Amazon vs. Hachette: It's Over and What Really Happened (and AAAG Owes Indies and Authors an Apology)
A web collective I've come to think of as the Aggregated Amazon Ankle Grabbers (AAAG for short) is in a bit of shock. The problem can summed up by this plaintive post on The Digital Reader, a site I rate as being an AAAG member.
+++ One has to ask what happened to the demand for ebook prices to be below $9.99, that was apparently so important to Amazon that we indies were asked to write to Hachette on Amazon’s behalf? +++
Yes, that is an interesting question, isn't it. Here Hugh Howey and David Gauhgran and Joe Konrath and Passive Lawyer and others have spent so much time telling us how awful agency pricing was. Awful, awful, awful. And that $9.99 was a golden number. Of course, anyone who actually believed that nonsense either A) failed math in high school or B) buys bridges crossing the East River in New York.
But, apparently, agency’s not so bad after all if Amazon gets more margin and more MDF. Which it did. Which is what channels always want.
And if you, as an indie, suspect you were being used, you were. Yes, those are bus tracks all over your clothing.The publishers used their writers and Amazon used you. And nothing about the outcome of the fight benefited indies in the least. In fact, you never had a real stake in the fight in the first place. Evil agency pricing is alive and well and will be in the future. Amazon is not going to talk anymore about optimal price points and 1.7 more readers and all the rest of that junk. That’s in the past. Until the new contracts are up.
What Just Happened?
After the major publishers lost the collusion case, Amazon had the whip hand in the negotiations. It decided to swing for the fences. Why not? They had nothing to lose. By forcing the publishers to abandon agency pricing, they would gain control of the E-book publishing pricing model. Channels always like being in charge of that.
Part of their strategy was to proclaim the wonders of $9.99. It’s a price calculated to put pressure on the publishers. THAT’s why they put indies in their $7 pricing box and are keeping us/you in it. If indies are allowed out of the box, some of you are going to find out why that box is bad for you and you’ll talk about it. And once you do, Amazon loses an arrow in its quiver to fire at the publishers.
Amazon overplayed its hand. Hachette failed to break (Hachette, BTW, will get the same basic deal as Simon and Shuster, as will all the other publishers. All that will differ in the deals will be squabbles at the edges about margins and MDF). Playing games with product availability didn't play well in the press. Having highly visible writers dabbing their eyes while muttering about censorship didn't help. I don’t think Paul Ryan noting his book had disappeared off Amazon played well either.
Amazon started to hear rumblings from the Feds about being a monopsony. That’s why they put in that odd phrase about “legitimate” reasons for pricing books above $9.99, which I covered in the article Amazonium Codexorum. And I can assure you that every time the Feds wanted to talk about the ramifications of the collusion case, the publishers jumped up and down pointing to movie theaters, threw around .pptx files loaded with slides on famous monopsony cases and flashed sock puppets who asked why no one could find possible presidential candidate Paul Ryan’s book in the Amazon search engine.
This was all becoming a bit noisy and complicated so Amazon decided to grab the extra MDF and margin that was always on the table.
New books from hot authors will be priced at $X for Y period of time, then drop back to $Z based on wholesale pricing and promotional patterns. IOW, the long tail will be activated. Publishers will also do things like release big fat art books with lots of illustrations and not have to apply for the Amazon pricing codex to wholesale them out to Amazon over $9.99. They are happy boys and girls!
Amazon gets fatter discounts (more margin) and more MDF from publishers. (BTW, did you, the writer, ever stop to consider where some of that extra margin and MDF is going to come from?) They are happy boys and girls!
Established publishers such as Doug Preston and pols like Paul Ryan will see their books shine in the Amazon search engine.They are happy boys and girls!
Indies are in exactly the same place. Stuck in a $7 roach motel paying 30 points for a download service. (And don't forget those international margins.) If you (I use the collective you here) are happy about this, I think you definitely need to pick up 50 Shades of Grey as you squirm in the happy sadistic grip of Hugh Howey's “Incentivized Agency.” The hour and the book are met.
AAAG Doubles Down on Stupid
Now you would think that AAAG would have learned something. Unfortunately, in too many cases, they haven't. Exhibit A is Joe Konrath, who has spent many pixels preaching the evils of agency. Apparently, he failed to finally persuade Amazon of this. Nor does he seem to be able to tell us if agency is so bad, why does Amazon impose it on indies? Maybe he and Hugh Howey can punish each other.
To see what I mean, please read his October 23rd post. This is supposedly helpful advice to Authors United. If anyone takes any of it seriously, take a quill, stick it into your eye and end it all. Your stupidity is terminal.
Here are some of his trenchant observations:
Write an open letter to Hachette. You've stated, repeatedly, that you aren't taking sides. Prove it. Let Hachette know how unhappy you are with their negotiating tactics..."
This is remarkable. Everyone knows what the negotiations where about. Agency pricing, margins and MDF. If Amazon had gotten everything it wanted, just who does Konrath think would have paid for the loss of revenue? And will pay for the loss of revenue the Simon and Schuster deal, which will be extended to the entire industry, represents? Remember, more money to the channel, less money for publishers and authors. Care to hazard a guess, oh content provider?
