E-books and price resistance

Now that I have a Kindle Paperwhite, I’m paying more attention to my book-buying thought process. Yesterday I was thinking fondly about A Fan’s Notes, and I was prepared to purchase the ebook, but I just couldn’t bring myself to click the button — $9.99 just seemed too high a price for an impulse purchase where there was a good chance I’d be disappointed.  I would certainly have bought it for $4.99, but I wouldn’t have gone much higher.

The big publishers essentially won their battle with Amazon over agency pricing for ebooks.  They get to set the price, and they don’t seem to want to go below $9.99, even for a 47-year-old mid-list book like A Fan’s Notes.  I can’t really say they’re over-charging simply based on my personal level of price resistance.  But:

We’re hearing widespread but totally unofficial reports that big publisher ebook sales are dropping noticeably when their new higher Agency prices are activated.


What appears to be happening, writes Shatzkin, is that higher Agency pricing by publishers may be placing  the majors’ ebooks right out of the market for many potential buyers.

I did pay $11.99 recently for the ebook version of Faith vs. Fact.  But that was at least partially because I’ve gotten a lot of enjoyment over the years from reading Jerry Coyne’s website Why Evolution Is True and wanted to give something back to him.  I find it hard to imagine I’d pay that much otherwise.

Interesting times for traditional publishers.

My Kindle Paperwhite and me

I finally splurged and bought a Kindle Paperwhite–and immediately thereafter Amazon went ahead and announced a new improved model at the same price.  Oh, well.

My lovely wife got an early-model Kindle a few years ago, and neither of us used it much–the interface was clunky, and the resolution wasn’t very good.  I then used the Kindle app on my iPad 2, which was much better, but the iPad’s weight and form factor weren’t ideal for casual reading.  The Paperwhite is much better.

Thoughts on the Paperwhite so far:

  • The weight and form factor are fine.  You can hold the thing in one hand while holding your beer in your other hand.
  • It’s easier to use in sunlight than the iPad.
  • The resolution in my model is good enough for me, although I’m always happier to get better resolution. The ability to change font size and screen brightness is a big plus (as it is on the iPad app).
  • The built-in dictionary and Wikipedia are probably the biggest advantages for me over reading printed books.  I’m currently reading a novel set in the ninth century called Pope Joan, and the author doesn’t spare the medieval vocabulary.  (She does a good job with the olde-time dialog, although her characters aren’t particularly interesting so far)  At my age I should know what a posset is, but OK, I don’t.  It’s so easy to highlight the word and have the Kindle tell me what it means.
  • I sure wish it had color, if just for the book covers.
  • A battery charge lasts, like, forever.

And, of course, there’s the content. I was listening to Being Mortala wonderful book about old age and dying. The author mentioned Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which I haven’t read in decades.  So I went to the Kindle store and found it for $1.99–in a book with everything else Tolstoy ever wrote.  So now I have War and Peace and Anna Karenina on my Kindle, just in case.  If I get tired of Tolstoy, I can always dip into the complete stories of H. P. Lovecraft, which I also picked up for $1.99.  (I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Tolstoy is a better writer.)  Or the complete stories of Chekhov.  Or an old P. G. Wodehouse novel.  Or the Federalist Papers, which I never got around to reading when I was in school.

So far I haven’t spent more than $1.99 on anything I’ve bought for the Paperwhite, and I probably have enough on it to last me the rest of the year.  The older content has its share of typos and faulty layout, but the price is right.

Have I mentioned lately that my novels are all available for the Kindle Paperwhite at astonishingly low prices?  No typos, no faulty layout.

“Replica” is now free on Kindle!

Not wanting to be left behind, Amazon has now made Replica free for the Kindle.

It is my considered opinion that people like free stuff.  Replica is currently #236 among all free ebooks on Amazon.  It is #4 among Technothrillers, which is how my publisher classifies the novel, although I’d tend to call it a science fiction thriller.  Anyway, grab your copy now before they run out, and please write a customer review when you’ve read the thing.


Kindle Unlimited — threat or menace?

Amid yesterday’s depressing news about bombs and rockets and body parts strewn on the ground, we find out that Amazon has created a Netflix-like Kindle subscription service to compete with Oyster and Scribd.  The Passive Voice has a couple of posts about this, here and here.

For now, Kindle Unlimited appear to offer mostly indie books in the Kindle Select program, plus a sprinkling of mainstream books.  There are none from the Big Five publishers, apparently, unless the author owns his or her own ebook rights.  Presumably participation in Kindle Unlimited becomes yet another item to negotiate with these publishers.

