Is The Bottom Falling Out For eBook Retailers?

Diesel eBook StoreWhen Bibliocracy stopped being an ebook retail store last year, I didn’t care much since I never made money from the three ebooks I got to post for sale. When Sony closed their ebook retail store earlier this year, I shrugged my shoulders since I didn’t make much money over the last four years. But when Diesel abruptly closed their ebook retail store last month, I checked the numbers and realized that I didn’t make much money there either.

Is the bottom falling out for ebook retailers?

The short answer is yes, based on my ebook sales numbers over the last four years. Bibliocracy was an independent ebook retailer that wasn’t successful. Sony and Diesel were part of the Smashwords premium catalog, which lagged behind the Big Three—Apple, Barnes & Noble and Kobo—in sales. No surprise that these three ebook retailers have raised the white flag.

Amazon is now a distant fourth behind the Big Three for selling my ebooks. The “world’s largest market” is typically 20% or less of my annual sales. I expect that number to become smaller this year. The general trend for most Amazon authors over the last few years is declining sales. If Amazon stops selling ebooks, I wouldn’t miss them as a publisher.

The longer answer for Diesel is an antitrust lawsuit against the Big Five publishers over the agency pricing model that allow publishers to control the prices of their ebooks and prevent ebook retailers from offering discounts to compete with other ebook retailers. Diesel may have a strong case since the publishers are reluctant to grant the smaller ebook retailers the same terms that they given Amazon and Apple. As many independent bookstores have complained for years, this two-tier system makes it difficult for them to compete with the larger retailers.

As the ebook market continues to grow, it’s not unusual for the bottom of the market to shake out weak businesses. If Kobo stops selling ebooks, I’ll start worrying about the overall health of the ebook retailer market. Until then I’m going to keep on writing, publishing and selling my ebooks wherever I can.

A Video Trailer For A Haiku Poem

After I decided to publish a daily haiku poem on Tumblr, I started writing haiku poems for submission. My first acceptance and publication was “Changing Winter” for Poetry Haiku (Winter Issue 2013). My second acceptance was five haiku poems for “Words Fly Away: Poems for Fukushima” (Spring 2014), a poetry anthology about the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster in Japan. The editor posted YouTube videos of poets reading their Fukushima poems. Last week I put together a video trailer.

Unlike the other poets who read aloud their poems in front of a video camera, I wasn’t going to do that. If I read all five haiku poems that I submitted, the video would be very short and very uninteresting. A 30-second video trailer to introduce my haiku and the anthology was a better approach to promoting both.

“Fukushima Seeps” was the easiest of the five haiku to adapt into a video with the last line being about Godzilla, our favorite kaiju who routinely stomps Tokyo whenever mankind does something incredibly stupid, say, building a nuclear reactor in the path of a tsunami. With the new Godzilla movie coming out in May 2014, this became a fun little video to put together.

On a piece of paper, I broke down the video into a script.

 

BEGINNING TITLE ONE

“Fukushima Seeps”

White text on black background.
Fade in Godzilla theme soundtrack.

BEGINNING TITLE TWO

A Haiku Poem by C.D. Reimer

White text on black background.

HAIKU LINE ONE

Fukushima Seeps

White text over still picture of blown nuclear reactor.

HAIKU LINE TWO

Poisons Pacific Ocean

White text over still picture of Pacific Ocean radiation exposure.

HAIKU LINE THREE

Here Comes GODZILLA!

White text over black background.

MONEY SHOT

Godzilla coming out of ocean still picture.
Fade in and out Godzilla roar soundtrack above theme soundtrack.

FINAL TITLE ONE

Read “Fukushima Seeps”
& Other Haiku Poems by C.D. Reimer

White text over black background.

FINAL TITLE TWO

“Words Fly Away: Poems for Fukushima”

http://fukushimapoetry.wordpress.com/

White text over black background.

FINAL TITLE THREE

Spring 2014

White text over black background.

