29 Mar

Amazon has acquired Goodreads. Huh.

There’s quite a commotion in reader and writer circles over the acquisition of Goodreads by Amazon.com. Not too long ago people were wondering what would happen if Goodreads started selling books on its own, as the audience there was vital and quite happening.

Instead, it is now one of the many Amazon subsidiaries.

According to Tech Crunch:

Chandler also wrote in his blog post about the acquisition that Goodreads will “continue offering you everything that you love about the site.” For one thing, he told me that the entire Goodreads team will be staying on, and that it will remain in San Francisco. He said it will operate as an independent subsidiary similar to “how Zappos and IMDb are run.”

For those who scoff, it’s worth noting that Shelfari, a book listing company that was acquired by Amazon, has also continued to run semi-independently.

One reason I fail to join in the panic is that this is becoming self-fulfilling prophecy. Larger publishers view themselves as specialists in providing books, in whatever form that may be, and not in having a relationship with the customer. They don’t sell books directly, nor work hard at developing mailing lists to let customers know their favorite books are out or that their favorite author is in town on a signing or speech.

Places like Goodreads create permission-based marketing environs (like newsletters, forums, book listing sites, review sites, etc) that allow readers to develop relationships.

Is Amazon snapping up Goodreads something to be scared of? Well, as someone who believes mono-cultures and monopolies to be dangerous, I think it is in the long term non-desirable. Customers are going to love it, though. Some people in Goodreads are annoyed, sure, but having more reviews showing up on Amazon sales pages will drive more activity. There will be more communities around reading built.

But they won’t be communities that larger publishing houses have necessarily direct access to.

If people in larger publishing companies are upset about this, they need to stop depending on third party systems to provide reader relationships.

A flat technological world means all companies, authors, readers, websites are just a step away from each other. Those relationships are more important now than ever before. If you’re upset that someone else realizes that, you honestly need to create your own in-house versions to develop those reader relationships.

Apple created their own stores to create relationships directly out of the same impulse. They know their mission is create awesome products, and link up to their buyers. They harness direct buying on their own website. They ask permission to get your email and continue to talk to you.

Right now publishing is still depending on Circuit City, in this metaphor.

Long term, I prefer variety. For authors who are doing well via Amazon, it’s nice to see a boost coming. But what happens when all reviews go through Amazon? All books are sold there? And then Amazon changes something…

…the royalty rate goes from 70% to 35% (let’s not forget, the royalty rate at Amazon was originally 35%, it was Apple that posted 70% to launch iBooks and Amazon changed to match ahead of the iBooks launch, an indication of where Amazon corporate would prefer the rate naturally were it not for competition [ah that magic capitalist notion] from another large corporation)? What happens if all the buy buttons disappear due to an argument between indy authors and Amazon? Already Amazon requires you to go exclusively through them to get 70% royalty in several non-US regions now, a sign that Amazon is happy to use the big stick of changing the royalty on you to get you to behave how they want you to. And that’s fine, that’s their right as a large corporation. But it’s why it makes me slightly nervous.

Short term. For those with books for sale on Amazon, it will probably mean a boost in sales and community building. And that’s not going to be viewed negatively by many.

And hopefully it will also spur large book publishers to focus harder on their own permission-based marketing so that we don’t end up with a monoculture.

As for me, might I note that you can sign up for my newsletter on this website, thus letting me directly note to you when my books come out? It’s at the very bottom (not featured in a big way yet b/c the site redesign is still ongoing, but it will become a larger part of the blog/face and post single page redesign over the next few weeks as I do A/B testing to see how to push it without being too annoying).

Yeah, I’m not betting everything on other third parties myself, and a large part of having my own website, the blog, and my newsletter is my desire to build my own relationship with readers.

Just in case, you know?

20 Mar

Faster royalty payments from Amazon will put the pressure on larger publishers

Smart. While authors haven’t begun a mad rush over, they’re doing a lot of smart things. If I was planning, say, a post on 6 things larger publishers are going to have to do eventually, this is probably #2.

I know *why* publishers wait six months. The returns system (where in bookstores can return a book if it doesn’t sell and get credit) mean that the true nature of how well a book did can take a while to establish. But, with many books getting up to 50% of their royalties from eBooks, and since publishers hold back a portion of the money in what is called ‘reserves against returns’ a faster payment schedule will become something that attracts author attention.

There is no reason eBook sales should have anything to do with a system that uses reserves against returns and waits six months.

“Amazon Publishing said in a letter to literary agents Monday that it will start paying its authors royalties on a monthly basis, up from every three months.

‘In this digital age, we don’t see why authors should have to wait six months to be paid,’ Amazon’s VP of publishing Jeff Belle wrote in the letter. ‘Beginning with our March payment cycle, we will move to paying our authors on a monthly basis. More specifically: each month’s royalties will be released within 60 days of the end of that month, every month.  For example, royalties for sales in January will be released by March 31, royalties for sales in February will be released by April 30, etc.’”

(Via Amazon Publishing promises authors faster royalty payments — paidContent.)

16 Apr

DOJ vs epublishing link dump

A few people were surprised I hadn’t weighed in on the DOJ vs 5 publishers thing. Again, it’s sausage making. Readers should buy books where they like to buy books and not worry. It’s not their job.

The other reason is that I’m really focused on, you know, writing right now. I just crossed the 40,000 word mark on The Apocalypse Ocean today. Now that my issues with vertigo and having trouble reading off screens are improving, I’m buckling down. There is work that needs done! Believe me.

That being said I’ve been following some of it from the sidelines. The following links are ones that I found interesting reads:

What happened? SFWA has a good roundup:

Unquestionably, the big publishing news of the week was the US Department of Justice’s lawsuit filing against Apple and five major book publishers—Penguin, Macmillan, Hachette, HarperCollins, and Simon and Schuster—for alleged ebook price fixing. At the root of the dispute: the agency pricing model for ebooks, which the publishers adopted in 2010. Under the wholesale pricing model that until then had been the norm for both ebooks and print books, publishers sell to intermediaries—such as bookstores or distributors—at a fixed discount off the list price, and the intermediaries are then free to re-sell to consumers at whatever price they choose.

What Amazon’s eBook Strategy means, by Charles Stross:

I submit that, as with all other large corporations, you cannot judge Amazon by the public statements of its executives ; they are at best uttered with an eye for strategic propaganda effects, and at worst they’re deeply self-serving and deceptive. Rather, you need to examine their underlying ideology and then the steps they take—and the actions they consider legitimate—in order to achieve their goals.

