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Thread: Amazon's letter to all publishers - also of interest to anyone who reads books

  1. #11
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    I couldn't guess just how soon, but will wholly concur with anyone suggesting inevitable. When Amazon has so cluttered their book section with low quality publications that buyers are forced elsewhere to assess quality, search algorithms and content rejection must be employed to free itself from low quality prattle. I said this to a colleague after seeing the first products on how to get rich by gaming Amazon's publishing system.
    Come to think of it, they did take some action two or three years ago (around the time when I got started as an author and publisher). It was akin to a Google slap. In an attempt to reduce the number of shill reviews, they removed loads of reviews by authors. Needless to say this caused uproar with many people arguing that authors (ie other authors' peers) were possibly the best people to be doing reviews. It was a feeble attempt to counter some of their ecrap or at least being seen to do so. Of course it had no effect on the amount of ecrap they publish - and the problem has got much worse since. They only way (that I can see) they can reduce the ecrap is by introducing some quality control over what they publish. I've been saying for years that I'd love to see it. However, I'm still doubtful that they'll do this for various reasons.

    The market is intended to be regulated by the public and what they want. Hence their algorithms place great weight on sales. It doesn't work. Throw enough money at promoting ecrap and you could have a best seller on your hands. Its quality is therefore irrelevant to the marketplace. Apparently another big influencer is reviews, ie the public votes on what's good and what's not, and the cream will rise to the top. That's the theory, anyway. But again - throw enough money at getting great reviews for ecrap and you have a best seller on your hands. Letting the public regulate the market doesn't work - not when "the public" also consists of a large number of people with vested interests, eg publishers, promoters, authors, etc. Traditional publishers made it very difficult to get published but at least they (mostly) didn't have an inventory containing so much crap. I think Amazon really should put some gatekeepers in place - perhaps various review panels made up of various industry experts, authors, bloggers, readers, and any other group(s) of people with an interest in books. Unlike a traditional publisher, there would be no quota on how many books they could allow to be published (because their "shelf space" is unlimited). Books could be allowed through for publication if they meet certain quality standards. Some would necessarily be subjective and some could be objective. The review panels, consisting of people from a variety of disciplines, professions, and occupations would score each book they reviewed, giving reasons for rejection where appropriate, and a book would need to gain a certain score before before the gate opened to enable publishing.

    This wouldn't have to be terribly expensive. I'm sure some people would volunteer to read and review books. Many already do. I would be happy to review books without being paid a fee. Free books, yay! And if they're crap books at least I'd have the satisfaction of voting against accepting them for publication.

    I'd love to read more of the background information and reply to the other excellent points made but my presence is required elsewhere just now.

    BTW, here's a link to a reasonably interesting article about Amazon removing reviews by authors. (Dec. 2012)
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/b...crackdown.html
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  3. #12
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    The market is intended to be regulated by the public and what they want. Hence their algorithms place great weight on sales. It doesn't work.
    Neither did the publishing controlled system that placed great weight on the New York Times bestseller list, which was based on sales. Can you honestly say publisher never put out a crappy book? I've read quite a few of them. Or that the NYT bestseller lists aren't rigged? Not to mention years out of date by the time it hit the market. The only difference is, someone high up in an ivory tower in New York said "this is literary gold!" and published it under their name. It was the same crap, just blessed by a New York publisher crap. If they are the only ones who know what a "good" book is, why isn't every single book they publish a bestseller? The publishing world is drowning in literary crap too. If they are such guardians of the English language why did they aquire "50 Shades of Gray" and then not change a word of it, typos, misspellings, poor grammar and all? Publishers these days expect the author to all the editing and proofreading. Gone are the days when they held the author's hand and "nurtured" them. No matter what they say.

    When Amazon has so cluttered their book section with low quality publications that buyers are forced elsewhere to assess quality, search algorithms and content rejection must be employed to free itself from low quality prattle.
    What's wrong with that? That seems to me like the free market in action. If someone comes up with a better solution, or better quality platform, then Amazon will die off as well. I can remember when AOL was the best search engine, then Overture, then Yahoo, now Google. People said the same thing about the internet. That if "anyone" could put a web page the internet would drown in "Ecrap" as well. We seemed to have survived it and the market corrected itself on a larger scale than just publishing and eBooks.

