Stacking the Shelves (27)

Seasons’ Greetings, Happy Holidays, Pleasant Solstice, whether that be cool or warm in your part of the world, etc.

As the marvelous graphic so delightfully illustrates: 

‘Tis the season after all. Peace on Earth and goodwill to all is a sentiment we can all get behind, whatever our personal beliefs.

Speaking of personal beliefs, I believe I’ve seen enough Christmas romances to last me until next November. I’ve got two more Christmas romance reviews to finish, and then I’m done.

About this week’s shelf-stack. Amazon had a local deal, well, there’s this Amazon local deal thing you can subscribe to in email. And by the way, they need to edit the combos a little better. It shouldn’t be possible to see a deal for “Facial/Waxing/Wine tasting” all in one subject. It just looks WRONG. Never mind the day it was “Horseback riding/Chocolate Tour.” My mind went to a horrible, horrible place.

Back to books. There was a local deal, at least here, where $1 bought one kindle book from a list of 50 books. One of those books was Mongoliad 2. I’ve already read and reviewed Mongoliad 1, and Mongoliad 3 popped up on NetGalley. I’m curious enough to give it another shot, at least $1 worth of shot.


I reserve the right to give up after 50 pages. After all, it was only $1.


Speaking of only $1, or even less. Lyrical Press is having a “Doomsday Sale“. More like a “the Mayans were wrong” sale. Everything in their catalog is 75% off in ebook., adding a couple more ebooks to my stack, at least so far. It IS kind of a steal, so I’ll probably go back.

And I checked a real, honest-to-goodness print book out from my library. Being surrounded by thousands of books is so damn tempting. Otherwise, everything on the list is e.

So what’s on your stack this week? And do you reach a point where you’ve had it up to the proverbial “here” with Christmas books? Or do you like to linger over them into January?

For Review:
The Cat’s Meow (Witch’s Brew #1) by Stacey Kennedy
The Geek Girl and the Scandalous Earl by Gina Lamm
The Mongoliad: Book Three (Foreworld #3) by Neal Stephenson, Greg Bear, Mark Teppo, Nicole Galland, Erik Bear, Joseph Brassey, Cooper Moo
The Notorious Lady Anne by Sharon Cullen
The Reluctant Countess by Wendy Vella
Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell
The Summer He Came Home (Bad Boys of Crystal Lake #1) by Juliana Stone)
The Twisted Tragedy of Miss Natalie Stewart (Magic Most Foul #2) by Leanna Renee Hieber

Keir by Pippa Jay
The Mongoliad: Book Two (Foreworld #2) by Neal Stephenson, Erik Bear, Greg Bear, Joseph Brassey, Nicole Galland, Cooper Moo, Mark Teppo
Whistling Dixie by Serenity Woods

Checked out from the Library:
The Buntline Special (Weird West Tales #1) by Mike Resnick (print)
Explosive Eighteen (Stephanie Plum #18) by Janet Evanovich

Bookish Rant: The Buying and Selling of Book Reviews

I wish I had a dollar for every person who sent me a link to the New York Times article about paying for book reviews. You know the one, “The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy” from August 25. There’s a slight irony in the NYT publishing it, since no one really knows exactly how they compile their bestseller list, but I digress.

The things that keep circling in my mind about the whole “paying for reviews” thing go like this:
1.       It feels like there are more books out there than ever
2.       It is definitely harder to get people’s attention for anything than it used to be
3.       Most people pick the next book they are going to read because they’ve already read that author (96% based on the Goodreads May Newsletter) so how does a newbie author get on readers’ radar?
4.       Book Blogging is a labor of love, getting the blog to pay for itself (hosting fees, giveaways, etc.) is difficult enough, and blogging takes a lot of time and energy

Two things happen. (Okay, a lot more things happen, I’m only going to deal with two).

One of those things is the one that the New York Times article highlighted. Maybe low-lighted is a better word. Todd Rutherford made a tidy living for a while selling rave reviews on Amazon and Goodreads to authors. Not just authors whose names no one ever heard of, either. It turns out that part of John Locke’s self-publishing success is owed to purchased reviews.

