Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

What happens if Amazon and Hachette can’t agree?

May 30, 2014

What happens if Amazon and Hachette can’t agree?

It isn’t personal.

Hachette (a publisher) and Amazon (a retailer) are in the midst of a turbulent negotiation. It’s like Godzilla battling Mothra…and unfortunately, in that scenario,we readers are Tokyo.

Businesses famously fight and fight and fight and then settle things up and go back to business as usual. It’s not personal…there is nothing that fundamentally stops them from making money together.

Except sometimes, they don’t.

What if this is one of those times?

What if Hachette, which may be trying to bring back the Agency Model in September (when their legal prohibition ends), and Amazon, which wants control over consumer pricing, just finally have to stop working with each other?

A little over three years ago, I wrote

A Tale of Two Middles

I looked at the two “middles” between authors and readers: publishers and retailers. I even specifically compared Hachette and Amazon:

“How many people know Amazon versus knowing Hachette?  Familiarity is important online…you’ve got to trust the people from whom you buy.  Amazon has been cust0mer-facing for more than a decade…publishers are just really learning that.”

In the past three years have we gotten to the point where the tradpubs (traditional publishers) and Amazon don’t need each other?

Let’s postulate that Amazon and Hachette can’t work it out…and Amazon stops carrying Hachette books.

What would happen for Hachette?

Hachette would need to find another way to sell those books: Amazon is clearly a huge hunk of sales. They could, of course, hypothetically reconfigure in a way that they need to sell fewer books…take fewer risks in publishing choices, come up with alternate funding streams (licensing the backlist to subsers ((subscription servicers))), charge more for each book…there are ways. Let’s assume, though, that they want to continue to sell a lot of books.

They can work through other retailers…but that might be like running from one room to another during an earthquake. It might not exactly be a safe harbor.

The other choice is that they sell directly…which is what I was discussing three years ago.

I think that is a much stronger possibility than it was.

Initially, consumers were insecure about buying e-books: now, they aren’t as much. It’s familiar: they might buy from a publisher (which they know less well) rather than going with Amazon.

“Social selling” is another big possibility. Similar to Amazon Associates, the publisher could directly compensate anyone that sells their books (within certain structures). So, you e-mail your sibling about a $4.99 book, they buy it from your link, you get $0.50. That 90% “keep” for the publisher is much better than what they get from Amazon now, even taking into account the costs of sale.

Multiply that many times over with social media, like Twitter, Goodreads (owned by Amazon), and so on.

Do we trust Amazon more than we trust our friends?

Would we feel better about our friends getting a little cash than Amazon getting it?

What if it was a non-profit? That might do even more for the sales.

No reason for a publisher like Hachette not to make the file “platform agnostic”…they could make a book file like an MP3, where it could be read on pretty much any device.

It would cost publishers quite a bit to set something like this up…I think readers would insist on cloud storage of their books, like they get from Amazon, but I think it’s entirely doable. As discovery becomes decentralized, Amazon becomes less important.

What would happen for Amazon?

Amazon would need to have customers make a bigger mental shift than Hachette would, in part because I think customers have a more well-formed conception of Amazon.

When the Kindle was first released in 2007, Amazon had a goal of “every book ever published…”

They’d have to drop that as a marketing point.

If they didn’t have some of the big books, they’d be under more obligation to make other books matter just as much. That might be books they publish themselves, but it could be other titles as well. That’s exactly one of the tactics they are trying during the Hachazon War: they are putting ads on the Hachette books’ product pages recommending alternate books which are cheaper or better reviewed.

If that is successful, it means Amazon doesn’t need those publishers’ books…although the tradpubs would definitely be leading discovery at first (people would go look for the new J.K. Rowling before bouncing to another choice).

Another possibility is that Amazon keeps providing the books to their customers…but doesn’t sell them itself.

I think that might have been missed as one of the most important things Amazon said in their recent Hachazon War statement:

“If you do need one of the affected titles quickly, we regret the inconvenience and encourage you to purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.” [emphasis added]
Announcement Hachette/Amazon Business Interruption (at AmazonSmile: benefit a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

That’s right: somebody can buy that Hachette book from Barnes & Noble and then sell it to through Amazon…and Amazon charges for the service.

Third-party selling is very important to Amazon, and a good way for them to make money. Naturally, that only works with physical books at this point, and you might expect it to mean higher prices…but it is a way for Amazon to keep being a place where you can get the books. If a way to sell used e-books ever does come to fruition, that would also really feed this.

The third option for Amazon is to stop carrying a broad array of books.

While Amazon was originally positioned as an online bookstore, those days are gone. They are certainly still seen as a bookseller, but they are so much more. They could get out of the book retailing business and still have a very substantial business model (including web services and “fulfillment services”).

They might still sell Amazon published books (Amazon traditionally published and Amazon as a publishing platform for independent authors) in that scenario.

Both companies have viable alternatives to the publisher/retailer relationship.

The question may no longer be who needs the other company more…but whether or not they need each other at all.

What do you think? What would you do if you couldn’t get Hachette’s books from Amazon? Would you get them somewhere else? What if you could buy e-books from the publisher which would work on your Kindle? Would you be more likely to buy a book from a friend than from a store? Do you ever make buying decisions because it helps a non-profit? If Hachette and Amazon “break up”, would the other Big Five publishers follow…or might Random Penguin, for example, stick with Amazon (in the way that Random House did not go with everybody else on the Agency Model back in 2010)? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Bonus deal:

Save $79 by getting the Kindle Fire HDX and the Fire TV bundle!

Amazon Fire TV & Kindle Fire HDX 7″ Wi-Fi 16GB with Special Offers (at Amazon Smile)

That’s $249…for both of them!

I very often use my KFHDX together with my Fire TV…one can almost be considered an accessory for the other.

The key thing is that the KFHDX mirrors very nicely to the Fire TV. Anything on my KFHDX can be displayed on through my Fire TV.

For one thing, that means that any video I can watch on my Kindle Fire I can watch on my TV…even if the app I am using would stop working if I connected an HDMI cable (which at least used to be the case with the Xfinity app). You could watch HBO GO that way.

I can watch videos from websites on my TV, by pulling them up on my Kindle Fire and mirroring to my TV.

This is definitely a good deal…so good that they are limiting it to one to a customer, and making it for a limited time only.

Already have one or the other? You could always give the duplicate as a gift…

New! Join hundreds of readers and try the free ILMK magazine at Flipboard! (many articles on the Hachazon War from different perspectives)

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Should books be sold as gender specific?

March 18, 2014

Should books be sold as gender specific?

“What’s a good book for ten-year old girl?”

When I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I’d hear variations of that question, with age and gender specificity varying.

That always gave me pause.

It certainly wasn’t enough information.

Think back to when you were ten-years old.

Picture everybody in your class.

