Tag Archives: Amazon

Amazon Storyteller offers UK writers a £20,000 cash prize

Kindle Storyteller offers cash prize to UK writers

If you’re a UK writer and you’re about to release an ebook, great timing: Amazon’s Storyteller competition could see you win a cash prize of £20,000!

Naturally there are a few requirements:

  • you must publish between 20th February and 19th May 2017;
  • your story should be a minimum of 5,000, but there’s no upper limit (great news for writers of epic fantasy!);
  • your submission can’t have been previously published;
  • you must publish through the KDP Select programme.

This last is probably the entire reason the Storyteller competition exists; Amazon like to push KDP Select because it requires you to publish exclusively with Amazon. No Apple, no Kobo, Nook or anyone else. Your book can only be bought by Amazon customers.

But, on the flip side, there are a few benefits to the KDP Select programme, Kindle Unlimited being one of them. And you’re not tied in forever; once the entry period is over, you can opt out of KDP Select and publish on the other platforms.

And, hey, it’s a small price to pay for the potential of a £20,000 cash prize. So what are you going to submit to Amazon Storyteller?

KDP Pricing Support can't help you price your ebook.

KDP Pricing Support Gets It Wrong

Amazon have unveiled a new tool for indie authors. KDP Pricing Support seeks to compare your ebook to similar offerings in the Amazon store and use that comparison to find the best price point for your book. The purpose behind KDP Pricing Support is to maximise author earnings, something most authors will appreciate. But I think it’s almost useless.

Let’s look at Amazon’s suggestions for my short story You Are Just A Guest, which comes in at just over 5,000 words. It’s priced at $0.99, which I think is pretty reasonable; (what I hope is) a solid and entertaining piece of writing costs the same as a single chocolate bar. But KDP Pricing Support thinks I should charge $2.99 for a short story.

Amazon isn’t alone in that opinion; Dean Wesley Smith concurs. And if we think about it, selling a 5,000 word story for $2.99 means I make $0.06 a word. Consider that, at the low end, Analog pays $0.07 a word and Asimov’s $0.08 a word and I’m doing pretty well for a new author! And the way Amazon’s royalty structure works, I’d have to sell six copies at $0.99 to make the same as just one copy at $2.99.

So this is a done deal, right? Time to hike the price! But hang on a moment. Don’t we need to consider what the reader is willing to pay?

Let’s consider Analog and Asimov magazines, which sell for circa $3.50 a copy and contain a lot more than a single story. Let’s consider that the best selling paperback on Amazon is just shy of $7.80. Let’s consider that, while you make $0.06 a word on a $2.99 sale price, most short stories tend to sell to a magazine just once. It is not reasonable to ask a reader to fork out $2.99 for a single short story.

But KDP Pricing Support can’t tell you that, because the best earning point is $2.99, where the sales and royalties are high enough to earn more than at $0.99. From a data perspective, it’s the best idea for my short story.

But I doubt readers would agree.

Will Amazon Source ruin Independent Bookshops?

Amazon have recently announced their Source programme, which is designed to encourage independent bookshops to sell Kindle devices. Opinion is strongly decided over Source, with many booksellers calling Amazon Source a Trojan horse. But I’m not convinced.

First I need to say one thing: I am not an Amazon apologist. Yes, they’ve done great things. But there are too many indies blindly singing hosannas to the mighty Zon. Perhaps they’re scared their books will be pulled if they don’t or maybe they just love Amazon. I don’t know. But Amazon have made no secret of their desire to rule the world and they’ve stepped on little people to get to that goal. But, that being said, there are two reasons why I’m not sure this will devastate independent bookshops as much as some might think.

Ebooks don’t trump books

I got my first Kindle two years ago and I love it. It’s a fantastic little device and it’s worth it’s weight. Literally, because it saved my wrists from snapping under the weight of the Game of Thrones books. But I still buy tree-books. Quite a lot of them. And I’m not alone. I know only one Kindle owner who has entirely turned her back on tree-books and that’s only because she can’t physically lift them anymore.

