Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Copyright law: inherently unequal?

October 11, 2014

Copyright law: inherently unequal?

Copyright law matters to you as a reader.

It has a huge effect on what is available to you.

Books that are not under copyright protection, that are in the “public domain” (owned by the public), are often available free as e-books. No one needs to be paid for the rights to publish those, and with the advent of e-books (and in particular, the exemplary and valuable work of Project Gutenberg), an effort has been made to take advantage of the low costs of production and distribution to let readers read them.

For books under copyright protection, it is that law which largely makes it possible for authors to make a living as writers.

By setting the rules under which books can be reproduced, the government creates a structure of compensation.

Certainly, it is possible to distribute works without regard to copyright, and to simply ask for people to pay for them, if they want. It is a stretch to see that generating the kinds of income we see through licensing of works, though. You could also have individual contracts to allow the reading of the books, but that would be unduly cumbersome.

So, copyright is important: and the fairness of the ability to use that copyright to make money from your intellectual property is important.

In the USA (and in many other countries), that opportunity is unequal.

Why?

The copyright terms are based on the life of the author plus a certain number of years (in the USA, it’s Life+70).

The intent here, presumably, is that the author and the author’s children (if any) can benefit from the creation of the book…and after that, the government removes their right to control the work, and it falls into the public domain (effectively eliminating its value as a way to generate income).

I’ve wondered before if the idea of a copyright term like that is a good idea in and of itself. See what is perhaps my most controversial post:

Should copyright be permanent?

There are those who simply don’t believe in copyright…if you create something, they argue that the society should have unencumbered (and uncompensated) access to it. I assume they also think it is okay to go into a stranger’s house and eat the food in their refrigerator, or to drive away with someone else’s car without their permission. ;)

Let’s leave off the extremes of permanent copyright and no copyright, and just look at the issue of Life+a certain number of years: what’s wrong with that?

You want to know what’s wrong with that? Mortality.

Suppose a fifty year old writes and publishes a book. Let’s just say that, on average, that book is going to generate royalties of a thousand dollars a year.

We’ll further say that the author can be expected to live to be age 100.

That book will generate $120,000 for the creator and the estate: one thousand dollars each year of the author’s remaining life,then a thousand dollars a years for each of the subsequent seventy years.

Now let’s do that math with a twenty year old author.

Again, assuming they live to be 100, there are eighty+seventy years of copyright protection: that’s a lifetime value of $150,000. That’s $30,000  (25%) more.

Given the statistical probabilities of life expectancy, the older author won’t earn as much as the younger author for the same thing…and that’s unequal protection under the law, and should be illegal under the Constitution.

The “equal protection” of the Fourteenth Amendment actually only applies to the states, as I understand it, but in Bolling v. Sharpe, the Supreme Court basically said the Federal government shouldn’t have a lesser responsibility than the states, and so “equal protection” is sort of covered by “due process”. I’m not a lawyer, but that’s how I read it.

I’m surprised this hasn’t been successfully legally challenged, but given that Life+x years is a widely used copyright term in other countries as well, I assume there are treaties involved. That complicates things.

I also don’t like Life+, because it makes it much harder to figure out when something goes into the public domain! Just knowing when something was first published in the USA doesn’t do it (if the publication is after 1977), since you have to know when the last surviving author died. For famous authors, that’s not that hard to find…but not all authors are famous. With something like half a million independently published books a year now (I’ve seen that estimate), it’s going to be very difficult to figure out.

You often don’t even know the author’s real name…there is no requirement that they put that on a published work, and copyright exists even without registration (although it’s more difficult to go after infringers if you don’t register it).

Do I think a challenge to the Supreme Court could change Life+ to a finite term? I do think it could be successful, but I really don’t expect it to happen.

We will simply continue to institutionally disadvantage older authors as a group.

That is, unless there is really major overhaul of copyright, which I would like to see.

I still find the idea of permanent copyright, in exchange for greater Fair Use provisions, to be an intriguing idea. I’m not advocating for it, and it doesn’t seem to be what copyright was intended to do (the Constitution specifically calls for “limited times”), but things have massively changed in terms of content consumption in the past couple of hundred years.

The market value of Sherlock Holmes is arguably much bigger now than it was when the copyright term first expired, for example. One could argue that that is in part due to it having gone into the public domain (for the most part…some of the original stories are still under copyright in some parts of the world), allowing for more experimentation with the character (and perhaps more nimbly adapting to changing audience tastes).

I also have people say that they don’t like that it would be corporations owning the rights a hundred years after the author died, not the author and their descendants.

That point, though, may be changing. As independent publishing becomes increasingly viable, more authors will retain their rights…and could have something to pass on to generations of descendants.

The other argument I get from people is about “cultural ownership”. Shouldn’t Shakespeare and Mark Twain’s works belong to everybody equally? I’m not quite sure why. If you can take the rights away from the family 100 years after it was written, why not 99? Then why not fifty? Then why not after one week? I just haven’t quite understood the logic of that, and I’d be happy to have someone explain it to me. :)

What do you think? Is the copyright concept of Life+ unfair? It doesn’t matter how old you, the rule is the same…it’s just that we know that, statistically, the result won’t be: is that okay? Copyright terms have continued to get longer since they were introduced (in the USA) at fourteen years, renewable once (if the author was still alive…not a certainty, given life expectancy in the 1700s, and the age at which someone might publish back then)…do you think that will continue to be the case? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

 

Kindle Voyage ad: Bezos=Nemo?

September 27, 2014

Kindle Voyage ad: Bezos=Nemo?

Amazon has posted a new

ad on YouTube

for the

Kindle Voyage (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

their upcoming (in pre-orders now) top of the line EBR (E-Book Reader).

I like the ad: it’s slick, and is all about the product. They don’t type their customers demographically (which they’ve done in the past…early Kindle ads were often filled with young people) or knock down their competition (as they did with the “pool ad”).

It’s what I want an ad for a Kindle to be, in many ways…touting the reading, and what reading does for you, as well as pointing out a few of the technological things.

They show some text from a book in it, and I recognized it: it’s from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne.

Interestingly, that got me thinking.

Some people point to Captain Nemo as a James Bond type super villain…type “megalomaniacal” and “Nemo” into a search engine, and you’ll find several definitions of the character.

However, there is an argument to be made that although Nemo was a brilliant thinker, working outside the box, using new technology…the ardent environmentalist took a wrong turn into violence, but was trying to do good in the world.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is a brilliant thinker working outside the box, using new technology, and I believe, trying to do good in the world.

Has the CEO made that wrong turn into harming others as a means to an end? You’ll certainly find people who think so.

That’s why I found that book an…intriguing choice.

I’m unconvinced, though, that Amazon thinks that carefully about what associations people will make. When they named the Kindle the “Kindle” originally, they appear not to have anticipated the association people would make between “kindling” and burning books…that used to be something I’d see on the internet.

Without spoiling 20,000 Leagues (I think there is no statute of limitations on spoilers…a ten-year old reading it for the first time today deserves the same joy of discovery today as they did a hundred years ago), I want to put a couple of quotations here, and let you consider their possible connection (at least metaphorically) to Amazon.

