Saturday, June 14, 2008

Amazon in meltdown?

The great Amazon debate has at long last made it on the pages of one of our national dailies, in this instance, The Daily Telegraph. An article on the online edition, written by Nick Allen says the online retailer could be facing a strike by authors and publishers as it becomes embroiled in an increasingly bitter dispute with publisher Hachette Livre.

All the groups titles have seen their buy buttons removed in a dispute over terms. These books are still available via Amazon marketplace through re-sellers and third parties, but as the article states, the publisher does not earn a bean from these sales.

Actually this is not strictly true. It is true that they earn nothing from the sale of second hand books, but not true when it comes to third party sellers, since these have to buy the books from somewhere, and it is not other retailers. No, they get their stock direct from the publisher, or through the usual wholesalers, whose terms are just as high as Amazon's. Amazon has been singled out not because of what they have done, but because of the dishonest way in which they have done it, by going from one publisher to the next, lying about the terms negotiated with rival publishers and using this as a battering ram to get others to comply. This is not something that wholesalers do, as their terms are equal across the board and totally transparent.

This move then is aimed at forcing Hachette to sell to Amazon on terms which are simply put, unacceptable. As CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson said: "In Britain the terms publishers give to retailers are the highest in the world and more than half of the price of a book goes to the retailer. We have collectively been too soft in our negotiations and we are trying to make a stand. "Amazon put pressure on us and took the 'buy' button off a number of prominent authors' books on their website. We don't like it and our authors don't like it."

As Amazon continues to grow, Mr Hely Hutchinson warned that independent book sellers, as well as authors, would be the victims. Given their current state of growth, it is entirely possible that within five years readers outside the major city centres may face the prospect of having no choice but to either buy online, or obtain books from supermarkets, which do not exactly carry deep range.

While it is true that Amazon has helped authors, in particularly the self published and independent ones whose books are not stocked by the larger chains, this dispute has the potential to seriously undermine their sales and credibility.

To punish the authors, without whom Amazon would have no business, is seriously not on, and they would be wise to remember that without us to write the books, there would be no business. There is after all, only so much we can and will take, and Amazon have pushed just that little too far. It is heartening then to see such support for Hachette, with authors standing firm alongside and backing them all the way, even if it does affect their sales.

Of course none of this is really new though, since like I have said, so many times on this blog, the British publishing trade does sell their wares at much higher discount than any other country in the world. I never have thought it fair or reasonable that 40 percent of the cover price from my own book goes to the retailers who sell it, when all they do is press a few buttons and place it on the shelves. In contrast to this, in return for my five years of work writing this book, I earn the princely sum of £1.39 per copy. This is why I had to return to work, and this is why I am no longer around to help promote it, by telephoning book stores and being there to drive business. This is also why in February, those 71 books arrived back on my doorstep from Gardners.

That though is hopefully about to change, as at the time of writing they have just 18 copies in stock. Since they re-order when the level drops to 15, I am hoping and praying for 3 more orders before Thursday, so that I can despatch the 40 remaining copies that are still in my loft on to them before I depart for Lundy on Friday morning. So, if you wish to buy a copy then you know what to do - get down to your nearest friendly bookstore (or Amazon if you really must) and get ordering!

This will be an incredibly busy week for me, since I also have a missing parcel to track down, which was inadvertently sent to our old address (don't ask me how), and the village newsletter to finish. In between all of this I have to work every day between Monday and Thursday, go to the gym, get all my laundry done ready for the off, back up my computer files, fill up the car with petrol, check my tyres, lights, oil and water, pack my bags and collapse in a heap of exhaustion. It is just as well that I am owed five hours from work, as at least it means (with any luck) that I can go home early some days and make a start on all this 'stuff'. By the time I do get the island, at this rate, I will be fit to drop. Still, it will be worth it when I see her sailing into view.

I am so looking forward to this holiday, as it has been one hell of a stressful year. A year that has seen my hopes and dreams come crumbling down, as I have finally had to concede that despite my best efforts, I will probably never achieve the level of success of which I have dreamt. Still, I have achieved an awful lot, far more perhaps than most POD authors, since the books are stocked in an increasingly high number of Waterstones stores and independents, where they are selling very well indeed. Somehow though it has never felt enough, and so this year, I have had to learn to be happy with what I have got and stop beating myself up quite so hard.

This has entailed facing many demons and destructive belief systems, but with Corans help and support, and some good books written by some very talented authors, I am getting there.

Friday, June 13, 2008

What do horses and Amazon have in common?

The Hachette Livre versus Amazon debate continues apace, with it featured on the Radio Four programme Today earlier on, from what I have been told. I did not hear the progamme myself, since I only listen to local radio, but I will try and find the link later on on the BBC website, since it is bound to still be there.

