Amazon and Mall Operator Look at Turning Sears, J.C. Penney Stores Into Fulfillment Centers

From The Wall Street Journal:

The largest mall owner in the U.S. has been in talks with Amazon.com Inc., the company many retailers denounce as the mall industry’s biggest disrupter, to take over space left by ailing department stores.

Simon Property Group Inc. has been exploring with Amazon the possibility of turning some of the property owner’s anchor department stores into Amazon distribution hubs, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon typically uses these warehouses to store everything from books and sweaters to kitchenware and electronics until delivery to local customers.

The talks have focused on converting stores formerly or currently occupied by J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Sears Holdings Corp., these people said. The department-store chains have both filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and as part of their plans have been closing dozens of stores across the country. Simon malls have 63 Penney and 11 Sears stores, according to its most recent public filing in May.

It wasn’t clear how many stores are under consideration for Amazon, and it is possible that the two sides could fail to reach an agreement, people briefed on the matter said.

The talks reflect the intersection of two trends that predate the pandemic but have been accelerated by it: the decline of malls and the boom in e-commerce.

. . . .

For Amazon, a deal with Simon would be consistent with its efforts to add more distribution hubs near residential areas to speed up the crucial last mile of delivery.

But for Simon, any deal to surrender prime space to Amazon would signal a break from a longtime business model for malls: reliance on a large department store to draw foot traffic to neighboring shops and restaurants.

That model has broken down in recent years, as many department stores are now fighting for their lives. Lord & Taylor also filed for bankruptcy early this month, while Neiman Marcus Group Ltd. filed in May. Nordstrom Inc. closed 16 stores in recent months.

Their big-box spaces are typically more than 100,000 square feet and often span more than one level. Smaller mall tenants have counted on traffic to department stores to spill over to neighboring retailers, and many have clauses that allow them to reduce rents or break their leases if the department store stays empty.

Having an Amazon fulfillment center could still trigger some of these cotenancy clauses, but some landlords say even that scenario would be preferable to keeping that yawning space vacant.

. . . .

Amazon fulfillment centers wouldn’t draw much additional foot traffic to the mall, though some employees could eat and shop at the mall. That is why landlords have preferred to replace department stores with other retailers, gyms, theaters or entertainment operators. Yet many of these tenants are struggling to survive during the pandemic and aren’t in expansion mode.

Simon would likely rent the space at a considerable discount to what it could charge another retailer. Warehouse rents are typically less than $10 a square foot, while restaurant rents can be multiples of that. Depending on when the leases were signed and their locations, department-store rents can be as low as $4 a square foot or as high as $19 a square foot.

But Amazon’s growth and healthy balance sheet would make it a reliable tenant at a time when most retail business has been waylaid by the pandemic. Simon, which owns 204 properties in the U.S., has had to contend with a ramp-up in retail tenant closures in recent years that has accelerated during Covid-19.

. . . .

Malls’ strategic locations often make them attractive as distribution hubs. Many are near main highways and residences. Amazon has already acquired the sites of some failed malls and converted them to fulfillment centers. FedEx Corp. and DHL International GmbH have done the same.

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

My mom, Jackie

My mom, Jackie, had me when she was a 17-year-old high school student in Albuquerque, New
Mexico. Being pregnant in high school was not popular in Albuquerque in 1964. It was difficult
for her. When they tried to kick her out of school, my grandfather went to bat for her. After
some negotiation, the principal said, “OK, she can stay and finish high school, but she can’t do
any extracurricular activities, and she can’t have a locker.” My grandfather took the deal, and
my mother finished high school, though she wasn’t allowed to walk across the stage with her
classmates to get her diploma. Determined to keep up with her education, she enrolled in night
school, picking classes led by professors who would let her bring an infant to class. She would
show up with two duffel bags—one full of textbooks, and one packed with diapers, bottles, and
anything that would keep me interested and quiet for a few minutes.

