Why should I provide my email address?

Start saving money today with our FREE daily newsletter packed with the best FREE and bargain Kindle book deals. We will never share your email address!
Sign Up Now!

Originally posted Feb. 3, 2011, and not *exactly* right:

The Real Story Behind Those Single-Digit Kindle Margins:

Amazon Has Positioned Itself for a 50% Overall Market Share

in the U.S. Book Business

(Editor’s Note: I originally published this post on February 3, 2011. The bottom-line prediction that “before the end of 2012, Amazon could own more than half of the U.S. book business across all formats,” isn’t quite right. But there seems to be increasing evidence that, to borrow a phrase from futurist Ray Kurzweil, it could soon prove to be “essentially correct.” What’s your take? -S.W.)
By Steve Windwalker
Editor, Kindle Nation Daily

Amazon’s (AMZN) report of quarterly earnings last Thursday was greeted widely as an indication that the company can’t generate sufficient margins with Kindle devices and content. That interpretation has been reasonably straightforward, with strong echoes of sentiments that characterized critics’ views of Amazon during its early pre-profitability years in the late 1990s and into the 21st century.

“Despite rapid growth in Kindle hardware and content sales,” so this thinking goes, “the combination of competition and Amazon’s penchant for pursuing loss-leader strategies to capture market share have forced Kindle-associated margins so low that, as the Kindle portion of Amazon’s overall business grows, it will lead inevitably to erosion of profits.”

Due in part to this interpretation, Amazon’s share price, which closed Thursday within 3 percent of its all-time trading high, dipped dramatically in after-hours trading that day and has gained back only a fraction of those losses since.

But the low-margins interpretation misses another, much more dramatic story. The big story is that in just three years Amazon has positioned itself to triple its overall share of the U.S. book business for all formats. Before the end of 2012, Amazon could own more than half of the U.S. book business across all formats.

How stunning a development would that be? Prior to the launch of the Kindle in 2007, Amazon was widely considered to account, at most, for somewhere around 15 percent of all U.S. book sales in all formats by all retailers.

Amazon has not reached 50 per cent yet, and is still far from that range where all titles are concerned. But one of the most reliable crystal balls for determining future bookselling trends is to examine and parse developments as they play out with individual bestsellers in the overall book marketplace, when numbers are available.

Last week both Amazon and one of its most consistent publishing business critics, paid subscription site Publishers’ Marketplace, shined their respective spotlights on sale trends that have been playing out with a single bestselling novel, Emma Donoghue’s Room. The hardcover, discounted by Amazon to $14.41 (20 percent higher than the Kindle edition), is #43 in the main Amazon store. It is #13 among far fewer available bestsellers listed in the Apple (AAPL) iBooks store, and #35 on the Barnes & Noble (BKS) Nook. Importantly for these discussions, the book has also been on the IndieBound bestseller list for independent brick-and-mortar booksellers for the past 20 weeks, and currently stands at #4.)

Helpfully, it turns out that we know a lot about Room sales, thanks to Amazon and Publisher’s Marketplace.

Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice-president for Kindle Content,told a Digital Book World conference last week that, for Room, “total Kindle sales are equal to 85 percent of Nielsen BookScan’s print sales number.” Publisher’s Marketplace then performed some very helpful extrapolations and further calculations arriving here:

If the BookScan number is 80 percent of the print sales total, then Kindle sales here would 68 percent of all print. More importantly, though, to calculate what percentage of the book’s total sale was on Kindle, you need to add Kindle + BookScan + that other 20 percent together and look at Kindle as a percentage of that sum. So it’s 68 over 168, meaning that Kindle sales were 40 percent of the total sale in all formats for Room.

But it doesn’t end there. Grandinetti and other Amazon spokespersons said repeatedly last week that Kindle editions were currently outselling Amazon sales of their hardcover counterparts by a 3-to-1 margin, which means that Amazon hardcovers equal about 25 per cent of combined sales for these titles. Even if hardcover sales of Room fell short of this and constituted only 20 percent of Amazon’s combined, this would mean that total Amazon sales of Room constitutes about 50 percent of the title’s total sales in all formats.

It’s just one title, but what we’ve been seeing quite often with Amazon and the Kindle over the past few years is that what happens first with one title happens subsequently with more titles and then, ultimately, with most titles. It was a big deal in 2009 when Kindle sales of The Lost Symbol outstripped Amazon’s hardcover sales right from the drop, and a little over a year later Amazon announced that all Kindle editions were outselling hardcover units for the same titles, across the board.

But there are other forces at play, and I’m not just talking about the fact that Room is one of the strongest sellers over the past five months for indie booksellers. Back on January 5 when USA Today reported that 19 of the top 50 titles on its bestseller list had sold more ebook than print copies for the previous week, publishing industry insiders blamed Santa Claus and downplayed the significance.

