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Are We Better or Worse Off, with Kindle?

Remember the question that helped vault Ronald Reagan into the presidency back in 1980? With apologies to President Reagan’s debate prep team, a slightly different version of that question occurred to me the other day as I was finishing work on a chapter of a new book that I’m co-authoring with Martin Higgins, co-founder of BookLending.com:

“As readers, are we better or worse off than we were when the Kindle was launched on November 19, 2007?”

I put the question out there on the Kindle Nation Facebook page — by the way, stop by and say hello! — and got some interesting responses, which I will post below. 

What do you think? Please post a comment on Facebook or email your thoughts to KindleNation+Better-or-Worse@gmail.com!

    • John Nelson  
      Far, far better off.
    • Cindy Keim  

      Way better off!!!!

    • Pauline 
      I know people who read MORE since they got a Kindle!
    • Cliff 
      I know I’ve read more with my Kindle, and I’ve only had it for a month.
    • Brenda 
    • Emma  
      I think we are much better off! I know I am! Revisiting classics, reading genres and authors I may never have thought of before, and reading everything faster! What’s not better off?
    • Tracy 
      Kindle is a wonderful thing ♥
    • William  
      Better off. I still prefer DTBs, but no doubt the Kindle is a wonderful invention. My wife certainly loves hers.
    • Paulette  
      Much better off. I have not met/heard anyone complain about not liking their Kindle. Certainly, I have read more and my husband loves his. Thanks KINDLE.
    • Leslie
      I am definitely reading more, discovering new authors and genres. The only problem I have with my Kindle is that it’s so hard to put down, and I’m neglecting other things. Guess I’ll have to hire a maid!

How do I love thee, Kindle Text-to-Speech? Let me count the ways.

Kindle Text-to-Speech
How do I love thee, Kindle Text-to-Speech? Let me count the ways. I have named thee, with a little help from an eyebrow-raising Significant Other who may a time or two have looked askance as I rolled over and donned my headphones of an evening. I have named my Kindle’s voice Ursula. This imagined creature may or may not be disembodied, but she never seems to tire of reading to me, talking to me, entertaining me. When it’s just me, my headphones, and Ursula, of course, it’s all about me.
I will admit it: I love listening to newspaper, magazine, and blog articles, including my daily Instapaper dispatch, in the robot-speak of Ursula’s Kindle Text-to-Speech. Originally I was resistant to listening to books with Kindle Text-to-Speech, but Ursula aims to please. Her voices and pronunciations have been upgraded over time by Kindle’s Text-to-Speech partner, Nuance Communications, and I have grown accustomed to listening with comfort, enjoyment, and enrichment as she reads me free and paid books purchased in the Kindle Store, downloaded from the websites mentioned in this book, or sent to me by authors and publishers interested in having their work considered for Kindle Nation Daily sponsorships programs.
With the exception of those Kindle Store books whose publishers have specifically opted out of Kindle Text-to-Speech — and shame on them! — Kindle Text-to-Speech will read aloud to you from any book, newspaper, magazine, blog, manuscript, dramatic script, memorandum or other file that you can get onto your Kindle Home screen.
I’ve even sent recipes to my Kindle so that Ursula could read aloud to me while I was preparing Potage Parmentier in the kitchen.
And please don’t tell the Massachusetts state troopers, but I have even sent driving directions to my Kindle so that it could read them aloud to me in my car. I’ve gotten handy at using the space bar to pause the read-aloud process, but I run into problems if a segment of my trip is longer than 15 minutes, because Ursula does have a tendency to doze off beside me if she goes that long without speaking. Alas, now that we’ve heard the horror stories of Kindle owners being arrested for having an open Kindle in the car while driving, I must ask you to destroy this page of the Kindle edition of your book immediately after you read it. A Kindle, apparently, is every bit as dangerous to highway safety as an open bottle of beer.
But that’s just the beginning. Don’t tell Ursula, but there’s more, much more. To learn about Kindle’s other free audio features, check out Chapter 9 of Kindle Free for All, just 99 cents in the Kindle Store or $7.99 in paperback.

Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey Results: Kindle’s "Extra" Features Continue to Have Wide Usage

(One of several Kindle Nation posts exploring the results of the Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey. Click here to see a breakdown of results.) 
By Tom Dulaney, Contributing Reporter

Jeff Bezos says the Kindle is and always will be, first and foremost, a dedicated ebook reader. And he’s right, of course.

But here at Kindle Nation we have been aware of the appeal of other features ever since our publisher Steve Windwalker hit the Kindle Store bestseller list back in January 2008 with the first “ebook” on how to use the Kindle for email. (The short piece later became part of the #1 bestselling book in the Kindle Store for the entire calendar year 2008.)

So, the Kindle may not be the ultimate convergence device, but readers do a lot more than buy and read ebooks on their Kindles. However, no other feature of the dedicated ebook reading tool compares to the book reading function in either usage or performance ratings.

The Kindle’s many other features find use and favor with scattered blocks of the 2,275 people who responded to the Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey. Taken, together they are certainly part of the package of features that makes the Kindle the most popular ebook reader ever, and the most popular product ever sold by Amazon.

Presented here, arranged in order of usage and appeal with most popular first, are other Kindle features and our survey respondents’ ratings of them.

The three most popular non-ebook pastimes — newspaper reading, blog reading, and Kindles games — each come in with 35% to 36% of respondents.

Just over a third of respondents—a fraction under 36%–rated the Kindle for newspaper reading, and 8% say its performance is “superior” while 28% call it “useful, even if flawed.”

About the same percentage — 35% of respondents — subscribe to blogs that they read on their Kindles. About half of these Kindle Nation citizens read blogs nearly every day.

How well does the Kindle do in delivering blogs? Some 12% rate it as “superior” as a blog reader, while 20% find it “useful even if flawed” for a total of 32%. 57% of respondents saying blog reading is not important to them, 5% saying it’s a distraction, and 6% unaware of the feature.

Playing word games or using other Kindle apps and utilities occupies about 35% of readers, with 11% saying the use of such features on the device is “superior” while 24% say it is “useful even if flawed.” But 65% don’t play games for these reasons: 6% said “I was not aware of this feature,” 14% find gaming an annoyance or distraction; and 45% say it is just not important to them.

And one of our favorite features—sending personal documents and manuscripts to the Kindle—is used by 26% of all respondents, with 2% doing so daily, 6% weekly and 18% “sometimes.”  About 21% said they were unaware of the feature, and 53% said they “rarely use” it.

Their ratings of the document reading feature: 25% find it useful even if flawed, and 9% rate the feature “superior.” About 53% said it was not important to them, 8% were unaware of the feature, and 5% found it a distraction.

The text-to-speech feature of the Kindle is used by a sizeable group of 25% of respondents, with 2% listening daily, 4% weekly and 19% “sometimes.” Two thirds—66%–say they use text-to-speech rarely. 8% call text-to-speech “superior” and 29% term it “useful if flawed.”

The Kindle gets significant use from owners checking email and browsing the web. In a question about usage, the survey combined email checking and web browsing. About 25% overall use the features, with 17% doing so “sometimes,” another 5% weekly, and 3% daily. And 56% said they rarely check email with their Kindles, while 19% were unaware that they could.

But that’s usage for email and web browsing. What about performance?

A second question broke out the Kindle’s two features: email and web browsing. For email, only 1% rate the Kindle “superior,” while 23% say it is “useful if flawed.”

As a web browser, only 2% rate the Kindle as “superior” as a web browser, and 28% call it “useful, if flawed.”

The survey combined two audio features to ask respondents how often they used their Kindles to listen to audiobooks and/or music. Some 12% listen to music or audiobooks on their Kindles, about half as many as text-to speech. About 1% listen daily, 3% listen weekly and 8 percent listen “sometimes.”

eBook Leaders Show Random House Sitting Pretty As Amazon’s Kindle Store Discounting Plays Crucial Role in Picking Winners

For the past few weeks, we’ve been paying more attention than usual to the USA Today bestseller lists that come out each Thursday because they have provided a fascinating window into the changes that are taking places in what we read and the publishing sources for the books that we are reasing.

