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Monday, November 06, 2017

Mailvox: another challenge to Amazon fails

Macmillan throws in the towel:
Two years ago Pronoun set out to create a one-of-a-kind publishing tool that truly put authors first. We believed that the power of data could be harnessed for smarter book publishing, leveling the playing field for indie authors.

We are proud of the product we built, but even more so, we’re grateful for the community of authors that made it grow. Your feedback shaped Pronoun’s development, and together we changed the way authors connect with readers.

Unfortunately, Pronoun’s story ends here.

While many challenges in indie publishing remain unsolved, Macmillan is unable to continue Pronoun’s operation in its current form. Every option was considered before making the very difficult decision to end the business.

As of today, it is no longer possible to create a new account or publish a new book. Pronoun will be winding down its distribution, with an anticipated end date of January 15, 2018. Authors will still be able to log into their accounts and manage distributed books until that time.

For the next two months, our goal is to support your publishing needs through the holiday season and enable you to transition your books to other services. For more detail on how this will affect your books and payments, please refer to our FAQ.

Thank you for the time and attention you’ve contributed to this experience. It has been a privilege to publish together, and we look forward to meeting again. #keepwriting

Sincerely,

Macmillan Publishers
We gave Pronoun a shot, and from a user's point of view, it was actually very good. The interface was solid and very easy to use; you could get a book published on every major ebook platform in less than ten minutes. The problem, and the reason we eventually withdrew most of the books we put on it, was that it simply didn't perform from a sales perspective.

The only real volume came from Amazon, and being on Pronoun meant not being on Kindle Select and Kindle Unlimited. Even accounting for the lower compensation on KU - a complete book read is about one-third the compensation for a Kindle book bought - KU brought in about 10x more revenue per book than all the other platforms.

This does not bode well for the major publishers. KU is cutting deeply into their sales and they can't do anything about it because they can't put their books on it. As for us, KU accounts for about 10 percent of our unit "sales".

It's too bad, because KU's too-low KENP page-rates do not bode well for Amazon responsibly managing its monopoly position; I expect that sooner or later, they will squeeze the authors and publishers more tightly than anyone will find comfortable. But people simply don't want to buy ebooks anywhere else. That's why we don't often put them on the Castalia store anymore.

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59 Comments:

Blogger cavalier973 November 06, 2017 5:09 PM  

I bet people would buy off the website "TrumpBooks.com", if it existed.

Blogger Eric Slate November 06, 2017 5:19 PM  

The Amazon squeeze on Kindle can't happen until they put other ebook publishers out of business. What if applications like Pronoun instead of shutting down, started following an open source model? You can't out-compete something that doesn't need income to survive.

Blogger The Kurgan November 06, 2017 5:22 PM  

I think the era of the pamphleteers is returning soon.

Blogger Noah B The Savage Gardener November 06, 2017 5:26 PM  

Strange. I much prefer the experience of buying an ebook directly from Castalia to buying from Amazon.

Blogger CM November 06, 2017 5:29 PM  

Interesting. Kindle wins with its easily accessible Kindle app. I can access thousands of books, buy one, and not think about how to save, where to save, what format reader i need... It just shows up in my kindle app, accessible from any device, using a 20 year old account.

How do you compete with that?

Barnes & Noble could conceivably compete for my business, but if they have anything like the kindle app, it is poorly advertised.

Blogger Noah B The Savage Gardener November 06, 2017 5:32 PM  

@5 The price you pay for that convenience is the loss of control over your data. To me it isn't worth it.

Anonymous Rocklea November 06, 2017 5:35 PM  

I've spent 165, roughly, on KU this year. 40 books read and an additional 10 at various pages read. Let's be generous and say each book was 350 pages and I have read a total of 45. I read their page rate to be 0.0041. So that's roughly $65 going to authors and publishers. A tidy $100 to Amazon.

Obviously that varies depending on the user, they would lose on a few though not many.

Anonymous Ominous Cowherd November 06, 2017 5:40 PM  

Eric Slate wrote:The Amazon squeeze on Kindle can't happen until they put other ebook publishers out of business. What if applications like Pronoun instead of shutting down, started following an open source model? You can't out-compete something that doesn't need income to survive.

