Science Blast! Amazon Acquires Giant Mech!

Or, at least, the Owner of Amazon drives one, so watchout world! Here comes Robotech/Power Rangers/Escaflowne, and a million other beloved and frightening (Evangelion) futures:

Watch Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos Control a Giant Mech Robo

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos got to live out every 6-year-old’s fantasy
when he got behind the controls of a giant “mech” robot.

The Verge reports that Bezos tried out the 13-foot-tall (4 meters) robot yesterday (March 19) at his company’s private Machine Learning, Home Automation, Robotics and Space Exploration (MARS) conference. Video of the bot, developed by Hankook Mirae Technology in South Korea, first surfaced in December in promotional clips. Live Science was skeptical of the robot’s existence and functionality at the time.

But the new video reveals that the robot does, indeed, exist. However, it’s far from clear how much the mech (a term for piloted, humanoid robots) can really do. Bezos flails the arms around using controls in the robot’s torso cockpit, but the robot does not take any steps and is tethered to the ceiling, presumably for safety reasons.

Read more…

 

 

 

Corroding Empire: Amazon’s Civil War

The controversy over The Corroding Empire just gets stranger and stranger.

The Corroding Empire

Amazon KDP has given Castalia House’s new science fiction parody more green and red lights than a drag racing track.

First it was thought that the book had been pulled at the behest of Tor Books, publisher of The Collapsing Empire.

Suspicion also fell on Collapsing Empire author John Scalzi, who tweeted this message the same day:

However, details emerged last night that neither Tor, Scalzi, nor Amazon per se were to blame for The Corroding Empire’s publication delays. Castalia House Lead Editor Vox Day explained:

UPDATE: Since some people seem to want to go on the warpath, let me be perfectly clear here: Amazon is not to blame. I even suspect that it is entirely possible that Tor Books is not to blame either, based on a) when the book was pulled and b) the fact that the book has shown as Live for nearly 24 hours but still does not have a page on any Amazon site. The most likely scenario, in my opinion, is a rogue low-level SJW employee, possibly two, in a specific department.

I have already spoken to the manager of one department and they have begun to investigate why Corrosion is Live but not available. They’ve done everything we asked and we have no problem with the way we have been treated.

Today, Vox announced that Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1) was finally live on KDP.

As we suspected, there appear to have been internal shenanigans taking place at Amazon, as one or more SJWs appear to have abused their positions to interfere with our ability to sell THE CORRODING EMPIRE.

We’re still working with Amazon to sort out exactly who was responsible for precisely what, and to establish what, if anything, legitimately needed to be changed according to their guidelines. This should all be nailed down by the end of the day, but in the meantime, you can now order the book and post reviews again.

The Corroding Empire isn’t out of the woods yet, because following that conversation, it was blocked again, reinstated again and blocked a third time in short order.

Corrosion (The Corroding Empire Book 1)

Here is where the matter stands as of this writing:

UPDATE: Finally got to speak to a supervisor. She’s not only escalated the matter to legal, but has assured me that the book will be unblocked, stay unblocked, and that the matter will be fully investigated. It’s not just the three blocks, the culprit(s) also put the book on the Excluded list for Amazon Associates, which prevents others from being paid when someone buys the book.

The publisher insists that the issue is with rogue elements within KDP quality control and not with Amazon itself. If so, we could be witnessing a civil war within the world’s largest book distributor. However the situation gets sorted out, the resolution should be informative for publishers, authors, and readers alike.

@BrianNiemeier

Author Earnings: Amazon a Majority of the Print Market; Indie Publishing Vindicated

author earnings - Amazon eBooks

My stance on indie publishing has changed significantly in just a few short years (not coincidentally, over almost the same period covered by the graph above).

