Amazon's eBook Competition

Lately the e-ink and eBook readers have been gaining popularity, and the price war has been heating up, with Kindle dropping to $79 and Barnes and Noble following suit with price cuts. It really is the next stage in the book reading experience with finally the electronic readers being in the “buy it to try it” price range. Diana and I both have e-ink readers and I like mine so much that I am actually considering getting another one before this one is even a year old. The e-ink is really nice on the eyes, and it’s nice to know that I can toss it in the bag and always have someting interesting to read. The Kindle itself is enhanced completely by Instapaper which is a kind of way to port the tldr reading on the web to a format where I’m actually more apt to sit down and go through it. It also has the advantage of splitting the content from the ads most of the time.

Because I like to read books on the Kindle for many reasons, usually when I am surfing around and I see a book recommendation, I’ll check it out and see if it’s available for the e-readers that we have in the house. As Marco Arment, creator of Instapaper and ad-hoc e-ink reader reviewer noted recently, the library advantage of Amazon has been going away recently.

The thing that annoys and confuses me lately is that the Kindle price is most often several dollars more than the cost of getting a paper copy delivered to my door. Let’s look at the same books that Marco looked at:

Book Kindle Physical (new) & Type
Walter Isaacson: Steve Jobs $14.99 $17.88 Hardcover
Steven King: On Writing $12.99 $10.88 Paperback
Nicholas Sparks: The Best of Me $12.99 $10.19 Paperback
Jeffrey Eugenides: Middlesex $9.99 $9.48** Paperback
David Simon: Homicide $9.99 $8.98** Paperback
Haruki Murakami: Kafka on the Shore $11.99 $10.85 Paperback
George Carlin: Last Words $9.99 $6.00 Paperback
Thomas Sowell: Basic Economics (4th Ed.) $17.68 $19.99 Paperback
Scott Berkun: Confessions of a Public Speaker $9.99 $11.55 Paperback
Michael Lopp: Being Geek $9.99 $16.48 Paperback
Steve Hagen: Buddhism Plain and Simple $9.99 $9.60 Paperback
Don Norman: Living with Complexity $14.72 $16.47 Hardcover

In more than half of the 11 cases where you can buy the book on the kindle, it is actually cheaper for me to get a new physical copy that I can carry around, and more importantly, I can give away or resell later. These aren’t even the most aggregious that I have seen in my searching, since they are skewed toward some newer books. If we really want to go crazy, some of these books are available at the bargain price of $.01 (plus $3.99 shipping of course), which is less than half of the cost of the Kindle book if I’m willing to get it in the horribly used state of “Acceptable”. Something is wrong with this model - it is encouraging me to buy the book in a form which is less convenient for me, certainly more cost to the publisher, worse for the environment, and most paradoxically at more cost to Amazon itself.
Amazon doesn’t like this of course, most of the ones where it’s cheaper to get the copy physically have displayed prominently This price was set by the publisher. It’s becoming clear to me that once these lower prices start making e-readers more ubiquitous, the competition isn’t the Kindle versus other readers, who have all almost have a price parity nowadays, but versus the physical copies of their own books.