Picture of the new smaller, black $139 Amazon Wi-Fi Kindle

I’d been expecting there’d be a lot of new Kindle owners after Christmas, but now a business news service is backing me up. By the end of the year, Amazon will have sold more than 8 million Kindles, according to new statistics from Bloomberg. And it’s not just a prediction. They’re reporting that number came from “two people who are aware of the company’s sales projections.”

I have to wonder if this is a deliberate leak by Amazon. Amazon’s never shared their sales figures before, until Monday, when they finally revealed they’d sold “millions” of Kindles — just in the previous 73 days! It must’ve been hard keeping that secret, while Apple continued bragging about how fast their were selling their iPads. But in fact, Apple only sold 4.19 million iPads between July and September, and for the rest of the year, Bloomberg’s analyst has predicted that Apple will sell only 5 million more…

I’d like to give a big welcome to all the new Kindle owners. (In a few days, I’ll be publishing a few of my best new tricks for the Kindle!) And if you’re wondering if you should’ve bought an iPad instead — don’t. The selection of books is much smaller in Apple’s store, according to Publisher’s Weekly. “Want an e-book version of the nation’s bestselling nonfiction hardcovers? Don’t bother looking on the iBookstore. Apple still hasn’t struck a deal with Random House, publisher of current hits like George W. Bush’s Decision Points and Laura Hillenbrand’s Unbroken. For now, iPad users who want to get any of Random House’s bestsellers — which also include John Grisham’s The Confession and Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo — need to visit Apple’s App Store and download the free application for the Kindle or the Nook.”

Publisher’s Weekly notes that Apple offers just 130,000 books in its iBookstore, vs. the 300,000 applications in its app store — and you can’t even access Apple’s iBookstore from your computer, but only from a mobile device!

Maybe there’s a “stealth revolution” underway, and the Kindle’s popularity is Amazon’s own delicious secret. But if that’s true, then it’s got me curious. What kind of Kindles are people actually buying? I decided to ask a friend who publishes a popular technology site, and they agreed to anonymously share the break-down of their own sales for the last 30 days. They’d sold 90 Kindles — more than $13,000 worth — but eighteen of them were 2nd-generation Kindles. (Which is exactly 20%…) Almost two-thirds of their sales were for the new, cheaper WiFi Kindle — but that’s probably because Wi-Fi Kindles were specifically mentioned in Amazon’s ads. (“The All-New Kindle. Built-in Wi-Fi. Only $139…”) Since they’re only available in the new black color, this suggests we may start seeing fewer people in 2011 who are still carrying around the old-fashioned white Kindles.

Although maybe not. My friend’s web site also sold 15 of the new Kindle model that ships with both Wi-Fi and 3G connectivity — and only three buyers requested the graphite-colored Kindle. With this model there’s a choice of colors, and given a choice, 80% of the shoppers apparently went with a traditional white Kindle. And if you’re a new Kindle owner, remember. If you wrap your Kindle in a rubber “skin” you can change it to other colors, like blue or pink!

Pink Kindle skin gift cover

If I could send one message to all the new Kindle owners, it would be this: that owning a Kindle is a lot of fun. And remember that the Kindle is surprisingly flexible. Besides ebooks there’s also a great selection of games for the Kindle, and you can even use it to read your favorite newspapers and magazines. (Not to mention some great Kindle blogs!) So to all the new Kindle owners: happy holidays

And happy Kindle-ing!

Barnes and Noble Nook
Amazon made a stunning announcement Tuesday morning. “In just the first 73 days of this holiday quarter, we’ve already sold millions of our all-new Kindles..”

Kindle owners were the first to get the news, since Amazon quietly posted it online in a forum for Kindle owners. “Thank you, Kindle customers…” the announcement began, adding that “in the last 73 days, readers have purchased more Kindles than we sold during all of 2009.” Their post was just six sentences long, but it seemed bigger in scope — and big on gratitude. Amazon’s Kindle Team said they were “energized” (and grateful) for “the overwhelming customer response,” and the message ended with the words “Thank you for being a Kindle customer.”

It’s fun watching the reactions from skeptical technology sites. “It’s raining Kindles,” wrote The Motley Fool. They’ve complained in the past Amazon never revealed the actual number of Kindles sold, saying it’s “like having a discussion with a kindergartner or a politician. They all tell you what they think you want to hear…but lack the details you really need to know before drawing your own conclusion.”

Even then, Amazon’s announcement Tuesday didn’t completely satisfy the site. “Amazon.com still isn’t coming clean with how many Kindle e-book readers it’s selling, but at least now we know that it will be in the ‘millions’ this holiday quarter alone.” The Motley Fool called Amazon’s sales figure “impressive,” and attributed it to the better deals available. “[I]t really wasn’t until this year’s price war — driving the price of the Kindle to as low as $139 — that it all began coming together. Book lovers that figured it would take several dozens of e-book purchases to cover the cost of the $399 model can now justify the lower break-even point on a $139 reader.”

Information Week supplied some crucial context for Amazon’s announcement. Just last week, Barnes and Noble revealed it was selling its color Nooks at a rate of 18,000 a day. Publisher’s Weekly had declared the company’s CEO as their person of the year, and in a profile, he’d revealed that every four or five days, Barnes and Noble loaded up another 747 aircraft just to fly in more Nooks from China. That would come out to 1,314,000 Nooks if it lasted for 73 days — two Nooks for every three Kindles sold — but the Nook Color has only been available for less than 7 weeks.

It’s been 47 days since its release on October 28, which works out to just 846,000 color Nooks sold so far (assuming their sales rate remained constant). “All this vague one-upmanship, doesn’t answer the question on most analysts’ minds,” complains Information Week, “which is how well the Kindle is selling compared to the Apple iPad.” But at least now we have a number to work with for the number of Kindle owners in the world. We now know that there are at least two million new Kindles firing up out there in the wild.

The devil is in the details, and C|Net found something even more important that I’d missed. Amazon’s CEO is predicting that ebooks won’t start outselling all printed books for a while — saying ebooks won’t even surpass the sales of paperback books until the summer of 2011. And as far as ebooks outselling all printed books, he’s predicting it will finally happen “by 2012.”

Stephen King autograph on a Kindle

“Writers will begin signing e-books,” a headline promises at the web site TechEye. Er, wait a minute — then where are the writers going to put the pen?

But it turns out there’s a new technology — and also some other possibilities that I hadn’t thought of. For example, one PR professional suggested that instead of a signature, authors at a book-signing could pose for a digital photograph with all their fans who waited in line. (And yes, you could e-mail that photograph to your Kindle, where you could then access it from your home page.) And the photos could also be uploaded to Facebook or posted on weblogs — or even uploaded to your cell phone, so it’s next to the apps where you’re reading the author’s ebook!

