The Kindle Boondoggle

Thursday, May 7, 2009
Well, far be it for me to re-tread on ground covered by Pseudonym so recently, but I have an altogether different take on the Kindle phenomenon. I was an enthusiastic Kindle 1 user, getting mine several months before the Kindle 2 was announced. I thought I had finally found ebook nirvana. But I have since become a disillusioned and rather frustrated Kindle owner.

You see, over the years, I've dabbled with a truly ridiculous number of ebook reader-analogues, trying to find the ideal mix of convenience, portability and readability. My favorite devices, before the Kindle, was a Newton 2000, or a Sony Clie NX70. Both of them were small, had terribly long battery life, and had easy-to-use interfaces in either landscape or portrait mode. But they were imperfect. The two major shortcomings were the readability of the screens (low-contrast for the Newton, low-contrast and overbright for the Clie), and the lack of easy access to legitimate content.

I very quickly grew tired of Project Gutenberg public-domain etexts and promotional ebooks. I wanted all of the books that I could buy at my local bookstore, in ebook form, and I didn't want to have to delve into the morally, legally, and ethically dubious world of ebook piracy just to get books I'd be more than happy to pay a fair price for.

Fair price. That's the rub. The Kindle, at first, seemed like an ideal product: it solved all of the readability problems of other devices with its gorgeous eInk screen, and it finally made available a huge catalog of in-print books for fair prices. Let's be clear, here: ebooks are not physical books. They are un-resellable, they are limited to use by an eventually-obsolete device, and they are hampered with DRM. I don't mind any of that, as long as the price is commensurate.

So, when the Kindle store was first introduced, the prices were a breath of fresh air: finally some reality in ebook pricing. In-print hardbacks were never more than $10.00. Paperbacks were deeply discounted from list price (30 to 60 percent or so). But since I've bought my Kindle, I've been dismayed to see the price rise steadily. Current hardbacks probably average $16 to $21 dollars, often more than the price Amazon sells the physical copy for. Paperbacks, the majority of books I'm interested in buying, have seen an even more extreme and nonsensical increase in price: the Kindle price is almost always more than the physical list price. Let me repeat that: MORE than the list price.

I don't know who to blame. Equally vociferous commenters blame greedy book publishers or Amazon's unrealistic profit-sharing. I don't give a damn. Until Kindle ebook prices come down, way down, there is no way in hell I'm going to buy another Kindle. No matter how big the screen is.


Gravity said...

Blame Oprah.

Eldritch said...

All snarkiness aside, Gravity, I think you may be right, in the sense that the burgeoning success of the ebook market, fueled in part by Oprah's endorsement, may have caused book publishers to salivate at the thought of a tasty new revenue stream. As is all-too-common with DRM-limited technology, corporations often seem to think that by locking you in to the format, they can ignore value when setting prices. So financially strapped publishers see a few thousand ebook sales, and figure "why not double those profits by jacking up prices?" Or maybe it's Amazon that's padding it's bottom line by charging well in excess of the actual value of an electronic book.

But it's ridiculous in any event that more success and more sales are resulting in higher prices.

Pseudonym said...

Wooo! PRS-500!

Honestly, I had no idea that that price increase had happened. What an awful thing to do to your installed base. Amazon had been selling out of Kindles, such was its popularity, and they decided to repay the very people who were supporting them with 3x price increases?


There's a Sony store, too, but the experience is much much much worse on the Kindle - they sort of guide you to their books, much like iTunes encourages use of the iTunes Store via Genius and Album Art.

This isn't a snob comment, or at least it's not intended, but I use my PRS with Calibre on Mac and Linux (the sony official software is windows only), and I almost exclusively read the Project Steve Gutenberg books. But still, a larger Kindle means a larger Sony soon, and various other manufacturers. I think I'll double-wait. =)

Eldritch said...

The response I (and other) disgruntled Kindle users have been getting upon complaining about the prices of Kindle books is "[W]e do not restrict or set the prices. The publisher sets the price that they want to receive, and that in turn affects the end user prices.Which is fine, but rather disingenuous, considering that Amazon sets the proportion of the price that goes to the publisher or to Amazon.

But like I said, the distribution of blame is pretty unimportant to me as a consumer. I just don't want to be shafted on prices. But, so far, there's no end in sight.

Pseudonym said...

So let's say when the Kindle was first released, a publisher wanted to make $7 on a book. Amazon would tack on an additioinal $3, for a total cost to the Kindle user of $10.

Now a publisher decides they want to make $21. Amazon tacks on $9. You're saying that since there's no no actual difference in the distribution for amazon then they should be ok with the original $3?

And you're saying that The Colorado Kid isn't worth that?? You ingrate.

adambravo said...

$21? I bought a Kindle1 rather late in its lifecycle, then upgraded to a Kindle2. I have never stumbled across a book price more than $15--and that's rare. I agree that ebooks should be far cheaper than dead-tree editions--but, strangely enough, that's been my experience so far. Perhaps my tastes are too lowbrow...

Anonymous said...

No. Amazon charges whatever it wants for Kindle Books.
The publisher sets the "List Price" and Amazon pays the publisher a set price, based on that List Price. A share of that is the amount that goes to the Publisher, which is divided between the Author and Publisher.

However, Amazon sets the Kindle Book Price -- often a price LOWER than the price it's paying the Publisher. For all those best selling books that Amazon is charging $9.99 -- Amazon is paying the publisher more than that 9.99, undercutting their own earnings.
They're thus getting people accustomed to paying $10-15 for Kindle books, while taking a loss on their books.

The implication is that Amazon will later insist on setting that $10-15 price for an ebook from the publisher, which will reduce the Author's earnings from an ebook sale -- which makes ebook sales less lucrative for the Author... which makes it even harder for an Author to earn a living at writing.

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