The Amazon Books Experience

Amazon opened it’s first brick and mortar bookstore in Seattle on Nov. 3, 2015. Located in University Village, an outdoor shopping center across the street from the University of Washington, the location has been described by reviewers as both “unimpressive” and “bizarre.” Amazon has built it’s brand on being the “go to” location for anything and everything consumers could ever want— an unending, virtual megastore, but the first physical location of an Amazon store seems to be anything but. Rob Salkowitz of Forbes referred to the small bookstore as “more Waldenbooks than Barnes & Noble.” The first reviews are reporting that the store, which claims it has hired professional, qualified booksellers to “curate” it’s shelves, is lacking in selection and offers a strange variety of what appears to be excess stock.

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Even stranger still is the way customers are made to shop in the store. There are no prices listed for any of the books or merchandise; the customer must scan a bar code using the Amazon app on their smartphone (if they don’t have the Amazon app or a smartphone, a bookseller will scan it for you). All the shelf tags contain the star ratings and snippets of reviews that you would see when shopping online, but absolutely no pricing information. When asked why the process of browsing for books is made so difficult for the customer, Amazon explains that its prices may fluctuate and they want to ensure that they are offering the same price to every customer, the one that is listed on Amazon.com.

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In his review of the bookstore Salkowitz asks a question that I’m sure most Amazon Books shoppers were left asking themselves: If you’re going to open a physical location of an already massive online bookstore, why open such a crappy one? His answer hits the nail on the head… Amazon Books doesn’t care about selling books. Instead of titling this post “The Amazon Books Experience” perhaps “The Amazon Books Experiment” would have been more appropriate.

By requiring shoppers to price scan using their Amazon app anytime they’re interested in a book, the customer is unwittingly sending Amazon their shopping habit information, preferences, and history, along with all their personal information. All this data is being tracked by Amazon’s massive cloud data service. So maybe Salkowitz is right, maybe this tiny brick and mortar bookstore born from it’s megaparent, Amazon.com, isn’t really a bookstore after all, but the physical location of Amazon’s experiment in blending physical and digital commerce. Very sneaky, Amazon, very sneaky. Let’s hope this isn’t the future of all of our retail shopping experiences— where our movements, histories, and data are tracked at every turn. Let’s hope that Amazon retires back to the web where it belongs soon, and that another monopoly on the way we shop hasn’t just been born.

Check out Salkowitz’s article here:

http://www.forbes.com/sites/robsalkowitz/2015/11/04/amazons-retail-store-has-nothing-to-do-with-selling-books/

***Heather Hickox earned a Bachelor’s in English at Middle Tennessee State University and is currently pursuing a Master’s of Professional Studies in Publishing at the George Washington University. Her writing has been published in several editions of Collage: A Journal of Creative Expression and VSA TN’s 40 Days Around the World. Heather is a Writing Facilitator for The Carnegie Writers, Inc. in Nashville, TN.

Amazon Sues People who Charge $5 for Fake Reviews

Have you ever found yourself annoyed with glowing online reviews that don’t seem real?

Amazon is, too. And now the retailers is taking the extraordinary step of suing the users who post them.

In a lawsuit filed on Friday, Amazon asked a Washington state court to grant damages against a group of people who it says posted phony 5-star reviews in exchange for $5. In some cases, the company used undercover agents to conduct transactions with the fake reviewers.

As the Amazon complaint explains, the fake reviewers ran their scheme through a work-for-site site called Fiverr. They allegedly used hundreds of fake Amazon account names and IP addresses in order to pepper the site with fake reviews. The text of the reviews are typically supplied by the people who hired them.

“You know the your [sic] product better than me. So please provide your product review, it will be better,” said one such reviewer cited in the complaint.

Amazon also claims that some defendants abused its “Amazon Verified Purchaser” program, which displays a tag to show a reviewer has actually purchased the product in question:

“[They] provide these “Verified Reviews” only if the reviewers obtain the product for free, in addition to receiving payment for the “review.” In at least one instance, the seller of a “Verified Review” was willing to receive an empty envelope …simply to create a shipping record to .. avoid detection by Amazon.”

The lawsuit comes after Amazon filed a similar complaint in April against a website called “buyamazonreviews.com” that offered fake endorsements.

