“Amazon Kindle is back in stock!”

An e-mail missive landed in my inbox and, spam though it were, it caught my interest, since, trumpeting “Amazon Kindle is back in stock!”, meant that this was either a ‘spin’ by Amazon.com skipper Jeff Bezos and his marketing team or, a landslide trend a-la iPod/iPhone. So I checked the wireless and found the story echoed in various online publications worldwide.

First, the databox:

The Kindle is Amazon.com’s wireless reading device – a book reading device that boasts crisp-clear paper-like electronic display, light weight tablet that does not require a computer or any other device. Naturally, it requires internet connectivity – Amazon.com claims to handle that:

“No monthly wireless bills, service plans, or commitments – we take care of the wireless delivery so you can simply click, buy, and read.” The Kindle has no browser, but Amazon throws in links to “Top U.S. newspapers including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post; top magazines including TIME, Atlantic Monthly, and Forbes-all auto-delivered wirelessly. Top international newspapers from France, Germany, and Ireland; Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine, and The Irish Times-all auto-delivered wirelessly. More than 250 top blogs from the worlds of business, technology, sports, entertainment, and politics, including BoingBoing, Slashdot, TechCrunch, ESPN’s Bill Simmons, The Onion, Michelle Malkin, and The Huffington Post-all updated wirelessly throughout the day.”

A great addition is online ‘cylopedia Wikipedia, allowing one to learn more about the books you plan to read. Naturally, Amazon.com offers a choice of more than 100000 books (which, I’m sure, is set to grow), you get the book you buy in a few minutes, and you can store over 200 titles on your unit. The Kindle may offer the answer to my nightmares because I suffer from acute abibliophobia, or the fear of being without a book to read. 200 titles and a quick link to the world’s largest online bookstore should sort me out. Kindles costs 400 USD and I’m not sure how feasible they are away from the US right now, but trust Jeff Bezos, he will find a way to spin his brainchild way out of Seattle. Soon.

The Kindle is not the only electronic bookreader on the block, a cursory search downstream, at http://www.amazon.co.uk, unearthed quite a few other readers. But the Kindle’s Unique Selling Proposition is that it is linked directly to Amazon.com and enjoys the company’s mighty retail capabilities. In the US, the Kindle is delivered free within 24 hours, click to door.

After spending a few moments daydreaming about a Kindle in my life (Grisham to Dickens, Choprah to Amos Oz, Dalai Lama to Elmore Leonard … yum… to live for!) I remembered JB, a publisher I know. How will the Kindles of this world affect JB’s business?

Firstly – electronic books are cheaper than their printed siblings. For example, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth (the latest craze on Oprah’s Book Club) sells at the Kindle shop for $9.99, while the printed version costs $14.00 (current promotion offers the book at $7.70 – that’s 45% off, JB would be sweating over these figures, as it is a known fact that publishers’ margins aren’t great.

JB’s second problem is the physicality of all printed matter (got to have stock on hand, got to print before you can sell, got to wrap and pack and ship and collect unsold inventory – all this necessitates an up-front cash injection.) Digital copies, on the other hand, have no physical limitations whatsoever: millions of digital copies can be created and shipped at no cost; each copy is created and delivered only once it is sold, moreover, the buyer pays for shipment (download.) The fact that shipment is done through a download is where the ultimate retailers’ dream meets the sum of all publishers’ nightmares.

Authors have reasons to smile at the advent of the Kindle. Historically, millions of scripts do not make it past the initial scrutiny. Rejected and unwanted; they end up in the bin. Some authors see a limited edition of their work; some pay the publishing costs out of their own pocket.  Kindle-age authors write and publish online in PDF format, if they sell well, publishers may be interested in printing the book. Alternatively – authors may decide to keep a successful book selling only in electronic format, keeping the major share of the money they get for each book sold.

Deep down in the cavernous spaces of Amazon.com, a quiet, almost skunk-work type imitative called Digital Text Platform aims to address this very issue. The idea is simple: publish your in electronic format, sell it to Kindle readers (Amazon.com sets the price) and get about 35% of the income. Interested parties should check the Digital Publication Distribution Agreement.

Amazon.com’s Kindle initiative and the e-Book cottage industry it is busy creating may point the way the publishing industry is heading. Personally, I don’t think that the news is all doom and gloom. Let’s consider the following scenario for JB the publisher:

  1. JB’s company would create an online publishing entity a-la Amazon.com, for authors wishing to publish their work as e-Books.
  2. The electronic platform could serve as testing-ground for new titles. If they sell well, the publishers may wish to offer the title in print format, as well. It is up them – and, contract allowing, the authors, to agree on criteria for an electronic title to be offered in print.
  3. Basically, the electronic format has no publishing threshold, as no one takes any financial risk.

The last question to consider is the effect of these developments on readers. Will they migrate in their droves from print to bytes? Will it be a happy migration or a grudge move? The main winners from having books available electronically are students, scholars, researchers, various members of the academia and other non-fiction consumers, because they will have way-cheaper, searchable version of precious reference books to use. Other readers, as well as authors and publishers, will wait to see how Kindle fares in the coming days. Smart authors should start uploading some of their work on to Amazon.com — then sit and wait to strike gold.

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