2015 New Year’s Predictions – Book Authors & Publishers

Winter Woodland Book, ID 36123304 © Christopher Elwell, Dreamstime.com

Winter Woodland Book, ID 36123304 © Christopher Elwell, Dreamstime.com

Baby, it’s cold outside.

That’s the consensus of most observers offering insights about the state of book publishing, not to mention writing, as 2014 turns to 2015. Several common themes emerge: We’re still edgy about the Amazon-Hachette battle, and keeping an eye on the 800-pound amoeba as it morphs and divides. We’re concerned about book sales in multi formats leveling off and in some cases falling.  We’re seeing more dependence on data, a sharper focus on discoverability, and greater ingenuity and persistence in seeking new tactics, platforms, and tools.

Here for your reading pleasure is Boom-Books’s small but juicy holiday sampler of new-year predictions.

Mark Coker of Smashwords celebrates the self-publishing boom his company has enabled. This is an exciting time of democratization, of opening the long-gated book community for writers and readers alike. On the down side, “Recent years of exponential ebook growth have given way to a new normal of slower growth, greater competition and disruptive business models and power struggles.” smashwords growth 2008-2014Coker offers 12 predictions, ending with:
“Success is all about best practices. . . . 1. You must write a super-awesome “wow” book that takes the reader to an emotional, satisfying extreme (this applies to fiction and non-fiction).  2.  Your books should be professionally edited and proofed  3.  A great cover image makes your book more discoverable and more desirable to your target reader. . .  4. Give your book a fair price.  5.  Release your book as a preorder . . . one of the most powerful merchandising tools today. . . .  6.  Avoid exclusivity and distribute your book widely.  7.  Write another book, rinse and repeat.”

In The Digital Reader, Nate Hoffelder suggests that wide reports of falling book sales undermine Coker’s relatively cheery advice. Should we blame the glut of self-published books? Kindle Unlimited? Regardless of cause, he sees three effects:Carti2-bookglut
One, the days of releasing the first title in a series as permafree have passed. All that accomplishes now is to flood the market and make it harder to sell ebooks.
Two, the idea of writing and publishing your next book as the best marketing strategy is also going to have to be reconsidered.
Three, getting in to or out of Kindle Unlimited isn’t nearly as important as some thought it was a few weeks ago. . . This problem is affecting authors both in and out of KU.”

Another factor likely to limit Amazon’s stranglehold on the book business, according to Digital Book World and others, is Apple’s bundling iBooks into its new iOS 8 operating system.

Non-U.S. commentators often are less intimidated by Amazon than Americans are, a perspective Marcello Vena shares with DBW:
“In U.S. and UK, Amazon’s leadership can’t be challenged in the short term. However, its market share is so great that growing more quickly than the market is a hard thing for Amazon, too. . . . Tolino-Vision-eReader-435909Elsewhere, though, Amazon is . . . present in only a relatively small number of countries compared with those where Apple, Google and Kobo are already established. . . . [Also] Amazon sometimes faces strong local competition . . . [e.g., as in] Germany, where the local ebook-only player, Tolino, has recently taken the lead with an astonishing 45% market share of ebook sales in the third quarter of 2014.”

On the other hand, Vena notes, the reason Amazon has become such a feared competitor is its deep-pocket innovativeness:
“Amazon itself is full of internal start-ups and experiments. As CEO Jeff Bezos says, the company invests billions of dollars in failures (and not just in the book business, of course). I would not be surprised if the next big thing is Amazon disrupting parts of itself.”

What are your reactions to these predictions? What surprises do you predict 2015 will bring to publishers and authors?

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Kindle Scout Awards First Book Contracts…and the Winners Are?


by CJ Verburg


Love this! Raul Lemesoff converted a 1979 Ford Falcon into a tank bookmobile which he drives around Buenos Aires, offering books to anyone.

Amazon’s tanks rolled across a new literary border two months ago in the form of Kindle Scout. Here’s part of the launch announcement from the KS website:
“Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books . . . where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate . . . and featured Amazon marketing.”

