Bait & Switch

A few more Amazon entries to keep you infotained.

The first link was brought to my attention by Jo Eberhardt (thanks, Jo) of “The Happy Logophile“. 

This article tells the story of a failure in Amazon’s Auto-pricing for e-books.  It repriced one author’s book to “free” – inciting a huge spike in downloads, each with $0 in royalties.  The whole sordid tale is here.  But the kicker: although Amazon eventually owned up to the mistake, they refuse to refund the author in question for the lost royalties.

Here’s the full scoop from the author himself, with a copy of the correspondance he received from Amazon.  The relevant, draconian, and frightening statement from that correspondance:

As per our KDP Terms and Conditions, we retain discretion over the retail price of a Kindle book.

Continue reading

Another Perspective on Amazon as Publisher & Bookseller, Plus a Contrarian View on Disruption in Publishing

I can’t seem to stay away from articles about disruption and disintermediation in the publishing industry, and especially those about Amazon’s role in it.  So here are a few articles of potential interest, and some comments on them.

In “The Trouble With Amazon“, author/publisher/consultant/etc Thad McIlroy opines about Amazon’s recent foray into vertical integration and publishing.  In this article, Thad suggests that the real danger Amazon presents to the publishing industry is not their mucking about in the publisher’s playground, but their bread-and-butter core business of bookselling.  The problem, he suggests, is that Amazon is systematically devaluing books.  His article includes this painfully true zinger:

Writing has become badly debased when a $4.99 e-book is thought overpriced, but people will line up at six in the morning in front of an Apple store to pay $499 for the skinny tablet to read it on.

Thad outlines a number of other problematic practices of Amazon – censorship, remote deletion of books, contrarian e-book format support (and opposition to industry-accepted standards), and so on.  All of these problems boil down to one over-arching concern: market power.

Thad concedes that “Amazon does not have a monopoly on selling e-books”, though it has much of the power of one, and then suggests perhaps Amazon is an “oligopoly”.

This is where I part ways, somewhat, with the article. Continue reading

NPR Interviews Barry Eisler

In case you missed it yesterday (or otherwise don’t listen to NPR), here’s an interview with Barry Eisler: he of the turning-down-a-half-million-dollar-traditional-publishing-advance-to-self-publish fame.

What was interesting to me, about this interview: I didn’t know that after Eisler had announced his intent to self-publish he was actually approached directly by Amazon and offered what he calls a “hybrid deal”.  In this hybrid deal, Amazon has become, in truth, the actual publisher of the book (as well as distributor and retailer) offering marketing support, while still leaving all the book production details (editing, cover art, etc.) to Eisler.

The result?  Amazon gets an exclusive title.

In light of my recent articles about Amazon and the changes in the publishing model… this is definitely something that makes me go “hmm”.

I find it interesting that Eisler is being unashamedly mercenary about this – and I find I respect that.  It suggests to me that he’s doing what he’s doing not out of some anti-traditional-publishing principle, but because he is truly looking for what he believes to be the best deal, financially.  I can’t begrudge someone finding a good deal.  But if he was just carrying some anti-traditional-publishing chip on his shoulder (like some self-publishing authors seem to), I’d probably think a lot less of him for it.

Digital Self-Publishing Revolution Again: Knowns and Unknowns

Okay, the last post now, for a while, on the digital self-publishing revolution.  Here is an article that lists a number of known facts about the changes in the industry and things presently unknown.  Interestingly there are a few things that digital self-publishing cheerleaders tout as known facts that are, in fact, far from certain at present.

It’s an interesting piece.  Give it a read.

Amazon Addenda: More on the Seedy Underbelly of the Digital Self-publishing Revolution

Last week I talked about some of my concerns as they relate to the Digital Self-publishing Revolution.

One of my primary complaints concerned the market dominance of Amazon as the etailer of choice for ebooks.  Most ebooks are sold via Amazon, and most writers openly embracing the digital self-publishing revolution in the process embrace a de facto contractual relationship with Amazon (whether they realize it or not) – and one in which they most likely don’t even know what their own rights and responsibilities are.

