Amazon’s “Important Kindle request” for KDP authors

Amazon’s “Important Kindle request” for KDP authors

I received an e-mail from Amazon, which I am reproducing below. My understanding is that is generally acceptable to distribute an e-mail you received, unless it is marked private or tells you not to distribute it. I don’t think Amazon will mind in this case, since they’ve also publicly published it. I’m going to let you see it without any commentary from me. If you have comments about it yourself, please feel free to let me and my readers know by commenting on this post. I may respond to those or write more about this later, but I didn’t want to prejudice you about it before you had read it.

Update: I’ve gotten some good comments on this, and I see it is getting a lot of coverage in the blogosphere. I am going to add my opinion about it to this post, after the communication from Amazon. That will still give you a chance to read it first.

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the
foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. 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. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to
overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like
paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not
united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at www.readersunited.com

Update: after seeing some comments from my readers, and being directly asked what I thought about it, I’ve decided to add my opinion and analysis to this post.

I suspect some of you will be at this blog for the first time because of linkages to other sites, so let me set up a little bit about what might affect my opinions.

I am a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, which might tend to align me with the retailer in this case, Amazon. However, a lot of brick-and-mortar folks don’t like Amazon, so that might dilute that impact. I am also an author of books which are published through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, and so have made money from Amazon. This blog, as well, is one of the top-selling blogs of any kind in the USA Kindle store: another thing that might make me lean towards Amazon.

Also important: I’m a very happy Amazon customer, and use a Fire Phone, Fire TV, Kindle Fire HDX, and Kindle Paperwhite daily. I’ve had a very good relationship with Amazon.

I’m also a publisher, which might make me sympathetic to Hachette. That’s in a small way: I’ve only published my own work, not counting public domain books I’ve digitized for a non-profit.

I believe I can give you a fair analysis, regardless of those factors.

As to my overall opinion on the situation: Amazon shouldn’t pretend to carry the books. Either carry them, or don’t. If you can’t reach a satisfactory agreement with Hachette, drop the books. I think Amazon is seriously hurting their relationships with customers by having product pages for books, and then making getting them difficult or impossible. Customers will project that to all of your products, they won’t really care about the reason…and they will feel like pawns you are willing to hurt in the game.

I’d like to see the two sides settle, and have things get back to where they were. That’s my ideal outcome. If that doesn’t happen, I’d be happier with the Hachette books out of the store than in the store with barbed wire around them.

Now, as to Amazon’s e-mail:

It appears to me to be designed to lead people to an emotional conclusion, and one can certainly argue that it is designed to mislead them.

The first part is particularly bizarre, where they talk about the history of paperbacks. This is where Amazon is sticking to its positioning as being populist (using the word “nope” is another indicator of that) and against the establishment, and in doing so, it’s conflating things.

Let me restate what they said about the paperbacks, and which they then use to make Hachette the big bad (as part of the establishment):

Publishers produced a new cheaper version of books. Many retailers refused to carry them. An author opposed them.

See? When you restate it, the publishers were the good guys for readers, and the retailers were the bad guys… and “famous” authors were bad, too!

  • Publishers = Hachette = Good Guys
  • Retailers = Amazon = Bad Guys
  • “famous author” = everybody who signed a recent letter against Amazon’s tactics = Bad Guy Sympathizers

Isn’t that the opposite of what Amazon wants you to think?

That third bullet point is especially interesting because they addressed this e-mail to authors! It seems like they want to create a firm schism between traditionally published famous authors, and indies (independent authors).

The reference to Orwell is fascinating, because they then do a sort of Orwellian Nineteen Eight-Four “newspeak” to somehow make that an argument in the current situation in favor of a retailer versus a publisher.

The next thing, which sparked comments on this post, was the assertion that  “Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99”, which people naturally took to suggest that Hachette was making people pay $19.99 for a novel.

