I just finished a round of updating the linked lists of free Kindle classics that I’ve been maintaining for the last two and a half years, and was surprised to see a new one star review on my free science fiction list stating that it didn’t work on iPad. The reviewer reported that every time she clicked a link she got the message:
We’re Sorry: This operation is not currently supported
and went on to accuse me of deceptive advertising, but that’s par for the course when something that used to work breaks in the Internet age:-) I immediately tried it on my neighbor’s iPad, and got the same error:
A little less than two years ago, Apple forced Amazon to remove the “Shop in Kindle Store” button from the Kindle app for iPad. A little research shows that the “We’re sorry” message was associated with attempting to purchase books from within the Kindle app when that transition occurred. It was only the built-in purchasing ability of the Kindle app that Apple forced Amazon to turn off, because they didn’t want the iPad functioning as a storefront for Kindle without Apple getting their cut of the action. Publishing updates of my Kindle eBooks with links to the Kindle store continued to work on iPad until very recently.
So I changed the book descriptions to warn people that the updated versions no longer worked on iPad, borrowed a friend’s iPad, and spent the last few days experimenting. One of the first things I determined was that the links to the Kindle store in older versions of my lists, those that hadn’t been updated for a couple months, still worked. It’s only when I updated a few of those links to reflect changes in Amazon’s free classics inventory and republished the titles that the links to the Amazon store started producing the “We’re sorry” error on iPad. This was a strong indication that the problem was with Amazon’s processing of the files rather than a change in the iPad operating system or the Kindle app, unless it was grandfathering older files by creation date.
My next step was to try adding a single Amazon Kindle store link to the very end of novel, and to resend that Word file to KDP for republishing. As it turns out, that link worked on iPad. So I went back and ran my hand-coded html lists through Word and tried uploading them for conversion as both filtered HTML and native .docx files. The “We’re sorry” error persisted, the links were being blocked. So the issue wasn’t with my coding of the files, which hasn’t changed over the years in any case, but with Amazon’s processing of the lists.
For further confirmation, I used Amazon’s “Send to Kindle” app to send new versions of the downloaded preview files directly to the iPad, bypassing Amazon’s final processing. Sure enough, the links to the Amazon store all worked perfectly from within the Kindle app. Next I tried adding links for my own website to the books producing the error messages, and the links that weren’t to the Kindle store worked just fine. I should also point out the same files that produce errors work in Amazon’s downloadable Kindle previewer for iOS (which allows you to click links).
So it’s apparent that Amazon’s KDP staff (or a new algorithm) is altering my files so that the Kindle app on iPad will produce the error message when the Kindle store links are clicked. They may be doing this because Apple compelled them, it may be a bizarre workflow error, or maybe they’re just trying to cut down on the number of free classics downloaded by Kindle app users.
The reason I didn’t contact KDP to simply ask them, is that while they are very helpful on most issues, they fall down badly on anything that has to do with policy or criticism of their workflow. I rapidly tire of the “Please let me speak to your supervisor” game. They only recently admitted to moving start tags in books, even though they’ve been doing it for at least a year. And it’s entirely possible that I’m the only publisher getting hit by this particular problem, either because Apple red-flagged the eBooks and told Amazon that it’s a violation of their last agreement on the Kindle app, or because the number of links in the lists makes them stand out.
To recap, I would advise all serious Kindle publishers to purchase their own eBooks and test them on a variety of reader devices for the functionality of any internal links (especially the “Go to beginning” command in Kindle navigation) and to also check that any links to the Kindle store are actually working. There is no other way to obtain the eBook files that Amazon is actually selling to your customers, the preview files have not gone through the final production phase.
Amazon paid publishers participating in Kindle Select $2.27 per borrowed eBook in April. Either I’m going to have to start dropping historical data from my graph or it’s going to start shrinking, but here’s the last 17 months of Select data, which show Amazon maintaining an average payment of around two bucks per borrow.
