Kindle, Nook Color, and value for money

The Kindle at $189 is great value for money – you get free 3G Internet, 3G and WiFi, the new eInk Pearl screen, free public domain books, cheap ebooks (sometimes), text to speech, and a lot more.

The Nook Color at $249 is also great value for money – you get an IPS LCD color touchscreen, you get a great browser, you get a cheap Android Tablet if you’re willing to root the Nook Color, you get ebook lending (which Kindle is supposed to add soon), and you get support for library books.

Let’s start by looking at the concept of value for money itself.

What is ‘value for money’ – as applied to eReaders and reading devices?

When we talk about the ‘value for money’ an eReader provides we instantly jump into a mixture of hard to quantify things –

  1. There’s a component of what we’re paying for the eReader, and what we feel the eReader is worth. The looks, the build, the features, the coolness, and the feeling of ownership. 
  2. There’s a component of whether or not we’ll save on books, because of the eReader.
  3. There are features that are core and add value – portability, similarity to reading a book, an ability to help us focus on reading.
  4. There are features that will provide additional value for money – features such as text to speech, and ebook lending.
  5. There are add-ons that might provide value – such as an in-built store, and the convenience it offers.
  6. There might be a big, huge bonus like free Internet access.
  7. There might be ‘the ability to do more than one thing’ which is generally assumed to provide extra value. It’s an interesting equation – Reading has x value, ‘things other than reading’ have y value. You add them up, and you get more value than a device that only allows reading – provided the price is similar.

There are a myriad of things that add up to one abstract quality – ‘value for money’.

How much value do we get for the money we spend? 

If the abstractness weren’t enough of a challenge, we also have the fact that different people ‘value’ different things, and come in with different expectations.

Value for Money is different for different people

Let’s say Harry reads mostly at home, and has WiFi, and reads mostly at night. Sally, on the other hand, reads mostly at lunch-time, on her commute, and at the beach, and almost always during the day.

Things that Harry will value, and Sally will probably find irrelevant include –

  1. WiFi support.
  2. Backlight or Reading Light.
  3. Ability to adjust the brightness of the screen easily.

Things that Sally will value, and Harry will find probably irrelevant, include –

  1. Readability in sunlight and bright light.
  2. Portability.
  3. Stability and steadiness.
  4. 3G support to get books anywhere.
  5. Free 3G Internet.
  6. Resistance to water and sand.
  7. A tracking feature in case the eReader gets lost.

If Harry met Sally, and they started having a rather inappropriate conversation in a cafe, about the value for money each eReader provides, they would find themselves quite lost.

For Harry, the ability to read in sunlight is completely worthless. Yet, he hears her say – This feature is priceless. He’s almost embarrassed Sally would claim such a thing in public.

For Sally, reading at night doesn’t really have any value. For her, an eReader that is great for reading at night, is providing zero additional value over one that can’t be read without external light.

So, we just took an intangible, hard to quantify thing like value for money, and added a little twist – Not only is it hard to quantify, the method of quantification varies from person to person.

What value for money does Kindle provide?

Well, these are all things that might or might not classify as value for you –

  1. You get an eReader with some good technology – the new eInk Pearl screen, fast page turns, etc.
  2. Portability, Compactness, and Lightness.
  3. Ability to carry thousands of books in one device.
  4. Ability to change the font size, and to have the book read to you.
  5. Ability to read in bright sunlight.
  6. Free 3G store browsing and 60 second book downloads in the US, and in 100 countries around the world.
  7. The Best eBook Store.
  8. Millions of public domain books for free from Internet Archive. 20,000 or so from Kindle Store.
  9. Free Internet browsing in the US and, for US Kindle owners, in 100+ countries around the world.
  10. Free Kindle Reading Apps so you can read your ebooks on a range of devices.
  11. WhisperNet services that sync your place in a book across all devices you read on.
  12. An experience very similar to reading a paper book.

There are definitely other features that add value – incredible battery life, customer service, a good return policy, liberal return policy on ebooks, and so forth.

