Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

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Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Doug Pardee » 01 Nov 2011, 16:02

This story is about a month old, but eBookNewser just picked it up.

Author James Crawford had his self-published e-book Blood-Soaked & Contagious for sale at $4.99 through Amazon. On September 30, his sales suddenly went through the roof. What happened? Amazon had erroneously set the sales price to zero because B&N listed a partial sample of that same e-book for free.

Crawford tried to get the situation rectified, but a week later it was still free and Amazon had given away over 5000 copies. He removed the e-book from sale to stop the losses. Amazon's response:
We’re sorry, we’re unable to pay royalties for your sales when your title was listed at $0 on our website. As per our KDP Terms and Conditions, we retain discretion over the retail price of a Kindle book. For more information, please refer to our KDP Terms and Conditions at the below link.

The Kindle Direct Publishing Terms and Conditions Pricing Page says:
Price Matching Determinations: If you have concerns about or object to our price-matching determinations and how they affect your Royalties, you can switch your Royalty option for future sales of the Digital Book to the 35% Royalty Option as described above, as your sole remedy.

Big help that is. Especially since the 35% Royalty Option says, "If we match a free promotion of your Digital Book somewhere else, your Royalty during that promotion will be zero."

Crawford's blog posting on the matter: http://www.bloodsoakedandwriting.com/20 ... ake-sense/

Today, Crawford writes:
A number of people have pointed out to me that I might have a valid case for legal action in regards to Kindle Direct Publishing’s error. Maybe so. Maybe so.

There is a problem with taking KDP to court. They are one arm of a giant monster, and it holds the Sword of Damocles over the heads of unrepresented, independent authors. The magical blade in question is forged from their right to terminate your contract with KDP at any time, for any reason, and NEVER WORK WITH YOU AGAIN. ...

The worse part about this, is that by speaking up at all, having my complaint aired on the internet, the likelihood that the giant will see me (and feel my lice-like tickle) is GREATLY increased. All the giant needs to do is swat me once, lawsuit or no, and I’m done… no money… no market… 3/4 of a second of notoriety… and the rest is silence.

See? My head is already poking out of the hole. I don’t know if I care to poke it up higher. That’s a mighty sharp sword.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Rachel Ventura » 03 Nov 2011, 19:29

This is the danger of when a conglomerate has too many pokes in the fire, and a lot of people get burned. Wow, that makes me just double-double boiled and bubbled inside. (Figures, considering it's not long after Halloween.) :evil:

And yet, it adds more fuel to my anti-Kindle fire, just fanning the flames of why I want this e-book "revolution" to go up in smoke. "Plus one" for traditional publishers and books in print, the same as we've had for hundreds of years. If you ain't broke, don't self-pub it. (Otherwise you'll have more zeroes than ones in your digital kitty.)

"Outmoded" as traditional publishing is said to be, we absolutely need the gatekeepers (the agents) and the backing of a well-established firm to help facilitate and mitigate your losses and provide you with resources should something like this occur. A really good agency probably has a legal team, that's my guess, and if not, the publisher must.

I hope Amazon gets scorched because of this. I already had my mind 100% set against e-book self-publishing. Now I know that if someday I get a traditional sale, I will never, ever, EVER, not a Kindle's chance in Antarctica, give up digital rights so that one of these monolithic money-grubbers can have their way with my work.

Far as I'm concerned, a paperback writer is still a real good way to make a living. But a [i[Kindleback[/i] writer? I guess Amazon cares too much for money. My heart goes out to this man, though. I am one Brazilian nut who thinks Bezos, the Googledorks and their ilk should go up the Amazon river with a publicly humiliating "paddle." :evil:
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Ryan » 03 Nov 2011, 21:54

Not sure what his sales were like before the giveaway but I know a lot of authors give the books away for a short time just to get it out there. I'd be a bit peeved too but everything happens for a reason. His book is now in the hands of 5000 plus people who will spread the word if they like it. He might gain something from this mistake and he didn't LOSE money. He just didn't make money.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Rachel Ventura » 04 Nov 2011, 10:45

Ryan wrote:Not sure what his sales were like before the giveaway but I know a lot of authors give the books away for a short time just to get it out there. I'd be a bit peeved too but everything happens for a reason. His book is now in the hands of 5000 plus people who will spread the word if they like it. He might gain something from this mistake and he didn't LOSE money. He just didn't make money.

