The Kindle line basically started the digital reading revolution. They were neither the first nor the best when they appeared, but Kindles were the driving force behind it. Amazon got too powerful, customers likes affordable eBooks too much, and publishers freaked out to the point of getting involved in what seem to be fairly illegal activities while trying to counter all that. We’ve been over all that before. The big question now is “Why are Kindle eBook prices still so ridiculously high?”
I’m not just talking about the results of the DOJ suit against the publishers over their adoption of the Agency Model. I’m glad that’s happening, and I wish them all the luck in achieving a decisive conviction, but even those publishers who have chosen to settle already will not have had much of an effect just yet. I’m more concerned with common sense.
The most obvious side of this is the obvious dislike of the format. Publishers want physical media to be favored because it is more easily controlled. eBooks are too convenient and most especially too easily pirated, so we have to expect these publishers to try to persuade people to stick to proven methods, right? Some variation on this argument is likely to come up in any defense of the Big 6.
I’ll be honest, I’m not even going to address it at length here beyond saying that it flat out ignores the facts. Study after study demonstrates that piracy either increases or fails to affect overall spending as a trend. It’s unintuitive, so I don’t blame them for being slow to catch on, but surely somebody employed by these companies could do some research that goes beyond ominous warnings of the dangers of piracy like those thrown around by the MPAA. Maybe I’ll go into more detail on that another time.
Even assuming that was too hard to grasp, however, there is plenty of easy to understand information about adapting to a market that does away with the concept of limited supply. The most dramatic example comes from the video game industry where Valve CEO Gabe Newell explained a while back that briefly discounting media by 75% had unexpectedly resulted in sales numbers jumping by a factor of 40. I’m not saying the two industries are directly analogous, but clearly there are signs that digital distribution needs to be approached a bit differently.
There have been a few signs that publishers were tentatively trying to figure all this out. Some short-lived discounts have popped up, and last summer’s Kindle Sunshine Deals promo comes to mind as a large effort to feel out the market. It still seems like the biggest motivator for these publishers is a desire not to change.
They have a good thing going and can basically control the entire publishing landscape when they work together. The Kindle, along with its eReader competitors, is an unknown. If it were embraced, somebody else might figure out how to do things better and that would be bad.
I have no idea when this will change, but it can’t come soon enough. All that publishers have managed to accomplish with this ridiculous behavior is temporarily setting back Amazon by shooting both themselves and their customers in the foot.
Nobody really wants traditional publishing to be completely out of the picture, but lately they’re doing more harm than good. One of these days they will have to realize this and Kindle owners everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief while stocking their digital libraries.
The ongoing conversation regarding the DOJ suit against five of the Big 6 publishers and Apple has at times been even more interesting than the case itself in what it says about the publishing industry and those who have a stake in it. I won’t deny for a moment that I’m a fan of the Kindle or that I regularly enjoy many facets of Amazon’s business, so feel free to call me out for being biased, but I think that there are a few strange assumptions being made in some of the more popular Pro-Publisher arguments lately that need to be addressed.
The most popular justification of the Agency Model by far seems to be that without it Amazon would simply have too much control over prices and undermine competition since they could use books as loss-leaders to sell other products. The underlying assumption here is that there was literally no other option available to prevent Amazon from offhandedly destroying a whole industry. This ignores the process that allowed the Agency Model to be imposed on the Kindle Store in the first place, of course.
In early 2010, the publishers dictated their terms to Amazon and a brief conflict ensued. When Amazon resisted raising their prices, Macmillan pulled their titles. It worked, and Amazon caved. Publishers are not, in this case, the helpless bystanders trying to scrape by that they make themselves out to be. They have the choice to leave at any time, and allow Amazon to find their own way to fill Kindles with eBooks. This is exactly what happened recently when IPG was unwilling to agree to Amazon’s contract renewal terms.
The problem is that publishers don’t want Amazon out of the game. Amazon does exactly what they want a retailer to do. The store makes suggestions, up-sells, promotes, and opens the doors to customers anywhere. The problem wasn’t the potential for anti-competitive control; it was that publishers were unwilling to lose access to the channel. It is also why the collusion was necessary. Without that collusion, Amazon could presumably have done without any member of the Big 6 and they would have been left with only comparably inferior vendors to sell their books through.
