Poor Amazon is asking its authors for help against Hachette

This letter was in my inbox on this fine summer morning. I read it over eggs and bacon, our traditional Saturday brekkie. It’s a good yarn. Orwell is referenced. Not sure if Hachette will also write to me (I have published with Kindle Direct, not them, but I believe Amazon has contacted Hachette authors, so come on!). I would like my letter with some references to the French Revolution, Communism and – of course – the story of David and an astro-turfing Goliath thrown in, please.

Dear KDP Author,

Just ahead of World War II, there was a radical invention that shook the foundations of book publishing. It was the paperback book. This was a time when movie tickets cost 10 or 20 cents, and books cost $2.50. The new paperback cost 25 cents – it was ten times cheaper. Readers loved the paperback and millions of copies were sold in just the first year.

With it being so inexpensive and with so many more people able to afford to buy and read books, you would think the literary establishment of the day would have celebrated the invention of the paperback, yes? Nope. Instead, they dug in and circled the wagons. They believed low cost paperbacks would destroy literary culture and harm the industry (not to mention their own bank accounts). Many bookstores refused to stock them, and the early paperback publishers had to use unconventional methods of distribution – places like newsstands and drugstores. The famous author George Orwell came out publicly and said about the new paperback format, if “publishers had any sense, they would combine against them and suppress them.” Yes, George Orwell was suggesting collusion.

Well… history doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.

Fast forward to today, and it’s the e-book’s turn to be opposed by the literary establishment. Amazon and Hachette – a big US publisher and part of a $10 billion media conglomerate – are in the middle of a business dispute about e-books. We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Perhaps channeling Orwell’s decades old suggestion, Hachette has already been caught illegally colluding with its competitors to raise e-book prices. So far those parties have paid $166 million in penalties and restitution. Colluding with its competitors to raise prices wasn’t only illegal, it was also highly disrespectful to Hachette’s readers.

The fact is many established incumbents in the industry have taken the position that lower e-book prices will “devalue books” and hurt “Arts and Letters.” They’re wrong. Just as paperbacks did not destroy book culture despite being ten times cheaper, neither will e-books. On the contrary, paperbacks ended up rejuvenating the book industry and making it stronger. The same will happen with e-books.

Many inside the echo-chamber of the industry often draw the box too small. They think books only compete against books. 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, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

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. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000. The important thing to note here is that the lower price is good for all parties involved: the customer is paying 33% less and the author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. The pie is simply bigger.

But when a thing has been done a certain way for a long time, resisting change can be a reflexive instinct, and the powerful interests of the status quo are hard to move. It was never in George Orwell’s interest to suppress paperback books – he was wrong about that.

And despite what some would have you believe, authors are not united on this issue. When the Authors Guild recently wrote on this, they titled their post: “Amazon-Hachette Debate Yields Diverse Opinions Among Authors” (the comments to this post are worth a read). A petition started by another group of authors and aimed at Hachette, titled “Stop Fighting Low Prices and Fair Wages,” garnered over 7,600 signatures. And there are myriad articles and posts, by authors and readers alike, supporting us in our effort to keep prices low and build a healthy reading culture. Author David Gaughran’s recent interview is another piece worth reading.

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies. Some have suggested that we “just talk.” We tried that. Hachette spent three months stonewalling and only grudgingly began to even acknowledge our concerns when we took action to reduce sales of their titles in our store. Since then Amazon has made three separate offers to Hachette to take authors out of the middle. We first suggested that we (Amazon and Hachette) jointly make author royalties whole during the term of the dispute. Then we suggested that authors receive 100% of all sales of their titles until this dispute is resolved. Then we suggested that we would return to normal business operations if Amazon and Hachette’s normal share of revenue went to a literacy charity. But Hachette, and their parent company Lagardere, have quickly and repeatedly dismissed these offers even though e-books represent 1% of their revenues and they could easily agree to do so. They believe they get leverage from keeping their authors in the middle.

