Services that would add value to Kindle ownership

The disappearance of kindle free book offers earlier today got me thinking about services the Kindle could benefit from.

Trying to go as broad as possible so there might be some crazy ideas included.

Kindle value-add services

Here are some services that would go well with the Kindle -

  1. Auto-buy option for free book offers in certain categories. So you might say – the minute there’s a free romance novel just buy it for me.
  2. Kindle to Kindle social network.
  3. Kindle to Kindle Book Lending Help Features - These could be built into the social network.
  4. Kindle Book Deals section in Kindle Store with the option to get updates to your Kindle for categories and criteria you choose.
  5. Alerts for when a book’s price drops. This should be baked into the Kindle Store and into the Kindle itself.  
  6. Reminder when battery is 50% and when it’s 25%.
  7. Option to either share collections across all Kindles or have separate Collections per Kindle.
  8. A PC tool optimized for shopping and doing various Kindle related things. It would have sections for Deals, Free Books, Public Domain Books, Organizing Collections, Organizing Photos, and so forth.
  9. Statistics on books that were finished most often (as opposed to bought most often).
  10. Gift suggestions based on the books you’ve bought and read. These would be added to your account – An automatic wishlist.
  11. Migrate and Clone functions. This could be via the PC tool or via the Settings Page. This would migrate all your books from one Kindle to another without you having to download them one by one. The Clone feature would be if you wanted your new Kindle to get a copy of everything that is in your old Kindle – documents, photos, everything.
  12. Kindle to kindle messaging. Perhaps even chat.
  13. Budget Alert – Set a monthly budget and get alerts when you hit 50%, 75%, and 100%. Option to switch off buying when you exceed your budget. Currently you can do this via kindle gift cards - Buy a $50 card and apply that to your account and then disable your credit card. However, it’s too complicated a process.
  14. Official Kindle Forum alerts sent straight to your Kindle – Pick discussion topics or keywords and get updates when discussions related to these start.
  15. User Sharable Edit Lists – Users could create an edit list that is a layer that goes over a Kindle book and corrects typos. Then you could share out your list of corrections so other users who buy the book can get an error free version.
  16. User Sharable Kindle Tips – If a user finds a very good tip she ought to have an easy way to share it with other Kindle owners.
  17. Group Discount Site – Groupon for books. If 2,000 Kindle owners are interested in buying the same book then they can contact the Author/Publisher and ask for a 25% discount for a group purchase. Publishers can offers various deals to users – deals that come into effect if a certain minimum number of users sign up for the deal.

Those are some Kindle services and features that would probably add a lot of value to the Kindle ownership experience. The interesting thing is that a lot of these are features that only Amazon can add. There isn’t really a way for developers to provide services to Kindle owners directly. It’s good as it’s more secure than letting anyone do anything and it’s bad as it makes it really difficult to build services.

Let’s look at a couple of features in-depth to understand the benefits and possible disadvantages.

Automatic Migrate and Clone Tool

Assume you’re a Kindle 2 owner who buys a Kindle 3.

Well, you have to start from scratch and have to download your books one by one. It’s quite simple to do it from the Manage My Kindle page if you have a small number of books. However, if you have hundreds or thousands of books it’s pretty time-consuming.

If Amazon added a Migrate feature or let someone make an app of that sort (it’s not currently possible as apps don’t have access to the user’s Archive) then all you would have to do is click ‘Migrate’ and all the books that are on your Kindle 2 would get automatically downloaded to your Kindle 3 with the same Folder structure and the same highlights and notes.

The downside is that there’s a lot of data involved and a high cost in terms of bandwidth. It’s understandable that Amazon doesn’t want to enable something that is a huge money sink. However, it could make the Migrate feature WiFi only or add a PC tool. That would take care of the bandwidth concerns.

The other downside is that this would make piracy easier. There’s probably no workaround for that.

Auto-Buy option for Free Kindle Books

What Amazon could do is let Kindle owners choose categories for which they want all free books that are offered. Any free books offered in those categories would automatically get purchased and downloaded to the user’s Kindle.

It could have an option to include public domain books and perhaps to even include books below a certain price point. Maybe it goes so far as to say -

  1. If any free book is offered in Historical Fiction. OR
  2. If any free public domain book is offered featuring the History of England. OR
  3. If any book by Dan or Don Brown hits below $4.