Here’s one that I think points up how some people see Amazon as a company…the fascination with it:

“In every place of great resort the monster was the fashion. They sang of it in the cafes, ridiculed it in the papers, and represented it on the stage. All kinds of stories were circulated regarding it. There appeared in the papers caricatures of every gigantic and imaginary creature, from the white whale, the terrible ‘Moby Dick’ of sub-arctic regions, to the immense kraken, whose tentacles could entangle a ship of five hundred tons and hurry it into the abyss of the ocean. The legends of ancient times were even revived.”

Legends of ancient times…like the Amazon warriors, perhaps? ;)

As to Jeff, there is this riposte from Captain Nemo…is it that hard to imagine Jeff Bezos reacting similarly if someone in a meeting said, “But real business people don’t do it that way”?

“I’m not what you term a civilized man! I’ve severed all ties with society, for reasons that I alone have the right to appreciate. Therefore I obey none of its regulations, and I insist that you never invoke them in front of me!”

I do think Amazon, while undeniably imperfect, has brought a tremendous amount of good to the world. I’m a former brick and mortar bookstore manager, and a very minor author (although this blog is reasonably popular), and I think the book industry needed to be shaken up. I think that Amazon has made it so more books are available more easily to more people, and that is a good thing.

So, does Bezos=Nemo? Certainly not…but there a few similarities. ;)

What do you think? Am I underplaying Amazon’s negatives? Strikes in Germany, open letters against them by famous authors, complaints from small publishers…are these legitimate responses to ruthless policies? On the other hand, has the way that Amazon has enabled authors to bypass the tradpubs (traditional publishers) and make a living writing been a great benefit to readers? Would you compare Jeff Bezos to some other literary character or historical person? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Harry Potter and the Tolerance of Others

September 14, 2014

Harry Potter and the Tolerance of Others

“Politicians should read science fiction, not westerns and detective stories.”
–Arthur C. Clarke

I’ve said many times here that I think people who are readers tend to be more understanding of viewpoints other than their own.

I’ve also said that I like to see the data. ;)

There has now been a study (more than one, actually) published in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jasp.12279/full

that specifically tested the concept.

I need to say first that I have not read the actual study: it’s $35 at the above link. I have read several articles about it, though, and I think I can fairly give you an idea of it and my opinion of what it means.

I think two of the more interesting pieces about it were in

Scientific American

and

The Mary Sue

Based on those, the studies, conducted by Loris Vezzali, Sofia Stathi, Dino Giovannini, Dora Capozza and Elena Trifiletti, established real world prejudice baselines in a group of students, then had some of them read passages of the Harry Potter series (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*) that had to do with intolerance, and others read more neutral passages. After retesting the students on the same tolerance question, those which had read the intolerance sections had their prejudice reduced.

One important suggestion is that the fact that the prejudices in Harry Potter were not real ones may have made them more effective.

In the real world, we don’t have a prejudice against “mud bloods”, those of mixed magical and “muggle” heritage.

It allows us to see it in a more abstract way.

Let’s suppose that you already have an intolerance for “x group” in the real world (a race, a sexual preference, a religion, a gender, a national origin, and so on). Reading a book that presents a negative attitude about that group might not be that impactful on you…because of emotional resonance. Even if the book presented the feeling as wrong, you might be empathetic with the characters who had that feeling. I’m not saying this is in the study specifically, by the way…we’ve moved into my interpretation of what I’ve read.

Without spoiling it, let’s take Captain Kirk’s reaction to the Gorn on the original Star Trek. The Gorn was a large, bipedal reptile-like alien. It’s easier for us to see Captain Kirk’s prejudice as being wrong, since we don’t come to the table with a pre-formed opinion of Gorns (although we may have feelings about reptiles).

If, on the other hand, we saw a non-fantasy show which portrayed a character of a particular ethnicity as stubborn, we might have a harder time seeing that as a stereotype. I know of more than one group that refers to itself as stubborn, and may do it proudly. It would be more difficult for us to recognize that idea as a pre-conception applied to an individual, if we had previously been exposed to that concept.

I’ve had an intuitive sense that reading makes people less prejudiced for a long time.

Part of my feeling on that was that reading requires you to develop a “theory of mind”…and of emotion. In order to understand fiction, you need to be able to put yourself into the position of the characters. I would guess that people with certain conditions which make it hard for them to recognize emotions in others may have a difficult time following what is happening in a scene.

If we recognize that Character A is mad at Character B, we anticipate that Character A will say things which express that anger. If Character A says, “I’m sure you are going to get exactly what you want,” we know that isn’t simply well-wishing. If Character B reacts negatively to that statement, we understand why. Someone with no empathy might not understand what was motivating the next bit of action.

Generally, I think that someone who reads broadly, that is, reads different genres and books written from different points of view, will be more tolerant in real life of other’s opinions.

However, I had never thought about the parallel culture element. By that I mean that we can more clearly see what is happening in a fantasy culture which not our own than what is happening in a simulation of our actual conditions.

If you and your Significant Other go to a ballroom dance class, you may find that the instructor will have you first learn the steps with a different partner. Why? When you are dancing with your own partner, there are a whole of other things going than you figuring out where to put your feet. By moving you to someone you don’t know, you are better able to concentrate on learning the dance. Then, they may put you back with your SO.

Reading a science fiction/fantasy book is, in a sense, dancing with an unknown partner.

Kala, Tarzan’s adoptive “ape” mother in the Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book, is more than tolerant of this human. Other members of the Mangani (while we refer to them generally as “apes”, they act more like a species of humans), show their dislike for Tarzan (even the “jungle lord”s adoptive father).

I doubt anyone reading that story, even in 1912, failed to see that message, and to side with Tarzan and Kala.

If a book published in the same time frame had shown a human outsider of a different social group in the same position, I think many pe0ple would have recognized the disruption that the outsider brought to the group…and might have been less likely to agree with Kala.

If what the study indicates is true, we may actually see that those who read Harry Potter when they were children (the study did find different impacts at different ages…or at least, different reasons for the impact) may be more tolerant.

It’s possible that, with the large number of readers, the world may actually have been made better by a fantasy series.

Just as I always suspected…

What do you think? Can people’s morality be changed by fiction? If it can make you a better person (which I believe), can it make you a worse person (which I find harder to accept)? Would some people reading Harry Potter be swayed by the Death Eaters, and emulate them? For years, some English teachers and community leaders discouraged reading fantasy and science fiction (especially in comic book form)…were they right to do that? When people are ridiculed for having “childish fantasies” as adults, is that doing society a disservice? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

 Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Amazon gives numbers: it’s about prices, not share

July 30, 2014

Amazon gives numbers: it’s about prices, not share

Amazon has added a fascinating

Kindle forum post (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

which does something Amazon rarely does: it gives specific numbers.

