Friday, July 03, 2015

Fisking John Scalzi

From the Department of My Horse is Too High, Someone Give Me a Boost...

I've been out of the loop for over six weeks. Massive computer failure, coupled with a long vacation, limited my Internet activity, which means I missed all the drama over the recent Amazon KDP announcement. TL;DR Amazon is now paying authors per page for ebook borrows, rather than paying based on borrowers reading 10% of a book. In both cases, payment comes from a fluctuating fund that Amazon sets, which is divvied up monthly.

Apparently there was some criticism from my peers. Hugh Howey, in typical level-headed fashion, wrote a great post about the situation. Passive Guy also did an enlightening comparison between the the KDP payout per page, and what legacy authors earn per page. Bob Mayer also waxed eloquently on the topic.

One of the more level-headed critiques came from author John Scalzi, who recently signed a 3.4 million dollar deal with Tor for 13 novels.

Scalzi's wrong on some things, so I thought I'd fisk him, which also is a good opportunity to offer my views on the subject since people have been asking me about it.

Scalzi: Now that I’ve returned to the US and have parked myself in front of the computer again, people are asking me what I think of Amazon’s plan to tweak the way its Kindle Unlimited system pays KDP Select authors. In the past, Amazon would designate a certain amount of cash ($3 million this June, according to this Verge article, although in the comments Annie Bellet quotes a higher figure) as a payment pot, and all KDP Select authors participating in Kindle Unlimited would get a small bit of the pot if someone who downloaded their book read more than 10% of it. This predictably led to authors making short books in order to get to the 10% mark as quickly as possible, and equally predictably diluted the effectiveness of the tactic.

Joe sez: I'm with you until the last phrase. Where is the evidence that a lot of people writing shorter books diluted the effectiveness of that particular tactic?

This reminds me of the tsunami of crap meme I've been debunking for years. I was under the impression that people are consuming more digital media than ever. On the surface, it seems reasonable to assume that more ebooks being released reduces everyone's share of the pie. But where is the evidence to support that? North America just ran out of IP addresses, something I believe is tied to our biggering obsession with digital consumption. With so much growth, so many current readers, and so may new readers joining the party, it's odd, and possibly wrong, to suggest that shorter works ceased to be effective ways to grab KU dollars.

Amazon certainly felt short books weren't good as a whole for authors and readers, which is why they changed to a page count reimbursement. They have the data to support the reasons they switched payment methods. Digital reams and reams of data.

Scalzi: It also made authors of longer works complain quite a lot, as they had to compete with bite-sized books for the same tiny bit of the pot.

As a result, Amazon is now tweaking its system so that instead of getting paid when one reaches that 10% marker, KDP select authors will get paid for each page read — a move that will, within the context of the KU system, at least, address the “small book vs. big book” disparity. The system will also define a standard “page” so fiddling with margins and type size won’t fool it, and somehow track how much time you spend on each page, so just clicking through all the pages as quickly as possible won’t do the trick (this makes me wonder what Amazon defines as a decent amount of time to read a page).

Joe sez: I'll posit that Amazon defines "decent amount" by plotting every bit of reader data they get--which is everyone reading Kindle ebooks--and making sense of it in the same way they make sense of all the data that allowed them to become what they are.

Amazon has thought long and hard about this change. They've been planning it for months. Data is king. This new move is all about the ends of the Bell Curve. Most of us shouldn't be affected either way.

Scalzi: The short version is: You get paid for what your readers read. If your readers don’t read the whole book, you don’t get paid for the whole book.

I have a lot of questions about how this will play out in theory — will an author get paid if you re-read a book? What about if you go back and re-read a page? Does that count? Doesn’t this mean that authors of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books get really screwed? Not to mention any author who is writing anything other than a page-turning narrative?

Joe sez: It's my understanding that Amazon has figured out a mathematical way to define average page lengths, and how much time readers spend on a page, and is going with that formula. Which means re-reading, a Choose Your Own Adventure, picture books, children's books, comic books, and anything readable on a Kindle, will result in read page counts for the author.

But since we're on this topic, let's compare it to paper. I've read Silence of the Lambs four times. I paid for it once. And I bought it used, so Thomas Harris didn't make a dime from me for the four times I read it. Conversely, I've bought a JK Rowling novel at full price and for whatever reason never got around to reading it. Which author deserves my media dollar?

The legacy ways of consuming media--buying stuff to own--were in place for a long time. But it's a mistake to believe that just because it was the only way to consume media, it's also the right or only way to consume media.

The Internet is making ownership obsolete. Enjoying digital media is free in many cases. Amazon trying to compensate authors for the time readers spend on their work is innovative and shows profound awareness. They know their customers. And they're trying to compensate their content-providers in a better way.

A much better way, in fact, than earning 8% on paperbacks that can be stripped and returned.

Scalzi: — but ultimately any objections or praise I might have for this new Amazon model is irrelevant, because of a simple fact: Amazon is still making KDP Select authors compete against each other for a limited, Amazon-defined pot of money, and no matter how you slice it, that sucks for the authors.

Joe sez: I've argued before that in a digital world, where there are no costs for replication and distribution, the regular rules of supply and demand don't apply. Ebooks aren't zero sum. I'm not in competition with other writers. It seems reasonable that a reader's limited time is a form of currency, but our books are going to be read by readers who haven't been born yet. Ebooks are forever, and while at any given time the system may appear closed, it is actually open and infinite because it has no end. And even if it is limited by my lifetime, I have the opportunity to make a ton of money while I'm still kicking.

But playing devil's advocate, weren't authors always competing for a limited amount of money? In 1970 there were X number of readers. They bought Y number of books. That resulted in Z amount of money generated. While it seems Z was limitless in 1970 but limited (by Amazon) in KU, in both cases there were many books competing for readers' time and money, and there was no barriers on how many readers an author could reach. That the Amazon model shrinks imperceptibly as page reads go up seems moot, especially since their pot changes monthly.

This doesn't suck. This is the future.

Legacy contracts that keep rights for life, hold reserves against returns, contain non-compete clauses, etc. Those suck. And I've supported that position at length.

Scalzi: Why? Because Amazon puts an arbitrary cap on the amount of money it’s possible to earn — and not just a cap on what you, as an author, can earn, but what every author in the KDP Select system participating in Kindle Unlimited can make. Every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited can not, among all of them totaled up, make more than what Amazon decides to put into the pot. Why? Because that’s the pot. That’s how much Amazon wants to splash out this month. And the more pages are read in the month, the smaller any bit of the pie that you might get for your pages read becomes. It’s a zero-sum game for every KDP Select author participating in Kindle Unlimited.

Joe sez: No, it isn't zero sum. If someone reads a page of my book, you don't subtract from your total page reads, and it doesn't prevent you from getting a page read. That's what zero sum means.

Also, when we're talking about numbers this large, the million page reads you had in June don't really do much to affect the ten trillion page reads total.

Amazon's fluctuating pot is based on whatever data Amazon has gathered, coupled with their strategy to be the most customer-centric company on the planet. If this pot attracts authors, KU will continue to have a large number of titles. If it repels authors, they'll leave, which will foster competition.

It isn't in Amazon's best interest to piss off authors. And trying to be reasonable with authors is one of the things that lead them to change KDP terms to this new model.

Amazon's big. Really big. If they wanted to squeeze authors (say, like legacy publishers do) they could. Or they could try to, until authors went elsewhere.

Blaming Amazon for a subscription service, no matter how they run it, is silly. Amazon is not holding a gun to any reader’s head and demanding they join Prime. Amazon is making Prime attractive, because it suits Amazon’s bottom line. As more customers join Prime, more readers will borrow ebooks rather than buy them. This is where the tech and industry and world is headed. Physical ownership of media just isn’t en vogue anymore. It’s what readers want (whether they knew they wanted it or not.)

Writers will NEVER win by going against what readers want. Ask the Big 5 how that worked out for them.

Scalzi: Next month, who knows what the size of the pot will be? You don’t — only Amazon does. But whatever amount it is, it’s an amount designed to benefit Amazon, not the individual authors.

Joe sez: And cue the alarmist nonsense. Next up: At any moment an asteroid could strike the earth and we're all dead! For god's sake, think of the children!

Of course Amazon is going to do things that benefit Amazon. Exactly like Tor does things to benefit Tor. Which is why Tor, and all publishers, will eventually capitulate and become part of KU. Which will mean Tor authors will earn a heckuva smaller share of that Amazon pot because they signed away their rights forever in return for terrible royalties.

I recently blogged about the ownership of media, and how I foresee it going the way of the dodo.

Here's a thought experiment:

Imagine if, by pressing a button, you can have anything you want to eat, perfectly prepared and instantly delivered to you.

