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Thursday News: Amazon weighs in on ebook pricing, sale of Harlequin...

Keep in mind that books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.

So, at $9.99, the total pie is bigger – how does Amazon propose to share that revenue pie? We believe 35% should go to the author, 35% to the publisher and 30% to Amazon. Is 30% reasonable? Yes. In fact, the 30% share of total revenue is what Hachette forced us to take in 2010 when they illegally colluded with their competitors to raise e-book prices. We had no problem with the 30% — we did have a big problem with the price increases. –The Digital Reader and Amazon

With Harlequin’s sale to HarperCollins expected to be completed before the end of the week, the publisher’s parent company, Torstar, reported that sales for the second quarter ended June 30, 2014 fell C$6.4 million to C$96.4 million and net income dropped to C$1.6 million from C$5.6 million in last year’s second quarter. The revenue decline was attributed primarily to lower sales in North America. –Publishers Weekly

On Monday, President Christian Rudder disclosed in a blog post that OkCupid had conducted experiments on its users, including a test to see whether its assessment of their matchability led to successful dating.

“To test this, we took pairs of bad matches … and told them they were exceptionally good for each other,” Rudder wrote. “When we tell people they are a good match, they act as if they are. Even when they should be wrong for each other.” 

OkCupid’s actions, at least four legal experts said, appear to be in violation of a provision in the FTC act that prohibits “unfair and deceptive” practices by a company that result in misleading or harming consumers. –Huffington Post and Reuters

Bülent Ar?nç said during an end of Ramadan speech that women should not laugh in public or talk about “unnecessary” things on the phone. He made these oddly specific demands as he seemed to yearn for a simpler time when Turkish women were more repressed.

“Where are our girls, who slightly blush, lower their heads and turn their eyes away when we look at their face, becoming the symbol of chastity?” he asked, complaining of what he saw as the moral decline of Turkish society. –Global Post

isn't sure if she's an average Romance reader, or even an average reader, but a reader she is, enjoying everything from literary fiction to philosophy to history to poetry. Historical Romance was her first love within the genre, but she's fickle and easily seduced by the promise of a good read. She approaches every book with the same hope: that she will be filled from the inside out with something awesome that she didnʼt know, didnʼt think about, or didnʼt feel until that moment. And she's always looking for the next mind-blowing read, so feel free to share any suggestions!


  1. library addict
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 04:49:17

    I will miss Harlequin and hoping Torstar doesn’t change things up too much. But I know that’s just wishful thinking on my part.

  2. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 05:56:53

    I’m worried about this price point, because there’s a kind of twisted logic that places the price of ebooks at $9.99. I can see it with a kind of sickening inevitability. Please let me be wrong.
    Harlequin? All IMO, of course, but I’m really interested to know what everybody else thinks. It’ll start with “rationalising” the category lines. Merging Romantic Suspense and Intrigue, for instance. It’s started with closing the Kiss line, but that might be different. Sadly, it was doomed from the start. It didn’t have a clear enough definition, and putting out a truly angsty first book (but it was a wonderful book) with suggestions of breath play didn’t exactly help.
    Will they link Desire and Presents? If they do, then it’s the beginning of the end. The lines have fought hard for their distinctive differences and to merge them would be to admit defeat. IMO, of course.
    Harlequin has carved itself a place in the romance market. From the earliest days of Mills and Boon in the UK, it’s had clever marketers and dedicated editors. Editors and authors are leaving fast, but then, they always have. Will they have the same success that other exiles had? Are we looking at the next Brockmann, Howard, Roberts?
    Harlequin is now part of the humungous News International group, helmed by Rupert Murdoch. He is not a hands-off boss. His gift is to appeal to the mass market, and he does that by simplifying, generalising and going for the high concept. He also wants two things from Harlequin – the peerless global distribution network, and the currency benefits of having major centers outside the US.

  3. Lynne Connolly
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 05:58:17

    Not News International, it’s News Corp this week.

  4. Lil
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 06:41:09

    I keep wondering if part of Harlequin’s problem is the demise of bookstores. Once upon a time, I could wander around and find shelves of Harlequins for sale in a dozen different stores. Now, even in places like Walmart’s that still sell books, the shelf space given to them has shrunk so that there are only three or four Harlequin titles available. I know many people subscribe, but surely once upon a time a fair number of their sales were impulse buys.

