My Dream Fixes For Createspace and Kindle Publishing!

Let me begin with an opening disclaimer:  Amazon does an excellent job with its platforms for independent authors.  I’ve chosen to use Amazon as a platform for distributing my own novels, so far be it from me to say they do a bad job.  I love how I get to keep the rights to my work, and my creations are distributed, promoted, and expanded upon at my own discretion.  Everything is on my timetable, and while there are certain disadvantages – most notably, a lack of extra eyes to examine and edit a manuscript to eliminate easily overlooked errors – I’ve found that I genuinely love controlling my own destiny.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that Amazon and Hatchette Publishing – among others, it seems, as reported by Laura Hazard Owen, of Gigaom – are fighting a major war over contracts.  Brooke Warner of the Huffington Post gives an especially detailed explanation as to how this fight is playing out.  Amazon is stretching the limits of responsible warfare tactics as it disables pre-orders for companies its in a contract dispute with.  On the other hand, Bloomberg News points out that Amazon claims to be simply asking for Hatchette to pitch in half of an author-payment pool to make up for the difference between E-Bookand paperback royalties.

That said, having been through a couple of tech-support e-mails and publication snafus in my time, I’ve concocted a few ways they can improve their product.  But, first, a little exposition!

 

How Amazon Kindle and Createspace Publishing Work

Createspace was once a self-publishing start-up called “Booksurge,” and its goal was to provide print-on-demand services to authors who had, for whatever reason, opted to jump head-first into the still-shallow independent author pool.  Booksurge and another company were acquired by Amazon in 2005, and were eventually re-branded as Createspace in 2007.  Createspace does what Booksurge did, only it does it at Amazon’s beck-and-call.  This marriage ultimately yielded two blessings in tandem:  Createspace-published books are easily implanted into Amazon’s marketplace; and, with the invention of the Kindle in 2007, it made for relatively easy access to the budding distribution network for the world’s most infamous e-reader.

The premise is simple:  An author uploads a Word Document to Create-space in an appropriate format for a novel.  They choose a cover and a distribution scheme, purchasing such things as ISBNs if they wish.  Then, with a few clicks, they can publish their own novel in both print and, if they so choose, on the Amazon Kindle.  Software – and not the author – takes care of the vast majority of this process.  Amazon’s Kindle Direct Select program even gives authors extra perks to exclusively distribute the electronic version of their novel on the Kindle.  It’s all-in-all a sweet deal!

But, there’s room for improvement.  The first idea I have is a simple enough one:

 

Standardizing the price structure for physical products.

One of the biggest reasons I chose to go with Amazon instead of its competitor and my first publishing home, Lulu Press, was that Lulu added an exorbitant charge in order to place my novel on Amazon’s marketplace.  Lulu and Createspace both stick to a simple formula in that authors set the price of their novels, while the printer charges for the raw materials (paper, ink, etc) and takes a cut of the sale price.  A $10 novel might cost $2 to produce; the printer might then charge an additional 20% ($2) per sale, leaving the author with a whole $6.  That is, of course, unless the author is selling the book on another company’s site.  Barnes and Noble would want its own share of the profits, perhaps another 20% for the sake of this explanation.  That leaves the author getting $6 if a person buys the novel from their little-known printing press, but only $4 if the book is bought at a larger retailer.

Back in 2005, when I first released Pillars Of The Kingdom, I faced an insane problem:  If I had wanted to sell my first books on Amazon at the prices I wanted to sell them at, I would have owed Amazon money for any possible sales I made.  Yes, that speaks ill of Amazon, itself, since it was Amazon’s choice to charge Lulu a pretty penny for access.  On the other hand, it helped hit home that Lulu wasn’t a powerful enough platform to launch a career as an author from.  I needed something greater, and Createspace’s tag-team with the Kindle distribution network made it a clear winner.

Therefore, since Amazon owns Createspace, one might imagine that the author’s end-royalty would be the same, regardless as to if the book is sold on Createspace’s store or Amazon’s.  Alas, that’s not true:  This handy little calculator makes clear that a 200 page, black-and-white, 6×9 format novel sold for $9.99 will yield the author $4.74 on the Createspace store, $2.74 on Amazon’s marketplace, or a paltry $0.74 if it is sold through expanded distribution!  Even though Amazon owns Createspace, and therefore banks all of its profit, anyway, it still charges an extra premium for access to Amazon’s network.  It’s true that Amazon will sometimes knock the list price of a book down, using this price gap as a cushion, but it could be reduced a slight bit in the selfish pursuit of giving authors more money per sale.

Basically put, this is an anachronism that needs to end.

 

Improving Kindle-To-Createspace Communication

Oh, dear.  This was one of the biggest issues I had with publishing Physics Reincarnate.  It’s a difficult problem to explain, but think of it like a chicken-and-the-egg scenario.  If you set out to publish on Kindle first, and then decide you’d like to also publish on Createspace, linking the two titles can be a nightmare.  Even when handled by customer service representatives, you can end up with two slightly different entries for your book’s listing as a series.  It’s problematic to say the least, though it’s shown no actual evidence of hampering sales, so far.  Coming at it from the other end is easier; Createspace has some Kindle-production capabilities built in, but it doesn’t fix every problem.  Essentially it serves as a portal to the Kindle creation service.

I have to add a sort of disclaimer, here:  With Amazon’s “Matchbook” program, an author may choose to give away a free or discounted Kindle version of a given novel as a courtesy to those who buy the physical product.  It’s your basic Paperback + E-Book deal, but it expands an author’s options on providing deals to their customers.

