How Amazon Destroyed Publishing. Or Did It?

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Typewriter | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book

Then, Amazon came along and turned everything upside down. Including typewriters!

In my previous post, How Amazon Destroyed Barnes & Noble, I explained how Amazon (alone) could not be held responsible for the bookstore’s troubles.

This post addresses another common complaint, that Amazon has destroyed publishing.

Again, things are not as black and white as that. Yes, Amazon is a shark. But it was the publishing industry which made blunder after blunder, allowing Amazon to take advantage of their mistakes.

Let’s take things from the start.

A Brief History of 20th Century Publishing

As Kristen Lamb points out in her must-read post, Goliath has Fallen & What This Means for Writers, publishing worked in a pretty standard way for over a century. Writers would take their books to publishers. If their pitch was successful, the publishers would then sign them on, publish the books, and distribute them to smaller chains and independent bookstores around the country.

The leaders in charge of the publishing business knew they had three jobs:

  1. Protect the writers, producers of the product publishers sold.
  2. Protect the bookstores, distributors of books.
  3. Protect the readers, consumers of books.

These are listed in order of importance. If there are no writers, then there is no content: no stories, no books, no movie rights, nothing. With no distribution network, even the most avid book readers will have no way of getting their hands on books. And with no readers, there’s no way to sustain your business.

The Barnes & Noble Effect

Then, around 2006, the book business started fracturing. Barnes & Noble introduced the big-box model, followed by outsiders like Walmart. Under the new paradigm, selection and variety ruled. This meant a fight for the best shelf space. But with shelf space precious and finite, these mega-stores soon dropped extensive backlists.

Problem was, those backlists had once been the bread-and-butter for the working author. Under the new big-box model, the stores would now only stock the backlists of the top-earning authors, as those were guaranteed to sell.

Strike One

In the first of four crucial blunders, the publishing business used this business reality to justify mothballing the backlists of virtually all authors who weren’t household names. This meant instead of an author earning royalties off, say, fifteen books, they could only earn royalties off their most recent title.

Many authors witnessed decades of work vanish along with the small bookstores that supported them.

Midlisters were hit particularly hard. Not only did this change mean a drastic pay cut, but it also meant these authors had no viable backlist to cultivate existing fans into future fans. There was no longer a way to truly earn their way into household name status. If fans wanted an author’s earlier books, they had to go find them in secondary markets: used bookstores, garage sales and any other place where the author wasn’t paid.

Strike Two

When Amazon launched the Kindle, early adopting readers found themselves in a conundrum. They had a new gizmo where they could read all the books they wanted… but there weren’t all that many books.

This didn’t have to be so. E-books offered publishers had a second chance. An opportunity to do right by their authors. Yes, they couldn’t do anything to protect them from Barnes & Noble and the rest, but they could have resurrected those titles at least in e-book form.

Publishers possessed a ready arsenal of thousands of mothballed titles; novels which had already been thoroughly edited and market tested. Many of these books had earned the coveted titles of USA Today and/or NY Times Best -Selling Book. A deal with Amazon would have meant good books for their customers to load on their new Kindle device, fresh money from non-earning titles, and income for struggling authors. Also, it would have let the Big Six gather critical data to guide future business decisions. Were e-books just a fad, as they’ve been trying to convince themselves ever since? Or were they here to stay?

A win-win-win-win situation if there ever was one.

So, what did the Big Six do? They decided that didn’t want to discount their new titles on Amazon. And, without a single shred of evidence, dismissed this e-book thing as really just a fad.

That E-Book Fad

Inconceivable | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's bookSo, instead of creating a Big Six controlled e-book division staffed with eager college grads to format books and flood Amazon with gatekeeper-approved books, the Big Six decided that e-books were evil. Readers would always want paper and a browsing experience in an oversized store with ridiculous overhead.

Authors weren’t convinced. So, they asked for the rights to their backlists. Since publishers felt these were worthless, they were happy to oblige and initially handed backlists back to the authors. They truly believed e-books were a fool’s pipe dream and a fad (though did nothing to test this opinion).

But then the inconceivable happened. Those spurned authors started converting their cast-off backlists into e-books and making tons of money. With readers desperate for good e-books, these authors started making far more income than they ever had through traditional publishing.

This e-book gold rush ignited a mass exodus of multi-published and mid-list authors… right into Amazon’s welcoming arms.

The Big Six had failed spectacularly in protecting their most valuable asset: their writers.

Strike Three

Belatedly, the publishing world woke up to the danger. The next generation of household names had historically been cultivated, groomed, and promoted from the ranks of the mid-list.

But the mid-list authors, after years of loyalty, got fed up with being treated so poorly and were leaving in droves.

So, what did the publishers do? Did they see the error of their ways and make an e-book division strictly for backlists? Negotiate with Amazon? Maybe even broker a deal that if enough e-book copies sold, a book/series could garner a fresh print run?

