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On this blog we will track down the latest Amazon Kindle news. We will keep you up to date with whats hot in the bestsellers section, including books, ebooks and blogs... and we will also bring you great Kindle3 tips and tricks along with reviews for the latest KindleDX accessories.

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Tablets Help Visually Impaired Readers Read More Quickly

Before e readers and tablets came around, blind and visually impaired readers had to rely on braille, large-print, or audiobooks.  Now, the visually impaired can use a Kindle or other e-reader or tablet to enlarge the font right in the screen.  I can attest first-hand that reading a Kindle is much less tiresome on the eyes than reading print books.

That is definitely a huge step up from lugging large books around.  No more bulky travel bags.

The font adjustments in the Kindle are very helpful for creating a less tiresome reading experience, not only for the visually impaired, but for people who don’t have any vision loss.  That in turn enables us to read for as long as we want to.  As long as time permits, of course.

The latest studies show that people who have central vision loss can benefit from reading on a tablet such as the iPad or Kindle Fire.  The level of contrast between the text and background helps speed up the reader’s reading levels.  The sharpness and clarity of the text on the background is important.  On tablets, you can use either black on white, or white on black.  There is also a more neutral setting that doesn’t create such sharp contrast.  So, the added customization can fit the needs of more readers.

Overall, e readers have a lot of potential for opening up a world of reading and literacy for people who otherwise wouldn’t have that opportunity.

With that said, the technology still has a ways to go to meet the needs of all readers.  Text-to-speech is currently a controversial service, and isn’t offered on some Kindles.  Including audio menu navigation and the ability to read books via audio on the Kindle go a long way for those who can’t read print at all.

 

Kindle Paperwhite thoughts

Out of this year’s Kindle lineup, I am the most excited about the Kindle Paperwhite.

Other than the light, it looks just like the traditional e-ink Kindle that is compact and easy to carry around in your purse or bag.

The front-lit screen is the major draw for me.  I am a voracious reader, and often wish I could read my Kindle in situations where it is dark, like night time car rides, etc.

It will be interesting to see how this new lighted Kindle will impact the book lights that are currently out on the market.  My best guess is that they’ll hold their own for awhile since so many people still own the older models or the basic Kindle.

The other major reason is a much needed upgrade for the touchscreen technology.  The Kindle Touch had issues with trails from previous pages.  The text is crisp, but it could use a tune up.

A few more notable features include:

  • Two month battery life even with the light, which is impressive considering most LCD tablets and phones are battery hogs
  • Time to read feature that measures your reading speed and lets you know when you’ll finish reading a chapter
  • Better pixel resolution and sharper contrast
  • New, hand-tuned fonts

The complete list of features can be found on Amazon.  The Kindle Paperwhite comes with or without Special Offers.  It also comes in a 3G or Wi-Fi only model.

After light, there is only one major upgrade: color.  At least, that we can think of.  Technology changes almost daily.  Next year perhaps?  I would like to see a tablet that can use both LCD and e-ink, or something that fulfills the purposes of each.  That way, I wouldn’t have to tote a bunch of difference devices around.

The Kindle Paperwhite ships October 22nd just in time for the holiday shopping season and should give the Nook Glowlight a run for its money.

The new Kindle Fire didn’t make July 31st, but signs point to an impending release

All of the rumors seemed to indicate that July 31st would be the day we finally heard solid details about the new Kindle Fire release.  Obviously that didn’t happen.  That’s not necessarily a bad sign though.  While things might be taking slightly longer than fans, speculators, and analysts had expected, there are plenty of signs that Amazon has something big planned right around the corner.

The update to Amazon’s music management is a strong indication that something is going on.  Amazon’s emphasis on media service integration with their devices is well known.  They might not have the most powerful hardware on the market but Kindle Fires are the easiest way to get at any of the digital content the company sells that can be reasonably run on a small, modestly powered tablet.  The existing model isn’t exactly at its best with music playback thanks to the speaker configuration, but the interface makes use simple enough.

Now that you can import existing music selections rather than uploading them individually, including files downloaded through other services, the appeal of that option should be increased for any interested user.  As far as Kindle Fire specifics, though, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that Amazon has been working on docking stations for their next tablet, which reports indicate will have a very distinct form compared to its predecessor.

The recent release of the Amazon Instant Video app for iPads is also, paradoxically, a fair indication that the Kindle Fire 2 is nearly ready.  Even if a larger model of Amazon’s tablet is ready right away, there is no way that they want to be entering into head to head competition with Apple at this stage.  Plenty of rumors say that Apple ‘s already taking things in that direction with an impending iPad Mini, but that rumor has been cropping up repeatedly for two years now and the reasoning doesn’t seem to have improved much in the meantime.

By creating a convenient way for Apple’s customers to access their Amazon video purchases, the need for confrontation is somewhat negated.  It’s important to remember that Amazon gains very little by way of income for selling the Kindle Fire.  They’d be just as happy to have an iPad user locked into using Amazon services thanks to the closed ecosystem being developed, since content is where the money is anyway.  The app release here might look like a lack of confidence in the Kindle Fire, but it’s really just paving the way for a deliberately niche product.

Most importantly, and most obviously, Amazon has started selling off refurbished Kindles at ridiculously low prices.  This has happened before.  People who use an Amazon.com Rewards Visa can pick up a basic Kindle eReader for just $47 now through August 15th using the coupon code KINDLE40.  It’s pretty obvious that something is on the way to replace that Kindle.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re looking at an August 15th release date.  In fact, people have largely stopped trying to guess at when Amazon will be ready.  It will be here when it’s ready, but it’s safe to say that time is not far off.

Can Microsoft Surface Inspire Kindle Interface Enhancement?

The introduction of eReaders into the portable electronics world immediately led to prophetic statements declaring them irrelevant in a world that already had access to tablets.  The Kindle vs iPad debate was long and monotonous, but over time people have generally come to accept that there is a distinction between the two types of device.  While most tablet functions would be more or less ridiculous to add to a dedicated reading device like the Kindle, however, Microsoft’s upcoming Surface tablet has introduced a useful concept that may have important implications for the future of electronic reading devices.

The Surface will incorporate technology that separates general touch recognition from stylus recognition, making it possible to take notes conveniently on the screen of the tablet without having to worry about where your fingers are positioned.  As anybody who tries to write naturally on a tablet for the first time will likely be immediately aware, it can be quite difficult to manage without either setting the device down or letting a thumb wrap around onto the screen.

Amazon has already done something great for Kindle users with Whispernet.  Having all of your annotations saved, along with bookmarks, page position, and so on, regardless of where you are loading your content from allows the Kindle platform to be device independent and convenient for just about anybody.  Unfortunately, taking notes on an actual Kindle eReader is a huge inconvenience.  Even with the keyboard provided by the Kindle Keyboard (or the virtual one on the Kindle Touch), it’s a slow and annoying process that will usually result in there being few such notes taken.

While it would definitely mean a slightly higher production cost, and would probably require a greater expense as far as data transfer and storage in concerned due to the increase in use, Amazon would be wise to adopt a similar option in their next Kindle upgrade.

