Amazon to pay you for giving away free samples

In a move which may make some authors happy, Amazon has decided to pay authors by the number of pages written:

“(Reuters) – It could soon pay more to write lengthier books, if you are an author self-publishing on Amazon.com Inc’s Kindle ebook platform.

Starting next month, the e-commerce giant will pay independent authors based on the number of pages read, rather than the number of times their book has been borrowed.

The move is aimed at authors enrolled in Kindle Direct Publishing platform – which lets authors set list prices, decide rights and edit the book at any time – and is applicable to e-books made available via the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library programs.

Self-publishing has transformed what it means to be an author. Simply uploading a document and adding a cover layout to it can turn anyone into a published writer on ebook platforms such as Kindle and Smashwords.

Amazon said on Monday the move would better align payout with the length of books and how much customers read.

“We’re making this switch in response to great feedback we received from authors,” Amazon said on its self-publishing portal.

Amazon uses a complex method to determine payments for independent authors – payouts are based on a fund, the size of which is set by Amazon every month.

Under the new plan, authors will get a share of the fund proportionate to the number of pages read.

While independent authors have largely embraced Amazon’s self-publishing platform, the company has in the past been involved in bitter fights with large publishers.

The company had a stand-off with publisher Hachette Book Group and some authors last year over pricing. The fight ended when Hachette and Amazon reached a multi-year agreement for e-book and print book sales in November.”

This change appears to be encouraged by other self-published indie authors but the gist is this: For those who were in Amazon’s KDP program or in Kindle Unlimited, writing longer stories didn’t benefit the writer, so many self-published authors began writing novellas and publishing those as they were shorter and the payouts were better. This way of doing business allowed people who sold short stories at 99 cents to make as much as an author discounting a book to 99 cents. if you get the same rates either way, then why write a 70,000 word book when you can put a short story trilogy of 25,000-30,000 words and sell that?

Everyone gives away page samples, and this move encourages authors to give away more free pages. This way, if someone “tries it before they buy it” you can still get paid. It’s along the same lines of the whole Taylor Swift vs. Apple controversy where Taylor called for Apple to pay artists for songs people streamed during their free trial period. No word if Amazon’s timing was perfect or if they reacted immediately to what was happening with the music industry.

The only catch is, you have to be in KDP to get this benefit. One argument going around is that this is a move by Amazon to try to convince more authors to go exclusive with Amazon. If you can get paid for free samples, versus putting up your book elsewhere and not getting paid for free samples, where you would go?

Actually, that IS the question for all of you. Who among you would take up Amazon’s offer to pay you for sample pages read, in exchange for going exclusive?

The Traditional Publisher’s Revenge: Turns out Publishing with Amazon has Drawbacks, too

cartoon credit: Dan Wasserman, Boston Globe. Distributed by the Tribune Content Agency.

On December 27 the New York Times ran an article called “Amazon offers all you can eat books: Authors turn up noses”. The problem starts with a new Amazon program called Kindle Unlimited, which allows readers a.k.a customers to buy into a monthly membership for $9.99 to get unlimited access to a wide range of titles. Needless to say, this is great for avid readers and for Amazon, who gets people to use their services, but a bad deal for authors who depend on selling books even if only for $0.99 a copy.

From the article: (bold emphasis mine)

“Authors are upset with Amazon. Again.

For much of the last year, mainstream novelists were furious that Amazon was discouraging the sale of some titles in its confrontation with the publisher Hachette over e-books.

Now self-published writers, who owe much of their audience to the retailer’s publishing platform, are unhappy.

One problem is too much competition. But a new complaint is about Kindle Unlimited, a new Amazon subscription service that offers access to 700,000 books — both self-published and traditionally published — for $9.99 a month.

It may bring in readers, but the writers say they earn less. And in interviews and online forums, they have voiced their complaints.

For romance and mystery novelists who embraced digital technology, loved chatting up their fans and wrote really, really fast, the last few years have been a golden age. Fiction underwent a boom unseen since the postwar era, when seemingly every liberal arts major set his sights on the Great American Novel.

