Amazon Literary Partnership Names More Than $1 Million in New Grants

From Publishing Perspectives:

Following its deadline of January 15 for applications, the Amazon Literary Partnership has this morning (May 27) announced $1 million in grants to 66 organizations in the United States. And as the country approaches the terrible milestone of 100,000 deaths to the coronavirus COVID-19, the funds being issued by the program may look better than ever.

In fact, Amazon already has provided COVID-19 emergency relief donations to Artist Relief and PEN America’s Writers’ Emergency Fund, the latter of which is also supported by the Lannan Foundation, and The Haven Foundation.

Publishing Perspectives readers are familiar with Amazon’s program, both for its more than $13 million in funding since Jon Fine directed the establishment of the program in 2009, and for its focus on supporting nonprofit efforts that serve writers, with a traditional emphasis on “overlooked and marginalized writers,” as Neal Thompson, another director of the program, has put it.

Today, Alexandra Woodworth guides the program, which has touched the work of more than 150 organizations.

. . . .

  • The theme is the author—with an emphasis on underrepresented voices—and supporting that writer’s needs
  • The variations or genres are represented by the wide variety of organizations and services funded

This translates into direct support for nonprofit writing centers, residencies, fellowships, after-school classes, literary magazines, national organizations supporting storytelling and free speech, and internationally acclaimed publishers of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

On today’s announcement, Woodworth says, “The Amazon Literary Partnership champions organizations that support writers, poets, translators, and diverse voices at every stage in their career. Given the impact that COVID-19 has had on the literary community, we’re proud to continue to fund these remarkable organizations sustaining literary culture in our communities now and for the future.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

PG must have missed the announcements of Random House, Simon & Schuster, etc., about their donations to worthy nonprofits supporting diverse voices.

Coronavirus Lockdowns Trigger Rapid Drop in Retail Sales

From The Wall Street Journal:

U.S. lockdowns to contain the coronavirus pandemic prompted record monthly drops in retail spending and industrial output, as consumers pulled back sharply on shopping and eating out and factories suffered a sharp drop in demand.

The Commerce Department on Friday said retail sales, a measure of purchases at stores, at restaurants and online, fell a seasonally adjusted 16.4% in April from a month earlier. The drop eclipsed a revised 8.3% drop in March sales, and marked the steepest month-over-month decline in records dating to 1992.

The Federal Reserve separately said industrial production dropped 11.2% in April, its steepest monthly fall on records dating back more than a century, as the coronavirus response closed factories, sapped demand and froze supply chains.

“They’re just dramatically weak numbers,” said Jim O’Sullivan, an economist at TD Securities. “We’re obviously in this big hole now.” He said a key question is how long it takes to climb out of it, which depends in part on the speed of reopening.

Social distancing, business closures, travel restrictions and other disruptions that started in mid-March have taken a particularly heavy toll on retail stores and restaurants, many of which remain closed or are opening gradually as states begin to reopen their economies.

Consumer spending in April was down more than 20% from the same month last year, and certain categories posted dramatic declines. Clothing-store sales in April were nearly 90% lower than a year earlier, while sales at department stores, bars and restaurants, and sporting goods stores were all down nearly half. By contrast, sales were up over 20% on the year for online retailers and up 12% at food and beverage stores.

Lower vehicle sales and spending at bars and restaurants drove last month’s decline in retail sales, but nearly every other category suffered too as commuters worked from home and malls remained shut.

The exception were sales at nonstore retailers, a category that includes internet merchants such as Amazon.com Inc. and which grew 8.4% month-over-month.

. . . .

Sales were weak across a range of categories, but nonessential businesses were particularly hard hit. Sales at furniture stores dropped 58.7% and electronics fell 60.6%. Clothing sales plummeted 78.8% from March.

. . . .

Consumer spending is the main driver of the U.S. economy, accounting for more than two-thirds of economic output, and retail sales account for about a quarter of all consumer spending.

. . . .

Workers also are losing jobs in record numbers because of the coronavirus pandemic, another factor hitting consumer spending. And declining consumer sentiment has economists worried about how quickly people will return to spending, as the economy opens back up.

. . . .

Some retailers are also unlikely to weather the pandemic and face permanent closures.

“2020 is going to be a year of rebalancing,” said Under Armour Chief Executive Patrik Frisk during an earnings call Monday. The athletic-apparel retailer reported that about 80% of global business has been at a standstill since mid-March, and revenue may drop as much as 60% in the second quarter.

Retailers on both sides of the Atlantic are “trying to figure out how fast they can open and how fast the consumer is going to come back,” Mr. Frisk 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 hasn’t seen any information from major business publications about Big Publishing, Barnes & Noble and other parts of the publishing establishment.

His guess, as mentioned previously on TPV, is that Barnes & Noble will experience a substantial financial impact and that its online business won’t be nearly large enough to materially offset the costs of cutting off its retail arm for an extended period of time.

At least some B&N stores located in malls will have problems if major mall tenants close and/or the foot traffic they generate is substantially diminished. If a mall shuts down, as many malls have done in the recent past, there is likely to be one fewer Barnes & Noble store in the vicinity.

A year from now, PG believes there will be substantially fewer Barnes & Noble stores than their were pre-corona. Ditto for a great many other physical bookstores. He suspects this is the type of major societal and financial upheaval that changes some habits and institutions on a permanent basis.

Unfortunately, PG believes a number of small traditional publishers won’t be able to reopen or will reopen with substantially reduced staff and much-reduced advances.

PG suspects that traditional publishing will see mixed results with bookstore declines offset to some extent by improved Amazon sales. It’s pure speculation on PG’s part, but he would guess that Amazon sales of ebooks from traditional publishing will have seen an uptick while the market share of hardcopy books may decline.

In the short run, an increased proportion of ebook sales, which involve no costs for warehousing, shipping or returns of unsold hardcopy books from physical bookstores may well increase the profit margins of traditional publishers even as, if PG is correct, gross sales revenues suffer steep declines.

Over a longer period of time, if readers under lockdown have sampled ebooks from Amazon or their local libraries to read on their own electronic devices (or devices purchased from Amazon for the purpose), PG suspects some proportion of this group will become permanent ebook aficionados.

It may be too much to expect, but PG would hope that those in traditional publishing with any business sense would put a stop to the childishly petulant attitude displayed toward Amazon by so many New York publishing drones and their associated literati. Absent Amazon or someone like Amazon, traditional publishing’s future would look a lot more like Barnes & Noble’s than is the present case.

PG predicts that, ten or twenty years from now, intelligent and informed individuals will have concluded that Amazon saved literature (and a bunch of jobs in the literature biz that don’t involve writing books) during this difficult time.

Bookshop, a new startup, is offering publications bigger kickbacks than Amazon

From Nieman Lab:

The pitch is simple. “They get to feel good about themselves. They get to diversify the revenue. And they don’t have to take a financial hit because we’re able to deliver the sales that they want.”

. . . .

The Rebel Alliance to Amazon’s Empire. A David taking on Goliath. Any way you want to put it, the new ecommerce site Bookshop has attracted a lot of attention for challenging Amazon on its original turf. (What, did you forget Amazon launched as “Earth’s biggest bookstore”?)

Bookshop, which was founded to support independent bookstores, distributes earnings through a pooled fund and provides digital storefronts that let local stores keep the profits on any sales they generate. Launched in late January, Bookshop has served as a lifeline for indie booksellers during a pandemic that has forced many of them to shut up shop. Here in Massachusetts, for example, local favorites like Harvard Book Store, Brookline Booksmith, and Porter Square Books — not considered “essential businesses” — have closed and suspended curbside pickup. This could change after May 18, but until then, online orders are keeping them afloat.

There’s something in it for publications that cover books, too.

If a publication refers a sale to Bookshop, the site will kick back 10 percent of the book’s price. That’s more than twice the going rate — 4.5 percent for physical books — through Amazon’s affiliate program.

. . . .

News organizations have seen ecommerce as an attractive way to diversify their revenue streams for a while now. The concept is straightforward (even if the ethical questions aren’t): An outlet publishes an affiliate link — in a review or gift guide, maybe — and earns a small percentage of any sales.

Back in 2016, The New York Times paid more than $30 million for the product review site Wirecutter, a major investment that now seems like a bargain. (The Times doesn’t break out affiliate revenue in its financial reports, but we noted a 20.9 percent increase in “other revenue” back in 2017 that was largely credited to referral revenue. That category has grown in the years since, though the latest earnings report credited revenue from The Weekly and Facebook licensing.) Wirecutter often points readers toward Amazon, which runs the largest, best-known affiliate revenue program. But, as the book publishing industry learned early on, it’s not smart to be overly dependent on the whims of a tech giant. Just last month, Amazon cut commission rates across several categories, which can’t have been welcome news for digital publications like BuzzFeed and New York magazine that regularly publish shopping guides to drive affiliate revenue. The company is also delaying shipping on some items — including books.

By providing an alternative, Bookshop offers an opportunity for publications that rely on ecommerce to diversify at least part of their payouts.

For all the galaxy-sized metaphors in the press, Bookshop isn’t trying to beat Amazon at its own game — just loosen its vice-like grip on bookselling. (More than 90 percent of ebook and audiobooks sales and about 42 to 45 percent of print book sales happen on Amazon, according to industry tracker BookStat.) Part of the solution, concluded Bookshop CEO Andy Hunter, was developing an affiliate program that worked for publishers but supported many independent stores instead of one trillion-dollar company.

Link to the rest at Nieman Lab

E-book VAT: the other side of the story

From The Bookseller:

In his recent blog, ‘Amazon’s VAT Windfall’, Anthony McGowan expressed concern that the Bezos behemoth had not changed e-book prices following the recent VAT cut, and were set to profit to the tune of millions as a result. He and I have been arguing on Twitter, very politely I might add, about this as I think he’s got it wrong.

Where I do agree with Anthony is regarding Amazon’s monopoly when it comes to e-books. They won’t share figures, so the numbers can’t be confirmed, but I would be amazed if there is any publisher in the UK who doesn’t receive 90% or more of their e-book turnover from Amazon. And for some it will be close to 100%. That is a monopoly, pure and simple.

But are they ignoring the VAT cut and pocketing the difference? In Anthony’s blog he said he had checked and “the prices don’t seem to have come down at all”. I had a look moments after reading his blog and the Kindle charts were full of books at odd prices – £2.07, £3.29, £0.83 – which certainly strike me as ex-VAT. Sure, there were still lots at 99p price points, and I assume Anthony viewed those as evidence of Amazon shenanigans, but there is a perfectly logical explanation for this.

Publishers tend to sell books to Amazon in one of two different ways, using a wholesale or agency model. With the wholesale model, the publisher sets a wholesale price for the e-book – usually an amount that, once VAT is added, results in a .99 RRP – and then sells to Amazon at that price minus any agreed discount. Now that VAT has been scrapped, those 99p prices have dropped by 20%, and that seems to have happened pretty much straight away.

The other prevalent model is the agency model, where publishers set an RRP – again, nearly always a 99p price point – and the retailer sells at that price and deducts a commission. Here the publisher has determined the selling price, in much the same way as they do with RRPs on printed books. Looking through those Kindle charts, I suspect many of the books that have not changed prices are sold on this model.

My take when I first heard about the VAT cut being brought forward was not that Amazon would make a mint, instead I saw it as an opportunity for publishers. Right now, publishers across the UK are deciding what to do with their e-book pricing. Should they reflect the VAT cut so that all e-books are now 20% cheaper than they were? Or do they carry on with a pricing policy that keeps those 99p price points?

If they go with the former, then readers get a 20% saving, which was Rishi Sunak’s intention. If they go with the latter, they increase e-book revenue by 20% and authors will see their royalties go up.

But which is the right thing to do?

Most of our bookshops are closed and the big chains are, it seems, not paying their bills as promptly as they once were. Publishers are facing a big drop in income and this will have a knock-on effect for authors in the next batch of royalty statements. Anecdotally, e-book sales are on the rise during lockdown. If a publisher’s duty is to support its authors, and its own business, then here is a chance to boost one area of turnover when others are taking a beating. It could be argued as the right thing to do.

But the point of the VAT cut was to make digital reading cheaper for consumers. Surely if we don’t ensure e-books are 20% cheaper then we are ripping off readers? And that is a reasonable point but, to be frank, will readers know, or care? The difference between wholesale and agency models means that there is no consistency in e-book pricing at the moment, anyway. And most publishers play around with prices regularly, with promotional offers, so a snapshot of the Kindle charts at any given time will see prices ranging from free to over a tenner.

How can anyone tell if a £3.99 e-book today is actually an old £4.99 e-book minus the VAT or one that has always been £3.99 and the publisher is pocketing the difference? Spoiler: they can’t.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

As an American who has (alas) only spent several short weeks in Britain, PG doesn’t claim any expertise about the VAT and the ways in which it impacts prices at various stages in the chain between manufacturer and the ultimate consumer of the product and how various participants in that chain may respond to significant changes in the rates at which the VAT is levied.

However, as one who has observed the behavior of Amazon in the US and elsewhere for what has grown to quite a number of years, PG has observed that, with respect to prices for goods which are set by Amazon because Amazon has purchased the goods and is reselling them to consumers (as opposed to retail prices that are set by the owner of the goods when the owner is paying a fee to Amazon for its services in attracting customers, filling and delivering customer orders, processing credit card charges for the purchase, etc.), when Amazon is acquiring the goods and setting the prices, those prices tend to be very competitive when looking at the consumer market as a whole.

(Sorry for the over-long sentence.)

Amazon wants prices for goods on its website to be lower than prices for the same goods when they are sold by other retailers. The Amazon website is designed to highlight and boost the visibility of the lowest-priced vendors. As one of the most basic, but effective examples of this design, when operating in default mode, Amazon’s product presentation engine will usually show it’s best-selling products which tend to highlight the lowest-priced seller of a good at the top of its search results where their offer is most optimally exposed to purchasers.

Should the shopper explicitly want the lowest priced item in the category no matter what, in the upper left corner of the screen, the shopper can easily select “Price: Low to High” where, under some circumstances, the shopper may find that one can of soup is less expensive than four cans of the same brand of soup. In the default best-selling listings, those products that sell best typically provide the best overall value, albeit sometimes requiring the purchase of multiple cans of soup or another product.

This is basically an overly-long explanation that demonstrates that, per one of the claims reported in the OP that lowering or eliminating the VAT on books meant that Amazon would simply increase its profits from the sale of the books by the amount by which the VAT had been lowered is not the way Amazon does business. Even if every other bookseller did not adjust its prices in response to the VAT change, Amazon would do whatever was permitted to sell books at a meaningfully lower price than they were on offer elsewhere.

Amazon makes a great deal of money by maintaining itself as the place where, if a consumer is willing to wait for a couple of days, he/she will acquire a good for less than it could be purchased elsewhere. Amazon is unlikely to endanger that reputation among consumers to grab some money from book purchasers. After all, book purchasers are widely known to purchase other items besides books on a regular basis.

Sam Walton, the founder of Walmart, was an astute observer of human behavior and the ways of making larger profits at retail. His approach? “Pile it high. Sell it cheap.”

