Riot, we love seeing what other publications choose for the best books of the year.

Yesterday, Amazon released their picks for the best books of 2020. The list, selected by Amazon editors, includes a total of 100 titles from a wide range of genres, including biography and memoir, literature and fiction, mystery and thriller, children’s, science, and more.

. . . .

According to an insider peek from the Amazon Book Review, the majority of the year’s Best Of picks come from Amazon’s Best of the Month series. Editors collect these selections in October and consider any upcoming titles before voting on the best of the year. Many of the books selected are bestsellers, but editors try to include lesser-known titles as well.

Link to the rest at BookRiot

The Top 100 Print Books

The Top 100 Kindle Books

Best Books of 2020 by Category

The Best Books of the Month

Apple Slashes App Store Fees for Smaller Developers

From The Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. is halving the commission it charges smaller developers that sell software through its App Store, a partial concession in its battle with critics over how it wields power in its digital ecosystem.

The iPhone maker said that starting next year it will collect 15% rather than 30% of App Store sales from companies that generate no more than $1 million in revenue through the software platform, including in-app purchases. The fee will remain 30% for developers whose sales through the App Store, excluding commission payments, exceed $1 million—meaning the reduction won’t affect such vocal Apple opponents as videogame company Epic Games Inc.

Apple’s 30% take has been at the heart of complaints this year from other tech companies and some users over how it manages the vast digital world of people who use iPhones, iPads and other Apple devices. The policy is also central to a major legal battle with Epic, and to government examinations in the U.S. and Europe of Apple’s competitive behavior as a gatekeeper between software makers and the hundreds of millions of people who use Apple’s gadgets.

Critics have charged that Apple’s commission is too large, is unfairly levied against different companies, leaves customers footing the bill and leads to workarounds by some developers to avoid the fees.

. . . .

A tiny fraction of developers account for the vast majority of sales in the App Store, which is central to a services unit that brought Apple $53.77 billion in revenue in its latest fiscal year. Research firm Sensor Tower estimates that only about 0.2% of the 1.8 million apps in the App Store generated more than $1 million last year, and says that group accounted for an estimated 92% of Apple’s App Store revenue.

The fee cut, therefore, gives Apple ammunition to rebut claims that its practices hurt smaller developers, while leaving untouched the vast bulk of its App Store revenue.

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

PG was interested in this article because apps and ebooks are really quite similar to each other (although a dropsy epidemic would rage through New York publishing if such a statement were to be uttered within hearing range.)

Apps are electronic code and ebooks are electronic code as well. Apps run on tablets, smartphones, etc., and ebooks “run” on the same devices. Ebook readers don’t use their thumbs as actively as people who play app games on their phones, but, fundamentally, both purchase software for their electronic devices.

Apps and ebooks are sold online through digital storefronts in exactly the same manner.

Unlike app developers, when it comes to royalties, more than a few authors may analogize the sales of ebooks to the sales of printed books with printing costs, shipping fees, physical stores, warehouses full of books, etc., etc.

From the point of view of those who are running ecommerce at Amazon and Apple, ebooks and apps are just two different file formats.

It would be interesting if the people running iBooks caught the spirit of their much larger and more profitable contemporaries in the App department and decided that indie authors are pretty much like small app developers and should be paid 85% of the purchase price of ebooks instead of a much small percentage.

On more than one occasion, PG has been accused of being an Amazon shill because he likes the way Amazon treats indie authors and says so.

However, PG thinks it would be a great idea if Amazon treated indie authors like Apple treats small indie app developers and reduced Amazon’s take on KDP indie ebooks so authors received 85% of the proceeds Amazon collected for their books. (Amazon could also get rid of its ridiculous “Delivery Cost for a Digital Book” charge at the same time.)

Amazon Turns Its Sights On Pharmacies: This Could Get Ugly

From Forbes:

Amazon has announced the US launch of its prescription drug service, Amazon Pharmacy, a major incursion into a $300 billion sector dominated by giants like CVS, Walgreens, and RiteAid, all of which have seen their share price dip by as much as 16% on the news.

Amazon is using PillPack, the company it acquired in 2018 for nearly $1 billion as its Trojan Horse; and has appointed its founder, TJ Parker, as pharmacy VP. But PillPack will continue to operate a service for mainly older users who require combinations of medications, which are sent in monthly packages with pills grouped in characteristic white envelopes that the user opens each day, a method that improves adherence to treatment and reduces errors.

The idea behind Amazon Pharmacy is to make the purchase and refilling of prescription drugs — with the exception of Schedule II pharmaceuticals: primarily opiates, stimulants, antidepressants or hallucinogens — as simple as purchasing any other product, including the usual advantages of Amazon Prime for shipping and discounts negotiated by Amazon with drug suppliers, of up to 80% in the case of generic drugs and 40% in the case of brand name medications, prompting some analysts to estimate that the purchase of many products could even be cheaper at Amazon than through the user’s health insurance.