Openly ask Hachette why they can't reach an agreement.
Uh, they have. Konrath didn't know that this battle was over agency pricing? Really? Once Amazon conceded it would remain, the fighting was over. The S&S deal is the template for the industry.
Ask Hachette and Amazon to retroactively compensate all effected Hachette authors once an agreement has been reached.
Wait a second. Is Konrath claiming that Hachette stopped paying royalties to its authors? No? Well, how were the authors hurt?. Oh, by Amazon deprecating their search results, playing games with pre-orders, recommending competing books during searches and launching a ridiculous PR campaign proclaiming $9.99 was the one true pricing.
And this was the second time Amazon had done this. Macmillan was the first. And if you actually believe that Hachette's Amazon web problems were a coincidence, you also believe in Santa and that Elvis directs him from his UFO to the homes of all the good little boys and girls on Christmas Eve.
Now, you may say that Amazon has a perfect right to hurt a publisher's authors as part of hardball negotiating tactics. But Amazon didn't say that. It spewed a lot of nonsense about "optimal" pricing and how awful agency pricing was, and gosh darn it, books were too expensive and all the rest of it.
There was also a lot of blather from AAAG about how Amazon, without a contract, wasn't required to carry Hachette authors. And AAAG is right! Amazon was perfectly within its rights to tell all those Robin Roberts, Dan Simmons, David Baldacci, James Patterson et al fans to just head over to Smashwords or Kobo to buy those author's hot new releases because those books weren't going to be available on Amazon going forward.
Wonder why that didn't happen?
Here's what AAAG can do for indies.
The Fall: Fall in Love with Death by Stephen Cost
File Size: 3014 KB
Print Length: 298 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1500910325
Publisher: Stephen Cost (September 16, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author website: www.stephencost.com
The three exports Ireland's primarily known for are sweaters, Guinness, and...uh...Irish. (Don't start. My mother's original maiden name was Duffy.) This represents a tragic, lost financial opportunity for the Emerald Isle. Because Ireland's most important export should be...vampires. For Ireland is the spiritual home of every bloodsucker tale, movie, TV show, comic, manga, anime, and probably a dozen other literary and video categories I'm missing. Ireland is also, may the good lord forgive us, the true progenitor of Kristen Stewart and the entire awful Twilight series. (Ireland is also indirectly responsible for those godawful Leprechaun movies, though any film series that features Jennifer Aniston being menaced by Warwick Davis can't be all bad.)
Bram Stoker, you see, was Irish (a Protestant, but in favor of home rule). If only the country had attempted to copyright the entire fanged meme a la the Greek attempt to trademark "feta cheese." Generations of poverty might have been avoided. As the royalties flowed in, Ireland might have been diverted from its favorite pastimes of Catholics shooting Protestants, Protestants shooting Catholics pub bombing (both sides), both sides shooting at the British and just being bloody minded about life in general.
During his life, Stoker's daytime job consisted of managing the career and theater of the great but largely forgotten British actor Henry Irving, who is widely believed to have been the physical model for Dracula. (Take a look at his portrait and you'll understand the speculation.) On his off hours, Stoker was a prolific writer who wrote at least a dozen novels, including Dracula, and several collections of short stories. His oeuvre is regarded as uneven, but it hardly matters. His tale of the undying Hungarian predator and Ottoman foe is the genre's masterpiece and Stoker's literary heirs prolific almost to a fault. And when it came to horror, Stoker was no one hit wonder, as anyone who has read his unforgettable short story, The Squaw, will attest to.
Dracula is perhaps the most famous example of the epistolary style of novel. The narrative of the book is carried by diaries and letters, which leads to some inadvertently funny scenes if you stop to think about. Like this one:
"The air seems full of specks, floating and circling in the draught from the window, and the lights burn blue and dim. What am I to do? God shield me from harm this night! I shall hide this paper in my breast, where they shall find it when they come to lay me out."
Dracula, Bram Stoker
The above leads a logical person to ask "Hey lady. If you've got the strength to write elaborate descriptive prose while the vampire's trying to get into your room, why don't you just get the hell out of the room?"
But this is carping. Dracula's blend of repressed Victorian psycho-sexual desire, blood letting, and dread claustrophobia is irresistible. And if Stephen King had written the above, he'd have found a reason to throw in some projectile vomiting or something similar, so I should be grateful to Bram. And I am. Though to be fair to The Master, Salem's Lot was pretty damn scary.
Incredibly enough, the original manuscript of Dracula, thought lost after Stoker's death in 1912, was found intact in the 1980s in a farm house in western Pennsylvania. I'm sure there's a horror story in there somewhere. Someone out there go out and write it. I'll give you a review.
The Fall thus represents a noble, and in my view, long overdue effort by the Sons of Erin (author Cost grew up in Ireland) to regain some portion of the Stoker Franchise. Let's see how well he does.
