Last year Amazon proudly reported that its Kindle e-reader was its best selling item. If I’m honest I wasn’t entirely convinced it meant anything because of the enormous diversity of the other items sold by the company but it was good PR and it was a definite straw in the wind. I can hardly claim that the Kindle is not a success; I bought one myself and on the train each day you can start to see their prevalence. My review of the latest version is high on praise for the device which does effectively exactly what it says on the tin.
So why haven’t I picked mine up in the last three weeks? Has the novelty worn off? Might it turn out that I prefer books, as I always thought I did? Or does it have more to do with content than the device itself?
I have bought a lot of books over the last few weeks but not for the Kindle. The offers on brand new softbacks have been spectacular both on the High Street and on-line (the latter by no means limited to Amazon – take a look at this link to see what I mean – http://bit.ly/fxOz5p) and these offers have supplanted the attractions of the new format. So is this the old media fighting back? Certainly Waterstones claimed that they were not going to pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap but the evidence of my local store suggests that that policy may have been amended in favour of quality but has not been totally abandoned. Meanwhile on-line Waterstone e-books no longer attract affiliate commissions thus ensuring that hard and soft backs get more marketing attention. W H Smith too have a steady flow of offers and deals including the weekly special £2.99 on popular literature in conjunction with the Times Newspaper.
Meanwhile what of Amazon? If anyone has an interest in promoting the sales of product for its Kindle it must be Amazon but my experience has been that it was hard to find product because there was just too much of it and the filters were inadequate. I also thought that Amazon had blown it because their pricing was wrong. The last time I looked in the Kindle Store my immediate impression was that it was considerably more attractive to buy the paper back (if it was available) than the e-book. However when I started searching Amazon for examples of this today I was surprised to find that this was no longer the case.Take for instance the latest Kate Atkinson – Started Early, Took My Dog. The e-book is £3.14, the softback £4.49. That seems to me to be exactly as it should be – the digital version slightly cheaper than the hard copy. The Girl who played with Fire, Solar and Room all follow the same pattern.
This makes me wonder if I have come across a total non story. Digital cheaper than analogue! Read all about it!
Perhaps. But I am sure that only a week or so ago the price discrepancy was such that I tweeted about it in some annoyance.
What I am sure is that Amazon need to improve their filtering. If you go to the Kindle Store and then filter e-books by “best-selling” you will see that a lot of the cheapest titles are at the top of the list. Cheap in this context means under £1 the majority of which are by authors you have never heard of. That can be annoying if you are not feeling adventurous and just want to buy something you will enjoy by an author you know (but you don’t want to limit yourself by searching by name). It’s the great attraction of the high street book shop. You stand gazing at the titles and see what takes your fancy.
By the way if you search by price, low to high, you will have to wade through quite a few pages of totally free books, largely out of copyright classics and many you will never have heard of.
Fortunately I think Amazon are well on their way to solving the problem. The home page for the Kindle Store now has a series of categories and if you drill down you can see the 100 best-selling items in that category with prices (the vast majority of which were under £5.00). There is a separate list for free books. I guess that tells us at the least that not many people are prepared to pay more than a fiver for an e-book. For example if you search for Le Carre you will see that his Our Kind of Traitor carries a whopping £11.99 price tag, more expensive than either the hardback or the paperback. You might expect to see this book normally in a best seller list but surely not at that price. I see that the e-book states that the price was set by the Publisher and this seems to reflect the agreement Amazon reached with McMillan and other major publishers last year to allow them to set prices for their books. It’s hard to imagine that Le Carre level prices will do anything to help sales although there may be a considerable increase in profitability if and when a sale is made.
I would love to see the Amazon e-book sales figures since Christmas. I can’t help wondering if they were a tiny bit disappointing and that as a result there has been a rethink on pricing and presentation. Perhaps after its spat with McMillan Amazon wants to show just how competitive the market is.
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