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Indie Authors and Publishers Respond to Tamblyn’s Manifesto

Michael _Tamblyn_Kobo President Tamblyn sparked a minor uproar on Friday when he shared a 31 tweet manifesto which called for indies to support Hachette because they were further down the same list.

Many do not seem to agree with that premise.

When I covered the story, I pointed out that his argument was similar to one which I had raised in June 2014 and had been quickly debunked, and left it at that. Other pundits, including indie authors and publishers, put more thought into it and came up with some rather interesting observations.

Focusing on the point that Kobo was one of Amazon’s competitors, many noted that it wasn’t really much of a competitor. Several authors, including Juli Monroe of Teleread, shared statistics on just how few ebooks they’ve sold through Kobo. Others were more pointed in saying that they thought Tamblyn’s time would be better spent making Kobo into a more attractive alternative:

I really wish Mr. Tamblyn would spend more time fixing the problems at Kobo (crappy search engine, infamous customer service, too high prices, missing downloadable ePubs, lack of adult filter which resulted in the ridiculous Kobogeddon) and less time doing stuff like this.

Passive Guy also weighed in with a similar response when he covered the manifesto on Friday:

So, Kobo, compete! Do a better job of selling books and indie authors will beat a path to your door. Indie authors are the ultimate fast, flexible entrepreneurs. They can change strategies and sales channels on a dime. No meetings with vice-presidents necessary.

Build a better website. Amazon is about 5000% better than you are at helping readers discover books. It’s time to up your game. If you can figure out how to really compete, indie authors will come.

Later in the comment section of that post, Bob Mayer questions whether Kobo would behave differently if they had a similarly large market share.

All valid points– except how is Kobo any different if they had such a large market share?

Duh. Seriously, when someone from Kobo or Smashwords or whatever platform rants about Amazon it’s kind of amusing, no matter how valid their points.

He has a good point. Kobo is strongest in Canada, and as we all know for the past 6 months Kobo has been actively fighting to prevent the end of agency ebook pricing. Kobo is working to forestall actual price competition in that ebook market.

All in all, Tamblyn’s missive is probably not having the effect he would like. Rather than change the minds of indie authors, it has focused their attention on Kobo’s failings and emphasized in the minds of many that, should worst come to worst, Kobo won’t be the company to offer a viable alternative to Amazon.

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Dan Agin October 20, 2014 um 9:45 am

This war is getting crazy. Krugman today in the NYT is a disappointment. He thinks Amazon’s slow delivery of Hachette books is an exercise of monopsony power. He apparently fails to understand that it makes no sense for Amazon to warehouse millions of Hachette books without a contract with Hachette. No contract no warehousing. No warehousing no fast delivery. That’s all it is. Krugman’s saying Amazon is similar to Standard Oil a hundred years ago is sophomoric nonsense. Where do you find warehousing of millions of items of a supplier without a contract with that supplier?

Nate Hoffelder October 20, 2014 um 11:43 am

wouldn’t call it a war so much as a bunch of mice trying and failing to bell the cat while also yammering at fellow mice that they should join in.

I’m not fighting a war; I’m sitting here and commenting on someone else’s war.

Dan Agin October 20, 2014 um 11:51 am

Yes. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Only the Shadow knows. If only I had kept my decoder I would know what this is all about.

Ereading Dot Com October 20, 2014 um 11:46 am

For ANYONE to compete with Amazon at any meaningful level, they’re going to have to do one heck of a lot more work to meet and exceed Amazon’s customer-centric infrastructure.

And by that, I don’t necessarily mean ultra-fast delivery of print editions. That’s valuable, sure, but I don’t believe it is the 'make-or-break' aspect of Amazon that appeals most to readers. Price, discoverability, and selection are what make Amazon today. There is no reason why a competitor, determined enough, cannot begin to match that…and then improve on those processes even more.

"Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real." – Jules Verne

Juli Monroe October 20, 2014 um 12:03 pm

While I do find the goings on amusing in a train wreck sort of way, I really wish people would stop writing/talking about the whole Amazon/Hachette situation. (This is NOT a shot at you, Nate. It’s aimed at mainstream media, heads of ebook sales sites, famous authors and the like.) As long as the really big names keep talking about it, Hachette has a reason to feel like continuing to hold out makes sense. If the story would just die, they’d have more reason to…I don’t know?…actually negotiate. If Patterson, Preston, Streitfeld, Tamblyn and the like really wanted the situation to be resolved, they’d shut up.

Nate Hoffelder October 20, 2014 um 12:25 pm

I wasn’t bothered, Juli. I figured that you’re only referring to the instigators and not the pundits who comment upon the arguments of the instigators.

fjtorres October 20, 2014 um 3:46 pm

Or make fun of them.
They are providing us with with… well, minutes… of snarky-worthy idiocy.

Greg Strandberg October 20, 2014 um 12:30 pm

I wish people cared when I pissed and moaned, but they don’t.

Corporate bigshots might do better if they have the same mentality. I don’t care about you and your problems, mainly because you’ve made it so abundantly clear you care nothing about mine.