FINAL TITLE FOUR

“Godzilla” © 1954 Toho Co. Ltd
All Other Copyrights Belong To Their Respective Owners.

White text over black background.

FINAL TITLE FIVE

“Fukushima Seeps” Haiku & Video
Copyright © 2014 C.D. Reimer

Fade out Godzilla theme soundtrack.

 

After I scoured the Internet for still pictures and Godzilla soundtracks for an hour, I put the video together in two hours with my MacBook and iMovie. This was my first time using iMovie, so I spent an hour learning how to use the program and one hour completing the video. Satisfied with the results, I uploaded the video to Tumblr and YouTube.

Opening Checking Account For IPHC

Questionable Content Webcomic #2650Jeph Jacques, the webcomic artist of “Questionable Content,” recently related the difficulty he had in opening a checking account after telling the clerk what the business name was, where the clerk looked at him funny and asked if the business sold marijuana over the Internet. I ran into the same problem when I tried to open a checking account for my intellectual property holding company (IPHC), except no one accused me of selling marijuana over the Internet.

The people at THE BANK were more than happy to open a FREE small business checking account for my IPHC until we got into the nitty-gritty details.

The purpose of an IPHC is to separate my copyrights away from the writing business and myself personally. If someone sues me, wins a judgment and tries to go after my assets (i.e., royalty income from copyrights), they would have to file a lawsuit in Wyoming since I incorporated my IPHC there. Even if they won a judgment in Wyoming to receive income from my IPHC, I’m not legally obligated to distribute any income and they would have to pay taxes on “phantom income” that they would never receive.

The business name for an IPHC should never include your legal name to make it difficult for ambulance chasers to casually search databases for easy targets to file frivolous lawsuits against. Wyoming doesn’t even require owner’s name on the public record, if done through a registered agent. (You still have to reveal the name of your IPHC in a court of law to avoid criminal accusations of hiding assets during a lawsuit.) Most IPHC names are typically unrelated to what the business actually does.

Even after I explained the logic behind the name and the purpose of the IPHC, THE BANK viewed my small business with suspicions. Banking regulations have tightened since the aftermath of 9/11 to prevent terrorists from creating shell companies to launder money into the United States. (Never mind that corporations and Wall Street create shell companies to hide all kinds of activities, legitimate or otherwise.) Since I was clean-shaven when I walked into the branch office, no one accused me of being a terrorist.

With some major misgivings, the branch major submitted my application. We spent the next three weeks going back-and-forth over whether my IPHC was a legitimate business. THE BANK didn’t like my business formation documents because none of it was in my legal name, I didn’t have a corporate website, and used a personal email address. THE BANK refused to accept documentation from my registered agent because it didn’t have a fancy letterhead. I couldn’t set up a cooperate website and email addresses until I had a checking account set up.

The application for a checking account was eventually rejected because my IPHC wasn’t registered with the Secretary of State (SOS) office to do business in California. I did a face-palm when I heard that. Registering to do business in California would require revealing my identity to every ambulance chaser in the state and paying an annual $800 USD franchise tax on income earned over the Internet. That would defeat the purpose of setting up an IPHC.

THE BANK did approve opening a business account for my writing because all the business formation documents were in my legal name, I had a corporate website and email address, and registered with the California SOS. With all my ducks lined up in a row, I got approval in 15 minutes.

As for my IPHC, all my transactions go through PayPal. That’s fine for now. But PayPal has a reputation of randomly freezing accounts with substantial balances, especially if the account wasn’t linked to a checking account, and takes months to resolve. If I ever open a checking account for my IPHC, I would have to fly into Wyoming and present the paperwork in person. That, of course, would be a business tax write-off.

Read An eBook Week 2014

Read An eBook Week 2014The annual “Read An eBook Week” promotion at Smashwords is here again, running from March 2nd through March 8th. Check out the resource page for more information. This year I have 15 ebooks enrolled in the promotion. Five omnibus ebooks at a 50% discount (coupon code REW50), five recent ebooks are FREE (coupon code REW100), and the usual FREE ebooks are still FREE (no coupon code).