Would you have all liked the same book?

I didn’t think so. ;)

That means I would ask another question…

“What does she like?”

Shopper: “I don’t know. It’s for my niece.”


It was always possible to suggest a book that pretty much any kid would like…or at least, that the odds would be good.

It struck me as…odd that someone would assume that all kids of one gender and age would like the same book…or at least, that those factors should narrow the choices sufficiently.

Regular readers know that I don’t tend to identify genders here (and other inherent characteristics). I’ll admit that it sometimes makes the writing more challenging, but I don’t identify mine, my Significant Other’s, my adult kid’s, or other people’s (unless they have already).

I chose to eliminate that information from the nominees for

Give a Kid a Kindle

It’s not that I think people should be ashamed of their genders: it’s that I want people to be known for their thoughts on the internet. That’s part of what’s magic about it. ;)

What about in bookstores, though?

Should books be marketed as for “girls” or for “boys”?

There is a group in England that is arguing that they shouldn’t…and it’s gaining quite a bit of support.

Let Books Be Books

It’s an offshoot of “Let Toys Be Toys”, which also argues that toys (be they G.I. Joe or Easy Bake Oven) shouldn’t be sold as “girls’ toys” or “boys’ toys”.

I have to say, from my experience, the issue is probably less with the kids themselves picking books.

I’m sure many a boy has picked up a Beverly Cleary or a girl gotten Choose Your Own Adventure books…even though the store might have marketed them as gender specific.

I think it is more the adults buying them that make choices based on those classifications.


The Guardian article by Alison Flood

about the campaign has some nice background.

Lest you think this is just an online petition (although there is one of those), some major retailers and publishers are following it, pledging not to market or label books as for girls or for boys.

I’m sure some people think this is a silly thing to do. After all, aren’t girls and boys different? Don’t they like different things? How is this any different from “chick lit” or “men’s adventure” (I’ve worked in a bookstore that had the latter section)?

For that matter, does something like this mean we shouldn’t label books as “romance” or “science fiction”, so we don’t prejudice the people buying them?

For me, there is a very big difference between labeling a book as “for boys” and labeling one as “mystery”.

It’s that “for” part.

It isn’t saying what the book is…it is saying who should read it.

I’ll decide what I want to read, thank you very much.

I don’t want to be judged by what I read…well, okay, sometimes I might like somebody to be a tiny bit impressed, but that’s about it. ;)

I’ve certainly seen that judgement. I read books that someone might think are not targeted at me. One easy example is kids’ books. If you saw me, you’d know I wasn’t a kid…at least chronologically. ;)

I’ve consumed a lot of kids’ media as an adult.

Oh, let me give you a great story with my Significant Other (I don’t think I’ve told this one on the blog before).

We hadn’t been together that long.

My SO came out and I was watching TV.

SO: “Are you watching cartoons?”

Me: “Yeah.”

There was a pause.

SO: “Japanese cartoons?”

Me (A little more reluctantly): “Yeah.”

SO: “In Japanese?”

Me (more reluctantly): “Yeah.”

SO: “Do you speak Japanese?”

Me (sort of pouting): “No.”


It was fine (my SO absolutely did not think less of me or hold it against me), but with each answer, I could feel myself sinking deeper and deeper into the geek zone.

Now, I am a proud geek, but there was something about this where it was…yes, I’ll say “embarrassing”.


Geeks like me, back then, we had seen what we read a lot disparaged by others.

I was always happy to claim somebody who was considered to be a classic writer for the geek community.

Charles Dickens wrote a ghost story (A Christmas Carol).

The Greeks had fantasy characters all over the place.

Jack London wrote science fiction, even a post-apocalyptic tale.

I wanted to show that good writers wrote science fiction and fantasy, too.

I guess I have to agree with the name of the campaign: “Let books be books”…not labels.

What do you think? Anything wrong with marketing books for specific genders? If that’s okay, would it be okay to have a section in a store for people of a particular race? Not one that was fiction by a race, or that race’s “interests”…but labeled as for that race. If one is okay and other one isn’t, I’d be curious to know why? Did you read books where people would think they were intended for another group? Did you do it openly, or did you hide it? Feel free to tell me and my readers by commenting on this post.

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.


This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Protecting the brand?

February 6, 2014

Protecting the brand

Yesterday, I wrote about Amazon’s

Kindle Worlds (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping*)

licensing new properties, including G.I. Joe.

Now, in this interesting

Seattle Times article by Jay Greene

which talks about Amazon’s publishing efforts generally, and how they affect the publishing world (I recommend you read it), we get a bit more detail on the deal…and something really stood out to me. According to the article:

“Hasbro is putting few restrictions on authors. Writers can’t produce pieces that are sexually explicit, racist or sexist. Given that G.I. Joe is a military figure, violence is expected.

“Gritty is OK, but gratuitous is not,” Kelly said.

And Hasbro, based in Pawtucket, R.I., deep in Boston Red Sox country, threw in one other restriction: G.I. Joe’s comrade, Snake Eyes, cannot be a portrayed (sic) as a fan of the New York Yankees.”

Banned: sexually explicit, racist, sexist…Yankees fan?

Yep. :)

I think that last one is quite amusing.

I know a little about G.I. Joe (I like to know a little about everything), but I’m not quite clear: why Snake Eyes specifically? Would it be okay to show another Joe as a Yankees fan? How about a bad guy? ;)

I think their other restrictions are reasonable, although all of that gets to be interesting. The snippet in this report doesn’t mention a number of other protected groups…profanity also isn’t mentioned. That might, arguably, make for a more realistic military unit.

So, that gets to my point in this post.

Some companies (Disney, famously), are very protective of their characters and properties. Disney went after cartoonist Dan O’Neill (of the marvelous Odd Bodkins strips) for a comic strip which they felt crossed the line. It depicted Mickey and Minnie doing things that were…um, NSFW (Not Safe For Walt). ;) Disney won.

On the other hand, some have been much more relaxed about it, even explicitly allowing fan fiction (although sometimes with guidelines).

When it comes to Kindle Worlds, that has to be on the minds of the rightsholders. Will allowing people fairly free rein with the stories dilute (and possibly diminish) the consumers’ perception of the characters/world?

I think that’s unlikely.

First, I think that many people may see this as another medium. People don’t judge books by the movies or TV shows…or at least, many people don’t. We are talking about serious readers here, for the most part: the ones who know who the publishers are. I think that they will probably be aware that a Kindle Worlds book is something different…and not assume that, say, Kurt Vonnegut is a lousy writer because they read a Kindle World Vonnegut book that wasn’t up to their standards.

Second, bringing in new creative perspectives has often been a contributor to the longevity of a character, I believe.

We can see this when a property is adapted, and something is added or changed during the adaptation, and then that finds it way back into the original medium…or just simply becomes part of the public mythology about the character.