Amazon does a very good job of taking 3 domains – the eReader, the eBook Store, infrastructure and supporting services – and delivering good, solid value across all three. It’s now exploring a fourth domain with the Kindle App store – Kindle apps might end up providing a lot of value for money too.

What value for money does Nook Color provide?

Nook Color also has quite a few value-add things going for it –

  1. It’s a reading-focused tablet, and is also pretty good for a few other things – surfing the net, looking at photos, reading magazines, children’s books, etc.
  2. Nook Color has a color touchscreen with resolution as good as the Kindle’s (i.e. much better than iPad’s screen resolution), and is IPS LCD. It’s a quality screen to get in a $249 device.
  3. It has a decent store to back it up.
  4. It has access to a lot of free public domain books – Google Books, Internet Archive, etc.
  5. It supports ePub and thus you can get books from any eBook store – except Kindle Store.
  6. Support for ePub also lets you use library books.
  7. It can be rooted to run as an Android Tablet. You can also set it up such that you can choose between operating systems – Your choice of Reading Tablet or Android Tablet.
  8. B&N has begun to catch up with Amazon in terms of providing reading apps for other devices, and services such as syncing.
  9. B&N provides a bunch of in-store benefits – real people to talk to in person, read any book for free for up to an hour per day, offers.
  10. Nook Color has a lending feature. It even has a LendMe app which lets you check what books your friends have available for lending.
  11. Nook Color has a very good music player that lets you create playlists and play music exactly how you want to.
  12. A LCD screen means benefits like reading at night, instantaneous page turns, and no ghosting.

On top of these, Nook Color provides additional benefits – password protection on purchases, Pandora music streaming in the US, a photo gallery app, and so forth.

Nook Color does a very good job on two critical dimensions – device and store. It’s beginning to add value in a third critical dimension – infrastructure and support services. Like Amazon, it’s trying to add value via a fourth dimension – apps. The Nook App Store hasn’t launched yet, so it’s a little behind Kindle in this area.

The competition to provide more value for money

The Kindle and the Nook Color are very different devices, that are trying to cater to two intersecting groups of customers.

The Kindle aims to be everyone’s reading device. It is, however, focused on reading.

The Kindle provides a lot of value to travellers, people who read a lot, people who read in long stretches, people who read everywhere, those without WiFi at home, those who like audiobooks or have low vision, it’s great for people with arthritis or weak hands. It’s a long, long list – you’ll have to figure out whether the value Kindle provides, is what you value.

Nook Color aims to be a reading tablet. A device that is great for reading, and can also be used for other things. It wants to expand reading from just books to websites, children’s books, magazines, and newspapers.

It’s perfect for people who like reading at night, or for those who have WiFi at home. It’s also great to have as your reading Tablet, provided you don’t care much about having 100,000 non-reading related apps. Nook Color is probably going to focus on reading, magazines, the Internet, and reading related apps.

The most pivotal customers might be those at the intersection of the Kindle and Nook Color’s target markets. People who read 1 or 2 books a month.

Kindle is trying, with the Kindle App Store and social features and reading apps, to become more of a Reading Plus Plus device. Nook Color is trying, with the help of its focus on reading related apps, to become more reading-oriented and less Tablet-oriented. B&N is trying to leverage software and apps to overcome the hardware advantages Kindle has for reading. At the same time, it’s leveraging the hardware advantages the Nook Color has to expand into all types of reading.

Readers who read 1 or 2 books a month will, in all likelihood, decide the future of eReaders. If they think Kindle provides more value for money, and pick it, then Kindle wins the eReader Wars. If not, the Reading Tablet gambit will have worked spectacularly.

Kick off Saturday with 7 great kindle book deals

For your Kindle here are 7 excellent deals including NY Times bestselling authors pricing their books at $2 and $1 to generate interest in upcoming releases.

  1. The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Potzsch and Lee Chadeayne. Price: $1. Genre: Historical Fiction, Murder Mystery, Germany, Witch Trials. Rated 4.5 stars on 16 reviews. Liked this enough to preorder it for $7+. Can’t believe it’s just $1 (Amazon adjusts the price for preorders automatically which is great). It’s an Amazon Crossing book and the preview was amazing. 

