YouTube and audiobooks

Author Lindsay Buroker, one of the genuinely nicest people in indie publishing, began loading some of her audiobooks onto YouTube in 2020.

Buroker has a substantial following. She quickly racked up subscribers and views, and her channel received monetization approval. Buroker soon reported that she was earning more from YouTube views on her audio content than she was earning on some audiobook platforms. 

Then (see above Twitter thread) YouTube demonetized Buroker because her audiobooks aren’t “original content”. 

Of course, YouTube still reserves the right to run ads on her videos. Buroker just won’t receive any share of the revenue. Buroker has said that she’ll likely leave the first-in-series audiobooks up as lead magnets, and take down the rest. 

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There are two sides to this, as there are to most things.

On one hand, YouTube provides a completely FREE video-hosting platform. Uploading videos to YouTube is not only FREE, but also easy and frictionless. Unless you’re posting something inflammatory, sexual, or sensational, you can post pretty much anything you want to. 

That said, all social media is essentially about digital sharecropping, from a content and monetization perspective. This includes YouTube (though YouTube does at least provide something valuable for free).

The takeaways are:

1.) On the Internet, if you aren’t paying for the product, you are the product.

2.) YouTube is still a good place to help build your brand. But it is not a reliable place to  build your business. 

**Buy Lindsay Buroker’s books on Amazon**

Kindle Vella: some reactions from writers thus far

I haven’t yet taken the plunge into Amazon’s Kindle Vella platform. This isn’t because of any principle-driven objection on my part. I actually like the idea of serial fiction.

What I don’t like are the genres that presently dominate serial fiction on sites like Wattpad: YA romance, teen werewolf fantasies, and (of course) endless stories about teenagers with super-powers.

Nothing wrong with any of these categories, mind you. But I’m a 53-year-old adult. I don’t play in those fields, and have no interest in starting now.

***

Vincent V. Triola is another 50-something writer. Having perused his online footprint, I suspect that his politics are a bit to the left of mine. (That’s okay, most writers have politics to the left of mine.) But we’re both old enough to remember the pre-Amazon, pre-Internet literary world. I suspect that Mr. Triola, like me, spent some time in mall bookstores in the era of Ronald Reagan and Fast Times at Ridgemont High.

Mr. Triola is pessimistic on Vella, having dipped his toe into it. Writing on Medium, he describes Vella as “a writer-driven marketplace”. What this basically means (for those unfamiliar with Wattpad) is that most of the readers in a given literary marketplace are fellow (and competing) writers.

This is perfectly acceptable on Wattpad, which is youth-centric and mostly free. Wattpad also appeals to the generation that loves social media, and lots of step-by-step peer group engagement. My teenage years ended long before Instagram and TikTok, but I can easily imagine hormone-soaked, teenage brains lighting up with every social media “like”. We are all pack animals below the age of twenty-one or so.

But this community-based, social media-esque approach isn’t as appropriate for a paid platform like Amazon, where most readers aren’t hawking their own books and stories, too. There is nothing wrong with readers who are also writers, of course. But when that becomes the entire basis for a marketplace, the marketplace tends to become incestuous and spammy. (I’ve definitely seen this on YouTube, with all the “sub for sub” comment spam.)

As evidence for his claim, Triola notes that Vella has been almost exclusively marketed to authors thus far. This is a fair observation. I interact with Amazon as both a reader and a writer. I’ve received all Amazon’s communications about Vella so far via my writing communication channel.

Finally, Triola mentions that Amazon emphasizes the youth-centric genres that comprise most of Wattpad. There is only one tag for nonfiction. But “nonfiction” includes everything from historical biographies to automotive repair, to horticulture.

***

On the other side of this coin, some of the writers in several Facebook groups where I lurk are quite bullish on Vella. Almost all of them, however, write in the YA fantasy and/or romance fields. Back to some of Mr. Triola’s points.

Also, Amazon does now have a large banner ad for Vella on the front page of the Kindle store. So if Amazon isn’t exactly pushing Vella at readers, it isn’t exactly hiding it, either.

***

What is Amazon’s longterm strategy with Vella? Vella is obviously intended to be a Wattpad-killer, and Wattpad, as noted above, is all about YA fantasy and romance.

My guess is that Amazon realizes that YA fantasy/romance readers and writers tend to be “different” from readers and writers in other genres.