  5. azteclady
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 07:03:53

    @Lil: I actually don’t see Harlequins anywhere around me. The Walmart close to my house hasn’t stocked any of the categories for over a year, and the larger Walmarts a bit farther stopped stocking them a few months ago. The only bookstore close to me is a smallish Barnes and Noble and they reduced their romance shelve to one side of half an aisle (are they trying to kill the store?) where no category will ever be seen.

  6. Jane
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 08:37:41

    I find Amazon’s statement quite disingenuous. First, the upper tier of ebook prices is around $14.99. Since Apple entered the ebook market with its pricing tiers, you rarely see an above $14.99 ebook.

    Second, I didn’t like it when the publishers told Amazon what the price should be by disallowing discounting and I don’t think it’s positive for readers when Amazon tries to dictate the price. IF their “math” checks out then they can easily discount a book to whatever price they want, and if its not profitable for them to discount Hachette books, then Hachette books will suffer.

    This sort of PR language – as if Amazon is the only company devoted to the betterment of authors livelihoods – is crass and untrue.

  7. Lostshadows
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 08:38:13

    Saw the something about the Amazon thing yesterday on Whatever. I think Scalzi raises some good points on why this is not a good idea. (I’d link, but I suspect I’d be marked as spam. Just Google “Whatever”)

  8. Tabs
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 09:21:46

    The turkish women laughing made me think of the most misogynistic professor I had in grad school and the awesome way my fellow female grad students reacted.

    We had one professor whose lectures (this was physics so lectures were going step-by-step through complicated math steps) were super sloppy and hard to follow. You’d frequently have to ask him to go back when he’d skip a few steps. He was also well known for chastising women for asking questions and then being polite to men who then asked the same questions.

    So, one day, i asked a question and then my female friend asked another. His response was “What’s with the women asking so many questions today? No, no, go ahead and ask, I won’t be mean.”

    You could hear a pin drop in the room at that moment.

    And then… all 10 women in that room (including ones who had never spoken up and asked questions before) stopped and queried him when something was confusing for the next hour and a half of class. I thought his head was going to explode. It was totally awesome.

  9. Diane
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 09:31:26

    Amazon: I’ve been getting more and more ebooks from the library, Bookbub emails, recommendations form this site and Smart Bitches. But I do still buy my favorite authors at full price when I just can’t wait. That being said, I want the right to loan my ebooks to my sisters and friends, without any conditions on it. It’s my book, I bought and paid for it, I should be able to do with it what I want. I should even be to resell it if I so choose.

    Harlequin: I used to be a subscriber, but I found I was reading them less, way less. I used to go on the website every month without fail and buy a bunch first as paper, then as ebooks. But over the last year I buy fewer and fewer. I don’t find the stories hold up, or maybe its that I’m over the sheikh/maiden, secret baby, marriage of convenience tropes. I find it sad that this book line, which I’ve been reading since I started reading romance in the 1970’s does not hold my interest any longer.

  10. Michele Mills
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 09:56:12

    @Tabs: Thank you for that story. Loved it.:)

  11. Michele Mills
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 10:37:28

    @azteclady: Whenever I see a harlequin that I might want stocked at Target, etc I never purchase. I pet it and look at it longingly, but I stop and think how I’d rather not have this print bk cluttering up my house. To me harlequins (bks with a lower price point and shorter length) are “consumable” and exactly the type of bk I’d purchase as an ebook. Personally, I think it’s smart of harlequin to downsize (not eliminate) their print distribition. I’m all over Harlequin Desire, but actually I don’t buy that many. Why? Hmm. How can they convince someone like me to purchase? (and there will be more buyers like me in harlequins future)… They can’t get me at Target anymore, I forget to buy the print edition of what I’ve seen later… Maybe they can find a way for me to buy the ebook right there at Target that doesn’t involve the cell I might not have with me? Or, I could take a moment to sign up for a harlequin Desire newsletter, so I know what’s releasing. I’m sure there’s such a thing, right? :) (Harlequin needs to be focusing on capturing me as a reader via social media anyway) Because seriously, I need to support Harlequin Desire, I love that line. *sigh*

    Ps- Uh oh, now that I think about it, they’re also competing against how I buy a lot of self/indie pub category. Aah! Harlequin, I want to buy you, I really do. Help me!