“What’s most interesting is what happens next week or over the next month. About 3 million to 5 million e-readers were activated last week. Will the people who got them keep downloading e-books, and at what rate?” asked Publisher’s Marketplace founder Michael Cader. Bowker’s Kelly Gallagher, too often a cheerleader for the status quo in publishing, was quoted saying that the surge in e-book sales “is not a sustainable trend.”

Right. Well, that was January 5. Now it’s February 2, and that trend, far from declining, has actually become stronger. On USA Today‘s most recent bestseller list, for the week ended January 23, the number of titles with greater ebook sales than print sales had grown from the 18-19 range for the first three weeks after Christmas to 23 of the top 50.

There is a wide range of factors that are likely to push the velocity of change even faster for ebook sales specifically and Amazon’s share of the overall bookselling market in general, but the fact that brick and mortar bookstores are closing at a faster rate than ever, from local indies to chains, is bound to contribute to a snowballing effect. The imminent bankruptcy of the Borders (BGP) chain is this week’s headline, but it’s just the headline. And despite the recent fuss about the new partnership for ebook sales between Google (GOOG) and the American Booksellers Association, it is inevitable that as ebook sales rise, brick-and-mortar stores will decline and publishers will gradually lessen their investment both in the bookstore-based physical distribution network and in print editions.

Finally, there’s Amazon’s not-so-secret weapon for building retail market share for its Kindle and print content sales: Direct publishing, Amazon exclusives, and indie authors. Recent developments in this area deserve a post all their own, but for now we’ll just note that 36 of the top 100 bestselling ebooks in the Kindle Store are published either by indie, direct-to-Kindle authors or by Amazon publishing subsidiary programs such as AmazonEncore, AmazonCrossing, or Kindle Singles. The vast majority of these titles are either not listed or not selling at any appreciable level on any other retail venue, and they are not yet included on any bestseller lists other than Amazon’s own, although their sales would in many cases justify such inclusion. But the sales are there, the profits are there, and once again Amazon has positioned itself to dominate the market share for this, the fastest growing sector of the fastest growing sector in bookselling.

Which brings us back to Amazon executive Grandinetti, and his summary point in last week’s discussions: “However fast you think this change is happening, its probably happening faster than you think.”

Whatever the rate of change, and whatever the velocity of change, most of the other players in the book business and many of Amazon’s market analysts and investors may be missing the point as to exactly where this change leads. AMZN is not a day-traders’ stock, but for investors who take a long view it may have just moved into a new and very positive category.

If Amazon has decided to accept single-digit margins during this Kindle “investment phase,” and the result is that the company has set itself up to own a 50 per cent market share of the entire U.S. book business by the end of 2012, there will be no shortage of happy investors — and devastated competitors — at that point in the relatively near future.

Don’t Bet Against Amazon Initiating an AutoRip-Style Program to Bundle Digital Books; In Fact, It Has Already Happened on One Level

Will Amazon ever extend the “digital bundling” principles behind its new AutoRip program for music purchases to books?

I raised that possibility the other day in introducing Amazon’s press release on AutoRip, and it has been interesting to see how many people have jumped on the topic with words to the basic effect that “that will never happen.”

Okay, let’s back up and define our terms. What’s so cool about AutoRip, of course, is that

  • first, millions of people who have purchased physical CDs from Amazons since 1998 discovered last week that dozens, or hundreds (405 in my case), or thousands of digital files of tracks from those CDs have now been added to our accounts in Amazon’s cloud; and
  • second, now you can buy any qualifying CD (there are over 37,000 of them at present), including music you buy for someone else as a gift, and it will turn up automatically for you in your cloud account.

Kindle Nation is here first and foremost for readers, so we’ve been advocating something like this for books for several years now. And pardon me for getting up in the publishing pundits’ faces with a news flash, but guess what: it has already happened, in a way that could very well lead provide Amazon with the business evidence it might need to persuade some critical mass of publishers to participate in such a program.

When I say “it has already happened,” I am referring to the “Immersion Reading” program that Amazon and its subsidiary Audible.com rolled out, with the launch of its Kindle Fire HD models in September, to encourage customers to buy both the Kindle versions and the Audible.com versions of their favorite books. In that case, Amazon has encouraged the double purchases by offering deep discounts on one of the formats when both are actually purchased by the same customer. For readers like me who make extensive use of both the Kindle reading and Audible.com formats, the chance to have both without paying full price is very appealing. (Sometimes, I might add, it’s too appealing, because even here at Kindle Nation we have to stick to a budget!)

For those who think that Amazon and the big publishers are always adversaries, let me call attention to publishing industry consultant (and frequent Amazon critic) Mike Shatzkin’s September 10 “Hats Off to Amazon” post:

Leveraging their ownership of Audible, the dominant player in downloadable audiobooks, Amazon has introduced a Whispersync feature that enables seamless switching between reading an ebook and listening to the audiobook version. One of my sisters-in-law, who is both a teacher of reading-challenged kids and an adjunct professor teaching others who do the same, had asked me a few months ago why nobody had done this. I asked around and was told “it is complicated.” Publishers can’t do it because they don’t control the delivery ecosystems. Other ebook retailers can’t do it because they don’t deliver audio. Only Amazon could do it. Now they have.