Think about what that means. No more buying groceries. No need for a refrigerator or freezer, or a pantry. No more cooking (hobbyists aside), so no need for anything related to food prep: stove, microwave, mixer, chef's knives, etc. The restaurant industry would suffer. Grocery stores would suffer. This one concept, food on demand, would have huge ramifications for huge numbers of people involved in the food/cooking supply chain.

But someone still needs to supply to food.

We are writers. We supply digital media. And subscription ebook services are equivalent to pressing a button and getting food on demand. This is the present, and the future, and it's only going to get bigger. When you can have access to all media, there is no need to own media. Subscription services will become dominant. They're doing it with TV and music. They're doing it with books.

It's going to get really disruptive in the next few years. But farmers would survive push-button food, and we'll survive subscription services. Because what we do is wanted, and things that are wanted ultimately have some monetary value. It may not be the way we're used to being compensated for our work, but we'll get paid.

Scalzi: This is a bad situation for the authors participating — bad enough that ultimately the minutiae of how the money is allocated is sort of aside the point, because the relevant point is: You will never make more for your work than Amazon wants you to make. And yes, just Amazon, as the work KDP Select authors put on Amazon are exclusive to Amazon.

Joe sez: This argument just doesn't hold together, for several reasons.

1. No one is putting a cap on the number of pages of mine that readers can read.

2. Amazon's pot isn't static, it fluctuates.

3. Voluntary participation means authors can opt out after 90 days and they still keep their rights (unlike a contract with, say, Tor).

4. If enough authors don't find Amazon's methods of compensation satisfactory, Amazon will have to offer more or risk losing authors and market share.

5. Readers want this.

6. How else is a subscription service supposed to compensate suppliers?

Scalzi: I’m not one of those people who believes Amazon is glowy-red-eye evil — I remind people again that I’ve rather happily had a fruitful relationship with its Audible subsidiary for a number of years — but Amazon is looking out for Amazon first, and when it does, it’s not an author’s friend.

Joe sez: Unlike all those other publishers, who are BFFs with authors...

Scalzi: There is no possible way in this or any other timeline that I would ever, as a writer, participate in the sort of scheme that Amazon runs with its KDP Select authors on Kindle Prime.

Joe sez: You'll wind up in it anyway, when Tor joins. Kids are learning to read on digital devices. Blu Ray and CD sections in stores continue to shrink. When everything is in the cloud for a monthly fee, why buy anything?

Scalzi: I don’t approve of putting a cap on my own earnings (particularly one I have no say on),

Joe sez: Says the guy who just signed a 13 book deal, amounting to $260k per book. That's not a cap? If you do earn out (which will require you selling a whole lot more books than I need to to make an equivalent amount) you're stuck with terrible royalties, forever.

I can opt out of KU. You can't opt out of your Tor deal without lawyers getting involved. Yet you want to preach about putting a cap on earnings? Really?

I understand hedging bets and job security. But you took a guaranteed pay day, giving up higher royalties for lower risk. If the books do well (and I wish you huge sales) in the long term you did indeed cap your earnings. You're limiting the amount you earn per book, and you have to sell many more books to earn the same amount you would have by self-publishing.

Scalzi: and I don’t approve of being in a situation where my success as an author comes by disadvantaging other authors, or vice versa.

Joe sez: It's a simple argument. Either ebooks aren't zero sum. Or all books have always been zero sum because there have always been a set amount of readers and books and money spent and time spent.

You seem stuck on this "pot" concept. Let's make up a figure and say the publishing industry grossed 10 billion dollars in 2014. Your books earned a percentage of that amount. They were competing with other books, fighting for a percentage of that amount. Like Amazon's pot, the money shared by all authors is announced after the period has ended.

The only big difference I can see is that Amazon amount fluctuates, and Amazon announces the amount and pays monthly, whereas the publishing industry seems unable to even send out an accurate or comprehensible royalty statement and you get paid a year after a sale.

The small difference I can see is Amazon sets the amount paid, as opposed to writers accepting what publishers call sales. But, really, in both cases readers are the ones who decide what they want to read, and there is no cap on that. They can read as much as they want to, and no one is stopping them. And Amazon seems willing to throw more money into the pot when more reads occur.

Scalzi: In the system in which I currently participate (i.e., the open market), there is no limit to the amount I can make, and no limit to what any other author can make. It’s a great system! I support it, and so should you.

Joe sez: Please propose a subscription system (which is something that readers want) that makes better sense than what Amazon is currently doing.

The open market system you endorse has barriers to entry, and many writers can't get in. Your open market system exploits authors with one-sided contracts and unconscionable terms, and up until recently authors had no choice but to accept it. Your open market system was never equal for all writers, with some getting all the coop and marketing dollars and widespread distribution and others getting buttkiss.

There is no cap to what an author can make in KU. Like any market, there is an amount of money that you get a piece of depending on how well you sell. It doesn't have to be that way with subscription supplier compensation, but Amazon's giving it a shot.

Scalzi: So, yeah: By page, or by percentage, KDP Select authors on Kindle Unlimited still can’t make more than Amazon says they can. That sucks, and that’s the long and short of it.

Joe sez: And no author can make more than readers will buy, or that the market will bear. Your point?

Here's a different, perhaps clearer, way to explain this.

In the old world, readers indirectly paid authors when they bought books.

With a subscription service, readers don't pay authors. They pay a subscription host--in this case Amazon. Any correlation between subscriptions fees and payout amounts is up to that host, who figures it out by weighing the data against making customers happy against making sure suppliers keep supplying.

In other words, the readers are no longer paying us.

Reread that and let it sink in.

Amazon has replaced the reader as the entity responsible for paying authors. Amazon pays a certain amount, just like the sum total of readers paid 10 billion dollars in 2014 in my example above. Yes, the reader amount can be traced to sales. But there are no sales in a subscription service. If not a pot, then what?

It appears you don't like the idea of being at Amazon's mercy. But you were always at someone's mercy; agents, publishers, book stores, critics, readers. The only thing that changed is who is paying you.

I can foresee a point where writers aren't paid by reads, they're paid for time periods. Which is how cable TV (and I believe Netflix) works. If a company wants to offer my ebooks to their subscribers, they'll pay me a set amount for three months, or a year, or five years.

Which, ironically, sounds like an advance that will never earn out. Except for a big difference: I get my rights back.

Smart Debut Author, in Hugh Howey's comments, said something about this KDP change worth repeating:

When something seems too good to be true, it usually is.

And for short fiction writers, that was definitely the case under KU 1.0’s broken-ass rules.

Because when you can write ten short stories in far less time than it takes to write a 750-page epic novel, while getting paid 10X as much for your efforts, there’s a word for that.

It’s called an arbitrage opportunity.

When arbitrage opportunities arise, if you’re nimble you can exploit them for short term gains. But never, ever bank your livelihood on them, because by definition, they are temporary — brief bubbles that never last.

Market forces will iron any arbitrage opportunity out, sooner or later. So you make hay while the sun shines, and prepare for rainy day.

I’m genuinely sorry for the writers whose livelihoods were impacted by this change. Having your income drop suddenly sucks, and I sympathize. But if you look on the bright side, the folks who you were effectively taking money away from — writers of longer fiction — are finally getting their fair share of the KU “pot.”

For a brief time you made far more money as a writer than you would have under an equitable system, while we made far less. We don’t begrudge you that.

So don’t begrudge us writers of longer fiction our fair share, either, now that your arbitrage bubble has burst.

Joe sez: Nicely put. I'll add that having a sense of entitlement is a bad thing.

Amazon doesn't owe anyone a living. And lamenting this situation doesn’t facilitate change. If you want to survive, adapt and innovate. Don't rely on anyone.

What Amazon has done, and continues to do, is give readers and authors a choice.

Choice is power. How you use that power is up to you. You can curse the rain. Or you can start selling umbrellas. 


Bob said...

I think the truth lies somewhere in the middle, as it usually does. In over a quarter century in publishing, I've yet to see any development that was all good or all bad. Everything is nuanced. I don't see Scalzi having a dog in this hunt, so his comments from the stands.

And from my own blog post on the subject,
trad authors should realize something:

And let’s point out another fact: In traditional publishing, an author receives a royalty on a paperback. Let’s say it’s priced at $6.99. The author gets a royalty usually from 8% to 10%. Let’s be generous and do 10%. So the author gets .70 per book sold. Let’s say the book is 400 pages long. The author gets a whopping .0017475 cents per page (Authors Guild, rise up!!!). Wait, let’s take out agent 15%. The author gets .0014853 cent per page. And that’s giving them credit for every single page. In fact, The Guardian, the same paper, doesn’t seem to read it’s own articles since it points out that The Goldfinch, the 37th bestselling ebook of the year for Kobo, was completed by just 44.4% of Kobo’s British readers.

