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Waves of Change in the Kindlesphere: How the Kindle Store is Evolving into Three Stores to Sharpen Competition and Marginalize Outliers

The waves of change continue in the Kindlesphere.

  • In the next few weeks we expect to see the launch of the Kindle Apps Store, the rollout of new accessibility features including what Amazon calls “audible menuing,” big changes in royalties and publishing features for Kindle authors and publishers, and a completion of the rollout of version of 2.5 of the operating software for the latest generation Kindle and Kindle DX. 
  • Many of us are watching with great interest for the denouement of the negotiations/controversies/conflicts that’s currently keeping new Penguin titles out of the Kindle Store and all Random House titles out of the iBooks Store.
  • On the hardware side, it remains to be seen whether Amazon will work as hard or place as high a priority on delivering the inevitable Super Kindle with the color touch display as it is working to make what will soon be an installed base of 100 millions iPads, iPhones, and iPod Touches super selling venues for Kindle and other digital content, including wolfish Video on Demand offerings donning the sheep’s clothing of the Netflix for iPad app if Amazon pulls the trigger on a Netflix acquisition.

But let’s focus today on dramatic if evolutionary changes that are occurring in the Kindle Store catalog.

Yesterday’s report that Amazon will soon drop free Kindle books from its main Kindle Store bestseller lists is just another portent that, in some ways, the Kindle Store is in the process of being transformed into three stores:

  • the Kindle bookstore to which we have grown accustomed over the past couple of years, with a large and diverse catalog of over half a million titles priced mostly between $2.99 and $9.99, currently growing at around 25,000 titles a month, and including work of distinction by emerging authors as well as bestsellers by established author;
  • several thousand other “new release” titles from publishers who have signed onto the agency model price-fixing pact, at least temporarily, with prices set between $10 and $15;
  • a growing number of free books including Amazon’s current “private label” catalog of public domain titles, a growing number of free promotional titles, and millions of other free public domain titles from third-party sites that Amazon will make increasingly seamless to download and read on the Kindle platform, perhaps with the kind of overhauled, Kindle-compatible “Stanza @ Kindle” offering that might have been behind the departure of Stanza fountainhead Neelan Choksi from Stanza.Amazon.com the other day). .

Now, or beginning at some point between now and June 30, Amazon will be making a major effort to organize the vast majority of Kindle store prices so that they fall in the $2.99 to $9.99 range. As I noted here when Amazon announced this program, Amazon will be using honey rather than vinegar, with an offer to pay direct 70% royalties to all authors and publishers who set prices in this price range through Amazon’s Kindle-compatible Digital Text Platform and participate fully in other Kindle features like text-to-speech.

There will be other outliers, including declining percentages of the total catalog that is priced between $.01 and $2.98 or over $14.99. The contraction of offerings in these price ranges, of course, will be driven by the promise of direct 70% royalties. For titles currently earning the standard Kindle DTP royalty of 35% at sales-suppressing prices from $15 to $19.99, (or, for that matter, $10 to $14.99), bringing the suggested retail list price down to $9.99 and taking any other steps necessary to comply with the new 70% royalty program ought to be a no-brainer for any author or publisher capable of doing the math. As a cursory check of the Kindle Store’s current bestselling titles in that $15-to-$20 price range reveals, there are precious few titles that are cracking the top 2,500 at such prices, and many would experience significantly higher sales at the $9.99 price range.

In a post the other day about bargain prices for a couple of Elizabeth Peters ebooks in the Kindle Store, I made the point that readers may actually be able to influence publisher pricing behavior when we jump on bargain prices like those mentioned in the post, even while the Kindle bestseller list shows some signs that Kindle owners are accepting agency-model pricing:

When an agency model publisher fixes a low price for a backlist title like these, the publishing is putting itself in a position to learn a great deal about pricing, sales, and profitability in the ebook world. Based on my own experiences and those of other authors, I believe that the ideal Kindle Store price for many backlist titles is in the $2.99 to $4.99 range, and that most such titles, if they are quality books with a little bit of marketing effort behind them are likely to sell roughly twice as many copies if they are reduced from $9.99 to $4.99 or roughly three times as many if they are reduced from $9.99 to $2.99. If Hachette and other publishers find out that such formulas apply to their backlist titles, it could be a powerful incentive for them to lower prices wherever possible.