For one thing, the boundaries between readers and writers tend to be a lot more fluid in these genres. Note the prevalence of YA fan fiction. No one writes fan fiction based on the novels of John Grisham, Michael Connelly, or Clive Cussler. But there are online oceans of fan fiction for Harry Potter, Twilight, and The Hunger Games—all of which are focused on a predominantly youthful market. The Wattpad format is appealing to writers of fan fiction because of the low barriers to entry.

Also, this group, being younger, usually has less disposable income. As noted above, Wattpad is a mostly free platform. Amazon is probably uncertain about the long-term monetization prospects for Vella, beyond the writers who are presently participating. (As an adult reader, I have very little interest in paying for serial fiction installments, for whatever that’s worth.)

***

We shall see. No one knows how Vella is going to turn out, or if it will even exist a year from now. After all, Amazon has in the past killed initiatives that proved unprofitable or unmanageable, like Kindle Worlds.

For now, I’m going to continue my wait-and-see approach with Kindle Vella.

Kindle Vella launching for readers in July

Several months ago, Amazon rolled out its new Kindle Vella program to writers. Amazon has just announced that readers will have access to Kindle Vella by the end of July.

What is Kindle Vella, exactly? It’s a serial fiction app, somewhat analogous to Royal Road, Tapas, Radish, and Wattpad.

Will Vella prove the death knell of these other services? Who knows? But the fates of Barnes & Noble and Borders suggest that this might not be a good time to be purchasing shares of Wattpad, if it were publicly traded.

***

Will I publish on Kindle Vella? Probably. Eventually. But not right away. I like the idea of serial fiction, but I am most concerned with giving readers what they want. I’m not sure that most of my readers really want micropayment-based serial novels.

Initially, at least, success on Kindle Vella will probably go to certain kinds of genres, for certain kinds of readers. Which kinds? Well, probably the ones that are already successful on sites like Royal Road and Wattpad. This means: YA romance, YA fantasy, and YA science fiction, often with Japanese, Chinese, and Korean anime tropes.

These kinds of fiction are perfectly fine, but none of these categories is really my bailiwick. I’m 52 years old, and I usually write with the adult reader in mind. I have some idea of what a certain kind of Baby Boomer, Generation X, or older Millennial reader might want. A Gen Z reader…not so much. So I’ll probably proceed slowly where Kindle Vella is concerned.

Whatever Amazon does, Amazon usually does well. I see only one problem here, and that involves revenue. While there are paid stories on the various web serial sites that already exist, much of that content is presently provided for free.

Web serial readers not only skew younger, many of them are also outside the United States. Only about 25% of Wattpad’s traffic is U.S.-based.

Nothing against non-U.S. readers (or younger readers, for that matter). But it’s worth asking: will a medium that is mostly patronized by younger, non-U.S. readers elsewhere find traction with the over 35, U.S.-based readers that are currently Amazon’s bread-and-butter?

I don’t know, but I’m sure someone inside Amazon has considered those questions.

Vella could could turn out to be as ground-breaking as the Kindle was, changing the way millions of people read. Or…maybe not so much. I wouldn’t want to bet money on this one either way.

Goodbye to Goodreads

I’ve closed both my author and personal accounts on Goodreads. My books will still be listed there, of course; but I’ll no longer maintain an active presence there.

Since its launch in 2006, Goodreads has inspired both enthusiastic fans and detractors. There are controversies about the outdated design of the site, and whether or not Goodreads has declined since it was acquired by Amazon in 2013. I’ll leave those debates to others.

Since I first dabbled with Goodreads almost a decade ago, I have found it to be neither a uniformly good nor bad experience. Goodreads is social media. And all social media is a mixture of good and bad, best encapsulated in the acronym, YMMV.

Most of the people I interacted with on Goodreads were pleasant. I also ran across a few yahoos, of course. Once again: social media.

But it’s important to remember that Goodreads is for readers, not writers. I don’t want to be the author on Goodreads who is shouting “buy my book!” Nor is anyone served by the writer who hovers over reader-reviewers.

Nor does a Goodreads account really serve me as a reader-reviewer at this point, because I mostly don’t do that anymore. Once I started seriously publishing my own fiction, I became hesitant to review other people’s books on Amazon, etc. That’s a bit like Ford Motor Company reviewing the latest Toyota Camry, right? If I really want to say something about another author’s book (and that isn’t often), I generally say it here, on my own website.

Finally, throughout this past year I’ve been reassessing my relationship with social media. Since the whole social media thing began about fifteen years ago, I’ve been on Pinterest, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Reddit, and the now defunct Google+. At least I never had a MySpace page.

