Considering An Extreme Possibility Of Kindle Book Lending

At this point we know that the Kindle as a physical purchase is not where Amazon is looking to make their money.  If anything, the fact that they have gone to ad support indicates that there has been a need to get inventive to further reduce prices while not actually losing money on every sale.  Knowing this, we have to assume that the big focus will always be on selling the most content.  With an emphasis on renting, lending, and sharing eBooks lately, though, is this a genuinely achievable goal?

Right now we are hearing about the fact that Overdrive will soon be bringing Kindle compatible library books.  Definitely a selling point for Amazon, since up until now it has been a major complaint against the platform.  We also now have textbook rentals that can save renters as much as 80% over the purchase price of the book.  Between the two options, I’m seeing a theme forming and looking to other media rental business models that seem like they have a real chance of finding their way to the Kindle.

The obvious one would be the Audible.com approach.  Get users to subscribe for a monthly fee, perhaps as a means of getting a cheaper or free eReader, which locks them into picking out a certain number of eBooks to add to their library on a regular basis. Amazon has experience with this one and it would certainly work as a way to reduce eReader prices even beyond what the Kindle w/ Special Offers has been able to do.  I don’t think it will happen, though.  For something like this to work, Amazon would have to be able to provide value to subscribers beyond what they have control over with the current Agency Model pricing.  Lack of control means lack of options.

More likely, to me at least, is the Netflix model.  Picture spending $10 per month to access as many books as you want, so long as you only have one checked out at a time.  There would have to be some sort of artificially produced swap delay, of course, since otherwise subscribers could simply jump back and forth at will, but if the system only allowed a book to be checked out once per month or only allowed one change per day (which doesn’t seem unreasonable since the Kindle Store already generally provides sample chapters and this would only be for reading entire books) then it would work.  The profit would be available since most everybody has periods where their reading tapers off in spite of best intentions, and one would have to assume that an arrangement for multiple-use licenses would still be cheaper overall than per-user purchases.  If something like this could be managed in spite of the total control that publishers want over their distribution, it would be the next big thing for the Kindle. Admittedly, it is something of a divergence since reading has always had a certain element of collection attached to it for many people, but I think the opportunity to save the money would make all the difference.

The Amazon Kindle’s International Future

At the moment, and in spite of some admittedly impressive competition, the Kindle is pretty much the biggest thing in eReading.  In a given review or opinion, another eReader might come out on top as the new Nook Simple Touch Reader has managed to do lately, but nothing else has managed the level of distribution and quality of content that Amazon has pulled off so far.  The margin isn’t all that it used to be, though.  In order to keep on top of things, they are going to have to do more than we have seen in the past couple months.  While it would not be entirely out of line to assume that the current focus on the upcoming Kindle Tablet might be drawing attention away from the existing product line, I think there may be more to it than that.

The Kindle, as it stands right now in terms of both the physical eReader and the platform as a whole, is limited in a number of ways.  The current level of control being exerted by publishers prevents any one-upsmanship in terms of pricing.  Amazon has some of the smaller names experimenting with sale offerings, but we have to assume that even if companies start buying into the idea of discounted eBooks it will not be a platform specific thing.  That avenue is closed for now.  They’re doing a rather good job of getting a lot of self publishing authors into their stores, which helps, but assume that at the moment there is not much that can be done to fix up the store as we know it.

The device itself is also pretty much at the peak of what we can hope for.  It has the best screen technology available, amazing battery life, whatever connectivity options you want, and a lot more.  About the only thing left to complain about is the physical keyboard.  I think this is the first place we can expect major change is here.  We know that one of the new Kindle options we can expect in October will be a touchscreen eReader.  Not only will this reduce the size of the Kindle without losing the functionality of the admittedly difficult to use keyboard and appease the crowd of people who really don’t like physical buttons anymore, it will allow true localization.  Hard to really pull that off when every device you sell has a built-in English keyboard.

This also brings up what I believe will be the next big stage in Kindle expansion.  Right now, while a hit in some places, the Kindle platform seems to only be dominating in the US.  Amazon has the experience and resources to spread out a bit.  I would anticipate, following the release of the Kindle Touch and the first generation of the Kindle Tablet (and, of course, the initial patching stage to iron out the bugs), a big effort to get the Kindle out to any market that Amazon thinks is large enough to be worth tackling.  Possibly even before localized firmware is a reality, but with a promise of fully integrated language selection as a later option.  There isn’t any reason to hold back now, and stagnation would lose them the edge.  Amazon has to keep moving and this is the only way that really makes sense as far as eBooks go.

