Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jeff Bezos Interview in Wired Magazine

As usual, the Kindle gets some air time in this recent Wired interview with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos. Here's his theory on why the Kindle will work where other e-readers have failed:

We decided we were going to improve upon the book. And the first thing we did was try to determine the essential features of a physical book that we needed to replicate. The No. 1 feature is that it disappears. When you're in the middle of reading, you don’t notice the ink or the glue or the stitching or the paper — all of that disappears, and you're in the author's world. Most electronic devices today do not disappear. Some of them are extraordinarily rude. Books get out of the way, and they leave you in that state of mental flow.

It's also good to see him comment on other initiatives that were less than successful. Does anyone remember the A9 search engine? I tried it once or twice and then went right back to Google. Apparently I wasn't alone. Here's what Bezos had to say about it:

If you decide that you’re going to do only the things you know are going to work, you're going to leave a lot of opportunity on the table. Companies are rarely criticized for the things that they failed to try. But they are, many times, criticized for things they tried and failed at.

Bravo. I'm sure they learned a great deal from A9 and would probably try it again if given the chance. That's one of the reasons Amazon is such an outstanding organization, IMHO.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Mobipocket for the iPhone/iTouch

Earlier this morning Kevin Tofel wrote a blog post about how there will be a Mobipocket app for the iPhone later this year. He then went on to question what sort of impact this will have on the Kindle. A couple of readers commented that a) the reading experience on a Kindle is much better than an iPhone/iTouch and b) Amazon owns Mobipocket, so they're not likely to kill their own device.

True and true, but now that I've been using Mobipocket on my Blackberry for a bit I have to admit there are many other factors that come into play. The first one is price. If you just spent several hundred dollars on an iPhone/iTouch, are you likely to spend another $399 on a Kindle? Sure, some people are gadget freaks and don't mind spending this much, but I don't think that's true for the majority of us.

Secondly, there are the "good enough" and convenience factors. Do I want to read from a computer screen or other non-eInk display for hours at a time? No way, but what I'm finding with Mobi on the Blackberry is that I'm reading more at unusual times simply because my Blackberry is handy. I wouldn't think of taking a book or a Kindle to the grocery store, but I've read a good chunk of The Last Lecture on my Blackberry there. Ditto for my daughter's dance recital last night...what else are you supposed to do when your child is in one 2-minute segment of a 2-hour show?!

The Mobi experience on my Blackberry is plenty "good enough" for me and I suspect that will be the case for quite a few iPhone/iTouch owners. Plus, just like the Kindle, as long as I have a cellular signal I'm only a couple of clicks away from quickly downloading my next Mobi book.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Kindle: A $750 Million Business by 2010?

Mark Mahaney of Citi is projecting the Kindle could represent a $750 million business for Amazon by 2010. There are several great articles and blog posts talking about this. Here are three I liked best, along with my two cents on each one:

Washington Post Gadget Roundup
A range of 10,000 to 30,000 units sold to date is projected in this one. That's pretty broad but I still think based on forum post rates and other highly unscientific metrics the actual number seems closer to the low end than the high end. The 120,000/month projection "by the end of the year" seems wildly optimistic; I can't see that happening unless there's a significant price reduction or new model by then.

Forbes: How Amazon Could Change Publishing
I don't dispute that publishing still tends to be an old-fashioned business. Heck, as long as almost 100% of the total revenues are the products of dead trees, how could anyone argue that point?! What I do take exception to in this article is the constant hammering of publishers and the statement that authors are treated so badly. The thing most people lose sight of is that every book isn't a money-maker. In fact, publishers lose money on a lot of the books they publish every year. When the publisher loses money on a title they don't go back and ask the author to return the royalty advance. It's a risk/reward model. Authors know what they're getting into (or at least they should!) and need to realize that the royalty advance might be all they get paid on the project. That's why I've always marveled at new publishing models that are structured as profit-sharing deals with authors rather than traditional royalties; I wonder how many of those profit-sharing deals paid less (or nothing!) to the author in the end, meaning they would have been better off with a traditional advance/royalty arrangement.

Silicon Alley Insider
A very insightful post. This one and other articles talk a lot about the iPod market comparison. I think it's silly to assume the Kindle will ever reach iPod sales levels. First of all, the number of people who enjoy listening to music is probably several times as large as the number of people who buy books every year. See any one of several recent surveys and articles for more on this sad part of the story. Secondly, a large number of active readers seem extremely satisfied with the physical book model, so they're highly unlikely to jump on the Kindle bandwagon. I don't think the music customer base was ever filled with a large number of CD, record or tape fans who strongly voiced their objections to the MP3-player world. In fact, we were so anxious to move on that we embraced MP3 players by buying two or more of them every year! Have you ever seen someone with more than one Kindle?

Sunday, May 11, 2008

The "Quirky" Kindle is "Headed for Nichedom"

Or so says the New York Times. This article contrasts pocket-sized gadgets with laptop-sized gadgets, then asks whether there's room for a third size, like the Kindle. Having recently played around with an Asus Eee PC I can honestly say it's probably closer to the right e-book form factor than the Kindle.

Even though Asus didn't intend for this to be the case, core laptop functionality might just be more important than E-Ink displays. Yes, that's sacrilegious, I know, particularly since E-Ink is what Amazon and Sony have built their readers around. But the more I read a Mobipocket book on my Blackberry the more I realize E-Ink is overrated. Put it this way: If I have to choose between E-Ink and laptop functionality (e.g., color screen, full suite of other apps, larger keyboard, WiFi, etc.), I'll always take the latter. Always.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

48,000 Kindles Per Month?...I Doubt It

The Silicon Alley Insider is speculating that Amazon is currently selling about 48,000 Kindles per month. For the record, even though I'm in the publishing industry I have no insider knowledge about the device's sales rate. That said, 48K/month sounds extremely high to me.

Why? I'm pretty sure I'm tracking all the Kindle-related blogs and message boards and I'm just not seeing any significant up-tick in postings, traffic or buzz. Despite the fact that the Kindle has been back in stock and shipping for at least a couple of weeks now I'm seeing roughly the same number of weekly posts/comments on the Kindle Forum and Kindle Korner as there were when it was out of stock. You'd think the pent-up demand for the device would have caused a surge on these forums but that doesn't appear to be the case. New Kindle-related blogs aren't exactly crawling out of the woodwork either. There was a flurry of new ones back in December and January but I couldn't tell you the last time I discovered a new one...and I tend to search for them every week!

Finally, there's my old pal, Google Trends. According to this chart, Sony's Reader is still getting more Google searches than Amazon's Kindle, but the latter has closed the gap a bit on the former, perhaps attributable to the Kindle being back in stock.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Amazon's Cloud Computing Bet

Although the Kindle has been getting all the buzz, an argument can be made that cloud computing is a much bigger initiative for Amazon. What is "cloud computing" and why should you care? This excellent Wired article by Spencer Reiss tells you everything you need to know.

The bottom line: More and more applications and data will live in "the cloud" and Amazon is well-positioned to be a major player.