Schism by Brett Dent
File Size: 1088 KB
Print Length: 287 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
When I was a kid, I used to watch the Sonny Fox show, Wonderama, regularly on channel nine in New York. New York was the TV media hub of the world back then. In additional to channel nine, we also had two, four, five, seven, eleven, thirteen (CPB crap) and even a couple of grainy, unwatchable UHF channels. No idea what they were. The Soviet Movie Channel maybe?
One of Sonny's regular guests was The Amazing Randi. Randi was famous for following in the steps of Houdini by performing Amazing Escapes in all sorts of death defying situations (wriggling free of a straightjacket while suspended upside down over Niagara Falls, for instance.) As he grew older, Randi, as did Houdini, became a debunker of psychic charlatans. He drove fraudster Uri Geller out of the U.S. market by successfully reproducing every trick Geller performed in public and explaining how he did it.
In 1982 I read a book by Randi that has a profound impact on my thinking about ESP. Up till then, I as well as most people, thought there some scientific basis for a belief in extra sensory perception. After all, the brain generates an electric field and electrical fields can be generated and transmitted. Prestigious universities had conducted studies that seemed to confirm the existence of ESP. More movies than I can remember featured scenes of people using Zener cards surrounded by lab workers in white coats pursing their lips and making meaningful marks on clipboards while "espers" successfully "remote viewed." Sci-Fi, horror films, writers, manga all feed their readers regular diets of ESP.
Randi's book was called Flim Flam and it he made a claim that he has regularly backed up over the decades. Randy stated that when a double blind test for ESP is performed from which all possibilities of cheating are removed, no one has ever provided a valid (in other words, not a brief sequence of lucky guesses but a series of predictions that cannot statistically be ascribed to chance) demonstration of ESP.
Randi put his money where his mouth was. Back then, I think he offered a $25K reward to anyone who could demonstrate ESP. He's tested dowsers, remote viewers, seers, predicters, etc. None has collected the reward, which is now up to $1M. "Professional" espers stay well away from Randi and the money.
Schism by author Brett Dent takes ESP and puts it on a firmer scientific footing. The novel takes place in Hillview Institute, an out of the way institution in the hills of Virginia. Hillview's latest "visitor" is Adam Hutchinson, who has murdered his grandmother during what appears to be a psychotic attack. But instead of being tucked away in an asylum for the criminally insane, Adam finds himself in the company of a group of remote viewers, psychics who can observe actions and at a distance and in at least one case, destroy minds. Why are they here and what is the goal of the research taking place at the Insititute?
A safe bet is nefarious and dark deeds are underway. There are evil doctors, corrupt corporate interests, and nefarious military plots. And a group of increasingly powerful psychics growing more and more unhappy with their manipulation and confinement.
One of the interesting elements of Schism is Brett's successful effort to give ESP research a more scientific and visceral feel. This, coupled with the oppressive, Gothic atmosphere of the tale, makes for a story that keeps you interested. The characters are also engaging, most particularly the powerful but doomed Kevin. I found a few of Brett's sentences a bit gnarly, but plot and pacing keep Schism on track and compelling.
I think the Amazing Randi would like this book.
You (Don't) Suck: My Review of Suction Cup Dreams: An Octopus Anthology by David Joseph Clarke (Editor)
Suction Cup Dreams: An Octopus Anthology, David Joseph Clarke (Editor)
Paperback: 168 pages
Publisher: obsolescent.info (November 5, 2013)
Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.4 x 9 inches
Shipping Weight: 11 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
The octopus is probably the strangest form of intelligent life on this planet. An octopus is an invertebrate (no backbone) and belongs to the phylum Mollusca (oysters, slugs). When you see a picture of an octopus jetting and slithering its way across the seabed, you're watching a clam with eight legs and an attitude. Octopuses climbed out of their shells millions of years ago and joined cephalopods, other members of the club being Squids, Cuttlefish and the Chambered Nautilus, which is as beautiful as its name suggests.
Octopuses (yes, I know, there are long standing arguments on how you pluralize the noun. This is my choice and I'm sticking with it) are carnivores and cannibals. The anatomy of an octopus is as strange as their appearance. To devour their prey, they possess a beak that looks almost exactly like a parrot's. They have eight arms, one of which is dedicated to sex (I'm going to skip describing how this works) that also function as part of their brain. They also taste with these arms. When extra speed is needed to escape attack, they can deploy a built in jet-ski.
Octopuses can squirt clouds of ink when assaulted and some species can shed an arm when necessary, which crawls away and (hopefully) deflects further attack.. They have three hearts (Dr. Who only has two) which pump copper-based blood. They have incredible camouflage capabilities, but paradoxically, many species are believed to be color blind. All octopuses are venomous, and never eat a Blue Octopus, as it's loaded with the same poison as the Puffer Fish. Their life span is short and mating is ultimately deadly to males and females. The Giant Octopus can grow to over 30 feet and weigh over 600 pounds. This animal has been implicated in dozens of fictitious assaults on hearty male divers and bikini-clad maidens in many Sci-Fi/horror movies.
Humans have long suspected octopuses have smarts, and you see this reflected in such Sci-Fi movies as the 1953 War of the Worlds film, where the Martian invaders, though never clearly seen, are definitely octopidian when glimpsed (and dig those suckers in the movie's penultimate scene). Recent research has confirmed they are indeed very smart. Octopuses can solve mazes and become faster and better at the activity as they practice. They are expert at opening jars, particularly if there's a tasty treat inside. In captivity, an octopus will remember you, makes direct eye contact, and will squirt you with their jet-ski if they take a dislike to you. If you're to their fancy, they will wrap themselves around you and cuddle. They're also escape artists and not afraid of exploring on land or in nearby tanks, where if they come across a fellow octopus the resultant confrontation may be unfortunate for at least one of the parties.
Suction Cup Dreams: An Octopus Anthology, edited by David Joseph Clarke is a compilation of fascinating stories about these strange, smart, alien creatures. The stories are in the main haunting and memorable. The ones that most struck me were:
Venus of the Waves by Karen Munro. A wife watches while her husband, whose brain has been transplanted out of his dying body and into an octopus, is slowly overwhelmed by the new thoughts and environment in which he now exists.
Three-Hearted by Elizabeth Twist. Told from the POV of the octopus. "Bold" undergoes strange alterations at the hands of "the seven-armed glass and metal Gods."
A Stranger Returns from an Unexpected Trip to the South China Sea by by Henry W. Urich. James Dougherty was murdered and his body disposed of at sea, but with a little help from his friends, he's back.
A Late Season Snow by T.E. Grau. A murdered woman undergoes a rich and strange transformation.
I can ensure you of one thing. Once you've read this book, you are going to rethink the morality of eating octopus.
