Which is the next Kindle App we will get?

Noticed on the official Kindle forum that someone is asking for a Kindle for Windows Mobile App. Add in the various other requests and we have a few possibilities for what comes next –

  1. Kindle for Android. 
  2. Kindle for Symbian (Nokia Phones).
  3. Kindle for Palm Pre. 
  4. Kindle for Windows Mobile. Perhaps Kindle for Windows Phone Series 7 (how about a short, cute name Microsoft?).
  5. Kindle for Linux.
  6. Kindle for Chrome.
  7. Kindle for non-smart cellphones.
  8. Kindle for Tablets other than iPad (if they don’t use Android like Dell Streak does or don’t use WebOS like HP Hurricane will).

It’s worth exploring each of these in further detail.

The case for releasing additional Kindle Apps

Kindle for Android Pros and Cons

There are some obvious benefits of releasing Kindle for Android –

  1. Huge number of cellphone providers adopting Android.
  2. Lots of Tablet manufacturers adopting Android too.
  3. You can get in before Google Editions releases.
  4. There aren’t very many ebook apps serving Android users at the moment.
  5. It’s the anti-Apple OS and helping strengthen it makes Apple products a tiny bit less attractive.  

The downsides are obvious – you might create an enemy more powerful than Apple. 

Kindle for Symbian (Nokia Phones)

Symbian accounts for 46.9% of smartphone sales. That’s 78.5 million units a year. Kindle for Nokia would reach a lot of potential customers.

Nokia is huge in Europe and Asia and Amazon are one of the few global ebook retailers. It’s a natural fit. It would make the Kindle much more appealing to European readers. Perhaps most importantly it would provide a channel into markets that Amazon doesn’t yet have a good foothold in.

The downside is that Nokia is struggling a bit with its smartphone direction (well, at least it seems that way) and there are a lot of devices to test. The support aspect might be a nightmare.

Kindle for Windows Phone 7 Series (or for Windows Mobile)

There are still a lot of phones with Windows Mobile. Windows Phone 7 Series is supposed to be very good and there might be an uptick in adoption.

It would not be that much of a jump to go from Kindle for PC to Kindle for 7 Series.

The downside is that Microsoft has been losing mobile OS market share consistently.

Kindle for Palm Pre

Now that HP has bought Palm WebOS becomes a very important platform. You have –

  1. The upcoming HP Hurricane tablet that will use WebOS. 
  2. Palm Pre and other Palm smartphones using WebOS.

A lot of people who want a Tablet and are unhappy with Apple’s closed ecosystem are looking for an alternative and HP’s Hurricane (slated for Q3, 2010) might fill the gap. That would necessitate Amazon building a Kindle for WebOS.

The downside is that Palm sold to HP for a reason. They were doing really, really badly. HP’s Hurricane is very far away and while HP is a force to be reckoned with there’s no guarantee they’ll do well in Tablets or even cellphones.

Kindle for non-smart cellphones

As reading on cellphones in Japan explodes Amazon has got to be wondering if cellphones could be turned into reading devices in other countries.

The vast majority of cellphones are not smart and yet their owners are just as likely to read books as smartphone owners (even if there is a difference it’s probably not huge). There are a few good reasons for Amazon to explore non-smart cellphones –

  1. There are literally billions of non-smart cellphones. 
  2. Users carry them everywhere – reading on cellphones could fill in all the little breaks they get. 
  3. There’s very little competition.

The downside is that the carriers would want a big cut – something Amazon can’t really afford. Kindle for cellphones would have to find a way to bypass the carriers and that might be a non-solvable problem.

Kindle for Tablets other than iPad

A lot of these tablets are going to be covered by Kindle for Android, Kindle for PC, and Kindle for WebOS. It does leave some tablets.

It’s probable that Amazon will wait a year or so and see what Tablets (if any) succeed and then if needed create a custom Kindle App. Just as there is a custom Kindle for iPad although iPad uses iPhone OS we might see custom Kindle Apps for the Tablets that win out even if they use Android or WebOS.

Amazon has a lot of incentive to produce a good Kindle app for these Tablets. It’s best for Amazon if there is lots of competition in the Tablet market and no clear winner that could take over reading on Tablets.

