Sunday Rant will be a new semi-regular feature on the blog. Where I give my opinions on some of the things that has either happened in the week that passed, or just generally is something I want to talk about.
AMAZON PROPAGANDA AND BAD JOURNALISM
I'm going to start with a little bit about myself, that will give you some background for why I feel passionately about this subject. My father has been a journalist since before I was born, and he still is one. All my life I have been around journalists, and I have several journalist friends.
This means that I have some insight into how journalists work, both for good and bad. It's always more fascinating for me to look behind the headlines to see what they don't write.
I will elaborate in the comments if anyone wishes me to, but now on with this article.
This week have seen a press release from Amazon that has gotten quite a lot of attention. The main focus has of course been on the claim that Amazon now sells more Kindle books than paper books. I quote:
Amazon.com is now selling more Kindle books than paperback books. Since the beginning of the year, for every 100 paperback books Amazon has sold, the Company has sold 115 Kindle books. Additionally, during this same time period the Company has sold three times as many Kindle books as hardcover books. This is across Amazon.com's entire U.S. book business and includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher.
Looks rather good doesn't it? But let's take a closer look at this statement:
Firstly Amazon does not in any way back up its claim. They show absolutely no sales figures, and without any way of independently verify what they say, this is just a PR statement. The figures may very well be accurate, but I'm not just going to take a commercial business' word for it.
Did you also notice the emphasis on some facts, while some where left out entirely?
Amazon goes out of its way to tell us that this;
"[...]includes sales of books where there is no Kindle edition. Free Kindle books are excluded and if included would make the numbers even higher"
What they, of course, make no mention of is that these figures certainly include books that are only available on Kindle. Which if you ask me is a pretty significant point, and one I think any good journalist writing about this should have brought up.
This leaves me with the question why Amazon don't publish a comparison of sales between books that are available both as paper books from a (non self-publishing) publisher and on the Kindle.
I don't think I'm stretching it when I say they would have IF those books sold better on Kindle than in paper. Let's face it, why would they hide something like that?
NOTE: A quick check of the Science Fiction and Fantasy bestseller list on amazon.com shows that 13 of the top 20 books (at 12.55 CET.) are Kindle editions costing $5.00 and under. Of these five are kindle only, and four are available in print only as self-published books costing $11.16 to $19.99 in paperback. (Interestingly, Amazon charges $2 extra on Kindle books under $5 if I want them here in Norway.)
I think all of the points I've made above are valid questions, and it pisses me off that the media has not made them, but instead just repeated Amazon's PR-statement/propaganda.
Fortunately there are some media reports of Amazon that are a bit more critical:
This article from the NYTimes reports that Amazon's profit margin fell from 5% in the fourth quarter of 2009, to 3.7% in the forth quarter of 2010. And that this has made their stock fall 9.2%.
Something I was not able to see easily (, in fact at all,) in Amazon's statement. This has as far as I know not been widely reported, and certainly not by the Kindle fans. Some of whom I saw calling Wall Street insane, or words to that effect, because the stock fell when Amazon published such good news.
I'm no financial expert, but a 26% drop (,if I understand this correctly,) in the profit margin, sounds bad to me. And a 3.7% profit margin seems slim, even when we are talking about huge sums of money.
A good example of bad journalism when it comes to Amazon, and Kindle in particular, is the headline to this article from The Bookseller.com, published the day before Amazon's statement.
The headline says: "Kindle sales reaching 80% of physical sales, DBW told". However if you actually take time to read the article, this is the original statement: "Grandinetti said it was “not uncommon” for Kindle sales “to be 20-30-40-50-80% of a BookScan number” in 2010."
Not exactly the same, but I bet it is the headline that people remember.
The same article also mentions a interesting fact, that in my opinion would make a better headline: "[...]James Patterson's Jack and Jill pre-and-post agency pricing. He said: "There was a 48% drop in units with the $2 increase in price."
This was interesting to me. Is this a sign that e-books can not sustain sales levels if they have to be priced in a way that includes pre-"printing" production costs? As it is now, e-books are a bi-product of paper books, and are getting a piggyback ride on the editorial costs of the hardcover release, as I see it. Mind you, this is something I believe, not something I know. I would very much like to see a working journalist take up this point, research it, and publish an article about it.
I have seen several cases over the past year where journalists seemingly print Amazon's press statements and unverified numbers as fact. That is not journalism, that is PR, and usually you have to pay someone to do it for you. I'd like to see much more critical journalism when it comes to Amazon specifically , and e-books in general. I will certainly keep trying to look behind every headline I see on the subject until journalists start doing journalism.
So what do you think about what I've said? The comments are open.