Kindle 3 year anniversary thoughts

We just passed Kindle’s 3 year anniversary.

As the Kindle 3 and Kindle WiFi get ready for a holiday showdown with Nook Color and the new Sony Readers it’s worth taking a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come. Let’s look at the big Kindle + eReader surprises, the disappointments, and the hard to believe things.

12 Biggest Kindle, eReader Surprises

  1. Reading is cool again.
  2. That eReaders made it. While all of us were hoping that a device made just for readers would survive – you have to admit that most of us had a few niggling doubts.
  3. That eBooks are now 9% of the book market and might be 10% by end of 2010. To put it another way – Not only did eReaders survive they took the book market and in just 3 years turned 10% of it into ebooks.
  4. Apple getting into Books and releasing iBooks. It’s just not a good fit.
  5. We still don’t have a decision on orphan works and we still don’t have an offering from Google. 
  6. Amazon and Sony stuck with a dedicated eReader. At every turn it seemed like the companies would morph their eReaders into tablets and it’s a pleasant surprise that 2 of the big 3 have stuck with dedicated eInk eReaders.
  7. That the main-stream media and tech blogs still don’t get it. Just one more million eReaders sold and then they’ll believe eReaders really do exist – they promise.
  8. That there’s an entire eco-system around eReaders – Blogs, sites, cover manufacturers, independent authors, service providers, ebook publishers, iPhone book app publishers, public domain book sellers, and people making software for eReaders.
  9. The sheer number of companies that are taking a shot at making an eReader or selling books.   
  10. That ePub has amounted to nothing. eReaders supporting ePub were supposed to take over the world – Well, where are the 75% of people who were waiting to buy eReaders supporting ePub?
  11. That we’ve gone from $399 to $139 in 3 years. Price drops are expected but to drop to a third in 3 years is a good surprise. This probably also reflects Amazon’s focus on selling books rather than eReaders.
  12. The company behind eInk selling itself right when eReaders really began to take off.

A little more on one of the biggest surprises – That eReaders made it.

eReaders have made it and they’re transforming Publishing

We have somewhere between 5 and 10 million eReaders in the US. That’s exactly 5 to 10 million more than what the experts thought would sell.

eReaders have resulted in ebooks accounting for 9% of total book sales. They’ve given independent authors a channel to reach customers directly. They’ve put the fear of God into Publishers.

Companies like Apple and Google are trying to jump in. Every Tablet is pretending to be an eReader or claiming to be ‘great for reading’. Every company under the sun is making its own eReader.

eReaders have made Reading cool again.

One survey says eReaders are the #2 most wanted gift this Christmas and another says #3. Yet another survey says that more kids over 13 wants eReaders than iPhones. A high school in Florida has given every student a Kindle. Kids are reading again.

Lots of kids and grown-ups who couldn’t access paper books can now use large size fonts and text to speech to access books.

10 Biggest Disappointments

  1. That there isn’t a tough 4-way or 5-way race in eReaders. All we have in dedicated eReaders is Kindle 3 in front with Sony and Nook 1 struggling to keep up. B&N is trying to create the reading tablet segment which is commendable but doesn’t do much good other than motivate Amazon to launch a color Kindle sooner.
  2. That there isn’t a tough 3-way or 4-way race amongst ePaper companies. All we have is eInk and a bunch of companies that love to talk about all the amazing technology that they will one day show off at CES and then never release.
  3. Publishers – They’ve been raising ebook prices, limiting availability, turning off text to speech and LendMe. Worst of all, they kicked off the Agency Model in early 2010 and almost managed to slow down ebooks.
  4. We don’t yet have a color eInk eReader. We don’t really have any big breakthroughs – unless you consider the 50% better contrast of eInk Pearl to be one. In 3 years all eInk/PVI has done is taken us from 8 shades of grey, decent clarity, and 1.2 seconds per page turn to 16 shades of grey, much better clarity, and .5 seconds per page turn. eInk technology seems to be following reverse Moore’s Law – Every 2 years the technology improves 25%.
  5. Sony – It started the whole category but lost the script and is now fading away.
  6. B&N creating a reading tablet instead of making a dedicated, eInk-based Nook 2. Nook Color is very impressive but it’s not a device crafted for dedicated readers.
  7. The hotshot color eInk technologies have all failed to show up – Pixel Qi, Fujitsu, Mirasol, eInk’s own color eInk, Keny Displays, Nemoptic, Bridgestone’s QR-LPD, and LiquaVista are all still ‘in development’ or ‘arriving soon’. There’s talk of a Mirasol eReader debuting in Q3, 2011 which would be almost exactly 4 years after the Kindle 1.
  8. The non-stop deaths and disappearances of smaller eReader companies. Everyone from Readius to Skiff to Cool-er to Notion Ink to Plastic Logic is either dead or indefinitely delayed.
  9. That apps and services for eReaders haven’t really arrived. Where’s the great recommendation engine? Where’s the eReader to eReader social network? Where are the services and software that will add real, solid value to readers’ lives?
  10. Larger screen eReaders. Kindle DX is one of the few available choices. All the large screen eReaders seem expensive when compared to the smaller eReaders. A lack of competition has really hurt this segment  

