To Kindle Or Not To Kindle By George English

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Publishers can no longer afford to ignore the electronic book market and, if independent publishers want to stay competitive, they’re going to have to format their books for electronic reading devices, or risk being left in the dust by big names and big advertising dollars on yet another playing field.

According to the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF), trade e-book sales for April, 2009 were approximately US $12 million, almost 230% higher than April, 2008 and e-book sales for the calendar year increased approximately 150%. This data was derived from 13 trade book publishers who supplied information to the IDPF.

Regardless of their increasing popularity, the e-book industry is still struggling with a lack of standards for reading devices. No one e-reader has significantly overshadowed the others and consumers have been left to guess which is the best option. With technology advancing so fast though, that decision could made easier as more applications are available that allow consumers to access e-books on their own cell phones: A far more convenient and less expensive choice than buying a separate electronic gadget.

Whenever a discussion about e-book formats comes up, it’s a sure bet Amazon’s Kindle will be mentioned. Because the Kindle is produced by the largest online book retailer, some seem particularly enthralled with it, and many have rushed to convert their manuscripts to Kindle format. But, being recognized does not mean being the biggest or necessarily the best, and since Amazon has refused to share sales statistics, consumers are left to speculate about its popularity, or lack thereof.

Before authors or publishers make the decision to offer their books through the Kindle, there are some things to consider, especially if they are hoping to make money selling their e-books.

IT’S HARD TO COMPETE WITH “FREE” EBOOKS

One of the first things I noticed when I was checking the availability of books for Kindle was that 14 of the top 20 Kindle “best sellers” on Amazon were actually free e-books (some in the public domain), and 33 of the top 50 were free. It’s not good business sense to compete with a free product if you would like to make a profit, and there’s little chance your book is going to beat that offer to make it to the top tiers of that best sellers’ list.

LIMITED MEMORY AND YOU CAN’T SHARE KINDLE EBOOKS

I also noted that Kindle users cannot share books and the Kindle offers no SD card slot for additional memory. If a Kindle owner wants to expand his or her library at some point, then books may have to be deleted. In contrast, Barnes and Noble offers an e-book reading device called the Nook that allows people to share books for up to 14 days, and add a memory card when more space is required. The savvy shopper is going to check things like this before buying an e-book reader.

NUMBER OF KINDLE “EBOOK REVIEWS” – A BIT DECEPTIVE?

Then there’s the impressive list of reviews for many Kindle e-books, that turn out not to be exclusively for the Kindle e-books at all. The reviews are for the book itself, not the Kindle version alone. This lack of distinction makes it appear as if the Kindle version has sold far more than it has. For example, on the Kindle best seller list, it lists The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold, as having 2,621 reviews, but these reviews date back to June, 2002, more than five years before the Kindle was released. For most fiction, that might not be an issue, but for books that have tables or other graphic displays, it would be nice if the reader could easily find reviews that discuss the quality of these things when displayed electronically, as there are many ways to improperly format an e-book that could make it very difficult for the reader.

KINDLE EBOOK PRICES MAY BE MUCH HIGHER OUTSIDE THE U.S.

Another issue with Amazon’s e-books is that the pricing isn’t equal world-wide. Independent publishers often overlook overseas markets, losing potential revenue. Don’t do that. People in Europe like reading e-books, too, but Amazon isn’t helping to sell e-books in the UK. According to Simon Aughton of macuser.co.uk, Amazon is charging Europeans an additional 40% for electronic books.

THE CONTRACT – AMAZON CAN PRICE THE BOOK LOWER BUT YOU CAN’T?

If a publisher does want to format and sell a Kindle version of a book, then the contract needs to be carefully scrutinized. There’s one clause that prohibits publishers from selling their e-books, FOR EVERY DIGITAL EDITION, REGARDLESS OF FORMAT, for less money ANYWHERE ELSE. The contract does not prevent Amazon from adjusting the price on their site, however. This enables Amazon to price an ebook lower than everyone else, including the publisher and author, and even other bookstores.

5.3.1 List Price. You will adjust the List Price as required to ensure that, at all times that the Digital Book is available for sale through the Program, the List Price does not exceed the lowest of: (a) the lowest suggested retail price or equivalent price for any digital or physical edition of the Digital Book; (b) the lowest price at which you list or offer any digital or physical edition of the Digital Book on any website or other sales channel

AMAZON CAN “TAKE BACK” BOOKS BOUGHT BY CONSUMERS

Consumers have also been on the receiving end of Amazon’s strong arm. Last year, Amazon “retrieved” two e-books it sold, simply by deleting them from everyone’s Kindle without warning. That action resulted in at least one lawsuit, because a student lost a considerable amount of schoolwork (his notes on the Kindle) as a result. Ironically, the book was George Orwell’s 1984.

OTHER COMPLAINTS

In addition, there are ongoing complaints about accounts being deleted from Amazon due to returns. If you don’t have an Amazon account, you can no longer buy ebooks for the Kindle you bought from Amazon. You’ll be stuck with a useless device you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on. An interesting discussion on that subject can be found HERE.

For other perspectives on the Kindle, check out Tim O’Reilly’s article on the Forbes Magazine site.

A Kindle dominated market is probably not going to benefit consumers or publishers for a number of reasons. There’s an interesting article on what could happen at Slate.

Before offering your book in an electronic format, you should carefully consider all the pros and cons, and choose a format that is available to a wide range of devices, and isn’t overpriced. Both Portable Document Format (PDF) and ePub are free formats that can be read on a variety of electronic readers.

George English is a citizen of earth and frequent traveler. His 9 to 5 is in a crowded office where he expresses his creativity with a keyboard and moans about how little money he earns. George decided to moonlight as a freelance writer a few years ago, when he needed new tires for his car. His plan backfired and he realized his net earnings after taxes were less than they would have been had he not freelanced. George now rides a bicycle to work. George used to own the popular blog PoopersScoops, but had to close shop because it was interfering with his naptime.