Does everybody notice that this creates a real reason to buy both an audiobook and an ebook of the same title? Seems like that is something all authors and publishers can celebrate.

There are, of course, some key differences between the music bundling program and this first stab at a book bundling program:

  • AutoRip involves just one purchase (with no special discount), and in most cases Immersion Reading involves two purchases (with a special discount on one).
  • AutoRip involves purchase of a CD hard copy, and Immersion Reading involves two digital-file purchases.
  • AutoRip is, at one level, just a convenience, since theoretically everyone could legally be ripping digital files off their CD collection and uploading them to the cloud.

So let me be clear that I am not suggesting that we are all going to wake up one morning soon to find hundreds of new books added to our Kindle libraries at no charge based on all the print books we’ve purchased from Amazon since 1998 or whenever.

But for just about any author or publisher who might consider participating in an AutoRip-style bundle allowing Amazon to send out Kindle copies of books for which they have previously sold hard copies, there is bound to be a price at which the proposition would be appealing. As the price that a customer would be required to pay for a Kindle version after paying “full price” in the past or present for a hard-copy version, something as low as $1.99 to $4.99 would probably work for the vast majority of players (assuming, ahem, no collusion.)

Why so low? There are plenty of reasons, but here are a couple:

  • For ebook purchases of past hard-copy books, the ebook purchase price is found money. There’s no incremental cost for each ebook sold in this fashion, and inherently there would be no fear that the pricing of the ebook side of the bundle would cannibalize print sales.
  • Authors and publishers who want to strengthen the life (or slow the death) of hard-copy publishing would be encouraged to see ebook bundling as something that could prop up that format, and reminded that, for the ebook bundling to work, the price would have to be low enough to be considered “nominal” by some significant swath of customers.

Even if the big publishers are as slow to see the wisdom of this bundling model as they have been over the past five years to adapt in business-positive (rather than defensive) ways to the ebook revolution, it’s worth noting here that, as is so often the case, Amazon has a secret weapon on this terrain. In the case of the Kindle/Audible bundles, Amazon’s secret weapon is that it owns the dominant retail platform in each category. In the case of Kindle/print bundles, a good starting point for Amazon may well be its ownership both of KDP Select — which includes over a quarter million Kindle-exclusive titles — of Amazon Publishing’s own growing number of imprints, and of CreateSpace, which is certainly one of the dominant players in print-on-demand both for “self-published” authors and for traditionally published authors who have wrestled back their ebook and print rights for books published in print over the past few decades. And even if the big publishers are not interested in getting in on the ground floor of book bundling, I’d be surprised if some of the smarter new compact-size publishing companies like Open Road and Turner Publishing didn’t find it appealing.

We’ll be watching. But one thing that seems utterly impossible? That the thought that occurred to us, about extending the AutoRip concept to book bundling, hadn’t already occurred to Jeff Bezos.


Around the Kindlesphere:

Kindle eBook Prices: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Tease

Tallying Up Your Yearly Amazon Expenditures

Amazon Mobile Sales


By Steve Windwalker

Kindle BestsellerseBook Prices: Don’t Miss the Forest for the Tease. We’re overdue for one of our periodic analyses of ebook pricing, but we did notice that Laura Hazard Owen, a pretty smart web journalist, published an interesting piece a couple of weeks ago in which she observed that ebook prices were not too high before (during the 2010-2012 heyday of agency-model price fixing when five defendant big publishers conspired with Apple to raise most new-release ebook prices by 30 to 50%), and thus are not dropping significantly now (that the courts have sentenced the agency model to a slow death). If one focuses primarily on the pricing of blockbuster new-release bestsellers from those big publishers, the data might seem to support Laura’s argument, but what a lot of observers miss is the way Amazon is changing the game with the pricing of titles that other ebook retailers don’t even have. It’s not just the growing power of the various Amazon imprints, there are also over a quarter of a million Kindle-exclusive KDP Select titles. As a result of Amazon’s and authors’ power over pricing of these titles, they drive ebook consumers’ pricing expectations so that there end up being two markets:

  • the big-name bestseller market with pricing from $9.99 to $15 that is supported by buyers’ sense of urgency, and
  • everything else

What Kindle Nation readers have told us loud and clear over the past few years is that they are more and more likely to check out “everything else” except in the increasingly rare cases where they simply must spend more for the latest from [insert your favorite blockbuster author’s name here].

Does the data prove this anecdotal self-reporting? Yes, big time. As of this morning, Saturday, January 5, 9 of the top 10 bestselling books in the Kindle Store were priced under $6, representing a combination of indie authors, Amazon imprints, and big pub titles buying into Amazon’s aggressive pricing.

