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Friday, January 11, 2013

200

A Conversation About Books and Money

Nicole: Hm. How much do we actually make from Amazon Affiliates? Because I've gotten some nudges from readers (and there's also this thing Emily Gould wrote) about the merits of linking to Goodreads instead (or a better option if it arises). I really love Amazon, and I find it very convenient, so this is just thinking out loud about possibilities ... any thoughts?

Edith: This part in Emily's piece stuck out to me:

A lot of literary sites always link to Amazon because by doing this they get some amount of money via the Amazon Affiliates program. I believe that these sites should reevaluate their business models.

She doesn't specify why getting money means a site should reevaluate its business model (although I should probably just ask her!), but maybe that's because it's obvious, and I'm now embarrassing myself by being unable to see it. Unless it's the idea that supporting Amazon and their deep discounting is putting indie publishers out of business, although (so many tiny turns) I don't entirely see that as a problem, if only because there are too many books anyway.

What are other readers suggestions/criticism? Besides that it's weird to be making money in a way that's not immediately transparent, which I can understand. But I don't see it that way. Yet? And we make between $140 (most recently) and $1,100 (May 2012) a month, but it usually hovers around $300. 

Nicole: That is enough money to make it worthwhile, then, honestly. Which is hilarious that I feel that way, but kind of true? I like to be profitable. I guess I would feel more strongly if there was a Really Good Alternative, like some kind of website that would take your zip and tell you where you could buy books at independent places. And that entire business model may be broken, anyway? It may be dumb to suggest otherwise.

Complaints happen, generally, when I do a "Really Good Books" thing and there are a bunch of links at a time, and the complaints are usually in the comments "I wish you'd link to someplace other than Amazon," blah.

I guess ultimately people may be more likely to actually buy the book when I link to Amazon, as opposed to clicking on Goodreads and then monkeying around and forgetting, and I'd rather they buy books.

Edith: Yeah. There is also Indiebound, which a lot of people really like.

Although if authors get the same amount of money regardless, I prefer linking to a place that saves the reader money. Honestly — and maybe this is the potentially shadiest part? — we get most of our Amazon Affiliates money from stuff that people buy after they click past the link to the book. Because they don't always buy the books — they're searching for, finding, buying tights, computers, random DVDs, etc. — but as long as they got to Amazon from the Hairpin's link, we get 7% (or so — it varies) of whatever they buy. So, I guess it's an implicit nudge toward consumerism, which isn't always great. Speaking of kernels of moral objectionableness.

But, then again, it really IS all part of a conversation about books. And then we make a little extra money, too. Which we theoretically then use to make a better site, and hopefully a better experience for the reader.

I don't know.

Nicole: See, what's funny, is that I find that completely un-shady. I would love to have part of my random Amazon shopping sales go to a website I liked and appreciated the content of. Now I want to insert Amazon links into everything. And people do need to buy things. I guess there is also the issue of Amazon as an employer, but it seems like they've been working on cleaning things up on that front. I did find it interesting that we're worried about Barnes & Noble, after a decade of trying to get people to buy at places other than Barnes & Noble. It's always made perfect sense to me why people prefer Barnes & Noble to tiny bookstores ("You've Got Mail"-esque nostalgia notwithstanding). I really like to be left alone, honestly, and indie bookstores are often "here is a cat and a twenty-minute lecture about how the author you are looking for is not as good as this other author."

Edith: Well, they probably aren't. Nicole, I am very happy that we have completely resolved this issue. Want to go shopping?

(Part Two of our conversation is here, including a visit from Emily Gould.)

200 Comments / Post A Comment

Meeple

Okay, aside form all the indie-publishers local bookstores stuff, I personally hate Amazon affiliate links because I'm a Canadian and Amazon is really, really shitty in Canada (like, really shitty. You guys. You have no idea what it's like). So then I have to like, copy and paste the title into my bookstore of choice (not that bad, now that I type it out...) whereas Goodreads does links to all of those places.

Some other places do it like: "Book Title (amazon | goodreads)", where amazon and goodreads are links to those places and the book's title isn't. I like that!

Nicole Cliffe

I use Amazon.ca to send my parents books, and it is kind of a cluster, agreed. Like Canadian Netflix, which is basically just a sticky jar of maple syrup with beaver poop on it.

I really do want this to be a discussion, because we would love a better answer. Maybe the "Book Title (amazon | goodreads)" is a good idea.

Edith Zimmerman

@Meeple Oh, I like that, too!

gobblegirl

@Nicole Cliffe Canadian netflix is to American netflix as carob is to chocolate. Canadian netflix is low-fat cheese. Canadian netflix is margarine.

Emby

@Nicole Cliffe Now I wonder what other modern conveniences are like in Canada. Is Canadian Youtube just moose and mounties dancing around in front of a hollowed out Timbits box?

rosencrantz

@Nicole Cliffe I loooove the linking to both -- because I get the people who want to go straight to Amazon, but personally I'm way more likely to just add it to my Goodreads and get it from the library if I'm on the fence about it. Not that 'pin recs are fence-worthy, but there are *so* many books that sound interesting that I'm not going to buy all of them! But do use my Goodreads to-read list like a beast.

gobblegirl

@Emby We call it moosetube.
A Canadian sandwich is taking alternate bites of a piece of cheese and bannock.
Canadian oranges are apples.
Canadian cellphones are shouting.
Canadian MTV has Eugene Levy's son on it.
Canadian bacon is ham.
Canadian summer is winter.
Canadian Fort Knox is a maple syrup reserve in Quebec, and it was robbed last year.
Canadian milk comes in a bag.
Canadian flush toilets are crossing your legs and hopping.
Canadian nail polish is selectively hypnotizing anyone who is looking at your hands.
Canadian monopoly is Trivial Pursuit.
(Some of these are true. A piece of delicious salmon candy to whomever can identify which ones!)

