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The Vexed Question of Amazon

Amazon is a problem for us indie writers. It’s always been a problem, and we watch it with frowning apprehension every time the matter of selling our work comes up.  Which is, as you know, a lot.

But you also have to understand there has never been a good solution for selling our work to the public. Short of squatting on the sidewalk yelling “Novel cheeeeep” we have always been dependent on more or less unreliable or larcenous intermediaries.  For now, Amazon is the best thing to happen to fiction writers since the idea of passing a bowl around the camp fire for coins for the storyteller.Which doesn’t make it ideal or even good in the long run. Because we are very well aware we can’t trust it to go on working for us.

It’s not even the matter of political bias.  Yes, Amazon probably has that. It has shown in other products, and other moral panics.

In books this is harder to track, and I’ll explain that in a few moments. It’s also harder to implement, which is why we’ve not had that problem (really)so far. For now just bear with me that from my own experience as an indie it’s hard to track and probably a phatom.

It’s more the fact that like almost every company that hires programmers they periodically fall victim to what I can “the programing mind.”

My husband has a degree in mathematics, but for most of his life, until the current job in which he uses both, he made his living in computer programing. So I am aware of how the mind works.

And yes, I’m also aware I need to change the look of my blog, but it’s hardly the burning matter to me that it’s for my husband.

The programing mind is prey to two obsessions: innovation and cunning devices.

If they could figure out a way to eat breakfast by pressing a screen-button that says “Breakfast, consume” it would already be done, even if the breakfast it fed everyone was the same gruel made of coffee and sawdust.

Because they can’t do that, I’m mostly amused with the programing mind in its domestic incarnation, and try to avoid saying things like “I wish I could figure out how to do x on the computer” because d*mn it, there’s either an app for that, or he’ll take three months to write one, during which time I’ve cobbled together a solution out of cobewebs and spit.

The problem is that Amazon is programmed/worked, behind the scenes by this type of mind, precisely.  Which means periodically they seek solutions to problems no one ever had.  Or try to optimize the algorithm and suddenly all us indies are making a lot less (or more. But it’s usually less) because no one can find our books.

Right now the search algorithm is borked, though the July innovation seems to have made it better. This as a reader. I haven’t even checked royalties for a month or so.  It was so thoroughly borked before that I often would look for a book with name and author and it wouldn’t show up in the first page of completely insane suggestions, some of them for t-shirts.  Oh, this still happens, but usually the book is number three on the page.

Now every time this happens to me as a reader, I get cold sweats.  None of these books is even vaguely political, because what I’m reading mostly is Pride and Prejudice variations (Fanfic, essentially) because we’re in the middle of the great garden remodel, and I’m trying to write, which means I don’t have emotional space for anything more challenging.  So I can’t get paranoid on “it’s politics.”

But “it’s programmers” doesn’t make it better. It is in fact more difficult.

In fact, the two biggest problems I’ve had with Amazon were not even vaguely political, but both were baffling.  One was when their programmers — cunningly — created a crawler to go through books and identify “stolen” content.

They were going off a real problem, mind you. People, mostly in copyright-weak places like China and Russia were putting up books of samples, slapping bestsellers’ names on the cover and selling those.  Hunting them one by one was extremely difficult. Enter, the spider crawler… which promptly unpublished all my short story collections, since 90% of that is previously published.

It took hours on the phone to solve that, and getting them to understand “short stories revert after a year” was the hardest part.

Then there was the great unpublishing of … 2016? whenever I brought out the last Dyce. Because Prime Crime still had it up for sale in paperback, Amazon kept unpublishing it.  It took sending them the reversal letter’s scan for them to stop doing that.

Most of the stories we hear of that are “it’s politics”, it’s in fact bullshit like that. Look, if I were of a paranoid disposition, I would also jump to “it’s politics” and never actually find the reason the books were removed and/or get them back.

But I reason while they publish Glenn Reynolds and Milo of the untypable last name, they’re not going to come after my fiction books which for the most part aren’t even vaguely political.

Also every case of “my book was removed for being political” I’ve done a deep dive into and facts could be found, it was removed for other reasons. Keep in mind we’re not privy to phone interactions or even emails between author and Amazon in most cases.  Again, I figure while there are a ton of more controversial people than me up there, they’re probably removing for another reason, and try to figure out why. Panicking is not helpful.