The other really fun argument is the devaluation of eBooks. Basically that by selling Kindle Editions cheaply, Amazon is making customers expect affordable books and publishers will make less money. This is often tied to the idea that Amazon is trying to sell cheaply enough to get a monopoly, after which they will screw their customers and raise prices. Personally, I see the arguments as contradictory.
If Amazon’s whole Kindle sales model is designed to lower customer expectations in terms of pricing, publishers retail the previously mentioned option of removing their content. Unlike with paper books, there is no possibility of a secondary market. To me this is basically an assertion that the content offered by these publishers is less important to customers than the fact that they can get it on a Kindle. If that is so, then the need for publisher as gatekeeper is a thing of the past anyway.
Let’s assume that Amazon does accomplish lowering expectations, though. How would raising prices on eBooks after driving out the competition work to their advantage? We are talking about digital products, presumably now in a publisher-free world since Amazon ruined them all. In what way would self-publishing authors have trouble selling outside of the Kindle Store? And if that were an option, why would customers pay Amazon’s presumably higher prices after having been acclimated to cheap eBooks over the course of years? I’m not one to say that the free market will solve all your problems, but what incentive does Amazon have to dominate a market and immediately destroy their most profitable approach to it?
Basically, I can’t help but feel that redirecting the issue of Agency Model price fixing to make it appear as if the DOJ is out to appoint Amazon king of publishing is a sign that people know something illegal was done and are now out to justify it. The Kindle may be the best eReading platform out there, but it is far from the only one. Publishers had other options they could have gone with; they simply couldn’t see a legal way to get the higher profits they wanted without losing access to customers who love their Kindles.
Jonathan Franzen, author of such wildly popular titles as The Corrections and Freedom has recently made a bit of an impact on the eReading community by coming out against electronic media. Apparently the Kindle is ushering in the end of the book, which normally we would agree is a bad thing that we need to be aware of. Sadly, rather than leading us all to a new understanding of the book as a format that happens to rule out safe transition to digital forms, his arguments against eReading are somewhat misleading and represent a person more interested in rationalizing a knee-jerk reaction to new technology than in understanding what he’s talking about.
Probably the biggest, and certainly the most publicized, aspect of Franzen’s argument centers on his perception of the supposed permanence of the printed word. This makes sense, as after all once something has made it to print it can never be altered. Of course it also completely ignores the facts of multiple book editions, author revisions, and abominations like the 2011 release of censored copies of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
His assertion that “A screen always feels like we could delete that, change that, move it around” and therefore “for a literature-crazed person like me, it’s just not permanent enough” is entirely based on the obvious misperception that digital copies are somehow fluid. If you are talking about your personal copy of a book, it is far easier to drop, rip, stain, or otherwise destroy a paper copy than it is to break open the Kindle Edition and make your own changes. Assuming he is talking about the master copy of each book, as in the one that is stored centrally by Amazon, then it would be hard to argue that the printed edition is significantly different in that regard as there have historically been scores of authors with a tendency to re-write later editions of their books. One of Franzen’s own books involved a recall to accomplish exactly this, in fact. I’m fairly hopeful that he didn’t mean to imply that anybody besides the author was likely to go in there and start playing around with the text on a wide scale, but even if that were the case it is not worth addressing here.
It is one thing to claim that you have a strong preference for paper books. There is nothing wrong with that and any number of people would agree with you (myself included depending on the situation). To try to talk others into agreeing with you through groundless arguments is a shame though, especially from somebody in a position to reach such a large number of readers.
Maybe this was all a publicity stunt meant to draw attention to the smaller point he made regarding the dangers of a society obsessed with instant gratification, but if so then he strongly undermined his own credibility by opening with such ridiculous assertions. I won’t even go into the irony of these comments having been made by somebody who has done extremely well in terms of Kindle book sales, but even without that you have to wonder what he was thinking.