The protagonist of the story, Giles, is technically not a vampire but a reaper, an immortal (though not invulnerable) energy and blood sucking monster. Reapers periodically manifest themselves among us naked, in fresh graves, a fascinating leitmotif. (I suspect the writer may have seen Wings of Desire at one time or another.) After this grim birth, reapers are compelled to snack on the occasional human, though they can make the moral choice to sustain from their grisly diet and thus forego immortality. Giles has not given up his human-protein approach to caloric intake, but has made the decision to dine on only the evil and morally depraved (think of him as a toothy type of Charles Bronson a la the Death Wish movies). When we first meet him, he's a relatively young three centuries old, of Irish...err...extraction (at least that's where his grave was located) and is living in Seattle. Why Seattle? Good god man, have you ever eaten Irish cuisine?
Not unreasonably, Giles thinks of himself as our society's apex predator. Then one night, when out for supper, he finds to his great shock that he just may not be at the top of the food chain any longer. From this point on, the book commences a cat and mouse hunt and struggle between our hero and a creature nasty and powerful enough to make the reaper fear him.
While the battle between the monsters rages, Giles takes time out to fall in love with Emma, the daughter of his greatest friend Gallus, an old reaper who's gone vegan, so to speak, married a mortal, and settled down to the bloodsucker version of domesticity. Emma is equally drawn to our Giles, but he is justifiably wary of becoming too involved with her lest Galllus, in our reaper's words, use "his head as a hockey puck." As the father of an only daughter, I call tell you Giles' speculations on fatherly sentiments are accurate. I certainly did consider using the bodily parts of my daughter's boyfriends for fun and amusement if I thought them not up to snuff and wasn't afraid to share my thoughts on the topic, and the particular parts I'd be using, with them. You may think I'm old fashioned but I can report the tactic is effective.
One thing I particularly liked about The Fall is that the book returns us to the elegant vampire, something I think is long overdue. Over the years, we've had gothic vampires (the Blade films and comics), yuppie vampires (the Fright Night franchise), hooker vampires (Dusk to Dawn and siblings) and most recently Starbucks vampires (the never ending Twilight series). I guess Tom Cruise was on the elegant side in Interview With the Vampire but boy was Brad Pitt morose.
But I'm old fashioned. I've always felt that every vampire should have a little "Goot evening" in them and The Fall upholds that glorious tradition. Giles drives a Porsche, wears Prada and Gucci, and is an oenophile who makes a living writing a wine column for an upscale magazine. He's also a java snob who owns a Jura Impressa coffee maker and while I was reading the novel, discovered it's possible to order a cup of coffee that costs $70 dollars. In short, Giles is my type of vampire and I'd love to be invited to his place for dinner if I could be sure I wasn't on the menu.
To sum up, The Fall is a fun, exciting read in the honorable bloodsucker genre featuring a dashing but undying hero, a luscious heroine concealing intriguing mysteries, much supernatural double dealing, lots of death, and a climax that ends with Giles setting out to redeem his life and retrieve his woman. What more can you ask from a vampire book?
Erin go blood.
The industry is buzzing about the new deal between Simon and Schuster and Amazon. I'm not going to comment to any extent on the deal in this article because no one yet knows any of the details (it's a dead given that both parties have agreed to put the particulars under NDA) and if you're an indie, it really doesn't matter to you. The battle between the publishers never was about indie authors and was always about the clash of two large business entities, each trying to protect its market power via control of how E-books are priced.
Apparently, under the terms of the deal, Amazon will buy X% of Simon and Schuster's books under the agency model and buy the rest under wholesale. Agency will be used for Simon and Schuster's hottest and latest titles, as is always the case. In return, the publisher will provide provide juicier discounts and drop more MDF into Amazon's pockets. This is a typical supplier/channel negotiation and in a few years, after the current contract expires, they'll be at it again. It's mistake to say anyone "won" or "lost" (especially if you don't have access to the contract). It is interesting to see that Amazon seems to have changed its mind about how evil agency pricing is and about how $9.99 is the optimal price point for all books. We can tell this because many Simon and Schuster books will be priced above $9.99, particularly when they're new.
However, the ever reliable Hugh Howey is here to ensure all of us indies that in the midst of the normal corporate hypocrisy that surrounds any major corporate tussle, Amazon's actions are in our very best interests. The current $7 pricing box turd that indies are forced to burrow into under Amazon has had its exterior walls polished to high gloss by Hugh, who is here to tell us that we actually live in a shiny new McMansion.
How does Hugh do this? First, by a feat of verbal prestidigitation that would turn David Copperfield green with envy. In his latest column, he tells us that:
"Some commentators are hailing the deal as a return to Agency pricing, but I wonder if these are the same commentators who claim that self-published KDP authors employ Agency pricing?"
First of all, this is a return to agency pricing (well, a continuation of it, in the case of Simon and Schuster). This is not a disputable point.
At this point, Hugh's feeling a little silly, because he's been telling everyone how wonderful it is that Amazon is going to strike down the evil agency model, then the company goes and signs a deal that retains it for one of the members of the "Evil Cartel." It sort of has a "Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact of 1939" feel to it all.
Hugh is also feeling a bit of heat because several people, including yours truly, have been pointing out that its indies who live under agency pricing. All the time. I refer to it as modified agency because of the two elements of the Amazon/indie pricing model. They are:
But, you'll be happy to know that Hugh has discovered that we are not paying modified agency! No sirree, we're paying...wait for it...drum roll please...