    Germany, 1660: When a dying boy is pulled from the river with a mark crudely tattooed on his shoulder, hangman Jakob Kuisl is called upon to investigate whether witchcraft is at play in his small Bavarian town.

  2. The Ritual Bath by Faye Kellerman. Price: $1. Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Mystery Series. Rated 4.5 stars on 38 reviews. She’s a NY Times bestselling author and has had 19 books hit the Bestsellers list. 

    Like the series it inspired, Kellerman’s award-winning 1986 debut novel combines police procedure, via hard-boiled LAPD detective Peter Decker, with Judaic rites and rituals courtesy of its heroine Rina Lazarus, an ultra-Orthodox widowed mother of two. Decker and Lazarus are brought together by the brutal rape of a young bride-to-be at the mikvah (a bathhouse used in the purification ritual) that Rina manages in the Hollywood hills.

  3. Genghis: Birth of an Empire by Conn Iggulden. Price: $1.59. Genre: Genghis Khan, Historical Fiction, Live and Let Die. Rated 4.5 stars on 85 reviews. 

    Starred Review. Author of the bestselling Emperor series on the life of Julius Caesar, Iggulden turns to another of history’s great conquerors, Genghis Khan, for a new series of brilliantly imagined and addictive historical fiction. Future conqueror Temujin—”a man of iron”—is born to the khan (ruler) of a fierce Mongol tribe that roams central Asia’s steppes in the 12th century. When his father is killed by Tartar raiders before Temujin reaches manhood, a rival claims the tribe and banishes Temujin’s family.

  4. The Breach by Patrick Lee. Price: $1.99. Genre: Thriller, Technothriller, End of the World. Rated 4 stars on 93 reviews and normally $7.99.

    Starred Review. Lee’s debut thriller pits ex-con ex-cop Travis Chase against increasingly dire odds as the action ratchets up like levels in a complex video game. Fresh out of prison, Travis sets out on a solo Alaskan trek, wanting nothing more than quiet time for introspection. Then he encounters a downed plane containing the dead bodies of the United States’s first lady and several others, plus hints about a mysterious missing item.

  5. Bulls Island by Dorothea Benton Frank. Price: $1.99. Genre: Southern Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Stuff Women Love like Mother-in-Law Politics. Note: This has been a free book offer in the past.

    Will romance triumph over the feud between the aristocratic Langleys and the slightly lower-in-social-pecking-order McGees in Frank’s latest Southern charm–filled romp? Though the answer is obvious from the get-go, the author fills this spirited tale with well-drawn characters, not the least of whom is formidable Charleston doyenne Louisa Langley

  6. The Good, The Bad, and The Undead by Kim Harrison. Price: $1.99. Genre: Dark Fantasy, Horror, Fantasy. It’s $7.99 normally – the author’s a NY Times bestselling author. Rated 4.5 stars on 159 reviews. Book 2 of The Hollows series.

    It’s a tough life for witch Rachel Morgan, sexy, independent bounty hunter, prowling the darkest shadows of downtown Cincinnati for criminal creatures of the night.

    She can handle the leather-clad vamps and even tangle with a cunning demon or two. But a serial killer who feeds on the experts in the most dangerous kind of black magic is definitely pressing the limits.

  7. Chasing Hunter by Cort Malone. Price: $1. Genre: Legal Thriller, Spy Story, Legal. Rated 5 stars on 41 reviews.

    Framed for a brutal murder, Jake Hunter, a summer associate at a prestigious Manhattan law firm, finds himself caught up in a harrowing game of cat and mouse that puts his friends and family in grave danger. When Jake discovers his mentor, the firm’s biggest rainmaker, lying in a pool of blood and near death, the attorney’s final words lead Jake to evidence that could topple the highest ranks of the Russian mafia. Unable to go to the police, who are convinced that he is the killer, Jake is forced to go on the run.

That’s the thing about the Kindle in general, and eBooks in particular, that blows me away – For $10.50 you get 4 books from NY Times bestselling authors, a great book by a very good German author, a book on Genghis Khan rated 4.5 stars, and a 5 star rated Legal Thriller from an indie author who is a lawyer in real life. How can you not love this?

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.