Kindle Garten

Robert Shiller's book The Subprime Solution will be published by Princeton University Press in September -- and available a little bit earlier than that in Kindle-friendly format, as my colleague Scott Jaschik reports in today's issue of Inside Higher Ed.

This doesn't come as a huge surprise, insofar as Princeton was among the first academic presses (that I know of anyway) routinely making sample chapters of its books available online.

Plenty more university-press content due for the Kindle in the pipeline, according to SJ:

By the beginning of the fall, Princeton plans to have several hundred books available for sale through Kindle. Yale University Press and Oxford University Press already have a similar presence there. The University of California Press recently had about 40 of its volumes placed on Kindle and is ramping up....

The university presses participating in Kindle were reluctant to describe the specific financial arrangements they have with Amazon (which also declined to discuss them), but said that they were revenue-sharing deals, and that preparing the books for release on Kindle was not particularly burdensome or expensive.

While it's too early to see if Kindle results in a significant sales boost, several press officials pointed to promising signs. Stephen Cebik, Internet accounts manager for the Yale press, said he has started to receive e-mail messages from Kindle fans who find a Yale book not available in that format who want to buy it that way. Erich van Rijn of the University of California Press said that one of its volumes was sold more than a dozen times in a month on Kindle.

This makes me think there is an argument for getting a Kindle. I make my living writing about books from university presses, after all, so it would be convenient to be able to carry them around in digital format.

And then I remember how much one costs. I make my living writing about books from university presses, after all, so buying one is just not in the cards now. (Organic burritos in bulk from Costco, yes. New digital gizmos, no.)

Give it a couple of years and the Kindle will cost fifty bucks. It can wait.
June 24, 2008 5:45 PM | | Comments (3)

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3 Comments

Funny you should have just posted this. I have just borrowed from my work the sony ereader & the kindle.

They are really underwhelming. If you are a book lover, I think that one of the key things to notice is that they are ugly. The typography is all wrong. They use minute & second marks instead of quotation marks. The text is justified, but they don't seem to use any hyphenation algorithm, so there are big rivers. I don't see how they got this so wrong. Reading text is the primary thing that people are supposed to do on these things. How can you make the text ugly by default?

These devices include music players, but they couldn't spend the money to get the typography close to correct?

Further, there seems to be very little the designers can do to change the typography of the book. So none of the books seem to have any personality; they all have the same font, same layout, etc.

Ugly, expensive, and the books I see for sale on Amazon are not less than half the price of the real thing. Unless you really hate books on your shelf, I can't imagine why you would buy a kindle edition of a book for $15 when you could have the real thing for $18 (see Gourevitch & Morris, Standard Operating Procedure, for this example).

Finally, there is no way I'm going to pay Amazon to allow me to put PDFs, etc. on a device I own. That's crazy.

Try to buy Kindle books from university publishers and you'll find they typically cost twice as much as the Amazon-promised $10. Why university presses are charging more for books that they do not manufacture or ship and thus have no overhead attached is simple: they can. They expect their readership (students assigned textbooks, in the current biz model I've heard from editors at Oxford and Routledge) to pay whatever they charge for the book, and their writers to accept whatever niggling contract terms they offer, without compensatory efforts to "sell" the book online any more than they're doing in brick&mortar stores. Which is nil to begin with.

My thought was that it would make sense for a university to provide all the individual texts and supporting materials for students as part of their tuition package. Texts could be upgraded in the middle of a course if needed. Of course that would benefit the student who is used to being raped by the bookstore every semester which might be too much for the university to give up.

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