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"Blockade Billy," Stephen King’s Macabre New Novella with a Baseball Backdrop, Available Now in the Kindle Store with Buzz-worthy Publication Details

By Stephen Windwalker
Originally posted April 20, 2010

Ur, Er, Play Ball!

Stephen King has served up a nice fat pitch for Kindle owners to hit out of the park with what appears for now to be the Kindle-only publication of a macabre new novella with a baseball backdrop, and the details of the release — discussed below — are likely to create serious buzz among readers, authors, publishers, and retailers. (Update: Blockade Billy is beginning to turn up at various prices at other ebook venues including Sony and B&N, but is still unavailable at the iBooks Store).

Kindle owners may remember Mr. King, a novelist who makes his home in Bangor, Maine, but spends many hours each Spring, Summer, and Fall in a pretty good seat at Boston’s Fenway Park. A little over 14 months ago King traveled to New York to appear on stage with Jeff Bezos for the launching event of the Kindle 2 and of Ur, a novella that featured excellent product placement for a Kindle that was, perhaps to some tastes, pretty in pink.

Later in 2009, Kindle-packing King fans were disappointed when King’s bestseller Under the Dome was one of the first books to be “windowed,” i.e., withheld in ebook format to give its hardcover launch a better chance. Today’s announcement of the Kindle availability of Blockade Billy, five weeks ahead of the book’s scheduled May 25 hardcover release, suggests an instance of reverse windowing that is unlikely to be upsetting to Kindle readers.

It appears that King has bifurcated or trifurcated his negotiation of book contracts for Blockade Billy, and published the Kindle edition under his own Storyville imprint, for which the only other Kindle publication has been Ur. Amazon has, at this point, discounted Blockade Billy‘s hardcover pre-order price by 33% from $14.99 to $10.11, and set a Kindle price of $7.99. Amazon’s product pages for the novella show Storyville as the Kindle-format publisher, no publisher line for the forthcoming hardcover, and Simon & Schuster as the publisher for a forthcoming audio CD release, scheduled for May 25 at a price of $19.99.

In addition to the discounted hardcover, Amazon’s news release and its website reference a limited edition hardcover that may have already sold out at a $25 price from tiny Maryland-based horror publisher Cemetery Dance Publications, with illustrations by Alex McVey.  The product page for the Kindle edition shows that the Kindle’s text-to-speech feature is enabled for Blockade Billy.

Under the Dome, one of the books at the center of a price war between Amazon and some big-box retailers last fall, was widely discounted then to prices below $10 in both its hardcover and ebook formats. Its Kindle edition is currently priced at $16.99 under the agency model, with a hardcover price discounted from $35 to $20 and paperback pre-orders discounted from $19.99 to $13.99 ahead of their July 6 release.

Your humble reporter’s initial research indicates that, as of 9 a.m. April 20, 2010, Blockade Billy is not available in Apple’s iBooks Store. That could change at any time, and Amazon’s news release does not refer to the novella as a Kindle exclusive. (Update: Blockade Billy is beginning to turn up at various prices at other ebook venues including Sony and B&N, but is still unavailable at the iBooks Store).

However, as long as Blockade Billy effectively remains a Kindle exclusive, not only is it likely to help Amazon sell Kindles but, just as importantly, it is likely that to drive iPad owners to the Kindle for iPad app and increase public awareness that the Kindle Store provides iPad owners with a free catalog-rich, convenient “No Kindle Required” reading environment.

Here’s the guts of today’s news release from Amazon:

Bestselling and Iconic Author Stephen King Publishes New Novella “Blockade Billy,” Available in the Kindle Store


Kindle customers can now download Stephen King’s “Blockade Billy” and begin reading in under 60 seconds
SEATTLE, Apr 20, 2010 (BUSINESS WIRE) –Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) today announced that the new novella by bestselling author Stephen King, “Blockade Billy,” is now available in Amazon’s Kindle Store (www.amazon.com/kindlestore) for $7.99. The Kindle Store now includes over 480,000 books and the largest selection of the most popular books people want to read, including New York TimesBestsellersand New Releases. Over 1.8 million free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books are also available to read on Kindle, including titles such as “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” “Pride and Prejudice” and “Treasure Island.”

