Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

Back and Still Alive

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

I returned from the 2015 RWA national conference this past Sunday evening. Since this was my first conference as a member of the national board of RWA (As a Director at Large) my conference experience included duties and activities above and beyond the usual.

Alas, I was unable to pack in just a carry-on size bag, even with packing cubes and video watching. As a Board member, I was at conference from Saturday to the following Sunday. I would have totally been able to do carry-on, even with my admitted failings, if I were only there from Tuesday to Sunday.

But that turned out to be OK, because that meant I could put lots of books in my luggage. I’m still not clear on why my bag wasn’t overweight. The carry-on failure was mine. I brought too many clothes. There were items I did not wear… ::::but what if I’d needed them?????::::  One year someone spilled wine on my only pair of pants and boy do I wish I’d brought an extra pair. Oddly, my packing cubes were full on the way to conference but on the way back, one was empty. I guess I got better at rolling up things small. I’m a convert. Those make it really easy to keep organized.

Highlights of Conference

Guys. I got to shake hands with Nora Roberts!!!!  Tessa Dare and I met Jude Devereaux. I managed to put some brakes on the fangirling but not much. Tessa was gracious as always. I also met Carol Mortimer. Oh, gosh. It was wonderful.

The doughnut party was another success. Megan Frampton was in charge of fetching the doughnuts and they were delicious.

Box of doughnuts

Why you shouldn’t be late to the doughnut party

Workshops and Meetings

I didn’t make it to as many workshops as I’d hoped. Good thing I bought the conference recordings! The workshops I attended were fun and /or informative. I was able to meet up with a lot of authors I only see at conference even though I “talk” to them all the time on Facebook and Twitter or other author forums. The bar arrangement at the hotel was strange. It was as if no one believed Romance authors would want to sit around and drink and talk all day. I felt for the wait staff. There weren’t enough of them for the demand, but they were all lovely while insanely busy.

The Mood by Numbers

This one is harder for me to assess because as a Board member I have much more insight into the issues of the organization. In addition, my writing career is going far better than when I was traditionally publishing. That’s a pretty simple truth. From 1987 until 2010 I think my total writing income was something like $60,000 TOTAL for 17 books. That’s about $2,600 a year. From 2011 to present, total income is roughly $240,000 or about $60,000 a year, and 140,000 books sold. Those totals are actually higher because that doesn’t include income or books sold from projects that went through accounts that aren’t directly connected to my reporting. It’s closer to $260,000 and 160,000.

I had none of my old anxieties and fears about contracts and publishers, and that was great. I had some killer hallway conversations with authors about career planning and management. My anxieties now are about the bets I placed on certain career events. For example, I “bet” if you will, that I would get reversions for 6 of my traditionally published books. I got three of the hoped-for reversions. I had the basic plan B in place and that’s the trajectory I’ll follow now.

For me, I made contacts and arrangements with my fellow authors that I expect to materially improve my career position and that is the reason to go to the RWA national conference.

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Nook?

Saturday, July 11th, 2015

Last week Nook announced it was shuttering its international store and now there is, at least as far as I can tell, unsupported claims that the North American Nook store will also be closed. Maybe. But I’m not so sure. But first, the international issue.

From the get-go, I had doubts about Nook’s International offering. The first red flag was that it could take 6-8 weeks for a book uploaded through Nook Press to show up for sale in the UK and EU countries. A delay that long suggests a manual process, as in the US store and the International store not being served by the same servers and back-end. It made me wonder if they were doing uploads via spreadsheet and there were subtle indications and a few whispers that this might be true. Certainly, a 6-8 week lag is inexplicable if the US NookPress back-end was the same as the European operations. I really don’t know, but to me, that was a sign that something just wasn’t right with the implementation AND with the corporate commitment.

Then came VAT and B&N did it all wrong. They were the ONLY vendor that had no way of saying, hey, “assume the price I’m giving you includes VAT.” It totally screwed authors who felt felt they should/must/needed/wanted to normalize prices. Nook made it impossible for an author to provide EU/UK prices that end in .99 — a proven sales strategy. It put self-published authors at risk of running afoul of EU fixed price book laws as well as Amazon price matching. I worried about the price matching because in one case, when I lowered the price of a book I was promoting, Amazon price-matched the UK version of my book to the Nook version within two hours of my update at Nook — before I’d gotten around to the other vendors. Amazon didn’t price match the US price for another two days.

Theoretically, other book vendors shouldn’t have to care about the self-publishing environment at Amazon. They ought to be free to have whatever policies they like. That is not the reality. Google, which could be killing it in self-publishing, has several policies in place that keep a lot of self-publishers out of Google Play because those policies wreak havoc with those titles at Amazon. In fact, Christmas in The Duke’s Arms had to be taken off sale at Google because they’d decided to discount the book to $0.99 and Amazon was price matching it in an environment where that was harmful to our pricing strategy for the next anthology.

That’s a reality, and regardless of the fact that Google can, of course, do whatever it likes, there are many, many authors who do not publish to Google because of this (but also because their discounting policy requires keeping a brain-busting accounting of List Price/Actual Price. It’s awful awful awful.)

Bringing this back to Nook in the US, Nook did what was easy for them regarding VAT and immediately screwed self-published authors.

Now, I can also say that over the past two years, Nook has been a decreasingly important vendor in terms of sales. From everything I can tell, they still impose an artificial ceiling on the ranking of self-published books. They also made it difficult to find Nook Books at their website. I got a lot of emails from frustrated Nook readers who could not find my books in a search. Jesus. Just a terrible, terrible user experience.

