Kindle's Overpriced Content

from the hello-walled-gardens dept

On Friday, I expressed skepticism that e-book technology has reached the point where it will overtake the paper book. Now Amazon's PR blitz has begun, and so we're getting more details about the Kindle's features and pricing. I'm not impressed. First, there's the obvious point that the device's DRM will make a lot of customers wary of getting locked into Amazon's proprietary platform. But the even bigger flaw is the pricing model. Apparently, Amazon will charge you $1.99 for public domain books like Bleak House. Kindle also provides you with access to blogs, but only 250 of them (including Techdirt), and you have to pay at least a dollar a month for the privilege of reading what you can see here for free. And you can subscribe to the New York Times, but you have to pay $13.99 per month for that. This really seems like a strange pricing strategy. A lot of consumers will balk at paying for blog content they've always gotten for free online. Likewise, giving away public domain books would be a good way to spur adoption of the device at very low cost to Amazon. And it's weird to charge so much for a digital newspaper at the same time newspapers are dropping their paywalls online. Even the price for new books, $9.99, seems too expensive. Publishers don't have to print, ship, and stock e-books, so their costs are obviously a lot lower. On top of that, the demand for a lot of books is likely to be quite elastic—cut the price in half and you could easily double the number of sales.The one undeniably innovative thing about the Kindle is the free wireless EVDO access. The limits on access to Internet content may be an attempt to keep the bandwidth consumption down. But in a world where you can get an unlimited data plan for your iPhone for $20 per month, they should at least have an option for a flat rate "all you can eat" data plan, which would allow you to access Internet content and subscribe to an unlimited number of blogs, newspapers, and public domain books. Bezos obviously wants this to be the iPod of the printed word. But one of the crucial factors behind the iPod's success is that it gives you free access to content in open formats. You can rip your CDs and listen to them on an iPod. You can subscribe to an unlimited number of podcasts. With the Kindle, in contrast, Amazon apparently expects customers to buy an unfamiliar proprietary device, and then pay a premium to read content like blogs and public domain books that's available for free on the Internet. Somehow I don't think that very many people are going to go for that.

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Companies: amazon

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Comments on “Kindle's Overpriced Content”

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Matt (profile) says:

I'm on the fence

I don’t really think the content prices are all that high. The book prices are lower than what you’d pay for a similar item on and significantly lower than what you’d pay in a brick and mortar store. I really wouldn’t even mind paying $0.99 a month for access to blogs any time anywhere. Obviously, I’d like for them to be cheaper, but I’m more than willing to pay for good content delivered in a convenient package.

The real thing holding me back from a Kindle right now is that it’s quite clearly a first generation device. It’s got some great new features but it’s also ugly as sin, the interface looks clunky, and the price on the actual device itself is astronomical. Within 6-12 we’ll almost certainly see a better looking, better performing, better everything version of the product selling for less money.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Re: I'm on the fence

For starters $9.99 is just the price Amazon is charging for new releases. There are many more books available for quite a bit less than that, some as low as $1.99. Not to mention that the cost of wireless bandwidth is rolled into that price.

Besides, I’m not saying that the prices are the best in town. I’m just saying that they’re not that unreasonable, particularly to someone moving from regular books to an eReader. This isn’t like the cellular providers music services, where they’re charging 3-4 times what people normally charge for the content.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: I'm on the fence

It’s 99 cents per month per blog. I don’t know about you, but I follow several dozen blogs, so it could easily cost me $50/month just to keep up on the blogs in my RSS reader.

So if you guys are complaining so much about the cost of the blog, why is TechDirt one of the blogs you can subscribe to? Seems a little hypocritical to me.

As far as the eBook reader goes, one feature I would love is the ability to throw in a keyword and search the books for content, or “skip to page x” sort of setting so I can look up words in the index and skip right to the page. Until eReaders can do that, I am not interested.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: I'm on the fence

So if you guys are complaining so much about the cost of the blog, why is TechDirt one of the blogs you can subscribe to? Seems a little hypocritical to me.

How is it hypocritical? Amazon came to us a while ago (to be honest, I had totally forgotten about the deal until this morning) and asked us if they could offer Techdirt content for sale on the device and we told them that we didn’t think anyone would pay, but go right ahead. We didn’t have any say in the price, and if we did, I would have suggested they just give it away for free.

Our policy on the use of our content has always been the same: do what you want with it. That doesn’t mean we don’t think people do dumb stuff with our content all the time, but it doesn’t mean we’re going to try to restrict them from using our content.

Now *restricting* them from using our content… THAT would be hypocritical. If they think they can get people to pay to read what we’re giving away free, more power to them.

