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Midday Links: More Amazon Review Drama, Scholarly Edition

DA Industry NewsThis New Yorker article is one of the best articles I’ve read about the Apple pricing model, Apple, Amazon, and publishers. Pieces of interest include that Apple has agreed to this type of pricing model for only one year and only publishers believe that higher digital prices can be sustained.

No matter where consumers buy books, their belief that electronic media should cost less-’that something you can't hold simply isn't worth as much money-’will exert a powerful force. Asked about publishers' efforts to raise prices, a skeptical literary agent said, "You can try to put on wings and defy gravity, but eventually you will be pulled down."

Publishers Marketplace took exception (paid link) to the gossipy tone of the article and the suspect math (only a $1 left over for profit?) but the New Yorker article is great for the overview because it gives insight on the publisher mindset and how the retail rivals are shaping up. Obviously, Steve Jobs is in the I win/you lose school too. Witness the drama between Apple and Adobe or Apple and HTC or Apple and Google or Apple v. anyone who submits an iPhone App.

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To borrow a word from the Auletta article, academics in Britain were incandescent over reviews left by Dr. Stephanie Palmer, a senior law lecturer at Cambridge University and wife to Dr. Orlando Figes, a history professor. Dr. Palmer, under the name “Historian” left scathing reviews of other historians’ works.

For some reason this led to one angry author to email 30 some other targeted authors and resulted in legal threats and ultimately Amazon’s removal of the reviews. I know that the UK has much stricter libel laws, but the reviews had to be removed? And were the subject of legal threats?

One author, the subject of a negative review by Dr. Palmer, said that the online reviews were “unpleasant personal attacks in the old Soviet fashion.”

So thus, the lesson is if you leave a negative review calling a book “dull” and “awful”, you are a communist. And, you will always be found out if you are anonymous.

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One thing that our librarian did NOT do in “What the Librarian Did by Karina Bliss” is have sex in the stacks but according to one library survey at least 20% of librarians find the stacks a perfect trysting place. I worked in my college library and the stacks were a musty, dusty place with a lot of dark corners. Plus, it totally enclosed in the middle of the library.

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Amazon has sued for declaratory judgment in Seattle asking the court to clarify whether Amazon must turn over customer information requested by North Carolina. The State of North Carolina says that it must have this information to collect sales tax. Amazon has provided some information but has balked at providing the names and addresses of all residents who has bought anything from Amazon since 2003 arguing that it is an invasion of privacy. I have to agree with Amazon here. As long as they are providing sales data without identifying information, I don’t believe North Carolina is entitled to know what books each and every resident purchased.

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The Impact of Free eBooks dissertation has been published and (PDF LINK) made available for free.

Conclusion: free ebooks appear to help print sales but there are a lot of variables and this may change as ebooks become a larger part of the market.

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Mike Shatzkin blogs again about the danger of an internet purchasing world. The danger to print publishing is not just in digital books, but in online sales and the loss of brick and mortar retail power. Shatzkin argues that as many as half the book purchases could be online by the end of 2012 and the danger is that “inventory creates sales that wouldn’totherwise occur.”

how books are displayed and what clerks say (which is also affected by how books are displayed) -’ influences a lot of purchases. If we don't have retail locations with books merchandised to entice people to buy, I believe overall book sales will go down.

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In another blow to independent booksellers, New York School system has decided to purchase its trade books directly from wholesale discounters instead of more than 100 small vendors selling fiction, non fiction, and supplemental textbooks.

The library services division of Ingram, the country's largest trade-book wholesaler, and The Booksource, one of its main competitors, outbid their rivals with guaranteed discounts of as much as 38 percent on single titles.

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Someone at MobileRead noticed that Barnes and Noble is advertising the nook at a book file sharing site. I think its probably smart of BN but is it ethically wrong?

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I bet Bob Sessions of Penguin Australia wishes he could have do over. Penguin Australia released “Pasta Bible” which had the phrase “freshly ground black people” instead of “black pepper.” The publisher pulped and reprinted 7000 copies but could not recall all the books on the shelves. Sessions then said that anyone who complained about the “silly mistake” would be given a new version. Sessions just didn’t understand why anyone would be offended.

I know race relations are very different in other parts of the world but still.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

30 Comments

  1. Kassia Krozser
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 11:33:52

    I thought the New Yorker piece was a good overview — a sort of State of the Ebook Industry piece — despite some blind spots and flaws. One blind spot was the insinuation that Amazon needs the book business. Given their diversity of product and lines of business, I think they love books (despite it all, I think books are important to them) but they don’t *need* books.