Then automatically buy it for my account and download it to my Kindle 2.

There are obviously a lot of downsides -

  1. Bandwidth costs. Here Amazon could limit it by either limiting the number of categories you can choose or by making it PC or WiFi download only.
  2. Kindle owners wouldn’t visit Amazon.com and Kindle Store as often. That’s a real downside and there’s no cure for that.
  3. If buying of non-free books is offered there’s scope for disaster. Perhaps we just leave out this functionality.
  4. If there are a limited number of copies available for a particular free book offer it would turn into a lottery. Perhaps users who search the Kindle store and the forums every day should have a natural advantage. On the other hand there’s little point in disappointing Kindle owners and perhaps ‘lottery’ type free book offers shouldn’t be allowed. Let publishers use free books for marketing but don’t let them use free books to buy sales rank.
  5. Less purchases of paid books. If Kindle owners started automatically getting each and every free kindle book offer they were interested in their paid purchases would probably go down. No workaround for this.

Amazon’s probably not going to add this feature because nearly all the downsides are important ones and are difficult to mitigate.

It’s unrealistic to expect Amazon to be able to get 100% or even 75% of the services and features listed at the start of this post. However, it’d be great if they could work in 25% or more of these features as these features would add a lot of value to the Kindle ownership experience.

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.

Big improvements to Kindle for PC, promise of more

Amazon is applying its kaizen philosophy to Kindle for PC - It added some pretty big improvements and is promising even more improvements.

Kindle for PC Improvements Now Available

There’s a new version of Kindle for PC out and the improvements are -

  1. Ability to create and edit notes and highlights. A huge addition and a much-needed one.
  2. Brightness Controls. An obvious and very useful feature. 
  3. Full Screen Reading. This is surprisingly good.
  4. Background Color Setting. This lets you choose between white on black (night mode), black on white, and sepia. 

The Notes and Highlights are a huge feature and the brightness control works very well. The Night Mode is great for night reading on the PC and the Sepia is preferable to black text on a white background (well, for lots of people, it is – your mileage may vary).

It’s interesting that Amazon is keeping features almost the same across Kindle for iPad, Kindle for PC, and Kindle for iPhone. It’s a good idea as you have a certain level of comfort and familiarity and that stays no matter what platform/device you use the Kindle service on.

More Kindle for PC improvements on the Horizon

In addition to adding features Amazon have also hinted at future features. There are some pretty cool features that might make it to Kindle for PC -

  1. Search – search a book or search across your Kindle library. 
  2. Two Page Reading Mode.  
  3. Zoom and rotate images. 
  4. Folders – though Amazon keeps referring to them as Collections.

Note that Amazon says it is ‘thinking about bringing’ these features so nothing’s guaranteed.

Folders would be an obvious good addition. Search is long overdue. The two page reading mode is interesting – Would people really want that?

Amazon probably keeps referring to Folders as collections because with Folders people expect lots of things like sub-folders and physically moving files/books around. Guessing the Collections feature is more of a ‘linking’ feature where each book can be linked to any number of collections.

Kindle for Mac also slated to get improvements

Kindle for Mac is slated to get some improvements including -

  1. Create Notes and Highlights. 
  2. Search.
  3. Zoom. 

Mac users will be happy to know they haven’t been forgotten. Wonder how Kindle for Mac and iBooks for Mac will stack up once the latter is released.

Why are Amazon improving Kindle for PC and Kindle for Mac?

You’ve got to wonder how well these Apps are doing for Amazon to focus all this energy on them.

There are actually two facets to it -

  1. Kindle owners reading on their PCs and Macs when their Kindle is not on them. Improving the apps makes it better for Kindle owners and also makes a Kindle purchase more compelling.  
  2. Kindle for PC users who wouldn’t buy an eReader and are instead reading on their PCs.

Amazon thinks the above are good enough reasons to put consistent effort into Kindle for PC.

There have got to be a pretty significant number of Kindle for PC users – Otherwise it doesn’t make sense to devote resources.

As Kindle for PC gets better what happens to the appeal of the Kindle?

The funnel theory i.e. Kindle for PC is just meant to train people to buy a Kindle, starts falling apart as Kindle for PC gets more and more features.

