Monthly Archives: March 2010

Amazon Makes Its Vig with Used Books as Well as New

If you don’t know what “vigorish” means, ask your bookie.  He’ll tell you that whether you bet for or against, win or to lose, he makes money.  His “vig” is a commission levied on both buyer and seller.

To make money coming and going? That’s about as sweet as it gets.  Ask Amazon. Whether it’s a new book or a used one, Amazon makes money, and in the case of used books it makes lots of it.

We know that Amazon makes a profit from the difference between what it pays to the publisher – the wholesale price – and what it gets from the customer – the retail price. Nothing notable there – unless you happen to notice that for many titles there are two kinds of “new.” One is Amazon’s own new book. The other is a new book offered by another dealer. What’s with that?

It turns out that professional dealers buy books wholesale from publishers the same way Amazon does. These dealers then offer them for sale on Amazon, which hosts the dealers, presumably for a fee or commission.  For example, I’m looking at an E-Reads title with a list price of $21.95. Amazon sells it new for $15.80. But several dealers hosted by Amazon are also selling it new for a $15.79,  a penny less than their host.

Doesn’t Amazon mind being undercut?  Obviously not, because it is making money on its competitors’ sales as well as on its own.  But how much?

We don’t know for sure, but we can glean an idea from the fees it makes on the sale of used books. Again by way of example, the same title that dealers are selling new on Amazon is also being sold used on that site for the same $15.79. We happen to have it on the word of a dealer who left an anonymous comment on our website a few months ago that “Amazon charges marketplace pro merchants 15% of sales plus a closing fee of $1.35 per item.”  On that $15.79 book Amazon makes $3.72, not counting the $39.99 monthly fee Amazon charges professional dealers for hosting them.  If you’re not a pro Amazon tacks an additional $.99 on the sale.

And let’s not forget that Amazon owns Abebooks, one of the leading used book merchants in the world. So the used book business is a very good one for indeed for Amazon.

We’re not sure Robert Frost had Amazon in mind when he wrote, “That would be good both going and coming back,” but he certainly would have appreciated the company’s double-edged advantage in the marketplace.

Richard Curtis

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Caught on Camera with the Wrong Woman? New Tool Retouches Her Out of the Picture

Ryan Tate of Gawker posted a sneak preview of an incredible photo retouching tool heading your way from Photoshop CS5. “The tool makes it easy to delete objects from a complex photo, without any trace they ever existed,” writes Tate.

If you’re a serious photographer who needs to touch up an errant shadow or inadvertent red-eye, it’s an absolute boon. But when you contemplate some of the less artistic applications created by the Content-Aware fill tool, your blood can turn to ice.

“The ramifications for Internet publishing are frightening,” Tate says. “It’s been possible to post Photoshopped images since the birth of the Web, of course, but until now you needed some modicum of experience to convincingly retouch pictures.” Now anyone can seamlessly drop into a photo – of a neo-Nazi rally for instance – the image of a person who was a continent away from the event. Conversely, you can remove an attendee at that rally from the picture and place him in the box seats of a baseball game.

If you think “seamless” is hyperbole, check out the video.

Be prepared for a mountain of mischief when bad guys discover the Content-Aware fill tool.

Richard Curtis

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Authors – Cut Velvet!

If you ever worked in the garment business you’ll remember the joke about the dress manufacturer who hears that taffeta is going to be big next season and buys a huge amount of it,  only to learn that everyone will be wearing velvet instead. Ruined, he jumps out the window. As he plummets to the sidewalk he notices in a window that his friend Murray is manufacturing a taffeta skirt. “Murray!” he shouts. “Cut velvet!”

I was reminded of this story when I read a Publishers Weekly report by Diane Roback on the Bologna Book Fair, a major worldwide convocation of children’s book publishers. Roback’s title was YA Hot, Digital Not at Upbeat Bologna, and she quoted a number of editors and agents who proclaimed that the superheated trend in young adult fiction, propelled by such engines as Harry Potter and Twilight, continues unabated. For instance, a Disney subsidiary rights official reported that “People are saying ‘we want to see YA fiction.’ And they’re asking specifically for YA, not just middle-grade and not just series.”

However, before you rush to develop another young adult series – remember that for every bubble there is a pin. Can’t happen? Party’s going to last forever? One agent at the fair told Roback that a number of publishers told him their lists are YA-saturated and “what we really want is good middle-grade.” And Random House’s Beverly Horowitz, one of the children’s book industry’s doyennes, thinks the trend may move to younger readers, boasting that she has an “otherworldly” middle-grade project in the works. Agent Simon Lipskar of Writers House elicited a preemptive offer from Random House for a middle-grade trilogy.

For the moment the only certain trend is that children’s books remain one of the few sectors of the publishing ecology that are making money, and the field is equally divided between books for big kids and for little kids. Indeed, YA books may have the edge because their readership often crosses over into the adult world.