I believe that companies that allow that to happen strengthen their properties, rather than weaken them.

Here are some examples (at least, this is how the stories go that I’ve heard):

  • Superman’s ability to fly was added for the Fleischer cartoons…they thought it was both easier to animate and more dramatic
  • Kryptonite was added by the Superman radio show…so the actor playing Superman could take a break (otherwise, what prevents Superman from being in the story?)
  • The snowstorm in the 1939 Wizard of Oz movie is not based on the original book, but on a 1902 musical (the original solution to the problem, and I’m avoiding spoilers, would have been quite hard to do on stage)
  • The Wicked Witch of the West wasn’t green in the Oz books: that was done for the 1939 movie, in part because they were playing with the new technicolor options. In Wicked, the “fact” that the witch is green is central to the story…presumably, the author didn’t realize that was sourced from the movie, not the public domain works
  • Sherlock Holmes doesn’t say, “Elementary, my dear Watson” in the original stories. Holmes gets quite close to it, using both “Elementary” and “My dear Watson” within paragraphs of each other in The Hound of the Baskervilles. It does appear (with an extra “elementary” at the end in a 1929 movie version. I believe it might first have been used in a satirical way in The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie
  • Alfred (Bruce Wayne’s butler) being thin and having a mustache came from casting for a film adaptation. Similarly, the Batcave first appeared in a serial, and later became part of the comics
  • Sulu’s first name on Star Trek of “Hikaru” originally appeared in an authorized novel by Vonda McIntyre, and later was used on screen in a movie

Those are just a few examples. I think the characters are richer because the owner saw a good idea and used it. They recognized the value of an outside input.

That doesn’t mean, I believe, that they should allow infringement (even though that might lead to “beneficial mutations”). However, Kindle Worlds is not infringement: it’s authorized. By allowing outsiders to introduce new elements there, the characters can be enriched.

It’s important to note that the authors of Kindle Worlds stories don’t control new elements they introduce for the characters. Quite a few people have been upset about that, but it’s not so different from the examples I’ve given above (with the exception, perhaps, of the Holmes one).

The Fleischers couldn’t very well have said, “Is it okay if we make Superman fly?” and then tried to stop DC from using a flying Superman in its comics…or asked for a royalty when they did.

My advice to rightsholders is that it is safe to put your worlds into Kindle Worlds, and may turn out to be a very good thing.

What do you think? Is it a risk to license your characters to Kindle Worlds? Are readers sophisticated enough not to judge the original “canonical” works by KW? Conversely, should rightsholders freely allow fan fiction (outside of Kindle Worlds)? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

Nominate a child to be given a free Kindle at Give a Kid a Kindle.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Could this kill e-book sales?

January 12, 2014

Could this kill e-book sales?

I’m heavily invested in e-books…both economically and emotionally. :)

Their sales growth has been huge, although the rate of expansion has apparently slowed.

Many people wonder, though: is the pattern meteoric? Will they flash across the skies, and then burn up in the atmosphere?

Piotr Kowalczyk, of


(which I highly recommend) has suggested that

Ebooks will disappear sooner than paper books


I think the e-book, even though it is an evolving form, is likely to be around for quite some time. Even if the current crop of devices eventually fades away, and the companies that produced them become fallow, I don’t see books being delivered  electronically  as doomed.

They have too many advantages over paper. Sure, you might need some sort of emulator to read older ones, but I expect both paper and electronic books will be with us into the next generation.

That doesn’t mean, though, that sales of e-books will remain as strong.

Why not?

Am I suggesting piracy? Or a weakening of copyright?


I’m suggesting a rising alternative to ownership.

By October of 2013, sales of digital music were down about 1%.

New York Times article by Ben Sisario

I’ve written before about how the music industry and the book publishing industry are not parallels. You can’t directly take what happened with digital music and physical music and compare it to books. One of the biggest things is that the use pattern for a song (or an album) and a book are quite different. Most people listen to songs repeatedly: most people read a book once. That changes the way that distribution affects sales.

However, I do think we can draw a parallel with a likely cause for the dip in music sales:

Subscription services

With a subscription service, you pay* a set amount per month (or year), and then you “borrow” the content. You can listen to a song on Pandora (at AmazonSmile: support a non-profit of your choice by shopping**) or Songza (at AmazonSmile)(an app I like on my Kindle Fire HDX 7″ (at AmazonSmile)), but you don’t own it.

The subser (subscription service) can withdraw that song, and you don’t have access to it any more.

We’ve started to see this model for e-books, and I’ve predicted that we may see Amazon get into it (in a different way) this year.

Amazon already lets eligible Prime members borrow up to a book a month. That’s a nice perk, but I think they may do something more like Kindle Freetime for adults.

We would pay something like $10 a month, perhaps, and be able to read from a pool of books…perhaps as much as we want (an “all you can eat” plan).

We couldn’t control which books were available to us.

Part of why I think this would work is that I’ve seen a significant change in younger generations.

I would say (without the statistics to back it up) that New Millenials (born roughly 1980 to 2000) are much more comfortable with the idea of buying access, as opposed to actual ownership, than, say, the Greatest Generation (born roughly 1922 to 1945) or the Baby Boomers (born roughly 1946 to 1964).

I do think that older folks are also getting used to it.

It’s a big change for me. I certainly have been a collector and a completist in my life. I have, on bookshelves, all of the Doc Savage Bantam reprints (181 adventures, although it isn’t that many books). I like owning them. I like seeing them there.

Recently, though, I’ve become accustomed to Netflix and Amazon Prime. It feels…decadent to want to buy a DVD. I have plenty of stuff to read and to watch. I claim to be an eclectic content consumer: I should always be able to find something to entertain and educate me: it doesn’t have to be a specific title that sits on a shelf in my house.

Interestingly, I’ve never been much of a re-reader…which, on reflection, makes it seem odd that I was so much of a collector.

I think that love of ownership is a territorial imperative thing, a hoarding thing: I don’t think it’s logical as much as emotional.

That doesn’t mean I want to get rid of the p-books (paperbooks) I already have. I certainly have some books that you aren’t going to find online.

If I could digitize them all and have access to them, would I let them go then? I think I might…I might donate them to places that could preserve them better than I can.

If Amazon did a subser that worked for me, would I buy fewer books?

Yes, I think that’s likely…and I think it would be even  more likely for other people.

Does this mean that subsers will kill e-book sales altogether?

No, I don’t think that’s the case. For one thing, people will want to give books as gifts: that won’t end with subsers.

I do think that if Amazon successfully introduces something this year, we could see it having an effect (a small one at first) on e-book sales.

It’s complicated, of course: how do you compensate an author for borrows?

