The Amazon Vise Cinches Tighter

Don’t worry, this won’t be a rant, or an Indie self-pity post. My aim is only to present my observations. A couple of days ago, a fellow Indie author sent me a private message with a link to a blog post talking about Amazon’s latest hijinks. I didn’t think much of it at the time, since I was still half out of my head with the flu, but then I slept on it, and slept on it some more, and the more I thought about it the more it bothered me.

Take a look at the two images below. See if you can spot a difference:

I’ll give you a hint: Look at the green text in the Buy New box. See it?

The first picture is of the original edition of my paperback novel, published through CreateSpace. The second is the newest edition published through IngramSpark. And the two images together illustrate Amazon’s latest policy to disrupt the supply and demand equation to skew it in their own favor. Since they are both print-on-demand, there is literally no difference between a CS and IS book purchase, other than Amazon makes more money on the CS one. But the different ways they are displayed could make a huge difference in which version (if any) a reader will choose to buy.

It preys on a customer’s need for instant gratification

Amazon has built their very successful business model on two things, one of which is their ability to deliver your purchases faster and cheaper than any other retailer. By slapping on a notice that effectively tells shoppers they will have to wait longer for their copy of the book, they are creating an instant subconscious disappointment and dissatisfaction in the product before the customer has even had a chance to get it.

It creates an artificial sense of scarcity

Amazon’s second cornerstone of business is unrivaled levels of inventory. Amazon is Aladdin’s cave of wonders. They have anything and everything, and they have boatloads of it for people to buy. That’s what keeps shoppers coming back. The new notice on the product page sends the message that this particular item is out of stock, which inadvertently reflects badly on the publisher (in this case, the self-published author) for failing to anticipate demand.

It creates unfair competition

Okay, to be fair, this is Amazon’s own store, and they have every right to try to put their own products forward as best as they can. It’d be stupid of them not to. But it goes much deeper than that. Think about it. Amazon now has the largest piece of the market pie when it comes to books and eBooks. Every measure they have taken so far has been aimed to solidify their stronghold on that market share, or to increase it. They do it through exclusivity, through undercutting competitor prices (seriously, their ToS flat-out state that if you publish a book on Amazon, the price has to be equal to or smaller than at any other retailer), and through policies and algorithms that create advantages for those who play along, and massive hurdles for those who don’t. With this new measure, they are basically saying, “If you want to actually sell your self-published print volumes, you need to publish them through us.” This is why other bookstores don’t want to play with you, Amazon.

So where does that leave Indie authors? 

Between a rock and a hard place.

Once again, we are forced to either straddle the fence, or make a difficult choice between going wide, and going deep. If you publish through CreateSpace alone, odds are good your book will never be stocked on store shelves, because no store will want to buy product from their direct competitor. If you choose to publish through a different service, such as IngramSpark, your chances of getting a book into physical stores might be slightly better, but now it’ll have to jump through hoops on Amazon, which is still the biggest bookseller and generates the highest royalties income of all other retailers for most authors.

Nothing says you can’t do both. In fact, the blog I read advised just that: Publish your book both through IngramSpark and CreateSpace, and then contact Amazon and tell them to source the book through CreateSpace so it always shows as in stock.

But I have a problem with this strategy. It as good as flushes a chunk of the money you invested into an IngramSpark distribution down the toilet. It’s like you’re saying, “Hey, I spent a boatload to get these books published through this other source, but you guys don’t like it, so that’s cool. I’m just not gonna advertise those editions where I am most likely to get the greatest number of sales for them. Still friends? Sweet.”

Yeah, I’m stubborn, and not much of a team player (which is probably why I will never make any real money from book sales…). I deliberately priced my IngramSpark editions slightly lower to play Amazon’s algorithms so that the new versions would show up on top. I did this, because I want those gorgeous new covers to show up in search results. I didn’t want all that effort, months and months of hard work, to drop into obscurity. But I’m also not an idiot, and I am keeping an eye on this new development and making sure to let my readers know 2 things loud and clear:

(1) My books are absolutely 100% available at Amazon, and there is 0% difference in shipping & handling time between the CreateSpace and IngramSpark versions; and

(2) Those same books can also be found at other retailers, often times at a discount that might be a better deal than Amazon.

