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Kindlephiles vs. Bibliophiles

Amazon shoppers may have noticed something unusual in the last week—titles published by Macmillan [1] were unavailable from the online bookseller in a dispute over e-book prices [2]. Macmillan (which includes publishers such as Henry Holt, Saint Martin’s; and Farrar, Straus & Giroux), wants Amazon to charge more than the typical $9.99 for e-book titles. I’m not sure who is right or wrong, but the response of some [3] Kindlephiles [4] is interesting. It appears that many are more interested in having books to read on their Kindle than having a Kindle for reading books. Several made statements [5] such as, “No Macmillan books for me. Amazon made a mistake backing down. It will be up to the readers to hold fast.” Many also say that they  “will not . . . ever purchase a Kindle book that costs more than $9.99. To do so would be silly because for a greater price I could own an actual book that I could keep . . .”

It strikes me as odd that anyone would let what they choose to read be determined by the policies of the publisher as opposed to the content of the book. When the new book by Andrew Bacevich [6](published by Metropolitan Books, a Macmillan imprint) comes out in a few months, I plan to obtain a copy and no other title will serve as a substitute. But I am a book lover, and the content is more important to me than reading it on some sort of gadget, which doesn’t appear to be the case for some Kindlephiles.

I wouldn’t be interested in paying much money for an e-book that I don’t really own and can’t sell or loan out; but I am perplexed as to why people will shell out $259 dollars for an item and then refuse to spend money to load books into it. If the books are worth so little, then why spend so much to read them?

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#1 Comment By Daniel McCarthy On February 7, 2010 @ 4:46 am

“If the books are worth so little, then why spend so much to read them?” Well, if the average hardcover retails for $20 (which it doesn’t — these days it seems to be closer to $30), a $259 Kindle would pay for itself after 26 purchases. And would you pay $30 extra, or whatever the airlines are charging these days, to bring more books with you on vacation? With a Kindle, you can bring more without paying extra and save yourself the inconvenience of lugging around the additional bulk.

Publishing companies like Macmillan are now making exactly the same mistake the record companies made — they’re trying to compel consumers to use old distribution channels and revenue models. But you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube; the market for e-books will continue to grow, and the chain book retailers will continue to fail. (How soon before Borders is gone?) Physical books are not going away, now or ever, but the economics of publishing are changing radically, and attempts to shore up yesteryear’s paradigm will do more harm than good.

#2 Comment By Clark Stooksbury On February 7, 2010 @ 10:29 am

Even at $13 to $15 a pop for books, a Kindle, could still pay for itself pretty quickly if you look at it that way, and I bet you are right about the changes coming in the book business even if e-books never become more than a niche product.
But these people who are going to boycott Macmillan because of this dispute are more into their gadget than the words it contains.

#3 Comment By MattSwartz On February 8, 2010 @ 2:49 am

But you can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube; the market for e-books will continue to grow, and the chain book retailers will continue to fail. (How soon before Borders is gone?) Physical books are not going away, now or ever, but the economics of publishing are changing radically, and attempts to shore up yesteryear’s paradigm will do more harm than good.

Since I live in a medium-sized city with a great university library, tons of used book stores, and internet access, my only motivations for paying retail for new books are guilt and fear. I truly feel that I owe Barnes & Noble a little something for all of the time I spend in their coffeeshop browsing their magazines, and I’d hate to see them go under the way the independent shop (which I supported in the same manner) did.

E-books don’t satisfy those motivations whatsoever, and I spend enough time reading words from screens already.

#4 Comment By Mercer On February 8, 2010 @ 12:58 pm

” but I am perplexed as to why people will shell out $259 dollars for an item and then refuse to spend money to load books into it.”

There are a lot of old book titles available for free or low cost so why spend $15 for a new title.