I come not praise Amazon, or to bury it.

My name Phar (named after Phar Lap, only I don’t have a lap and I cried thinking that nasty Wossie might make cruel jokes about it) Therase Byrum-Ffawme, of the Boston Byrums of course, not that degenerate lot who moved to Pittsburg. You can call me PT, or the great last defender of the literary bastions, I don’t mind. Such are the sacrifices I have made for the cause (often). I am going to boldly go split infinitives where no non-binary writer has gone before, risking life and limb and gender re-assignation and an episode of Duck Dynasty (I had to imitate Uselessess and block my ears with my whale-sounds I-pod and close my eyes to survive) to get to the last surviving outpost holding out against environmental and, naturally, literary disaster. It’s all Amazon’s fault of course. It was when the great unwashed fell for Amazon’s wicked, wicked, evil lies, about the noble Hachette, that their super-warehouse got so heavy it cracked the crust of the earth. Those villains left poor James Patterson to die of dehydration, barely able to afford fifty cases of Veuve Clicquot a night for the next century. The depths of their evil are nearly on par of the evil league of evil (and that’s the absolute zero of evil), and I believe it was carbon dioxide from the power-demand for extra electrons to download KU books that caused the Artic to melt and sent packs of rampaging starving polar-bears to attack my publisher’s office in New York, just before the hurricane Amazon caused by the vacuum from the deluded cowards fleeing for the 70% of cover royalty Amazon was tricking them with, flooded the city. Ha, it serves them right. I told them those wicked exploiters would just wait until they had driven out the good gentle friendly publishers and they’d drop the royalty rate. I hope they suffer under that 68% and burn in the fire. They should have stuck faithfully to Trad Pubs’s 25% (of net, which with creative accounting was… sometimes as high as 17.5%! Spoiled brats. Serve them right.).

Anyway, here I am, just waiting for a cab so I can begin my epic trek across the uncharted ravening wilderness that is MittelAmerika to the last bastion, WisCon, where there is a safe space into which barbarian hordes (at least the heteronormative cis-male white ones) are not allowed. There I and my fellow surviving SFWA members will make our stand (or at least, recline), bravely reading ‘If you were a brontosaurus my love’ aloud to comfort each other, because, as my literary hero Marion said, ‘it’s for the children’. Follow my great adventures (on twitter, tumblr and reddit) and you can read of my privations (my struggle to get the last soy and banana smoothie will bring a tear to your eyes.) and learn how I uncover first that Amazon was actually responsible for 9/11 (they conspired with Bush), the Boston Marathon bombing (Bush again. That poor child was just taking the boat to New York) and of course slavery, Amazon time travels and gets poor slaves to think they’re picking cotton with evil mind rays, while they’re really working in the Amazon giant distribution warehouse… which is getting so heavy it is cracking the earth’s crust and letting loose Cthulhu (only a safe space can save us, and modern literature too.)

(With apologies to TXRed. Idea plagiarism and exaggeration, but the temptation was great, and my flesh weak.)

As you may gather by the possibly slightly satirical take, the hysteria about Hachette and Amazon has reached a new fever-pitch, with starving authors like James Patterson and indeed grandees from that vaunted organization SFWA releasing their Amazon bash, and full-pages adverts in that entirely neutral newspaper the NYT, and victims of ADS (Amazon Derangement Syndrome) going through the roof with its tinfoil hat on to protect them from Amazon mind rays. Amazon responded to their ‘James Patterson is starving and Amazon are just evil incarnate’ with an appeal to their KDP authors, to send a little missive to Hachette’s Michael Pietsch. While Amazon suggested topics, I had a few of my own, and I’m a man of independent mind. So I wrote suggesting –among other things, that it would be wise to pay authors a reasonable share of the e-book income, and upgrade their accounting from opaque and glacial to competitive with Amazon.

Michael Pietsch was kind enough to send me a personal form letter reply, which in fashion of form letters made about is much sense in relation to my letter on Hachette’s abuse of their authors as an emu on acid. (which you can read here – showing how personal and confidential it was -despite the footnote informing me it was.) Of course he could sign it himself and address it to me – as according to their company spokesperson he got ‘a few’ e-mails.