The significance of the price point around two dollars is that it’s where publishers who are selling eBooks at the minimum price for the 70% royalty, which is $2.99, break even whether the customer borrows or buys the eBook. For many publishers, it ends up meaning significantly more income, since the borrowing barrier, free, (although using up the monthly opportunity) is lower than forking over hard cash. And I know a number of Amazon Prime members who joined for the free shipping and free movies and never use their free borrow opportunity.
I was pretty active publishing videos on YouTube for a couple of years in the late 2000′s, in part as an experiment to show self publishers how easy it was to reach an audience through video. Typically, my least successful channel consists of the videos I put the most effort into, my talks on self publishing subjects, but my two experimental how-to channels have drawn well over three million views. Many of these were educational screen capture videos, such as, how to create an index in Word, which has drawn nearly 25,000 views and which probably took me around a half hour to practice and do a final take.
The problem with making a business from how-to or other videos on YouTube is that the only monetization option has been to add advertising, something I never did. In fact, after refusing Google’s invitations to add advertising a number of times, my video traffic mysteriously declined by half, but that could have been due to the general breakdown of Google as a search appliance. This week, rumors that Google is about to announce paid subscription channels for YouTube have spread as far as the New York Times, which means, as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, there’s probably some there there.
My guess is that Google will initially roll out a subscription program by invitation, essentially rewarding those channels that earn the most through advertising with a chance to generate subscription revenue, with Google taking the same share that they do on the advertising. The reason Google will be willing to risk losing some advertising business to an experiment in subscription revenue is that by all accounts, advertising rates for YouTube videos are too low to generate sufficient revenue. I think this is due in part to the nature of YouTube, that video watchers see it as a place to watch video – they aren’t shopping and aren’t interested in being diverted to a website selling something.
Ironically, I spent the first half of last year trying to develop a paid video business model for training, under the brand MyVideoCourse.com. The idea was to create a subscription framework for YouTube that allowed video publishers to create training courses, complete with tests after every video, pre-requisite videos and courses, etc. I spent a couple months working with existing online learning platforms, such as Moodle, before deciding they were all too clunky, too difficult for the casual publisher to use even in a limited fashion. Next I tried to create a custom solution with WordPress programming and plug-ins, but after another couple months of effort, I gave up in disgust at the “not quite ready for prime time” aspect of the work. I just don’t have the heart for programming in my old age.
I believed then, as I believe now, that video will become the standard delivery mechanism for instructional nonfiction in the near future, at least for younger audiences. The difficulty of using a pure YouTube solution is that Google is ruthless about dumping “partners” when the the revenue projections for a business stall, like when they dumped on all the Indy bookstores who bought into Google as an eBook distributor. So if Google comes knocking on your door with an offer to upgrade your YouTube channel to paid subscriptions, or if they open the program to everybody, I wouldn’t rush to invest serious resources in creating video courses unless you have a dual-use in mind.
One such dual-use is obviously branding and book promotion, something I didn’t notice any benefit from, despite the 3.5 million views my videos have received. This speaks, I think, to the difficulty of converting video browsers into book and eBook buyers. But if your goal is to become a public speaker, run training seminars or start a reality TV show, any exposure (including full frontal) is likely to be a step in the right direction. Another use, if not prevented by the as-of-yet nonexistent Google agreement, would be bundling and then publishing the same videos as courses through Amazon Instant Video.
The truth is, I enjoy making videos that I think people will find useful, and I’m always surprised how many views they get for even the most obscure subjects, like creating your own graph paper in Microsoft Paint which has drawn some 18,000 views. But doing an entire course based on the work-arounds I use in both my professional and private life doesn’t seem like a hot business proposition. And it’s unclear whether subscribers would expect a constant flow of new videos, or whether they would be satisfied to pay for access to a completed course of videos for a single month at a price that would make it worthwhile for the publisher. I’m afraid that Google will pull out some one-size-fits-all pricing scheme, like $1.99/month, that would only make sense for major players with tens or hundreds of thousands of subscribers.