But how many YA’s are so fabulously successful that they will be snapped up by grownups? Do you want to be the first author to arrive after the gates shut, leaving you and your agent standing with a perfectly wonderful and utterly unsalable YA project? It might behoove you to hit the bookstores, pick up and study some middle grade novels, and try your hand at one. That way you won’t be left with a warehouse full of taffeta.

Richard Curtis

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Can E-Book Sales Bubble Burst?

If you’ve been reading our monthly postings of e-book retail sales bulletins provided by the International Digital Publishing Forum, you are aware that as the numbers doubled, then tripled, and most recently quadrupled those of the prior year, the stridency of our prose has progressed deeper and deeper into the purple spectrum.  Right  now we’re tapping into our reserves of hysteria and if the curve gets much steeper we will have to be forcibly restrained. By the opposite token, if the curve flattens even a little we may climb out on a ledge – we’re that spoiled by unmitigated good news.

Will the joyride ever end?  Digital pundit Mike Shatzkin has dared to ask the question.

Though he says “Your guess is as good as mine,” in fact Mike Shatzkin’s guesses are far better than ours.  But he reminds us of the fundamental truth that nothing lasts forever.  There has to be a saturation point.  But what is it, when will it come, and what factors will make it happen?

The prospect for the near future looks rosy, in good measure because there are so many new platforms and devices coming on stream such as Copia, Blio, Apple’s iPad, Google Editions and a clutch of e-book readers with new features including color, larger screens, and touchscreen capability.  And we know that Amazon will counter competition with a host of Kindle upgrades and improvements.  So, says Shatzkin, the next year will see a continuation of robust retail growth which he puts “conservatively” at 3.5%. That means that “the e-book minimum expectation by next Christmas would be between 15 and 20 percent of the sales of a new title.” Then what?

“And then,” says Shatzkin, “it can’t really continue the same growth rate the following year because that would take us to a great majority of books read being e-books. And I don’t think you’ll find anybody expecting 60% or more e-book penetration in two years.” The saturation point? “It won’t start slowing down until e-book sales are 20-25% of what a publisher expects on a new title.”

He expects that topping-out moment at the end of 2012.

Read Ebook growth continues to accelerate; how long can this go on? and decide if your own guess is as good as Mike Shatzkin’s.

Richard Curtis

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Romance Readers Welcome Laura Kinsale Back

Laura Kinsale won a Romance Writers of America Rita award for her last historical romance, but it’s been too long since then.  So, we’re thrilled to bring you Lessons in French published by Sourcebooks.  Welcome back, Laura!

Here’s a handful of wonderful reviews with lots more where these came from.

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Twenty pages into reading, I stopped and thought, this is the reason I read historical romance. Welcome back Laura, we’ve missed you dearly (Kate Garrabrant Babbling About Books and More)

Lessons in French has everything a historical novel should have: history about the era, romance, peppered with a little suspense and wit. (Barbara Davis Everything Victorian and More)

Lessons in French was a lesson in life, love, and laughter for me… This wonderful novelist has been “missing in action” for the past five years and I, for one, am elated that she’s returned. (Amy Lignor Once Upon a Romance)

A classically romantic and elegant read. (Michelle Buonfiglio Barnes and Noble Heart to Heart)

A definite gem of a book. (Jill Dunlop Romance Rookie)

A great read with a wonderful romance. (Amy Jacobs My Over-Stuffed Bookshelf 20100128)

A heartwarming love story… very reminiscent of Georgette Heyer. (Elizabeth K. Mahon Scandalous Women)

A perfect balance of drama and farce, weighty and trivial, darker and lighter. Whether you’re new to Kinsale or a longtime fan, I encourage you to pick up Lessons In French. C’est l’amour! (Nicola Onychuk Alpha Heroes

A wonderful addition to the genre. I sincerely hope Laura Kinsale doesn’t leave such a long wait for her next romance! (Meghan Burton Medieval Bookworm)

Enchanting and completely charming! (Carrie Divine Seductive Musings )

Heartbreaking, poetic, and desperately hopeful — Lessons in French just might be Laura Kinsale’s best yet. A Night Owl Romance Reviewer Top Pick (Kyraninse Night Owl Romance)

Laura Kinsale demonstrates her trademark wit, depth, detail and romanticism can serve a light-hearted historical romance just as well as they can with a darker one. (Anime June Gossamer Obsessions)

Laura Kinsale is an absolute star… the story is beautiful. (Martina Cote-Kunz She Read a Book)

One of the most beloved authors of the genre returns with a lighthearted, joyous love story… [Readers] will delight in the engaging characters, Kinsale’s sparkling sense of humor and the pure joy of reading a romance crafted by a master. (Kathe Robin The Romantic Times)

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E-Reads publishers e-book and paperback editions of three great Laura Kinsale novels. Make sure you have them all!