    Also, and time will certainly tell, but I read that line about the time limit on Apple’s deal a bit differently. Since the 70/30 split is Apple’s business standard, I wouldn’t expect them to end the agreements after a year. It seems to me that it would be more likely that they’d re-evaluate the pricing structure. After a year of sales data, there would be a better idea of sales vs price.

  2. anon
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 11:38:17

    On this side of the Pond, Susan Saunders left a comment under a one star review of Jill Zarin’s (Real Housewives of NYC) book saying the reviewer’s cat should be taken away from her. Another reviewer outed Saunders as Zarin.

    http://www.amazon.com/review/RA5UPKPM4DJAK/ref=cm_cd_pg_pg1?ie=UTF8&cdPage=1&store=books#wasThisHelpful

  3. Preeti
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 12:06:07

    @Kassia Krozser: I didn’t read the article’s insinuation like you did. Auletta did, after all, write “Unlike Barnes & Noble, though, Amazon generates more than half of its revenues — which total about twenty-five billion dollars a year — from products other than books.”

    That article just sucked away 30 minutes of my life. Actually, as largely a print book reader who only lightly follows the ebook industry wars, the information about Google’s store opening was new and interesting to me. (I’ve skipped over articles headlined with authors suing Google, so I never knew about Google’s retail plans.)

  4. Kassia Krozser
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 12:23:20

    Preeti — Agreed that the issue of other lines of business was addressed deeper in the article. I focused more on lines like “But if reading books was low on the list of things that the iPad could do, it was nonetheless on the list, which meant that Amazon had become a competitor” and “Onstage, Jobs made it clear that he would present Amazon and its C.E.O., Jeff Bezos, with a serious challenge.” While this was an ebook-centric article, it seemed like there was a deliberate omission or misreading of Amazon (and Apple) business. They are already competitors in some arenas.

    (As an aside, even at the point of the announcement — unless Apple made the decision to bar all book retail apps — there was no evidence this would pose a “serious challenge”, especially given that the Kindle is both a device and a platform. And, if the iBooks app at launch is any indication, it’s not a serious challenge.)

    Google announced circa 2005 (if I’m recalling my notes correctly) that the retail model was part of the long-term plan.

  5. Elaine
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 12:56:01

    In another example of the #WarOnReaders, Amazon has Amanda Quick’s new hardcover the Burning Lamp for $9.99, but it is not available for the Kindle. This totally fails to make sense to me, who would happily slap down $9.99 for the Kindle version.

  6. Jane
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 13:17:10

    @Elaine Robin commented to me the other day that Amazon had Charlaine Harris’ print hardcover at 9.99. Wonder if Amazon is trying to force publishers to implement the Agency model for print sales.

  7. Ridley
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 13:18:54

    @Elaine:

    I think Penguin ebooks are Apple and B&N only, at the moment. I haven’t bought one all month, since I can’t seem to find them anywhere.

    The only new books I’ve gotten in April have been Harlequin and Samhain books. Seeing as how I used to buy 4-5 books a week, the 3 I’ve bought all month is a sizable dip.

  8. Mina Kelly
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 13:22:49

    From what I understood from articles in the Guardian and the Independent, the reference to the Soviets was because the author whose wife was slagging off books is an expert in Russian history, and most of the books were by rival historians on the same subject. I think they’ve all got a little blinkered in terms of analogies, though – there’s definitely better ones!

    Also, I’m not sure the review removal was so much to do with libel laws as it is that enough “unhelpful” ticks can persuade Amazon to remove a review, especially if it’s obviously misleading.

  9. Anion
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 13:42:17

    That Guardian article was hysterical. But also cautionary, sigh. This is why when my friends and family offer to review my books on Amazon I practically have a heart attack and then beg them not to do so.

    I’m trying to give Figes the benefit of the doubt, but I have a really hard time believing he had no idea his wife was doing that.

  10. Preeti
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 14:25:01

    @Ridley: The Sony ebook sore seems to be still selling Penguin ebooks. I got my copy of Patricia Briggs’ new ebook via there.

  11. Preeti
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 14:42:05

    @Kassia Krozser: Yeah, I’ve been ignoring the Google-authors fight for a long time now.

    Google announced circa 2005 (if I'm recalling my notes correctly) that the retail model was part of the long-term plan.–Kassia

    So this quote from The New Yorker story was the most newsy thing to me as I’m looking to move toward ebook reading and buying a device (glare-free, can read ePubs) this year.

