11 Kindle thoughts for 2011

The Kindle family has had a very busy 2011. Here are 11 thoughts:

  1. It’s pretty remarkable that ‘1 million Kindle devices are being sold every week’
  2. Kindle Fire is diluting the Kindle brand. In these senses: Forums are now taken over by Kindle Fire owners, People have begun to associate Kindle with ‘Tablet’ (as opposed to eReader), the concept of ‘eInk Kindle as the best reading experience’ is slowly being eroded, the visibility of eInk Kindles is diminishing. iPad wasn’t the Kindle Killer but Kindle Fire might be.
  3. Kindle Fire is surviving despite being the anti-iPad. Is it polished so much it shines and glitters? No. Does it have 100,000 apps for it? Not even close. Does it convey status? Not exactly. Does it meet some unknown bar of ‘feels right and scrolls magically’? Probably not since no one knows what the bar is. While every company was trying to win by cloning the iPad, Amazon has taken the route B&N did and won by anti-cloning the iPad.
  4. Kindle Fire has shown the power of the Amazon and Kindle brands. Any other company which released a Beta Stage Tablet (which, quite frankly, is what Kindle Fire is), would have been skewered over an open flame with an extra dose of not-iPad barbecue sauce. Kindle Fire owners are almost universally willing to wait for software upgrades.
  5. Amazon has really messed up on the eInk Kindle front. If there are serious doubts whether Kindle 4 and Kindle Touch are even as good as Kindle 3 (they aren’t, if you’re wondering) – then there’s a problem. If Nook Touch and Kobo Touch cannot be ignored in any ‘Best Touch eReader’ conversation, and are even being picked as the winner in some conversations – then Kindle Touch isn’t good enough.
  6. It’s an unknown whether Amazon will focus as much (or even much) on Kindles. A part of me still thinks Amazon approached books because there was no other company seriously making a device for readers. That eInk Kindle was just a dry run and the ultimate aim was to make a mini-Amazon store. Kindle Fire is much closer to that. Amazon is focused on gaining Amazon.com customers and getting them to make Amazon.com purchases. Kindle Fire becomes much more important when you view things in that context. 
  7. Books are almost destroyed in terms of value. There are 300+ indie authors each day making their books free. There are hundreds of books on sale for $1 and $2 every month. The price pressure is incredible. Instead of being the preserve of gatekeeper Publishers, books are turning into the preserve of Supermarkets that use books as loss leaders.
  8. Bestseller Lists and Kindle Daily Deal are turning into the ONLY channels (B&N also has equivalents). These 2 sources are becoming the only sources that hold any power. There’s not really any other way that you can reach a large number of Kindle owners.
  9. Publishers still don’t get it. However, they are beginning to get it. Can’t really expound much on this without it taking over the post. In Summary: Publishers are now beginning to do what they should have ideally done 10 to 20 years ago to safeguard against what Amazon has done (reduced books to loss leaders). It’s amazing that they did not understand this even after Kindle was released. It’s almost as if they’re in a time-warp and realize things 3 to 5 years too late.
  10. Readers now need Publishers. We’ve gone through the Golden Period and now we’re in the muck. Who’s going to pick out the quality books? Not Amazon. It benefits from users coming to Amazon, getting frustrated with the slushpile, and buying something else instead. Think about what Amazon has done – it’s randomized free book offers and turned the Kindle Store into slot machines. You don’t know whether you’ll get rewarded or not. You do know that you’ll go to Amazon.com.
  11. Amazon’s 10 year plan might have NOTHING to do with books. All along the belief everyone was laboring under was – What is Amazon going to do with all this power? Is it going to take over Publishing? Perhaps the question should have been – What is Amazon going to do with this gigantic pile of loss leaders? Is it going to reduce books to complimentary glasses of lemonade that get customers in and get them to pay for a 4-course dinner?

Strangely enough, all this writing has brought on a few more thoughts:

  1. In a perfect market for books, there would be very little money left for 99% of Authors. The average author want to be read much more than the average reader wants to read.
  2. Amazon cares far more about bringing users into the Amazon eco-system than what happens to the future of paid books. Nothing wrong with that. Unless you’re an Author or Publisher who needs for there to be a future for paid books.
  3. Some readers want prices to go down from $10 to $1. Yet they still want Stephen King and Pat Conroy level books. This is the second biggest threat to the future of books.
  4. The biggest threat to the future of books is that the market is going to be controlled by a few stores/platforms. These few stores/platforms will have so much power they can do anything they wish.
  5. There’s not really a way back to a sustainable system. Amazon pays authors 35 cents for a $1 book, or it pays a few cents for the download costs of a free book. It then gets $X via other purchases by the customer who came in for the free/cheap book. Why would Amazon ever go back from this system? Ask any store whether it’d be willing to pay 2 cents per customer visit.
  6. All the eReaders and Tablets create an opportunity for a new platform to rise that goes direct from readers to authors. We need someone crazy like Craig Newmark or Jimmy Wales to say: Let’s just get authors 90% or 100% of what readers pay. What Louis C. K. is doing – except with a platform that lets any author do it.
  7. Books are in danger of going the way of content on the Internet. A large platform/search engine does Divide & Conquer and just uses content/books as free material to run ads against or as a lure to attract users.
  8. Author should be asking themselves why they are getting only 35% from books that are below $3. Why isn’t Amazon factoring in the money it makes from other things users buy? The 70% cut should be across all book prices. It’s a bit of a joke that an indie author strengthening Kindle sales and the Kindle Store and Amazon.com by selling his book for $1 gets only 35%.

This year has shown me a few things (which might be wrong assumptions or might be right ones) -

  1. Amazon understands what it is doing.
  2. Hardly anyone else understands what Amazon is doing. Perhaps no one at all.
  3. The same thing that Amazon has used to kill Publishers can be used to remove Amazon from the equation.
  4. Readers’ loyalties only lie with themselves. And to an extent with Authors. Amazon’s move to lock-in Kindle Store purchases now seems necessary and hardly evil.
  5. B&N will survive. If Amazon tries to buy it, there will be FTC and Justice Department interventions. Amazon should have bought it when it had the chance.
  6. Kobo is far, far more dangerous than anyone realizes. We’re talking about a company that is surviving amongst monsters. It’s evolving very, very fast. Kobo 1 was so bad it almost seemed a practical joke. Kobo Touch cannot be ignored. Kobo might be beating Amazon handily in eInk readers by mid 2012 (if it keeps improving at this rate).
  7. Authors are royally done for. The iron-handed but somewhat benevolent dictators/gatekeepers are being replaced by an unthinking, uncaring platform.
  8. The Book Revolution is almost certainly going to turn into the Book Apocalypse. Unless something or some company stops it in 2012 and 2013. We have just a few years to stop the ongoing destruction.

2011 has seen such rapid developments, especially in terms of the devaluation of books, that it’s very tough to figure out where we’ll be headed next. Unfortunately, 95% of the possibilities are dark and disquieting.

7 Responses

  1. If authors are done for then Amazon has engendered a cataclysm for the arts. I think most of us are at least dimly aware of a distinguishable artistic stagnation which has crept from music to visual art to literature in recent decades. I enjoy the Kindle, but if causes us to be suffocated in an avalanche of sub-mediocre independent scribblers, then we would have been better off without ereaders. Worse, the success of the Fire and tablets like it may prevent the public from properly taking on the habits of readers rather than omnivorous media consumers.

    • Agreed 100%. Hopefully someone will take the channels Amazon is creating (which aren’t fleshed out, but can be) between readers and authors.

      Anyone who can create a path of less resistance can replace Amazon.

  2. I disagree. I don’t think there’s a coming Book Apocalypse any more then there was the predicted Music Apocalypse a couple of years ago. Yeah, the model’s changed–it’s a lot easier to get books, and they’re a lot cheaper, and the ease of publishing means that there’s a lot of crap out there. All of that is true. But you know what? There was plenty of crap out there to begin with..

    The dust has finally started to settle on the digital music side of things, and you know what? The music industry, while different than it was 10 years ago, is still there. New bands are still writing and releasing songs, people are still buying them, and great new artists are still rising to the surface. I think we’ll see a similar model here. Good writers will still be noticed and will garner the fame and attention needed to set their prices higher, which will make it worth their while and keep the book industry afloat. Once the giddy prospect of cheap books gives way to the realism of lesser quality, and the public gets used to the new model, things will adjust

    There have been–and will continue to be–casualties along the wayside, and some people don’t seem to be able to look past that. But that’s the price of innovation in every part of life. Old things adapt or die off, and new things come along.

    People will write regardless, because that’s what writers do. People write because they love to write. The books will still be there. It will just be different than it was.

  3. Amazon understands what it is doing.
    Hardly anyone else understands what Amazon is doing. Perhaps no one at all.

    I had a hint of Amazon’s trajectory when I dubbed the KSO (what’s happened to that acronym, BTW) the “Kindeal,” when it came out, and said that the value of the device to Amazon was now shifting away from being a vehicle for selling books to one for selling everything else.

    I suspect that what Amazon’s doing now has a human component that might be overlooked: JB felt dissed by Apple and the Big 6 when they came out with the agency model, and his low-priced books and Kindles since then, including the Fire, have been (in part) “payback.”

  4. I agree 100% with # 10 on your first list. As the number of worthless self-published titles grows to thousands and then tens of thousands, overwhelmed readers will flee back into the arms of the Big 6, who at least offer some modest level of quality control.

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