This has been terribly upsetting to the usual ADS crew, but as it only ‘a few’, I can’t see why it should worry them.
Here is my reply:

Dear>Michael Pietsch

Do forgive me for using this form-letter reply to your form letter. I sadly can’t give you my individual attention, as unfortunately publishers so often evade answering this direct question that I have had to resort to this form letter. My letter related to extra profits your company reaped from e-books, as the saving on paper, distribution, returns (especially returns) is considerable, and to how you find it wise or acceptable to pay your authors a meagre 17.5% of the cover price, very late with opaque accounting, instead of a far larger share of the 70% Amazon would pay them in a timely fashion with transparent accounting? Could you provide the form letter of inadequate excuses for this behavior instead of the usual farrago of spin, lies and evasions that have nothing to do with the question?
🙂

And now as a little addendum for the ADS crew. I did a countdown sale last week. Now a countdown sale requires that an Author gives exclusive loyalty to Amazon. If Amazon wants this… well the bait has to be very good indeed, and the treatment of authors doing this, exceptional.

Sadly this is not the case. Now Amazon are certainly within their rights, but their organizational skills compared well to SFWA and their communications skill was on the Michael Pietsch level – ie. it wasn’t about the subject at all. It took me EIGHT tries to get an answer, as their help desk were just as ignorant. I’ll set it out here so that fellow non-US authors don’t have the same hassle.

Countdown sales are US only. Even if we are talking about e-books and you’ve granted them world rights and the customer is paying from US bank account and looking it up in Amazon.com – if you’re not in the US it won’t be available to you. And here is the kicker: if you are not in the US – YOU AS THE AUTHOR SELLING TO US CUSTOMERS ON AMAZON.COM WILL NOT BE ABLE TO SEE THE COUNTDOWN. THE COUNTDOWN TIME IS SEATTLE TIME.

This information appears nowhere their documentation, their help staff don’t know what the problem is (I had 8 tries to get an answer). As it is perfectly possible to shop as an Australian or Italian for that matter, on Amazon.com or Amazon.uk, it’s very unclear that Australians (or Italians) will not be able to buy (or even see) this sale.

I must say I found this unpleasant, unnecessary and offensive. As a customer I will accept being told that a supplier won’t ship to me in a foreign country. Not being allowed to see the price, however, really really got up my nose and itched. Electrons ship remarkably cheaply, and really the Australian reader needs a break too!

Amazon is a business. Most of the time they seem to get that a business deal that hurts customers or suppliers too much loses them. I hope they will in this too.

Anyway it’s left me feeling Piets… uh Pissed. If you want improve my day you could buy Stardogs or something else I wrote – from Amazon please. I get paid quicker.

Yes, the picture is a link, the cover of the paper version. I think it came out quite well. This is the link to the kindle one – which is a lot cheaper. I make the same on each. Stardogs

53 comments

  1. Yes, but with trad publishers you have the admiration of your peers. You have RECOGNITION and STATUS. With Amazon your book will be bought by the great unwashed masses who may not even have a degree. They could be liberal arts majors or even public school graduates. All they have to recommend them is the filthy cash in their grubby little paws, and they have no love of literature in their black flabby little hearts.

    1. Yes but a little bird told me that SFWA are looking a HWA indie entrant criteria. Disgusting. How would we know we were so much much much superior to them if they let them into the tree-house? It’d be the end of the world (except the level for HWA is about the same as blind Freddy manages for his crayon written magnum opus, and you never have to produce anything else. So they’d get thousands more just like the bulk of their present membership, looking for status, which in reality it doesn’t confer any more than an instant online PhD (just pay here.))

  2. Not to mention the multiple benefits of traditional publishing: languishing for months and even years waiting for an editor and a publishing decision. Having your backlist remain out of print. And of course, the myriad joys of your agent taking their percentage for, exactly what???

    1. Yes, really publishers do it all only for authors. That’s the one thing publishers they do it for authors and literature. Uh that’s the two things…
      (who called the Spanish inquisition?)

  3. From the form letter:Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue. We invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more

    Let me see. From what I hear from a lot of midlisters, the marketing from a publisher like Hachette is non-existent and completely dependent on the author. Design is often only loosely based on anything to do with the book. Editing has fallen off horribly in the last few years.

    As for the rest, it’s funny how as an indy author, I can start a book in May and have it almost ready to hit the stores right now (waiting to get it back from the copy editor), but a big publisher with tons of resources takes “years” to do the same things. Hmmmmmm.

    1. Hmmmmmmm indeed.
      Go with a traditional publisher, wait on their pleasure for possibly years for acceptance of any sort, receive what I understand has become barely pocket money for an advance, then throw your precious work to the vagaries of what for midlist and under is a rather crappy effort to present and market your book to the buying public. Or take your chances, buy the support you need by the yard from professionals, and see your investment paying off in months if not weeks.
      Invest heavily, oh I like that phrase. Funniest thing I’ve heard so far this week. Very much, in my not so humble opinion, like the investment a blood sucking leech makes as it attaches itself to your bum.

    2. I don’t quite get how they put a year of effort into a thing, and then only leave it on the shelf for a week or two and expect to make their money back.

