Are Kindle 3 sales affected by negative reviews?

Given the never-ending attacks on the Kindle over the last 2.5 years and their total failure at slowing down the Kindle’s growth it makes you wonder – How can an enemy ensure the Kindle 3 doesn’t do well? How can someone attack the Kindle 3 and hurt its sales? 

The first reaction would be – Just write a negative Kindle review and attack it vehemently. However, it isn’t quite as easy.

The problem with writing a Negative Kindle Review

A strong negative Kindle review creates quite a few problems –

  1. A negative Kindle review can’t be too negative or too much of an attack or it’ll cause the opposite effect. Readers will feel you’re being unduly harsh and they’ll feel sympathy for the Kindle. 
  2. An outright attack will also undermine your own credibility and further reduce the chances you can hurt the product.
  3. The product can’t be very good at what it does. If it is then anything you write will only serve to draw attention to it. The whole cliché about all publicity being good publicity. This is obviously a problem with Kindle 3 since early signs suggest it’s going to be rather good for reading.
  4. You have to be very well qualified (with respect to eReaders and reading) to write about the Kindle. If you’re not your lack of expertise will kill the review’s impact. 
  5. People don’t like negative emotions as much as they do positive emotions. Well, most people. If you’re overly negative they’ll shy away from your posts.

This leaves us in a very spotty position. Let’s imagine we’re part of the anti-eReader press – How exactly are we to attack the Kindle if writing half-baked, vicious, negative reviews ends up helping Kindle sales?

Well, there are some possibilities.

Smart attacks on the Kindle the Press hardly ever uses (perhaps because they would be effective?)

There are a few things that would work (which is probably why the Press hardly ever use them) –

  1. Indifference. The most powerful strategy the Press could use is avoid mentioning the Kindle. If it stops doing Kindle reviews lots of people will stop wondering why Kindle evokes such strong reactions.  
  2. Damn Kindle 3 with faint praise. The Press seems to think that vicious attacks convince people to not buy a product. It’s far likelier that it is unenthusiastic recommendations that kill a product. Which one of these makes you curious – This is the most useless product ever, no one in their right mind will buy this Vs It’s sort of good and it’s quite nice and it’s sweet. The amplitude of emotion is far more important than the direction when it comes to creating curiosity about a product.
  3. Don’t attack it. An attack instantly creates a desire to find out more. We’ve also talked about the sympathy factor. Finally, you have a lot of people on the Internet who love to argue and disagree – an attack instantly motivates them to prove the reviewer wrong.
  4. Praise it and then praise a competitor more strongly. Consider the difference – Kindle is worthless when you compare it against the iPad Vs the kindle is very good for reading and the iPad is good for reading and for watching movies and for increasing your IQ and it makes you erudite.   
  5. Sow seeds of doubt. To be fair this is actually a strategy the Press has used often and to reasonably good effect. Sow doubt about book ownership, and deleting of books, and Amazon going under and taking all your books with it.
  6. Bring in a subject expert to seem unbiased. The way NY Times brought in some sort of specialist to claim eInk is no better than LCD is beautiful. It makes you cherish NY Times’ excellence at serving its advertisers. It’s amazing that this has been tried just once.
  7. Magnify an aspect that a Kindle rival beats the Kindle 3 at. It’s hilarious that the Press keeps harping about how the Kindle is great only for reading – It’s selling Kindle 3 to its target audience. People who read books generally want a device that’s great at reading and even appreciate that it sucks at everything else. On the other hand, the Kindle 3 has a marvellous weakness in the form of its lack of support for Library books. For every 20 articles talking about ‘only good for reading’ or something readers don’t even understand like ‘ePub’ there is perhaps one solitary article about library books.

The Press has all these options and yet the best it can do is write things like this –

Yes, we must agree the eInk is absolutely marvellous. However, all you can do on the device is read. It’s like Usain Bolt in a decathlon.

Well, most people who read books want the Usain Bolt of reading. They really don’t care that Bryan Clay can do 9 other things better.

Are the attacks on the Kindle a major driver of sales?

