Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

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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Book Covers and Branding

Friday, October 10th, 2014

As some of you may know, I’ve been rebranding my book covers with a more consistent look. I’m also using a custom name font. My name is the same on every single new cover. I have given my cover artists very specific instructions about what I’m going for, and one of those instructions is that my name should be big. Bigger than the title, even.

Today, I saw a great illustration of why that’s a good decision. Amazon (as of Oct.10.2014) is now showing pages of top selling books in categories with two sections to the right that look like the below. Take a look. Which authors are in that Hot New Releases category?

Well, the ONLY author name you can read is Eloisa James. If you are a fan of historical romance, and you were thinking, maybe I’ll buy something else, how likely are you to click on a cover where you don’t even know the author?  I think it’s very likely that buyers will say, oh, hey, I’ve heard good things about that author ….

Who's on First? No name shown

What’s in a Name?

And, of course, the image above illustrates the problem with covers in the digital space. The two boxed sets have issues. Yes, the images convey boxed set, but nothing else. The first one is just a blobby mess. The second one is partially saved by a recognizable image. This is the reason I’m not wild about boxed set covers like this… They are a design challenge that is not currently being met.  So. The 3rd book in the top row. What the hell is that background? I can’t see the name OR the title. This cover is a fail. Truce — I can’t even tell what the eff that is. The title is big but you have to stare, and cheat with the title text below. All I really see is T[something]UC.

The Eloisa James cover is a win. Not only can you read her name, you can read the title, too! AND the image is recognizable. I would have asked for a fix at the upper left corner, which is too dark, but over all, that cover works.  That last one? I can read the title, I have no hope of reading the author’s name. But the image is compelling and atmospheric so it I’d give it a marginal pass.

These books are doing well, that’s why they’re in that corner, but this corner real-estate is not doing the authors any favors. I imagine the click-throughs are disappointing because Amazon isn’t showing the author name and so loses a key reason for clicks. (I’ve heard good things about that author….)

There are six books there, and yes, a click will get you a Hot New Release, but there is nothing here to compel the user to click any given title (aside from rank).  The publisher (whoever that might be) needs to provide a cover that will compel clicks on THEIR book over the other five.

I ask you, which book, other than the Eloisa James book, does that?

I expect Amazon to redesign this real-estate. They should remove “Kindle Edition” and show the author’s name so that buyers have more reasons to click. Plus, all these authors, except James, are losing name recognition moments. Free advertising that, in this set of covers, only accrues to  James.

So, the image above was directly to the right of the one below. And you should be able to see why I was looking at this page.

 

Image showing book covers with author names of varying readability

Names. Yeah. Who can you Read?

 

Right. So at least these images have text that includes the author’s names. But that’s going to be the second or third thing people look at. Even if you have no interest in Scandal because you never heard of me, you see my name.

Miriam Minger has a similar success even with a cover that looks cramped. Those horizontal lines are a problem for Bolen’s books, too– whose name is barely legible and has a further problem with a busy background that distracts.

Now, I heartily dislike that P&P cover, but here I will give a pass on author name because the title is so famous. Yes. It’s Jane. Have we learned our lesson about horizontal lines? None of them are well done here.

The other two, well. The leftmost author’s last name is Cook. That’s really all you can read. And, I fear, someone seems to have actually tried to make Mary Campsi’s name invisible. It’s actually possible to look at the cover and think the author’s name is Sophie Seacrest.

The take away? I’m outselling Jane Austen in free books. Read it and weep. And who the hell is giving Jane fewer than 5 stars?

 

 

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The Flush Pile – An Author’s Perspective

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Some of you may know the current situation with Ellora’s Cave. If not, this post at Dear Author should get you to the information you need.

The TL;DR is that several authors who write for Ellora’s Cave have said they are not being paid money due them. The rumblings began at least a year ago. Recently, EC laid off all of its freelance staff. Jane at Dear Author recently wrote a post in which she discussed the ongoing situation at EC. The owner of EC has now sued Jane for defamation. Do head over to DA if you want to know more about this situation.

I am an author who was with a publishing company that was heading toward bankruptcy. (Dorchester Publishing) This post is about what the experience was like for me. My situation ended up with a silver lining, but the outcome I had was never certain, just as it is not certain for any of the EC authors who are wondering if they’ll ever get paid or if they are going to lose their books.

If you have books with a publisher in the Flush Pile, here’s what’s quite likely:
1. No, you are never going to be paid money owed to you.
2. Yes, you could well lose your books. Gone.