The first 2 disappointments are critical and may very slow down the advance of eReaders.  

Lack of Competition = Lack of Innovation

We currently have Kindle with a huge lead in eReaders and PVI is the only viable ePaper manufacturer. That just kills innovation.

When the Nook first came out we saw Amazon add PDF support, cut prices, and add a bunch of other good features. With the threat of a Nook 2 looming we saw a Kindle 3 that was an improvement across the board and much cheaper.

Now, with B&N releasing Nook Color instead of Nook 2 and Sony Readers being priced so high, who’s going to force Amazon to evolve?

It’s the same with eInk/PVI which is happy to add one feature per decade while other ePaper makers produce Press Releases rather than ePaper.

In both eReaders and  eInk/ePaper we need a lot of competition – competition that forces Amazon and eInk/PVI to improve, competition that forces all eReader companies to evolve, and competition that will undoubtedly create revolutionary new technologies that will accelerate eReader and eBook adoption.

11 Hard to Believe Things

  1. Amazon’s level of dominance – 50% to 70% of eReader sales, 80% or more of eBook sales. An iPad survey claims more iPad owners use Kindle for iPad than iBooks – for the first time ever an iPad survey might be right.
  2. Nook and Sony Reader both being sold out during 2009 holiday season and handing everything to Amazon. You have to try very hard to run out of stock during holiday season – Despite Amazon messing up in 2007 and 2008 its competitors didn’t learn and gave Amazon the market.
  3. B&N releasing an eReader in 2009 and B&N releasing a Reading Tablet in 2010. At some level you expect B&N to slowly die without putting up much of a fight. You don’t expect it to be the catalyst that re-invigorates eReaders and forces Amazon to evolve Kindles drastically and rapidly.
  4. Publishers refusing to see the opportunity. You go up to a Publisher and tell him – Let me get rid of used book sales and book lending and eliminate returns and shipping costs. Let me also give you the opportunity to instantly meet user demand, know how well books are selling, and figure out what’s working and what’s not. The Publisher punches you in the gut and starts running around finding ways to upset readers. It makes no sense.
  5. The wide range of patents filed. Qualcomm has a device with 3 screens which morphs into different devices based on how you arrange the screens. Amazon has a patent for a device that recognizes gestures and also a patent for an electronic pen that syncs with the cloud. If even one of these patents makes it into an actual eReader it’d be a big step forward.
  6. Kindle Store becoming a viable place for independent publishers to not only get book deals but also to make a living. It’s only a few authors at the moment but it’s bound to increase.
  7. Publishers letting new publishing upstarts like Rosetta Books and OR Books get digital rights for a lot of good backlist books.
  8. That we still don’t know how many Kindles have been sold.
  9. New York Times will have an eBook Bestsellers List. It’s just 3 years and already there’s a separate eBook Bestsellers List.
  10. Amazon still doesn’t support library books.
  11. The sheer number of free book offers. It’s mostly the Kindle Store but even other stores get a lot of free offers. Now that we have days with 10+ free kindle books it’s hard to believe there was a time when there were no free book offers (most of 2008).  

For me the hardest thing to visualize/comprehend is that there are now millions and millions of people with Kindles – It’s 100 huge stadiums full of people – each holding a Kindle.

It’s morphed from the early pioneers into pretty much 20% of the book reading population of the US.

Looking back in Wonder

Here are a couple of posts you might find interesting -

  1. Kindle, eReader Thoughts at the end of 2009
  2. Kindle’s First 2.25 years.  

It’s strange to see some things stay exactly the same and other things morph so dramatically.