Assuming you have both a Kindle and an active Amazon Prime membership, you now get to make use of Amazon’s latest eBook related service, the Amazon Prime Kindle Owners’ Lending Library! Aside from having a rather unwieldy name attached to it, this will be a good thing for those who get to take advantage of it. Of course, aside from being occasionally lucky it might be hard to figure out how to take advantage right off the bat. We’ll start there.
First off, it is helpful to be aware that you need to do your borrowing from the Kindle itself. While you might find books that have borrowing enabled while browsing the Kindle Store on another device, in which case you will see “Prime Members: $0.00 (read for free)”, you cannot begin the borrowing until you pull it up on your eReader. If your Kindle software is up to date, the Kindle Storefront will now have a “Kindle Owners’ Lending Library” category to choose when you click on “See all…”. Look around from there and choose your book!
As far as what is currently available, none of the Big 6 publishing houses are currently taking part in this program. They have cited concerns that offering something like this will devalue the eBook as a format in the minds of customers. Strange reasoning, but not much we can do right now. Among the 5,000+ titles that are available, though, expect to find selections in pretty much every category. Keep an eye out for things like Vook Classics titles, which will work just fine but encompass titles that most people will get just as much out of when reading for free anyway. You only get one rental per month under this program, so it’s worthwhile to use it wisely.
That one rental will strike many people as rather little to get for the $79/year Amazon Prime membership, making this an ineffective marketing tool on its own, but it will probably help drive sales of the new Kindle Touch and Kindle Fire eReaders among existing Prime customers. Amazon is clearly convinced about this since they are once again putting their own money into getting a Kindle program off the ground. Not all of the books being offered are in the Library by publisher agreement, it seems. In cases when Amazon is able to grab eBooks through non-Agency Model relationships, they are simply buying at wholesale and then lending to customers, eliminating any publisher participation. The jury is still out on how long this will last before somebody gets really upset about it.
Reading a book every couple weeks is not at all unreasonable for anybody, and Amazon has said on multiple occasions that their data shows that Kindle owners buy more books than most people. We have to hope that translates into more books being read as well. Perhaps the intention here is to keep people interested in continual consumption and draw in those who haven’t yet gotten too invested in their Kindle. Regardless of the reasoning behind it, there’s no downside if you’re in a position to take advantage. Enjoy your book.
The iPad and the Kindle have always had a curious love/hate relationship that can be enough to drive many users nuts. While they were expected to compete for users from the moment they were both on the market, the iPad depended on the Kindle for iOS app to deliver a great reading experience to potential adopters while the Kindle just didn’t even try to offer the same kind of tablet versatility. The iPad does lots of things quite well, the Kindle does one thing really well, and users of both devices like to read. Of course it’s at that point of overlap that problems arose.
Amazon was making money, Apple wanted that money for themselves, and now there’s nobody really making much money. You can’t buy books through the Kindle app, the iBooks app is still not really something most people have any particular desire to adopt, and getting the Kindle Cloud Reader set up requires users to look outside of the Apple App Store. eBook acquisition is still perfectly doable, but it is a bit more of a hassle and that means some people just won’t bother.
Enter Inkstone Software with what they hope will be the solution to many peoples’ eBook problems. The company has claimed that this is their way to help out the community that they have benefited so much from. Their new free iPhone and iPad app, called simply “eBook Search”, will allow users to peruse over 2 million free titles from all around the internet. Not only that, the app will allow users to select their reading app of choice and will then acquire their books in a compatible format, ending the hassle of maintaining multiple collections in multiple apps or converting hard to find titles to your preferred format.
The attraction of such an application goes beyond convenience in acquisition of out of copyright “classics”. The developer claims to have allowed for discovery of free eBooks being offered by indie authors, and even popular fan fiction. They hope that this will allow readers who do not have a sufficient budget to allow for prolific reading in an environment where eBooks cost as much or more than physical books to indulge with less hesitation.
If this is at all up your alley, it is definitely worth checking out. Not only will you be getting great literature that can be read on your iPad, Kindle, or whatever else you happen to have, but the more people take advantage of these types of offers the better things start looking for the future of eBooks. If authors are successful in gaining exposure through free eBook offers, more authors will be inclined to try similar campaigns. If readers are loathe to purchase high priced eBooks in the Kindle Store because they can find equally good titles without spending the money, maybe publishers will start getting the message. If nothing else, the worst that can happen from giving it a chance is the loss of a few moments of your time.