    Take a look at the movie and music industries. Both have been fighting digital content longer than book publishers have. Do you really want to go back to only big budget movies from Paramount, and Boy bands of the music business? Is the world better off without indie movies and the Sundance Film festival? Are we getting a better quality music by only having Justin Bieber and Britney Spears as the vanguard of music? Do you really want to go back to paying $25 for a CD when you only liked one song on it but were forced to buy the entire CD? Or is the ability to pay .99 cents for the song you like a better deal?

    I'm not particularly pro Amazon or Pro publishing. I think they both can co-exist in the same universe. There's room for both without name calling and court battles. It doesn't have to be a 'one or the other' world. As far as Amazon "ecrap" goes, why not exercise some self-responsibility, click a button and get a refund? It seems to me that would do more in the long run than all the 1-star reviews combined. I wish it was that easy to get a refund for the New York published literary crap they are selling for $28.99. Also Amazon does have official, objective, unpaid reviewers, it is called "Amazon Vine."

    Also, while concentrating on the eCrap, you're totally ignoring the many, many, authors who are publishing quality books, on subjects both in fiction and nonfiction that would NEVER get published by New York because they won't sell umpteen millions of copies. Why not give indie authors a voice as well? Why lump ALL self-published books as "eCrap?" I've read some excellent books by indie writers. Speaking personally, I don't want those authors to go away. Nor should they because they don't measure up to some imaginary, ever-changing line of what "Quality" and "mainstream" writing is as defined by New York.

    Limit the freedom of one, and you are limiting the freedom of all. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, but generally speaking, in the long run, more artistic freedom is better than less. Amazon represents artistic freedom and the ability to make an income for 1000's of writers who couldn't make it past the gates of New York publishing. Does that mean every single author who self-publishes are hacks? The market doesn't think so. If the market is any indication, many people voted with their wallets and feel those authors are just as good as New York vetted authors. Who is New York to say those consumers are wrong?
    Last edited by dsieg58; 12 August 2014 at 10:33 am.

  4. #13
    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    David, I don't think anyone is suggesting that all independently published books are crap. (I don't think that mine are crap nor are those in our stable - about 10 books so far). We're all agreed that there's a lot of crap, yes by the traditional publishers too. The main area of disagreement tends to focus around what to do about the crap. Some vote with their feet and go elsewhere. Some (like me) hope for some quality control. Others believe that you can ignore the crap because the cream will rise to the top regardless of having to compete their way through a swamp of ecrap.

    ***

    Going back to an earlier point which Ken made:

    Is your longer term view suggesting diametrically opposed objectives? My suppliers are happy if I pay them more money than I think I should. My customers are happy when I charge them less money than they prefer to pay. I should think refusal to agonize over this disparity would lead to retention of sanity - and greater profits
    I don't think that happy suppliers and happy customers are mutually exclusive - unless they are both price sensitive to the exclusion of all else. Many reasonable people simply want a fair deal and to be treated with integrity and respect. Sometimes, as a consumer, I pay more for a higher quality and a better experience. Sometimes, as a supplier, I would accept a lower price if there were other factors to motivate me which make the make the deal seem more attractive. However, Amazon's single-minded self interest and focus on profit-maximisation, at whatever cost to its relationships towards all who deal with them, does not foster any customer loyalty at all.

    Many people used to love Amazon in the same way as they loved Google. But when the one you love constantly abuses you and sucks the life out of you it's hard to stay in love. Maybe some of the multi-millionaire authors will band together and create a new publishing model.
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  5. #14
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    David, I don't think anyone is suggesting that all independently published books are crap. (I don't think that mine are crap nor are those in our stable - about 10 books so far). We're all agreed that there's a lot of crap, yes by the traditional publishers too. The main area of disagreement tends to focus around what to do about the crap. Some vote with their feet and go elsewhere. Some (like me) hope for some quality control. Others believe that you can ignore the crap because the cream will rise to the top regardless of having to compete their way through a swamp of ecrap.
    OK, fair enough. Let me put this another way then. WHO is going to be the judge or what is eCrap and what isn't, if not the market? New York publishing hasn't done that great of a job in the past 100 years, what is there to think they would do a better job of it this time around? Do you really want some anonymous group at Amazon judging your books without knowing anything about them? Since every author is going to dispute that "their" book isn't eCrap, and complain, there probably won't be an appeal system in place, just like Google. No one likes Google anymore either once they started the heavy hand of judging what is "relevant" content either. My point is, you can't have it both ways. Either there is artistic freedom, or there isn't.

