10 New Publishing Scams to Watch Out for in 2020

From Anne R. Allen’s Blog:

I read a quote recently from an indie author who said he felt sorry for new writers who fall for scammy vanity publishers — because they obviously have no writer friends to clue them in.

It is true that networking with other authors is the best way to stay safe from scammers in this business. You can usually get by with a little help from your friends.

Unfortunately, the latest batch of scams are calculated to turn friends’ faces and familiar names into weapons to use against you.

Here are some of the nasty ways they’re trying to con you.

1) Riding the Coattails of Publishing Influencers

If you Google “Anne R. Allen,” about halfway down the SERP (Search Engine Results Page) — before a link to this blog — is an ad for a notorious vanity publisher. They’ve obviously used my name as a keyword for their ads.

Flattering, maybe, but also hella creepy.

And recently I saw a link to a “best websites for indie authors” list, and went to check it out. The first few links were to well known publishing blogs like Writer Unboxed, Nathan Bransford, and Jane Friedman. But sandwiched in between the real influencers were links to vanity presses. In other words, the “Best Websites” list was simply a con to steer newbies to scammy vanity presses. Most of the vanity sites on the list are owned or spawned by Author Solutions.

This clever ploy was designed to make the scammers look legit. Plus putting trusted names in there got real influencers to share the list — and put the vanity press names in front of their sizable readerships.

Always check out a publisher with Writer Beware, and ask your writer friends what they’ve heard about it.

. . . .

5) Goodreads Print Book Giveaways

I think it’s time to label these a scam. They were once a good way to get reviews, but way too many book re-sellers are gaming Goodreads giveaways to get free inventory.

After paying the Goodreads fee, plus postage, authors not only don’t get reviews, but they see their signed books for sale online.

One bookseller in the Midwest apparently stocks much of her store with Goodreads giveaway books.

I’m not going to use any names, because this bookseller is not only a crook but a sadistic bully. (Scammers are often sociopaths: you can’t have much empathy if you feed on peoples’ dreams for a living.)

Whenever an author complains — no matter how politely — about seeing review copies for sale with no review, this scammy bookseller will then give the author a one-star, four-word insulting review, and post it on all retailers across the Web. This sweetheart also threatens to ruin the authors’ careers by reporting them as scammers to Amazon.

Unfortunately the crook has many clones. And nobody at Goodreads cares.

Of course there are still good, honest people who ask for Goodreads giveaway books and write lovely, thoughtful reviews. But they are becoming scarce.

Goodreads simply has no policing and nobody to complain to when scammers use the site to commit fraud. The chances of getting a review from a Goodreads giveaway are slim, and that narrow chance is not worth gambling your career and well-being.

To give out review copies, try Booksprout, Hidden Gems, NetGalley or BookFunnel.

Goodreads doesn’t have enough moderation, and it has devolved into a site that’s toxic for authors and reviewers alike.

. . . .

9) Rights Grabs from “Free” Contests

This isn’t really new, but I’ve heard of several contests recently that, in the fine print, say they have the right to use any piece that’s sent to them. That is, not just the winners, but any story you submit becomes their property.

Yeah. You didn’t really enter a contest. You just gave away your work for free to an outfit that will probably publish it uncredited or sell it to a college essay mill.

So it helps to read that fine print.

Unfortunately, sometimes there’s not even any fine print. Writer Beware has reported one contest that posted NO rules or rights policies. Later, the site posted all the stories that had been sent in as entries—with no compensation or even notice to the authors.

And sometimes even very big name publications can include rights grabs. Here’s another warning from Writer Beware: Rights Grabs by the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award.

So be very wary of free contests, even when they’re sponsored by well-known organizations. If there’s something iffy in the fine print, or no fine print, stay away.

Link to the rest at Anne R. Allen’s Blog

Pay-to-Play Publishing

In a comment to a post titled The Measures That Matter yesterday, TPV regular, Felix J. Torres, made a couple of comments in response to questions that PG though would benefit any who didn’t read them in the earlier post.

Comment 1

It’s Pay-to-Play publishing.

Not quite Tradpub, not quite vanity…or at least the honest ones are. The problem is it’s closer to Vanity that tradpub and it’s hard to tell the honest operators from the scam artists.

The idea is they offer one-stop publishing services for hire for authors unwilling or unable to manage the process themselves, typically because they want the “all-important” B&M shelf space. Which, yes, would be important to established legacy authors but… well, to a total newcomer without an installed base POD is a whole lot cheaper, albeit with a lower margin.

A hybrid publisher might offer editing, formatting, graphics, and the connections to China to order up a traditional print run…all paid up-front by the author, either in cash, a piece of copyright, or both.

Easy to see why they struggle to prove their bonafides, right?

And the OP is right: it is an old business model that harks to before the nineteenth century, when authors would pay a printer to run a batch of pbooks for an upfront free. Over time, the printers started doing more and demanding more and became what is now the legacy publishing business that has been mostly taken over by the multinationals. The smaller players that are getting hit the hardest by disintermediation seem to have reverted to the older model to try to stay afloat.

Personally, I don’t think there is enough money in today’s markets for the model to work for honest operators.

At the low end sales will be too low for a fair distribution so one or the other (most likely the author) will get shorted. At the high end, sales will be high enough the author will have enough leverage to negotiate a non industry-standard contract with an advance somewhere, instead of having to pay. What remains is mostly a narrow band of legacy midlisters dropped by the BPHs, successful Indies willing to pay to offload the backend workflow, and… Well, Dreamers with cash…

The idea is that you have to spend (lots of) money to make money but the assumption that B&M access is essential isn’t real. The payoff is limited and in most cases not justifiable for newcomers.

Comment 2

Sure they can [be hybrid publishers].

They can try, anyway.

As the OP points out, it’s a bad term but they haven’t come up with anything else to explain it.

An author is a hybrid if they send some books down a traditional publishing channel and some through non-traditional channels like direct sales, KDP, KU, D2D, Lightning source, etc. “Hybrid” refers to their distribution channels and revenue sources.

A publisher is hybrid if they earn some of their money from selling/licensing books and some from the author. “Hybrid” publishing refers solely to how they get their money.

