Mar 052015
 
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by Suz deMello

Anyone else notice a distinctly hostile environment toward sex and sexuality on the net?

I’m not talking about the porn sites. I’m talking about mainstream sites and providers censoring content.

I recently received the below from Google:

Dear Blogger User,

We’re writing to tell you about an upcoming change to the Blogger Content
Policy that may affect your account.

In the coming weeks, we’ll no longer allow blogs that contain sexually
explicit or graphic nude images or video. We’ll still allow nudity
presented in artistic, educational, documentary, or scientific contexts, or
where there are other substantial benefits to the public from not taking
action on the content.

And I’ve ranted before about Amazon’s policies in this blog and elsewhere.

Between them, Google and Amazon control quite a large proportion of what we see, hear, read and buy.

It’s often been noted that Americans are repressed sexually. This repression seems to create an unhealthy aversion to the naked human body. A person, regardless of gender, can sunbathe topless on most European beaches. Not so in the USA, where many view a woman’s breast as pornographically rather than naturally beautiful.

I can appreciate that Amazon and Google do not want to become porn purveyors. However, there’s a slippery slope on the way from literature to pornography, and erotica clings to that slope. Erotica writers are digging in our spiked heels and holding on for dear life with our cuffed hands.

Jaid Black, the founder of Ellora’s Cave, one of the biggest online purveyors of erotic and erotic romance novels, said she spends her time thinking about “new ways to create income for Ellora’s…that don’t involve Amazon.” According to an interview in New York magazine (2/23/15), EC’s Amazon-generated income plummeted in 2013 by more than $2 million and has never recovered.

It’s hard to pinpoint a culprit, though. Advances in technology have thrown self-publishing to the forefront. Many of the newbies are so desperate to be read that they’re giving away their work for free or for rock-bottom prices. Anthologies or boxed sets of romance and erotica are most commonly priced at 99 cents, a price point that makes it virtually impossible for a professional writer to earn a decent living.

Of course parents should be empowered to determine what their children are exposed to on the internet, but “protecting” the rest of us is condescending and outright offensive. Parents have tools they can use to block content they may deem harmful to their children, such as NetNanny or CYBERsitter.

What can be done to combat the forces of repression? Organizations such as the OpenNet Initiative exist solely to inform the public about web-based censorship and surveillance efforts. The ACLU, Reporters Without Borders, The Censorware Project and peacefire.org have similar missions. Checkout out and supporting these organizations is one venue.

Another is registering our concerns, not as writers, but as consumers. According to article after article, Amazon is all about the customer, not the content creator. “Former executives all have stories about Bezos’ obsessive focus on the customer.” (Jeff Bezos is the famously obsessive founder and CEO of Amazon). Bezos explains that his company’s success is due to his focus on the customer, not the competitor.

Thus, approaching Amazon with concerns as consumers will be more effective. Querying Amazon for the reason we can’t find our favorite authors’ books may be a more productive approach.

As for Google, their corporate approach is, “Focus on the user and all else will follow”.

We’re all users. Some of us want to use Google to find erotica.

Focus on our status as consumers rather than creators of content and all else will follow.

Those of us writing have generally spent years honing our craft. Depressing, isn’t it, to be so little respected?

***

About the Author:

Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written nineteen books in several genres, including nonfiction, memoir, erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

–Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com

–For editing services, email her at suzdemello@gmail.com

–Befriend her on Facebook, and visit her group page.

–She tweets @Suzdemello

–and posts to Pinterest

–and Goodreads.

–Her current blog is TheVelvetLair.com

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Jan 312015
 
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By Suz deMello

Amazon is known for its ruthless business practices—it doesn’t merely squeeze competition, it strangles it until it dies.

Amazon currently sells 40% of all new books sold in the USA. Their percentage of the market in ebooks is even larger—perhaps 66% according to the above-cited Salon.com article.

Amazon is not only a bookseller, but a publisher, and it favors its own imprints and minimizes the ability for readers to find its competitors. The most famous example is that of Hachette. Check out Stephen Colbert’s clips on the issue.

Well-known is Amazon’s dislike of sexy covers, adult-oriented books and erotica; it seems to especially target purveyors of steamy books. Though Amazon touts its independent publishing program as a boon for writers, many indie published authors, especially in erotic romance, complain that Amazon’s search engine has made it difficult if not impossible for readers to find their books. The Kindle Unlimited program has cut further into their book revenues. Ellora’s Cave, one of the most prominent publishers of steamy and erotic romance on the web, has downsized radically, citing a massive drop in Amazon sales of its books as the reason.

Well-known erotic romance author Selena Kitt had this to say (and a lot more):

If you’re an erotica writer, you know that Amazon has a double standard. If you publish a title and put it into the “erotica” category, there are certain things that aren’t allowed in the title or on blurb. But if you put that same title and blurb into the “romance” category, it’s fine. Half-naked couples in a hot, torrid embrace are just fine in romance, but strangely, in the erotica category, they’re often filtered and sometimes even blocked.