Amazon are currently helping sell a non-trivial amount of iPads thanks to their excellent Kindle for iPad app. They probably want to start helping other Tablet companies too.

Kindle for Linux

Adding a Linux app would add to the Windows and Mac versions and cover the unholy trifecta of operating systems. It also takes care of the rather strange situation that Kindle uses Linux but there isn’t a Kindle for Linux app.

The downside is that there are so many flavors that support and testing would both be incredibly tough.

Kindle for Chrome

The upside is that you get another non-Apple OS that you strengthen and one that might end up in lots of mobile devices and lots of tablets and netbooks.

The downsides are that it’s in its infancy and there aren’t very many products coming out with Chrome.

What will be the next Kindle App to come out?

My money’s on Kindle for Android. There have been sightings of a Dell Streak flyer advertising Kindle on the Streak so it’s pretty much a given that Kindle for Android will arrive before or with the Dell Streak. That should be soon.

Close behind in probability is Kindle for Symbian (mostly Nokia phones). It has 46.9% of the smartphone market and has great reach in Europe – a market Amazon probably want to focus on after the US.  

After that you get three interesting choices – trying to address the almost unsolvable problem of non-smart cellphones, believing that Microsoft can win with Windows Phone 7 Series, or assuming HP will turn WebOS into a big success. The latter two would be good bets to make. Microsoft and HP are both underrated giants and there’s a good chance at least one will create a decent solution.

Ladies and Gentlemen, we should expect to see Kindle for Android, Kindle for Symbian, and Kindle for WebOS this year. Amazon has been developing its platform and the Kindle service faster than the Kindle itself and don’t see that strategy changing much.

Potential for Kindle for mobile in China, India, Russia, Brazil

Amazon have released Kindle for iPhone and Kindle for Blackberry and, if the Dell Streak flyers are accurate, are set to release Kindle for Android. Have been pretty critical of the sales potential for ebooks via these channels because they don’t compare well with dedicated eReaders – May or may not be under-estimating their potential.

Where I’m definitely wrong in terms of sales potential of ebooks via mobile is China, India, Russia, and Brazil. Mostly for two reasons –

  1. Most mobile owners in these countries can’t afford a dedicated eReader and might not be able to for a long time (2 to 4 years or more). This was pointed out in a comment (thanks!).
  2. The sheer numbers of mobile subscribers means that even single digit ebook reading adoption rates would translate to huge ebook sales. 

The number of mobile subscribers in these countries is highlighted by a recent post titled ‘Staggering mobile stats in Brazil, Russia, India, China’ at eMarketer.

There really are Ridiculous numbers of mobile phone subscribers in China, India, Russia, and Brazil

Here are the stunning numbers for mobile subscribers in BRIC –

  1. China – 747 million. It’s projected to grow to 1.3 billion subscribers by 2014.
  2. India – 525 million. Projected to grow to 853 million by 2014.
  3. Russia – 174 million. Projected to grow to 200 million by 2014.
  4. Brazil – 174 million. Projected to grow to 212 million by 2014.

Even 1% of that number (16.4 million) would be a tantalizing market. However, we can do better than just randomly guess at the market for books in these countries.

What are the sizes of the book market in China, India, Brazil, and Russia?

The numbers are really enticing when you dig a little deeper –

  1. Beijing Review estimated China’s Book Market at $5.6 billion a year in 2004.
  2. Russia’s book market is estimated at $3 billion a year in 2008 (courtesy the Frankfurt Book Fair website).
  3. The Bookseller estimates Brazil’s book market at $1.7 billion a year in 2008.
  4. India’s book market is estimated to be at $1.5 billion a year (courtesy Prayatna, figures are for 2005). The English segment is estimated at between 20% and 45%.

That adds up to $11.8 billion a year. Factor in the growth in India and China since 2004/2005 and these markets probably total up to about half the size of the US market ($25 billion a year).

Another point worth considering is that there’s a significant English-speaking population (courtesy Wikipedia’s list of countries by English-speaking population, the usual disclaimers apply) –

  1. India has the second largest population of English speakers in the world (232 million). 
  2. Even China and Russia have sizeable English-speaking populations – 10 million or so for China (alternate sources claim a 20 million figure) and 7 million or so for Russia.

The percentage of the population that understands English has been growing in both India and China and allegedly so has the reading population.

