Beware The Future – It’s Closer than You Think. What The Internet of Things Means For Indie Authors. Part 1.

Go Global In 2014


The problem with the future is, its coming up behind you. You can never be quite sure how far away it is, and you can never be quite sure whether it will sweep you up with it, sweep by and leave you behind, or just run right over you.

Over at the Motley Fool recently they ran this snippet from an old copy of Newsweek. From February 1995.

In it one Newsweek journalist opined,


“Visionaries see a future of telecommuting workers, interactive libraries, and multimedia classrooms… [They say] we’ll soon buy books and newspapers straight over the Internet. Uh, sure. The truth is no online database will replace your daily newspaper…

“We’re promised instant catalog shopping — just point and click for great deals. We’ll order airline tickets over the network, make restaurant reservations and negotiate sales contracts. Stores will become obsolete. So how come my local mall does more business in an afternoon than the entire Internet handles in a month?”


As the Motley Fool says, “It all seemed so laughable at the time. Unless you were a 14 year-old.”

Amazon was barely six months old when that article was written. Ebooks were slightly more than a figment of a 14 year-old’s imagination, but not by much.

How times change.

And how they will change again.

No matter how improbable some things seem right now, the fact is nothing is set in stone, and the future takes no prisoners.

We talk here a lot about changes ahead. Seismic changes. Tectonic shifts.

But it all seems so unreal.

Let’s ignore the future and spend our time pointlessly taking sides in the Amazon-Hachette dispute instead. Or fire off another round of tweets denouncing that stupid publisher than ten years ago sent us a rejection letter. Or spamming everyone with yet another Facebook campaign saying “Buy My Book!”.

Meantime the future just keeps on happening.

The Motley Fool were using the Newsweek report to make a point about the Internet of Things (IoT). Obviously the Fool’s take was what is in it for investors. And the numbers they are talking about are quite breathtaking.

But the rewards to investors will only come if the companies being invested in are hugely successful in the real world. And the real world is where we indies live and where we indies make a living.

The Internet of Things is going to radically change our existence.

We don’t need to have the faintest idea about what the Internet of Things might be to grasp that the world around is changing by the day.

The ebook world of 2007 when the Kindle first launched is as different from today as 2007 was to 1995.

We indies can sit back and let the future steamroller right over us. We can sit back and watch the future sweep by us and leave us behind. Or we can be part of it.

We know where we want to be.

The future is already here. The next ten years are going to totally transform our lives. Be ready for anything.

Cybermed, for instance. That is to say, actual medical care (care, not advice) administered over the internet.

As we’ve said before recently, we are fast approaching a tipping point as the IoT moves from geeky science fiction to mainstream reality. And it is at once the most exciting, but also the most scary, development in the history of mankind.

Most of you will be familiar with the new trend in “wearables” – fancy little wristbands and the like that monitor blood pressure and heart rate, for example.

But these are just gimmicky applications getting the public used to the idea of biotech monitoring. What comes next is where the exciting – and scary – bit comes in.

This article on VentureBeat today is well worth reading for a rough idea of the way biotech is going. Google, Samsung and Apple are particularly well-advanced with this.

The VentureBeat article mentions the pending iWatch from Apple and what it might offer. We suspect VentureBeat are being a little conservative and Apple’s variant will be even more spectacular than is suggested here. Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, also sits on the board of Nike, and Apple and Nike have been working closely together for a while. Anyone thinking Nike just makes expensive trainers for teens needs to catch up with the real world!

Amazon? Amazon has just this month been in secretive discussion with the FDA, and lately head-hunted the guy behind Google Glass, so a safe bet Amazon is about to jump on this bandwagon.

Hey, show us a bandwagon and we’ll show you Jeff Bezos jumping!

One of the key distinctions between an e-commerce company like Amazon and a tech company like Apple or Google is innovation. The last serious innovation we saw from Amazon was in selling print books on-line. Since then Amazon has led the way in taking ideas developed by others and using them for its own ends. The Kindle and ebooks are a classic example. Notwithstanding the complete flop that is the Fire phone, Amazon generally do these things with a spectacular flourish (again, the Kindle is a great example), so it will be interesting to see what they are looking at next.

But Amazon is way, way behind when it comes to the Internet of Things. And whether its cybermed or any other branch of the next generation of internet development, the one safe bet is what Amazon does will be geared to one end: Amazon. We’ll explore in a future post why this is a particularly scary scenario.

But let’s stick with the IoT for now.

In a related post on VentureBeat there is a report on how Intel have just unveiled the world’s smallest wireless modem for the IoT. Yes, only geeks may have heard of it, but the IoT is already big, big business. The Internet of Things European Research Centre estimates that currently there are 80 items a second being connected to the Internet of Things.

And the IoT hasn’t even left the starting grid.

The Solidworks blog, way back in February of this year () estimated that by 2020 – just six years away – there will be 100 billion devices connected to the Internet of Things. No, not smartphones and tablets and laptops, but everyday devices like your coffee machine, your garage door, your car’s back seat, your packet of breakfast cereal…

It’s called the Internet of Things for a reason. And the impact on our lives is going to be breathtaking in its scope.

