retailing

Hm.

So, The Weirld is up to #34 in Sword & Sorcery....

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...which is excellent except for the whole "Sword & Sorcery" bit? I mean, I guess I should just roll with it, but I certainly didn't put it in that category--there are no swords in the book at all, and while there's certainly some magic, actual sorcery isn't a big part of it. I guess Atlatl & Metallic Properties as They Relate to Magic just doesn't have quite the same ring to it....

Thoughts on the road

I'm a-wandering in search of...everyone's damned 2017 tax forms! In the meantime, I've been thinking about the release of The Weirld as an e-book. (And I'm feeling quite thankful that I'm not using Word and not having to worry about all kinds of random extra coding getting shoved into the book for no reason. It's so much easier!)

I saw that Amazon has really upgraded their tools for authors! What they've got looks like something (assuming it's not buggy) that will very quickly turn out an especially nice e-book. I'm genuinely looking forward to playing with that when I get home.

It doesn't look like much has changed with Smashwords, which is also nice--they've always been easy to use.

Buuuut...because I don't intend to do the long marketing push I did with Trang, I'm eyeing going exclusive with KDP, albeit just for the first 90 days since I don't like relying on a single retailer. Exclusivity would give me access to some promotional tools that are very easy to use and hopefully would get me reviews so that I don't feel like I'm completely neglecting this book. Plus I like the idea of offering the people who follow me (especially those who have stuck out this long dry period) an early-bird special price, and with exclusivity I can just make the book free for five days. So I think that's where I'm headed.

Some of this is interesting, and some of this is dumb

The Wall Street Journal has an article on the Author's Guild meeting with the Department of Justice about how Amazon is a big, evil monopoly that should be burned at the stake.

I've done a number of posts about how Amazon is not in fact a monopoly, and I've done other posts on how the Author's Guild is comically useless. I'm not seeing anything here to change my mind about either topic (which also explains why I don't do much industry posting any more)--I mean, it's only been two years since the DOJ ignored the Author's Guild and successfully sued publishers, and the Author's Guild is already running back to them with the exact same argument? Really? I bet the DOJ had a good laugh about that one.

Anyway, what really interested me in the article was some numbers on Amazon's market share, done via a survey of book buyers, not book publishers:

Amazon had 40% of the new book market, 62% of all print books sold online, and 64% of the e-book market, according to a June 2014 online survey by researcher Codex-Group LLC, based on a survey of 3,672 adults who purchased books in the prior month.

The e-book percentage was lower than I thought it would be, although it is in line with the publisher figures the Author's Guild regurgitated two years ago. So, yeah, Amazon's choke-hold on the industry resulted in them . . . not really increasing their market share at all over the past two years. OK.

And just FYI, a similar survey of customers who bought digital music found that roughly 80% use a single retailer, namely iTunes. This is why the Amazon-is-a-monopoly argument just isn't going to fly--it's not about market share. There needs to be anticompetitive behavior, and it's just not there.

The whole Hachette dramarama is nothing more than a standard-issue conflict between a supplier and a retailer, just like the Macmillan one was. It's just that there's a lot of people out there who don't understand business very well and are willing to act as Hachette's unpaid publicity agents.

From the Annals of Marketing Neglect

So, Alicia had a good question:

I'm curious - when you have a moment - how did your books do while you had no time to promote and pay attention to them? I hope well.

Or did you find time for at least keeping track of that?

Now, it seems she thinks that I haven't been paying any attention to my books for the past couple of months as I fixed up the new house. But the truth of the matter is that I haven't done ANY marketing since my brother passed away late last April--in a crisis, I've found that it's best to simplify one's life as much as possible and focus only on the things that are truly essential. As a result, aside from the stuff that cropped up because of something I did a couple of years back, there has been no marketing of my books for almost a year--no Facebook ads, nothing.

How have sales been? Remarkably steady!

With one important caveat: Whenever something changes with Amazon, the level of my sales changes--but then remains steady. Sales are lower since Amazon switched from have a Science Fiction: Series bestseller list to having a Science Fiction: First Contact list--but they have been quite consistent at that lower level.

