Joining The Kindle Fray

November 20th, 2007 · 11 Comments
by Kassia Krozser

I had a choice yesterday: join the Kindle fray or watch the Kindle fray. Went with the latter, and, not surprisingly, the vast majority of the bloggers out there were as underwhelmed as I was when the device was initially announced.

It’s unsavory to pay to upload legally-owned content to a legally-owned device.

Kirk Biglione has a great analysis of the good and bad of the Kindle (please skip the first paragraph if you hate ugly truths!), making my job easy. Sort of like batting clean-up in a runaway game. I do want to disagree with Kirk on one point: the Kindle is not attractive. For my money (which, due to this tough job I have, I’m sure will eventually be spent on this device), too much real estate has been devoted to the keyboard. C’mon, look at how the Helio and iPhones rock the keyboard. You can offer flexibility while investing in good design.

And let’s be honest about that. Apple has set the bar very high when it comes to making good-looking products. What’s up with the Kindle’s singularly dull fashion sense? And what’s up with the color? As a long-time iBook owner, I can say that shades of white/putty/greige are dirt magnets. Given that this is a device that defines hands-on, it would seem that a lot of people will have the ickys when they look at the device six months from now.

I think that Amazon, like most companies entrenched in the publishing industry, doesn’t really understand its customers. Media coverage continues to look at a small slice of the ebook market when touting success or failure. The coverage neglects the thriving small press market (hey, Marketplace!, the Star Trek comment showed that you didn’t do your usual great homework). The media also fail to recognize who buys books in this country. Remember the women? The lack of aesthetics — from color to design to size to price — tell me that women weren’t considered as serious customers of this device. Which is a shame, because the first reaction I heard (and this is noteworthy because it came from what should be the target demographic) was “It’s ugly.” Followed by, “It’s too big.” Then, “I’d really be happier if the display was in color.”

This was a huge reader who immediately grasped the magic and wonder of a single device that stored gazillions of words. She got it. Too bad Amazon didn’t get her.

I have two more points to make before sending you off into the wild. First, the fact that this device makes Fort Knox look like an open bar really bothers me. The lack of PDF support alone should send everyone into therapy. Customers who buy the Kindle are locked into Amazon as supplier. Amazon owns that customer in a way that makes me very uncomfortable (and I say this as a customer who uses Amazon Prime like it’s going out of style). There is a cumbersome process for loading your own files onto the device, but, whoo-hoo!, you get charged ten cents for the privilege.

Please, publishing industry, stop treating customers like criminals. It’s really bad for you. It’s somewhat unsavory to pay to upload content I legally own to a device I’ve legally purchased.

As for other issues, Kirk has far more enthusiasm for the EVDO connectivity than I do; my guess is that’s because he has great faith in cellular technology. Kirk, it should be noted, rarely leaves headquarters and doesn’t use a cell phone. I am more concerned about dead zones and my ability to connect from places like, oh, Europe. Why not wireless?

Oh right, I said I had two more issues (turned out to be three, sue me). The final one is the biggie. Money. While I am slightly amused by the notion that I will need to pay to access content that is free — and I am curious about how much of my payment is going to compensate Sprint for use of the EVDO network versus the amount going to content providers (who apparently signed NDAs with Amazon) — I am even more amused by the fact that Amazon didn’t put much effort into making the reading of said paid content optimal. How hard would it be to use a standards-based browser. One blogger accessed his own content via a 14-day free trial…and found the experience rather disappointing.

But all of that is not as important as the other part of the money flow. I quote from the much-maligned (but, honestly, given the target audience, not as bad as portrayed) Newsweek article:

Readers have long complained that new books cost too much; the $9.99 charge for new releases and best sellers is Amazon’s answer. (You can also get classics for a song: I downloaded “Bleak House” for $1.99.) Bezos explains that it’s only fair to charge less for e-books because you can’t give them as gifts, and due to restrictive antipiracy software, you can’t lend them out or resell them.

. . .

Publishers are resisting the idea of charging less for e-books. “I’m not going along with it,” says Penguin’s Peter Shanks of Amazon’s low price for best sellers. (He seemed startled when I told him that the Alan Greenspan book he publishes is for sale at that price, since he offered no special discount.) Amazon is clearly taking a loss on such books. But Bezos says that he can sustain this scheme indefinitely. “We have a lot of experience in low-margin and high-volume sale—you just have to make sure the mix [between discounted and higher-priced items] works.”

The article also indicates that the average cost of digitizing a book is approximately $200. The reaction of Mr. Shanks suggests to me that publishers aren’t eager to explore new economic models for their industry. I’d like to note that compensation for digital sales is the root reason for the current WGA strike in Hollywood. Publishers need to rethink how much they charge retailers like Amazon…and how they pay authors. They also need to think long and hard about what they’re charging consumers — since customers are really the lifeblood of the industry.

I know, I know, you’re thinking that it’s time to move on to other topics. Turkey. Shopping. Smashed potatoes.

Have a great holiday!

