Archive for September, 2009

Flash! Sony adds store for self-publishers

September 30, 2009

One of the most important elements of Amazon’s commitment to e-books (at least as far as I’m concerned) has been the Digital Text Platform (DTP).  That allows people to self-publish for the Kindle store. 

There have been other places to self-publish, but being in the Amazon store?  That’s a real opportunity.

The books aren’t all the same quality, of course, but there are some great works there…including ones by authors who have been successful in paperbook editions.

Now, Sony, which is looking to reinvigorate its e-book reader presence with a new model with wireless book downloads, has announced a similar self-publishing system.

They are partnering with both Smashwords and Author Solutions

I was made aware of this with this article.

This is Sony’s press release.

Things keep getting more and more interesting.  :)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Going Rogu

September 30, 2009

I’ll bet you thought that was a typo, right?

Well, Going Rogue is the new tentative title of Sarah Palin’s book, due November 17, 2009 from Harper.

So, why did I spell it “Rogu” in the title of the post?  Because they aren’t going to have an “e” book release at the same time as the hardback.  Get it?  No “e”…oh well, I thought it was funny ;)

The subject, though, is pretty serious.  When publishers release a book, they are having to decide between a simultaneous or staggered release with their paperbooks (p-books) and e-books. 

They understand p-book sales pretty well, although it’s a lot like the movies: you never know for sure.  It’s really important to be able to make a good guess: you don’t want to have too few books (people may buy something else instead), and you don’t want to have too many.  Publishers typically “guarantee” retailers that p-books will sell: if they don’t, they may have a “buy back” plan (usually with credit for future purchases).  At least, that’s how it worked when I was managing a bookstore.

So, along come e-books.  That’s a new factor, and one that is growing in significance.  The publishers don’t quite know how to factor that into how many p-books to print.

Oh, I’m pretty sure they make more money on each e-book versus each p-book.  After all, e-books cost less to produce and distribute, although they may pay a higher royalty on an e-book.That might make it seem pretty simple: “If we sell an e-book instead of a p-book, that’s better, right?”  However, it’s more complicated than that.

Let’s say a publisher puts out a book.  They set the paper “suggested retail price” at $25 and the Digital List Price (DLP) also at $25.  That’s common, by the way…I think increasingly so over, say, a year ago.

They probably get $12.50 from Amazon for either a copy or a download…that would be a normal retail mark-up.

Note that the publisher gets the same amount, regardless of the price Amazon sets for it at the retail level.

So, wouldn’t it be to the publisher’s advantage if everybody bought e-books instead of hardbacks? 

Absolutely!  Assuming prices stayed the same, you bet!  No printing, no shipping, no warehouses…party!

However, it’s going to be a long time before that happens.  While e-book sales are growing rapidly (especially at Amazon), they probably won’t be ten percent of the overall publishing market by the end of the year.

Even if you make twice as much profit on ten percent of your market, you don’t want to jeopardize the ninety percent.

If selling e-books helps the publishers, how does it hurt them?

Price Perception

This is a huge factor.  If somebody sees an ad for a book at $9.99, they don’t want to pay $15 for it.  They may not even want to pay $15 for other books.  A lot of people are not going to notice it’s an e-book versus a p-book.

The publishers are worried about people who see the price and don’t buy either version.  The p-book customer may decide to wait for the paperback, or may just buy something else. 

If the only choice is a hardback at $15…that’s status quo, it’s what people expect.

Bestseller Rankings

Movie studios aren’t the only ones who worry about opening days.  Sales beget sales.  Being the number one bestseller is great publicity. 

Rankings can be pretty narrowly divided.  Losing ten percent of your sales might make the difference between number one and number two…and that can snowball.

In an earlier article, I wrote that the biggest book of the year got a simultaneous release…and did well.  It actually sold more (initially) in e-books than in p-books, but was still number one in p-book.  Amazon may have been able to convince them (or they may have just decided it themselves) that they would be number one even if the e-book siphoned off some sales.  That meant lower risk in doing it…and they probably benefitted significantly by having huge e-book sales.

