Friday, July 30, 2010

Economic Greed or Strategic Conspiracy?

There have been numerous discussions regarding the correct price of ebooks, including on this blog (internal link). While Amazon has allowed publishers and authors to lower the price of their books, they have resisted allowing them to raise the price above $9.99.

This has generally been seen as a commitment to market penetration (helping the reader to become used to purchasing ebooks through offering an attractive price). The question is: why are so many publishers resisting?

The publishers, McMillan, recently confronted Amazon's policy and told the online giants that they planned to sell their ebooks at a higher price. They wanted to maintain the right to set the price of the book, allowing the retailer (Amazon, Nook, iPad etc.) to set their own commission percentage.

Amazon refused to accept this and actually pulled the "buy now" buttons from the pages of McMillan books (both their ebooks and tree books). While a compromise was quickly reached, the impact of Apple's iPad and their willingness to accept the agency model that McMillan and other publishers prefer, has led to an erosion of Amazon's ability to control the price of ebooks.

What puzzles me is why are publishers (and many authors) preferring to raise the price of ebooks especially given that the market is still in its nascent strange? True, they will make more money per copy, but surely they realize that they are going to sell considerably less copies.

Many authors (non A-list) are discovering that once their ebook price drops to less than $5, or even $3, given that Amazon are now offering an unprecedented 70% royalty, their sales become far more prolific. Sales of Oilspill dotcom grew when I reduced the ebook price to $4.99, and Amazon have since dropped it periodically to as low as $3.17.

Given that one assumes the publishing houses have economists with strategic experience, is their decision to raise the price above $10 simply short-term greed, or is it a subtle strategic decision to try and slow the growth of the ebook market.

I doubt I would have thought this a few years ago, but given the recklessness of financial institutions, housing and energy multinationals, doesn't it make you wonder?


Oilspill dotcom is available on Amazon's Kindle for the price of a large, fancy cup of coffee. Be warned: the coffee gets cold before you finish the first third of the book!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Writing With My Sons

My annual family camping expedition is always exciting for me. It is an opportunity to spend intensive time with my sons and wife without the interruption of screens, play dates, or work.

We have seen orcas in the ocean, bald eagles in the sky, caught our first trout each, biked in the redwoods, driven boats on lakes, and much more. This year we had an experience that was particularly special.

My eldest son is 11 and loves reading fantasy. Give him swords, a quest and some dragons, and he can disappear for hours even as he sits in our living room. About six months ago, we began writing a fantasy novel, just a few pages and then forgot it in the humdrum of regular life.

During this vacation, we reread what we had written and began writing again. Our younger son (7) joined in. And now we have 12,000 words on the page (well, word document).

The book might come to nothing, but sitting under the stars, gas light on a picnic table, my sons either side of me as we rode the creative waves of writing together was truly exhilarating. We might not be an immediate threat to the masters: Tolkien, Donaldson, Brooks et al, but I will treasure what we wrote and especially the experience of creating together.

Good Writing,

Oilspill dotcom - in paperback & currently on Kindle for $4.99

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Book Promotion Strategy

I recently spoke to a group of fellow struggling authors and just adapted my notes to respond to a friends question about how to market his forthcoming book. Here is a summary of my notes:

Overall Strategy: Focus on Amazon, blogging and social networking.

1. Reviews - find 2-3 mid-level authors in your genre and ask them for reviews. Also find on local TV or radio people who have book or culture shows. Their names might not be recognizable, but their station is. These are future blurbs and important.

Find 10 people who will enjoy reading your book (not with your family name) and give them copies asking them to write on Amazon. Also once the book is up, you will hear from people who enjoyed it - ask them to review on Amazon. If you have trouble finding people, Amazon has a reviewer's program - this doesn't guarantee a good review, but guarantees that someone will read and post.

2. Get hold of The Author's Guide to Building an Online Platform - Stephanie Chandler. Main thrust - a website and blog. Check out my website - I researched about 20 author websites before deciding on the website's structure.

3. Online Forums: Have a signature (see mine at bottom of post - with link to Amazon pages). Participate in online forums and every time you post, add your signature at bottom. Don't plug your book in the text, it is annoying and turns people off, but if you write an intelligent comment in a post, people will check you out. I have made a mistake of participating in too many forums for writers - my new publisher is pushing me to focus on groups that are relevant to the theme of my book - political activism for me).

4. Blog - this is very effective and requires more than a blog post to discuss it. I know an author, Lloyd Lofthouse, who has a specific and exhausting strategy and is succeeding to sell his e-books through his blog.

