Monday, September 26, 2011

The Amazon Formula

They didn't create the first ebook device. Sony's original Reader had more than a one year head-start on the Kindle. What they were first with though was a platform that made wireless ebook buying a snap; Whispernet was a game-changer.

Next, they had the vision to create a Kindle reader app for every platform known to man. Want to read a Kindle book on your Windows laptop? No problem. On a Mac? Absolutely. On an Android device, an iPhone, iPad or Blackberry? Check, check, check, and check. This, btw, is what made me comfortable building up a library of Kindle content. I pity the sucker who's bought a ton of content from Apple's iBookstore; that person is locked in with Apple for the rest of their lives.

Of course, the more ebooks I buy from Amazon the more I'm locked in with them down the road. But I don't mind. That's a key part of Amazon's secret sauce. Btw, when I say "locked in", I'm talking about the content platform, not the hardware platform. I plan to buy a Kindle tablet on day one, but if another Android tablet comes along a year or so later and is better, I'll probably switch to it.

I've been asked why I don't buy econtent from Barnes & Noble or Kobo. After all, they too offer apps on a variety of platforms. I'd rather stick with one reader app I'm used to and not have to remember which options are/aren't available (or how they work) in other apps. Then there's the practical side. if I want to search for a phrase I know I read but I can't remember which ebook it was in, it's easy to search across your entire long as that collection was purchased from the same ebookstore! Good luck searching simultaneously across your Kindle ebooks, your Nook ebooks, and your Kobo ebooks. It can't be done. In fact, cross-library features like this are something I'll bet each vendor will build up further, again, with an eye on keeping you loyal to them.

So the fact that I keep buying more and more econtent from Amazon, just like many of you, means I'm making it harder and harder to ever abandon them. But as long as they keep supporting all platforms I'm perfectly content to keep doing this.

P.S. -- It's no secret that I'm a huge Amazon fan. In fact, I took the Amazon position in a fun Tools of Change (TOC) for Publishers webcast debate we recently had. In that debate I presented the five key reasons why I feel Amazon's platform is superior to Apple's. You can watch it via this link or the embedded version below.

Monday, September 12, 2011

How "Open" Will Kindle Tablet Be?

I recently got into a fun Twitter debate with Andrew Rhomberg. He wanted to know if I thought the much-anticipated Amazon Kindle tablet will be open, with no restrictions onwebsite access or Android app support. I stubbornly said yes, it's got to be or it won't be successful. Andrew then pointed out that everyone's not as "geeky" as me, that he doubts it will be as open as I suggest and that the mainstream market doesn't need it to be.

Gulp. You know what? I'm afraid he's right...sort of.

Most people probably don't care that today's Kindle web browser is awful. They're using the device to buy and read content. I think that changes when you go to a tablet. Of course, what we don't know is whether Amazon will market this device as a tablet or simply a color reader. If it's the former they better support any and all websites. After all, what if Barnes & Noble comes up with a cloud-based reader just like Amazon did? That should be usable from every device.

The same goes for apps, but I realize this is more than wishful thinking on my part. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize Amazon built their own Appstore for Android because they want a cut of every app bought for their device. I'm sure they'll also configure their Android Kindle so that you're only able to install apps from their app store on it. I figure there will be no support for the broader Android Market.

That would be a shame and it would prove that Amazon isn't confident enough in their own content ecosystem to offer a completely open device. What I want is a Kindle tablet that lets me install apps from any Android storefront. Sure, there's a nook app for Android. Let me run it on the Kindle tablet. More importantly, Amazon, make your reader app and content so irresistible that I don't even want to consider other apps. But don't lock them out. Besides, if Amazon doesn't offer a completely open device they'll only invite hackers to unlock it. I'd prefer not voiding the warranty but I'll seriously consider it if the tablet is too closed. You should too.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Print Tail Still Wags the Ebook Dog

I've been anxiously awaiting Thomas Friedman's new book, That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back. I'm fascinated by both Friedman as well as the book's insanely long title. I first heard about the book earlier this year and discovered the Amazon catalog page for it a few weeks ago. At that time I could have pre-ordered either the print or the Kindle edition. That was the case until yesterday when I was finally able to download the free Kindle sample.

I have one question for both the book's publisher and Amazon: Why won't you let us download an upcoming book's sample before the book is formally released? I know the answer: Both publisher and Amazon are still following an outdated tradition of coordinating the release of any content with a new book on a specific date. September 5th was apparently the date the publisher decided the embargo could be lifted on this one. Why? Because that's the date they fired up their marketing and PR engines, making sure all their efforts were focused on the book's first sale date.

I have two words for this approach: Stupid and out-dated. It's a print model that's still being used in the e-world.

What's the harm in letting a prospective customer like me download the sample of this book a week or a couple of months before the print book is available? None whatsoever. I end up reading the sample and probably pre-ordering the Kindle edition before September 5th. I also probably tweet/blog about it and that's what the publisher is worried about. They want to control the messaging that surrounds their products and they insist on everyone starting at the same time...except for anyone who received a pre-release or galley copy of the book, of course!

I know...the brick-and-mortar stores would complain if their online competitors had earlier access to some of a new book's content before they did. Should that really prevent the online retailers from serving their customers? I don't think so.

I find it incredibly frustrating when I discover an upcoming book with a Kindle edition page that only lets me pre-order but not sample it. Rather than being stuck in a model from yesterday, both publisher and Amazon have an opportunity to try something new: How about selling me the sample (or something a bit longer than the sample) before the book actually publishes? For a $20 book, sell me the first 3 chapters for $5. Then if I decide to buy the entire book, apply that $5 sample charge to the $20 price so I can buy the rest of the book for $15 more. As a consumer I won't buy too many pre-release samples like this but there are certain cases where I definitely would, and Friedman's book is a good example.

The Kindle edition of this one was ready for distribution well before September 5th. There's no good reason it, or a sample of it, couldn't have been offered for sale before the 5th. Let's drop yesterday's silly marketing/PR restrictions and start living in today's e-world. And hey, if this causes more print book diehards to finally make the jump to ebooks we'll all be better off!