Incentivized Agency! (That's Howyish.)
As you can read below:
"Our agreement with Amazon is something more like Incentivized Agency. If we set our prices between $2.99 and $9.99, we get 70%. If we set our prices outside that range, our split drops to 35%. According to our EULA, Amazon retains the right to discount our ebooks as it sees fit."
This is an example of Hugh Howey parroting that immensely dishonest claim of Amazon that it's paying indies royalties. There is no "split" here. Amazon is simply charging you a fee to use its website servers to download your book. In this case, a predatory 65% that you can't afford to pay. The wall of the box.
But Amazon's tender care of indies doesn't stop there. Reread the last sentence of that quote above and get a load of this:
"What does this mean? It means if we price our ebooks at $14.99, Amazon has plenty of meat left on the bone to discount our ebooks back down to $9.99. The customer gets a good price, and Amazon still makes a profit. That is, we the authors are punished for jacking up the prices."
First all, Howey has a lot of nerve telling anyone, especially indies, they should be punished for pricing their books at the point they think makes the most sense. That's just off the wall. If you as an indie screw up your pricing, you'll find out soon enough. The market will tell you. Amazon not needed to police this nor Hugh Howey.
Second, how does the math on all this work out? Well, let's assume I charge $14.99 for a book. And please, please, don't be an idiot and tell me why I'll never do that. Indies aren't stupid. Not every book is about Vampire Love or Bondage with Billionaires. Thousands of authors are writing books aimed at limited or specialized audiences and a $9.99 price points makes no sense in many markets. As Amazon itself has already acknowledged via Amazonium Codexorum.
So, a bit of calculating takes us here:
$9.99 * .70 = $6.99 (I should add in the transmission fee Amazon charges, but will keep it simple.)
$14.99 * .35 = $5.24 (Pretty awful, particularly since the reason you are pricing above $9.99 is often because your audience is much smaller than that enjoyed by a large genre.)
But wait! According to Howey, Amazon retains the right to discount your book back to $9.99.
So does that mean that your cut remains fixed at $5.24? After all, you didn't discount your book. Amazon did. That takes your margin to over 50% on $9.99. Or do you now receive $3.50 per book, because you broke the walls of Amazon's box?
Howey doesn't tell anyone. Knowing how channels work, I'm betting on $3.50.
And then Howey unloads this howler:
"Amazon has been right to say that the negotiations are about price, and Hachette has been right to say that the negotiations are about margin. That’s because margin is to be determined by price, just as it is for KDP authors."
No, it's not "just as it is for KDP authors." Because the big publishers don't live in the box. Amazon will buy certain categories of books at either agency or wholesale from them and price these titles above $9.99 because that makes sense for those markets. Amazon can't loss lead every book it sells.
Of course, there are plenty of other reasons why the $7 box is stupid, but I'll save that for a future article. Not that you can't figure it out yourself.
But don't worry, indies. You've not been stuck in a roach motel. No, that sticky 65% margin is in reality the finest "wool" Persian carpeting and you're really living in Mint Green Turd Acres.
No, really, you are.
create esquelle new_book as select [ * |very, very cool ]: My Review of Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol
Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol, Book I by Joe Dacy
File Size: 3067 KB
Print Length: 580 pages
Publisher: Joe Dacy II (June 24, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
OK, before I even start this review, I have a few questions I'd like to ask you, the reader. Here goes:
If you can answer YES to any of the above, then stop reading this review right now and go buy Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol by Joe Dacy. To help you grasp the point, go back to the top of this page and look at the cover. Closely.
All done? I'm sure that after reexamining the cover, you understood precisely why you should buy this book. And you know that I've just brought a little extra sunshine and joy to your life and you'll be thanking me years from now. No need to weep for gratitude or send gifts. I did this just because I'm that type of guy.
And you figured out that "Esquelle" is a Franconization of "SQL," right? I mean, how cool is that! (To make it all even better, the chapter headings are numbered in binary.)
And if you can't answer in the affirmative, you should still buy the book because it's an exciting and very cool read. And after you're done, you will have picked up just enough nerd cred to impress people at parties with your deep grasp of technology. Just don't push it when you're around a true nerd. You still don't know what query by example is and how it works so you run the risk of being found out. Otherwise, you'll do just fine.
By the way, in honor of this great book and topic, I'm running a little contest. During the 80s, many software companies released desktop RDBMS software packages for the IBM PC and some of the other competing systems. However, it was well known among the geek/RDBMS cognoscenti that "Ted" Codd was known to favor one product in particular.
What was the product and the name of the company?
The first five people to send me an E-mail with the answer will receive a free copy of my book, Rule-Set: A Novel of a Quantum Future. Send your answers to firstname.lastname@example.org. The winners will be inscribed on this site as Geek DBMS Supremos for all time.
BTW, yes, I am familiar with database programs and programming and have coded and worked with dBase II, III (if you want to know what happened to IV, pick up a copy of my book, In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters), InfoStar, and Ansa/Borland Paradox up to version 3.5.