How it works: the author of a finished e-book in the romance, sci-fi/fantasy, or mystery/thriller/suspense genre posts it on the KS site. For one month, KS displays the cover, a 50-words-or-less headline, and an elevator pitch–all supplied by the author–along with a read more link which readers (“scouts”) can click for a 5,000-word excerpt. If a scout is impressed by this preview, s/he can click “Nominate Me.” Each scout can shelve three nominees at a time. When one of those ends its month, or if the scout finds another book s/he likes better, that nominee drops off the shelf. KS’s editors review the votes and the books and choose the best ones–which need not be the top vote-getters–for publication.

The first round of 13 winners appeared on the Kindle Scout website this week: Six in mystery/thriller, six in sci-fi/fantasy, and two in romance (one doubling in mystery).

KScout-firstwinnersAs a mystery writer and a former Big 5 editor and author, I’ve been watching Kindle Scout with interest. Of the four books I’ve nominated, all in the mystery/thriller/suspense category, three made the cut. (Yippee! Three free e-books!) The three winners I didn’t vote for are not to my taste: paranormal, horror, and a child-abuse thriller. TWELVE OF THE THIRTEEN winners–all but the non-mystery romance–have male authors.

As of today, Dec. 12, Kindle Scout contenders comprise 40 mystery/suspense/thrillers, 35 romances, and 29 sci-fi/fantasies. Male authors and violent themes predominate; even in the romance category, a quarter to a third of the authors appear to be male, and there’s a lot of overlap with mystery and paranormal. Do those numbers mean that more men than women so far are willing to try KS, or more men had a finished unpublished book ready to go, or . . .??? One thing it suggests to me is that Kindle Scout is a thus-far-overlooked option for female genre-fiction writers.

kindlepress-searchWho are the scouts? Anybody. Men, women, children, bots, Amazon (or Apple) staff; who knows? Who are the Kindle Press editors? No clue. What does “featured Amazon marketing” mean for the winning offers? Nary a hint. Try a Google search and you’ll find that Kindle Press itself currently falls in the sci-fi/fantasy category.

Other caveats? The big ones are cogently summarized by a comment on Digital Book World’s Oct. 14 e-announcement of Kindle Scout’s launch:

Let’s be clear that this 50% royalty is from net. so actually a less than 35% royalty from list price, or half what an author will get going it alone with KDP.

The $1,500 advance is pretty feeble to start with, and requires the author to supply the completed, edited, proofed and formatted file and cover, all at the author’s own cost.

The promise of \featured Amazon marketing\ means sweet FA on its own. Just a lure to unwary indies thinking they’ll get the same red carpet treatment the Amazon imprints get. Which begs the question why,if Amazon is seriously interested in these titles and will push them properly, they are being kept quite separate from the Amazon imprints.


. . . Amazon know as well as anyone that indies looking to game the system will get all their e-friends to vote up their books, so safe to say the crowdsourcing element is just for show. What Amazon will do is pick titles that look promising, or from indies with a track record – especially on other retailers – and pay out $1,500 to ensure these titles are exclusive with Amazon and not on other retailers for the next five years.

. . . Selling at $4.99 Amazon will need to sell just 462 copies to make back the advance it paid out. The author will have to sell 1,200 to pay back the advance before they see another cent.

Ebook Bargains . . . point out a point I’d failed to notice. Authors end up paying back that $1500 advance with their first income. Even if modestly successful, authors may find themselves waiting a year or more after publication before they earn a penny.

To that I would counter that for many indie authors, selling 1200 copies in a year is a big enough uptick to be worth halving the potential royalty per book. Strong sales of one book are (A) likely to boost sales of other titles, and (B) preferable to the freebie alternative. Also, since the author retains print rights, s/he can recoup some of that so-called loss by issuing the book in paperback. Amazon does offer a (fairly lame) bail-out clause for the disappointed: “If you do not earn at least $25,000 during any 5-year term, you’ll have six months after the end of that 5-year period in which you can choose to stop publishing with us and request your rights back.”