I’ve really gained very little from social media, either spiritually or monetarily. (YouTube, though, is useful if you want to know how to fix a leaky toilet.)

And so it goes with Goodreads. I don’t exactly hate Goodreads, but nor do I particularly like it or need it. This is not a personal boycott or a blanket condemnation of Goodreads. If the site works for you, then by all means continue to use it. But it no longer works for me.

JibJab, and when America still had a sense of humor

Between 2004 and about 2009, JibJab was one of my favorite destinations on the Internet. The JibJab guys specialized in political humor.

Take this one: “He’s Barack Obama”, from 2009.

The above short piece pokes fun at the (then) newly elected President Obama. The video parodies Obama’s over-reliance on platitudes like, “Yes we can” and “Hope and change”. Also, on a more serious (but still funny) note: Obama’s tendency to over-promise and under-deliver, and his blithe disregard of the national debt.

“He’s Barack Obama” is clearly a work of political satire. That said, the video is not shrill or mean-spirited.

JibJab was bipartisan. The small production company also had a good time parodying Republican George W. Bush, as in this video from late 2005.

I would mark 2009 as the approximate point at which America lost its sense of humor. That period between 2004 and 2009 wasn’t so long ago; and yet, it seems like another world.

I’ve been referring to JibJab in the past tense, I realize. JibJab, for what it’s worth, still exists. But JibJab now avoids political satire. Who can blame them? We now live in a world of Twitter mobs, social media bans, and ever-watchful culture nannies.   

JibJab now specializes in mildly amusing, but basically ersatz, holiday e-cards. That’s a shame. I would love to see what JibJab might have done with AOC, Joe Biden, or—for that matter—Donald Trump.

YouTube’s guitar heroes

I know: It seems I never say anything positive about social media, because…mostly I don’t. I wouldn’t mind if most social media platforms (especially Twitter) disappeared tomorrow.

But even social media has a few upsides. One of these upsides is the abundance of very talented young musicians on YouTube. 

Sophie Lloyd, the guitarist in the video posted above, does a virtuoso job on the guitar. I took guitar lessons myself for a while in the very early 1980s. I couldn’t begin to do what she does, but I do have an insider’s understanding of how much practice it takes to play like that.  

I also love the rock bands of the 1980s–Van Halen, Boston, Rush, AC/DC, Def Leppard. A solid cover of any of their old songs is sure to get my attention. Continue reading “YouTube’s guitar heroes”

Jenna Moreci and WriterTube

“WriterTube” refers to the YouTube community of writers. Basically, it is an ongoing discussion about writing and (mostly self-) publishing with YouTube as the platform.

The vast majority of the WriterTube vloggers and commenters are teen girls and young women who are interested in the romance and young adult fantasy genres. I’m a 52-year-old man who writes and reads suspense, horror, and thrillers. WriterTube therefore isn’t a big draw for me, on either side of the camera.

Nevertheless, there are exceptions. From time to time, I have tuned in to the videos of Jenna Moreci. She was recently interviewed by Craig Martelle, whom I follow.

Most indie writers nowadays spend all of their time writing new fiction, and relatively little time building an online platform. Many indie writers have no fixed online presence beyond their Amazon sales page. As a result, they must spend disproportionately on various ads, mailing lists, and the like. Continue reading “Jenna Moreci and WriterTube”

‘The Far Side’ is back

There are many things about the 1980s that I miss.

The music was better, for one thing. (Def Leppard vs. Taylor Swift? No contest, dude.)

Everyone was much less uptight in the 1980s. Less angry about everything all the time.

Everyone seems to have burr up their keister about something in the 21st century. This is the age of trivial anger.

The 1980s were much more chill.

Also…we had ‘The Far Side’. Continue reading “‘The Far Side’ is back”

The ETB Online Books Project

Like all of you, in recent weeks I have been more preoccupied than usual with current events. As a result, the content here since mid-March has focused on the daily news.

The name of this site, though, is Edward Trimnell Books. I chose that name for a reason. Commentaries on the news will always have a place here. (I’m rather opinionated, as you may have noticed.) That said, this site isn’t, strictly speaking, a news site.  I primarily write books, many of which you can find on Amazon

This is a business for me. I’m an author, of course; but I’m also a micro-publisher.

Nevertheless, these are tough times for many readers. The COVID-19 shutdown has cut US economic activity by about a third. Unemployment now hovers at an unbelievable 18%. Hopefully the economy will be reopened soon, and the raw numbers will improve. Many people, though, will need time to recover from this unprecedented interruption to normal life.