JA Konrath said...

Good points as always, Bob.

Here are two things I forgot to add to the post.

1. A $6.99 paperback can be 60,000 words or 90,000 words, but under that legacy system the author gets the same royalty, either way.

2. Has short fiction ever paid well? Name some famous authors who only did short fiction and made big money.

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

Good post, as always, Joe. But I believe you made one error of fact. You say:

"Which means re-reading, a Choose Your Own Adventure, picture books, children's books, comic books, and anything readable on a Kindle, will result in read page counts for the author."

Amazon says that the author will be paid the first time a reader reads the book.This is consistent with how this worked in KU 1.0. If a reader borrowed and read past 10% the author got paid. If the same reader (actually, I think, the same or a different reader with a device on the same account) borrowed and read past 10% again, the author wouldn't get credit for another borrow.

This "the first time" phrase have some authors upset and worried. There are those who interpret it to mean that if a reader reads the first ten pages and falls asleep for the night that they won't get paid for anything beyond the first ten pages. That's obviously a ridiculous interpretation. But the children's books you mention which anyone who has had kids know tend to get re-read several times, will only get paid for the first time.

The choose your own adventure book is one that it isn't clear to me how they'll get paid. It depends on Amazon's algorithm. My guess is that these *might* have a tendency to inflated page counts because each decision is a couple sentences on a single page. (Some information seems to indicate that a KU page will be what displays on the Kindle screen with default display options.) But since a single read through will only traverse a small fraction of the total pages, the first read will be a small number relative to the whole. Unless Amazon is tracking every virtual page and giving credit the first time that page is read, the choose your own adventure book as well as reference type books might not be a good fit for KU.

Lucas Darr said...

If you go through Scalzi's older posts/comments where he mentions eBook pricing, at one point he just gives up and bans the discussion. He comes across as not understanding the Amazon ecosystem from a bottom up perspective at all, and thus, when he does write about eBook pricing, I think it''s either a fear response or trolling.

John Ellsworth said...

I don't consider myself a serious writer although my writing time and effort is serious. Rather, I consider myself an entertainer. As in all forms of entertainment, the better the show, the more the tickets cost. That's what KU2 is all about. If I can entertain you more than Jim entertains you, you will read more pages by me. That makes for a bigger show. Which costs more. Which means I earn more. If Jim doesn't like this arrangement he has a choice: he can learn to write in a way that is more entertaining than the way I write. In the doing, a piece of the entertainment culture is improved. What could be better?

JA Konrath said...

I think it''s either a fear response or trolling.

Or situational blindness.

When you're part of something, you tend to defend it and oppose forces that oppose it. After all, why be a part of something that isn't beneficial? So we reassure ourselves of the benefits, minimize the drawbacks, and attack the opposition. Human nature, nothing fearful or provocative. Just a lack of self-awareness that we all have on occasion.

JA Konrath said...

What could be better?

Agreed, John. It's better for readers, who get better books, and makes writers try harder.

The previous KU encouraged scammers. Rewarding short work that only needed to be read to 10% was just asking for someone to take advantage of it.

I'm not saying short stories suck. I've written more shorts than novels. And I'm not saying that everyone who wrote short stories was scamming. There was a loophole, and it was fine to exploit it. The loophole has been closed. So go write a great doorstopper novel.

Nirmala said...

I was intrigued by a comment over on the Passive Voice by someone with a programming background that suggested it is possible and even likely that Amazon intended KU to be a pay-per-page system from the start, but that it took them a year to write all of the code needed to make it possible for every Kindle device and app out there to gather and upload the data needed to make it work. The pay-per-borrow was likely a stopgap measure that they could implement much more quickly.

Another thought that came to me is that the folks who are writing short fiction should now consider putting their work into longer collections. It doesn't cahnge the payout if someone reads 200 pages of a collection of short stories or if they read 10 20 page short stories. But to read 10 separate short stories, the reader has to download each one to their reader. It seems that if someone has just read the first short story in a collection and liked it, it is a whole lot easier to turn the page and start the next story than to go back to Amazon and find and download another story by the same author.

Simon said...

But does cloud necessarily mean subscription? That is, is that where the technology wants us to go?

It doesn't seem inevitable for reading as a whole. For some subset of genres, or readers, subs will work. But there are other models too, with different balances between authors and readers.

For example the current one: cloud storage/ease of access for ownership. One can even imagine a Costco-like hybrid: membership fee to be shared among authors, discounted books. (This perhaps would be a solution to the problem Scribd had, how to capture avid readers without going bankrupt).

Maybe we're at the point where "one-size-fits-all" models for ebooks just don't work anymore. This may be what the current conflict between short story writers and novelists over the KU changes indicates. Does this cast further doubt on a cloud equals subs future for everyone? It may well.

Books are far more diverse than musical recordings or TV shows, for instance. Most pop songs fall close to a length of 3 minutes, and TV shows are mostly either 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 90 minutes long etc. For books, however, the variety is almost endless. Certain book genres that are more uniform, like music or TV, may be suited for subscription. But others?

We'll see what happens.

Alan Tucker said...

I wrote a blog post this morning comparing this new KU system to music streaming and they are remarkably similar in my view. If you think of a page as a song play from Spotify, and, if you like that song, you'll play it several times. Several pages of a book constitutes a chapter, or a short story. If the reader likes the story, they'll look for more, and continue reading the novel or seek out more stories.

What does Spotify pay per play? $0.006-0.008 according to their website. The per page guestimate right now is 0.0057. Look familiar?

Here's a link to my post if anyone's interested:

Unknown said...

One thing I noticed last night when I got home was that someone had read 624 pages of All The Gods Against Me, one of my novels in KU as we speak. I thought: Well that's cool. I had two people read All The Gods, and they made it all the way to the end. Not so. When I was on Kboards today, someone mentioned on the Promotion and Advertise button, your book pages according to the new KU page count is listed. All the Gods is a 624 page book, when in reality, it's only 330 or therabouts in print, even on the estimated pages on the books product page, it says 330. I looked through all my books and they are easily double the size according to the new KU page count. Not sure if that's a glitch, or if that's really how they're going to measure it. But that's still double the payout from what I expected.

Anonymous said...

As one of the "Choose Your Own Adventure" novelists in question, I thought I'd weigh in.

So far, I'm loving the new KU.

My "Click Your Poison" series is a collection of interactive books for a grown-up audience, and each book comes in at around 120k words. Rather heavy for self-published fare, but I feel like that's about as long as it takes for a satisfying narrative with multiple storylines to please an adult reader. It also takes me about a year to complete each title (so far I have 3), which feels like a lifetime in self-publishing.

Up until now, I've felt under-rewarded by KU, with the same payment for a borrow as a 10k word short story that was intentionally split up and serialized.

It's too early to say for sure, but it seems like I've been rewarded for my hefty tomes and their re-readability. No one knows what the payment will be for sure yet, but based on current estimates, my books are doing about 5x as well under the new KU as they did under the old.

But today is only day three, so we'll see.

Joanna Cabot said...

I just had my first KU borrow, I think. My dashboard is showing 199 pages read. So, I think one person borrowed my book and read the whole thing. Or it could be that 199 people borrowed it and each gave up after one page...

Anonymous said...


Are all of your books in KU? Just curious.

Brian Drake said...

I'm glad I didn't quit my day job.

JA Konrath said...

But does cloud necessarily mean subscription? That is, is that where the technology wants us to go?

There are two ways to monetize rentals. Subscriptions, or ads. Ads will be coming.

JA Konrath said...

Are all of your books in KU? Just curious.

Yes. I had trilogies that weren't in it because it didn't make sense under KU 1.0. Why get one payment for three full length novels? But now it makes sense.

Anonymous said...

Okay thanks. That gives me food for thought. I was thinking about putting some of my books into KU to see how it goes. I can always opt out after 90 days anyway, so why not try, eh?

Broken Yogi said...

Scalzi is at his weakest when he claims that Amazon puts a cap on what Authors can make. He's right in the limited sense that in a subscription service, there's a limit to the total pie in any given month, which would be "monthly fee times total subscribers". But there's no limit to the total number of subscribers. And there's no fixed monthly fee either. Amazon could raise it from 9.99 any time they like. Either or both of those things changing could change the total pie for author earnings. And of course, as Joe says, any individual author can get more and more page reads in proportion to how much he writes times how readable his books are.

The real facts of these subscription services is that they are losing money. Joe may be right in the long run that this is how ebooks will be sold someday, but it may not go that way soon. Oyster and Scrib are losing huge amounts of investor money every month trying to attract subscribers. Amazon is doubling, possibly tripling its total subscriber revenue in payouts to authors to do the same. So the real limit here is how much these subscription services are willing to lose in order to attract enough loyal subscribers to make the model work. And that means work not just for subscribers, but for authors too.

