Big news for writers and publishers today is that sales of Kindle books have, on Amazon at least, overtaken those of paperbacks for the first time.
According to Amazon: “Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the company has sold 115 Kindle books.”
This is an astonishing rise to maturity for a market that many thought wouldn’t break through because of the ‘appeal of paper’.
My publishing goals are – at least currently – very Kindle-centric. I see the e-book as the future, although I am publishing in print (to reach the widest audience and as a marketing exercise, I make very little on the print copies).
Like many people, I love paper too. I love handling books, I love the smell, the touch – it’s a tactile experience. But I prefer the Kindle – vastly. With the Kindle, I can read and flip pages with one hand; you can’t do that with a book. My library is ready to cart around when I want to travel – all for the weight of less than one book. And the Kindle eco-system is superb: I can loan books to other Kindle users and whatever I’m reading is automatically kept in sync with my other ‘Kindle devices’ such as my iPhone and iPad. So, if I’m suddenly stuck with 15 minutes to spare and only have my phone with me, I can carry on reading where I left off on my Kindle.
And there’s that instant gratification: I can buy it, download it and be reading in less than a minute.
It’s not all upside of course. I enjoy browsing in bookshops and was gutted when Borders in the UK bit the dust. I’m sad that many bookshops will eventually go the same way – flicking through books is an enjoyment in itself. (On the upside, I can download 10% of a Kindle book and read it first to decide if I like it.)
The thing with change is that it’s unstoppable. E-books are the future – certainly not the entire future (has iTunes destroyed CDs or even vinyl? – nope) but the majority of it.
One of the most gratifying things about the rise of the e-book is that it is encouraging people to read more. Reading is a wonderful, absorbing pastime that could easily get lost in a world where entertainment doesn’t usually require much grey matter or a decent attention span. I think, with the rise of the e-book, we’re also seeing a renaissance of literary entertainment.
My two big major beefs are price and VAT. I’ve priced The Well at what I can only say is ‘highly competitive’ – less than £4. Sadly, many e-books cost as much or more than their printed versions. I was ready to buy Steven Johnson’s Where Good Ideas Come From on Kindle and didn’t – why? Because it’s £12.98 compared to £10.80 in print. I know that’s largely the VAT speaking (more of that in a second) but there are no physical costs with an e-book. It should be cheaper.
So: the VAT. Paying VAT on an e-book because it’s somehow a service and not a product is stupid and inequitable. It needs sorting out. But I doubt it will be, I’ve seldom seen governments be willing to relinquish income.
I’d also welcome a common standard across e-book formats, but I can’t see that happening – being proprietary hasn’t stopped Apple becoming the world number one music reseller. And I don’t think it’s going to hold Amazon back, either.