Amazon's Kindle eBook Reader

On Tuesday last week, to much fanfare and extreme skepticism, Amazon launched their Kindle book reader. If you went solely by invective and blog traffic, a casual observer might surmise that Amazon had been handed a monopoly on reading and thus any failure of the device was somehow a personal attack on the intelligentsia, rather than the release of a small niche-market consumer electronics device. Within hours there were hundreds of reviews on Amazon for the device, most extremely critical, yet by definition there were no devices in consumer's hands. Even a week later, the love-hate relationship seems far more fired up with invective than could possibly be justified based on what the device is, and more importantly isn't. Noted tech-wonk Robert Scoble went so far as to switch from baseline praise to mind-wrenching red-faced diatribe calling for unemployment lines at Amazon. Notable author Neil Gaiman managed to get into a well-mannered disagreement about it with large-funny-person Penn Jillette.

All this over a gizmo?

The Kindle is really a dull and simple device designed to do exactly two things: Get stuff you can read, and then make it easy to read it. And yet, all of the discussion seems to be about its digital rights management, and its industrial design.

This DRM debate is endless and in my mind somewhat pointless. The exchange between Penn Jillette and Neil Gaiman on Neil's blog is typical: Penn argues for the pointlessness of DRM and the irrelevance of the product in the face of the joys of a physical paper, Neil points out that the whole DRM thing is a red herring and that the device has substantial benefits over paper. (At the end of the day, Amazon's DRM applies only to books you actually buy - everything else works natively or with minimal hassle.)

So which is it? Sliced bread or failed better mousetrap. Rather than engage in the kind of feature dissection we technophiles live on, I thought I'd just record how this thing has actually fit into the life of my family in the last 7 days.

Day 1: Ooooh, Shiny! And small!

Jess and I take turns poking around on it, trying to figure out what it does in the corners. We get used to holding it. Our first impressions are favorable. It's incredibly light and geek-lust thin. The navigation, through a little scroll-wheel and click, is completely intuitive. The screen essentially is paper, which even in the age of Rock Band seems somehow magical. We download a handful of books and subscribe to a bunch of magazines. We take turns fondling it.

Day 2: I haven't seen it in a day, because Jess downloaded a new release in a hardcover series to which she is addicted. It's 800 pages in print form, about twice that in digital clicks.

"So how do you like it?" I ask.

"It's good. Not as good as the last one, but it made me cry about half way through. They killed off one of the main characters, so I just had to finish it and see how they ..."

"No I mean the Kindle."

She looks puzzled.

"Oh. It's fine I guess," she says, shrugging. "I didn't really think about it. It's nice you can read it with one hand instead of lifting weights with a hardcover."

Day 3 (Thanksgiving): Now that Jess has finished vampire romance novel number 324, I spend some quality time goofing around with the Kindle. It's surprisingly easy to get non-Amazon material on it. I just plug it in to the USB cable which perpetually hangs off the back of my laptop, and it shows up as a hard drive. I drop .txt and .mobi files into the "Book" folder and they show up. I convert a handful of PDFs to .mobi files using Mobi Creator and they work perfect, Tables of Contents and all. Sweet.

Like a set of prayer beads, I take it with me to Thanksgiving dinner, and spend some time reading "The Secret Garden" to my daughter. I quickly see what Jess was talking about. After a few pages I forget I'm just reading a book. Yes, the page "flashes" briefly on page turns (a function of e-ink, not the Kindle per se). But after a few minutes, it ceases to be distracting. The only ongoing perception I have of the device itself is how nice it is not to have to hold it. Sitting curled up on the couch with my daughter, the kindle just rests on my lap, and I tap the "next page" button now and then. When I shift positions, I can just hold it lightly with my left hand by the spine of the cover, and nudge the page button with my thumb.

Day 4: I grab the kindle from my wife's nightstand. Yes, she's still dominating it. I'd bought a few books I'd been meaning to get and she's now decided they're at the top of her reading pile too. Curse Amazon and the "buy it now, get it now" book thing. I can tell it's going to be a constant battle who has Kindle rights.

I head downstairs for morning coffee. The previous night I had subscribed to a bunch of blogs, newspapers and magazines. I try browsing some blogs, and give up. While the idea of reading blogs on the Kindle is a good one, the problem is that most of the blogs I read are as much about linking to web content as they are content in their own right.