    “Whether or not the settlement is ultimately approved by the U.S. courts, Google will open an online e-books store, called Google Editions, by the middle of the year, Dan Clancy, the engineer who directs Google Books, and who will also be in charge of Google Editions, said.”–New Yorker story

    Happy to have more choices right when I’m ready for the big switch.

  12. Jane
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 14:46:35

    @Preeti One thing that has been hinted at is a possible subscription based cloud access to the Google Editions store. Will be interested to see if anything comes of that.

  13. Lynn
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 14:53:34

    Someone at MobileRead noticed that Barnes and Noble is advertising the nook at a book file sharing site. I think its probably smart of BN but is it ethically wrong?

    Ethically wrong of BN? No. They’re going to advertise anywhere they possibly can to make some bucks.

    I agree with you that it’s smart of BN to stick their nook in there, and I bet Amazon and others will be all over that.

    Obviously the book file sharing site was happy enough to take BN’s money to advertise the nook–unless it was free. ha.

    And I wonder if that “someone” at MobileRead bothered to ask the book sharing website owners why THEY allowed the advertising in the first place? Is that ethically wrong of the website? Probably, but it’s their decision.

  14. Preeti
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 15:37:04

    @Jane: A cloud-based library is great — super convenient — but I’d hope Google’d allow local copies as well. I wouldn’t feel that my library was “safe” and the books owned by me as long as only in cloud. Didn’t some disaster hit T-Mobile or some network a couple of years ago, wiping out all phone users’ info? If that happened to my books? *shiver*

  15. MaryK
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 17:17:15

    how books are displayed and what clerks say (which is also affected by how books are displayed) -’ influences a lot of purchases. If we don't have retail locations with books merchandised to entice people to buy, I believe overall book sales will go down.

    Ehh. I know I’m not the average book shopper, but I’m much more likely to make unplanned book purchases online to reach a free shipping quota than I am to buy some random book on display in a store (if I’m online anyway, I can research books and they become not random).
    What usually happens in bookstores is that I leave with about half the books I intended to buy because they didn’t have everything I wanted. I had some very frustrating book shopping experiences before I realized that bookstores are pushers of newly published books. They can’t be expected to have things like Robin McKinley’s backlist.

    Amazon does a pretty good job of “merchandis[ing] books to entice people to buy” with their recommendations and other-people-bought lists.

  16. Ridley
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 17:26:57

    @MaryK:

    …I'm much more likely to make unplanned book purchases online to reach a free shipping quota…

    I’ve found some wonderful books and new authors this way. It generally ends up being a new, new author, as Zebra’s $3.99 debuts tend to be just the right amount.

  17. CourtneyLee
    Apr 21, 2010 @ 19:16:47

    I haven’t finished the NY article yet, but one line jumped out at me as a “well, duh” moment:

    “Tim O'Reilly, the e-books publisher, has found that the lower the price the more books he sells.”

    He “has found”? Was he not familiar with the basic economic concept of supply and demand? ‘Cause I could have told him that would happen back when I learned about S&D in high school.

    (Sorry I’m contributing nothing constructive, but that line made me LOL)

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  19. Kathleen Dienne
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 07:06:19

    Eeeeeh… I’m going to go with unethical to advertise the Nook on the file sharing site.

    I’ve designed ad campaigns, and one of the (admittedly minor) considerations is how the placement of the ad will affect the brand. Someone made the conscious decision to link the Nook with reading digital files however those files are acquired.

    Now, I’m one of the people who said if Bob buys my future hardback, I don’t care how Bob “acquires” my digital file. But B&N isn’t Bob, and doesn’t care that most of the fans of a site like that don’t think like Bob.

    “By any means necessary” is not acceptable doctrine when we’re talking about a luxury device. A more apt cliche is “when you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

  20. Susan/DC
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 11:12:26

    Unlike MaryK and Ridley, I’m more likely to buy unplanned books when I’m in a bricks and mortar store. I see the displays, I go down the rows of books on the shelves, read the back copy and the first chapter of those that look interesting, and walk out with five books when I went in looking for two. My online searches are directed and I’m much better able to resist the temptation of impulse buying when I don’t have the physical book in hand.

    As for the comment in the article that readers value an electronic book less than a 3-dimensional one, I think that is off the mark. I think e-books should be cheaper because there are no additional printing, storage, or shipping costs for an e-book, not because of the medium in which I receive it.

