Yet Another Example of Statistical Lunacy

A blog/site called Asymco that calls itself ‘Curated Market Intelligence’ exhibits its special brand of intelligence with a claim that ‘Apps are 15 times more popular than ebooks’.

It throws in a few more gems –

Books are a 400 year old medium. Songs only 100 years old and apps a mere 10.

For three centuries, the book medium had a monopoly on solitary entertainment. The download data shows how quickly new media displace the old. Therefore, in this context, it’s perhaps fair to say that Steve was right three years ago when he said “People don’t read anymore.”

My brain is overwhelmed by the number of mistakes –

  1. Songs are only 100 years old? Guess all the people singing songs through the centuries had no idea they were just imagining things.
  2. Books are a 400 year old medium. Obviously. The Bible really wasn’t a book. Neither was the Aeneid or the Bhagvad Gita or The Art of War.
  3. Apps are a 10-year-old medium. Really? What about software – If you remove the ‘lication’ from application does that make it something else entirely?
  4. Books had a monopoly on solitary entertainment for three centuries. So true. It’s not like you could walk down to the park or watch the waves or go fishing or hunting or paint something or write.
  5. People don’t read anymore. Yes, that would explain why over 10 million people have already bought a dedicated reading device. It makes a perfect paperweight. It would also explain why Apple is trying to kick out other reading apps – it wants to keep the zero book sales to itself.

Luckily for us we can focus on the most beautiful mistake of all, for else we would be stuck here all day discussing Asymco’s special brand of intelligence.

Comparing iBooks sales with iApps sales is lunacy

Surely, even for Apple fans, it’s a bit hasty to assume Apple is the whole wide world.

Apple isn’t the biggest ebook retailer. That would be Amazon. It isn’t the second biggest ebook retailer. That would be B&N. Apple isn’t even the biggest ebook seller on its own platform – that would be Kindle for iPhone.

Apple probably has 5% or so of the ebook market. So, it makes perfect sense to compare 5% of the ebook market with the Apple App Store which is the largest app store.

To confuse things further, a large percentage (somewhere between 10% and 20%) of apps in the App Store are books. What percentage of app downloads are book apps? Perhaps 5% to 10%.

There’s absolutely no way to make this comparison with a straight face.

Let’s make our own illusions

Let’s assume there have been 1.25 million Kindle Apps sold since launch of the Kindle App Store. In the same time period 375 million Kindle books were sold. That means that eBooks are 300 times more popular than apps.

That sounds pretty stupid doesn’t it. Perhaps we should put up some charts to make it look less stupid.

What about time and money?

Surely, we have to figure out amount of time devoted and amount of money spent.

A typical app is $1 or $2 and is discarded after 30 minutes. The 30 minutes average is after including the really good apps that give people 20 to 30 hours of playing time.

A typical song is $1 and lasts 3 minutes. If we assume it’s listened to 20 times, that gives us 1 hour.

A typical books costs between $5 and $10 and takes 3 to 6 hours to read.

How can you compare the three?

If someone pays $20 and spends 15 hours on Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy – Is that the same as buying 3 Tower Defence apps for $1 each and playing them for 3 hours?

Obviously, in Asymco’s world it is.

Apple sure isn’t behaving like a company that thinks people don’t read any more

Let’s look at all the ways Apple is displaying its strong conviction that people don’t read any more –

  1. Introducing iBooks software.
  2. Touting 100 million book downloads. Note that Apple doesn’t mention whether it’s paid downloads or not.
  3. Kicking out Sony.
  4. Getting ready to levy a tax on Kindle and Nook reading apps.
  5. Getting Random House on board.

Wow – that’s exactly what we would do if we thought a market had no future. Not.

People who don’t read LOVE to pretend that everyone else doesn’t read either

If there’s any sure sign that playing apps all the time, and not reading books, leads to a special type of intelligence – it’s this article by Asymco.

You can imagine the author taking a break from Angry Birds and thinking – Throwing birds at pigs is getting boring, let’s throw some mud at books instead.

It’s not enough for people who are not into books to spend their time developing special intelligence from apps – they also need to demonstrate how apps are so much better, so much more popular, so much more artistic, and so much more fulfilling than reading.

While we readers are wasting our time reading Virgil and Shakespeare (we are obviously under some sort of delusion since books didn’t exist until 400 years ago), the true Renaissance men of our age are discovering new ways of throwing Birds at Pigs. They are floating in the sea of perfection that is apps, savoring these delicious little morsels of special intelligence, while we waste our brains reading and thinking.

It’s rather strange, isn’t it. There are never any articles from people who read, attacking people who play apps. We readers don’t really care – Reality is far too interesting to worry about what the price of corn is in Farmville. But there is something about reading that upsets people who don’t read – something that forces them to constantly attack anyone who reads, and reading itself. It’s almost as if in the midst of feeding candy to monsters and bypassing the laws of physics with birds the appficionados worry that all the unreality they are swimming in might pull them under.

Reviewing two new 'Kindle is going to die' articles

The Kindle might have sold 8 million units this year. Perhaps it was just 5 million. Perhaps just 3 million. Perhaps 11 million.

The only certainty is it was ‘millions of Kindles’.

You’d think that would get Kindle haters to stop predicting the death of the Kindle. No such luck.

Success of eReaders only Hype?

Lars Paronen at Reuters asks a question and answers it – Claiming that the success of eReaders is only hype.

Well, you have to admit there’s a fair bit of hype. However, it definitely isn’t 100% Hype.