Of course, it’s also possible to use a pen-shaped mouse to draw a digital signature onto the photograph, so the fans could still get their autograph after all. But according to TechEye, there’s an even more interesting possibility. A developer named Tom Waters teamed up with an IT contractor for NASA to create an application called “autography,” which captures a writer’s autograph on a digital blank page so that it can be inserted directly into ebooks! This could spread a new tradition throughout the world of ebooks, according to an insider for the publishing industry who was interviewed by the web site. “Autography has initially been developed as a iPad app which works with the iBookstore, although Waters says the final service will be device and format agnostic…”

This might be a better way to handle ebooks when authors are promoting their new releases at a bookstore. (I’ve already collected several stories about fans who asked the authors to simply sign the outside of their Kindles.) Last year at a Manhattan bookstore, this happened when humorist David Sedaris was promoting a new collection of essays called “When You Are Engulfed in Flames” — and he came up with the perfect inscription. “Mr. Sedaris, in mock horror, wrote, ‘This bespells doom’,” the New York Times reported, adding that the event “may have offered a glimpse of the future.” When the Times contacted Sedaris later, the author revealed that actually, he’d already signed “at least five” different Kindles — as well as “a fair number of iPods…for audio book listeners!”

William Gibson, the famous science fiction author, also experienced the same phenomenon — during a special book-signing at the Microsoft campus. (Gibson acknowledged to the fan that this was a first, and then autographed their Kindle with big, black letters using a permanent marker.) Later, the fan discovered that William Gibson was also talking about the incident on Twitter. “Signed very first Kindle at Microsoft,” Gibson announced to his fans. “Actually, *touched* very first Kindle.

“Appealing unit, IMO,” added the science fiction writer.

Gibson’s new book ultimately became Amazon’s best-selling science fiction book in September, and it’s possible that the extra publicity helped. It’s fun to think about this as two worlds colliding — that it’s the virtual world of ebooks confronting the real-world physicality of printed books (and their authors). But while this ritual may be undergoing simple changes, it could offer hints about something larger.

One fan even confessed to the New York Times that she actually felt embarrassed as she’d approached the author, because “if you’re asking for your Kindle to be signed, you’re taking the bookstore out of the process!”

The Presidents and the Kindle

November 15, 2010

President Abraham Lincoln reading a book
I remember the day when I almost met President Clinton. He was helping a school in my town install the cables for internet access in 1996 — along with Al Gore — and I was covering the event for a local alternative newsweekly. Some of the volunteers that day wore t-shirts that said “I connected our kids to the future.” And in the teacher’s lounge, I’d found the left-behind remains of sandwich from a local deli, with the word “president” written on a plastic cover. (It was left behind under a sign which read “Your mother doesn’t work here, so clean up after yourself!”)

It was a weird moment, when I realized that when there’s a new technology, we’re all “pioneering” our way towards it together. And 14 years later, when that future finally arrived, I feel like we’d ended up doing it again, moving together as an invisible group, this time towards a new reading technology. Shortly after the inauguration of President Obama, CNN reported that former President Bush had returned to Texas, where he was “meeting the neighbors, making trips to the hardware store, and catching up on some reading via a Kindle.” That same month, former vice president Dick Cheney revealed he also had a Kindle, and a few weeks ago, even Laura Bush told an interviewer that she has one too.

But it’s not just that the Kindle is being used by a handful of White House occupants. After receiving a $7 million advance, former president Bush released his new autobiography on Tuesday. By the end of its first day — counting pre-orders — he’d sold 220,000 copies and delivered nearly $4 million in book sales. But the former president also discovered that nearly 23% of his readers were buying it as an ebook!

A new world may be emerging — an accidental community of early adopters — since the publisher’s spokesman said the figures demonstrate the “rapid growth” of the ebook market. (I calculate that that’s over half a million dollars worth of ebooks sold in a single day!) The publisher also revealed that it was their highest one-day sales in six years — since they’d published the autobiography of former president Bill Clinton. But there’s also something significant about the fact that even Clinton’s biography is now available as a Kindle ebook, along with several by Ronald Reagan, and seven books by Jimmy Carter…

And tomorrow even president Obama is releasing a new book — and has also decided to make it available on the Kindle. It’s a children’s book called Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to my Daughters, and it’s got its own perspective on the way America has changed. It looks back to past presidents like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, but also ordinary citizens who made a difference, likeMartin Luther King Jr., Helen Keller, Georgia O’Keefe, and Jackie Robinson. It’s fun to think that this will be the first generation of children who may be reading these classic stories of American history on a Kindle!

The world keeps on changing, both in big ways and in small. (One political blog reported that President Bush now seems more interested in his iPad than his Kindle, and according to his wife Laura, he’s “constantly” playing the Scrabble app.) But 10 years ago, The Washington Post once reported, there was an even bigger challenge confronting ebook author Barack Obama: obscurity! “In the summer of 2000 when he flew from Chicago to Los Angeles for the Democratic convention and no one knew him, his credit card bounced, and he left after a forlorn day hanging out as an unimportant face lost in the power-lusting crowd.”

It all goes to show that a lot can change in 10 years — both for politicians, as well as the rest of us!

Consumer Reports buying guide cover
There’s been some excitement in Amazon’s Kindle forum. Consumer Reports magazine just chose the Kindle as the best e-reader in an early December issue. But I discovered that there’s even more good news for Amazon. At my local bookstore, I scoured the magazine rack, and found an even more positive comparison in the Consumer Reports Electronics Buying Guide!

And the Kindle had already won high marks in their special “Best Products of the Year” issue in November. It was the Kindle — and not the Nook or the iPad — which was listed in a special section called “Great Gifts for $250 and Under.” Consumer Reports wrote enthusiastically that the Kindle “offers crisp text, fine performance, simple controls, and a pleasurable reading experience.” It was just a short blurb — but the Electronics Buying Guide offered a very detailed comparison.

It costs a whopping $10.99 for that special Winter issue — but watch out. There’s a funny typo in its section on digital readers. They warn readers that prices typically range from $1150 to $500. Er, I’ve never seen an e-reader that costs $1150!

The guide starts with a section for people who have never seen a digital reader before, but are considering whether to buy one. (The magazine gave low marks to the experience of browsing the web on all the digital readers, calling them “very limited” and “virtually unusable”.) And they also warn shoppers to “be wary” of a reader which can’t connect to a wireless 3G network. But their biggest negative comment about the Kindle is just about file formats. (“With Kindles…Word documents and photos in JPEG format must be sent to Amazon for conversion before than can be loaded.”)

You have to flip towards the back of the magazine to find their detailed comparison table, where the Kindle was ultimately declared the winner. Consumer Reports named the Kindle DX “Best for Reading Lots of Textbooks with Diagrams,” while the newer Kindle 3G won the other honor — “Best for Most People”. Ultimately the Kindle came up with an overall score of 63 (or 65, for the larger Kindle DX). In fact, the Nook came in #3, racking up a score of just 52. In the number two position was the Sony Reader, which scored a 60, or a 56 for the smaller version. (Also tested were the BeBook, the iRex, and the Alluratek Libre.)