The new case, however, does not specify the identities of the defendants, but instead names anonymous individuals known as “John Does 1-1114.” Amazon tells the court it will add their names at a later date once the company identifies who they are (presumably by asking internet providers to identify their IP addresses).

So why does Amazon claim it’s not lawful to post fake reviews in the first place? According to the complaint, the reviewers are liable for breach of contract since, as Amazon customers, they are bound by the company’s terms of service. Amazon also claims the fake reviews are unfair and deceptive under Washington law, and amount to unlawful interference with third-party contracts.

While the company is seeking damages and an injunction against the fake reviewers, it’s unclear if Amazon will actually see this through to the end–or if it’s just a salvo to suggest that the reviewers to knock it off. Notably, the company did not name the Amazon sellers who hired them in the first place. Under the company’s legal arguments, those sellers would be liable, too.

Here’s a copy of the complaint, which was first reported by Geekwire. I’ve underlined some of the relevant bits.

Amazon Complaint Re Reviews

[This article, by Jeff John Roberts, appeared in Fortune’s Tech section on 10/19/15]

This Week’s Bestsellers

It’s a big week for old favorites, especially among children’s authors. Twilight/Life and Death pairs the 10th anniversary edition of Stephenie Meyer’s vampiric blockbuster with a gender-flipped version, in which ingenue Bella becomes Beau and sparkly immortal Edward is now Edyth. With 66K print units sold, it’s #2 in children’s frontlist fiction, and #3 overall.

At #3 in children’s fiction and #5 overall, with 44K print units sold, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling features new color illustrations by Kate Greenaway Medalist Jim Kay, whom Rowling selected to do new art for all seven novels in the series.

And at #5 with 12K print units sold, Carry On by Rainbow Rowell grew out of the fan-fiction sections of 2013’s Fangirl, which imagine a Harry Potter–esque character falling for his Draco-like roommate, who is a vampire.

On the adult side, A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms by George R.R. Martin, #2 in hardcover fiction and #7 overall, sold 33K print units this week. The volume packages three previously published novellas set a century before the events of A Game of Thrones.

On the Right Track

Patti Smith reflects on her life and her art in the new M Train, the follow-up to her 2010 memoir Just Kids, which won that year’s National Book Award for nonfiction. Kids debuted with 6,685 print units sold and to date has topped 440K units in hardcover and paperback. M Train is building on that success, debuting at #6 in hardcover nonfiction with almost 16K sold. Another musical memoir, Sounds like Me by Sara Bareilles, lands at #19 with 6,484 print units sold. The books arrive on the heels of Chrissie Hynde’s controversial Reckless; for more of the season’s musician-authored books, go to publishersweekly.com/music1516.

Kennedy Compound

A pair of books on the Kennedy clan debut on our hardcover nonfiction list this week. In A Common Struggle by Patrick J. Kennedy and Stephen Fried, Kennedy—a former Rhode Island congressman and the youngest child of Ted—recounts, in the words of the subtitle, his “personal journey through the past and future of mental illness and addiction.” It’s at #7 with almost 15K sold.

Rosemary by Kate Cifford Larson, at #15 with 8,279 print units sold, details the tragic life of the oldest daughter of Joe and Rose Kennedy, who suffered a failed lobotomy at age 23 and remained isolated from her family for much of her life.

Notables

A More Perfect Union Ben Carson #2 Hardcover Nonfiction; #6 overall 37.9K print units The 2016 presidential hopeful has put his campaign on hold for two weeks while on tour for his new book, which, according to the subtitle, explains “what we the people can do to reclaim our constitutional liberties.”

The Survivor Vince Flynn and Kyle Mills #1 Hardcover Fiction; #4 overall 49.8K print units Flynn died in 2013, before finishing the 14th of his Mitch Rapp political thrillers; Mills completed Flynn’s work and plans to write two more in the series.

The Courage to Act Ben S. Bernanke #13 Hardcover Nonfiction 9,357 print units The former chairman of the Federal Reserve—who started his 12-year tenure in 2006, shortly before the housing bubble burst—offers an insider’s perspective on the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

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All unit sales per Nielsen BookScan except where noted.

