Is Calibre creating the foundation for a world free of Book Gatekeepers?

The eBook revolution, happening all around us thanks to the rise of eReaders and eBooks and Tablets, faces a few dangers -

  1. It might get stopped in its tracks because most readers and most authors are not willing to let go of their past attitudes towards books. An attitude of serfdom and ‘I have no control’ that they seem to not realize they can let go of without negative consequences.
  2. Publishers are still trying hard to use all sorts of tactics to stall ebooks and/or position ebooks as ‘just as valuable’ as physical hardcovers.
  3. There are new Gatekeepers trying to create an environment in which people and authors go back to where they were – We don’t control anything. Eternal gratitude for publishing us. Eternal gratitude for getting us books.
  4. Legislation that would lock in a monopoly for the Old Gatekeepers or for the New Gatekeepers. Lots of monopolies are created due to Government passed laws and we might see that happen (perhaps even happening) due to ‘well intentioned’ (or well lobbied) regulations passed in ebooks.
  5. The eBook revolution not getting platforms that combine all the benefits of the new world of ebooks. This would lead to readers going back to the known devil of Publishers and New Gatekeepers rather than contend with the new devil of randomness and an ever-expanding slushpile.

There are some more dangers. However, these are the ones that we’ll discuss in this post.

First, let’s look at how readers and authors could nullify all these dangers. Then let’s look at the role Calibre could play.

How do we readers and authors nullify the Dangers that threaten to derail the Revolution in eBooks?

Well, here are some ways -

  1. Gaining Knowledge and Embracing Reality. The single biggest danger is that readers and authors aren’t really willing to accept that they control EVERYTHING now. Perhaps it is so many decades of being dictated to. Perhaps it’s the reluctance to change. Perhaps it’s fear of the unknown. Perhaps it’s just laziness.
  2. Take a realistic view of ‘The Value of Books’. It’s easy to fall into the trap Publishers set for us and believe eBooks are worth the same as Hardcovers. It’s easier to fall into the trap our own greed and/or lack of balance lead us into and think ‘We should get everything for free. The eBook Fairy will pay on our behalf.’. Neither makes sense in the long-term. I’m not sure what the answer is here but we have to figure it out.
  3. Avoid letting the new Gatekeepers control everything. It’s easy to go back to being sheep led by a shepherd we hope won’t switch from leading us to fleecing us or turning us into sheep kebabs. In the long-term we need to create something where the Gatekeepers are controlled by readers and authors and not vica versa.
  4. Be very wary of Government intervention. Sometimes it is lobbying. Sometimes it is genuine incompetence. Government ‘help’ often creates monopolies that are worse than an actual free market would be.
  5. Platforms. This is the single biggest thing. We need platforms that let readers and authors connect without meddling middlemen. Platforms that won’t encourage the association of cheap books with lack of quality. Platforms that won’t drown out the authors that are bypassing old and new gatekeepers and coming straight to readers.

My contention would be that Platforms are the single most important defence against a regression to a Books World controlled by Gatekeepers.

Why Platforms are the ONLY solution

There are a few particularly important reasons we need huge ebook platforms that are not controlled by Publishers or New Gatekeepers -

  1. Platforms overcome natural human laziness. Readers aren’t willing to go to individual author websites to buy. Authors aren’t willing to handle setting up their own shops. Most people want ‘easy’ and are willing to pay for easy. This leads to Gatekeepers getting a lot of power by providing ‘easy’. Platforms can provide ‘easy’ and take back control from Gatekeepers.
  2. Platforms allow authors and readers to communicate without external influences and without controls and checks.
  3. Platforms can grow big enough to rival and surpass ebook stores and bookstores. This means they can influence trends and behavior on a huge scale.
  4. Platforms allow crowd intelligence on a grand scale. If the Platforms allow people to share intelligence about quality, value for money, formatting, nature of writing, genres and sub-genres, then the platform can replace the current information sources. This is a great thing because most ‘current information sources’ are either controlled by Old and New Gatekeepers OR are hopelessly trapped in the old mindsets.
  5. Platforms can break pricing monopolies and subliminal and psychological influence tactics. Walk into a store and you see a stack of Book X. You automatically assume it must be selling well. Go online and see a book listed as ‘Deal of the Day’ and you automatically assume it’s a great deal. There’s a lot of very powerful marketing and psychology stuff being utilized to ‘create’ bestsellers and trends. A truly free platform would destroy a LOT of that.
  6. Platforms are self-sustaining. Network effects, the social touch, crowd intelligence, ease of use, etc. lead to platforms growing bigger and bigger and bigger.
  7. Platforms cannot be stopped. A small retailer can be stopped. A few authors banding together can be stopped. Indie authors can be slowed down. Readers wanting a better deal or more rights can be scared with copyright laws and such. However, when you achieve scale then you become unstoppable. A publisher or a new Gatekeeper would go after a small group. If it’s 10 million people then there’s too much risk.