One of the biggest advantages of something like a Kindle is supposed to be the amazing savings that one can expect from owning such a device. Books should be cheaper, according to the vision that many had of what eReading was going to be. Obviously we have not quite realized that dream, with publishers keeping eBooks at prices similar to hardcover books, but all is not lost! There are hundreds of authors releasing free or nearly free books every day through the Kindle Direct Publishing system. So many, in fact, that it is all but impossible to even keep up with a list, let alone read them all. There are plenty of established successes to draw on even now, though, while I try to come up with a decent list of newer authors to pass along to you. (I would welcome suggestions at email@example.com)
The often overlooked, or at least undervalued, source of cheap literature is older titles that have fallen out of copyright. Sometimes they’ve fallen very far out of copyright. For a while, it was pretty obnoxious to even try looking through these books in the Kindle Store since anybody who felt like going through the effort could post their own copy in hopes of making a few dollars. In the past several months they have made a major effort to clean things up and remove duplicate copies. It’s a mixed blessing since some of the approved ones remaining seem to be bad OCR copies rather than something a person has actually looked over, but suddenly it is a lot easier to find interesting things to read.
Now, a lot of people definitely seem to think that the so-called ‘classics’ are by definition dry and hard to get through. I certainly wouldn’t recommend Bleak House to a Harlequin fan, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t plenty of perfectly approachable titles out there to take a look at. Here’s a few that I hope you’ll find enjoyable. Not all are free, mainly in cases where free copies were poorly formatted to the point of being hard to read, but all are under $3.
She by H. Rider Haggard
You’ve got an ancient family mystery dating back thousands of years, a secret society hidden in the heart of the unknown, supernatural powers, and near immortality. This would be an amazing movie, if only the reaction to certain scenes involving the treatment of death wouldn’t be so extreme.
The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
Everybody knows the broad outlines of the story, from movies if nothing else, but you miss a lot without reading the book. Some of the most hilariously flawed ‘heroes’ that you are ever likely to read about. You may be surprised by how off base your expectations are, if you’ve never read it before
Sherlock Holmes Collection by Arthur Conan Doyle
Another selection that a surprising number of people have never given a chance to. This particular collection contains all four of the novels and 46 short stories, which I believe make up the whole out-of-copyright collection. It’s been said that what fascinates people about Holmes is not the process he uses, but how much fun it is to watch him do it. Give it a try for yourself.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
This book is a great suspense/mystery book with just a little bit of the fantastic thrown in. It is really a fun time overall and has quite possibly the best villain ever(who was, coincidentally, modeled physically on the author himself according to many accounts!) This one would be worth it for that character alone.
One of the biggest concerns when deciding which eReader to go with is the DRM. If you get a Kindle, then that means that you can’t read your purchases on a Nook, a Kobo, or pretty much anything else that happens to be competing with Amazon. The same is true of Barnes & Noble and, to a greater or lesser extent in varying ways, to everybody else. This isn’t news, and it isn’t necessarily a problem that can be addressed right now. The only way we’ll see a change is if somebody realizes that DRM-free eBooks are great enough to not cost publishers money. Not going to hold my breath there.
What happens when the Kindle moves on from its current, already somewhat dated, proprietary eBook format, though? We have to assume that the technology will evolve, as will the formats available, and that in time Amazon will want to give up on backward compatibility for their eReaders. Should we just assume that this is another opportunity for retailers to sell us yet another copy of our favorite things? That sort of logic annoyed me enough over the course of the VHS -> DVD -> BluRay cycle, especially since I got an HD-DVD player as a gift along the way. It doesn’t really fit with books in my mind. What we buy in an eBook is not necessarily analogous to video or audio. You don’t have to worry about reproduction quality in a text-based medium, generally. There is no reason, therefore, that we should have to repurchase our books, having acquired the digital copies once already.
Believing as I do on the topic, I wondered how to avoid the cycle. DRM is specifically meant to keep you from copying or converting what you purchase, after all. Theoretically, if your favorite platform dies off, you’re just out of luck. Realistically, though, why would a company move to a new format and DRM scheme? Generally, and call it cynical if you must, because the old one does not control customer interaction as well as it used to. Once the DRM can be casually broken, it isn’t worth using anymore. This line of thought led to an experiment.