My dad’s name is Miguel. He adopted me when I was four years old. He was 16 when he came
to the United States from Cuba as part of Operation Pedro Pan, shortly after Castro took over.
My dad arrived in America alone. His parents felt he’d be safer here. His mom imagined America
would be cold, so she made him a jacket sewn entirely out of cleaning cloths, the only material
they had on hand. We still have that jacket; it hangs in my parents’ dining room. My dad spent
two weeks at Camp Matecumbe, a refugee center in Florida, before being moved to a Catholic
mission in Wilmington, Delaware. He was lucky to get to the mission, but even so, he didn’t
speak English and didn’t have an easy path. What he did have was a lot of grit and
determination. He received a scholarship to college in Albuquerque, which is where he met my
mom. You get different gifts in life, and one of my great gifts is my mom and dad. They have
been incredible role models for me and my siblings our entire lives

Jeff Bezos

appearing before the U.S. House of Representatives
Committee on the Judiciary
Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law
July 29, 2020

Amazon Quarterly Results Smash Estimates By Big Margin

From Investors Business Daily:

Amazon reported second-quarter results late Thursday that blew past Wall Street estimates as the pandemic continues to present the company both challenges as well as opportunities. Amazon stock climbed.

The company reported adjusted earnings of $10.30 per share on revenue of $88.9 billion. Wall Street expected earnings of $1.48 on revenue of $81.4 billion,

Amazon stock jumped 5%, near 3,205.50, during after-hours action on the stock market today.

Revenue climbed 40% from the year-ago period, its strongest growth in nine quarters. Earnings powered above estimates even though it spent $4 billion during the quarter on coronavirus-related costs as previously announced. In addition, the company plowed more than $9 billion in capital projects, including fulfillment, transportation and Amazon Web Services.

Operating income increased to $5.8 billion in the second quarter, compared with $3.1 billion a year ago.

. . . .

Over the past several months, the pandemic has led to an elevated usage of e-commerce platforms due to convenience and a large number of retail store closures and bankruptcies. Amazon has been hiring furiously to keep up with demand.

. . . .

Amazon said it increased grocery delivery capacity by more than 160% and tripled grocery pickup locations. Online grocery sales tripled in the second quarter when compared with the same period last year.

Link to the rest at Investors Business Daily

US Book Publishing Remains Resilient: Print and Ebook Sales Are Growing

From Jane Friedman:

As much of the retail world faces crisis, book publishing is positioned to grow in terms of unit sales when compared to 2019. In fact, 2020 may prove to be one of the strongest sales years in recent memory.

A few factors are likely contributing to the resilience of sales:

  • the prevalence of online purchasing in the US market (driven by Amazon, of course)
  • the strength of Ingram’s print-on-demand operations in the US—and the overall robustness of the US supply chain thus far
  • the current events/bestseller effect, with race relations and politics driving high sales of titles such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. (Outperforming titles can bring a book category into a growth position or soften—even turn around—a decline for the market.)
  • the high adoption rate of ebooks and audiobooks in the US market prior to the pandemic
  • the migration of print sales to big-box retailers, as written about by the New York Times.

Let’s dig deeper into what’s happening.

US print unit sales are up by 3.6% so far versus 2019

As much of the retail world faces crisis, book publishing is positioned to grow in terms of unit sales when compared to 2019. In fact, 2020 may prove to be one of the strongest sales years in recent memory.

A few factors are likely contributing to the resilience of sales:

  • the prevalence of online purchasing in the US market (driven by Amazon, of course)
  • the strength of Ingram’s print-on-demand operations in the US—and the overall robustness of the US supply chain thus far
  • the current events/bestseller effect, with race relations and politics driving high sales of titles such as White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo, How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi, John Bolton’s The Room Where It Happened, and Mary Trump’s Too Much and Never Enough. (Outperforming titles can bring a book category into a growth position or soften—even turn around—a decline for the market.)
  • the high adoption rate of ebooks and audiobooks in the US market prior to the pandemic
  • the migration of print sales to big-box retailers, as written about by the New York Times.

Let’s dig deeper into what’s happening.

US ebook sales are up by 4% versus last year—an excellent result

US traditional publishers report 4.3% growth in ebook sales through May 2020, after years of decline. All of that growth is the result of the pandemic; during the first three months of 2020, NPD showed ebook sales down 18% versus 2019. Publishing Perspectives offers more detail on ebook sales trends, with category-specific information.

Bricks-and-mortar bookstore sales are down

The US Census Bureau publishes preliminary estimates of bookstore sales, and even though print unit sales are up according to NPD BookScan, the government report shows bookstore sales declining by 33 percent in March, 65 percent in April, and 59 percent in May. The most obvious explanation for why book publishing continues to perform well as an industry: print sales have drifted to online channels, such as Amazon or Bookshop, and to big-box stores.

Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt says that its sales are down about 20 percent overall from last year.

. . . .

What might happen next?