Orconomics: A Satire (The Dark Profit Saga Book 1) by J. Zachary Pike
File Size: 1136 KB
Print Length: 385 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Gnomish Press LLC (September 30, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Economics typically gets short shrift in Sci-Fi and fantasy. It doesn't really matter the genre. The fact is that when spaceships go out a' faring, or knights out a' questing, no one ever brings anyone with a degree in accounting to keep track of expenditures. The exceptions are few and far between (to enjoy one of the best in manga, I recommend Spice and Wolf). I first wrote about the problem years ago in In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters:
...as Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones, Scottie, and their innumerable successors went gallivanting through the galaxy, they seemed to have no visible means of financial support. No one in the Star
Trek universe wearing green eye shades ever appeared to worry about the propensity of the various casts to blow up what you’d think were undoubtedly very expensive spaceships, given their capabilities of violating the laws of physics, transporting the crew to numerous planets inhabited by women who spent most of their time wearing lingerie, and dodging ray-gun fire from angry races of aliens who kept screaming “kaplok!” (and who also seemed to have no monetary worries).
The problem looms just as large in fantasy. Take, for instance the Lord of the Rings. Now, I know you've probably read the official version of what took place in Middle Earth at the end of the Third Age, but I have recently, at great effort and peril on my part, obtained a partial copy of The Silmarillon: The Rejected Chapters. It's only a partial manuscript, and the relevant sections are written in the dread tongue of Mordor. Translating it has been a bear what with all the declensions and the fact that these people just had no concept of the apostrophe, but I have done my best. The narrative below describes a key meeting between Sauron and an individual who served as Mordor's primary bean counter. Roughly translated, his court title is CME or Chief Mithril Extractor. I believe the text provides crucial insights into the real story behind TLOR and the fall of Sauron.
CME: Oh Cataclysmic Cat's Eye of Catastrophe, Dread Lord Sauron, I come to you with doom-laden news!
Sauron: What is it? Has Golem stuffed up his toilet again?
CME: No, Dread Lord Sauron, Oh Perilous Practitioner of Puissant Pestilence. Though that last episode was truly horrendous. The plumbing Orcs sent to rectify the situation have not yet recovered. No, Oh Master of Merciless Mayhem, the tidings are far more fell. The invasion of Gondor must be postponed!
Sauron: Postponed? Don't be ridiculous. I've been planning this invasion for years. The Orcs are armed and thirsting to plunder and kill any elf they can catch. The Ringwraiths are writhing in anticipation of drinking Gondorean blood. The Balrogs are bored from too much sitting around and are starting to whip each other. It's getting kinky in their section of the Dark Tower. They need to deploy right now and work the ya yas out. We march tonight!
CME: Alas Lord Sauron, Oh Sublime Sultan of Supreme Sadism, we cannot.
Sauron: Why not? And this had better be good.
CME: Because Oh Great Gargoyle of Gruesomeness, I have just come from an inspection of thy Dread Armies and have uncovered great woes. The Orc's armor is fourth rate and our production of MEMREs (I have translated this as "Middle Earth Meals Ready to Eat." Ed. note.) lags greatly behind quota. In their current shape, I rank the fighting prowess of the Uruk Hai just below that of Disney fairies. The entire horde couldn't stand up to a squadron of Hobbits armed with butter knives.
But this is just the start of the grim news. The Black Steeds of the Ringwraiths have disappeared and our chief cavalry arm is crippled. While no one has confessed, a domestic Orc emptying a chamber pot reported hearing strange whinnying sounds coming from the Balrog quarters the other night. I myself heard the Witch King threaten to "Uv thangor shakburz nash burzum" (I have translated this as "unload a can of whup ass." Ed. note.) unless those ponies are returned immediately. Despair and disorder fill the ranks, Oh Enduring Emblem of Eternal Evil.
Sauron: Egv gor fukardum upzorum!? (I have translated this as "What is the cause of this SNAFU?" Ed. note.)
CME: Lord Sauron, Oh Tremendous Thane of Truly Titanic Terror, we have suffered a supply chain breakdown.
CME: A supply chain breakdown. You see, the peasants plant and harvest the food, which they in turn provide to the Orcs, who in turn do most of the mining and weapons production around here. If not enough food is produced, the Orcs' manufacturing production drops off and quality goes to hell, so to speak. Also, remember that an army marches on its stomach. The peasants are also responsible for providing fresh meat to the Balrogs, who aren't big on veggies. Oh, and the peasants also provide the hay that the Ringwraiths' horses eat, thought that doesn't seem to be a problem at the exact moment.
Sauron: This issue is easily solved. Torture the peasants to produce more food!
CME: Ummmm, well, you see Oh Demonic Deity of Destruction, we can't do that. We have no more peasants.
Sauron: What happened to the peasants?
CME: The Orcs ate them.
Sauron: Nagth lat ronk shitztorum!" (I have translated this as "Uh oh." Ed. note.)
At this point, the writing on manuscript becomes disordered and the readability of the parchment drops because of a series of blotches that have a suspicious resemblance to blood stains.
But, not to worry. Into this gaping literary void fearlessly tramps Orconomics, Part I of the Dark Profit Series by J. Zachary Pike.
Orconomics is set in your typical Tolkienesque/World of Warcraft milieu, but in Pike's universe economics lies at the core of everything that takes place in the book (just like the real world). The hero of Orconomics is Gorm Ingerson, a dwarf whom we first meet when he (reluctantly) saves the skin of Gleebek the Goblin, who repays our hero by attaching himself to Gorm's service despite the dwarf's deep desire to enjoy no such relationship.
Gorm and Gleebek's meeting is sparked by the activities of the Heroes Guild, an organization tasked with training, ranking, and regulating the various adventurers who comprise the organization's membership. The world of Orconomics is built on mercantilism, a zero-sum economic theory that was all the rage in Europe from the 16th through the 18th century. Modern forms are still practiced in Russia, China and similar places. Orconomics' mercantile model is built on raiding hoards of gold and treasure and redistributing them to the benefit of the raiders. Unfortunately for the heroes and the governments and institutions that rely on their labors, the number of hoards is running out.
Over the long term, mercantilism is a corrosive force that erodes an economy instead of building it (ask the Spanish Empire how this works). The same dynamic is at work in Gorm's world, and schemes and plots are afoot to try to reverse the tide of growing economic dissolution. Gorm, Gleebek, and a series of reluctant companions that include elves, wizards, thieves, bards (the usual mix) are soon caught up in a mysterious quest whose true goals are hidden and outcome unexpected.
Orconomics is at its best and funniest when it focuses on the sales and marketing issues underlying its economic woes. For instance, the following passage describes an unfortunate misunderstanding brought on by an Orcish community's unfortunate mishandling of a marketing opportunity and over reliance on the hard close during the sales cycle:
“But tell me, Tib’rin, how have I offended the honor of these mercenary-dogs. I have made every effort to please them. See, I sent them my own son to assist with their satisfaction.”
“Indeed, Lord Father,” said Char, stepping forward. “And I have followed the way of aggressive sales, just as you have commanded.” “
And how did you open?” Zurthraka asked him. “
I showed them our fine assortments of weapons for sale.”
“A thousand pardons,” said the Goblin. “But it could also be said that you waved your axes at the Lightlings, and took their own weapons from them.”
“I contrasted our product and disparaged the competition,” said Char. “It is the way of the aggressive seller.”
“And then we were commanded to follow you,” continued the Goblin.“
I would not take no for an answer!” Char was becoming agitated.
“And we were separated from each other—” “
You were given service at a personal level!”
“Then were paraded through town—”
“I showed off our impressive facilities and shopping centers!”