Continue Reading The Amazon Vise Cinches Tighter

A Potential New Player(?)

By now, everyone has heard of Bitcoin. Bitcoin is all the rage. For a few days in January, even the news reported on the massive spike in value of Bitcoin, and Warren Buffet came out with a statement predicting its downfall (article here). To be honest, I rarely pay attention to the stock market, and I was only aware of the concept of Bitcoin in the vaguest possible way of it being a “fake currency.” Well, when that article came out, I started paying attention. I found a few more, read up on it a bit, with most of what I found going way over my head, but what I retained was this:

Bitcoin is like an apple tree. It’s one of several different kinds of trees, that just happens to have grown the biggest. But all those trees are rooted in a framework that is very, very interesting to me. It’s essentially a new system of virtual accounting that adds a third entry to the standard double-entry style of bookkeeping. That’s already confusing, so let’s break it down:

In traditional accounting, every time money changes hands, two entries have to be made in the books. The first is the money going out, and the second is something else coming in. That way, there is always a record of how much money is being spent and what it’s being spent on. In this new way of accounting, the third entry marks the transaction, which adds additional details. It’s not just what was bought and for how much, it’s who bought it, when, and where. As long as the purchased item stays within this realm, this record keeping then continues down the line each time it changes hands, so you can track a particular item from its most recent buyer all the way back to the production facility, and farther back to the facilities where all its different components and ingredients came from. It essentially records the total life of that item.

As soon as I read this, it hit me that this could potentially be the solution all authors have been waiting for: an end to digital piracy. If every single eBook were to be tracked this way, then every single pirated eBook could be tracked back to the original pirate. Not only that, the system could identify every single pirated copy and there is a lot we could do with that info, starting with disabling those copies and making them unreadable, and ending with having hard evidence for prosecution.

Fast forward about a month. I received an email newsletter from IngramSpark, telling me they will be featured as an exhibitor at the San Francisco Writer’s Conference. Since that’s in my neck of the woods, I checked out the event, browsed through the exhibitors, and found something I never heard of before. I clicked the link, and discovered that someone out there had the same thought I did, and is actually putting it into practice. There is this platform called Publica, which doesn’t seem to be open to authors just yet, but will be soon. It is built on, and will operate on the concept of cryptocurrency (like Bitcoin), and promises the elimination of the middleman, taking an author’s books directly to the reader.

Of course, in practice, that just makes Publica another self-publishing platform. It’s still questionable whether they would be able to compete with Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other eBook platforms, and I still have a lot of unanswered questions. I submitted those questions to them, and am waiting for a response but, if I understand this correctly, and if it actually works, then I want in. Now.

The concept of this new system of accounting is still in its infancy, but more and more companies are embracing it, and each time a company announces it, their stocks go up. The problem is, each of them has their own cryptocurrency, which is going to cause issues in the future, if every time you want to buy a product from one of them, you have to do a currency exchange first. My prediction, however, is that cryptocurrency will be the future. Once enough companies jump on board, the normalization will begin, and a unified currency will replace all the others.

For now, I see Publica as a pioneer. Whether or not they’ll be able to make it work in the long run isn’t even the point anymore. Could be in six months someone else will have put Publica out of business with a better, more streamlined, more accessible system. Could be this is a sign of a brand new industry being born. Publica is opening new doors, forging the path for others to follow.  The point is, the possibility is now there, and it is real, and I really, really hope it’ll help right some imbalances for authors, artists, musicians, and others who rely on the sale of their own unique products for a living.

It will also upset a whole lot of people for whom this means an end of an era, and those people will fight tooth and nail to keep it from coming to fruition. The ultimate potential for all of this is an end to money as we know it, which would put a lot of banks out of business, and majorly disrupt our stock markets, etc. (Plot bunny, anyone?)