Compensating somewhat for that lower level is the fact that the book is now on the Science Fiction: First Contact list at Amazon UK.

Wait! This means I am now an INTERNATIONAL BESTSELLING AUTHOR!!! Oh, that's hilarious.

The reason it's hilarious is that I'm still not selling tons of books--not nearly enough to make a living off it or anything. If I needed to do that--well, for starters I would actually write more, but also I would push to get on a bigger bestseller list, like getting back on the general Science Fiction list. Back in those days I was making about $500 a month off of sales of Trust--obviously still not enough to live off, either, but if I had more titles out....

And November begins with . . . a random dispatch!

I've decided against renting. I looked at a couple of places, and they were fine as far as they went, but OMFG I had completely forgotten what landlords are like to deal with. Many thanks to them for calling me first thing on a Saturday morning, as well as selling my telephone number to marketers who also enjoy calling me at the crack of dawn! It appears that it's not just a regional thing--landlords across the country are retarded douchebags. (And before you start muttering, I've never had a problem with paying rent. I do, however, have a problem with people who confuse the right to rental payments with droit du seigneur.)

Anyway, renting close to my sister would be more expeditious than waiting for a suitable house to come to the market. But the prospect of inviting some stupid asshole to break into my apartment while I am taking a shower because the shower was not, in fact, waterproof (happened) has reconciled me to the virtues of patience.

What else? Well, as I mentioned, in July Amazon rejiggered its science fiction categories, and at this point I think I have enough data to say that being on the free Science Fiction: First Contact list really blows. I'm keeping my ranking and my front-page status, but I'm giving away far fewer copies of Trang and selling far fewer copies of Trust than when I was on the front page of the free Science Fiction: Series list. The fact that I'm in roughly the same position as far as rankings are concerned just reinforces to me that this list has far less appeal to people than the other list.

So, it's a problem worthy of a science-fiction writer: When I finally get back to work on Trials and finally finish it and finally publish it, I will have to push to get on the general science fiction list (or on whatever more-promising list exists at that date in the faraway future).

If you won't sell it to me, I can't buy it from you

It's fall, which is apparently the time when Korean groups release music (whereas an American artist might release an album with 20-odd songs once every two years, Korean groups tend to release smaller "mini-albums" more frequently).

Anyway, at this point I'm familiar with a lot of these groups and have favorites, which means that I'm coping once again with the frustration of having music released--complete with videos and all kinds of expensive marketing--that I cannot buy, even though I want to.

Why not? Well, digital music is really big in the United States, but it's less big (or regarded simpy as a form of piracy) in Asia. In addition, Korea really exists in an alternate universe when it comes to the Internet--I assume because the market is small and wasn't really a priority for the big Silicon Valley firms, different companies have established themselves in Korea as the default Web sites. Koreans don't Google things, they Naver them. They don't socialize on Facebook, they socialize on CyWorld. Making things even more insular, in some cases you can't access entire Facebook-like categories of sites unless you register with your...Korean Social Security number! Which of course you have, because there are no non-Koreans anywhere on the planet!

So, yeah, you can rock marketing and selling to a Korean audience and be completely pathetic at marketing and selling to everyone else. You know, kind of like authors can rock at reaching other writers and suck at reaching readers--it's those "affinity group" blinders.

In addition, there's what looks an awful lot like "windowing" going on--the practice of not selling music (or books) in all formats right away on the theory that doing so will cannibalize sales.

Bullshit. Like I said before, if it ain't digital, I don't listen to it. I'm certainly not going to buy it, especially not at the prices they charge for import CDs.

As a result, there's been album releases that I really wanted to buy the moment they came out. (coughcoughZionT'sRedLightcoughcough) I'm sure other people did, too, and that might have led to some nice chart-topping visibility of the kind Jay Park recently experienced.

But nooooo. I had to wait months to buy Red Light, and of course I didn't know when it came out digitally, so I bought it when I found it (and it's lucky that I remembered to buy it at all). There goes your surge of buyers and your bestseller-list visibility.

And I'm sure this is a self-reinforcing thing. Zion T's label (the musically very fine Amoeba Culture) is going to look at his digital sales and say, "Well, that's not worth pursuing." And they'll never realize that the problem is that they're not doing it right.

