Tag: Amazon

WWW: News Wire

This was originally going to be a post about properly planting Chekhov guns in stories, but there are two big developments today in the battles between Amazon, Apple, the publishers, and the DOJ, both of which deserve attention of anyone who cares about the future of ebook and regular book pricing, with the potential of both affecting the future of author compensation.

First, from The Bookseller, Two US publishers turn backs on Amazon.com.  Don’t let the headline underplay this, this isn’t another dispute between Amazon and a smaller group like IPG, this is at least two of the Big Six fighting back, though specifically which two is not yet known.

At least two of the big six publishers in the US are refusing to renew contracts with Amazon.com, with the giant internet retailer said to be downplaying the promotion of their titles as a result of the dispute.

The news was first reported by Salon reporter Alexander Zaitchik, who noted in a longer piece on Amazon, that “for the first time, the ‘Big Six’ publishers—HarperCollins, Random House, Hachette, Simon & Schuster, Penguin and Macmillan—have refused to sign Amazon’s latest annual contract”. Overnight PaidContent reported that “people familiar with the situation” confirmed to its reporter that at least two of these big-six houses have refused to sign new annual contracts, but it could not confirm whether the remaining four had taken a similar stance.

Interesting to see they’re not completely yanking the titles like they did with IPG, but then I always suspected they went after IPG because Amazon felt they were a weaker target, someone that would just roll over, and someone whose business they could afford to lose.  Can’t yank two of the Big Six, that’s a significant portion of the market, and that’s going to hurt Amazon far more than it would likely hurt the publisher.

Second, from the Washington Post, among others, Justice Dept. sues Apple, publishers over e-book prices.  This is what we’ve been expecting for a few weeks now, ever since the threats came down.  This follows close on the heels of HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, and Hachette settling with the government.

The U.S. Justice Department announced Wednesday it was suing Apple and five major publishers, alleging they colluded to keep the price of e-books artificially high.

“As a result of this alleged conspiracy, we believe that consumers paid millions of dollars more for some of the most popular titles,” U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said. “We allege that executives at the highest levels of these companies–concerned that e-book sellers had reduced prices–worked together to eliminate competition.”

The suit was filed against Apple as well as HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, Hachette Book Group, Penguin Group, and MacMillan.

I’ve made my side in this fight known.  I side with the publishers, which means I side with Apple, largely because I stand by a standardization of prices across digital formats.  I’m not going to say that the Agency Model is the end all and be all, but as I say in that post:

If I comparison shop between Barnes, Amazon, and my local independent book seller, I may get three different prices for a book.  I can pick the cheapest one, and I can read it without any worries.  However with three major formats for eBooks, comparison shopping is limited by my ability to then read the book I picked up.  Finding a book cheaper through the Nook store isn’t going to do me a damned bit of good when I have a Kindle.  So if one company, say Amazon, consistently undercuts the other two, it’s going to push people exclusively to the Kindle.  One company can control the market by being the most able to sustain a loss.

The DOJ isn’t intentionally acting to help Amazon create a monopoly, but stand by my concerns that that will be the outcome.

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Amazon Studios gains credibility?

Screenwriting Niche with Annotated Copy of Psycho by Pietro RoizzoLast year Amazon created a project called Amazon Studios seeking the newest greatest unknown screenplay promising (with the usual industry caveats) to turn it into a film. I have to admit, both I and DL Thurston looked on this with some skepticism.

Granted, I’ve seen crowd-sourcing do some amazing things but make a film? They got some initial heat for that and in the next updates allowed for the “locking” of scripts so a writer’s original intent could be retained. But overall, the reviews tended to vacillate between hopeful wonder to skepticism to outrage.

But from a recent article, it looks like our cynicism may be unfounded, or at least premature. Producers Denise Di Novi (“Crazy, Stupid, Love”), Bill Gerber (“Gran Torino”) and Academy Award winner Edward Saxon (“Silence of the Lambs”) have signed on to produce scripts from Amazon Studios. All have solid film resumes. This would give credibility to the Amazon Studios projects.

I can’t quite speak for the model yet and am given to understand there’s still some general community concern about writer’s rights surrounding the work. But having “big name” producers attached certainly draws my attention.

Also, another reason for my reconsideration was that I recognized one of the scripts, or rather the script writer. Touching Blue was put forward by Scott Mullen. I know him better as “Scott the Reader” ( and yes, I’m embarrassed to say that IS how I refer to him in conversations). But I digress. I’ve followed his blog of being an aspiring screenwriter – Alligators in a Helicopter - for years. It is great seeing someone you “know” get some well-deserved attention for their writing.