In addition, the company will have to break its characteristic integral architecture of data capture from its users: their information will not be shared, so as to comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). The company has also integrated the vast majority of health insurance providers in order to receive both the prescriptions and the discounts that each user has established, has created a 24/7 service with pharmaceutical professionals who will answer questions and consultations, and claims to have the infrastructure to validate each prescription and eliminate possible fraud.

Link to the rest at Forbes

PG says that, while everyone else is sheltering in place, Amazon keeps on disrupting.

Build and Manage Series Pages in the Kindle Store

From The Digital Reader:

For a number of years now Amazon has been making series pages for Kindle ebooks. One of their bots would identify all of the books in a particular series, and then list them all on the same page so that a reader could buy all of the books at once, paying retail.

I can’t find my first post on the topic, but I always thought this idea was a good one because it aligned with how I buy ebooks (when I find a new favorite author, I buy their backlist).

And now Amazon has given authors the option of creating series pages on their own. A couple days ago they published an announcement in the KDP support forums:

You can now publish and update eBook and Paperback series detail pages automatically through KDP. With the launch of series in KDP, you can:

  1. Create a new series: For any titles in your KDP account, create an ordered or unordered series to help readers on Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk and Amazon.de find all the books in your series on a single page.  Learn more.
  2. View and organize your series: Navigate from a series title on your Bookshelf to view and manage books in your series. Review series details and titles to ensure the information is up-to-date for readers. Learn more.
  3. Edit an existing series to control how it appears to readers: Adjust description. In addition, add, remove, re-order or change whether your titles are main or related content. Learn more.

If you already had an eBook series detail page available on Amazon.com, we’ve added that series in your KDP account. You can view existing series in your account by visiting your KDP Bookshelf and checking the box on the bookshelf for “View titles in series”.  If you don’t see your series in your account, you can create a new series by following the steps here.

Not all features are available in every marketplace. Series that contain paperback and pre-order books are available on Amazon.com, but not Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.de. We’re working to add more series features in the future. For more information on KDP series, click here.

Does anyone know how long this feature has been available?

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

More Job Openings at Amazon

From BusinessWire:

Amazon today announced it has promoted more than 35,000 Operations employees in 2020, that 30,000 employees have taken advantage of Amazon’s Career Choice program, and that it’s creating an additional 100,000 seasonal jobs. With more than 12 million Americans out of work according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics1 these new seasonal roles in several locations across the US and Canada will complement its regular full- and part-time positions. Amazon offers jobs for people of all backgrounds and skill levels, and these 100,000 new, seasonal jobs offer opportunities for pay incentives, benefits, and a path to a longer-term career, or can simply provide extra income and flexibility during the holiday season.

Amazon today announced it has promoted more than 35,000 Operations employees in 2020, that 30,000 employees have taken advantage of Amazon’s Career Choice program, and that it’s creating an additional 100,000 seasonal jobs. With more than 12 million Americans out of work according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics these new seasonal roles in several locations across the US and Canada will complement its regular full- and part-time positions. Amazon offers jobs for people of all backgrounds and skill levels, and these 100,000 new, seasonal jobs offer opportunities for pay incentives, benefits, and a path to a longer-term career, or can simply provide extra income and flexibility during the holiday season.

. . . .

Amazon has invested more than $60 million in Career Choice—an innovative program designed to help upskill people who are interested in pursuing a future in a high-demand field. With more than half of participants from underrepresented minority groups, the program offers courses covering 20 different career paths, including computer support specialist, web developer, nurse, aircraft mechanic, commercial trucker, paralegal/legal assistant, IT security assistant, and network technician, among others. Amazon has partnered with more than 85 education partners and community colleges in the U.S. and continues to grow its educator network.

. . . .

Patricia Soto is a former Amazon employee who went through Career Choice and is now a certified clinical medical assistant at Sutter Gould Medical Foundation.

“I had worked in a warehouse setting for years but knew I wanted to help people and had been curious about healthcare. In just nine months, I became a certified clinical medical assistant while working at Amazon in Tracy, California, thanks to Career Choice,” she said. “A career in healthcare would have been difficult to obtain without tuition support from Amazon and an internship opportunity to apply my new skills. For anyone thinking about it, you only have something to gain from participating in the Career Choice program.”

Link to the rest at Business Wire

To be clear, this is an Amazon press release, not a story written by a reporter for an independent news organization.

That said, since Amazon is a public company, the company’s executives face potential lawsuits from individual shareholders if they permit whoever is in charge of creating and issuing a press release like this one to release information that isn’t factually accurate.