The reason he feels it’s 100% hype is a survey of 755 Internet users between October 28th and November 1st.

Who are we to challenge such conclusive findings? Let’s just go through them.

  1. 65% of 755 random people paid to download/access some kind of online content. 
  2. 10% paid for ebooks.
  3. 33% paid for music. 15% paid for ringtones.
  4. 5% have paid to access online dating sites or services. That’s it?  
  5. 2% paid for adult content. There goes the reliability of that survey.

You get two classes of possible headlines. First, you have the ‘Kindle is doing very well’ type of headline –

Twice as many people buy ebooks as dating site memberships.

Kindle Books almost as popular as ringtones.

Paid eBooks 5 times more popular than paid adult content.

Of course, that isn’t what Reuters would like to discuss. Here’s what we get –

Is the success of eReaders only hype?

That’s right – ringtones are more popular than ebooks.

Let’s interpret everything negatively.

Flawless Logic. Not. 

Here are the reasons why Kindle and Nook are all hype –

  1. A survey of 755 random ‘Internet users’ says only 10% bought ebooks.
  2. 15% of those people bought ringtones.
  3. The Magazine industry is going through tough times.
  4. Kindle and Nook can’t handle ‘enhanced video content’.
  5. iPad users play Angry Birds more than they read.

The author also discusses how eBooks have ‘only’ 10% of book sales. It must have been really easy to choose Option 2 out of –

  1. Option 1: eBook sales rocket from 3% to 10% of the book market in 1 year.
  2. Option 2: eBook sales account for only 10% of the book market.

Then we get this gem –

Extrapolating from the Pew survey, for online e-book sales to compete with other media such as digital music, prices have to come down and subscriptions heavily promoted.

Guess we all forgot the rule that you have to choose one out of ebooks and digital music.

This is lovely – take an industry that has already made the shift to digital, and use it to claim that eReaders are all hype. Lately, there has been a lot of hype – However, let’s not forget that we probably have 10 million or more eReaders in play around the world.

Lack of Faith in the Kindle

At Vator News we have Faith Merino claiming Kindle will crumple under iPad. The only thing crumpling will be your hands – if you read an entire book while holding an iPad in just your hands.

To put an exclamation mark on her Kindle crumpling prediction she puts a picture of Jeff Bezos with the Kindle 1 right next to a picture of Steve Jobs with an iPad. Nothing like using a 2007 product to illustrate why the 2010 version is going to die.

She starts off with this gem –

studies have revealed that the tablet owner and the e-reader owner are two very different people.  But is that trend going to stick?

No. Those two very different people are going to merge into one.

She reduces Kindle vs iPad to price. Basically, she’s assuming once the iPad drops in price there will be zero reason to buy the Kindle. Here’s her assessment –

However Apple plans to cut the price, once it does, consumers will have no reason to prefer the Kindle over the iPad. 

With the iPad’s e-reader capability and myriad other functions, the Kindle will be rendered obsolete—that is, unless it, too, drops its price, which it likely will.

Got to give credit to that Angry Birds – teaches you to use words like myriad and obsolete. In the same sentence.

This ‘price’ thing is the favorite defence for people who don’t get eReaders.

Kindles and Nooks are only selling because they’re cheap. Just wait until the JesusPad is $300. Just wait until the JesusPad is $200. And so on …

It’s amazing to see Kindle haters and eReader haters coming up with rationalizations for why eReaders are doing well.

Helping out anti-Kindle people

It’s a little disappointing to see such lame analysis.

Perhaps we can come up with things that are more precise, and things that are so imprecise that they can’t be argued against.

Here are a few things that Kindle haters should use as evidence for Kindle and Nook being a fad –

  1. Kindle is available in more countries than iPad. Once iPad arrives in Madagascar and Faroe Islands, 90% of Kindle sales will dry up, as people will have a better option.
  2. B&N and Amazon are tricking people by not telling anyone how many are sold. Once people find out actual numbers they’ll start buying iPads instead.
  3. iPad is going to add ‘smell of books’ to iBooks soon. Once that happens, it’s bye-bye Kindle.
  4. People who buy eReaders don’t know the iPad can be used for reading. Steve Jobs is going to start sending out iBooks ads telepathically to the entire world’s population. Then everyone will know, and no one will pick eReaders.
  5. A survey of 50,000 one-toed sloths showed that iPad is better for a relaxed pace of life. Only 12% of the sloths felt an eReader would help them relax, while 52% picked the iPad. The other 36% fell asleep during the survey. 
  6. Once iBooks adds more books, the wooden bookshelf and the animated page turns will force everyone to choose iBooks. 
  7. 90% of Kindle book sales are through iPhone and iPad. The other 10% are through Android. There have only been 25 Kindles sold, mostly to people with a gun put to their head. Everyone you see carrying a Kindle – that’s just an illusion. If you were to try to grab one of the Kindles you see – well, your hand would go right through.
  8. Amazon knows sales are so bad that it’s started advertising Kindle reading apps instead.
  9. Apple couldn’t produce enough iPads. If it could have produced another 8 million iPads, zero Kindles would have been sold.

Actually, there’s a very credible rationalization eReader and Kindle haters could use to keep themselves happy in the face of tens of millions of eReaders being sold in 2011.

As iPad becomes available in enough numbers, in enough countries, and with enough animated books, we will see Kindle and eReaders die out.

They shouldn’t even worry about money – Doesn’t the iPad provide a lot more value for money? Why, Angry Birds alone is worth a few thousand dollars in wasted time.

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).