That new Amazon press release.

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John Scalzi jumped on it before I could. I could have written a similar post but I’m sort of tired of the whole business and I wanted to work on my book. You can read Amazon’s original post (on their Kindle message boards, which still seems weird) right here.

Which isn’t going to stop me from offering up one or two additional points that Scalzi didn’t cover.

First, people are talking about this release as though it fully identifies the source of the dispute between Amazon and Hachette, but we don’t know that’s true. I don’t doubt that it’s part of the dispute, but the PR piece opens like this:

With this update, we’re providing specific information about Amazon’s objectives.

A key objective is lower e-book prices.

It’s not “The key objective is….” It’s not “The sole remaining disputed contract point is….” It’s “A key objective is…” That suggests there are more, some of which might not sound so sympathetic if they came to light. Is Amazon planning to raise co-op fees? Do they want POD rights from publishers for books that aren’t in stock? Are they pushing for some form of exclusivity, as they do with KDP Select? We don’t know, so lets not pretend that this is the sole source of conflict between the parties.

Second, Amazon does not seem to understand windowing, which is where publishers release an expensive edition first, then lower-priced editions later. That’s why books in hardcover will be followed a year or so later by a mass market paperback. An author’s superfans will buy the expensive version right away because they can’t wait; more casual fans wait for the price to drop. So, when Amazon says this:

We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.

it shows they don’t understand that those hypothetical 74,000 sales are not necessarily lost, not if the ebook price drops at a later date. Maybe you won’t catch all of those readers, especially since the lower price comes well after the initial marketing push, but you’ll definitely capture some of them. Long term, those numbers don’t work.

Self-published authors and ebook readers *hate* windowing. Just mentioning the word calls up the threats of torrents and warnings of obscurity, but indie authors fuck around with the prices on their books all the time. When they do it, it’s just to drive sales, hey, not big deal. When publishers do it…

Third, several of the commenters in Scalzi’s post are arguing that Amazon will not try to drive ebook prices down below the $9.99 cap they’re currently arguing for. In other words, once they get this price cap, they’ll stop.

Even if you believed that (and I’m not convinced myself), holding prices at a specific cap for the long term is driving prices down, because inflation.

Anyway, let me tack on the usual disclaimers: I sell books on Amazon. I buy books from them sometimes. I self-publish my own work through their site and they represent the bulk of my sales. I’m not picking sides in the Amazon/Hachette dispute, just picking over publicly stated positions. I’ve worked in their first distribution center at a time when I really needed a job. Long term, I support a diverse publishing and bookselling market. Short term, I’m glad Amazon’s shareholders are beginning to demand that Amazon show a profit; the ability to operate at a loss has been one of the company’s biggest advantages.

Are there special instructions for helping your favorite authors?

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I was just asked about this recently: a reader wanted to know where was the best place to buy my fiction (gratuitous plug) so it would be of the most benefit to me. The answer is simple. It doesn’t matter.

(I’ll talk about what does matter at the end of this post.)

I mean, yeah, it sort of matters a tiny bit. For my self published work, some vendors pay slightly more or slightly sooner than others. For the traditionally published work, I’m sure Del Rey makes slightly more or less from different stores (I’m not privy to the details of this) and anything that helps pay back my advance is an unalloyed good.

But there’s a flip side: saying “Buy from [Vendor], please!” will give a lot of people pause. Maybe they don’t have access to that store because of where they live, or the file formats don’t work, or they’ve had a bad experience there. Simply by directing people to one store over another, I would lose a certain percentage of potential readers for whom that’s not feasible. The perfect is the enemy of the good, after all.

Besides, the real differences in pay are negligible. The benefit to me from selling a piece of self pubbed fiction in one store over enough is less than the tip I leave for the baristas who sell me coffee.

When The Great Way becomes available, things might be a bit different. Amazon owns POD pubisher CreateSpace, but books made at CS and ordered through Amazon have a *much* smaller profit to me, undoubtedly because of all the extra handling. When the time comes, I may write a post about that.

But for now, let me say not only does it not matter, but I would encourage any reader of any author’s books to not worry about it. Do whatever is most convenient. Readers is what authors need most, so go ahead and buy the books however you like (or borrow them from a library).

Because what’s really important is not identifying which vendor pays the most, it’s generating word of mouth. The best thing any reader could do for the authors they want to help is to talk about the work, express their enthusiasm, write reviews, tweet, post Facebook updates, whatever. Hell, even buying a copy of a book for a friend (as long as you honestly think they’ll like it) is nice.

