Barnes and Noble, the sinking ship

Barnes and Noble = Titanic

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Barnes and Noble, the sinking ship
Barnes and Noble, the sinking ship

Yes, I know the ship is sinking.  I was hoping Barnes and Noble could hang in there and turn things around.  Poor customer service coupled with broken software have resulted in more holes in this sinking ship rather than plugging up the existing ones.  So let me address what I know as an author with books for sale at Barnesandnoble.com.

March 2015 sales for Nook were down 62%

62% is nothing to ignore.  It’s significant.  It screams, “Something’s wrong!”  Since some of the authors at BMB have been on B&N (myself included), we’ve seen significant issues with counting sales.  Sales will appear, rank of the books will increase, then sales will disappear after five days as though the sale never took place.  These “disappearing” sales were a puzzle to us because eventually some of them would reappear as soon as we mentioned it to the computer services group.  After the first few occurrences, we began taking screenshots.  B&N never came up with an answer to why sales disappeared.  They were not returns and they were not charges that didn’t go through.  Then there were the rank changes in our titles, moving up with no registered sales.  These seem to always occur after software patches performed by the Nookpress team (which is stationed in India).  When sales drop 80% it’s noticeable.  Especially when the titles are rapidly moving up in rank which means they’ve been selling quite well.  Where’s the money going?

This begs the question, who is counting sales and how are they counting them?  When titles are moving up in rank and authors aren’t getting paid for any book sales during that period, there’s obviously an error in the system somewhere.  Someone is obviously getting that money, but not the authors.

Here’s an interesting article on Barnes and Noble’s sinking ship and that 62% drop in sales.

Nookpress has been plagued with broken software

Barnes and Noble’s Nookpress has been a steadily sinking ship from the very beginning.  Over the past year, the software patches (which occur every month) have made things worse, not better.  On the author’s end, there are constant error messages everywhere.  NookPress is not correctly rendering EPUB2 files and when it does render e-books they are not consistent.  Of the 26 Bride Lottery and Marriage Lottery titles none of them are consistently rendered the same although they were formatted with the identical stylesheet and EPUB2 software.  How does that happen?

Uploaded manuscripts on Nookpress have somehow become laden with bizarre symbols and excessive white space introduced by Nookpress’s software (not EPUB2).  Who wants to read a novel with six pages of inserted white space between the first and second chapters?  I don’t.  In response to these excessive inserts of white space, I’ve tried uploading new manuscripts only to get tons of error messages (look below).  In response to my repeated queries, I was told they knew about the problem and were working on it.  After four months of “working on it”, I’m still getting the same response from NookPress.  You would think 44 error messages trying to upload a single manuscript would get someone’s attention, but it doesn’t.  This was just the last time.

The monthly software patches at NookPress are making things worse, not better.
The monthly software patches at NookPress are making things worse, not better.

Nookpress is creating double entries

When I uploaded Brennan Brides #1: Escape to NookPress, it made two entries.  Two.  Both of them appeared on B&N and the information was identical.  NookPress does not let you delete titles so I could not delete either one.  But there are two.  When I try to change any information on either one, the information from the other supercedes what I’ve entered.  So in other words, I can’t change a thing.  I asked NookPress to fix this.  They’re “working on it”.  They’ve been working on it for over six weeks and have made zero progress.  This error alone makes it impossible to sell this series on B&N.  It’s one more example of Barnesandnoble.com’s broken software.  Look closely at the two images below; they have different B&N identifiers but they are linked to the very same title listed on Barnesandnoble.com.

Brennan Brides #1: Escape, the first entry made by Nook ending in 334
Brennan Brides #1: Escape, the first entry made by Nook ending in 334
Brennan Brides #1: Escape, the second entry made by Nook ending in 434
Brennan Brides #1: Escape, the second entry made by Nook ending in 434

Fudging dates and series titles

Since I started the Bride Lottery series and expanded the series to the Marriage Lottery (for couples in their late 20s and early 30s), I’ve seen numerous romance authors copy the series titles.  Don’t even get me started on Kristin Holt.  B&N has been allowing numerous authors, not just self-published ones but even authors like Jodi Koumalats aka Jodi Thomas (represented by Random House) to fudge their older titles and go in now (in 2015) and add a series title.  Hmmmm, that’s dishonest and trademark infringement.  One of the reasons I chose not to sell my titles on Amazon was because of the rampant trademark infringement that takes place there.  Now it’s all over B&N too.  It makes readers very upset when they buy a Bride Lottery or Marriage Lottery book and find out it’s someone else’s, especially if it’s nothing like my novels (I don’t write erotica, pedophilic spanking books, or novels about pregnant women trying to trick men into marrying them, nor do I write novels about eight year-old girls aspiring to be hookers).  The couples in my novels don’t sleep together until they’re married.  Every novel begins and ends with a lottery and no men pay for brides.  The idea that a man would pay for a woman is still prostitution even if you call it a lottery bride or a mail order bride which is why most of the fakes are erotica.

On Barnesandnoble.com, e-books are not treated with the same respect as paperbacks and nowhere is that more obvious than in searches and listings.  Paperbacks are listed by categories to browse through and can easily be found by searching keywords.  E-books aren’t unless they are also available as paperback.  I own the trademarks for Bride Lottery and Marriage Lottery.  When you type either of those keywords into B&N, up come a dozen other titles from other authors that don’t have those words in the title.  Their titles are considered “similar” enough that they are presented to the customer.  However, if you search these similar titles, my titles are nowhere to be found.  Try doing the same thing for Molly’s Fairy Gardening 101 book, a series which she trademarked years ago and was copied by Fiona McDonald.  Fiona has a paperback.  Her book appears; Molly’s doesn’t.  You can’t browse for Molly’s book either, although it’s a bestseller.