The last remaining hurdle for eReaders at this point is their inability to match the convenience of paper books when it comes to direct interaction.  Annotation is part of that.  This would not make it any easier to flip rapidly from place to place in your favorite book, but that is not a sensation that can be replicated on a screen.  The pleasure of making one’s own contribution to a personal copy of a book is far simpler to bring to the new medium.

There is no indication that Amazon is going to make this sort of change.  This is merely speculation about what could eventually become a major selling point.  Until color E Ink style screens advance to the point where they are worth integrating, there isn’t a lot that can be done to make the Kindle a better reading tool.  The screen is already offering basically the same reading experience that you get from paper.  It’s not easy to find ways to make paper replication an exciting new thing once you reach this level of sophistication.  Improved writing inputs could be just what the Kindle needs in that respect.

Kindle Fire 2 Interface Improvements

While the Kindle Fire’s interface is one of its biggest selling points, there are a number of things that might be done to improve the user experience further.  It would be silly to make things more like the stock Android environment given the extent of Amazon’s breaking away from Google’s ecosystem, but there are still other directions that things could easily go.

The things that would be nice to see in Amazon’s new Kindle Fire tablet are plentiful, but here are a few that would be especially nice on the software side of things:

Better Appstore Integration

Overall the experience of shopping for and downloading apps is quite nice.  What would be nicer is the ability to install an app you own without being redirected to the Store Page.  In the Apps tab’s Cloud display, installable apps have the option to “Install” right in their context menu.  Unfortunately, selecting this does nothing more than selecting the icon does.  There is no need for the extra step.

Expanded Codec Selection

The Kindle Fire is a video consumption device, at its core.  While there is little local storage compared to some tablets, there is more than enough available to carry around several movies at a time.  Finding video that will play on the tablet is more problematic, thanks to the currently limited selection of video codecs.  This was likely an attempt by Amazon to get customers used to using the Instant Video service, but if somebody is going to the effort of side-loading their own videos then it’s not really worth the inconvenience caused by preventing the viewing.

Menu Bar Controls

It’s often a gamble as to whether the thin black options menu at the bottom of the Kindle Fire’s screen will disappear when I want something to be full screen.  While it is understandable that Amazon feels the need to keep this available on a device that lacks physical controls of any sort, the option to completely hide it rather than simply minimizing it would be more than welcome.

Expanded Parental Controls

The more recent firmware updates have added in a fair number of parental control options.  It’s a good start.  There are still cases, however, where more could be done.  It would be great to see Amazon put some more effort into this and release a set of more intricate settings.  This is especially important now that we’re finally seeing in-app purchasing, social gaming, and other such features that will appeal to younger users.

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The Kindle Fire 2 is going to be a strong product.  We know that Amazon has put some real work into the redesign and can hope that the software side received similar attention.  With the competition breathing down their neck, now is the time to really impress potential customers.

Are there any features that you would like to see added or improved for the upcoming release?

Kindle Library Lending Off to a Slow Start

Kindle Library Lending debuted last year, and has shown modest growth, but has a ways to go before it really takes off.  The number of libraries that offer the service has grown tremendously, but the selection of books offered has not.

My local library offers access to e-books for the Kindle, Nook, and other electronic devices.  But, I rarely find anything I like.  If I do, it already has a waiting list a mile long.

One of the biggest barriers to the program is reaction from publishers.  The Big 6 are having a hard time relinquishing their books for borrowing because they’re afraid that it will make a big dent in sales.

I read an article earlier today that got me thinking more about this dilemma, and I began to mull over ideas suggested in the article that might help them get over their fears.

E-books are easier to get and transport than regular books.  So publishers are afraid that book sales will go the way of music sales did about 10 years ago.

I think with careful handling through licensing, a compromise can be reached.  The result would be a benefit for both libraries and publishers.  By adding e-books to their collection, libraries can shake their old stereotypes and offer something that is new and exciting.

For publishers, the benefit is the exposure to books that can lead to a purchase.  There are people who borrow books from a library, like them a lot, then purchase them to read again.

Another option is to join Amazon Prime and use the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library.  It has a much broader selection, but you can only check out one a month.  I have checked out a lot more books from there than from my library.  I am currently waiting very impatiently until the next month to download the third book in the Hunger Games Series on my Kindle.

I think it is important to still get the word out about e-book borrowing in libraries.  Increasing the demand for books can’t hurt.  Just remember, it is the publishers not the libraries themselves, that are setting the book limits.  I hope to see a future where both print and e-books will be readily available to library patrons globally.

 

 

 

Could a Kindle Phone Really Redefine the Smartphone Market?

Interest in a potential Kindle Phone has been rising ever since Bloomberg reported that Amazon was in the middle of testing said phone.  The logic behind the move is arguably sound for Amazon, which leaves people fairly certain that it will happen.  After all, if there are customers to be gained and the sort of 24/7 connection that many people have with their smartphones can be tied into Amazon services then the hardware line is worth it even if it doesn’t generate a dollar in sales on its own.  What is especially interesting about all of this speculation, however, is the idea that Amazon is on the verge of upsetting the smartphone market in a major way.

To really understand the potential impact of a Kindle Phone, we have to look at what they have already done with the Kindle Fire.  Users get access to an affordable, functional consumption device that is tied into Amazon.com.  There are no major optional features, none of Google’s default Android services, and no efforts are being made to pretend that it is anything more than what it is able to be.  All the designers cared about was how to get people the best access to Amazon’s media at the lowest price.

Let’s carry that through to a phone.  Obviously we would be talking about something highly affordable.  That is how the company defines their products.  It would have to be exclusively connected to Amazon’s own services, which means no Google interaction.  In a market increasingly pushing for universal access to turn-by-turn directions, calendar alarm notifications, and constant digital communications access, this could be slightly problematic.  Even the Email app that shipped with the Kindle Fire didn’t quite work right at first, so it is hard to imagine them solving every possible problem with a new, more complex Android implementation so soon.

This doesn’t rule out an Amazon phone, but it does place it in a certain bracket.  Just as the Kindle Fire doesn’t try to directly compete with the iPad, perhaps a Kindle Phone would avoid trying to compete with the iPhone.

There is a great deal of exposure to be gained if they choose to go with a “pay as you go” device.  A Kindle Phone with the ability to connect to WiFi networks could be sold cheaply to millions of budget-conscious consumers.  Even if they didn’t need it as a phone, the iPod Touch has demonstrated in the past that there is a level of consumer demand for such hardware.  The ability to add prepaid minutes to a calling plan would just add a level of functionality to make it marketable while avoiding many of the hassles inherent in dealing with a normal carrier.

There is too little information to go on so far, and it is still definitely possible that Amazon will come out with a whole array of new services to make up for the lack of Google integration by the time a Kindle Phone sees the light of day.  It might even turn out to be a high end device that puts every Android smartphone on the market to shame.  The Kindle Fire set the tone for Amazon’s Android hardware, however, and the theme there has been one of simplicity and affordability.  I think it is unlikely to see that change just yet.

Did the Kindle Start a Trend Toward Paperless Living?