Then again, it could also be nothing. Reminiscent of the dotcom era, it could all be a massive bubble that will eventually burst. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. I will definitely be keeping an eye on this, for sure.

ETA: Here are the responses I received to my questions:

1. Publica is a distribution channel, so where does it distribute to?

Authors can use Publica and blockchain to publish their books. Authors can sell their books to Publica tokenholders / platform users and protome a book to their existing customer base. Once a book is published on the platform, readers will be able to find a book using search or by entering a direct link (that can be promoted by author). Authors can continue to use their existing promotional channels.

2. If my books are already published through another platform, will there be a conflict?

No, it’s not a problem. If there are no legal limitations that allow an author to publish a book only on a specific platform, a book can be distributed through several platforms.

3. Do readers need a special app to access the books? If so, what format will it support/require?

We are currently developing e-reader app that will serve double duty as wallet and e-book reader. The app will support popular e-book formats (like ePub).

Feel free to check our live AMA session, CEO Josef Marc answering question about supported formats: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DjAZg8_i8fo&t=2872s

4. If everything is done in PBL currency, how does an author redeem earnings in real currency?

Authors will be able to exchange PBL tokens to fiat money (for instance, USD or EUR).

5. Does the platform have protection measures against digital piracy?

By using a token as an access key to digital content, only actual tokenholders can access their purchased content. Readers (tokenholders) can give away or sell their tokens, and ownership/access to the content will be transferred to the new tokenholder. Blockchain technology is making the whole process transparent and decentralized.

Continue Reading A Potential New Player(?)

Opinion: Pricing eBooks Free

This is something that popped up in my Facebook memories. I was going to reshare, but then realized it might be a good discussion topic for this blog, so here we are.

The Background

Two years ago today, Kristen Lamb posted this article on her blog: A Culture Addicted to FREE—How FREE is Poisoning the Internet & Killing the Creatives. It’s worth a read if you have a few minutes. When it went live, I shared it on Facebook with a long comment which I don’t want to repeat, but which you can read here. The free book I was talking about was The Beast, my very own twist on the classic fairy tale of Beauty and the Beast.

The Here and Now

Well, two years have now passed since Ms. Lamb’s blog post, and not much has changed, except that fewer people are willing to talk about it anymore. Smashwords CEO Mark Coker recently released the 2018 updated edition of his Smashwords Book Marketing Guide, in which his advice to authors still includes a strategy of pricing at least one book as free, and if you have a series, price the first book as free, despite his gloomy 2018 Publishing Predictions blog post, in which he predicted an increased glut of high-quality, low cost eBooks, and the demise of independent publishing by a rising, Amazon-dependent model.

It would seem like the two ideas are counter-intuitive. Why tell authors to play into their own downfall, rather than rally the troops to make a unified stand against it and demand fair treatment and recompense? But really it’s only a progression of cause-to-effect, and Mr. Coker is only doing what he feels will benefit authors most in this new climate.

How did we even get here?

Continue Reading Opinion: Pricing eBooks Free

Opinion: Author vs. Publisher Branding

I posted a question on my Facebook profile yesterday that I didn’t expect to get as much attention as it did. I am still getting and answering comments today, and it’s drawing me away from the novella I was dead set on writing today and into an internal debate I am slowly unraveling into something that might come close to a coherent opinion on the matter. The question was:

What is your opinion on authors having their own logos?

By “logos” I didn’t mean a specific, uniform way their name appears on their books, websites, and other marketing materials. I literally meant a symbol that represents the author’s brand (something like the Nike swoosh symbol) as separate from their publisher logo, or series logo. Opinions were fairly evenly split between those who believe it’s tacky, to those who believe an author’s brand is absolutely worth marketing and logos are a powerful way to do that. Some back-and-forth happened, and the discussion turned to traditionally published authors vs. self-published authors, and author brand vs. publisher brand.

Of course, every self-published author is, in fact, a publisher. Therefore, one argument stated, a self-published author can absolutely have a logo, because they are their own imprint, and just as valuable as any other publishing house out there, so they deserve to brand and market that.