Who is doing it right? You can imagine how much it pleases me to say that not only is Block B back, but they're doing it right! (Whoo!)

What are they doing? Well, they've pre-released a song off their upcoming mini-album, and they did it like this:

1. They offered it as a sponsored free download.

2. It's on sale at iTunes.

3. It will be on iTunes again, I'm sure, once the mini-album is released.

So if someone grabs the free download and then buys the mini-album, or they buy the single now and the mini-album later (since there's usually a discount on an entire album), Block B gets paid twice for the same song.

Do you think they read Joe Konrath's blog? Because this looks familiar. And the added bonus is that they're maximizing revenue in a way that does not make fans feel like they're getting ripped off--it's a free song! What's not to like?

Another value in free

This is interesting (via PV): Netflix looks at piracy sites to figure out what shows are popular and worth carrying.

Yeah, I love it--I've never BitTorrented anything because it's a hassle. Not shockingly, I subscribe to Netflix. As with Amazon and iTunes, the main value of Netflix is convenience, and I'm happy to pay for that. It's not like BitTorrent doesn't have costs--costs in your time, costs in risks to your computer. If people are downloading from there, they're motivated to get over that hump--they want the work.

And I can completely see doing something similar with books--do a couple of freebie short stories/novellas in different genres or series, and see what catches on before deciding which one to pursue.

Varieties of inertia

Random Life Crap has come up again, but hopefully tomorrow will be better (and the bathroom is almost finished). In the meantime, Kris Rusch has a good post comparing publishing to the music industry. There's an interesting bit about how off-putting it is to consumers when producers refuse to be flexible or adapt. I've whined about how much it annoys me, but none other than Kanye West has provided the data to prove that it can hurt sales:

For his latest album, he did almost no appearances (very important in music), and had no advance streaming [i.e. free samples] or preorders. As a result, his first-week sales were at a career low for West, and went down 80% in the second week.

Meanwhile, Jay Park told me on Facebook yesterday that he's going to release a free single tomorrow. Just saying.

What else is happening? Well, I realized that I never updated my covers on my Facebook page. Then I thought, "I never do anything with that page! It just sits there. I should take it down!" And then I realized that it doesn't matter that I never do anything with that page, it costs me nothing to have it up, and even if only one person uses it to get updates, well, then having it is doing more good than not having it. Which is kind of my entire social-media strategy, such as it is--just have it, but don't drive yourself crazy with it. Even doing it poorly is better than not doing it at all, and takes about the same amount of effort. So I'll just update the graphics later today.

A quick note

I've got the kids this week, but since it looked like the Science Fiction: First Contact free bestseller list was coming back up, I ran a Facebook ad just to make sure Trang would still be on the front page if and when it did. It did, and Trang didn't lose ranking, so yay.

Not that this solves the dependence issue....

I don't think I've actually sold much of anything on Kobo (impressive how well I keep on top of the business end of things, isn't it?), so I've never had a payment screwed up there, but it sounds like other people have. So I'm probably going to switch to distributing through Smashwords with them, too. If they can't cut a check properly, they're not much use, are they?

Hey, look! Amazon is unreliable!

Ever since that outage two days ago, Amazon's Top 100 Free First Contact Science Fiction list has been showing--well, yesterday it was six books, and right now it's two.

Guess what that means for sales of Trang and Trust? In an amazing coincidence, exactly two days ago they fell off a cliff and died!

As I've mentioned, I've been not paying attention to the business end of things especially hard lately, so yeah, I've set myself up to be a classic case study of what happens when you become excessively dependent on one retailer and one method of marketing. Since I don't actually count on the income from my books to live or to feed my familly, it doesn't really matter, but if I did, I'd really be up a tree right now, you know? (And I was going to make an Illuminati joke, but that link went away! Boo-hoo!)

Why did this happen? I don't know. Is it a deliberate evil plan on evil Amazon's part, or just something that will be fixed by the end of business today? I don't know. More important, it doesn't matter. This is what always happens when you become overly reliant on a single client. Always. Always. Always. Good reason; bad reason; no reason at all--all you need to know is that it will always happen. If the income matters to you, plan accordingly.

