Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Oyster and the KDP Select Party Train

Word came out yesterday afternoon that Oyster is "sunsetting" their business, a polite euphemism for "closing."

I received an update from our friends at Oyster this morning.  Here's the scoop:  Oyster has been acquired by Google.  The Oyster service will continue to operate as normal until sometime in early 2016, at which point it will shut down and cease to exist.

Between now and the ultimate closing (exact date TBD), Smashwords will continue to deliver new books and updates to Oyster, and Oyster will continue their great work generating readers and income for our authors.

What does this mean for Smashwords authors and publishers?  Obviously, it's a sad day when a promising sales outlet such as Oyster exits the market.  Although Oyster and Scribd are among our smaller retailers, they were our fastest growing sales outlets in 2014.  In recent months, their combined sales have been approximately equivalent to what we sell in the Smashwords store each month.  So while we're sad to see Oyster's sales go away, in the short run it's a bump in the road because the lion's share of sales are coming from larger retailers.

Longer term, I'm concerned by the macro implications of this.  With the loss of Oyster, the retailing ecosystem just became less diverse.  Last month indies lost Flipkart in India.  Today, indies are losing another good partner that treated authors well and paid full single-copy retail rates for their books.  Which retailer will fail next?

Some might see this as a game of survival of the fittest where weaker less adaptable players fall by the wayside in favor of stronger players.  Maybe.  Although species extinction is a natural process in any environment, extinctions often signal an increasingly toxic or inhospitable environment for those still struggling to survive.

Let's explore this a little further.  What killed Oyster?  I should preface that what I'm about to share is my personal speculation and opinion, and not based on specific insight from our friends at Oyster.

My take is that despite building a beautiful and elegantly designed app that pleased readers, Oyster was unable to make their business model work.  The cost of their subscriber's consumption exceeded Oyster's revenue from subscriptions. Oyster faced the same headwinds Scribd is facing - namely that romance and possibly other genres were too popular with their subscribers and therefore too expensive to make profitable under the current model.  The solution is you either need to pay authors less, charge readers more (or limit their reading), or something in between.

I'm going to speculate that either Oyster's VC backers or Oyster's controlling shareholders were unwilling to give Oyster the necessary time and funding necessary to iterate their model until they could make it work. Scribd, on the other hand, at the time of their romance purge signaled publicly that they plan to explore tweaks to their model that would allow them to build a sustainable and profitable business for the common benefit of authors/publishers and subscribers.

And then there's the elephant in the room:  Kindle Unlimited, Amazon's subscription service powered by KDP Select.  Unlike Oyster and Scribd which pay Smashwords authors and publishers full agency rates for qualified reads (after the reader reads more than about 10% of the book, it triggers a sale), Kindle Unlimited pays authors by the page, and at a rate that typically works out to only a fraction of the 70% list KDP authors get for single-copy sales.

On the book pages of Kindle Unlimited books, readers are encouraged to get the book
for free with KU or Prime, rather than purchasing at the single copy price
The Kindle Unlimited pay rate is entirely decided by Amazon.  The book's list price is irrelevant to Amazon's calculation.

This means Kindle Unlimited books cost Amazon less money than what Oyster and Scribd want to pay authors and publishers, which means Kindle Unlimited can provide readers more reading at less cost to Amazon and to the reader.  How can Oyster, Scribd or any bookseller compete when Amazon can pick the pockets of authors and give the savings to readers?

This works great for Amazon and its customers, but not so well for authors.  Kindle Unlimited devalues books by making even 99 cent single-copy purchases look expensive when the same book can be read for free under Kindle Unlimited or Amazon Prime.

Kindle Unlimited strips authors of pricing power and royalty, and will eventually gut the market for single-copy sales at Amazon.  In other words, Kindle Unlimited is slowly killing the market for single-copy ebook sales, not just for indies but for all publishers.

KDP Select and its Kindle Unlimited is an out of control train.

Inside first class a raucous and extravagant party is underway. It's filled with hundreds of thousands of indie authors who've offered up over one million books enrolled exclusively in KDP Select. Everyone's partying like it's 1999 because in exchange for making their books exclusive to Amazon, these authors are given preferential access to Kindle customers.

Authors and publishers who refuse to make their books exclusive to Amazon are on the train too.  They don't sell as well as the first class passengers.

That's them in steerage. They're in the cattle car at the back. These folks' books don't have preferential discovery, which means Amazon makes their books less discoverable and less desirable to readers. These are the authors and publishers who are trying to support a diverse ecosystem of multiple retailing options.  But the world's largest ebook retailer is deliberately directing their readers to Amazon-exclusive books.

Indies have the power to stop KDP Select in its tracks before it runs the entire publishing industry off a cliff.  Will they?

I fear this party won't end well.

130 comments:

Robert Hobkirk said...

For the retailers to survive, they need to give the indie publishers the tools to help promote sales on their sites. By tools, I mean widgets, banners, buttons, coupons. Make these things available to us and we will use them on our websites, blogs, etc. As Jerry Maquire pleaded, "Help me to help you."

Mark, I was looking for Smashword widgets, etc. and couldn't find any. If you had them, I would use them. Proud to be associated with Smashwords.

Mark Coker said...

Hi Robert, Smashwords has widgets that you can locate immediately below the shopping cart section of any book page. CLICK HERE to see an example of the widget tools with The Smashwords Style Guide as the example.

iBooks also has a wide range of great widget tools as well as banners, buttons and an affiliate program. CLICK HERE to access their tools.

thanks

Percival Constantine said...

The ball here is in the court of the other retailers. They're the ones who are allowing Amazon to dominate the industry.

I spent four years wide on every platform. And though my income on Amazon has steadily grown month after month, I keep seeing $0 months from all the other retailers combined.

Discoverability on the other platforms is pretty much impossible unless you're either a) fortunate enough to get a Bookbub or b) have a friend at iTunes or Kobo who can help get your book into a promotion.

Since I went back into Select, I make more in a day through KU than I make in a month on all the other platforms combined. I don't like the idea of Amazon being the only game in town, but I also have a pressing need to eat.

If the other platforms want more indies to forego KU and Select, then they need to entice them to do so. Full royalties regardless of price, the ability to set your book to free whenever you want, these are all great features. But until they solve that pesky discoverability problem, they're not going to get anywhere.

Apple bought Booklamp, which could really challenge Amazon, but they've done absolutely nothing with it. Kobo still relies on the old curation model that only helps the people who are already big sellers. And Google, who knows what the hell Google's doing. It's like they're letting someone's incompetent cousin run the Google Play store. And Smashwords' meatgrinder has gotten so migraine-inducing that while still wide, I bailed on the site and went over to Draft2Digital, where the process is headache-free (and my books get on the platforms a lot faster).

The old adage from Field of Dreams seems particularly apt here—if you build it, they will come. If the other platforms want to win back indies from KDP Select, then they need to build a store that will actually benefit those indies. Otherwise, the indies will continue to go where the money is.

Mark Coker said...

Hi Percival, when Amazon controls 65% of the ebook market, it's tough for others to compete when Amazon uses that dominance to push authors into exclusivity. There are a million+ books that the other retailers can't touch, and those million+ books will siphon millions of customers from the other retailers. I can't help but admire Amazon's strategy for its brilliance. They operate with amazing transparency yet most of the industry is oblivious to how this will play out.

There's a glut of low-cost high-quality books at every retailer. Discoverability will always be a problem everywhere, which means not every book can be seen or read. What Amazon has essentially done is decide there's a fixed number of readers spread too thin across their 3 million or so books, so they've decided to carve out 1 million of them that have agreed to give Amazon cheaper and preferential terms and those books will get the front shelf treatment, and the other 2 million are going to go into a darkened basement. But as more books flow into KDP Select, books in that program will face the same discoverability challenge because a glut is forming in KDP-S as well. So authors will start cycling out, but by that time they've damaged their readership-building at the other retailers so their re-entry into full distribution is tougher. In the meantime, when KDP-S gets too full, Amazon will change the terms again, and carve out either a smaller pool of books or offer even lower terms. If Amazon were a benevolent player, their dominance wouldn't be so concerning, but their religion is to relentlessly drive consumer prices downward and in books, that will always come out of the author's hide.

Smashwords distributions to retailers are lightning fast now, much faster than they were a few years ago when most retailers restricted our shipment frequency. Today we're shipping out books around the clock to most retailers, and they've all gotten much quicker at processing and loading our books.

Robert Hobkirk said...

See where Amazon will be selling their Fire tablet for $49 and change starting Sep. 30. This is the dagger in Nook. It won't be long before they are no longer around. Indies just don't need the ebook to be totally controlled by Amazon. Once the competition has been killed off, the 70% goes to 10%.

Percival, your description of Google has also been my experience as well. Everything they offer: youtube, blogger, adsense is a real nerd-maze. I would like to see Smashwords make a deal with them for distribution so I wouldn't have to deal with them.

I tried the KU thing, but it didn't do much for me. If I wouldn't have promoted what was going on - the 99 cent sale or the freebe - nothing would have moved. But I'm a complete unknown. Marketing is a huge challenge that I'm enjoying, there's got to be a pony under the pile of horse manure, just got to keep digging.

Mark, thanks for the info about widgets on Smashwords. I'll try it tomorrow. It's almost midnight.

Percival Constantine said...

You're right, Mark. Amazon is absolutely not a benevolent player. But again, we come to the same problem—authors gotta eat. And if the other platforms aren't willing to do something to help us with discoverability, then why should we leave money on the table?

How are we damaging our readership at the other retailers when our books can't even be found on those retailers? Again, I was on there for four years. Even I had trouble finding my books on those platforms when I entered my name directly into their search boxes, let alone browsing categories. If the only way you can gain traction on those other platforms is to get a Bookbub or be friends with someone at Kobo or Apple, then that's a non-starter for a lot of people.

Since most of us don't have the personal email addresses of Kobo or Apple reps, we have to go with what works. And sadly that means KU. At least until the point you've built up enough reviews to experiment with going wide.

If the other retailers want us to go to them so badly, then why don't they try providing a better incentive? Right now, being an unknown author on the other retailers is like being in the non-KU dungeon, but worse.

cyril godefroy said...

If Scribd goes off the cliff, what's Amazon to do with KU ? If they are the only players in town, why would they continue to act fair with authors ? Going exclusive today with KDP Select to be in KU means you don't build a reader base on the other platforms. Ans if you don't make money on Kobo, Nook or Kobo, you're not trying hard enough. You're mistaking the tactics for the strategy.

Thanks Mark for your comment. Do you know how it will go for the authors and publishers on Oyster ? Will it close nicely or will it be a chapter 11 ?

Percival Constantine said...

"Ans if you don't make money on Kobo, Nook or Kobo, you're not trying hard enough. You're mistaking the tactics for the strategy."

Then what's your strategy for gaining traction on these platforms? I'm honestly asking, because whenever I've asked how to get traction on other platforms, I've gotten crickets in response.

HStanbrough said...

What "killed" Oyster was greed. Google made an offer, Oyster accepted, end of story. And Indie's didn't "lose" Flipkart. Smashwords cancelled their distribution agreement with Flipkart. I've already reached out to another distributor whose publishing process isn't so clunky as Smashwords. There are two untapped bookseller markets in South Africa plus (now) Flipkart in India, XinXii in Europe and Tolino (a major rival of Amazon) in Germany. On another note, I wonder, why don't you guys hype the Smashwords bookstore more? Like a LOT more? If you did that, it would at least still be worthwhile to publish through Smashwords even if only to put my books in your store. Just sayin'....

Pamela's Cummins said...

The Amazon train seems like it is a first class train that could take you into a dangerous territory and leave you there. At least I know where I’m going on the Smashwords train because they let me know every stop on the journey.

Melinda said...

I have to agree with Percival, up above. I've always been wide with my series (initially via Smashwords, more recently through D2D), but lately I've considered pulling it and putting it in KU along with my stand-alones. I go months and months without selling anything through all the other retailers combined, and as Percival mentioned, *I* can't even find my books in some of the other stores. More than once I've had to email Smashwords and ask for a link because searches within the stores turned up nothing.

Mark Coker said...

@Cyril - Oyster will conduct an orderly wind-down of their business rather than a Chapter 11. They tell me it'll be business as usual until it ends. They plan to give me more guidance later on the exact timing and when that comes, I'll share it with our authors over at Site Updates.

@HStanbrough, you're entitled to your own opinions about Oyster's situation, but in the case of Flipkart your facts aren't right. If you'll reference my original post, you'll see that Amazon was threatening to kick authors out of KDP Select, we pressured Flipkart to honor these author's rights, and Flipkart ultimately decided they were unable to handle it. Now I see stories that they're exiting ebooks altogether. Smashwords is a distributor. That's where the bulk of our author's earnings come from, so that's our focus. Our store is a vestige of our original business in 2008 before we were a distributor. That said, we've done a lot to enhance the store experience in recent years, and will continue to do so. Our store pays the highest royalty rates, and offers some of the most powerful tools (Coupons, widgets, affiliate programs, etc) to help authors get the most from it.

P M Christou said...

Pulling your books and going exculsive with KDP Select/KU does not guarantee you an increase in income. I can vouch for that. I went exclusive with two of my book as an experiment. I saw no signitcant increase in sales or borrows. I did use my free days. This resulted in high downloads in the first day. My book shot up to No. 1 in its catagory for free ebooks.Subsequent free days led to fewer downloads. My book dropped off the radar rather quickly, and resulted in only one sale and a couple of borrows. I also received one five star and a one star review.

This is my personal experience, it may be different for others.

