What Happens to Books when the Kindle is Free?

What happens to books when the Kindle is free?
• By Mathew Ingram Oct. 5, 2011, 3:04pm PT

Amazon’s recent announcement of the Kindle Fire — its color tablet that may or may not become a competitor to the Apple iPad — was what got the most attention last week, but the online retailer also made some other announcements at the same time, including a drop in price for the original Kindle to $79. Based on the consistent and gradual declines in Kindle prices, some have speculated that Amazon could soon offer them for free, sponsored by advertising or other similar deals. Which raises an interesting question: What would free e-book readers do to the book industry?
As we’ve pointed out before, Amazon’s rationale in offering a tablet or other hardware (some think a phone is also a possibility) is the exact opposite of Apple’s. Apple makes most of its profits from selling hardware like the iPhone and iPad, and uses content — books, magazines, music, etc. — as a way of fueling demand for that hardware, while Amazon’s primary business is content, and it uses hardware as a conduit for getting that content to as many people as possible. So the original Kindle, for example, is simply a pipeline for getting books to people, and Amazon has continually expanded the types of content that Kindles can deliver, through programs such as Kindle Singles.
These not-quite-books can be written and uploaded by anyone, and offered at whatever price point an author decides: as little as 99 cents, or even free. Offering a free — or ad-supported — Kindle would presumably just provide even more of an avenue for these kinds of books to reach readers, and that in turn could (theoretically at least) make it possible for more writers to make a living from their writing.

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