The Kindle will load the web pages most of my blogs link to. There's a rudimentary web browser. But it's less than ideal, and absolutely no substitute for a laptop, or even an iPhone. The web functionality is more an emergency backup than a true feature. This doesn't disturb me in the least - it's not supposed to be a portable browser, it's supposed to be a book.

My subscription to "Slate" and "Salon," more traditional internet magazines, is much more rewarding, and I spend an hour reading over coffee and a bagel. Again, the fact that I don't have to hold it is wonderful. It just lies flat in front of me, out of range of Bagel crumbs. Since I have it at some distance, I increase the typeface a notch, and it's comfortable to read at a distance of about 3 feet - way further away than I can read a paper, and while it shows poorly in photographs (like everythign about the Kindle) the text is, in short, gorgeous.

Day 5 AM: The Gym Test. My mom picks me up. Yes, my mom is my gym partner. Instead of my usual random magazine, I put the Kindle on the treadmill rack. Again, I'm delighted to be able to read a book without holding it. It's pretty much impossible for me to hold open a book on the treadmill normally. I'm just not coordinated enough. But lying flat in front of me, I can sweat like crazy and just tap the page once in a while.

Inspired, I crank the typeface all the way up and try actually running. Oh Joy oh Rapture Unforeseen! Yes, I can actually read a book at a full out run. I lose 20 minutes to Larry Niven's new tale of known space with my heart rate over 150. Simply impossible with a paperback, and it fills me with delight.

Day 5 PM: I spend some more time poking at the deeper features. I confirm that you can indeed listen to audio books on it just fine, and it's a miserable, but I suppose functional MP3 player. It's not going to replace your iPod, but for a little Brian Eno background music, it fits the bill. I play around with the Dictionary and the Wikipedia lookup features and they work - nothing fancy, just functional. I spend half an hour poking around the store and, like a jaded lover, discover the first big wart.

Book selection. Just as many early-adopter music services suffered from critical holes in the back catalog, so too the Amazon Kindle. I've been dying to read Into the Wild. It's not available. Thinking this might be a gaffe purely on Amazon's part, I poke around the web and discover it's not available in any eBook format, for the Sony Reader or the Kindle. Another hour shows me holes all over the library, again, not limited to Amazon, but rather limited to the whole idea of eBooks. And while Amazon accurately shows that 100 of the 112 current best-sellers are available, if you're after book 101, you're still heading to the bookstore.

That evening I just read. The Kindle disappears, and I realize how important the design of the book is, and how strongly I disagree with so many web comments about it's supposedly horrendous un-holdability. The instructions for the thing say that it's designed to be used with the cover on (even though all of the marketing shows it with the cover off). Being a weak pawn, I tend to follow directions, and I can confirm that wiith the cover on, it's extremely difficult to accidentally hit any buttons while reading, and the left hand spine becomes a natural handle. The super-matte surfaces of both the screen and the frame make it readable and un-distracting at any angle, in any light. The next page buttons on both sides make it usable in more positions than a normal book, and in no case does it ever require two hands to use.

It is, in short, the most invisible piece of technology I can recall owning. This makes it supremely unsexy, and exactly right.

Day 6: Once again, I wake up early and grab the Kindle from my Jessica's nightstand. The Kindle falls out of the cover and bounces off the floor of the bathroom. Thankfully no damage, and looking at the drop-test video on the Amazon website, I have some hope that my good fortune isn't accidental, but it highlights another wart. The kindle isn't a book, it's a device. It can break. It can out of batteries. It can drown. While a drop into the tub hurts any book, I imagine it ruins an expensive kindle exceptionally well.

No harm done, I descend to the temple of my morning ritual. It's Sunday. So I buy the Sunday New York Times for 75 cents (a bargain for a non-subscriber). While I miss the crossword puzzle and the smell of newsprint, I still get sucked into the Magazine's discussion of Rock Band and a dozen other articles of note. It's completely satisfying.

That's my week with the Kindle.

It's been at least what I expected. Yes, it's expensive, but with Jessica chewing through dozens of hardcover books a year, my payback on $400 will be less than a year. While this cost-justification was part of my purchase-justification, I find it's the subtleties that make me really pleased with it. Short of reading in the tub, the Kindle is easier to read in more places, positions, and situations than a physical book. The simple ability to lie flat or be held comfortably with one hand means I can read for longer, more frequently and with more comfort. And grabbing a book or a newspaper on demand is enough to make any word-geek giddy.