I know when I do my analysis posts, some people just skip them. :) Not everybody likes seeing the mathematical interiors of something they enjoy:  for some, it’s like seeing an x-ray of the person they are dating. ;)

However, these are statistics as a weapon…a weapon in what I call the Hachazon war. That’s the ongoing disagreement between Amazon and Hachette, one of the Big Five publishers (presumably, Amazon is also in or going to be in similar negotiations with the other four).

It’s a carefully crafted post, with again, Amazon taking the populist/consumer point of view…and tacking on support for authors.

I’m not saying that isn’t how they sincerely feel: it certainly could be. It’s just apparent to me that the statement has a very large position framing component…and it’s reasonable that it does, of course.

I recommend that you read it, and I do want to point out some key points.

The biggest argument made is that Amazon isn’t fighting with Hachette over revenue share, as has been reported. It’s not (according to the e-tailer) about trying to get, say, 50% of the sale rather than 30%.

It’s about keeping the prices low.

Amazon argues that e-book prices should be lower than p-book (paperbook) prices. Since the rise in popularity of e-books with the release of the Kindle in 2007, that’s been many consumers’ intuitive sense. We would see posts about that all the time in the forums: “There is no paper cost, it’s just a file.”

For many of those posts, it was clear that they didn’t understand the economics (which Amazon presumably does). They were only talking about manufacture, and that is a small part of the cost of producing a book. I remember an analysis, way back when, that an e-book was about 12.5% less expensive to produce than a p-book.

How can that be?

What costs the most money isn’t the paper, it’s the people. Even for an e-book, you still need to pay the author (although not necessarily the same amount), the editor, the cover designer, the proofreader, the layout artist, and so on.

You still have the same legal costs.

Marketing costs could be different, but are still significant.

Amazon adds in other costs including, interestingly, used sales. Since e-books can’t be sold used, they argue, the initial price can be lower.

If a p-book is sold for $20, and then sold used for $10 and used again for $5, the publisher only gets money out of that initial $20. If the people who paid $10 and $5 for it would have paid $20 otherwise, those second and third sales are a loss of revenue…which the publisher has to make up on the first sale.

Of course, many people who buy a used book at a reduced cost wouldn’t have bought the new book at the full price…but it’s a reasonable argument. Amazon has worked on creating a used e-book market, but that would presumably be a case were the publisher would get a cut of subsequent sales.

Here’s the big stat in this short excerpt from the post:

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

Amazon is saying, “Lower the price and make more money.”

They explain how that benefits everybody: publishers; readers; authors; and Amazon.

You know what it doesn’t benefit?

P-books.

That’s always been one of the publishers’ concerns with Amazon pricing many new and popular e-books at $9.99 (which sometimes meant Amazon was selling them to consumers for less than what the e-tailer paid the publisher). It’s “price perception devaluation.” If a Stephen King novel is worth $9.99 as an e-book, why is it worth $25 as a p-book?

If e-book prices set the market perception of what a book should cost, it hurts p-books.

You might think that would hurt Amazon as much as it does the tradpubs (traditional  publishers), but tradpubs have a massive percentage of p-book sales in brick-and-mortar stores (and those do still matter), and a likely significantly decreasing percentage of e-book sales.

I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager…and almost all of our stock came from the biggest publishers (the few that didn’t came from smaller traditional publishers, represented by a distributor such as Publishers Group West).

We simply needed the size and services of the big tradpubs. You need to be able to replenish stock quickly when a book is hot, and get credit for copies when a book is cold.

The smaller independent publishers didn’t have the resources to do that.

All of that goes away with digital reproduction and distribution.

The Big Five’s power is disproportionately in p-books…and POD (Print On Demand) hasn’t changed that (yet).

The other thing Amazon says in the post is that the publisher should get 35%, Amazon should get 30%…and the author should get 35%.

To me, that’s a little…manipulative, I guess. Amazon (as they say later in the post) can’t control how much the author gets from the publisher…that’s a matter of their contracts.

It would be like…looking over at another table at a restaurant, and saying to the six-year old, “You know, if your parents really loved you, they’d give you the whole pizza.” ;)

Authors, of course, are not like six-year olds…I expect we’ll see some pointed comments from some of the Hachette-side authors about this part of the post.

Brand new or aspiring indie-authors may have the relative “life experience” of a six-year old, in terms of publishing, but they’ll have different abilities to judge.

Speaking of those indie (independent) authors, you may think that what Amazon is saying isn’t unreasonable: after all, Amazon pays KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) authors either 35% or 70% (the latter if they meet certain guidelines).

Yes, but that’s a different case from Amazon’s traditional publishing efforts.

With KDP, the author/publisher (they are often one and the same in that situation) takes on the costs and risks of development of the book. Amazon takes on some of the marketing costs, although the publisher will many times continue to have those as well. Amazon will also have Customer Service costs, and accounting costs, but for the bulk of the costs, it falls on the indie.

KDP is a platform: the author delivers the book and updates it as needed, and Amazon sells it.

Amazon’s traditional publishing, and the Big Five’s, involves a lot more investment.

The other thing about pricing is that consumers (and Amazon is positioning itself as seeing things from that viewpoint) look at an individual sale, while publishers (and stores) look at populations of sales.

Popular books support unpopular books.

As readers, we do want publishers interested in something besides profits on each title.

We want them to take risks on new authors, and we want them to publish “meaningful” books which won’t be popular.

If a researcher spends ten years documenting working conditions in 19th Century America (I’m just making that up as a topic), it’s not going to top the bestseller lists…but it’s important that the information be out there and preserved.

That book will probably never make back its developments costs…so popular books have to be priced somewhat higher to enable the publisher to take a loss on the “public good” book.

That’s not inherently different on e-books and p-books…except that the risks are quite a bit lower on e-books.

Right now, it’s likely that e-books are, to some extent, supporting the publishing of p-books. They are providing, if not a higher margin, a better cushion for taking risks on the development of p-books.

All of that said, this is an extraordinarily revealing post, as far as Amazon goes.

What do you think? Will it persuade the public to be more on Amazon’s side? How will authors react? Would consistently lower e-book prices hurt p-book sales? Would that cause publishers to take fewer risks with p-books, resulting in less innovation? Would indies pick up that slack? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Kindle Unlimited: how does it affect authors, and what’s the deal with the KOLL?

July 23, 2014

Kindle Unlimited: how does it affect authors, and what’s the deal with the KOLL?

You know that look Indiana Jones has in that one scene, where the  adventuring archaeologist  thinks everything cool, and suddenly, it all goes reverse  Sisyphus? ;)

That’s the look a lot of the book industry still has after Amazon introduced its subser (that’s what I call a subscription service) for e-books and audiobooks for adults.

I’ve already written about it more than once, but there’s a lot more to say since I wrote

It’s official! Kindle Unlimited is here with 639,621 titles

way back on…Friday. ;)

I said at that point I was going to address how this was affecting authors, and that’s going to be one of the two parts of this post.

A lot of people want to know if this is good or bad for authors, and like almost everything, in my opinion, it’s both.

My guess is that some authors are going to see tremendous increases in revenue by being part of Kindle Unlimited (KU). Others, rightfully, are concerned about the restrictions involved.