Will big publishers continue to lose bestseller list real estate? The answer may depend on whether they misinterpret the implications of the fact that they can still sell the increasingly occasional blockbusters at 12.99. If they continue to infer that they can over-price mid-list books, they will continue to lose market share, and equally important they will lose the authors of those mid-list books. In my ever so humble opinion, of course.

Full disclosure: We have an axe to grind where ebook pricing is concerned. We want to see quality authors and smart publishers make money, and we want to see Kindle Nation treated fairly, and we continue to believe that the sweet spot of fair common ground involves pricing ebooks between 99 cents and $9.99, based on a relatively complex set of factors. For the vast majority of emerging authors of fiction, we think $2.99 hits that sweet spot, and that’s what we tell our own sponsors whenever they ask. (At $2.99, an individual author will make about $2.05, a higher per-unit royalty than she would have earned for each paperback copy sold under a traditional publishing contract.)

Tallying Up Your Yearly Amazon Expenditures. Now that 2012 is sooooo last week, would you like to know how much you spent with Amazon during the year just ended? It may be news you can use, whether because some of it may be tax-deductible, because knowing the awful truth may help you budget wisely in the new year, or because you and me and Nate Silver just love data, regardless of whether that data amounts to The Signal [or] The Noise. You can make a good beginning toward having this data in hand by going here to download a record of (almost) all your Amazon purchases for any historic period. My pet peeve: why can’t Amazon include Kindle content purchases in these downloadable spreadsheets?

Amazon Mobile Sales. Now that you know how much you spent with Amazon last year, it may be interesting to know how much of that total you purchased using a mobile device like a Kindle Fire, iPad, smartphone, etc? One Wall Street analyst estimated this week that somewhere in the ballpark of 8% of Amazon’s revenues are now transacted via some kind of mobile device. That may not sound like much, until you consider that that $5 billion or so would dwarf the revenues of millions of nearly all retailers and some smaller nations. With shopping apps on just about every mobile communications device extant, Amazon is delivering on its commitment to turn its various Kindles (and everything else) into delivery systems not only for digital content but for everything else we would ever want to buy. And we suspect that that 8% estimate is very conservative now, and miniscule in comparison to where it will be in a year, because there’s no major corporation in the history of the world that understands instant gratification quite so well as the outfit that Jeff Bezos started in his garage 18 years ago.

NookFail. We’ve said before that a tablet like the Nook Color is a perfectly lovely hardware device, but is destined to fail because of the company that brought it to market. In the case of the Nook, I personally can’t get past the combination of Barnes & Noble’s atrocious, deceitful, scammy and spammy customer support, but even if I could, I just don’t understand why anyone would by an ebook reader — and spend folding money on ebook content — from a company that is hemorrhaging money and destined to follow Borders into bankruptcy. According to its own January 3 press release, B&N booked losses everywhere from same-store sales to Nook sales, and now projects that the Nook will be as big a financial failure in 2013 as it was in 2012 despite its statement that it “has made significant investments over the past three years building the valuable NOOK digital retailing platform, which has resulted in millions of digital customers buying content from Barnes & Noble.” Millions of digital customers who may end up feeling just a bit cheated if the company isn’t around to support that content by mid-decade. I’m just saying.

The Kindle Chronicles Interview:

200 Million Free Downloads and Counting, Exclusively Yours – How Amazon Has Attracted A Quarter of A Million “Kindle Exclusive” Titles with KDP Select

Len Edgerly Interviews Russ Grandinetti, Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content

(Ed. Note: In this week’s column, Len focuses primarily on how the KDP Select and Kindle Owners’ Lending Library programs benefit authors. But they’re also a huge benefit to readers, both because of the free borrowing highlighted in the next article and because KDP Select allows the authors and publishers to offer the thousands of free books highlighted every day in Kindle Nation Daily posts. –Steve Windwalker)

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

A blind alley is closed at one end. It leads nowhere. Why on earth would you ever want to go down one?

russ1Russ Grandinetti (photo at right), Amazon’s Vice President of Kindle Content, puts it this way: “We like going down blind alleys, because occasionally they turn into broad vistas.”

Grandinetti is quoting Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos with that metaphor, which aptly describes the success of a program launched almost a year ago named KDP Select.

Unless you have self-published a book at Kindle Direct Publishing, you may not have heard of KDP Select. But you probably do know about the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL, pronounced “coal.”)

Through KOLL, Amazon Prime members in the U.S. who own Kindle devices get free borrowing rights for up to one Kindle book a month, with no due dates. The lending library was added on November 3, 2011, to free two-day shipping and free Prime Instant Videos as benefits of Amazon Prime, which costs $79 a year.

The lending library began with only 5,000 books to choose from. None of them came from authors publishing their work through Kindle Direct Publishing.

Thirty-five days after launching the lending library, Amazon opened the library’s doors to KDP authors. Through KDP Select, an author or publisher can make their books available for free borrowing at the lending library in return for granting a 90-day exclusive to the Kindle Store. After the 90 days are up, they are free to sell their eBooks at Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo, or anywhere else.