      1. Ever hear that old saying about repeatedly doing the same thing but always expecting different results? Seems strangely apropos here.

    3. To be fair, I think the excuse actually refers to a tiny subset of Non-fiction books, which may well take years. Of course, few – if any – of these actually get advances which will cover living expenses and research costs for that time, but it sounds good. Better than the dog ate my homework, if less plausible.

      1. You’re far more accepting than I am, I’m afraid. I just don’t buy it, especially when we hear about the turn around time for so many books through traditional publishing.

  4. I wrote a letter to Hachette’s CEO; I’m certain it never got read, but on the other hand, it might have morphed into a tiny statistic, one of a million letters that urged Hachette to COMPETE with Amazon instead of stonewalling.
    Like Dave, I would prefer that Amazon offer Countdown Deals to all countries; however, I get rumors that some nations have laws that forbid such discounting. Germany comes to mind; perhaps I’m misinformed.
    As for why Amz doesn’t sell electrons directly from the US to Australia or Europe, I smell the odor of TAXES; that sort of ‘free trade’ is all very well, but evading taxes paid to sovereign nations is a serious no-no! Amazon, who would likely jump on the opportunity to sell more books to more places, is hanging back for a reason, and I suspect their lawyers are tugging on Mr Bezos to restrain his impetuosity.
    Think about it; Amazon is nothing if not competitive; so when they pass up a chance to compete, there’s a good business reason for it!

    1. What Amazon does do is experiment. When they’ve got enough data on the Countdown and Unlimited programs, I suspect we’ll see either expansion or termination.

    2. Australia has it’s own Amazon now, but it’s mostly on ebook sales so far. (I say mostly because I haven’t looked lately.)

      You can still buy ebooks from Amazon.com from Australia; one sometimes sees sales; and I know I gifted a Kindle version of The Monster Hunters to my brother in law (who lives here in Oz too) for his birthday, and he got it fine.

      Taxes, and local laws, lack of treaties and such will be one of the main hurdles to ALL authors and buyers being able to purchase with ease internationally. This was a discussion with a friend who wants to publish indie, but she’s in the Philippines, and as a result there are no options for her to take on self-publish, and at best go for the one publisher there that does ebooks (which, incidentally, does sell books on Amazon. And I think B&N.)

      1. I’d be quite interested in hearing what obstacles there are to e-pub by your friend in the Philippines. I would not be surprised to find they were much the same as the South African ones – which can be overcome in various ways. If you like you can contact me with the details (via davefreer.com) or post them here.

        Dave

        1. As far as I’m aware , the only epublisher we have in the Philippines is http://flipside.ph/ – that’s different however, from self-publishing; as we don’t have anything like that available.

          I’ll see what I can dig up as well and send you what I find. (the previous answer I had to this got eaten my a sneeze-misclick. Sigh)

          1. Is she looking at publishing in English? (Smashwords as far as I know will cheerfully publish in other languages, but they pay either via paypal – not available everywhere, or by check (the threshold for checks is very high) or only to US accounts) Are there restrictions on foreign bank accounts? (My knowledge of Philippines is sketchy and largely based on one of the ladies in our church, who originally came from there.)

            1. Yeah, like me she seems to write largely in English. Paypal is available in the Philippines. I’ll suggest smashwords to her, but are there restrictions on copyright if publishing through Smashwords and then Lulu / and then distribute through Amazon? That’s one of the more nebulous things that worry folks.

              1. You retain your copyright, and you can take it down in an instant, Amazon, via KDP you can do from anywhere, but you are excluded from nook etc by ‘US only’ policies. However Smashwords allows you to avoid those by being a US intermediary. For all that it can be a bit clunky, it’s safe and I would say worth trying anyway.

          1. If it was through my web-page no limit, but I will only get it this evening most likely. Sorry, this ‘distancing’ is a PITA, but as you know, one gets occasional obsessive people.

    3. Compete: – on that subject, this is what I said:

      ‘Instead of attempting to use writers to leverage readers against Amazon perhaps you should try this new and revolutionary thing, ‘competition’. Offer better deals to your authors and readers, and cut some of the deadwood costs in areas which benefit neither your readers, writers or shareholders – your New York offices, your contract-writers (a simple boilerplate will work far better, and save a great deal of money), all of those ‘meetings’ and all of that travel, and focus on retaining essential staff like editors who edit and publicists who sell to readers, not to large retailers, and fire those cannot be seen to add quantifiable value to readers or writers. Then I might be on your side of this dispute. Now, I am not.’

      I also doubt it got read, although it was one of the first in.