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No DRM for Apple iPad Titles

Will Apple’s iPad be a closed system like Amazon’s Kindle, or an open one without restrictive “DRM”? A lot is at stake on which way this particular cat falls.

DRM is the three letter acronym that is rapidly becoming a four letter word for a variety of people ranging from authors to e-bookstore customers. It stands for Digital Rights Management and refers to any proprietary operating system that limits access to digital content by outside users.
“iBooks will support non-DRM ePub books not downloaded from the iBookstore, says Charles Starrett writing on iLounge. Furthermore, “iBooks will be a free download for iPad users from the App Store,” says Starrett.

Apple’s business initiatives continue to put pressure on rival Amazon. Apple’s recent formulation of a new e-book retailing model set off a mini-war between Amazon and one of its major publisher-suppliers, Macmillan. See Publishing’s Weekend War: 48 Hours that Changed an Industry.

Richard Curtis

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E-Reads 2.0 Launches Today

Today is launch day for the our completely redesigned website and we’re both incredibly excited and slightly apprehensive.  As we said the other day, in addition to a brand new look and we’ve installed a robust new engine and a bunch of new features with lots more on the way.

But we know that when you re-engineer a website stuff happens, and we ask your indulgence as our butterfly emerges from its chrysalis.   As webmaster Anthony Damasco explains, “We are repointing our domain to the new server, and that can take anywhere from 15 minutes to 48 hours.” So you may experience some disruption, and when service is restored there will inevitably be things to patch and replace.

But when the wings dry it will definitely be a butterfly, and we wish our soft launch a gentle landing.

Richard Curtis

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Michiko Kakutani Surveys the Cut and Paste Culture

In the three years that we’ve been blogging we’ve urged you to read books and articles that we thought interesting, but we’ve never presumed to order you to read something.

There’s always a first time, and an article by Michiko Kakutani in the March 21, 2010 New York Times has inspired us to resort to the imperative case.  Ms. Kakutani is the Pulitzer Prizewinning reviewer for the Times, a job she has performed with distinction for almost three decades, and in her penetrating essay Texts without Context she has captured our zeitgeist in a way that few other brief examinations of contemporary culture that we’re aware of have done.

Our zeitgeist not a pretty sight. But if you want to understand who you are and where you fit into 21st century civilization, we herewith direct you to read and reflect on what Ms. Kakutani has to say.

Her ruminations take the form of an overview of books about the influence of the Web on art and entertainment. “These new books” she writes, “share a concern with how digital media are reshaping our political and social landscape, molding art and entertainment, even affecting the methodology of scholarship and research. They examine the consequences of the fragmentation of data that the Web produces, as news articles, novels and record albums are broken down into bits and bytes; the growing emphasis on immediacy and real-time responses; the rising tide of data and information that permeates our lives; and the emphasis that blogging and partisan political Web sites place on subjectivity.”

We find ourselves on the horns of a dilemma. Ms. Kakutani’s essay is about the transformation of our culture from an immersive one (like losing yourself in a good book) to a cut-and-paste one. If we extract some gems to tempt you to read her article, doesn’t that make us guilty of the very sin of cutting and pasting that is the essence of what’s gone wrong in our culture? But if we don’t paste some gems from her essay, can we trust you to thoroughly read her argument?

Okay, we trust you. Immerse yourself in Texts Without Context and have your report on our desk first thing in the morning.

Richard Curtis

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New Look Coming to E-Reads

This year E-Reads celebrates its 10th year in business, and we’re treating ourselves to a makeover. Production manager and designer Nathan Fernald has given us a new look and webmaster Anthony Damasco has installed a powerful new engine, a bunch of new features and robust functionality. John Douglas and Pam Valvera worked tirelessly to clean up a database that looked like the place where damaged code goes to die.

And me? I kibbitzed until I was politely asked to find something else to do.

New features include…

  • Wider page with three columns of content and graphics
  • Vastly improved custom book and author search
  • Sample chapters for every book
  • Better Comments section
  • Expanded Featured Books Display
  • More detailed author pages
  • Many more content purchase options
  • Updated FAQ page
  • A sliding promotional banner

On the way…

  • A daily news feed reporting up to the minute industry trends and breaking developments
  • Author pages will be linked to their home pages, Twitter and other social network sites
  • Newsletter sign-up

We know that the new improved E-Reads website will serve customers and authors better as we forge ahead into our second decade.