Once again, the USA Today top 50 list for the week ended February 13, 2011 shows a healthy representation of titles for which the ebook format is the highest-selling format. There are 19 such titles this week and we provide a full list of those 19 titles below, with their list prices and Kindle Store prices as of today.

For each of the titles listed here, the first price shown is the publisher’s list price as reported by USA Today, and the second, linked price is the Kindle Store price. Wherever the publisher is a participant in the agency-model price-fixing scheme, the two prices will often be the same. For other books, Amazon may discount the book further for Kindle customers at its discretion.

While we are looking, a couple of other tidbits that caught our attention:

Among traditional publishers, Random House and its imprints are the place to be for authors these days. Random House is the leading traditional publisher in the U.S., and some may have been nervous for its authors when Random decided to abstain from the agency-model price-fixing scheme and, in the bargain, from the much-hyped Apple iBooks Store. But Random and its imprints and authors have benefited hugely from the price flexibility that Amazon and other retailers have been allowed, especially since the publisher and the authors get paid based on full list price even if a title is discounted below wholesale cost in the Kindle Store and elsewhere. Sixteen of the USA Today Top 50 are published by Random and its imprints, which is a dominant position given other changes in the composition of he bestseller lists. Given that Random has achieved that position without a single sale through the iBooks store, that dominance speaks eloquently of the utter failure of iBooks.

Meanwhile, Amazon and others should take very seriously the king-making role that results from the company’s selective discounting for Kindle titles. It seems very likely that a fabulous book-group natural like Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s novel The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady should be headed straight to the highest rungs of the Kindle Store bestseller list, especially after recent rave reviews in the New York Times, Denver Post, Boston Globe, and Kindle Nation Daily. The book is published by Random imprint Doubleday, which means that Amazon controls price and discounting in the Kindle Store just as brick-and-mortar booksellers control price and discounting for the hardcover edition. But with Amazon selling the Kindle edition for $13.90, Jeff Bezos and his minions might as well be standing at the gates of bestseller heaven blocking the entrance of one of the more distinctive, independent voices to come along in American fiction in recent years. It says here that as soon as Amazon brings the retail price of Revenge down to the $5-$10 promotional price sweet spot provided for Stieg Larsson, Sara Gruen, John Grisham and others, it will have another bestseller in the making.

The Best “Book Group” Novel Ever

Most afternoons I try to spend 20 to 30 minutes on the elliptical trying to do what I can to forestall implementation of the Kindle Nation corporate succession plan. I don’t get to it every day, but I would be nowhere if it weren’t for the accompaniment provided by my Kindle’s text-to-speech.

But yesterday afternoon I did 29 minutes and it was bliss. It wasn’t that I was in any better shape than any other day. It was that I was accompanied by my Kindle’s text-to-speech reading me the first chapter of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, a new novel by Elizabeth Stuckey-French.

It is a very funny novel about the very private, quirky lives of its characters, but it is also a public novel about America. It is a women’s novel, but it is also a must-read for men, or at least for those men who read. It is a Southern novel, yet there’s nothing parochial about its sense of place and people. Elizabeth Stuckey-French is a highly regarded author of literary fiction whose short stories have been shortlisted for PEN/O’Henry Prize and Narrative honors, but she’s written a darkly funny, deeply ironic book that deserves to become a wildly popular novel (and will become that if Amazon figures out the book’s potential and prices it to sell.)

And on the off-chance you want a second opinion, check out Jincy Willett’s February 13 rave review in the New York Times Book Review.

But my take? In the same way that it has been said many times that the late great Steve Goodman wrote the perfect “country and western” song, let me be the first to say that — for all the reasons just enumerated and many more — I believe Elizabeth Stuckey-French has written the best “book group” novel ever, and I mean that as the warmest of praise.

For most of the last few decades it has been my unmerited luck to have been personally involved with book group members, and I have conned myself into believing that I know something about book groups. I listen attentively to learn what the selections have been and how they have gone over. And I am going to go out on a limb and say that if you are in a book group, you should lobby hard next Wednesday evening (or whenever) to get your group to select The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady as its next pick.

