Monday, January 25, 2010

Amazon shenanigans

There are thousands of people, I suspect, who would answer 'Amazon' with no hesitation if you happened to ask the name of their favourite store. I'm one of those thousands. Amazon makes burning my hard-earned money extraordinarily easy, and enjoyable too. So in one sense I'm a big fan of the corporation. But alongside my fandom there is a whole other story, and the more I learn, the more distrust I have for their pronouncements, and their statistics.

We'll rest aside their crazy, secret 'algorithm' for determining sales rank. I've watched the ebb and flow of the stats for my own book over the past year and a half and I have good reason to believe that marketing imperatives cover a lot of sins. It's a lot of fun to watch - for me anyway.

So what's in my cross-hairs today? None other than the vaunted Kindle e-book reader. I have no problem with those who prefer to buy and read their books this way; it's not my thing, but whatever floats your boat, as the saying goes. I have friends who don't read much but are excited over the e-readers. If the Kindle toy gets them to buy more books I'm all for it. From the perspective of the author, sales are sales. My real issue here is the hype about the Kindle and book sales over the Christmas period. My skepticism kicked in from the start, and it was interesting to discover I'm not alone in this. Then there's this fascinating tidbit from Galleycat - that 60 of the Kindle's top 100 'sellers' are free books. I can't make up stuff like this; here's the Kindle bestseller list.

Here's another writer who doesn't buy the hype.
And another skeptic.
What's with us skeptics?

Claim #1: The Kindle e-reader has become the most gifted item in the company's history.
Mysteriously, no sales figures are provided. Give us the numbers, boys, or we won't take you seriously. So you've sold more Kindles than, say, Hanes hi-cut cotton briefs via the gift lists? Um, whatever.

Claim #2: Amazon's customers purchased more Kindle e-books than physical books on Christmas Day - a first for the company.
Say it ain't so! If the claim that hordes of buyers gave the gift of Kindle for Christmas is valid, it's not a stretch to imagine that all or most of those who found a Kindle under the tree on Christmas morning started downloading e-books right away. Those who gave actual dead-tree versions of books would have done their shopping BEFORE the big day. How about you tell us the ratio of physical books to digital books sold in the lead-up to Christmas? How about the period after the holidays? I'd really like to see those figures and make comparisons.

Misleading claims about the size and growth of the e-book sector do a lot to feed the gloom and panic in which the publishing industry is mired right now. Yes, the industry is changing. That's life for you: change, or die. Yes, the e-book sector, and sales of e-readers, are growing. But here's the reality check: e-books sales are currently 3% of total book sales. It's a growing sector, and no one knows how far this trend will go, but my guess is that paper books will be here for a while yet. Amazon, however, knows that hype moves goods. If I'd gambled many millions in developing the Kindle I'd be making these claims too, no matter how far out of shape they stretch reality.


Anonymous said...

I changed my mind about getting a Kindle because I am not sure if I wanted to change the model reader if I could transfer my Kindle books to a different model, say the iPad for example. If the answer is no, then I will stick with paper. There are too many problems the Kindle creates and I am not sure they are solving any of my paper book issues - I have none.

You can download the Free Kindle PC application from Amazon and enjoy some of the so-called free books. Free to people in the US but not outside. There is also the problem of many books I want to read being Not Available in Your Region. I don't want to be told by anyone that my Region is inferior and what I can put on my bookshelf, even if that shelf is a Kindle by Amazon. Until Kindle gets its International Act together, I will treasure my paper and won't Gift Kindle to anyone either.

Phyllis Bourne said...

I love my Kindle, but I'm a gadget junkie. It makes life a lot easier travelwise. My suitcases used to be loaded down with books. Now I can carry a bunch on a single device.