Amazon’s lending library is unusual in that an author receives a payment every time his or her book is borrowed. In fact, through November of this year KDP Select authors have received a total of more than $7 million in payments from Amazon. The money is distributed on a prorated basis, determined by how many borrowings take place for each book. The payments have been running about $2 per borrowing.

KDP Select also enables an author or publisher to offer their Kindle book for free at the regular Kindle Store, for up to five days every 90 days.

“In hindsight, it seems obvious that it succeeded so well,” Grandinetti said of KDP Select in a telephone interview on November 28th. “It wasn’t obvious in advance—we had hopes, but we didn’t know. That one has turned out to be super successful.”

Grandinetti is an enthusiastic exec who uses the word “super” a lot. And in the case of KDP Select, an initiative that might well have been a blind alley but turned into a broad vista, the numbers back him up.

Thanks to the response by authors and publishers to KDP Select, the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library has grown from 5,000 titles to approximately 240,000. KDP Select books have been purchased, borrowed from KOLL, or downloaded for free more than 200 million times in the past year.

In that same year, more than 500 books enrolled in KDP Select have reached the top 100 Kindle bestseller lists around the world.

Grandinetti believes the lending library helps increase a book’s sales in the Kindle Store, because free borrowing is, in effect, an extended sampling mechanism for books that customers might not otherwise take a chance on.

“It helps them reach an audience that they might not otherwise have reached,” Grandinetti said of authors whose books are available in the library. Another benefit is that a borrowing is treated like a sale for the purpose of personalized recommendations and ranking on Amazon’s bestseller lists.

Amazon invented the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library in order to create an added benefit for customers purchasing a Kindle eReader or Kindle Fire. That’s why free borrowing from the library is not available via Kindle apps such as those for the iPad, Blackberry devices or personal computers.

As for the larger picture here, I know that many in the traditional publishing industry see only a ruthless new competitor in Amazon. But when I have the chance to interview Amazon executives, from Jeff Bezos on down, I never hear about competitors. I hear about customers.

From the company’s Vice President of Kindle Content, I hear how initiatives like KDP Select that entail millions of dollars of spending are launched in order to bring new benefits to customers who are authors and publishers, as well as customers who are readers.

“The price that I charge a customer today is the lowest that I can charge while still maintaining a healthy business for us, so we can continue, and also for the publishing community,” Grandinetti told me.

“Having a great, robust, diverse, successful publishing business and having a great, robust, diverse, successful agent and author business is really great for readers,” he added. “I feel that Amazon and Kindle have contributed to that, and we’ll continue to try and find ways to do so.”

On the day after I spoke with Grandinetti, Amazon issued a press release announcing that the company will add $1.5 million to the KDP Select global fund on top of the regular monthly payments, payable to authors and publishers during the three-month period from December through February.

In the press release I found evidence that when a player with Amazon’s resources is willing to go down blind alleys, the broad vistas that sometimes open up are not just one company’s to enjoy and profit from.

They can also open for a single writer, like Martin Crosbie, the author of a first novel titled My Temporary Life who was quoted in the release.

Crosbie, who lives in Vancouver, British Columbia, earned $100 from royalties for his book in the two months before he enrolled it in KDP Select. He then earned $45,000 in a single month from paid sales and payments for borrowings from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library.

“I have readers anxiously waiting for my next novel,” Crosbie was quoted as saying, “and—I never get tired of saying this—I’m a full-time writer.”

lenContributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview

with Russ Grandinetti at 13:29 of Episode 226.


Just released on Kindle: The Complete 2013 User’s Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle: Covers All Current Kindles Including the Kindle Fire, Kindle Fire HD, Kindle Fire HD 8.9″, Kindle Paperwhite, and Kindle Basic, by Bruce Grubbs and Steve Windwalker of Kindle Nation Daily – http://amzn.to/T8uGcF

KFTTCover(1)And for Kindle Fire owners, here’s the perfect companion to your Kindle Fire, your user’s manual, and your copy of The Complete 2013 User’s Guide to the Amazing Amazon Kindle: Kindle Nation Daily’s Kindle Fire editor April Hamilton’s collection of her most helpful posts and articles to help you get the most out of your Kindle Fire tablet! http://amzn.to/TS6JVV

Fingers in the Dike: How Some Indie Booksellers Are Fiddling, Fussing and Fibbing in the Face of Innovation and History

Len Edgerly Interviews Neil Strandberg,

Director of Member Technology, American Booksellers Association

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

The general manager of Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, Massachusetts, remembers two women who came into the store and said, “We’d like to talk to your children’s specialist about what books we should buy for our granddaughter for her Kindle.”

“I took a really deep breath and said we’d be happy to do that,” the manager recalled in a recent interview.

Therein lies a glimpse of the topsy-turvy world of bookselling five years after Amazon introduced the Kindle on November 19, 2007.

