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

From The New Publishing Standard:

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

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

. . . .

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

Print books?

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

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

Link to the rest at The New Publishing Standard

Algorithms Could Save Book Publishing—But Ruin Novels

From Wired:

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

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

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

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

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

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

They Know What You Did Last Night

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

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

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

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

. . . .

The Data Scare

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Wired

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

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

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

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

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

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

With broad categories mentioned:

Book Fiction Moods

Book Mystery Characters

Some Authors:

Author

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

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

1900-Zombie-Thriller (1)
2A Cotten Stone Mystery (1)
3A Department Q Novel (1)
4A Jonathan Grave Thriller (2)
5A Topsail Island novel (1)
6Aaron Falk (2)
7Against Series / Raines of Wind Canyon (1)
8Agatha Raisin Sammelband (1)
9Agent Juliet (1)
10Agent Pendergast (4)
11Alex Cross (4)
12Alex Delaware (13)
13Alex Devlin (1)
14Alex Hawke (6)
15Alex McKnight (1)
16Alexandra Cooper (5)
17Alfonzo (1)
18Ali Reynolds Series (15)
19All Souls Trilogy (1)
20Allison McNeil Series (1)
21Alo Nudger (1)
22Amos Decker (5)
23An Elvis Cole Novel (3)
24An FBI Thriller (1)
25An Isaiah Coleridge Novel (1)
26An Under Suspicion Novel (1)
27Anderswelt John Sinclair Spin-off (18)
28Andreas Gruber Erzählbände (1)
29Anna Pigeon Mysteries (1)
30Annie Carter Series (3)
31Ash Henderson (2)
32Asher Benson (1)
33Auftrag: Mord! (3)
34Beartooth, Montana (1)
35Ben Abbott Mysteries (1)
36Ben Hope (20)
37Blood on Snow (2)
38Bob Lee Swagger Novels (4)
39Breaking Free (1)
40Camel Club (2)
41Cape Charade (3)
42Carl Mørck (1)
43Carriage House (5)
44Carson Ryder (9)
45Casey Woods (1)
46Cat Who… (1)
47Cate Austin (1)
48Charlie Chan Mystery (1)
49Chefinspektor Tony Braun (2)
50Cherokee Pointe (1)
51Chet and Bernie Mystery (16)
52Chronicles of The One (7)
53Cold Justice (1)
54Commandant Martin Servaz (1)
55Commissario Brunetti (8)
56Conrad Yeats Adventure (1)
57Cork O’Connor (17)
58Cork O’Connor Mystery Series (12)
59Cotton Malone (2)
60Covert-One (1)
61Crissa Stone (1)
62Cutler (2)
63D.I. Callanach (1)
64Dagny Gray (1)
65Dalziel & Pascoe (1)
66Dalziel and Pascoe (14)
67盗墓笔记 (1)
68Dark Iceland (1)
69Dave Gurney (1)
70Dave Robicheaux (8)
71David Stein (1)
72David Wolf (1)
73DCI Matilda Darke (1)
74Dead series (1)
75Detective Erika Foster (2)
76Detective Josie Quinn (2)
77Detective Mark Heckenburg (3)
78Detective Max Rupert (2)
79Detektei Lessing Kriminalserie (3)
80DI Fawley (2)
81Die ARES-Reihe (2)
82Die Cormoran-Strike-Reihe (1)
83Die Dead-Silencer-Saga (1)
84Die Irene-Huss-Krimis (1)
85Die Krimi-Serie in den Zwanzigern (23)
86Dirk Pitt (1)
87Dismas Hardy (15)
88Divine (1)
89Dr. Lazlo Kreizler (1)
90Dr. Marissa Blumenthal (1)
91Dr. Samantha Owens series (1)
92Drake Ramsey (2)
93DS Heckenburg (6)
94DS Imogen Grey (2)
95Dunkle Begierde (1)
96Dynam (1)
97Ed Eagle Novel (2)
98Ein Fall für Engel und Sander (2)
99Ein FBI Thriller mit Dillon Savich und Lacey Sherlock (3)
100Ein Jack-Reacher-Roman (1)
101Ein Mike-Köstner-Thriller (1)
102El cementerio de los libros olvidados (1)
103EL SECRETO DE LOS ARTISTAS (1)
104Emma Fern (4)
105Enrico Mancini (2)
106Essex Witch Museum Mystery (2)
107Eve Diamond Mystery (1)
108Eve Duncan (2)
109Event Group Thriller (1)
110Fatal Insomnia Medical Thrillers (6)
111FBI Profiler (1)
112Final Theory (1)
113Fiona Griffiths Crime Thriller Series (1)
114Forensic Instincts (1)
115Fort Aldamo (57)
116Frank Wallerts Fälle (7)
117Frankenstein (1)
118Franz Eberhofer (3)
119G. F. Unger Sonder-Edition (102)
120G.F. Unger Classic-Edition (11)
121Gabriel Allon (1)
122Geisterjäger John Sinclair (6)
123Gideon Crew (2)
124Giordano Bruno (1)
125Go-get-’em Women (1)
126Good Lawyer (3)
127Grant County (3)
128Graveyard Falls (1)
129Griffin Powell (1)
130Guardian (1)
131Hackberry Holland (3)
132Harrison Investigation (2)
133Harry Bosch (4)
134Harry Palmer (1)
135Hart and Drake (8)
136Hector Cross Series (1)
137Hercule Poirot (20)
138High Country Heroes (2)
139Hold On! (1)
140Holly Barker (1)
141Honeymoon Series James Patterson (1)
142I Heart (1)
143If I Run (4)
144In Death (2)
145Inspector Barbarotti (2)
146Inspector Lynley (3)
147Inspector Montalbano (2)
148Inspector Montalbano Mysteries (1)
149IQ (1)
150Iron Lace (1)
151Isas Requiem (1)
152Jack Noble (1)
153Jack Paris (1)
154Jack Reacher (2)
155Jack Sigler Thrillers (Chess Team) (1)
156Jack Stapleton & Laurie Montgomery series (1)
157Jacqueline Kirby (1)
158Jake Brigance (7)
159Jake Ransom (1)
160James Blake (2)
161Jane Harper Horror Novels (2)
162Jane Hawk (2)
163Jericho Quinn Thriller (8)
164Jerry Cotton Sammelband (5)
165Jerry Cotton Sammelbände (14)
166Jerry Cotton Sonder-Edition (84)
167Jerry Cotton Sonder-Edition Sammelbände (3)
168Jet (4)
169Joanna Stafford (1)
170Joe Dillard Series (1)
171Joe Pickett Series (2)
172Joe Pike series (1)
173Joe Sixsmith (3)
174Johannes-Hornoff-T… (1)
175John Reeves (2)
176John Sinclair Collection (18)
177John Sinclair Gespensterkrimi (1)
178John Sinclair Gespensterkrimi Collection (9)
179John Sinclair Großband (13)
180John Sinclair Sammelband (8)
181John Sinclair Sonder-Edition (67)
182John Sinclair Sonder-Edition Sammelband (7)
183Joona Linna (2)
184Judith Kepler (1)
185Jungle Beat (7)
186Karin Slaughter Thriller-Bundle (2)
187Kate Brannigan (4)
188Kate Ivory (14)
189Kate Maddox (2)
190Kathryn-Dance-Thri… (1)
191Kay Scarpetta (11)
192Kick Lannigan (2)
193Kimmo-Joentaa-Reihe (1)
194King and Maxwell (9)
195Kirstmann und Freytag (1)
196Kitt Lundgren (1)
197Kolt Raynor (1)
198Lassiter 2101-2200 (3)
199Lassiter 2201-2300 (10)
200Last Option Search Team (3)
201Last Stand (1)
202Leo Demidow (1)
203Leverage (2)
204Liam Devlin series (1)
205Lizzie Martin (2)
206Logan McRae (5)
207Logan McRae Collection (2)
208Louis Kincaid (1)
209Louise Rick series (2)
210Lucy Clayburn (3)
211Lucy Guardino FBI Thrillers (3)
212luebbe digital ebook (5)
213Luke Carlton (1)
214Luna Maiwald Rügenkrimi (1)
215Maddrax (4)
216Marc Dane (1)
217Marcus (1)
218Maura Ryan (2)
219Maximum Ride: The Manga (2)
220Maximum Security (1)
221Medical Thrillers (Gerritsen) (1)
222Mercy Kilpatrick (1)
223Mia Quinn (1)
224Michael Bennett (3)
225Michael Herne (1)
226Midwife (2)
227Miss Marple Mysteries (1)
228Mississippi (2)
229Mitchell & Associates (4)
230Monster Hunter International (1)
231Nameless Detective (3)
232Natalie King, Forensic Psychiatrist (1)
233Nick Hall (2)
234Night Soldiers (1)
235Nils Trojan (1)
236Nomad (1)
237NYPD Red (2)
238Odd Thomas (2)
239Operation: Midnight (1)
240OPSIG Team Black Series (1)
241P.I.D. (2)
242Penn Cage Novels (2)
243Peter Decker & Rina Lazarus (4)
244Peter Decker/Rina Lazarus (4)
245Petra Connor (1)
246Pilgrim (3)
247Predator & Prey (1)
248Prey (5)
249Privatdetektiv Marten Hendriksen (1)
250Private (2)
251Promise Falls Trilogy (1)
252Raines of Wind Canyon (2)
253Random House Large Print (3)
254Relatively Dead Mysteries (1)
255Richard “Dick” Moonlight (1)
256Rizzoli-&-Isles-Serie (2)
257Robert Langdon (1)
258Robicheaux (7)
259Rocky Mountain Bounty Hunters (1)
260Rocky Mountain K9 Unit (4)
261Ryan Archer (1)
262Sakura Warrior – Reihe (1)
263Sally Harrington (1)
264Sam Berger Series (1)
265Sam Capra Mysteries (2)
266Samson (1)
267San Francisco (1)
268Sandhamn Murders (2)
269Sanela Beara (1)
270Sarah Pauli (2)
271Scarlet Falls (1)
272Scope (2)
273Sean Dillon (5)
274Search and Rescue (4)
275Second Opportunities (1)
276Selena Alvarez/Regan Pescoli (1)
277Shane Schofield (1)
278Sharon McCone (3)
279Sharpe & Donovan (2)
280Shaw and Katie James (7)
281Sigma Force (7)
282Simon Vaughn (2)
283Sisterhood (3)
284Six Stories (2)
285Skink (1)
286Smoky Barrett (3)
287Smoky Barrett Sammelband (1)
288Soko Hamburg – Ein Fall für Heike Stein (18)
289Sonderermittler der Krone (5)
290Spilling CID (1)
291Split Second (1)
292Stalking Jack the Ripper (1)
293Stephanie Plum (4)
294Stephanie Plum Between the Numbers/Holiday Novels (1)
295Stillhouse Lake (6)
296Stone Barrington (7)
297Stranger Things Novels (2)
298Superintendent Battle (4)
299Svartåsen (1)
300Talisman (5)
301Tall, Dark & Dangerous (1)
302Temperance Brennan (6)
303Teodor Szacki (2)
304Texas Rangers (2)
305Texas Trilogy (2)
306The Annie Graham series (1)
307The Avalon Chronicles (3)
308The Awakening Series (1)
309The Bening Files (2)
310The Bill Hodges Trilogy (3)
311The Blaine Trilogy (1)
312The Butlers (6)
313The Cal O’Connor Series (1)
314The Cards in the Deck (2)
315The Cat Who… (23)
316The Cemetery of Forgotten Series (1)
317The China Thrillers (3)
318The Clifton Chronicles (10)
319The Color of Distance (1)
320The Commandant Camille Verhoeven Trilogy (2)
321The Cooper & Fry Series (1)
322The Cousins War (4)
323The Dark Iceland Series (1)
324The Dark Tower (6)
325The Death Trilogy (3)
326The End Series (1)
327The Flovent and Thorson Thrillers (1)
328The Immune (4)
329The Kate Lange Thriller Series (2)
330The Keepers (3)
331The Men Of The Sisterhood (1)
332The Mitch Rapp Prequel Series (8)
333The Mitch Rapp Series (31)
334The Oxygen Thief Diaries (2)
335The Paul Chavasse Novels (2)
336The Pieter Van In Mysteries (1)
337The Psychic Detectives Series (1)
338The Restoration Series (5)
339The Retreat (2)
340The Roth Trilogy (3)
341The Sara Winthrop Thriller Series (1)
342The Scot Harvath Series (45)
343The Sean Coleman Thriller series (1)
344The Talisman (5)
345The Tallow Series (1)
346The Warm Bodies Series (1)
347Thomas Eickhoff ermittelt (1)
348Thomas Kell (3)
349Thomas Knight (1)
350Tina Boyd (5)
351Todeslächeln (2)
352Tom Thorne (2)
353Tom Thorne series (1)
354Tommy and Tuppence (6)
355Tracers Series (1)
356Troubleshooters (1)
357Turbulent Desire Series (2)
358Twin Ports (1)
359Ty Hauck (3)
360Under Suspicion (1)
361Undercover Cops (1)
362Unit 51 (1)
363V.I. Warshawski Novels (2)
364Vampire Chronicles (1)
365Vampire Federation (1)
366Vintage Contemporaries (1)
367Virgil Flowers (1)
368Wayward Pines (6)
369Wegner & Hauser – Hamburg: Mord (2)
370Wegners erste Fälle (8)
371Wegners schwerste Fälle (9)
372Will Lee Novels (1)
373Will Robie (2)
374Will Trent/Atlanta Series (1)
375Will-Trent-Serie (1)
376William Sandberg (1)
377Wired (2)
378Wired & Dangerous (1)
379Wishbone (1)
380Women’s Murder Club (9)
381World War I (1)
382World’s Scariest Places Occult & Supernatural Crime Series (7)
383Wyman Ford (7)

