Monday, July 26, 2010

The Kindle Problem

By Steve Weddle

“You know the big problem you’re going to have with your Kindle?” my wife asked me the other day.
I’d just finished ALREADY DEAD by Charlie Huston. Dang, what a nice book. I had to explain to people what I was reading. “Yeah, it’s a vampire book but it’s got great characters and all this plot and these factions and such cool science-tech stuff and it creates this world” etc, etc. The kind of talk in which people only hear the first part, then hang on to something there and don’t hear anything else you say. You know, like if you came home and said, “Yeah, honey, I was naked in a room with her, but it was because my clothes burned off while I was carrying the handicapped kids out of the burning orphanage” etc, etc.

So, anyway, one of the nice things about the Kindle is that people don’t see the cover. “Hey, Weddle. You make fun of vampire books. Now you’re reading one? Haha. You’re an asshat.”

When the Kindle first came out, some paper, let’s say it was the NY Times, did a story about how the uber-skanky romance novels were increasing in sales figures by a gazillion percent because folks could hide what they were reading.

Yeah, what you’re doing is reading in private, much more so than if you had that paperback with naked people and fat-fonted titles proclaiming your genre love. Ashamed to read “Star Wars: Attack of the Dark Sith Demon Spy Prophecy”? Read it on the Kindle. Penthouse letters? On the Kindle.
Which, sorta ties in to what my wife was saying about the problem I was going to have with my Kindle.

I’d had the Kindle for a couple of weeks when she’d mentioned that, but I’d been reading on the Kindle app for much longer. On my iPod Touch and on the new Blackberry. Nice little app with tons of books available. I’d read ebooks for years on the Palm Pilots and then the Zire and then the Palm Treo. So I knew a little something about reading ebooks.

The downside of the Kindle, and in almost all ebooks, is that you can’t pass them along when you’re done, as my wife had pointed out.
When I’m done with a book, I tell people how awesome it is. Unless it’s crap, of course. Then I tell them that.

I’ve loaned out GUN MONKEYS probably eight times. I doubt I’ll ever see my copy of WINDUP BIRD CHRONICLES, again. When the HOGDOGGIN hardback was accidentally $6 at Amazon, I picked up a few copies to hand off to folks. JT Ellison. Charlie Huston. If you come to my house (please don’t) you won’t know how much I love these books, because they’re not in our library. They’re out. I loan out a Nathan Singer book, then someone buys a couple more of his and sends one my way. Book sharing. A great way to learn about new-to-you authors.

And a big shortcoming on ebooks.

Amazon makes a big deal about how you can “share” your ebook among six devices. Uh, yeah, if they’re all your devices. If I own a Kindle and an iPod Touch and a Blackberry, which I do, I can read the same book on all three, syncing up wherever I leave off. That’s great, but it ain’t book sharing.
As is often the case, my wife is right. (Though, I think I should point out that last summer when she said I would break my fool neck if I tried to clean the gutters again in the same haphazard manner I devote to all my homeowner chores, well, I didn’t. So there. In absolutely no culture, past, present or future, is a broken elbow the same as a broken neck. So there’s one. It’s like 2,372 to 1, but still, it’s something.) So my wife is correct in seeing early on how much this is going to bug the hell out of me.
So when I read a book I like, I have to buy it for someone and mail it to them. Which, as my wife pointed out, is probably a good business model for Amazon.

A $20 hardback brand new can be passed around and resold used and account for at least seven or eight readers. An ebook is for one reader.

So, yeah, the Kindle is absolutely great for reading books.

Turns out, it’s pretty damn smart for selling books, too.


John McFetridge said...

Of course, The Onion nails it.

Price point will be key. The last couple of hardcoves I bought were closer to thirty bucks (Ellroy's Blood's a Rover was thirty-five in Canada) and even the trade paperbacks were close to twenty (Donna Moore's Old Dogs was almost twenty bucks and then there was shipping from the UK on top of that).

If the e-books were priced at five bucks that would be six e-books I could buy and give away before getting to the cost of the hardcover.

And let's face it, I don't have six friends.

So, e-books will change our view of books, I think, a little for the better (cheaper, easier to get hold of) and for the worse (cheap, disposable).

But really, think of all the fancy ladders you could buy with the money you save on books...

David Cranmer said...

Thanks for summing up my thoughts. Folks have been asking my opinion and I now can direct them to this post.

Bryon Quertermous said...

Yeah, but see, the reason you need to loan out and share a book is because nobody wants to drop $25 bucks on a book they aren't sure about. But if you recommend Gun Monkeys on the blog and I can go and download it for $7 or whatever for my Kindle I will. Bam. The author gets a sale, everybody wins.

Steve Weddle said...

John, I gotta spend more time at the Onion.

David, Glad I'm not alone on this one.

Bryon, Thanks for breaking out the math-ninja skillz. My problem with that is I can't buy a Gun Monkeys ebook gift card to send you. I can send you a $10 Amazon gift code, but that ain't the same thing. Right? If I could BUY an ebook and send your way, that would be good, but when I buy it, the damn thing DRMs to my account.

Ron Earl Phillips said...

The Kindle kills a couple forms of free marketing. One which you mentioned is recommending and lending books. And you touched on the second. Yes, you can hide your dirty little secret that you love shiny vampires, but then you proudly show the world you love Charlie Huston's take on vampires and that he writes a damn good crime novel.

Without having books in peoples hands publicly,you don't have that gravitas to start conversations or seek out books you see others reading.

Not everyone wants to hide what they're reading.

BTW, if you haven't read any other books by Huston, they are all pretty darn good. Nice bite sized books.

Financially I wouldn't mind saving money for all the books I'm reading, but then I'm torn by not having a visible library. Oh how we race into the future.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I guess I will probably end up buying on but I can't say I am excited about it. I'm plugged into machines enough. And so I will be plugged into a final one.

pattinase (abbott) said...

There were so many typos in that, it makes no sense. Which is why I will soon be plugged into my last machine.

Naomi Johnson said...

If you think ebooks are disposable, the ereader is even more so.
The Nook Problem

Steve Weddle said...

REP: I enjoyed CHuston's Hank Thompson trilogy. I've read four or five of his books now and still haven't found one I don't love.

Patti: I've only had mine for a couple of weeks, but the e-ink screen really makes it feel much like a book. Sounds stupid, I know, but there it is.

Naomi: :(

Unknown said...

I like Kindle because in many cases I can easily download ebooks that are comparatively lower in price. Aside from that, I don’t have to worry about losing a page from a books and also preserving those books.