“Say I bought an item for 80 cents. I found that by pricing it at $1.00, I could sell three times more of it than by pricing it at $1.20. I might make only half the profit per item, but because I was selling three times as many, the overall profit was much greater. Simple enough.”

Due to its online existence and the extraordinary capacity of its cloud computing operation, Amazon can use techniques that Sam Walton would have loved, but Walmart couldn’t accomplish because Walmart stores were physical and Amazon’s store has always been digital.

From Quartz in 2015:

Amazon is famous for changing prices frequently to test the demand for products or undercut a competitor on hot items like Beats headphones or Razor electric scooters.

A generic King James version of the Holy Bible wouldn’t seem like an obvious candidate for such dynamic pricing.

But data show that Amazon has changed the price of the top Bible in a Google search for “Amazon Bible” more than 100 times since May 2010, according to price-tracking site Camelcamelcamel.

. . . .

The price changes have been significant. At its lowest price on Amazon, this version of the Bible cost $8.49, and at its highest, $16.99.

The shifts in pricing are presumably automated, as Amazon’s computer systems react to rising or falling consumer demand and other factors. But the fact that such a standard, age-old item as the Bible can change in price so frequently and dramatically suggests strongly that dynamic pricing affects almost anything a consumer can buy online.

Amazon changes the price on as many as 80 million items on its site throughout day, and went into overdrive to match prices of its competitors during last year’s holiday shopping season, according to Forbes. Amazon spokesman Scott Stanzel declined to discuss how the company’s dynamic pricing works, telling Quartz that it has ”a cost structure that allows us to adjust our pricing quickly.”

The e-commerce giant is apparently using dynamic pricing on other holy books beyond the Bible. Pricing data show that Amazon’s shifts affect the most-Googled Koran, Torah, and to a lesser extent, Bhagavad Gita, on its site.

Stanzel declined to comment on whether Amazon’s prices change in response to real life events. But it’s interesting that the single largest price shift for the Bible happened around the same time as the world was predicted to end in December 2012. And there was a steady increase in its price when The History Channel’s miniseries “The Bible” originally aired in the US in March 2013.

Link to the rest at Quartz

One of Walmart’s most-used advertising slogans during Walton’s lifetime was “Low Prices Every Day.”

Amazon’s version of that same philosophy might be, “Optimum Prices Every Hour.”

Indie Publishing in the Time of Covid

From Writers in the Storm:

When New Jersey went into lockdown on March 21st, I foolishly thought that I would get infinite amounts of writing done. During the day, I am the author acquisitions manager at IngramSpark and by night I like to write humorous personal non-fiction and romance novels. In my mind, I thought that the pandemic would give me a small reprieve from business as usual that included a very busy travel schedule.

I didn’t expect that business as usual would take on a whole new meaning.

As the publishing world began to screech to a halt with independent bookstores closing, publishers furloughing staff, Amazon focusing on essential items, and other printing plants closing, all of a sudden Ingram and the IngramSpark felt the burden, more than ever, to uphold our commitment to the publishing industry to keep it all humming. Needless to say, the writing really hasn’t happened.

. . . .

I am privileged to work with self-published authors all day. I have always been awestruck by their ingenuity and resilience. In the past six weeks those qualities have quadrupled, because the indie publishing world is uniquely suited to adapt to abrupt changes.

My clients have taught me several valuable publishing lessons recently that I would like to share.

. . . .

#1- Authors Have More Power Than Ever

I keep finding myself saying, “The author has more power than ever!” Before the pandemic hit, I still found this to be resoundingly true. Now, in the time of Covid, I believe that the shift in power has become even more apparent.

When I first started at IngramSpark, self-publishing was still the “red-headed stepchild” of the publishing industry. In the years that followed, self-publishing started to become a legitimate route to getting published. I believe that the pandemic has shifted the landscape even more.

While large businesses were slowed down or forced to close, indie authors kept plugging away. In fact, they took the opportunity to grow their burgeoning businesses. Being nimble is a hidden superpower of the indie author.

When this all shakes out, no one can predict what the publishing landscape will look like. Sadly, there will likely be some casualties when it comes to publishing businesses. This will allow indie authors with small publishing enterprises to emerge as serious players in the game.

. . . .

#2- Direct to Reader Sales are the Future

Early on in the pandemic, both indie authors and publishers saw the benefit in direct-to-reader sales. Larger retailers became overtaxed with the influx of orders and shipping has been taking longer than the two days Amazon has spoiled us to expect. Why not sell directly to your fans?

There are plenty of great ways sell directly to readers.

  • Shopify and other services can plug into your social media.
  • Ingram has a great direct to consumer tool called Aer.io that is very easy to use.
  • There has been a lot of buzz around Bookshop.org, an online bookshop run by the American Booksellers Association.

Why the buzz about Bookshop.org?

10% of all proceeds from Bookshop.org sales are put in a pot and given to independent bookstores. With those stores closed now, this is a wonderful way to support your indie bookstore. They have raised $1.1 million dollars already! The real perk about Bookshop.org is that you can set up your own affiliate shop.

Early adoption of these tools has given indie authors and publishers personal relationships with their readerships and a whole new sales vertical to explore. That brings me to #3…

#3- Direct Engagement with Readers is Powerful

Selling directly to readers is the perfect way for indie authors and publisher to engage directly with their readers and create personal, lasting relationships with them. These relationships create super fans which in turn create an army of evangelists for their books.

Authors and publishers have also found that direct sales are an opportunity to capture valuable information about your reader like their email address. If a reader opts to give their email address, this provides the huge bonus opportunity for long term engagement in the form of email blasts and personal, targeted communication.

The more an author engages with their fans, the more lifelong readers they will capture.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

PG notes that Ingram Spark is effectively a sort-of competitor of Kindle Direct Publishing. In PG’s stunningly personal opinion, KDP is probably the best way into Amazon. Ingram provides “connections” to Amazon, libraries, Barnes & Noble and indie bookstores. Whether those connections ever generate any meaningful sales is another question.

PG also notes that if an indie author wishes to qualify for the 70% royalty on ebooks under KDP Select (which includes Kindle Unlimited and the Kindle Owners Lending Library which provide additional ways to increase ebook royalty revenues), she/he will not be able to sell the same titles as ebooks via Ingram Spark. Adding new content and/or bonus content that doesn’t appear in the KDP ebook to an Ingram Spark ebook won’t fly if you want to stay in the 70% royalty tier on KDP Select.

Amazon will definitely bounce a book out of KDP Select if it discovers an author doing this sort of thing or otherwise violating the KDP Select Terms and Conditions. The same warning that applies to Ingram Spark and KDP Select also applies to other independent epublishing outlets like Smashwords.

As a general proposition, if an author wants to stay in KDP Select and try out Ingram Spark or another route to non-Amazon bookstores, PG strongly advises the author to carefully read the Terms and Conditions Governing KDP Select (URL for US terms) or an alternative version applicable to KDP Select Ts&Cs in her/his country of residence.

If an indie author wants a hardcover version of his/her book, Ingram a way to go because Amazon only offers ebook and POD paperback options for indie authors.

As usual, PG will remind one and all that he doesn’t provide legal advice via his comments on TPV. If you want to obtain legal advice, you will need to hire PG or another lawyer of your choice.

(PG is not quite certain how he got the drop-cap in the prior paragraph with his recently updated WordPress theme, but he likes the look and won’t try to figure out how to undo the giant A.)

Amazon’s Sales Jump as Coronavirus Prompts Surge in Online Shopping

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. reported soaring quarterly sales as the company experienced a surge in online orders from homebound customers contending with the coronavirus pandemic.

The tech giant said Thursday that revenue rose 26% from a year earlier to $75.5 billion in the three months through March—by far the highest on record for what is usually Amazon’s slowest period of the year. The boom in sales came at a cost, though, as profit fell 29% from a year earlier to $2.5 billion, well short of analysts’ average estimate of $3.26 billion, according to a survey by FactSet. Operating profit for the quarter also missed the estimate Amazon gave in January.

The results, which follow relatively robust earnings reports by several other big tech companies in recent days, reflect the central role Amazon has played during the coronavirus crisis, delivering goods to people stranded at home by government shelter-in-place orders. The surge in online buying taxed Amazon’s fulfillment centers, which saw unprecedented volumes for this part of the year. In response, Amazon temporarily stopped taking inventory for products deemed nonessential and announced plans to hire 175,000 more staffers for its warehouses and delivery network. Amazon said it ended the quarter with 840,000 employees.

. . . .

Amazon’s booming sales stand in stark contrast to many companies across the U.S. economy, which shrank in the first quarter at its fastest pace since the last recession. Investors had sent the Seattle company’s stock price up nearly 34% this year through Thursday’s close, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell nearly 15% and the Nasdaq Composite Index was down about 1%.

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

PG suspects that Amazon’s reliability and credibility as a seller will be enhanced in the eyes of most buyers going forward.

If he is correct, the “Don’t Buy from Nasty Amazon” meme so beloved by Big Publishing and many physical bookstores is going to lose even more credibility in the future.

During the past several weeks, PG certainly appreciated the doorbell at Casa PG ringing and finding an Amazon box containing items he couldn’t find locally sitting outside his front door with social distancing fully intact.

Booksellers Association criticises Amazon for ‘ill-judged’ hardship fund donation

From The Bookseller:

The Booksellers Association (BA) has branded Amazon’s £250,000 donation to a booksellers hardship fund an “ill-judged attempt to mitigate a decades-long campaign to undermine the bookselling sector”.

Yesterday, it was revealed the retail giant was behind a huge donation to the Book Trade Charity fund for booksellers facing hardship during the pandemic. The pledge was sparked by a trade crowdfunder and brought the total fund up to £380,000.

Meryl Halls, m.d. of the BA, earlier supported the crowdfunding effort and praised the “heartfelt and moving response” from the trade for her struggling members.

However, Halls said she was now shocked by the revelation that Amazon had donated the large sum and said many of her members were angry and had responded by calling for the company to pay its fair share of tax.

She said: “The BA and our independent booksellers are taken aback by the revelation that the recent large donation is from the company held responsible by the majority of booksellers for the long-term demise of high street bookselling, and booksellers’ responses have been first stunned silence as they process the dissonance of the situation, followed quickly by a real sense of anger at the discordance at the heart of the gesture.

“There is a definite sense that this seems like an ill-judged attempt to mitigate a decades-long campaign to undermine the bookselling sector at the moment when we are facing the biggest existential threat we have ever faced.

“A common reaction amongst booksellers has been – ‘if Amazon really wants to support independent bookshops, then let them join bookshops in paying its fair share of tax’.”

The identity of the donor was originally not revealed by the charity, who said only that it had come from someone “committed to independent bookshops as part of a mixed bookselling economy”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Perhaps he missed it, but PG didn’t see anything in the OP indicating that The Booksellers Association had refused to accept the £250,000 donation from Amazon or sent the money to Chancellor of the Exchequer as a portion of Amazon’s fair share of tax payments.

9 Tips for Creating Amazon Ads that Convert

From Indies Unlimited:

Amazon ads can be a big opportunity for authors looking to up their sales especially during a time where it’s difficult to write the next book (like now, for instance). But if you don’t know how to use them intelligently, they can also be a big waste of money and time.

In this article, we’ll look at 9 tips all authors can use when advertising on Amazon, including:

  • How to get your book appearing next to the biggest authors in your genre
  • Why it’s okay to lose money on some ads
  • How you can make sure your book doesn’t end up in the wrong hands

. . . .

1. Choose Manual Keyword Targeting

Keywords play a huge role in ads because they help you control where your ads appear and who sees them. By default, Amazon chooses keywords for you to target–but you can select your own keywords for your Sponsored Product ads. You can do this by selecting ‘Manual targeting’ and then scrolling down to add your keywords.

. . . .

Sure, you can let Amazon do the targeting for you, but doing it yourself will allow you to explore more options and find better opportunities. You can find ad keywords in plenty of the same ways you’d find regular keywords, there’s even a dedicated tool inside Publisher Rocket to help you do just that.
It’s important to have at least 200 keywords in each of your ads–yep, you heard right… 200 keywords.

2. Target the Books of Authors in Your Genre

Using your ads to target a popular author in your genre can be an effective strategy.

If shoppers are already searching for the author, and your books have some similarities, you can use ads as a chance to get in front of your ideal readers.

Selling books through these keywords can also be a way to get yourself on the ‘also-bought’ section for that author. Though, that’s entirely dependent on whether the person who’s on another author’s page buys their book and then clicks on your ad and buys your book too.

If you’re targeting authors who write books like yours, and you understand your target market and have books that fit it, this could work out for you. Especially in markets with voracious readers.

. . . .

You may be wondering why “also-boughts” are important. Well the “also-boughts” are one of the main ways Amazon suggests new books to their readers. So, if your book makes the “also-bought” section for a well-known independent author in your genre, there’s a fair chance that you’ll get sales. I wouldn’t suggest you go for traditionally published authors like J.K. Rowling, though, as those types of keywords will be highly competitive and cost you too much for little return.

3. Target Books on the BookBub List

In a similar way to the previous tip, you can target books that have been recently featured on the BookBub daily email — these books get thousands of downloads, and you can take advantage of that.

Also, books that appear on BookBub will more than likely be less

competitive than the big-name authors in your genre. For example, it’s going to be cheaper to target an indie author who writes vampire fiction than it would be to target the Twilight series.

Thanks to BookBub promotions, there’s a good chance these keywords will lead to traffic.

Link to the rest at Indies Unlimited

Penguin Random House India opens an exclusive ebook store – on Amazon

From The New Publishing Standard:

When India’s Prime Minister extended one of the world’s harshest national lockdowns to May 3, as the country tries to ensure the coronavirus tragedy in West Europe and the USA is not replicated, it became clear publishers needed to adapt, and fast.

Penguin Random House India did so in style, launching a 400-title ebook store within the Kindle India store on Amazon, to make sure eager readers could still access the books they want to read.

. . . .

In a press release, PRH India’s senior vice president marketing, digital and communications Niti Kumar said:

India is an up and coming market in ebook consumption and we are confident that with over 500 million internet users, there is definite potential that more people can take to reading ebooks.

Initiatives built on ebooks can bring the spotlight on a mode of reading, which in addition to being safe and easily accessible, is also more affordable and comes with additional features that make reading more pleasurable and informational.

The press release adds in broader terms:

In a time when so many people find themselves housebound, reading has come up as one the top activities they are engaging in. Getting hold of new books can pose a challenge since many e-commerce websites are prioritizing deliveries to essential products and delivery of physical books has been affected. So, in these strange and difficult times, ebooks are gaining popularity as a convenient, accessible and safe ways to keep one occupied, entertained and fulfilled.

. . . .

As the country’s largest English language trade publisher Penguin Random House India pushes out 250 new titles each year and has an active backlist of over 3000 titles.

It’s not clear from the press release why the PRH India ebook store features only 400 titles, given a 3,000 title catalogue. Possibly this reflects the level of digitisation PRH India has achieved thus far and the other books have yet to be made available in digital format.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG suspects that Penguin Random House India would not have taken this step without prior approval from the PRH Mothership.