What happens in the future?

As e-book sales become a larger part of the market, it will become less about protecting the p-book sales.  That’s not going to happen right away, though.

It’s up in the air in the near future. 

  • Recently, True Compass (the Ted Kennedy memoir) got a staggered release, as I wrote about in this earlier article
  • The Sarah Palin book will get a staggered release, according to this Charlotte Observer article.  Harper spokesperson Tina Andreadis says they want to “…maximize hardcover sales over the holidays”
  • The release of Stephen King’s next book, Under the Dome, is considered another major test for staggered versus simultaneous

UPDATE: Christian Science Monitor on the staggered release of the Palin book here.

If you want a simultaneous release, what can you do?

You can try writing to the publishers…they do take that into account (although it’s much easier to write to companies than it used to be, so each individual contact has less weight.

You can contact Harper, the publisher of the Sarah Palin book, here:

orders@harpercollins.com

You can contact Scribner, the publisher of the Stephen King book, here:

Consumer.CustomerService@simonandschuster.com 

It’s one of the rules of project management: you have more opportunity to affect a project earlier in the process.  If you want to mold the future of e-books, take action now.

Thanks to Amazon Kindle Community forum member R. Chilson for alerting me to the Charlotte Observer article.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Going API

September 29, 2009

Amazon has stuff.  A lot of stuff. 

They also have a lot of information about that stuff. 

Amazon also lets people sell their stuff.  You can do it, if you want.  You just sign up here:

Amazon Associates Program

So, Amazon lets people use something called an API (Application Programming Interface) to find things at Amazon and put them on their own websites to sell.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people found other ways to use it.  They might have used it to pull up a picture and a description of a book, and then offered it for sale through competitors (hypothetically).   They might have just used it to find information, with no intent of selling the item at all.

Recently, Amazon made some changes to the program. 

They changed the name of it, but they also starting requiring that it make “signed requests” as of August 15, 2009.

One of the impacts of this is that people who downloaded something that used the API probably couldn’t use it any more.  The downloaded version might not send the same “signature” that the website version might send.

Some pretty well-known sites used the API for at least some of their functions: Jungle-Search and Library Thing for two.

On September 17, in a Library Thing blog post, that said:

“Amazon is requiring all websites, as a condition of getting any data from them, to have the primary page link to Amazon alone. Links to other booksellers are prohibited. Secondary pages—pages you go to from the primary page—can have non-Amazon links.”

Some people have questioned whether that is fair or not.   Amazon has no obligation to share their software.  Undoubtedly, there are some costs involved (interactions with the users, for example).  While the new policy may make some things more difficult for some consumers who use those third party sites and services, I think Amazon is within their rights to do that.

If you want so see what Amazon says about the change, it is here:

https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/advertising/api/detail/faq.html

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

If you give a Kindle a cookie…

September 28, 2009

Here’s a little trouble-shooting thing I just ran into today.

I’d sent a .pdf file for conversion to my Kindle 2‘s free account.  I do that a lot: I teach classes, and I like to put the curricula on my K2.  For one thing, I can have my Kindle read it to me in the car on the way to the class, just to refresh my memory if I haven’t taught it in awhile.

Yesterday, I had a class.  I shot the file out to Amazon, like I usually do, and (again, as usual), I got the conversion back in a minute or so.

When you send it to the free e-mail address for your Kindle, you get an e-mail back in your regular e-mail with a link.  When you click on that link, it normally asks you where you want to save it.

Instead of doing that, it took me to a log-in screen, like you would see when you went to log into your account. 

It was a little weird, because it already thought I was logged into my account.  I could tell, because it was saying, “Hello, Bufo…” at the top of the screen.

My e-mail address was already entered, so I entered my password.  I got a typical Windows message box (telling me it was taking me in or out of a secure zone), and then put up the sign-in screen again.  It did not tell me that the credentials were wrong.

I entered it again…no luck.

I had to head off to the class, so I let it go.

Today, I was trying to download a file to my computer from my Manage Your Kindle page…and I got the same thing.