An honest Hybrid publisher might split the cost of getting a book to market 50-50 with the author and, likewise, split 50-50 the net revenues (after warehousing and returns, pulping, etc), if any.

The risk is the “if any”.

An honest hybrid publisher that takes on too many “less than popular” titles might find themselves making 90% of their net from Author payments instead of from the minimal book sales. Depending on their bookkeeping, that might put them out of business or make them an accidental vanity press.

It’s slippery turf on both ends.

Publishers want to minimize risk and one way to minimize it is to not only pay minimal or non-existent advances but to actually “share” their costs with the author. How the costs and revenues are shared and how discriminating they are in taking on “partners” to share them with is the distinction between a hybrid press and a vanity press.

As with everything publishing related, the devil lies in tbe details.

It’s just a different minefield for authors to navigate, different risks and different trade offs. And, more often than not, another game that it is safest not to play because there is no significant difference between a scammer and an honest but incompetent operator.

The Continued Decline of Author Solutions

From Writer Beware, an item PG thought he posted earlier.

Last week, Bowker released its periodic report on ISBN output in the self-publishing field, updated with 2016 and 2017 figures.

There are many interesting bits of information in the report–including CreateSpace’s hulking dominance of the field, with more than 10 times the output of its closest competitor, Smashwords (although it should be said that the usefulness of this comparison–and of the figures themselves–in assessing the growth of self-publishing is undercut by the omission of popular self-pub platforms like IngramSpark and Draft2Digital, and also by the fact that many authors who employ these services don’t use ISBNs at all).

What I want to focus on, though, is Author Solutions–where ISBN output is a useful measure of overall activity, since all AS publishing packages include ISBN assignment.

In previous posts, I’ve followed AS’s steady decline, from an all time high of 52,548 ISBNs in 2011 (one year before Pearson bought it and folded it into Penguin), to less than half that in 2015 (the same year that Penguin unloaded it to a private equity firm called Najafi Companies*).

In the latest version of Bowker’s report, that slide continues. 2016 did see a small post-Najafi uptick, from 24,587 to 30,288; but in 2017 the freefall resumed, with ISBNs dropping to 25,971–just slightly above 2015’s output. A few of the individual imprints do show negligible increases, but for the most part they all go down (by four figures in the case of AuthorHouse).

. . . .

Looking separately at print and ebooks, it’s clear that the decline is primarily driven by print. Between 2012 and 2017, print ISBNs dropped by nearly half. There’s no 2016 bump–in fact the numbers continue to fall–and output plunges more than 18% in 2017.

. . . .

Turning to ebooks, we can see that the 2016 bump in overall ISBNs was entirely due to ebooks, which decreased drastically in 2015 but more than doubled the following year. In 2017, though, the trend reasserts itself. Although some imprints do show gains, the net result is a drop of 6%–less than print, but down is down.

. . . .

AS’s long, slow fade says a lot about how self-publishing has changed over the past decade, and it’s both good and bad news. The costly and often deceptive “assisted self-publishing” services that proliferated in the early days of digital publishing are gradually being supplanted by better options, and authors who are savvier about self-publishing know to avoid them. At the same time, though, the self-publishing field is increasingly monopolized by Amazon. And at least for now, the bad old services like AS are still managing to snag enough customers to hang on.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

Publishers Weekly Includes Two Vanity Publishers In Its List of Fast-Growing Independent Presses

From Writer Beware:

Once again, Publishers Weekly’s annual overview of fast-growing independent publishers features not only innovative indies, but publishers whose business model is largely built on author fees: Morgan James Publishing and Austin Macauley. Seriously, PW? Why do you  keep doing this?

. . . .

Billing itself as “The Entrepreneurial Publisher”, Morgan James Publishing requires its authors “to commit to purchasing, during the life of the agreement, up to 2,500 copies [of their book] at print cost plus $2.” (Reports Writer Beware has received indicate that writers are asked for a “deposit” of up to $5,000 on contract signing; we’ve also had reports that additional fees may be due for editing and PR.)

To make this sizeable outlay of cash seem more palatable, MJP falsely claims on its “compare” page that “Many major houses require authors to purchase 5,000 copies, or more, of the book upon its release”, and that even with self-publishing, “[the a]uthor is expected to purchase however many copies required to sell to the general public.” (It also–again falsely–suggests that “old school traditional publishers” take possession of authors’ copyrights.)

Despite all of the above, MJP declares that “No Publishing Fee [is] charged, hidden or otherwise.”

. . . .

I’ve written before about Austin Macauley–and I’m not the only one: others have called AM out on its business model as well.

AM bills itself as a “hybrid” publisher*, and does reveal on its website that it offers “contributory” contracts. However, it presents itself as an “innovative independent trade publisher” and states that “we look at every new manuscript with a view to offering a traditional mainstream publishing deal.” This certainly encourages authors to believe that they have a good chance of a traditional offer. But Writer Beware has heard from just four authors who were offered contracts they didn’t have to pay for, while we’ve gotten 60+ reports from authors who received fee-based offers. Obviously this represents just a fraction of those who’ve submitted to AM; still, the proportion of non-fee to fee-based offers certainly suggests that the bulk of AM’s business is fee-based.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG says if there’s a sucker born every minute, there’s a vanity publisher born every ten minutes.

A number of years ago, PG had the naive expectation that the breadth of information for authors on the internet and the ease with which the reputation of almost anyone can be examined online would put vanity publishers out of business.

Alas, while widespread access to the internet has changed a great many things, it has not changed human nature.

Hybrid Publishing, Diversity of Voices Focus at IBPA Conference

From Publishers Weekly:

The growth of hybrid publishing, the business model where authors subsidize the publication of their books, was one of the major points of discussion at the Independent Book Publishers Association’s (IBPA) Publishing University held April 6-7 in Austin, Tex. The event was a sellout with 300 publishers of all stripes—traditional independent publishers, hybrid publishers, and self-published authors—in attendance.

. . . .

One session featured three women who have developed successful hybrid publishing companies. To help ensure the professionalism of hybrid publishers, IBPA recently created a list of standards that publishers must meet if they are to be considered in the category. All three panelists stressed the importance of adhering to these standards. To meet criteria, publishers must vet submissions, take responsibility for the design and editing of the book, offer active distribution, and attain respectable sales.

