Are Kindle for iPhone, PC Hedges?

If you harbor a grudge against the Kindle or against eReaders you tend to view the Kindle for iPhone app and Kindle for PC very favorably -

  1. It’s proof Amazon doesn’t think the Kindle could survive.
  2. It’s Amazon hedging its bets.
  3. It’s validation that multi-purpose devices are the future and nothing that specializes in just one task could ever survive.

This post will look at all the possible reasons Amazon might have had to introduce Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC (and assign each a probability).

It’s best to stop reading if you’re an eReader hater because there’s a chance this post strips away your security blanket i.e. ‘Kindle for iPhone means eReaders are bound to fail’.

What could Kindle for iPhone be for?

Here are the obvious candidates -

  1. Kindle for iPhone might be about tapping a huge channel of good intent – People who don’t mind paying for stuff. Probability: Medium. 
  2. An add-on for existing Kindle Owners – to make the Kindle more compelling. Probability: Low to Medium.
  3. A means to cater to casual readers – people who read less than 1 book a month. Probability: High.  
  4. A Funnel – To get users onto the Kindle platform and increase the probability they become Kindle owners. Probability: High.
  5. A Hook – Buy a few Kindle Books and suddenly you are locked in. It doesn’t matter if you buy Kindle books on the iPhone – you’re still locked in and when you move to an eReader it’ll be a Kindle. Probability: Medium.
  6. A Hedge. Proof that Amazon doesn’t believe in the Kindle. Probability: Low to Medium.
  7. A means to cater to eReader-phobic readers. They still want the convenience – they just don’t want the cognitive overload of loving books and at the same time being seduced by the convenience of eReaders. So with a Kindle app on another device they can pretend they are still hardcover toting purists. Probability: Medium.
  8. Marketing – Get people exposed to the Kindle brand. Probability: High.
  9. Kindle Store Business – If Amazon really do consider the Kindle and Kindle Books as separate, independent businesses then this might just be about catering to a market of tens of millions of readers. Probability: Low.
  10. A Countermeasure – to the threat of Stanza and B&N taking over the iPhone channel and using it to fight the Kindle. Probability: High.

What’s my money on? A combination of the above, with the most important being – channel of good intent, a hook, a funnel, an add-on and catering to casual readers.

It’s worth nothing that Kindle for iPhone being a countermeasure is also very likely – Amazon did buy Stanza and they do want to make sure no company can leverage the iPhone against them (although they can’t guard against Apple itself).

Interpreting Kindle for iPhone as proof that Amazon doesn’t believe in the Kindle is too simple an explanation. There are at least 10 factors (and probably more) to be considered. 

Let’s look at Kindle for PC next.

What could Kindle for PC be for?

There will be a little overlap – kindly excuse that as it’s inevitable.

  1. Tapping a huge market – hundreds of millions of PC owners. Probability: High.
  2. Tapping an exploding market i.e. Netbooks. Probability: High.
  3. Funnel for Netbook and PC Owners – Think of Kindle for PC as a way to get netbook owners on to the Kindle platform. Probability: High.
  4. A Hook – Again, it’s about getting people hooked with their Kindle books and then when they upgrade to an eReader it’s the Kindle. Probability: Medium.
  5. Guard against Competition – An obvious enemy is Google Editions and they have a whole OS aimed at Netbooks. Amazon must have at least an app. Probability: Medium.
  6. Hedge against Netbooks – If netbooks start becoming prevalent as mobile reading devices, at least the books being sold will be from Amazon. Probability: Low to Medium.
  7. Guard against B&N and Sony – Both have PC readers (software). Kindle for PC was announced a few days after the Nook announcement increasing the chance that it’s a countermeasure. Probability: High.
  8. Increasing the value for Kindle owners. Probability: Medium.
  9. Increasing the usefulness of Kindle eBooks i.e. read it on your PC and your iPhone. Probability: Low.
  10. A Hedge – In case dedicated eReaders die out. Probability: Low to Medium.

Again we see a plethora of reasons for introducing Kindle for PC.

Amongst the possible motivations competition seems to be the strongest here as B&N had a PC eReader to support the Nook. B&N were promoting it heavily and Amazon had to counter.

What could the motivations behind Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC be?

Before we jump into motivations, it’s worth considering the impact that they will have -

  • Kindle for iPhone and PC strengthen the Kindle – They increase the value proposition of the Kindle, they hook people into the Kindle eco-system, and they funnel users towards buying the Kindle.
  • Awareness – #1 App in the iTunes Book Apps section is Kindle for iPhone. All the Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone users know about the Kindle.
  • They provide cheap, effective customer acquisition –  There’s zero cost customer acquisition. Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC gets tons of coverage and word of mouth and some amount of users turn into Kindle owners without Amazon having to pursue them or advertise to them.
  • They create a relationship – You’re still buying Kindle books. You’re still using a Kindle and Amazon product. You are Amazon customers and Kindle customers.
  • Kindle for iPhone and PC cater to new markets – casual and anti-eReader readers.
  • They are a defence – A way to guard against competitors using a channel to take on the Kindle.
  • A hedge – In the somewhat unlikely case that eReaders die out Amazon still has lots of channels to sell books in.

