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January 2018
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Kindle Prices Still Too High!

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.

Kindle Editions w/ Multimedia: A Failed Experiment?

While eBook sales have been expanding across the board and the Kindle is flourishing with ever-increasing sales each year, very little has been heard about the Kindle Edition eBook / A/V hybrid that was once touted as a potential future for the eBook.  The explanations for this failure to thrive is fairly simple are understand, but do they mean that the format is dead?

Probably the main failing, in my eyes, was the lack of logical transition for the customer.  Books are familiar territory for most people.  Audio and video are separate concerns.  The only place that the average eBook customer is likely to encounter a combination of the two is while browsing the internet.  When the best comparison that a reader can draw is to something they already encounter for free on a daily basis, it would take some fairly strong marketing to increase the perceived value.

It didn’t help anything that the nature of the integration made it impossible to access on the Kindle eReader itself.  The whole platform, while offering a reading experience to anybody with a screen and internet access, is pretty much built around the eReader.  Having content that cannot be accessed through this doesn’t do as much good as one would prefer.

On top of that, you have no Android app access, meaning that the only customers who even have the option of reading their purchases away from the PC are Apple iOS users.  Soon even they won’t be a valid audience.  Given recent issues with the Apple App Store guideline enforcement, Amazon is clearly prodding iOS users in the direction of the new Kindle Cloud Reader which does not yet (and seems unlikely in the near future to) support A/V integration.

Price must also be considered a factor.  While it is true that the integration of extra-textual layers brings some added value to a book, it seems difficult to justify the additional cost for many of the available texts.  The experience is often similar to the special features on a DVD.  It might be worth a small about more than simply the main experience, but not enough to justify a noticeable jump in price.  Of course, without that price you have added investment beyond the core book that is not being compensated for.  A bit of a dilemma.

Does this mean the end of the project?  While it is clear that priorities have to be elsewhere right this minute, I can see this being something Amazon comes back to in the future.  The upcoming Kindle Tablet will have the hardware necessary to allow this sort of integration again and will hopefully be accessible to far more users, in terms of price, than the iPad was at launch.  Assuming that Amazon does not intend to break the Kindle completely away from the app marketplace in favor of browser-based applications, this would also finally result in a working Kindle for Android A/V presence which would further increase the value of the product line.  For now, not really a major factor in the Kindle‘s success.