The Business Rusch: Content is King

Business Rusch free nonfiction On Writing

This week came the news that Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing program will offer its content providers a 70% royalty on all sales made in India—provided the content providers go with Kindle Select only. For those of you who don’t know, Kindle Select requires exclusivity from anyone who joins it. You can’t market your work on the iBookstore, for example, or on Kobo if you’re part of Kindle Select. Only on Amazon alone.

Writers who put novels up on KDP in India will get 35% of the price of all sales made in that country, regardless of whether they’re in Kindle Select or not. And, because of the restrictions, I for one will be getting only 35% on any work of mine that sells there. It’s my choice, and I choose to make my work available on as many platforms as possible.

Yes, you Kindle Board people who will run over here and defend Select as if it’s the be-all and end-all of all programs ever devised by mankind for any reason,  I know Amazon provides the biggest platform for e-books right now. I stress the “right now” because that will change. The issue of Vanity Fair that I’m reading (about three issues back from the current one) has an article I have not yet read on why Apple has eclipsed Microsoft, a fact that would have been inconceivable twenty or even ten years ago.

Things change, and they change quickly.

Plus, my own beliefs about maintaining different platforms for my work got reinforced this week after WMG hired someone to input the sales figures for the last six months. We looked at those numbers yesterday. I sell a lot of books on Kindle, but my biggest selling title, a short story called “The Moorhead House,” sold a grand total of one copy on Kindle from January to June.

Every single one of “The Moorhead House”’s rather surprising (to me) sales came on the Nook. For some reason, Nook readers either like or have found or continue to find that one short story. And they buy it more than they buy anything else of mine offered through Barnes & Noble.

If I had joined Kindle Select with that story, I doubt I would have made comparable sales. If my years in this business have taught me anything, it’s that readers determine what sells and what doesn’t, and trying to figure out why one reader buys a story when another reader won’t is largely futile.  All I can do is write the best story possible, and move on to the next. Worrying about why someone buys this and won’t buy that will simply drive me crazy—and has in the past.

Amazon’s move, however, makes a lot of sense to me. Amazon is doing everything it can to have exclusive content. As I prepped for this column, I scanned the tech news and immediately got overwhelmed.

Last week, it was the iPhone 5 launch. The week before, four new versions of the Kindle. Plus there are all the devices I don’t pay attention to (being an Apple/Kindle consumer), like the Nokia and Motorola smartphones, the Samsung smartphone, the Toys R Us tablet (yes, Toys R Us!), and the anticipated Nook update for the fall. I’m sure I missed something. I know that there have been dozens of articles about smaller tablets being the newest coolest thing, but I’m getting overwhelmed. I’m an early adapter, a gadget freak, and I’m beginning to have gadget fatigue.

Which is neither here nor there. I’m sure this is what it felt like in the 1950s as televisions went from being a luxury item with one or two manufacturers to something everyone owns at least one of.

The key really isn’t the device any more.

The key is the content.

And if you know that, then you understand why I’ve been so adamant in all of my summer posts about contracts, deal breakers, and scams.

We writers are content providers. Theoretically, we’re in the catbird seat. We should be the ones getting rich or at least more financially comfortable from this tech boom.

Instead, we’re lining up to get screwed.

I saw a horrible example of the queue recently. There’s a major epublishing company, started about three years ago by one of the biggest names in the publishing industry, that has signed some of the biggest writers in the world. Most of these writers have been at the business so long that their contracts do not include e-rights, which they’re now selling to this particular company.

Its contract is one of the worst examples of a rights-grab I’ve seen. As I’m writing this, I have my iPad open to the company’s website, and I cringe at the names I see there—folks I respect greatly, whose writing I admire, who most likely signed a version of this contract that will guarantee they make very little money on their content for the rest of their careers.

Let me be clear here: “Very little money” in the context of the new world of publishing is probably twice what these writers would have made from their traditional publishers (provided, of course, that the epublishing company keeps accurate records and reports everything). But it’s a lot less than these writers would make if they hired a flat-fee company to do the same work. A lot less—as in ten to one hundred to (as the years progress) a thousand times less.

And that doesn’t count the rights grab inside this contract, that will allow the company rights to everything from audio to television to any other invention ever devised. That rights grab financial split is significantly less than these authors would have received from any traditional venue, and is probably where this company will make most of its money.

The fact that rights grabs have become commonplace in the publishing industry in the last three years is precisely because content has become king. Publishers used to be manufacturing and distribution companies. The publisher would manufacture a book from a manuscript and then distribute that book to bookstores.

Back then, writers did not have easy access to the manufacturing process, and even if they did, they couldn’t get their books into the distribution system without some kind of help.  The monopoly that publishers had existed for a very good reason. They provided an actual service that writers couldn’t do themselves.

Now, writers can hire copy editors and line editors and cover designers as well as a flat-fee company to upload a book to the various sites, including print on demand. Yes, it takes time—generally about an hour or two to upload if you already know what you’re doing, but is that time worth spending 50% of your lifetime earnings for, as the writers in this epublishing company are now doing?

We’ve had this part of the discussion before. You all know how I feel. Keep control of your rights, and don’t sign anything for a percentage unless you completely understand your contract and know what you’re gaining and what you’re losing. At worst, hire an IP attorney before you sign anything. At best, hire an IP attorney and investigate every avenue for publication before you sign away all but a small percentage of your earnings.

It’s time to think outside of the publishing bubble for a moment. I mentioned television above. I’m barely old enough to remember what a big deal it was when one of our neighbors got the first color television set on the block. Think Mad Men, think of one of those neighborhood parties in which everyone—including the kids—came to ooh and ahhh at the contraption in our neighbor’s living room. My family didn’t get its own color television for at least three more years, and even now I remember the brand: it was an RCA.

Can I tell you without checking what the brand is on the television we bought last summer, the one which I stare at almost every day? No. I do, however, have a page torn from Entertainment Weekly on my refrigerator with all the fall television show premiere dates on my refrigerator, returning and possible new favorites circled. I can tell you without looking the names of all of those shows.

Content. Content, content, content.

Whoever owns the content is the person who will make the money. I’m not the only one saying this. In an article last week, The Washington Post quoted a former head of CBS News and digital media consultant, Andrew Heyward who said, “The platform increasingly becomes a commodity, and the content increasingly becomes the only place to create a premium.”

