August 25, 2014

Amazon - A Force for Good - With a Few Qualifications

I am pretty sure that when people will talk, say in the year 2100 or 2200, about the early years of the 21st century (and actually also about the last days of the 20th century), one of the key developments they will mention is the move from books to eBooks.
Right now we are in the middle of this development, indeed revolution, and so we don't see how huge it really is, but it is huge.
Twenty years ago in a normal sized town, one had access to maybe 40,000 books in normal bookstores. Nowadays its closer to two million at one's desktop.
Of course there has been a parallel change with academic libraries and online research materials.
At the end, IMHO, this is what will eliminate ignorance.
While there are other noteworthy endeavors, such as Project Gutenberg, and Google Books (quite limited where I live), I think Amazon is the main force behind this revolution.
Of course there are problems with Amazon, such as tax problems, this whole Hachette business, and other stuff, but all in all I think they are a force for the good.
I only wish they would pay their employees a bit more...

August 19, 2014

Why I didn't Like Amazon's Letter

The funny thing about the letter I got from Amazon a little while ago, is that I perfectly agree with its beginning.
I think paperbacks were a great thing. Most of the books in the house I grew up in were paperbacks, in several languages.
I even recognize the claim made by 'serious literature types' regarding the danger of paperbacks back then, and regarding eBooks now. The claim that these 'new inventions' are 'ruining the industry'.
Heck, I'm a publisher who publishes only eBooks in the past four years, you really don't need to convince me on that account.
However, I don't think that the policy of asking publishers to set their prices a certain way is a good thing.
Amazon asks Hachette etc. to lower the price of eBooks, and in a way it asks me to raise them (like I said, I can no longer give free samples of my books via Amazon).
So this policy by Amazon asks everyone to play on the same field at least as far as prices are concerned.
I don't think that this is a good thing. I don't think that the average customer trusts me the same way it trusts Hachette. Probably they never even heard of me.
So how can I get some market share if Hachette and I are required to play on the same field?
I can't, is the short answer.
Ergo, this policy by Amazon is actually not so good for the 'biodiversity' of the eBooks industry...

August 11, 2014

A Letter I Just Got from Amazon

Here is a letter I just got from Amazon:

Dear KDP Author,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We've quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

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

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

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

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

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch:

Copy us at:

Please consider including these points:

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

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at

Am I going to write a letter to the Hachette group? I don't think so...
I'll explain why next week...

August 4, 2014

Why KDP Doesn't Work For Me Any More

So, like I said, my book "Keter Malchut" has been available on Amazon for a bit more than two years now.
During this entire period, I think I sold something like four copies, and this is fine by me.
It used to be that once every quarter one could offer one's book for free for five days. It was possible to to it for any five days, not necessarily consecutively, but I almost always did consecutive.
All of my sales resulted from these 'discounts', but better yet, something like 240 people downloaded my free book.
Nowadays, it's only possible to offer my book at a discount, and this doesn't work for my book... :(
I'm not sure what I should do next...