Nope.

Publishers changed all the contracts to make it where authors no longer had rights to their backlist. Ever. Those backlists would remain the property of the publisher indefinitely to do with what they wished. Including nothing.

A once-devoted author pool suddenly turned bitter, and for very good reasons. Not content to starve, a large portion of the traditional talent went rogue. Or, rather, hybrid. They cut their losses and began self-publishing. More than a few created indie houses of their own that were more efficient and geared toward the digital marketplace.

The authors who’d once made money for publishers suddenly became additional competition, with Amazon’s blessing, of course.

What’s insane is that, as Kristen repeatedly explains, most of the traditional authors had zero desire to leave. They’d been publishing traditionally for years, even decades. Going it alone meant a lot more work and a steep and highly technical learning curve, from a group that feared e-mail!

Most of these authors simply wanted to just write the books like they always had. But when faced with starvation? You serve the master who feeds you.

In an ironic twist of fate, the Big Six helped self-publishing transition from “shunned last-ditch of the hack wanna-be writer” into a viable and respectable publishing alternative.

Strike Four (Yes, I know you’re already out by now but the match goes on)

Having done such a poor job at protecting their authors, how were the Big Six doing with their second job, protecting bookstores?

Sadly enough, they didn’t treat the smaller chains/indie bookstores any better. It didn’t matter that small chains, Indies, and countless mom-and-pop bookstores had been the beating heart of publishing since its inception. These stores promoted authors, held events and book signings. They pushed literacy, actively sold books and made The Big Six what it was.

However, when Barnes and Noble and Walmart started sending the Big Six bucketloads of orders, they also demanded deep discounts. Which they got because, economics: the larger the order, the deeper the discount.

Caught between Amazon and the bix-box discounts, the smaller chains and mom-and-pop indies couldn’t compete. They steadily died off until only a tenacious few remained.

While this happened, the Big Six blithely continued to support the big-box stores at the expense of authors (talent) and smaller bookstores (their former allies).

Amazon rubbed its hands with glee. The Big Six had already sent Amazon their best authors. They were now destroying Amazon’s competition to boot. Unsurprisingly, Amazon continued to build its e-book empire and squeeze everyone smaller into oblivion. It even picked an ugly fight with Hachette in a clear sign of its intentions, as I warned as early as 2014.

There were so many crucial moments like this:

Faced with all these red flags, publishing leadership should have thrown everything they had into innovating and making darn sure no one ever had the power to grab them by the tender bits. They should have gone back to their primary goals:

  • Protect the authors
  • Protect the bookstores
  • Protect the readers

Instead, they alienated the authors, sending them in droves to Amazon. They destroyed the bookstores by offering deep discounts to big-box stores. They ignored the needs of their readers by refusing to sell them the e-books they craved. And to top it all off, they claimed that e-books are (repeat after me) just a fad and nothing needs to change.

It’s almost like the Big Six were trying to ensure Amazon’s rise as a publishing powerhouse.

Now, while the Big Six were busy burying their heads in the sand, Barnes and Noble collapsed.

What About Us?

While it remains to be seen whether this will be a wakeup call for an industry that’s deep in denial, what does that all mean for us writers?

For one thing, we have to hope and pray that Elliott Advisors C.E.O. James Daunt can deliver, or we might all be spelling Amazon, M-O-N-O-P-O-L-Y.

This matters. A lot. Amazon (or anyone) having total control should be scary for all authors. But, it is a particularly frightening scenario for Indies, as we lack the resources and legal know-how to fight a large machine.

Unfortunately, if Barnes & Noble doesn’t salvage something out of this mess, it could spell the end of legacy publishing.

So, will the Big Six finally wake up and realize that authors are their most valuable resources?

Will they learn from their past mistakes and remember that, besides those bulk orders which stock the Barnes and Noble, they also need orders from those mom-and-pop stores they once ‘didn’t need’ and—with help from their besties Borders and Barnes &Noble—damn near killed off?

And have they realized that, if the Elliot Advisors hadn’t ridden to the rescue, the entire U.S. legacy book industry could have collapsed? Most other investors or corporate raiders would have bought Barnes & Noble and promptly held a yard sale.

Personally, I’m not holding my breath.

Next Steps

Which is why, for us writers, the best advice is:

  • To know the business of our business, regardless of the path we choose.
  • We also have to write excellent books. The more books we write and the better they are, the more negotiating power we’ll have.
  • And, finally, an author brand and platform is not an option, it is a lifeline. The only way to Amazon-proof and future-proof ourselves is to create a passionate and vested following who will buy our books no matter where we list them.

As Kristen stresses, yes, it’s a tumultuous time in publishing, but while industries change, humans never do. Humans will always want stories and information. So long as there are humans, there will be educators, inspirers, and storytellers.