Plainly Nook is looking to spin off the eBook store, which wouldn’t be so bad — especially if it ended up in the hands of someone committed to the tool. (I find that doubtful, alas.)

But does it make sense for Barnes&Noble to have no way to buy products on-line? Does it really make sense for Nook to shut out self-published titles entirely? Only if they intend to go the “Indie” route and hand everything over to Kobo the way other physical bookstores do. Which, you know, is a conceivable result.

If Nook Press spins off, it seems to me it would have to become more like Book Baby (::snort::) or Draft2Digital— an aggregator. OR it would have to try to be an independent eBook store. If it’s doing to try that, then I would be whispering to Draft2Digital that they need a direct-to-consumer storefront. They already have a superior author interface and they can already handle multiple file versions whereas Nook, to achieve that, would have to develop Kindle compatible processes. I don’t think Smashwords is a serious contender, by the way. They, too, impose harmful terms and policies on authors. (Automatic opt-ins, enforcing the text of  copyright statements when they are not the copyright holder so what the hell business is it of theirs how I word my copyright statements? their broken ePub upload process. No. Just no.)

D2D, however, appears to have real tech chops and a UX team that knows what the X in UX means, which appears to entirely escape Smashwords.

Interesting.

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Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited and Scribd

Friday, July 3rd, 2015

Some of you may know that Amazon changed the terms of its subscription service, Kindle Unlimited (KU) such that payments due to authors with books in KU are calculated in a different manner than previously. If you’re a reader and you subscribe, you can read all you want for $9.99 a month. With the single limitation, so far, that you can have up to 10 books on your “shelf” at once. To get book number 11, you have to read or release one of those books.

With the Kindle Unlimited subscription you can access hundreds of thousands of Kindle books and thousands of audiobooks with Whispersync for Voice. You can keep up to ten books at a time and there are no due dates. Read your Kindle Unlimited books on any Amazon device, or free Kindle reading app. (Terms)

Scribd reinvented itself from a pirate site reader-centric sharing site (Irony ALERT!) into a subscription service. For $8.99 a month. They paid all authors/publishers the same as a sale.

If you’re a reader, that’s a pretty sweet deal, assuming the books you want to read are in the program.

If you’re an author, deciding whether to have a book in KU is a business decision, and not everyone’s business needs and goals are the same. Everyone’s reasons for being in or out are different. Last year when KU debuted, I blogged about it here. Here’s what I said then about how that would be profitable:

If you are paying authors/publishers a percentage of price, then for your business to be viable, that payout amount per month HAS to be less than 9.99 * (number of users subscribed).

This means a profitable user will read a number of books N per month where the payment due to vendors is less than 9.99. The more books they read, the less the wholesale price has to be (obviously), and, at 9.99 per month, the wholesale price has to be less than 4.99 for 2 books per month, 3.99 for 3 books, etc.

Not long after that post, it turned out the payment terms for traditionally published books in KU were different than for self-published books. Traditionally published books receive the same payment as if the book had been bought — that is 70% of the purchase price. Further, certain self-published authors were given those or similar terms in order to convince them to put their books in the program.

Self-published authors can only participate in KU if they put their books in Kindle Select — that is, have those books exclusively at Amazon. Scribd does not require exclusivity. For some authors, Kindle Select makes sense. But for others, it doesn’t. Doing well at other vendors or wanting to avoid the risk of having a business depend on a single vendor are good reasons not to be in Select and therefore, not in KU.

Traditionally published books need not be exclusive. Because, as Amazon recognized, that would be a non-starter.

Arithmetic

What the Romance community knew, and what I suspect Amazon knew (because DATA!) and what Scribd apparently did not know (Because why would anyone pay attention to what goes on with those books women read?) is that Romance readers are the Great White Sharks of the reading world. They are the 80 in the 80/20 rule. They are the power in a power law.

Solving for X

Remember my ruminations over profit, book prices and that monthly subscription rate? Amazon had the data that would have told them everything they needed to know about those Power Readers (before KU debuted). Amazon solved the math problem with deep pockets but also by offering self-publishers a substantially worse deal. The KU reimbursement rates started decently, then took a swift dive until the reimbursement fell to around $1.34. Why? Well, either you sustain losses because of the Power Readers or you find a way to compensate for that. Falling KU reimbursement rates were exactly that, that is, KU’s “flexible” reimbursement rates to self-published authors was their hedge.

As KU continued, Amazon kept talking about how much money they were putting into the monthly fixed KU pool to be distributed to the self-pubbed authors, but reimbursement rates from that pool continued to fall. Because the hedge was needed. (So I speculate.) Scribd had no such hedge in its business model. (To my knowledge, anyway.)

How did Scribd solve for X? They didn’t. It’s hard to understand why Scribd thought $8.99 for all readers was viable even in the medium term. If they knew about Power Readers then they either didn’t know enough or they thought the same thing most of the traditional world thinks about products for women. How could they possibly matter when they were up against REAL books and REAL readers?

$8.99 is a brilliant strategy for competing for potential KU subscribers. It’s not a brilliant strategy for paying authors/publishers in an environment that includes Power Readers. The rational solution after the short to medium term is to introduce tiered subscription rates. It’s blazingly obvious that in an environment that includes Power Readers you must also have a bazillion 1-2 book a month readers or you have to charge Power Readers more. Or you have to pay authors/publishers less. Scribd did a great job going after traditional publishers, and they probably had a better selection of books than Amazon. And, by the way, the word is lots of Power Readers (those sharks!!) had subscriptions to both services. Because the pool of books was different.

