Scandals

This has been a very strange month in the publishing industry. If you haven’t heard, down below the Mason-Dixon, Baltimore’s mayor, Catherine Pugh, is now on leave from her position due to health reasons. However, she has been embroiled in a self-publishing scandal that sure smells like corruption. Somehow she managed to sell hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of her Healthy Holly series of books to various municipalities and organizations in the DC-Baltimore metro area. It is alleged some of these organizations received favors in exchange. Amazingly, the book series has little action on Amazon or other platforms — mostly available to the mayor’s exclusive clients. We all know how hard it is to sell 1000 copies of a book let alone 100,000 in one deal!
Meanwhile, the New York Times is embroiled in a scandal regarding its bestseller list. How many of us have faithfully believed the New York Times to be the ultimate arbiter regarding which books are worth reading and are selling the best? It has been the goal of many authors just to chart on their Sunday bestseller list. I had recently written about this being a sham — subject to being gamed by shady bulk purchases.
Now we learn former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett’s new book Finding My Voice charted at the NY Times despite very low rankings at Barnes and Noble and Amazon. If you check, you will see only 30 reviews on Amazon, most of them trashing the scandal. Apparently the publisher, Viking, used a third party to game the system by buying a huge quantity of the first print run. I am sure you will find this book in all the bargain piles at the beach this summer. You might buy it just to stomp on it or throw it out. Surely the publisher will lose money on this deal — their scheme backfiring. This hurts all of us in the book trade — especially the authors who really are selling well at independent presses and don’t get the time of day from the NYT. This is a lot like that college admissions scandal …

And one more. You can read the article below about the myriad of scandals on the Amazon platform. There is a lot of graft going on. While we refuse to game their system in any way, once again it is the dishonest perpetrators who are hurting everyone else …

Amazon Central and Goodreads

If you are not on Amazon Author Central or Goodreads as an author, you need to be. For reference, here are the two sites:
Why does this matter? Amazon is the largest book retailer in the world. Your Author Central Page functionality provides a platform for Amazon readers to interact with you. You can do more than just list your books and bio. You can link your blog and list your events. You can also upload videos if you have them. When there is a new blog post on your site, your Amazon followers will be notified. When you have a new release listed in your bibliography, your followers will also be notified. So it is a way to automatically contact your readers. And don’t forget to claim your sites in other countries on Amazon. No, the US site is not the only one — you need to claim them all!
The UK site is probably second in importance. There is not an Australian site yet. Also note, the US site is the only one to integrate blogs. And, if you use Google Chrome, you are easily able to translate the foreign languages, if you cannot read them.
Here is a quick checklist for Amazon Author Central:
  • Claim your site by clicking on the link.
  • Click on the books that are yours. You might need to click through quite a few if your name is similar to someone else.
  • Add your bio
  • Add your photo — or photos
  • Link your blog
  • Enter your upcoming events
  • Upload your videos
  • Repeat these steps for each country site (except the blog)
  • Keep these updated from time to time — especially when you have a new release.
  • You might also consider making these country-specific if you have content related to that country.
So what about Goodreads? It is one of the top book review places on the Internet. You can interact with lots of readers here. You can also run giveaways and interact with your readers via Q&A. Note that Goodreads is now owned by Amazon, but they have not integrated this with Author Central — yet.
To claim your Goodreads page, do the following:
  1. Sign in or create an account, and then search for your most popular book via ISBN, ASIN, or title.
  2. On the book, click on your author name. Scroll to the bottom of your author profile page.
  3. Click “Is this you?”
In the drop down, click on Account Settings and make sure you’ve done the following:
  • Add your biography
  • On the right, click on Videos to add videos
  • On the right, click on Events to add events
  • On the right, click on Edit Blog. Here you can add a Goodreads blog or link your existing blog. To link existing you need to enter the Existing Blog Feed URL.
In the drop down, click on Profile and do the following:
  • Add your website URL
  • Add your Twitter handle
  • Add the genres you write within
  • You can update your bio here
  • You can also add books and combine editions
If you set all of this up, your existing blog will feed both of these sites automatically and will reach your followers. Which brings me to one of the most important points. Besides trying to capture their emails and getting them to post your reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, ask your readers to follow you on both sites. Provide links to your author pages — and with Goodreads you can even include buttons (for those of you who are web savvy).

