Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Amazon Monster

I just got this notice email from my publisher Denise Camacho at Intrigue publishing. I have to say that it is no surprise to me. I've also heard about Amazon monopolizing the industry in slow increments. And what's this about Amazon attempting to buyout Barnes & Nobel or take over their stores in some type of merger? Has anyone heard of this? I've seen this on YouTube video discussions. (Sorry that the Amazon page visuals didn't come through--that was for security reasons).

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I am sending you all a recent announcement I received from IBPA (Independent Book Publishers Assoc.)
This will impact everyone, including all of the major publishers, all self-published authors etc. Anyone who is trying to sell books on Amazon will be impacted.

On March 1, Amazon enacted a policy change that allows third-party sellers to compete for the Buy Box for books in “new condition.”

In case you’re not visualizing the Buy Box in your mind, it is this:

And, here it is on the right side of the screen next to a book’s description:

When you go to a product page on Amazon, the ADD TO CART Buy Box is the default offer. Other used options fall below the Buy Box. Where books are concerned, the default Buy Box has always belonged to the publisher. When you buy a book, Amazon pays the publisher 45% of the list price. This means your purchase is supporting the entity that published the book, namely the publisher, and authors are making a profit (albeit small) every time you buy because the publisher is paying an author royalty for each sale.

Now Amazon is giving that priority spot to third-party sellers, relegating the publisher button to a far less favorable position, below the landing page screen line, often last in a list of third-party sellers offering the book for a significantly lower cost in addition to free shipping. See the following example:

The Independent Book Publishers Association (IBPA) believes Amazon’s policy change, allowing third-party sellers to compete for the Buy Box for books in “new condition,” hurts authors and publishers. Here’s why:

Amazon, once again, is attempting to drive down the value of books, and therefore intellectual property and creative work in general. Under the new policy, Amazon is rewarding the seller that conforms to its rules (“competitive pricing”) by granting them the coveted Buy Box. Often this means dropping the publisher listing, and it’s not unlikely that publisher listings may fall off the buy page completely—at Amazon’s discretion.
When a book is not obviously for sale by its publisher on Amazon, the author may not be making royalties. Although for now it seems that publisher listings are on Amazon, it takes a savvy consumer to even understand what they’re buying—and most will go for the lowest-cost item, especially if it’s in the coveted Buy Box position.
While in some cases authors may still be making royalties off of third party sales, these sellers may also be obtaining books in ways that will not result in author compensation.
They might be a used bookstore that cheaply buys stock back from consumers.
They might troll book bins where people recycle books.
They might have relationships with distributors and wholesalers where they buy “hurts” (often good enough quality to be considered “new condition”) at a super low cost.
They might have connections to reviewers who get more books than they can handle and are looking to offload.
And on and on.
In all cases above, the books sold on Amazon would not qualify as sales for the purposes of author royalties because they’ve already been sold, or originally existed as promotional copies. And even for those third-party sellers buying books through wholesale channels, the question arises of how Amazon is measuring “new condition.”

If consumers don’t see the option to buy new, from the publisher, then Amazon is promoting piracy. Authors get nothing from used books because the consumer is buying something that’s already been bought and tracked as a sale. If this new policy takes hold for most backlist books, authors’ and publishers’ revenue will dry up, and more and more books are at risk of going out of print more quickly. Publishers will not be able to afford to keep books in print that are not selling on Amazon. So, this policy is essentially driving books to an earlier death—and thereby hurting authors.

Amazon suggests that one of the ways you can win the Buy Box is to keep books “in stock.” This poses a major problem for self-published authors and any backlist author whose books are print-on-demand. Print-on-demand automatically means there’s no stock. The books are printed to order. If Amazon is penalizing books that are set up as POD titles and favoring third-party sellers who have stock due to any of the abovementioned means of procurement, authors will again be dinged when their own listing, or publisher listing, ranks low on the list of “Other Sellers on Amazon.” We can only suppose that Amazon will not penalize or remove books that are listed with CreateSpace—and as Amazon moves away from CreateSpace to consolidate its print and e-book self-publishing program onto Kindle, it will be interesting to note how often those books get the coveted Buy Box position for doing business with Amazon.

If indie publishers can't get into bookstores and are being cut off at the knees by Amazon-induced piracy, then the future is grim indeed. As a community of indie publishers, we should be very bothered by this new policy. Amazon is a mammoth player in the publishing space and it can do much to either help or hurt the publishing industry. Their new third-party seller policy is potentially terrorizing, in that it is likely to result in publishers selling fewer copies and ultimately being forced to declare backlist books out of print.

Scenario 1

In April 2017, the publisher of SparkPress was emailed by an author who said her book was no longer being listed on Amazon—at all—as available from SparkPress. When one typed in the title of her book, the only listings that came up were from third-party sellers. Amazon’s policy states that “eligible sellers will be able to compete for the buy box,” but in this case, SparkPress had been completely wiped off Amazon as an eligible seller in any capacity, without being notified.

Scenario 2

Seal Press’s Second Wind by Cami Ostman experienced the same scenario. When you click on the product page for Second Wind, here’s what you see:

Note the paperback price: $3.23. Note the seller: Meadowland Media. At first glance, Seal Press’s listing could not be found, but it turned out to be there, just four buttons down and below the sight line of the landing page.

One must assume Meadowland is selling a used book as “new condition” in this scenario. Why? If they were purchasing the book wholesale they would have paid as much as 60% off the list price. So, they would have bought the book for $6.80. The only logical conclusion is that this seller is selling a used book, or a book they got for free in some capacity.

