Should You Create a Kindle Book? An Author's Guide

March 8 -14 is Read an E-Book Week. In keeping with the spirit of the event, I thought I’d try to summarize what an author should know about Kindle, the e-reader from Amazon.

I’m going to assume that you’ve heard about the Kindle but you don’t really know too much about it. My aim with this post is to provide enough information for you to evaluate the market and figure out if it’s worth pursuing. So let’s get started. 


What Is the Kindle?

  • The Kindle is a dedicated e-book reading device, meaning it reads e-books, along with some newspapers and magazines, but not much else. Version 2 of the Kindle was released in February of this year.
  • It uses E ink technology for the display. E ink is very different from a computer screen or the screen on, say, an iPhone. It is not backlit and so the experience of reading on a Kindle is very much like that of reading off paper. There’s no eye strain and it can be comfortably used for long periods of reading.
  • The Kindle is relatively small and lightweight. It weighs just 10.2 ounces and has a 6″ screen on the diagonal. It’s very convenient for carrying, and many users appreciate its portability over heavy books.
  • The Kindle 2 can hold about 1,500 books at a time.
  • The device currently sells for $359 USD.

There are many video reviews online that will give you a more detailed look at the Kindle and its features. Here are a few good videos I have found:

Who Uses a Kindle?

  • Amazon will not release any sales data about the Kindle devices so no one really knows how many they have sold or who is buying them. Guesses from industry watchers range from 300,000 units sold to as high as 500,000.
  • Contrary to what you might intuitively guess — that the biggest users are kids of the ‘Net generation — anecdotal evidence points to users 40 years of age and up as the primary market. This older audience appreciates the resizable type, the light weight and portability, and the convenience of instant access to content. Typically, they also have more money and are able to afford the $359 ticket price.
  • Oprah Winfrey endorsed the Kindle on her show in October 2008, raising the device’s profile with the public in a big way. Demi Moore twitters about how much she loves her Kindle.
  • Right now, the Kindle is only available in the United States. There is some speculation that version 3 will be available in other countries, but Amazon has yet to confirm that this is true.

What About the Content?

  • There are about 245,000 book titles currently available in the Kindle format, including 102 of 111 current New York Times bestsellers.
  • Amazon reports that Kindle books have been selling briskly, now accounting for about 10% of sales for titles where both print and Kindle editions are available.
  • Kindle books are proprietary files. The files are wrapped in DRM (Digital Rights Management) technology, meaning they are encrypted. They can only be read on a Kindle or on the Kindle app for the iPhone. There is a great deal of debate and criticism in the publishing industry over Amazon’s choice to encrypt its files. Many publishers are pushing to standardize e-books around an open file format called ePub. (More on that in a later post.)
  • The typical price for a Kindle book is about $9.95. Amazon keeps a 65% commission on each sale. This is higher than the 55% commission they keep on print book sales.

What’s the Upshot?
While Amazon has taken its share of criticism over the Kindle for a variety of reasons — some of it well deserved — it can’t be denied that the device is helping bring e-books to the mainstream and creating new opportunities for book sales.

If you are an author with an existing print book, or one in production, publishing a companion Kindle version is pretty easy and inexpensive. For a small additional investment, you can make your book available to an audience that craves new content and wants it quickly. This audience is relatively small right now but will continue to grow over time. It’s almost certainly a good investment to make.

Jennifer Tribe is a principal at Highspot Inc. where she helps business owners publish their non-fiction books.