Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Medicine Is Rewarding

Just finished my first day in clinic in many a month. I love doing a job that grabs you by the heels and swings you. I never know what I'm going to get when I walk into a hospital, but I know it'll be unforgettable.

That said, holy crud do I have a lot to read tonight!

B.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The 9 99 Boycott

A thorough report showed up on PCWorld today about innovation and consumer outrage. The well-researched piece included this tidbit:

"So far, 5892 Amazon users have tagged electronic Kindle books 36,704 times with the 9 99 boycott tag."

I've commented on this topic before in Jim Butcher's Ghosts 1 and 2, but if you are interested in understanding why publishers are settling on such high ebook prices, the PCWorld article is a good resource.

What do you think about ebook pricing? Where do you draw the line?

B.

Update #1 (3/06/2011): Amazon has removed the tag feature from their Kindle titles. Coincidence?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Barnes and Noble Launches Nook With E-ink Touchscreen


2-month battery life and the same price as the Amazon Kindle? Holy cow, that's sweet. Can't wait to see how Amazon responds.

B.

Monday, May 23, 2011

We Should Call Them Dime Novels

I was reading a great Wikipedia article the other day. It was all about dime novels. Dime novels were cheap, paperback adventures popular from around 1860 to 1915.  From what I could glean, they averaged about 30K words in length. That's about 1/3 the length of your average novel.


And that's exactly what should be priced at a buck: 30K word works. And they should be called dollar novels—not novellas—because the "dollar" in "dollar novels" sets the bar for what a reader should expect to get for a dollar: 30,000 well-crafted words. Do you see where I'm going with this?

Now, before someone ties me to a pike and roasts me, recall that a lot of us new-wave authors embrace the term "indie" for a reason. And I'm not suggesting this idea should be enforced in any sort of way. Only that writers might want to consider the term to differentiate between their 30-40K works and 80-120K works.

I'm considering writing a short-form 30K work myself. I'd love to get your opinions on the concept.

B.

Update #1: Turns out that Stanford has a collection of dime novels. A few are available online. Pretty good reading. Check 'em out.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

v.2 of Zero Sight is Now Available

http://www.urlsinternetcafe.com/coffeebar/exhibit5/bugs.html

A new version of Zero Sight is now available on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. The updated version corrects a few typos spotted by readers and fixes a spacing issue in the Nook version. Thank you to everyone who provided feedback.

You can see which version you are using by inspecting Zero Sight's cover page. If it already says v.2, you can ignore the rest of this post.

v.2 is a minor update. Not a single sentence was added or removed, and the plot and characters have not changed in the slightest. Still, I'm aware that some of you may wish to have the latest version.

For Amazon Purchasers: You should be receiving an email from Amazon on how to obtain to the new version. You may elect to upgrade or decline. Alternatively, you may email Amazon directly, and they should rather promptly update your copy. [Note: at the time of this writing, upgrading an ebook on Amazon means losing any bookmarks or notes you created in the original version. This is a known issue, which Amazon is working hard to address. Some may wish to delay ebook updates until this bug is resolved.]

For Barnes and Noble Purchasers: You can email Barnes and Noble to request the new version.

If you have any trouble with the above methods, contact me and I will provide you with a copy of v.2 via email. Please include the words "Zero Sight v.2 upgrade" in the subject line and stipulate which e-reader you are using in the body of your email.

B.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ebooks Now Outselling Print Books On Amazon

Hot off the wire...

  • Since April 1, for every 100 print books Amazon.com has sold, it has sold 105 Kindle books. This includes sales of hardcover and paperback books by Amazon where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the number even higher.
  • So far in 2011, the tremendous growth of Kindle book sales, combined with the continued growth in Amazon's print book sales, have resulted in the fastest year-over-year growth rate for Amazon's U.S. books business, in both units and dollars, in over 10 years. This includes books in all formats, print and digital. Free books are excluded in the calculation of growth rates.
  • In the five weeks since its introduction, Kindle with Special Offers for only $114 is already the bestselling member of the Kindle family in the U.S.
  • Amazon sold more than 3x as many Kindle books so far in 2011 as it did during the same period in 2010.
  • Less than one year after introducing the UK Kindle Store, Amazon.co.uk is now selling more Kindle books than hardcover books, even as hardcover sales continue to grow. Since April 1, Amazon.co.uk customers are purchasing Kindle books over hardcover books at a rate of more than 2 to 1.