But if they charged those readers more, then KU looks more attractive… It’s a tough situation.

Solving for Y by Killing X

Scribd’s solution was to remove 80-90% of Romances from their service.

Sure. Of course. Now they will be paying out less to authors and publishers because the books people women actually want to read are gone. Now that they’ve basically told the Power Readers they are unwelcome with all their womanly reading of THOSE books—who the hell knew they read that much???—what they have left are the 1-2 book a month readers.

This makes a certain sense. Because maybe what will happen is the Power Readers keep their subscriptions to both Scribd and KU, but now only borrow 1-2 books from Scribd and things are sustainable for a bit longer for them. Yes, an FU to romance readers, but Scribd maybe wasn’t in a position to feed the sharks.

If I were a Romance publisher ::cough::Harlequin/Avon::cough:: who just put substantial backlist into Scribd only to have their reader base told to fuck off, I think I’d be pretty pissed off.

The more established self-publishers, the ones who cannot afford Amazon exclusivity financially or at the cost of reader-relations will likely move to Oyster in order to have some presence in a subscription system. I wonder if Oyster knows what’s coming their way?

Cue the theme from Jaws….. LOOK OUT OYSTER!!!

Segue

Early on, long before KU, I put one book into Select into order to have data on the program. I asked my newsletter subscribers to tell me what they thought about my decision. Their answer? The non-Amazon readers were angry. Rightly so. That was enough for me. My experiment was done after the first angry letter. (After 90 days, you can elect not to re-enroll in Select.) If it had been possible, I would have ended it immediately, but I had to wait out the 90 days. I sent a copy of that book to every single reader who let me know how they felt.

Amazon’s Adjustment

The initial structure of KU with its fixed reimbursement pool meant that a longer book that make $2-4.00 for a sale, made $1.34 in KU. Shorter books, on the other hand, that would be sold in the $0.99-1.99 range and thus net the author a dollar or less, made $1.34 in KU. In other words, a book priced at $0.99 made $1.34 in KU. Anyone with half a brain can see that this meant shorter books were way more profitable and that longer books were way less profitable.

The adjustment Amazon made was to address that disparity. Instead of paying the same amount per borrow regardless of length, authors are now paid based on pages read. “Pages” read, actually. Basically, Amazon had to normalize what a page means for a digital book when displays are reflowable and resizable across different sized devices. A “Kindle Page” is the same for all devices regardless of settings. (Presumably, of course.)

To me, that’s fair enough. Authors who write shorter books make up the difference by writing more books. I should think that’s obvious, though apparently not. Category authors tend to write more books than single title authors. Three 30K word books will make you the same as one 90 page book, assuming the books are read all the way through.

I have to shake my head at the suggestions from some that readers should make sure to page through shorter books, because otherwise those authors are screwed.

No they’re not. They’re only screwed if readers never actually finish the books, and if readers aren’t finishing their books, well, maybe those authors should worry about why that is. There absolutely is a market for shorter books and short stories. Just like there’s a market for longer ones. I have short stories, novellas, and novels on sale. They achieve different goals for me. I’m quite sure that readers have different goals and preferences for reading works of varying lengths.

Final Thoughts

I don’t have any books in KU. I did have books in Scribd, but I assume the only thing left is Scandal, which is currently free and so would not have been removed. I’ll probably go pull Scandal because I’m vindictive that way.

But now I’m kind of wishing I did have something in KU because at last at LONG LAST Amazon is giving authors data about how much of their books get read, but the only way to get it is to be in KU. I had this idea that authors could put a book in KU, let it sit for 90 days and watch the data about pages read. You’d rewrite if no one gets past Chapter 10. ::snort:: Mostly I’m kidding.

[Update: MelJean Brook pointed out that Amazon is NOT providing meaningful page read metrics so my plan would not work. There is no way to tell from the data provided if 2000 Kindle pages read is 2000 people reading one page or one person blowing through 2000 pages of an author’s work.]

I Lied. This is the Final Thought

I was talking to a friend the other night about why Amazon didn’t fix their issue sooner since they surely had the data about the problem of shorter works no later than 6 months in. Assuming that’s true, that gives them 6 months to develop, test, and QA and then prepare the PR for the Kindle Normalized Pages scheme. This is aggressive but doable. You’d have to test a lot of scenarios and then make absolutely sure all the calculations are correct and reach consistency.

Maybe the schema changes weren’t as big a deal as they would be in a traditional SQL Server or Oracle environment, but NoSQL solutions have different challenges, and one of them is hidden errors because of eventual consistency or problems with “schemaless” documents. (It’s only schemaless if you never hired a data architect, and if you didn’t sooner or later you’re fucked. *)

I’m thinking of Wattpad and its problem with user comments attributed to the wrong account. That’s a total NoSQL error that a good OLTP-trained data architect could have said, hold on a sec here… What happens if…. And then all the developers stick their fingers in their ears and sing LahLahLahLahLah because the architect just added 3 months to the delivery date. And nine months later your data is untrustable. There are scores of developers out there who got burned by thinking schemaless means never having to think about data consistency across transactions.

Eventually, your financial data has to be in a transactionally consistent state and stay that way and it can never ever revert to a previously inconsistent state. Or you can’t pay people correctly. So, you know, 6 months seems like a decent guess for how long it would take to roll it out and be certain it works for paying people reliably. The concept isn’t hard. The execution is.