  12. Michele Mills
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 11:04:13

    @Diane: Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Harlequin had customizable subscriptions? You could choose only your auto buy authors sent to you monthly, and maybe they could throw in one new to you author each month that they think you might like. You’d get less books, but more of what you want. Oh, and if these could be ebooks and magically show up on my kindle once a month on the same date…that would be cool! Or do they already have this and I’m out of the loop? Guess I should check. Lol

  13. AnAu
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 13:07:43

    @Lynne Connolly: If they start merging lines, it will show the new HC overlords don’t know what they’re doing. It wouldn’t make sense to merge Intrigue and Romantic Suspense, considering Intrigue is one of the best selling lines and Romantic Suspense is much weaker. Diluting the stronger line by combining it with the weaker one, especially at a time when they’re already losing readers, isn’t going to help anything. They seem to have learned that lesson in the UK, where Mills and Boon used to pick some of the Intrigues and some of the Romantic Suspenses to be published under the “Intrigue” banner, only to finally make the switch last year to automatically publishing all 6 Intrigues each month and skipping the Romantic Suspenses, offering them as digital only (at least at first. I don’t see the July or August Romantic Suspense titles on the M&B website at all; only the Intrigues, tagged as “Romantic Suspense and Intrigue”).

    Far more likely that they’ll do what they did with Superromance, Historical and Nocturnes and make the lower selling lines digital-only, while continuing to make them available in print for book club subscribers and on their website. They have too many readers who want the main lines in print to completely cut it, but with declining shelf space and sales, it may not be worth the trouble to distribute those in retail. Romantic Suspense, Harlequin Romance and American Romance are probably most likely to go that route, since they’re no longer being carried in all stores anyway. Target stores, if they carry Harlequins at all, only carry the big four lines (Presents, Intrigue, Special Edition and Desire). Earlier this year Harlequin changed their distribution so that stores with fewer slots, which generally would switch the books out every two weeks, now only get one shipment of the main lines (generally Presents, Intrigue, Special Edition and Blaze) and keep those lines up all four weeks. So lines like RS, HR and AR are already only being carried in stores with enough shelf space for all the lines.

    The big four lines in the US likely won’t (and shouldn’t) be touched. But I could see anything else being up for grabs. (At least with the Harlequin lines. The Love Inspired ones, which use the Harlequin retail space, seem to be doing well enough).

  14. AnAu
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 13:18:18

    @Michele Mills: Harlequin offers ebook subscriptions to all of its lines. While you can’t pick which authors you want (which seems like what buying separately is for; I can’t even imagine the headache of trying to create separate bundles every month for each reader depending on what authors they want), you can customize the number of books you receive, at least on the ones that publish 6-8 books a month. With Desire (and Intrigue, Special Edition, Superromance, Historical) subscribers can choose to receive either 4 or 6 books a month, and with Presents they can get either 4, 6 or 8.

  15. Angela
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 13:43:58

    I find this Amazon story kind of … interestingly funny. I just got an email from Amazon this morning (or maybe it came late last night) asking about my book-reading and -buying habits.

    It did ask for paper vs. ebook, but then it seemed to pretty exclusively focus on what could make buying ebooks *more* attractive to me.

    One of the stock, rateable answers (not *Other*) was the ability to give used ebooks to friends or family.

    @Jane – I’ve preordered auto-buy authors of mine at $16.99 for the ebook. That was the initial listing price. It’s always dropped before the actual release date, so I’ve never actually paid that – but the prices have been listed at least that high. The only thing I’ve seen in the $20 range are bundles, which don’t count (IMO) in this discussion though.

    Honestly, I find it kind of hinky for either of these companies (Hachette and Amazon) to share their negotiations with the public. I’m surprised that either company doesn’t have confidentiality clauses that preclude them sharing negotiation information, as every company I’ve ever worked for that was the first thing we had to sign before contract negotiations could even begin.

    Ultimately, I honestly don’t care how they negotiate out their contract. I am not rooting for one side or the other. They are businesses with their bottom line as their best interest, not me. The nice thing about a free market is that it generally works things out.

  16. Janine
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 14:58:32

    I’m starting to think Facebook’s mind manipulation was amateur compared to this monstrosity. Dating service OkCupid lied to people about their compatibility just to see what would happen. Seriously, WTF IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE?!

    Hear hear! I hope the FTC goes after OKCupid. What if someone got attacked by their dates on one of these incompatible dates? We need an internet bill of rights NOW.