This is true for obscure authors like me and the top bestsellers. Share your enthusiasm. Write about it. Talk about it. Nothing helps us more.

25 Pages for 5 Bucks

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Apropos of nothing, here’s a guy who posts a 25-page Kindle SF novel under the name “Stephen King” and he has more reviews than my own recent work. Of course, most of his are one-star recriminations, but I’m not sure if Amazon is comfortable forwarding his share of the sales.

Maybe I should publish as George RR Martini. ::clinks glass::

h/t @EvilWylie on Twitter.

Why I’ll Be Skipping Google Play

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Two days ago I posted about Kindle Unlimited and the myriad reasons I was unwilling to sign on with them. Today it’s Google Play.

I was actually surprised to discover (or rediscover, actually) that Google is a vendor where authors can sell their self-published books. Onto the to-do list it went, especially since being on Google Play would have let me write a post about people reading my new short fiction collection on both iPhones and Android phones.

Then I mentioned the plan on Twitter and @DianePatterson dropped a couple of links on me. The first was about the automatic discount that Google Play put on every book they sell (which seems to be about 23%). Since Amazon and other vendors have automatic price matching, an author’s books will suddenly drop everywhere within a day.

More damning is this post, which makes it clear that GPlay reserves the right to give away my books for free, at their own discretion, which of course means that other vendors like Amazon will match that price, killing any revenue they might have generated.

I’ll occasionally criticize Amazon on this blog, but what Google pulls here is a real deal-breaker.

Also, this makes me wish I had the time to cruise through the Kindleboards. I know there’s great information there, but like reddit and AbsoluteWrite, it’s just too big for me to wade into, searching through the noise for some signal.

Why I’ll Be Skipping Kindle Unlimited

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Amazon has unveiled its Kindle Unlimited program, which allows readers to pay a ten dollar monthly fee to have access to a huge catalog of books. The major publishers have not signed on yet, so you’re unlikely to find many big new releases, but I’m led to understand that Amazon is paying a wholesale price to authors with best-selling books while most indie writers will be paid a “share” of $2 mil.

Amazon tried offering shares out of a fund before, and I experimented with that. The amount of money I received was negligible. Seriously negligible. Frankly, I’m not excited to Spotify my writing career.

I’m also less than thrilled to know that I would have to enroll in KDP Select to take part, which means that, in order to place a book in KU, I’d have to pull it from every other vendor. Guess what? I’m not doing that. Certain other indie authors have been enrolled without being forced into exclusivity (for now, at least). I’m sure this is Amazon’s need to include a few bestsellers in the KU library, but since I’ll never sell as many books as Hugh Howey, I won’t be getting the same lovely treatment he receives.

And yeah, this is a library you pay $120 a year for. That’s not a great deal for me, since I have a local library system with a great selection of ebooks, but I certainly understand that some people don’t have that kind of access or, if they do, they don’t want to put a hold on a title and wait their turn to read it. That’s especially true for people who want to read a book but don’t feel the need to own it.

Anyway, I’ve tried a lot of different things over the last few years. I’ve published traditionally. I’ve tried KDP Select. I’ve sold fiction directly from my website. I’ve offered fiction on a donation basis. I’ve signed on for the Kindle Lending Library. My books are on Oyster and Scribd, which are other subscription-based services. The one thing I *didn’t* try was selling a story for a bitcoin (just too busy at the time bitcoins first became a thing, and now they’re too expensive). But I won’t be trying KU; exclusivity in return for a “share” seems like a really bad deal.

What’s more, I don’t intend to experiment with tactics like putting the first book of a series (or a piece of short fiction) in KU to prompt sales of other books. Hey, if a reader is already paying $10/month and has access to over half-a-million books, are they really going off the preserve to hunt down (and pay for) book 2? Some would, obviously, but many wouldn’t, and it seems to me that the purpose of a subscription service like this is a pool of captured customers who have no desire to go elsewhere.

Finally, I have to wonder what Amazon sees as the long-term plan for KU. Are they hoping to get people to sign up like gym memberships? Because the most profitable members of any gym are the ones who never actually go to the gym but who continue to pay their dues because they know they should. I’m hoping that KU doesn’t create an ecosystem of readers who never venture outside the KU offerings (I wonder if there’s any research demonstrating this problem with Oyster or Scribd?) along with people who never get around to reading books.

UPDATES: Thoughts by John Scalzi and further consideration over on The Bookseller

UPDATE REDUX: Kindle Unlimited from a reader’s POV.

Amazon news that might actually be true

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New reports suggest that Amazon is considering launching an Oyster-like “Kindle Unlimited” service that would allow readers, for $9.99 a month, unlimited access to hundreds of thousands of titles.