The impact this scenario could have on publishers’ backlist (typically meaning any book that’s six months or older) is devastating, especially because consumers don’t understand what’s going on here. When you search for this book, it looks as if the only listing that’s available is through Meadowland Media because the search function leads to a page where the only visibility you have is that Second Wind is $3.23. This screen shot says that there are “more buying options” but those buying options alert you to the 25-cent copy, not the copy being sold by the publisher for $10.62.

Small publishers are dependent on backlist sales for their livelihood. Amazon is a Herculean player when it comes to backlist sales because bookstores favor front-list books. If you’re looking for a book that’s a year old or more, you’re likely to go to Amazon to find it. Second Wind was published in 2010, but the way Amazon has set up this listing, it’s as if the book were out of print with the publisher. It’s not.

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Middle Grade Slump?

In all my writing career I don't think I've had as much trouble at laying down pixels as I've had for a Middle Grade fantasy book. Although I've written and published several YA titles, this is my first, out of the gate, MG. It's a whole different ballgame. I've read many MG titles, including some old Roald Dahl books, and I can't really see too much difference between them and the YA titles. There doesn't seem to be any writing "down" going on in the MG examples. I think it just takes a simpler touch, meaning easier and more understandable words. Chapter lengths can also come down in length and, of course, these types of books range from 25,000 to 45,000 words or so. 

There is a need for more humor in MGs (I believe)--the emotion that all kids understand. Eight to 12 year-old children can even understand irony--you can't underestimate them. An emphasis on characterization is also vitally important here, pulling the reader in to sympathize with the main and supporting characters--unique and diverse sketches of people who really come to life within the young mind.

I have what I call a portal fantasy, something akin to Narnia. That's where the characters enter a fantasy world via some transporting vehicle--through a mirror, hole in the ground, wardrobe, magical door, etc. In my case, my lead characters, in possession of some magic goggles, find that they can climb up and over solid rainbows to arrive in another land. I had a little problem with the suspension of disbelief with this one, as I have had similar precautions and hesitations with YA titles. 

I have virtually stopped writing this little book after about 12,000 words. I've hit a wall. I'm aghast at my unwillingness to push on through this. I feel I've hit a stone barrier or painted myself into a corner, with seemingly no way out.

I'm finally going to ask any of you children's writers out there for a little help or/and support. Like the Titanic, I'm sending up white rocket distress signals in an attempt to find my motivation and interest again.

Here it is:

My kids slide into the first land which is called Slobstalkia. The inhabitants of this land are young and obese, to the point of dangerous health and unsavory eating habits. Their diets consist of lards and fats. While my kids must wait for another rain to hitch a ride on a rainbow, in an attempt to get back home, they do everything they can to help the Slobstalkians change their eating habits and achieve a new, healthy lifestyle, with plenty of exercise. Yes, there is a message there that can translate to the reader--eat right--keep fit. I have to describe this land in fairly intricate detail, so the reader is transported to another, strange and unique environment which can be fun and thrilling at the same time. 

I have this book plotted out for the visitation and interaction of two more lands (three lands total) before they eventually catch a ride home on the last rainbow. The second land is called Filthania, which is a place rife with very bad hygiene. The lesson there is to clean these people up--washing clothes--bathing--taking pride in themselves in a physical sense. Another lesson learned.

I won't go on to describe the third land. I think you get the point. My dilemma is wondering how am I going to describe three different lands, all with individual detail and nuance within the frame of a book that is loosely regulated by a smaller word count? The project seems massive to me--almost impossible. I could concentrate on one land and get it right. But to follow it up with two more in the same book seems daunting.  It could be a trilogy. And that's a lot of risk. It could be an extraordinarily long book, since there really isn't any hard and fast rules about length and subject matter for any genre/category. Or it could be just one single land, and solving one or several problems in that land, then a return home.

This multiple land issue has blocked me dead in my tracks. I don't know the way out. Do you have any suggestions at all on how to solve this problem? I would appreciate any views or ideas about this subject.

Write like you're dying, because you are,


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Writers and Health


First exam went will, if a bit painful, but the next stage will be working the torn hernias that are likely to pose problems as far as the space needed for the prostrate shave or removal process. It's a bit crowded down there for the room to work; def going to ask to be put under for this entire procedure, and expect them to get as much done as possible. They might do the prostrate surgery then hand me off to a hernia specialist (another out patient facility where I'll have to start the process all over again). I''m afraid of this massive trade off to specialists, who will have their own payments plans with extra medication that I probably won't need.

FYI: Do not sit at your computer eight to 10 hours a day (year after year) without breaking and walking about for a good 15 minutes. Keep you legs circulating via swift walks or massage. Perform full body stretching and neck rotations. Tale deep breaths outside and then relax your heart. Take one aspirin everyday without fail, and stop smoking. Blood clots show no mercy when they break free and travel to the heart, lungs or in the brain where they can cause serious vein and arterial blockages that can kill you. Stroke and pulmonary embolism kills 1/3 of it victims. Don't EVEN give it a chance. This goes for driving trucks long distances, secretarial work, airline flights and other static positions. Bluntly, if your job requires you to sit on yous ass all day, you're in serious contention for a clot in the lower legs. Kidney stones are another problem and nearly as serious. Be attentive to the silent killers who are waiting in the wings. Don't give them the chance. Start early on your health regime and stay with it. Stay mobile and eat the proper foods. You'll be glad you did.