According to Kristen McLean at NPD Books, it won’t be demand that determines the industry’s future. Rather, she says it will be driven by:

  1. The stability of the channels which are currently selling and delivering books. Will stores stay open? Will the supply chain (printers, print-on-demand facilities, other delivery channels) remain resilient?
  2. The length and depth of the economic crisis which has been unfolding. Will governments help consumers, businesses and others?
  3. The pre-existing (financial) health of the businesses in the traditional book industry. Do they have the capital and the resources to get through this?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

Ms. Friedman has always impressed PG as an intelligent, articulate and insightful expert on the book business. However, the questions she includes at the end of her post from Ms. McLean are not those that come to PG’s mind after reading the OP.

Are traditional bookstores important any more?

Book sales seem to have done well during at least the early part of the pandemic, but traditional bookstores have, by and large, been pretty much shut down. How many of these generally thinly-capitalized businesses will be closed permanently is an open question.

But if traditional publishing sales have held up, perhaps Amazon really is the future for readers and publishers will be fine when competing head-to-head with indie authors on Amazon’s pages.

Anything troubling about strong sales of traditionally published books in Big Box stores?

PG only has current knowledge about the Big Box stores he slips into and out of, trying not to inhale too much. His experience is that Big Box stores had been reducing the amount of floor space devoted to books over the several months prior to the arrival of the current plague. He can’t say he’s paid much attention to that element of Big Box retailing recently.

However, Big Box stores routinely sell books at significant discounts from list price. The same book at the local Barnes & Noble or indie bookstore will cost much more.

PG suspects that at least some serious readers may have previously ignored the book displays in the Big Box stores on their way to fill up their carts with large quantities of diapers, soup and chocolate-chip cookies.

If book sales at Big Box stores are strong during this current time period, are serious readers going to stop buying nicely-priced books at the local Big Box and pay more at their local B&N when Covid fades into history? Or will readers default to Big Box to pick up a current best-seller? As mentioned previously, it won’t take much of a permanent decline in business to close a lot of bookstores for good.

How many people will keep buying lots of stuff (including books) from Amazon?

PG believes that more than a few readers who regularly purchased books from their local bookstore prior to Covid have continued to buy books – from Amazon. (Yes, PG knows there are other online bookstores, but he’s looking at the big picture here.)

Just like the Big Box customer, some readers who have done serious book shopping on Amazon for the first time will have become accustomed to the experience and enjoyed it. Instead of asking their good friend at Friendly Books Bookstore for book recommendations, some of these readers have discovered AlsoBoughts and intelligent Amazon customer reviews. Since Amazon always pays attention to what its customers purchase, the Amazon computers will regularly be suggesting other books the reader might enjoy and getting smarter with those suggestions.

Better prices online are also a big plus, particularly if the family income has taken a hit from Covid and its consequences.

Some readers will recognize that nobody ever got Covid (or any other transmissible disease) from buying an ebook online. Plus ebooks are cheaper and you can get them right away, any time and anywhere.

Plus, you don’t have to worry about how many people were coughing, sneezing and caressing the books in the romance section before you arrived at your local Barnes & Noble. Plus+Plus, nobody will see you browsing through the steamy titles on Amazon.

What is the new normal going to look like?

PG believes we don’t really know what the mid-term and long-term economic results of Covid shutdowns will be. A great many people, at least in the United States, are operating on credit cards, savings, the occasional government Covid check and some sort of income generated via reduced hours, one of two working spouses still working, etc.

The big economic question for PG (who is a lawyer, not an economist) is how many businesses will reopen when the shutdowns end, how many will be closed for good and what will those businesses that do reopen look like. Half of their employees temporarily laid off until business picks up? How many will never be asked to return? Some business locations reopened and others permanently closed?

What will the new normal look like and how long will it take to arrive there?

Closer to home, PG is, unfortunately, quite confident that there will be significantly fewer retail locations in the business of primarily selling books. If the local bookstore closes, how many people will decide not to travel farther to the next-closest bookstore?

Amazon Publishing on Wooing Dean Koontz

From Publishing Perspectives:

Keen observers of the trade publishing scene this week may have noticed in the news Publishing Perspectives reported on Monday about longtime bestseller Dean Koontz taking a new five-book series and short story collection to Amazon Publishing.

For decades, the prolific Koontz made his publishing home primarily at Penguin Random House’s Bantam, racking up more than 45 titles with the Big Five imprint, only to be discovered now talking of being “creatively rejuvenated” to have found a publisher “where change is understood and embraced” and he’s being provided with “a marketing and publicity plan smarter and more ambitious than anything I’d ever seen before.”

