Are the press creating a significant part of the iPad Buzz?

Dig a little bit and there are two slightly contrasting pictures that emerge of iPad Buzz and demand.

The Press and Main stream Blogs are fixating on the iPad and painting it as a guaranteed success

Here is the amount of coverage the iPad is getting -

  1. All 5 of the featured articles on Gizmodo (shown at the top of the page with photos) are about the iPad. 
  2. Engadget has a large iPad Review banner on the top of the page and 3 of the 5 featured articles are iPad articles. 
  3. 2 of the 3 featured articles on TechCrunch are about the iPad. It also has 12 iPad articles on the front page (out of 20 total).
  4. At Techmeme the top 5 articles and 13 out of the 20 featured stories are about the iPad.
  5. In the NY Times Technology section 5 out of 10 stories are iPad stories. They’ve also featured 5 iPad stories from ReadWriteWeb while avoiding all the non-iPad stories.

This is pretty much unprecedented.

There are two key things here -

  1. The Press is writing a ton about the iPad. To the point that it isn’t writing much else.
  2. The Press is writing a lot of very good things about the iPad.

All this free publicity and articles that seem written by Apple themselves – you’d think the future of the Press depended on the iPad or something.  

Actual user behavior is saying that the iPad may not be as big of a success as the Press are claiming

Google Trends reveals some rather interesting trends -

  1. The increase in number of iPad stories has clearly preceded the increase in iPad searches. That raises the possibility that a significant portion of the increase in iPad searches is due to press articles.  
  2. There are no iPad related hot trends in the last few days.
  3. iPad and ‘i pad’ are 5th and 6th on Hot Topics today. However, they didn’t make the Top 20 search terms.

Isn’t it interesting that the main blogs and newspapers can’t write about anything other than the iPad and at the same time the iPad can’t even crack the top 20 search terms?

Meanwhile, Yahoo Buzz has only 1 iPad story out of their 15 most popular/buzzed stories.

How much of the iPad interest is Press created?

Probably a significant part.

The most telling graph is the one from Google Trends that clearly shows that the huge increase in press articles preceded the increase in searches for iPad.

You link the great expectations the Press have of the iPad ($5 per Time issue, $17.95 per month for WSJ) and its importance for them (they’re running out of options) and it’s hard not to feel that, knowingly or unknowingly, the Press are biased in the amount of coverage they’re giving the iPad and how magical and revolutionary they think it is.

The iPad may very well be great – However, the Press may very well be biased

We’ve had lots of products released over the years – Yet, none of them has ever gotten as warm a reception from the Press.

Which is it?

  1. The iPad is the best product ever created. 
  2. The iPad is the most important product for the Press’ Future and that makes it the best product ever created in their eyes.

The most interesting part is where we see contrasting opinions on sales – A small group of blog posts and a few newspaper articles are saying that most Apple Stores still had iPads available and that Apple Store Staff are saying demand is nowhere near iPhone 3G demand.

Most of the bigger newspapers and bigger tech blogs are pushing Analyst Gene Munster’s estimate of 700,000 iPads sold on the first day.

The takeaway is that People don’t seem to know the iPad exists and the Press are busy changing that

People certainly aren’t dying to find out more about the iPad – the Google Trends page and the Yahoo Buzz page shows that.

The Press meanwhile are busy writing about nothing else. That leaves us with three possibilities -

  1. The iPad is absolutely great and people need to find out about it and they’ll love it. In which case the Press are doing a great job. 
  2. The iPad is absolutely great and people have no use for it. In this case Press are promoting it for their own interests or out of incompetence.
  3. The iPad is good and people are not that interested. In this case the Press is simply painting the iPad as excellent and creating interest in it.

It’s probably one of the first 2 – However, it’s remarkable that people don’t seem to care much even after the ridiculous amount of news coverage.

The biggest lesson in all this might be that Oprah holds more influence than all the Press combined. If Oprah could get the boring, ugly, useless Kindle to become a top searched term – Surely, the Press ought to be able to do a better job talking up the ultra-sexy JesusTablet?

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 Amazon.com 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.

Where is the quality investigative journalism?

