Posts Tagged ‘ Amazon ’

State of Play in the UK – Opportunities Ahead As Britain Finally Embraces eBooks

As regulars will know, I’m not normally the flag-waving type. I may be be born and bred in Britain, but I’m about as un-British as you can be.  For my money, the best thing about being British is having a UK passport to go abroad, where I spend most of my time.

But this week I’m going to talk Britain. Ot at least, about the British ebook market and what the future holds, because suddenly things are looking very bright indeed.

But first, a word about KDP Select.

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Amidst the gleeful cries of those who have had a good bounce from going free with KDP Select there is clear evidence of a fall in ebook sales overall as we hit February and into March, and especially so in the Amazon UK market.

Of course, we all expect the natural post-season slump. But for many, both in the US and UK, the anticipated Christmas bonanza with all those new e-readers coming onto the market, simply didn’t materialise. Partly because many new devices – the KindleFire, all the nooks, etc, were not and are not available outside the US, which rather skews international sales.

But both sides of the pond many writers, who were surging ahead in the latter part of 2011 and seriously thinking about giving up the day job, were brought down to Earth with a bump in 2012 when, especially from late January, their world stopped spinning.

For many more, the early success of Select, with the fabled post-free bounce, also faded as the five free days were used, the post-free bounce disappeared and Amazon’s spotlight moved on to the next lucky winner. Did the eighty days exclusive with Select after the free and post-free bounce justify the experiment as the flood of millions of free books through Select saturated the market?

From the feedback I’m hearing that’s at best 50-50. And of course it’s impossible to tell how many sales were “lost” on the other platforms as all those new iPad, nook and Kobo devices were fired up for the first time Christmas Day.

For many more in Select there were no lucky winners, period. It’s easy to get carried away on the euphoria whipped up by those who did well with Select and assume it’s a guaranteed winner. Just sign-up and reap the rewards.

But I’ve seen email after email from authors bitterly disappointed that thousands or even tens of thousands of free downloads converted to post-free sales in single figures or even zero. Needless to say they’re not rushing about on the blogs broadcasting their results like those who hit the jackpot. Which begs the question just how many it didn’t work for that we’re simply not hearing about…

In the UK of course the benefits were skewed from the start. Kindle UK isn’t privy to the borrowing option, as with so many Kindle US benefits. There’s no gift option on Kindle UK, for example. No KindleFire here, just the old b&w e-readers.

And as we all know Kindle UK is a smaller market place than Kindle US because e-reading has yet to take off in Britain.

But that could be about to change significantly. My prediction is the UK e-reading market is going to explode in the coming 12-18 months. Reaping huge rewards to those in the right places at the right time.

So a brief overview of the state of play in the UK.

One of the reasons Apple’s iPad is not leading the way with ebooks is that Steve Jobs famously dismissed ebooks as a waste of time. Citing the possibly accurate figure that 4 out of 10 Americans read less than one book a year, Jobs saw no future for ebooks, which became a sideline for the iPad.

It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read anymore,” said the person with a vested interest in people reading less and spending more on music and games. So much for Steve Jobs the visionary.

By the time Apple realised their mistake Amazon had stormed ahead and seized the high ground. Of course they then responded with the Agency Agreement to try fight back. We all know the repercussions now as legal proceedings are prepared both sides of the Atlantic.

Not here to discuss that. David Gaughran has covered this issue far better than I could on many occasions. most recently here. But what’s significant is to grasp that Apple are belatedly taking ebooks seriously, and safe to say Steve Jobs’ successors will be revamping the iBooks store and making it a lot more user-friendly in the near future.

Apple has about twenty stores internationally, not least in the UK, and this is and will increasingly become a significant player for the UK market.

Leaving aside the accuracy or otherwise of the forty per cent of Americans who only read one book or less a year, it’s generally accepted that the UK is the world’s leading book-reading market per head of population.

It may not seem so when you look at your UK v US sales figures on KIndle, but that’s primarily a matter of ebook awareness.

Ebooks came late to the UK. Or rather, the Kindle came late, which was much the same thing. Other devices were available, but the introduction of Kindle UK in 2010 quickly gave Amazon dominance in the UK ebook market.

And despite appearances sometimes, it’s a significant market. Plenty of books are selling in six figures, and as e-reading in Britain increases so will your potential sales.

But unlike in the US, Kindle UK was pretty much unopposed. Apple, as above, simply wasn’t taking ebooks seriously. Kobo was barely established here. As for Barnes & Noble…

Amazon’s biggest competitor in the US simply doesn’t exist here. B&N doesn’t sell to the UK,and except through Smashwords it doesn’t allow writers to self-publish from the UK. No wonder Amazon took the UK by storm.

The only competition was the (at the time) small and neglected Waterstone’s ebook store and the equally pitiful W.H. Smiths ebook store. Yet Waterstone’s is the UK’s biggest book shop chain, and W.H. Smiths (stationers and general goods along with books) its nearest rival. Borders UK had gone to the wall several years before it happened in the US.

The Waterstone’s story was a sad tale of neglect and decline, as this company was passed around several buyers none of whom had the least interest in books until, most recently, it landed in the hands of a Russian billionaire, by when I had, Kindle UK aside, all but given up hope for ebooks in the UK.

Which was tragic. I loved Waterstone’s. It was my second home in the UK, especially where they had a decent coffee bar. The staff knew their products and would perform cartwheels to meet the customer’s requirements. Impossible to fault them.

Compare W.H. Smiths, where the girl at the book-ordering point, on being asked for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, asked which group it was by – and when I finally found the book and went to pay the checkout girl said she’d studied that book for her degree course. You couldn’t make it up…

But back to Waterstone’s.  Last year we found we had two top ten hits in Waterstone’s ebooks. Nowhere near Amazon sales levels, but still a worthy achievement. I happened to be in the UK and we tried to arrange a photo-shoot at Saffi’s local Waterstone’s store, so asked to speak to the manager.

“We have an ebook store?”

We contacted Waterstone’s HQ in London. No response. Meanwhile over in America B&N were inviting ebook sellers to do in-store readings and signing, introducing ebook booths, and pushing ahead with the nook.

This was about the time Waterstone’s was sold yet again. I despaired of Britain’s book future, let alone ebooks.

