Thursday, June 05, 2008

Kicking Around the Kindle Site

Hi, I'm back although I may have additional absences over the next few weeks. I've got a number of issues to address both at work and personally. A CT scan yesterday revealed I have a rather large but (hopefully) benign tumor that I'll need to deal with in the near future since it is beginning to interfere with my quality of life.

Enough of that. Lots going on in the world of publishing. The New York Times had an article here on Monday that asked the question, "Is the electronic book approaching the tipping point?"

Apparently the New York houses are beginning to get worried about the number of e-readers being sold. They're also concerned about Amazon's growing influence.


The smoke has been creeping out over the transom, and flames have been licking at the curtains for months, but New York is finally getting anxious. And, typical of corporations, they are focusing on the wrong end of the equation.

I think Amazon is playing a shell game with the Kindle. More importantly, I also think they have a limited window of time in which to play their game.

Why do I say this? To start with, Amazon has been coy in refusing to reveal the actual number of Kindle readers sold. They claimed to sell out their initial factory run, but gave no indication whether that was 25 or 2,500 readers.

The limited window of time explanation is easy. New brands of e-readers are rolling off the factory floors every six months or so. As reported by Engadget three weeks ago here, the Astak Mentor e-reader is scheduled to make its debut in October. (Thanks to my friend Lynne Connolly for the heads up).

The Mentor will come in three sizes: 5-inch, 6-inch, and 9.7-inch versions, and will range in price from less-than-$200 to $350. More importantly, in addition to being an e-reader, it will offer Mp3 player capability, Bluetooth and WiFi.

Now think about that for a minute. If you could have one device that allowed you to read e-books AND to download audio music and audiobooks for less than the cost of the Kindle, would you choose to buy the Kindle instead?

Me neither.

And, interestingly enough, shortly after that Engadget article came out, Amazon dropped the price of the Kindle by $40 to $359, bringing it close to the price of the top model of the forthcoming Mentor. Do you think that was an accident?

I discovered some interesting stuff while wandering around Amazon's website this week during interminable waits in doctors' outer offices. Here are some of my findings:

  • There are 1,200 Kindle e-books priced between $2,386.80 to $200. Most of these are technical books with titles like Cardiac Catheterization and Percutaneous Interventions or Biogeochemistry of Trace Elements in Coal and Coal Combustion Byproducts.

  • While Amazon has touted its $9.99 price for most books, there are 1,110 novels priced betwee $312 and $10. I found this a bit confusing. When I'm in a rare bookstore, I expect to find first editions priced higher than reprints. However, I'm at a loss to understand how this works with an e-book. Why would I pay $35.19 for a version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland here when I can go to Project Gutenberg here and download it for free?

  • The previous bullet was when I began to realize that there are a TON of self-published books for sale on Amazon's Kindle. The aforementioned Alice's Adventures was apparently self-published by illustrator Helen Oxenbury. Out of curiosity, I searched Amazon to see if they had a print copy of Oxenbury's version. They did, here, for $11.04. Would someone please explain to me why the Kindle download costs $35.19 and the print version costs $11.04?

  • Because I'm an obsessive little soul (surprise!), I started looking at some of the new releases to see how they were priced. Blood Noir, the new release by Laurell K. Hamilton was interesting. On Monday, you could pay $15.57 for the hardback, $15.42 for the Kindle version and $24.95 for the Mp3 version (note: not an audiobook). Tonight, you can pay $15.57 for the hardback, $9.99 for the Kindle and $30.99 for the audiobook. What's up with this?

  • Amazon staff have done a piss poor job of separating fiction and non-fiction. As I wandered the fiction section, I came across at least three errors on every page. Among them, these books were listed as fiction: The Chinese Communist Party in Reform, Primary Care for Physician Assistants, and Psychological Effects of U.S. Air Operations in Four Wars, 1941-1991: Lessons for U.S. Commanders.

One thing that is helpful. All of the self-published books I found--and they were legion--were priced above $10. So all you Kindle owners, be very careful before purchasing a book that costs more than $9.99. Make sure to check whether it is self-pubbed, or you might get an unpleasant surprise. There are, of course, quality self-published books on the market, but they are in the minority. Buyer beware.

I have said repeatedly here that I think Amazon poses a threat to the publishing industry. But, increasingly, I believe that threat stems from Amazon's vertical integration of the book market, not because I think the Kindle will become the dominant e-reader. Go here to read about Amazon's vertical integration.


Gina Black said...


First off, I'm sorry to hear about the tumor, and I'm positing the best for you.

Second, didn't the government step in back in the 20's (30's?) when the movie industry controlled the supply chain from the production studio to the movie theater? Do you think they will do so with publishing? Or do I not understand this vertical integration stuff.


Maya Reynolds said...

Gina: Thanks so much for the good wishes. I appreciate it.

Yes, you're exactly right. What you're referring to was called the "Studio System." It began in the twenties and continued until the U.S. Government broke it up in the early fifties.

The Studio System WAS a vertical integration chain. The studios used their own lots and their own stars to produce movies which their own distributors placed in their own theaters.

The United States vs. Paramount Pictures was the landmark antitrust case for the film industry.

I know there are naysayers who don't believe Amazon constitutes a threat to the industry. I believe it does. While I'm not an attorney, it appears to me that Amazon is exerting unreasonable control over small publishers. If the Democrats win in November, I believe there's a good chance Amazon will get hauled into court.

Keefieboy said...

The e-book pricing surprised me: I would expect at least a $4-$5 reduction against a printed copy because the costs of printing, warehousing and distribution are all zero