The really exciting thing about this for Amazon fans is that it appears that they’ll include audiobooks, too. That’s pretty cool.

This is something I’d be very interested in, depending on the contract terms. A Kindle Unlimited program would be a great way to introduce readers to my work; the real issue is how often those readers would venture outside the program for their books.

Is Amazon really in talks to buy Simon & Schuster?

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That would be crazy if it’s true. Of course it’s also, possibly, a misreading of this article: Amazon in talks with Simon & Schuster: Moonves

Still, I’m not sure why Amazon would want S&S. What does the publisher have that Amazon doesn’t? A bigger share of their author’s revenue? I suspect a great many S&S authors would rather jump ship than go over to Amazon, if only so their books would still be available in many different stores.

In other words, I’m really, REALLY doubtful that this story is accurate.

First week self-pub book sales: the numbers

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It’s been one week since I released the ebook of Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths And Other Tales Of Dark Fantasy (aka BLGDHDAOT oh, forget it) and I thought it might be interesting if I shared sales numbers. If you aren’t a regular reader of the blog and just like sales numbers, there’s more detail here, consider picking up a copy. It’s only three bucks.

First, we have the Kickstarter backers. There are 1166 people who pledged at $12 or above and who should have already gone to the download page and snagged a copy of this book. According to Google Analytics, there have been 1665 page views of the download page, and only 729 730 unique views (good job, late visitor). IF YOU BACKED THE KICKSTARTER AT $12 OR MORE BUT HAVE NOT RECEIVED THE DL LINK, CONTACT ME THROUGH MY KICKSTARTER ACCOUNT. You deserve to have your first book. Come and get it.

On a side note, releasing BAD LITTLE GIRLS… prompted eight unique views to the page where backers could get a copy of Twenty Palaces.

But what about readers who wanted the book but couldn’t/didn’t back the Kickstarter? Well, as you’d expect, Amazon generates the most sales. For this first week, there were 41 total sales: 16 on that first day, low numbers over the holiday weekend, then another 13 on Monday, when I posted an updated announcement post and a reader linked to the book on reddit/urbanfantasy. Later that day:

Broke 100 in Dark Fantasy

Hey, I’ll take any excuse to celebrate.

Using Barnes & Noble’s Nook Press, I’ve sold six copies. In Smashwords: three copies. Apple iBooks: one copy.

Of course, it took several days for me to get my book on Smashwords and iBooks. Those went on sale much later than the others, Smashwords because their formatting requirements are so complicated and iBooks because they take a long time to approve the books for their store. In fact, iBooks just made Bad Little Girls available yesterday, so that’s only one day’s numbers. If you’re an Apple partisan with an iPhone or iPad, you could swing over to iBooks yourself and bump their numbers. (Any benefit to me would of course be incidental.)

Other sales channels like Kobo, Oyster, Scribd, etc will be fulfilled through Smashwords’s distribution channel, and that hasn’t happened yet. Still, from experience I know those sales channels will be pretty thin.

Anyway, as expected, Amazon is readers’ preferred choice when it comes to buying and reading ebooks. I know short fiction collections don’t generally move a lot of copies, but I’d hoped the numbers would be higher. I received quite a few tweets and emails from people who had missed the Kickstarter and wanted to make sure they could get the books, especially the Twenty Palaces story BAD LITTLE GIRLS…. How to reach those people, though? I hesitate to send out a newsletter because I anticipate sending one in August for The Great Way. Few things will make people drop a newsletter faster than feeling that they’re getting too many emails. I’m planning to combine those newsletter announcements into one.

On top of that, there’s… what? Ads on reddit/r/Fantasy? I’m told reddit is one of the few places that ads will work. Maybe I could add comments to the five-star reviews on the other 20P novels, letting readers know there’s a new story? (Nah. Bad idea.) I’m planning to organize a blog tour for The Great Way, so I can’t do an extra one here.

In short, I wanted BAD LITTLE GIRLS… in my backlist when The Great Way came out, but I don’t want to do so much promo for it that people are sick of hearing from me when my trilogy comes out.

Fingers crossed.

My First Short Fiction Collection (20 Palaces-related)

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I announced this last week, but I think I did a really terrible job of it. Let me try again:

One of the stretch goals for the Kickstarter I ran last fall was a short fiction collection that would include a new Twenty Palaces short story. We hit that goal and the book has been delivered to Kickstarter backers.