[This article, written by Carolyn Juris, appeared in the 10/19/2015 issue of Publishers Weekly under the headline: This Week’s Bestsellers: October 19, 2015]

Salman Rushdie Defends Free Speech at 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair Opening

The Frankfurt Book Fair is always an exciting publishing industry event.  Kick it off  with Salman Rushdie as a keynote speaker, talking about free speech and you have an event worthy of world-wide discovery.  Publishers Weekly posted a great article, “Frankfurt Book Fair 2015: At Opening, Salman Rushdie Defends Free Speech” about this monumental event.

Author Salman Rushdie with Frankfurt Book Fair Director Juergen Boos
Author Salman Rushdie with Frankfurt Book Fair Director Juergen Boos – Photo courtesy of Publishers Weekly

“I’ve always thought in a way that we should not need to discuss freedom of speech in the West, that it should be like the air we breathe,” Rushdie said. But violence and the ongoing threats of violence, he acknowledged, requires publishers to fight on.”

“At this point, publishing begins to feel like a war,” he observed. “And publishers and writers are not warriors. We have no guns, no tanks. But it falls to us to hold the line, not to withdraw from our positions, but to understand that this is a position from which we cannot fall back.”

As publishers here in the U.S. we need to recognize how lucky we are to be able to publish what we want, and to understand the power behind our publications.

This article made me stop and think about the content I am working on and I’m reflecting on how I can, and should be doing a better job for the reader, as a publisher and a writer. I sent this article around to my editorial team and have asked everyone to think about the incredible freedom we have as publishers, and if we’re doing all that we can do.

Since reading the article, I’ve spent some time on line searching on the subject of “freedom of the press making an impact” and stumbled upon this Discussion paper – Freedom of the Press and Media in the World by Marietje Schaake MEP.

One particular paragraph in this paper stood out to me and I read it several times over.

“In many societies across the world however, it is precisely the powerful impact of independent journalism, and increasingly digital media and their cohesive effects, which create anxiety to those in power. Sunlight is a threat to those who seek to hide corruption, abuse of power, and injustice from the public eye. Journalists and media still mostly face restrictions coming from government interference. Should citizen journalists be distinguished from quality journalism and do different rights and responsibilities apply? Is a newspaper article more valuable than a 20 sentence online blog, and who should make that judgment?”

Freedom of speech should be a fundamental right for everyone around the world and I am grateful that I have such an opportunity speak freely. As we continue to move through the Masters of Professional Publishing program at The George Washington University, let’s all keep freedom of speech top of mind and we’re sure to become publishers that will make a positive impact on the world.

Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen

What could be more interesting, than a book from the perspective of an escort? A true one, at least according to the authors, about a university that hires women to aid in recuriting tactics for their men’s basketball team. Breaking Cardinal Rules: Basketball and the Escort Queen by escort Katina Powell, and Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Dick Cady, is an account detailing services from 2010-2014 provided to the University of Louisville. The e-book was released on October 2 and has sparked multiple investigations.
The book claims to be an exposé of sexual recruiting tactics from the journal pages of an escort queen. Breaking Cardinal Rules

The book is based on Powell’s experiences providing sexual services for the basketball program at the University of Louisville. She details her escapades, sexual encounters and her activities at the University of Louisville. Most of these services took place in the men’s dormitory where the players live.

Her main contact and the man with the money–the school’s former director of basketball operations and former graduate assistant, Andre McGee–kept Powell and her girls busy from 2010 to 2014, according to the Kindle description on Amazon.

Louisville reportedly hired Chuck Smrt, a former NCAA investigator, in August to act as an outside consultant as the university tried to explore the book’s allegations. Smrt met with the Indianapolis Business Journal on Friday, according to Sports Illustrated.

“If you think you’ve heard steamy tales about recruiting before, wait till you get a load of this. The Louisville high command has vowed to take the matter very seriously. It should,” said Mike Lopresti, retired USA Today sports columnist.

Athletic director Tom Jurich and head coach Rick Pitino, of the University of Louisville basketball team, held a press conference late in the afternoon on October 2, to address the book’s allegations and the NCAA’s involvement.

