Kindle Cloud Reader
Kindle for the Web has been around for almost a year and it seemed as it wasn’t going anywhere at all. Seemingly nothing happened even when Google came out with their online eBook offering. Then some more time passed and Apple started pressing eReader apps into selling eBooks via Apple app store. This would mean 30% commission for Apple but it would also cause eBook sellers like B&N, Sony and Amazon to loose (even more) money on eBook sales. Moving to the web seemed like a logical choice. Eventually Apple backed out and thing returned to status quo. However a few days ago Kindle did significantly expand their Web presence by releasing Kindle Cloud Reader (https://read.amazon.com/).
Kindle Cloud Reader is named in the same fashion as Amazon Cloud Player since “cloud” seems to be the most recent “magic buzz word”. It enables Kindle users to read their Kindle books in the browser almost without having to install anything on their devices. I put “almost” because Chrome users are asked to install optional browser extension that enables offline reading and Safari users are asked to extend 50 megabytes of browser database storage to the web-app for the same purposes. The reader is based on HTML5
Currently only it only works in Google Chrome (on Windows, Mac, Linux and Chromebook) and Apple Safari (on Mac and iPad, but not iPhone and iPod Touch) browsers. It accomplishes a whole lot and really nothing at the same time. Lets take a closer look:
- Kindle is now safe from Apple app store assaults since using the web application is a viable option. Apple blocking or otherwise preventing users from using the web application will open doors to so much legal and PR trouble that even billions of the cash that Apple stashed so far might not be enough to get them out of it. However as we’ve already seen, Apple wouldn’t go as far as removing a popular eReader apps from their app store anyway since it would accomplish nothing and hurt everyone (including Apple). The fact that Kindle Cloud Reader comes with book store “optimized for tablets” it seems very likely to me that one of the original goals behind the project was to bypass Apple app store if need be.
- Linux users now have official access to Kindle books. However you could get Kindle on Linux in the past as well though the virtue of Wine Windows emulator. But even if it wasn’t the case, Linux market share is still so small that most companies just choose to ignore it altogether without noticeable effect on the bottom line. No disrespect towards Linux and it’s users intended – just stating the facts as they stand
- Chromebook users can now access Kindle eBooks. Nice, but given their current market share you can’t call this anything but future investment and hedging the risks of the emerging tablet market.
- While all platforms (except Linux and Chromebook) had official support for Kindle via apps it is nice to have the option to forgo app installation altogether. I’ve worked in the software industry for about 15 years already and my strong belief is that every application or feature is a bug waiting to happen. This is especially true in modern fast paced “release early, release often” environment in which even my TV and receiver want a firmware update (that always includes bug fixes) on a monthly basis (not to mention all apps that I have installed on either iPad or Android. So having fewer apps is better. So far browser has been the best way of isolating apps from the OS and from one another.
- Kindle Cloud Reader will fully match what Google Books has to offer once all popular browsers are supported. However it’s not like Google Books is currently a serious player in the eBook market anyway.
- Another benefit of not having an app is the fact that it is easier for users to get their foot into the Kindle door since you don’t even need to install an app (never mind having a Kindle device as was the case a few years back) to start reading. Instant gratification is only one click away… However Amazon Cloud Reader is not fully integrated into Amazon Kindle Store yet. Although there is “Read now in Kindle Cloud Reader” button on the thank you page after the purchase, that button is nowhere to be found on the book product page. More importantly browsers that hold the largest market share (Internet Explorer, Firefox) on the most popular operating system (Windows) are not supported! 80% of users are left out. This may be the reason for the lack of book store integration. Users are more likely to install eBook reading app than a new browser and change their year old habits.
- While you can read the books in the browser (if your browser is supported), some features are missing such as:
- taking new notes and highlighting (though previous annotations are visible
- searching within the book (or your book collection). You can however search within the page using browser search function (Ctrl-F)
- Text-to-speech is not there. Given how complex the HTML document structure is (iframes within iframes and a lot of nested tags) I’m not sure if screen reader software will be able to handle it.
- There is only so much DRM one can put into browser app. With offline storage, pirating Kindle books would become a breeze. However it’s not like it wasn’t done before. Kindle DRM was broken in the past and even if it wasn’t there plenty of books circulating in torrents and shady websites anyway. You can find most of the books you would want with minimal effort. So not pirating is a conscious choice based on good nature and availability of legitimate purchase options rather than result of DRM.
Although it may seem that I’m overall critical and negative towards Kindle Cloud Reader, I’m not. For all it’s current shortcomings it has a great potential and these shortcomings can be easily overcome. Developing web apps is cheap if you have the right infrastructure (which Amazon certainly does) so Amazon can add all of the missing features even if there will be little demand for the Cloud Reader. They will do it just because they can or “just in case”.
Well written AJAX web application is truly cross-platform: I’ve seen the same app run on all Windows browsers, Mac browsers, iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch, Windows Phone 7, all kinds of Android devices, Linux, and even Kindle 3 browser. Not being bound by acceptance gates by numerous isolated app stores – that’s true freedom. Web app that doesn’t need to be installed and opens with a single click is also the ultimate instant gratification that will help many users get their first taste of Kindle.
All in all Kindle Cloud Reader is mostly about potential now. Whether this potential will be fully realized is up to Amazon.