A recent survey put out by Gartner looked at portable device usage among five hundred or so participants to see how things like tablet computing were changing the way we live.  One of the more notable results that they came up with was an indication that over 50% of those involved said that they prefer reading on a screen to reading on paper.  This includes newspapers, magazines, and books.

They didn’t specify whether or not the participants logged any of this data based on using a Kindle or other dedicated eReading device, but that matters surprisingly little in this case.  The reading experience on portable devices is becoming comparable to, and sometimes superior to, that of reading on paper.  Who would have thought?

It would be somewhat foolish to claim that this was the result of the Kindle’s impact of consumer impressions.  We’ve been heading toward digital text distribution since the first computers were capable of storing enough text to be useful.  It was only a matter of time for it to reach the reading public.  It was what the Kindle signaled that accelerated the transition.

Sony already had a better eReader on the market when Amazon released the first Kindle.  What they didn’t have was the Kindle Store.  Amazon made it easy for their customers to buy popular books.  They even went the extra mile and made sure that purchasing could be accomplished right from the device itself.  With no more need to find USB cables or memory cards, eReading was finally more convenient than picking up a book from the store.  It was sometimes even easier that picking up a book off the shelf.

Over time, adding devices as they went, Amazon brought their selection to practically any device with a screen.  The Kindle itself was and is still important for many people, but just about anybody who is interested will always have a device within arm’s reach that can load a book for them now.  Convenience has reached an extreme.

Convenience is what the Gartner survey attributes the move away from paper to.  Their participants indicated that they were willing to pick up whichever device lay closest to hand for practically any reading situation, even to the point of excluding print at times.  Since all participants were required to have a media tablet and at least two other similar devices, being out of touch would have been a stretch.

None of this says that the printed book is really going to disappear.  We know that won’t happen any time soon, despite the fact that the death of print has been declared regularly since at least 1984 (extra points for catching the obvious movie reference).  What this means is that print is likely to lose its primary position in the reading world, even for magazine and newspaper readers, before too much time is up.  Tablets used to be toys, now they are becoming household tools.  Prices are dropping, exposure to options like the $79 Kindle is up, and it seems like every day readers get more to choose from.  Publishers can’t even entertain the notion of maintaining their old model unaffected at this point.

Amazon Domain Grab Could Signal Kindle Feature Expansion

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is basically the company that controls how things are named on the internet.  They decide whether a country has its own unique extension or not.  They spent years working out the details for the controversial “.xxx” extension.  Now, in a move that has a lot of people shocked, they are opening up quite a bit.  Adding to the fewer than two dozen generic top-level domains to choose from (.com, .net, etc.), new top level domains are being made available for purchase.  The big names in internet media are obviously excited about this and Amazon is no exception.

Amazon has filed for 76 different domains.  Considering these are selling for $185,000 up front and another $25,000 per year to maintain possession, this is no small investment.  Some of the choices are obvious, such as “.AMAZON”.  Others are clearly defensive.  They can’t afford to let the competition control “.BOOK” uncontested while running the world’s largest eBook store.  The ones that are the most interesting are the unexpected choices that hint at future developments.

For Kindle lovers, my favorite choice here is “.AUTHOR”.  It would seem to hint at new features for the Kindle Store.  Most likely, this would allow for greater self-promotion opportunities among KDP authors.  Unlike the “.BOOK” extension, it is not currently contested.  This means there is a good shot that Amazon will get to run with it, assuming they actually have plans and aren’t just preemptively acquiring it for later possibilities.

Since this sort of opening up of web naming hasn’t happened before, it is hard to say what it will mean for future applications.  Obviously it would be helpful to have access to this sort of domain naming, but there is no precedent to draw on.  If we have Amazon controlling “.KINDLE” then what will they do with it?  There is no point in controlling your own registry if all you do with it is host a single page, but nobody really expects Amazon, Google, or most of the other applicants for these names to change their minds about maintaining closed registries.

Obviously we’re looking at the introduction of new organization scheme for the Kindle Store and Amazon in general.  If they win even half of the names they are trying to get their hands on, things are going to get really interesting.  Innovation is likely, and may come in unexpected ways.  Some people are expecting little more than shortened product names that redirect to existing Amazon.com pages but that would hardly be an intuitive choice for browsers for a lot of these choices.  ICANN has indicated that they have plans to deal with companies who purchase and don’t make any use of a top level domain in order to limit squatting, so even defensive acquisitions can’t be left idle.

If nothing else, it is easy to imagine this drastically changing the future web interface for Kindle devices.

Nexus 7 vs Kindle Fire: Should Amazon Really Be Concerned?

 Hardware specs aren’t everything when it comes to tablet performance.  If they were, the Kindle Fire never would have gotten off the ground.  Still, the Nexus 7 from Google is far enough ahead in that respect that if you are buying a $199 tablet right this second the choice is clear.  People invested in Amazon’s ecosystem, or interested in choosing what is quickly becoming the leading provider of digital media, will still grab the Kindle Fire.  Everybody else would want the Nexus 7.  It is just better at being a general purpose tablet.

This doesn’t mean that Google has won, though.  They are in the lead for the moment, but we have months before sales spike again and in the meantime Amazon will be releasing their new hardware.  Even if it doesn’t stand out as completely superior to Google’s device, the next Kindle Fire will draw a crowd for any number of reasons.  Nothing else in the Android market has managed to compete on the same level so far and it isn’t just because Amazon dropped prices.

There was a time when I would have predicted that Google of all companies would be quick to adapt to the competition.  The delays surrounding the Nexus 7’s release tend to indicate that this is not the case.  The company had trouble getting the power they needed to make this an ideal showcase for Android 4.1 while also keeping the price down at $199.  With Amazon clearly being willing to subsidize their hardware to bring in media customers, that price will almost certainly not be rising.  The Kindle Fire’s hardware will be improved nonetheless, though.

Right now, as I said, it is a clear choice.  If you truly want a tablet right now and can’t afford to wait, the Nexus 7 is the best thing on the market and you will not be disappointed.  Nobody else is going to release such an affordable yet functional general purpose Android tablet right now.  By the end of the year things will be more chaotic.  Customers will be facing holiday choices involving not only Kindle Fire vs Nexus 7 or Android vs iOS, but Everybody vs Windows 8.

All of the hardware looks like it is going to be impressive and tablet sales numbers are expected to be higher than ever.  Google will have had their tablet in peoples’ hands for longer than any of the major players besides Apple by that point.  It allows a lot of time for interest to have cooled in the meantime.  They are rumored to be trying to offset that by scheduling a later release of the Nexus 10, but the same rumors mention setbacks due to manufacturing difficulties so that may be off the table for a while.

Realistically, I think it is fair to say that Amazon will continue to be a major player (possibly THE major player) in Android tablets for the indefinite future.  The only thing they really have to worry about is the downfall of Android if Windows 8 tablets take off.  Google’s devices are going to be better at running stock Android builds, but Amazon has never tried to pass the Kindle Fire off as the most powerful device on the market.  As long as they can keep the comparisons from going too far in favor of the competition, the integrated media services will carry the sales.

