The Brazilian market has not seen an entry from Amazon so far, but that looks like it is about to change. It seems that the Kindle will be launched in Brazil by the holiday season, along with a store that they hope to full with at least 10,000 titles. Oddly, in what I believe is the only instance of such a thing happening so far, there will be no other Amazon services entering the market at the same time. That means that for the time being the eBook store will have to stand on its own.
While a full retail store is definitely in plans for Brazil, at the moment there are apparently too many potential dangers in the notoriously complex commercial markets there. By going entirely digital, many of the shortcomings in infrastructure and tax codes can be somewhat sidestepped. It’s interesting timing given the fact that Brazil’s consumer growth seems to be trailing off after a decade of impressive growth, but Amazon is far from the only company interested in cashing in on Latin America’s most prosperous economy.
The motivation behind this move is Amazon’s expectation that the Kindle could quickly come to dominate the eBook market. Apparently some research has indicated that a fairly large number of Brazilian readers already own imported eReaders, including the Kindle, and go out of their way to purchase and download books through stores that are not technically open to the country at this time. By moving the Kindle Store in, Amazon expects to immediately grab as much as 90% of the country’s eBook sales. The same source that released this information also mentioned that Amazon is hoping to expand eBook sales from 0.5% of the Brazilian publishing market to 15% within the first year of operations.
We can expect the basic Kindle model to be the first thing released through the new store. It will likely be selling for approximately 500 reais, equivalent to $239, which is obviously higher than many other markets are seeing but still cheaper than the competition currently available in Brazil. Naturally prices will drop as competition strengthens, but there has been some indication that even this high price is being subsidized by Amazon thanks to the added expense of doing business in this area.
There are already contracts in place with around 30 publishers as Amazon gets ready for the release. There is also word that there are still ongoing talks with several that are not included in that list. One publisher said that the current plan is to offer titles at 70% of their paperback price, allowing for a profit margin of 40-50%. That would not translate to much revenue for the wholesalers, in this case publishers, but they are still interested in signing up for the platform as a means to expand interest in their books.
This will probably end up being the slowest expansion that Amazon has undertaken to date. Entering into the Brazilian economy will be rather unpleasant for them and clearly they are aware of that. By leading with the Kindle not only will they avoid some of the headaches associated with local shipping and distribution of assorted retail products, they will also be putting the best foot forward by providing interested customers with one of the best products in production today for reading. It seems to be a smart choice.
It has been an interesting few months of discussion, debate, argument, and drama, but The Independent Publishers Group has finally arrived at terms with Amazon that will allow their titles to return to the Kindle Store. This comes as welcome news to the many authors and publishers who rely on the IPG and is likely even more welcome to the many readers who have been unable to enjoy this content thanks to the ongoing conflict.
The terms that have been reached are as yet undisclosed. The only way we know anything of this is thanks to a mass email informing IPG publishers that as of May 25th their titles are back on the digital shelves. Anything that isn’t made it back into circulation should be restored “in the next day or two”. It will be interesting to see what exactly comes out about this new agreement since IPG CEO Curt Matthews has been blogging at length throughout this about the many evils of editor/publisher disintermediation.
I don’t agree with many of Matthews’s arguments. I think he is very persuasively trying to hold onto the past by ignoring a lot of important aspects of the eBook transition we have going on right now. Whether or not you buy into his points, though, clearly he has no interest in giving up any ground to Amazon. To hear him talk, Amazon is deliberately trying to destroy all publishing and the independent authors their self-publishing program enables are universally talentless amateurs. Taken not terribly out of context, his opinion is pretty well conveyed by this passage from the IPG Blog:
“One of the most important functions of publishers, distributors, and booksellers (book agents and reviewers too) has always been to assure a certain level of quality, not necessarily as high a level as we might want, but at least a baseline far higher than the abysmal standard—in fact the non-existent standard—set by the new electronic vanity presses.”
