The Kindle has probably had a pretty good Thanksgiving Weekend. It’s certainly had a pretty good three years.
As we head into December there’s something about all the Kindle Killers and eBook-Market-stealers and ‘better than Kindle’ Kindle competitors that’s worth considering – None of them is actually trying to replace the book.
The Kindle replaces the book
If you try to figure out what the Kindle’s unique selling proposition is you run into a bit of a problem.
The Kindle isn’t like any other electronic device. It’s not very shiny and it doesn’t do a lot of things and it’s not going to help you show off. It doesn’t do ‘new gadget’ things and it’s not focused on color or touch or jazzy new technology. It’s not the flavor of the month and it’s not ‘new’ and it’s not trying to be.
Perhaps the reason the Kindle isn’t like any other electronic device is that it isn’t one. It’s just a book – a new, evolved form but a book nonetheless.
Amazon and the Lab 126 team are replacing the book and they’re not pretending that people will drop something they’re comfortable with and move over to a completely new something else.
So the Kindle tries very hard to replicate the reading experience – it uses eInk, it tries its best to fade into the background, it doesn’t let you do anything other than read, it focuses you on reading, and it tries its best to duplicate a physical book.
People who complain the Kindle isn’t a book don’t realize how similar it is
You hear people complain about how the Kindle doesn’t smell like a book and it doesn’t look like a book.
Well, the Kindle can’t smell like a book and it can’t look like a book. It’s not made of paper and wax.
What the Kindle can do, and what it does do very well, is replicate the reading experience. The Kindle duplicates the reading experience you would have with a book and that’s far more meaningful than the smell of wax and ink.
So, Amazon has taken the Kindle and turned it into something that mimics the book reading experience very well. eInk is a huge part of it as is the focus on reading. You get lots of book-like features - long battery life, compactness, portability, simplicity, independence from other devices.
Set aside all the extrinsics and you find that most of the intrinsics of the book reading experience are there.
Some Kindle Competitors are trying to get rid of the book
If you look at the Nook Color or the iPad or at the iPhone you get a very different message – Get rid of books. You don’t really need them. Try something else.
If you disagree consider the weight these devices are putting on color and animation and video. If they were trying to replicate books they wouldn’t care about animation or video one tiny bit. They care so much about non-reading things because they feel the book is ancient and should be thrown away and replaced with some multimedia monstrosity that spoils a good story by having low quality video and cheesy animations.
Books = Think Different, Non-Books = Think What We Want You to Think
Take a look at the Alice in Wonderland story app for iPad that was being touted as a big deal.
Would you rather have your kids imagine what Alice looks like when she’s growing and shrinking or would you rather they have it spoonfed to them with over the top animations?
A lot of these devices are approaching books from a TV mentality – let’s show people, let’s advertise to them, let’s inculcate desire, let’s introduce homogeneity. A non-book is simply an image created to further some other goal.
A book paints a story as a rough outline - your imagination fills in everything.
When we discard books for non-books, which have images and video and which flesh out the story completely, there’s nothing left for the reader to do. We aren’t even readers at that point – we’re passive consumers.
We aren’t ‘enriching’ books by overloading them with multimedia. We’re discarding their best part - our imaginations.
The Kindle is excellent at the Imagination part
The Kindle replicates the two qualities of the book that make it so great for exercising our imaginations -
- There are only words – The story lets you fill in all the details.
- There are no distractions - You can commit to the story.
None of the multitude of tablets and smartphones which supposedly ’destroy/kill/maim/murder/castrate/decapitate/flagellate’ the Kindle every few months have either of these two crucial qualities.
People who truly want to use their imaginations will choose books or Kindles.
Of course, we have LCD-compatible, never-distracted superhumans amongst us whose eyes burn so brightly that LCD screens seem dim and actually improve their sleep habits. For them, Tablets are perfect. Us humans – we need books or something that replicates books.
The Kindle isn’t going to be beaten by a device that is trying to destroy books. You might sell 50 million TV-watching, Game-playing tablets and call them eReaders – that doesn’t change a thing.
No Tablet is ever going to replace books. It might destroy books – it’s definitely not going to replace them.
That leaves us with the dedicated eInk Readers from Sony, B&N, and other companies. Fortunately for Amazon, all these ‘Kindle Killers’ are making a very fundamental mistake.
The Kindle makes everything easy and convenient – just like a book
When you have a book with you – you can read it anytime, you never have to worry about battery life, you don’t need a computer, you don’t need to start it up, you don’t need a WiFi hotspot, if you’re into the book you don’t really care what’s going on around you or in the world. It’s easy to forget everything else and get lost in the book.
It’s very easy. There’s no friction. There are no distractions. The battery never runs out.
There are also no additional charges – You don’t have to pay per use or for bandwidth or for anything else.
The Kindle is mimicking that. Battery life is weeks. Everything except reading is terrible so there are no distractions. Everything is easy. You don’t need a computer. Books download in 60 seconds – You don’t even have time to go check the mail while you’re waiting. The dictionary is built-in. There are no wireless charges.
Basically, the Kindle is doing its best to be as easy and convenient as a physical book.
It misses out in some areas (durability, low price, free sharing) and improves on the book in other areas (carrying thousands of books, in-built dictionary, reference, search).
Rival eReaders are losing out by being difficult to use
Consider the Nook – It added a touchscreen to show book covers and for navigation.
What book needs a touchscreen?
99% of the time you’re doing page turns. You don’t need a touchscreen. You also don’t need to be able to see book covers in color. That’s replicating a supermarket book display shelf – not replicating a book.
A book is simple, Nook isn’t
A book is painfully simple to use – you open it and start reading. That’s it.
With the Nook 1 you have difficult to use menus and the touchscreen-eInk discord - It’s complicated and it’s just not a very book-like experience.
Only a non-book would require a computer
Lots of people defend the Sony Reader and say it takes them 30 seconds to load a book from their computer. That’s not the point. The point is that they have to use a computer. .
It’s not about laziness. It’s about having to do a very non-book thing with something that’s supposed to replace your books. Imagine if every book had to be taken to a computer before you could start reading it.
The Sony Readers simply don’t care about convenience – If you want to add a note you have to go into a special mode. That’s the most non-book like thing they could have possibly come up with. Imagine if your book required you to transform it into a special form to be able to take notes in it. Then you had to press a special button to be able to highlight. Then another special button to turn pages.
It’s a mockery of the simplicity of a book.
Kindle rivals need to take the path of least resistance
eReader companies have very different perspectives on how to make a great eReader.
- Sony thinks – How can we make a great electronic device to read books on? What cool features can we add? Can we add a touchscreen?
- Sony is so engrossed in making a great electronic device it doesn’t figure out that page turn buttons make more sense on the side. There are a dozen other small but important details Sony misses because it’s not really thinking about replacing books.
- B&N thinks – Let’s match a lot of the Kindle’s features. Let’s add a lot of the features that Kindle owners are asking for.
- B&N is so focused on replicating the Kindle and then improving on it that it forgets - It’s supposed to replicate a book and not the Kindle. B&N’s focus on one-upping the Kindle results in the complicated, hard to use interface. It wants to beat the Kindle by having lots of options and a touchscreen but it forgets that a book has neither.
The path of least resistance is to simply make a book. Not a Kindle killer. Not a beautiful ‘Sony’ electronic device that happens to be an eReader. A book.
All these companies are trying to replace books and yet they are focused on making electronic gadgets. They have to make something as simple as a book and yet they keep finding ways to add complexity.
There isn’t really a true Kindle competitor
iPad is trying for a bit of a paradigm shift - It wants to replace books and reading with something else entirely. Same for smartphones and Android Tablets.
Nook Color is a great device that misses out on the two things that most make eReaders like books – eInk and a lack of distractions.
Nook 1 and the new Sony Readers miss out on the simplicity aspect and the fact that they are replicating books and not making shiny electronic gadgets.
The Kindle is, unfortunately, the only eReader that’s actually trying to replicate books. At some level it’s a sort of respect for readers – We know you love books and you love to read. We aren’t going to tell you that your reading and your books ought to share the stage with something you don’t like to do. We’re just going to try and make what a book would be like if it were invented in the 21st century.