Melinda I have had not had any problems with searches for my books. Have you tried tweaking your key words?

Kaitlin A. Trepanier said...

When companies grow so large and focus solely on profit and power, taking out the opposition, in modern times with buyouts and takeovers, in historical times with oppression and violence, the truth is the truth ... profit without social awareness and responsibility continues to reflect the dominant "Disrespectful Philosophy" that some are more valuable than others, and, as a result, justify to themselves that just because they can take, they should. In contrast, higher "Respect Level" thinking recognizes the value of diversity. Diversity in work environments ... because not everyone likes or does well in monster organizations. And as monster organizations continue to downsize because of information technology, small businesses counter both the low "Respect Level" challenges by providing alternative work environments, especially for the MBTI "I" personality types who thrive in smaller environments, plus help offset the employment challenges created by big organization downsizing. And because consumers are so focused primarily on their getting the best deal the monster organizations offer, they are significant contributors to the downfall of not just small businesses, but also to the impact of their short-term, individual practices have on their society and global culture. Based on "Connecting the Dots ... with the Respect Principle" global initiative and core book by "The Respect Specialist," Kaitlin A. Trepanier

Melinda said...

Hi P.M., thanks for your response. This is when I'm in the store directly searching by title and author name. Fairly often, the search turns up no results when I know the book is there. Smashwords has kindly sent me links in the past so I can go directly to it, but the fact that a book doesn't come up in a search is worrisome, to say the least. The average customer at Apple (or Kobo, etc.) isn't going to email Smashwords for a link.

I worry about going exclusive, and I'm not convinced it will help sales (I actually worry it'll hurt sales because more people will borrow than buy). But if my books can't be found at other retailers, there isn't much point in telling potential customers it's available from Apple, Kobo, etc., or in even being there at all.

Robert Hobkirk said...

I found the Smashwords widget that Mark directed me to. I uploaded it to my blog, hassle free, looks great, great marketing tool, 2 cool!

Mark, if u create a banner size widget for the top gadget in Blogger, I would use it. You have revolutionized it, and I will advertise it.

BTW here's my blog's url if you're interested:
http://hobkirkartblog.blogspot.com/

Robert Hobkirk said...

PM may be onto something about tweaking key words (tags). Try including author name and title. Their search engine may not be picking them up out of the title.

My results with KU were the same as KU. With the countdown I was looking for the clock. It was in the middle of the page in the UK, but way up in the corner for the US and I didn't see it, and I was looking for it.

The free thing - not so good. Didn't do anything for sale later. Those who got a free ebook, didn't bother to do a review. I think they were just horders, probably didn't even look at the contents. But it was poetry, so what did I expect. Should have put vampire or zombie in the title or a male stripper on the cover if I wanted sales.

Louise Hathaway said...

My Grandfather came to this country in steerage. I don't like being in the cattle car on the back of the train. I'm sorry to see Oyster go. Another one bites the dust. It's a tough time to be an indie-writer.

Ian Lamont said...

Mark, you have been fighting the good fight on behalf of indie authors for some time now. When Scribd and Oyster launched their subscription services, I was very disappointed that independent authors were not given a seat at the table, so to speak. The public focus was on the big publishers and their catalogues. There wasn't any information for others authors about what the payouts would be, or even if they could join. When you announced the Smashwords integration, I was pleased to see that you had negotiated what I consider to be a reasonable rate for participating authors.

Now, with the rise of Kindle Unlimited, I see an existential threat to what we do. The cheap, all-you-can-eat buffet that Amazon is providing requires cheap stuff in order to work, and as we all know Amazon is extraordinarily effective at driving down prices. It's great for readers but in the long run it is terrible for authors, except for a tiny minority who can achieve scale. This will reduce the size of the pie and leave a lot of talented authors struggling or even giving up.

I think it's time for indie authors to look at the music and film industries to not only see where things are headed, but what can be done to preserve or strengthen our collective power. Withholding the best content from marketplaces (as HBO has done with Netflix and Prime, and some artists have done with Spotify) is one strategy, although it’s unclear how effective it can be unless lots of content is withheld and there are viable alternatives for audiences to turn to. . Sharing data and shining a light on the ugly reality of treatment of content creators is another, as artists have done for years with Spotify and Taylor Swift did most recently (i.e., Spotify's claim it had paid out $2 million, vs. Swift's revelation that it was 1/4 that figure).

However, one thing artists and filmmakers have been unable to do — in part because of the industry structure involving studios and publishers with misaligned interests — is band together to demand a seat at the table, and fight for their rights. In the publishing world, while some author organizations have taken a stance against Amazon, they represent relatively small numbers of authors. I think there is a huge opportunity to unite the population of indie authors (including self-publisher authors and professionals) who are not represented by these organizations, and are not beholden to the large publishing houses.

Mark, in your opinion, what would need to happen for such an organization to get off the ground and be effective?

P M Christou said...

I agree with Robert.Sorry to hear you had a bad exoerience too. Sadly the vampire and male stripper title and cover rings true also. I just tried out the iBook widgets on my website they look good.

P M Christou said...

Or should that be experience. LOL

cyril godefroy said...

@Percival Constantine Don't take it from me. Listen to Joanna Penn's latest podcast episode with Liliana Hart or #158 from the self publishing podcast with Julia Kent. They are much more successful than me ;-) Go wide ! Use Smashwords to ease your pain ! ;-)

Melinda said...

Robert and P.M., do you mean type the title plus keywords into the search bar at Apple, etc.? I'm open to doing that so I can make sure my books are there (or aren't, as the case may be), but that doesn't help with customers. They'll type in the author/title, not see it, and move on, don't you think? They won't stick around to play with keywords when searching for a specific book. If I market to customers telling them my books are available through Apple, and they type in the title and don't see it, they more than likely aren't going to spend any more time looking for it there. I *think* that's the point Percival was making (please correct me if I'm wrong, Percival): the other retailers aren't doing much, if anything, to make authors want to stay. If our books are that hard to find, it doesn't make much sense to put them there.

P M Christou said...

Melinda here is an article that describes what keywords are, and their uses in Search Engine Optimisation. https://www.yola.com/blog/what-are-keywords-and-why-are-they-important/

It is obviously more difficult to change your book title. Perhaps you could alter your book description and the tags you use on your book settings page on Smashwords. Using widgets on your website can help too. Your potential readers can click on the widget and it will take them straight to your book.

I hope this helps.

Melinda said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mark Coker said...

@Melinda, in the future, if you ever notice that a search on your author name or title isn't pulling up your book at one of our retailers, feel free to send me an email (mc@...) and I'll let them know because they appreciate bug reports like this.

@Robert, glad you like the widgets! I should probably do a formal announcement of the new widget feature because other a mention of it in my author newsletter, we've never formally announced it. :)

Melinda said...

Thank you, Mark - I truly appreciate that. To clarify for anyone who may have misunderstood my point, my issue is specific to a customer going directly to Apple, Kobo, etc., typing in a specific title/author name. If that specific title/author name doesn't get a result (as it often doesn't) when the book is most definitely at that store, that's a problem. If customers can't search us by title/author name, we're losing potential sales. I realize they can search genres, keywords, etc., but if they can't get a result using the title and author name, I don't have a lot of trust that keywords will do the trick any more successfully.

Mark Coker said...

1/2 @Ian, you nailed it. Amazon's business model stands on three pillars:

1. The lowest prices
2. The greatest selection
3. Great customer service

By sourcing 1 million+ books exclusive books under lower pricing terms, they've done an end-run around the agency pricing model where authors are given the freedom to set their own prices. They can effectively underprice their competitors (be they oyster, scribd, iBooks, B&N, etc) with their customer offering, and because these authors are exclusive they're under Amazon's thumb. Retailers that *want* to pay authors and publishers the highest rates are disadvantaged. To go exclusive an author essentially burns their fields behind them, because going back to full distribution after a departure causes the author to start their readership-building from scratch, whereas authors who maintained full distribution have the leg up.

With 1 million exclusive books, Amazon is guaranteed to always have the greatest selection of books. Really tough for Amazon's competitors to match that.

Re: Taylor Swift, YES, I think that's what we need. Until the Taylor Swifts of indie publishing start withholding their content from all of Amazon in protest over KDP Select's exclusivity requirements and their campaign to undermine single-copy sales and lower author payments, Amazon will continue doing what they're doing unchecked. The Taylor Swifts have a limited window of time before Amazon hobbles their power. KDP Select is brilliantly constructed to prey upon the desperation every writer feels to reach readers and put food on the table. Even bestselling authors are desperate to ensure that their next release meets or exceeds the sales of their prior release. And then there's the reality (one that we promote to every author) that most authors whether trad-published or indie-published will not sell well. There are simply too many books and too few readers. I recall there was a commenter on the Smashwords blog last year who said something to the effect that he'd rather earn 25 cents on his book than nothing at all. I totally understand and respect that. It's tough to say no to a bird in hand. But this thinking also leads then entire industry down the slippery slope of content devaluation. I'd hate to see books go the way of music, where an artist can get millions of listens on Spotify but only earn $100 or whatever.

continued...

Mark Coker said...

2/2 @ Ian

Amazon has created a system here, leveraging their market dominance and their willingness to intimidate authors with nastygram emails and threats (no other retailer does this), where Amazon can source content for less via KDP Select and drive its competitors out of business.

I've spoken with some of the industry's biggest indies and shared my view with them that Amazon won't change until someone like them withholds their books. I don't encourage them to do this and I never have and am not advocating that now, but that's the only way Amazon will change. That's the nuclear option for authors and publishers. Of course, the other option is for all indies to refuse to enroll in KDP Select, but that's not happening (see 25 cents above). I'll hear, "I can't do remove my books from Amazon, they're too big, I sell too much there." This idea of holding back books in protest is not on the shoulders of indies alone. If the traditional publishers had the guts, they'd be doing this as well. The Hachette fiasco last year gave publishers all the evidence they needed (as if they needed it) that Amazon is not their friend (Amazon names publishers in their financial filings as their competitors, so why should they be surprised that Amazon is hell-bent on destroying their business?). Yet the traditional publishers have failed to develop and support alternate channels. Look at how trad publishers were so slow to support Oyster and Scribd, even though O & S wanted to pay publishers well, unlike Amazon.

I've never encouraged authors to hold back from Amazon (too bad they don't reciprocate the sentiment). Instead, I've encouraged authors to distribute everywhere but avoid KDP-S exclusivity. There are many high-profile authors and industry advocates (Joanna Penn, Lilianna Hart, Bella Andre, Barbara Freethy among them) that encourage authors to go wide. Sadly, there are not enough voices for going wide, and there are other influential voices that advocate for putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket. And sadly, when authors are faced with the choice of earning nothing or earning 25 cents, many will go for the 25 cents. Amazon knows that there's a large number of authors who'd be willing to receive no pay in exchange for broader readership. All Amazon needs to do is develop a critical mass of such authors and then they can kick everyone else to the curb. The curb kicking is already happening in the cattle car. The cattle car is going to get more crowded.

What can indies do? Understand that you are the future of publishing, and your decisions today will influence the course of this industry. Indies have the power to save the industry, but it requires long term thinking and short term sacrifice. I'm sympathetic to the decisions every indie makes, even if they feel they must go exclusive. In one of my former posts I shared how I met an author who despises KDP Select but she's all in because she has a mortgage to pay. I totally respect that. It's too bad Amazon forces authors to make this deal.

Rush said...

I have not participated in KDP Select but do put my books up on Amazon (in the steerage section, I'm sure). What can indie authors not participating in KDP Select do to help?

Also an idea. Why doesn't Smashwords and the other independent publishers get together and create a search site (like Indeed for jobs) that searches all sites except Amazon.

Derek Haines said...

I really don't agree that Indies have the power, Mark. They have no power at all, as they are individuals, with no collective ability to change the publishing landscape. I'm sorry to see Oyster go, but we all live and die in a capitalist system, and Amazon are as capitalist as they come.

I don't like Amazon's market power at all, but they have earned it, because that is how the US capitalist system works.
It's brutal, wrong, and immoral, but that's life. Unfortunately.

Linda Banche said...

Mark, re your widgets:

Can you also make a widget for a list of books? Or by author? I have five books on Smashwords, and I'd like a widget that would essentially do a match on my author name. Like what I get when I type my name in the "Search" box on Smashwords.

Thanks.

And thanks again for continuing to fight the good fight.

Melinda said...

Here I go again. I rarely ever comment online, but for whatever reason this topic brought me out from under my rock. I have to agree with Derek that Indies don't have the power to bring about the changes discussed. I also have to agree, again, with Percival that the impetus lies with the other retailers.

They're the ones who have the power to implement systems and strategies to compete with Amazon. They aren't doing it. Whether that's because of "bugs" that cause books not to show up in a direct search on the store's site, or a lack of interest in giving indies a meaningful platform - whatever the reason, they've dropped the ball.

We hear of the outliers, those who've managed to sell enough books on other platforms to rival their numbers at Amazon. But those are outliers. The vast majority (if online fora are anything to go by) of authors sell the most on Amazon.

Can we all leave Amazon to make a statement? Sure. Will that matter to Apple, Kobo, etc.? Will it inspire them to get behind the Indie movement and make changes so that Indies have a fair shot on their sites? Well....

victoriafoxxe said...

Let's face it. Right now Amazon is giving away free money to KU authors. They are willing to operate at a loss in order to drive competitors out of the market place. Or at the very least keep them from gaining any real traction. And it's working and author's are rushing towards KU like lemmings towards a cliff.