Nicole Cliffe

@gobblegirl MAPLE SYRUP RESERVE THEFT FTW

Al Lo

@gobblegirl But only some Canadian milk comes in a bag. Here, it stopped coming in bags around the time the milkman stopped delivering it to the door.

Nicole Cliffe

@Al Lo Someday people will not even have those little opener magnets on their fridge doors. Oh, my God, we are through the looking-glass.

My new fav. Canada thing is that my cousin's Little League coach was Geddy Lee from Rush, and HIS dad's summer camp counselor was Lorne Michaels.

gobblegirl

@Al Lo Correct. That was only worth .5 points. Enjoy your salmon candy! It's in the mail, with a very small picture of the Queen on it. I have licked the picture.

anachronistique

@gobblegirl I still don't understand milk in a bag!

MilesofMountains

@Meeple I'm a Canadian who prefers e-books. Amazon's ebook selection is about as comprehensive as those clearance book kiosks that show up in malls around Christmas. I usually save book recommendations to Goodreads, then buy it electronically from Chapters, in person at the local book store, or I just get it from the library.

Edabelle

@Nicole Cliffe What about the voice of Geddy Lee? How did it get so high? I wonder if he speaks like an ordinary guy?

Decca

@Edabelle I know him, and he does.

Tuna Surprise

@gobblegirl

Loved the list. I have not laughed this hard in a long time!

snow_cat

@gobblegirl This is the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. So here we go:
1) True, but you don't admit it readily.
2) False
3) False
4) True
5) True
6) True and you know it. It is like "Swedish summer"
7) T
8) T
9) Another one of those fake false, but actually true things
10) False
11) T

Alice

@Nicole Cliffe When I was a camp counsellor, Tom Cochrane's daughter was in the cabin next door to mine. I met him on parents day, at the height of "Life Is A Highway" being everywhere, and my biggest fear was that I would involuntarily start singing it to his face, even though I hated it.

jhonsons

how is it possible to be that amazing@j

sheistolerable

My husband has a podcast, and he uses Amazon Affiliates. Don't get why Emily Gould seems to think we should all bend over backwards to support authors/indie booksellers, but bloggers/podcasters/other Internet folk who provide content we like should do it for love.

aeroaeroaero

@sheistolerable I don't think her point is that websites should not be profitable. Her point is that she wants to live in a world with brick and mortar bookstores.

TheclaAndTheSeals

@sheistolerable Because she is an indie bookseller.

I read this when it was originally posted on her tumblr, and had a similar reaction to Edith/Nicole. I get that Amazon is less ideal for many reasons, but shit, blog editors have to eat, too.

deepomega

@sheistolerable Yeah I mean I disagree with Emily here but my take is that she thinks the extra $___ from amazon affiliatebux shouldn't be necessary to the business model of your website. Quick, Edith, outline the entire business model of your website so we can see whether that $300/month is significant relative to your monthly operating budget!!!

Nicole Cliffe

@TheclaAndTheSeals I was super grateful for Emily's piece, even if it didn't give The Answer, though, because we do want to find a balance and a better solution for writers and workers and bloggers. I feel really bad whenever someone mentions my Amazon linking. I'm thrilled to talk about it. Maybe one of you will build something we can link to.

TheclaAndTheSeals

@Nicole Cliffe Sorry, didn't mean to put words in y'all's mouths. I generally like Emily Gould and enjoy following her, but I get annoyed when people make big statements like "Re-think your business model" without any actionable suggestions.

wharrgarbl

@Nicole Cliffe Whenever I don't feel like linking to Amazon when I'm trying to tell people about what I'm reading or what I recommend, I link to the item in question on www.worldcat.org. Punch in your zipcode, and it tells you what libraries near you have it.

Realtalk, though, I usually link to Amazon because it's more likely to have useable reviews (which Goodreads does, too) and, most importantly, it's likely to have a chapter preview so you can see if you want to read the rest of it. If you read a lot and your waiting to-read pile is never under a dozen books deep, it's nice to be able to click the damn book cover right that second and see if this is something you want to pursue.

deepomega

@wharrgarbl Describing Goodreads reviews as "useable" is an abuse of the very idea.

wharrgarbl

@deepomega You only say that because *keyboard smash, keyboard smash* OMG THIS BOOK.

snow_cat

@Nicole Cliffe But you are supporting small businesses too! These discussions seem like they usually revolve around the premiss that by buying on Amazon (the site,) you're always buying from Amazon (the huge corporation). This is false. I am an Amazon seller. 99% of the time my books are cheaper than buying straight from Amazon, and therefore people usually buy from me before they buy from Amazon. (If you click on "12 New from $7.99" or whatever, you are generally buying from a small seller, a charity, or an independent bookshop's online store. One of the reasons The Strand in NYC stays alive is because they sell on Amazon.) For me, I source the books myself and it's a fun hobby as well as a nice supplement to my income. Amazon takes a small percentage of my profits, but it's honestly worth it because they make everything so easy.

whereismyrobot

@snow_cat The funny part is, I NEVER did this, until I saw a boyfriend order this way. MIND BLOWING>

I also sell on Amazon occasionally and it kicks ebay's ass in so many ways. It is so easy to make the listings.

whereismyrobot

@wharrgarbl Also it is really easy to hit a button on the page and request it from Interlibrary Loan if your library doesn't carry it. (ILL person here!)

wharrgarbl

@whereismyrobot Aw yes, motherfuckin' ILL people in the house!

whereismyrobot

@wharrgarbl Where are you at? I am the back up person, but out lady just retired. I hope to get her job.
What do you guys use? We use Illiad, but we are moving to Navigator like the rest of Texas.

wharrgarbl

@whereismyrobot Florida. We use ILLiad and an in-state SUS-only system called UBorrow that I <3 so damn hard. Good luck landing that position!

whereismyrobot

@wharrgarbl I guess "officially" I am the back up ILL person, but I hope now that the woman who runs it retired, I will get her position...but I may not because I earned my MLS last August and my boss may not want to give it to me because of that.

j-i-a

But as you noted, Nicole--Amazon is so scary in terms of the routine labor violations that occur in its shipping warehouses every day! I do cave occasionally and buy from there, and I also like the idea of getting to send some of that money to this website, but I think moving away from Amazon as the one marketplace for all (if just by an alternative link) is a great idea!