“We’re excited to be able to offer our customers Stephen King’s new novella in the Kindle Store, especially after seeing customer enthusiasm for King’s Kindle-exclusive novella ‘UR,'” said Melissa Kirmayer, Director, Kindle Content. “‘Blockade Billy,’ a shorter format book with a limited physical print run, is not only a great example of the publishing freedom Kindle allows writers, but also the rich content Kindle customers can find in the Kindle Store.”

“Blockade Billy” tells the story of William “Blockade Billy” Blakely. He may have been the greatest baseball player the game has ever seen, but today no one remembers his name. He was the first–and only–player to have his existence completely removed from the record books. Even his team is long forgotten, barely a footnote in the game’s history. Blockade Billy has a secret darker than any pill or injection that might cause a scandal in sports today. His secret was much, much worse… and only Stephen King can reveal the truth to the world, once and for all. Publishers Weekly writes of the book: “As King’s fiction goes . . . a deftly executed suicide squeeze, with sharp spikes hoisted high and aimed at the jugular on the slide home.”

The Kindle edition of “Blockade Billy” features both the cover illustration by Glen Orbik and the interior artwork of Alex McVey from the limited-edition hardcover published by Cemetery Dance Publications.

Stephen King has written more than 40 books, including “Misery,” “The Green Mile,” “Cujo,” “IT” and “Carrie.” He is the winner of numerous awards, including the Bram Stoker Award, O. Henry Award, Horror Guild Award and was the 2003 recipient of the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters.

“Kindle is a great way for authors to make different lengths of their writing available and to reach diverse audiences with their work,” said Stephen King. “I’m excited to be able to offer ‘Blockade Billy’ in the Kindle Store.”

Kindle is in stock and available for immediate shipment today at www.amazon.com/kindle

Guest Post: Flash! Amazon lists states and publishers for sales tax

(Editor’s Note: The following post originally appeared at Bufo Calvin’s I Love My Kindle blog and is reprinted here with his permission in a generous effort to help maintain my peace of mind during what I hope will be a brief absence due to my hip replacement surgery. –S.W.)

By Bufo Calvin

This is a great move by Amazon!  They have now updated their Help pages to tell you in which states publishers under the agency model are considered to have a physical presence:
This is an excerpt from the page:
  • Hachette Digital, Inc.: AL, AZ, CO, CT, DC, HI, ID, IN, KY, LA, ME, MS, NC, NE, NJ, NM, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WI and WY
  • Harper Collins Publishers, LLC: All states other than AK, AL, AZ, DE, HI, MT, NH, NV, OK, OR, SD, VT and WY 
  • Simon & Schuster Digital Sales, Inc.: All states other than AK, DE, MT, NH, and OR 
  • Macmillan: AZ, CO, CT, DC, HI, IN, KY, ME, MS, NC, NE, NJ, NM, SD, TN, TX, UT, VT, WA, WI and WY
Again, basically what’s happening here is that under a new arrangement, you are not buying e-books published by these publishers from Amazon, you are buying them from the publisher and Amazon is just processing the sale.

On Amazon’s product page for the book, it will tell you which publisher set the price…if you live in a state in which that publisher has a presence, and if your state collects tax on e-books, you’ll pay the sales tax when you buy the book.

Those listed are four of the “Apple 5″.  Penguin is not listed there because they have not yet reached an agreement with Amazon.  It’s interesting to me that Workman and Perseus aren’t listed, although they have reportedly reached an agreement with Apple.  They may just not have reached one with Amazon yet.

For more information on the “agency model” that is precipitating this, see this previous post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared on April 7, 2010 in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Guest Post: Frequently Asked Kindle Questions: Special Agency Model Edition

(Editor’s Note: The following post originally appeared at Bufo Calvin’s I Love My Kindle blog and is reprinted here with his permission in a generous effort to help maintain my peace of mind during what I hope will be a brief absence due to my hip replacement surgery. –S.W.)

