Chronicles of Lost Ebook Sales

Since this week I made some waves about ebook pricing, I wanted to blog while it was fresh another example of exactly what I was talking about, how money I was willing to toss a publisher’s way stayed in my pocket.

Chronicles of Lost Ebook Sales

This morning I listened to Edward Champion’s Bat Segundo Show #367, on which he interviewed Susan Straight. Her new book is Take One Candle Light a Room. From hearing this very interesting interview, I learned the novel is set in and around New Orleans before and after Katrina, and deals with troubled people trying not to screw up their lives. If you know my life history, my interests and taste in reading, you know this is basically a made sale. I spent a few years in Lafayette LA going to graduate school, visited New Orleans frequently and have a great affection for the region. Also, as a barely functioning fuck up myself I love stories about fuck ups. OK, let’s light this candle.

I went to Amazon, searched on her name and pulled up the novel. The price for the hardcover is $17.13, the (not yet published) paperback is $15.00 and the Kindle edition is $14.27. Oh boy. I was so willing to buy this book and now I won’t. The odds of me ever remembering to check back later when the price is more reasonable (if ever) are so small you can assume it is zero. Pantheon Books could have gotten some money out of me but the $14.27 is just too ridiculous.

At the time of this writing, the sales rank for the hardcover edition is #184,115 and the Kindle edition is #38,665. I don’t know what expectations were for this book and how it has performed for them in the 3 months it has been published but I think you can safely assume this is under the blockbuster level. For promotion that was to them effectively free – a podcast interview – they could have made a sale to me on a book that is not burning up the Amazon charts. Because of the pricing policy, they didn’t. There’s money that fails to go to Pantheon Books and Ms. Straight. Sorry, y’all.

Chronicles of Lost Ebook Sales

“Would you like to buy a box of Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts?”
“OK, that will be $8.25.”
“Ummm …”

I can afford $14.27 for the Kindle novel and I could afford $8.25 for a box of cookies. Will I pay that? Barring some freakish external circumstances, no, not either. If I were desperate for either, maybe my perceived value would rise. As the 200th novel bought on a whim on a Kindle chocked full of stuff to read – no thank you.

After the thought that went into this weeks previous pricing blog post, as well as the comment thread on Teleread’s republishing of it, I realized there is an important flip side to my data argument. If I don’t like the pricing policies of electronic books, it’s really incumbent on me not to pay them. Otherwise, I become one of those data points on the higher end and I become part of the reason justifying the higher prices. I spent a lot of time and words telling publishers they should analyze that data. If I want to like the conclusion they reach, I have to make my tiny portion of the data match that conclusion. So, rather than loosening up I’m clamping down on the perceived value argument.

Ms. Straight, your books sounds wonderful. I wish your publisher did better by you. Good luck out there.

PS – Want to read a really great book that is reasonably priced? Try by Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge. You’ll be glad you did.

More Kindle Stuff

I’m aware that most of what little I’ve blogged in calendar year 2010 is Kindle related. What can I say? It’s what I’ve been most interested in lately, which corresponds with me also not having a whole lot to say on much else. C’est la blog.

I got some nice traction on my Spanish to English dictionary, getting links from Teleread, Kindle World as well as assorted fora and other places.There appears to have been a few people with technical glitches but that were able to get them sorted out. I assumed correctly that a reasonable chunk of the feedback would be “Can you do another version for Language X to Language Y”. The answer there is “No”, as the only other language I care about at this moment is Spanish. What I did was not rocket science and anyone with minimal scripting and Google skills could easily duplicate the efforts in other languages if they desired.

I also got some traction in my head to head comparison between the Kindle and the Nook. I still am wiling to love future versions of the Nook, particularly the screen contrast. The hardware is quite nice and if they ever fix the lagginess of the UI and the weird counterintuitive menuing system, it has a whole lot of potential.

I personally am excited about the upcoming release of a Kindle Development Kit that allows for putting apps on there. I and a lot of my kindred spirits had two immediate thoughts on hearing this news: 1) I’m not sure this is a good idea because the strength of the Kindle is that you don’t have much going on but reading books and 2) I’m signing up to join the developer program anyway. I’ve been wracking my brain to think of ideas that would use little or no bandwidth and would also play into the strengths of the Kindle. These fall into two classes: apps that one might want to spend a lot of time immersed with that don’t require huge amounts of screen refreshing and plugins that extend the existing functionality of the device. If one is allowed to do things like add extra menu options such that you can leave a GoodReads or LibraryThing review from inside a book, for example, that could be a hot bit of functionality to extend the device. I’m looking forward to seeing the KDK once it is available.

I’m an AAPL shareholder who has done awfully well with my stock, and as such I love whenever people get excited about mythical upcoming products. However, I’m completely sick of iTablet speculation and will consider it a sweet relief tomorrow when whatever announcement is finally made. I think most of the “Kindle killer” talk is by gadget headed techno-insiders who consistently fail to understand how ordinary consumers actually use devices. Like I said above, I think the affordance of the Kindle actually make it better for reading than an iTablet will be. When I sit down on the couch with the Kindle, books are not competing with videos, email, Skype or the panoply of distractions offered by your average online laptop. I’m looking for less distraction in my life and more time with words, and I think that key bit is beneath the notice of tech pundits who evaluate from every angle except for how a non-early adopter might actually incorporate this stuff in their lives.