Brooke Warner, publisher of the hybrid house She Writes Press, was involved in developing the criteria. She explained on the hybrid panel that while “respectable sales” was a fuzzy term, hybrid publishers must work to achieve sales levels that are appropriate for whatever type of book they are publishing. Sales of a poetry book, for example, would not be expected to achieve the sales level of a popular mystery.

Warner stressed that while She Writes is paid up front, her company is heavily invested in selling its authors’ books because its reputation is tied to the success of its titles. “We need to demonstrate we can get sales,” she said. We want the industry to be impressed by these books.” In addition, while the authors earn at least 50% of royalties under the hybrid model, She Writes also receives a cut.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests the threshold “standard” for these “publishers” is whether the author has enough money to pay them a large fee upfront to provide services the author could acquire directly from independent editors, book and cover designers on much more reasonable terms.

The fact that this program was a “sellout” at the IBPA conference does not bode well for credulous authors.

PG hasn’t seen publishing contracts from any of these 21st century vanity publishers. If anyone cares to share one with him for his contract collection, he can be reached via the Contact link at TPV.

Why Japan’s Rakuten Is A Hidden Contender In The Ebook Market

From Forbes:

Quick, name a massive ecommerce company with an outsized share of the ebook market across the globe.

If you didn’t come up with “Amazon,” I don’t know why the rock you’re living under doesn’t have wi-fi. Chances are, however, that you can’t name the one company with the second-largest share of the ebook market. Here’s why surfacing that company is tougher than it looks, and why that company might be the Japanese ecommerce company Rakuten.

First, let’s discuss the oft-overlooked data point that makes all the difference when determining how many ebooks are being consumed: Digital distribution to libraries. The two ebook-tracking watchdogs used by most as a benchmark for industry statistics — Nielsen BookScan and Bookstat (formerly known as Author Earnings) — both focus on units sold. As a result, they don’t take digital libraries seriously. Rakuten OverDrive, a digital management service for publishers, libraries and schools, isn’t represented in the latest Author Earnings numbers on the download numbers for Amazon, Apple iBooks, or the Barnes & Noble Nook, which stand at 406 million, 44 million, and 19.4 million, respectively. OverDrive’s numbers? 225 million total digital downloads, representing 155 million ebooks and 68 million audiobooks. Granted, the OverDrive numbers are from 2017 and the Author Earnings report uses 2016 data, but OverDrive’s numbers are still above all but Amazon by a wide margin. Nielson, meanwhile, counts a book sold to a library as a single sale — no matter how many downloads it goes on to earn.

Mark Williams of industry watchdog The New Publishing Standard debuted this insight in a January post. “Other digital libraries also reported downloads in the millions,” he notes in the article. “Hoopla, for example, saw over six million downloads in 2016, while Odilo reported ‘tremendous growth.’ […] Yet the Author Earnings Report completely ignores them.

. . . .

When I reached out to Williams for a comment, he shared a dour view of the book industry’s sparse data and its library-book-sized blind spot: “By conveniently ignoring OverDrive’s 225 million digital downloads while including estimated values for Kindle Unlimited subscription downloads, we are given not only a distorted picture of the units and value of the digital market, but more importantly a very distorted view of the wider level of engagement with digital books. Close to a quarter billion ebook and audiobook downloads, all of which are bringing in revenue for authors and publishers even if the readers are not paying directly, are shunted aside,” he told me.

. . . .

“As more and more readers understand that the ebooks they buy are actual just licences to read, and that they never ‘own’ the ebooks they supposedly are buying,” he says, “so more will ask what advantage there is in buying from a retailer rather than getting the exact same product for ‘free’ from a library.”

Link to the rest at Forbes

Army of Clones: Author Solutions Spawns a Legion of Copycats

From Writer Beware:

I don’t think there’s much dispute that the many “imprints” under the Author Solutions umbrella are among the most negatively regarded of all the author services companies.

From the predatory business practices that gave rise to two class action lawsuits, to the huge number of customercomplaints, to the relentless sales calls and deceptive recruitment methods, to the dubious and overpriced”marketing” services that are one of the company’s main profit sources, AS’s poor reputation is widely known. Along with other factors, such as the competition from free and low-cost self-publishing platforms, this has pushed AS in recent years into steady decline.

Unfortunately, whatever gap AS’s contraction has created has been filled by a slew of imitators. Why not, when hoodwinking authors is as easy as setting up a website and opening an account with Ingram? In some cases, the imitators have first-hand experience: they’ve been founded and/or staffed by former employees of AS’s call centers in the Philippines.

Like AS, the clones rely on misleading hype, hard-sell sales tactics, and a lucrative catalog of junk marketing services. Even if authors actually receive the services they’ve paid for (and judging by the complaints I’ve gotten, there’s no guarantee of that), they are getting stiffed. These are not businesses operating in good faith, but greedy opportunists seeking to profit from writers’ inexperience, ignorance, and hunger for recognition. They are exploitative, dishonest, and predatory.

. . . .

3. Elaborate claims of skills and experience that don’t check out. A clone may say it’s been in business since 2006 or 2008, even though its domain name was registered only last year. It may claim to be staffed by publishing and marketing experts with years or even decades of “combined experience”, but provide no names or bios to enable you to verify this. A hallmark of the clones’ “About Us” pages is a serious lack of “about.”

. . . .

 5. Junk marketing. Press releases. Paid book review packages. Book fair exhibits. Ingram catalog listings. Hollywood book-to-screen packages. These and more are junk marketing–PR services of dubious value and effectiveness that are cheap to provide but can be sold at a huge profit. It’s an insanely lucrative aspect of the author-fleecing biz, not just because of the enormous markup, but because while you can only sell a publishing package once, you can sell marketing multiple times.

. . . .

Stratton Press claims to offer “an experience that is one of a kind for both novice and veteran authors”. Oddly, it doesn’t display its publishing packages on its website; you have to go to its Facebook page to see them. Named after famous writers, they start at $1,800 and go all the way up to $10,500.

Link to the rest at Writer Beware

PG has had extensive exposure to quite a few different categories of businesses. While every business has its frauds and con artists, he has to say that publishing seems to attract a larger share than many other types of business.