Although the Times made a big deal about “exposing” this pay-for-play company, it’s a)out of business and b)not the only game in town.

Two companies, Blue Ink Review and Kirkus Book Reviews both offer a paid review service for independent/self-published authors. The difference is both cost much more (approx $400) and they each send the book to one reviewer who provides one review. Neither guarantees a good review. What they both offer is that if the author doesn’t like the review, the author has the option to not have it published. How often that happens, who knows?  Also, they don’t blanket Amazon and Goodreads with multiple five star reviews.

(As a librarian, I will say that Kirkus has a lot of history behind them. They’ve been in the reviewing business for a long, long time. Since 1933. I used to get their reviews when they went into a three-ring binder, which dates me as much as it does them. Their reviews were always long and thorough. What selling their services in this way does to their street cred in the long run remains to be seen. Their newsletter is available free online and for anyone interested in books it’s definitely worth a read.)

And then there were the ChicklitGirls, who are also out of business. After all, if Kirkus Book Reviews can charge $400+ for a book review, why shouldn’t a book blog charge a much more reasonable fee, oh say $95 for a book review? Just like Kirkus (well, sort of) they did disclose in their reviewing policy that there was a fee for a review. Unlike the more reputable publication they cited as their excuse, the “Girls” threatened to sue an author who complained about their practices. For a full report, take a look at the terrific summary over at Dear Author.

But isn’t what happened over at ChicklitGirls (minus the lawsuit threat, that was just bad behavior) part and parcel of the same thing?  They saw a way to make money, same as the New York Times article exposed (no pun intended) by charging authors for reviewing their books. And they tried to make money off what is otherwise a very labor-intensive what, hobby, addiction, drug-of-choice for most of us? Yes, I’m talking about book blogging. Which doesn’t otherwise pay.

We often get the books we review for free. But not always. Some of us buy them. Some people borrow them from the library. Often it’s a mix. Many blogs have affiliate links from Amazon and/or Barnes & Noble and/or The Book Depository. If we’re lucky we take in enough to pay the hosting fees for our sites and the cost of any giveaways. We probably all spend way more time than we ever imagined. Book blogging should probably be the dictionary definition of a labor of love. We love sharing what we read, so we blog.

But what happens when you get paid for reviewing a book? If you blog and you sign up for a tour, you might have faced a piece of this dilemma. You’re part of the advertising for the book, even though you’re not getting paid. You hate the book. You know the author doesn’t want a bad review as part of the tour. What do you do when it happens?

If you’ve been paid to review the book, then what? You really are part of the advertising. Your review is an ad. Ads are supposed to be positive.  So, if a review is paid for, is it a review, or is it an ad?

And when you read one, how do you know?

Bookish Rant: Apple, Amazon, Anti-Trust and the DOJ

I was at Dragon*Con over Labor Day weekend. For those either not in the U.S., or who aren’t familiar with Science Fiction Fandom, two explanations are in order. Labor Day weekend is the first weekend in September.

Dragon*Con is a huge regional science fiction convention in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. When I say huge, I mean attendance that numbers well over 30,000. Downtown Atlanta looks like it’s been overrun by aliens.

30,000 plus people talk about a LOT of stuff. Some of it frivolous, but a lot of it book-related. I listened to/met/shook hands with some of my favorite authors.

On Sunday morning, among about a dozen other panels, two lawyers and an author tackled the seriously bookish topic of the “Apple eBooks Lawsuit”. The room was packed to the rafters.

If you are looking for a basic but excellent primer on the entire price fixing lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Justice filed against Apple and five of the big six publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Simon & Schuster and Penguin), you can’t do better than this excellent summary at Dear Author. Jane Little is a lawyer and she has not only summarized the original case beautifully, but she’s continued to cover the whole farrago as it’s kept on morphing.

