I bet the big publishers wish they had been happy with $9.99.
As I mentioned in this post about the agency model, 5 of the “Big 6″ publishers demanded that Amazon stop discounting e-books to $9.99, and insisted on controlling retail prices — immediately raising many new release e-book prices to $12.99 or $14.99.
Amazon argued that the agency model and those high prices were costing publishers sales, and I knew that readers would vote with their wallets, but for a while it appeared that publishers were doing OK with $12.99 e-books (although $14.99 pricing never really caught on). But a look at the current Amazon bestseller list shows that readers are voting with their wallets in a big way, and what they want is inexpensive e-books.
In fact, almost exactly half of the Kindle Top 100 consists of e-books that are $5 or less. (Additionally, there are several selling for about $5.50 that I’m not counting.) In fact, a quarter of the e-books on the bestseller list are $1 or less.
On top of that, the books at the very top of the list are skewed even more towards low-priced e-books than the whole list. Books $5 or less make up:
- 4 of the Top 5 (80%)
- 7 of the Top 10 (70%)
- 12 of the Top 20 (60%)
- 20 of the Top 40 (50%)
- 49 of the Top 100 (49%)
And, more than half of those books are very low-priced: $1 or less. Books $1 or less make up:
- 3 of the Top 20
- 9 of the Top 40
- 25 of the Top 100
And this does not include all the free e-books being downloaded on Amazon.
Further exacerbating the publishers’ nightmare, a decent percentage of these e-books are by independent authors, including uber-indie Amanda Hocking, who has 3 e-books in the Top 12 and reached #2 overall in the Kindle store. She sells as many books in a day as I sold last year, and the big publishers didn’t want her. But in 2011, it’s the readers, not the publishers, who have the power.
Maybe, instead of fighting with Amazon over $9.99, publishers should have been happy that Amazon had ingrained $10 as a reasonable price point for e-books. Instead of thinking they could get even more, maybe they should have thanked Amazon for getting customers to pay that much for e-books that have no printing, shipping, or returns costs. Because now readers are demanding more and more low-priced and free e-books, and don’t even feel guilty about it because they feel that publishers tried to take advantage of them with overpriced e-books, delayed releases, poor formatting, blocking lending, blocking text-to-speech, and invasive DRM. And now big publishers are being crowded out of the bestseller lists by independent authors, and are being forced to lower their own big-name titles to $5 just to compete with indie authors at $1 and $3.
I bet $9.99 is looking pretty good to them now.
Six months ago, Amazon announced that e-books were outselling hardcovers at the world’s largest bookseller; now, Amazon announced that e-books are outselling paperbacks (for Amazon U.S. sales). From the press release:
- Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across Amazon.com’s entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.
- The Company sold millions of third-generation Kindle devices with the new advanced paper-like Pearl e-ink display in the fourth quarter and the third-generation Kindle eclipsed “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” as the bestselling product in Amazon’s history.
- The U.S. Kindle Store now has more than 810,000 books including New Releases and 107 of 112 New York Times Bestsellers. Over 670,000 of these books are $9.99 or less, including 74 New York Times Bestsellers. Millions of free, out-of-copyright, pre-1923 books are also available to read on Kindle.
Wow, for every 100 paperbacks sold, Amazon is selling 115 Kindle e-books. Playing with the numbers a little more, for every 100 Kindle e-books, Amazon is selling 87 paperbacks and 33 hardcovers. So, for Amazon’s U.S. sales:
- E-Books: 45.5%
- Paperbacks: 39.5%
- Hardcovers: 15.0%
Very impressive, especially since Amazon makes clear that it does not count free e-book downloads and does count printed books without e-book equivalents. I suppose the next milestone will be when e-books overtake combined print (paperback + hardcover) sales, which can’t be too far away now.
I’ve seen many people online wondering whether or not they should upgrade their perfectly-fine Kindle 2 to the new-and-improved Kindle 3. “Should I replace my K2 with a K3″ is a very common question on the Amazon forums and KindleBoards. As one who recently grappled with that question, perhaps my experiences and opinions might help.
People asking this question are often asking two different things: first, is the Kindle 3 improved enough over the Kindle 2 to make it worth the cost of upgrading? And, second, should I buy a K3 now, or wait until (a) a new model comes out, or (b) the price goes down again?
Kindle 2 vs. Kindle 3
To answer the first question, I’m very glad that I upgraded from the K2i to the K3 in late November. I am a huge fan of the new e-Ink Pearl screen, the contrast is definitely improved and makes a marked difference in my reading enjoyment. I post my experiences here, along with side-by-side pictures showing off the dramatic improvement in contrast and screen readability. I also find that the sans serif font choice and software changes to allow for more lines of text makes the reading experience noticeably better as well. The lighter weight, faster page turns, better battery, etc., etc. are almost just a bonus.
