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February 4, 2010

Blake Charlton experiences suffering
Posted by Teresa at 09:49 PM * 32 comments

I haven’t met Blake Charlton or read his novel, Spellwright, but everyone I know who’s met him says he’s a very nice guy. Everyone I know who’s read his book—it’s about a student wizard who’s working in a spell-based magical system, only he’s dyslexic—says it’s charming, even the ones who don’t normally like fantasy.

Spellwright is his first novel. He’s written it in his copious spare time as a medical student at Stanford. Its official release date is less than a month from now. This is how he’s come to write What Happens to a Debut Author’s Brain on #Amazonfail.

He’s not alone. There are first-time authors published by Macmillan whose books came out last week. There are authors whose first novels were published last month, and were just starting to get word-of-mouth sales traction. And so forth. And so on. They have nothing to do with the fight over ebook prices, but Amazon is screwing them over just the same.

Comments on Blake Charlton experiences suffering:
#1 ::: Carrie V. ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2010, 11:14 PM:

Okay, that was awesome. But you want to know where my brain is at the moment? The first thing I thought after reading that was, "Holy crap, Paolo wrote 10,000 words today?" Then I had to go check his Facebook profile. And sure enough, he really really did.

I think I need to get off the internet for awhile.

(number of words written today: *mumblemumble*)

#2 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 12:23 AM:

Well, we know for sure that you wrote 65!

#3 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 12:42 AM:

This is the bit I don't get about #AmazonFail. It's annoying! To everyone! I'm not even a published author, I'm just some random-ass customer of Amazon's, and it's cramping my style! Why would you do that? I want to give you money! Dear Amazon, can't you do like the rest of the civilized world does when two gigantic international megacorps get in a snit and just SUE the bastards? You know your attack lawyers needed the exercise anyway.

Aaaaaugh. I don't want to have to care about the minutia of e-book pricing except when I'm staring at the "buy" button next to one!

#4 ::: j h woodyatt ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 12:44 AM:

I wrote about 600 words today after spending the entire day slaving over a hot laboratory bench, just down the road from the Holiday Inn Express where I'm staying in Durham, NH.

While have lots of empathy for him, I'd certainly prefer Mr. Charlton's form of suffering over the one I'll be facing if Amazon manages to get away with throwing this spitball. I would be much happier if there was a publishing industry that was more able and interested in taking risks on new authors, and I'm not optimistic about the prospects for that if big retail continues to be able to dictate prices to publishers.

#5 ::: Laura Runkle ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 01:25 AM:

Authors, customers, I can't see who wins here. Really I can't. I do see that my planned Valentine's Day gift for my husband, using Amazon gift certificates purchased through the school's scrip program has gone down the toilet. And I have some attractively printed expensive paper that's too stiff for use in the smallest room in the house. It may be worth something in the future, but the book I wanted to get can't be gotten there.

I can't gripe too loudly, though. My town has an independent new/used bookseller that splits the bookseller's discount with the customer. They get a *lot* of special orders. They'll get one more tomorrow.

#6 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 05:39 AM:

I'm not sure if that would have been less funny if I hadn't read it immediately after returning from washing clothes and while my bedroom is still dominated by a protean pile of cleaned but unfolded laundry, but it doesn't matter - I am totally buying his book (and not from *m*z*n, either).

#7 ::: rea ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 08:29 AM:

Dear Amazon, can't you do like the rest of the civilized world does when two gigantic international megacorps get in a snit and just SUE the bastards?

You can't just sue somebody becasue they won't agree with you.

Well, in theory, you can't, anyway. I must admit that my present caseload tends to refute my point . . .

#8 ::: The Raven ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 08:44 AM:

"Authors, customers, I can't see who wins here."

Uh, Jeff Bezos's penis?


#9 ::: Ben ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 09:05 AM:

I read that last night. It was a good thing that I was not drinking at the time, or I would have irrigated my monitor. It did give me the giggle I needed though.

#10 ::: Steve C. ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 09:19 AM:

So what's the buzz? MacMillan and Amazon still negotiating?

#11 ::: Graydon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 09:23 AM:

Amazon's business model depends on being the only major internet retailer.

The idea of an "only major internet retailer" might have made sense in the later half of the 1990s, when being an internet retailer required going out and building infrastructure. It does not make any kind of sense now. Much of Amazon's present concerns hinge on keeping their suppliers from noticing this. (This specific kerfuffle indicates that they've failed. Expect things to get interesting over the next couple-five years.)

