04 Oct

Surprise, Amazon is not a neutral marketplace

I was reading an article on Seeking Alpha, a popular stocks and investment site that I use to track general info about my stocks, when I spotted this article about Amazon banning sales of rival video streaming devices:

There is no such thing as store neutrality. Amazon has all the right to forbid rival products on its online marketplace.

(Via Dear Tim Cook, Amazon Just Banned Your Apple TV 4 – Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) | Seeking Alpha.)

The Verge says Amazon’s decision is a baffling question, but it is so easy to understand. Apple’s decision to release a console gaming iOS TV device and its ambition to become a streaming video service provider are seen as threats by Amazon. Bezos, therefore, promptly exercised his prerogative to eliminate current and upcoming threats to Amazon.

I get a lot of flack for pointing out that Amazon is used as a ‘marketplace’ by authors and assumed to be a neutral marketplace by many (not all, lots of smart people out there).

But it isn’t a neutral marketplace. A lot of the Kindle Unlimited moves are really clever from a selling to readers and corporate standpoint (the monthly pot guarantees a cap on author earnings/payouts) [limiting royalties for some countries unless you sign up, limiting percentage Amazon pays you unless you do certain things just the way you want, people keep saying you get total control, but unless you sell on your own site, you get total control, but not total control of the portion you receive). Amazon is the biggest marketplace, hard not to make a living without it.

But no so much neutral.

They’re very careful to not step too far over. The Amazon brand is one of the most trusted by consumers in the world.

But I am always working hard to make sure I stay well diversified, even as I use the marketplace. As a good little author cockroach I’m always curious to see what gets the biggest marketplace to stir and change the rules.

09 Sep

So about that Amazon 99 cent phone…

According to Amazon’s press releases about how lower prices *always* mean more success for books, because they’re just widgets and the cheaper they are the more units they sell, and the more I, the author, profits, this means that Amazon just had THE BIGGEST SUCCESSFUL PHONE LAUNCH EVER!


“Amazon has given up on trying to get you to pay $199 for the Fire Phone with a contract. Now the retail giant has brought the price down — way down.

The Fire Phone, Amazon’s first and only mobile phone, will now be available for just 99 cents with a two-year contract, the company announced on Monday. Available exclusively through AT&T, the deal also comes with a one-year membership to Amazon Prime and unlimited cloud storage for photos.”

(Via Amazon Just Slashed The Price Of Its Phone To 99 Cents.)

I’m looking forward to paying hundreds for my next iPhone. Because I actually want that, and I will pay for it. Maybe Amazon has opinions on what Apple should minimally price it at?

Meanwhile, others will pay other various prices for Android and Windows phones.

And it’s all good. A variety of prices (including diamond bedazzled smartphones for crazy money) is how markets work.

29 May

Smashwords says “Amazon’s Hachette Dispute Foreshadows What’s Next for Indie Authors”

When I write this, certain people say it’s because I’m a for-hire servant of Big Publishing and that I have Stockholm syndrome.

I wonder how they’ll explain how Mark Coker of Smashwords is brainwashed by New York publishing?

“The dispute with Hachette foreshadows what comes next for indie ebook authors at Amazon who have grown comfortable to KDP’s 70% royalty rates.

Think about my divide and conquer reference above.  Indies are already divided and conquered at Amazon, but most don’t realize this.  These indies all have direct-upload relationships with Amazon.  They don’t have the collective bargaining power of a large publisher to advocate on their behalf.  As the unfolding events indicate, it’s questionable if even a large publisher has leverage over Amazon.

If Hachette doesn’t have the power to maintain 70% earnings, how will million-copy-selling New York Times bestselling indie authors have any power when Amazon decides to put the squeeze on them?   And how about the rest of the indie community which has even less leverage over Amazon?

How long until Amazon puts on the squeeze? The squeeze may already have started. In February, Amazon gutted the royalty rates they pay for audiobooks, as Laura Hazard Owen reported at GigaOm in her story, Amazon-owned Audible lowers royalty rates on self-published audiobooks. Previously, authors earned up to 90% list. Under the new terms, authors earn from 25% to 40% list. Amazon can do this because they dominate audiobooks.”

(Via Smashwords: Amazon’s Hachette Dispute Foreshadows What’s Next for Indie Authors.)

By the way, Mark nails it here.

Even if Smashwords is a UI nightmare, they’ve been working hard to increase library outreach and work hard for their authors. And Mark has always been good about offering up real data and insight.

