Is Kindle Going to Kill Us?
It’s been a year since Amazon first reported earnings in which book sales were flat, but Kindles were in such demand that stocks were empty and back-orders were stretching into the tens of thousands. Since then, we’ve seen Kindle mature into a stable platform, Sony offer a competing digital reader, the much-ballyhooed arrival of the iPad, and a slew of imitators that also provide digital book-reading capability. Sales of electronic books are accelerating, and the obvious question is, what does the future hold for online booksellers?
I have not noticed any slack in demand yet, but I have felt the need to be more competitive in setting prices. Most of my business is done on Amazon, where the Kindle version of a book is generally priced a few dollars lower than the book version… and in some cases, lower than the used book price. So far, the adjustment needed to bring a used book below the Kindle price is minor (usually less than a dollar), but we all know how those adjustments can add up over time.
The hidden cost is that tracking Kindle prices means more work for me. We are in need of new tools to catch up – many of the inventory and price-check apps do not include Kindle price listings, but the time has come that they should.
Certain categories of books look to be more vulnerable to difficulty for online booksellers. Mainstream fiction, which comprises the bulk of electronic book sales, could become a used book ghost town – it’s way easier to download that summer beach book than it is to order it, wait for it to arrive, and then have it sitting around when you’re done with it.
I recently heard from a teacher friend that the textbook publishing companies are very enthusiastic about entering the e-book arena – it eliminates their publishing costs, and provides advantages to students who are tired of lugging around ten-pound books. Obviously, for those of us in the used textbook market, this is not a good thing!
What Won’t Change
I don’t think there will ever be such a thing as a ‘collectible’ e-book, at least not in the way that we know the term. So books that are valuable due to their age, scarcity, enduring popularity, because they are autographed, etc., are not going to suffer at all. They might even gain in value further, as the idea of real books becomes more quaint.
I think we’re still a couple of years away from seeing e-books have any real impact on used bookselling. For most readers, the pleasure of reading a book remains in holding it, turning the pages, and having an actual book! I don’t think the older two or three generations of Americans – still the most enthusiastic readers – will ever embrace e-books as a replacement for the real thing.
Bottom-line: In the short term, most of us online booksellers are not going to notice an impact from Kindle, iPad, and the other electronic reading devices. But these devices are not going away – over time, as the technology develops and the number of titles proliferates, their effect will be noticeable, particularly in the fiction and textbook sectors.
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