So, I contacted Amazon…I had them call me.  You can do that, too…start here:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/contact-us/kindle-help.html?ie=UTF8&nodeId=200316870&type=email&skip=true#csTop .

They called me within a minute: that’s pretty typical as well.

The helpful agent tried logging into my account (didn’t need my password, by the way), and didn’t have a problem.

I realized then that it was probably in my cookies.   I suggested that to the agent, and I cleared out my cookies (and files and history, while I was there). 

Everything was fine after that.

What’s a cookie?

It’s a small snack made of dough and cooked on a…no, wait a minute, that’s not right.  ;)

Have you ever noticed that when you go to some websites (like Amazon), it already knows who you are?  It might call you by name, and show you recommendations.  How does it do that?

Well, in the future it might happen through some kind of facial recognition, but right now, it’s much simpler.  You’ve been to the website before.  When you went there, the website put a small file on your computer.  That file identifies you to the website when you go back.  It can do quite a bit more than that, but that’s the main purpose.

Sometimes, the cookies can cause you a problem.  It acts as though it’s remembering a failed time you got there, instead of a successful time, and you can’t get back in.  It’s a little bit like you having a bad passport.  They won’t even ask you who you are if your passport is no good.

So, the trick is to get rid of the cookie, and start over.  That way, it will give you a chance to tell it who you are again.

With Internet Explorer,  you can usually do it in Tools-Internet Options-Delete Cookies (although it may look a bit different in different versions).  Other browsers have something similar.

Now, recognize that if you delete the cookies that way, you are going to delete all your cookies.  You may have to log back into sites that had been using your cookie as your credentials.

Does your Kindle have cookies?

Yes!  When you are in “browser mode” on your Kindle (you can get there by doing Home-Menu-Experimental-Basic Web), hit Menu-Settings.  If you are having trouble getting into a website, try clearing your cookies and your cache.  The cache is a stored version of websites…it makes them load more quickly, but again, I’ve found it may cause you difficulties.

So, if you are having trouble getting Kindle files to your computer, delete those files…after all, that’s the way the cookie crumbles.  ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Does blocking text-to-speech hurt sales?

September 27, 2009

I’m not happy with this post.

Oh, it’s not about the writing.  After all, I’ve only written eighteen words so far…make that twenty-four…twenty-five…drat!  ;)

It’s just that the facts didn’t come out the way I would have preferred.

I figured I would run a little analysis to see if blocking text-to-speech hurts sales.  I don’t buy them, and some people are boycotting Random House, the only publisher which has chosen to block it at this point.

My hypothesis: the average rank of a Kindle book (k-book) would be lower if text-to-speech was blocked.   I didn’t know if that was going to turn out to be true or not, but I wanted to test it.

I took the top twenty-five p-book (paperbook) bestsellers at Amazon that also had Kindle editions.  That list is updated every hour, so it’s pretty volatile. 

I had to get down to the 38th p-book seller before I had 25 that were also available in k-book.  The story would have been very different if I looked at New York Times bestsellers, of course.

Interestingly, some of them had much worse rankings as k-books.  The #38 p-book seller was #1215 in k-book.  Part of that is all the free and low-cost books on the k-book bestseller list.  The average rank of the p-books was 19: it was 140 in k-book.

Before we get down to the headline question, let’s talk price a bit.

Amazon discounts books…a lot.  I’m comparing here the Amazon prices.  If you bought all 25 books in p-book, it would cost you $321.77.  If you bought the same 25 books in k-book, it would cost you $251.64.

That’s a savings of $76.13.

Average price for p-book: $13.66.  Average price in k-book: $10.49.  That’s an average savings of $3.17 a book.

The prices in p-book ranged from $6.59 to $17.97.  The k-book prices: $6.59 to $16.50.

One Kindle book cost more than its paper equivalent (by seventy cents).  Four cost the same, and twenty were cheaper (savings ranged from twenty-three cents to $6.80).

Generally, k-books are cheaper than p-books (for the top 25 p-books that also have k-books), but not absolutely always.