Back to the panel at Dragon*Con. The lawyer who discussed the case was an anti-trust specialist, and she went into the case by talking about U.S. anti-trust law. Her take on the whole thing was pretty clear. The law is that competitors in a particular market, in this case Hachette, HarperCollins, etc., and Apple, cannot legally get together and talk about prices, whether they actually set prices or not. But in this case they did set prices, making the whole thing worse for them from a legal standpoint.

There is no provision in the law for a “greater good” being served. Also, as romance author Courtney Milan so eloquently wrote in her blog recently, there is no exemption from anti-trust law for being a special snowflake. Just read her post titled Your Unspecial Anti-Trust Snowflake. It’s a nutshell takedown of all the objections by all the defendants in one easy-to-read gulp.

But what fascinated me was the perspective of the author on the panel, who shall remain nameless (yes, I do remember who it was). Her contention was that Amazon needs to be stopped, now, for the things they will do, later, when they achieve even greater power in the market.

Amazon has a tremendous amount of power in the ebook and also the book marketplace. Because they are successful. Jeff Bezos didn’t listen when everyone laughed at him a number of years ago. When everyone said that people wouldn’t buy books (and other stuff) online. When everyone said that people wouldn’t read ebooks. We all know now how both those predictions turned out. But Amazon could have failed. Amazon has reaped the rewards of betting on what was absolutely not a sure thing.

Now Amazon has a giant share of print book distribution, and a dominant share of ebook distribution. Recent statistics show that we’ve reached the tipping point on ebooks. Ebooks are now THE dominant sales format for adult fiction; bigger than hardcover, bigger than paperback. Amazon is also a publisher.

The argument was that the publishers all behaved so badly, even illegally, in order to prevent Amazon from doing something even more terrible with all that power.

Of course, what the publishers did with that power in the short run was break Amazon’s stranglehold on ebook prices, and the immediate effect was that ebook prices rose.  Consumers did not benefit from those higher prices.

What stuck with me was that the arguments to do something about Amazon now were based on something they might do in the future.

We don’t know what they might do in the future. Amazon is a very powerful company right now. (So, for that matter, is Apple!) But asking the government, any government, to punish a company, or an individual, for what they might do is always a bad precedent.

Amazon might do good things. They might do bad things. They might get fat, dumb and happy. Microsoft used to be feared for how big and near-monopolistic they were, and look where they are now. New disruptive technologies will come along, and Amazon might be too happy with their status quo to jump on the new bandwagon (which is a lot of what is going on with the big six publishers right now).

But laws punish acts, not thoughts. What we do, not what others believe we might do. Let’s not even think of going there. Oh wait, somebody already did. His name was George Orwell, and his book about the Thought Police is so famous that Apple used it in one of their most famous commercials. That’s right. 1984.

Ironic that, wouldn’t you say?

The Two Towers: Apple iBooks Author EULA vs Amazon KDP Select

Before the announcement on January 19, the hope was that Apple’s iBooks Author program would somehow kick Amazon where it hurts. Assuming that anyone can find a location that actually causes Amazon any monetary angst, that is – hunting expeditions for this locale have so far been unsuccessful.

A publishing platform that would make ebook creation easier for the educational market was another “Holy Grail” that some pundits hoped that Apple was about to tackle. I had heard some theorizing that Apple was going to “revolutionize” ebook textbook publishing with the announcement.

And it did, but not in the way that anyone had expected.

By now, you may have heard the chatter (samples here, here and here) about Apple’s Author End-User License Agreement (EULA) for producing books (iBooks) with their new program. If an author wants to be recompensed for the blood, sweat and tears they have put into their book, and they want to create it using Apple’s new program, which is supposed to be so cool, they have to be willing to sign over exclusive, absolutely exclusive, distribution rights to their work, forever. Not for a period of time, but forever. Authors can’t even sell their books on their own sites.

Now if authors want to give the book away, they can distribute it wherever they like.

Some people wanted Apple to give Amazon a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. Why? Because of Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program, also known as Kindle Digital Selects. As a librarian, I have some issues with the program, because the public face of this program is the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, where Kindle Owners can, well, borrow an ebook from Amazon without buying it. Just like at their local library.