But the new man in charge of Waterstone’s, James Daunt (left, no tie), apparently with the full backing of (left, with tie) said billionaire Alexander Mamut (so there may just be the funds available to make it happen) is intent on transforming the stores nationwide and taking it into the digital age to compete head on with Amazon in the UK.

I’ve been following Daunt closely ever since, and have been very impressed with the way things are shaping. Rumour and speculation abound, but it seems some sort of partnership with B&N is imminent, at the very least to sell a branded in-store e-reader in the UK, and possibly much more.

This month B&N holds its first workshops in the UK, and a B&N presence of some sort, again almost certainly with Waterstone’s, seems just a matter of time.

Even as this happens Kobo, recently bought out by a huge Japanese corporation, so suddenly not short of cash itself, has appointed a new director of UK operation, has e-reader distribution deals with several major UK retailers, and just happens to run the ebook store for the UK’s second largest book-seller, W.H. Smiths.

All this just as the early adopter phase for e-readers comes to an end and the reticent late-comers stage begins. Lost? See my post Are The Big Six Publishers Really Dying?

Suddenly the UK market is being transformed. Kindle UK is facing serious competition here for the first time, and we can expect a very rapid uptake of ebook reading in the UK in this coming year. I strongly suspect the Christmas 2012 season will be a bonanza like none before for ebook sellers in the UK market.

Of course, accelerated ebook sales means the closure of the bricks and mortar stores is brought forward too, right? The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away…

But it needn’t be so. Over at Anne R. Allen’s today I explain why, far from seeing bricks and mortar stores close, the digital revolution could give a whole new lease of life to “real” bookstores, even as print inexorably disappears from our shelves.

There’s never been a better time to be a writer or a reader. Or a publisher. Or even a book-store owner!

The future is bright. The future is digital, with coffee.

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Saffi Does Sherlock

Saffi Does what???!!!

No shit, Sherlock!

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Hands up anyone who hasn’t heard of Sherlock Holmes?

Exactly. Everyone and their great grandmother have heard of Sherlock Holmes.

Now hands up everyone who’s actually read the Sherlock Holmes stories. No, having the Complete Sherlock on your bookshelf gathering dust doesn’t count. You’ve got to have actually read them.

Hmmm. Not quite so many of you now.

Rather like Shakespeare or Chaucer, or Dickens or Thackeray, or Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker, we all know – or think we know – the stories, and we all know they’re classics, and therefore must be wonderful, but few of us would ever have the inclination to actually read them. I mean, be honest, who among you have actually read Frankenstein, or Dracula, or a complete Dickens novel?

How many times do you see someone reading Shakespeare on the plane or on the beach? How many of you could even name ten Shakespeare plays? No, Henry V Parts 1 to 10 will not suffice.

Many of us, however much we may pretend otherwise in company, have a hatred of the classics drilled into us at school by uninspiring English teachers reciting what they in turn were taught at uni’ by uninspiring lecturers.

Often we only come to the classics as adults, usually after a major film or TV adaptation. No question Keira Knightley’s breathtaking performance as Elizabeth Bennett did more to boost sales of Pride & Prejudice than any number of school teachers could ever do.

Thus it has been with Sherlock Holmes this past year or two. The Sherlock books are gaining a whole new reading audience thanks to the recent BBC take on the Conan Doyle classics.

By chance I was in the UK with my daughter when the first of the new BBC Sherlock launched. Of course as a long-standing Sherlock fan I rearranged my schedule to watch it, and absolutely loved it.

But my daughter, while enjoying the excitement and the SFX, was rather lost on the clever word play and the cut and thrust of the intellectual debate behind the stories. Now that may be in part because English is her fourth language and she was only seven at the time. But it got me wondering how I could introduce Sherlock to her, and that in turn begged the question how I first discovered Conan Doyle myself.

It was, of course, through Enid Blyton.

Yes, I’ve waxed lyrical here on MWi many times about Blyton’s unsurpassed contributions to childhood literature. Need I mention Noddy? Tales of Toyland? St Clare’s and Malory Towers? Brownie Tales? The Wishing Chair or The Magic Farwaway Tree?  Dare I whisper the near-perfect The Land of Far Beyond?

Along with these, the Five Find-Outers and Dog mysteries were an integral part of my childhood. The Mystery of the Secret Room was my first introduction to Fatty, Daisy, Larry, Pip and Bets and Buster the dog, and Mr. Goon the bumbling policeman, and the always pleasant Inspector. Yeah, no surprise I should end up writing crime stories…

The Mystery of the Secret Room had it all. Mysterious vehicle tracks inthe snow on the drive of an empty house. Invisible ink. How to get out of a locked room when the key is on the other side. The thin-lipped man. When you’re seven years old this is breathtaking stuff, believe me.

Sure the Famous Five were fun too, but I actually lived on a farm by the sea with light-houses and smugglers caves and harbours, so for me solving the Five Find-Outers mysteries was much more fun that than reading about Julian, George and Anne doing things I got to do every day anyway.

In the Five Find-Outers series Fatty (yes, he was no light-weight – dear Enid had no time for political correctness – but his nickname came mainly from his initials, as the improbably named Frederick Algernon Trotteville) was a big Sherlock fan. Therefore so was I.

But like for so many, being a Sherlock fan and watching Basil Rathbone in the films, and reading the actual original stories, were two very different things.

Conan Doyle didn’t write for children, or about children. He wrote for articulate Victorian adults in a uniquely convoluted style that you either love or hate.

Sadly I hated it. Kicking off with The Hound of the Baskervilles was a big mistake and I set Conan Doyle aside for several years, before rediscovering his delights, thanks to a children’s TV series called The Baker Street Boys.

Not a patch on the later adult series starring Jeremy Brett, of course, but a great idea. Then came the BBC Sherlock… Or more importantly the latest series, reviewed here on MWi by my very own co-author Miriam just a few weeks ago. And it emerged that no less than two of my co-authors had never previously read Sherlock. A shocking oversight since rectified, I might add.

This got me thinking once again about how my daughter, and in due course my son (only five, so not quite as urgent a task) would discover Sherlock. Where’s Enid Blyton when you need her?

I emailed my daughter, now back in England, to get her views. She explained that her teacher had told the class Sherlock was unsuitable for children. And of course Teacher has a point. Much of Sherlock is very unsuitable for children.