We’ll explore in detail in future posts the myriad ways in which the IoT is going to impact on literature, publishing and indie authors, but here’s just a teaser of what the future has in store for us.

Hugh Howey’s latest post asks why Amazon cannot provide us with data about how far a reader has read a book, at what chapter they gave up, etc. Basic data Amazon will have from every live-linked (as opposed to side-loaded) device, be it a Kindle device or one using a Kindle app.

Like most sci-fi writers, Howey is way behind the times when it comes to science reality. :-)

Never mind how many pages a reader got through. What about how much the reader’s adrenalin pumped when they got to that scary scene in your zombie holocaust novel? Or how their pulse rate quickened when they got to that sex-scene in your erotica novel?

Did they all but fall asleep reading that long, boring description of your new fantasy world you’ve created, which you just had to spell out in the first chapter instead of drip-feeding amid the action? Did they switch the TV on halfway through another chapter and have one eye on the TV screen and the other on your book, trying to decide which was more interesting? And what were they watching anyway?

Did they pause half-way through to tell someone how much they were enjoying this book? Did they speak to them, tweet them or what? What exactly did they say? Your tweets are already public knowledge. Your emails may not be so public, but are hardly private. Voice recognition is already well-advanced – who’s to say your next-generation device won’t be relaying back your every conversation?

The IoT is potentially George Orwell’s worst nightmare come true.

But back to those readers and the data Howey wants. Er, Hugh, Data Guy’s gonna need a bigger boat!

Did they read it at home on the couch, or on a bus? In the dentist’s waiting room or on the subway? Did they make an extra-strong espresso to make sure they stayed awake to finish the book? Or was it a Diet Coke or a full-sugar Pepsi? Chilled or room temperature? From the can or in a glass?

The IoT will know these things. Devices will talk to each other. It’s called the Internet of Things for a reason.

Perhaps more importantly, did the character in your book drinking that particular brand of coffee or that particular cocktail, or travelling off to that particular exotic location, entice the reader to click on the link? What link? By 2020 most novels will be full of discreet advertising links – that’s how most of us will be paid, not by royalties.

And never mind links, you can be sure if you lingered on that page where that particular brand of coffee was drank you’ll be getting a mail-shot from a retailer offering you a great deal on coffee, and if the book was set in Tahiti you’ll be inundated with ads from holiday firms asking you if you want to experience the real thing.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

By 2020 indie authors will be competing with robot-written novels with perfect spelling and grammar, simultaneously translated into as many different languages as need be, and yes, if we are honest, they will be pretty good.

Easy to say no robot can ever reproduce a fine work of art, but try telling that to the chess players who used to say no computer could ever beat a Grand Master.

And of course most novels are not fine works of art.

Pretty much every novel out there is a re-working of an existing theme or idea, and especially in the age of indie ebooks many are little more than dire quality first drafts. Most series are simply the same characters and same situations with a few name changes and tweaks here and there. That’s what most series are about, after all. Comfort reading, not originality. Comfort reading, not Shakespearean drama.

Try looking at Wikipedia and working out which posts are written by a human and which are bot-written. The number of bot-written posts on Wiki is staggering. But you’d be very hard-pressed to tell which is which.

There are already bot-written novels on the retail sites, and while they may not be making much headway right now, the software will just get better and better.

How long before a bot-novel offers you the chance to decide Character A and Character B need to jump in bed together, or Character C needs to dump Character D and get a thing going with Character E? And if you later change your mind, just tell the device and the story line will change, right there in front of you.

How long before you just decide what mood you are in and the bot writes a novel right there and then to suit your every desire? Vampire western with lesbian erotica and a hint of steampunk, two cats and a scene with a furry rabbit, shaken, not stirred? Coming right up.

How long does it take a bot to write a 100,000 word novel? A lot less time than it took you to read the first word of that sentence.

No, these won’t be prize-winning works of art. Your shot at the Man-Booker prize (or whatever it’s called this week) is safe.

Yes, purists will heap these bot-works with scathing criticisms, but readers are not always so discerning. Just look at what makes the charts nowadays…

And it’s a short step to the algorithms giving bot-written works preferential treatment in return for smaller unit payouts. What does a bot care if it gets a 70% “royalty” or just 5%?

As we’ll be exploring in forthcoming posts, the IoT is not all bad news for indies and literature. There’s a lot we can gain from it, if we are prepared to go the extra mile.

But being aware of it is the first step.

Don’t get left behind by the future. Grab a front-seat ticket and enjoy the ride!


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Jeff Bezos Writes Open Letter To The World’s Children As Disney Dispute Escalates

Dear Kids,

Ever since Mickey Mouse made his first appearance way back in 1928, children all over the world have been enjoying Disney cartoons and films.

Here at Amazon we love children’s films and cartoons and always do our best to make sure you kids have the best possible entertainment available to you, at prices your poor, struggling parents can afford.

But kids, we’ve got some disturbing news for you. You might want to peek through your fingers for this, or maybe hide behind the sofa.

Okay. Here we go.

Uncle Walt is actually dead. No, honestly. He doesn’t run Disney anymore. Nasty men in badly-cut suits run Disney now, and they HATE you kids and they HATE your parents. And they think your poor, struggling parents should pay through the nose every time you want to see an episode of Donald And Goofy.