Now, though, the world has more stories than it needs or wants to pay for. In 2010, Amazon had 600,000 e-books in its Kindle store. Today it has more than three million. The number of books on Smashwords, which distributes self-published writers, grew 20 percent last year. The number of free books rose by one-third.

Revenue from e-books leveled off in 2013 at $3 billion after increasing nearly 50 percent in 2012, according to BookStats. But Kindle Unlimited is making the glut worse, some writers say.

The program has the same all-you-can-eat business model as Spotify in music, Netflix in video and the book start-ups Oyster and Scribd. Consumers feast on these services, which can offer new artists a wider audience than they ever could have found before the digital era.

Holly Ward, who writes romances under the name H.M. Ward, has much the same complaint about Kindle Unlimited. After two months in the program, she said, her income dropped 75 percent. “I couldn’t wait and watch things plummet further,” she said on a Kindle discussion board. She immediately left the program. Kindle Unlimited is not mandatory, but writers fear that if they do not participate, their books will not be promoted.

One major point of contention: Kindle Unlimited generally requires self-published writers to be exclusive, closing off the possibility of sales through Apple, Barnes & Noble and other platforms. (Ms. Ward was an exception.)

Amazon usually gives self-published writers 70 percent of what a book earns, which means a novel selling for $4.99 yields $3.50. This is much more than traditional publishers pay, a fact that Amazon frequently points out.

Books in 2014: Year in review

This post is about the state of book publishing. Whether you’ve gotten a book published or if you’re looking to get one published, here are some highlights:

  • $5.25 billion: Amazon’s current annual revenue from book sales, according to one of Packer’s sources. That means books account for 7% of the company’s $75 billion in total yearly revenue.
  • 19.5%: The proportion of all books sold in the U.S. that are Kindle titles. E-books now make up around 30% of all book sales, and Amazon has a 65% share within that category. Apple and Barnes & Nobles make up nearly all of the rest.
  • >50%: The decrease in the number of independent bookstores over the past 20 years. There used to be about 4,000 in the U.S.; now there are fewer than 2,000. Amazon’s arrival on the scene is only part of the story here, of course; the decline of the indies started with the debut of big-box stores like B&N and Borders. (Forbes.com)
  • E-books Still Outsold by Hardcover and Paperback E-book sales accounted for 23% of unit sales in the first six months of 2014, according to Nielsen Books & Consumer’s latest survey of the nation’s book-buying behavior. Paperback remained the most popular format in the first half of the year, with a 42% share of unit sales. Hardcover’s share of units was just ahead of e-books, accounting for 25% of unit purchases.
  • The fight is over Amazon and Hachette’s feud over the price-setting of Hachette books sold on Amazon ended with Amazon winning some ground, though a look back shows it was probably a draw. In the short-term, Hachette may have held its ground, but the fact that Amazon controls so much of the book selling market means they can outlast their print and brick and mortar store competitors (if the company can keep from losing more money).
  • Print isn’t dead despite the belief that someday no one will hold a paper book, there are more small indie presses than there were ten years ago.
  • The top ten publishing houses of 2013:
  • Rank (2013) Rank (2012) Publishing Company (Group or Division) Country Mother Corporation or Owner Country of Mother Corporation 2013 Revenue in $M 2012 Revenue in $M
    1 1 Pearson UK Pearson UK $9,330 $9,158
    2 2 Reed Elsevier UK/NL/US Reed Elsevier UK/NL/US $7,288 $5,934
    3 3 Thomson-Reuters US The Woodbridge Company Ltd. Canada $5,576 $5,386
    4 4 Wolters Kluwer NL Wolters Kluwer NL $4,920 $4,766
    5 5 Random House Germany Bertelsmann AG Germany $3,664 $3,328
    6 6 Hachette Livre France Lagardère France $2,851 $2,833
    7 10 Holtzbrinck Germany Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck Germany $2,222 $2,220
    8 8 Grupo Planeta Spain Grupo Planeta Spain $2,161 $2,597
    9 11 Cengage* US Apax Partners et al. US/Canada N/A $1,993
    10 7 McGraw-Hill Education US The McGraw-Hill Companies US $1,992 $2,292

(Publishers Weekly)

We won’t have final 2014 numbers for publishing companies for some time, but in the meantime one thing’s pretty clear: despite the consolidations in the publishing industry, smaller indies are managing and an increasing number of best-sellers are coming from self-publishers (basically, anyone not with a Big 5 contract). Even though many kids don’t read (a goal of mine I want to work on), people have not yet thrown away all the books for Angry Birds.