What does this mean? 

Even excluding freebies, print is now being outsold by its electronic counterpart at the largest bookseller in the world. This is the biggest development in the literary world since the invention of the movable type printing press. Gutenberg democratized book ownership. E-ink has democratized book distribution. It's an exciting time to be a writer. It's an exciting time to be a reader. This year is the inflection point scholars will be pointing to in a thousand years.

Nough said.

B.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Jim Butcher's Ghosts, Part 2

So it turns out I wasn't the only one surprised by the strange pricing scheme on Jim Butcher's newest novel, Ghost Story. Other customers have taken notice.

Some background first. Amazon allows its members to tag products with terms they want associated with them. The tags are then voted on by other Amazon customers. The goal is to interconnect products through shared tags. I think it is a cool idea. You can click on a tag and see any other items that were similarly tagged. But the tagging system is being used for an entirely different purpose on Jim Butcher's newest novel.



Tags on Jim Butcher's Ghost Story (with # of votes received in parentheses):

  • outrageous kindle price (164)
  • too expensive for kindle (134)
  • publisher price ripoff (120)
  • penguin boycott (66)
  • 9.99 boycott (63)
  • come on with the ebook price (62)
  • kindle more than hardcover (57)
  • kindle price too high (47)
  • hardcover is cheaper than the digital (45)
  • publisher price gouging (29)
  • agency 5 price boycott (2)
  • agency 5 price fixing (2)
  • bring down price (2)
  • lost sale (2)
  • what happened to 9.99 (2)
  • anything more the 9.99 is a scam (1)
  • lee driver (1)
  • no sales at inflated price (1)

Compare Ghost Story's tags to the tags appearing on Zero Sight's tag page.


Zero Sight's tags consist of terms like fantasy, magic, and paranormal romance. These are tags you would expect based on Zero Sight's genre and sexy content. Zero Sight is not getting spammed with angry tags. The lower 2.99 price point seems to be inline with readers expectations. 

This tagging phenomena can be viewed as a barometer. Many readers do not believe that they should have to pay hardcover prices for electronic books, and they're angry enough about the high prices that they spend their time letting others know about it. But they're not demanding free books either. Notice how all the negative tags still hint at a desire to buy the book. These are not the voices of pirates on the high seas. These are consumers willing to pay. 

Paying customers are not the kind of folks you want to piss off. These are the people paying your bills, telling their friends about your work, and queuing up to buy your next novel. If they feel like they are being gouged, you've got yourself a problem. There are plenty of other novels in the sea, and you never want to give a large chunk of your audience the inspiration to look elsewhere.

This isn't Mr. Butcher's fault, of course. Authors don't set prices. Publishers set prices. But I'm sure Mr. Butcher is aware of the rising wave of discontent in his readership—and it's gotta be driving him crazy. 

Mr. Butcher has worked hard to build an incredibly loyal fan base. He's done thousands of book signings, interviews, and meet-and-greets. He's consistently delivering a high-quality product on a very predictable release schedule. He's earned every single one of his readers. They're his, not his publisher's. But this stupid pricing war between Penguin and Amazon is still damaging Mr. Butcher's brand. Not all readers know that authors have nothing to do with pricing. Some of them are going to blame Mr. Butcher.

I'm sure Mr. Butcher will have this in mind when he negotiates his next contract—and I'm not so sure this is good news for Penguin. He needs them a lot less than they need him. He's the source of their future revenue, but they're burning him to cover the debts incurred by their past. I'm afraid that if Penguin Publishing doesn't figure out the harm they're doing to their authors soon, they could end up like many in the recording industry, on their butt in a ditch wondering what the heck just happened.

I'm buying the hardcover version of Ghost Story. I'll have read it cover-to-cover before the digital version even comes out. But it looks like some other readers are set to engage in a boycott. We'll have to wait and see how it all plays out.