Nicole Cliffe

@j-i-a I think about it a lot, because I, um, okay, I am in this article:
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2012-07-27/online-sales-tax-and-the-future-of-delivery.html

And I buy so many things from Amazon, that I also think about the ENVIRONMENTAL damage I do with my Prime shipping bullshit constantly. My husband calls me a "carbon Sasquatch," and I should be hunted down by Katie Heaney.

But I live in the mountains and I work from home and have a baby, and it's so eaaaaasy and cheap to order cases of toilet paper and stuff.

SarcasticFringehead

@Nicole Cliffe In terms of the carbon footprint - it depends on where you live and who lives around you, but it may in fact be better for you to have stuff delivered in a truck that is making one trip with lots of deliveries than to drive to town alone every time you need a book or something. On the other hand, if a lot of your stuff is going by air, that's not very good.

Nicole Cliffe

@Nicole Cliffe I think what I want is a system by which I can be just as lazy but also magically feel better about myself and my choices.

leonstj

@Nicole Cliffe - Steal then rationalize.

lookuplookup

@j-i-a Yes! The first thing that popped to mind when thinking about "Why not Amazon" wasn't "Because indie booksellers!" -- it was definitely that really long article I read a long time ago written by a woman who went undercover as a worker in an Amazon shipping warehouse and DAMN. I haven't bought from Amazon since, though I'm sure that Amazon is not alone in this and most major online retailers have similar shipping practices (or maybe even just contract out to some kind of evil shipping empire?)

j-i-a

@lookuplookup Yeah totally, that's what did it for me too, the MacMcClelland piece (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/02/mac-mcclelland-free-online-shipping-warehouses-labor). I am far from judging anyone (much less those in a work-from-home, baby-having, remote type of situation) on cost/convenience choices, and we're all going to shit anyway, but on issues like this I welcome high-minded paternalism (or I guess maternalism in this case or aunt-ternalism or witch museumternalism) whenever possible--an alternate link here could be like a seatbelt light suddenly appearing on one model of car, which would lead to more--could be part of the slow process of moving away from Amazon-type dealings.

snow_cat

@j-i-a OK, I kind of ranted about this already to Nicole, but I'm a little drunk so... What about the fact that often when we "buy from Amazon" we're actually buying from some other store/small seller? Because that person often has a better deal. Or what if they don't, and we just choose to buy from Amazon seller CharityShoppe114 instead because it's a church that got a huge donation of new Crocs for some reason? Is the fact that Amazon still gets a share of the profits enough to make us not buy from them? I'm sincerely asking the question. Because I totally agree that the labor issues are a reason to not buy from there, but if you went on Amazon and bought one of my books it would be packed by me on my coffee table while drinking tea or wine, which is not so bad. And I sell a lot of books.

SJ Culver@twitter

Looks like Powell's has a similar program to Amazon affiliates: http://www.powells.com/partners/partners.html.

Reginal T. Squirge

Powell's is the shit, pretty much all around.

SarahP

I don't particularly like Amazon, but I have no problem with affiliate links as long as I know that they're affiliate links. If you tell me what you're linking to, and I don't want to support Amazon (or your affiliation with Amazon), I'll just google it in another tab.

I personally feel slightly betrayed when I find out something is monetized without having been disclosed as such. Full disclosure about when a website/coming is making money off of me or others goes a long way.

P.J. Morse

@SarahP Isn't it funny that Amazon has become so dominant that it takes effort to get away from it? That said, I do appreciate knowing a destination link ahead of time in case I'd rather buy the book elsewhere or comparison shop first.

leastimportantperson

So glad you guys talking about this stuff! NOT ONLY am I watching You've Got Mail right at this very moment, but I had a really annoying experience at an indie bookstore the other day that has stuck in my craw. But I don't know what to think of Amazon either! And I try to avoid using it for half indie-touchy-feely reasons and half, I-love-my-library reasons. Also I'm broke?

So basically someone softly whisper to me what I should think while I continue watching You've Got Mail and don't get insulted when I don't look away from the tv.

Nicole Cliffe

@leastimportantperson It's easy to assume that YGM sucks, but Nora Ephron made it wonderful in many, many ways. Keep watching with my blessing.

miss buenos aires

@leastimportantperson I think the owner of my only local bookstore (seriously, the only bookstore in town) is kind of a racist. What then? What then, I ask you?!

theharpoon

How did you know I was behind on cleaning my pipe collection?

theharpoon

UGH I PROMISE THIS MAKES SENSE

I guess you guys weren't clicking the Amazon link at the end then

yeah-elle

Okay, so Amazon is scary in general.

The business my father started after he was laid off incorporates affiliate linking, from Amazon and elsewhere. It felt totally slimy and shady to me at first, but...in the end, I came to terms with it. It's not the slimiest way to make money. And it pays for my parents' mortgage, you know? I was so high up on my moral high horse that I'm surprised I didn't get altitude sickness. Sales is not exactly the highest and most noble of occupations. I learned this while writing copy for those slimy "Dear [NAME], I have an offer for you! Did you know you can trade in your [Model/Year] for a brand new Mercedes-Benz?" letters that car dealerships send.