As for price, I think the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi for $139 or the Kindle 3 Wi-Fi + 3G for $189 are both incredible values for the money — and well worth it for anyone who enjoys reading. If you can find a good home for the K2 (gifting it to a friend or family member), it may also help you justify the upgrade for yourself. Alternately, you should be able to sell the Kindle 2 (still a fine e-reader with free-for-life 3G wireless service) for $100 to $150, so you could recoup most of the cost of your new K3.
Buy Now, Or Wait For New Version?
Just to be clear, no one really knows when the next Kindle will come out, or when Amazon will adjust their pricing, so the best I can do is offer you an educated guess from someone who follows news and rumors about the Kindle very closely. That being said, the K3 is new enough (August 2010) that I don’t expect a Kindle 4 for at least 6 months, probably closer to a year (maybe just before Xmas). I think the K3 is pretty close to the limit of what they can do with black & white e-Ink, and the next big jump will be color e-Ink / Mirasol, which is still AT LEAST 6 months away, probably more. Of course, if you don’t care about color, you should be very happy with the K3 for a long time. As for price, if that mythical color K4 DOES come out, odds are that it will cost more than the current K3, at least at first.
Buy Now, Or Wait For Price Drop?
Regarding the K3, when the next Kindle model comes out (or just before), I’d imagine a discount to purge remaining K3 stock … but honestly, prices are pretty darn good to begin with — $139 is a very reasonable price (compared to $399 for the first K1s!), and there’s just not that much room for them to go down. At best, in 6 months, we might see $99 K3 Wi-Fis and $149 K3 3Gs. But, to me, 6 months of use is worth the extra $40.
As I said, these are just my educated guesses, and no one knows for sure! But I would be fairly confident (as confident as you can be with electronics, anyway) that now is a pretty good time to get a new Kindle 3, since I don’t foresee a big price drop or new model coming out for several months at least. In any event, it’s probably best to ask yourself if you like the Kindle 3 enough to get $139 (Wi-Fi) or $189 (3G) worth of use out of it — and if you answer “yes,” then go ahead and buy one and enjoy it, since no future price reduction or new model can change that.
I spend a lot of time reading forums related to e-books and e-readers, including the official forums at both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’ve seen countless posts by readers decrying (a) high e-book prices (the agency model and $14.99 e-books), (b) delayed e-book releases, (c) publishers blocking text-to-speech, (d) annoying DRM attached to e-books (and the incompatibilities that result), and (e) recently, publishers blocking the lending feature (which B&N has had for a while and Amazon just added).
In this new age of digital reading, readers DO have the power to help shape the new rules of the game. Readers control all the money spent on books, and that’s always been the case. Publishers will try to raise prices, window releases (delaying e-books), block text-to-speech, block lending, institute DRM, and their new frontier will be trying to get us all to read online in the “cloud,” which just allows them to lock down the content more effectively by preventing us from downloading a file.
But the thing to remember is that publishers can only get away with what readers allow them to get away with. Not all publishers are on the agency model (5 of the “Big 6″ are, but Random House and smaller publishers are not). If readers refuse to buy books over a certain price, or with certain features blocked, or that do not allow us to download the file we’ve paid for, or whatever, then publishers will have to cave in and give readers what they want. We’ve already seen that readers generally wouldn’t pay $14.99 for new releases, and publishers lowered them to $12.99, which enough people seem to be paying.
Readers DO have choices. There are a million books a year published in the U.S. alone, and most of them don’t go through large publishers. Many books are sold for much lower prices, enable lending and text-to-speech, and don’t have DRM attached. True, you might have to take a chance in finding some new authors and you might not love all the new authors you find, but it is a choice, and the choices that readers make now will shape the way e-books are read for decades to come.
A couple of interesting e-reader deals I stumbled across today: the latest-generation Sony Pocket E-Reader (model PRS-350) is on sale at Wal-Mart for $128, with free shipping. The Sony PRS-350, which I cover in more detail here and here, comes with a 5″ e-Ink Pearl touchscreen, and weighs only 5.64 ounces. If you’re looking for something very small and light, and that is also compatible with Overdrive library e-books, the Sony at this price is a compelling choice (I’ve said before that the Sonys’ major problem is their high prices). On the down side, this model does not have wireless connectivity (so you have to download e-books to your computer and put them on the device with a USB cable).