Interesting.

* OMG. I actually made a database joke in a writing blog! More than one, actually. This is very strange.

Note: Regarding NoSQL, it’s a very very fast way of scaling data. Although UC Berkeley had one of the early such databases, Amazon more or less put the concept into widespread use, followed by the original developers at You Tube who had to massively scale MySQL. Those guys needed to ramp up fast and on a scale that traditional transactional database could not then achieve. When I say “documents” in the sense of a NoSQL database, I don’t mean a Word document. I mean a collection of information of related items where Item 1 may not have the same information as Item 2 in the same set of related information. In that sense, there is no “schema” (that is a definition of what information is contained in related data. In a transactional database, all objects of a defined type have the same structure, even where elements of the structure are NULL.)

The NSA, by the way, collects your information in Hadoop, a NoSQL database backed up with some Postgres SQL functionality for the sorts of transactions that MUST be consistent.

This is a laughably high level explanation. It’s way more complicated. I’m a SQL Server DBA and Data Architect, but I’ve done some Mongo DB where we needed to address some shortcomings with our SQL Server applications without spending a fortune. For anyone who cares, Microsoft’s SQL Server 2014 changed the query optimization engine in significant ways — and I suspect it’s a direct response to NoSQL. For example my current employer had ugly queries that were taking 2 minutes (on completely under resourced SQL 2008 servers and for data that SHOULD have been in a datawarehouse but wasn’t, so I’m sorry, but the situation is long and convoluted and no one here cares, just know that 2 minutes for a query result is beyond embarrassing) that went down to 45 seconds when run on a SQL 2014 install.

Basically, the point is that the situation is considerably more complicated than, hey, let’s do it THIS way instead. Amazon is not just a company that sells stuff. They INVENTED the technology they needed to massively scale because no one else was doing that, and then they open sourced it. So when we talk about Amazon having advantages, the advantages are even bigger than most realize. Amazon IS data. I don’t think they do anything without knowing what the data says, and they have more data than anyone.

It’s why we’re seeing such an upheaval in publishing. It’s why Romance matters more and it’s why companies and analysts who dismiss Romance are in big trouble. Amazon knew about Power Readers. The usual gendered biases very likely got exploded by the facts. Traditional publishers need to lose the bias. Companies who want to compete in this space need to fire anyone who talks about REAL books and REAL readers.

The Romance Sharks will eat their lunch.

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Why Social Media is Failing Creative Women

Saturday, May 16th, 2015

Today someone on one of the author loops complained about a Facebook page that was serving up pirated books. The FB site links were all bit.ly links so I went to a tool that tells you where the link will land you, so I wouldn’t have to actually click and land somewhere bad, and the site, Hot ebook download DOT com, was registered to a gentleman in Kiev with nameservers that ended in .RU. (A nameserver is responsible for resolving your domain name to the correct IP address as assigned through your webhost.) Two things are generally true, not every site that ends in .ru (Russia) is automatically bad, and an awful lot of malware comes from servers in the .ru domain.

Now, I highly doubt there are any actual books being served at the end of those links. I happen to strongly believe that anyone who clicks on those links gets malware, their credit card information collected, or a file with malware in it. Or all three. So this probably isn’t really piracy. But I’m not going to check and besides, I have an entirely different issue to talk about.

It bugs the heck out of me that FB seems to have nothing in place to prevent a page that is almost certainly serving up malware, or, possibly less dire in fact, but completely dire to lots of authors, pirating books and other copyrighted content. And the author was having a hard time figuring out how to report this to FB. Many of you are probably familiar with my position on piracy, which is mostly I don’t care too much, or, perhaps more accurately, I feel it’s not worth my time, and might actually be against my interests, to go around DMCA-ing every suspected site that has pirated my work. But sites serving up malware I do have a problem with.

The fact that the source is FB? Oh, the bitter taste of irony. At the same time, FB makes it harder and harder for authors to pay them money. (Boosting a post with a book cover in it? HAH! That’s three days of trying to make FB understand their own policy about book covers being exempt from the “text to picture” ratio. Want to advertise your book? Another circle of hell for the same reason.)

And now I get to the meat of this post.

Social Media has a hugely flawed view of the world. They’re so male-oriented that they have absolutely no ability to grok that women have a fundamentally different experience of social media, and the world, than men. And yes, the same is true for many many other classifications (Color, ethnicity, non-cis, not heterosexual and so on.) It’s why we see policies that actively endanger women and a big old “Huh?”  when women complain. Real Name policies endanger women. Until these companies understand WHY that is, it’s not possible for the policy to be crafted in a way that reduces the danger. There’s a flip side to everything. Not having Real Names can also endanger women. Understand what’s going on, and there’s a chance you might have a more effective policy instead of one that serves the few with real harm to many.

Instead of these companies thinking about what it means for them to offer a service to everyone when their model of the world is so deeply inaccurate, we keep hearing the equivalent of “It doesn’t happen to men, so it’s not real.” There are a lot of white people who think there’s not a problem with racism and policing, and they think that because they do not inhabit the world where dark skin gets you different treatment. At least recognize that blindness like this exists and that right now this minute, you, all of us, have these blind spots. All of us. No exceptions.

FB requires that a Fan Page be linked to a personal profile.

Per the FB TOS, people are supposed to have one and only one personal profile.

