Consumers so far have phones that surf the internet, look for directions, write email; mp3 players that let them watch videos, listen to podcasts and yes, also listen to music.
Digital publishers and manufacturers are still trying to convince consumers to modernize that most old-fashioned medium: the book.
This week, Steve Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, an online bookseller that now flogs everything from gourmet food to power tools launched the Kindle – a portable 300 gram book reader that has a battery life of 30 hours, takes great pains to ensure that electronic reading does not tire the eyes eradicating the ‘lack of pleasure’ syndrome associated with online reading, and can store upto 200 books, each costing about $9.99. The company plans to make about 90, 000 selected titles available for users of the “Kindle”, which would include best sellers as well as new titles.
One of the Kindle's main features is its ability to download content without being connected to a computer. Amazon's reader uses a wireless broadband standard used by mobile phone service providers.
“It can provide instant access,” said Steven Kessel, Amazon's senior vice president of worldwide digital media.
“So you think of a book and you go to the store that's connected on the device you buy, and that book is downloaded in less than a minute.”
The book seems to be the last bastion of analog and according to Bezos “This is the most important thing we’ve ever done”
The Kindle should really have been called the iBook, though presumably Steve Jobs would have been upset. It will cost $399, the same as an iPhone, and is trying to do for books what Apple’s iTunes and iPod did for music. In retrospect however the ‘Kindle’ name makes sense metaphorically as Amazon hopes to stir up the book industry (a task also being undertaken by Sony who launched a reader in October) and guide it into the digital age.
The Kindle has a lack luster design and could take a leaf or two out of Apple’s book which has really mastered the art of design and synthesized it with usability (probably users should be able to use their fingers to flip pages). The other (major) downside is that the Kindle does not read PDF’s, which today is the preferred format for reading e – books. PDF’s can be converted for a price that is gobbled up by Amazon. This has probably been done by Amazon to ensure that buyers of the Kindle stick to buying the services of Amazon thereby enabling the service to be more profitable (one wonders how many consumers will opt for such virtual tyranny).
One thing that Amazon seems to have learnt from the mistakes of the music industry is that they have established a pay to consume model before consumers start to create free alternative for themselves. So this means users will make more and Amazon will pay more (they hope to make the service rather than the product itself their cash cow). We think, however, that once the Kindle or an alternative becomes as popular as mp3 players are now, there will definitely be P2P options springing up giving consumers innumerable alternatives and maximum surplus.
Looking at current trends one can see that the book business is buzzing with innovation. Google is putting thousands of books online that can be delivered to Blackberrys (albeit in 1000 word chunks).
The Harvard Business Review also provides their content chapter by chapter on Amazon. One part of the book business that is still stagnant is that of mainstream publishing, which takes almost 6 months to a year to turn a manuscript into a shelf ready money spinning best seller. If Amazon can introduce the marvels of the Internet and eat up time in that aspect of the business and make it more efficient – it would have another winner. The Kindle, for now gets a thumbs up.