This is like people panicking that Amazon “reached into their kindle” (So why didn’t they have a backup? Never mind) and took 1984.  Cute, but no cigar.  They did that because the person selling it did not have the right to.  And they refunded.  This is more akin to a supermarket realizing it sold tainted lettuce than, well, 1984.  And engaging in a moral panic about it only means you’re cutting yourself off from what is, right now, the best source for indie published ebooks. (Yes, best, more on that later.)

And while they have lactation porn, (I stumbled across one by accident. Just the description, EW. Plus they used Henry VIII as a character, which double ew. I was looking for references) they’re going to have real trouble removing for “troubling content.”

Now, is it possible for a bunch of readers to complain of “defects” and get your book taken down at least temporarily? Sure it is. Amazon is in a way reinventing the wheel with this book thing, and I don’t think any of them has realized there are NO books without typos.

It is that kind of happy go lucky cluelessness of how readers and writers interact that gives me the cold sweats.

It normally wouldn’t, because normally I’d just go elsewhere.

Except that not only have I published a bunch of my reverted books, but I have visibility into my friends’ numbers, including a couple who run small presses.

Let’s put it this way, if Amazon stopped existing tomorrow and nothing arose to replace it? We as indie writers are DONE.  Unless we have an amazing mailing list, where people will actually send us money, we’re DONE.

Back when I was publishing wide: Amazon, Barnes and Noble and Apple through Kobo, all of those together made me less than $20 a month, while Amazon made me $500.

I understand this is different for certain genres and that mystery (serious mystery, not my cozies) do better than that in Barnes and Noble. So they might make $60.  Meanwhile Smashwords is a caution for ALL innovators.  They OWNED the field and failed to grow it, or adapt when it grew, and now they’re a byword and a horror, including the fact they lend and sell your book, and don’t keep very good track of where things are, or what’s going on on that end.

And as for arbitrary crazy, Amanda reminded me the other day of Kobo stomping on “Porn.” Only what they got was not porn, and honestly I have clue zero what it was, since one of the books removed for indecent content was… Death of a Musketeer.

This brings us on why it’s so hard to censure by political content, btw. And why it’s so impossible for (a complaint I heard recently) Amazon to “move the book to the right category.”

Amazon publishes a round giga-gazillion of books, all filled with words. Do you think someone is reading them all?  Heck, no one reads all the facebook posts. It’s all robots and spiders. I’m sure it was the same in Kobo and some conjunction of words made the stupid little programs think it was porn.

Which in turn brings us to why Amazon is so terrifying: because they’re our sole conduit to the public.

Even though, as a politically black listed author, I’ve lived for years with the terror of having only one outlet and having my livelihood dependent on it, it’s not any better now that Amazon is my only outlet.

It’s a single point of failure, and anything, including a decision to not publish indies who aren’t selling in the top x percent, could kill a bunch of us.

As readers, you should know ALL OF US are aware of this. Every single one of us.  Sometimes we wake up in the middle of the night with the word Amazon in our heads.

And yeah, we do know they play fast and loose with ranks for political books by big figures.  And this worries us on other fronts even if doesn’t affect us as indie writers.

I think we need to create parallel services, that don’t do precisely the same thing, but which can retool very fast should Amazon buckle.

For years now I’ve thought a service where a reader can “subscribe” to an author’s daily content (fiction, non fiction, both, by choice) and which works out to beam the stuff to people’s devices, etc, would be a good way to start. A friend and I were going to do it, but I think he’s got sidetracked into something quite different, and I SIMPLY don’t have the tech know-how to do it. I DON’T.  But judging by the people who buy earcs at Baen and who keep wanting to buy “Your daily output” this might be doable. Particularly if people made it fun every day, with a little report on how things went.

For that matter, just beaming people’s newsletters (if you make them fun) to devices might do the same thing, bypassing email’s tendency to put such things in spam.

It would be a little service that would just putter along perhaps for years, maybe paying for itself, but that could be rapidly retooled to do something else and take the load if Amazon buckles, on the fly.

If anyone is interested, I’ll be more than happy to discuss what it MUST have from the writer side.

Because yeah, Amazon is worrisome.

It is also, frankly the way people like me, or Margaret Ball, for instance, can still have careers, after the traditional publishers decided it was time for us to retire.

If you’ve read The Still Small Voice of Trumpets, by Lord Biggle Jr. Amazon is the only thing that allows us, one-armed ex-harpists to continue making music.

