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Ebooks and Ereaders

Device review: Kindle Oasis

For the longest time, I’ve been reading ebooks on my last purchased Nook, a Samsung Galaxy S2 tablet, with a side helping of periodically reading on my iPad or iPhone. But this has been bugging me for a while, for a few reasons.

The problems

One: I’m getting older, and my eyes are getting weaker. Which has made me want to go easier on them. Given this, I thought it’d be nicer to shift my digital reading back to an e-ink device rather than on devices with much brighter screens.

Two: These days I want to be less distracted by my technology. But I still love ebooks, and I’ve missed my prior experience of reading on e-ink devices. Which is to say: devices whose entire reason for existence is to do one thing, show me whatever I want to read. They can’t distract me with Facebook or Twitter or games or email or whatever. There’s something very restful in that.

Three: The ongoing slow decline of Barnes and Noble has made me disenchanted with the idea of ever buying an ebook from them again. Never mind a new device.

Four: While most of my ebook purchases these days are from Kobo, I haven’t liked reading on the Kobo device I own, a Kobo Mini. I like how tiny it is. But I don’t like that if I load it up with even a reasonable fraction of my library, its performance slows down considerably.

And while Kobo has higher-end e-ink devices, those are hard to come by in the States. There have been reports of Kobo beginning a partnership with Walmart to sell ebook cards and devices here. But as I flat out refuse to set foot in a Walmart, buying a Kobo device from them isn’t on the table.

I could go up to Vancouver and get a Kobo there. But that distance also means that if the thing breaks, there isn’t an easy way for me to see about getting it repaired or replaced.

All of which led me to do something I hadn’t ever foreseen myself doing: purchasing an e-ink Kindle. Specifically, an Oasis.

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About Me

Amazon Author Pages

Theory has it that it’s a good idea to have an Amazon Author Page. So since I write under two different names, I have two different Amazon Author Pages! I went ahead and claimed “Angela Highland” as my pen name, which necessitated the following chain of communication:

Me to Amazon: Hey Amazon, I’m Angela Highland too!
Amazon to Me: Okay, we’ll have to clear this with your publisher.
Amazon to Carina: Hey, is this her?
Carina to Me: Amazon pinged us, is this your email address?
Me to Carina: Yep, that’s me!
Carina to Amazon: Yep, that’s her!
Amazon to Me: Fabulous. Here, have an Author page.

There’s my original Author Page for Angela Korra’ti, and the new one for Angela Highland. Those are both easy ways to look up my work if you want to buy any title for the Kindle, or the audio edition of Valor of the Healer. Feel free to bookmark these for your own reference, or if you know Kindle people who might like my stuff, point ’em at the links, mmkay?


On Google/YouTube–and Kindle Unlimited

Dara has a post up today with an analysis of Google/YouTube’s new music streaming service–and why its terms are a very, VERY bad idea for independent musicians. Her analysis, in short, is that this is aiming to make it utterly unnecessary for your listeners to come to you for any reason–because YouTube will already have all your stuff, and at a streaming quality that is essentially indistinguishable from CDs.

If you’re at all involved in independent music, you should go read what she’s got to say.

And if you’re an independent author, you should definitely keep an eye on this, too. Nick Mamatas reshared Dara’s link by noting, quote: “Imagine Kindle Unlimited if it weren’t optional and if Amazon were trawling physical libraries and scanning every book or story you’d ever written because you have one item up on Kindle.”

Because yeah. I’ve already seen reports that Kindle Unlimited is gutting ebook sales for participating authors–and may even be impacting sales for authors who aren’t participating. Dear Author noted on this post at The Digital Reader with reports to that effect, and links to further reading on the matter.

All of which, for me, continues to add up to deep reluctance to commit my work to any one channel. At the end of the day, I’m not seeing any evidence that signing up for KDP Select, for example, will do any more for me than distributing myself out to Barnes and Noble, iBooks, Smashwords, Kobo, and Google Play too–not to mention selling the print copies of Faerie Blood and Bone Walker.

John Scalzi has said repeatedly on his posts about Amazon and other big-name vendors of books that they are not an author’s friend. They’re there to make money, and if they think you can make them money, sure, they’re going to dangle shiny enticements in front of you to try to get you to commit your work to their exclusive systems. And anything that chokes off the due flow of money to you for your work should be treated with all due caution. I’m not saying indie musicians should never sign up for this new service, or that indie authors should never join Kindle Unlimited–but if you do, do it with your eyes open, and be aware of what it’s likely to do to your ability to sell your work.

In music and in writing, money should flow to the artist.

Read everything very carefully, and find out what will happen to that flow before you commit.

The Internet

Amazon vs. Disney: FIGHT!