Of all the readers that they compared, only the Kindle received their special endorsements. The Kindle DX was listed as “Recommended,” while the Kindle 3G was awarded a “Best Buy” check mark. The Kindle scored the best for “readability” — receiving the second-highest possible score of “very good” (while the Nook’s readability was a rank lower, rated as “good” — along with every other reader.) The testers defined “readability” as which device is the easiest on your eyes.

In fact, the only two categories where the Nook scored higher than the Kindle were in “file support” and “versatility” (defined as the number of features available).The Kindle also bested the Nook in ease of navigation, page turning, and responsiveness. responsiveness, The Nook’s lowest score was for responsiveness — how quickly the screen becomes functional after powering up or returning from sleep mode. The Nook received the second-lowest possible ranking there, while both versions of the Kindle scored a rank higher — a middle rating of “good.” The reviewers also noted that for some users, the Kindle’s text-to-speech features could also come in handy. (They specifically mention the sight-impaired, but if you’re taking a long car trip, the Kindle could even read to you from the passenger seat!)

It’s a big deal, because Consumer Reports has been around since 1936, and I’ve always thought of it as one of the most well-respect consumer organizations. Their annual budget for testing is $21 million, according to Wikipedia.

But ironically, you still can’t read Consumer Reports on your Kindle!

Is Amazon misleading us about ebooks outselling printed books
Last week Amazon made another announcement with disturbing implications. Amazon revealed that their Kindle ebook sales “continue to overtake” the sale of print books on Amazon.com. But in the next few sentences, Amazon added some big disclaimers. So the truth is apparently that they’re not selling more ebooks than printed books.

Amazon issued a press release announcing that over the previous 30 days, they’d sold more Kindle ebooks than printed books “for the top 10, 25, 100, and 1,000 bestselling books on Amazon.com.” But it seems like an odd distinction, almost like they’re playing a game with the numbers. In the universe of all books sold, just how small is the piece that’s occupied by this month’s best-sellers? When you walk into a bookstore, how many of the books around you aren’t in the top 1,000? I’d guess it’s an awful lot — at least more than half.

And that points to the biggest quirk in Amazon’s calculation. Wikipedia notes that Amazon’s own list of best-sellers “tends to favor hardcover, more expensive books, where the shipping charge is a smaller percentage of the overall purchase price or is sometimes free, and which tend to be more deeply discounted than paperbacks.” In fact, best-selling books are often new books — which are first available only in hardcover editions. So Amazon isn’t talking about a typical sample of all books that are sold; instead they’re sampling an unusual subset where hardcover books are still very much over-represented.

In the real world, hardcover books represented just 23% of all books sold last year, according to Nielsen’s Bookscan service. But Amazon used this anomaly to announce that ebooks in their Kindle store were outselling all those expensive hardcover books. In July one analyst did some quick calculations based on Amazon’s other public statements, and concluded that over 70% of the books Amazon sells were still printed books. And since Amazon sells more ebooks than just about anybody, he reports that sales still remain very strong for the printed book, with Amazon’s ebook sales only representing “the equivalent of 6% of the total print book market.”

I’d publicized the analyst’s conclusions, and it ended up getting some attention from an MIT technology blog and the popular web site TechDirt. I half-wondered if Amazon’s latest press release was an attempt to address their skepticism by creating a new announcement where ebooks now seem to be finally outselling books — when they actually aren’t. After all, if Amazon really were selling more ebooks than printed books — across the board — obviously they would’ve announced that instead. (And how else could ebook sales “continue to overtake” print book sales? They’ve either passed them, or they haven’t!)

Amazon’s press release quotes Steve Kessel, the Senior Vice President for the Kindle, saying that Amazon’s ebooks “are also outselling print books for the top 25, 100, and 1,000 bestsellers — it’s across the board,” though apparently “across the board” actually means “the small portion of the board which contains expensive and pre-dominantly hardcover best-sellers.” But I also noticed their calculation specified sales to “Amazon customers” rather than “Kindle owners.” This seems to confirm reports earlier this month that 1 in 5 people buying ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store don’t actually own a Kindle (according to a new technology survey). So Amazon may be selling more ebook versions of (expensive and pre-dominantly hardcover) best-selling books — but a lot of those are only being read on iPads and iPhones.

And Amazon also specified that their statistic was for “the last 30 days” — which could represent a one-time spike in the month after Amazon released the cheapest Kindle ever. I know I’m being cynical, but at least I’m not the only one. A reporter at Barron’s financial blog complained that Amazon’s announcement was “completely lacking in informative quantitative detail.” And a columnist at PC World notes it’s not the first time their statistics have made a strange comparison.


“Amazon has a tradition of playing these stupid mind games with the press… Amazon really took the cake for its silly numbers game last December when the company announced it had sold enough 8 gigabyte iPods during the holiday season to play 422 years of continuous music. The company also claimed it had sold enough Blu-ray disc players during the 2009 holiday sales blitz that if you lined up all the players side-by-side they would stretch for more than 27 miles. Huh?

He suggests that Amazon is guilty of foisting on the public “some random statistic that would be more at home in the Guinness Book of World Records than a quarterly sales announcement. ‘Hey look, we sold more Kindles in Q2 FY2010 than the weight of three pregnant Kenyan elephants.’ Good for you. Oh, did I mention that Amazon said it sold more Kindle books than print books for the top 10, 25, 100, and 1,000 bestselling books on Amazon.com during the past 30 days? Wonder what that actually means?

“Me, too.”

College student cap and gown

Here’s another interesting statistic: 74% of college students still prefer printed books over ebooks.

The National Association of College Stores performed a new study through their “OnCampus Research” division, contacting 627 students during the month of October. 87% of them hadn’t purchased a single ebook within the last three months. And of the ones who did, more than half of them — a whopping 56% — said their main reason was to read material that was required for a course. Plus, the study also found some bad news for the Kindle: 77% of those students who bought an ebook said they read ebooks on their laptop or Netbook. (Followed by another 30% who said they read their ebooks on a desktop computer.)

In fact, only 8% of college students even own a digital reader, according to the study. And when asked, nearly 60% of the remainder said they had no plans to buy one. (Though I guess you could read that as “more than 40% of the students” expected to buy one soon…) “We wanted to cut through all the speculation and put hard numbers to it,” said research manager Elizabeth Riddle. She announced that the college-age students are “definitely a growth opportunity for companies providing digital education products,” adding that the death of the printed book, “at least on campus, has been greatly exaggerated, and that dedicated e-readers have a way to go before they catch on…”

Publisher’s Weekly apparently contacted the authors of the study, since they reported a breakdown of the study’s results in even more detail. It shows that for those students using a dedicated reading device, the second most-popular handheld device is the iPhone, which comes in at 23.9%. But according to their report, the most popular device is still the Kindle, with a 31.4% share, split evenly between the Kindle 3 and the Kindle DX combined. The Nook comes in at 21.6%

In fact, if I’m reading those statistics correctly, there’s been an amazing spike in the popularity of the Kindle. The Kindle 3 has only been on the market for two months, and it’s already claimed as much of the market share as the earlier Kindle DX (which was released more than a year earlier!) Maybe for college students, a lower price brings a huge boost in sales. Or maybe the Kindle has more “buzz” after an extra year on the market.