Basically, what the eBook Revolution needs is a TRUE Platform and one that is focused on What’s Best for Books and Readers and Authors. Not on ‘How to Monetize Readers and Authors and Use them Efficiently and make them Powerless again’.

Calibre – The Makings of a Platform

What is Calibre?

Well, Calibre is a ‘complete’ ebook management solution. It provides -

  1. eBook Library Management.
  2. eBook Conversion.
  3. Syncing to eReaders and Tablets.
  4. Downloading News and converting to eBook Form.
  5. eBook Viewer.
  6. Content Server for Online Access to your eBook Library.

Notice that this is just the foundation parts. There isn’t any real network or social pipeline here yet.

However, there are 12 million+ unique PCs with Calibre. That means 5 to 10 million readers are using Calibre. More importantly, Calibre is already doing a lot of the things we need done to sustain the eBook Revolution – spread the reality that readers own the future, more control for readers, more ease of use for readers.

Calibre as the lynchpin of a New Foundation for eBooks

If Calibre and GoodReads and Smashwords and a few other large book related services and sites were to group together. Or if Calibre by itself decided to take the route of becoming an eBook Platform.

We would get something very interesting -

  1. A Platform that wasn’t focused on creating a Gated/Closed Ecosystem and becoming a Gatekeeper.
  2. A Focus on What’s Best for Readers and Authors.
  3. Huge Scale. We’re talking millions to begin with and as improvements happen and network effects take hold, we would easily reach 20 to 40 million users in a year or two.

Calibre could say – Let’s connect all these people together. Let’s have them share information on quality, formatting, book covers, book series, etc. Let’s have them help each other regarding what to buy. Let’s have indie authors approach readers directly.

Why not create a pure Authors+Readers marketplace?

Instead of exploiting authors and readers like Old Gatekeepers, let’s empower them.

All the ingredients are in place. Plus Calibre already has a lot of the readers who UNDERSTAND that they control EVERYTHING now. Who are being freed from their decades of training of kowtowing to Gatekeepers.

If not Calibre, then something inspired by the same ideals that inspire Calibre

If you think about it, it’s rather amazing that there are 5 to 10 million readers using Calibre.

It shows that people don’t want Gatekeepers to control their reading lives. It’s just one of the signs among many -

  1. The rise of indie authors.
  2. The rise of $1 books (until they were unceremoniously weighted/handicapped out of the top spots).
  3. The rise of readers with AWARENESS of the power they wield.
  4. The rise of new platforms that aren’t focused on money and barrier/gate creation as their main motivations.
  5. The expansion of who reads and who can afford books.

There are lots and lots of signs that people (both readers and authors) want a better deal. What’s missing is something that can connect everyone together. A True Platform focused on readers and authors. Perhaps even a handful of True Platforms focused on making things better for readers and authors.

We are at a crossroads. We have Old Gatekeepers to the left. We have New Gatekeepers to the right. The Road in front of us, which all of us want to take, is marked ‘The True Path Forward for Readers and Authors’ – But, the road itself is missing. There’s nothing there. Authors and Readers that UNDERSTAND that readers and authors have ALL THE POWER want to walk along this road. But who’s going to build the Road for them?

Amazon wants casual + hardcore readers on Kindle platform

Consider what Amazon are building out -

  1. Kindle and Kindle DX for hardcore readers.
  2. Kindle Apps on various platforms for casual readers. These apps also help hardcore readers – However, they are primarily aimed at casual readers.
  3. Kindle Editions with video and audio for ultra-casual readers. Amazon want to get even the ‘Read 1 Book a Year and wish they had Videos in them’ readers.

