Monday, June 30, 2008

Is Dual Display Really the Future?

I don't get it. I scratched my head after reading this article and then this one, both of which talk about future e-book devices with dual displays. I don't find myself craving a second display when I'm reading on my Kindle. Am I in the minority?

Some books are designed as two-page spreads and facing pages on a display would be quite useful. Those books are few and far between though, so why would I want to pay the hefty premium just to have two pages visible at once, especially when I'm only reading one page at a time?

I think this is another case of trying to preserve the existing model for no apparent reason. "People are used to reading a physical book format where two pages are facing them, so let's follow that approach the e-book model." Wrong! We need to focus more on how to take advantage of the new model and not be so tied to what works in the existing one.

As a colleague recently noted, we didn't preserve the look and feel of scrolls when bound books were invented, so why do we feel so compelled to maintain the physical book attributes in e-books? This seems like a silly and expensive idea.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Upgrading a Sample

In an effort to stick by my previously-stated philosophy of limiting my dud purchases, I read the sample material for Tom Brokaw's The Greatest Generation. This book is a bit of an instant classic, so it was easy to pull the trigger on it.

Silly me though. I thought that when I buy a Kindle book after reading the sample the full version will automatically open up to where the sample ended. Is that asking too much? Apparently so, because when the full book hit my Kindle it opened at the start, as if I'd never read the sample. I had to go back into the sample to see where I left off and find that spot in the full version.

Is this a horrible flaw? No, but it's one of those "nice little touches" you find with pretty much every product from Apple; it just shows how much attention was paid to the details.

Amazon could fix this down the road but it's too bad they didn't consider it before the initial Kindle roll out.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Sampling Rocks!

Jeff Bezos probably doesn't like me...yet. (To be fair, I'm quite certain he has no idea who the heck I am, but that's beside the point.) Up to now I've managed to fight the temptation to go crazy and buy every Kindle edition that looks appealing. Every time I see that "Buy" button I tremble a bit, and then I scroll further up the screen and hit "Try a Sample" instead.

Yes, as of right this minute, I've only bought two Kindle editions but I've downloaded sample content from 15 other books. The only reason I bought those two is because they passed muster after I read their sample downloads. I'll probably pick up the purchasing pace here in a bit, especially since I have a couple of upcoming flights I want to get ready for, but I'm starting to realize that my purchases will only come after I read the sample material.

Btw, after reading samples from two other books I thought I was interested in, I quickly realized they're not for me. Delete and delete. I'm not the sort of person to sit down and read the first 20 pages of a book in the bookstore, so I've bought my share of duds over the years. Thanks to the Kindle sample download feature I'll bet my disappointment rate will drop to zero (or close to it) going forward. Very nice.

Monday, June 23, 2008

How Important Is the $9.99 eBook Price Level?

I was ready to buy Clayton Christensen's latest book, Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns. It looks like a book I'd really enjoy and I'm a big fan of Christensen, particularly his earlier bestseller, The Innovator's Dilemma.

I searched for it on the Kindle book list and sure enough, there it was. But the price is $19.58, not the $9.99 you pay for most Kindle titles. That stopped me in my tracks.

Amazon has already trained me that e-books should cost no more than $9.99, so I'm afraid I'm not buying this one...not till the price comes down.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Amazon's Awareness Problem

"What's a Kindle?"

That's the question my sister asked me over the phone when I mentioned my wife bought me one for my birthday. I told her to ask her husband if he knows what it is.

In the background I hear, "he got a Gimple for his birthday and he's asking if you know what that is."

Gimple. Kindle. Whatever. Neither of them had ever heard of the device. Keep in mind we're talking about a couple that's quite techno-literate. Everyone in their family has an iPod, a laptop, etc. Heck, I'm 99% sure they're also regular Amazon customers for print books, so I guess that Kindle advertisement that's front and center on Amazon's home page isn't highly effective.

I explained it's Amazon's e-book reader. That didn't impress her, but when I noted that you can take all your books with you on one small device, downloads happen over the air, you can even get several popular magazines before they arrive in the mail for about $1.50/month, I started to win her over. The clincher was when she mentioned her need for increasingly stronger reading glasses. Aha! I told her she could resize type on the Kindle to suit her needs and I think she became a convert. Of course, I didn't mention the price tag, which is the biggest deterrent, but I was trying to keep the conversation upbeat.

Even though Amazon has done a terrific job building a solid corporate brand name over the last 10+ years, the Kindle is still a head-scratcher to a large chunk of Amazon's potential audience. Granted, Kindle is only seven months old, but Amazon's no advertising, no in-store presence approach clearly has its drawbacks.

