June’s Jitterbug Sausage

(This post went to Patronizers at the beginning of June, and the public at the beginning of July.)

“The deck is clear, projects are ready to go, I’m ready to WRITE!”

One lovely Friday night in May, She Who Must Be Obeyed finished teaching for the summer. The following Sunday, at five AM, she broke her leg.

You look alarmed, so I’ll say now: she will fully recover.

The next couple weeks were a blur. The third week, where she could take care of herself enough that I could do some work, are also a blur–but mostly because I was doing tech edits on Run Your Own Mail Server. The Kickstarter was scheduled to start on 20 May, and I had invested a bunch of energy in shilling it, so I didn’t want to push it back, but my stupid conscience demanded I have the book in copyedit before launching the Kickstarter. Why would I launch a Kickstarter on a book I’m not ready to deliver? I also had to finish writing two four-hour courses, one on email and one on TLS, for BSDCan. So, I launched the Kickstarter and got ready for BSDCan.

You remember my last Sausage post? Where I said I thought that the direct market for RYOMS was exhausted? I hoped I might gross seven, maybe ten thousand?

I was wrong.

So very wrong.

This is insane

And the dang thing isn’t over! I’m going to be shipping over 500 books. I might need to buy help doing that, particularly for the drop-shipped copies. Despite that complaint, you’d be helping me out if you’d share the campaign.

Part of the reason I set the Kickstarter to run over BSDCan was that I was teaching about email, and wanted to mention that the Kickstarter existed. I thought it might sell a couple more books. Also, I thought that if I was busy being the BSDCan con chair, I couldn’t spend my days obsessively reloading the Kickstarter page to see if anyone bid. The con chair role mainly consisted of pointing at volunteers and saying “You. You are empowered to make this Thing happen. Go. Do.” Plus, I’d deal with any last-minute disasters.

You ever start a week-long con exhausted? Because I sure did. It was a loooong week. Fortunately, SWMBO was more able to care for herself, so I was able to go at all. (If I hadn’t been chair, I would have canceled.)

So, yeah. Very few new words this month, and those all on polishing RYOMS. I hope to change that this month.

The eight hour drive home from BSDCan gave me time to ponder the world and my place in it. One thing I’ve been contemplating is my Patronizer rewards. The video hangout tier was popular during the covid lockdown. We still have covid, but we’re not in lockdown. I often start the video hangout and nobody shows up.

I’m contemplating dropping the monthly video hangout, replacing it with a quarterly all-Patronizer hangout: two in my morning, and two in my evening. That would give everyone a chance to show up.

I would replace the Monthly Video Hangout tier with a private chat. I would check the chat at least 2-3 times a week. The question is, what platform? Signal would be preferable, but its anonymity means it doesn’t integrate well with Patreon or Woocommerce. I’m familiar with Slack. Matrix and Discord annoy me. The catch would be, I’d demand that such a chat be family-friendly. Perhaps Addams Family friendly, but family friendly. That means moderation. I don’t know if I want to do that labor.

So, pondering. Video hangout subscribers, I’m open to your thoughts.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for RYOMS to return from copyedit. While books like SNMP Mastery covered complex material, that material could easily be chunked. It’s the most complex and interrelated book I’ve ever written. It does not break into chunks. Everything depends on everything. That meant painstaking interleaving of information, in a weird order that looks clunky but is the only way to approach the material. There’s reasons nobody else wrote this book. I have several outstanding anthology invitations, so I’m gonna break up my mental logjam and write some short fiction for a little bit. My brain is tired after the last few months.

I’m looking at the RYOMS Kickstarter and thinking I should do that revision of Networking for System Administrators I’ve been pondering. The cover art will need mushrooms, however.

Before then, though, I’ll launch Dear Abyss. Which might make two grand, if I’m very lucky. A collection of previously published honest advice columns is of much less interest than running a mail server. Even if “honest” means “bitter and cynical.” We’re talking sysadmin stuff, after all.

Sorry for the dearth of news, but it’s been a crap month. Do let me know what you think about the chat thing, however.

