Kindle Trouble

February 17, 2010

Kindle

So if you’re an e-book reader, or happen to love one, you’ve probably heard about Amazon’s recent decision to go from the fixed $9.99 price per book to a dynamic price range between $5.99 and $14.99 per book. This, as you may recall, is in response to pressure from major publisher Macmillan (Scott Westerfield has a very thorough and fascinating write-up of the situation on his blog. A few days ago, the New York Times did an article on the decision, citing various furious e-book customers, and included the following words from science-fiction author Douglas Preston:

The sense of entitlement of the American consumer is absolutely astonishing,” said Douglas Preston, whose novel “Impact” reached as high as No. 4 on The New York Times’s hardcover fiction best-seller list earlier this month. “It’s the Wal-Mart mentality, which in my view is very unhealthy for our country. It’s this notion of not wanting to pay the real price of something.”

Preston has received a lot of flak for this quote, leading slews of angry readers to give his books a 1 star rating at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com. He’s been called an intellectual elitist for this quote, and admittedly he does sound a bit of a prick, but is he wrong?

I think there’s definitely something to his Wal-Mart mentality comment. We do live in a culture of cheaper and faster rather than better. My partner’s parents are avid shoppers at Wal-mart and basically refuse to listen to any of the myriad reasons why maybe it’s better for everyone if they don’t.

I admit that e-books typically shouldn’t be priced as high as paper books, just because the costs of production and distribution are so much less. But I have no problem if a company wants to hold back on the cheap e-book sales until the hardcover sales have dried out. Think of how much money would have been lost if the last Harry Potter book had been available as a $9.99 e-copy the day the $30 hardback was released! Consumers need to realize that in order for publishers to make enough money (because let’s face it, it’s not like it’s a booming business), newly-released e-books must be either delayed long enough for the hardback sales to prosper, or priced high enough to make up the difference lost.

And the fact that people are demanding a cheaper e-copy at the same time the hardback comes out, well, that does reek of entitlement to me. The publishers don’t owe us anything, they’re not distributing food and water. It’s entertainment, and if we want to be entertained, we have to be willing to pay for it. How else is the business of paper books going to hold out against the e-books in the long run?

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10 Responses to “Kindle Trouble”

  1. IceCrystal Says:

    >>How else is the business of paper books going to hold out against the e-books in the long run?

    I think, and it pains me to say this as a lover of all things paper-based, it isn’t.

    While these vocal customers are definitely guilty of a sense of entitlement, I think there’s a bit of that on the other side of the argument too. As I’m frustratedly reminded every damn day 😉 the world doesn’t owe anyone a living*, and the market doesn’t owe the publishing industry as we know it a continued existence, either.

    I imagine the publishing industry is feeling much the same anxiety as typewriter manufacturers felt when PCs became affordable, and the manufacturers of buggies felt when those newfangled horseless carriages started appearing on city streets. (The references to “manufacturers” feels significant: the nature of the beast has changed, with intellectual and digital property, which is perhaps best discussed another time!)

    The industries that are facing a new game in the 21st century will fight for survival and some of them have deep enough pockets to angle for legal protectionism, which is the part that worries me most.

    Would the demise of paper-and-ink publishing be a good thing for the customer? Probably not: one only has to look at the (loose but perhaps useful) analogue of the video game industry in the last fifteen years to see the dangers ahead.

    *But I’m big on social programs. Dear government: feel free to use my tax dollars to feed the hungry and give medical care to those who lack it – I really am all for that. Just, you know, don’t prop up an industry that fails to realign, downsize, or adapt, and then create a whole new class of criminals at the behest of lobbyists.

    • oddrid Says:

      I think, and may I remind you I have nothing really to back this up rather than my own hunch, that the paper-based book industry won’t really disappear, at least not for a long time. But it will definitely be much reduced. I think you’ll probably always be able to find the classics in paper (though as the industry dwindles, so will the amount of book stores and independent book stores in which to buy said book, sob), as well as bestsellers.

      But I agree, it’s definitely going the way of the e-book on the whole. And I’m not necessarily adverse to that! I’m not in the least technophobic or overly nostalgic. I just think that those whining should have a little more perspective on where these publishers (and their favorite authors, by proxy) actually get most of their revenue—from hardback sales.