That’s Kindle Select, folks. That’s iTunes. That’s all of these this epublishing company I just disparaged. If you can control the content, then you can control the money.

But here’s the problem with content: it’s not easy to create. If a bunch of monkeys at typewriters could write novels, don’t you think the publishing industry would have conscripted the little buggers decades ago? And, as I said, it’s really hard to predict who will buy what in industries that have their basis in the arts. Yeah, just because New Show A shares the same elements as last year’s Surprise Hit doesn’t mean New Show A will succeed. Maybe the audience is so over that topic. Or maybe the audience doesn’t like the actors in New Show A. Or maybe the time slot sucks.

Who knows?

No one.

The best solution is the one that media companies have had from the beginning. Buy as much content as possible, own as much of it as possible, and make sure that the content providers work on flat fees or salaries.

I’m trying to get you to reverse that thinking. You’re a content provider. Make the company, like that epublishing company I mentioned, take a flat fee or a yearly salary. Distribute through all venues you possible can, even if you have to take a smaller percentage of the distribution money.

(Maybe some day, we can distribute without the conglomerates in the way as well. But for now, we need B&N, and Amazon, and Apple to get our content to as many places as possible.  However, if you don’t want to work with them, then just put the material on your website and drive traffic there through whatever means possible.)

Here’s the difference between now and ten years ago. Content has become easy to distribute. We can do it without a middleman.

Let me quote The Washington Post article again:

In the digital age, anyone with a camera can upload a video, just as anyone with a laptop computer can self-publish a book or collection of songs, or anyone with a few journalists and some smartphones can start a news service. No longer, said Columbia University business professor Bruce Greenwald, do potential rivals need to buy expensive printing presses or movie studios; nor do they need to build elaborate distribution networks for the content once it’s made.

“If you can’t keep people out of the business,” he said, “you never are going to make any money.”

Exclusivity. Theoretically it creates brand loyalty—to Kindle Select or iTunes or whoever controls the content. So you need to be the exclusive provider of your content. And you have to make that content good enough that other companies want it.

Say no to the exclusive deal.

Remember that content is king, and you are the person in charge of content that only you can make.

As one of my creative writing professors once said, there are only seven plots. What makes those plots different is how you handle them, your voice, your style, and your way of thinking. That’s all.  People can mimic your style, but they can never achieve your unique point of view.

That’s what content is all about.

Do you really care whether you watch next week’s Castle premiere on a Samsung, a Sony or a Panasonic TV set? Or you might watch on your computer. Or on your smartphone. You have choices now. But do you care if you’re watching it on a PC or on an Apple? On an iPhone or a Razr? Yeah, you might—a little.

What you really care about is Castle and Beckett and what happens next after last season’s cliffhanger ending. You’ll consume that content in the best way for you at the time.

Take that kind of thinking, turn it toward your own writing, and stop giving away exclusivity for a momentary gain. You want people to come to you for your stories. You want to make sure your readers have choices, so that they don’t have to think about the hardware when they consume your writing. You want them to be able to read your books on any device, anywhere at any time. Or you want them to pick up a paper copy so they can read without a device at all.

Let your readers choose their platform. You write the best content possible, and then make that content exclusive to you. Your readers can get your latest book on all platforms, but the next book? That happens when you  write it.

If you sign an egregious contract with some of these agents or these publishing companies (e- or otherwise), you might be giving these companies the rights to your characters and your worlds. If you do that, then  you’ve given them permission to have someone else write stories with your creations. Some of these contracts give these agents, publishing companies, and media companies control of your very name. They can make the readers believe that you actually wrote something when you didn’t and, chances are, in that circumstance, the readers will think you got worse as a writer.

Many of these companies also limit how much you can write and how often. It’s another way of protecting the brand, of making sure there’s exclusivity. Your work will only be available through their company, when they say so, when they want.

If you’re grateful to be published, you’ll sign this stuff away.

If you’re too lazy to find a flat-fee company to do the work that you’re not comfortable doing (like, say, covers), you’ll sign this stuff away.

A lot of you have told me you don’t have the money to pay someone to help you. Then save money to afford that fee. Forgo the latte every day. Cancel cable, for god’s sake. Put some money aside until you can afford to pay up front.

Yes, it might take years. I know that if I had to do this twenty-six years ago, it would have taken me months and a lot of personal sacrifice to save a hundred dollars. Isn’t your writing worth the trouble?

Don’t think short term. You’ll lose if you do. You’ll lose control of your content, at the very least.

If you figure you can let one book or a series go, then fine. But realize that no writer is known for all  of her work. Just for some of it. And if you let some of your content be owned by someone else, you might have let your Harry Potter series slip through your fingers.

Personally, I don’t think it’s worth the risk.

Content is king.

You’re in charge of your content.

Make sure you stay that way.

I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that the best way to understand how to control your content is by reading The Copyright Handbook published by Nolo Press. If you’re new to my blog, look at the summer’s posts; they’ll make this post clearer.

I write a blog post every week on some topic in publishing. I make my living writing fiction, so this blog must pay for my time away from my fiction career.

If you’ve learned something or gained a new perspective, please leave a tip on the way out.


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“The Business Rusch: “Content is King,” copyright © 2012 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch.




81 thoughts on “The Business Rusch: Content is King

  1. All these distribution platforms, it is very daunting! Smashwords looks like a solution, letting you get just about everywhere dealing with just them and Amazon. Unfortunately, for one of the items I’ll be putting up shortly I don’t have US distribution rights. Are there alternatives to Smashwords that don’t require world wide distribution rights, or am I stuck dealing individually with the non-US distributors?

  2. So Kris, I just had my first book published by a small press, and it’s chugging along in sales, but I want to increase my online footprint. One of the ways I was thinking about doing it is putting up some of my published and unpublished short fiction. I guess the question I have is whether it would be better to put up individual stories (at .99c or whatever) or put out a collection of say 40k to 50k words. What’s your take?


  3. How true! For so long we took it for granted that the medium (paper book) which disseminates the content is more important than the content. Now the cost for the medium (eBook) is zero. The content, which matters, finally gets paid fairly.

  4. Kris,

    I hope you’ll forgive that I had to dig down into my little piggy-bank to find a single dollar to throw your way (via PayPal) for this excellent and thought-provoking article.

    It’s worth much more than $1.00, believe me.

    But I thought the same of my memoir, “Girl from Baku,” when ISMs Press published it over two years ago on the Web and also asked for a $1 donation to cover publishing costs. To date, nada.