But this was my favorite line of the study. “A tablet computer, such as an iPad, was the least common reading device used by students, selected by only 4% of respondents.” Out of all the ways to read an ebook, an iPad is one of the most expensive. Maybe college students are passing it over for a stack of used paperback books!

Amazon 3Q stock chart - third quarter of 2010

It’s a special time of year — when major corporations finally reveal the secret numbers about how their companies performed over the previous 13 weeks. Yesterday Amazon released their own quarterly earnings reports, right in the middle of a week of rumors and predictions about tablet-sized reading devices. Amazon reminded investors that the newest generation of Kindles are “the fastest-selling Kindles of all time.” And they’re also the #1 best-selling product on Amazon — both in America and Britain.

“A sour economy failed to slow down Amazon.com,” reported the New York TImes, “as the company’s net sales climbed 39 percent in the third quarter.” But what’s more interesting is what they didn’t say. A financial analyst in San Francisco believes that this year, Amazon will earn a whopping $2.8 billion from their Kindles and ebook purchases, according to Bloomberg news. And within two years, that number could nearly double, to $5.3 billion in 2012!

That’d break down to the equivalent of 15 million Kindles sold in 2010, and 30 million in 2012 — though some of the profits obviously are coming from ebook sales. But what’s even more interesting is the analyst’s second comment. Kindle users “will not only continue buying more e-books, but also subscriptions, accessories, [and] hardware warranties,” he predicted, saying eventually the devices would be used to deliver music and even full-motion video. Will Amazon eventually open up new stores for Kindle music and Kindle video?

And that’s where the first rumor gets a lot more interesting. While Amazon was announcing their quarterly results, C|Net also reported that this Tuesday, Barnes and Noble will reveal a digital reader with a full-color touch-screen — the “Nook Color,” priced at $249. “It’s a big step ahead, instead of chasing Amazon,” their source explained, adding that it’d be based on Google’s popular Android operating system, and would sell for half the price of Apple’s tablet-sized iPad. It’d ship with a 7-inch color screen — which is a magic dimension size that has already been generating some controversy.

“One naturally thinks that a seven-inch screen would offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch screen,” Apple’s Steve Jobs told analysts Tuesday when announcing their own quarterly earnings. “Unfortunately, this is far from the truth. The screen measurements are diagonal, so that a seven-inch screen is only 45 percent as large as iPad’s 10-inch screen. You heard me right: just 45 percent as large…
The seven-inch tablets are tweeners: too big to compete with a smartphone, and too small to compete with an iPad.”

Jobs insisted that his comments were based on Apple’s “extensive user testing on touch interfaces over many years…we really understand this stuff.” But the truth probably lurks somewhere between the lines. Reading devices have proven to be so popular, that none of these companies want to get left behind. It’s not just that Amazon’s Kindle-related profits are probably already in the billions of dollars. It’s that selling us millions of Kindles means we’ll keep using Amazon’s store for our future purchases — of e-books today, but maybe also for music-and-video purchases in the future. So while I’m casually reading my e-books, major corporations are already fighting the war of tablet-sized reading devices.

And honestly, I’m not sure how I feel about all this speculation. I just worry that someday we’ll look back with a fond nostalgia to the Kindle 1. “It didn’t offer full-motion color video on high-definition screen,” we’ll say.

“But it was really great for reading books.”

Apple's Steve Jobs and the iPad vs Amazon's Kindle

I’m fascinated by the Kindle’s competition with the iPad — and Apple’s rival approach to the marketing of ebooks. For example, yesterday Apple released a quarterly report showing they’d set new records. Over 92 days, they sold 14.1 million iPhones, 9.05 million iPods, 3.89 million Mac computers, and 4.19 million iPads. Their stock hit an all-time high, giving them a market capitalization of nearly $300 billion. And yet even some of Apple biggest fans still seem disappointed by Apple’s effort to sell ebooks.

One site had even stronger words, calling Apple’s iBookstore “one big failure”. David Winograd has both a PhD and an MBA, and he writes for “The Unofficial Apple Weblog,” where he analyzed the surprisingly small selection of ebooks in Apple’s store. “At launch, it was reported that the iBookstore contained somewhere between 46,000 and 60,000 titles, 30,000 of which came from the Project Gutenberg library of free out-of-copyright books.” Eliminating those “brings the number of titles at launch…to a generous 30,000.” Amazon, meanwhile, boasts that its Kindle bookstore has “over 700,000 ebooks, newspapers, magazines and blogs” — so it seems safe to assume that counting ebooks alone would still give Amazon close to half a million choices.

I’m always curious how Amazon’s Kindle Store would compare to other online bookstores, but David Winograd actually performed some real-world research. “I did a search of the New York Times Best Seller List from last Sunday and found that three of the hardcover fiction titles and three non-fiction titles were missing from the iBookstore. Amazon had all of them except for [Jon Stewart’s] Earth (The Book), which has no electronic version…” And there was another big problem with the iBookstore. “Sometimes Apple came out more expensive while Amazon never did.”

This disparity leads the unofficial Apple blogger to his biggest complaint: “The iBookstore is full of holes.” He’d initially been excited about buying ebooks from Apple’s iBookstore, “but I became disappointed at the lack of availability and prices of what I wanted to read… unless Apple takes some giant steps to fix the things that are broken with the iBookstore, it will continue to be a dismal failure.” In August, one author even reported that he’d been selling 6,000 ebooks a month in Amazon’s Kindle store, versus just 100 per month in Apple’s iBookstore.

But to be fair, the iPad is changing reading in other ways — and it won at least one match-up against the Kindle in a small town of 60,000 people. In Northern California, their city council will vote today on whether to replace their bulky agenda packets with digital versions on an iPad! Yuba City “prints 20 full agenda packets for each meeting, creating an average of 68,000 pages per year,” according to a local newspaper. “Five electronic devices for council members, two for the city manager’s office and one for the city clerk would cost $5,240 with an expected annual savings of $2,200 in printing costs!”

They’d also considered delivering the council minutes to a Kindle, but felt it didn’t score as highly in usability, readability, and “available applications.” But it probably would still score higher in its selection of ebooks.

The Best Kindle Comments

October 13, 2010

Cartoon megaphone (small)

I love the internet. And one of the best things is it’s constantly delivering new perspectives. Even for today’s very latest Kindle news, someone’s already come up with a fresh insight…

For example, Tuesday Amazon announced they were adding a new section to the Kindle store for shorter (and cheaper) ebooks. Amazon will call the new format “Kindle singles,” saying it will be the equivalent of roughly 30 to 90 printed pages (or 10,000 to 30,000 words). On the web site for Publisher’s Weekly, one author instantly came forward and suggested this opens a new world of untapped potential.