The Kindle and Tracking: Why Owners Aren’t Outraged

It is practically a given to many people that some amount of what you do on the internet is being tracked.  There is occasional outrage over this, such as when even their less tech savvy subscribers began to catch on to the fact that they were Facebook’s salable resource more than its target audience, but that is just going to be the case when you’re talking about “free” services.  Consumers are usually even less forgiving when they pay full price for something and get their activity tracked anyway.  Why is the Kindle so amazingly popular despite being fairly open in demonstrating that at least some tracking is obviously going on, then?

We can’t say that it is the result of Kindle owners being complacent.  Glance at the reviews of the Free App of the Day in Amazon’s Appstore for Android and you’re likely to see Kindle Fire owners outright attacking app developers for including anything that tracks or otherwise exploits users in what is supposedly the fully paid version of their application.  This is not a shy or understated bunch of people we are talking about, when the situation calls for more forceful reactions.

Where these app developers are chastised for sneaking in tracking, however, Amazon is openly displaying the fruits of their analysis.  This is one part of why they are able to get away with it.  They never deny that user data is being tracked and analyzed.  It is something that people know when they buy into the line.  Amazon is going to keep a list of what you buy, sometimes even what you consider buying, and they will draw conclusions from that.

There is more to it than that, though.  Amazon might be collecting this data for any number of purposes that work for the benefit of the company, but they are offering a clear service to their customers by offering the tailored suggestions that come standard in any Amazon account’s home page.  The popular theory that I have heard voiced is that this alone accounts for the general complacency with which Kindle users in particular take this situation.  At least there is a visible tradeoff here.

I would say that the real explanation is slightly different, although that is a part of it.  Amazon has done a lot to make itself a very customer-friendly company.  More often than anything else, their customer service receives glowing praise.  They not only brought us eBooks in a major way for the first time but actively got into disagreements with suppliers to try to bring them to us at reasonable prices.  Amazon really seems to be one of the few companies left that puts customer satisfaction first.  That makes it easy to trust that they will use any information they collect in a responsible manner.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is an unconditional trust here.  We all remember the congressional inquiry into the Silk Browser’s privacy features around the time of the Kindle Fire launch.  If there are concerns, they should and do get brought up.  I just find it fascinating that the sort of behavior that causes outrage in other areas gets more or less ignored here.  Maybe Kindle owners are really satisfied enough to feel that Amazon deserves some trust?

Kindle Fire vs Windows 8 Tablets: Another Pointless Comparison

There is essentially no competition to be found between the Kindle Fire and any imaginable Windows 8 Tablet at this time.  I’ve touched on this a bit here already immediately following the announcement of the Microsoft Surface tablet, but it’s come up in emails and various other places often enough since then to be worth revisiting.  They are catering to completely different needs, price ranges, and purposes.  I doubt this comes as much of a surprise to anybody, but let’s hit the high points again.

The comparison ends up being very similar to that of the iPad vs the Kindle Fire.  It is inevitable that people will compare them.  After all, they are both tablets.  Add to that the fact that they are both extremely popular and that each is backed by one of the biggest companies in the world right now and the parallels are too clear to ignore.  Stepping past the most superficial aspects gives us a much more meaningful understanding.

In the case of Windows 8, we’re looking at a tablet OS that is deliberately formed into something that could replace a laptop.  The Surface is the ideal example, as you would expect when Microsoft designed both hardware and software sides of things.  Users get productivity apps along the lines of a full Office suite, a well-integrated social media sharing system, and more.  If you could possibly want to do it on a tablet, or on a portable computing device in general, Windows 8 is probably somehow equipped for that.

The Kindle Fire, on the other hand, doesn’t even come with full Android functionality.  It is an Amazon device meant for consuming Amazon media services.  You don’t get much in the way of access to third party programs.  Even media coming in from a non-Amazon source isn’t always supported as well as one might like.  I can recall a few occasions when the lack of a decent codec pack was problematic.  If a particular user’s situation demands it then they can certainly install some approximation of office apps and such, but the experience will be less than ideal and there is no way to significantly improve it.

There is a reason that the Kindle Fire is priced so far below things like the iPad and, presumably, the Surface.  You wouldn’t be wrong to guess that part of it is simply an inability to compete at that price point, but you wouldn’t be entirely right either.  Amazon is using the tablet in a different way and not even really trying to compete.

There will always be implicit comparisons.  Not only will they come up with the big names in the tablet market, but the Kindle Fire will forever be lumped in with the Android Market as people try to figure out who is doing well.  In reality, it doesn’t even belong there.  Their device is being sold cheaply, maybe even at cost even now, specifically because it doesn’t matter how much they make on the hardware.

Anybody who uses a Kindle Fire, however briefly, is a win for the company simply because they are then tied into the media network where Amazon is really interested in making their money.  They don’t want to make a tablet that can be everything for everybody, just to add a bit of incentive to choose them for any digital media needs one might have.

Thoughts on the Future of the Kindle eReader

In most of the ways that matter we can safely say that the eBook war is over.  Owning a Kindle is no longer strange or a sign that one is obsessed with gadgets.  Where does all this lead, though?  In many ways there is nowhere left to go for these devices, or at least nowhere obvious, and while they will certainly persist in at least as advanced a form as they have already achieved there is the question of how much room for growth the eReader market will eventually have.

I bring this up because of reliability issues in eReading devices.  Unlike most electronics that I have owned, my worry here is that they tend to be overly reliable.  I have owned a handful of such devices since my first in 2006.  That one, a Sony Reader PRS-500, still works as well as the day I bought it.  The battery was a little worse for wear after sitting for six months in a closet, but the screen is fine.  The same is true of every other example I have on hand.

Until now, upgrading was a matter of often drastic improvements in screen contrast and refresh rate.  Five minutes on a first generation Kindle will have you tearing your hair out if you’re used to using a Kindle Keyboard.  With E Ink Pearl displays we have hit a point where you are basically looking at paper.  Thanks to the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight, and soon its anticipated Kindle counterpart, we are able to read in the dark without trouble.

Short of introducing color and non-perceivable screen refreshes there is not a lot of room to grow.  If anybody manages to figure out both of those without introducing severe downsides like battery life reduction then chances are good that the displays will be more useful on tablets anyway and the dedicated eReader will remain a niche purchase.

If we have a product that will not likely see much in the way of hardware improvement beyond the next generation or two, especially one that can last as long as a Kindle, it could cause rather lower sales rates than one expects in consumer electronics.  The newest eReader I own has already outlasted the newest laptop I own despite having seen ten times the use.  Looking purely at the hardware side of my purchasing pattern would give the wrong idea about my preferences as a consumer.

Essentially, I’m wondering how long the idea that the hardware and media sides of the Kindle business model can be kept even nominally separate.  There may come a time when stagnant growth for the line is not the sign of problems.

I don’t doubt that eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular will continue to be updated.  If nothing else, there are parts besides the screens that will need to be updated to keep up with new software features as time goes on.  I only wonder how often people will feel the need to upgrade.  It is hard to see huge performance improvement as a necessary factor when you’re talking about a device meant to emulate the experience of flipping over pieces of paper to see what’s on the other side.

