Mitch Albom has a new book out — well, not really a book, but a commencement speech in book form. And not in traditional book form, but as an e-book, published exclusively through Amazon.com's Kindle reader.
"Commencement Speech To His Nephew's Graduating Class: May 30, 2008, Nice France" went on sale Thursday for 99 cents. It won't be a money maker for Albom — proceeds are being donated to a Detroit-based charity for the homeless — but it does offer a test for the digital device that has created a great debate about the future of books and great speculation over how much the Kindle is part of that future.
Amazon.com has declined to offer specific numbers for the Kindle, a vacuum eagerly filled by industry insiders and the media, which has estimated sales for the $359 device as anywhere from a very modest 10,000 to a more encouraging 100,000-plus.
E-books are unquestionably growing although public sightings of the Kindle remain rare enough that one blog, Silicon Alley Insider, announced last month, "Imagine our delight when we got on the subway, sat down, and saw a person reading an Amazon Kindle — right in front of us! — for the first time since it launched last November."
Albom's speech could be a way to measure the Kindle connection. He is a brand-name author whose million sellers include "Tuesdays With Morrie" and "The Five People You Meet in Heaven." The text of his speech, less than 4,000 words, is brief for a traditional book, but ideal for a quick read on a portable device.
"We thought doing it through the Kindle would be an exciting way to bring readers to Mitch and to his work," Albom's agent, David Black, told The Associated Press, adding that there were no immediate plans to expand the speech and release it on paper.
Albom, whose speech was delivered at The International School Of Nice, said in a statement Thursday: "The immediacy of the Internet and what Amazon is doing with Kindle is interesting to me, as it is to many authors."
Laura Porco, the Kindle's director of publisher management, said Thursday that Amazon.com has been talking with publishers about bringing readers content that isn't available in book form and expects more releases similar to the Albom speech.
Porco reiterated Amazon.com's claim — a surprise to some publishers — that Kindle downloads from early June through early July made up 12 percent of total sales for the more than 100,000 books available both through the e-book reader and in traditional form. In early June, at the annual booksellers convention, Amazon.com head Jeff Bezos said Kindle sales were 6 percent of the market for books in both formats.
Porco declined to offer sales figures for any individual title. Asked if she had seen many Kindle users, she said that she had been "stopped by more than a few people" who saw her with the Kindle and told her that "they knew somebody with that."