Unfortunately, phony agents, phony publishers and phony marketers abound. Some have worked in legitimate parts of publishing in the past, but haven’t been able to support themselves in that arena and use their past experiences to support their pitches to authors.

While PG thinks indie publishing offers the best financial opportunities for most authors over the long run (or as long as anything is in internet years), if you’re convinced that the magic of Manhattan will make you an overnight sensation, PG suggests that selling very well as an indie author is the best way to attract contacts from legitimate agents.

Flogging an unpublished manuscript to agent after agent tends to become soul-destroying for many authors. Why not just polish the ms to the best of your ability, accessing your own resources, self-publish it and at least start earning a little bit of money from your writing while you query away.

If you’re paying attention to reader responses and suggestions, you may get some ideas to write a second book that’s better than the first. Number 2 may attract an agent when Number 1 failed.

PG suggests that your marketing of your indie books is not a lost effort. Nearly every publisher who talks about what they’re seeking in a new author is a platform, meaning an online presence that has attracted a lot of people to the author’s work, personality, videos, etc. On the one hand, if you have a good platform, you may gain fewer benefits from signing with a publisher, but build your platform and see how things turn out. A good author’s platform will attract more readers if indie publishing is what’s going to happen either in the near term or for an extended period of time.

New Author Earnings Report

From Dean Wesley Smith:

It’s got a ton of stuff in it. And takes a vast amount of time to go through. But worth it.

And their new side-business they are only offering to big publishers is flat scary.

Horrifying, actually if they are doing it wrong.

And I got a hunch that unless they are pulling names, that new business is setting them up for more lawsuits than I want to think about. Because from my understanding, they are releasing personal sales numbers of writers to businesses who can get past their paywall.

. . . .

Data Guy, Hugh, tell me I am wrong here… Please?

I know in the free report you released some names and blocked some information and other names. I hope that every bit of data you release attached to a name is permission granted. Please, please tell me you are doing that…

Because behind that stupid paywall of needing ten million in sales, any of my pen names, my name, Kris’s name, or our numbers better not be out in public there. And how will I know? Let me think… I have been around this industry for forty years and have a lot of friends who will be glad to send me information about myself they buy from you.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

PG is an admirer of Dean. And Dataguy and Hugh.

Each of them has contributed a great deal of information (without compensation) that has benefited all authors and indie authors in particular.

PG is a big believer in personal and business privacy for those who don’t affirmatively spread their personal business everywhere.

However, the first question which came to PG’s mind after reading Dean’s comments, having earlier seen the information Dataguy made available from his new data analysis.

Who owns the information about how many books Dean (or any other author) sells and the prices at which those books are sold and the royalty rates Amazon and others pay to authors who self-publish with Amazon, Kobo, etc.?

Does Dean own the information because he wrote the books and owns the copyrights?

Does Amazon own the information because it reflects the number of books it sells on its own website?

Does Dataguy own the information because he gathers and aggregates it in ways that Amazon/Kobo, etc., don’t?

PG took a quick blast through the KDP Terms & Conditions which Dean and any other author who sells via KDP has agreed to. He did not find anything in the Ts&Cs that directly addresses the question of who owns the data respecting the sales and pricing of ebooks that Amazon sells. (PG suspects we can look for some clarifications on this topic in a future edition of the Ts&Cs)

PG did find some terms that tangentially address data ownership, however. (This is from the version last updated on   September 1, 2016)

Here’s a first section – Customer Prices:

5.3.4 Customer Prices. To the extent not prohibited by applicable laws, we have sole and complete discretion to set the retail customer price at which your Digital Books are sold through the Program. We are solely responsible for processing payments, payment collection, requests for refunds and related customer service, and will have sole ownership and control of all data obtained from customers and prospective customers in connection with the Program.

The question here is that, if Amazon has sole ownership and control of “all data” obtained from customers “in connection with the Program,” what things do “all data” cover?

The prices the customers paid for ebooks and the numbers of ebooks they purchased would seem to be part of the data obtained from customers in connection to purchases of books offered for sale via the KDP program. If so, the author doesn’t own that data.

Is there an implied license permitting Amazon to aggregate and categorize this data? Those activities, although not expressly mentioned, are required if Amazon is to calculate and create royalty reports for the purposes of paying authors. Providing authors access to this type of information would also seem to be required under Paragraph 5.4.2 which says Amazon will “will make available to you an online report detailing sales of Digital Books and corresponding Royalties. ”

Since this is so exciting, let’s move on to 5.5 Grant of Rights.

You grant to each Amazon party, throughout the term of this Agreement, a nonexclusive, irrevocable, right and license to distribute Digital Books, directly and through third-party distributors,

. . . .

(e) use, reproduce, adapt, modify, and distribute, as we determine appropriate, in our sole discretion, any metadata that you provide in connection with Digital Books;

. . . .

In addition, you agree that we may permit our affiliates and independent contractors, and our affiliates’ independent contractors, to exercise the rights that you grant to us in this Agreement. “Amazon Properties” means any web site, application or online point of presence, on any platform, that is owned or operated by or under license by Amazon or co-branded with Amazon, and any web site, application, device or online point of presence through which any Amazon Properties or products available for sale on them are syndicated, offered, merchandised, advertised or described.

Metadata is not expressly defined in the KDP Ts&Cs. Paragraph 5.1.2. requires the author to make certain she/he provides correct metadata. Under Subparagraph (e) of 5.5 above the author permits Amazon the right to use, reproduce, adapt, modify, and distribute . . . any metadata it receives from the author.

Is pricing of the book metadata?

One definition of metadata outside of the KDP docs is “a set of data that describes and gives information about other data.”

PG has a hard time seeing that the price of the book is not metadata – it describes and gives information about what the royalty rate will be under KDP and provides a basis upon which the mathematical calculation of the total royalty payable to the author will be calculated.

If pricing is metadata, Amazon can do almost anything it wants to do with pricing information, including distributing it to others besides the author.

One last KDP paragraph:

7 Confidentiality. You will not, without our express, prior written permission: (a) issue any press release or make any other public disclosures regarding this Agreement or its terms; (b) disclose Amazon Confidential Information (as defined below) to any third party or to any employee other than an employee who needs to know the information; or (c) use Amazon Confidential Information for any purpose other than the performance of this Agreement.

. . . .