Where are we headed?

2011 and 2012 promise to be very interesting and exciting.

Will we get to tens of millions of eReaders sold a year? Will eBooks account for 25% or more of market share? Will $75 and $100 eReaders become commonplace?

Will Amazon continue to dominate both eReaders and eBooks? Is there any revolutionary new technology or business model waiting to wrest away the momentum? Could Nook Color put B&N in the drivers’ seat?

Will we really see color eInk based eReaders next year? Does Apple really have a 7″ mini iPad that’s focused on reading? What will Google Books look like and what eReaders and devices will it tie up with?

What eReader services will we see? Will Kindle Apps and Nook Apps make a difference? Will someone create a better reading app for iPhone and iPad than Kindle for iPad and Nook for iPad?

The Kindle 3 is likely to take over the dedicated eReader market this holiday season and color eInk eReaders are set to arrive in 2011. Beyond that, everything’s up in the air.

There’s a lot to look forward to and we might be about to enter the golden age of eReaders – perhaps even a golden age of reading.

14 Responses

  1. Happy Thanksgiving Switch 11 and so grateful for all the great Kindle information :)

  2. Wow, there’s a lot of material for comment here. Maybe too much, since none have been posted! Anyway, here are a few off-the-cuff responses.

    Surprises:

    “Apple getting into Books and releasing iBooks. It’s just not a good fit.”

    Agree. I’m surprised this is the first time I’ve seen this observation made. Running an attractive online bookstore is very tough, as Jobs will discover.

    “That the main-stream media and tech blogs still don’t get it.”

    Mostly disagree. The Kindle 3 has gotten rave reviews in the mainstream press. Resistance is fading, except among some tech bloggers.

    “That there’s an entire eco-system around eReaders.”

    Agree. It feels like the early days of the PC revolution, when green shoots were sprouting everywhere.

    “That we’ve gone from $399 to $139 in 3 years. Price drops are expected but to drop to a third in 3 years is a good surprise. This probably also reflects Amazon’s focus on selling books rather than eReaders.”

    Disagree. This is more the result of a price war, started in desperation. Amazon is just along for the ride. It was strategically wise of them to match the low prices, although now they’re probably only breaking even on the Kindle.

    “eReaders have made it and they’re transforming Publishing”

    Agree. This is most gratifying to me, because I remember hassling with the naysayers in the hierarchy at the Boing Boing site in the wake of the K1’s release. I.e., Cory Doctorow and Theresa Nielson Hayden, a veteran of the publishing industry. The latter made these fatuous statements and assertions:

    That dedicated devices are a dead end: “My Blackberry has eaten my phone, calculator, PDA, game player, and cellphone modem. I trust that some future Blackberry offshoot will eat the dedicated ebook reader I’m not bothering to buy.”

    That the failure of print-on-demand publishing to support indie self-publishing implied that indie publishing on e-books would also fail, a non sequitur.

    That the failure of e-books to catch on to date implied that they would continue to fail, another non sequitur.

    And this howler: “Believe me, this DRM schema is Amazon’s, not the publishers’.”

    I was so PO’d at her smug insularity that I stopped visiting the site.

    Disappointments:

    “That there isn’t a tough 4-way or 5-way race in eReaders.”
    “The non-stop deaths and disappearances of smaller eReader companies. Everyone from Readius to Skiff to Cool-er to Notion Ink to Plastic Logic is either dead or indefinitely delayed.”

    But this is the result of the price cuts, which have made the field profitless, and of the high bar set by the K3, which has probably discouraged me-too competitors. And I’m not disappointed; I don’t want the e-book field to be fragmented.

    “Larger screen eReaders. Kindle DX is one of the few available choices. All the large screen eReaders seem expensive when compared to the smaller eReaders. A lack of competition has really hurt this segment.”

    This is where the smaller companies should have produced a product, instead of competing head-on with the big boys. The ideal would be a half-height DX, where there’s no competition, and where the potential customers are well-heeled and motivated.

    “we need a lot of competition – competition that forces Amazon and eInk/PVI to improve, …”

    Failing that, let’s spur them on with threads that imply that the Kindle lacks features—i.e., pestering them about improvements they should add.

    Hard to Believe:

    “Amazon still doesn’t support library books.”

    It would make little business sense for them to do so, because with the Kindle’s new low price they’re now more dependent than ever on sales of books to make profits. There’s lots of CS overhead involved in their Kindle sales too, and I don’t think they want to waste it on book-borrowers rather than –buyers. Let B&N cope with them.

    • Yes, it makes little sense for Amazon to add ePub support or library book support. My suspicion is that becoming dependent on book revenue is going to end up killing Amazon.
      Perhaps it hopes that at some point everyone drops out and it can raise prices or perhaps it thinks it can make up by selling Kindles in very high volumes so tiny profits add up.

      This is a big Kindle weakness though.

      • I can see what you’re saying. This price war with a desperate opponent has got to hurt Amazon. I can see Amazon’s Kindle division taking losses for five years. It’s very generous CS policies can’t help. (“Kill” is too strong a word; it sells many products besides books today.)

        But that’s only considering its revenue as a bookseller. Once the bulk of the e-book acquisition process has occurred, Amazon will be in a position to supplant publishers, and to take a larger share of revenue from the ones that remain. That’s when the present sacrifice will pay off. Its “book revenue” won’t just be as a retailer then.

      • I do use ‘kill’ liberally ;)

        Amazon is trying to encourage reasonable book prices with its minimum $3 price to get 70%. However, the cat is out of the bag. The freer and more competitive the market the lower prices go.
        If we look at what’s happening with iPhone App Store or on the Internet.

        There are so many companies that are desperate to make a name for themselves they don’t mind killing profitability.

        Same is going to happen with books. Prices will go to zero and then Amazon’s ‘make money from blades’ strategy will be toast.

      • “Prices will go to zero and then Amazon’s ‘make money from blades’ strategy will be toast.”

        Maybe they’ll make it up on volume? Or on inside-the-book advertising?

        The return of the dime novel, eh? I can see a great price drop in fiction in five or ten years, now that you’ve made such a daring forecast, but I think the authors of today’s bestsellers will hold the line at $5. Or surely at $3. At least for a decade. Wow, you’ve blown my mind. (Keep it under your hat and don’t let Amazon know!)

        Nonfiction ought to be less affected, except the lightweight & self-help / inspirational variety. It’s not like fiction, where many amateurs can spin a captivating yarn. It requires some expertise.

        And nonfiction won’t have so much low-cost competition from dead authors. There’s a ton of great fiction from days of yore that only needs to be properly packaged (for the Kindle) and publicized in order to be given a second life. But most backlist nonfiction either becomes technically outdated, or loses its topical appeal. (The autobiographies of celebrities, etc.)

  3. PS: Amazon needn’t meet the competition from touch and color with a me-too response, but by a major improvement in some other area. Amazon should avoid spreading themselves too thin, with touch and color.

    For instance, what if it allowed the Kindle to send and receive e-mail the way cell phones do, and perhaps provided a slide-out, landscape-mode, comfortably wide keyboard to make typing them easy? The customers would have to pay by the megabyte, but they could stand it.

    Such a model, even if sold at a premium over the mainline K3 and K4 models, would be a more effective wow-factor “counter,” I think.

  4. PPS: By doing this Amazon would “round out” its B&W keyboard line. That’s what it should do first, before branching out.

    • Agreed on this point.

      Amazon is much better off rounding out its Kindle eInk black and white line and taking firm grasp of core readers and people who don’t care much about flash and color.

      It’s done a good job of doing that so far – It’ll be interesting to see what they do in 2011.

  5. The second ‘Hard to Believe’ point is very US-centric. As I write the K3 IS in fact sold out over the holiday season for all but US and UK customers — Amazon lists a shipping delay of up to three months for worldwide customers. So it seems like they HAVE indeed messed up on the planning again, as before: none of the rest of us get Kindles for Christmas…. In fairness perhaps no-one could have foreseen the overwhelming demand for the things.

    • Terence, that’s a good point. Thanks for bringing it up.

      Definitely one to add to the Hard to Believe list. 3 years out of 4 Amazon has had stock issues.

  6. Surprise #6, the thing with Sony is that they are not a very well run company when it comes to organization. Each division is like their own company. They almost never work together.

    So a tablet is not likely from them, because who would make it? The computer division? The gaming division? The e-reader one? The phone divison? They could never all work together.

    • That’s a good point – they do have some divisions that make very good stuff – but don’t see which one would take responsibility (or be allowed to take responsibility) for making a Tablet.

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