Mike Shatzkin, where do we stand:

I would summarize the situation this way. Amazon (which includes any other player largely dependent on Amazon) and the most price-conscious ebook consumers have won. Everybody else in the ecosystem: authors, publishers, and other vendors, have lost. The reaction from all quarters seems to confirm that analysis.

The biggest question going forward is how Amazon will react to this. Cader’s unique and invaluable analysis says that Amazon will have a “pool” of about $113 million for discounting and incentives in the coming year. B&N, with half their market share, would have about $57 million.

Baldur Bjarnason:

I believe Amazon’s current path leads them to either destroy their own standing in the market by alienating their suppliers or to cannibalise the entire ebook market once their shareholders have turned on them.

John Scalzi exhorts us to chill:

Amazon is not on your side. Neither is Apple, or Barnes & Noble, or Google, or Penguin or Macmillan. These are all corporations, not sports teams, and with the exception of Macmillan, they are publicly owned. They have a fiduciary duty to their shareholders to maximize value. You are the means to that, not the end. The side these companies are on is their own side, and the side of their shareholders. This self-interest doesn’t make them evil. It makes them corporations.

What does this mean for readers:

As soon as the new contracts are in place (and Justice will be holding onto a copy of each of those contracts), let the discounting begin. Forrester analyst James McQuivey told Digital Book World last week that he expects Amazon to discount e-books slowly and strategically, starting with bestsellers. Publishing industry consultant Mike Shatzkin, on the other hand, believes Amazon “will do the splashiest discounting they possibly can, making the point as loudly as possible that they deliver the lowest prices to the consumer and daring their competiton to match them.”

Lots of people assume agency pricing means higher pricing. And no one has actually supplied any data about that, it’s just asserted. Mark Coker at Smashwords actually has studied trending data, and says agency has moved prices down:

Although Smashwords is not a party to this potential lawsuit, I felt it was important that the DoJ investigators hear the Smashwords side of the story, because any decisions they make could have significant ramifications for our 40,000 authors and publishers, and for our retailers and customers.

Yesterday I had an hour-long conference call with the DoJ. My goal was to express why I think it’s critically important that the DoJ not take any actions to weaken or dismantle agency pricing for ebooks.

Even before the DoJ investigation, I understood that detractors of the agency model believed that agency would lead to higher prices for consumers.

Ever since we adopted the agency model, however, I had faith that in a free market ecosystem where the supply of product (ebooks) exceeds the demand, that suppliers (authors and publishers) would use price as a competitive tool, and this would naturally lead to lower prices.

My preference is that agency remains, because so far Mark is the only person to actually, you know, bring data to this discussion. Everyone else has just asserted that it raised prices.

So, read all that and you’ll have a good glimpse of what’s rattling around my head about this development.

But the truth is, I really have a book that needs finished, and that’s where 90% of my brain power is being invested. I’ll have time to think harder about all this later on. Right now I have a vague ‘oh come the fuck on, I can’t follow this all right now’ sort of response and am glad to see that the quality of thought about this in those posts above has been very interesting.

Oh, and if you use the word gatekeeper I automatically start laughing and ignore anything you have to say on the subject.

Addendum: Actually, Chuck Wendig probably nails it right here:

Publishing pinballs drunkenly between the bumpers of optimism and the flippers of holy fucking shit-hell the meteors are coming fairly regularly. The Internet is good for this: we get to see every moment as it happens and we have zero time to process it. All our processing is done out-loud, together, and mass hysteria runs rampant. Every shadow that passes over our prairie dog heads seems like a hungry hawk when it might be nothing more than a harmless vulture or a passenger plane. Or, y’know, Underdog.

01 Apr

A year of selling Tides From The New Worlds

Cover

I’ve been selling my short story collection Tides From The New Worlds for a year now, and I’m going to share that data with you. I’m going to hang it all out there and show you my stuff.

I’m a lover of data and charts to help solidify somewhat complex discussions. I’m in favor of keeping data and experimenting in order to try and learn my landscape. I hate discussions that are basically ‘do this… profit’ where ‘…’ involves assertions. I’m a businessman, once I’m done with the part where I make my art.

Due to being involved in making eBooks and because I’ve talked to a number of people who are selling them, and because I lurk in self publisher forums and track data wherever I can find it, I have in my head a rough model of what kinds of sales people are seeing off eBooks. And its not just Amanda Hocking’s millions or JA Konrath’s hundreds of thousands. Those are outliers, I’m curious about what people in my genre are making, for example. I’m curious as to what people who don’t spent every spare moment flooding places online with a constant rattle of self promotion and ‘please Dear God buy my book’ tweets and begs for retweets make up the bulk of their public persona. I’m tired of people who talk about ‘revolutions’ (being a survivor of a real world one, with consequences and all) and act like priests, or inflexible new guides.

One reason why people focus on the big successes is people who make middling or small sales are embarrassed to talk about it. There are also a lot of people who tell me all about their plans to become rich on the Kindle edition of their first book evar, and then never, oddly enough, follow up with raw data three months later after spending so much time arguing with my assertion that you’re probably not going to make a lot of money off online sales. My bet is that if you can clear $50 a month as a genre writer (remember, we have a smaller potential niche market) on a Kindle edition with your first book, you’re doing really well.

A very common assertion is that if you just drop the price to 99 cents, people will flock to the deal and ‘volume will make up for the lost margin.’ It’s a mantra that’s very strongly believed. To be honest, I think that works somewhat, because it boosts discoverability (it’s cheap to try a new author), and I think having something as a 99 cent ‘lead in’ discovery book/title is a good idea, but I don’t think its a strategy to depend on.

So a year ago, I made the eBook version of Tides From The New Worlds, and I’ve been experimenting with covers and price to test how it effects sales.

First of all, I’m a strong midlist author, with a reasonably well known name but not exactly a super-famous dude. I have a well known blog, but due to my British upbringing and midwest location, I abhor continuous self promotion. I just like to have fun. I do lots of interviews because they’re fun. I certainly, however, really do try my best to not push push push. I wanted to see how Tides would sell in that sort of environment. So I made notices about prices changes, but other than that, I was really pretty quiet.

My expectation was that, at $2.99 and with the 70% royalties, that I would probably make about $40/month off a short story collection. A number of writers with the same number of books I had out talked about making $100-$200/month in royalties off of novels, and since novels sell better than collections, I figured $40 was a reasonable expectation. Collections are hard to sell in print, and I know from some discussions that many collections sell for $500 – $1,000 advances to medium or small presses, if you can sell them at all.

