I’m having a fun ole’ debate over the Amazon (AMZN) Kindle right now. It’s taking place in the comments of a previous post between myself and Nicholas Zakas, a published author, seasoned programmer, and all-around intelligent guy.
I like debates. They give me a chance to hone my opinions and positions on various topics. I’ll do my best to defend my position, but more often than not, I’ll learn a new viewpoint that adds to my knowledge of that topic.
My post was about how great the Amazon Kindle was going to be. I likened the Kindle to Apple’s (AAPL) iPod. Nicholas commented that:
The iPod was successful largely because people wanted to replace their large portable CD players with something that could play more…it wasn’t techies that make the iPod the sensation that it was, it was the non-techies.
This implies it was the iPod’s ease-of-use that made it such a commercial success. While I totally agree, I think it was more than just the iPod’s simple & friendly form factor that made it great. It was also:
- iPod’s branding and Apple’s great overall brand
- The “complete package” that iTunes integration offers to the iPod
He argued that while this is true for iPods, it’s different for books:
There’s something about the tactile relationship between readers and their material that makes it hard to give up. I remember when people predicted that newspapers would go out of circulation when people could get their news online…
True, but the same was once said about records when first CDs came out. There was a time when people predicted the TV would replace the radio. And later, that interactive TV would replace regular TV. I’ve never believed that newspapers would go out of circulation, but I do believe their role will change—and has already changed. It’s no longer the single source of up-to-date news. People primarily go to the TV for that now. (Those that go to the web for up-to-date news are still in the minority, though it’s growing rapidly.)
He also made a comment about the Amazon Kindle falsely gaining a first-mover advantage, though the Kindle isn’t the first e-book reader on the market; there are quite a few already. While he’s probably just not as familiar with the e-book market, we both agree that first-mover advantage isn’t a panacea for success.
To that, he followed up with a simple mathematical point:
Considering you can get great books for under $10 nearly anywhere, what would you do? Buy a $400 machine to output text, or buy 40 books? I love tech as much as the next computer geek, but even I would go for the latter.
Good point. If you’re someone who will only buy forty $10 books, you’ll hardly see any cost-savings benefit in the Amazon Kindle. But if you’re someone like me, who’s been known to spend upwards of $800 on books a year, the Amazon Kindle may be worth it.
But then this goes into the question of target demographics, which Nicholas also pointed out:
Tell me who [the target consumers] are for Kindle? People who read books like books, not just the text. The divergence between book readers and technology couldn’t possibly be greater. People often read books to escape computers and technology.
I can’t disagree with that. As a bookworm myself, I also love the tactile feel of a book. However, I used to love the tactile feel of a CD booklet too. Every time I’d listen to a CD, I’d read the booklet for the lyrics or linear notes. Or maybe just stare at the album cover art. I loved doing that. When MP3s first hit the market, I didn’t see the appeal because they felt so ethereal and amorphous. There wasn’t anything I could hold in my hands.
Then I hit a tipping point and realized that the portability and physical space savings of MP3s offset the benefits of having CD booklets for me. The same went for digital movies and DVDs. Now, I love digitizing all of my media.
What may tip the balance of books to e-books are the younger generations of consumers. They’re already growing up with the Internet, mobile phones, and MMORPGs (with their virtual goods) as everyday items in their lives. It’s foreign for them to imagine a world without technology like that. They also don’t place as much value on CD booklets, DVD boxes, or books in the same way the older generations do—younger generations seem all-to-eager to accept digital media.
Just like newspapers, there will always be a role for books. When you’re chilling in a log cabin or on a beach somewhere, you’ll probably want a good solid book in your hands. But if you’re on a train commuting to work, it may be more desirable to hold a device that will allow you to read any book, newspaper, or blog you want.
Potential Initial Niche Targets
One last thought. If Amazon were to approach the e-book market with Geoffrey Moore’s advice in mind (as he writes in Crossing the Chasm), they could target graduate students as an initial niche. With graduate textbooks costing hundreds of dollars, they may find it more cost-effective and easier to lug around a Kindle rather than seven 5lb textbooks. The price point of the Kindle would have to drop from its current $359.00, however. But that is inevitable as they streamline their production costs.
Undergraduate students could be a viable initial niche as well, though more research would need to be done since many undergraduates just purchase used textbooks to save money. If a cheaper Kindle could tap into this market, the purchasers may actually be the students’ parents.
Another initial niche could be any profession that requires access to large volumes of books at any given time, such as lawyers. Imagine the mountains of books a lawyer has to go through. Now imagine being able to search through all of that easily through a single handheld device. Not bad, huh?
This is easier said than done, of course. There are lots of tricky book publisher contracts to negotiate. Without the necessary content, these niches are impossible to reach. But still, it’s not hard to imagine these users wanting a device like the Amazon Kindle, yea?