Let’s first lay things out a bit.

Authors get paid for the sale of the books they’ve written. In the traditionally publishing world, they licensed the rights to sell the book to a publisher (the deal was usually made by an agent acting on the author’s behalf), which sold the books to stores, which then sold them to customers.

A tradpub (traditional publisher) might give the author an advance against the royalties. Let’s say that you could be reasonably sure that Stephen King was going to sell a million copies of the next novel, and that you knew as the publisher you could get $10 per copy (I’m basically working with this as a hardback for this example). $2.50 of that is going to go to King.

However, the author needs a year to write the book, and needs to spend that year largely unconcerned about earning a living besides that.

You are looking at getting in $7.5 million…you’ll have expenses out of that, of course, including the actual manufacture of the book and marketing, but you’ll advance King $1 million.

The first million dollars which would have gone to King from the royalties once the book starts actually selling, you keep to pay off the advance.

So, that’s one model.

In the independent (“indie”) e-book model, the author may publish the book themselves, going perhaps through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. The author, following certain guidelines, can get 70% of the list price they set for the book. Sell it for $2.99, keep about $2.09. Of course, the author has also taken on all the expenses: they might have paid for an editor, done marketing, and so on.

If the indie set the price outside of the $2.99 to $9.99 range, they can only get 35% for it…that’s going to become important as this explanation continues.

When Amazon introduced the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) in 2011, they created a new income stream for authors.

Eligible Amazon Prime members with a hardware Kindle can borrow up to a book a month from a certain set of books.

The indie publishers (and those might be just individual authors) divide a variable pool of money, getting a cut of it for each borrow that happens.

Let’s say the pool is $1.5 million for January. If there were 750,000 borrows that month, everybody in the pool gets $2 for each borrow. If your book was borrowed ten times, you get $20. That $2 figure is close to what it has been actually running.

That’s a big plus if someone borrows a $0.99 book: $2 instead of $0.35. It’s about a wash with a $2.99 book that meets the other requirements to get 70%.

There are also traditionally published books in the KOLL, although not from the biggest publishers. They get paid differently: they probably mostly get paid like it was a sale, and so the author would get their normal royalty…presumably. Publishers don’t release those kind of contract details, normally.

Now, along comes KU, and the economics change.

The one big technical change is that the indies publishers don’t get a royalty unless someone “reads” ten percent of the book (not based on when they simply download it). I put “reads” in quotation marks, because of course, the system doesn’t know if you actually read it or just flipped through it…or even, I think, jumped ahead to 10%.

That’s not that big a deal, though. I doubt very many people downloaded a KOLL book and didn’t read at least 10% of it.

What makes the difference is the “Unlimited” part.

KU isn’t really unlimited, of course, but it would be unreasonable to think that “unlimited” was a literal term, in my opinion. For example, you can’t go back in time and read the book. ;) You can’t read a book on the surface of the sun. “Kindle Unlimited” is a name, not an actual definition.

In practice, though, it is pretty much all you can read. You can have ten books out at a time. I think that’s to limit the number of people using it, not to limit an individual. I could borrow ten books on August 1st. If I read all ten by August 10th, I could just borrow ten more…it’s not ten per month, it’s ten at a time.

I do find that it feels freeing. I had to make careful choices with the KOLL…I don’t with KU.

That’s going to be a big boon for books which most people would not have bought.

In this

TechCrunch article by John Biggs

In the article, Biggs says:

“My son, for his part, has already downloaded a few dozen Minecraft ebooks…”

A few dozen!

The article also suggests those books may not be that good, but the point is,  that would not have happened without KU.

It wouldn’t have happened with the KOLL: after the first book, you’d have to wait until the next calendar month to get the next one.

Even if we figure they were all ninety-nine cents, we can be sure they wouldn’t have spent more than $30 on them.

Those publishers will all get royalties…and possibly, much bigger royalties than they would have gotten for sales which probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise.

Authors whose books were part of the KDP Select program (that’s what gets indie books into the KOLL) were automatically made part of KU:

“All books currently enrolled in KDP Select with U.S. rights will be automatically included in Kindle Unlimited. KDP Select books will also continue to be enrolled in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) available to Amazon Prime customers in the U.S., U.K., Germany, France, and Japan where authors will continue to earn a share of the KDP Select global fund when their book is borrowed. KOLL borrows will continue to be counted when a book is initially downloaded.”

–Amazon e-mail

So, why wouldn’t every indie author jump into KU?

There’s one big sticking point.

KU requires exclusivity for Amazon for indies…that’s part of the KDP Select rules.

Put your book in KU (through KDP Select) and you can’t sell it through SmashWords or Barnes & Noble.

I actually think it’s possible that requirement will go away at some point, or at least, have two tiers of royalty for exclusive and non-exclusive.

Obviously, the exclusivity rules don’t apply to tradpubbed books…Harry Potter e-books aren’t exclusive to Amazon, and are part of KU.

So, KU is most beneficial to books which weren’t selling well, and to very low-priced books. It’s not as beneficial to books which do sell well and are higher priced.

How will this affect Big 5 publishers and their brand name authors?

Unless it starts significantly cutting into “piece” sales (buying a book at a time), it doesn’t affect them much. They may think that putting books into KU will cannibalize their piece sales…at least for the frontlist (the new and bestselling books).

If it does start to cut into piece sales…the game changes.

I can imagine that by the end of 2015, 10% of e-book downloads happen through KU.

That’s not ten percent of the income…a lot of those would be books with micro sales.

It could be, then, that a brand name author starts putting short stories and other “peripheral” material to big series into KU.

Not necessarily through their tradpub.

They may correctly feel that so much discovery is happening through KU that they can’t ignore it.

This might also spur a growth of Kindle Worlds (Amazon’s program which licenses books, comic books, TV shows, movies, and so on so that anyone can write in them, following certain guidelines, and the rightsholder, author, and Amazon all get a cut).

A tradpub could license a series to KW, which would then result in non-canonical works in KU…which in turn serves to promote the non-KU books.

The more successful KU is, the more successful it will become.

Now, people are undoubtedly thinking of ways to game the system. I asked Amazon what happens if somebody borrows a book, reads ten percent of it (triggering a payment), returns it, and then borrows it again and again reads ten percent.

One of my regular readers and commenters, Tom Semple, asked what would prevent someone from just asking a bunch of people to borrow it, jump to the ten percent mark, and then return it.

The answer is that Amazon has made it clear that if they decide you are doing things like that, you are out. Naturally, they can always stop carrying someone’s book, they don’t really need a reason. I don’t want to get into any non-public details about this…suffice it so say, they aren’t going to get “tricked” much and suffer the consequences. I think it’s far more likely we will hear about them thinking someone has done something wrong who hasn’t. They are pretty good about taking “appeals” in those cases…but we see it happen on the forum that someone’s posts are deleted, and they never figure out why, for a much smaller example of what might be Amazon being overly cautious.

Now, as to what is happening with the KOLL:

As you can see from the quote from the Amazon e-mail, the KOLL continues to exist: no change at this point.