In April we launched Tides. I offered, via my website, copies to anyone who wished to review it. There was no big push other than that.

The price was $2.99: as low as I could price it and still get that 70% royalty.

Out of the gate, I was pretty happy with the results. Copies sold were 25 in the first month and 27 the second month:

Tideslaunch

Even better, the second month the copies sold jumped a bit. I was wondering if, like some intimated, it only got better from there on. It was the opposite of my experience with print books, where the sales always tapered after a while, but hey, who knew?

I waited for the results to come in for the third month, and then… there it was: the tapering off.

Threemonths

Sales halved in that third month, and I made less. Now, this is the point where people would have been out there shouting ‘buy my book,’ but I was really trying to see how the natural, no-effort, digitally-easier method would work.

The trend continued into the next month:

Fourmonth

Over the summer and following months, this pattern of 7-9 copies a month and the corresponding royalties settled in:

299

At this point, I had a few conversations with people I would classify as ‘digital advocates’ who had all manner of advice. But I decided to do something different. I wanted to see whether the 7-9 people who purchased Tides a month were buying it because it was something they wanted, or whether all they cared about was price.

I did the unthinkable, I raised the price to $4.99.

I was told I would alienate readers and lose sales.

Here is what happened: I made more money.

Priceincrease

I was making just shy of $30.

But here’s what didn’t happen, the number of copies sold didn’t change in any way:

Copieswithincrease

My guess that people were interested in the book, but not nearly as price skittish as the peanut gallery claimed, was borne out.

Here is how that continued to play out:

Copiestofeb

Copies seemed to actually remain slightly higher. And the royalty profit settled into a $40/month area.

Royaltytofeb

So how about volume and a 99 cent price? This was my next experiment, started on the first of last month. Tides dropped in price, and copies sold jumped accordingly:

99copy

Holy crap, from 11 copies to 117 copies! Woo, break out the champagne I’m… well, not rich… I made just slightly more than 11 copies sold:

99royalty

Furthermore, the bulk of those 99 cent copies sold in the first week, well, the first three days, of the sale. Since then, they’ve dropped. The last three weeks the rate has returned to… 2-3 copies a week.

Even at 99 cents.

So take from that what you will, but my take was that I have returned the price to $4.99. Someone asked me why I wouldn’t want to keep reaching more people with the 99 cents, but there’s no guarantee it will do that based on the latter week sales. I’m pretty comfortable betting that $4.99 is the ‘sweet’ spot that’ll keep trucking in $40-$50 a month reliably.

Here’s all the data again:

date copies sold profit price of book
May-10 25 52.325 2.99
Jun-10 27 56.511 2.99
Jul-10 13 27.209 2.99
Aug-10 8 16.744 2.99
Sep-10 7 14.651 2.99
Oct-10 8 16.744 2.99
Nov-10 8 27.944 2.99
Dec-10 11 38.423 4.99
Jan-11 9 31.437 4.99
Feb-11 11 39.92 4.99
Mar-11 117 47.228 0.99

And here is a cleaned up chart:

Tides

What do I take away from all of this?

Well, for one, I’m looking forward to a point where I would be able to take a backlist novel to try this with, as short story collections don’t sell as well. I’m betting I’d sell more like $100-$200 a month.

I’d also like to test selling novellas/novelettes directly, as I’m seeing some evidence they sell at these levels.

Eventually, I do think having a 99 cent item for sale, as an entry point into your backlist, a good idea. If I do another short story collection, I’ll price one at 99 cents and another at $4.99.

Obviously getting more titles into the pipeline will help, it would be steady money. And I’ve been encouraging authors to get their backlist up, with smart looking covers, for sale, so that they can benefit. 3-5 extra titles you own the rights to, making $50 each a month, is a car payment. Or more if any of the titles take off.

As to why some titles sell better than others, that’s as much a mystery as it is in print. Some authors explode. Saying that you should focus only on digital books because JA Konrath is doing it is like saying you should focus on writing books about kids with magic power so that you can be a billionaire. In SF/F, with our smaller market share of titles sold, it also means you can expect smaller sales.

But as for putting front list titles up there? Right now my agent is shopping my second short story collection ‘Mitigated Futures.’ If it doesn’t sell I’ll turn it into an eBook, sure, but Tides has made ~$380/year. So obviously a print sale for it looks more attractive to me than jumping straight to digital right now.

Will this always be true? I don’t know.

Will this be true for every author? I don’t know.

To understand whether to go digital only, or print, or some combination there of, means being a business minded person and evaluating the data as best we can.

I know some people will point to me and consider me a lagging failure. I’m not shouting that I’m on my way to making millions off the Kindle and joining the hype. I’m not down on it either, I think its an exciting time, and a great way to leverage your backlist. A short story collection normally wouldn’t be making me anything as a midlist writer in one of the smaller genres out here. There’s opportunity here, when thoughtfully applied and approached. And I fully intend to, and have been, leveraging it (my recent collection/how to write book Nascence came out as a digital only release to experiment with figures, and to target a larger audience, which so far has meant a very different launch and sales patterns that hint at more sales than Tides has seen). But print is still a bigger money maker for me. It puts me in front of more buyers, lets me stand on the shoulders of giants, and to leverage exposure to a larger audience.

I think I will continue playing all the fields I have access to. Audiobooks are exploding, and I love working with Audible. eBooks are growing, so I am involved in that. Print is still selling, so I’m involved in that.

Smart businesses diversify. And I intend to keep diversifying.

06 Feb

Teleread offers a more moderated stance

Chris Meadows chided me in the comments for my representing Teleread as being of one mind or stance, as its a group blog and a large group of readers are represented inside. So he chides me rightly. He also linked a more moderated stance:

It’s the kind of misunderstanding that makes it so, so seductive to write a response, because “someone is wrong on the Internet” and you’re just sure that if you make that one more post, say that one more thing, you’ll get through to them somehow. You know beyond any doubt that you’re right, and you’re sure they’d agree too except they’re just misunderstanding you, and you have to make them understand.

I’m halfway afraid that this post is going to be just another iteration of that.

Hopefully everyone will play nice (I didn’t mean to sick the hounds on Teleread, honestly, all the new traffic around my blog is all brand new and passing through readers!). Chris and many like him have been very good about trying to represent worries and concerns without calling for the general lynching of authors I’ve seen elsewhere, and that’s very appreciated.