May’s Magniloquent Sausage

(This post went to Patronizers at the beginning of May, and to the world at the beginning of June. Not a Patronizer? Sign up at https://patronizemwl.com.)

This month was better than last month. If you look at April’s Sausage post, you’ll see that is a terribly low bar to clear, but I’ll take it.

The “exciting” news on this is that I’ve set a up the Run Your Own Mail Server Kickstarter. I’m not excited for the Kickstarter itself, but I’m curious how well it will work out and that curiosity carries its own excitement. RYOMS is the most heavily-sponsored book I’ve written. I suspect this is less about the topic, and more because the sponsorships were open longer than any other book. (You can thank me catching covid for that.) In theory, the groups of “people willing to advance me money to write this book” is not the same as “people willing to preorder directly from the author.” Perhaps I already pillaged my public support and this Kickstarter will fail. Well, no, it’s not going to fail. I’ve set a goal of $500. I had many sponsors for OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems, and got a few dozen pre-orders even though that book had sponsors.

Wait–I keep ranting about the importance of disintermediation, and I’m switching from direct pre-orders to Kickstarter? What gives?

Processing fees on Paypal and Stripe are about 3%. (Yes, it’s more complex than that, but it’s close enough for this discussion, so hush.) Kickstarter fees are 5% plus processing fees, or basically 8%. The question is: will the social aspect of Kickstarter make up for that 5% fee? There’s only one way to know, and that’s to try it. I love experimenting. I love trying new things in my art, my craft, and my trade. So that’s exciting.

The curious among you are welcome to look at the campaign preview.

One thing about this campaign pleases me. I started the 60 Seconds of WIP podcast to better learn to speak on microphone. Recording this Kickstarter video took only eight takes where it would have previously required fifteen or more.

RYOMS is the longest Mastery title, twice as long as Networking for Systems Administrators and 125% the length of SNMP Mastery. I think I’m going to price the ebook at $14.99. This means the Kindle version won’t be available on Amazon, just like OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems. The OpenBSD people have no problem with avoiding Amazon, but this book is for a wider audience. I’m curious to see how that works out as well. I can imagine someone uploading pirated versions to Amazon, but I’m ready with my complaint letters and DMCA takedown notices, as always. Yes, my publishing checklist includes “prepare a template DMCA takedown” for the book. Always preload your pain.

RYOMS is also back from tech edits. If you haven’t sent me your comments, it’s too late. I’m churning through the manuscript to get everything updated, so I can get it to copyedit before the Kickstarter opens on 20 May. I’m also preparing a four-hour course based on RYOMS for BSDCan. Four hours is not enough to go deep into the entire book, but nobody wants to sit through eight hours of config files, so I’m focusing on knowledge integration. That, plus setting up the new BSDCan mail server, is forcing me to go through the manuscript one last time.

I’m also converting TLS Mastery into a four hour course, but I can finish that after RYOMS goes to copyedit.

All of this is taking longer than I expected, forcing me to face something rather unpleasant. Covid dented me. I’m not one of those poor bastards with crippling long covid, but my energy is certainly not what it once was. I’m clearly functioning at about eighty percent, though, and that seems fairly constant. I clearly can’t afford to catch covid again, and am no longer waffling about my conference mask policy. Masks do not protect you, but they protect the people around you. The people most likely to spread covid are the least likely to wear a mask. EuroBSDCan in freaking Dublin seriously tempted me, but I have too many books left to write to catch this crap again.

That’s the thought dragging me through these tech edits: when I finish, I get to write again!

But writing the tutorial is making me double-check everything. The book will be better for it, but I still hate it.

Whenever I release a tech book, I create a file for keeping notes about stuff I missed. This helps me decide if a book needs a second edition. I’m at the point where Networking for Systems Administrators has accumulated a few critical gaps. The appearance of Let’s Encrypt means the book needs TLS coverage. I should discuss special address ranges like It talks network sockets, but I should add some comments about local sockets and their evil twin, Windows pipes. Speaking of Windows, I need to confirm all of the PowerShell commands are actually PowerShell. A faint breath of nmap. Other detritus. And the cover needs updating.