How does Pronoun go open source? As I understand it, Pronoun offered various authors' ebook downloads for sale.

In an open source Pronoun, who pays for the bandwidth? Who channels payment to the authors for their work? Obviously the customers who paid for the books weren't paying the freight, or McMillan wouldn't shut it down.

Anonymous Lazarus North November 06, 2017 5:41 PM  

CH was probably the main reason I got an e-reader, and I got a Kobo specifically to avoid being locked into Amazon's system.

The only ebooks I've bought on Amazon have been Castalia House books that weren't available in the CH store. And I don't buy anything with Amazon's DRM.

Blogger Phelps November 06, 2017 5:54 PM  

This jogged my memory -- I bought a copy of SJWADD on Amazon. Do you still do the thing where we can email you a copy of the receipt and get a non-DRMed epub?

Blogger tublecane November 06, 2017 5:54 PM  

Speaking of Amazon, I recently discovered my posting privileges are being suspended, though I haven't posted anything in like a year. I don't remember being a troublemaker, though naturally I wasn't very PC. Tried contacting them, but haven't heard back in several days.

I don't care too much. I've been kicked out of better places on the internet than Amazon review sections. It's just that I'm curious as to why.

Not that they'd tell me even if they restore my status.

Anonymous Rocklea November 06, 2017 6:03 PM  

Amazon's logistics are unsurpassed. Thinking about that in a free trade context, as nationalism gains sway, companies like Amazon will need to become wholly owned subsidiaries in the countries in which they operate, with an emphasis on local goods, services and content.

I'm thinking about this in the context of nationalizing IP that's goods and services related, and open sourcing international IP that's goods and services related.

Anonymous Original H November 06, 2017 6:06 PM  

Phelps wrote:This jogged my memory -- I bought a copy of SJWADD on Amazon. Do you still do the thing where we can email you a copy of the receipt and get a non-DRMed epub?

Castalia books from Amazon are non-DRM. If you download Calibre, you can convert it to ePub. There are also plug-ins that will strip Amazon DRM, should you want to use your ePub reader with such books.

But with Castalia books it's really easy: Just open the Kindle file with Calibre, plug in your e-reader, and click "Send to device"

Blogger Dave November 06, 2017 6:08 PM  

@11 tublecane

We have it on pretty good authority this individual just left Twitter to join the Amazon Reviewer's Trust and Safety Council https://pbs.twimg.com/media/DN1QdMFUMAAHIBD.jpg:large

Blogger CM November 06, 2017 6:22 PM  

--@5 The price you pay for that convenience is the loss of control over your data. To me it isn't worth it.--

This is true, but my controlling for that usually results in retreating from being a consumer... not to actually work harder to gain access.

For instance, I haven't bought any new music for nearly a decade.

Blogger Johnny November 06, 2017 6:27 PM  

Back in the brick and mortar days of selling product it was the distribution network that would win. The ability to market product was commonly more important than the quality of the product. That would seem to be the position Amazon is in right now. Superior marketing owing to scale and the right niche.

Blogger Dave November 06, 2017 6:32 PM  

@13 Original H

Amazon has been moving all ebooks to the KFX format to accommodate the added features within their new enhanced typesetting engine. The KFX format cannot be converted in Calibre.

One method that can still be used to obtain the Amazon AZW and AZW3 files that will convert in Calibre is to use the previous version of Kindle for PC (v1.17) If you change back from the current version to V1.17, all ebooks you wish to obtain in the AZW format will have to be downloaded again. Also need to turn off automatic updates for the Kindle for PC program.

This was as of earlier this year.

Anonymous Android November 06, 2017 6:39 PM  

Are you folks following the blockchain revolution? You should because it will disrupt book publishing too. Have a look at this:

https://publica.io/

Their ICO is in progress. The ecosystem they're building aims to:

1. Free the author. The author gets 100% of the revenue from each book sold.

2. Free the book. Ebooks are tokenized (i.e. are tied to the blockchain and cannot be duplicated much like bitcoins cannot be duplicated). The tokenized ebook sidesteps the digital licensing model wholesale and can be resold, gifted etc. much like a paper book. Also, eBooks are programmable by the authors such that the author can set himself a percentage on resales if he so wishes.