Amazon is already not looking good on the Internet this weekend, thanks to trying to corral KDP authors into their slapfight with Hachette. BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE!

Dara discovered that Amazon is apparently ALSO in a dispute with Disney right now. So if you were looking to preorder copies of Muppets Most Wanted or Maleficent or Captain America: The Winter Soldier on disc from Amazon and found that you can’t, this would be why.

And I gotta say–seriously? I mean, picking a fight with a book publisher is one thing, but going up against the Mouse? And by extension, all the Disney and Marvel fans who want to order their movies? Captain America’s fandom, who have Winter Soldier about to drop on Blu-ray and DVD and who have the money to slurp up hundreds of thousands of copies? You want to piss all these customers off, Amazon?

Amazon even pulled this stunt with Warner earlier this year, too, according to the link above. And when you take all these examples together, and add in Amazon’s dispute with Macmillan a few years back as well, they start making quite the trend. If they keep it up, it’ll become a trend of making themselves unreliable to their customers.

‘Cause see my previous commentary on the Hachette post I put up yesterday. At the end of the day, if a customer comes to Amazon looking for Winter Soldier and sees that they can’t get it, if they REALLY want the movie right then, they’re going to go elsewhere to buy it. Target. Or Best Buy. Or Walmart. Or hell, even the video section of the nearest grocery store.

At the end of the day, all the customer knows is that they want to buy a thing. And if Amazon can’t provide that thing on a reliable, regular basis, eventually they’re going to start taking their business elsewhere.

Best comment I’ve seen on this was in the thread on userinfojames_nicoll‘s post about it, to wit:

Reports from Amazon distribution warehouses show massive Rodent Infestation chewing through stock.

Because YEAH. Pass the popcorn.

ETA: The NY Times has picked up the story!

Whedonesque has also noticed, which brought to my attention that yes, this impacts orders for the first season of Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., too.

Which of course leads to the obligatory second best comment I have now spotted, this time on Facebook: “Hail Hydra!”

ETA #2: The Mary Sue has the story now. And another NY Times article goes into both of the Amazon news items from over the weekend here.


Sorry, Amazon, I’m not getting in on your slapfight

As y’all know, I’ve elected to self-publish Faerie Blood via as many channels available to me, in the name of not limiting myself to a single channel. Even though the vast majority of my sales are on Amazon, as I’ve posted about before.

Tonight, I’ve just received a mass email that Amazon’s apparently sent out to all the KDP authors, asking us to email Hachette on their behalf in their ongoing dispute. (KDP, for those of you who don’t know, is Kindle Direct Publishing. It’s the system for authors to self-pub their stuff to the Kindle.) And I’m pulling my jaw back up off the floor as I’m trying to figure out what exactly Amazon thinks this is going to accomplish.

The first big thing that boggles me about this is this money quote:

We recognize that writers reasonably want to be left out of a dispute between large companies.

Yes. YES WE DO. So why am I getting email about this?

Because seriously, aside from any question of where I stand on this particular dispute (about which I have already posted), exactly how many fucks is Hachette supposed to give about what the self-published crowd has to say on this matter? We’re not making them any money, after all. We’re not their authors.

Amazon appears to be assuming that KDP authors are naturally going to side with them on this, too, if they’re actually going to the trouble to email us. That is not a good assumption to make. Because y’all know what Tolkien has to say about going to the elves for counsel, right?

Moreover, I can’t help but flash to the episode of Avatar: The Legend of Korra, that we just watched tonight, “Old Wounds”. There’s a scene towards the end of that, wherein Lin Beifong has it out with her sister Su over old family history–and the fight is brought to an abrupt halt when Su’s daughter Opal whips out her airbending, and chastises the two older women. “You’re sisters! Why do you want to hurt each other?”

Airbender Opal is Not Interested in Your Grudgematch

Airbender Opal is Not Interested in Your Grudgematch

‘Cause okay yeah fine I’m with Amazon on this part:

We want lower e-book prices. Hachette does not. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out of stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market – e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can and should be less expensive.

Speaking with my reader hat on, yes. I think $14.99 is stupidly high for an ebook, and I’m very reluctant to put down that kind of money for one, even for my top favorite authors, even though I have disposal income and a real big yen for ebooks. $12.99 is the very top of the price range I’m willing to semi-regularly consider. And given that there are hundreds of other ebooks I also want to read that I can get for $7.99, I’m a lot more inclined to wait until the ebook price drops before I buy it.