Amazon typically discounts books from the publisher’s suggested price (the DLP or Digital List Price), so it isn’t that easy to use pricing numbers at Amazon to determine how many books are being released at a certain price point. Looking at the analysis in my monthly Snapshot for August 1st, 2014, there are very few books (in terms of percentage of the store) at the price points I check between $19.99 and $24.99:

$ 19.99 | 7,239 | 0.27%
$ 20.99 | 717 | 0.03%
$ 21.99 | 744 | 0.03%
$ 22.99 | 2,679 | 0.10%
$ 23.99 | 960 | 0.04%
$ 24.99 | 915 | 0.03%

I doubt that one percent of the e-books have a DLP of $19.99.

I did a search for

$19.99 or higher e-books from Grand Central in the USA Kindle store (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

Grand Central is one of Hachette’s big imprints. My results?

Five titles: two omnibus (more than one book is included) titles, two cookbooks, and a “coffee table book”. No single novels.

My readers’ comments not surprisingly indicated a reluctance to pay $19.99 to Hachette, presumably for a single novel.

They aren’t asking us to do that.

The price you pay is up to Amazon, not Hachette. Part of the dispute with the publishers (which led to the publishers having to settle with U.S. Department of Justice over accusations of collusion to raise e-book prices) had to do with Amazon selling e-books at a loss. If Hachette did price a book at $19.99, Amazon could still sell it to you for $9.99. Amazon would take a bigger loss that way, which I’m sure they’d rather not do.

Amazon can take (and apparently has taken) a loss on many e-books. If good prices on e-books get you into Amazon’s ecosystem, which then gets you to become a Prime member where you’ll buy much higher margin physical goods (what I refer to as “diapers and windshield wipers”), then it is well worth it.

Hachette can not set the price you pay for a book through Amazon: that’s part of what the problem was with the Agency Model, where they were able to do that.

Another disingenuous thing in the e-mail, in my opinion, is Amazon’s numbers on how many more books an e-book sells at $9.99 than at $14.99.

They conveniently leave off the likelihood that the discrepancy is due in some part to the book being cheaper than other comparable books, not just to $9.99 as a discrete value.

Here’s what I mean:

If some books are $14.99 and some are $9.99, the $9.99 appears to be more attractive…people will see it as “saving five dollars”.

If almost all books were $9.99, that “comparison positive” disappears. Maybe then the 1.74 multiplier would apply to books at $7.99 versus books at $9.99, although I doubt it would be that high. I do think there is a psychological impact with books priced under $10 versus $10 or higher (we certainly saw that in my store), but I think the 1.74 multiplier wouldn’t be reliable if all books came down in price.

Again, these are observations of the e-mail, not of the position. I think the e-mail, which they knew would be seen by readers in addition to the authors/small publishers to which it was sent (Amazon posted it themselves at “Readers United” ((which has an e-mail address at Amazon.com)), and in fact, addressed it to readers rather than authors at that site) to manipulate readers and authors into pressuring Hachette.

That’s the part I don’t like.

To reiterate, I think Amazon’s Kindle has been wonderful for book culture. I think more people are reading books, including the classics, because of it. I think books are more accessible, and are able to be published by more people giving us a greater variety.

Here’s my best guess for the future:

  • Authors will increasingly control the distribution of their books, not needing the tradpubs’ “machinery” to get a book out there, both in terms of distribution and discovery. We’ll see more brand name authors independently publishing some of their work. It’s possible that an author collective might be part of it. Indie authors will see a relatively golden age, in the beginning
  • Tradpubs will figure out alternate distribution channels, although they won’t be as effective as Amazon is right now. Some of that will be direct selling from the publisher to the reader…they have to solve the discovery issue first. I think it will be a mix, with some tradpub titles at Amazon, some through other channels. I’ve mentioned that I think we might see “ancillary” and non-canonical works in Kindle Unlimited from the tradpubs (short story prequels, sequels, and sidequels ((a term I use for works set in the same universe, but not in sequence or focusing on the same characters)), reference works, and so on), and the main series (which requires less discovery) sold through alternate channels
  • Amazon will do fine. I wrote recently about how they could improve contextual linking, but Amazon will continue to make it easier for us to buy books. The books are not going to be their profit drivers, but I expect them to be part of the strategy
  • Readers will benefit from these changes. We’ll have more books for less money

As requested, now you have my opinion and analysis. I look forward to more of your comments on this issue.