If you happen to be an artist or other creative, you live a life with (at least) two facets. A public one and one that is private. That private facet is associated with things like employers, potential employers, significant others, ex-significant others, and minor children. The public one is associated with people who like your work and are or want to be fans of your work. Social Media sites that insist on public links between a public life and a private one put women at risk. I’m quite sure there are people at risk in different ways.  I have direct experience with how women are at risk, so that is what I focus on here. It doesn’t mean no one else has a similar problem. Exactly the opposite, in fact.

Note that I am saying PUBLIC links.

As an author, I need to have a firewall between me and Carolyn Jewel, Author. I need to protect private aspects, including minor children, from the public me. And I must do this for my safety and theirs. No social media sites accommodate this need. I really don’t want to rehash all the ways in which women are punished or endangered for things that have no similar effect on men. Here’s a few, though: Having strong opinions, liking and wanting to have sex, being smart, being right, being a parent, the ability to get pregnant, the potential need not to be pregnant, being attractive, being pregnant, not being attractive enough, talking….

On my personal FB page, I get bombarded by friend requests from male profiles who immediately text me things like “You have a beautiful smile” blah blah blah. In fact, you cannot see my smile since the picture is my cat. And he cannot smile. Besides, that’s a totally creepy thing to say right off the bat between real people, but I believe just about all of those requests are fake profiles trying to get actual profiles to like them so they can be used to engage in click-fraud. I sometimes have three or four a day.

So, an author must link her Fan Page to her IRL personal page, where there may be links to employers, minor family members, and others with no way to protect themselves from weirdos. And fans, I will represent to you, often friend a personal profile rather than the Fan Page. Because Fan Pages are limited in the way they can interact with profiles, and fans know that and seek out the personal profile instead. In a perfect world, that would be totally awesome. But it’s not a perfect world, so it’s not awesome at all.

Think about that. These fake profiles are targeting female profiles but women live in what amounts to a trinary social world. The question isn’t just “Is this friend request real (YN)” but “Is this friend request real and if I accept it, will it be dangerous to me (YND).” Authors and other creatives, decline such requests at the risk of declining actual or potential fans. This is not a calculus male creatives (in the main) have to solve.  They can just accept all such friend requests because they do not, in the main, live in a world where a fake friend request represents potential harm.

I’m willing to bet that men get fake friend requests from women whose pictures feature large boobs, who would just love to date them. These profiles might be after their money, and also similarly fake, but they’re almost certainly not potential stalkers.

As an author, my choice is a personal profile that has NO links to family or my real life friends, or I accept the risk of having strangers conflate Carolyn Jewel with Carolyn Jewel, Author. When, actually, they’re not the same thing. That risk is, in our current culture, one that comes with dangers that are not present, in the main, for male authors.

And here is where the reality of being a woman creative really, really matters and why social media companies are failing us so deeply.

Every women author I know knows of another woman who has had a stranger send them an unwanted picture of his penis. I was at a signing once when a man physically gave the author next to me a picture of his penis. Trust me, men, this is scary and creepy. Who wants to walk back to their car, alone, after an encounter like that?

I’ve gotten emails to my writing email address from unhinged men who tell me they want to know me (and/or love me) and will I date them, and by the way, they know the name of my son. One of them also tried several times to get my agent to give up my personal contact information. I get emails from men in prison and have had at least two from men on death row. They know about me because Romance novels end up in prisons. I don’t mind that. I really don’t. I want more people to read Romance! But I have to worry about men with issues who get out of prison and start contacting my agent. There is always, always, an unsettling and creepy undertone to these communications.

This is the world women live in. It’s real. It happens. And almost none of it happens to men.

What women have seen over the last year and more is companies like FB and Twitter—anywhere, really, where woman are supposed to have an equal chance to participate in conversations— aid and abet harassers by doing… nothing. They have built their vision of “Social” on a world that does not exist for more than half the people they want participating in their environment.

For them, the world is fair (Land of Opportunity) and a meritocracy (tech companies) when really it’s not fair, equal, or a meritocracy unless you’re a straight white male. Asking for recognition of that fact and for policies that do not harm people who cannot operate  in the Opportunity Meritocracy should not be met with the equivalent of ‘I don’t see it, therefore it never happens.’

It means think about the world for people who do not look like you. Devise policies that protect and that allow all of us to separate public from private. If Twitter, Google, Facebook and more want Real Names, then they must accept that this comes with the duty not to endanger people. Their software and algorithms make them money. I would prefer that I not pay a disproportionate price for that.

Update

I didn’t think I’d have to explain this in more detail, but it seems I do. The solution is not my ability to block requests. That’s not relevant to the problem I’m pointing out. The problem is that in the real world, fans want to interact with an author’s personal profile and, frequently, they prefer the personal profile over the Fan Page. But the FB tos says a person gets one and only one personal profile.  This means the author’s personal profile ALSO acts as a means to interact with fans. And that personal profile has, well, personal, non-author related stuff on it. (Assuming the author is also using FB in a personal capacity.)

My point is that male authors can accept fake clicks without worrying much about being harassed or stalked or getting pestered with chat requests about whether you’re interested in a date etc, or sent pictures of penises you’re not interested in seeing. The threats that women endure in social spaces DO NOT HAPPEN to male authors. Please don’t make me talk about Gamergate.

Social Media has utterly failed to understand this. Society in general does not recognize this as a problem. But it is.

Also, as to my calling out the tech industry, my regular readers know I work in tech. I’m a SQL Server DBA. For non-tech people, this is a highly specialized, technical job that is, by definition, in tech. I understand quite well, because I have direct and relevant  experience with it, what happens to women in tech — because I am a woman in tech.