The Kindle Platform has gone from a device and platform focused almost exclusively on hardcore readers to one that’s trying to get both casual and hardcore readers and also making plans to round-up ultra-casual readers.

Is this even possible?

Could Amazon pull off the unthinkable and get both casual and hardcore readers on the same platform?

So far it seems they might be able to.

Amazon have an interesting concept of 2-pizza teams where each internal team at Amazon is quite small – at most 8 or so people. It’s quite likely this is what’s going on with the Kindle Team at Lab 126 -

  1. A 2-Pizza Team for Kindle software.
  2. Another team for Kindle Apps. There might even be a separate Satan’s Little Helper team devoted to Apps for Apple products.
  3. Teams for Kindle and Kindle DX product lines.
  4. A procurement team that’s signing Kindle book deals in the US.
  5. Another procurement team that handles International Contracts.
  6. The Kindle Encore Team.
  7. A team in charge of attracting all the people who want video and audio in books.  
  8. A team that is in charge of the Kindle Store.
  9. The Kindle Cloud Team that takes care of the Cloud infrastructure.
  10. The Kindle Services Team that keeps adding features like Popular Highlights.
  11. A special Kindle team devoted to coming up with the most confusing names (Kindle Previewer for HTML 5 and CSS 3, Kindle X 3G version, Free Y, Lots of Z, Generation B).

This makes even more sense when you consider that in the last few weeks we’ve had the Kindle 2.5 upgrade with some vastly differing features, release of the Kindle DX, Kindle for Android, Kindle Previewer and Kindle Web Widgets, and the introduction of Kindle Books with Video and Audio.

There’s no way to do all these releases in parallel unless you have entirely separate teams. When Jeff Bezos says Kindle Books and Kindle Hardware are entirely separate businesses he might be actually downplaying just how independent the teams within Lab 126 are.

Branch Off and Conquer

It’s probably due to this strategy of branching-off and creating small teams devoted to very precise goals that Amazon is able to release features aimed at ultra-casual readers (Kindle Editions with Video and Audio) in parallel with features aimed at Casual readers (Kindle for Android, Twitter+Facebook for Kindle) and features aimed at hardcore readers (Kindle Folders and Sharper Fonts).

The common thread is that they’re all connected to the Kindle platform and all of them channel users to the Kindle store.

This branch-off and conquer strategy brings up an important question – Why are Amazon trying to get both casual and hardcore readers?

Are Books 80-20 or Long Tail?

There are only two possibilities for why Amazon are trying to get hardcore, casual, and ultra-casual readers -

  1. The 80-20 Principle applies, Amazon have most of the 20% readers that account for 80% of profits, and they still want to wrap up the other 80% of people who account for the remaining 20% of profits.
  2. Books follow the Long Tail and 50% or more of sales come from people gifting books or buying books once a year.

Amazon has been behaving as if it’s the latter. Again there are two possibilities why Amazon is behaving in this manner -

  1. The different teams with different priorities are distracting Amazon and it is losing its focus on the top 20% of readers. 
  2. Amazon has found (or believes) that the long tail is where the future of books is.

It’s probably the latter. We have lots of Kindle Apps being added and things like Books with Video and Audio. These are features for casual and ultra-casual readers.

Meanwhile the only hardware change for the Kindle DX 2 is a better screen (albeit at a cheaper price). If it weren’t for the Kindle 2.5 upgrade you’d have to wonder whether Amazon feel they have rounded up all the hardcore readers already.

What percentage of Kindle ebook sales are through Kindle Apps?

We can roughly partition out Kindle into 4 pieces -

  1. Kindle Store that applies to all channels.
  2. Kindle Platform that also applies to all channels. This includes WhisperNet and the Cloud Archive. 
  3. Kindle and Kindle DX.
  4. Kindle Apps.

Looking at Amazon’s behavior it seems that Kindle Apps have become a sizeable percentage of ebook sales and might be growing faster than ebook sales through Kindles.

There’s actually some logic to this - Buying a Kindle (even a $189 Kindle 2) takes a lot of committment and it’s safe to say only the top 20% of readers are open to this. Take out the ones who love paper books or have chosen a Nook or Sony Reader and you’re left with perhaps half.

At the same time the next 20% of readers – the casual readers who read a book every month or two – probably prefer using a Kindle App that costs them nothing. The remaining 60% ultra-casual readers definitely prefer using a Kindle App whenever they mistakenly end up reading a book.