What do you think 2015 will hold?

Is Indie book publishing the best way to go?

There is a lot of debate among authors as to which methods of publication is best. Here are the four most common options:

1. Traditional publishing (Big 5- Penguin Random House, Hachette, HarperCollins, MacMillian, Simon & Schuster, and all of the smaller printing companies they own)

2. “Indie Publisher”: small and medium sized printing and publishing companies unaffiliated with the Big 5.

3. Self-publishing with a major company like Amazon publishing, where you publish with a major company but it’s largely self-publishing, just on their platform.

4. Self-publishing: you do all the work yourself of creating  or hiring someone for the content, graphic design, editing, etc, and then you publish it on a site like Amazon, Nook, or smash words as an e-book with the possible Print on Demand function.

*Disclaimer: I am not at this time a published author. This is my take on how I view the industry based on the experiences of other authors and my understanding of the publishing industry.

Traditional publishing has the biggest pro in terms of marketing and budget. They can get your book into stores faster than any other method, you can sell copies, print in particular, faster through a big company AND they can quickly have your book translated and sent to foreign nations. They also have massive credibility. The catch is, you actually have to get these services. Go on your typical author message board and notice how many authors complain about the contracts they have to sign (granted, they may have other reasons to complain, but that’s another topic). these contracts often require signing away rights to books for a long time, if not forever. You would get a very low royalty, unless you have had previous success. Advances can vary but they seem to me to be almost totally at random, depending on whether you “fit” with the current crop of publishers. Even if you get a book deal you are still going to have to do your own promotion, though they can help you out. Many authors don’t seem to be good at self-promotion. Also, you will have very little say in how your book is produced, including cover art, illustrations, etc.

Small/Indie publishing: Small/indie publishers are more likely to work one on one with you to make the book look the way you want. As a legitimate publishing house they will take the costs of production onto themselves, and you can (and should) expect better contract terms- higher royalties, more control over cost and production, and legitimate assistance in marketing and promotion. However, you should not expect a large advance, your print runs will be smaller, and you will likely have to do even more self-promotion because indie publishers rarely have the staffs to keep up with the bigger publishers. One bonus is that BECAUSE budgets are smaller at indies your books won’t cost as much to produce, and a basic  economic principle is that the lower the price of a good or service the more likely you are to sell that good or service. Also, books get out to market much faster than big houses but slower than self-publishing.

Amazon publishing or similar service, including Kindle Direct Publishing- many authors who don’t want to write query letters, can’t handle rejection, and/or who can’t, don’t, or won’t wait for an agent to accept a book, pitch the book, sell the book rights, and then have the publisher decide when to print and sell it. You sign with a large company like Amazon, choose what contract terms you want (in KDP), and your book is available as a Print on Demand (POD) or as a legitimately published book. But I got this from the website today:

Amazon Publishing does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, proposals, or other submissions at this time.

Plus you also have to realize you’re working with Amazon…now while the “Big 5” don’t seem like the most pleasant bunch to deal with, and they do control way too much of the book publishing industry, Amazon controls over half the total e-book publishing market and they control a large number of sales volume on the internet. And another economic principle- monopolies are not a good thing. Replace the big 5 with Amazon and it will be exactly the same, but with one company in control and not five.

True self-publishing: You don’t sign a contract with anyone, other than choosing your terms with KDP or Nook Press, for example, for how much in royalties you want to receive. You write your book, take care of production yourself, and sell it as an e-book with POD option available. You publish it on as many sites as you are allowed (depending on your terms) and hope for the best. If you are lucky you might even sell a bunch of copies while keeping 100% of profit and not signing away any rights to anyone!