The loyalty of many customers to Amazon is misplaced. For example, Amazon often does not feature the best online price for a book or other item. A couple of cases in point:

On 30 Sept 14, the price of one of my shorties, Highland Vampire, on Amazon was $2.51. The price at Harlequin’s site was $2.39.

Being the daughter of Brits, I’m a tea drinker and lately have been into using loose teas (they really do make a better cuppa). Initially I had been purchasing from Amazon—isn’t that the place we’ve all become accustomed to checking first? Then I went to the Twinings Tea site and found that I’d been grotesquely overpaying.  My fave Darjeeling at Amazon costs $8.24 and it’s an “add-on item,” which is some sort of irritating practice at Amazon—I couldn’t get the tea without buying other stuff, and I couldn’t find a work-around for that bit of Amazonian weirdness.

The same tea is almost half the price—$4.49—at Twinings.

Like many, I have come to rely on Amazon for so much! I listen to music on my Amazon music player on both laptop and cellphone, and download music from Amazon as well. I’m an Amazon affiliate. I also buy books for my Kindle Paperwhite, which I love, from Amazon.

But maybe it’s time to cut the cord. Why should I fund an entity that seeks to exploit me, maybe even put me out of business?

I’ve taken down my Amazon affiliate ads—that won’t hurt, as they’ve never earned me a penny. I’ve changed my email signature line, which used to direct folks to my Amazon author pages, to instead include my website and blog. Other changes will be harder.

I’m an Ellora’s Cave author. I also have books placed with two other publishers that have disappointed me in myriad ways—see these links:

www.harlequinlawsuit.com  and scroll down to #9 at

absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=194729–scroll.

So I’m going indie. But Createspace and KDP are fabulous platforms for self-publishing. How ethical is it, given my concerns, to use those platforms?

And beyond my personal worries, there’s the greater problem. Amazon sells a huge number of books, films, music and other creative and factual works.

Should one entity control so much of what goes into our minds and thoughts?

Will Amazon destroy erotic literature with its changing algorithms and prejudices? Will Amazon make it impossible for some books to flourish?

Does Amazon threaten our freedom of speech and thought?

***

About the Author:

Best-selling, award-winning author Suz deMello, a.k.a Sue Swift, has written nineteen books in several genres, including nonfiction, memoir, erotica, comedy, historical, paranormal, mystery and suspense, plus a number of short stories and non-fiction articles on writing. A freelance editor, she’s held the positions of managing editor and senior editor, working for such firms Totally Bound, Liquid Silver Books and Ai Press. She also takes private clients.

Her books have been favorably reviewed in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Booklist, won a contest or two, attained the finals of the RITA and hit several bestseller lists.

A former trial attorney, her passion is world travel. She’s left the US over a dozen times, including lengthy stints working overseas. She’s now writing a vampire tale and planning her next trip.

Find her books at http://www.suzdemello.com

–For editing services, email her at suzdemello@gmail.com

–Befriend her on Facebook, and visit her group page.

–She tweets @Suzdemello

–and posts to Pinterest

–and Goodreads.

–Her current blog is TheVelvetLair.com

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Jul 092012
 
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Before 2008, in what it think of as the wild and wooly days of the ebook, when almost anything went, because there were few readers and almost anything went, the only competition ebook publishers had was each other.

eBooks were read either on pcs or palm data devices and a handful of clunky ebook reading devices – and from the beginning it seemed like there were almost more publishers than readers.

Our audience was so small that big publishers of hard covers and bestseller type paperbacks just laughed at us.

With almost no venue for distribution but our own book sites, we all tried hard to make our sites interesting fun places to visit with lots of intriguing books on display.

Contests, chats, blogs were the order of the day and if well presented drew readers to publishers’ sites in droves, and drove sales of ebooks along with them.

When Amazon came along with the Kindle, ebook publishers had lots of ebooks to supply and the big publishers were still busy laughing. Increased readers meant new people finding us and visiting our sites. eBook publishers were still each other’s only competition.

After a year the big publishers caught on at last and began to scramble just to get their new books into ebook as they came out.

All the ebook publishers still had the edge and our ebooks were still in the majority of those available on the web.

Then came 2011.

In 2010, I was reading thrillers and mysteries, among seven or eight series, were the Harry Bosch series 17 books (we are speaking at the time) the Charlie Parker thrillers 7 books, the Matthew Scudder mysteries 15 books, etc., etc.

In every case i was lucky if the most recent two or three were available as ebooks. I had to supplement my reading by ordering most of the books I couldn’t get in these series (and that was most of them)  for my kindle as used paperbacks.  That became onerous and i gave up on reading them.

The late part of last year, I checked out these series again and found out every book in each series was now available as an ebook.

So add to the books now on Kindle, etc. say ten more ebooks for each mystery series of which there are probably now over a thousand, plus every romance series, and scifi/fantassy/horror series. Then add ten or more ebooks for all the back list titles by nonseries romance writers, mystery writers, nonfiction authors, etc.  (and of course many authors of both types have 20+ titles in their backlist).