 

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This Made Me Laugh

Friday, March 6th, 2015

Headline:

Could An Overdependence on Data Hurt The Book Industry?

Well, sure. But first you have to be dependent on actual data. Which the book industry famously does not have.

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Books Prices in the EU…Continued

Saturday, January 3rd, 2015

France and Germany . . .

This is a continuation of my previous post on this issue.

I can’t find any confirmation that the fixed book pricing laws in place in France only apply to books in French. What I find is this explanation of the French law as of 2011:

lesechos.fr

C’est fait : la loi sur le prix unique des e-books a été définitivement adoptée par le Parlement français. Après le Sénat, l’Assemblée nationale a entériné mardi soir, par un vote quasi unanime, la proposition de loi UMP qui autorise un éditeur français à fixer le prix des ouvrages sous format numérique, comme c’est le cas pour le papier. Et cette règle s’appliquera aux libraires en ligne installés en France comme aux revendeurs installés à l’étranger comme Apple, Amazon ou Google. Sur le papier, le dispositif devrait donc réjouir les éditeurs, les libraires et aussi les distributeurs de produits culturels établis en France comme la FNAC qui redoutaient les distorsions de concurrence.

What this says according to my French with a confirmative (sort of) assist from Google translate, is that French PUBLISHERS set the price of their books and that all French booksellers and resellers must abide by that price. It also says that online sellers “settled in France” such as Amazon, Apple, and Google, are also subject to that law. So…. Assume for the moment that I am the publisher of my book on sale in France. I set my price and Apple, Amazon, and Google must comply with that price. Therefore (and I’m not a lawyer anywhere in the world) Apple should not be rounding up my prices in France.

Does this mean that I must give all vendors in France the same price? I see ambiguity on that point. The assumption of the law appears to be that publishers do not want their books discounted ever. There’s some indication that you could discount by no more than 5%.

When I look at Amazon.fr, I can see that the publisher for the French translation of Scandal is listed as J’ai Lu which is, indeed, the company that contracted for French rights to Scandal. My self-published books on Amazon.fr show the publisher as “cJewel Books” which is the imprint name I assigned to the ISBN and gave to Amazon as the publisher.

So…. I would seem to be a publisher in France for the purposes of the price law, which also suggests that I have been thinking about this in a slightly inaccurate way. In France, it’s not that all books must be the same price. It’s that publishers get to set the price and distributors and resellers, including Amazon, must sell the book for that price without discounts.

The law appears to be silent on whether I, as a publisher, can give different prices to different French vendors, because, I speculate, that state of affairs was not the point of the law. The law was intended to prevent discounts on the publisher-set price.

I have to wonder if this means Kobo is out of compliance with French law because it does not permit me, the publisher, to set the French price. I can only set the EU price.

Germany….

Germany has a law that is similar to France’s but also more than a century older. It, too, applies to publishers setting prices. According to this 2004 document from the Legal department of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association German Book Prices – PDF Publishers must provide the same price to all German vendors. From the document (which is in English):

The law is relatively short, as it consists of only 10 articles.
§ 1 reemphasizes that it is the overall intention of this law to protect books as a cultural good.

According to Art. 2 the law applies to all sorts of books, i.e. printed works. This includes not only printed books, but also music notes, cartography products like maps and globes as well as substitutions or reproductions of books.

According to Art. 5 the publisher or importer of a book shall determine the retail price of such book for the German territory. Foreign language books which are almost exclusively sold outside of Germany are not included in the law’s scope of application. (emphasis added)

Art. 3 obliges the vendor of the book to keep this determined price. Any retailer is forced by law to keep the fixed price. Consequently also the publisher himself has to keep its own fixed prices if he sells a book directly to customers. However, the law does not prevent the publisher to change such fixed prices at his discretion. He is free to adjust the applicable fixed prices according to market conditions or any other considerations he may have. (emphasis added)


According to Art. 8 publishers may cancel the fixed price if the edition of one particular book has been published for more than 18 months.

Note the two things I bolded there. Assuming the rules set out in this 2004 document have not changed, my English language version of, say, Scandal, would not be subject to this law. Maybe. Depends how you interpret “almost exclusively sold outside of Germany.” However, my German translations would be subject to this law.

Interesting. But none of this resolves the ambiguity. Nor does any of this solve the Nook problem, or, the Kobo one, or Apple rounding up.

 

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One Size Does Not Fit All – Books Prices in the EU

Thursday, January 1st, 2015

So.

There’s this whole VAT thing with the EU, where blah blah blah. Pricing difficulties blah blah blah. Rock and a Hard Place.

Short Version

I’m very sorry to say that at Nook, I have set all my books to US only. For now, it won’t be possible to buy Nook versions of my books outside the US. I hate that. Hate. It. But Nook has made it impossible to correctly account for VAT and the laws in certain countries that require book prices to be the same everywhere in that country.

Amazon aggressively prices-matches Nook, including Nook in the UK. I know this because a few weeks ago it took Amazon UK all of 3 hours to price match a Nook UK price change to .99 while Amazon US did not match for a couple of days.

Nook Press does three things that make it impossible to comply with the laws.

1. They require US-based authors to provide a price that does NOT include VAT.
2. They allow only one price for the entire EU
3. You can choose US-only OR all three: US + UK + EU.

This means I cannot be in Nook UK, because that option also puts me in the EU.
This means it is not possible to comply with Fixed Price Laws.
It also means that I can’t be at Nook at all with books where my traditional publisher has only North American rights, but that’s been true forever. I’m just complaining is all.

