Why It’s Crazy for Authors to Keep Their Books Off the Kindle

In June, I wrote a column about the problem of “On Demand Disorder“—my name for the narrowing of vision that can occur when people get addicted to the instant experiences available over the Internet and other digital media. If you only listen to the music you can find on iTunes or Pandora or Last.fm, if you only watch movies from Netflix, if you only buy books listed at Amazon, or if you only go to restaurants included on Yelp or UrbanSpoon or OpenTable, I argued, you’re probably suffering from ODD—and missing out on a lot of great non-digital culture.

So it was a little hypocritical of me to get into a snit one weekend in July, when I discovered that a new book I wanted to read, Ellen Ruppel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, was not available for download on my Amazon Kindle 2 e-book device. In frustration, I banged out the following Twitter post:

It’s come to this: I want to read Ellen Ruppel Shell’s ‘Cheap,’ but there is no Kindle edition. Wait 3-5 days? Buy at store? Fail.

More or less instantly, one of my Twitter followers, Siva Vaidhyanathan, called me on it. Vaidhyanathan is a cultural historian and media scholar at the University of Virginia who has written two books about copyright, and is working on another called The Googlization of Everything: How One Company Is Disrupting Commerce, Culture, and Community…And Why We Should Worry. He replied:

@sivavaid to @wroush: wow. That’s sure disrespectful to people who spend years writing books and oppose DRM. I hope impatience is working for you.

Over the course of the next few hours, Vaidhyanathan and I engaged in the following Twitter conversation:

@wroush to @sivavaid: No disrespect intended to authors. When books are print-only, it impedes the flow of ideas. How does that help anyone?

@sivavaid to @wroush: yet somehow we got monotheism, reformation, scientific revolution — all without Kindle! Amazing!

@sivavaid to @wroush: besides, only rich old people have Kindles.

@wroush to @sivavaid: It’s bad business. Publishers who bypass Kindle are turning away sales & opting not to engage with their most valuable readers. … Next Page »

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Wade Roush is a freelance science and technology journalist and the producer and host of the podcast Soonish. Follow @soonishpodcast

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6 responses to “Why It’s Crazy for Authors to Keep Their Books Off the Kindle”

  1. Wow, judging from your mellow persona and your thoughtful writing, I thought you were a patient guy Wade! This article shifts my prejudices a bit. Now I have images of you calculating the tax on your three item purchase at Whole Foods, while still three deep in the checkout line, and brandishing exact change to the cashier before the order is tallied. :)

  2. Jered says:

    I have to wonder if Siva is just having a knee-jerk reaction here… Amazon provides an open publishing platform and the rates are published. The people who have been particularly unreasonable here have actually been the publishers — several of them demand HARDCOVER prices for the digital editions, even for books in paperback. To counter this Amazon has chosen to take a loss on a number of bestsellers to stick with their $9.99 policy.

    Yes, DRM sucks, but the content providers (that’s you, authors, or at least the publishing representatives you have chosen to appoint) are on the wrong side here. The Authors’ Guild is the RIAA of the written word — they forced Amazon to remove on demand the text-to-speech from the Kindle 2. Amazon’s not the one pushing DRM; the person pushing DRM is Mr. Vaidhyanathan’s publisher. Maybe he should have a chat?

  3. Wade Roush says:

    Jules: I really am a mellow person, mostly. But certain things get my goat!

    Jered: Agree with you about DRM and the RIAA-Authors Guild comparison. But I also think Siva has good reasons for his concerns, and I plan to make sure he gets some more airtime here to explain them.