The Kindle line basically started the digital reading revolution. They were neither the first nor the best when they appeared, but Kindles were the driving force behind it. Amazon got too powerful, customers likes affordable eBooks too much, and publishers freaked out to the point of getting involved in what seem to be fairly illegal activities while trying to counter all that. We’ve been over all that before. The big question now is “Why are Kindle eBook prices still so ridiculously high?”
I’m not just talking about the results of the DOJ suit against the publishers over their adoption of the Agency Model. I’m glad that’s happening, and I wish them all the luck in achieving a decisive conviction, but even those publishers who have chosen to settle already will not have had much of an effect just yet. I’m more concerned with common sense.
The most obvious side of this is the obvious dislike of the format. Publishers want physical media to be favored because it is more easily controlled. eBooks are too convenient and most especially too easily pirated, so we have to expect these publishers to try to persuade people to stick to proven methods, right? Some variation on this argument is likely to come up in any defense of the Big 6.
I’ll be honest, I’m not even going to address it at length here beyond saying that it flat out ignores the facts. Study after study demonstrates that piracy either increases or fails to affect overall spending as a trend. It’s unintuitive, so I don’t blame them for being slow to catch on, but surely somebody employed by these companies could do some research that goes beyond ominous warnings of the dangers of piracy like those thrown around by the MPAA. Maybe I’ll go into more detail on that another time.
Even assuming that was too hard to grasp, however, there is plenty of easy to understand information about adapting to a market that does away with the concept of limited supply. The most dramatic example comes from the video game industry where Valve CEO Gabe Newell explained a while back that briefly discounting media by 75% had unexpectedly resulted in sales numbers jumping by a factor of 40. I’m not saying the two industries are directly analogous, but clearly there are signs that digital distribution needs to be approached a bit differently.
There have been a few signs that publishers were tentatively trying to figure all this out. Some short-lived discounts have popped up, and last summer’s Kindle Sunshine Deals promo comes to mind as a large effort to feel out the market. It still seems like the biggest motivator for these publishers is a desire not to change.
They have a good thing going and can basically control the entire publishing landscape when they work together. The Kindle, along with its eReader competitors, is an unknown. If it were embraced, somebody else might figure out how to do things better and that would be bad.
I have no idea when this will change, but it can’t come soon enough. All that publishers have managed to accomplish with this ridiculous behavior is temporarily setting back Amazon by shooting both themselves and their customers in the foot.
Nobody really wants traditional publishing to be completely out of the picture, but lately they’re doing more harm than good. One of these days they will have to realize this and Kindle owners everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief while stocking their digital libraries.