How Publishers Can Kill the Kindle by Trusting Customers

There is no avoiding the fact that the Big 6 publishers created their own problem in the Kindle.  Amazon provided them with an easy way to start making a move into digital publishing when it was just getting off the ground and they jumped at it.  That alone wasn’t the problem, though.  The issue was that they were so paranoid about the medium that they managed to lock people into the first platform they purchased any significant number of books through.  Let’s face it, nobody is better at successfully selling, suggesting, and just generally getting people interested in books than Amazon.

I’ve talked here before about how the Kindle deserves its place as the top selling eReader primarily because nobody else has come close to designing a store that gives customers so much of what they want.  The suggestions are often eerily accurate, the categories make sense, and the search options are almost always up to a given task.  Even Barnes & Noble can’t come close because of how used to the store-based practice of sponsored marketing they are.  Given a choice between accurate recommendations based on personal purchase history balanced against similar customer profiles and recommendations based on what publishers decided to pour an advertising budget into, the choice is fairly simple.

We know that Apple’s price fixing scheme was not the answer in the long run.  Not only did it not work particularly well to decrease Amazon’s influence, now the publishers are enjoying legal troubles for their efforts.  They do have plenty of reason to want more diversified distribution, though.  Looking at Amazon’s treatment of the IPG is enough to highlight some of what it means to be completely at the mercy of a single distributor.

The problem these publishers really need to address is that of their DRM.  Amazon has not required publishers to participate in their DRM scheme, to the best of my knowledge.  That was forced by publisher paranoia over piracy.  If done away with, they are afraid that eBook profits will plummet.

Here, it seems like publisher interests are actually well served by the design of the Kindle.  Without losing existing Kindle owners as customers, publishers could easily begin selling their titles without DRM and encourage wider competition.  Best case scenario, this would allow publishers to open their own cooperatively stocked eBook store. It would also make possible the creation of smaller stores taking advantage of the same opportunity.

If somebody got truly ambitious, it wouldn’t even be hard to create a Kindle alternative that allowed for essentially the same experience.  There are any number of Kindle clones on the market already that do the job fairly well and could probably do it better if the provider felt it was worth the investment in development.  There’s no incentive if they can’t attract customers because Kindle Store purchases are locked down to Kindles.

All of this hinges on publishers looking past the possibility of piracy.  How is that really so difficult, though?  The DRM on eBooks is already laughably easy to get around, judging by how common stories of switching platforms through format conversion have become.  If somebody really wants to pirate content, it is going to happen anyway.  If these companies genuinely believe that the only thing keeping most Kindle owners from helping themselves to hundreds of free books is the DRM scheme, they’re fooling themselves and working against their own best interests.

The Importance of Page Turn Styles

Before the Kindle debuted in 2007, and even now, with e-readers becoming the norm, there is something about the ability to flip through pages in a book.  In used book stores and libraries you’ll find a lot of dog eared pages.  Quite handy when there’s no bookmark available.

I was reading an article earlier today about program that replicates the tactile sensation of turning pages in a book.  It works on a tablet, like the iPad, but not really on the Kindle.

Electronic page flips are really cool, but you have to get used to it.  It allows for more tangible bookmarks and highlights.  You can flip through the book without bending the pages.  It gives the look and feel of a book.

The Kindle’s page turning methods are kind of blah, but they have their benefits as well.  The simplicity doesn’t take suck up memory.  You also don’t have to worry about losing your place.  The e-reader takes you back where you left off, even across different devices.

The drawbacks are that it is harder to get to different parts of the book.  You have to take a couple of steps to get to the spot.  There’s no tangible indicator to let you know where in the book you are, except for the percentage point.

How important is the page turn style to you?  It is true that once you’re immersed in a book, the formatting doesn’t really matter so much.

Digital natives are growing up with e-readers, and won’t get a chance to really appreciate the nostalgia of print books as much.  Sign of the times I suppose.

The good news is, that no matter what our preferences are, we have options.  I still read regular books in conjunction with my Kindle.  So, if I want the nostalgia, I head over to the used book store.  I think these options will be around for awhile yet, at least until print no longer plays much of a role in the world of reading.

Hay Festival Highlights Anti-Kindle Sentiment

The Hay Festival of Literature & Arts, taking place now through June 10th in Wales, has been one of the largest growing literary gatherings since its inception in 1988.  From a humble gathering of around 400 bibliophiles, it has become a staple for the community that expects to draw in around a quarter of a million guests over its ten day run this year.  The Festival boasts panels with famous authors, debates about literature and environmental sustainability, and a number of other topics and activities.  A much-cited quote taken from Bill Clinton in 2001 declares it “The Woodstock of the mind”.  It is unfortunate, knowing about all this, to hear the recent press around participants’ demands to completely ban the Kindle from the event for the duration.

It would be hard to call this a surprise considering the nature of the festival.  Whatever else it has become, the festival was begun as a way to draw attention to the town of Hay-on-Wye and its position as a central location for independent bookshops.   In many ways this has been amazingly successful.  As things expanded, and they certainly have by this point with there being over a dozen different official “Hay Festival” events happening around the world every year, it just would have been nice for a bit of a wider view to take hold.

I’m not against the idea of the festival.  If anything, however, the Kindle belongs right in there with everything else.  Consider their own description of the festival itself:

“Hay celebrates great writing from poets and scientists, lyricists and comedians, novelists and environmentalists, and the power of great ideas to transform our way of thinking. We believe the exchange of views and meeting of minds that our festivals create inspire revelations personal, political and educational.”

This event is meant to be a gathering in celebration of great writers and thinkers, not favorite formats and business interests.

The Kindle protesters, led by local bookshop owner Derek Addyman, blame the activities of Amazon for the recent closings of five of the area’s thirty or so secondhand book stored this year.  Add to this the fact that the town’s only seller of new books went out of business as well and you can understand some of the pressure that the group must be under.

It’s interesting to see exactly how hostile the statements are getting, though.  Addyman has been quoted as saying “Booksellers here definitely want them banned. You see people walking around with Kindles and they are like robots in another world…Kindles are just a phase and they won’t last. They are our enemy.”  It isn’t a great way to garner sympathy from potential customers, given the increasing support eReaders have been enjoying every year.

If the Hay Festival really is a celebration of the written word and great writers, then the Kindle is going to be especially important in making those things more accessible to the readers of the world.  If this is still simply a propaganda-driven event meant to promote Hay-on-Wye bookshops then they need to make that more clear.  To the best of my knowledge there has been no actual ban, nor was there ever really going to be one, but it is rather sad that this sort of thing is allowed to hijack what is otherwise an interesting and potentially productive event.