It’s not out of the question. Consider the most popular attacks –

  1. iPad/iPhone/Generic Multi-Purpose device will kill the Kindle because it’s great at reading and terrible at everything else. These undoubtedly get people who’re really into reading very interested in the Kindle.  
  2. Chinese CloneReader R2D2_Random is going to kill the Kindle even though it isn’t available and is going to be cancelled in 3 months.  
  3. Kindle is evil because it doesn’t use ePub. These articles usually decline to explain what ePub is and why a normal reader should care.
  4. Why isn’t Amazon revealing sales figures? Amazon is hiding sales figures because Kindle hasn’t sold well. 
  5. Android Tablets that won’t be available for 6 months will kill Kindle.

The two main topics the Press is obsessed with are the arrival of a messiah device that will kill the Kindle and multi-purpose devices that do more than just read. Articles focused on the latter only highlight Kindle’s suitability as a reading device. Articles focused on the former are doing nothing except highlighting the Kindle – What’s the point of comparing the Kindle against something that isn’t available and may never be available?

Talk is Cheap

That’s what it boils down to.

Lots of people attack eReaders and the Kindle and if they get the chance they’ll attack the Kindle 3 and Nook 2 too. However, they aren’t really doing anything meaningful.

They aren’t releasing a product for readers. They aren’t releasing a device that’s multi-purpose and also better for reading than LCD screen devices. They aren’t investigating the Kindle’s target audience (people who read books) and figuring out what their needs and desires are. In most cases they aren’t even taking the simple step of actually trying out a Kindle.

So we have these modern-day alchemists trying to think the Kindle to death. Releasing a better eReader or satisfying readers’ needs better is too much effort. They just want to talk people who love to read into thinking reading isn’t worth a dedicated device.

Perhaps that’s the strongest thing Kindle 3 and Nook 2 have going for them. Their biggest enemies (the Press, Apple, etc.) are trying to win through wishful-thinking and a perception war. It’s absolutely amazing – the Press has deluded itself to the point that it thinks it can hypnotize people into believing that reading is worthless. It’s especially remarkable that the Press believes this given that it can’t get anyone to pay for either of its main products (news content, its customers).

Test comparing Kindle, Book, iPad reading speeds loses the plot

Jakob Nielsen runs a Kindle vs iPad vs Physical Book reading speed test that totally loses the plot. The results of the test are that the Kindle is 10.7% slower than print and iPad is 6.2% slower than print.

Users at the official Kindle forum are up in arms and quite rightly point out that reading on the Kindle is actually faster. Let’s explore why Mr. Nielsen’s test is biased against the Kindle and see what interesting observations we can make.

Decades of Experience with Books Vs 17.33 minutes with the Kindle

Let’s start with the obvious problems –

  1. It’s 24 people reading stories that took an average of 17.33 minutes to read. That by itself is a good indicator of the unsuitability of this ‘reading speed comparison’. How can you use 17.33 minutes of reading to contrast reading speed on books which usually take 3-6 hours to read?
  2. The people recruited liked reading and frequently read books. There’s no information on whether they’d used the Kindle, the iPad, or iPhones before. Chances are high that these are people who had their first experience with the Kindle – You’re literally comparing reading speed during first 17 minutes of using a device with reading speed on physical books which they’ve been using for decades.
  3. They compared customer satisfaction levels – After people read 17 minute short stories. Perhaps that’s what Amazon’s Kindle return period should be – You get 17 minutes to read a short story when your Kindle first arrives. After that you have to instantly decide – You either keep it for life or the UPS guy will take it back with him.
  4. Another really important factor missing is lighting conditions – Was there bright lighting? Did they read in sunshine? Did they read in the dark with a reading light?
  5. They say that the difference between the 6.2% lower reading speed of iPad (as compared to the print book) and 10.7% lower reading speed of Kindle (again, it’s 10.7% lower than reading speed on the print book) is not statistically significant. If a 4.5% difference isn’t statistically significant then how much more significant is a 6.2% difference? What’s the exact margin of error? 