I’m one of those rare folks whose minds can be changed by data. When I first set out to become a professional writer, I did my homework. Reading books, blog posts, articles, and reports on the publishing industry led me to the following conclusions:

  1. The Aspiring Author Who Works Hard to Land an Agent and Finally a Book Deal that Makes Him an Overnight Superstar is a pure fairy tale. Movies and TV shows perpetuate this false view of reality because audiences like a good Cinderella story. Also, it boosts the screenwriters’ egos.
  2. Even if you’re among the 1 percent of aspiring authors who do land agents and book deals, chances are all you’ll get is a $3000 advance for giving up all rights to a book that will languish spine-out on Barnes & Noble’s shelves for a few weeks before getting pitched to make way for next month’s contestant. The circle of life goes on.
  3. Despite 1 & 2, traditional publishing is still the only viable game in town.
But I kept up on my research, and after a couple of years, my thinking shifted to the following position:
  • The publishing industry as a whole still sucks.
  • Amazon has now made indie publishing a viable option for certain people, e.g. traditionally published authors who’ve recovered the rights to their big midlist catalogs.
  • Either way, expecting to make money is the wrong reason to get into this business.
Rather recently, after reading all of Joe Konrath’s eye-opening Newbie’s Guide to Publishing, I further modified my opinion.
  • Traditional publishing is broken.
  • Some authors are actually starting to earn a living by self-publishing.
  • Indie publishing is the right choice for me, but that’s a call each author needs to make based on his own circumstances.
I’ve been self-publishing for a year now, and the amazing results have more than vindicated my decision.
Sales of my first two books placed me among the top half of Amazon writers, even before Larry Correia’s BOOK BOMB!
Enough people read and liked my writing to nominate me for science fiction’s most prestigious award for new authors.
As for what I might’ve given up by rejecting the tradpub route, I’ve already out-earned the standard advance for a first-time author. Except I don’t have to pay that money back before earning ongoing royalties.
Royalties which are 5.6 times higher than those earned by most traditionally published authors.
Yeah, going indie has worked out pretty well for me. But I still wasn’t ready to recommend indie publishing to everybody until I read the latest Author Earnings report.
The Definitive Study of Author Earnings
The May 2016 Author Earnings Report expanded its scope to include 82% of Amazon’s daily eBook sales. This study shed light on many dark corners of the market that had been hidden from the public–until now.
Here’s what AE found, specifically in regard to indie vs. tradpub earnings.
Author Earnings May 2016 midlist
This graph shows the number of authors in the midlist (here defined as making at least $25,000 a year), divided into four categories based on date of first publication.
Not only do indie midlisters dominate every category, they do so even when pitted against traditionally published authors who’ve been working for decades and have substantial catalogs under their belts. We’re talking everybody who’s debuted since 1916, including Hemingway, Tolkien, Heinlein, Card, King, Martin, Patterson, and Rowling.
Then figure in the fact that Amazon has only been around since 1994 and the Kindle has only existed since 2007.
Yet indie authors have remained on top of the midlist regardless of when they started out, while the number of tradpub authors lucky enough to make even 25 grand per year keeps getting cut in half.
But 25k is chump change, I can hear the tradpub diehards say. Surely, if you want to make it big, a big deal from a big publisher is the only way to go!
Author Earnings May 2016 7 figures
Not so much.
The power of big New York publishers to hand out golden tickets capable of turning struggling authors into millionaires is an artifact of the 20th century. Now? As Moe Greene would say, they don’t even have that kind of muscle anymore.
If you were an aspiring author trying to break in prior to the 1980s, New York publishers were your best shot at the big time. Since 2006, indie has stolen tradpub’s thunder to the extent that you’re now four times more likely to make seven figures by going indie than by signing with a traditional publisher.
The other side of the Coin: Dark Matter
Indie publishing might be going like gangbusters at the midlist and seven figure levels, but what about the low end? Are self-published authors also over represented in the shadow market of books that never make the category best seller lists?
In short, yes. But that’s not the whole story.
Author Earnings May 2016 Dark Matter authors
Only 14% of authors on Amazon have eBooks on category best seller lists.
Author Earnings 2016 Dark Matter earnings
But authors with eBooks on Amazon’s best seller lists earn 58%  of the Kindle pie.
Author Earnings May 2016 Dark Matter sales
And just as they account for a majority of best sellers, eBooks by indie authors make up 52% of Dark Matter sales.
It would appear at first glance that going indie gives authors a nearly equal likelihood of being totally invisible or becoming best sellers. But appearances can be deceiving. According to AE:

Once again, indies make up the bulk of these invisible sales and authors — an even higher proportion than in the other shades of Amazon sales matter. We even found a few dozen invisible authors here — mostly indies — who are earning six figures from titles that live entirely in this “pure” dark matter. But the majority of these 2,600,000 titles comes from the lowest-selling 750,000 authors on Amazon, and 900,000 of them belong to the lowest-selling 160,000 indies.

Even though a few indie authors are quietly making six figures in the Kindle Store’s black hole, 160,000 indies are among the 750,000 worst sellers on Amazon.
But as tragic as that sounds, tradpub authors have it even worse.

It might be discouraging to consider the 300,000 lowest-selling Big Five titles that we find here in the “pure dark matter”, belonging to 86,000 invisible Big Five authors…Each of these authors successfully fought their way through the traditional-publishing slush pile, and secured themselves an agent and a publishing deal — even a Big Five deal. Those achievements appear to have granted them little career advantage, in either sales or visibility. Today, these several hundred thousand traditionally published authors find themselves earning even less than the very lowest-selling indies are.

[Emphasis mine]

In the past, when traditional publishing was the only real choice authors had, their manuscripts would have instead languished in traditional publishing’s slush pile, unpublished and unread. Instead, they are now collectively selling 150,000 copies a day, earning each of their authors, on average, $250/year — or roughly $100/title. And getting read, too, if not yet by many, and hopefully finding a few fans along the way.

The takeaway: the Big Five have lost their power to make winners and losers. A traditional book deal doesn’t guarantee more sales or visibility than going indie. Even if your self-published book ends up among the lowest sellers on Amazon, you’ll still average $250 a year instead of zero.
Several factors the AE study didn’t take into account:
  • Of the highest/lowest earners, which authors commissioned effective covers?
  • Which of them had their books professionally edited?
  • How many made sure their books were formatted properly for Kindle?
  • Which authors published just one book, and how many have series?
  • How many authors treat publishing like a job?
  • Which of them do any marketing, e.g. blog regularly/release podcasts/engage fans on social media?
Publishing is still a gamble, but there are steps all authors can take to improve their chances. The AE report proves that self-publishing shifts the odds in your favor more than any other step.
Get off the manuscript submission carousel. Stop waiting for agents and editors to give you validation like a fat kid hoping to be picked for kickball. Seek validation from readers. Write good books, get professional editing, formatting, and covers. Then publish them yourself on Amazon.
And check out my category best selling books.
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Legacy Publishing’s Pyrrhic Victory: Indie and Amazon Gain eBook Dominance

AAp eBook Sales
Source: authorearnings.com
License

Legacy publishers scored an apparent victory back in November when, as a result of heated negotiations with Hachette Group, Amazon reinstated agency pricing for the Big Five. The first batch of sales reports since the agency model’s return show that the Big Five took a big gamble and lost.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term, agency pricing is an alternative to the more common wholesale model. The main difference is that with wholesale the retailer sets the price and with agency the price is set by the publisher.

Agency vs. Wholesale
Source: Publishing Trendsetter

Here’s a fact that seems odd at first glance: under the wholesale model, publishers and authors made more money. One of Amazon’s main arguments against agency pricing was that they, as the #1 eBook retailer, knew the pricing sweet spot that yielded maximum profits. They even warned that the prices sought by the Big Five under the agency model were far too high.

The situation doesn’t appear to make sense. Why would publishers fight for a pricing scheme that earns them and their authors less money?

But if you consider the fact that legacy publishers’ only real competitive advantage is their dominance over paper distribution, the picture becomes crystal clear.

For decades, the only way a book could succeed was if a publishing house let it into the paper distribution system that they controlled. Their power to make or break books and authors was absolute.