The solution was obvious.

And in one of those rare moments of synchronicity, even as I pressed send on my email to Saffi, 3000 miles away, she was pressing send on an email to me suggesting that given the current surge of interest in Sherlock what if we…

Now of course Sherlock is in the public domain. Author and artist both expired long since, and just like with any of the true classics, they’re fair game for anyone. But the last thing we wanted to do was just republish an old Sherlock story under our name. We needed to add value, to use the economic jargon.

And so the Saffi Does Sherlock series was born. We’re taking some of our favourite Sherlock shorts and rewriting them for modern-day kids who want modern-day English reading but want to savour the essence of the real Sherlock Holmes.

Not as easy as it sounds. What we’ve done is try incorporate some of Conan Doyle’s original wording in amongst the modern-day language, while retaining the settings and characters, and while remaining faithful to the original storyline. Quite a challenge when you consider the more adult elements of Sherlock, with often violent crimes, opium dens and cocaine abuse, along with attitudes towards foreigners that border on racist.

To further add value we enlisted the services of one of our cover designers, Athanasios, to produce not only a cover but some original color illustrations for the series, to run alongside the reproduced originals by Sidney Paget.

 

The first in the series, Sherlock Holmes – The Blue Carbuncle, is live on Amazon even as you read this, and will be filtering out to other platforms soon.

The second in the series, Sherlock Holmes – Silver Blaze, will be joining it very shortly.

As ever, my system isn’t letting me access the links, but just type Saffi Sherlock into the site search engine and it shall appear. There’s only one Saffi Does Sherlock!

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And for those teens among you thinking it a trifle unfair we’ve now provided books for adults and children, but left out the YA market, fear not. It’s your turn next.

The first of our YA releases will be making an appearance in a matter of days – stay tuned.

And be warned, there’s nothing supernatural or paranormal about it. The only wolf in it a real one; there are no vampires; and it is most definitely not a fairy-tale.

No, it’s not the long awaited St. Mallory’s Forever! either, though that is edging closer even as we speak. Watch our for a sneak preview of the St Mall’s cover next week!

But our first YA story, in keeping with our crime-writing tradition, is somewhat more hard-hitting.

It’s about the greatest crime of all – genocide. You have been warned.

 

Wednesday Review: Gerry McCullough on “Life Is But A Dream” by Cheryl Shireman

Gerry McCullough

Once again it’s my pleasure to welcome back our reviewer in residence Gerry McCullough, with this long overdue post on Cheryl Shireman’s novel.

By coindence I was e-discussing this book yesterday with Cheryl and I was echoing almost exactly Gerry’s thoughts, as below, about how this novel is absolutely nothing like you expect it to be. And I’m sure that has accounted for its amazing sales.

Anyone masochistic enough to be hoping for my usual lengthy preamble will be disappointed today. Yes, I can hear the rest of you cheering.  Thanks for nothing.

Anyway, both Gerry and Cheryl are regulars here and have been through my cruel introductions many times. They escape today because my net server is playing up as usual, and I’m miles behind with everything, also as usual. If I delay any longer the evening net signal will be too weak and I’ll miss the Wednesday deadline.

So without further ado, here’s Gerry on Cheryl.

 

Life Is But A Dream: On The Lake

Reviewed by Gerry McCullough

 

The word which stays with me when I think about this book is ‘powerful.’

Right from the first page, when Cheryl Shireman takes us into Grace’s thoughts, dreams, and dream-memories, she grips. Using a poetic, literary style, she plunges us right into Grace’s psyche, just in the same way that Grace plunges into the swimming pool. And throughout the book she takes time to bring us into the head and soul of each of her major characters as we meet them – Nick, Tony, Bert, Paul.

It’s Cheryl Shireman’s amazing way with words more than anything else that makes her people so alive.  The reader knows so many deep things about each of them in such a short time after she meets them.

The child Grace’s thoughts as she moves slowly nearer and nearer to the pool, unobserved by her mother: ‘She does not see. She does not. See me. See. Me.’

Nick’s pain as her mother fails to return. ‘When he found her she would ask him, “Quanto tempo ti amo?” And he would pull out the picture and say, “Ti amero sempre.”’ Words repeated with immense emotional effect towards the end of the book.

Grace’s experiences with God, and her feelings.

Paul and his child, and his final experience… ‘a little girl was waiting. A beautiful little brown-eyed girl named Julie whose arms stretched toward her Daddy. And Paul had smiled.’

It is these moments and many more like them which make this book so special.

For the first few chapters, I thought I was reading a gentle, moving, literary romance with great characters, a story which focused mainly on the people, their backgrounds, and their interaction.  Halfway through, I woke up and realized that this book is also a thriller full of action, excitement and a terrific climax which seizes us and hurls us along breathlessly.

And yet the focus on the characters is basic to the book, too. It’s because Cheryl Shireman has taken the time to build her characters and to allow us to feel for them that the impact of the action is so strong. As Grace rows across the lake our hearts are in our mouths with her. And the dreadful discovery in the cabin closet hits us as surely as it does her, as a further horror almost beyond believing and yet something which has really happened.

The ending is beautifully handled. We really want Grace to be happy. There have been so many possibilities for her, all of them abortive. The final resolution is everything we want for her; and yet it does not seem contrived, or only there to tie up the story nicely. Instead, it seems inevitable, something which couldn’t have worked out in any other way.

The murder plot is deft and agile. There are a satisfactory number of suspects, and enough twists and turns to keep us guessing, but the final solution arises straightforwardly from what we already know about the characters. And when Grace, at the last, turns away from approaching rescue and goes back into the cabin, the little scene, and the repetition of the words ‘Ti amero sempre’ is immensely moving. It is so right that Grace should go back in.

The spiritual element of this book is one other thing, a one of great importance, which makes it different and powerful. Introduced through Irene and Harold, God takes His place as a major character in the story from then on. Grace says at one point that she finds the whole idea too confusing. But as things begin to happen, she turns more and more to prayer as a natural response to the need for help, both for herself and for others. The beautiful picture of the sunset and her delight in it is a key point in Grace’s development.