 

Better Sales Feedback

If I want to check how many books I have sold, on Kindle, in the last two years, the process is fairly straight forward.  I start by downloading a .PDF chart…For May, 2014.  Then, I download one for April, 2014.  Rinse-and-repeat.  Createspace’s author-gateway is similar in its incredible disorganization.  Essentially, you have to download twenty-four folders just to get the raw data for the past two years of your own sales; then, of course, you have to collate them!

We live in the age of cloud computing.  Hell!  Amazon offers website hosting services!  There is no reason they could not keep a compressed sort of glorified excel sheet keeping track of sales records.  What books were sold in what region each month?  That should be a piece of cake.

 

In summation…

Those are the three big issues I wanted to address.  There are probably plenty of other petty concerns, especially having to do with formatting book covers (ugh), but those are issues that are more just matters of confusion than sorely-lacking smoothness.  I’m also not going to try to talk about their music publishing options – I don’t do that, I’m afraid!  Be it Kindle, Createspace, or both, Amazon is still an excellent place to self-publish.  I just want to make it better, if my little voice in the writing wilderness can be heard!

 

Jesse Pohlman is an independent author from Long Island, New York.  He’s self-published five novels, including the popular Physics Incarnate and Protostar serieses.  Check them out!

An Open Letter To The FCC: Save Net Neutrality!

You might not be aware of this, but you’re reading this article on the internet.  Okay, you probably knew that; what you didn’t know is that the very nature of the internet is under attack.  The reason you can load my webpage as fast as you can load Amazon or Google is because of a legal and regulatory concept called “Net Neutrality.”  The idea is that the Federal Communications Commission, which governs telecommunications devices such as radio, TV broadcasts, and phone networks, required all internet service providers to treat data flowing through their cables equally, regardless of the source.  Verizon, among other companies (especially Comcast), has led the charge on eliminating this rule; Comcast and Verizon have already used shady pretexts of “peering” to coerce Netflix into paying them what amounts to a tithe so that their data can reach consumers at reasonable speeds.

Now, creative and digital types have talked about this for a while, but the truth is that there’s a lot of abstract terminology and regulation involved.  The media has generally failed to get a hold on it until, well, until now:  John Oliver, host of Last Week Tonight (and one of the best-ever The Daily Show correspondents and substitute-hosts, never forget), did an amazing job describing this issue.  It’s thirteen minutes long, but Oliver is a hilarious gentleman who will make it both educational and fun!  And, no, I’m not lying to trick you into watching.

I did exactly as Mr.  Oliver asked.  Well, first I went to the FCC’s website, got the phone number for their boss, and called them!  Then, I visited the FCC’s commentary system, which by the way is archaic (ancient (really fucking outdated)) and posted a comment.  This could easily qualify as a topic for a Dystopian Review video, which I might give a shot at making.  I dunno.  However, if that doesn’t get done, since my comment is already in the public domain, well,  here it is!  Feel free to basically cut/and/paste it when you comment, though I’d like to be credited if you do so.  Just cuz it’s a just cause!

 

 My Open Letter To The FCC

 

To: Tom Wheeler, chairman of the FCC; the larger body of FCC employees; the rest of the country and the rest of the world!

I know you’re overwhelmed, so I’ll make this very simple, ladies and gentlemen. I’m a 29 year old writer from Long Island, in New York. I’m an independent author. Most of my sales come from electronic books distributed via Kindle. I am, with some caveats, the definition of a “start-up” enterprise. What I do would not be possible without an open internet; Amazon’s rise would not have been possible without an open internet; our whole modern economy would not be possible without, well, you get the idea – an open internet!

There’s more: The government, which is by/of/for the people, paid for the research that ultimately led to such services as ARPANET. In one ethical viewpoint, the internet is already ours – we paid for it! But, that’s unrealistic, so let’s instead turn to the inscrutable source which is Wikipedia: It claims that in 1993, the internet carried 1% of all telecommunicated information. In 2000, it carried 51%, and by 2007 it carried 97% of all telecommunicated information. Since that wikipedia article cites a study by Martin Hilbert and Priscilla Lopez, “The world’s technological capability to store, communicate, and compute information,” published in Science Magazine in April of 2011, I’d wager it’s a legitimate argument.

Therefore, it’s safe to conclude: At least 90% of all that telecommunications companies do is part of the internet. It follows that, for lack of a better term, the internet is telecommunications. Guess what? That makes administering it your job. Perhaps “Commissioning” is a better word? I’ll leave to the side the numerous studies showing that, under your stewardship, our quality-of-internet has plummeted, and that most of our telecommunications companies have carved out little fiefdoms which clearly violate whatever anti-trust statues are on the books. I’m sure you’ve been linked to enough clips of John Oliver citing them to get the point.

But, here’s mine: We paid for it, we paid for it again when we bought a subscription to our cable company, and we pay you to keep it working in a fair manner. The concepts of “net neutrality” and “open internet” are vague and easy for people, even myself, to not quite “get.” However, since you’re the experts here, you know what your job is: Get it right. That’s all the majority of us ask: Get it right.

Regulate telecommunication companies like you would regulate any other public utility, because I can guarantee you that it is easier to disconnect from your local water utility by setting up rain collection buckets than it is to disconnect from your local internet service provider and get any kind of service. I mean, that’s the whole point of utility regulation, right? People need things like electricity, water, and telephones (which are telecommunication devices, themselves).

Regulate them the right way because it’s the right thing to do.

 

My warmest regards,

–Jesse Pohlman