Shipping OMF

I spent today dealing with the “OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems” sponsor, Patronizer, and pre-order shipments.

The first lesson I’ve learned is, I was too flexible for someone so easily perplexed. If I do pre-orders again folks will get the option to buy just the one book, in paperback or hardcover. That’s it. Checking and double-checking all the possible option takes up a lot of brain space.

More annoyingly, I’ve had to delay a full third of my non-US #omfilesystems preorders, and a few of the US ones, because folks didn’t include a recipient phone number in their order info.

Data is like medical radioactives in the oncology ward; necessary, but I want as little of it as possible and must dispose of it safely. I have no desire for phone numbers.

For some destinations, however, I must provide the carrier a recipient phone number before they’ll sell me postage. I have no way to tell if I’ll need a phone number until I try to buy postage.

I don’t want to demand phone numbers for everyone. I actively want to not require that information.

But I’ve spent hours today chasing folks for phone numbers, interrupting my flow of packaging because someone kindly got back to me ASAP and I really do want to get these out of my house and in your paws.

I fear I’ll need to make the hard choice next time I open sponsorships. Ah, well.

But I have all the sponsor, Patronizer, and multi-book pre-orders packed and either picked up or ready for pickup. What remains is single-book shipments, plus all the folks who owe me phone numbers. I’m calling it for the day.

“OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems” hardcovers are here

By “here,” I mean “in my living room.

64 of them. A nice even number!

I’ll be packing Patronizer and sponsor books first, then complicated preorders, then single-copy preorders. I don’t know if I’ll have them all done today. I might. Paperbacks arrive tomorrow, so I hope so.

You know, maybe one of these days I can do some writing? Sigh…

Updates to Print Bookstore and FAQ

I’ve sold print books via Aerio for a few years, but they are shutting down at the end of February. I just overhauled every single book entry on my site to point print sales at my new bookshop.org bookstore. Sales through this store pay me a larger cut than sales through other print bookstores, even though I don’t ever touch the books. You’ll pay shipping charges, however, so anything bought there is a pure Lucas Charity Purchase. Some folks buy under those terms, though, and I appreciate them, so it was worth switching.

Auditing my web site for references to Aerio led me to review my FAQ. I’ve made some updates for the pandemic age, updated and clarified a few Q&As, and puttered with the text.

The One Lone Audiobook now exclusive on my store

I started work on the Savaged by Systemd audiobook in the summer of 2019, thinking it was short enough to be affordable, long enough to be a legit audiobook, and the right length to listen to on a commute. As an SbS audiobook is completely ridiculous, I planned to release it on 1 April 2020. I had no idea that commuting would no longer be a thing in 2020. Ah, well. I uploaded it to the various stores and forgot about it.

The audiobook was available in every store I could reach, but the biggest retailer is Audible. I supposedly get 25% of cover price on every sale. This is atrocious. They claim to have sold 48 copies, which should get me about $119.

A quick check shows I’ve received less than half of that, because Audible’s policies make the 25% payment optional.

Most of the other stores pay about 40% of cover price, but their sales are negligible.

I have pulled the audiobook from all retailers, effective today. Some stores might still have copies, but as the databases churn they should disappear. Audible in particular is being difficult, because they can’t imagine anyone deciding to stop doing business with them so they don’t provide an “unpublish” option. (I contacted their helpdesk, which gave me the secret email address to contact, who will send me questing to collect three tokens from the Fallen Angels of… well, you get the idea.)

Instead, it’s now exclusively on my bookstore. You can listen in the BookFunnel app, a browser, or download DRM-free MP3.

It’s not that I expected this audiobook to sell millions. It was an investment in exploring audiobook technology. J Daniel Sawyer charged very reasonable rates to record and produce it. I am pleased with the end product. It would be nice if the audiobook would sell enough to repay that investment. That’s impossible if the main sales channel is Audible.

BookFunnel, my ebook distributor, recently opened an audiobook beta. It’s free while in beta, but will cost $10/month when it enters production. That’s enough time for me to test passive sales through my site. Selling 13 audiobooks in a year will let me start to pay back the investment.

Will I do more audiobooks in the future? Unlikely. I’m a fringe author. My books don’t sell enough to justify audiobooks. I could save a bunch of money by using AI narration, but you might as well use your ereader’s text-to-speech feature. Voice actors, real live humans with emotions and inflection and character, are the whole point of audiobooks.

I’ll post a follow-up in a few months.

Also: 1 April pranks should have meat on them. This one generated so many agonized groans that I heard them echo in from all around the world. Worth it.

2022 Income Sources

Here’s where my money came from in 2022. (For those seeing these for the first time, I did similar posts in 2019, 2020, and 2021.)