“Wait a moment,” said Zurthraka, pointing to the Goblin. “Do you suggest that our guests felt too much sales pressure?”
Any CMO or CSO can learn something from the above.
Orconomics is also professionally edited and the prose is bright and clean. And while I thought the economic scenarios of the book the most fun, the adventuring and derring do is enjoyable as well. As the characters interact and bicker, there are several poignant scenes that provide the tale with more emotional depth than you would expect from a "satire."
Orconomics is fun, funny, exciting and different. You should go out, buy a copy and read it. You'll have a great time.
I was invited to attend Digital Book World in New York on January 15th as a panelist for a breakout session supposedly focused on authors "facing the market." When I received the invite, it sounded like fun and since I'm from New York and can easily reach mid-town from my home in Connecticut, I agreed to attend and looked forward to the event. I've attended and presented at more high-tech conferences and exhibits than I can remember, but had never been to a book industry expo and was intrigued by the opportunity.
Unfortunately, the panel was an utter fiasco, presided over by the worst moderator I've ever seen at a show (and I've run 14 high-tech conferences on my own, so that's saying something). Instead of four people, seven ended up on the dais, including the moderator, who instead of staying at the podium and doing her job, squeezed in with the panelists and tried moderating while simultaneously mike grabbing. Worse, when I attempted to run through a short slide preso that the event owner had requested I provide, I was prevented from doing so. All in all, the most gruesome show experience I've ever had (other than working the floor of COMDEX five days straight while a bevy of booth babes gyrated to rock music in the exhibit next to me. Those were the days).
A few quick tips in case you ever run your own conference. If you decide to incorporate panels, never have one featuring more than four people (and three is a much better number). This cuts down on mike grabbing. Last minute invites onto a panel are a no no except in the case of a panelist no show. Also, the moderator must understand that they are not a panelist and should never sit with the panelists nor attempt to hog panelist time. Reward moderators for their work by assigning them to another panel or a speaking slot. And, of course, it is absolutely verboten for a moderator to behave rudely to a panelist who has taken their time and spent their money to attend your show. They're doing you the favor, not vice versa.
In all fairness to the show, I attended other moderated sessions and the ones I saw went smoothly; however, these panels were all populated by personnel from various publishing firms. As an author, I suggest you vet DBW and similar events carefully before spending time and money to attend or present. Dedicated speaking slots are probably worth it, but be careful of panels. Also, if you're an independent, there won't be a great deal of info on self publishing, though this may change in the future. My presentation focused on the amount of sales you needed to generate as an independent to recoup your time expenditure (four slides), but, of course, no one at the show saw it.
What prevented DBW from being a complete fiasco was my visit to the exhibit hall. The show sports a very healthy tradeshow component, though if you're an author, not a publisher, only some of the exhibits are relevant to you. One that is relevant to authors is Booktrack, an online system that enables you to add music, ambiance tracks, and sound effects to your book. I've heard of the technology, but when I went over to the demo booth and watched it in action, I was blown away. If you're writing any sort of genre fiction, you should immediately head over to Booktrack.com, open up your account, and play with the system. It's a blast to use and will make you rethink what digital books should be and also possibly change the way you write. And for many of you, it's the closest chance to being the "Great Auteur Behind the Camera " that you'll ever have.
Working with Booktrack
The first thing to note is that as of this writing, opening up a Booktrack account is free. Only a username and a password is required (there is a more extended profile page). Your book can be slotted into two genres, a type (novel, novella, etc.), a rating (G, PG, etc.) a language (currently, only the English character set is supported so no Chinese, Korean or Japanese at this time), and tags assigned. You can also upload your front cover art at publishing time. There are currently 10K titles in the Booktrack library, so while the system has a robust selection, you have a shot of standing out.
The system is very easy to use. First, you will need to import your book's text into the system.This is a cut and paste operation. One point to note is that if your book relies on more elaborate formatting, it will be lost in Booktrack. The editor currently only supports bolding and italics. I wouldn't be surprised if under the hood you can do some HTML formatting, but don't count on it for production work. The system does not currently enable you to embed pictures in with your text, though one picture per page support is planned for later this year.
Once the text is imported (you can do this in stages), you apply sound to your narrative. You can pick from a fairly extensive library of music and effects and paint your text with the sonics of your choice, upload your own personally composed music (your chance to be your own Hans Zimmer!) or use tracks you may have downloaded from sites such as this. Sounds can overlap, loop, and fade in and out (I suggest you become comfortable with the fade control quickly; it's often disconcerting for a sound to abruptly stop.)
You can also adjust the speed at which the text is read while a reader is "experiencing" your book, and this ties back to the fact that Booktrack encourages you to think "cinematically" as well as narratively. It's what I was referring to when I said the system has the potential to change the way you write. To hear what I mean, go to the site and click on a book.
From a creative standpoint, the process of using Booktrack for an author is utterly addictive. Literary crack. Internally, I actually started to call the system "Bookcrack." Once you begin, it's difficult to pull yourself away. And the rush you get as your book come to audible life is hard to describe unless you've experienced it.
Publishing Your Book on Booktrack
This is an area where you should take care. Books produced via the system are released under a series of open source, Creative Commons' licenses. For example, this variant:
This license lets others distribute, remix, tweak, and build upon your work, even commercially, as long as they credit you for the original creation.
You may not want to do that. Perhaps this version may be more to your taste:
This license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially with credit to you (their new works must also be non-commercial).
I suggest you read up more on Creative Commons here and think through the ramifications of releasing your work via this mechanism carefully before moving ahead.
Booktrack is right now primarily a browser-based experience, though there are reader apps (not editors) for iOS and Android. No Kindle. Booktrack is also available as a Chrome app. I briefly tested it in Chrome, IE (no, I didn't test in IE 6. Don't use IE 6), Safari, Firefox and Opera and it worked fine.
How Does Booktrack Monetize?
Booktrack plans to begin monetization at the end of the first quarter of 2015. Right now, you can read the titles in their library for free. The model is similar to the Apple split, 70/30. The author sets the base price (no Amazon Stalag $7) and Booktrack adds $X (between $1 to $2) on top of that when a book is sold. Initially, the Booktrack store model will be title, not subscription, based. Once the ecommerce component of the store is up and running, promotional capabilities will be added such as bundling and couponing. If the author wants Booktrack to create their book's soundtrack, it will cost under $1K (but I strongly recommend you do this yourself. Who else other than the writer knows how the book sounds in his/her inner ear)?
How Long Does It Take to "Booktrack" a Book?
This of course will depend on the type of book, and its length, but using my own sci/fi fantasy novel Rule-Set as a base (120K words), I'd say about 10 to 14 days, factoring in your initial track creation, review, and music reedits. Plan on spending two to three hours a day working on the project.
Some Booktrack Operating Tips
First, resist the desire to go overboard with the auditory bling. This will be hard to do because using Booktrack is so much fun. My suggestion is to add tracks to the first couple of chapters, stop, and listen to how it all sounds. Perhaps ask a family member to listen to early tracks. If they start to find the music distracting, start paring down the effects.