Databases rule the world. You don't see them and may not understand much about them, but all those computers maintaining your private financial transaction information that's periodically stolen by Russian mobsters and all those smartphones running all those apps that collect traffic data and restaurant reviews while storing nude pictures of your favorite celebrities that are also periodically stolen by both Russian mobsters and pimply teens who do understand databases run on a technology conceived of and described in a seminal paper released in 1969 by a British computer scientist you've probably not heard of but who changed the world in as fundamental a way as ever did Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, or Al Gore, who invented the Internet. Fortunately for Dr. Codd, he's deceased and doesn't have to worry about Jennifer Lawrence getting up into his grill about those pictures which you haven't seen. Right. Uh, huh. No, seriously, I believe you.
But if you had seen them, you could thank Dr. Codd, the father of relational database technology.
I'm not going to describe how relational database management systems (RDBMS) systems work. If you want to learn the basics, go buy Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol and you can learn at the hands of a hot French chick who kicks the snot out of terrorists via savate. (What better introduction to technology can there be?) Suffice it to say that some people become very passionate about the issue. During the 80s, when relational databases were sweeping through technology and dispatching the older hierarchical systems like Huns picking off Romans, ferocious geek wars broke out periodically over the topic of which database adhered most closely to the True Relational Faith. Fortunately, database programmers are poor fighters and no one was usually hurt.
OK, enough geeking out. Esquelle and the Tesla Protocol takes place in a world twenty five years in the future. Our heroine, Esquelle, is a database query master (ladies, take note of author Dacy's belief that you can kick ass via high tech just as well as any guy) who has a chip implant in her skull that enables her to tap into the world's databases. When we first meet Esquelle, she is sitting outside a French bistro enjoying a cappuccino while being closely observed by two Arab terrorists and two American spies from the NSA.
They, obviously, are all up to no good and when Esquelle spots the Arab operatives eyeing her a little too closely, their doom is sealed when she uses her implant to uncover their identity via her mastery of SQL and ability to data mine the planet. Forewarned, she foils their kidnap attempt via a savate slam down, not really needing the assistance her "Uncle Robbie," a top French security head, sends along to her aid. Still, it's good to know you can count on your family in a pinch and "Uncle" Robbie will prove useful in the future.
After this high-stress interlude, Esquelle heads off to the US to enjoy some much needed R&R. She's followed every step of the way by a bevy of shadowy spies, terrorists, and a handsome French operative who's interest in discussing the topic of access privileges with Esquelle clearly transcends just the topic of database tables. The reason for this spook frenzy is not Esquelle herself, but her brother, Bernard, whom the crowd hopes Esquelle will eventually lead them to.
Bernard is an eccentric genius who lives in the South Bronx (138th Street, not a neighborhood currently attracting a lot of quantum physicists these days, though the area is slowly gentrifying and Esquelle does take place 25 years from now.) Everyone's interested in Bernard because while living in the Bronx, he's apparently figured out a way to use tachyons (theoretical and, to date, unobserved quantum particles) to send messages both into the future and the past. This will revolutionize text messaging, obviously, and everyone wants in on the action.
One of the interesting techniques author Dacy employs is a high level of detail when discussing the fast moving events taking place in the book. A second kidnapping attempt on Esquelle that occurs on the Seattle waterfront is backed up with maps. Hotels and locations are shown via eye in the sky photography. There are numerous charts and tables. Esquelle's data queries use proper SQL syntax. As you read through the story, you begin to almost feel as if you're attending a briefing, not reading a novel. The effect is to draw you in to the story and make Esquelle more realistic and immediate, an atmosphere I try to create in my own novel, Rule-Set.
Joe Dacy is a natural heir of Tom Clancy and if you're looking for someone to fill the void left by the departure of the man who gave us The Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games (my two favorites from his oeuvre), then the hour and the book are met. (You geeks have already bought Esquelle and are busy scanning the pages for any mistakes in the SQL.)
As for moi, Joe had me at SELECT * FROM.
Oh, I'm sorry. What's the "Tesla Protocol?" I'm not telling you. But Nikolas Tesla was the man who spanked Thomas Edison in the high stakes electricity shootout between DC vs AC and before his untimely death, announced he'd designed a deployable particle beam cannon. To this day, no one is sure if he was kidding or not.
On July 29th, Amazon made the following statement in defense of its position vis a vis its fight with publisher Hachette. This fight, once you strip away all the verbiage, boils down to the fact that Amazon does not wish to purchase any E-books via the agency model from publishers and wants more MDF as well. I write about the fight in this post.
Amazon's defense of its current pricing position can be read here in its entirety. The post is extraordinary on several levels, not the least for its incredible analysis of optimal book pricing. If you know anything about medians and data analysis, the entire section equals up to the number 42. More information in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In fact, the entire statement can be thought of as a work of Vogon poetry.
But the line that caught my eye in particular was this one:
+++ Is it Amazon's position that all e-books should be $9.99 or less? No, we accept that there will be legitimate reasons for a small number of specialized titles to be above $9.99. +++
This amazing statement means that Amazon is proposing to put in place a system where certain books will be placed on a special list, a pricing codex, of titles approved to cost more than $9.99 and, one presumes, will be allowed to remain on Amazon's pricing codex as long as the legitimate reasons are adhered to.