Assuming that PRH operates in a reasonable way on Amazon (or its contract with Amazon for the PRH store requires it to do so), this potentially implies that it will release books to the PRH Amazon bookstore at the same time it releases them to bricks & mortar stores.

As PG has suggested before, after a long Coronavirus shutdown of traditional bookstores in many parts of the world, an unfortunately large number of these stores may be unable to open again or will open in a manner that carries a scent of going out of business.

If several B&M bookstores (or one large bookstore) in a geographic area are pricing in a manner that expresses or implies they’re going out of business, that’s going to be a drag on the sales and profitability of other bookstores who are reopening with traditional product pricing.

Then there’s the new ownership of Barnes & Noble, hedge fund Elliott Management.

From CNBC:

Billionaire Paul Singer’s Elliott Management said global stocks could tumble more — ultimately losing half of their value from February’s high— as the world braces for the deepest recession since the 1930s-era Great Depression, according to a letter sent to clients on Wednesday and reviewed by Reuters.

The New York-based hedge fund firm, which controls $40.4 billion in assets and whose views on markets and economics are closely watched by investors, wrote that the sharp market decline seen between late February and late March “provided a heavy bookend to a dozen years of basically nonstop positive returns in global stocks, bonds and real estate.“
And the rout is likely not yet over.

“Our gut tells us that a 50% or deeper decline from the February top might be the ultimate path of global stock markets,” the letter said.

Link to the rest at CNBC

Will Elliott be in the mood to drop a bunch of additional money into helping Barnes & Noble to stagger to its feet?

PG was not able to find any reliable online sources that opined one way or the other. Given the scope of the worldwide financial disaster, Barnes & Noble is a very small fish indeed.

Amazon to Expand Shipments of Nonessential Items

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. will begin allowing third-party sellers on its platform to resume shipping so-called nonessential items this week, a signal that the company is ramping up to meet broader consumer needs, according to people familiar with the matter.

Last month, Amazon made a decision to prioritize at its warehouses those items deemed essential during the coronavirus outbreak, such as cleaning products, health-care items and shelf-stable food. Amazon stopped accepting shipments of items from sellers that didn’t correspond to the shopping needs of consumers hunkering down during the pandemic. The mandate caused unrest for its army of third-party sellers, which account for 58% of Amazon’s sales.

Sellers of items unrelated to health, wellness and cleaning will be able to send inventory to Amazon later this week, but there are limits on how much they can ship to ensure there is warehouse space for essential goods, people familiar with the matter said.

. . . .

The tech giant has been inundated by orders as Americans follow shelter-in-place guidance to stop the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, its network of warehouses has struggled to keep up, and delivery of orders in its Prime program that previously happened in one day or less has slipped to as long as a month in some cities.

On Monday, Amazon announced that it was hiring an additional 75,000 employees to help fill the mounting demand. Over the past month, the online retailer has hired more than 100,000 people in full- and part-time jobs in distribution centers and across its delivery network in the U.S.

The hiring spree represents almost two-fifths of Amazon’s typical U.S. workforce of 500,000.

A spokeswoman said the recent hiring is akin to what happens during the holiday period when Amazon adds thousands of temporary workers.

. . . .

Walmart, which is hiring about 5,000 workers a day, has added about 100,000 positions of a previously announced plan to hire 150,000, according to the company.

Kroger Co.,  the nation’s biggest supermarket chain, has hired more than 23,500 workers and plans to bring on an additional 20,000 people over the next several weeks. Instacart Inc. is looking to add 300,000 shoppers for its grocery-delivery service.

Having additional hires in the warehouses has helped Amazon ease back into handling nonessential merchandise, said one of the people familiar with the matter. The company’s hiring frenzy has made it one of the most-active employers during a time when many other companies are laying off their staff.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal


PG thinks it’s great that some employers are hiring.

Most of the people laid off from a Barnes & Noble bookstore will receive a major salary boost to $15 per hour (plus excellent fringe benefits) if they go to work at an Amazon warehouse.

Will We Forgive Amazon When This Is Over?

From The Wall Street Journal:

It’s by now something like accepted wisdom that Amazon. com Inc. could be one of the few firms to come out ahead in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. But all is far from well in the kingdom of Bezos. At a defining moment for the company, it is letting customers down.

True, all retailers are under enormous strain, and the Amazon boxes keep arriving. But the promise to ship anything to our doorstep in a day or two that has gained it the trust of an astonishing 112 million Prime members in the U.S. (a nation of 129 million households) has evaporated nearly overnight.

Weeks into America’s national experiment in only going to the store when absolutely necessary, it feels like Amazon is little better than any other retailer at getting us what we need, when we need it.

Every part of the company’s sprawling empire—from its eponymous e-commerce operation and its considerable physical retail to its market-dominating cloud services—is being tested. The fact that Amazon’s retail operations are functioning at all is a testament to the flexibility of the company’s infrastructure during a health crisis that few if any companies were prepared for.

But the crisis is laying bare the cracks in Amazon’s ability to be there for its customers when they need it most, much less to “delight” them, as Chief Executive Jeff Bezos once urged his employees to do. Those cracks include times when up to half the workers in some of the company’s facilities haven’t shown up, with some saying it was due to their fear they wouldn’t be adequately protected from coronavirus. It’s also due to Amazon’s just-in-time supply chain, reliance on third-party sellers and largely automated systems of buying and selling that were never designed to handle such a crisis.

. . . .

When parrying claims that it’s a monopolist, Amazon often cites the statistic that e-commerce is only 16% of all retail. With stores closed and delivery the only safe option for many vulnerable people, it’s clear that proportion will spike in the coming months. Reports from employees and analysts indicate volumes in Amazon’s warehouses are on par with seasonal surges around the holidays. Market-research firm CommerceIQ reported sales of toilet paper are up 186%, while cough and cold medicine sales are up 862%.

While demand for those products remains high, Amazon shoppers are unable to get many of the essential products the company says it’s prioritizing now. My search for toilet paper on Amazon yielded a jumbo 700-foot roll of commercial toilet paper in the first slot. In the second? A baffling block of text in lieu of a product image, stating that customers ordering this product after April 6 won’t receive it, so they shouldn’t bother. And everything considered nonessential takes more time than the two days Amazon conditioned us to expect.

“We continue to focus on receiving and shipping high priority products that customers need at this time,” said an Amazon spokeswoman. “Although we have more limited capacity due to the extensive health and safety measures we are taking across the network, we have begun selectively bringing more products from our selling partners into our fulfillment centers,” she added.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

__________________________________________________________________________________________________________

PG says some people are idiots.

Their faith in Amazon may be shattered by the company’s performance in the face of a huge world-wide pandemic that, at this writing, has infected a half-million Americans and killed over 20,000 and for which there is no proven cure. If that is the case, these individuals’ faith will be shattered with respect to almost everything else as well. PG predicts shattered faith therapy groups will pop up and participants will talk about their shattered faith in a long list of things.

Stuff happens.

As for the people who are not idiots, the fact that orders at Amazon have skyrocketed, that many of its suppliers have closed their doors per government decree and that each of its 800,000+ employees is subject to infection, sickness and death from the Coronavirus, will explain why Amazon’s delivery of some product offerings may be impacted.

PG suspects most Amazon customers are happy that Amazon is working as well as it is under these circumstances.

Is anything else working well in the US and elsewhere?

  • Military? One of the largest aircraft carriers in the United State Navy (out of a total of 11 aircraft carriers) is out of action due to the virus
  • US Supreme Court? Unable to hear arguments – 1/3 of docket in limbo
  • State and local governments? Per The Hill, “Many states, cities and counties are about to, suddenly, run out of money. Wages won’t be paid. Services won’t be delivered. Institutions will shut down abruptly. Many state colleges may fold.”
  • Coronavirus Will Change the World Permanently per Politico

Almost Everything About Goodreads Is Broken

From OneZero:

Goodreads, the largest literary social media network, should be a good gathering place for readers. It is one of the only online communities for people who like to read books, but the service’s apparent monopoly seems to have stopped it from innovating, based on complaints from users and, well, basic observation. As a result, readers don’t have a good, central online community where they can discuss favorite novels or dish about exciting new releases; authors and publishers don’t have a reliable, trustworthy way to promote their books and interact with fans; book clubs and literary publications don’t have a good way to use the site to gain members and foster discussions.

What Goodreads is good for is keeping your own list of books you want to read or have read this year. It’s a list-making app. And while that’s useful, it doesn’t live up to the company’s full promise of being a haven for readers. Readers and authors deserve a better online community. And while Amazon has at least some nominal interest in improving many of its other products — Alexa, for example, becomes more advanced with each passing year — Goodreads lingers in the dustbin of the early aughts, doomed to the hideous beige design and uninspiring organization of a strip mall doctor’s office.

“It’s just really clunky and slow,” says Dustin Martin, a reader, Goodreads user, and software engineer. “Even having the resources of Amazon behind it, the site feels like a relic, an early web 2.0 sort of deal. I don’t think I’ve seen real improvement or new features since I started using the site in 2014.”

Martin brings up the difficulty of searching for books, a feature that numerous other frustrated Goodreads users complained to me about: The search tool is not intuitive, and if the user makes any mistakes, the book may not come up in Goodreads search at all. Even when a book or author is accurately entered into the search bar, the correct result is often, inexplicably, at the bottom of a list following 10 irrelevant other books.

. . . .

And while Goodreads calls itself “the world’s largest site for readers and book recommendations,” many of the 18 or so people I spoke to for this story insisted that, in fact, Goodreads is nearly useless for finding recommendations. “For some reason, Goodreads seems to attract an audience of people with insanely bland and entry-level taste,” Martin says. He points to the site’s Best Books Ever list, which includes Harry Potter, high school curriculum novels, and copious YA. “That would be fine if it didn’t seem to poison the site’s recommendation algorithm, which in my experience is entirely useless.” Gaby, a journalist who requested that only her first name be used because she’s not allowed to speak with press, agrees. “It’s generally not a good place to find new things to read,” she says. “The recommendations suck, the lists suck — it’s like, 100 lists telling me to read The Handmaid’s Tale and Harry Potter.”

Link to the rest at OneZero


PG never really got into Goodreads, so he’s not in a position to know whether the OP is right, wrong or partially right and partially wrong.

Feel free to critique in the comments.

The Hate Store: Amazon’s Self-Publishing Arm Is a Haven for White Supremacists

From Pro Publica:

“Give me, a white man, a reason to live,” a user posted to the anonymous message board 4chan in the summer of 2017. “Should I get a hobby. What interests can I pursue to save myself from total despair. How do you go on living.”

A fellow user had a suggestion: “Please write a concise book of only factual indisputable information exposing the Jews,” focusing on “their selling of our high tech secrets to China/Russia” and “their long track record of pedophilia and perversion etc.”

The man seeking advice was intrigued. “And who would publish it and who would put it in their bookstores that would make it worth the trouble,” he asked.

The answer came a few minutes later. “Self-publish to Amazon,” his interlocutor replied.

“Kindle will publish anything,” a third user chimed in.

They were basically right. It takes just a couple of minutes to upload one’s work to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), Amazon’s self-publishing arm; the e-book then shows up in the world’s largest bookstore within half a day, typically with minimal oversight. Since its founding more than a decade ago, KDP has democratized the publishing industry and earned praise for giving authors shut out of traditional channels the chance to reach an audience that would have been previously unimaginable.

It has also afforded the same opportunity to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, an investigation by ProPublica and The Atlantic has found. Releases include “Anschluss: The Politics of Vesica Piscis,” a polemic that praises the “grossly underappreciated” massacre of 77 people by the Norwegian neo-Nazi Anders Breivik in 2011, and “The White Rabbit Handbook,” a manifesto linked to an Illinois-based militia group facing federal hate-crime charges for firebombing a mosque. (Amazon removed the latter last week following questions from ProPublica.) About 200 of the 1,500 books recommended by the Colchester Collection, an online reading room run by and for white nationalists, were self-published through Amazon. And new KDP acolytes are born every day: Members of fringe groups on 4chan, Discord and Telegram regularly tout the platform’s convenience, according to our analysis of thousands of conversations on those message boards. There are “literally zero hoops,” one user in 4chan’s /pol/ forum told another in 2015. “Just sign up for Kindle Direct Publishing and publish away. It’s shocking how simple it is, actually.” Even Breivik, at the start of the 1,500-page manifesto that accompanied his terrorist attacks, suggested that his followers use KDP’s paperback service, among others, to publicize his message.

That these books are widely available on Amazon does not seem to be an accident but the inevitable consequence of the company’s business strategy. Interviews with more than two dozen former Amazon employees suggest that the company’s drive for market share and philosophical aversion to gatekeepers have incubated an anything-goes approach to content: Virtually no idea is too inflammatory, and no author is off-limits. As major social networks and other publishing platforms have worked to ban extremists, Amazon has emerged as their safe space, a haven from which they can spread their message into mainstream American culture with little more than a few clicks.

. . . .

“As a bookseller, we believe that providing access to the written word is important,” an Amazon spokesperson said in a statement. “That includes books that some may find objectionable, though we have policies governing which books can be listed for sale. We invest significant time and resources to ensure our guidelines are followed, and remove products that do not adhere to our guidelines. We also promptly investigate any book when a concern is raised.”

The growing influence of social networks on political life has prompted a national debate about what should stay up on these platforms, what should come down, who’s to blame and who decides. Following the deadly far-right violence in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and PayPal cracked down on the activities of white supremacists and hate groups on their platforms. In recent years, Amazon has barred several high-profile white supremacist authors, including former Klan leader David Duke, from its bookstore. It does occasionally pull extremist books from KDP, sometimes months or years after publication, and often in secret, without providing any explanation to authors or readers. But these removals appear to be the exception. KDP’s terse policies do not address hate speech, racism or incitements to violence, though Amazon reserves the right to remove any items from its store, including “content that disappoints our customers” or fails to “provide an enjoyable reading experience.” By and large, Amazon, which in the United States controls around half of the market for all books, and close to 90% for e-books, has become a gateway for white supremacists to reach the American reading public.

. . . .

Before the internet, Roper’s reach would have likely been limited by bookstores’ shelf space and curatorial judgement. But in today’s world of digital abundance, far-right authors have enjoyed a newfound visibility. Gary Lauck, the leader of NSDAP/AO, an American neo-Nazi party, used to rely on snail mail to smuggle neo-Nazi propaganda into Germany and other European countries where it’s been banned. Today, several works published by his organization’s press are available to anyone in the U.S. and Europe on Amazon and on Kindle Unlimited, a program that offers books to readers for a subscription fee. KDP has also revived an older white nationalist canon. Many works by historical Nazis and anti-Semites, no longer held by copyright and long out of print, have been reprinted through KDP. Members of far-right chatrooms often link to them.

. . . .

Like other savvy authors, some white supremacists go beyond Amazon’s automated assistance to boost sales. One technique is to “category squat” — that is, classify one’s books in low-traffic or obscure categories such as “Ancient Greek History” to game their rankings. As a commentator on the 4chan /pol/ forum explained to someone interested in self-publishing on KDP, “If you pick a good niche and the book is good and you understand their search algorithm you can make a lot of money.” “Jewish Privilege,” by the anti-Semitic commentator E. Michael Jones, is ranked as the 10th-most-popular book in “LGBT Political Issues,” despite being about the alleged evils of Jewish people.