As an aside, it is also impossible to comply with Nook’s expectation that my Nook prices will not be higher than the prices I set at other vendors.

If I keep my books on sale at Nook with the current state of affairs at Nook Press I would be unable to match my prices across the EU vendors AND I would have different prices at Nook.de, Amazon.de, iBooks de, etc when the law requires them to be the same. The same would be true of France. I would get a nasty-gram from Amazon informing me of the price discrepancies and, since I would be unable to address them, Amazon could either price match or remove my book from sale.

The problem of different German prices (or French etc) is not a price matching issue. This is a regulatory issue, and Amazon is the one who will hear from the German authorities about not complying with German law. Amazon might have to take my book off sale in order to continue doing business in Germany.

(I would expect Nook to be hearing from France and Germany about this when/if those authorities notice that Nook prices are out of compliance, which they will be.)

This is not a risk I wish to take. Since my Nook sales are something like 99% US, I suppose my decision affects only a few readers. (Please contact me if you are one of those readers.)

The Longer Explanation

Three of the major vendors for self-publishing authors, Amazon, iBooks, and Google, make it possible to behave like a normal business and set prices in the various EU countries that account for VAT and also price books to end in .99. I can decide whether I will round down to a .99 price or round up to one. They also allow authors to make sure their prices are the same across vendors where there are fixed price laws for books.

Kobo, for those who are interested, expects US users to provide an EU price that INCLUDES VAT. They also only have one price for the EU, but because it includes VAT, you can, effectively, provide the same VAT-inclusive price everywhere and remain in compliance with German and French laws, assuming you (alas) set the German and French prices to the same VAT-inclusive price everywhere else. Not very fair to the French, where VAT is so much lower, but it’s that or nothing.

Because Nook does not include VAT and also only has one price for the entire EU, there is no way to guarantee the price will be the same where it needs to be.

Kind of Snide Aside

I always wondered why Nook is inflexible about how you sell in countries outside the US. I thought it was peculiar that they said “because of the volume” it could take several weeks for a book to appear on the UK or EU sites. Today, the answer finally kicked me in the shins.

The only reason volume would be an issue for populating a website is if they’re doing it mostly by hand. The beauty of a database driven website is that once you have the webpage talking to the database (waving hands and leaving out the bits about horrific SQL queries) there is little difference between putting one record on a page or 1,000,000,000 records. And even if we’re talking about terrible query performance, the time to render even a million records is minutes and in no possible case is it weeks. The only thing that takes weeks in this scenario is the person you’re paying to put the records into excel. Or worse, the person who is entering the data by hand into the servers located in the EU.

Even Longer Explanation

Basically, if you’re selling books, the laws about how to comply with the taxing and pricing authorities in the European Union just got a lot more complicated. For those who are thinking they’ll just wait for the EU tax authorities to come knocking, I will say that you have misunderstood what could happen. If you are selling your books to the EU via Amazon and the like, you are selling to the EU because those vendors have a presence in the EU. If your book at these vendors is priced such that you jeopardize their compliance with EU laws, they will likely have to remove your book from those countries. So, no, Germany will not collect a euro of VAT from you. But your books are likely to be yanked from all the German vendors so, yes, no VAT paid to Germany, but no one in Germany is buying your books.

Slight Aside

If you are selling books from your website and you sell to residents of the EU without remitting the appropriate VAT to their country of residence, then you will have some exposure there. Probably you could get away with it, but that does not make it ethical to do so. I have no idea what the IRS might say during an audit when you have income from the EU and can’t prove you don’t have to pay State tax on it, perhaps, or maybe, (total speculation here) the IRS would say something like, Hmm. The US has a treaty with Germany in which we agree not to screw each other over taxes. I dunno. I think I don’t want to find out.

Back to the Even Longer Explanation

VAT varies across countries in the EU. Further, in some EU countries, books must be the same price at all places in that country. Thus, if you are selling a book in Germany, that book must be the same price everywhere it’s on sale in Germany. For DIY authors, that means if a book is Euro 2.99 at Amazon.de, it must also be 2.99 at the German iBooks, the German Google, the German Nook, the German Kobo, etc. The same is true in France: same price in France across all French venues.

In the EU, the price shown to purchasers includes VAT.

Now, in Germany, VAT is 19%. Thus, if a book is priced at Euro 2.99 in Germany, after the sale is made .48 goes to the German government, leaving the remainder of 2.51 to be split between the vendor and author. As an author, I care about the part of that 2.99 that does not include VAT because that’s the amount used to calculate my royalty.

In France, VAT is 5.5%. Thus, for a book priced at Euro 2.99, in France, after the sale is made .16 goes to the French government leaving the remainder of 2.83 to be split between the vendor and author.

At Nook, where I am providing ONE VAT exclusive price for the entire EU, that price must have the appropriate VAT added to it, and that VAT rate varies. Suppose I say, OK, my book is $2.99 (American). Google-fu says that’s Euro 2.48. A quick test at Nook gave Euro 2.47. Using 2.47:

Add 19% VAT for Germany and the price is 2.94
Add 5.5 VAT for France and the price is 2.61

Those are stupid prices to show consumers, but they are also prices I cannot guarantee will match the VAT inclusive prices I must give at EVERY OTHER VENDOR.

iBooks rounds up or down to .99 prices. I will NEVER be able to match Nook to Apple. Not ever except by total serendipity.