I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s all true. Cross my heart and hope to die. These nasty Disney men in badly-cut suits want to charge your poor, struggling parents even more money than they are now.

And for what? It’s just a bloody cartoon! There are no actors to pay, and no make-up artists. They don’t even have to pay for costumes and lighting. It’s just some guy with a box of crayons drawing silly pictures and doing silly voices and another guy flicking the pages real fast so it looks like they are moving.

And those nasty people at Disney want to charge your parents more for this rubbish!

We say hell, no! Oops! Sorry, don’t let Mom see that bit. We say, no, no, a thousand times no!

Here at Amazon we firmly believe that if you repeat the same thing enough times people will start to believe it, so we say again, Amazon is the cheapest place in the whole universe for absolutely everything, and tell your Mom and Pop that if they use our Fire phone it will prove it for you, because all the deals it comes up with are at Amazon.

But you won’t find the latest Disney cartoons and films anymore, because we’ve blocked them, just because we love you kids so much.

In fact, we’re not going to stock them anymore until Disney agree to pay us a whole shit-load more money back down and agree with us that cartoons and films for kids should be so dirt cheap we lose even more money than we are already doing everyone has them on their Fire TV, whether they want them or not.

Now we know a big fight between an evil, money-grabbing mega-corporation like Disney and a struggling Mama & Papa retailer like Amazon if not something children should have to worry about. It’s not your fight. When two big kids start arguing in the playground it’s always, always, always best to keep well away.

Well, always except this once, because kids, we desperately need your help.

We want you to send an email to Uncle Walt (yes, we know we said he’s dead, but just bloody do it anyway and stop arguing!) and copy us.

If your mean parents haven’t bought you a KindleFire tablet yet and you don’t have email, just get your crayons out and rip a page out of a book and write on that. There’s usually lots of space on the title page, just under where its says Published by Hachette. Don’t forget to throw the rest of the book in the trash where it belongs.

Here’s what you’ve gotta say:

Dear Uncle Walt (deceased),

We love Disney, we really do, but we don’t think you’re playing nice with my other friend, Mr. Amazon, and we think that’s not fair. Not fair at all.

We want you to stop being nasty to Mr. Amazon and agree to everything they ask, otherwise when we grow up we’ll stop watching Mickey Mouse altogether, and tell our grandchildren not to either. So there.

Just email your message to unclewalt(deceased) and copy us. Send your bits of paper with wax crayon all over to Uncle Walt, Hollywood. No need for a zip code, it will get there. But don’t copy us that shit those letters because we’re a tech company and don’t do paper, okay?

Thanks, kids. We really, really appreciate this, and to show our appreciation we’re going to do absolutely jack-shit let your parents get free shipping and films and music for just $99 a year.

And shut that brat up who’s asking how it can be free if it costs $99. We told you already, if you tell folks something often enough they believe it, no matter how dumb it sounds.

Thanks again,

Your bestest friend ever,

Uncle Jeff and the Amazon Cartoon Team.


If any of you brats are thinking, “Nah. Can’t be bothered,” think again, sunshines.

Or Harry Potter will be next.

Amazon Begs Indie Authors To Help Fight $10bn Media Conglomerate. You couldn’t make it up…

Go Global In 2014

When it comes to desperate measures and stooping lower than a snake’s testicles nobody does it better than Amazon.

Emailing KDP authors begging them to write to those nasty people at Hachette is bad enough. But to dress it up with a load of bull about paperback prices, World War II and George Orwell takes sad to a whole new level.

As Amazon rightly say, “We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies”.

In the next breath, “We’d like your help. Please email the CEO of Hachette and copy us.”

Amazon implore us to tell him in no uncertain terms, “Stop using your authors as leverage.”

Quite right, Amazon. It’s fine for you to use KDP authors as leverage in this dispute which has nothing to do with us, but how dare Hachette do the same thing.

“We want lower e-book prices,” says Amazon, the company that is encouraging indie authors to raise prices through Pricing Support, while penalizing us with lower “royalties” if we try to offer readers a real bargain. Apple still pay us 70% if we price below $2.99. Amazon take 65%.

“Hachette does not (want lower prices).”

Bull. Hachette wants the right to charge a premium for new releases, just like every other entertainment media does.

A quick glance at Amazon’s listings will show only a handful of Hachette titles are priced above ten dollars. The bulk are well below ten dollars, with many at indie prices, and even free.

“Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices… Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.”

Curiously Amazon omitted to mention that they are currently being sued by the Federal Trade Commission for illegally scamming millions from parents of children using free Amazon apps. Not some accidental scam. The FTC has Amazon internal emails confirming Amazon was aware of this for a long period and chose to do nothing.

“Even Amazon’s own employees recognized the serious problem its process created,” FTC Chairwoman Edith Ramirez said in a statement. The FTC highlighted one internal communication in which an Amazon employee likened the growing chorus of customer complaints to a “near house on fire.”

This of course is not in any way disrespectful to Amazon app customers.

Amazon says Hachette “think books only compete against books.”

And Hachette said this when, exactly?

“But in reality, books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types.”

Says Amazon, with its unlimited “free” streaming of video and music for Prime members.

“Moreover, e-books are highly price elastic. This means that when the price goes down, customers buy much more. We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99.”