B.
Background on the Penguin vs. Amazon snafu:

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jim Butcher's Ghosts

Ghost Story: A Novel of the Dresden Files


Ghost Story, the next book in the Dresden Files releases this July. I'm a Jim Butcher fan. A rabid Jim Butcher fan. I want to know what happened to Harry Dresden at the end of Changes. Is he alive? Dead? Frozen in carbonite? Since there are only 3 months to spare, I went online to pre-order it on Amazon. I'm baffled with what I found:

Ghost Story's hardcover price: $14.71
Ghost Story's Kindle Price: $14.99
-0.28

With Amazon's free shipping option, I can get a copy of Mr. Butcher's newest novel in hardcover for 28 cents less than the Kindle version. We're talking a book made from real paper, with a nice fiber binding, and a giant despondent Dresden cover. 

I was like, "Waaaa?"

I couldn't wrap my head around it. Ghost Story was going to arrive at my door nicely packaged in bubble wrap for less than the price of the digital file. It might even come a day earlier like Amazon new releases often do. I'm going to tear through it, place it on my Dresden Files altar, and pop open a nice ale before the Kindle version is even available. (Then my wife can read it in secret.)

Now this is great news for me, but it's bad news for the environment—and terrible news for Mr. Butcher. The incentives to steal couldn't have been set higher. The Ghost Story release is setting up to be a pirating fiasco.

So what gives. Why on earth is a hardcover book selling for less than a digital copy?

First let's clear up how this pricing mess didn't happen.

Misconception #1: This is Amazon's Fault

It's true that Amazon is able to reduce the cost of printed books. They do this storing their stock in very large, low rent warehouses operated out of tax lenient states. When I purchase books in California, they are shipped to me from Henderson, Nevada. There is plenty of open space around Henderson, and by keeping their staff and inventory in Nevada, Amazon avoids paying the steeper California taxes. (Under current law, it is my duty to report the sales taxes I owe to California.) Combine these advantages with Amazon's bulk purchasing power, and America's biggest online retailer can afford to offer print books at much lower prices than local brick-and-mortar competitors.

But while their business practices reduce the costs of material goods, Amazon does not set ebook prices. When you publish a book, you set the price. Amazon only skims a set percentage off the top.

Misconception #2: This is Jim Butcher's Fault

Mr. Butcher writes bestsellers. Mr. Butcher does not sell bestsellers. He sells rights to bestsellers. Mr. Butcher's agent takes his intellectual property to NYC and shops it to the publishing houses. The publishing houses bid on Mr. Butcher's rights, Mr. Butcher and his agent negotiate a contract, and his rights are signed over to a publishing house. 

In Mr. Butcher's case, the publishing house in question is called Penguin. Mr. Butcher picked which rights he wanted to sell to Penguin (print, e-pub, international, movie, comic book, etc.), but once he did, the whole book production process was largely out of his hands. If not explicitly stated by his contract, Mr. Butcher doesn't get a say in how his books are priced, or the number of copies to be printed, or even the covers slapped on the front them.

BTW, Penguin, the Wizard Harry Dresden doesn't wear hats. Please stop putting them on your book covers.

At least the SciFi Channel
 got something right.

The Truth: This is Penguin Publishing's Fault

Penguin is a traditional publisher, and traditional publishers have a problem. The game changed, but they're still playing by the old rules. You don't have to believe me, either. Believe them.

According to the AAP, the publishing industry's own trade association, print publishing is in serious trouble. If you compare January 2011 to January 2010 sales:

  • Adult hardcover sales fell from $55.4M to $49.1M (-11.3%)
  • Adult paperback sales dropped from $104.2M to $83.6M (-19.7%)
  • Adult mass market sales declined from $56.4M to $39.0M (-30.9%)

Taken together, that's a $44.3M loss (-20.5%)

Meanwhile
  • E-book net sales increased from $32.4 Million to $69.9M (+115.8%)

Yep, you read that right. A 115.8% jump. That's over a single year. That's with most e-readers still costing over $150. That's before every grandmother in America gets a Kindle for Christmas this year.