Sure enough, all of the books I purchased from the old Sony Store when I first bought an eReader are still there. Even Sony doesn’t use BBeB anymore, though. A quick search provided me with details on how to remove the obsolete DRM and convert my old books into a Kindle compatible format. There are even scripts available that made the batch of just under 100 eBooks take just a few minutes. Sure enough, the text is the same as it would be if I bought the book again.
My advice to anybody who genuinely who is worried about their purchases being rendered obsolete is to think the problem through. Short of a complete end to the use of electronics, it is fairly clear that eReaders and Tablets aren’t going anywhere. So far none of them, as far as I know, has been audacious enough to suggest that you shouldn’t be able to side-load your own files onto your device. It probably wouldn’t go over well for whoever tried. Get yourself a Kindle, a Nook, or whatever suits you best. Make backups if you are afraid of the service just abruptly disappearing one day. Don’t worry too much about the end of the line for your chosen platform, though. There is always another one and it only gets easier to switch as time goes on.
In recent blogs and reports, a rumor has sprung up that the Harry Potter series being sold through the author’s soon to be opened ‘Pottermore” site will not include direct Kindle compatibility. As should probably be fairly obvious, this is quite definitely not true. The popularity of the rumor was such that Amazon even came forward and announced that the popular children’s books will find their way over.
The origin of the whole ruckus seems to have been an article about the Pottermore site teaming up with Google Books. Probably just a matter of hopeful thinking on Google fans, I would imagine. The post mentions efforts being made to integrate Pottermore and Google Books, including an agreement wherein Google Checkout is the preferred third party payment platform for the new site. The phrasing is very positive for Google, which is to be expected on the official Google Books blog. The only definite claims we have, however, are that there will be sufficient integration to allow buyers to push their new Harry Potter books out into your Google Books “library in the cloud” and that Google Checkout will be available. No exclusivity is implied, whether it be in terms of eBook platform, payment platform, or anything else.
One of the more interesting spinoffs from that somewhat overblown topic is the idea that the Harry Potter series will in some way be used to force Amazon into adding EPUB compatibility for the Kindle line. While there has been no official word on this, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that there’s not a chance it will happen. For one, Rowling is maintaining complete control over her products and has not, to the best of my knowledge, ever expressed a strong inclination to advocate for her favorite file format. Why would she? Also, it would make little sense to alienate Amazon in any way give that they currently have the largest customer base in the eReading world. Given that the Kindle can already read DRM-free MobiPocket eBooks, there is no reason that I can think of for the Pottermore site to try to force the EPUB issue. What business would want to lose money by failing to spend a minute or less converting a file from one format to another?
When October rolls around, I would anticipate that it will be as easy for a Kindle user to get their new Harry Potter stuff as it will be for anybody else, even if Amazon is being fairly quiet about their integration efforts right now. The new eBooks should be available in every format still used today, and quite possibly some truly obsolete ones. Since there will be no DRM included in the files, even if your favorite is not represented there are always programs like Calibre. Let’s face it, though, unless you are still using the Sony BBeB out of personal preference or something, there is little chance of being overlooked. The Pottermore site will be taking care of the fans.
I haven’t had a chance to write down any interesting book recommendations for Kindle fans in a while now, but I figure that since I have a decent list piling up it might be time to share. It’s been an enjoyable couple months of reading and I’ve got several more modern fantasy offerings that I hope you will enjoy. I did. They aren’t the cheapest books I could find, but they are definitely worth the asking price.
Kraken – China Miéville
This is really one of the best books I’ve read all year, even if it isn’t necessarily the best thing ever written by the author. It is a decently complex fantasy mystery set in a London strangely reminiscent of that in Gaiman’s Neverwhere. It’s a world of cults, secrecy, underworld politics, and strange powers. On top of that, there is a magically missing giant squid which seems to be at the heart of a plot that could end the world forever.