8ballOn the other hand, Amazon’s long and sometimes ambiguous contract includes some fine-print clauses an author may later regret, such as this one:
“You acknowledge that we have no obligation to publish, market, distribute or offer for sale your Work, or continue publishing, marketing, distributing or selling your Work after we have started doing so. We may stop publishing your Work and cease further exploitation of the rights granted in this Agreement at any time in our sole discretion without notice to you.”

Conclusions? I’m tentatively planning to submit my next genre-series book to Kindle Scout, in the hope it will (1) win, bringing great fanfare and skyrocketing sales, and (2) publicize my other books, which have great reviews but low visibility. I figure, they’re only asking for 50,000+ words, not exactly The Goldfinch or War and Peace, and if they don’t accept this one, no loss.  Before I try it, though, I’m waiting for Kindle Press to go tangible and show my winning nominees some of that “featured Amazon marketing.”

What do you think? Have you tried Kindle Scout, or do you intend to? Why or why not?

The Emerald City

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Romance, Suspense, & International Intrigue – Hot New Audiobook!


LCCCaudio240It’s here! — the long-awaited audiobook of Charisse Howard’s 5-star sizzling, suspenseful high-seas romance Lady Caroline, the Corsair’s Captive.

Traveling with her parents in North Africa, Lady Caroline Grantby is literally swept off her feet by the dashing Comte de Gilordeau. But on their way home to London and happily-ever-after, the newlyweds’ ship is attacked by Barbary corsairs. The twists and turns that follow will force Caroline to confront terrors beyond her imagination, and uncover a strength and a passion she never knew was inside her.

★★★★★  “A beautiful story! I loved loved it! The characters, the plot, even the ending was awesome!” — NRB, Smashwords

Will your holiday travels be this exciting?

Make sure they are! Click here to find the brand-new 3.5-hour audiobook or the e-book on Amazon, iTunes, & Audible (free for Amazon Prime, Kindle Unlimited, or Audible members).

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Crimes & Chimes: Party Weekend for Mystery & Music Lovers!


What fun would winter be without a fireplace, some Baroque brass and choral music, and a good mystery to curl up with on these long dark nights?




On Saturday, Dec. 6, lift a glass, a cookie, and a hot new crime fiction novel with a bookshop full of Northern California authors. It’s Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America’s joint holiday party, free and open to the public, 2-4 PM at Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia (near 20th St).


On Sunday, Dec. 7, find out more about Handel’s Messiah at a free listening lecture by Dr. Carl Blake, 1-2:30 PM at The Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples, 2041 Larkin St. (near Broadway). A reception will follow in this beautiful 1906 landmark Russian Hill building.


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New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers & Writers, part 2


gauguin-fullWhoby CJ Verburg

Who are we?
Where do we come from?
Where are we going?
The questions Paul Gauguin asked in this painting have been buzzing around the book industry for the past decade. Fifteen years into our new century, some answers have emerged. The dominant theme remains CHANGE; the dominant factor remains the shift in control of the publishing industry from literary experts to technology companies.

KnopfAs I noted last week, in Part One of this Nov. 19 presentation at San Francisco’s Mechanics’ Institute Library, traditional publishers and print books aren’t dead. They’re not even moribund–they earn more than $14 billion a year.  While most of the classic 20th-century publishing houses have been merged into the Big Five mega-houses, new and (usually) specialized small publishers continue to sprout and thrive. YouveGotMailThe big-box booksellers that steamrolled so many indie bookshops in the last century are gone or languishing, replaced by book sections in mall and airport stores as well as by resurging neighborhood bookshops. Some of these now sell e-books as well, whose sales are booming.

Basically, what’s happened is that more people are reading more books. Book publishing is not a zero-sum game, thank goodness. The challenge is, with half a million new books coming out every year, how do you as a reader find the ones you’ll like? And how do you as a writer find your readers?