Update: I’ve flipped several articles about this into the free ILMK Flipboard magazine, but I thought I’d link to a couple of the stand-outs here:

  • IN WHICH AMAZON CALLS YOU TO DEFEND THE REALM by Chuck Wendig: I have to warn you about this one first, because the “F word” shows up right away. That’s always an interesting choice: while it may more accurately reflect the way you speak and feel, it considerably limits your audience. That said, I thought this was a hilarious take on the Amazon e-mail, and the Hachazon War generally
  • Dispute Between Amazon and Hachette Takes an Orwellian Turn by David Streitfeld in The New York Times: I hadn’t researched the quotation Amazon uses to say that, “…famous author(s)…” “…are “wrong about that” (seemingly trying to equate George Orwell with established authors like Stephen King who recently signed a letter to Amazon decrying the e-tailer’s tactics). Streitfeld does a very nice job of explaining the context of the quotation, and how Orwell actually supported cheap paperbacks. There was no need to rush this e-mail out, as far as I know, and it appears to have come from an official Amazon source (although some have found it so strange, they wonder if Amazon was hacked). Presumably, they had time to actually research the quotation, and chose to use it in a way which the author would probably not have intended. According to Streitfeld, the original quotation is, “The Penguin Books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.”

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.

30 Responses to “Amazon’s “Important Kindle request” for KDP authors”

  1. Lady Galaxy Says:

    I don’t like this. I don’t like it at all. It reeks of the worst aspects of dirty politics and unfair labor practice. If Hachette really believes that people will buy Kindle titles for $19.99, let them offer them for that price and let them see what happens.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I’m going to do some analysis of this, but it’s interesting to me to see how quickly people are accepting Amazon’s suggestion that

      “…Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99”

      and applying that to a single (not omnibus) title from Hachette.

      I’ve decided I’ll need to update the post…that people will have had a chance to read it. There’s too much buzz about it to wait much.

      In my August first Snapshot analysis, only .27% of the books in the Kindle store were at $19.99…and I’ll bet that many of those are omnibuses. There have been books priced by Amazon (not list priced) at $19.99 that were in the New York Times bestseller hardback fiction equivalents…so the answer appears to be that enough people will pay that for a book to make it a top seller. Certainly, the book might sell better at a lower price, as Amazon indicates.

      The other thing is that Amazon wouldn’t need to sell it for $19.99 if Hachette prices a book that way…more on that in my longer opinion in the post update.

      • Lady Galaxy Says:

        As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a retired teacher. Quite a few times during my years as a teacher, I ended up being a part of the contract negotiation team, and the first rule of contract negotiation is that you DO NOT make the negotiations public until the contract has undergone a vote. That’s why I said this brought to mind unfair labor practices.
        It also had the spin of a really bad political advertisement. Living in a swing state, I’m currently seeing every dirty trick in the book being spun by professional spin doctors. I think Amazon is working too hard to try to spin this in their direction. To me, it’s making Amazon seem like a big old bully.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Lady!

        Exactly! I felt the same way when John Sargent took the negotiations between Macmillan and Amazon over the Agency Model public. It is simply bad form.

        On the other hand, from what I know, Hachette took it public first. Amazon was being betrayed poorly, and it seemed to me that public sentiment was moving against the e-tailer. One could argue that defense makes sense.

        That said, I don’t think this is the appropriate defense. Attacking George Orwell as a way to rally authors to put pressure on your negotiating opponent? Again, bad form…

  2. Lavonn Says:

    I will not pay $19.99 for an e-book. Ever. I will return to the library for books if that is the case…

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lavonn!

