Amazon advertised itself as having a large digital catalogue of books available at 88,000 plus. This was one point that really worried me. I wrote in one email to a digital director of a major publisher earlier this week, “Are you going to be publishing Kindle only ebooks because that would really suck for all non Kindle owners, like me.” Alas, all the publishers who responded, other than Wiley, said no exclusivity for Amazon, meaning that the publishers want to sell as many books as possible. So what accounts for the huge catalog? Non fiction books. 54,052 books in the Amazon digital library are Nonfiction. Less than 1/3 of the “Kindle” books are fiction. I decided to look at three existing e-bookstores for comparison: Kindle (Amazon), Fictionwise, BooksonBoard.
As you can see by the above numbers, Amazon’s books actually lag behind in the numbers. Of course, part of this is due to the fact that Fictionwise and BooksonBoard sell books from epublishers and some also has to do with how the bookstores catalog books. Amazon places books in more than one category (Deceptively Delicious was in Lifestyle & Home as well as Advice/How To). I am not sure about Fictionwise and BooksonBoard, although the latter company has a catalog of 156,000 ebooks right now.
The catalog of Kindle books is a mite deceptive. It boasts a huge number of digital editions but the fact is that the books that we genre readers want to read are going to be widely available and not just for Kindle readers. Big sigh of relief there.
What about pricing?
Amazon charged out of the gate with a promise that all New York Times Bestsellers and new hardcover releases would be $9.99. Right now all fiction books appear to be $9.99 or under, but it doesn’t seem clear whether this will last forever. I think that it is unlikely because Amazon would be losing $3-4 per book sale which really would be hard to make up with the sale of Kindles. I believe that with the new year, and possibly sooner, Amazon will increase the prices of its hardcovers to some percentage of the retail price and keep its advertised promise of all NYT Bestsellers or new hardcover releases being $9.99. In the meantime, Fictionwise, BooksonBoard, and Sony have all lowered their prices to match or come close to the Kindle pricing.
For genre readers whose primary diet is romance, the prices of the Kindle books aren’t lower than BooksonBoard or Fictionwise’s Club pricing.
|Caressed by Ice||5.59||$5.35||5.57|
|The Pack Collection||N/A||9.86||5.50|
|An Enchanted Season||9.99||9.88||9.99|
|The Scottish Companion||5.59||5.35||5.57|
* These are all buywise club prices.
I am a little worried about the price matching that Fictionwise and Books on Board are doing. I started buying ebooks from a Russian run website called Elibron a few years ago. The reason I did this was due to price. Elibron sold almost all of its ebooks for 35%, or more, off the retail price. Elibron’s ebook business stopped fulfilling orders a couple of years ago. I couldn’t help but wonder if it was the pricing.
Books on Board, Fictionwise and Sony have all met the loss leader pricing of Amazon’s Kindle ebooks. Most hardcovers are $9.99 or under, no matter what the retail price. That’s great for us in the short term, but in the long term, this loss leader bargain pricing could lead to a “one bookstore that rules us all” sort of thing which isn’t good.
What needs to happen is for ebooks to be sold at a lower wholesale price by publishers. I don’t think that will happen anytime soon as evidenced by Peter Shanks’ statement to Newsweek. (As an aside, I am pretty sure that it is David Shanks that Newsweek’s Levy meant to identify. Unless Penguin’s CEO, David Shanks, has a brother named Peter who also works at Penguin, that is).
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 claims that it can maintain the loss leader pricing indefinitely. According to the Newsweek article, it is just the right mix of “low-margin and high-volume sale–"you just have to make sure the mix [between discounted and higher-priced items] works.”
Books on Board told me that it was going to price its books competitively, most often meeting the $9.99 price but not always. For example, World Without End by Ken Follett retails at $35.00. BooksonBoard hasn’t met the Kindle pricing of $9.99, instead pricing the book at $19.99. I think BoB is very consumer oriented and I would hate to see a promising young e-tailer close its doors because of aggressive loss leader pricing designed to gain a monopoly on the ebook reading public.
What about format?
Finally, the question becomes whether you want to buy a book that you might only have for a limited time. I.e., by buying a Kindle book you are essentially buying into the Kindle system, forever after amen. I’ve always said that I won’t be tied to one device. I’ve never bought one Sony BBeB book and I’ll never buy a Kindle book, even if the price is super attractive because I don’t want my book to be tied to one device. What if Sony comes out with some awesome color eink device with wireless capabilities and an integrated light but I have 200 Kindle proprietary ebooks? I am stuck with the Kindle even if it is old technology.
I found it especially odd that Amazon would not support its own proprietary format. In 2005, Amazon acquired Mobipocket. Mobipocket is one of the leading formats in the world of ebooks. David Rothman, tech blogger for Publisher’s Weekly and host of Teleread.org, says that there are more mobipocket formatted books than any other format. As previously stated, no DRM’ed or locked Mobipocket can be read on the Kindle even though the Kindle’s format is a super proprietary form of Mobipocket.
What a reader could do is buy MS Lit books, strip the DRM and convert to an unencrypted mobipocket format using the free Mobipocket eBook Creation software. Of course, this might technically be a violation of the DMCA and Kindle has promised that if it catches you doing something wrong, Amazon will consider reporting you.
Responsiveness to Consumers
Here the clear winner is BooksonBoard. It has a 24 hour a day support staff. My tech support emails get answered within an hour no matter when I’ve sent them. I complained about the unwieldy purchase system back on August and it was changed within a week. You no longer have to await an email to make a purchase. Instead, you pay and your purchase is immediately available. BooksonBoard also lists upcoming books and you can pre-order them such as November 27, 2007, release by Karen Ranney, An Unlikely Governess.
Fictionwise is slower to respond to consumer complaints. I know that Keishon and I complained for months, even years, that Fictionwise was releasing its books a week late because it’s publishing week started on Monday when all the publishers released their books on Tuesdays. Recently, Fictionwise has started pre-orders on Monday for books released on Tuesdays so that readers don’t have to wait for an entire week to buy the digital book. To me, this is something Fictionwise should have done years ago but didn’t see the need to do so until BooksonBoard came along with its lower prices and immediate availability.
Amazon marches to the beat of its own drum as can be seen by the design of the Kindle. Not a one person who saw the prototype thought it was attractive. But Bezos likes it and that is what matters. One ebook reader suggested perhaps that ugly is the new cute. Will Amazon be responsive and listen to consumers? I am thinking that it will do so only when it suits them. In this, Amazon is more like Fictionwise and less like BooksonBoard.
The Verdict on the Kindle
Having read multiple threads at MobileRead and blog posts around the ‘net by Kindle owners, I see some advantages. Sony, Bookeen and the Kindle all have the same eink technology so the screen capabilities are exactly the same (although Sony employs a 8 greyscale and the other two only 4). I’ve read the screen refresh rate of the Sony and the Kindle are identical. I know from my in-store use of the Sony 505 (the Sony Reader version 2), the screen refresh rate is significantly faster than the older Sony.
What is different is the format (discussed above), the wireless capability, and the highlighting and annotation. To me, the latter is the biggest plus. The wireless capability for the Kindle is nice but since Amazon is going to be spying on its customers, I am not a fan. I’d rather turn the EVDO off and cut Amazon out of the loop. As one MobileRead user said, this is a device that sits between the Sony Reader and the Iliad in both price and features. If the annotation/highlighting is a big deal for you, then the Kindle might be worth the extra $100. If not, wait for the 2008 ebook readers. From what I hear there is some exciting stuff to hit the market in the next couple of years.