Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Memo to Jeff Bezos

Dear Jeff,

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?)


Anonymous said...

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?

Amen brother!

Now that I own both an iPhone and a Kindle I couldn't possibly recommend the latter to owners of the former.

I don't have an iPhone but I don't think I'd like to read on it nearly as much as I enjoy reading on Kindle.

Me said...

Great post. A couple of thoughts.

#1 Proprietary format- Amazon is not iTunes, books are not music. Bezos needs to open up the Kindle a little more, even if that means losing a few dollars on sales not through Amazon. The computerless download will keep people coming back to Amazon.

#2 & #4 Treat the Kindle like HP or Lexmark treat printers, they are a way to sell ink. Make the Kindle cheaper and charge a little more for the books to offset the device cost. At $300+, I still can't afford to get in (although, I really, really want one). At $100, I'd be all over it. $12.99 for a book vs. $9.99? I'd pay the extra $3.00 as an offset cost, besides, it's still half the price of a hardcover book.

#3 I want Kindles in my store. I want to sell them to customers. I want to refer customers to Kindle ebooks and generate revenue (I also want to do this with the Sony eReader). Don't lock me out Jeff. I could become an advocate for Kindle rather than a detractor.

#5 Make it cheaper (#2 & #4) and keep it in stock. Even in the world of brick and mortar stores, where people buy physical books, I still occasionally hear the complaint, "I wanted a Kindle, but Amazon is out!"

As a bookseller, Kindle has never really frightened me. I think ebooks and physical books will coexist for a long time to come. As an author, I am excited about the possibilities that the Kindle offers. As a reader, I'd love to carry multiple books with me. But, alas, I can neither afford one, and if I could, they'd probably be out of stock.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you think the iPhone is a suitable 'book reading' equivalent to the Kindle. I can (and have) read on my Kindle for 8+ hours a day. The iPhone batter won't last that long. The screen is too small. The screen itself causes serious eye-strain. I could go on. Having had an iPhone since they first came out (1st gen and 2nd gen) and multiple e-book readers, there's absolutely no comparison. Kindle over an iPhone in a heartbeat.

How much do you really read on your Kindle? Seriously...

Jane said...

I read a book a night on my iPhone before I received my Sony Reader. I think the iPhone is a great reading device and got two of my friends who always lamented about not having enough time to read to download books onto their iPhones and they love it.

Unknown said...

Although I see the convenience of reading on the iPhone (for those willing to pay the outrageous fees for the privilege of being locked into AT&T, along with their poor coverage in the states), I can't see people reading books on them much (especially with the one book per app model pushed by Apple, not to mention the censorship already experienced by their app model). I read on my Palm Pilot years ago (yes, THAT model and almost every one after). Up until it merged into my phone, it was fine (in fact, it was pretty much identical to eInk, as it was a non-backlit device, just a lot smaller), but too small for most works. Sharper resolution helps the ipod touch/iphone make up for that small form factor, but the backlit technology simply can't compete for long reading sessions (it kills the Kindle for web browsing, definitely). I paid for my Kindle and ended up with an iPhone for free (no cell service on it, so equiv. to the ipod touch) -- I eventually deleted all the text from the iphone and use it only as an ipod: music and podcasts and audiobooks only (and surf the web from my phone, which has much better and cheaper coverage than AT&T can provide in the places I've been).

Unknown said...

I wouldn't care for the iPhone with its poor ATT reception since I like the Verizon strength and a good built-in 3.2M camera + video on my current one (2 yrs so far).

I don't want a backlit small screen for my sustained reading sessions and I want to browse the web w/o the time-charges to AT&T.

Joe, I suspect you spend more time these days writing and also reading news so that you can write about it. That can be fine on an iPhone (though costly if often each day) or on a computer. But for longer reading sessions I just wouldn't like that.

Re even the iPod and Kindle, I have a 60-gig iPod which is smaller to carry around than the Kindle. However, I just prefer to read when waiting in lines or in a cafe -- and having a world of books and magazines in one magical rectangle that makes reading so easy on the eyes and just overall relaxing, I just never carry the iPod. Even though I'm very music-oriented.

Add that looking up things on the web with my Kindle doesn't cost me monthly charges.

I use the Kindle for books, magazines, and latest news and just love the ease of this device for that.

Yondalla said...

Can you write notes in books on an iPhone?

Joe Wikert said...

Yondalla, not in any of the apps I've tried so far, but I'm sure that will change before too long...or it's buried and I just haven't discovered it yet!

Yondalla said...


I keep reading reviews of different ereaders, but it really comes down to content. I'm a college professor and I've been paying attention for a while. It has just been in the last few months that I have noticed that books that I am ordering off Amazon are available on Kindle.

The Sony does not have as many of the books, and when it does they are often priced the same as the paper versions (e.g. books by Mary Midgley).

I'm making myself wait for the Kindle 2, and very curious about the rumored textbook version.

With all the trouble we have with our college bookstore I would want the school to give all the students a Kindle, if they could get their text books on it.

Anonymous said...

Joe, the iPhone or Touch as a reading device is inferior to the Kindle because of eyestrain. With no backlighting I can read all day on the Kindle. This would not be so on the Apple devices, plus the print size would be an issue. My current gripe with the Kindle is RAISING prices of some books after they have been initially released at 9.99. I know—there are books which drop in price as time goes on. But I keep a list of potential books for the Kindle and when released, The Hour I first Believed was 9.99. Now it is 16.17 which is more than a 60% increase. That is off the walls and sends me scurrying to my local public library.