The addition of lots of cool features makes it more and more likely that readers will find that Kindle for PC is good enough for their needs and that they don’t really need a Kindle. It suggests one of two things -

  1. Amazon really are serious about treating the Kindle books business and the Kindle device business as two separate, independent businesses. 
  2. Kindle for PC user are buying enough ebooks for Amazon to have to take them seriously.

My money’s mostly on the second option. Kindle for PC was a rather limited feature – cool but limited and it was likely to make readers get into the Kindle ecosystem and then jump to a Kindle.

Now, with the improvements, what happens is that even after people get into reading they find that Kindle for PC meets most of their needs. If they have an iPhone they can supplement Kindle for PC with Kindle for iPhone. There might soon be a Kindle for Android.

Amazon seem to have decided that the ebook business is more important than the Kindle device. It’s probably the right decision.

Kindle as an incrementally improving service for readers

Kevin C. Tofel writes a post which makes three assumptions that almost every ‘Will Kindle survive?’ article makes -

  1. The Kindle is a device and not a service.
  2. The Kindle is something other than an eReader. 
  3. Each year the Kindle ought to save up 50 different improvements and release them all simultaneously at the end of the year – instead of releasing them as soon as possible.

Let’s look at why these assumptions are wrong.

The Kindle is a service

The Kindle is about -

  1. How easily readers can get the books they want.
  2. How good their reading experience is.
  3. How easily authors can get their books in front of readers.

Kindle is a service and delivering that service involves building out a platform – a platform for all of Publishing.

Kindle is not just a device or a store – it is all of reading and publishing.

It’s a service that takes books right from the hands of authors to readers -

  1. It encompasses the entire reading experience – the words, the dictionary, the reference, the audiobook.
  2. It encompasses the entire purchase experience – finding books, buying them, getting them to the reader, and storing it on the reader and in the cloud.
  3. It also encompasses the experience of the author – uploading the book, storing the book, getting a POD version, setting prices and writing sales copy.

Kindle is a service – not a device, not a store. It is also a service that has a very strong platform underlying it.   

Competitors are underestimating Kindle as a service

By fixating on limitations of the physical device (some of which aren’t even relevant to reading) competitors are rationalizing away their fear and lack of understanding.

Competitors and journalists limit themselves to thinking in terms of -

  1. Kindle as a device. That perspective limits itself to prettiness and coolness and features. 
  2. Kindle as a Store. That perspective limits us to thinking of range of books and prices.

These perspectives have some amount of value. However, they are myopic in their scope.  

Every article that talks about how the Kindle is not a flashy enough gadget is missing the point entirely.

The Kindle is a service for readers

This is the most amusing and most consistent mistake articles about the Kindle make.

  1. They know it’s an eReader.
  2. They call it an eReader.

Yet they can’t make the jump that the Kindle is devoted to readers and to reading.

The standard argument is that devices that have ‘good enough’ reading will kill devices that ‘do nothing except reading’.

  1. The mistake here is that people who don’t really read are trying to predict what people who read a lot will do.
  2. To compound matters they are making predictions without enough experience with the Kindle.

Here are a few examples of what the ‘good enough’ argument sounds like to people who love to read and have actually bought and used an eReader -

  1. Eye Lenses are going to be replaced with multi-purpose lenses that also function as computer screens and television screens. They won’t give you 20/20 vision any more – However, they’ll be good enough. 
  2. Cars will double up as treadmills. Their top speed will only be 50 mph – However, you can both exercise and drive at the same time.
  3. Windows are going to be replaced by Multi-function walls that switch between being windows, blinds, and walls. They only let in half as much light – However, that’s okay because you can use them as a wall.

If those examples seem far-fetched it’s probably because you’re not the target audience for eReaders.

If you’re not the target customer then don’t worry about it

 People feel this desperate urge to rationalize dedicated reading devices -

  1. Can’t imagine ever buying a dedicated eReader – Must write an article and talk about their imminent death. 
  2. Can’t imagine people not liking reading books on LCD screens – Must write an article talking about how LCD screens are ‘good enough’.

It’s as if someone told them -

You better not let this dangerous virus of reading spread any more.

Attack it at any cost. Next thing you know you might be the only one who doesn’t read and you’ll feel left out.

