Category Archives: amazon

Finally, burgers for home delivery

I was lamenting the other day that it’s really hard to eat when you’re in a particularly lazy mood. Or at least it’s hard to eat with any variety - the only good options available for home delivery are pizza and Chinese/Asian. KFC is also available here in Canada, but that’s not really a choice - although I consider myself to be something of a fast-food aficionado, I really do try to avoid the dirty birdie at all costs.

It was with pleasure, then, that I read about Burger King’s experimentation with home delivery in the Washington, D.C. area. What could be better than a burger and fries delivered right to your front door?

At the heart of the chain’s efforts is, naturally, technology. Burger King is packaging its delivery foods in new  thermal containers. A Whopper, for example, is split into two sections - the hot part on the left and the cold parts on the right, to keep the thing from getting soggy during its trip to your home. If that sounds familiar, it’s because it is: McDonald’s did something similar back in the ’80s with its McDLT, although it wasn’t for delivery (check out the hilarious commercial starring George Costanza).

Some menu items aren’t available for delivery, while drinks are coming in bottled form rather than as fountain pop. The whole thing costs the customer an extra $2.

USA Today‘s story pointed out that Domino’s is watching with interest and skepticism. Burger King’s experiment, if it takes off, could be big competition for pizza chains, after all.

A few observers also made comparisons to Amazon - that ordering food from Burger King was as simple as using the online shopping giant’s service. Indeed, with its penchant for disrupting traditional businesses, it wouldn’t be surprising if Amazon was watching this experiment more closely than any pizza chain.


Posted by on January 31, 2012 in amazon, Burger King


Add books to Canada’s endangered species list

In today’s day and age, how dumb are laws that prevent foreign ownership of certain businesses? In almost every case, really dumb.

I usually harp on how such laws are keeping competition low and prices high in the telecommunications sector, but they’re equally as outdated in the business of selling books. As the rules go, no foreign entities are allowed to operate physical bookselling operations in Canada, although there are loopholes.

Amazon famously skirted those laws when it opened up shop here in 2002, much to the outrage of Canadian booksellers, a.k.a Indigo Books & Music. Amazon kept its staff and computer servers in the U.S. and essentially rented warehouses and distribution through Canada Post and other third parties. Last year, the federal government allowed the American company to finally establish a “fulfillment centre” on Canadian soil.

Keeping most of its operations in the U.S. meant higher costs for Amazon to do business in Canada than in its home country, yet the company managed to sell stuff cheaper across the board anyway, forcing Indigo/Chapters to match. Had the government interpreted the law in favour of Indigo, there’s every reason to believe Canadians today would be paying much higher prices for books. (This isn’t so different from telecom - Wind Mobile, anyone?) Read the rest of this entry »


Posted by on November 28, 2011 in amazon, books, chapters


Ebooks and the pricing surrender monkeys

Google launched its ebookstore in Canada last week and, as a self-interested author, the first thing I did was head over to see how much my book, Sex, Bombs and Burgers, was selling for.

Surprise, surprise, it’s going for the princely sum of $21.99, which is not only more than the hardcover on Amazon or Chapters, it’s also quite possibly the most expensive ebook in history. This isn’t surprising because it’s exactly the same price that Chapters/Indigo has been charging through Kobo.

Who would pay that much for an ebook? Aren’t digital goods supposed to be cheaper because they have significantly lower manufacturing and distribution costs?

Exactly. Which is why I sold all of 16 of them in the second half of 2010, according to my sales reports.

Google has evidently joined Kobo in catering to publishers’ out-of-date pricing schemes. So, while Canadians seem to have growing choice between e-tailers, most of those sellers aren’t actually going to bat for consumers by trying to lower prices. It’s a little surprising in Google’s case, given that the company has in the past been willing to go to war on things such as wireless prices and net neutrality.

The exception in ebooks is Amazon, which has been notable in its battle against publishers on several fronts. The most recent is the skirmish over its new book lending program, which has prompted some libraries to stop buying from the likes of HarperCollins.

