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Poked with a Blount Instrument

March 3, 2009





First, let me say that I think Roy Blount, Jr. is one of America’s greatest writers and preeminent storytellers.  I love his work.  And the last thing I would ever want is get myself tangled up in a war of words with the man, for in that I would surely be vaporized faster than you could say, “Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Voyage to a Deep Space Nine Enterprise.”

But…everyone who is picking on him because of his criticism of the Kindle 2 in his role as head of The Author Guild–from Seth Godin, to Smoothspan, to Robert Nagle, to John Biggs at CrunchGear, to George Finlayson at Download Squad, to my favorite person to agree with, my boss Michael Hyatt (really, I’m not a Kiss Up)–is absolutely right.  Blount is wrong this time.  Dead wrong.  The Author Guild is NOT protecting the rights of authors by fussing about Kindle 2’s text-to-speech function.

An audio function on the Kindle (or any eReader) will increase overall sales for any author.

  • Increased customer base.  Blount is right that most publishers have worked deals to make audio books available to the blind.  But only one million people (all ages) in America share this disability.  By contrast, America has 222 million adults who can’t read above an 8th grade level who now don’t buy any books.  To be able to listen while reading increases exponentially the possibility that they could become engaged in reading.
  • Customer experience.  Especially in Mr. Blount’s case, if you could listen to his inimitable voice reading his own book while you were reading his books, it would create an experience unlike anything now available in the market.  What fun!  And what a reason to buy a book!
  • Faster finishes.  Moving through the book faster means getting on the next book faster.  If I can read AND listenlong time leaving without spending the extra money for two formats means I’ll get back to Amazon to spend more money sooner.
  • Customer engagement.  The old days of waiting on millions of well-read people to come to you are over.  To increase readership now, you must intersect with people using the technologies with which they are already comfortable. More on this here.


I’ve done some checking on Mr. Blount’s latest book and learned that it’s not in the 100 best sellers in the country, which means it’s selling less than 5000 copies a week.  Just for giggles, I’ve run some numbers.  Let’s say Long Time Leaving: Dispatches from Up South sells 1000 copies a week for the next 52 weeks.  At a royalty rate of, say, 20% of net, that means his royalties would pay him $74,646.  Audio books comprise roughly ten percent of overall sales, so that’s another $7465 for a total of $82,111.

But if I’m right that sales could easily double in overall purchases, then his royalties would be somewhere in the neighborhood of $149,292.  Do authors really want to quibble about “audio rights” when this kind of potential exists?

What Mr. Blount and other authors SHOULD do is rush to their publishers to see how fast they can lay down the audio track and add it to the Kindle.

I don’t know if Mr. Blount will ever read this post, but if you are listening, Roy, I’m making this bet.  If I’m wrong, I’ll buy you a big slab of ribs at Jack’s Bar B Q and a longneck at Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge next time you’re in Nashville.  You can do the same for me if I’m right.  But if I AM right, you probably should make a special trip. You’ll be able to afford it.  It would be a huge pleasure to meet you.


[By the way, we’ll all know soon enough.  Today at Thomas Nelson we are announcing NelsonFree a program that provides free audio and eBooks with the purchase of Scott McKain’s Collapse of Distinction and Michael Franzese’s I’ll Make You a Deal You Can’t Refuse.  Kudos to our forward-thinking publisher Joel Miller who thinks it’s immoral to let a book be “trapped by its format.”]

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