How the Kindle is Contributing to a New Way of Looking at the World

It is occasionally amazing exactly how far we’ve come over the years.  It’s an inane observation but not, I think, an inaccurate one.  This came to me recently while reading Halting State by Charles Stross.  I enjoyed the book immensely and can’t recommend it enough, but it occurred to me about halfway through that much of the “science fiction” being employed was realistic enough to give me pause.  Augmented reality glasses, arguably the major liberty Stross takes with real life, are hardly unlikely if Google is to be believed.  The idea that technology increasingly mediates our interactions with the world around us brought to mind some thoughts about how the Kindle has changed our perceptions.

The trend toward digitization of print media is ongoing and not isolated to anything Amazon has done.  What they made with the Kindle platform, however, was the first real method for instantly accessing any eBook in circulation at a moment’s notice (acknowledging certain exceptions, of course).  If you saw an interesting ad, you could grab the book from your phone and have it with you the next time you wanted to read.  If somebody recommended a book, you could immediately check the reviews and give it a shot.  If a student forgot their book, they could often fix the problem immediately rather than sitting around bewildered.

The effect has been extensive in obvious ways.  Libraries are having to adapt to the eReader presence, for example.  Not only that, they were in a fair amount of trouble while OverDrive adapted to the Kindle since the vast majority of eReader owners prefer the Kindle platform.  Bookstores are feeling the press as well, being forced to compete, choose sides, or go the way of Borders.

The more subtle effects are more interesting, though.  Anecdotal evidence suggests that many book stores are having trouble unloading “classics” these days.  Where a faux leather cover on a book that was probably never going to be read might have been enough to sell a bargain bin title in the past, customers are increasingly aware that they can have those older titles for free and don’t have the incentive to have them on hand purely on principal anymore.

Reading in public is also becoming more common.  It has never been uncommon, of course, but now the ability to read without openly displaying your book preferences makes the Kindle a smart buy for people with guilty pleasures of a literary nature.  We’ve seen something of a romance novel boom reported as a result.

There are all sorts of little ways that this comes into play.  When you take into account the fact that the Kindle platform is available on any smartphone in circulation at the moment, we’re basically talking about the most wide-spread literary revolution since the move to codex-style books.  Maybe I shouldn’t attribute the whole shift to the Kindle, but if you have to put a name to it then Amazon’s product is the one to spring to mind.

Without trying to sound clichéd, any thoughts on how the Kindle platform and eReading in general has changed our lives?  I was expecting more from the instant Wikipedia access anywhere that Kindle devices offered so early on, but it seems in retrospect that this was the least profound impact of the lot.

10.1 Inch Kindle Fire, is it a good idea?

I have watched so many people who otherwise wouldn’t consider a tablet purchase a Kindle Fire this year because of the great price and good company brand.  In addition to the $199 regular price, you can find deals for refurbished Fires for $139.  The Kindle has certainly come a long way in 5 years.

The Kindle Fire took the tablet out of the niche market and into the hands of your average consumers.

The 7″ Kindle Fire is a good compromise for those who want the advantages of a smartphone and tablet in one device.  You don’t have to worry about a data plan, and the app store boasts a robust collection of Android based apps for the tablet.  It is portable and less than half the price of the low end model iPad.

With all of that said, I question the need for a larger Kindle Fire at least for the time being.  I don’t doubt that Amazon has the means to produce a good quality, competitively priced one.  There is a rumor going around that a 10.1 inch Kindle Fire will be released later this year, and plans for a smaller, second generation one will be put on hold.  That is the part I’m skeptical about.  If Amazon wants to reach out to a full audience, it needs to appeal to both markets.

Larger tablets lose portability.  The iPad is not easy to hold for long periods of time.  The computing power would need to be stronger.

So, to sum it up, I think that the first generation Kindle Fire fared quite well with room for improvement.  Those improvements such as a built in camera, faster browsing, screen quality, etc, can all be addressed in the next generation.  Working from that, a larger version is a good goal to work towards.

But, that’s just my opinion on it.  The tablet market as a whole is exploding.  The competition is fierce and we are most likely headed for tablet centered computing.

Rumors will fly and lots of times you can take them with a grain of salt, but it will be interesting to see what really happens in the next few months.

 

Kindle Prices Still Too High!

The Kindle line basically started the digital reading revolution.  They were neither the first nor the best when they appeared, but Kindles were the driving force behind it.  Amazon got too powerful, customers likes affordable eBooks too much, and publishers freaked out to the point of getting involved in what seem to be fairly illegal activities while trying to counter all that.  We’ve been over all that before.  The big question now is “Why are Kindle eBook prices still so ridiculously high?”

I’m not just talking about the results of the DOJ suit against the publishers over their adoption of the Agency Model.  I’m glad that’s happening, and I wish them all the luck in achieving a decisive conviction, but even those publishers who have chosen to settle already will not have had much of an effect just yet.  I’m more concerned with common sense.

The most obvious side of this is the obvious dislike of the format.  Publishers want physical media to be favored because it is more easily controlled.  eBooks are too convenient and most especially too easily pirated, so we have to expect these publishers to try to persuade people to stick to proven methods, right?  Some variation on this argument is likely to come up in any defense of the Big 6.

I’ll be honest, I’m not even going to address it at length here beyond saying that it flat out ignores the facts.  Study after study demonstrates that piracy either increases  or fails to affect overall spending as a trend.  It’s unintuitive, so I don’t blame them for being slow to catch on, but surely somebody employed by these companies could do some research that goes beyond ominous warnings of the dangers of piracy like those thrown around by the MPAA.  Maybe I’ll go into more detail on that another time.

Even assuming that was too hard to grasp, however, there is plenty of easy to understand information about adapting to a market that does away with the concept of limited supply.  The most dramatic example comes from the video game industry where Valve CEO Gabe Newell explained a while back that briefly discounting media by 75% had unexpectedly resulted in sales numbers jumping by a factor of 40.  I’m not saying the two industries are directly analogous, but clearly there are signs that digital distribution needs to be approached a bit differently.

There have been a few signs that publishers were tentatively trying to figure all this out.  Some short-lived discounts have popped up, and last summer’s Kindle Sunshine Deals promo comes to mind as a large effort to feel out the market.  It still seems like the biggest motivator for these publishers is a desire not to change.

They have a good thing going and can basically control the entire publishing landscape when they work together.  The Kindle, along with its eReader competitors, is an unknown.  If it were embraced, somebody else might figure out how to do things better and that would be bad.

I have no idea when this will change, but it can’t come soon enough.  All that publishers have managed to accomplish with this ridiculous behavior is temporarily setting back Amazon by shooting both themselves and their customers in the foot.

Nobody really wants traditional publishing to be completely out of the picture, but lately they’re doing more harm than good.  One of these days they will have to realize this and Kindle owners everywhere will breathe a sigh of relief while stocking their digital libraries.

Is the Kindle a Good Choice for Early Education Classrooms?

We’ve been seeing a great deal of interest in the potential savings provided by the Kindle in educational settings lately.  Now that some of the initial antagonism is out of the way, people are coming to see eReaders as valuable tools.  It needs to be kept in mind, however, that as much as the Kindle can serve as a book analogue in the majority of situations it is still not a book and not suitable for every single situation where books are used.  How we decide which situations to use them in is something that still remains vague.