The sun slowly slides from the sky, from another day in my life. It meets the water with a languid and silent splash, pulling a riotous mane of color behind. A wild shock of orange and pink is tangled amid tousled blue and purple tresses. Such beauty is overwhelming. Suddenly, it does not matter that I am divorced. It does not matter that Laney is not with me. At that second, that glorious second, all is right with the world.

And later she and Tony sit quieting watching the wild geese and feeling at peace.

Like me, you will probably find that this book is not what you expected. But you will find it striking, moving, exciting, powerful and very, very readable. Don’t miss out!

Life Is But A Dream: Beyond The Lake can be bought from Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Highly recommended by Gerry. Highly recommended by me.
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Finally, a reminder that today’s reviewer Gerry blogs regularly over at Gerry’s Books.

And if you like her reviewing style you’ll love her books. Gerry’s debut novel Belfast Girls is available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Her latest novel Danger Danger is of course also available on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

Gerry also has a book of short stories out but my net won’t let me grab the cover or link. C’est la vie.

Indie Fables: The Myth of the 70% Royalty

Truly disruptive developments in technology impact not just on related industries, but have repercussions far beyond, changing society. It’s why they are called revolutions, not just improvements on the previous infrastructure.

The printing press was one such.

Railways. Manned flight. The internet, of course.

Epublishing? No question is has transformed the publishing industry itself, and transformed the lives of many who aspire to making a living from it. But to be a true revolution it has to impact on wider society.

It’s too soon to be certain how history will regard what we now term the epublishing revolution, but I think it safe to say it will be classed as revolutionary.

Epublishing is revolutionary because it is capable of transcending media boundaries yet still be available to anyone with the requisite and readily available technology. Not just a transfer of an existing industry to a new means of delivery (movies are shifted from celluloid to magnetic tape to aluminium disk to digital without being revolutionary changes) but a transformation in what is available to read, where it is available, how it is read, and most importantly in the relationship between the creator-supplier and consumer.

Like any revolution, epublishing has its proponents and opponents, and like in any propaganda war truth always the first casualty. As in any revolution, epublishing has its icons and its demons, and reasoned debate is rarely an option.

Urban myths abound. You know the type: trad publishers eat babies for breakfast, alligators live in the sewers beneath New York and you can earn seventy per cent royalyties from Amazon around the globe.

BTW, for those wondering, Hugh Laurie is not actually a trad publisher. And I can personally vouch for there being no alligators in the sewers of West Africa. Crocodiles on the other hand…

So this is the first of an occasional series intended to strip away some of the more colourful blandishments of both sides, and take a look behind the us and them mentality that is so pervasive and corrosive, and view the reality behind the war of the words.

And we’re starting with the biggest myth of all – the myth of the 70% royalty.

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The fabled 70% royalty is of course the weapon of choice of any self-respecting indie wanting to poor scorn on the traditional publishers. And no question the royalties paid out by the trads are piss-poor. Don’t for one second read this as an apology for the failings of the trad pubbers to pay a fair whack to their authors.

But equally, don’t fall for the opposite extreme that the trads are therefore robbing us blind because Amazon and other e-retailers pay up to 70% royalties. The trad publishers may well be robbing us blind. But that’s a different argument for a different time.

What’s important to grasp here is that Amazon are not paying 70% royalties. In fact, except in the case of the select few who have signed up with the Amazon imprints, Amazon aren’t paying royalties at all.

Okay, they call the payments royalties, but actually they are charging a 30% fee for distributing our books, selling our books and processing the fees. They then hand us the remainder. By what stretch of the imagination is that a royalty? A rose by any other name? Not so. If we sold an ebook on eBay and eBay paid us the money after its fees were deducted would we call that a royalty? Of course not.

Amazon, Apple, B&N, Kobo and co. are not our publishers, they are our distributors and sales agents. That’s why it’s called self-publishing, folks!

The point being, it’s crazy to directly compare what Amazon (or Apple, or Kobo, etc) hand out (after deducting their sales commission/distribution-fee/payment processing fee) with a royalty from a trad publisher.

Low as trad-pub royalties may be (7%-15% is typical), it’s ludicrous to suggest that a trad publisher paying 15% to the author is somehow pocketing the other 85% as profit. Apart from anything else they have to pay sales commissions/distribution fees/payment processing fees just like we do. They have production costs, just like we do.

Does that justify the trad publishers’ higher list prices and lower pay-out of real royalties to authors? Of course not. But the arguments against trad pub practices stand better scrutiny if we deal with facts, not Konrathian hyperbole. The grave-diggers and pall-bearers of the trad publishers have their own agenda, and can be entertaining to read. But facts are easily lost in the one-sided debates.

I’ll return to this in future posts. Here to address the realities of “royalty payments” from bodies which aren’t acting as publishers and are actually charging distribution fees, not handing out royalties.

In a bizarre twist by the company that prides itself on offering consumers the cheapest prices and claiming the agency model keeps prices artificially high, Amazon penalize any author wanting to give the reader real value, and more than double the distribution fee if we choose to list at less than $2.99.

Which of course means that for many ebooks the so-called Amazon “royalty” is only 35%.

And that applies to rather more than you might think.

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There’s a common misconception touted by the celebrity self-publishers that writers can earn 70% globally by being indie. If only…

For ebook purchases outside of the Kindle countries Amazon only pay 35% regardless of list price. Far from giving you the fabled 70% royalty they actually charge you a 65% sales commission/distribution fee/payment processing fee. And of course they then also add the infamous $2 surcharge to the buyer’s bill.

New Delhi, not New York

So your 99c ebook sold in downtown Buenos Aries or New Delhi will cost the buyer $2.99. But you’ll still only get 35c. In case you’re wondering that’s an actual “royalty” of less than 12%.

That’s always assuming they let Johnny Foreigner buy your book at all. A reminder here that, as a resident of a West African country, I cannot buy my, your or anyone else’s ebook from Amazon, not even with the $2 surcharge, because Amazon block ebook sales to almost the entire continent.

Not quite as bad as Barnes & Nobles Americans-only policy, agreed, but hardly a global sales reach. Apple by contrast have iBook stores in twenty or so countries and don’t surcharge. Kobo have even bigger global reach, and curiously they don’t surcharge either.

