The new Kindle Oasis is a very slick looking piece of kit. It looks like it came from the future, even though we’ve been surrounded by e-readers and tablets for nearly a decade now. It’s also expensive. Really expensive compared to the entry-level Kindles which Amazon supports with advertising. How expensive is the new Kindle, which remains, remember, a single use device? It will cost you more than an iPad Mini 2.
Amazon is infamously secretive about sales figures, algorithms, everything. But I think I can detect a few moving shadows in the dark. For a couple of years now the Beast of Bezos has been downplaying the role and importance of free books. When Amazon first opened the floodgates of self publishing it put the frighteners on the old school publishing houses by flooding the market with hundreds of thousands of free and super cheap books by previously unpublished authors. It started the first self publishing gold rush, which Amazon being Amazon smashed flat couple of years later with a few tweaks to the algorithm.
Without getting into the weeds on the topic, free and even cheap is a lot less important these days. Partly that’s because the e-reader market has matured. The Kindle won. The iPad remains an powerful irritant. Kobo limps along behind them. (Although I do like their waterproof model). The early adapters who bought all of those clunky, early model Kindles also bought dozens, even hundreds of titles each to fill them up. Free and cheap were hugely important in building that market. Now, not so much. E-readers have become a commodity, a loss leader for Amazon. Jeff Bezos has said as much in an interview with the BBC.
As the technology matured, so did the demographic using it. An average Kindle user in 2016 is nothing like the free-seeking binge reader of 2010. They might buy half a dozen titles over the course of a year, making them less price sensitive than somebody downloading more than 100 books in the same period.
I think this latest Kindle, the Oasis, is meant for them.
For myself, however, it raises interesting questions about how much I can ask people to pay for books when I finally start releasing them retail, rather than giving them away. The books I release independently are never going to cost as much as the books I do with my trade publishers. But they’re not all going to be free or super cheap either. I have to be able to pay editors, artists, type setters and so on.
As I said the other day, I’m not just a writer now, I’m a publisher. And I find these questions fascinating.