Amazon already does that, with books in its KDP Select program. The publishers who make their books available in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL) through that program divide up a pool each month…and they can get more from a borrow than they do from a sale (if the price of the book is low enough).

We also see these sorts of deals a lot in video. Amazon may pay a studio X amount for movies for Prime for a given period (“$100,000 for six months”, for example), and it doesn’t matter how many times each movie is borrowed.

That situation can be very attractive for the studio, even if they might not make as much money as if people bought each video or paid to rent them individually. One of the key things is that the studio has a budgetable amount of income.

They know how much money they’ll have in, say, the next six months. That makes a company much more efficient.

It’s like being an actor. I used to do that, and the best thing for me was when I became a repertory player. When you are in rep, you actually get a salary. You don’t wonder if you’ll get a part next month: you know you are set for maybe a six month or one year contract.

There are disadvantages: we didn’t get to pick our roles. :) When I would see the slate of shows, I could guess which parts I was going to play.

We were employees, not independent contractors.

Still, that security was worth a lot. The theatre even invested in us, giving us lessons in Shakespearean analysis and movement classes.

Similarly, if you are paying a subser, they have a motivation to “invest” in you as a customer. They know you are committed to them. A book publisher doesn’t even know who you are, typically, when you buy a book. They don’t need to keep you as an individual happy: they need to keep an aggregate buying population happy.

That should hypothetically mean that they will give you better service, and work to cement the relationship, so you’ll continue it during the next period.

That’s what I think will bring about a reduction in e-book sales: e-book borrowing through subsers.

Let me ask you a couple of questions:

What do you think…will subsers hurt e-book sales? Would tradpubs (traditional publishers) sign up for it? Would you be interested if the selection was similar to what it is now in the KOLL (independently published books, books published by Amazon ((which includes James Bond and the 87th Precinct)), and books from some other tradpubs)? What if you were limited to a certain number of books a month…maybe ten? How would that affect your decision? Are e-books doomed regardless? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

* Some subsers have free levels. Typically, you pay for those by experiencing ads

** I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) 

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

How much cheaper are Kindle books than hardbacks?

December 8, 2013

How much cheaper are Kindle books than hardbacks?

When Kindles first came out (more than six years ago now), there was talk about how the fact that they were so expensive (initially, just about $400), that it could create a barrier to reading. The logic went something like this: poor people couldn’t afford the device; books might be eventually produced only for the Kindle; so poor people would not be able to read the same books that rich people could.

Of course, that’s largely always been true.

Books used to really be just for the elite. They were rare and valuable items, in many cases. In the 19th Century, England saw the arrival of the “penny dreadfuls”, and the USA later had “dime novels”, but those were both typically genre fiction…not “good books”. You could read a Western, or about the mysterious “Spring-Heeled Jack”, but you weren’t getting Shakespeare and Ovid that way.

While what we now consider to be classics were often serialized (and those available more cheaply), it really wasn’t until the arrival of mass market paperbacks in the 1930s (first in Germany, then the UK, then the USA) that “regular folks” were able to get the same books that the rich people were reading.

That’s simplified, of course, but a lot of it had to do with the rise of literacy among the poorer classes.

No question, a $400 investment in 2007 was a lot.

E-books were typically cheaper than the hardback equivalents…markedly so, in many cases.

Even under the Agency Model, which raised e-book prices, they still tended to be cheaper than the hardback equivalents. Still, owning an e-book reader was perhaps out of the reach of many.

Well, a lot has happened.

For one thing, you don’t need an EBR (E-Book Reader) to read e-books. You do need a computer (or a SmartPhone, or other things).

For another, they are available through public libraries (although not fully at this point).

Key is that the price of EBRs has dropped…and that the Agency Model pricing structure was broken up through the action of the US Department of Justice, again allowing deep discounting of e-book titles by Amazon and others.

Those aren’t just cheaper prices on independently published books (which may also have created a downward price pressure across the board): the bestselling books are much cheaper as e-books than they are as hardbacks.

Here are the current New York Times fiction bestseller hardbacks, along with their prices and the Kindle store prices:

Title Hardback E-book Difference
Cross My Heart $14.50 $7.50 -$7.00
Sycamore Row $14.87 $6.49 -$8.38
Takedown 20 $14.00 $6.49 -$7.51
The First Phone Call From Heaven $12.50 $8.49 -$4.01
King and Maxwell $15.55 $8.99 -$6.56
Doctor Sleep $15.00 $7.99 -$7.01
The Goldfinch $15.41 $7.50 -$7.91
The Longest Ride $13.87 $6.49 -$7.38
The Supreme Macaroni Company $15.59 $8.00 -$7.59
Dust $16.68 $7.49 -$9.19
The Valley of Amazement $17.99 $8.99 -$9.00
Inferno $15.38 $6.49 -$8.89
The All-Girls Filling Station Last Reunion $15.00 $6.49 -$8.51
White Fire $15.55 $6.49 -$9.06
Mirage $17.37 $7.79 -$9.58
And the Mountains Echoed $16.58 $7.50 -$9.08
We are Water $17.61 $8.99 -$8.62
The Luminaries $16.20 $8.59 -$7.61
Winners $14.38 $8.39 -$5.99
Total $294.03 $145.15 -$148.88

I have not included one of the titles, which is not available as an e-book…or, at the moment, as a hardback (out of stock).

On average, you could save $7.84 buying the e-book over the hardback.

If you planned to buy all of the books in this group, and you bought e-books instead of hardbacks, you would have enough left over to buy two Kindles! The least expensive one, the one I call the Mindle, is $69…buy two, and you’d still have about $10 left over.

You could, of course, buy a more expensive model with that almost $150 savings money…even a tablet. You could also use the money for more books…a lot more books.

That’s quite a change!

You can also get some of the world’s great literature for free for your Kindle…a wonderful part of the e-book paradigm shift.

What about mass market paperbacks (which may be a more direct comparison)?

Not surprisingly, you don’t save as much money…but you still save money:

Title MMP E-book Difference
A Dance with Dragons $5.99 $2.99 -$3.00
Notorious Nineteen $5.66 $5.38 -$0.28
Ender’s Game $4.39 $3.99 -$0.40
The Racketeer $6.69 $4.99 -$1.70
Poseidon’s Arrow $8.99 $7.99 -$1.00
Hunting Eve $7.19 $4.78 -$2.41
Sinister $5.03 $4.00 -$1.03
A Game of Thrones $8.22 $4.99 -$3.23
Touch & Go $8.99 $7.99 -$1.00
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished $4.78 $5.03 $0.25
Angels at the Table $6.29 $5.98 -$0.31
Twilight $7.19 $4.79 -$2.40
Star Trek: The Fall: The Poisoned Chalice $5.03 $4.78 -$0.25
The Forgotten $7.33 $5.99 -$1.34
Speaker for the Dead $7.19 $5.99 -$1.20
A Big Sky Christmas $6.75 $5.24 -$1.51
The Black Box $6.82 $6.48 -$0.34
Best Kept Secret $8.99 $8.54 -$0.45
$121.52 $99.92 -$21.60

Hmm…two of the books aren’t available as e-books…I find that surprising.