Therefore it is eminently good business sense for Hachette and every other publisher to sell a new release at $14.99 while readers are willing to pay a premium for the new release, and then sell to all those others at $9.99 at a later date.

It’s interesting to note that Macmillan, Penguin-Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, etc, etc, are all selling new releases at $14.99 and Amazon is making NO fuss at all about this.

Where is the Amazon email asking us to spam the email boxes of the CEOs of Macmillan and co. telling them to bring their prices down because consumers are suffering?

This has NOTHING to do with benefitting consumers and EVERYTHING to do with the fact that Amazon can’t get its own way with a particular supplier in a particular dispute.

Amazon is and will remain for some time the most important outlet for most indie authors. That doesn’t mean we have to respond to this kind of underhand interference in a dispute between Amazon and a supplier we have nothing to do with.

As Amazon rightly say, Hachette is “part of a $10 billion media conglomerate.”

Amazon omits to mention that Amazon is a $150 billion conglomerate.

WTF is a company that size doing begging indie authors to intervene to help it settle a dispute with another supplier?

You couldn’t make it up…


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Nook UK – New E-reader. New Readers?

Go Global In 2014

Nook have just launched their GlowLight ereader in the UK. (link) A reminder that it’s business as usual for Nook even though they are due to be spun off from the B&N mother ship next year.

Will it help you get sales on Nook UK?

Yes, if you play your cards right.

Nook is still a low profile name in Britain. Nook devices are sold primarily by just two stores – John Lewis and Argos. They are available elsewhere, but as just one more device on the shelf, amid far better known brands.

The problems for Nook outside the US are two-fold. Brand recognition and late arrival.

Barnes & Noble is an unknown quantity outside the States unless you are an indie author or a regular trans-Atlantic traveller. So much so that you will be hard-pressed to even find the B&N name on the Nook UK website.

Bear that in mind when promoting. Readers have no idea what B&N is over here even though they may have a Nook ereader or tablet, or being using the Nook app. To promote to the UK and European / Australian markets don’t say B&N, say Nook UK, Nook Australia, Nook Lithuania or whatever.

But the bigger problem for Nook is late arrival. By the time Nook got to the UK the market had already been carved up by Amazon, Apple and Kobo, with a handful of domestic players joining the fray.

That’s not so say the stranglehold cannot be broken. Both Sainsbury and Tesco Blinkbox have shown it can be, very effectively, but they come at the problem from a totally different direction.

Even Google Play, with brand recognition to die for, is struggling to get a foothold in the UK, and for an unknown name like Nook it was far too little, far too late.

For Nook’s international expansion, the same applies only moreso.

That’s not to say you should write off Nook UK or Nook International as a dead loss. Far from it. It could and should be providing you with a small but lucrative stream of extra income. If it’s not, take another look at your marketing.

The Nook UK site is great. Unlike B&N it isn’t trying to sell you other products – not even print books – which means it has a clean, crisp reader interface and is not throwing smartphones, diapers or dog food in your face.

More interestingly, Nook UK is VERY often cheaper than Amazon UK.

Often, but not always. And sometimes promotions on Nook US do not carry over in timely fashion, so your 0.99 special in the US might still be showing it’s original price in the UK. And very occasionally a listing on Nook US doesn’t appear on Nook UK at all. From what I can see this tends to happen when using an aggregator.

For those who can, NookPress gives you far more control over pricing and promotion than going through an aggregator. Not least being able to set separate US, UK and Europe prices.

It’s not entirely clear what Nook is doing with its international expansion right now. At one point (late 2013) Nook was making titles available in over thirty countries, but only with a Windows 8 app.

But the NookPress dashboard now gives you the option to set a European price for France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, with the caveat that due to high volume of content it may take time for (indie) titles to filter through.

Until Nook is formally separated from B&N it’s unlikely we’ll see much more action than what’s already underway.

The big question is who will buy out Nook next year. Microsoft seems to be favourite right now, but not by much. Samsung have abandoned their ebook project, so we can rule them out.

Three outsiders to keep an eye on are Wal-Mart, Tesco Blinkbox and Alibaba. Any of them could afford Nook out of loose change. All have an interest in digital media and in getting one up on Amazon. What better way to do that than to buy out one of the key rivals to the Kindle store and plough serious money into it to make it a serious player?

The AIS blogs delight in telling us how badly Nook is doing, but Nook has significant market share in the US and a very valuable customer data base. Whoever takes on Nook is going to have something very nice to build on if they plan on competing. And all three of those outsiders mentioned – Wal-Mart, Tesco and Alibaba – have far deeper pockets than Amazon.

Ebook Bargains UK.

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OverDrive Gets Better & Better – But Is Smashwords Delivering On Its Promises?

Go Global In 2014First a reminder. OverDrive saw over one hundred million digital downloads in 2013. Most of these happened at OverDrive-partnered digital libraries worldwide, but also at partner retail stores, which include Waterstone’s here in the UK, and stores like Kalahari and Exclus1ves in South Africa, among many others.

OverDrive have recently upped their game yet again with the addition of embedded samples, a feature aimed at the library catalogues but which can easily be used by indie authors on their blog or website, or even in social media.