    ...does not foster any customer loyalty at all.
    Or it doesn't foster any SUPPLIER loyalty. And those suppliers are free to sell their products elsewhere. But it is Amazon's marketplace which they created and paid for. Any market place gets to set its own rules. That's what Hachette wants to do...set the rules for Amazon's marketplace. It won't work. Anymore than I could come to your website and tell you MUST sell my books at the price I say so. Amazon has millions upon umpteen millions of loyal customers at this point. 10 times more than Hachette has ever had. More so than any other business, probably in the history of mankind. The vast, vast, majority of Amazon customers have never heard of this dispute, and even if they had, could care less about it.

    "Gee....Douglas Preston ONLY made 64 million dollars this year instead of his usual 95 million. What a shame he won't be able to put a new addition on his summer house in the Hamptons. Honey? Can we afford to eat this month?" Says Mainstream American Amazon customer. The vast majority of Amazon's customers are interested more in lower prices, which Amazon is giving them. They could care less how Amazon gets them. Walmart was able to outsource the entire US manufacturing base (The largest, most successful in the world) to China in pursuit of lower prices. Amazon isn't a ripple on the pond compared to them.
    Last edited by dsieg58; 12 August 2014 at 12:06 pm.

  6. #15
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    On the subject of enlightened New York publishing, the guardians of "good" literature, ones who would never allow "eCrap"...

    One assumption people make of traditional publishing is that they’ll “get it right.” Unlike those stinky indie books, they’ll be well edited, well designed, and well produced. When you sign a contract with a major publisher giving away 90% of your book, you do so with the assurance that it will be well handled from there on. Your publisher will mind all the details, and would never, NEVER screw up in a way that would harm you.

    Or so you’d think. But years of being around the publishing industry have shown me otherwise. Books that were sabotaged in production by departing employees, books with the wrong author name on the cover, books with huge copy-editing problems. titles that have been “fixed” in production to change their meanings, One letter typesetting errors that end up changing the entire meaning of ending of the book, terrible and inappropriate covers, it goes on and on.

    But surely these things are aberrations, right?
    . . . .
    One [publisher mistake I saw recently] is the sort of thing you’d think editors would routinely check for: two books with the same title. To be honest, this happens all the time, and it isn’t a big deal. Titles can’t be copyrighted, and clever ones tend to get repeated by accident all the time. But when the books are in the same genre, and come out in mass-market at the same time, from major publishing houses, and both from best-selling authors (one a New York Times lister), you’d think somebody would have noticed, and at least rescheduled one of the books. But no, here was have two true crime books with the same title on the shelf right next to each other.
    . . . .
    Then we have New York Times best-selling author, Jeffrey Archer, and a book so badly reprinted it’s unreadable. The cover is on upside down, and the pages are in backwards as well. You can’t even read it from the back, as left and right pages are swapped as well. This book won’t be sold, or if it’s sold, it will be returned. In either case it will be “stripped,” counted as a return, and charged against the author’s royalties, even though the return is no fault of their own.

    Of course, this could be an isolated production error, but we checked, and all the copies on the shelf were bound the same way. How many were shipped misprinted? Probably more than we saw here. Probably at least dozens. But it could be hundreds. Or thousands.

    But, if a major publisher ships one of your books with a huge production error that makes it nearly unreadable and tanks sales, surely they’ll take some corrective action, right? They’ll slot a reprint of the book into their schedule, or at least take into consideration that the low sales aren’t your fault in considering your next contract, right?

    Uh, no, you’re screwed. At least, of all the horror stories I’ve heard, I can’t think of any where the publisher came back and made it good. The book, and the author, were generally tossed aside like a wormy apple.
    Full article here.