But from the authors’ side, this appears to be a way better deal than Apple. A very detailed analysis of the pros and cons from an author’s perspective was written by Carolyn McCray and posted at Publishing Perspectives. There have also been some recent sales statistics made available by Amazon at Digital Book World showing that there is a positive ripple-effect to participation in the program, because it includes promotion on Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deal mailing, which has pretty big circulation.

Authors want their books to get read, and they want to be fairly compensated. Whatever one might think about Amazon’s practices, or what they might morph into in the long-term, in the short-term, there are reports that indicate those goals are being accomplished.

And Amazon doesn’t expect a lifetime commitment when authors sign up. 90 day exclusivity may not be for everyone, but it is a much shorter term than forever. No matter how you count the days.

But a lot of people are more worried about the long-term than the short-term. Amazon is playing a very long game. As a recent NPR story put it, Amazon’s tactics are seen as ‘predatory’, because Amazon is not just an extremely huge bookseller, but they are also a publisher. Not just an ebook publisher, but a print publisher. They have more clout in more places in the publishing and bookselling business than anybody. Ever.

People were hoping that Apple’s announcement on January 19 would stick Amazon where it might hurt.

Instead, we have a situation resembling the one in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers. On the one side, the dark tower of Amazon, with their huge distribution network and their “predatory” practices and their consumers locked-in to their Kindles.

On the other side, we have the white tower of Apple, signing their authors into permanent contractual servitude, telling eager potential iBook textbook creators that if they want to use the cool Apple product they either have to give their work away for free or they have to let Apple own the rights to their work forever.

And in the middle, us poor consumers, hunkering down while the electronic salvos fire overhead.

Remember that in Tolkien’s story, the white tower didn’t turn out to be any less self-serving than the dark tower once the truth was revealed. White just turned out to be the new black.


Brilliance Audio, Amazon, and the Great Un-downloading

On January 4, OverDrive sent an email to all of its libraries with a bombshell announcement, (quoted here from Infodocket)

“Effective January 31, 2012, as instructed by the publisher, BrillianceAudio will suspend the availability of all download audiobook titles for library purchase across all vendors. This change does not affect any titles currently in your library’s catalog. You will not, however, be able to add any additional copies.”

Compared to the Harper Collins 26 checkout limit or the Penguin/Kindle “will they/won’t they” drama, the Brilliance withdrawal notice has generated only a few ripples in the pond. The tree fell in the forest, and there were surprisingly few people around to hear it.

And the voices that have spoken up have cried out against OverDrive. Before we “shoot the messenger”, let’s take a look at the message again.

The loss of Brilliance audiobook downloads is bad news for OverDrive. They license a lot of Brilliance audiobooks, and some are definitely going to be missed from library collections. J.D. Robb, Nora Roberts, Nevada Barr, Tom Clancy, Robert Crais, W.E.B. Griffin, Dean Koontz, Jayne Ann Krentz, the list goes on. These are all authors where my LPOW had long hold queues on OverDrive and licensed multiple copies, up to our maximum. And we bought physical audiobooks, and print books, and ebooks if available and every other format imaginable. OverDrive is going to miss their slices of that revenue pie. This Brilliance withdrawal is not in their interest.

So who benefits? Amazon owns Brilliance Audio. Amazon also owns Audible, which sells downloadable audio direct to consumers. (Full disclosure: Reading Reality is both an Amazon Affiliate and an Audible Affiliate)

Amazon has a track record of cutting out intermediaries wherever they can. They are offering self-published authors terrific deals in order to get agents out of the picture. They have become a traditional publisher as well, with several imprints under their banner ranging from romance (Montlake Romance) to mystery (Thomas & Mercer) to science fiction (47North) to international (AmazonCrossing).

This holiday season, Amazon tried to directly cut out local bookstores (not that they haven’t been doing an indirect job of that all along) by encouraging customers to take the Amazon “price check” app into their local bookstore and then compare the local price to the Amazon price for a $5 discount off the Amazon price. Ecosalon called this out as one of their “Most Offensive Ad Campaigns of 2011

Last but not least in the list of Amazon’s effort to remove obstacles between themselves and the direct consumer, there’s the Kindle Lending Library. Which attempts to eliminate libraries. Amazon Prime members can borrow one book per month, as long as they buy everything else.