So in your opinion, could Stephenie Meyer have gained more if she hadn't postponed indefinitely the release of Midnight Sun (the as-yet unpublished, and possibly unfinished, Twilight sequel intended to be told from Edward's perspective) after the first 12 chapters leaked onto BitTorrent sites?

After all, Paulo Coelho (in)famously has quite an affinity for The Pirate Bay.

So do I.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby fourlittlebees » 04 Nov 2011, 19:07

And... this is the part where I start banging my head against the wall.

Full disclosure: I work for Nathan's employer's neighbor, GigaOM, and this issue has cropped up more than once, not only with Amazon Kindle pricing, but also with mobile app promotions where a virtual product, like an e-book or a mobile app suddenly has promotional pricing and starts flying out the door as a result, only for the creator to decide afterward that it wasn't worth the exposure and cry foul.

Here's the problem: THERE ARE NO ACTUAL LOSSES HERE.

The temptation with any author (or app creator) is always to see anyone downloading free (or reduced-price) content as potential full-price-paying customers, and this spans the entire gamut from those downloading pirated content on torrent sites to those downloading promotion-priced content. However, of those 5000 people who downloaded the book? Odds are at least 4999 of them downloaded it simply because it was free. They never would have been paying customers, making the losses imaginary. This is why piracy is also imaginary loss $$.

What this author should be doing is thinking about it in terms of marketing. If he's darn lucky, some of those 5000 people will actually read the book, love it, and tell their friends about it, and those friends will go back and buy it. That's how the Amanda Hockings and John Lockes and everyone else made their millions: word of mouth. Instead, he whines about imaginary money he thinks he should have. In reality, had it not been for the pricing error, he'd probably have sold a dozen copies in that time frame.

What's so strange is that there is this fear of people getting something for nothing, yet every author seems to dream of being a lead title with a Big Six and they do EXACTLY THAT. You'll see HUNDREDS of ARCs go out for a lead title. Shoot, at SDCC this past year, I saw one publisher handing out trade paperbacks like they were Tic Tacs to promote the author's sequel that was coming out that following Tuesday. Those things retail for what? $13? And every time I walked by, there they were, stacked to the ceiling, and the author was signing away. I could have nabbed 10 if I'd been motivated enough.

No matter who you are signing a contract with: Amazon, Harper, or Tiny Guy E-Pub, you are going to end up giving some rights away unless you are hand-selling your FedExOffice-printed book out of the trunk of your car, or an e-book on your own web site with no third-party publishing help. You can view giving up those rights in one of two ways: a big company is going to have you in a position where your book will have greater exposure than it would in the trunk of your car, or it will be the enemy. But if you are going to view every publisher as enemy for business decisions to give away your book for free, whether it's a promo or an ARC or whatever, you may as well stick to selling books out of the trunk of your car and save yourself the stress in the long run.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Doug Pardee » 06 Nov 2011, 07:39

fourlittlebees wrote:Here's the problem: THERE ARE NO ACTUAL LOSSES HERE.

If you're talking financial losses, maybe so. From my viewpoint, the big concern is the near-total loss of control that the author experienced.

Had Amazon put into its T&C's something like, "If a title is selling fewer than ten copies per week, Amazon reserves the right to reprice that title at a promotional price, including free, for a period of a week or until 5000 copies have been sold at the promotional price, whichever is sooner," that would've been different. But Amazon didn't do that. They merely screwed up (that happens), then refused to fix their screw-up, and after a week claimed that they couldn't fix it. The author had to withdraw his title completely in order to get it priced above zero.

Furthermore, Amazon's T&C's essentially state that Amazon has full sovereignty in determining "price matching" and that nobody can question their decisions. Amazon doesn't even have to show that they were actually price-matching. They can just change the price and say that they were price-matching.

If it were any bookseller but Amazon, one could simply take one's business elsewhere.

I'm a believer in short-term promotional pricing. I just don't believe it should happen by accident, and that the accident be deemed un-fixable, by a near-monopoly.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Mira » 06 Nov 2011, 10:03

This is really interesting.

I think it's a shame that it happened, clearly Amazon made a mistake. Although, I definitely agree with those who are saying that the author might benefit in the long run from the marketing and exposure.