Embedded samples? Essentially when the reader clicks on the sample link, instead of just being taken to the product page in the OverDrive store the first pages of the book will open up right there in your browser to start reading. Then if interested you can be redirected to your local digital library to download the full book.

OverDrive also has another great feature with the embedded samples. Bing users who search for your title will see in the right-hand sidebar (where Google puts its ads) an embedded sample link to the OverDrive ebook version. See an example here at the OverDrive library blog -

All great stuff by OverDrive – the most forward-thinking and innovative of the wholesale distributors – but back to our headline.

Two months back Smashwords made big news with the partnership with OverDrive whereby 200,000 non-erotica titles were going to be available in the OverDrive store.

Wonderful! Except to Michael Kozlowski over at Good Ereader, who ran with the headline OverDrive inundates libraries with 200,000 horrendous indie ebooks.

Don’t be shy, Michael. Tell us what you really think.

Eight weeks on, the big question is, has OverDrive been inundated with 200,000 Smashwords indie ebooks, horrendous or otherwise?

If you are a Smashwords author and did not opt out of this distribution then, two months on, you ought to be there by now, right? After all, two months is plenty of time, and the default Smashwords position is that you get distributed to new partners unless you specifically opt-out.

So why is it all the indie authors we have contacted, who are with Smashwords and did not opt out of OverDrive, are seeing a big blank when they search for their title or author name in the OverDrive store?

 ~ ~ ~

Back in mid June Nate Hoffelder over at The Digital Reader broke the news that OverDrive, apparently, was shunting self-published titles into an indie ghetto.

We say “apparently” as we’ve not been able to locate this ghetto, but the quote Nate has from OverDrive concurs with his headline. OverDrive do indeed have a separate section – somewhere –  for “self-published” titles.

Well, it’s their company and they can do what they like. If OverDrive has some objection to self-published titles then it has every right to close the door to them.

But that’s the point. It didn’t.

The team at OverDrive are not stupid. They did not blindly sign a deal with Mark Coker, oblivious to the fact that Smashwords are the biggest distributor of self-published titles on the planet, bar none.

The deal OverDrive signed with Coker specifically excluded erotica titles. That’s a telling point. Because if you go to the OverDrive catalogue you will find any number of erotica titles. OverDrive has no problem with erotica per se.

Try this for size:

In fact the OverDrive catalogue is showing some 13,000 erotica titles. So when OverDrive specifically excluded Smashwords erotica titles they did so for a reason. Because Smashwords’ reputation precedes itself as a free-for-all where anything technically legal in the US is acceptable.

Let’s be clear. OverDrive accept erotica titles. They just don’t accept Smashwords erotica titles, because they know the only quality control at Smashwords is the formatting guidelines.

And our guess is they take much the same position on Smashwords self-published authors. Because it seems Smashwords self-published authors are being shunted into a ghetto, not all indies.

Indie authors who have enough titles to warrant setting up a direct account at OverDrive have no problem. Indie authors using an aggregator like Ebook Partnership have no problem. Their titles are readily available in the OverDrive catalogue, both for libraries and for retailers, and we can confirm from personal experience (one of our team has been with OverDrive and Ebook Partnership for many years) that they are seeing great sales from stores like Waterstone’s, and library borrows across the globe.

But let’s get back to Smashwords.

The day after Nate ran his piece the story was picked up by The Passive Voice and Mark Coker responded.  The comments section is worth wading through, but here’s some key premarks by Coker.

On June 19 Coker said, “I’m investigating”, before assuring us “everything will work out in the end.”

Well that’s nice to know, Mark, but that was a while ago ago and your silence on this since has been deafening.

Back to what Mark Coker said over at The Passive Voice on June 19.

 “The deal with OverDrive happened because so many librarians demanded it, because so many patrons wanted these books, and because OverDrive is committed to serving libraries and their patrons.”

So why have they put Smashwords titles in a separate category that can only be found from a drop-down menu that almost no-one knows exists, including librarians who use the OverDrive portal every day?

Coker noted that some 100,000 titles had already been “ingested” by OverDrive when the official announcement was made, and that it would take 4-8 weeks to complete the process. Tons of indies saw that, according to the Smashwords dashboard, their titles had shipped to OverDrive.

We’ve held off those two months before raising this, but the simple fact now is that even if only those original 100,000 titles from Smashwords were ingested, still none are showing up in the OverDrive store.

Are they in the indie ghetto? We don’t know, because neither we nor anyone else knows how to access this ghetto. If even librarians cannot find it, let alone readers, what point the Smashwords-OverDrive deal in the first place?

In theory the Smashwords partnership with OverDrive (even though only for libraries, not for OverDrive retail outlets) should be up there alongside the Scribd and Oyster deals as tributes to Mark Coker’s commitment to the cause of indie distribution.

But all the evidence so far suggests we’ve been sold a pup. There is very little evidence Smashwords is delivering on its promises on this occasion.

~ ~ ~

And it would seem that Smashwords still does not know what’s going on. We heard from two authors on June 22, over a month after Coker said “I’ am investigating”.

One contacted Mark Coker direct and Coker confirmed he is working on this matter. Other than saying it was OverDrive calling the shots there was no further explanation.