So, if Amazon owns Brilliance, which makes audiobooks, and Amazon owns Audible, which sells downloadable audiobooks, who would be responsible for the decision to stop letting OverDrive and all other library vendors (Ingram, Baker & Taylor, 3M) license Brilliance downloadable audiobooks to the library market?



What can we do about it?

Attacking OverDrive will not help.  Amazon is a 900 lb. gorilla, if not bigger. There are very, very few entities that have been able to successfully negotiate with Amazon and come away winners. The one time I can think of is when the publishers managed to break Amazon’s lock on Kindle book pricing by withholding content. But the publishers had something that Amazon wanted, bestselling author content.

What do we have that Amazon wants? Can we use our image of “mom and apple pie” and how much we do for the public good to make Amazon see reason?

The Brilliance audio download tree fell in the forest. It’s up to libraries to make Amazon hear our message.



Amazon and the library redux

Not surprisingly, there has been a lot of commentary in the library world about Amazon’s Kindle Lending Library.

Most of the the library and ebook pundits go over the nitty-gritty details of the Kindle Lending Library, compare the extremely restrictive terms of Amazon’s initial foray into lending services with the vast array of library offerings, and pronounce that libraries have nothing to worry about.

ReadWriteWeb warns its readers “not to get too excited” about the prospect of rushing out to join Amazon Prime and tearing up their library cards.

My personal favorite is the post at Agnostic, Maybe that The Amazon Lending Library is NOT the Library Apocalypse. For one thing, the library apocalypse is more likely going to come as a result of shrinking budgets than anything else.

But to stretch the apocalypse metaphor further, is Amazon helping to feed the Four Horsemen’s horses? That strikes this particular pundit as a much more likely scenario.

The particulars of the Amazon deal as currently stated are very restrictive.  However, many patrons think that library policies are very restrictive. I’m not saying that they are, I am saying that everything is a matter of perspective. How many patrons have we lost for life over arguments about 15 cent or 25 cent overdue fines?

Amazon will change the structure of the deal as soon as it decides it is beneficial for them to do so. I would be willing to bet that the one book per month limit is the first thing to go. One book at a time, like Netflix, will make more sense to most users. But Amazon had to start somewhere, and they can afford to think about the very long term. Their point is to sell Kindles and to get more Prime Members. (And now, to win the probable court case.)

What members of the general public have to say is quite informative. Amazon has a lot of mindshare and the lending program has generated a lot of interest. Lending books for no additional charge used to be one service that libraries offered that was not available on the net. It was a counter to the argument that “why do we need libraries, everything is on the net now?”

The Amazon Lending Library publicity means that people know there are other alternatives on the net for borrowing books. Just because that alternative is not available to everyone now, doesn’t mean that it can’t be expanded later. And people who are making the argument to cut library funding will NOT dive into that detail. The sound bite will be enough.

Libraries do lend ebooks, and thanks to services like OverDrive and Project Gutenberg, a library’s collection can be larger and more diverse than Amazon’s, especially since OverDrive was more careful about actually securing rights instead of just assuming it could do whatever it felt like.

But commenters on the Amazon kerfuffle make the point over and over that if a user wants anything popular from the library, they have to get on a long wait list. No one likes that. What Amazon is offering, limited as it appears to a librarian, is available to any qualified user who wants it, right now. The whole point of ebooks is that a reader can have what they want, when and where they want it.

Over on Librarian by Day, a lot of statistics are used to make the case Why Amazon’s Lending Library is Not a Threat to Public Libraries. The problem is that these kind of statistics don’t move people. Sound bites and stories move people. Every statistic is absolutely correct, and it all sounds like “preaching to the choir”. Anyone who is already convinced that libraries are necessary will be swayed by these facts. Anyone who wants to believe that we can all be replaced by an electronic device, or who just loves bright, shiny toys, or who is simply willing to be convinced because they want to lower their taxes, is going to follow the marketing, and Amazon does great marketing.