I also agree with the fact that Amazon is a big player, and simply taking your business elsewhere is not always the best option. And that suing Amazon may not be the best option if this person wants to self-publish again.

On the other hand, my experience with Amazon is their customer service is excellent. I think this author gave up too easily. If I were in his place, I'd have a conversation with Amazon asking for some type of compenstation. Surely Amazon could give him something - free services, gift certificate of a hefty amount, free advertising, etc.

I would imagine that Amazon is reluctant to set a precedent of somehow compensating for books that didn't actually sell, but on the other hand, they are heavily scrutinized in the media and they are clearly trying to establish a relationship with authors that is positive.

If I were in the situation, I'd be saying to Amazon: "Okay, you messed up. I understand, that happens. But I'm feeling like I got hurt by the situation. What can you give me to make me feel better"?

I'd try some negotiation first before I ever considered a lawyer. The human touch can go a long way.

I also find it very interesting just how many copies sold when the book was free. Pretty interesting.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Margo » 07 Nov 2011, 11:51

Rachel Ventura wrote:And yet, it adds more fuel to my anti-Kindle fire, just fanning the flames of why I want this e-book "revolution" to go up in smoke. "Plus one" for traditional publishers and books in print, the same as we've had for hundreds of years. If you ain't broke, don't self-pub it. (Otherwise you'll have more zeroes than ones in your digital kitty.)


Absolutely. I definitely have more zeroes than ones in my latest Amazon statement--three of them, after a one, after 19 days selling under an unknown name with no platform at all. Definitely recommend other people don't do it.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby MattLarkin » 09 Nov 2011, 13:38

Margo wrote:
Rachel Ventura wrote:And yet, it adds more fuel to my anti-Kindle fire, just fanning the flames of why I want this e-book "revolution" to go up in smoke. "Plus one" for traditional publishers and books in print, the same as we've had for hundreds of years. If you ain't broke, don't self-pub it. (Otherwise you'll have more zeroes than ones in your digital kitty.)


Absolutely. I definitely have more zeroes than ones in my latest Amazon statement--three of them, after a one, after 19 days selling under an unknown name with no platform at all. Definitely recommend other people don't do it.

Wait, what if I want those numbers too?
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Margo » 09 Nov 2011, 13:59

MattLarkin wrote:Wait, what if I want those numbers too?


LOL. Are you sure? What about the validation of the gatekeepers and the "good living" you can earn writing paperbacks for 80 cents a pop, just like Seanan McGuire, who is a talented writer and bestseller under not one but two names (and still has to work a day job)? You really want to throw all of that away to be a hack who makes money? :lol:

To be honest, of course, we both know plenty of people fail as midlisters in both trad and self publishing. I'm just blown away by the fact that the people with the strongest opinions about it aren't the people who've educated themselves on it, or talked to agents and editors in private about it (after more than a decade of cultivating industry contacts), or experienced trad publishing from the inside, etc. (All of which some of us have...)

On a serious note, if you want the numbers, the one thing you can do to give yourself the best shot...the one thing more important that any of the other good and helpful things you can do...is write a FREAKING lot. If you are writing novels, I'd suggest aiming for at least 3 a year, but 4 would be better. The fantasy novelist I know of who is doing well (without a trad background) is putting out a novel every two months (she doesn't have a day job, so she can spend all her time writing). Last I heard, after three novels, she was clearing about $3k a month.

And as I've mentioned here and there, my word count last month was what most people only shoot for in November: 52,000. I'm working on establishing a habit of breaking 60K/month regularly. BUT, it's easier when I can already see the money coming in.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Quill » 18 Nov 2011, 12:43

Margo wrote:On a serious note, if you want the numbers, the one thing you can do to give yourself the best shot...the one thing more important that any of the other good and helpful things you can do...is write a FREAKING lot. If you are writing novels, I'd suggest aiming for at least 3 a year, but 4 would be better.


I agree that in the e-book market having several books out is exponentially better than one, for multiple reasons. I'm not sure, though, that it is a viable path for EVERY author to "write a FREAKING lot."

Do you really think every author is capable of 3-4 novels per year? Do you think all genres can be fulfilled at that rate? Literary, for example. How many writers can produce literature at that rate? Or historical. I know I can't and couldn't if I had all the time to do it, and wouldn't want to, even if I could.