Other authors manipulate their ratings by making their self-published books temporarily free so that readers can “purchase” them and leave a positive review. “ALL of my books are available for FREE in e-book form this week in exchange for an honest review on Amazon later,” Roper posted in 2017 on the neo-Nazi message board Stormfront. As a result of this behind-the-scenes lobbying, Berger said, far-right texts often seem to have better reviews than other kinds of books, which may affect how frequently Amazon recommends them. The first installment of Roper’s trilogy has 70 reviews and a rating of four out of five stars. Roper even gave the book a five-star review on Goodreads: “I liked it so much that I’m currently working on the sequel!”

. . . .

When the retailer decides to drop a publisher or remove a book, it offers no explanation, no appeals process and little to no warning. “Amazon will be as ambiguous as possible, and when they terminate or suspend accounts, they will essentially imply, You know what you did and shame on you,” said Dale L. Roberts, who hosts a popular YouTube channel about the self-publishing business. Its notice to authors is “very generic copy and paste.”

This opacity makes it difficult for authors and readers to know how and why these decisions are made. For instance, while books such as Johnson’s “The White Nationalist Manifesto” have been removed from the site, self-published manifestos such as “The Declaration of White Independence” and “Foundations of The 21st Century: The Philosophy of White Nationalism” remain for sale. We also came across nearly a dozen Holocaust-skeptic books still available on Amazon, including some for sale in Germany, where such texts can be illegal. In response to our questions, Amazon took three of them down. It declined to share information about the number of books it’s taken down, its internal policies or how it enforces them.

Amazon’s ambiguous guidelines are not without reason. Given the company’s prominence in the marketplace, overly broad content restrictions might threaten literary expression as a whole. Louis-Ferdinand Céline, for instance, was a fascist, an anti-Semite and a Holocaust denier; he also wrote “Journey to the End of the Night,” which is among the most acclaimed works of French fiction. “Even if a book contains hate speech, it may be that it’s quoting other people’s hate speech or has other social, historical or literary merit,” said Eric Goldman, a leading First Amendment and content-moderation expert. It would be misguided to apply to a book-length essay or novel the same policies that attempt to govern tweets and Facebook posts, he adds.

Hate speech is also notoriously difficult to define. “There’s still nothing like consensus about what extremism even is in general, let alone when you get down to what’s considered to be a controversial and difficult decision about the whole of a book,” Berger said. “Even I, who’ve studied elements of this, would be hesitant to say that there’s any easy recipe to decide what stays and what goes.”

Smaller self-publishing companies say they have taken a more proactive stance. Lulu, Smashwords and Kobo all explicitly prohibit authors from self-publishing discriminatory or hateful content through their platforms. Representatives from each company spoke with us about navigating the tension between free expression and fomenting hate. “We don’t enjoy acting as a gatekeeper,” the Smashwords founder and CEO Mark Coker said. “We don’t enjoy serving as arbiter of what’s acceptable and what’s not. But it’s a responsibility we have to take on.”

Lulu and Smashwords have banned Roper from using their platforms in recent years. (Roper has not uploaded his works to Kobo.) When Smashwords terminated Roper’s account, a representative explained that it was because his work was “advocating hateful, discriminatory or racist views or actions toward others,” according to emails shared with us by Smashwords.

Link to the rest at Pro Publica

UK online print at risk as Gardners and Hive suspend activity and Waterstones struggles

From The New Publishing Standard:

If it seemed, for a while, that online print sales could sustain publishers and booksellers through the pandemic crisis, it now looks increasingly like the UK will follow the path of Italy and Spain where print distribution is at a virtual standstill.

Here’s the thing: it may well be convenient and safe for consumers to sit at home and order their next print book without having to get off the sofa, but that order has to be processed at a warehouse, packed for shipping, and then it has to work its way through the delivery system to the customer’s door.

At every stage there needs to be someone risking infection with the coronavirus for that delivery to happen, and increasingly, where such actions are not yet barred, workers are reluctant to put themselves on the line.

In the UK the book wholesaler Gardners which also operates the indie bookstore website Hive, at first tried to carry on as the UK entered lockdown. No longer.

A statement on the Gardners website states:

It is with great sadness that we have taken the difficult decision to temporarily suspend taking new orders for physical product at Gardners due to the current Corona Virus Pandemic, however our digital services will be unaffected. We will be working hard to clear all outstanding orders over the coming days, so any existing orders should be processed.

We have continued over the past few weeks providing our usual high quality service to the Book and Entertainment trades around the world, however this is becoming increasingly more difficult as this crisis develops. The safety and well-being of our amazing workforce is the primary reason for making this decision.

We will be looking to see what key services we can turn back on as soon as possible, and will be updating all our customers and suppliers on regular basis as to the progress we are making.

Waterstones, for now, believes it can continue its warehouse operations, but admits on its website that things will be slower than usual

How long the UK government will allow loopholes like this to continue, always assuming the workers continue to turn out, is unclear, but it’s unlikely to be long.

With all the Waterstones stores closed for business across the country the warehousing operation is the company’s only income generator right now, and no question that will welcomed by consumers wanting more books during the lockdown.

But James Daunt must be regretting shutting down the Waterstones ebook site, which might otherwise now be a vital survival lifeline for the company.

While Gardners have suspended the warehouse operation their digital books sector continues unaffected.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

PG doesn’t claim any detailed knowledge of the printed book business in Britain, but, nevertheless, will opine that Mr. Daunt was an idiot to shut down Waterstones ebookstore. In the short term, it doesn’t cost much to keep an ecommerce site running once it’s set up and, with Waterstone’s retail business shut down, there are likely a lot of empty offices where any ecommerce support staff could be installed with ample distance between each person.

PG doubts that publishers are going to release many new books until at least a few weeks following major decline in the British portion of the virus pandemic so Daunt doesn’t need to pay people to set up new titles for sale. Just keep the link between Waterstone’s computers and those of its payment processors up and at least some money keeps coming in the door.

In a little longer view, with retail bookshops and physical libraries likely closed for the duration, some serious print readers are almost certain to point their iPads somewhere to buy an ebook to fill the reading gap.

Would Mr. Daunt prefer they buy an ebook from Waterstones or Amazon? If Waterstones ebookstore is closed, these customers will be quite likely to fall under the Zon’s spell. For a great many people, once they are exposed to the power, pricing and majesty of the Zon, they start chanting Bezos’ name over and over and are never seen in polite book society again.

Back to the more familiar territory of the US book business.

The new owner of Barnes & Noble, Elliott Management Corporation, is an investment management company. Its management committee (nine men, one woman who runs Human Resources) appears to be made up of typical finance guys, nary a book person or a retail mavin in the bunch.

Under the What We Do tab on Elliott’s website, the first entry is “Distressed Securities” which, in PG’s distressingly cynical opinion, fits Barnes & Noble to a T although he would not apply any variation of the adjective secure to the company.

“What,” you may ask, “are Distressed Securities?”

The firm’s distressed-securities trading strategies are rooted in complexity, either by itself or together with process, rather than business-value-driven situations. To create value in complex, dynamic situations, distressed securities are highly dependent on deep skill sets and lengthy, intensive hands-on efforts. Our primary focus is uncorrelated situations governed by process, complexity, negotiations, and factors unrelated to the forces impacting stocks and bonds generally.

So now you know.

PG notes no mention of anything that sounds like the business of selling books (although uncorrelated situations governed by process might be a subtle indirect reference).

In PG’s distressingly firm opinion, once the last Corona is chased back to hell (Per the CDC, Coronaviruses derive their name from the fact that under electron microscopic examination, each virion is surrounded by a “corona,” or halo. [No, PG doesn’t know what a virion is.]), Elliott will cast its uncorrelated eye on BN and see a bunch of commercial real estate leases, a lot of unsold inventory that has not become more valuable with the passage of time and a bunch of debts plus a few other random factors unrelated to forces impacting BN’s share price.

PG suspects one of the conclusions Elliott will reach is that BN is worth a lot less than the price they paid. Speaking technically, it has become a far more distressed security than it was when they bought it.

Bringing BN back to life will cost a lot of money and take more than a bit of time. You have over 600 stores full of a wide range of merchandise that may or may not be something customers may find interesting.

You probably can’t reopen a store without hiring several people. One or two employees can’t run a Barnes & Noble by themselves. Will all the employees Barnes & Noble fired be anxious to return to their low-wage jobs? Probably not unless they can’t find a better job.

One way of reducing the corporate obligations of Barnes & Noble is to return a whole lot of unsold books to their publishers for credit and then having the publishers send you a large number of new books for which payment is not required until you sell them.

Barnes & Noble probably can’t return the tchotchkes and trinkets in the stores for any sort of credit, assuming the manufacturers can even be located. Those will constitute distressed inventory, maybe another of Elliott’s specialties.

Assuming that Elliott is not willing to write off its investment and send everything that used to be BN to bankruptcy court, PG suspects it will be very choosy about which stores to resuscitate and which stores to let the mall owner take back. So, instead of 600+ bookstores, BN will consist of 200 or so bookstores located in upscale areas plus the honor of beind the defendant in a bunch of breach of contract lawsuits that Elliott will strive to settle for pennies on the dollar.

PG’s bottom line is that he doesn’t believe that the post-Corona Barnes & Noble will ever sell as many books as it did before anybody had heard of Wuhon.

A very large piece of the sales and distribution system relied upon by traditional publishers will be gone, gone, gone and it won’t be coming back. Print book sales won’t ever return to pre-Corona numbers.

The Zon will have to be careful to avoid antitrust charges for having an effective monopoly on the retail book trade, print and electronic.

Since predicting the future is not one of PG’s practice area, he could be dead wrong. His analysis and conclusions above are pretty much stream of consciousness and sometimes the stream gets pretty muddy without PG noticing.

Amazon Struggles to Find Its Coronavirus Footing

From The Wall Street Journal:

On a mid-March midnight shift, one of Kristy Granados’s co-workers coughed and said he felt nauseated.

As he took a break, workers at the Amazon.com Inc. warehouse in Charlotte, N.C., shared worries that they could catch the coronavirus, Ms. Granados said. Most didn’t have masks or supplies to disinfect workstations, even as cleaning products streamed past them on conveyor belts. On some recent days, about half the workers hadn’t even shown up, she said.

Her co-worker soon returned to his station, and Ms. Granados continued preparing packages, concerned but also mindful her work was likely essential for the millions of people who had turned to online shopping for groceries and thermometers. She never found out what was ailing him.

“We’re playing a vital role to get people the supplies they need, whether it’s the elderly or people with health issues,” said Ms. Granados, who is 41 years old. “A lot of people are depending on us.”

The coronavirus is pulling Amazon, America’s largest online retailer, in many directions. Chief Executive Jeff Bezos is counting on front-line workers like Ms. Granados to bring essential goods to millions of homebound Americans. So far, it has been a bumpy ride.

. . . .

Amazon order volumes match those of the holiday season. Usually, the company has months to prepare. Before the pandemic hit, it has had just weeks, and the strain is showing in shortages, delays and worker unrest, including some walkouts, no-shows and Covid-related sickness.

At times, Amazon has had to operate warehouses with half the typical number of workers, according to employees. On Tuesday, employees at Whole Foods Market, a grocer owned by Amazon, organized a “sick out” at its stores and called on management to provide hazard pay and other benefits.

While the coronavirus is straining Amazon’s retail operations, it is boosting some of its other businesses. Companies are relying on its cloud-computing arm, Amazon Web Services, as their employees work from home, and customers are streaming home-entertainment content on Amazon Prime.

. . . .

In some areas that have emerged as hot spots for the virus, including San Francisco, Chicago and New York, items such as Lysol disinfecting wipes and office supplies useful for working at home haven’t been available or cannot be delivered for a month or longer. Many customers in those areas haven’t been able to place grocery orders.

“Leaders across Amazon are meeting every day to consider the evolving situation and are consulting with medical experts to ensure the safety for our sites, employees and customers,” an Amazon spokeswoman said via email. She said the company has a unique role to play in getting needed goods to families in a time of social distancing and that the company is “working around the clock to bring on additional capacity to deliver all customer orders.”

Amazon has been processing from 10% to 40% more packages than normal for this time of year, according to an employee tally at one delivery center. The company’s website had 639,330,722 visits for the week of March 9, according to data from Comscore, up 32% from the year earlier.

From Feb. 20 to March 23, Amazon’s sales of toilet paper increased 186% from the year-earlier period, according to analytics firm CommerceIQ, which said that before the coronavirus hit it had forecast a 7% increase for the period. CommerceIQ said sales of cough and cold medicine grew by 862%, compared with a forecast growth rate of 110%, and children’s vitamins by 287%, compared with a forecast rate of 49%.

. . . .

Mr. Bezos is focusing almost exclusively on Amazon’s coronavirus response. Although he and President Trump have been frequent antagonists, Mr. Trump has praised the company for keeping deliveries going in a time of need. The company recently announced plans to hire 100,000 new workers in the U.S. to deal with the crisis.

“This isn’t business as usual, and it’s a time of great stress,” Mr. Bezos said in a memo to employees on March 21. “It’s also a moment in time when the work we’re doing is its most critical.” Through a company spokesman, Mr. Bezos and other Amazon executives declined to be interviewed.

. . . .

Although Amazon does disaster and business-continuity planning, it didn’t model for a pandemic, according to people familiar with the matter. Most of its planning revolved around responding to a major earthquake in Seattle, former executives said. All critical executives at the company carry satellite phones they test every quarter to make sure they could run operations, the former executives said.

. . . .

Employees have tested positive for Covid-19 or been placed in quarantine in at least 15 Amazon locations in the U.S. used for storing, sorting or delivering packages, from California to New York, according to the company. Facilities with at least one confirmed case can be temporarily closed for cleaning and reopen once that process is complete, Amazon said. In states with more stringent guidelines, warehouses can be closed for longer.

Absences have been one reason for delayed shipments. Amazon went from being able to deliver some orders in hours or days to needing weeks for certain in-demand products. Social distancing efforts have contributed to delays, said a person familiar with the matter.

That was an impetus for Amazon’s U.S. hiring spree, a figure that would represent a 20% increase in its workforce in the country.

Amazon, which is responsible for more than one-third of e-commerce volumes in the U.S., has long faced complaints from warehouse workers about working conditions and their position in the employee hierarchy. The company, which is the nation’s second-largest employer, in recent years has taken steps to boost hourly wages and improve employee-training opportunities.

Now, front-line workers find themselves with more leverage. Facing a daily threat of coronavirus infection at work has galvanized some.

Since the emergence of the coronavirus, workers have pushed for and received a raft of concessions. On March 9, Amazon announced it would relax its time-off policy for warehouse employees, allowing them unlimited unpaid time off that now extends through April.

Two days later, it revised its stance to offer paid sick days to fulfillment center workers possibly infected, and said subsequently that employees who show any symptoms could be eligible for paid sick leave. Amazon raised pay for all employees in fulfillment centers, transportation, stores and deliveries in the U.S. and Canada by $2 an hour through April, bringing its lowest hourly rate to $17 per hour for those employees.