Coming back to our top 20% readers - Only half (10%) are open to buying a Kindle (or already have one). Even if the top 20% account for 80% of book sales Amazon only has access to 40% of ebook sales through them. Worse, if the top 20% only account for 40% of book sales then Amazon only has access to 20% of ebook sales.

Amazon is thus left with no access to the remaining 60 to 80% of ebook sales. This is where Kindle Apps come in.  

Kindle Apps are the zero-committment, zero-cost option

Amazon can now reach non-Kindle owners and offer them the option to access the Kindle Store without committing (well, it doesn’t feel like it though the Kindle format guarantees committment) and without spending anything specifically on an eReader.

Even better – most app stores and platforms allow for very cheap customer acquisition. Users can find out about Kindle Apps from Amazon.com and from iPhone App Ads and other really cheap channels. The customer acquisition cost is probably recovered in the first 1 or 2 ebook purchases.

So it makes a ton of sense for Amazon to pursue this.

Normally, this would just mean that Amazon is trying to gather up as many users as possible and expand beyond the Top 20%. However, the way Amazon is doing it (expanding on to almost every platform, adding Kindle books that have audio and video, adding Kindle online including online previews) suggests very strongly that book and ebook purchases constitute a long tail distribution.

The Kindle Platform is growing in a way that makes you feel Kindle Apps will end up accounting for 60% or more of ebook purchases and the Kindle and Kindle DX will make up the rest. The subtle shift started right after Kindle for PC was launched. At that time it was mostly a competitive reaction to Nook – However, something happened, perhaps on Christmas day, that made Amazon re-think its strategy. Perhaps the iPad added to that, perhaps it didn’t. What we’re left with is a Kindle world where casual and ultra-casual readers are suddenly being treated just as well as the hardcore readers.

This creates a pretty huge opportunity for any company willing to sacrifice all the casual readers and commit 100% to hardcore readers. There’s perhaps a warning for Amazon in there too – In the pursuit of the casuals and ultra-casuals you might lose the people who made the Kindle and the Kindle Store viable.

Amazon ramps up Kindle for PC adoption with an Asus deal

Amazon seems to have really taken the platform approach to heart. The latest move towards making the Kindle platform dominate every possible reading channel is Amazon’s partnership with Asus – starting today select Asus laptops and netbooks will come preloaded with Kindle for PC.

Gizmodo report on the Asus-Amazon Kindle tie-up and even like it -

Frankly, we’re not the biggest fans of pre-installed software cluttering up fresh screens, but this sort of partnership surely makes sense with certain devices — in particular, convertible tablets that you’d use to read.

You know what would also make sense? ASUS preloading some sort of Amazon application on its Eee Pad.

Asus sells millions of netbooks and millions of laptops and if the partnership goes well we might see Kindle for PC pre-installed on all of them.

What does Asus get out of this?

Companies usually pay good money to get pre-installed on machines. Some examples include -

  1. Anti-virus companies paying $40 to $50 per Anti-Virus subscription purchased (after the free trial).
  2. Toolbar companies paying $1 or more per toolbar install.  
  3. Companies paying extra to get featured – For example via a page during the Install Process or via an icon on the Desktop.

Amazon are probably paying one of -

  1. 25 cents to $1 per laptop on which Kindle for PC goes out.
  2. $5 to $10 per Kindle for PC install on which user buys a book. 

In addition to this nice bonus from Amazon Asus need to have Kindle for PC on their soon-to-be launched Eee Pad tablet. There are a non-trivial number of people buying the iPad for its reading abilities and most of that stems from Kindle for iPad. If the Eee Pad comes with Kindle for PC in-built, and perhaps even some bonuses, Asus balance out that iPad advantage.

Asus and Amazon’s take on the deal

The Press Release (at the Gizmodo link) has the usual Mutual Admiration Society membership pledge -

Asus:

Kindle is something our customers have been asking for and by p copre-installing Kindle for PC on select long battery life products, we believe we are providing our customers an even richer PC experience.

Actually, Amazon don’t really praise Asus in the Press Release which is rather surprising. You’d think they’d mention that Asus started the whole netbook threat and scared the living daylights out of every laptop manufacturer in the world. The reason why every laptop company is now selling $1000 laptops in the $500 to $700 range.