But at some point all the free dough is going to run out. And Amazon is going to tighten reign. Of course by this time all the serious competition will be removed. I don't see iBooks or Google play going towards a subscription model. I think Google wants to develop a book app (not necessarily a subscription app). But neither has serious interest in developing relationships with indie authors beyond what it is now.

Amazon is going to reel everyone in and then yank the rug out underneath. And by then there won't be anywhere else to go. Indies who have developed strong followings will be fine, the big six will be fine, everyone else is going to feel the pain. I don't think Amazon is the anti-christ or inherently evil. But they are a ruthless business that want's to win big.

Mark Coker said...

@Rush, interesting idea but the government would probably view that as illegal collusion. At at the end of the day, readers will flock to lowest prices and greatest selection. This human impulse for low cost and selection is like the law of gravity. It can't be changed.

@Derek, I agree that an individual author alone lacks power, but like Ian above mentioned, what's needed is collective action. Publishers have collective bargaining power with Amazon. That's why Amazon is hell-bent on destroying them. Amazon wants authors separated from their publishers. Once they have authors divided and conquered, if a single top indie Taylor Swift author (like the ones I mentioned above) pulls her books, Amazon won't care. It's only through collective action that things will change. But here's the power every indie has: Every book enrolled in KDP Select is a vote to put Amazon's competitors out of business. Its one of the million+ cuts that every KDP-S book represents. In big democracies like here in the US, it's not uncommon for people to think their vote doesn't matter. But it does. In the collective experience, every vote counts.

Mark Coker said...

@ Linda, thanks for that suggestion. I'll see if we can get that on the roadmap. We had something similar in the works but it didn't make this launch.

@ Victoria. Exactly. Authors need look no further than what happened to royalties at Audible once Amazon cornered the audiobook market. And I agree, Amazon is not evil. They do what's in their nature, just as predatory cheetahs eat gazelles. See THIS for Amazon's "gazelle" strategy If publishers are gazelles, I wonder what that make authors? :)

Robert Hobkirk said...

Mark,
Your how-to video on Apple is great, very informative. A short one on Smashwords - like the Apple video - widgets, coupons and any other marketing tools would be useful.
YouTube has a lot of stuff on ebook marketing, but none of it is realistic or very well done. Usually it's someone high on Red Bull babbling away like a hyper lunatic talking Ka-Ka, almost as bad as one of Google's official how-to videos. See what free double-mocha-latte-frapacino-mociados with extra caramel from the employee cafeteria will do.

Robert Hobkirk said...

Victoria,
I guess I was standing in the wrong line. I didn't get any free money.

P M Christou said...

Neither did I Robert. It's all an illusion created by Amazon. Yes there are some that do make good money, but I would like to emphasise on on the word "some." Not many Indie authors have managed to get on board the illusive KDP Select/KDU gravy train. The losses are all at the authors expense.

I have it on good authority that KDP was only created to sell Kindles. Unlike Smashwords they do not have authors best interest at heart.If they could give all your books away for free,or for a few cents, just to carry on selling kindles they would do it.

We indies will just have to keep spreading the word,that putting all your eggs in the Amazon basket is damaging to the industry.

Derek Haines said...

Mark, to be honest, no matter how many Indies leave Amazon, it will make not an ounce of difference. There are enough new Indies ever day to feed Amazon. So I don't believe your 'one vote' analogy is valid. In a democracy, there isn't a long line of new voters joining the game every day.

What I do believe is that Amazon has no credible competitor. That's the real problem. Indies can't solve that unless they join hands and list on the NYSE.

Apple and B&N have not made one single competitive move on ebooks (and therefore Amazon) in years. They are simply treading water. It's easy to get cranky at Amazon for KU, but at least it's new, competitive and an attacking move on the ebook market. Who else is being innovative and attacking the market?

But, there is one ebook retailer, who has the possibility to compete with Amazon. You!

Smashwords is a great ebook retailer, but has yet to become one. Aggregation is all well and good, but all it does is add DRM to your ebook catalogue, and feed the walled gardens.

Isn't it time, Mark, that you voted for Indies, by giving them an ebook retailer that is open, DRM free, able to supply ebooks to ALL devices, to all countries, and isn't in the business of walled gardens. Only ebooks, for all to read.

To change the JFK quote, don't ask what Indies can do for you, ask what you can do for Indies.

Mark, Smashwords is the only viable, and logical competitor to Amazon for ebooks. But it's up to you to make that decision.

Aggregation will not win the game now, as Diesel, Flipkart and Oyster prove. You are aggregating to non-competive retailers who will never win, or come close to competing with Amazon. So asking Indies to leave Amazon to join a losing game is pointless.

Perhaps though, asking Indies to support you in a daring move at competing with Amazon will get them on your side.

Tell me when you decide to to drop aggregation, and become a competitive ebook retailer, , and I'll be the first in line to support you, and Smashwords.

K.C. Taylor said...

KU/Select has really hurt the authors I edit for. One author just reached a year of publishing, has 7 titles out, and still isn't gaining traction. Another author has seen their income drop by HALF in 2015 vs. 2014, and a 1/4 of what she made in 2012. That second author is seriously contemplating a career change and quitting writing after releasing the last book in a series.

Authors that like to eat require a day job.

Percival Constantine said...

"Don't take it from me. Listen to Joanna Penn's latest podcast episode with Liliana Hart or #158 from the self publishing podcast with Julia Kent. They are much more successful than me ;-) Go wide ! Use Smashwords to ease your pain ! ;-)"

I've heard those podcasts and those people are the outliers. They don't provide any solid strategy for indies who aren't already big sellers beyond the same old "just wait and pray."

If you don't have a strategy, then you have no real business telling other people they're doing it wrong. How do you know I'm doing it wrong if you can't tell me the right way?

Louis Shalako said...

I tried KDP select for a dozen titles and didn't get much in terms of sales, borrows, or revenue.

Cass Janey said...

When I heard about Oyster, I instantly thought "oh no!" and just shook my head at it. Last year I was briefly in KU and found it horrible, but didn't realize at the time that my books (mainly the serial starters) had been placed in the adult dungeon due to minor things Amazon didn't even bother to make me aware of. This was after 9 months of me wondering WTH I was doing wrong, how my sales just slammed to a halt, something I didn't know about until earlier this year. Last month was the first time in a whole year that I hit over $1k in a month and the month before that the first where I made over $300 in a month in the same time frame. I'm nowhere near where I want to be with how many books I have, and it's a shame. I put my books back in KU for another try, but after my term is up, I'll be going wide again and never pulling them down again, even though Amazon is a majority of my sales.

Thing is, even in KU, unless you're advertising...you're not selling much or getting reads/borrows as a smaller known author. I have ONE serial I'm advertising through FB...and it's rankings are killing compared to the books I'm not advertising at all. So, advertising is key, and something I'm now in a position to do, only one book at a time however. So now I know, not only do I need to be advertising for Amazon, but for iBooks and others as well. I am hoping it will make a difference, and putting them all in KDPS a second time was something I felt bad about, but I wanted to see if it was just me the first time. It was, but it also wasn't. They may want you in there, but unless you're advertising...you're just as invisible, so my advice to authors is not to join. It's truly not worth it, and I don't see how they will keep novelists even with their new payment structure. I want to make money, but I wasn't interested in $1.35 for a book that is $4+ and I'm certainly not interested in making that again or even slightly above it when I write what I consider a decent length romance novel (65k+). I think the new KU structure really encourages box sets and low prices and not much else.

Elizabeth Albanese said...

With the introduction of KOLL, Amazon dealt a death blow to authors. They nailed the coffin shut with this God awful KU. And ravenous readers (who are bloody thirsty only for FREEBIE BOOKS) are the ones hammering the nails in the Indie authors' coffins while laughing all the way to their Kindle devices (which are loaded to the gills with free books such as mine). And they'll probably never get to reading my two books because they have downloaded as many as they can get their hands on. It would be nice if they did, so I can finally be credited with the pathetic KENP page count piece of the pie.
KDP SELECT used to be doeable, but no more. My borrows were great back in 2012 and 2013, and even 2014 until the dreaded KU was institued. My monthly payments plummeted to next to nothing! Nowadays, authors do not see the number of borrows in Reports. No, not allowed, done away with by Amazon. You only get to see the KENP.
I currently have two titles in Select. I went back to experiemtn, unfortunately. I had taken both titles off Smashwords. Readers only seem to want Free or pay next to nothing. I sold one book on Smashwords bookstore. And none through Smash distribution. But when I offered one title for FREE or coupon code on Smash....now the readers paid attntion. That's the only they paid (because readers, like everything else, want handouts, freebies.) Thanks, Amazon.

Ruth Ann Nordin said...

I'm sorry to hear about Oyster. I suspect one of Amazon's future moves will be to tell authors if we want 70% royalties on $2.99 to $9.99 books in the US (and some other countries we currently get the 70% rate) store, we must be in Select. Otherwise, all new books published at Amazon will be at 35% or lower. That's what I keep waiting for. Unless there's viable competition out there, I'm afraid authors will see a significant drop in their income. That's why I keep all my books on all the channels I can. I don't want that kind of future for indie authors.

I heard the short story authors in KU suffered a significant cut in their income due to the changes Amazon just made. Nothing is guaranteed at Amazon. You might be making money today, but who knows if that will be the case tomorrow? I'm making less this year than I did last year, so I get why avoiding Select can hurt the pocketbook.

After listening to some podcasts and watching videos, there are some strategy ideas I think might be worth trying. Since someone mentioned strategy ideas, I'll pass along what I'm doing. Some of them I'm late in using, but I guess it's better late than never:

1. Create an email list so you have direct access to people who will buy your books and direct them to all the sites your books are sold on. Put a link for people to join the list at the back of your books and on your blog/website. Some authors like to offer a free book for joining the list. I like to offer an epilogue or prologue to the book I'm releasing. Whatever your incentive will be is up to you.

2. Make the next book better than the last. Better content and better cover.

3. Do pre-orders (and let people know they exist) to give yourself an advantage on release day. It might not mean mega sales, but every little bit helps.

4. Make the first book in your series free and let people know you have more in the series in the description and at the end of the book.

5. Freebooksy is a good site to run an ad. I haven't had any luck with getting accepted on Bookbub, I heard some people mention success with Facebook ads, but I haven't done one in years. I plan to try one later this year to see how it goes.

If anyone else has any strategies, I'd love to hear them.

@Melinda, an idea came to mind as I read about your problem in how readers can find a direct link to your books. How about putting a direct link to those books at every retailer they're at on your blog/website? That way a reader who is on your blog/website and go to it instead of searching for it. I know it doesn't solve the problem if they're at the retailer, but those on your site will find them.

audreydriscoll said...

Discoverability is huge, and I don't see much effort being made by most of the ebook stores. Kobo and Apple don't even have obvious categories for readers to browse. B&N has them, but for some reason most Smashwords books are restricted to one category, whereas many from Draft2Digital are found in 3+ categories. That can make a big difference to books being seen and bought. Amazon's competitors could make many improvements to the way they present ebooks to potential customers but for some reason they don't seem interested. B&N has improved their site this year, but the category issue is a puzzling one.

Anna Erishkigal said...

Amazon built its business on the indie authors willing to spend THEIR OWN MONEY for ads to drive THEIR potential customers to Amazon's website. Think about it. There are 300,000 new books coming out every year. Most of them are published at Amazon. The majority of those are self-published. Authors want to eat, so they spend THEIR money for those silly email booklist advertisements to drive customers there.

Once there, Amazon shows you what else you looked at while you were there. A cat flea collar. That new case for your smartphone. A brand new printer. A DVD. Amazon uses -US- as their free, un-acknowledged marketing department. WE are what is helping their core business (which is snot books) grow. Amazon doesn't need to outmarket its competitors. All it has to do is dangle a carrot in front of US and we will build it for them.

Kobo is owned by Rakuten, a similar behemoth, but the parent company has done NOTHING with us.

Barnes & Noble has millions of customers email addresses it could data-mine to sell more than just books at its online bookstore. Sheesh! That crap is on their shelves in their store. Why not sell some of that online? And just treat us nice so we send customers THERE as well.

iTunes ... don't know about them.

But anyway, the point is, these competing online booksellers have the capability to do what Amazon did, and built their online business the exact same way, but they don't. It's a few thousand traditionally published authors who are disengaged from the sales process, or hundreds of thousands of indie authors who will send their peeps there to buy stuff (and 'stuff' could mean other stuff besides books) -IF ONLY- they give us a way to get some visibility for that effort so we can gain some readership for spending OUR money to send our readers there. Right now, it's like crickets...

BTW: I actually sell really well on GooglePlay... I'm selling more of my epic fantasy series THERE than I am on Amazon. The romance titles ... not so much.

P M Christou said...

Amazon will one day beat all their competion into submission, and have the ebook monopoly. This will indeed be damaging for everyone involved, unless other retailers wake up and smell the coffee. Fact is presently there is NO real ebook retailer competition, and Amazon know this. This is why they pretend to be our best buddy, whilst simultaneously stabbing us in the back. As I said previously KDP was created to sell kindles, and no other reason.They don't care if their customers never pay for a book again. As long as they keep selling kindles subscription services
and use books,as loss leaders they are happy.

I found an interesting article about free ebook, from a readers perspective. http://tarasparlingwrites.com/2015/06/25/authors-your-free-book-is-worthless/

Maybe Indie authors and retailers need to get their heads together, to come up with a solution or strategy to the current promblems, before it's too late.

Ripley King said...

I felt compelled to voice in on this. These are my thoughts.

Google acquires Oyster. Why?

