Textbooks: A Market Begging for Change
A Kindle App I'd Buy

Recent Thoughts About the Amazon Kindle

Bookbizmag I made a few notes while reading this Book Business magazine article over the weekend.  It's well worth reading, btw, but here are a few items I underlined:

The innovation of the Kindle was not to improve e-reading—many earlier e-readers offered a very similar reading experience—but to dramatically alter the purchasing experience through its wireless capability.

So true and yet so easily forgotten.  The Kindle could have simply become Newton 2.0 without this important feature.  Customers come for the eInk display but Whispernet is what keeps 'em coming back.  (It still blows my mind that no other Kindle competitor has figured this out...)

...obviously publishers could do better by designing online-oriented cover versions that would not only be more eye-catching and dynamic, but potentially even interactive.

Another obvious but overlooked point.  We're all still applying the print rules to the e-world.  Just put a two-dimensional image of the print book's cover on the Kindle edition's product page and you're all set.  When will we start seeing that precious screen real estate occupied by something that's much more engaging and dynamic?

This analysis suggests that e-books could, as a stand-alone business, be priced far below Amazon’s current $9.99 pricing and dramatically lower than p-books.

I have no doubt some e-books can be priced below $9.99.  Heck, quite a few print books are already there (e.g., mass market paperbacks).  I'm also a big fan of the idea that lower and lower prices will cast a much broader customer net, meaning you'll attract quite a few customers who otherwise would have ignored your product.  But as Apple's iPhone App Store has proven, while there's a big difference between sales of a $4.99 app and a $9.99 app, there's a much bigger difference between a free one and a 99-cent one. 

Experimentation is the key here, of course, and thanks to the e-book model, it's pretty easy to make price changes on the fly.  As I've also mentioned before, I think sponsorship will have a role in the e-book marketplace.  Just like ads make the magazine world work, sponsorship is likely to help keep certain e-books at an irresistibly low price.

Finally, I wanted to toss in another idea I'll bet Amazon will spring on us at some point.  Why haven't they bothered to insert any "Where do I go from here?..." links at the end of Kindle editions?  If I just read a great book by Joe Author, why aren't they inserting links to other books written by Joe Author at the end?  Enable one-click buying and boom, they extend their e-commerce reach even further.  If not other books by the same author, what about simply utilizing the "customers who bought this item also bought..." functionality of their website by inserting it at the end of the Kindle edition?  If I just had a good experience reading this book (or magazine, or newspaper) I'm more likely to buy something else from you; why rely exclusively on email blasts and other e-marketing strategies from the 1990's?

Btw, when Amazon does implement something like that last item (and they will!), they'll make even more money off it by structuring it like their other online placement/marketing campaigns.  Publishers will have to pay for the privelidge to be included in these links. I'm not suggesting that's good or bad...just pointing out it's yet another way Amazon can make a few more bucks along the way (and possibly reduce the price of the Kindle hardware?...)


Luca Fabbri

So, Joe, let me get this straight: when you think about moving away from "print rules" and towards something more "engaging and dynamic", you think about... the cover? How about THE CONTENT?

Here is one of the most forward-thinking executives in the business, working at the most forward-thinking publisher, having a hard time "thinking outside the printed book". Yet another proof that the book is unlikely to be reinvented by people rooted in the printed book business.

Joe Wikert

Luca, you might want to take some time to look at countless posts I've written over the past several years that talk about the content. Seriously, did you bother reading any of the other content on this blog?

And if you'll read this particular post again you'll see that I'm just helping underscore one of the many points the authors made in that Book Business magazine article. Take some time to read more of this blog and you'll see there's *plenty* of coverage of the content.

Luca Fabbri


I did not mean to be as snappy as my comment came through - I apologize. I do read your blog - that's why I called you "one of the most forward-thinking executives in the business". As somebody who lives on a steady diet of O'Reilly books, I do follow what the company is doing - that's why I called your employer "the most forward-thinking publisher".

However I do feel that a lot of what is talked about by people in the book business often amounts to incremental innovation. The book needs to be reinvented, not "incrementally innovated". It's the difference between becoming britannica.com or wikipedia.org.

I know that you guys at O'Reilly are asking yourselves the right questions - it transpires plenty from what you or Tim O'Reilly write and say. That puts you way ahead of the pack. But I sure hope that the ideas that are kept private are a whole lot bolder than the ones published for everyone to read.

Joe Wikert

Hi Luca. No need to apologize, and thanks for the complement. You're right that a lot of what happens in this industry is indeed incremental at best. That gets back to the challenge highlighted in Clayton Christensen's excellent book, "The Innovator's Dilemma." I think far too many of us are overly focused on playing not to lose, as they say in the sports world. It's easy to get too focused on existing revenue streams and worry about introducing new ones that might cannibalize the current ones. That, of course, leaves the door wide open for "the startup in the garage" to come along and clean your clock!

And while you're right that some of the projects going on inside O'Reilly are still under wraps and considered confidential, I'd like to think that we're a lot more open and transparent than the typical publisher.

Carolyn Jewel

I so totally agree with this post. Whispernet is exactly why I keep using the Kindle App even though I like Stanza better. It's easy and darn near instantaneous. And you know what? I hate when I end up with a Kindle book that has no cover. I want that splash of color and art.

I also agree with the need for links to backlist titles. A link to the author's website would also be a great to have.

Aaron Pressman

Thanks for linking to that article - very interesting. I'm getting bummed out that publishers are starting to view ebooks as a place to really fleece their customers. Amazon has starting "discounting" Kindle books from the back catalog off a mysterious "digital list price." The "discounted" Kindle book price ends up being double the current paperback price and higher even than what Amazon is selling the hardcover for.

I agree with you and the authors of the linked article that there may be opportunities for higher prices on the newest stuff, maybe prices that slide down over time. But where better to cut prices and drive adoption and volume sales than in the back catalog. Blogged a bit about it today http://gravitationalpull.net/wp/?p=987


I was researching how to add links to other books by an author/publisher to a Kindle book manually... and Amazon told me it could not be done.

Even after figuring out the way to build a link to the Kindle store itself (it's a gloriously complicated and confusing URL) -- the links didn't work! Apparently Amazon didn't just ignore this seemingly brilliant feature, they designed it so no one else could use it either (at least on Kindle 1, not sure about 2 or DX).

Come on Amazon -- if you're not going to do it, at least let the publisher do so!

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