Kindle: The Book to End All Books?

I asked for a Kindle for my birthday. Not because I want to purge my shelves of the clutter and dust of physical books. Not because I have a long commute and want to know for sure that I’ll never be without reading material. Not because I love gadgets and had to lay my hands on this one.

No. Because I want to know my enemy.

I mean, I’m a writer, and from what I’ve been reading on the Web, the Kindle and other e-readers are going to turn writers into volunteers rather than professionals. There will be no money to be made in writing anymore, because e-publishers will offer writers such tiny advances–if they offer any at all–that writing simply won’t be a viable way to make a living (except in the case of a chosen few, who are already such recognizable brands–think Stephen King–that they will be able to self-publish at the click of a mouse, thereby increasing their own profit margins immensely.)

E-publishers will recompense writers poorly not because they are exploitative, but because they themselves will be battling to keep the wolf from the door. You see, to make e-publishing take off they’ll have to discount their e-books so deeply  that, even taking into account the lack of printing costs, their own margins will become so thin as to be almost non existent.  As for brick-and-mortar bookstores, they’ll go the same way record stores went.

Remember record stores?

With no store fronts to show off new titles, e-publishers (and almost all publishers will now be electronic) will have to get the word out about ‘big’ books in other ways. They’ll have to spend money on Internet advertising, obviously, but they will also need to develop alternative strategies to attract readers. Most are already developing these strategies. New communities of readers in every genre will spring up on-line. Publishers will hire people whose only job will be to blog and chat on-line, talking up one title or another. Book trailers will become a thriving new business, and an art form in themselves. Teaser podcasts (one chapter only) will pop up all over the place. Some writers will try to sell their product directly to the market, cutting out all middle men. Most will fail, of course, but a few will create dazzlingly successful careers.

And where will this leave me and my writer friends whose names are not yet brands? I’m not really sure. Maybe small advances will be okay, because maybe we’ll be receiving big royalties. After all, it’s so much easier to buy a book when all you have to do is click a button with your thumb.

Think about it. Buying a real book means getting into a car. Driving to a store. Spending time selecting from a host of covers. Standing in line at the check-out. Pulling out the cash or credit card and handing over a good chunk of money, possibly as much as $25 for a hardback. Then driving home. It takes a major commitment of time and effort before we even get to the cash price of the whole exercise.

Buying a paper-and-ink book online involves spending even more, because you have to stump up for shipping and handling. And then there’s the lengthy wait until the book lands in your mailbox.

But buying a book from Kindle is perilously easy.  You’re slouched in bed late at night eating Halloween candy, and suddenly you have an urge to read the latest cozy chain-saw killer thriller.

No problem! You just click over to the ‘store’, find the book you want, select ‘Buy’ and click the button. That button doesn’t even make a sound. The whole thing is effortless. Seconds later… ta da! Instant gratification. You’re deep in the woods with the crazy chain-saw serial killer.

You don’t even have to enter those pesky credit card details over and over again; that very first time, when you buy the actual Kindle, is enough. All future transactions just go onto your card with barely a blip. You hardly even know you’re spending money! Of course, you’ll see those transactions again at the end of the month on your credit card bill, but the books are so darn cheap, what does it matter? I mean, four or five dollars a pop, who cares? Right?

Of course, they do add up.

But still. Maybe people will start buying books like chewing gum, without a second thought. I mean, a book is no longer a big commitment. You don’t have to find a space for it in your house. You don’t have to pack it up in a box when you move. You don’t have to display it as evidence of your reading tastes, or hide it away somewhere in shame. All the books you own, now, are intangible. Nothing to show for them at all, just the plain leather binder of your Kindle.

So maybe the volume of books sold will soar, and this alone will be enough to allow writers to generate sufficient income to keep at it. After all, writers and artists are traditionally the starving classes, aren’t they?

On the whole, I’d like to believe that the advent of Kindle and other e-books won’t entirely kill off writing as a profession. Quite possibly, electronic publishing will spawn a huge amateur writer class, who will e-publish at will, with no gate-keepers to keep out works that don’t seem commercially viable. But will any of us be able to make a living at it anymore? Let’s wait and see.