Neil Strandberg, director of member technology for the American Booksellers Association (ABA), has helped to create a new way for independent booksellers to navigate that world. It’s an eReader that begins with the letter K, but it’s not made by Amazon.

Kobo eReaders can now be sold at any ABA member bookstore, and when you use the Kobo that you buy at an indie bookstore, your Kobo eBook purchases will benefit the store via sales commissions.

We knew the ABA was looking for a new partner for selling eBooks, because Google in April of this year announced it was ending its eBook reselling program with the indies. The Google program never really took off. As a Kindle owner, I hoped against hope that the ABA might make like Nixon going to China and shock the book world by making a deal with Amazon.

This became a slightly more plausible dream in May when the biggest bookstore chain in the U.K., Waterstones, announced a deal to sell Kindles and Kindle eBooks at Waterstones stores.

The Economist dubbed the move “a Faustian pact” agreed to by James Daunt, managing director of Waterstones. Daunt had once famously described Amazon as a “ruthless money-making devil.”

In a YouTube video in May, Daunt described the Amazon deal as the best way “to solve the digital question,” by offering “a great family of devices” and making the Kindle experience better by enabling a Kindle owner to browse and read via WiFi while enjoying a coffee at a Waterstones store.

In the event, as the Brits would say, the ABA chose a different route and in late August announced the partnership with Kobo.

I spoke with Neil Strandberg by Skype this week about the Kobo choice. He said the ABA searched “high and low” for a new provider of eBooks and eReaders for independent booksellers. He declined to say whether or not Amazon or any other specific company had submitted a proposal.

“It’s not exclusive, we are careful to say,” he noted.  But I suggest not holding your breath hoping for an ABA-Kindle connection any time soon, Waterstones or no Waterstones.

Strandberg is a practical, diplomatic guy with whom I enjoyed talking eBooks over coffee in Denver, where until May of this year he worked as manager of operations at The Tattered Cover Book Store, one of the nation’s premier independent booksellers. He is not a basher of Amazon or any other player on the publishing scene.

When I suggested this week that most of the indie bookstore customers who have gone digital probably chose the Kindle, he demurred.

“I think it’s an open question how many of those customers that are still very active with the independent channel have chosen Amazon,” he said. “To the extent that they want to add eReading to their portfolio of reading habits, in many respects they’ve already said to us, ‘not Amazon,” or they’ve already said to us, ‘not Barnes and Noble.”

Carole Horne, the general manager at Harvard Book Store, told me that she would be extremely reluctant to ever team up with Amazon. “They’ve said they want to put other people out of business, especially independent bookstores,” she asserted.

In four years of covering the Kindle and eBooks, I have never heard anyone from Amazon express that desire, so I pressed Horne on her source.

“At trade shows, talking to people from Amazon, there are people who say, ‘We think independent bookstores are dead, and that’s fine with us,’” she replied. She has not heard Jeff Bezos say that, but she believes “he would like to be the only retailer in the world.”

I find that characterization to be quite a stretch from Amazon’s stated mission of being “Earth’s most customer-centric company.”

In any event, I purchased a Kobo mini at the Harvard Book Store the day after Thanksgiving, when they were on sale for $49.99. I also created a new Kobo account, tied to the Harvard Book Store, so eBook purchases that I make at the Kobo store will benefit Cambridge’s premier indie bookseller. I even sideloaded the Kobo app to my Kindle Fire HD, so I can read Kobo books on an Amazon device.

Given the scary threat that eBooks pose for the ABA and stores like Horne’s, I am impressed by customer-oriented responses like her decision to help the two women find books for a granddaughter’s Kindle, and by the Kobo initiative.

For those of us who have switched to reading exclusively on Kindles or Kindle apps, bookstores were once our favorite sanctuaries and places to shop. That’s where we learned to love books.

We still love books. And, to greater or lesser degrees, we pretty much love Amazon for inventing the Kindle, constantly improving its capabilities, and making it cheaper and cheaper to read more voraciously than ever.

I hope U.S. bookstores have a great holiday sales season and sell lots of Kobos. And I hope that somewhere in the world of indie bookstores there is a Nixon still looking for a way to get to China—by way of Seattle.

lenOur contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Neil Strandberg at 8:51 of this week’s Episode 225.

The KND Kindle Chronicles Interview: Reading for, and About, Pleasure … or “Henry James on Viagra”

Len Edgerly Interviews Richard Mason,

author of History of a Pleasure Seeker

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

When a brilliant author creates a version of his novel for tablet computers, a whole new world of possibilities opens up.

Richard_MasonThat’s what I find so intriguing about Richard Mason’s recently released app, History of a Pleasure Seeker, Volume I: The Gilded Curve.

When Mason began work on a digitally enhanced version of his book, the Kindle Fire did not yet exist, so the app is only available at the iTunes store for iPad, iPhone, or iPod Touch. An Android version that will play on the Kindle Fire is in the works, the author assured me in this week’s Kindle Chronicles interview on November 5th.