I’m sure the usual boosters will keep explaining why the audio royalty cut was good for authors (yes, this actually happens) and why anyone who points out the above common sense is a ‘detractor’ because for them, it’s not a business discussion: it’s an ideological war with only one ‘side’ winning (watch how many times the word ‘side’ is used).

There are no sides, there are just ways to connect with readers and marketplaces. You can use more than one at once, even.

And you can criticize as well.

24 May

Amazon: it’s not being a detractor to point out a pattern of repeated behaviour

Damien G. Walter cuts to the heart of it:

“The battle between Hachette and Amazon, and the wider conflict between publishers and Amazon, is a conflict between sellers and the marketplace. Neither side is good or evil. They are business entities, which do what business entities do, which is to act selfishly in their own interests at all times and in all things. The competition between publishers and Amazon is actually very good for writers – it is raising advances and adding new income sources for writers as the sellers and the marketplace compete for the goods they supply. In the conflict between publishers and Amazon the question is not which side to take, but how to keep Godzilla and Gojira fighting as long as possible. At the point one side wins, writers will face harder days again.”

(Via Amazon is not a bookseller, and why that matters for writers | Damien G. Walter.)

We don’t need any one side to ‘win.’ Damien is right. We need a healthy, varied marketplace.

Another good point someone made is that Hachette is the smallest of the big publishers left. This is a test.

Lastly, Amazon has done this before. I’m rather surprised at the number of journalists and internet types who are acting shocked, shocked, that Amazon is doing this.

Take for example Farhad Manjoo:

Just wait, the company’s critics have always shot back. Wait till Amazon controls the whole market — then see how well it treats authors, publishers and customers.

Now Amazon is walking right into its detractors’ predictions. There are a couple obvious reasons this is a bad strategy. It’s bad public relations — if it doesn’t already, Amazon may soon control a monopolistic stake of the e-book market and its tactics are sure to invite not only scorn from the book industry but also increased regulatory oversight.

See, if you have been silly enough to buy into the argument that this is a two-sides battle, with anti-Amazon people on one side (detractors) and pro-whatever (disintermediation, pro-independent author, pro-self pub, etc) then this may come as a shock. Much like people were totally stunned when Amazon’s subsidiary Audible’s ACX (the audio direct self publish concept) lowered author royalty rates.

However, all you have to do is actually look at a couple things.

1) How large companies behave once they have a monopoly. Wal-mart, after lowering prices to drive out competition, has been shown in studies to have prices *higher* than in the same market when there was competition. It has the whole market, it can then set any price it wants. But… people say Amazon is different. It loves readers.

2) But all you have to do is look at Amazon’s past actions to see it behaves like any other corporate entity. In 2010 it yanked Macmillan’s buy buttons in the bookstore over negotiations. It has pulled down books, delayed shipments in European markets for bargaining, and basically used its position quite handily.

Hey, if you have the whole market, it’s easy policy.

If you think corporations should, de facto, be able to use any power they have gained in any way they wish, that’s fine. Many people have held pro-monopoly positions throughout history. Brand identification often leads to loyalty of group identification over all else.

I just think historically that leads to uneven markets.

And historically, that will end up backfiring.

Maybe I’m wrong, maybe Amazon wants to drop puppies from drones for all of us. But historically speaking, that’s never happened when a company gains control of an entire marketplace.

Maybe people should be less worried about the awkward feeling of ‘shit, Amazon’s detractors are right’ and maybe start thinking of this as more: people who say ‘hey, historically a single company owning an entire marketplace leads to an abuse keep calling this’ is worth paying attention to.

i.e.: we’re not so much “Amazon-detractors” as much as just people who are able to take a trend that pretty much always happens when one single company gets in this sort of spot, and can do some very basic extrapolation. It has done this to Penguin. To Macmillan. To Orbit Uk. And more.

Again and again, I’ve pointed out that I use Amazon’s Prime (not right now while this is going on, and I will cancel if it gets worse) and their self publish system (same as before) and am pretty agnostic about them (I do work with their audio wing and love the sub company Audible and buy a lot of audiobooks). Again and again people think I have a vendetta.

No. It’s just simple extrapolation. We have a problem. It’s easy to call. Amazon is large enough it cannot help itself. It’s doing what ever single other company that large has done when it has the whole buffet to itself. And in the past, it has taken outcry, pushback or legal change to stop companies in their position.

So I’m shouting back. Because an unhealthy marketplace is unhealthy for us all.

23 May

Why the Amazon buy buttons disappeared on my website today

This week, Amazon has been playing hardball with authors:

“I haven’t been online all that much (and shouldn’t be right now, either–I have books to finish) but apparently Amazon has stepped up its pressure on Hachette by yanking buy links for all their books. Beyond that, they’re also screwing with search results, messing with book categorizations, and pushing readers who want to buy Hachette books toward Hachette’s competitors. And the reason they can do this is you.