Does the Upcoming Kindle Tablet Mean No Touchscreen Kindle eReader?

The Kindle has been seeing a few new releases from the competition in the past couple weeks.  Some of what they bring to the table is software and such, of course, but the most visible trend has been the move to E Ink touchscreens.  Both the Kobo and Barnes & Noble’s Nook line have released nearly button-free eReaders in an effort to set themselves apart.  Ironically both of these companies tried to set themselves apart by releasing amazingly similar looking products, but that’s unimportant.  This leads to the inevitable speculation that such a design might be the future of the Kindle.  If I had to make a guess, I’d say it will be eventually but not right away.

I don’t think it will be an immediately changed design to keep up with the apparent trend for a couple reasons.  First, clearly Amazon’s focus has better places to be.  The Kindle Tablet line, whatever they choose to call it in the end, involves a number of devices in several shapes and sizes if rumors are to be believed.  None of them are likely to run the same software that is on the existing Kindle.  None of them are going to use the same hardware.  it just isn’t strong enough.  There is simply no obvious direct connection between the device offerings besides Amazon.com as a media vendor and any marketing device they might choose to employ to draw a connection for potential customers.  Given this, it seems unlikely that Amazon would want to be designing or releasing a Kindle 4 dedicated eReader at the same time.  Why would they?  The existing Kindle is doing amazingly well.  The new Nook and Kobo are basically playing catch-up and trying to match features at this point.  Nowhere in the specs of either was there an obvious point of superiority in design that Amazon would have to struggle to meet.  The only major software points involve social networking and library lending, both of which Amazon is working with already.  No need for a new device.

Also, the move to touchscreens by their competitors, if played with correctly, offers Amazon an incentive to stay right where they are for a bit.  As I mentioned, the new Nook and Kobo look rather similar.  In fact, it seems hard to make the hardware side of a touchscreen device particularly unique.  Nobody expects the Kindle Tablet to make a big splash for changing what it means to be a tablet, right?  For now, the Kindle will be the most recognizable eReader anywhere in a way that is only emphasized by the homogeneity of their competition.

This will only work for a while until people become more used to touchscreens in their eReaders and expect them, of course.  It seems an inevitable step at this point no matter how much one might like the more mechanical controls.  It will make particular sense for Amazon to update the Kindle to bring it in line with the Kindle Tablet line’s hardware should that take off as strongly as they’re hoping, since we have to assume that an affordable tablet PC with a non-LCD screen will finally be what makes an impact on Kindle sales.  For now, though, probably not that much of a rush.

Amazon Kindle Tablet PC Seems Increasingly Likely

Recently the speculation on the potential for a Kindle tablet has gone from considering it a good idea to considering it an inevitability.  All the signs are certainly pointing that way, and it fits in with Amazon’s established business model so far.  The only real question right now is that of what the particulars will be.

Now, we know that Amazon doesn’t really get too into the whole traditional hardware competition mindset too well.  Their only entry so far, as far as I know, has been the Kindle.  While it’s great at what it does, the functionality has always been limited to doing one thing very well rather than adding in all the bells and whistles.  It is safe to assume that the same will be true of any tablet that they bring out.  Affordability and ability to consume media are almost certain to be highlighted over any numerical comparisons of hardware superiority.

As far as software goes, the new Android store and the recent updating of the Kindle for Android software to allow for better tablet PC support via Honeycomb are both indicative of Amazon’s interest in this system.  We’re going to be looking at an Android 3.0 device.  As a result, right out the door the device should have a great selection of apps ready to go, even excluding the Kindle book apps.

One thing that I’m wondering about is whether or not it will be a part of the Kindle line or a new branch of Amazon hardware.  For the most part people have been assuming that it would just be the next generation of the Kindle.  Something along the lines of a Kindle Color to compete directly with the Barnes & Noble Nook Color.  The more I think about this, the less likely it seems.