The Asus models that will include Kindle for PC are -

  1. Asus Seashell Netbook 1005PE-U27 in Black, White, and 2 other colors. This retails for $372 and promises up to 14 hours of battery life.
  2. Asus ultra thin and light notebooks – Asus UL-30A-X5K and Asus UL30VT-X1K. The first retails for $649 and has up to 12 hours of battery life and a 13.3″ HD display. The second is $749 and includes a NVidia G210M graphics card with 512 MB graphics memory.

Asus and Amazon say that there will be more laptops and netbooks added to the list.

What impact could this have on Amazon?

There’s actually a huge difference in the use of software that is pre-installed and software that has to be downloaded separately. Anti-Virus companies are not stupid to be paying manufacturers like HP $50 per activation.

The power of the default dictates that people usually choose the default option. If Kindle for PC is the default ebook reading software on Asus computers then Asus laptop/netbook owners who want to read an ebook get to choose between two options -

  1. Spend 10 minutes to find a good reading software, another 5 minutes to install it, and if everything goes according to plan they have an eReader software on their PC. It’s a lot of time and uncertainty and making decisions and quite a bit of effort.
  2. Start off Kindle for PC and start reading in 15 seconds.

It doesn’t matter how much prettier another ebook reading software is or how well animated the page turns are – 15 seconds is going to beat 15 minutes every single time.

What moves might the Amazon-Asus deal trigger?

Well, actually this is a reactive move and not exactly a proactive one.

  1. Sony and Google have been in bed so long they’re beginning to find each other’s lovable quirks annoying. Google supplies Sony with free books. Sony promises laptops with Google Chrome. Google Editions is definitely going to be on Sony laptops.
  2. HP and Barnes & Noble signed up a deal where B&N now have a store on the HP site and it wouldn’t be a surprise if HP computers soon came pre-installed with B&N eReader software.
  3. Apple obviously has its various offerings which it can use to promote iBooks. iPhone actually gets iBooks very soon – in iPhone OS 4.0. Mac may get it soon after that.

What this move will do is get all these partnerships and Apple to move faster on their plans.

Is PC reading of ebooks finally becoming important?

It certainly seems so. There are a few very good reasons for ebook companies to take note of the PC -

  1. eReader software for the PC is the gateway drug to the eReader+eBook eco-system. Whether a user buys their first ebook to read on Kindle for PC or on B&N eReader is likely to determine whether that user buys a Kindle or Nook.
  2. Every ebook sale is an ebook sale.
  3. Apple’s arrival means soon Macs will come with iBooks preloaded making it imperative for Kindle and Nook to make inroads into PCs and offset that Apple advantage.
  4. Google’s arrival in ebooks will mean Google diverts as much book related traffic as they can to Google Editions.
  5. It’s possible that Kindle for PC is seeing lots of usage and Amazon wants to build on that.

Basically, the first eReading software that captures a reader has the best chance of locking that reader into its ecosystem and capturing all of that reader’s book purchases for the rest of her/his life.

It might seem like dramatization – However, the power of the default and early mover advantage are hard to overcome. Take even the biggest companies – Microsoft, Google, Amazon, Apple. The areas they’ve struck an early lead in and dominated are mostly out of reach for everyone else (including other behemoths).  

It’s becoming clearer and clearer that the War is on and that it’s for the entire future of Publishing and Books.

Amazon Kindle as Publishing Platform, iPad owners confused

We’ll start with Amazon’s new publishing endeavor, AmazonCrossing. Then we’ll look at how Amazon might become an important Publisher of the future, and follow that up with reactions to Kindle for Android. In between we’ll sprinkle in a little bit of magic that apparently isn’t as magical as everyone thought it would be.

AmazonCrossing brings English Language translations of Foreign Books

Quick on the Heels of signing up J. A. Konrath Amazon have announced a new publishing imprint.

AmazonCrossing will -

introduce readers to voices of the world through English-language translations of foreign-language books.

The first title being published by AmazonCrossing is Tierno Monenembo’s award-winning novel, “The King of Kahel,” which will be released for the first time in English for readers around the world on Nov. 2, 2010.

Amazon is really taking the war to Publishers. It’s good for everyone (well, except Publishers).

