Amazon

Dec 172010

The behemoth known as Amazon

The short answer is no.

Let me back up a bit. Amazon allows independent authors, like me, to upload e-books for sale on the Amazon Kindle Store. They don’t read each of the 750,000 titles they currently have for sale (nor does the manager at B&N read every book on the shelves). In July of 2009, Amazon discovered that someone had uploaded a copy of George Orwell’s famous book 1984 to offer it for sale on Amazon. The problem was that this person didn’t own the rights to Orwell’s book (which had fallen into the public domain in Australia but not here in the U.S.), so it would be like if I scanned in a copy of Harry Potter and tried to sell it on Amazon and make money off it.

Of course, Amazon couldn’t continue doing that once they found out about it (or they would be in violation of Federal copyright law), so they decided to:

  1. Give everyone who had purchased a copy of that e-book a full refund,
  2. Remove the (illegal) title from their servers, and stop selling it through the Kindle Store, and
  3. Remove the file from the Kindles of people who had bought it (this is the part that ticked people off).

After the brouhaha (which spread mainly due to the incredible irony of the deleted e-book being perhaps the best-known book about government repression and censorship), Amazon apologized profusely, and offered its customers their choice of either (a) having the book re-sent to their Kindles, or (b) a $30 Amazon gift card. They also promised to never remove e-books from their customers’ Kindles again, going so far as to have Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos issue this statement:

This is an apology for the way we previously handled illegally sold copies of 1984 and other novels on Kindle. Our “solution” to the problem was stupid, thoughtless, and painfully out of line with our principles. It is wholly self-inflicted, and we deserve the criticism we’ve received. We will use the scar tissue from this painful mistake to help make better decisions going forward, ones that match our mission.

Personally, I think Amazon bent over backwards to make things right. They saw that someone had uploaded and was selling an e-book illegally, so they stopped selling it, refunded everyone’s money, and made the books go away, as if it had never happened. I’m sure they thought they were just “righting the wrong” — censorship never enters the equation here, just doing the right thing under copyright law and not letting someone make money off a book they don’t have the rights to. In fact, Amazon currently sells many different versions (paperbacks, hardcovers, and Kindle) of 1984.

On top of that, Amazon not only issued refunds, but then gave everyone who bought that e-book an extra $30, and promised to never remove any e-book from customers’ Kindles again. So why are we still talking about this?

Because I’ve heard a poorly-understood version of the 1984 facts above used as a reason not to get a Kindle. And because the issue has cropped up again recently, when Amazon decided to stop selling a book called The Pedophile’s Guide to Love and Pleasure: A Child-Lover’s Code of Conduct. Amazon itself agonized over the decision, at first defending the sale of the book on free speech grounds, but ultimately bowing to pressure and removing it from sale. The problem is that numerous articles and forum posts are claiming that Amazon “removed” the e-books from people’s Kindles, which is not the case. They’ve promised not to do that again, and (as far as I know, but I hadn’t purchased that book) they haven’t. There’s also a lot of brouhaha about evil Amazon “censorship.”

But claims of “censorship” and “removal” are both factually inaccurate. Only governments may censor material, not Amazon. Amazon is not “banning” anything: they’re not prohibiting you from getting that book elsewhere, and it’s not like Amazon is anywhere near a monopoly. B&N could still choose to carry it, your local indie bookstore could, and the author could sell it direct from their own website. You could even put it on your Kindle if the author sold a MOBI version directly, or through Smashwords. Amazon is only deciding what they want to and do not want to carry/sell, for business reasons. The local B&N store does not stock a copy of my books, but that is not censorship, just a business decision on their part.

Here, Amazon is damned if they do and damned if they don’t, because some people will be very upset if Amazon is helping to distribute, and profit from, a book on such a topic, which most people find morally repellent. Those people will stop buying ALL books from Amazon — and that will cost Amazon much more than whatever they’ll earn from sales of one indie title with (hopefully) a very small niche audience.