In addition to outside fact-checkers employed by news organizations and labor unions who are waiting to pounce on anything the Zon says, there are law firms that spend a lot of time suing corporate officials on behalf of shareholders for making or permitting the issuance of such false or misleading statements and, the larger the company the larger the potential payoff.

In a company the size of Amazon, it is likely that a press release such as the OP goes through several layers of review and fact-checking for accuracy, including by inside counsel, before it is issued.

So, those who believe you can’t trust anything Amazon says are probably not correct about criticisms that this type of press release is just more corporate happy talk and deceit.

For PG, after months of news about business closures and layoffs in the United States, the Amazon release is a breath of fresh air.

PG has mentioned some of the following before, but not recently.

Operations is a part of Amazon that includes its warehouses and fulfillment centers. Northwestern MBA’s are unlikely to apply for a job working at an Amazon warehouse. For most employees, it involves manual labor and hard work.

A lot of people earn their living doing manual labor that is hard work.

PG worked in a production facility and warehouse one summer while he was in college. This warehouse was much, much less automated than Amazon’s warehouses are.

During PG’s shifts, much of the work in the warehouse was powered by PG’s back, arms and legs. It wasn’t terribly dangerous, but PG got cut a few times and could have been more severely injured if he had been careless. Whatever temperature it was outside, it was 5-10 degrees warmer inside. Ventilation consisted of one open door that a delivery truck could back through.

Since PG grew up on ranches and farms, he was quite familiar with heavy manual labor under difficult circumstances. When one is wrestling and stacking hay bales that weigh 35-40 pounds each in an enclosed barn loft with no fan of any sort for 10-12 hours with a couple of short breaks and it’s close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, one learns something about manual labor.

At the end of such a day, after removing one’s shoes and socks (stacking hay is a shirt-optional job) and leaving them on the back porch, one also enjoys hosing all sorts of dirt, grit, hay flakes and sweat off of oneself from head to toe with ice-cold well water from a garden hose outside before entering an unfinished basement featuring a concrete floor, clothes washer and shower. After disrobing and spending some time in the shower, one then must ask Mom to throw some clean jeans and underwear down the basement stairs and remember to say, “Please” and “Thank you.”

The warehouse job and stacking hay bales in the loft weren’t the hardest jobs PG had.

If PG needed any additional incentive to graduate from college and law school so he could make a lot more money with his fingers on a computer keyboard and his voice speaking with people in person, on the phone or in a courtroom, his experience with many different jobs where he earned his pay with his back and arms and legs provided it.

If PG complained about being tired from doing farm work, his father would sometimes reply, “Go to college!”

To be clear, PG held some hard jobs, but lots of people in the US have harder ones and have had to work at them for a lot longer than PG had to work at his summer and farm jobs. PG is just demonstrating that he has first-hand experience with manual labor, the type of labor Amazon warehouse workers (and a great many other people) do every day to support themselves and their families.

He’s not an effete lawyer snob who had everything given to him on a silver platter. As a matter of fact, he doesn’t remember when he first saw a silver platter. It definitely wasn’t while he was living at home with his parents. If he’s turned into an effete lawyer now, he hasn’t always been that way.

Back to Amazon’s warehouses, the current minimum wage under US law is $7.25 per hour. Some states have laws setting a higher minimum wage. California’s current minimum wage is $12 per hour. In the State of New York, the minimum wage is currently $11.10 per hour. In some states, individual municipalities are permitted to set higher minimum wages.

It is safe to say that, when choosing locations for warehouse or factory sites that will be employing a significant number of unskilled laborers, the minimum wage is an important factor.

Nevada’s minimum wage is currently $8.25 per hour. If you know where to look, you will find quite a lot of large warehouses in Nevada that are close to the California border and also close to major highways that will allow large trucks to pick up goods at a Nevada warehouse and quickly haul them into California where they will be sold.

In the world of warehouse jobs, PG suspects it is very difficult to find very many jobs that pay a starting salary of $15 per hour, the lowest wage Amazon pays anyone working in its warehouses, at least in the US. The job also provide health, dental, and vision insurance, 401K with 50 percent company match on day 1. Again, depending upon state laws, some employers are not required to provide any of those benefits or may offer such benefits, but require employees to pay all or most of the costs of such benefits.

Suffice to say, if you’re a high school graduate or a high school dropout and have the physical ability to work hard in a climate-controlled environment (no 40 pound hay bales at 100 degrees), an Amazon warehouse job is quite likely to offer the best compensation and benefits you can find almost anywhere.

PG isn’t claiming that Amazon is a perfect company. No large company with a zillion employees is.

However, to the best of PG’s knowledge, Amazon does treat authors and warehouse workers better than any other large company does.