The Kindle gets press because Amazon is such a big name that has shown it's not afraid to bully publishers and authors. In fact, if the product really takes off, publishers are going to have an enormous problem; so far as I know, you can only get compatible content through Amazon. I think it's clear that the company wants to become the Apple of downloadable music: Make the device that people want and become the only significant source for satisfying your content cravings.
There has been some additional press on the Kindle since the Book Expo America (BEA) in LA a week or so ago. Paul Krugman in the NYT
thinks that a predominantly digital e-book model will drive book prices down to nothing, where they become something you give away to promote other activities, like bands making money on touring, licensing, and merchandise. Danny Hatch's Business Common Sense blog had an entry about the Kindle
and Jeff Bezos's pitch for it at BEA. Apparently Amazon claims that the Kindle actually increases print sales:
According to his research, for every e-book bought, Kindle readers buy printed books as well. Kindle increases purchases (e-books plus printed books) by a factor of 2.6.
Who knows what would actually happen? What I do know is that people tend to use forms of communication that work best for particular reasons. Sending e-mails can be fine, but don't replace all uses of the phone. Instead, you could argue that people used to use the phone for virtually everything because it was less of a time sink, but that it wasn't really practical for everything, like having a record of an exchange. Many types of reading you do in a book don't work well on a screen - at least in my experience, and I've been reading heavily from screens for about the last 25 years, literally.
There are some other potential impacts on the book business that the Bezos presentation suggest:
- Amazon wants every book in print available as a Kindle title, which they admit is a big copyright issue. As Hatch notes, is it worth making a Kindle version of a niche title that sells little? That's a tricky question: some, like Chris Anderson and his idea of the long tail, might suggest that digital was the only way to go in such cases. Maybe that type of title is only available electronically, or for POD. That would suggest to me that POD vendors would have to find ways to directly print from popular e-book formats so there isn't double production work.
- Bezos touted how titles never go out of print, leveraging that long tail idea of bringing in money with no investment in inventory or story. POD could offer the same, but in either case you must ask how your book contract reads, and when a title goes out of print and rights revert to you. You're going to want a minimum - maybe 500 or 1000 copies a year - on the number selling via e-book and POD combined. Anything under that triggers the out-of-print reversion clause. But if you don't get such minimums in a contract, you will be stuck for the 35 years it takes, at least in the US, for you to be able to legally recall all rights.
- The Kindle only shows four shades of gray for now, so books depending on illustrations and colorful displays might only work in print. If you don't like the e-book route, that is something to consider in your conception of the book.
- There is built-in audio, so it could become an audio book player as well. (And why not music?) Authors might want to revisit the licensing out of audio book rights, as they might become more important.
One more point that should be read in its entirety:
A member of the audience asked Bezos if Kindle would change what authors and publishers do? “Wait and see,” was the reply. For example, Kindle could revive the old Charles Dickens model of publishing serials—or partsworks—that come out in sequence. Also, unlike printed books, if statistics change, the new material can be inserted, so that the Kindle book is always current.
And it's back to Krugman's point that things could change for authors. No more second editions, for example, which would mean an end to significant continuing revenue for some authors. As for the Dickens idea, where would the parts come out in sequence? That worked for him because he could publish the books in parts in newspapers and then reissue them as full editions. But with newspapers dwindling and magazines feeling the crunch, what would the outlets be? And how about the other major part of Dickens's income - lectures and readings? Are you ready for lessons on how to effectively read on stage and therapy to deal with issues of stage fright?
Some overtly happier thoughts: when people download books, they probably cannot return them, as with buying software or music. Also, publishers no longer have the "returns" issue that makes them and their authors crazy. Can you imagine a royalty statement with no need for reserves against returns?
It could be a different world, indeed.
Labels: audio books, books, e-books, publishing