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Old 04-05-2010, 04:28 PM   #1
gabrieldj
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My letter to Amazon and E-Book Publishers

Long time lurker, first time poster!

I wrote this to Amazon and e-book publishers, via email and twitter (with the letter being posted on my personal site)

I wrote this out of complete frustration with the recent changes in e-book publishing. I don't know what else we can do to convince publishers that they're making the wrong decisions, other than voting with our wallets. I welcome your ideas!

________

First of all, let me preface this by saying that I know much of the Kindle pricing and e-book availability issues are out of Amazon’s control. Perhaps this letter and others like it will serve to convince publishers that they’re making the wrong long-term decisions.

When I first bought my original Kindle, I had been an avid library user. I only bought the books of a few cherished authors, and even then, rarely in hardcover. When I finished with the books, I kept some, but most were passed along to friends and family. After I bought my Kindle, I became a hardcore book buyer. The price point, convenience of reading the book upon release, and the ability to store my entire bookshelf in a small device meant that I went from reading free books at the library to purchasing several books a month from Amazon. This was money that the publishers never would have seen from me otherwise. When I was finished with the books, all I could do was recommend that friends and family buy the books for themselves, as there was no way to give them the books I had read. I accepted this as a perfectly reasonable compromise for the convenience and cost savings of my Amazon e-books.

The recent changes demanded by publishers, however, are not reasonable. My biggest issue is not the price, but the pushed back availability of the e-books. I feel like a fool for having spent hundreds of dollars on my Kindle and Kindle 2. Now, I have to choose between waiting for the book, sometimes months after the hardcover release, getting in line for it at the library, or spending money on a heavy hardcover that I don’t want to lug around or have cluttering up my house. To add insult to injury, the price of the e-books is sometimes only a few dollars less than the hardcover retail price. If you’re going to make me pay almost full price, let me have the book immediately! If you’re going to make me wait, at least give me a more significant discount. You are punishing your customers, plan and simple.

I don’t know what to do now. I’ve stopped recommending the Kindle, or any e-reader, to friends and family; it’s just not a sound investment anymore. I now have a harder decision to make every time a book comes out that I want to read: pay too much and wait for the Kindle edition, wait at the library, or pay for a hardcover. When I wait for the Kindle book, I now press the “buy now” button bitterly, remembering that it used to be a no-brainer! If the music industry’s struggle against digital media taught us anything, it’s that this is not going away! No matter how hard you try to push people towards the inflated profits of your hardcover books, they will find a way to read the content in the format of their choice. You can either make it easy for them to purchase it from you, or you can push them towards illegal means of obtaining it. Your choice.

I’ll once again be visiting the library and reading free books rather than giving you money. Although I’ll enjoy reading the e-books I’ve already purchased, public domain e-books, and reasonably priced e-books from Amazon and other retailers, I’ll no longer be rewarding you for punishing consumers. Publishers need to take a good, hard look at the market and realize that these pathetic, futile attempts to force their consumers to purchase hardcovers rather than e-books will only result in animosity towards publishers, authors who have no say in these matters, and e-reader manufacturers. Again, you are punishing your own customers. You don’t have to have an MBA to know that’s just plain stupid.
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Old 04-05-2010, 04:32 PM   #2
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Old 04-05-2010, 05:32 PM   #3
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yup - I'll be hooking up with the Denver Public Library to see how their eBook offerings pan out...between them and what's on my "list" - I can surely wait out the "Greedy 5" publishers until they pull their heads out of their @sses.
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Old 04-05-2010, 06:24 PM   #4
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You can always find a group of 10 family and friends with similar tastes in books. Each write down a list of 10 books you'd like to buy, compile a list and remove the duplicates. Take the top 50 books and split up the list and each buy 5. Invest the time to learn how to remove the DRM and share them offline within the group.

You'd be doing what you were previously doing (buying a copying and passing it on).

The publishers aren't behaving ethically, why should you play by their rules?
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Old 04-05-2010, 10:13 PM   #5
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You'd be doing what you were previously doing (buying a copying and passing it on).

The publishers aren't behaving ethically, why should you play by their rules?
I'm not sure I think it's unethical to share ebooks with the same reading circle I'd share print ones with (although my reading circle is four or five people, not ten!)

I think it's illegal. I'll grant you that.

But despite the propaganda that I'm supposed to believe an ebook is not just like a book (except when it is), I think I should be able to treat it the same way. I want to be trusted to be only as generous with my ebooks as I ever was with my print books.

I know how many authors and books series I would never have read, but a friend had shoved the book into my grubby hands and said you have to read this now!