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

From Lifehacker:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Lifehacker

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

New Tools are Leveling the Playing Field for Booksellers

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Amazon tracked my last two years of reading

From The Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at The Guardian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This Startup Wants to Help Indie Booksellers Take on Amazon

From Wired

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Wired

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

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

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

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

What’s in one’s own image (right)?

From The Journal of Intellectual Property Law & Practice:

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

[Analysis of a decision by an Italian court]

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking deeper into the Goodreads troll problem

From Camestros Felapton:

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

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

. . . .

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

Link to the rest at Camestros Felapton

OverDrive Reports Record Digital Borrowing in 2019

From Publishers Weekly:

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

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

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

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

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Indie Means Indie

From Fiction Notes:

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

I agree with Coker.

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

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

. . . .

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

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

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

Indie booksellers create community to survive the age of Amazon

From MPR News:

The seeds for the Zenith Bookstore, which opened in Duluth 2 1/2 years ago, were sown on the streets of Manhattan.

“We used to love walking the streets and visiting bookstores — we’re both big readers,” said Bob Dobrow, who together with his wife, Angel, owns the cozy bookstore on the city’s Central Avenue.

“We were young and in love and full of energy, and we would walk for hours,” recalled Angel Dobrow.

The Dobrows recall casually musing to one another, “Wouldn’t it be fun one day to open a bookstore?”

But they got married and had kids. Bob became a math professor at Carleton College and they moved to Northfield, Minn. When he retired a few years ago, they were packing up boxes and boxes of books, and that idea popped into their heads again.

“It was literally like a bolt of lightning,” Bob Dobrow said.

Never mind that they had never owned any kind of business before, or that people had been predicting the death of small bookstores since Barnes & Noble, Amazon and e-books.

But they moved north to Duluth, depleted their savings to remodel an old liquor store and opened for business on a summer day in 2017.

. . . .

Sales have grown about 60 percent since that first year, he said. The Dobrows attribute that in part to a loyal customer base that is willing to spend a little more on a book to support a local business.

“One of my great fears was that bookstores would go away, so I feel almost a moral obligation to be in bookstores,” said Chris Johnson, an education professor at the University of Minnesota Duluth who stopped by last week to pick up some books for his college-age kids.

“It’s probably not the norm, but I think it’s important to book lovers that such places exist,” he added.

Since bottoming out in 2009, the number of independent booksellers nationwide has grown by about 35 percent. There are now more than 1,900 independent booksellers across the country, who together operate more than 2,500 stores.

. . . .

First, there’s the Buy Local movement, which he said indie bookstores helped create.

“Booksellers are deeply embedded in helping to define this notion of why the consumer should shop local,” he explained.

Then there’s what Raffaelli calls “curation.”

“If you see a great bookseller at his or her craft, you’ll see them ask questions like, ‘What are the last five books that you read?’ And then they’ll steer a reader into a genre potentially that is outside [what they’d normally read],” he said. “But they say, ‘This is your next great book.’”

That expertise and experience enables booksellers to compete against the algorithms Amazon uses to recommend books, he said.

. . . .

And then there’s this: Many bookstores have made themselves much more than just booksellers. They’re also community gathering places.

. . . .

“It’s a business with razor-thin profits,” said Dan Cullen, senior strategy officer with the American Booksellers Association. “I don’t want to be a Pollyanna because on the one hand, there’s been solid success. But on the other hand, it’s a challenging road ahead of them as well.”

He said many bookstores face escalating rents and struggle to pay living wages and benefits to their employees.

Link to the rest at MPR News and thanks to Nate for the tip.

PG notes that, if you’ve ever been in Duluth in the winter as he has, you’ll understand why people would be attracted to any place that’s warm.

That said, PG is pleased that The Dobrows have made their bookstore work and hope they can continue to do so.

Speaking of winter, PG just checked and the average low temperature in Duluth in January is 4 degrees Fahrenheit and the city receives about 70 inches of snow per year. Since it is located on the shores of Lake Superior, bracing winds are also a feature of Duluth winters.

One additional feature of Minnesota winters that will not be familiar to most Floridians is that virtually every car and truck you see has an electric cord hanging out of the grill. The cord leads to an engine block heater which is plugged in every night to make sure various liquids in the engine don’t freeze (radiators) or transform into a thick viscous mess (oil) overnight.

OTOH, PG understands that these weather conditions don’t sound very impressive to TPV regulars who live in Canada.

The 2010s were supposed to bring the ebook revolution. It never quite came.

PG’s last post on December 24 was about the following Vox article that purported to talk about what a bust ebooks have turned out to be.

If you missed it in the holiday rush, there were some good comments and, yes, it is a Vox article, so you can assume the author was born yesterday.

From Vox:

At the beginning of the 2010s, the world seemed to be poised for an ebook revolution.

The Amazon Kindle, which was introduced in 2007, effectively mainstreamed ebooks. By 2010, it was clear that ebooks weren’t just a passing fad, but were here to stay. They appeared poised to disrupt the publishing industry on a fundamental level. Analysts confidently predicted that millennials would embrace ebooks with open arms and abandon print books, that ebook sales would keep rising to take up more and more market share, that the price of ebooks would continue to fall, and that publishing would be forever changed.

Instead, at the other end of the decade, ebook sales seem to have stabilized at around 20 percent of total book sales, with print sales making up the remaining 80 percent. “Five or 10 years ago,” says Andrew Albanese, a senior writer at trade magazine Publishers Weekly and the author of The Battle of $9.99, “you would have thought those numbers would have been reversed.”

And in part, Albanese tells Vox in a phone interview, that’s because the digital natives of Gen Z and the millennial generation have very little interest in buying ebooks. “They’re glued to their phones, they love social media, but when it comes to reading a book, they want John Green in print,” he says. The people who are actually buying ebooks? Mostly boomers. “Older readers are glued to their e-readers,” says Albanese. “They don’t have to go to the bookstore. They can make the font bigger. It’s convenient.”

Ebooks aren’t only selling less than everyone predicted they would at the beginning of the decade. They also cost more than everyone predicted they would — and consistently, they cost more than their print equivalents.

. . . .

When the Kindle entered the marketplace in 2007, Amazon had a simple sales pitch: Anyone with a Kindle could buy all the ebooks they wanted through the online marketplace, and many of those ebooks — in fact, all New York Times best-sellers — would cost no more than $9.99.

$9.99 is a steal for a new book. At the time, most hardcovers were averaging a list price of about $26, and many cost more. But for Amazon, this price point was an apparent no-brainer. The first generation Kindle was expensive, and value conscious customers needed some incentive to buy into it. Why would anyone spend $399 on an e-reader if they couldn’t expect to make up at least part of the cost in a discount on ebooks?

And while this point is often glossed over, Amazon was actually following a precedent set by publishers in its pricing model. In her opinion for US v. Apple, Judge Denise Cote noted that before 2009, most publishers discounted ebooks by 20 percent from the price of a hardcover, which often led to a suggested list price of around $9.99.

But by 2009, publishers had changed their minds. Now they considered the idea of $9.99 ebooks to be an existential threat. Printing and binding and shipping — the costs that ebooks eliminated — accounted for only two dollars of the cost of a hardcover, publishers argued. So the ebook for a $20 hardcover book should cost no less than $18. And according to publishers, by setting the price of an ebook at $9.99, Amazon was training readers to undervalue books.

. . . .