In light of these highly unusual circumstances, I would like to make all of my books available to readers for free.

This is already the case with most of my existing library, if you’re a member of Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited program

I realize, though, that Kindle Unlimited won’t be the right option for some of you. And as much as I love Amazon, people were reading online long before anyone ever heard of a Kindle. 

One of the purposes of a website is to provide free online content. Without something for people to read, a website is nothing more than a glorified online brochure.

That’s what all too many websites are. I’ve always wanted this site to provide more to the reading community—especially in times like these.

I initially explored the idea of making more of my existing catalog available here on the site. The problem, though, is that I can’t make content freely available to you here, as well as in the Amazon Kindle Unlimited program. Amazon requires that all Kindle Unlimited titles be exclusive to the Amazon platform (in electronic form). I am bound by the terms of that contract, and I intend to abide by it. 

So I had another idea…

The Edward Trimnell Books Online Books Project

I’ve therefore decided to start making some titles available here on the site exclusively—or in advance of bookstore publication. These will not be serials, technically speaking, but I’ll be posting them a chapter at a time, as I write them. And you’ll be able to read them here for free. 

I have several titles in mind for the first round of online books. These will be a mixture of fiction and nonfiction. The fiction books will span several of the genres that I usually write in (thriller, horror, mystery). I also have some short stories planned.

And for those of you who have enjoyed all the news commentaries over these past few weeks, fear not: At least one of the titles I have in the works concerns politics. But whereas the daily blog posts typically deal with ephemeral headlines, the upcoming book one will dig deeper and involve more theory. 

The plan is to serialize several diverse titles at once, so that at least one of them will be something you’ll be interested in reading. As I say on ETB’s About page , I don’t expect anyone to like everything posted on this site, but everyone should be able to find at least something that they like. That’s one of the advantages of a variety format.

How can you support the Online Books Project?

No, this isn’t a prelude to asking you for money.

Some sites that provide free content immediately turn around and panhandle you at every turn—usually via requests to support them on Patreon. 

I don’t necessarily have a philosophical opposition to Patreon (or similar crowdfunding intermediaries, like Kickstarter). I’ll probably put up a Patreon page eventually, for readers who would like to voluntarily contribute. But if I’m going to make that an upfront requirement, I had might as well just put everything on Amazon first. A Patreon paywall is still a paywall.

***

But I still have bills to pay, just like everyone else. Can free content work with paying the bills? In part, yes. 

One of the really cool things about online content is that “free to the reader/viewer” need not mean “unpaid to the creator/publisher”. This principle goes all the way back to the origins of the Internet-as-we-know-it, in the 1990s.

In the beginning, at least, the Online Books Project will be sponsored the old-fashioned way: through the placement of a few unobtrusive ads.

Some of these ads will be for my books on Amazon. If you really like what you read here for free, consider purchasing a book of mine that isn’t part of the Online Books Project. You may also want to purchase an edited, proofread version of a book that appears online first. But that’s totally up to you.

***

The Online Books Project will also be sponsored (sparingly) by banner ads and affiliate links to third-party products. I don’t fundamentally have any difficulty with the idea of supporting free content with third-party ads. That’s what newspapers, magazines, and television have done since time immemorial. 

Online ads have (not without some justification) gotten a bad rap in recent years. That’s because some sites have totally overdone the concept.

The online versions of The Independent and USA Today come to mind here. These sites are littered with dropdown full-screen ads, autoplay video ads, and many more extremely intrusive forms of advertising. 

Edward Trimnell Books is old-school all the way. Just like I hate social media (why would anyone want to bother with Snapchat or TikTok?), I’m also allergic to newfangled forms of online advertising. I keep the ads here low-key, like they were up till about 2003. 

***

Those are my basic ideas about the Online Books Project.

I’ll be posting new content and new chapters daily, more or less, so check back often!

Amazon slashes affiliate commissions

And Amazon Associates learn to love Amazon a little less

This bombshell hit online publishers this week, both large and small:

Amazon Cuts Commission Rates for Advertising Affiliates

….Commission rates for several affiliate product categories are getting reduced significantly. For example rates for furniture and home improvement products have been cut to 3% from 8% while grocery product commission rates fell to 1% from 5%. The commission on ads for headphones, beauty products, musical instruments, and business and industrial supplies got reduced to 3% from 6%.

The commission reductions are a significant blow to some Amazon affiliates who rely on commissions as a main portion of their income. Websites like BuzzFeed publish buy lists that drive readers to Amazon products in return for a cut of those sales.

