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.

BEA, Google and the future of books

In other news this week, Book Expo America (BEA) has been happening in New York City. And the hot topic for the week has been–surprise–ebooks! That’s not to say that the usual business of the show, the distribution of galleys for upcoming books, particularly lit fic, did not occur, but the biggest buzz seems to have been around the topics of ebooks and ebook selling, and how to replicate the experience of bookstore handselling in an increasingly ereader- and online-driven world.

Books, whether print books or ebooks, are sold in only a few ways. You have read the author previously, and you like their work, so you buy the next one. (Baen books exploits this by giving away the first couple of ebooks in their authors’ series for free in the Baen Free Library.) The book appears on a bestseller list, so you know that other people are reading and recommending it, so it might be worth reading. A friend or colleague recommends it, otherwise known as “word-of-mouth”. You go to a bookstore and someone there recommends it, known as “handselling”. Librarians also hand0-recommend books. Last, you go to a “bricks and mortar” bookstore and browse the shelves where you see the book, find the cover interesting, read the cover blurb, and decide to take a chance and buy the book.

According to the reports from BEA, that last one, the serendipitous discovery, is also the way that most people decide to purchase ebooks as well. My favorite comment was a quote from David Steinberger, the CEO of Perseus. He said that, “What e-book sellers have now, is a system that’s ‘good for hunters, but not as good for gatherers’: it’s easy to find a book if you know what you’re looking for, but the virtual world offers nothing for the casual browser comparable to the bricks-and-mortar experience.”

However, for the ebook producers, the revolution is a positive one. Sales are up. In fact, the mid-list sales are particularly up. Those hunters that Steinberger referred to are finding more of the stuff they are hunting for, because all those predictions about the long tail are not just working, but the long tail is even longer than predicted. And when hunters have the entire world to hunt in, niche publications turn out to have an even better chance of finding their audiences.

But that gets back to the question, “how do they know?” How does a new author get buzz? Amazon reported earlier this month, and the New York Times article about BEA echoed it today, that owners of ereaders buy more books. But how do they, how do we, decide which books to buy?

In the Publishers Weekly article about BEA, Tom Turvey, Google’s own director of strategic partnerships,  asked why “all book recommendation engines suck before answering his own question: “there isn’t an algorithm that can compete with a competent, real-life bookseller.” Something that could easily be added here is a competent, real-life librarian.

There are a lot of long-term issues here all the way around. Independent bookstores do a terrific job of handselling, but their ability to link into ebook selling is lagging behind. They can partner with Google Books (Powell’s Bookstore does) but Google doesn’t allow the independents to advertise, at least not yet. However, discovery on the Google bookstore is less than optimal, as I have discovered myself. If I know what I want, it works fine. If I’m browsing from my iPad, I use Barnes and Noble–their bricks and mortar experience helps a lot.

Part of the BEA story was that children’s books have not seriously moved toward ebooks as yet. Picture books just don’t lend themselves to the format, and if the goal is to read with a child, cuddling up with the kid on your lap to read from an ereader while looking at the pictures together just doesn’t work yet.

Another piece of the BEA story concerned regional availability. The publishers are still hung up on the idea that some books can only be sold in certain parts of the world, even when that world is online. There was some understanding that this concept’s days are numbered. I sincerely hope so. In the bad old days, meaning, Terry Pratchett’s books used to come out 6 months earlier in the UK than they did in the US. I don’t know how much revenue his US publisher lost to the UK the first couple of years after it became relatively easy for fans to simply order the new book from if you were willing to have it shipped. But the 6 month delay nonsense stopped pretty quickly. If I am willing to pay for an ebook, and an ebook exists in English, and is available for sale in Canada or Australia or the UK, but is not available for sale in the US, my first question is going to be why can’t I buy it here? My second question is going to be how can I solve this problem?

One last interesting possibility. Google threw out a teaser that they might rent ebooks a la Netflix. Is that the good news, or the bad news?

Whither used books?

Over the weekend, the great weeding project of 2011 finally got started.  This is a fairly daunting task, as this is an 1,800 sq. ft house, and there are books in every room except the laundry room.  At least, I’m pretty sure there are no books in the laundry room.  When we moved here, we rented a house this size in order to finally have enough room to shelve all the books.  And, we still didn’t make it past the letter R.

In about a day and a half, Galen and I went through 935 books, shifted over 600, and boxed over 300.  The process temporarily halted at the late, and sometimes great, Robert A. Heinlein. 

Library Thing LogoWe’ve added everything to Library Thing, whether we’ve kept it or not, and tagged it appropriately, hence the statistics.  (If anyone is interested in our process, just ask)  The fascinating thing about the listings has been the automatic suggestions that the collection has generated.  So many of the suggestions are books that we do have, they are just later in the alphabet.  But the others, well, just what I needed, a neat new toy to play with that will generate even more TBRs. 

The question about what to do with the books we have weeded, and why we are weeding them, circles back to the questions about the aftermarket of used books in general.  These are books.  They are still readable, and someone can still get still get lost in them.  But how do we effectively get rid of this many?  And what happens to used book stores and sales in the future, when more and more readers like us read ebooks instead of paper.  The news last week showed that ebooks sold more than print books in February.  We, the reading public, have reached the tipping point.

The Friends of the Library here is having their semi-annual book sale this weekend.  It is a five-day event that will probably bring in over $150,000 for the group.  They are extremely successful, rightfully so, and fund literacy projects in the community in addition to the work they do with the local library.  What happens to groups like this in 3-5 years when readers no longer have book collections to donate?  People will still want books to read, but where will those books come from?  I suspect I am like many ebook readers, in that what I am interested in is the content and not the container.  But I can’t re-sell or donate my used ebooks when I am done with them.  The long term implications of this trend are staggering.

Powells LogoMeanwhile, we have a “metric buttload” of books to get rid of, and it’s growing nightly.  The local used book store will only give cash for hardcovers and trade paperbacks, with a store credit for mass market paperbacks.  While I understand their position, since we are leaving for Atlanta in six weeks, a store credit doesn’t help much.  Powell’s Books in Portland, OR will buy books online based on the ISBN.  Admittedly, Powell’s is also giving a store credit, but the store is online, so it is much easier to spend.  And they now do ebooks through the Google bookstore.  We still haven’t used the credit from last time, but we’re going to do that again. With the addition of the ebook option, the credit won’t last long.

Book Mooch logoI’m also going to try Book Mooch for some of what Powell’s doesn’t take.  This is a service where you get credit for listing your books, and you pay shipping to send the book to the person who wants it, and get credit for that transaction, too.  In return, I can receive books I want from other people, based on my accumulated credit.  A friend recommends this service, so I’m interested in trying it, especially for the long term possibilities.  There are just too many books in the short term to deal with the shipping charges–success might be it’s own punishment!

We will not throw any books away.  Whatever we can’t send to Powell’s or doesn’t look like a candidate to be Mooched will go to the Friends of the Library as soon as they re-open for donations.  It takes them a little while to recuperate after one of their sales extravaganzas.

I thought it would make it easier to pass along some of these books if I just kept a record of what I had read, but it isn’t.  Even reduced by a third, this will still be a big personal library.  And I recognize that some of these books are ones that I won’t pick up again, and that there is someone out there who will enjoy them if I let them go.  But damn, it’s hard.