Second, Booktrack does not currently keep a list of the auditory effects you've applied to your text. Before you start adding sound, create a simple text file and list by section/chapter every sound you apply by its name. This will help you keep track of how often and what kinds of sounds you're using and assist you to adjust and change things up as needed.
Third is take care of your editing fixes before applying sound. When you switch to the Text tab, Booktrack loses its focus on your spot in the text and takes you to the top of the section.
Fourth is don't be afraid to upload third party sound. It's easy and immediately broadens your creative palette.
Fifth is start using the music controls immediately. Layered sound adds another dimension to your book.
What Are the Obstacles Facing Booktrack?
Booktrack is a new technology and introduces yet another E-book platform to publishing. Right now, the market is divided between Kindle, Apple, Android, Kobo and others. This adds complexity to the book buying decision, never a good thing.
But I personally think Booktrack is unstoppable (particularly once they allow you to monetize). Once you've experienced a book in this fashion, it's hard to give it up; I speculate people during the silent film era had very much the same reaction to "talkies." I very much believe that Booktrack will become a technology standard and its use will spread into the mainstream. I have to believe the major players are giving the platform close scrutiny. I think Booktracking at least some of your works is an excellent thing to do and an opportunity to learn about how the book is going to evolve as digital printing subsumes print.
Am I Booktracking Rule-Set: A Novel of a Quantum Future?
Are you kidding? Of course I am! Rule-Set takes place in a 50 mile long giant nuclear particle accelerator located under Waxahachie, Texas which in turn houses a virtual reality lab where samurai sword fights are taking place on a regular basis. The prologue describes a group of 2087 special forces soldiers engaging in close combat with homicidal werewolves. And at the penultimate climax of the book, there's an audible computer countdown to catastrophe. I have to do it!
And that's where Booktrack continues to get interesting. I want to bring that countdown to life, and I was thinking about where I could find the right voice for the part. Then I looked at my wife, the radiant Mrs. Chapman. She's worked for years as a hospital floor unit admin and is capable of projecting a Dave-I-think-you-should-sit-down-take-a-stress-pill-and-think-things-over-Hal-9000-tone at will.
I told her I wanted her for the part of Aida the Computer voice and her eyes widened and she said "cool." Then I started to think of a new song by Big Data called "Dangerous" and how it would be a perfect fit for the chase scene I'm writing in the sequel to Rule-Set, Vorpal Sword. And I know that music licensing is a mess, but maybe, just maybe, the music moguls might be interested in opening up a new and untapped micro payment revenue stream?
Technology shakes things up and Booktrack is going to join Kindle in shaking shake up books even more.
(If you find this article of interest, please do me a favor and click here to take the
the Amazon Pricing and Marketing Policies for Independent Authors Survey. It's a quick survey and will provide information and insights in independent publishing you will find very useful. All participants receive the complete summary results.)
Also, before we start, let me inform you that further on in this article you'll be seeing some numbers I've extracted from a spreadsheet analyzing breakeven points on your marketing and time expenditures. I will be happy to email you this full spreadsheet when it's released in a couple of weeks. To receive it, please join the site mailing list and I'll notify you when it's ready. Sign up to your right.)
Now that Amazon vs. Hachette is over, it's time for you indies to start focusing on the issues that are important to you. Mainly, making money from your writing. There are no excuses for you to pay attention to people who tell you that that Amazon is "paying you royalties" when all that's happening is a download fee is being extracted from your bottom line. Amazon and the other online resellers never pay you anything. They are channels and they exist to service demand. They do not exist to create it. For you, they create operating expenses, not royalties.
This is not only true in books. It is true in software, in high-tech hardware, consumer goods, etc.
Before you even start to plan to market your book, hammer this into your brain and keep it close to your thoughts always:
Channels do not create market demand. Only suppliers can create market demand.
And, in this case, who is the supplier?
You. Only you can create the desire for people to read your book. Your business, as an independent author, is to create demand for your book via marketing. Amazon, as a channel, services the demand you create.
Incredibly enough, even Hugh Howey has actually acknowledged this!
But wait, you say, we aren’t just authors. We are publishers! We pay for cover art and editing. We upload a finished product, ready to go. These aren’t royalties we’re earning; they are a cut of proceeds. So comparing our income as authors to other authors isn’t fair. We should compare our income as self-publishers to other publishers.
But don't get too excited. A couple of blog posts later, he's back to telling us all how Amazon is paying us:
But I see people complaining about the 70% payout, the $1.39 KU payout, the reduction of ACX royalties.
Further on in this series, we'll see why you have good reason to complain about Amazon's very large and in some cases predatory service fees.
Amazon's job, as a part of the book channel, is to extract as much money as it can from your hide, which it will and can do. Your job, as a business, is to resist, scream, and fight as loudly as you can against these efforts. When a member of AAAG (Aggregated Amazon Ankle Grabbers) shows up or blogs about how much you owe the book channel or Amazon, throw a ripely dead rat at them.
This, by the way, is not personal. This is how channels have, do, and will operate. They hunger for margin more than Dracula craves blood. You hunger for revenue so you can write and not have to contemplate eating your offspring when times are lean. So it has been, so it will ever be. Do not hate your channel and never bend over for it. Recognize it for what it is. A middleman. Errr..."person." An entity which is both your enemy and your friend.
Do not waste a minute feeling grateful to Amazon for the Kindle infrastructure. They did not invent the ebook concept or take the risks of the pioneers of 1999-2001, who failed abjectly. (You can read about why in the second edition of In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters.) Amazon, to its tremendous credit, took advantage of an industry complacent in the wake of that first failure. They have, and are, profiting greatly from ebooks. The long tale is eternal and it costs them next to nothing to service their storage. You pay the transmission fees on downloads. You are doing them a huge favor by putting your book on their servers. The reason Amazon makes no money on sales of their Kindle readers is that ebook revenues more than make up for their hardware expenditures.
Amazon has done you a huge service by driving interest in ebooks, thus making wideband sefl-publishing practical. It also deserves credit for building a demand service platform that has been widely emulated by other companies. (OTOH, Samsung doesn't feel all that grateful that Amazon has built loading docks to accept and ship TVs.) And while the growth of the ebook market was inevitable, Amazon deserves to profit from excellent market timing and an intelligent investment in hardware/software.
Initial Operational Costs
OK, let's go to the numbers. Let's start with the first round of operational costs an independent/self-published author must deal with. Here's a list of the basic expenses. I know these can vary, so the numbers below are ranges:
There are other potential costs I could include, such as shipping. There are people who print books and fulfill directly, but this is fading. To keep it simple, we'll stick with the above. When you're done, a good median estimate is that you'll need to spend at least $4K to kick things off properly for book one, day one.
Marketing your book can encompass many things. Below is a good starting list:
I'm not going to break out marketing costs for the above activities at this time, but let's figure that during the course of your launch a good median for your expenditures is $1K. You may spend less, but the trade off is spending more of your time. Which brings us to the most crucial overhead component of selling your book, one that you cannot avoid or bypass (unless you want to have sales close to zero).
What Is Your Time Worth?
To market and sell your book, you must spend your time doing so. Yes, I know, you don't "count" your time as money. This means you are a starving artist, not a successful independent publisher. But despite your naivete, time is money and must be assigned a value!