They conclude –

 tablets still haven’t beaten the printed book: the difference between Kindle and the book was significant at the p<.01 level, and the difference between iPad and the book was marginally significant at p=.06.


Wouldn’t the more accurate statement be – Tablets like the iPad and eReaders like the Kindle don’t beat physical books if the user has used them for a grand total of 17 minutes.

A comment from Robin at the kindle forum is very apt –

One thing that popped out at me is that they were testing people who were evidently unfamiliar with either the iPad or Kindle and who normally read paper books.

Even though they taught the test subjects how to operate the devices before running the actual testing, I think it’s a bit absurd to think that a reader would adjust that quickly to using something new.

It’s very unlike Jakob Nielsen to do such a remarkably poor usability study – There’s absolutely no way you can review reading speed on the Kindle and user satisfaction for a user when it’s the user’s first 17 minutes with the Kindle.   

Kindle Specific things Users can’t be expected to grasp in 17 minutes

Just to highlight how absurd this comparison is here are a few things a user is not going to be able to figure out in the first few minutes of using the Kindle –

  1. How best to work with Page Turns. Most of us know just when to press the Page Turn button to catch the last line just as the page refreshes – This, in fact, makes it much faster to turn pages on the Kindle than on a physical book.
  2. What they feel about eInk and what lighting condition goes best i.e. the more the better. If they compared the iPad and the Kindle in similar lighting conditions one of the devices probably got read in non-optimal lighting conditions.
  3. What’s the most comfortable Font Size for them. They probably didn’t even realize that they could set line spacing and the number of words per line.
  4. How best to hold the Kindle and where to place hands. If they were moving their entire hand every time they had to flip a page that’s adding a second per page.

There are additional reasons this study is biased against the Kindle, especially when it comes to user satisfaction, including – 

  1. No tiredness comes into play. In 17 minutes hardly anyone is going to realize that books and the Kindle are much better for the eyes – unless of course you’re LCD compatible.
  2. You don’t get to see a lot of Kindle benefits like the in-built dictionary, saving of last page read, searching the book, searching Wikipedia or the Internet.
  3. Users don’t know that they can continue their reading on their Android phone or iPhone or Blackberry and on their PC and then continue it on the Kindle.
  4. Users won’t know that their brother or mother or husband can read the same book at the same time on another Kindle or device.
  5. You don’t get a chance to switch back and forth between devices and compare. Ideally you’d want people to read 1 or 2 books on each of the devices – PC, physical book, iPad, and Kindle.

Interestingly enough this 24 person, 17 minute reading speed comparison is being picked up by the Press as a sign that reading on the Kindle is slow or in some way inferior to reading a physical book. The Press just love to write negative things about the Kindle.

Looking beyond Reading Speed on the Kindle

There are a few things much bigger than an imaginary 10% difference in reading speed to consider –

  • Lots of people need the Kindle’s larger font sizes and text to speech feature. This includes blind people, low vision people, those not comfortable with the size in printed books, dyslexic children, and even most young children as they prefer size 24 and size 28 font.
  • People are now reading more as they can get books easily and quickly and aren’t distracted.
  • The Kindle probably leads to longer stretches of reading. It’s much lighter than a hardcover, it can be read using a single hand, you can use the text to speech, and it’s easy on the eyes.

Here’s Jakob Nielsen’s study summary –

A study of people reading long-form text on tablets finds higher reading speeds than in the past, but they’re still slower than reading print.

Here’s my Summary of the study –

24 people tried out the Kindle and iPad for 17 minutes each and then an expert made the assumption that their observations are the holy grail and that ‘reading speed on the Kindle is slower than on physical books’.

Various Blogs and newspapers read the above summary in 17 seconds, spent another 43 seconds to quickly scan for a paragraph they could quote and then wrote about how physical books are better than the Kindle.

It’s 2.5 years since the Kindle was launched and the Press and various ‘Experts’ thought Amazon would be lucky to sell 10,000 Kindles. We might have had millions of Kindles sold but as far as the Press and Experts are concerned – not much has changed.

