Amazon is Winning: Thoughts on Kindle Unlimited, exclusivity, and competition

Amazon announced Kindle Unlimited to a lot of interesting sounds. I’ve opted a few of my less popular ebooks into KDP Select, which is how you get it into Kindle Unlimited.

I’m not in the same position as someone who’s had a lot of success with publishing. Aside from History of the Internet, most of my ebooks don’t sell at all, much less well. This probably has to do with length. I write short, and short stuff is harder to sell. This means I have more room to experiement–I’m not losing anything if I pull my books out of Smashwords and try this for a few months.

I understand the long-term concerns of competition, but I can’t sacrifice profit and reach to prop up an uncompetitive business. You have to give me a reason to choose you over the other, and Amazon’s competitors have failed to do that. Amazon is competing, and they’re winning.

What can Smashwords et al do to win me back?

1. Analytics. Real statistics. Show me a sales funnel, referrals, and all the good stuff I’d get if I had something like Google Analytics bolted on to it. This is big, and it’s something Amazon desperately needs. I would drop them in a heartbeat if I could get real and actionable data from the other sellers. Showing me aggregate data with a month lag tells me nothing.

2. Apps. Why is there no Smashwords app for my Kindle Fire? Or for any other book seller? Mobipocket is an open format. And most of the readers for other formats available in Amazon’s app store are garbage. A good epub reader with reliable and easy to use access to Gutenberg and other archives would do wonders.

Accept that, for now, Kindle is the standard and work with it. Work on your own reader if you must, but make it easy for me–and my readers–to access your stores from the devices they own. I can read my Kindle books on my phone. Why can’t I read my Smashwords books on my Kindle Fire without a convoluted transfer process?

3. Reach. This wouldn’t even be a problem with app support. I could just point readers to the Smashwords app in the Amazon app store and tell them how to get my book through it. I don’t mind doing that. But right now it’s not even possible. Not that I’d mind people finding me through other stores. But how long do I have to wait? I’ve made about $30 through Smashwords and the stores it distributes to. Amazon has earned me a multiple of that.

So what now?

Don’t look to authors to make your stores competitive. That has to come from you. If you’re not going to produce a book reader people want to use, make it easy to use your store with other readers.

About these ads

Why I run an ad blocker (and how to make me stop)

There’s an ad on this site. It sits below posts, and usually reflects some big corporation’s branding efforts. I think. I block ads on my own site because they’re not relevant to me. The vast majority of visitors don’t block, as reflected in the ad reports I get from WordAds.

First, let’s look at the top two reasons people like me run ad blockers:
1. Annoying ads. Loud auto-playing video, flash ads that send CPU usage to 100%, design that makes your eyes bleed. That sort of thing.
2. Annoying non-content elements. There are countless sites where I’d be happy to add them to my exception list, if not for that annoying widget that bounces around and follows me all the way down the page. Gawker sites are notorious for this. AdBlock–at least the one for Chrome–lets me remove these elements. I can’t read the thing I went there for otherwise! I don’t know why they think this is a good idea. Does anyone test for or care about readability on these sites?

How to earn your place on the whitelist

A lot of sites have wised up and started putting things where the ads go if you run an ad blocker. It’s a plea to either unblock it or sign up for a subscription service. Most of the time, I’m happy to oblige. And you know what happens?

You guessed it. Awful ads that demonstrate why ad blockers were created in the first place.

Every. Single. Time.

This is why I don’t care if you block the ad below this post. I unblocked it, and it’s about what I expected: static, generally inoffensive stuff. I don’t care if you block it because I don’t expect most people to. The very few people who block ads weren’t the target demographic anyway, so blocking can save the advertiser the pennies they would pay to display it.

That said, I would really appreciate it if you added me to your whitelist. I do make a little bit of money from these ads, and WordAds works hard to keep the quality up.

More is always worse

I don’t like absolute statements like the one in the title. They’re rarely right. This is one of those rare exceptions. I’ve never seen a situation where more is better.

Ask a rich person. More money leads to more stuff. Past a point, it just sits there in the bank, or flows around making rich people more rich. It doesn’t improve any lives in a tangible way.

There are two common places where people take on too much.

1. Content. That means Facebook posts, tweets, blog posts, and other things we allow into our feeds. Stuff. Feedly–that popular RSS reader–is my favorite thing. Not for the reading, which is great. But for the filtering. When you go to add a feed from the search, it tells you how many posts come from it each week.

I won’t touch a feed if it has more than 7 posts a week. I used to subscribe to Vox. 179 articles a week. That’s 25 posts a day! Some of them are good. Most are not. How much did I tax my brain filtering through all those for the few gems? Sure, Feedly shows you the top 3, but it doesn’t tell you if it’s good for you.

This creates a slight issue for me: I need a lot of inputs every day to keep my mind going, but too much mental filtering drains me. So I subscribe to a lot of low volume feeds. I end up reading most of what I see, and there’s not much filtering.

2. Stuff. I have a stack of games for my NES, SNES, N64, and Gamecube. I haven’t touched most of them since I was a teen. These will not survive a move. I’ll either sell them or toss them. I should do it now, but the sentimental value is strong.

My Kindle Fire is full of books I probably won’t read. I paused writing this to delete them. I can always go and redownload them, but I probably shouldn’t. Very few books are interesting enough to warrant a permanent spot on my reader. Most of Mark Twain’s books survived the cull. My new policy is to only download a book if I intend to read it all the way through, and to only keep it if I follow through within a week. Otherwise, they’re clutter that distracts from what’s really worth reading.

What do you have too much of?

Think hard. Check what you’re following on Facebook and Twitter. Check your RSS feeds. Cull your ebooks. Get rid of things you haven’t touched in more than a year. And while you’re at it, subscribe to my mailing list.