Before we delve further into the weeds here, a quick primer on how book prices are set. Print books are generally sold under a wholesale model, which works like this: First, the publisher will set a suggested list price for a book; say, $20. Then it will sell the book to resellers and distributors for a discount off that suggested list price. So if Simon & Schuster wants to sell a $20 book to Amazon, Amazon might negotiate a discount of 40 percent for itself and end up paying Simon & Schuster only $12 for that book.

But once Amazon owns the book, it has the right to set whatever price it would like for consumers. The $20 list price that Simon & Schuster set was just a suggestion. Under the wholesale model, Amazon is free to decide to sell the book to readers for as little as a single dollar if it chooses to.

Until 2010, ebooks were sold through the wholesale model too. So if Simon & Schuster was publishing a $20 hardcover, they could choose to set a suggested list price of $18 for the ebook — two dollars less than the hardcover — and then sell that ebook to Amazon at a 40 percent discount for $10.80. And Amazon could, in turn, feel free to sell that ebook for $9.99 and swallow a loss of 81 cents.

To be clear, the numbers we’re using here to get a handle on how pricing works are imaginary. (Amazon negotiates different discounts for itself at different times from different publishers, sometimes around 40 percent, but at other times higher and at other times lower.) But we do know that Amazon was making very, very little money off ebook sales in 2010, and was in fact probably losing money on most of them.

. . . .

“Amazon can still discount whatever they like on the print side,” explains Jane Friedman, a publishing consultant and the author of The Business of Being a Writer. On the ebook side, however, Amazon now lists publisher-mandated prices, often with the petulant italic addition “Price set by seller.” “So the market is very weird, and often the ebook costs more than the print,” Friedman says. “Sometimes it feels like Amazon is trying to make the publishers look ridiculous.”

And because ebooks are often more expensive than Amazon’s heavily discounted print books, traditional publishing’s ebook sales seem to have fallen off — and Amazon is more dominant than ever in the print book market. “It’s so much cheaper,” says Friedman.

In this new market, high ebook prices make it harder than ever for young authors in particular to survive. “The split has really hurt debut novelists,” says Friedman. “It’s hard to ask readers to take a chance on someone unproven at that high price point, and since the ebook market does lean towards fiction, it’s hurting the new people.”

Self-published authors, meanwhile, are flourishing. They’re allowed to set their own ebook prices just like publishers are — and consistently, they set their prices very, very low. “It’s a shadow market,” Friedman says. “Novelists with huge backlists go and put them out as ebooks independently. And if a reader has a choice between reading this great series at $2.99 a pop or a $12 novel, what are they going to pick?”

Antitrust law professor Christopher Sagers argues that the outcome of the DOJ’sebooks case shows that the real problem with the industry is not just that Amazon has a monopoly. The big trade publishers, he says, have a monopoly too.

“There used to be hundreds of publishing companies. They’re now mostly owned by five,” Sagers says. (After that Department of Justice lawsuit, Penguin merged with Random House, and the Big Six became the Big Five.) “Why are ebooks expensive? It’s not because Amazon is vicious. It’s because there’s no competition at the wholesale level.”

. . . .

The Big Five publishers “are huge, and they have been able to put in place practices that are kind of unfair and that authors have to put up with,” Friedman allows. “That said, they need that kind of size to be able to effectively deal with something like Amazon. If you look at an indie publisher, I wouldn’t want to be one of them.”

Link to the rest at Vox and thanks to DM for the tip.

PG notes that the OP devotes one paragraph to independent authors and that paragraph implies that indie authors are primarily publishing their revered backlist titles.

Unlike Big Publishing, nobody is really beating any publicity drums for indie authors.

One other point the OP doesn’t discuss is that Barnes & Noble is still cratering and, when it finally goes down the drain, retail bookselling via physical bookstores will take a huge hit and publishers who have failed to develop their chops selling ebooks and encouraging readers to buy them will regret that their profitability will take an enormous hit.

Audible Appoints New CEO

From Publishers Weekly:

Audible founder Don Katz will turn over the position of CEO to former IDG and Dun & Bradstreet executive Bob Carrigan on January 2. Carrigan will assume day-to-day operations for Audible’s global operations, while Katz will transition to executive chairman.

. . . .

Katz founded Audible in 1995 and sold it to Amazon in 2008. In his new role as executive chairman, he will work closely with Carrigan on overarching strategies, while also focusing on Audible’s global content strategy and social and public policy objectives in Newark, where Audible is based, as well as at other company locations.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly and thanks to Jan for the tip.

Billions of items ordered worldwide this holiday season

From Amazon:

This holiday season was record breaking for Amazon, thanks to customers around the world who purchased billions of items, including tens of millions of Amazon devices. Some of the best-selling products and brands this holiday season were the Echo Dot, Fire TV Stick with Alexa Voice Remote, Echo Show 5, L.O.L. Surprise! Glitter Globe Doll Winter Disco Series with Glitter Hair, iRobot Roomba 675 Robot Vacuum, HAUS LABORATORIES, Carhartt, AmazonBasics, and Champion items. Popular departments customers shopped in Amazon’s Stores in the U.S. were toys, fashion, home, and beauty with more than half a billion total items ordered.

. . . .

  • This holiday season Amazon added more than 250,000 full and part-time seasonal roles across its global customer fulfillment network, with the company now employing 750,000 employees worldwide.
  • Nearly 19,000 employees worldwide across Amazon’s Operations team were promoted this year.
  • Amazon has 150 delivery stations in the United States that employ more than 90,000 Amazon Logistics associates.

. . . .

  • Customers asked Alexa for recipes and cooking advice tens of millions of times this holiday season as Alexa helped make holiday feasts, cookies, and cocktails. Some of the most popular recipes this holiday season included Thanksgiving Turkey, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Fluffy Mashed Potatoes.
  • Customers received hundreds of millions of doorbell and motion announcements via Alexa this holiday season from carolers to delivery drivers and holiday guests.
  • The most searched-for holiday movie on Fire TV with Alexa was Home Alone, followed by Elf and The Grinch.
  • Alexa helped turn on holiday lights tens of millions of times.

. . . .

  • According to Amazon Charts, the most read and most sold book in the U.S. during this holiday season was The Guardians by John Grisham, and the most wished for books in the U.S. during this holiday season were A Warning by Anonymous, The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern, Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Wrecking Ball by Jeff Kinney, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Illustrated Edition by J.K. Rowling & Jim Kay, and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens.

Link to the rest at Amazon

Kindle: A Year in Review

From Day One – The Amazon Blog:

Kindle was the first of its kind in so many ways when it was introduced in 2007: it was the first time you could think of a book and be reading it in 60 seconds; the first time you could connect to a cellular network to download something and not get billed for the data; the first time you could access an entire store of books while on the go; and the first time you could take your full library with you anywhere you went.

Over the years, while the design and features of the device have evolved, what hasn’t changed is Amazon’s singular goal of making reading more available and enjoyable to people around the world. Today, we offer readers millions of e-books on Amazon.co.uk, and we continue to invest in developing new features and benefits that readers love. We want it to be easy for customers to find their next favourite book and get more out of their reading experience as well as make it easy for authors to connect with readers. Worldwide, we see customers buying more e-books from a widening variety of authors and publishers. Kindle book sales grew again in 2019, in thanks to independent publishing, Kindle Unlimited subscriptions and Amazon Publishing.

. . . .

This year the range of titles available in Kindle Unlimited expanded, with more than a million titles now in the service, including even more of Britain’s best-loved authors and books. Along with all seven books from the original Harry Potter series, books by David Walliams, Agatha Christie, Bernard Cornwell, and many more now feature. We also launched full magazine subscriptions within Kindle Unlimited including BBC Good FoodBBC Top GearNational GeographicMarie ClaireTime, and more.

July saw the launch of Amazon Charts in the UK, a weekly bestseller list that shares the most read and most sold books across all formats each week. The Top 20 Most Read list is the first ever bestseller list to measure which Kindle and Audible titles Amazon.co.uk customers are reading and listening to.

Link to the rest at Day One – The Amazon Blog

Amazon supply chain model disrupts entire industry

From TechTarget:

By now, it’s no surprise that Amazon’s business model is not only disruptive but driving established businesses and business practices to extinction.

Take global supply chain, for example. The Amazon supply chain model has affected the entire supply chain and logistics industry in the same way that the retail industry has been changed utterly.

As with retail, this will produce losers that cannot match the pace of change and adapt to the Amazon supply chain model. At the same time, however, new businesses are formulating to either ride Amazon’s wake or provide alternatives that try to match the changes brought on by the Amazon effect.

In that vein, there has been a lot of attention on fulfillment and how Amazon has changed consumer behavior. But what’s less seen and even more important is what’s happened behind the scenes that has changed supply chain behaviors significantly to both meet the demands from Amazon and compete against the tech behemoth, said Rosemary Coates, founder and president of Blue Silk Consulting, a global supply chain consultancy based in Los Gatos, Calif.

The traditional supply chain was built around companies sourcing raw materials and turning them into components or products, with production planned months and even up to a year in advance, Coates said. The process was much more predictable, and companies knew what and when they were going to produce, and the various channels they were going to use for shipping products.

. . . .

Then Amazon came along and taught consumers to expect goods to be delivered overnight, which snapped a bullwhip effect throughout the entire supply chain. One result of such an expectation is that companies now have to invest in bigger stocks of inventory to have products ready to ship when demand increases, which also means they have to build new warehouses and implement new logistics strategies.

“[The Amazon supply chain strategy] has had an effect all the way down the supply chain,” Coates said. “Production planning may be disrupted or has to switch to a build-to inventory model instead of a build the fulfillment model. That means there may be a difference in production runs — instead of small runs that keep work in process and minimize investment to larger production runs that are going to build inventory.”

The traditional supply chain model taught manufacturers to minimize inventory through methods like Kanban or just-in-time manufacturing where parts are brought to the assembly line only when needed.

“You wanted as little as possible from an investment perspective and also to keep the line moving, to keep manufacturing moving along, so that it was a kind of a constant ongoing repetitive sort of environment,” Coates said.

If they’re going to be a link in Amazon’s supply chain, manufacturers need to rethink where they should invest in supply chain resources. For example, they need to decide if they want to stock enough inventory in regional locations in case they need to fulfill Amazon orders, Coates said.

. . . .

In addition to changing manufacturing strategies, the Amazon supply chain model is completely changing the logistics industry, Cowan said.

“First and foremost, Amazon is conditioning end customers that they should get their goods delivered the same day, and may be measured in hours, instead of days,” Cowan said. “This is a significant sea change overall. And frankly, if you’re not Amazon today and you don’t have a strategy to get products into your customers’ hands that same day, you’re probably going to have a significant erosion of your business.”

. . . .

The Amazon effect is allowing procurement to go outside of traditional systems, which has led to companies rethinking strategies, Gardner said.