That said, I’ve seen many threads in the Amazon forums where people think it has been discontinued.

That’s because the interface for getting to it has changed, and that has been affected by KU.

Basically what has happened, according to Amazon (and I asked them a detailed question) is that, if you are a KOLL member who is not eligible for a loan right now (because you’ve already borrowed a book this calendar month), you’ll see the KU “Read for Free” button instead of the KOLL “Borrow for Free”.

According to them, it works like this:

  • A Prime member and eligible for a KOLL loan will see “Borrow for Free” button on Prime eligible titles
  • A Prime member who has hit the KOLL limit will see “Read for Free” with KU eligible titles
  • Someone who is neither a Prime nor a KU member will see “Read for Free” with KU on KU titles which are also Prime titles, and will see “Borrow for Free” with Prime on Prime titles which are non-KU titles
  • Quoting Amazon: “For the E-readers and Kindle Fires, you’ll see the above, except for Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite users will see the “Read for Free” button regardless of their current KOLL status.”

Hypothetically, then, the confusing thing has been that a “borrow” button wasn’t available in the browser, but only when a KOLL loan wasn’t availbale..and Kindle Touch and Kindle Paperwhite users didn’t see a KOLL button regardless.

That doesn’t answer everything: how does a Paperwhite owner make a KOLL borrow? Apparently, from what I’ve heard anecdotally, clicking that “Read for Free” on your Paperwhite will make it the KOLL loan if you haven’t done one yet that month.

I hope that makes it clearer.

What do you think? Is KU a good deal for authors, a bad deal for authors, both or neither? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

New! Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

“You should be ashamed of reading that”

July 15, 2014

“You should be ashamed of reading that”

I recently wrote about being a fan of the Planet of the Apes (I was linking to the original book). One of my regular readers, Tuli Reno, commented (thanks, Tuli!) that

“I love Planet of the Apes and am not ashamed of it. For some reason someone I know thought I should be.”

There is no reason to be ashamed of what you read or watch or play or to which you listen.

Oh, I suppose…let me get this out of the way. There is content which is created as the result of a crime, or that exploits real people. That’s a different story. The issue there is the crime, the production of the material.

One weird thing that I remember being proposed was banning sexually explicit animation…making it a crime to produce. I can understand people not wanting to watch it, but there has hardly been a crime committed against the pixels. ;)

So, with the issue of production out of the way, let’s talk about “content shaming”.

It’s interesting to me psychologically.

Why should it matter to one person if another person reads (or otherwise consumes) something that the first person thinks is too “babyish” or “silly” or that it is just junk?

Is the argument that they should be reading something better?

I can certainly see that being a slippery slope…isn’t there always something better? ;) Should you not be reading a really good novel because there is a great one you haven’t read? ;)

My feeling always is that if you are getting nothing out of a book, the lack isn’t in the book…

If you have enough imagination, and choose to exercise it (and it is exercise…it can be tiring), you could read a great novel in a blank book, right?

I just never understand the point of diminishing someone else’s happiness.

I’ve heard the argument about all kinds of things, from comic books, to romances, to mysteries, over the years.

“Stop reading that drivel!”

I do have a theory.

Years ago, I had an  epiphany.

I realized something, and said it this way:

“We hate in others that which we fear in ourselves.”

Let’s say that someone has been taught that crying in public is bad.

They were punished for doing it (“I’ll give you something to cry about!”).

They never cry any more…it’s not that they don’t want to cry sometimes, but that they repress it.

Then, they see someone freely crying in public.

For some people, the reaction to that in that situation is instant anger.

They may yell the same thing at the other person that the authority figure in their life yelled at them.

They hate that the other person is crying, because it is something that they struggle with in themselves…that they work hard to crush.

I honestly think there is something like that at work in some content shaming.

Someone who was told to stop reading Sweet Valley High or The Animorphs or Robert Heinlein, for that matter, learns to repress the desire to do so.

When they see somebody else reading, say, The Hunger Games, they may have that same lashing out.

I’m a proud geek…and we are really used to this sort of thing. :)

Now that geek has become mainstream, it’s a bit different…but yes, watching Star Trek or playing Dungeons and Dragons or reading Lord of the Rings could get you a sneering lecture in the past.

We used to gather in conventions to find like-minded people…but now, you can do it on the internet.

If you are a fan of pretty much anything, you can probably find like-minded people online.

That can help.

I should also mention that not everybody who thinks of themselves as a geek is open to all content. There have been geek feuds (Star Trek vs. Star Wars…or Star Trek vs. Lost in Space, back in the day), and you can see some geeks putting other people down. There is a derogatory term, “skiffy” (a deliberate mispronunciation of “sci-fi”) that some people use for…I guess I’ll say they might call it schlocky pseudo science fiction. When I see someone use that, it makes me a bit sad.

Geek culture should be about acceptance, not exclusion. George Takei has made this point about Star Trek and Star Wars…after all, Takei has appeared in both universes (having done a voice in Star Wars: The Clone Wars). Many other people have as well, although perhaps not with such prominence.

My main message on this, though, is that if someone else shames you because of what you are reading, it’s not about you…it’s about them.

A lot of how you emotionally react to things has to do with how you frame the situation.

After all, you are fine with your doctor doing things that would horrify you if someone else did…because you’ve framed it as happening for medical purposes.

If someone wants to content shame me, my framing of it makes me pity them. I feel sad both that they can’t get the joy out of the material that I do, and that something happened to them that made them fear in themselves something that I enjoy in myself.

I think, perhaps, the proper response is just to let them see that it isn’t hurting you…what you are reading, I mean.

Shamer: “Why are you reading that junk?”

Reader: “I like it.”

Shamer: “It’s stupid.”

Reader: “It’s interesting to me.”

Shamer: “You should be reading Tolstoy or Shakespeare.”

  • Reader (response 1): “I do [only if that’s true]…I enjoy that, too. This isn’t Shakespeare…but Shakespeare isn’t this, either. I just like different things at different times.”
  • Reader (response 2): “Yes, that’s another thing I’d like to try some day.”
  • Reader (response 3): “You know, I’ve always been kind of scared of that…I’m not sure I’d understand it. Maybe you could help me get into it: where would you suggest I start?”

The bottom line, I guess, is that it should end up with a shrug on the reader’s part. You don’t want to be dismissive of the other person…showing interest in what they are saying would probably be best. You really don’t want to get defensive and engage the anger…that’s a rarely a good strategy.

I think one thing I might do is send the person a gift of a book in the genre…a book that I particularly like. I’d probably include a message that was something like, “I know that what I was reading didn’t make much sense to you, and I can understand how it could seem weird. Here’s a book I think you might enjoy…and if you want to talk about it afterwards, I’m open to that. If you want to trade it in for something else, that’s fine…I just wanted to give you an opportunity to see what I see in it.”