3. Free the royalties. Authors can issue their own RIGHTS tokens corresponding to the royalty stream and either sell them or exchange them for services such as book cover illustration etc.

How is Amazon going to compete against an ecosystem where authors get full revenue, books get full autonomy and readers get full control?

Anonymous Rocklea November 06, 2017 6:41 PM  

"Amazon has been moving all ebooks to the KFX format to accommodate the added features within their new enhanced typesetting engine. The KFX format cannot be converted in Calibre."

I have an old kindle keyboard and a new kindle. The old ones files convert with calibre no problem, even with new content. The new one not so much.

Blogger The Chortling November 06, 2017 6:44 PM  

For me it wasn't much about not wanting to buy other format ebooks it was that most didn't put enough effort into readability features in their application.

On top of that, AZWs can be saved as PDF with he right software and it's importany to me that i have a backup. I'm conscientious about buying and not stealing but I refuse to buy electronic versions multiple times.

Blogger Chris Lutz November 06, 2017 6:53 PM  

@18 Oh not the blockchain boosterism again.

2. So in other words, sure you can give a book to someone at some royalty price point, ie the same or not much better than today for ebooks.

Amazon is going to compete because people aren't going to go searching all over the net for books. The reason Amazon works is centralization, price, and convenience. It's the equivalent or the past of every author selling out of his home to selling through a major chain bookstore.

Anonymous Brick Hardslab November 06, 2017 7:14 PM  

Since anti-trust is as dead as Caesar's ghost what happens when Amazon controls e publishing entirely?

Blogger Lazarus November 06, 2017 7:14 PM  

I just got A World Without Jews by Karl Marx on my kindle app from Amazon for free. You could get one too.

Blogger Michael November 06, 2017 7:19 PM  

At what point do we start feeling sorry for Macmillan, et al?

Anonymous Nathan November 06, 2017 7:23 PM  

@24,

For me, its only after they gut Tor's leadership, cut all ties to Gawker's successors, eject all Clarion alumni from their rolls, and start matching proper ebook pricing.

Blogger tublecane November 06, 2017 7:25 PM  

@23-Can you trust the translator, though?

Blogger Lazarus November 06, 2017 7:30 PM  

tublecane wrote:@23-Can you trust the translator, though?

Why yes, yes I do. Karl's references to the JQ were carefully edited out of his other works for public consumption.

Marxists must disavow their mentor.

Anonymous SanityClause November 06, 2017 8:17 PM  

If Amazon is the only viable game in town, and continues to be so, as this example shows, and Amazon goes SJW, what then? All the eggs are in one basket.

Blogger VD November 06, 2017 8:29 PM  

If Amazon is the only viable game in town, and continues to be so, as this example shows, and Amazon goes SJW, what then?

We retreat to our own store, build up our own platform, and hope enough book buyers will follow.

Blogger eharmonica November 06, 2017 8:45 PM  

You don't need an old version of Kindle For PC. Simply dl the book "Download and transfer via USB" from your Amazon "Your Content and Devices" page. Then drag n drop the file into Calibre.

Or so I've heard.

Anonymous Muh Free Market November 06, 2017 8:51 PM  

NEW YORK – World Jewish Congress CEO Robert Singer on Thursday thanked Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos for removing several Holocaust-denial books flagged by the WJC on multiple occasions since 2013, and as recently as earlier this month, as being in violation of Amazon’s guidelines prohibiting the sale of material that “promote or glorify hatred.” In a letter to Bezos, Singer offered the WJC’s assistance in helping to identify and flag other offensive material in similar violation of Amazon’s standards.

“On behalf of the more than 100 Jewish communities affiliated with the World Jewish Congress, I want to thank you and the staff at Amazon for removing the three Holocaust-denial books that my organization brought to your attention in a series of recent letters, and again in my article in the Los Angeles Times earlier this month,” wrote Singer in the letter to Bezos.