Perhaps the most interesting case is the early education classroom.  I’m thinking Primary School here (1st – 5th/6th grade).  On the surface it makes perfect sense.  Using a Kindle rather than buying books means that schools can potentially avoid everything from lost reading material to profanity scribbled in the margins of textbooks.  Students wouldn’t even need to worry about forgetting their books on the way to or from school.  For every positive, though, there is a negative.

The most obvious is probably also the most trivial to fix.  Kids break things.  Whether through overwhelming exuberance or deliberate malice, from time to time they just tend to do damage as a group even if the same isn’t necessarily true of any specific individual.  The Kindle, whatever else you might say about it, is not the most durable piece of electronics in the world.  Amazon has an amazing return policy and does great work in making sure that damaged E Ink screens are replaced when the occasion calls for it, sometimes even for customers long out of the warranty period, but we have to assume they would balk at 5-10 free service orders per classroom every six months.  Given the investment already being made in texts on a regular basis, it still might make sense to go with the Kindle.  At the very least, a good case can prevent all but the most destructive acts from doing damage in my experience.

More important would be the issue of efficacy.  While the Kindle is great for sequential reading, its limited navigational options and slow refresh rate can be a pain for referring to scattered parts of a book.  On top of that, until color screens come into fashion in the eReading world there will always be some question of whether enough is being done to hold student attention.  There is a reason that most textbooks for children are thoroughly illustrated and brightly colored.

Rather than just assuming a stance on this, I have to say that it feels like an issue best decided through trials.  There are surely ways to use the Kindle properly in these classrooms, just as there are obviously ways for it to be used poorly.  The only way to really figure out how to make it work is to throw the new technology into the mix and see how the kids take to it.  I do believe that exposing children to this sort of technology early in their lives can have positive effects on both their technical proficiency and their love of reading, but one person’s anecdotal evidence about a kid who loves their Kindle is hardly enough for me to argue for an educational policy even when the anecdote is mine.

I’m curious what you all think on this.  Do Kindles and kids make a productive combination?

Will the Next Kindle Have Lighting AND Color?

The demand for a color Kindle has been relatively constant since the eReader was first introduced.  It was the major point of contention in early Kindle vs iPad comparisons and likely resulted in the sale of no small number of iPads in the first generation.  The Kindle Fire was a step in the right direction, but like the Nook Color it relies on an LCD display that is far from ideal for reading.  The back-lighting necessary for such a display is both hard on the eyes and a huge drain on batteries compared to E Ink alternatives.

Now, E Ink eReaders have a new standard to live up to since the launch of the Nook Simple Touch w/ GlowLight.  We can be relatively certain that Amazon is aware of this fact and interested in stepping up the game a bit with their next Kindle release.  This means that there will obviously be a similar lighting feature that doesn’t intrude too much on the battery life users have come to expect from a Kindle eReader, but there will have to be more if they want to really stand out.  The new Nook has been around for long enough that light alone will probably fail to impress even if Amazon could launch immediately.

There may be a case to be made for expecting a front-lit color E Ink Kindle in the second half of this year that will make besting the Nook’s GlowLight model possible.  Consider the shortcomings of E Ink’s Triton displays.  They do have color, yes, but it is dull and lifeless except in ideal lighting situations.  Even in some specially selected showrooms there are times when Triton’s color fails to impress.  Adding in a front-lighting solution along the lines of what Barnes & Noble has achieved with GlowLight may eliminate that problem.  If the lighting is built right into the device and still doesn’t significantly reduce the battery power then there is no reason to avoid color E Ink anymore.

This is not new speculation, but it does carry slightly more weight than it used to.  We have already had information leaked about Amazon’s possession of lighting technology for the new Kindle.  It was reported on shortly before the new Nook was made public.  Now DigiTimes, that highly unreliable but occasionally informative Taiwanese publication, has made the claim that parts suppliers are getting orders for color eReader components on a schedule that would set release in the second half of 2012.  I would never rely wholly on DigiTimes for information and so would advise against considering that confirmation, but they have been right even more often than they’ve been wrong.

If we do get a color Kindle eReader before the holidays, expect a fresh boom in eReading in general.  Not only would it be impressive new technology that addresses a major customer demand, it would benefit from the first major change in eBook pricing since the introduction of the Agency Model.  We can’t be sure how soon Amazon will jump on the pricing issue given that there are still unsettled defendants in the DOJ case, but the end result will definitely benefit Kindle owners immensely.  This could be a very big year.

5 Ways Amazon Can Save the Kindle

After all of this time and effort developing the Kindle line into such an overwhelmingly popular force in reading that the biggest publishers felt the need to break the law rather than be intimidated, I think it is fair to say that Amazon is not prepared to give up on the electronic books.  Even knowing this, it is clear that they are lagging behind a bit in development while concentrating on other areas.  Sooner or later they are going to have to pay a bit more attention to the Kindle eReaders and hopefully this will result in a few big changes.

The platform is still amazing.  Nobody can beat the Kindle Store right now.  A Kindle vs Nook comparison that excludes hardware is hardly worth making, it’s so one-sided.  Apps and content alone won’t be enough to carry the line forever, though, and there are a few additions that are safe to guess at so long as Amazon doesn’t try to simply eliminate the competition by selling eBooks below wholesale now that the Agency Model is on its way out.

Lit Kindle Display

We’ve already had some rumors about this, but nothing solid has manifested so far.  The Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight already accomplishes this in a way that impresses and avoids the shortcomings of backlit LCD options.  Offering a new generation of Kindle eReaders that lacked the feature would be a mistake.

Organization Options

Yes, the Kindle Collections system is better than nothing.  It came as a welcome change to years of nothing at all to organize with.  It even makes sense to handle things with tags, given the cloud-centric nature of Amazon’s services.  Being able to better organize books is going to have to happen eventually, though, and it would be a big selling point for new customers if it came soon.

Physical Page Turn Buttons

You won’t find many people who are completely satisfied with the lack of physical page turn buttons on the Kindle Touch.  It is a fine eReader, but this was a glaring omission that is genuinely hard to ever completely get used to.  It can’t possibly increase costs enough to justify leaving it out and hopefully Amazon will realize that now.

Color E Ink Display

This one is a long shot, but being the first to offer an affordable, reliable, attractive color eReader would definitely be a coup for the Kindle line.  With the lighting options that have been described by Kindle rumors and put in place on the Nook Simple Touch with GlowLight, it would be more possible than ever to make the otherwise dull color E Ink currently available look quite nice.  The only question is whether Amazon is able to do that and still sell cheap eReaders.

Support For Online Communications

Let’s face it, the big thing everybody keeps pulling out for eReaders is the social media integration.  Kindle, Kobo, Nook, whatever, they all want to let you post from inside the eReader.  Take it a step further and let the next Kindle act as a portal for select communications (Facebook, Twitter, email, and maybe a few others) and you expand the attraction of the device at minimal cost.  This reduces the emphasis on the single use nature of the Kindle, but it makes it that much more attractive to a segment of the user base that prefers to stay constantly connected at the same time.  It’s a smart trade-off.