“Amazon Confidential Information” means (1) any information regarding Amazon, its affiliates, and their businesses, including, without limitation, information relating to our technology, customers, business plans, promotional and marketing activities, finances and other business affairs, (2) the nature, content and existence of any communications between you and us, and (3) any sales data relating to the sale of Digital Books or other information we provide or make available to you in connection with the Program. Amazon Confidential Information does not include information that (A) is or becomes publicly available without breach of this Agreement, (B) you can show by documentation to have been known to you at the time you receive it from us, (C) you receive from a third party who did not acquire or disclose such information by a wrongful or tortious act, or (D) you can show by documentation that you have independently developed without reference to any Amazon Confidential Information.

PG didn’t find a specific provision where the author agreed that Amazon Confidential Information is the sole property of Amazon, but reaching that conclusion from the language above is a short step.

This provision limits what the author can do with information the author may receive from Amazon. The author is prohibited from disclosing any information regarding Amazon:

  1. Finances
  2. Business Affairs
  3. Communications the author receives from Amazon
  4. Sales Data related to the sale of Digital Books by Amazon
  5. Any other information Amazon provides the author with respect to the KDP program

This covers a lot of ground.

Taken according to its terms, the author is not permitted to disclose:

  1. Finances – Do sales and royalty reports the author receives disclose information about Amazon’s finances if the author shares them with others?
  2. Business Affairs – Is there anything Amazon does that isn’t covered by this term?
  3. Content of Communications between Amazon and the author – Are the contents of sales and royalty reports made available to the author communications? PG thinks so.
  4. Sales Data related to the sale of Digital Books – If Content of Communications doesn’t cover sales and royalty reports provided to the author, Sales Data certainly does. If Sales Data is Confidential Information the author can’t disclose, does that mean sales data regarding number of books sold, prices for those books, etc., owned by Amazon. Again, there is not a specific agreement with respect to ownership of this data in the T’s&C’s, but, as between Amazon and the author, the author will have a hard time arguing he/she is the owner of the sales data.
  5. Any other information Amazon provides the author about the KDP Program – This provision is a catch-all for just about anything Amazon provides the author.

For any visitors to TPV experiencing shortness of breath, PG will point out the boilerplate exceptions to the definition of Amazon Confidential Information. Anything that falls into these baskets is not Amazon Confidential Information even if it’s described in the first part of Paragraph 7 as Amazon Confidential Information (aren’t contracts wonderful?).

  1. information that (A) is or becomes publicly available without breach of this Agreement,
  2. information that (B) you can show by documentation to have been known to you at the time you receive it from us,
  3. information that (C) you receive from a third party who did not acquire or disclose such information by a wrongful or tortious act, or
  4. information that (D) you can show by documentation that you have independently developed without reference to any Amazon Confidential Information

If anything in complex Ts&Cs is straightforward, the exceptions to Confidential Information are.

  • If other people know about it without you telling them, it’s not confidential.
  • If you knew it before Amazon told you, it’s not confidential.
  • If somebody besides Amazon told you and that person got the information without committing a bad act, it’s not confidential
  • If you figured out something that Amazon told you, it’s not confidential.

So where does PG end up on this issue?

First, the standard disclaimers –

  • This is not legal advice, you obtain legal advice by hiring a lawyer (and hopefully paying a lawyer) and not by reading a blog.
  • PG could totally be wrong about this.
  • PG spends more time before he provides legal advice than he does before he makes a blog post.
  • PG might have missed a piece or lots of pieces of the KDP Ts&Cs that totally obliterates his reasoning.
  • PG typed this post without reading it.
  • PG could be high on Coke Zero and out of his mind.
  • Those monkeys in the corner of PG’s office might not be real.
  • Ditto for the aliens looking in through PG’s office window, one of whom looks like Jeff Bezos in disguise.

With the standard disclaimers firmly before you, PG thinks:

  1. Amazon probably owns and controls the data related to the ebooks (and other books) it licenses and sells to its customers.
  2. This data includes how many books it sold that are written by a particular author and how much money it paid to the author.
  3. If Amazon owns the data, it could release the same information as Data Guy publishes to the whole world if it wanted to do so.
  4. If Amazon owns the data, it can share as much of the data as it wants to with third parties, including Data Guy, subject to whatever limitations it places on Data Guy’s use of the information.
  5. In their disclosures of information, both Amazon and Data Guy should be sensitive to the privacy issues of authors even if they are not contractually required to do so.

One of the aliens just brought a pizza into PG’s office as a sign that aliens want only peace. There is no spinach or canned tuna on top of the pizza, so PG will close for now.

Author Earnings January 2018 Report: US online book sales, Q2-Q4 2017

From Author Earnings:

It has been nearly a year since our last Author Earnings report, which is probably far too long between updates. But while we haven’t said much publicly during that time, behind the scenes we’ve been super busy on the commercial side, and as a result we’ve taken our industry data and analytics capabilities to a whole new professional level.

For large publishers and other scaled industry players, this has led to a brand new source of real-time business data: a perfect complement to Bookscan, covering digital and online book sales. For authors, it means that we can now provide a far greater depth and accuracy of analysis here, pro bono, under the AuthorEarnings banner. So it’s a win-win for everyone.

But why did traditional publishers and publishing-industry analysts become so interested in our data in the first place?

Two reasons: Full-market coverage. And timeliness.

Over the past few years, traditional publishers have largely been able to navigate the digital disruption and adapt their businesses to the changing bookselling landscape with varying degrees of success. Unfortunately, the industry’s legacy sales-reporting providers, upon whom those publishers rely for data… haven’t.

Which has caused problems industry-wide.

For some book formats, these providers were still able to give decent visibility into overall sales. Print sales data from Bookscan, for instance, captures somewhere between 70%-80% of all US hardcover and paperback purchases at point of sale, giving publishers a reasonably accurate and statistically meaningful picture of which books US readers are buying in hardcover and paperback formats. And more importantly, Bookscan sales numbers for last week are available this week, to support publisher business decisions for next week.

Data reporting on the digital side of the market has been a whole different story.