This loops us back to the irony I mentioned last week: For an author, writing the book is just the beginning. Most of the job these days is marketing.GauguinWhoRWe-cropt One of the first questions an agent or editor typically asks a prospective author is Do you have a platform?–that is, do you have a strong social media presence? a website, a blog, thousands of followers on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere on the Internet. You know and I know that you can buy ten thousand followers with a click and a credit card, and they’re not potential buyers of your book or anyone else’s; they’re sweatshop workers. But publishers are gatekeepers, and they need some way to decide who’s in and who’s out. When a psychologist friend of mine tried to parlay his nonfiction success into a novel contract, he was told he’d have a better chance if he were a serial killer.

FarrarStrausGThe up side is that publishers have finally recognized that if they want to stay in the game, they have to add value. Book-buyers look for Jane Austen or Stephen King on the cover; they don’t look for Macmillan or Simon & Schuster on the spine. Traditional publishers do offer the advantage of an expert staff, including sales reps and marketing departments. LB-logoBut as Betty Kelly Sargent reported last week in Publishers Weekly,“Self-publishers have become sophisticated marketers–finding and connecting with their readers through social media, Amazon, and by selling directly from their websites in ways never possible before.” They have to–between 2008 and 2013, the number of self-published books climbed 437 percent.

So on the one hand, publishing houses have circled the wagons: self-published books are still shut out of many literary awards, organizations, and bookstores. On the other hand, the Big 5 look at self-publishing as a sort of farm team, between agent submissions and the slush pile. As of now, most of the top-selling self-published authors started out as traditionally published authors; and the most successful author category is the hybrid, who publishes both ways.

Harper Collins took the farm-team idea another step by creating the website Authonomy, where writers can post a book and readers can vote for which ones should go all the way to the editor’s desk. A couple weeks ago, Amazon trumped that concept. Quoting from the website: “Kindle Scout is reader-powered publishing for new, never-before-published books . . . where readers help decide if a book gets published. Selected books will be published by Kindle Press and receive 5-year renewable terms, a $1,500 advance, 50% eBook royalty rate . . . and featured Amazon marketing.”KindleScout That could be a game-changer. What Amazon’s doing is cutting out both publishers and agents. The burden is on the author to write, design, and produce an outstanding e-book; but for the chosen few, the 800-pound gorilla will help with the marketing.

What makes Kindle Scout so brilliant and scary is that it plays into the current publishing trend known as Social. Social is the kind of readers and writers exchange you find on Web hubs like Goodreads, LinkedIn groups, or Kindleboards. Simon Dunlop, who’s launched a subscription service in Russia called Bookmate, says Social is his big draw. His customers are less interested in the unlimited books than the Goodreads-type features, such as groups, recommendations, and author pages.

scribdpxAmazon bought Goodreads, so they obviously think Social is hot. How hot subscription services are, is hard to say; they’re still pretty new and kind of groping for a niche. Amazon launched its version, Kindle Unlimited, in July. In case you missed it, the idea is Netflix for books: for $10 a month you get all the e-books you can read, up to 10 at a time. Their competitor Oyster just added Social in the form of Booklists. Their press release describes these as playlists, like on Spotify; I’d call them bookshelves, like on Goodreads. It’s sort of back to the future, like the Samsung Galaxy Note. OMG, a cellphone you can write on, just like a pen and paper! oysterlogo

I don’t think Oyster and Scribd and Bookmate are like Netflix as much as they’re like your local library. Right in this building, you can get all the books you want. Paper books, and e-books too. Also audiobooks, music, and movies. And talk about social! Look around.

IndiePcakeSSo, have fun tonight. You’re on the cutting edge.

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New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers & Writers, part 1


If you missed Boom-Books author CJ Verburg’s panel presentation last night at San Francisco’s Mechanics Institute Library, here’s Part 1. Part 2 next week.

MILNov19-revSI want to focus on the digital end, since that’s where the action is. And since this is a short presentation, I’ll be making some large generalizations.

The first and most important one comes from info-techno wizard Peter Brantley. Book publishing in the 21st century is run by geeks, not by publishers. This is important. How we read, and to a great extent what we read, is no longer shaped by literary experts in New York and London, but by techies at Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. To that I would add: It’s also shaped by marketing experts more than writers.

