Kindle Vs Sony – Importance of Content

Amazon is in no danger of losing the Kindle Vs Sony battle as long as Sony keeps forgetting that the device is just an enabler and its content and the ease of getting and consuming content that provide the core value.

First, we’ll look at two examples showing Sony’s lack of understanding of how important content is. Then we’ll look at signs that this may be changing.  

Sony ignoring content in Xbox 360 Vs Playstation 3

With its new $399 PS3 Slim, you’d think Sony has a good chance to beat the Xbox. Especially since you get the built-in Blu-Ray player for free.

However, as it has in the past, Sony is ignoring content -

  1. The PS3 Slim is not backwards compatible with PS2 so you can’t play that huge library of games.
  2. As numerous commenters at numerous forums will point out Xbox 360 has the better exclusive games (Halo, Gears of War etc.).
  3. For common games, the Xbox 360 games are easier to code i.e. content creation is easier for the Xbox.

Basically, Sony are selling a great product and not backing it up with great content and the ability for content creators to add great content easily.

Without excellent content options, what would otherwise be a terrific value propostion i.e. PS3 Console with Blu-Ray Player for the cost of just a Console, is much less compelling.

Sony ignoring content in Kindle Vs Sony

Sony are repeating the same mistake of focusing too much on the eReader and not realizing that the eReader is just an enabler to read books.

Here are some data points -

  1. Currently, there are something like 12K books available in the UK for the Sony Reader. 
  2. The number of titles they have in the US is currently something like 100K (excluding free books).
  3. Instead of focusing on delivering content easily to customers, they’re focusing on other areas.
  4. While Kindle is encouraging independent publishers and B&N is stepping in too, Sony is doing nothing (as far as I know).

The addition of Google Books is not that important because most, perhaps all, of the true classics were available before Google Books got added to the Sony Store.

The 7,000 or so in the Kindle Store, and the 40,000 or so on Gutenberg and ManyBooks cover most of the good ones. 

There’s a reason some public domain books are considered ‘classics’ and some haven’t been checked out of the library since 1929.

Could Sony be beginning to realize the importance of  Content ?

There are two big signs that Sony might be turning a new leaf -

  1. Sony Reader Daily Edition will have a wireless connection to the Sony eBook Store. 
  2. Sony Library Finder service will let users borrow ebooks from libraries.

These are good first steps. However, let’s not be under the illusion that this levels the playing field.

Here are a few more steps Sony ought to consider -

  1. Free Internet access on the Sony Reader 600 to enable wikipedia access and enhance reading.  
  2. Dictionary on the 300. Surely, it couldn’t be more than software changes.
  3. Tying up with Barnes & Noble or Indigo and expanding amount of new content.
  4. Getting serious about adding more new titles. Its great that all the bestsellers of 1787 are available – however, people in 2009 would rather have the current bestsellers.
  5. Encouraging independent publishers.

It seems that Sony doesn’t want to do the hard stuff – negotiate with publishers, persuade them of the opportunity, support indie publishers, and so forth. Winning the war for the future of publishing is going to take a lot more than just offering free public domain books.

Kindle Store needs Discoverability

The number of blogs in the Kindle Store has mushroomed from 1,400 (which is still being advertised) to over 4,000 in the 4 days that the Kindle Publishing for Blogs Self-Publishing Option has been in existence. At the same time, the number of kindle edition books is now at 275,000.

This amazing growth of books and blogs presents a few challenges -

  1. How do we find the content that appeals specifically to us?  
  2. How do we find new releases and rapid climbers in all the little niches we’re interested in?
  3. For publishers – Is there a way to not get lost in this deluge?
  4. For self-published authors – How do you reach the people who actually want to try out new books like yours?

Kindle DX will arrive in the summer and we will see the addition of huge numbers of textbooks and (hopefully) newspapers and periodicals. At that point we’ll have a full blown crisis.  

Content Creators have no Path to Success

Put your blog or book up on the Kindle Store – what’s next?

How do you reach the Kindle owners that would be interested in your content? Amazon can’t mention every new addition or every new release in its official blog. Neither can kindle blogs like this one.

There are 2,600 additions in the last 4 days to the blogs store – that’s nearly one every 2 minutes. Even if it goes down to 1 every 20 minutes, that’s still 72 new blogs a day.