Details are mostly unimportant to both customers and publishers at this point, however. What matters is the fact that the books are available for the Kindle again. In order to take some of the edge off of the months that publishers have had to endure with no Amazon sales, IPG has chosen to forgo their fee on everything sold from June 1st through August 31st of this year. 100% of all revenue will go directly to the publishers.
The best that can be said about this whole situation is that it draws attention to the problems that exist in the power balance between distributers and publishers, as well in the mechanisms of the publishing industry. Publishers have a purpose and provide a great deal of value. Perhaps not as much as they want people to believe, but it is obviously going to be in their best interest to make that case.
Amazon is doing an amazing job of maintaining their place as the primary distributer of digital reading material and, despite the fact that they are doing most of that by simply creating in the Kindle the best platform there is right now, they are using that position in ways that don’t necessarily serve customers. It needed to come out, and hopefully things will be better as a result.
The coming of the fourth generation of Kindle readers brought us a keyboard-free design. This promised to, and has proven able to, allow for the expansion of Kindle availability into non-Anglophone markets around the world. What many might night have predicted is that it would allow for the opening of language-specific Kindle Stores right here in the US.
Amazon has now made available a Spanish Language Kindle Store. More precisely, looking at the organization of the store page, they have created a category that amounts to such a store. Clicking on “eBooks Kindle en Español” under the Kindle Store’s main page category listing will take you to the new selection.
Featuring more than 30,000 eBooks already, this store page should open up whole new markets for Amazon. There are more than 45 million people in the United States who speak Spanish as a first or second language, a significant portion of which have only moderate English comprehension, according to census reports. Spanish is also by far the most widely taught second language in the country. There couldn’t be a better way to start expanding the Kindle’s offerings.
Highlights from the Amazon Press Release Include:
• All of the Spanish-language Nielsen best sellers available as eBooks in the United States, and 65 of the top 100 Spanish-language print best sellers from Amazon.com
• The largest representation of Mexican authors, including Jose Emilio Pacheco, Carlos Monsivais and Sergio Pitol
• Kindle Singles in Spanish, including Singles by best-selling authors Kurt Vonnegut and Susan Orlean
• An exclusive selection of Dora the Explorer and Go Diego Go books in Spanish
• Compilations of articles from “El Pais,” including exclusive pieces from Mexican journalists writing about Mexican current affairs
• Subscriptions to 14 leading Latin American newspapers such as El Universal and La Nacion
• Popular English-language books translated into Spanish, such as the Hunger Games series, the Twilight series, “Steve Jobs,” “The Help,” and books by authors Stephen King, Nora Roberts and Joel Osteen
The new store will allow KDP self-publishers to create books specifically for this audience by selecting Spanish in their language options when submitting. Kindle Owners are able to set their interface to Spanish by changing the language preference option at the Manage Your Kindle screen on Amazon.com. This last step is not necessary to purchase from this section of the store, but it may be particularly appealing for new potential Kindle buyers.
We can’t say for sure that this will extend to more language-specific subsections for eBooks. Spanish has a special prominence here in the US in numbers that equal those of the next several most popular languages put together. Should it prove popular, however, there is not any reason for Amazon not to offer such a store. They have the systems basically in place, and it is hard to imagine that the ability to purchase Gombrowicz’s work in the original Polish would result in a sufficiently large rush to destroy the servers.
The new rule for making a newspaper work seems to be maximizing its availability. This means that not only does it need to be at the local supermarket and gas stations, you also need to have editions available for the Kindle, Nook, iPad, general Internet, and more. Publishers are forced to jump through a lot of hoops to get this sort of availability built up and optimized for as broad a reader base as possible, but without that availability they tend to find themselves unable to compete in an age of increasingly all-digital, up-to-the-minute news sources.
Amazon has been doing a good job, up until now, of accommodating as many newspapers as were interested in joining the Kindle platform. Second only to iPad in terms of its subscriber base, papers are under a lot of pressure to make sure that they can maintain a place. So many have realized this that Amazon has been forced to temporarily suspend new publications until they can get things under control.
