7 Kindle related surprising things

There ‘s been a lot going on in the last few weeks. Here are 7 Kindle related things that were particularly surprising.

Kindle eBooks selling more than hardcovers and Press and Publishers scrambling for excuses

It was quite a shock to find out Amazon is selling more ebooks than hardcovers. It’s almost unbelievable that the ratio for the last 3 months was 143 ebooks for every 100 physical books.

There were the expected reactions of surprise, pleasure, and dismay. However, almost as surprising as the news from Amazon was the fact that the Press and Publishers were still trying to find ways to pretend this doesn’t matter and to paint it as some sort of loss for Kindle.

My two favorite borderline delusional responses were – Paperbacks are the real target so what happens with hardcovers doesn’t matter, this is only due to the iPad.

The former reaction is pretty absurd – eBooks were 2.84% of the market in the first 5 months of 2009, they were 8.5% of the market in the first 5 months of 2010, and now they are selling more than hardcovers at Amazon. That’s a strong trend and it indicates that all the ‘ebooks will be 25% of the market by 2015′ predictions were overly optimistic – overly optimistic for Publishers.

The latter response (its all due to the iPad) is rather childish. It’s rather unlikely that the entire increase is due to the iPad given Amazon have been selling Kindles for $189 and refurbished Kindles for $139 in the last parts of the quarter and they released a pretty impressive software update that must have convinced a fair number of users to take the jump – Folders, PDF pan and zoom, etc. Even if it is entirely due to the iPad where’s the joy for Kindle haters in knowing that their great multi-color hope is strengthening the Kindle ecosystem instead of killing it.

Kindle 3 rumors getting increased credence

The Kindle DX 2 appeared and it appeared almost exactly as had been predicted – in black, with better screen contrast, and with little else. It also arrived with a B009 serial number which makes you wonder what B006, B007, and B008 are.

This was quite a surprise because Internet rumors tend to, well, not pan out.

It suggests that the rumors of a thinner, faster, cheaper Kindle 3 with better screen contrast might indeed be true and that Kindle 3 might indeed arrive in August.

Interestingly, Amazon has initiated a series of price-cuts that seem almost too much of a coincidence – Kindle 2 is just $189, refurbished Kindles are $169 and $109.

We’re almost certainly going to get a Kindle 3 this year. There’s no way Amazon would leave 4 serial numbers missing if it didn’t have something lined up for the second half of 2010.

Andrew Wylie doing a Kindle exclusive and getting excommunicated by Random House

The entire Publishing World is stunned by Andrew Wylie breaking some mysterious unspoken agreement. Perhaps something along the lines of – Let’s take advantage of authors and readers. Middle-men forever.  

Apparently, it’s an unspoken agreement we were supposed to know about - Except that, since it was unspoken, no one knew exactly what it was. So now we don’t know whether Andrew Wylie broke some unspoken agreement or Publishers decided the unspoken agreement was exactly what it would have to be for Mr. Wylie to break it.

Actually, the real problem was that Publishers wanted to take advantage of authors and Mr. Wylie, quite rightly, decided he didn’t want the authors he represented to be taken advantage of.

Publishers are coming up with all sorts of elaborate defences – How having an exclusive is wrong. How Agents are not supposed to make Publishers spill their espressos on their croissants.

All sorts of fanciful things meant to hide the fact that they are scared to death by the realization that Amazon + Wylie/Agents = End of Publishers.

Kindle DX 2 being Kindle DX 1.5

The improved screen contrast is marvellous (more on that later) – However, it’s the only significant difference apart from the Graphite casing. Perhaps there are a few other things that didn’t register in my brain (like the price-cut) - However, Kindle DX 2 really seems to the ‘50% better contrast and graphite casing’ show.

It’s the downside of Amazon’s kaizen philosophy. It’s consistent, relentless improvement and there are times when it impresses you (Kindle 2.5 upgrade, the international Kindle release) and times when you feel there should have been more in a major release (Kindle 2, Kindle DX 2).