Meanwhile, you can check out what he refers to as the “e-lumination” of his novel on an iOS device, or you can read History of a Pleasure Seeker on your Kindle or Kindle app as a text-only eBook.

It’s the story of Piet Barol, a handsome and charismatic young Dutchman from a humble background who in 1907 lands a tutoring job in a very grand house in Amsterdam. Piet’s psychologically skillful navigation of his host family’s luxurious world is presented with deft characterizations, perfect dialog, and a good deal of artful eroticism.

I read the novel in one day last month when I was confined to the house with a bad cold, and I loved every page of it. The writing is so good it hurts.

Or, as The Boston Globe put it, “If Charles Dickens and Jane Austen had a love child who grew up reading nothing but Edith Wharton and Penthouse Forum—well, that person might be almost as wry, sexy, and knowing a writer as Richard Mason.” Another reviewer, Alex Preston, described History of a Pleasure Seeker as “Henry James on Viagra.”

You might think an author this talented would simply keep writing manuscripts in his longhand writing notebook, which Mason prefers to any keyboard. And in fact he has done just that, publishing a total of five novels including History of a Pleasure Seeker.

But when he was shown an iPad for the first time in July, 2010, Mason was inspired to create something entirely new–a version of his book that would take advantage of what he calls “this incredible device.”

It was clearly a major undertaking, beginning with the recruitment of Dan Stevens, who plays Matthew Crawley in Downton Abbey, to narrate the book’s 20 hours of audio. Mason founded an entirely new venture in Manhattan, Orson & Co, to set teams of musicians, videographers, photographers and coders to work on the e-lumination.

The completed app was released this month, costing $12.99 at the iTunes Store, where you will also find a free “Lite” version that offers samples of the digital enhancements.

If you are a regular reader of eBooks on Kindle, you will immediately notice that features you have come to expect are missing in the e-lumination. Chief among them is the ability to increase the font size.

Those still reading print books won’t mind this aspect of the app. But if you love changing the font of an eBook to exactly the size that is easiest for you to read, you will feel hemmed in by the default font, as if someone had forced you unwillingly back to the pre-eBook era. For me, the font size of the app is too small to read comfortably, but I am 62 years old, so if your eyes are younger it may be okay.

There is also no dictionary lookup and no ability to highlight text. You can write notes in a general notes area, but you can’t attach a note to a specific place in the book.

As for things you will find in the app that are wonderfully new, you are in for some treats.

If you tap on the icon of a gramophone at the bottom of each page, you will hear a pleasingly British voice intone the words of the story. As each paragraph is read, its text turns red. If you want to skip to another paragraph, just tap it, and Downton Abbey’s Dan Stevens will skip ahead or behind, as you wish.

If the page contains a line-art drawing, tapping on it will bring up a photograph of a street scene of Belle Époque buildings or perhaps a crystal goblet, with a Ken Burns effect of moving around the image slowly.

There is a red ribbon hanging from the upper right of the page, and when you tap on it or pull it down, it reveals an ornate menu taking you to “Ask the Author” videos, one-page history lessons on topics such as “How Amsterdam got rich,” a gallery of photos, a place where you can write and read your notes, and several options for sharing via e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter.

It’s all beautifully presented, with details suitable to the period of the novel.

“I think it’s a new way of experiencing a story,” Mason told me, “one that puts the reader in charge for the first time of how and if to stimulate their imagination by what they see and hear.”

To arrive at a vision for his e-lumination, Mason began by asking himself where the true pleasure of the reading experience lies.

“I thought, in the end,” he said, “that it’s the pleasure that comes from taking your imagination as the reader, collaborating with the author’s imagination, to create an experience that is wholly your own.”

I agree. But I hope that Mason’s next iteration might put readers even more in charge of the experience.

The key would be to let us choose to enjoy the exquisite, fixed-page design as it appears in this version or, with a tap of a menu, to toggle to an entirely different view in which we can change the font to precisely the one that gives us the most pleasure in reading.

I know this would be a tough change for Mason to make, because he is so deeply committed to the beauty of the pages his team has created.

In a similar way, the editors of The New Yorker could not bring themselves to give up the iconic font and page design of the print magazine when they created apps for tablets like the Kindle Fire. What you see is all you get in terms of font size, and you can’t look words up or highlight.

By comparison, The New York Review of Books for Kindle Fire allows you to view that magazine’s traditional pages, with zooming capability, or to shift to the more reader-friendly Kindle view in which you can change font sizes and the rest.

I hope this suggestion is worth considering, but I want to conclude by congratulating Richard Mason for his pioneering work in advancing the pleasure of reading. He deserves credit for breaking new ground and writing a novel worth experiencing in as many new ways as the mind can imagine.

lenOur contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Richard Mason in Episode 223.

The Kindle Chronicles Interview: If you could only read three books during next 12 months, which ones would you choose?

Len Edgerly Interviews Chris Brogan,
co-author of The Impact Equation

By LEN EDGERLY, Contributing Editor

Three books? 12 months? For most Kindle Nation readers, it’s hard to imagine such a choice. But which ones would you choose?

