This is a blog with spoiler free reviews. Most will be Fantasy, Science Fiction, and Horror, but there will be some books in other genres, including the occasional Non-Fiction review. There is an ongoing series of Cover Reveal Round-Ups, and sometimes I'll write an article on something that interests me.

30 January, 2011

SUNDAY RANT: AMAZON PROPAGANDA AND BAD JOURNALISM

SUNDAY RANT

   Sunday Rant will be a new semi-regular feature on the blog. Where I give my opinions on some of the things that has either happened in the week that passed, or just generally is something I want to talk about.


AMAZON PROPAGANDA AND BAD JOURNALISM

   I'm going to start with a little bit about myself, that will give you some background for why I feel passionately about this subject. My father has been a journalist since before I was born, and he still is one. All my life I have been around journalists, and I have several journalist friends. 
   This means that I have some insight into how journalists work, both for good and bad. It's always more fascinating for me to look behind the headlines to see what they don't write.
    I will elaborate in the comments if anyone wishes me to, but now on with this article.


   This week have seen a press release from Amazon that has gotten quite a lot of attention. The main focus has of course been on the claim that Amazon now sells more Kindle books than paper books. I quote:

Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across Amazon.com's entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.

   Looks rather good doesn't it? But let's take a closer look at this statement:

   Firstly Amazon does not in any way back up its claim. They show absolutely no sales figures, and without any way of independently verify what they say, this is just a PR statement. The figures may very well be accurate, but I'm not just going to take a commercial business' word for it.
  
   Did you also notice the emphasis on some facts, while some where left out entirely?
   Amazon goes out of its way to tell us that this;
"[...]includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher" 
   What they, of course, make no mention of is that these figures certainly include books that are only available on Kindle.  Which if you ask me is a pretty significant point, and one I think any good journalist writing about this should have brought up.
   This leaves me with the question why Amazon don't publish a comparison of sales between books that are available both as paper books from a (non self-publishing) publisher and on the Kindle. 
   I don't think I'm stretching it when I say they would have IF those books sold better on Kindle than in paper. Let's face it,  why would they hide something like that?

NOTE: A quick check of the Science Fiction and Fantasy bestseller list on amazon.com shows that 13 of the top 20 books (at 12.55 CET.) are Kindle editions costing $5.00 and under. Of these five are kindle only, and four are available in print only as self-published books costing $11.16 to $19.99 in paperback. (Interestingly, Amazon charges $2 extra on Kindle books under $5 if I want them here in Norway.)

   I think all of the points I've made above are valid questions, and it pisses me off that the media has not made them, but instead just repeated Amazon's PR-statement/propaganda.
   Fortunately there are some media reports of Amazon that are a bit more critical:


   This article from the NYTimes reports that Amazon's profit margin fell from 5% in the fourth quarter of 2009, to 3.7% in the forth quarter of 2010. And that this has made their stock fall 9.2%.
   Something I was not able to see easily (, in fact at all,) in Amazon's statement. This has as far as I know not been widely reported, and certainly not by the Kindle fans. Some of whom I saw calling Wall Street insane, or words to that effect, because the stock fell when Amazon published such good news.
   I'm no financial expert, but a 26% drop (,if I understand this correctly,) in the profit margin, sounds bad to me. And a 3.7% profit margin seems slim, even when we are talking about huge sums of money.


   A good example of bad journalism when it comes to Amazon, and Kindle in particular, is the headline to this article from The Bookseller.com, published the day before Amazon's statement. 
   The headline says: "Kindle sales reaching 80% of physical sales, DBW told". However if you actually take time to read the article, this is the original statement: "Grandinetti said it was “not uncommon” for Kindle sales “to be 20-30-40-50-80% of a BookScan number” in 2010."
   Not exactly the same, but I bet it is the headline that people remember.
 