Demanding we forsake Amazon and all its works and all its empty promises isn’t going to do anything but piss us off.  Why would you imagine it would be different? Do you think we don’t know it’s a single point of failure, and we’re dependent on it?  Spreading stories of Amazon’s “horrible political bias” will also piss us off.  Because honestly, if it were true, a lot of people already wouldn’t be published. And because in most cases the real reason is probably (from experience) either programmer or writer-stupid. And let’s suppose someone at Amazon has a deep, personal hatred for some guy and makes it impossible for him to publish. First, has this person never heard of DBAs? Second, what are we supposed to do about it?  Even when Kobo decided that Death of a Musketeer was porn, what was I supposed to do about it?  Amazon at least has someone I can argue with on the phone, and doesn’t just keep telling me I’m banned forever.

Could the later happen in the future?  Sure. It’s why “single point of failure” terrifies us.  But we’re dependent on it.  And from those of us who have been traditionally published a long time, let me tell you, Amazon is not nearly as terrifying and arbitrary as even the best of traditional publishers.  At least you can argue with it.

Going on your high-horse and thinking Amazon is the most totalitarian of services and you won’t read on them, ever, ignores …. every other service, which is just as totalitarian and incredibly dysfunctional. (I have stories about Barnes and Noble. SO many stories.)  You only hear them about Amazon more because Amazon is ten times bigger — mostly through being better at what they do, for both readers and writers — and therefore there are a lot more incidents.  Kind of like PCs get more viruses. There’s a lot more PCs and virus writers know it’s easier to write viruses for them.

So, instead of engaging in spreading stories about how terrible Amazon is, and giving yourself nice frissons of panic over what they’ll do next?  Come up with the alternative.  I don’t have the programing chops, and Dan is already working two jobs.  But some of you have the know-how and the time.  Come up with inventive ways to start something.

Be aware right now you can’t really COMPETE with Amazon. They’re the go too for ebooks.  So figure out other things you can sell that use the same mechanism, and which can switch over easily if needed.  Because it will be needed. It might be ten years from now, but it will be needed.

Every company goes stupid sometime.  Which is why there is a problem with Amazon being the only outlet.

We get it. It’s however the only way we can make money. And most of us have livings to earn.

You can’t make us worry more than we already are.  Trust me. We’re already worried.

50 Comments
  1. Nitay Arbel #

    With apologies to Winston Churchill: Amazon is the worst solution for fiction writers except for all other alternatives that have been tried.

    August 14, 2019
  2. Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard #

    And as a reader, Amazon is still the “best place to shop for ebooks” especially when “just looking”.

    KoboBooks isn’t bad if you know the authors and it’s easy to download ebooks from their site.

    B&N doesn’t want my money judging by their “download methods”.

    August 14, 2019
    • Yeah, low buy-in, low-commitment.

      August 15, 2019
  3. I have some of my earlier books still on Smashwords, but I started using Draft 2 Digital, and have had a much happier experience with them. For one, their interface is easier to use, and their author pages are much nicer looking. Like something from this century, even.

    Amazon … sigh. No help but to work with them, I’m afraid. During one of the big kerfuffles early on, when they tried to pressure small POD houses to use Amazon’s chosen printer (instead of LSI, as most all of them did and probably still do) the circle of indy-writers I was with tried to utilize B & N as an alternative. Didn’t work then, even less use now.

    August 14, 2019
    • Jane Meyerhofer #

      LSI?

      August 14, 2019
      • Lightning Source, Intl. That’s the division of Ingram that does print fulfillment for publishers. They have a new division for indy authors – Ingram Spark.

        August 14, 2019
  4. tetsujinnooni #

    The hilariously painful part is that during the transitory period you posit between Amazon starting to be dumb and a replacement pipeline being the new distribution method for written text, the odds are very high that scaleout will happen on AWS, GCP, or Azure cloud services while longer term compute hosting is secured.

    Getting free of private carrier “mission” bias interference with a content delivery platform is fraught, until you own everything from OSI layer 1 up, end to end. (Radio spectra as PHY is even a question, depending on how hard interference-hardened means to you)….

    Per current noncompetes… Not-it. Despite being a fun thought exercise that might make a buck or three being a …. Patronage-like site concept that seems worth noodling about.

    August 14, 2019
  5. Byron #

    No, you can’t compete with Amazon but as you point out, you could come up with something smaller that could compete if Amazon gets a case of the stupids.

    I wonder how difficult it would be to create an open source project to code up a simple content delivery subscription service. Give it a common interface so just about anyone could use it (or add it to, say, a wordpress blog). Figure out security and a way to add multiple different payment systems. Everyone can publish and handle their own content.