There is no way for content creators to target or reach specific audiences, and things are just as bad on the other side …

Users can’t get to Content that Appeals to them easily

Is there a Mariners blog on the Kindle Store? What about something specific to San Francisco or traveling or cooking or neuroscience?

Would you just keep searching for different terms hoping to run into blogs you like? Or would you browse through 4,000 blogs?

What about after finding blogs – How do you know which one is good? Do you subscribe to each one?

Lets look at the options for finding and choosing blogs -

  1. Keyword search – rather random.  
  2. Price High to Low and Low to High don’t really work (everything’s $0.99 or $1.99). 
  3. Bestsellers is somewhat helpful – however doesn’t really go into niches well.
  4. Movers and Shakers is just one list for the whole Kindle Store.
  5. Ratings – when most blogs have just a few ratings, it’s hard to decide.
  6. There’s no indication of a blog’s popularity on the Internet.

There are similar problems with finding books. Self-published authors don’t have any store of their own – even if Kindle owners wanted to encourage authors who publish just for the kindle, there’s no path. 

Basically, Kindle Store is only useful if you already know what you want – its really difficult to find new content that you would like.

Kindle Store needs Discoverability, and Structure

The problem is that content is being added to the Kindle Store without enough thought put into how customers will find it, and how they’ll make a decision on buying it.

Entwined with the need for discoverability is a need for better structure – Whether Amazon realize it or not they are responsible for curation. They can’t just say – Here are 10,000 blogs. Knock yourself out.

Amazon need to consider users, and content creators, and find a solution. Ideally before we have 500K books, 100K blogs, and no way to find anything.

O’Reilly vs Kindle – O’Reilly Books at Kindle Store

In between pushing the ePub based Open Book Framework, and claiming that Amazon will lose their lead unless they open up the Kindle, O’Reilly publishing decided to start selling 160 O’Reilly Media titles at the Kindle Store.

The books are being sold without any DRM. Text To Speech aka Read To Me is enabled so you can hear your favorite coding examples in your favorite algorithmically rendered voice.

O’Reilly Media are quick to point out -

  1. They will be adding more books to the Kindle Store -

    … expect to add another 100 or so titles in the coming weeks.

  2. The remaining of their 400 titles are held up by the lack of table support for Kindle 1 -

    … the number for sale on Kindle will be limited until Amazon updates Kindle 1 to support table rendering. 

  3. Lack of support for showing code and lack of table support held them back.  
  4. As did the ‘compulsory’ DRM required by Amazon. Which, obviously, isn’t compulsory any more.
  5. Love how they manage to sound patronizing, even as they supposedly thank Amazon, – 

    While the rendering in Kindle 2 still leaves a bit to be desired, we felt it was an acceptable baseline, and look forward to continuing to work with them to improve the display of technical content on Kindle. (Ironically, the Kindle 2 web browser displays complex content like tables and code quite well — check out the Bookworm mobile version if you have a Kindle.)

    Our thanks do go to Amazon for working with us on this. They’re a favorite target of criticism (often right here, and often for good reason),

  6. And they manage to mention, in passing, the story of the one single Kindle owner, ever, who has been locked out of his Kindle account.
  7. Finally, they request their readers to contact Amazon customer support and ask Amazon to support technical books as well as their eReader rivals (who was it that said comparisons are odious?) -

    If you want to tell Amazon to hurry up and update your Kindle 1, or to improve their rendering of technical content to match Sony Reader, Stanza, Bookworm, Calibre, and others, you can drop them a line at

Aah – the joy of seeing O’Reilly kicking and shouting and protesting, and yet, being dragged, against their will, to the Kindle Store.

BTW, here’s their article – you have to admit it’s pretty hilarious to see a fanatical open standard advocate sell their content within an obvious walled garden.

Kindles are Training People to Pay for Content

Newspapers and publishers might be wary of Amazon and be trying their best to sabotage its moves with the Kindle. However, they would do well to take a deeper look at something the Kindle 2 and Kindle have accomplished -

People are paying for content again. Even content like newspapers and blogs that they can read on-line for free.

This quote from Henry Blodget’s article reminds us of two important things (that Kindles are now being seen in real life, and that people are happy to buy content on the Kindle) -

The Kindle owners, moreover, were RAVING about them.  The favorite feature?  The automatically downloaded newspapers … We didn’t hear a single complaint about having to pay for these newspapers, by the way (which should serve as yet another indication of how silly the NYT is to give its stuff away for free on-line).