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.

How did 2022 look?

First off, my income is down about 20% since 2021. This is not a surprise. In 2020 and 2021, lots of folks stayed home and read. In 2022, pandemic or not, people sick of the isolation burst out into the world and read less. But the percentages might interest you.

Here’s the detail.

    Amazon – 31.35%
    Direct Sales – 18.57%
    Kickstarter – 10.01%
    Trad Pub – 9.77%
    IngramSpark – 7.60%
    Direct Patronizers – 6.34%
    Sponsorship – 5.33%
    Patreon – 4.53%
    Direct Preorders – 2.38%
    Gumroad – 1.41%
    Apple – 0.87%
    Aerio – 0.66%
    Kobo – 0.63%
    Google – 0.36%
    Draft2Digital – 0.11%
    Barnes & Noble – 0.06%
    Redbubble – 0.01%
    Findaway – 0.01%

Here’s my rough conclusions.

First and foremost, I want to draw attention to income through my web site. Direct sales, 18.57%. Direct Patronizers, 6.34%. Sponsorships, 5.33%, and direct preorders, 2.38%. Taken all together, 32.62% of my income coming from sales through my web site.

Amazon provides 31.35%.

Amazon is no longer my biggest income source. I’m gonna say that again.

AMAZON IS NO LONGER MY BIGGEST INCOME SOURCE.

My biggest source of income is now my web site. People paying me directly. My goal of disintermediation works.

Yes, they’re only 1.27% apart. It’s a win by a nose. But I’ll take it.

This is personally important right now because I’m cutting Amazon off as a distributor of my new tech ebooks. OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems will not be available on Amazon’s Kindle store. You can get Kindle copies everywhere but Amazon. Achieving this right now means it’s a fair comparison.

Mind you, it’s not entirely fair.

I have a Patreon, but I also host a Patreon-like program on my web site. To be a sincerely fair comparison, I would have to combine the Amazon and Patreon income. I haven’t done that math, because I have the answer I want. My web site brings in more than Amazon, I’m content.

For the record, I neither hate nor love Amazon. They are a retailer. They offer a variety of no-negotiation deals. I accept some. I reject others. I must not become dependent on, nor vulnerable to, any one business partner. Losing Amazon would hurt. I’d survive.

Kickstarter income for Prohibition Orcs is number three, but that’s deceptive. Kickstarters have fulfillment costs. I’ll post details on those once the campaign closes, but here’s a taste.

Between Kickstarter backers and Patronizers, that’s fifty Orcibuses I must mail. (Which reminds me, I must add the Orcibus to my web site. It’s a backer exclusive and not commercially available, but I should acknowledge it.) They cost over $600 to print, let alone mail. Most of these will get orc-leather covers.

So, yeah. Kickstarter is great, except for the ratio of income to expenses. The discoverability is delightful, though.

Traditional publishing income isn’t very large but to be fair, I haven’t published anything traditionally for a few years. I’m in discussions to do so, however.

IngramSpark is “print paperback sales outside of Amazon, and all hardcovers.” Definitely worth doing. I use Amazon’s print program for paperbacks sold within Amazon.

After that, we have the smaller players. Gumroad, Apple, Kobo, Draft2Digital, and so on are ebook retailers. Are these tiny places worth selling through? Absolutely. Those nickels spend. If you bought the best ereader on the market and shop the Kobo store, I want you to buy my books.

The last item here, Findaway? That’s for audiobooks. Audiobook, really. I only have one. This math has made up my mind, however. Authors have reported problems with audiobook accounting for years now, and I believe I’ve sold more than one audiobook in the last year. I’ll be pulling the Savaged by Systemd audiobook from Audible and all other retail channels and making it an exclusive on my web site.

I’ve done these analyses for four years. That’s a little early to start looking for trends, but graphs are easy to create so let’s try it.

Here are the trends over the last four years. For legibility, I have excluded all the sub-1% channels.

It’s a bit much to call any of these entries “trends.” Kickstarter, direct Patronizers, and direct preorders have squeezed other channels down. But if I aggregate all of the items I offer through my web site, there’s something slightly interesting.

Each year I add options to my web store, like offering bundles of all the tech books and all the novels and collections. I thought nobody would buy either, and that maintaining them would be more work than they were worth. I was wrong. The more different types of stuff I offer for direct sale, the bigger share of my income comes from my web site. Imagine that.

One could argue that Kickstarter and standard Patreon should count as disintermediated. Both offer far better deals than I get from any standard book retailer, and Kickstarter seems great for discovery. Both are external web sites, external dependencies, so they are absolutely not disintermediated.