Image From Interead
Coolerbooks, Interead’s bookstore meant to correspond with the COOL-ER Reader, has gained 1 million public domain titles from Google Books. The COOL-ER Reader hasn’t received a whole lot of attention since it first came out, but this move greatly increases the size of its online library.
But more importantly, this makes Coolerbooks the latest Amazon competitor to team up with Google. While the Kindle library is limited to a (still fairly large) inventory of about 350,000 books, Barnes & Noble, Sony, and Coolerbooks all received that extra 1 million from Google. Sure, a large chunk of the million is old, obscure texts that few people are interested in, but the bookstores continue to taut the sheer volume of books.
It’s also interesting to note that, since Sony is embracing ePub, owners of COOL-ER Readers could always get the Google titles from Sony’s store and vice-versa. While these separate companies are competitors, they are becoming de facto allies in what’s almost a coordinated attack against the Kindle.
However, I have to doubt that Google Books will be responsible for the demise of the Kindle. These books are hardly the best sellers that drive the majority of sales. Also, who’s to say that Amazon can’t one day provide Google’s ePub books themselves?
Google Book Store
Google is holding a sweepstakes called the 10 Days in Google Books Game. For every day of the contest, Google will choose 3 winners to receive Sony Readers. In order to play, you need to first answer 5 simple trivia questions and then write a 50 word essay about eReaders.
The contest seems to be Google’s attempt to advertise their eBook offering. Right now, Google Books can hardly be considered a hot spot of activity. Giving out Google Books compatible Sony Readers is one way to get people interested. Also, the trivia questions involved are too simple to actually create a challenge, but they do showcase the capabilities of Google’s book archive. Every answer can be found by clicking a link to some online book or using Google’s book search capabilities.
You are allowed to enter once a day. Winners will be announced in 2-3 months.
Amazon has applied for two patents: On-Demand Generating E-Book Content With Advertising and Incorporating Advertising In On-Demand Generated Content. Essentially, the patents are for adding content-generated ads to Kindle products, in a manner similar to Google’s AdSense program.
The patents specify a number of hypothetical advertising practices that seem like many readers’ worst fears. One example: “If a restaurant is described on page 12… [then] page 11 or page 13, may include advertisements about restaurants, wine, food, etc., which are related to restaurants and dining.” In addition to full page ads, the patents also describe adding ads to the margins of a book and fitting in extra ads if the book has larger margins.
It’s interesting to imagine what long-term goals of Amazon this may reveal. Since the Kindle and the books read on it are already purchased up front, I can’t imagine very many consumers would be happy about ads. It seems unlikely that ads will be added anytime soon, as Amazon is already getting bad press for this and wouldn’t want to lose its customer base.
One possibility, actually mentioned in the first patent, is for Amazon to create some sort of two tiered bookstore in the future. In addition to the current, ad-free books, Amazon could start offering discounted, or even free books that rely on advertising revenue. Another thing to consider is the use in newspapers and periodicals. Papers are already primarily ad-supported anyway; Amazon could be hoping to license their ad service as news makes the transition away from traditional print media. Any paper being published to an eReader format could mostly shop between Amazon, Google, and others to choose an advertising provider.
Another possibility is that these patents are defensive move meant to keep Google with their successful ad-based revenue model out of digital books while Amazon itself has no immediate intention of putting ads into books.
Google Book Store
It looks like Amazon Kindle will see more competition in 2009.
Google announced that it will start selling digital books by the end of 2009. Publishers and authors welcomed this development because it would bring much needed competition to the market currently dominated by Amazon. The fact that Google announced that publishers will be able to set the book price added to that sympathy.
This is not the first punch from Google camp aimed at Amazon this year. On March 18th Google made 500,000+ public domain books available in ePub format to owners of Sony Readers. While this has done little to strengthen Sony’s position against Amazon it clearly showed that Google is not going to ally with Amazon on the matter of digital books.
It’s unclear how much market will Google capture with it’s digital book store. It would very much depend on the specifics of what exactly it would be. Currently all we know is that it will be device-agnostic. However what it will do in the short term even before it is open to public is it will slow down Amazon Kindle adoption because some people would decide to wait for the Google product in hopes that it will be cheaper, provide better reading experience, have more books (although this is extremely unlikely), lack Kindle’s shortcomings etc.
It looks like Amazon has angered a lot of people by releasing Kindle DX just shortly after release of Kindle 2. These people believe that their Kindle 2 device almost immediately became outdated (I personally don’t share this point of view and regard Kindle DX as a different class of devices rather than “Kindle 3”). And speaking of Kindle 3 – some people would still expect it to make appearance by holiday season 2009. These too will wait for Google Book Store to be released so that they can compare. Personally I consider Kindle 3 this year unlikely – there’s very little that can be improved in the hardware at current technology levels other than price. It’s all about book selection now.
How much actual harm will it do to Amazon will be unclear until 2009 Q2 and Q3 financial results will be announced and it will depend on how much official and unofficial publicity will Google Books Store get in the coming months.
Should this upcoming Google Book Store turn out to be really “device-agnostic”, providing good reading experience for Amazon Kindle users, Amazon would find itself it very peculiar position given that it pays Sprint 12cents for every megabyte downloaded by Kindle users. In this case Amazon would be paying for deliver of books purchased by it’s not so loyal users from Google. This may be the end of Basic Web or start of Amazon charging for Internet traffic.