“Some of us have always written works that are a little too short to be economically feasible for traditional print publishing. It’s good that someone in the epublishing world has realized they can publish us too.”


I first became excited about the Kindle when wondering if the book itself might disappear within my lifetime. But as the book-reading world starts its changing, we’ll still be able to hear what ordinary people think about those changes while they’re happening. The internet’s given a megaphone to anyone with a story to share, so even as technology alters our world, it’s also empowering us to have a dialogue about those changes.

Yesterday I wrote a post asking “Is the iPad actually helping the Kindle?” And within a few hours, one of my readers contacted me with their own insights on whether Apple’s recent moves were actually helping Amazon sell more ebooks and even more digital readers.



“Am I a good example? I was never persuaded by e-books until I acquired an iPad. I bought a couple of titles [using both Apple’s iBookstore and using Amazon’s Kindle-store app], and suddenly the penny dropped. I understood the appeal, especially from a convenience perspective. But the iBooks store is like a supermarket with empty shelves, so Amazon got all my subsequent business.

In a final twist, I bought a Kindle 3. The iPad had convinced me that e-books are the future of reading, but it equally convinced me that the iPad is not the device on which to do it. As a Trojan Horse for Amazon, the iPad has therefore been an amazing success if my example is any indication.”



There’s always more to the story — or at least, another way to understand it. Earlier this month, a debate erupted on the geek news site Slashdot. They were discussing the same figures reported here — that currently e-books represent just 6% of the total number of books sold. One user thought the news was receiving the wrong emphasis. “The title should be, ‘Holy crap, an entire 6% of books sold are eBooks.'”



“The vast majority of the reading public doesn’t own an ebook reader. The vast majority of people say things like, ‘I like the feel of a paper book, I wouldn’t want to read a novel on my computer.’ The fact that, despite the relative novelty of the medium, and endemic resistance to ebooks, they’ve already captured a sizeable percentage of the venerable book market says quite a bit about the future. And frankly I’m surprised.”



And his perspective was followed by someone from “a medium-sized book publisher” scrambling to publish ebooks. “Six percent [of total book sales] sounds about right, last year it was 4 and the year before that it was zero. From a publisher’s perspective, we’re still waiting to see how it all pans out.


“The suspicion is that this growth rate won’t maintain itself and that there’s a plateau somewhere. Where that is, no one knows, but no one that I know of in the industry is predicting any sort of e-book takeover in the next decade or two. So yes there’s huge growth but no one’s getting rid of their printers just yet.

“Publishers love e-books: no shipping, no warehousing, and most importantly no returns. Most books are sold to retail outlets on the basis that they can return them for a full refund if they don’t sell. Since getting shelf space can boost sales you often see titles with an over 50% return rate. Also, for very little money you can take titles that are out of print or didn’t sell well and put them out there. Titles once thought dead can now eek out a few extra sales.”



But my favorite comment of all came in response to a political news story. President Barack Obama was appearing in Pennsylvania at a political event when an “over exuberant” author hurtled a copy of his book towards the podium. A secret service spokesperson later explained the incident to CNN: the overzealous author “wrote a book that he wanted the president to read.”

“Yep… I know I would read a book that somebody threw at me…” joked a comment at the political news site Political Wire.



By the way, don’t forget that you can subscribe to Slashdot as a Kindle blog!

Apple iBookstore for the iPad

There’s been some interesting news about the Kindle today. One in five people who buy ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store don’t actually own a Kindle!

That’s the surprising result from a new report by Cowen and Co., an investment banking company which just released the results of their survey Monday. This spring there were predictions that Apple’s iPad would effectively eliminate Amazon’s Kindle — or at least hurt Amazon’s sales of ebooks with new competition from Apple’s iBookstore. But instead, the analysts concluded that the iPad “is not having a negative impact on Kindle device or e-book sales.” In fact, 31% of iPad owners said they’re still most likely to purchase their ebooks from Amazon’s Kindle store. And the number who prefer Amazon’s Kindle store rises to 44% among “heavy readers” who buy more than 25 books each year.

This leads the report to an unavoidable conclusion: the more iPads that get sold, the more ebooks Amazon will sell. It predicts Amazon will sell over $700 million worth of ebooks in 2010 — triple what Amazon earned from ebooks just last year. And the analysts even dared to venture a prediction for the year 2015. For this year they’re estimating Amazon will grab 76% of the ebook market (versus 5% for Apple). But even five years from now, in 2015, they’re predicting that Apple’s iBookstore will represent just 16% of the ebook market, while Amazon still sells 51% of all ebooks.

Of course, there was another famous prediction about ebooks in the year 2015. Nicholas Negroponte is the futurist who founded both MIT’s Media Lab and the “One Laptop Per Child” association, and he’s projected that the printed book will be dead within five years. It’s important to put his prediction in context, since his association hopes to distribute cheap computers to students in the developing world — and he’s obviously focused on cheap ebooks as part of that effort. Plus, his statement was made in response to sales figures showing that ebooks were outselling printed books — leaving open the possibility that he really meant that ebook sales would just massively outweigh the sales of print books.

I wrote last month about how MIT’s technology blog contradicted him, arguing that “it’s just as likely that as the ranks of the early adopters get saturated, adoption of ebooks will slow.” But I thought it was interesting that the iPad also came up in that discussion. Technology reporter Christopher Mims had noted the praise for the iPad’s crisp, high-resolution screen, with one developer at Microsoft gushing on his blog that it had “moved us out of the Dark Ages.” Mims’ alternate conclusion upon hearing that quote? “Many tech pundit wants books to die.”

“Really….”

It’s fun to look into the future, but I’ve got a statistic of my own. One year ago, you could buy a refurbished version of Amazon’s original Kindle for just $149. Obviously, today you can buy a new Kindle for $139. But how much would it cost you to buy a refurbished original Kindle now? Just $110, according to the latest results in Amazon’s Kindle store.

Maybe we should all just live for today, and grab one while they last!

William Saroyan
Publishers Weekly reports that in July, declines were reported in the print sales for all trade paperbacks, with total sales of around $60 million for nine mass market publishers. But what’s really interesting is that e-book sales for the same period were $40.8 million — representing a big increase from their earlier figures — for the 14 publishers who report ebook sales. For the year, their ebook sales are averaging $31.3 million a month.

In fact, “Sales of printed romance books have fallen for the first time since records began,” according to one technology analyst. Citing data from Nielsen BookScan, they note that certain genres seem more popular in the realm of ebooks. In one 10-week period this summer, science fiction and fantasy books represented 10% of e-book sales, more than triple its market share in the world of printed books. And romance and “saga” books performed even better, accounting for 14% of all ebooks sold in the same period — seven times their market share in the world of printed books. But so far in 2010, sales of printed romance books are down 7.5%, and there’s also been a decline in the sales of printed science fiction and fantasy books.