    Now add a website that allows anyone who implements the content publishing system to “join” and allow their content to be searched for (with a (very) small subscription fee to the author to “keep the lights on”) and you have a way to find people. It would be nice to figure out how to allow users to subscribe to the main website (so they only have to pay once) then track where content is coming from so that authors get paid for any content coming through the search website.

    Are there a lot of issues with this concept on thee face of it (not the least of which is security)? Yes. But it would be a start and by the time an assumed Amazonpocalypse happens, hopefully a lot of that would be taken care of.

    Just a though.

    August 14, 2019
  6. Yeah, Smashwords is a joke. Their search function is crap and I’ve easily sent them a couple dozen letters explaining to them, in great detail what was WRONG with their search engine and how people were abusing it and how to fix it. Their response? Our search engine is just fine. There’s nothing wrong with it. Etc.

    Not surprised that Smashwords is now doing so poorly. They just built a store and then NEVER invested a dime in it. If you know how to game the search engine, it’s a great place. If you want to plagiarize, it’s a great place.

    Kobo is another joke. Maybe someday the people who run it will grow up and they’ll hire people who are adults to run it. The whole ‘porn’ thing was done by the biggest porn, err I mean BOOKSELLER in the UK who was really complaining because he was losing sales on his porn to ebooks. When he made his big televised statement about porn on kobo he was standing in front of a twenty foot tall stack of ‘Fifty Shades a Gray’ in his company’s shop.

    I’m not kidding, you can probably still find pictures on the internet.

    They pulled ALL of my scifi, because they pulled everything from ‘foreigners’. I was just starting to get a foothold in the UK when they did that. So I’ve pretty much left Kobo alone for now. It’s still run by idiots. Maybe if they hire someone competent someday.

    Barnes and Noble. A perfect example of what happens when you take a thriving concern, fire everybody, and replace them with that girl you’re sleeping with, who is suicidal. I actually did get through to and had a conversation with the president of Nook once. I think she had the IQ of a gnat. And that’s being cruel to the gnat. They spent ten million dollars upgrading the system, and unfortunately they hired third world programmers who had no idea what they were doing. They took a system that worked, though a little painfully, and turned it into one that didn’t work. Then spent years and millions more fixing it. Of course sales suffered during that time, you couldn’t barely sell on it because it didn’t work right.

    And then there was the great Porn purge of 2017. The Nook was THE go-to place for mommy porn, because that is the Nook’s primary customer – women in their 30’s to 70’s. For some strange reason B&N got a rageon against any and all kinds of porn that I guess weren’t 50shadesofgray. I think the steamy romances stayed, but all the PNR erotica that was probably where half of the Nook’s income was coming from? They banned it. And they didn’t even tell you. So when you put it back up, figuring it was just (yet another) hiccup, you got a nasty gram that if you ever put any of those books up again, you’d lose your entire account.

    And then they wouldn’t tell you which of those books weren’t allowed and which were (confession I wrote ‘mommy porn’ for a couple of years, it paid for my new car). Some I could see because it probably pushed the definition of good taste (but damn if it didn’t sell into five figures) but others were pretty norm and were on Amazon as well and Amazon never had a problem with it (and Amazon has people look over erotica, not just machines – hence the varying standards on Amazon on said erotica).

    But again, B&N and the Nook are a perfect example of a company with as big of a presence as Amazon skillfully shooting itself in the head as many times as it takes to be declared dead.

    So finally, Amazon. I’ve had very enlightening conversations with senior managers and even a couple of VP’s at Amazon over the years. The only time it gets quiet is whenever you touch on anything that an algorithm does – because they have no idea how it works, only that it’s secret secret secret. What they don’t understand is that game theory people figure out those secrets pretty quickly. So do folks willing to bribe amazon employees (common occurrence btw, bribing Amazon employees is now a cottage industry of its own – not making this up either).

    But Amazon is the ONLY game in town. They control over 90 percent of the market (Probably more like 95) and they engage heavily in anti-competitive practices. So your only choice (and I do mean -only- choice) is to ride the bear and hope it doesn’t eat you. Play nice with them, as nice as you can, and just do business. Because there is one major thing I’ve noticed about Amazon: 99 percent of the people screaming about how they got screwed by Amazon were poking the bear with a pointy stick (breaking the rules) and they got caught.

