As I was checking on the price of the forthcoming paperback version of the book the other day, I noticed that the paperback price is about four dollars less than the Kindle price, which itself is a few bucks cheaper than the hardcover.

Not owning a Kindle, I am curious about this. One the day the paperback is released, will the Kindle price magically drop to rival the paperback? Or would the Kindle price remain higher than the paperback? (this would seem to make little sense to me as 1.) it is obviously cheaper to produce and distribute the Kindle version than the paperback 2.) The paperback has a potential resale value, however slight; there is no ‘used Kindle book’ market, as of yet at least 3.) There is arguably more longevity with even the paperback version of the book than Kindle — we are still reading ancient manuscripts yet digitized records from the 1980s are in some cases already almost beyond recall, as the technology has changed). I don’t know how true this is, but Nicholson Baker notes in the New Yorker that the Kindle doesn’t handle endnotes very well, which is a big liability in the case of my book (one thing I think Baker neglected to mention is the idea of the “pass along” — how many beloved books have you given to friends? Is this made obsolete with the Kindle?)

Even if it drops, this is still an odd situation to me, which I’m sure an economist could explain in some terms. The Kindle edition’s price at the moment is pegged to the hardcover — or does it reflect its own “Kindle” price, pegged to the cost of producing it, supply and demand, etc.? — and when the paperback is released it will presumably drop in the face of being eroded by the cheaper paperback (unless Kindle owners so cherish their devices they will pay more for a virtual edition). In the meantime, while hardcover and paperback editions are very different things in terms of production costs, the Kindle edition costs will not have changed at all; meaning, depending how you look at it, Amazon will have to relinquish some Kindle profit in light of the paperback, or that that profit was all rather vaporous to begin with. The Kindle edition price point seems to relate to the existence, or lack thereof, of a competing price point in a print edition; it is almost an anti-price, if that makes any sense.

Anyone have any experience with this?

This entry was posted on Thursday, July 30th, 2009 at 8:51 am and is filed under Book News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

16 Responses to “Kindlenomics”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    I love my kindle, and I chose to get your book in hardcover (before the paperback came out) because I was pretty sure it wouldn’t translate well into a kindle book.

    I doubt highly they’ll drop the kindle price as they generally stay around 9.99 when the paperbacks come out. And the older books tend to be around 9.99 if they were published in the last 5 years.

  2. Fritz Says:

    I don’t know about the publishing side of it, but I’m a long time (10+ years) participant in Amazon’s Associate programs and make some noticeable cash from Amazon. Amazon claims about 40% of their income comes through their affiliate program, but Kindle purchases net zero for the affiliates!

  3. Erik Says:

    The publish industry absolutely hates ebooks so the MSRP for an ebook (assuming it is even available in that format) is the same as its current dead-tree price (including when new releases are only available at hardback prices), which is why the ebook market was basically dead until amazon stepped in to sell at a loss with their $9.99 price point (which is still quite expensive for a collection of ones and zeros). Hopefully they can build up enough of a customer base to exert some pull and drag the publishing industry kicking and screaming out of the 19th century.

    There is a pretty good summary of the ebook industry here:

  4. adam Says:

    The price will drop a lot with the Apple tablet…

  5. ann Says:

    your book was the first one on my kindle. :)

  6. Tom Vanderbilt Says:

    Wait, Kindlers who own ‘Traffic.’ I’m just curious — are the notes included? For some people, the notes are inessential; to my mind they’re almost another book (and like the book itself, they had to be shortened).

  7. Erik Says:

    I’m looking at it on an iPhone and there is a “notes” section at the end that looks like footnotes, but there is nothing to link the notes to the text.

    If they are supposed to be footnotes then see my link above for the part about publishers frequently providing text with typos and formatting errors to vendors for ebook conversion.

  8. Erik Says:

    FWIW clickable linked footnotes are definitely possible.

  9. Rob Says:

    Looking from a marketing perspective, there may be additional value in the offering of a Kindle book.

    I look at this from the perspective of ticketmaster. They have a convienience fee associated with purchasing online and printing your own tickets.

    Now this is a cheaper and easier method of distribution for them, however it is also added value for the consumer as it eliminates the travel to a ticket window to pick them up.

    I dont know 100% how the technology works, but I am sure more than a few people live no where near a bookstore and it is way more convenient just to download it onto their device, and they would pay more for the easy access. Hell paying the same price as a hardcover at all proves that point, when you download the thing you get nothing tangible, yet pay the price.

    Personally I like having books on my bookshelf.

  10. John Says:

    This is unrelated to kindle pricing, but I just noticed that at, the abridged version of your book costs more than the unabridged one: the 346-minute abridged version costs $20.97 ($0.061/min) and the 816-minute unabridged version costs $15.75 ($0.019/min).

    I have no idea if this is typical of books offered in both abridged and unabridged versions or not, but thought it was interesting.

  11. Erik Says:

    Rob: Generally I would think any premium for convenience would be small compared to the discount for not having to print, bind, and ship a pound or two of dead tree. Also, this is probably the first time I’ve heard someone compare something to ticketmaster without intending the comparison to be derogatory. :-) And ticketmaster usually charges their “convenience” fee for paperless and will-call tickets.

  12. townmouse Says:

    I can’t remember if Traffic was this way, but more and more non-fiction books seem to have what I call ‘stealth notes’ where there’s no indication in the main text that there’s a note attached to a particular fact or statement, but when you get to the end of the book, you find a whole wodge of notes which you have to reunite with the text by looking up the page number and finding the matching sentence. As someone who loves footnotes, I really dislike this and I can’t for the life of me see why publishers do it. But it may explain Erik’s experience with the iPhone

  13. Erik Says:

    I’ve read Kindle books that had actual hyperlinked footnotes where you tap a linked footnote number in the text and it takes you to the appropriate note at the end somewhere, so it is technically possible within the ebook format amazon uses (and probably every ebook format). I imagine it depends on whether the publisher took the time to format the ebook text with all of the appropriate markup or whether they just do a plain copy & paste into a text file and call it a day.

  14. Erik Says:

    Also, publishers do it because they hate you (someone reading an ebook) and want you to buy real books instead.

  15. noah Says:

    Kindle handles endnotes just fine if the notes have references in the text. See, e.g., “Infinite Jest.” However, because “Traffic” textual references to the notes, it would be very inconvenient to go from text to endnote and back again. You would have to use the “goto” function to go to the correct endnote page, then use the “back” button to go back to the page you were reading. Then do that again every time you wanted to go to the notes. Frankly, I think this is a problem even with the hardback (and, I assume, paperback) version of “Traffic” (which i read before i got my Kindle). Either you go to the endnotes at every page, or you just do it haphazardly. But it would be a bigger problem with the Kindle, because you can’t just “flip” to the back pages. (I liked the book a lot, but I found the endnote issue a pain.)

  16. Bob Says:

    Tom, I think it’s a shame that you, being apparently a very well informed person and thoughtful of the situation around you, are releasing the book on the Kindle.

    There will never be a used Kindle book market, because Amazon won’t allow it. You don’t own the books, you license them. (You do read the reams of fine print when you buy a Kindle book, right? I didn’t think so…)

    In fact, Amazon will just reach into your device and take back your books whenever it suits them.

    It’s a bad idea to create technologies which enable police states, regardless of their innocent-seeming initial uses. Kindle is one such technology. And I’m distressed that you are helping this unwelcome process along.

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Traffic Tom Vanderbilt

How We Drive is the companion blog to Tom Vanderbilt’s New York Times bestselling book, Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us), published by Alfred A. Knopf in the U.S. and Canada, Penguin in the U.K, and in languages other than English by a number of other fine publishers worldwide.

Please send tips, news, research papers, links, photos (bad road signs, outrageous bumper stickers, spectacularly awful acts of driving or parking or anything traffic-related), or ideas for my Transport column to me at:

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