The New York Daily News described a bookstore that’s “combating the Kindle – with candy.” Sort of. The Union Square bookstore replaced a 40-foot counter below their check-out registers, which had been stocked with used paperback books. But now they’re selling “nostalgic” candies like Charleston Chews and bubblegum cigars, and the store’s 82-year-old co-owner says “We’re selling five times as much candy as we did ‘register books.'” The article also notes that Barnes and Noble now stocks chocolate bars at its cash registers, and even the Borders bookstore at Penn Station “has racks of ‘movie candy’ for shoppers headed to a nearby multiplex.”

One science writer suggests the 2010 Nobel prize for physics could ultimately have an impact on the Kindle. It’s a carbon film — exactly one atom thick — which can be transparent, and could one day replace platinum, iridium, and even the screen of your Kindle! “Atom for atom, graphene turned out to be 100 times stronger than steel…” noted MSNBC, adding that this year, researchers reported that they created a working touch-screen display using graphene.”

Meanwhile, results of a new survey suggest that 44% Kindle owners earn over $80,000 per year, compared to just 39 percent of iPad owners, and 37 percent of iPhone owners. In addition, 27% of Kindle owners have a graduate school degree — either a masters or doctorate degree.

And Starting Sunday, the Kindle will be available at the Staples chain of office supply stores. C|Net reports Best Buy and Target are also featuring the Kindle in their stores – and that the Kindle still remains the #1 best-selling item at Amazon.com

Sharp Galapagos Reader to compete with the iPad and Kindle
Today Japan’s electronics giant Sharp announced they’ll be releasing two fancy Android-based e-readers in December, to compete with the Kindle and iPad. They’re targetting 1 million in sales for the tablet-sized reading devices in their first year, according to IDG News Service, and they’re calling them Galapagos (after the exotic islands where Charles Darwin studied numerous species). Sharp sees the name as “a symbol of the ‘evolution’ of services” (and devices) “that constantly bring fresh, new experiences to the user.”

It’s an allusion to the fact that (besides updates to its software), the device can periodically refresh its content. Sharp’s press release emphasized its “Automatic Scheduled Delivery Service” for newspapers and magazines, though “The first models have Wi-Fi but don’t come equipped with 3G wireless,” notes IDG. And they also report that while there’s some Android apps pre-installed, “users might not be able to download additional apps.” In fact, a careful study of the press release reveals many shortcomings.

1. Sharp promises a total of just 30,000 newpapers, magazines, and ebooks. (Whereas Amazon’s Kindle Store offers 700,000).

2. Sharp didn’t announce its price.

3. It’s got a standard LCD display, rather than the more comfortable e-ink.

But most importantly, Sharp’s press release promises “a network service and device specifically designed for the Japanese market.” This means that it fully supports Japanese characters, but the device is based on the XMDF document format, according to IDG, “a format developed by Sharp and largely confined to Japan”. I think it’s significant that the device comes pre-installed with a “social network service” for sharing comments and lists of ebooks. Text messaging is extremely popular in Japan, but it’s not necessarily a must-have feature for a digital reader.

There’s two models – one the size of a Kindle, and one the size of an iPad — and the cases come in two colors, red and silver. (Though the larger models are only available in black).


Sharp Galapagos Reader to compete with iPad


But ultimately, I have the same reaction that I did when Apple released the iPad. It just shows that all around the world, people are still very excited about the reader market!

Apple's Steve Jobs and the iPad vs Amazon's Kindle
It’s one of the most controversial comments ever made. Nearly three years ago, Steve Jobs was asked about the Kindle at the annual Mac World conference, and he made a startling declaration.

“It doesn’t matter how good or bad the product is, the fact is that people don’t read any more. Forty percent of the people in the United States read one book or less last year. The whole conception is flawed at the top because people don’t read anymore.”

But not everyone agreed with his cynicism about the business of ebooks, including the technology blog at The New York Times.

“That may well be true, but it doesn’t take into account that a large percentage of the books are bought by a small number of readers…a relatively small number of people…represent a disproportionately large share of profits.”

And of course, Apple’s statistic also proves that 60 percent of Americans do read more than one book each year.

I think Jobs’ comment was motivated by a feeling of fierce competition. But nearly three years later, it still remembered in Amazon’s Kindle discussion forum. When Apple finally unveiled the iPad in January, Steve Jobs reportedly demonstrated its reading capability, and then conceded that Amazon “has done a great job of pioneering this… we’re going to stand on their shoulders for this.” I think that today, it’s become a different question: not whether there’s a market for ebooks, but whether that’s a selling point in the war between tablet-sized devices.

“No matter how cheap or technologically cool the iPad or Kindle are, ebooks will never come close to actual books…” complained one of my readers last week. But almost as soon as the iPad was released, reporters began comparing its screen to the Kindle’s. The rivalry between the devices heated up last week with Amazon’s newest TV ad. It uses two people talking at a swimming pool to demonstrate that sunlight glares off your iPad’s screen if you read it outdoors.

It’s one very specific difference between the devices, but business analysts are already analyzing the message. Yesterday The Motley Fool tracked down Len Edgerly, who is both a former business reporter and very popular Kindle podcaster, and specifically asked him about Amazon’s new ad. It was fun to hear that Edgerly actually does read his Kindle at the beach, and he describes the experience as delightful. “You also have the feeling that you are not taking a computer to the beach…”

Apparently it’s not just that there’s no glare from the sun; it’s that the Kindle is as light as a pair of sandals. At one and a half pounds, the iPad is nearly three times as heavy as the Kindle, with new versions weighing in at just 8.5 ounces. Judging by Edgerly’s experience, this could be a deciding factor for some users in the war between the iPad and the Kindle.

“[A]fter about a half an hour of reading a book, the iPad just seemed to get heavier and heavier and less and less pleasing to hold…”

New Kindle vs iPad sun glasses ad

Amazon’s just released a new TV ad that makes fun of Apple’s iPad. At a glamorous pool (surrounded by palm trees), a befuddled young man is shown trying to read his iPad, as the sun’s glare is reflected off his screen. “Excuse me,” he says to the woman next to him, in a bikini. “How are you reading that, in this light?”

“It’s a Kindle,” she replies casually, adding almost as an afterthought: “$139.” She smiles an enormous smile, and then says: “I actually paid more for these sunglasses.”

There’s a secret history to the ad. In July, the New York Times interviewed Amazon’s CEO, Jeff Bezos, and he’d demonstrated the Kindle’s low price by telling an almost identical story. (“At $139, if you’re going to read by the pool, some people might spend more than that on a swimsuit and sunglasses.”) I wonder if he phoned the ad agency the same day, demanding that they start working on this commercial!

The ad’s already provoking some interesting reactions on the web. “This is a good ad,” posted one reader at Electronista. “If you just want to read, the Kindle is a far better device. If you want a multipurpose device, the iPad beats it, just not in bright sunlight.” And another viewer spotted another advantage, which they’d posted in the comments at a site called The Next Web.

