Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why Is Everyone Stuck in 1980's Thinking?

Earlier in my career I was a programmer at NCR. That was in the 1980's, the dawn of truly bad music and even worse hair styles. I came to NCR towards the end of their inwardly-focused, proprietary business model. They built their own hardware that supported their operating system and ran their own applications. It was a model that made sense at one point, but was getting clobbered by the open alternatives that were sprouting up.

Last night I was criticized by people who I think are still stuck in the 1980's. When I wrote this tweet at the bookstore I got a slew of direct messages and other replies about how "it's so wrong to browse a physical bookstore, buy nothing and go home to buy the Kindle editions" of what I liked. Btw, I've had representatives from both the major U.S. brick-and-mortar bookstores tell me they're well aware of customers who come in and browse the store then go home and buy on Amazon for 34% off. So the Kindle approach I tweeted about is more of the same, only with a new layer of technology involved. (Btw, I should also mention that my wife bought two books while we were there, so our family supports the store even if I don't directly).

I'm blogging about this because I think it's important to move on, to recognize customer habits are changing and, most importantly, to adapt! This is a Darwinian thing where either the brick-and-mortar stores will evolve or die off. Right now they don't have to worry about ebook sales putting them out of business, but in a few years, who knows?

I'm in the publishing business and I face a similar issue every single day. That's why I'm working so hard to experiment with new ways of delivering content. As I've said many times now, my biggest competitor isn't another's Google. I'm not going to sit around whining about how all those prospective customers are killing the publishing business by using free solutions online. I'm too busy trying to create something that's better than those free alternatives, not sticking my head in the sand and wishing they didn't exist!

Amazon, in some respects, is also still operating with a 1980's mentality. The Kindle is about as closed a platform as you'll find these days. Heck, even Apple, the king of proprietary systems, has opened the iPhone up to third-party developers. Apple still decides who gets in the App Store and who doesn't, but I'm told that most submissions eventually make it through and are offered to the iPhone/iTouch customer base.

Why in the world won't Amazon open the Kindle platform to third-party developers?! I wish I could configure my Kindle so that every purchase I make and every sample I downloaded would be auto-Twittered. Heck, Amazon acts as if Twitter doesn't even exist, so the thought of auto-Twittering is completely foreign to us Kindle owners. That's just one great example of the add-on application ecosystem that would develop if Amazon would just open their API to developers.

Jeff Bezos, turn off the Madonna CD, pause Dirty Dancing on your VCR and open up the Kindle platform!!


Chuck Smith said...

I'm an iPhone developer and Sony Reader owner, so I read this with great interest. Having said this, I doubt the Kindle itself would be that interesting of a device to write third party apps. I think in terms of openness, amazon has to realize that DRM is actually what it needs to stop. They're not offering ePub ebooks for other readers, because they want to own the complete market. I would love to buy ebooks from, but they don't offer any. For an Internet company, that's pretty backwards thinking.

Vikram Narayan said...


Very insightful post indeed. And I completely agree that a substitute product (like Google) will probably be the next big thing in publishing. However, it may not be easy to develop a thriving developer eco-system around the Kindle as the number of applications are limited by the focused nature of the Kindle device.

Tim Bolin said...

this is also a darwinian thing. amazon will open up, or die in the face of competitors who will.

Unknown said...

Joe--I wondered if Amazon isn't trying to become the distributor of choice, and giving extended rights to the creative artist, in effect working to eliminate publishers, perhaps completely. Otherewise they would not have purchased Mobipocket, created both CreateSpace and BookSurge, etc. See my blog post. I don't think of that model as retro, but I may be misintepreting what I see.

Andy Rathbone said...

Amazon's footing the bill for the communication stream. They don't want a developer to add an e-mail program, auto-tweeter, weather gadget, or anything else that grabs bandwidth.

Apple, by contrast, has no worries with the App store, as the user picks up the tab through their carrier plan.

Anonymous said...

Amazon has little chance of replacing publishers as long as they maintain their top-down mentality when dealing with authors and other vendors. They devote insufficient resources to marketing and promotion and are about as nimble as a drunken elephant. Carol Buchanan just won the Spur Award for Best First Novel for "God's Thunderbolt: The Vigilantes of Montana", which she published through BookSurge. Nowhere on Amazon will you find a mention of this, which is curious since awards sell books.
The Spurs are given by the Western Writers of America, a major literary group. So it's a big deal.

As for the Kindle and the e-book space, has already surpassed them in terms of a better deal for authors and vendors and a more generous compensation scheme.

Joe Wikert said...

Hi Chuck and Vikram. It's easy to say the Kindle doesn't lend itself to cool third-party apps. How many of today's iPhone apps would you have envisioned before the iPhone came out a year or so ago? When all we had were a bunch of closed cell phones it was hard to picture the capabilities that are popping up all around us now.

Andy, you're absolutely long as the model that exists today is the only one that ever will. But what if Amazon were to sell Kindles using a different payment model? The device price could be less in exchange for the customer paying a monthly service fee to Sprint, depending on usage levels. There are an infinite number of options to look at here...I'm just suggesting one.

Debbie Stier said...

Do you know Daily Lit? They just integrated with Twitter -- so that when you sign up for a new book with them, or comment about a book, etc. -- it automatically sends out a Tweet (if you've signed up for that -- which I have). Love it. I actually just discovered Seth Godin's book with Daily Lit that way (saw an auto Tweet from someone else).

Joe Wikert said...

Hi Debbie. Yes, I'm very familiar with DailyLit and have written about them a few times on my Publishing 2020 blog. I saw their recent Twitter announcement and agree it's exactly the type of integration I think we'll see much more of in the future.

eire said...

'80s music rules, at least of the alternative variety. See "I Ran" by A Flock of Seagulls among many others.

Spike Nesmith said...

Sorry to steer this OT, but the 80s were "the dawn of truly bad music"? The *dawn*? Oh, how tragically wrong you are... ;)

Unknown said...

Using Google statistics to judge the relative impact on the world of the Sony Reader and the Kindle is a guessing game at best.

Try doing your search test again with quotes around the two terms ("amazon kindle", "sony reader") and you get different results, as one would expect given that "reader" is an awfully common word. In the case of simple number of pages returned the Kindle absolutely kills the Sony Reader.

More interesting perhaps is what happens if you search for "sony reader -kindle" (without the quotes). When I do it that way I actually get *more* results than when I search for "sony reader" alone. Does this mean that most references to the Sony product are comparisons against the Kindle?