Saturday, June 29, 2013

Many More Than Zero

Command of the Obvious
My book is over there on the right column. It is a self-published, non-fiction book. It is, as of this writing, the #2 top-selling print book in the Medicaid/Medicare category on, and the Kindle version is #1. Let's pretend, for the moment, that it is in the 50% that isn't rubbish (because it is obvious that 50% is, if you believe this publisher). Back to him in a bit.

I was twitting along on twitter, and found this:

There are exactly zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon via @melvillehouse…

is also in this conversation.

I took a look at the post. You should, too.
This post is not only wrong, it reveals the danger that independent bookstores face. Zero isn't very many. Before we starting counting aloud, you gotta look at the caveat stated at the beginning of the aforementioned article. It is a direct quote from the post at, and not out of context (because that would be against the grain of the title of this blog),
Two caveats: first, if you are an author self-publishing your own work exclusively on Amazon, none of the below applies to you. Thank you, goodnight.
Nice try. Attempting to discard the largest source of challenge makes the entire argument invalid. You don't get a pass because it is this point right here, and the consequences of Schumpeter's creative destruction process, which has pointed out all that is wrong with the traditional book publishing and bookseller quagmire, which in turn amazon.con has turned into its advantage. It is the very reason that there are more than "zero defensible reasons for authors to link to Amazon...." Disclosure: I am not a shareholder. 

I was half-expecting these other caveats regarding the world:
If Lebron didn't exist, the Knicks woulda won it all.  If Apple didn't exist, the Blackberry would rule the world. If that meteor didn't hit, then dinosaurs would still roam the earth. 
I don't work "exclusively with amazon." I can tell you that if I had understood how the book publishing and distribution industry worked, I would've stopped typing immediately. Here are the reasons that there are way more that "zero defensible reasons."

1. Independent Bookstores Don't Support Self-Published Books
If you start muttering "consignment," stop right there. You failed arithmetic. Let's take my book. The MSRP is $11.99. An independent bookstore's consignment fee is $25. The cost of printing is approximately $2.75, and let's call the revenue split as 60% to the author and 40% to the bookstore. I have to pay for the shipping of 5 copies. Go ahead and search on "book consignment program" on this is the garden-variety agreement.
Let's say all the book sell. So, my revenues are $11.99 x 5 x 60% = $35.97. Costs are $2.75 x 5 = 13.75 + $25 fee = $38.75. So I have lost $2.78 plus the cost of shipping. That assumes that all 5 copies sell, which may or may not be true. Let's be optimistic, and say that you need 5 more. Now I have made ($11.99 x 5 x 60%) - ($2.75 x 5) = $22.22. Ten copies sold, $19.44 made, LESS SHIPPING.
Let's say that the Tabitha from I Dream of Jeannie has wriggled her nose, filled out the application, sent the check, and delivered the books in no time at all.  For those of you that don't know Tabitha, here she is (RIP Larry Hagman, who was both the Master here and JR Ewing on Dallas, talk about charmed career):

So after 10 books are sold, I have made $19.44, i.e. $1.94 a copy, divided by $11.99, i.e. 16%. Sounds close enough to the traditional book publishing profoundly irrational quagmire industry. Am I happy? If this was a sure thing, then yes, I would gladly accept this outcome, because there are ancillary benefits to my book, i.e. the book opens doors, etc. If I am under the idea that this is a "sure thing," then I need to change the name of this blog to "Fifty Shades of Idiotic." You may say to me, "Your book sucks, so it isn't selling." My response: tells me that isn't true, in real-time. Have you gone to a bookstore and found more than one copy of Nate Silver's very excellent book, The Signal and the Noise available? The fact that it isn't sold out 100% of the time tells you that there are other reasons that even excellent books may not be sold in a particular period of time.
Please don't say stuff like "you haven't tried this." Wrong. I gladly have sent my copy under consignment agreement to Vroman's in Pasadena.

2. Independent Bookstores Can't Don't Try New Things
Want proof? Look at this offer. I send you a "Store Copy." You put it on the shelf, any shelf. If someone wants the book, they bring it to your counter. It can be ordered on your profoundly irrational distribution network, i.e. Ingram or Baker&Taylor (don't get me started).
Let's take a look at the math now: I have lost $2.57 plus shipping. Done. Bookseller makes 40% x price, which can be discounted, but whatever. Downside? Shelf space of one book. See the 5 copies of Moby Dick on the shelf, which can also be downloaded on for free? Please don't insult the obvious by stating: "we have very limited floor space." It doesn't fly in the face of this offer. It wouldn't work if you were the dominant factor in your business. Perhaps you didn't receive the memo: every bookstore is threatened, and while you attempt to blame someone/something else, continues to take and take from you.

3. Two-Sided Altruism is a Business Agreement: One-Sided Altruism = Charity
Let's go back to the article. We are basically down to altruism as the basis of supporting independent bookstores. Let's presume that it is a valid objective (not sure that Honda and Toyota exactly agreed with this when the Big 3 and the U.S.A. were laughing at the little red cars, and saying they run on rubber bands), but whatever. Given #1 and #2 above, should a self-published author be sympathetic? You can answer that one. Erase "baseball" with "book selling."

