I had a conversation today that got me thinking about what Amazon Kindle might be doing wrong.
I think we can all agree that they have done a lot right, in terms of selling ebooks - as their 70-80% of the market share proves. The Kindle is a fantastic e-reader, and as a dedicated device, I wouldn't recommend anything else. They make buying books ridiculously easy with 1-click (i.e. 1-crack). They make publishing books easy, too, for the big six, indie publishers, and self-pubbed authors alike.
Aside from eliminating the agency pricing model, which is a given - for me, there are two things that come to mind that would make the experience at Amazon a better one for readers and authors alike.
First would be allowing self-published authors to offer books for free. I understand that there's bandwidth and delivery issues involved as a cost, but they offer it to the Big Six publishers (and others as well - you'll notice Samhain Publishing offers free titles, and they're an indie) why not to self-pubbed authors? Even if we had to pay a fee for doing so, I think we'd all agree the boost in exposure would be worth it.
The second thing would be to give away a free ebook to everyone who buys a print version. As a reader, I know there are certain books I will always buy in print, as long as print exists, because I'm a fan and collect them. Stephen King books, for example, in my case. But I also want to read that book when I'm sitting at my son's wrestling practice or waiting at my daughter's orthodontist appointment, and I don't want to have to carry a huge hardcover with me. (Have you ever lifted one of the tomes SK has written? They're like doorstops!) I want it in ebook form, too. But if I want it...I have to pay for it. Again. And of course, because of the agency model, I may have to pay just as much (or more!) for the ebook version as I do for the hardcover! That just makes me mad.
I think Amazon Kindle is in a unique position to offer this option. Excessica publishes all our print books through Amazon's CreateSpace, and it would be easy, I would think, to link the systems together and give the reader an ebook version when they buy a print version. And it would also marry the idea of print-and-e together. It would send the message that they're not mutually exclusive, and Amazon isn't trying to "kill print books" with ebooks. (Even if they are... shhh!)
I also think they're setting the bar too low setting the price point at $2.99 for a full-length book, but that's something I've talked about before - and I'm gathering data together to see if my theory that pricing full-length books at $3.99 and $4.99 and even $5.99 doesn't hurt (and may even help) sales. That's something that Amazon doesn't really control, aside from the royalty option they've set up. It's the thrifty Kindle readers who seem to think that, after paying $200 for an e-reading device, content should be "nearly free."
I think Amazon Kindle has done a lot for ebooks - but I also think they need to pay attention to the trends and possibilities. The good news is, I think they are, and they will. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw them offering the "free" option to self-pubbed authors and a complimentary copy of ebooks with a print sale as well. After all, they're now offering their popular 70% royalty rate on books sold in the UK.
The good thing about Amazon is they pay attention and listen to authors. Which is more than can be said, it seems, for big publishing.