Richard Curtis

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Guest Blog: Steven R. Boyett Launches “Digital Writes”

After Steven R. Boyett contributed yet another penetrating comment on an E-Reads posting, we invited him to guest-blog for us. Well, “invited” may not be the appropriate word. We threatened to hurt him if he refused. We felt his sparkling insights deserved a wider forum than our comments box. Of his own free will and volition he accepted, and today we are happy to offer The Schlock of the New, the first of what we hope will be many feuilletons in a column he calls Digital Writes. Which means that E-Reads is now in Digital Writes Management. :-(
RC
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DIGITAL WRITES
Steven R. Boyett

The Schlock of the New

Dear Sirs:
As a hansom cab driver of long standing I am writing to voice my objection to opening our public roadways to motor vehicle carriages for hire. Not only will this action devastate a grand tradition, it will take food from the mouths of children, notably my own. The inferior training and professionalism of these opportunistic motor carriage drivers represents a danger to the largely uninformed public, and their presence flies in the face of the people’s stated preference — indeed, their fond affection — for the hansom cab. The horses themselves are entitled to work for their living, as they have for generations stretching back to the Garden.
Yours most humbly,

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Dear Sir or Madam:
I write with great dismay as the last member of a distinguished family of abacus-makers with a lineage older than writing itself. That a mass-produced device be available to any untrained person not possessed of a deep respect and affection for the God-given perfection of numbers is near to blasphemy. These “calculators” denote the end of an era, a noble industry, and indeed a way of life. As such they take money from trained professionals and disseminate ignorance by creating a generation of calculator-users who feel entitled to expect a device to perform a function while themselves possessing no mathematical ability whatsoever, much less appreciation for the marvelous intricacies upon which our Universe is constructed. Such a device can only be the herald of an Age of Ignorance, and those of us with a right to earn a living from our trade deplore it to our dying breath.
Respectfully,

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Dear Editor:
As a DJ who has spent years learning the subtleties of manipulating vinyl records upon the wonder that is the modern turntable (specifically the Technics 1200 series) so that he can entertain dancers and partygoers who appreciate good music, I am writing to express my outrage at the spread of “microwave DJs” — amateurs who use computers to play music files at nightclubs and other events. These people are not DJs and never will be. They are button-pushers whose work is all done for them by a soulless machine, not craftsmen who have spent years developing a specialized set of skills. This is not merely a fad, it is a dangerous trend that takes money from the pockets of real DJs, who have been earning a living with turntables for decades and have a right to continue to do so. It is not hyperbole to state that children will go hungry because of these computers, and audiences will soon forget the days when the backbone of their nightlife was a professional spinning real records (much more affordable than a live band, I might add) instead of a computer geek with taped-up Buddy Holly glasses. It is the end of an era.
Sincerely,

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Dear Mr. Boyett:
I’m afraid I must take exception to your naively utopian views on the advent of digital media as powerful democratizers of art by virtue of their relatively inexpensive production and virtually free distribution, reproduction, and reconfiguration. As a fiction writer who earns — I say earns — his living by writing the much-loved and hardly anachronistic objects known as printed books, I am seeing my rightful livelihood eradicated by those with no respect for professional skills, authorship, or indeed the printed book itself. I have worked for years to learn my trade and establish myself as a professional in an industry that stretches back for centuries, and these alleged “authors” who actually give away their (non)books for free are mere scabs who undermine this industry’s foundations. The more technology grants such abilities and access to the unprofessional, the more people will be coerced into believing themselves artists with a fundamental right to give away their work. And he who gives away his book makes it easier not to buy mine. He effectively takes food from my child’s mouth. He who quotes my work at length in his free blog may as well be siphoning gas from my car. He who shares my work breaks into my house and ransacks the drawers. He who incorporates it into his own work without permission or credit picks my pocket. He who steals my purse steals trash, but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed. My novels — modern retellings of beloved fairy tales, available on Amazon in print and Kindle format, and in used bookstores as well — belong to no one but me.
Originally,

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Steven R. Boyett was born in Atlanta, Georgia, grew up all over Florida, and attended the University of Tampa on a writing scholarship before quitting to write his first novel, Ariel, when he was nineteen. E-Reads publishes the e-book edition of Ariel.

Soon after Ariel was published he moved from Florida to Los Angeles, California, where he continued to write fiction and screenplays as well as teach college writing courses, seminars, and workshops. He has published stories in literary, science fiction, fantasy, and horror anthologies and magazines, as well as publishing articles and comic books. In the early Nineties his imprint Sneaker Press published chapbooks by the poets Carrie Etter and the late Nancy Lambert.

He has also been a martial arts instructor, professional paper marbler, advertising copywriter, proofreader, tyepsetter, writing teacher, and Website designer and editor.

In 2000 he took some time off from writing. He learned to play the didgeridoo and began composing and DJ-ing electronic music.

As a DJ he has played clubs, conventions, parties, Burning Man, and sporting events. He produces three of the world’s most popular music podcasts: Podrunner, Podrunner: Intervals, and Groovelectric.

In 2009 Berkley Books reissued Ariel and published its stunning sequel Elegy Beach.
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Photo by Ken Mitchroney

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