“Also note that she is using the Kindle one-handed, while the iPad guy has to rest it on his beer gut…”

When the ad ends, Amazon proudly displays its final message on the screen. “The all new Kindle. Only $139.” And the ad drew an enthusiastic response in the Kindle discussion forum at Amazon.com. “I have not seen an iPad yet,” posted one user, “and when it showed it I thought, OMG what is that ugly thing? I actually rewound the DVR to see if I could see what it was… Might as well carry around a hippopotamus!”

Over at Electronista, one user didn’t question the attack on the iPad, but did pan the quality of the ad itself. “The acting is forced and the tail music is jarring. Did Amazon really pay for this?”

But in Amazon’s Kindle forum, one viewer applauded the ad for both its valuable message — and for its messenger. “You can not read Apple products outside in the sunlight. I have an iPhone and it is useless in the sunlight.

“Plus the chick is hot!”

Vintage phonography gramophone record player

In Amazon’s discussion forum, I’d asked a simple question: Do you listen to music on your Kindle? But the answers surprised me — and shed new light on how people are using their Kindles.


“wow, you can listen to music on your kindle!!!???? okay, so I read that I had that capability somewhere in my manual, but just glossed over it since, I prefer to read in silence.”


It turns out that, while the Kindle can play music, people often think of other devices. One user made this clear when I’d asked what specific music they liked to listen to on the Kindle?


“Nothing. I got an ipod where I can choose which song to listen to.”


And another user quickly agreed.


“That was my reaction… I would probably use my iPhone for that anyway, but I don’t listen to music while I read.”


I’d been curious about what songs people stored on their Kindles, but now I was having trouble finding people who’d even bothered. For the people who wanted background music, there were already several established music players — many by Apple — which offered better features and better storage.


“…the limited storage space on the Kindle 2 prevented me from loading a lot of music. I read a lot so I was listening to the same tracks over and over. In the end I stopped loading music on the K2. I just listen to music on my iPhone where I have my entire music library.

“When I read on my iPad, it’s really great — I can listen to any music I want and I have created several playlists to listen to music based on the type of book I am reading. I think Amazon should put more storage on the Kindle and enhance the music capabilities since they also sell music.”

Another user reported a similar experience. (“I have an iPod Classic with over 13,000 songs on it as well as an iPod Touch with music and the Kindle app.”) But it was nice to hear occasionally they still used the Kindle’s built-in mp3 player.


“Especially when I’m reading on the patio and about to doze off, I’m sometimes too lazy to go get another device and it’s nice to already have some music choices on the reader.

I actually prefer quiet while reading though, so when I do play music, it’s usually to minimize someone else’s noise, such as from the jerk neighbor who thinks he can play the drums.”


So finally, I could get back to my original question. What were they listening to on their Kindle? “My favorite reading music is classic, usually something not terribly climactic. Rachmaninov usually works.” And at the end of the discussion, I was glad to hear that at least one of these Kindle owner shared my enthusiasm for the Kindle’s mp3 player.


“I am not big on big on adding non-ebook features to the Kindle but listening to music while reading seems so natural.”

Picture of the new smaller, black $139 Amazon Wi-Fi Kindle

If you want to buy Amazon’s new $139 Kindle, click here!

Amazon lowered the price for the Kindle Wednesday — for a newer model with only Wi-Fi access to the Kindle store (and with only Wi-Fi surfing when using the Kindle’s web browser). All the other Kindle models still have their built-in access to the online world, so they’re always ready to surf the web and shop for books — anywhere and any time. But this new Kindle has other advantages — like running for up to one month on a single battery charge. And it weighs just 8.5 ounces — “less than a paperback,” Amazon argues — making it 17% lighter than even the smallest of the original Kindles.

There’s also twice as much storage space — holding up to 3,500 books — and Amazon promises the new screens can display pages 20% faster, and offer “50% better contrast than any other e-reader.” But best of all, this settles any question about whether Amazon might give up on selling the Kindle, and focus solely on selling ebooks. “The hardware business for us has been so successful that we’re going to continue,” Amazon’s CEO told the New York Times.

Wednesday they’d contacted Jeff Bezos at Amazon headquarters, and heard his strong commitment to continuing Kindle sales. “I predict there will be a 10th-generation and a 20th-generation Kindle,” Bezos announced. “We’re well-situated to be experts in purpose-built reading devices.” And while touting the lower price, he also found a way to highlight the fact that — unlike the iPad — the Kindle is perfect for reading outdoors. “At $139, if you’re going to read by the pool, some people might spend more than that on a swimsuit and sunglasses…”

I think Amazon will also attract people who are curious about the Kindle, but don’t want to risk a lot of money. (In a few months, the prices should drop even lower if you’re purchasing a wi-fi Kindle that’s used or refurbished.) And of course, it will make a perfect birthday gift. (I wonder if you can purchase it pre-loaded with gift books!) In fact, Amazon is already describing the Kindle as “the most-wished-for, most-gifted” item in their vast online store, and they’ve revealed that the Kindle “has the most 5-star reviews of any product on Amazon.”

But hearing the news today, I’d remembered a blog post I read in June. “Don’t worry about touchscreens or color or even always available internet to download new books,” argued marketing guru Seth Godin. “Make a $49 Kindle. Not so hard if you use available wi-fi and simplify the device…” Amazon may not have lowered their prices to $49, but they definitely swapped in the cheaper Wi-fi connectivity, and the lower prices should attract even more readers to the Kindle.

In fact, there’s fierce competition now in the market for digital readers, and the Kindle’s survival might depend on how cheap they can get! “You either become the best and only platform for consuming books worth buying or you fail,” argues Godin’s blog post. “And the only way to create that footprint in the face of an iPad is to make it so cheap to buy and use it’s irresistible. I saw a two-year old kid (in diapers, in a stroller), using an iPod Touch today. Not just looking at it, but browsing menus and interacting. This is a revolution, guys.”

But as every age group starts to embrace the arrival of electronic readers, Amazon is still fighting hard to be perceived as the best deal in town.

Interested? If you want to buy Amazon’s new $139 Kindle, click here!

Newsweek just published what’s almost a rebuttal to my last article. My headline: “Will the iPad Kill the Kindle?” Newsweek’s headline: “Why the iPad Hasn’t Killed the Kindle…”

It’s a good article, but what I really liked is the way that it answered an even bigger question. A few analysts had raised a darker possibility:that Amazon will kill the Kindle. What if Amazon decides it just doesn’t want to compete with the iPad, and then shifts all of its resources into marketing Kindle ebooks (to all the non-Kindle devices, like the iPad, the Blackberry, and the Droid)? But apparently Newsweek’s reporter broached that topic with Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos when the Kindle first began confronting the possible threat from the iPad last fall.