    I hope you, at least, have better luck!


  5. Loud cheers!

    This is how I close job interviews (fortunately, I haven’t had to do a lot of them:) “I turn ideas into money.”

    It would be more accurate to say that I help people turn ideas into money, because that is what authors and inventors do: they have ideas, they turn them into money. In the end, the currency of creation is ideas. (I could go into a spiel about how you can’t actually protect ideas and it is embodiments that matter, but this is high-level stuff.) You must protect your ideas! You must make sure you only let other people handle them who will treat them with care, and you must leave little trails of breadcrumbs so they can always find their way home. 🙂 If you do not respect them, neither will other people. If you treat them as if they were not valuable, other people will extract the value that is rightfully yours. “I don’t want to worry about all that business stuff” is just another way to say “I don’t think my ideas are valuable.” If you really think that, well, then, proceed as seems best to you. But if you don’t, then STOP IT!


  6. That’s a good post with some very valid points.

    I think a lot of people often forget that we’ve no idea where we’re going to be in five years time – or even three!

    I’m easing into publishing slowly. My main job is being a mother to an autistic two-year old. That leaves me with very little sleep or free time! However, I’ve made sure that I start out with a view to the future – not the present.

    I have a self-hosted website with hosting much greater than my current needs. If I pin a recipe or something on Pinterest and it goes viral – my site should survive without getting shut down. I have a mailing list. My after-blurb at the back of my book points readers to my website not to a retailer’s site.

    If the self-publishing world suddenly changes beyond recognition, then I will stand a better chance of surviving the change. For all we know, it could all move to cloud only media with the retailers only interested in dealing with large companies who have X number of titles selling X number of copies. Or, royalties could get slashed at all the retailers.

    You never know what will happen, and I figure that I will be better placed to cope with any future changes if I get my readers into the habit of coming to me rather than concentrating my efforts on advertising someone else’s business. With a self-hosted site, I have more options, including the option to install e-commerce software and sell direct (not currently worth the cost or hassle – but I will do it at some point.)

    I happen to greatly admire Amazon’s business sense. I love it when a company thinks long-term. However, I also think long-term, and I am really not a fan of exclusivity.

    At the moment, they’re offering a little something extra to those who go exclusive rather than penalising those who don’t. If they ever do start squeezing us though, then I think going exclusive would be a bad move. If a company squeezes you while you still have other options – then the last thing you want to do is hand them total control over your sales!

    They’re a business, I’m a business. We’re both going to do what is best for us. Best for me is keeping an eye to the longer-term and making sure that my work is on as many sites as possible.

  7. “But here’s the problem with content: it’s not easy to create. If a bunch of monkeys at typewriters could write novels, don’t you think the publishing industry would have conscripted the little buggers decades ago?”

    Too late — Hollywood already has them locked in a room, churing out scripts as fast as they can wack them out….[BEG]

    It’s a matter of distribution — Do you put your book into just one book store chain, or every bookstore you can find? The answer is every single bookstore you can find! Matter of exposure. If there’s enough sales from all the otner bookstores, it make up the difference. A hundred sales from Amazon select, or two hundred and fifty sales from half a dozen different web stores, including Amazon?

    The wider the net, the more fish you catch!


    1. Please, no cheap shots at Hollywood please. For every JERSEY SHORE, there’s a show like BREAKING BAD. Much like for every wonderful #1 NYT Best-seller (GONE GIRL) there’s a not-as-wonderful (50 SHADES.) And crafting an amazing script takes as much heart and grit and skill as a book.

      Thank you for the insightful post, Kris. What’s scary about signing “egregious contract… giving these companies the rights to your characters and your worlds” is that it doesn’t just happen to first-time authors. It happened to Michael Connelly’s character, Harry Bosch, (locked down by Paramount in a 15-year option) and it’s only recently that Connelly was able to get his character back.

      One question: any theories on why Nook readers liked and continue to buy The Moorhead House, and Kindle readers why? I know you said you try not to think about it, but this is such an interesting scenario, and I’d love to hear your best guess.

    2. The answer is every single bookstore you can find!

      Not quite that simple.

      To give an example, there’s a book I keep checking out in the used listings on Amazon. Sold new for $35 in the 90s, current cheapest used copy is about $175 but they don’t ship to Canada. The author recently sold a limited new run of five hundred signed, self-published copies for about $600 each.

      As a writer, would you rather be selling through ever book store that carried your book for $35 and getting a couple of dollars a book, or solely through your own web site for $600 a book with most of that $300,000 going to your bank account?

      So the answer is: it depends, and the calculation will be different for every writer and every book. I didn’t sell a single book on Amazon last month so I’m glad mine were in many other e-book stores too, but some people seem to find the opposite.

      1. In the example you give, the answer is: No, in this case it doesn’t depend. Only a Big Name Author can get people to pony up $600 a copy for limited editions. You and you and you (and I) don’t build up that kind of a name without getting wide distribution first.

        Fancy-pants editions are a subsidiary right. Any analysis that counts them as a primary medium will necessarily be out of whack.

        1. Only a Big Name Author can get people to pony up $600 a copy for limited editions.

          I think it’s a safe bet that you’ve never heard of the author in question (if you had, you’d probably know exactly the book I’m talking about). In fact, he’s such a niche author I doubt anyone else reading this blog has ever heard of him.

          What he has is a unique book that his audience wants and are willing to pay hundreds of dollars for. And that means he can make a lot more money selling from his web site than through book stores (print or digital).

          I agree with Kris that the best answer is usually to sell through as many outlets as possible, and certainly not to be exclusive to an outlet like Amazon that you don’t control. I was just pointing out that it’s not always the best answer.

          BTW, seems I got the numbers wrong originally and he actually sold 3,500 at that price, not 500. So make that $2 million, not $300k.

          1. Edward, as a person who spent a goodly portion of her career running a publishing company that specialized in limited editions–which your friend is what did–let me tell you this: You can do all of it. The limited $600 edition must be special–artwork, signed, extra material, leather-bound, whatever. And it must be the first edition. After that, no one (not even the collectors) care if you do a trade edition, an ebook and an audio book, etc. Those are latter editions which collectors and people who want things Right Now don’t care about. So you can do it all. It’s not exclusive. And frankly, if your friend did it that way, he left a lot of money–and readers–on the table.