TheDock22 says:

Re: Re: Re:2 I'm on the fence

Now *restricting* them from using our content… THAT would be hypocritical. If they think they can get people to pay to read what we’re giving away free, more power to them.

I am assuming, of course, Amazon is giving you some cut of whatever they sell. If not, then no that doesn’t sound like a very fair deal for anyone involved.

Anonymous Coward says:

1) cut the price in 1/2
2) allow me to send whatever I want to the device (LIT, PDF, TXT, RTF, DOC, ect)
3) allow me access to the net via WiFi

I’ve got no problem with the DRM for there books, but I’ve already got a growing library of E-Books in other formats, I’m just looking for a good reader with a better screen than my PDA right now.

Craig (user link) says:

It seems to me the EV-DO isn’t very “free”. If you’re getting charged for public domain books, blog subscriptions, and overpriced newspapers, it looks to me like they’re just shifting the cost of the EV-DO to you with the high-profit margin on the content. Not to mention, the price point of the device itself was a bit of a turn-off for me.

Matt (profile) says:

Re: Craig

I keep seeing this argument made against the device, and I don’t understand it. Quite frankly the way the cost of wireless is handled is one of my favorite things about the device.

I have more subscription services than I want as it is. The last thing I want to do is have another monthly bill just so that I can download books onto this device. The way Amazon has this set up is so hassle free that I could really care less if they’re marking up the bandwidth. It’s worth it to me. This way I can pay for the bandwidth I need, when I need it and nothing more.

Were this a multi-purpose device like the iPhone, then I could see the need for more robust wireless plans, but for something with such a singular purpose, I really think Amazon has hit on a winning solution here with their wireless service.

Anonymous Coward says:

Is it really so hard for anyone to develop an e-book reader? I simply don’t get it. For success you need just a few things really, but none of them can seem to offer all if any of them in one single product. Most importantly is format support, LOTS of them. Doc, Rtf, txt, html, lit, pdb, and whatever adobe’s format was. Those formats make up almost everything that you can get an e-book on for the most part. Then you need a good form-factor, I want my reader to look like a book. Both left and right screens, it simply fits the natural viewing field of the eye better than anything currently on the market. I’m in love with the idea of a clamshell style DS type product which is slightly bigger. Then a good control scheme, I’d rather the buttons be on the side of the book than on the front, where it takes away from the words on the “page”. a scroll wheel, and a few buttons, maybe limited touch screen support. A long battery life, and a very large memory(possibly run off flash cards). Thats freak’n it. I cannot see for the life of me why some company can’t get this. None of them want to make a useful product, they want to make a product which locks you into using it on their terms.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Gotten Lazy

Too many businesses have gotten used to the monopoly pricing model. They all dream of locking customers into their service and then riding the money train. They want to have a very large piece of the pie all to themselves. Most businesses have forgotten that it is often better to have a small piece of a very, very large pie than it is to have all of a very small pie. Of course, they all fantasize that the product will be huge and they will have all of it to themselves. That just does not work unless you have a massively compelling product. iPods would not have become a phenomenon if you could only play iTunes downloads on them. A relatively small percentage of the music on iPods is from iTunes, but Apple still makes good money.

Bill says:

no way

I’ll just keep reading them on my phone and DS. If you already have a Nintendo DS spend $30 on a flash card, put the the DS on the lowest brightness setting, use one of the ebook readers. You can hold the DS vertical like a book with left and right pages. I don’t need a big fancy expensive eink screen for $400 that’s locked down with DRM.

Too Much $$ (profile) says:

It is a nice attempt

1. The device is butt-ugly. Three years of development and this is the form factor they came up with? A group of grade school kids could have come up with a better design.
2. Price point is stupid. $400 bucks is just simply too much for a technology that replaces a $10 book. You leave a paper back on a bus so what? You leave this behind and you will want to slit your wrists.
3. The EV-DO is a slick. They clearly wanted to a solution that didn’t require a PC and I applaud them for the effort.
4. Book pricing is short sighted. If current e-books cost 30-50% less than than the hard-copy version it would make the entry price for the device more attractive.
5. Public domain books should be available for free. Period. It is stupid to charge $$ for something that is available elsewhere for free.
6. Blog pricing is dumb and dumber. If I read it correctly they will charge $.99 per blog. Considering I get them for FREE why should I pay Amazon anything?

Matt (profile) says:

Re: It is a nice attempt

“4. Book pricing is short sighted. If current e-books cost 30-50% less than than the hard-copy version it would make the entry price for the device more attractive.”
They do cost 30-50% less. This is what I don’t understand about the complaints about content pricing. The ebooks ARE cheaper than regular books. A few examples:

A Thousand Splendid Suns
List Price: $25.95 Price: $14.27 + Shipping
Kindle Price: $9.99

I Am America
List Price: $26.99 Price: $16.19 + Shipping
Kindle Price: $9.99

Water for Elephants
List Price: $13.95 Price: $8.37 + Shipping
Kindle Price: $6.70

Taylor Harris says:

Re: Re: It is a nice attempt

The pricing for eBooks compared to NEW Hardback books is good. However when compared to the price of paperbacks (Amazon), used books (Amazon), and the public library it just doesn’t add up.