That's why Amazon changed the payout plan from their monthly fund to pages read. They want to attract authors with big names and that means the kind who write popular long-form novels for the most part. A lot of those guys pulled their books from KU because the payouts were too low. This should help raise their payouts, and maybe attract more of them into KU, and in the process, attract more subscribers. Will that work? I really don't know. I don't think anyone does. There's a distinct possibility that this whole scheme will just collapse within another year or two. How long do these services intend to keep losing money? If Scribd and Oyster went out of business, would Amazon keep subsidizing KU so generously? Probably not. Would authors stick around if they didn't? Maybe not. Not the better ones who can make more from sales than from borrows.

So I'm not sure that these subscription services are sustainable in the medium run. Even if Joe is right in the long run, that could be a ways in the future. Most readers aren't like TV watchers who sit down regularly every night to watch their shows. So I don't think the two markets are comparable as subscription media. Most readers only buy a few books a year. And as the move by Scribd (or was it Oyster) to drop most of their romance books (because romance readers read too many of them) shows, the subscription model may not work for heavy consumers of books (at least for publishers and writers). But I think it's too early to tell.

For now, it's basically a golden era for writers in subscription services cashing in on the speculations of the marketplace, with investors essentially overpaying all authors to try to gain a foothold. So instead of whining, authors should be celebrating and rubbing their hands together in glee.

Broken Yogi said...

"2. Has short fiction ever paid well? Name some famous authors who only did short fiction and made big money."

I think you'd have to go back to the pre-television days when there were thousands of magazines paying pulp writers by the word for short fiction. In those days, there were decent writers making a good living writing short stories. Of course most writers did both long and short form stories. But in some markets, and for some writers, short fiction probably out-earned long. That all ended once television came along.

Joe Flynn said...

I got clobbered by the old KU system so I left the first novels of my three series in KDP Select and removed the follow-up novels. With the new system, I put them back in. In the 2+ days since the program started, I've had a bit more than 14K page reads. Next week, I have a BookBub promo scheduled for the top seller in my biggest series. I'm looking forward to seeing what that will do to my KU numbers. Thing is, I won't know until the middle of next month if the outcome even approaches what I was doing before KU debuted.

I'm very grateful to Amazon for helping me to make quite a bit of money over the past few years, but I'd like to go back to being as grateful as I was in the first six months of last year.

William Ockham said...

I was gonna post a long comment explaining that readers use KU as a 'discovery' tool, but I have a long weekend and I want read some stories via my KU subscription. So I am going to hijack Joe's comment section and show instead of tell. After I post this comment, I am going to finish the KU ebook I'm currently reading (one of Bob Mayer's Area 51 NightStalkers books) and then I'm going to come back and check the comments. I would like the authors who have ebooks in KU to give me some recommendations. For every one of your own stories you mention, I would like you to recommend someone else's. I read pretty widely, but I especially like historical fiction, mystery, thrillers, and historical fantasy. I don't read much straight up romance or erotica, but I'm not averse to stories with those elements. The best thing about KU is I find new-to-me authors. Just last month, I read Colin Falconer's Istanbul and was blown away.

I will report back Sunday night on the stories I read. And yes, I know that this is a slow weekend for blog comments. I figure people hanging out here this weekend are serious (or desperate).

[Really hesitant to check that 'I am not a robot' box. Maybe I am and don't know it.]

Veronica said...

Great idea William.
I write non-fiction which wasn't on your list. However, this book is sort of a fiction/non-fiction hybrid that is popular with men. The Journey of Consciousness: A Warrior's Tale

I really enjoy Joseph Flynn's books. He has several series that intersect in fun ways. This was the first one I read and I think it's a great starting point.
The President's Henchman (Jim McGill series Book 1)

antares said...

My prediction:

Soon or late, the traditional publishing houses are going to want to join the subscription services, 'cause there is money there, and they want a piece of that pie. When they do join, some smart cookie in their legal department is gonna notice that these 'borrows' don't qualify for royalty disbursements 'cause they ain't sales. All the money from the subscription service will go to the house; none to the author.

Whom will Scalzi castigate when that happens? I'm bettin' he will still slam Amazon.

And dat's de name o' dat tune.

Unknown said...

Nice to have you back and active again, Joe. Interesting points. I don't see a problem with being paid per page. I do, however, find the reporting a little lacking so far. I'd still like to know how many of my books are being read in KU in addition to showing pages read as they do now. I'd also love to get a report from Amazon with a breakdown of where readers stopped reading my books. If I knew a significant number stopped in the same spot, I could go back and try and figure out why. This would be fantastic insight which could help us all create a better product.

William with all the great writers that regularly comment here, you're going to end up with quite a reading list. I'd be thrilled to have you try my book Going Under: A Bill Roberts Thriller.

I just finished a really good YA fiction called The Institute, by Kayla Howarth.

Terrence OBrien said...

KU is definitely not zero-sum because it doesn't meet the requirements of a zero-sum game. Lots of authors tell us it is zero-sum. Lots of authors are wrong.

In zero-sum, add positive winnings to negative losses. They must total zero.

In KU, nobody loses. Nobody takes money from their pocket and pays it into the game. Not winning $1 is very different from taking $1 out of your pocket and paying it into the game.

So, how could we easily change KU to make it zero-sum? Simple. Participating authors each pay $100 into the pot each month. Amazon contributes zero. Then the pot is distributed according to either Ku1.0 or KU2.0 rules.

You can't have a zero-sum game when a third party puts up all the money, and players put up nothing.

Harvey said...

Wow. When you go exclusive with Amazon, you're helping Amazon strongarm readers into buying Amazon's proprietary format, period. This isn't difficult to understand. In the end, Amazon is only one bookstore among dozens. I'm 100% in favor of electronic publishing, but 100% against going exclusive with anyone.

Evan Ronan said...

William - Wow, cool idea.

I co-author historical fiction. The first in our series is out now, Language of the Bear ( It's set in the days leading up to the French and Indian War.

As for other authors, I'd recommend ANYTHING by Adrian McKinty, an Irish crime novelist. He is criminally (pun intended) underread.

Iola said...

Have I missed something? Is there some law which says all books MUST be sold through Amazon? Be available on Kindle? Be part of KU?


Then these Chicken Little authors have nothing to worry about. If they don't like Amazon's policies ... don't sell through Amazon.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Alan Spade said...

I didn't want to go exclusive with Amazon before the changes on Kindle Unlimited and I still don't want to.

Maybe I'm wrong, but it seems to me that it's easier for authors who have previously been traditionaly published to go exclusive with Amazon. It looks like they are just replacing their old boss.

Except in this case, it's not only your rights that are at stake, but the availability of your books to the readers. The authors' choices shape the whole industry of ereading.

I can understand that for something like videogames, some developers may go exclusive for some projects.

But for something as universal than reading? Exclusivity seems evil to me. This is a thing Amazon won't be able to make me swallow.

But maybe that's just me.

Terrence OBrien said...

Wow. When you go exclusive with Amazon, you're helping Amazon strongarm readers into buying Amazon's proprietary format,

Consumers don't care. Activists do. Activists don't speak for consumers.

When authors go exclusive with Amazon they do it for themselves, regardless of what activists want them to do.

Broken Yogi said...

Going exclusive with Amazon is purely a business/marketing decision and each author has to decide for themselves whether it works for each of their books and when. It isn't "strong-arming" readers to buy into Amazon's format. It's taking advantage (or not) of Amazon's already huge number of loyal customers and the benefits they can get from tapping into that customer base. If it works for the author, go with it. If it doesn't, don't. Most authors experiment with it, use it sometimes, then drop it, depending on how it affects overall sales and income. No one gets strong-armed anywhere along the line. It's not a moral issue. It's a business decision.

Alan Spade said...

I don't see it that way, Broken Yogi. The more titles on a given platform, the more that platform becomes attractive for the readers.

So, yeah, by making your books exclusive to Amazon, you are effectively "strong-arming" readers to buy into Amazon's format.

With paper, what avid readers found annoying was not to be able to purchase some books because there were not available in their local bookstore. With eraeading that barrier could (and should, in my opinion) disappear.

Because of wrong business decisions, new, artificial hurdles are being made.

The thing is, most people are lazy. It's more convenient for them to buy directly from their reading device. Even if there are ways to bypass exclusivity (Calibre comes to mind), they'll just make the assessment that there are far less ebooks available from their Kobo than from their Kindle.

Even for the sake of product quality, it would be better that they purchase a Kindle rather than a Nook because the Kindle is a better product, and not because there are more titles on the Kindle platform.

So yeah, I'm an activist. I want Amazon to succeed for the good reasons, not the wrong ones.

Eden Sharp said...

