Amazon Best Sellers Rank Explained for Authors

From Tough Nickel:

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

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

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

Author Central

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

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

Amazon Best Sellers Rank

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

Different Format, Different Sales Rank

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

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

Again, this tells you nothing valuable.

Historical Sales Rank

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

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

Category Rankings

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

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

Link to the rest at Tough Nickel

Digital Printing: The New Normal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Trends

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

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

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

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

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

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

Digital Publishing, Then and Now

From Publishing Perspectives:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

Then we come to the so-called audio boom.

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

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Kindle Singles is publishing on skates

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

Richard Bach

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

From Insider:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Insider

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Closes Deal to Acquire MGM

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

From Wikipedia:

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

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

Link to the rest at Wikipedia

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

From CNBC:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Exclusivity in 2022 Part Two

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

So let’s look at exclusivity through that prism.

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which no longer exists. They use other incentives now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

From NDTV:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at NDTV

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

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

Metamorphosis: Facebook and big-tech competition

From The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Economist

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

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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

A+ Content on Kindle Direct Publishing

From Kindle Direct Publishing:

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

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

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

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

To wit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Kindle Direct Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

From Bloomberg Law:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Law

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Forbes:

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Forbes

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

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

Just how big in media does Apple want to be?

From The Economist:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Economist

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPD Projects US Print Book Unit Sales 17 Percent Above 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bloomberg:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

How authors are finding success on Kindle Vella

From MarketScreener:

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

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

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

. . . .

Callie Chase
Bug

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

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

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

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

Pepper Pace
The Galatian Exchange

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

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

Link to the rest at MarketScreener

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

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

From Forbes:

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Forbes

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

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

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

The author of the OP is described as follows:

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

Talk about ignoring the elephant in the room.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Amazon Changed Fiction As We Know It

From MSN:

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

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

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

Esquire: Where did this book begin for you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at MSN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amazon Fake Reviews Scam Exposed in Data Breach

From Safety Detectives:

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

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

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

How the Process Works

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

2. Data related to the reviewers

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

From Business Insider:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Business Insider

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

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

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

From Quartz:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Quartz

Bezos as Novelist

From The Paris Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Publishers, Amazon Move to Dismiss Booksellers’ Antitrust Suit

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

The Publishing Ecosystem in the Digital Era

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

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

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How American retailers have adapted to the Amazon effect

From The Economist:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Economist

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

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

From About Amazon:

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

2020 shopping trends

Building a safe haven at home

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

Work and play from home

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

Opting outside

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

Link to the rest at About Amazon

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

The Goodreads Bot Problem

From Book Riot:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

Link to the rest at Book Riot

PG notes that Goodreads is owned by Amazon.

How Amazon and Bookbub Will Help You Sell Books–FREE

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

Yeah, we know…

A BookBub feature will rocket your book skyward.

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

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

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

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

Then what?

What if your Book is a Dud?

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

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

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

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

Do you give up?

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

Of course you do.

Who doesn’t?

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

Did You Know that Amazon Wants you to be Successful?

It does?

You’re kidding. Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

An email or call to Author Central can help:

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

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

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

BookBub is On Your Side, Too

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

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

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

FREE Bookbub Features

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Bookshop.org:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do most people who buy books really dislike Amazon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See even more at Bookshop.org

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

From Gizmodo:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Gizmodo

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

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

Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket: Amazon Edition

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Here’s how he describes that Act:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

It might change sooner.

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

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

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the background as PG sees it.

What’s the future of legal attacks on Amazon?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moving Forward or Onward or Whatever

From The Mad Genius Club:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Kindle Vella: Return of the Serial

From Indies Unlimited:

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

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

Okay, so how does it work?

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

Mikyla Bruder Steps Up at Amazon Publishing

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

ABA Brings Back #BoxedOut Marketing Campaign

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Shelf Awareness:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Shelf Awareness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But PG could be wrong.

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

Senator Klobuchar Advocates Against Amazon, Other Monopolies

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From The New York Times:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Awwww. How precious.

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

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

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

Rethinking and Book Wars

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three Crucial Changes to the Book Publishing Industry

From Writers Digest:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

1. Amazon Online Retail

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

. . . .

2. Self-Publishing Boom

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

. . . .

3. Reader-Centric Business Model

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

Link to the rest at Writers Digest

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

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

From The Washington Post:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Washington Post

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

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

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

Per Wikipedia:

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

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

(per Wikipedia)

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

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

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

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

A Tale of Two Platforms

From Marker:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

What does all this have to do with Ingram?

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Marker

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

What you see depends on where you stand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Censorship Competition Heats Up

From The Wall Street Journal:

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

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

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kindle Vella Royalties, Content Guidelines and Publishing Process

From KDP Publishing’s Kindle Vella section:

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

Kindle Vella Royalties

Use Tokens to unlock episodes

Read episodes

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

Use Tokens to unlock episodes

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

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

Royalties

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

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

Here’s how earnings per episode will be calculated:

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Reader Experience

Kindle Vella FAQ

Frequently asked questions

1. When will my story be available to readers?

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

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

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

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

3. What kind of content should I publish?

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

4. How will I earn royalties through Kindle Vella?

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

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella

Kindle Vella – Content Guidelines

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

Content

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

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

Tags

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

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

Note all eBook keyword guidelines also apply to tags.


Author notes

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

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Content Guidelines

Kindle Vella – Publish an Episode

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

. . . .

Publish an episode

After you create a story, you can publish episodes.

To publish an episode:

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

Update an episode

You can edit a published episode at any time.

To edit an episode:

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

Delete an episode

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

To delete an episode:

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

Tell us about your episode

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

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

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

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

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

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

HTML is not supported.

Author Notes must comply with our content guidelines.

Preview episode

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

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


Tokens

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


Release date

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

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

Episode status

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

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

Link to the rest at Kindle Vella Publish an Episode

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

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

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