Multiple sources are now noting that newspaper publishers are being turned away. The situation is reported to be “not permanent but may be long term”. Amazon has responded by denying the existence of such a move, but then explained that they are running behind and can’t get to new things very quickly right now. Their suggestion for distributing to Kindle customers is to ask publishers to build themselves an app and submit it to the Amazon Appstore for Android.
Naturally this won’t be a huge comfort for many publishers. The Kindle eReader is by far the more widely distributed product at the moment, even if the Kindle Fire is quickly catching up, and that whole branch of the product line would be unreachable through Android perpetually. Also a factor is that any number of newspapers has been working hard to get their product in compliance with Amazon’s Kindle Newspaper guidelines with the express intent of reading the eReader side of things. To completely shift focus and abandon existing efforts in favor of an Android app seems less than ideal, when it would work at all.
The Kindle Store’s Newsstand currently stocks around 200 papers, with more being added all the time. While we can’t know the underlying cause of Amazon’s sudden hold on expansion, there are some speculations that make sense.
Possibly it is a matter of volume, given that this is something that requires trained oversight from Amazon staff to ensure quality integration. Also possible is the idea that this will force publishers to adopt KF8 and optimize for the Kindle Fire. Regardless of whether either of these actually works, it is hard to imagine that this is a major profit-building area of Kindle Sales and so it is highly tempting imagine a tactical move taking place here.
For now, what publishers have been pushed off are trying to work with Amazon to figure out where their options are. In the near future, we may find that only the biggest names in newspaper publication are available on the Kindle anymore.
Not much is known at this time about what options are being discussed by the publishers under attack by the Justice Department. We do have good information that there are settlement options on the table and that the Agency Model pricing model currently to blame for high Kindle Edition eBook prices will be on the chopping block regardless.
Reports from unnamed informants close to the matter have indicated that there is reason to expect a settlement within the next several weeks. Neither Apple nor the publishers have responded to any requests for comment at this time. The Justice Dept declined to say anything.
Whether this is a sign of consensus among the defendants or merely that one or two are feeling the pressure and wanting to end what they see as a losing battle should not matter much in terms of the outcome. In the event of one publisher involved in the price fixing scheme reaching a settlement, the terms would undoubtedly involve release of evidence necessary for ensuring a successful prosecution of the rest.
Basically, assuming the news is true, this means that the end of the Agency Model is at hand and that the Kindle has made it through possibly the most harmful barrier to eReader adoption without so far becoming irrelevant. A return to the wholesale model, even temporarily, will mean more affordable reading material for Kindle owners. This in turn should spur sales of the eReading line. Amazon’s willingness to take a loss on bestsellers to promote their product line is what game them over 90% of the eReading market before the Agency Model was imposed and there is no reason to see this practice changing overly much if the Agency Model is destroyed.
The big question will be what comes next. Settlement or unfavorable ruling aside, publishers are not going to give up on their position that readers have no right to expect inexpensive books. It is incredibly unlikely that they will all pull out of Amazon in reaction to this, but they’re going to have to find some new way to prevent Kindle customers from being too happy with digital books.
The case at hand is all about how the defendants collaborated to impose the Agency Model on Amazon. The means to achieve this goal is in question, not the model itself. Depending on the terms of the settlement, publishers could be permitted to go back to it in time. They could also turn to something even more unpleasant for potential customers. It is hard to tell at the moment.
In the short term, the clear winners will be customers. Prices on eBooks should drop abruptly, especially in the Kindle Store, following official announcement of the deal being made. In reality, expectations may need to change with regard to how profitable a new bestseller should be per unit sold. Big 6 publishers will be forced to come to terms with this. Beyond the immediate benefits to Kindle customers there is little that can be asserted reliably about the effects of this situation. It will be interesting to see how the situation evolves. Any thoughts or predictions?