I could count those as “non-retailer” income, however. (My web site is a retailer from where you sit, but my business does not consider it as such.) Let’s see what that does to the graph.

This looks like… a trend?

Non-retailer income is now 47%. Almost half. And consistently increasing. Yes, these sales cannibalize my retailer sales, but Amazon pays me about 70% of cover price and my store pays me about 95% so I can’t complain.

I am stunned. This is incredibly cool. I can’t walk away from retail, but perhaps one day I can somehow deprioritize it.

The truth is, I can take no credit for this trend. My readers looked at their options and said “Yeah, let’s give him our cash directly.” I built it. You came. Thank you.

Part of me still wants to shout “GAZE UPON MY WORKS, YE BEZOS, AND DESPAIR.” Who am I kidding, though? Amazon does not care. I am not worth an hour of a helpdesk tech’s time.

But I care. A lot. Thank you all.

(PS: Someone always asks, “Why don’t you share actual dollar figures?” Declaring my income inevitably leads to people telling me that I can’t possibly be making that much, other people telling me I don’t deserve to make that much, and still other people trying to get “the secret” out of me. It not only steals my time, it increases my annoyance. Not worth it. I will say that I make less than I would in any tech position, but more than most authors.)

Why “OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems” is not in Amazon’s Kindle store

I expect folks to ask this, so here’s a pre-emptive blog post.

You can get OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems for Kindle direct from me at Tilted Windmill Press or at Gumroad. You can get a Kindle-friendly ebook from any number of other retailers, but while they’re all supposed to be DRM-free I can’t advise on prying the file out of another vendor’s ecosystem. The one place you cannot buy OMF for Kindle is Amazon’s Kindle bookstore.

TLDR: Amazon pays roughly 70% of retail price for books priced up to $9.99, and 35% for books $10 and over. Amazon is the only retailer that does this. Other retailers, I make somewhere around 65%-70% no matter the retail price. Everything follows from that math, but if you want the details read on.

According to economists, prices have gone up about 30% since I started releasing the Mastery books. According to my wallet, not so much. In 2012 I could get a cheap lunch for my wife and I for $10. I paid $18 last weekend. But let’s go with the official numbers. Just as “dime novels” now cost $10, I must raise prices. While book pricing is hotly debated, $11.99 is a reasonable price for a short tech book like OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems.

If I charge $9.99 for this ebook, I make about $7.

If I charge $11.99 for the ebook, I make about $8.40 everywhere but Amazon. At Amazon, I make $4.20. For me to make that $8.40 at Amazon, I must price the book at $23.99. I’m fond of the book, but it ain’t worth that! And if I did, giving Amazon a $15.59 slice of every sale for no reason sticks in my craw.

Charge $23.99 at Amazon and $11.99 elsewhere? Amazon’s program has a Most Favored Nation clause. They can price match any other major vendor.

Will Amazon change their business because of this? No. Authors are plentiful and of low value. I am not worth Amazon’s time.

Amazon’s business model is based on squeezing prices down, and they play a long game. I don’t expect them to ever raise that $9.99 limit. A novel might sell tens or hundreds of thousands of copies. If I’m lucky, a book like OpenBSD Mastery: Filesystems might sell four thousand. The few extra bucks I’ll make by raising prices are important. That’s also why I’ve focused so hard on disintermediation through my Patronizers, sponsorships, and lately Kickstarter.

I have been expecting this for years now. I do not expect to publish future Mastery books on Amazon’s Kindle store, unless by some chance I write another very short one.

I Eat Salmon Ice Cream

There’s about sixty hours to go on the Prohibition Orcs kickstarter. I haven’t done the math yet, because the campaign is not over yet and I don’t have money in hand, but it appears that I’ll net about as much on this Kickstarter as I would selling the books to a midsized publisher.

The Kickstarter is undoubtedly a huge amount of work. But it’s less mental labor than selling the books to a publisher, negotiating a contract, and interfacing with that publisher’s staff to shepherd them into print.

I’m calling this a win. Plus, a sane normal publisher won’t give me fancy leather covers.

Yes, this post is here to remind followers that the campaign is about to end and you should back now if you’re going to. I also wanted to mention my live reading of the PO tale Woolen Torment.

And finally, the subject of this post.

One of the Kickstarter stretch goals was recipes. A “friend” of mine saw that and decided he would contribute, by making orcish ice cream. Four different kinds. I tried them. On camera. Live. For your amusement. Content warnings for phrases like “punt it into the Sun” and “lick the bottom of the rat cage.”

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/mwlucas/prohibition-orcs/posts/3571090

I feel compelled to share this. After all, many of my readers love to watch me suffer.

