Monday, September 9, 2013

The Open Savannah: Kindle Match (or "On the Value of a Story")

Late last week, Amazon announced that it will give publishers the opportunity to provide discounted (or free) eBook copies of paperbacks that customers have previously purchased from Amazon.

It's one of the smartest things that Amazon has done in recent memory.

That might seem a bit odd coming from someone who is a publisher in another walk of life. You folks might think that I would want people to have to buy all kinds of different versions to goose book sales, and line my fat cat pockets with ever-increasing profits.

To which I say, "Nay, posh, and balderdash!"

In fact, shortly after I could, I set the price of all of my eBooks in Kindle match to a big, fat "zero," so that people who had already bought the paperback could enjoy the eBook for free. Heck, maybe they'll forward it on to friends; I should be so lucky!

As I have mentioned previously on this blog, a lot of publishers might think that way because they mischaracterize the business that they're in. Many of them think that they're in the "unit business" or (for the more progressive among them) the "multi-format book business."


But as I've said before, what publishers and authors need to realize is that we're in the story business. We shouldn't hope to hoodwink someone into buying multiple versions of the same book just to drive up sales. By my count, if someone cares enough to buy a story of mine in paperback, they should be able to enjoy it on their Kindle as well. Given my druthers, they'd be able to own it across all ereader platforms, and, ideally, sync progress across all of them.

Of course, that'll happen around the same time that Amazon's brass joins hands with indie bookstore owners in a big circle and dances around a fire as they all sing "Kumbaya."

It goes back to the idea of convenience for the consumer. It's why Netflix is so popular; low cost of membership ($8/month), high convenience of using their services (instant movies anywhere you have broadband).

I try to price paperbacks at a level where the royalty is roughly the same as for my eBook versions of the same book. I realize that a lot of folks like the "paperback experience," but those books cost more to produce in terms of materials and labor compared to the fractions of a cent that it costs Amazon to store and transmit each copy of an eBook.

Because of the low cost of storing and distributing an eBook, I'm totally fine having the option available for those who purchase paper copies of my books to receive an eBook copy for free. After all, they've already paid for the main unit: the story. Formats are irrelevant outside of the convenience they provide to the consumer in this new "story business," where written stories compete with TV shows, movies, and whatever all else is out there that this old man doesn't already know about.

Heck, if I could, I'd like it if Amazon would arrange for people who had bought the eBook to get a discount of what they paid toward getting a paperback copy if they wanted to. I don't necessarily see a reason for those people wanting to do so, but again, I'm not here to judge consumer behavior--I'm just the doofus who writes stories. Who am I to tell people how to consume their entertainment?

Which is why the protests from a lot of well-meaning people are so weird to me. Even though we know the publishing (and entertainment) business is going through a huge upheaval, we also know we can count on a few truths through this process:

1) Lower Cost Goods. Certainly to a point this is true now. Even with all of the complaints about the "$0.99 Ghetto," I think we're in for a further correction in this regard. If anyone ever gets "Netflix for Books" right, $8/month for a whole bunch of books will make $0.99 per book seem like a king's ransom.


2) Greater Convenience. I applaud Amazon for taking this first step in making it more convenient for people to take beloved paperbacks with them essentially in their pockets. Of course I'd be naive if I didn't mention that Amazon has a vested interest in getting these people to try eBooks because eBooks are like Walter White's blue meth (or so I'm told...): once you try them out, you rarely go back. Still, an open source eReader and industry standard format (either ePUB or MOBI--we really don't care, just pick one) seem to be inevitable.

3) Barriers Do Nothing. Those with something to lose will keep digging trenches and putting up dirt walls to the very end, hoping to protect their sacred institutions from the perceived vandals at the gates. Never mind that those "vandals" are their customers; it's easy to forget that when you don't care enough with them to interact with them regularly. If these people would embrace the change instaed of fighting it, kicking and screaming, they'd come out of this big shift much, much better for wear than I fear that they will.

Overall, I think Kindle Match is a great first step by Amazon. I hope other publishers won't get greedy, and will follow Orion's Comet's example by making their books free. My gut tells me that a lot of folks won't want to leave a single penny on the table, long term consequences be damned, and might include their books, but only if they can set the price at the maximum $3.99.

But at both Orion's Comet and Hunt to Read, we're of the opinion that a popular writer will never starve. Get your 1,000 true fans and they'll be happy to subsidize your work well into the future, provided that they can continue to enjoy stories in the most convenient way possible. We're working to help all authors and publishers achieve that goal; we think a few of the improvements we have in store over the coming weeks will help.

But in the meantime, I encourage you all to experiment with this new tool Amazon has given us. Try multiple price points, collect the data, and see what works for you. I know what I'm going to do, but what works (or doesn't) for me might (or might not) work for you. Experiment, collect data, optimize: it's what we're all about here at Hunt to Read.

In the meantime, Happy Hunting!

D.J. Gelner is the Co-Founder and CEO of Hunt to Read. Check out his books on his Hunt to Read Profile. Contact him directly at djgelner@hunttoread.com.

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