My favourite situation is the fight between Penguin, my publisher in Canada, and the online bookseller over pricing. A quick recap: Amazon last year wanted all ebooks to be priced at $9.99 (a price I agree with, by the way) but Penguin would have none of it. The publisher said it would no longer let Amazon sell its ebooks once their contract expired so, in retaliation, Amazon decided to sell all of Penguin’s physical books at $9.99. The company might take a loss on those books or not make as big a profit, but it was evidently set on making its point. Gotta love those kinds of balls.

The two companies ended up settling the dispute, but something is still going on since I can’t find my ebook on Kindle. I wish I could say why that is, but as is usually the case with us authors, nobody tells us nothing, even when we ask.

That’s why Google’s ebookstore launch is a ho-hum for me and it’s why, as a consumer, I buy all my books - physical or digital - from Amazon.


Posted by on November 9, 2011 in amazon, ebooks, Google, kobo


Harry Potter and the illogic of the book business

I can’t help but read stories about authors and their self-publishing efforts with great relish. The bigger the better. That’s why, when I saw the news over the weekend about Harry Potter writer J.K Rowling going the self-publishing route, all I could think was, “You go girl!”

When a big-name writer such as Rowling - who, let’s face it, is the biggest there is - goes solo and decides to sell her own ebooks independent of any publisher, that contributes to two things. First, it continues to take the stigma off self-publishing and secondly, it sends further much-needed shockwaves through the already rollicking book business.

On the first point, it’s true that Rowling isn’t exactly taking a huge chance. Her Harry Potter books are already established commodities and she will doubtlessly do very well selling her own books. People know who she is and will seek her out. Nevertheless, her move is a huge step toward quashing whatever negative connotation might still be associated with self-publishing. If the biggest author in the world isn’t too vain to publish her own books, then no one else can be, right?

The second point is considerably more important, though. How Rowling is choosing to sell her ebooks is almost as important as the fact that she is doing so in the first place. Rather than going with an established middle man ebook retailer, such as Amazon or Apple, Rowling is choosing to sell her goods via her own website. That means she’ll be keeping 100% of the proceeds, rather than giving up 30% to the middle man.

That’s pretty amazing because if other big names follow suit, the whole book-selling dichotomy will change dramatically. Amazon, Apple, Kobo and the like will have to work at attracting and keeping such big names. In other words, they’ll have to actually do something to earn their 30%, other than just sitting there. Whether that’s some sort of promotional agreement or whether the 30% gets dramatically cut to say 5%, ebook retailers are going to have to add some kind of value to what they do.

That brings us to traditional publishers. Exactly what do they do to earn their 90% cut? They seem to be left holding the short end of the stick - and deservedly so.

Speaking from my limited experience, the book business is more illogical and messed up than the music industry ever was, and we all know what happened to them. My own Canadian publisher, Penguin, has been fighting with Amazon over ebook pricing and generally trying to resist the digital revolution completely. In the meantime, Penguin authors are suffering from a healthy dose of illogic, like grossly overpriced ebooks. There is no sane reason why an ebook should cost more than a hardcover, but lo and behold, that’s the case with my Sex, Bombs and Burgers.

What’s the result of this? It’s non-existent ebook sales. I wouldn’t pay $22 for the best ebook in the world - and obviously no one else will either, if my sales reports are anything to go by (and yes, although Sex, Bombs and Burgers is a veritable thrill ride, it probably isn’t the best ebook in the world in anyone’s mind besides my own).

The most poignant part of the Wired story is about how Rowling’s move may be a “kick up the arse” to the publishing industry:

Publishers need to radically rethink their remuneration structures in order to ensure that their cash cows don’t all follow Rowling’s suit. To this day, publishing remains a B2B business - publishers sell to retailers and not readers.

To that, I’d add that publishers have a new set of customers - their authors - and they need to start making them happy. Otherwise, writers might start doing similarly illogical things, like directing potential readers to sites like these.