Amazon ought to consider taking a page out of Tupperware's and Longaberger's playbooks. Kindle Parties would go a long way in raising awareness and generating enthusiasm. And if hosts/presenters could get a cut of resulting orders, hey, I'll bet a lot of Kindle owners would sign up to lead the charge; the cut would have to be more than Amazon's typical affiliate percentage though.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Kindle Owners Buy More Than Before

This Kindle article by TheStreet's Terry Savage didn't seem all that newsworthy till I noticed this excerpt towards the end:

Amazon also says Kindle owners purchase 2.6 times more books downloaded into Kindle than they did before -- and the Kindle has been available only since late last year.
I don't recall seeing that stat before but it seems fairly significant. I wonder if Kindle owners are actually reading almost three times as much as they did B.K. (Before Kindle) or if they're just gobbling up the content because they're concerned the $9.99 prices might not last forever...

Monday, June 9, 2008

Everything You Wanted to Know About E-Paper

Here's a link to an excellent article from Computerworld that goes into details about eInk and e-paper in general. It sounds like the technology you hold in your hands inside the Kindle is rapidly finding uses elsewhere as well. Color displays are, of course on the horizon, as are larger displays made from a variety of materials. It's a lengthy article but well worth the reading time.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

One Publisher You'll Apparently Never Find on a Kindle

I got a chuckle out of this recent article in the Chicago Tribune. The entertaining part is where the co-owner of Academy Chicago Publishers says that they're not planning to produce e-versions of their books. It's one thing to say you don't have the resources to create the files, but I can't believe a publisher in the year 2008 would say something like this:

Those of us that like books and publish books aren't too crazy about the idea of putting them into electronic media, because we think that part of the enjoyment of the book is a tactile sort of sensation: the feel of a book, the smell of it, turning the pages.
OK, so maybe you don't like the idea of e-books, but what about those of your customers who do?!

Do you suppose that when Ford started rolling Model T's out the door in the early 1900's there were a bunch of horse people who said, "we really prefer the sound of the hooves hitting the dirt and the up-and-down rhythm of a nice trot on Mr. Ed, so we don't see a future in this combustion engine device"?

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

How Can Sony Compete?

It seems like it was a very long time ago when Sony was the king of consumer electronics. Their TVs were second to none and hey, they invented the Walkman for cryin' out loud! How did they fall into such irrelevance in the gadget space? Arrogance played a role, no doubt. After all, the same narrow (proprietary) thinking that caused VHS to beat out the technically superior Beta platform also led to such boneheaded solutions as the Memory Stick. Yeah, I want to buy a device that locks me into one vendor for memory expansion. Uh huh.

So now we have the Sony Reader. A nice device, but why would you buy one of these over a Kindle? At first the device price differential seemed to give Sony a decent advantage, but now that the Kindle is down to $359 and the Sony Reader is $299, well, is $60 enough of a price savings to walk away from the Kindle's richer feature set?

Even if you can convince yourself that the $60 device savings is worth it, how about the price of the e-books? Look up and down the Kindle's bestseller list and you generally see mostly $9.99 and below. The Sony Reader's list? The top 10 average is between $13 and $14 right now, or about 30-40% above the typical high-end price on the Kindle. On average, you'd still be spending less with a Sony until you got to the 17th book ($60 device savings divided by approximately $3.50 per e-book higher price on Sony equals about 17 books to break even). From the 18th one on you're spending more, on average.

Sony does have the benefit of selling their devices in a brick-and-mortar outlet (Borders) whereas Amazon is strictly online. I'd still give the advantage to the Kindle though.

What's Sony to do? At this point, I think they need to cut their device price, well below $200, to $99 if they can. Come up with a better content model, one that perhaps ties customers into a minimum number of book purchases over the next 2 years (similar to the cellphone world). Introduce a new, deluxe, high-end model, one that's priced where their current model sits but hopefully leapfrogs Amazon in terms of features and functionality.

It's no small task, I know. But what's the alternative?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Ray Bradbury: "There is no future for e-books"

Ouch. That hurts. You'd think a big-time sci-fi author would be more open-minded when it comes to technology, but Ray Bradbury isn't a believer. While being interviewed at the publishing industry's recent BEA event, Bradbury went on to say, "E-books smell like burned fuel." You can read the full article here.

A couple of other interesting points were made in that article. First, the observation that your neighborhood bookstore might actually be a Barnes & Noble, not an independent. And while that's kind of sad but true, I have to give the big chains some credit. The new Borders that just opened a few miles from my house really has a small, independent feel to it. It's also only about a 20-minute bike ride from my house, so it's not like we're talking about some far-away mall store.

Second, and more amusingly, I love what former Eagles guitarist and new Wiley author Don Felder had to say about our industry: "Publishing people seem very upfront, very decent and very honest," he told the AP, adding with a laugh, "I don't think they'd last long in the music business." I interpret that as a wonderful complement aimed at several of my colleagues here at Wiley, the folks who published his book, Heaven and Hell.