One book does not a reversal of policy make

I don’t share the optimism of Teleread and Kindle Nation, but it appears that Amazon has not entirely deserted free ebooks.

They do, however, remain committed to controlling virtually every aspect of the Kindle that they’ve leased you, which is not terribly consumer-friendly.

Still, at least it’s not as bad as it originally seemed.

Free ebooks back at Amazon- John Lutz Urge to Kill | TeleRead: Bring the E-Books Home.

This wouldn’t be so bad if the Kindle were more open

Bad news for Kindle readers, especially the less computer-savvy.

But it is worth noting at this juncture that Amazon appears to have made a business decision, at least for now, that “free” will play an increasingly limited role in the Kindle Store

Amazon certainly has a right to shift focus and resources from free and public domain books to the books they’re trying to sell.  But it’s pretty disappointing.  For many people, unfortunately, the Kindle is the ebook reader.  It’s done wonders in showing the non-technical part of the population that ebooks and readers are out there.  But it’s these very same non-technical people who are likely to get all their reading material from the Kindle store, which is of course what Amazon wants.  They’ve put up all sorts of hoops to jump through if you want to put other content on the Kindle.

And so these non-technical people are effectively cut off from public domain books, or books from other publishers who can’t or won’t play ball with Amazon’s restrictions on the Kindle.

Also disappointing is that Amazon doesn’t want to deal with free promotional titles.

The number of free promotional titles has been dwindling since August, and no new free promotional titles have been added this month despite numerous publisher requests to offer free titles.

There is no question that free promotional titles can grow your fanbase.  Two of my favorite science fiction authors reeled me in with free ebooks (here and here).  I’ve since not only bought books from them, but pre-ordered a couple.  Again, Amazon certainly has a right to do what they’re doing.  I’d just rather they chose not to.

Fortunately, it keeps plenty of room in the ebook market and the ebook reader market for others to come in and fill the holes.

Article:  Kindle Nation Daily: Honey, They’re Shrinking “Free” in the Kindle Store via Teleread.

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It’s too bad Amazon didn’t ask for advice

Many people are calling the Amazon Kindle the “iPod of books”.  It’s really unfortunate that, while it had a chance to change the market the same way the iPod did, Amazon’s shortsighted focus on locking down their content and protecting sales of paper books has made the Kindle an interesting but ultimately flawed device.

It’s pretty simple: many book publishers look at this new medium and ask, “how can I use it to augment my current business model.” I’d like Amazon to challenge that thinking and say to the world, “how can you use this platform to create a new business model?”

There were really two ways to look at the release of the Kindle.  On one hand, you could look at it as an extension of the current market, something to fit nicely into the well-defined parameters of the publishing world.  Or, you could look at it as something entirely new, something unrestricted by past practices and old ways of thinking.

Clearly, Amazon chose the former.  There are advances in the way you can buy and read books.  The always-on internet connection is a great idea.  But there are no giant leaps.  It’s more business-as-usual in a slightly new way.

Article:  Seth’s Blog: Reinventing the Kindle (part II).

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If convenience predicts success, the Kindle could be so much more

[Forrester Research] says convenience is key. It defines the concept in this way: A “comprehensive measure that considers the total product experience.” That includes researching the product, obtaining the device, using it, and eventually getting rid of it. The study also says that in successful products, convenience is not a benefit, but “a measure of how easy your product makes it for people to get the benefits your product promises.”

They also cite the easy downloading of books without needing a computer as the reason that the Amazon Kindle was an unexpected success.  They call ebooks on Amazon “cheap”, which is funny, but the point remains.

So, if the convenience of the total product experience of the Kindle was what made it so successful, how much more successful could it have been if Amazon had removed the intentional inconveniences?

What if you could install additional software on it?  Software to read other formats, perhaps?  An open web browser?  What if you could plug in an SD card, like every other reader on the market?

Amazon couldn’t do these things without giving up a lot of their control.  If you could use an SD card, then maybe you could use an Eye-Fi card and not depend on Sprint’s network to provide the Whispernet.  If you could use a web browser, you wouldn’t need to pay 99 cents to access a blog.

And that’s not to say that both generations of the Kindle aren’t convenient.  Being able to get a new book wherever you are is tremendously convenient.  And Amazon’s marketing (not to mention Oprah’s) means that, while few have heard of many of the ebook readers on the market, most people are familiar with the Kindle.  For the non-technical user, perhaps this is enough.  Amazon’s sales support that theory.

Article:  How to predict gadget success | Business Tech – CNET News.

Nothing surprising from the Kindle 2

How did Amazon do on fulfilling my wishes for the Kindle 2?  Failure on four of five counts, and no compelling reason for current Kindle owners to upgrade.  SD card support?  WiFi?  Free things staying free and a reasonable pricing structure for books?  All ignored by Amazon.  Clearly they aren’t reading this blog.  They did improve the user interface, to the surprise of no one.

And they haven’t given any current Kindle owners a reason to upgrade.  The battery life is better, and it’s thinner.  It’s easier to use.  It works in the two states that couldn’t get the Whispernet connection before.  All of these things are nice, but not game-changing.

Amazon had (And still has, with future generations of the Kindle) a chance to change everything about reading.  Instead, they chose to release another device with bells and whistles and a pretty package, but locked down tightly to protect their ability to continue overcharging for digital content.

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I feel like it’s the Super Bowl Pregame Show

And I hate the Super Bowl Pregame Show.  Also, I think I just violated the NFL’s concept of its rights to the words “Super Bowl”.  Please, NFL, send a bogus lawsuit my way, I could use the publicity.

