Please don’t buy a Kindle this Christmas

I’ve long had a love-hate relationship with the Kindle. It’s a nice gadget, and I like nice gadgets. But Amazon makes it hard for Australians to buy the model of their choice (the white Kindle 3 wasn’t available here, the Kindle Fire isn’t available here, the Kindle Touch isn’t available here).

In my view, as such they treat rest of the world non-American customers as second class citizens.

And once I actually got my hands on the model I wanted after a friend visited the US last year, I found the buttons clunky, the shape unwieldy for handbag carrying, and the lack of Australian content infuriating. I sold it on eBay two weeks later.

This Christmas, my feelings have swung further to the negative, so far, in fact, that I can’t see any way back.

When I discovered that my film director and academic sister, who loves indie bookshops nearly as much as I do, had bought her second Kindle, I felt the muscles in my shoulders tense.

When I learned that the communications director of a nearby not-for-profit writers centre had bought a Kindle for her partner for Christmas, I scolded her publicly.

But when I saw that the Copyright Agency Limited was giving away five free Kindles to entice members to fill out a survey, I was livid. Furious. Incredulous. I mean, seriously. As far as I’m concerned, the non-profit rights management organisation giving away Kindles is like the Slow Food Movement giving away McDonald’s vouchers.

After learning that Amazon has some 60 per cent of the US ebook market and perhaps a similar stake here, I decided the time had come to take anti-multinational giant action, so here I am, imploring you to reconsider your ebook and ereader buying plans.

Sure, Amazon’s books are cheap, but are you willing to sacrifice the livelihood of all our indie booksellers for the sake of a few bucks? When did you last attend a book launch, with free wine and cheese, in an Amazon store? And do you really want to own an ereader that locks you in, preventing you from buying and reading ebooks from other retailers like Booku.com, Gleebooks, Readings, Pages & Pages, Avid Reader, Shearers, Books for Cooks, Kobo, Apple and Google?

Can’t you see that it is the people behind our indies that promote great Australian writing? When did you last receive and act on a personal recommendation on an Aussie novel from an Amazon staff member?

I’m hoping you’re keen to buy books from a variety of sources, to support diversity in bookselling and in our literary culture. And I’m imploring you this Christmas to consider an iPad, an Android tablet, a Sony Reader or a Kobo instead.

There’s a red Sony Reader in my Christmas stocking, and it’s lighter and better looking than the Kindle (review coming soon). I’m just about to unwrap the Kobo Vox, which looks like a great low-cost tablet option too (review coming soon too).

Published by

Charlotte Harper

Charlotte Harper is a Canberra journalist, blogger, editor and publisher who has worked in newspapers, magazines, books and online. She runs digital-first non-fiction publisher Editia and covered book industry developments at ebookish.com.au before joining Booku.com. A former literary editor of The South China Morning Post, Charlotte has also written about books and technology for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Canberra Times. She once edited a mobile phone and gadget magazine, and is a published author, of a book about digital publishing – Weird Wild Web (Penguin Australia 1999).

10 thoughts on “Please don’t buy a Kindle this Christmas”

  1. You’re right, my apologies, you can read booki.sh titles on Amazon devices that offer a web browser. In the case of the e-ink Kindles, the only ones available in Australia, the experience was very ordinary for me, though. Web browsers on e-ink devices tend to be slow to react to swipes, typing etc in my experience. Also, obviously, they offer no colour, which detracts from the booki.sh experience (pretty sophisticated in a full colour browser) in many cases. Emmett, have you tried reading a booki.sh title on Kindle and had a good experience?

  2. You’re right, my apologies, you can read booki.sh titles on Amazon devices that offer a web browser. In the case of the e-ink Kindles, the only ones available in Australia, the experience was very ordinary for me, though. Web browsers on e-ink devices tend to be slow to react to swipes, typing etc in my experience. Also, obviously, they offer no colour, which detracts from the booki.sh experience (pretty sophisticated in a full colour browser) in many cases. Emmett, have you tried reading a booki.sh title on Kindle and had a good experience?