Google Play had a good thing going for itself, but closed its doors to new authors.
The scammers were scamming Google Play, and many authors who were making money off Google Play (good money, almost if not more than they got from Amazon) were being scammed by the same people who made it their mission to scam Google Play.

These author’s books were being re-published by these scammers, covers and all, and money slid into the accounts of people who were not the authors or publishers of these books, and had no right to even one single dime.

Authors who discovered they were victims bitched loudly, and then louder still, and Google Play shut its doors to new authors, keeping the old, while trying to wash these scammers out of their hair.

They are still closed to new authors, right? So maybe Google Play thought that if
Amazon was going to play their game to win, so should they, but on a more equal footing. Oyster is all about subscriptions, and Google Play was gaining ground until Amazon changed their program in favor of KU 2.0.

Whoever came up with the idea that Google acquire Oyster and play Amazon’s game right back at them, and I see this coming, but without exclusivity nobody but Amazon likes, should get a raise. A big fat one. This would be playing Amazon’s own game to win.

“ . . . when Amazon controls 65% of the ebook market, it's tough for others to
compete when Amazon uses that dominance to push authors into exclusivity.”

Now imagine what it would be like to be in a program like Amazon’s, and pays per page read, pays the same OR MORE, but Doesn’t Require Exclusivity!

WOW what a winner that would be! Amazon gets trounced! The only way Amazon could keep their heads afloat would be to up their rates in line with the New and Improved Google Play!

Discoverability will always be a problem. But what does Amazon have in place for that? Algorithms to push one into steerage, or into the club car. I’m in steerage. I
don’t like it. I buy ads in newsletters that still, to this very day, will not link with Smashwords, B&N, Apple, Kobo, and remain Amazon exclusive. And that right there has to change. Money talks. Our money can scream, and should.

If we can join a program LIKE Amazon’s KU 2, WITHOUT being exclusive, and use those steel nuggets we’re supposed to have as Indie Authors, and boycott these newsletters that can’t get with the reality of our cold hard cash in their pockets for a wider audience choice, we win. Amazon will have to get with our reality, not us with theirs. These newsletters will have to change to meet our demands.

When Smashwords, B&N, Kobo, and Apple realize that our discoverability problem is also their problem (and it is), and that their solutions to our discoverability problems is also money in their bank accounts, and that Amazon can be beaten by playing their own game to win, then we all win.

By being kind to their authors, all of them, eliminating exclusivity, and paying
more, like .006 cents per word, Google Play wins. Amazon can only keep their authors happy by increasing their payout. What a price war that would be. Just eliminating exclusivity in a program like that would be a huge victory for everyone but Amazon.

I know what my problems are, and you know what your problems are. Now, start
looking at the solutions. The problems will always be there.

BTW, with the ideas I shared here, I think I just stomped Amazon’s tush. Now it’s
up to you, Mark, to make it work. Take my ideas to Google Play. Get them to read this post. Please. Don't let Amazon win.

I think Google Play may have something like this in mind already, but if they don’t, they should.

Cyber Killer said...

As a reader I'm also against Evilzon exclusivity. Some of the indie authors I like have pulled their ebooks from stores where I buy (I get 99% of English ebooks directly from Smashwords though - I love indie books) to get to Amazon. Now I can't buy their books, can't continue reading a series I liked. Sometimes I even got told that "you're the only one who bought the book at Smashwords, more people are at Amazon, so I don't care about you". As a reader and customer I feel really hurt by this.

Amazon ties their shop closely with their devices, they have their own format, that is not compatible with the standard ebook readers that open epub. Even if I would forfeit my moral code (not happening) and buy something from them, I wouldn't be able to read it on my device (pretty generic eink ebook reader) anyway.

Amazon is a menace to the whole ebook market, both authors and readers.

Ripley King said...

Made a boo-boo in the heat of the post reply. KU 2 pays per page, not by word. August's payout was figured to be .0051 per page read. My bad.

Elizabeth Albanese said...

To Ripley King!
Your ideas are brilliant . . . It's the only way to stop Indies from giving in to drinking Amazon's KDP SELECT "Koolaid". My 3 month obligation ends October 21, and I, like someone here said, would rather branch out into the wide market, sell not one book, rather than cave to Amazon's exclusivity again. It's maddening they have this random type hold on Indies. They need to be stopped.

Elizabeth Albanese said...

Ransom type hold....

Percival Constantine said...

@cyril godefroy

"Listen to Joanna Penn's latest podcast episode with Liliana Hart or #158 from the self publishing podcast with Julia Kent."

Few things to note about this. For one, in the most-recent Ask Us Anything with the SPP guys, I specifically asked about KDP Select vs. going wide and what they said is that it sucks that Amazon is requiring exclusivity but at the same time if you're not doing well on the other platforms after four years, then Select would probably be a better idea.

And as for Joanna Penn and Liliana Hart, the podcast description includes this little nugget of information: "To clarify, this is a discussion between two authors with a lot of books who both make a full-time living writing. If you're a new author or have fewer than three books, here are the pros and cons of exclusivity. And here are my recommendations for a first time author. BOTH OF THESE DO SUGGEST GOING KDP SELECT IF YOU ARE JUST STARTING OUT." (emphasis mine)

So it seems that even the people who you're citing as reasons to go wide also suggest that taking advantage of the visibility of KU is better than the wait and pray method.

Robert Hobkirk said...

Yeah, I tried to upload my books to Google Play the other day and saw that they were closed. GOOG does 2 things brilliantly: (1) search; (2)pirate. YouTube (goog) gets a billion hits a day and 60% is for music videos. 99% of the music is pirated. GOOG still sells their ads on the pirated stuff. Without the pirated music, they couldn't make a profit. Surprising that goog did something about pirated books, since they were making a slice off the top.

At least we can be thankful for GOOG not delivering the mail. Can u imagine how messed up that would be?

Robert Hobkirk said...

I'm not sure how long ebook retailers plan to be in biz. Are they here to make a go of it and stand on their own, or are they just waiting to be taken over by goog or amzn, or are they planning on going public, taking the cash and dash?

During the dot con (not a typo) bubble, there were many companies that I'm sure had no intention of sticking around and actually earning a living. They were there for the short con. Make a big splash, grab investors' cash, and leave town. Ebooks - what does the E stand for? Easy money? And if so, for whom? Not for the writer, that's for sure.

White Feather said...

Mark, Mark, Mark! Don't you see what is happening? You're not seeing the tree for the forest. That tree is Google! The other elephant in the room.

Google may be silently & secretly working on solving all the numerous problems mentioned here.

First, let me say that Google is the advertising king of the universe. Number one. They make gazillions selling advertising. Remember YouTube before Google bought it? Why did Google buy YouTube? To expand its advertising reach. Once Google ads starting appearing on YouTube videos some people actually started making money on YouTube.

Now why on earth would Google buy Oyster? Why does Google buy anything? While they buy companies in order acquire talent and tech, they mostly buy companies to expand their advertising reach & they will not stop until there are Google ads EVERYWHERE.

While there are Google ads on videos & websites & blogs & pay-for-writing sites & smart phones & everywhere else, there is 1 place where there are no Google ads...

And that is in ebooks!

Think about it. If you were Google & already had the world's most extensive advertising network in place & you wanted to expand that network you look for places that are ripe for expansion. ebooks! If you were Google & you read Mark Coker's blog as well as the other people writing about the ebook industry you start seeing problems & you start coming up with solutions. As Google you take a close look at the subscription paradigm & you see how it is not sustainable & you start coming up with solutions on how to make it sustainable. (With Google ads, of course.) And also as Google you start to see new ways of competing against that dastardly villainous bully, Jeff Bezos.

Google already has the advertising platform in place so all they need is an ebook platform so they buy Oyster and tell everyone that they bought it just to close it down.

So Google builds a brand new ebook subscription service that blows everything else away. It will be like the subscription services of Amazon, Scribd & Oyster except with 1 huge difference. Every ebook in their service will have 3 Google ads in it; 1 at the very beginning of the book, 1 in the middle of the book, & one at the end of the book.

Google will charge a monthly fee like Amazon & the rest but with the addition of advertising revenue they can compete on price. And it will be obvious that authors will benefit, too, because they will not only receive money for the number of times their books are read but THEY WILL ALSO RECEIVE A SLICE OF ADVERTISING REVENUE!

While Amazon is squeezing authors to death, Google will be providing a way for authors to INCREASE their earnings instead. Authors will flock to Google's new site. Readers will, too, because you can be sure that it will be cheaper.

Jeff Bezos is the biggest bully in the world. Google may be the only one capable of competing with him. Let's hope I'm right.

I once thought about creating a literary emagazine through Smashwords. But no kind of magazine can survice on cover price and subscriptions alone. Advertising is utterly crucial. Sadly, Smashword vehemently forbids advertising (especially affiliate advertising) in their ebooks so I trashed the magazine idea.

Mark, perhaps it's time for you to rethink your strong opposition to advertising in ebooks. It may very well be an answer to so many of the problems you talk about. You have been so busy trashing Jeff Bezos that you haven't even noticed what Google (might be) doing. If I were you I would get as chummy with Google as you can so that you can work out a great distribution deal with them & you might also begin looking into ways that you can incorporate advertising somehow into at least the Smashwords site in order to improve author earnings. Think outside & beyond all the boxes currently out there. That is what successful companies like Google do.

Robert Hobkirk said...

White Feather,
You tickle me with Goog is going to give authors a slice of the advertising pie plus a slice of the selling price.

Robert Hobkirk said...

Re ads in books as a way to get rich quick - NOT SO MUCH! If u run ads on a blog or your utube vid's, it take about 1,000 viewers to get $1, that's one dollar, worth of ad revenue. 99% of indie publishers don't sell or even give away for free 1000 books. U see the problem? But it would make another popular utube video of how to get rich off of ebook writing. It can play right after the video about making 20K per month off ebooks.

Mark Coker said...

Thanks everyone for thought-provoking discussion, the civil disagreements and the great ideas!

@Robert. Great idea. I'll do a "guided tour" video to teach Smashwords tools. I'll add it to my to-do list. I'm also planning to do one on preorder strategy. But first, I need to get the 2015 Smashwords Survey post up. Behind schedule!

@P M, yes, indies need to spread the word. Every indie today is the mentor for the next generation of indies. Teach them well about the implications of exclusivity.

@Derek, as is probably evident from the tone of my post, I see a train wreck coming considering how thousands of indies continue to flock to the venus fly trap of KDP Select. At almost every writer conference I visit, I meet new indies who are exclusive to Amazon because they were under the impression that exclusivity is required. Amazon plays a big part in perpetuating this misconception for newbies by pushing the author to enroll at every step of the book upload process. Although Amazon is likely to continue adding more exclusive authors than it loses, we can't capitulate. If indies give up and surrender, then the entire community might as well stop calling themselves indie. There's no indepedence in total dependence. Amazon has a credible competitor in iBooks, but one credible competitor is not enough. B&N and Kobo are still strong forces the indie community should continue to support, as are all the other smaller retailers. Yet every book enrolled in KDP Select is a vote to put every other retailer out of business. I believe indie authors will continue to write and publish books that capture an ever-greater percentage of the ebook market, yet if indies continue pulling their books from Amazon's competitors, I don't see how B&N, Kobo or others survive. The only survivors will be retailers that can don't dependent on the profitability of their ebook store for the parent company to stay in business. Smashwords was born in 2008 as a publishing platform and retail store. But in 2009 it became clear to me that retailers with stores tethered to the most popular e-reading devices had the clear advantage. And these retailers were capitalized with hundreds of millions (and often billions) of dollars. It also became clear to me that these retailers add a tremendous amount of value to publishers, authors and readers. So I decided to focus our business on distribution. Smashwords is a distributor. We empower retailers to compete against Amazon (and if Amazon had the sense to work with us, we'd help them grow their business as well). That's our future because that's where the sales are. That said, we'll continue operating our store because it allows us to provide our authors additional marketing and discovery tools. But to focus all our efforts on our own small store would be suicide, and IMHO a disserve to our authors and our retail partners. Our strength is in helping our authors simplify the digital logistics of ebook distribution. It's what we do best. Our retailers sell our books DRM-free, per our request.



Mark Coker said...

@K.C., thanks for sharing that. I hear this alot - authors (both inside KDP-S and in full distribution) seeing their Amazon sales halved. It's really heartbreaking to see so many promising indies giving up after getting sucked into KDP-S. I've been trying to educate authors about the risks since 2011. For the people who do well at KDP-S, I'm glad for them. They took the risk and it paid off. But high-risk endeavors means that not authors are winners.

@Audrey, I think for the most part the retailers do a good job of discovery, but even the best discovery systems have limitations when there's a glut of great books. I think often the idea of "poor discovery" gets conflated with "poor sales" or "lower-than-Amazon sales," yet people forget that Amazon has 65%(?) market share which means by definition on average they'll always sell more, and it's not necessarily because Amazon has better discovery. iBooks has 28 different micro-curated stores by category, giving dozens if not hundreds of indie authors special merchandising love each week. Kobo, too, has a lot of innovative merchandising programs. The so-called discoverability problem will only get worse because there are too many high-quality books competing for too few eyeballs. What KDP Select has done is essentially carved out a smaller collection of books (those exclusive to Amazon) and they put the rest of the books in the darkened cattle car down in the basement. But even this is a temporary solution to the glut, because KDP-S is already crowded, and likely to become more so. So what we'll see is in KDP-S they'll probably need to change the terms again so they can carve out a smaller slice of books to be promoted, and the darkened cattle car will grow larger. The terms will change to Amazon's advantage, not the author's. It's an inevitability. If they don't do that, then eventually KDP-S becomes a cattle car as well.