      Countdowns to Australia: The point I am making is taxes or protection ALREADY are not a factor. I just bought a cordless drill off Amazon.com. NOT Amazon.AU. The shipping cost me extra, but I was able to choose a cheaper product from the US.

  5. Dave,
    Actually you can set separate countdowns in (I THINK) GB and Canada. I didn’t know this, so my last countdown I had to do those a day later, when fans b*tched. Yep, they didn’t tell me.

    1. What this comes down to – no excuse for Amazon, is a communication fail, which resulted in their best salesmen – us, not being able to do our job properly. It’s a lose:lose and someone in Amazon deserves a kick in the pants for it. Not that Baen and Pyr (and I ma sure all of the rest) did not fail in much the same way – not giving me information they had so I could sell the book better. I expect that from publishers, because they’re used to not having to compete. I don’t expect teh stupid from Amazon.

  6. From the form letter:
    We recoup these costs from sales of all the versions of the book that we publish—hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and ebook. While ebooks do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book.

    Classic business mistake. The business does not define the pricepoint for an item, the customer does. Spreading overhead over multiple product lines, in this case versions, is good business. Nothing wrong with it. But — justify it any way you want, if people won’t pay ‘X’ for a product the overhead you’ve laid off on that product is unpaid.

    If the current executives can’t see the value of volume offset in ebooks, it’s probably time for some new executives.

    We know by experience that there is not one appropriate price for all ebooks, and that all ebooks do not belong in the same $9.99 box.

    True. Many should be cheaper.

    Oh, and I’ll take Amazon’s experience and advice with regard to ebook sales over the Big 5’s any day.

    1. Slipping slightly sideways, I was discussing some other business phenomena with my father this weekend and the concept of early adopters came up. Those folks who’ll jump on the new thing as soon as they can lay hands on it. Some like to have it in hand before anybody else, some like the challenge of the bug hunt. Whatever the reasons, the early adopters can represent a cash bolus in the early days, one that should be taken advantage of where possible.

      This brought up Baen. (What? Perfectly reasonable wandering conversation.) Baen’s eArc program, putting the not quite final draft up in ebook form for pre-pub purchase, represents acknowledgement of the early adopter phenomenon. For known authors, there’s a pool of people who will pay significantly more for a copy ($15) still in need of edits so they can read it first. I don’t know how big the pool is, but whatever money it brings in above the standard price is new capture. Smart business, that.

      So, have any of the established authors around here, such as Sarah and Dave, experimented with such a program? Available on your website until full publication sort of thing? I wouldn’t expect it to be record-shattering new profits, but maybe a nice boost to the beer and bread fund.

      Just curious.

      1. Whenever anyone tries to make the argument, “but if Amazon takes over they’ll be just as bad as the traditional publishers are now,” I always point to that small specialty house Baen and their Webscriptions store as the perfect example that proves if Amazon abuses writers someone will offer a better deal in competition. Funny how a free and open market works, ain’t it though?
        As for the whole eARC thing, we’ve always had Advanced Reader Copies as a way to get early review of new works out to the reviewers. Given the lag time inherent in print media it was the only way to sync up review and release dates. And eARCs just made sense once everyone involved got connected to e-mail and the internet. Now selling eARCs, that was Jim Baen’s bright idea as revenge for readers and fans dunning him mercilessly about early peeks and release dates for their favorite author’s latest work. As I understand it, the Baen eARC is the final unedited author submission. The only extra cost involved is the infrastructure to serve them out to buyers, and that was at most a minor tweak to the existing Webscription site. Charging hard cover price for a computer file that was already bought and paid for, what a concept. Wherever his larcenous soul finally wound up, I’m sure Jim is still laughing his asterisk off.
        Understand, this is most definitely not criticism, but rather admiration for the house and brand that Jim built and Toni so very capably maintains to this day.

        1. Charging hard cover price for a computer file that was already bought and paid for, what a concept. Wherever his larcenous soul finally wound up, I’m sure Jim is still laughing his asterisk off.
          Understand, this is most definitely not criticism, but rather admiration for the house and brand that Jim built and Toni so very capably maintains to this day.

          Emphasis mine.

          Absolutely. I think when somebody hears people screaming “take my money! take it now!!” and he takes ’em up on it, he ought be praised. The customers are happy, the business is happy, all is right with the world.

          The key to the system, of course, is that everybody knows what’s going on. I know what the release price is going to be, and I know how inflated the eArc price is. They’re not trying to hold me over a barrel for the inflated price, they’re making an offer. If I take ’em up on it, I do it knowing full well I’m paying a premium for the privilege. All good.

