Last week, we reported on Ars Technica’s release of writer John Siracusa’s 27,000-word review of the new version of OS X, Lion, as a $4.99 Kindle e-book. In case you’re wondering how it did, the Nieman Journalism Lab reports that it sold over 3,000 copies in the first 24 hours.
The entire review was and still is available for free on Ars Technica’s website as a 19-page article. In fact, the web version is continually tweaked and updated, whereas the e-book version only gets changed for major mistake fixes. But some people just wanted an e-version of their own to go back to, or to give Ars some money as “a tip-jar kind of thing.”
It’s interesting to note that both Amazon and Apple gave Ars some problems relating to their e-book. Amazon’s pricing structure meant that Ars had to make the book more expensive than it had originally wanted—thanks to the way Amazon offers a smaller share of revenue for cheap books, a sale at $4.99 would give Ars ten times the revenue of a 99-cent book. Also, Amazon’s Kindle format makes translating graphics-heavy material such as reviews difficult. (Jenna Moran reported a similar finding in translating her Nobilis RPG to the format.)
There are frustrating limitations to the Kindle format, [Ars Technica founder and editor Ken] Fisher said. The Kindle hardware does not handle graphics well, and screenshots play an important role in Siracusa reviews (while, for example, comparing the pixel heights of window buttons). Moreover, the authoring tools are crude. Reviews are designed for web first, print second, and the design does not translate easily to Kindle’s file format.
And the e-book couldn’t be offered to Apple at all, thanks to Apple’s stringent non-disclosure terms that prevented its submission for consideration before the release of OS X. Amazon, on the other hand, let them publish right away.
This certainly marks another nail in the coffin of the idea that people won’t pay for things they can get for free. $15,000 of gross revenue (or $10,500 net after Amazon takes its 30%) is not bad for just the first 24 hours. Who knows how many it’s sold since then?