This leads me to ask some questions:
The final question I have to ask is does anyone think that a $75 billion dollar company that currently controls 65%+ of the digital download market for E-books has any business acting as the price police?
By the way, don't bother asking these questions on sites such as David Gaughran's. I was just kicked off it for honing in on this point and after a whole lot of shucking and jiving and Amazon ankle diving, he dealt with the question by refusing to answer it and "banning" me from the forum.
Also, if you'd like to comment, I do have one request. Unless you are an Amazon representative, I don't want you to tell me that Amazon has the right to price its products anyway it wants. I'm not the company that said:
+++ Is it Amazon's position that all e-books should be $9.99 or less? No, we accept that there will be legitimate reasons for a small number of specialized titles to be above $9.99. +++
Amazon is. In July. It's time for them to start building out the codex.
Indomitable (The Push Chronicles Book 1) by J.B. Garner
File Size: 1296 KB
Print Length: 177 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: J. B. Garner; 2 edition (August 31, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
I have a long and complicated relationship with comic books. I grew up in the era of Fredric Wertham, who convinced my mother and father and many other people's mothers and fathers that comic books Rot Your Brain. Subsequently, I was, formally, forbidden to own comic books during my childhood. (By the way, those of you who want to relive those glorious days of brain rotting fun should go visit www.superdickery.com. You will love it.)
Of course, this wasn't going to stick. Every other kid I knew or played with read comic books (usually Marvel). Bronx neighborhoods, from the standpoint of comic aficionados, were broken into Marvel and DC nations. My block stood with Stan Lee, and we scorned DC, particularly Batman, who in the 60s was not particularly grim nor angst ridden. Everyone felt more was going on there with Robin than a simple adoptive arrangement and we didn't approve.
Girls read Archie and those disgusting romance comics. If a guy was caught reading those, you were normally treated as if you were infected with hair lice.
Thus, I grew up in an atmosphere of deception and duplicity. I would buy comics regularly from the local lunch and candy stores, read them outside, hide them under my shirt when entering my apartment, and secret them under the toy chest in the bedroom my sister and I shared when we were small. Eventually, the space would become crowded and a new purchase would edge out from its sanctuary like a flat, colored, Judas goat and tip off Mom. She would then rake the stash out and throw it down the incinerator. The cycle would then begin again. I guess we were both making a point.
(Also, because of comics, I learned a painful lesson in personal family betrayal. But that's a tale for another day.)
When I hit my teens, the strictures against comics were relaxed and I continued reading them. However, I have to admit that as I grew older, I realized that the old trouble maker Wertham had a point about comics. Like soap operas, they didn't end nor truly progress in time. Fifty one years after he first swung across the New York skyline, Peter Parker is still a young man. As a kid I could identify with him, but now he's just an annoying millennial who won't get off the sofa and get a real job. It may be hard for him, though. Peter once made a living as a freelance photographer for a newspaper, but that job doesn't exist anymore. How does he earn money these days? I don't know. Maybe he drives for Uber or Lyft?
It's just as bad with the other super folk. Batman and Robin are still creepy and should just come out of the closet and get married already. It's time for Wonder Woman to fess up to being a dominatrix, tie up Superman, and stomp on him with her stiletto heels. I don't have much to say about Aquaman. He was lame then and he's lame now, so I'll just leave him alone.
Yes, yes, I know. Reboots, alternate universes, different timelines. But how many times can you pull that stunt before it gets older than the life spans of some of these super folk? I mean, aren't Batman and Superman closing in on 100 by now? At a certain point, their super powers should consist of being able to throw used Depends at super villains at super speed. Crime would drop to almost zero in no time.
And have you ever actually worn a spandex costume? I suggest you never do. Even if you think you're in good shape, your self-esteem may not survive that first glimpse in the mirror. If I ever become a super hero, I want the super power of being able to make super heroes look good in tasteful cotton clothing. I'd be dating Supergirl in no time. (Not that I'd want to as I'm happily married. I'm just saying that she'd want to date me and I'd have to gently let her down.)
"But what about Maus?," I hear you saying. Yes, Maus is a piece of comic literature (oh, sorry, I mean "visual novel.") But World War II was real and tragic. When Superman died at the hands of Doomsday, did anyone think he was really dead? Of course not. Did you feel a sense of real loss? No. Everyone knew we were just being set up to buy the collectible issue where he comes back to life. The bastards wouldn't even let the poor sweet body of Gwen Stacy rest in peace. They cloned her, the savages.
(And no, Watchmen wasn't art. It was pretentious and if you didn't figure out the plot well before the end of the series you're dumber than The Rhino.)
The above is a very long winded way of saying that I realized comics are silly.
So why did I agree to review Indomitable, a novel about men and women grokking the spandex? Because no one who has ever loved comics ever really stops loving them. We just put away childish things and become adults. But, at my age, I'm heading back down the road to childish so maybe it's time to give silly a bit of a break.