Now, on to text-to-speech.   There are a number of factors at work here.  Random House (including its imprints) is the only publisher blocking text-to-speech, and they are one of the big dogs.  However, I’m not using that as an excuse: if a boycott was really being effective, I’d still expect to see an impact. 

Here’s the figure:

Average rank of books with text-to-speech blocked: 81

Average rank of books without text-to-speech blocked: 190

So, books with text-to-speech blocked did much better than books without it blocked.

Of course, there is no way to tell how many more they might have sold without it blocked.  They could even have sold fewer.

It’s a small sample.  It doesn’t isolate the variables. 

However, I’m not only going to write about things that help what I want. 

My guess is that it’s still bad business in the long run to block text-to-speech…but that wasn’t apparent when I did this analysis.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Make a wish list and blow out the Kindles

September 26, 2009

I really like giving gifts.  It’s great fun to come up with a great idea and surprise somebody.

However, it can be tough.  Amazon knows that: they let you set up gift lists so other people can get things for you…and/or get an idea of the kinds of things somebody likes.

Usually on Amazon, it’s easy: there is a little button that says “Add to Wish List”. 

Kindle books, though, don’t have that button.  So, one of the Frequently Asked Kindle Questions has been, “how do you add a Kindle book to your wish list?”

There are three main ways to go…sort of like three wishes, but three ways to a wish list instead.  :)

1. See all X customer reviews…

If a Kindle book has a review, you’ll see a link that says “See all x customer reviews…”  If you click that, you’ll see the normal Add to Wish List button.

Although you can add it to your list, no one else can buy it for you yet.  The good news is that Amazon says:

 While gifting is not yet offered in the Kindle store, we are working to make it available in the near future..

That’s only shown up fairly recently, so hopefully, they are working on it for this holiday gift-giving season.

2. Use the Universal Wish List button

This is a cool feature Amazon has.  You can get add pretty much anything to your wish list…even from sites other than Amazon!  I tested that by adding something from one of my favorite gift sites, Think Geek. It was easy!

What happens is that you get the “button” from here:

http://www.amazon.com/wishlist/get-button/ref=cm_wl-item

What you are really doing is saving it to your browser favorites.  If you are using Internet Explorer and you put it on your Links toolbar (and you have that showing), you’ll see it as a button on that toolbar.

All you have to do then is click it when you are on a product page…a Kindle book, or something else somewhere else.   If you have more than one wish list, it will ask you which one.

Of course, Amazon isn’t going to take the money for those other websites.   The item appears on your wish list with a link people can click on to go to the other website.  If it’s a Kindle book, it’s the same situation as above…they are working on it.

3. Save for later

A lot of people use the wish list just as a way to save something for later.  They’ll buy it themselves…maybe with an Amazon gift card/certificate that is a gift.

When you are shopping in the Kindle store from your Kindle, there is a link to Save for later.    You get back to that list (from your Kindle) by being in the Kindle store and hitting Menu.

That list is not available when you are shopping from your computer.

If other people have access to your account, they can, of course, buy things and send them to your Kindle specifically.

UPDATE: Exporting your gift list

I love it when somebody asks a question I’ve never seen before…and I can answer it.  :)

The question came up in the Amazon Kindle forum about exporting your Amazon wish list, to something like Excel.  The trick is to set your wish list to view to “compact” instead of “normal”.  You’ll see something much more like a spreadsheet…you can also remove several things at once, which is easier.

Next, copy and paste it into Excel.  You’ll get a question about paste options…you probably want to “match destination” so it looks like text and fits nicely in the spreadsheet.  You could then send that to other people.

I was asked about importing the list into reading management software, like Shelfari.  You can do it for that one…not too surprising, since it is owned by Amazon as well.  Go to the FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions).  Click on Help, choose Adding & Removing books…you’ll see the instructions.

Why isn’t it like paperbooks?