@Anna. Great point on how indies pay a lot of $$ to drive traffic to Amazon. I suppose this is a good example of how $$ paid to drive traffic to seems to have a higher ROI than other retailers. The reason probably goes back to market share. But this also reminds me how indies help perpetuate Amazon's dominant market share. I've lost track of the number of times I'll get an email from an author complaining their sales at Amazon are multiple times higher than iBooks or B&N and when I look at their website, blog, social media and email signature they're only linking to Amazon. :) Things have a way of becoming self-fulling. A good reminder for indies to provide direct links to all their retailers. Alot of indies do this well.

Mark Coker said...

@P M. If indies continue to supply exclusive books to Amazon in ever-greater numbers, I don't see how other retailers can compete in the long run. Readers want selection and low prices. With 1 million+ exclusive books, and the lowest effective prices (near free and feels-like-free with KU and Prime borrows), KDP-S will continue to bleed dry the balance sheets of the pure-play retailers. As I've said, the horrible irony here is that indies fuel KDP-S.


@Ripley, KU is so powerful because authors agree to be paid less than what they'd earn with a single-copy sale. This allows Amazon to undercut the effective prices of other retailers. If other retailers try to compete against this, the only way is to also pay authors less. This story doesn't end well if we go down that slippery slope. This story out yesterday. The songwriter for "All About That Bass" got 178 million listens for his song and earned a whopping $5,679. That's the future of ebook compensation if we let the industry goes down the KU path. This is why when subscription services have asked to carry Smashwords books and pay out of a shared pool rather than a percentage of list price, I've said no.

@Cyber Killer. Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing the perspective of a reader. The Smashwords blog tends to focus on issues of importance to authors, so it's always refreshing to have our readers stop by and remind us what what's important to them. Welcome! We all work for you, so I hope authors will take to heart your feedback on how KDP Select exclusivity alienates readers who'd otherwise want to support these indies but can't.

@White Feather. I know some folks take my opposition to KDP Select as a trashing of Jeff Bezos, but I really don't intend it that way. As a business person, I'm fascinated by Amazon's strategic cunning and masterful chess play, and that credit goes to Jeff Bezos. I think he's brilliant. Amazon has mastered the art of full transparency while still leaving competitors completely befuddled about their true direction. I see the direction. I enjoy dissecting Amazon's strategy and explaining it to our authors. But yes, I also see Amazon as a bully. They push authors around and authors fall into line. I don't like that part. Re: Google, I've had multiple conversations with them. I like the folks at Google, they're really smart, and I think they have a huge opportunity to become a strong counterbalance to Amazon's dominance. IF they execute. They know we're ready and eager to support them once they get their act together. I hope the infusion of Oyster's blood will help them along the proper path.

Tony Bowman said...

I sell primarily through Amazon for the same reason as most everyone else: my sales there are steady if not increasing while my sales through other outlets are negligible.

As for Kindle Select, I don't feel taken advantage of at all. I'm seeing an average royalty from Select at roughly 2/3 of my physical sales royalties. When you factor in the notion that Select downloads are for the most part "Gee, it ain't costin' me nothin', I'll take a chance" impulse 'buys' - purchases that would not have occurred had the reader felt they were actually 'paying' for something - it all evens out.

Your mileage may vary.

Derek Haines said...

@Mark I understand completely why you became an aggregator. Having had my own businesses, I know when a business decision is needed, and dreaming is not. It's difficult at the moment for ebooks all ways round. While I understand your motivation in encouraging Indies to exit KDP Select, there are enough comments here to believe that many Indies rely on KDPS income, because it's the only reliable and regular income.

The problem is though, that this income is reducing year on year. I can look back on my own KKDP and KDPS income and say that it reduces by about one third each year. This is over what is now a six year period or more for me.

While there are a lot of valid comments and thoughts in the comments in this thread, there is one element that may have been overlooked. When you compare all the retailers you aggregate to, and those which you don't, they all have one aim. To make money from ebooks sales by whatever model.

However, in the case of Amazon, ebooks (as books were previously) are used as a loss leader to attract buyers to other products. This is the REAL problem. KDPS is a just another tool in a long line of book tools Amazon have used to attract buyers of dog food, spanners, televisions and cameras.

Proof of this is in my own Amazon Associates account. I have a book promotion site and use Amazon Associates links for every book. So do I make any money from direct sales of ebooks and books from my site?

Yes, but only a few cents each month. But I make dollars and dollars and dollars from those Amazon customers, who have visited my book site and clicked on an Amazon book link, which then credits my Amazon Associates account with ANY OTHER Amazon purchase they make within 48 hours, and for some products up to 96 hours.

So, my book site makes me money from people who buy dog food, televisions, cameras and lawnmowers, but not from ebook or book sales.

This is the real problem. It's not about ebooks and books at all with Amazon, so fighting them on this front is fraught with danger, because they are not in the same business, are they?

White Feather said...

@Robert Hobkirk - Yes, I am all too familiar with how little Google Ads can pay. Believe me. I've always made far more revenue off of non-Google ads than Google ads. The main point I was trying to make is that it is time to consider advertising in ebooks.

Back when I was considering an e-magazine I asked someone I've advertised for what he would consider paying for a full-page ad at the end of an ebook whose subject matter coincided with the subject matter of the advertisement. He told me that if the ebook was well-written & sold reasonably well he would consider 25 to 50 cents for each ebook sold. So if you're selling an ebook for 99 cents & making 60 to 70 cents profit on each book an additional 5o cents would be HUGE! Of course, I think 50 cents is rather high & somewhat unrealistic. But even at 10 cents per ad you're talking about around a 15% increase in revenue per book. Seriously, I would be happy with an extra nickel or dime per book. Should my book become a crazy bestseller I might even be in the position of taking bids for ads.

Of course, a major question becomes, How does advertising revenue get split between the author and the ebook platform selling the book. There are actually a lot of hurdles to overcome in order to come up with a system & I'm not a tech-geek who can answer those questions. I'm just asking them. The big question is, How can we utilize advertising to stem the tide of ever-decreasing revenues of both authors & ebook platforms.

It's not about getting rich quick. It's about keeping the boat from sinking. Advertising in books has been a taboo subject & I happen to think that we need to open up a discussion about it & figure out how it might possibly help.

@Mark Coker - You replied to my comment but said nothing about advertising in ebooks. I've discovered some new publishing platforms that actually allow advertising in ebooks but they are still too small & don't have the audience reach yet. Is advertising in ebooks something Smashwords has even thought about? Do you think it is something to consider in the overall scheme of things? Or do you think it is unfeasible?

Ripley King said...

"KU is so powerful because authors agree to be paid less than what they'd earn with a single-copy sale. This allows Amazon to undercut the effective prices of other retailers. If other retailers try to compete against this, the only way is to also pay authors less. This story doesn't end well if we go down that slippery slope."

No.

Google Play will have to pay MORE! per page than Amazon to get us and keep us. Authors will then get MORE! per page. Authors will see this as an advantage, because it is. It breaks Amazon's control over all authors, once and for all of time.

This really isn't about you or Smashwords, Mark. It's about us. It has always been about us, and will always be about us. Without us, nobody had a damn thing. Nobody. If Amazon wants to keep us, and Google Play does what I hope and pray to God they will do, Amazon will have to stop treating US like shit, and pay US more, and let US go wide without penalties, or Amazon can kiss OUR asses goodbye.

It is that simple!

We're just scared it all might go away, so we say nothing. Only it's not going away. It will now never go away, but it is getting worse. Say nothing and remain scared? Not me, not anymore.

"This story out yesterday. The songwriter for "All About That Bass" got 178 million listens for his song and earned a whopping $5,679. That's the future of ebook compensation if we let the industry goes down the KU path."

This is what is going to happen to all of us if we can't stop Amazon here and now, because Amazon is not the whole industry. It needs a powerhouse for the competition to begin, and make them scared of us.

Google Play wants US? Pay US more to leave Amazon. Let US go wide and treat US right, and with respect. We will be there.

Amazon wants US back? Pay US more than Google Play, let US go wide, and never threaten any of US ever again. Treat US right and with respect, or WE leave. WE have a new and better option. See this moon, Zon? Kiss the wOw in the center.

I'm wide right now. I'm invisible to readers, so I buy ads. Only thing I know of that works.

"This is why when subscription services have asked to carry Smashwords books and pay out of a shared pool rather than a percentage of list price, I've said no."

And that's okay for you. You do what you think is right for your business. I do what I think is right for mine. It's all good.

Passing on my ideas would actually make you money, Mark. The more authors can go wide freely . . . The more authors here at SW . . . Am I missing something? Don't you want your authors back?

I don't do free books anymore. Too many people not giving back. That's me.

I love samples, and have them up at my site. I encourage people to read them. That's me.

I buy ads to tell people I exist. Again, me.

I'm wide. I'm here at Smashwords. I've made more money by being wide. That's me, here and now. This simple marketing plan works for me.

I'm not US, I'm just me. And, I just broke Amazon. Me. Will anybody listen? Drop a word in the right ear or two?

Don't know.

Hope so.

Mark Coker said...

@Derek, right, Amazon can use ebooks as a loss leader. The livelihood of the author is irrelevant to them. You're just a supplier. A replaceable interchangeable commodity input. They don't care about you, and they know that right behind you is another author who's willing to write for less (or for free) because that's the slippery slope KDP-S (and therefore all indies dragged behind in the cattle car) is built upon. No one likes to talk about this, but all writers - especially experienced indies such as yourself - recognize that the next reader is never a sure thing. Most writers write to reach readers. Back when I first wrote about KDP-S here, I warned authors that one outcome of exclusivity is dependence, and dependence increases the risk that you wake up some day and find yourself a tenant farmer tilling Amazon soil. This is how the Irish Potato famine happened. Dependence + an uncaring landlord. I wish all writers would take a moment to consider the similarities. Here's a link to the Great Famine page at Wikipedia.. The famine in Ireland didn't have to happen. Ireland produced other crops that could have fed those farmers. If their British overloads had ordered the ports closed, and the food produced elsewhere in Ireland used to prevent starvation, the potato blight wouldn't have triggered such widespread starvation. Instead, the powers that were kept the ports open and exported Ireland's food. Authors are in a difficult spot here. Back to the story I mentioned above of author who told me she hates KDP Select but she has a mortgage to pay. Marry that to your experience where even in KDP-S, your earnings are dropping over time. I feel like Debbie Downer here. :) The only solution is authors go on strike and refuse to bow to exclusivity. And if authors refuse, then the end of this story is all too predictable.

@White Feather, sorry, missed that part. If advertising can be done in a way that doesn't devalue the author's compensation, I'd be all for it. I haven't seen a viable model yet where a platform can guarantee an author will make a floor of 70% list or more. Otherwise, we're just inviting devaluation.

Ripley King said...

"Amazon can use ebooks as a loss leader. The livelihood of the author is irrelevant to them. You're just a supplier. A replaceable interchangeable commodity input. They don't care about you, and they know that right behind you is another author who's willing to write for less (or for free) because that's the slippery slope KDP-S (and therefore all indies dragged behind in the cattle car) is built upon. No one likes to talk about this, but all writers - especially experienced indies such as yourself - recognize that the next reader is never a sure thing. Most writers write to reach readers. Back when I first wrote about KDP-S here, I warned authors that one outcome of exclusivity is dependence, and dependence increases the risk that you wake up some day and find yourself a tenant farmer tilling Amazon soil."

And that's why you, Mark, with those words, you have just won my argument for me.

Travis Luedke said...

I have always admired Smashwords for its program, for what it represents. In theory, its pretty damn cool. In practice, broad retail discoverability is really a joke.

Amazon is the only place that has really opened the doors to discoverability (for Indies). Ibooks, B&N, and Kobo have no one to blame but themselves for being piss poor at connecting with authors and giving them the tools to promote their books.

Amazon's metadata opens up discoverability. Amazon freebies get downloaded by the thousands. Amazon $.99 books sell like hotcakes. Amazon has more book genre categories than any other retailer, allowing specialized content niches that simply cannot be exploited anywhere else (not really effectively).

Hate Amazon all you want, admire them, whatever. They gave the Indie author more capacity for discoverability than any of their competitors. You want to see Amazon lose this game? Then step up to the plate with some discoverability tools that actually work.

Widget smidget. Everybody has widgets. Who cares about the damn widgets. You can have 10,000 widgets and it doesn't matter if NO ONE SEES THEM.

Getting seen is the key. Amazon has paved the way to allow Indies a number of methods to GET SEEEN AND HEARD.

Stop demonizing them (I know its hard to resist, they are so demonizeable). Start competing effectively with some real discoverability mechanisms.

If Kobo, B&N, and Itunes would give me the email address of every person who buys my books, I would consider removing the 10 books I have in Kindle Unlimited from their exclusivity. I'd put them all on sale for $.99 in a round robin, or give them away permafree, JUST TO GET THAT DAMNED CUSTOMER EMAIL!!!!

Harsh truth: Until other ebook retailers figure out how to open up discoverability for Indies, Amazon will rule the world of Indie publishing. That is an irrefutable fact.

I will always have some kind of content in smashwords and broad distribution because I just cannot afford to completely cut off other retailers from my books. But, I have three times as many books in Amazon, and I'm earning far more money because of it. The day I shut off books from SW and shove them into KU is the day I start earning more money.

Am I empowering Amazon? Yep. Do I really care? No. They are empowering me. They are selling my books and getting them in front of readers. They are doing a way better job of it than anyone else.