We can expect that Amazon will learn from the rollout of its lending program, make changes, and improve it, making it more attractive to its users.  But as was asked over at the E-Content blog at American Libraries, “Can we learn from it?

Amazon presents a challenge to libraries, not because this particular service is better than what libraries currently offer, but just because they generate a huge amount of press and they used the word “library” in their announcement. But what will we as librarians make of this challenge?

Amazon wants to be your library

We’ve all read the news by now. Amazon has gone into the library business. And as the Baltimore Sun described it on November 3, this is bad news for libraries.

Amazon’s announcement on November 3 of the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library is a masterpiece of marketing. But the service it offers, at the price point that Amazon is willing to provide it, is a direct shot across the bow of every public library in America.

Any Amazon Prime customer is automatically a subscriber to the new service. There is just one catch. The service only works if you have an actual Kindle! No Kindle app users need apply.

But an Amazon Prime subscription only costs $79 per year, and includes pretty much the same video streaming as Netflix, in addition to 2-day shipping on everything in the Amazon marketplace. For people who do a lot of their shopping through Amazon, this is a great deal. I’m not currently one of those people, but the Netflix to Amazon comparison may make it worthwhile on that cost alone. I can’t say we’re not thinking about it.

The current cost of the lowest price Kindle is $79. That’s a one time cost. Has anyone noticed that three of the very prominently displayed titles in the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library are The Hunger Games Trilogy? This can’t be a coincidence. The Hunger Games ebooks are not available to libraries through OverDrive. They are available as audio through OverDrive, but not as ebooks. Scholastic does have a deal with Amazon to lend through their lending program, but not through public libraries.

Currently, the “Big Six” publishers do not participate in Amazon’s lending library. That’s Random House, Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin and Hachette. But then, two of those six, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster, don’t participate in the library lending space, and HarperCollins’ participation brings up the number 26 and a whole lot of curse words.

But the lending library program is merely another string in Amazon’s bow. Let’s look at what it is again. Any Kindle owner who is already part of Prime Services can borrow one book per month for 30 days, no overdue fees and no hold queues. No muss, no fuss, no additional charges, on a platform they are already familiar with.

What Amazon gets out of this transaction is data, which is also what they get out of allowing Kindle users to borrow OverDrive ebooks from the libraries. They get more data about what people are reading on their Kindles, and they get the opportunity to sell them more Kindle books targeted to them based on that data. Amazon wins big on this.

But I have to contrast the Amazon service with a recent experience at a local library. I decided to finally read the second book in an older mystery series, the Ian Rutledge series by Charles Todd. I listened to Test of Will on a car trip, liked it, and wanted to find Wings of Fire. The library didn’t have it, I don’t want to own it, so I tried interlibrary loan. ILL costs $2. The ebook only costs $7.99. I almost bought it, but I still don’t have a need to own it, and organizing my ebooks is getting to be a chore. I wasn’t worried about how long it would take for the book to arrive, so the month it took to get here was no big deal.

I have three weeks to read it. Not a serious problem for me, I’m used to shorter deadlines, but a nuisance. On the other hand, there’s a 20 cent per day fee if it’s overdue. Since I know the ebook cost $7.99, I’m starting to wonder why I didn’t just buy it, except I’ve already paid $2. And there’s a bookmark in the book to let me know that if I lose or damage the book I’ll automatically be charged $50 until my library settles up with the library that actually owns the book. Since the copy I have is the hardcover, that wouldn’t be $50, but it would be more than $7.99. Obviously, I need to keep the cats away from the book.

I understand about cost recovery. I’ve made all those arguments myself. And multiple times, at that. But I still won’t do another ILL for a book that’s available for under $10 as an ebook. Why? Because the experience is all negative from my perspective. I place the request, and I wait. The book comes in, and I have to figure out when the branch it’s at is open, which is a big issue here. I pay for the ILL, and then I get served with a series of warnings, because the presumption is that I will do something wrong. Those warning labels are attached to the book, just in case I forget them. Then I have to return the book, or I will have to pay again.