Some of this I’ll need for my next big Unix book as well.

I’m contemplating a crash revision. These are all simple topics. I could kick off a two-week sponsorship window after BSDCan, while RYOMS is still in copyedit. Disconnect the Internet and spend eight hours a day revising the book. Another round of tech reviews would be the longest part. Once I get the book to copyedit, I’d do either a ten-day Kickstarter or a preorder on my web site. I haven’t done a crash book like that since you maniacs sponsored Ed Mastery. It would be fun.

But then there’s that “I’m running at 80%” factor.

We’ll see.

Vultr backed down, but so what?

(Quick note, because very busy day.)

Vultr had a rights grab in their ToS. They just took it out, after community outrage.

So, is everything fine?


This is exactly what Findaway tried. I’ve read the whole ToS. There is no misunderstanding.

The CEO has said that users are not lawyers. I am not a lawyer, true. But I deal with a lot of intellectual property contracts. My books are intellectual property, and I have to read ToS and contracts for every one of them. When reading a contract, you have to assume that the other party will be sold to a complete bastard who will exploit the contract as far as possible.

It’s highly unlikely that Constant Contact (Vultr’s parent firm) would use a book stored on my site to make a film. But suppose their parent company did so. A film I didn’t want made would come out, destroying the value of any film I might have made. I could sue, spending my money to fight a much larger firm. This is a losing proposition.

Perhaps Vultr’s lawyers are merely incompetent.

But their parent firm is a content company. And many content companies are doing rights grabs.

Rights grabs are becoming more common, though. I believe that the only way to stop them is to stop doing business with any company that attempts one. Backing down from a rights grab is too late.

Shopify vs Woocommerce for Author Bookstores

The hot new idea in writer circles is the author-owned bookstore. According to the Wayback Machine I’ve had my author-owned bookstore since 17 May 2013, so you can imagine I’m fully on board with this. This store now accounts for 35% of my income, more than Amazon, so it’s a critical part of my business.

When folks look at building a store, though, they’re immediately confronted with choosing a platform. There’s two major platforms: Shopify and Woocommerce. Which should you pick? The costs are comparable. The skill level to use either is about the same. They then commit a grievous error and ask me for my opinion.

I will always advise Woocommerce. Always.

When I say this, many authors immediately jump up and say “I tried Woo and it sucked, Shopify works better!” I would reframe that. “The first store I built sucked, the second store I built is much better!” The first book you wrote probably sucked, too. The first iteration of my Woo store also sucked. I look at a lot of author bookstores and immediately say, “Oh sweetie, no, this is not how you do it.” Some of them hired ‘technical’ people to build the store. Technical people are like literary agents: there is no qualifying exam, they act in their own interests according to their own biases, and you can’t afford a good one. Even a disaster is educational, though. Your failed first store taught you how to build a second store containing less suck. (It’s amazing how many writers are willing to spend years noodling over a manuscript, but expect their first store to work perfectly on their first try.)

My motivation for standing up my own bookstore is to declare independence from any outside channel. A decade ago, Amazon was the majority of my income. Making my books available in all channels increased the number of readers I drew while reducing my dependence on Amazon. Adding my own bookstore reduced my dependence on anyone. Yes, I use outside components and services, but every one of those parts can be replaced. Why would I replace a dependency on Amazon with a dependence on Shopify?

Cory Doctorow recently made a big splash with the word enshittifcation. He describes it as the process where an Internet company starts off being useful, becomes powerful, then starts squeezing values out of suppliers and then customers. It’s standard business practice at Internet scale. Ford and General Electric would totally do the same, if federal regulation didn’t prevent it. Amazon exists with very little federal regulation.

I prefer a simpler word: betrayal. It’s harsh, yes, but it fits.

