Cheaper books make for wealthier authors, insists Amazon's Jeff Bezos

'The Kindle is trying to reduce friction for reading a whole book, and it’s working,' Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said at a conference yesterday.

Mike Segar/Reuters
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos spoke at the Business Insider's 'Ignition Future of Digital' conference in New York City this week.

Books should be cheaper. And cheaper books will actually make authors more money.

That's according to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, who shared his thoughts on the industry at a Business Insider conference in New York Tuesday.

In a publishing industry first, Bezos opened up about the very tense, very public six-month-long standoff with Hachette over e-book pricing terms, and his reasons for digging in his heels.

"[I]t's an essential job of any retailer to negotiate hard on behalf of customers," he told Business Insider CEO Henry Blodget.

“Surely making reading more affordable is not going to make authors less money,” Bezos said. “Making reading more affordable is going to make authors more money.”

Amazon and Hachette reached a multi-year agreement last month, ending a bitter fight that saw Amazon remove pre-orders for Hachette books and delay delivery to customers.

Bezos said he was fighting for lower book prices.

"Book prices in my view are too expensive," he said. "$30 for a book is too much...."

That's because books aren't just competing with other books, but with games, movies, TV, and news, he argued.

“If you narrow your field of view and only think about books competing against books, you make really bad decisions,” he said. “If we want to have a healthy culture for long-form reading, you’ve got to make books more accessible – and part of that is making them less expensive.”

Bezos positioned himself as a champion not just of books, but of long-form reading, and suggested ways of encouraging more long-form reading by reducing "friction," or barriers to reading.

"If you realize that what [books] are really competing with is Candy Crush, then you'd start to say, 'Gosh, maybe we should work on reducing friction on long-form reading.' If you want to do more of something, make the friction less.

“The Kindle is trying to reduce friction for reading a whole book, and it’s working,” he explained. “The vision for Kindle is to have every print book in any language available in 60 seconds.... We are making books easier to get, more affordable, and more accessible.”

The appearance and remarks about lower book prices and better profits may be an attempt by Bezos to bolster his image, and that of Amazon's, as a champion of books and reading. Both took a bruising during the long standoff with Hachette, which saw many authors' sales and profits fall, and many criticize Bezos for his business practices.

Indeed, in the book world, Bezos is the villain we love to hate.

But he has, undeniably, been an extremely influential leader in the publishing industry, and some would argue, a visionary who can offer a way forward.

Which is why we think publishers would do well to consider his remarks about what books are competing with, why books should be cheaper, and how lower prices help both reader and author alike.

After all, as Aristophanes said in "The Birds", "Men of sense often learn from their enemies. It is from their foes, not their friends, that cities learn the lesson of building high walls and ships of war."

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