Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The Case of the Cryptic Kindle

Sharon Wildwind

Lately, the world—more specifically the Internet, which for some of us equals the world—has been spitting numbers at me. I’ve no idea why, other than maybe it’s numbers’ turn, just as sometimes it’s the turn of cute photos of rescued baby ducks or great recipes for low-glycemic desserts.

In any case, here is an interesting number:

Since its autumn 2007 launch, Amazon is reported to have shipped 240,000 Kindles. At a price ranging from $360 to $400, sales total so far between $86 million and $96 million for the device and another $100 million for the digital media to read on the device.
~TechCrunch, August 2008

Keep in mind that these figures do not come directly from amazon.com, which so far, has declined to report on the volume of Kindle and its media sales.

Shelf Awareness, http://www.shelf-awareness.com/, which reported that quote received a lot of follow-up e-mail, collectively adding up to the Case of the Cryptic Kindle. As with many urban legends, only a few people had seen a Kindle. One correspondent's son was reported to have won one as a prize and quickly sold it on e-Bay. Many other people said that they used other machines, or listened to audiobooks, but that Kindles were sparse on the ground all the way from New England to California.

What I find interesting is another number. Amazon has reported its second quarter sales for 2008: Net sales rose 41% to $4.06 billion from $2.89 billion in the same period a year earlier, and net income jumped to $158 million from $78 million. Reasons: heavy discounting, free shipping and high cost of gas.

If the Kindle figures and the Amazon figures are both accurate, that means that Kindle machines and media equal 4.8% of Amazon’s total net sales. Now, before the more numerically-minded among you tell me I’m comparing apples and oranges, I know that. Amazon’s total sales figures were for April, May, and June of 2008 and the Kindle figures are for the first year of sales, so the comparison isn’t bang on, but it still a chunk of income for a machine that wasn’t on the market a year ago.

Have I seen a Kindle? No. Granted that I live in Canada and sometimes don’t come out of my writing hidey-hole for days at a time, I may not be the best representative in the “seek the Kindle” treasure hunt, but I am curious. I also think it’s interesting that another quote I read in passing says that it’s the blogs, magazines, and newspapers that are making up the majority of Kindle media sales and that the books are a sort of ho-hum curiosity, rather on the order of, “Do you want fries with that?” category.

So here are my questions:
1. How many real live human beings have you seen using a Kindle?
2. Any clue if they were reading a blog, magazine, newspaper, or book on it?
3. What would be the price point for you; that is, at what price would you consider buying a Kindle or similar electronic reader—reader, not audiobook device?

Here’s a second interesting number quote:

What scares all of us in the library field is that we see few people between the ages of 18 and 34 reading books taken out from the library. … As librarians, we spend a great deal of our day now focusing on library services that appeal to the non-book reading generations, not in the promotion of reading. One third of my circulation (out of 200,000 checkouts a year) is non-print. While some of that is audio books, the vast majority of our non-print circulation is feature length films. This year one of our objectives in our plan is to study the reduction of print reference sources. I can only assume that some day I will be saying to my staff, “We do not need to buy this many mysteries.”
~Gary Warren Niebuhr, librarian, Milwaulkee, Wisconsin, January 2008

Since I was just in my local public library branch about an hour ago, I conducted a quick, highly unscientific survey. At 7:30 on a Monday night. My branch—one large room, with a smaller classroom near the entrance, had approximately 30 people in. Not counting the librarians, my husband and I, whose combined ages equal slightly over 100, were the oldest people in the room. We were checking out books, but not 1 of the remaining 28 people in the library were reading a book. They were studying printed handouts, reading newspapers, interacting on the computer, checking the DVD and CD collections, putting away A-V equipment in the small classroom, and chatting with one another.

Here’s my second set of questions:
1. When you go to the library, what are other people doing?
2. Do you notice an age gap: older folks in the books, younger folks on the computers and perusing the DVD holdings?

Before we book-lovers get totally depressed by these figures, here’s a wonderful non-numerical scene I witnessed a few weeks ago. I’d pulled into that same library branch parking lot before they opened because I had to pick up a book I’d placed on hold. Half a dozen people were lined up waiting for the door to be unlocked. One of them was a girl about four or five years old. Even at this age it was obvious that she was a free-thinking child, cherished in her family.

Her mother had allowed her to appear in public wearing a rainbow-hued multi-layer skirt, Hello Kitty T-shirt, and bright pink plastic rain boots. She had her arms tightly wrapped around a stack of picture books. As the assigned time for the library to open came and went without the staff unlocking the doors, the girl began to kick, gently at first, then with increasing vigor, on the metal door frame. The child chanted, “I want more books. I want more books.”

When the librarian did open the door, the little girl scooted in under her arm, and I saw her a moment later, already ensconced in the reading area, with half a dozen books spread on the floor around her, and a beautiful smile on her face.

Just goes to show that numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Writing quote for the week:
Our truest response to the irrationality of the world is to paint or sing or write, for only in such response do we find truth.
~Madeline L'Engle, writer


caryn said...

I don't know a single person who owns a Kindle. I don't think I've ever seen one being used-but since I don't know what they look like that may not be an accurate statement.
I don't know that there is a price that I would buy one as I like to physically handle the books I read, and I can't imagine buying a toy in order to download the newspaper. However, that leads to part tow-the libraries.
We live in the St. Louis area and are literally surrounded by excellent libraries. If I wanted to regularaly read an out of town newspaper, I could go to either our town's library or the nearest branch of the county library do do so daily as they are both within walking distance.
Because we have a large foreign born population, and our community's library stocks a large number of books and periodicals in Chinese, Russian and Spanish, there are many people of all ages reading in the library. They run an extensive children's program year around for kids through junior high so that helps. Also, we have universities and colleges around us so the interest in books is probably higher in our area than some.
All of that said, the fastest growing areas of our library are the movies and music areas. I especially like checking out CDs from the library to "try them out" before I buy them. Movies? If we want to see a movie, we just go to Blockbuster.

pattinase (abbott) said...

This issue of what people are going in libraries and by extension bookstores really worries me too. In our library last night, there were no children in the children's section. There seldom are despite it's having a huge selection of books, movies, etc. There were no teenagers either. The few patrons were all over fifty. Some were looking at new books but most were looking at DVDs or consulting the monitors. It's sad and I go to the library several times a week and this is pretty typical. Why don't parents bring their kids in anymore? We took ours twice a week at least because we couldn't afford to buy all that many books.
I saw one person using a Kindle in New York on the subway. He drew quite a lot of interest. More than the buskers.

Angie said...

My best friend owns a kindle and loves it. What sparks my interest is having 6 Kindles tied to one account with a shared library. Of my friends who are avid readers, we are all in a debate about taking the plunge to getting Kindles. So far, it looks like a go with a couple of holdouts who think the price might drop closer to Christmas.

Tomlin said...

I own a Kindle
Have bought three others
for friends and family
and we share books
on a single account

Still I spend much of my life
in the local library
where I work on converting
some of my old blogs
to book form

First though
it will be an ebook
and it may never go to print
being indie one
and poetry two

Watching people go in and out
There are lots of books moving
and the magazine and newspapers
are ever popular

But then I'm a nomad
don't home here across the Sound
from Seattle

And probably
am the only person walking around
with his entire library
in his hand

Anonymous said...

Thank you all for these thoughtful replies. It's good to know someone else besides me is out there musing on these issues.

Kathryn said...

I worry about libraries too. However, I also remember that I did not use public libraries from age 18 until my late 30's. I still read a lot but I bought books, new and used, instead. I was too busy to go to the library, in my own mind at least.
Recently I have discontinued getting the local newspaper. I have always gotten the newspaper but it seems increasingly superfluous.
I've never seen anyone with a Kindle. But I used to read books on my Palm, especially on airplanes and in hospitals, and I doubt that people knew what I was doing.

Sandra Parshall said...

I've never seen a Kindle, but I don't automatically reject such devices as harmful. A "book" is the content, the writing, not the physical form. We shouldn't glorify the form and get locked into the idea that this is the only acceptable way to enjoy a book.

I am constantly listening to recorded books -- on tapes, CDs, or downloads to my audio player. When I'm cooking or gardening or whatever, I feel lost if I don't have a voice reading a book into my ears. Finding time to sit down and read a book is much more difficult. I get my "reading" in anyway I can, because the one thing I can't live without is good fiction.

Our neighborhood branch library (which is being expanded) seems to be well-used by people of all ages, and I see people in every section. I spend plenty of time standing in line behind little kids with their moms or nannies who are checking out tall stacks of books. The branch has regular storytelling hours for kids. The large regional libraries in the county probably have computers for internet access (I've never checked), but our branch doesn't -- the computers are only for looking up materials in the system's database.

As for bookstores, I think location is a major factor. I go in some bookstores that are always crowded (and people are looking at and buying books). Others have very little traffic, and I think it's because they're not in good locations.

I should add that I live in the Washington, DC, metro area, which may be a better market for books than some other places.

Marilynne Smith said...

I've never seen a Kindle, but I want one. I'd pay under $200 for it.

But then I'm a gadget lover and a book lover. For me that means a Kindle is in my future - when I can afford it.

If I had a published book, I'd encourage my publisher to offer it on Kindle.

I am painting the room where I keep most of my books. If I were to sell the hard backs for $1 and the paperbacks for $.50, I'd have more than enough to buy a Kindle at the current price - and a few books to read on it.

My book room would really look odd with just a Kindle on the shelf.


Marlyn said...

As a librarian, I do worry about the fate of libraries. Especially with all the budget cuts. Our city council has threatened to close our main library, which would leave several thousand people in our downtown area without access to a library.

My brother-in-law received a Kindle for Father's Day. To my knowledge, he hasn't used it yet.
I have looked at it, and am not sure how I feel about it.

Pam said...

Hi Sharon,

I'd pay about 100 bucks for one, but only if it could easily convert text to audio. If it could to that and also let me listen via the car audio system, it would be awesome.

I haven't seen anyone use a Kindle personally, but my sister has a friend who says she loves it. I live in Maryland, my sister lives in St. Louis.

Wouldn't it be a great thing for college students though. If they could download all their reading material and store it on a Kindle...but that would mean, I'm sure, less profit for someone, so...

As to what folks are doing in libraries these days...I see lots of children and usually mothers in the kids' section. I see a lot of computer use, some people are studying or being tutored, some are checking out books,CD's or movies.

I just notice the noise level is a lot higher than it used to be. That convention seems to be going by the wayside.


Jen said...

I know of one person who owns a Kindle, and she enjoys it (I've not actually seen the thing, though). She travels a lot, so it works well for her on the plane. I personally use my audio player if I'm not reading a print book. I doubt I would dole out cash for a Kindle as long as I can continue to use my audio player.

I frequent my library, but I don't have a chance to see what most folks are doing. I tend to reserve most of my materials online and then just go into the library to pick them up. I have such a huge TBR pile that I don't want to tempt myself with more books by just browsing around. I do borrow quite a few print and audio books from the library, though (and I'm 34). I buy a lot of books as well.

Cait London said...

From the writer side:
My royalty statementa have income from e-published accounts, these with mass market traditional in print. So that says that someone is buying electronic books. One agent reports she is saving for a reader that she can also write on, making notes on submissions to her. As a reader, I'm still a paperback girl. I have enough of electronic reading from writing my own stuff.

Anonymous said...

Lovely, Sharon, re the little girl at the library. Made me smile, as did the L'Engle quote. I loved it so much, I put it on my email signature block. I'm a singer, a painter and a writer. Just lovely.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Hmm, I'd probably pay about $200 for a Kindle. Assuming they ever reduce the price that much.

I recently bought a refurbished iPod on the Net for $50 less than it costs in the store. I use it for the books I buy from Audible so I can keep them separate from the books I download from the library to my MP3 (birthday gift last year.)

I love electronic gadgets. That said, I dunno about a Kindle. I like the idea that books can be downloaded from anywhere without a computer. I worry about having to buy those books. What if I love it and have to have a hard copy? Sigh. But I did recently convert one of my books (listed in paperback on Amazon) to the Kindle version. NOOOO idea if I've sold any. Yet.

And I think Kindles will "read" audiobooks for you as well. So I'm keeping an eye on them, trying to decide what to do. If the price comes down a lot, I'll likely get one.

Great post, Sharon.

Anonymous said...

one of my pleasures in life is to escape occassionally into the bath with a book. Hot water, the latest Bath & Body Works Bubble Bath and escape from the world for an hour or so.

i've dropped a book in the bath before, which is annoying but at most is only a $30.00 mistake. i can't imagine dropping a $360 kindle into the water.