But it's far from perfect. It is expensive. The cover, which I find completely necessary, is in desperate need of more secure attachment (Velcro works great). The book selection is less-than-perfect, although I imagine this will improve with every passing day.

And Amazon needs marketing help. The Kindle's launch reeked of "get it out fast." The big-picture marketing efforts (like video demonstrations and blurb's from authors) we're great, but simple things like communicating how freakin' easy it is to get non-Amazon content on to the device, for free, remain horribly misunderstood.

But in the final analysis, the point of the thing is to be a better book. It does this very well. Everything else is just icing on the cake, which is, in this case, not a lie.

Comments

Same exact thoughts as Rabbit about the Kindle. It's great for reading and as I've said elsewhere, it's way too easy to buy books and/or send samples of books to my Kindle for reading later. That is not a complaint, really, it just makes me buy more books, which is obviously done on purpose

Aaron D. wrote:

I was digging around for one specific piece of info but I couldn't find it. I understand that it works well outside in direct sunlight (awesome) but what about LOW LIGHT conditions? Can this thing be read in the dark? If my wife is asleep I'd love to be able to grab this thing and read it without having to get up and go to another room.

You can read eInk screens basically anywhere you can read paper. It really is electronic paper. You will need light. Many eInk reader owners have booklights that easily clip to the cover for nighttime reading. This is another advantage over paper books, since you never really have to move the electronic reader, your booklight stays in place.

Nice review. Don't know if I'm completely sold on the whole book reader concept, though. I can see how it would be fantastic for traveling, no more cramming books and magazines into your laptop bag. But there's just something about owning a book that I don't think can be replaced by a little battery-powered plastic slab.

Then again, I'm practically a Luddite. I'm probably one of the three people on the planet that doesn't own a iPod and my cell phone is old enough to enroll in preschool.

Aaron D. wrote:

I was digging around for one specific piece of info but I couldn't find it. I understand that it works well outside in direct sunlight (awesome) but what about LOW LIGHT conditions?

The only issues I've had are reading at night. I use a small, red-LED headlamp for reading at night while my wife is asleep. Despite how matte the screen is, at certain angles the headlight glares. Not really enough to be annoying, but it is different than reading a book in that regard.

But there's just something about owning a vynil discthat I don't think can be replaced by a little battery-powered plastic box.

Fix'd.

I'm with you slinger. I like physically owning my books, music etc... but this sounds like a cool little gizmo. I wouldn't mind having one, but I couldn't bring myself to buy it at the $400 price point.

subaltern wrote:

I'm with you slinger. I like physically owning my books, music etc... but this sounds like a cool little gizmo. I wouldn't mind having one, but I couldn't bring myself to buy it at the $400 price point.

I doubt this will ever supplant my bookcases, I don't consider myself an avid reader as I only read a couple of books a month (sometimes audibly), although compared to some of my friends whose last book experience was in college... but I do think it will actually pay for itself over the next 24 months. I will still end up buying books that aren't available yet, and others just to finish out a series. The kindle will also certainly provide another incentive to mentally exercise through reading versus dumbing down by turning on the TV. I watch a couple of hours a night and i would like to see that diminish even further.

All this said the $400 you and so many others have hit upon is what I think is an early adopters surcharge, the unit is currently $103 more than the sony prs-505 but it does provide a few more whistles and I think the klencher is the fact amazon is driving the creation of ebook content for their store. So basically I get one early, my kindle email address doesn't have numbers behind it your will later jk and I get to read more books where I want when I want. If amazon takes a page from the unit they are saying they want to be like the price may not drop for a while but rather a new model with more something will be released allowing this one to drop to closer to the existing $300 price point. but it is Amazons financial interests to not let this be a commodity and keep a steady price for the device. Once it is successfully launched and adoption slows I suspect a Wal-Mart tie in will occur. (you heard it here first from Me.;))

You may say why can't I read more now, simply because I never quite now where I will be when I get a chance to read. Currently I carry one book in my bag everywhere I go, but wouldn't it be nice to have several and let your mood or available time dictate what your reading.

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:
I still lament the day when eventually i wont be able to put an actual physical book in my library. It's not like music where you can move your existing library to storage/player device.

I long since stopped lamenting the day when I've put a new CD into on of my several CD towers for the last time. Is there anything wrong with me?

Books and CDs are pretty different. A CD is a tactile experience for a few seconds prior to the actual experience of the media. You might flip through the liner notes the first listen through an album, maybe. A physical book, however, is inherently tactile while you experience the media. I myself love nothing more than a book with textured paper, uncut edges, and delicious smelling glue.