The titles of articles claiming that Amazon is “removing” e-books from people’s Kindles is misleading, and uses the “fear-mongering” tactic I’ve seen people use as their #1 argument against using Kindles: that Amazon will swoop in and steal your books away from you. Everyone knows about the 1984 thing (although usually not all the facts, just some exaggerated and incomplete version), and Amazon has stated they won’t do that again. They are not doing that here (to the best of my knowledge) — they are just removing the books from their servers. Local copies will stay on your Kindle (and your computer, if you backed it up there — if you’re paranoid, Amazon can’t touch what’s on your computer). It will no longer show up in your “Archived Items,” which is just a list of what Amazon is storing on its servers for you, but they’re not “removing” anything from anyone’s Kindles.

Dec 072010

Read Kindle e-books in any web browser

In what can hardly be a coincidence (considering the launch of Google E-Books yesterday with its focus on reading in web browsers), Amazon announced today that they are expanding Kindle For Web, allowing users to not only preview and purchase Kindle books from web browsers, but read full e-books as well.

Kindle For Web currently allows any website to embed previews of Kindle e-books, where users can read the first chapter or two and click through to purchase the book from Amazon (you can see an example of Kindle for Web in action here). Presumably, users can now read the sample, click to purchase the e-book, and continue reading right from the website they were already on. I’d imagine users will also be able to visit a Kindle For Web page on Amazon.com and be able to read any e-book in their Kindle e-book library.

Amazon seems to enjoy stealing other companies’ thunder — anyone remember Amazon undercutting B&N’s Nook price-cut within hours of the announcement? While Google trumpets the ability to read e-books from its new e-bookstore in any web browser or multiple other devices, Kindle e-books can now be read on a Kindle, in a web browser, on a desktop or laptop Mac or PC computer, any iOS device (iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad), Blackberries, or any Android smartphone.

Give Kindle E-Books As Gifts

Posted by Always Write at 6:16 PM Tagged with: , ,
Nov 192010

Kindle e-books can now be given as gifts

I’ve been waiting for this one for a while: you can now buy Kindle e-books and give them to friends as gifts through Amazon’s Kindle store. The process seems pretty easy:

  1. Choose from 1 of over 750,000 e-books available through Amazon’s Kindle Store
  2. Click the “Give as a Gift” button in the upper right of the screen
  3. Provide your friend’s email address so he/she can collect their gift

What’s cool is that your friend doesn’t even have to have a Kindle — they can download one of the free Kindle Apps (for Mac, PC, iPhone/iPad, Blackberry, or Android) to read their e-book. Presumably, if I know Amazon, they’ll provide all that information in the email sent to the gift recipient.

It seems this option is available for every book in the Kindle store — it’s enabled for all three of my books, and every other one I checked.

One note: the recipient has the option to accept the e-book gift, or apply the amount to an Amazon gift card instead (which they can use on anything available at Amazon.com, which is, well, pretty much anything). This is what would happen if your recipient already owned the e-book you’re trying to give them, for example.

I think lots of people will be getting a Kindle 3 (or the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi) as gifts this holiday season, and even more people will get a few e-books as gifts to get them started. This is a feature that was long overdue.

Nov 102010

I guess the above headline kinda says it all, but Amazon just surpassed three quarters of a million e-book titles available for purchase on the Amazon Kindle store — up to 750,814 as of today. (This is in addition to the millions of free public domain e-books available at Project Gutenberg and other places that can be read on a Kindle or any other e-book reader.) Amazon has the most in-copyright, new release, and best-selling e-book titles available (compare it to the Apple iBook store, which only boasts 30,000 paid titles). And they’ve steadily added to their total, more than doubling the number of titles since a year ago — adding about 1,000 titles a day. Check out this handy list, courtesy of the excellent I Love My Kindle Blog:

November 1, 2010: 743,692
October 1, 2010: 714,663
September 1, 2010: 687,246
August 1, 2010: 659,479
July 1, 2010: 627,343
June 1, 2010: 596,300
May 1, 2010: 509,229
April 1, 2010: 476,653
March 1, 2010: 450,625
February 1, 2010: 415,100
January 1, 2010: 401,773
December 1, 2009: 385,484
November 1, 2009: 368,813
October 1, 2009: 342,865
September 21, 2009: 355,805
July 28, 2009: 332,813
May 16, 2009: 284,491

Bottom line: sure, some e-book titles still aren’t available (like the Harry Potter series), but I’m never short of something to read on my Kindle.

Today’s Amazon press release contains a number of Kindle milestones and sales figures, although Amazon does get a bit cute with the wording:

  • Sales of the “new generation Kindle devices” since their introduction surpassed “total Kindle device sales” for Q4 2009. This has a bit of tricky wording: are they talking just about the Kindle 3, introduced July 28, or the Kindle DX 2 (introduced July 1) as well? Removing the DX from both sides of the equation, this would mean the Kindle 3 sold more in its first 2 months and 28 days (July 28 through today, Oct 25) than the Kindle 2 over the last three months of 2009. True, holiday sales are Amazon’s busiest time of the year, but this one isn’t as impressive as it first sounds, since we’re comparing almost equal time periods and I’d expect a sales bump when a new model is introduced.
  • Over the past 30 days, Amazon sold twice as many Kindle editions of books in the Top 10 on Amazon.com as it did of print books (paperback and hardcover combined). They also sold more e-books than print books for the Top 25, 100, and 1,000 Amazon bestsellers. This statement is also a little clever, and notable because they DON’T just say they sold more e-books than print books over the past month. Clearly, their e-book sales are stronger on their bestselling titles, while print books have a more robust “long tail.” Still, it’s an impressive statistic that for the Top 1,000 bestselling titles on Amazon, more were sold in electronic form than printed form in the past 30 days.
  • Amazon also notes that they sold more than 3 times as many Kindle e-books in the first 9 months of 2010 than they did for the first 9 months of 2009. An impressive growth rate that pretty much equals (or slightly exceeds) the growth of e-books in general.
  • On a similar note, those same industry e-book sales figures claim that e-book sales increased 193% from January of this year to August of this year, and Amazon says their Kindle e-book sales surpassed that figure (although they don’t say by how much).

Overall, solid stats and figures, although I wish Amazon (and Apple, to name another culprit) would be a little more direct with their statistics, instead of couching things in intentionally-confusing language that requires decoding and sounds better than it really is.

Amazon Kindle UK

Posted by Always Write at 8:30 PM Tagged with: ,
Aug 052010

Amazon.co.uk

Amazon today announced the availability of Kindle titles on Amazon’s UK store, amazon.co.uk. While our friends “across the pond” were previously able to buy Kindle books, they were often hit with large international surcharges, currency conversion, and VAT (European tax). Kindle books often cost international customers $2 or $3 more than they cost here — which is especially significant on $0.99 or $2.99 e-books! Even “free” e-books carried extra charges over there. Ugh.

So, I’m glad to see Amazon bring Kindle titles to their UK-based store. The good news is that the prices seem quite reasonable: Right Ascension is only £1.97, which seems pretty fair. (True, they do tack on a small percentage for VAT, but it seems they price the titles appropriately based on the exchange rate and don’t add extra fees — the price works out to $3.13 at today’s rate.) For comparison, the old price would have been at least $4.99, maybe more, for England-based shoppers on Amazon.

The only bad news I can see is that the books’ reviews, sales rankings, and “tags” (helpful keywords, like “science fiction” that users can associate with books) from the US versions don’t transfer over to the UK site, so mine are starting from scratch. Amazon also doesn’t let you shop around: if you’re registered with a US address, you can only shop at the US store; at the UK store, you’ll see “Pricing information not available” and “The Kindle Store at Amazon.co.uk is for UK customers only.” (I believe non-US customers trying to shop in the US store can do so, they just see different — usually higher — prices.)