While I mainly discuss the major e-reader brands (Kindle, Nook, Sony, Kobo, and iPad), just for a little variety I’ll throw in a mention of a sub-$100 e-reader deal. Those of you looking for a budget e-reader may want to consider the ViewSonic VEB620, on sale at B&H for $99.95. The ViewSonic does come with a 6″ e-Ink screen, reads ePub e-books and PDFs, and has a respectable 2GB of internal memory plus an SD memory card slot. It also plays MP3 music files, has an accelerometer (so you can turn the device to switch from portrait to landscape mode, and also “shake” it to turn pages), and weighs only 7.8 ounces. On the down side, the display does not appear to be the newer, much better e-Ink Pearl display that I find so compelling in the Kindle 3 (or new Sonys), it doesn’t have wireless connectivity, and doesn’t appear to have basic functions like a built-in dictionary or folders, let alone text-to-speech or Internet access. It also doesn’t appear to be linked up with an e-book store, making it more difficult to find content to read on it. Finally, it has poor reviews on Amazon and elsewhere, with reviewers complaining that it’s very slow to open e-books. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend the ViewSonic (I think an extra $28 or $39 for the Sony above or the $139 Kindle 3 Wi-Fi will be well worth the extra cost), but I thought I would present it for your consideration.
While I’ve probably raved enough about the Kindle 3 around here, the device certainly isn’t perfect. There are several things I’d love to see improved — including some obvious hardware improvements like even better screen contrast, lighter weight, a color e-Ink screen, etc. Those will have to wait for the Kindle 4 or Kindle 5, but in this post I’ll focus on the software improvements I’d like to see — things that could all be done with the existing Kindle 3 hardware. Amazon has actually added a number of software features — including better PDF support, more font sizes, and other features — that retroactively improved the Kindles that people already had. Most of these features are not only possible, but fairly simple for Amazon to do — if they get the message that enough Kindle owners want them. Please comment if you agree or disagree with any of the features on my wish list, or any other ones I’ve missed.
Custom screensavers: OK, this one is obvious, and simple to implement. By default, your Kindle will show you a rotating set of screensavers, mostly of dead authors. Very literary, but kinda boring, and not very personal. How about an option to display the cover of the e-book you’re currently reading? Or let users load up their own pics? There is an unofficial hack for this, so the functionality is certainly possible, Amazon just has to decide to enable the feature.
Better Library Management: After far too long a delay, Amazon finally issued a software update that enabled “collections,” tags you can assign to books that act somewhat like folders. However, the feature is limited: you can’t have nested folders, and your sorting options are limited (sorting “by collections” puts the collections to the top of the list, but sorts the remaining e-books by most recently used, with no option to further sort by author or title). There should also be a way to assign and sort e-books based on a series (and order within the series) they’re in. I shouldn’t have to use a 3rd-party program to append series info to e-book titles (I use an abbreviation and number, like “[VS3],” tacked onto the end of e-book titles) to figure out what order I should read my e-books in. Even this work-around doesn’t help sort the e-books how I would like. How about being able to edit metadata, add series (and order) info from the Kindle itself, and collapse and expand e-books in a series? And, even better, e-books you buy should have series information already included.
Marking Books as “Read”: In a similar vein, another wish for better metadata control would be a little checkmark or something you could add to books you’ve read. Yes, I add them to a “Read” collection, and yes the little dots showing your progress will all be bold if you stay at the end of the book and don’t jump back to the beginning, but I’d prefer a simple “Mark this book read” and a little checkmark or icon I could see next to the book title, whatever order I’m sorting by. Maybe even a “read count” to show how many times you’ve read the book for people who like to re-read. And, while we’re at it, a way to save the date you marked it read. That would be pretty cool, no?
More E-Book Formatting Options: The Kindle 3 not only lets you select among 8 font sizes, but also from 3 different typefaces, 3 different line spacing settings, and 3 side margin sizes — which is fantastic. (P.S.: I use font size 4, sans serif font, medium line spacing, and default words per line, and the readability is great.) But I’d also like to see a couple more options: specifically the ability to add or remove blank lines between paragraphs, and one to add or remove first-line paragraph indents. As a fan of first-line indents and no spacing between paragraphs, I find e-books that deviate from that standard harder to read — but it should be user-selectable since I know some readers disagree. Right now, it’s left to the whim of the e-book’s formatter, and varies from e-book to e-book.
Page Numbers: Yes, I fully understand why page numbers are problematic with e-books: all those font / typeface / line spacing adjustments mean that the number of words displayed on your screen will vary each time you change your settings. And the Kindle’s concept of “locations,” which correspond to 128 bytes of data, is uniform among various devices and settings. Yet, they’re not very intuitive (there are roughly 15 locations per standard “page,” but it varies, and most e-books have 3,000 – 7,000 locations). I’m not a fan of using fixed “pages” from the printed book, since those vary from paperback to hardcover anyway. But maybe something more useful, like 100 words to a “page,” so I could easily tell that a book with 750 locations is a 75,000-word novel — even before I buy it. UPDATE: The Kindle 3.1 software update adds page numbers, though they relate to printed books (when available), not how I’d hoped for them to be implemented.