5. Kindle - yes you should have your book in e-book form. The topic of yes/no is exhausted and history. It costs about $200 to convert to Kindle, but is worth it. I have my book at Smashwords, which is free, and can d/load to every device out there now including iPad. I have not seen many sales there, but this might be my fault. Also, Kemble Scott swears by Scribd - I put my book up there, but also haven't seen much – again probably my fault.

My suggestion/summary:
You only have a certain amount of time during the day to promote your books. Decide on one strategy and stick to it. Kemble Scott and the guy who is blogging like crazy are good examples. I am not.

My new publisher is pressing me to:
1. Blog like crazy
2. Focus on Amazon and leave bookstores etc.
3. Comment on online forums about political advocacy on Amazon and kindle boards.

This will be my focus since he is kind of my boss now. There are 2 books about Amazon.
Sell Your Book on Amazon - Brent Sampson
Another by a guy called Shepherd that I can’t find (if you know the book, please leave the title in comments). In searching for this, I just d/loaded another ( for .99cents on kindle) and will let you know if it is any good.

Also as a general resource book:
1001 Ways to Market Your Books, Sixth Edition (1001 Ways to Market Your Books: For Authors and Publishers) - John Kramer.

Good Writing,

Oilspill dotcom - in paperback & currently on Amazon's Kindle for $3.19.
More info at

Saturday, July 3, 2010

July 2nd: Assault on the Casual Carpool: Day 2

A New Strategy.

An assertive, well-dressed woman sat herself down in the passenger seat of my car and immediately asked if she was required to pay the dollar. I replied that it was not mandatory, but welcomed. I recounted the mixed results of yesterday.

For 10 minutes we politely discussed the pros and cons of who should pay. She was extremely pleasant and non-confrontational. I was convinced that she was so concerned that she would ultimately offer the $1.

She didn't. This left me even more confused. Had we not discussed it beyond her initial request and focused instead on other topics (NPR was anticipating the fallout of the verdict form the Oscar Grant trial), it would have felt okay. But she kept me in suspense for half the trip by discussing the issue.

Oh well. The other passenger said nothing and gazed out of the window the whole way.

And so it continues … On this 4th July weekend: God bless America and the Casual Car Pool.

Happy 4th,

Oilspill dotcom - in paperback & currently on Amazon's Kindle for $3.19.
More info at

Thursday, July 1, 2010

July 1st - Assault on the Casual Carpool: Day 1

And so it began.

The first day where the casual carpool, three strangers thrown randomly together with a joint aim of commuting into San Francisco in the cheapest, most comfortable and quickest way, must deal with the toll booth dilemma.

As of July 1st, the casual carpool must pay $2.50 to go onto the Bay Bridge. Who pays? The online discussion board has been contentious. Some passengers are willing to contribute a dollar. Others won't. Some will volunteer, others want to be asked. Some object to being asked as it creates a tense feeling in the car.

I have conducted my own informal survey over the last month, and my findings reflect the discussion board. One discussion got heated between my two passengers, a couple of people refused to comment.

So today was the test. Magically as we passed under the tollbooth and my Fast Track beeped, National Public Radio talked about the new rule. Perfect timing. The woman next to me offered her dollar, which I gratefully accepted. The man behind her buried himself deeper in his smart phone.

And so the assault on the last bastion of radical America has begun. Political singer, Billy Bragg, called the carpool lane, the only example of the far left (physically as well as politically). The British Empire (where the sun never set) was based upon the strategy of Divide and Conquer. I believe mainstream America has gone colonist ¬¬… right here in the Bay Area.

It is ultimately a question of values, a question of relationships, but above all, a question of how we fuse our values with money. Talk around the BBQ pit is cheap. Everyone knows what needs to be done to save the world. It is easy until you ask them to foot the bill.

I solicit people everyday for donations to the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, where I work. I tell the story, share the vision, the excitement, the inspiring results, and then when we get to the ask, I taint it by reminding them that their gift is tax-deductible. These generous donors know that. They are likely to be very savvy money managers and business people. This is what has put them in a position to donate in the first place. Do they really need the extra reminder of something altruistic?

As I sat in my car this morning, chatting with the pleasant woman who had offered her dollar, I glanced at the man in the back. He was doing a great job of being oblivious to our conversation, hunched intensely over his little screen.

I wonder what was going through his mind. Was it worth $1? For him? For me?

Have a good day,

Read Oilspill dotcom on Kindle, currently priced at $3.19