JanieS

I hate hate hate hate Amazon with the fire of a thousand suns (crappy labor practices + shifty ebook dealings + vague monopoly feelings) and will not give them money if I have any other possible options. But that's on me, not you guys. I'm an adult; I can tell where a link goes before I click it.

JanieS

@JanieS Also all of the indie bookstores I frequent seem to be entirely staffed by mutes. Grey-haired, bespectacled mutes. In plaid shirts. You can barely get them to make eye contact while you're giving them money.

Lily Rowan

@JanieS Yes. I promote Amazon affiliate links elsewhere in my online life, while at the same time generally not shopping there. I don't need to make other people's choices for them, and also do want to take advantage of the easiest and broadest affiliate program out there.

Lily Rowan

@JanieS And to your second comment! The last time I bought a book off Amazon, it was because I asked the cute girl behind the counter at my local indie about a book they didn't have, and she didn't offer to order it for me. So I left the store.

needsmoresalt

@JanieS I also hate Amazon, and I find it annoying when people link to it. If other people don't want to live in a world with real bookstores, then they can keep using Amazon. But I'd rather pay a little more to enjoy going to an actual bookstore where the employees appear to be less miserable than the Amazon employees I've read about.

frenz.lo

@Lily Rowan You do you, but sometimes, if you want someone to do something for you, you can ask them to do that thing.

meetapossum

@JanieS I am getting sort of irrationally upset at this whole post because I HATE Amazon and pretty much try to make it my job to tell everyone how much they suck.

aliceunderskies

@Lily Rowan Sometimes us cute girls who work at independent bookstores just get so beaten down by the blythe "No, I'll just buy it on amazon!" as a response every time we offer to order anything to anyone under fifty that we don't make the offer. It's a demoralizing thing to hear day in and day out. I don't blame anyone for doing it, but it always strikes me as unimaginably rude to tell someone to their face that you're going to go home and buy from the competition that's slowly been putting you out of business.

leonstj

I think Amazon, in the long run, will be awesome for Indie Bookstores. The real threat it poses is to Barnes & Nobles and stuff.

Like, remember when you used to buy CDs and cassingles (HAH old person) at The Wall or Sam Goody? NOT IF YOU'RE 21 YOU DON'T!!! Because those places are gone now, because, the internet. But all kinds of places still exist where some really smart record nerd can tell me about whatever band nobody listens to I might like.

Amazon is doing the same thing, I think for bookstores. Dumb places where people who don't give a shit about books go to buy John Grisham novels? COMPLETELY FUCKED. Cool places 17-97 year olds who really like, I dunno, Wendell Berry, can go and be like "Hey I want some poems to read that are a little melancholy/ennui-ish, but also won't make me want to kill myself" and a really cute permanent grad student will give them a 40 minute lecture? They're the best, and they'll survive. Maybe not ALL of them, but it's okay. The good ones will!

Nicole Cliffe

I think that making the world a better place to write and sell e-books is going to be the most important thing, on a longer time-scale. People are going to read this in thirty years and it's going to sound like "where is the most socially reponsible place to purchase ambergris, gub'nor?"

yeah-elle

@leon s This rings true for me, but I'm also lucky enough to live in super close proximity to great independent record stores and book stores. I don't know if the same goes to people who are more isolated.

Still, the bookstores I've loved that have closed (including an independent children's book store that I worked at while in high school) didn't close because their business waned due to Amazon. They closed because the owners retired, or because they had asshole landlords who boosted the rent to meteoric highs.

miss olsen

@yeah-elle Yeah, I'm not even isolated and this is not true for me, either for music or books. I live in an absurdly educated and literate town near DC. In a 5-mile radius I have 1 big B & N and a small indie bookstore that (has to, I think) devotes 1/3 of its floor space to wine and chocolate, presumably to ensure some kind of profit.

If the B&N closes I will basically not have access to a brick and mortar bookstore, and B&N was not even that awesome to begin with.

I don't think this anecdote actually has a point, but it makes me sad and confused.

leonstj

@yeah-elle - Ugh rent. This is the real killer. Rent did in Kim's, which is a shame because there was SO MUCH STUFF at Kim's that I still can't even find on the stupid, useless, internet. I mean, how are there SO VERY MANY AND WEIRD kinds of porn, and never anyone to help me figure out what weird movie I was watching in art school ten years ago I only remember little snippets of and it's so hard to -

PREEMPTIVE EDIT: Oh, it was This One.

yeah-elle

@miss olsen My experience is weirdly exactly opposite from yours. I live in a college town in California and I can count...SIX independent bookstores all within a 40 minute walk of each other, some much, much more close (like, 10 minute walks). And for record stores, I mean, okay, charade's over, I live in Berkeley. And Amoeba and Rasputin are next door to each other. They're all surviving, as far as I know (knock on wood).

Sure, Cody's closed, but Moe's is on the same block and it's flourishing. When Cody's closed, everyone said, "lagging sales!" but the real story is that the rent on their original location was TRIPLED. So they moved. And they didn't survive the move, and all the money that was sunk into that move.

squishycat

@yeah-elle This is also my experience with indie bookstores or small local chains that have had to close - it nearly always comes down to rent/lease issues. It goes up too high, or the contract is up and the landlord isn't interested in renegotiating the lease, etc. I'm sure that some drop in business caused by Amazon shopping contributed somewhat to the inability to make enough money to pay the new rent, but given the kind of profits usually made by small places, even if business had stayed the same, they would have had to close. (Also - as much as I love real bookshops, the inability to purchase e-books in an independent brick-and-mortar shop is also an issue. I love physical books but e-books have considerable merits sometimes.)

miss olsen

@yeah-elle so what I'm hearing here is that I should move to Berkeley or New York.