Internet companies betray their user every day. Glassdoor sold itself as a place to anonymously rat out employers. Now the company wants to monetize its users, and is attaching real names to user profiles. While I could laugh and say You idiots trusted an Internet company, what did you expect? this will literally destroy lives and careers. Findaway Voices sold itself as one service, got bought by Spotify, changed its ToS to become an IP-pillaging company, and appeared to back down under protest. People thought it was a victory. It was not. We lost. We lost huge. It was an absolute rout. Compare their current terms of service to the pre-Spotify terms of service. Now consider what a minor update like “we added three carefully-chosen words to the ToS, they’re harmless legal boilerplate, we promise” could do. I guarantee that Findaway’s lawyers knew what words they would add and where they would put them before releasing these “friendly” Terms of Service. In Reddit’s quest to raise money, it trashed the people who create its value. All that’s only in the last year.

Betrayal is the Internet’s business model.

Businesses look out for their own interests. If a business believes it exists solely to maximize shareholder value, and has no legal, regulatory, or competitive barriers, it will become invaluable and then betray you.

What happens if either Shopify or Woo betrays me?

The Shopify software and all hosting thereof is fully controlled by the Shopify company. When folks tell me that they’re lovely people, what I hear is “the company’s current management is lovely, but the owners have decided to not betray their users. Yet.” A third of my income is at risk. If they become a problem I must hurry up and find a new store system, without advance warning, right freaking now.

The Woo software is freely available under a permissive license, and is hosted on a WordPress site I pay for. There is a Woocommerce company, yes, but they make money by selling support and add-ons. The actual software cannot be taken away. Yes, I buy some Woo plugins. There’s a super healthy plugin marketplace. If Woo Inc betrayed me, I’d have time to switch. After all, I have all the code. It’s running on my server. Betrayal would vex me, and I’d feel obliged to rant and rave. Also, Woo is a fork of Jigoshop. If Woo betrays its users, any number of those outside firms would leap up and happily take their place. And Woo knows it. That’s how they replaced Jigoshop. One day they’ll get bought and the new owners will go for a betrayal anyway, though.

When Shopify inevitably betrays me, over a third of my income is at risk.

When Woocommerce inevitably betrays me, I am not at risk. I’m merely pissed off.

Either way, you need to experiment with your store. Polish it. Experiment. Some of those experiments will be complete failures. Some will succeed worrying well. It’s all about what your readers want. Give readers a seamless buying experience, and expect that it’s gonna take a while.

The end of the Findaway Voices saga (hopefully?)

See part 1 and part 2 for context.

Last night Findaway changed their terms of service last night to something mundane, but it doesn’t matter.

I’ve worked with developers for decades. Developers do extra work, but only certain kinds of extra work. They will rearchitect your entire front end in Rust and Pascal for the sheer joy of it. What they won’t do is change the terms of service for the fun of it. That’s boring.

I know several lawyers who have fun drafting proposed contracts. This isn’t that.

Someone came to the Findaway web site developers and said “Add a popup with these new terms of service.”

Were those ToS an error? If they were identical to the Spotify ToS, then I’d accept a copy-and-paste goof. They were not. Someone wrote them.

Additionally, it was pointed out that opting out had a 30 day lag, and the announcement was made 30 days before it would take effect. If you didn’t catch it immediately, Spotify would assimilate your work.

Lawyers are accustomed to negotiating with other lawyers. Everybody starts by asking for everything, they bat it back and forth, either meet in the middle or amicably end negotiations. The initial ask includes things that they know they won’t get, and things that they can discard so they can show they’re being reasonable. It’s a dance.

These online terms of service from tech companies? They start the same way, but they’re negotiating with the public. They wait to see what gets pushback.

They’ve shown us what they want to achieve, and it’s antithetical to our art and our craft.

Spotify has no pointy-clicky way to delete books from their inventory or your account. You can go in and delete the individual MP3s, however. You can change the cover art and description to Removed Because Spotify’s Business Practices are Unacceptable. You can then email support@findawayvoices.com and ask them to delete your account.

Hopefully, I am now done blogging about this.

I hear that Author’s Republic, which imperfect, has viable options. I haven’t read their ToS, though. You should read them for yourself, and ask how they’ll be used against you.

Findaway Voices followup

Yesterday I posted about Findaway Voice’s rights grab. Last night I received this email from Findaway Voices.

