This is going to be a bit controversial, I’m sure, given how Amazon has gone about using their influence to beat down smaller publishers and other suppliers recently, but when it comes right down to it there can be no doubt that Amazon deserves to be on top of the market right now. It isn’t a matter of overhead or business ethics or anything like that either. They are just the only company selling books right now that seems to be good at giving customers what they want.
Let’s think this through a bit. People like to read. Even before the Kindle and Nook started their competition, both companies were selling books. Amazon had the advantage, mostly because they could afford to cut prices more than a company like B&N that had to deal with maintaining a storefront. When the Agency Model was imposed by Apple and the Big Six Publishers, then, surely B&N should have taken off again, right?
This is admittedly an oversimplification of a complex situation, but when you throw in the common and intense criticism that Amazon faces from all quarters these days you have to wonder why nobody else has been able to attract attention as a superior alternative. The Nook Simple Touch eReader is possibly the best hardware out there, for example, so why is the Kindle dominating the space?
The answer is that they know how to give customers what they want. Not just in terms of free shipping, discounts, and other such monetary inducements. Shopping for book on Amazon, Kindle Editions or not, is simply a better experience than anybody else offers. Barnes & Noble provides customers with a site that is comparatively hard to navigate and that seems to openly privilege business agreements over anything else in how it presents potential buyers with suggestions.
Shopping for Nook Books, you get long lists of Bestsellers, anticipated releases, and other such predictable content. It is just like what one would see when walking into a book store. Interesting in some ways, but far from an organic series of recommendations based on what people are really enjoying right now.
In the Kindle Store, Bestsellers and Editors’ Picks are categories that have to be clicked through to. Customers have an extensive list of potential categories for book browsing presented to one side and a completely fluid list of top selling titles on the other. The only product placement is for the Kindle eReader itself. On top of this, once moving into one of the many categories, the first thing you see is a list of books generated based on your own reading habits. All Barnes & Noble gives you is their Booksellers’ picks.
Is Barnes & Noble doing something bad here? Not at all. But they are trying to maintain the sort of model used in their physical stores. They are trying to act as gatekeepers and mediators, telling customers what they should want rather than presenting customers with something they may want. This, more than anything, is what gives the Kindle user the superior overall experience. If somebody is able to provide a similar sort of service, helping their customers rather than advertising at them, it will be the biggest blow Amazon has taken in eReading since they stepped into the field. So far, it doesn’t seem like anybody has caught on.