Frances Kuffel


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In Defence of Kindle and the Reader

April 26, 2010

Tags: digital books Kindle Sony Reader royalties State of Publishing

I was chatting with my agent last week who was bemoaning the State of Publishing. Mind you, in the thirty-one years I've been in or around the business, we have been bemoaning the State of Publishing. In bad times, there were stock market crashes. In good times, there were buy-outs and mergers. Bantam Doubleday Dell, for instance, were once three separate publishers that merged together and then, eventually, were merged into Random House. The rules changed about imprints within the company competing in auctions or who we could submit work to.

Still, the State of Publishing is pretty bad right now. One event coordinator in the Northwest told me that their store had hosted a couple of readings by local authors and no one showed up. (Was I ever grateful I had a decent audience.) When houses are being repossessed and people are loathe to buy a new refrigerator, it's hard to slap down twenty-five bucks on a new hardcover.

"And then there's this whole digital book mess," she said.

"I think it will be the saving of us," I responded.

She was shocked. "How can you say that? The book prices are so low!"

"What's the royalty on a Kindle sale?"

"Twenty-five percent," she said.

"OK, so ten percent of a twenty-five-dollar hardcover is two dollars and fifty cents. Twenty-five percent of a ten-dollar Kindle book is...two dollars and fifty cents. AND it's a one-off."

"What do you mean?

"You can't resell a digital book. You can't loan it. You can't donate it. The price makes purchasing easier to swallow and if you have a whim in the middle of the night or during a blizzard, you can still get your book immediately."

"Ah," she conceded. "I hadn't thought of it that way. Should you write about this"


I can't believe that my reasoning hasn't been written about in the trade magazines or the press, so I'm sticking it up here.

Is the reader hurt by the digital book? Of course. The device itself isn't cheap. You can't use it for academic purposes because at least the Kindle doesn't have page numbers. There are other drawbacks as well, but the main one is that you might not be able to get The Girl Who Played with Hornet Tattoos at a garage sale for a dollar or at a used bookstore for five dollars. You can still buy it used at Amazon or other resale sites -- for about fifteen dollars.

Which is five dollars more than you'd pay on your Kindle or Sony Reader.

And which cheats the publisher and author out of their ninety and ten percent of the cover price respectively.

But there is always the library. And remember: the more you take out books from the library, the more support libraries will get in this State of the Economy, and the more you'll contribute to that book's inevitable wear and that it has to be replaced.

At ninety and ten percent of the cover price for publishers and author respectively.


  1. May 4, 2010 6:22 PM EDT
    I've also been looking at both sides of the Kindle. As a reader, I do have a lot of those "whims in the middle of the night", or while traveling - and it's soooo easy and tempting to hit that "Buy Book Now" button, instead of waiting for the light of day and hopping the bus to Borders. On the other hand, I resell used books on Amazon, and as you said, you can't resell an eBook. So more and more these days, I'm waiting to hop that bus. But every now and then - I do like to hit that button!
    - Chrissy the Stooges Woman
  2. May 18, 2010 1:38 AM EDT
    defense or defence?
    - Anonymous
  3. December 19, 2010 9:57 AM EST
    Hi, Frances. I'm going to see if Amazon has Angry Fat Girls for my Iphone kindle reader now! (I'm in a place where I can't get English books easily--another reason downloadable sales are great).
    Thanks, and best,
    - Anonymous
  4. March 20, 2011 4:01 PM EDT
    i debated the kindle issue for a little while and in the end....i bought it. i like the idea that i can "buy" f. scott fitzgerald and d.h. lawrence...for not even a thin red dime. i like the idea that i can act on a whim....the blizzard thing is a non-issue in florida. and the price of a new release is enticing times you need the weight of a book, the feeling of paper in your hands and just the general heftiness and "there-ness" (is that a word?) of a book. the re-sale issue is again a non-issue...i have a hard time relinquishing a much-loved book and i do re-read them. all in all...while i do "kindle", i also "paper"
    - sandiemac
  5. July 31, 2011 5:14 PM EDT
    I finally took the ebook plunge (a Nook, in my case) last spring. While I love the process of turning pages and perusing library stacks (or bookstore stacks) having a gazillion books ready to read at a moment's notice is pretty cool. I have actually upped my reading quotient considerably - over 30 books in five months time, compared to an average of two a month previously? (my reading generally takes place while waiting for a meeting to start, while enjoying a quiet meal, or winding down at the end of the day.) Perhaps the fact that it's electronic appeals to the laptop-addicted part of my personality.

    I've read some thoughtful books self-published in e-book format only, that I would never have experienced otherwise. I've also gambled on books that I might not have bought off a shelf (I just finished "Passing for Thin" and have begun "Eating Ice Cream with my Dog" - the book formerly known as "Angry Fat Girls," as a matter-of-fact.)
    - Cousin Juju
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