  8. Writers are not the only folks who make the mistake of thinking Amazon is the be-all and end-all of distribution. At WorldCon, I sat on a panel with a small publisher. He challenged me, as a self-publisher, with the question, “And what do you do if Amazon goes under?” I told him that a) Amazon is only one of my distributors, and that b) capitalism ensures that some entity will arise to take Amazon’s place. It’s the nature of the system. I actually think of Amazon as a short-term solution to the ongoing quest for readers. Who knows but that next year, some other platform for delivering stories will make us all forget Amazon, and we’ll be debating the merits and implications of the new system.

    1. Yes! If we’ve learned anything in this maelstrom of publishing changes, it’s that nothing is permanent (except that people want to read – thank God!). The best is only the best until somebody does it better. Before Google, I thought AltaVista was here to stay, taking over web searching. When someone does it better than Google, they’ll be the next AltaVista. Sure, maybe Amazon is the top of the industry for 50 years. Or maybe somebody does it better in three. Or sooner. Flexibility and control of content through all platforms and delivery formats and systems are key.

  9. Yep, I’ll be taking the lower percentage for, too. The amount of money in the lending library pool is divvied up among a lot of folks. I haven’t gone there, but I know some writers who have, and the amounts they got were, in a word, piddly.

    Like Kris, most of my e-sales come from; however, there are some from iBooks and Nook and Smashwords, and I see those as more than I’ll get from the library fund.

    I believe, Diane, that the foreign pubs default to 35%, along with any title priced below, I think, $2.99. So unless you take the new deal, you get 35% in the rupee realm. Of course, India is the second-largest English language market in the world, after the U.S. so that could be lucrative. Last time I looked, was reporting the new India income in the same basket as the U.S. sales. The other .coms — UK, France, Italy, like those, are broken out in the reports.

    Interesting times …

    1. I suggest taking a look at Konrath’s blog today. He gives some real numbers and is talking about how much money he is losing by not being in KOLL. I can tell you that with my “mid-list” sales, the money I am losing by not being in KOLL is not what I consider piddling.

      I still have two novels in KOLL. One gets no borrows. The other makes almost as much in borrows as it does in sales. Same genre. Nope, I don’t understand readers, but you can make money by being in KOLL.

      1. I did look at Konrath’s blog and saw how he dismissed very real numbers from all of the other providers. His numbers are a great service, but the key sentence in what he’s saying isn’t in the KOLL stuff. It’s the parenthetical phrase about Kobo–it’s becoming a player, as he said. One egg, one basket, and he wouldn’t know that. And if you also look at his analysis, he believes that the benefits of KOLL might not exist any longer. I know they don’t from some of my numbers, provided through one of my publishers. (Not just for me, but for others as well) So… I’m not convinced. And Jeanne, continuing this argument is precisely why I had that sentence in my blog. I’ve discussed this over and over and over again. You and I don’t agree. Your business decision is yours; mine is mine. I really, really, really don’t want to have this prolonged discussion in the comments on my blog. Again.

        1. Well, I apologize, Kris. I didn’t think we were ARGUING, but discussing. Obviously, I was wrong and my point of view is not welcome. I won’t comment further in that case.

          1. Again, Jeanne, as I have said: this is a discussion that has been done to death on my blog. I do not and will not have it again. So no need to apologize, but let’s stop now. This is a sinkhole I will not fall into again.

  10. Re: Amazon in India: do books that are NOT in Select still get the 35/70% split, or do they just earn 35% across the board? (I haven’t been able to find a quick answer to this.)

    If they just earn 35%, then I think Kris is right: this is Amazon testing the waters for “You can make twice what you’re earning now…but only if your books reside solely with us.”

        1. Not really. 35% is the standard for most nations such as Australia which are outside the US market. Amazon is not giving anyone the finger. It is giving people in Select a small bonus and so they should.

    1. Hi Diane,

      India is one of the 35% only countries — except, now, with Select you can reach the higher royalty if your price is high enough.

      Thing is, I hear that paperbacks in India are quite inexpensive (2-3 bucks, equivalently speaking) so I predict a very different e-book adoption pattern there. And quite potentially, lower pricing brackets, which may take people down out of the 70% running anyway…

  11. And, because of the restrictions, I for one will be getting only 35% on any work of mine that sells there. It’s my choice, and I choose to make my work available on as many platforms as possible.

    I saw this the other day, when I was making a price change on a couple of my novelettes (due to discussions at Dean’s blog, among others). I really don’t want to put all of my eggs in one basket, either.

    I always liked doing everything myself, so even though my covers aren’t fantastic, I believe they convey the idea I’m trying to get across (at least, I hope so!). I’ve already decided that once I’ve amassed some money, I’m going to take a design course so I can gain more of an understanding about the use of color, typography, etc. Until then, I’ll continue to create my own and have fun with it!

    Ebooks and paper books: I’ve got the ebook upload down pat. It’s so easy, it’s a wonder to me that I was so nervous the first time I did it. Paper is a bit more daunting for me, but I know it’s only a matter of time before I get the hang of it. 🙂

    The first color TV on the block? That I don’t know, but I know we didn’t get our first color TV until 1973. Yeow! And it was a Magnavox, which I don’t think is even made anymore. One of my aunts had a color TV in the mid 60s, which I thought was amazing and cool. My parents, though, told me they could not afford it at the time, which is why it took a little bit longer for us to get one.

    Thanks for another great article, Kris.

    1. Isn’t it amazing, Nancy, how we can remember our first TV but we don’t know what we have now? I suspect that will happen with tablets and e-readers too. I already know that I care less about my Kindle than I did three years ago. I’m very iPad now. I like the reading experience better, although I hate the iBookstore and the layout. So I read Kindle books on iPad. [Shrug] I suspect the tablet/e-reader wars will be like TV wars. We’ll end up with what we can afford, which will do what we want as best as it can given price. And we won’t care as much as we do right now.

      Thanks for the post!

      1. I have a 47″ 120 Hz 1080P LCD TV from LG. And love it. I know that without having to stop and think about it. I guarantee a lot of guys, and all technophiles, can do the same.

        Not that I disagree with your point, at least when it comes to books. But in other venues, people pay more attention. I can tell you which network puts out which TV show, and which movie production studio I like more than others. Because it matters, because the various studios have worked to create a difference between each other.