Also as a note, Scott the Reader (which is also what he does professionally, as well as being a writer), offers $60 Notes. Send him your screenplay and he’ll get back to you a 3-4 page breakdown.  Although I haven’t personally availed myself of this generous offer (and if you explore other folks doing the same thing you’ll see exactly how generous it is), his breakdown of films on his blog and eye for structure and flow there makes me think it not just generous, but valuable.

So, in short, it’s exciting to see how Amazon Studios is proceeding and wishing the best to Scott Mullen.

More information available here:

Amazon Studios Hooks Winning Scripts Up with Producers

John August and Craig Mazin Critique the Amazon Studios Venture
Two prominent screenwriters point out the flaws in Amazon’s effort to develop movie material with crowd-sourcing


WWW: Amazon Price Check

Today, a direct cross post from my blog:

For anyone who hasn’t been following the tech blogs this week, or any of the other sites that have talked about the Amazon scanner promotion, a brief background.  Amazon is looking to encourage what it calls “comparison shopping” by those who have smartphones and the Amazon Price Check app.  Simply take your smart phone into a regular store, scan the bar code, and see what the price of the item is on Amazon.  This past Saturday, they were even offering 5% off up to three items, maxing out at $5 each.

It was seen by many as an aggressive move, another shot across the bow of brick-and-mortar retailing from a company already largely credited with destroying book selling giant Borders (though I still contend they did as much to hurt themselves as Amazon ever did to them).  And it created a backlash against the company as many accused them of using everyday people as price spies, and encouraging people to go into mom-and-pop stores that they had no intention of shopping at just to get up to $15.  How much of this is true, it’s hard to say.  I can’t imagine no one walked into a store intending to do a quick price scan, and didn’t buy something anyway.  Someone somewhere generated a sale they otherwise wouldn’t have.  And most people buying from Amazon that day were probably already going to buy from Amazon anyway, and were just looking for a quick sawbuck.

I’m not defending Amazon.  I’m just not looking to engage in nearly the rhetoric I’ve seen against a company that is always looking for a new way of changing the way consumers approach products.  This is the same company that created Amazon Studios, a project that I’m thrilled to say I was wrong about when I approached it with some cynicism at its launch.  It’s a company that is now directly publishing and selling books, a move that I’m still cynical about.  It’s a company that took a flagging market in eBooks and has turned it into a commercial success.  This campaign was largely a PR miss for them, but that’s something they can brush off.

What I found much more intriguing about this promotion was the way it embraced smart phone technology.  There’s no doubt that the devices are rapidly changing the way we live life, and are an increasing share of the phone market.  Hell, I have two of them.  Nearly three if you count my iPod Touch.  And one of my desires when buying a new phone was one that could do on-the-fly barcode reading, something that my old Pre could just never quite handle due to the fixed focus lens.  It’s a step towards a world where we’re in more direct contact with companies, and where information can be delivered to us on the fly.

Consider the QR Code.  Those are the little black-and-white squares showing up in more and more advertising, especially in places where people tend to have smart phones on them.  They can be quickly scanned and decoded by most modern smart devices, delivering a website address or up to 250 characters of text on the fly.  And that’s really the intriguing part of all of this, on the fly voluntary advertising.  People have to make an active decision to pull out their phone and scan the code, transforming what is typically passive advertising into much more active advertising.

Why?

Because it’s fun, and cool.

As someone occasionally obsessed with new channels for self promotion, this strikes me as intriguing.  I’ve already heard of tech conventions that include, on every badge, a QR Code containing all the typical business card information for that participant.  It cuts out the in-between activities of adding someone into your phone’s contact list by directly dropping them in with a quick scan.  On my own, I’ve played with the idea of QR codes that contain links to my blog, links to my book on Smashwords (when that was a thing) and have even considered the idea of original fiction short enough to put into a QR Code.  Hell, people have created twitter-length fiction, QR gives an entire 110 extra characters for just a bit more plot depth.  That’s almost twice the length.

Where does all of this lead us?  I can’t help but wonder when the active will become passive again, with QR giving way to augmented reality.  I also can’t help but wonder when it won’t be just a barcode that Amazon wants you to scan, but a product itself.  Can I take a picture of my desk and see how much each item on it would cost to replace?  It creates new lines of self promotion, something that every author engages in at least a little of.  Just that slightly intriguing different take on letting the world know who you are, just enough to get eyeballs.  And it digitizes things one step further.  It changes the way people interact with their world, with their commerce, and with content distribution.  QR codes could easily point someone to a short story, or even a novel, available free for quick download.

I can’t say that Amazon is changing the world for the better or worse by asking people to scan barcodes.  I can’t say that QR codes are going to be anything more than a fad.  But it is all a new form of digital interaction with our world that is already the new normal for many, and something that any self-individual, writers included, needs to keep up on.


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