I know, I know…some of you think I’m a dreamer. :) Yup…and proud of it. ;)

Have you ever been content shamed? What were you reading/watching/playing? What did you do about it? Have you ever converted somebody who hated a genre into respecting it? If so, how? Name a book which you think would be a good “ambassador” to get somebody into something (for example, I’d go with Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns for somebody who doesn’t like the idea of comic books and graphic novels). Outside of something criminal or exploitative, is there something that has a fandom that you just don’t get? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think, by commenting on this post.

New! Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

 

Amazon’s infinite stockroom

June 28, 2014

Amazon’s infinite stockroom

This may be one of Amazon’s biggest disruptions yet…and it could really benefit small publishers.

According to this

The Bookseller article by Benedicte Page

Amazon UK is pushing for new contract conditions with small publishers.

One of them I don’t like, and could run afoul of anti-competition agencies. That’s the so-called “MFN” (Most Favored Nation) requirement.

Essentially, having an MFN means that you can’t sell your product at a lower price anywhere else. In this case, it would mean that publishers would have to give Amazon as good as they give anybody else…including themselves.

MFNs haven’t been inherently found to be illegal, but they were a problem in the legal action taken against the Big 5 publishers for conspiring to raise e-book prices.

It feels to me (and I’m not a lawyer) like restraint of trade, since it controls what you do with another entity. That may be subtle, but I think it’s different from paying somebody for exclusive rights. Again, it’s just my feeling about it, but exclusive rights says, “Sell this just to us.” An MFN says, “We will control the pricing even when we are not part of the sales chain.”

The other rumored condition, though, is far more significant as far as I am concerned.

When I managed a brick-and-mortar bookstore, we would  occasionally  have someone come in who wanted us to carry a book they had self-published on a contingency basis.

In that situation, we don’t pay them anything for the book unless it sells.

They think that doesn’t cost us anything, which would demonstrate a lack of understanding about retail, as far as I was concerned.

In a brick-and-mortar, one of the biggest things you are battling is rent. Every day a book sits on a shelf, you lose money, because you have to pay the rent on the space under that book.

That’s one reason why books may turn over pretty quickly: if a book sold five copies the first day, three the second day, and one the next day, you might return it to bring in something hotter.

So, contingency was never risk free for the store.

However, what if the book did sell well? Wouldn’t that be worth it?

Books have a short sales cycle in a store. There just aren’t that many people who are going to come into a bookstore every day, and you have a core of regulars. If a bunch of your regulars buy a book as soon as it is released, they don’t buy it again, typically. Book sales are front loaded in most (but not all) cases. You need the book when it is hot…waiting a week can really cut into sales.

So, I would say to the self-publisher: “If I need ten more of these tomorrow, could I get them?”

Their answer would always be, “No.” It might take them weeks to get more printed.

That was why I would tell them I couldn’t carry it. A traditional publisher could drop ship me books that fast…certainly within a couple of days.

If a Random House author went on a local radio talk show (which was a huge driver of book sales), I could ask for a hundred more and get them while people still wanted them.

The little, independent publisher simply couldn’t compete, because they didn’t have the supply infrastructure.

That’s also been true online.

If you want a p-book (paperbook) from a small publisher, it might take weeks for Amazon to get it, even if they can then send it to you in two days.

Amazon has a solution (according to sources).

They are reportedly telling the small publishers that, if the publisher is out of stock, Amazon wants the right to print the book themselves.

Amazon has a huge “print on demand” operation already:

CreateSpace

I think most of the writing I’m seeing about this doesn’t adequately recognize what a game changer this would be.

Let’s take an easy example.

An author publishes a horror novel with a small press.

They print 500 copies, which seems likely to be adequate.

Stephen King writes about loving the book.

Suddenly, demand is huge.

Amazon could sell 10,000 copies tomorrow…but the publisher only had 500 for everybody…and it will take them two weeks to print more.

Under the reported proposal, the publisher has given Amazon the file from which to print the book, and Amazon just prints it themselves and gets it to the customers.

The publisher still gets paid.

My guess is that Amazon doesn’t need to charge them much (anything?) for having had to print it. The cost of printing a book is actually a small portion of what creates the consumer price. There are a lot of people costs (editors, cover artists, the author), marketing costs, and other things involved beyond the paper and ink.

The book now shoots up the bestseller list, and becomes an even bigger hit (competing strongly and directly with large publishers’ products).

If Amazon couldn’t print the book, they would likely lose the vast majority of those sales…some people would wait for it, but I think most would not.

Now, in the writing about these contract proposal rumors, the feeling is that publishers are pushing back against this one.

They don’t want Amazon to control the process…they may be concerned (not unreasonably) that the quality of the book might suffer. In the scenario that I’ve proposed in the past that new novels might cost $50, that includes them being printed in a much higher quality way than we usually see now…or that we would expect from print on demand.

What this does, though, is level the playing field between small publishers and the big tradpubs. Amazon becomes the back-up “factory” for the little guys.

In the same way that we’ve seen huge successes in e-book publishing for independents (where no factory is necessary), we would see gains for small publishers in p-books.

I also don’t see this being a problem under anti-competition laws.

This would further weaken the bargaining power of the Big 5 with Amazon, since little pubs could also have blockbusters.

I suspect this will come to the USA as well, if it hasn’t already.

What do you think? Would this be as big a deal as I think it would be? Will publishers push back against it to keep Amazon from having too much control…even if it might benefit them? What can the Big 5 do to maintain their marketshare? Feel free to let me and my readers know what you think by commenting on this post.

Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard!

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

What happens if Amazon and Hachette can’t agree?

May 30, 2014

What happens if Amazon and Hachette can’t agree?

It isn’t personal.

Hachette (a publisher) and Amazon (a retailer) are in the midst of a turbulent negotiation. It’s like Godzilla battling Mothra…and unfortunately, in that scenario,we readers are Tokyo.

Businesses famously fight and fight and fight and then settle things up and go back to business as usual. It’s not personal…there is nothing that fundamentally stops them from making money together.

Except sometimes, they don’t.

What if this is one of those times?

What if Hachette, which may be trying to bring back the Agency Model in September (when their legal prohibition ends), and Amazon, which wants control over consumer pricing, just finally have to stop working with each other?

A little over three years ago, I wrote

A Tale of Two Middles

I looked at the two “middles” between authors and readers: publishers and retailers. I even specifically compared Hachette and Amazon:

“How many people know Amazon versus knowing Hachette?  Familiarity is important online…you’ve got to trust the people from whom you buy.  Amazon has been cust0mer-facing for more than a decade…publishers are just really learning that.”

In the past three years have we gotten to the point where the tradpubs (traditional publishers) and Amazon don’t need each other?

Let’s postulate that Amazon and Hachette can’t work it out…and Amazon stops carrying Hachette books.

What would happen for Hachette?

Hachette would need to find another way to sell those books: Amazon is clearly a huge hunk of sales. They could, of course, hypothetically reconfigure in a way that they need to sell fewer books…take fewer risks in publishing choices, come up with alternate funding streams (licensing the backlist to subsers ((subscription servicers))), charge more for each book…there are ways. Let’s assume, though, that they want to continue to sell a lot of books.

They can work through other retailers…but that might be like running from one room to another during an earthquake. It might not exactly be a safe harbor.