So, what value should we use? For the purposes of this article and spreadsheet, I've picked $25 per hour. Why? Well, the current federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour and many states are pushing that to a $10 to $12 medium. If you can write a decent book, I'm going to assume you went to college or have college-level skills, which makes you worth at least two to three times minimum wage.
Also, $25 an hour over 52 weeks works out to a gross wage of $52K. That's not a living large salary, but you can get by on it. So, we'll use $25. (It's not my fault you weren't smart enough to choose to be a lawyer.) BTW, the spreadsheet obviously enables you to plug in your own numbers and play "what if." I've used Amazon's pricing schedule as they're the 1200lb gorilla in ebook channel and its competition currently shelters behind the big beast.
With this foundation in place, let's first look at some basic scenarios that show what level of sales you need to generate to cover the cost of your most precious commodity, time. The spreadsheet I'm extracting these number covers more scenarios; the below are highlights. Please note these extracts only calculate how many books you need to sell to cover the costs of your time spent marketing and selling your book at $25 per hour. You then need to sell additional books to cover your production and marketing outlays.
What Is Your Time Worth Break Even Calculations
These number show us some interesting things. First, I picked $2.99 and $7.99 because these currently function as two "gateway" figures. $2.99 is often recommended as a starting point for new and unknown authors. $7.99 tends to be reserved for better known and "name" indies.
The breakout starts with an assumption that you must spend at least 10 hours a week of your time marketing your book. Over a year, your time is worth $13K and you must sell 6.2K titles at $2.09 to make your time back (remember, we're not counting your production/marketing expenses).
Now, 6.2K sales is not a trivial number to hit, especially for a new indie. I don't think it will be long before you realize you need to make the 30 hour per week commitment. And when you do, you're going to have to cook to hit your needed sales volumes. 18.6K is a lot of books. What's that I hear you saying? You can't afford to spend that much time on your book because you're already writing the next one? That, ladies and gentlemen, is why they invented "drugs." Find something legal in the amphetamine family and get back to work.
Now, as we see, if you can price higher, your work gets easier. Of course, the main channel for ebooks, Amazon, has been pushing lower prices as part of its war with the publishers. That hurts. And life would immediately become niftier if you were paying, say, 15% for your downloads, not a hellacious 30 points, which, let me assure you, is channel margin gold.
Note that life also becomes substantially better if you can price above Amazon's pricing box, which I richly describer in my previous article, Escape from Stalag $7. But of course, you can't. Now, you may argue that you can't realistically price above $9.99 because you're not a brand name such as Stephen King. This may be true. But perhaps you could sell two books as part of a special promotional bundle? That might be just the ticket. But alas. You remain trapped behind the virtual barb wire of Stalag $7.
Now you understand why the channel is both your friend and your enemy.
The final rows make grim reading. They represent the revenue you're (not) generating from your international sales and for books priced out of Amazon's pricing box. Don't overlook there are huge overseas markets for English books in India, Australia, the UK, Europe, China, etc. And don't forget the 60% service fee Amazon charges on your audible book(s).
In part II of this series we'll dig deeper into these numbers and take a look at some early results of our indie survey.
(If you find this article of interest, please do me a favor and click here to take the
the Amazon Pricing and Marketing Policies for Independent Authors Survey. It's a quick survey and will provide information and insights in independent publishing you will find very useful. All participants receive the complete summary results.)
Click Here to Take the Amazon Pricing and Marketing Policies for Independent Authors Survey Today
Over the last 12 months a great many pixels have been generated directed at indie authors and self publishers. I've written fairly extensively about the topic and so have others. A few week ago, I wrote an article entitled Escape from Stalag $7: Why Amazon's Pricing Box Is Bad for Indies. To date, approximately 10K have read it and the piece sparked some vigorous debate, here and elsewhere.
As Escape was commented on, critiqued, and criticized, I began to realize that while lots of people have commented on what indies think and urged them to adopt one position or another, no one's done any primary research asking indies themselves what they feel about industry events and policies and their impact on their writing and income.
This survey is designed to help fill that gap. It represents an opportunity for the indie voice to be heard and counted in the ongoing debates and speculation about the future of publishing. This survey focuses on Amazon's basic pricing policies as they impact indies.The entire survey is 18 questions, including some brief profile questions at the beginning, and will take you less than five minutes to complete.
Please do not take this survey if you are not publishing at least one book independently.
Everyone who participates will receive a copy of the full summary results as well as relevant cross-tabulations. We will also be posting the results on this blog.
Your participation will be kept completely confidential.
Future surveys will focus on the topic of subscription services, including Amazon's KU and similar programs, and other issues of importance to indies. As you may be aware, there's been a great deal of discussion on this topic and several prominent participants have announced they are leaving the program. Take this chance to let the industry hear your voice.
Click Here to Take The Amazon Pricing and Marketing Policies for Independent Authors Survey Today
Thanks in advance to those who choose to participate and to the over 50 authors who have already done so.
File Size: 437 KB
Print Length: 408 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publisher: Nick M Lloyd (October 14, 2014)
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
Author Website: http://www.nickmlloyd.com/#landingpage
In 1967, Star Trek introduced the concept of The Prime Directive in "Return of the Archons," one of the series' best episodes. There's some dispute over whether STOS's most productive writer Gene L. Coon, or Theodore Sturgeon came up with the idea (my vote is for Coon), but the concept has proved to be one of Sci-Fi's most durable memes.
In the Star Trek universe, the Prime Directive states that it is forbidden for members of the United Federation of Planets to contact or interfere with the development of "pre-warp" civilizations unless the needs of the plot or to whip up another morality episode requires it. No Star Trek series has failed to mention the PD or to drag elements of it into their episodes, much to the happiness of the different screenplay writers. It's a given, in Star Trek, that if you introduce light bulb technology to a species too soon, they'll promptly use the extra reading time to prematurely create fusion reactors and melt down their planet.
Screen play requirements aside, there is good reason to take elements of the PD seriously. In one of my favorite history treatises, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, author Jared Diamond describes in stunning detail why Pizaro was able to defeat on the battlefield Inca forces that outnumbered his own 300-800 to one.
Still, when you put the germs under the sociological microscope, the issue becomes a bit muddier. Suppose, through some twist of history, it had been the Aztecs who developed iron working technology and blue water sailing ahead of the Spaniards. Driven by distant tales of a people who worshiped a strange blood god, the "Chyrstos," and legends of fabulous temples filled with gold and treasure devoted to assuaging the wrath of this god and ensuring his continued beneficence, the Aztecs land on the west coast of Spain and march on Madrid. What would have been the likely outcome? We know what happened in the reverse case.
What probably would have happened was that 90% of the invaders would have died before they reached any of the treasure temples. You see, what actually destroyed the foundations of pre-Columbian civilization was disease and plague. In facing "Stone Age" Spaniards, the Aztecs may have been able to bring superior technology to the fight, but inferior immune systems (ask the Martians from War of the Worlds how this can put a crimp in your plans to conquer all mankind. (And yeah, yeah, I know, most diseases don't cross species boundaries. Except when they do. Ask the influenza virus and your local duck).