We have huge populations and huge book reading populations

The intersection between the book reading population and the cellphone owning population in BRIC ought to be reasonably high – Factors like living in cities, being middle class or better off, and knowing English probably increase the probability of both owning a cellphone and of reading books. 

It would be reasonable to estimate that at least the same percentage of mobile phone subscribers are book readers as is the case in the general population. Given that over 50% of the populations of BRIC have mobile phone subscriptions we ought to be able to reach 50% of the book reading populations in these countries.

If you don’t like that random estimate just cut it to 25%. It still leaves us with users who spend $2.95 billion a year on books.

Will all these mobile phone subscribers read books? Will they use Kindle for mobile?

We’ve already established (by means of totally random guesswork 😉 ) that 25% to 50% of the book reading populations of the BRIC countries are available as potential mobile ebook customers.

Which brings us to some questions (with answers/guesses included) –

  1. Will users actually read on phones? Perhaps. People in Japan love to do it though they probably have very advanced phones.
  2. Will users pay for books? This is a good question. It’s possible that wider availability of titles and reasonable prices encourage more book purchases. It’s also possible that book piracy takes off.
  3. Will users use Kindle for Mobile? Given that the Kindle Store has lower prices than anywhere else (and that BRIC will be price conscious) it’s likely that they will choose Kindle for Mobile if/when they pay for ebooks.

This is the sobering part. We have a potential $11.8 billion market and 25% of that ($2.95 billion a year, a conservative estimate) is available via their mobile phones. However, there are several barriers to getting them to read on the phone and to pay for ebooks. We might only be able to capture 10% of the market.

How could Amazon leverage Kindle for Mobile in BRIC?

There are a few big weaknesses of the way English books and books in general are sold in these countries –

  1. Unrealistic prices for books. For example – Books in India are priced close to their prices in the US.  
  2. Low range and poor availability. A lot of books never reach BRIC countries and when they do the numbers are limited. All the transportation and storage issues affect availability (and probably the prices too). 
  3. Not enough targeting of non-English speakers. If you have an ebook store you can sell books in other languages and add ‘shelves’ at minimal cost.
  4. Low number of bookstores. Plus they’re difficult to get to and they’re not open 24/7. If you’ve driven in China or India you’ll realize that every trip to a bookstore is an adventure (that promises to be of the abruptly ending kind).
  5. Lack of Infrastructure – The publishing and bookstore model is built for countries with very good infrastructure (roads and transport) and where lots of people have their own cars or other reliable means of transport. It breaks down in most parts of the BRIC countries.
  6. Very high inefficiencies. Consider books that aren’t published in a BRIC country – They have to be shipped all the way, stored, displayed and sold. With mobile books it’s just a mobile download.

For a company like Amazon that loves kaizen and quality and improving things this is a fantasy. There’s almost no way to get into mobile books in BRIC and avoid greatly improving the status quo.

The question on potential market size is interlinked with the question of whether a good range of books is available at good prices and conveniently. The answer to the latter is most definitely not and it’s hard to answer the first.

The mobile ebook market in BRIC is a mystery

While we can say that there’s a huge potential market worth billions of dollars and that the current options and choices in BRIC (for reading on mobiles and reading in general) are terrible it’s hard to say what the reaction would be to a very good offering.

It’s the type of opportunity that might turn out to be colossal or might end up nowhere.

The good thing is that by selling ebooks and by targeting the major platforms (Nokia etc.) Amazon or another company could explore the BRIC market cheaply and quickly. It wouldn’t cost much to figure out whether the BRIC mobile ebook market is worth pursuing.

Amazon's Kindle on other devices strategy

Amazon released Kindle for Blackberry yesterday and it’s a good time to come back to the advantages and disadvantages of making Kindle software and eBooks available on various devices.

Here’s what Amazon is offering with Kindle for Blackberry –

  1. US only. 
  2. Supported devices include Bold 9000, Bold 9700, Curve 8520, Curve 8900, Storm 9530, Storm 9550, Tour 9630.   
  3. You get the 400,000+ books in the Kindle Store at their usual cheap prices.
  4. The basic reading and Whispernet functionality is enabled.  
  5. There are 3 future enhancements slated – scrolling in addition to page turns, search, and creating notes and highlights.  