But…self-publishing has a bad stigma. Anyone can do it, and when anyone can do it, it isn’t very valuable. You will have to take care of ALL your publishing, production, promotion, etc. Many authors, as I stated above, cannot manage to essentially become entrepreneurs. Plus publishers can get access to media and brick and mortar stores you the lonely author are not likely to get access to, even if you’re nice.

My take: I personally favor the small indie publishing model, provided they are a credible publisher. You get the advantage of working with a real publisher who will handle much of what a big publisher will just on a smaller scale, and you will have a better chance of getting a more favorable contract. Self-publishing is very risky and giving your printing rights to a big corporation carries its own risks too, that you’ll either be drowned out by the huge roster of authors they already publish or you’ll have to live with the knowledge of letting an oligarchy have control of your hard work.

Amazon’s new publishing move: bold or dumb?

If you missed this story because you were too busy enjoying Halloween, you didn’t see that Amazon is taking publishing to a new level: Now the public will determine which books Amazon publishes on its Kindle Scout program:

“Launched on Monday, Amazon’s Kindle Scout program provides excerpts of unreleased books. Your mission: Read the excerpts and vote on which books you think deserve a shot at being published and sold through Amazon.
You can nominate up to three books at a time to be published. New books are added each day, so you can check the site on a regular basis and update your nominations along the way. Currently, a variety of romance, science fiction, mystery and thriller titles are up for nomination. At the end of a 30-day voting period, the Kindle Scout team reviews the books that have received the most votes to help decide which ones will be published.
The books that garner the most votes aren’t necessarily shoe-ins for publication. On its Kindle Scout Basics page, Amazon explains that “nominations give us an idea of which books readers think are great; the rest is up to the Kindle Scout team who then reviews books for potential publication.” But clearly the votes will play a role in determining which titles make the grade.If you happen to cast your vote for a book that does get published, Amazon will reward you with a free, full-length Kindle edition of that title one week before its official release. An Amazon video reveals more about the program.”
So basically you put your book up and hope the people who vote in this competition select your book, which must still clear Amazon’s publication team. Whoever votes on your book gets a free copy, though it isn’t clear if you get credit for a sale of this book or if this is the “reward” you get for “getting” your book published.
There’s more:
“Kindle Scout shortens the time it takes for a book to be chosen for publication, according to the company, with the whole process from submission to selection taking 45 days or less. Author contracts offered through Kindle Press include a $1,500 advance, a five-year renewable term, easy rights reversions and the benefit of Amazon marketing. You will have to split the royalties 50-50 with Amazon. But independent and unknown authors may find the program a good way to bring attention to a new, unpublished book.”
I haven’t read the full contract yet (will do for a future post) but $1,500 isn’t great money especially if Amazon takes 50% of the royalties. Normally publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct program gets you 70% of royalties in most countries, though without the whopping $1,500 advance.
My take: On the one hand, Amazon is introducing a new concept here. Traditional publishing means you have to convince an agent to like your book, based on her/his preferences and best guess as to whether your book might sell enough copies to make a publisher profitable. Then the agent pitches the novel to a publisher, who decides based on her/his preferences if she/he likes the book (yes, there are more women involved in traditional book publishing!) and if there’s a chance of profitability.
If all the stars align you get a book deal where, if you are a first-time author, get little in the way of royalty and the hope your book gets enough marketing buzz to hit the best-seller’s list. The traditional “Big Five” have way more marketing power than your typical small publisher but they have more titles to sell. So in a nutshell, your book’s chance at publication and success depends largely on whether a few people taking their most honest educated guess think your book can sell. What Amazon is offering is to bypass this process and let the people actually buying books decide what they want.
There are three negatives with this proposal: One, many books are not good. My favorite ad of all time (not counting the funny Super Bowl ones or Apple’s iconic ‘1984’ ad) is from TheLadders.com. After you watch the ad you realize WHY the website exists: the more people you ‘let play’ the harder it is to stand out. Amazon’s idea will inevitably crowd out decent book ideas because books will become a popularity content. In that sense having ‘gatekeepers’ makes a certain amount of sense, though i personally champion the free-market approach to book buying.
Second, the contract isn’t that great for the reasons I mentioned above.
And finally, remember you’re dealing with Amazon. Now I have no dog in the fight between Amazon and Hatchette, and countless other authors/publishers have weighed in. But think of it as a billionaires vs. billionaires fight. Just because one side is bad doesn’t make the other side better. While I can’t express any love for the “Big 5”, most of which appear to be run very poorly, ceding control of the book publishing market to Amazon is a bad, bad, idea. Monopolies don’t have the incentive to improve quality and the more power Amazon has over the publication and distribution of selling books, the harder it will be to negotiate with them when they have all the power.
Final Takeaway: I like Amazon’s concept of letting the customer decide what they want to buy but I want to see it tested out first to see if the public is good at picking the “winners” and if authors will benefit financially from this deal before i declare it a winner.
Coming up next: Tomorrow is Election Day, so during the day I’ll give my (non-partisan) same-day election projections for the country and for Delaware, where I live.
Coming up soon: I will finally conclude the “Power Cues” Trilogy by wrapping up the book I’ve meant to finish for months.