        With books though? I couldn’t name half, he’ll a tenth, of the publishing imprints out there. Because it doesn’t matter. They’ve operated as a cartel for so long they (for the most part) forgot about branding and differentiating themselves from each other. But then readers were, until recently, not their customers, were they?

      2. Interesting. I don’t like reading on a tablet. I don’t like that it’s backlit which is uncomfortable for long periods of reading and the weight is killer as well.

        I do think there will remain choices out there for different preferences, or I sure hope so. 🙂

  12. “Yes, you Kindle Board people who will run over here and defend Select as if it’s the be-all and end-all of all programs ever devised by mankind for any reason…”

    Good job making demeaning comments about your readers. Yes, I will “run over here” and tell you that even before I put my novels in Select, I sold 10 times more on Amazon than all the other platforms combined. And once I put my novels in Select, my Amazon sales went up by a factor of ten.

    Nothing you rant at Select about changes that.

    Does that mean Amazon will always be king? Of course, not. And since you only sign up for Select for three months at a time, forever is irrelevant. As a matter of fact, I have taken most of my novels out of Select because I think another strategy may work well and I want to try it.

    Just like I tried Select. If another strategy works better, I’ll stick with it. If it doesn’t, guess what? After six months the novels will be back in Select. It’s not some obscure believe system or religion. It’s business.

    1. Jeanne, sorry to have offended you. But here’s the truth of my blog. I post something on Thursday that mentions Select in an even partially negative way. On Saturday, hordes (dozens, sometimes hundreds) of people from the Kindle Boards swamp my blog, screaming at me in the comments. I put that part of the post in there so that those folks will think twice about posting. And I’ll feel better about deleting their argument, which I have heard since Select started. I don’t buy it, I don’t like getting it again, and I hate hearing from people who don’t read my blog except when I disparage their precious select.

      You’re a regular reader, and I’m sorry to have offended you. You can conduct your business any way you want. It’s yours. So long as you’re educated about what you do, that’s fine.

      It’s the uneducated hordes who will descend, starting on Saturday, that I’m trying to avoid here. [sigh]

      That said, thanks for posting this about Select. It’s important that regular readers know it’s a choice–and a business choice.

      1. What lured me into Select in the first place was the KLL. I was really interested to see if people would borrow the books. (BTW if anybody searches for me on Amazon, I’m flattered, but I write under a pen name and for various reasons I am not interested in disclosing it.)

        Well, they didn’t. Maybe that’s just my genre and my books but while my sales have gone up steadily my KLL borrows have remained absolutely comatose for almost a year. Besides, there is absolutely no guarantee that Amazon will keep the KLL borrow pay where it is. Right now, it’s pretty sweet for most people who are selling short fiction. But that could change on a month’s notice. Given that, and the fact that I have no desire to do limited-day free promos (I’d much rather have a loss leader at .99 or free permamently than do limited-day free promos. “I may be wrong, but I’m not uncertain.”) I unenrolled all my books from Select and started distributing them on B&N and through Smashwords (which has several other distro chains which they are percolating through.)

      2. I actually agree with that and I understand that KB people can get a bit — aggressive. I just don’t like seeing Select automatically dumped on any more than you like it seeing automatically defended. As you say, it’s a business decision. Exclusivity has a number of risks in any industry. It can also have benefits and you have to balance them. As you say — a business decision. And I’m not really offended, or not that much anyway. 🙂

      3. Let me say something else that figures into my own philosophy in the midst of all this chaos, Kris. I believe that we have to be willing to take risks. When I took a look at Select back in December of last year the DAY after it was announced and decided to throw two of my novels into it, I was taking a risk. Now that it was with Amazon mitigated the risk somewhat, but it was still a risk.

        Taking my novels out now (and a little before the big holiday sales season at that!) is also a risk because by far most of my sales have been generated by Select promotions.

        But when you are in an industry that is deconstructing the way publishing is, risk is inherent. Taking advantage of the opportunities is going to involve risks just like a poker game. You may play the odds but the risk is still there.

        If we want an industry that nice and safe, we’re in the wrong one!

    2. JR, if you’re selling 100 times more books in Select than you otherwise would, why pull them out? Are you going to release your books for sale at other platforms now? (Or are you serializing them for Kindle Serials?)

      1. Josh, I have a three novel series of historical novels which will have the final one out in January. I want to try making the first one “perma-free”. I know that sometimes works well. The only way to do that is to put them on iTunes and B&N free and try to get Amazon to price match.

        Unless things have drastically changed since I pulled the novels from iTunes and B&N nine months ago, I won’t get substantial sales there, but I will see another benefit. Of course, it is *possible* things have changed. I just haven’t seem much indication of it. I know that some people get good sales on the other retailers, but few of them write the genres that I write so I have low expectations there.

  13. The problem I have with publishing outside of the Amazon platform is that I have no control over pricing. If the iBookstore decides one day to give away my book or lower the price, then Amazon will match that. I read an article about this where one author basically made no money off her books because she could not stop these distributors from changing her price!

    1. Well, no, Kate. The other publishers can discount, and probably will, no matter what. Especially now that the Justice Department lawsuit is getting rid of agency. That’s what bookstores do. So stop worrying about it, and get your books out there. Price them well enough that a discount won’t make your book free. Here’s Dean’s take on pricing. You might want to consider it:

      1. Hi Kristine.

        You are always so generous in answering your readers!

        My concern is if Apple drags my prices down under 2.99 and Amazon matches, I will lose a lot of income (because the royalty will go from $2 to possibly $.35 per book.

        It took me a year of selling my books for 99 cent to build an audience, so that I can now ask 2.99 and do OK. I make 3 times as much now. If Apple forces my price down — then I’m back to the drawing board again with .35 cent books. I’m not trying to get rich — just cover health insurance.

        1. If that happens, Kate, you can write to the other retailers and ask them to raise the price again. Then show Amazon that there is no lower price. Btw, Amazon doesn’t always price match. I’ve had stories for much lower prices on say, Kobo, that never got matched. It’s pretty random and there is a way to solve it. Don’t stay with Amazon just because of this. (The other solution is to price higher on other platforms. Your prices don’t have to match across the board.)

        2. You do have some control. Kobo has a similar policy to Amazon; they have to have the same or cheaper price than any other retail outlet. Joy for most favoured nation.

          Outside of Amazon, Smashwords is another good solution. They have an agency agreement with all of its other distributors, so if you sell via Apple or any others, they can’t discount your book.