Better Navigation Within E-Books: If formatted properly, e-books will have a table of contents, which is accessed through a menu, and which will allow you to jump between stories or chapters in the e-book. If the e-book is formatted even better, it will also contain chapter waypoints, which show up as little black dots in the location bar, and which let you jump from chapter to chapter by flicking the 5-way controller left and right. (I find this a very useful feature, but I’ve sadly found it to be rarely implemented — I spent a lot of time learning how to include a TOC and waypoints in my own e-books.) And all e-books allow you to enter in a location number to jump to. However, I find the navigation a bit clunky, and it takes too many button presses to get where I need to go. Amazon, you have some smart people there, please come up with an easier way to get around in an e-book — maybe a way to scroll through the location bar with the 5-way or something else that feels like the way you can flip through a paper book.
That’s all I can think of for now. Agree? Disagree? What are your most wanted Kindle software features?
I have decided to release a short story I wrote several years ago, entitled The Glass Dragon, for free on my website. This 5,800-word short story explores the topic of time travel, and living a life of What Ifs.
A story of the convoluted consequences of a near-future world of time travel gone awry. Can the newly-introduced TimeCops restore order? Or will they be erased before they ever existed?
Download it from the “Stuff” section of my website, here:
While I’m currently providing this to my readers for free, I’d ask that you please don’t re-sell it or re-post it elsewhere. Please feel free to share the link to the download page, where anyone can download it for free. Thank you, and I’d love to hear any comments you have after reading it below!
Check out today’s mention on the ever-popular Kindle Nation Daily blog, run by Kindle guru Stephen Windwalker:
What do you look for in a great sci fi read?
“Right Ascension is an utterly thought-provoking novel rich with vividly drawn characters, electrifying action sequences, and plenty of food for thought.” –Bookbooters
Kindle Nation Daily is one of the most popular Kindle blogs out there, so it’s definitely worth checking out.
This collection of blog posts from this Always Write Blog covers developments pertaining to e-books, e-readers, the publishing industry, and my own writing endeavors. It includes all blog posts from the year 2010, a total of 103 posts spanning over 65,000 words, plus pictures.
The posts cover a variety of topics, but the main ones include:
• E-Books: e-book sales figures, availability, reviews, and features (such as lending, text-to-speech, and DRM).
• E-Readers: news, tips, and info on e-book reading devices, focusing on Amazon’s Kindle (mainly the Kindle 2 and Kindle 3), with coverage of Barnes & Noble’s Nook, Sony’s E-Readers, the Kobo E-Readers, and Apple’s iPad.
• Publishing: commentary on the state of book and e-book publishing, and its future, including discussion of e-book pricing, the agency model, and the future of bookstores and printed books.
• Writing: details about the self-publishing “indie” movement in general and my own writing endeavors in particular, including tips for fellow authors on formatting, retailing, and marketing.
Please note that these blog posts are available for free here (www.davidderrico.com/blog). However, these e-books are formatted and proofread specifically for the Kindle and Nook, and includes a table of contents, chapter waypoints in the locations bar, all images, and the links to other included blog posts have been changed to internal links for your convenience. It’s a much more convenient way to read all this info on your favorite e-reader.
You can purchase the e-book for just 99 cents here:
Thanks for checking it out! I hope you find it useful! As always, comments are welcomed below.
Another month, another record for e-book sales, as November 2010 e-book sales clock in at $46.6M, above October’s $40.7M and July’s record $40.8M. Sales in November are up 129.7% from last November, slightly less than the overall year-to-year increase of 165.6%, but ahead of October’s 112.4%.
The post from Publishers Weekly goes on to say that sales for the first 11 months of 2010 total $391.9M, which is slightly higher than the total of the monthly numbers they’ve provided (listed below, which add up to $382.2M). Either way, it’s well above 2009’s year-end total of $165.8M, and that doesn’t even include the numbers from December, which I’d expect to be a new record, based on reports of several million people unwrapping new e-readers this holiday season.
- Jan 2010: $31.9 M
- Feb 2010: $28.9 M
- Mar 2010: $28.5 M
- Apr 2010: $27.4 M
- May 2010: $29.3 M
- June 2010: $29.8 M
- July 2010: $40.8 M
- Aug 2010: $39.0 M
- Sep 2010: $39.9 M
- Oct 2010: $40.7 M
- Nov 2010: $46.6 M
I haven’t seen the numbers yet for mass-market paperback sales for November (the post merely said they were decreasing the fastest of all categories, at -14%), but they were $60.2M in October. Could we see $60M monthly e-book sales in December 2010? If not, how about Jan 2011 (when the effect of all those new e-readers may really be felt)? I don’t think it will be long before e-book sales catch or overtake mass-market.
UPDATE: The full numbers are in, and mass-market paperback sales for November are down 9.5% for the month and 14.0% year-to-date, at only $47.7M, just a couple percent higher than e-book sales for the month.