“Like we saw in enterprise IT with AWS cloud, people started using it with their credit card, but it was under the radar,” Gardner said. “But then people started to look at it more strategically and said, ‘Let’s evaluate this like with any other IT approach.’ The same thing happens when it comes to the purchasing of goods and services — people started using Amazon or other online retailers to purchase things ad hoc with petty cash or non-discretionary spending.”

It makes sense for businesses, particularly SMBs, to use Amazon for purchasing because of price and efficiency gains, but Gardner cautions against handing over too much strategic activity to any one company.

Link to the rest at TechTarget

You Might Be Buying Trash on Amazon—Literally

From The Wall Street Journal:

Just about anyone can open a store on Amazon.com and sell just about anything. Just ask the dumpster divers.

These are among the dedicated cadre of sellers on Amazon who say they sort through other people’s rejects, including directly from the trash, clean them up and list them on Amazon.com Inc.’s platform. Many post their hunting accounts on YouTube.

They are an elusive lot. Many The Wall Street Journal contacted wouldn’t give details about their listings, said they stopped selling dumpster finds or no longer listed them as new, didn’t respond to inquiries or stopped communicating. Some said they feared Amazon would close their stores.

So the Journal set out to test whether these claims were true. Reporters went dumpster diving in several New Jersey towns and retrieved dozens of discards from the trash including a stencil set, scrapbook paper and a sealed jar of Trader Joe’s lemon curd.

The Journal set up a store on Amazon to see if it could list some of its salvaged goods for sale as new.

It turned out to be easy.

. . . .

Amazon’s stated rules didn’t explicitly prohibit items salvaged from the trash when the Journal disclosed the existence of its store to the company last month. The rules required that most goods be new and noted that sellers could offer used books and electronics, among other things, if they identified them as such.

“Sellers are responsible for meeting Amazon’s high bar for product quality,” an Amazon spokeswoman said. Examples the Journal presented to Amazon of dumpster-sourced listings “are isolated incidents,” she said. “We are investigating and will take appropriate action against the bad actors involved.”

She declined to comment on the Journal’s store.

Late last week, Amazon said it updated its policy to explicitly prohibit selling items taken from the trash, adding to its list of unacceptable items any “intended for destruction or disposal or otherwise designated as unsellable by the manufacturer or a supplier, vendor, or retailer.”

. . . .

Amazon exerts limited control over its third-party marketplace, which connects buyers with millions of merchants around the world. The company has said it isn’t liable for what these merchants sell, saying in court cases Amazon itself isn’t the one selling the products listed by third parties.

“We had an internal saying: Unless the product’s on fire when we receive it, we would accept anything,” said James Thomson, who helped oversee the Fulfillment By Amazon program—under which Amazon handles logistics for third-party sellers—before leaving in 2013. He is now a consultant to brands with Amazon accounts. In his view, he said, “Ultimately consumers are the police of the platform.”

The Amazon spokeswoman said Mr. Thomson’s “statements are demonstrably false.” Mr. Thomson said he stood by his assertions.

Wade Coggins, near Beaverton, Ore., said he finds items to sell on Amazon and eBay in store clearance sections, abandoned storage units and dumpsters. He said he has salvaged cardboard boxes, bubble wrap and peanuts from trash bins to package his orders.

Blemishes need to be cleaned off, he said, adding that some people shrink-wrap items to make them look more legitimate. “When you send stuff in to Amazon,” he said, “it needs to look brand new.”

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

In several different news articles over the past few months, PG has noted that Amazon spokespeople have become much more corporate in their statements. If he recalls correctly, in former days when Amazon was responding to reports about questionable items sold on its platform, it was more common for someone in charge of running the relevant business to respond instead of a PR drone.

One of the attractions of earlier Amazon for indie authors was a sense that the company’s reflexes were basically decent. If a problem was reported, the company investigated and fixed it. The platform was improving on a regular basis. In light of the misbegotten attempt by major publishers to sink Amazon’s book business, the people running the indie publishing operation were vocally supportive of indie authors.

It is notoriously difficult to maintain a high-quality company culture over time. Once the original founder pulls out, unless s/he has carefully chosen and trained a group of top-tier managers, the business can wander off into the wilderness.

PG remembers this process playing out when Sam Walton, the founder and CEO of Walmart, died and the company wandered in the wilderness for several years without very good management. Mr. Sam appeared to have shaded out a lot of those who might have had the ability to continue keeping Walmart on track.

PG had a business meeting with one of the Walton children on one occasion and was able to discern none of the storied business acumen of Sam. His impressions were similar to those he has experienced when he met heirs to great wealth on prior occasions – people who were not necessarily very smart and were immersed in a lifestyle focused on the acquisition of art and private jet travel rather than operating a challenging business.

For the general public, the revelation of Jeff Bezos’ marital problems came out of the blue. Perhaps because PG is concerned about corporate succession in light of Bezos’ apparent prompt withdrawal from heavy personal involvement in the management of the company, he has noticed an increase in the number of stories like the OP that appear to reflect that various parts of Amazon are diverging from its former standards and practices.

Kobo’s 10th Anniversary

From Publishing Perspectives:

On Sunday (December 15), Rakuten Kobo [reached] its 10th anniversary.

. . . .

In any week, [Kobo CEO Michael] Tamblyn says, Kobo will deliver ebooks to some 150 countries. “Over the course of a year,” he says, “we’ll hit all the countries the United Nations recognizes and a few others.”

. . . .

The operation also has localized merchandizing and/or other partnerships in some 25 countries. The catalogue available through the retailer comes in at between 5 and 6 million titles.

At the end of November, another new market was opened: Vincent Chang in the Singapore Straits Times welcomed the introduction of Kobo’s e-readers to the island nation

. . . .

And that factor in itself—leading with a line of e-reading devices—is a clue to how Kobo has become the most purposefully internationalized player in the digital reading industry.

“It’s been really interesting too look back over the development of the company, you know,” Tamblyn says, “to look at how we achieved the position that we have and what were some of the decisions we’ve made that resulted in that. Out of all the startups that we were on the starting line within 2009, why are we still standing? So many others have gone away. And we need to take that point of retrospective as we get ready for the next 10 years.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that this is a business that rewards scale,” he says. “It definitely helps to be one of the big players in the space. But it also rewards diversification.

“We see a third of our sales coming from Asia, a third from the Americas, north and south, and a third from Europe.

“We do see ups and downs in individual territories,” Tamblyn says. “We see individual markets peak and then plateau. We see other ones start slowly and then accelerate. And spreading ourselves out—realizing that this is a long game as opposed to something to be won in a couple of years—has given us a lot of resilience and diversification. And that’s allowed us to keep going when a lot of others didn’t find themselves able to get that critical mass.”

. . . .

The January 2018 announcement of Kobo’s partnership with Walmart in the United States drew widespread attention in the world industry.

Already well recognized for its emphasis on international expansion and partnerships, Tamblyn had taken a turn into a market he’d effectively conceded years earlier to Amazon’s dominance. What made the Walmart arrangement clever, of course, was that it integrated the Kobo offer into Walmart’s growing online retail effort, meaning that Kobo had landed, effectively, as the big-box retailer’s in-house vendor in the field.

Walmart had the same reason Kobo did to want to build its online presence in the American market: Amazon.

“Walmart, when you look across its entire portfolio of e-commerce,” Tamblyn says in his interview, “is really pushing hard on being that strong competitor in the US. They’ve been a great partner to work with, and there’s still a lot more we can do in that channel. So really this past year has just been getting us started.”

But asked if the success of the Walmart partnership doesn’t turn on the fact that Kobo can ride the energy of that huge company’s online expansion, Tamblyn has another approach.

“There were a couple of pieces” to the arrangement, he says.

“One is that we want to be where readers are, where books are getting purchased, where people are showing up and making shopping decisions about reading—so we can introduce ebooks and audiobooks to them. And we can do that in a place where they’re already showing up for that reading experience every day.

“So that has us looking at each individual market in terms of where is there a great retailer who has access to that customer in a privileged way. At the same time, who sees themselves as being in a competitive battle with those big ecosystem players—Amazon, Google, Apple—and wants to hold on to that customer and retain that reading relationship with them over time?”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Kindle Unlimited Per-Page Rate Jumped in November 2019

From The Digital Reader

The Kindle Unlimited funding pool increased by one hundred thousand dollars in November 2019, to $26.1 million, from $26 million in October 2019.

At the same time the per-page rate royalty jumped to d $0.004925, from $0.0046763  in October.

  • November 2019: $0.004925
  • October 2019: $0.0046763
  • September 2019: $0.0046799
  • August 2019:  $0.004387
  • July 2019 –  $0.004394
  • June 2019 – $0.004642
  • May 2019 – $0.0046598
  • April 2019 – $0.0046602
  • March 2019 – $0.0045124
  • February 2019 – $0.0047801
  • January 2019 – $0.0044227
  • December 2018 – $0.0048778
  • November 2018 – $0.0052056
  • October 2018 – $0.0048414
  • September 2008 – $0.004885
  • August 2018 – $0.0044914
  • July 2018 – $0.0044936

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

Amazon surprises hundreds of charities with donations

From The Amazon Blog:

Amazon is surprising hundreds of charities—which support causes from STEM education, to homelessness, hunger, disaster relief, youth organizations, sustainability and more—across the U.S. by fulfilling products requested on each of their AmazonSmile Charity Lists. Amazon is donating hundreds of thousands of items to charities from their AmazonSmile Charity Lists through the end of the year to ensure they have what they need to round out the holiday season, and to get a jump start on the new year.

Some of the total items donated include:

  • More than 5,000 blankets, sheets, and pillows.
  • More than 30,000 toys and educational items for kids.
  • More than 40,000 pairs of socks, outerwear, pajamas, pairs of shoes, and other apparel items.
  • More than 60,000 food and pantry items from water to canned goods.

. . . .

“Amazon’s generosity will allow us to meet a portion of the great needs of people experiencing homelessness on our borough’s streets, in the ferry terminal, in our churches, and especially the children and families in our Staten Island shelter,” said Reverend Terry Troia, President and CEO of Project Hospitality. “We are grateful to have a compassionate partner in the midst of great human need.”

Link to the rest at The Amazon Blog

US vs. Apple

From The Wall Street Journal:

Politicians and social critics who worry about “the curse of bigness”—and vow to rewrite antitrust law to break up Facebook and Google—forget what happened the last time the government used the law against a Silicon Valley company. In 2012 the government successfully sued Apple for daring to compete with Amazon in selling e-books. The unintended result was not exactly a victory for the consumer or for competition: the continued dominance of Kindle, Amazon’s e-book format and reading device; increased e-book prices; and suppressed e-book innovation.