Sure, an independent bookshop will want you to buy all your books in a physical format (despite the 10% commission Amazon will offer them on ebook sales). But a devoted reader is bound to pick up an ereader at some point. Why not have them do it at your own store? Which brings me to:

Service trumps price

There’s a comic shop in Norwich called Abstract Sprocket. It is, unsurprisingly, a little out of the way and it cannot compete with Amazon on price. Whilst I don’t buy comics anymore, I still buy graphic novels and collections. So where do I buy them?

At Abstract Sprocket. Because it’s a pleasure to shop there. The guys love their products, they recommend titles to me because they think I’ll like them, and they’re just fun to talk to. It costs more money to shop there, but it’s worth it. If an independent bookshop is a pleasure to visit, customers will keep coming back.

And I can guarantee they’d rather visit the bookshop that isn’t afraid to talk about and help them with ereaders and ebooks rather than the one that sneers at them and sprays them with holy water.

So am I saying independent bookshops should stock Kindles? I think I am. People want ereaders and ebooks. If the bookseller creates a welcoming environment and offers great recommendations, many customers will come back. And I’m pretty sure they’ll keep buying tree-books too.

Is the Kindle a Trojan horse or is it just another reading tool? Leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Has Amazon Ruined Goodreads?

It’s a burden being right all the time. Not too long ago I wrote a post stating that Amazon needs to embrace social media. And what happened? Amazon bought Goodreads, the leading social media site for book readers. Did I call it or what?

Well, not really. I had imagined Amazon introducing some homegrown social solutions. But I forgot the Golden Rule: when you’re as big as Amazon, you don’t have to make your own products; you just have to buy other people’s. So Amazon saw what Goodreads had created and got them some of that. But is this a good thing for readers?

Otis Chandler, one of the founders of Goodreads, claims that he sold the site to Amazon for three reasons:

• Greater reach – Amazon can extend Goodreads services to all of its customers now;
• Ereader integration – Amazon can now bring social interaction directly into the reading experience;
• Independence – Amazon will keep their hands off the wheel.

Yeah, I’m not buying that last one.

That Goodreads was an independent entity was what made it so great. It fostered a truly open environment and encouraged free discussion. Goodreads was somewhere you could go to talk books online without a salesman taking notes over your shoulder. But now it has a vested interest in making you buy from Amazon. Cue heavy advertising, links aplenty and pretty soon features will be exclusive to the Kindle. And Goodreads will exist solely to build up Amazon and break down its competition.

Are there any upsides to the deal? I’m not counting all these social reading ideas; reading will always be a solitary experience no matter how many buttons you add to the ereader. But Amazon will bring money and resources to the party. That might help Goodreads develop their mobile app, for instance, or improve the online interface. And it’s unlikely that Amazon are going to mess much the site, other than channeling buyers to their site. So the Goodreads we know won’t go anywhere any time soon.

But the data belongs to the Mighty Zon now. That will be a bitter pill for some people to swallow.

But perhaps I’m being too negative. What do you think? Is Amazon going to break Goodreads or can things only get better?

Why Amazon Needs To Be More Like Facebook

Amazon’s review system is broken and open to abuse. Certain writers were posting damning reviews on competitors’ books and glowing reviews on their own. Others were paying strangers to leave reviews. And readers were swarming good books with bad reviews because they didn’t like what it had to say and wanted it to fail. It’s all bad voodoo and something needs to change. So Amazon decreed that no writer is permitted to review books in their own genre. But that punishes every writer for the sins of the few. And it doesn’t stop the swarming problem. So what are they to do?

Easy. Make Amazon more like Facebook.

Sounds strange? Not at all. There’s three good reasons for my cockamamie scheme.

