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Amazon Using Computer Bestseller List to Push Kindle Content?

In an interesting, but not entirely unexpected development, Amazon may be using its Computer bestseller list to drive early adopter traffic to the Kindle. I was a bit surprised when I checked the computer bestseller list this morning to discover that it is now topped by the Amazon Daily, an Amazon newsletter that has nothing to do with computer books.

Amazon computer bestseller list with kindle title at top

Also appearing as outliers to the computer bestseller list, I saw the Kindle edition of the Onion (#14) and the Kindle edition of the New York Times Latest News (#21). Now, to be certain, non-computer books often show up by accident in the computer book lists, but these errors are usually quickly corrected. It will be interesting to see if these Kindle editions disappear or whether they are a sign of Amazon astroturfing the list in order to promote its new platform.

This is obviously a bit worrisome for publishers, since Amazon has been directly recruiting authors to the Kindle, potentially creating a very uneven playing field. Now obviously, offering digital publishing services to authors is a legitimate thing for Amazon to do, and could be a great business for them and a powerful tool for authors. There’s no divine right for existing middlemen to stay in the middle of the marketplace if they aren’t adding value. But because of Amazon’s place as today’s pre-eminent bookseller, I am hopeful that they will be scrupulous in providing a level playing field for publishers rather than emphasizing products that they publish themselves.

I should note that other retailers, including Barnes & Noble, compete with the publishers they distribute, so this dynamic is nothing new. And because the Kindle is open as a platform to publishers as well as to individual self-published authors, the best way to keep Amazon from using its vertical integration of publishing and retail to steamroller the marketplace is to get on the platform and compete.

In this regard, it’s worth noting that also appearing on the list, at #6, is How to Use the Amazon Kindle for Email & Other Cool Tricks, a legitimate computer book title published by a fast moving independent publisher who’s jumped onto the Kindle opportunity. That’s a wakeup call to all tech publishers to take this new platform seriously.

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Comments: 9

  1. Perhaps it’s time for the middle men to get together and form their own partnered online retail outlet and promote other e-reader technologies?

  2. I mean, Best Seller could be defined in various ways. If x% of kindle users buy a book and that percent is higher than y% of browser users who buy another book, which one sells better?

  3. Less than a week ago I was browsing books on Amazon, and I took a very thorough look at a book on the International Building Code. Deciding I was not interested in that book or even that topic, I did some other book searches. That dang International Building Code book came up in everything I searched for, and it was in the top ten every time. I finally concluded the searches were so whacky i could not continue on Amazon. I went to Powell’s books and was able to get reasonable results from my searching. I ordered from Powell’s as well.

  4. How does OReilly intend to handle this scenario? Is that why there are no OReilly books on Amazon Kindle book list, at least in the first 100!?

    This is very reminiscent of any platform provider. Once the base has been established, the next revenue stream is most easily identified from existing partners/vendors. It is perhaps the most logical too. Stretch a little at a time beyond your familiar territory.But of course all sorts of bells ring out when that happens and this one is no different.

  5. Mahesh —

    We’ve been a bit uncomfortable with the Amazon-only aspect of Kindle (a publishing channel with only one bookstore, so to speak), and have been trying to find ways to provide our content on Kindle without having it only available from Amazon. We’ve been reluctant to support proprietary formats, from a long history of being asked to put our books electronically on one such platform or another. (Our work to start the docbook project in the late 80s was to avoid having to support multiple proprietary formats.)

    That being said, we’re getting lots of requests from our customers for books on the Kindle. And so we’re trying to figure out how to satisfy what seems to us a fairly strong strategic and moral imperative not to let a proprietary format dominate the market along with our desire to satisfy customer demand. (There is no mp3 equivalent, which acts as a counterweight to Apple with AAC, and even there, Apple is getting an awful lot of market power.)

    We may have a solution, in that Amazon supports Mobi format (which is relatively open, even though they own it.) If our path is through Mobi, which either our customers or Amazon can convert to Kindle format, we can see a world in which our books can be available from multiple vendors and still run on the Kindle.

    Even better would be for Amazon to support other open ebook formats on the Kindle. The key aspect of “open” in this context is that it’s a format that anyone can generate, and that anyone can sell, so that Kindle content can be available from publishers directly, or from other retailers.

  6. Michael R. Bernstein

    Tim, from what I’ve been told, the Mobi and Kindle formats are actually the same except for the DRM, so unless you *want* the DRM, just renaming the Mobi files should suffice to ‘convert’ to the Kindle format. This is what Manybooks.net does.

    That said, I *really* wish there was an open source Mobi converter I could run on Linux.

  7. Interesting possibility, Michael. We’ll have to try it and see what happens.

    Keith Fahlgren, who runs our tools group, sent the the following note on a backchannel list after I forwarded your comment:

    “You’re right on in saying that we’re hoping to get to the Kindle via DocBook->.epub[1]->.mobi[2]->Kindle[3] format. The one thing I’ll warn from the investigations Allen and I have had with mobi and Amazon engineers is that the Kindle doesn’t currently have a monospace font. This’ll make any of our titles with code blocks (most, of course) challenging to sell. Amazon folks claim to be working on support for a monospace font in the Kindle [4]

    1. Working on it, shouldn’t be too hard
    2. Standalone converter already done, or service provided by mobipocket. This transformation is easy, as .epub and .mobi both (can) keep their _content_ in the XHTML 1.1+CSS subset specified in OPS 2.0.
    3. Done silently by Amazon? This is where we don’t understand how “light” the “light transformation” the Amazon engineers have talked about will be.
    4. Crazy rant about making a reading device without a typewriter font elided…. “

  8. If a slick way is put together to get O’Reilly Off-line, please consider the “30 minutes here, 30 minutes there for $30 / mth” Use Case when figuring out the pricing model for it all. After all is said and done with Safari’s bookshelf and tokens, the $$ work out to $60-75/mth to read a chapter here and a chapter there off-line. ACM’s membership and content is at $200/yr and IEEE’s at ~$400/yr and I get loads of PDFs from each … plus healthcare! I realize it isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison, but the checking account makes it look that way and so I’m left with trying to justify $700-900/yr to myself and my wife and in the end I just can’t get there.

  9. I’m digital publisher at a major group in a foreign country and have been trying to no avail to reach someone at Amazon that I can speak to about Kindle. Does anyone have any leads? Thanks.