Fake Steve Jobs has a post contrasting how TechCrunch and New York Times are covering the Zynga success story and the underlying scams and tricks.

It’s really interesting to see -

  1. New York Times sing the praises of Zynga even though they write things that ought to make them realize Zynga is a manipulative company -

    Game creators talk openly about their strategies to make people pay for virtual goods: get them addicted, then steer them to purchases that speed up the pace of the game and help them succeed.

  2. BusinessWeek talk about the App Economy and sing the praises of Zynga - even comparing them to Google.

    Zynga has the vibe of a young Google (GOOG). Just like the search giant in its early days, the company has a masseuse on staff and chefs who serve up two meals a day.

  3. Mike Arrington of TechCrunch goes to a conference, gets into an argument with the CEO of one of the scam companies and then blogs about it and blows the lid off all the scams, including their rather shady strategy of hiding scam ads just from Mike Arrington’s account -

    They weren’t taken down though. Or rather, they were, but just for me. Other users were still seeing the same mobile ads. 

The only site doing any sort of ‘investigative journalism’ in this case is TechCrunch.

What is the Real Story Here?

Let’s look at the surface story -

  1. Facebook is struggling to book profits (though they did hit positive cashflow).
  2. Zynga, a company that makes social games for Facebook and monetizes via virtual goods and offers, is making somewhere in the vicinity of $100 million a year.

That makes little sense.

  • Advertisers can’t make money off of targeted ads i.e. they can’t sell books to people who love books, etc.
  • At the same time companies can sell virtual gifts.

There is a good reason to believe the hype – It provides two great storylines i.e.

  1. Wow! Zynga have found a way to monetize social networks. The golden age of social networks is amongst us.
  2. Apps and Games in Social Networks can be a viable business.

So what do New York Times and Business Week do – they let Zynga’s kings of spin take them for a ride.

  • They actually talk about virtual goods as a good business even while they write that the strategy is to get people addicted and then monetize them.
  • They don’t uncover the even seedier side of offer scams.

What do we miss? The Real Story i.e.

A company is selling made-up nonsense to people who are addicted to a game.

As a bonus they are also scamming these same people with scam offers from mostly illegal companies.

Why is TechCrunch the only news source that caught it?

There are literally tens of thousands of people involved in all of these companies. There are tens of millions of people playing these games.

Why is it that the main stream newspapers were only listening to Zynga’s PR team?

The New York Times article actually came out after the scams were revealed – they still manage to find only positives. Fake Steve Jobs is as appalled as me -

The piece could not have been nicer if it had been written by Zynga’s PR people themselves.

Here are the comments the story includes -

  1. Positives from a Venture Capitalist who has invested $10 million in virtual goods – Don’t you think his perspective might be clouded by his interests?
  2. Positives from another VC who has invested in two virtual goods companies. More of the same.  
  3. The CEO of Zynga.
  4. 1 customer who buys virtual goods.
  5. A 13-year-old who buys virtual goods.

That’s the equivalent of writing about cigarette companies and interviewing the CEO of Philip Morris, two big tobacco investors, a 25-year-old smoker, and a 14-year-old smoker.

Times write this -

For outsiders, the selling of virtual goods — items with no actual value in the real world — might seem the very definition of a swindle.

But often, strong — and somewhat rational — motives are at work.

Perhaps if it meets the very definition of a swindle then asking two VCs who’ve invested in it is not the best idea.

Why not investigate the ‘possible swindle’ angle more?

Does this mean Newspapers deserve to die?

Perhaps this is an isolated incident.

Or perhaps this should make us ask questions -

  1. NY Times Bits Blog, October 21st, 2009 – Buying Virtual Goods that also Do Good
  2. NY Times, October 29th, 2009 – To Harvest Squash, Click Here.  
  3. NY Times, November 3rd – Facebook Farms.
  4. NY Times, November 6th, 2009 – Virtual Goods bring Real Paydays

New York Times has managed to write 4 positive Zynga articles in the last 20 days, 3 in the last 10.

Zynga’s PR department deserves a bonus.  

You make the call – Does a newspaper that is so easily duped by a scam company deserve to survive?

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