Again, I’m just look at the New York Times bestsellers, here. There are many inexpensive books which are only available as e-books…and as I mentioned above, many free ones as well.

No question in my mind: e-books are making books much more affordable than they used to be…even taking into account the costs of access.

We have to remember that accessing paperbooks also wasn’t free. What if you had to get downtown to get to a bookstore…or a library? There are a lot of kids especially who have internet access at school, and not at home.

We even see this in a big way in third world countries. I’ve written several times about

which gets Kindles to kids in difficult locations. Can you imagine trying to get ten copies of Harry Potter into the middle of the jungle? With satellite internet (which they can help set up…and you might be surprised how many people in a village can maintain something like that…and solar or other nonconnected power sources), remote areas can download e-books much more easily.

Even if it was a question of periodically delivering Kindles loaded with a thousand books, that would be much more cost effective than transporting paperbooks.

Yes: e-books contribute to the democratization of literature, rather than being a barrier to it.

What do you think? Do e-books make books more affordable for more people? Do you worry that the digital divide may grow deeper and more significant if books move much more to one side of it? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.

* I am linking to the same thing at the regular Amazon site, and at AmazonSmile. When you shop at AmazonSmile, half a percent of your purchase price on eligible items goes to a non-profit you choose. It will feel just like shopping at Amazon: you’ll be using your same account. The one thing for you that is different is that you pick a non-profit the first time you go (which you can change whenever you want)…and the good feeling you’ll get. :) Shop ’til you help! :) NOte: you can select as the non-profit you support, if you want.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.

Tolerance of Imperfection, or, the zipper-suit non-exclusion

November 8, 2013

Tolerance of Imperfection, or, the zipper-suit non-exclusion

I wrote yesterday about a Miracast adapter that lets me watch whatever is on my  Kindle Fire HDX 7″, HDX Display, Wi-Fi, 16 GB – Includes Special Offers‘ screen on my TV.

I mentioned that, with some streaming video, there was perhaps a half second lag between the audio and the video, and that I found that “tolerable”.

One of my readers, Marvin, suggested that people accepting that level of performance contribute to lower quality devices in the market.

That was a fascinating concept to me, and as all of the best comments on this blog do, it got me doing some self-examination.

I am a tolerant person. :)

I tolerate different opinions and customs in others, but I also tolerate imperfection in content and devices.

I can sum up my reasoning on that with a phrase that is used in the medical field (which is where I work in my “day job”, training people and optimizing workflows): “The benefits outweigh the risks.” ;)

I’ve seen people say that they won’t read any books with typos in them (or a typo a page, or “too many typos”, or wherever they set the bar*). Well, I have to say, I wouldn’t have gotten to read some of my very favorite books if that was my standard.

When I used to write some movie reviews back in high school, I judged movies on two things: what they were trying to do, and how well they did it. A movie could set low production quality expectations and deliver really well on story, and I would feel it was more enjoyable for me than a movie that was exquisitely produced, but was just going for a middle of the road concept.

Part of this, I’m sure, is being a geek.

It’s different now, but it used to be that science fiction, fantasy, and horror movies couldn’t get much of a budget. They were perceived as being attractive primarily on their concepts: they could play in a drive-in, and the production quality didn’t have to be good. The point was to go see a “monster movie”, not to marvel at accurate or convincing art design.

Geeks like me don’t reject a movie because we can “see the zipper” on the monster suit.

I’ve really enjoyed a lot of “zipper-suit movies”: my life is richer because I have seen them.

For decades, if we had rejected movies because the effect was imperfect, we would have seen no movies.

Now, obviously, you can say that the performance of a device is different from budget limitations in a movie, but I think there is a parallel.

Suppose someone said, “I hate the flash when you go to the next screen on a Kindle. I’m not using one until they get rid of it”. Certainly, for the first several years of the technology, they would not have had a Kindle…and all the advantages that can bring you.

I have seen people say they are angrily sending back their Kindle Fire HDX’s, because of some blue/purple tinging you can sometimes see around the edges.

I’m not saying that’s wrong to do. People have different levels of tolerance, and different things irritate them (as anybody who has ever been in a relationship knows). ;)

Part of this may also be me being a generally optimistic, positive person. I’ve had people in software classes I used to teach get quite upset because of a failure of, say, Excel to do something they thought it should do. I’ve said before, “If you are waiting for the perfect car, you’ll still be riding a horse.” I tend to find enjoyment in what’s around me, happening now. Does everything always go perfectly at work? Nope. However, I do wake up saying, “Oh boy, I get to go to work today.” ;) My Significant Other pointed out to me that I’ve always thought that wherever I worked was the best company in that industry. On reflection, that seems statistically unlikely… ;)

Another issue is how much you tend to do more than one thing at once, and how much you tend to focus on one thing. Both modalities have their advantages and disadvantages.

I tend to want to have several things going on at once. I think that’s why I can be a very good proofreader of other people’s work. I can read the book, and enjoy it, at the same time that I am paying attention to errors or inconsistencies. Stopping to highlight something doesn’t make me lose the mood or flow of the scene.

I know that’s not true for everybody.

Getting back to Marvin’s original (presumably rhetorical) question about how I can say that a half-second delay is “tolerable”, it’s because it is tolerable for me.

It would take a stronger person than me to find the two-minute delay tolerable…

I always try to write my impressions of something in a way that you can decide whether you would like it or not. I try to give you the information.

Part of that information is how I feel about it. I probably have readers who have been reading me pretty much every day for several years now. They have their own ideas about who I am and what I tend to enjoy more. They can use that baseline to help them determine how they would react to something.

That’s how I’ve always looked at reviews of books, movies, TV shows, and others.

I pay attention to who the reviewers are (I always read bylines, and you’ve probably noticed that I tend to credit the writers when I link to other articles…although they aren’t always listed). There are reviewers where I know that, if that person didn’t like, I probably will. ;)

Does my willingness to accept flaws contribute to there being more flawed products? Perhaps. My own intuition is that there needs to be an interest demonstrated before the investment will be made to reach perfection. What company would spend a lot of money to develop a perfect Miracast adapter before they even know what the market is for that product? If some people will buy a product (a book, a gadget) with flaws, even if others won’t, it suggests that a similar unflawed product might have broad appeal. We got Star Wars in 1977 partially because people were willing to watch Flash Gordon in 1936, despite the wobbly flights in it. Would we have had Gravity if people didn’t watch Captain Video? Would we have the Kindle Paperwhite now if Amazon had wanted to wait until they had a perfectly functioning device?