That same day we heard from an author who emailed the Smashwords Sevices Team asking why his titles were not in the OverDrive catalogue.

Smashwords Services Team member Raylene B told the author, “We’re currently shipping out titles to OverDrive in batches. It can take multiple weeks for implementation!”, adding “You can periodically check for your titles at OverDrive by using the link: where “XXXX” would include the book title’s ISBN #.”

No mention to this author that, actually, you won’t be able to find your titles there regardless, because if they are actually getting to OverDrive at all they will be in a secretive ghetto no-one knows how to find, but which most definitely is not via the link provided.

So are Smashwords titles available from OverDrive or not?

In the comments at The Passive Voice Coker was very clear:

“They (OverDrive) just invited 200,000+ Smashwords titles into their catalog. They’re going to merchandise our buylists. We’re going to work together to try to sell a lot of patron-pleasing books and gain our authors and publishers a lot of new readers.”

On the Smashwords blog – a few weeks earlier Coker had been even more specific:

 “This agreement marks a watershed moment for indie authors, libraries and library patrons around the world.

It’s also a big deal for thousands of small independent presses around the globe who now have a convenient onramp into the OverDrive network.
Millions of library patrons will now have access to the amazing diversity and quality of the Smashwords catalog.”


Further down on this same blog Coker says:

 “The full Smashwords Premium Catalog of non-erotica titles is eligible for the distribution to OverDrive.”

Eligible? “Eligible” does NOT mean “will be distributed to”. In fact, it doesn’t mean much at all when you take into account Raylene B’s reply that Smashwords is sending batches of ebooks to OverDrive. Especially when you look at what Coker has to say about batches on that same Smashwords blog (this, remember, two months ago).

 “To help librarians streamline collection development, in the weeks ahead OverDrive and Smashwords will create curated buy-lists lists libraries can use to purchase the most popular indie authors and titles. Libraries will soon have the option, for example, to purchase the top 100 YA fantasy novels (approximate price: ~$400), or the top 1,000 most popular contemporary romances (~$4,000) or top 200 complete series across multiple categories (~$2,000), or the top 200 thrillers, mysteries, epic fantasies or memoirs.  With most of our bestsellers priced priced at or under $4.00, you can do the math to appreciate how incredibly affordable these collections will be.  We’re going to have fun slicing and dicing.”

Let’s run that last sentence again.

 “We’re going to have fun slicing and dicing.”

This suggests Coker and co. are going to cherry-pick established Smashwords best-sellers on Apple, B&N and Scribd (the main Smashwords outlets) and parcel them out to OverDrive as potentially available to purchase.

So, the lucky few who get “curated” may, possibly, be bought as part of a package, always supposing anyone knows where the indie ghetto is and can be bothered to look there.

The rest of us? Nobody knows. Including, it seems, Mark Coker.

~ ~ ~

 Note for those indies who want to be in the actual OverDrive store, not just the ghetto:

To get to OverDrive direct you need a minimum of ten titles. By all accounts the process is not a walk in the park.

For those who meet their requirements, you can also access OverDrive through Ebook Partnership, IPG or Perseus. If anyone is aware of other roads in, do let us know.

And if any Smashwords authors have actually seen their titles available in the OverDrive catalogue courtesy of Smashwords, we’d be delighted to be proven wrong on this.


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Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited Ebook Subscription Service – Great For Readers, But What About Authors?

Go Global In 2014

So the long-rumoured ebook subscription service from Amazon is finally out in the open. Sort of.

Amazon has been keeping quiet and everyone else is wildly speculating about how successful it will be. Now it appears to actually be live, in a beta sort of way, and no doubt more details will emerge.

Obviously it’s going to be huge. For readers it’s a no-brainer. The best thing since the Kindle was launched. The big question is why it took Amazon so long and they let rival operators get a head start.

The answer to that of course lies at the heart of the wider issues to be addressed here.

Obviously Amazon has the tech skills, the content, the contacts and the financial muscle such that it could have done this years ago. That it is only going down this route now is testament to two things: First the success of Scribd and Oyster. Second, that the ebook subscription service is not easily compatible with Amazon’s existing business model.

At risk of stating the obvious, Scribd, Oyster, Epic and the other early-movers in this field are not retailers. Yes, you can buy direct from Scribd but that’s not its key role.

On the other hand Amazon is an ebook retailer. The subscription service, no matter how you look at it, is an afterthought brought in reluctantly because Scribd and Oyster proved the model works and they are eating into Kindle market share. Amazon has no real option but to compete head to head with Scribd and Oyster.

And no doubt it will now do it extraordinarily well.

The issue for Amazon, and for we authors, is that once it goes live Kindle Unlimited is going to impact not just on the wider ebook market, but on Amazon’s own sales.

In operating a subscription service Scribd and Oyster are not cannibalizing their retail sales because they don’t already have a retail store where readers are already spending a ton of money. Amazon on the other hand…

 ~ ~ ~

Logical to assume subscription ebooks will not be as lucrative as direct sales, else Amazon would have gone down this route long ago. Make no mistake, we love the idea of an Amazon subscription service. For how long now have we been saying subscription ebooks are the new black? But this is unquestionably a reluctant,  reactive move by Amazon.

And indies may feel the pinch.