    2. I have to disagree in a way with you. Getting maximum income by selling the same product in very different niches is great business sense – ie if you’re buying cows, selling beef, tallow, bones to china manufactures, hooves to pet products, intestines to sausage makes and so on makes perfect sense. What Pietsch is saying the equivalent of ‘We have to put up our beef price, so we can afford to sell sausage skins, because we can only sell sausage skins at a loss.’ Sorry, either you charge more for sausage skins or you give up selling them.

      And yes, that 9.99 statement was classic piece of spin.

      1. I don’t think we necessarily disagree, and your analysis of Pietsch seems spot on.

        I was more focused on the notion of distributed overhead being pointless if you price one part of your distribution (significantly) above market clearing price. The overhead accounted to that segment is never cleared because that segment never moves. That’s not really what they’re doing, though, is it?

        But your point regarding price scheduling in one category to defend another is more direct to the current concern. Because I don’t think the publishers have ever gotten around to realistically looking at income models with ebooks as a factor. They’re still trying to set ebook prices as a blocking measure to direct sales to paper.

        Nevermind that ebook production costs are a one-time expense already largely amortized over the print run, and therefore each digital sale is a check in the profit column. They want to artificially prop the print sales by discouraging the digital, which is why they cannot afford to let Amazon control prices even though their ebook revenue remains the same.

        Or so it seems from here.

        1. Yes, elsewhere I have seen the argument that Amazon was hurting their hardback sales by pricing eBooks at the $9.99 price point, even though they were losing money on each of those transactions. Amazon responded by saying that they had data showing that the actual hardback sales rose when they did this, resulting in better profits for everyone, and more options for consumers, but the publishers still claimed they were losing money on the deal.

  7. Why did you have to link to that site with the form letter reply posted? The stupid burns my eyes all the way back into my brain.

      1. Urk. Wayne, I didn’t read the comments before, I was happy moving on with life with no knowledge of the comments. But, no.

        So here’s one that makes me giggle, from one T. Payne:

        Then don’t buy the hardcover. Problem solved.

        I am bemused by people who seem to think that publishers don’t have access to their own price point, format consumption, and market research data, so therefore publishers must make their business decisions sitting in a completely black room with zero input. It demonstrates an utter lack of comprehension of how businesses are run.

        And unlike films – where if one eschews the theatrical release, one must then wait for the DVD release, then the Netflix/Hulu/Redbox release, then the pay television release, and finally the broadcast/basic television release – for books there is a lovely tax payer provided service called “a library.” And many books can be read for FREE thanks to this service. Including books currently in their hardback release. Imagine that!

        Just because one believes one is entitled to a pony, it doesn’t mean pony breeders must back the horse trailer up to one’s house.

        And the response I dropped into the void:

        Guess that depends on why pony breeders are breeding them ponies, huh? I mean, if they want to sell them, they might be wise to see how I want to buy them.

        ‘Course, so long as you’re the only pony breeder, you can play “take it or leave it” games. But this guy down the road — he’s got some friendly, pretty ponies! And he ships to my door. 😐 So I guess the rest of you pony brokers can take your leave it and shove it sideways with a spin.

        Customers drive business, folks.

        There might be some moderation mechanism over there, nothing to say so. But the comment disappeared after I hit post, so I guess I’ll check back later.

        1. Heh. Maybe TxRed will credit me with giving you a little payback for poking her muse over at ATH.

          🙂

          1. *In most sanctimonious tone* I do not believe in paybacks, nor do I keep *breaks pose, unable to keep face straight* Right, who am I kidding? That counts as payback.

    1. That was the point: Because it was given to that ‘sweetheart’ site. Publishing someone’s letters to you has some downsides. This proved that publishing or discussing it was completely in the public domain. I didn’t see how else I could do this given the confidentiality and privacy statement on my form letter

  8. “While ebooks do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book.” And the author earns 18% of cover price. I checked a couple of Patterson’s books. One was ebook at $8.99, hardcover $16, paperback $14 and mass market paperback $9 (I think) The other was ebook $14.99, hardcover $28, paperback at $15. So author fee is 18% of each ebook= $1.61 to $2.70. hardcover $2.88 to $5.04, Paperback $2.70.
    So on a rough count, books cost the publisher $3 + royalty of $2.70 to $5.04. so $5.70 to $8.04 expense per book, leaving publisher earnings of $10.30 to 19.96. On ebooks- Amazon gets 30% of $9 or $2.70- or $4.50 publisher gets $6.30 – $1.61 or $4.69 to publisher $10.50-$2.70 or $7.80
    Publishers make between $4.69 and $7.80 per ebook. with no real overhead.
    I’ve got a barn shovel, maybe I should go into publishing.

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