If this year is like the last few years, the FREE ebooks will fly off the virtual shelves and I’ll have one or two direct sales. This isn’t surprising. Most writers who publish on Smashwords make the majority of their ebook sales from the premium catalog (i.e., Apple, Barnes & Noble, Diesel, Flipkart, Kobo, etc.). This promotion and the annual summer/winter promotion in July are good opportunities to reach out to the many readers on the Smashwords website.

Two related notes concerning the Smashwords premium catalog.

With the recent announcement of Sony closing their ebook store on March 20, 2014, and transitioning their users to Kobo, I have removed all the Sony ebook links from my author website. Because Kobo is still transitioning users from Sony, this has prevented my recent pre-order ebooks from showing up on their website.

After the announcement that Scribd was coming to the premium catalog in December, I pulled my ebooks off the Scribd website and removed the ebook links from my author website. With my Smashwords ebooks now showing up on Scribd, I’m in the process of restoring all the ebook links on my author website.

Review – Winter’s Tale

Winter's Tale The MovieAfter seeing the trailer that “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin has become a movie, I got goose bumps from watching the scenes that I read as a teenager in the early 1980′s. Alas, I saw the movie and it was a disappointment. The novel itself might be “unfilmable,” a special category that “The Lord of The Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien had for many years until Peter Jackson brought it to life in three movies, as two-thirds of the novel was left out of this movie adaptation.

The novel was about the turn of the century (1899-1900) and the coming of the millennium (1999-2000), the struggles between good and evil, love and death, past and future, and the city of justice known as New York City. A host of different characters occupies each time period, a few transcended both time periods, and several were immortal.

The first thing the movie does was toss out the coming of the millennium theme. Since the real-life millennium came and went without a herald of angels proclaiming the second coming of Christ, and even the Y2K computer disaster went out with whimper, it’s understandable that the movie would shift the timeline forward to 1916 and 2014.

Without the millennium being the implicit theme for good and evil, the film had the devil (Will Smith) in a Jimmie Hendrix t-shirt and the villain, Pearly Soames (Russell Crowe), being the demonic mastermind of a criminal enterprise. Their job is to prevent miracles from happening in New York City in general, and by Peter Lake (Collin Farrell) in particular. This explicit “angels and demons” theme was a somewhat unnecessary distraction.

The movie focuses on the brief and tragic romance between Peter Lake and Beverly Penn (Jessica Brown Findlay) as star-crossed lovers from opposite ends of society. He’s a thief who got caught cracking her father’s safe and she’s the dying daughter of a newspaper magnate. All scenes concerning these two were faithful to the novel for the most part, enough so that I broke out in goose bumps and/or tears.

The latter half of the movie where Peter find himself in present day New York City goes by in a star-sparkled flash, which this movie has too many as a nod to the “city of light” theme from the novel, rushing to the final battle between good and evil that the miracle Peter does perform in bringing the dead back to life is almost an afterthought.

The script fell short of expectations from having read the novel despite the superb acting of a talented cast. A faithful adaptation would have required a longer movie—perhaps a trilogy of movies—to capture the sweeping themes and the characters from the rest of the novel. Since I can’t separate myself from the novel, I’m not sure how the movie would work for someone who has never read the novel.

“Winter’s Tale” Becomes A Movie

After I graduated from the eighth grade, I spent three months in the ninth grade and three days in the tenth grade. The first time I quit high school was from being overweight, high blood pressure and ulcers, as going to school was too stressful and killing me. The second time I quit high school was when the guidance counselor tried to enroll back into the special ed classes—the school got three times more funding for each special ed student—in exchange for a locker to store my 30 pounds of textbooks, which I dumped on her desk and walked out. I became a shut in during my high school years. My only link to the outside world was public television, magazines, newspapers and books.