Anyway, this is another great opportunity and another great benefit of e-books: without doing a thing or shipping anything across the Atlantic, my e-books are now available (at fair prices) to readers all over the world. Judging by the limited information I get from my sales reports, a fair amount of my Amazon sales (on the order of 1/6th or even 1/4th) are from international customers already, and this should only help. To all my readers, wherever you happen to be, thanks for giving my books a chance!

The links to my titles in Amazon’s UK store are below:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B001V9K6ZS

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B001V9K7WU

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B003SE7LPW

Jul 192010

Amazon announced today that their e-book sales have overtaken hardcover sales. The numbers are actually quite staggering: for the latest quarter, Amazon sold 143 e-books for every 100 hardcovers they sold. The numbers for the past month are even more impressive: 180 e-books for every 100 hardcovers — nearly double. Even more impressive is that they aren’t juicing the numbers, as they are not including free e-book downloads (like Apple probably did), and are even including hardcover sales where there is no corresponding Kindle version. Wow.

A few other tidbits:

  • Amazon’s e-book sales from the first half of 2010 were triple that of the first half of 2009.
  • Amazon exceeded the impressive industry sales stats I mentioned yesterday of 163% increased sales year-over-year in May, and 207% year-to-date.
  • It was recently announced that James Patterson was the first author to sell a million e-books, 1.14 million, to be exact. Of those, Amazon sold 867,881 of them (over 76%).
  • The growth rate of Kindle sales has tripled since the recent price drop from $259 to $189, and have increased each month in the quarter (April, May, and June). Perhaps now we can stop hearing about how the iPad (released April 3) will “kill” the Kindle?

One interesting note is that Amazon didn’t specify how many of its e-book sales are through the Kindle for iPad app. But considering that Kindle 2 unit sales have been increasing each month, and that the Kindle is better suited for hard-core readers than the iPad, I doubt that Kindle book sales on the iPad were more than a minor percentage.

Either way, very impressive numbers that paint a very positive outlook for e-books and readers.

Amazon and 70% Royalties

Posted by Always Write at 7:58 PM Tagged with: , ,
Jul 082010

The big news this month for independent authors and publishers is that Amazon has unveiled a new 70% royalty option for e-books published directly through their DTP service. (The old rate was 35%.) Doubling the royalty percentage is a big step (and matches what Apple offers in its iBook and App stores), but there a few catches; to qualify, books must:

  • Be priced between $2.99 and $9.99
  • Be priced at least 20% less than the cheapest print version
  • Enable text-to-speech
  • Be made available in all worldwide territories where the publisher/author has rights

There are a few other important differences: first, your list price must be the same across all sales channels, so you can’t list a book for $2.99 on Amazon but $1.99 on Barnes & Noble or your own web site. Second, books sold at the higher royalty rate receive 70% of the SALE price, not the list price you set, and Amazon checks other retailers and will discount your titles to match the lowest prices it finds elsewhere. B&N and Kobo both customarily discount e-books by 20%, and if Amazon matches those prices, you will only get paid 70% based on the discounted price. Finally, Amazon now deducts 15 cents per MB, based on the file size of your book (most books are about 368K, so this is only about 5 cents).

Authors can choose either the 35% or 70% option, and can switch back and forth.

There have been a few hiccups: most indie authors’ books show up on B&N, Kobo, Apple, and Sony through a distributor called Smashwords, and updating the price at Smashwords can take weeks or months to trickle down to the retailers (The Twiller JUST went up on B&N three weeks after release, and isn’t up elsewhere yet; Right Ascension took eight months to hit Sony). So, you could change the Amazon price (which takes 1-3 days), and Amazon may de-list your book because there’s a lower list price elsewhere. Also, other retailers may decide to discount your book (we have no control over this), and that would affect your Amazon price and how much they paid you in royalties.