That’s 7 different positive ways in which Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for PC help Amazon and help increase the market penetration of the Kindle.

It’s highly unlikely that the motivation was solely a hedge against the failure of the Kindle.

It’s extremely unlikely that Kindle for iPhone and PC have huge impact in 7 different areas and Amazon didn’t aim for at least 5 of them.

Kindle haters should be sad, not happy, that Kindle for PC and Kindle for iPhone are becoming popular.

8 Responses

  1. i use kindle, and kindle for ipod touch. i mostly read on my kindle, but at times the touch is handier — most notably, during unanticipated downtime. which never exceeds an hour. also, if i ever needed to replace my kindle, i’d be grateful for the backup option — as *my* hedge.

    do people really think the kindle’s going to go belly-up? because if the market caves in to the needs of people who read full-length books less than 5 hours a week, ipod touch wouldn’t win my heart, and no way would reading on my laptop. i’d move *without hesitation* to the sony touch. if there were ever ‘no such thing’ as e-ink, i’d have to go back to print — complete with its extreme weight, and holding the (library) book open with my elbow while i eat lunch.

    what’s all this ‘reading on the pc’ nonsense all of a sudden, anyway. “click your heels together three times, dorothy.” that technology has been at our fingertips since the mid-70’s. there have been attractive reader programs for pc since the late 90’s. remember glassbook? which adobe purchased? it worked well. it allowed bookmarking and annotation, and screen rotation. and ever since adobe bought it, the acrobat reader has been a perfectly acceptable *reader*, as long as one doesn’t need to annotate or underline. how about ‘microsoft reader’? microsoft even made a schmancey specially more-legible font for that software. i had it, and a pocket pc version of the acrobat reader on my dell axim pda, back in 2005. and plenty of people were reading on their palm before then.

    basically, in the days before electronic reading of books became possible, there was no such thing as a personal computer. so where have all of these pc e-book aficionados *been*? *hibernating*? if they’d said something *sooner*, we might have annotating ability on pc-based reader software, too. they’re either late, or they’re not serious readers.

    and. why did e-editions of popular texts not begin to appear in significant numbers, and become a whole-number percentage of total book sales until amazon got seriously into the game? i would suggest that e-ink devices are a significant component to that growth. if amazon had come out with the pc app *before* the kindle, or *instead of* the kindle, do you really think the technology and the marketplace would be as large and as sophisticated as it has become? i’d suggest that had amazon begun with a pc app, sony would now be the biggest e-reader game in town — and would not be particularly ‘big’, yet, because until the kindle lit a fire under sony’s butt, the reader product line was its redheaded stepchild.

    obviously, lots of babies have been born and grown up since the mid-70’s when pc reading became possible, and have grown up with computer display light shining in their eyes — but even so, i’d suggest that a *huge* number of the people who say they’d read on their pc’s won’t. i don’t think they’re lying. i think they probably have the best intentions. but in fact, most people just aren’t going to read longer books on a pc.

    i’m not the total amazon fan in any way, but i don’t get why people are so pissed off at amazon. amazon’s not *worse* than *publishers*. and no one *at all* is doing anything for cultural preservation, or the public good. but that’s not a criticism of amazon or the publishers, because cultural preservation is not their job and never has been.

  2. I read exclusively on the iPhone, and have done so ever since the Kindle App for iPhone made its debut; my hardware Kindle gathers dust. I’ve read dozens and dozens of books on the iPhone; I’m not a ‘casual’ or ‘anti-eReader’ reader by any stretch of the imagination, I simply find the iPhone reading experience to be nearly infinitely superior to that of the hardware Kindle.

    I fail to understand the bizarre need you have to continually make negative comments about the iPhone App for Kindle and the people who use it. It’s a weird obsession you seem to have, and really overshadows the other, more interesting and insightful commentary you post on your weblog.

    I find your fixation on this very strange, to say the least. Just downright weird.

  3. I like the funnel theory – or, as I’ve heard it described somewhere: The iPhone app is a Kindle gateway drug. I have also read many more books on my iPod touch than on the actual Kindle – simply becasue I always have it with me. There is a lot to be said for that.

  4. i totally buy the iphone/ipod touch idea — definitely viable, maybe even for most people. but i have been known to read all day, and — all screen-whining aside — for me the touch is a little too slidey aroundy for a full 8-hour session.

    i’d be interested in knowing how many of those who read exclusively on the iphone or ipod touch are purchasing downloads from amazon, and how many are using the app to read free material exclusively.

    really, it’s this whole ‘reading on the pc is great’-thing that i personally question in a big way (see crazy filibuster, above).

    • I’ve purchased more than 250 downloads from Amazon in the last two years, and I’ve read ~70-80 of them on the iPhone, since the Kindle for iPhone App became available.

      Very little, if any, of what I read consists of free e-books, unless they happen to be given away as teasers for a series; if I like the initial book, I’ll buy the rest in the series and read through them all.

  5. […] past post – Are Kindle for PC, iPhone Hedges? addressed this question to a certain […]

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