Amazon’s incremental improvements philosophy almost makes you think Amazon will release Kindle 4 with Red and Green out of the RGB scale and not add the Blue until Kindle 5.

Kindle DX 1.5 is delightful and cheaper and it’s also not sufficiently different to be an entire new release. The screen contrast improvement is bewitching - However, it would have been nice to get a few more features.

How much the Kindle DX 2 screen grows on you

There have been so many anecdotes about the improved eInk screen of the Kindle DX 2 - How it almost seems to glow in the dark (an exaggeration, though you might feel that way due to the better contrast), how people are delighted by it, how it increases the gap between eInk and LCD (it does – to the point that NY Times are in desperate search of an expert that will refute this).

Perhaps the best way to sum up the new eInk Pearl screen is – It’s really, really close to paper.

Perhaps the best way to explain the impact is that if you own the Kindle DX 2 you will love reading on it. Every other eReader and every other reading device will be unable to deliver as good of a reading experience.

It’s a pleasure to read on during the day, it’s easier to read on in low light settings, and it needs less light at night. The difference is clear and marked and the graphite casing adds to the improved screen contrast. It’s a pity the improved screen contrast is the only huge addition in Kindle DX 2 – However, it really is a hugely important addition.

The rise and stabilization of $12.99

We might have beaten the $14.99 price point. However, Publishers have established $12.99 as the new price point for new ebook releases. It’s our own impatience and reluctance to wait a few weeks for a book we desire that’s caused it. C’est la vie.

It makes you wonder if this was the aim all along – Perhaps $14.99 was merely an anchor to get us to feel $12.99 is reasonable. Perhaps it was a stroke of good luck on the part of Publishers. In either case a 30% price increase for ebooks is nothing to be smiling about (if you’re a reader) or to scoff at (if you’re a Publisher).

A mix of $9.99 and $12.99 is where we’re at and in 3 to 4 months Publishers will again slyly raise the price by a few dollars. They’ll announce $17.99 and we’ll gladly move to $14.99.

Publishers can enjoy $12.99 as much as they like. In a few years we won’t have Publishers and then they will have all the time in the world to tell each other grand stories of how they fooled their customers (without realizing that’s why they no longer have customers).

Barnes & Noble releasing Nook WiFi and having Nook 2 approved by the FCC

A perfect duplicate of the Nook with WiFi and no 3G for $149. It’s a remarkable accomplishment.

Who would have thought it is B&N, and not Sony, that is keeping up with Amazon. Not just keeping up – it’s a giant thorn in Amazon’s side. With its support for ePub and library books it’s quite a bother. Unfortunately (fortunately if you’re Amazon) it’s software and strategy keeps letting it down. The net result is that it’s become something of a motivational tool for the Kindle Team.

You have to wonder what the conversations at Lab 126 are like -

2 weeks before the new Nook launch: This is a serious threat. We better start working on new features to match it.   

1 week before the new Nook launch: What’s going to happen to our market share. Work faster. Plan out new features.

1 week after launch: Well, that was unexpected. It seems their test team was on vacation.

Perhaps with Nook 2 B&N will defeat its demons and manage to release a spectacular product. B&N doesn’t really have a choice – If it doesn’t get one out of Nook 2 and Nook 3 right it’s dead.

7 Things it’ll be fun to see

  1. What the Kindle 3 is like.
  2. What the Nook 2 is like.
  3. What the next generation of Sony Readers are like. They’ve just announced another price cut and it seems we might get Sony Reader 606, Kindle 3, and Nook 2 all in the same month.
  4. What Google Editions shapes up to be.
  5. What the Kindle App Store is like i.e. what apps are released and how Kindle owners react.
  6. What Authors and Literary Agents do over the next 6 months.
  7. What share of the market ebooks capture in the next 6 months.

eReaders and eBooks continue to be exciting and full of twists and turns. 2.5 years in and we still have no idea where everything is going to lead to.

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