    Unfortunately for the other 1 percent, Amazon has so many people poking them with pointy sticks that sometimes the innocent folks get caught up with the crooked ones. Amazon doesn’t have a system to address those people, and they really need to have one. Amazon also needs to dump its shroud of secrecy. Don’t just say ‘they broke the rules’ or ‘you broke the rules’, LIST the rules they broke, tell us what they did. Because that will make all of the rest of us sleep easier at night.

    Do I expect any of this to stay the same? Not really, I think government regulation is coming and as with all government regulations, I’m sure things will get worse. And DO NOT put your original works up on Patreon!!!! Patreon’s licensing agreement gives them eternal rights to everything you post there. I paid an IP lawyer to review their rights statement and it’s the biggest abuse of power he’s ever seen and their statement that they need it so they can copy your stuff to other servers, etc, is a lie.

    August 14, 2019
    • Which is why I don’t use Patreon.

      August 14, 2019
      • I got an account on Mega.nz. I put the files up there, encrypted. I then put a link to that on Patreon and I send the key via a different source. I’m hoping that keeps me free of their games.
        I’m also slowly migrating to subscribe star.

        August 14, 2019
    • TRX #

      > (confession I wrote ‘mommy porn’ for a couple of years, it paid for my new car)

      You, Lawrence Block, Robert Silverberg, and a bunch of others who haven’t decloaked yet…

      Rates were low, but the publishers’ standards matched, and they’d take new material as fast as their house authors could send it in. One reason Silverberg’s SF output declined was he was sending in a new porno every two to three weeks.

      August 14, 2019
      • Whistles innocently.

        August 14, 2019
        • *confused cat head-tilt* Wait. I thought you were the one doing all the Time-Life™ remodeling books under a pen name. 😉

          August 14, 2019
    • John, you forgot the year that Kobo announced two days before closing the gates in December, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re shutting everything down for a major re-working so you can’t upload anything between Dec 12- Jan 9,” or something like that. Killed several planned indie holiday releases that I know of, because they also stopped projects in review, if memory serves. (I came in under the wire, barely.)

      August 14, 2019
      • Yup, only a really stupid person says ‘Hey!! Let’s close our retail store just before the BIGGEST shopping holiday in the world!’
        Which is why I don’t do business with Kobo.

        August 14, 2019
      • Mary #

        Such excellent judgment.

        August 14, 2019
    • One of my indicators for determining whether Amazon has gone “wonky” is if they remove “porn” from their site. (Note: a lot of it is low quality. I read yours, John – skipping over the “juicy” parts, like my mother with her historical bodice-rippers – but that is because you have a plot to the rest of it. Nearly everything else I get about two pages in and it’s a Marty Stu with sex…)

      Why that as an indicator? Earlier this morning, I saw that Tumblr was sold to the people that provide this fine platform for our blogging (do I need a /sarc?) for somewhere between three and twenty million dollars. Yahoo paid 1.1 billion for them six years ago. Political bias games might do a platform in – but #metooing is just about certain suicide by social justice.

      August 15, 2019
      • Oops, missed a closing tag there. Although emphasis still works for what follows “billion.”

        August 15, 2019
  7. Birthday Girl #

    If someone puts together a project as Sarah describes, or close suchlike — not publishing right now, no because Amazon wouldn’t like that, but tech prepared behind the closed door to wheel out at a moment’s notice, including expanding database and server capacity on a quick ramp-up — and if this here group and that there group over at ATH judge it as worthy, I will invest in it. But you authorial folks need to have some way to judge/oversee it both technically and functionally for me to feel comfortable putting down my cold hard cash. I agree it is badly needed, yesterday.

    August 14, 2019
  8. PapaPat .Patterson #

    For the sake of my mental health and the future of a relationship with humanity, I’m going to pretend that you are absolutely mistaken about there being such a thing as ‘lactation porn,’ whether Henry VIII is involved or not.

    Now that I have THAT matter successfully expurgated, I have two observations:

    1. The government forced break-up of the Bell System was triggered by the fact that they required subscribers to buy their phones. If memory serves, the break-up action was triggered in the 1960’s, but didn’t come into play until the 1980’s. It took that long for the government was able to prove to itself that the Bell System was acting in restraint of free trade. Query: is the fact that Amazon is BY FAR the biggest influence on the system enough reason for them to be broken up? (Same question for Facebook, Google, and YouTube.)