My books aren’t there because the publisher I work with doesn’t like the premise of Kindle Select, which requires selling your ebook exclusively via Amazon.  (BookBub, it turns out, gives preference in its decision-making process to books available from multiple sources.)  Of course, if other ebook vendors collapse, things might change.  And it’s also possible that Amazon could retool the Kindle Select program to make it more attractive to authors who currently aren’t signing up.

Some articles I’ve read think that Kindle Unlimited is another step in reducing author’s incomes, the way Spotify and its ilk are causing problems for musicians.  Beats me.  It also seems likely that, unlike Spotify and Netflix, Kindle Unlimited serves a bit of a niche market: people don’t read as much as they listen to music or watch TV.  Ten dollars a month isn’t much money, but I couldn’t justify spending it, given the amount of reading I have time to do.  And unless the selection were virtually unlimited, I’d probably find the service too frustrating.


To check out the Print On Demand version of The Portal, I placed an order for it from Amazon on Saturday, with my two-day Amazon Prime shipping.  It arrived today, Wednesday.  So they were able to print the book  on Sunday (I guess) and ship it to me on Monday.  And it looks great!

I’m going to buy a bunch for my own use direct from the publisher.  I should be able to undercut Amazon’s prices significantly, although I don’t know about two-day shipping.  If you’re interested in buying one from me, let me know in comments or somewhere.  The advantage to buying it directly from me, in addition to the price, is that you can get my autograph in it.  Which is, of course, priceless.

“Pride and Prejudice” two hundred years later

A previous post reminded me that I had never read Pride and Prejudice.  So I decided to give it a try.  Here’s my experience of reading Pride and Prejudice in the modern world.

I downloaded the text for free from Amazon.  It took less than a minute to get it onto my iPad–but I got annoyed, as usual, because Apple won’t let you download Kindle books from inside the Kindle app.  The two-step process cost me an extra 20 seconds or so to get the novel to appear out of thin air.

I started reading the book on my iPad while flying 38,000 feet in the air across America.  I took advantage of the Kindle app’s built-in dictionary to tap on unfamiliar words and learn what they mean.  The words I didn’t know mainly had to do with modes of transportation in Jane Austen’s day; I now understand the difference between a curricle and a phaeton, although I’m not sure the definitions will stick in my brain.  Not much need to know those words today unless you’re reading a Jane Austen novel.

As I mentioned, I continued reading the novel while watching the final game of the 2013 World Series. Most of the players had incomes in excess of Mr. Darcy’s ten thousand pounds a year (even adjusted for inflation); however, watching them pour champagne over each other in the locker room convinced me that not even Mrs. Bennet would have found them respectable suitors for her daughters.  Also, I’m not sure any of the girls would have found those beards attractive.

I picked up the novel again while waiting to drive down to Commercial Street in Provincetown and see the somewhat unusual sights it has to offer.  This time I read the book on my iPhone; the Kindle app helpfully synced my place in the book with the furthest place I had reached on my iPad.  How does it do that?  Many of the folks I saw on Commercial Street were heading to a ball, but I don’t think the ball was anything like the one that Mr. Bingley hosted at Netherfield.  The men I encountered were, if anything, even less suitable than the baseball players.

I finished the novel while watching the Patriots destroy the Steelers on Sunday afternoon, followed by the Bears edging the Green Bay Packers on Monday Night Football.  Clearly neither Mr. Gronkowski nor Mr. Polomalu were suitable matches.  Nor Mr. Rogers, whose collarbone fractures so easily.  Mr. Brady would possibly have made a good husband to one of the girls, had he not scandalously sired a child out of wedlock some years ago.

At any rate, it is now 200 years since Pride and Prejudice was first published, and the world has changed.  And it is still exactly the same.  We now have a lovely new word humblebrag, and here is Mr. Darcy talking about the same thing in 1813:

“Nothing is more deceitful,” said Darcy, “than the appearance of humility. It is often only carelessness of opinion, and sometimes an indirect boast.”

What a great novel.

Thoughts on sales ranking; also, a bad review and a good sunflower

After getting as high as about #46 on the Nook bestseller list, Senator is starting to fade like the Tampa Bay Rays.  Its sudden rise in the rankings got me thinking about how they are calculated. A brief tour of the Internet convinced me that this is a rat-hole from which one may never return.  The algorithms are proprietary and probably change periodically, so it’s all guesswork.