And yet, years ago, many in publishing, including veteran observer Mike Shatzkin, were watching for “defections” from major houses—not to Amazon Publishing, the company’s trade publishing house, but to the self-publishing platform Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP).

The idea was that an established and well-heeled author could easily hire the “author services,” as they’re called, to do the grunt work of preparing a manuscript for self-publication and managing its life in the online sales maelstrom, while using print-on-demand to produce brick-and-mortar store copies for print fans.

. . . .

Instead, Koontz may be the canary in the trade industry mines who hops off that darkening perch and buzzes out into the sunlight of Internet sales leadership—where, as we reported on June 23, the Association of American Publishers’ annual StatShot tells us, more book sales now are happening than on physical retail channels.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Amazon’s Revolutionary Retail Strategy? Recycling Old Ideas

From Wired:

I SOMETIMES THINK that if you could look in the safe behind Jeff Bezos’ desk, instead of the sports almanac from Back to the Future you’d find an Encyclopedia of Retail, written in maybe 1985. There would be Post-It notes on every page, and every one of those notes would have been turned into a team and maybe a product.

Amazon is so new, and so dramatic in its speed and scale and aggression, that we can easily forget how many of the things it’s doing are actually very old. And we can forget how many of the slightly dusty incumbent retailers we all grew up with were also once considered radical, daring, piratical new businesses that made people angry with their new ideas.

This goes back to the beginning of mass retail. In Émile Zola’s Au Bonheur des Dames, a tremendously entertaining novel about the creation of department stores in 1860s Paris, Octave Mouret builds a small shop into a vast new enterprise, dragging it into existence through force of will, inspiration, and genius. In the process, he creates fixed pricing, discounts, marketing, advertising, merchandising, display, and something called “returns.” He sends out catalogs across the country. His staff is appalled that he wants to sell a new fabric at less than cost. “That’s the whole idea!” he shouts. Loss leaders are nothing new.

Meanwhile, the other half of the story follows the small, traditional shopkeepers in the area, who are driven out of business one by one. Zola sees them as part of the past to be swept away. They’re doomed, and they don’t understand—indeed, they’re both baffled and outraged by Mouret’s new ideas. Here’s the draper Baudu:

The place would soon be really ridiculous in its immensity; the customers would lose themselves in it. Was it not inconceivable? In less than four years they had increased their figures five-fold … They were always swelling and growing; they now had a thousand employees and twenty-eight departments. Those twenty-eight departments enraged him more than anything else. No doubt they had duplicated a few, but others were quite new; for instance a furniture department, and a department for fancy goods. The idea! Fancy goods! Really those people had no pride whatever, they would end by selling fish.

Mouret had a catalog, but it was Sears Roebuck that used catalogs to transform retail again. 

. . . .

Amazon, of course, is the Sears Roebuck of our time, but it’s more than that. Amazon is systematically going through every branch of the idea tree around what retail is, and doing it without any pride. It’s trying everything that anyone has ever tried before, and anything else that it can think of that might make sense, as well. There is no one saying “that’s a good idea, but we’re a website so we wouldn’t do that.”

. . . .

The clearest place to see this is in Amazon’s moves into physical retail. This is the opposite of pride or “principle.” Amazon’s job is “to get you the thing,” not “to be a website,” so what are the best ways to do it? What else might work? The project to make a convenience store with no human checkout process is an obvious experiment, now that machine learning and computer vision offer a route to make it work. 

. . . .

More interesting, though, are the Amazon Four-Star stores, physical retail stores —currently in New York and Berkeley, California—that only sell products rated highly by users on its site. I joked on Twitter that they feel as though they were designed by very clever people who have seen shops in Google Street View but have never actually been inside one. There’s a sense of cognitive dissonance: The selection of products appears to be completely random. There’s a rice cooker, a Harry Potter Lego set, a cushion, a Roomba, a mixing bowl, a book about trees … It makes no sense. (In the words of Zola’s Baudu, “Those people have no pride!”)

Of course, sometimes “it makes no sense” is the right reaction (remember the Fire Phone after all). But when clever people do things that make no sense, it can be worth looking twice. Is this a new discovery model? A different way to change how people think about purchasing? Well, it’s another experiment.

. . . .

Sometimes the experiment is still in progress: Though Amazon has managed to put Alexa into more than 50 million homes, it’s not yet clear what strategic value it will gain. But it’s better to own the experiment and get the option value than to sit on the business you already have and watch someone else try something new.