Now that J.K. Rowling’s last major addition to the Harry Potter experience, the Pottermore site, is about to go live, people are starting to get excited about the series all over again. The Pottermore Beta is ongoing, but things have advanced to the point where the eBooks are finally available and launch is expected some time in April. Kindle owners can now pick up the series right through the Kindle Store’s product listing, or by going directly to the Pottermore shop.
Oddly enough, the way Rowling has insisted on keeping control of her work entirely in the hands of her own site has caused Amazon some issues already. They have clearly made an effort to accommodate in order to get Kindle customers easy access to the collection, to the point of linking potential customers off-site to the Pottermore store, but launch did not go as smoothly as anticipated. For the first several hours after Harry Potter came to the Kindle, any number of popular selections were completely unavailable for purchase.
Anybody looking to get their own copy of the newer children’s book series, The Hunger Games, on Tuesday morning was presented with a large green button claiming that “This title is not available for customers from: United States” where the Buy button would normally have been. Presumably this only affected US readers, but I was unable to confirm either way before the problem was resolved early that afternoon.
There is always some chance of error when attempting to integrate services between different major projects like this. That is especially true in the case of something as complex as Amazon.com and the Kindle Store. It is strange to think of Amazon having trouble with anything as trivial as accommodating the number of Harry Potter fans who wanted to read their favorite books on the Kindle for the first time, but sometimes the problem is a bit more complex than dealing with heavy loads.
For the future, this has a few implications. If more major authors follow in Rowling’s footsteps, which seems unlikely but will always be an option, the staff at Amazon now have slightly more experience with integration and a good idea of some of the likely bugs that go along with it. This means that such business relationships will almost certainly go a bit more smoothly.
It also might emphasize for people how important it is to always have multiple sales avenues. While Amazon’s service is second to none when it comes to self-publishers and readers, there is always a chance for error when dealing with a single source. Some authors choose, quite profitably, to go with the KDP Select option and increase their earnings through book lending. For those who aren’t going that way, it might be useful to maintain a secondary personal store just in case a glitch like this occurs.
There are a lot of Kindle owners out there, many of whom would be willing to check author sites if the Kindle Store was offline. A lost sale is a lost sale, even if you’re talking about just a few hours of outage.
What began as seemingly little more than an experiment to test whether or not there was a market for intermediate length written works, Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, has succeeded beyond all expectations. To highlight this fact, they have made a rare exception to the usual policy of never releasing sales numbers to reveal that the 2-millionth sale of a Kindle Single had been made. Estimates put the company’s revenue from the program at over $1,200,000 in the 14 months since the program launched.
Unlike the larger Kindle Direct Publishing program, Kindle Singles are highly selective and can be extremely difficult to create. If accepted, however, they tend to be almost guaranteed successes. Those millions of sales were divided up among fewer than 200 short works. Considering that this is a form that had completely gone out of fashion and that many felt was at best of marginal interest, it is an amazing accomplishment for Amazon to have come so far with them.
Now things are getting even better, thanks to an exclusive deal with Rosetta Books. They have arranged for the Kindle Singles program to have exclusive access to a never before published piece by Kurt Vonnegut. Written in the 1940s, Basic Training is about 20,000 words and was intended to be published under the pseudonym Mark Harvey. It is a very early work by the author and while likely rejected for a reason at the time it was submitted, hence the never before published status, will be quite interesting for any Vonnegut fan.
In a way this demonstrates how effective it is to have quality control factors involved in determining available selections. The average title in the Singles program is obviously doing better than the average KDP eBook. Potential readers know in advance that the whole library of Singles has been screened and approved, which removes some of the uncertainty that has plagued the eBook publishing scene for a while now. Nobody runs the risk of picking up what looks to be a good book and turns out to be nothing but a five page advertisement for questionable internet pharmaceutical sales sites.