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The big appeal of Amazon and B&N for authors is of course the ability to self-publish relatively easily. Although for B&N that applies only to Americans. Everyone else has to go through an aggregator like Smashwords.

Apple and Kobo both, in theory, accept indie authors, but the hoops to jump through are such that few try and even fewer succeed, so again aggregators like Smashwords come into play. But in order to get into B&N, Apple and Kobo through Smashwords you have to subject yourself to the ignobility of the “meatgrinder” to get premium status, and as anyone who submits multiple titles will know, that can be an absolute nightmare.

We can submit two identically formatted files one will be approved and the other come back time after time after time from the auto-vetter for some revision that actually doesn’t need revising. Typical is to get an email from Smashwords saying your ebook has passed all the tests and been approved, followed by an email literally five minutes later saying that exact same book has failed and must be re-submitted!

For those who persevere Smashwords gets you, in addition to those mentioned already, into Sony and Diesel, and Aldiko and Stanza. Useful, true, but how well do Smashwords perform compared to direct uploads?

For those of us outside the US, B&N’s long-standing policy of blanking anyone outside the US borders meant Smashwords were pretty much our only hope of getting listed there. And while the evidence is anecdotal, it does appear being in B&N via Smashwords does you few favours. We sold next to nothing in B&N via Smashwords, despite huge sales on Amazon. Almost all of the B&N success stories we are aware of are from direct-upload authors.

The same goes for Kobo. Again, anecdotal evidence suggests Kobo and Smashwords do not work well together.

Our own experience is telling. Last year saw our e-titles in the e-stores of the two biggest bricks and mortar book-sellers in the UK – Waterstone’s and W.H.Smiths. We let Smashwords get us into W.H. Smiths as their e-store is operated by Kobo. We went via a more direct (and more expensive) route with Waterstone’s (Smashwords do not supply any UK stores except W.H.Smiths through Kobo).

Last year we had two top ten hits in Waterstone’s, held number two spot in store for some while, and was the most searched for name in store. In W.H.Smiths? Nothing. You could count the sales on one hand.

What little we did sell via Smashwords last year was through Apple, and the sums are just too embarrassing to mention. Yet somehow we sold well over 100,000 (of just one title) on non-Smashwords platforms last year. And not just on Amazon and Waterstone’s. As we demonstrated here, we have been getting ourselves out into ebook stores far and wide.

No, these sales aren’t massive. Yes, Amazon will probably dominate the scene for a few years yet, and will maintain it’s position as the biggest ebook retailer in the US. But ebook sales worldwide can only get bigger. If you’re not out there you won’t share in it.

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Some people are dismissive of Kindle UK because sales there don’t match up with Kindle US. Well, no question the US is a bigger market. And Kindle UK is much newer than Kindle US. E-readers are still a novelty in Britain.

But the UK’s time will come. Those who have a foot in the door now – not just on Kindle UK, but on all platforms – will be well placed to ride that swell when it does come. We know. We’ve got the t-shirt. Just think Waterstone’s.

We’ve also got a direct route into the other major e-stores including B&N, Kobo and Apple, without playing games with Smashwords’ meatgrinder and their ludicrous auto-vetter. And more importantly we have a direct route into far more stores than Smashwords offers.

As said here a week or so back, we can now get you into these stores too.

On Thursday here on MWi we’ll be explaining just what that involves, and which ebook stores you could potentially be selling in. Unless you’re locked into KDP Select then this is a great opportunity to reach new markets at no upfront costs. If you are with Select then come and join us when your ninety day experiment is up.

We’ll provide the ISBNs and quality-formatted ePub files where necessary, and any titles listed through us will be featured in the We Love Waterstone’s promotional campaign in the UK, and similar campaigns internationally.

No, it probably won’t make you rich and you may not sell at all. In which case you lose nothing. On the other hand you may just be the indie that beats us to the number one spot in the UK’s Waterstone’s or Tesco ebooks (the e-store of the UK’s biggest retailer by far), or that makes it big in South Africa’s Kalahari store, New Zealand’s Fishpond store or…

No, we can’t guarantee sales in these stores. But there are two things we can guarantee.

One is that if you’re not in those stores you haven’t a hope in hell of ever selling there and establishing your brand there.

Two is that ebooks are a world-wide phenomenon and growing fast. China already is the second biggest e-reader market in the world. It will probably eclipse the USA later this year.

E-readers, tablets and smart-phones are everywhere, in every country. India is just about to launch its latest mega-cheap tablet, the iBerry Auxus.

Don’t for one second think these “third world” countries don’t have e-readers and tablets. The average citizen might not be able to afford an iPad or a KindleFire (not that the Kindle devices are available internationally anyway) but there are plenty of cheap, locally produced tablets, e-readers and smartphones available.

People are e-reading worldwide, not just in the USA and UK.

Will they be reading your ebooks?

Trad Publishing: Sinking Ship? Or Phoenix that will Rise from the Ashes?

Way back in 2011 (anyone remember that long ago?) one of the more imaginative assertions of the grandees of indie spokes-folk was the suggestion that print was on its deathbed thanks to digital, that the Big Six publishers were going to the wall, and self-publishers would inherit the Earth.
Well, no question self-publishers have gone from strength to strength, and we all know how well the tiny minority at the top are doing.
But most of these are formerly trad-pubbed authors with an established brand built up over many years, and a backlist of titles they’ve re-acquired rights to.
All credit to them for seizing the opportunity and taking control of their careers. But let’s not for one second pretend this is something your average new author, starting out from scratch as a self-publisher, can hope to emulate.
Sure, there are exceptions, but they are few and far between. And the same goes for the formerly trad-pubbed authors now going it alone to huge acclaim. It is precisely because they are exceptions that they are news worthy.
What I find increasingly bizarre is the advice they give out to new authors. Don’t even think about promotion until you have four or five titles out. Forget free and cheap strategies – “you indies have no business sense”. And best yet, aim to put out a new title every two weeks!
What planet are these people on?

***

I ran a post on MWi back in May of last year suggesting the doom-mongerers might be a bit premature with their predictions.