What’s especially interesting is that eReaders aren’t a threat -

  1. It’s not as if it’s a minority of people who don’t read attacking the rest.
  2. There are no religious or political reasons to attack eReaders. Unless there’s a cult somewhere that hates reading and has every main stream journalist as its member.
  3. eReader owners aren’t maniacal or overzealous.
  4. It’s not as if eReaders are very elite and people who can’t get them are attacking them.
  5. eReaders haven’t stepped on anyone’s toes. All they’ve done is begin to succeed with people who read.

Yet, that small amount of success (millions of Kindles sold) has managed to upset a huge number of people and compelled them to attack.

One possible explanation is that Publishers of all sorts are banding together to attack eReaders as they threaten to take out Book Publishers. It’d be one heck of a conspiracy.

The Kindle is an incrementally improving service for readers

We know that Amazon and Mr. Bezos are hooked on Kaizen – the Japanese concept of continuous incremental improvement.

Kaizen has two key intertwined concepts -

  1. You are always improving – right before a release, right after a release, and in between. 
  2. You have incremental improvements – the aim isn’t to throw a 60 yard touchdown on every single down. It’s 4 yards every single down.

It’s worth keeping in mind that a team that gets 4 yards every single down scores every time.

Kaizen is why Japanese car makers pulled ahead of competitors and it’d be foolish to assume that a company based on Kaizen is killable.

  1. You have a competitor announce a big release.  
  2. By the time the product arrives you’ve already closed a lot of the gap.
  3. Then, while the competitor is working on its 1 big feature for the whole year, your product keeps improving and outpaces them.

In the long run your consistent, incremental improvements beat out everyone else.

Consider the Kindle in the last 4 months -

  1. PDF Support.
  2. Price cut to $259.
  3. International Kindle.
  4. International Kindle DX.
  5. Whispernet and free Wikipedia in 100+ countries.
  6. Faster screen refresh.
  7. Better battery management on the international kindle.
  8. Screen rotation.
  9. Kindle Apps and Kindle App Store put into motion.
  10. Kindle for PC.
  11. Kindle for iPhone improvements.
  12. Multi-touch company acquired.
  13. Announced and probably being worked on – Kindle Folders, Kindle for Mac, Kindle for Blackberry, Supersize fonts, accessible Menus.
  14. Jumped to 410,000 books available.
  15. Increased royalties for authors to 70%.
  16. Started War for $9.99.

Amazon could beat a lot of drums and set up a big conference and announce ALL of these features on one day and then it would fit in with what a lot of people are comfortable with and they’d think the Kindle was cool.

A marketing oriented company would pretend they had eradicated world poverty -

Kindle is now available in 171 countries with free Whispernet in over 100 countries – we are uniting the world through reading.

1 cent from every Kindle Book now goes to orphans in the Mars colonies.

We have embraced academics and professionals – We now support PDF natively on the Kindle.

We have embraced hundreds of millions of people who have PCs - Kindle for PC is very cool.  

The battery life is now enough to read 27 books in one go. It’s awesome.

We now have 60% more books – so you can read what you want – anytime you want.

Instead of having a dog and pony show every 6 months Amazon is just improving the service – every aspect of it. Consistent and incremental improvement.

Closing Thought – An incrementally improving service is hard to beat

Now that we have seen the Kindle is -

  1. A service that encompasses all of Publishing. 
  2. A service that caters exclusively to readers.
  3. Always improving in little increments that add up.

It’s clear why Amazon and the Kindle bother tech journalists and some people so much -

  1. The incremental improvement concept is alien to them. Especially the improving all the time part.
  2. They want to hear a story as opposed to read one. 
  3. They want a device to raise their dopamine level as opposed to letting the books delivered via the device (and read on the device) do the dopamine raising.
  4. They want companies to entertain them as opposed to serve their customers.
  5. They want to believe that a company can be ‘good’ or ‘evil’.
  6. They want to think that companies that earn billions in profit a year actually care more about the rainforests than their own bank accounts.

Basically people want to eat their cake and have it too. They want a company to -

Deliver a great product. 

Deliver it in a way and form that they are comfortable with.

Happen to do it in the middle of saving the rainforests.

Make product owners sexy and cool.  

The Kindle definitely is a great product.

The Kindle can’t do the second because it is a service and very different from what people are used to.

Quite frankly Amazon seem not to care about playing the charade of ‘we’re in it only to save the penguins’.

That leaves making product owners sexy and cool – Perhaps Amazon is just too busy building up a huge service. Perhaps people who read a lot simply don’t need a device to be sexy and cool.

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