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

8/21/09Follow @wroush

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the details of the Kindle publishing system. But if you are an author and your book is not available for the Kindle or the other existing and emerging e-book platforms, you are in effect telling your readers that their convenience is of no import to you; that you would rather your book not be read at all than that you should have to suffer at the greedy hands of the e-retailers.

You’re also foregoing real earnings for the sake of—what, exactly? Perhaps you are waiting for someone else to build a convenient, scalable, affordable system for getting e-books to hundreds of thousands of readers, and then offer you a larger cut of the proceeds. Who’s going to do that—Google? Microsoft? Hearst? Rupert Murdoch? I don’t think so.

It’s important to keep up the pressure on Amazon to make the Kindle as open as possible. But I think it’s also important to be realistic about the economic implications of the larger digital revolution that the Kindle embodies. There is no reason for a digital book to cost as much as a print book. (Even the $9.99 level is unsustainably high, in my opinion.) And as Chris Anderson and others have been pointing out for years now, the old pricing and distribution models are breaking down across the world of consumer goods and services; novelists, journalists, musicians, and other creators can’t expect to be compensated in the same old ways they’re accustomed to. The way forward is not to withdraw your work from circulation. It’s to figure out what people want and need, and then decide how you can uniquely meet that need.

P.S. Closely related to the Kindle question is the debate over the proposed legal settlement between Google, the Authors Guild, and the Association of American Publishers over the Google Book Search project, and in particular, whether authors should participate in the settlement or withdraw while they still can. Amazon, Microsoft, the Internet Archive, and other organizations have come out against the settlement, which I’ve also criticized in the past. I will revisit that subject in a future column.

For a full list of my columns, check out the World Wide Wade Archive. You can also subscribe to the column via RSS or e-mail.

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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