I am fascinated by the exact demographics and/or business models that support indie book and music stores. I suppose it could be as simple as "there are pockets of people who enjoy curated selections of hardback books, and these businesses will thrive there," but I would read a longread exploring it in more depth.

missvancity

@squishycat The ABA has signed a contract with Kobo, so you SHOULD be able to buy ebooks from your local indie (if they're an ABA member) on the Kobo platform. I'm not entirely certain how this works/is going to work, because I'm in Canada, but it sounds really promising. The guy who bought Kobo not too long ago is a really big champion of bricks & mortar stores.

yeah-elle

@miss olsen I'd be curious too, to know how so many of these bookstores can survive coexistence in a relatively small area (especially since all the students I know are super cheap and buy their books online), but in different areas, a single indie bookstore can be pushed out by a big box store? I know that in other towns, Border's went out of business and the only brick-and-mortar options left were indie bookstores. Someone do the math for meeee

Better to Eat You With

@leon s Likewise, I don't think it's killing/going to kill indie publishers, but maybe has the capacity to harm big houses. I run a small press. Amazon has definitely been helpful in many, many ways, whereas I've had mixed experiences with independent bookstores. (I say it might damage big houses because they are so, so expensive to operate, and forcing down the price of their product can't be good for them in the long run.)

c8pat8

@missvancity YES! Kobo! I work at a small indie bookstore and we love Kobo. The way it works is that you can buy a Kobo reader at your local ABA indie and it will automatically link to the store so that they get a cut of the ebooks that you buy. It's a pretty small amount, but at least it's something. If you don't want to buy a Kobo reader, you can download the app on pretty much anything but the Kindle and download ebooks from there. Your local indie will have a code you can link to your account so that they'll get a cut.

meetapossum

@miss olsen The elimination of brick and mortar stores in places that only have a B&N can be a potentially HUGE problem for both paper and electronic books. Melville House (avowed Amazon haters) had a good article about that earlier this week.

MissMushkila

@c8pat8 This is an aside, but I've decided I want an ereader as I no longer have physical space for my books and stacking them precariously around our "office" (small extra closet?) is starting to annoy me.

I don't like that the kindle requires kindle files because I already have some google books, and it isn't expandable. The Nook Glo looks sort of crappy and there are a ton of consumer complaints about screen issues and bad customer support. So from everything I've seen, I think I'm going to get the Kobo...

Feel free to share your thoughts with me regarding ereaders, because as I hadn't committed to one yet I'm feeling like I am signing on FOR LIFE and it is making me so hesitant!

theharpoon

@MissMushkila Don't worry, it's not for life! The formats and hardware will all change within 10 years and you won't be able to access any of your old ebooks on the new devices anyway!!

Sorry, I'm a jerk.

Pseudo Pseudonym

@yeah-elle I once was in a nightmare quantum mechanics (no one take qm, it's hell) where most of the students had bought the textbook off half.com. Those books were only 10% cheaper and had errors on every page. The professor was too nice to say "that's what happens when you cheap out on highly specialized knowledge, buy it again." So every day we had to have time devoted to "is this elaborate differential equation printed correctly for you?"

Textbooks are ridiculously priced but so is life.

runner in the garden

@Pseudo Pseudonym that sounds to me more like a problem on the publisher's end, to release an error-filled textbook and then allow them to be remaindered off and sold without caveats?

ghechr

@leon s T Did you catch Ann Patchett's article in The Atlantic on this very issue? She just opened up an indie bookstore in Nashville because the town's other 2 book stores (Border's and an indie that had been bought by a small chain) closed. She said that the previous indie store that had closed was profitable- but not profitable ENOUGH- so it closed. Her store is small and curated; no John Grisham's there and appears to be doing well. I think that this is the direction of indies- small, specialty stores- rather than giant book warehouses.
As for the greater debate about Amazon and ebooks, it reminds me exactly of the Great Decline of Music Due to the Internet in the early 2000s. The bookstores need to figure out how to make it now that the game has changed. If people want it, they will go. Seems to me that the real value of indie stores are in their readings and events.

miss olsen

"supporting Amazon and their deep discounting is putting indie publishers out of business, although (so many tiny turns) I don't entirely see that as a problem, if only because there are too many books anyway."

Interesting! I would love to hear more discussion of this. My personal experience of a bookworld dominated by Amazon and B&N has been one in which there are fewer books, a definite thinning of selection.

I have noticed this most particularly when bookshopping for younger people. Anybody else?

missvancity

@miss olsen If you're shopping at Amazon and B&N it's because they're listing/carrying fewer titles. There's been a bit of a dip in the last few years, but as a general rule, the number of new titles being published goes up every year.

stuffisthings

@miss olsen Statistics show that the number of books being published in the US, including fiction, is still going strong. Almost 350,000 new titles or editions in 2011, up from 215,000 in 2002, and that is not including "non-traditional" print-on-demand and public-domain ebooks which accounted for another 1 million+ titles. "Literature" peaked in 2009, at more than 11,000 titles, and has since declined back to about 8,600 (still up from 6,200 a decade earlier). 2011 was the best year for "Fiction," with 60,000 titles, compared to 25,000 in 2002. The publishing industry has also steadily churned out more than 30,000 new titles or editions of books for juveniles over the past decade.

Now QUALITY, that I can't speak to.

Chart here.

miss olsen

@stuffisthings informative, thanks yall.

