But how will Kindle arouse long-term consumer interest when the Sony Reader hasn’t? The answer is in the online publishing strategy of the major news media.
On Monday (Nov. 19, 2007) Amazon.com introduced Amazon Kindle, a portable reader that wirelessly downloads books, blogs, magazines and newspapers to a crisp, high-resolution electronic paper display that looks and reads like real paper, even in bright sunlight.
More than 90,000 books are now available in the Kindle Store, including 101 of 112 current New York Times Best Sellers and New Releases, most of which are available for $9.99. The Amazon Kindle reader is available for $399 at http://www.amazon.com/kindle.
Downloads content wirelessly, no PC required, no hunting for Wi-Fi hot spots
The Kindle wireless delivery system, Amazon Whispernet, uses the same nationwide high-speed data network (EVDO) as advanced cell phones. Kindle customers can wirelessly shop the Kindle Store, download or receive new content — all without a PC, Wi-Fi hot spot, or synching.
Books can be downloaded in less than a minute, and magazines, newspapers, and blogs are delivered to subscribers automatically. Amazon pays for the wireless connectivity for Kindle so there are no monthly wireless bills, data plans, or service commitments for customers.
Kindle uses a high-resolution display technology called electronic paper that provides a sharp black and white screen that is as easy to read as printed paper. The screen works using ink, just like books and newspapers, but displays the ink particles electronically. It reflects light like ordinary paper and uses no backlight, eliminating the eyestrain and glare associated with other electronic displays such as computer monitors or PDA screens.
Delivers books, blogs, magazines and newspapers
The Kindle Store currently offers more than 90,000 books, as well as hundreds of newspapers, magazines and blogs. Customers can search, browse, buy, and download from this wide selection wirelessly from their Kindle.
The same Amazon shopping experience customers are accustomed to is offered in the Kindle Store, including customer reviews, personalized recommendations, 1-Click purchasing, and low prices. Additionally, Kindle customers can download and read the first chapter of most Kindle books for free.
Kindle customers can select from the most recognized U.S. newspapers, as well as popular magazines and journals, such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The Atlantic Monthly, TIME and Fortune. The Kindle Store also includes top international newspapers from France, Germany, and Ireland, including Le Monde, Frankfurter Allgemeine and The Irish Times.
Subscriptions are auto-delivered wirelessly to Kindle overnight so that the latest edition is waiting for customers when they wake up. Monthly Kindle newspaper subscriptions are $5.99 to $14.99 per month, and Kindle magazines are $1.25 to $3.49 per month. All magazines and newspapers include a free two-week trial.
The Kindle Store has over 300 blogs on topics ranging from Internet and technology to culture, lifestyle, and humor, to politics and opinion. Examples include Slashdot, TechCrunch, BoingBoing, The Onion, The Huffington Post, and ESPN blogs.
Blogs are updated and downloaded wirelessly throughout the day so Kindle customers can read blogs whenever and wherever they want. Wireless delivery of blogs costs as little as $0.99 each per month and also includes a free two-week trial.
What is the Bezos online publishing strategy?
Sometimes it seems as though the whole world is wearing bifocals while Amazon’s Chairman and Chief Evangelist Jeff Bezos has 20/20 vision.
Mr. Bezos has built what is now the quintessential American electronic commerce company by promoting his visionary online publishing strategy for selling books and other commodities over the Internet. But success didn’t happen overnight.
Amazon first turned a profit in the last three months of 2001, after floundering during the late 1990s dot-com bubble. Lots of naysayers said it would never happen.
Amazon launched in 1995 as an online bookstore and has since added movies, electronics, MP3 music downloads, tools, apparel, toys, gardening equipment and even groceries to its online offerings.
Time magazine named Bezos its 1999 Person of the Year in recognition of the company’s success in popularizing online shopping.
Amazon’s net sales are expected to be between $13.80 billion and $14.30 billion for 2007.
According to its investor relations website, “Amazon.com, Inc. seeks to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices.”
Is the medium the message?
“Build it and they will come” has never been a reliable business strategy. Sometimes it works, often it doesn’t.
The promise of electronic books has been around for a number of years now, but has not exactly caught fire with consumers. Last year saw the introduction of the Sony Reader, a $300 device that is roughly the size of a paperback novel that can store hundreds of books in internal memory, and display personal documents in Adobe PDF format, favorite web content like blogs or news feeds, and JPEG photos.
Since Sony’s launch of the CONNECT™ eBooks Store last year, the number of downloadable eBooks offered has expanded to more than 20,000 titles. Grove/Atlantic, Harcourt Trade, Kensington, Pearson Education, The Perseus Books Group, Regnery Publishing, Taylor & Francis and W.W. Norton have joined the ranks of publishers such as Hachette Book Group USA, Harlequin, HarperCollins Publishers, Holtzbrinck Publishers, Hyperion, McGraw Hill, Penguin Group, Random House and Simon & Schuster in their commitment to electronic publishing, according to the Japanese electronics giant.
Sony hasn’t divulged how many units it has sold, but ask yourself, “do you know anyone who owns one?” Many people have never seen one, or even seen a TV commercial for one.
Contrast that with demand for Apple’s new iPhone, which has been much more visible, perhaps because of an imbedded base of cell phone users and Apple product enthusiasts.
So what does Mr. Bezos know about the future of online publishing that others are missing?
One clue may be in Amazon’s early alignment with The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. Many futurists see the newspapers disappearing in their physical format over the coming decade, with electronic delivery replacing newsprint.
At $399, Amazon’s Kindle is a bit pricey for all but the most avid early adopters. But if the newspaper publishers themselves bought the devices, and gifted them to subscribers, they would save a fortune on the materials, manufacture and delivery of the traditional, physical newspaper product. An Amazon Kindle in the hands of every newspaper subscriber would pay for itself in short order.
The publishers that control the medium — in this case, the wireless delivery system and reading device — will survive the media wars.
Previously, pundits would say that freedom of the press belongs to those who can afford a press. In the future, at least some of the power of the First Amendment will reside with publishers who can control the pipeline, or wireless reading device network.
Look for additional partnerships and alliances between Amazon, wireless networks, and traditional print publishers.
No one has a crystal ball, of course, but those who have bet against Mr. Bezos in the past were proven mistaken (and missed a great investment opportunity when Amazon.com went public).