Amazon talk about -

  1. The goal being to introduce readers to terrific authors they might have otherwise missed.
  2. Giving international customers a chance to shine the spotlight on the ‘exciting established and emerging’ talent from their cultures and countries.
  3. Giving good authors a wider audience.

AmazonCrossing is similar to Encore in that it uses customer feedback and data from Amazon sites in various countries to identify great books. It then acquires the rights to translate the books and introduce them globally.

Amazon are basically doing everything they can to figure out sources of content – Encore and Crossing are both good ways to build up a steady stream of high quality books. Most importantly, these are books whose rights are free from the whims and fancies of Publishers.

Amazon board director says 60% to 80% of books to be published electronically within a decade

Thomas O. Ryder has a lot of experience and credibility -

 Former chairman and chief executive of Readers Digest Association.

Amazon.com board director.

Director of a Printing Business that just sold for $1.3 billion.

Which probably means he’s more likely to be right than the average person about what happens with books.

He predicts that by 2020 60% to 80% of all books will be published electronically -

This is a total transformation of the publishing business and it’s going to happen very fast. The big publishers are going to have to adapt or die. They will no longer be in the packaging and logistics business.

He also has a very interesting take -

Ryder explains the battles are not really between Amazon’s Kindle, Apple’s iPad, Barnes & Noble’s Nook, and Sony’s Digital Reader – as most of the press will lead us to believe – but between traditional publishers weighted down by 19th century printing, warehousing and distribution assets and an emerging generation of nimble e-publishes who will supply content to the reading tablets that will be ubiquitous within ten years.

Ryder imagines a future book industry dominated by a few branded electronic clearinghouses - such as Amazon, Google, B&N – around which flourish entrepreneurial niche e-providers providing the clearinghouses with content.

It’s a very good view of what might happen in Publishing. Certainly different from all the ‘books and reading are going to die’ fears the Press keep conjuring up.

Even iPad App Designers struggle to find a use for the iPad

Marco Arment coded the Instapaper app and for someone who’s selling a $5 app for it he’s surprisingly ambivalent -

Rationalizing the purchase of an iPad usually includes a few of these:

  • I’ll carry it around most of the time.
  • I’ll be able to replace my laptop with it.
  • I’ll be able to replace my Kindle with it.
  • I’ll bring it on trips instead of my laptop.
  • I’ll respond to email with it.
  • I’ll get work done with it.
  • I’ll take notes with it.

After a month of heavy use, I don’t think it’s good for any of those. A more accurate list might be:

  • I’ll play games on it.
  • I’ll check email on it, but not respond much, because that requires a lot of typing.
  • I’ll check RSS and Twitter on it, but not exclusively.
  • I’ll read for short periods on it before my hands get tired of holding it.

The iPad is a great device, but what’s it for, really?

He goes on to say that using the iPad is satisfying and delightful and it does some things better than a computer. Hardly the strongest endorsement.

He also points out that Apple’s marketing makes it obvious that Apple has no idea what the iPad is for -

Accepting that the iPad isn’t an all-purpose computing device is going to be a slow process for everyone, including Apple. They can’t quite explain what it’s for, either, which is why the launch marketing, software, and accessories are a bit scatterbrained.

In the space of a couple of months we’ve gone from ‘magical and revolutionary’ to ‘satisfying and delightful - but what’s it for, really?’.

The Obligatory Kindle attack - Kindle for Android is a nail in Kindle’s Coffin

ZDNet take Kindle for Android as a sign that the Kindle itself is doomed. It’s quite amusing to read the exact same arguments that were used last year when Kindle for iPhone was released -

 I see this as taking us one step closer to converged device Nirvana and the end of the e-book reader as we know it.

The iPhone Kindle app was the first nail in Kindle’s coffin. The iPad was the second. An app now for the #2 mobile phone platform in the US? Nail #3.

It’s interesting that he leaves out Kindle for PC, Kindle for Blackberry, and Kindle for Mac entirely. Also, he actually admits that eInk is good -

… even I will admit that e-ink is very easy on the eyes.

So we have Kindle haters taking each addition to the Kindle platform and service as a sign the Kindle is going to die. If it were a Silicon Valley company doing this they’d be praising the genius of the business strategy.

Well, it’s just a wait until next year (or perhaps end of this year) when Kindle starts supporting Kindle for Windows Phone 7 Series and someone again writes how the Kindle is bound to die.

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.

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