Love technology toys? Check. Read a lot? Check. Often would read if had remembered or had space to bring book? Checkitycheck.

I am absolutely in the prime target audience for a Kindle. Amazon having just launched their latest and greatest (by all accounts) Kindle 3, I was on the very brink of buying it. The concept has me completely won over. Having many books available in a easy to read, use and carry form is just what I want. Here in France Amazon have not yet opened up a localised Kindle store, but the international version would suffice for now.

Before plonking down the cash, I look to see how much it would cost to buy the last few books I bought, plus a few others I already have but would like to have on the Kindle. Now I know that there is also quite a lot of free Kindle content available  – mainly out-of-copyright “classics” – that appeals greatly. But looking at the paid-for content, I was actually quite shocked at the prices. It’s going to be an imperfect comparison: the paper-version of a book has different attributes and drawbacks compared with the Kindle version. But ultimately the content is the key thing.

Shocked. I was shocked. Shocked was I. Was I shocked? Yes.

  • Just yesterday I finished Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles. I paid £9.50 (UK pounds) for it (I bought from Amazon UK, as was cheaper than the same book from Amazon France). Kindle version: $19.04. So Kindle about 30% more expensive.
  • Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything: Kindle $13.79. Hardcopy Amazon France: about $16.30 – so Kindle is cheaper.
  • Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. Kindle store: $13.79. Hardcopy Amazon France: (equiv)$13.71  (So almost the same, but Kindle very slightly more)
  • Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys Kindle: $11.03. Hardcopy Amazon France: (equiv)$8.25
  • Levitt & Dubner’s Freakonomics Kindle $13.79, Hardcopy Amazon France: (equiv)$7.66
  • Larry Wall’s Perl Bible Programming Perl (I’ve hard copy and would love a portable version!) Kindle: $36.42. Harcopy Amazon France: (equiv)$7.31 (yes, really)
  • Lord of the Rings. The Kindle shop has it at $18.88. Not so bad when the paper form requires (typically) 3 volumes (or at least that’s how I’ve got it) and costs, plus or minus, a similar amount.. Hmmm. I scroll down the page, looking at the reviews, wondering if they are Kindle-specific, to give me a feel for how these things come across. And there it is, Amazon’s Kindle Store top-placed review for The Lord of the Rings. Let me quote the first part of it:

While the price of this book is steep, this is easily the best version of this book in existance. The gilded pages and high-quality leather look, smell and feel wonderful. This is not the questionable quality leather used on previous versions, this is the real deal. More importantly, this version has, as J.R.R. recorded in letters, reproductions of the Book of Marzubul. These are the pages from the Dwarven book found in the Mines of Moria by Gandalf and the Fellowship. In the begining and ending of the book are also included maps that fold out to render Middle-earth for the reader, again as the author originally wanted.

Oh dearie me. There was me, teetering on the edge. Price premium for content? Yes, but maybe worth it… Maybe. Then the realisation that, unless I’m very much mistaken, the Kindle does not have affixed to it a little device which emits tiny wafts of leather scent when in use, nor the ability for its no doubt extraordinarily clever ePaper to transform itself into gilded pages.

Yes, I know it’s not what matters for 99% of the time when you read a book! And of course I realise that the benefits of a Kindle might outweigh, or at least balance, the benefits of paper. But I just found myself jolted out of my “I’m going to buy a Kindle!” trance by this review. And then found myself chuckling over the fact that it’s the top review of the book in the Kindle store itself.

Yet those selections above are not some carefully crafted list, selected to ensure an unfavourable comparison. Quite genuinely they are the first few items I thought to compare. Indeed in one case the Kindle version comes out (very slightly) cheaper. And also note that if I lived in the UK or US the prices of the hardcopy versions would typically be even lower – seeing as how Amazon France is not always cheapest for English books… In fact a quick check on The Book Despository suggests that, with the exception of the Perl book, if I can tolerate the longer delivery times every one of those books can be delivered to me in France even more cheaply than Amazon France.

I have no doubt that, one day, the Kindle, or some descendent thereof, will be just what I want. But I’ve concluded that for now the price of the content is way too high. The consumer is being price-gouged, for a product which is interesting but not yet compelling. Today a book gets typeset, printed, bound, trimmed, trucked to the book store and stocked (or alternatively, stocked and then delivered by post), before one day being picked up by me. There’s a lot of financial overhead there. So someone tell me why for a electronic version, which loses almost all of that overhead, I must pay a premium? When new technology lowers costs, I expect to share in that cost saving, not be taken for a sucker.

Amazon will blame the publishers, the publishers will blame the authors and Amazon, and all parties will point fingers at each other while telling me “The artist deserves payment, y’know?” While entirely agreeing, I repeat: when technology lowers costs, I expect a share of it. And if you don’t offer me my share, you won’t get your share either.

When and if the price gouging stops, I’ll buy a Kindle. Not before.

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