During those pre-Internet days, the book review section of the San Jose Mercury News was four to six pages long. I read each review with great interest. If I found a book that I wanted to read, I cut out the review and handed it to my mother to take to Crown Books (a discount bookstore chain). Since I came from a family of non-readers, my mother would give the review to a clerk to find and ring up the book for her.

One such book was “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin about a magical and wondrous New York City at the turn of century, 1899-1900 and 1999-2000. Peter Lake runs away from the gang he betrayed and escapes on a magical white horse, finds the love of his life while burgling a mansion, and gets hurled into the apocalyptic future as the millennium comes to an end.

My favorite scene came from the latter half of the novel.

After the father of a prominent San Francisco family passed away, his two sons are sitting in front of the attorney’s desk for the reading of the will. The city is waiting with anticipation to see how the estate would get divided. The responsible brother was given the choice of accepting magnificent wealth or a silver platter. The responsible brother laughed, recognizing his father’s sense humor while the irresponsible brother squirmed in the chair next to him. He takes the silver platter without hesitation, stunning both his brother and the city. With only the clothes on his back and a backpack to carry the silver platter, he’s hitchhike across the United States to New York City.

That scene became somewhat symbolic of what happened after my father passed away two years ago. My brother took possession of the truck and tools, I took possession of the paperwork. Having previously owned my father’s old car and spent five years figuring out every little repair job he did that I had to professionally fix, I’m familiar with the expensive heartache that the truck brings to my brother. From unraveling the paperwork like a treasure map, it was scary to see how much my father and I think alike.

A few weeks ago I saw the trailer for “Winter’s Tale” without knowing that it got made into a movie. A white horse walking into New York City, a man running away from a gang. I got goose bumps from watching the trailer before the movie title was ever presented. I’m rarely excited about seeing any movie these days, staying away from the hype and keeping my expectations low. This movie I’m looking forward to seeing in a few weeks.

Planning Blog Posts For New Year

Put plan into actionDespite blogging for a number of years, I’ve never planned ahead with the topics for my blog posts. If a topic presents itself at the last minute, I’ll write about that. If I didn’t have anything to write about, I’ll just muddle my way through. That worked. Unfortunately, the rest of my writing life was the same way. Like writing a daily haiku, one of my initiatives for 2014 is to stay ahead of the curve rather than fall behind the eight ball.

I created a spreadsheet with three tabs: writing blog, personal blog and ebook publication schedule. Each tab has all the dates for the blog posts and ebooks that I plan to publish this year. Looking at the official holidays for 2014, I added the dates that fall before, on or after a particular publication date.

The writing blog has a bi-weekly publication schedule with a single post on Sundays. The first post is 1/5/2014 and the last post is 12/28/2014. The relevant holiday is Ground Hog Day (2/2). I also added the general dates for Read An eBook Week (March), Smashwords Summer/Winter Sale (July), and National Write A Novel Month (November).

The personal blog has a weekly publication schedule with one to three posts on Fridays. The first post is 1/3/2014 and the last post is 12/26/2014. The relevant holidays are the Chinese New Year’s (1/31), Valentine’s Day (2/14), Independence Day (7/4), Halloween (10/31), and Black Friday (11/28). I also added a few personal dates that may or may not result in a blog post, say, the tenth anniversary of my mother committing suicide by breast cancer.

I’m publishing 25 SHORT ebooks (i.e., short stories and essays) on a bi-weekly schedule from January through November and one ebook in December. Since the publication dates fall on a Saturday, I’ll have an opportunity to promote my ebook with a blog post or two.

The spreadsheet will allow me to look ahead across the various dates to see if can write some posts in advance, stay on schedule, and keep track of what gets published.

Writing A Daily Haiku Poem

Catkin In SunlightI wrote various haiku and tanka poems to distract myself while being sick over the holidays. Each poem was a puzzle that I needed to figure out by breaking the words into a specific syllable pattern (5-7-5 for haiku and 5-7-5-7-7 for tanka) that conveyed the meaning I wanted to express. Once the puzzle gets figured out, the poem was almost done (tweaking takes longer).