I’d argue that the NYT isn’t stupid – it’s hostage to the status quo on the Internet i.e. give the milk away for free and hope people will still want the cow.

Let’s look at three examples of how setting context and expectations can lead to people getting trained to either pay for content or not pay for content -

Ringtones, Texts for Cellphones Vs MP3s, Email on the Internet

Cellphones have the context of ‘paying for content’ built-in. You pay for -

  1. Phone Calls.  
  2. Text Messages.
  3. Browsing the Internet.
  4. Ringtones.
  5. Games.

This is, from the perspective of a content producer, a great thing. Its also great for the companies that provide the devices and the infrastructure.

On the Internet, on the other hand, everything is set to be free -

  1. Free email services. 
  2. Free Phone Calls via Voice over IP. 
  3. Free Content on websites. 
  4. Free online games.
  5. Free MP3s.

Most content on the Internet is free with people either overtly or covertly trying to make money off of users. Basically in exchange for ‘free’ stuff sites and blogs are hoping for ad revenue, affiliate income, donations, etc. If you’re particularly amoral, you go the Facebook route and try to sell user information to advertisers and claim user created content as your own.

When the NY Times comes into this context, with these user expectations of free, they are forced to give away their content.

Windows Software Vs Facebook + OpenSocial Apps

For all the hate Windows gets, they allow a great platform for people to provide value and make money. There are huge corporations and lots and lots of developers that have made money off of Windows programs. And its a very ‘you get value proportionate to the value you provide’ paradigm.

With Facebook and OpenSocial on the other hand we see a different arrangement – Create an App. Hope it gets really popular. Try to figure out a way to make money off of it. Its not that different from a lottery in that 1 out of every 5,000 or so developers will hit it big. However, Facebook and opensocial networks get some value from each and every developer.

At some level, we are programmed to go for the close to zero probability, very high payout scenario. Companies like Facebook are just taking advantage of this – they don’t even have a mechanism for micro-payments to help app developers monetize their apps.

Apple with the Apple iPhone App Store is doing a balancing act by allowing both free and paid apps.  And they’re helped by the fact that people are already used to paying for phone related services and apps (like they do for their voice plan and their data plan).

Which brings us to what Kindle 2, Kindle etc. are creating -

Free Online Newspapers Vs Kindle Edition Paid Newspapers

The Kindle 2, the Kindle, and even the Kindle for iPhone are set up to train users to pay for content. This is a great thing if you’re a content provider. Instead of users paying $0 per month to read your paper on-line, they’re paying $14.99 a month to read it on Kindle 2.

Book publishers need to understand that a non-Internet context means they get paid for books. In addition, Kindle 2 etc. encourage reading – the convenience and portability and ease of purchase means a lot more purchases. The Blodget article mentions that one user who usually buys 3 books a year bought 12 books in his first year of owning a Kindle.  

The Kindle family of devices and apps, and other electronic readers, are the saviour of companies and individuals that create content. They’re replacing an unknown variable (ad revenue and other ‘hope I make something’ revenue streams) with a known one (monthly subscription revenues or one time revenues).

Blogs on the Kindle, FeedJournal, and Kazutomo Hori

At interface – a technology centric blog focused on great design, there’s a great post (the link before) about using FeedJournal and Amazon’s mailing service to get blogs over to your Kindle for free. Now, I did post the list of blogs with direct URLs and bloglines previews – however if that doesn’t work for you, this is a good method to try out. Be kind, rewind  let us know with a comment if one of the methods works for you.

BTW, the more I think about it, the more I feel that Amazon is missing a big opportunity with the subscriptions model it’s currently using. I can’t get the Time website to work (the doubleclick ad feed is blocking it from loading) so will have to write from memory – Kazutomo Hori (Cybird) was recognized as one of Time’s global influentials in 2002 for a subscription model for getting online content on cellphones. This included ringtones and such. However, the beauty of the model was that having a subscription model that was very reasonably priced led to huge growth (5.5 million subscribers is what i can find) and lots of revenue. At $1.99 per blog I doubt Amazon has tons of people subscribing. At 1$ for any blogs you want, pretty much everyone would subscribe. Of course, what do I know about making money ;)

I’m thinking about figures and I think 1$ or 2$ a month for as many blogs as you would like OR 5$ a month for as many magazines or newspapers as you would like makes sense. thoughts? what would you be willing to pay for each?


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