Now, public domain e-books -- I wonder if I'm accidentally destroying booksellers with my ereader that is 96% free public domain stuff. They're so often exactly the classics that I've always meant to read!

stuffisthings

@miss olsen Here's what all the folks worrying about how they buy books, or e-readers, or Amazon, or Starbucks, or Wal-mart, or whatever evil brand of the moment is:

EVERYTHING YOU DO DESTROYS EVERYTHING. EVERYTHING..

You can't escape it, because Capitalism.

harebell

@miss olsen
It's also certain types of books that are going to go missing if Amazon keeps undercutting publishers, and a certain level of quality.
I've got some friends who have been publishing translations of novels under the new Amazon imprint, and they get basically no curatorial or editorial input. That's the opposite experience from mine at a small independent publisher who is well-connected with reviewers and editors, and who sent my book through several rounds of editing and proofing as a matter of course. Amazon is really scary to me because it is trying right now to cut out publishers -- vertical integration -- and become an enormous monopolistic publishing entity.
Buy directly from the publisher if you can, guys! THat's becoming easier and easier lately. Books tend to get published in series, so it's also a good way to discover a new title you'd never heard of but would like.

missvancity

@harebell Um, but don't always do that, because there are a lot of really hard working sales reps and bookstore buyers who get squat if you do that!

()
()

Powells, the largest independent new and used bookstore in the world, has an affiliate program. Powells Partner Program looks pretty good, cash-wise. They ship international and their prices for shipping a book to, say, Canada are cheaper than Amazon. Plus, used copies.

Eden

@() Thanks for bringing that up because I was going to!

I decided to drop the affiliate links from my site (I still have them on an "about me" page but I no longer link to individual books). Of course, I wasn't making any money so it's not like it mattered, but it was important to me to support the local stores in my community (who've also done a lot to support me).

aliceunderskies

@() @() I've been to Powells and physically it's a fantastic store to dwell in for a few hours or days. However, I've had extremely poor luck ordering used from them online, to the point where I will no longer do it despite my desire to support them. If a book has water damage, funky stains, highlighting, or a broken spine, I do not consider it even sellable, much less in good to very good condition as they advertise.

hl247

If it's not about making money and more about helping people get the book, you could link to the book in WorldCat.org, which will show which local libraries have it.

filthyunicorn

@hl247 Yay Worldcat.org!

whereismyrobot

@hl247 I was just going to say this! AND if your library doesn't have it, you can easily request it through Interlibrary Loan on the page.

I have only seen Brain Pickings incorporate both successfully. Putting this free version alongside Amazon makes it seem a little less icky than just linking to our corporate overlord!

http://www.brainpickings.org/

MaggieL

(I work in book publishing.) Authors actually get more money from sales in stores. Most publishing contracts have a standard royalty rate for every book sold, but there's a separate royalty rate for places that publishers sell to at a bigger discount -- which includes Amazon, because Amazon ages ago got publishers to agree to sell them books at a higher discount than what they sell to bookstores. I could go into the details of that but it would take lots of time, and the takeaway point is: In general, Authors get HALF the royalty from Amazon sales than they do from bricks & mortar sales.

Edith Zimmerman

@MaggieL Ah! Thank you.

Nicole Cliffe

@Edith Zimmerman RELEVANT FACTOID.

stuffisthings

@MaggieL I just stuff an envelope with old dollar bills and loose change, write "TO: AUTHORS" on the front, and drop it in a mailbox each month. That still works, right?

leonstj

@MaggieL - About time. I'm sick of these fat-cat fancy "writers" flying all over in their private jets, their opulent gold pens with their kraken-ink signing redwood-pulp paper checks to pay for their word-chalices.

leastimportantperson

@MaggieL Omggg oh no! But I am so glad to know this. So much better to like, know things when I make a decision rather than being like, um, something something Amazon makes me feel weird, didn't I read something about how they're bad but they already have my credit card info, so...

Megasus

@leon s I now secretly hope that GRR Martin writes his books in kraken ink now. Or just the Greyjoy chapters. I AM A NERD.

()
()

Also, according to the Powell's, Amazon buys less popular/obscure titles from the Powell's website then forwards them to customers.

adriana

@() For real?? Where did you read that?

()
()

@adriana

"Kay Dangaard, Amazon.com's media relations director, said Amazon has a network of bookshops that supplies used and out-of-print books. Dangaard said while she can't reveal exactly how much business Amazon.com does with Powell's Books, "very definitely Powell's is an important source of used and out-of-print books for us." " - The Wall Street Journal, September 21, 1998

stuffisthings

So does anyone honestly believe that someone incapable of typing in the URL of their favorite online indie bookseller, or Google a title, is actually going to purchase and read a work of obscure literary fiction whose title they are too lazy too select and ctrl+C?

Megasus

Ediiiithhh/any Hairpin editor, can I email you and pick your brain sometime about how to monetize a website? Because hoooooow!?

filthyunicorn

@Megano! This is kind of helpful in that arena, depending on what kind of site you've got: http://www.garancedore.fr/en/2013/01/08/my-own-business/

dham

Powell's also says that their affiliate program's commission continues for a full 3 months after the click, instead of 24 hours:

"A commission cookie that lasts up to 90 days after referring customers (many other programs only track referrals for 24 hours!).

sophduck

Props to Edith and Nicole for initiating this discussion and for disclosing the amount of money they're making from affiliate linking, but I'm surprised at how much the downsides of Amazon are glossed over. If Amazon is allowed to continue pricing out every single other retailer on the market, Amazon will end up being the world's only retailer, and as the world's only retailer, it will have no incentive to keep prices low, provide variety of choice, prompt delivery or good customer service. Ethics aside, that's what will end up happening. Regarding books, this is what happens:

Amazon slashes the recommended retail price of a book, losing publishers money.
Amazon allows countless eBooks to be priced for free or next to free, so a publisher CANNOT price their own for anything like a reasonable amount because it simply won't be bought, so a publisher loses money.
Publishers agonise over how to get books onto Amazon bestseller lists (because most people buy via bestseller lists, not well thought out recommendation posts like Nicole's). They slash prices because Amazon bestseller lists are full of cheap books, because most people will buy a cheap book over a slightly more expensive one. Publishers lose money.
Publishers are poorer and cannot afford to take risks on books which aren't immediately and obviously mass market. The variety of books published gets poorer.
Publishers cannot afford to pay large advances, so agencies make less money, and cannot afford to take risks with new clients who aren't obviously mass market themselves.
Writers can no longer afford to write full time.
Good books go unpublished or are never written.
Books about bondage and vampires are rife.