The publishing revolution started with print-on-demand. Up until the 2000s, publishers had to gamble on how many copies of a book to print, based on expected sales. Digital printing ended that. Now you don’t have to print any books until somebody orders one. And that meant a writer didn’t HAVE to have a publisher to become a published author.


Ángela Ruiz Robles invented her Mechanical Encyclopedia in 1949. (Daily Mail; http://ow.ly/EC0W1)

The next major turning point was e-books. Over my years in publishing, I watched electronic reading gadgets come and go. Like cell phones: the early ones were too big, too clunky, too expensive, and people didn’t see the need. Not any more. You can’t go a month without some new digital device popping up to let you read, buy, and (more and more) borrow books.

From 2010 to 2011, ebook sales doubled.

Author and blogger Hugh Howey reported some amazing figures a couple weeks ago. According to New Republic, between 2008 and 2012, U.S. net income from print books (hardcover and paperback) fell from $10,420,000,000 to $10,003,000,000. That’s a $417 million loss. In the same period, ebook revenue went from $64,000,000 to $3,062,000,000. That’s a GAIN of almost 3 billion dollars. Just this morning, Digital Book World reported that some analysts predict ebooks will overtake print books by 2018.

Back in January 2011, when our Indie Publishers group started, most writers’ goal was to hold a book in their hand with their name on the cover. Next thing we knew, it’s the Wild West: ebooks, audiobooks, interactive books. Now that the dust is settling, what’s left?

EGOS_wpInteractive books never really caught on, outside of specialized nonfiction. When I published my multimedia memoir Edward Gorey On Stage in June 2012, with links to rare film clips and music, what people liked best was the text and pictures. The potential customers for so-called enhanced ebooks mostly stayed with video games, or some combination of ebook, TV series, and film. That’s a hot trend, in fact — about half of recent top-selling e-books have a TV or film tie-in.

Moving up fast are audiobooks, thanks to multitasking: people like to listen to a book while they commute, or do chores, or work out. According to Jared Friedman, co-founder of the ebook subscription service Scribd, “Being able to switch between an audiobook and an ebook version of the same title has been one of subscribers’ top feature requests” ever since they launched. Scribd has just added 30,000 audiobooks to its list, moving ahead of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited. Barnes & Noble’s Nook, which left the audiobook business, just announced they’re getting back in.

Meanwhile, printed books are alive and well. Publishers still sign up authors; they don’t edit manuscripts like they used to, but they still design them and print them and sell them. The big-box bookstores took a hit, but the smaller bookshops they replaced are coming back. Libraries have added computer terminals, but you can see, the stacks are still full.

Basically, what’s happened is that more people are reading more books. Book publishing is not a zero-sum game; thank goodness. The challenge is, with half a million new books coming out every year, how do you as a reader find the ones you’ll like? And how do you as a writer find your readers?


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San Francisco Book Events, November – Free & Open to the Public




Wednesday, November 19 is the Indie Publishers’ Working Group’s gala year-end publishing party and panel discussion at SF’s Mechanics’ Institute Library. Four authors will talk about New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers and Writers, followed by a Q&A, a book raffle, and an opportunity to look at and buy memoirs, novels, poetry, and more by MIL’s diverse and gifted members. Come celebrate the group’s fourth and final anniversary with books and ideas, wine and snacks, from 6 to 7:30 PM in the 4th-floor cafe and meeting room, 57 Post St. (near Montgomery station).




Sunday, November 23 is the Telegraph Hill Dwellers’ celebration of neighborhood authors at Naked Lunch (504 Broadway, formerly Enrico’s, legendary hangout of 20th-century North Beach writers). Listen to local poets, novelists, historians, and more read from and talk about their work; soak up the literary vibe; eat, drink, schmooze, and be merry; and maybe you’ll wrap up your holiday shopping in one mellow afternoon!

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Bay Area Book Events for October and November


dragonclrHear Ye! The October book boom continues, even as November events poise to leap into the Bay Area literary arena.