The bottom line on this, I guess, is that I tend to be inclusive of my options rather than exclusive. I’m okay with imperfection.

I suspect that people like me are in the minority on this. I think we early adopters, as I wrote in We are not guinea pigs, tend to be more tolerant of imperfection, and pave the way for better products to come.

What do you think? Should I refuse to use a Miracast adapter until there is no lag? Would that accelerate development of the technology, or slow it down? Do you have set exclusions (“I won’t watch anything in black or white”, or “I won’t read anything without an index”)? Do you think this is hypocritical on my part, since I won’t knowingly buy books with text-to-speech access blocked? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post. Thanks again to Marvin for inspiring this post!

* There is a famous story about Winston Churchill (there are many of those), which I am going to paraphrase here. Supposedly, Churchill said to someone at a party, “Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?” “Yes.” “Would you sleep with me for two dollars?” “Of course not! What kind of person do you think I am?” “We have already established that: now, we are just haggling over price.” ;)

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them

Amazon saves brick-and-mortars? AmazonSource

November 6, 2013

Amazon saves brick-and-mortars? AmazonSource

Bookstores selling Amazon selling.

That’s basically what’s happening with a new, innovative…even mind-boggling program from Amazon announced in this

press release

Here is the key concept:  your local bookstore can sign up for a program with Amazon. They then sell Kindles in the store, and the store gets ten percent of the purchase price of the Kindle store books you buy on it for the next two years.

It’s an extraordinary idea, and certainly, some bookstores may jump on it.

After all, it may feel like they are going to get ten percent of e-book sales for two years without doing anything…free money, right?

I’m a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, and a big fan of Amazon…but like the Golden Ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, entering the magical world of a genius may not always have positive results. ;)

At the site for the program

Amazon calls it “completely worry-free”.  They say:

“If you decide that e-readers and tablets aren’t the right fit for your store, we’ll buy back any tablet, e-reader or accessory that was on your first order, no questions asked.”

This is short-term thinking for the store. If you can get into it with no risk on the hardware, and you simply sit back while the money rolls in from e-book purchases, why not do it?

I’m not telling people not to do it.

It certainly could be a benefit.

It also feels a bit to me like Amazon may have just started a two-year death clock on the independent bookstore, though.

When you sell one of your customers a Kindle, you may be selling them on the idea that they don’t need to come into your store any more.

You get some money from their Kindle store purchases for two years. When those two years are up, you don’t…and will your customer then stop buying e-books from Amazon? Seems unlikely.

For this to work for stores, people have to continue to buy both e-books from Amazon and p-books (paperbooks) from the stores. Yes, many people buy both. One of the questions is going to be whether or not the customers will continue to buy their p-books from your store, when you’ve sold them a Kindle Fire HDX 7″ that lets them buy the same p-book online from Amazon.

I would think that p-book discounts may start showing up in our Special Offers when this deal gets rolling (maybe early next year).

There are a lot of subtleties and complexities to this, and when books are written about Amazon fifty years from now, this may be seen as one of their most brilliant moves.

  • It’s great PR (Public Relations): “Amazon saves Mom & Pop bookstores”
  • Customers feel like they are “donating” to their local stores
  • Every bookstore that joins becomes a salesperson for Amazon
  • Every bookstore that doesn’t join loses a competitive advantage with their customers
  • People who buy Kindle Fires, in particular, will buy other profitable items, partially because they may become Amazon Prime members. That may make sense in terms of what it will cost Amazon. Buy $200 a year in e-books from Amazon, it only costs them $20 (plus administrative costs). Will they earn more than that $20 on your other purchases (“diapers and windshield wipers”)?
  • Veteran booksellers are incentivized to get people to buy Kindle books. Those booksellers may then start writing reviews and blogs, and become Amazon Associates, and make much more of a transition to online (and specifically Amazon)

Amazon has a cost for this for about two years: how many of those bookstores will still be around in two years doing what they are doing now?

If Amazon launches real digital storefronts for bookstores (perhaps something like I wrote about here: Hey, Amazon, buy this: BookAnd), I think many of them may go that way.

It gets even more interesting.

There are actually two programs as part of this announcement. One is for bookstores, and includes the e-book component. The other is for other stores, and gives them a deeper hardware discount, but no e-book cut.

That part about non-bookstores is fascinating. This certainly may mean that your local convenience store, hardware store, grocery store, and so on, start carrying Kindles.

They also risk opening their doors to the wolf, but in a very different way. Depending on weekly (perhaps daily) content sales is different from “Somebody kicked in my door and I need a replacement right now”.

Here is something else: it isn’t available in every US state, just these:

Alaska, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Why is that?

I suspect it has to do with how friendly the state is to Amazon, especially tax-wise. I know California and Amazon (after a messy situation) worked out a deal and are now effectively partnering (Amazon now has fulfillment centers there). I also understand that Maine and Amazon are in dispute right now…and Maine isn’t on the approved list.

Another thing: Amazon is not requiring exclusivity. A store can continue to sell Kobo devices, for example. There may be legal strategy behind that, but there will also be the idea for people that they support the bookstore if they buy the Kindle (in a different way than the other devices). Additionally, space is at a premium in stores (you are always fighting the rent), so will people really allot space to several different brands of devices? You know who used to do that? Borders…and they aren’t around any more.

Do I think this is an evil move by Amazon? Not at all. If I was managing a bookstore still, I’d probably do it.

It feels more like…Amazon is giving stores two years to get their things together as the world of bookselling transitions. Some people may see that as an eviction notice, but maybe it is more like a reverse mortgage: “We’ll pay you now for ownership later.”

I should be clear: I don’t think this wipes out independent bookstores, because many of them don’t need to make a profit. They are there because people love to be in a bookstore, both from the selling and buying sides. They love the community feel and the expertise of the sellers. They like being in the company of other booklovers and, yes, thousands of books all around you. Those stores, and that experience, will be around for a long time.

However, strictly in terms of business, I think the clock is now ticking…

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy  Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them

Should any books be banned? Banned Books Week 2013

September 23, 2013

Should any books be banned? Banned Books Week 2013

We are now into Banned Books Week. According to the

Official Site

“Banned Books Week is the national book community’s annual celebration of the freedom to read.”

Since 1982, the group (which includes the American Library Association) has listed the most “challenged” books.

It’s often a surprising list. What do you think the most challenged book was in 2012? 50 Shades of Grey? Nope, that’s number four.

The most challenged book?

Captain Underpants.

A kids’ book.

More accurately, a series of kids’ books, published by Scholastic, with a 4.7 out of 5 star rating (for the first one) at Amazon.

What reasons are cited?

“Offensive language, unsuited for age group”

This is a series which is widely said to encourage children to read…it may be the book that gets a child to become a lifelong reader.