According to The Associated Press Andre McGee, 28, the school’s former director of basketball operations and former graduate assistant, left Louisville in 2014 to become an assistant coach at Missouri-Kansas City. UMKC announced that it had placed McGee on administrative leave after the book was published.

McGee’s lawyer, Scott Cox,told the Courier-Journal that his client “has told us he is not guilty of these allegations.”

The publication of the book has led to an internal investigation by the university into the men’s basketball program.

The book can be downloaded from Amazon, Google, B&N and iTunes, will eventually be available in hardcover format, directly from the publisher: Indianapolis Business Journal.

For more information, visit IBJ.com or SportingNews.com.

Is Electronic Publishing the Future for the Education Market?

By Sherrie Wilkolaski

Publishers in the education market are looking to electronic publishing and other digital educational tools as a way to improve the learning process and manipulate their educational text. The printed textbook is starting to look a bit old-fashioned when you compare it to high-tech tablet in the classroom. Leading educational publishers are taking big steps to utilize technology when it comes to publishing. In early September, BookBusiness reported that, “Hachette Livre, the third-largest trade and educational publisher in the world, announced a partnership with leading adaptive learning company Knewton”.

The collaboration between Hachette Livre and Knewton is a step in the right direction and with both companies being industries leaders in what they do, I look forward to seeing what they can do together to improve the future of education. We’re living in a world where electronic information is free-flowing in all areas of life. Why should the education process be any different? As a current student who was looking for an online learning alternative, I was surprised to learn during my quest for an online graduate program, that more schools were not offering what I was looking for. There are many schools who are doing an excellent job at utilizing a virtual and electronic classroom, such as The George Washington University, but still there is room for growth.

Only days before the announcement of the Hachette Livre and Knewton partnership, McGraw Hill Education revealed they will be going public. They reach both the K-12 markets and higher education, and per the Insider Trading Report, they noted, McGraw Hill Education, “also makes products for specific needs of companies, academic institutions, libraries and hospitals.” They will be focusing on “developing educational content technology” and their announcement is another indicator that the educational publishing is looking to electronic publishing and technology as the future.

What does all this electronic publishing mean for students? Will electronic publishing ultimately create a better leaning environment? Will new learning technologies replace the textbook and provide a less expensive alternative? The overall electronic publishing market is still a new experience and collaboration between educators and students, will help to guide publishers and technology experts to create a positive learning environment.  Only time will tell.

To read an additional article published by the Washington Post about a GWU student’s textbook experience, check out the article, “How college students can save money on pricey textbooks” by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel.

National Geographic Moving to For-Profit

It was just reported by The Washington Post that National Geographic Magazine will become a For-profit entity in the midst of a new contract with 21-Century Fox.  I assume everyone in the class knows who and what National Geographic is so I won’t waste words with a biography.  Essentially, the new partnership includes the cable channel and various other media outlets owned through The National Geographic Society. The new partnership is going to be called The National Geographic Partners.

Based on the article The National Geographic Society will remain a non-profit. The society is the part of National Geographic. I also think it’s very important to note that National Geographic (referred to as “NatGeo” from here on) has had a contract with Fox since the creation of the cable channel–as stated in the Washington Post article.

I felt this topic was very relevant to what we discussed in class in regards to how mission-driven presses may differ from profit-driven presses and thought it could start a good discussion.

This is what I found when I looked up NatGeo’s mission statement (imagine it’s in a proper block quote):

“National Geographic is a global nonprofit membership organization driven by a passionate belief in the power of science, exploration and storytelling to change the world. Working to inspire, illuminate and teach, National Geographic reaches more than 700 million people a month through its media platforms, products, events and experiences… The Society’s commitment to integrity, accuracy and excellence has positioned “National Geographic” as a benchmark brand and a leader in publishing, photography, cartography, television, research and education.” [x]

Do you guys think the official shift to for-profit is going to have any affect in the content the press is going to produce? Personally, I don’t think this shift will make that big of a difference. The Society is going to be governed by a separate board and the magazine has been mission-driven for over 100 years.  I don’t really see why they would change that just because they’re looking to make a profit. If anything, I think it might benefit the magazine–not that there was anything wrong with it before–because it everything owned by NatGeo will be brought under one name and could make everything they do more cohesive in regards to their mission-statement.

I will post more updates as I find them.