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

PG has not been a fan of what workers unions have become in the late 20th and 21st centuries. He doesn’t think unions would be of any substantial assistance in helping Amazon and its employees to deal with all the strains of responding to the current Coronavirus infections.

Additionally, from PG’s viewpoint (which could be wrong), he doesn’t see a great many large organizations, private or public, that seem to have a very good Coronavirus footing.

The Bakers and the Pot of Gold

From Mark Coker on the Smashwords Blog:

Who doesn’t love cookies and the bakers who bake them?

And if you’re the baker, you probably appreciate your own fresh-baked cookies all the more.

Why am I talking about cookies on a blog for indie authors?

The other day, I received an email from Canadian author Nicky Charles.  She had just read my 2020 Publishing Predictions: House of Indie on Fire post and felt inspired to write an allegory featuring cookie bakers and pots of gold.

I was floored by her story.  It struck me as a must-read for anyone who loves books and the writers who write them. 

. . . .

Nicky asked me to make clear that for this allegory, she employed hyperbole.  She in no way wants to infer that any of the bakers featured in this story make bad cookies.

. . . .

THE BAKERS AND THE POT OF GOLD

By Nicky Charles

Once upon a time there was a land dotted with quaint little cafés.  The cafés were renowned for serving wonderful fresh-baked cookies to the customers who lined up outside in anticipation of the treat.

The cookies were produced by the bakers of the land who used only the finest and freshest ingredients.  Each batch was tenderly measured and mixed, then sampled with care before being baked to perfection.  It was a long process, but the bakers didn’t mind.  Their goal was to ensure each cookie was a worthy treat for their customers.

Because the bakers worked so hard to produce delicious products, they couldn’t deliver to the cafés every day.  Good cookies took time, after all, and so they rotated who baked each day.  This gave the customers a nice variety of cookies as well as giving the bakers time to clean their kitchens, care for their ovens and shop for ingredients.

The customers at the cafés understood this and saved their money, while waiting excitedly for when their favourite baker would make a new batch of cookies.  On delivery days, the people would rush to the cafés to buy the fresh batch and enjoy the special treat, savouring each mouthful and murmuring about the skill of the baker.

Everyone in the land was happy with the arrangement.  The bakers delivered amazing cookies for the customers. The customers had delicious treats to eat and the cafés made a nice profit, which they shared with the bakers.

One spring day, however, a new café opened. It was big and shiny and sold a vast array of products.  Everyone who visited it stared in wonder.

“Do you sell cookies?”  The people asked hopefully.

“Not yet,” the new café owner said. “But soon we will.”

And sure enough, the very next day the new café owner went in search of bakers.

“I would like to sell your cookies,” the new café owner said to the bakers.  “Lots of people visit my café every day, even people from Far-Away-Places.  I promise you will make lots of gold if you let me sell your cookies.”

The bakers thought about it and began to take some of their cookies to the new café.  Just as promised, many cookies were sold, especially to the people from Far-Away-Places who had never tasted such wonderful baked goods before.  With their pockets filled with gold, the bakers rejoiced that the new café had come to town.

When the people of the land saw this, some began to think they’d like to be bakers as well.

“Baking looks like such fun,” one person said.

“We can sell our cookies to people from Far-Away-Places if we bake for the new café,” another declared.

“We will make lots of money just like the other bakers!”  A third cried in delight.

And so new bakers began to emerge.  Some baked wonderful cookies right away while others learned over time how to mix the ingredients perfectly.  A few decided baking was too hard and quit, but others loved their new occupation and sold so many cookies they even gave up their old jobs to become full time bakers.

The people of the land greatly enjoyed having so many new bakers to choose from and there were now cookies every day at the cafés.

“This is wonderful,” everyone said.

But then, the new café owner made an announcement.  “I have a large pot of gold and I will share it with any baker who sells cookies at my café.”

“A large pot of gold?”  The bakers began to get excited.

“Oh yes,” said the new café owner.  “It is a very large pot of gold. But you can only have the gold if you deliver all your cookies to me.”

“But what about the other cafés?” Some of the bakers frowned in concern.  “And what about the people who eat our cookies there?”

“The people who like your cookies can buy them here,” the new café owner explained.  “I will even serve them on a special plate.”

“That sounds great,” said some of the bakers.

A few bakers, however, thought the pot of gold seemed too good to be true, and some wanted to keep selling their cookies at all the cafés.

The story continues at the Smashwords Blog

As PG has mentioned before, he thinks Mark’s anti-Amazon postings have become old for a great many people.

From Merriam Webster:

Definition of sour grapes

disparagement of something that has proven unattainable

. . . .

Examples of sour grapes in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web

  • Jennifer Aniston has some sour grapes over Ryan Seacrest‘s real estate history.— Benjamin Vanhoose, PEOPLE.com, “Jennifer Aniston Teases Ryan Seacrest for Buying House She Wanted from Ellen DeGeneres,” 5 Jan. 2020
  • To the president and his supporters, the arguments from critics amount to sour grapes, an effort by an impeachment-crazed opposition to play down the success of a focused, successful clandestine operation that echoed the killing of Osama bin Laden.— David E. Sanger, New York Times, “Al-Baghdadi Raid Was a Victory Built on Factors Trump Derides,” 27 Oct. 2019

Link to the rest at Merriam Webster

From The Urban Dictionary:

In an old fable by Aesop, a hungry fox noticed a bunch of juicy grapes hanging from a vine. After several failed attempts to reach the grapes, the fox gave up and insisted that he didn’t want them anyway because they were probably sour.

Nowadays when somebody expresses sour grapes, it means that they put down something simply because they can’t have it.

Link to the rest at The Urban Dictionary

Big Tech Could Emerge From Coronavirus Crisis Stronger Than Ever

From The New York Times:

Amazon is hiring aggressively to meet customer demand. Traffic has soared on Facebook and YouTube. And cloud computing has become essential to home workers.

Amazon said it was hiring 100,000 warehouse workers to meet surging demand. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, said traffic for video calling and messaging had exploded. Microsoft said the numbers using its software for online collaboration had climbed nearly 40 percent in a week.

With people told to work from home and stay away from others, the pandemic has deepened reliance on services from the technology industry’s biggest companies while accelerating trends that were already benefiting them.

Amazon has muscled in on brick-and-mortar retailers for years, but shoppers now reluctant to go to the store are turning to the e-commerce giant for a wider variety of goods, like groceries and over-the-counter drugs.

Streaming services like Netflix have dampened box office sales for movies in recent years. Now, as movie theaters close under government orders, Netflix and YouTube are gaining a new audience.

Companies were already dumping their own data centers to rent computing from Amazon, Microsoft and Google. That shift is likely to speed up as millions of employees are forced to work from home, putting a strain on corporate technology infrastructures.

Even Apple, which once appeared to be among the American companies most at risk from the coronavirus because of its dependence on Chinese factories and consumers, appears to be on good footing. Many of Apple’s factories are nearly back to normal, people are spending more time and money on its digital services, and on Wednesday it even released new gadgets.

“The largest tech companies could emerge on the other side of this much stronger,” said Daniel Ives, managing director of equity research at Wedbush Securities.

. . . .

[W]hen the economy does eventually improve, Big Tech could benefit from changes in consumer habits. And despite more than 18 months of criticism from lawmakers, regulators and competitors before the pandemic hit the United States, the biggest companies are likely to finish the year stronger than ever.

. . . .

Michael Crowe of Charlotte, N.C., ordered groceries from Amazon for the first time a few days ago because he didn’t want to risk going to a supermarket, he said.

“I could see myself doing it longer term when this is over,” said Mr. Crowe, 36, who works for the home improvement retailer Lowe’s.

As more customers try different Amazon services, they may create permanent shifts in buying habits, said Guru Hariharan, a former Amazon employee and the founder of CommerceIQ, a company whose automation software is used by major brands like Kellogg’s and Kimberly-Clark.

In a blog post last week, Dave Clark, Amazon’s senior vice president of worldwide operations, said it was adding the new jobs at its U.S. warehouses and delivery network because “our labor needs are unprecedented for this time of year.”

One reason for Amazon’s increase in demand is that shoppers are buying a broader variety of goods. From Feb. 20 to March 15, over-the-counter cold medicine sales rose ninefold on Amazon in the United States from a year earlier. Dog food orders increased 13-fold, and paper towels and toilet paper sales tripled, according to CommerceIQ.

Link to the rest at The New York Times

Amazon Deprioritizes Book Sales Amid Coronavirus Crisis

From Publishers Weekly:

As it works to meet the surge in demand for “household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products,” Amazon has told other suppliers, including publishers, that they will likely see reduced orders and longer delivery time at least April 5, according to both a letter PW has obtained that was sent to independent publishers earlier today and an article Amazon posted on its Amazon Seller Central website.

In the letter, sent from Amazon Vendor Central to a wide range of its suppliers including most publishers, the online retailer said that due to a surge in online orders, it is “temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products” in order to restock those items. As a result, the letter said, from now through April 5, suppliers of products that are a lower priority should expect both reduced purchase orders and extended delivery windows for existing purchase orders.

We have temporarily paused ordering for products that are not household staples, medical supplies, or other high demand products,” the letter said. “We have extended the shipment/delivery windows for some existing purchase orders to give you more time to fulfill the order. Please ship your products toward the end of the extended window.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suspects Mrs. PG is not the only author to see Amazon ebooks are selling quite briskly.

Justice Dept. files its first coronavirus takedown: a bogus vaccine website

From TechCrunch:

U.S. federal prosecutors have filed and won a temporary restraining order against a website offering a fraudulent coronavirus vaccine, which the Justice Department said is its first enforcement action related to the pandemic.

In a statement, the Justice Dept. said the action was taken against a website, said to be engaging in a wire fraud scheme, seeking “to profit from the confusion and widespread fear” surrounding COVID-19.

The website, seen by TechCrunch, claims the World Health Organization is “giving away vaccine kits” to unsuspecting victims who pay a small fee for shipping. The website asks for a victim’s credit card information.

“In fact, there are currently no legitimate COVID-19 vaccines and the WHO is not distributing any such vaccine,” the Justice Department’s statement said.

A federal judge issued the temporary restraining order against the website’s owners, whose names are not known. The order also demanded that Namecheap, the site’s domain host, pull the site offline.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

In PG’s personal observation, the COVID-19 problem has brought out a huge number of scams, both online and telephone-based. When PG checked Amazon last, the company seemed to be having problems keeping up with the wide variety of dodgy products and sellers that have sprung up.

See, for example, What You Need To Know About The CoronaVirus: Coloring Book

Amazon Deprioritizes Book Sales Amid Coronavirus Crisis

From Publishers Weekly:

As it works to meet the surge in demand for “household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products,” Amazon has told other suppliers, including publishers, that their goods will receive a low priority until at least April 5, according to both a letter PW has obtained that was sent to independent publishers earlier today and an article Amazon posted on its Amazon Seller Central website.

In the letter, sent from Amazon Vendor Central to a wide range of its suppliers including most publishers, the online retailer said that due to a surge in online orders, it is “temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high demand products” in order to restock those items. As a result, the letter said, from now through April 5, suppliers of products that are a lower priority should expect both reduced purchase orders and extended delivery windows for existing purchase orders.

We have temporarily paused ordering for products that are not household staples, medical supplies, or other high demand products,” the letter said. “We have extended the shipment/delivery windows for some existing purchase orders to give you more time to fulfill the order. Please ship your products toward the end of the extended window.”

The letter closed by noting that the e-tailer is aware of the effect this will have on businesses, and is “working around the clock to increase capacity, and on March 16 announced that we are opening 100,000 new full- and part-time positions in our fulfillment centers across the U.S.”

The article posted on Amazon Seller Central, which clarified that these new priorities would affect both the U.S. and E.U. markets, specified that the products to be prioritized would be in the Baby Products, Health & Household, Beauty & Personal Care (including personal care appliances), Grocery, Industrial & Scientific, and Pet Supplies categories. The company also added that “listing products in an inaccurate category is a violation of our listing policies and may result in account suspension.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Will the Amazon Netherlands launch this week boost Dutch book and ebook sales?

From The New Publishing Standard:

For publishers and authors outside the Netherlands it may come as a surprise to learn that Amazon finally launched in the Netherlands this past week. A surprise because Amazon launched its Kindle Netherlands store way back in November 2014.

But until last Tuesday Dutch consumers could only buy ebooks and Prime Video from Amazon NL, and needed to use other Amazon stores to get other goods.

. . . .

But now Dutch consumers, while not yet barred from using other Amazon sites, can head to Amazon for a full panoply of goods previously unavailable across 26 categories rather than just 2, and that will bring more eyeballs to the store that may then checkout the Kindle NL store.

Print books?

Sadly at this stage it appears the only print books being sold are through third-part sellers and the bestseller chart is dominated by English-language titles, while even in the Kindle store over half the top 50 bestselling ebooks are English-language.

That will reflect in part that the Dutch are very comfortable reading English-language books, but perhaps more a reflection of the lack of engagement between Dutch publishers and Amazon.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Algorithms Could Save Book Publishing—But Ruin Novels

From Wired:

Jodie Archer had always been puzzled by the success of The Da Vinci Code. She’d worked for Penguin UK in the mid-2000s, when Dan Brown’s thriller had become a massive hit, and knew there was no way marketing alone would have led to 80 million copies sold. So what was it, then? Something magical about the words that Brown had strung together? Dumb luck? The questions stuck with her even after she left Penguin in 2007 to get a PhD in English at Stanford. There she met Matthew L. Jockers, a cofounder of the Stanford Literary Lab, whose work in text analysis had convinced him that computers could peer into books in a way that people never could.

Soon the two of them went to work on the “bestseller” problem: How could you know which books would be blockbusters and which would flop, and why? Over four years, Archer and Jockers fed 5,000 fiction titles published over the last 30 years into computers and trained them to “read”—to determine where sentences begin and end, to identify parts of speech, to map out plots. They then used so-called machine classification algorithms to isolate the features most common in bestsellers.

The result of their work—detailed in The Bestseller Code, out this month—is an algorithm built to predict, with 80 percent accuracy, which novels will become mega-bestsellers. What does it like? Young, strong heroines who are also misfits (the type found in *The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, *and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo). No sex, just “human closeness.” Frequent use of the verb “need.” Lots of contractions. Not a lot of exclamation marks. Dogs, yes; cats, meh. In all, the “bestseller-ometer” has identified 2,799 features strongly associated with bestsellers.

What Archer and Jockers have done is just one part of a larger movement in the publishing industry to replace gut instinct and wishful thinking with data. A handful of startups in the US and abroad claim to have created their own algorithms or other data-driven approaches that can help them pick novels and nonfiction topics that readers will love, as well as understand which books work for which audiences. Meanwhile, traditional publishers are doing their own experiments: Simon & Schuster hired its first data scientist last year; in May, Macmillan Publishers acquired the digital book publishing platform Pronoun, in part for its data and analytics capabilities.

While these efforts could bring more profit to an oft-struggling industry, the effect for readers is unclear.