Now, some of you are probably getting upset at this point, and I understand that. My natural inclination is always to lean towards literary freedom.

However, whenever I recognize a “natural inclination” in myself, I want to challenge it.

I want to look at it, and see if it makes sense.

Maybe it does…and maybe it doesn’t.

I thought I’d start with this simple question (both for me and for you): should any books be banned?

First, we need to define what we mean by “banned”, and that’s a huge issue here.

They call it “Banned Books Week”, but they report on “challenged books”.

Those are two entirely different things.

I define “banned” as something that the government does. It uses its governmental power (including the law) to prohibit people from reading a particular book.

“Challenging”, as used here, is most often done by private individuals. They request that a school/public library/bookstore not have a certain book.

For me, people have the right to challenge books. That is, in and of itself, a matter of free speech. I’m going to very often disagree with their reasons…but that’s exactly when the issue of free speech comes into play.

I analyzed the reasons given for challenging the ten books on the list:


  • Sexually Explicit: 7 (cited in seven of the cases)
  • Offensive Language: 6
  • Unsuited for Age Group: 6
  • Homosexuality: 2
  • Religious Viewpoint: 2
  • Violence: 2
  • Racism: 1
  • Suicide: 1

Certainly, if this was the government banning these books, I think we would all expect “religious viewpoint” to be invalid grounds.

What about the others? In what circumstances?

Let’s look at the issue of public schools (which are government entities…private schools are not).

If you are against banning all books, would that include sexually explicit books for  grade school kids? Should a ten-year old be able to check 50 Shades of Grey out of the school library?

If they shouldn’t be able to do that, what about a fifteen-year old?

How about a thirty-year old…from the public library?

What if a parent or other legal guardian gives 50 Shades of Grey to a ten-year old to read…in their own home? Should the government do something about that?

I’ve been using 50SoG as an example, because I think that many Americans have similar ideas about pornography…even if they can’t agree on what specifically is pornography.

How about some other topics?

What about a book full of hate speech? One that advocated violence against a group of people…repeatedly and unrepentantly?

How about one that shows how to make tools of violence…step by step to make chemical weapons, or build a bomb?

Suppose a book gives false medical advice…which, if followed, will result in death. Should that be banned?

Then there is defamation, which is the more generally used international term for  intentionally  damaging false information. Somebody publishes a book saying terrible things about you…which aren’t true. Does the government have the right to stop people from reading that book?

One more: what if a book infringes on the rights of another person under copyright? If we go to the world of the movies, we could look at 1922’s Nosferatu as an example. It was an unauthorized adaptation of Dracula, and a court ordered all copies to be destroyed. The movie did survive, and is now considered a great piece of early film-making. Was destruction the proper course?

As you can tell, this is more complex than it might appear at first.

Before I ask you some questions, I want to bring one of my own issues into this, and one on which I’ve been challenged.

I think blocking text-to-speech access in an e-book disproportionately disadvantages the disabled, although I do believe it is legal.

I don’t intentionally link to books where the publisher has taken this action.

For quite a while, I didn’t even mention the titles.

Is that censorship?

For me, it’s important that it isn’t government censorship. If you don’t want to have certain books for sale in your store, or have them in your home, that feels very different to me from the government banning things. If a magazine won’t review books that take a particular viewpoint, I see that as their right.

I made the choice in this post to list Captain Underpants by name, even though the publisher blocks text-to-speech access (and this is not a picture book where the text would be indecipherable images to the software that reads the book out loud). I didn’t link to it, though, because I don’t want to benefit from people buying it.

It’s not my choice to support that, but I don’t think less of you if you do buy the book…I like Dav Pilkey. I guess I could have linked to the paperbook…I’ll have to consider the consequences of that in the future.

Now, some polls:

While the polls are a good way to express your opinion, I always like hearing more. I think I’ve done enough in this post to stimulate conversation, so I’ll just say that you can feel free to express your opinion to me and my readers by commenting on this post.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

The many kinds of Kindleers

September 13, 2013

The many kinds of Kindleers

We were one.

That didn’t last, though.

Starting in November of 2007, and continuing until February of 2009, there was pretty much one kind of Kindleer. That’s how long it was from the release of the first Kindle until the release of the Kindle 2…when the fragmentation began.

Oh, I remember the demands to keep the two forums on Amazon separate. The Kindle 2 was a very different device, introducing text-to-speech to the line, for one. However, it was also seen as a step backward in two big regards: no user-replaceable battery, and no SD card slot.

The two camps faced off: those rugged pioneers who insisted that having a Kindle without an SD card was like going into the rain forest without a machete, and those who thought the Kindle 1 was as boxy as a 1950s RCA TV set.

In some households, they got along with each other. After all, they probably shared 80% of their functionality.

However, March 4th introduced a brand new faction: the Kindleless Kindleer. That’s when Kindle for the iPhone was released.

“Eww!” said the E-Inkers, “You are going to read on a tiny backlit screen? It hurts my eyes just to think about it.”

“Dude,” said the iKindleers. “iPhone.”

The big Kindle DX entered the scene in May, with a promise of great textbook integration. The DX lovers weren’t many, but they were (and are) enthusiastic.

On October 22, the Kindle for PC app was released.

E-Inkers: “Reading on a computer? You’re kidding me!”

iKindleers: “Dude. iPhone.”

PCers: “I can get forty bestsellers for what you paid for that tiny status gadget with its data plan or that doorstop…which one of loves books more?”

At least, the Kindle 1 and Kindle 2 folks had bonded over their love of an unlit screen…until the Kindle 2 started to getting things the Kindle 1 didn’t.

Native pdf support.


International models.

And then, the mighty wedge…on August 3, 2010, the Kindle 2 got active content. Two games, Shuffled Row and Every Word…and the Kindle 1ers said that was the end of the literate exclusivity of the Kindle…the Kindle 2ers were evicted from the “Garden of Readin'” by the temptation of the app(le), and the Kindle 1ers were done with them.

On July 28th of 2010, Amazon had introduced the Kindle 3…and, well, everybody was okay with that. ;) Pretty much…let’s say it was mostly seen as an improvement over the Kindle 2.

On April 11, 2011, another huge split was dropped, deus ex marketing, on the community…ad-supported Kindles! “Ads on my Kindle? No way!” “Um…you don’t watch network TV? It’s kind of the same thing…and the ads aren’t in the books. Cheaper Kindles…what’s wrong with that?”

September 28, 2011, brought the next horror/wonder…a touchscreen Kindle.

A Kindle without keys? That was the best/worst thing so far!

That’s also when they introduced the “Mindle”…the first Kindle without sound. No audiobooks, no music, no text-to-speech.

The keyboardless kindle and “I have no mouth and I must scream” models weren’t the most head-spinning things that day, though.


Kindle Fire.