  3. I only have a wireless (non 3G) Kindle, so booki.sh books are only work when I am connected to the internet, which is a minor annoyance, but the readability is good enough. That being said, converting files from other vendors via Calibre remains an option for Kindle users, too. Up to a point though, I think novice users will tend to stay within the native ecosystem of whatever device they read on, while more tech-savvy users will avail them of whatever means necessary to access the content they want…

  4. I only have a wireless (non 3G) Kindle, so booki.sh books are only work when I am connected to the internet, which is a minor annoyance, but the readability is good enough. That being said, converting files from other vendors via Calibre remains an option for Kindle users, too. Up to a point though, I think novice users will tend to stay within the native ecosystem of whatever device they read on, while more tech-savvy users will avail them of whatever means necessary to access the content they want…

  5. Agreed and more. Even the more tech-savvy users can be too lazy to bother converting files. Me included (so far). My experience with the Kobo Vox is pushing me that way, though. I am having trouble accessing various different ebook libraries on it. Booki.sh titles work very well, and I managed to load the Overdrive Media Console to read a library ePub, but the Vox doesn’t seem to want me to access books from other retailers/distributors. Dipping in and out of any book on any bookshelf should be easier than this!

  6. Agreed and more. Even the more tech-savvy users can be too lazy to bother converting files. Me included (so far). My experience with the Kobo Vox is pushing me that way, though. I am having trouble accessing various different ebook libraries on it. Booki.sh titles work very well, and I managed to load the Overdrive Media Console to read a library ePub, but the Vox doesn’t seem to want me to access books from other retailers/distributors. Dipping in and out of any book on any bookshelf should be easier than this!

  7. I have to ask you, Charlotte, what are you trying to do here?

    Are you an intrepid investigator of the e-book world (on our behalf) or are you actually a fifth columnist agitating against anything electronic?

    Reading this post, the latter seems likely. Sure, Amazon are undercutting “our indie booksellers”. Perhaps they are doing it because “our indie booksellers” and the Australian book industry as a whole both charge far too much for their product.

    If you were genuinely interested in the e-book revolution, surely you’re have a more enlightened position than this?

    You ask, “When did you last attend a book launch, with free wine and cheese, in an Amazon store?”

    Don’t you know (i think you do) that the publisher (and therefore the author) pays for the launch? The book shop certainly does not. Why the mistruth, Charlotte?

    You say: “Can’t you see that it is the people behind our indies that promote great Australian writing? When did you last receive and act on a personal recommendation on an Aussie novel from an Amazon staff member?”

    I’ll be honest, Charlotte, the people behind the book stores you mention are sometimes nice and sometimes quite short and nasty. I know because I’ve been there. But no one I know walks into a bookshop and says “tell me what to buy”, sorry, but they don’t. And, yes, of course I’ve read the Amazon customer reviews. I take them with a pinch of salt, but I read them.

    Put simply, you might not care “for the sake of a few bucks”, but actually I do. Sites like Amazon enable me to buy 5 books where I could have only afforded 2 from an Australian bookshop. Maybe you don’t care that that that’s a 2.5-fold increase in book consumption. Maybe you earn plenty, I dunno. But for me, I sure as hell do care.

    Max

    1. Great comment, Max, thanks for taking the time to make your case.

      Of course price is a huge incentive, and we’re all looking for ways to save money to put food on the table. For the record, I work part-time juggling a young family with this and my other three jobs, so yes, book prices are important to me (the local library does very well out of us, let me tell you), but there are a lot of other factors in play here.

      To address each of your points in order, what I’m trying to do is encourage readers of this blog to consider options other than the Kindle because I don’t like the idea of there being only one or a couple of players in the book business, and all of them being based outside of Australia and built around technology/profits rather than culture/passion. In my experience as an editor, publisher and journalist, many of the best pieces of writing have come from organisations built upon the latter rather than the former.

      I wouldn’t describe myself as an intrepid investigator on anyone’s behalf. I am intrigued by developments in the industry and keen to share what I learn as widely as possible. I’m certainly not agitating against anything electronic. My iPhone, iPad and Sony Reader travel with me everywhere I go. I’ve been writing about technology since 1994. I’ve worked as a web producer on and off since 1997. I’ve taught online journalism and digital communications for several years too.