Amazon is starting their press conference at 10AM.  So the next hour and a half will be filled with posts, just like this one, from all the tech blogs and the publishing blogs and all the other interested people.  They will all say the same nothing that we’ve been hearing for a while.  Yes, shots of the new Kindle leaked.  Are they real?  Probably.  Who cares? 

As you can see, I have nothing to say on the Kindle that hasn’t been said too many times already.  And neither does anyone else.  So we will all spend the time between now and when something interesting happens by rehashing the same things, over and over, trying to make them sound new and fresh.

10AM can’t come soon enough. 

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The new Kindle will disappoint

By managing both the content and the device on which to consume it, Amazon is in a fantastic position to do great things in the electronic publishing market.  Later today, they’re expected to announce the new version of their ebook reader, the Kindle.  The speculation is that it will be thinner, lighter, and easier to use.  “The “Previous Page” and “Next Page” buttons are smaller and less intrusive, to prevent accidents.”, Forbes says.  Most other articles about it are even less interesting.

The new Kindle will probably be the best ereader on the market.  The current model is already arguably the best available, so improvements should cement that position.  But until Amazon stops thinking about how to sell books in a new format and starts thinking about what fundamental changes to the way people read are now possible, whatever they might announce will be a disappointment.

It may be great for their bottom line – Amazon’s stock is doing quite well – but for everyone who isn’t a stockholder, incremental improvements to an expensive device that displays expensive words isn’t nearly as exciting as Amazon would like you to think.  It’s still just a slightly more convenient way for people to purchase and read books.

What about enabling things that just weren’t possible with books made of paper?  Interactive book clubs, automatic updates to serialized novels, communication with the author, or any number of things that become possible when you have an always-on internet connection.  But Amazon, like everyone else in the market, is too focused on protecting the old way of doing things instead of embracing everything new.

Today, and in the days to come, you will hear a lot about how wonderful the new device is, how this one is really “the iPod for books”, and how great Amazon is.  And then you’ll go back to reading books in more or less the same way you did before.

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Amazon is surely wetting its pants now!

Google is constantly updating its library of public domain books, currently 1.5 million strong, so you should expect an ever-increasing number of books available to read both on both PCs and on your phone.

While it’s great that Google is making more and more books available in electronic format, I hardly think Amazon is worried about error-filled scans of public domain books.

Article:  Google Makes iPhone the New eBook Reader: Watch Out Kindle – PC World.

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The Kindle wouldn’t have happened without the iPod

But even the 500,000 estimate would mean that the Kindle is outpacing iPod unit sales in the iPod’s second year on the market, when it sold only 378,000 units. That means if you turned back the clock and launched both at the same time, the Kindle would be outselling the iPod by 32 percent.

The problem here is that you can’t compare sales figures.  The Kindle is, in some sense, standing on the shoulders of the iPod.  The iPod changed the way people thought about buying and listening to music.  The Kindle hasn’t even yet earned the “iPod of books” title that was nevertheless bestowed upon it almost immediately.

Yes, Amazon has sold a lot of Kindles.  Yes, they sell them so fast they can’t keep them in stock.  But the Kindle is just a pretty slick new package on essentially the same old business model.  It hasn’t fundamentally changed the market.

If you had released the two at the same time, Kindle sales would have been much lower because people would have had no idea what to do with it.  The iPod paved the way for the very idea of the Kindle.  It gave it a context in people’s minds, something similar that it could be compared to.  It’s impossible to measure what this did for Kindle sales, but it did something, and you can’t ignore that something in making hypothetical projections.

Article: Is The Kindle Outpacing Early iPod Sales? –

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Free Kindles and no newspapers

If [T]he [T]imes killed its paper print-run and followed the Kindle-only model, that would leave the newspaper with $346 million in its pocket. Okay, distributing the newspaper electronically in a secure way needs some electronic infrastructure…let’s stick a figure of $10 million on that. That still leaves $336 million to spare–a figure not to be sniffed at.

While it’s true that printing and delivering a newspaper is a huge cost that makes less and less sense by the day, this analysis still misses the point.  Replacing one ridiculous expense with a more ridiculous but smaller expense is not the way to succeed.  Newspapers must accept that the only way forward is to focus on the the scarce things they have to sell, and give the rest away.

And no, I don’t mean selling the printing presses and the buildings that house them.  While these things are scarce, and might bring in some extra cash, they won’t solve the problem.

But what do newspapers have that they could sell?  They have experienced reporters who will do more than scan Google and Technorati for the latest news.  They will actually investigate, research, and report.  These are all valuable things that take time and effort.  Businesses would pay for extensive, accurate, and timely information about their respective industries.  They already do pay for information like this.  Collecting this sort of information, weeding out what’s not important, presenting it in a readable way, these things are all hard.  These things are all valuable.  These are things you can sell.

But how does everyone else get their news?  For free.  Delivered via blogs and RSS feeds and however else people find it convenient.  Some will still pay for paper copies, at least for a while longer.

The difference is that, instead of trying to figure out ways to restrict your content, to keep people from getting at it, to inflate the price with artificial scarcity, you get it out there.  You use your content to build your reputation as a great place to come for good information.  And when people want to pay for your reporting and researching skills, you keep giving the content away.  Those who are paying you can have it first, maybe, but after that it goes out onto the internet where others can use it and build on it and consume it and keep building your reputation and naturally inflating the prices, sustainably inflating the prices (provided you continue the high level of service).

Saving the newspaper industry won’t really be about the newspaper at all.  It will be about transitioning an old industry that focused on putting things on paper into a new industry that focuses on collecting information and putting it together to be consumed.

Article: Fast Company – Should The New York Times Ditch Paper, Distribute Kindle E-readers?

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