As for me, I may very well continue to ignore everything, because (as is often the case after a tragedy) I feel a need to simply my life and focus on priorities. In all honestly, selling a lot of books is just not that important to me, especially if it's going to steal focus away from writing new ones. Any advertising campaign is going to be more cost-effective if there are more books behind it, so there's a business rationale for waiting as well, assuming I want one. Of course, it's not like doing a campaign is hard, so maybe I should suck it up. We'll see.

(Oh, and as for working on the audiobook, there's one little glitch in that plan: Contractors and children are not quiet.)

The complexities of free

For reasons that I hope are obvious, I haven't been paying ANY attention to marketing or the like over the past few months. And yet, sales of Trust are just chugging along at a remarkably steady rate.

So when I saw Lindsay Buroker's post a couple of weeks ago wondering if giving away a free book on Amazon was still a viable marketing strategy, my initial response was along the lines of, Well, duh, yes. I'm not arguing that I'm maximizing my sales here, but I think there's something to be said for a marketing method that will continue to work without any active engagement from you--like, at all. Because sometimes life drops a brick on your head, and there ain't no warning.

But the issue kept rattling around the back of my head, because according to Buroker's post other authors are seeing lower sales and blaming the lower visibility of the free lists on Amazon.

The problem with that is, there are a lot of reasons why sales drop. Summer is traditionally a slow period in book publishing, so much so that in the industry there are "summer hours" (typically Friday is off or a half day--you're supposed to make that up the rest of the week, but you don't, and nobody cares) and all the hiring happens in September.

The other thing to keep in mind is that Amazon also rejiggered its categories, at least for science fiction. This doesn't seem to have affected me much: Trang went from being on the first page of the free Science Fiction: Series books to being on the front page of the free Science Fiction: First Contact books, so I'm guessing the audiences for those two lists are pretty similar in size. That said, I could see how shifting categories around could drastically affect sales--if your book got moved into a much bigger pool of books, it would vanish off the bestseller lists, and you'd be screwed.

Out of curiosity, I decided to look up how many copies of Trang I've given away each month for the few months that it's been free. And the result really surprised me: That number has bounced all over the place. Last month I gave away about half as many copies as the month before, and about half as many as I'm on track to give away this month.

Which is weird, because my ranking has been relatively stable, and my sales of Trust have been really steady.

I have no explanation for it, and I think focusing on these short-terms shifts and trying to determine an explanation for them is a waste of brain power. Think of how dynamic the situation is: The Science Fiction: First Contact category is a new one, which means that readers and other writers are still discovering it, so I have no idea if it will continue to be a friendly category for me or not. I also don't know if Trang will go stale with that audience, or if that bestseller list will consistently attract new readers.

I really don't know why my numbers have done what they've done. But do I think it's a little more complicated than "Amazon ruined free!"

The other Jay

The very evening after I wrote my post bitching about Jay-Z's latest release, a post popped up in my Facebook feed notifying me that Jay Park's latest EP was out and giving me a link to where it was on iTunes. I clicked on the link, previewed the songs, and bought the ones I wanted--easy-peasy.

Then I wrote up an addendum to that post to contrast the two experiences, but I decided not to post it. I mean, we all know who Jay-Z is--people who know nothing about hip-hop know who Jay-Z is--and we all know that his album already sold a gazillion copies before it was even released. If you don't live in Asia, however, you've probably have never even heard of Jay Park.

So you know, he is a Korean-American singer and rapper who tried to go the traditional K-Pop route but ran afoul of his label and is now basically independent (he works with labels, but he's not owned by them the way Korean musicians so often are). Since he was born and raised in the U.S., Park really understands the way Americans use the Internet, plus his first language is English. He's really got it on the ball when it comes to social media and the like. When I was trying to figure out how I wanted to do my Block B Web site (NO, the domain name doesn't work yet, God damn it! I don't know what the fuck is wrong with Hover, but I am calling them tomorrow--AGAIN. ETA: OK, I called--apparently the problem was the "name servers," whatever the hell those things are. But the person was lovely and supposedly it will be working within 48 hours. EATA: OK, now it's functional), Park's Web site was the one I looked at. And he has a Facebook page that updates just often enough so that I know it hasn't been abandoned, but not often enough to annoy me--plus it provides me with convenient links to his new music the minute it is available for purchase.