By Bufo Calvin

Q. What is the agency model?
A. It’s a new arrangement between publishers and booksellers.

Q. How does it work?
A. Rather than publishers selling copies of books to booksellers, and booksellers selling them to customers, publishers are selling the books directly to customers.

Q. So, I’m going to buy my books directly from Simon & Schuster and Macmillan?
A. Yes, but you’ll do it through stores like Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  The booksellers will process the sale, but you’ll really be buying it from the publisher.

Q. I can just shop through Amazon for my Kindle just like I did before, then?
A. Yes.

Q. If that’s the case, why does it matter to me?
A. Some publishers have publicly stated concerns about the $9.99 price point Amazon was using for many New York Times bestsellers and current releases.  Since the publishers are now setting the price you pay, prices have gone up in many cases.

Q. But Amazon can still discount them, right?
A. No.  Amazon is just processing the sales for the publisher.  Under that system, Amazon can not charge a different price.

Q. Won’t places like Apple and Barnes & Noble just undercut Amazon then?
A. No.  They are also under the agency model.  The price will be the same at all the bookstores under the agency model.

Q. Wait…so I can’t shop around for a better price?
A. No.  Books under the agency model will cost the same, regardless of your “sales channel”.  Whether you pay for them through Amazon or Apple, you are buying from the publisher.

Q. Isn’t that illegal price-fixing?
A. No.  Price-fixing is when “like entities” get together and decide on a price.  If all the gas stations in your town, regardless of brand, got together and decided to charge ten dollars a gallon, that would be illegal.  You wouldn’t have any choice what to pay.

Q. But I won’t have any choice what I pay in the agency model, right?
A. Not for a specific book from a particular publisher.  But you could buy a different book.  If one publisher charged $25 for all new e-books and another one charged $12.99, you could choose to buy the e-books from the second publisher.

Q. But if I wanted a specific book, like the latest book in a series I’m reading, I’d pay the same price wherever I got it?
A. Yes.

Q. What stops the publisher from charging me $100 for that book?
A. Competition with other publishers.  You might stop buying a particular author and switch to another one.

Q. What if all the publishers charge $100 for a book?
A. They can’t get together and decide to do that.  That would be illegal price-fixing.  They would also lose sales.

Q. Are all the publishers part of this agency model thing?
A. No.  Five of the six biggest publishers in the US are part of it.  Random House has not signed with Apple, and it is a very large publisher.  In addition, many smaller publishers and independent publishers are still under the old “wholesale model”.

Q. Will their prices go up as well?
A. That’s the same situation it was before.  The small publishers and Random House will suggest a price to Amazon and the other retailers, but Amazon can discount it if they want to do that.

Q. Does the agency model affect paperbooks as well?
A. No.

Q. Why not?  If the publishers want it for e-books, why not for paperbooks?
A. The process is different, which presumably makes it different legally.  With a paperbook, the retailer (Amazon, for example) buys the copies from the publisher, and owns them.  They can do whatever they want with them, including selling them to customers.  With e-books, you are dealing with licenses to read the book on a certain number of devices.

Q. Is that the same reason I can’t sell my e-books after I buy them from the Kindle store?
A. Yes.   When you buy a copy of a paperbook, you own that copy.  When you buy an e-book, you are actually buying a non-transferrable license.

Q. But I can loan books with my nook, right?
A. If the publisher allows it, and with several other restrictions.  Not all publishers allow it.

Q. So, paperbooks will still be cheaper at some places like Costco, and may still be discounted at Amazon?
A. Yes.

Q. I noticed I was charged sales tax when I bought a Kindle book.  That’s never happened before.  Is that part of the same thing?
A. Yes.  If your state collects sales tax on e-books, and the publisher has a physical presence in your state (a building or a sales force), Amazon (as a sales agent) can be compelled to collect sales tax for that state.

Q. Wait…how can the publishers tax me?
A. They aren’t taxing you, it’s a question of when the tax is collected.  States ask you to report internet purchases on your tax form and pay the taxes on them if you haven’t already.  They may call it a “use tax”.