Legacy data providers like PubTrack Digital and the AAP are effectively blind to vast sectors of the consumer ebook & audiobook market. And those non-traditional sectors are precisely where ebook sales have continued to grow, year after year, even as PubTrack-and-AAP-reporting publishers have seen their own ebook sales dramatically shrink. As a result, what was once a small blind spot in the industry’s online-sales numbers now blocks half the view. Data from PubTrack and the AAP is now missing two thirds of US consumer ebook purchases, and nearly half of all ebook dollars those consumers spend. (And reporting is so long-delayed–often by 4-6 months–that even if the data were more complete, it would still be useless.)

. . . .

While these commercial efforts have been kept wholly separate from AuthorEarnings, they’ve put us in a unique position, data-wise. In the past, even when we analyzed a million top selling titles at a time, we were still only looking at a single day’s sales. But no longer.

Now we capture over a million top selling titles a day. Every day.

Our analytics run in real-time, 24/7.

Which means that if a book sold even a single online copy since April 2017, no matter whom the publisher or author, we can probably find it in our ever-growing dataset. Whether that title sold two copies yesterday or two thousand, we can see those sales. We can total them up in our dashboard. And for next week’s unreleased titles–or next month’s–we can tally up their accumulated online preorders, too.

. . . .

During the last three quarters of 2017, we recorded $1.3 billion in individually tracked ebook sales, $490 million in individually tracked audiobook sales, and $3.1 billion in individually tracked online hardcover and paperback purchases. While this is not quite 100% of online sales during the period, it comes pretty close — we ramped up from a much smaller share in April, to where we are capturing more than 90% of all US online sales for Q4 2017 and beyond.

. . . .

The above two pie charts show 2017 US online book sales by format: on the left, total units purchased, and on the right, total consumer dollars spent.

(It’s worth noting that even print sales have, by now, moved mostly online: in 2017, we show a full 45.5% of Bookscan’s reported 687 million total US print book sales coming from Amazon alone. By our measurement, Amazon’s share of the print market has been steadily and continuously climbing, from “only” 41.7% in 2016 and 37.7% in 2015, while sales at bookstores and other brick and mortar outlets shrink — a fact obscured by Bookscan’s lumping of Amazon online sales and brick and mortar bookstore sales together in a single combined category called “Club & Retail.” So the red online “print” share shown here represents roughly half of all US print sales, period. ).

Unsurprisingly, when we look at the above pie charts, most online book purchases in 2017 were ebooks (55%), while audiobooks made up a small but fast-growing share of units (6%), and print books accounted for the remaining 39% of units. In dollar terms, ebooks–with their generally lower purchase prices–made up a far smaller share of total online dollar spending, while 63% of online book dollar spending was for print.

But that doesn’t mean adult fiction dollars split that way. Nor even trade adult nonfiction dollars.

Why? Because it turns out a huge chunk of those print dollars are actually going to textbooks and other academic/professional print titles (strangely, the DSM-5 Psychiatric Manual of Mental Disorders was a particularly high 2017 seller). Textbooks, which are generally priced in the $60-$200 range, skew the dollar total significantly toward print. As do children’s books (including Board Books), another huge category of book sales where almost all purchases are in print.

When we leave out textbooks and children’s titles, and look only at adult fiction & trade nonfiction, the picture changes somewhat…

. . . .

70% of online purchases of adult fiction & nonfiction are ebooks & audiobooks, and online consumer dollars skew mostly digital, too. In fact, most of the remaining online print share here is nonfiction; further narrowing the scope to just adult fiction, we see that online sales are even more digitally dominated.

. . . .

Romance readers are overwhelmingly buying digital now: 90% of all Romance purchases are ebooks. And we can see that Science Fiction & Fantasy, with roughly 75% of sales now ebooks & audio, is not that far behind. On the other hand, readers of Poetry are still buying 82% of those Poetry books as print, and 85% of Drama & Plays are bought in print, even online.

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

Children’s Book Author Gets Deposit Back

From ABC News 11:

Daryll Packer has been waiting patiently for his vision of a children’s book series to become a reality.

He wrote the books several years ago while he was in Afghanistan working.

“We named it Logical Lamar,” he said. “It’s about a little second-grade kid who asks a lot of questions. He asks questions other kids want to ask or are afraid to ask and the book is set up to teach other kids it’s OK to ask.”

. . . .

In 2014, Daryll found Renne Gibbs of Cranberry Quill Publishing to publish his four books.

“She said ‘sure, I can do the books, I can do the books,’ and I was excited. So I wrote the check, here’s your initial deposit.”

Daryll put down $6,394 as a non-refundable deposit. The contract states the books will be ready in 10 months. Daryll says it was tough to get updates on the progress. He said he paid another $3,100 toward the publishing costs, thinking if he paid more to Gibbs, more work would get done.

At the 10-month mark, the books still weren’t done. Daryll’s wife, Pam, said Gibbs told them she was dealing with family health issues.

“Life happens,” Pam said. “So my husband and I talked and said let’s give her more time, because we honestly felt like she was the right one that she could get it done.”

A new contract was signed and because of the delays, Gibbs did refund $3,100 of the $9,000 they paid so far.

. . . .

He said he went to Cranberry Quill Publishing to see Gibbs.

“She just overcame with guilt – ‘I’m sorry, give me another chance,’ ” Darryl recalled.

Daryll gave her some more time, but nearly two years after hiring Gibbs, still no books so Daryll just wanted to part ways with her. However, he wanted the $6,394 non-refundable deposit back, something Gibbs wasn’t willing to return.

“It’s non-refundable when you produce a product, but you didn’t produce a product, so where’s my money?” Darryl asked.

Daryll got in touch with me and I got in touch with Renee Gibbs. She said contractually she doesn’t owe the Packers any money since the deposit is non-refundable. But she added that she wanted to do what is right and fair, and admitted that the communications were not the best they could have been when the project was delayed because of her family crisis.

. . . .

Daryll said he’s happy it’s behind him and that he got his $4,400 back. He is now moving forward with finding a publisher for his books.

Link to the rest at ABC News 11 and thanks to Meryl for the tip.

Big, Bad, Wide & International Report: covering Amazon, Apple, B&N, and Kobo ebook sales in the US, UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand

From Author Earnings:

Print bookselling remains artificially silo’d by country even today, for variety of legacy historical and logistical reasons. But by contrast, the global ebook marketplace is a seamlessly international one.