It’s also on sale as an ebook right now for only $2.99. Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Smashwords | More to come

The book is DRM-free on every site. If you buy the .mobi file format from Smashwords, you can put the book on your Kindle without worrying that Amazon will take it away from you. In other words, you’ll actually own it. (Just back it up elsewhere.)

Some details:

  • The Twenty Palaces story is called “The Home Made Mask” and it’s actually a novelette, being about 10K words.
  • Four of the stories are reprints that have been published elsewhere. Their rights have reverted, so I’m self-publishing them for the first time.
  • Two are stories that I previously sold on Amazon for 99 cents each.
  • Five have never been made available before, including “The Home Made Mask.” (It was important to me that people who had bought those short singles not feel ripped off when buying the collection).

Some of the stories are straight fantasy adventure. Some are much darker, bordering on horror (but aren’t straight horror). Some are humorous. Some are grimdark.

Honestly, I don’t consider short fiction a natural length for me, but I’m proud of the work here. Also, I keep thinking I should offer a free sample in my blog (maybe of the title story). What do you think? I realize comments are off on my main blog but you can drop me a note via Twitter, LiveJournal, Facebook, G+, or whatever.

Cover art for Bad Little Girls Die Horrible Deaths And Other Tales Of Dark Fantasy

Cover Art

Only $2.99 Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Smashwords | More to come

Hey, pick up a copy, maybe. You’ll like it.

Regarding petitions and joining teams.

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I’ve been mostly offline this week for my birthday stuff and to prep the release of my new book, so I’ve missed most everything going on lately. I even missed the pro-Amazon petition that’s been making the rounds.

Other authors stepped in though:

John Scalzi on treating publishing as a business:Amazon, Hachette, Publishing, Etc — It’s Not a Football Game, People

Chuck Wendig picks through the absurdities of the petition itself: THE PETITION TO PAINT AMAZON AS UNDERDOG

Fellow Team Caitlin author puts some numbers to the cost of publishing his books, self-published and not: The Cost of a Good Book

The petition itself is not Hugh Howey’s work, but he’s part of the group of authors who created it, and since he’s got such a high profile, people are attributing it to him.

That’s a little unfair, but the guy has made himself the public face of pro-Amazon partisanship, so it’s not exactly surprising. He turns up in the comments of Chuck’s piece, too, arguing his piece and explaining that his support of Amazon is provisional on their good behavior.

Sadly, he still hasn’t learned that publishers compete with each other. He claims they’re a cartel because they don’t compete on the royalty rates they offer writers, completely missing the fact that they compete on the advance they offer and the rights they take. This has been explained to him before, but it doesn’t do any good. If they don’t compete on royalties, he doesn’t believe their competing. It’s ridiculous, but you can’t force a person to understand.

Personally, I think Scalzi’s post comes closest to the point of the petition: It’s the creation of a team sport mentality to rally a fan base. I’m not even sure it’s something they do consciously, but there’s a positive feedback loop to crying “Revolution!” and “We have to stick together against the enemy!”

There’s no other point to urging others to support a corporation that sees you as an ATM. If boycotting Amazon means that readers will not be able to buy some authors’ work, those authors ought to be diversifying their business.

Look, I’m not against Amazon. Just yesterday I put a new book (with Twenty Palaces fiction inside) up for sale on their site! But it’s also with Barnes & Noble, and soon other places, too. I skip KDP Select because I don’t need Amazon’s basket for all my eggs.

Also, skipping Select means that Amazon takes a 65% commission on all sales, no matter what the price, in certain territories like Mexico and Japan. I don’t want to pay them so much, so I don’t let them sell in those countries. Readers there can still find my work in iBooks or on the Nook.

Have I mentioned that I worked there for a while? I did, in the warehouse “fulfillment center” way back before they opened a bunch of them all over the country. I liked (most of) the people, but didn’t stick around. There were just too many people who were GungHoOurCompanyWeMustBandTogetherToConquerAll! (One of the supervisors told us that Christmas was going to be a “war” around there, and we should be ready to put our personal lives on hold. At Christmas. For a corporation. I shit you not.)

And now I find the same attitude from people who don’t even work there.

Last week, I got into a Twitter conversation about whether Howey is “pro-writer.” The other person thought so (I’m sure Howey feels the same way) but to me he’s always pro-Amazon. The way he talks, you’d think writers’ and Amazon’s interests were so close together you couldn’t slip a piece of paper between them.

They’re not. Obviously. And I don’t mean “they might diverge at some point in the future.” They’re different right this very second, and no pro-corporate boosterism is going to change that fact. It might spread around the web like a meme and motivate fans to buy books, but it’s not healthy in the long run.

On an unrelated note, this is totally my latest earworm.