Chris Sagers, a law professor at Cleveland State University, explains in “United States v. Apple: Competition in America” what he sees as confusion about antitrust law. His analysis can be helpful—he notes the long history of companies invoking claims of “predatory pricing” as a cudgel against more efficient competitors and stresses that consumers often benefit when industries and companies are driven out of business—but he is confused about the case itself.

His thesis is that Apple’s entry into the e-book market was so clearly a violation of antitrust law that critics of the case must not believe in competition. But critics object to an interpretation of antitrust law that ended up punishing Apple for introducing a new pricing approach—an approach that is now common in every other area of online sales. Mr. Sagers forgets the guardrail rule of antitrust: Don’t bring cases against innovations that create more competition.

Consumers were delighted when Amazon launched its Kindle e-reader in 2007, and book publishers were happy to sell books in digital form. But there was an unusual feature. In its selling of e-books, Amazon operated according to the same pricing arrangement that had governed the sale of print books—that is, it bought e-books wholesale and chose its own price for them, just as bookstores had long done with print books. Brick-and-mortar bookstores needed this pricing flexibility for many reasons, not least to clear their inventory of unsold books by means of lower prices. The arrangement let Amazon sell e-books for years as a loss-leader—at the low price of $9.99—to boost profitable sales of its Kindle devices.

Around the same time, Apple had set about licensing music, video and games so that consumers would have reasons to buy its iPad. Apple realized that, for digital goods, there was no reason to follow the wholesale model. It could simply set up a revenue-sharing formula. Content owners and app developers—think of an iPad or iPhone game, such as “Minecraft” or “Fortnite,” that offers premium features—could pick their own price, even choosing to offer content free, and Apple would take 30% of any sales as a commission.

When Steve Jobs decided to include e-books on the iPad in 2010, Kindle had a 90% market share. So book publishers were again delighted—that Apple would be entering the market with its revenue-share model and letting publishers set the prices for their e-books. The largest publishers met among themselves to agree on the terms for licensing their books to Apple. The government sued, claiming an unlawful conspiracy masterminded by Apple.

Mr. Sagers sees this as an open-and-shut case of an unlawful pricing conspiracy and expresses surprise that there was so much support for the book publishers and Apple. He rightly dismisses the self-serving argument that books are so culturally important that publishers and Apple deserved an antitrust exemption. He is also right to note that Amazon was not, despite its huge market share, an unlawful monopolist—big is not always bad.

. . . .

Mr. Sagers believes that opposition to the Apple case shows that Americans are ambivalent about competition. There are times, he says, when “competition seems destructive.” When antitrust law requires firms to compete in such circumstances, then “antitrust itself has seemed like a failure.” The government claimed that Apple conspired with book publishers, risking higher prices, but the case was perceived as a government favor to Amazon, which it was.

Indeed, people objected to the Apple case because it was ill-advised—limiting consumer choices and blocking lower prices. Appeals Court Judge Dennis Jacobs made this point, writing in his 2015 dissent that Apple’s conduct “immediately deconcentrated the e-book retail market, added a platform for reading e-books, and removed barriers to entry by others.” With Apple in the game, Amazon’s 90% market share fell to 60%. Now it’s back up to 83%, according to the latest industry estimate. As competition decreased, prices increased. The typical price for a Kindle best seller is now in the range of $14.95.

. . . .

The Apple case violated the first rule of antitrust: First, do no harm.

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

PG hasn’t read the book that is the subject of the WSJ review. However, the author of the review wildly misstates the purposes, activities and actions of Apple and all but one of the largest publishers in the United States.

Let us review the actions and actors in this matter (which were extensively documented and discussed on TPV during the days of yore):

  1. While Amazon was not the first entity to sell ebooks, it was the first to sell ebooks from traditional publishers at a substantial discount from their list prices, which correlated with the suggested list prices for printed versions of the same books.
  2. Amazon also was revolutionary in permitting self-published books (including ebooks) to be listed and sold side-by-side on the same basis as traditionally-published books.
  3. The six largest publishers in the United States – Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster had developed a cozy little dinner group consisting of their CEO’s who met about every three months in a private dining room in Manhattan to talk about their mutual concerns – most often Amazon’s habit of discounting the prices of their books and what they could do about it. These six produced the majority of books sold in the US and were receiving complaints from their traditional bookstore customers about Amazon’s low prices. The publishers did not want to “cannibalize” their sales of printed books and were the recipients of a growing number of complaints from their traditional bookstore customers. No company attorneys were present during these dinner discussions.
  4. PG will note that private meetings of the top executives of large companies that dominate an industry to discuss the pricing of their products are almost always a bad idea and, by themselves, raise a big red antitrust flag. Competent corporate counsel would always advise against such a practice.
  5. Apple was planning to introduce its iPad in January, 2010, and include an iBookstore as one of the product’s attractions.
  6. PG notes that Apple has never been a fan of significant discounts for the products it sells.
  7. In December, 2009, Apple’s senior VP of Internet Software and Services, Eddy Cue, contacted the members of the Publishers dinner group to set up meetings.
  8. During these meetings, Cue said that Apple:
    1. Would sell the majority of e-books between $9.99 and $14.99, with new releases being $12.99 to $14.99, higher prices than Amazon was charging.
    2. Apple would use the same “agency pricing model” that it used in the App Store for ebooks.
    3. Agency Pricing allowed the Publishers control the retail price of the e-books with Apple receiving a 30% commission.
    4. Most significantly, Apple would require what is generically described as a “Most-favored nation” clause in its contracts with publishers that allowed Apple to sell e-book at the lowest price of its ebookstore competitors (read “Amazon”).
  9. PG doesn’t recall if the publishers had another private CEO dinner or not, but evidence at the later antitrust trial showed the Big Six publishers called each other over 100 times in the week before signing the Apple agreements. Everyone except Random House boarded this bandwagon.
  10. In January 2010, Apple held one of its typically flashy product launches for the iPad together with its associated ebook, music and video stores.
  11. During the post-launch mingling, Wall Street Journal reporter Walter Mossberg asked Steve Jobs why people would pay $14.99 for a book in the iBookstore when they could purchase it for $9.99 from Amazon. In response Jobs stated that “The price will be the same… Publishers are actually withholding their books from Amazon because they are not happy.” In other words, the publishers would force Amazon to raise its ebook prices to match those in the iBookstore.
  12. Amazon complained to the Federal Trade Commission and, rather than not being able to sell any ebooks of the major publishers, switched to the agency model after negotiations with the major publishers. This resulted in an average per unit e-book retail price increase of 14.2% for their new releases, 42.7% for their NYT Bestsellers, and 18.6% across all of the Publisher Defendants’ e-books.

For lots more information, see United States v. Apple on Wikipedia.

Back to the book reviewed in the OP, there was nothing wrong with Apple “introducing a new pricing structure” – agency pricing. Had Apple only done that, no antitrust violation would have occurred. However, when Apple conspired with a group of the largest publishers to force Amazon (and anyone else selling ebooks) to adopt agency pricing when such had not previously been the case, that was an antitrust violation, particularly in the light of what happened to ebook prices after the coordinated joint action took place.

Had the big publishers individually been willing to lose the highly-profitable ebook sales on Amazon as a potential consequence of telling Amazon it had to raise its prices and/or agree to let the publisher set the price, that would probably not have triggered any antitrust concern. Coordination between the publishers to use their combined power to force Amazon raise prices was where the publishers crossed a clear legal line.

With respect to what happened in the court case, each of the publishers admitted guilt, settled the antitrust claim and promised not to do any price-fixing in the future. Apple litigated the antitrust case to the max and lost at every stage.

Although Amazon was not a party to the litigation, Amazon won.

More significantly (in PG’s majestic and resplendent opinion), authors won. Indie authors in particular won. In June, 2010, a couple of years before any antitrust litigation had been commenced, Amazon introduced its 70% ebook royalty option which has put a great deal of additional money into authors’ pockets ever since.

Amazon Announces the Best Books of 2019

From The Amazon Press Center:

Today, Amazon announced its selections for the Best Books of 2019, naming Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments – the sequel to her dystopian masterpiece The Handmaid’s Tale – the Best Book of 2019. The annual list features the Top 100 books of the year plus Top 20 lists across various categories ranging from literary fiction, mystery and thriller, biography, children’s and young adult, making it the go-to list for holiday reading and gift giving. All lists are hand-selected by Amazon’s team of editors – first by choosing the best books of every month, and then, finally, the best books of the year.

. . . .

“The Books Editorial team reads thousands of new releases every year, all with the goal of recommending the very best to our customers,” said Sarah Gelman, Editorial Director, Amazon Books. “This year there were so many great books from various genres. Our top 100 Best Books list includes books with clever satire, heartwarming memoirs and psychological thrillers. But as soon as we read it, it was clear that Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments was the book of the year. The sequel to the modern classic The Handmaid’s Tale enraptured our editorial team and readers across the globe with a dramatic continuation of goings-on in the dystopian Republic of Gilead. It’s so exciting to witness literary history being made, and Atwood has done just that with this deeply moving book.”

“I’m Canadian, where modesty is a requirement. So I’m mildly embarrassed, though absolutely delighted, to hear that the Amazon editorial team has chosen The Testaments as their book of the year,” said Margaret Atwood, author of The Testaments. “While I’m no prophet, we seem doomed to live in stressful times. A tale of hope and courage narrated by three strong female voices appears to have connected to this crucial 2019 moment.”

. . . .

8 . They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker: George Takei’s vivid graphic memoir reveals the story of his family’s incarceration during the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, beginning when Takei was only five years old. Even as the memories depicted range from unsettling to infuriating, They Called Us Enemy inspires readers to insist that our country treats fellow human beings with fairness and dignity.

9. The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides: In this psychological thriller, a couple seems to have it all until the wife is convicted of shooting her husband in the face. But she will say nothing about the crime—or anything else, for that matter. After a criminal psychologist obsessed with the case comes on the scene, dark twists and delightful turns follow, secrets (and a diary) are revealed, and you will likely find yourself racing to the end of this year’s must-read thriller.

10. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb: What happens when a celebrated psychotherapist finds herself on the other side of the couch? Maybe You Should Talk to Someone is an entertaining, relatable, moving homage to therapy—and just being human.

The top pick in the children’s category is the middle grade novel:

  1. Dear Sweet Pea by Julie Murphy: Bestselling author Julie Murphy makes her middle-grade debut with a smart, funny novel that tween readers will quickly embrace. Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco is a seventh grader dealing with a wide range of emotions and change, including recently divorced parents and friendships in transition. Dear Sweet Pea is a warmhearted read that is at once reassuring, wise, and utterly relatable.