          Since B&N is US-only, I have no experience with them or their pricing policies.

          This most favoured nation nonsense is one of the reasons I wish all of the various publishing platforms were wholesale. I couldn’t care less what a distributor sells my book for, so long as the price is reasonable for the customer and I get fixed and consistent revenue. The ideal distributor would allow us to set a ceiling (highest price) and the fixed price it costs the distributor per license it sells.

    2. Kate – I think this problem is very rare. It’s unlikely Apple will discount your book. Lots of people publish at the ibookstore without a problem. Why not give it a try? You can always pull your book later if you are unhappy. If you have several books, why not dip your toe in the water with just one of them to start off with?

      The only thing that could happen is Apple may round down/up your price to end with .99 or .49. It also works out the tax on European sites differently to Amazon (Amazon adds the tax (3% in Europe), Apple includes the tax in the price). My latest non-fiction book is on Apple UK at £4.49 (converted from $6.99 via Smashwords) and went on Amazon UK at £4.59 (again, based on $6.99). Amazon price matched it to £4.49 – a discount of 10p. I can live with that, and I prefer the £4.49 price anyway.

      Be brave. Give it a go. I honestly don’t think you have anything to lose.

  14. I’ve learned to smile politely and say, “No, thanks,” when a fellow indie brings up Kindle Select. I don’t want to lose the significant amount of money I’m earning through other retailers.

    Kris, I’ve experienced something similar you have with “The Moorhead House.” You really never know what titles will sell in which countries through each retailer. Americans wanting any of my romance subgenres go to Barnes & Noble. My urban fantasy sells better to Canadians and Australians through Kobo and Apple respectively. Erotica is split between the U.K. on Amazon and the U.S. on B&N.

    If I kept everything on one retail platform, sales wouldn’t keep me quite as cheerful right now.

    1. Exactly, Suzan. My Diving novels sell like crazy in Australia, and my Retrieval Artist novels (similar genre) not quite as well. Mysteries sell well in France. And on and on. I’m not looking at all the platforms either–it would take too much time. But I’m seeing enough to convince me that the more platforms the better.

  15. Excellent post, Kris, a call to arms. Unfortunately, your wise words will fall on the tin ears of those who need to hear it most, the Select Faithful. Why are they faithful? Because Select has worked for them. But Amazon has changed their algos, upending the apple cart. Who will this help (besides Amazon) or hurt (besides consumers)? It’ll help the already Select Faithful. It’ll hurt everyone else.

    I am a staunch believer in “content as king,” though I don’t believe for a second that good content will always find an audience. Maybe over time, and maybe in the old publishing environment where we were sipping from a faucet. But we’re being deluged with it now and the problem is and will be distinguishing oneself. Whether and how one does this, one thing remains true: if you restrict yourself, you restrict your market. The challenge will be finding effective ways to reach that market.


    1. Saul, it’s a myth that good content won’t be discovered. I did a post on it a while back. The front part is about traditional publishing, but the middle is what you want to read. Good content will be discovered, just not immediately. Think long term, remember there are more readers than traditional publishing ever tapped (most small towns in America have no bookstore). So don’t worry about reaching the market. Put your work out there, and then write more. That’s best.

      1. I’ll humbly defer to your experience, Kris :o) though I’m not entirely convinced (I guess I just need time). As they say, the proof is in the pudding. And, darn it, I’m ready for dessert!

  16. I took note of KDP select being required for 70% royalty for Amazon India too, and was glad to hear your take on it. I have resisted because I keep thinking I am going to go on other platforms… but I do think my cover might have some appeal in India. For some reason I think this because of the bright colors. I should quit wondering and go check out the site – you know, do the work. 🙂

    I can’t get the steps I have written down fast enough so that I start getting on other platforms! But thanks to your reminder of the pitfalls of going exclusive I’m going to stick to the plan.

    1. Update: It looks like if you go to the India site, Junglee, to buy Kindle books, it takes you to the American so they see the exact same books, selections, and rankings as Americans if I did it correctly. Seems like there are likely to be different best sellers in India.

  17. Good post on the publishing side, but let’s get to the really interesting part — you throw out a teaser like the fact that you have the EW premiere schedule on your fridge with things circled and no mention of which ones????? Enquiring minds want to know, particularly as I have the same thing (except it is under my remote as it is way too far to the fridge). Revolution was at the top of my list for new shows, but was a bit disappointed with it. I loved the summer premiere season of Continuum (time travel cop show) which had wonderfully delicious geek speak like “testing paradox vulnerabilities”. Only 10 episodes per season though (with the guy who plays Gepetto on Once Upon A Time).

    Back to your substance though although I confess I had too much time on my hands this morning and went into the weeds. I looked at your Moorhead postings. If I click on your name on Amazon, with “sort by relevance” (whatever they determine relevance to be), it shows up at the end of page 3. If I do semi-equivalent at Nook (sort by Top Matches), it shows up first. I also notice that they have a lot of discovers and reviews in July of this year, so maybe you got a preview tied to Nook. What really surprises me though is that your one review on Amazon said they got it as a free DL…some of those free DLs are going for 20K copies sometimes, surprised more wouldn’t have snagged it, but short stories are harder to attract reviews for them. Maybe another free promotion for that one for a couple of days to get the snowball restarted? You wouldn’t be losing much if you only have one sale on it. 🙂 Other than placement, there is one thing I see on Amazon that I don’t see on Nook — on Amazon it says it is only 32 pages. No such indicator on Nook. Both have filesizes. The reviews make it seem longer though (80 pages?) or novella length. Might be an interesting experiment to edit your meta data on Amazon and just delete the estimated length (although I suppose that can also lead to backlash if people think they are getting full-length and feel ripped off).

    One thing that I haven’t seen is a reliable set of stats related to discoverability factor on Amazon vs. Nook — i.e. if there were 1000 books on Kindle for every 500 books on Nook and 250 on Kobo, getting your titles on Nook or Kobo could be good RoI. But there are a lot of people out there who are having the completely opposite outcomes — 1000s sold on Kindle, zero on Kobo or Nook or Smashwords.


    1. Oh, man, Polywogg! Too many to mention! I too watched Revolution and liked it better than I expected. But the end of the world stuff scares the crap out of me, and this didn’t, so I’m happier. I haven’t heard of Continuum. Tell me more!!! It sounds like my kinda show. (And this, folks, is how content gets passed on to others.)

