One of the reasons I push new authors to publish on Kindle is because the installed user base of Kindle owners is highly motivated to shop for eBooks from Amazon. The reasons are many, from the sunk cost of the device which is amortized over every new purchase, to one-click buying and trust in Amazon as a merchant. The flip side of people happily buying quantities of eBooks from Amazon, Barnes&Noble and Apple is that it probably makes them less likely to buy a PDF direct from an author’s website. The reasons run the exact opposite of the above: lack of vendor trust, relatively complicated checkout, and lack of desire to read the downloaded book on a computer screen, or worse, to read a PDF scrunched onto a small screen device.
I finally sat down for the first time in two years to look at my direct PDF sales numbers adjusted for traffic changes, and I was surprised to find that sales have dropped more than twice as much as those traffic changes would imply. Some of that might be explained by the quality of visitors, maybe the search engines are sending inappropriate people, but my gut feeling is that even technical readers are eschewing PDFs, including printable PDFs without DRM, in favor of shopping for reflowable eBooks at the big retailers for their associated devices.
At the same time, I don’t see a gold rush in technical nonfiction on eInk Kindles or Nooks because the small screens just aren’t that well suited page designs that include text and diagrams or text and photos. As the number of tablets continues to grow, I think we’ll see the growth of a subcategory of Kindle eBooks that are designed for tablets only. I would be tempted to try this with one of my larger format books right now, but I don’t see a way from preventing owners of eInk Kindles and the smaller Fires from purchasing the eBook, which would result in a bad customer experience and bad reviews.
If this had been posed to me as a theoretical question before the existence of multiple Kindle devices, I would have guessed that a description stating that the eBook was optimized for large screen Fire and for iPad would have prevented people with the smaller devices from purchasing it. But based on a limited study of customer reviews of Kindle eBooks, I’ve concluded that many buyers (and borrowers) barely glance at the title, much less the subtitle or book description. They simply arrive at the product page through Amazon’s referral system, buy or borrow the book, then rush to post flames berating everything from Amazon Prime rules to their own inability to read.
But as my direct PDF sales continue in a tailspin, at approximately 10% of the level of two years ago, I’m growing tempted to discontinue them altogether. I really enjoyed having $20K a year or so of publishing income that was in no way dependent on paper books or large Internet retailers, but it was fatally dependent on both search traffic and on a thirst for eBooks that Kindle, Nook and iPad are now filling through other channels.
Update: Make sure you read the comments from Kevin Sivils below which directly contradict my thesis:-)