For authors, selling an ebook to a reader in a different country is just as easy as selling to a reader in your home country. Barriers to reaching an international audience no longer exist.

Today, with the click of a button, any author can start selling any title they wish simultaneously in 12 country-specific Amazon stores, 36 country-specific Kobo ebook stores, and over 40 country-specific Apple ebook stores.

As of yet, most of these non-English-language ebook markets are still fairly early-stage. But that’s not true of the four other major English-language markets outside the US. In those markets, too, as we’ll see, a substantial share of all new-book purchases has already gone digital. And, as we’ll also see, untracked, non-traditional suppliers make up a high percentage of ebook sales in those countries as well. Which means that these other digital markets have also been consistently underestimated and under-reported by traditional publishing-industry statistics.

. . . .

So this time, we rolled up our sleeves and basically went for the whole enchilada:

  • The top five English-language countries
  • The fifteen largest ebook stores
  • 750,000 top-selling ebook titles, in all genres and categories.
  • All of it calibrated against 700,000 points of raw, unfiltered daily sales data, from over 20,000 distinct ebook titles across all 15 stores.

When we were done, we were looking at the most comprehensive international picture of English-language ebook sales available anywhere.

. . . .

Population Reported
Print Book Sales
(annual units)
Ebook Sales
(annual units)
Ebooks as
% of
all book sales
  U.S.A.   325,700,000  675,000,000  487,298,000  42%
  U.K.     65,400,000 187,500,000  95,623,000  34%
  Canada     36,500,000  50,500,000  26,017,000  34%
  Australia     24,500,000  56,400,000  22,463,000  28%
  New Zealand       4,600,000  5,300,000  *1,306,000  20%*
  5-Country Total:  456,700,000  974,700,000  632,707,000  39%

. . . .

Amazon Apple
iBooks
Kobo Barnes&Noble
Nook
  U.S.A.   406,000,000  44,041,000  1,246,000  19,395,000
  U.K.   84,029,000 7,201,000  1,132,000  –
  Canada     14,892,000  3,760,000  6,479,000  –
  Australia     13,604,000  6,694,000  1,399,000  –
  New Zealand       *  831,000  416,000  –
  5-Country Total:  518,526,000  62,527,000  10,672,000  19,395,000
  % of Total:  82%  10%  2%  3%
  • Unsurprisingly, Amazon is the majority retailer in just about every market.
  • But in Canada and Australia, Amazon is a lot less dominant than in the US and the UK.
  • Taken all together, Amazon accounts for more than 80% of English-language ebook purchases, Apple another 10%, Kobo 2% and Nook 3%
  • The remaining 3%–ascribed to GooglePlay and all remaining channels–is most likely overly optimistic. Their true share might well be even lower.

. . . .

  • Self-published indie authors are verifiably capturing at least 24% – 34% of all ebook sales in each of the five English-language markets; it’s not just a US-only phenomenon. When you also include the uncategorized authors, the vast majority of whom are also self-published, the true indie share in each market lies somewhere between 30% – 40%.
  • Indies are competing particularly well in the Canadian and Australian ebook markets, nearly approaching the level of dominance they currently hold in the US.
  • The Big Five, on the other hand, are letting themselves progressively get squeezed out of nearly every English-Language ebook market. They make up only 38% of Canadian ebook purchases, and that’s the country where they are holding their ground best; in the US, the Big Five now account for barely 26% of all ebook sales.
  • Amazon Imprints have made the most market headway in the US. Despite being single-retailer exclusive to Amazon Kindle, the dozen or so Amazon “house” publishing imprints between them account for 14% of all US ebook sales, 10% of all UK ebook sales, and 8% of Australian ebook sales. In Canada, the Amazon Imprint footprint is a much more modest 3% of all ebook sales, largely due to the substantial shares of the overall Candian ebook market held by Kobo (25%) and Apple (14%).

Link to the rest at Author Earnings

DBW Interview with Data Guy, Co-Founder, Author Earnings

From Digital Book World:

In the past two years, Data Guy’s Author Earnings reports have become an increasingly popular resource for authors, shedding light on aspects of the publishing industry that were going previously unreported.

But the reports have also spurred a great deal of controversy. While some within the industry think they are vital tools for authors everywhere, there are others who criticize the data and think the conclusions resulting from them are worthless. There are of course many in the middle who believe the reports are admittedly far from perfect, but necessary nonetheless.

. . . .

Why do you choose to keep your identity anonymous, and is there anything that you’re willing to divulge personally?

I think the anonymity kind of goes back to where I was at when we started. Much by happenstance I discovered there are some advantages to staying anonymous. Back when I first pulled the data, it was really for my own information. I had just been approached by one of the top imprints in my genre, and they were making an offer on one of my books. It had done really well as an indie published release, and they could see it was selling well, ranking high on Barnes & Noble, Amazon, featured on devices, racking up reviews, etc. So they approached me, and I was negotiating with them and I was pretty excited. But, you know, I’m a numbers guy by my other career—my non-writing career—and I was looking for data to help me make my decisions. And there really wasn’t any data out there on what I needed. The official industry stats were kind of blind to half of the story. They didn’t cover indie publishing at all. And so I’m in the middle of negotiating with that publisher, when I pulled this data, and I look at it. I share it with Hugh, and we decide to publish it. But I didn’t want my involvement with Author Earnings to interfere with the discussion that I was having with the publishers.

. . . .

So based on all the research that you’ve done into ebook sales and where the money is going, is there one piece of strategic advice that you’d offer to Big Five publishers to do things differently than they do now?

There definitely is, and I think that DBW may be an opportunity to dig into some of these trends in more detail. In general, my observation is not something that Hugh and I alone are saying. High ebook prices don’t really hurt mega-selling authors with long established careers in all of the airport book stores and Walmart, but what they do that is not good is they damage the discoverability and also earnings of mid-list authors. And particularly the vast majority of debut authors who are brand new. No one knows who they are. They need to first find their own audience and fanbase among avid readers before their publisher will put a significant amount of marketing and funding behind pushing them to a more casual, broader audience. The industry’s changed, and the dynamics are not the same as they were when today’s traditionally published mega-sellers first came up a decade or more ago.