  17. Rosario
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 15:05:06

    I see differences between the Ok Cupid and Facebook experiments, and I’m a lot more bothered by the latter. People sign up for Ok Cupid to meet people they might be compatible with. Their experiment was to improve the way they do the very thing people sign up for the service for. I think saying they “lied to people about their compatibility” is not quite right. They lied about what their current algorithm was saying was their compatibility. They didn’t know whether that algorithm was right about compatibility, and the experiment was to test that. Yes, I have issues with them not seeking consent before running this, but the aim was to do their job better, the job users of the service are there for.

    Facebook, on the other hand, did the experiment for purposes that have nothing to do with the reasons people sign up for the service: pure research about social contagion if you want to be charitable, how best to monetise their user base by selling them advertising better, if you’re a little bit cynical. Nothing in there for the users they were experimenting on at all. I find that a lot more disturbing.

  18. Evangeline Holland
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 16:37:20

    @AnAu: Is HH really going digital-only? I’ve only heard about Kiss and Superromance. But I did notice the absence of HH at my local Wal-Mart a week or so ago.

    Interesting that historical romance sales are soft, but inspirational historical romance, historical mystery, and women’s historical fiction are growing in strength.

  19. Andrea K
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 17:32:53

    Partial leaks on negotiations never give a clear idea of what’s really going on, but I get the impression that Amazon isn’t saying that you _have_ to list your ebook at $9.99 – only that you get a better cut if you do. [This is the situation for self-published books already – I could charge $50 for my ebooks, but I’d only get a 35% cut of the sale price if I did, instead of 70%.]

    Ebooks are, substantially, the replacement for mass market paperbacks. I find little to panic about the idea that the mass market book product of the moment is ideally priced at around $5 to $10.

  20. Lana Baker
    Jul 31, 2014 @ 19:38:17

    I’m really glad that I was only on OKC to find local friends to do things with, and when they “matched” me with somebody, I always went to the profile and read it thoroughly. There were a lot of WTF moments when I realized they’d matched me with someone so fundamentally incompatible with me, even for friendship. I’m doubly glad that I deleted my profile during the last year.

  21. Robin/Janet
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 00:50:52

    @Rosario: Re the lying, I could see your explanation if they told people they had no idea if the algorithm could correctly predict compatibility. But people relied on that algorithm to predict potential compatibility, and they were given false information. OkCupid’s president even admitted that they deceived users. So what you see as a lesser sin — manipulating people to improve their service — is something that aggravates me more, because you don’t *have to* deceive people to run those experiments; you can actually run an experiment like that with volunteers. So why not do that? I just don’t buy that the only motive was to improve the service. And it’s particularly odd to me, because in Facebook’s case, despite the lack of ethics, they adhered to scientific protocols, whereas in OkCupid’s case, they just did this kind of haphazard manipulation to see what would happen. And then the CEO went on their blog and freaking bragged about OkCupid’s basic incompetence as a matching service.

    There’s also an indication that the site had access to people’s chats, which is just plain creepy, IMO. And all it would take is one marriage from these “incompatible” deceptions to convince people it’s okay, because people are obviously on a site like that to find a partner. And THAT makes it even more problematic to me – that people might more easily forgive what OkCupid did because they want to find love — even though the service did it without any scientific protocols and with a deception that was absolutely unnecessary (unlike the Facebook experiments).

    Even though the scale is much smaller, and the people were told afterward, I think screwing with people’s potential relationships is at least as bad as what Facebook did, and the way OkCupid haphazardly undertook its experiments and then bragged about it, pile on the ethical problems for me. I don’t know how many people use online dating services, but I’m guessing it’s significantly fewer than the number of people who use Facebook, so maybe there’s a sense that people who sign up for these online services somehow abdicate their privacy and right to honest dealing?

    IMO the only thing the site has going for it is that it’s not accepting money from people to fix them up. Of course, OkCupid is owned by IAC, Barry Diller’s massive corporation that also owns Is Match a paid service? They sure do a lot of advertising, so I’m guessing they are. IAC also owns Vimeo and The Princeton Review, and it a major force in online tutoring and test prep for students. And you know those are arenas where all sorts of ‘service enhancing’ experimentation could be – and probably is – taking place.

  22. Greg Strandberg
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 09:13:24

    Sounds like there are lots of stupid men in Turkey.

  23. Lynne Connolly
    Aug 01, 2014 @ 19:50:09

    @AnAu: Some excellent points there, definitely food for thought.

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