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    I don't know if times have changed, but a few years back I bought a big technical book (about boat electrics) published by a major marine book publisher. The author wasn't much good, but the publisher didn't make any effort - the book was crap.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dsieg58
    People said the same thing about the internet. That if "anyone" could put a web page the internet would drown in "Ecrap" as well. We seemed to have survived it and the market corrected itself on a larger scale than just publishing and eBooks.
    It did drown. I watched the gurgling and the gasping for air as the black and white animals strangled the profit out of all the spam web sites reliant upon SEO. The market didn't correct the problem, Google did. That is when Catt Mutts became the web's SEO mascot, guiding all who wished to survive those treacherous algorithms given life to suppress the parasitic industry that had evolved to feed on advertisers. CattMutts.com defines SEO as search engine optimism

    Quote Originally Posted by dsieg58
    Limit the freedom of one, and you are limiting the freedom of all. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, but generally speaking, in the long run, more artistic freedom is better than less. Amazon represents artistic freedom and the ability to make an income for 1000's of writers who couldn't make it past the gates of New York publishing.
    Amazon publishes you. Hachette publishes their authors. Limit the freedom of one publisher in the marketplace, making it subordinate to a single company's control over distribution, and you are killing representation of creativity. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, but generally speaking, in the long run, having more publishers is better than one autocratic company.

    Are you suggesting Amazon should control pricing and distribution for all authors? Who taught you Amazon was saviour of writers and artists? Why are you ignoring the impact of the internet and attributing freedom to publish as the singular purview of Amazon? Amazon is a business on the internet, publishing on the internet does not reside solely within Amazon.

    I am a business owner and respect creativity. I consider myself an artist. This skill has permitted my companies to assist with creation of tens of thousands of songs through supply of software. I do understand the structure from a publisher's perspective, and have supported artists for many decades.

    If you are for Amazon in this argument, you are against fair pricing for creativity and craftsmanship, against fair payment for the written word. Art is entertainment. Business is consumption. Profit is the middle where the two meet, each having disparate objectives. Managers, publishers, promoters build agencies for the purpose of allowing artists to master their skills and crafts without needing to spend time on business logistics. Hachette support for their authors is proper business.

    How was my complaint about ebook crap, and having to wade through a garbage dump to find the few real books, ignoring authors who publish quality? Do you not see a problem with the authors who publish 50 books on a wide range of subjects they know nothing about, because their get-rich-quick keyword analysis said they should string together 25 PLR niche articles to make more money?

    Quote Originally Posted by Kay
    Sometimes, as a consumer, I pay more for a higher quality and a better experience. Sometimes, as a supplier, I would accept a lower price if there were other factors to motivate me which make the make the deal seem more attractive.
    ...but you're viewing this paradigm from the opposite side of the fence from me. You're thinking of yourself as the consumer, you're framing yourself as a supplier. I am the business owner who is dealing with my customer, you the consumer. I am the purchaser of the products that you are saying you supply for resale. What you find reasonable from your side of the fence is not always an option from mine. Not always, but my needs may differ just as Amazon's needs differ from Hachette's.

    I -completely- disagree with the basic premise that Amazon has a focus upon profits. I would focus on this as it's reasonable, but do not see that as the objective in the dispute being discussed. Higher prices lead to greater profits, greater mark-ups over cost lead to profit-maximization. Is that what Amazon is doing by rewarding authors with higher percentages for lower prices? Is that what Amazon is advocating when it wants all ebooks priced as low as possible, under 14.99? Please stop to think about it for a minute. Hachette wants fair compensation for authors worth higher book prices. Amazon wants higher quality, but lower-price Kindle selections for their hardware. I can show you ebooks worth more than Amazon's suggested highest limit.

    Quote Originally Posted by dsieg58
    My point is, you can't have it both ways. Either there is artistic freedom, or there isn't.
    Artists are always free to starve. That has nothing to do with business, and nothing to do with the two companies engaged in this dispute. I see Amazon's goal, and it will benefit their business, so that is reasonable from their perspective as it benefits their customer base. Amazon has a stranglehold over book sales worldwide. Artistic talent is fighting Amazon for its right to price based on quality and demand. Amazon is using its dominance to try and force lower ebook prices. If you're for Amazon in this discussion, you are against proper payment for quality authorship. You are for business over art and creativity. Both are needed - where's the balance?