  21. MaryK
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 11:55:46

    Do you think B&N knows the ad on the file sharing site is for the Nook? I think it’s a great idea for them to advertise buying books at those sites. It’s specifically the Nook ad that’s questionable, IMO. Do they know where each type of ad is placed or do they just know there is an ad there?

  22. Jane
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 12:03:34

    @MaryK When I used Google Ad Network (briefly), you could exclude sites by domain name, keywords, etc.

  23. sao
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 12:58:05

    I used to get recommendations from my neighborhood bookstore, but they didn’t stock anything they didn’t think was worth reading (ie romance). They disappeared a few years ago, after Barnes and Noble opened.

    Barnes and Noble is huge, but its always crowded and I value buying advice from someone who I think enjoys the same genres as me. I don’t think I’ve ever sought or been given advice over and above what shelf I can expect to find a particular book on.

    Amazon will give you advice on anything. I’ve done searches for books on learning Bulgarian and CDs of Caribbean Zouk music. Amazon produced options and recommendations. Almost certainly produced not by a clerk, trying to help but wondering who in their right mind would bother to learn Bulgarian and what the heck is Zouk, but by other people with the same eccentric interests as me.

    Sometimes the eccentricity shows through, like maybe the next person looking at learning a Balkan language might get a recommendation for obscure Caribbean music, but that’s better than a clueless person, obliged to act like they’re helping you.

  24. sao
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 13:00:25

    I meant to add, it’s clear publishers are a lot more comfortable with the physical. Physical books, physical bookstores.

    There’s a lot of improvement in indexing needed by all the on-line bookstores/libraries I’ve tried, but I presume someone will figure out the right interface.

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  26. ardeatine
    Apr 24, 2010 @ 11:03:37

    In today’s Times (UK) newspaper Orlando Figes now admits that he let his wife take the blame for the scathing reviews actually left by himself. He’s apologised to everyone, including his wife and his lawyer (to whom he lied) saying his wife covered for him because she was worried about his health. He apparently left his own book a five star review saying, “I hope he writes forever.”

  27. Ariel/Sycorax Pine
    Apr 25, 2010 @ 05:11:41

    I just arrived in London to the swivet surrounding the Figes story (and yesterday’s revelation that he was in fact the author of the reviews), and I have to say that I do find it a deeply ethically troubling situation, speaking as both an academic and a book-buyer. The problem as I see it isn’t that he left negative (really viciously negative, rather than substantially critical) reviews, but rather that he took advantage of the anonymity of Amazon’s review system to leave negative reviews for his rivals’ work and glowing reviews of his own work (“I hope he never stops writing,” one of them rather hilariously read), without revealing that he had a stake in the sales effects of these reviews. This is at the very least an infraction of the conventions of academic collegiality, but I think it has larger ethical implications as well.

  28. XandraG
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 08:45:45

    re: Nook ad on file-sharing site. If you’re hanging out on a file-sharing site and object to the ads you have to look at while you download books *for free* you probably have an entitlement problem and very few people will be listening to you anyway.

    If you are hanging out on a file-sharing site and a Nook ad makes you upset because it reminds you that you should be paying for the stuff you’re getting for free…then you may want to listen to that little Jiminy Cricket voice in your head that’s telling you the right thing to do.

    Jus’ Sayin’ is all… (and this is a general “you” and not Jane or anyone in particular).

    Bookstores will always be around–not all books on all subjects are as ephemeral as mass-market fiction, and there’s a distinct opportunity for bookstores to move with the times and act as “book galleries” – featuring a print copy right next to a kiosk to order/download/print-on-demand while you finish your coffee and pick up a glitter pen and a journal or something. Bookstores will have to change, though, and if they can’t turn the Titanic around on a dime, then there are always smaller boats ready to float into the void.

    I used to do more “hey, neato!” impulse buying at the brick and mortar store, because Amazon just doesn’t have enough filters on choices yet for me to be able to be grabbed quickly and efficiently between “add to cart” and “check out.” But the economy has limited me to what I can impulse-buy. I’m more careful about my purchases now, no matter where they come from.

  29. Jane
    Apr 26, 2010 @ 11:31:02

    Im not offended by by the BN ad, but i wondered what others thought about the ethics of it, particularly when there are people who advocate that one way to rid piracy is to decrease the ad revenue,

  30. Lewis Robinson
    May 11, 2010 @ 19:15:26

    Incandescent light bulbs will soon be phased out because they waste a lot of energy.*.,

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