Put simply, anyone spending more than ten bucks a month on ebooks from the Amazon Kindle store is going to be better off in future using the subscription service.

And there’s the thing for indies – subscribers will inevitably gravitate towards higher-priced books because they will get more value for their money.

There are already several big (but not Big 5) trad players on board with Amazon’s subscription service, and safe to guess that the wildly-speculated-over negotiations between Simon & Schuster and Amazon have nothing at all to do with a takeover bid and everything to do with getting S&S titles into the subscription store. Both S&S and HarperCollins have substantive inventory in the Scribd and Oyster catalogues, so it would be no great leap for them to sign up with Amazon for the same service.

What impact will that have on indies?

Quite a dramatic one, is our guess.

Consider: Once you’ve invested your monthly ten bucks into the Kindle Unlimited service (which will no doubt be a recurring deduction from your card, so you won’t even need to think about it after day one) then why would you bother downloading that 0.99 title from Joe Nobody (at which rate you would need to read ten ebooks a month just to break even on your payment) when suddenly you can get all those much more expensive titles from names you know and trust, or names you know and have been tempted to try, but were never going to risk six or seven dollars each for?

Yes, indies can of course increase their prices – but then suffer the consequences in the main Kindle store where by and large indies have an impact because they can price low.

This will inevitably skew the playing field yet further towards the bigger publishers, and towards Amazon’s own imprint titles and Amazon-exclusive White Glove titles (which naturally will get heavy in-store promotion).

It will also skew the charts.

Safe to assume any full read of a subscription ebook (by the look of things that will mean anyone who reads more than 30%) will count as a sale for the charts.

So taking the above scenario that subscribers will gravitate towards downloading known names at higher prices from trad publishers and heavily-promoted titles from Amazon imprints / White Glove, and throwing in the logical assumption that subscribers will only ever “buy” direct from the Kindle store if a title is not in the subscription service, the extra traffic generated is going to shift inexorably away from most indies.

More trad pubbed titles in the charts mean more visibility and therefore more sales, both direct and through subscription downloads – which in turn means more visibility, and therefore more sales…

Without at least some of the Big 5 on board the Amazon subscription service is going to find it hard to compete with Scribd and Oyster, so a safe bet Amazon will be pulling out all the stops – and making whatever short-term concessions are necessary – to get at least a few of them on board.

Which makes us wonder if one of the sticking blocks for Hachette in their negotiations has actually been about Amazon demanding they put their titles into the subscription service.

Even without the Big 5, Amazon is claiming to have 600,000+ titles in the scheme. Compared to about 500,000 for Scribd and Oyster, both of whom have two Big 5 players on board. We know both Oyster and Scribd have substantive indie titles on board through Smashwords and D2D, so safe to presume the Amazon numbers include – and probably mostly comprise – KDP titles.

Amazon are also throwing in audio-books via its Audible arm, but indications so far is that these will number mere “thousands”, which in Amazon-speak could mean anything between 2,000-9,000 (7,000-8,000 seems a common guess). Most likely indie ACX titles.

UPDATE: It appears “thousands” s indeed just 2,000, but you also get a free three-month subscription to Audible.

In both instances it looks like indie titles will be part of the mix whether we like it or not, which will present an interesting dilemma for the many indies who have so far eschewed Scribd and Oyster on principle, because they think subscription services are bad news for authors.

UPDATE: initial reactions are that only Select titles are in, and maybe not all of those.

Assuming we are co-opted in, like it or not, the issue of author remuneration arises.

Publisher’s Lunch has a story behind a pay-wall suggesting Scholastic and similar big (but not Big 5) players will be getting a full payment for every title downloaded and read 30% of the way through or more. What that full payment will be will depend on their contract, of course.

With Scribd and Oyster indies typically get about 60% after the aggregators take their cut. The question is, can indies expect 70%, or even 60%, from Amazon?

Our guess is maybe, if in Select.

Obviously the more Amazon can claim it has exclusive material not available on rival subscription sites, the bigger its appeal. So this seems like an ideal opportunity for Amazon to follow the well-established precedent (think India, Mexico and Brazil Kindle stores) of just 35% for non-Select titles, and 70% as a reward for going exclusive with Amazon.

An alternative to a fixed or two-tier percentage rate, and one being hawked around the Amazon forums, is that indie authors will be paid from the KOLL fund that currently is shared among authors who get a book “borrowed” by Prime members.

Which raises two issues.

First, to keep with the video and music download options Amazon could make ebooks “free” for Prime members. The monthly ebook subscription would cost more than Prime membership over a year so it be an incentive to get people to sign up to Prime.

But – second issue – if the KOLL fund (currently at $1.2 million) was used to share between the many more indie authors who would see downloads through the subscription services, even allowing for the skew as outlined above, then the amount each author got would reduce dramatically.

A simple expedient (and most likely) would be to increase the fund. Small change for Amazon, and giving authors the hope of making more. But the existing KOLL arrangement favours higher-priced indie authors, for the same reasons that were outline above that will favour higher-priced subscription ebooks – it’s simply better value to choose the highest-priced ebook(s) from those that interest you.

One other key question as yet not being asked is if this will be a US-only scheme or whether the other Kindle countries will be allowed to play ball. Past experience suggests it will be US-only initially, then rolled out to the UK and perhaps Germany.