  1. Sherry on November 9, 2009 at 9:29 pm

    As an unpublished writer, I have had occasion to wonder what the new e-book readers would mean to my chances at becoming the next Nora Roberts (I mean, don’t we all want to become the next Nora Roberts?) I don’t know if that will ever happen … but here’s something I do know.

    Since I’ve gotten the Kindle, I don’t read anything that can’t be downloaded. It’s true, books on Kindle are less expensive than their hardbound counterparts — but that just means I can buy more! And I don’t have to leave my house. If I’m in a festive, Christmasy mood, I go onto Amazon and put Christmas Kindle books in the search bar and find dozens of books I might not ever have thought about reading . And with the convenience of downloading a sample of each of these books (usually at least one chapter, sometimes more), I know before I buy it if it’s going to be a book I have a good chance of liking, rather than one I’m going to wind up throwing across the room in frustration. Then, if I like the sample, I click on the “Buy Me” option and, well, like Elise says, one minute later it’s there. It’s like Christmas every day!

    The primary result of my Kindle obsession is that I have expanded my reading material immensely. Rather than just reading romance, if I’m in the mood for a thriller, I can download a thriller … a mystery, a Regency, whatever. It’s all at the touch of my fingers. I don’t have to go haunt bookstores to find a new author who sounds promising. I merely have to access the online search engine of Amazon. Which means that, in the short time I’ve had the Kindle, I’ve read more new authors and expanded my horizons to enjoy different genres than I’ve ever done before. And I’ve found quite a number of these new authors to be very talented and will be watching for any future installments they may release. So, that’s a big plus for the new writer. Name recognition may be what sells the most books in the bookstore, but how great is it to be able to buy a book based on topic, sample chapters, and the abiilty to read the book immediately? Face it, we’ve become a society of instant gratification. If I can find a book I’d like to read and download it, knowing that, even though I’m currently in the middle of something else, this new, intriguing novel is going to be sitting there waiting for me to read later, I’m going to do it. Sooner or later, it’ll get read (unlike some of the hardbound books that I bought and “put somewhere” then never seemed to find the time to read). As it stands right now, I’ve got over 116 books on my Kindle and am currently reading three or four at a time (a slightly schizophrenic way of reading, but it works for me). And the beauty of it is that I just bounce from one genre to another with the touch of a button and when my mood changes or the story gets to be too intense, I can bounce back to my cozy mystery and never have to wonder where I left off.

    So, all in all, I think the Kindle and other e-readers will be a good thing for new writers, allowing us to be competitive with the bigger names in the book stores. With all the changes to the publishing field these days, this one is, in my opinion, a change we should embrace rather than fear.

  2. elisechidley on November 10, 2009 at 3:26 am

    Hi Sherry, good points! I must admit that, as a reader, I’m really enjoying the convenience of the Kindle. I don’t find it easy to browse for books I haven’t heard of, though–but then I’m still learning how it works.

  3. Mary R. on November 10, 2009 at 2:16 pm

    have to admit, I’ve been somewhat intrigued by the whole idea of a Kindle, but I have to say that much like my new ipod, or my new blackberry, the endless possibilities tend to intimidate, rather than liberate me. I guess I’m just an old fashioned kind of girl at heart; I drink “classic” Coke, I still buy CD’s, I boil my tea water in a kettle on the stove, never in a microwave, I use my land line more often than my cell phone, and I like the smell of bookstores, and holding a book in my hands, and the feel of its pages… not to mention the proud satisfaction of seeing the collection of books I’ve read sitting on the shelf, like hash marks, keeping track of my progress!

    I suppose having two children born on the cusp of the 21st century means that I will, most likely, hold a Kindle one day, given as a gift. However, I suspect it will end up going the way of several other well-intended gifts, like the electronic crossword puzzle thingy and that new skinnier, sleeker wallet that was supposed to free me of the clutter I was carrying around… No, for now, I think I’ll stick with an actual book in my hands and a proper cup of tea, thank you!

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