      Fortunately, there are so many book alternatives! You could read a free book from the USA Kindle store every day for over 100 years and not run out.🙂

  3. MightyH Says:

    I don’t disagree with Lady Galaxy’s view, but I like the direction Amazon is trying to go (even if their motives maybe aren’t exactly what is stated in the letter) enough to support the “movement”.

    Amazon has been a far more willing proponent of the reader than any publisher has ever been, I’m throwing in with them.

    Could it be that I am just bitter that Hatchette wants to nail me for $20 for an ebook? A product that only exists in the ether, that Amazon pays to deliver to me?

    I think I just answered my own question!

    Some say it’s the thought that counts… I maintain that it’s your actions that count. Regardless of Amazon’s “thought”, their actions prove they mean to increase access to literature.

    Higher prices reduce access, plain and simple. I am for greater access. …And if I am being honest, paying less.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, MightyH!

      I agree: Amazon has been a huge force for good in the democratization of literature.

      However, and I’ll do some analysis on it, don’t be too quick to accept that Hachette wants you to pay $20 for an e-book. In terms of it being the “thought that counts”, that’s largely what you pay for in a book: the author’s thoughts.🙂 Those thoughts don’t become worth less money when transmitted electronically. Publishers do typically price the e-books lower than the p-books (paperbooks).

      I also want more access…but more access also includes the existence of more books, which in turn requires multiple economic models. The tradpub (traditional publisher) model is one of those, albeit one of perhaps decreasing importance.

  4. Isaac Says:

    It is truly a laughable point of discussion. The thought of paying such an amount for an e-book is both insane and ridiculous.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Isaac!

      I’m going to do an analysis on this, but I don’t think Hachette is commonly asking people to pay $19.99 for a single novel in e-book form. People do pay that, though…part of the question is how many would do it, versus how many would do it at a lower price.

      E-books also run quite a gamut: you wouldn’t pay $19.99 for an omnibus with ten books in it for which you would otherwise pay $3.99 apiece? How about for an encyclopedia? I’m just cautioning against having a flat response to a price point…

      • Isaac Says:

        Thanks, Bufo!

        I think the emphasis on the variety of potential price points is essential to calm the otherwise inevitable commotion that may result from an emotionally polarizing letter.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Isaac!

        When I’ve trained trainers in the past, one of the things I talk about is credibility. One way to gain credibility? Use numbers. It suggests you are coming from a point of fact. It makes it seem more logical and less advocatory when Amazon says “1.74” instead of “a bunch more”.😉

  5. Greg Unger Says:

    From: Greg Unger
    Sent: Saturday, August 9, 2014 9:19 AM
    To: Kindle Direct Publishing
    Cc: Greg Unger
    Subject: RE: Important Kindle request
    Dear KDP,
    This is an absolutely ridiculous email. Blame the buyer not the seller. This is a free country. This is a capitalist country. A seller has every right to sell at whatever cost they believe there work or service is entitled to. If a buyer does not want to buy a book because of the price then no problem.
    Why would you go out of your way to send an email like this to your publishers under the guise that you are helping people? You are helping your bottom-line through bullying and scare tactics.
    To also note “- We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.”
    I hope whomever is in charge over there and whomever wrote this email and approved get what they deserve for making such an absurd accusation like this.
    You should be ashamed of yourselves. You need to consider getting out a retraction email a.s.a.p. with an apology to your authors.
    Greg Unger

  6. Mike Says:

    What is your opinion on this whole matter Bufo? I know some authors side with Hachette and some side with Amazon. Who do you feel is more right?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Mike!

      I’m glad you said, “…more right,” as opposed to just “right”.🙂 They are both right and wrong. Your question is prompting me (along with some other factors) to write a longer response than I will do here…I’ll update the original post with it.

      For now, I’ll say this: the e-mail is misleading in some ways. However, my natural tendency is to side with Amazon, given how they’ve empowered so many writers who would never have reached an audience through the tradpubs (traditional publishers) and made books so much more accessible.

      More in the update: I’ll try and get that done later today.

  7. Lady Galaxy Says:

    And on another front:
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/amazon-takes-the-muppets-off-the-shelf/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Lady!