Many parts of the world already have their own subscription services (that long pre-date Scribd and Oyster) but the UK is notably lacking. Brits can use the Scribd subscription service but few even know it exists.

No question if Amazon were to launch a Kindle UK ebook subscription service that would be very, very well received this side of the pond.

But that brings us full circle to our initial point. We are unlikely to see a UK ebook subscription service from Amazon unless there is a serious UK competitor to compete against.

As above, while Brits can sign up to Scribd few even know it exists, and the likelihood that Scribd would set up an independent subscription service in the UK geared to a British audience is remote.

And so to this parting thought – totally speculative, but not beyond possibility.

There is one UK player that has deep enough pockets, good enough standing with the content providers, a big-enough customer base, and the motivation to bring a “Netflix for ebooks” model to the UK.

Could we see a trad-pub only subscription service launched in the UK by Britain’s breakout supermarket ebook store Tesco Blinkbox?


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Advice To Indie Authors – Don’t Overlook Kobo.

Go Global In 2014

 Don’t Overlook Kobo?

Well we would say that, wouldn’t we. So why the headline?

Because actually it’s not ours. It’s a headline from the ever-unpredictable GoodEreader, which just two weeks ago was asking if Kobo and B&N should close their self-pub platforms because they were so utterly pointless.

That was Michael Kozlowski, who makes absolutely no secret of his utter disdain for us indies – as witness this tirade against self-publishers just six weeks ago when the Smashwords-OverDrive deal was made public. “OverDrive inundates libraries with 200,000 horrendous indie ebooks.

Mercy Pilkington on the other hand takes a more tolerant approach. So much so we’re repeating some of it here.

As Mercy says,

“…one of the unfortunate truths about self-publishing is that many authors make it as far as uploading to KDP, then don’t go any further…Mostly through a lack of awareness of other opportunities and difficulties authors faced in trying to create accounts on other sites, many indie ebooks simply languish alone on KDP.”

Both points are valid, although free-to-load/pay-as-you-sell aggregators like Smashwords and Draft 2 Digital make it pretty straight-forward to get into many other retailers.

The real issue is lack of awareness.

While Amazon’s KDP is a natural first port of call for any writer making their first foray into self-publishing, these same new writers will also tend to make their first port of call for industry knowledge the blogs of the self-appointed indie-spokesmen.

And that’s where the problem lies.

Because many of the self-appointed indie spokesmen and their blogs are closely aligned with Amazon and have little interest or incentive in letting their audience know about alternatives.

Some go out of their way to run negative stories about any competitor to Amazon (B&N and Nook come in for particularly harsh treatment), while performing acrobatics to make Amazon’s less-endearing side seem nothing but a PR ploy by those nasty trad-publishers.

Innocent newbies reading these blogs and the comments that go with them (and often seeing any contrary viewpoint denounced as a troll) will be left in no doubt that there’s only one show in town and they would be totally wasting their time with any other retailer.

No matter that in the real world 3,500 of every 10,000 ebooks sold in the US is happening on a retailer other than Amazon.

~ ~ ~

 For indie authors who are getting the red carpet treatment from the Amazon imprints or the elite agented-authors-only Amazon-exclusive White Glove programme Amazon may well be the be-all and end-all of their existence, but for most authors Amazon is just one of many retailers they could and should be in.

Amazon’s sixty-five per cent market share is undeniably impressive and as we constantly reiterate here on the EBUK blog, Amazon is THE most important retailer for most indies right now. But that still leaves 35% of the US market going to other retailers.

And internationally the figure is much, much higher.

Michael Kozlowski this week called Britain’s Tesco Blinkbox a “breakout” ebook store. No surprise to us. We’ve been predicting the impact of Tesco on the UK ebook market for a long time now, as regular readers will know.

Too soon for actual figures showing how much market share Tesco and Sainsbury are taking in the UK but safe to say it’s happening.

In Germany Amazon has seen its market share decimated as the Tolino Alliance stores got their act together in 2013 to challenge Amazon’s dominance. Now down to just 40%.

Elsewhere around the world, Canada and Australia aside, Amazon has yet to make an impact. As Mercy Pilkington notes , Amazon and B&N et al simply do not “have the global reach that Kobo has, with a market presence in nearly 200 countries.”

While our guess is Google Play will continue to lead the way for global ebooks, Kobo is still our best bet for second place.

Not that you’d know it reading the Zon-centric blogs, but Rakuten – Kobo’s parent company – are a major global online player, competing with Amazon at many levels.

Rakuten is not the kind of operator that will buy a venture like Kobo and that let it drift into oblivion. If it seems that Kobo’s international expansion has ground to a halt lately we suspect that’s due to the new guy in charge taking a step back and looking at what Rakuten can actually do for Kobo, rather than letting Kobo just carry on as a parallel company in a parallel universe. Our guess is Rakuten will soon begin a programme whereby the Kobo stores are integrated into the myriad existing Rakuten partner sites, which will dramatically increase Kobo’s reach.

But even without that Kobo is still a major international player, no matter how much the Zon-centric blogs prefer to pretend it doesn’t exist.

Thanks Mercy Pilkington at GoodEreader for the reminder.


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