During 2019, the Amazon Books editorial team read thousands of pages to help customers discover their next great read. Here are some interesting facts about this year’s Best Books of the Year list:

  • Most highlighted quote from Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, our number one pick, is: “You don’t believe the sky is falling until a chunk of it falls on you.”
  • Customers’ Most Wished For titles in our top 100: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, The Testaments by Margaret Atwood, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb, and Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
  • Top three best of the year selections that readers have used both Audible and Kindle interchangeably throughout are: The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides, City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner.
  • Alex Michaelides’s The Silent Patient, our ninth pick, is the number one most popular book on Goodreads this year, added to Goodreads shelves by more than 380K members; especially impressive since it’s a debut novel!
  • Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (#10 on our list) is the number one most popular nonfiction book on Goodreads this year, followed closely by Three Women (#19).

Link to the rest at The Amazon Press Center

And here’s a link to all the best books

Amazon’s Heavy Recruitment of Chinese Sellers Puts Consumers at Risk

From The Wall Street Journal:

It looked like Amazon.com Inc.’s yearslong quest to build a shopping business in China was a bust in July when it folded a big part of its local business.

In fact, Amazon’s China business is bigger than ever. That is because it has aggressively recruited Chinese manufacturers and merchants to sell to consumers outside the country. And these sellers, in turn, represent a high proportion of problem listings found on the site, according to a Wall Street Journal investigation.

The Journal earlier this year uncovered 10,870 items for sale between May and August that have been declared unsafe by federal agencies, are deceptively labeled, lacked federally-required warnings, or are banned by federal regulators. Amazon said it investigated the items, and some listings were taken down after the Journal’s reporting.

Of 1,934 sellers whose addresses could be determined, 54% were based in China, according to a Journal analysis of data from research firm Marketplace Pulse.

Amazon’s China recruiting is one reason why its platform increasingly resembles an unruly online flea market. A new product listing is uploaded to Amazon from China every 1/50th of a second, according to slides its officials showed a December conference in the industrial port city of Ningbo.

Chinese factories are squeezing profit margins for middlemen who sell on Amazon’s third-party platform. Some U.S. sellers fear the next step will be to cut them out entirely.

Tony Sagar began noticing the China effect around 2015. His company, Down Under Bedding in Mississauga, Ontario, had sold goose-down duvets on Amazon since 2014—these days, for $699 for a queen-size version. Then Chinese competitors hit, listing goose-down duvets for sometimes a sixth his price. He bought one and had it tested: Inside was inexpensive duck down.

The Journal in October bought a duvet from the same Amazon seller claiming “100% Fill With Goose Down” and had it tested. The result matched Mr. Sagar’s: duck feathers.

“They’re claiming they’re selling a $500-$700 duvet based on false specifications, so people say, ‘$120, it’s a good deal!’ ” Mr. Sagar said. “Amazon is making a direct push for these factories in China.”

In response to this article, an Amazon spokesman said, “Bad actors make up a tiny fraction of activity in our store and, like honest sellers, can come from every corner of the world. Regardless of where they are based, we work hard to stop bad actors before they can impact the shopping or selling experience in our store.”

. . . .

Mr. Sagar’s discovery came as Amazon was expanding a campaign it started around 2013 urging Chinese businesses to sell directly to consumers abroad. An Amazon sales director, Alicia Liu, at a 2017 conference told Chinese business people she was leading a team in China, drawing on her previous experience cutting out middlemen in Walmart Inc. ’s supply chain.

. . . .

“We help factories directly open accounts on Amazon and sell to U.S. consumers directly,” a video shows her telling them. “This is our value.”

A wave of Chinese merchants have joined Amazon’s millions of third-party sellers worldwide, who collectively represent more than half of Amazon’s physical gross merchandise sales.

Among the 10,000 most-reviewed accounts on Amazon’s U.S. site whose locations could be determined in October, about 38% were in China, Marketplace Pulse calculates, compared with 25% three years ago.

The Amazon spokesman said 38% “is a significant exaggeration of the real percentage of the top ten thousand’’ and that the methodology is flawed, citing what it said were problems with the way in which the analysis used seller review counts to estimate the percentage. Marketplace Pulse said it stood by its analysis.

. . . .

Amazon’s third-party marketplace, which connects merchants and buyers around the world, is crucial to the company’s growth. At the same time, even though it has become a source of fake or dangerous goods, Amazon has denied it is liable for what’s sold there, saying in court cases that it neither makes nor sells the products in question.

In its annual Securities and Exchange Commission filing this year, Amazon disclosed for the first time that counterfeits and fraudulent products are a risk factor. It said Amazon may be “unable to prevent sellers in our stores or through other stores from selling unlawful, counterfeit, pirated, or stolen goods,” among other issues.

Amazon said it recruits sellers in many countries and that these merchants are central to its goal of offering customers good selection at good prices. Amazon said it requires products to comply with applicable laws and regulations. It said that in 2018 it blocked more than three billion suspect listings for various forms of abuse.

Consumers and businesses with safety and intellectual-property grievances have found it hard to hold Chinese sellers accountable—in part because Amazon doesn’t require its sellers to provide their locations to the public on its U.S. site.

. . . .

The Journal identified sellers as being in China from their pages on Amazon’s site in Mexico, where regulations require sellers to list their locations on Amazon—a method Marketplace Pulse also uses.

New sellers from China are hurting merchants that have built Amazon businesses offering products they import from Chinese factories, said Amazon seller Bernie Thompson. His Plugable Technologies in Redmond, Wash., lists electronics products made in China. Since about five years ago, Chinese manufacturers selling on Amazon have priced him out of some product categories, he said—some of them his own suppliers and others who game Amazon’s rating system, he said.

. . . .

Amazon seller Zhao Weiming said the site “is the most cost-effective way to sell into the United States.” The Guangzhou businessman experimented several years ago listing gadgets on Amazon before settling on cosmetics and essential oils, he said, establishing factories to produce them under the name Lagunamoon. He said his company earns $50 million a year on Amazon.

Listings for some popular Lagunamoon essential oils claimed they were U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved, until the Journal raised the matter with Amazon and Mr. Zhao in early November. An FDA spokesman said essential oils wouldn’t meet the agency’s definition of an approved product, although it was possible some component—a dye, say—might be approved.

Mr. Zhao said FDA requirements are complex and he didn’t want to use tens of thousands of words to explain.

. . . .

Concerns at Amazon about Chinese listings arose several years ago in its China team, which noticed that as local sellers flocked to the platform, it saw increasing patterns of fraud, counterfeits and unsafe products, said former Amazon employees in China.

Washington state’s attorney general’s office said Amazon agreed to pay $700,000 as part of a legally binding agreement after an investigation revealed dozens of products marketed toward children had excessive lead and cadmium. The products were made in China, the office said, some sold by China-based third parties. Amazon didn’t admit wrongdoing.

. . . .

Cheap Chinese counterfeits drove Kevin Williams, a Utah seller of water-powered cleaning brushes on Amazon, to lay off six employees this year—most of his U.S. staff, he said. He and his co-founder developed their patented Brush Hero product, made in the U.S. and U.K., in 2015 after finding it difficult to clean their vehicles, selling them on Amazon for $34.99.

. . . .

Poorly made copies began appearing in 2018 on Amazon, eventually listing for as low as $9.99, some claiming to be the Brush Hero brand, he said. Buyers, unaware they were fake, trashed Mr. Williams’s products on his Amazon page, he said. When he complained to Amazon, he said, it told him to order the alleged counterfeits and test them. Amazon removed brushes he proved counterfeit, he said, but it could take weeks for them to arrive for testing, and new counterfeits kept popping up.

He dropped prices to $19.99, which “pulled out the rug from us from a cash-flow perspective” he said. A retailer declined to give him a large contract. “He said, ‘What the heck, your Amazon reviews are terrible,’ ” said Mr. Williams, who calls his company “walking dead.”

Amazon said that it acted on infringement cases where Brush Hero provided adequate information and that it has introduced programs for sellers to fight counterfeits, including one called Project Zero that uses automation to scan Amazon stores and remove suspected counterfeits.

Counterfeits and inauthentic reviews “have all gone through the roof with the rise of Chinese sellers,” said Chris McCabe, an investigator for Amazon until 2012, now a consultant helping Amazon sellers counter illicit competition.

. . . .

Inauthentic reviews for listings from China can trick Amazon’s algorithm into boosting products, people outside Amazon familiar with the activities said. A search for “travel pillows” in August presented products with names such as MLVOC offered by sellers whose names matched those of Amazon accounts registered in southern China.

The Journal ordered MLVOC-brand pillows from sellers named Corki and Kingstyle Supplies, and got gift cards offering a free pillow if the buyer emailed an address—the same address for both sellers. A “Gift card team” responded, asking the buyer to give a five-star review for which it promised an Amazon gift card. Of one MLVOC pillow’s roughly 2,000 reviews, about 86% have five stars.

Amazon policy forbids making inducements for positive reviews. Amazon said it investigated and took action, eventually reinstating Kingstyle and Corki. Amazon said in some cases it will reinstate seller accounts after violations if the sellers provide corrective action plans, though the accounts would be blocked after further infractions.

. . . .

It is often hard to tell that an Amazon seller is based in China, as is the case with the Amazon page of Lagunamoon, the essential-oil and cosmetics provider. It shows no indication the products are Chinese and gives no store address. Lagunamoon’s Mr. Zhao said that is because the U.S. doesn’t require it.

. . . .

Amazon seller Molson Hart in Texas is suing 73 sellers, many located in China, in Texas federal court, for trademark infringement on products like his Brain Flakes interlocking plastic disk set. He has been selling the Chinese-made toys on Amazon since 2014, and counterfeits started appearing in 2015, he said.

After he filed suit, he couldn’t hunt down the Chinese companies. “I know who did it,” he said, “but I can’t serve them.”

. . . .

Amazon buyer Irvin R. Love Jr. of Georgia bought a hoverboard on Amazon in November 2015 that caught fire and burned down his home, according to a suit he filed February 2018 against Amazon, the seller and others, in Georgia federal court. In an amended complaint this year he alleged that Amazon was negligent for not removing the hoverboard from its website before Mr. Love’s purchase. Amazon argued in a legal filing that it doesn’t owe damages because it didn’t design, manufacture or sell the hoverboard.

Mr. Love also sued the seller, Panda Town, which his lawyer, Darren Penn, said appeared to be a Chinese company, based on sales information. Mr. Penn said that he can’t locate the seller and that Amazon declined to provide its location.

Cross-border e-commerce has made it harder to police unsafe products entering the U.S., he said. “When you had the traditional importer and customs and brokers—and all those procedures are followed—you provide a couple of layers of protection that you don’t when you’re talking about an internet market.” The case is in discovery, and Mr. Penn declined to make Mr. Love available for comment.