1. Transparency

A major problem with Amazon reviews right now is the anonymity; anyone can create multiple accounts and hide behind a username. Obi1 can swarm a book and drag down its star rating. lukes88 can post fake reviews of his book. But Facebook demands your real name. And a picture. There’s nothing to hide behind.

2. Conversation

Furthermore such a system wouldn’t even require formal reviews. Each product page could collate conversations about the product. So sending a public message to a friend suggesting they check out a book pops up as a “review”. And though these people are strangers, a shopper can see someone making the effort to recommend the book. That’s a strong review in and of itself!

3. Judge and ye be judged too

Doing all of this will also mean that when I review a book you’re better equipped to judge me as well as my review. After all you can see my activity. You can see I’m a writer, for instance. You can also see that I have a hardcore devotion to Michael Jackson. And look, I’ve liked a page called “Vote down this Michael Jackson book”. My review probably isn’t legit…

If this all sounds like an extreme solution to the problem, it shouldn’t be. If readers can’t trust the reviews on Amazon then Amazon itself becomes viewed as unreliable as the reviews it allows to remain on its site. And the same applies to others; Goodreads, for instance, has suffered from swarming as well.

Trustworthy reviews are vital to any online book seller. Removing the anonymity and adding a social element can go a long way towards restoring them. And then I can review books again.

Would you like to see Amazon become more like Facebook? Or would you avoid that like a big, corporate plague? Please let me know; I’m interested to hear what people think!

Buy an Ebook, Own an Ebook

I’m about to step in from a limb, open myself up to almost no criticism and pretty much snub controversy by stating the following: if you buy an ebook, you should own it.

I know, me with my crazy ideas. I’m not the only one who thinks so. In the wake of the news that Amazon wiped a Norwegian woman’s Kindle and denied her access to her paid-for ebooks, plenty of people have complained that we should own our ebooks. After all, Waterstones aren’t busting down your front door and stealing back your paperbacks. But this isn’t a one-off. In a move so beautiful it might collapse under its own irony, Amazon secretly deleted copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from hundreds of Kindles. You couldn’t write this stuff.

But I’m not writing this to complain or demand reform or justice or what-have-you. Amazon are a business. If we don’t like the way they do business, we can only vote with our wallets. The reason I’m writing this is to make a recommendation to you.

Download Calibre.

Calibre allows you to backup your ebooks to a computer. So if Amazon decide you’ve been naughty and wipes your Kindle, you have backups. You haven’t lost what you’ve legitimately paid for.

Calibre is also useful because you can convert ebooks into different formats. Kindles, for example, won’t let you read .epubs, the format Apple and Kobo and a lot others sell. But Calibre can convert an .epub into a .mobi which the Kindle can read. The conversion might violate some terms of service, however. (The ethics of those terms is for another day.) I’ve also heard that you can download some plugins that let Calibre strip out DRM. But, if they exist, that would definitely violate terms of service and I can’t recommend you do that.

But the backup thing? I can’t recommend that enough.

I’m still interested in hearing your thoughts on Amazon wiping Kindles, though. Are they stealing back paid-for property or are they within their rights?

Why is Waterstones Selling Kindles?

James Daunt, the man holding the Waterstones reins, has correctly identified the Kindle as the ereader that UK readers want. But is it really a good idea to sell them in his stores? After removing the Sony ereaders from their stock, I expected them to start selling at least the Nook and at best a Waterstones-branded ereader linked to their own ebook store. But the Kindle? Isn’t Daunt shooting himself in the foot?

I don’t think so.

Cards on the table: selling the Kindle is a massive short-term loss for Waterstones. It will actively disconnect readers from their own ebook store; those ebooks are sold in the open EPUB format, which isn’t supported by the Kindle. Rather than converting files and illegally stripping DRM, customers will buy from Amazon instead. But it will provide Waterstones will two very important things.

Revenue and reprieve.

The best scenario for Waterstones is to have its own ereader, one that can truly rival the Kindle and bring customers back into the fold. Daunt has admitted that Waterstones is late to the game and that an ereader couldn’t be ready until next Christmas.