Now, if your response to all this is to say ‘Amazon is an independent company and they can legally do whatever best serves their interests,’ let me assure you that I agree. They can legally do all these things, just as Wal-Mart can legally include information on sighing up for food stamps during their new employee orientations. There are a lot of things powerful people and corporations can do that are both legal and deeply, deeply shitty.

And why is Amazon doing this? Because Hachette won’t accept a new, lower rate on their ebooks.”

(Via A note to my readers re: Amazon « Twenty Palaces.)

I’d love to write a massive post about my feelings, but I’m behind already on this week’s writing that needs done due to completely redesigning this website, and I have a lot of work that needs done yet today.

Amazon is a large enough portion of online sales that they represent a marketplace as well as a distributor as well as a publisher.

In the first half of the 20th century, the Hollywood movie system (the studio system) used this same style of ‘vertical integration’ in order to achieve massive profits. In fact, if you read about the early 20th century you get a lot of deja vu going on.

Frankly I think more players will be a safer system. I don’t think punishing the authors and readers by delaying books, hiding search results, and playing around, is a good thing. As a result, I’ve pulled the buttons for Amazon links on my site until this is resolved to stand in solidarity with the authors at Hachette.

Business is cutthroat and hallowed. But tactics like this, if left unchallenged, will effect everyone (and yes, Indy Publishers too, if you don’t think your independent efforts are vulnerable to this behavior you are naive at best).

I apologize to any readers who are effected. I make no judgement on how anyone else buys books (and as someone who lives in rural country, who doesn’t have a bookstore, I understand the appeal of Prime deeply), but I feel this is predatory behavior, personally, and want to speak out against it.

22 May

Amazon brings disintermediation to the tie-in industry

“Amazon just announced a new program called Kindle Worlds that allows writers to sign up for no-mess licenses for established fictional worlds to self-publish stories in them. In essence, they’re letting fan-fic writers (amateurs who write such stories for fun) make money off their work. As a writer who’s made a good chunk of money writing official stories for such things, this is a brain-busting concept. So let’s break this down a bit.”

(Via Kindle Worlds = Worlds Burning? – Forbeck.com.)

Matt Forbeck’s run down is solid, I would recommend reading it all.

Interesting, everyone is responding to this as a way to monetize fan fiction, but that’s slightly off. It’s really a way for Amazon to disinter mediate media tie in novels, where packagers and publishers approach authors to write in an established media universe.

Amazon is using some elements of fan fiction to do an end run around the existing publishing structure of it.

As such, I think it’s probably more worrying to tie in writers and publishers than fan fiction writers and other writers. Another disruption.

John Scalzi has some thoughts:

2. So, on one hand it offers people who write fan fiction a chance to get paid for their writing in a way that doesn’t make the rightsholders angry, which is nice for the fan ficcers. On the other hand, as a writer, there are a number of things about the deal Amazon/Alloy are offering that raise red flags for me. Number one among these is this bit:

“We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”

i.e., that really cool creative idea you put in your story, or that awesome new character you made? If Alloy Entertainment likes it, they can take it and use it for their own purposes without paying you — which is to say they make money off your idea, lots of money, even, and all you get is the knowledge they liked your idea.

Chuck Wendig is also wondering things aloud:

That’s a pretty serious shift in authorship and authenticity.

Which is breaking my brain right now.

How much say does an author get?

How much veto power does Amazon or the publisher get?

Does this place too much power in Amazon’s hands (HAHA TOO LATE)?

Or does this put more power back in the original author’s hands?

As for myself, I’ve spoken on a couple podcasts about my desire to open the Xenowealth world after my fifth book. So far it looks like Amazon is trying to control this whole thing, it’s not quite as ‘open’ as I’d like. I’m struggling to see the mechanism where I could go on there and say ‘the Xenowealth is an open IP, here’s how to come in and start writing for it’ and split the royalties, play around.’ So I’m still not sure of how I’d build the Xenowealth opening up. I had been thinking about registering a website, with links to existing Xenowealth stuff, creating a wiki, and then investing some money in buying some stories from people who submitted (similar to what Eric Flint does for one of his own universes).

If Amazon created a mechanism for my simplifying that (by saying we split the royalties), I’d be very interested.

But as it is now, I smells similar to their Amazon Shorts program. Which looks a lot more like traditional publishing (Amazon decides who gets in) and hasn’t taken off quite the same.