Deborah Smith October 20, 2014 um 2:57 pm

Point missed by the commenters: Kobo was set to expand in the U.S. market — bigtime– a few years ago, giving indie authors as well as trads a new platform for sales. But the ruling in favor of Amazon by DoJ mean business as usual in terms of Amazon undercutting sane prices — (losing lots of money in order to sell ebooks dirt cheap to customers) and that meant Kobo couldn’t survive in U.S. markets. So indies, you lost a sales outlet. But keep cheering for fewer choices as Tamblyn’s predictions come true.

SpringfieldMH October 20, 2014 um 3:33 pm

Seems I recall that the federal court ruling documented that in fact Amazon was not losing money on its books/ebooks part of the business, despite its aggressive pricing. So, no, wrong. I’ll double check, but off hand, I’d say yet another anti-Amazon slander busted.

fjtorres October 20, 2014 um 3:49 pm

And an *old*, long busted one.
Give it a few minutes and they’ll bring out another hoary old one.

William Ockham October 24, 2014 um 8:29 am

Deborah Smith has an amazing ability to generate absurdist commentary. Let’s compare her statements to reality:

1. Kobo had hopes to expand in the U.S., but never showed any ability to compete with Amazon. Kobo is still active in the U.S. market.

2. There was no DoJ ruling in favor of Amazon. Apple and their five co-conspirators broke U.S. law and dealt with the consequences. Amazon was not a party to the action.

3. Amazon doesn’t lose lots of money on its ebook sales.

4. Kobo did survive and is selling more than ever here.

5. Nobody lost a sales outlet.

I wonder what color the sky is in Smith’s world.

puzzled October 20, 2014 um 4:51 pm

The really stupid thing about all of this is that everyone is focusing on the fight and not the outcome. There are two possible outcomes: The publishers retain agency pricing, or Amazon gets normal wholesale pricing.

Coupled with research that shows the cheaper an eBook is, the more total revenue it generates, the following conclusions come to me.

The publishers win: prices are set high, all sellers have the same price, the publishers make less money over all (making them weaker), independent publishing on Amazon looks stronger to self-pub authors (and 'published' authors). Kobo competes with Amazon on things other than price (discoverability, customer service, hardware) all of which is much weaker than Amazon’s offerings. The only advantage Kobo has is the generality of their hardware (accepts epubs, sideloading, etc) and non-US distribution.

Amazon wins: prices are set at a reasonable level, sellers can compete on price (as well as other factors), publishers make more money overall (and become stronger), publishing through the PBHs looks better. Kobo loses most of their competitive advantage.

The odd bit is that the publishers come out better in the end if they lose.

Regardless of who wins or loses, Kobo loses. At least until they can offer real competition to Amazon on discoverability, customer service, and firmware. In addition, Kobo is only selling eBooks, Amazon is selling everything, so Kobo only sells to people who are looking for eBooks to buy, Amazon can sell eBooks to people that are looking to buy anything else.

LS October 20, 2014 um 6:08 pm

Thanks for the quote!

Everytime I’m reminded about Kobo still fighting to keep agency book prices in Canada I go shop at Amazon instead. If Kobo ever has to compensate me for the agency pricing fiasco (like the payments to U.S. customers) I’ll be getting some decent cash back.

Syn October 20, 2014 um 11:29 pm

I learned a long time ago that Apple, Kobo and B&N don’t want to compete. They want even pricing and a free ride to customers. And I really think most companies are pissed off because Amazon is customer focused. To actually see it in action is hard to compete with so they don’t. They rather just get Agency in place. Done deal.

Greg Strandberg October 21, 2014 um 11:40 am

You’ve gotten right to the heart of it, and hit upon why so few care anymore.

Angela Booth October 21, 2014 um 2:02 am

I totally agree with the "compete!" sentiment.

Books are products. Goods. They’re traded. They’re not in any way special. Readers either buy them or don’t.

What is it with the publishing industry? Why can’t they shut up and do what they’re supposed to be doing (publish books and get them in the hands of readers), or just quietly go broke.

Tamblyn: he thinks indies are as clues as Hachette’s authors. He’s wrong.

His first claim: "Indie authors take note: Amazon is, among other things, a machine designed to optimize product prices in order to gain share and sales."

Wow… You mean that Amazon’s running their business like a REAL business? What a shock.

And this: "… it seems like self-published authors believe they are protected somehow – that what is happening to Hachette won’t happen to them."

Uh, no. As a self-publisher, I expect any business with which I do business to have its eye on its profits. That’s ALL. I don’t expect charity. If that business changes its terms, so that I can’t profit, then I’ll go elsewhere.

Re "what is happening to Hachette". As far as I can tell, Hachette refuses to sign with Amazon. As is its right. Where’s the problem? Nothing to do with ANYONE other than Hachette, and its hapless authors. Amazon hasn’t cheated anyone, least of all Hachette.

All I get from Tamblyn’s cries of "the sky is falling!" is that Kobo might be in bad shape.

If it were a public company, I’d be selling my shares if I owned any. (It’s not. according to Wikipedia: "The company is currently owned by Rakuten, Inc. in Japan.")

Nate Hoffelder October 21, 2014 um 7:38 am

Here’s something that occurred to me as I was writing about S&S last night:

Tamblyn and others are arguing that indies should do something which S&S legally cannot. It would be an antitrust violation, and even though indies probably won’t be prosecuted it is still unethical and questionably legal.

I can’t wait to bring that up the next time around.

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