Earlier today, we shared planned updates to our Findaway Voices by Spotify. Terms of Use that are set to take effect on March 15, 2024. Our goal was to introduce language that would allow us to offer authors innovative features, improve discovery, and provide promotional tools such as share cards while assuring authors that you “retain ownership of your User Content when you post it to the Service.”

In the hours since, we’ve received valuable feedback, and we understand that there is confusion and concern about some aspects of this language. We want you to know that we hear you and are actively working to make clarifying updates to alleviate your concerns.

We are deeply committed to your success on Spotify. In the meantime, please stay tuned for more details.

I’m not going to bother ripping this apart line-by-line, but I will comment on “confusion and concern about some aspects of this language.” We are concerned because there is no confusion. I am not a lawyer, but I am accustomed to reading rights agreements. They haven’t even agreed to delay the implementation of these license terms. Those terms were reviewed by a lawyer and were not mistakenly uploaded by some overworked developer. A press release does not override a legal agreement.

It’s been suggested that this was an example of a lazy lawyer copying from an existing agreement. A person’s motives don’t matter. Only the harm they inflict matter. And if Spotify has this boilerplate lying around to copy from, that’s a really bad indicator.

I have no doubt that they will follow up with something less objectionable, but the problem is: they’ve shown their goals. They have written down and showed us what they want to achieve, and it is hostile to writers making a living.

Many musicians dislike Spotify. I can’t say all of them hate it, because there’s always an exception. Multiple musicians have removed their music from Spotify. Taylor Swift pulled her music from it. It reappeared without explanation, which is business-speak for “after years of discussion we negotiated an acceptable deal that included an NDA.” Good for her.

My first book came out in 1992. I’ve been through the business wringer. When I have a business question these days, I ask myself “what would Taylor Swift do?” (Or WW James Patterson D, depending on the problem).

Corey Doctorow made a splash with his neologism enshittification. It’s short, punchy, and has great emotional impact, but the concept is not new. Every public corporation in the Western world has the goal of permanently binding customers to them. They want to be the sole customer for their suppliers. Every company has tried this, for decades if not centuries. Ubiquitous computing and digital distribution of art has given them a huge new tool.

Remember that you don’t write books. You create and license intellectual property. Read the Copyright Handbook. The new edition is on top of my TBR pile.

My strenuous advice to everyone is: do not become dependent upon any one business partner. Be able to pivot at any time. Do not take bad deals that lock you into a single customer or allow others to pillage your intellectual property. Those Spotify terms? They allow any use of your audiobook. Run it through text-to-speech and then through text-to-video AI. Poof, there’s the movie. It’ll be a bad movie, because film is a distinct art from books, but its mere existence will hurt the value of your film rights.

I set up my own bookstore a decade ago, and spent ten years refining it. I turn down bad deals from publishers.

Writing is a long-term game. A career in creativity is the greatest life I can imagine, but it takes decades. If you need money now, rob a billionaire. My goal is to spend the rest of my life doing work that I enjoy. That means telling the exploiters “no.”

Dear writers: Delete your Findaway Voices account NOW

[update in next post]

When Findaway Voices first appeared, it made it comparatively easy for independent authors to do audiobooks. Audio was still hard, mind you, but it was possible.

Spotify bought Findaway. They began playing with payments, refunds, and returns. And now, the licensing terms have changed.

Accordingly, you hereby grant Spotify a non-exclusive, transferable, sublicensable, royalty-free, fully paid, irrevocable, worldwide license to reproduce, make available, perform and display, translate, modify, create derivative works from (such as transcripts of User Content), distribute, and otherwise use any such User Content through any medium, whether alone or in combination with other Content or materials, in any manner and by any means, method or technology, whether now known or hereafter created, in connection with the Service, the promotion, advertising or marketing of the Service, and the operation of Spotify’s (and its successors’ and affiliates’) business, including for systems and products management, improvement and development, testing, training, modeling and implementation in connection with the Spotify Service. Where applicable and to the extent permitted under applicable law, you also agree to waive, and not to enforce, any “moral rights” or equivalent rights, such as your right to object to derogatory treatment of such User Content. Nothing in these Terms prohibits any use of User Content by Spotify that may be taken without a license.

