LOS ANGELES, CA — Consumers aren't the only ones not buying the Amazon Kindle pitch. At a presentation by Amazon.com representatives at Book Expo America on Saturday, publishers proved an equally tough sell. The reps held a special session to introduce publishers to Amazon's tools for uploading, publishing, and managing inventory for the Kindle. While the Digital Tools for Publishers system is slick and easy to use, the company wasn't particularly transparent about questions regarding the size and makeup of the market for Kindle e-books.
The representatives declined to discuss sales numbers of the Kindle, only saying that it's generally first or second on the list of best selling items in the retailer's electronics category. And there was no information about demographics — a critical piece of data to book marketers, where the sheer number and breadth of subject matter in published titles, combined with limited marketing budgets, mean that niche audience appeals are critical.
Publishers receive 35 percent of the list price they set for titles per sale. However, larger publishers who move lots of physical units can probably negotiate better deals, and even get physical books converted to e-book format for free. But the Amazonians declined to comment on specifics due to antitrust concerns — belying their role as price-setter for the entire publishing market in print and otherwise.
Later, I dropped by the Amazon booth to see the Kindle in the wild. There were maybe three or four units on display, each closely held by a spokesperson. Visitors weren't even allowed to handle one of the devices for themselves, presumably for fear they'd walk away with one.
But giving them away might have been a smart move. Nothing sells the Kindle like the Kindle, not even the price cut to $359 from $399 that Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos touted in his speech Friday. A three-figure price point simply won't get the devices into the hands of readers fast enough to make the market for content worthwhile for publishers anytime soon.