DOOM.

filthyunicorn

@sophduck Agreed. It's like that Elizabeth Cline book Overdressed but for books. It's the system, like @stuffisthings said.

Better to Eat You With

@sophduck Yes! All of this. Plus, if a publisher pisses Amazon off, they have no problem pulling the "buy" buttons right the hell off that publisher's products.

I run a tiny press, and Amazon has been helpful in many ways--they paid me promptly and fairly for ebook sales, and their service was much more responsive than I had expected. But they still perpetuate all of these problems that are bad for books. (The agency/advance/etc. stuff applies less to very small presses, of course.)

leonstj

@sophduck - But the same internet which is dooming the model is also, like....

I started to read Gawker a billion years ago (Spiers OG era, but not like, religiously, never a commenter) because I was living away from home and missed NYC, and it was just the attitude I know. I really loved the voice Choire brought, but wasn't really "FOLLOWING" blogs or anything then. It was, what? 2004? Whatever.

At some point, I heard about some new website being started up by some Gawker guys. I didn't really read blogs at that point in life, but I did hang out at the Magician a lot in the mid 00's, and occasionally since, so there was buzz of it just kind of around.

I read it, and fucking loved it. Not just their stuff (though they are awesome to read) but the way they edit the site, the writers they bring on. There is this whole massive world of young (OR FORMERLY YOUNG, YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) writers I've been introduced to through that site, and this site.

It's made me more of a reader again. Smart people who I really enjoy reading talk about shit they like to read, and I read it. I see the name of one person I remember reading on The Awl or The Hairpin is at some speaking panel, and then I go, and then BOOM, it's even more awesome people.

Poets I like become people I follow on FB, then they recommend readings, and next thing I know I'm handing some dude in DUMBO $7 for a chapbook.

I know I'm not the typical consumer, and that this behaviour is rare - but I feel like, you know, the Dan Brown's of the world are getting richer, and the (insert name of whoever is like, 300th on the bestseller list)s are getting poorer, but finally, someone like me who has a finite amount of time to spend reading can still find not-super-famous writers I know and love to follow.

I mean, look. I basically just use the internet to bitch about the internet. And it sucks, a lot, figuring out how to adapt to things. But SO SO MANY of the artists - visual, written, music - I love to consume now I've found through the internet in ways I never would have found without it - hell, the lack of discovery of good stuff 99-2006 or so for me is WHY i fell out of reading / new music&art in the first place. W/ the ease of the internet, I'm back in love.

missvancity

@leon s Dude, nobody is saying the internet is bad, people are saying Amazon is a corporation that does not want what's best for you, for artists, for publishers, or for any of us that are not Jeff Bezos.

sophduck

@leon s I'm not bitching about the internet. I'm bitching about Amazon. The internet is amazing at opening up discussion and introducing people to new ideas and things they'd never have known about before. The fact it all pools together and ends up being bought in one place, though, is bad.

leonstj

@missvancity @sophduck - Right, I mean...Amazon does to a lot of terrible shit for anyone who is not controlling Amazon. But I feel like barring some kind of major societal change (rejection of capitalism) the internet just makes it impossible for things to not end up like Amazon.

Online selling the way Amazon does it is always going to be a little cheaper than bookstores - real estate pretty much guarantees that. And being cheaper, they're going to eat up more and more market share, and be in a position to make more and more demands of publishers. It totally sucks, but I don't really see how it's avoidable.

I don't know enough about publishing, so I could easily be wrong - but look at the music industry. The old model is basically dead. Internet distribution makes it impossible to be otherwise. And for a lot of bands (I'm think of the Grizzly Bear NYMag piece), it really is a bummer they don't get to succeed the way bands did in the past.

But for me as a consumer, I feel like, the negatives that we get (the internet has made terrestrial radio EVEN WORSE than it already was 15 years ago because of how non-risky the remaining record labels need to be), I'd still take that shittiness in exchange.

I don't love Amazon either, but I just feel like it's unavoidable, I guess.

meetapossum

@sophduck I don't want to sound pedantic, but that's actually not the way that Amazon does damage. The publishers don't lose money based on the price the book as sold at. They sell the books to booksellers at a discount (40%, usually) and the booksellers can choose the price to sell it (the price on the back is really a recommendation). Most bookstores keep the price the same so they can make a profit. Amazon uses books as a loss leader.