NYTimes misuses Kindle Review stats to attack the Kindle

The NYTimes’ Bits Blog has an article using Kindle Review statistics to attack the Kindle

It’s a perfect example of why people are losing faith in newspapers.

Here’s what the ‘Is Amazon Working Backward’ article by Nick Bilton does –

  1. It draws up pie-charts of the review ratings of the Kindle 1, the Kindle 2, and the Kindle DX.
  2. It takes the number of 1 star Kindle reviews for each Kindle and compares them.
  3. It points out the fact that Kindle DX has a lesser percentage of 5 star reviews.

It draws the conclusion that customer satisfaction has gone down.

There’s one small problem with this piece of non-journalism – Mr. Bilton never really checked whether the 1 star reviews were legitimate.

Most of the 1 star reviews are not from Kindle owners

If you’re going to claim that user satisfaction of the Kindle is going down you at least should read through the 1 star reviews.

This is the entirety of Mr. Bilton’s due diligence –

A quick perusal of the comments shows customers repeatedly griping about poor screen quality, unattractive device design and the constraints of digital rights management software on books and newspapers.

A quick perusal?

You’re writing an article in the NY Times attacking the Kindle (and making fun of Amazon’s CEO saying they work backwards from the customer) and you based it on ‘a quick perusal’.

Most 1 star reviews are from non-owners

Well, let’s consider these posts that are not based on a quick perusal –

  1. January 2008 – Kindle 1 was getting biased reviews – Only 16 out of the 130 most helpful Kindle 1 star reviews were from actual Kindle owners. 
  2. March 2009 – Kindle 2 was getting biased reviews – Only 24 out of the 79 1 star reviews were from actual Kindle owners.  
  3. August 2009 – 96 out of the first 500 Kindle DX reviews were 1 star reviews. Only 30 out of those 96 reviews were from Kindle owners. 

There’s a clear pattern of Kindle-hating from people who don’t own a Kindle.

It’s rather amusing that Mr. Bilton would highlight 1 star reviews when the majority of 1 star reviews aren’t from Kindle owners.

How could satisfaction of Kindle owners be going down when the 1 star reviews are from non-customers?

The more appropriate theme would be – More people hate the Kindle now, than before.

There are more 1 star reviews for the Kindle 2 because it’s a bigger threat

The real truth about why there are more negative reviews (1 star reviews) for the Kindle 2 is that as the Kindle became successful more people had an axe to grind.

Here are the some of the reasons for which the Kindle 2 has been attacked (from Kindle reviews at Amazon) –

  1. Having DRM. 
  2. After the 1984 incident several ‘Open’ groups had campaigns to go on and add 1 star reviews – People who had no intention of ever buying an eBook Reader were going out of their way to add 1 star reviews.
  3. Lack of PDF support – which has now been added. 
  4. The fact that some Publishers turned off Text to Speech in their books.
  5. Blind Groups upset that the Kindle isn’t accessible (being addressed with a mid 2010 update).
  6. It’s not a real book.

A significant number of the attacks are ideological attacks by people who have never touched a Kindle.

These people are not customers and it’s irresponsible of a NYTimes non-journalist to use 1 star reviews from non-owners as the basis of a claim that customer satisfaction has gone down.

Now look at the reasons the Kindle 1 had been attacked –

  1. DRM. 
  2. It’s not a real book. 
  3. Too Pricey at $399. 
  4. No PDF support. 
  5. Coverage.
  6. You don’t own the book.
  7. 10 cent charge is bad. 
  8. Will not work outside the US. 

A lot of the grounds on which Kindle 1 has been attacked are addressed in Kindle 2 (price, PDF support, coverage, international support). The Kindle product line (let’s leave aside the Kindle DX for the moment) is getting better and better.

The number of non-owners attacking the Kindle 2 is higher because the Kindle 2 is seen as more of a threat.

  1. They no longer have strong reasons to attack the Kindle 2 – it’s no longer $399, it has international support, it has PDF support.
  2. That means we see more and more ideological attacks.

The Kindle DX situation – it’s a different product line

TeleRead pick up the NY Times Blog article and they also point out the lower satisfaction rating of the Kindle DX.