Amazon v Hachette and who’s right

If you like reading and writing you are probably aware of the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette. The issue can be boiled down by people like Hugh Howey who know more about the industry than I do, but there appears to be a rift between so-called “A-list” authors and the “Indies/self-published” authors. While to the layperson this is big corporation vs. big corporation, to those who read and write we know the future of publishing is at stake.

Assuming both sides are being forthcoming about what they believe, the battle seems to be focused on how much in royalties an author should receive and who has the most control over the price on an e-book. A lot of self-published/indie authors think that e-book prices charged by the Big 5 are too high and are often used to compensate for book-flops from other authors in the same brand. Many readers balk at paying more than $10 for an e-book, since you don’t actually have a copy of a book, only a digital version of the text and cover. The established authors, however, appear concerned that Amazon, probably the biggest shipping company ever this side of the Dutch East India Company is monopolizing the industry and could soon end up as the only major book distributor-and one need not look at one’s cable bill to know how much monopolies suck.

From the Financial Times, dated August 12 (edited for length and emphasis mine):

Authors should back Amazon in the battle with Hachette

 
©Luis Grañena

Agroup of leading authors, including Donna Tartt, Stephen King and Malcolm Gladwell, has attempted to intervene in the dispute between publisher Hachette and retailing behemoth Amazon. Observers of the music industry are familiar with this tactic; prominent musicians are persuaded that the interests of music publishers are aligned with their own. The reality is very different.

Music and print media are among the industries most fundamentally changed by digitisation. When Amazon likens the change to the arrival of the paperback, it makes a grave underestimation; the invention of printing is a better analogy. Costs and barriers to entry in distribution have almost disappeared…

The role of the book publisher has been based on control of access to channels of distribution. The ambition of the aspirant author has always been to “get published”. Along with the decision as to what should be published, the company has traditionally provided a collection of associated services: identification, support and finance of the underlying literary project, editing of the draft manuscript, and marketing and promotion of the finished work.

But the large conglomerates that have come to dominate publishing are run by people who love money more than they love books. These support activities have been cut back in the interest of maximising the revenue, from control of access to distribution. Today’s bestseller lists are filled with imitations of books that have already been successful; footballer’s memoirs, celebrity chefs, vampires and female-oriented erotic literature.

Such publishers are ill-placed for the new environment. I do not know the extent to which the printed book will remain extant in two decades. But enough ebooks are already being sold to signify that being published by a company such as Hachette or Penguin Random House (part-owned by Pearson, which also owns the Financial Times) is no longer critical.

Readers will miss the traditional bookshop and the comfortable ambience of the library. We have a nostalgic affection for technologically outdated steam locomotives and candlelit dinners. Change is rarely an unequivocal benefit. But the authors who signed the open letter have missed the most significant business consequence of the evolution of the book industry. The author will now be placed where he or she should be – in charge.

_______________________________

This article was written by someone who is siding with Amazon-seeing the future of literature as digital (though printed books I think will never go out of style, they just may not sell as many copies or will be treated like collector’s items) and traditional publishes as being obstacles to progress. Though the traditional publishers will argue that allowing a company like Amazon a lot of control over the distribution of books is bad.

Your thoughts? Who is right?