Europeans, because of their interaction with different groups and nations and their domestication of populations of fowl, cattle, swine, dogs, cats etc., all absent in North America, were epidemiological supermen in contrast to the Aztecs. If any of the invaders had survived to flee back to Tenochtitlan, they would have returned carrying catastrophe and despair. (And the more you know about the Aztecs, the less inclined you are to feel sorry for them. Especially after seeing those on-velvet paintings of Aztec warriors and princesses that are popular in Mexico City.They always leave out the heart-yanking bits.)
I've also always been skeptical of the absolute moral posturing of the PD. For instance, despite much hand wringing and revisionism about native American Indians and their regard for nature, the overwhelming evidence seems to be that when Chief Seattle's ancestors crossed over the land bridge from Siberia to the New World, their immediate reaction to the undiscovered continent's mega-fauna was "Let's Eat Em!" And for the next several thousand years, it was Giant Sloth ribs on the grill and McMastodon burgers to go.
As for the Incas, they thought transporting children up steep mountains for ritual slaughter was a splendid idea. A picture of one of the dead children is here. Looking at this, you wonder. Who held the high moral hand in Pizaro's and Atahualpa's deadly game?
This issue, and others, are examined in Emergence, a fascinating new novel by Nick Lloyd. Set in the present, we discover that a highly advanced alien species, the Gadium, a race of burly lizards, with the females weighing in at about twice their male counterparts, are sure it knows what's best for Earth. Official Gadium policy is to actively intervene, guide and manage (with the help of an occasional planetary orbital bombardment), all with the very best of intentions, the course of thousands of civilizations throughout space. As long a you do what you're told, life under Gadium suzerainty is pleasant, with advanced technology being provided to the compliant at regular intervals. Step out of line and you can consider the aforementioned orbital bombardment alternative.
The Gadium manage the process of planetary "guidance" via an elaborate systems of surveillance that infiltrates every aspect of our communications, computing, and transportation infrastructure as well as our bodies. In a switch from Star Trek's focus on technology, what the Gadium are looking for are "emergents," humans who exhibit advanced capabilities that enable them to manipulate matter at the quantum, probabilistic level.
Managing a galactic-wide bureaucracy is no trivial task. While the first book is not completely clear on the exact means by which the Gadium achieve interstellar flight, the means used require that a severe relativistic penalty be paid. Members of the Gaidium are used to being placed into stasis for thousands of years as they travel from point to point, putting quite a strain on family relations. When George Orwell was asked to shoot an elephant, at least he did it in real time. When a Gadium is told to bomb a planet, or dispose of someone who's behavior may disturb the emergence timetable of a civilization, his or her family may have been dead for centuries.
Despite its power and reach, all is not well in the Gadium imperium. A strong dissenting force opposes the Gadium policy of active galactic intervention and management. To my fascination, author Lloyd has created a society where this opposition is expressed via a quasi religious argument focusing on the moral choices a society makes based on its belief in Niels Bohr's Copenhagen vs. Hugh Everett's multiverse interpretation of the most famous experiment in modern physics, the double slit.
And yes, if you want fully enjoy and understand Emergence and have not read about the double slit experiment, you need to take some time to fully appreciate its implications for modern science. Don' t be intimidated; it's not that hard to understand and huge numbers of Sci-Fi plots and novels key off of double slit. Think of this as an opportunity to build your nerd cred.
Emergence's narrative is built around two tracks, (with a brief side story meant to illuminate the main plot). The first, and most interesting, follows the intrigues and maneuvering of the different Gadium factions as they struggle for political supremacy in an increasingly roiled and factional political milieu. The second follows a group of Earthlings as they begin to realize what is taking place on our planet and one of their members begins to exercise his growing mental capabilities. I found this track at times a bit of a drag on the flow of the story, and think the amount of plot and the cast of characters devoted to it could have been cut down. I would have spent more time on the big lizards out in space and to two members of the earthbound entourage, Jack Bullage, a man on the brink of emerging into a new kind of human and Louise Harding, who first begins to uncover the Gadium surveillance of our planet. But this is a minor criticism.
Emergence is a very intelligent and well-written book that fascinates on many levels. You can think of it as a critique of Star Trek's original Prime Directive that examines the outcome of this policy from both the viewpoint of the society impacted by the concept and the toll extracted by the power that upholds it. A social and religious discussion of the fundamental moral nature of our universe. A political fable arguing progressiveness vs. libertarianism.
Regardless of which aspect of the book you choose to focus on, you'll be rewarded. Take some time out during the Holiday season to read one of the most stimulating Sci-Fi books I've read in a long time.
As I've previously noted, I'll be appearing on January 15th on a Digital Book World panel in New York entitled "Authors Facing the Industry: Data and Insights From Authors on the Publishing Business, Author-Publisher Relations, and Marketing."
Click here or on the image to view the full DBW agenda. Time is 3:00 to 3:50PM. You can save 5% on your attendance with Speakers Code DBWSPEAKERS; make sure you register today.
(Take the Amazon Pricing and Marketing Policies for Independent Authors Survey Today)
This survey is brief and focuses on indie interest in potentially promoting their books via the programs I describe in my previous article, Escape from Stalag $7: Why Amazon's Pricing Box Is Bad for Indies. Everyone who participates in the survey will receive a copy of the full summary results as well as relevant cross-tabulations. More information at the link above. Your participation and personal information will be kept completely confidential.)
Last week, I posted on this blog an article Escape from Stalag $7: Why Amazon's Pricing Box Is Bad for Indies. The reaction to it was much stronger than I'd anticipated. On the first day after it went up, about four thousand people read it, and I estimate that after a couple of weeks have gone by, the number will rise to well over 10K. Clearly, this is a topic of interest to independent/self-published writers. And certainly one we have a stake in.
Reactions were on the whole very favorable, though the acclaim was by no means universal. Over at The Digital Reader, the site owner wrote a typical AAAG article mixing misstatements with a plea to not think about the issues I raised. A brief example of Nate Hoffelder in action:
+++ one, that people in publishing should not discuss the topic du jour, namely a contract fight which could have had an impact on the entire industry. +++
This, of course, is pure AAAG. Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, and the rest of AAAG didn't discuss the topic, at least not on any level playing field. They advocated on behalf of a $75B coporation in its fight with a $15B group of large publishers, a battle in which indies had no stake.
+++ two, that indie authors had any obligation to explain Amazon's policies, +++
More AAAG. Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, Nate Hoffelder et al, who position themselves as indie advocates, certainly had plenty of time to discuss Amazon's position vs. the publishers. Why can't they divert some of that energy to discussing Amazon's policies as they impact indies? After all, aren't they supposed to be our advocates? I'm not impacted by Hachette's agency pricing model, but I am by Amazon grabbing 65% of my international sales revenue.
The rest of the article is typical AAAG dreary, and never even attempts to address the issues raised in Stalag $7. You can read it here.
Over at www.teleread.com, things were more favorable (though they had a gentleman show up and try to claim that Amazon pays you royalties! Where do these people come from)? Michael Perry of Inkling Books provided some interesting Amazon math here:
As he notes, Amazon’s ebook goal is quite obvious and has been for a long time. When you sell an ebook through them, at all price levels they want to take 65% for a mere credit card transaction and file download that costs them mere pennies. Then they want to give you only 35%. Can most authors and publishers make any sort of decent living on that? No, particularly since Amazon intends to do all it can to drive down that price from which your 35% comes.