I don’t disagree with any of that. However, I do draw a solid distinction for myself as a self-published author between what I do when I write, and what I do when I publish what I write, and that distinction dictates what it is I want to brand and market in the first place. What follows is my own personal opinion, not to be construed as word of law, or any sort of authority on the matter. I welcome any counter arguments and commentary in general. Please do chime in in the comments below.

Continue Reading Opinion: Author vs. Publisher Branding

2018 Industry Predictions

Every year, Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords puts out a long post of predictions for the near future of the Indie book industry. He is usually pretty spot on, so every year, I spend a few minutes reading what he has to say. Today, there are two posts I want to share:

2017 Year in Review and 2018 Preview

2018 Book Industry Predictions

My main take-away from this post is perfectly summed up in this one sentence: “Fair competition at Amazon does not exist.” 

If you’re at all serious about being or becoming an author, whether you are traditionally published or self-published, do yourself a favor and read these two posts.

Continue Reading 2018 Industry Predictions

Social Media Etiquette 102: The Personal Side

Hope you all enjoyed recess. Class is now back in session. This is Rant 2 of 2 on authors behaving badly on social media, and thank you again to everyone who wrote to me with your experiences and pet peeves. It’s really put this into perspective for me. If you missed Rant 1, check it out here: Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side.

And now we commence Rant 2 of 2…

Continue Reading Social Media Etiquette 102: The Personal Side

Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side

It started so innocently… A fellow author sent me a private message saying, “You should write a blog about people behaving unprofessionally on social media!” And because I have seen more of that than I ever cared to, I thought it’d be a great idea. But I didn’t want to be airing just my own grievances, so I asked for input from my network. Boy, that was one scary can of worms I opened… But it showed me that this is an important topic that no one seems to want to talk about because it might ruffle feathers. Well, I have my feather ruffler in hand and, by George, I am going to talk about this!

*slaps ruler against teacher’s desk*

Everyone back in your seats. That means you, Charlie. And Theresa, put that away; no one wants to see that. Joe, I swear, if you don’t pull your pants back up right now… That’s better. Boys and girls, class is now in session. And yes, all of this will be on the test.

Commence Rant 1 of 2…

Continue Reading Social Media Etiquette 101: The Business Side

So how are you doing?

Raise your hand if you look at your real time sales numbers multiple times a day.

Raise your hand if you actually do something with those sales numbers.

Educated guess: Most published authors who have access to real time sales data check it at least once a day. Very few of those authors will actually get something out of that data, aside from a momentary spike in blood pressure and a mood swing. This is a problem not just for authors, or business professionals, but for everyone in every walk of life. We are inundated with so much data on a daily basis we’re drowning in it. What we need to be doing is converting that data into information we can use in a practical way, and that’s tough to do when you don’t know where to start. So here’s where you start (brace yourself, this will be rather long):

Continue Reading So how are you doing?

On Get Rich Quick Schemes

I was scrolling Facebook yesterday and came across an ad promoting a workshop that will tell you how to write a book in 40 hours (not a typo) and double, quadruple, even decuple (multiply by ten) your income (also not a typo). For privacy reasons, I won’t share the actual post, but if you’re in any way involved in the writing world and active on social media, you’ve likely seen any number of these ads already.

Is what they’re promoting physically possible? Well, typing non-stop for 40 hours at the average typing speed of 40 words per minute, you would get about 96,000 words. This does not include typos, editing, backspacing, breaks, or any kind of thought or planning process. It is literally just typing words non-stop.

A couple things you can accomplish this way:

  • manually copy an existing manuscript
  • write absolute nonsense in 96,000 words

Given the parameters, I feel 99% confident that the only one making money will be the guy people pay to take this workshop.