If y'all want a better ebook world, you need to find your congresscritter and explain that you will shave their cats unless they promptly and decisively publish a bill forbidding, on pain of criminal penalties for the corporate officers and huge (15% of annual gross revenue or your total profits, whichever is larger) fines, any sale of anything that isn't in a non-proprietary format.

To be a non-proprietary format, it has to:
- completely lack patent or license cost encumbrances
- exist in at least 2 fully-interoperable competing and independently arrived at implementations
- have the implementation standard published in some public way

So, you know, paper books are fine. PDF is fine. (Almost. Some of Adobe's bells and whistles wouldn't be.) HTML is fine. DRM isn't fine until it meets this standard (which it could easily do) but you wouldn't have device lock in.

I keep hoping someone will have a rush of sense to the head and start selling ebooks on memory chips, preferably in "collected works" scale editions. You get the physical copy, it's visual obvious it's legit, and there isn't much if anything in the way of a portability hit.

#12 ::: Kirby ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 09:28 AM:

Yeah, I can understand Amazon wanting to be the one who controls pricing at their own store, and these kind of negotiations happen all the time in corporate America.

But then they take down sales links, and now it's getting on for not just a short time, and it's not just business doing business. It affects customers, and authors.

And I don't think Amazon can win this game of chicken. If people want to buy a book, I think they want to buy a specific book usually, and will find it easy to go to another bookseller. Rather than find another book that Amazon still carries. And in the meantime, Amazon is engendering tremendous ill-will - from the authors, from informed customers, and from customers who are surprised they can't buy what they were searching for.

I like Amazon. I have a prime account, I own a Kindle. I used to _work_ for a division of Amazon (IMDb) in their headquarters in Seattle. I still own a modest amount of stock in AMZN from that time. And so, it kills me to see them doing this.

It doesn't take a genius to win a PR war when the other side's position amounts to, "We want to raise prices on a product that the general public already complains is overpriced." Amazon's certainly managed that trick.

#13 ::: Craig R. ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 09:58 AM:

What will really give a hit to Amazon will be if one of the other retailers say they will accept Amazon gift certificates, even at a 50% (or more) discount on the price value, up to some specified amount (either limited by percentage of cover price or limited as total dollar amount per customer).

Sure, those retailers would take a short term hit in profitability, and Amazon will get to keep the monies paid out (unless a legal case can be made for them to have to honor the coupons if submitted by the other vendors) on those non-redeemed-by-Amazon coupons, but the Amazon loses those sales and customer loyalty, and the other retailer gets some add-on sales and gains the customer loyalty and good-will

#14 ::: LDR ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:49 AM:

Kirby #12:

If people want to buy a book, I think they want to buy a specific book usually, and will find it easy to go to another bookseller.

This is exactly what I think. This is exactly how I buy books online. I only browse in real bookstores. If Amazon imagines that no one is capable of navigating to another website and buying a book there . . . well, they're about to learn better.

Now, if people actually do respond to "Customers who bought this book also bought this one" and add new books to their order that way, that would be a problem, if no Macmillan books are being recommended. But I rarely if ever have done that.

I can understand that authors would be upset about not being able to see their books (and reviews) on Amazon. But me, if I knew a certain book existed but I didn't see it on Amazon, I'd just say "That's odd" and go elsewhere.

How often do people discover books on Amazon that they didn't know about before? And buy them then and there?

#15 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 01:35 PM:

I'd love to buy this book, because it does sound charming, and I really liked his blog article... but I hate buying new authors in HC. It sounds like this is the first book of a series... has anyone read it? is it one of those books that ends on a hook for the next book (which I won't buy) or is it complete in itself? Is there any way to know? I'd have to order it - I suspect my local Borders or B&N won't carry it, so I can't look through it to see before I buy.

#16 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 02:53 PM:

becca (15): Have you tried your local library?

#17 ::: IreneD ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 02:59 PM:

The Author's Guild put up a useful site for authors in this predicament: Who Moved My Buy Button? With quiet and brilliant snark about this brand new science launched by Amazon, "Buybuttonology"!

#18 ::: becca ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 03:05 PM:

#16 ::: Mary Aileen Alas, I live in a very small town, with a very small library - and they only ILL with other local very small libraries. I can certainly ask them to buy a copy, but their reader base is more into mysteries than SF.

#19 ::: Tazistan Jen ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 03:52 PM:

They have nothing to do with the fight over ebook prices, but Amazon is screwing them over just the same.