One of my new initiatives for 2014 is to write and publish a daily haiku poem on tumblr.cdreimer.com, a Tumblr micro-blog that I started to showcase my poems, including all my published poems from Fictionaut and my FREE poetry ebook. The daily haiku poems will appear on Tumblr first. Tanka and free verse poems that I’m not submitting to a poetry journal will appear first on Fictionaut and later on Tumblr.

The nicest feature on Tumblr is queuing my poems for daily publication. I can usually write three to five poems each night. With weird news of the day being the primary inspiration, a haiku allows me to put a twisted spin on that weirdness. If you read any of the original Japanese haikus, the form demands witty commentary on current events. I have ~30 haikus waiting in the queue.

Being on Tumblr means reading the other poets who also post their work there. Some of it is quite strange and very different, probably because I’m not a poet by training or profession. I took many literature courses in college, but I never had much exposure to poetry other than attending an occasional William Shakespeare’s play in the park.

The one time that a poem got dissected in class like a dead frog involved a two-line poem about a red rose with thorns, a pricked finger and a drop of blood.

My reading of the poem was literally what I saw on the page. The instructor insisted that the rose was a vagina, the pricked finger a penis, and the drop of blood was from a girl loosing her virginity. This rather sexiest interpretation didn’t sit well with me, probably due to my lack of sexual experience. I got into an argument with the instructor on when is a rose isn’t a rose, which was the point of this particular textbook exercise.

My enthusiasm for any form of poetry was pricked that day.

During the holidays in late 2009, I was too sick to write prose. With a 15-minute attention span and a restless pen, I tried writing some free verse and haiku poems. Read some books about writing poetry. A couple of editors I knew published my early poems, which became the basis for my FREE poetry ebook. I later went back to writing prose and forgot about poetry, as submitting batches of poems to the journals was a pain in the ass.

This time around I’m more determine to write poetry. Mostly for personal illumination as I study Zen and Japanese history, but also to jazz up my prose and essay writing. I’m also reading “The Haiku Handbook: How to Write, Share, and Teach Haiku” by William J. Higgison. The syllabic form is easy; the nuanced meanings are not as easy.

After Ending A 15-Year-Old Website

OUAA Last Blog PostA year-and-a-half ago I made the decision not to renew the *.ws domain name for my website, Once Upon An Albatross… (OUAA), that I got a decade earlier for five bucks a year when *.com domain names were way too expensive. With a $25 USD renewal fee due, and a domain name that didn’t reflect my identity as a writer, it was time for it to go. OUAA got moved to a subdomain on my author website.

That prompted another decision six months later to stop updating the blog, bringing a storied 15-year-old website to an end. I’ve gotten burnt out from blogging three days a week, felt like I was grasping at straws most of the time. When I surveyed the website to put together the first volume of the blog compilation ebooks, the website has taken so many twisty turns over the years that it had no unifying theme.

In short, my 15-year-old website reflected my somewhat messy life.

1995 – 1996

The namesake, OUAA, started life in 1995 as a dial-up Wildcat! Bulletin Board System (BBS), running on an ancient IBM AT computer with a 2400-baud modem. The beginnings of an online empire that got wiped out by something called the Internet in 1996. I also got kicked out of the university staying up in the wee hours playing Magic: The Gathering card games with my equally irresponsible roommates.

1997 – 2001

The website started life on a free website hosting service to show off my non-existent video game design talent after I got a testing job at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple identity crisis). Being a tester sucked the life out of being a designer at home, but I did learn enough HTML and CSS to put together web pages.

2002 – 2007

Becoming a lead video game tester in 2001 prompted me to go back to school to learn computer programming in 2002. I ordered the *.ws domain name that became the website home for a decade. The website became an ongoing programming LAMP project for the five years that it took to get my second associate degree on a part-time basis. I also became serious about writing.