If I absolutely had to have a new release I would be happy with $9.99. However for paperbacks I think that somewhere in the 4-6 dollar range makes more sense.

Speaking of libraries – they offer printed material to the public for “free” (pd by tax payers). Why not offer free eBooks as well?

ramster says:

Saying that $9.99 for an electronic version of a book is reasonable because it’s less than the $15 Amazon price is seriously out of whack. It’s wrapped in DRM which will become obsolete and likely unusable in N years (where N=1,2, 5? recall MS plays4sure, discarded with the Zune. It’s becoming clear that most DRM schemes will be abandoned by their vendors after some time, rendering purchased content unusable). In addition to buying books for reading, people buy them for signaling (look at my collection of Proust!…in French no less), which can only happen if it’s sitting on their bookshelf (how many people actually read Stephen Hawking’s book?). This is much more true of books than music. With music, you can tell people about all the music you have. You can tell people what book you’re reading right now. Telling people what’s in your library is lame.

Given all these limitations, an e-book is worth much less than a physical book (less than 50% the price of a physical book, maybe much less). As far as $1.99 for a public domain book, as others have mentioned, this is purely a bandwidth cost for downloading over the EvDO network. . Why would people possibly pay for public domain material over the air when that can sideload them over their home internet connection. It’s not like someone riding the bus says “I need to read Bleak House RIGHT NOW”).

Joe (profile) says:

Pricing Model is broken

Sorry if any of you think Kindle is a good buy then keep thinking it. Personally I don’t see the value. Why am I going to pay $400 for a book reader, and then have to pay up to $9.99 per book plus tax? Plus subscriptions for free content.

I know there is some type of cost for the network but if I’m paying $400 for a reader you would think i’d get all newspaper subscriptions and blog fees free for the first 2 years along with 5 free books of my choice (even limit it to 1 new book, and 4 older paperback type books)

It just seems like a rip off when you compare what you get for other devices of similar price (Ipod Touch for example) or the Iphone w/ subscription fees for AT&T. At least those devices do more than just 1 task and they look good doing it.

I can’t wait until Ipod Touch/Iphone add an ebook aspect to their service. Maybe they are waiting to do it when they have the color figured out for the digital ink.

Scott says:

Per-book and blog fees makes sense - just priced t

the “free” blogs and public domain books are not “free” – you pay DSL rates to get them. If amazon gave away blogs and PD books, the air time would kill them. They have to recoup that somehow and they do it with each book/blog sold. That part should make sense to everyone here. As far as how much, I agree – it’s way out of line. And, I too agree that the device should allow all open formats to be loaded (PDF, etc.).

And, how about google maps on the thing – of all the things I would like in a device when I travel, that is the biggest one. Of course, this thing is not very high-rez.

Nismoto says:

Re: Per-book and blog fees makes sense - just pric

No, we don’t pay DSL rates to get free blogs and public domain books. We pay DSL (and by DSL I mean all broadband) rates for EVERYTHING online, free or not.

Broadband is universal and used for work, play, crime, love, education, etc.

With that being said, I do like the wireless charges being built into the pricing (sorry, Tim, it’s not free): just let me pay for what I use when I use it.

Unfortunately, nothing beats the good ol’ book. After I’m done reading a book I always pass it along to someone who hasn’t read it yet. Kind of like a “pay it forward” type of thing.

ramster says:

A comment on the pricing of the EvDO service. Assume a typical 500 page text e-book in compressed form is about 300 kbytes. So $1.99 for the public domain book translates to a data price of 0.67 cents per kilobyte (i.e. 0.0067 dollars per kbyte). Verizon’s $60/month data plan for their 1xEvDO service gives a limit of 5 Gbytes a month, which translates to 0.0012 cents per kilobyte. This means that Kindle downloads cost about 500 times more than Verizon’s standard data service using the 1xEvDO network. Not exactly what you’d call a bargain. Anyone who buys this thing is a sucker.

Michael Ward (profile) says:

Pricing, payments, formats

Too expensive, extras also too extra expensive. Perhaps the second version will be cheaper. But I like the wireless approach they came up with.

At 99 cents a blog, does that mean they pay TechDirt a percentage for each person who subscribes?