That's a fantastic offer William, thank you.
I've written a crime thriller with a vigilante investigator called The Breaks.

I've just discovered Joshua Graham - Beyond Justice is a legal drama, and Darkroom is a thriller about a conspiracy stemming from the war in Vietnam.

Walter Knight said...

The real reason John Scalzi does not participate in KU is because of Amazon's exclusivity clause. Good for him to be able to sell E-books elsewhere (at Barnes and Noble). However, for most of us (me) Barnes and Noble doesn't do a good enough job of marketing, making the increased business gained from KU participation well worth it.

Broken Yogi said...

Alan, I don't think you understand what the phrase "strong-arming" means. It refers to forcing people to do something they don't want to do, by threats of violence or economic hardship. Amazon's customers, on to the contrary, use their site because they choose to, because they like it, because it serves them better than any other site. It has among the highest customer satisfaction ratings on the web. Any author who chooses to take advantage of that is doing themselves and Amazon's customers a service. That's not strong-arming.

Now, of course it does make Amazon even more attractive, if you give them an exclusive. But that happens all the time in business. When Martha Stuart does an exclusive deal with K-Mart, are they guilty of strong-arming their customers? When Michael Jordan does an exclusive deal with Nike, is that strong-arming? When James Paterson does an exclusive publishing deal with Hachette, are they guilty of strong-arming their readers? Or any other author who exclusively signs with a particular publisher? If so, then all of publishing is a big strong-arming operation.

Please, learn to use words correctly if you want to be a writer.

Alan Spade said...

"When James Paterson does an exclusive publishing deal with Hachette, are they guilty of strong-arming their readers? Or any other author who exclusively signs with a particular publisher? If so, then all of publishing is a big strong-arming operation."

Of course not, because the books remain available widely to the readers.

If the books of the published authors were available only on a given device, it would probably breach the contract of the given authors, because the books have to be widely available. It's one of the most basic thing publishers have to do, to the extent that, if the contracts are not unconscionable, there are reversion clauses attached to the availibility of the books.

So, exclusivity with one publisher is not to be confused with exclusivity of distribution (of e-distribution in our case).

When you attempt to make most independent works exclusive to your platform, you are in fact making competitors running low on fuel. It is, definitely, a coercive method. You cannot prove that all Amazon customers use Amazon "because they like it, because it serves them better." Maybe it serves them better because they find books there they don't find anywhere else. But why do they find books there they don't find anywhere else?

Smart Debut Author said...


Being widely read beats being widely available any day.

William Ockham said...

So, as promised, here's my weekend KU book report. Due to day job work commitments, I only read one of the recommended books all the way through (Silas Payton's Going Under) but I really enjoyed it. I tried some, but not all of the others and none of them clicked for me. But that is what I love about KU. I am out nothing but the time I invested.

When I buy an ebook and don't finish it, I feel like I have been defeated for one round in my never-ending quest for new stories to read. With KU, i just find a new ebook and return that one. Maybe I'm weird, but I know this: Getting new readers to try your stories is infinitely easier when they aren't shelling cash. Getting paid for stories that readers don't have to buy is a good deal.

Thanks to everyone who made suggestions. Just because I didn't like your story doesn't mean it sucks or that you are a failure. In fact, one the stories I didn't finish reminded me of Dan Brown. Obviously, lots of people like his stories, but he has some verbal tics that drive me crazy.

Broken Yogi said...

"When you attempt to make most independent works exclusive to your platform, you are in fact making competitors running low on fuel. It is, definitely, a coercive method."

And who is being coerced, and how?

Again, you seem not to know what words mean:

[koh-ur-shuh n]
1. the act of coercing; use of force or intimidation to obtain compliance.
2. force or the power to use force in gaining compliance, as by a government or police force.

What force is being applied when an author decides to go exclusive with Amazon? Is the author being forced to go exclusive, or are they choosing to do so because they think the benefits Amazon offers them in exchange are worth it? Are the readers being coerced to buy from Amazon, or are the multitudes of books available elsewhere? Are independently published ebooks really such a rare commodity these days that it matters if some of them are exclusive to Amazon? James Patterson's books are exclusive to Hachette, but not to Amazon.

Honestly, you are going to have to give up on using words like "strong-arming" and "coerced", if you want people to take you seriously. Amazon does not strong-arm anyone, nor do they coerce. They offer deals to both authors and readers that they are perfectly free to either accept or turn down. They have no monopoly on the overall book market. If some lower rung independent authors choose to publish exclusively on Amazon, that doesn't become either coercion or strong-arming in any sense of the word. You're using phony words like that because they make it sound like you have a good argument, when you don't. What Amazon has is an offer on the table that any author can take or refuse, without any fear or threat of retaliation. Tons of KDP authors don't go exclusive to Amazon, and they are in no way retaliated against. So where's the coercion? Unless you can give us some kind of persuasive evidence of real retaliation on Amazon's part for anyone turning down that exclusive deal, you really have no argument whatsoever. Give it up and admit you were just bullshitting.

The Black Cat said...

Several times you state as a fact that readers want a subscription service. I'm a reader. I'm a heavy reader as a matter of fact. I couldn't possibly be less interested in a subscription service. You might want to gone down the blanket statements.

Alan Spade said...

"Give it up and admit you were just bullshitting."

I won't, Broken Yogi. My argument is supported by simple logic. No authors are coerced by Amazon to opt in Kindle Unlimited. But a multitude of books may not be found elsewhere than on Amazon.

Check the numbers out in this blog post:

There is a huge number of titles in Kindle Unlimited, and it's growing.

When you leave no other chance to a given reader to find a book but in a single platform, it is akin, in my book, to coercion. Passive coercion, if you want.

If the only restaurants were you would be able to find french fries were the Mac Donald ones, even if active force weren't used against you, your freedom of eating french fries wherever you want would be hindered.

And again, you are confusing a deal with a publisher (James Patterson and Hachette) and a deal with a distributor.

You would have a better argument if you said that even Amazon can't do anything against piracy, and if one day, all the best-selling ebooks are sold exclusively on the Amazon website, people would always have the ultimate recourse to download the ebooks illegaly in order for them not to feel coerced.

Because of that, I prefer the new world over the ancient one, where it was harder for the authors to bypass the physical distribution system. There's more freedom with digital goods.

Still, what is happening today is worrying. Amazon, in my opinion, had better not to be too successful in its strategy toward ebooks, because if competition is effectively strangled, there will be a point where antitrust laws will have to be applied.

William Ockham said...


Your argument would be more convincing if readers were tied to a particular platform. They are not. There's nothing stopping readers from buying from multiple ebook platforms.

Alan Spade said...

Except for the one million books that they can't find anywhere else than on Amazon.

For the moment, the traditionally published books make up for the difference. But it's like the sand of an egg timer: what if all the authors became hybrid or indies?

I would be curious, too, to know how many ebooks are purchased directly from the reading device. That could be an accelerating factor for the Amazon domination if people purchased mostly on their reading device, because of the more limited choice on the other platforms.

JA Konrath said...

I couldn't possibly be less interested in a subscription service.

I may blog about this topic.

Nirmala said...

I agree with Broken Yogi that strong arming or coercion are not applicable. Clearly Amazon is always trying to manipulate their customers into buying more, but so is most every other business on the planet. His metaphor of Martha Stewart signing an exclusive deal with K-Mart is apropos. French fires at McDonalds is not a good meatphor. However, you can only buy a Big Mac, Chicken McNugget or Egg McMuffin at McDonalds, so they do try to offer exclusive content just like Amazon. I do not feel that my freedom to eat a Big Mac is restricted because I can' order one at Wendy's. They would not be able to get a trademark for "French Fries", but they are still happy to sell them just like Amazon is still happy to sell the books (and shoes and TVs and everything else) that you can still buy somewhere else.

Personally, I do not like that Amazon requires exclusivity to be a part of Select. But I do not think it involves coercion, and so my wife and I have some books in KU and some that are available widely. And I shop at Amazon and at other stores.

Nirmala said...

I meant to say "can't buy one at Wendys."

Nirmala said...

I would tend to point the finger more at the other ebookstores. Why don't they seem to even really be trying to compete with Amazon? Why doesn't iBooks try and get more exclusive content, or do something else to make their service better than Amazon's? There is nothing stopping them from doing what Amazon does, only better.

Nirmala said...

And why can't I read an ebook from iBooks on my Windows computer or Android tablet? That just seems like stupidity instead of exclusivity.

Alan Spade said...

About MacDonald: replace "french fries" by "potatoes", and there you are. If you were forced to eat your potatoes only at Mc Donalds because the company had made a Golden Deal to all the farmers in the US involving exclusivity for potatoes, you would surely feel the weight of that deal ^^.