Since I’m dealing with a publisher rather than publishing my books myself, I don’t see the daily sales figures on Amazon and B&N, so there is no easy way for me to see how the ranking tracks these sales numbers.  But lots of self-published writers apparently have nothing better to do, and they are more than happy to opine about who the rankings are calculated.

The consensus, if you care, is that the ranking represents something like a 30-day moving average, with more recent sales weighted more heavily than sales earlier in the cycle. There is probably some residual effect from sales prior to the 30-day period, so a book that sells five copies a year will have a higher ranking than a book that sells one copy. I have no idea if this is anything like the truth, but it seems plausible to me.  And how many sales does a particular ranking represent?  This looks like a reasonable guess.  Of course, that’s for Amazon.  Barnes & Noble would presumably be something like 20% of that.

Anyway, the sales on Barnes & Noble have started to get Senator some reviews there.  Here is a remarkably bad one that I enjoyed (sort of).  It’s by our friend Anonymous and is titled “Awful”:

Was there a good guy anywhere in this mess? However samples at end were even worse and can now avoid all in future mom

What’s impressive about this is that the writer feels obliged to trash the samples as well as the novel.  Also, what’s up with the word “mom” at the end?  Is the writer trying to insinuate that “Anonymous” is actually my mother?  That’s harsh.

To make myself feel better, here’s a photo of some sunflowers from my garden:



Also, the Red Sox just beat the Yankees for the third time in a row, so there’s that.

The Portal is now available from Amazon!

It’s time to enter The Portal.


Okay, that’s a bit hokey, but seriously, the Kindle version of The Portal is now available. It’ll be up on Barnes & Noble, iBooks, and other fine sites soon. Those of you who have dipped into the novel on this blog can now have your very own electronic copy for the astonishingly low price of $4.99.  (All right, that price isn’t so astonishingly low, but it’s what my publisher decided the thing was worth.)

Customer reviews are critical to the success of an ebook.  If you can find it in your heart to write a good review of The Portal at Amazon, that would be very helpful.  You don’t have to purchase the book from Amazon, but reviews from verified purchasers count for more.

My publisher and I couldn’t quite agree on sales copy for The Portal.  Here is my summary:

In the woods behind his house Larry Barnes makes a spectacular discovery—an invisible portal to a parallel universe, where Burger King has turned into Burger Queen, cell phones are huge, and his home town doesn’t look anything like the place where he lives.  When he returns from this world, he makes the mistake of telling his best friend, Kevin Albright, who convinces him to try entering the portal one more time.  What could go wrong?

But this time Larry and Kevin find themselves in a very different world. From the moment they step out of the portal they are caught up in a war that pits the United States of New England against New Portugal and Canada.  They need to make their way in a world that is utterly alien, without computers or automobiles or telephones.  A world in which no one has heard of America, or Mozart, or bacteria.  Larry and Kevin face hunger, disease, battle—and, most of all, loneliness.  But they also find friendship and family, joy and love.  Can they survive the war—and help New England win it?  Can they make their way back to the portal and return home?  And what will they leave behind if they do make it back?

Exciting and deeply moving, The Portal is a science-fiction adventure you won’t soon forget.

“Summit” is #1 free spy thriller on Amazon

It would be better if people were, you know, actually paying for it.  But I’ll take what I can get!

Here’s the most recent customer review:

Richard Bowker manages to give lots of credibility to the subject of psychics. What is there not to agree in the end? Psychics do exist, even if their lives are depicted more in the dark forces type of books than in a thriller.
Deep thoughtful take on American and Russian ideals, the perceptions and beliefs ingrained in their nationals to infuse a patriotic love, which makes us explore our own psyche and rattles perhaps our own confidence in our righteousness. The same political corruption and power greed exists at all levels, in all countries- and is perfectly delineated in the pages of this book. It is difficult not to love the heroes, and the insertion of a love story makes the read even more enjoyable for female readership. I did enjoy this book till the (perfect) end.

Marlborough Street is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble!

Kindly purchase it for the Kindle or the Nook.  Presumably it’ll show up in other places before long.  It’s only $2.99, and Christmas was expensive this year.

Marlborough Street’s summary and first chapter are here.  And here’s the cover, which maybe is OK:

Marlborough Street cover

I have to tell you that Marlborough Street is a pretty strange novel.  It’s partially about the meaning of life (which, incidentally, I explain on the last page), but it’s also about the difference between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and what it means to be a psychic.  It’s a suspense/thriller/horror type of thing, but I also tried to make it funny.  It all makes sense to me, but your mileage may vary.