Why It’s Crazy for Authors to Keep Their Books Off the Kindle

8/21/09Follow @wroush

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@sivavaid to @wroush: How do you know how many sales are lost? Amazon won’t say. Do you think publishers are dumb? Negotiations with Amazon are brutal.

@wroush to @sivavaid: But Amazon *does* say: When a book is available on Kindle, 35% of buyers choose that format. I think publishers are scared, not dumb

@sivavaid to @wroush: stat says nothing about mkt penetration of Kindle. Secret because inconveniently small. BTW, not 35% of every book. Sly.

@sivavaid to @wroush: publishers not scared of Kindle. Pubs can’t get a good deal from Amazon. Scared NOT to bow to Amazon strong-arm tactics. Talk 2 them

At that point, I began to sense that neither of us was having much luck winning the other around to his position. We wound down with:

@wroush to @sivavaid: Clearly we won’t agree on this. I will expect to see a chapter in your book on the Amazonization of everything.

@sivavaid to @wroush: I guarantee no one will ever write a book exposing Amazon’s machinations!

Now, I’m willing to admit that my original tweet was glib. My use of “Fail,” in particular, implied more derision than I really felt. (The New York Times published a great column two weeks ago about the etymology of this peculiar interjection). And it probably wasn’t fair to pick on Shell’s book; Ellen is actually an old acquaintance, and I have no idea why her book wasn’t initially available for the Kindle. In any case, it is now.

But many books still aren’t. And if Vaidhyanathan really thought I was being disrespectful toward authors, he had me all wrong. If anything, I was trying to help authors by pointing out that there is now a population of prospective readers, myself included, who are conditioned to look for the digital version of a book first, and who are far more likely to buy it if it is available at the moment they need it—and, conversely, far less likely to buy it if they have to drive to a bookstore or a library or wait for the postal service to deliver it. Indeed, as I’ve said before, the genius of the Kindle is not its e-paper screen (although that’s cool, and is the product of some serious technical innovation)—it’s the ability to download books and newspapers almost instantaneously via Amazon’s Whispernet wireless network. The Kindle is making it far easier to indulge my reading habit, and I know I’m buying more books now than I did before I got it.

Nonetheless, there are some understandable reasons why authors and publishers might be wary of the Kindle. One, as Vaidhyanathan mentioned, is … Next Page »

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • http://www.dailygrommet.com Jules Pieri

    Wow, judging from your mellow persona and your thoughtful writing, I thought you were a patient guy Wade! This article shifts my prejudices a bit. Now I have images of you calculating the tax on your three item purchase at Whole Foods, while still three deep in the checkout line, and brandishing exact change to the cashier before the order is tallied. :)

  • Jered

    I have to wonder if Siva is just having a knee-jerk reaction here… Amazon provides an open publishing platform and the rates are published. The people who have been particularly unreasonable here have actually been the publishers — several of them demand HARDCOVER prices for the digital editions, even for books in paperback. To counter this Amazon has chosen to take a loss on a number of bestsellers to stick with their $9.99 policy.

    Yes, DRM sucks, but the content providers (that’s you, authors, or at least the publishing representatives you have chosen to appoint) are on the wrong side here. The Authors’ Guild is the RIAA of the written word — they forced Amazon to remove on demand the text-to-speech from the Kindle 2. Amazon’s not the one pushing DRM; the person pushing DRM is Mr. Vaidhyanathan’s publisher. Maybe he should have a chat?

  • Wade Roush

    Jules: I really am a mellow person, mostly. But certain things get my goat!

    Jered: Agree with you about DRM and the RIAA-Authors Guild comparison. But I also think Siva has good reasons for his concerns, and I plan to make sure he gets some more airtime here to explain them.

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