      I hadn’t flipped that one yet…I appreciate that! I had flipped others on that issue. This is one of the relatively rare cases where I will put it into both the ILMK and The Measured Circle free Flipboard magazines. I try not to do that much, but the ILMK one logically covers Amazon more broadly than e-books, and the movie references fit The Measured Circle.

      This paragraph:

      “In at least one case, there seems to be no product page at all for the physical copy of the movie. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is available for preorder as an Amazon Instant Video, but neither a Blu-ray disc nor a DVD is offered.”

      is how I would want Amazon to handle the Hachette books. Just make them disappear if you aren’t satisfied with the deal.

  8. Edward Foster Says:

    And a nice correction to Amazon’s rather ridiculous claims regarding Orwell.
    http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/08/09/orwell-is-amazons-latest-target-in-battle-against-hachette/?_php=true&_type=blogs&_r=0

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      That one I had flipped into the free ILMK Flipboard magazine…but I always appreciate a heads-up. I will probably update the post with a few links, and this will be one of them.

      I hadn’t done the research on the Orwell quotation, and this article does. Simply put, Amazon’s use of what Orwell said is classically taken out of context. Or, as Manny Ferber once said, “…context…”😉

  9. Edward Boyhan Says:

    Where to begin …

    This is a big complicated issue, and quite frankly the books part of it is really a bit of a sideshow compared to the larger questions sweeping retail pricing in general, internet bandwidth pricing, and entertainment pricing in particular.

    In general I’m broadly sympathetic to Amazon’s position here, and am broadly in agreement with your projections as to what the long term outcome might be (although I do have some questions as to whether any viable competitors to Amazon will ever appear, or even possible — given the development arc of the technologies involved — could Amazon be a “natural” monopoly?).

    I do think that any attempt by those of us looking on from the “public” side of the dispute to try and analyze “the numbers” is a waste of time — none of us really know very much about what the underlying “real” accounting numbers ( Amazon’s and Hachette’s) are. Certainly no one has any clue what the true cost of goods sold really is — so statements that Amazon is selling books at a loss or making big profits on them need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    A few days ago the NYT asked who’s to say that Amazon gets to set the price? One might equally ask who’s to say that the tradpubs should set them? At the end of the day — if we look at the indie side of the playing field, Amazon is saying (quite correctly I think) the authors should get to set them for their own works.

    That ultimately this will devolve into a conflict between indies and established authors is I think inevitable. eBooks have dramatically reduced the barriers to entry to book authorship. This dramatic increase in the supply of product available to be read in the face of relatively static reader demand should normally lead to an overall reduction in prices. The tradpubs OTOH have a lot of fixed overheads that they can’t easily shed — they need to keep prices high in order to cover these costs. They (and their captive “privileged” stable of authors) will make the argument for “quality” in the face of the hordes of unwashed lower orders of indie writers.

    This argument will probably fail.

    Amazon has it right in that books are a very small component of the ever increasing panoply of choices available for us to spend our entertainment dollars on. In fact if one looks at much of the newer stuff on offer in all of the video, music, and app stores, I am struck by how much of it is being offered for “free”, or at very low prices. New ad-supported or “freemium” business models predominate in these newer entertainment emporiums. One has to ask then: why is this so important? A topic for another day, I fear.

    So how does one survive in this environment? One way to buffer these upheavals in the past has been to rely on increased population. Each individual may be spending less on my products, but population increases will enable me to keep my revenue streams relatively stable. The US population today is more than double what it was when I was a child.

    Also some are hoping that eBooks, and new types of reading devices will lead to an increase in readership. I think there may be a short term bump here, but I think the crucial demographic here are the millennials. Most of us commenting on your blog are (I suspect) older farts — the younger generations seem to not be much in tune with “long form” media unless it’s full of biff boom POW (:grin). Long term I think book readership will decline — in fact I think all traditional entertainment modalities (Books, Music, Movies, Opera — anyone following the problems with the Met in NYC? — etc) will decline in popularity.