Oh well...anyway.
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Old 04-05-2010, 10:36 PM   #6
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In reality, what the introduction of agency pricing and the continuation of geographic restrictions will do is encourage more ereaders to turn to "alternative" sources to acquire ebooks.

Publishers are their own worst enemy when it comes to their outdated business models. Having failed to learn anything from the flailings of the entertainment industry, they have missed a fantastic chance to lead the way. They get no sympathy or credence when bleating about supposed lost sales when these practices continue.

As my youngest son is fond of saying...."Epic fail"

ereaders will still sell, fall in price and continue to increase in popularity, just as MP3 players did 5-10 years ago.
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Old 04-05-2010, 11:21 PM   #7
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Hi,

I agree with gabrield, but I also feel that they are trying to push us to certain formats (epub) and trying to eliminate others (mobi). We'll probably have to wait a few months and see how things settle down, but if they continue to force us to purchase and read what they want then they're in for a big surprise.

Greg
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Old 04-06-2010, 10:52 AM   #8
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I don't have a problem with a common format. I waited years to get a universal dvd player that could play both SACDs & DVD-As. I refuse to get caught up in format wars. I refuse to have a piece of equipment that will FORCE me to only buy from one particular vendor.

I want freedom of choice, anything that restricts that for me is going to get left on the shelf.
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Old 04-06-2010, 11:01 AM   #9
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Quote:
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Hi,

I agree with gabrield, but I also feel that they are trying to push us to certain formats (epub) and trying to eliminate others (mobi). We'll probably have to wait a few months and see how things settle down, but if they continue to force us to purchase and read what they want then they're in for a big surprise.

Greg
One of the big issues with eBooks has been no read standard format. Now that we have one (ePub) you think it's an issue? I think it's a good thing. It means you can buy a book in ePub and use it with many different readers. You have more choices of what reader you want because of this. And because we can now strip the DRM from ePub, if you want Mobipocket format, just buy the ePub, strip the DRM and convert to Mobipocket via Calibre.
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Old 04-06-2010, 11:44 AM   #10
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Mainstream publishers are greedy idiots. It's the same issues we've seen with the media industry in general. They first off don't understand the technology, nor do they ever care to. All they see is an opportunity to fleece their customers for insane profits. As the OP pointed out, book reading and purchasing actually went UP when prices were reasonable, and immediately began to tank as soon as prices went up.

Publishers just don't get it. They seem to think that they're being generous by giving you the "privilege" of reading the books they publish, and since ebooks are a digital medium with a "high piracy rate", they justify punishing good, honest readers for the sins of a few, thus justifying (at least in their minds) their fleecing of customers. Of course, the greedy leadership of these companies can't be all that much to blame. In many cases the shareholders equally share that blame.

It's why I went with a smaller publishing house. They know where the buck stops and who provides their bottom line. They care about the author and the reader equally. Yeah, ok, so I don't get the same level of insane nationwide publicity that one of the big houses could provide, and have to do a bunch of the work myself, but I'm finding that I rather like that, and I don't get treated as "just another number" or a "cash cow". I'm a valuable person. When these companies lose site of who it is who actually makes their profits possible (authors and readers alike), they become dead weight that needs to be discarded.

Of course, the trick is finding enough people willing to sacrifice to make something happen these days. Nobody wants to protest (save for small groups like us), nobody wants to go without, to suffer, to experience trouble and worse. The majority seem to want the easy way of life with no problems and no troubles. It's one of the reasons I had so many problems with my tech site. We did a lot of good, but nobody wanted to step up and do anything.

So in that sense, we the readers and authors are somewhat to blame as well. We haven't stepped up to the line and made the big houses take notice and say, "Hey, what we're doing is wrong. If we don't change, we'll lose our shirts." If enough people stepped forward and said something, these problems would be over almost instantly.

Then again, and this is a wild thought out of the blue, it's possible the big houses see ebooks in the same light that the media companies see other digital media. They see it as a wild west world where thieves abound, law and order (aka control over the product) is non-existent, and profits are always in jeopardy. And yet, as the OP pointed out, ebooks actually do more to DRIVE sales and increase profits than their paperback cousins. In fact, as the OP pointed out, they saw a 300% increase in purchases, or better, and instead of sharing the ebook with friends, they recommended them instead, which was also a further 200-500% increase in sales.