The Amazon experience is neutral or positive, and this is true for any ebook purchase from Barnes and Noble and Google and Apple as well. The book is there or it isn’t. Amazon has the special case of the lending library. So someone can borrow it or they can’t. If it’s available for purchase, and I’m willing to pay, I buy it. It automatically downloads to my device, which is already set up from my previous purchases. I’m done. No further charges, no need to go anywhere, no warnings, no fines, no delays. And some potentially helpful suggestions about other books I might like. I’m free to browse further or ignore them and dive into my new book.

Libraries need to be different and good and positive about it. Always. All the time. Whenever we face the public. Are we? If we’re not, Amazon has the potential to do to us what they helped do to Borders.

Bye bye Borders

It’s time to say “Goodbye” to Borders. And, like the quote from T.S. Eliot, the bookstore giant seems to be ending, “not with a bang, but with a whimper.”

It began with a glad cry, at least on the part of a lot of book lovers. I remember when the first Borders opened in the Chicago exurbs. At that time, probably in the early 1990s, it was fantastic! There were truly marvelous bookstores in downtown Chicago at that time (the late, lamented Kroch’s and Brentano’s on Wabash comes to mind) but way out in the ‘burbs, the only bookstores were Walden’s and B.Dalton’s. If you wanted the best sellers, they were fine, but for a genre reader, they always left something to be desired. For true discovery, or simply just to browse for hours in utter contentment, an expedition downtown was required.  Downtown Chicago meant an hour driving each way, navigating traffic, paying for parking, etc., etc. It could be done, but it required some planning. It was an expedition.

Borders brought a real, total, complete bookstore, with the depth of Kroch’s, or close enough, within 15 minutes. And free parking. I could stop by whenever I wanted. It was bliss. If I found a book I liked, and it was part of a series, they usually had the whole series. Rack upon rack of magazines, in all kinds of esoteric subjects. Borders represented the instant gratification of this biblioholic’s desires, transplanted to suburbia.

But the bloom fell off the proverbial rose. Barnes & Noble moved in down the street. In many cases, quite literally.  Just like Walgreens moves in near CVS or Rite-Aid, and Safeway opens its grocery chain across from the Kroger’s or the Publix, B&N moved in near Borders. But B&N learned from Borders and outdid them. The B&N built a bigger parking lot. Or picked a location with slightly better traffic. And Barnes & Noble started a discount program. Borders never seemed to figure out how good an idea that was. Instead, Borders dropped the loyalty programs that B.Dalton’s and Walden’s used to have. B&N picked up goodwill, and Borders started generating badwill. The snowball began its slide down the hill.

The pattern repeated itself when bookselling moved online. Amazon became the world’s, possibly the universe’s, biggest bookseller. Barnes & Noble started their own online bookstore. Amazon discounts books sold online. B&N’s in-store discount program is also applicable online. What did Borders do? They gave away their online bookselling to Amazon. They gave away their future. And so they are gone

Now the future is in ebooks and online sales. Amazon sells more ebooks than it does print books of all kinds, paperback or hardcover. So does B&N. Barnes & Noble is Amazon’s remaining challenger in the bookselling marketplace. And is it any wonder that B&N’s CEO works from the headquarters of, and not from the old, traditional headquarters of the bookstore division that all of his predecessors have used? The future is in selling many more bits than books.

Amazoogle Affiliates

Not too long ago, a friend asked whether I was planning to include the “buy from Amazon” link in my blog posts. I had recommended several books that he wanted to buy, and he thought I should get some credit, or possibly blame, for it. This was a definitely not bad idea, but since I’m much more agnostic about where I purchase my own books, I needed to think on the whole thing for a bit.