Kickstarter and Blockchain

The fact that I don’t support and won’t use environmentally disastrous cryptocurrency and distributed blockchains is not a secret. I’ve also said that I plan to start using Kickstarter more often. Kickstarter has said they have a blockchain strategy. Are my stances contradictory?

Not yet, but they might be in the future.

One of the many annoying things about large companies are the busybodies who don’t really know the company’s business or how the trade works, but have leverage and demand that the firm be buzzword-compliant. These busybodies include but are not limited to investors, brokers, and auditors.

“Blockchain” and “cryptocurrency” are buzzwords. Busybodies are demanding that all their firms have strategies for them.

When a busybody demands you become buzzword-compliant with something that’s irrelevant to your business, what do you do?

The first step is to see if you’re already technically buzzword compliant. Do you have an existing system or product that fits that buzzword?

About ten years ago, systems that let you identify and track intruders were big news. I was in a meeting where an important client asked if we had that ability. My employer had no intrusion detection system. Most of the corporate hosts had to reside on the public Internet, without even an external packet filter. We had invested zero in dedicated intrusion analysis capability.

Nevertheless, I answered “yes.” Truthfully.

I had not installed our flow sensors for the primary purpose of identifying intrusions, but I certainly used them as such. The boss picked up on it and said, “We employ the man who literally wrote the book on the topic.” The client shut up and moved on. Zero-effort buzzword compliance, there.

Suppose you don’t have an existing system that fits the buzzword? Further, suppose that the buzzword is utterly irrelevant to your business but the busybodies demand that you have a strategy for that buzzword? You engage in Performative Buzzword Compliance.

Figure out the minimum amount of effort that you can spend on the buzzword, and the minimum amount of resources you can “invest” in it. Take an employee who is temporarily dysfunctional because they’ve been diagnosed with cancer or have a newborn or care more about their side gig writing than your stupid job. Tell them to spend one hour a week keeping up on the tech and brainstorming what the company might do with it.

This lets you perform Performative Buzzword Compliance. You publicly issue:

  1. A press release
  2. A FAQ about your efforts.
  3. A statement that you have dedicated staff to the task.
  4. If the buzzword is actively harmful, all of these must address the harm and state that your approach will negate those harmful effects.
  5. A vague lie that it will revolutionize your business.

You tell your busybodies that you have a buzzword strategy.

And you move on.

I am not authoritatively declaring that Kickstarter has done this. I have no inside knowledge.

I will say that Kickstarter’s public statements show all the signs of Performative Buzzword Compliance.

They have a press release and a FAQ. They’ve said folks are working on this. The FAQ says that their blockchain is special, and won’t destroy the planet.

The last point is the most important here. When Kickstarter said that they were starting a blockchain project, the general reaction among users was “why?” Kickstarter’s FAQ lists the problems their blockchain will help with, and most of them are not technical problems with Kickstarter itself. Yes, rewards can be delayed. That sucks. Blockchain won’t help. Yes, spreading the word is hard. Blockchain won’t help with that either. And so on.

Can Kickstarter admit this? No. The first rule of performative compliance is you don’t admit you’re doing it.

But after decades in tech, my nose is highly attuned to performative compliance. This stinks of it.

Every company will have a blockchain strategy. Ford Motor Company has one, Fiat has one, and General Motors has one. Blockchain is wholly irrelevant in automotive, but the busybodies demand a strategy. Amazon’s blockchain strategy is to sell managed blockchain services–they know the tech is not useful to their business, but they’re gonna make money off the suckers and simultaneously satisfy the busybodies.

Don’t dismiss an organization for buzzword compliance.

See what they’re doing with the buzzword.

At this time, I see no sign that Kickstarter is actually doing blockchain. Like many businesses, they are miming blockchain.

Given current knowledge, I intend to run three Kickstarters in 2022. If Kickstarter’s blockchain strategy starts spewing carbon and heat, I will change my plans.

2021 Income Sources

In 2019 and 2020, I published posts on where folks buy my books. People seem interested, so I’m doing it again for 2021. I suspect that covid is skewing the data, but perhaps this is simply the new normal.

My income still comes from writing books. I don’t consult. I don’t generally accept speaking fees. (I did make a couple hundred bucks speaking to a lunchtime crowd at a big tech firm this year, but that was a rare event and I have no particular desire to do it again.) I desire to make my living as an author, creating and licensing intellectual property. For the writers out there, I’m a hybrid wide author. I want my books available in every channel that offers reasonable terms.

How did 2021 look?

