As 2008 comes to a close I find I'm less of a Kindle advocate than I was earlier in the year. My new iPhone is partially to blame. After all, it's one of the reasons I wrote this critical post on my other blog yesterday. It's not just about the iPhone though. Amazon is uniquely positioned to run away with the e-reader market, but the Kindle appears to be hampered by a lack of strategy and vision.
I'm not talking about the poor physical design; I'm way past the point of being critical there. No, what I'm talking about are five key issues that have caused me to abandon plans for a Kindle 2.0 purchase in 2009 (or whenever it comes out):
1. Proprietary Model -- Come on, Jeff. It's almost 2009 and you're locked in with this non-industry standard content format. Have you asked any publishers how hard it is for them to convert their content to your format, especially the books with illustrations, maps, code, etc.? Would it kill you to support the EPUB format?
2. Lack of an Innovative Content Pricing Model -- This one bugs me the most. OK, you've taken the bold step of offering most titles for $9.99. Hooray. That happened more than a year ago though and it's way past time to come up with some new, creative pricing models. How about a monthly all-you-can-eat program? Or a discount on the device if I promise to buy x books in the first 12 months? Have you considered bundling magazines or newspapers with books? What about all those physical books I've bought from you over the years? Why can't I get a discount on the Kindle editions of those titles? What about bundling Kindle editions with print books? The possibilities are endless but the offerings have been non-existent. Where's the vision here?
3. No Brick-and-Mortar Presence -- Sure, Amazon is the king of online commerce but I think an e-only Kindle approach is killing the Kindle's potential visibility. I can't tell you how many friends and family members I know who've never heard of the Kindle...and I'm talking about people who regularly shop on Amazon! OK, the retort here is that you're out-of-stock, so you don't need any more visibility (see item #5). I hope that's not how you feel though. You've got a product with mass appeal potential but you'll never get there if (a) they don't know about it and (b) they can't touch and test drive it.
4. High Price -- This ties in with #2 above but I think it's important to talk not only about content pricing models but the price of the device itself. You're probably tired of hearing it but you need to think more like the cell phone industry. Once you get those pesky inventory management issues resolved, find a way to sell the product for $100 or less. Strip out some features. That's OK, but as long as the price of entry is $300+ the Kindle will always be positioned as a quirky gadget for people with too much disposable income. And given current economic conditions, how many of your prospective customers would describe themselves as having too much disposable income?
5. Poor Inventory Management -- I suppose I shouldn't care too much about this one, especially since I already have a Kindle, but I think it's a symptom of a larger problem. How do you manage to go out-of-stock two holiday seasons in a row?! Yeah, I know...Oprah's to blame, but didn't you see that coming? Others have said it was a ploy to flush through the existing inventory and start 2009 with the new version (Kindle 2.0). Whatever. Why is it that when Nintendo runs out of Wii's it generates even more buzz but when Amazon runs out of Kindles it reeks of incompetence?
Jeff, I'm a huge fan of Amazon and I still read from my Kindle each and every day. I have to admit that the iPhone and the rapidly growing number of books and book apps for it are starting to encroach in my "Kindle time" though. Now that I own both an iPhone and a Kindle I couldn't possibly recommend the latter to owners of the former. Why spend $300+ on a limited functionality device, especially with all the major flaws noted above?
I used to think Amazon could take their time and the Kindle could survive any number of missteps. The iPhone has changed the game though and Google's Android as well as a host of other knock-offs will ensure we'll never again be limited to just the apps/features that initially came on the phone. This can only hurt the Kindle's overall appeal. I hope you and your team have something truly remarkable in the works for Kindle 2.0. More of the same just won't cut it.
Thanks for listening to me,
(Yeah, I know Bezos will never see this, but it's New Year's Eve, so let me dream a bit, OK?)
Wednesday, December 31, 2008