“The three titles that you removed - Holocaust: The Greatest Lie Ever Told, by Eleanor Wittakers; The Hoax of the Twentieth Century: The Case Against the Presumed Extermination of European Jewry, by Arthur R Butz; and Did Six Million Really Die? by Richard Harwood – are blatantly anti-Semitic works penned by some of the most notorious bigots of our time, and we commend you for recognizing the potential harm of enabling their accessibility on Amazon.

“We are also gratified to note that Amazon has removed numerous other Holocaust-denying items from its website. It is encouraging to know that Amazon is endeavouring to enforce its own standards and guidelines prohibiting the sale of material that “promote or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance.”

“The World Jewish Congress stands ready to assist you in every way possible to identify and flag other offensive material that similarly violate Amazon’s guidelines, and ensure their quick removal from the website. We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you or one of your colleagues to discuss this matter further,” the letter concluded.

Blogger Steve Mackelprang November 06, 2017 8:53 PM  

It was that steel guy that made "vertical integration" a goal ... Bezos got this right.

Blogger Jack Ward November 06, 2017 8:58 PM  

@29 Vox:
If it comes to all that there are plenty of us who will follow. Or, to put the way I seem to have fallen into on this blog, "I stand with Castalia"

Blogger eharmonica November 06, 2017 9:00 PM  

Playing around with this after my previous comment, I das dl'ing the book for transfer to a Kindle Keyvboard. Works. If I dl for a Kindle Fire, it doesn't.

Blogger James Dixon November 06, 2017 9:07 PM  

> I've spent 165, roughly, on KU this year.

How did you manage to spend $165 for a service that costs $9.95/month? Enquiring minds and all that.

> Barnes & Noble could conceivably compete for my business, but if they have anything like the kindle app, it is poorly advertised.

I can't argue with that, but you can get it at https://www.barnesandnoble.com/h/nook/apps

The equivalent Kobo app is at https://www.kobo.com/us/en/p/apps

They're both free, so no reason not to get them.

> Amazon has been moving all ebooks to the KFX format to accommodate the added features within their new enhanced typesetting engine. The KFX format cannot be converted in Calibre.

Apparently it's now a work in progress. See https://www.mobileread.com/forums/showthread.php?t=283371

> At what point do we start feeling sorry for Macmillan, et al?

What have the ever done that we should have any reason to feel sorry for them?

Blogger James Dixon November 06, 2017 9:11 PM  

> If it comes to all that there are plenty of us who will follow.

Oh yeah. And hopefully by that time I'll actually have some money to spend.

Anonymous Rocklea November 06, 2017 9:14 PM  

"How did you manage to spend $165 for a service that costs $9.95/month? Enquiring minds and all that."

$14.95 AUD for KU in Australia. So the $65 in royalties would actually be more after 4x, unless the rate is the same in AUD.

Anonymous Avalanche November 06, 2017 9:17 PM  

@4 "I much prefer the experience of buying an ebook directly from Castalia to buying from Amazon"

I buy from either (and on occasion both) -- but I always try to convert and 'squirrel away' my copy because Amazon can pull it back if they want. I VERY MUCH dislike having them "manage" what's on my tablet! When I get the time, I 'un-DRM' what I can and store them off-line; so if Amazon messes about, I can still read the books.

Blogger Tom Bridgeland November 06, 2017 9:21 PM  

Ah. I had wondered why the books I wanted to buy were not on the website. Too bad. Amazon doesn't take PayPal, and that's how I buy books.

Anonymous Rocklea November 06, 2017 9:22 PM  

"$14.95 AUD for KU in Australia"

My mistake, I just checked, 13.99 AUD A month.

Anonymous Avalanche November 06, 2017 9:23 PM  

@18 Also, eBooks are programmable by the authors such that the author can set himself a percentage on resales if he so wishes.

I always liked that (as I understand) in Britain, when you buy a used book, the ISBN is scanned on the sale and part of what you pay actually goes TO the author. That seems awful White of the Brits! I sometimes struggle between getting a helluva deal on a used book or making sure my pittance goes into the author's pocket.