Our industry might be a mess, but our jobs are secure.

For more excellent insights into the publishing world, visit Kristen Lamb’s blog, where much of the material for this post came from!

Amazon Advertising: The Definitive Guide

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Amazon Advertising | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's bookI was recently hired by SearchNurture to help them write a series of posts on Amazon Advertising. SearchNurture is a Digital Marketing Agency which matches specialized advertisers with companies and professionals. They also offer training in digital marketing and even help graduates find a job (and pay $6,000 upon placement).

I don’t like tooting my own horn, but anyone interested in how Amazon Advertising works should have a careful read, as this is the most exhausting guide I have seen on the Internet yet–and I’m mighty proud of my part in creating it.

The following articles are available (this list will get updated on a weekly basis):

 

About this blog

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NicholasRossisPageThis is the mirror blog of author Nicholas C. Rossis. It is set up in order to provide an easy way for visitors to reblog posts and read them in WordPress Reader.

You can find out the reasoning behind the duplication in this post.

The primary blog is located on nicholasrossis.me and contains information on book marketingwriting; my fantasy series Pearseusmy short stories collections and my award-winning children’s books.

The Hackable Internet of Things

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A Heaven for Toasters | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's book

A buggy future?

In my book, A Heaven for Toasters (which, by the way, is FREE until the 20th), a zoomer (flying car) is hacked and made to crash.

As with all things futuristic, I based this on current trends. One of these is the so-called Internet of Things: a common language that allows any device plugged into the Internet to communicate with any other device.

This opens up a world of possibilities for hackers – or naughty teenagers, as a girl allegedly demonstrated in a battle of wits with her mother. Following the confiscation of all of her electronics because she “was boiling rice and was too busy on phone and stove burst into flames,” Dorothy claimed to have used her LC smart fridge to send the following tweet:

Can You Hack This?

While some have cast doubt on Dorothy’s viral tweet, the fact remains that a surprising number of devices are already connected to the Internet, making them vulnerable to hacking.

If you’re wondering what kind of things can already be hacked, check out this infographic by BigRentz.com with 15 Surprisingly Hackable Things in Your Daily Life, which could double as writing prompt for any thriller or near-future/science-fiction story writer!

Infographic: the hackable Internet of Things | From the blog of Nicholas C. Rossis, author of science fiction, the Pearseus epic fantasy series and children's books

As you can see on the Infographic, the list is pretty long, starting with…

Heading to Work

1. Car Keys

Hackers have been using what’s called a relay hack to clone the signal from a wireless car key to unlock and even start cars with keyless ignitions. But unlike most hacks, which get patched shortly after they’re discovered, the relay hack still works on a number of cars. The latest iteration of the hack works on cars whose keys are within a thousand feet of the vehicle, so you can protect against this particular attack by parking far from wherever you keep your keys.

2. GPS

In 2015 a security researcher invented a hacking device called OnStar which allowed him to hack any vehicle equipped with OnStar, a GPS-enabled emergency tool that allows drivers to call for help without using a phone. With the device, the hacker was able to not only locate and unlock but also remote start and drive the cars he hacked.

The vulnerability that the OnStar exploited to perform these hacks was later patched, but evolving technology means evolving hacks, and it’s usually only a matter of time before another hacker comes along and finds a new weak spot to exploit.

3. Cars

Not just car radios or digital displays — entire cars can be hacked and shut down remotely, as demonstrated by a 2015 experiment in which hackers successfully breached a Jeep Cherokee doing 70mph on the highway. The hackers were able to blast the air conditioning, switch the radio, turn on the windshield wipers, and ultimately cut the transmission, all from their location 10 miles away.

When at Work…

4. Aerial Drones

Most of the popular drone models can be hacked by a small device called Icarus, which allows an attacker to take over a drone and lockout the owner to prevent them from attempting to regain control. Once the hacker has control of the drone, they can steal it, crash it, or use it to damage other equipment on the site.

5. Construction Equipment

In 2018, two researchers wrote an attack code that they believed could hack a crane. They then set off on a road trip to 14 different worksites, testing the hack on not just cranes but also any heavy equipment that was present on the worksite. At the end of the experiment, the attack code had successfully infiltrated every piece of equipment they used it on at all 14 of the construction sites.

With their prewritten code, the researchers were able to send commands to the machines remotely, clone the control devices and operate equipment independent of the crew, remotely deploy the emergency stop at any time, and even install permanent vulnerabilities in the equipment’s existing code.

In the report that followed, the researchers noted that a truly malevolent hacker would be able to steal equipment, use it to cause damage to property or people, or even use their control of the equipment as leverage for extortion.

6. Wearables

Wearable technology is growing popular on construction sites with things like connected hardhats, smart boots, and augmented reality eyewear. If hacked, these devices can give an attacker valuable data, like information on the crew’s comings and goings and access to protected files like blueprints and site worker credentials.