Indomitable by J.B Garner kicks off with an origins tale. You see, our heroine, Indomitable, who starts life off as plain old Irene, has a boyfriend named Eric. Eric's parents died in a car crash. Eric misses Mom and Dad an awful lot and uses a mysterious quantum atomic particle combined with Irene's bio feedback machine to create a worldwide phenomena called "The Whiteout." The Whiteout in turn creates the "Pushed," ordinary people with super powers! When it's all over, Irene becomes Indomitable and she's joined by The Extinguisher, The Human Tank, Mind's Eye, Hexagon, Medusa, et al and their evil counterparts. (I'll let you decide if you want to lower yourself to some Mystery Men jokes at this point and give you time to get it out of your system.)
Eric is transformed into Epic. He's kind of a Superman, but with a will to power. Wouldn't you know it, Indomitable and Epic do not agree about the future of mankind in this new era and begin a tangled love/hate relationship which dominates the ongoing narrative of the book.
There's also an incredibly Evil Super Villainess. This unique character has the ability to destroy computer components with just the power of thought, erase all traces of her dastardly deeds, bring thousands of innocents to the brink of ultimate despair and with just a single phrase paralyze the forces of justice and goodness. Her name is "Lois Lerner."
OK, I just made that last part up, but you have to admit Lerner certainly looks like an evil super villainess. But there is a really evil super villain. Well, sort of. Part of the dramatic tension of Indomitable is maybe Eric is the real villain. Or maybe he's just misunderstood. Time, and the sequels to Indomitable, will tell!.
What's that I hear you saying? None of this sounds very likely? Oh, yeah, right. Like it makes perfect sense that a radioactive spider bite would give you super strength and the ability to crawl up walls. Or that being caught at ground zero during a nuclear test would turn you green and enable you to jump miles into the air. Or that a guy with mercury for skin rides around the galaxy in outer space where there's no water on a surfboard. So just shut up and let the review continue without any further carping. You want real science, go watch Bill Nye or something.
One of the great things about comics is the fun you can have renaming the super characters you read about with names you feel are more appropriate to their powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men. For instance, there's a girl turned into crystallized carbon early in the book. I have a feeling we may see her again. What should her super name be? Diamond Lass? Crystalline? I vote for Madonna Woman! Epic I've renamed "Superego." Indomitable, our heroine, spends a lot of time nagging Supere...oops, Epic about the big mess he's made of things (not that you can blame her), so from time to time I think of her as Kvetching Woman.
Now, how does Indomitable read? It's great silly fun. The action is slam bang, the characters, within the limitations of the genre, are well realized, and at the end of the first book, I really wanted to know if Epic and Indomitable are going to one day work it out. It's a tale that will take you back to those rainy Saturday afternoons when you'd curl up in your room with the latest releases of Green Lantern, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and maybe a couple of annuals and rot your brain.
And dream, for just a moment, that you too could fly.
What Hugh Howey Won't Talk About (but Should). The Book Channel, Part VII of Several Parts. MDF and the Big Slurp
We finally reach the topic of MDF, an issue of continuous interest to most companies that have to deal with distribution and reseller channels. MDF stands for marketing development funds. Ostensibly, all MDF programs are supposed to increase sales of products for both parties.
The reality is that many, though not all, MDF programs are designed to extract margin from suppliers regardless of a particular program's performance. Suppliers in a wide variety of industries are well aware of this and regard many MDF progams with the same affection given an expired roach atop a wedding cake. Fights over how much MDF money will be handed over by suppliers to their channels is ongoing and endless. While it has been ignored for the most part by the press, the fight between Hachette and Amazon is not simply about agency vs wholesale pricing, but also about Amazon's great desire to increase its MDF charges to Hachette and the publisher's great desire to not pay them.
The types and quantities of MDF programs that will exist in any particular channel is dependent on the industry and what it sells. I will not attempt in this series to identify and list all the various book publishing MDF programs. That is another series. Channels are constantly creating new programs and modifying existing ones. They are also masters of MDF creation and sometimes not that picky about pushing programs that are less than stellar performers.
Managing MDF can be very complex. Companies exist whose sole purpose is to help book and other types of firms manage Amazon MDF programs alone. The only way to master a particular industry's structure is to study and understand it's unique idiosyncrasies. MDF programs can function in very different ways in different businesses even if they're called the same thing.
How Are MDF Programs Funded?
By the supplier, whoever the supplier is, and the payment is almost always in the form of increased channel margin. (One of the most interesting exceptions to this is currently Amazon's MDF Kindle Select Program, which demands exclusivity in return for participation, though authors do receive far lower margins on books "purchased" via the Kindle Unlimited and Kindle Library program components.) How much margin? Between 5% and 15% in book channels. It is not uncommon for a larger publisher to sell a book to a reseller at a 40% discount off list, then hand over an additional 10% to 15% extra margin in return for the right to execute MDF programs.
Types of MDF Programs
In print and online publishing, the most common type of MDF program is called "co-op." (This was also true in software retail publishing.) Co-ops are funded by joint deposits to a special account. In the ideal model, both parties provide matching funds, but this is not a hard and fast rule. Also, the larger the supplier, the more power it possesses to negotiate favorable co-op terms.
