Category Archive: behaving badly

Aug 12 2014

Amazon & Hachette, What’s the Deal?

amazonLogohachette_book_logo

 

I got the email. The one from the Amazon’s Book Team, urging me to write a letter to the CEO of Hachette Book Group (HBG) to remind them that e-books are not paperbacks or hardcovers and shouldn’t be priced as such.

Here are just a couple of the points I will make in this post:

  • This issue is not about authors or publishers but about the consumers, the readers. Even though some Hachette authors are affected, Amazon and Hachette seem to forget that this is about readers who buy e-books. Happy readers make happy business and a profit for author, publisher and retailer. Readers want low prices. Eventually, readers will not buy high priced e-books and Hachette will be forced to adapt to publishing’s changes or fail.
  • Although Amazon is strict about carrying e-books with low prices, maybe the way they are going about it is all wrong. Yes, I agree e-books should be priced lower than physical books as there are no warehouse costs, shipping cost, printing cost, etc., to offset. However, is preventing preorders and sales of these overpriced books the best tactic? Maybe, if that compromises your brand as the largest online retailer with the lowest prices. Read on.

So what’s up with Amazon?

Amazon wants to be the next Walmart and cater to their online buyers by guaranteeing low prices. Amazon’s mission is “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.” As a bookstore this goal helps them beat out the competition, driving more readers to Amazon.com for low priced reads. How can they brand themselves as a “customer-centric company that offers its customers the lowest possible prices” if they are distributing digital books priced as high as the paperback?

So their statement to Hachette, in my words, are “You want me to help sell your books? You gotta play by my rules. Because I don’t want you exploiting my customers and taking advantage of them by charging them ridiculous fees.” Because even though Amazon gets a piece of the earnings of each e-book sold (30%), they’re reminded of their brand and their mission, the thing that makes them the go-to place for e-books and, well, everything else. Low prices. That’s essentially their thing. And they seemingly care a lot about their customers to prevent the sale of some titles to ensure their customers aren’t being overcharged.

Is this right? That’s the main question. And the answer varies from “yes” to “no” to “I don’t know and don’t care,” depending on who’s most affected by their tactics.

Why shouldn’t publishers play by Amazon’s rules?

Seems like a simple business maneuver (or bullying, depending on who’s talking). Want to work with me? Abide by my rules. Amazon is a business. The way they build their brand is by offering books at a low cost. I said it before, but it bears repeating. This is the difference between Amazon and Barnes and Noble, for instance. Barnes and Noble lists books at the price the publisher chooses. Amazon lists books at the price the publisher decides IF it’s a favorable price for their customers.

So what’s up with Hachette?

Maybe Hachette is a little behind the times. Maybe they don’t understand how publishing has evolved. Maybe they do, but don’t care. Maybe they’re just greedy and it’s all about money, money, money. Who really knows? In response to the letter by Amazon, chief executive of HBG, Michael Pietsch, had this to say:

“Unlike retailers, publishers invest heavily in individual books, often for years, before we see any revenue,” he wrote.  “We invest in advances against royalties, editing, design, production, marketing, warehousing, shipping, piracy protection, and more. We recoup these costs from sales of all the versions of the book that we publish—hardcover, paperback, large print, audio, and e-book.

“While e-books do not have the $2-$3 costs of manufacturing, warehousing, and shipping that print books have, their selling price carries a share of all our investments in the book.”

The bottom line is that Hachette wants to charge high fees for their e-books and that doesn’t fit with Amazon’s business model.

So what if Hachette said, “Screw you, Amazon,” and only sold their books through other online retailers, leaving Amazon in the dust?

They would probably lose money from Amazon’s customers, or face complaints from readers who prefer Amazon’s one-click buy now convenience, and enjoy adding to their collection of books on their Kindle readers.

So what if Hachette lowered they’re e-books on Amazon.com?

Hachette would be forced to lower prices of their e-books at other retailer’s sites too. Otherwise readers would flock to Amazon to get the lower priced books, which is good for Amazon and good for Hachette because it’ll probably increase  sales from Amazon, but the sales will come from lower priced books. Meaning less profit for Hachette (not so good from their point of view).

But money is the name of the game.

Greed aside. Money keeps a business afloat. Sure. Plenty Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) authors, including myself, complained about the royalty difference when pricing our books. KDP authors can select from two royalty options.

E-book priced at $0.99 – $2.99 = 35% royalty to the author

E-book priced at $2.99 – $9.99 = 70% royalty to the author

*$0.00 (FREE) e-books are only an option for Kindle Select participants = books are exclusively sold from Amazon

*All e-books to be priced under $9.99 

Here’s a more detailed explanation at this link.

