Amazon's Kindle and the tipping point
There’s some buzz and chatter today about whether or not the Kindle, Amazon’s electronic reader, has reached the proverbial tipping point. Whether or not it has quite yet, I think it’s clear that Amazon has found an iTunes-like model for bringing electronic versions of books, magazines, and blogs to mobile devices, and eventually the masses.
It comes down as it often does to utilizing existing technology (e-books have been with us since 1968, according to The New York Times), leveraging market advantages (millions of people already have an Amazon account), and providing a superior user experience and product offering. Mix in the right price and make it super easy and simple, and you’re on your way to a killer product.
iTunes is also a good model to look at in the sense that the best ideas and best implementations are often simple. Download a free version of iTunes, and a short while later you can be jogging down the street while listening to an iPod jammed with a custom playlist of songs you’ve ripped from CD or purchased from the iTunes store. That’s simple, easy, powerful.
Once you have a Kindle in your hands, you can easily browse and purchase thousands of electronic books (125,000 titles now, up from 90,000 at launch). The really amazing part, the innovative part, comes from the fact in how easily and quickly the purchase and download pushes through, run on Sprint’s EVDO data network called Whispernet. And as Rex Hammock points out, it’s pretty easy to vastly increase your reading selection on the Kindle for free by harnessing Project Gutenberg.
So sitting on a bus, waiting on line at the DMV, stuck in a doctor’s office waiting room â€“ all of those boring and wasted in between times in other words â€“ you can have an electronic version of a book store in your hands, ready to explore. Further, another outstanding feature is the offering of free sample chapters. So within seconds, you can pretty remarkably duplicate the experience of standing amidst the racks of a local bookstore, exploring the latest titles.
Now, more smart iTunes-like leverage comes in: Kindle downloads are far cheaper than purchasing print book equivalents. And the Kindle tells you how much you’re saving. Much like iTunes, it’s easy to start getting into that one-click purchasing groove once you get going.
One potential downside to the Kindle that some have noted is that reading on an electronic device is just not the same as reading a print edition. I have personally had no trouble converting to the Kindle, and for many of the reasons listed above, I’ve actually found that I read more books than I did during my pre-Kindle days due to the ease and convenience. Further, what Amazon calls its electronic paper technology does make for pretty easy reading and page turning, with a pretty close replication of the look and feel of the print edition.
The Kindle already accounts for six percent of Amazon book sales that are available in print and electronic editions. In five years, it may not be a stretch to predict slapping a zero on the back of that six. During that span we’re going to see a huge increase over the current catalog now available, better versions of the current “experimental” browser, new and far superior versions of the Kindle itself (the earliest versions of the iPod now look pretty clunky and crude as compared to the super slick and slim latest versions!), and perhaps most importantly, further price reductions in buying the Kindle unit.
The tipping point for the Kindle may not have quite hit as yet, but I’m guessing we’re getting pretty close.