The Kindle Blues

I thought that people who did a lot of reading were supposed to be smart.

See, at the end of 2008 I ordered an Amazon Kindle, and it arrived at the end of February in 2009. I love it. It’s a brilliant device that does one thing – let you read – really, really, really well. But for such a brilliant device, it’s inspired an awful lot of unbrilliant thinking on all sides of its release.

While I was waiting for my Kindle to arrive, I subscribed to Amazon’s discussion board for the Kindle in the hopes of having a leg up before when it actually came. Well, I got that. But I got something else.

It seemed to me that a lot of other Kindle owners have the biggest entitlement mentality I’ve ever seen. I know not all of them are like that, but the ones with their hands out are the biggest complainers.

While I was waiting to get my Kindle, Amazon made the decision to quit making the original model, and introduced the Kindle 2. Everyone in line for the old model would now get the new model instead. That was pretty cool of them, right?

Except among some of the owners of what is now called the Kindle 1 – especially the more recent owners. There was outrage in some corners. Some who had bought the K1 and enjoyed it up until Amazon’s February announcement decided this switcheroo was unfair. Amazon had knowingly sold them an old product when they knew a newer version was coming out.

Using this same logic, they were probably shocked when the car in their driveway was suddenly made obsolete by the newest model. The same with their TV sets, their blenders, their sofas, and especially their computers – but do you suppose they demanded a free replacement of any of those? Amazon’s woes continued in this vein as they introduced a bigger model (the DX) and an international model of the K2 (the K2i).

The wave of unbrilliance continued as Amazon tried to hold the prices of bestsellers to $9.99. Rabid customers tried to organize boycotts when prices on some books went higher than that. This has been compounded by the fact that Steve Jobs capitulated to publisher demands in order to try and make the eReader software on the iPad more competitive against the Kindle.1

What Jobs’ turn as Neville Chamberlain did was empower publishers to put the screws to Amazon’s pricing policies for the Kindle. If Apple gave them terms, then Amazon should cough up the same agreements in spite of previous precedence. The result is “The Agency Model” – a fancy term for publishers setting their own prices for eBooks.2 And by the publishers’ way of thinking, that price should be about the same as a trade paperback.3

Of course, there’s a lot of whining going on about this, too. The entitlement readers probably attended the school that in the 2000’s claimed that “music should be free.”

Now there is a little bit of logic behind their desire for low eBook prices. After all, since there’s no paper, ink, labor, shipping, storage, etc., needed for an eBook, they should be practically free, right?

Wrong.

I agree that eBooks should have a lower cost than DTB’s (Dead Tree Books), but as something of an industry insider, I also understand that there are some book-related costs that publishers still can’t shake, namely, the cost of their infrastructure – buildings, desks, and all those editors, proofreaders, sales persons… and then they have to pay the authors something, right?

Plus, the publishing industry has another dirty little secret they’re not sure they want you to know. That is, in an eight-figure deal (that’s millions with an extra digit in front of it – tens, twenties, thirties, etc.) with a Stephen King or a J.K. Rowling, they do not get their money back in associated book sales. What they have basically done is paid an exorbitant amount of money to have a prestige author in their house’s lineup. And no, they don’t make money from movie sales, etc., because the agents for these writers have already negotiated to keep those. Where they make their money is from mid-list authors, the ones who meet their sell-through and go on to make profits for themselves and their publishers. These are the names you’ve probably seen on the Bestseller Lists and wondered who in the world they were. Now you know. They’re the publishers’ bread and gravy.

The other dirty little secret of the publishing world is that right now, they’re in the same mess that the music industry was in a decade ago when mp3’s were coming into their own. And judging from their behavior, they have learned nothing from the mistakes the music industry made back then.

As example, early on in the Kindle’s history, many publishers put the smackdown on the Text-To-Voice feature, which reads any text document on the Kindle in a well-rendered synthetic voice. They claimed it was a threat to their revenue from audio books.

Well, let me tell you about Text-to-Speech. As I have already chronicled in these pages, when I was doing the most recent edit to …and that’s the end of the news, I loaded into my Kindle so I could read it without being tempted to edit it. While commuting, I tried using the T2S on the document and… what a rush it was hearing it read my own novel to me. I was so thrilled, you’d have thought I was listening to an audio recording of it by James Earl Jones.

But while the synthetic voice (you have a choice of male or female) is nice, it still has oddities of pacing and pronunciation (it never did pronounce my female protagonist’s name correctly). And if I was going to listen to, say, Moby Dick and had the choice, I’d take a James Earl Jones recording of it over either Kindle voice every time. It’s a no-brainer that the publishers have made, in their avarice, a brainer.

The transition to eBooks is going to be a rough one.4 Amazon has stumbled in the process too, like with their release of 1984 and Animal Farm in unauthorized editions, and the, um, Orwellian way that they took them back. But they apologized and made good on it, something a lot of publishers have yet to catch on to.

All we can do is sit tight and see how it all spins out. Meantime, anybody got a suggestion for a good book to read?

  1. Although I can’t understand why he did this. He was the one who, when he found out about the Amazon Kindle, said he wasn’t worried because “People don’t read anymore.”
  2. But Amazon is rubbing publishers’ noses in their own dirt – check out the Kindle pricing of an eBook, and some will say “Price Set By Publisher”. But I suspect this is not so much to fight back as silence the entitlement-minded whiners who say the price is too high.
  3. Or, they have the right to delay release of the eBook, anywhere from three months after the hardcover to coinciding with the release of the paperback.
  4. No, I’m not one of those doom and gloomers who thinks that eReaders spell the end of the book – just like CD’s and mp3’s put an end to vinyl, right?
Advertisements

2 responses to “The Kindle Blues

  1. If you are looking for a good military SF read check out the David Weber Off Armageddon Reef Series. I don’t know yet if he is tying things up with the latest volume, (still reading) but he does create a good what if world. My only gripe with his writing is he tends to pages of expository prose that he could really cut if he had better editors. I guess that is what happens when your books sell, you are no longer forced to edit.

What are your thoughts?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s