Amazon is one of the oldest affiliate programs on the Internet. I don’t know exactly when it launched, but Amazon Associates certainly dates back to the turn of this century. Continue reading “Amazon slashes affiliate commissions”

Mike DeWine and Amy Acton as ‘Laverne & Shirley’

Northeast Ohio animator creates hilarious ‘Laverne & Shirley’ theme song for Mike DeWine’s coronavirus briefings

To be clear, there is nothing humorous about the pandemic, or the considerable human suffering that has resulted from it.

Nevertheless, we can find the light side in some of the pandemic’s peripheral aspects.

These would certainly include the foolish hoarding of toilet paper.

And, of course, the daily press conferences with public officials who previously had negligible footprints outside their immediate polities. How many Americans outside of the New York/New England area gave Andrew Cuomo much serious thought two months ago? Continue reading “Mike DeWine and Amy Acton as ‘Laverne & Shirley’”

Malware on CNN.com

This morning I checked the day’s headlines on the CNN homepage, as is often my wont. I saw a story that interested me, and clicked on the article’s hyperlink.

The article page was a legitimate page on CNN’s website. But the page was loaded down with autoplay videos and obtrusive ads.

Almost immediately, a “Flash player” piece of malware began downloading onto my MacBook Air. I closed the browser immediately.

For the record: I don’t believe that CNN—or any major news outlet—is deliberately distributing malware. They are, however, so filled with ads from various ad brokers and networks, that invariably a bad apple or two slips through.

Some news sites are now almost completely filled with ads. (Local news sites seem to be the most grievous offenders in this regard.)

I’m not opposed to ad-supported online content. Since the beginning, ads have been the tool that have enabled most of the content on the Internet to be free. Without online advertising, the Internet would become a pay-as-you-go space. The only free content would be content from the government and public agencies, or cleverly disguised infomercials.

But online ads are not what they used to be. Online advertising started out as banner ads above and below, and to the right and the left of content. People who complained about that (and there are always people complaining) usually did so on ideological grounds. They didn’t like the idea that someone was making money from their online content.

Things have changed. Nowadays, many sites are more ads than content. And we’ve all uttered a few choice curse words at those full-screen drop-down ads that won’t go away.

Particularly odious are the autoplay video ads. I’ve noticed an annoying tendency toward autoplay videos of all kinds on news sites in recent years, and these videos invariably are preceded by ads.

I’m not here to encourage anyone to visit online gambling dens or Russian porn sites. But if you were avoiding such websites for fear of malware, well….you might be taking just as big a risk when you visit CNN.com.

Apple and the slowing iPhone

I love my iMac, my MacBook Air, and my iPhone, but I have a firm rule with all of these devices:

One operating system (OS) per device.

This isn’t really so radical, when you think about it. Prior to automated updates (circa 2010), this was the way that most people functioned by default. If you bought a PC with Windows 95, you didn’t upgrade it to Windows 98 or Windows 2000. You waited until you bought a new machine, and then you got Windows 98 or Windows 2000.

And so on.

I first ran into problems with automated updates in 2010, when updates from Microsoft crashed my perfectly good Gateway computer running Windows XP (still the best operating system that Microsoft ever developed). That was the point at which I became a Mac convert.

But I noticed something about my Mac devices: Whenever I upgraded to a new Mac OS (which Apple pushes relentlessly, especially on the iPhone), I noticed a significant drop in performance.

Apparently, I’m not the only one:

Apple will pay up to $500 million to settle lawsuit over slowing down older iPhones

I miss the days when changing your operating system was a user-initiated event, versus something that tech companies try to compel on users via the Internet.

Apple constantly pushes new versions of the iOS to my iPhone. And I constantly delete them, uninstalled.

Get it right the first time, Apple….and that goes for the other tech companies, as well.

‘American Dirt’ and another kowtow to the Internet mob

Yet another example of cancel culture in action. The book tour of Jeanine Cummins, author of the novel American Dirt, has been cancelled after the backlash of an Internet social justice mob.

What’s the issue? Apparently a woman who is not of Mexican heritage is not allowed to write a novel about Mexican migrants. 

Or so the mob declares. 

***

Update: 124 relatively unknown authors have signed an open letter to Oprah Winfrey, asking Oprah to abet the book-burning project.

I’m not familiar with the majority of the authors. Quite a few of them, though, seem to be authors of competing books (also about the Mexican migrant experience) that have not achieved similar commercial success.

A hint of the green-eyed monster, perhaps?

Make of that what you will.