It’s less an architecture that anyone or I could use, and more a program. It’s interesting as a program, probably a sign of things to come, but the fact that it’s not an architecture I can plug into means I’m less excited…

26 Apr

Amazon removing Kindle books under 2,500 words

Interesting that Amazon is doing this. They should open up Kindle Singles, but right now the only way to get into that is… oh, yeah, they have evil gatekeepers.

I think a short story digital marketplace of Kindle Singles at 30 cents to 99 cents, with 70% royalties, would be amazing. But you have to be in Amazon’s clique to get access to that.

Fair enough. But interesting to see them taking back more and more of what they initially gave (you can only have 70% royalties in some regions, you can unlock them if you sign with Kindle Select in some major regions now, and the limited access to short story royalties now getting tightened).

It’s for the customer’s benefit. It’s smart on Amazon’s part, getting rid of cruft and spam with low content ratios, to make readers happier about not having to wade through chum.

So far a lot of what digital direct publishing for authors and for customers lined up in Amazon’s view. Now that things are shifting, Amazon will always allay with the customer.

It’s nice when their interests overlap with writers. I’m happy with my digital sales, but this is another reason I’d never put all my eggs in that basket; if Amazon is willing to ‘clean’ this up, what happens when they decide they want tweaks elsewhere?

“Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing is reportedly planning to remove Kindle books that are less than 2,500 words.

At the KBoards site for Kindle readers and writers, one author shared a letter from Amazon that explained: ‘Content that is less than 2,500 words is often disappointing to our customers and does not provide an enjoyable reading experience.’”

(Via Amazon Cracks Down on Kindle Books Under 2,500 Words – GalleyCat.)

07 Apr

Mitigated Futures pops up onto a list, let’s break down what that means a little

A lot of people enjoy when I talk honestly about what a midlister like me is doing with his hybrid career. Here’s another such entry.

About two weeks ago I noticed that my collection, Mitigated Futures ([Amazon Kindle] or [B&N Nook] or [Kobo Books] or [directly from this page), had been popping onto the very low edge of the Cyberpunk bestsellers list at Amazon. Considering that I’d neglected the collection (not sent out much in the way of review copies, or pushed it meaningfully) I thought that was interesting.

So I dropped the price to $2.99 for fun and games and watched it climb up to #1, which entertained me much:


It stayed there for a few days then dropped.

There was a fun moment where it sat near two of my favorite novels, so I had to take a snapshot for my 15 year old self:


I twittered about it, for fun. But sometimes I have to remember I can see the raw numbers and don’t take this that seriously, because a few people emailed me a message that went a bit like “Dude! Congratulations, holy shit, you’re an Amazon bestseller!”

I’ve done this a few times, dropping prices to add data on sales numbers vs profit to my spreadsheet, to try and figure out the right price for a title I have up for sale. Tides from the New Worlds, my other short story collection, has made it up to the top 10 or so of Collections and Short Stories.

When you drop the price suddenly, it usually finds you a surge of people who otherwise wouldn’t have paid at the higher price. In retail, it’s not an uncommon strategy to launch with a higher price, and over time bring it down to capture more and more people.

But just spiking up there doesn’t mean all that much, other than the fun of it. Often the title comes sliding back down. It’s competing with hundreds (nay thousands of other titles) and it’s competing with the limited pool of your potential readers.

Look, readers give two valuable things to you, a writer:

Their Money (usually what we’re always focused on)


Their Time.

Time is harder to part with than money. Readers have shows, movies, video games, dinner, family, their job, and real life that competes with your work. It’s getting them to give you their time that’s tougher than their money in many cases (I still remember a dear friend being shocked at releasing a novel for free, and getting so few downloads it was comparable to how many had been paying for it. I pointed out there is no guarantee just making something free gets over the people who invest time in you barrier. Keep it free, I love the first book in a series as cheap as possible or free stories as lead ins and loss leaders, but it isn’t a simple growth curve you can automatically kick off).

That’s why we often have a limited pool of potential readers. People who can be convinced (based on formula, which none of us know of reading our past work, buzz and word of mouth, cover design, description of the project, time they have at hand) are potentially infinite, if a work gets escape velocity through buzz, but if you aren’t on that path, you’re actually depending on your existing pool. Yes, we’d all like to hope we’ve written something that has achieved escape velocity, or is maybe close, but more often than not we’re in a position of slowly growing the pool. And when you lower the price, what is happening is that the people who have already committed time are now going ‘the price is right.’ Maybe you’re also slightly growing the pool for the next round!