Is anybody else seeing this?!?

The February numbers are even worse. Compared to last year:
  • ebook sales grew by 202.3%
  • hardcover sales declined by 43%
  • mass market paperbacks declineed by 41%

Holly calzones! That's an 86.5% jump in ebook sales in less than one business quarter!

But here's what's critical. Americans aren't reading fewer books

Total book revenue fell by only 1.9% last year. People aren't reading fewer books, they're just reading them differently. They're reading books on their Nooks, and on their Kindles, and on Kobos, and on whatever else Steve Jobs thinks up next. And this isn't the start of a trend. There has already been a tectonic shift in reading patterns. On Amazon, electronic books are already outselling hardcovers and softcovers. Electronic has become the dominate medium. The walls that had kept writers from readers have tumbled into the sea.

So what's a smart publisher doing?

They're moving fast. They're getting the heck out of their high rent New York offices and moving into into inexpensive suburbs with excellent internet connections. They're signing twice as many writers because they don't have to print twice as many new books. They're hiring web innovators to exploit social networking. They're training programmers to improve the appearance and interactability of their ebooks. They're hiring artists that understand how to create eye-catching web and e-ink graphics. They're managing their brand like an indie record label. People are going to know it—know it means quality—and devour everything that they print. 

And they're offering their authors sweeter deals—starting at 50% of sale price—because they don't have to move as many books anymore. Their overhead is now next to nonexistent.

What's Penguin doing?

Sacrificing Mr. Butcher's sales on the pyre of their crashing business model. Penguin has declared war on the reading public—but they're guarding a castle with no walls. I'm a crazed Butcher fan. I'd probably pay $30 bucks to read Ghost Story—but most people wouldn't. They're going to do the math. They're going to figure out that they can buy five low priced titles for the same price as one from Jim Butcher. Mr. Butcher is good, damn good, but Penguin is forcing him to compete against five times the reading experience. 

Worse still, to avoid paying such an inflated rate, many readers are going to pirate the ebook. The torrents will be up in hours. At $15, the incentive to steal is high.

This is a no-win for Mr. Butcher. Penguin is cannibalizing his sales so they can feed their dying hardcover business. I'm willing to gamble that Mr. Butcher will remember this. I'm willing to gamble that he's going to look twice before signing another traditional publishing contract. His readers love his books because he's Jim-freakin'-Butcher. They don't need to see Penguin's ROC label. If he moves to the web, they will follow him.

And I can guarantee other big name authors are watching too. 

Publishers no longer get to tell people what to read. They don't control the distribution channels anymore. Any writer can now turn their back on traditional publishing and reach their faithful readers straight through the internet. The people get to decide now. If a book's good, they give it five stars. If a book's bad, it sinks to the bottom of the heap. There's no complexity to this system. The people get to read what the people want to read.

The future of publishing is simple. Legacy publishers are either going to transform into value-adding partners that are focused on making inexpensive books even better—or they're going to be stuck on the sidelines banging cans for cash. The ones that don't get it can growl all they want. They're not even in the way.

B.

Jim Butcher's Ghosts, Part 2
The 9.99 Boycott

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Are You Serious, Guys?


kb7uen Gene over on the Kindle Boards pointed out this article:

Kindle, Nook, Other E-Readers Wrecking Publishing Industry: Report - Desktops and Notebooks - News & Reviews - eWeek.com

The article is worth a read because it captures the madness of some in the publishing industry right now.

+


“The book publishing industry has entered a period of long-term decline because of the rising sales of e-book readers.”

No. People are still buying plenty of books, just not the ones certain publishers want them to buy nor in the format they are accustomed to.

+

"For the traditional book publishing industry, the implications of the rise of the e-book and e-book reader markets are frightening."

Only if publishers are worried about lower overhead, being able to sell their entire backlist for near zero cost, and never having to worry about over/under printing a run of novels again.

+

“Dedicated e-reader shipments will fall short of some expectations, partly because of encroachment from media tablets, which many consumers will use to view e-books."