Where Smashwords could be helpful is if they connected with Google Play.

I hate GP. Their dashboard is horrific. Their system is a nightmare to upload a book.

Get me into Google Play without slamming my head against the wall for days at a time, and I will consider shutting off KU and putting those books into broad dist.

:)

P M Christou said...

@Travis We can't all afford to giveaway kindles to attract readers. The fact is KDP Select /KU does NOT work for everyone. If you are a well established or prolific series writer in a niche genre you may well get more exposure. But that is not a guarantee. What may work for some, does not work for others. The more authors that go exclusive the less exposure. It will be like looking for a needle in a haystack.

Travis Luedke said...

@PM Christou, I'm willing to do what it takes to get reader emails (fans of my genre).

Owning your audience is where its at.

I do realize KU success is limited to certain genres. So, if you're not in a genre with a hot KU readership, then going broad dist. makes more sense.

But, if you are already writing in a hot KU genre, then not being in KU is like cutting your foot off.

We all know KU has changed the game. We all must adapt to that however we can.

What I'm talking about is how do other retailers entice Indies into their platforms? By giving Indies tools for discoverability.

Until that happens, Amazon will get the exclusivity they want, because people publish their content where it sells.

KU has stolen a good chunk of the Indie readership. Either cater to that fan base or find a way to work outside of it. Those are your choices.

I think Audiobooks are the next great battle to be fought for discoverability. I'm gearing up for that one.

:)

Ripley King said...

I got a newsletter signup page too.

Forgot about that. :D

Robert Hobkirk said...

I hear a lot of frustration and anger from folks whose sales are apparently not up to their expectations. U really didn't believe all that baloney on youtube about the money u could make as an indie, did you?

Shawn Michel de Montaigne said...

As a writer who makes virtually no money selling my ebooks ($65 last year--total), I find this entire discussion somewhat surreal.

Here we have the poor, poor individual who *only* made $300 last month! Oh, Lord!

Over here, we have the JA Konrath clone who'll blow Amazon for a rusty quarter and a half-smoked cigarette dredged out of a gutter.

And over here we have foaming panic. Oyster is going away! The world is going to end!

Oyster, like B&N, like Kobo, like ... well, hell, everybody, is pretty much useless. So is Amazon. If you're making money at any of those outlets, congratulations! By sheer luck, most likely (almost certainly), you've managed to claw your way a tiny, tiny way up that power curve. We can see your big-butted and entirely unearned arrogance from here! Wow! Big crack ya got there, mister!

Amazon is nothing more than a giant digital version of Wal-mart. It's American corporate capitalism at its most cancerous and rapacious. Of course it's going to try to screw everything into the ground--including you, you two-inches-up-the-power-curve-and-so-you-think-you're-all-that godlike author! Kindle Select did its little Pied Piper song and you, snot running down your nose and wedgie halfway up your ass, jumped, drooling, into line. Stop pretending it was a "good business decision" or anything of the kind. You're delusional. What am I saying? You're two inches up the power curve and think you're the Second Coming of Stephen King. Of course you're delusional.

Discoverability? Widgets? Facebook ads? Who friggin' cares? For the vast, vast, vast majority of us way far away from anything vertical on that power curve, your bitching and moaning looks pretty pathetic and self-serving. Oh, boo hoo! You had to go with KDP-Select because you need to eat? I'm so, so sorry. It must be so disheartening making only $300 in a month with your wonderful, charming, never-to-be-forgotten literary masterpieces! I feel so bad for you!

You lectured me, Mr. Coker, on your vaunted "best practices" some time ago. Thank you. You didn't bother asking if I employed them. You didn't bother inquiring into how long I've been at this--writing. You assumed I was one of the great unconverted unwashed. Well, you were wrong. Just like you're wrong about complaining about the loss of yet another ebook company without doing something to increase the discoverability of writers like me on your own website. In other words, Amazon sucks, but hey and shucky-darns and all that. Right?

Way out here in non-vertical land, it's all the same, and so is our reaction, which is, rightfully and perhaps not so respectfully, yawn.

Robert Hobkirk said...

I think the realistic expectation for me is that I'm going to have to keep my day job if I want to write. I'll have good company if that's the case: Eric Hoffer, longshoreman; Buckowski, postal worker; Louis Carol, math professor and on and on. Some, like Steinbeck, had their wife support them. A writer bringing in the dough is a rare bird, a black swan.

If someone is into writing just so they can work in their pajamas, they should get a job as a telephone solicitor working at home.

You all have a nice day.

Rob @ 52 Novels said...

Saying there needs to be a Taylor Swift of indie authors is a misapplied comparison. Taylor Swift and her anti-streaming campaign is more akin to Doug Preston his anti-Amazon campaign... and even then it's fairly tenuous, if for no other reason than Swift pulling her music from the streaming services is relatively risk free (after all, the money she and her label makes from streams is a fraction of a fraction of the total income) while Preston pulling his books from Amazon would be really, really stupid.

But here's the thing: Swift is a major label recording artist, who's negotiated a contract with a big record label that, in turn, has negotiated with streaming services to the degree it can because a lot of the royalty split for song performances, whether live or recorded, is baked into US copyright law.

@Mark Coker: You know I love you and Smashwords, but I do wish you'd stop saying indie authors are being bullied by Amazon into opting for KDP Select. They're no more being bullied by Amazon any more than they're being bullied by you to accept giving SW 15 points for distributing to marketplaces they could distribute to themselves (thus also leaving money on the table in the process).

You each offer services and no one is being bullied into using either of them. Authors are smart enough to make decisions about the inherent trade-offs, experiment with them and pursue strategies that help them accomplish their own objectives.

Derek Haines said...

@Mark I will be returning my ebooks to Smashwords within a few weeks. I'm voting with you, and my ebooks. I hope you don't mind me stealing your train wreck idea though. :)
http://www.derekhaines.ch/justpublishing/the-self-publishing-train-wreck-is-upon-us/

Mark Coker said...

Hi Rob, thanks for stopping by. You know I love you too and I appreciate your perspective.

Thanks for the added color on Taylor Swift. I think Ian brought up Taylor Swift in the context Kindle Unlimited, how KU might devalue content and of what authors could do to prevent such devaluation. The indie community doesn't really have a Taylor Swift right now, but maybe through greater collective action indies could create the equivalent. Ms. Swift obviously believes that streaming can leave artists' works undervalued and undercompensated, and she has stood up to the industry in a way that most artists can't. KU is closer to streaming than it is to conventional sales models. So the question is, does the indie author community have the power to stop KDP Select, and should it even try? All sides of this question are represented in the thread above. As I've said often, I think KDP-S is counterproductive to the long term health of the industry, and to the long term independence of authors. It's inevitable that if Amazon gains a greater stranglehold on the global ebook sales authors will see royalty rates for ebooks drop like Amazon dropped them at Audible. Amazon's business model depends upon it offering customers ever-lower prices, which means it ultimately comes out of the hide of the author or publisher. Many disagree with me and I'm okay with that. I'm glad we're having the discussion so authors can chart their own path.

Bullying. We disagree here. I do believe Amazon is a bully, and this has been manifested most strongly over the last five years with their price matching. They've probably robbed indies of millions of dollars by price matching against mispriced books that were mispriced through no fault of the author. Amazon knows they're punishing the author even though the author's only crime is to distribute to other retailers. More recently in India, authors who had already made their books exclusive to Amazon were being kicked out of KDP Select worldwide (and threatened with cancellation of their entire KDP account if it happened again) simply because one small retailer (FlipKart) was having difficulty removing the author's title. It's a punishment totally out of proportion with the crime when one NYT bestseller who wrote me was faced with the prospect of her book being pulled out of the program worldwide simply because a retailer in India that might not have ever sold a single copy of her book was having difficulty removing the listing. Why didn't Amazon just pull her out of KDP Select in *India only* but leave the rest of the world up? Amazon has to know these tactics bully and intimidate authors. Why do they do this? I think it's draconian and completely unnecessary. I can only speculate that they do it because they know it's advantageous to do so - it causes authors like the one above to pull away from full distribution when they fear (as this author expressed to me) that some of these smaller retailers can't be trusted to keep them out of trouble with Amazon. Why can't Amazon show authors a little heart? No other retailer practices draconian rules enforcement like this. I'd never think of doing that to our authors. Our authors are our business partners. We give them full freedom to access all of our tools without limit, without exclusivity and without fear of retaliation.

My big message to authors is do what's right for you, but understand that every book enrolled in KDP Select is a vote to put other retailers out of business.

Mark Coker said...

Great post Derek, though do let me know what we can do so you're thrilled with our services!

Derek Haines said...

@Mark Just keep selling whole hamburgers, um, I mean ebooks, Mark. That'll do me just fine. :) We've known each other for a while, so we both know what we're getting and where we're at. That's a good enough place to be for me.

Melinda said...

"My big message to authors is do what's right for you, but understand that every book enrolled in KDP Select is a vote to put other retailers out of business."

@Mark - I understand what you're saying (and I also love you and Smashwords, FWIW, and greatly appreciate the opportunities you've given us), but I feel putting the blame on authors places it on the wrong shoulders.

If the other retailers go out of business, don't they have some responsibility for not making the changes and showing the innovation needed to stay in business? I mentioned it several times up above, but I'll say it again: When I can't find my book on other retailers by doing a direct author name/title search, there's a problem. It's not a bug; it happens far too often, to far too many people, to be a bug. I can (and do) put direct links on my website; I use keywords in my description, etc. - none of which addresses the problem or negates the fact that other retailers don't care enough about the indie market to put anything at all in place (including discoverability) to entice indies to stay.

Why do they not care? Well, generally speaking, retailers are willing to sink time and money into products they believe will make them money. Indies don't seem to be on that list. If they're willing to give the whole pie to Amazon, that's on them.

To my way of thinking, it makes no sense at all to say indies should stick with them, anyway, so they don't go out of business.

Tony Bowman said...

Well said, @Melinda.

Mr. Coker, give us a viable alternative. You're a CEO, be entrepreneurial.

The Authority said...

"Hi Percival, when Amazon controls 65% of the ebook market, it's tough for others to compete when Amazon uses that dominance to push authors into exclusivity."

Author exclusivity didn't force Barnes and Noble to stop answering emails and never update Nook Press again. Author exclusivity didn't force Google Play to go down. Author exclusivity hasn't forced Smashwords to keep a website layout that looks like it belongs in the early 2000s. Author exclusivity isn't stopping any of these retailers from putting some effort into what they offer, and it isn't stopping them from offering newer, cooler things that Amazon is refusing to offer. Author exclusivity isn't forcing Apple to do nothing with the toys they acquire, and author exclusivity will not have forced Google Play to do nothing with Oyster when we eventually realize they are doing nothing with Oyster. Author exclusivity has not forced you to not figure out why you can't add keywords to Nook books uploaded through Smashwords, either.

The issue is that other retailers are refusing to innovate, choosing only to follow Amazon. Smashwords is guilty of this, too. Smashwords did a lot to pioneer fair payment and easy access to indie authors... but since the early years, what new, innovative things has Smashwords done? What big updates have gone through?

I was in KU until Amazon decided to stop paying us fairly, and now I've gone wide, but it's because of this that I'm seeing huge glaring issues with other retailers. Why am I still forced to convert my own work for All Romance, which also has a website design stuck in the early 2000s? Why does Smashwords not have an agreement with Google Play, even though Streetlib does? Why do the people at Nook never answer support emails, and why is there someone on Nook with thousands of books, all of which have STOLEN covers?

These are questions that never get answered, instead all we will ever hear is how unfair it is that Amazon asks for exclusivity.

Start offering something better, BEFORE Amazon offers it. That is your true choice if you want other retailers to survive. Smashwords cannot survive on the coupon system alone.

The Authority said...

By keywords, up there, I meant categories. And I suppose the blame shouldn't be laid on Smashwords, but on Barnes and Noble. As I understand it, they don't use BISAC... which is stupid. And part of why I think the argument against author exclusivity is masking a larger problem, which is laziness on the part of other retailers.

They did nothing to try and catch authors leaving KU. NOTHING. No advertisement, no "hey, leaving KU? Come check us out!" Just silence, a silence that almost whimpered with "please don't check us out, we're not really sure we want more authors..."

Mark Coker said...


@Melinda, I agree to a point here. Yes, when retailers fail they too share culpability in their failure. It's not just Amazon that causes them to fail. To some extent, Amazon is using a similar playbook that Borders and B&N followed to put small bookstores out of business - use your helt to offer better selection, pricing and convenience. Unlike Borders and B&N, however, Amazon doesn't need to make money on books to stay in business, so this is the Achilles Heel for anyone trying to compete against Amazon.

I can point to many things that all my favorite retailers do to shoot themselves in the foot, but few of these things are fatal in the way that Amazon can be fatal, because KDP Select and KU are what allow Amazon to deny their competitors access to critical books, and what allows Amazon to sell books at an effectively lower price.

As Derek articulated in his blog post, we're experiencing industry consolidation in retailing. Consolidation is not good for indies'long term future.

One of primary reasons I've always been a fan of agency pricing is that it forces a level playing field for all retailers. If a fan of historical romances in Scottland wants to create a historical romance retailer, she could do it with a level playing field, because her specially would allow her to add value in a way that generalized retailer could not, and she could access her product at the same cost. Agency forces retailers to compete on customer experience as opposed to which player can force the best terms from its suppliers. Publishers won the agency battle but Kindle Unlimited and KDP Select represent an end-run around agency where Amazon determines what the author/publisher makes, not the author. I see KU undermining single-copy sales everywhere in way that makes all the other great and innovative things that Amazon's competitors are doing completely irrelevant, because nothing's more important to consumers than price and selection.