In my case, it may take another year for me to finish Tolstoy’s War and Peace at the rate I’m going, so I would include that one.

And because I aspire to making things happen in the Kindlesphere through my podcast and blog, I might include a new book by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith titled The Impact Equation: Are You Making Things Happen or Just Making Noise?

chrisbrogan-2012I spoke with Chris Brogan by Skype from Denver the day after Hurricane Sandy dealt his hometown in Newburyport, Massachusetts, a glancing blow. As CEO of Human Business Works, Brogan is a sought-after keynote speaker, trainer, blogger, and author.

He assigned himself the task of reading only three books from November 1, 2012, to November 1, 2013, as an experiment in immersion. I find the idea fascinating but am not sure I am willing to try it.

“I have this opinion that a lot of times people will read books and just kind of go from one book to the next,” Brogan told me. “I track on things like Twitter what people say about my book. So I’ll see, ‘Just finished The Impact Equation, now going on to The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg’—as if there’s some kind of a hurdle race, as if they’ve just gone over a hurdle, and they’re going to the next one.”

As a result, Brogan believes, we seldom go deeply enough into a book, to fully absorb the meaning of it. His idea of picking three books to read and reread throughout the coming year tests a new level of commitment to a book, like becoming a rooted disciple instead of a hurdler who is always jumping to the next new title.

I made a note in iCal for November 1, 2013, to loop back with Brogan for a report on the results of his project. I won’t be surprised to find that he was unable to keep his love of reading on such a tight leash, but he may surprise us.

Here are the only three books that Chris Brogan will be reading for the next 12 months: The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How by Daniel Coyle, Living Beautifully with Uncertainty and Change by Pema Chodron, and You Are Your Own Gym: The Bible of Bodyweight Exercises by Mark Lauren.

None of the three books is more than 140 pages long, so Brogan could probably read them all in a day and a half.  If he sticks to it, he will certainly be reading each of these books more than once and probably several times.

This seems like brilliant luxury to me. I sometimes finish a book with a wistful thought of going back to Page One, because I sense that if I read the whole book again I would understand it better, that the book might actually change me. But there are always more unread books on my Kindle, beckoning for my attention, so I move on.

You may see where this is going.

Brogan’s book comprises 285 pages, and I’m thinking of reading it and rereading it for the next 12 months. I am not willing to limit my reading to The Impact Equation and just two other books, but as my own experiment in reading habits and social media awareness, I intend to keep reading this tome until November 1, 2013. Each time I finish it, I will tap on “Go To” on my Kindle and return to the beginning.

I think it’s a good choice for a year of immersive reading, because I find the book to be well-written, substantive, and full of insightful eddies and detours of mind.

In my first read of it, I have found only one tiny typo, a forgotten period at Location 2610. So it’s a carefully written and proofed book, and that matters to me.

It’s also a book with a clear structure. As the title suggests, the book presents an equation that enables you to measure the potential impact of your ideas. To wit:

Impact = C x (R + E + A + T + E).

It’s easy to remember, because it spells “Create,” and the six variables of the equation give the authors room to dive deeply into the following impact attributes:

Contrast – An idea’s perceived difference, the thing that strikes people as remarkable.

Reach – The size of your email list or RSS feed, the number of your followers.

Exposure – How often you connect with the people you connect with.

Articulation – Making your idea instantly understandable.

Trust – A tough factor to define, but we know it when we feel it. Brogan and Smith covered this subject in their 322-page book published in 2009, Trust Agents: Using the Web to Build Influence, Improve Reputation, and Earn Trust.

Echo – The feeling of connection you give your reader, visitor, or participant in your project.

The authors flesh out this equation with usable action steps, tips for honing ideas, and specific advice on everything from how often you should Tweet to where you should buy your shaving razors. There will be no end of practical advice to follow.

But I think the real payoff of spending a year with this book will be the number of things I will be invited to think about.

In my first reading, I wished I could spend more time thinking about pattern recognition, extrapolation of ideas from one realm to another, what it takes to become “a master of language,” the proper approach to influential people, and why Sunday is a magical day for releasing a blog post, to mention just a few of the trails the book invited me to explore.

If you would like to join me in reading The Impact Equation all year long, please drop me an email at PodChronicles AT Gmail DOT com, so we can keep each other honest. And look for a return to the book here and at The Kindle Chronicles on or before November 1, 2013.

One of the idea-shaping exercises in the book is to simplify your idea to three words. When I asked Brogan how he would do this for the idea of his new book, he paused and said, “Let’s see….”

His answer may be the reason I am willing to spend a year with his book, because I think he meant it.

“Be very helpful,” he said. “That’s probably the essence of all the advice that I ever give. Just be helpful.”

Our contributing editor Len Edgerly blogs at The Kindle Chronicles where you can hear his interview with Chris Brogan at 21:50 of TKC 222.