“Part of the beautiful thing about books, unlike refrigerators or something, is that sometimes you pick up a book that you don’t know,” says Katherine Flynn, a partner at Boston-based literary agency Kneerim & Williams. “You get exposed to things you wouldn’t have necessarily thought you liked. You thought you liked tennis, but you can read a book about basketball. It’s sad to think that data could narrow our tastes and possibilities.”

They Know What You Did Last Night

Once, publishers had to rely on unit sales to figure out what readers wanted. Digital reading changed that. Publishers can know that you raced through a novel to the end, or that you abandoned it after 20 pages. They can know where and when you’re reading. On some reading sites and apps, users sign in with their Facebook accounts, opening up more personal data. There’s a wrinkle, though: Companies such as Amazon and Apple have the data for books read on their devices, and they aren’t sharing it with publishers.

London-based startup Jellybooks offers a workaround. Publishers can hire Jellybooks to conduct virtual focus groups, giving readers free ebooks, often in advance of publication, in exchange for their sharing data on how much, when, and where they read. Javascript is embedded in the books, and at the end of each chapter, readers are asked to click a link that sends the data to Jellybooks. In almost two years, the company has run tests for publishers in the US, England, and Germany, and uncovered one sobering fact: Most novels are abandoned before readers are halfway through them. Jellybooks’s findings can guide publishers on their marketing, and even whether it’s worth signing an author again. “Hollywood moguls might do test screenings for movies to decide on how much [marketing] budget a movie should get,” says Andrew Rhomberg, the founder of Jellybooks. “That was never done for books.”

The ability to know who reads what and how fast is also driving Berlin-based startup Inkitt. Founded by Ali Albazaz, who started coding at age 10, the English-language website invites writers to post their novels for all to see. Inkitt’s algorithms examine reading patterns and engagement levels. For the best performers, Inkitt offers to act as literary agent, pitching the works to traditional publishers and keeping the standard 15 percent commission if a deal results. The site went public in January 2015 and now has 80,000 stories and more than half a million readers around the world.

Albazaz, now 26, sees himself as democratizing the publishing world. “We never, ever, ever judge the books. That’s not our job. We check that the formatting is correct, the grammar is in place, we make sure that the cover is not pixelated,” he says. “Who are we to judge if the plot is good? That’s the job of the market. That’s the job of the readers.”

. . . .

The Data Scare

As Archer and Jocker shopped the *Bestseller Code *manuscript to acquisitions editors, word of their powerful algorithm spread—as did worry and suspicion among those in the publishing profession. “The fear is we can homogenize the market or try and somehow take their jobs away from them, and the answer is no and no,” says Archer. “What the bestseller-ometer is trying to do is say, ‘Hey, pick this new author that you might not dare take a risk on with your acquisitions budget. Their chance is really good.’” Archer, now a writer in Boulder, Colorado, insists that she and Jockers, now an English professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, are “literature-friendly” and want good books to succeed.

Andrew Weber, the global chief operating officer for Macmillan Publishers—whose St. Martin’s Press is publishing *The Bestseller Code—thinks algorithms should be viewed as an additional piece of information, rather than as an excuse to fire the editors. “Whether it’s in acquisition, whether it’s in pricing, whether it’s in marketing, whether it’s in distribution, there just seem to be many, many, many opportunities to improve the quality of our decision-makingand therefore hopefully our results—*by bringing data into the equation,” says Weber. “I would say we are still in the early days of that journey, but that’s the direction we’re headed.”

Archer and Jockers watched eagerly to see which novel would be their algorithm’s favorite. It turned out to be The Circle, a 2013 technothriller by Dave Eggers about working for a massively powerful Internet company. The Circle spent multiple weeks on both The New York Times hardcover fiction and paperback trade fiction bestseller lists. A movie version starring Emma Watson and Tom Hanks is expected in theaters this year.

Link to the rest at Wired

It appears that PG missed this when it first appeared in 2016.

He suspects the almost-universal phobia towards computers, algorithms, quantitative analysis, sophisticated metrics, etc., among the indwellers of traditional publishing is related to the widespread incidence of innumeracy among English majors.

Worship of The Golden Gut is the state religion of this group. For them, no collection of numbers and formulae can ever replace The Hunch. That’s one reason why so many books fail to earn out their advances, how many mega-sellers are first rejected by every major publisher before stumbling into the market and finding success.

Indie authors include a much wider slice of humanity than either publishers or traditionally-published authors. That diversity of talent and background combined with Amazon’s relentless pursuit of customers and, thus, numbers, analytics, categories, sub-categories and sub-sub categories fosters the creation of niches within niches all the way down to the micro-reader level.

PG just checked a random book on the Zon and discovered that it encouraged drill-down and discovery as follows:

Books
* Mystery, Thriller & Suspense
*Thrillers & Suspense
* Suspense

With broad categories mentioned:

Book Fiction Moods

Book Mystery Characters

Some Authors:

Author

(PG is not certain how much of this collection of information is presented as result of PG’s and Mrs. PG’s past buying habits.)

Finally, if you prefer, you could check out 383 different categories, series, spinoffs, heroes/heroines, etc., etc., etc., (including, 盗墓笔记, El cementerio de los libros, Svartåsen and Die Krimi-Serie in den Zwanzigern as follows:

1900-Zombie-Thriller (1)
2A Cotten Stone Mystery (1)
3A Department Q Novel (1)
4A Jonathan Grave Thriller (2)
5A Topsail Island novel (1)
6Aaron Falk (2)
7Against Series / Raines of Wind Canyon (1)
8Agatha Raisin Sammelband (1)
9Agent Juliet (1)
10Agent Pendergast (4)
11Alex Cross (4)
12Alex Delaware (13)
13Alex Devlin (1)
14Alex Hawke (6)
15Alex McKnight (1)
16Alexandra Cooper (5)
17Alfonzo (1)
18Ali Reynolds Series (15)
19All Souls Trilogy (1)
20Allison McNeil Series (1)
21Alo Nudger (1)
22Amos Decker (5)
23An Elvis Cole Novel (3)
24An FBI Thriller (1)
25An Isaiah Coleridge Novel (1)
26An Under Suspicion Novel (1)
27Anderswelt John Sinclair Spin-off (18)
28Andreas Gruber Erzählbände (1)
29Anna Pigeon Mysteries (1)
30Annie Carter Series (3)
31Ash Henderson (2)
32Asher Benson (1)
33Auftrag: Mord! (3)
34Beartooth, Montana (1)
35Ben Abbott Mysteries (1)
36Ben Hope (20)
37Blood on Snow (2)
38Bob Lee Swagger Novels (4)
39Breaking Free (1)
40Camel Club (2)
41Cape Charade (3)
42Carl Mørck (1)
43Carriage House (5)
44Carson Ryder (9)
45Casey Woods (1)
46Cat Who… (1)
47Cate Austin (1)
48Charlie Chan Mystery (1)
49Chefinspektor Tony Braun (2)
50Cherokee Pointe (1)
51Chet and Bernie Mystery (16)
52Chronicles of The One (7)
53Cold Justice (1)
54Commandant Martin Servaz (1)
55Commissario Brunetti (8)
56Conrad Yeats Adventure (1)
57Cork O’Connor (17)
58Cork O’Connor Mystery Series (12)
59Cotton Malone (2)
60Covert-One (1)
61Crissa Stone (1)
62Cutler (2)
63D.I. Callanach (1)
64Dagny Gray (1)
65Dalziel & Pascoe (1)
66Dalziel and Pascoe (14)
67盗墓笔记 (1)
68Dark Iceland (1)
69Dave Gurney (1)
70Dave Robicheaux (8)
71David Stein (1)
72David Wolf (1)
73DCI Matilda Darke (1)
74Dead series (1)
75Detective Erika Foster (2)
76Detective Josie Quinn (2)
77Detective Mark Heckenburg (3)
78Detective Max Rupert (2)
79Detektei Lessing Kriminalserie (3)
80DI Fawley (2)
81Die ARES-Reihe (2)
82Die Cormoran-Strike-Reihe (1)
83Die Dead-Silencer-Saga (1)
84Die Irene-Huss-Krimis (1)
85Die Krimi-Serie in den Zwanzigern (23)
86Dirk Pitt (1)
87Dismas Hardy (15)
88Divine (1)
89Dr. Lazlo Kreizler (1)
90Dr. Marissa Blumenthal (1)
91Dr. Samantha Owens series (1)
92Drake Ramsey (2)
93DS Heckenburg (6)
94DS Imogen Grey (2)
95Dunkle Begierde (1)
96Dynam (1)
97Ed Eagle Novel (2)
98Ein Fall für Engel und Sander (2)
99Ein FBI Thriller mit Dillon Savich und Lacey Sherlock (3)
100Ein Jack-Reacher-Roman (1)
101Ein Mike-Köstner-Thriller (1)
102El cementerio de los libros olvidados (1)
103EL SECRETO DE LOS ARTISTAS (1)
104Emma Fern (4)
105Enrico Mancini (2)
106Essex Witch Museum Mystery (2)
107Eve Diamond Mystery (1)
108Eve Duncan (2)
109Event Group Thriller (1)
110Fatal Insomnia Medical Thrillers (6)
111FBI Profiler (1)
112Final Theory (1)
113Fiona Griffiths Crime Thriller Series (1)
114Forensic Instincts (1)
115Fort Aldamo (57)
116Frank Wallerts Fälle (7)
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118Franz Eberhofer (3)
119G. F. Unger Sonder-Edition (102)
120G.F. Unger Classic-Edition (11)
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135Hart and Drake (8)
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156Jack Stapleton & Laurie Montgomery series (1)
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166Jerry Cotton Sonder-Edition (84)
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168Jet (4)
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171Joe Pickett Series (2)
172Joe Pike series (1)
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174Johannes-Hornoff-T… (1)
175John Reeves (2)
176John Sinclair Collection (18)
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179John Sinclair Großband (13)
180John Sinclair Sammelband (8)
181John Sinclair Sonder-Edition (67)
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206Logan McRae (5)
207Logan McRae Collection (2)
208Louis Kincaid (1)
209Louise Rick series (2)
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239Operation: Midnight (1)
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242Penn Cage Novels (2)
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244Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus (4)
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253Random House Large Print (3)
254Relatively Dead Mysteries (1)
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256Rizzoli-&-Isles-Serie (2)
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265Sam Capra Mysteries (2)
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269Sanela Beara (1)
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271Scarlet Falls (1)
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275Second Opportunities (1)
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277Shane Schofield (1)
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279Sharpe & Donovan (2)
280Shaw and Katie James (7)
281Sigma Force (7)
282Simon Vaughn (2)
283Sisterhood (3)
284Six Stories (2)
285Skink (1)
286Smoky Barrett (3)
287Smoky Barrett Sammelband (1)
288Soko Hamburg – Ein Fall für Heike Stein (18)
289Sonderermittler der Krone (5)
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291Split Second (1)
292Stalking Jack the Ripper (1)
293Stephanie Plum (4)
294Stephanie Plum Between the Numbers/Holiday Novels (1)
295Stillhouse Lake (6)
296Stone Barrington (7)
297Stranger Things Novels (2)
298Superintendent Battle (4)
299Svartåsen (1)
300Talisman (5)
301Tall, Dark & Dangerous (1)
302Temperance Brennan (6)
303Teodor Szacki (2)
304Texas Rangers (2)
305Texas Trilogy (2)
306The Annie Graham series (1)
307The Avalon Chronicles (3)
308The Awakening Series (1)
309The Bening Files (2)
310The Bill Hodges Trilogy (3)
311The Blaine Trilogy (1)
312The Butlers (6)
313The Cal O’Connor Series (1)
314The Cards in the Deck (2)
315The Cat Who… (23)
316The Cemetery of Forgotten Series (1)
317The China Thrillers (3)
318The Clifton Chronicles (10)
319The Color of Distance (1)
320The Commandant Camille Verhoeven Trilogy (2)
321The Cooper & Fry Series (1)
322The Cousins War (4)
323The Dark Iceland Series (1)
324The Dark Tower (6)
325The Death Trilogy (3)
326The End Series (1)
327The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers (1)
328The Immune (4)
329The Kate Lange Thriller Series (2)
330The Keepers (3)
331The Men Of The Sisterhood (1)
332The Mitch Rapp Prequel Series (8)
333The Mitch Rapp Series (31)
334The Oxygen Thief Diaries (2)
335The Paul Chavasse Novels (2)
336The Pieter Van In Mysteries (1)
337The Psychic Detectives Series (1)
338The Restoration Series (5)
339The Retreat (2)
340The Roth Trilogy (3)
341The Sara Winthrop Thriller Series (1)
342The Scot Harvath Series (45)
343The Sean Coleman Thriller series (1)
344The Talisman (5)
345The Tallow Series (1)
346The Warm Bodies Series (1)
347Thomas Eickhoff ermittelt (1)
348Thomas Kell (3)
349Thomas Knight (1)
350Tina Boyd (5)
351Todeslächeln (2)
352Tom Thorne (2)
353Tom Thorne series (1)
354Tommy and Tuppence (6)
355Tracers Series (1)
356Troubleshooters (1)
357Turbulent Desire Series (2)
358Twin Ports (1)
359Ty Hauck (3)
360Under Suspicion (1)
361Undercover Cops (1)
362Unit 51 (1)
363V.I. Warshawski Novels (2)
364Vampire Chronicles (1)
365Vampire Federation (1)
366Vintage Contemporaries (1)
367Virgil Flowers (1)
368Wayward Pines (6)
369Wegner & Hauser – Hamburg: Mord (2)
370Wegners erste Fälle (8)
371Wegners schwerste Fälle (9)
372Will Lee Novels (1)
373Will Robie (2)
374Will Trent/Atlanta Series (1)
375Will-Trent-Serie (1)
376William Sandberg (1)
377Wired (2)
378Wired & Dangerous (1)
379Wishbone (1)
380Women’s Murder Club (9)
381World War I (1)
382World’s Scariest Places Occult & Supernatural Crime Series (7)
383Wyman Ford (7)

Don’t Get Your Tax Refund on an Amazon Gift Card

From Lifehacker:

If your tax provider offers to put your tax refund on an Amazon gift card—or any other kind of gift card—say no.

Why? Because putting your tax refund on a gift card means that you’ll spend it on new purchases instead of using the money to pay down debt, build up your emergency fund, or save for the future.

And yes, gift card tax refunds have been a thing for a few years now. As Money.com reports, H&R Block is currently offering a bonus to any taxpayer willing to put their refund towards their next Amazon cart:

As Americans get ready do their taxes ahead of the April 15 deadline, the tax preparer that handles more than 20 million returns each year has a special offer for the do-it-yourself filers who use its software: Opt to get all or part (anywhere from $100 to $9,000) of your federal refund in the form of an Amazon gift card instead of cash, and you’ll receive an additional 4% on the amount you’re due.

In other words, H&R Block will turn that $2,800 into $2,912, as long as you agree to spend the money on…stuff.

Getting an extra 4% added to your tax refund might sound tempting, but remember that you don’t really get to keep the money—you have to give it to Amazon. 