I think that generally quality of writing and story are more important than rate of publication.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Margo » 18 Nov 2011, 12:46

Quill wrote:I agree that in the e-book market having several books out is exponentially better than one, for multiple reasons. I'm not sure, though, that it is a viable path for EVERY author to "write a FREAKING lot."

Do you really think every author is capable of 3-4 novels per year? Do you think all genres can be fulfilled at that rate? Literary, for example. How many writers can produce literature at that rate? Or historical. I know I can't and couldn't if I had all the time to do it, and wouldn't want to, even if I could.

I think that generally quality of writing and story are more important than rate of publication.


If it's not viable, then neither is a career as a professional writer. Writing a lot is frequently a matter of time spent, not speed, so the quality argument is a non-issue.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Quill » 18 Nov 2011, 17:58

Margo wrote:
Quill wrote:I agree that in the e-book market having several books out is exponentially better than one, for multiple reasons. I'm not sure, though, that it is a viable path for EVERY author to "write a FREAKING lot."

Do you really think every author is capable of 3-4 novels per year? Do you think all genres can be fulfilled at that rate? Literary, for example. How many writers can produce literature at that rate? Or historical. I know I can't and couldn't if I had all the time to do it, and wouldn't want to, even if I could.

I think that generally quality of writing and story are more important than rate of publication.


If it's not viable, then neither is a career as a professional writer. Writing a lot is frequently a matter of time spent, not speed, so the quality argument is a non-issue.

Well, Cormac McCarthy has written 10 books in nearly 50 years. I'm guessing you're implying he hasn't made a career as a professional writer. There are many other examples of writers who don't publish 3-4 books a year and still make a living. Hundreds, if not thousands of them.

Actually, what I think you are saying is that in the new e-book environment (with paper books continuing as only a niche market), the only writers who will be able to make a living at it (a career) are those who can publish 3-4 books a year. That's a scary thought.

And, I don't consider "the quality argument" a "non-issue". Quality is never a given, no matter how much time is put in. And I would argue that few can write quality books, three a year, and keep it up.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Margo » 18 Nov 2011, 19:27

Quill wrote:Well, Cormac McCarthy has written 10 books in nearly 50 years. I'm guessing you're implying he hasn't made a career as a professional writer. There are many other examples of writers who don't publish 3-4 books a year and still make a living. Hundreds, if not thousands of them.


Your comments indicate you already know my reaction to this. This is not the publishing world it was 20 or 50 years ago. Bob Mayer has pointed out repeatedly that the key isn't to plan for where the industry is now but where it will be 2 or 5 years from now. Planning for where the industry was 50 years ago...

Quill wrote:Actually, what I think you are saying is that in the new e-book environment (with paper books continuing as only a niche market), the only writers who will be able to make a living at it (a career) are those who can publish 3-4 books a year. That's a scary thought.


One of many scary thoughts about a rapidly changing environment.

Quill wrote:And, I don't consider "the quality argument" a "non-issue". Quality is never a given, no matter how much time is put in. And I would argue that few can write quality books, three a year, and keep it up.


There are many professional, career writers who already write more than two or three a year, but they publish under multiple names because the traditional view has been that writers should only put out two books a year at most.

My main point was that you assume that quality must decline when more words are produced, which is not a given. Many writers simply write well and fast, others write well and put in the extra hours to make up for the fact that they are not fast. The odd man out is the one who writes well but not fast and cannot/will not put in the extra hours. He can still achieve success, either by being the fluke lottery winner who breaks out with the first book--I've seen that, as well as where they are a year later, having released nothing else--or by diligently putting out book after book and waiting for the slow build of volume to increase his visibility. It would be a slow path to writing full-time, but there's no problem with that if someone goes in with eyes open and knows they are taking the long road.
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Re: Self-pubbed author trampled by Amazon

Postby Quill » 18 Nov 2011, 19:40

I wonder why an e-book writer has to produce more books than a print writer, seeing as how the royalty is higher for the e-book (especially if self-pubbed). I realize that to build an audience takes multiple books. I just don't see how an author would need 20-40 books out there (a single decade's production), or let's say a hundred books, a career's worth, to make a living in the e-environment.

And so far as quality, I guess that's a separate subject. Lots of books that aren't really all that well written get pubbed and purchased by the millions, so perhaps quality is 1) subjective, and 2) not really as important as volume (and adherence to genre conventions) in many cases.
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