The Kindle Fire is a beautiful device (and by that I mean it looks pretty nice from a distance). What’s more, it’s at the right price and has a library of content to beat the best on offer. Yet I find it worrying, exceptionally worrying.
Worrying because it marks a shift away from a singular focus on digital books and towards other media forms. Digital books (and their publishers, traditional and self) have benefitted from Amazon’s desire to move their consumers towards digital consumption and purchasing. Benefitted enormously.
Amazon’s strategy though, as the launch of Fire makes clear, is about ALL media forms not just books. As the company builds digital sales of those media (a MUCH bigger market than books), digital books will become less important overall. At some point it may just be the case that they will cease development of a dedicated ereader, just as Apple is close to ceasing the development of a dedicated music player (or at least has relegated the music only devices to the bottom rung of its offering).
More importantly, Amazon is popularising mobile, digital media consumption and at relatively cheap prices. This long-term strategy is all the time building the competition plain text ebooks face.
There is only so much audience attention to go around and as mobile gaming, tv and film watching and web browsing become possible for everyone, it is just possible that digital books will lose out*. Of course maybe the audience that moves digital will be big enough for this to not be an issue, but even so book publishers and authors will need to compete with movies, games and music much more directly and immediately than they have in the past.
The possibility then that the Kindle Fire presents is one where the dedicated device that has done so much to build the digital book market is, however distantly, headed for a quiet retirement and the publishers who think they have it all so sorted now are going to faced a changed game yet again.
But maybe these are just wasted fears! I certainly hope so.
* I’m a pessimist on this score and think that possible is a definite.
Fascinating post over on David Gaughran’s blog from Michael Wallace on why he signed a deal with Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint:
My sales accelerated from a handful, to a bunch, to hundreds and then thousands. I sold over 20,000 books in April and nearly that many again in May. The Righteous climbed as high as the Top 20 on the overall Kindle Store.
A funny thing happened. Agents and editors started querying me. Most of the interest was in The Righteous, a series of thrillers set in a polygamist enclave. It was the same series that had been shopped already and had nearly been picked up for good money before everything fell apart.
What had seemed risky a couple of years ago, now seemed like a sure bet, with tens of thousands of sales to prove it. I had an agent already, and I decided to concentrate on the interest from Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer imprint.
via Exclusive: Indie Author Michael Wallace Signs 5 Book Deal With Amazon | David Gaughran.
A really excellent post by Seth Godin on the future of Libraries in the digital world. I think that in it, he approaches the truth for far more then Librarians!
The emphasis added in paragraph two is my own. And I’ve added it because I believe that the role of impresario is currently waiting for someone to step into it. That might mean publishers, librarians, author or booksellers, who it is hardly matters in some senses, but there is a clear opening for someone to act as a central coordinator and promoter. Godin gets this, maybe some folks will listen to him.
And then we need to consider the rise of the Kindle. An ebook costs about $1.60 in 1962 dollars. A thousand ebooks can fit on one device, easily. Easy to store, easy to sort, easy to hand to your neighbor. Five years from now, readers will be as expensive as Gillette razors, and ebooks will cost less than the blades.
Librarians that are arguing and lobbying for clever ebook lending solutions are completely missing the point. They are defending library as warehouse as opposed to fighting for the future, which is librarian as producer, concierge, connector, teacher and impresario.
Post-Gutenberg, books are finally abundant, hardly scarce, hardly expensive, hardly worth warehousing. Post-Gutenberg, the scarce resource is knowledge and insight, not access to data. The library is no longer a warehouse for dead books. Just in time for the information economy, the library ought to be the local nerve center for information. Please dont say Im anti-book! I think through my actions and career choices, Ive demonstrated my pro-book chops. Im not saying I want paper to go away, Im merely describing whats inevitably occurring. We all love the vision of the underprivileged kid bootstrapping himself out of poverty with books, but now, most of the time the insight and leverage is going to come from being and fast and smart with online resources, not from hiding in the stacks.
via Seths Blog: The future of the library.
How do you like them apples? Very much indeed. Even if this is out by say 20-30% the numbers are impressive!
First mover seems to have an advantage in this game. Those headline figures are pretty eyewatering. Nearly $8 billion by 2012? What’s more look at those margins circa 25% by 2012. Who wouldn’t take that?
“Since mid-2009, competition in the eBook market has been intensifying but, in our view, Kindle remains the most compelling eBook device and a material contributor to Amazons non-core business growth. In our view, in 2011 Kindle can generate revenue in excess of $5.42 billion and $1.21 billion in gross profit; by 2012 we expect at least $7.96 billion in total revenue and $2.00 billion in gross profit,” said Sandeep Aggarwal, an analyst at Caris.
Book titles reached 945,026 in May 2011, increasing by 47,000 over April 2011 5 percent month-over-month increase and by more than 740,000 since Kindle’s first anniversary.
via Kindle to Generate $5.42 bln Revenue in 2011 for Amazon: Analyst – International Business Times.
UPDATE: I neglected to include the link to The Bookseller whose original reporting I quote below. The link is now included!
As if the signs were not clear enough that the world of trade publishing is changed forever, Ed Victor comes along and proves it pretty definitely. It’s not the scale, which is modest, more it is the fact that this kind of operation is but one of many sure to crop up over the next few years. They makes sense, they will no doubt bring in more money for agents and authors and they are fine ideas.
From an author’s perspective I wonder on the 50/50 split of proceeds though. For one, the new operation will be by far best business at an agency in terms of margin (after all, once the digitization costs are repaid the money coming in will be almost entirely profit). What’s more, Victor makes clear no extra staff will be recruited and agencies don’t have the overheads a publisher does. Given that and given the likely emergence of a 50/50 split with publishers, why would an author settle for 50/50 with their agent?
In any case, fascinating move:
The agency is not taking on any new staff, but will work with digital production company Acorn to create and distribute the content in the correct format. The agency has also retained J K Rowling’s joint publicist Mark Hutchinson to market the titles through social media sites.
The titles will all be available on online booksellers including Amazon.co.uk and the iBookstore, with Victor confirming he intends to adopt the agency model. He said: “I think it will all be on the agency model, we’ll give up 30%, then we will give up another percentage to Acorn”. The POD side will be through Gardners, with print carried out by Antony Rowe.
He said net receipts will be divided on a 50/50 basis between author and agency, once production costs have been recouped out of the first receipts. This is in contrast to the 25% royalty rate understood to be offered by most major publishers.
Victor described the lines separating different roles within the industry as being “blurred”, and, looking ahead, comparing publishers and agents’ ability to compete in a changing industry, he said: “I’m certainly lighter on my feet and maybe that’s the answer for the future.”
Via – Ed Victor sets up publishing imprint | The Bookseller