Kindle for Blackberry means that Amazon are now letting Blackberry owners read Kindle books without owning a Kindle.

Is it a good decision to let users get Kindle books without buying a Kindle?

A past post – Are Kindle for PC, iPhone Hedges? addressed this question to a certain extent.

The answer now, as then, is that letting users get Kindle books without buying a Kindle is a great idea –

  1. It weakens the position of competing eReaders if they don’t offer their books on non-eReader platforms. 
  2. Every single Kindle ebook purchase locks users into the Kindle ecosystem. 
  3. Using Kindle software and buying Kindle eBooks makes users likelier to read more and graduate to buying a Kindle. 
  4. There might be some Kindle sales lost – However, they are unlikely to be a lot and those users still buy Kindle eBooks.
  5. The more Kindle eBooks are sold the stronger the Kindle Store gets and the stronger the Kindle gets.

An important thing to keep in mind is that most of these are long-term bonuses.

Amazon is setting up the Kindle for long-term dominance 

People are looking at things in the immediate to 1 year time-frame and assuming it’s a loss for Amazon i.e.

A Kindle for Blackberry user now means that the user will not buy a Kindle.

The other, equally myopic, perspective is that Amazon is hedging its bets and doesn’t believe in the Kindle device.

Actually, Amazon are looking at things with the long-term and very long-term implications in mind –

  1. What happens in 10 years?
  2. Can we dominate both eReaders and eBooks?
  3. How do we get people to read more?
  4. How do we get people who wouldn’t buy an eReader to read more?
  5. What’s an easy introduction to the Kindle eco-system.
  6. What moves are going to be hugely significant 10 to 15 years down the line.

It makes sense to let readers on as many devices as possible read Kindle Books and to introduce as many people as possible to the Kindle eco-system.

Kindle for PC, iPhone, Blackberry work in conjunction with Amazon’s other moves

It’s not just with Kindle for devices that Amazon is showing its long-term thinking. There are lots more examples –

  1. The $9.99 prices and taking losses on books. 
  2. Amazon Encore. 
  3. Mr. Bezos talking about there being a Kindle 10.  
  4. The speed with which Amazon have responded to competition (especially recently in response to Nook and iPad).
  5. Letting authors get 70% of ebook prices.

Amazon intends to be the platform for all of Publishing and it’s certainly moving according to a 10 to 20 year blueprint.

What really happens with Kindle for Blackberry?

Let’s look at various groups of people and consider how Kindle for Blackberry affects them –

People with Blackberries and Kindles

They suddenly get a lot more bang for the buck –

  1. They can read across Blackberry, Kindle, and other devices.
  2. Books are synced and notes made on the Kindle are available on the Blackberry.
  3. They can read more often.

They get a lot more value from their Kindle device and Kindle books purchases.

They also get locked in further into the Kindle’s eco-system and buy more Kindle Books.

People with Blackberries thinking about buying a Kindle  

Let’s say there are two wide sub-categories –

  1. The first category think they don’t need a Kindle any more and don’t buy one.
  2. The second category think a Kindle makes even more sense and buy a Kindle.

While we can speculate endlessly on which affects Kindle sales more, the real bonus for Amazon is that both categories buy Kindle eBooks.

People with Blackberries thinking about buying another eReader (non-Kindle)

This is very similar to the previous category – a lot more people start buying Kindle eBooks.

We also get a small number of people who decide to get a Kindle instead of another eReader as the Kindle with Kindle for Blackberry offers more value.

People without Blackberries choosing between Blackberry and Kindle

Here we run into a bit of a problem. Suddenly the Blackberry becomes the clear choice. It does lead to losses in Kindle sales.

However, there isn’t really much loss in Kindle eBook sales.

The Net Effect of Kindle for Blackberry

We get a net impact that is very interesting –

  1. Kindle sales probably go down a bit. 
  2. Kindle eBook sales probably go up a bit.

That, however, is in the short-term.

In the long-term Kindle for Blackberry users are likelier to buy a Kindle. Also, the number of Kindle for Blackberry users is going to be a lot more than the number of people owning a Blackberry that are considering buying a Kindle.

That means that in the long-term we get a lot more Kindle Sales and a lot more Kindle eBook sales.

The net impact of Kindle for Blackberry is going to be very positive for Amazon.