If you were hoping to catch Irish writer Colm Toibin’s appearance at the Mechanics’ Institute, too late–it came, it went, it sold out. Here’s the good news: tonight, October 29, A.C.T. opens the latest stage version of Toibin’s novel The Testament of Mary, now titled Testament, starring Seana McKenna as the mother of Jesus.

Also tonight is Martin Amis at the Mechanics’ Institute in conversation with Elizabeth Rosner about his new book The Zone of Interest.

This coming Saturday, November 1, Sisters In Crime (NorCal) partners with Books Inc. at Opera Plaza for its Fall Authors Showcase. Ten SinC members will read from mysteries, thrillers, romantic suspense, et al. they’ve published since June. Stop by Books Inc. at 600 Van Ness from noon to 2 PM on Nov. 1 to enjoy food for thought, food for munching, good company, and intriguing plots.

wine & wordsWednesday, November 19 is the Indie Publishers’ Working Group’s gala year-end publishing party and panel discussion at SF’s Mechanics’ Institute Library. Four authors will talk about New Tricks for 21st-Century Readers and Writers, followed by a Q&A and an opportunity to look at and buy books by various MIL members. Come celebrate the group’s fourth and final anniversary with books and ideas, wine and snacks, from 6 to 7:30 PM in the 4th-floor cafe and meeting room, 57 Post St. (near Montgomery station).

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Good-By Kindle Unlimited, Welcome Back iTunes, Smashwords, et al.


Emerald CityWhen Amazon launched its Kindle Unlimited $9.99-a-month book subscription program in July, we decided to give it a whirl. For three months (the required minimum sign-up), most of our e-books were sold exclusively on KU. Results? An uptick in profits, but not enough to re-up for. As of this weekend, Boom-Books can be purchased on Smashwords, iTunes, ARe/OmniLit, and Kindle Limited, as well as the nonexclusive $8.99-a-month book subscription service Scribd, with Kobo, Nook, and others soon to follow.

Several factors besides money influenced the move. First: the ethical dilemma. More than one author has admitted: I hate Amazon, but I use it. So does economist Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times. Krugman, though, doesn’t just hate Amazon. He fears it, and believes it should be reined in: “Amazon.com, the giant online retailer, has too much power, and it uses that power in ways that hurt America.”

Random House first edition (1967) of the Marshall McLuhan classic.Second: the practical dilemma. Amazon already has taken a controlling position in the book industry (as Krugman notes). The question is less Will the company achieve a monopoly? than What can be done about it? and, of course, How much does it matter? We already know that

  • the tech revolution has whacked publishing like a tsunami;
  • the medium is shaping the message, in too many ways to list here;
  • as Peter Brantley pointed out years ago, the nature of 21st-century publishing is being determined by tech people, not book people.

If Amazon were reined in, would that bring back a Golden Age when a book is published for its content and prose quality rather than the author’s celebrity, and readers get suggestions from well-read bookstore clerks instead of from algorithms? Unlikely. What it probably would bring is the fast rise of Apple, Google, or some other online rival.

apple pythonSThat said, we would rather continue publishing as an ant in an arena of clashing titans than in an empty street loomed over by a single Godzilla.

One Amazon innovation we find particularly disturbing is the honey pot. Perhaps inevitably, electronic publishing has shifted the definition of terms like royalty and even book sales from literal to metaphoric. Amazon exploits this shift by paying its exclusive authors not a fixed percentage of their books’ earnings, but a share in a pool of money established by Amazon. If you as an author enroll a book you’ve written in Kindle Unlimited or KDP Select (Amazon Prime), you get a payment whenever a subscriber borrows your book (KDPS) or reads past the first 10% (KU). Those exchanges between producer and consumer are not, strictly speaking, book sales. Your customers only “own” your book for as long as they stay in the program, i.e., continue to pay Amazon’s monthly subscription fee.