On the other hand, it’s interesting that Amazon seems to be doing as much experimentation as possible around the logistics model—from stores to drones to warehouse robots of every kind—but much less around the buying experience.

. . . .

This has always been the gap in the Amazon model. It’s ever more efficient at finding what you already know you want and shipping it to you, but bad at suggesting things you don’t already know about, and terrible whenever a product needs something specific—just try finding children’s shoes by size.

Link to the rest at Wired

According to the bio accompanying the OP, the author is:

“a partner at Andreessen Horowitz with a focus on consumer technology, ecosystems, and mobile platform. A long-time mobile analyst, Benedict has been working in the media and technology industries for 15 years.”

Andreessen Horowitz is a Silicon Valley venture capital company.

Whenever PG reads something written by a venture capitalist, he always suspects a hidden motive.

Maybe the VC has an investment in a startup that plans to fill some gap in Amazon’s operations and is trying to prepare the ground so prospective customers realize they have a problem that the startup can solve.

On the other hand, more than a few Sili Valley veterans resent that Amazon started and grew in Seattle, driving a significant number of venture-backed eCommerce companies into bankruptcy (or worse, obscurity), when everyone knows that cool technology companies are supposed to be founded, discovered, financed, grown and monetized within a reasonable drive-time from Stanford.

The simple fact is that Amazon is very, very good at its core businesses.

And it has continued to be very, very good for a long period of time, eternity in internet time, and nobody has so much as put a dent into Amazon’s retail operations.

The Fire phone was an experiment that failed, another tech product, the Kindle Fire has not.

While no venture capitalist would permit one of his/her offspring to use anything other than the latest-model iPad, the Kindle Fire has sold a lot of units to families that don’t want to pay for a new iPad every time junior tries a science experiment with the local tablet.

The Kindle Fire also permits families with multiple children avoid arguments, screaming, crying, etc., over whose turn it is to use the tablet to purchase a Fire for each child when a similar expenditure on individual iPads (plus the replacement of science experiment casualties) would not be feasible.

Plus, Amazon offers a Kindle Fire Kids Edition with a protective case that could double as body armor at a reasonable price and Amazon provides ways of securely locking down the Fire so little Johnnie or little Suzie can’t wander off into nasty places even if little Suzie is a computer genius. The attractive features of the Amazon Fire for families also make the tablets quite attractive to schools, especially public elementary schools.

The Amazon Fire Kids Edition sells for about $75 and, for nearly-instant household peace, a parent can acquire one at the local Best Buy or Staples at the same price (and avoid the insufferable yuppie vibe of an Apple Store).

PG doesn’t know whether the company makes a profit from its various Fire tablets, but nobody who grows up with a Kids Edition is ever going to forget Amazon.

Amazon is more on what works and what its customers and prospective customers AKA pretty much the entire known universe, will use over and over and over and over than it is about the latest cool new thing that will attract the attention of a venture capitalist.

US audiobook market value up 16% to $1.2bn in 2019. Unit sales also up 16%. But how much does the delivery model hold back the format?

From The New Publishing Standard:

Touting the fact that the US audiobook market had seen double-digit growth for the eighth successive year, the Audio Publishers Association, referencing a survey of 24 reporting companies, paints a rosy picture of the US audiobook scene without questioning whether it might be even more dynamic were publishers to be more open to opportunities.

Chris Lynch, co-chair of the APA’s research committee and president & publisher of Simon & Schuster Audio, summed up the understandable excitement among mainstream publishers:

Eight straight years of double-digit revenue growth is simply phenomenal. Even more encouraging are the continued upward trends in consumer listening behavior—both in how many titles they listen to per year and in their finding more time in their day to listen.

The latter point declines to note the pandemic-induced lockdown which might be responsible for all this extra time consumers are finding to listen to audiobooks, and stands at odds with another common theme being touted by publishers: that audiobook consumption was down because fewer people were commuting to work.

Of such contradictory and confusing sentiments are publishing urban myths built.

Not that the rise and rise of audio is an urban myth, although we should remember that back in the day ebooks were regularly seeing triple-digit growth, until mainstream publishers reigned in their ebook engagement and deliberately raised prices to stifle demand, leaving an open goal for self-publishers to seize a hefty chunk of the market.

With audiobooks the self-published element, while growing, is still a small part of the scene, and as audiobooks generally are not seen to cannibalise print sales in the way ebooks supposedly do, audiobooks for now are the publishing world’s darling format.