No. LCD screens hurt my eyes, and e-ink is only going to get better.

+

“Price declines for e-readers will be less than many expect, since makers of such devices already have cut prices to the point where they earn near-zero margins.

No. These folks can sell their e-readers for a loss if they want, then make it up on content. It's called a loss leader strategy (see every video game console on the market).

+

“Barnes & Noble may have come to market with its original e-ink Nook second, but its Nook Color upgrade gives it the upper hand in the war over the serious reader.”

No. Amazon is gaining the upper hand. They're crushing in e-reader sales. Barnes and Noble has been forced to try and out innovate them. Now Amazon gets to play wait-and-see before releasing their own color e-reader, all the while hitting Barnes and Noble's market share with cheaper and cheaper B&W readers.

+

I just don't get the logic of the piece. It's like mourning the end of hand crank starters. And let's not forget that there is a clear winner in all this. The Reading Public is going to make out like a bandit. In a few short years, they're going to have access to all the printed words amassed during the entirety of human existence via a feather-weight tablet that only needs to be charged once a month for less than the price of a nice Valentine's Day dinner...and they're gonna complain about the location of the power button.

Gosh darn it, I love capitalism : )

B.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Spring Leaves

"I've never wished a man dead, but I've read some obituaries with great pleasure." — Mark Twain or Clarence Darrow (or neither)

Nine years, seven months and twenty one days. That's how long I've waited to write this down. I couldn't sleep last night until I did. Like it or not, my entire adult life has been framed by one man's atrocities. I wanted him out of my existence before I spoke on it.


I remember it in flashes.
A suite-mate knocking on my door.
Angry he was out all last night.
Stumbling out of bed.
Discovering him sober.
Discovering him too sober.

The walk to the living room.
A building burning on the screen.

I ate a great hot dog there.
Saw two guys kissing there.
The kids on the tour bus started laughing...
Except one.
Realized something then.
Tried not to use that word.

Jokes about bad driving.
Jokes about Homer and his clam juice.

A shout.
A second bird dashing across the sky.
A quick pan of the camera.
Grey metal bending crimson.

The screams.
The gasps.
The anchor without words.

"Are we at war?"

Drifting in cheese grater silence.
Cuts of nothing.

"We're at war, right?"

Crumpled paper fluttering down.

"Jesus."

Not all paper.

"Jesus."

Princes and princesses watching their kingdom burn.

Cell phones to ears.
Men on television crying.
A woman coughing, blood running from her nose.

Phone network down.
Power down.
Tower down.

Screams.

"My father. My father. My father. My father."

Knowing who's father.

Remembering my mother.
Remembering her flight plans.

Feeling cold.

Blackness.

On the footpath to class.
No backpack.
No coat.
Marketing paper, gotta hand it in.
Wrinkling it.
Feeling stupid.

Afraid to turn around.
Afraid to walk too fast.
Afraid to walk too slow.
Supposta do what I'm supposta.
Supposta do what she does.
Supposta do what she always does...

Did?

No. No. No. No. No.

Wanting to vomit myself up.
Wanting to shut myself off.

Entering Olin.
Everything's fine.
No professor.
Everything's wrong.

Janitor asks what I'm doing.
Classes canceled.
Lights are off.
Silly man.
Obvious.
Doing I'm supposta.

More blackness.

Finding a bench.
Sitting like an old man.
Not being.
Not knowing.
Not hearing.
Not breathing.

Cold.

Birds.
Squirrel.
Leaves.
Quiet savagery.

The ringing in my ears.
The ringing in my pocket.

One of two things.

Hating myself.
Struggling with myself.

A jittery voice on the line.

Headline:

Woman stuck at airport; flight canceled due to homicide.

Listening to the space between words.
Knowing there would be others.
Smiling.
Hurting.

My tree had held onto its leaves;
Others' had burnt to the ground.

+

Memories are fickle creatures, more fickle still when we try and build our lives around them. My friends at Wash. U. probably remember the morning of September 11, 2001 differently. I'm certain that my own recollections have wandered. I can share only what my addled brain can manage. I hope it wasn't too far from the mark.

B.