    2. Does anyone else see this as having some of the same characteristics as child abuse? The parents are the only source of life-giving resources to the child; the parents provide not only food, shelter, clothing, but also love and comfort; the parents, on some basis which isn’t readily apparent to the child, dole out pain and deprivation; there is no one to turn to for help? Or, reaching out for what help IS available comes at too high a cost, because the abuser will still control their lives?

    BTW: since yesterday, Amazon reinstated ONE of my rejected reviews; they SAID they re-instated a second of my rejects, but the link returns a null value; no word yet on the review of the book with the short story with the naughty word in the title; and, they never seem to have heard of “Gangsta Boos.”

    Still amused.

    August 14, 2019
    • TRX #

      Otherwise known as Rule 34: If it exists, there is porn of it. If there isn’t, there will be.

      August 14, 2019
      • PapaPat .Patterson #

        Cannot believe I forgot about Rule 34!

        Okay, new item in the To-Do list: forget about Rule 34 again.

        August 14, 2019
        • Something that should also go on your Inverse Bucket List: never watch TV in a Japanese hotel room. The very first thing we saw on our first night in Japan was a pay-per-view ad for lactation porn.

          -j

          August 14, 2019
        • DGM #

          Rule 34 is a bit like The Game: if you’re thinking about it, you just lost.

          August 15, 2019
        • snelson134 #

          We also have Rule34a: “and it will have a gender identity complete with pronouns.”

          August 16, 2019
    • Query: is the fact that Amazon is BY FAR the biggest influence on the system enough reason for them to be broken up? (Same question for Facebook, Google, and YouTube.)

      No, being big isn’t illegal (and I’ll argue isn’t immoral), it’s when they start abusing their size that they can cross the line.

      Amazon’s actions on e-books are close to the line (I could see the exclusivity requirements for KU being across the line) but I don’t see any actions being taken against Amazon in the near future, simply because everyone opposing them is being so utterly stupid.

      Their Most Favored Nation clauses are arguably anti-competitive, but as long as every one of their competitors does the same thing, they can successfully argue that it’s just industry practice (and with justification, argue that it’s to protect customers against sellers singling them out with higher prices)

      August 15, 2019
      • Actually being big is illegal in the US. Once you control too much of the market you’re a monopoly and federal regulation kicks in. This is why Bill Gates / Microsoft bailed out Apple long ago. They didn’t want to be declared a monopoly and regulated.

        Amazon passed that point years ago. They are now legally a monopoly. But they were heavy donors to the previous administration, just like google, just like facebook, so the regulators were told to look the other way. That’s why the current administration is looking into breaking up all three companies – because they’re violating the law.

        August 15, 2019
  9. I would certainly buy ebooks from the Mad Genius Book Selling Widget a lot faster than I do from Amazon. I think I own maybe two Kindle books of things I couldn’t get in paperback, the rest are E-Arcs from Baen. The Baen purchase thing is dorky as hell, but it does work after a bit of fiddling.

    Currently I own a Kobo e-ink reader I got from Chapters ages ago and gave to my mother, now I have it back because she doesn’t like it. Wants paper. Baen books go on the Kobo with the intervention of my PC and Caliber. Some assembly required, good thing I’m a smart boi.

    I supposed if I bought a Kindle all this would be suuuuper smooth and automated. However my Kindle Ap for Samsung Android sucks badly, the Apple one for iPad is no better.

    This phone I have is faster and has more RAM than my fricking PC did in 2010, I see no reason it should not perform as a book reader. But it doesn’t. Because no particular reason, the ap just sucks.

    Given ALL of that, Amazon is still my best/only hope for publishing, staffed by Leftist hipster dickweeds though it may be.

    Maybe some Genius (who isn’t Sarah because she’s busy) ought to get pounding on the Mad Genius Club Book Selling Widget, just in case Something Bad might happen. WIX apparently has some pretty easy e-commerce setups.

    August 14, 2019
    • Watch and buy a kindle paperwhite when it’s $45. It’s WAY easier, and truly they don’t suck worse than anyone else.
      MGC can’t have a selling app because most of us are on KUL. We can have a “send you stuff” as in “Today I worked some more on deep pink — have it.” Or “here’s the short story I wrote this week” on subscription.

      August 14, 2019
    • TRX #

      Sorta makes you wonder why, say, Romance Writers of America, or Science Fiction Writers of America, doesn’t maintain a storefront and an app for their members, so their readers would buy, maybe not their current tradpub offerings, but at least their released backlists.

      I don’t know how RWA operates, but the answer to SFWA would be “the organization does not exist to further the financial success of its members who are actually writers.”