“I suggested to Bezos that maybe Amazon didn’t care about selling Kindle machines, that maybe the device wasn’t important. He said that wasn’t the case, but that ‘our goal with the Kindle device is separate from the Kindle bookstore.’

“Bezos insisted there is a market for ‘a purpose-built reading device,’ as he calls it. ‘It’s not a Swiss Army knife. It’s not going to do a bunch of different things. We believe reading deserves a dedicated device.'”


Of course, you can read what you want into that quote. (After all, separating the Kindle from the ebook would be the first step towards eventually abandoning the Kindle altogether.) But here’s how I understand what Amazon’s CEO is saying.

1. Amazon doesn’t need to sell Kindles in order to sell ebooks.

2. Amazon would still like to sell both Kindles and ebooks…

I put out a call to a journalist’s network last week, asking Kindle users to answer one simple question: what’s your own favorite story about using the Kindle? The answers poured in from across America, but each person seemed to have a very positive experience that was also very unique.

Patrick Kerley, an account supervisor for a PR firm in Washington, D.C., remembered a great Kindle story about his mother. “She and my father were traveling between North Carolina and southern Florida when they blew a tire. The Kindle’s web browser helped them locate a replacement!”

And the free wireless internet access played an even bigger role for Sophia Chiang, a San Francisco entrepreneur on an extended trip through China. She reports the Kindle was a great way to buy “uncensored English magazines like Newsweek, The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Atlantic Monthly.” Amazon’s Whispernet network actually allowed her to circumvent the Chinese government’s ongoing news censorship.

Her Kindle also let Sophia beam down travel guidebooks that were written in English. “We went on a last minute trip to a more remote part of China and we got our Lonely Planet guide immediately on the Kindle.” Without the Kindle, she reports on her blog, the only alternative would’ve been scrambling around trying to find a Chinese bookstore, and then hoping that they’d have a travel guidebook, in stock, that was written in English!

Because it was a long trip, Sophia was also glad that her Kindle could last for over a week without a recharge. But her last reason was one of the most exciting. Even though I’ve written a lot about children’s books on the Kindle, Sophia is the first person I know who’s actually using the Kindle to buy ebooks for her children. (“Our kids loved the Kindle and loved being able to buy Magic Tree House, ABC Mysteries series even in the middle of the Middle Kingdom.”)

I’ll have more of the responses from other Kindle users over the next week, but I just want to say that my favorite response probably came from Marc Pittman, who runs a fundraising-education business in Maine. He describes himself as a “proud owner” of an original Kindle 1, and says “I think my happiest moment so far happened at the playground last week. I was using my iPad (*gasp*) when a 5 year old kid ran past, stopped, and shouted ‘Cool Kindle!’

“Kids know where the real innovation is!”

Amazon's Jeff Bezos on the Kindle
There was some controversy when Amazon’s Jeff Bezos announced a new book-reading Kindle application for the iPad. “Is Amazon Killing the Kindle?” asked The Motley Fool, noting that Amazon offered extra video and audio features in their Kindle applications for both the iPad and iPhone.

It’s possible to embed multimedia clips directly into the ebooks, so they can then be played back in the Kindle applications for these devices – though not, ironically, on a Kindle. The Motley Fool noted that Amazon was making an effort to support Kindle applications not only on Apple’s mobile devices, but also on Google’s Android platform and Droid phones. (And there’s also a Kindle app available for the Blackberry.) “But will that support come at the expense of the Kindle itself?” Noting that Amazon is now “putting out a better product for the non-Kindle owning crowd,” they wondered if Amazon was refocusing its energy on the sale of ebooks — rather than on their own ebook-reading device!

For an answer, let’s go to Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos. Interviewed by Fortune magazine, he was first asked point-blank about the iPad, and, basically, whether Amazon felt doomed by Apple’s entry into the marketplace for tablet-sized reading devices. Was the threat of competition what pushed Amazon into dramatically lowering the Kindle’s price last month?

“No. The iPad… It’s really a different product category. The Kindle is for readers.”


But the interview also offers an interesting statistic — last year, 80% of all ebook sales came through Amazon’s store. (Bezos jokes that “It’s hard even for us to remember internally that we only launched Kindle a little over 30 months ago.”) So it still stands to reason that Amazon is just as interested in protecting their book-selling business as they are in their secondary business of selling Kindles. That’s the secret subtext when Bezos answers a question about whether Amazon can hang onto its share of the ebook market.


“We want people to be able to read their books anywhere they want to read them. That’s the PC, that’s the Macintosh. It’s the iPad, it’s the iPhone. It’s the Kindle. So you have this whole multitude of devices and whatever’s most convenient for you at the moment.

“We think of it as a mission. I strongly believe that missionaries make better products. They care more. For a missionary, it’s not just about the business. There has to be a business, and the business has to make sense, but that’s not why you do it. You do it because you have something meaningful that motivates you.”


It’s a fascinating interview, because you get the idea that Bezos really, really loves books. At the same time, he also admits that “I think the definition of a book is changing.” He defines that change specifically in areas where the Kindle is strong, saying that the book is now “getting more convenient. Now you can get a book in less than 60 seconds.” But in the end, he still never answers the big question of whether Amazon sees its future in the sale of Kindles — or in the sale of ebooks, to all devices.

Fortunately, there’s one more piece of data. You may have seen Amazon’s new television ad, where they emphasize that you can read your Kindle at the beach, in direct sunlight. (Which would obviously be nearly impossible with the back-lit screen of an iPad.) If Amazon were surrendering to the iPad, then they wouldn’t be wasting their money on an expensive TV ad campaign. To me, this strongly suggests that Amazon is still serious about staying the market for tablet-shaped devices.

But ironically, back in January — before the iPad had even been released — I’d already written an article asking Could Apple’s iPad Kill the Kindle? Maybe it’s ultimately just a perpetually trendy question — and an indicator that Kindle users feel overly protective of their beloved device!

We are on the cusp of a future already rewriting itself…

Today Apple finally released their iPad – a tablet-sized device that’s the same size (and price) as a Kindle DX. As I argued last week, this proves that the tablet-sized reader is here to stay. And in honor of today’s milestone, there was some interesting perspective from an Iranian-American journalist on The Huffington Post.

To me, Kindle is like the first Black and White TV that showed up in living rooms, the kind that streaked like a zebra in motion and crackled like a kid’s walkie-talkie, the kind that required antennae-fiddling to get a clear picture and decent sound, the kind that families increasingly bought and sat around.

As primitive as it is, it’s the first wave of a much bigger change. Digital readers will become part of our lives, and (as Charlotte Safavi writes), “When it comes to books, I have come to terms with the fact that it is the written word that counts, not the medium upon which it is delivered.”

And I was touched by the example she used: the epic 19th-century poetry collection “Leaves of Grass” by Walt Whitman.


It avails not, time nor place–distance avails not,
I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence…


I was touched because I was just reading that very poem this Saturday.

And yes, it is available for free on the Kindle