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

PG had no idea this was a thing. Of course, with the help of his accountant, he has not qualified for a refund for several years.

New Tools are Leveling the Playing Field for Booksellers

From Publishers Weekly:

As far as I’m concerned, 2020 is the dawn of a new era in independent bookselling thanks to Bookshop and Edelweiss360 from Above the Treeline. I believe that with their healthy adoption, the most common observation from consumers will not be “bookstores are dying because of Amazon” but “I can’t imagine shopping anywhere but my local indie.”

When my business partner and I opened our bookstore, I was constantly frustrated about our lack of access to e-commerce functionality and the ability to act on sales insights. We both came from publishing, and I had worked for a marketing analytics firm, so we came with an understanding of the depth of data available from the books themselves and the potential of organized transaction data. But there wasn’t a single service made with booksellers (or our budgets) in mind. We couldn’t gamble on a platform and wait months to see ROI; the margin just doesn’t allow for that (a conversation for a different day).

Now, with the launch of Bookshop and the beta testing of E360, all of a sudden there are solutions and options. The functions differ, but the goal is the same: increase revenue, reach, and profitability quickly and measurably.

Let’s start with E360. The premise is simple: a customer has bought something, and you, the bookseller, want to be able to regularly show (and sell) them similar somethings in a user-friendly way, via any e-commerce of your choosing. E360 does this with a POS-integrated email marketing platform that provides intelligent subscriber segmentation based on your own sales. Though still in beta, it promises to be a way to leverage and amplify those proprietary bookselling qualities that create loyal customers: experience, curation, and handselling.

. . . .

What about Bookshop? When I first heard about it, it sounded like a much prettier, more user-friendly version of Baker & Taylor’s My Books and More. Fine, but not great—though admittedly with better terms: ABA member stores can create their own Bookshop page that earns 25% on direct transactions, with all fulfillment handled by Ingram and all processing by Bookshop. It’s free, so we decided to sign up and see what might happen.

As I heard more, I got downright giddy. The driving force of this entire model is affiliate linking: the “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” of e-commerce. Whenever the New York Times or other sources link to a retailer, it’s usually because that retailer has an affiliate program. Why wouldn’t they? It’s basically free money. And that free money can amount to millions of dollars a year.

How it works: a retailer sets up a trackable product link for a partner business. The partner business displays the link and gets a percent of revenue from every transaction resulting from it. It’s kind of like a co-op but far less complicated.

The coup is that Bookshop’s affiliate program pays more than Amazon’s, and for every affiliate transaction, 10% goes to the source and 10% goes to a pool of member ABA bookstores. 

. . . .

We still have to educate readers about the impact of buying directly from us and provide viable options for when that’s not possible, and we must be adamant that publishers are doing the same and not simply defaulting to Amazon. It’s in publishers’ best interests to expand our market share as much as possible. Diversified revenue is key to economic health; any industry where a single retailer owns over 70% of the market is not just sickly but is turning into an oligarchy with an ever-dwindling number of stakeholders. Who do they think will be left standing if the current model persists?

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Perhaps PG has not been focusing properly, but he can’t remember any news story structured around the plucky traditional book stores vs. evil Amazon trope that has included any indication that authors and their wellbeing, financial or otherwise crosses anyone’s mind.

Other than the occasional mention of author signings (which PG has been told often don’t result in very many book sales unless the author is one of a handful of superstars), the bookstore owners appear to be acting on the premise that there will always be plenty of authors writing books to put on bookstore shelves.

On occasion, PG also smells a whiff of entitlement that’s framed around an unspoken assumption that readers don’t really understand that they are much better off buying physical books from physical booksellers.

If readers would just start thinking straight, they would stop buying books from Amazon because everyone agrees that hopping into a car or onto a bus or light-rail system, then burning carbon-derived energy to transport oneself to buy a book at the price the publisher sets for it in a local bookstore that pays the hired help sub-market salaries with zero benefits is, as (again) everyone knows, much better for community well-being, social stability and local tax revenues than using a few cents worth of electricity to download a much lower-priced ebook from Amazon (and that doesn’t even count the ongoing employment at union wage rates for those who operate the landfills where most printed books will almost certainly end their lives even if you donate them to the library).

(PG wondered if he was still capable of diagramming the preceding sentence and decided he was not. No fault for such shortcomings should be attributed to Mrs. Edna Lascelles. She did an excellent job of teaching PG English grammar and he remembered and applied her lessons for many years. PG blames Grammarly for his decline.)

Ultimately, in a capitalist society, the reader votes with her/his money and that vote decides who prospers and who does not (although most readers are not inclined to macroeconomic analysis, they just want the next book in the How to Lose Weight by Changing Your Own Sparkplugs in Space series for a good price right now).

How Amazon tracked my last two years of reading

From The Guardian:

When I requested my personal information from Amazon this month under California’s new privacy law, I received mostly what I expected: my order history, shipping information and customer support chat logs.

But tucked into the dozens of files were also two Excel spreadsheets, more than 20,000 lines each, with titles, time stamps and actions detailing my reading habits on the Kindle app on my iPhone.

I now know that on 15 February 2019 starting at 4.37pm, I read The Deeper the Water the Uglier the Fish – a dark novel by Katya Apekina – for 20 minutes and 30 seconds. On 5 January 2019 starting at 6.27pm, I read the apocalypse-thriller Severance by Ling Ma for 31 minutes and 40 seconds. Starting at 2.12pm on 3 November 2018, I read mermaid romance tale The Pisces by Melissa Broder for 20 minutes and 24 seconds.

And Amazon knows more than just what books I’ve read and when – it also knows which parts of them I liked the most. On 21 May 2019 I highlighted an excerpt from the third installment of the diary of Anaïs Nin, the data shows, and on 23 August 2018 at 11.25 pm, I highlighted an excerpt from Leslie Jamison’s The Recovering: Intoxication and its Aftermath. On 27 August 2018, I changed the color of a highlighted portion of that same book.

Other habits tracked included the times I copied excerpts from books into my iPhone’s clipboard and how often I looked up definitions of words in Kindle’s attached dictionary.

I already understood Amazon tracks our purchases on its site, our activity across the web, our voice commands, our grocery shopping and our locations. But the extensive tracking of my reading habits – my most beloved and previously offline hobby – was jarring. Who is this information shared with, what is done with it, and how can it affect my privacy – and the future of the reading experience itself?

Amazon says it does not share what individual customers have highlighted with publishers or anyone else, a spokeswoman said. The highlights are logged to sync reading progress and actions across devices, she said. Aggregated data is used to show which parts of books have most frequently been highlighted, as Kindle customers can see while reading. It does say the data is used “to provide customers with products and services, pay content providers and improve the reading and shopping experience”, the spokeswoman said.

From my reading history, which included books on self-help and mental health, Amazon could easily make inferences about my personal health, career and hobbies. 

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG is not surprised when he’s tracked across the internet. If he were concerned, he would simply use the Incognito browser mode and/or a VPN that connected him in a different place or use more than one ID/PW combination. For a few years, PG used a browser setting that automatically erased stored cookies every time he shut down the browser, but stopped because it was more convenient not to sign into every website he regularly visited. Google and a variety of other free email providers seem happy for PG to create and use as many email addresses as he desires and there are a variety of browsers available at no charge – Tor, the Epic Privacy Browser and the Iridium Browser, for example.

PG suggests the large majority of internet users value convenience over privacy, but if the author of the OP really wanted privacy, it’s not hard to make it quite difficult for someone to follow her around the Internet. If she’s really concerned about keeping the details of her reading private, she could go back to hardcopy books purchased through a physical bookstore. Used hardcopy books are a less-costly option.

With his legal hat on, PG will note that Amazon doesn’t keep what it records and retains about users of its software and services any sort of secret – Here are Amazon’s Kindle Store Terms of Use, Kindle E-reader and Fire Tablet Terms of Use, and Amazon’s Privacy Notice.

PG notes that the Kindle Store Terms of Use explicitly provide that “Kindle Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.”

Google operates in the same way. Here’s a link to Google’s Terms of Service and Privacy Policies.

Perhaps PG missed it, but he doesn’t recall the OP saying anything about the fact that the author agreed to these sorts of terms of service when she signed up for Kindle books and effectively reiterated her agreement to those terms each time she signed on. PG doesn’t recall that the OP indicated the author had ever read any of the Terms of Service/Use or that Amazon had ever violated its agreements or commitments.

The simple fact is that 21st century online commerce of any sort means agreeing to some form of ToU, ToS, etc. The New York Times has them, The Washington Post has them, NBC, CBS and ABC have them.

PG checked on the website of The Honorable Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, and she has a Privacy Policy that discloses the kinds of information her office collects and maintains.

This Startup Wants to Help Indie Booksellers Take on Amazon

From Wired

More often than not, when people buy books online, they do so by clicking little thumbnails of novels and essay collections on Amazon’s website. Those thumbnails then materialize as physical copies on their doorsteps in a matter of days. Easy-peasy. The online retailer is the most dominant force in American bookselling today, accounting for over 90 percent of ebooks and audiobooks, and around 42 to 45 percent of print sales, according to BookStat. Into this fray jumps a new online retailer, Bookshop, which is betting that people will see the value in choosing to buy somewhere else—at a business meant to give independent booksellers a chance to grab back some of the market share. “It’s not really about disrupting an industry,” CEO Andy Hunter says. “It’s about reinforcing an industry. Bookshop is about pulling back from the disruptive influence of Amazon.”

Anti-disrupting (reverse-disrupting?) will prove challenging. For starters, there’s Amazon’s grip on consumer habits. Despite recent movements advocating pushback against Amazon, most people in the United States maintain a favorable view of Jeff Bezos’ “everything store.” Peter Hildick-Smith, president of book audience research firm Codex, says that this includes most people who frequent independent shops; just over three-quarters of that cohort also use Amazon, at an average of five times a month, according to a 2019 survey. Even among bibliophiles, Hildick-Smith says, “It’s not as if everybody’s saying, ‘Gosh, I really don’t like Amazon. I don’t shop there.’” The result? “A very skewed market.”

At least it’s a market Hunter knows well. He is also the founder of publishing nonprofit Electric Literature, a founding partner and the publisher of the website LitHub, and the cofounder and publisher of Catapult, so he has watched the bookselling industry grapple with the rise of ecommerce. It’s also a long-marinating idea. In 2010, he began pitching a version of Bookshop to an organization of independent literary publishers. At the time, most people still bought books in person, but Hunter saw the coming change. “Even then, I was really concerned with Amazon’s rapid ascendance and what it would do to book culture,” he says. After finally selling the American Booksellers Association on the concept for Bookshop a year and a half ago, Hunter got started. He initially suggested that the ABA overhaul IndieBound, its online marketing hub for independent bookstores, and turn it into this type of ecommerce platform. Since the ABA wasn’t positioned to become a retailer, it decided to partner with Bookshop instead.

Here’s how it works: For someone buying a book, Bookshop won’t be much different from Amazon. (As the platform is still in beta and was built in six months, it won’t be quite as seamless, though.) They click, they spend, they get what they picked out. The real difference is in how the profits are split up and how people discover the books they buy in the first place. Ten percent of all the profits will be divided among independent bookstores every six months; in exchange, these shops will lend support to the mission by promoting Bookshop to their customers. Many independent bookshops vastly prefer brick-and-mortar traffic, and are distrustful of ecommerce partners. “For good reason,” Hunter says. Winning their support will nevertheless be crucial. “Hopefully we’re going to be sending them all checks in a few months and getting a check is gonna make them feel pretty good about it.” (Hunter also stresses that people who want to support their local indie’s online store should continue to do so.)

These sellers can also sign up for the company’s affiliate program, which offers a 25 percent commission to stores. If, say, a bookseller doesn’t want to deal with ecommerce, they can sign up for this program and essentially outsource their online sales to Bookshop, which uses the major book wholesaler Ingram to fulfill orders.

The affiliate program is also available to media large and small, from major magazines to micro-famous book bloggers, with a 10 percent commission. When it’s time to publish seasonal roundups, gift guides, reviews, or other books coverage, these media companies will be able to hyperlink to Bookshop and get paid if readers buy something they click on. (WIRED participates in affiliate programs.) Right now, this is a common media practice, but the vast majority of outlets link out to Amazon. “No matter how much we kvetch about prominent publications linking to Amazon, those publications simply can’t turn away from the significant revenue that affiliate links offer,” says Danny Caine of Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas.

By offering a much larger affiliate commission, Bookshop hopes to cajole both bloggers and storied institutions into changing this default mode of the affiliate link ecosystem. “You have all these book blogs and major magazines and major websites that are linking to Amazon, because Amazon is giving them a four-and-a-half-percent affiliate fee for every book that they sell,” Hunter says. “We needed to have a solution that would break that cycle, and create something to benefit the indies that mimics it.”

Link to the rest at Wired

PG hadn’t heard anything about Bookshop prior to reading the Wired article.

He experimented to see what it was like to sign up and set up a bookstore. The experience was not what anyone would call seamless and PG quit before he was sure everything was set up.

PG hopes nearly all startups will find success, but he thinks setting up an affiliate program based on fulfillment by Ingram may not result in the best prices for Bookshop. In his brief experiment, he didn’t see any ebooks being offered.

He’s happy to hear about the experiences of others in the comments.

What’s in one’s own image (right)?

From The Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice:

In Western culture, one of the earliest myths dealing with what would subsequently become a literary topos is the one concerning Narcissus. Narcissus was known for both his great beauty and the disdain he showed to those who loved him. In the version of the myth as told by Ovid, Narcissus’s behaviour (particularly towards Echo) prompted Nemesis, the goddess of revenge, to punish him by luring him to a pool. There, Narcissus saw his own image reflected in the water and fell in love with it, without realizing that it was just his own reflection. Unable to fulfil his love, Narcissus eventually melted away from the fire of passion burning inside him.

If we now move away from the realm of myth to that of law, a similar feeling—of attraction and yet unfulfillment—seems to be present when we review the type of legal protection available to one’s own image. In particular, it seems that this feeling is experienced where no self-standing image rights protection is available. In countries of this kind, in fact, different tools can be employed to repress unauthorized third-party uses of one’s own likeness, image, distinctive features, etc. Yet, none of them – even when combined together – seems to allow achieving the same results (and with the same apparent simplicity) that, instead, image rights as (predominantly) an expression of one’s own personality and identity provide.

The contributions that we host in this first special image rights issue move from, indeed, the attractiveness of the idea that the law should protect against the misappropriation and misuse of one’s own image. Yet, they also share a sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo

. . . .

Any change, however, would need to be made, first, in a context in which several conflicting rights and interests are at issue, including third-party artistic and commercial freedom of expression (so that any intervention would need to be ‘surgical’ in both scope and objective). Second, as the articles on, e.g. deepfakes and revenge porn show, any such change would require considerations of different areas of the law and doctrines, as well as fast-paced technological developments. In a field, that of image rights, which puzzlingly remains substantially unharmonized at the international and EU levels, the challenges that, in particular, the latter pose show the need for effective enforcement tools and responses that, due to the very nature of such challenges, will also likely need to be increasingly transnational.Our contributions allow us to travel from the United Kingdom to California, to consider EU, US and Russian laws, to appreciate the interplay between technological, public policy and legal issues, to review image rights in relation to street photography, sexual images and deepfakes.

