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Kindle de-coupled from book sales? No.

The New York Times reports on allegedly revelatory statements by Amazon’s Jeff Bezos at a Wired conference in New York today.

In the future, Amazon.com’s Kindle e-book reader will display more book formats beyond its own. And you should also expect to see Kindle books on a lot more devices.

Amazon has, of course, acquired several of the developers of leading e-book formats, most recently Lexcycle, maker of the Stanza Reader that dominates the iPhone platform, or did before Amazon released Kindle for iPhone. It is not surprising that the company will support non-Amazon formats since it already does, including Adobe’s PDF format in the Kindle DX (though without support for internal or external linking and standard navigational features of the PDF), amongst other non-DRM formats, but it is sheer speculation to say that ePub support (which Amazon should support) is coming soon.

What of the question of Kindle hardware’s independence from the Kindle bookstore, which The New York Times says is a startling disclosure? The two groups have long operated separately, but Bezo’s comments today to the effect that he wants to see many different titles in many formats on the Kindle at the $9.99 price point contradicts the significance attributed to his remarks. If a book format must conform to a certain price to operate on the Kindle, so that it does not conflict with Amazon’s pricing, there is a clear link between the hardware and ebook retailing strategy at the company.

Buried in the story, a statistic of significance which bears repeating: When a Kindle version of a book is available, it generally accounts for 35 percent of total sales in paper and electronic formats, which was reported before. This has to be an average across the catalog, with high percentages among small titles and low percentages among bestsellers, since the sale of Kindle versions isn’t mathematically likely to be consistent across all titles. Yet it speaks volumes about the appetite of early adopters for paper-free reading, who are also less likely to select only “big books” to read.

I personally have given up almost all paper magazine subscriptions and all paper newspaper subscriptions in favor of Kindle versions. But if the roughly 730,000 Kindles in the market, by my estimation, account for 35 percent of the sales of the average book offered in paper and ebook format, it means that only a few people can swing the pendulum, which speaks to the small markets for many books on Kindle. Since the Kindle store represents 43 percent of the e-book market, we can assume the distribution of paper/e-book sales is roughly the same across the industry.

Kindle is a long-tail device, but won’t be if all roads have to pass through Amazon’s pricing strategy. And my experience talking with Kindle people at Amazon tells me they know that’s true—the impasse between pricing and openness will break for openness, when Amazon’s good and ready to deliver formats and support for value-added services.

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