Q. Who does that?
A. Apparently, not as many people who should.  That’s why the states want to make someone collect it at the time of sale and send it to them.  They could go after people who don’t report it, but that’s expensive.

Q. So, does this mean Amazon will start collecting sales taxes on my other purchases from them?
A. No.  The agency model means you are buying just e-books from the publishers, so if the publisher has a physical presence in your state, Amazon will have to collect the sales tax on just those purchases.

Q. Amazon is in Seattle, right?   So, have they been collecting sales taxes from customers in Washington before this?
A. Yes.  Also in Kansas, Kentucky, New York, and North Dakota.

Q. But I live in New York and bought something from Amazon and I didn’t pay sales tax…why is that?
A. You may have bought an item that isn’t taxed by New York state.  Not every item is taxed in every state.  Amazon is only compelled to collect the sales tax the state would have collected.

Q. How do I know if Amazon is going to collect sales tax when I’m buying the book?
A. Currently, I believe it is not indicated until after you click the 1-click button.

Q. That seems sneaky…what if I think that makes the book cost too much?
A. Amazon is not choosing whether or not you pay the sales tax: just whether or not they collect it, so it doesn’t technically make a difference in the price. You can always “return” a Kindle store book within seven days of purchase for a refund by contacting Customer Service.

Q. How did this whole agency thing get started?
A. Apparently, it came about when Apple offered the deal to the publishers in conjunction with the iBooks store, which is connected to their new iPad.

Q. Why would Apple do that?  Don’t they want to set the prices, like Amazon does?
A. There is a lot of speculation as to a reason, but Apple hasn’t publicly stated one.   Steve Jobs had stated that the prices would be the same at Amazon and Apple.

Q. I don’t like this whole agency thing.  What can I do about it?
A. You could write to the publisher or buy other books.  For more information, see this previous post.

Q. How can I tell if a book is in this agency agreement?
A. At Amazon, it will say, “This price was set by the publisher.”

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared on April 6, 2010 in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Forrester Research eBook Expert James McQuivey on iPublishers, iPrices, and iPads in Len Edgerly’s The Kindle Chronicles Interview

Ever since it first appeared in the Kindlesphere back in July 2008 Len Edgerly’s The Kindle Chronicles podcast has been a wonderful source of great information and insight into the Kindle Revolution, and Len’s interview with Forrester Research ebook expert James McQuivey in this week’s TKC #90 is an especially good take. I’ve snarked at McQuivey a bit in the past, but as developments continue to unfold his thinking seems to be ever more smart and more bold about what the future may hold and which new products and features may turn out to be gold if and when they are unrolled, get sold, and take hold.

Here are a few of McQuivey’s points that I found especially thought-provoking:

  • He believes that, now that the “agency” price-fixing model has been established for the retail ebook prices of bestsellers and new releases, those prices will again migrate down to the familiar 9.99 price point because “market pressure will force them to and they won’t be able to blame it on anyone else.” Publishers then “will find themselves at $9.99 giving up 30 percent of their revenue in perpetuity to folks like Apple, whereas [until] now prices [were] at $9.99 and they actually [made] more than $9.99. So I think they are going to regret that in the future,” McQuivey says. “Now that could be a year away, it could be two years away before the average price comes down to 9.99. We know that we’ll certainly have some prices back at 9.99 within a year just because the market’s pushing it that way…. We’re not in a market where it makes sense to charge consumers more than $9.99 and 10 years from now we might see 9.99 as even a high price for certain categories of books.”
  • “Who knows if there’s going to be any Federal Trade Commission look into how these publishers all happened to manage to change their strategy all simultaneously and commit to it,” McQuivey said. “I’m not sure that it’s necessary that the FTC go there but someone could push it if they wanted to.” (Recently it has been my own view that Amazon is unlikely to lead or bring an anti-collusion civil suit against the Apple 5 publishers because, among other reasons, it could be destructive to the supply-chain business partnership between Amazon and the publishers, but that problem would not be as difficult in the event of regulatory scrutiny by the FTC.)
  • McQuivey gave Random House some respect for staying away from the agency model and likened the current spectacle of the Apple 5 big publishers committing to the agency model without Random House to the U.S. basketball “dream team” of a few years back showing up for the Olympics without Michael Jordan. Leaving Random House off the team allows Random House to promote books at all kinds of prices, learn from the difference, and perhaps sell more of their bestsellers because they are significantly cheaper than their competitors’ bestsellers. McQuivey estimated that Random House’s decision to stay out of the fixed-price iBooks Store translates into a hit of “20 to 25 percent” to Apple’s potential ebook sales.
  • He was unimpressed by the long-term significance of any feature advantages that one ereader app might have over another on the iPad device, saying that such features that are easily replicated and “they’ll essentially match each other feature for feature.”