. . . .

A separate survey found US audiobook consumption by title up from 6.8 in 2019 to 8.1 in early 2020, with mystery and thriller leading the way, in stark contrast to “reading” books where romance heads the genre choice in the US.

Quality of narration (professional voice-artist vs author read-aloud) was deemed important to consumers.

More than 50% of audiobook fans said they were listening to more, making extra time.

Most significantly 43% of consumers queried said they preferred shorter length audio (1-3 hours). What isn’t clear from that response is whether that is related to the time needed to listen to a book or simply the fact that shorter length audiobooks tend to be considerable cheaper if buying as a unit.

. . . .

We’ve seen time and again how, where unlimited subscription is an option, consumers flood to the format.

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Can Amazon keep growing like a youthful startup?

From The Economist:

Next month Amazon will turn 9,500 days old. But for Jeff Bezos, the company’s founder and chief executive, it is always “Day 1”. Amazon, he has insisted since its founding in 1994, must forever behave like a feisty startup: innovate aggressively and expand relentlessly.

Adherence to this rule has made Amazon as convenient to consumers as it is feared by businesses which stand in its way. Today roughly $11,000-worth of goods change hands on Amazon’s e-commerce platform every second. The company delivered 3.5bn packages last year, one for every two human beings on Earth. Amazon Web Services (aws), its cloud-computing division, enables more than 100m people to make Zoom calls during the day and a similar number to watch Netflix at night. In all, Amazon generated $280bn in revenues last year.

This year Amazon has become not just convenient, but essential. The smiling brown package left at the threshold as the neon-vested delivery worker backs swiftly away has become the hallmark of the locked-down pandemic. Shopless and officeless life would be unimaginable without deliveries and cloud-based work—and insufferable without distractions like video-streaming. Investors see this as an acceleration of a long-term trend towards life online from which the world will not turn back. “The explosive demand created by covid-19 catapults Amazon straight into 2025,” says Michael Moritz of Sequoia Capital, a venture-capital firm.

Amazon’s market capitalisation doubled to $734bn between 2016 and 2018. Since then it has close to doubled again. Its shares trade at 118 times earnings, compared with 25-35 times for Apple and Microsoft, the other members of the trillion-dollar-company club. Up and down Wall Street, brokers tell clients to hold Amazon shares if they have them, or buy them if they don’t.

. . . .

No firm bestrides the physical and digital worlds in the way Amazon does. In the physical world, it has a logistics system second to none. The 150m customers who subscribe to its Prime service get all their purchases delivered promptly—as well as perks like free streaming of videos and films—for a flat fee, with same-day delivery in some places. The convenience leads them to shop more. The logistics system is also used to fulfil orders for other companies. In 2018 “third-party” sales accounted for 58% of sales through the platform.

The scale of its retail operation gives Amazon an unparalleled collection of data on the desires and decision-making of hundreds of millions of shoppers—the sort of data that advertisers love. Amazon’s advertising revenues are now $11bn; its 7% share of the global online-ad market is larger than any save Google’s (38%) and Facebook’s (22%).

Link to the rest at The Economist

California Is Examining Amazon’s Business Practices

From The Wall Street Journal:

California investigators are examining Amazon.com Inc.’s business practices as part of an inquiry into the tech giant, according to people familiar with the matter.

The state’s review focuses at least in part on how Amazon treats sellers in its online marketplace, these people said. That includes Amazon’s practices for selling its own products in competition with third-party sellers, one of the people said. Neither Amazon nor California has disclosed an antitrust investigation.

The inquiries come as Amazon faces antitrust scrutiny from Washington, D.C., and abroad. The European Union is planning formal antitrust charges against the firm over its treatment of third-party sellers, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

. . . .

“It would be hard to believe that you’re not going to look at a company like Amazon, given how pervasive it is,” [California Attorney General Xavier Becerra] said in an interview, pointing to how much data the firm collects. “Are they using all of this data in ways that allow them to essentially kill real competition?”

In April, the Journal reported that Amazon employees used data about independent sellers on its platform to develop competing products. Following the story, lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee called on Amazon Chairman and Chief Executive Jeff Bezos to testify on its private-label practices.

. . . .

The House Judiciary Committee is also examining Amazon, its competitive practices and impact on markets. Lawmakers have said Amazon hasn’t fully responded to requests for information about its relationship to sellers.

