How Many Kindles Does It Take to Top Amazon Sales?

November 30, 2009

I never quote verbatim from an entire blog post, but how could I do this one from the WSJ blogs any better?

By Andrew LaVallee said Monday that the Kindle is having its best month ever. As always, however, it didn’t say how many sales that amounts to.

The online retailer said in a press release that its e-book reader has been the best-selling, most-wished-for and most gifted item on its entire site for November, even before today’s (a.k.a. Cyber Monday) sales are counted.

The news also comes as Kindle’s competition struggles to get devices into consumers’ hands in time for Christmas. Barnes & Noble said Sunday that its Nook reader won’t be available in stores until Dec. 7, and noted earlier that only customers who ordered one before Nov. 20 would receive it for the holidays. Sony said two weeks ago that it would ship its Reader from Dec. 18 to Jan. 8 but couldn’t guarantee the delivery date.

As many have noted, those delays are good news for Amazon. The company, however, is notoriously cagey about Kindle sales, with executives typically saying they’re pleased with the device’s performance and growth prospects — nothing more.

Gizmodo’s take on the Amazon announcement cheekily broke down the steps to becoming a best-seller:
Step 1: Market a device for two whole years
Step 2: Issue a price drop a few months before the holiday season
Step 3: Remain the exclusive retailer for said device
Step 4: Profit! (To an extent that is completely and intentionally unclear to everyone!)
“Anyone who wants a Kindle and doesn’t normally shop at Amazon has to make an exception. Anyone who wants a Kindle and doesn’t normally shop online has to make an exception,” Gizmodo’s John Herrman wrote.

The lack of a numeric figure hasn’t deterred analysts from speculating on Kindle sales and the health of the e-reader market overall. In October, Forrester said it sees Kindle sales of 900,000 during the holiday season and 3 million for the year — up from an earlier estimate of 2 million. Piper Jaffray is expecting 750,000 Kindles to be sold in the fourth quarter, citing Amazon’s advertising and “fading” competition.

Goldman Sachs said that its holiday spending survey found that 6% of U.S. consumers plan to give an e-reader as a gift this year, and Nomura said it sees U.S. e-reader sales reaching $20 million by 2014.


Literary Review’s 2009 Bad Sex in Fiction Prize Winner Announced

I’m not certain if I can justify this posting as in any way representing the future of publishing, but I know that I can’t resist reporting on it.

November cover

As noted on the publication’s web site, “The Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award was inaugurated by [Evelyn Waugh’s son] Auberon Waugh in 1993 to ‘draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it’. The prize is not intended to cover pornographic or expressly erotic literature, and is limited to the literary novel.” (One of the nominees John Banville, shortlisted this year for some vividly-evoked action in The Infinities, told the Irish Writers Centre that, since this is his second nomination, he may “steer clear” of sex henceforth, so perhaps this does represent some clue to the future of publishing after all.)

According to the UK’s Guardian site, the winner was Jonathan Littell for his novel, The Kindly Ones. Excerpts from this year’s nominees are available here. I found some earlier ones on the Guardian.

The prize is variously described as “a ‘semi-abstract trophy representing sex in the 1950s,’ which depicts a naked woman draped over an open book,” and as “a statuette and a bottle of champagne” (in the New York Times).

Not coveted, but surely an important award.

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Book Publishing and DRM

November 29, 2009

Mike Shatzkin once again nails a tough topic with his blog posting, “Some thoughts about piracy.” DRM remains a tough subject for all, be they music, film, periodical or book publishers. Of course each face the challenge in somewhat different ways, both by dint of economics and because of practical realities.

As Mike points out, “the question of DRM-or-not in the ebook world is a very complicated one, although opponents of DRM often paint it as very simple.” Of course it’s not.

For fiction writers, not currently thinking of their text as subject to revision, the problem looms large. But for non-fiction authors, as Mike points out “every editor knows plenty of authors of non-fiction books that wanted to keep writing and changing and adding past every deadline the house presented. Let the new process start with those; there will be plenty of candidates.” Quoting the generally on-topic Tim O’Reilly, Mike notes, “obscurity is a greater threat to most authors than piracy.”

Check out (and subscribe) to Mike’s blog. It’s always thought-provoking. And as all topics on the future of publishing are intertwined, you will always be informed.

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Why the Kindle is Safer than Print

November 27, 2009

For the last two days I’ve been reading a good old-fashioned paperback novel. Written by Steve Hely, published by Grove/Atlantic, Inc., it’s called “How I Became a Famous Novelist.” I don’t remember how I first heard about it, but I ordered in from the West Vancouver Public Library and picked it up yesterday. As was promised by the press coverage it is hilarious, a brilliant satire of the world of bestselling authors.


Yet, I’ve now realized, the book reveals two reasons why paper is more dangerous than Kindles (and presumably other eReaders). The problem stems from turning paper pages too quickly. On page 23 of the book the fictional narrator, a hack writer of essays for illiterate college students, becomes upset at a series of profiles in The New York Times on bestselling novelists. He reads a few, and then in disgust turns a page so fast that he gets a paper cut. That WOULD NOT happen on a Kindle!

To make matters worse, the glowing endorsement on the front cover of the paperback, credited to The Brooklyn Alternative, states: “I was turning the pages so fast they nearly burst into flames.” I’ve investigated and apparently they did not in the end burst into flames, and the reviewer suffered neither physical nor psychological trauma.

But keep this in mind. You can turn pages as fast as you wish on a Kindle (actually one of the complaints about the device has been that screen refresh is a little slow, but let’s ignore that quibble) without ever worrying about this eReader bursting into flames. I can’t even find any complaints about overheating: it’s a low energy device.

So this Christmas, as you consider purchasing Mr. Hely’s marvellous “How I Became a Famous Novelist” from Amazon for $10.08 (same at Barnes & Noble if you’ve got a membership), or buying your loved ones a Kindle for $259, just keep in mind that the Kindle may be safer, but “How I Became a Famous Novelist” has not yet been published as an eBook.

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Magazine Closures: Trying to Understand the Numbers

November 25, 2009

As reported in MediaDailyNews, according to figures released by, part of Oxbridge Communications (the “publication of record” on all data related to North American magazine publishing companies and their titles), 383 magazines closed in the first nine months of 2009, compared with 259 new titles launching (emphasis mine). 

However “the number of closures in 2009 was smaller than 2008, when 525 titles closed and 335 titles launched (again, emphasis mine).”

If the magazine publishing business is so awful, why is more than one new title launched for every title shuttered?

You could venture that there are too many egotistical fools out there, and also the many of the launches are small (while a lot of the closures of the last couple of years have been very large), and this would be true, but surely does not explain the whole story.

I think the whole story is that the U.S. and Canada (and of course many other countries) have enormous wells of creative, entrepreneurial talent, and many people with these strengths will remain willing to challenge some crazy odds, and embark on some (apparently) crazy ventures. Many will fail; the others will help clarify the path ahead for the rest of us.

Follow-up: Very good short backgrounder from the MPA: “Misperceptions about Magazine Closings.”