So, the fun continues. When there’s competition between business behemoths like Amazon and Apple, it tends to be complicated by all kinds of counterforces, not the least of which are the many ways in which the two companies are partners. But as nice a guy as Jeff Bezos may be, he is also, to his great credit, the leader of a company that is as ruthlessly committed to fostering competition within the Kindle Store as it is to competing with other businesses in the ebook sector. The result for customers in the Kindle Store as elsewhere in AmazonWorld is like to be ever greater selection and, over the long haul, ever better pricing.

Related posts:

iBooks App Slips, Then Recovers as Kindle App Jumps in the iPad App Store

By Stephen Windwalker

Originally posted at iPad Nation Daily May 8, 2010

Related posts:

In Thinking About Google Books, the Kindle, and the iPad, How About a Little Reality?

at Teleread: Don’t diss Stanza and people who love e-books, Jeff—including us iPad owners

Click here to have posts like this one from iPad Nation Daily pushed directly to your Kindle 24/7 with a free 14-day trial from the Kindle Blogs Store

See updated status report below.

May 8, 2010–Could this be a watershed moment for the iBooks and Kindle apps? Or only for the Pocket Pond?

Apple’s iBooks Store has just fallen from the top rung among free iPad Apps in Apple’s Top Charts listing. Beatweek Magazine called attention to the iBooks’ slippage, in which it has been supplanted an utterly lovely ambient app called Pocket Pond (see screen shot at the right, but it is just the beginning). As the screen shots at the end of this post attest, the brand new Pocket Pond is the new #1 free app for the iPad, iBooks has fallen to #2, and the Kindle Store has climbed from the mid-20s to #13 in recent days.

Naturally, after all we have heard about iBooks during the past three months, most of us iPad owners were eager to download it for free and try it out. The reading environment is very nice for indoor reading, but iBooks has a long way to go to compete in the ebook content marketplace when it comes to selection, prices, user-friendly search/sort/browse features, and access to a critical mass of reader ratings and reviews.

The flip side of these shortcomings and the obvious likelihood of comparison with the 2 1/2 year old granddaddy of all ebook readers may be among the reasons why the iBooks fall is juxtaposed with the Kindle app’s rise, but they are not the only reasons. As the three ads on a single web page in the screen shot at right suggest, however anecdotally, Amazon is investing plenty in making sure that iPad owners and enthusiasts are aware of the ease with which they can download the Kindle for iPad app free in a few seconds to gain access its 512,000 ebook offerings, at a mean price that’s about half the mean price of the iBooks store’s comparatively meager array catalog offerings.

Of course, snapshots are just snapshots, and it remains to be seen what the long-term trends will be. I’m finding the iPad a terrific place to read Kindle books, listen to free Audiobooks and paid Audible.com books, and read free Internet Archive texts in ePub with the Stanza for iPhone app (even after the departure of Stanza fountainhead Neelan Choksi from Stanza.Amazon.com yesterday). Stanza doesn’t show up in the iPad rankings because its app is designed for the iPhone and iPod Touch and has not been optimized for the iPad, but it remains prominent in the smaller devices’ app store ebook-related rankings and may still be the best way for an iPad owner to access over two million texts that are available from the Internet Archive, to say nothing of 12 million titles that may be available in the sweet bye and bye from Google Books.

Update: As of 7 am ET May 11, 2010, the iBooks App has moved back to the #1 Free Apps position in Apple’s TopCharts sales rankings, but the Kindle app continues to climb and has passed a Solitaire app and the Dictionary.com app to move into the #10 position.