4. Amazon Has Challenged the Arrogance of Book Publishers
The Emperor has no clothes, indeed. Look at this article: 50% of self-published books are pure rubbish. I might respond with answer, "Bollocks, you twat," but nah, we aren't in England. The response should begin with the notion that 50% rubbish means that 50% is not rubbish, which probably makes it about equal to the percentage of books found in bookstores now, but I am in no position to judge/measure this.
We are at the root of how/why has easily challenged the profoundly irrational book publishing industry. Let's start by saying that getting up and running has an uncountable number of hurdles, with information about how to overcome those hurdles arranged in a way to unintentionally, or not, keep the outsiders out.  There are about a few thousand that have pointed this out in various forms, and an equivalent number of consultants which are attempting to collect fees to solve these issues. I will let the people at try to solve the information-gathering aspect of this (interesting platform, by the way, and I have hoisted the phrase "profoundly irrational" from one of the founders there).  

Let's take my interaction with Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. I sent materials to Suzanne Stazak-Silva. We have books in the same general space, and during no one-week long period since the publication of my book has the sales rank of my book been lower than either The Battle Over Health Care or Medicare Meltdown, two titles that Rowman & Littlefield has published. After sending and revising my materials into a format that she wanted, she asked me for the sales figures of my book. I asked her why, and stated that I found the question odd because the very point of the publisher would be to have a very good determination about the potential market size of the book, and the space in which its titles occupy. Ms Silva said she was dismayed (don't worry, I don't delete emails, but I won't post them here), and she discontinued the review based on that interaction. So basically, the publisher was asking me to provide information that it should have, that is readily available (unless the internet doesn't work there but email does) because I didn't want to show data regarding a book? Get the idea? She could have easily looked on and extrapolated from there. If she was incapable, publishers hire market research firms for this type of information. I am willing to listen to other potential "reasons" but I am pretty sure they will sound like excuses. Amazon doesn't make excuses: you write a book, you sell it. If it is "rubbish" or has no appeal to anyone, the market will learn this in short order, and no one buys it. Period.
Ms. Silva and Rowman&Littlefield have richly earned this exposure here,
The person that calls "50% rubbish" may be right, but the book publishing industry itself is erected to avoid actively finding the other 50%, and allows that other 50% to be revealed.

5. Bookstores are Book Publishers' Patsies
If you start arguing against this by using the term "returnability," stop right there. I have offered, and will offer, money into escrow that pays for your stock to pay for returns, if you have a multi-branch location. So I go to an independent bookstore, and find multiple copies of a book that is free as an ebook on or google play, and the same bookstore will generally state that space is limited, and they cannot buy books that are not returnable. HUH? Your copy of Moby Dick is going on clearance in the very near future, trust me.
In other words, I have read the reasons, the policies, and have gone through the economics. It really is like the Big 3 vs Honda/Toyota. I hear excuses on one side, and execution on the other. I hear the "experts" like the book publishers on one side, I see execution on the other. And while the Big 3 wasted time pointing fingers at the parties within themselves (labor vs management vs government), Honda/Toyota et al did their job. It has taken decades and multiple bankruptcies and government interventions to resuscitate the Big 3. Brand loyalty? Do you know a 25 year old that says, "I am only going to buy at an American car." I postulate we will not hear that sentiment in our lifetime. The problem was so prevalent in the auto industry, an entirely new entrant, Hyundai, entered AFTER Honda and Toyota were household names. If bookstores and book publishing don't watch it, some party may rationalize the whole thing, and obviate you all. Don't think it could happen? Neither did General Motors.

6. Amazon Solves Obsolesence
Let's say that the information in a non-fiction book may change, due to external factors, such as decisions by the government. Let's also say that readers of a book would benefit greatly from having the most updated information. If I use, I can revise the book, have it reprinted, and out to the reader in three calendar days. We are arriving at that point, because my book's information will need to be revised for use on October 15th. Guess what? I guarantee it will be.  The book Medicare for Dummies, which is not yet in print? Due date November 4th, and 2.5 weeks out of a 7-week long window has passed. That is about 33% of the most important single period for that book (and mine). My book won't be obsolete due to the fact that the world has changed, has adjusted to it, and the book publishing industry and distribution channels have not changed at the same pace or with the same creativity. People (consumers) are not stupid: the book publishing industry treats them as if they are. Brand loyalty to you? Going the way of brand loyalty to GM's Oldsmobile and Ford's Mercury.

Coexist? Sure. Abandon No Chance
I have already done my part in attempting to help the independent bookstore. Look at #2 and #5. So, in a way, the article and motivation for this long post is correct: altruism would be the only rational reason for eliminating This six-item list only addresses independent bookstores . That would make more than ten reasons. Zero defensible reasons? Hardly. So please, independent bookstores, do not attempt to propose to the world that you are an innocent victim here. You have earned the a place in the Fifty Shades of Hypocrisy. As far as goes, they get links on authors' sites, as Smith Barney did (actually, this advertisement is false, but the ad was cool).

I have waited a bit until my book established itself as a moderate success in a high-interest topic, so I wouldn't sound like a adolescent complainer. That said, I am not finished. Independent bookstores may think that I am pontificating for no reason; that is also wrong because I have worked within the confines of the established process, and while it doesn't work, I will do so as long as the independent bookstore exists as a genus. 
Libraries, you are not an innocent bystander in this, and you are next on Fifty Shades of Hypocrisy.

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