Posted by on June 28, 2011 in amazon, apple, ebooks


On the eve of a book revolution

I was recently invited to give a talk at the Toronto Reference Libary to staffers from around the city, with a fairly wide mandate of what topics I could cover. In an effort to discuss something that would be relevant to them, I thought I’d share my experience of going through the book-publishing process and where I thought the industry is headed. I was pretty nervous in talking about the subject because, while I do have some experience in the field, I certainly don’t deal with books on an every-day basis like many in the audience did. I felt sort of like a Johnny-come-lately trying to tell them about stuff they knew intimately, and better than I did.

After giving the talk, I wondered if attendees thought I was crazy because I spoke of revolution and how everything about how books are made is going to change dramatically in the next few years. I’m fairly sure some people in the audience agreed with me, and I’m equally sure that some thought I was full of it.

My thoughts on the subject are probably familiar to anyone who reads this blog regularly. In a nutshell, the book industry hasn’t seen as much impact from the digital revolution as the music and video businesses have as of yet, largely because reading electronic books hasn’t really been that easy. E-books have been around for ages, but reading them on a computer screen has just been too painful to even consider.

With the advent of e-ink and the Amazon Kindle three years ago, the game changed. Indeed, the Kindle is revolutionizing the book business in the same way the iPhone did the phone business (ironically, they were released in the same year). Just as 2010 saw real competition finally arise for the iPhone in the form of Android, so too did the Kindle finally get good rivals with the likes of Kobo and others. But the devices are only half the story - they’re also attached to new distribution systems. Amazon’s is easily the best as the Kindle’s “WhisperNet” feature lets you buy books via cellular connection wherever you may be, but there are also a handful of other good, big competitors with their own e-book stores, including Kobo, Sony, Apple and Google.

So, the revolution in how books are read and sold is already well underway, and e-book sales are skyrocketing as a result. The other revolution - the more interesting one that I talked about at the library - is in how books are written and created, and this part is only just now beginning. All of the online bookstores also offer authors - established and budding - the opportunity to self-publish their work. I’ve gone into the merits of this before, where self-publishing is potentially more lucrative for an author than having their book sold by a big-name publisher, so I won’t rehash it here.

The Los Angeles Times, however, has an excellent story that covers off almost everything I talked about at the library, which makes me feel considerably less crazy. The reporter talked to a number of authors who said they plan to self-publish all of their work going forward because it’s simply a better deal. The traditional publishing system holds very little appeal for them. “If an author has the choice of two distribution models, one that costs nothing and has no gatekeeper and the other has lots of gatekeepers and costs a lot of money, a lot of people will go with the free one,” said Seth Godin, a best-selling author who has become something of a self-publishing guru.

I’ve talked about gatekeepers before - to get a book published and ultimately sold, a writer has to go through a network of agents, editors, bookstore buyers and finally the media. Self-publishing largely removes all of those, which is why the Times story concludes with the thought that the only gatekeepers left will be the readers. I couldn’t agree more.

Crime novelist Joe Conrath takes it further in the story: “If a traditional publisher offered me a quarter of a million dollars for a novel, I’d consider it. But anything less than that, I’m sure I can do better on my own.”

That’s exactly my plan for my second book. Not that I’m going to hold out for a cool quarter-million, but if I don’t get offers that I like - or any offers at all, for that matter - I’ll be perfectly happy to give it a go myself on Amazon and the others. There are many downsides to self-publishing - you have to get your own editors, designers and publicists - but ultimately it comes down to only one thing: brand versus brand. If an author has a strong enough name recognition, as many established writers do, there’s actually very little they need a traditional publisher for. The rest can be done for a fraction of the price that publishers currently charge.

The challenge is for those of us who are not household names, and who are not yet trusted “brands” comparable to Random House or HarperCollins. But just as today’s bands and film makers also have to be entrepreneurial to get their work noticed, so too will writers have to become more enterprising. There are plenty who will be happy to stick with the old system of gatekeepers, but there are also many of us - as evidenced by the Times story - that are just dying to do it for ourselves. Sooner or later, the traditional book industry is going to have to take notice of that fact and implement dramatic changes to how it does business with its important customers: authors.


Posted by on December 29, 2010 in amazon, books, ebooks, kobo


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