Geez, I thought it might take another year or two, but Amazon says their unit sales of Kindle ebooks (which can be read on the Kindle devices, computers, tablets and smartphones) have passed their unit sales of print books, by 5% for the period since the beginning of April.
Now, of course this is just Amazon and not all retailers, and it’s unit sales rather than dollars, but then again, these figures do not include ebooks Amazon “sells” for free, either. However you slice it, it is still a major milestone. Unlike PC Magazine’s John C Dvorak, I do generally believe the numbers, but unlike Mr Dvorak I also see Kindles on every flight I take, and every bus I ride to and from work. Dvorak makes a big deal of the possibility much of this content is being read on other devices besides Kindles per se, which (as I said last summer) misses the point. The Kindle is good for Amazon because Kindle users are locked into Amazon’s (Kindle-branded) ebook sales, but as long as people buy the Kindle ebooks from Amazon, it’s no skin off Amazon’s nose what device they get read on. The profits are on the content sale, not the reading devices.
I rather expect that retail books as a whole will pass this milestone some time in 2012. We are living in the proverbial interesting times.
Some current subscription rates:
- digital-only subscription $110 for one year
- paper plus digital $127 for one year, $223 for two years
- special offer: paper plus digital for $51 for one year
New York Times:
- paper plus digital: $7.40/week, $384.80 per year
- digital only: $8.75/week for same level of digital access as a paper subscriber, $455 per year
- $30/yr paper
- $36/yr Kindle (without graphics and photos)
Why the craziness? These publishers want me to pay more for the electronic version than the printed one, even though their marginal costs are lower. Publishers are so worried about protecting their paper publishing business that they are hobbling the digital one in ways that make no sense in terms of their overall business and especially in terms of their future.
I didn’t just look up publications that happen to be crazy. The first two are publications I like and enjoy reading and would like to subscribe to. I don’t want the printed versions, which pile up in my home and use up resources for insufficient value (to me, anyway). I want to get the digital versions. I am perfectly willing to pay a “fair” price. Time was the first other big periodical that came to mind, and did not surprise me in having an equally crazed pricing model.
But these sorts of pricing decisions just piss me off, and leave me feeling that the publishers are trying to use digital-only revenue to prop up their failing paper-based businesses. As a would-be digital-only subscriber, I feel exploited. Or I would if I actually gave them my money… which I won’t do under these conditions.
End result of this kind of pricing? Those who continue it will find their market share eaten by those who don’t make that mistake. They will find competitors who either are perfectly willing to let their digital business take over some of their print business, or just don’t have a printed paper business to worry about.
Just as I finished writing this piece, I found an article that sums up the problem nicely:
Print media businesses are so worried about cannibalization that they are shooting themselves in their heads. I hope it stops before we lose some fine publications, or they become shadows of their former selves.
Yes, I call them “print media businesses,” because that is how they are behaving: at some level they have not figured out that they need to become simply “media businesses.”
Yes, I’m omitting some details and extra options. For exmaple, the NY Times offers a discount on the first two months of digital, and cheaper digital-only options are available from NYT as well, but those offer trimmed-down access choices instead of allowing people access from whatever device they want. Still, the all-digital version that is equivalent to the digital options the print subscriber gets is more expensive, as best as I can tell. Without getting the paper copy, whose price includes home delivery.
Finally, I kept on looking, and sure enough, there are publications that have sane policies in this area. For example:
- $5.60/wk paper
- $1.99/wk digital
I’m voting with my pocketbook.