How curing my homophobia saved my life, and three things you can do to save others

My depression started around when I turned 10 and continued until about six months ago. I had always planned to kill myself the day before I turned 30. The truth is, I don’t think I could have gone through with it. I had no will to live, but I also had no will to die. I just knew that if death came, I would embrace it. My body was like a prison.

I’d always convinced myself I wasn’t gay with the line “I tried gay porn and didn’t like it, so I can’t be gay.” That’s what I told other people when they asked if I was gay, but I don’t think I ever believed it. In reality, it wasn’t that I didn’t like it. It was that it was revolting to me. I forget what prompted it, but at some point I started questioning my sexuality

I set about desensitizing myself to not just gay porn, but gay smooches, gay cuddles, and other things like that. All of it was repulsive to me. I always had enough energy to waste time on the internet, and the internet is full of material to desensitize oneself to anything.

The process was short and easy. Without the negative sensitivity, another sort of sensitivity appeared. I liked it. I started to remember so many things that should have told me so plainly that I was gay, but never quite flipped the right switch until then. Now it’s obvious both in retrospect and with six months of fresh experiences. I still have a lot of healing to do, but it’s happening at a good pace.

The overwhelming depression I suffered from for 20 years is gone. I’m 100% confident that I’m gay, while also being 100% confident that I’m not attracted to women. I’m working through the social phobia that made me avert my eyes when I saw a guy in public, and I like what I see.

Now I don’t just want to live. I have all these hobbies and interests and ideas, and I want to find someone to love and share it all with. I want them to share their hobbies and interests and ideas with me. And that someone will be another man.

But this isn’t just a personal story. Others are going through this, and not all of them will survive. Some of them do have the energy to end it before acknowledging and accepting their sexuality. What can be done for them?

Three things you can do

  • Stop using homophobic language. You might not mean anything when you call something gay as an insult or call someone a fag, but it makes the gay people around you wonder how you’ll react if they tell you the truth about themselves. Most importantly, using this language makes actual homophobes who hear you think you support their homophobia. These are the kinds of people who assault and murder gay people for asking them out.
  • Call for better representation. All I had was stereotypes until recent years. How much sooner would I have gotten comfortable with what I am if our media were full of gay men who were otherwise completely ordinary? I had no role models. The ones available to me chased after women, and that didn’t mesh with how I felt.
  • Give us legal equality. I can be fired for being gay in most states in the US. I can be imprisoned or killed for it in some countries. I can’t get married if I fall in love, and I don’t think I’ll live long enough to see civil unions given the same rights, protections, and privileges as marriage. Marriage is the best bet since we’re already close to equality with so many state courts finding the bans unconstitutional.

Why dieting isn’t the best way to lose weight, and three things you can do to be more healthy

When I was little, I lived in the middle of nowhere. The only places of business in walking range were a gas station called Major Ridge Market and a place that sold recreational vehicles. Then Publix landed. This was a big deal to a 15 year old who only had access to the variety of the world through the Internet and the early World Wide Web. I would make a daily 15 minute trek there to explore the bounty of junk food.

And I justified the purchases each day by saying it was cheap (99 cents for a box of Famous Amos cookies!), and I was getting exercise. I walked a mile a day! But then the family moved, and the nearest grocery store was 2 miles away. I was a two mile interstate drive from all kinds of fun things at the old place, even though home was physically isolated. But the new place? Nothing for 20 miles other than a grocery store and a run down town.

I no longer ate junk food because it was fun. I ate it to cope. That went on for years before I started to drag myself out of it. I started to pay attention to my age, and I started noticing all the people not much older than myself complaining about their minds going dull and their bodies failing.

But I knew of people twice my age with sharper minds than me. I knew of people twice my age with great strength and endurance. Something didn’t add up.

Long story short, I tried real hard to go cold turkey on junk food and failed miserably. But then I had a realization: life may be short, but it’s long enough to change slowly, as long as you keep trying to change. I did cut out additives for the most part. I use 1/3 the sugar in my coffee, I don’t add salt to foods, and I bake instead of fry. And you know what? The junk food I bought every other day isn’t as appealing now. It makes me sick when I try to eat it like I used to.

I still indulge every now and then, but I don’t get it in the same quantities. I’ll grab the $1.50 chocolate bar instead of the $1.50 box of swiss rolls. The former is more filling anyway, and it tastes better. Most importantly, I don’t feel physically or emotionally ill after eating the whole thing in one sitting.

I’ve lost 20 pounds in the 3 years since starting this transition without exercise, and with plenty of relapses. It gets easier to resist the call of junk food every day, and exercise looks more appealing as the weight I have to carry while doing it goes down.

And it didn’t cost any money or require radical changes in diet.

Here are three things you can do to eat better and get healthy.

1. Quit beating yourself up. You haven’t failed just because you gorged on a whole container of Oreos. You faltered. It happens! We all falter. The important thing is to try to do better next time.

2. Take little steps. Remember: lifetime thing. You’re not going to change your life in a day, but you can make one change and keep that change active until it replaces the old habit. If you eat too much, use a smaller plate, or buy smaller things. I replaced the 10 ounce bags of chips I bought with 5 ounce tubes of chips. They’re cheaper, and last just as long. The difference is I don’t feel as bad after eating it, and I’m out less money. Less capacity–like plates, bowls, and packages–limits the damage when you falter.

3. Exercise doesn’t have to be a big ordeal. If you’re like most people, you stay pretty much the same weight all the time. You don’t go up, and you don’t go down. So, really, all you need to do is tilt the balance one way or the other. Want to lose weight? Eat a little less and do some light exercise, like dancing in place. Need to gain weight? Eat a little more and lift your arms up and down until they’re tired. Do those things every day, and you’re bound to reach your goal, even if it takes a while.


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