Meanwhile, Amazon’s payments to you come from a discretionary fund which is not related to your book’s earnings. So far, the amount has been carefully kept above $1.50 per “borrow.” You might call these payments earnings, or bonuses, or (if you’re a cynic) bribes. Bottom line: Amazon has been investing $2-3 million a month to induce authors and small publishers to supply its subscribers with books. Most of the big publishers refuse to participate, so Amazon has to stock the pond somehow.

tunaBut what will happen once it’s full? The lure can be snatched away at any moment. Given that Amazon’s enormous revenues so far haven’t made it profitable, the company may well follow the same strategy as it did with audiobooks: once enough books are in the pipeline, change the payment structure. Amazon started by acquiring the entire vertical chain of audiobook creation and distribution, including buying Audible from Apple. Then its ACX production arm declared: From now on, instead of a 50-50 split, we’re taking 60% and giving you 40%. ACX users fiercely protested. Amazon predictably ignored them.

Serendipitously, as this blog “goes to press,” today’s Digital Book World has published Kobo President Michael Tamblyn’s “32 Notes on Amazon-Hachette-IndyAuthors,”kobo-nyc a series of Tweets warning of exactly the scenario we’ve just described. As we noted here last November, Kobo has acted on its convictions: in partnership with the American Booksellers Association (ABA) and others, the IndieBound program lets readers buy e-books from Kobo online through their favorite independent bookstore, with a share of the proceeds going to the store. Next time you’re thinking of buying an e-book, check it out!



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A Magical Crack in Time


Moonalice-vignetteby CJ Verburg

I first met San Francisco almost 50 years ago, and it was love at first sight. I was young; California seemed as far away as Venus. My parents were determined to keep us apart. As soon as I got out of college and earned enough money for a plane ticket and a room at the Salvation Army’s Evangeline Residence, I took off for the Promised Land.

Nowadays “music, love, and flowers” is a cliche, but in the early 1970s it was a multifaceted miracle. Flowers welcomed me from a bitter East Coast February to mellow SFO. I found a studio apartment in a pre-quake building a block from Ocean Beach, complete with Murphy bed, oriental rugs, and a silk-upholstered armchair. When I walked down the street (often barefoot), I exchanged smiles with everyone I passed. On Saturday nights I sat in vast smoke-hazed halls drinking in one psychedelic band after another, watching Da-Glo frisbees sail from hand to hand while neon-bright oil drops pulsed on a giant screen.

MagicBusIn many ways San Francisco has become its own museum, or Disneyland. Discoveries that were revolutionary when I arrived–bell bottoms, peace signs, tie-dyed T-shirts–are symbols marketed now to tourists. Over the years, bands split up; musicians died; political radicals became professors. Pedestrians stopped smiling at each other. Drivers started honking at other drivers. Rents shot up.

Yet in its wizened heart, this is still the City of Love. Every once in a while a crack appears in its 21st-century Silicon veneer, and the old San Francisco seeps or bursts through like Pele’s lava. This past weekend was one such breakthrough: the annual Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the late Warren Hellman’s gift to musicians and music-lovers. For three days, the leafy midsection of Golden Gate Park overflowed with bands and fans–a lavish buffet, and all free. Taking Hellman’s generosity one step further, local band Moonalice live-streamed much of the festival, so that you could hear and see it even if you couldn’t be there.

Moonalice-sign-croptTonight Moonalice popped up again with a free set in Union Square. The irony of listening to gritty old rock-&-rollers playing in the lavish shadow of Saks Fifth Avenue, Tiffany’s, and Williams-Sonoma (I kid you not) was outweighed by the magic of the music–and the ghosts it called up: tie-dyed shirts, peace signs, gray-bearded men toking on aromatic Js, time-ripened girls wafting in long wavy hair and skirts. And the children! A two-year old bobbed in his mother’s arms; a three-year-old jumped ecstatically up and down. Four- to six-year-olds made up their own moves. As always, every child felt the music throbbing inside like a communal heartbeat, and had to dance.

When Moonalice rippled out a rambling hommage to Bob Dylan, many of us sang together on the chorus, but in my mind the challenge twisted:
Waiting to find out what price
We have to pay to be able
To go through all these things twice.

Thank you, Moonalice. Thank you, Warren Hellman. Thank you, San Francisco.



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