To get a rough estimate what that would mean, for a $9.99 ebook, Amazon will make $7 less costs that are probably around a dime. And it’ll pay you but $3.50 for all your months of labor. It’s making roughly a 7000% profit, while you can’t afford the rent.
Read the rest here.
Finally, Bowerbird@bbirdman provided a very detailed critique of my article, agreeing with some points and disagreeing with others. For example:
relaxing the box too soon, however, risks the principle (held devoutly by reasonable people) that e-books are cheaper to reproduce and distribute than paper-books, so they _must_ cost less or someone be robbing people. that the major publishers refuse to acknowledge this fact is what has caused extensive damage to e-books thus far. corporate publishers were in love with their big margins, and they knew e-books would eventually threaten them.so they've been doing their best to delay that inevitability.
The "Bird" also provided some suggested workarounds for Stalag $7. I'm not sure they're all practical, but the entire post is well worth your reading.
Read her comments here
As a result of the strong response to the article and reading the many comments made about it, I realized there was one voice absent from the issue and that is yours. I'd like to know the indie community's opinion on the issues I discussed in Stalag $7. Are you interested in greater promotional opportunities on Amazon? Which ones are you most interested in? Do you think the Amazon $7 spread on your pricing is equitable? Do you think that if you were allowed to promote outside the box you could do successfully? Do you price outside the box and if no, why not?
These questions are covered in the survey. It's brief, and should take less than five minutes of your time to complete. Everyone who participates will receive a copy of the full summary results as well as relevant cross-tabulations. More information at the link above. Your participation will be kept completely confidential.
Take the Amazon Pricing and Marketing Policies for Independent Authors Survey Today
My thanks in advance to all who chose to participate. I look forward to hearing what you think!
(Just a quick reminder that I'll be appearing on January 15th on a Digital Book World panel in New York entitled "Authors Facing the Industry: Data and Insights From Authors on the Publishing Business, Author-Publisher Relations, and Marketing."
Click here or on the image to view the full DBW agenda. Time is 3:00 to 3:50PM. You can save 5% on your attendance with Speakers Code DBWSPEAKERS; make sure you register today. The agenda is very broad and provides extensive coverage of issues of interest to both traditional and self-published authors. I intend to ask some Amazon people some hard questions if can get near an audience microphone.)
During the Hachette vs. Amazon struggle, I started to visit some of AAAG's (Aggregated Amazon Ankle Grabbers) most prominent websites and ask some hard questions. As I pointed out in my series on the book channels, independents had no stake in the outcome either way, but AAAG's intense interest in the business practices of the publishers inspired me to spend time investigating Amazon's pricing and operations model as it applied to indies. This was an issue in which I had a stake.
The results were not very informative. I did learn a few things about how AAAG operates. The Passive Voice (a lawyer guy) deals with hard questions on his blog by not allowing them to appear via comment blocking. Ditto Hugh Howey. Joe Konrath was a bit better, but is given to rewriting history. As he squirmed and evaded my straightforward questions about Amazon's pricing and marketing practices model, the inevitable hints about being banned were issued and the history rewrites began. For example, despite copious words to the contrary, he suddenly announced he'd been OK with agency pricing all the while, though he'd have to be suffering from the same brain dysfunction that Guy Pearce exhibited in Memento for anyone to believe that.
David Gaughran was the worst. In two posts on his blog, I asked my hard questions and received the usual blast of blather and evasion. For example, he called my observation that Amazon's pricing model as it applied to indies was a modified form of agency "nonsensical." Apparently, while holing in up in Prague, he'd failed to talk to Hugh Howey about this issue, who referred to the model as "Incentivized Agency." Perhaps it was the different adjectives that confused him.
When I stayed on topic, I was eventually "banned" from the blog after the inevitable, unctuous, weaselly speech about his undying devotion to freedom of speech. Take this to the bank. When a blog owner affirms their commitment to First Amendment principles, you're about to be censored. It's how hypocrisy works.
But after all the fireworks and fun, the one thing I never ever received from AAAG were coherent answers to my questions, particularly the most important one of all. And that is: Why has Amazon placed indies in a $7 dollar pricing box? Why does it grab 65% of your revenue (not counting its transmission fees, which it charges on every transfer and which vary based on book size) if you price under $2.99 and the same if you charge over $9.99? This is an issue of critical importance to indies because it is not financially feasible to hand over that level of margin to a reseller for a download service. (And if you think Amazon is paying you a "royalty" when you fork over that 65% operating expense, please stop reading now. You are incurably ignorant and I cannot help you.)
The most coherent answer I ever received from AAAG acolytes was "because they can." When I'd respond that Hachette was therefore perfectly justified in providing that same answer to Amazon over the issue of agency pricing, AAAG people became very unhappy, though never informative or more coherent.
I'll give one member of AAAG credit for integrity and that is Dan Meadows of The Watershed Chronicle. He runs what I regard as an AAAG-lite site, and most of his articles on H vs. AMZ focused on his amazement that Hachette actually insisted on negotiating in its best interests, not Amazon's.
But to his credit, I've never seen any comment blocking or banning threats. And when he asked in an article how writers had benefited from the whole contretemps, and I told him how, he was honest enough to acknowledge that indies had benefited from the fight as Apple's and the publishers' introduction of the proposed 70%/30% agency split had forced Amazon to compete and offer indies the same deal for books in their pricing box. Prior to that, Amazon charged indies 65 points to use their download service regardless of the book's price.
(What, you never read that fact on the AAAG sites? Hmmm. Fancy that. You indies can make it up to Apple and the publishers by saying a little prayer on their behalf to the God of Book Publishing tonight. But don't go overboard. The publishers still need to rethink their royalty structure in this new era.)
What's Wrong With Amazons's $7 Dollar Pricing Box?
Let's count the ways. Before I begin, let me stipulate for all of the following points the underlying issue is that Amazon's policies are depriving indies of revenue now and in the future.
What Is To Be Done?
How can all the above issues be quickly resolved? The answer is simplicity itself. Amazon should lift all restrictions on book pricing and establish a uniform service fee for the use of its downloading infrastructure. Within this framework, the authors will quickly learn what works for them and their books. Amazon's "assistance" is not needed.
To help speed up the implementation of this logical and intelligent course of action, it's time for Hugh Howey, Joe Konrath, David Gaughran and the rest of AAAG to raise their palms off the pavement, rise up, and ask Amazon, for the benefit of indies, the industry, and ultimately Amazon itself, to burn the price box. It's one way they can atone for the atrocious misreporting they provided us during the Hachette vs. Amazon battle. And in the end, AAAG's bottom lines and book sales will benefit as well.
In the last article of this series, I continue my look at how the publishers can push back against Amazon. If you've not been following this series, I urge you to read it from the beginning as it provides you with a concise but accurate explanation of the fundamentals of distribution in the book ( (and other) channels.