Allow me to clarify the "blame" part. Amazon's the one who puts authors in this difficult position of having to decide if they want to forgo all opportunities at other retailers in exchange for more opportunity within the Amazon store. My beef is with Amazon's policy here, and not with the authors who feel compelled to go exclusive because it's how they're going to pay the mortgage. It's tough for authors to make this decision. And it's also an unfair proposition considering Amazon's power to determine the success or failure of any book or any career. This is a clear situation where a dominant retailer has the ability to essentially deny the producer (the author) opportunities to sell better, and deny their retail competitors the oxygen they need to survive. I believe indies are the future of publishing. B&N, Kobo and iBooks need indie ebooks, and their need will only increase in the future. I'm also thinking about the unborn retailers - all the innovative new startups in ebook retailing that we'll never see simply because they can't gain access to this critical catalog of exclusive content, or because their books are more expensive than the dominant player that can source books for less.

So yes, the votes indies are making are setting the industry up for a trainwreck. Are indies at fault? A simple yes or no would miss the necessary nuance. Maybe they're no more at fault than someone is compelled to commit an act because they've got a gun to their head. Many indies I've spoken with, like the author with the mortgage, hate the idea of KDP Select but they feel like they have no choice. Yet when they enroll in KDP-S, the fact remains that they've cast a vote even if they regret it.

Ripley King said...

Good points. Now I'll leave you all with one thing left to say, again, like many before me.

SW, B&N, iTunes, and all the others, you, yes you, could start your own newsletters where the ads are paid for by the authors, which in turn pays the staff involved, and the books sold through these newsletters are the gravy, and we have new outlets to be discovered by readers who want books you sell, and I shouldn't have to keep going with this. Our discoverability problems, like it or not, are your problems.

Why you don't see this as a business owner with products to sell is beyond me.

Mark Coker said...

@The Authority, 1/2

You covered a lot here. I'll try to share some quick opinion.

From a high level, I totally agree with your premise that Amazon's competitors need to innovate. We all do.

I think it was an error for B&N to create Nookpress in the first place. Why spend millions of dollars annually to source books that can be more efficiently sourced by other means? They could have spent this money on their store. But I'm in too self-serving a position to make this claim, even though I think they'd be more successful without Nookpress. Even if there was no Smashwords, I'd want them to work with one of the many other capable distributors to source these titles.

Our website: We did a massive overhaul a little under two years ago, and we'll do more updates in the future. We're in this odd position of being a distributor but getting judged for our appearance as a retailer. Simple solution: we need to do better because our authors want better! But the fact remains that the look of our site doesn't affect the cool things we do on the distribution side which is where our authors make their money.

I disagree that the other retailers aren't innovating. Each has made amazing comittments to ebooks and indie authors.

Re: Google Play, I think I've answered that previously. Once they figure out a way to engage properly with distibutors, we'll make it happen. I like them. They have a lot of potential.

Mark Coker said...

2/2

Smashwords Coupons are a cool feature, but we've delivered much much more than that in recent years. I'll paste in a reply I left over at Kboards to a similar question: Smashwords has been innovating non-stop ever since we opened up in 2008. We're a distributor. We were probably the first to strike perma-free pricing deals for our authors at the multiple major retailers, the first after the Big 5 to negotiate our authors agency pricing terms at B&N, Kobo and Sony, the first or among the first to open up library distribution to indies at OverDrive (20,000+ public libraries) and Baker & Taylor Axis 360, and the first or among the first to offer indies preorders and then assetless preorders. The assetless preorder capability - the ability to set up a preorder 12 months in advance without the final ebook file or cover - is a huge innovation announced two months ago after over 12 months of live testing and development. Smashwords is unusual in that we also operate a store. It's not our primary focus, but instead is a vestige of the first year of Smashwords before we decided to focus the business on distribution. Even though it's not our focus, the store itself offers many innovations that stand to this day, and we've continued to enhance it over time. It offers the industry's highest royalty rates (up to 80% list, even often for 99 cent books if the overall order is around $10 or more); coupon codes for custom promotions; perma free pricing without restrictions; reader-sets-the-price pricing; self-serve interviews; DRM-free books; Dropbox integration; generous author-controlled sampling; enhanced series metadata to improve series discovery; book search filtering by word count; drill-down filtering into hundreds of categories; the ability to filter by sales rank, latest released and price points; attractive widgets for embedding on websites and blogs; multi-format ebooks supporting all devices; same-day and next-day consolidated sales reporting with pretty at-a-glance charts for iBooks, B&N, Kobo, OverDrive and the SW store. And we're not done. Just in the last week we launched an "Also Recommended" feature that offers readers context sensitive recommendations. It's like also-boughts but with some other awareness built in. We also create a lot of free promotional opportunities for our authors at the retailers and at major conferences. So when anyone asks what Smashwords is doing to innovate, I can only scratch my head. We're never standing still. We're always pushing the envelope to deliver our authors more tools, faster deliveries, more sales outlets, better communications and more advantages.

Melinda said...

Thanks for the response, Mark. And again, I see your points, even if I don't necessarily agree. Where I get stuck (one of the places), is that there is a choice for authors. There's no gun to the head. There isn't a perfect choice, but that's true with any business. In fact, it's the choices that have driven me nuts the past few months as I try to think through what makes the most business sense for me. Believe me, I am not a fan of eggs all in one basket. It's a frightening prospect. But if the other baskets aren't doing anything for me, not because they can't, but because they choose not to, it makes no sense to leave the eggs there.

I think where some of the disconnect between various commenters and you comes into play is that while you've stated you're fascinated by Amazon's tactics, philosophically they clearly rub you the wrong way. Their way of doing business seems to really bother you on an ethical level. I get that - a lot of stuff about business rubs me the wrong way.

But I don't for a minute think any other retailer wouldn't do the very same thing if they bought into the idea that indies might just be a viable market to buy into. As The Authority said up above, "They did nothing to try and catch authors leaving KU. NOTHING. No advertisement, no 'hey, leaving KU? Come check us out!' Just silence, a silence that almost whimpered with "please don't check us out, we're not really sure we want more authors..."

S.M. Bysh said...

What I don't understand is why all the hangup over KDP exclusive feature. Isn't it an optional opt in? If so then why obsess over what they do? Smashwords is a good distributor regardless of whether you have an agreement with Amazon or not. Why not just focus on all the improvements you are making to such a nice site you have. Amazon is Amazon they are not likely to change the game anytime soon. Everyone knows the exclusive thing is optional and nobody has been required to do this.

Robert Hobkirk said...

I now have widgets for Ibooks, Amazon, & Smashwords. All were easy and hassle free to install. On the tiny phones, the widgets won't show up on the small screens, so a hyperlink is still necessary in the body of the text.

I spent a lot of time on B&N, but all they had was useless: a Nook for $249 widget (but I have an Amazon Fire for $49 widget and will get 4% if anyone buys)and a logo widget, but the logo would only confuse the viewer if they tried to click on it since it does nothing. The upshot is that B&N isn't mentioned on my blog.

The Kobo site looked like it had the same attitude as the B&N, so I didn't waste my time with them. They aren't mentioned on my site as well.

This blog conversation turned into something positive. It got me moving to do what I could to increase sales with the tools that are out there offered by the e-tailers. When I signed up as an indie, this was part of the bargain - I would promote it. Revolutinize it, and I will advertise it.

In the words of the geek who wrote the words below, "I'm not a robot."

y said...

This wonderfully energetic discussion is rife with passion but laced with a serious miscomprehension of the commercial dynamics. I wish I had time to read it all, but I've got my next book in progress so please forgive me if what I say here is repeating what has already been posted.

Amazon are retailers. Their entire strategy is geared towards getting better at what they do and that means doing what every other retailer has done for centuries, i.e. attempting to gain market dominance (through price and service competition and exclusive goods), screwing their suppliers into the ground, and putting their competitors out of business. They are working constantly to innovate and improve. They're pretty good at it but they will always be nervously looking over their shoulders at their rivals. Their entire business is customer-driven, i.e. determined by the choices of the consumers, your readers.

Once any retailer gets into a position of market dominance, they will use that dominance to extract greater efficiencies and better margins until such time as a competitor can overcome any weakness they expose. Sometimes, they are overcome by brute force, like a major player opening up opposite them and undercutting every single item on their shelves by one cent. Sometimes they crumble through legacy infrastructure and crippling overheads. Sometimes, they just can't move fast enough to catch the latest trend. If you think being an indie writer is tough, you should try being a major retailer.

As suppliers, you have zero power. The retail distribution system dominates the supply chain and will, eventually, determine the product lines by profitability per millisecond just as the supermarkets decide profit per square centimetre. If you want to learn how retail dominance can work, check out Marks & Spencer's dominance of the UK retail underwear business for over fifty years - what they did to the UK hosiery industry still leaves a bitter taste. The dominant retailers have the stats and know what sells and demand product that fits their optimum profile. Imagine when Amazon refuse to distribute your eBook because their A.I. editor determines there's not enough tension in the second act?

Of course Amazon demand exclusivity. You will make a judgement as to whether that is in your favour or against, but don't argue with them because they don't care. Pull your product, see if they respond. They control the supply line and they consider they are doing you a favour by allowing you to use it (and no, you are not driving precious traffic to them any more than a supplier of vertical blinds or a cat litter manufacturer is). Also, they are only interested in making a margin from what their suppliers sell through their platform. They don't make anything selling Kindles and probably never will, they make money on selling the product that the Kindle buyers consume. I suspect that at some point, after they have established eReader format market dominance, and Nooks and Kobos and so on have been consigned to bottom drawers, they will put strict controls on authors/publishers giving their product away free because they make nothing from those transactions.

And if you think that music streaming bears any relation to KENP you're delusional. A Kindle Unlimited read of 500 'normalised' page book will currently earn you $2.55 - as long as it's read - and that's from one reader, for one read. If you were streaming music on Spotify (current market dominant) you would need at least 350 listeners to generate the same income from a song (http://spotifycalc.com/). Actually, I manage a recording artist and I can tell you that figure is way out - not in the artist's favour. Ok, you say, that's one song, not a book. Ok, I say, multiply by ten. One album. You still need 35 times as many music consumers as you do readers to generate the same income between an album and a book.

The model is determined by the consumer, not the retailer or the supplier. Welcome to real purchaser power.

Kevin Waldroup said...

thank you. I working on new Webzine. I'm thinking about only sale at smashwords bookstore. I like get 80% for a sales.

Camilla Isley said...

Hi Mark,
considering Oyster demise and Scribd restrictions, is Smashwords planning a partnership with Playster?

HStanbrough said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
HStanbrough said...

@Mark
Thanks for your reply. I love having my books in Smashwords' retail store. Great royalty rate, great coupons, etc. However, to list one title and put it only in Smashwords' store (because I don't want Smashwords to distribute it) costs me a lot of time, especially when it comes to having to opt out one at a time from 13 or so different venues. And even after I've opted out from them, when I visit my Dashboard I still see that annoying "Go to your ISBN Manager to assign an ISBN for retailers who need it." Huh? If I've opted out of having Smashwords distribute to those retailers, why is that annoying message still there? I'm not asking. But would it kill Smashwords to have one button to opt out of all distribution other than the Smashwords' store?

But it's all good. You were a pioneer, and I applaud you for that.

With restpect,
Harvey

Derek Haines said...

This has become a very long thread. But my final comment will be this, which is a little grab from my most recent blog post.

After being a KDP Select Kindle author?

Over the next few weeks, most of my ebooks will be returning to other online retailers, including Apple, B&N, Kobo, Google Play and Smashwords and their aggregated channels. My ebooks will remain for sale on Amazon, but most of them non-exclusivley, so they will not be available via Kindle Unlimited. My experiment with Kindle Unlimited has well and truly finished. But why did I say, most?

Well, one thing I learned from my experiment was that a few of my ebooks do very well in Kindle Unlimited as opposed to unit sales. They are titles that seemingly appeal to KU subscribers, such as first books in a series or stories with a hint of romance. Also, by keeping a few books in KDPS, I can still do a little Kindle promotion. I might be wholeheartedly Indie, but I’m not silly. Kindle is the biggest seller of ebooks by far, so it makes sense for me to keep promoting myself there, even given my distaste for KENP.

But my finger will still be hovering over the exclusivity tick box every 90 days for these few ebooks.

If you are interested, you can read my complete post here: http://www.derekhaines.ch/vandal/kindle-author-in-kdp-select-or-indie-author/

malladuncan said...

Lots of interesting points and discussion - but I agree with those calling for more innovative ways for authors to properly advertise on the sites where readers are browsing - B&N, Kobo, Apple and Smashwords. Without that you can have as many widgets smidgets on your website as you like, I agree 100% with Travis Luedke - ONSITE discoverability is the essential key that is missing. It's actually sad that these sites just don't get it. It's not difficult, not rocket science: if your product ain't seen, it ain't bought.
Amazon understands how to attract customers and lure readers. So why don't the other sites get going and make themselves worthy competitors instead of just staring disaster in the face?

audreydriscoll said...

I agree with malladuncan -- why don't the sites that sell ebooks also sell advertising spots for those books? Why do indies have to dance around with Bookbub and others who might promote their books when the retailers of those books don't seem to have any interest in selling those services. At the very least, what about a random "ebook of the day" or even "ebook of the hour" that would pop up on Smashwords' or B&N's front page? I'll bet authors would cough up a few dollars to enroll their books in such a feature? Once enrolled, book images and titles could be automatically cycled for a specific number of days or weeks.