One thing Macmillan will have to do to sway moderate, but worried eBook readers like Chris over is to make sure to follow through on *its* implicit promise that the agency deal will lead to non-disconnected prices like we have all over the place, where my book Crystal Rain would be available in one venue like Amazon for $7.99, and at Fictionwise for $14. Because all that would do is cement Amazon’s lead, instead of increasing the general ecosystem.

05 Feb

Why do people want more expensive backlist books?

So over here at Teleread they’re calling for badly rating books online due to their costs:

maybe “˜hurting’ the authors is what we actually need to do for awhile. I don’t mean “˜hurt’ them through piracy or anything ridiculous like that. But we have to get someone to see that this fear of all things digital is costing authors actual sales from people who want to spend legitimate money. If a spate of 1-star Amazon reviews is what it will take to send panicked authors running to their agents and publishers demanding change for us, I say Power to the People.

Okay, suppose Teleread and the 9.99 crowd win.

Congratulations. All eBooks will be $9.99. Maybe even a set price. But at least close to it. Because older books are going to remain higher to offset the lower price of the new release.

Before this Amazon.com sold my eBooks that were out in paperback for $7.99. Now Amazon was paying my publisher $3.99 per backlist book that was out in paperback, making a $4 profit per copy sold.

Notice that phrase: Amazon was making a $4 profit everytime you purchased Crystal Rain or Ragamuffin.

My book Sly Mongoose is out in hardcover. $26.95, so Amazon paid half that for the book: $13.75 per book. They sold it at $12.50. Obviously the consumer is happy to get Amazon paying $1.25 in subsidies per book to sell it lower.

Notice, though, that Amazon wasn’t selling my book for $9.99 like it was others. Why is that? Because I’m a midlist writer, not some bestseller.

So why does Amazon subsidize bestsellers so hard?

One is that Amazon isn’t as interested in people who already have a Kindle and people reading backlist: they’re committed readers already. Amazon is trying to get people onto the Kindle. So it makes simple business sense for them to attract new Kindle buyers with a savings guarantee: buy a book with us and you’ll save over buying in print, so that the really high cost of buying the device actually saves you money after X number of books purchased.

amazonscut.jpg

But that doesn’t lower all book prices. Amazon chooses to price backlist titles and make a decent profit off of them.

OMG, Amazon is in this for profit! I thought all they did was stand up for the consumer!

No, Amazon made a promise implicit to it’s Kindle buyers: buy this device for $300 or so, and you’ll save $5 or so per new release. Most of the $9.99 crowd feels entitled because Amazon told them they should be. They’re very much wedded to that promise. As they should be, it was a smart marketing move.

Incidentally, despite people asking, one reason I don’t own a Kindle was because I read books on the Kindle App on my iPhone. I purchased my iPhone because it was a cool device I wanted on its own merits. I buy books, usually under $9.99, as that’s a psychological pressure point price, but sometimes from authors I like for more than that price. I don’t have to factor in the fact that I spent $300 on a device just for reading. The iPhone does a bunch of other stuff (as will the iPad by the way).

But now Apple has a released a device, and no one who buys an iPad will do it because Steve Jobs made an implicit promise, but either it will sell well on consumer desire for it or not.

So, Amazon could have just as easily done the following:

alternateamazon.jpg

If Amazon had chosen a method where it added a small amount of profit over the wholesale price it paid per book, consumers would have had $4.99 books. But this alters consumer behaviour. It would jack up backlist sales and slow down new release sales over the current situation, but with books under the psychological price point of $5, a lot of sales would result. You can buy 2 backlist books for the price of 1 $9.99 new release!

Even better, if Amazon had wanted to, not subsidize and distort the market, but offer books at exactly what they cost and take no profit, they could have launched the Kindle saying “$3.99 for any currently out in paperback book.”

But make no mistake, Amazon is a company, like my publisher, making a PROFIT off of consumers. This is the way markets and capitalism work. It’s bloody brilliant.

Amazon, however, chose, instead of rewarding readers of any kind in its store, to keep the price on backend level with paperback prices to make a profit, thus narrowing the range of consumer price for ebooks. If you ever purchased a book for $7.99 for the Kindle Amazon made $4. And they had every right to.

If Amazon were a selfless champion of the reader, and only cared about passing costs down to you, you would have been paying nearly half for backlist eBooks.

But you aren’t. And we’re here. Because Amazon wants to sell Kindles. And to get new people on a Kindle, it needs an advertising message. And its aimed at new releases.

Those of you who love books in general, well, you have the two charts above. Take a close look at them.

Now, if Amazon wins the $9.99 price war, you will continue getting cheaper new releases, but publishers will keep the backlist price high, as Amazon has already set the precedent of doing.

As to everyone who says the publishers will keep them high because they’re greedy bastards, think about the following: when Apple created the App Store app prices had been historically high. I remember paying $60 for a word processing app for one of my smartphones. But Apple didn’t set an app store limit on price, they opened it up and let the market battle it out. Some apps are free, others paid, some are really expensive. People keep comparing books to music, but it’s an odd comparison, in part due to a comment my agent, Joshua Bilmes made, “A book isn’t like a music album where people like one song. No one buys your book because they like one chapter. Comparing the two just confuses the whole argument.” And I think Apple realized that when they asked publishers to sell their books much like they sell apps.

And the app store has been a pretty damn big success.

If Amazon wins, my three novels, Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, and Sly Mongoose will, yes, probably be for sale for $9.99.

If my publisher wins, they will be on sale for a range of $5.99-$14.99. Crystal Rain and Ragamuffin are backlist, I’m told they’d be for sale in the cheaper realm. Sly Mongoose is still in hardcover, it would be sale for $9.99-$14.99 depending on what the beancounters think.

Teleread is asking consumers to voluntarily pay more for books that came out more than 6 months ago or so, so that everyone can subsidize and continue to subsidize new Kindle owners, and their desire to save money on the latest books.

Keep up the campaign, guys!

But if it happens, and I’m still paying $7.99 and $9.99 for books out in paperback to subsidize new releases like I am now when I buy a Kindle book, I’ll remember who championed this.

So I understand the rage of Kindle owners. They were offered what they thought was an implicit guarantee: that their device would be subsidized, and now that damn iPad is changing the game, and Amazon is losing its fight to keep that promise.

31 Jan

Together, let’s break the Amazon monopoly on Kindles!

From Amazon’s statement, I try to rewrite it to demonstrate weirdness:

Dear Customers readers:

Macmillan Amazon, one of the “big six dominant/largest/elephant in the marketpublishers, online booksellers has clearly communicated to us that, regardless of our my viewpoint, they are committed to switching to an agency model and charging $12.99 to $14.99 for e-book versions of bestsellers and most hardcover releases not negotiating without kicking authors, who supply you with your content, in the nuts while arguing with a large publisher.