Amazon is making their money in the Kindle Store, not on the Kindle itself.  Hardware is not what makes this so amazingly profitable for them.  The same will be true of any tablet they might come out with.  By offering their own device with a predetermined source for app purchases, they should be able to lock in that much more in terms of software sales.  The image of the product is likely to reflect this.  Just as the Kindle is advertised as having the best selection of eBooks anywhere, the predicted tablet is likely to be sold as a method to have easy access to any app you could ever need.

When you think of apps, is the first thing that comes to mind the Nook Color?  For me, not really.  While it makes sense at first glance that the smart move would be to capitalize on the Kindle brand in order to jump-start sales, I would say it’s at least as likely that Amazon will try to start off a fresh hardware line without the existing B&N rivalry to anchor this in customers’ minds as a reading device. If they’re going to try to take on the iPad, the best way to approach isn’t with direct comparisons to another product that doesn’t compete on the same level.

Considering the Future of Kindle Publishing

We can take it for granted today that the future of book publication revolves around the eBook.  Yes, I will acknowledge that it is unlikely to ever be the sole medium available to readers, but I would definitely say that it will be increasingly seen as the standard from here on out.  This was obvious even before Amazon(NASDAQ:AMZN) announced their recent comparison of paperback and Kindle book sales.  So, where does this leave the publishing industry?

In many ways instances, new authors had come to see the big publishing houses as unapproachable.  They had their big names that they were banking on and the chances of being the one new author in a hundred, or a thousand, to get a positive response was daunting.  People have said that more authors are springing up than ever before.  I don’t buy that.  People write and it’s only now that it’s been possible for even hobbyists to get their work out there.  That is what the move to digital book platforms like Amazon’s means for writers.  A chance to survive, or fail, on your own merits without the need of attracting a patron.  At least in theory.  You’re going from a traditional payment play to some form of micro-payment system where every person with a Kindle is a potential backer of your work.  Sure you lose security in the process, but you’d have only had that if you managed to break in in the first place.

It’s an interesting new environment that emphasizes different values than we might expect.  The downside of self-publishing, no matter how easy the actual process of book creation is, is self-promotion.  Not much of a chance that you’re going to be the next big thing if you can’t let people know that you wrote a book, that your book is about something they might be interested in, and, at a slightly later stage, that there are people who have read your book and enjoyed it. Word of mouth is useful, of course, but really this seems to turn writers into public figures to an unprecedented degree and would seem to cause success or failure to rest on the endurance and adaptability of the author rather than the strength of the work they have produced.

I’m going to admit that when I started writing this, I was taking a negative view on that.  It seems to cheapen the experience and draw value away from what I really believe to be the only thing that should matter when you’re deciding what to read: the Book.  But really, what’s new there?  The only difference now is that readers really have a chance to vote with their wallets.

If you have a nearly unlimited field of books to choose from, it can’t be worse than an industry that seems to have basically coasted along on a couple dozen big names for as long as anybody can remember, can it?  Yes, we’ll lose some great authors at the side of the road because they didn’t have the drive, personality, time, skills, or whatever, to be their own publicists, but there’s not much doubt in my mind that we’ve been losing far more than that before now than ever will be the case again.  So…gonna go with the Kindle platform and its attached self-publishing options as being a good thing in my opinion. The draw away from the big publishing houses should help more than it hurts, I hope.

Any thoughts from you guys?

Kindle Apps Update

Since there is very little solid information about any of the upcoming Active Content for Kindle, I’ve taken the liberty to speculate about the following apps that are likely to appear:

You are welcome to agree or disagree with these predictions and comment on that.

Princeton Students Give Kindle a Lukewarm Reaction

I’ve covered before the possible applications that the Kindle and other eReaders could have in education.  With Amazon’s pilot program for Kindle usage at universities, this semester is a testing of the waters for the future of eTextbooks.  The students involved have begun to voice their impressions, and they’re not entirely satisfied.

Does this mean that eReader adoption in the academic world will slow down?  Probably not.  The whole point of the Kindle trial is to see what works, and what doesn’t, when eReaders are put in the classroom.  So far students like the convenience of textbooks in the Kindle platform, but aren’t happy about studying with it.  Complaints are mainly about the inconvenience of note taking and flipping between passages when compared to traditional books.