Back in 2009 there were two schools of thought. Either this “new” epublishing fad would die a death and paper would remain king (the experience of the newspaper industry being a classic example) or the Big 6 were finished.
As one leading pundit said in April 2009, the Big 6 were not even “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – they’re staying put and ordering more piña coladas and charging them to rooms that are already underwater.”
Two years on the Big 6 are most definitely still with us, and while there’s no question they are changing, there’s little sign that they are going under. Which will be a great disappointment to Konrath, but should be a big relief to the rest of us.
Paper sales are plummeting, giant bookselling chains like Borders are in liquidation, and Konrath and co. have already written the obituaries for the Big 6 and are there, spades in hand, digging their graves.
But I disagree. I simply cannot see the end for the Big 6 or for publishing.
Just the opposite in fact.

As I’ve said on MWi many times, big ships are hard to turn. But below deck there’s a frenzy of activity long before anything is seen on the surface. And once they do turn they soon pick up speed.
Almost another year on, and the ship has turned.

***

According to Calvin Reid at Publisher’s Weekly the Digital Book World conference has just wound up with some contrite statements by the trad publishers:

A panel featuring executives form S&S, Random House, Little Brown, HarperCollins and Perseus, spent the morning issuing mea culpas (and highlighting current and planned correctives) over past “paternalistic” practices in dealing with their authors. Indeed there was a fair amount of discussion about whether authors should be called “partners,” “customers,” or “clients,” in an era when veteran authors and even emerging writers have viable alternatives to the traditional publishing contract.

Some quotes to savour with your morning coffee.:

“Publishers must treat authors as equal partners,” said Little, Brown’s Michael Pietsch, “We are offering a service to authors,” as the panelists also emphasized that it’s not always clear to authors, just what publishers do for them. “If authors are confused about what we do, we need to make it clear,” said Random House’s Madeleine MacIntosh. Joe Mangan of Perseus agreed, “communication is the key.”

Okay, us indies can indulge a smile at this belated turn-around by the trad-publishers, in the certain knowledge the success of indie-publishing has forced this change of attitude.

But let’s also be clear what it means:

The Big Six aren’t going to the wall anytime soon. While they spent the first half of 2011 publicly denouncing ebooks, and the second easing up on the rhetoric, they were all the time busily investing in the new world of ebooks.

And as the quotes above show, they can and do learn, and can and do change. Too little, too late? I don’t think so.

***

In future posts I’ll be returning to just what this means for indie publishing, and why indie writers should welcome rather than rue the return of the Big Six.

But for today, a word from our sponsor.

In past posts elsewhere I discussed how ebooks would be transformed by sponsorship these coming years, and that advertising within ebooks could and would happen, and that it needn’t be a bad thing. The suggestion had a mixed response at the time, from horrified to gleeful, but most seemed curious as to how it might work.

In fact some writers are already making it pay for them. For example, Olivia Lennox writes across many subjects, and tendered a post on library-lending and piracy which she thought might interest MWi readers.

Like most bloggers, I’m always on the look-out for guests and new material, so when Olivia emailed offering me a guest post I was of course all ears. But unlike 99% of bloggers, Olivia is a professional freelance journalist. Having been down that road myself in a past life I know that freelance does not mean giving away articles for free. Far from it! Which got me asking why any professional writer would want to write an article for an unpaid blog like MWi. It turns out Olivia makes part of her living by writing sponsored articles.

And it transpires this is a fine example of what we might expect in the future with ebook sponsorship, so I’m presenting Olivia’s article in its entirety. Further discussion follows after you’ve read Olivia’s post.

Will Piracy Kill Public eBook Libraries?

With the announcement that Penguin has pulled all its new books from e-lending in libraries due to ambiguously labelled “security issues” with digital copies, it’s clear to see piracy has reared its ugly head and leads to the question of whether eBook lending is ever going to take off if publishers are so concerned with “security issues”.

According to the Library Journal publication, there has been a 185% increase of eBooks being offered in public libraries across the country and this is a clear step towards a new type of library lending. With Amazon signing up their Kindle to 11,000 public libraries, it’s clear that the eBook really is an alternative to the traditional paperback, even for library users. Digital editions in libraries are a fantastic development and have the added bonus of no worries about late fees as once the time period of loan is up, the book is simply removed from your device. There’s absolutely no reason why you can’t curl up on your recliner sofa with your eReader just as easily as you could with a trusty old paperback.

However, with the Penguin group suspending all new eBooks from being made available to libraries in digital form and a complete ban on lending out eBooks to Amazon Kindle users; it is clear there’s a big underlying issue. The Penguin group cited “security concerns” as their reason for this action and this can only mean piracy. There has been no time frame given for the action so it could be a permanent decision although Penguin haven’t pulled their back catalog from the shelves, just new releases and of course, that complete unavailability for Amazon Kindle users.

Penguin aren’t the first publishing company to exercise caution when lending our their eBooks, in fact both Macmillan and Simon & Schuster have kept their entire catalog unavailable and HarperCollins have some very strict guidelines in place, with very stringent limitations on the number of times eBooks can be lent. With these publishers all considered high flyers in the industry, it’s a worry for eBook readers that they may not have access to some of the best books around.

What’s the problem with Amazon?

It seems Penguin have a problem with Amazon in particular, as they don’t like that library eBook lending is directly linked to Amazon. Across US libraries, the service used to lend Kindle eBooks is offered through OverDrive. Overdrive is an Ohio-based book lending company who provide services to over 10,000 schools and libraries in the USA and another 15,000 worldwide. In October, OverDrive began a deal with Amazon for lending eBooks to Kindle uses, promoting Kindle compatibility. As well as working with Kindle, OverDrive provide eBook lending in many other formats including those compatible with Apple and Android devices. Using OverDrive, users are about to loan DRM-protected eBooks which then expire when the lending period is up.

The problem with OverDrive and Kindle, is that the titles borrowed from their library appear in their Amazon.com Kindle account area and it’s from here the content can be delivered to your Kindle or Kindle app. This has irritated many publishers and a whole host of readers too as Amazon are seemingly acting as a storefront for all eBooks, whether you’ve used their site to purchase them or not.

The issue of eBook piracy

Publishers have voiced concerns regarding piracy and the digitalisation of books since their first creation and in fact, it’s very easy to see through multiple sites across the web that there are people out there offering thousands and thousands of eBooks for free via Torrent and other download sites. These sites sometimes even include books which have just been released, which is obviously to the detriment of the publishers. That being said, this has been an issue for music producers and record labels for decades now and so this isn’t really anything new, it’s just that the publishing industry is just being stung by it.