Due to these and other delays, Amazon hasn’t yet updated the price of Right Ascension to $2.99, but it should be done shortly.

Nonetheless, these details should be ironed out soon (the e-book revolution / indie author resurgence is new territory for everyone, after all), and earning $2.05 on a $2.99 e-book compares very favorably to earning $0.35 per sale (at 35% of $0.99), or even the $0.50 – $0.80 most traditional authors earn on an $8.00 paperback. This new system at least allows talented indie authors a chance to earn a living writing books, and possibly to improve them by paying for cover design, proofreading, or formatting help. I would like to live in a world where authors who are very good at writing novels are compensated enough to continue to hone their craft and write more books for me to enjoy. As a reader, I’d rather they earn a living writing than go write ad copy or do something else to pay the bills, and I consider $2.99 a very reasonable price to pay for a high-quality e-book. I think it’s a win-win for readers and authors, and I’m excited to see if the general public agrees.

Jul 012010

Woot! Just $150!

If you’re quick about it, you can grab a new Kindle 2 at woot.com for just $149.99 (plus $5 shipping). But if you’re interested, I’d act fast since (a) they’ll probably sell out quickly, and (b) Woot.com is known for “One Day, One Deal,” and they have a new deal up each day at midnight (Central time). So this deal will only last until the end of today (July 1) at the latest.

Considering that the Kindle was $259 just a week or so ago, and is currently $189 at Amazon, this is a pretty phenomenal deal. Remember, the price includes free 3G wireless coverage (for e-book downloads and basic web browsing) for life. If you’re an avid reader, or know one with a birthday coming up, this post is for you.

Apparently, Amazon bought Woot.com yesterday, and this is how they chose to celebrate.

P.S.: In somewhat related news, the larger Kindle DX 2 was also announced today, with a graphite casing, better screen contrast, and a price cut down to $379.

UPDATE: It sold out 5,000 units in only 8 hours! But Amazon has been listing refurbished K2s for only $109 lately … but they sell out quickly at that price as well.

How-To: Buy An Amazon E-Book

Posted by Always Write at 7:55 AM Tagged with: ,
Jun 172010

Amazon is far and away the #1 e-book seller, and it’s easy to see why: they have the largest selection (over 600,000 titles, plus millions of public domain works), generally have the best prices, the #1 e-book reader (the Kindle), and software that allows you to read their e-books on multiple devices including PCs, Macs, Kindles, iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads, Blackberries, and Android cell phones (coming soon).

To buy your first e-book from Amazon, it only takes 3 simple steps:

Step 1: Create an Amazon account. (Already have one? Great, proceed to step 2!) To create your Amazon account, simply visit www.amazon.com and click the link at the very top where it says, “Hello. Sign in to get personalized recommendations. New customer? Start here.” It will ask you to enter an email address and ask if you have a password. You’ll select “No, I am a new customer.” Then, simply enter the requested information and create your Amazon account.

Step 2: Download and activate the Kindle App on the device you’d like to read on. Visit this page and download the app for the computer or smartphone you’d like to read your e-book on. Once downloaded, you will need to run the application and “register” it to your Amazon account. Just enter the email address and password for the account you created in Step 1.

Step 3: Shop and buy your e-books! Amazon sells countless e-books, most costing far less than printed books. Just use the search function near the top of the page (select “Kindle Store” from the drop-down menu) to find what you want. Or, go straight to a particular book (perhaps my new novel, The Twiller, coming out June 18?). Click on the big orange button in the upper right that says “Buy now with 1-Click.” It will ask you which device you want to deliver your purchase to. Choose the device you registered in Step 2. Then, complete the checkout process.

That’s it! Enjoy your e-book! Just email me or leave a comment if you have any questions.

© 2010 David Derrico