      August 14, 2019
      • Heck, that’d be a great fundraiser for the company– have a “buy from our members!” link to Amazon, or whoever will give the most “points”.

        August 15, 2019
  10. Holly #

    Make it easy and clear to readers “here is where to drop your email/snailmail to receive emails/letters in event that current ebook retailers become unavailable”?

    Then keep a just in case file. You’ll miss a lot of fans who don’t go hunting down authors, but having 5000 who would be happy to get a mailing in the event that current sources are no longer available might be a good start, and they’d be the rabid fans, the ones who never shut up about your books to their friends.

    August 14, 2019
  11. A site focused on nothing but the written word (and maybe audiobooks) would be awesome to see. And any authors signing on should agree to allow customers who own a version of their book on the ‘Zon to get a copy on the new site for free (with proof of purchase, of course). That would certainly draw a crowd quickly. The whole thing could be modeled after the (restored) Great Library of Alexandria. http://www.ptolemy.com is available. 🙂

    August 14, 2019
  12. TRX #

    > This is like people panicking that Amazon “reached into their kindle”

    That was because they had no freaking clue that Amazon could “take back” something they’d paid for and downloaded. And Amazon did it it one of the most ham-handed ways possible, which made people even angrier. And then essentially blew off complaints with what translated to “whatever.”

    As far as I know there was nothing that Amazon had ever said in public, or even buried in their service agreement, that indicated they could do such a thing. Though they did actually mention that the Kindle spies on you, though apparently nobody was concerned about that…

    August 14, 2019
    • Well, no – it is in the service agreement. Ebooks are licensed to you, not sold to you. This is because they followed the “industry standard” practice for “electronic files” – which have always been a license. (Technically, Microsoft or Apple could waltz in tomorrow and take away your operating system.)

      The reasons for this behavior are mostly rooted in legal things. A “license” for software avoids many of the provisions in commercial codes (the UCC here in the States) that address “fitness for purpose,” “implied warranties,” etc. Look at some of the fine print for things you used to get on disk – they warranty the disk (because it is a physical good, and therefore subject to the commercial codes), but not that the contents are good for anything.

      For ebooks, the practice of “licensing” also lets them avoid the pesky “first sale” rule of copyright law (something else that you see various dead tree writers and publishers whine about periodically).

      August 15, 2019
      • snelson134 #

        If you ever get a chance to read Dr Pournelle’s columns from the 80s and 90s (Adventures in Microland is one collection) describing how all that came about, do so.

        He had a catchphrase from that time period that still holds: “Users, Unite! It’s us they’re after.”

        August 15, 2019
    • snelson134 #

      “Though they did actually mention that the Kindle spies on you, though apparently nobody was concerned about that…”

      Somehow, I don’t remember the term spy being employed. It was much more euphemistic than that, and they waxed indignant if that term was used. You know, sort of like how the Democrats started hanging from the wall by their fingernails when AG Barr stripped away their obfuscations about what the Obama DOJ was doing to the Trump campaign.

      And that’s rather the point. People want to claim ToS violations are why Amazon is censoring people…. but that ToS isn’t treated like a contract; it’s a cloud of words that Amazon can change at will, without any notice to anyone; heck, unless you take screenshots daily you’ll never catch them at it.

      It’s the same behavior we’re seeing out of Google, Twitter, Facebook, PayPal, etc. And until the ToS is applied evenly and transparently to everyone, I don’t trust any of them.

      August 15, 2019
      • You’re given notice when it changes, and notice to accept it, Steve. I actually USE the place.
        And as for “spying” yes, they know the last page you read. It’s part of the features. WHAT ELSE DO YOU SUGGEST?
        And again, what do you suggest we use for publishing, instead of Amazon, which will get us, you know, actual money and not take arbitrary pets at us or our material?
        Crickets?

        August 16, 2019
        • snelson134 #

          Most of what I suggest involves making the process more transparent. Amazon wants to claim a TOS violation? They have to explain, clearly, exactly what the violation was. They also have to apply the same standards for a TOS violation to Lefty SJW that they do for Righty Trump supporter. And provide a clear process, as in who will do it, and time limits to get it done, for appeals.

          It isn’t in Amazon’s interest to do this, and since they are a de facto monopoly, they won’t. That’s what antitrust laws are for.

          PS: Yes, I’m slow responding to this. Sorry.

          August 18, 2019
  13. Matthew #

    c4c

    August 14, 2019
  14. What authors can do is support independent publishing. I publish with several very small presses–I think all of them are run out of spare bedrooms by sole proprietors who have a day job to pay the bills.

