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 tear...so that it has to be replaced.

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


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