   The same article also mentions a interesting fact, that in my opinion would make a better headline: "[...]James Patterson's Jack and Jill pre-and-post agency pricing. He said: "There was a 48% drop in units with the $2 increase in price."
   This  was interesting to me. Is this a sign that e-books can not sustain sales levels if they have to be priced in a way that includes pre-"printing" production costs? As it is now, e-books are a bi-product of paper books, and are getting a piggyback ride on the editorial costs of the hardcover release, as I see it. Mind you, this is something I believe, not something I know. I would very much like to see a working journalist take up this point, research it, and publish an article about it.

   I have seen several cases over the past year where journalists seemingly print Amazon's press statements and unverified numbers as fact. That is not journalism, that is PR, and usually you have to pay someone to do it for you. I'd like to see much more critical journalism when it comes to Amazon specifically , and e-books in general. I will certainly keep trying to look behind every headline I see on the subject until journalists start doing journalism.

   So what do you think about what I've said? The comments are open.

5 comments:

  1. "As it is now, e-books are a bi-product of paper books, and are getting a piggyback ride on the editorial costs of the hardcover release, as I see it."

    Not at all. This may well have been the case a few years ago, but not these days. eBooks are an integral part of a publisher's inventory, and share the editorial, legal, artwork, proofreading, marketing etc costs of the dead tree editions. To say they are a bi-product - an afterthought, almost - is to devalue the eBook (which many people these days prefer to the paper version). Also, of cocourse, there are now a decent number of good quality eBook-only publishers, and in these cases the costs listed are wholly attributable to the eBook. It won't be *too* long before eBook sales genuinely outnumber paperback sales (I'm also sceptical of press releases that withhold vital stats).

    The truth is that we're still in a state of flux where eBook pricing is concerned, but the market will eventually settle to a sensible price (where "sensible" is defined as "a price the readers are happy to pay while making it possible for the authors, editors, artists and publishers to make enough of a profit to continue to produce the work").

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  2. Thanks for weighing in, and correcting me, Lee. I am always open to the fact that I am wrong about things :-)

    My belief in e-books being a bi-product stems mostly from pricing.
    From what I know of physical book costs, i.e. what I have managed to learn from the internet, it seems that e-books are priced too low to share equally in development costs.

    But I am of course not a publishing insider, and can only go by what information is available publicly, on the internet. And I trust you have available much better information on the subject than I do.

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  3. Personally I think that there is a general perception of any electronic media as being less valuable that the hard copy version and this applies equally to films, music and ebooks.

    This can be seen with the whole illegal downloads scene, many people just don't see the same value in something as intangible as an ebook. Tell those same people you have stolen a book from Waterstones etc and they would be horrified (well most would).

    The internet has part of this blame, along with the perception that everything should be free on the internet, just look at the trouble the news paper industry is in.

    We are also quite a tactile bunch generally, one of the reasons why a book has to have a fantastic cover is that we see value in the physical.

    There was a study done in 2009 that claimed the actual printing cost was only about 10% of the book price and yet if an ebook is sold for 10% less than the paper variety many say it's too expensive.

    I have a Kindle and do buy ebooks, but I still buy hard copies too, and in greater numbers than the ebooks and I can't ever see that changing. The market is still really in it's infancy but I do believe that we need to change people's attitudes to electronic media in order for that market to be a profitable one.

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  4. @Ant

    Yes, I think most people have the perception that something that is electronic has little or no monetary value.

    I also think that Amazon helps people keep that perception when it comes to e-books. Something I was thinking of mentioning in this post, but decided to skip. I may do a post about e-book prices later though.

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  5. Yes agreed that Amazon doesn't seem to discourage this perception and does in a way encourage it. Especially after certain Books were automatically removed from people's Kindle in 2009.

    To me that suggests that in Amazon's eyes you never actually own the title, but instead just given a "licence" to read it. Can you imagine Amazon doing that with a hard copy book, breaking into someone's house and removing their copies of the book. It's incidents like that that "devalue" the electronic format. (And don't get me started on Digital right's management).

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