      As for “The Moorhead House,” wowza, it was free once on B&N? Who knew? I didn’t watch my numbers. I rarely do. We’re sure getting a lot of paid sales on it. It’ll be revamped this week or next. It’s been on the schedule to upgrade the interior and tweak the cover for the entire summer. That’ll fix the metadata as well.

      That’s one new feature of this new world: sometimes we have to upgrade files. It’s weird and hard to wrap my traditional brain around. But I like the option of fixing covers, etc, without worrying about warehouse costs, etc.

      And the free promotions don’t work well any more. They were overused and now most readers don’t pay much attention. Weird, huh?


      1. Continuum aired on Space in Canada, which is Cdn equivalent of your SciFi channel but I thought SciFi or USA network had picked it up too. Basic premise is it starts in 2177 with govts gone, replaced by companies that bailed them out, and while not clear if it is universal (or just North America), there is a continental congress equivalent manned by CEOs. A bunch of freedom fighters / terrorists think they have given up too much liberty, and vow to take it back by any means necessary, including terrorist attack on a building with explosions, a la 9/11. The top eight terrorists are sentenced to die, but instead use a device to go back in time — main character is a cop caught in the vortex who follows them back. Supposed to be six years, they go back 65. They shoot most of show in Vancouver and even label the location the Vancouver Protectorate or something in the future…location doesn’t really matter except to locals who spot local sites. A whack load of actors from previous sci-fi / fantasy shows are in it, including William B. Davis (CSM from X Files). I think the show is great, and have even started a full episode guide (slowly but surely). My reviews of the first 3 eps are up on my site, and here’s the link to the first one (with overviews of who is appearing in it). Eps are available online too.


  18. Great post.

    Without the content, there is no business. Everyone is scrambling for the easy pickings right now, and Amazon happen to be in a perfect position for this.

    My sales have been pretty balanced between Amazon (US) and Smashwords distribution lately. It took a while for that to happen. There’s no magic to this, and no way of knowing what book will take off and when. Time, content, and a little luck is what it takes for most of us to get anywhere. No point hanging around to wait for lightning in a bottle if you want a career. Exclusivity isn’t an option for me personally.

    I hope people really take in this blog post and are aware of what they’re signing up for. It’s easy to get blinded by what seems like the light in the distance. It’s easy to feel the struggle and take less than we deserve. We have to make sure our eyes remain wide open, no matter what we choose to do. (On a side note: I’ve actually read about writers recommending selling their rights for $250 to kickstart things since I first heard about it here. Personally, I would rather save or barter for help.)

    I’m not one of the big sellers, and I don’t post about my sales numbers at all, but I’ve been randomly contacted by a few agents/interns/representatives of (I’m in Ireland so had to google) large, well-known agencies (as have a lot of others writing in similar genres). They hadn’t actually read my books, and one of the emails wasn’t even personalised. It’s clear to me that everyone is more than willing to do whatever it takes to snap up as much content and as many possibilities as they can. I don’t blame them. After all, who knows what the next big thing will be, and they won’t lose out. It’s the smart play. That’s survival.

    We all have to take care of the business side of things. That means knowing exactly what you’re doing.

    1. Thanks, Claire. I don’t blame the agents/others for doing this either. They have a business as well. It’s up to us not to take them up on it all. As I mentioned last week, the best way to do this is to understand everything about the business, whether you go traditional or indie. Sounds like a tall task, but it’s doable in small chunks.

      1. Exactly. It’s on us to know what we’re doing. It’s okay to take risks as long as we understand the outcomes – and yes, it’s definitely down to us in the end. Nobody can use you unless you let them, but it’s easy to feel overwhelmed or that you need help, which is why it’s important that we all share information, imo, so we can all make informed decisions.

  19. Another great post! I will never go exclusive to anyone when I can place my stuff in mulitple places.Everyone buys from different places. We all have different likes and dislikes and that reflects where we buy books as well and from what device we choose. To limit that is not only cutting off potential sales but also finding new readers that would not have found you if you were stuck in one place.
    I’m still learning how to do things but at least the fear isn’t as bad now. I feel braver.

  20. Kris

    Great article (as per normal). I’ve got some thoughts I wanted to share.

    1. I ‘ve been writing fiction on and off since I was 12….never had anything published, just coming back into it for lots of reasons. What may be of interest is that I’m coming back to fiction from a background of what’s called content marketing online.

    That leads to this:

    2. One of the things that you learn pretty early on is you can’t rely on places like Google and so on to send you traffic. (For authors substitute Amazon/Barns & Noble etc to send you sales). So what we do is ensure that we encourage people to sign up to an email newsletter list. And you engage with that list….not spam them.

    I see few authors collecting email addresses…I was at a marketing conference once and suddenly the instructor stopped in front of one of the attendees and suddenly shouted: Quick! Your house is on fire. What’s the one thing you take out into the street with you?

    The attendee was surprised. But the answer was: The Back Up of your mailing list.

    Which led to the lesson: Your Mailing List is your biggest business asset.

    This is why Amazon are toasting the Big 6 – they spent time building up not just a mailing list, but a mailing list of buyers. And a mailing list of buyers who were satisfied with – and trusted – their buying process.

    IMO you have to have a mailing list. So you can speak to your ‘true fans.’

    That leads to…

    3) You can sell your content direct from your website. And instead of giving 30% away – or 70% for anything under 2.99 or over 10.00 – this can cost you around 5%.

    And it’s easy to set it up – all you need is a paypal account and a service like eJunkie. Which costs a flat fee of $5 a month.

    And again – as you iterate in the post – if you can’t do it yourself you can get a techie to set it all up for you. If you’ve got the files ready and you have your own website we’re talking about less than 60 minutes to set up.

    So there’s no excuse to be dependent on Amazon.

    (Of course there is a trade off – let’s say you have 5000 rabid fans and on the day of a new release they buy directly from you the upside is you get an extra 25% of the purchase price direct to your bank account. The downside is that they don’t buy it on Amazon so their sales/reviews etc don’t contribute to the Amazon ranking algorithm. If your list was big enough – and loyal enough – that’s a trade off that well be worth making.

    And if the day ever does come – like the Big 6 fanboys argue – that Amazon starts putting the thumb screws on authors, then if you’ve got a list of loyal buyers those thumb screws will hurt you a whole lot less.