But speaking with my writer hat on:

I’m really not cool with turning off buy buttons on authors’ books when you’re in a dispute with their publisher. I’m really not cool with passive-aggressive messaging to the basic effect of “we can’t get this book for you right now, maybe we MIGHT get it in another 2-3 weeks”. And I’m really not cool with trying to distract people looking for Hachette titles–“we can’t get you this title so how about this one over here?” No. No. And NO. If I’m a customer coming to a site looking for a particular ebook, and you’re going to waffle at me about how it’s not available right now and you MIGHT be able to get it for me in a few weeks, y’know what I’m going to do?

Go buy it from Kobo or Barnes and Noble. And if I want it in print, I’m going to Third Place.

My interests lie in supporting the author. Amazon talks a real good talk about how lower ebook prices mean more sales, but when they’re going out of their way to make it hard for customers to buy Hachette ebooks, it’s the authors who’re losing the sales. It’s the authors who are taking it in the teeth. A lower ebook price isn’t worth much if people can’t buy your book.

ETA: Ah, here comes the author commentary.

Scalzi is not impressed with this maneuver on Amazon’s part and reminds us all that Amazon is acting in its own best interests, not those of authors or readers.

Chuck Wendig is likewise severely unimpressed, and calls this maneuver on Amazon’s part tacky.

ETA #2: Housemate Paul, when I mentioned to him that Amazon had pulled this stunt and how I was boggling about it, told me that he knew pretty much only that Amazon and Hachette were having a dispute, full stop. I explained that the fight was about ebook prices and that while I agree with Amazon on how prices for ebooks are often too high, I don’t like Amazon’s tactics against Hachette authors in this. Paul drew the parallel here of a grocery store trying to force a dog food company to lower prices on its dog food, and yeah, I can see that. Meanwhile, the customer comes in looking for dog food, and the store is all “well we can’t sell you this dog food, and we can’t get this brand of dog food for another three weeks, how about a nice sack of charcoal briquettes instead?”

And the customer, who has no idea whatsoever why the store is fighting it out with the dog food company, goes to the dog food aisle and does not see the dog food she came in there for in the first place. “Crap,” the customer thinks, “now I’m going to have to drive to another store.”

Because at the end of the day, all she wants is to feed her dog.

ETA #3: Oh look! Hachette responds to Amazon’s efforts!

ETA #4: I just had this link brought to my attention–some interesting analysis of where exactly Amazon and Hachette are coming from in this ongoing spat between them. Refreshingly neutral in tone. Check it out.

ETA #5: One more link with some analysis, over here. Starts with calling Amazon out for erroneously invoking Orwell in the mail that went to KDP authors.


Regarding Kindle Unlimited

Amazon’s new Kindle Unlimited service, which is basically their attempt to do Netflix for ebooks as far as I can tell, has been getting a lot of attention in the publishing world. Reactions, from what I’ve seen so far, are quite mixed. (Mr. Scalzi, for example, has an interesting writeup on the topic over here.) So here’s mine.

With my reader hat on, I’m feeling right now like this service won’t be useful to me, since it doesn’t really address how I interact with ebooks. If there’s a book I want to read that I don’t want to put down money for up front, I already have a way to address that: the Seattle Public Library and the King County Library System, both of which are very friendly to ebook checkouts. Granted, this doesn’t always work, since there are some books that these two systems might not actually have and which I could in theory immediately grab via Kindle Unlimited if I were so inclined.

But here’s the thing. If there’s a book I want to read ASAP, chances are very high that it’s by an author who’s already on my buy list. In which case, if I want it, I’ll be buying it. If it’s not an author I know already, chances are equally high that said book is competing with the several hundred other things on my To Read list, and it’ll come off the queue when I get to it. If the library systems don’t have it, I can generally wait till they do.

And if I happen to become unemployed again, the service becomes even more superfluous. $9.99 a month isn’t much if you have a regular, well-paying job. But if you don’t, every new dollar adds up. And this would be one of the first expenses I’d drop if I happened to be a subscriber who suddenly lost her job.

Really, though, when you get right down to it, I’m perfectly happy to use the library for books I’m not sure I want to buy yet. And if it becomes a question of “who gets my money”, I’d just as soon donate to the library rather than blow $9.99 a month for access to books I will most likely not actually read in any given month.

Because I mean, seriously, people, there are currently over 1,200 titles on my Goodreads To Read shelf. Many of which I already own, and most of the rest of which I can grab from the library when necessary. I’m not seeing much need to blow $9.99 a month on top of that to get access to those books via some other mechanism.

Meanwhile, with my author hat on, my reactions are mixed. Whether my titles with Carina show up on this service is beyond my control. If Harlequin elects to deploy Carina titles to the service, it’s certainly possible that I might get a few extra pennies I might not otherwise get, which is fine. (Though at the level at which I currently operate, yeah, a few extra pennies would be what I’d have to expect here.)