Kindle Faces Major Competition Internationally

While the Kindle name is practically synonymous with eReading for many people, it has been confined largely to the US for a rather long time now and as such Amazon may have lost a chance to build the same momentum in other markets.  Much of what made them so successful was being the first company on the scene ready to get eBooks out there when customer interest began to stir.  The situation will be a bit different moving forward.

When it comes to international market coverage in eReading, Kobo is the name to reference.  They haven’t had the same impact in the US that Amazon has managed with the Kindle, but the Kobo Touch eReader has been available in areas where a Kindle was hard to come by for quite a while now.  They have recently partnered up with WHSmith in the UK in an effort to gain more coverage.  The Kobo Vox, essentially their attempt to match the Kindle Fire or Nook Tablet, is just £149.99 (by comparison, the Kindle Fire is not even available).  That’s not to mention the fact that Kobo devices are already available in 190 countries with expansion still ongoing, or the newly revamped  self-publishing platform that they are having some success with.

Sony is also making something of a comeback.  While they were possibly the first company to launch a major eReader line with the Sony PRS series, they have failed to stay relevant in recent years.  Their new Reader Store has finally opened (months behind schedule) in the UK and they have a fairly substantial presence in select other markets where the Kindle is just beginning to move in.

Even Barnes & Noble is going to be something of a threat, potentially, in specific international markets.  Well, one specific international market if they’re lucky.  The much-reported partnership that the company has with Waterstones has produced very few results so far.  The partnership is still likely to happen, but they are taking their time about it.  This is most likely a matter of developing relationships for content to fill UK eBook stores with and could be held up at least partially due to the chance of the Agency Model being abolished in book publishing by ongoing lawsuits.  This would naturally have widespread implications.

None of this is to say that the Kindle won’t be able to make it outside the US.  If anything, the international launch of the Kindle Touch and Kindle Touch 3G enjoyed such popularity that even Amazon was shocked.  Since the creation of a real, local Kindle Store in any given market is likely to be a major undertaking, however, anybody who has already got their store and device out there for customers is at a distinct advantage.  Amazon certainly has enough weight to throw at the problems they encounter, and they will do so without much hesitation as the recent small publisher negotiations prove, but it may be a long process at best with all the other big names already at work.

Thoughts on Amazon, the Kindle Platform, and the Anti-Amazon Publisher Defense

The ongoing conversation regarding the DOJ suit against five of the Big 6 publishers and Apple has at times been even more interesting than the case itself in what it says about the publishing industry and those who have a stake in it.  I won’t deny for a moment that I’m a fan of the Kindle or that I regularly enjoy many facets of Amazon’s business, so feel free to call me out for being biased, but I think that there are a few strange assumptions being made in some of the more popular Pro-Publisher arguments lately that need to be addressed.

The most popular justification of the Agency Model by far seems to be that without it Amazon would simply have too much control over prices and undermine competition since they could use books as loss-leaders to sell other products.  The underlying assumption here is that there was literally no other option available to prevent Amazon from offhandedly destroying a whole industry.  This ignores the process that allowed the Agency Model to be imposed on the Kindle Store in the first place, of course.

In early 2010, the publishers dictated their terms to Amazon and a brief conflict ensued.  When Amazon resisted raising their prices, Macmillan pulled their titles.  It worked, and Amazon caved.  Publishers are not, in this case, the helpless bystanders trying to scrape by that they make themselves out to be.  They have the choice to leave at any time, and allow Amazon to find their own way to fill Kindles with eBooks.  This is exactly what happened recently when IPG was unwilling to agree to Amazon’s contract renewal terms.

The problem is that publishers don’t want Amazon out of the game.  Amazon does exactly what they want a retailer to do.  The store makes suggestions, up-sells, promotes, and opens the doors to customers anywhere.  The problem wasn’t the potential for anti-competitive control; it was that publishers were unwilling to lose access to the channel.  It is also why the collusion was necessary.  Without that collusion, Amazon could presumably have done without any member of the Big 6 and they would have been left with only comparably inferior vendors to sell their books through.

The other really fun argument is the devaluation of eBooks.  Basically that by selling Kindle Editions cheaply, Amazon is making customers expect affordable books and publishers will make less money.  This is often tied to the idea that Amazon is trying to sell cheaply enough to get a monopoly, after which they will screw their customers and raise prices.  Personally, I see the arguments as contradictory.

If Amazon’s whole Kindle sales model is designed to lower customer expectations in terms of pricing, publishers retail the previously mentioned option of removing their content.  Unlike with paper books, there is no possibility of a secondary market.  To me this is basically an assertion that the content offered by these publishers is less important to customers than the fact that they can get it on a Kindle.  If that is so, then the need for publisher as gatekeeper is a thing of the past anyway.

Let’s assume that Amazon does accomplish lowering expectations, though.  How would raising prices on eBooks after driving out the competition work to their advantage?  We are talking about digital products, presumably now in a publisher-free world since Amazon ruined them all.  In what way would self-publishing authors have trouble selling outside of the Kindle Store?  And if that were an option, why would customers pay Amazon’s presumably higher prices after having been acclimated to cheap eBooks over the course of years?  I’m not one to say that the free market will solve all your problems, but what incentive does Amazon have to dominate a market and immediately destroy their most profitable approach to it?

Basically, I can’t help but feel that redirecting the issue of Agency Model price fixing to make it appear as if the DOJ is out to appoint Amazon king of publishing is a sign that people know something illegal was done and are now out to justify it.  The Kindle may be the best eReading platform out there, but it is far from the only one.  Publishers had other options they could have gone with; they simply couldn’t see a legal way to get the higher profits they wanted without losing access to customers who love their Kindles.

Lower Kindle Book Prices are Inevitable

When the publishers jacked up the prices a couple years ago on bestsellers and other popular e-books for the Kindle, they suddenly lost some appeal.  $9.99 or less for New York Times bestsellers sounded like a deal.  $11.99-14.99?  Not so much.

However, the rising prices have opened up several other free and inexpensive alternatives.  There are a ton of low priced Kindle books out there.  There are also free Kindle book lists and Kindle Library lending.  If you have time to sort through the lists, you will find some good stories mixed in.

The high prices on the big names also gave self published authors a boost.  Kindle Direct Publishing allows anyone to publish a book.  Some very successful independent authors have rivaled the big name authors with numbers of books sold. I remember the days when getting published was a feat accomplished only by a select few who had what it takes to get the attention of the major publishing houses.

There are still a lot of people who weigh the ability to share print editions, and are more willing to pay a higher cost for them.  There’s something about being able to pass a book around between friends and family members that can’t be recreated with a Kindle.  Now that the Kindle is in the hands of mainstream consumers, there is a much bigger group to share books with via the Kindle lending program. So, I can definitely see a future of e-book sharing that can rival the print book sharing idea.

So, I think it is only a matter of time before we start seeing lower prices on even the huge bestsellers.  In the end, it really is a consumer’s market.  In this economy, consumers are looking for the best bargains.

They won’t be able to compete otherwise.  Will all of these independent authors who got the chance to shine lose their visibility if this occurs?  That will be an interesting trend to watch.