Living and working in a Kindle world

This post is the first of a short series on writing, publishing and promoting an eBook in a marketplace dominated by free content. If you are interested in receiving a free eBook of the series upon its completion, subscribe here.

Throughout history technology has attempted to reduce friction. In ancient Rome, I wanted water but didn’t want to walk to the well, so an aqueduct was invented. In the Middle Ages, I wanted to read the Bible but didn’t want to wait for a scribe to transcribe it for me, so the Gutenberg press was invented. In the early 20th century I wanted the news before the morning paper, so the radio was invented.

This inevitable march towards zero friction is at the heart of innovation today. I want quick access to information, so Google is created and the encylopedia is no longer in print. I want quick access to music and file sharing sites and iTunes are created and the record labels are quickly bankrupt. Now, I want to read a book so I quickly download it to my Kindle while Borders closes down its doors. There is little between the reader and author making the sharing of ideas faster and widespread.

The elimination of friction

When friction is reduced to zero, the marketplace is truly democratized. I can create and distribute an album as easily as a rock star, so what value is a record label? No one has to approve of my record or tell me it is good enough. I can create it and instantly share it with the world. If I want to stay at a nice place when visiting Oslo, I don’t have to stay in a building approved by a small number of hospitality companies. I can contact homeowners directly and rent their house or even stay on their couch for free.

Without gatekeepers limiting the quantity of production, the number of options explodes. Niche products emerge and there is constant downward pressure on prices since the cost of production is zero. In essence, everything is moving towards free.

The evolution of books

Just as the music industry was completely destroyed as we knew it, the same is happening in the publishing industry. As Clay Shirky says, publishing is no longer an industry, it’s a button. With zero friction, the pricing of books is diverging in two directions: free (which might actually be free or so cheap, think $.99, that consumers don’t think twice about purchasing) or expensive. There is no middle.

The free content dominates the market with access to education and entertainment around the exact topic readers are interested in. There is zero risk to downloading a book that is free. If the reader doesn’t enjoy it they can stop. With fast access to content, the number of eBook readers has exploded to 21% of Americans, up from 17% in just December. Plus, the Pew Internet‘s study shows that with less friction people are reading more.  Readers with access to a tablet are reading 24 books a year compared to the non eBook average of 15, and 41% of eBook readers report reading more than they did before the friction was reduced between them and their content.

On the other hand, when a reader does decide to purchase a book, they are doing so with great care and investment. It may be to display on a bookcase to impress friends or colleagues, to see the images up close or to give as a gift. In fact, 69% of readers prefer printed books for giving as a gift as opposed to 83% who preferred eBooks when wanting to get a book quickly. Books that are purchased are investments and markers of membership in a tribe. Just as sales of vinyl have gone up in the past years, so too will sales of hardcover, limited edition books marketed to specific audiences that are fanatical about the author or topic.

The value of free

What does a marketplace dominated by free mean to people who want to make money? It doesn’t mean that creating content whether in music, print or otherwise, is unable to be monetized. Instead it means that content creators need to see the power of free.

The majority of musicians today do not make their living off of record sales. Rather they produce and distribute an album and then tour to earn money from concerts and merchandise. There are the few exceptions, just as there are the Stephanie Meyers and Suzanne Collins of the world, but the market has shifted to more musicians making a fair wage instead of a small number making huge sums of money (along with the labels).

To be a New York Times bestseller you need roughly 10,000 sales of your book. A few months ago, I launched my first book, The Travel Hacking Guide to Norway. I offered the book for free for one week as a Kindle eBook. Within seven days I had over 1000 downloads, already 10% of the way to becoming a New York Times best seller. On top of that, I received national news coverage, hosted intimate book launch parties and have my book for sale internationally.

Be a rock band, earn money from concerts

Yes, my book was free, but I am a rock band. I am not trying to make my living from a record. Rather, I am thriving with my own “concert.” Thus the ebook is still offered for “free” at just $2.99. The end of my book has a one page About the Author which mentions my website, my online education site and my marketing company. What would you normally pay to get in front of thousands of readers who trust you and want to thank you?

The “Brave Nook World” demands that you become a vinyl records or a viral mp3. You can be so loved that people will pay a premium for your content, or you can be so ubiquitous thanks to free content that people will pay to attend your concert and purchase whatever products or services you are selling on top of your free content. There is no in between, and there is nothing stopping you. You can put your album out today. You can write your book today. And if you don’t, someone else will.

Take advantage of the Kindle world. It is still early and there is room for readers to notice you and see you every time they turn on their Kindle. Access to the attention of readers is more valuable than anything else you are planning to do today. Start writing because you can remove all friction between you and your customers.


Photos: Roberto Al, Conor Keller |

Posted on June 21st, 2012 in Business