      *But I’m big on social programs. Dear government: feel free to use my tax dollars to feed the hungry and give medical care to those who lack it – I really am all for that. Just, you know, don’t prop up an industry that fails to realign, downsize, or adapt, and then create a whole new class of criminals at the behest of lobbyists.

      Yeah, those are pretty much my feelings exactly, haha. ♥

  2. IceCrystal Says:

    But I agree, it’s definitely going the way of the e-book on the whole. And I’m not necessarily adverse to that! I’m not in the least technophobic or overly nostalgic. I just think that those whining should have a little more perspective on where these publishers (and their favorite authors, by proxy) actually get most of their revenue—from hardback sales.

    Oh yes, I agree! 🙂 That’s definitely where their money comes from now, and it would behoove people to realize that. It would take a lot of adjustment (and pain probably) for the industry to recalibrate itself to the reality of a market where ebooks are the standard and hardbacks are the domain of quirky collectors. Whether they’ll eventually have to or not, I don’t know – I suspect they will, but we’re so far from that point that you’re right, people should have more perspective than “I want this cheap and NOW!”

    I’m not really a technophobe either! I can’t afford an e-reader and certainly not one that uses proper EPD tech like the Kindle, so the question is moot for me atm. heheh If books go the way of vinyl I’ll be sad, but that’s a long way off yet I hope. Until then, I agree, people need to recognize that there are a lot more sides to the issue than the lowest price they can download the latest Dan Brown; there’s a whole back-end to publishing that they haven’t considered, and authors and artists to think of too.

  3. Hannah Says:

    I have trouble seeing paper books becoming obsolete in fact paper books are one of the most successful pieces of technology on our planet, along with the wheel. No culture that has been introduced to paper books has ever stopped using them. My opinion is that paper is here to stay and no amount of ebooks will change that.

    There is something deeply and physically satisfying about turning pages, the smell of books, being in a room full of books, marking your place with bookmark. I think we are too quick to compare the digital revolution of music with ebooks. Listening to an MP3 is the same experience as listening to a CD but ebooks could never be the same. Nice, but always different.

    That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be changes and we can already see that. Book sales have been going down and people are reading less. I know the reason I have stopped buying books from expensive bookstores is because of used books on the internet. With any person able to sell their old books online the supply of books has just gone through the roof. Especially the supply of popular titles.

    • oddrid Says:

      That’s a great point, about the difference between the MP3/CD experience and the e-book/paper book experience. I agree with you of course—I love paper books. But after playing with my mom’s new Kindle for a while, I can definitely see the appeal. It’s lighter and easier to hold, and there are all sorts of ways to bookmark and make notes that don’t actually mar the pages. But you’re right, it’s very different, and some people will undoubtedly never come around to it.

  4. kunzelman Says:

    I am glad that we are both blog people now.

  5. Sighter Goliant Says:

    I don’t know, I don’t really shed a tear for the producers here — they get most of their money from hardback sales because hardbacks are overly expensive, and because of government-granted monopolies to the people who sell books.

    The problem for publishers, as I see it, is that the same people who can afford to own a Kindle and are generally early adopters of technology are the same people whose disposable income can afford a hardback book. And so what happens is that a normal market strategy, which is to target people willing to pay $30 and then move on down the line with targeted pricing as paperbacks and sales and coupons help them strike the market of people willing to pay for a book but just not necessarily $30.

    So basically, they’re losing surplus and that surplus is going to the consumer. They’re pissed about it, and rightly so, but I don’t really think that wanting to purchase Douglas Preston’s book for 9.99 instead of 14.99 has the same problems of externality as purchasing at Wal-Mart. Unless Douglas Preston has a sweatshop of children writing his books of which I am unaware.

    • oddrid Says:

      Hahaha that’s true, I mean, shopping at Wal-mart is a shit-ton more problematic than wanting to buy a book for $9.99.

      I don’t know if you read Westerfield’s entry, but he says that the hardback sales generally go toward creation costs, which includes the authors. So wouldn’t less hardback sales mean less money for the people who deserve it?

      IDK I’m not… so knowledgeable about this obviously, haha.


  6. I usually don’t usually post on many another Blogs, still I just has to say thank you… keep up the amazing work. Ok unfortunately its time to get to school.


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