Why does Amazon want to hide figures on the growth of Free Kindle Books?

There’s one part of the ‘DoJ vs Apple & Publishers’ trial that is really interesting. Jeff Roberts at Paid Content points out that Amazon has requested the Judge to not reveal information on the growth rate of free kindle books -

Wednesday also saw Google and Amazon file new petitions asking that Cote require Apple to redact sales information from the public exhibits that Apple will put on the court record.

Amazon wants to redact certain of its print sales as well as the growth rate of free ebooks between 2009 and 2011.

That’s very interesting, isn’t it.

Why would Amazon want to hide figures on the growth rate of Free Kindle Books?

Obviously, something happened to free kindle books between 2009 and 2011. There’s something in the growth rate of free kindle books that scares Amazon – something that will cause problems if it becomes common knowledge.

Here’s my guess as to why Amazon is scared -

  1. In 2007 (November and December) and 2008, Amazon didn’t focus on free kindle books AT ALL. There were just a few free books a month in 2008. It was Amazon’s competitors that would talk about 1 million free public domain books.
  2. Some time in 2009 Amazon realized that free books were a big problem. It was losing market share due to all the people choosing its competitors’ devices and stores because they offered free books. That’s when Amazon turned on the Free Kindle Books switch.
  3. Free Kindle Books became a monster. Between 2009 and 2011 free books took off in a way that Amazon never anticipated. The good part for Amazon – It began to dominate ebooks thanks to free kindle books and its competitors’ missteps. The bad part for Amazon – free kindle books began to destroy the value perception of books.

If you doubt that Free Kindle Books are a problem now, consider two recent moves Amazon has made -

  1. Amazon told its associate partners (websites and blogs and such) that any website that is primarily a free kindle book website will not be given any sales commissions … on anything. Talk about being desperate to stop the growth of free kindle books.
  2. Amazon hid the Top 100 Free Kindle Books list behind the Top 100 Paid. Over time it might even remove that list entirely.

This suggests that Amazon has seen way too many free kindle book downloads. There are sites that report that the ratio of free to paid books downloaded they were seeing was 60 to 1. Some even report 100 to 1.

Imagine that – 60 to 100 free kindle books downloaded for each paid book. It gets worse – Amazon delivers all these free kindle books FOR FREE to 3G Kindles. So it covers the download costs.

Amazon was using free kindle books to gain an advantage (and continue a race to zero its competitors had started with free public domain books). However, it became a monster that threatened to engulf and destroy the entire paid book revenue stream.

If it becomes common knowledge that -

  1. The ratio of paid to free book downloads went from 1:1 or something similar in 2009, to 1:50 in 2011.
  2. Amazon and B&N and other ebook companies’ aggressive push of Free Kindle Books might be the culprit.

It’s going to look really bad for Amazon and B&N. Basically, it’ll appear that, in the pursuit of growing ebooks and dominating ebooks, Amazon and B&N effectively turned free kindle books into a monster that is threatening to destroy the ebook market.

All of this is just conjecture. It does seem to be a good guess at why Amazon is trying to hide the growth rate of free kindle books between 2009 and 2011.

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