Spotify may now do anything they want with your audiobook. They will–not can, will–feed it to their AI system and use it to rip off your work. They specifically declare you can’t complain about derogatory uses. They can mix your book with work you find abhorrent and release it as a new product. They can use a speech recognition system and create a printed version of your book.

I have one audiobook. I pulled it from distribution when the royalties problems started and I stopped getting paid. That audiobook became exclusive to my store on 17 January 2023. It has fewer sales, but I’ve made more than I did in all the years before. (“But exposure,” some folks will say. People die of exposure.)

It’s not enough to stop distributing your work via Findaway. If you use them to store your audio files and nothing else, the new terms apply. They have no automatic option to delete titles from their site. I just sent this email to their technical support.


Findaway’s new terms of service are unacceptable. Please delete my
book and my entire account.

Thank you.

No need to be rude. It’s not the tech support flunky’s fault.

Also, I’m super happy with how my one lone audiobook came out. If it sold more, I’d do more.

At long last: the MWL Title Index

I try to hold down the amount of information on this site. I truly do. I also try to keep the menus at the top no more than one layer deep. But finding individual titles on my web site has become increasingly difficult. People complain that they can’t find titles. Everything is filed logically, but logic is limited. Is “PAM Mastery” a sysadmin tool or an operating system reference? Should “$ git commit murder” be filed under crime novels or software crimes?

I maintain the official title list in my OID, accessible to the world via a trivial SNMP query. That MIB doesn’t have links, though. It never will. I’m not rewriting my OID if I need to reorganize my web site.

Here’s the brand-new comprehensive title index. Tech books, short stories and novels, the Canadian Version of ZFS Mastery, TTRPGs, it’s all there. Sort by title or release date or length or genre, you can find it all and a link to the book’s entry.

Most short stories that were released as standalones were pulled into collections, so those entries link to the collection. The point of the index is so that you can acquire a Thing, whatever the Thing is. Or learn that the Thing is utterly unavailable.

This also served as a double-check of my web site. To my shock, everything I know about has an entry. I’m not saying this is everything–I have no idea what I’ve forgotten. But what I know about, I have claimed.

Why do this now? I had to hire help to accomplish it. No way I was dredging through all this crap.

Terry Pratchett Discworld Bundle vs DRM

Terry Pratchett was one of the most brilliant writers of the last hundred years. I own everything he ever published, in print, a worthy investment of several feet of precious shelf space. Tattered SFBC hardcovers from the 1980s with feebly-glued pages covered in faded dust jackets, battered paperbacks smuggled from Canada, spiffy hardcovers from when the world realized his work was amazing. I have it all. (If you’ve never read Pratchett, Wikipedia has a handy flowchart to help you decide where to start.)

HarperCollins launched a Terry Pratchett Discworld ebook Humble Bundle. You can get all the Discworld novels for $18, minus the oddities like “The Science of Discworld.” I’ve been waiting for an ebook bundle like this. I naturally grabbed it.

BUT–getting the actual ebook files is a right pain.

HarperCollins is one of those big publishers that think everything needs DRM, and they came up with a convoluted dance to comply with it. Sort of.

The books are delivered via Kobo. You don’t need a Kobo account, although if you have one that’s dandy. You can download the books, except what you download isn’t the book. You download an Adobe DRM file, usable by Adobe Digital Editions. Open that file in ADE, and Adobe sends you an unencumbered epub.

I had to switch to the Windows machine to do this. ADE is so clunky, halfway through downloading these 38 books I had to reboot the whole computer. Then I passed them through Calibre’s DeDRM_tools plugin to get the actual files.

Pratchett is worth it, of course. But he deserves better. And so do we.

If HC wants to compete with stolen ebooks, they need a better system.

My web store does not do everything I would hope. Ideally, you would give me money and the epub would appear on your device automagically. But at the moment, “give me money and get a link to the epub” is looking pretty dang good.

2023 Income Sources

Here’s where my income came from in 2023. (For newcomers, I’ve done these posts for the last few years.)

