Amazon yesterday introduced Kindle Publishing for Blogs Beta, a new program that lets anyone sell blog subscriptions to Kindle users through Amazon’s Kindle store. All you have to do is sign up for a blog vendor account (your Amazon customer account will not work), point Amazon to your blog’s RSS feed, and fill out some basic information about your publication. After that, Amazon takes care of the rest, including formatting, and your blog should be in the Kindle Store within 12-48 hours.
When I say Amazon takes care of the rest I mean it, as Amazon reserves the right to set subscription pricing for your blog. Amazon says they will set pricing based on what they believe to be “fair value” for your content. Most blog subscriptions in the Amazon store cost between $0.99 and $1.99. However, that pricing is for big name blogs with large readerships like The Huffington Post, Daily Kos and The New York Times. When smaller blogs join the program, there’s no telling if the price could go lower. If you would like to give away a blog subscription for free, you’re out of luck, as all Kindle-ready blogs are sold for a price. Amazon also prohibits blog publishers from distributing advertising or social networking links like digg, reddit, and Facebook badges with their RSS feed.
As far as the business arrangement goes, Amazon says it will take 70 percent of all subscription sales and deliver 30 percent of the revenue to the blog publisher. That seems like an awfully small margin going to the creator, especially when you consider that smart phone application developers entering into similar relationships with companies like Apple, Google, and Microsoft get the majority of the revenue with a small portion going to the distributor.
It may take more technical knowledge to create an application than to write a blog, but blog posts are still someone’s intellectual property and should be rewarded as such. I suppose there’s an argument to be made that blogger’s should be happy to receive anything at all since they usually give away their content for free. But I don’t buy that argument since it’s also no small feat to get people to subscribe to a blog for free, never mind at a nominal cost.
Amazon’s Kindle strategy has been criticized for its high priced devices, but also for being aggressive towards content producers. Difficulty in dealing with Amazon has even given some mid-range companies pause for thought. NPR’s On The Medialast week interviewed Jim Moroney, the publisher of the Dallas Morning News. In that interview, Moroney complained about the difficult negotiating tactics he experienced during talks with Amazon to put the Dallas Morning News on the Kindle.
Moroney said Amazon insisted on a 70-30 revenue share with the lion’s share going to the online retailer. However, Moroney was allowed to set his own subscription price. Moroney said he could have lived with Amazon’s revenue percentage, but he took exception to Amazon’s insistence that it could relicense the Dallas Morning News to any portable device including non-Amazon devices. “In essence, I was giving them a complete licensing agreement for nothing for all of my content, period,” Moroney said.
Amazon has a similar clause in its blog program allowing Amazon to distribute your content across any portable device as it sees fit. That clause may not be such a big deal to a blog publisher since a blogger may be happy to see a wider distribution and less worried about controlling their brand across various digital platforms like a newspaper or magazine would be.
But don’t these business practices raise a concern about Amazon and the future of publishing? Amazon is spending a lot of time trying to convince the world that the Kindle will be the savior of publishing by bringing the industry into the twenty-first century and actually charging money for content that many publishers are already giving away for free on the Web. Free is a hard price point to beat, but let’s assume, for a moment, that Amazon is right and the Kindle is the cure all for the publishing industry’s woes. For how long in Amazon’s Kindle-fied world will content producers be willing to take such a small percentage of revenue for their work?