Update on the New Dictionary Project

Disappointing results, but not for the kids.

Back in November 2011, I blogged about my friend’s sixth grade class, which was using dictionaries so old that they didn’t include the word “Internet.” I was appalled by this situation and launched a fund-raising project on Indiegogo to buy enough dictionaries and thesauruses for both sixth grade classes in this severely underfunded rural school.

The goal was to raise $1,500, which would cover the cost of 100 books (50 each of the dictionary and thesaurus) and the fees Indiegogo charges to help raise the money.

Unfortunately, we only got $431 from 13 contributors, two of whom were extremely generous. After paying Indigogo’s fees, that left us with $379.28 for the books.

DictionaryRight before New Year’s Day, I ordered 32 copies of the Merriam-Webster’s Intermediate Dictionary from Amazon.com and had them shipped directly to my teacher friend at her school. (Because I’m an Amazon Prime member, shipping was free.) This was in addition to the copy of the Dictionary and Thesaurus I had bought back in early November to make sure they met with my friend’s approval for her class.

On January 7, when the kids got back to school, they were thrilled to have the new books. My friend told me briefly about the few games she played with the kids using the books. (I’m hoping she’ll have something in her own words to add here.)

My friend kept 25 books for her class and gave the remaining books to the other sixth grade teacher for her class.

Although I’d love to reopen the fundraising campaign to get the rest of the funds for the remaining books, I don’t think it’s worth the effort. Times are tough. Most people believe that a school district should get funds from local sources. I agree — to a certain extent. But this district is so poor that funds just won’t come. What we’ve managed to give them is a lot more than they ever expected. I think I need to be satisfied knowing that.

In the meantime, I want to thank all of the contributors for their generosity. I still believe that we made a difference in the lives of at least a few of these kids — and the kids going through the sixth grade in this school in the years to come.

Thanks!

Amazon KDP Select Double Fail

A contractual failure followed by a customer service failure.

As detailed in this blog post, I enrolled one of my ebooks into the Amazon.com KDP Select program. Almost immediately, I began seeing weird numbers on my royalty statements for the book: Sales at unit prices of 9¢, negative royalties, free books in a period when they were not authorized.

I immediately began a long and frustrating email correspondence with Amazon.com’s “customer service” staff. In this blog post, I’ll share the chain of correspondence that began in January and ended just the other day.

My original message, sent on or around January 10, 2012:

Subject: WTF? Positive unit sales with negative royalties?

This had better be a mistake.

1/7/2012 shows net unit sales of 13 yet net royalties of MINUS (-) $1.40. How is that even possible? Also, why is the royalty rate only 35%? I am set for 70%.

1/7/2012 also shows net unit sales of 169 at 70% royalty. The book sells for $3.99, yet you’ve calculated an “average offer price” of 9¢. How is THAT possible? I never authorized a selling price less than $3.99 except for 12/25 (free).

What’s going on here? Please explain WITHOUT using some canned response that does not apply to my situation.

The response from someone named Prasanna came on January 12 and, as expected, it contained a bunch of canned information:

Hello,

I can certainly understand your concern about the reports reflecting the royalties in negative. I checked our records and was able to confirm that the all the sales made in the week ending 01/07/2012 were completely free sales due to the free promotion you offered for your book.

However, among those free sales, I noticed that there was a refund that was made for your book which was for a sale made in the previous month. It is due to the refund for the sale made in the last month, the royalty amount is appearing as -$1.40.

Further, with reference to the 35% royalty option, I’ve found that one or more copies of your book were sold outside of countries where the 70% Royalty Option is currently applicable. The 70% Royalty Option is only applicable for sales to customers in these sales territories:

Andorra
Austria
Belgium
Canada
France
Germany
Italy
Liechtenstein
Luxembourg
Monaco
San Marino
Switzerland
Spain
United Kingdom (including Guernsey, Jersey and Isle of Man)
United States
Vatican City

Sales to customers in other locations will receive a 35% royalty. These sales are recorded separately in your royalty reports at the 35% rate.

At this time, the reports don’t show the specific location where your titles were sold. I’ve shared your request for this feature with our business team for consideration as we make future improvements.

Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

This did not make sense. I had authorized only one day as a giveaway for my book: December 25, 2011. That’s the day I advertised it as being free on Twitter, Facebook, and elsewhere. There should be no free book sales in January at all.