Your fellow book group members will love it, and they will love you: for discovering it, bringing it to their attention, introducing them to a talented fiction writer, and getting them laughing and thinking and talking as they haven’t laughed and thought and talked in months.

Don’t choose Virginia Woolf or Jodi Picoult or Stieg Larsson or Laura Hillenbrand or Kathryn Stockett or Mary Wollstonecraft or Francine Prose. They’re all great, but they will keep.

And none of them will Skype live right into your living room to participate in your book group discussion! Elizabeth Stuckey-French will do that. Just email her at esf@elizabethstuckeyfrench.com. Really.

So, this month, choose Elizabeth Stuckey-French. I promise you’ll be glad you did. Her book is available both in a Kindle edition and in a hardcover that Amazon has marked down to just over $15. And there a great set of book group discussion questions on her author website.

Full Disclosure: Elizabeth first appeared on Kindle Nation with her short story “Interview with a Moron” in the very first issue of our Free Kindle Nation Shorts feature back on May 22, 2009. She is not and never has been a Kindle Nation sponsor, and her money’s no good here anyway, because she’s like family to me. She’s not actually family, and I’ve never met her face-to-face, but she’s married to a guy who’s been one of my dearest friends since I was 20, and we’re also connected by virtue of each of us having “studied with” one of my favorite writers, Francine Prose: Elizabeth at the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and me in Monroe Engel‘s life-changing English Mb undergraduate fiction workshop back around the time that I met Ned French.

Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey Results: Despite All the New Kids on the Block, 90% of Respondents Still Find a “Superior” Reading Experience with the Kindle

(One of several Kindle Nation posts exploring the results of the Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey. Click here to see a breakdown of results.)   


By Tom Dulaney, Contributing Reporter

The 2011 Winter Kindle Nation Citizen Survey asked users about their Kindle experiences from two different perspectives:

  • What features of the Kindle do you use? “Tell us about your use of various Kindle features.”
  • How does the Kindle perform, feature by feature? The survey asked: “Amazon has been clear that its mission with the Kindle is to provide a superior reading experience. ….Rate the Kindle’s performance in each of the following areas:”

This post will stick to the book-related features of the Kindle. A later post will explore the Kindle’s various other abilities.

As a dedicated ebook reading device, the Kindle’s first mission is finding, downloading and presenting books for reading.

54% of our survey respondents make a daily habit of reading on Kindle. Another 30% do so weekly, and 13% read books on their Kindles “sometimes.” 43 people rarely use their Kindles for reading.

How do they rate the Kindle’s performance for its intended purpose as a reader?

90% of the respondents said the Kindle provides “a superior experience” as a reading device. Another 10% called the Kindle’s reading experience “useful, if flawed,” for a very high 99%+ aggregate.

Readers continue to love the convenience and wireless connectivity that allows them to browse and order Kindle books directly from their Kindle, without wires, cables, or USB connections. 54% purchase and download ebooks daily with the device. About 30% do so weekly, and another 13% “sometimes.”

How good is the inbuilt Kindle Store experience? Some 52% rate browsing and ordering a “superior” experience, while 34% rate it “useful if flawed” for a total of 85%.

42% or those surveyed say they get reading matter from sources other than the Kindle Store — including free sources like Project Gutenberg and other free book collections to which Kindle Nation provides links — but in terms of frequency they are far less likely to go beyond the Kindle Store. About 5 % do so daily, 11% weekly and 26% “sometimes.”

A large majority — 77% of respondents — read samples before they buy an ebook. Again, frequency of use varies as expected: 9% read samples nearly every day, 28% do so weekly, and 39% “sometimes.”

Amazon’s “Buy Once, Read Anywhere” program is a hit with readers. About 50% or respondents say they buy, download and read ebooks using one of the Kindle apps with a device other than a Kindle.

Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey Results: How Agency Model Publishers Are Killing Their Own Kindle Sales

(One of several Kindle Nation posts exploring the results of the Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey. Click here to see a breakdown of results.) 
By Tom Dulaney, Contributing Reporter

Every salesman from Seth Godin to the guy at your local used car lot or Lexus dealership knows that one of the likeliest death knells for any prospective sale is signalled by these words from the buyer: “Let me think it over.”

eBooks are no different. While it is certainly true that the Kindle environment makes ebook purchases and downloads magically friction-free and convenient, that seamlessness does not turn Kindle owners into a nation of idiots.

