If you’re interested in the effects Amazon.com’s Kindle will likely have on readers and writers, add to your data stack the opinion of Daniel Lyons, Newsweek’s resident techie writer. In the June 15, 2009, issue – the Stephen Colbert Issue – (no kidding), Lyons gave us a provocative view of this remarkable electronic tool.
There’s been much made of digital technology's effect on the publishing world. And I’m one who at first gasp thought, “Good grief! Jeff Bezos has out-Jobs-ed Apple's Stephen Jobs!” And in a way, he has. Jobs reinvented the music industry in two stages: first, by inventing and marketing the iPod, then making deals to download music (movies, Podcasts, TV shows, and, yes, even books) to the now-millions of iPods. Bezos has essentially done the same thing with the Kindle, but he's made a much grander money grab (see below).
All of which has had this too-techie-for-his-own-good writer rubbing his hands together with glee. Boy! This will really open up the publishing game for writers!
Lyons’ opinion? Not! Well, maybe.
Lyons sees Amazon as the “tollbooth” for Kindle downloads, for sure. But his main concern is in following the money: “The great myth of the digital age was that once we got rid of those printing presses costs would come down.” Where Apple took thirty cents of every download dollar, Amazon will keep seventy percent of every similar Kindle dollar. Yes, Amazon provides a free wireless service to Kindle owners for convenient downloading, but this hardly justifies a 70-30 cut.
But prices have gone down, right? That helps publishers, readers, and writers, right? Well....
To offer an example:
The retail price for Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead is given on Amazon as: Hardback - $23.00 (discounted to $16.56) Paperback - $14.00 ($10.98) Audio download - $34.95 ($18.35) Audio CD - $34.95 (23.07) and Kindle Edition - $9.99
To make the analysis easy, look at hardback and paperback costs versus that for Kindle: Amazon get a standard marketplace commission of 15% on books of the paper persuasion. This means that for Gilead, the publisher (and author, agent, editor, etc.) gets:
Hardback - (16.56)(.85) = about $14.00 Paperback – (10.98)(.85) = $9.33
But this is where Amazon’s 70% comes in: For the Kindle edition of Gilead, the publishing arm (as above) gets:
(9.99)(.30) = $3.00
Clearly, digitizing manuscripts cuts costs all around, and – for now – the reader benefits.
One caveat: the Kindle costs $359.00 at the moment. If a reader downloads 200 books – probably a high number - to his/her Kindle before buying another, this adds $1.80 to the cost of each book. For Gilead, the cost would then be $9.33 + $1.80 = $11.13, which is actually a modest bargain when compared to the paperback cost, (add Amazon's $3.00 or so for shipping). Of course, not every reader will make a choice based on such cost analysis. Convenience, storage, etc. will also be factors in buying.
But the publishing arm’s cuts of digitized books looks to be as little as 1/3 of the paper costs. The question the publishing world will have to answer is: Will this pay our investors, editors, proofreaders, our stable of writers, and their agents?
How about it, Jeff Bezos? Care to give the writers a decent cut of this seventy percent? Given that Amazon book sales on Kindle are already some 35% of the total sold, this is a question writers MUST have a say in.
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Native American culture. Education. Creative writing.