Blogger James Dixon November 06, 2017 9:28 PM  

> $14.95 AUD for KU in Australia. So the $65 in royalties would actually be more after 4x, unless the rate is the same in AUD.

Ah, Aussie dollars. That explains it. Thanks.

My wife took advantage of the Black Friday special two years ago and got two years of KU at essentially half price. Unfortunately, it's only good for her account, not mine, and it will expire come Nov. 30th of this year. They didn't offer it last year, so we'll have to see if they do this year or not. At $5/month it's worth it. At $10 it's probably not. Just as Prime isn't worth $100/year if you can't use their streaming services, which we've found you can't really at 3Mbps. Now, if they offered the Prime shipping with Kindle unlimited, that would be worth $10/month.

Anonymous Ages November 06, 2017 9:29 PM  

I only buy printed books. I don’t like the idea of some company having control over my personal property, and that property being one solar flare away from oblivion.

Plus I like something designed with a bit of thought and tradition. A glorified html page just doesn’t engage my almonds.

Blogger BassmanCO November 06, 2017 9:38 PM  

I think I already know the answer, but would like to be certain. If you are a new author looking to self publish, should you go through KU?

Blogger Aeoli Pera November 06, 2017 9:48 PM  

If I'd known there was a business ethics case, I would have been persuaded to put in the extra effort to buy direct from the CH website. Amazon sells better because it's so damn convenient.

Blogger Aeoli Pera November 06, 2017 9:50 PM  

I mean two clicks, three seconds, and four bucks after I've made my decision I'm reading the thing on my phone.

Blogger Lazarus November 06, 2017 9:53 PM  

Ages wrote:I only buy printed books. I don’t like the idea of some company having control over my personal property, and that property being one solar flare away from oblivion.



Anal retentive. We are all just one X away from oblivion. All your hard copy will probably end up in the recycle bin.

Blogger Jeff aka Orville November 06, 2017 10:39 PM  

I'm also wondering about Amazon's viability as a bookseller longer term when reality finally catches up to the magic market and nukes AMZ's insanely high P/E ratio, not to mention their tightening margins.

Blogger Bobiojimbo November 06, 2017 10:59 PM  

I had a Sony eReader for many years until it broke. I bought ebooks through them until they sold out to Kobo, which I then bought books from. You're right though, neither Sony nor Kobo can raelly compete with Amazon's Kindle services.

Anonymous Brick Hardslab November 07, 2017 1:18 AM  

I see prices for ebooks that I would not pay for a hard back and it cheeses me off. Twelve dollars for pixels?

Five seems reasonable to me for an ebook.

Anonymous Nick November 07, 2017 1:46 AM  

I highly encourage everyone to download Calibre and back up your books. I put it off for several years but finally did it.

These two links, especially the comments in the latter, were very helpful to me. You need an earlier version of Kindle for Mac and Windows to get the file format that's compatible with Calibre (then turn off auto-updates). If you use the DRM plugin you need to install it into Calibre before you import any books, otherwise you'll have to delete them and import again.

http://j4n.co/blog/kindle_to_ibooks
https://teleread.org/2017/01/29/latest-kindle-for-pc-no-longer-uses-calibre-compatible-azw-files/

Echoing other commenters, Amazon is the best game in town in terms of convenience. I don't like their growing monopoly, but hopefully they will be broken up in time. Earlier this year they hobbled their wish list search functionality so you can no longer search for "books with a price drop" where I often made opportunistic purchases, but nothing has been a deal breaker yet. Thanks to Calibre, if in the worst case Amazon doubles down on limiting access to your purchases, my ~400 e-books are safe for posterity.

Anonymous Anonymous November 07, 2017 2:07 AM  

It's time for anti-trust regulation of ebook platforms, specifically to ban exclusionary practices at the device and publication platform levels.

Anonymous Anonymous November 07, 2017 2:20 AM  

I would rather buy from Castalia directly because I live a double life deep in SJW territory and I don't want my more radical book choices being known to Amazon. Alas, many choices not available. Is there an Amazon exclusivity deal prevent ePUBs from being sold directly by Castalia, or is it logistics?