      Amazon are not undercutting our indie booksellers because the Australian book industry charges far too much for their product. They’re undercutting everyone in the market in a bid to build market share for their walled garden Kindle product line, thus locking 60%+ into buying books only from them. Once they’ve got you all hooked on their cheap prices and with libraries locked into their ecosystem, they’ll start raising the prices. I’d be willing to bet on it.

      That said, I do agree that Australian book prices are too high. There are many reasons for this (GST, the cost of transporting physical books around our vast country, the small margins given the tiny size of our market compared to US/UK/Canada etc), and the Book Industry Strategy Group has addressed several of them in its recommendations to the Federal Government. Hopefully we will see results in the near future. I’ve already noticed drops in ebook prices for many Australian books in indie stores powered by ReadCloud and Booki.sh as well as Kobo/Collins, Google/Dymocks and Booku.com in recent months.

      As for bookshops and launches, perhaps publishers pay for launches for their big name authors, but when Penguin published my book a few years back, the bookstore where the launch was held (Shearer’s) provided the venue, glasses/plates and some catering. A wine sponsor provided drinks. Penguin printed and distributed the invitations and sent an executive along to make a speech.

      I interviewed an independent bookseller recently about their business woes, and they talked specifically about the expense of hosting launches as a factor. They pay for all wine/food in order to encourage patrons to come the shop in the hope that they will buy the launched book but also develop a relationship with the retailer and come back to buy other books in the future. This bookseller said it was common to make a loss on a book launch as profits on books sold would fall short of spend on catering/cost of putting on extra staff. Max, how does what you’ve heard compare with these stories?

      I can’t argue with you re the occasional grumpy bookseller. Let’s face it, we all have our grumpy days. But at least booksellers have personality and we can have human interaction with them. I’m happy to buy many of my books online, but I’d like to have the option to interact with other book lovers in the real world too.

      I reckon people walk into a bookshop and ask for advice a lot. “I’m looking for a book for my nephew/godson/grandson, he’s 5, do you have any suggestions?”, “I read a review of a book that was set in Italy, about a princess, but I can’t remember the name, can you help me?” are a couple of examples.
      Anyway, you’re not alone in having embraced the Kindle. On top of those I mentioned in my earlier I post, I can add three more friends to the list of recent Kindle adopters after running into them this week, including one who is an academic book publisher, another who is a magazine editor and another who is married to a newspaper journalist.

      I have to say that when I showed them my shiny new Sony Reader, with its library books and cheap ebooks bought from many different vendors, its touch screen, and smart red case, they all took some time to take a close look, and compare it with their non-touchscreen, dull grey equivalents. “That looks pretty good, actually,” one said. “I really should find out more about it,” said another.

      Finally, I guess I’ll say that given how rapidly things are changing, this entire debate could be irrelevant within months. Even if it is, I’ve enjoyed thinking it all through, so thanks again for your comments, Max.

  8. I have to ask you, Charlotte, what are you trying to do here?

    Are you an intrepid investigator of the e-book world (on our behalf) or are you actually a fifth columnist agitating against anything electronic?

    Reading this post, the latter seems likely. Sure, Amazon are undercutting “our indie booksellers”. Perhaps they are doing it because “our indie booksellers” and the Australian book industry as a whole both charge far too much for their product.

    If you were genuinely interested in the e-book revolution, surely you’re have a more enlightened position than this?

    You ask, “When did you last attend a book launch, with free wine and cheese, in an Amazon store?”

    Don’t you know (i think you do) that the publisher (and therefore the author) pays for the launch? The book shop certainly does not. Why the mistruth, Charlotte?

    You say: “Can’t you see that it is the people behind our indies that promote great Australian writing? When did you last receive and act on a personal recommendation on an Aussie novel from an Amazon staff member?”

    I’ll be honest, Charlotte, the people behind the book stores you mention are sometimes nice and sometimes quite short and nasty. I know because I’ve been there. But no one I know walks into a bookshop and says “tell me what to buy”, sorry, but they don’t. And, yes, of course I’ve read the Amazon customer reviews. I take them with a pinch of salt, but I read them.