At Kobo, I give a single VAT INCLUSIVE price. So… which one do I pick at Kobo? iBooks Germany 2.99 or Nook Germany 2.94?

I could change the Nook EU price to 2.51 to give me a Nook Germany price of 2.99 and match Apple, Kobo, Amazon, and Google to that.

But then the French price at Nook becomes 2.65, which at Apple will be rounded up to 2.99 and …. boom. Not in compliance with French law. This is true as long as I have books on sale at Nook EU.

And that is why I no longer have books on sale at Nook EU. This is complicated enough as it is. Heck, I’m not even confident yet that I have managed to price everything as required, because I will tell you, iBooks did some crazy ass shit with prices that scares me, and Amazon’s VAT adjustment resulted in two of my US prices being raised. That’s not supposed to happen. But I know it did because a couple months ago I used Amazon’s pricing tool to reset some prices, which I logged so I could keep track, and also conformed at other vendors where Amazon recommended a price decrease (because I didn’t want to gouge others) and today, two of those Amazon books were back to the higher US price and therefore MORE than the price at other vendors.

::sigh::

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The Self-Publishing Delusion

Tuesday, November 18th, 2014

So, there was this article: Second Thoughts about Self-Publishing over at Publisher’s Weekly.

This article is an example of what I call the Self-Publishing Delusion. It goes like this: someone who did not do anything like enough research into the new publishing landscape self-publishes a book and is disappointed that he’s not a NYT Bestselling author. Follows from this, an article all about how Self-Publishing isn’t all the thing after all.

As is the case here. The author, in 2012, decided to self-publish his novel. In print only. A novel he seems to have marketed only to friends and family and only using traditional methods to gain attention. His second novel did not do as well as the first and now he is sad and disappointed because apparently books must be marketed. My God, the crass commercialism.

Dude. Are you serious?

Who the hell, even in 2012, would think self-publishing = CreateSpace? Five minutes of mediocre Google-fu should have uncovered the limitations of CreateSpace as a vehicle that reaches traditional outlets OR readers. If you want to be an author, then there is no justification for not doing due-diligence. And due diligence would have meant a month or more (and you’d need less, to be honest) researching the heck out of your publishing plans. The kind of research that justifies making any dollar investment in a business decision should have included things like, who are the leading self-publishers and what/how/why are they doing?

If he’d done that, here’s what he would have found out:

  • CreateSpace does not = traditional print publication.
  • By doing ONLY a print book, he did not each the core avid reader, because they read digital.
  • By choosing ONLY CreateSpace, he was unable to get into traditional print outlets.
  • In 2012, the dual strategy of CreateSpace and Lightning Source was still a viable work-around to the Book Store problem. The fact that he did not do enough research to find Alan Shepard’s site is a huge red flag.
  • Writing careers rarely have trajectory after only two books. Research beyond what’s said in the traditional publishing space would have uncovered that his expectations were unrealistic in any publishing venue. A self-publisher should reassess after 5-10 books under-perform. Not two. (Snarky aside: a traditionally published author won’t have that luxury.)
  • If he’d paid any attention to what traditionally published authors experience in the business he would have found out that all authors, traditionally published or self-published, carry the majority of the marketing burden.

And that’s just a response to what he says of his experience in “self-publishing.”

Inform your Decision

You, the author, need to investigate every aspect of the business of New Publishing. You, the author, are solely responsible for understanding the disconnect between what traditional publishers say and what authors say. You, the author, must understand who is succeeding in all spheres of publishing and figure out why and what that means for your strategy.

The traditional publishing space has a vested interest in perpetuating several myths about the business of being an author. Places like PW and DBW put out an astonishing amount of disinformation about that. Likewise, there are people and companies who have a vested interest in selling services to authors. All those claims must be examined, parsed, and dissected.

There’s a reason many, many mid-list authors are leaving traditional publishing or diversifying their careers with both. You, the author, must understand why that is. How can you make a sound business decision without knowing the pitfalls of both?

Of course he did not have the results he wanted and hoped for. If he’d done his research, his self-publishing plan would have looked very different. Instead, he approached the business of being an author as an ill-informed newbie who stayed ill-informed. His lack of research means he didn’t do any of the things known to increase book sales and build a career. He gave up too soon.

In short, he fell prey to traditional publishing delusions about self-publishing.

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Really?

Friday, October 31st, 2014

Agent Andrew Wylie had this to say:

“I believe with the restored health of the publishing industry and having some sense of where this sort of Isis-like distribution channel, Amazon, is going to be buried and in which plot of sand they will be stuck, [publishers] will be able to raise the author’s digital royalty to 40% or 50%,” he said. “Writers will begin to make enough money to live.”

Quoted in The Guardian

[publishers] will be able to raise the author’s digital royalty to 40% or 50%,” he said. “Writers will begin to make enough money to live.

What alternate universe is Wylie living in?

1. ISIS-like? Are you kidding me? We’ll start with insensitive and offensive and leave it there, actually.
2. Publishers have had 80 years to position themselves to pay writers more money. What they’ve done, since before Amazon, is reduce the money they pay authors. Why on earth should any writer believe that the demise of Amazon will mean authors will FINALLY be paid more?

Oh wait. I forgot. Wlyie only represents literary authors whose advances are funded by paying less money to the writers of genres that actually make money.

Let’s see here, continue self-publishing and earning 30-70% of the price I set or …. Accept 40% or 50% of net, maybe. Someday.

Well, gosh. No, sir.

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