Amazon Book Sales Statistics

From Words Rated:

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to lots more info at Words Rated

Colleen Hoover Was Queen of 2022’s Bestseller List

From Publisher’s Weekly:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

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

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG was a bit confused by the OP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s a short excerpt:

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

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

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

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

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

But PG could be completely wrong.

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

The Pandemic Still Made Its Presence Felt in Publishing in 2022

From Publisher’s Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publisher’s Weekly

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

From TechCrunch:

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

Amazon Advertising Strategies

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

First, some general observations:

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

End of gripes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon makes a new push into health care

From The Economist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Economist

Two Bites of the Apple on Kindle Vella

From Writer Unboxed:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or…12 x .00995 x 50%=6-cent Royalty

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

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed

Inside the Underground Market for Fake Amazon Reviews

From Wired:

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

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

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

Pay to Play

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Wired

Amazon Tightens Its Belt as Consumers Do Too

From PYMNTS:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at PYMNTS

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

From Yahoo Finance:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Yahoo Finance

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

Sponsored ads and Stores launches in Egypt

From Amazon Ads:

What launched?

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

Grow your business in Egypt with Amazon Ads

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

Choose the appropriate ad product for your needs:

Help increase discoverability of your products

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

Link to the rest at Amazon Ads

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

From The Authors Guild:

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

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

Link to the rest at The Authors Guild

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over the first six months of 2022?

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

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

From The Seattle Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon’s One-Stop Shop for Identity Thieves

From The Intercept:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Intercept

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

Amazon might own your doctor’s office after latest acquisition

From Ars Technica:

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Ars Technica

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

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

From National Public Radio:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

Authors and readers want to change the policy

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

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

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

From Tech Crunch:

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Jane Friedman:

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

What book(s) should you advertise?

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

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

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

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

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

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

From Amazon:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Amazon

Is Amazon Sabotaging a Pro-Trump Kids’ Book?

From PJ Media:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The Book Designer:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

Step #5: Write a Compelling Book Description

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

Here’s why your book description matters:

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

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

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

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

Amazon Best Sellers Rank Explained for Authors

From Tough Nickel:

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

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

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

Author Central

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

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

Amazon Best Sellers Rank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

Different Format, Different Sales Rank

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

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

Again, this tells you nothing valuable.

Historical Sales Rank

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

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

Category Rankings

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

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

Link to the rest at Tough Nickel

Digital Printing: The New Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Trends

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Publishing, Then and Now

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

Then we come to the so-called audio boom.

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Kindle Singles is publishing on skates

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

Richard Bach

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

From Insider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Insider

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Closes Deal to Acquire MGM

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

From Wikipedia:

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

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

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

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

From CNBC:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Exclusivity in 2022 Part Two

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

So let’s look at exclusivity through that prism.

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which no longer exists. They use other incentives now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

From NDTV:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at NDTV

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

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

Metamorphosis: Facebook and big-tech competition

From The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Economist

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

A+ Content on Kindle Direct Publishing

From Kindle Direct Publishing:

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

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

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

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

To wit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Kindle Direct Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

From Bloomberg Law:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Forbes:

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Forbes

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

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

Just how big in media does Apple want to be?

From The Economist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPD Projects US Print Book Unit Sales 17 Percent Above 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bloomberg:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

How authors are finding success on Kindle Vella

From MarketScreener:

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

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

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

. . . .

Callie Chase
Bug

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

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

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

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

Pepper Pace
The Galatian Exchange

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

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

Link to the rest at MarketScreener

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

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

From Forbes:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Forbes

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

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

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

The author of the OP is described as follows:

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

Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Amazon Changed Fiction As We Know It

From MSN:

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

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

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

Esquire: Where did this book begin for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at MSN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Fake Reviews Scam Exposed in Data Breach

From Safety Detectives:

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

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

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

How the Process Works

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

2. Data related to the reviewers

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

From Business Insider:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Business Insider

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

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

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

From Quartz:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Quartz

Bezos as Novelist

From The Paris Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Publishers, Amazon Move to Dismiss Booksellers’ Antitrust Suit

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly