Victor R. Volkman – Lighting a fire with eBooks on Amazon Kindle 2

On March 4th, 2009 Irene Watson interviewed publisher, author, and editor Victor R. Volkman about the Amazon Kindle eBook reader platform and how to publish on it. Victor is the President of Loving Healing Press Inc. and its newest imprint Modern History Press. In this wide ranging discussion, we cover key points including:

  • What is the Amazon Kindle?
  • How many Kindles are out there?
  • How many books are really available on the Kindle?
  • Can self-publishers and small presses really compete on the Kindle platform?
  • What kind of conversions issues are there for people doing the work?
  • What’s New with the Kindle 2 product “refresh”?
  • What is the big deal about the new text-to-speech feature that reads books to you?
  • How much are Kindle books and how much do I make as the author or publisher?
Victor R. Volkman began his writing career in the late 1980s writing for computer programming journals such as “Windows Developer’s Journal,” and many other print publications that have been obsoleted since the web was born. He authored two computer programming books in the mid-1990s before finding out that writing for Fortune 500 companies was not terribly profitable. In 2003, he formed Loving Healing Press out of a community project in the Self-Expression and Leadership Program at Landmark Education. Since then, LHP has gone on to publish dozens of cutting-edge books that promote its mission of “redefining what is possible for healing mind and spirit.” As such, he has produced a series of books on Traumatic Incident Reduction as well as empowering other authors in a wide range of helping areas including trauma recovery, self-esteem, physical disabilities, personal growth, and much more. He produces regular podcasts for “
Authors Access,” and the “Unbreak Your Health” show. In 2007, LHP spun off a new imprint Modern History Press dedicated to empowering authors to speak about surviving conflict and seeking identity in modern times. When not publishing, he enjoys spending time with his wife Marian K. Volkman, a formidable author in her own right.

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1.       What is the Amazon Kindle? 

The Amazon Kindle ebook reader was released on November 21st, 2007, just a few days shy of Black Friday. The first production run was sold out in 5.5 hours after the announcement according to CEO Jeff Bezos. Shortly thereafter, it could be found on eBay for $100 over list price.

The first generation Kindle was ridiculed by computer the industry wags branding it with various epithets from ugly  to zany  to “a bit sad” . That hasn’t discouraged consumers, who have been wanting something like this for a decade or more: an eBook reader that made sense. They’ve been voting with their pocketbooks to the tune of 6% of Amazon total book revenues . The Kindle can deliver your blogs and newspapers to you without ever leaving the comfort of your own bed—not even your dog can do that for you.

Since its release at a hefty retail price of $399, they’ve since come down about 10% to $359 and this price held even through the introduction of the revamped “Amazon Kindle 2”.


2.       How many Kindles are out there? 

There are not publically released figures but analysts say based on similar electronic products, they would have had to have manufactured 50,000 units of Kindle version 1 to get that pricepoint.

3.       How many books are really available on the Kindle?

The Kindle launched with 90,000 titles and by all accounts has accelerated to a growth rate of 10,000 titles per month. As of June 2008, there were 130,000 titles online. The most recent report puts total book titles at 240,000. Now, to put that into perspective, the current output of the book industry is roughly that many titles per year and by contrast the Library of Congress receives 500,000 items per year and has 32 million books in its collection.

4.       Can self-publishers and small presses really compete on the Kindle platform?

Now I’m going to say something really controversial: the Kindle has leveled the playing field for self-published authors and small presses in a way that has not been since the introduction of the Internet itself. There is no fee for authors to get their books up on Kindle; once they are on Kindle they look just the “same” as all other books by any of hundreds of other publishers. Yes there are some apocryphal success stories of people selling 20,000 copies on Kindle, but the average Kindle title probably moves a hundred copies of itself per year. It’s a revenue stream that’s only going to grow. Also, consider that Kindle users can download a free preview of your book. That itself could result in a sale.

You can get onboard yourself as an author through their do-it-yourself site, or you can get an experienced team to optimize the reading experience for you, as is offered by Reader Views

5.       So I can just do my Kindle conversion today, right?

Not so fast… If you are not a self-published author and your book was published in the last five years, the odds are extremely high that you don’t own your own rights to produce an electronic book.  You need to read your contract very carefully to make sure you haven’t ceded those rights directly or indirectly.  For example, by an all-inclusive clause saying “all formats the publisher wishes to utilize”.  Like every other type of product, development costs time and therefore money.  Less time than putting out a book, but still someone has to be paid to do the work for the publisher.

6.       What kind of conversions issues are there for people doing the work?

It turns out that some input file formats are much better than others.  Sadly PDF is the worst of the lot. Unfortunately, most authors have gone past the Word file stage and have made corrections in the PDF stage of production so their Word documents are no longer the best representation of the text.  This is a problem I see over and over.  Word documents are actually relatively painless. PDFs however, generate a whole set of problems including UNICODE characters—a single one will prevent the whole conversion, poor paragraph determination algorithm—resulting in chopped up paragraphs, inability to handle “smart quotes”, often problems with headings misformatted and stray page numbers landing inside the body text. A PDF conversion can take between 2 and 8 hours, even with custom-written tools. And if you fail to do it right, Amazon will refund customers purchases and eve
n kick your title off the site.  I provide a lot of tips and tricks in my new book Authors Access: 30 Success Secrets for Authors and Publishers.

7.       What’s New with the Kindle 2 product “refresh”? 

The Kindle 2 rebuffs a lot of the criticisms leveled at the first-generation kindle.  It is definitely NOT klunky, weighing in at 10 ounces and 1/3rd of an inch thick.  You can’t stuff it in a purse, but it can fit in any type of attaché case.  The first version already had a long battery life but Kindle 2 extends that to 4 days of reading on a single charge.  They can do that because it uses not LCD technology but “electronic ink” which stays put on a single powerup so that battery is pretty much only consumed during page flipping. Of course it still uses the Whispernet, a leased use of so-called 3G cellular networks which gives you access to content with no monthly fees.  It’s now a full fledged MP3 player but that’s not saying much given that you can buy a thumbdrive which is also an MP3 player for about 20 bucks.

8.       What is the big deal about the new text-to-speech feature that reads books to you?

I’ll read to you from an article in an issue this week from the Guardian (and I hope they don’t sue me for doing so).

The Authors Guild has objected to the Kindle 2’s text-to-speech feature and Amazon — which also sells audiobooks — is giving publishers the ability to stop it working.  Following objections from the Authors Guild in the US, Amazon has caved on the text-to-speech features of the new Kindle 2 ebook reader. It will now enable publishers and authors to disable the text-to-speech (TTS) function if they want.

There shouldn’t be anything controversial about TTS: it’s been available on personal computers since the 1970s. It’s important to people who have impaired or no vision, but little used by anyone else. However, the Authors Guild argues that the audio rights for a book are different from the reading rights, even if the audio is provided by a software robot.

In “The Kindle Swindle?” an editorial  in The New York Times, Roy Blount Jr, president of the Authors Guild, argues that “Kindle 2 is not paying anyone for audio rights.” He says:

True, you can already get software that will read aloud whatever is on your computer. But Kindle 2 is being sold specifically as a new, improved, multimedia version of books — every title is an e-book and an audio book rolled into one. And whereas e-books have yet to win mainstream enthusiasm, audio books are a billion-dollar market, and growing. Audio rights are not generally packaged with e-book rights. They are more valuable than e-book rights. Income from audio books helps not inconsiderably to keep authors, and publishers, afloat.

You may be thinking that no automated read-aloud function can compete with the dulcet resonance of Jim Dale reading “Harry Potter” or of authors, ahem, reading themselves. But the voices of Kindle 2 are quite listenable.

9.       How much are Kindle books and how much do I make as the author or publisher?

Most of the books are available at $9.99 although there are always promotional items marked down further to as little as $2.99.  It still seems like a lot of money for me for a book that is locked up in a box.  Amazon rakes off 65% of the price so with a $9.99 book that means the publisher gets $3.50 and the author maybe some percentage of that, such as 50 cents or a dollar if they are very lucky.  Everybody knows that ebooks cost “nothing” to produce so everyone has their hand out to take the profits.  Ebookstores never take less than 50% of the list price for themselves.


10.   So Kindle 2 should take over the world right?

Not so fast… Kindle 2 is maybe a little bit late to the party and still has two strikes against it. First off, it rides against the notion of digital convergence.  This is not some pie-in-the-sky concept but a real trend where content, for example movies, can be shown on your computer, your phone, and your TV seamlessly.  Furthermore, new TVs are coming out with internet connections built-in for Netflix and Amazon video downloads. Kindle is a fully closed platform in that if you buy a “kindle book” from Amazon it will never never ever be readable on your laptop, your TV, or your phone.  That means you gotta lug it with you wherever you go.

Second point:  Kindle is going to be under a lot of pressure from the new generation Netbooks. These are tiny computers with a 9 or 10 inch screen that weigh 2 pounds and run Windows XP just like a full-size computer, have wireless internet, webcams, audio, a gigabyte of memory, everything you need.  And they cost less than the Kindle 2.  I just bought one for my wife on sale at for under $300.  If you can surf the whole world wide web, do you really want an ebook reader?  This is where Amazon has shot themselves in the foot by not allowing online reading of kindle books.  Its anti-convergence, not pro-convergence.

This entry was posted in, eBooks, Guests, Kindle, Marketing, Publishers Resources, Self-Publishing, Victor Volkman. Bookmark the permalink.

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