February 11, 2009, 7:41 PM — I was reading Gina Tarapani's Smartware post about the Kindle 2 today (The Kindle Adds to, But Doesn't Replace, Your Book Collection) and it got me to thinking about what impact the Kindle will have on book sales, assuming usage of the device becomes ubiquitous (granted, a large assumption if Amazon keeps the price as high as it is).
Now, full disclosure: I don't own a Kindle, but I am a book lover and a frequent Amazon purchaser. So I'm genuinely asking questions here, wondering aloud.
I think that owning a Kindle would cause me to buy fewer books from Amazon than I do now. For one thing, there are sites like http://www.feedbooks.com/ that offer public domain ebooks. If I'm going to be reading a digital copy of a book, why wouldn't I choose the free version?
But more significantly, I think being a Kindle owner would change my buying habits. Currently when I'm looking for a particular book I'll head to Amazon.com and quickly find what I'm looking for. But then I start browsing around and before I know it I have half a dozen titles in my shopping cart; books that I'm buying just so that I'll have them handy. Two days later they arrive and I put them on the shelf and read the book I actually went to Amazon to purchase. The other books may or may not (often, not) get read before some other topic/author/series catches my eye and I make another trip to the online store. Anecdotal evidence suggests that my behavior is fairly common.
I suspect that Kindle would change this behavior, because it puts books right at my fingertips. There's really no reason to "stock up" on books when I can buy the next title I want to read instantly. So it seems to me that owning a Kindle would cut down on the number of books I purchased (but not the number of books I actually read). If this is true, then I start wondering about Amazon's business model. Do they just make up in higher profit margins any loss in quantity sold? (Probably.) Or are they using Kindle to try to get a piece of periodical subscription revenue? Or is this more about branding/lifestyle than revenue? What impact would all of this have on the authors themselves? The Author's Guild is already up in arms about Kindle 2's text-reading capability. I wonder if they've done any research into buying habits when using the device?
I'd love to hear from Kindle owners to see if I'm right or not about sales. Once the "new toy" glamor wears off your Kindle, do you find yourself buying fewer books than you did when you were buying printed copies? Please leave a comment with your thoughts.