2008 – 2009

No longer going to school and working as a help desk support technician in 2008, I switched out my programming project for the Joomla! CMS. I also used Joomla for my author website. Although I written posts on the website from time to time, I started blogging on a semi-irregular basis.

2010 – 2012

When I started this writing blog in 2010, I switched to WordPress. Joomla didn’t have a native blogging component, and the blogging component I paid for was chunky at best. I switched the website to WordPress, reorganizing all the content as blog posts and renaming the website after my old Wildcat! BBS.

A year later, I haven’t done much with OUAA except poke at it. Setting up the ebook publication schedule for next year, I’m coming out with the five volumes of blog posting compilation ebooks. That’s 300+ blog posts and 120,000+ words. I’ll clean up the website, apply some spit polish and let it be the spam magnet that it always has been.

Five months after I stopped blogging for OUAA, I got a new *.com domain name and started a new WordPress blog, Kicking The Bit Bucket (KTBB), with the tag line, “One blog post at a time!” The wordplay between title and tag line suggests kicking a bad habit by doing less of it. I started blogging with multiple posts every Wednesday, if I had more than one item to blog about. Now it’s a single blog post every week. Like OUAA before it, KTBB will probably become a reflection of my somewhat messy life.

SPECIAL NOTE: You can now pre-order the annual blog compilation ebooks for A Silicon Valley Writer (01/11/2014) and Kicking The Bit Bucket (01/25/2014).

Throwing The Book At Stephen King On Twitter

The Real Stephen King On TwitterStephen King made his first appearance on Twitter this week. I found out when another writer re-tweeted his initial tweet: “My first tweet. No longer a virgin. Be gentle!”

(Uh, huh. Where’s my cattle prod?)

Since I haven’t been to a Stephen King book signing (yet), I haven’t had an opportunity to complain to him about killing off my favorite character in “Cell” that made me throw the paperback against the wall.

My first tweet to him was just that: “I threw ‘Cell’ against the wall & let sit on floor for week after girl got killed at NH/Maine border. WTF, @StephenKingAuth? :P”

“Cell” came out as a premium-format paperback in late 2006. The new paperback format was taller with a larger font size and a higher $9.99 USD sticker price than the typical mass market paperback. As a teenager in the early 1980′s, I could get ten paperbacks for $30 USD (which was my weekly allowance from my indulgent mother). I can barely buy three paperbacks for $30 USD, although it’s possible to get ten ebooks for $30 USD.

The book begins with a mysterious signal going out over the cellphone network that turns everyone into a zombie. That’s not an original idea. Having seen both the Japanese (2001) and American (2006) versions of “Pulse,” where a mysterious signal over the TV causes college students to commit suicide, the overall theme was quite familiar. When reading a Stephen King novel, you’re catching a wild ride through Stephen King country.

And Stephen King country was where I had trouble with this novel.

If you read enough Stephen King over the years, you know right away that the three characters coming around the bend on the road to cross from New Hampshire into Maine will result in one of them being killed. The main character was safe. The other two characters, a man and a teenaged girl, weren’t safe. Since I didn’t care for the man at all, I wanted the girl to survive the encounter. Who got killed in a senseless act of violence?

The girl.

I was so angry that I threw the paperback across the room to hit the wall and land on a floor. I’ve never thrown a book like that before. The worst thing I’ve ever done to a book was close the cover and forget about it. This time I had a vicarious reaction to the story. I let the book sit on the floor for a week before I picked it up again to finish reading.

Although “Cell” was a good story, I didn’t like it and haven’t read it again. Stephen King redeemed himself with “Lisey’s Story,” about a widowed wife dealing with the death of her famous writer husband. When the hardback came out also in late 2006, I was seeing a counselor to deal with my grief over my mother’s death from breast cancer. Both my counselor and I were reading the book at home, where it became a touchstone in our conversations. I cried through the ending of that book.

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