A backlit tablet that did video…and yet, called itself a Kindle.

That was the biggest rift ever…and one that still hasn’t healed.

Some of the E Inkers felt betrayed.

It was as if your e-mail provider sent you their annual report on paper, or your compostable tableware arrived in a non-biodegradable bag.

They wouldn’t sit with those tablet toters at lunch, that’s for darn tootin’!

I think, though, we’ll most people will eventually accept that we are really all bound together by one thing: our love of reading.

Whether it’s backlit, frontlit, candlelight, or a flashlight under the covers, we are  all connecting with other human beings through the amazing power of literature. You can read it with your eyes, hear it with your ears, or feel it with your fingers…a book is a book is a book.

While it may be true that, as Edmund Wilson said, “No two persons ever read the same book,” that doesn’t mean that we don’t all read them…and does it really matter so much how we do it?

Books aren’t upset about how you read them…they welcome every reader. That’s how I feel about it, too. :)

This post by Bufo Calvin first appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

Kindle MatchBook: Amazon has the power

September 5, 2013

Kindle MatchBook: Amazon has the power

Amazon recently announced an upcoming program called Kindle MatchBook. Customers will be able to get an e-book copy of a p-book (paperbook) they previously purchased from Amazon (back to 1995) for a reduced price…sometimes for free.

When I wrote about it, I looked to anticipate some complaints that people would have.

I underestimated one…I should know better than to think I’ve plumbed the depths of people’s ability to complain on the internet. ;)

I said people would say this:

“Why isn’t XYZ book part of the program?”

[My response]: It’s going to take a while to get this going…there are agreements to make, and features (like X-Ray, which gives you information about the book) to add.

Well, I read right away in the Kindle forums that people thought this wouldn’t include books from the Big 5 (Big 6 at the time of a lot of these purchases, before the recent merger of Penguin and Random House) USA trade publishers.

After all, those publishers commonly don’t enable lending for their books, and they are the ones that sometimes (but diminishingly, I think) block text-to-speech access.

Let’s start out with the fact that we already know Big 5 books will be part of the deal.

Amazon shows some titles on the Kindle MatchBook page linked above.

They include several books from HarperCollins, one of the Big 5.

So, the basic premise of the complaint is invalid…but hey, that’s never stopped anybody from complaining before. :)

I, however, also jumped to a mistaken conclusion…which I will correct now.

When I wrote about “agreements being made”, I was picturing Amazon getting publishers to choose to put their books into this program.

You know what? Amazon doesn’t need their permission.

This is a rare case where Amazon really does have the power. Typically, when Amazon goes up against the publishers, they lose…text-to-speech, the Agency Model (the latter needed the Department of Justice to intervene).

That’s not going to happen here.

There are no additional uses covered under copyright being proposed here.

It’s just a sale.

With the end of the Agency Model (and maybe Amazon waited to announce this until they had new agreements with Penguin and Random House), Amazon can discount all of the Big 5’s books.

That’s all this is: discounts.

Let’s say that a given e-book normally has a digital list price of $9.99, and Amazon normally sells it for $7.99. Amazon probably paid the traditional publisher something like $5 in that case (it might be $7, but let’s go with the traditional 50%).

Amazon could choose to sell that book to somebody for $2.99, and take a $2.01 loss on that sale.

Would they do that?

Sure, if they thought it would inspire other sales. That’s part of what the publishers were so mad about when Amazon made many New York Times bestsellers $9.99. Amazon was often losing money on each sale, even though the publisher got the same amount for the book as if Amazon had sold it for full price.

Amazon was  driving  down consumer price perceptions about what a book is worth. The publishers thought customers might start thinking $25 for a hardback was too high if you could buy an e-book for $9.99…and that low price was possible if Amazon was willing to lose money on that sale.

As a former brick-and-mortar bookstore manager, I can tell you that you have to think in terms of populations of sales, not individual transactions. We could lose money on a TV Guide sale, if it meant we made money on other books the customer bought at the same time.

Consumers often, reasonably, only think of it as one sale at a time…what am I, as the customer, paying?

Amazon could do the same thing here. They could offer every single book in Kindle MatchBook right now, no deals needed.

However, Amazon doesn’t want to lose money…despite what some investors may think. ;)

Ideally, they can make these Kindle MatchBook offerings and still make money on them…in addition to cementing customer relations like few programs before.

How could they do that?

If the publishers take less money for Kindle MatchBook sales.

Basically, the publisher would agree that the price of the e-book is less if the customer bought the p-book from Amazon, and their wholesale payment would be based on that.

Amazon doesn’t need that price-lowering to do this, but it’s better for the e-tailer if they get it.

So, my guess is that what is happening is that Amazon will not put traditional publishers’ books into the program unless the publishers agree to lower payments.

It’s Amazon’s choice whether a book is available for Kindle MatchBook, not the publishers.

HarperCollins tends to be pretty consumer forward in their policies (leaving out the weird thing they did with e-books for public libraries). They didn’t block text-to-speech access, for example. I’m not surprised they would have agreed to this earlier than some others who tend to be more drag-foot about these kinds of innovations.

Why can’t the publishers simply do this themselves, and maybe charge $3.99 instead of $2.99?

Simple…they don’t know which customers bought their books in paper.

When you buy a book from a retailer (online or in a brick-and-mortar), the publisher isn’t told that you, as an individual, bought it.

They don’t know who you are…but Amazon does.

Nobody would want to just offer this discount to everybody, regardless of whether or not they bought the p-book. That’s just lowering the price across the board, and not using a special discount to influence future shopping behavior (which is what makes discounting work).

Amazon has the data needed to make this program work. Amazon can discount the books without the publishers’ permission…they could even discount an e-book that is from a different publisher than the p-book (say, an Open Road e-book of a p-book published by Random House). However, they would rather have the publisher give them a better wholesale price when they do it.

My guess is that publishers generally want to be in this program. I think customers will make buying decisions on whether or not they get this…I also think it will draw people away from Barnes & Noble and Kobo. Those two would have a tough time matching it, especially if they lost money. Remember, Amazon can make money on “diapers and windshield wipers” (as like to say) when you are their customer. B&N and Kobo just aren’t diversified enough in their offerings to use that strategy.

Yes, it’s possible that bundling costs publishers some money in the future. Will customers buy p-books as gifts, and that way get the e-books for themselves as a reduced price? Sure, that’s possible.

However, if it shifts that people don’t want to buy the books at all unless they get this bundle, being in the bundling business is almost necessary.

Looking at the future, I wouldn’t want to be the only Big 5 publisher not in this deal…authors might not want to go with me if I wasn’t part of it, customers might opt against my books even if they don’t know one publisher from another.

Well played, Amazon!  Leveraging your data to give you an advantage…and for once, having the power over the publishers.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,389 other followers

%d bloggers like this: