Authors Complain About Amazon Kindle Unlimited Service


Authors are complaining that the new ‘all you can eat’ service that people can subscribe to for $9.99 a month, gaining access to over 700,000 books on your Kindle device or app according to this article in the NY Times. Kindle

I think the article is very thorough and recommend it if you are interested in ePublishing, an author or just interested in changing business models.

Buying a HouseI’m a Kindle author myself and have also written White Papers and articles about eBooks for many years. I therefore have an interest except that I am more interested in people benefiting from my knowledge than making money out of it. My most recent book is about the use of Location Based Services in Buying a House.

There are a lot of changes in the way people are writing and publishing. Some people are churning out series of books, targeting a youth audience around SciFi, Zombies and Vampires and doing formula writing. They put a lot of energy into the first book, which is often given away for free, finishing like a TV series with a cliff hanger at the end. If you liked the story, you will possibly pay for ongoing series.

Kindle also offers the ability to make offers like Countdown Deals where you can run promotional deals. I’m running one for a week on the above book starting on 30 December when you can buy it for only $0.99, it then goes up by a dollar a day back to full price on the 6th of January 2015. You might like to grab a copy for yourself or someone you know who is thinking about buying a house in the near future. It could save them hundreds of thousands of dollars or a lot of grief.

Anyway, the reason for this blog was to get people thinking about how they market their books and themselves and how they make money. The article compared the royalties from the Kindle all you can eat service to music services like Spotify (which I also subscribe to) and the fact that the songwriters and artists get minute royalties from these services. I doubt that authors get much from libraries either. I didn’t. I listen to eBooks from my local library whenever I’m in the car alone, many are best sellers and I enjoy them for free.

Smart bands and gigging artists today use any tools they can to get their music heard, whether its downloads, radio, streaming, services like Spotify, iTunes, CD’s or whatever method so that their music gets heard. They build up a fan base. The real money comes from selling merchandise and from live performances. Look at the money even old bands like the Eagles or the Rolling Stones can make from concerts. It’s BIG money!

There are some smart writers like Scott Sigler who exemplify how this is done. He is on every social media you can think of. He does book signings, you can order autographed copies of books. He has merch including shirts, hats, artwork in an online shop. He offers his books for free in episodes as podcasts and hopes that if you enjoy them, you will buy the audio book so that you don’t have to wait a week for the next episode. He goes to conventions, networks and engages with his readers. Despite giving away product, he is a New York Times best seller. He understands that he is competing on a world market and it is not just a matter of write it and they will buy.

The article implies that writers think they can just write and sit back and watch the money roll in, give up their day jobs and if they don’t get rich, its someone else’s fault. The reality is that the business is tough and always has been, but today making good money through self publishing is possible if you are prepared to do the hard yards, but you need to innovate.

It certainly helps to be a consistently good writer and to provide the form that your audience wants to read. But even a great writer still needs to market themselves and recognise that their fans are individual people. Stephen King is another great example. He totally understands that he is writing to his ‘Dear Reader’ and constantly reinvents the way he publishes his books. He also does merchandise, if you liked his latest novel Revival, you can go to his merch store and buy a I Climbed Skytop T-Shirt. He even has an online forum on his site. He even runs competitions from his site (I wasn’t impressed that it was for US residents only though, that was pretty stingy). The point being, he is one of the great big sellers of the last 20 years, but he works as hard above the line as he does on his writing. It’s a case of the harder you work, the luckier you get.

Having just written all this, I’ve just convinced myself that the $9.99 is great value and I’m probably going to sign up once I’ve read all the Kindle books I have already bought. I paid US$15 for Revival so that’s a month and a half’s subscription on its own. Oh and don’t worry Stephen, I will buy a hardcover for my collection as well, because despite being an eBook evangelist from way back (Fictionwise on my Palm Pilot), I also collect books of particular authors that I like. I’ve given over half of my books away, but still have around 2,000 in my music room.

So if you are an author, wanting to make a living from your craft, my suggestion is to allow as much time for marketing as you do for actual writing. If you don’t know what to do, ask someone, ask everyone, look at what people like Scott Sigler and Stephen King do. Don’t just copy them though, think of other ways you can sell your books. Look at creative things that bands do. There are so many cool things you can do, I can think of dozens of merch ideas that people would buy.

Don’t complain. Do something.

The end of Whitcoulls and Borders in New Zealand


If you have a Borders or Whitcoulls voucher, even if you hate the idea of spending double to be allowed to spend your voucher, I recommend you do it quickly, because within a couple of weeks it will be worthless. It was interesting to see that there is no mention of the current situation on the Borders website which talks about eBooks coming soon, although Whitcoulls have been a bit more responsible with a home page announcement.

The demise of these companies isn’t about eBooks, it is largely around debt as pointed out by Liam Dann in this morning’s Business Section of the NZ Herald.  and the business models. I’m not going to discuss the debt because that doesn’t reflect on the industry itself, it reflects on higher level financial decisions and the economy, not on the book trade.

Book stores and music stores are in industries that are steeped in history of “this is how we’ve done it for the last 50 years and why change it if it aint broke”.

As was mentioned in today’s NZ Herald story by Isaac Davison, “In 2010, 9.67 million books were sold, an increase of 1.2 per cent in volume but 0.1 per cent down in value against 2009. This was despite the mark-up on books in New Zealand, which saw paperbacks sold for as much as $20 more than online, even after shipping costs.”

So much for Amazon (of course there were a huge number of Kiwis including myself who purchased from Amazon as well) being the cause of the demise of our local stores.

I also appreciated the comment in the same story from Jo McColl of Unity Books that many people bought hard copy books as a consequence of having purchased eBooks. I’ve done that too. I read eBooks, listen to Audio Books and still have a personal library of around 2,000 print books. The same with music, I listen to lots of music online but have still purchased at least 10 CD’s so far this year.

I might have to go to a separate blog about how Whitcoulls and Borders business model needed to change in order to stay viable and vibrant (ignoring REDGroup‘s debt which doesn’t reflect on the book trade business model itself) because for these guys its too late unless they get a savvy new owner (who will not purchase the chains’ debt) who is ready to adopt a new business model.

REDGroup have called in Administrators. I don’t care who the administrators are. Their role is a short term one and it isn’t about changing the business model or trading back into profit. It is about the creditors.

They will try to negotiate with the book publishers and wholesalers and other suppliers who are desperate to get paid for their product and worried about their future viability in NZ. Inland Revenue want their taxes and will be first in the queue.

They will need to negotiate with the 1,000 staff who will have to have new short term contracts and will be justifiably worried about whether they will get paid at all, let alone have a future with the chain, but at the same time, will be essential should they find a new buyer for the chains.

Based on the outcome of their negotiations a decision will need to be made on whether to go into receivership which is next most likely step. If that happens, enjoy the book sale, because there will be many bargains up for grabs.

The shame of it is that (outside of the decisions that got REDGroup into this financial position) the problem in the trade is that the business model needed to change and like the music industry and other industries, the people running them don’t get it. They should have learned from the music industry, which still doesn’t get it. Other industries who don’t get it include banking, telecommunications and consumer electronics to name a few.

What should they have done and what can other retail businesses do in order to not follow Borders and Whitcoulls into the mire? Subscribe to my blog and I’ll give you a few pointers for free. It isn’t rocket science, but it is a fundamental shift in thinking, whilst also remembering the fundamental simple principles of retail and distributon.

We live in a new world, its exciting and there is a lot of money to be made, but the fatal flaw is thinking that if you do the same thing you have always done, that you will get a different result.

There is an RSS feed to this blog. Come back and read some of my ideas on how companies like Whitcoulls and Borders can thrive and prosper.

Here are a few things I would look at:

  • Understanding your business
  • Communication with customers
  • Communication with staff
  • Distribution methods
  • Stock turn and inventory management
  • Engagement
  • In Store Events
  • Proximity based marketing
  • Shelf Management
  • Relationships with community
  • Relationships with education
  • Location Based Business Analytics
  • The Internet
  • Gift Registry

I could and probably will go on. The answers are a mixture of the old and the new, neither of which these chains have effectively managed. Borders started in the right direction in the US, but didn’t continue the evolution. International chains like Borders and WH Smith focussed more on the  era of globalization than evolution of the business model. Something that would have made short term heroes who have probably made their money and moved on, but was only ever going to be short term.