I love Amazon.com. I really do. I remember when I lived in Walla Walla, Washington where the only book store was about the size of my apartment. Their long tail stopped me from being bored out of my head all year. Look inside the book? Great. Competition for iTunes? Great. The Kindle? Not so much.
I’ve been kind of ambivalent about the Kindle previously. As a devoted reader, I had the typical electronics lust for it that most people like me probably had when it first came out. Then I read this article by Nicholson Baker in the New Yorker, which made me wonder whether it was all worth the trouble. As time has passed, I have become actively hostile.
It’s not as if I hate all e-books. They’re good for research purposes, and I’ve sold a few myself but when the Kindle edition of my book came out, the publisher set the price at $27.95. They also raised the price of the hardback by $5.05. It’s the difference between the electronic and physical copy of the book that matters, I figured, not the cost of the book itself.
What sent me over the edge is when I saw that Amazon.com is charging more for the Kindle version of David McCullough’s new book than they are for the hardback (at least as of the moment that I’m writing this). This tells me that the pricing for Kindle editions has become totally untethered from economic reality, and that can’t be good for consumers. Certainly, it costs more to produce the physical book than it does to deliver the e-version. All the savings from an electronic edition of McCullough’s book are therefore flowing to Amazon rather than readers. Readers should demand better.
Instead, Amazon.com believes that their Kindle customers are willing to pay more for this fleeting edition than they are for the thing which is permanent. Indeed, since Amazon can delete books from your Kindle for a whole host of reasons, they’re fleeting even if you never get to the capacity of the machine. You’re just renting the right to read them. If you use your Kindle for almost everything you read, it will fill up eventually. What are you going to do with your extra books? Buy a new Kindle?
Books are an excellent technology that have served mankind for hundreds of years. Kindles, among other problems, seem to freeze up on a lot of people. They’re also going to be obsolete pretty soon so I don’t understand is why anyone would pay more for an electronic version of something that works better in the real world. Megan McCardle offers one explanation:
But I doubt that many of the kids starting school now will build up the same kind of personal reference system around print books, any more than most children of the 1920s bothered to learn how to hitch up a team properly. To them, print books will seem ponderous and slow–what we find serene and undistracting, they will find as annoying as making your own Jello out of calve’s feet and eggshells.
That’s it! Think of the children!!! Yet college students overwhelmingly prefer physical textbooks to electronic versions. Apparently, Florida is mandating that all textbooks in schools there be e-books by 2016. Are they doing that for the kids? Of course not. They’re doing that to save money. Those savings come from the difference between the price of the physical book and the price concession that the state can extract out of publishers. Amazon customers can do no such thing because they can’t demand bulk pricing. Amazon can pocket all the cost savings from the e-book versus the physical version.
Amazon should be giving their machines away for free. Instead, people pay for the privilege of renting books from them. Buy a Kindle and you’re just encouraging them to rip you off more. Yes, I know that a lot of people are encouraging them these days. We’ll see how they feel when their Kindles become dinosaurs. Physical books, on the other hand, will last longer than any particular operating system (as long as you don’t abuse them).
So don’t be a sucker, buy paper. Then you can really stick it to the man by loaning your book out for a while after you’ve finished reading it.