TeleRead picking up the article is why I’m writing about it at all. NY Times’ reputation means people believe what they write is well-researched.

Well, we’ve already seen the article isn’t well researched.

The second problem is – You can’t really compare Kindle and Kindle DX customer reviews and ratings.

They are separate product lines – it’s like comparing a shirt with a sweater.

The Kindle DX is a completely separate product line –

  1. It’s $489 which creates higher expectations.
  2. It’s aimed at a different set of users.
  3. It’s aimed at a different set of uses i.e. textbooks, newspapers, so forth.

We all know the Kindle DX isn’t selling as much as the Kindle 2 and that the NFB (blind associaton) closed down some of the University trials.  

It’s true that, as of August 16th, 2009,  a lower percentage of Kindle DX owners are happy –

  1. 74% of actual Kindle DX owners giving it 5 stars or 4 stars. 
  2. 82% of actual Kindle 2 owners giving it 5 stars or 4 stars.

However, the difference isn’t as stark as Mr. Bilton makes it seem. Not only is he comparing two different product lines he’s only using figures that support his argument.  

It’s misleading to write ‘only 45% of Kindle DX owners gave it 5 stars’ – You’re ignoring 4 star reviews. If we’re tallking about happy customers we should compare 4 and 5 star review totals.

Using Kindle Reviews to attack the Kindle is rather inelegant

Perhaps my biggest gripe with the article is that it’s terrible strategy.

If you use an amorphous, hard to put into words concept you are home safe –

  1. Use Adobe DRM and attack Kindle for not being open. 
  2. Talk about how Amazon is creating unsustainable prices even though you won’t reveal actual balance sheets. 
  3. Talk about how you can share books even though only some Publishers allow it and only one single time per ebook.

You could also attack actual flaws. An attack on either front (made-up weaknesses or actual weaknesses) is understandable.

However, Mr. Bilton’s attack is comical.

By attacking customer satisfaction and doing it via Kindle reviews Mr. Bilton has attacked Amazon on its advantages.

Kindle Reviews from owners are a major strength for Amazon.

Amazon has every Kindle Review and all the statistics out in the open –

  1. 82% of Kindle owners and 74% of Kindle DX owners are giving 4 or 5 stars.
  2. Amazon don’t even remove 1 star reviews from anti-DRM people.
  3. Contrast with the Nook that doesn’t even have customer reviews.
  4. Amazon users can vote on reviews so you can check the most helpful positive and negative reviews.

Mr. Bilton couldn’t have picked a worse set of statistics to attack.

Amazon’s Customer Service is a huge strength, perhaps it’s biggest strength

Lots of people are buying the Kindle based primarily on Amazon and its customer service –

  1. In both the US and UK, Amazon regularly gets voted #1 or #2 for customer service.  
  2. Check out any forum and there are a lot of people very happy with customer service.
  3. Read the negative Kindle reviews and the ones from actual Kindle owners sometimes reflect the level of service people expect i.e. free replacements for broken kindles and so forth.

Most Amazon customers are going to laugh at the suggestion that Amazon sucks at customer service.

Closing Thought – Amazon’s enemies need to read Art of War or something

Consider some of the mis-steps –

  1. Nook announcing its features 6-7 weeks ahead of time.  
  2. Nook and Sony Reader not knowing actual market demand (thanks to bad projections and Kindle secrecy 😉 ) and not having enough stock this year.
  3. Newspapers attacking the Kindle on issues people either don’t understand or don’t care about.
  4. This article from NY Times attacking Amazon on two core strengths i.e. open reviews (oh my god – Amazon is open, it’s terrible) and focus on customer service.  

Trust NY Times to attack Kindle and put up pie charts that show 82% of Kindle owners are giving it 4 stars or 5 stars – even using kindle reviews from non-owners they can’t mount a decent attack.

The utter incompetence of this ‘Kindle attack’ article overwhelms me.

The Press are the Kindle’s biggest enemy and a huge threat. It’s good for Amazon that anti-Kindle attacks tend to be based on ‘a quick perusal’ of kindle reviews and such rather than actual research.