7inchsplit wrote:

..delicious smelling glue.

I love stamps/envelopes that have great tasting glue. To mess with friends in boot camp or other type places I love writing on the outside of the envelope, "This glue tastes great! Try some!"

rabbit wrote:

Inspired, I crank the typeface all the way up and try actually running. Oh Joy oh Rapture Unforeseen! Yes, I can actually read a book at a full out run. I lose 20 minutes to Larry Niven's new tale of known space with my heart rate over 150. Simply impossible with a paperback, and it fills me with delight.

And ... I'm ... sold. Not right now (expensive), and not necessarily on a Kindle, but definitely on an eReader at some point in the future. The saddest part of my life is that I don't have the time to read as much as I'd like to and fitting it into other activities could certainly help. And, yes, I'm aware that when reading time is my biggest problem that my life is pretty easy.

I might buy the kindle 2.0... the one without the cell/keyboard. I like the idea of the device, and I already read ebooks almost exclusively. Still... $400? Even $300 for the Sony reader is too much. Less than $200, I might bite. I really like Amazon's pricing of actual books... $10 is MUCH more in line with what ebooks should cost, in comparison to the physical product. I just dont care enough about instant access to pay for the other stuff... I am never away from my laptop for long enough to need to call for a book.

I guess I'm also crazy since I don't mind using an LCD for reading... I usually sit in the dark and read my ebooks backlit (either on my pocketpc or more recently my PSP).

Lookie here. You're famoose.

Scooped by ColdForged.

Congrats to rabbit, and regrets to Pyro.

Welcome, perverts!

Wait, that's... eh, close enough!

Yes, I can actually read a book at a full out run.

Sunuvabitch. I never even considered this aspect. rabbit, you, sir, are an unmitigated asshole.

I wasn't aware that there were e-readers out there with e-paper technology (I thought e-paper in real products was still a little ways off...).

I am highly intruiged by Kindle. I'm not willing to pay the early adopters premium, but I am certainly going to be following this technology. My price point is ~$150-$200. I could do without the keyboard/wireless, personally. I think $10 for new releases is quite reasonable. Any idea what the price will be for books that have hit mass-market paperback? I'd be willing to spend $4-$5 for an MMPB book, personally.

I'll give this another year or two. The only feature I can think of that would be useful is some sort of front-lighting for reading in low light (I imagine it as a thin light running the border of the e-paper, or a more crude but just as effective point light that swings out like an arm, i.e. a "book light" but built in)

EDIT: I could do without the audio support as well. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of the wireless to access Wikipedia...

rabbit wrote:

Lester: Interesting gizmo. Can you get decent book selection on it?

I mostly read .txt files from Proj. Gutenberg, but I bought a couple of books from their store and had no trouble getting World War Z or the Song of Ice and Fire novels.

LiquidMantis wrote:

That's a standard LCD, not eInk though, right?

Yeah, it's not eInk, it's a greyscale LCD display. But it has a backlight, so I can read in bed without disturbing the lady-friend.

It even has a built-in 56k modem that will dial into the store from a landline and download items from the store.

Thanks for the write up rabbit. The product is a bit out of my price range but I was (am) curious about how it works and where it goes next.

I don't read a ton of books year-round and I'm not a regular traveller. I tend to read voraciously for a period of time (Winter is often one of those times) then I slow down again. I think I buy less than twenty books per year (and rarely hardcover) so the savings don't really add up for me. It would take four-plus years for the savings to catch up - granted there are benefits to be had along the way, but I guess those aren't enough of a priority for me with my extra $. Sharing or splitting the cost with someone else would help.

As it stands, I can't help thinking that something much better will be available in two years.
I think $200-250 is "biting" range for me. That's around what I'd spend on books in a year, and I'd hope to hold onto the device for 2-3 years so it's paid for itself for a large fraction of its lifetime.

Hey! You got on Slashdot! Nice.

Funny that many of their comments clearly didn't even read the review... And they have "+1 insightful". =P

minezamac wrote:

Once it is successfully launched and adoption slows I suspect a Mart tie in will occur.

I think the first tie-ins will happen with NYT, WSJ, FT, and The Oprah. Stuff like that.