Most avid readers today read digitally. When you look at who’s reading 50 books a year, 100 books a year, those are the folks who are giving new authors a shot. I’m not talking about the seven-figure advance, Pulitzer Prize, one-of-them-a-year mega-debut author; I’m talking about the vast majority of traditionally-published debut authors who are trying to build a name for themselves. And the digital readers, these avid readers, are basically bypassing those authors, because they don’t recognize the names, and the price is off-putting to them.

. . . .

This is a bit of a long-winded question, but it’s the one that I’m most curious about. Your feelings or anyone’s feelings toward the Big Five publishers aside, how do you personally think the rise of self-publishing has affected our literary culture as a whole? Not too long ago, we had gatekeepers who let only a minority of potential authors past. Now with self-publishing and further avenues to get a book out there to an audience, literally anyone can be an author, and as a result, the number of books published per year has, frankly, exploded. For individual authors, this is great news: they can now achieve their dreams and publish a book. But taking a step back, with the gatekeepers not holding all the power, and a surge in books published, how do you feel this has changed the culture surrounding books? To put it another way, is the value of a book at all watered down now that anyone can be an author?

This is a question that I’m not going to be particularly good at answering. After all, I’m known as “Data Guy,” not “Literary Subjective Opinion Guy.” [Laughs] But with that said, first off, I have no particular feelings about the Big Five publishers, positive or negative. And I think this makes me a little different than a lot of the folks we hear from on various author groups. I’m a brand new author and a new entrant into this industry. I’ve never submitted a query to anyone. I hear a lot of this angst, and there seems to be bad blood one way or another. It’s just lost on me. I don’t get it. I get that some people in this industry feel very strongly about the things that have happened in the past, but for me it’s just a brand new, wide-open field. Let’s see what there is to learn.

With that said, I do think that today’s wide-open, democratic world of publishing is a good thing. It’s been a tremendous boon for literary culture and freedom of expression. The gatekeepers were an economic necessity in the past. It wasn’t so much about quality, although these two concepts tend to get tangled a lot, because nobody wants to think of themselves as just serving an economic function alone when working in the arts. It was more about choosing which manuscripts were worth taking a financial risk on. Well, today that risk is largely mediated by the fact that you don’t have to take a big risk to get a book out there in the public eye. At the end of the day, the only gatekeepers that matter are readers.

Link to the rest at Digital Book World

What REALLY Sold in 2016?

From SFWA:

Finishing the book can seem like such a step forward!  Pop the champagne!

But then the author sits down to contemplate publishing.  Oh, the thorny questions!  Try for a commercial publisher?  Do the self publishing route?  Bring it out as an ebook only?  Pay for print layout and an ISBN and bring it out as print?

So many questions!

It can raise anyone’s blood pressure!

The latest on authorearnings.com, a good source of ‘who’s making what’ information, is that the times they are a’changin’ for today’s authors.  Maybe that stubborn determination to find an agent and get picked up by a NY publisher so that your book ends up in Barnes and Noble isn’t really worth the (huge) effort.

. . . .

Every genre has its own print-versus-ebook profile. Some genres are populated by big ebook readers while others have readers who still go for print. So there is no single answer for that question. There can be a difference even within a genre, depending on the age and gender of your readers. That’s always something I consider when I’m evaluating a book — who is the readership and what do they read?

. . . .

Print books used to be purchased pretty exclusively in brick and mortar bookstores.  It is nearly impossible for small commercial publishers and self published authors to get books onto those bookstore shelves, and authors sometimes come out losing money when they do because of bookstore ‘return’ requirements.

But now?

In 2016, 43% of all traditionally published books were purchased online.  Now, THAT is a reason to break out the champagne!  Why?  Because most readers pay little to no attention to the publisher.  As long as the small press or self published book looks professional and has a professional looking cover,  it’s competitive with books from the ‘bookstore’ publishers.  If your ebook or print book includes those 5 critical elements for success and looks like the other professionally published books out there, readers don’t care who published it.  They’ll look at price.

. . . .

In 2016, 21,800,000 self published print books were sold, mostly published through Create Space. The average price was $10.34. Amazon imprints sold another 959,000 copies.

Link to the rest at SFWA

Despite What You Heard, The E-Book Market Never Stopped Growing

From Observer.com:

Over the last year, we’ve been talking to writers like A.G. Riddle who have been making a more than comfortable living selling e-books directly to readers on Amazon. That’s why it’s always seemed a bit strange to see media accounts reporting on the shrinking market for e-books.

News outlets like The New York Times report that e-book sales continue to slip, which is true if the data only covers part of the market. Reports from the Association of American Publishers has data from 1,200 publishers. They are the largest publishers, but they are also losing market share.

E-book sales never declined, according to a presentation yesterday at Digital Book World in New York City. In fact, if anything, we don’t yet have an adequate way to estimate how much the market segment has grown.

In back-to-back presentations from from the data site Author Earnings and publishing tech firm Overdrive, it became clear that “unit sales” may not be the best way to measure the size of the book market. In more and more ways it’s becoming clear that there are additional ways for writers to earn money than by readers buying whole books or even buying books at all.

 

. . . .

E-books, Data Guy told the crowd, “Never stopped growing.”

It looks as though sales stuttered because traditional publishers have been losing market share to indie authors who publish directly through online platforms. Amazon is by far the largest of these platforms.

. . . .

Reports on the e-book market tend to ignore Kindle Unlimited, Amazon’s Netflix for ebooks. Amazon splits up each month’s Kindle Unlimited revenue among participating authors based on how many pages members read.

Science-fiction author Hugh Howey said that being part of the program increased his revenue so much that it was worth pulling his books from all other platforms, such as Kobo and iBooks.

Data Guy acknowledged that some industry watchers might argue that a Kindle Unlimited download isn’t really a sale, but Author Earnings takes the position that any money in a writer’s pocket counts.

. . . .

 

Local book stores saw a 5 percent growth in sales last year, but every other channel (such as big stores, Walmart and etc) saw a 5 percent decline. Those channels were so much larger that local stores’ growth was more than made up for by the declines everywhere else. “Perhaps 10 fold,” Data Guy said.

Let’s hear it for your favorite local shop, but the truth is that Amazon has been the one closing those new print sales.

 

Link to the rest at Observer.com and thanks to Nirmala for the tip.