Sunday, September 13, 2009

Sunday Mix and Match

Okay, I'll admit it. I couldn't decide on a single topic for my post today, so I'll just touch on a couple of topics that caught my eye this week. Amazon public relations fiasco take 2 -- it hasn't been that long ago that Amazon pulled certain editions of 1984 and, if I remember correctly, several other e-books from Kindles without prior notification. At first, the only recompense Amazon was going to give their customers was a refund of the .99 cost of the book. One customer, however, has sued them because when they deleted 1984 from his Kindle, they also deleted notes he needed for class. Now word comes down that Amazon will not turn off service to a Kindle if the owner reports it missing or stolen, nor will they turn over the location of the Kindle when downloads after the theft are made without being presented with a subpoena from the police. It seems that there is no way right now to officially transfer ownership of a Kindle, so Amazon won't do anything to help without the police getting involved. From the New York Times:

Samuel Borgese, for instance, is still irate about the response from Amazon when he recently lost his Kindle. After leaving it on a plane, he canceled his account so that nobody could charge books to his credit card. Then he asked Amazon to put the serial number of his wayward device on a kind of do-not-register list that would render it inoperable — to “brick it” in tech speak.

Amazon’s policy is that it will help locate a missing Kindle only if the company is contacted by a police officer bearing a subpoena. Mr. Borgese, who lives in Manhattan, questions whether hunting down a $300 e-book reader would rank as a priority for the New York Police Department.

So, sorry, Kindle owner, find it yourself or you're out of luck -- for the moment at least. Amazon isn't going to do much to help. September 9th saw the announcement of the closure of Quartet Press. My initial reaction was to worry about any authors who might have already signed contracts with Quartet. Then I went back to their blog and read some of the other posts. I'm not lying when I say it appears those behind the scenes were doing everything they could to make a go of it. One thing I particularly liked was how they were open about all phases of the operation -- from submission guidelines to what they were looking for in content editors to how they would pay their editors. That's not exactly something we tend to see from the more traditional publishing houses. The day after Quartet's announcement, Kassia Krazser blogged about the entire process at Booksquare. One particular point she made is something every author and every person considering starting an e-publishing site should keep in mind: It did not come as a surprise to us that companies like Amazon take a huge chunk of receipts (50 to 65% of every dollar, depending on the program you’re in), and as we built financial models, we had to consider — which in some ways means guess — the volume of sales that would come from third party sources. For a digital publisher of any size, the best returns come from direct sales. In the romance ebook world, readers are accustomed to buying direct; many are aware that this practice puts more money in the pocket of authors, and make the effort to “buy local”.

This is consumer education done right, but most customers shop at Amazon or the Sony Reader store or Fictionwise or Books on Board because these entities aggregate ebooks from many publishers. Oh, and by tying hardware to the store, this means the retailers own these customers, lock, stock, and proprietary format. This cuts into the share of cash received by the publisher, and there is no expectation that retailers will become less aggressive. During Apple’s recent presentation, Steve Jobs noted that the company has 100 million active credit card numbers on account. Consider how much negotiating clout the music industry has with Apple right now. Extrapolate.

So, how do we, as authors, deal with this situation? More to the point, how do we, as readers and consumers, effect the situation? Are you more likely to buy an e-book directly from an author's site, or an e-publisher's site, or go to Amazon or Fictionwise, or one of the others? Maybe it's time we take a page out of the romance e-pub book and buy directly. It certainly seems obvious that our favorite authors would benefit more as a result. What do you think?


Dave Freer said...

It is time for authors to co-op. But this will be like herding cats. No, actually I don't trust Amazon, Sony, Yahoo, Microsoft Google etc. (who are bickering about the rights to out of print books) to be doing the best for me, the author (without whom they're actually worth squat as they produce no content.) They're obviously going to do the best for themselves. If that includes takinging as much as humanly possible from authors, they will. After all, we are regarded as a cheap replacable commodity (however the damage this attitude has done, and continues to do to the reader base is enormous).

I distrust 'proprietary formats' and this is why you should to: The manufacturer has no incentive to sell you a good machine. He's not selling machines (which often means proprietary machines etc are very cheap. That's not where they make money). He's selling the proprietary format content - which means he has a motive to screw over the suppliers of said content and the means to do it.