    Put simply, you might not care “for the sake of a few bucks”, but actually I do. Sites like Amazon enable me to buy 5 books where I could have only afforded 2 from an Australian bookshop. Maybe you don’t care that that that’s a 2.5-fold increase in book consumption. Maybe you earn plenty, I dunno. But for me, I sure as hell do care.

    Max

    1. Great comment, Max, thanks for taking the time to make your case.

      Of course price is a huge incentive, and we’re all looking for ways to save money to put food on the table. For the record, I work part-time juggling a young family with this and my other three jobs, so yes, book prices are important to me (the local library does very well out of us, let me tell you), but there are a lot of other factors in play here.

      To address each of your points in order, what I’m trying to do is encourage readers of this blog to consider options other than the Kindle because I don’t like the idea of there being only one or a couple of players in the book business, and all of them being based outside of Australia and built around technology/profits rather than culture/passion. In my experience as an editor, publisher and journalist, many of the best pieces of writing have come from organisations built upon the latter rather than the former.

      I wouldn’t describe myself as an intrepid investigator on anyone’s behalf. I am intrigued by developments in the industry and keen to share what I learn as widely as possible. I’m certainly not agitating against anything electronic. My iPhone, iPad and Sony Reader travel with me everywhere I go. I’ve been writing about technology since 1994. I’ve worked as a web producer on and off since 1997. I’ve taught online journalism and digital communications for several years too.

      Amazon are not undercutting our indie booksellers because the Australian book industry charges far too much for their product. They’re undercutting everyone in the market in a bid to build market share for their walled garden Kindle product line, thus locking 60%+ into buying books only from them. Once they’ve got you all hooked on their cheap prices and with libraries locked into their ecosystem, they’ll start raising the prices. I’d be willing to bet on it.

      That said, I do agree that Australian book prices are too high. There are many reasons for this (GST, the cost of transporting physical books around our vast country, the small margins given the tiny size of our market compared to US/UK/Canada etc), and the Book Industry Strategy Group has addressed several of them in its recommendations to the Federal Government. Hopefully we will see results in the near future. I’ve already noticed drops in ebook prices for many Australian books in indie stores powered by ReadCloud and Booki.sh as well as Kobo/Collins, Google/Dymocks and Booku.com in recent months.

      As for bookshops and launches, perhaps publishers pay for launches for their big name authors, but when Penguin published my book a few years back, the bookstore where the launch was held (Shearer’s) provided the venue, glasses/plates and some catering. A wine sponsor provided drinks. Penguin printed and distributed the invitations and sent an executive along to make a speech.

      I interviewed an independent bookseller recently about their business woes, and they talked specifically about the expense of hosting launches as a factor. They pay for all wine/food in order to encourage patrons to come the shop in the hope that they will buy the launched book but also develop a relationship with the retailer and come back to buy other books in the future. This bookseller said it was common to make a loss on a book launch as profits on books sold would fall short of spend on catering/cost of putting on extra staff. Max, how does what you’ve heard compare with these stories?

      I can’t argue with you re the occasional grumpy bookseller. Let’s face it, we all have our grumpy days. But at least booksellers have personality and we can have human interaction with them. I’m happy to buy many of my books online, but I’d like to have the option to interact with other book lovers in the real world too.

      I reckon people walk into a bookshop and ask for advice a lot. “I’m looking for a book for my nephew/godson/grandson, he’s 5, do you have any suggestions?”, “I read a review of a book that was set in Italy, about a princess, but I can’t remember the name, can you help me?” are a couple of examples.
      Anyway, you’re not alone in having embraced the Kindle. On top of those I mentioned in my earlier I post, I can add three more friends to the list of recent Kindle adopters after running into them this week, including one who is an academic book publisher, another who is a magazine editor and another who is married to a newspaper journalist.

      I have to say that when I showed them my shiny new Sony Reader, with its library books and cheap ebooks bought from many different vendors, its touch screen, and smart red case, they all took some time to take a close look, and compare it with their non-touchscreen, dull grey equivalents. “That looks pretty good, actually,” one said. “I really should find out more about it,” said another.

      Finally, I guess I’ll say that given how rapidly things are changing, this entire debate could be irrelevant within months. Even if it is, I’ve enjoyed thinking it all through, so thanks again for your comments, Max.

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