7inchsplit wrote:

Books and CDs are pretty different. A CD is a tactile experience for a few seconds prior to the actual experience of the media. You might flip through the liner notes the first listen through an album, maybe. A physical book, however, is inherently tactile while you experience the media. I myself love nothing more than a book with textured paper, uncut edges, and delicious smelling glue.

All that fetishism about the books' glossy cover, the texture of paper and the smell of glue are also only the first-moment experience. The moment you actually crack the book open and begin reading, none of that matters much. So in terms of comparison between the media, there're fewer differences between books and CDs in jewel cases than you're trying to highlight.

So tempting, but still really expensive.
I think one of my flaws is the singular price point. I would use usb to upload, so i don't need 3g, maybe wi-fi.
Also, I would like a subscription service much as has arisen in music now.
And no keyboard....bleh.

I have five or six thousand physical books. Until two years ago I had a big enough house to put them all on shelves, nicely organized. After moving to California my house is half the size and no basement. I now have an expensive climate controlled storage area holding a great majority of my library. I wish so much that those books were available as ebooks. I have a Sony PRS500 with a 2GB memory card and have a few thousand books on it. For fiction and non-reference non-fiction it is a delight. (Most folks complaining of format issues should look at the Amber series of software conversion programs for free or cheap.)

I would have bought a Kindle if I didn't already have an ereader and may buy the Kindle 2.0 if there are compelling reasons.

I like having rooms of books but as you get older some things like photographs and music just build up over the years. Sometimes, you just need a place to sit down

Bundling in either your choice of a book or two, or a pre-selected book would also be a great idea. (Heck, go wild and allow people to choose from a small list of pre-selected options!) Of course you don't buy this product without plans to purchase something straight away but getting something for "free" makes for a great talking point and eases the psyche. The Happy Meal has taught us this much. Sure you paid $400 to get your free toy but you are walking out with something that functions and that you can show off immediately.

I think it overcomes a big mental hurdle that many people have. You're not just selling the Kindle to early adopters - those early adopters become your de facto sales force. Give them something to work with, preferably something universal.

Can you imagine what kind of boost it would have been to include, for example, the first Harry Potter book with every Kindle sold? Sure, everyone who wants to probably already owns it - but who would turn down a free copy? And how many of them would then go out and brag about the free book that came with it? It plants the idea that "of course there will be lots of great books on this thing, and they're not going to be rip-offs" more effectively than any $10 vs. $17 vs $25 comparison chart or video could.

Two Questions about SD card usage:
1- Is there an upper limit to how many books you can store on an SD card? Any limit to the card size? (The Kindle manual doesn't seem to say.) Folks that are new to the concept of ebook readers sometimes fail to understand that an ebook reader is *not* an electronic book but rather an electronic personal *library*. Hence, the importance of total storage capacity.

2- have you tried loading mobipocket files from commercial sites like Baen.com or Fictionwise.com via the SD card?
Baen has a free library at:
http://www.baen.com/library/
Some very nice stuff in there; I'd recommend 1632 and/or ON BASILISK STATION for any testing.
(If it works, you may find their "webscription" pricing enticing; basically they'll sell you everything they publish in a given month for $15. Since that is usually 6+ books...)
Also, if it works, you may want to look here:
http://www.silkpagoda.com/catalog/in...
...for 10,000+ classic out-of-copyright ebooks in any format conceivable.

My interest in Kindle is that my mother has the old GEMSTAR (nee RCA) REB-1100 which has since been remarketed as the Ebookwise 1150 referenced above (actualy two; one charges while she reads the other). When GEMSTAR/TVGUIDE bought out the product from THOMSON/RCA, they used *exactly* the same tie-in business model AMAZON is using (with zero success) and eventually flipped it to the Fictionwise folks who opened up the reader, apparently to better success. At some point I'll need a replacement for her readers and right now its looking to be between the Sony and the Kindle. Hence, my curiosity.

If you can verify that content from non-amazon sources will work, I'd greatly appreciate it.
Thanks.

I've got several Baen books on here, including Basilisk Station (grin).

I believe the card size caps at 4gigs.

I think they would have been very wise to have included a big catalog of out-of-copyright books. They have tons of them available for a buck or two. Free would have been great marketing.

Interesting review. Seems like something I would enjoy, but I echo the comment that it seems too expensive. The reader I could maybe part with $400 for, but $10 per book seems insanely high to me. At least 30-40% too high. I can buy a paperback for $7 and this e-book is costing the publisher exactly $0 (or darn near) in materials, which traditionally make up a large portion of the final cost. Seems to me that the publisher is trying to increase his profit margin by 50-100% at my expense.