But why wait until then to take advantage of the hardware revenue? Selling Kindles means they get a cut of Kindle sales. That’s more than they were getting before. And instead of wasting time on second best, they’ll be selling what everyone already wants. So Waterstones starts earning more revenue.

It also buys Daunt some breathing space. Instead of rushing an ereader to the market and playing catch-up, Waterstones can properly plan and execute a strategy. The lost ebook customers aren’t too much of a worry; technology has an expiry date by its nature. Customers will be quick to drop their Kindle when it’s overshadowed by a superior newcomer. Revenue and reprieve will allow Waterstones to build that shadow.

At first glance this deal looks a lot like a little white flag raised to Amazon. But I suspect that it’s part of a bigger, longer game.

Here’s hoping.

Who Needs Amazon? Rowling Goes It Alone

In case you were hiding under a rock today (or if you’re just not a fan), the Harry Potter ebooks were released today and with a twist: they can’t be purchased anywhere other than J K Rowling’s Pottermore website. That’s right, Rowling is self-publishing and without Amazon’s help. Is she blazing a trail?

Self-publishing is notable for one thing: it cuts out middlemen. Self-publishers cut out the publishers and go straight to the distributors. Now Rowling is cutting even them out of the picture. So is this the next step?

After all, it doesn’t take much to set up your own personal online shop. Services like PayPal can handle the fiddly money bits. You just need a website to host the thing and services like WordPress take the hassle out of even that. So why isn’t everyone doing the same dance as Rowling?

Rowling, of course, is the exception to nearly every rule. The runaway first-book-success story, film deals and eye-watering advances. And in this, too, she’s an exception: she already has a massive platform.

You’ve probably heard of an author platform. It’s a term for the author’s reach and for how many people care when the author talks. A lot of people care when Rowling talks. She and Harry Potter are powerful brands. But why does this matter?

Because the buzzword of self-publishing right now is discoverability. The biggest challenge to self-publishers is being found in the first place. Amazon’s recommendations can help readers find new books as well as provide (hopefully) glowing reviews to persuade them to purchase. Readers are also more likely to buy from a trusted source than your little website.

But will that change?

Computer literacy grows daily and people are beginning to understand what to look for when they shop online. Using a trusted service like PayPal removes any concerns in that area. And the stigma of selling your book on your own website will be pretty much eradicated by the self-publishing revolution. So it really comes down to discoverability. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t find books on Amazon. I find them through friends and social media.

So is Rowling showing us the way into the future? Will self-publishers one day think to themselves: who needs Amazon?

Barnes & Noble Throw a Tantrum Over Amazon

The L.A. Times has reported that Barnes & Noble will no longer sell in its bricks and mortar stores any books published by Amazon. This is because, according to Barnes & Noble, Amazon are undermining the book industry using exclusivity.

So, to summarise, Barnes & Noble are throwing their toys out of the pram.

Let’s not beat around the bush; if B&N were in Amazon’s shoes, they’d push as hard for exclusivity and more. But Amazon has come along and beaten them at their own game. They’re pushing hard for their share and that’s great. Amazon are doing exactly what any competitor should do, which is to do it better for less. They’re challenging the status quo and innovating the market. And now B&N have a choice: go the way of the dinosaur, or step up to the plate and challenge Amazon right back.

Is refusing to stock their books the way? No. It’s juvenile and pathetic. At best it takes choice away from the reader. At worst it drives them into Amazon’s arms.

B&N, and any bricks and mortar store, already have an advantage over Amazon: they have a physical presence in the customer’s world. They can offer a human touch, personal recommendations, a haven for books and the book-lovers. At the moment, the status quo seem to view these stores as an albatross around their necks. But they need to embrace them and turn them into an advantage. Most importantly they need to start thinking and innovating too, instead of treating it as business as normal punctuated with a few tantrums.

Because, at this rate, the only books they’ll be selling are their own. Which would be zero.