The author and agent community appears to be backing Hachette's stance, no doubt to the chagrin of Amazon, with leading agents leading the backlash against the online retailer.

It was reported earlier this week that Hachette CEO Tim Hely Hutchinson had sent a letter to authors affected by the dispute, whose books have been removed from Amazon's site, asking for their patience and understanding. According to The Bookseller online, the response has been overwhelmingly positive. In his letter, Hely Hutchinson said that he would stand firm against conceding any additional trading terms, adding that Amazon's sanctions were creating a breach of trust between the online retailer and its customers, which could prove to be a catalyst for them starting to lose their popularity with book buyers.

Despite advantageous terms, far better than most chain stores get (when buying direct from publishers anyway), Amazon seems to go from one publisher to the next year on year, making increasingly high demands in order to get rich at everyone else's expense.

Of course the cynic in me says that all retailers do this, and this is not confined to the publishing industry. Amazon though are by far the worst example of this that I have come across, and from what I have seen and heard in recent months, will stop at nothing to gain almost total control of the marketplace until they are the dominant book retailer and traditional book stores are driven out of business. This is then the thin end of a very long wedge, and is exactly why the publishing industry needs to make a stand. If we are not careful then given its current rate of growth, Amazon could become the largest bookseller in Britain within the next three years, and if they are not stopped now, then they will be able to dictate any terms that they like.

Curtis Brown MD Jonathan Lloyd commented that the entire industry is 100 percent behind what Hachette are doing, and that someone somewhere has to draw the line as using authors as what he terms 'a financial football' is disgraceful.

Clare Alexander of Aitken Alexander added that 'this is a disturbing glimpse of the iron in Amazon’s soul. I think its ruthlessness in bargaining is extremely disturbing'.

The MD of a unnamed rival publication said that removing buy buttons is akin to walking into a High Street bookstore and asking to buy a book, only to be told no. The irony of course is that until quite recently, this is exactly what did happen with some POD books, since inexperienced booksellers were unaware of how the system works. When they saw that the POD book was not in stock at the wholesaler from where they obtained their stock, they assumed that it was not available at all, unaware that there was such a thing as special orders. This though is changing, as the publishing industry wises up to what POD is about and how it works.

An spokesperson for Amazon said that they continue to be committed to offering the broadest range of titles possible, through both their own retail offering and re-sellers (Amazon Marketplace - where Hachette titles are still available). is also committed to ensuring we offer our customers the lowest possible prices.

What they fail to understand is that by making this move, and alienating the largest book publishing group in the UK, they are failing to honour those principals and cutting off their nose to spite their face, as they are not offering the broadest range possible at all. All that will happen is that readers wishing to buy these books will go elsewhere to bricks and mortar stores, or to other online retailers such as, Book Depository or Bookrabbit.

The online community upon which Amazon's business is built will turn against them, and ultimately prove to be their undoing. This is I think, the beginning of the end, and one never knows, the backlash against discounting and ever increasing terms may also be applied to traditional book stores as well, with firm sale, on back list titles at least, becoming the norm. How this would affect the indepedent and print on demand author is very much open to debate.

In the meantime, if we are not careful, then in the US at least, Amazon may soon be invading the High Street as well. Associated Press reports that Pershing Capital Management's William Ackerman, a major stakeholder in Borders Group in the US, said that the troubled book chain should consider approaching Amazon about a possible acquisition.

Borders, which was put up for sale in March has around 500 stores throughout the US. One possible incentive to Amazon to buy the Borders stores may be the some 18 states are considering the introduction of sales tax to online businesses. Once Amazon lose this tax advantage, then they may be keen to move into bricks and mortar book selling.

In an interview with the Wallstreet Journal earlier this week, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos compared books to horses, stating that the industry faced the challenge of improving something which like the horse, had been around for many years and was difficult if not impossible to improve. From my perspective, there is one more thing that Amazon and horses have in common - their ability to produce s*** in copious quantities !

Thursday, June 12, 2008

A big can of wiggly worms

The picture in tonight post pretty much sums up my present state of mind and so it seemed a highly appropriate choice.

What a can of worms the self publishing thread that I mentioned a day or so ago seems to have caused. It is amazing how quickly these things degenerate and how they seem to bring out the worst in human nature, triggering everyone's defence mechanisms into overdrive, including I hasten to add, my own.

I got home from work yesterday to find 2 messages from the site administrator informing me that some of my comments had caused offence, and that because of the comments that had been posted by certain other members, the thread had now been closed. I cannot speak for anyone else or their motivations, but my publishing insider radar was going off left right and centre, after what I interpreted as some rather personal comments which seemed to be criticising both my work and this blog, and after a link was posted back to here, inviting other readers to see for themselves what I had written on here.