    Oh and BTW this isn’t new — I give you some comments (taken from his Wikipedia article) made by Alfred A. Knopf in the early to mid seventies about the state of book publishing — I wonder could Bezos be channeling Knopf? (:grin)

    “Too many books are published, and they are overpriced,” he told The Saturday Review. These are things “about which all publishers agree, and about which no publisher does anything.” The most fundamental change he noted was the increased importance of the editor. “In the early days, things were quite simple. The books came in; we published them as written… A publisher was regarded—and so, in turn, was the writer—as a pro. A writer’s job was to write a book and give it to you.” And he remarked to Shenker: “I guess business became more complicated and publishers less literate. It ceased to be the fact that publishers publish and authors write. Today authors submit manuscripts and editors write books.” The editor is now hired largely to acquire books, “and if he can’t get good books, he usually takes what he can get–books that are not so good. And then he sometimes wrecks himself trying to make a silk purse out of what can never become anything but a sow’s ear.”

    The one thing that strikes me about all of this is how little of the dollars spent on a book actually finds its way into the pockets of the individuals who have done the heavy lifting of creating something of real value. To me that is the real crime, and I hope at the end of the day (and Amazon is helping here with their 70% royalties for KDP books) that changes.

    To both Amazon and Hachette books are small beer — I sometimes wonder why they are spending so much time on this — of course much of this is just a stalking horse — a trial balloon if you will, for what’s coming on tomorrow’s entertainment playing fields ( are their enough bad metaphors in there do you think? :grin)

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Edward!

      An excellent and wide-ranging comment!

      I agree with you that the “quality argument” by tradpubs will be a difficult one. It wouldn’t lead to an extinction: think fast food versus a luxury dining experience. That’s why I suggested some time back that $50 for a new novel, in a superior binding and buying experience, may be viable for some mainstream titles.

      I’m not as convinced that reader demand is static. It might be forlorn to expect that the percentage of readers in the existing US population will increase much (although I do think that the readily availability of books as e-books may waken a few dormant ones). I think, though, that the amount of consumption per capita may rise, and probably already has. I hear that from people who were already serious readers…that they are reading even more with e-books.

      New consumption modes may also change the demand. Subsers (subscription services) may widen demand for the number of books, even if the actual amount of reading doesn’t increase.

      One of the books I’m reading

      These Are The Voyages, TOS, Season One (Season One Book 1) ( at AmazonSmile)

      shows just that “sow’s ear/silk purse” process. The scripts would come in, and there was tremendous time pressure (the second pilot was shown as one of the early broadcasts in part because they didn’t have episodes ready quickly enough). Many people might contribute ideas to the story. Bob Justman was concerned with money and might make suggestions to save it (“No, your miner can’t ride a tractor in that scene.” “It would be cheaper if Mudd had three women rather than five” Those are just paraphrases to give you the idea), but also made story contributions. Gene Roddenberry often rewrote dialog, and made other bigger changes…leading to the resignation of the first story editor.

      As we see the demand for e-book material grow (as I think we will), we may also see a shortening of the creative cycle. There are indies (independent authors) now who write ten or more books a year. It’s possible that will lead to an efficiency of the creative process, as was often the case with Star Trek, rather than diminished quality.

      As to why these two multifaceted megacorps care so much…part of it is probably worrying about precedent, part of it might be ego…but I think a big part may be public perception. Now there is something where there is a limited supply: trust.😉 I generally don’t use Apple products (except at work) because I don’t like what they did with e-books…it’s like a $100 printer failing because of a five-cent piece of plastic holding some part of it together.

  10. Lady Galaxy Says:

    Oh, myyyyyyy! I think the writer of “In Which Amazon Calls on You to Defend the Realm” might be right when speculating that, “G*d, maybe the Amazon Books Team is a sentient AI.” Think about it. Robots to pack the books. Drones to deliver the books. Not a far leap to think that AI is marketing the books. Perhaps the head of the team is Lore rather than Data!