We have I expressed our my strong disagreement and the seriousness of our my disagreement by temporarily ceasing the sale of all Macmillan titles linking of almost all titles online to Amazon, which I’ve previously done in the spirit of fair play and trust that you would not kick me in the nuts. We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles

Wait, what?

Macmillan has a monopoly on their own titles? That’s like saying Amazon has a monopoly on Kindles.

Of fucking course. They make Kindles.

Okay, since having a monopoly on something you’ve made is something Amazon thinks is bad, I’m announcing the FREE THE KINDLE FROM OUTRAGEOUS PRICES CAMPAIGN.

At over $200, Amazon shouldn’t have the right to price the Kindle so highly. As a self-entitled person, I demand they price it at $99.

Look, I have no idea if manufacturing costs or development means they’ll lose money, all I care about is how much it COSTS ME. And its too high.

I recommend starting with tagging Kindles with $99 boycott!

Together, if we demand to set the price, we can take the choice of how to price the Kindle out of Amazon’s hands and break their monopoly on Kindles!

Join me, my internet friends.

PS: I really hope Amazon.com gets on board with this, as they seem to think that having monopolies on things you make is really evil. I hope they take this monopolistic device down for sale like they did those books.

31 Jan

Amazon’s response

The Amazon Kindle team writes:

“We want you to know that ultimately, however, we will have to capitulate and accept Macmillan’s terms because Macmillan has a monopoly over their own titles.”

Well, by definition, every business ever made has a monopoly over its own products.

I mean:

“Ultimately, Tobias has a monopoly over his own produced books.”

Well yeah, because I made them.

Using the world monopoly means you dominate an industry. Not that you made something and put a price on it.

Therefore, if most SF/F books were by Tobias, you could say ‘Tobias Buckell has a monopoly on writing SF/F novels.’ Saying someone has a monopoly of their own product is redundant and clumsy PR.

There’s more at the link.

Update:

I sense a whole new catch phrase. Using _____ has a monopoly on [insert obvious thing they produce] here.

For example:

Lakes have a monopoly on water!

Lights have a monopoly on the light they produce!

An orange tree has a monopoly on the oranges it makes!

Tobias Buckell has a monopoly on himself!

Let’s have fun with this. The best example in the comments or sent to my @tobiasbuckell twitter handle will win a free book of mine.

31 Jan

Why my books are no longer for sale via Amazon

This is long.

Like, really long.

And talks about the intimate details of publishing in long and meandering manner.

I tried to make it shorter, I really did, but as Mark Twain once said, I didn’t have the time. So I wrote this instead.

So as of right now, you can’t buy my books via Amazon, as they have stopped selling all Macmillan books (both mailing print books to you, and selling Kindle books).

So, Amazon wants to sell books for $9.99 or less, my publisher wants to sell books for a more dynamic range of $5.99 to $14.99.

Right. So Amazon and Macmillan are in the middle of negotiations about how to sell eBooks. Amazon had, for a while, paid publishers an agreed upon price, and then discounted them to $9.99. Amazon’s reasoning: this would move eBooks, in particular Kindle eBooks (and maybe some Kindles, though I think Amazon’s creating a Kindle was to move more eBooks).

Publishers would like to be able to set eBooks at a higher price, say $15, then degrade the price over time to a much lower price. How much? CEO of Macmillan says “Our plan is to price the digital edition of most adult trade books in a price range from $14.99 to $5.99.”

This isn’t unusual. When a jacket first comes out at Macy’s it’s usually a certain price. Over the season it drops, and eventually it becomes bargain.

When a new device comes out, the initial R&D that was invested in it is recouped by an initial higher price point.

Cars sold on launch day are NOT cheaper than cars sold a year later.

In a free market economy, dynamic pricing is not exactly a new and stunning concept. Prices are flexible, they’re something a company sets as it eyes how many units are sold in volume versus how much profit it makes off each item.

Amazon is fighting this. Using its large (pretty dominant) share of both eBooks sold and print books sold online, it has in the past dictated the terms. Amazon says it wants customers to not have to pay more than $9.99 per eBook. Obviously Macmillan has bucked this, as Macmillan eBooks come out for a price higher than $9.99.

Due to the launch of the new Apple iPad, Macmillan seems to be working to strengthen its position on variable pricing. Amazon, after an apparently tense negotiation, has decided to use the nuclear option: yanking all Macmillan books, except for the ones for sale via third parties (used books sales, other companies using Amazon marketplace).

Does Amazon have the right to do this?

I don’t do legalese, but I would assume businesses get to sell what the want to sell. Yes Amazon is a near monopoly online, but this is legal. They have every right to refuse to sell.

Isn’t Amazon just looking out for us, the reader, getting the customer the best deal?

Amazon has made noise that this is all about the customer, but I doubt that.

Here’s why:

1) Amazon still uses Digital Rights Management. This is not a customer-helpful feature. In fact, Apple iTunes has gotten rid of it, as have many other music sellers, and found that sales increase. If Amazon was doing this “˜for the little man’ then where are all their attempts to get rid of proprietary Kindle software and DRM? We know it increases sales to drop DRM, so why aren’t they doing it? Customers would love it. But Amazon would lose control.

It’s their right to use or not use DRM, I’m fairly neutral about it myself, but to cast them as some sort of consumer advocate is off the mark.

2) If Amazon is a marketplace, they would just let a publisher putting out expensive books to shoot themselves in the foot. But what we’re seeing is a very aggressive move, designed to shock and awe the publishers. This really has nothing to with what customers want and everything to do with Amazon using its very large position to leverage itself into remaining number one. They deep discount books, often at a loss, because then once they have a customer, there’s so much more to sell you. Speaking as an Amazon Prime member, I understand. If Amazon loses customers elsewhere, because of books, they lose the ability to leverage the wide of their item selling.

What Amazon wants to do is price fix books to a ceiling.

If Amazon were a smaller retailer, this probably wouldn’t be a big deal. But Amazon pretty much, right now, has a monopoly on online bookselling. They’re huge. As a result, this becomes nearly a form of de facto price fixing.

Yes, we’d all like cheap books. I’d like cheap gas too. And milk has gone up. I’m working in a recession. I know this stuff hits the wallet. But the genius of a market economy is that we let companies try to charge what the market can bear, and let sales and results sort it out.