Every publishing contract I’ve ever signed has had a bankruptcy clause. The clause means nothing. Zero. Zlich. It might as well not be there. If your publisher declares bankruptcy, your book is an asset of the company to be liquidated and turned into cash to pay to creditors. Authors are dead last on the list of creditors.

At Dorchester, authors talked amongst themselves. Advances and royalties due to authors were paid slowly. Some of use waited months for advances to be paid. More and more often, authors just weren’t paid. Foreign rights got sold and authors were never told. Those monies never appeared on royalty statements. I was surprised, for example, to find that one of my books had a Dutch translation. Toward the end, I also learned about other translations I was never told about and never paid for. One of them did not even have a signed contract despite being on sale. As royalties continued to be paid in haphazard fashion, there were consolidations and reductions in books, imprints and staff, and sales of rights to backlist titles of prominent authors to other publishers. (Marjorie M. Liu’s titles were sold to Avon, for example.)

None of this is legal advice. I’m not a lawyer. But if you’re an EC author, I do have some non-legal advice. In fact, I have advice for ALL authors with traditional contracts.

In 2010, my agent, who did not represent me at the time of my Dorchester contracts, was working hard to get reversions for me. I wanted them anyway, because the books were out of print and/or I was not being paid the money due to me. Dorchester had not filed for bankruptcy, but there was wide speculation that they could not recover from their difficulties and a filing was felt by some to be inevitable. I was advised that it was possible that rights reversions made within the year prior to a bankruptcy filing could be deemed fraudulent and any reversions negated. I was horrified to learn there was case law to that effect.

Even before the non-payment issue was a severe problem, it was clear to me that at long last, there was a good reason (ie, self-publishing) for an author to vigorously pursue reversions for all books that met the criteria of the out of print clauses. I’d read all those clauses and had begun that process with all my titles well before this. And by the way, I was roundly ignored everywhere except for Harper-Collins, who noted the request and put it on their schedule for a decision 6 months later. Literally. The meeting was in 6 months. Let that sink in.

My reversions from Dorchester came through at the end of 2010. Other publishers were an even harder nut to crack. St. Martin’s Press was spectacularly uncooperative. Hachette — I don’t even have words. And I have loads of hind-sight advice about what reversion clauses should say.

Eventually, quite late in the game, and months after I had my Dorchester reversions, Amazon bought the Dorchester backlist. Authors were given the option of a reversion or publishing with their Romance or Horror imprint. I don’t recall if Amazon agreed to pay outstanding royalties to those authors or not. By then, I was thousands and thousands of dollars ahead of the money Dorchester owed me, and more than happy with my own outcome.

My Advice to Authors with A Publisher in the Flush Pile

My advice is going to sound harsh. But, assume you will never be paid. The risk of waiting to see if your publisher rights their ship is the complete loss of your rights in your books. This is your career and you must not fail to take steps to protect your back list and front list.

You should take steps now to get your rights back. Read the reversion clause of your contract(s) and for all books where you meet the criteria follow the requirements for requesting a reversion and get it in now. Right now. If you have titles for which you have not been paid, then request a reversion on the grounds of non-payment. Get a lawyer to help you, if you can afford it. This is your professional writing career on the line, and this is not the time to be nice.

If you elect to wait it out, then make sure you understand the nature of the risk you’re taking. It cannot be that you hope everything works out. You must be sure that you can accept the worst case outcome — you lose control of your books and will never recoup your losses and never make another penny from those titles. The books will disappear from the market and you lose all benefit that accrues to your author brand when you have multiple titles on sale to the public.

In the current environment, every title you control is a title that can be earning you money right now every month. This is NOT a “I don’t know if my book is good enough situation.” A publisher bought your book. Therefore, that book can be making you money right now and you only have to worry about the vendor paying you.

This is also not a situation where you need to find another publisher. That might have been true in 2009 but it’s not true now. An author with reverted backlist can decide whether she wants to self-publish on her own or find another publisher or something in between.

My Advice to Authors With Traditional Publishers or Considering The Traditional Route

For future contracts, negotiate the fuck out of your reversion clause. If the publisher is making you both money, that is awesome. But the minute you’re not both making money or you’re below a mutually satisfactory threshold, then you should be able to ask for and timely receive a reversion. There is no nice girl here. This is your business and you should be in control of its operations. Therefore, you need to stand firm on reversion clauses.

Do not assume a publisher has an interest in your book selling well. They should, but they don’t. Their interest is in seeing which books unexpectedly hit. That’s it. If it’s not you, you’re screwed.

I have 5 books still with traditional publishers and I know for a fact that if those books were in my control, I would be making more money and more effectively controlling my author brand and, therefore, my writing career. That was not the reality of publishing prior to 2010, but it’s the reality now.

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