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  11. #18
    Publishing Mentor dsieg58 is a Premium Member
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    If you're for Amazon in this discussion, you are against proper payment for quality authorship. You are for business over art and creativity...If you are for Amazon in this argument, you are against fair pricing for creativity and craftsmanship, against fair payment for the written word.
    Unless you're the Great Karnac, I'm not sure you know what I'm for or against, nor think or feel. But it's a great blanket statement to create division in a discussion and a "Us vs. Them" mentality and close down all opposing thought.

    Artistic talent is fighting Amazon for its right to price based on quality and demand.
    Artistic talent is fighting Amazon? Douglas Preston had an online petition calling for authors and writers to sign it if they agreed with him. He got around 800 signatures. Hugh Howey turned around and did the same thing supporting self-published authors and Amazon and got around 8,000 signatures. (Would you like the link?) Artistic talent is NOT fighting Amazon. It's the other way around. They are fighting a closed system which benefits a few at the expense of the many.

    Limit the freedom of one publisher in the marketplace, making it subordinate to a single company's control over distribution, and you are killing representation of creativity. You may not like it, you may not agree with it, but generally speaking, in the long run, having more publishers is better than one autocratic company.
    Isn't that EXACTLY what big 5 publishers tried do? They were trying to control distribution and create a publishing cartel. The DOJ proved it in a court of law and censored all five. They weren't trying to create more artistic freedom, they were trying to create a publishing monopoly where they could keep price artificially high and stood to profit the most at the expense of everyone else, including authors and consumers. (Want the link?)

    Are you suggesting Amazon should control pricing and distribution for all authors?
    When has Amazon tried? I can price my books at any price I want. Only publishers, once they buy your rights, the PUBLISHER restricts an author's right to price their books the way the author feels best benefits their sales. I can also pick and choose my distribution model as well. Nor am I locked in once I choose it. I can change it at any time. Only the authors contracted to a publishing house have no say whatsoever in pricing or distribution of their books under an agency agreement.

    Who taught you Amazon was saviour of writers and artists?
    Who taught you big publishing was?

    Why are you ignoring the impact of the internet and attributing freedom to publish as the singular purview of Amazon?
    I'm not. Why are you ignoring the positive impact Amazon has had on self publishing?

    I am a business owner and respect creativity. I consider myself an artist
    Me too.

    How was my complaint about ebook crap, and having to wade through a garbage dump to find the few real books, ignoring authors who publish quality?
    By concentrating solely on a few negative aspects of Amazon, (Like big publishing doesn't have any negative attributes?) without considering the positive effect Amazon has had as a whole on publishing, you "tarred all books with the same brush." You generalized. You lumped all indie authors into one class called "eCrap." I disagree with that. There are many excellent books, not associated with Hachette, or any publisher.

  12. #19
    Moderator Kay is a Premium Member
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    I don't think Ken is a temple in Egypt (The Great Karnak). Whether or not he thinks of himself as Carnac the Magnificent is doubtful, but let's keep on topic, even though the banter is amusing. Ken is in good company since Clinton is Mythos (or something like that) and I am the Queen of Lady Dog. And now a title has been bestowed on Ken. Congratulations.

    Back on topic. I'm still not seeing anywhere that anyone ever suggested that all indie books are ecrap. Some of us have indie books which have been very well received.
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  13. #20
    Top Contributor Dave McM is a Premium Member
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    Quote Originally Posted by dsieg58 View Post
    Artistic talent is NOT fighting Amazon. It's the other way around. They are fighting a closed system which benefits a few at the expense of the many.
    This may or may not be true. But I doubt whether a win for Amazon will result in an open system either. Amazon aren't championing the rights of writers and artists; it looks to me as if they're seeking to supplant one closed system with another. The big difference is that they're both the publisher and the bookstore, which gives them a disturbingly large amount of monopoly power.

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