On the other hand, because this is such a narrowly defined category of books, the Kindle Singles do hold a certain special place that might make their example a poor one in terms of wider applicability. Much of Amazon’s success in the realm of digital publishing is coming as a result of offering any aspiring author to get their work out there in hopes that it can stand on its own merits even without the endorsement of a major publisher. If they were to seriously undertake gate keeping duties for the Kindle, it would undermine that aspect of the business.
No matter how you personally view the situation, it is safe to say that this is positive information for those who find the quicker, more concise offerings of the Kindle Singles shop enjoyable. Sometimes it is just nice to be able to read this sort of work without unnecessary cutting or padding to fit more familiar forms.
Check out Basic Training now for $1.99, only at Amazon
Since the rise of the Agency Model that Apple made possible for publishers in a partnership surrounding the release of the iBooks application and store for the original iPad (a partnership now awaiting trial in an anti-trust case), there has been serious talk about how Amazon has set out on a crusade to utterly destroy traditional publishing with the Kindle. This isn’t news, exactly, but it has become an important and popular topic after the recent contract dispute that the company had with the Independent Publishers Group that has resulted in the ongoing absence of IPG titles from the Kindle Store.
There can be no question that Amazon is acting like a bully in this dispute. They want a lot and are in a position to demand rather than ask or negotiate. What has risen up in response to this anti-Amazon sentiment has been shocking to say the least, however. Scattered around popular blogs, we can now see any number of authors and publishers coming out against Amazon and claiming that publishers were somehow right to have engaged in price fixing and that even if it was technically illegal they should be allowed a pass because otherwise Amazon will win.
On the one hand, it is understandable sentiment. Thanks to the Kindle, Amazon controls around 75% of the eBook market already. Without their platform, the rise of eReading as we now know it would slow to a crawl. Nobody else has the resources, or seemingly the interest in customer satisfaction, that Amazon is willing to put into keeping such a platform going.
On the other hand, this is insane. Publishers were unhappy with how poorly the old business model applies to new media and so their potentially illegal activities should be excused. It makes no sense to me, somehow.
This is made to seem like it is a one-sided arrangement. I believe that to be a mischaracterization. If publishers lacked power, they could not have compelled the adoption of the Agency Model in the first place. They were just too concerned at the time with short term profits to be willing to take a stand and risk losing Amazon as a storefront. It was a move that only made sense for every individual company if they knew that none of the competition would be capitalizing on their threatened withdrawal.
Amazon’s acting like a bully aside (because in the matter of the Agency Model and its potential legal implications that that does not apply) they have built the simplest and most usable way for readers everywhere to access eBooks. Nobody else has come close, despite competing efforts from Barnes & Noble’s Nook line, the Kobo, and more. This does not mean that anybody has been compelled to use it.
There would be no case against them if the Big 6 Publishers had come out with their own Kindle competitor and started offering all of their titles through it. The Kindle would still be there attracting self publishers and generally making itself useful in various ways, but it wouldn’t have the content to be so important.
These publishers don’t want to have to deal with building new distribution channels, though. They also don’t want to have to adapt when other people build them. The fact that there is a power disparity is undeniable, but that doesn’t mean that these publishers were ever powerless. Nobody compels them to use the Kindle platform. To say that they should be able to get away with their own anti-competitive and manipulative actions because otherwise the Kindle line will make people start seeing books as more affordable and ruin their profits is just ridiculous.
This is going to be a bit controversial, I’m sure, given how Amazon has gone about using their influence to beat down smaller publishers and other suppliers recently, but when it comes right down to it there can be no doubt that Amazon deserves to be on top of the market right now. It isn’t a matter of overhead or business ethics or anything like that either. They are just the only company selling books right now that seems to be good at giving customers what they want.
Let’s think this through a bit. People like to read. Even before the Kindle and Nook started their competition, both companies were selling books. Amazon had the advantage, mostly because they could afford to cut prices more than a company like B&N that had to deal with maintaining a storefront. When the Agency Model was imposed by Apple and the Big Six Publishers, then, surely B&N should have taken off again, right?