Any hacked worksite is a liability, but in places like airports, city skyscrapers, or government buildings, a hacker could sell information gained via wearables to domestic or foreign criminals, leaving the location vulnerable to physical attack.

7. Warehousing & Supply Inventory

Many worksites now use RFID tags on units of inventory in order to keep a record of what supplies are on-site, how much of each material is used and on which projects, and what items are running low and need to be ordered. Hackers can access these RFID tags and alter the data they contain, causing major problems to automated supply chains.

With this access, someone can make it look like there are 1,000 units of material when there are actually 0 or, conversely, make it look like a supply order is needed when there is actually plenty of an item left. By tampering with these counts a hacker can cause delays, mistakes, expensive unnecessary orders, and other costly problems.

In the Office

8. Building Cameras

Hackers with camera access are far more dangerous than the average Peeping Tom. With control over security and surveillance cameras, hackers can literally look over people’s shoulders at computer screens in order to learn passwords, access sensitive information, view credentials, and even swap in fake footage to cover up a crime.

9. Office Printers

Though printers used to be hard-wired to the source sending them documents, today the majority of printers are internet-connected and allow printing tasks to be sent from any device as long as it’s on the same network.

Unfortunately, researchers have shown that most of these wireless printers can be hacked in a surprising number of ways. Hackers can deny print service, set the machine permanently in offline mode, manipulate other people’s print jobs, and even cause physical damage that will destroy the printer.

Perhaps most unsettling, hackers can actually access copies of the print jobs that have been passed through the printer, allowing them to view sensitive documents, blueprints, credentials, and other potentially dangerous information.

10. Heat and Electricity Systems

Programs that allow people to remotely control their heating, cooling, and electricity systems require them to be connected to the internet — and therefore, make them vulnerable to hackers. With access to heat and electricity systems, hackers could cut power to a hospital, shut off lights at an airport, deprive a city of heat in a cold snap, and more.

These systems can also serve as entry points for hackers to gain access to a company’s larger networks — in fact, the infamous Target hack that resulted in the theft of 40 million people’s credit and debit card information was traced back to a breach in the company’s HVAC system.

11. Security Systems

Even if a building’s security system is secure, all it takes is one individual camera, smart lock, or security tool that’s missing the latest software upgrade to allow hackers a point of entry from which they can access almost every internet-connected device in the building’s network.

And even at Home

12. Baby Monitors

Many modern baby monitors utilize Internet capabilities to allow parents to view audio and video streams from their phones and even talk to their baby through the device from afar. However, this has led to a number of baby monitor hacks, in which attackers will make threats to families via the devices.

Other devices that monitor babies’ heart rates and movements and trigger an alarm if the child is too still can be hacked, allowing attackers to harass families by needlessly triggering alarms.

13. Smart TVs

Smart televisions — those that are connected to the internet in order to offer built-in Netflix, Hulu, and other apps — are vulnerable to attacks that allow hackers to remotely assume control of the device. Hackers can turn smart TVs on or off, change the channels, turn up the volume, and even play adult content from apps like YouTube.

Those smart TVs that have cameras can also be used to spy on the household, even if the TV looks like it’s been turned off.

14. Smart Coffee Machines

Smart coffee machines make it possible to start brewing a pot of coffee before leaving your bed since you can control the device from your phone. However, they can also be hacked, allowing attackers to do things like turning it on while the owner is not home and cause the burner to overheat, potentially causing a fire.

15. Smart Refrigerators

Internet-connected refrigerators are designed to allow users to manage their meal planning by syncing the fridge directly to their Google calendar. However, this means that hackers that gain access to the fridge itself also gain access to the individual’s calendar.

In other words, a hacked refrigerator can give up more than just grocery expiration dates — it can also give hackers access to users’ Gmail, Google Drive, and any sensitive information stored there.

How to Protect Yourself

There are a few key defenses you can employ to protect yourself against most IoT hacks. If you can register your device with the manufacturer, make sure you do so — this will put you on the mailing list that companies use when they roll out security upgrades after they become aware of a new hack their product might be vulnerable to.

Then, make sure you stay up-to-date on all of these patches and install them as soon as they’re released. Most hackers find their targets using a platform called Shodan, which is a search engine that returns lists of IoT-connected devices in a particular area.

Hackers will search for the type of device they’re targeting and look for any that haven’t upgraded their security recently — if you frequently install security patches, you’re unlikely to appear on the list of vulnerable devices the hackers will target.

Finally, any equipment that you don’t use frequently, consider renting on a case-by-case basis instead. Each internet-connected item that resides on your worksite or in your warehouse is a potential point of entry for a hacker to access your entire network. By limiting the number of machines you own, you lower the possible points of entry hackers can use and make yourself and your firm more secure.

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