In all fairness though, as the poster of these comments did say to me, the fact that I did actually post links to this site in my signature was an invitation to members to come and visit. It was not so much what was said though, as the way in which it was said. We have made our peace now though and all is forgiven, so all is well that ends well.

It is always difficult to see your work being criticised in such a public manner. Writers have large egos, and over active pain bodies, as much of what we write is very personal to us. The ego reacts so strongly to what it sees as criticism, as it views an attack on what we write as an attack on self. It does not know the difference. Self published authors such as myself seem to face an almost endless barrage of criticism from all quarters, and constant prejudice from the publishing industry in general. It may have been the case 10 years ago that print on demand books were dreadful quality, but things have changed, and their views have not kept pace with this change.

When you have to face this seemingly endless onslaught, and continually justify your reasons for choosing the POD route, it does get very, very tiresome indeed, and to be quite honest, I think that almost everyone would have reacted in the same way - with outrage and anger. It is difficult to face criticism from those who know nothing about your work other than the free chapter posted on your site, which you do not have to provide, and have them making negative comments about a book which they have not even read, let alone seen, simply because it is self published.

It did not help that I have had an awful couple of days at work - since Tuesday we have had just 2 members of staff in all day, running a busy store, for up to 9 1/2 hours with no break. The 2 of us that were in were running around like tits in trances trying to get the store looking good - don't ask me why when they are probably about to close it anyway! All this because some other Managers were coming to the store to do an inspection, and of course, they cannot possibly see it as it is. Well, when one of them asked me what I thought of the company, I told them the truth, and said we were not paid nearly what we are worth. I was utterly surprised to find that he actually agreed with me.

So, to say it has not been the easiest week is an understatement. Tomorrow though is another day, and it is also the first of my three regular days off (I only work four days a week). One week from now I shall be packing my bags and heading for Lundy via the M3.

Monday, June 09, 2008

I don't have to be right, just happy

It was so hot in the shop today that by the time I got home I felt like my uniform was sticking to every inch of my body. It must have been the hottest day of the year, with temperatures at what felt like at least 80 degrees and customers tempers fraying in the heat.

Everyone is on edge at the moment, since there is still no news of when or if we are to close. Our Area Manager had a meeting with the lease holder a week ago, and was supposed to let us know the outcome, but there is still no news.

In the midst of all this, and looking forward to Lundy, I am trying to figure out why the thread on self publishing that I spoke of yesterday is pressing my buttons so much. I am aware that much of the time, like the rest of humanity, I am driven by what has happened in my past, and this is bringing up all my issues to to do with rejection and the general unfairness of how I still perceive to a large extent, the publishing industry is run.

I said yesterday that many authors who are anti POD use the fact that they are commercially published in order to make themselves look and feel superior at our expense, and I am beginning to wonder whether there is an element of me doing the same thing, but in reverse. By painting everyone else to be the bad guys because of their inability to understand and agree with my point of view, I make myself into a victim, and therefore make them wrong. I then use the fact they I believe they are wrong to make myself feel better because I know something that they don't. It is a twisted kind of logic, but unfortunately true; the fact that I feel this I mean, not the fact that it is right.

It is not right for the simple reason that I am not a victim. I chose this route willingly. I may not have known everything that it would entail, but I had enough of an idea to know that it would not be the easiest of rides. The key is though as always, acceptance of what is, and so this only serves to make me aware that I still have work to do here. This gives my pain body much sustenance for it to sink its teeth into, but the fact I at least now recognise this pattern means that there is hope for m yet, and makes the acceptance that much easier. The painas alway comes from resistance, and so I will resist no more and accept that there is room for these views, and that I don't have to be right, just happy.

Facing change

I have been a member of a Book Lovers forum for some time now, where those who are in their own words 'addicted' to books, discuss the various ones that they have read or otherwise, as well as other more mundane issues surrounding their lives. It has, during my time there, become obvious that the majority of the members (with the exception of those who are authors) know very little as to how books are written and published, or how the choices that they as readers make, with regard to how much they pay, and where they obtain their books from, (assuming that they pay at all) impact on those within the industry. The industry is though whether we like it or not, driven by the readers, as they are the reason that we write in the first place. It is not to do with ego, or making money (well, not for most of us anyway), or anything like that, but because we feel that we wish to share something important with the reading public, but also because we have a gift that should be shared.

One of the debates currently going on on the site is one regarding self publishing and readers attitudes towards it. At the moment it seems to have been hijacked by one commercially published author, who is doing her best to come up with all sorts of arguments to prove that she is right and everyone else is wrong. This is of course though all ego. I recognise a certain amount of ego in me, I have to admit, when I read her rantings, but because I recognise it, it means that I can choose not to take her bait and get drawn in to a long and drawn out battle that neither of us would win.