. . . .

[Analysis of a decision by an Italian court]

The Court of First Instance of Turin held that Audrey Hepburn’s image rights had been violated due to the unauthorized use and exploitation of her likeness for commercial purposes.

. . . .

The judgment considers the two fundamental provisions concerning image rights: Article 10 of the Civil Code and Article 96 of Law No 633/1941 (the Italian Copyright Act). The former protects image rights by solely describing the behaviour prohibited by law, yet without positively defining the concept of image or image right. In fact, the provision laconically states that ‘if the image of a person or his/her parents, spouse or children has been exhibited or published outside of the cases in which said exhibit or publication is allowed by law or [it has been exhibited or published] with prejudice to the decorum or reputation of the person himself or of the aforementioned parties, at the request of the interested party the judicial authority may order that the abuse is ceased, save for compensation for damages’(author’s own translation).

. . . .

It follows that the consent of the right holder is essential for the use of one’s own image or likeness, unless one of the exceptions provided by Article 97 applies. Notably, consent is not required ‘when the reproduction of the image [of a person] is justified by the notoriety or the public office covered by said person, by necessity of law and order, by scientific, educational or cultural purposes, or when the reproduction is connected to facts, events, and ceremonies of public interest or held in public. However, the portrait cannot be exhibited or put on the market if its exhibition or marketing causes prejudice to the honour, reputation or the decorum of the person portrayed’

. . . .

Luca Dotti and Sean Ferrer Hepburn are the sons of famous Hollywood actress Audrey Hepburn. They brought proceedings . . . against Italian corporation 2223 S.A.S. di MB Management & Entertainment S.R.L. (the Defendant), for the unauthorized use of their mother’s likeness.

The Defendant had produced and commercialized nine types of t-shirts representing just as many images portraying the likeness of Ms Hepburn. More specifically, the t-shirts carried the likeness of a woman wearing a sumptuous black dress, a diamond necklace and a tiara in her hair, together with big dark sunglasses and a cigarette with a mouthpiece. All these elements stood to recall, to the general viewer, the character of the young and elegant Holly Golightly in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’, played by Hepburn. Other images represented the likeness of the actress under a more ‘modern’ angle, by showing her covered in tattoos, or chewing a big bubble gum, or doing a vulgar gesture with her middle finger.

This unrealistic and inelegant interpretation of their mother’s likeness was considered by the Claimants as detrimental to her reputation and honour. Therefore, they sought a declaration of infringement of her image rights as well as compensation of damages, both for profit loss and the weakening of the commercial value of Hepburn’s image, as well as for the moral prejudice to her reputation.

In response, the Defendant argued that the images at hand did not consist of a mechanical representation of the likeness of the actress but, rather, a new, different, original work, which could not in itself be considered a violation. The intent was not that of devaluing the likeness of the actress or her reputation, but rather revisiting the female image through an empowering representation. Furthermore, it claimed to have lawfully used the image since the interested person was a well-known public figure so that the use would fall under the exceptions in Article 97 of the Italian Copyright Act.

. . . .

The Turin court reaffirmed the approach of earlier Italian case law, also recalling that the public interest defence, which is to be applied strictly . . . ‘does not apply where images taken from a film are published and the publication takes place in a context other than that of the cinematographic work and its marketing’.

. . . .

Having ruled out the applicability of Article 97(1), the court considered Article 97(2) applicable instead. This provision states that, even where lack of consent could be disregarded due to exceptional circumstances, the use of one’s own image is still prohibited when the use is detrimental to the honour, reputation or dignity of the person portrayed . . . . Since the images on the t-shirts portrayed the likeness of Ms Hepburn with disregard to her real appearance and her elegance, the court found that the use at hand caused a prejudice to her reputation and dignity.

Link to the rest at The Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice (multiple citations to statutes, cases, etc., omitted for the benefit of non-legal readers)

PG suggests that, as a general proposition, indie authors should avoid using the images of famous people (even if deceased) on book covers, promotions, etc., unless they have been dead for a long time – Ms. Hepburn died on January 20, 1993.

If an indie author is publishing a book across a variety of different national borders via Amazon, even if the use of an image might pass muster under US law, the laws of other nations might give rise to claims for damages.

PG further suggests that if someone plans to sue an author for misusing an image for a self-published book, it is quite likely that this person/entity would also sue Amazon in the same proceeding.

Amazon’s involvement would trigger Paragraph 5.8 of KDP’s Terms and Conditions which reads as follows (Highlights are PG’s. He has also separated out some of the sub-parts of the original legalese into subparagraphs for ease of reading):

5.8 Representations, Warranties and Indemnities. You represent and warrant that:

(a) you have the full right, power and authority to enter into and fully perform this Agreement and will comply with the terms of this Agreement;

(b) prior to you or your designee’s delivery of any content, you will have obtained all rights that are necessary for the exercise the rights granted under this Agreement;

(c) neither the exercise of the rights authorized under this Agreement nor any materials embodied in the content nor its sale or distribution as authorized in this Agreement will violate or infringe upon the intellectual property, proprietary or other rights of any person or entity, including, without limitation, contractual rights, copyrights, trademarks, common law rights, rights of publicity, or privacy, or moral rights, or contain defamatory material or violate any laws or regulations of any jurisdiction;

(d) you will ensure that all Books delivered under the Program comply with the technical delivery specifications provided by us; (e) you will be solely responsible for accounting and paying any co-owners or co-administrators of any Book or portion thereof any royalties with respect to the uses of the content and their respective shares, if any, of any monies payable under this Agreement; and (f) you will not attempt to exploit the KDP service or any other Amazon program or service.

To the fullest extent permitted by applicable law, you will indemnify, defend and hold Amazon, its officers, directors, employees, affiliates, subcontractors and assigns harmless from and against any loss, claim, liability, damage, action or cause of action (including reasonable attorneys’ fees) that arises from any breach of your representations, warranties or obligations set forth in this Agreement. We will be entitled, at our expense, to participate in the defense and settlement of the claim or action with counsel of our own choosing.

PG notes that that, in the event that someone felt an author had violated her/his image or publicity rights and was considering a lawsuit, author Jane Jones of Tincup, Montana, might not make a particularly attractive defendant from whom to collect a large amount of money.

However, Ms. Jones and Amazon combined would have the means to pay a very large judgment if the complaining party was successful in a lawsuit pursued jointly against both of them.

Looking deeper into the Goodreads troll problem

From Camestros Felapton:

The repeated spamming of Patrick S Tomlinson’s unpublished book with fake reviews continues on Goodreads [see earlier post]. Looking at the long list of reviews (currently 124 ratings) it is clear that some have been removed, presumably after being flagged by multiple people. However, with the trolls targetting the book easily generating new accounts the net number of fake reviews continues to grow.

Current authors whose names have been stolen for fake reviews include:

  • Chuck Wendig
  • Gareth Powell
  • Beth Cato
  • Cat Rambo (and her deceased father)
  • Patrick Tomlinson himself
  • Will Tate
  • Monica Valentinelli
  • Marshall Ryan Maresca
  • Mary Robinette Kowal
  • Tobias S Buckell
  • Sarah Pinkser
  • Elizabeth May

This kind of coordinated pre-emptive spamming of negative reviews isn’t new. The film-rating site Rotten Tomatoes had to take steps last year to curtail a right-wing attack on the as-the-time unreleased Captain Marvel.

. . . .

Preventing reviews of unreleased properties seems like a minimum first step in limiting the capacity of coordinated campaigns to hijack a review site. While it won’t prevent other coordinated attacks on released books, unreleased (but listed) works are more vulnerable as they have no natural reviews being written.

The identity theft aspect of these specific attacks is also a great concern. The overt and blatant aspect of the impersonations makes it unlikely that people would be easily tricked into thinking the accounts are genuine. However, the extent of them and how easily the trolls have generated multiple accounts using real identities, demonstrates that Goodreads is open to more subtle mischief and identity theft.

The source of the attacks is from members of a disbanded subreddit that have been engaged in a sustained harassment campaign against Tomlinson since 2018. Tomlinson himself has a longer explanation that documents the harassment in other venues: https://www.patrickstomlinson.com/2018/09/29/how-trolls-hack-twitter-to-silence-us/

The existence of a documented online harassment campaign really should be enough for a major website to take added measures. For example, Wikipedia limits the capacity of people to edit pages (particularly biographies of living persons) when there is repeated vandalism or disputed content. A temporary block on reviews on a Goodreads entry would be a wise measure to have available in the event of an alleged spam attack. Notably, a book receiving large numbers of reviews from accounts that are both new and which have made only one review should be an obvious red-flag.

. . . .

Actions that undermine reader’s ability to trust reviews and which undermine the capacity of authors to identify themselves manifestly undermine the basic aspects of Goodreads model as a service. This makes the difficulty the site is having dealing with this specific issue surprising. The ease with which a troll campaign can brazenly manipulate the site, strongly implies that a less overt campaign can manipulate ratings or spread disinformation unnoticed.

Link to the rest at Camestros Felapton

OverDrive Reports Record Digital Borrowing in 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

Public libraries around the world generated a record level of digital content circulation in 2019, providing patrons access to more than 326 million e-books, audiobooks and digital magazines, a 20% increase over the previous year, according to a report by Rakuten OverDrive, a digital distribution vendor for libraries

According to the report, 73 public library systems in five countries each loaned over 1 million digital books over the past year, including eight systems that hit the million loans mark for the first time. Among the top digital library lending systems are the Toronto Public Library (6.6 million digital loans), Los Angeles Public Library (the top U.S. library with 5.9 million digital loans); and the National Library Board of Singapore (the top lender outside of North America with 4.2 million loans).

According to the OverDrive report, the increase in digital borrowing represents the “library’s role as a valued discovery channel” for publishers and authors. Nevertheless, the OverDrive report on digital lending comes in the wake of continuing concerns by publishers that digital borrowing may undermine book sales. These concerns have led to a continuing dispute between publishers and libraries over efforts by some publishers to restrict the ability of libraries to offer digital access to their titles.

According to the OverDrive data, the number of e-books borrowed rose 15% in the year to 211 million; digital audiobooks borrowed jumped 30%, to 114 million, and 59 million children’s/young adult checkouts took place, a gain of 27% over 2018.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG thought publishers’ concerns about consumers borrowing physical titles from the library instead of buying them at bookstores had been resolved a long time ago. If lending libraries and the consumer behavior they enable were dangerous or fatal to publishers and physical bookstores, such damage would have manifested itself long ago.

If it makes sense for publishers to sell physical books to libraries with the understanding that the library is going to lend the book and the publisher will receive no incremental income from such loans, nothing about ebooks should really change the underlying business considerations. With the specialized software the library uses to lend a copy of an ebook and delete it from the reader’s device at the end of the loan, the likelihood that ebooks lent through the library are going to be pirated is lower than those sold (licensed) through Amazon where no such automatic deletion function is built into the ebook management system (at least to PG’s knowledge).

Here’s an excerpt from the help file of Libby, a popular (the most popular?) lending software used in the United States:

Books are automatically returned to the library on their due date. When they’re returned, they’re also removed from your Loans and deleted from your device (if downloaded).

PG has noted before that on a scale of most to least sophisticated marketers and advertisers, traditional publishers are at the bottom, just below used car lots and payday lenders.

Why?

Free samples are a long-time staple of advertising and promotion campaigns for a variety of products.

Perhaps there are physical bookstores that do not allow visitors to leaf through and read parts of books as part of the shopping process, but PG is not aware of their existence. Such consumer behavior is sampling. Amazon permits the same behavior in its bookstore. No one expects that everyone who samples a product will purchase it.

If sampling was not a reliable method of increasing sales, PG expects retail establishments would end the practice.

If a reader borrows an ebook from a library by an author she hasn’t read before, from the reader’s perspective, that’s another form of sampling. (In this case, the publisher receives some compensation from the library for licensing the book in the first place.)

If this instance of book sampling is successful and the reader enjoys the book, then returns it to the library and looks for the next book in the series or another book by the same author and finds a two-month waiting list to borrow that next book, the reader is only a few clicks away from buying the next ebook by that author on Amazon and starting to read it in a couple of minutes. The reader may even purchase a printed version of the book she has borrowed and enjoyed for her own physical library, sign up for the author’s and/or publisher’s email list, etc.

Discovering a great new author and buying other books written by that author is a far more frictionless process with ebooks than it is with physical books. Going to a physical bookstore to buy that book requires transporting oneself to that store, hoping the store stocks the book, etc., etc. Buying a physical copy of the book from Amazon involves a wait of at least one or two days.

The incremental cost of goods for the publisher in creating, storing, transporting, etc., a copy of the second ebook is probably zero. The same costs for a physical book are definitely more than zero.

A sophisticated seller would be overjoyed to sell products with no incremental costs of producing and transporting those products instead of dealing with the costs and friction involved in selling physical products. Bill Gates, Microsoft and a lot of other people and business organizations have become extremely wealthy from selling organized collections of electrons.

Indie Means Indie

From Fiction Notes:

Smashwords’ Mark Coker is sounding the alarm about indie publishers (those who write and publish their own works—let’s get the terminology right–it’s INDIE publishers, not the deprecating “self-published”) relying too much on Amazon.

I agree with Coker.

Two and half years ago, I started advertising on Amazon’s AMS platform. It doubled my sales. But then, everyone else found the platform and the cost of advertising has sky-rocketed. I get it. There’s competition, as there should be. But what I don’t get is that the platform is confusing, frustrating, and most of all, inconsistent. You may advertise using Keyword A and get fantastic results. If you try to duplicate that with a similar title, say the second in a series, however, you’ll probably get zilch. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Nada. There’s no consistency. That’s a simple example, but the inconsistency extends throughout the platform.

I’ve been a member of a Facebook group devoted to figuring out Amazon’s algorithms and advertising policies for about those same two and a half years. In that time, no one can consistently figure out, well, anything. Theories abound. I’ve tried them all.

. . . .

So. A couple weeks ago, I set a bid at a high level of $0.83. Except, I accidentally set it at $83.00 instead. Fortunately, I monitor the ads closely and caught it within 24 hours. Here’s the thing: it sold books. The ad served, and there were sales. Of course, at the high bid (it charged me about $4-5/bid), I wasn’t profitable. But everything else was right on. I know my audience; they like my book; the keywords were solid; and, conversion rates were solid which means the cover/description were doing their job. It’s just that Amazon won’t serve my ads without crazy-high pricing. For whatever reason, Amazon’s algorithm deprecates my title and won’t serve the ads.

I remember going to writer’s conferences and being put off by how people treat editors. Speaking was a baby editor—a fresh-out-of-college-20-something, the only type person who can afford to live on an assistant editor’s salary. She was smart and intelligent, but not experienced. Her opinions on literature were still forming, guided by her senior editors and realities of the marketplace. I cringed at how people treated her, as if she were a princess who, with her magic publishing wand, could change their lives forever.

Link to the rest at Fiction Notes and thanks to Darcy for the tip. Here’s a link to Darcy’s indie publishing site.