For a whopping 88% of the 2,275 respondents in the Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey, “Let me think it over” translates into identification with the survey’s statement that “I frequently choose to delay purchasing an ebook that I want to buy if I think the price is too high.” 60% clicked “strongly agree” with the statement, and another 28% selected “agree.”

Those not coming down on the side of “wait-and-see” are a paltry 3% not sure about their actions, 4% who disagree and don’t delay, and another 4% who strongly disagree and pay up with abandon.

The DMZ no man’s land in the price struggles between publishers and readers is bordered by the $10 price line and the $12.99 price line, the survey suggests. In that range, 50% of survey respondents say they have paid the price occasionally for newly released titles. Some 8% “strongly agree” they have done so, while 42% “agree.” Some 46% disagree or strongly disagree; they haven’t flinched and paid. A neutral 4% sits in the middle.

So, half the respondents occasionally do pay from $10 to $13 dollars for an ebook, and just under half never do so. Cross the $13 parallel into more expensive waters, and things change dramatically, as shown a bit further below.

Whether large or small, traditional or indie, publishers and authors would do well to read between the lines here. For anyone with the sense to juxtapose these survey results with a look at the price composition of the Kindle Store bestseller lists, it becomes clear in a hurry that it is customers, not publishers, who are setting prices in the Kindle Store.

And any publisher or author who blows off the issue thinking the “delay” means the buyer will be back sooner or later needs to audit Business 101 next semester: You never recoup 100% of pushed-off sales.

Ominous news from the survey for big-league publishers and bestselling authors pushing higher prices are these figures from the survey: 76% of respondents say if “publishers keep charging higher bestseller prices, I’ll buy more backlist or indie titles.” To paraphrase the song, if you can’t be with the author you love, then love the one you’re with. 

Once again, it’s worth a look at the composition of the Kindle Store bestseller lists: 18 of the top 50 bestselling titles in the Kindle Store are by indie authors, compared with zero just nine months ago when publishers were launching their ill-fated agency model price-fixing scheme. Those 18 indie titles will sell over a million Kindle copies this month alone, and those are a million copies that traditional publishers will never have a chance to sell again.

There’s no doubt readers are much more price conscious this year. “With recent ebook price controversies, I’ve become more price conscious,” is the statement presented in the survey. Some 83% subscribe to the statement, with 43% saying they “strongly agree” that they are more price conscious and 40% saying they “agree” that they pay more attention to prices. Only 8% say they are not more tuned into prices, with another 10% opting out of the question by saying they are “not sure.”

Additional data indicates a smattering of respondents are occasionally paying more than $9.99 for books. The survey statement was: “I didn’t think I would be willing to pay over $9.99 for ebooks, but I’ve been doing it at least twice a month.” Only 14% admit cracking against their resolve, with only 2% strongly agreeing that they pay more and 12% merely agreeing they do so.

Some 36% disagree, denying they pay over $9.99 and 39% strongly disagree with the statement. An unsure 12% sit in the middle. To sum that up, nearly 75% say—in this survey question at least—they are not paying over $9.99 “at least twice a month.”
Exceed the $12.99 ceiling for newly released titles and resistance stiffens. “I occasionally pay $13 or more for newly released ebook titles,” is the statement respondents were presented with. Only 3% “strongly agree”; 16% “agree”. That is a 31% fall off from the 50% who relented and paid in the $10 to $12.99 range. To sum it up, 74% hold firm and do not buy newly released titles priced over $12.99.

Even if the ebook is professional or technical in nature, price resistance over the $9.99 tag is strong. For those types of ebooks, only 6% strongly agree that they would pay the surcharge for the specialty ebooks, and only 15% agree. A large 24% are unsure, perhaps never faced with the decision. But 32% disagree, indicating they would not pay more, and 23% strongly disagree.

(One of several Kindle Nation posts exploring the results of the Winter 2011 Kindle Nation Citizen Survey. Click here to see a breakdown of results.)