I replied on the same day:

I’m sorry, but this is NOT true. The book was offered for sale for free on just one date: 12/25/11. That is NOT in the week ending 1/7/11.

Kindly explain why there were unauthorized giveaways of my book.

This time, Anuradha replied on January 14:

Hello,

Please know, the Prior Six Weeks’ Royalties report shows the sales you’ve made over the past 6 weeks. The total “units sold” and the “units refunded” will fluctuate each week depending on which day you view the reports and the number of sales made over the combined previous six weeks (to date). Keep in mind the “Week ending” column shows the date that the week ends instead of the week beginning.

Thus, as communicated earlier, the refund which is reflects in week ending 01/07/2012, was for a sale made in the previous month. Hence, the royalty amount is appearing as -$1.40, in week ending 01/07/2012.

Further, the price at which we sell your book may not be the same as your list price. This may occur, for example, if we sell your book at a lower price to match a third party’s price for a digital or physical edition of the book, or Amazon’s price for a physical edition of the book and it appears that your title was price matched with a third party’s web site (to match the competitor’s price).

I hope this information is helpful. Thanks for your understanding and for using Amazon KDP.

This information was not helpful. There could not be any “price matching” because the book was available only on Amazon.com due to their KDP Select requirements.

I replied on the same day:

I did not authorize price matching. At least I did not intend to. If I did, kindly tell me where I can de-authorize it.

There is no other version of the book to match to. Amazon has an exclusive for the ebook title. THAT WAS REQUIRED BY AMAZON. The only currently available print copy of the book sells for $14.99. How is 9¢ matching that?

You are obviously picking prices out of thin air and it MUST stop.

On January 18, Violet replied:

Hello Maria,

Our price for your title, Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs is $3.99 and it was never offered for $0.99. You can confirm the price here:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B005ZSZMCS

I hope this helps. Thank you for using Amazon KDP.

Of course, this didn’t help either. I replied on the same day:

No, this does NOT help. Your reports indicate that you sold over 100 copies of the book for 9¢. WHY? You told me it was price matching. There is no price matching since Amazon has an exclusive on the book.

WHAT IS GOING ON? It certainly seems to me that you are either lying on my royalty statements or selling the book for a lower than authorized price. Which is it?

Violet replied again on January 21:

Hello Maria,

I’ve raised a request to the concerned department to check why your title was offered for a lower price in the week ending January 7, 2012.

I will contact you with more information by the end of the day on Wednesday, January 25.

Thanks for your patience.

And then again on January 30:

Hello Maria,

I wanted to send you a quick e-mail to let you know that I’m still researching on this issue. It usually takes 1-2 business days for this sort of research, but in this case it’s taking a little longer. I’m very sorry about this delay.

I’ll be in touch shortly with an answer for you. Thanks for your patience.

I guess “shortly” has a completely different meaning to the folks at Amazon.com than it does to most folks. I didn’t hear from Violet again until March 20 — more than two months after my initial support request. She finally admitted that Amazon had screwed up:

Hello Maria,

I apologize for the delay in getting back to you.

Your books’ promotion did not occur as scheduled on December 25th, and began instead on January 6th. A technical error then caused the promotion period to last longer than expected, but this issue has now been resolved.

We’re sorry for the inconvenience this may have caused. Thanks for your understanding.

So let’s get this straight:

  • Amazon did not do my free book promotion on the day I authorized it.
  • All the advertising I did that day to generate interest in a free copy of my book was not only wasted but must have looked like a cheap lie to the people who followed the link and couldn’t get a free book — thus damaging my credibility.
  • Amazon then ran the free book deal for “longer than expected” — a length of time that is still a mystery to me — thus giving away free copies of my book for longer than I wanted the offer to run.

I replied to her message the same day:

Screw-ups like this, and the amount of time it took you to answer my question — more than TWO MONTHS — are why I’ll never be in KDP Select again.

I promoted that book as free on Christmas Day. So I look like a liar to everyone who attempted to get the book that day on YOUR program for free.

By extending the sale beyond the allowable time, you gave away more copies of my book than you should have. How will you compensate me for those lost sales?

You’re already ripping me off — in comparison to other ebook sellers — by charging a bogus distribution fee and cutting my royalty rate to certain countries. You are clearly using your position in the marketplace to take advantage of authors and publishers.

You should be ashamed of yourself.