OK, let’s think business here. Amazon crunched numbers to make sure when every book sells, they make a profit. Makes sense from a business standpoint, right?

I used to wonder, if Amazon really cared about the customer why not add to their database of free e-books by making it easy for KDP authors to upload free reads. I still have a book on Amazon (not enrolled in Select) that is free everywhere else, even Amazon UK and CA, but is still listed at .99 cents on Amazon.com US and other countries. This is so because Amazon uses price matching. If another retailer (competition) provides the book for free Amazon will (usually) do the same to stay on top of the competition.

However, by (definitely) offering the free option to books that are exclusive to Amazon through Kindle Select, they now eliminate the competition of Select titles altogether. As frustrating as this can be to authors not enrolled and want to distribute free e-books on Amazon, including myself, I get it. Business, remember?

Hachette—who I am not familiar with as a business, and never worked with—have an agenda and a profit to make too, to recoup the overall cost of producing the books, as stated above by the chief executive of HBG. If they make bad decisions by overcharging for e-books, over time, those mistakes will correct themselves one way or another. Readers will stop buying overpriced e-books, Hachette will be forced to adapt to the times, or buckle.

Bottom Line

Amazon must learn that although they are currently big and bad in the book industry, they are not the face behind a publishing revolution and they shouldn’t strive to be. They should do what they do best and provide e-books at a value by focusing on the consumer’s wants, but not tossing them in the middle of legal negotiations. Is going public really going to change the fact that these two companies want to do business together but can’t agree? How is a letter from little ol’ me to the CEO of Hachette going to change his or anyone’s opinion, especially if what I say is:

1) Bullet points at the bottom of their lengthy email Amazon prompted me to say

2) Things Mr. CEO already knows

Bestselling Hachette authors placing a $100k ad against Amazon in the New York Times, and Amazon mass emailing all of their readers, is simply putting us in the middle of a war that none of us deserve. The folks choosing sides are most likely the ones directly affected by the Amazon-Hatchette battle. Those on the fence are most likely the ones thrown in the middle and have nothing to do with either parties.

Frankly, both sides are publicly presenting themselves as unprofessional. To go so far with their tactics to start a war over the rights and wrongs of e-book pricing. What should have been a private matter has now spiraled into authors and readers and others in publishing from all over, taking sides and pointing fingers. When if only Amazon and Hachette focus on the reader’s wants (which is a huge factor to consider in the publishing industry) this war would have been nonexistent.

This has been my two cents. Mind sharing yours?

[Image credit: Claudio Toledo]

Jan 23 2013

13 Unprofessional Types of People in the Writing Biz: Are You Behaving Badly?

If you’re in the book writing/publishing business and you haven’t crossed paths with at least one of the unprofessional people on my list below, you might eventually. If you’re lucky, you never will. In no particular order, here are some of the most unprofessional types of people. Don’t be one of them. Also, here’s the followup post for the 13 Most Appreciated Gestures in the Writing Biz.