The other choice is that they sell directly…which is what I was discussing three years ago.

I think that is a much stronger possibility than it was.

Initially, consumers were insecure about buying e-books: now, they aren’t as much. It’s familiar: they might buy from a publisher (which they know less well) rather than going with Amazon.

“Social selling” is another big possibility. Similar to Amazon Associates, the publisher could directly compensate anyone that sells their books (within certain structures). So, you e-mail your sibling about a $4.99 book, they buy it from your link, you get $0.50. That 90% “keep” for the publisher is much better than what they get from Amazon now, even taking into account the costs of sale.

Multiply that many times over with social media, like Twitter, Goodreads (owned by Amazon), and so on.

Do we trust Amazon more than we trust our friends?

Would we feel better about our friends getting a little cash than Amazon getting it?

What if it was a non-profit? That might do even more for the sales.

No reason for a publisher like Hachette not to make the file “platform agnostic”…they could make a book file like an MP3, where it could be read on pretty much any device.

It would cost publishers quite a bit to set something like this up…I think readers would insist on cloud storage of their books, like they get from Amazon, but I think it’s entirely doable. As discovery becomes decentralized, Amazon becomes less important.

What would happen for Amazon?

Amazon would need to have customers make a bigger mental shift than Hachette would, in part because I think customers have a more well-formed conception of Amazon.

When the Kindle was first released in 2007, Amazon had a goal of “every book ever published…”

They’d have to drop that as a marketing point.

If they didn’t have some of the big books, they’d be under more obligation to make other books matter just as much. That might be books they publish themselves, but it could be other titles as well. That’s exactly one of the tactics they are trying during the Hachazon War: they are putting ads on the Hachette books’ product pages recommending alternate books which are cheaper or better reviewed.

If that is successful, it means Amazon doesn’t need those publishers’ books…although the tradpubs would definitely be leading discovery at first (people would go look for the new J.K. Rowling before bouncing to another choice).

Another possibility is that Amazon keeps providing the books to their customers…but doesn’t sell them itself.

I think that might have been missed as one of the most important things Amazon said in their recent Hachazon War statement:

“If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.” [emphasis added]
Announcement Hachette/Amazon Business Interruption (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That’s right: somebody can buy that Hachette book from Barnes & Noble and then sell it to through Amazon…and Amazon charges for the service.

Third-party selling is very important to Amazon, and a good way for them to make money. Naturally, that only works with physical books at this point, and you might expect it to mean higher prices…but it is a way for Amazon to keep being a place where you can get the books. If a way to sell used e-books ever does come to fruition, that would also really feed this.

The third option for Amazon is to stop carrying a broad array of books.

While Amazon was originally positioned as an online bookstore, those days are gone. They are certainly still seen as a bookseller, but they are so much more. They could get out of the book retailing business and still have a very substantial business model (including web services and “fulfillment services”).

They might still sell Amazon published books (Amazon traditionally published and Amazon as a publishing platform for independent authors) in that scenario.

Both companies have viable alternatives to the publisher/retailer relationship.

The question may no longer be who needs the other company more…but whether or not they need each other at all.

What do you think? What would you do if you couldn’t get Hachette’s books from Amazon? Would you get them somewhere else? What if you could buy e-books from the publisher which would work on your Kindle? Would you be more likely to buy a book from a friend than from a store? Do you ever make buying decisions because it helps a non-profit? If Hachette and Amazon “break up”, would the other Big Five publishers follow…or might Random Penguin, for example, stick with Amazon (in the way that Random House did not go with everybody else on the Agency Model back in 2010)? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Bonus deal:

Save $79 by getting the Kindle Fire HDX and the Fire TV bundle!

Amazon Fire TV & Kindle Fire HDX 7″ Wi-Fi 16GB with Special Offers (at Amazon Smile)

That’s $249…for both of them!

I very often use my KFHDX together with my Fire TV…one can almost be considered an accessory for the other.

The key thing is that the KFHDX mirrors very nicely to the Fire TV. Anything on my KFHDX can be displayed on through my Fire TV.

For one thing, that means that any video I can watch on my Kindle Fire I can watch on my TV…even if the app I am using would stop working if I connected an HDMI cable (which at least used to be the case with the Xfinity app). You could watch HBO GO that way.

I can watch videos from websites on my TV, by pulling them up on my Kindle Fire and mirroring to my TV.

This is definitely a good deal…so good that they are limiting it to one to a customer, and making it for a limited time only.

Already have one or the other? You could always give the duplicate as a gift…

New! Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard! (many articles on the Hachazon War from different perspectives)

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Should books be sold as gender specific?

March 18, 2014

Should books be sold as gender specific?

“What’s a good book for ten-year old girl?”

When I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I’d hear variations of that question, with age and gender specificity varying.

That always gave me pause.

It certainly wasn’t enough information.

Think back to when you were ten-years old.

Picture everybody in your class.

Would you have all liked the same book?

I didn’t think so. ;)

That means I would ask another question…

“What does she like?”

Shopper: “I don’t know. It’s for my niece.”

Okay…

It was always possible to suggest a book that pretty much any kid would like…or at least, that the odds would be good.

It struck me as…odd that someone would assume that all kids of one gender and age would like the same book…or at least, that those factors should narrow the choices sufficiently.

Regular readers know that I don’t tend to identify genders here (and other inherent characteristics). I’ll admit that it sometimes makes the writing more challenging, but I don’t identify mine, my Significant Other’s, my adult kid’s, or other people’s (unless they have already).

I chose to eliminate that information from the nominees for

Give a Kid a Kindle

It’s not that I think people should be ashamed of their genders: it’s that I want people to be known for their thoughts on the internet. That’s part of what’s magic about it. ;)

What about in bookstores, though?

Should books be marketed as for “girls” or for “boys”?

There is a group in England that is arguing that they shouldn’t…and it’s gaining quite a bit of support.

Let Books Be Books

It’s an offshoot of “Let Toys Be Toys”, which also argues that toys (be they G.I. Joe or Easy Bake Oven) shouldn’t be sold as “girls’ toys” or “boys’ toys”.

I have to say, from my experience, the issue is probably less with the kids themselves picking books.

I’m sure many a boy has picked up a Beverly Cleary or a girl gotten Choose Your Own Adventure books…even though the store might have marketed them as gender specific.

I think it is more the adults buying them that make choices based on those classifications.

This

The Guardian article by Alison Flood

about the campaign has some nice background.

Lest you think this is just an online petition (although there is one of those), some major retailers and publishers are following it, pledging not to market or label books as for girls or for boys.

I’m sure some people think this is a silly thing to do. After all, aren’t girls and boys different? Don’t they like different things? How is this any different from “chick lit” or “men’s adventure” (I’ve worked in a bookstore that had the latter section)?

For that matter, does something like this mean we shouldn’t label books as “romance” or “science fiction”, so we don’t prejudice the people buying them?

For me, there is a very big difference between labeling a book as “for boys” and labeling one as “mystery”.

It’s that “for” part.

It isn’t saying what the book is…it is saying who should read it.

