More Falling Prices and No e-Publishing in Decatur

by Egatz

As the summer draws to a close, we see dropping prices of Kindle e-readers faster than wet bikinis in a Minnesota February. In its Microsoft-like frenzy for market domination, we’ve seen Team Bezos do everything from sell e-books at loss to multiple revisions of their kludgey hardware.

Now, following the Kindle’s move into Target stores, Amazon has partnered with Staples to sell their hardware to people buying book bags, Number Two pencils, and the chiropractor’s ultimate wet dream: the sub-$100 Staples office chair. If anyone remembers shopping at a Staples for printers and computers, they’ll quickly ascertain where this venture is going to go. Consumers might buy the Kindle at Staples if:

  1. The Kindle is priced cheaper there than anywhere else.
  2. Consumers already know they want a Kindle and why.

Hoping to get knowledgable assistance on digital device purchases at Staples is like hoping for accuracy at a British Petroleum press briefing. It brings back memories of overhearing a Sears saleswoman trying to sell a Macintosh a few decades ago. “It comes with four em-bees,” she said. “What’s an em-bee?” asked the customer. “I don’t know, but it says it here.”

After the smallest Kindle hit the $140 pricepoint, Borders followed suit with dropping the Kobo e-reader to $130. The bottom of the barrel Aluratek Libre was dropped to a buck shy of the magic $100 barrier. Cover your head and watch for further falling prices as more people see through the reality distortion field on one trick pony black and white e-readers.

Media giant Sony is still scrambling to be a relevant player in the e-book business with their new Sony Readers. Betting their farm they know more than the Great and Powerful Bezos, Sony is gambling

  1. Consumers want touchscreen technology. (Good)
  2. Consumers will pay more than they would for the Kindle. (Bad)
  3. Consumers don’t care about wireless technology in their e-reader. (Split decision, at best)
  4. Consumers know plastic feels cheap, so Sony has moved to aluminum. (Good)

The new $180 Sony Reader Pocket Edition has just a five-inch display and a USB cable to suck books off your computer. The $230 Sony Reader Touch Edition weighs in with a six-inch display and a USB cable. Both these models have no wireless connectivity. Rounding out Sony’s offerings is the Sony Reader Daily Edition with a seven-inch display, 3G and Wi-Fi for a whopping $300, but isn’t shipping until November. We expected considerably more from the company which changed the world by introducing the Walkman, but then again, they also introduced the MiniDisc and watched the iPod make them largely irrelevant.

Queue for Beneath Stars Long Extinct signing, Decatur Book Festival 2010.

I’m writing this from the Decatur Book Festival, where thousands of readers are navigating gauntlets of dead tree books, handmade soap vendors, and special interest group tents. I’ve seen a only single digits of depressive writers slouching up against walls and staring blankly into their e-readers. Oddly enough, the discussions on the future of publishing here have almost completely ignored e-book technology. Aside from a few informal talks among old colleagues, e-books are off the radar here. There wasn’t one official seminar or event devoted to how all these readers and writers are going to be consuming and publishing books in the future. At least there wasn’t one e-publishing event I could find, but it’s been a few days of being directed to the wrong location by well-meaning volunteers, and I’m not the only one sent marching in the wrong direction in this hamlet.

I find the lack of e-publishing seminars astonishing, and the Decatur Book Festival isn’t alone. The technology is here, now, and available to a confused public. Writers are even more in the dark about what the shift away from physical books means to them and their livelihood. This would’ve been the perfect venue to begin an informative dialog. It’s as if we’re a nation of zombies who get in their car every morning, start it up, and not even think about the consequences to both ourselves and future generations.

Wait. We already do that. What the hell was I expecting?

How much you wanna make a bet things will be different at next year’s Decatur Book Festival? As a publisher, author, and reader, I look forward to being part of the panel discussion.