We will never give up our fight for reasonable e-book prices. We know making books more affordable is good for book culture. We’d like your help. Please email Hachette and copy us.

Hachette CEO, Michael Pietsch: Michael.Pietsch@hbgusa.com

Copy us at: readers-united@amazon.com

Please consider including these points:

– We have noted your illegal collusion. Please stop working so hard to overcharge for ebooks. They can and should be less expensive.
– Lowering e-book prices will help – not hurt – the reading culture, just like paperbacks did.
– Stop using your authors as leverage and accept one of Amazon’s offers to take them out of the middle.
– Especially if you’re an author yourself: Remind them that authors are not united on this issue.

Thanks for your support.

The Amazon Books Team

P.S. You can also find this letter at http://www.readersunited.com

Røde smartLav+ microphone: first impressions

So today I finally received the package with the brand new Røde smartLav+ microphone. Comes in a nice box, which in turn holds a leather pouch with the whole kit in it.

As you can see, the smartLav+ comes with everything you need: a nice bag, tiny wind proof sock (so tiny it is hard to see), clip, and the mic of course, which is rolled up into a nice little strap.

I decided on this particular piece a couple of weeks ago, after asking my old buddy and tech expert Trevor Long which mic I should get for recording and producing professional audio with my iPad Air. He actually recommended a different Røde for podcasting. Since I regularly record interviews for radio too using this device, and since I would like to record a video blog using the iPad as well, I decided on a lavalier solution.

Mind you: the main requirement is that it just plugs into my iPad and records broadcast quality audio. That way, I’m theoretically able to report from anywhere at anytime for any medium: web, social media, TV, radio, podcast, blog, and of course print. Not in my wildest dreams could I have imagined as a rookie journalist in the 1990s that this would be technical reality in twenty years’ time. Can’t wait for 2034, if I am still alive then.

I will update with a review once I have tried the mic out – in the meantime note that I used it to write most of this post using voice dictation on the iPad.




Die Filter-Blase platzen lassen: Persönliche Propaganda im Zeitalter der Sozialen Medien

"The Soap Bubbles" by Charles Chaplin
“The Soap Bubbles” by Charles Chaplin

Hätten Facebook und Whatsapp den Krieg im Gazastreifen verhindern können? Und wenn ja, sollten sie? Diese Fragen wirft einer der wenigen auf, die das ernsthaft können: der Daten-Wissenschaftler Gilad Lotan.

In einem Essay über “Soziale Netzwerke und die Kunst der personalisierten Propaganda” analysiert Lotan die Konsequenzen der Tatsache, dass wir dank der Sozialen Medien zwar viel mehr direkte Informationen von etwas bekommen, etwa erschütternde Bilder über Twitter aus Gaza. Wir sind aber nur vermeintlich näher dran. Vielmehr bestätigen “die Sozialen” mit ihren algoritmisch maßgeschneiderten Info-Strömen uns nur in unseren (Vor-)Urteilen. Eli Pariser hat dafür den Begriff der Filterblase geprägt: Wer in dieser Echokammer steckt, erhält nur die Informationen, die er will. Dies, zeigt Lotan, schürt etwa im Fall Gaza letztlich Hass, Anti-Semitismus und ähnliches.

Ist das Gegenteil potentiell möglich? Soziale Medien könn(t)en die öffentliche Meinung positiv verändern, spekuliert Anil Dash. Wollen wir also “Friedensblasen”? Es ist eine gefährliche Versuchung, auch für die Kirche. Im Zeitalter “personalisierter Propaganda” reicht es aber nicht, in der eigenen Filterblase zu schwimmen; auch weil damit unser Glaube nur noch mehr an der Relevanz verliert, die schon die bisherige Realität der Massenmedien untergräbt. Wir können, ja, müssen vielmehr diese Filterblasen platzen lassen.

(Zuerst publiziert als “Standpunkt” auf http://www.katholisch.de am 7. August 2014)