Great Name But Is It a Great Product? Thoughts on Amazon’s Kindle
Jeff Bezos is an impressive manager. The recent Harvard Business Review interview with him, The Institutional Yes: The HBR Interview with Jeff Bezos, (payment required) shows someone offering real insight about how innovation functions at his company. So when I saw that Newsweek had an article detailing Bezos’s latest take on books, I had to read it. The product is called the Kindle, and it is supposed to be the latest reason to think digital books will replace analog ones. One possibility of the new technology is that books will continually evolve as authors change their mind or update a text. This idea brings images of revisionist Greedo shootings; more on that later. Now back to the Kindle.
First Kindle is a great name. It evokes images of fire and light which seem to travel with thought and creativity (the Newsweek article suggests that was the idea behind the name). Plus for me it reminds me of spindle which has several different practical and quite useful contexts. Second, as opposed to Sony’s eReader, the Kindle seems more useful. Both use E Ink but the Kindle does much more than the eReader. One thing that stopped me from buying the eReader was that one could not mark the text. In addition, the Kindle allows one to change font size and search within the book. The search within the text feature could be great. Sometimes when I want to find a cite or know a passage exists but not its exact location Amazon’s search the book feature is most useful. Having the same ability for my library would be even better. Perhaps the most revolutionary idea is the wireless aspect of the Kindle. Now one can read a book and enjoy what Amazon calls its service. The upside of this service could be finding related information or having easy ways to look up a definition while reading. One option was that one might even annotate a book highlighting both accurate or inaccurate aspects of it (the article notes the idea of a Coulter book annotated for misstatements). As Gizmodo points out, however, the Kindle poses some problems as far as format and cost go (apparently the Kindle does not easily support pdf, doc, rtf, etc.).
Gizmodo indicates that the Kindle requires paying $0.10 per view of even files one owns and charges $1.00 per blog or RSS feed. The eReader does not charge but then again if it had Internet connectivity, Sony might try that. The Kindle charge systems points to the key behind the idea: Bezos sees it as a service and “The vision is that you should be able to get any book—not just any book in print, but any book that’s ever been in print—on this device in less than a minute,” says Bezos. Curiously, in the analog world the idea of on demand printing has a new offering as well. Time Magazine listed the Espresso Book Machine as one of its Best Inventions of the Year. It “can churn out a 300-page paperback on demand, complete with color cover, in just 3 min. The $50,000 machine could transform libraries into minibookstores, making hard-to-find titles as accessible as cappuccinos. At $3 a book they might be cheaper too.” (Of course the trademark attorney in me predicts that Bepress and its Expresso service http://law.bepress.com/expresso/ will file suit any day now). So who will win? Fast, cheap print that has inherent copy protection and could manage royalties easily or fast, cheap electronic services that are highly portable and could also manage royalties easily? It may depend on the user. The Kindle does offer subscriptions to the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and magazines and sells recent hard covers for much less than bookstore, hardcopy prices. Still, at a $399 base price for the Kindle, one could buy 133 books from an Espresso machine and support a library in the process not to mention having the physical item of the book which even Bezos says “turns out to be an incredible device.”