File Under: The Business of Publishing

11 responses so far ↓

  • Kirk // Nov 20, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    For the record, saying that the Kindle “isn’t as ugly as everyone expected” is not the same as calling it “attractive”.

  • Eoin Purcell // Nov 20, 2007 at 1:22 pm

    I’m just not sold on this.

    I tried to keep an open mind but it is just ugly, damn expensive and practically useless.

    It is tired before I have even gotten it into my hands and generally, I just see not future for it.

    But that could just be me!

  • Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant » More Bloggers Weigh In On Kindle // Nov 20, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    […] have arrived and this post serves as an addendum to the previous report. First off, I should note Kassia Kroszer’s quibbles, which led to this report from Joseph Weisenthal, who pointed out that the only way one can access […]

  • Jim Murdoch // Nov 21, 2007 at 4:47 am

    I have to say I was please when I heard that Amazon was going to carry the torch for electronic books. It’s what the cause needs. How the hell did they manage to get it so wrong? It’s fixable, of course. Just look at all the different covers you used to be able to get for mobile phones. The guts are all the same. They have to make their product cool so that people are clamouring to get one like they are with the iPhone.

    They should chalk all this up to market research, probably quite expensive market research, but nothing they can’t afford.

  • Shannon // Nov 21, 2007 at 8:20 am

    Thanks for this helpful review. Here’s one more thing: What does Kindle offer me that the traditional and much loved (at least by me) book format does not? What does Kindle offer that makes up for the things that reall books provide and it cannot, such as the aesthetic quality of books, the ability to easily trade them or give them to others, the long “shelf life”? It would be a motivating factor if I thought authors were going to be more fairly compensated because of the lower costs of e-publishing, but your article suggests that is not going to be the case. As far as I can tell, the printed book still rules.

  • Jeff Johnston // Nov 21, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Ok I run a small press myself and we will be publishing eBooks first and formost and print books as the second run. I have to say why does digitizing cost approximately $200? Publishers have digital copies now, its not like we are using old Gutenburg presses now, everything is digital, turning a digital product into a digital product is minimal cost and effort.

    What I don’t like about the Kindle (besides its sheer ugliness) is the DRM, the books offered at will be DRMless, we have no intention of “treating customers like criminals”. Unfortunately I will be listing the books we publish on the Kindle store, it just burns me that to do that I will have to let Amazon determine the DRM scheme.

    I think the Kindle will do more to harm the eBook industry then to help it.

  • Robyn // Nov 21, 2007 at 11:16 am

    Jeff, I bet the $200 is sort of like how apparently at the big corporation where I work, apparently it costs $2k for six people to sign off on a cable for manufacturing. The $2k doesn’t include design or manufacturing, it’s just the time that it apparently takes for six levels of approval for any tiny thing to happen. And I think it includes overhead on all their cushy offices.

  • Kirk Biglione // Nov 21, 2007 at 11:27 am

    I’d be willing to bet the $200 per book is the cost of converting the digital content to Amazon’s proprietary file format and encoding it with Amazon’s proprietary DRM.

  • GSlusher // Nov 25, 2007 at 4:31 am

    Two points:

    – Amazon is a bit disingenuous when they compare the price of a Kindle book to the FULL retail price. They should compare it to the price THEY charge. I did that for the first 10 $9.99 Kindle books listed on the first day it was released. The average “savings” was about $6.05, as I recall. That means it would take about 65+ Kindle books to “pay” for the Kindle. (It will take a lot more if you buy the cheaper books.)

    – One thing about the Kindle that makes it very different from the iPod (or the Zune, Zen, Sansa, etc.): you cannot “rip” a book you already own to the Kindle, as you can with CDs, videos, tapes, LPs, etc., and the iPod and its competitors. If you have a stack of unread books that you’d like to get for your Kindle, you will have to pay full price for them, AGAIN. Amazon should charge a much lower price–say $2–for the Kindle version of a book you previously bought from Amazon, but they don’t and I don’t really expect them to.

  • Clive Warner // Nov 28, 2007 at 9:57 pm

    Am I the first to notice that there seems to be a complete “disconnect” here?
    A **retailer** imposing DRM on its customers?

    Until now, DRM – which I detest – has been the preserve of OEMs such as record labels. NOT retailers.

    I can see it now … I buy the latest novel from a B&N store, and the checkout person says, “oh, wait a min, I haven’t DRM’d that novel yet” – (passes novel through large machine resembling a photocopier on steroids, sounds of riffling pages) – “Here are your special reading glasses sir!” – gives me a set of plastic specs to allow me to read what now looks like a random mixture of red and green blotches.
    “And don’t lose the glasses, sir! They won’t work with any other books!”

  • Abram // Dec 1, 2007 at 9:36 pm

    I don’t like the idea of making content proprietary, but I am–have been for quite some time–excited about e-Ink technology. What I’d like to do is check out all the e-Ink readers on the market and do a comparison.

    I have put a Kindle ad on my site. Can’t afford it, really. If I earn enough through referrals, perhaps I’ll buy it.