I think there are a couple of reasons it wasn’t set up the same way.  One thing is that not everybody is going to want somebody else sending something to their Kindles.  If gives them access to your account, in a sense…and once something is on your Kindle from the Kindle store, currently, you can’t generally erase it so its as if it never existed.   Of course, if they are only going from your gift list, it should be something you wanted, though.

The other problem is the fact that it is pretty much instantaneous, if the Kindle has Whispernet (the Kindle’s wireless internet) connection.  I’m thinking they may be working on a “deliver on” option.  Otherwise, you have to shop on somebody’s birthday (actually during the party) or they will see it before the big event.

I’m hoping Amazon gets a “give a Kindle book” function working in the next couple of months.  ‘Tis better to give than to receive…and e-giving would be even cooler.  ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

If e-books were first…

September 25, 2009

Eric: “Hey, Paul, what’s that?”
Paul: “It’s the latest thing. It’s a paper book.”
Eric: (showing his Kindle to Paul and imitating Crocodile Dundee) “That’s not a book. This is a book.”
Paul: “Ess-atch-atch-atch. Very funny.”
Eric: “So, what do you have on there?”
Paul: “I’m reading The Stand.”
Eric: “What else?”
Paul: “That’s it.  It’s just the one book.”
Eric: “Is it frozen? Did you call Customer Service?”
Paul: “No, it’s supposed to be like that.”
Eric: “What happens when you want to read something else?”
Paul: “You buy another one.”
Eric: “What a rip-off!  What did it cost?”
Paul: “Twenty-four dollars.”
Eric: “Twenty-four dollars?! I’ve never paid that much for a book! Why does it cost so much?’
Paul: “Well, it’s made out of paper.”
Eric: “What’s paper?”
Paul: “I don’t know exactly.  It comes from trees.”
Eric: “Trees? Like, it’s a leaf or something?”
Paul: “I don’t think so.  I think they mash the trees up or something.”
Eric: “Gross.  Is it sticky?”
Paul: “No, not really.”
Eric: “Where do they get the trees?”
Paul: “I don’t know.”
Eric: “Let me see it.  Whoa, this thing is frickin’ heavy!  How do you hold it?”
Paul: “You get used to it. They sell stands and stuff for them.”
Eric: “Where are you going to keep it?”
Paul: “Well, I don’t really know. They sell shelves for them.”
Eric: “You’re not putting those things in the apartment!  It’s bad enough I’ve got to live with my brother, but you’re taking up enough room with those…what do you call them, BVDs?”
Paul: “Those are antiques.”
Eric: “Yeah, whatever.  So, I’ve always wanted to read this.  Make it bigger.”
Paul: “You can’t.”
Eric: “What do you mean, you can’t? Just push the button.”
Paul: “No buttons.  That’s what size the letters are.”
Eric: “That’s discriminatory! How am I supposed to read those little things?”
Paul: “They sell ones with bigger text. I saw this one for thirty-five bucks.”
Eric: “Well, that’s sold me…”
Paul: “They’re expensive. They don’t need that many people to buy them.”
Eric: “Definitely a niche product.  It still doesn’t seem fair.  I’ll tell you what: shoot me a copy and I’ll read it on my Kindle.”
Paul: “I can’t do that.  I’m not allowed to send it to anybody.”
Eric: “But we’re on the same account!”
Paul: “That doesn’t matter.  I only get one license.  I can sell this one to somebody else, though.”
Eric: “Good luck with that.”
Paul: “Ha, ha.  Hey, you got mustard on the page!”
Eric: “So what? Hit Alt+G.”
Paul: “I can’t, man. You messed it up permanently.”
Eric: “Call Customer Service.  Maybe they’ll send you another one or reset it or something.”
Paul: “Can’t. Once I buy it, they don’t service it.”
Eric: “This is never going to catch on.”
Paul: “I know.  I just love gadgets…”

A version of this post originally appeared in the Amazon Kindle forum on April 17, 2009 here.  It subsequently appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Bestsellers: Genre Check September 2009

September 24, 2009

Ever wonder what people are reading on their Kindles?

Well, I decided to take a look. 

Don’t worry, I wasn’t looking over your shoulder or hacking the Whispernet.  :)

I took a look at the fifty top bestsellers in the Kindle store.  Well, not exactly: I did set the minimum price at a penny.

There’s actually quite a bit of controversy about including or excluding free books on the bestseller list.   There are people, especially independent authors, who think that a free book isn’t sold (but basically given away), so it shouldn’t take spots away from a book for which people actually pay something.

Part of the controversy is that independent authors and small publishers who use Amazon’s Digital Text Platform (DTP) can’t set their prices at zero.  But, more on the differences in another post.  :)

Bestseller Genres

Bestseller Genres

The most popular genre by far is the classics, with 44% of the top fifty.

It’s possible that percentage will reduce in the future.  There are eighteen versions of Pride and Prejudice in the top fifty. 

There are also three versions of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes.

Both of those are also available free, but people are paying for all these “different versions”.  I say “different” in quotation marks, because it’s possible some of these are exactly the same.

 

Next, there is a set of genres with 8 percent each:

Thrillers, Literary Fiction, and Politics & Current Events. 

The next group is Children’s Books, with six percent.   I’m not quite sure I would classify the Twilight series as “children’s chapter books”.  That seemed like the best category, looking at my options (out of the ones listed at Amazon).  A lot of science fiction and fantasy used to be called children’s fiction…looks like that might still be true.

The four percenters are Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction, and Memoirs.

Everybody else is two percent: Religion & Spirituality, Religious Fiction, Relationships, Business & Investing, Sports, Humor, & Science.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Why I’m not writing about the biggest e-book of the year

September 23, 2009

There’s a huge story out there right now.   A major book, from a major author and a major publisher, has sold more copies at Amazon as a Kindle book than as a hardback.

It’s a watershed moment.  It’s likely to change perceptions in the publishing industry and the media that cover it.  The release date of that book is the day we can say that e-books had arrived.

Amazon clearly worked to persuade the publisher to release it in e-book and p-book (paperbook) simultaneously.   They apparently failed in that attempt with with Twelve, the publisher of Ted Kennedy’s memoir, True Compass.   Speculation is already underway about Stephen King’s Under the Dome from Scribner’s: simultaneous release or staggered?

The current megarelease is more than five dollars cheaper in e-book than in p-book, but that’s not a discouragement for the publisher.  The publisher’s list price for the hardback and Digital List Price are the same ($29.95).  In both cases, Amazon is probably paying the publisher $14.98 for each copy/download.   In the case of the hardback, Amazon is probably making a bit of direct money.  In the case of the e-book, Amazon is probably losing direct money on each sale…but making it up in other ways (like publicity for e-books and the Kindle).

So, why am I not writing about this unprecedentedly successful book?

It’s published by Random House. 

RH is one of the largest publishers in the world, with many imprints.  I own many of their books, and count some of the authors published by RH as among my favorites.

Unfortunately, Random House has made a corporate decision with which I disagree.  They have chosen to block the otherwise available text-to-speech capabilities of the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX.

This decision disproportionately affects the disabled.   For that reason, I’m not comfortable giving them my money or encouraging others to do the same.

I do think this is a very individual decision with a lot of complications.  I don’t hold it against anybody who chooses to buy Random House products.

I’ll write more about the issue in later posts, but now you know why I haven’t mentioned it before. I debated with myself whether or not to even explain it, but I thought some of you would appreciate knowing.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Flash: APA on citing a Kindle edition!

September 22, 2009

Amazon Kindle Community member “Batman Jr.” posted that the APA (American Psychological Association) has provided sample citations for citing a Kindle edition!

This is big news: people have been asking about this for a long time.  There are a few standard sources for what is an acceptable citation, and the APA is one of them.  On September 15, 2009, they addressed the issue in their blog here: http://blog.apastyle.org/apastyle/2009/09/how-do-i-cite-a-kindle.html.

I still don’t see anything from the MLA (Modern Language Association), but they will hopefully follow suit.

Thanks, Batman Jr.!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


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