The continuing plummet of eBook sales for publishers

This month, as I analyzed our sales, it was evident that eBooks have continued a fairly steep decline. I have been commenting on this for years and have been reading a lot of conflicting information. The chart to my left shows how much Amazon dominates the eBook marketplace worldwide. As an part-time economics professor, I know just enough to recognize a monopoly when I see one! Also evident is how dominant the US market is for eBooks. The rest of the world is not even close — the UK being a distant second.
The conflicting information I have been reading concerns some who say it is only the big publishers that are seeing a decline in eBook sales. The owner of SmashWords claims eBook sales are performing fine — IF YOU LOWER YOUR PRICE.
Meanwhile, the Amazon monopoly is a few years into the Kindle Unlimited subscription model. As this service has gained in popularity, outright sales of eBooks have continued to collapse while pages viewed in Kindles through this program have increased. However, it is evident from many sources that author incomes are DOWN SIGNIFICANTLY.
Diagnoses — Amazon took over and is now ruining the eBook marketplace by completely controlling everything. Publishers and independent authors can no longer influence how much they get paid through the service — you are at the mercy of the variable pennies paid per page. While Jeff Bezos continues to be the richest man in the world, authors and publishers are making less from eBooks.
What should we do about this? EBooks are less than 10% of our mix and they cost extra to create plus we pay higher royalties for them. It is also not profitable or sensible to try to increase our efforts on other platforms that have such a small percentage of the business. In other words, a platform that is 10% of the ebook marketplace that is a portion of our 10% of sales would only be a 1% impact. We’re looking to grow much faster than that. To paraphrase the soon-to-be Speaker of the House, “These are just crumbs!”
What shall we do?
A) Chase the crumbs — lose money and diversify among different eBook channels?
B) Drink the Kool-Aid — Go all-in with Amazon and sign everyone up for Kindle Unlimited. This means taking everything down everywhere else — yes, that is the contractual requirement!
C) Bag eBooks altogether? How many of you actually read this way anymore?
D) Protest and pull all eBooks from Amazon and only sell them on other platforms?
E) Start a class-action lawsuit charging Amazon with monopoly power. This is something the Federal Government would need to take up in an anti-trust suit.
I will be thinking about this in my spare time. I welcome your suggestions.

Bookstore news

Recent news about bookstores has been a mixed bag. Longtime readers of this newsletter know I’ve been on a death watch for Barnes and Noble for a couple years. We’ve recently worked out a direct arrangement with them and are trying to make a go of it, but they are also in an ever weakening position. Recently, it was announced they would be closing eight more stores in the coming year. I wouldn’t be surprised if their eBook business was sold off to Kobo and they get out of this losing business. EBook sales remain flat or down and have plateaued at 20% of all book sales. The vast majority of eBook sales are fiction titles.
While B&N is up and down, The Last Word in Charlotte, North Carolina went bankrupt this past week. While they sold mostly used books and media, they were on our list of independent customers. We’ve noticed a decided slowing in the payments coming from independents of late. Many are more than 90 days past due. We’ve recently sent another round of dunning emails, some going unanswered. I worry if I follow up I will discover a couple more bookstores exiting the business. This bears watching. In a strong economy, to still have business failures in this industry indicates there are structural changes afoot.
And here’s our culprit …. Amazon! We are all very familiar with their global online offerings. In fact, they are about one-third of our business and about half of the overall book trade (Barnes is 17% overall — the only other player over 10%). Amazon recently opened a brick and mortar bookstore in New York City near the site of a former Borders store (boy do I miss those!)