During the 70s the government tried to put artificial prices on gas, resulting in shortages as hoarding occurred. Most economists that I’ve read demonstrate that while artificially blocking a higher price sounds like a good idea (populism), it’s actually bad economic news.

That’s why your gas, milk, and other items aren’t pegged to a maximum price ceiling.

When a manufactured thing initially comes out, the initial investments to make that thing are still there. As a result, with designed jackets, new cars, new medicine, the price is initially higher. Over time, as those investments are recouped, the unit cost comes down.

It’s not surprising that publishers would like to do this with eBooks.

When price fixing occurs, there are consequences.

In the case of books, Teresa Nielsen Hayden predicts this is what will happen if price fixing is allowed to occur:

My honest estimate is that the result would be fewer and less diverse titles overall, published less well than they are now.

$9.99 is really expensive, you suck. eBooks should never cost this much

As a buyer of eBooks, I agree. Hell, as a buyer of regular books I agree.

Here’s how I, as a reader, go about buying a book.

Is it someone I know will rock my world and I’ll love reading? I’ll buy hardcover. Heck, I’ll spend good money to right away read a favorite author. I’d pay $50 to read Vernor Vinge’s next A Fire Upon the Deep related book he’s working on. Maybe more, to be honest. I can’t. fucking. wait. for that book to come out. Hardcover, paperback, eBook, whatever, I’m a crack addict who’ll pay for this author’s book.

The next level is someone I want to read. I try to read them in paperback or eBook priced at roughly paperback equivalent prices. But sometimes the convenience of reading right away on my iPhone triggers a buy between $9-12. $14.95 is a mental trigger for me, at that price I’ll wait for the book to come down in price (which it always does), or find a cheap print copy.

Of course, I’ve been in some financial hard times in my life. Right after I was laid off the $4 difference between $9 and $14.95 was a bit much. For those times I use the US’s amazing library system, and get the book on loan. I understand if people are hard enough up they can’t afford the $4 difference. It’s mac and cheese time, ramen noodle time.

But if you’re spending more than $4 a day on Starbucks coffee and fast food, I have less sympathy!

And not every writer can be an amazing “OMG I’ll pay anything writer.” As one “˜9.99 fanatic’ got in reply to a very nasty email sent to me, “I apologize for not being a good enough writer than you feel the $12.95 spent on my words is not worth a half a day’s entertainment, compared to the couple of hours you get via a DVD for more money. I will endeavor to try and write better in the future. Thank you for your email.”

But Baen sells books really cheap, never more than $9.99, so shut up.

Well, yes and no. Baen is awesome and shows a way to really get eBooks working well for their readers. I think it should be paid damn close attention to.

But Baen sells books for a wide range of price flexible options.

For example, if you want the book as soon as possible. They sell eArcs for $15, catering to the “˜can’t wait to get it first’ crowd. As time goes by, they bundle books into packages (webscriptions) and sell individual non-DRM books for a very good price. If you buy their bundles, you can get books for mere dollars. They also do 99 cent sales. And they have a Baen Free Library. So the price of a Baen book is anywhere from $0 to $15, just glancing at their sales pages.

Again, price flexibility.

Nightshade sells books via this program at a very affordable straight $6.

That rocks.

Okay, but what price should an eBook be?

If you were paying attention to my mini lecture on free market economy, you know that it’s “as much as the market can bear.”

The truth is, the answers range dramatically depending on a lot of variables *which is why publishers want the ability to flex price!*

But isn’t an eBook “˜cheaper?’

Well. Here lets look at”¦

How books are made:

Let’s take a look at how this particular sausage is made. I understand readers don’t appreciate this much, I didn’t before I was published, but now I understand that a book is a group undertaking.

A book comprises of the following production investments. Just like a pill requires research to bring to market, or a jacket requires artists, designers and invention, professionally published books that look slick and readable use the services of a number of different people.

What are those costs?

An editor: the man who works with the author on the big picture of the book. How are these chapters hanging together? Does this character make sense? What book should we work on next?

A typesetter: makes the inside of the book look professional and easy to read, well put together

Designer: interior art, layout, more look and feel of the inside. The look and feel of the outside of the book and how it incorporates the cover art

Art: someone has to paint, create, or put together the graphics that sell the book

Copy editor: this person goes through and makes sure the book is readable, looks for internal consistency (your character has blue eyes here, but brown here. Suns don’t actually go nova like that).

Proofreader: this final pass looks for any final typos that have slipped through everyone else.

Those are just some of the people involved in making a professional book.

I’m not including marketing/advertising, or the author’s advance in this little mental experiment.

In this article by K.T. Bradford, Jeremy Lassen, who runs a lean, focused, smaller press, says those initial investments for a book run from $7,000 to $20,000.

If you were making an eBook only, to make a professional, slick, proofread and well edited project, let’s take that lower number. Let’s say you farm this all out and pay an up and coming artist $3000 for a painting, a proofreader $1,000 to go over and copy edit, and then later proof the manuscript, a designer $1,000 to design the book’s look and feel all throughout, and a freelance editor to help throughout all this. I have no idea what an editor costs who’s freelance, but let’s lowball this and say that person makes $2,000 a book, like the copy editor (this would mean, for an NYC based editor, that they’d edit 24 books a year to make a freelance living. A lot of hustle). That’s a $7,000 initial investment.

So you can see, even without printing the book, there are upfront “˜development’ costs in good books.

So what price point do you need to cover your costs?

Well, how many eBooks do you think you can sell? See, the question becomes one of volume. In order to cover this back on only eBook sales you have some choices.

At 99 cents it takes 7070 sales to break even.

At $9.99, it takes 701 sales to break even.

At $15 it takes 467 sales.

That’s if you’re selling direct. Amazon takes a cut, so we actually probably need to multiply these by 30% to make them real world.

That looks impressive. Only 467 sales to cover back the initial outlay. The problem is, volume. Can you guarantee 700 sales vs 300, 7070 at 99 cents?

I’ve gotten to talk to other writers, and for all that people are buying books happily on Kindles and iPhones, very few writers other than big sellers (the top tier), are seeing more than triple digit sales a year for eBooks.

The volume is so low that with Amazon taking its cut, and so forth, most people are seeing a couple hundred dollars here and there.

Could pricing be the issue you’re not getting volume?

Well, I have my eBook sales figures of Crystal Rain, a book that has sold in the five figures in print, meaning people who have purchased in print, print online and in bookstores. That’s a nice run, it’s my bestselling book of the 3 Xenowealth books (Crystal Rain, Ragamuffin, Sly Mongoose), but leaves me still a midlist writer. Ragamuffin hasn’t broken five figures yet, it sold in the high thousands of copies (that dip between them is one reason the Xenowealth books are on hiatus now).