The issue of piracy and eBook lending is a bit more complex. There are many reasons that publishers may think lending increases the volume of piracy out there. Firstly, the number of different sources through which the digital content passes is a concern. Rather than being transferred from company to reader, a library eBook will pass through the library itself, an intermediary company such as OverDrive and then onto the reader, increasing the number of points at which it could be intercepted and copied. The second major area that concerns is to do with DRM protection. Unfortunately, there are tools readily available to remove this protection from eBooks and then they can be easily shared. With eBook lending, there is no purchase required so it only takes one talented hacker with a library card to slowly work their way through hundreds of books, making them readily available to download and keep for free.

eBook lending is a brilliant opportunity to spread the digitalisation of literature and books in general and is something that should be cherished not damned. Hopefully, publishers like Penguin will soon find a way to protect their content in such a way that means they are happy to make it readily available to all the digital bookworms out there.

Thanks, Olivia.

Piracy is of course the age-old excuse for inaction, and a nice little earner for those offering so-called anti-piracy services. But the fact is there are two types of pirates: The international pirates against whom we love to rant, though they cost us nothing, and the domestic pirates we prefer not to acknowledge, who actually cost us far, far more.

A reminder for now that most ebook piracy occurs in the USA, and that some of America’s biggest corporations profit from it daily and therefore have abolutely no reason to try prevent it. More on this in the near future here on MWi.

But back to sponsorship. The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted the link to a sofa company hidden away in the text. Now I have no idea what the arrangement is between them and Olivia (I would stress MWi has no connection with the company and uses this purely for ilustrative purposes) but what is clear is that this is a very unobtrusive way of advertising.

It’s a short step from a link like this in an article to a similar link in an ebook. For those not interested, just ignore it and read on. But if the link is to a product or brand the MC of the novel is constantly using, or to a location or event, then easy to see the potential here to attract an advertiser’s interest. And their money.

All the moreso if you think about how easy it would be to run paid adverts in the back of your ebook. I stress in the back, so they dont interfere with the reading experience.

Yes, I can hear the purists muttering about how this would never have happened in print. About how this is the thin end of the wedge.

Of course these same people wil happily read comics, magazines and newspapers, listen to radio and watch TV chock full of advertising. Many a print book in the past has carried paid ads.  And almost every print book carries ads from its own publisher. So get real. It’s gonna happen whether you like it or not.

I’ll return to the ways in which writers might benefit fr0m these developments in future posts. But for now, ponder Olivia’s article and answer this question honestly: Did the sponsored link in the post in any way detract from the quality of the artcle or the point it was making?

 

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Aakash

One Year Old Today!

Happy Birthday Sugar & Spice!

Yes, our debut novel was released one year ago today. And what a year!

From unpublished and unwanted (agents called it “unsellable” and “the last taboo”) to the UK’s biggest selling indie ebook. And to celebrate our first anniversary we find ourselves not just in the top five in the e-charts of Waterstone’s, the UK’s equivalent of B&N, but our second release, Snow White, is in the top ten just behind it! You couldn’t make it up…

But success on Waterstone’s has been slow coming. No question Amazon led the way and no question Amazon has provided most of our sales so far. After all, Amazon is the biggest ebook store in the world,  and can only get bigger, right?

Well, it’s the biggest at the moment, but for how long?

* * *

Over at WG2E last week I was talking about the future of ebooks. Or rather, what will be in them. I return to that subject today over at WG2E in a post entitles Back To The Future II. But First A Word From Our Sponsor. If you think the big downside of ebooks is no more advances, think again. Advances will be back, and bigger and better than ever. But not from the trad publishers. Pop over to find out more.

As I said there last week, 2012 is going to be a whole new reading world from 2011. 2013 will be different again. And what 2015 may bring really takes us into the world of science fiction. If I said that by 2015 the Amazon Kindle empire could be eclipsed by the Third World, you’d probably think I’d let the West African sun frazzle my brain completely, and have overstepped the mark from fiction into outright fantasy.

But think back. Two years ago the USA was just coming to terms with the impact of the Kindle. E-readers weren’t new, and the first Kindle looks a cumbersome beast compared to the KindleFire. But it changed the world in a way Sony and the rest failed to do.

That a revolution was taking place seemed clear, but no-one could have predicted just how big and how fast it would take hold. Last year the UK caught up with its own Kindle site. As 2011 draws to a close we have France and Germany with Kindle sites too, and while nothing’s official there’s every chance we’ll see an Italian and Spanish site very soon. Quite possibly before Christmas.

It’s very tempting to get excited about the Spanish site as an inroad to the huge Spanish-speaking markets of South America (always assuming we can sort reliable translations) but realistically it will be no such thing. Buyers in Mexico and Argentina will no more be able to buy from amazon.es than they can from amazon.co.uk, amazon.de or amazon.fr. It will be a closed shop serving Spain.

Yet as we run up to 2012 the USA and the UK are unquestionably the two largest e-reading countries in the world, and Amazon reigns supreme.

We all know Christmas and the New Year is going to see another huge leap in e-reader sales, and the Kindle will be even more firmly entrenched as the market leader in the USA and UK.

Moreso in the USA where the KindleFire is released in a week or so. It’s yet another minor setback for the satellite Kindle sites, where the KindleFire won’t be available for the foreseeable future. Bear that in mind when you American indies look at your hopes and expectations for sales on the UK site going into 2012.

But as indie authors, wherever we are, we know we’re in for a treat. Of course there will be an Amazon sale of cheap trad pubbed titles to compete with, but the pie is getting bigger. More readers to go round. It seems like we can’t lose.

By 2015 I expect Amazon Kindle to continue to dominate the US and UK e-reading market. And that’s great. The USA has a population of 312 million people. The third largest country in the world by population. And they speak English! Well, after a fashion. 🙂

The UK clocks in at #22 in the population stakes, with just 62 million. But it will be the second biggest English language e-reading market as we start 2012. That’s nearly 375 million people who might read our ebooks.

And as Kindle prices come down (free with content packages is my prediction for Xmas 2012) it’s a safe bet Amazon will still be dominant by 2015. Its position is pretty much unassailable. But for the rest of the world Amazon is a lumbering giant, at best lacking vision, at worst with tunnel vision dismissing the Third World, even the English-speaking world, as unworthy of its attention.