So let's do the math. Ebooks are at $5/book. Paperbacks are at $15/book. User one buys one book at $15 but borrows 10. That's $150 in lost sales. User one then goes and switches to ebooks. They now buy all 11 books at $5/book. That's $55 vs $15 in income, and ebooks are almost pure profit!! So if you figure that on a $15, if $6 is the cost of the book, that's $9 remaining. Pay the author 20% (ok, I'm being generous here, as in reality, most big houses only pay 50c a copy in royalties), you now have $6 left. Pay marketing and whatnot for the book, $5. You thus get between 50c and $1 per paperback book. So from user one you've only earned $1 so far, and lost $10. On top of that, they end up sharing their copies with users 2-10, so that's another possible $90 ore more lost, bringing the grand total to about $100 in lost sales.

Now, let's say user one switches to ebooks and buys all 11 books. If you subtract 50% for sales costs to stores, that's $2.50. Remove marketing costs, that's $1/book. You end up with 50c to the author, and $1 in your pocket. Ok, yes, you only made $1, but user one also bought 10 more than before, so where you only made $1 with paperbacks, you just scored $11 with ebooks, and your overhead was nearly zilch. Now, to add a bonus value to that, user one recommends those same books to users 2-10. Suddenly your $11 has turned into (and I'm being realistic on uptake numbers here) $60 in total sales, and maybe even more!! However, as soon as they raise the price to $15/ebook, they return back to the old profit line of $1 per user with limited residuals and referrals, instead of gaining $60 or more in sales they didn't and wouldn't have had before.

But....alas, the big houses can't see this. I mean, come on. I'm not a marketing or economics major, and even *I* can see this. And yet they don't. They're up on the top run and think they know more than we do. And I can understand why. They've been at the top too long and reality has become a bit clouded. I've been on both ends of the spectrum, and have seen the full picture. I was also schooled in business economics by some very brilliant people who knew their stuff and knew how to maximize profits without even trying. And the simple solution was, "Take care of the customer, and your employees, and everything else will take care of itself." And you know what? That has yet to be proven wrong.
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Old 04-06-2010, 11:44 AM   #11
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lol. Wow, now I know why I'm a novelist. I go on a small diatribe, and end up with a novelette. ^_^;;
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Old 04-06-2010, 02:35 PM   #12
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You're spot on, Steven...I don't understand why publishers have to try and apply the SAME profit-making model to eBooks as they do with the physical books....EVERYONE knows the overhead associated with distributing eBooks is a FRACTION of the cost of physical books, and saving the electronically typset file as an ePUB/PDF/etc takes no more than a few clicks and the processing time (depending on the length of the book).

I can't help but wonder if the "big houses" implemented this scheme knowing/hoping that if it fails, and pulls their company down with it, that Obama and "Uncle Sam" will be there to hand them their "bailout" like they were a huge automaker or bank....? (silly, I know, but you KNOW some companies have it in the back of their mind...somewhere)
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Old 04-06-2010, 02:40 PM   #13
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lol. Wow, now I know why I'm a novelist. I go on a small diatribe, and end up with a novelette. ^_^;;
Let's also not mention the storage cost of electrons (much lower, and no tax), and the ability to have a permanently available backlist.
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Old 04-06-2010, 05:38 PM   #14
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Honestly, the best thing for ebook consumers and, in the long run, publishers and authors, would be if ebook piracy were rampant! In the music industry, the labels were forced to come up with reasonable policies for digital music, because if they didn't, consumers would turn to Napster and Limewire instead.

Unfortunately, not many people read substantially anymore. Of those that do, not that many are interested in ebooks yet. And of those people, not that many are likely to be savvy enough to navigate the darknet for books after finding that the publishers don't want their ebook business. They'll just grow frustrated with their Kindles, Nooks, Sony Readers, etc. and pay for a hardcover on the release date, rather than waiting weeks (or more) and paying nearly the same price for the ebook.

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Old 04-06-2010, 08:21 PM   #15
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mgm1979: My thought is this, as I mentioned above. They're either out to kill ebooks (because of the whole wanting control and "we don't wanna change" mentality) or they're getting greedy and see this as a way to increase profits exponentially.

gabrieldj: I'm no supporter of piracy by any means, or any kind of illegal file sharing. It hurts everyone it touches. (PS, Sharing files on limewire, bittorrent, and the like is properly referred to as file sharing, not piracy.) However, I can't deny the benefits it's reaped. On the downside, it's also created a draconian copyright and law system under which even I'm smarting, and I'm an author! I try to provide everything my readers want in the best way I know how, and yet these jack***'s are hell bent on ruining everything for everyone. Even many of the ereader makers (Not everyone, just many of the bigger names.) are doing everything they can to screw over people, and all in the name of profits. It's really pathetic and frustrating IMHO. >.<;;

It's why I published with one of the smaller publishing houses. They actually treat the authors and customers as real humans, and do things realistically. That's something the big houses can't and refuse to do. And personally, I'm sick of it.
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