In 2008, for a brief while, Crystal Rain was available for free via download. Number of Kindle users who downloaded it: low thousands. Number who’ve purchased it for sale after that: low hundreds.

So five figures in volume compared to three figures. That’s an order of magnitude difference.

This magnitude difference holds steady. I sell hundreds of copies of eBooks, and thousands of paper copies.

So pricing it for free reveals that there’s a very small pool of eBook readers still. In fact, eBook sales as a percent of total sales are just over 1%, up from .47% in 2008.

Again, in economics, there is the law of supply and demand, and demand is still pretty low when compared to print books.

Even assuming eBook adoption follows an exponential takeoff, and map the growth rate of 2002 having .03% of the market to today’s set up, you have eBooks being 10% of the market in 2016. At that point, I’m betting volume will start picking up enough that it gets easier to justify smaller prices per unit. But right now, eBooks sell like limited editions.

But the current volume is still low, although some people (our new superstars) are able to get sales into the thousands and break the curve (every graph has outliers).

But publishing doesn’t publish just eBooks!

Correct! Publishing spends an initial outlay for designing and editing the books (that 7-20K we talked about) plus it has offices, plus advertising, marketing, and it offers the author an advance, and it pays to print the print copies.

Then, there’s usually a person who has to be hired to do the eBook conversion process. What people have found is that even with automated export tools, they still have to create an eBook version. Amazon has software to create their Kindle version, B&N uses ePub, other people use other versions. Someone has to check that even if the automated “˜make a version of this’ works well, that there aren’t any hiccups.

So it has a larger initial investment. And eBooks aren’t the only focus, but one arm of a large initial investment.

So on the first quarter this book is for sale, what the publisher is most likely trying to do is at least not have eBooks cost more than what it took for that extra effort to create it.

And with a few hundred copies, chances are, it’s barely doing that.

So publishers, looking at supply and demand, think that there’s low enough demand that they can up the prices a bit and overall, in that first while, make a little more. There are enough people who are excited about an author no matter what the cost, that they’ll make more. This way they’re covering the cost of the guy who makes sure the books get converted into nice eBook versions. And over time, they’ll drop the price.

Just like people who sell pills. Or jackets.

And here we go back to price fixing versus flexible pricing that falls over time. When you have smaller sales, sometimes reducing price to boost volume can leave you with the margin you want. But sometimes not. Sometimes you need to raise the price.

This is why price fixing is not the answer to the eBook dilemma. Letting volume grow from the single digit percentages it is, while giving publishers the flexibility to experiment and play is not the end of the world some claim it to be.

So Amazon has the right to pull the list. It’s part of the negotiating game. They did this to Hachette UK earlier this year in the same manner to force Hachette to play the game according to Amazon’s rules, as it set them up when Amazon first started selling Kindle books. Hachette folded, Amazon views this as a way to get publishers to do what they want.

The reason Macmillan is asking for a change in the way things are done, is because Apple has released an new program, and it offers publishers a program more in line with what they think will work: including some flexibility in early release prices. This now means Kindle is not the big kid anymore, as many are assuming Apple will pull a repeat iTunes store.

Whether or not that happens, I don’t know. But Amazon seems to find the nuclear option okay, and after years of working to send them a lot of business, this is a reverse blow. Because of my online presence, over half of all my print and eBooks are sold via them. Just as they have the right to do this, I have the right to be pretty friggin’ pissed that they think this is the way to negotiate, or build good will in any way.

So tell us how you feel about all this?

Look, I use Amazon Prime because I live in the boonies. I read books via Amazon Kindle. I’m even moderate about DRM packaging (I’d prefer not to have it on my books, but as long as it doesn’t get in my way too much I’ll tolerate it).

But this looks to be very dickish, and using your size as a prime negotiating tool to play hardball. Again, Amazon has built themselves up to the size, so they have the right to use their size. It’s just business, you know? But so is my then saying, I will now be dropping all Amazon.com links from my website.

I will no longer be doing any business with them. This includes renting from video on demand, buying books both print and Kindle, as well as buying various goods. I will not use them for payments either.

Because I’ve entrusted my traffic and customers with them over the years, I do expect a slight bit of reciprocity. I don’t like to do business with people who, apparently as far as I can tell, think sucker punching you when they disagree, even if they have the right to do it, is the way to go about this.

I know the publishers are far from perfect (believe me, the handling of eBooks over the last X number of years has been frustrating, as a person who loves eBooks), but so far they haven’t behaved like giant kids throwing a temper tantrum during negotiations of anything.

What about when Apple forced everyone to buy songs for 99 cents?

I think it’s useful to compare the two, and realize that music and books are different. For one, volume seems to be different. People play music all the time, it’s electronic adoption *exploded* the moment napster arrived. Millions of downloads.

With books, even heavily pirated ones are not seeing the insane activity you saw with music. Again, that volume question. It’s a vastly different industry we’re comparing.

So even in the early days, the fight Apple was having was different than this one due to magnitudes. Even then, ultimately, in exchange for giving up on DRM, music publishers got the ability to be flexible with Apple store pricing. They actually gave up frigging DRM for it, it was that important.

Large companies, like record companies and book publishers, just wanted to screw the little guys.

Well, they want to make a profit. That’s called capitalism. And you make as much profit as the market can bear. Now what music companies did that got them labeled evil, and was stupid (besides having vastly larger volumes than books), was to become crazy about suing their consumers (crazy) and going after them. That developed bad publicity.

While some authors have done the same, have you seen publishers treating consumers the same way as the RIAA?

Publishing has very small margins, the corporations are large, but I’ve visited their offices. While Goldman Sachs is handing out billions in bonuses, overworked book editors are in small offices and worrying about layoffs.

What do you want me to do about all this?

Nothing. If you’re a reader, it’s not your problem. Buy the books you want where you can.

Listen, in the big scheme of things, this hits me in the pocketbook slightly, most likely, and Macmillan in a big way. It’s not a reader’s problem, in as much as, if you believe price fixing most of the market will lead to what Teresa Nielsen Hayden says is a reduced number of non-bestseller kinds of books/new authors and midlist authors. That may concern you. It may not. I don’t know you.

Some of you will just see that books will be price fixed at $9.99, and be happy. Much like many people would be happy to hear that gas was to be price fixed at $2. I understand that.