At least, that’s one metaphor I use to visualize this process (is escape velocity the point where the pool floods and spills over and joins a larger body of water and gets momentum from a burst dam? Not sure, it’s not happened to me yet, so I’ll report if that ever happens).

So the brief spike isn’t surprising, it’s just a fun piece of the roller coaster ride. I will not be putting ‘Amazon bestseller’ on my card.

Cyberpunk is a sub-category. And though it climbed up it, here is what that means in terms of sales.

I made $100.

Now, that’s not bad. Tides from the New Worlds seems to consistently bounce between $30-50 in sales (some months it gets above $50. To forestall instant advice, I’ve tried three different covers, the latest one seems to have bumped the sales up a little, as does keeping the price at $2.99 for new reader pick up, but it actually makes roughly the same at $4.99 as $2.99, in fact, a year or so ago it would make consistently more at $4.99 than it did at $2.99, but it seems to have shifted this year and it’s an older book, so I am happy with the lower price), so it doubled the usual amount I expect for a collection. Short story collections don’t appeal much to readers, it seems (my novella and my novel make way more than the collections), so seeing this makes me happy.

I’ve left the price at $2.99, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see it still continuing to sit in the top 40 of Cyberpunk, occasionally popping on and off the Short Stories list.


Being on a list like that is pretty important to finding casual readers. I’ve seen a couple twitter mentions by people joining my reader pool for the first time, which is nice, and why I think I’ll leave it at $2.99 as long its bouncing around that list. It’s discoverable, and I think the amazing cover by Jenn Reese makes it stand out.

But it still won’t make as much as my novella and the novel are making (which sit on no lists, by the way). And at some point, after another couple months in sales, I will talk about The Apocalypse Ocean and how its doing to be as open as I can for you all. But with Mitigated Futures, I’m not in the gold plated rims just yet.

But neither am I sniffing at $100. It’s more than most will make on any kind of book a month, and I live very lean in order to be able to write more or less full time (I make more off fiction than I did off the day job I had in 2000), the $100 goes toward paying down debt incurred in 2008 as a result of my heart defect.

That being said, this is one reason I’m more interested in Crowdfunding, in some ways. I was able to raise $4,290 to publish Mitigated Futures via that method. After the costs of the limited edition hardcover came out and shipping and what not, I was left with a bit under $3,000 in profit (thank you all, I love you, most short story collections don’t get any interest from publishers). In order for direct eBook sales to match the Kickstarter, it’s going to take some two and a half years of being a top Cyberpunk seller to match the Kickstarter (you can read about the impact Kickstarter had on my books and writing career here).

Which is not me being ungrateful. If Mitigated Futures sticks around the list for the next couple years, I’ll a) acquire new readers who might b) feed into the other work and c) Mitigated Futures will add $100/mth or so to my bottom line. It’s part of a portfolio of direct stuff that I’m building up, slowly and surely, to make sure I don’t have all my eggs in one basket and have a well diversified publishing portfolio: (contracts with big publishers, YA publishing, medium sized publishers, direct sales, crowd funding, and direct sales from my website).

But to answer the slightly over-excited email:

Dude, it’s an honor to see people trying it out and seeing copies move, but still not sipping cocktails on the beach just yet.

And that’s okay, too. The book is being read. I’m happy.

05 Apr

Amazon developing a cover creation tool

A smart move on their part, there are some truly horrendous self-made covers in the mix out there:

“Amazon is developing a cover creation tool for its Kindle Direct Publishing self-publishing platform, dubbed KDP Cover Creator. The tool is currently being tested by a limited number of KDP authors but the company expects to roll it out to all its KDP authors soon, an Amazon spokesperson told Digital Book World.”

(Via Amazon to Launch Cover Creating Tool for Self-Published Ebooks, KDP Cover Creator | Digital Book World.)

02 Apr

This Amazon KDP Select breakdown by CJ Lyons is interesting

CJ Lyons has a very business-like breakdown of whether Amazon KDP Select can work for you or not. I love this sort of level-headed examination, free of hype or drama. Great stuff:

“In my own experience, both times I tried Select, my lends were neglible compared to other authors. But as I polled other authors, I realized that the lending trends fall into two groups: relatively unknown authors were receiving higher numbers of lends while more established authors weren’t.

My guess is that the better-known authors with established series, good reader reviews, and bestseller status were actually being bought rather than borrowed. In my case, I could calculate the higher number of sales I received via Select and compare it to the lends as well as what I would usually sell of those titles via other venues.”

(Via Amazon KDP Select: Is It Worthwhile for Authors? by CJ Lyons.)