But these complaints aren’t surprising.  The Kindle isn’t designed as an academic tool.  The whole reason for its success is that it is an entertainment device, created for the purpose of reading books for entertainment.  The opposite would be something like the Plastic Logic, which was created explicitly for the business world with entertainment as a secondary goal.  Chances are, Amazon is planning something similar to the touchscreen enabled Plastic Logic, some sort of Kindle academic edition.  Touch screen would be the most obvious addition, but a school oriented Kindle will probably find other ways to innovate as well.  The pilot program means that Amazon now has tons of data explaining exactly what students need from an academic eReader.  I don’t see why Amazon wouldn’t use it.

New Cool-er Reader on the Way

There’s a new Cool-er Reader coming, and it’s supposed to give Amazon a run for its money.  According to the Mirror, the new device will not only have wireless, but also a full color screen.  And possibly a touchscreen.  All from a company that has made a profit selling budget eReaders.

Further details won’t be released until CES in January, but I have a feeling that any rumors surrounding the device are way overblown.  If the new device is still in the budget range and does feature everything its supposed to, then it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call it a Kindle killer.  But I’m not sure how Interead could possibly pack in more features than the Kindle and still beat the Kindle on price.

It is possible that Interead is planning something that isn’t an eInk device at all, but something with LCD.  Of course, that would stretch the definition of eReader since the device would feel like a tablet PC with most its features missing.  I could be wrong though, and it might be possible that Interead comes out with something that is a mind blowing success.  Especially now that Coolerbooks has gained additional support from Google.

If Interead is planning a color eInk device, then Amazon may also have a color Kindle around the corner.  Amazon has been waiting on color because the quality of color displays from E-Ink Corporation isn’t up to their standards.  Since everyone is basically using the same E-Ink technology, if one company can do color others probably can too.

David Byrne Reviews the Kindle DX

David Byrne

David Byrne

Reviews for the Kindle seem to pop up from some of the most unexpected people.  One new response to the Kindle DX comes from David Byrne, the front man of the legendary Talking Heads (and one half of the duo responsible for last years phenomenal Everything That Happens Will Happen Today).  It might seem a little odd to hear gadget commentary from Byrne, but when you’re a world famous performer you do a lot of traveling.  The Kindle DX simply seemed like the ideal traveler’s accessory.

His review is for the most part positive.  Byrne likens the Kindle’s screen to the same quality as a black and white newspaper and perfectly suited for reading.  He raves about magazines on the device and how he can read the New Yorker without ads and with the latest issue wirelessly appearing on his Kindle.  Byrne does have a few gripes about Amazon’s proprietary format, however, and takes some time in his review to decry how closed off the platform is and his overall disapproval of DRM.

More interesting is his speculation for the Kindle’s future.  Byrne predicts that it won’t be long before the format is broken open and future of digital book publishing will involve formats with less DRM restrictions or none at all just as it happened with digital music market with Apple, Microsoft and Amazon selling DRM-free MP3 files.

Should Amazon Sell the Kindle in More Places?

Amazon has made a name for itself as a leader in online retail.  It’s only fitting that when they developed the Kindle, they would use their existing marketplace to sell the device.  The Kindle has no doubt been very successful at penetrating the eReader market, but a new report from Forrester Research suggests that Amazon’s online home may cripple Kindle sales in the future.

Forrester argues that the Kindles success thus far has been due to the consuming practices of early adopters.  eReaders are still in relative infancy and have yet to be accepted by the world at large.  Consumes who have bought readers are those who jump onto the newest technology, a group that is already prone to do much of its shopping online.

The next big wave of eReader purchases, according to Forrester, isn’t going to come from people who are less likely to do the majority of their shopping online.  If Amazon doesn’t start putting the Kindle in more traditional retail outlets, their lead in the eReader market could dwindle.

I think the report does have a point.  When someone walks into a Borders store, they see a Sony Reader on display.  Soon, Barnes & Noble stores will be showcasing display units of the Plastic Logic Reader.  With the Kindle being sold only on Amazon.com, it’s impossible for a potential customer to simply stumble upon a display model.  Think of your mother buying an eReader and you will see what kind of a difference this makes.

I’ve already pointed out in the past that airports may be a great place to sell Kindles as you can immediately start downloading books to read for your journey.