This is a random half-baked thought that I’ve been wanting to blog about but am still ruminating over, so I’ll stick it on the bottom of this post like a tail that isn’t quite pinned on the donkey. With the coming of Kindle apps, the possibility of Nook apps, and the very real present of much money moving through the iTunes App store it occurs to me that in a large part these devices – an object with an account/open wallet attached to them – is a working manifestation of the dream of micropayments. Even though BitPass and other parts of the Scott McCloud-ian vision never worked or came to fruition, in their own way these apps represent a way micropayments can actually work. As I think about what things I could develop for Kindle apps, it’s never far out of my head how to tap into that. Assuming developers are given a way to invoke additional purchases from in app it could be very direct, but even having an app on a subscription is still a form of that. I have no walloping insight on this, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

Kindle Tools I Am Using

I got my Kindle in March 2009 and shortly after that I installed Calibre, mostly to test out its ability to convert PDFs and other documents into Mobi format. It wasn’t until the holidays that I really worked with it a lot and realized what a sophisticated library management tool it is. I’m too lazy to look at the release history to see if a lot of this functionality is new or I just missed it last spring. It doesn’t matter, I’m using it now.

A really cool bit of functionality is the news fetching and conversion functionality. I had experimented with subscribing to some of the Kindle blogs via Amazon but to be honest, none of them excited me enough to pay $1/month for them. The news fetching is cool and Calibre converts to very readable books. You have the option to configure the program to email the converted books to your Kindle but that’s really not necessary. I have it configured to automatically move the news books to my device and then delete them from the library on the laptop. It works really well, and then when I read them on the Kindle I just delete them.

Because the conversion is so good, I changed my strategy in how I deal with Project Gutenberg books. I used to download those books in MOBI format but I’ve started defaulting to getting them in EPUB. SInce EPUB is an open format with rich metadata it converts well so I’m treating it as my “lingua franca” format. Should I ever end up with a Nook (unlikely as that seems today), it’s a matter of one sync and I’ve got the same library of books on the new device.

Calibre is now the center of my Kindle experience. I don’t move documents to the device via file copy anymore. I add them to Calibre and let it be the transport mechanism, the catalog and format manager, and in the case of the news the RSS fetcher. It truly rocks and I’m very happy with it.

Another tool I found (via Teleread) is Neotake, an ebook search engine. I followed the link from my Teleread news ebook (as per above), and it took me to the mobile version of Neotake in the Kindle’s web browser. I searched for “George Eliot”, which gave me a very easily readable list of results. I followed the link to The Mill on the Floss and downloaded the MOBI version from the browser. In a few seconds the book showed up in my list in the home screen. It was basically about as easy to use as the Amazon store. I made sure to add Neotake to my bookmark list. It looks to be a valuable tool in the Kindle and other e-reader toolkit.

Big Day in the eReader World

I missed it yesterday when Paul Biba at Teleread picked up on my ‘Kindle is not closed’ post from the weekend, which is gratifying and predictably brought out pushback in the form of comments including this one from Mitch Ratcliffe and a contrary response post from David Rothman. Some people agreed with me, some didn’t but in all the dissents they are talking about the Kindle store lacking openness. I agree with that but that’s not what I said. I very specifically was talking about the device, not the store or the upstream ecosystem. I stand by my post – the idea that one must purchase every book on the Kindle from Amazon is a misconception that needs clearing up. Less than 5% of the books on my Kindle were purchased from Amazon’s Kindle store.

Today came out with the news of the Barnes and Noble Nook e-reader. My very first reaction was “Really, B&N? You spend however much money to build, design, roll out and market this device and the best you can do on naming is ‘Nookie Reader’?” Like I tweeted within a minute of hearing the brand for the first time, that’s a name that is derision ready.

I’m looking forward to the point when the Nook is available for hands on fiddling at my local Barnes and Noble. My initial thoughts on reading the specs and looking at the feature comparison chart is that not a lot of the differences on their matter to me. Having wifi sounds great at first thought, but I’ve never once failed to get a Whispernet connection so what is the advantage there unless it is filling in gaps and jankiness in the AT&T data connection? When I turn on wireless on the Kindle, the job gets done. What would be different if that was wifi rather than Whispernet? The sharing sounds great, just like the Zune sharing does on paper. How many Zune users ever find themselves in the room with another Zune user? Very seldom have I seen other Kindles when I use mine, and that has a 2 year headstart in market share. If the Kindle had this functionality, I wouldn’t have used it once in the 7 months I have owned mine. The first time someone I know gets a Nook file shared with them I’ll care about this feature, until then it’s purely a theoretical curiosity.

The SD card expansion up to 16 GB seems useful, particularly if one wanted to put lots of graphic heavy books on there. The lower screen LCD touchscreen seems to make sense for browsing the library but other than that, what is it other than a battery drain? Swiping a touchscreen to change a page is not easier than clicking a button. The only reason that would seem to matter is if everyone’s iPhone muscle memory tells them to do that. The two worst parts of the Kindle 2 I have are the library management and the off-whiteness of the screen background. It looks like the Nook screen is the same one as the Kindle, so that’s a wash and the library management looks better. Being able to read PDF natively (without a conversion step) on the Nook is better than what I have, although it is available on the Kindle DX.

Overall this doesn’t look like the predictably named “Kindle Killer”. It looks like a rough Kindle equivalent with slightly different affordances. I am delighted that it exists though, because it will put pressure on Amazon in all the aspects I want them to have some pressure. I want to see them improve the sucky bookshelf management in some future system update. The contrast of the screen is what it is on the model I have. It’s acceptable but any device I buy in the future needs to be better. I probably would never buy a future one until the color e-ink technology comes along.

Whenever they hit the brick and mortar Barnes and Noble stores, I’ll play with a Nook. Anyone who wants to make a bet with me on when the Nook install base exceeds that of the Kindle, you set the line and I’ll take the over/under action. Chances are for any line you set, I’ll take the over.