“Seven months after the original request—significant gaps remain,” said a letter sent from senior members of the House Judiciary Committee to Mr. Bezos in early May.

In a May 15 letter to the committee, the company said it is providing significant information to the committee and is “prepared to make the appropriate Amazon executive available,” without committing to Mr. Bezos making an appearance.

The formal charges in Europe would be the commission’s latest step in a nearly two-year probe into Amazon’s alleged mistreatment of sellers that use its platform.

The charges—called a statement of objections—stem from Amazon’s dual role as a marketplace operator and a seller of its own products, the people said. In them, the EU accuses Amazon of scooping up data from third-party sellers and using that information to compete against them, for instance by launching similar products.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

PG notes that he casts an even more-jaundiced eye than usual on the actions of government officials during an election year.

He’ll sharpen his eye to double-jaundiced given the highly-charged political atmosphere in the US lately.

Can Rivals Take Advantage of Amazon’s Pandemic Woes?

From The Wall Street Journal:

When coronavirus lockdowns sent Americans into a frenzy of panic buying, the bad news came almost as quickly as the good for online organic grocer Thrive Market.

In March, the company that aims to compete with Amazon.com Inc. in the health-food sector suddenly found customers flocking to its site as its giant rival struggled to handle its own pandemic business surge. Thrive notched record sales and membership sign-ups.

Then it buckled. Orders ballooned to five times what Thrive could handle. Delivery times for some customers reached two weeks. About 30% of items were out of stock on some days. To keep delivery times from slipping further, Thrive made the previously unimaginable decision to throttle demand by limiting shopping hours.

“It was excruciating,” recalled co-founder and Chief Executive Nick Green. “It felt like a pick-your-poison moment.”

Thrive Market, based in Los Angeles, is one of a host of retailers that have spent years trying to compete against the Amazon retail juggernaut. The coronavirus pandemic provided a fleeting window of opportunity. Amazon, overwhelmed by a wave of orders, temporarily reoriented its business toward essential items, leading consumers to begin looking elsewhere.

But capturing that opportunity—and trying to ensure it is more than a temporary blip—brought extraordinary challenges for Thrive and others, demonstrating the difficulty of competing with even a weakened Amazon.

. . . .

The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online shopping and devastated traditional retailers, including Neiman Marcus Group Inc. and J.Crew Group Inc., which have filed for bankruptcy protection. Financial-services firm UBS Group AG recently predicted the percentage of groceries sold online will rise from 3% this year to 15% by 2025.

. . . .

Mr. Green calls Thrive the “un-Amazon” because, he says, it offers a curated selection of merchandise. Early on, many reluctant investors had the same question: How would it compete with Amazon or Whole Foods Market?

Mr. Green was betting that consumers would try it out for its carefully selected inventory and competitive prices and stick around because they feel good about shopping there. He also billed the company as socially conscious by adhering to such practices as not offering genetically modified products.

Thrive, which is privately held, eventually raised more than $160 million. It now has more than 800,000 members who pay $60 a year. Although Thrive doesn’t disclose sales, Mr. Green said they were in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

On March 11, Mr. Green was preparing to leave work when he glanced at a computer monitor showing the company’s financial metrics. That day’s revenue line shot up like the handle of a hockey stick.

He messaged an executive to make sure there wasn’t a bug in the system. There wasn’t. Checking CNN’s website, he learned the World Health Organization had declared the coronavirus a pandemic. People were buying in a panic.

. . . .

Days later, the country shifted into lockdown mode. Within a week, Amazon was struggling to meet orders promptly. On March 17, it said it was prioritizing the shipments of medical supplies, household staples and other high-demand products. Toilet paper and many cleaning supplies became unavailable, and shipping was taking weeks for some products. Amazon retooled its website to encourage shoppers to buy fewer items.

A survey by investment bank Jefferies Group LLC showed that almost one-third of respondents said they turned to non-Amazon sites during the pandemic because of delivery and inventory problems.

At Thrive, new paid membership sign-ups in March and April were up threefold from the prior year. But the same problems that plagued Amazon ravaged Thrive. Customers rushed to buy cleaning supplies, canned food and other essentials. A six-month supply of toilet paper ran out in three days. Mr. Green wasn’t sure how quickly the company could address the backlog.

Earlier in March, Chief Financial Officer Karen Cate had asked Thrive’s supply-chain director to order five times the usual amount of canned goods and cleaning supplies. She left out toilet paper. “If I could go back, I would change that one,” she said.