  1. The vanishing critique partner
You’ve exchanged manuscripts, spent the entire weekend reading, editing and making notes, you send the manuscript back and you wait and wait and wait for your critiqued manuscript in return. You receive nothing. Don’t be this person. Time is precious to every writer and that’s something you can’t give back. Respect the writer’s time by keeping your word.
  1. The vanishing publisher
Anyone you rely upon who suddenly vanishes into thin air is probably not a professional, especially when they’re holding your royalty check and the rights to your creations. Don’t be this person. A wise thing to do is to give your authors notice that you’ll be going under long before your vanishing act. Be open and honest, answer your emails, and assure your authors that you’re handling things in the best manner. Most importantly, give them their money and their rights back pronto.
  1. The vague critique partner
You received your manuscript back with a short note. “This was awesome!” You’re thrilled that she liked it but would’ve liked a little more detail. Just a little more. Don’t be this person. If you can’t pick apart every piece of the manuscript from the first word to the last … don’t. That’s not what most authors are looking for, but we can use much more feedback than an “awesome.”
  1. The agent/editor who likes your work but still rejects it
In my humble opinion, if you decide to write a page-long letter or email raving about the manuscript you’ve just finished reading, never mention a flaw, but still reject it, I think you should at least tell the author WHY you rejected it. Don’t be this person. You of all people in the publishing business should know how frustrating it is to give false hope through a rejection letter that starts as a raving review of the manuscript and ends with “I hope you find a home for it!” Either state why it’s not for you or send a form rejection.
  1. The agent/editor/publisher who never answers your questions or delays
Deadline has passed … a week ago! You sent email after email, asking the same questions from the emails before, but this time you’re asking if they’ve even received your emails. Finally, you get a response … days before the book’s official release date! Don’t be this person. Sure, you’re an editor and a super busy one too, but you can find time to send a quick email. A brief “Got your email. Will get back to you shortly” instead of nothing at all is always appreciated.
  1. The professional who picks favorites
Jane Doe’s books are a top seller (she’s a regular commenter on your blog). John Doe edits the most books in the shortest amount of time (and you chat every day on Facebook). Mary Jane’s books are rating pretty high with readers (and her Twitter pic is pretty hot too). Go ahead and allow Jane, John and Mary to take over the publisher’s blog and reel in the readers. Sure, there’s other authors and editors who can better contribute, but … these three are your favs. Don’t be this person. Sure, it’s a business and you want the top, highest and the best, but don’t make it obvious that you have your favorites. Professionalism requires that you are fair and making the best “business” decisions. Project that.
  1. The agent/editor/publisher who talks about inappropriate matters in public
Sure, you’re human, and you go through rough patches like the rest of us, however, not everyone is interested in your bankruptcy details, your crazy sex life, or the fact that you think self-publishing and its authors should go the way of the dinosaurs. Don’t be this person. Think before you speak, especially in public. You feel secure behind a screen. It’s not like being face-to-face with a “real” person. In social media it’s easy to forget that your colleagues, employers, fans, readers, followers, etc., are witnessing what you put out and are judging you by it.
  1. The tardy blogger/staff
Your job is to update the blog every Monday. Instead it gets updated sporadically (maybe late Monday night on a good day). You’re hosting a blog tour and have a give-away scheduled for this day, instead you post it that day. Do you find yourself constantly apologizing for being late? Then this may be you. Don’t be this person. If you say you’re going to do something at a specific time, do it at that specific time. Punctuality is one of the best traits a professional possesses.
  1. The lowdown, dirty “professional”
Think it’ll be cool to try to cheat Amazon’s algorithms to raise your book’s sales ranking? Don’t see the harm in giving away copies of another author’s e-books on your blog without the author’s permission? Thinking about making a bunch of email accounts and rating and reviewing your own books online? Don’t be this person. You will lose all the respect people had for you once they realize your ways. Being lowdown and dirty especially in the publishing business is never a good look.
  1. The author/writer who never follows the guidelines/rules
You want to send your submission to your dream editor before they leave on vacation and don’t have time to look for and read the submission guidelines, so you just attach it as a DOC file and send  it to the email address you found online. Don’t be this person. Submission guidelines are there for a reason. Simply put, they make life easier for you AND the editor, and increases the chances of your submission being seen. You want to show the editor you are a gem to work with and are capable of following rules. So follow them exactly.
  1. The professionals who never follow their own guidelines/rules
Being a professional is hard work. Life is very busy. So since you made the rules you can break them at your convenience. Don’t be this person. If you want others to follow your rules practice what you preach by following your own. If you promise to respond to submissions in four weeks, then make sure you follow through. How can you expect others to put up with your rules when it’s difficult for you to?
  1. The negative/snarky/bashing reviewer
So you think the book was written by an author who couldn’t grasp the basics of high school level English, and you say so in your review. You even go a step further and accuse the author of writing their own five-star reviews of the book because “who in their right mind would like that junk?” Don’t be this person. A good reviewer reviews the book’s content, not the author. And even though you believe those terrible things about the author, you don’t look good accusing or bashing another, especially in public.
  1. The author/writer who negatively responds to negative reviews
So the reviewer claims you wrote all the five-star reviews of your latest book because the book reads like an illiterate child scribbled it down and no one else could possibly enjoy it. You think the reviewer didn’t read your book at all because in the author bio, at the end of the book, it states that you have a B.A in English, and the reviewer needs to know this. So you respond to the review and tell her. Don’t be this person. If someone didn’t like your book, they are simply stating their opinion. When you respond, you are trying to sway their opinion. It never works. When someone writes a bashing review, they look like a bully. When you respond, YOU look like a bully. Keep that in mind.
Well, there you go. The thirteen most unprofessional types of people in the writing biz and why and how not to become one. Have you encountered some of these types? Take a shot at adding to the list. Did I leave a certain type out? Could you relate? Do I ask a lot of questions? Leave a comment and let’s discuss it.