And whaddya know, Park's EP debuted in the top 10 of iTunes' R&B list in fifteen different countries, including hitting #4 in the U.S.

In other words, a few days ago the #4 bestselling digital R&B album in the United States was by a guy you've never heard of. And was largely not in English.

Hey, I guess I get to make a post out of this after all!

I mean, think about it--who's the writer equivalent of Jay-Z in this day and age? Stephen King, Scott Turow--all the folks who did it the old way, who can coast off their existing reputations, and who can rely on large corporations to throw enormous bags of money their way regardless of the quality of their work. They do things a certain way, which makes sense for them, because they've already made it big. It's not a path that's actually available to someone who hasn't made it big yet.

But what Park has done? That focus on lowering barriers to entry? Making purchasing beyond easy for the consumer? Samples? So something indie writers can do.

On minions, piñatas, and open wallets

Someone got very excited about one of the new Jay-Z songs, so I was going to give the album a listen, but it turns out that it's only released to Certain People, and I am not one of The Chosen.

I realize that was supposed to make me all excited about this album (OMFG! IT'S SO EXCLUUUUSIVE!!!! OMG! OMG! I HAVE NO SELF-ESTEEM! OMFG!), but frankly, it just annoyed me. I feel like Jay-Z's output is completely uneven these days, and this whole thing just underscores the impression I have that he's really kind of lost interest in music. I mean, if he's getting paid by corporate deals in advance of actual album sales, and money is all that matters, well, why should he break a sweat and make good songs? He gets paid the same for crap, and making crap's a whole lot easier.

And it turns out things aren't working out so well for The Chosen, either. The app is buggy and annoying, and it's asking for personal information, which people resent. Quoth that article:

As apps gain popularity, musicians and companies are feeling their way through the new rules of digital etiquette. Michael Schneider, co-founder and chief executive of Mobile Roadie, a popular supplier of music apps, says that requiring users to share their app activity on social media is especially problematic.

"Top of the list is don't force people to log in. I think that's wrong and it turns fans off," he said. 

I would say it turns fans off, plus it turns off would-be fans who resent being treated like big, open wallets that some wealthy entertainer feels entitled to vacuum out at their whim. I don't much care for the music of Barbra Streisand or Justin Beiber, but I actively despise the way they treat their fans--it's money-grubbing manipulation worthy of any cult leader. I don't love Kid Rock's music, either, but I don't avoid his output at all costs because I can't stand the very idea of him, you know?

Obviously, I'm all for artists being able to make a living. But I think there's always a temptation (for authors as well as musicians) to treat fans like little minions who shall do your bidding, or like piñatas that you whack with a stick whenever you want some more money. And when you do that, and you discover that you have fewer fans than you did before, you can even delude yourself into thinking is a good thing, because those are your true fans. But in reality, what you are doing is 1. developing a personality disorder, and 2. finding people whose personality disorders further enable your own. Read Mommie Dearest if you want to know where that's going to take you....

F B&N

So, I got an e-mail from Barnes & Noble that was all, "OMG!! You have to switch your books from Pubit to Nook Press!"

Now, I have had a problem with this ever since the whole Nook Press nonsense started: Why do I have to do anything? WHY? If Barnes & Noble feels compelled to change the name of their self-publishing program or add new features to it, why are they making that my problem? Why am I being asked to lift a finger, when anyone who has ever had any experience with business or economics will tell you that if you ask people to bestir themselves to make something happen, a sizable hunk of them just won't bother.

If you want people to do something, you ask them to opt out. If you don't want them to do something, you ask them to opt in. Barnes & Noble is asking me to opt in to Nook Press. Ergo....

But anyway, in the interest of at least appearing to be remotely engaged, I attempted to switch from Pubit to Nook Press.

And it won't take my password.

It says you can use your Pubit user name and password for Nook Press. I can log into Pubit just fine. But even being logged into Pubit, I can't log into Nook Press.