    4. Again this is all about taking control of your content – and also communicating directly with your fans. Emailing them is far more direct – and far more effective – than Facebook or Twitter.

    Hope that’s of interest.


      1. PS

        In online marketing there have been lots of attempts to modify the ‘Content Is King’ phrase.

        My favourite is this one:

        “Content is King, but Packaging is Emporor.”

        It doesn’t matter how good your content is, if your book covers, blurbs and formatting are bad you are going to lose a proportion of sales. Something I know that Dean and you have been talking about for a while.

        But I thought it was worth sharing.


    1. I don’t have much stuff up as yet, so hadn’t really thought about setting up a newsletter and gathering email addresses.

      Looks like I’m going to have to re-think that one. Should have known better, but better late than never.

      And though I like the idea of people buying directly from me/my website, I’m not ready to go that route as yet. Thanks for all the info, James.

      One of the perks by coming to this and Dean’s site: The comments are just as useful and informative as the articles! 🙂

      1. Nancy

        Your welcome!

        And the ***ironic*** thing is that my author blog is very new (less than two weeks) and I’m just settling into it. So I’ve not yet set up a mailing list/newsletter for J.J.Foxe yet!!!

        But it’s high on the To Do list!


    2. I see his point, but my answer is, “Wife, Kid, Dog.” After that, whatever I can grab – probably my wallet. But I wouldn’t give my computer or data a second thought.

      It’s all backed up offsite.

      Yes, it would be inconvenient as hell and I’d lose my last two weeks of work (at least, what wasn’t in my Dropbox.) But so what? I could lose that to a bad enough HD crash or power surge. (My computer gets backed up in real time or near enough, but that HD is right next to it.) One time lightning hit the corner of the building containing the small network I was responsible for and took out eight computers at once. And I mean, “rendered them permanently nonfunctional.” It was a Hell of a hit and the EMP from the strike (or maybe it backfed somehow, I never figured it out) bricked the machines AND their hard drives. The designers who used the machines were in a panic, but I just went to the store, bought eight new ones, restored from backup, sent the insurer a bill, and went to lunch.

      This is another one of those things like “dealing with business” that the modern writer, or really any modern person with more than very modest means indeed, has got to start taking responsibility for. It’s not hard. At the simplest – and this is exactly what I do – you get TWO backup hard drives. You back up to one. You take it to your day job or your mom’s house or your safety deposit box or whatever. You back up to the other in real time or near it. Every two weeks or so, you swap the drives. This is a SOLVED PROBLEM, as S. M. Stirling would say. Not applying the solution is on you.

      If you want to get fancy and you have good enough bandwidth you can do a remote/cloud solution, but that’s up to you.

      1. Marc

        Of course there are multiple solutions to this – and with the cheapness of memory it’s very easy.

        The point was that few people recognize their database of customers or potential customers as the asset that it is.

        The cliched statistics are that someone who has bought from you before is between 7 and 10 times more likely to buy from you again than a total stranger. So going forward with your ‘fiction writing business’ it seems to me that it’s an absolute no-brainer that you want to be collecting the names of your ‘fans’ and communicating with them and building your relationship.

        From what I understand, even if you’re trad-pubbed you’ll have to take care of most of the promotional work for your book(s). Having an email list ***should*** be one of the first things that an author gets to work on.

        The reason is that only YOU control your email list. Whereas if you’re getting visitors/buyer interest via Facebook or Twitter that can be taken away from you at any moment. Because you don’t ‘own’ your Facebook pages. Or your Twitter account. And these places often change their algorithms and people get banned without a moment’s notice. (This goes too for author ‘websites’ on sites like and or Tumblr.)

        There’s even a term for this – digital sharecropping.

        The point is – I got sidetracked, apologies – that growing an email list and learning how to engage with that list is one of the best marketing activities any author can undertake. (that’s my opinion of course and YMMV).

        Hope that helps.


      1. As Zero Mostel says about actors, in the original The Producers: “Have you ever eaten with one?”

        Most writers are glib, at least if allowed to work slowly enough. No more of them are smart than of any other occupation that requires some schooling, in my experience.

  21. Exclusivity in distribution helps only the publisher, regardless of who it is. If the burgeoning market wasn’t so potentially diverse, it might make sense, but even then it would require the belief that there will never be anything new on the horizon.

  22. “But here’?s the problem with content: it?s not easy to create. If a bunch of monkeys at typewriters could write novels, don?t you think the publishing industry would have conscripted the little buggers decades ago?”

    Oh, that was a good one. I’m still laughing!

    I was wondering if you would bring up Amazon’s newest ‘perk’ for Select. All things considered, it’s not really a perk (not yet), especially after their drastic algorithm changes. The move does make me wonder if it’s a precedent. If they will start giving the better royalty rates, such as the 70% we’ve become accustomed to, for new territories only in Select.

    Well, content is King, and there are other retailers servicing the same locations. If (and big if) Amazon makes such a move, that just means I give another retailer preference in my referrals and links. Stay with all the retailers, but steer my readers to those platforms (if possible) that benefit me more.

    After all, this is a business. If one of my distributors starts causing problems, then its time to start steering towards a different one.

    A note about exclusivity: 1/3 of my sales this month are coming from retailers other than Amazon. Amazon is not all that is out there! I’ve averaged 25% to 60% from other retailers in the past year. While every writer is different, for me it would be a horribly bad business decision to sign an exclusive deal with anyone for 3 months at a time.

    1. Yeah, JA, I wondered the same thing about Amazon. It would be a bummer if they drop the percentage for those of us not in Select, but as you say, I’ll stop promoting Amazon on my site to my fans. Right now, I do it because it’s easy. When (if) I ever get more time or if WMG ever hires someone dedicated to just this, everything will change to WMG’s site. I’m glad to have the testimony about how sales are going for everyone not in Select.

      1. And therein lies the trap which I hope Amazon is intelligent enough to see. Yes, they are the Big Dog. But that is not a matter of the laws of physics any more than it was for Borders or Microsoft. At least for books and similar content, if they push away authors by playing games like this, they will find that they cannot put the genie they let out back in its bottle. If they try to take back too much that they’ve already demonstrated that a distributor can economically provide, some other distributor – down to the level of individual authors or small collectives, if necessary – will just offer it instead. You and your husband all by yourselves could probably make a serious e-distribution system, providing your own hosting and bandwidth, profitable. And it’s not going do anything but get easier and cheaper.

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