So right there, the number of ebook titles at Amazon took a ten-fold hike. Which means there are ten times more titles competing for visibility and sales with those of independent ebook publishers.

But in fact, the last two years have seen the number of titles at Amazon, etc explode far more that just ten times as selfpublished authors have literally flooded the Kindle ebook store’s pages by the tens of thousands.

At the moment the Kindle ebooks store says it has 1,500,000 ebooks and magazines for sale.

Probably less, even much less, than 100,000 of those are from longtime ebook publishers. Probably less than 50.000.

So ebook publishers have gone from having only each other to compete with to get their books noticed and bought, and less than 50,000 titles to compete with, to a million and a half ebooks and periodicals.

Given that, is it likely that independent ebook publishers can continue attracting readers to their sites in the same numbers as today, even with contests and chats – considering the competition from both authors of big publishers and selfpublished authors flooding and overwhelming social media like Facebook and Twitter trying to attract attention to their ebooks?

Even three years from now what will be the role of the epublisher’s site. Will it be sales? Or efforts aimed at selling books not at the site but on Amazon and B&N? Or something altogether different?

JMS

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May 242012
 
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In mid-2008 the four biggest distributors of our ebooks, the four who sold the most copies every month for us, each accounted for about 20% of our overall sales, while a misc. of smaller sites made up the remaining 20%. These four sites were:

* Distributor A (long established with one of the best and most reader friendly ebook sites),

* Our own website

* Kindle (then less than a year old)

* Distributor Z (who had until Kindle the best, if priciest, ereader)

 

Today things are dramatically different. One distributor now dominates the ebook business, and its rise has drained sales from most competitors, who experienced a sharp decline in sales. Here is the approximate percentage of our ebook sales which each of our current distributors accounts for:

*Kindle = grew to 70%

* B&N = grew to 18% (did not exist mid-2008)

* Distributor A= declined to 3%

* Our own website = declined to 4%

* Distributor Z = declined to 3%

* (Misc. small sites = declined to 2%)

 

What is the reason for this amazing redistribution of sales to a single ebook distributor? Not the Kindle itself. The original, and still basic black and white, Kindle was neither the best nor the cheapest of the ereaders.

What made the Kindle so special was one major sales innovation: 24/7 instant wireless delivery of your ebook to your Kindle, almost anywhere in the world you were. Amazon had it, and had deep enough pockets to afford to have purchased dedicated space on ATT three-sixty-five.

To download your ebooks from other sites after ordering them, you had to connect a USB cord to both your pc and your ebookreder, and then click on various icons, and then copy and paste the books from one folder to another, and then click “safely remove hardware,” and then uncouple the pc and reader, and finally turn on the reader and locate your new books, and only then were you, at last,ready to begin reading. Compare that to clicking the Buy button at Amazon and Bam! there’s the book in your reader. (B&N gave you instant wireless delivery, but only if you drove to the store and downloaded your ebooks there!!)

That’s how, from the moment it was out of the starting gate, Kindle left its competitors in the dust.

Over the next three and a half years they became THE market for ebooks. They were the 600 pound gorilla in the cage. They dictated terms and authors and publishers took it, because without them there weren’t enough sales to keep anyone afloat.

But last year Barnes & Noble, and the once laughable Kobo, acquired deep pockets and initiated their own 2/7 instant wireless ebook delivery systems, just in time for the holiday selling season. Meanwhile, Sony which had had deep enough pockets to afford to lease cell time three-sixty-five like Kindle, had been caught flatfooted by the idea of wireless delivery. They had to take the time to develop and test their own wireless ebookreader, losing more than two years in the process, which they also launched at the holiday season.

So for the first time the Kindle has rivals who also offer wireless delivery straight to your ereader, and could cut into Amazon’s ebook sales. A lot of people, including readers, have indicated their displeasure with Amazon over the years. They could lead an exodus.

On the other hand, it might be too late for Amazon’s rivals to catch much in the way of future ebook and ebookreader sales. After all, Amazon has already sold so many Kindles of so many types at such low prices that everyone interested in reading ebooks may already be said to own one. Why switch? Better yet, as far as Amazon is concerned, is the fact that they started as a bookstore, are still the web’s largest and most complete bookstore, and offer the convenience of one-stop purchasing for both paperbound and ebooks. That’s something Sony and Kobo will never be able to do. Only B&N seems to truly have a chance in this arena, and Amazon still has the lead, as they carry far more ebooks than B&N.

However, none of this factors in in the rest of the English speaking world and Europe, where Amazon is not as big as it is here and the ball is still in play. For instance, Kobo has already partnered with the W. H. Smith, the U.K.’s largest book chain, to provide content for and run Smith’s ebookstore, while Smith sells the Kobo in its stores as its branded ereader. Meanwhile, Sony is opening ebookstores with various partners throughout Europe.

I guess we will know the results when we have the next three quarter’s sales reports in hand.

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