. . . .

To some, limiting online store hours seemed a sensible middle ground. Ms. Cate, the CFO, was skeptical. She said she felt Thrive could gain control of its order backlog without limiting members to ordering during working hours. She worried that members who worked during the day—including her daughter, a nurse at a hospital in Pasadena, Calif.—would be shut out.

She relented after seeing internal metrics that showed delivery times would only increase. “OK, I surrender,” she recalled thinking.

On a midnight call, Mr. Green and co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Sasha Siddhartha decided to move forward with limiting the hours. They told other executives the next day and instituted the new policies on March 25.

. . . .

The stress mounted for Mr. Green, whose wife had just given birth to their second child. He was getting a handful of hours of sleep per night and didn’t shave for a month. He stopped working out. Outside of work hours, his time was consumed by his newborn son and late-night emails and calls with executives.

It was difficult to concentrate from his setup in the family’s guest bedroom. He took two monitors and his MacBook Pro and set up an office in his closet, placing the equipment on shelves near his T-shirts and jeans. He scrapped a strategic plan and built a new one, staying up one night until 3 a.m. to finish it. The plan re-examined hiring goals and when the company should expand its fulfillment network, among other things, to ramp up faster.

. . . .

Holding on to customers became harder as Thrive struggled to handle the order influx. Online, customers were threatening to leave over the delays. Members were frustrated and questioned why Thrive was taking on new customers.

. . . .

By early April, Thrive Market was hiring as many as 30 warehouse workers a day. Using several recruiting agencies, it hired more than 300 warehouse workers in less than two months, adding to the roughly 500 it had. Labor costs jumped 20%.

The company also removed nonessential items such as water bottles and yoga mats from its website to concentrate on delivering essentials like food and cleaning supplies. It tinkered with its fulfillment processes, processing orders for high-demand products in one section of warehouses. It prioritized orders with the longest delivery times. It stopped selling low-demand items in the back of the warehouses, partly so workers wouldn’t have to waste time fetching them.

. . . .

Higher costs have reduced the percentage of profit made on orders, Mr. Green said. And the store has had to dip into its cash reserves to pay for a spike in inventory expenses. But the year’s revenue projections have risen, and the company is in a strong cash position, he said, although he declined to provide details.

Thrive’s goal to reach profitability by the end of 2022 hasn’t changed, he said. “With our growth accelerated,” he said, “we expect to get profitable even faster.”

. . . .

The lessons from the pandemic have changed its fulfillment processes. Mr. Green said the company will hold 20% more inventory and will work with a larger number of suppliers. Its technology team plans to roll out improved recommendation functions on the website for when items are out of stock.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (sorry if you run into a paywall)

PG has a soft spot for scrappy young tech startups and was heartened by the apparent survival of Thrive as depicted in the OP. For PG, a couple of smart young gals/guys who put it all on the line to start their own internet business is the cutest thing since puppies. That’s one reasons why he appreciates indie authors.

PG remembers when he first heard about Amazon from a friend and read an interview with Jeff Bezos. Later, PG created quite a few posts as the illegal Apple/Big Five Publishers scheme to kill Amazon fell apart.

Of course, Amazon has probably been the best single thing to happen to authors and readers in the last twenty years. Gatekeepers of dubious ability knocked back on their heels. Talented authors who want to move fast and write a lot of books unchained. Indie authors who know their readers because they pretty much are their readers instead of believing most people are more like their classmates at Swarthmore and Princeton than anything else.

Literati will go to their graves without admitting it, but Amazon has also helped Big Publishing to avoid becoming Semi-Big or Largish-Medium Publishing during the same time-frame. Since a great many publishing executives fall into the category of smartish, Amazon may have even prevented Big Publishing from becoming Chapter 11 Publishing.

Based upon a whole bunch of authors that he knows and carefully monitoring of what authors, particularly indie authors, are sharing about the business side of their art, PG feels comfortable in stating that Amazon’s self-publishing programs have made it more possible for many, many more authors to quit their day jobs than any other organization or collection of organizations on the planet.

As he has mentioned before, PG hopes JB’s style and savvy doesn’t slowly fade away at Amazon since he’s becoming less and less involved in the management of the company. Amazon works in a tough neighborhood. The list of huge, well-known retailers that have lost their mojo and disappeared into Chapter 11 or, at best, irrelevance is a long one and if Amazon ever starts taking its customers for granted, it might join the Wikipedia throng of giant retailers that are no more.

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