    I have hopes that one or more of them will grow to the point where they will be able to make their own platforms. This may be an unrealistic hope, but we’ll see.

    I do what I can to promote them, and I have also made a commitment not to compete directly with them. If somebody wants a “Misha Burnett Story” (and there are a few who do) then she or he has to go through one of my distributors. You can buy my work from Cirsova, or Milhaven, or Lagrange, or Storyhack, or a number of others, but you can’t get it directly from me.

    It’s not much, but it’s something that I can do to help out. Publishers make money by providing a product that the reading public wants. I don’t sell exclusively to any one small press (none of them have a schedule that would keep up with my output right now) but I do sell exclusively to small presses. Because I want them to grow into big presses.

    Honestly I think that the biggest challenge facing small presses struggling to grow is that their authors also sell directly to the public via Amazon. If the best indie authors would make a commitment to make their work available only through small publishers than in ten years we’d have a dozen Baen books out there and Amazon’s stranglehold would be broken.

    August 14, 2019
  15. I could just be incredibly sleep-deprived (multiple family/ friends in hospital at once can do that…) but it sounds like you want to set up a paid RSS feed of your daily work?

    Is RSS still a thing? Or much of a thing?

    August 14, 2019
  16. davidelang #

    building a storefront and making it scale is not hard, the big problems you are going to have are:

    1. the reading app, making it work across many different devices, screen sizes, versions, etc
    2. the search/recommendation capability (see the comments about Kobo above)
    3. discoverability, how do you get enough people to start using your service to get the word of mouth out so that others find it
    3a. exclusivity requirements from other stores (including Amazon)
    4. DRM/security. This is HARD to do right, and done badly you lock out your legitimate users (or annoy them badly enough that they turn to piracy because it’s easier). I think most Indies are getting to the point where they aren’t caring as much about this, but if you want to have publishers join in, many of them still demand it.

    I have dreams that anti-trust enforcement against Amazon on e-books would consist of requiring them to open up to allow other devices/apps to work with their store and require their devices/apps to work with other stores (and remove exclusivity requirement). But I really doubt that any actions that end up being taken will be this mild, and so the unintended consequences from whatever happens will probably be as painful (in the short term) as Amazon’s behavior

    August 15, 2019
    • PapaPat .Patterson #

      In yer spare time, I think you might have fun taking your last paragraph, which starts “I have dreams,” and drop those words into the framework of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. Do it powerfully enough, and you’ll create a rallying point for indies, intellectual property holders, small house publishers, and readers who consume books in mass quantities.

      Go for it: the huddled masses are yearning to breath free!

      August 15, 2019
      • davidelang #

        while I do have a few technical articles published, I’m not really a writer, but I would love it if someone else were to run with the idea.

        August 15, 2019
  17. I don’t think anyone has yet mentioned the “channel capture” effect, which is probably our #1 online problem. It’s about more than selling ebooks. Facebook exists because everybody is on it. People who leave FB to go to Facebook-like startups lose the ability to interact with a certain (probably large) number of people they had always taken for granted as just being there. If you want to interact with everybody you care about, FB is the only game in town. In a similar way, Amazon captured the online retail channel. EBay exists to sell the stuff (mostly used and REALLY obscure junk) that Amazon doesn’t sell. After EBay it’s rounding errors all the way down.

    It’s this simple: Almost nobody looks for ebooks anywhere but on Amazon. Those who do are fanatics or odds like us, who fear they may be missing something. (Alas, we usually aren’t.) But we are a vanishingly small minority of online shoppers, for books or almost anything else. Even if we created an independent system for discovering and selling ebooks, it’s unlikely that anybody but the odd lots would care, or bother to even take a look at it. Nor is it likely that any significant percentage of indie authors would take part, mostly due to the sort of exclusive deals that Amazon demands. I’ve written a fair number of blog posts about this, going back to 2005 or so. I call such a system a “digital gumball machine.” It wouldn’t be impossible to develop, but I’m far from sure that it would catch on with enough content creators to make it worth the effort.

    August 15, 2019
    • davidelang #

      I think the term you are looking for is the ‘network effect’ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Network_effect

      getting interoperability between apps and stores so that you don’t have the 1:1 relationship between the store and the app/devices able to access it would go a long way towards fixing this.

      There are multiple stores, but the inability to shop across them or easily compare across them really drives the network effect problem

      August 15, 2019

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