No, of course you can't move things into Nook Press from Pubit. Why would they make it so you can do that?

You know, if you haven't gathered, I haven't been having the easiest time these days. I've been distracted and upset and emotional, and I am just too fucking drained to deal with Barnes & Noble's dumb-ass bullshit this time around. I barely sell anything there anyway. I would feel more motivated if I thought there was a better chance that they might continue as a going concern, but I don't.

I may change my mind in six month's time, but for now--oh, look! It was so much easier to just delete my links to B&N and suspend the ads. Whodathunkit? 

Linky links

This has been all over the place, but hey, read the Wall Street Journal's coverage: Barnes & Noble is spiraling down. The future does not look bright. I'll just reiterate that if you start having problems with B&N not paying you, don't be quiet about it--let other writers know.

This is a post about NBA draft picks that underscores the perils of managing a one-time big payday. The majority of professional basketball players file for bankruptcy within a few years of retirement. It's just human nature to not deal very well with windfalls--it takes serious planning. And honestly, nothing says "Thank you" to Mom and Dad like not having to file for bankruptcy!

Some interesting links from May

Kris Rusch had an interesting post about work habits--I'm particularly interested in the fact that she doesn't mind it when her time is all chopped up (which kind of kills my writing). Something to think about....

I think it's pretty awesome that Amazon has figured out a way to legally publish and monetize fan fiction. YouTube does something similar, and I'm all for it. I realize that makes me a bit of an outlier, but the fact is that people have always written fan fiction (in fact, there's an entire genre of fiction called the Robinsonade, which is basically Robinson Crusoe fan fiction--The Swiss Family Robinson is only the most famous example). In addition, some of my first fiction was fan fiction (a Firefly fanfic, and years before, a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode), and I think writing fanfic is a great way for people to learn to write novels--basically the character- and world-generation have been taken care of, so you just focus on plot and dialog and develop those skills. It's like training wheels: Eventually you get confident enough to create your own characters and world, and then you're off!

And this spoof is not actually about publishing, but it does underscore how you can spin data to mean anything you like. I'm particularly fond of #20: Electrification rates have stagnated since the 1960s. Just like the way the rates of e-book adoption are slowing!

Oh, goodie

Trang has gone free on Amazon and Barnes & Noble--that didn't take long. (Did I mention that I had made it free on Kobo and Smashwords? That was maybe a week or two ago.) It's already #3 on the Science Fiction: Series free bestseller list on Amazon, so that's nice. Hopefully I'll start to see some movement at the other retailers as well.....

I restarted the Facebook ads for Trang--since I'm making money off Trust, not Trang, I plan to give them a fairly long time to run (they're set to run cheap) before I decide whether or not to keep them.

Math is tricky

Some more unreliable numbers have come out about e-books, and Dean Wesley Smith continues to insist that e-book sales are flatlining. He makes a fairly common error when he tries to evaluate the significance of the "fact" that e-book sales were 17% of the market in 2011 and 23% of the market in 2012:

Yup, that’s 23%. A 6% difference over a full year.

Hello, that's also a 35% growth rate. What will the book market look like if this growth continues? Like this, only faster.

David Gaughran takes a shot at reading the tea leaves as well, and I think he does a better job (in no small part because he is willing to acknowledge that we don't actually know much). I agree with him that it's impressive that 25% of books sold on Barnes & Noble are self-published, despite the fact that B&N does a notoriously craptacular job selling both e-books and self-published books.

Just to give you an idea of how quickly a troubled industry can implode, here's a chart on Passive Voice about ad revenues (i.e. the major source of revenues) for newspapers. Note how until about four years ago, it would have been fairly easy for wishful thinkers to trick themselves into believing that the industry was going to survive the Internet.

Kobo and Goodreads: Weird together

I tried removing the Goodreads reviews from Kobo today to see if that would make the advertising more effective, and I can't. Well, technically I can remove the reviews themselves, but the average star rating and number of reviews remain--you just can't see what the reviews actually say. Considering that Goodreads reviews level a star lower than, say, Amazon reviews, that's pretty much the worst outcome. So, the reviews stay, at least until Amazon yanks them.