  11. KDP weigh-in on the Amazon-Hachette war | Write*A*Revolution Says:

    […] Amazon’s “Important Kindle request” for KDP authors […]

  12. Brian Hartman Says:

    I see some educated people, comfortable in their lives, happily enjoying their success. Then a new way of publishing books to the masses, out of nowhere*, rises up. Some saw the challenge that is modern life–progress. Some saw a threat to their happiness. Some realized they’d have to get off their butts and do some work for a while.

    To say, or intimate that the production of a paper book is as negligible as they would want us to believe–15-18% is laughable. That’s where they got mad at Amazon, “What, you won’t tell us any more ahead of time how many we should print for you?” And they shouldn’t. Amazon never gave sales numbers of Kindles out for competitive reasons, and they certainly don’t “have to” let a company know ahead of time how many books to print. If those companies are competent, they should know anyway, without relying on Amazon to tell them. What is the big deal about Amazon not taking pre-orders? If I were in negotiations with a company, the idea of me having to tell them this type of proprietary information is laughable. Print your books. AMAZON NEVER SAID THEY WOULDN”T SELL THEM.

    I generally respect authors as a group. I certainly never saw such a group of respected writers participate in a disinformation campaign as this, and hope never to again.

    I remember when two book stores in my small town in New Jersey went under because of the advent of Borders and Barnes and Noble chains; they couldn’t possibly compete with them.

    I certainly didn’t forget what that did to the storefront in my town.
    One of them, the one I went to as a kid, has changed hands many times, but nothing stays. Before Barnes and Noble, that store was there for 78 years. If there were a healthy local bookstore environment nationwide that wasn’t killed by Borders and Barnes and Noble chain stores, I don’t know if we’d be having the same conversation today.

    I may be mixing arguments, here, but I have no sympathy for people who were all-aboard killing Mom-n-Pop book stores and realized too late that the Frankenstein they created through their willful depersonalization of book buying is actually responsible for tons of their book sales.

    Go Amazon; do your best to make the price right. I’m certainly on board.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Brian!

      People do tend to forget the “dinostores” killing off the little stores…but now, the little stores appear to be doing better than those big stores.

      I think one of the main issues with not taking pre-orders is the bestseller ranking on release day. A lot of people buy books based on that bestseller ranking, and that can make or break the release of a book. My guess is that is the big concern.

  13. Brian Hartman Says:

    I knew someone in the New York City publishing industry, high up, in the 1980’s and you can bet they were counting their dollars at the prospect of sending huge quantities of books to fewer locations. They envisioned a whole different world, and they would get a large piece of it. If local small bookstores couldn’t match their adjusted sales terms, screw them. That is the truth. It’s Karma.

    What comes around…

  14. Brian Hartman Says:

    I’m sure it is. That’s why I made the point about the demise of locals. I hope they come back. There would’ve been a lot more pre-orders if they weren’t forced out of business. I don’t understand authors saying Amazon should give advance-business to a company when it is disputing and negotiating terms. That’s just immature thinking, and whining in my book. Pun intended.

  15. Is Amazon making us better people? | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Amazon’s “Important Kindle request” for KDP authors […]

  16. Louise Marianix Says:

    I would like to see 3 authors on Kindle, Christina Lamb, Saira Shah and Nelofer Pazira, I am intersted in reading the books om my kindle

    Regards Louise

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Louise!

      Whether an author’s books are available in the Kindle store or not, is up to the rightsholder, so it’s best to contact them. It may be a publisher, although the publisher ultimately gets the rights from the author or the author’s estate. Amazon does give you a link to “let the publisher know” on the book’s product page.

      If you are talking about Christina Lamb’s

      I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

      which was written with Malala Yousafzai, it is available in Kindle format now…at least in the USA. If you are in another country, then again, it’s best to contact the publisher and/or the author. A publisher who has licensed the right to publish a book in the USA may not have the right to publish it in another country.

      Saira Shah’s books also appear to be available, as do Nelofer Pazira’s.

      As I mentioned, I’m checking USA availability, because that’s what I can see.

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