Here’s the thing: Writing never was and never will be a get rich quick scheme. Writing a book takes time. It takes time to come up with an idea. It takes time to research it properly. It takes time to learn the technical aspects of how a book should look (to say nothing of the nuances of voice, style, etc.), and it takes time to properly convey all those ideas onto the page. This is as true for fiction as it is for non-fiction. Is it possible to churn out a draft in a relatively short amount of time? Absolutely. But the less time the first draft takes, the more time you’ll likely spend in rewrites and edits. Ask any writer out there how long it takes them to get a book from the “chapter 1” caption to final publishing. Depending on the book’s length, it’ll be anywhere between a few months to a couple of years, because that’s what it takes to put together a good quality book.

As for the doubling of income, I have to assume this was a hyperbole meant to heighten interest and get people signing up, because… no. Assuming an average eBook price of about $4.99, and an average royalty rate of 60%, let’s say, you’d have to sell about 1,400 copies every month consistently to make a decent living, and I’m here to tell you that anything having to do with the sale of a non-essential product will never, ever be consistent. And if you’re thinking to sell hard copies instead, since they are priced higher,  your profit margin on those will go from a few dollars per copy to a few cents. There’s a reason hard copies usually cost more: they come with an immense production cost that eBooks simply don’t have.

I’ve taken a number of these free seminars on “how to make money as a writer” and the three things they all have in common are:

  1. they are mathematically impossible, given the unit pricing required to sell a book of fiction (or even non-fiction)
  2. they require you to spend hundreds of dollars on advertising on a continuous basis.
  3. they usually end on a sales pitch, hawking additional, ridiculously expensive workshops on the secret sauce recipes the “teacher” only introduced in this free part. I’m talking to the tune of $100s to $1,000s for that inside access.

The truth is, no matter how they are packaged, no matter how cool the ad looks, or how enticing the charts and graphs look, all of the ads I have seen to date are nothing but a scam to get your money. Trust me, if there was a proven formula for success, everyone would be doing it, rendering it obsolete. What works for one person won’t necessarily work for another, and caution is always advised with “how to” courses. If it looks too good to be true, it is.

There are much better ways to spend your hard-earned money:

  1. Take subject-specific college courses related to your writing. History, mythology, science, political science, or music can all help for fiction books.
  2. Travel to the places you want to describe in your book to get first-hand knowledge of it so you’ll know how the air smells there after a storm, or what species of birds are the first ones to start singing in the morning. Those are the kinds of details that give a book depth.
  3. Study business, so you’ll better understand the money side of writing, and how to budget your money so you don’t go broke. This also includes marketing classes to learn about advertising, how to speak to your target audience, or even identifying your target audience.
  4. Hire a professional editor and cover artist to polish up your book to a shine. You know you will need them, so plan ahead of time and start saving for these expenditures while you’re writing your book. It’ll help you avoid sticker shock when the time comes.
  5. Learn to shop around for the things you need to spend money on. Try to avoid impulse buys. If you find one thing that would be great, odds are, there are ten more out there just as great or better, and probably cheaper, too.

There are also much better ways to spend your time:

  1. Work on your book. If you need a kick in the pants, find a writer’s group, or a writing buddy to get encouragement and support.
  2. Try NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month): A national challenge in November of every year to write 50,000 words in 30 days. A much more achievable goal than a whole book in 40 hours, don’t you think?
  3. Make friends with other writers, learn from their trials and hardships, get advice on things you’re struggling with (but don’t expect them to do the work for you).
  4. Build your platform early on by making a website and building up a social media following. This, too, will take time, and is absolutely necessary and worth it.
  5. Read. Read in your genre, and outside of it. Read the bestsellers, and the Indies. Read to enjoy, but also notice the nuances of what makes you like the book, and what makes you hate it. That’s how you learn your own style, and improve your own writing.

The information shared here is meant to be a guiding hand to new and aspiring authors, and is offered with a grain of salt and good intentions at no cost to you. However, if you found this post helpful and want to show your appreciation, a nice way to do it would be to buy one of my fiction books. Check them out on my author website at AlianneDonnelly.com. You might find something you like. 😉 Thanks for your support!

Continue Reading On Get Rich Quick Schemes