* * *

As a resident in West Africa my own ebooks, let alone yours, are unavailable to me on Amazon. Luckily I already had a UK account set up, and with some playing about I can still download ebooks through Kindle UK. But for anyone without a UK account Kindle UK is off limits and they have to use amazon.com. Only, amazon.com does not provide downloads to “Africa”.

By the way, six of those countries shown above (I’m in that tiny litle yellow strip called The Gambia, far left) are English-speaking, with a combined population of 200 million. That’s 200 million people who cannot buy your books through Amazon, just in that part of West Africa…

And for those countries where it does offer a download via am.com Amazon then adds a $2 surcharge, regardless of the ebook price. As David Gaughran pointed out way back in May, this has nothing to do with local taxes or any other charge outside Amazon’s control. It is a charge Amazon deliberately chooses to impose on customers outside the Kindle zones (when it offers ebooks at all). And none of it goes to the authors.

Why does Amazon do this? It just doesn’t make any sense.

Many of these countries are, to put it mildly, not as financially developed as the USA and UK. Why charge $2 more to a buyer in, say India, where most prospective readers would struggle to raise 99c? Equally, why charge $2 extra to a buyer in Europe just because they are outside the Kindle site zones?

As a writer I want to reach as many readers as possible. As a writer in the English language I realise that my market is restricted. But it extends far wider and is far bigger than the USA and UK.

Consider. Some sixty countries in the world speak English as their primary or official language (as a point of interest the USA, UK and Australia do not have an official language). Some are pretty small. The Gambia has just 1.7 million people. Liberia 4 million. Sierra Leone 5 million.

Not worth bothering with? Amazon think not. In fairness to Amazon, they have an arrangement where you can download some ebooks in South Africa. But they seem to think no-one speaks English in the rest of Africa, so who cares?

Well, Zimabwe has 13 million people. Zambia 11 million. Uganda 30 million. Tanzania 40 million. Malawi 13 million. Kenya 37 million. Ghana 23 million. Cameroon 18 million. Nigeria 148 million. And don’t go thinking it’s all mud-huts and famine. This is downtown Lagos, Nigeria.

The point is, this is some 350 million people in Africa who Amazon have decided cannot read your ebook. If we count countries where English is the second language the numbers increase still further.

Nor is it just Africa. Five million people in Singapore, as but one example, cannot download from Amazon, and for those in the other English-speaking countries who can, that nasty $2 surcharge makes is most unlikely they will.

Do we care? We should.The above image shows the world by population density. The darker the shade, the more people. Compare with the map below that shows the English speaking world

English is the second language of the rest of the world, and the official language of many. In countries like Pakistan and India English is the de facto language of business, commerce, and leisure. All schools teach in English and the younger generations are fluent and affluent.

Pakistan has 170 million people. India rather more.

In fact, at 1.2 billion it is well on the way to eclipsing China. And because we’re writers and don’t always understand numbers, let me put that into perspective. The population of India alone is four times bigger than that of the USA.

Further, most educated people in China speak English as their second language. The population of China is also four times that of the USA.

Yet Amazon only sees India in terms of cheap labor to fob off customer complaints on KDP. It has a China site, but no Kindle site there. Nor in Japan. And KDP only supports the standard Latin alphabet, so it’s of no use to indies if we can translate our books into Hindi, Mandarin or Japanese. KDP cannot even cope with the variant alphabets of eastern Europe and Scandinavia.

But let’s stick with the standard English word for now. Even here we’re looking at two billion potential customers in India, China and Japan who if they do speak English will still have to pay the $2 surcharge if they want to read our books. Somehow I think they’ll look elsewhere.

Ebook stores are opening everywhere, and while Amazon plays games in Europe and grows increasingly complacent, the rest of the world is moving on.

But, I hear you say, most of the rest of the world cannot afford books, let alone Kindles, so it doesn’t really matter.

Rest assured it does and it will.

I live in one of the poorest countries in the world. Yet the fact that I haven’t got a cell phone makes me quite an oddity. Almost everyone has a cell phone. The biggest companies in the country, by far, are the cell-phone operators. Technology is changing lives here. Smart-phones that can read books are becoming common.

The same goes for wi-fi internet. Having a landline phone connection is an unheard of luxury here. But now we can buy up cheap pre-owned laptops and smart-phones discarded as the rich West upgrades to the latest luxury, and link to the world.

And in the richer parts of Africa, like Nigeria, they’ll soon be sending their hand-me-downs to Europe and the USA as they expand.

In India, they’ve just gone one whole step further. Rather than wait for the West’s fancy tablets to come down in price, they’ve taken matters into their own hands.

Say hello to the $35 tablet. No, that’s no typo. India has produced its own Android tablet, the Aakash.

So okay, it’s not going to win any awards for cutting edge technology and design. I’m sure you’d rather have a KindleFire or an iPad. But at $35 (£23 for you Brits, $34 AUD down under) I’d be very happy to get hold of one.

More importantly, e-reading technology in tablet form has now joined smart-phones as an affordable option to more than half the English speaking world.

Will they now rush out and download the Amazon app so they can pay the $2 surcharge and buy our books from the Kindle store?

Exactly. They’ll look elsewhere, where ebooks are available and affordable.

As indie authors we need to do the same. We need to be looking at alternative outlets and local pricing to suit local pockets, not based on what we’d pay and expect back home.

Charging a dollar for an ebook might seem like we’re giving it away, until you consider a dollar can feed an entire family  in some parts of the world. Besides, the sheer volume of potential sales in a country with a billion people means a lower price can pay off big time.

* * *

Amazon isn’t going to disappear any time soon. But you can bet when JK finally releases the Harry Potter ebooks they’ll be snapped up the world over, including in India, Pakistan and Nigeria and by the ESL speakers in Bangladesh, China, Japan, etc, by people who don’t have Kindles and either cannot or will not buy from Amazon. There’s plenty of other outlets available.

Chances are Harry Potter will be the first ebook they download.  For many it will be the first western book they read. But when those readers then move on to look for their next ebook, will it be one of yours? Or will you be a prisoner of Amazon?

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