. . . .

“It’s not normal that a factory with 200 people manufacturing baby monitors in Dongguan can ship products directly to consumers in Minnesota or in Europe through a marketplace,” he said. “The day the regulator makes them responsible, then we’ll have proper compliance programs.”

Amazon said sellers create their own product listings and are required to comply with all relevant laws and regulations when listing items for sale in Amazon stores.

Mr. Thompson, the electronics seller, said Chinese factories have steadily pushed him out of lower-end goods such as USB cables, pricing at less than he can. The Chinese sellers often boost their product rankings by arranging large purchases of their own products and leaving positive reviews for themselves, he said—a tactic he said he learned about while attending an independent Amazon-seller event featuring a China-based sales consultant in Hong Kong several years ago.

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

PG has written previously about the increasing number of stories describing skeezy behavior by Amazon. These differ from earlier Amazon-Derangement Syndrome press-release stories about Amazon generated by U.S. labor unions, publishers, booksellers, etc., in that the more recent stories have originated from far more reliable sources and reflect a deeper level of research into allegedly questionable Amazon activities.

PG suggests that stories like the OP are a perfect means of generating legislation that holds Amazon liable for damages arising in connection with actions arising from third-party sales through its online platforms. General rules governing product liability in the U.S. include a retailer which sells a defective product among those an injured party may sue. If PG recalls the rationale for such liability correctly, it is because the retailer participated in the sale, the retailer is in a better position to identify defective products than the consumer is and the purchaser should not be burdened with the task of pursuing a manufacturer or designer who may be difficult to identify and locate when the retailer is known.

While he’s happy to be corrected by the various well-informed attorneys who follow TPV, PG is not aware of any great legal hurdles that would have to be surmounted to impose liability on a seller like Amazon which mingles products sold and sometimes produced by itself and those for which the nominal “seller” is a third party, particularly an unidentified or misidentified third party, for whom Amazon is effectively providing a trusted American storefront and provides outsourced billing and payment services for the third party that Amazon contends is the “real” seller.

As for PG’s purchasing behavior, he studiously avoids buying any products on Amazon that hint of being sold by Chinese companies which do not have a well-established reputation for making and selling high-quality products. While this is undoubtedly unfair to lesser-known Chinese companies that have high standards for product design and quality, PG suspects he’s not the only one engaging in such discriminating purchase behavior. PG has also decided that if he purchases a product through Amazon that turns out to be sold by a Chinese company that has disguised its identity or the location where the product originates, he’s returning it immediately for a refund.

PG is acquainted with some price-sensitive shoppers who have started routinely checking online prices from Walmart before they purchase anything from Amazon. One of the stated reasons is that they’ll have no problem returning an unsatisfactory product to Walmart for a full refund.

The reputation of a brand is expensive and time-consuming to build, but it can be seriously, sometimes irretrievably, tarnished in a much shorter period of time.

PG recently read that Jeff Bezos wants to buy an NFL professional football team and that he spends much of his time away from the Seattle headquarters of Amazon. In and of themselves, those facts tarnish the Bezos/Amazon image in PG’s mind.

If these reports are true and if the past behavior of other business leaders/owners of large commercial organizations is any guide, it appears that Bezos may have subcontracted control of Amazon’s business philosophy and practices to subordinates who don’t share the same values that characterized the Amazon of 5-10-15 years ago.

PG suggests this isn’t a good idea if the long-term well-being of Amazon as an online retailer is still important to Bezos.

Raven Book Store Owner Publishes “How to Resist Amazon and Why”

From The American Booksellers Association:

Danny Caine of Raven Book Store in Lawrence, Kansas, has published a zine titled How to Resist Amazon and Why. The 16-page zine features Caine’s October 2019 letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, a review of the case against Amazon, a compilation of Raven’s Twitter advocacy, and additional material.

How to Resist Amazon and Why was quick to receive widespread attention. Caine told Bookselling This Week that “Between in-store sales, online sales, and wholesale orders we’ve shipped out, we’ve moved about 1,400 zines in the first 10 days. All of those were hand stapled by me, my wife, and my friends.” Caine added, “we’ve sent them to around 60 stores in the U.S., Canada, and England.”

Due to the zine’s popularity, Raven partnered with Microcosm Publishing to assist with distribution. Microcosm has a record of resisting Amazon — even going as far as altering its business model to no longer have a direct distribution relationship with the company. Microcosm has positioned itself in such a way that Amazon sales comprise only one percent of its sales each month.

According to Caine, Microcosm expects How to Resist Amazon and Why to be its best-selling zine of the season with already a few thousand pre-orders. Microcosm confirmed that Caine’s zine was impressively its #2 title for the last week of October.

Joe Biel of Microcosm told Bookselling This Week, “I think the zine has been so successful because people feel very frustrated by Amazon.” Biel added that no one “realized how big of a title this would be. Nor did anyone realize that [the zine] would resonate so deeply with bookstore employees.”

In Raven’s letter to Bezos last month, Caine articulated some of the many ways Amazon has hurt booksellers. “We like business competition, we think it’s healthy. But the way you’ve set things up makes it impossible to compete with you,” said Caine.

He challenged the idea of tech companies “disrupting” old ways of doing business to further innovation, saying “…we are not ripe for disruption. We’re not relics. We’re community engines…If your retail experiment disrupts us into extinction, you’re not threatening quaint old ways of doing things. You’re threatening communities.”

Link to the rest at The American Booksellers Association

PG doesn’t like to see any small business fail because, almost always, there is a lot of work that someone or several someones have put into building it up and keeping it running.

However, any business, large or small, relies on customers to purchase its goods/services.

PG suspects that blaming Amazon for a sales downturn really amounts to blaming the former customers of the business who have, for one reason or another, chosen to purchase from Amazon because doing so benefits those customers in some way that’s important to them.

If lower cost is a reason those customers prefer purchasing from Amazon, criticizing Amazon is effectively blaming those customers who may not have enough money to pay for the extra overhead involved in supporting a physical bookstore. At least some of those customers are avid readers who appreciate the ability to obtain more books to read and enjoy.

PG also suggests that, if Amazon had never existed, someone else would have run the same play that Jeff Bezos did. Physical books are a great product for mail order because they don’t spoil on the shelf, don’t get broken during shipping and even benefit from lower postal costs.

Ebooks are an even more ideal product because they’re cheap to store and, effectively, cost nothing to deliver. If Amazon had not executed its ebook strategy, some other cost-cutter or combination of cost cutters would have done the same thing.

Again, blaming Amazon because a lot of people prefer reading ebooks over physical books is, effectively blaming those readers for their personal choices.

How a failed economic theory still rules the digital music marketplace

From 5Mag.net:

Unless you spent a lot of time listening to early ’00s techno-utopian babble, the Theory of the Long Tail probably means nothing to you. Yet if you live in the US or Europe and you run a digital music label, you’re living it – or the fallout from it – almost every day.

In 2004, Wired magazine editor Chris Anderson proposed The Long Tail, an economic theory blown up by futurist steroids. It theorized that with the introduction of the internet, blockbusters would matter less and everyone would sell “less of more.” The Long Tail prophesied “How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demand,” according to the subtitle of Anderson’s later book, which if true would turn the field of economics on its head.

For a practical example of what this all means, compare a brick-and-mortar record store like the old Tower Records vs. an online retailer like Traxsource. Your local Tower Records had to limit its inventory to take into account a finite shelf space. Their stock might have consisted of a couple hundred records. And each record didn’t get equal shelf space: your hippie boomer parents were going to buy more copies of Beatles records than all your Belgian techno records, so the store would stock and give more attention to the former. This “artificial” scarcity of physical products taking up physical space and depriving it from other products had bent consumer behavior out of shape for basically all of history.

. . . .

With the internet and the creation of intangible digital products, this was supposed to change. Traxsource and other digital retailers are limited not by shelf space but by the size of their server hard drive array. And buying more server space is cheaper than building a new store.

According to Anderson, sales would in the future would represent a classic “Pareto” or “power law” demand curve: 20% of sales would be by “star” artists selling millions of copies each in our record store analogy, while 80% would consist of many thousands, tens of thousands or even millions of artists selling relatively few copies of each of their albums as the store’s near-infinite inventory meant people could metaphorically “wander about” and choose from millions of options.

This was the “Long Tail” in a nutshell, represented on a chart stretching to the right into infinity: in the future, music retailers would sell “less” copies from “more” artists. Many more.

. . . .

As early as 2008 – five years after iTunes was founded and we began to get actual data of how this whole thing was working – keen observers began chopping the Long Tail down to size. Economist Will Page working with Andrew Bud and Gary Eggleton was able to obtain somewhat anonymized transactions from a “large digital music provider” rumored to be either Rhapsody or iTunes itself. They had so much data, in fact, that an ordinary Excel spreadsheet choked on it.

It was a gigantic sample of… nothing.

80% of the songs had no transaction data: they had sold no copies at all.

There wasn’t any volume in the “Long Tail” and nothing had really changed – except for the worst. The actual sales data showed an even greater concentration of sales in the “Fat Head.” Page later spoke about their findings:

“We found that only 20% of tracks in our sample were ‘active,’ that is to say they sold at least one copy, and hence, 80% of the tracks sold nothing at all. Moreover, approximately 80% of sales revenue came from around 3% of the active tracks. Factor in the dormant tail and you’re looking at an ’80/0.38% rule’ for all the inventory on the digital shelf.

“Finally, only 40 tracks sold more than 100,000 copies, accounting for 8% of the business. Think about that – back in the physical world, forty tracks could be just 4 albums, or the top slice of the best-selling ‘Now That’s What I Call Music, Volume 70’ which bundles up 43 ‘hits’ into one perennially popular customer offering!”

When the new owners of Rolling Stone recently announced they would challenge Billboard’s dominance of the pop charts, what was left unsaid is how pointless a “top 100” of ANYTHING has become. As far as big-time music industry relevance, a “top 100” could probably be cut down to a “top 8” or “top 11.” Sales are so heavily concentrated at the top that you’d expect artists to start their own campaign for industry income equality.

Link to the rest at 5Mag.net

PG suggests the same thing may happen on Amazon with books.

But he could be wrong.

For one thing, it is possible that the market for a wide array of books is different than the market for popular music.

Or not.

PG will be interested to hear the opinions of one and al on this topic.

The Current State and Future of Goodreads

From Book Riot:

I’ve always been a numbers gal. Don’t get me wrong, I was never a math whiz, but I can’t resist creating lists and following my progress in a numerical fashion. Even as a slow reader, I get a kick out of tracking the books I read throughout the year on Goodreads. It’s a helpful motivator, and it’s the ideal way to refresh my abysmal memory when asked about my recent favorite reads. I rarely know off the top of my head, and my Goodreads list is always there to save me.