  • Amazon – 33.94%
  • Royalties – 17.74%
  • Direct sales – 15.63%
  • Ingramspark – 8.15%
  • Kickstarter – 6.38%
  • Patreon – 4.68%
  • Sponsorships – 4.42%
  • Direct patronizers – 4.24%
  • Gumroad – 1.91%
  • Apple – 1.05%
  • Kobo – 0.61%
  • Aerio – 0.57%
  • Google – 0.32%
  • Draft2Digital – 0.27%
  • tips – 0.13%
  • Barnes & Noble – 0.07%
  • Redbubble – 0.05%

Everything that’s listed here is part of my deliberate publishing strategy. My minuscule affiliate income and other minor streams are excluded. I use them, and every so often someone drops fifty bucks in my bank account, but they are not part of my strategy.

Amazon is still my biggest single distributor. I do not prioritize them, or use their exclusive programs like Kindle Unlimited. Indeed, I want to reduce the amount I sell through Amazon and increase other channels. This percentage is basically unchanged since last year. It appears to be the natural floor. Next year might be different, though. OpenBSD Storage Mastery will be on Amazon in print, but not on Kindle. Kindle users will be able to buy Kindle versions in lots of places, just not on Amazon.

Royalties are traditional publishing income. This is slightly up from last year, thanks to me selling short stories to Fiction River as well as the Absolute books going into Humble Bundles. Can’t knock that.

Direct sales are up a few points over 2020, which was up a few points over 2019. Good. Disintermediation remains my primary goal. Increasing this share makes me happy. I will continue to improve my bookstore to make this easier.

On the other paw, my IngramSpark share is down. IS handles non-Amazon print sales. People are not visiting bookstores, so this is not a surprise.

Kickstarter is a new category for me. It worked. This category is a little weird, though. While the other channels are raw income, this bucket includes the money I must spend to print and ship books. I plan to experiment more with Kickstarter, and perhaps even offer Kickstarter-like functionality on my own store.

At first glance, it looks like income from my Patronizers has plunged since 2020. Look a little further down, though, and you’ll see the share of income from my direct patronage makes up for it. My experiment in offering direct patronage sales hasn’t quite broken even, but it’s been successful enough that I’m willing to give it another year and see if I can grow it. Even if I can’t boost that any further, diversifying patronage sources and disintermediating roughly half of my backers is inherently worthwhile.

My Patronizers get a horrid deal, by the way. I don’t recommend it. But I appreciate every single Patronizer.

Sponsorship income is down, but I only had one book on sponsorship in 2020. If I want more sponsors, I must write more. That’s a goal for 2022. I’ll be using pre-scheduled Internet blocking software to reduce distraction.

I’m not going to go through the other channels one at a time. I will quote Blaze Ward in saying, “them nickles spend.” My comments on all of these are basically unchanged from previous years. I do wish Barnes and Noble would rise from the dead, though. I fondly remember wandering through their shelves, and deciding I would rather read a favorite author’s new book than eat.

So, to sum up:

  • If I lost any one channel, I would endure (yay)!
  • Disintermediate. Sell as directly to your customers as possible.
  • Try new things. Like Kickstarter. Or dropping Amazon Kindle as a distributor for a new book.

What else is coming up in 2022? More books. Print price increases. Gelato. Staying home, making words, and avoiding unclean idiots who choose to not get vaccinated.

Screwing Up, and Recovering

I scheduled an all-Patronizer video hangout for last Saturday, and didn’t show up. This is obviously unacceptable. I’ve already apologized to my Patronizers on the various sites they back me on, but I wanted to blog about dealing with this kind of screwup.

The root cause was pretty simple: my house has been full of workmen for several days, busting concrete and ripping out walls to fix a tiny leak in 70-year-old plumbing. It was either that, or let the bathroom fall into the basement. I am not accustomed to jackhammers under my feet. My nerves were, to put it mildly, frayed. I completely forgot about the video hangout, and decided to go to the dojo to work off some stress. I remembered about the hangout right before parking.

How do I keep this from happening again, and minimize the impact in case I do?

First, I have installed Zoom on my phone. If I forget about a hangout, I can now join from anywhere.

Second, my most consistent attendee now has my phone number. If I’m 15 minutes late to a hangout, he will call me.

Third, I must ensure that when I create the meeting in Zoom, the waiting room is disabled. If I don’t show up for hangout, people can talk to each other while my Designated External Memory calls to poke me. I’m looking for a way to make this the default for all meetings I create, because any process that relies on my brain is doomed to fail.

I have already scheduled a make-up hangout for next Saturday, so that my Patronizers can chide me in person.

When I became a full-time writer, I thought I would leave root cause failure analysis and remediation behind. Silly me.