Co-op programs usually bundle several services into their framework and suppliers are, in theory, free to allocate funds among the various options offered. However, suppliers frequently find that the programs are mired in so many restrictions and red tape that they give up on using them. Sometimes this is a deliberate strategy on the part of a channel partner and in other cases, it's because the program is poorly administered. If you are a supplier to a channel, always ask to be shown how the program is administered and run. Dig into its payment components. Ask other suppliers how the program performs for them.
Traditional Publishing MDF Program Components
There are many others, but this is a good initial overview.
If a particular MDF component is not included in a co-op program, it may be bundled into another program or funded via increased reseller margin individually. The cost is usually 1% to 3% additional margin, but this can vary widely.
Digital Publishing MDF Program Components
From the standpoint of the channel, particularly Amazon, (but I'm sure the other resellers are rubbing their palms together in happiness) a glorious epoch of digital MDF is dawning. This is because resellers are now in the position to understand and analyze book purchases and customers in ways never before possible. This situation is akin to the Software as a Service (SaaS) revolution that took place in high tech in the mid 2000s. Prior to the rise of SaaS, software companies sold their titles and had no real idea of how the software was used and who used it.
But SaaS, which requires a subscriber to login (usually) into a Internet portal, enables the software company to precisely monitor and track every interaction a customer initiates with the system. The value of this to software firms has completely changed the industry.
Resellers are now in the same happy spot as SaaS companies (and Amazon most of all, because its readers and file format are the defacto standards for E-books). Resellers can now track when, from where, what time, how much, how many and what type of books you bought. They can analyze societal and holiday trends. Cross index against genre, age, sex, and any other information you provide them. And on and on.
Making this even more wonderful from the channel's viewpoint (and certainly Amazon's) is that devices and readers can, if so enabled, allow the reseller to track what in a book you read, how far you read (Amazon already does and ties your payment-- not royalty--into its Kindle Select MDF program), what you reread, etc. The potential ability to peer over your shoulder is almost frightening.
Combine the two datasets and resellers in the future will be able to micro target audiences and niches in ways never before possible. Some of these programs are already being implemented by Amazon and other resellers and many more are on the way.
A Quick Overview of Amazon's Digital MDF Programs
Amazon's core MDF programs include:
From the standpoint of indie publishers, its most important MDF programs is Kindle Select. The program incorporates the following components:
Over time, you can expect that many new components will be added to the Kindle Select program. Most, if not all of them, will be funded by paying increased retail usage fees (increased margin), to Amazon. Again, despite the "royalty" language the company insists on using, the revenue you receive from sales of your book will decrease the higher your MDF expenditures are.
How Are Traditional Authors Impacted by MDF Programs?
If you are traditionally published, MDF certainly impacts your royalties, though you are so cut off from the process that you don't feel it. As I stated earlier in the series, publisher don't want authors to dig into how the book selling channel operates.
If you are a well known and/or strong selling author, you will often be asked to participate in high profile events such as signings and interviews. These are paid for by increased margin to the reseller, and yes, your book may be on the discount list. But if you are a mid-list author, it's unlikely you'll be signing autographs in B&N soon. Traditional publishers almost always execute MDF programs only on behalf of their top-tier authors. (Yes, I know, life is unfair, but that's the way it is. But things are changing. Some of the changes you may like!)
How Are Indie Authors Impacted by MDF Programs?
Currently, the impact is low, but this be will be changing dramatically over the next several years. Channels love selling MDF and love the increased margins it brings. It also loves attaching MDF costs to things that currently aren't part of an MDF program. (Often times, this charge will be "buried" if you agree to participate in a MDF bundle.) Below are some new MDF programs and charges you can anticipate will be part of your indie future:
This is by no means a comprehensive list. The channel's fertile imagination will create many more programs.
One important point to not lose track of is that suppliers will be in position to demand high quality performance analytics from the channel. For example, if you wish to charge me for sending a micro-targeted mailing to a list of people who love book where a zombie apocalypse takes place in Newark, New Jersey (something about this sentence feels redundant), how many people exactly am I reaching and what type of conversion to sales figures can I expect to see?
If the channel is unwilling or unable to provide good data for its MDF program, you will know it's one you should steer clear of.
The next and last part of this series will discuss the future of the book publishers vis a vis the channel and the very real possibility that the resellers will use data and customer contacts to take complete control of book publishing. And where will you, the author, fit into the new world coming into existence around you?
Review Submission Guidellines
Want me to review your book? You must join the Rule-Set mailing list and contact me at email@example.com. Do NOT use the contact form for a review request; for press and publishers only. Your book can be a proof but ready for sale within 60 days.
Scifi/-fantasy only at this time. Make sure it's been professionally copyedited. If it's not, I'll know in about five pages and will reject the book. I don't mean to be a hump about it, but approximately 40% to 50% of the books I've received have had far too many typos, comma splices, misuse of dependent clauses, etc. (No, it doesn't have to be perfect. Most books have a few typos, including ones coming out of "traditional" publishing.) Your book cannot succeed in the market with such flaws and it's not fair to ask reviewers to read it in such a state.
I'll take a look at YA, but I'm not the best fit to that audience. PDF, Mobi, print all fine. If you have an author website you wish me to link to, please provide the URL. I don't charge and I also don't guarantee a good review!
Please note comments on blog posts are limited to 5K characters. System limitation.
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