Today’s addendum is a link that will serve to further illustrate just what sort of company with which these writers are entering into a relationship.

First, a bit of disclosure: I shop on Amazon. Quite regularly, in fact.  As a consumer, I appreciate Amazon’s low prices, speedy deliveries, and the ability to compare multiple products.  I use Amazon for more than just books.

But that comes at a price, and I’m only now coming to realize the full nature of that price.  This article tells the tale of what it’s like to work in an Amazon fulfillment warehouse located in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania.  If you don’t click the link, here’s the short version (the full article is some 9 pages long, though you’ll get the gist before you finish the first page; the rest is just further accounts re-illustrating the same point): it’s not pretty.  It’s not nice.  Not nice at all.  The working conditions are, in a word, barbaricContinue reading

The Seedy Underbelly of the Digital Self-publishing Revolution Part 2

Last time I started talking about what I called “the seedy underbelly of the digital self-publishing revolution”, by which I mean all the things I’ve been learning about it that leave me feeling uneasy.  Specifically, last time, I talked about Amazon’s proposed e-book subscription service, and my general unease with Amazon’s hegemony in the digitial self-publishing world.  But that’s not the only part about this whole thing that makes me worry about it.  Here are a few more posts that gave me further pause.

When one traditionally-published author decided to digitally self-pub some short stories her publisher decided she’s in breach of contract.  The Passive Guy relates the tale here and here.  The long-story-short of this tale: making this move on her own spooked the publisher – rightly or wrongly is not the point – and apparently on some level the publisher was offended.  Many of the most prominent cheer-leaders of the digitial self-publishing revolution will take stories like this as further evidence of the EVIL nature of the traditional publishers – a point that must surely be bolstered by the fact that some agents have written in support of the publishers in this case, as opposed to the author.  I don’t take it that way.  I take it that publishers are human.  And that they’re beginning to buy into the rhettoric of the digital self-publishing cheerleaders that this is an existential dilemma for them. 

The story, itself, wasn’t the least surprising to me.  I’ve heard warnings from established, traditionally published authors warning of something like this well before I read this story.  Self-publishing, they have said, is the kiss-of-death in the traditional publishing world.

The real point, then, that I wanted to make was this: if in the long-term, traditional publishing is your goal, is now the time to rock the boat and go-it-alone, in the hopes that later the traditional publishers will overlook your self-published history? Continue reading

The Seedy Underbelly of the Digital Self-publishing Revolution

So, I’ll start by saying that I see the arrival of the Digital Self-publishing Revolution as largely a good thing.  It’s more confusing than the old world – now instead of a comparatively straight-forward process of submitting to agents and editors and hoping for the best while expecting the worst, you’ve got a thousand different possible levers you can try and pull.  (Some of them you can’t actually reach.  Some of them don’t actually do anything when you pull them.  Some of them have an effect, but it’s hard to figure out what that effect is.)

But, largely, it’s a good thing because it gives writers and readers both new options that they didn’t have before. 

Still, I’m put off by the revolution’s cheerleaders who shout hurrahs: “The Revolution has come! Publishing is disintermediating! The Traditional Publishers are dying, and good riddance for they were made of EVIL and soon it will be complete freedom for writers and readers and puppies and kitties will rain from the skies forever! Amen!  P.S. And we’re all going to get so rich by writing!”

That’s hyperbole.  But the basic message is the same.  If you move in writing circles, you can’t help but read one or two such blog posts on various blogs per week. And that’s if you don’t actively follow Joe Konrath or Dean Wesley Smith or others like them.  But their message puts me off, not only because I think it’s an unrealistic vision of the future, but because something about this vision seems a little off to me.

In the past few weeks, I’ve come to understand a little better why I’m vaguely uncomfortable and unsettled about the digital self-publishing revolution.  There is something dark, something unspoken, something critically unexamined staining the underbelly of the Digital Self-publishing Revolution.  I don’t think these are things talked about enough, yet. Continue reading