Then Amazon came along and invented a whole new kind of publishing that the old guard didn’t control. Instead of beating Amazon at its own game through innovation, the Big Five jacked up eBook prices in a misguided attempt to protect their paper sales.

That approach almost made sense when the Big Five had 60% of the eBook market. They figured that they could drive readers away from Kindle and back to Barnes and Noble by charging the same for a string of ones and zeroes as for a slab of ink-stained lumber. Once again, they thought they could leave readers without a choice.

But there was one thing that legacy publishing didn’t count on.

2015 Daily Gross $ Sales
Source: authorearnings.com
License

Outfits like Publishers Weekly have been reporting on declining sales of print books and eBooks. It’s been pointed out that these reports rely on figures from Nielsen BookScan, which only tracks sales from a handful of legacy retailers. Many self-publishing advocates have voiced suspicions that the Big Five’s abuse of power is driving readers and authors to go indie, but there was no hard proof.

That is, until now. During the same period that the Big Five’s share of the eBook market has basically flipped from 60% to 40%, Amazon reports that eBook sales have risen overall.

Compare the chart above to the one below. The ratio of legacy to indie dollar sales on eBooks is almost exactly the reverse of the ratio of legacy author earnings to indie author earnings. The best interpretation of these data? Indie authors are massively outselling overpriced legacy eBooks.

2015 Aug Author Earnings
Source: authorearnings.com
License

An eventuality unforeseen by the Big Five has thrown a wrench in their plans. Readers and authors are leaving legacy publishers for indie, reader-centric traditional publishers like Baen, and small publishers like Castalia House.

Considering the unprofessional and downright tyrannical behavior of some legacy publishing houses, the Big Five’s downfall can’t come soon enough.

Amazon Stumbles Over Parody Book

John Scalzi Banned This Book

Regular visitors to this blog will have noticed my generally favorable disposition toward Amazon. I consider it a public service to refute the deceptive zombie memes spread by Amazon’s less scrupulous detractors.

These actions are rooted in my commitment to support what’s best for readers and authors. In most cases there’s no question that Amazon treats their customers–both writers and readers–better than legacy publishers do. However, I have no qualms about calling Amazon out when they drop the ball.

A disappointing case of Amazon violating their customer-centric prime directive has developed in the last few days. The incident arose in response to an ongoing flame war between best selling author John Scalzi, who recently signed a multi-million dollar contract with Tor Books, and game developer/SFF editor Vox Day, whom one might describe as the sci-fi equivalent of a heel wrestler.

The full details of the controversy can be found here. The part that interests me is Scalzi’s request to have a parody book with a highly unflattering invocation of his name in the title removed from the Kindle Store–a request which Amazon granted.

Taking a moment to dispense with an obvious objection, Scalzi sought expert advice on the book’s legal status and was informed that it is clearly recognizable satire protected under the First Amendment. So the book’s unknown author is guilty of breaking no law.

I also understand that Amazon is a private sector company that has every right to decide what it will and will not sell. That’s not the crux of my argument. I maintain that, even though removing the book was well within Amazon’s rights, they were stupid to do so.

Bowing to the demands of a best selling, millionaire author makes Amazon look like they’re siding with the establishment against the little guy–and in this case, they are.

It doesn’t help that the same author chided Amazon back in 2010 for doing what he’s just turned around and asked them to do.

Even more disturbing, some customers have reported the book missing from their Kindle libraries (see comments 5 and 10). Amazon has deleted eBooks from customers’ Kindles before. Even Amazon president Jeff Bezos called the practice “stupid”, but that didn’t stop them from doing it again.

And since the book in question was the #1 parody title on Amazon, a lot of people may have had their purchases deleted. Amazon has always issued refunds when they’ve done this, but it’s the perception of confiscating property without the owners’ permission that makes this move a huge customer service failure.

Postscript: the book is back in the Kindle Store under a new title. It’s to be hoped that Amazon learned the lesson that Sonny Corleone ignored to his peril: don’t interfere.

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