Kindle Fire HD Strategy vs iPad is too focused on where the puck is

Here are two quotes from Wayne Gretzky that are cliché-overload. However, they describe Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD strategy perfectly (in reverse) –

  1. “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
  2. “A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”

These describe PERFECTLY what’s wrong, fundamentally, with Amazon’s Kindle Fire HD strategy. It’s too focused on what it should do to compete with the existing leader in a space AS THE LEADER IS RIGHT NOW.

Kindle Fire was too focused on Nook Color. Kindle Fire HD was too focused on being a mini-iPad, and never anticipated iPad Mini. Kindle Fire HD 2 looks like it’s too focused on iPad Mini, and might be unprepared for what Apple has in the works for Fall 2013.

The problem is that it’s a 9 to 12 month product cycle. If you keep targeting the current competitor models, you keep getting devices that are a year old by the time they ship. In one year, everything moves. If you don’t innovate and lead, then you are forever playing catch-up.

Is Kindle Fire HD 2 really going to be a year old when it arrives?

Let’s consider what writers are saying about the rumored new Kindle Fire HD 2 and Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ –

  1. Amazon Working To Bring Back Flash On Kindle Fire Tablets – Uber Gizmo
  2. Next Kindle Fire HD could rival the retina iPad in resolution – Ars technical.

Notice what Amazon is doing here. It’s targeting the iPad based on where the iPad currently is.

This Fall we’re going to see one or more of –

  1. iPad Mini getting retina resolution. That would blow away the Kindle Fire HD’s screen resolution advantage. Then the iPad Mini’s advantages like usability, larger app store, better build, and branding would kick in.
  2. iPad gets some big, new feature or a super high-resolution screen. That would make Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 2’s jump in screen resolution pointless.
  3. [Perhaps] iWatch. This would add to the iPad/iPad Mini value proposition by providing a cool, new accessory that links with iPads

What will Amazon have, if the current rumors about Kindle Fire HD 2 are true?

It will have a Kindle Fire HD 2 that beats the first generation iPad Mini and a Kindle Fire HD 8.9″ 2 that ties with the iPad Retina Display.

Which is skating to where the puck is.

Amazon just doesn’t believe in innovating fast

Don’t know what’s wrong with Amazon’s strategy engine. It seems to be capable of only incremental evolution.

It’s almost as if Amazon thinks –

  1. How can we make something that is marginally better than the current leader?
  2. How can we then use low pricing and/or our advantages to beat it?
  3. A huge jump? No, let someone else take the risk.

Why not get out of the Incremental Overload box and try some real jumps and some real innovation?

Kindle Fire taking over the niche created by Nook Color was perhaps inevitable once you consider the cold hard facts –

  1. Amazon spent $240 million+ on advertising last year. There’s no way B&N can compete with that. My guess would be that B&N spent perhaps $20 to $50 million.
  2. Amazon has a much richer content ecosystem. It can offer things like movies and music. B&N only recently added movies.
  3. A lot more people shop online at All those frontpage ads Amazon was using. They must be another $50 million or more of marketing.

Of course, the wrinkle was that iPad Mini arrived and took the #1 spot in the small tablet niche. Kindle Fire still did very well and got #2. The combination of iPad Mini’s success and Kindle Fire’s success destroyed the Nook HD and Nook HD+.

Now iPad Mini 2 and iPad Retina are slated to arrive. Amazon, instead of thinking about competing with them, is competing with the current iPad Mini and the current iPad.

Pretty sure Amazon hasn’t anticipated the impact of small Windows 8 Tablets either.

I think it’s a very fine distinction –

  1. Good companies start building a product that would be #1 in the market as it exists today.
  2. Great companies start building a product that will be #1 in the market that would have evolved and become something else when the product actually launches.
  3. The absolute best companies focus on and build a product that will change the market itself. So that all existing competitors are left adrift.

Exactly what Wayne Gretzky said – Great players skate to where the puck is going to be.

The distinction is very fine because it’s easy to get trapped into thinking that everyone else will be trapped in the TODAY’s MARKET mindset. Things change quickly once one or more companies start thinking about how to shift the entire market.

Where is the puck going to be in Tablets in 2 years?

I don’t know. However, we can take some educated guesses –

  1. Wearable computing replaces Tablets as the Hot New Market.
  2. 7″ Tablets with Projection Screens become the hot new thing.
  3. The current market stays as it is.
  4. The current market evolves incrementally and steadily.
  5. There’s a huge new shift in Tablets with some new screen technology like 3D screens.
  6. Phablets take over the Tablet Space.
  7. Something else entirely.

Which of these is the least likely? 3. The chances of the current market staying as it is, are ZERO.

Yet, that’s what Amazon is strategizing for. It’s improving the screen resolution and weight of its tablets. To the point that they beat the 2012 Tablets. But it won’t be competing with the 2012 Tablets. It has to take on the Fall 2013 Tablets.

In 2007, iPhone came out. Up to 2010, Blackberry was selling more than iPhone. It’s in the last 3 years that Blackberry’s mistakes from 2007 onwards have become evident. It keeps trying to fight the iPhone from 2-3 years back. Amazon is falling into a similar trap – skating to where the puck is and then finding that, on reaching the spot, the puck is gone.

Contrast that with what Apple did. It went into mp3 players to start creating a loyal customer base. Then Phones once it became clear to anyone reading the tea leaves that a big shift to mobile computing was happening. Then Tablets. Now it’s probably going to take a shot at Wearable Computing. It’s trying to anticipate where the next BIG market shift is going to be.

When it goes into a market, it doesn’t go in trying to match or incrementally improve on the existing devices. iPhone shocked existing smart phone makers because of how large the screen was. iPhone was basically a battery strapped to a screen with some components added in. It was also a complete shift to touch screens.

It was anti-incremental improvement. Because you can’t displace entrenched giants via incremental improvements. Remember, they are incrementally improving too. If they have the lead and both you and them keep improving incrementally, you’ll never catch-up.

Contrast Amazon’s strategy with what Samsung did. Samsung started spending $4 billion a year on marketing. It hit Apple right where it hurt – the Perception Wars (why do you think Apple is hiring the YSL CEO, it sure ain’t for his knowledge of semiconductors). That’s why Samsung took over global smartphone sales and dominates amongst Android Phones. Samsung’s huge victory was to understand the importance of huge marketing and partnerships with lots of carriers and a vast distribution network and to go all-out. It wasn’t incremental in any sense of the word. It took big risks and that’s why it’s making $8.2 billion in profits a quarter (approximately 210 times Amazon’s 2012 profits, except Amazon’s 2012 profits had a negative sign in front of them).

Amazon is trying incremental improvements when its competitors, including Apple and Samsung and Microsoft, are taking much bolder bets. Yes, there’s a 10% chance that an incremental, cheap device that slightly improves on the existing competition will win the Tablet Wars. However, the 90% chance is that the victor will be the company that skates to where the puck is going to be. With all due respect, that’s how it should be. You want the winner to be the person who invented fire, not the one who ran away screaming to his cave at the first spark.

Kindle Worlds – the Search for Cheap, Exclusive Content

A key philosophy of technology companies seems to be –

Let other people do free work for you. Let them generate content that you take ownership of. Then leverage that content to make money and beat your competitors.

Amazon is demonstrating a modification of exactly this philosophy with Kindle Worlds.

Kindle Worlds = An Amazon initiative where any author can write books and stories based on existing book worlds, TV shows, movies, and other properties/worlds.

Please Note: What Amazon is doing isn’t bad, like what social networks do. Social Networks let users create content (user-generated content), claim ownership of it, and make money from it. At the same time, they prostitute out users’ personal details to make more money. So they commit two sins – take ownership of content and photos that users have created, sell users’ personal data to companies and advertisers without telling users.

Amazon isn’t doing anything of the sort – to the best of my knowledge. Amazon is simply using the philosophy of ‘let others work for you, for free’. Which, actually, is quite smart. Kindle Worlds is an illustration of this.

Kindle Strategy is heavily based on Exclusive Content

One of the tenets of Amazon’s Kindle philosophy has been to get ‘exclusive’ content –

  1. It offers ‘5 days free’ every 3 months to indie authors – In return for exclusivity.
  2. It offers money to authors for new and back list books – In return for exclusivity.
  3. It is striking up deals with authors via its publishing imprints – then offering those titles exclusively through Amazon.

It’s a fundamental pillar on which Amazon’s Kindle strategy is built.

There are however, three problems –

  1. It’s very expensive to get exclusive content. Whether it’s striking up exclusive deals, or it’s publishing books, it costs a lot of money and time and effort. Amazon, even after all its efforts, has perhaps a few hundred exclusive titles from big authors, a few hundred Amazon published exclusive titles, and a few hundred thousand indie authors titles. Apart from the indie author exclusives, nothing is large enough to be significant.
  2. Current methods of getting exclusive content are very slow. Negotiate an exclusive deal. Sign an author. Publish a book and promote it. What’s the shared weakness? All these methods are incredibly slow.
  3. Current methods of getting exclusive content aren’t scalable. To go from a few hundred exclusive deals with top authors to a few hundred thousand would take tens of thousands of people and decades. The fast rise in indie author exclusives, on the other hand, shows the power of automating things. There is power in letting authors generate exclusives themselves. There is power in automating processes and letting people use a self-serve model.

How can Amazon get enough exclusives given these three constraints?

The answer, rather interestingly, involves initiatives like Kindle Worlds.

Kindle Worlds is just a way to gets lots of Cheap, Exclusive Content

What is a Kindle Worlds title?

  1. A work based on an existing successful book or TV series. That means the ‘product market fit’ is proven and there is a captive audience.
  2. A work that is exclusive to Amazon. That means it adds to Amazon’s list of exclusives.
  3. A work for which authors can find a market with a higher chance of success. A proven market means a higher chance of making money. It’s a win-win for authors and Amazon.

From Amazon’s perspective, the most important thing isn’t money. It’s exclusivity of content related to proven markets.

What Amazon is hoping for, is –

  1. Lots of authors/people write very good works based in Existing, Proven Markets/Worlds. Enough content to attract users and become a factor.
  2. All of this stays exclusive to Amazon.

The second part is the real thing Amazon is after. How much does Amazon care about exclusivity and using Kindle Worlds content as a weapon?

Amazon cares an inordinate amount about Exclusivity and Control of ‘Kindle Worlds’ Content

Just read the rules (underlined part and bolding is added by us) –

Exclusivity Provision: Stories will be available in digital format exclusively on, Kindle devices, iOS, Android, and PC/Mac via our Kindle Free Reading apps. We hope to offer additional formats in the future.

Controlled by Amazon Provisions:

1) Amazon Publishing will acquire all rights to your new stories, including global publication rights, for the term of copyright.

2) Amazon Publishing will set the price for Kindle Worlds stories. Most will be priced from $0.99 through $3.99.


Those are some pretty strong restrictions. Makes you think twice about participating in Kindle Worlds.

However, it illustrates our point. Amazon cares an awful lot about getting –

  1. Lots of content based in Proven Markets/Proven Worlds.
  2. Exclusive rights to that content.

Basically, Amazon wants to build the YouTube+ of Books. It wants to leverage all this Kindle Worlds content to create a very strong competitive advantage (since it’s exclusive to Amazon).

Why YouTube+? Because it’s YouTube except users are uploading content based around PROVEN markets and PROVEN worlds.

Will Kindle Worlds result in lots of Exclusive High Quality Content for Amazon


I suspect Amazon is making the same mistake it tends to make very often – Sacrifice the Highest Chance of Success in return for Furthering Its Own Personal Motives.

We see examples of this with Kindle Fire HD (where the Camera App is ignored/hidden) and Kindle (where the keyboard was removed and where the folders feature is rudimentary).

Rather than –

  • Create the absolute best product. Sell the absolute best devices. Make the best possible Kindle Worlds universe.

Amazon always tends to choose –

  • Create a good product that serves Amazon’s needs. Sell good devices that also lead to customer acquisition. Make a Kindle Worlds universe that is focused around creating exclusive content for Amazon’s Kindle Store.

It’s a strategy that is fundamentally flawed.


Because Apple made it work only AFTER making an absolutely excellent device with very easy to use, well-polished software.

It’s a strategy that might still work.


Because Amazon has a LOT of customers and a lot of advantages.

Kindle Worlds shows that Amazon is worried

At some deep level, Amazon understands that by destroying the current Publishing Hierarchy, and by removing the existing Publishing Guarded Gates, it’s creating an almost-free market. A market that anyone can take over.

It’s now begun to think seriously about creating exclusive content and other competitive advantages that will allow it to prosper in this new, almost-free, highly competitive market.

The problem is that it’s incredibly difficult to build real barriers. Now it’s just authors and readers and everyone else is unnecessary. Kindle Worlds is a smart attempt to strengthen Amazon’s Mini-Gate of Exclusivity. Will it work? Perhaps. Perhaps not. It does, however, reveal a part of Amazon’s long-term intentions with Kindle books and a part of Amazon’s long-term Kindle strategy.

Kindle Reading Apps – Dangerous Strategy for Kindle in the long-term

If we consider the various Kindle Reading Apps from Amazon’s perspective, they seem too good to be true –

  1. Spend a few hundred thousand dollars each on making reading apps for iPhone, Android, iPad, PC, Mac, Blackberry, and Windows 8.
  2. Get millions of customers each month.
  3. These millions of customer buy books from you each month.

Money for nothing (Dire Straits would approve).

However, there are a few big hidden caveats. Let’s start with the first.

Kindle Reading Apps can never be as Valuable as an actual Kindle or an actual Kindle Fire HD

Kindle Fire HD and Kindle Paperwhite offer a few advantages that Kindle Reading Apps don’t –

  1. Exclusivity – The only reading app on these devices is Kindle. Note: Yes, you can sideload. No, most people won’t sideload a different reading app.
  2. Power of the Default – The DEFAULT is the Kindle Reading App. This is a very big deal. Depending on what survey/set of statistics you read, between 50% to 89% of people never ever change their default settings.
  3. Optimization – You can tweak and optimize the reading app and the device to provide a GREAT Reading Experience. You obviously can’t tweak the hardware of an iPhone or a Blackberry if all you have is a software reading app.
  4. Integrated Store – Apple sets its rules where either Kindle and Nook pay Apple 30% or they remove the store from their Reading Apps. Kindle Paperwhite and Kindle Fire HD allow the store to be integrated with the reading experience. Note: It’s well and good to say – Users can just go buy from the browser. However, the truth is that users want convenience – they want the store built-in.
  5. Sell Other Things – Amazon and B&N both sell movies to Kindle Fire HD and Nook HD owners. With a reading app, they can’t really do that. Yes, they can release a separate app – But then things aren’t easy or smooth. Again, the power of the default kicks in.
  6. Visibility – Tap ‘Books’ on a Kindle Fire HD and it starts the in-built Kindle Reading App. What better visibility could there be? There are numerous things like ‘Recommendations’ and ‘Sponsored Ads’ that promote the in-built Reading App and the Kindle Book Store.
  7. Subtle Lock-In of Users – There are various types of lock-in and one type is having the user used to the device and to the reading app. Familiarity. With your own device you can increase this cognitive lock-in.

There are other advantages too. Hopefully these 7 advantages illustrate why owning the Device, in addition to the Reading App, is a big competitive advantage.

The second big caveat is that with a Reading App you’re building a Castle on someone else’s property.

Building Castles on Other People’s Property is a Bad Idea

You decide to build a castle on someone else’s property. Then you start a business of running tours in the castle. Money for nothing – right?

Well, not really.

Let’s look at the obvious risks –

  1. You can get taxed. The property owners (App Store owners) can start charging you money. There are lots of examples of App Stores that didn’t charge money and then later changes the rules. Facebook used to give developers 100% of earnings. Now it’s 70%. Apple used to allow free in-app buying of books. Now there’s a 30% tax.
  2. You can have your castle broken down. You get up one fine morning and the land owners claim you broke the terms of the original agreement and they’ve broken down your castle. All your hard work and blood and sweat – Gone!
  3. You can have your castle hidden. The owners of the land might realize there’s a lot of money and they might build their own castle right in front of yours. Users can’t even see your castle any more. Note: With App Stores this is absolutely terrible. It’s as if your castle no longer exists. At least with something physical, it’s there for people to see. With a virtual thing, such as an app or a game, it just vanishes.
  4. You can have your customers rerouted. Let’s say you build up a big business and have lots of customers arriving, on someone else’s property, to see your Castle. That someone else can set up businesses and other amusements that route your customers elsewhere. This isn’t an issue until you realize that you’re spending money attracting people to the castle but they’re ending up spending their money elsewhere.
  5. You can have your castle taken over. This is perhaps the worst case scenario. You have your customers and your castle and all your investment taken over by the land owners. You find out that the property rules in that part of the world say that if the castle is on their land, it’s theirs. Should have read the fine print.
  6. The land owners might make a mistake and drive traffic away. Perhaps they loan out part of their land to a nudist colony and families stop visiting your castle. Perhaps they erect a graveyard right across the road from your castle.
  7. The land owners might not take proper care of the land and a natural disaster might cause huge damage to your castle. Keep in mind that not just your mistakes, but mistakes on the part of the land owners could kill your business. There are two big ways in which things can go wrong, instead of one.

The truth is that when you build a business on someone else’s land (app store, website, device) – You’re doing free Research & Development for them. You’re staking your future on their future. You’re leaving the future of your business in their hands.

Chances are, sooner or later, this will come back to bite you.

The third big caveat is that human nature won’t allow the land owners/store owner to let you succeed freely.

Your Castle doing too well means the Land Owners want the Lion’s Share of the Profits

Think of it from the perspective of the Land Owners – They were so generous and let you build a castle on their land. Then they watched in shock as you started doing better than them. They just want to make things right and get most of the profits.

The ideal situation for the Land Owner is what Apple has with the App Store –

  1. Lifetime Amount Paid out to App Makers – $12 billion.
  2. Lifetime Profits for App Makers as a Group – Negative Profits i.e. Losses. Note: If you were to average out the costs of the 700,000 or 800,000 apps in the store, even if you assume just $20,000 spent per app made, that’s $14 billion. Now factor in marketing costs, costs to do updates, costs to service customers. We will easily reach $20 billion in costs.
  3. Monthly Profits for Apple from selling $500 Phones and Tablets that come with super cheap $1 and Free Software – $3 billion a month.

That’s what makes App Store owners and Land Owners happy – Look at all these app makers toiling away for Negative Total Profits (with the most profitable 2-4 making $50 million a month) while we make $3 billion a month in profits.

That’s the role the land owner envisions for you when they let you build a Castle – You are helping drive people to their lands and properties and making them money.

If the situation reverses (for example with Zynga and Facebook, at the time Zynga was riding high), then the Land Owners (they are human after all) get jealous and spiteful. They do things to steal your success and/or kill it –

  1. Route users to someone else’s castle, or to the land owners’ own castle.
  2. Divide and Conquer. Split up your customer stream between you and three-four other competitors.
  3. Kill you by taking away your advantages. What Facebook did with Zynga – Zynga got killed because Facebook just nullified Zynga’s advantages and built up other developers instead.
  4. Tax you and make your venture unprofitable or far less profitable.
  5. Hide you so you get far fewer visitors. This can be done in lots and lots of subtle ways.
  6. Close down the Lands. If you’re making millions in profits while they make nothing, they might just close down everything.
  7. Sabotage you in subtle and not-so-subtle ways.

For every example of an App Store or Device that’s happy to see other companies make more profits than the device/store owners themselves, there are ten examples where the app store owner/device owner moves swiftly and decisively to close things down and/or to reroute the lion’s share of the profits to themselves.

It’s like Vegas – The House Always Wins!

If Apple iBooks has 20% Market Share, that means Apple will close down Kindle Reading Apps sooner or later

This is how it works –

  1. You allow the Reading Apps in. So that customers buy your device.
  2. You tax the Reading Apps and/or add subtle changes so that the experience of reading books and buying books becomes better with iBooks.
  3. When you feel you have enough momentum and lock-in, you kick out other reading apps and shift everyone to your reading app.

What was the role that Kindle and Nook Reading Apps played? Getting people to your ecosystem.

How long are they needed? Only for as long as it takes until users get attached/locked-in to your ecosystem.

Apple and B&N are thinking – Wow! We’re getting customers for free who are buying books from us and making us $2 to $4 per book.

Apple is thinking – Wow! We’re getting customers who would have chosen another device. They are making us $200 to $400 per device. Once we have enough customers, we’ll do a calculation and if the money from books is more than from additional device sales due to Kindle and Nook Apps, we’ll kick them out.

As we sell more and more devices, the inflection point gets nearer and nearer. Apple and Google are going to teach Amazon a harsh lesson in the rewards of building Castles on other people’s Properties.