I’ll decide what I want to read, thank you very much.

I don’t want to be judged by what I read…well, okay, sometimes I might like somebody to be a tiny bit impressed, but that’s about it. ;)

I’ve certainly seen that judgement. I read books that someone might think are not targeted at me. One easy example is kids’ books. If you saw me, you’d know I wasn’t a kid…at least chronologically. ;)

I’ve consumed a lot of kids’ media as an adult.

Oh, let me give you a great story with my Significant Other (I don’t think I’ve told this one on the blog before).

We hadn’t been together that long.

My SO came out and I was watching TV.

SO: “Are you watching cartoons?”

Me: “Yeah.”

There was a pause.

SO: “Japanese cartoons?”

Me (A little more reluctantly): “Yeah.”

SO: “In Japanese?”

Me (more reluctantly): “Yeah.”

SO: “Do you speak Japanese?”

Me (sort of pouting): “No.”

:)

It was fine (my SO absolutely did not think less of me or hold it against me), but with each answer, I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into the geek zone.

Now, I am a proud geek, but there was something about this where it was…yes, I’ll say “embarrassing”.

Why?

Geeks like me, back then, we had seen what we read a lot disparaged by others.

I was always happy to claim somebody who was considered to be a classic writer for the geek community.

Charles Dickens wrote a ghost story (A Christmas Carol).

The Greeks had fantasy characters all over the place.

Jack London wrote science fiction, even a post-apocalyptic tale.

I wanted to show that good writers wrote science fiction and fantasy, too.

I guess I have to agree with the name of the campaign: “Let books be books”…not labels.

What do you think? Anything wrong with marketing books for specific genders? If that’s okay, would it be okay to have a section in a store for people of a particular race? Not one that was fiction by a race, or that race’s “interests”…but labeled as for that race. If one is okay and other one isn’t, I’d be curious to know why? Did you read books where people would think they were intended for another group? Did you do it openly, or did you hide it? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.

===

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Protecting the brand?

February 6, 2014

Protecting the brand

Yesterday, I wrote about Amazon’s

Kindle Worlds (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

licensing new properties, including G.I. Joe.

Now, in this interesting

Seattle Times article by Jay Greene

which talks about Amazon’s publishing efforts generally, and how they affect the publishing world (I recommend you read it), we get a bit more detail on the deal…and something really stood out to me. According to the article:

“Hasbro is putting few restrictions on authors. Writers can’t produce pieces that are sexually explicit, racist or sexist. Given that G.I. Joe is a military figure, violence is expected.

“Gritty is OK, but gratuitous is not,” Kelly said.

And Hasbro, based in Pawtucket, R.I., deep in Boston Red Sox country, threw in one other restriction: G.I. Joe’s comrade, Snake Eyes, cannot be a portrayed (sic) as a fan of the New York Yankees.”

Banned: sexually explicit, racist, sexist…Yankees fan?

Yep. :)

I think that last one is quite amusing.

I know a little about G.I. Joe (I like to know a little about everything), but I’m not quite clear: why Snake Eyes specifically? Would it be okay to show another Joe as a Yankees fan? How about a bad guy? ;)

I think their other restrictions are reasonable, although all of that gets to be interesting. The snippet in this report doesn’t mention a number of other protected groups…profanity also isn’t mentioned. That might, arguably, make for a more realistic military unit.

So, that gets to my point in this post.

Some companies (Disney, famously), are very protective of their characters and properties. Disney went after cartoonist Dan O’Neill (of the marvelous Odd Bodkins strips) for a comic strip which they felt crossed the line. It depicted Mickey and Minnie doing things that were…um, NSFW (Not Safe For Walt). ;) Disney won.

On the other hand, some have been much more relaxed about it, even explicitly allowing fan fiction (although sometimes with guidelines).

When it comes to Kindle Worlds, that has to be on the minds of the rightsholders. Will allowing people fairly free rein with the stories dilute (and possibly diminish) the consumers’ perception of the characters/world?

I think that’s unlikely.

First, I think that many people may see this as another medium. People don’t judge books by the movies or TV shows…or at least, many people don’t. We are talking about serious readers here, for the most part: the ones who know who the publishers are. I think that they will probably be aware that a Kindle Worlds book is something different…and not assume that, say, Kurt Vonnegut is a lousy writer because they read a Kindle World Vonnegut book that wasn’t up to their standards.

Second, bringing in new creative perspectives has often been a contributor to the longevity of a character, I believe.

We can see this when a property is adapted, and something is added or changed during the adaptation, and then that finds it way back into the original medium…or just simply becomes part of the public mythology about the character.

I believe that companies that allow that to happen strengthen their properties, rather than weaken them.

Here are some examples (at least, this is how the stories go that I’ve heard):

  • Superman’s ability to fly was added for the Fleischer cartoons…they thought it was both easier to animate and more dramatic
  • Kryptonite was added by the Superman radio show…so the actor playing Superman could take a break (otherwise, what prevents Superman from being in the story?)
  • The snowstorm in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie is not based on the original book, but on a 1902 musical (the original solution to the problem, and I’m avoiding spoilers, would have been quite hard to do on stage)
  • The Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t green in the Oz books: that was done for the 1939 movie, in part because they were playing with the new technicolor options. In Wicked, the “fact” that the witch is green is central to the story…presumably, the author didn’t realize that was sourced from the movie, not the public domain works
  • Sherlock Holmes doesn’t say, “Elementary, my dear Watson” in the original stories. Holmes gets quite close to it, using both “Elementary” and “My dear Watson” within paragraphs of each other in The Hound of the Baskervilles. It does appear (with an extra “elementary” at the end in a 1929 movie version. I believe it might first have been used in a satirical way in The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
  • Alfred (Bruce Wayne’s butler) being thin and having a mustache came from casting for a film adaptation. Similarly, the Batcave first appeared in a serial, and later became part of the comics
  • Sulu’s first name on Star Trek of “Hikaru” originally appeared in an authorized novel by Vonda McIntyre, and later was used on screen in a movie

Those are just a few examples. I think the characters are richer because the owner saw a good idea and used it. They recognized the value of an outside input.

That doesn’t mean, I believe, that they should allow infringement (even though that might lead to “beneficial mutations”). However, Kindle Worlds is not infringement: it’s authorized. By allowing outsiders to introduce new elements there, the characters can be enriched.

It’s important to note that the authors of Kindle Worlds stories don’t control new elements they introduce for the characters. Quite a few people have been upset about that, but it’s not so different from the examples I’ve given above (with the exception, perhaps, of the Holmes one).

The Fleischers couldn’t very well have said, “Is it okay if we make Superman fly?” and then tried to stop DC from using a flying Superman in its comics…or asked for a royalty when they did.

My advice to rightsholders is that it is safe to put your worlds into Kindle Worlds, and may turn out to be a very good thing.

What do you think? Is it a risk to license your characters to Kindle Worlds? Are readers sophisticated enough not to judge the original “canonical” works by KW? Conversely, should rightsholders freely allow fan fiction (outside of Kindle Worlds)? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.


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