It has though prompted this post on here, and so post I will.

During my time in publishing, I have seen much which is both good and bad (by the normal definitions anyway). I see lots of light and lots of those who appear to be embracing the change which has been brought about by the digital revolution, but I also see an industry (mostly the larger houses I have to say) which is also driven by fear. I see the walls that have been put up by various writing organizations, book reviewers (some refuse to review self published books at all) competition and other award panels (likewise), as well as book stores (who insist on returnability), and even the Internet (think Amazon), to keep self published books out. They cannot though be kept out, and if traditional means are closed to us, and the front door is shut, then as my Reiki Master Rowena Beaumont once said, there is always the back door, the windows and the roof.

I see attacks on self published and in particular print on demand books, on a daily basis, by not just those within the industry, but also increasingly by other authors, most of whom it has to be said are commercially published ones. I detect a large slice of ego in many of these authors, who seem to use the fact they are commercially published, and had the honour of being paid by a publisher to publish their work, and not the other way around, as a stick with which to beat up those who did not have this distinction. They use this as a means to make themselves look better at our expense. The ego is such that it has to make others feel bad or look inferior in order to make themselves look good. It never though works, but has the opposite effect, creating even more of that which they fear. Like it or not, self publishing is here to stay, whether we accept it or not, and once the flood gates are open, they cannot be closed.

Lynn Osterkamp has a particularly enlightening blog that I would recommend and it seems that her views on this are very similar to mine (and most other self publishers I would wager). She says on her excellent blog, that this unfortunate reaction to change was described in depth nearly 40 years ago by futurist Alvin Toffler. He put forth the idea that people find the accelerating pace of change overwhelming. His book, Future Shock, published in 1970 described a feeling of dread connected to rapid technological change, and a difficulty in adapting to it.

An increasingly large proportion of books published in today's market place are self published, by various means, yet these are for the most part not welcomed by the industry. They see these as a nuisance or an obstacle to them doing their work, as they create a market that in their own words 'is top heavy with dross', a market that creates too much choice.

Self publishing is though, where the future lies, in particular print on demand, and such authors are and will continue to make, significant inroads. Unfortunately old attitudes die hard, and these do not change as fast as the technology that now threatens the industry. Change is happening, but not nearly fast enough. Sure some of the houses are using print on demand for their own back lists and to launch new imprints, but they still attack self published print on demand books, as if they were some sort of virus, or something nasty to be wiped off your shoe.

It amuses me to see that many of these imprints also claim that they are utilising this wonderful 'new' technology, when it has been around in the UK now for over 10 years, and there is nothing new about it at all. They claim it as their own only when it suits them to do so.

A respected non profit website in America called Preditors and Editors, which aspiring authors use as a guide to publishers and publishing services offers advice on how to spot a scam publisher. This includes the following - a publisher that gives low or no advances (some of the imprints from the larger houses are now doing this, but offering higher royalties to compensate), publishers whose books are rarely if ever stocked in book stores, especially the large chains, publishers whose books have never made it on to the bestseller lists, been reviewed by 'reputable' sources such as the New York Times, or sell more than 5000 copies on a regular basis.

Such outdated criteria places almost every self publishing company in the scam category, along with the majority of small presses as well. Not though my publisher, as several of their books (including mine) are on the shelves of high street chains, and have also reviewed in the national press and made it on the best sellers lists.

The point is though that this criteria shows an inability to adapt to the changes currently taking place within the publishing world. This inability to adapt is based fairly and squarely on fear; the fear the current out dated methods of publishing are becoming obsolete, at the same time, making the jobs of those within the industry obsolete as well.

It is a scary thing to put yourself and your book out there, knowing that we face such hostility and what can sometimes seem like insurmountable odds. It is not though about us the writers, but about the readers, and those who are touched by the message that we bring. We are the cutting edge of this revolution, the forerunners that will lead the way. Once you get the blurb and the hype, the fact is that a good book is a good book regardless of how it was published or how many copies it sells. A good book to one person might also be an awful one to someone else. It is very much subjective. The readers then should be the judges and not the gate keepers.

It matters not whether a book sells 5 copies or 5000 copies, for those that need to read it will find it. That is how the universe works. It also works according to the universal laws, one of which is like attracts like. If we are constantly driven by fear then we will create even more fear, and all that we fear the most will manifest in our lives. I have seen this happen, more than once. We need to face our fears and work through them, rather than running away, or worse, criticising in order to maintain our own sense of superiority. The world is changing whether we choose to accept it or not, the question is, are we brave enough to face that change and go with the flow.