Isn't Macmillan screwing them over just the same too? They won't give in either.

#20 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 04:48 PM:

Tazistan Jen @19: Macmillan didn't remove their books from Amazon -- Amazon did.

becca @15: I was going to say, "well, Amazon usually has the 'Look Inside This Book' thing," and then I realized... I'm becoming increasingly disturbed how much I've come to rely on Amazon. And increasingly annoyed at them for failing to relist Macmillan's books. It's like they want to make it my problem.

#21 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 05:02 PM:

IreneD @17: My one complaint about that site is that its About Us page calls PublishAmerica "an on-demand publisher". Which it's not -- it's a vanity press.

#22 ::: Ed G. ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 06:50 PM:

Many TOR books seem to be back on Amazon as of 6:30 PM EST. Stross' Merchant Princes (2, 3, and 4), various Wheel of Time books, Brust's _Iorich_ are all there; looks like many others. And-- _Spellwright_ is available for pre-order. So I guess Amazon turned the machines back on.

Still, I think I'll be using B&N for my large-scale buying now. They seem to always carry most everything in print...and Amazon can't be counted on for that anymore.

#23 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 07:21 PM:

Has anyone else noticed the irony that Amazon, the company that built itself on "the long tail", wants to become the behemoth of book distribution, resulting in an almost certain contraction of the publishing lists to rely even more on blockbuster titles than they do now?

#24 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 09:41 PM:

IreneD #17: Excellent thinking... this will cover a variety of different future shenanigans!

#25 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:00 PM:

Tazistan Jen, this is Amazon's doing. They're attempting to strong-arm Macmillan in negotiations that have nothing to do with the de-listed titles. They've pulled the same stunt a couple of times before on other publishers -- it's what they do when they get frustrated during negotiations. What Amazon is asking for isn't good for authors or publishers.

In short: no.

#26 ::: James Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2010, 11:15 PM:

Amazon's negotiating tactic is, "Nice publishing house you have here. Too bad if it burned down one night."

#27 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 01:30 AM:

Thanks so much for the link. Apropos of little else, this person's existence has just given a bonus multiplier to my will to live, seeing as I am a writer now doing pre-med courses and constantly uncertain as to whether my desired future existence is more probable than that of a unicorn in the middle of Pioneer Square. Naturally, I am pre-ordering his book.

#28 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:53 AM:

Kevin, #20: Worse yet, they removed the books and then said the equivalent of "See what you MADE us do?" That's straight out of the abuser's lexicon -- "I wouldn't beat you up if you didn't MAKE me do it."

#29 ::: jane yolen ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 08:35 AM:

It's not just new authors who are suffering. My first ever graphic novel is coming out in April from a Macmillan imprint (FOILED from First/Second) and there is no buy button there for early orders.

I am about to remove all the Amazon buy buttons from my website as soon as my webmaster gets back from a vacation. See, Amazon--two can play this game!


#30 ::: Blake Charlton ::: (view all by) ::: February 06, 2010, 02:33 PM:

Blake with 72% Less Suffering (by volume) here:

a of all) much gratitude to you, Teresa, for the shout out and the link. i wrote the post simply to be snarky about stress, & all the sentiments of support have been tremendously encouraging.

b of all) very humbled and--as the teen patients are wont to say--‘stoked’ that the article helped facilitate dialogue about the hopefully now-subsiding yet still dangerous disease of Macmillamazonopenia.

c of all) Jane Yolen responded to a post that is tangentially related to me. ::squeeeeeeeeeee!::

#31 ::: Lois Fundis ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 12:48 AM:

Becca @ 15 and 18: Try your library anyway. It's possible, even in an area like you describe -- which does not sound unlike the one where I live and work (in a public library) -- that one of the libraries in the area may have the book. At least it will let the librarians know that someone is interested in that sort of thing. Sometimes that's one of the major reasons that "the library doesn't have books I like". Squeaky wheel gets the oil and all that.

You might also want to find out who in your library is in charge of ordering books, and then talk directly to that person. (Squeaky wheel is more likely to get the oil when the person who hears it has the oil can.) Except in very, very small libraries it's probably not the person who checks your books in and out.

#32 ::: A.J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: February 07, 2010, 09:42 PM:

Kevin Riggle @ 20 - on the other hand, I take a certain (juvenile) pleasure in using their informational features without buying stuff from them, nipping morsels of bandwidth from the buffet without paying.

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