And as y’all know, since I’m not publishing Faerie Blood exclusively with Amazon, that title certainly won’t be getting out there. So in regards to my self-published stuff, Kindle Unlimited isn’t a benefit to me at all.

How about y’all? Anybody out there going to sign up for this thing, as a writer OR a reader?


Amazon vs. Hachette: FIGHT, or, yet more Amazonfail

I’ve seen this come across my radar a couple times this week, so before I put up today’s final Boosting the Signal post, I’d like to talk a bit about the huge brouhaha I’ve heard about going on between Amazon and Hachette. Agent Kristin Nelson talks about it here, and she links off in turn to this post on the New York Times. Author Lilith Saintcrow talks about it here.

In short, Amazon’s been throwing its weight around again because a publisher wouldn’t play ball the way Amazon wants it to. And the people who get stomped on when kaiju of this size start rampaging through a city? Readers, because they can’t get books they want, and authors, because their sales take it right in the teeth.

Here’s the thing–Amazon has a massive share of the ebook market. Ebook authors, especially people as smallfry as myself, who’re indie or digitally published or maybe both, can’t not deal with Amazon. And I do have to admit, Amazon’s won this market share in some ways because everything I’ve heard about the various flavors of Kindle is that they’re awesome. Also, fair play to Amazon, they also have excellent customer service; their customer service people have been great every time I’ve dealt with them.

But at the big-picture level, the level at which the kaiju start stomping, that’s when I start going NOW HOLD ON A MINUTE.

It’s bullshit like this on Amazon’s part that’s specifically why I’ve made a point of not buying ebooks from Amazon, despite the fact that I do like me some shiny gadgets, and despite the fact that I’m sure Amazon would deliver me a super-convenient, super-nifty tech experience if I felt like buying a Kindle. I make one exception to this, and that’s if there’s a particular author I wish to support with my money, and his or her book is only available electronically via Amazon. Otherwise, I’ll be looking at buying them in print–and if I buy them in print, I’ll get the book directly from the author if I can.

The vast majority of my ebook purchases are done either via Barnes and Noble (even though B&N has been said to be tottering for months now, and I have massive issues with their customer service, and especially their poor Mac support), or via Kobo (to support their partnership with indie bookstores, especially because I like giving Third Place Books some of my money, too). When I can, I’ll buy directly from publishers like Angry Robot, or right off of Carina’s site if we’re talking my fellow Carina authors. If we’re talking indie authors, I’ll see if the book’s been deployed to Smashwords.

And this kind of thing is specifically also why I elect to put my self-published work out on other venues besides Amazon, as well, even though I’m aware that I’m very possibly robbing myself of sales. I want to be in a position where I can encourage potential readers to support other sites too.

I’m not going to go so far as to say indie authors shouldn’t publish their stuff to Amazon–because that’d be sales suicide. I’m not even going to say that authors shouldn’t exclusively publish with Amazon, because it’s a very legitimate question as to whether it’s worth an author’s time to go exclusive or not. I can make that call with impunity because I have a well-paying day job. Other indie authors don’t have that particular luxury.

But with my reader hat on, I can definitely vote with my wallet. Even though it means managing my ebooks might take a bit more work. I’m willing to make that effort. And if you want to make that extra effort too, think about buying your ebooks from other sites–especially directly from publishers, if you have that opportunity, because that’ll have the added bonus of making sure more money ultimately gets into the hands of your favorite authors.

Other things you can do, as a reader: if you’re aware that your favorite author has books on sale on sites besides Amazon, spread the word. Link to them. Talk them the HELL up on Facebook or Twitter, especially if they’re indie authors, because I guarantee you they’ll need every bit of exposure they can get. (C.f., why I’m doing the Boosting the Signal posts.) And if you’re cranky about Amazon’s tactics, tell them. Lay it out in no uncertain terms that you’re not going to give them your money, and why. And while you’re doing that, tell the Internet, too.

‘Cause yeah, one person can’t take a kaiju down. But if enough of us act and make the Internet fall on its head, it can stun even the biggest of kaiju. And then we can all get back to the important business of reading and writing our books.

ETA: Kristin Nelson put up another post here. More links to come if I find them.

ETA #2: Author Alex Conall posts on the matter on Dreamwidth here.

ETA #3: Tobias Buckell is decidedly unamused and has pulled the Amazon buy links for his works off his site in protest.

Harry Connolly also speaks out. (Note: I’ve supported Mr. Connolly in recent Kickstarter work, in the name of supporting indie writing.)

And Fred Hicks has spoken out on Twitter:

ETA #4: C.E. Murphy would like you to pre-order her next book from anywhere but Amazon, if you think Amazon’s recent behavior is unacceptable.

ETA #5: Rachel Caine is also protesting Amazon’s behavior: