Since it kindled in 2007, Amazon’s Kindle has been on my mind; primarily for two reasons. First, its usefulness to voracious readers and second, its potential to influence the publishing industry.
The Kindle is designed for voracious readers. If you are not reading at least one book a week, you cannot possibly understand the importance of a Kindle. And, if you are not spending money buying books, you cannot digest the initial investment of Rs. 18,600 (cost of Kindle plus import duty), that the Kindle requires.
Having said that, lets how it benefits the avid reader.
The Kindle is pencil thin and weighs 300 g, but it stores up to 1,500 books. Ensuring you never run out of a read at the wrong time. It makes it a great travel companion, be it short trips or long, you may be on the first page of the book or the last chapter, you don’t have to worry as long as you have a few of your next books stored on the Kindle. If you read more than one book at a time, using a Kindle, you don’t have carry the extra weight. And please don’t wail about reading on a ‘screen’. The Kindle screen is not the same as the ones on your laptop or LCD monitors. It is a totally different technology called e-ink and it will not strain your eyes.
If you are in the habit of buying books, ebooks for the Kindle are cheaper than paperbacks (as of now it is so in the USA, it will soon be the case in India, read below to know how). This means you can read more in the same amount of money you spend buying paperbacks today. Or, if you are the frugal type and want to factor in the interest of the Rs. 18,600 you have already invested in buying the Kindle, it would just mean that your can still read the same amount of books as before, knowing that you are paying less for each book.
How often have you bought books by new authors or authors you have not read before? Kindle allows you the chance to experiment. You can get free sample chapters before you decide to buy the book. It helps you discover authors you have shied away from all these years. How does this compares to an in-store experience? I don’t think you have ever read more than a chapter in the bookstore before you bought the book an any reader worth his/her salt knows that the book excerpts on the back cover are PR gimmicks.
Kindle contributes in widening your reading horizons in more than one way. It provides subscriptions to blogs, newspapers and magazines. Though not all magazines and newspapers you want to read are available today, but, please understand that the Kindle is just about to go international, up till now, it was only available in the US and publishers did not have a huge market to tap. Now that the Kindle is entering the international arena, more publishers will tie-up with Amazon to provide their content to an international readership. If you are serious about your language skills and look up new words in the dictionary while you read, you will find the Oxford American Dictionary1 built into the Kindle, a big help.
How Kindle can affect the publishing industry.
Printing books is a money intensive activity. The publisher invests a reasonably large sum of money in printing each title. This investment-heavy business model means that they have a fixed budget and can only bring out x number of books each year. Losses if any, are borne by the publishers. If the publishers had to print lesser number of copies, they could publish more titles in the same budget. But with today’s business model, printing lesser books translates to selling lesser books.
If Kindle is accepted by the book-buying masses it can change the business model. It will allow publishers to print lesser copies of books but at the same time maintain sales, thus facilitating smaller print runs without loss in revenue2. Amazon claims that of all the books bought on its US website, 48% are bought on the Kindle. Therefore, if we assume that a person does not buy both versions, ebook and paperback, publishers in the US can safely drop their print run by 45%3. That is a huge saving for the publisher.
For book publishers in India, brick-mortar bookstores are the primary points of sale. Therefore, retailers get a sizeable chunk of the list price (approximately 40%). Few bookstores pass on their profits to the customer as discounts4. Publishers and distributors, in turn, have to keep bookstores happy because sale of books depends on them.
If publishers had another reliable sale point, they would not be cowing down to brick-mortar bookstores. Amazon can be that second sale point5. But an aggressive online bookstore would break the monopoly of the brick-mortar ones and create a price war. To lure customers back into bookstores they will slash their profit margins and the price of the paperbacks will fall. Thus, benefiting those who do not own a Kindle.
For readers and publishers who fear that with wide spread e-publishing, paper books will lose their value, let me assure you, they won’t. With the growth of e-publishing, lesser paper books will be printed, and like all things, here too – less is more. Books will only gain in value. In the future, you will see signed copies, limited editions and special editions gain importance for the niche reader who understands and appreciate their value. With the bulk of the reading material distributed in the electronic form, publishers will concentrate their efforts on volumes that are a value-add and get in additional revenue for the publishing chain.
Advantages of the Kindle
1. Access many books on the go
2. Directly download books through Amazon’s Whispernet, internationally
3. Is backed by the world’s biggest bookstore – Amazon
4. Text-to-speech feature and adjustable font size makes it accessible to a wide range of age groups and abilities
5. Subscribe to blogs, magazines, and newspapers
You can see a complete list of features on this Amazon Kindle page.
Disadvantages of the Kindle
1. Selection of new novels, newspapers and magazines is limited for Indian Kindle owners, yet. (Tie-ups with publishers should improve the situation)
2. Amazon Whispernet may have teething problems in India.
3. Cost of ownership at approximately Rs. 18,600 is a bit high. Should be between Rs.10,000 and Rs.15,000
4. At Rs. 450 a book, its almost as expensive as buying a new paperback in India. The price per book will have to reduce for the Indian market.
Kindle is not an assault on books. It aims not to take books away from you but to bring reading closer to you. You never fell in love with blank sheets of paper bound together, but the words and sentences written on those sheets of paper. Kindle will show you those words and sentences, and it will make you love it – just like you love books. You don’t have to choose one, you can love books and Kindle at the same time – just like I do.
- With the Kindle going international, i am sure more dictionary options will soon be available ↩
- There will be marginal drop in profits, but that is countered by a smaller investment on each title published ↩
- It will depend on the genre of the book and the exact sales figures from Amazon ↩
- Bad bookstores charge you full price, good ones give you a 10% discount, very good ones give you a 20% discount and your best-friend-bookstore gives you a 30% discount. ↩
- Note: Amazon, being the largest bookstore in the world, is known for dog earing publishers and making life hell for them ↩