Perhaps the most frustrating part of the series debacle at Barnesandnoble.com is that they can’t seem to get it right.  There are 26 titles in the Bride Lottery series.  If you go to B&N and click on the series, you’ll find four.  That’s right, four.  Apparently the other 24 titles were never added to the series by the NookPress staff.  They were too busy fudging new series titles for all the other authors.  :0

There are 26 titles in the Bride Lottery series on Barnesandnoble.com.
There are 26 titles in the Bride Lottery series on Barnesandnoble.com.
But with Barnesandnoble.com's broken software only 4 of the 26 appear.
But with Barnesandnoble.com’s broken software only 4 of the 26 appear.

Broken detail pages and mismatched reviews

The only information on the book detail pages that ever changes is the rank.  That other information never seems to get updated.  That’s why the total count for reviews (and the number of stars) at the top of the page never seems to match the actual number (or stars) of the reviews.  If you look below you see the actual number of reviews is higher than what the detail page says.  Some reviews aren’t appearing at all and others are being deleted and then resurfacing as “anonymous”.  That’s what the Nookpress staff does when they accidentally remove a review.  The keyword there is “accidentally” which doesn’t always appear to be accidental at all.

The reviews for Marriage Lottery 4 keep disappearing and never get counted.
The reviews for Marriage Lottery 4 keep disappearing and never get counted.

Major publishers, however, get the special treatment like this title from Random House that was re-released in 2015 with the series title “Wife Lottery” and suddenly over 30 fake reviews appeared overnight.  (This is the novel by Jodi Koumalats about the eight year old girl who aspires to be a hooker and sleeps with enough men for money that by age 21 she has managed to purchase and run several brothels and buys herself a husband.)

A rebranded novel that suddenly had >30 fake reviews overnight, thanks to B&N.
A rebranded novel that suddenly had >30 fake reviews overnight, thanks to B&N.

No one’s manning the farm

Maybe the real reason Barnesandnoble.com’s software is so broken is because the Indian staff of NookPress is publishing their own e-books.  Look at the e-books below given top billing at Barnesandnoble.com.  The reviews (the real ones) describe these books as “garbage”.  If the interior of the books is anything like the covers, I’d agree.  This group of Indian publishers (I can’t say authors because they copied public domain material and used it) put up four pages of titles overnight and immediately were given top rank at Barnesandnoble.com.  Very fishy.  Isn’t this exactly what B&N made fun of Amazon for doing?  Can you spell H-Y-P-O-C-R-I-T-E?

The 104 "books" by BodhaGuru Learning were put up on B&N overnight and given top billing in searches. B&N's Indian Employees?
The 104 “books” by BodhaGuru Learning were put up on B&N overnight and given top billing in searches. B&N’s Indian Employees?

In a perfect world

All snark aside, in a perfect world, we could just log in and read all the novels in the series we wanted, right?  In order, online, at our fingertips, whenever we wanted to read.  In a perfect world, this would be a membership site where we’d pay a monthly fee, log in, and read all the novels we wanted.  That’s what’s coming for my fans.  Two months ago, I formed a partnership for a new publishing company called Three Cats Publishing.  Since then I’ve been hard at work hiring staff to get our company off the ground.  Our first priority is to get up a membership site where fans can pay a monthly fee to access all of our titles.  We’re shooting for August 1.

A feature of this membership site would be that the catalog would include all titles from all of the authors who are members of Three Cats.  One membership fee gives you access to all the titles.  If you don’t like what you read, don’t renew your membership the next month.  If you’re a fast reader, you can read more than 30 books for one low fee and be done.

Another feature would be access to discussion areas where I talk about the stories and fans can talk to each other without being bullied like readers often are on Amazon and Goodreads (which is an Amazon site).  The internet was designed as a research tool for sharing information.  It was never designed for cyberbullying.  There should be places online where you can meet like-minded people and chat in comfort without worrying about being harassed.  That’s what we’ll have.

Paperbacks too

There’s more.  We’ll have paperbacks too.  The number one question I get asked is “When are you going to print in paperback format?”  Soon.  We’ve found a printer for Three Cats and most of our titles will be put into trade-sized paperback format.  They will be priced competitively and will be better quality than most mass market and trade-sized paperbacks, especially those from CreateSpace.  We had one of our newest marketing staff run a test run from several printers to find the best quality.  CreateSpace sadly was near the bottom.  Before they were acquired, they had quality paperbacks.  That was when they were called BookSurge and they were sued by numerous publishers.  Whether it was the lawsuit or the control Amazon dominates over the book market that led to the decline in quality of their paperbacks, it doesn’t really matter.  The end is the same–flimsy books with blurred covers and ink-stained pages that detract from the reading experience and don’t hold up with sharing.

The future of publishing

Online publishing changes daily.  Every month there’s some new issue with Amazon, one of its subsidiaries, or with a major publisher.  Barnes and Noble is sinking into the woodwork.  A part of me is sad to see them decline so rapidly, but another part of me is ready to jump ship.  There’s just so much time I can expend trying to get things fixed and it’s hard working with people (in India) who really just don’t care.

For the first few months of Three Cats’ membership site, we’ll offer a free month (or something similar) to fans who’ve been buying my series all along.  Call it a reward for being faithful.  News on that will be coming soon, once the membership site is up and operational.  So don’t fret.  If you’ve sunk money into B&N on my titles, hang onto the receipts.  You will be rewarded for your faithfulness (like the heroines and heroes in the Bride Lottery and Marriage Lottery series).

 

 

 

 

 

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