I currently have a substantial credit from Powell’s for all the books we sold to them. It is good (it is excellent) at the Google ebookstore as long as I enter through the Powell’s site, since Powell’s is a Google Books affiliate. When I purchase print books, I tend to buy from Barnes and Noble, they ship faster without having to purchase an additional membership. So I understand completely why someone would want to buy their books or ebooks from someone other than Amazon. Logo - 125x40

And my interest has always been in the story, not where the book gets purchased. But I still liked the idea of putting in the link, because the idea of making it easy for people to get the book (or especially ebook) while they were thinking about it seemed cool. So, I started the process with all the vendors.

It turns out that Amazon makes it really, really easy to become an affiliate and link back from the blog to Amazon. No wonder they have so many affiliates! The tools are a piece of cake. So yes, if you click on a link within a new post, it will link to Amazon and I will get credit. There is also a link on the right hand side.

Barnes and Noble made it easy to get the affiliate account, but the tools to build links are not quite as easy. So, if B&N is your flavor of choice, there is a link on the right. eHarlequin uses the same affiliate vetting service as B&N. It’s apparently a small world. And since I review a fair number of Carina Press books, and Carina is an imprint of Harlequin, it was easy to sign up for that at the same time.

eharelquin - romance and escape for less

Becoming a Google Books affiliate is a surprisingly long process. It’s a three-stage process, which makes it sound rather like a rocket launch. There’s the Google AdSense application, Then the Google Affiliate Network application, and then the Google Bookstore Affiliate application. I’m stuck at the Google Bookstore part.

The hits to the book just keep on coming

There  have been a lot of announcements this week that have made an awful lot of folks in an awful lot of places sound like Chicken Little announcing that, “the sky is falling, the sky is falling!”

In Publisher’s Weekly, there was a report that ebook sales were up 169% in January and February 2011 over previous year sales, and that March was also up 145.7%. In real money, for the first quarter of 2011, e-book sales were up 159.8%, to $233.1 million for the 16 publishers who report figures to the American Association of Publishers (AAP). And mass market paperback sales were only $123.3 million for the first quarter for the same group. Still money I’d like to have in my pocket, but the trend line is pretty clear.

Also yesterday, Amazon announced that sales of Kindle books have outstripped sales of hardcover and paperbooks combined.  For every 100 print books that they sell, they sell 105 Kindle books. And Amazon was very clear in the announcement that they meant sell, not give away.  Free Kindle books were not included in that 105 number, only actual sales. It does seem to include sales of Kindle books where there is no print edition, but that would be perfectly fair, since the print sales would include books where there is no Kindle edition. As Amazon points out, the Kindle was only introduced in November 2007. This revolution has happened in only 3.5 years.  Gutenberg must be absolutely spinning in his grave.

Ironically, the place I first saw the announcement was on aarlist2, a yahoo group that discusses romance novels. And most of the commentary was negative.  This is ironic because the romance genre readership as a whole has embraced electronic publishing, and there are several publishing houses that are e-only. Harlequin‘s entire current catalog is published simultaneously in epub and print, and they have an imprint (Carina Press) that is e-only.

Which brings me to the third announcement of the week. Early in the week, Library Journal and NetGalley announced that LJ would be including reviews of ebook only releases in Xpress Reviews, starting with romance.  Romance ebooks are the hottest genre among ebook readers in public libraries.  At my LPOW, romance ebook circulation was double-plus the next nearest contending genre. Anything I purchased circulated, and the hotter, the better. But without any review source whatsoever, I was purchasing based on tiny blurbs in OverDrive. It was pretty much guesswork. Getting something out there in the review space should be a good thing. (Full disclosure, I am one of the reviewers for LJ)

As a side note to the Amazon announcement, they also touted that the new Kindle with Special Offers, in other words, the Kindle with lots of advertisements, is now the best selling Kindle on the market. In order to save $25, people are willing to have ads pushed at them with their books. Indefinitely. There is an article in the latest issue of Fast Company about Morgan Spurlock’s new movie. The article is called, “I’m with the brand,” and it’s all about how product placement works in movies and TV. This new Kindle is just more of the same, except it’s not just a one hour TV show or a two hour movie, it’s every book ever read on it. I’d pay an extra $50 to be let out. But then, that’s why I bought an iPad. I only have to gaze at the little Apple every once in a while.