The only instance where I thought McQuivey had it seriously wrong was in his brief discussion of the iBooks Store vs. the Kindle Store as ebook vendors. He said “so far you can’t buy books in the Kindle App on the iPad, and that is a detriment.” But in emphasizing this distinction he seems to be handicapped by his self-avowed “conscientious objector” status relative to the iPad.

In the Kindle for iPad app, you get to the Kindle Store with either one (from the Home screen) or two (from within a book) clicks, and then you are in the extremely familiar, time-tested and user-friendly Amazon book retailing environment where you can download any Kindle title seamlessly and have it sent to your Kindle for iPad app (or any other registered device) within seconds. 15 years of online book retailing translates into tremendous strengths for Amazon, and the Amazon and Kindle Stores are far more conducive to searching, browsing, and sorting for books by title, author, subject, keywords, sales ranking, customer ratings, customer reviews, publisher, or publication date than the iBooks Store or any other ebook vendor’s site.

As with the Kindle Store, you can get to the iBooks Store with either one (from the Home screen) or two (from within a book) clicks, but once you get there the selection and buying/downloading processes are actual slower than those in the Kindle App due to the more difficult search/browse/sort processes described below and the fact that you actually have to type in your iTunes or Apple Store password (not your iPad passcode) from scratch each time you make a transaction.

And for now the iBooks Store is severely limited in several ways that aren’t surprising given the Apple has arrived a little late to the ebook party, including:

  • Catalog (there are about 15 times as many books in the Kindle Store after one subtracts the roughly similar public domain catalog in each store)
  • Customer ratings and reviews for content, which Amazon had the advantage of being able to migrate from print-formatted editions to Kindle editions when it launched the Kindle Store in November 2007. There are very few reviews or ratings for books in the iBooks Store.
  • User-friendliness for serious readers when it comes to the kind of powerful search, browse, and sort architecture that was developed over a decade and a half by Amazon and has proven to be the most powerful content marketing architecture ever developed by a retailer.

Apropos of nothing, by the way, I had to compliment Len on the creative casting masterstroke that was so evident in his selection of a well-known Disney classic canine cartoon character to read the Robert Scoble lines in the Scoble interview snippet Len chose (and included at exactly 7 minutes into this week’s show) to explain how Scoble’s “reading” practices may influence his choice of reading media.

Lastly, if you happen to hear Len’s discussion of the exciting progress of his fledgling eBooks for Troops project and would like to follow up as a participant, here’s a link to make the process friction-free: http://ebooksfortroops.org/

Senior Executive Indicates Random House Could Steer Clear of Price-Fixing Cabal

Thanks to Bufo Calvin at I Love My Kindle for turning my attention to some fascinating remarks last week by Madeline McIntosh, who returned to Random House in early November in the newly created position of President, Sales, Operations, and Digital. Speaking in San Jose at the Winter Institute of the American Booksellers Association, McIntosh separated herself and Random House dramatically from what had previously seemed like lockstep among Big Six publishers around issues of pricing control over ebooks.

According to a report at Publishers Lunch:

McIntosh took on pricing control directly as one of the reasons Random House has “not acted quite as quickly as others.” She expressed a series of concerns that publishers “have no real experience at setting retail prices….”

She cited a recent visit to Powell’s, where with used books and new books sitting on the same shelves “they set the prices on every single unit in a unique, demand-based way.” But more importantly from her perspective, up until now “our authors have not been at risk if you make a different decision about how to price a given book, so it didn’t actually affect our author if a given retailer decided to aggressively discount a certain segment of books. The benefit…is that we have been able to sustain a great variety of different authors at different levels.”

On the windowing of releases, McIntosh expressed a personal opinion and noted “there are a lot of divergent opinions at Random House,” but she is “not convinced that delaying an ebook will be to the benefit of either the author or the consumer.” She prefers not to lose a potential sale because an ebook version is not available and also does not want to “create an adversarial relationship” with ebook readers or “train those readers that instead the best way to get that digital copy is to download it for free.”

Instead of through changed pricing models, McIntosh said “the best value we can offer in the digital world will be about embracing what we already know how to do well…. Our best asset is our editors.” She spoke about “allowing digital to force us to reinvent ourselves as editors” as Random looks at ways “to contract and deliver content that is a whole range of different lengths, and bring ideas to market in a much faster way than we can when its print.” For the future, she is less excited about “just about creating a digital version of a book or adding bells and whistles” but wonders instead “do we need to push ourselves into an area we really don’t know anything about, which is thinking about developing applications.” She sees the process as taking a brand and conceiving of “what would be compelling to a consumer…that would make us still relevant as a content producer” in a new way, admitting that they don’t have the answers yet–just the question.

It’s good to see some engaged, intelligent, independent thinking by someone in a position to influence how the ebook pricing saga may actually play out.

MacMillan CEO Says "Time is Getting Near to Hand" for Return of Amazon’s Buy Buttons for MacMillan Titles

File this one, perhaps, under “If a tree falls in the forest….”

If “Buy” buttons are restored to MacMillan’s new-release ebook titles at prices of $12.99 to $14.99 in the Kindle Store, will anyone pay attention to the buy buttons?

In a paid advertisement that appeared on the Publisher’s Marketplace website today, MacMillan Publishing CEO says the following:

To: Macmillan Authors and Illustrators

cc: Literary Agents

From: John Sargent

I am sorry I have been silent since Saturday. We have been in constant discussions with Amazon since then. Things have moved far enough that hopefully this is the last time I will be writing to you on this subject.

Over the last few years we have been deeply concerned about the pricing of electronic books. That pricing, combined with the traditional business model we were using, was creating a market that we believe was fundamentally unbalanced. In the last three weeks, from a standing start we have moved to a new business model. We will make less money on the sale of e books, but we will have a stable and rational market. To repeat myself from last Sunday’s letter, we will now have a business model that will ensure our intellectual property will be available digitally through many channels, at a price that is both fair to the consumer and that allows those who create and publish it to be fairly compensated.

We have also started discussions with all our other partners in the digital book world. While there is still lots of work to be done, they have all agreed to move to the agency model.

And now on to royalties. Three or four weeks ago, we began discussions with the Author’s Guild on their concerns about our new royalty terms. We indicated then that we would be flexible and that we were prepared to move to a higher rate for digital books. In ongoing discussions with our major agents at the beginning of this week, we began informing them of our new terms. The change to an agency model will bring about yet another round of discussion on royalties, and we look forward to solving this next step in the puzzle with you.

A word about Amazon. This has been a very difficult time. Many of you are wondering what has taken so long for Amazon and Macmillan to reach a conclusion. I want to assure you that Amazon has been working very, very hard and always in good faith to find a way forward with us. Though we do not always agree, I remain full of admiration and respect for them. Both of us look forward to being back in business as usual.

And a salute to the bricks and mortar retailers who sell your books in their stores and on their related websites. Their support for you, and us, has been remarkable over the last week. From large chains to small independents, they committed to working harder than ever to help your books find your readers.

Lastly, my deepest thanks to you, our authors and illustrators. Macmillan and Amazon as corporations had our differences that needed to be resolved. You are the ones whose books lost their buy buttons. And yet you have continued to be terrifically supportive of us and of what we are trying to accomplish. It is a great joy to be your publisher.

I cannot tell you when we will resume business as usual with Amazon, and needless to say I can promise nothing on the buy buttons. You can tell by the tone of this letter though that I feel the time is getting near to hand.

All best,