The beginning of the end of the Kindle?

For almost as long as there has been a Kindle, I’ve (somewhat jokingly) attempted to “outsource” my blogging on that topic to my friend Aaron Pressman. Aaron is a very professional journalist, but his Kindle-coverage has been as a personal blogger: he was the first Kindle “fan-boy” I knew and has kept me insightful on the product and its ecosystem since its inception. (More about Aaron in a second.)

There are many things I love about the Kindle — and my Kindle that I’ve had and used since they were first introduced. But I’ve always thought of it as a transitional product, and I’ve never been convinced that Amazon can be a hardware company — long-term. I’ve written about the things I like: the integration with the Amazon store — especially, never having to connect the device to a computer, yet still having full access to the Amazon.com store via the embedded cell-phone powered technology. And the convenience of having dozens of books with me all the time — even when I travel. But the most significant change in my reading enabled by the Kindle has been the price point of a book.

When the device was first rolling out, the typical price point of books — even current hardback bestsellers — was $9.99. I went from rarely purchasing back-list titles or first-novels, to purchasing 2-3 books a month that are outside my typical book-buying pattern.

To me, the Kindle would seem to be a publisher’s dream: A means to forego the massive costs of manufacturing, storage, transaction — and the whole screwed-up way publishers have to buy-back unsold books from sellers — and distribution (other than editing and marketing, that’s about the only things book publishers do).

Yet while even someone with absolutely no understanding of the book publishing business can easily intuit the massive savings of digital distribution over boxing up and trucking books, some book publishers actually argue that it’s “the content” that people buy and a book should cost the same no matter how it’s distributed. (Book publishers, however, unlike other widget manufacturers, have a 250-year old problem with such logic because of the inconvenient push-back argument provided by the institution called “the public library” and the whole “free” model that distribution channel enables. Counter-intutively, people who “steal” (a term I’m borrowing from record labels) content by reading library books for free also “buy” more books than those who don’t.)

Over the past 18 months, the $9.99 price on a Kindle book is getting less-and-less typical. And yesterday, PaidContent.com and others pointed to an analyst report about the coming “hike” in Kindle book prices. In other words, the publishers are marching down the path to destroying one of the few glimmers of hope the book publishing business has. (Notice, I emphasized “business,” as I believe book-publishing has lots of promise — but not as the business it currently is.)

Now, back to Aaron.

Today, he points out the other weak selling point of the Kindle — and how it may make the device even less appealing.

Apparently the already aggressive Digital Rights Management approaches of the Kindle are even more aggressive than consumers have been led to believe.

I’ll let Aaron explain it.

However I’ll add this: eBooks and eBooks reader have been one of those technologies that have been “just about to happen” for the past 20 years. The Kindle has come close to helping the concept break through to a general market. However, it would not surprise me one bit if publishers felt the need to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory and, once more, screw-up the eBook market. Pricing and digital-rights-management rarely benefit the creator or the “consumer” — they exist to prolong distribution business models that will die eventually, anyway.

This time, however, I think authors and readers will be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel to a day where the obstructionistic and defensive ploys of book publishers are recognized for what they are: merely a means to protect the publisher’s core business of shipping and storing boxes full of paper.

Later: Another insightful post from Aaron Pressman on Kindle book pricing.

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  • Deborah Robson

    I know of one very small publisher that would be happy to drop the pricing on electronic-delivery copies *if* the pricing and discount constraints imposed by the distribution channels (including the producers of the electronic reading tools) would permit this flexibility.

    This is not, of course, a large publisher: they operate in a whole different realm. This publisher has standard national distribution, which means the books are available everywhere. The arrangement (which is archaic) also places a near stranglehold on pricing, and an amazingly small amount of the retail price (through whatever medium) gets back to publisher and author.

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