But I know you don’t care. It’s business as usual at Amazon.com.

Even though I replied to her message by using the same technique I’d been using all along, the automated response I got said:

Our Customer Service department didn’t receive the e-mail message below. If you still need help, please visit one of the pages below so we can quickly provide you with additional information or give assistance via e-mail or phone.

In other words: fuck off, we’re tired of you.

Think KDP Select is a good deal? Think Amazon actually cares about its publishers? Think again.

First Maria’s Guides Book Now Available

I’ve rolled the dice on this crazy gamble. Let’s see where it takes me.

I’ve owned the MariasGuides.com domain name for a while now with the idea of expanding into the short, inexpensive ebooks that I know readers are hungry for. Unfortunately, until recently, I’ve lacked the time and motivation to put it all together and make it happen.

All that changed this week. With a light flying schedule and no new book or video projects on the near horizon, it seemed like a good time to take the plunge and begin developing the Maria’s Guides series.

I began with a topic I first wrote about last year: creating watchable video. I took the original articles, revised and updated them, and laid them out in a format compatible with the MagCloud print-on-demand service. I also made sure my InDesign files were ready for ebook exporting in the EPUB format so I could easily prepare the book for various ebook formats: Kindle, iBooks, Nook, etc. For help with that, I consulted the excellent Lynda.com course, “InDesign CS4 to EPUB Kindle and iPad,” by Anne-Marie Concepcion. (I’m still on InDesign CS4; a CS5 title is also available.)

The printed version of the book is available today, along with a special MagCould iPad app version. Use the link below to check it out and see a free preview online. The Kindle and iBooks ebook versions should appear over the next week or so. I still need to work out how to get them online using the tools available to me. I suspect I’ll be watching a few more of Anne-Marie’s videos this afternoon.

Of course, the Maria’s Guides website needs a complete overhaul. It’s seriously outdate and has broken links. That’ll likely be next week’s big project. It’s a real pleasure working on stuff like that in my new Phoenix office; the Internet speeds here are about 15x what I suffered with in Wickenburg.

I’m also looking for suggestions for new Maria’s Guides titles. What would you like to see me write about? Use the comments feature for this post to share your suggestions. Keep in mind that they don’t need to be computer related.

Making Movies: A Guide for Serious Amateurs

By Maria Langer in Maria’s Guides

64 pages, published 21 OCT 2011

Tired of turning raw video footage into ho-hum productions that make people yawn? Or, worse yet, just putting raw video out there and hoping for the best? If so, this guide is for you. It clearly explains how to research, plan, shoot, assemble, edit, and fine-tune video productions for just about any purpose. Richly illustrated with stills from an example movie, it’ll get you on the right track to making movies that’ll inform, entertain, and impr…

YOU are NOT Steve Jobs

So stop using his image as your profile photo.

It started happening the day after Steve Jobs’s death was announced: the widespread use of Steve’s image as Twitter and Facebook profile pictures. It was mostly done by people who like playing follow-the-leader on social networks, the same kind of people who copy and paste Facebook statuses, the same kind of people who mostly retweet what others have already said because they can’t think of anything original that’s interesting enough to share. People who lack imagination, people who think they can best express themselves by copying what other “cool” people are doing and saying.

Six-Color Apple LogoAnd as one of the Apple faithful, as someone who bleeds in six colors — and has been around long enough to know what that actually means — I’m offended by the practice.

I’m especially offended by the fact that it continues, more than a week after Steve’s passing. If it isn’t Steve’s face staring out at me beside the mindless automated tweet of someone who isn’t Steve, then it’s Steve’s profile as the bite in a black Apple logo, a design only marginally less offensive, beside the latest Facebook copy-and-paste status update.

Yeah, we get it. You’re a fanboi and you miss Steve. But is this how you honor him? By abusing his image?

Do you think that’s what Steve would really want? To brand your social networking babble with his likeness?

You should be ashamed of yourself.

Stay Tuned

First, I need to thank Lorelle for sending her site visitors here. I really appreciate the nice things she said about me.

Unfortunately, due to an extremely hectic travel schedule, I’ve been neglecting this blog — so there’s nothing new of interest to read! How embarrassing.

I hope any first-time visitors aren’t too disappointed. Try back in a week or two; I hope to be back up to speed. I definitely have lots to blog about. I just need time in front of a computer to get it written.