(Also I want the Moth & Web books in paperback to get the kids away from the electronics but I'd be happy to buy those from Amazon)

Anonymous Your book may be obsolete at any moment November 07, 2017 2:37 AM  

If your books are susceptible to substantial changes, maybe what you have available to you is not properly defined as a book.

A book is a physical thing. You hold it in your hand, because somebody cared enough to print it.

An e-book printed on demand is not a book. It is a physical manifestation of blog posts.

We stand astride of the nexus where every fool can publish a legit book and become a publisher.

Anonymous Post Alley Crackpot November 07, 2017 2:51 AM  

One way to look at this is that Macmillan has now produced a better platform for its own publishing by beta testing it on a smaller publishing audience ...

The fact that this smaller publishing audience wasn't profitable to Macmillan was also not material to the success of the platform for Macmillan's other purposes, and that Macmillan now has a platform suitable for answering the inevitable question of what is to come after Amazon. I'm interested to see if Walmart/Asda becomes significant as a book seller and whether they can take some of Amazon's turf away.

Also, recent versions of the Kindle reader for Android are rather annoying and probably should not have been released -- there are plenty of people who are not at all pleased with Amazon over eliminating the carousel feature in the most recent versions, some of whom may be staying away in droves.

I tend to buy most of my books through Kobo/Rakuten via WHSmith -- I don't like leaving credit cards linked to accounts that automatically sign in on mobile devices, and I also tend to receive more than a few Amazon and WHSmith gift cards around the holidays.

Around the time that Apple wound up having its credit accounts compromised, I realised I could simply fund my book purchases through gift cards and top-ups. There's a WHSmith location in plenty of railway stations and they typically sell most of the other cards anyway. Now nobody really has to guess what sorts of things I like for Christmas.

That's why I was somewhat surprised I couldn't pre-purchase one of your books with Amazon store credit or gift cards, BTW -- I keep my book purchases in separate accounts.

Blogger James Dixon November 07, 2017 6:43 AM  

> I'm also wondering about Amazon's viability as a bookseller longer term when reality finally catches up to the magic market and nukes AMZ's insanely high P/E ratio, not to mention their tightening margins.

Margins are a concern, but as long as E is positive, P has nothing to do with their viability as a business. It only reflects their current popularity as a stock. Do I own Amazon stock? No, I won't touch it a the current price. But that doesn't mean the business will go under.

> Five seems reasonable to me for an ebook.

The Amazon sweet spot seems to be in the $0.99 to $4.99 range. So you're not the only one who feels that way.

Anonymous SanityClause November 07, 2017 7:06 AM  

There is another thing that can be done if Amazon goes SJW, destroy Amazon. Of course, if it goes SJW, what you will really be doing is helping Amazon destroy itself, and faster.

So long as the Amazon leadership is concentrating on making money, though, they will be unlikely to go full SJW, but they need to be made aware how unprofitable and damaging going SJW is. We can help with that by making sure any other companies that go SJW also go down.

Blogger Nate November 07, 2017 8:20 AM  

its not just books. outside of the always fun pawn shop crawl... guns and ammo and groceries... everything else comes from amazon. it just does. And media? Amazon. Always and only amazon.

I dare not even look at how much money we spend on amazon every year.

Anonymous Gen. Kong November 07, 2017 12:09 PM  

Rocklea wrote:
Amazon's logistics are unsurpassed. Thinking about that in a free trade context, as nationalism gains sway, companies like Amazon will need to become wholly owned subsidiaries in the countries in which they operate, with an emphasis on local goods, services and content.

I'm thinking about this in the context of nationalizing IP that's goods and services related, and open sourcing international IP that's goods and services related.


Just one minor quibble about your point: In a genuinely nationalistic country - the Chinese are a good example - Amazon would not wholly own any subsidiary. They might be permitted a minority partnership in exchange for the use of their name and logo and technology (which would be stolen of course). The Chinese told Faceberg to eff-off even when Zuck showed up and told the boss that he named is kid after him. China's Amazon is Ali-baba.

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