Ruth Ann Nordin said...

In order for the ads to be effective, they would have to be placed with books that are similar to it. As long as an author knows how to best direct the ad to the right place, it could work well. I would expect the better the placement, the more expensive the ad, which is only fair.

Kealan Patrick Burke said...

@markcoker: First off, thanks for all your efforts on behalf of indie authors, and for giving us a means to distribute our books that is free of the machinations others tend to employ.

I assume this suggestion has been made ad nauseum, and that you have very logical reasons why it isn't an extant thing, but I think a great way to draw more authors away from Amazon exclusivity (and/or to compete with them) would be to implement one of the few things Smashwords does not yet have that most others do: monthly payments.

I understand this may be a logistical nightmare, but most bills aren't quarterly, so the appeal of monthly payments for an author is undeniable.

Mike Bozart said...

Mark, it looks like we are being funneled into a single track (with amazon being the locomotive) to 'pay to prevent invisibility' (for virtually unknown authors like me). But, even as smart as Bezos is with e-commerce, amazon may just find that their railroad to ebook domination is a terminal spiral. Well, just my pennyweight of thoughts. Have a nice weekend. Still high on Smashwords!

Brian Mulipah said...

So Google bought Oyster so that they kill it? I don't get it. How will that create more revenue for them? This is scary and should not be legal. And instead of shutting down, why didn't Oyster and Scribd just copy the KU model and pay authors per page read? If the model is not working then change it.

Mark Coker said...

Brian, my guess is that Google acquired Oyster for their design and usability expertise. The Oyster team knows how to create a beautiful e-reading app. I'm also going to guess (I don't know this for a fact) that Oyster was losing money so they faced two options: 1. Do another funding round to give them runway to prove the business model. 2. Sell to another player.

Let's hope Google does great stuff with them!

Tom Hilpert said...

Mark, I'm an indie author, and I want to be honest. I have been quite successful in gaining a solid fan base through Amazon, and my income from there has doubled every year. At the same time, I have a book published with Smashwords, and to date have made less than $100, and cannot seem to get paid even for that. I've made more money from the same book on Kindle, even without being KDP select.
For my other books, I was worried when KDP Kindle Unlimited went to the "pages read" model, but I actually ended up getting paid a little more per book than on the "10% of book read" model. It works out to roughly $0.20 less per book than an outright purchase not "a fraction of the amount" as you mentioned in your post above.
I can only speculate that some authors were producing 10 page books or book samples, and getting paid the full amount when customers read a single page; while people who got my books had to read forty pages for me to get paid. My income went from about $1.50 per KU borrow to now around $2.50; as I said, about twenty cents less than a straight-up ebook sale.
I don't love the idea of a near monopoly like Amazon seems to be moving towards, but Amazon has achieved its success because they do help Indie authors, while players like B&N and Apple seem entirely indifferent to us.
I like the Smashwords concept, but as yet, it still leaves a lot to be desired.

Elle Klass said...

I've read several of these responses. Currently, I have 3 short ebooks through KU. All can also be bought in a box set available everywhere including Amazon. Trying KU is my way of getting a sample of my work to the entire market. To be honest I don't see much action through KU. The majority of my sales come from actual purchases, including my Amazon sales. I'm not sure what that means but I love it. Reader's prefer to purchase not borrow my books. It impresses me. The shorts I'm pulling from KU once their time is up and redistributing everwhere but I may write and sell a book exclusively through KU to keep all markets covered.

Mark Coker said...

Hi Tom, thanks for visiting. Having worked closely with iBooks, B&N and Kobo now for about six years, I can say that their commitment to indies often goes underappreciated. These retailers do amazing things for our authors every week. Authors who cycle in an out of KDP-S are less likely to benefit from the full potential of the other retailers. I think a lot of authors tend to confuse market share with appreciation. Amazon controls 65% or more of the ebook market, so on average most authors should always sell more there. And with KDP-S, they've carved out a smaller subset of authors who will get more perks. Yet a lot of our authors are selling more outside of Amazon. Every author's experience will be different. To the extent you can crack the nut of diversification and avoid exclusivity as so many SW authors have, IMHO you'll face a more successful career in the long term. It can take years of toiling in obscurity, and even the best books aren't guaranteed to find readers. I know most authors agree with this in concept, but the sad reality is that it's really tough to build diversified readership, and the quick hit of KDP-S is enticing.

Tom Hilpert said...

Thanks for the follow up, Mark.
A few thoughts. First, I admit, it's hard to forgo the cash I get from KDP-S when I don't see results from diversification.
Second, I'd love to hear more about how the other players help Indies.

Amazon seems *proactive* in giving us help - even the recent changes in Kindle Unlimited benefit legitimate authors and limit abuse by people gaming the system. On the other hand, I email B&N about once a year asking for tools, and they basically give me some general info about ebook marketing that can be found on about 100K different websites. I see no opportunities for promotions, no way to be discovered, not even a way to pay for advertising on a small scale.

I'll say it again, Amazon is successful because they believe that they can make money by letting Indies make money. I haven't yet seen that anywhere else - and frankly, I'd LOVE to. I'm here (Smashwords) because I recognize the long term danger of having only one horse in the stable. But no else even seems to be offering even a pony. Any thoughts?

Robert Hobkirk said...

Tom,
If u want to be successful financially as an indie, you're going to have to sell your soul the way the other successful indies have done it. You'll have to pay for the reviews and have the paid reviewers buy the ebooks at the same time to jump the book to the best seller list.

I saw in your bio Tom that you're a Christian minister. Your congregation is only going to buy so many books. What's it going to be, money and fame or your soul?

If u don't believe me that lying and cheating is the way the successful ones got that way, then google a few phrases like "John Locke paid reviews" or "fake reviews." That's a starting point.

Derek Haines said...

I support your view, Robert. As this article points to, buying reviews is BIG business, still! How long has it taken Amazon to take action on what has been screamingly obvious for a long time.
http://the-digital-reader.com/2015/10/16/amazon-files-suit-against-a-thousand-fiverr-users-for-selling-fake-reviews/

As an aside, Amazon had their 'family, friends and fellow authors' clean out of reviews a couple of years ago, which lost a hell of a lot of reviews for self pubbed authors, but Amazon didn't go after paid reviews. I can vouch for this fact, because I DID buy 3 reviews from Fiverr three years ago as an experiment, and they are still showing on my book!

So I can understand your view that only the cheats win.

Tom Hilpert said...

I appreciate it, Robert.

So far I have 1200+ reviews of my mystery series, 840+ of them 5 star and 280+ 4 star, and not one of them was paid. My congregation is tiny - the reviews didn't come from them. I think I got them by giving away 150,000+ ebooks for free.

I'm happy with what has happened so far; I'm making a very helpful part-time income, all from Amazon. I would like to "take it to the next level" however, violating my ethics is not an option.

I remain concerned that Amazon is virtually the only source of my writing income, but as I have said, none of other players seem interested in playing.

Robert Hobkirk said...

Tom,
Happy to hear that u won't make a deal with the devil. I'm holding out as well. The peace is more valuable than the $ for me. Too bad it's a rigged craps game, but that's the way it is. If u find a way to the higher level that's legit, let us know. So far we only know what doesn't work.

Derek,
If u take a look at all the posts under the topic of fake reviews there's an article that has a long list of "best sellers." Say it isn't so. These are the same people on youtube and elsewhere lying about how they made it. The book biz makes the used car biz look a Mother of Calcutta charity.

Derek, 3 reviews as an experiment, you're forgiven my son. The ones who succeed buy thousands.

Brian Mulipah said...

In regards to reviews, I like how Tony Robbins, Brandon Burchard and a bunch of others in the Self-help genre do it. When they have a new book, they offer the paperback for free before it is published. They say we will give you the paperback copy for free as long as you just pay $7 for Shipping and Handling and they will send it to you anywhere you are in the world. My assumption is that the $7 does actually cover printing costs, because it does when you use CreateSpace.

Of course they will then ask for reviews, but I think this is a legal way of business. So, they do not make money on those copies, but they do gain thousands of reviews.

Mark Coker said...

Tom, re: other retailers supporting indies, if you scroll back through the archive here at the SW blog, you'll see plenty of posts about promotions that featured SW authors at iBooks, Scribd and others. In the next few weeks you'll see another post regarding a big promotion I'm helping to organize at another retailer. At iBooks in particular, they're doing features every week that give indies big boosts, and they're doing it without exclusivity. There's a lot going on for the authors that stay engaged. And kudos for your sense of ethics. That alone will take you further.

Robert, it's not necessary to sell to your soul. The folks who do that or who try to cheat are ultimately discovered and pay the price. This is a long term game, and it's all about you and your readers. If an author can earn and deserve and serve a loyal readership, their ticket is made. If an author tries to cheat or mislead, they'll lose the trust and confidence of readers. I know John L. was one of the first to admit he used one of these services, but I think people give that act too much credit for his success. He writes books readers love to read. If any author buys a 5-star review and the reader discovers it's a two-star book, the reader will get their revenge and bring the ratings down in a hurry. It's virtually impossible to become a bestseller if the readers aren't propelling you there.

Robert Hobkirk said...

Brian,
I just did a Giveaway on GoodReads. 5 autographed books (CreateSpace) mailed out to 5 out of 468 participants. My cost per book/postage/envelope/gas to post office was $10 per book. I had to spend an extra dollar for first class postage because I learned my lesson of sending a book out a cheaper way. )The cheap way was suppose to go to my friend in Tahachapi, CA. After a month I tracked it down. It went to LA by mistake, then up to W. Sacramento. Don't know where it is, been going on 2 months and he still hasn't gotten it.) I sent the 5 winners their book the day the contest ended on Oct. 5 with a polite letter asking for a review. Still not one review.

I took a look at the 468 entrants' profiles. It looked like most of them were just into Giveaway contests and didn't read. I thought stirring the water some with the giveaway would help generate some sales to cover the $50 expense. No sales and so far no reviews.

From my experience what Robbins and Burchard are saying, but not you my friend, sounds like more bull caca.

Stay strong,
Rob

Robert Hobkirk said...

Mark,
It would be a just and beautiful world if what u say is true, but experience is telling me a different story. Wish the reading consumer could figure it out, but so far the con has worked. Remember, it was only the little know nothing kid who said the emperor is naked.

I like reading reviews of "best selling" con artists (can't use the word writer, they don't deserve it.) Those who give them one or two stars say things like "I can't understand why this gets so many 5 stars." Another one will reply to the one who can't understand "thanks for your review, I thought I was going crazy." I'm thinking to myself, "they know how to figure out the plot but they don't see how bogus this is. He got his thousand 5 star reviews, because he bought them."

Robert Hobkirk said...

Tom,
I applaud your success. You've worked hard and played fair. Probably your books are worth reading as well, although I haven't tried one yet.
I hope to say one day "I broke even."

Brian Mulipah said...

@Robert. Great insight there. Unfortunately the con-artists are racking in loads of cash from book sales while those who play by the book are still wondering how to sell and catch up...or at least buy bread :-)

Tom Hilpert said...

Well, I appreciate you guys. I'd still like to do better, but you've reminded me to be thankful that I've come this far. I've made enough money to buy bread, and even a car (but not a house).

Cheers!

Robert Hobkirk said...

Brian,
There's only so many book buyers with a finite amount of money, which means that when a con artist makes a sale, he is taking it away from the honest person.

If you asked the average buyer what convinced him to push the buy button, it was because of all the positive reviews. They don't know from shinola about how they're being lied to.








Robert Hobkirk said...

Tom,
Stop bragging. I checked out your books. If u made it from your writing ability, I would be very surprised. What a bunch of crap.

Tom Hilpert said...

Robert, you are right about one thing, which is that I was bragging; I regret it, and rightly deserved a bit of a smackdown. Thank you.

Robert Hobkirk said...

Tom,
And I deserve a smack down for saying too much. I apologize.
Have a nice day,
Rob

Brian Mulipah said...

I hope we all saw this: Amazon Sues 1,114 Fiverr Users For Offering To Write Fake Product Reviews http://marketingland.com/amazon-sues-1114-fiverr-users-for-offering-to-write-fake-product-reviews-147305?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feed-main

Robert Hobkirk said...

Brian,
Awesome! First time I saw it. I uploaded a youtube video with a five dollar bill with Bukowski's face on it and Tom Waits singing "I'm Your Late Night Prostitute."
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1DgZWkwJbsk

I would like Amazon (change the name to Anaconda because they're choking the competition to death. They're even going after Etsy, a handcraft etailer) go after the "best seller" who got that way thru fraud. Maybe public shame with marking the reviews that are fake as "FAKE."

A couple months ago, Alibaba, the Chinese Amazon had a scandal about the same thing and the stock dropped considerably.

Here's the thing, a reader sees some "best seller" who has more reviews than Steinbecck with a higher rating, don't u think they could put 2 and 2 together? Apparently they can't. Time for Ammazon to step up and do it for them.

Gracias for the post,
Rob

Robert Hobkirk said...

Here's a site of where you can find a list of the usernames named as defendants. Any of your reviewers on it?

http://rulesforrebels.blogspot.com/2015/10/are-you-on-list-heres-list-of-fiverr.html

Robert Hobkirk said...

If u go to fivrr today, you'll see that "positive" book reviews are still for sale.

Robert Hobkirk said...

Amazon said the names on the list was just the names of the Fivrr account users. They are just going to delete the bogus reviews, supposedly, rather than identify the review as fake and hope the thing is forgotten about.

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