Anonymous said...

It's stuff like this that makes me a firm believer what Jim Baen did with WebScriptions:

* Multiple formats so you can read on a variety of devices.

* Zero DRM so you won't be "locked out" if Company X discontinues support for their proprietary device.

* Reasonable pricing -- the e-book should never cost as much as a hardcover. Period. Effing. Dot.

And you're not about to see Arnold deleting stuff off of anyone's device. When Amazon screws up, they clamp down on their customers (which is why I will never, ever buy a Kindle -- to me it seems like the digital equivalent of walking into my house without my permission and just grabbing my books off the shelf). When a screw-up happens at Baen/WebScriptions they run with it and bring their customers along for the ride. Remember the "Storm from the Shadows Oopsie?" I think Jim Baen would have been bursting with pride at how Arnold and Toni handled that one :-)

For those of you who aren't familiar with the Oopsie, you can read about it here...

Anonymous said...

Oh, and I meant to type: "the e-book should not cost as much as *the* hardcover."

Period. Effing. Dot.


Anonymous said...

I'd love to buy electronic books from the author, or a cooperative, or directly from the publisher. Unfortunately, for the most part, I can't. (Baen being the notable exception.)

So I buy from Barnes and Noble (ie Fictionwise/ereader).

I think you are posing your question backwards: not why do (or would) readers buy from Amazon, but why don't small publishers and/or authors issue their own electronic books?


Kate said...


Many of them do sell direct, but if you read through the comments thread on Amanda's link you'll find that it's typical for them to sell ten times more through Amazon etc than directly.

Here's some reasons readers use Amazon and the like:
- lots of publishers at one site so you don't have to go hunting
- people 'know' Amazon. It's a brand name that's associated with getting just about anything you want cheaper than anyplace else (whether the association is accurate is a different question)
- it's a lot easier to remember Amazon's website address than it is to chase down half a dozen publisher addresses.

Basically, Amazon is the 200lb gorilla. Publishers can set up their own online stores, and do, but they don't have the market awareness or leverage that Amazon has.

This isn't justification, incidentally. What I think about the current situation is best not expressed in public.

Amanda Green said...

Dave, I wish more authors believed the way you do. I really do believe the co-op is the only way for authors to make any headway in the e-publication business right now. Of course, not being a trusting soul, I tend to look at Amazon, Sony, etc., the same way I do computer manufacturers. They build these pieces of equipment we spend hundreds -- even thousands -- of dollars on to be obsolete within a couple of years at most. So why should I trust them to market my work?

As for proprietary formats, don't get me started. To paraphrase Kate below, my thoughts on that particular issue can't be said in public.

Amanda Green said...

RJ Cruze, Jim Baen and the rest of Baen Books made a convert out of me years ago. And, despite all the naysayers, it is clear that Baen's e-book policy works. Of course, Baen is one of the few that believes the customer is to be listened to and that the publisher shouldn't put hurdles up in front of them, making it as difficult as possible to read anything from their authors.

Amanda Green said...

Bob, lol...I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who has to either clarify or add to a comment. But you're right. I am not about to pay the same -- or more -- for an ebook than I would for a hardcover of the same book.

Amanda Green said...

Mac, I think both sets of questions need to be asked. But, to be honest,a lot of authors do sell directly to the public. Either that, or they have found a small ebook publisher to market their books. However, to make either work, there has to be a great deal of customer education. The buying public goes to Amazon thinking they will get a good buy there, not realizing that the author doesn't get as much from books bought there (on the whole) as they might from either an ebook publisher's site or the author's own site.

Beyond that, most authors don't want to have to deal with the headaches of maintaining a "commercial" site. They'd rather spend the time writing or promoting their works, imo.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this?

Amanda Green said...

Kate, I think you hit it on the head. So, how do we not only contain, but tame, the gorilla that is Amazon?

Da Curly Wolf said...

My solution is I get my ebooks [when I get them at all] through other means. *looks bleary eyed at the clock* Dear lord its monday? Someone wake me when its tuesday and not a moment sooner.

Amanda Green said...

Wolfie, uh, should I ask what those "other" means are? Oh, wait! I know. The same means I use. Baen and a couple of other, non-Amazon locations.

Da Curly Wolf said...

verily. among other things