About Apple, which is probably the company who should have the power and experience to compete with Amazon: they totally lacked vision about ebooks and eInk. Steve Jobs didn't believe in the future of books and reading. The company's heart is not at ebooks, and it shows.

We have to remember, as authors, how hard it was, and is, to place our books in bookstores. All the hurdles to jump, and the major difficulty of keeping our books in said bookstores for more than a few weeks.

Now, imagine an ebook startup company. The high investments required by a technological product and a website, the risks taken, the fragility. Imagine that company facing the daunting prospect to be able to sell just half the ebooks their main competitor, Amazon, offers. That's a real barrier to entering the market and competing, and this barrier may become bigger and bigger in the future.

We indie authors are enjoying the benefit of a free market. Maybe we would be wise to keep that market free.

Broken Yogi said...


You don't have a logical argument. You are just clinging to exaggeration, flame-throwing, and fake charges to distract from the simple fact that Amazon isn't doing anything unethical or wrong in trying to attract authors to sell their product through them and for readers to buy from them.

There's no such thing as "passive coercion". You can't make passive threats to use force to get someone to do something they don't want to do. The word you are looking for is "making a deal". Business people make deals all the time. There's almost no retail product out there that is available to all outlets everywhere. In retail, it's commonplace for suppliers to make exclusive deals. It's only coercion if there is force or threats involved, or a monopoly in place. None of that is going on.

It's certainly true that KDP authors who choose Select have to go exclusive with Amazon. But only for three months. At that end of that period they can sell through anyone they like if they weren't happy with Amazon. Since so many do stay with Amazon, that must mean they like it there. Or they just don't care enough to be bothered. You have to remember, most of those books hardly sell anyway. They are mostly not high demand items that people are craving universal availability for. Most of the self-published work that falls into that category doesn't go exclusive. And there's no threats or coercion from Amazon to make them do that.

If an author chooses to go exclusive, and you as a reader don't like that, here's what you do: complain to the author. Don't blame Amazon, or claim that you're the victim of some coercion scheme. It's the author who chooses to go exclusive. Amazon doesn't force them to. Amazon just gives them that option, because they think it's a good deal for both of them.

Same with James Patterson (I notice how you focus on that comparison of mine rather than any of the others, which are more applicable, because they make you look really bad). If I don't like Hachette, or Frenchie companies altogether for some odd reason, I have no choice but to enrich their company if I want to buy a James Patterson book. Is that coercion? By your standards, yes it is. Well, even if that's so, it's not Hachette's fault. It's James Patterson fault for choosing to work with such a despicable company, and I should complain to him. Not whine about coercion and strong-arm tactics that my favorite author isn't available except through the enrichment of a company I despise.

And that is indeed what you're really saying about Amazon. Some people don't want to buy from Amazon, and they resent that some authors are exclusive to Amazon. It's not because there's somehow some weird barrier to buying that author's books at Amazon. It's universally available everywhere there's internet. And it's not like Amazon's prices for Select books are artificially high. So the only objection a reader might have is that they don't want to do business with Amazon. Just as I might not want to do business with Hachette. And in that case, we both have to make a compromise. I know! How frigging terrible that is! It's criminal coercion!

And if Amazon were the only place we could buy books, of course that would be a serious problem. But it's not even remotely the case. It's true, as Nirmala points out, that you can only buy a Big Mac at a McDonalds. But you can buy cheesburgers everywhere, and most of them of a lot better quality. Same with Select and their books. I'm not going to suggest they're a tsunami of shite, but I wouldn't say they're of the highest quality either, or that you can't get equal or better books elsewhere.

If Amazon ever does cross into actual monopoly territory, I'd support a prosecution of them in a heartbeat. But offering exclusive author deals through Select isn't even remotely close to that.

Alan Spade said...

You're very clever at distorting my words, Broken Yogi.

I will agree to one thing with you: we are not yet in monopoly territory. One million ebooks exclusive to Amazon is one third of the total. But watch as that number increases.

And, for the record, I strongly disagree that Amazon "isn't doing anything unethical or wrong" by offering exclusivity distribution deals to the authors. "Business" seems to be a magical word offering a perfect defense in your mouth. The same word was used by the big publishers to cover their shady practices.

Nirmala said...


Like I said, I do not like that Amazon requires exclusivity. But still the Big Mac metaphor is more apropos. The potato metaphor is more like claiming that Amazon is making the bits or even the words used to form an ebook exclusive. A potato, hamburger meat, a word and a computer bit are all raw materials. A big Mac is a proprietary recipe made up of raw materials. Any other restaurant can use those same raw materials to make a cheeseburger as Broken Yogi suggests.

Any author can use the words in your books to write a different book, but once it is in the form of a book which is a proprietary product, then the author negotiates the best deal they can for distribution, and often that does involve exclusivity of varying degrees. That Amazon can get authors to agree is a testament to their successful business strategies and not due to overt coercion. And they pay a price also for that strategy as most other bookstores refuse to carry the titles from Amazon's own imprints.

I also wish other ebookstores were doing such a bang-up job that almost no one would consider going exclusive with Amazon. I hope that happens, and sooner rather than later.

My approach in the meantime is to put some of my wife, Gina Lake's, and my ebooks in Select and some of them in all ebookstores. With 30 books between us, we can have a strong presence on KU and still be very visible on other stores.

Alan Spade said...


I didn't say that Amazon was using coercion against authors. They are using authors to drive competitors out of business.

Using the Big Mac metaphor rather than the potatoe one displaces the debate. My point is really simple: potatoes equate books. The more farmers you convince to be distributed exclusively on Mc Donalds, the more potatoes you are controling. Once you control all the potatoes, the competitors are mechanically out of business.

It's as simple as that.

Well, I realize that Amazon won't be able to get exclusivity deals with all authors and all books. So yes, for the purpose of the metaphor, I do use exaggeration. The publishers, for instance, are not submitted to exclusivity when dealing with Amazon. But Amazon will be able to acquire a critical mass that will hurt automatically the competition, just by keeping the deals as they are.

Unknown said...

William Ockham. Thank you very much. If you'd be so kind as to leave a review, it would be much appreciated, but you've already made my day either way.


Broken Yogi said...

Alan, how have I distorted your words? You're the one distorting the use of words, by saying that Amazon is strong-arming and coercing authors to participate in Select and readers to buy from select.

And one million ebooks in Select does not equal one-third of the market in books. It's actually a pretty tiny percentage of total trade book sales. Not sure of the exact number, but total self-published books are about a $500-600 million a year market. Select is definitely less than half of that, probably less than a quarter, maybe as low as ten percent. Not really sure. Since the total trade market in books is about 15 billion, Select exclusives probably amount to less than 5 percent. That's hardly anywhere near to a monopoly, or even a threat to reader choice. And it's not about to put anyone out of business. Who exactly is Select actually threatening? I want names.

Alan Spade said...

"You're the one distorting the use of words, by saying that Amazon is strong-arming and coercing authors to participate in Select and readers to buy from select".

That's wrong. I've never said that. You've just proven my point that you are distorting my words and putting words into my mouth. I reapeat: authors are not being coerced to participate in Select. Enticed if you will but not coerced. And they have the choice. I didn't ever said otherwise. It's the readers who are slowly cornered into buying only on Amazon.

And, for the record, you were the first to use the word "strong-armed".

"Select is definitely less than half of that, probably less than a quarter, maybe as low as ten percent."

10% is really a huge, huge guess. Especially because ebooks on Select are made more visible than the others because, even if an ebook downloaded via KU is not read, the download helps the ebook to improve its rank.

Select is threatening free market over ebooks. So, businesses who sell ereading devices and ebooks on their websites are the first to be threatened.

You have to think in terms of potential. Self-pubbed ebooks have the potential to become best-sellers, especially if they are helped by the very platform that sells them.

Once enough exclusive books have found their public, you have succeeded in tying said public to that platform.

Anonymous said...

Sorry yogi, Alan is right. You now have to be part of ku for amazon to let you play. This is just another royalties downgrade. Where print has ion general kept the same rates, amazon, over maybe ten years has dropped their rates significantly. Something most amazon cheerleaders said would never happen, could never happen. They are strong arming authors when they insist on ku involvement for a quarter of a year, when they insist on authors being paid if a book is read a certain way. They've cut their royalties in half twice before and ku is just another tool designed to pay creators less. And by the way, the ku pot, as we all know doesn't vary much whether they sell one million books or 100 million. Ask anyone, the percentage may be lower (for now), but when the bookstore sells your book, you get paid for your efforts. Same with music and video from a store. Nobody has ever asked me how much of my coffee I'm going to drink in order to pay their supplier less

Broken Yogi said...


"That's wrong. I've never said that. You've just proven my point that you are distorting my words and putting words into my mouth."

I'm amazed at your ability to pretend you didn't say what you said:

"So, yeah, by making your books exclusive to Amazon, you are effectively "strong-arming" readers to buy into Amazon's format."

"When you attempt to make most independent works exclusive to your platform, you are in fact making competitors running low on fuel. It is, definitely, a coercive method."

So, how exactly am I distorting you words when you clearly did say that Amazon is both practicing strong-arm methods and coercing people? Did you forget what you actually said, or are you just being blatantly disingenuous? I really can't tell anymore.

Now, looking back at your posts, there's at least this bit that gets the wording right:

"I don't see it that way, Broken Yogi. The more titles on a given platform, the more that platform becomes attractive for the readers."

That's exactly what Amazon is doing. They are making their platform more attractive for readers. That's not strong-arming or coercion. That's simply doing a better job of attracting readers. But how you go from "attracting readers" to "strong-arming" and "coercion" is simply beyond me. They are opposite in meaning.

"10% is really a huge, huge guess. Especially because ebooks on Select are made more visible than the others because, even if an ebook downloaded via KU is not read, the download helps the ebook to improve its rank."

Like I say, I don't know the exact number, but estimating Select as encompassing even 10% of the trade publishing market is absurdly high. The visibility of ebooks on Select doesn't translate into huge sales overall. Sure, for self-publishers it's great, especially because they get such high royalties, but it's still a small part of the overall publishing market. It's even a small part of the self-publishing market, because a lot of the decently selling self-publishers don't go exclusive with Amazon. So a lot of that is just the bottom of the sales barrel. It would be interesting to know if the AE reports can differentiate between Select and non-Select KDP authors.

"Select is threatening free market over ebooks."

That is also absurd. Select is part of the free market in ebooks. Authors freely choose to select Select, and readers freely choose to buy from it. They are both free not to participate in Select or buy its books. They are free to sign up for KU or not. Amazon tries to make it more attractive by offering some benefits to authors, and exclusives to readers, but that too is part of their economic freedom.

Broken Yogi said...

"So, businesses who sell ereading devices and ebooks on their websites are the first to be threatened."

No one is being threatened. Barnes and Noble doesn't allow books sold at their site to be downloaded on a Kindle. Same as Amazon doesn't allow their ebooks to be downloaded on a Nook. That's competition. But both allow non-proprietary devices to download any of their ebooks. And of course, anyone with a minimal knowledge of how to do conversions can override that anyway for non-DRM purchases. And it's the publishers who insist on DRM, not Amazon.

If someone feels "threatened" by a more attractive business operation than the one they have, that's an entirely different matter than "coercion" or "strong-arming". Pretty girls walking down the street aren't threatening the less pretty girls. It would take a very paranoid person to imagine that's the case.

And of course self-pubbed books have the potential to be best-sellers. That's why many initially put them into Select, to get more exposure for unknown authors. But because Select only involves a three month commitment, almost as soon as they do become best-sellers the authors can take them out of Select. And Amazon doesn't retaliate or threaten them for doing that. They'll even continue to promote the book, because they make money off of those sales. So it's an extremely weak form of "exclusiveness". It's not like signing your rights over to a traditional publisher which then has an exclusive on them for the rest of your life plus 75 years. You can take them out, put them back in, take them out again, put them back in, for as long as you like. For as long as the author sees a benefit in it. For as long as that author thinks it's worth the trade-offs. And when they think that's changed, they can change it too. No coercion involved.

Broken Yogi said...


"Sorry yogi, Alan is right. You now have to be part of ku for amazon to let you play."

That was never the subject of my disagreement with Alan, so I don't see how it would make him "right".

And you don't have to be a part of KU to publish your self-pubbed books on KDP. Only if you decide to go exclusive on Select does that become a part of the package. A whole lot of KDP authors do not go Select, and are not a part of KU. Especially the better selling authors. That's one of the reasons KU changed their payment plan - to attract more KDP long-form high-selling authors to became a part of the Select-KU package.

"Where print has ion general kept the same rates, amazon, over maybe ten years has dropped their rates significantly."

That's just plain false. In the first place, KDP hasn't even been in existence for ten years. Second, their author royalties have gotten better, not worse. KU is a subscription service, and it doesn't pay royalties, because it doesn't sell books. It lets its subscribers borrow them. Depending on the work in question, it can pay better or worse for that work. For many short books, KU actually paid better than a sale. That's why KU changed the formula. It didn't lower the overall payout to authors, it merely changed the method for dividing up that pile of cash, which is larger than the actual income KU gets from subscribers. Some authors get more, some get less, but overall, it stays the same. And it's not required for any KDP author to be a part of that. It's part of Select, not KDP itself.

"They've cut their royalties in half twice before and ku is just another tool designed to pay creators less."

When did KDP cut royalties? Please, don't just make stuff up.

Amazon didn't come up with the idea of a book subscription service. Oyster and Scribd did that. Amazon came late to the came to stay competitive. No author has to be a part of KU. If it pays poorly, authors don't have to participate in it. Many opt out for that very reason. The short-form writers who are screaming about the changes are doing so because they were making a ton of easy money off KU 1.0. But at the expense of other authors who felt short-changed and took their books out.

Also, readers are not being forced into KU and only being allowed to borrow the books. They can still purchase them outright on Amazon, and own them forever. They can buy print versions of most KDP books also, if the authors have set it up with Createspace or other PoD services.

"And by the way, the ku pot, as we all know doesn't vary much whether they sell one million books or 100 million."

That's all wrong also. First, KU doesn't sell books. It lets subscribers borrow them. The pot is proportional to the number of subscribers and the monthly fees. So the more subscribers, the bigger the pot. That pot has been going up every month since KU began. Amazon actually subsidized the size of the pot with their own cash to make it more attractive. Amazon is losing a lot of money doing that, because they feel they need to compete with Oyster and Squibd. And they hope the whole thing catches on in the long term. Whether it does or not is anybody's guess. Right now it's a pretty small part of the overall market.

Alan Spade said...

"I'm amazed at your ability to pretend you didn't say what you said:

"So, yeah, by making your books exclusive to Amazon, you are effectively "strong-arming" readers to buy into Amazon's format."

"When you attempt to make most independent works exclusive to your platform, you are in fact making competitors running low on fuel. It is, definitely, a coercive method."

So, how exactly am I distorting you words when you clearly did say that Amazon is both practicing strong-arm methods and coercing people? Did you forget what you actually said, or are you just being blatantly disingenuous? I really can't tell anymore."

Coercing competitors, Broken Yogi. I never said that Amazon was coercing authors. That was my point.

"They are making their platform more attractive for readers." Yes. That's the soft method to entice readers to go there. But there are many strategies that take place in the same time. One of them is to deprive readers of their favorite books if they don't go on Amazon.

An example? Hugh Howey just made his novels exclusive to Amazon through Select. He was not coerced by Amazon to do so. He did it voluntarily. But now, the readers who want to legally buy his books are forced to buy through Amazon. They have no choice any longer.

If they don't know about Calibre, maybe they will find their Nook is useless if too many of their favourite authors become exclusive. They'll buy a Kindle.

The 90 days of exclusivity? They are automatically renewable. And when you get your fix of sales through Amazon, there's a good chance that you will become economically dependant and stay there.

Maybe you are right and those one million ebooks exclusive to Amazon amounts just to 10% in gross sales. We know that publishing is dominated by a handful of authors who sell millions of books.

But look at author earnings, and the rapidly changing landscape of publishing in just a few years. KU has two years, and already 1 million ebooks exclusive! And the program is now more attractive than ever to authors.

Ask Joe: he predicted one Big 5 would go through KU by 2017. He probably won't be exclusive to Amazon, but it will attract more and more independant authors to KU.

There's also Amazon own imprints. They are benefitting from huge competitive advantages on Amazon over all the others, Big 5 included. And the books of the Amazon imprints are not distributed to other platforms! Which is scandalous, and shows Amazon wants to be the one and only retailer and ebook provider.

They don't play the game by the rules. There are not a monopoly, but their strategy is a monopolistic one.

So, the situation I'm describing, where it's impossible to compete for another website may not be for today. It will, though, surely come tomorrow. You can expect that more and more great ebooks are going to become exclusive. Wool today, others tomorrow.

Reading shouldn't be exclusive. For some people, it is akin to breathing. Exclusivity is evil.

Broken Yogi said...

"Coercing competitors, Broken Yogi. I never said that Amazon was coercing authors. That was my point"

Coercing competitors? How does that even make sense?

Okay, so Hugh makes his books exclusive to Amazon. How does that "force" readers to do anything they didn't already want to do? They can still buy his books same as before. Sure, they have to go to Amazon to buy them, but what difference does that make? Seriously. Amazon is open to anyone with a credit card. They can still choose to buy Hugh's books, or not, at the same price even. Plus, you can still buy Hugh's books in print anywhere you want.

