Reality Marches On

by Egatz


Amazon’s latest push into the e-reader market are two new versions of Kindle. As with previous versions, the PR muscle is hard behind these models, set to ship 27 August. Priced a dollar short of $140 and $190, it seems Amazon is competing with Apple’s iPad in the only space they can: price. These models are smaller and lighter than previous Kindles, but still only do one thing, and they do it in black and white.

I received a huge amount of reader mail over my announcement I’d consider purchasing a Kindle for fifty dollars or less. Some readers saw the logic. Others ranted about free market pricing. Some said the Kindle should be given away, like the old razor blade practice: make the money on the software—the content. Others said they’d avoid the whole issue by continuing to purchase dead tree editions of books.

For those vitriolic responses citing free market economics, you’ve answered the question yourselves. Amazon is faced with iPad, which Apple’s suppliers can’t make fast enough to meet demand. Priced significantly higher than Kindle, the iPad can do a whole lot more, and with the App Store, there’s virtually no end to what developers can make it do in the future. Amazon has responded in turn, first by buying a touchscreen technology company, but before that acquisition can bear fruit, the best Bezos and crew can do is lower the price of what they’ve got. People are voting with their dollars.

To the readers who said the Kindle should be given away, or, more accurately, sold below manufacturing cost, I have mixed feelings. Microsoft built an empire based on giving away product to dominate market share. Their lack of innovation despite millions upon millions of dollars in research and development each year has been astonishing. Will Amazon fall into the same trap with Kindle? On the surface, things aren’t promising. They have no track record of creating and delivering products people want. They’re essentially a database company with a massive shipping component.

Amazon’s history and business model aside, the fact is they’re already undercutting Apple’s e-book sales by selling e-books at a loss in order to gain market share. This has publishers livid, but as long as they’re getting paid what they negotiated, they don’t have much to say about it. Will they continue this race to the bottom by taking a massive loss on hardware, too? It doesn’t seem unlikely. For many years after they first started selling books, Amazon rode the .com bubble by operating at a loss in order to become the Walmart of online selling. Many on Wall Street decried this business practice as unsustainable. Fortunately for Amazon, with well-planned growth into non-book products, they survived.

In the simplest of terms, e-books are here to stay. The planet is changing, and the publishing world must follow suit. Something with no less authority than the planet Earth is making it happen. Yesterday, even The Wall Street Journal has reported on The State of the Climate in 2009 report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The short story, kids, is something has inexorably been set in motion. You can blame your parents and grandparents for this one, and every day we do nothing about it, well, you can blame yourself for that, too.

Here’s the short version, and climate change deniers can stop reading now. The oceans are warming. Good for humans frolicking on beaches, bad for our long term survival. As the seawater temperature increases, phytoplankton, a drifting plant so small it can’t be seen with the naked eye, dies. Unfortunately, phytoplankton is a lynchpin in the food chain. The health of the oceans and marine life depend on it, and we’re running out. In fact, NOAA reports we’ve lost about one percent of phytoplankton each year for the past forty years, at least. That’s right. We’re down 40%. This means less food for marine life to eat, which means less fish for humans to eat, on top of massive deregulation of the fishing industry since the early eighties.

What the hell does tiny phytoplankton have to do with e-books? Trees reduce they temperature of the planet. It’s probably to late to see a reversal any time soon in the warming trends our ancestors have set in place for us, but that’s no reason to not try. If you’re not interested in planting a tree, maybe it’s time to start buying your books as e-books.’s selling them cheap.