On bookstores and book orders

Alas, another brick and mortar book chain has succumbed to the Amazon behemoth. Here’s the article from Publishers Weekly:
Appleton, Wisc.-based Book World Inc. has announced that it is closing all bookstores in its Book World chain that operates 45 outlets across the Midwest. In a letter to its business partners and vendors as well as in a release sent to media, Book World said that liquidation sales will begin on November 2 at all 45 locations. The sales will continue until all inventory — books, magazines, greeting cards, gifts, and other sidelines – is gone. The company expects that all stores will be closed by January 15.
In the letter to Book World’s business partners, senior v-p Mark Dupont said that while the chain had been able to weather the advent of e-books, in the past 12 months sales started plummeting and still continue to drop. Dupont attributed the downturn to the national consumer shift towards e-commerce and away from large department stores. This, Dupont wrote, “has triggered the loss of vital mall anchor stores and a downward spiral in customer counts, reducing sales to a level that will no longer sustain our business.”
“We didn’t anticipate being in this situation,” Dupont told PW, disclosing that the decision to liquidate the company was made about 10 days ago. “I thought I’d be at Book World until the day I retired.”
Book World stores are located throughout the Midwest, outside of the region’s most populated metropolitan areas, most of them either in small town business districts or in shopping malls. There are 20 stores in Wisconsin, eight in Illinois, seven in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, five in Minnesota, three in Iowa, and one each in Missouri and in North Dakota. Dupont said a dozen employees in Book World’s corporate office will be laid off, as well as more than 300 booksellers across the 45 stores.
The first Book World store was founded in 1976 by William Streur in Rhinelander, Wisc.; Streur has always shied away from industry attention as he and his family built up the company over the years; the company declined to cooperate with a 2010 PW profile.
Du Pont, noting that Book World just opened a location in Jefferson City, Mo. said that some of the stores — especially those in downtown areas — are doing well, and expressed his hope that people interested in bookselling in communities about to lose their Book World outlet would open up their own bookstore, perhaps even in the same building. “Many of the stores are truly still healthy,” he wrote.
“We’re saddened to hear the news of a longstanding family business in our region closing and wish all of the employees best wishes with this transition,” wrote Carrie Obry, the executive director of the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association. While MIBA will be losing some members, Obry noted that “the real impact will be in the communities that have to do without a bookstore until someone opens a new one.”
Given the relatively small store count, we don’t expect this closing to have a major impact on publishers. However, it is indicative of the point we are at in this business. While the vast majority of books are still sold in print, the majority of books are sold online, through ecommerce.
At Sunbury Press, we continue to be very supportive of our local and regional booksellers, and urge our authors to select them for events over Barnes and Noble and Books-A-Million whenever possible.
We will continue to monitor our risk of returns from the book trade, as we continue to navigate these choppy waters. Next year will be our 15th in business, and we hope to continue for many many more years.
We have had a number of questions recently about ordering books for events. Bookstores can order from us directly at a 40% discount, or can order from Ingram. We would prefer a direct order — or that you handle the books for your events. This month, we are once again in receipt of a large number of copies returned from book events where the stores over-ordered. These boomerang books are deducted from your royalties and build up in our inventory, when you could have just picked them up and used them at your next event.  If you are doing a series of author events, please work with the bookstores to prevent returns. They are expensive for all parties involved.
And, for those of you ordering books, don’t forget to use the A50 coupon code when checking out. We’ve had to fix a number of orders this past month. Please email orders@sunburypress.com if you have any questions.

May 17, 2007 — the 100th Human tops Deepak Chopra, James Redfield and Paolo Coehlo

MECHANICSBURG, PA — As Sunbury Press celebrates its 10th year in business, we take a look back at a very special week in the company’s history.  Back in May of 2007, publisher Lawrence Knorr and author Chris Fenwick joined forces to bring the fiction category to the company with Fenwick’s first novel — the 100th Human.  Fenwick began a guerilla marketing campaign on the Internet using mailing lists and landing pages with special offers from co-sponsors.  The book took off!  It sold all over the world including Australia, New Zealand and all over Europe.  It immediately began climbing the Amazon.com bestseller list in the very deep and rich spiritual (now visionary) fiction category led by such luminaries as Deepak Chopra (Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment), James Redfield (The Celestine Prophecy), and Paolo Coehlo (The Alchemist).  The 100th Human, an action-adventure allegory for enlightment involving the purported end of the Mayan longcount calendar in December of 2012, grew in popularity and developed a loyal fan-base–especially those interested in the Mayan phenomenon.  Of course, December 21, 2012 came and went, and the world did not end, nor did we enter a higher level of consciousness (at least not most of us) — but Sunbury Press was forever changed.  Sincer then, the company has produced over 150 fiction titles. Below is the screen print from May 17, 2007:

100HuVisF1