While the publishers have their work cut out for them, there are significant things they can do to remain a force in the industry. The most important factor working in their favor is that they are still the primary managers of content. As a channel entity, Amazon's core expertise is not in producing things, but in selling them. As a distributor/reseller, Amazon wants to sell products that are uniform in structure and whose sales easily scale if/when they catch the public's fancy.
Books meet the above criteria only partially. While both printed and E-books scale easily in terms of sales, their creation is often idiosyncratic and halting. Every book ever written or published by definition is unique. Books that aren't are called "copyright infringements."
A practical example of this is a Sci-Fi series by David Gerrold (famous for his "The Trouble with Tribbles" screenplay for the original Star Trek). I started reading in 1984 his series called the "War Against the Chtorr." The last book in the run was published in 1992 (A Season for Slaughter) and three more have been promised since then. I'm not holding my breath for the next release, don't think he'll ever finish up the tale, and feel a bit cheated.
The problem with a channel attempting to also become a content provider is evident in the struggles Amazon has had in establishing its house imprints. (Click Here for More Info.) Currently, the paper channel won't sell Amazon's house books because they conflict with the interests of the book channel (outside of Amazon). And the thought of dealing with hordes of cranky, emotional authors probably makes the teeth of Amazon's internal management ache. And the whole Hachette dust up may have have excited some bright-eyed, long-nosed legal beagle at the DOJ to start sniffing through the case archives and read up on the fed's successful monopsony case against the film studios decades ago. That thought gives Amazon's attorney the hives.
In high tech, there are examples of suppliers successfully integrating their operations with their channels. Apple is the most notable case. In the late 90s, Apple pulled most of its computer products out of the stores, shut down its OEM and licensing operations, and opened its own retail chain. But Apple is the exception that proves the rule. Apple closely controls its product production scheduling and planning. Apple sells its most popular products via a strict agency pricing regimen. Apple has always attempted to integrate its hardware and software technologies into unified products. And Apple is slowly edging away from the PC market as its focus turns increasingly to smartphones, tablets, and the upcoming new generation of flexible devices.
This is in sharp contrast to Microsoft, which has always relied on channels and third parties to grow and whose attempt to build a retail channel has been far less successful than Apple's.
A final point to keep in mind is that in most markets, channels do not sell. Channels exist to service demand. In software, company after company made the mistake of thinking that because a distributor had ordered X number of boxes of product into their warehouse they had sold something. They were always wrong. It was always the responsibility of the software publisher to create product demand and pull products out of warehouses. In E-books, nothing has changed except the cost of warehousing and shipping has dropped to near zero. Plow those savings back into your marketing.
A Change of Mindset Would Do You Good
Publishers must rethink their relationships with the author community and give up their traditional gatekeeper mentality while repositioning themselves as author facilitators and as writing coaches. The Amazon-Hachette battle uncovered the fact that there was a great deal of pent up resentment towards publishers. Many writers perceive them as an unfriendly blocking force that takes away opportunity from people who are certain they have a book or books in them. Publishers need to understand this and proactively reach out to this community and to the future revenue and profits they represent.
Gatekeeping makes no sense in the age of the electronic shelf. There is no limit to the amount of inventory the system can carry. There is no genre or market segment that cannot be served by the electronic shelf. There are no returns and shipping issues. The long tail is eternal.
In this milieu, rethink publishing as an analog to the baseball system, where different levels of talent are segmented into different circles and encouraged to improve their skills until they’re ready for the big leagues. With this model in mind, start to learn how to market into niches and genres, and build new imprints and product lines to service them. Leverage community to help manage these minor leagues and promote talent to the first rank. Both authors and publisher will benefit. This model also has the benefit of helping publishers break away from the blockbuster mentality that dominates their thinking. You may never find another World War Z zombie apocalypse best seller, but lots of people love the genre and you can probably make money by serving up a steady stream of well-written E-titles to people who like to settle down to a quiet afternoon reading about the rotting undead and mall massacres.
I also strongly recommend publishers turn away from the types of services packages offered by such groups as Author Solutions. They have been tainted by their use of tactics traditionally associated with exploitative "vanity press" businesses and are a growing sore on your business.
Mentor the Market and the Next Generation
One of the most powerful arrows in the publisher's quiver is their relationship with existing,well-known authors. For example, in this blog post, Hugh Howey is verklempt over a few nice words of affirmation from Stephen King (yes, that S. King) towards Wool. I find this a bit ironic as Stephen King was one of the "one percent" who signed that awful, awful, awful petition from Authors United criticizing brave, plucky, $75B Amazon for screwing around with the Hachette authors in its search for more margins on books and MDF (expenses ultimately paid for by the writers). Heck, King's wife signed the damn thing. How awful is that? But, nice words from the master of horror and suspense are very bankable and I guess all is forgiven from the self-publishing pioneer who introduced the concept of "incentivized agency" and author punishment if you want to price your book above $9.99 on Amazon.
My suggestion is that if Stephen King's ready to make Hugh Howey's day, perhaps he and his compatriots might want to help make some self-published authors' days as well? How about a reach out program sponsored by the publishers that encourages their authors to:
There are more ideas you can develop along these lines, but you get the idea.
Explore the New Venues Open to You
In the previous article I mentioned that paper is a trap for publishers. I stand by that statement, but I'm not only talking about the inevitable demise of print at the hands of digital. I'm talking about missing and experimenting with new venues and ways to sell books while focusing too deeply on managing a legacy business model (which the major publisher do need to do).
Here's an example of what I mean. I went to see Edge of Tomorrow this summer and loved it. The movie is based on a well-written manga, All You Need is Kill. I wondered on Mke Shatzkin's blog the other day why you shouldn't offer the manga, or perhaps a novelization of the book, to people who went to see the movie. I call this "Point of Event" distribution. Walk in the theater, download the publication to your smartphone and read the book after seeing the movie. This adds more value to your movie ticket and potentially offers new marketing awareness for both the book and the movie derivative. Or perhaps when you visit William Sonoma, offer a copy of a hot new recipe tome when you buy that latest, can't resist rubbing sauce? How about an art book during a major touring exhibit at your local museum?
These are just some ideas. There are more opportunities out there. But, of course, this concept can only be executed if you're thinking digitally. Won't work with paper. Too much risk.
Provide Your Own Service Layers to the Authors and Writers
In the last article in this series, I described the various service layers Amazon is controlling within the world of E-books. Experts such as Mike Shatzkin think it's beyond the grasp of the publishers to create a competing E-commerce platform for their own use a la the airline industry's SABRE system and he's probably right. But there are services the publishers can provide to existing and aspiring authors. These include:
I'm not saying that publishers shouldn't charge for the above services where appropriate, but pricing should be reasonable and not predatory. Publishers should remember that the above ideas and suggestions will ultimately provide them with far more information about their readers, writers, and markets than they currently possess and help them compete against the Amazon data juggernaut.
This brings this series to an end. My next article will take a closer look at the Amazon $7 roach motel and why's it's bad for indies. After that, I'm going to post up an article entitled "What Is Your Time Worth," along with a spreadsheet, that helps you compare the value of your time against the sales needed to ensure you don't end up working at Home Depot during the holiday season to make ends meet.
Review Submission Guidellines
Want me to review your book? You must join the Rule-Set mailing list and contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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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