Can You Say e-Book Empire? The Kindle, Stanza, and Fair Trade

Amazon Acquires e-Book Competitor Stanza’s Parent, Third-Party Vendor Seeks an M-Edge with Kindle Ads in Apple’s Subways, and the Net Whispers its Fears About World Domination

The Bottom Line: Is Kindle Content Coming to Your Computer?

In the April Kindle Nation survey, in the course of asking participants about other issues (DRM, text-to-speech, and the pricing of Kindle editions), I decided to raise another issue as quietly as possible: did respondents identify with the statement “I am concerned that Amazon may be developing a monopoly over digital books.” 129 respondents checked the box — 10.5% of the total. Enough to notice, but fewer than a third of the numbers that expressed concern about DRM, TTS, and the $9.99 controversy.

But sometimes real economic events influence public sentiment. It turns out Amazon may be serious about this Kindle thing. You heard it here first — a year ago in my guide for the Kindle 1 — that Amazon would make Kindle content available on other mobile devices such as the iPhone and iPod touch. Perhaps you didn’t pay too much heed when I wrote in the March 23 issue of Kindle nation that “Within months … Kindle books will be available on netbooks, iTouchTablets, Blackberrys, Macs, and PCs.”

Events are moving quickly now. Last night, while Blackberry owners were dreaming about when Kindle content would make it around to them, we learned that Amazon has purchased a tiny year-old company called Lexcycle that owns the free Stanza e-book platform that has been downloaded by at least 1.3 million readers worldwide.

There’s plenty to sort out here. Just for starters:

  • Unless Amazon’s purchase of Lexcycle is a draconian move aimed only at taking Stanza out of play as a competitor, the fundamental (if not, probably, first) order of business for these unequal but newly married partners will be to make Stanza play nice with Kindle content
  • Stanza can be downloaded to just about any Mac or PC, any desktop, laptop, notebook, or netbook, so it seems like a no-brainer that the Lexcycle acquisition should provide Amazon with the means to push Kindle content to every kind of computing device from the most to the least mobile
  • Stanza works alongside an app called Bonjour for the iPhone or iPod Touch, which has functionality similar to WhisperSync
  • Stanza also gives Amazon an interesting set of choices to make around DRM and open publishing platforms, since Stanza reads the EPUB format that has been widely promoted as a possible publishing industry standards

So why did I begin with that passing suggestion that some Kindle owners may be concerned about the potential for Amazon to monopolize or otherwise dominate the world of ebooks? It’s pretty simple, really. While only 10.5% of our survey respondents expressed the concern, it is a growing concern among authors, publishers, and — least surprisingly of all — Amazon’s book retailing competition.

Amazon would probably love it if every one of its Kindle content and accessory partners took the approach of M-Edge, which is paying for huge ads in the New York City subways promoting the Kindle, like the one at the right (photo credit to Silicon Alley Insider). But some of us actually expect our relationship with Amazon to be a two-way street.

Personally, I have been concerned lately that Amazon seems willing to offer its marketing power very unevenly to authors and publishers. For instance, Amazon’s “right” to simply ignore small indie publishers who want to participate in the same kind of promotions that Amazon routinely makes available to Random House or Harlequin may seem like a simple contract prerogative to Amazon staff, but it’s not that simple. The more vertical and horizontal power that Amazon has in the book marketplace, the more the mega-retailer may find itself in a position similar, at least conversely, to the position of Blockbuster Video, Borders Books, and large publishers and distributors when they were litigation targets in years past for tilting the playing field to which smaller, independent business “partners” had access.

On the other hand, it is also entirely possible that Amazon will realize that its increasing digital content hegemony will increase its exposure either to litigation or fair trade scrutiny and, in a funny contrarian way, will thus become a little less arrogant, and a little more willing and able to act in ways that promote a level playing field and continue to open creative and business opportunities for independent content providers. That scenario, in the long run, would also be the best for Kindle owners, other ebook readers, and readers in general as well as the various kinds of ink-stained wretches among us.