I’m a writer. My income comes from writing books and making them available. I publish both independently and through publishers. I don’t consult. I don’t seek out speaking fees. I desire to make my living as an author, creating and licensing intellectual property. I make my books available in every channel that offers reasonable terms.

Whenever I share actual dollar figures, people inform me that I can’t possibly be making that much, or that I don’t deserve to make that much, or demand I share “the secret.” The first two are not worth my time, and I’ve been trying to tell everyone the dang secret for years: keep writing, with an attitude of deliberate practice. Nothing productive can come from such discussions, so I don’t say.

How did 2023 look?

My income was flat with 2022 and 2019. While the Great Locked Inside Reading Surge of 2020-2021 supplemented my emergency fund, my income is back at its baseline. I’d like more, sure, but I have achieved Enough. Not bad for a year without many books.

Here’s the detail.

Amazon – 28.87%
Trad Pub – 17.55%
TWP direct sales – 15.29%
TWP sponsorship – 12.00%
TWP patronizer – 7.42%
IngramSpark – 5.54%
Kickstarter – 5.46%
Patreon – 4.56%
Gumroad – 1.53%
Apple – 0.70%
Kobo – 0.50%
Google – 0.37%
Draft2Digital – 0.17%
Aerio – 0.03%
Barnes & Noble – 0.01%

Can I draw any conclusions from this?

My web site (TWP, or Tilted Windmill Press) is again this year’s star. The combination of direct sales, sponsors, and my homebrew Patreon is 34.71% of my income, a couple points over last year. It’s built on Woocommerce with a handful of commercial plugins that total about $600 a year. My business goal is to get folks to buy directly from me rather than retailers, so I’m content but not satisfied.

Amazon is at 28.87%, down a couple points from last year. There’s reasons for that. They don’t have rights to distribute my newest tech book on Kindle. They’ve retaliated by deprioritizing the title in their listings. I’m not crying; I consider Amazon a discovery platform, an entry point to the Reader Acquisition Funnel. I neither love nor hate Amazon. They’re merely a retailer who offers a nonnegotiable take-it-or-leave-it deal. I accept or reject that deal on a case-by-case basis. Losing them as a channel would send me back to the “yellow zone” emergency budget, but we’d survive just fine.

Kickstarter is down, but I only ran campaigns for short story collections. My private Patronizer program grew a point, but that’s a wobble not a trend. Traditional publishing income is up, thanks to a Humble Bundle.

Then there’s the “below two percent” retailers. Gumroad, because they handle VAT for European readers. I want all the readers and Apple, Kobo, and Google serve readers other retailers don’t reach. They’re small, but those nickels spend. Unless things change, this will be the last year I report Barnes & Noble. I spent many happy hours in the 90s and the 00s wandering their aisles and I would like them to be successful for old times’ sake, but they’re just not managing it and their numbers depress me.

Here’s what the last five years have looked like. I have excluded the tiny channels.

It’s hard to call most of these lines “trends.” If you aggregate the various options from my web site, though, you can see a couple things.

Having fewer entities on this graph makes a couple things clear. I dislike that IngramSpark is shrinking year over year. I use IS to fulfill non-Amazon paperback orders and all hardcovers, so this is either an indication that either brick-and-mortar bookstores are struggling, or that I haven’t released a “hit” in a couple years. Which is it?

It also shows that my direct-to-reader business efforts are working. Readers are willing to do business directly with writers. They like supporting individual authors.

What does the swell in trad pub mean? It means that I need multiple sources of income. I have no way to control which business partner will prosper and which will pull a Wile E Coyote. No matter what, I must be able to pay the mortgage.

How much do I make off of sponsorships and Patronizers, as opposed to retailers? Fair question. Let’s see.

After a few years of growth, the non-retail income is down. Sponsorships and Patronizers were up, but Kickstarter was down (again, because I didn’t run a big one). The vital lesson here is:

if I don’t put broadly interesting product in front of people, I don’t get paid.

Now that I’ve shared the secret, it’s time to double-check last year’s expenses. Income is great, but it’s expenses that destroy you.