Great article, Rabbit. I haven't read much about the Kindle, but your article has definitely piqued my interest. I'll be really curious to see how the independent e-book community takes to it...

For my current level of reading, I think it will be awhile before I pick up something like this...maybe around version 2...? But I can definitely see a day, not far off now, when instead of lugging around 3 or 4 partially read books in my bag, I simply pack around a single device, with anything and everything I want to read on it all the time...

In fact...wow...I think I just sold myself on one of these sooner than expected!

Great great review Rabbit. I had no clue of this thing till I read it was available. I'll admit that price tag is a bit steep for me but I also love to read and hate the weight of hard books. So this thing has peaked my interest bigtime.

I hope alot more of the odd things I like to read become available. Right now I fear I don't have a big selection to choose from.

minezamac wrote:

I doubt this will ever supplant my bookcases

I've seen that comment a lot since the Kindle came out, but I don't really think that's the point of the device. My iPod will never truly supplant my cd collection either.

belorion wrote:

I could do without the keyboard/wireless, personally. I think $10 for new releases is quite reasonable. Any idea what the price will be for books that have hit mass-market paperback? I'd be willing to spend $4-$5 for an MMPB book, personally.

I'll give this another year or two. The only feature I can think of that would be useful is some sort of front-lighting for reading in low light (I imagine it as a thin light running the border of the e-paper, or a more crude but just as effective point light that swings out like an arm, i.e. a "book light" but built in)

EDIT: I could do without the audio support as well. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of the wireless to access Wikipedia...

Not having a keyboard would kind of defeat the entire purpose. Without being able to search for and buy a book on your Kindle, the whole Sprint tie-in and Kindle store would be useless, which is a big part of why the device exists in the first place. An optional backlight would be nice, but it would destroy battery life, and raise the cost of what people already consider a pricey device.

neepster wrote:

Interesting review. Seems like something I would enjoy, but I echo the comment that it seems too expensive. The reader I could maybe part with $400 for, but $10 per book seems insanely high to me. At least 30-40% too high. I can buy a paperback for $7 and this e-book is costing the publisher exactly $0 (or darn near) in materials, which traditionally make up a large portion of the final cost. Seems to me that the publisher is trying to increase his profit margin by 50-100% at my expense.

I had similar feelings, until I actually browsed the available books. Rabbit's comparison to new hardcovers is a better example. The $10 books are all currently $25-30 hardcovers. Things that are in trade paperbacks or paperback seem to be around $8, like McCarthy's "The Road". Without getting into an in-depth argument over the economics of the book industry, I'd say a profit margin off $10 for an eBook is probably on par with what the profit margin is on a traditional hardcover, minus printing and distribution expenses. Sellers traditionally get books at a 40% discount (yes, that means you're getting the upperhand on B&N on those titles, they just want you in the store), so let's take a $25 hardback, sell it for 18 bucks (on sale!) they're making $3 a book, minus their extra expenses. $10 eBook, $4 profit for them minus their expenses. It's hardly the formula for an evil empire. I don't know what share of a book goes to the author, or the other people of a company, but $6 seems like what would be left over after you take the publisher's $15 cut and subtract those same costs you're talking about for a new release.

Scaphism wrote:

As it stands, I can't help thinking that something much better will be available in two years.

Of course something will, who saw the iPod Touch coming 3 years ago? The iPhone? That doesn't make my iPod Nano any less enjoyable, or the use I've gotten out of it any less worthwhile.

So, on the price thing. Standard rates for hardcover royalties are 10-15% off retail. So if the retail price printed on a hardcover best seller is 25, the publisher immediately pays 2.50 to the author. Marketing costs are generall equivalent on a new book. eBook rates (where established, I've seen some contracts where they weren't) are often double, which means you are still looking at a floor of 3 bucks or so. So what's an "acceptable" amount above that 3 dollars to cover the very real costs of producing and publishing a major hardback-level title, both for the publisher and the retailer.

Traditional retailing markup (so-called Keystone) is 50%. So If Amazon sells a book for 10 bucks, they'd look to pay $5. I have no idea what's actually in the mix here, but I suspect its VASTLY less than that, and they might even be takign a loss on the best seller list. My point is just that the book business (like most art retailing) has always had massive margins vs. royalties. All this "give me a paperback for a dollar" stuff is simply not in the realm of rationality.