How come no PDF? If you’ve got a fixed display size, PDF is an easy win. They don’t even have to rent it from Adobe; there are plenty of software shops that can do PDF renderers for them. Someone at Amazon has his brain wedged.

victor (user link) says:

Why Amazon's Kindle Project Will Fail

Enjoyed reading your post. And …. I am in total agreement with your comments.

I am the founder of Bookyards, a free online library that has been on the web for the past 6 years. My comments and observations are too long to be put here. I invite all those who are interested to read my post on this topic at my blog

scate says:

Even the price for new books, $9.99, seems too expensive. Publishers don’t have to print, ship, and stock e-books, so their costs are obviously a lot lower. On top of that, the demand for a lot of books is likely to be quite elastic—cut the price in half and you could easily double the number of sales.

The price is especially high since Amazon won’t let you re-sell or give away your “purchase” once you are done with it.

Amazon is being very, very hypocritical about re-sale and transfer. When amazon started offering used books some author’s and publishers objected. Amazon held fast and said that people had a right to resell their books. However, when it is Amazon’s cash on the line they sing a different tune.

Kindle’s DRM/resale/transfer policies suck. And, as has been pointed out earlier in the comments, companies often abandon their DRM’d platforms and leave customers holding useless media that can’t be accessed. Stay away, far away from Kindle.

Michael Long (user link) says:

Missing the point.

As this points out, anyone who complains about blogs not being free is missing the point.

Yes, you can get the blog “free” as long as you’re at home connected to your piad DSL line, or connected to the internet at a coffeeshop with free wifi… but what about elsewhere? What you’re paying for then, is not so much the blog as it is for the blog and for the limited EVDO connectivity needed to access it from practically anywhere, at any time.

And it may not be a solution for you, specifically, but it may be just the ticket for someone else. Either the price is too high, or it’s not. If too high and there aren’t enough buyers, they’ll drop it, or not. And if you think it’s too high, then you can always vote with your dollars, or lack thereof.

But I think it’s way, way too soon to call the game. Anyone remember “No wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.“?

gbert (profile) says:

I-Phone Data Plan for only $20?

Where did you come up with an unlimited data plan for $20.00? Dataconnect Unlimited on ATT is $59.95.

Seems you just throw unverified facts around. It makes me question the validity of all your facts.

oh, hold it. this isn’t a professional news thing, it’s just some idiot’s blog. What was I thinking?

Andy says:

DRM, no thanks. Give me real books.

There is clearly opportunism in the way publishers price the electronic versions of their books. Not having to turn the book into print saves them a fortune, but this is not reflected in the price of electronic books. And DRM is their holy grail. They have for years wanted to stop us lending and selling our books. That’s where DRM comes in. The best thing we can do is refuse is buy into this. Let each of these bomb until it sinks it that we won’t accept any DRM.

Cat Faber says:

DRM and other issues

There are real issues with DRM, but I don’t think spreading FUD is helping.

First, Amazon doesn’t lock you into DRM. Yes, the Kindle will display e-books with Amazon’s DRM, but it will also display plain text and unprotected Mobipocket files, which are available many places on the net. For instance the Gutenberg Project–those public domain books you don’t want to pay 2$ for? You can find them there for free, and they’ll work fine on the Kindle. Baen Webscriptions also sells individual books if you don’t want to buy them 5 for 15$, and has a Free Library with a lot of in print books for free–their formats include Mobipocket.

When I get a Kindle, I expect I’ll buy some Amazon books–the convenience is a selling point, and so is the selection even if I have to hold my nose and deal with the DRM. But I’ll check other places first to see if I can get what I want without DRM from Baen or someplace like that.

If you don’t want to pay for free blog content (and I’m not wild about it either, but might consider spending a buck a month on one for the convenience of having my favorite blog at my fingertips) you can fire up the included experimental web browser and read them free off the Web like anyone else. The format won’t be pretty, but the text will all be there. On the other hand, the pay version will be nicely formatted for the Kindle and automatically downloaded.

I’ve never heard about an unlimited data plan for the iPhone for 20$ a month. One reason I never nerved myself to buy an iPhone was the high monthly cost of service, without which the iPhone is a very expensive and stylish brick. If you know where to get an iPhone plan for 20$ a month I’d be interested in learning about it. If it doesn’t include people being able to call you on the phone, that’s a bonus as far as I’m concerned. Let me know. My e-mail is on this message.

Laurencegoldman (profile) says:

Amazon rips you off by charging for free books

After constant stream of $1.99 here, $2.99 there, I got fed up. I get a daily BookBub mail, but rather than compulsively clicking BUY-I now google the same title “Title-free PDF download” about 60% of the time I can find a free EPub/Mobi file which I email to my Kindle mail address. It feels so good to stick it to Amazon who already controls half the world. If no ePub, often there’s an file that can be borrowed.

Go for it.

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