I’m honestly a little confused about the mixed reception that Kraken has gotten so far. It is averaging 3 Stars overall in the Kindle Store, but deserves more. It worked in most ways, but some people may find it a bit off-putting from what I’m told. While it might not be for everybody, if you think you would enjoy a complex story that forces you to understand the protagonist’s state of mind during unexpected culture shock then I’d say give it a go.
The Kindle Edition is $11.99
Something From the Nightside – Simon Green
This is the first in a fairly substantial series by Green. It’s a quick, fun read that I can’t describe much better than Pulp Detective Fiction meets Moorcock’s Multiverse. The main character is a professional detective with no actual detecting skill besides a “gift” that lets him find anything magically. The fact that it manages to be a fun read is proof of the concept that it can be more interesting to watch a mystery being solved than to understand the process by which it is solved.
In a lot of ways, this reads like the author’s personal homage to all the things he loves in literature. You’ll catch references, both overt and subtle, to the existence of things taken from dozens of different major genre works you might have read. After something as dense and complex as Kraken, it makes a great fun diversion.
The Kindle Edition is $7.99
The Magicians – Lev Grossman
This is sort of a harsh take on Harry Potter with a bunch of CS Lewis thrown in for good measure. Basically, Magic is real and people learn to use it at secret schools where only the best of the best can get in and learn to manipulate the world to their liking.
Unlike many books with similar concepts, this isn’t an uplifting story of wish fulfillment and overcoming adversity. The characters are undeniably human and manage to overcome the sort of “nerdy teenager gains superpowers” cliche that you might expect at first. I found it to be a genuinely interesting, and occasionally troubling, look at what it really means to be offered everything you ever thought you wanted. The outline of the story is familiar, but the execution is beyond excellent.
The Kindle Edition is $12.99
Not too long ago, Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) announced that they were finally officially selling more Kindle Edition eBooks than they were print books, even discounting free book downloads. It was a big deal and, I think, still is. It indicates changing perceptions of what a book is to a reader at the conceptual level. I’m not saying that the battle is won or anything, but milestones matter.
Since that time, people have reacted in a number of ways. Publishers have expressed skepticism, which makes perfect sense given their level of investment in keeping eBook prices as high as possible. People like me who are fans of the Kindle, its associated platform, and the community building up around it have expressed the obvious enthusiasm. I’m not claiming a lack of bias on this point. At least one analyst, a Michael Norris, has publicly called the claim “obnoxious” and expressed the opinion that the whole announcement was a publicity stunt made possible by taking things completely out of context.
Context is indeed what matters here. Norris goes on to express the opinion that Amazon must be padding their numbers with some apparently astounding sales from the popular Kindle Singles program. While I’m skeptical of the claim that the Singles are where Amazon is making most of their sales, having looked through the selection more than once, it doesn’t really matter. The fact that the Kindle Singles are shorter doesn’t make them “not books” in my eyes. Really, I don’t think it does for this guy either. I believe what he is objecting to is the fact that a product selling for $0.99 can hold as much weight as a product going for $12.99 when it comes time to compare sales. He comes out and says “Obviously, when you’re selling units so inexpensively, you’re going to sell more of those than, for example, a $14 paperback print book” and thinks he’s making a point against eBooks.
This gets to the heart of the matter, and I think it explains the difference between what customers want to know and what publishers would like them to know. As a reader and buyer of books, both electronic and otherwise, I am more interested in the number of copies being sold than I am in how much profit somebody is making off of them. I’m not a stockholder. If somebody tells me that in spite of 20% of all book sales in a year being eBooks only 5% of a specific publisher’s income came from them, I wonder what that publisher was doing wrong, not what is wrong with eBook loving customers.
What I’m trying to get at is that saying that the numbers are misleading just because they address an aspect of the transition to a new medium that you don’t like is not cool. Yes, this is a different context from what you may be used to, but it is not out of context. If anything, it highlights a more relevant piece of information about the new publishing business than most other things I have seen. Is the announcement a bit self-serving on Amazon’s part? Of course, or why would they have made it? It wouldn’t be useful, though if it didn’t tell people something they wanted to know. The Kindle is doing well, possibly better than anybody could have expected at this point, and whether or not that had to do with Kindle Singles it seems that people were interested enough to take notice.