And of course Amazon wants people to buy Kindles. Or at least use Kindle-For-PC-or whatever device you like. They are trying to attract customers. Just like K-Mart tries to attract customers through their exclusive deal with Martha Stuart. Or Nike with Michael Jordan. And so on. Customers can still buy all those products just the same. It just encourages people to buy through those brands and outlets.

And oh my, that 90 day commitment is renewable! And automatically, unless you intentionally opt out. Like that's a strong-arm tactic. And authors might actually make so much money that way that they stay with it. Addicted to higher income. What a terrible fate!

Jeez, you really have nothing to back up any of your claims.

And yes, Amazon does benefit from the programs Amazon operates. What do you think they are, a charitable operation? They are certainly trying to attract authors and publishers to their KU-Select program. That's why they are throwing so much money at it. Hugh thinks they will keep doing that for a long time. Is that really a terrible thing?

Hugh I'm sure made his decision because he thinks it will benefit him. You know how to compete with that? Offer him a better deal elsewhere. That's what a free market means.

"Reading shouldn't be exclusive. For some people, it is akin to breathing. Exclusivity is evil"

This doesn't make reading exclusive. It makes selling Hugh's books exclusive to Amazon. Not to readers, however. They can read the same as before.

Exclusivity is not evil. It's the very heart of competition. It's the heart of copyright. You can't buy Hugh's books without his permission because he owns the exclusive copyright to those books. He can make whatever deal he likes to make the most money he can selling those books to readers. Like every other author out there. If he wants to make an exclusive deal with Amazon, and you don't like that, don't buy his books. Tell him it's evil for him to do that. I'm not sure what your argument would be, but tell him, and I'm sure he'll get a good laugh out of it. He could use a good laugh these days what with all the crap people are giving him.

Broken Yogi said...

"There's also Amazon own imprints. They are benefitting from huge competitive advantages on Amazon over all the others, Big 5 included. And the books of the Amazon imprints are not distributed to other platforms! Which is scandalous, and shows Amazon wants to be the one and only retailer and ebook provider. "

Almost missed this bit of hilarity.

You do realize that Amazon's imprints want to sell their books through bookstores and other services like B&N, but they are being boycotted by them? They aren't exclusive by choice. Not that it would be wrong for them to choose that, but when they don't want exclusivity, bookstores are actually forcing it on them. Is that evil? Of course Amazon promotes them. Why on earth would they not? They absolutely have to, just to make up for the disadvantage of their competitors refusing to carry their books.

Alan Spade said...

"Coercing competitors? How does that even make sense?"

By preventing them to compete, Broken Yogi. When you don't have access to ebooks, you cannot compete.

There are exclusive deals in the business world, yes. But exclusive deals on a massive scale are effectively distorting competition. You seem to be completely blind to that point. It's a factual thing. Another factual thing is that by preventing people to get their ebooks on the website of their choice, Amazon (with the complicity of the authors involved) limits their freedom.

"You do realize that Amazon's imprints want to sell their books through bookstores and other services like B&N, but they are being boycotted by them?"

Yes but Kobo, for example don't have bookstores. Why Amazon imprints ebooks aren't distributed on Kobo? Or on Apple? A publisher's duty is to make the ebooks and books available everywhere.

I have a very very hard time convincing you, Broken Yogi. You seem to be completely blindfolded. Yet my points are reasonable and logic.

Broken Yogi said...

Alan, that's just nuts. Amazon is competing with its competitors by offering better deals to its suppliers than they do. If K-Mart offers Martha Stewart a better deal than Home Depot or Walmart, that because there's competition for her product line. If Amazon offers self-pubbers a better deal than Apple or B&N or Kobo, that's competition at work. It gets the supplier a better price than they would otherwise. If Scribd offers conventional publishers more than KU does, they get more conventionally published books in their service. All the suppliers benefit from that competition. And readers benefit because it puts more money on the table to motivate authors and publishers to produce more and better books.

I don't know what Kobo's policies are. But I do know that Amazon is happy to distribute its books to anyone who wants to buy them. I would assume that Kobo doesn't want to carry Amazon imprints. I could be wrong, however. In any case, whatever their policy is, you are dead wrong that the publisher has a duty to make its books available everywhere. It doesn't. It has a duty to make itself and its authors the most money it can, given the marketplace. There are many strategies for doing that. As with Martha Stewart, sometimes the best strategy is to restrict the number of outlets that carry your product and sell it only where you get the best deals. Amazon and its imprints are pursuing a strategy that they think works best for them, and for the kind of authors who want to publish on those imprints. No author is forced to publish through Amazon's imprints if they don't want to, if that doesn't work for them. They can go through the Big Five if they like, and then be dependent on their marketing and distribution plans. Or a smaller publisher. Or KDP. Or whatever they like. There are many, many options for authors. Not all of them work, and certainly not all of them are the same.

Alan Spade said...

Broken Yogi, I think we'll have to agree to disagree.

Competition is healthy as long as the competitors don't try to put their competitors out of business by any means.

I acknowledge that Amazon's competitors are lightyears behind. It's that gap that is so hard to cross, and it's not by depriving these competitors of whole segments of the market (like half of the indie authors) that we are going to make them more competitive.

I talked to Hugh Howey. He's very transparent with his approach and he does great services to us indie authors. I congratulated him for resisting for so long KU, because I know the financial pressure it used to put over his shoulders to stay aside.

Yet I don't think the electroshock he gives Amazon's competitors will be enough for them to wake up, to innovate and compete. The market is too unbalanced. I wish competitors like Apple would be able to, but it's just wishful thinking.

I'm sure the loss of balance will accelerate, and at one point, government regulation will be needed. Amazon's strategy is a winning one, and KU has never been so attractive to authors.

Broken Yogi said...

Amazon is not trying to push competitors out of business by any means. They are trying to attract customers through legitimate means that attracts them. They aren't using coercion or force or strong-arm tactics. There's examples in business of that actually happening, and it should be condemned. But cheapening that criticism by applying it to Amazon, who isn't doing that at all, is simply disingenuous and dishonest.

KU is a tiny fraction of the publishing market. That market isn't measured in titles, but in sales and author earnings. Most of the titles in KU are the work of hobbists, not authors who are seriously trying to make a living at it. I applaud and encourage hobbyists to give it a try, and you never know. Amateurs make the leap to professionals all the time. But having lots of hobbyists in KU is not a threat to anyone. Why we would need government regulation to ensure that Amazon doesn't corner the market on hobbyist writers is beyond me. If they ever became actual publishing monopolists in terms of dollar sales, that's a different story. But that's not what KU is even remotely on the verge of doing, unless you indulge in the wildest kind of paranoid speculation.

KU is certainly attractive to a certain kind of reader. That's a good thing for readers and authors. Is it a winning strategy? That depends on what their goals are. If it's to make a lot of money from KU, it's a terrible strategy. They are losing boatloads on KU, and I'm not sure I see a way for them to ever make a profit from it. But if the strategy is to fend off the threats of Squibd and Oyster, or to entice people to buy Kindles and become regular customers of Amazon's entire website, then maybe it works out okay, even if it loses money forever.

You have to remember that Amazon's overall strategy isn't about becoming publishing monopolists. Publishing sales are now a small percentage of Amazon's business. You've got it all backwards. Bezos didn't start the company because he wanted to be the dominant force in publishing. He wanted to be the dominant force in publishing because people who buy books are the kind of smart, upscale, tech-savvy customers he wants to attract to his website, and then sell them all kinds of crap that makes his company a ton of money. Books can be a loss leader as far as he is concerned.

That's a great thing for authors and readers. It means that Amazon can throw a ton of extra cash to KU authors that isn't being paid for by subscriber fees. It means KU authors can get paid way above and beyond what their readers are being charged. And KU readers can have titles available to them they wouldn't be able to borrow otherwise. That certainly is hard for other subscription services to compete against. But it's still not necessarily enough for authors to go exclusive with KU. Publishers don't have to, so it's never going to monopolize publishing itself. KDP authors have been experimenting with it to see what works best. Hugh didn't like KU at first. Now he's giving it a second chance. Others are doing the same. But plenty of people are now dropping out of KU because the new payout system doesn't work for them. KU can't please everyone.

Now, I wish KDP authors didn't have to go exclusive to be in Select/KU. But I also want a pony for my birthday, and for some reason it never comes. Pony or not, self-pubbers still have the choice to not go that route, but their options aren't as attractive as it is for regular publishers, who can do both if they like Amazon's terms. But self-pubbers are the least powerful authors out there, and these are the options. A smart writer will experiment and find out what works best for them. If they become powerful enough, self-pubbers may even be able to demand non-exclusivity themselves.