The price cutting hurts every other retailer who can't afford to cut the prices like Amazon. Amazon doesn't give one shit how much money they're losing on books because they make it up with all the other stuff they sell. This is why publishers started to use agency pricing - less money for them in the short run, but it would prevent Amazon from slicing the price of books (especially e-books) to nearly zero. But you know, now they're being sued by the DOJ for breaking anti-trust laws when in actuality they'd be preventing a monopoly. Justice!

missvancity

@meetapossum Most of that is true, except for the idea of any publisher giving Amazon a 40% discount. Part of the push from Amazon has also been bigger and bigger discounts from publishers. I think at most you can give them 50%, and if you don't play nice, they mark your books with a ship date of three months. Like, books that would be in the Amazon warehouse in 5 days, will be marked with a three month delivery date.

meetapossum

@missvancity Excellent point. Amazon has the publishing industry by the balls, especially following the DOJ suit.

dham

Also: I accept that it makes sense to make more money (I would also consider using Amazon for this reason, likely), especially if the primary goal is selling books. But it does seem "obvious" to me why someone would suggest not supporting a gigantic, terrible corporation, whether or not you care about "indie publishers"

booknerd

@dham Well said. Amazon is a horrible, predatory company. It's the Wal-Mart of the internet. I wish people would stop citing the convenience factor and wake up to the fact that Amazon puts independent bookstores and independent publishers (no, not self-publishers...yet) and small businesses of all kinds out of business every single day.

meetapossum

@booknerd "Walmart of the internet" is exactly the phrase I use when I want to tell people how awful Amazon is.

P.J. Morse

@meetapossum You're right, but the main reason that places like Amazon and Wal-Mart keep surviving is convenience. People just tend to go for what's cheap and easy. Myself included -- I try to buy from the little guy when I can, but Amazon has made shopping easier than ever, and the masses love them for it.

meetapossum

@P.J. Morse Duh? Obviously convenience is a huge factor, but if you're already shopping online, what's one more site to add to your list? If cheapness is what your after, I guess that's your prerogative, but maybe everyone in a while you should ask yourself what it's really costing society to constantly support a corporate behemoth.

P.J. Morse

@meetapossum Not as much of a duh as you think. I've sat in a lot of studies where I've seen computer users in particular behave as if adding one more site to a shopping list is a very big deal. Don't ask me why.

I add other sites to my list when I can (note the above -- "I try to buy from the little guy when I can"), and I don't want the world run by corporate behemoths, either, but it's human nature. People tend to do what's easy. That doesn't make it right, but it is a hurdle for smaller businesses to overcome. If a small business can find a way to sell its product cheaper and faster than the big guy, then we wouldn't be having these convos.

meetapossum

@meetapossum Guh, *you're *every once in a while. My ire is making me fail at basic English.

@P.J. Morse The point is that small businesses can't find a way to do that. Amazon uses books as a loss leader--they LOSE money from selling their books at such a low price because they make up that money with other products. In what universe can any independent bookseller compete with that model?

P.J. Morse

@meetapossum Independent booksellers can't compete in this universe. Even if they can figure out a way, they won't be able to pull it off for a long time. Telling people to change their behavior can help, but it won't solve the problem.

We have the same goals--more indie booksellers and fewer corporate behemoths, right?--but I just wanted to say that it is hard to change consumer behavior. Sometimes people unlock the code (Jobs, for example), but bad shopping habits are hard to break.

meetapossum

@P.J. Morse Definitely, which gets to the heart of what Nicole and Edith were asking: Should we stop linking to Amazon if we benefit from it?

I think the answer is yes. Amazon is awful, and there are other options to support independent businesses while still earning money. It's hard to change consumer behavior, but that doesn't mean the Hairpin (or any other website or person) is obligated to encourage it.

frenz.lo

So, related, but not directly: how helpful are random clicks to ads and sponsored content? I want to help!

rasko

@frenz.lo Me too... Can my new year's resolution be to click more ads on the websites I love?

meetapossum

"Unless it's the idea that supporting Amazon and their deep discounting is putting indie publishers out of business, although (so many tiny turns) I don't entirely see that as a problem, if only because there are too many books anyway."

Edith >:(

Edith Zimmerman

@meetapossum I have trouble with the idea of scrambling to hold on to something that's so inevitably crumbling. Why not try to come up with something new to beat Amazon if Amazon is horrible, rather than clinging to models that so clearly are no longer working? It seems like beating heads against a wall.

meetapossum

@Edith Zimmerman Well, that's the rub! I mean, yes, they are going to be a lot less brick and mortar stores, and indies can develop a way to sell books online (e.g., Powell's, the Strand). The problem is, if Amazon can undercut these sellers at every turn, all we'll be left with is Amazon.

I have no problem with a changing market and evolving technology; I have a problem with a terrible business having the whole pie to themselves.

(I assume you're talking about indie bookstores and not indie publishers?)

meetapossum

@Edith Zimmerman Also, is just the idea of tangible books the "old model"? I mean, a lot of indies are open to the idea of selling ebooks as well. The problem starts when every major site where people get their book recs is linking Amazon.

I am so seriously torn about this. I love the Hairpin and understand the need for a website to make money, but when all websites link to Amazon, how does anyone learn about the other options? Small indies can't afford to offer an affiliate deal.

Obviously I have to admit my bias because I hate Amazon and work for a publisher (though I work for a reference publisher, so my part of the industry has been long dead hahaha).

deepomega

@meetapossum The Hairpin is a national bliggety blog, tho - providing local recommendations is inherently tough! (And providing recommendations for New York only is worse.) Amazon has the benefit of being, at the very least, a nationally accessible outlet.

meetapossum

@deepomega Yes, but any independent bookstore who can sell books online can ship them anywhere. As someone mentioned up above, Powell's also has a partnership program where sites can get money from books bought from through the link. But, as Edith and Nicole mentioned, people go on to buy other things than the books at Amazon, and that's Amazon's whole deal. They don't give one shit about how much money they lose when they sell a book (or even a Kindle!).

uff da

to echo earlier sentiments: i don't get why this is different than shopping at walmart. there are other models (not just indie book stores) available. the way that amazon gets defended by otherwise pro-small-business folks makes me think there is some level of guilt involved. (not just here. i work for a liberal website so i've had this argument a few times before.) if you don't let money and ease govern your other decisions, why is amazon special, despite being shady and ultra-corporate?

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