This is admittedly an oversimplification of a complex situation, but when you throw in the common and intense criticism that Amazon faces from all quarters these days you have to wonder why nobody else has been able to attract attention as a superior alternative. The Nook Simple Touch eReader is possibly the best hardware out there, for example, so why is the Kindle dominating the space?
The answer is that they know how to give customers what they want. Not just in terms of free shipping, discounts, and other such monetary inducements. Shopping for book on Amazon, Kindle Editions or not, is simply a better experience than anybody else offers. Barnes & Noble provides customers with a site that is comparatively hard to navigate and that seems to openly privilege business agreements over anything else in how it presents potential buyers with suggestions.
Shopping for Nook Books, you get long lists of Bestsellers, anticipated releases, and other such predictable content. It is just like what one would see when walking into a book store. Interesting in some ways, but far from an organic series of recommendations based on what people are really enjoying right now.
In the Kindle Store, Bestsellers and Editors’ Picks are categories that have to be clicked through to. Customers have an extensive list of potential categories for book browsing presented to one side and a completely fluid list of top selling titles on the other. The only product placement is for the Kindle eReader itself. On top of this, once moving into one of the many categories, the first thing you see is a list of books generated based on your own reading habits. All Barnes & Noble gives you is their Booksellers’ picks.
Is Barnes & Noble doing something bad here? Not at all. But they are trying to maintain the sort of model used in their physical stores. They are trying to act as gatekeepers and mediators, telling customers what they should want rather than presenting customers with something they may want. This, more than anything, is what gives the Kindle user the superior overall experience. If somebody is able to provide a similar sort of service, helping their customers rather than advertising at them, it will be the biggest blow Amazon has taken in eReading since they stepped into the field. So far, it doesn’t seem like anybody has caught on.
Sources have recently reported that Amazon may be about to open up a whole new direction for their Kindle marketing. Before the end of this year we can expect to be seeing the first small store or stores arriving in Seattle. This seems to be intended as a preliminary effort directed at determining the viability of such outlets as a real money maker, but there is some reason to think that this could be a big factor in the future of both the Kindle and Amazon’s new publishing imprints.
With Barnes & Noble’s recent decision to effectively ban all of Amazon’s new efforts in the field of publishing, the company is going to be needing new ways to showcase their products. These boutique style stores would offer them the chance to make up for the lack, especially as it seems likely that their intention is to increase their involvement in publication rather than let it fall away under external pressures.
While it seems less likely, given that focus will probably be at least somewhat important, there is even the chance that this will be Amazon’s biggest move so far to show off their product lines in various other areas aside from books and eReaders. Their AmazonBasics consumer electronics line has at least some connection to things like the Kindle Fire, even if their Strathwood furniture wouldn’t fit so well. Hard to imagine that even a small store could be properly stocked using nothing but three Kindle eReaders, the Kindle Fire, some accessories, and whatever books they are able to get published before the end of the year.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that Amazon has been rumored to be working on building themselves a physical presence. Unlike previous instances, though, the details do seem to add up here. In addition to the fact that the proposed pilot store would be in Seattle, home of Amazon and a state where sales taxes are already being collected by the company, the initial report indicates that they have already contracted store design through a shell company. It will be small rather than something intended to compete head to head in every area at once with other retail giants like Walmart, which also makes a good deal of sense for a company that derives a great deal of benefit from being highly distinct from such stores while still offering amazing savings. Most importantly, unlike the 2009 rumors Amazon has not jumped in to quash this one before it takes hold.
While there are downsides to building a Brick & Mortar presence for the Kindle line, especially given the numerous partnerships that Amazon maintains with the likes of Best Buy and Target to keep their hardware available on the local level, being able to highlight something with as much investment behind it as the Kindle Fire and its anticipated successor might well be worth the risks. Hopefully over the next few months we will learn more about how Amazon intends to show off the Kindle to their advantage.