But if you do like the authors Macmillan puts out, now is a good time to buy one of their books from a non-Amazon source if anything you saw here made you think differently about price fixing. But I wouldn’t even encourage you to buy books that are too highly priced. Heck no. You are the consumer, you need to send the right pricing signals. This is how the free market works.

Go forth and just be your merry selves.

Then why did you write this

I’m not trying to exhort anyone to do anything, but to explain the situation I’m in, and to educate. I’m seeing a lot of people state things with certainty (points I try to knock down above) who have no involvement in the trade.
A lot of readers are going to take this out on authors, and I wanted to basically show my homework to explain things that people may not be aware of. People toss out prices of what eBooks “˜should be’ who’ve never even stopped to understand how the math of something like this works. They demand things they’d never demand of a jacket salesman, just because they think economics and supply and demand and volume don’t apply to eBooks. They do.
Seriously. I’ve thought about these things a lot. Mostly because I have a novel series that has not been renewed, and I keep running the numbers to see if I could write it as an eBook, and when I run these numbers, I come up looking at making a few thousand dollars for half a year’s worth of work based on how eBook sell now. Yes, there are a few J.A. Konrath’s selling well on Amazon, but as I’ve linked, other authors aren’t automagically selling thousands of eBooks there. Most who follow these footsteps sell hundreds. Not everyone becomes JK Rowling.

What do *you* think is a good price for an eBook, then?

It depends on the author. Like I said, some authors I’d pay a lot to read. Some I won’t. I’m flexible.

But my gut instinct is that because eBooks have a slightly lower overhead than print books, I bet having them cheaper than a paperback is most comfortable. I wouldn’t be surprised if $4.99, once volume picks up over the tail end of this decade, becomes a sweet spot (under the $5 psychological breakpoint, just like $9.99 is under the magic $10 mental spot) where you could move a decent number of copies with audiences.

But right now, think of an eBook as being somewhat akin to a limited edition in terms of potential demand, with bestsellers/top sellers excluded.

One reason this focus on $9.99 is somewhat misleading is that it will allow places like Amazon to keep that as a mental target and expectation. When you look at volume, potential sales, and what eBooks sell, $9.99 is just as meaningless as $4.99. It all depends on how many copies are purchased.

Thanks for reading this crazy long ass thing”¦

Yeah, you think it’s taken a long time to read, here I thought I was just dashing out a quick “˜here are my thoughts on this’ sort of thing, and I’ve written a crazy ass long”¦ thing.

Sorry about that.

Also, for a look at distribution and another inside the business look, you should also read Charles Stross’s take on all this here.

Amazon and DRM, a comment lower in this post about DRM and Apple comes from Jeffrey Carver:

A correction to several comments about Amazon and DRM. While it is true that individual authors can choose DRM/no-DRM, the situation is different for publishers. According to E-reads, the publisher of many of my ebooks, they are required by Amazon to use DRM. They’ve asked, they don’t want DRM, but if they want to sell through Amazon, they have to use it. Look at E-reads titles at Fictionwise, and you’ll find them multiformat and DRM-free. The same titles in the Kindle store carry DRM.

Update. What is this stuff about agency, and the deals that are being brokered and the differences?

Well, LJ user Fashionista explains it extremely well here (snippet):

So let’s take a look at a practical model, St. Martin’s (a division of Macmillan) author,Janet Evanovich’s Finger Lickin’ Fifteen, which has a list price of $27.95 (so let’s call it $28.00 for ease of math).

Macmillan sells it to Amazon for $14.00, Amazon turns around and sells it for $9.99, so essentially at a four dollar loss.

Under the agency model, the publisher sets the price for the e-book at fifteen dollars and takes 70 percent, so they make $11.50 per book, which is less than they were making before and Amazon makes $4.50 per title, which is more.

So what’s the problem and why is Amazon throwing a hissy? Because they don’t care if they make a profit on e-books. As was explained to me by a NY Times Bestselling author, she said that Bezos knew he was taking (roughly) a five dollar loss on each e-book sold and had plans to do so for at least five years, in an attempt to establish a monopoly in the digital book market, trying to outprice his competitors. And he would have, too, if it hadn’t been for those meddling kidsSteve Jobs and Apple.

Scott Westerfeld also has a super summary here.

PS: For more about why I think it’s a bad idea to artificially cap the price, which actually raises backlist book prices to subsidize new releases read “Why does Amazon want expensive backlist books?”

PPS: For why authors need publishers, read Cat Valente:

Funny thing is, if this future came to pass and the market were nothing but self-published autonomous authors either writing without editorial or paying out of pocket for it, if we were flooded with good product mixed with bad like gold in a stream, it would be about five seconds before someone came along and said: hey, what if I started a company where we took on all the risk, hired an editorial staff and a marketing staff to make the product better and get it noticed, and paid the author some money up front and a percentage of the profits in exchange for taking on the risk and the initial cost? So writers could, you know, just write?

And writers would line up at their door.

And lastly, PPPS: Amazon has come to an agreement with Macmillan.

All the other publishers that were negotiating agency agreements are also coming to agreements. And my books have been put up for sale again by Amazon.com.

30 Jan

Is Amazon refusing to sell Kindle versions of Macmillan books as a strong arm tactic?

A few hours ago John Scalzi pointed out on his twitter feed and blog that his books were unavailable for Kindle download, and that other books seemed affected. I logged onto Amazon to check this out, and found out my novels were also affected, and no longer for sale.

Like John I saw no need to jump to conclusions. We’ve had Amazon trip up on technical glitches before. It’s also just after 5pm on a Friday, and that’s usually when programs and database uploads are run. Amazon’s last bad PR moment festered because everyone left for the weekend, the problem wasn’t addressed, giving the old intarwebs plenty of time to create a feedback loop of assuming the worst and spreading the news.

I tabled this for a ‘check back Monday.’

But now the NY Times claims that this is Amazon.com playing hardball with a publisher to try and force it to sell books at a certain price point that it wants.

Keep in mind, I’m still somewhat dubious. This occurred Friday evening. The NY Times article says Amazon ‘refused to comment.’ But by the time people were noticing this was down, typical office hours were already over. So this could be a journalist calling after hours, getting no response, and adding in a juicy angle by hyping the ‘no response’ article when its not really surprising that no one responded: they’re gone for the weekend.

That being said. The timing is horrible, if it’s a glitch. Just after the iPad came out, and one of the companies identified as having books available for it. This is very curious.

If Amazon is doing this… well, you’ll see words here.