Goodreads was born a little over a decade ago, in December 2006. Soon after its launch, the site’s membership grew exponentially. It quickly racked up over half a million users by the end of 2007. User numbers kept on growing, and the popular site for book readers caught the eye of Amazon in 2013. At the time, readers (and writers) were wary of the purchase, though some did feel positive about the move.

. . . .

Fast forward to early 2019. Goodreads now has a companion smartphone app, but the site still looks much the same as it once did. Otis Chandler and Elizabeth, Khuri Chandler, the founders of the site, stepped down as CEO and Editor-in-Chief earlier this year and Veronica Moss—previously the Revenue & Operations Officer for Goodreads—took over as CEO.

. . . .

I was interested in finding out whether there was a future for a platform that feels so outdated and archaic in terms of design and functionality, so I set about to speak to users to hear out about their thoughts and experiences. I also got in touch with Goodreads to inquire about future plans for the site.

. . . .

There are no two ways around it, Goodreads is due for an update. The website needs a visual refresh—the color palette and design feel incredibly outdated. I almost feel nostalgic when I logon because it feels like a website I might have perused in the early 2000s as a kid in computer class. And that’s because that’s what it is. The site has changed minimally over the years. Books are added every day to the platform, but the shell hasn’t grown or evolved as quickly as its user base.

. . . .

I asked fellow readers and members of two online book clubs about their Goodreads experiences via social media. In the end, I received the opinions and observations of nearly a hundred readers who all echoed similar complaints but who were also often vehement about their love of the platform.

. . . .

It’s surprising that a platform owned by Amazon has such terrible search functionality. If you’re only vaguely certain of the book title, you’re looking for? Good luck.

Search is a joke. You have to type in the whole title in its entirety and even then it’s not usually one of the top results. Or when you’re searching and as you type more letters of the title to be more specific, the book you’re looking for disappears from the drop down options. —Laurel Kenneweg, a Goodreads user who has used the platform for at least nine years

. . . .

“I hate the app but love the website”
. . . .

Oddly, Goodreads fails miserably when it comes to integrating with services like Audible and Amazon. The Kindle integration is pretty stellar, but readers told me that they find it strange that there’s seemingly very little feedback going on between Amazon and Goodreads. Book recommendations on Amazon don’t seem to line up with a user’s Goodreads activity, for example.

. . . .

The groups function of Goodreads is incredibly retro. The message board–like area of the site where people can chat with like-minded readers needs an update of its own. For a site that focuses a lot on the social aspect of reading, it makes it markedly difficult to engage with other readers.

Link to the rest at Book Riot

Amazon now sells movie tickets in India

From TechCrunch:

Amazon has set its eye on the next business it wants to disrupt in its key overseas market India: online movie tickets. The e-commerce giant said Saturday it has partnered with local online movie ticketing giant BookMyShow to introduce booking option on Amazon India shopping site and app.

The move comes months after the e-commerce giant began offering flight ticketing option in the country as it races to turn its payments service Amazon Pay into a “super app” — a strategy increasingly employed by players in emerging markets such as India.

Starting today, Amazon users in India can book movie tickets from the “movie tickets” category under “shop by category” on the shopping site or through the Amazon Pay tab, the e-commerce firm said. BookMyShow, which leads the online movie ticketing market, is the exclusive partner for this new offering, the two said.

To gain market share, Amazon said its credit card users in India will get a 2% cashback on each movie ticket purchase. Until November 14, it will also offer a cashback of up to Rs 200 on each ticket purchase.

. . . .

BookMyShow, which employs 1,400 employees, sells about 15 million tickets each month. The service, which has a presence in over 650 towns and cities, today counts heavily-backed Paytm  as one of its biggest rivals. Paytm, which entered the movie ticketing business three years ago, has been able to eat some of BookMyShow’s market share by offering cashback on each ticket purchase.

The media and entertainment business in India is worth $23.9 billion, a report from EY-FICCI said in March this year, which noted that consumer spendings on the web is increasingly growing. More than 50% of all tickets sold by the top four multiplex chains in the country in recent years have occurred on the web.

. . . .

Last month, Amazon introduced a new feature that allows Amazon Pay users to pay their mobile, internet, and utility bills through Alexa. This is the first time Amazon is offering these functionalities in any market — it plans to bring this to the U.S. in coming months.

Link to the rest at TechCrunch

Congress Looking into Anticompetitive Behavior in the Digital Library Market

From Publishers Weekly:

The American Library Association (ALA) has delivered a written report to the House Judiciary Committee telling lawmakers that “unfair behavior by digital market actors,” including Amazon and some major publishers, is “doing concrete harm to libraries.”

The report, delivered last week to a House antitrust subcommittee investigating competition in the digital market, comes as lawmakers are taking note of the growing backlash to Big Five publisher Macmillan’s decision to impose a two-month embargo on new release e-books in public libraries.

. . . .

Under Macmillan’s new policy, which is scheduled to go into effect on November 1, public libraries are allowed to license a singe discounted, perpetual access e-book for the first eight weeks after a book’s publication. After eight weeks, libraries can purchase multiple two-year licenses at the regular price (roughly $60 for new works). Librarians, however, say that not being allowed to license multiple copies upon publication unfairly punishes digital readers, and will only serve to frustrate users and will hurt the ability of the library to serve their community, especially if other publishers follow suit.

“Libraries are prepared to pay a fair price for fair services; in fact, over the past ten years, libraries have spent over $40 billion acquiring content,” the ALA report reads. “But abuse of their market position by dominant actors in digital markets is impeding essential library activities that are necessary to ensure that all Americans have access to information, both today and for posterity. If these abuses go unchecked, America’s competitiveness and our cultural heritage as a nation are at risk.”

. . . .

“The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price,” ALA officials notes, pointing to Amazon Publishing. “The e-book titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms. By contrast, consumers may purchase all of these titles directly from Amazon. This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.”

. . . .

A “related problem,” ALA asserts—though it is surely the primary problem libraries face on a day-to-day basis—is the increasingly restrictive, and costly market for e-books from the major publishers.

. . . .

The inquiry comes after the House Judiciary Committee launched its investigation into competition in the digital market on June 3, 2019, with Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) citing “growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Amazon’s Profit Hurt by Push to Speed Up Shipping

From The Wall Street Journal:

Amazon.com Inc. ’s profit machine sputtered again after more than two years of surging growth, weighed down by the tech giant’s heavy investment into reducing shipping times for retail customers.

Amazon on Thursday said its third-quarter profit fell 26% from a year ago to $2.1 billion, or $4.23 a share, missing analysts’ consensus estimate of $4.59 a share, according to FactSet. That was its first profit decline since 2017, and followed a second quarter in which the company ended its streak of record quarterly profits and missed analyst expectations.

Revenue in the latest period rose 24% to $70 billion—better than analysts’ estimates—compared with a 20% increase three months earlier. The third quarter included Prime Day, a July shopping event created to sign up new Prime subscriptions by offering members steep sales discounts.

Amazon’s profit miss sent shares down more than 7% in after-hours trading Thursday. Before the late-afternoon report, the stock was up nearly 16% this year, giving the company a market value of around $881 billion.

“Investors were beginning to get used to the new Amazon of getting better bottom-line upside. Now, we’re back to the old Amazon, which is bottom-line downside but big investments,” Jefferies analyst Brent Thill said. “For short-term investors it’s a bummer, but for long-term investors, they realize that with Amazon these investments usually pay off.”

. . . .

Amazon’s world-wide shipping costs jumped 46% to $9.6 billion from the previous year as the company processes higher expenditures related to its one-day shipping program for Prime subscribers. Online sales growth has accelerated as Amazon has invested more into one-day shipping. Sales in online stores rose 22% in the third quarter, double the growth rate a year earlier.

In the fourth quarter, the company expects to spend roughly double what it did in the second quarter on one-day shipping, or $1.5 billion, to facilitate the program, Chief Financial Officer Brian Olsavsky said on a call with media Thursday.

In addition to getting product closer to customers by having inventory dispersed among its warehouses, Amazon saw a steep hiring increase for the quarter, with employment reaching 750,000 workers. Mr. Olsavsky said this jump was more pronounced this year because of the onset of one-day Prime shipping.

. . . .

Amazon’s advertising business registered $3.6 billion in sales, a 43.7% increase from the year-earlier period. The unit, which sells advertising space in the form of sponsored products in search and display ads, has become another cash cow for the company.

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

Congress Looking into Anticompetitive Behavior in the Digital Library Market

From Publishers Weekly:

The American Library Association (ALA) has delivered a written report to the House Judiciary Committee telling lawmakers that “unfair behavior by digital market actors,” including Amazon and some major publishers, is “doing concrete harm to libraries.”

The report, delivered last week to a House antitrust subcommittee investigating competition in the digital market, comes as lawmakers are taking note of the growing backlash to Big Five publisher Macmillan’s decision to impose a two-month embargo on new release e-books in public libraries.

. . . .

The ALA comments break down what it sees as potentially “anticompetitive” behavior in the digital realm into two sectors—public and school libraries, and academic and research libraries. And no surprise, the two issues topping the list of ALA’s concerns: Amazon’s exclusive digital content, which is not available to libraries; and restrictions by the major publishers in the library e-book market.

“The worst obstacle for libraries are marketplace bans: refusal to sell services at any price,” ALA officials notes, pointing to Amazon Publishing. “The e-book titles from Amazon Publishing are not available to libraries for lending at any price or any terms. By contrast, consumers may purchase all of these titles directly from Amazon. This is a particularly pernicious new form of the digital divide; Amazon Publishing books are available only to people who can afford to buy them, without the library alternative previously available to generations of Americans.”

. . . .

A “related problem,” ALA asserts—though it is surely the primary problem libraries face on a day-to-day basis—is the increasingly restrictive, and costly market for e-books from the major publishers. This includes the “delayed release” of e-books to the library market, the ALA report states, pointing to Macmillan’s two-month embargo on new release e-book titles, scheduled to take effect on November 1, and “abusive” pricing for library e-books, where titles can often run more than four times the consumer price for two year licenses.

“Denying or delaying new content to libraries certainly is a market failure,” ALA states. “It also prevents libraries from accomplishing their democratizing mission of providing equal access to information to American citizens.”

. . . .

The inquiry comes after the House Judiciary Committee launched its investigation into competition in the digital market on June 3, 2019, with Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) citing “growing evidence that a handful of gatekeepers have come to capture control over key arteries of online commerce, content, and communications.”

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly