How will people look back at the Kindle & Nook era in 100 years?

Let’s start with a little snippet about Johannes Gutenberg and the Printing Press:

…probably introduced movable type to Europe, and is likely to have developed the earliest European printing press.

He is sometimes said to have started the Printing Revolution, regarded as the most important event of the modern period.

It played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation and the Scientific Revolution and laid the material basis for the modern knowledge-based economy and the spread of learning to the masses.

So we have a pretty intimidating frame of reference to compare eReaders and eBooks to – The Gutenberg Press played a key role in the development of the Renaissance, Reformation and the Scientific Revolution. The Gutenberg Press laid the basis for the knowledge economy and brought learning to the masses.

Here’s a quote talking about the impact of Gutenberg’s Printing Press  -

As early as 1620, the English statesman and philosopher Francis Bacon could write that typographical printing has “changed the whole face and state of things throughout the world” 

The first question that comes up is – Will eReaders and eBooks have similar impact?

eReaders & eBooks are unlikely to have the scale of impact of the Printing Press

The primary reason is that books already exist and they aren’t really very expensive. We aren’t going through a big jump from ‘books only being affordable to the top few percent of the population’ to ‘books being available to a huge percentage of the population’.

That opportunity doesn’t exist because Gutenberg and his Press already took it.

The secondary reason (and this is a really big one too) is that the Internet already exists and it’s already done a lot of what ebooks possibly could have. The barriers are already gone. Information is already spreading wildly and freely.

There might not be a big, huge oppportunity for ebooks to make pivotal impact. Because they arrive after Gutenberg and after the Internet.

Which brings us to our second question – What big positive impact are eReaders and eBooks having?

Are eReaders & eBooks making books more accessible?

Yes. We can definitely point to a few things here -

  1. Anyone can read all public domain books for free now.
  2. Books are available instantly.
  3. Books are slowly becoming cheaper.
  4. People who had limited access to books earlier - now have more access.
  5. More people are able to offer books so the choice available is increasing.

There is, however, a twist.

When absolutely anyone can publish books, and lots of people are, we run into a signal versus noise problem.

Have eReaders & eBooks made it too easy to publish and spread books?

You have to wonder.

  1. If there is no barrier to publishing a book – Is that really a good thing?
  2. If the amount of noise keeps increasing – Is that going to scare people away from books?
  3. If there is no real barrier to the spread of a book - Are there any dangers?
  4. Since the lack of barriers also applies to things like stealing books – Is this going to reduce money earned by authors and publishers to the point that it starts affecting quality?
  5. Are we getting too much of a good thing?

I think the Law of Unintended Consequences is going to do a real number on everyone in books (including readers and authors).

The Law of Unintended Consequences & Books

There are two separate things:

  1. Letting anyone who wants to publish, publish.
  2. Making it easy to publish – even if you shouldn’t be publishing.

These are intertwined and have opposing effects. 

  1. The first is good. It’s about freedom and the democratization of publishing.
  2. The second is bad. It’s about a lack of quality control and about terrible books drowning out the good ones.

Kindle and Nook and eBooks were supposed to allow people to publish. To let deserving authors bypass the Gatekeepers and go straight to readers. To let authors take 90% of the earnings instead of 10%.

The Law of Unintended Consequences says:

  1. In parallel with X deserving authors, we’ll have 10X undeserving authors who will also publish. ‘Undeserving’ is a very loaded term – interpret it as people who haven’t worked on the craft of writing enough to be worth readers’ time.
  2. Authors will get a larger share of earnings. At the same time the amount of earnings will start to plummet.
  3. There will be so much competition and such little defensibility that books as an industry will begin to disappear.

You can’t stop people from having free access to your books. You can’t stop authors and semi-authors and pretend-authors from publishing books. Readers can’t handle the sheer volume of published books. It’s spinning out of control.

eReaders and eBooks might mark the ‘Public Domain’ization of ALL books (new or old)

What has happened is that the minute you release an eBook, or for that matter a printed book, you leave it up to readers to decide what they will pay for it.

Readers don’t fully understand this. Authors don’t understand that readers have the option to pay zero. No one is willing to admit that sooner or later people will choose to buy a $4 cup of coffee and read the latest bestseller for free (as opposed to paying for the bestseller).

As soon as readers get a reason that satisfies their need to ‘not be the bad person’, they will gladly switch over to reading books without paying for them. They just need a reason – ads, price too high, restrictions, anything – and they will gladly switch to a model where they don’t pay or where they pay a ridiculously low amount.

In effect, your book is ‘public domain’ the minute it gets converted into ebook format. You can come up with ways to try to get people to pay for them. However, it’s going to be difficult – particularly as more and more kids trained to get everything (music, movies, games) free online grow up and expect the same from books. What makes books and authors special? Why aren’t books free like everything else?

The Legacy of eReaders and eBooks might be the conversion of books to works of charity

Think back to the ‘value perception of books’ in 2007. Now consider what the current value perception of books is. It’s changed a lot.

Can you imagine someone walking into a bookstore in 2007 and asking for the latest bestseller to be $3 or even $1? Yet, that is routinely what people are now asking for ebooks to be priced at. These are the same people who have all the power – they can just download the book for free.

eReaders and eBooks are building up two legacies -

  1. Anyone can get a book without paying the author of the book anything.
  2. Anyone can publish and dilute the average quality of books.

Both of these play into each other. More books = more competition = lower prices. Lower prices = lower quality = less differentiation. The net result is that eReaders and eBooks might end up doing a lot more bad than good.

Perhaps it isn’t the best thing in the world to remove all barriers and let people do whatever they want. Pay whatever they want. Publish whatever they want.

My prediction is that people will look back at the Kindle & Nook era in 100 years as the ‘dark age of books’. That what happens in books in the next 10 to 30 years due to eReaders and eBooks and human nature being left unchecked is going to be very damaging for books. This is no Guternberg’s Press. This is more like a storm that uproots the very foundation of a business model that, despite its faults, has some redeeming qualities. A storm that leaves behind a world where books are everyone’s property and the incentive and resources for crafting great books are diminished significantly.

Our Kindle Speed Reading App and the truth about Kindle App Approval Process

This comment from Tim made me think it’d be worth sharing some information about our ‘Improve Your Reading Speed’ app and why it won’t be coming out. And might as well share information about other apps that Amazon hasn’t approved and probably never will.

Tim - 2 hours ago 

I agree with Mary – concentrate on something that Amazon or others might not do. I reckon the Kindle is a perfect format for a speed-reading app, and that a good number of its users would be very interested in that.

@Sandy Spruill – if you download Caliber and then download instal the Kindle Collections plugin from the Caliber plug-ins page, you can organise your collections.

We’ve also had users leave comments before and even email us. The infinite irony of this is that we’ve had a Reading Speed App submitted since September 2010. Over a year ago. Amazon just keeps finding reasons to not let it go out to Kindle owners.

*********************************************************************************************************

We do have a Reading Speed App. It has the following:

  1. A 7 day course on learning how to speed read.
  2. 15 public domain books to test on and measure reading speed on.
  3. A tracker that tracks your reading speed and shows it graphically.

Here is a screenshot. You basically go into a practice book, tap ‘Start’, read a few pages, then tap ‘Stop’, and it measures your reading speed. There’s a course that explains how to improve your reading speed.

Reading Speed App

Improve Your Reading Speed

It does not have the following:

  1. Option to speed read through every Kindle book. Apps are not allowed to access books so this is not possible at the moment. Ideally we’d like to make something that lets you measure your reading speed in any book and also use auto-page turns or Random Serial Visual Presentation to speed-read any book. However, Kindle Apps are NOT ALLOWED to access books.

This ‘Improve Your Reading Speed’ app is probably never going to come out.

Amazon rationale:

  1. We have no credentials to release a reading speed app.
  2. There are legal concerns. Given that there are 50 different speed reading software available for the PC and for smartphones this seems like nonsense.
  3. Users who don’t see their reading speed improve will give it a negative review.
  4. Price is too high. I have a simple answer – Let us make it WiFi only and we’ll sell it for $1. We get charged 15 cents per MB and this app is 2.5 MB so if Amazon makes it WiFi only (and then users can use WiFi or PC to download) we’ll make it $1. The aim is to help people improve their reading speed and $1 is fine. We just can’t manage $1 if we also have to pay 40 cents for every single download of the app.

Honestly, I think Amazon is just delaying us because it is shopping the app idea around and seeing if it can get some more ‘palatable’ & ‘established’ company to do it first.

Here are the key dates:

  1. October 2010: App Submitted in working form.
  2. October and November 2010: Amazon tell us that they will have some people internally ‘who know speed reading’ look at our app and give ideas. Because ‘some random person at Amazon with a fleeting interest in speed reading’ should naturally tell the people who made the software how to design it.
  3. November, December, January 2010: Prioritization of Apps like ‘Tic Tac Toe’ and ‘Flip It’ since Amazon thought that out of the 24 Apps we submitted (Notepad, Calendar, ToDo List, Reading Speed, Weather, etc.) the ones most valuable to Kindle owners would be Tic Tac Toe and FlipIt (the only two games).
  4. This year we restarted the idea (thinking that after Notepad and Calendar we would be able to get over Amazon’s ‘credentials’ objection. Amazon wanted to ‘Approve the Idea’ and took two months to approve it. 2 months for some committee at Amazon to give their stamp of approval.
  5. Then we submitted the app (works for all eInk Kindles except Kindle Touch) and just last week Amazon says – You might as well do some other app, because this app will take 3 months to approve.

This is an app with an entire book reading component. It’s only when the entire app is done (and modified for Kindle 4 so it works without a keyboard) that Amazon suddenly decided it’s not good enough.

So an app that we really, really want to make for Kindle owners and will sell for $1 if Amazon lets us do WiFi only (so we don’t have to pay 40 cents every single time the app is downloaded) – Amazon won’t let us. It’d rather we made me-too apps like Tic Tac Toe and random games.

****************************************************************************************************************************************

Even Apps that are approved are a journey through Hell. Kindle Notepad only got shipped after we threatened to leave the store.

Our Kindle Notepad update took 2.5 months to get approved. Again, after threatening to leave the store. Calendar and Kindle Notepad update shipped on the same day and only because we again threatened to leave the store.

It’s just very disheartening when the only way to get an app approved is to use threats and go through months and months of waiting.

****************************************************************************************************************************************

Here are some other apps that aren’t approved:

  1. Notes with Email. This is a Notes App that lets you keep three tabs of notes and also email them out. Reason Not Approved: It uses 3G. Note: Amazon won’t add API to differentiate between WiFi and 3G. It won’t let us cover 3G costs either. 
  2. Weather. This is not approved because it would use wireless data. 
  3. Please Return Me App. This is an app you can leave running on your Kindle when you leave the house. If someone finds your Kindle, they can email you from the app itself. Reason not Approved: Use of 3G. Because we are sending email to user email account and that counts as ‘user information’ and is risky. This is despite us switching to Amazon’s Simple Email Service.
  4. Personality Test Apps. Reason not allowed: Because we don’t have the ‘credentials’.
  5. Page Number Guesser. This was a simple app that let users enter page numbers and locations for a book and then look up things. Note: This isn’t very useful because apps can’t access books themselves – so it would be a reference outside the app.
  6. Photos – A File Manager that lets you keep photos, create folders (multi-level) and put photos in them, view slideshows. Reason: Not sure.

These are just some of the apps not approved. Most of these apps fall into the categories of

  • Apps that Amazon thinks we have no business releasing. OR
  • Apps that use wireless data and Amazon can’t be bothered to release an API that differentiaties between WiFi and 3G. Note: It won’t let us release 3G apps even if we agree to pay for 3G data.

Apps that do get approved aren’t a cakewalk either. Calculator took 9 months to get approved. In the interim another company got to release their app first (they are a launch partner). Kindle Tips took nearly an entire year.

Kindle App Team keeps ‘suggesting’ we make apps free and when we don’t then that app gets ignored for months.

Our team thinks it’s Kindle owners who should decide whether an app idea is good for users or not. Not middle management at Amazon.

And that an app shouldn’t be stopped because Amazon’s Kindle App team is scared that some users might give it bad reviews. Should a Speed Reading App that will benefit tens of thousands of users be not released because a few dozen users might leave 1-star reviews?

If you find one or more of these apps appealing, please email Mike Nash, who’s the head of the Kindle App Team. Perhaps he can explain why an app on Reading Speed is not being allowed to ship because of the fear that a few people might give it a 1-star review, and why all the above apps like Weather and Personality Tests and Email Apps are not OK to release. His email is mikenash@amazon.com.

Finally, every single Kindle App developer I’ve talked to has the same problems i.e. Kindle App Team thinks they know better than Kindle owners what apps they should get. They won’t add things like ‘sound API’ so no alarm clock apps are possible, they won’t allow a WiFi API so we can’t add apps that use wireless, and they won’t allow access to books so Collections Organizers and Page Number Apps etc. can’t be made.

Also, the Kindle Touch Development Kit was shared with only a limited group of large companies. And everyone else had to wait a month. Which guarantees that all the ‘non-privileged’ companies won’t be able to get Touch versions of their apps out for Christmas. Basically, companies like EA get exclusive access to Touch Kindle owners for Christmas and the new year.

Here are a few more developers who are experiencing the infinite joy of Amazon’s Kindle Apps Team (Bolding is mine). 

Source: http://forums.kindlecentral.com/forums/thread.jspa?threadID=1034&tstart=30

Developer #1:

Can I get a new contact at Amazon. To other developers: beware 

 was asked by a developer at Amazon to make an application offered on another mobile platform for the Kindle. I accepted, signed up, purchased a Kindle reader learned how to program on this platform. A few weeks into development, my contact at Amazon asks to see my progress, tells me things look like they’re moving in the right direction with my project. He informs me there is too much ghosting, to which I answer, that introducing more frequent flashing will take away too much from the speed of the program. I did not think the ghosting was bad at all. He informs me that it is already really fast and flashing will not make the program too slow. So, I introduce flashing with every screen repaint as he requested instead of flashing every 10 or so screens like I was doing (if I am not mistaken, a flash every 10 screens max is the recommendation in the documentation).

I finish the program, submit it. A few days later I get an email asking if he could get in touch with me about some feedback on my program. Of course, I say, any time is fine. I hear no feedback for days. I email him asking for the feedback again, and I finally get it. The feedback indicates that the team does not think the format of my program (which I have been selling for years on another platform and was asked to bring over to Kindle by someone at Amazon) is not acceptable. I am wondering why I was even asked to join this project if my application wasn’t acceptable. Also, the flashing I implemented at the request of my contact is not acceptable to the team, as they indicate my application is too slow. I’m sorry but I can’t help that flashing takes to long and my contact wants flashing with every repaint. The team, is suggesting I make other changes to my program which I disagree with. Okay fine, I can accept they want changes and I will make some of them, but some of the changes being recommended by the team are just not possible and others I need clarification on. I have emailed my contact with questions about the feedback from the team and I am totally frustrated at the lack of response and the contradictory feedback.

I’m 40,000 lines of code into my project, and these changes are requiring me to make considerable alterations. If Amazon is going to demand this much control over what they allow in the store, I need some support from them, and I am not getting it. I have had at least four important emails go unresponded. My contact is very good at making demands, but is doing very little to address my questions and other issues.

So now I have a 40,000 code line immaculate work of art, ready for deployment by  reasonable means, and I can’t get some simple answers about the feedback I am getting. It appears Amazon is throwing me under the bus. I have spent at least 240 hours on this project. I refuse to work like this.

To the other developers: What are you experiences with the review process? Be aware that this may happen to you. Be cautious of investing too much time into your projects before getting feedback. Even if you are getting regular feedback during development, it seems they have no problem reversing their stance later.

To Amazon: get me a contact that is going to actually RESPOND TO MY EMAILS AND NOT JUST MAKE DEMANDS, immediately. I don’t have endless resources to spend on this project.I am 240 hours in the hole on this project, and I have to find a way to, you know, pay for my housing and food, so some help would be great. 

email: [removed]

Thanks,
Scott

Developer #2:

This is not too different from my own experiences. After weeks and months of slow and often technically uninformed (the so-called engineer I was referred to for one problem in my app wasn’t even aware of a bug that has been discussed in these forums a couple of times only to suggest a workaround that – as discussed in the forums as well – is impossible with the current kdk) feedback I finally got the technical ok from the QA team only to be informed by my contact that the current design of my app was “not viable”. There were two – supposedly better – similar apps on the market and mine wouldn’t be able to compete with them. Apart from the fact that all information required to come to this conclusion must have been available to them for a long time I don’t agree (also, the financial risk is mine isn’t it?). I asked for clarification of the rather general statement and suggestions for improvement but only received vague dismissive answers. My last two emails on the matter (sent weeks ago) have remained unanswered.

I’ve been quite angry about the matter for a while but have now decided to invest my time and effort elsewhere.

I find this really baffling. Amazon is an international multi-billion company that wants to go up against the likes of Apple and Google but seems to think it can get along with a half-assed bug-ridden poorly maintained sdk and shoddy developer relations. I think this is not going to cut it..

Have we reached the point of effective equality between all eReaders?

AKA

Is ‘Kindle vs Nook – Which Should I Get?’ now better written as ‘Kindle or Nook – It Doesn’t Matter’.

Seriously, let’s take a look at whether there’s any difference at all between getting a Kindle or a Nook 2. In particular, would you buy one and later regret it? If you wouldn’t regret either purchase – then it effectively implies that the two eReaders are now pretty much equal.

In the past Kindle vs Nook was not an easy choice

In Nov 2009, Kindle vs Nook was a tough decision

When Nook 1 was first announced, it had the following main advantages over the incumbent Kindle 2 - PDF support, ebook lending (even if it was/is just a token feature), library book support, replaceable battery, LCD touch-screen at the bottom, millions of free books from Google (although you could convert these for Kindle), ePub support, Chess and Sudoku, slightly better screen contrast, memory card slot, both WiFi and 3G.

Kindle 2 had significant advantages of its own – lower book prices, text to speech, free 3G Internet, faster speed, ease of use, better battery life (significantly better), second generation device (most of the bugs and issues had been worked out).

There were significant pros and cons to choosing Kindle over Nook (or vice versa).

In July 2010, Kindle 3 vs Nook tilted towards Kindle - but there were still consequences

In early 2010 the Agency Model eroded one of the Kindle’s biggest advantages. This made the Kindle vs Nook decision even tougher. But then Kindle 3 tilted things in favor of the Kindle.

When Kindle 3 was first announced it had the following main advantages over the Nook 1 – eInk Pearl screen, text to speech, free 3G internet browsing, slightly better PDF support, better browser, ease of use, light weight, compactness, battery life of a month, social features, being the third version of the Kindle (most issues were worked out). 

Because it was a third generation eReader, Kindle 3 easily outpaced Nook 1. However, you made significant sacrifices – no pretend-lending, no support for library books, no memory card, no replaceable battery, no ePub support, no color touchscreen at the bottom. 

In 2010, it was quite possible to pick one out of Kindle or Nook and later regret it.

In 2011, Nook 2 has made Kindle vs Nook a non-question

The features are so similar that, in combination with the Agency Model, it’s almost impossible to go wrong. All the biggest things – library book lending, pretend-lending (not a big feature but perceived as such, especially if you don’t have it), book prices, eInk Pearl screen, ease of use, speed, compactness, long battery life, light weight, availability of free books - are almost perfectly balanced.

Are you really going to regret it if you get a Kindle?

Let’s say you get a Kindle 3. The things you might possibly regret are now gone.

  1. Library Book Support – Arriving this year. 
  2. Pretend-Lending – Available. 
  3. WiFi support – Kindle 3 has it. 
  4. Replaceable battery - Nook 3 doesn’t have one. 
  5. Color touch-screen – Nook 3 doesn’t have it. It does have a touch screen, but seeing book covers in color is gone.

It’s hard to get upset about not having ePub support when the biggest reason for needing ePub support (library book support) is gone. Additionally, the Agency Model means that Amazon will have the same price as every other store for most books.

Are you really going to regret it if you get a Nook 2?

Nook 2 has closed the gap so well it’s in danger of becoming a clone.

  1. eInk Pearl screen – check.
  2. Great battery life – check.
  3. No color screen – check.
  4. Focus on ease of use – check.
  5. Light and Compact – check.
  6. Social features – check.
  7. Black Casing + WiFi – check.
  8. Faster processor so sluggishness is gone – check.

Kindle 3 and Nook 2 both have the same screen and a focus on reading. They both have the same books at the same prices. Kindle vs Nook is no longer a difficult decision. It isn’t even much of a decision any more.

Whether you get Kindle and get x months of battery life at x’ hours per day, or you get the Nook 2 and get y months of battery life at y’ hours per day – It’s still incredible battery life and it’s not really different.

That’s how ridiculous the contest has become – the companies are competing on something (battery life) that isn’t really a differentiator any more. Amazon can’t claim eInk Pearl, and B&N can’t claim support for library books, so it devolves into an argument over which device’s battery life is longer when measured in peculiar ways.

When it comes to reading on eReaders, we might be running out of genuine differentiators

Few of the participants in the eBook ecosystem have any interest in favoring Amazon over B&N or B&N over Amazon.

  1. eInk/PVI, the eInk Pearl screen maker, will sell both the same technology.
  2. Foxconn will make both Kindles and Nooks.
  3. Publishers will sell both the same books, and at the same prices, and with the Agency Model restrictions – effectively killing the biggest possible differentiator.
  4. Stores like WalMart and BestBuy will sell both.
  5. Google will offer up free books to both, as will Internet Archive and Gutenberg and Many Books. Not to mention – all public domain books are free for anyone to use, and hence can’t really be a differentiator.
  6. Indie Authors and Authors will, for the most part, sell to both. Example: Amanda Hocking declining a deal from Amazon because Amazon wanted a Kindle exclusive.
  7. Even some Kindle owners are buying Nook Colors (out of curiosity) and Nook 2s (because they want an ePub reader).

There is very, very little opportunity to differentiate. Amazon is left with its website and its Cloud. B&N is left with its stores and the fact that everyone is scared of Amazon. Those just don’t seem enough to get a clear lead.

Thoughts on disappearing offers, 4 free kindle books

First, for your Kindle, the 4 free books -

  1. A Horse to Love by Marsha Hubler. Price: $0. Genre: Horses, Childrens’ Books.

    Thirteen-year-old foster kid Skye Nicholson has become an expert at being an angry, cold, and defensive teenager. After breaking more foster home placements than she cares to count, and committing numerous offenses, she’s headed to her final resort — juvenile detention.

    But after a court compromise, hope finds her through a beautiful sorrel quarter horse named Champ and the tough love of Tom and Eileen Chamber, who offer her another chance at their home at Keystone Stables. There she’s introduced to a God who has the power to truly save her, no matter how much she thinks she’s not worth saving.

  2. Silent Screams by C. E. Lawrence. Price: $0. Genre: Crime, Serial Killers. Rated 4 stars on 16 reviews. 

    A Deranged Killer’s Twisted Urges
    In the streets of New York City, the Slasher chooses his victim–and makes his move. As he wraps his fingers around the girl’s pretty throat, his power increases. As he carves into her skin, his words become flesh. As he arranges her lifeless body in a loving tableau, his fantasies demand new, more violent sacrifices. . .

    A Profiler’s Cunning Plan
    At first, NYPD detectives suspect a jealous boyfriend. But criminal profiler Lee Campbell senses something darker, even ritualistic, about the murder.

  3. 25 Days, 26 Ways to Make This Your Best Christmas Ever by Ace Collins. Price: $0. Genre: Christmas, Self-Help, Christian. Rated 4 stars on 12 reviews.

    Christmas should be the most anticipated day of the year. But many people dread the shopping, financial strain, and extra activities they have to sandwich between the layers of their already too-busy lives.Bestselling author Ace Collins is the perfect guide to help them navigate the stress of the holidays. As he shares twenty-six easy ways to revamp Christmas expectations, readers will relax, refuel, and readjust their attitude toward the season. Each upbeat chapter contains easy to apply ideas for taking a fresh look at a holiday tradition or task and making it positive and meaningful.

  4. Huckleberry Finished by Livia J. Washington. Price: $0. Genre: Mystery, Woman Sleuths, Genre Fiction. Rated 4 stars on 8 reviews.

    Set aboard a Mark Twain–themed cruise on the not-so-peaceful Mississippi, Washburn’s snappy second mystery to feature literary travel agent Delilah Dickinson (after 2008′s Frankly My Dear, I’m Dead) shows how much mischief a tour group can get into while confined to a moving paddle wheeler.

    When one of Delilah’s charges, Ben Webster, causes a scene in the casino, the captain calls Delilah on the carpet. Ben later vanishes only to reappear as a corpse. Meanwhile, a charming onboard Mark Twain impersonator, Mark Lansing, takes a shine to Delilah, but turns out to have more than one identity to hide.

There were 12 books for this post and 8 disappeared somewhere between 11:30 and 12:30. So only 4 are included.

The Case of the Disappearing Free Kindle Books

At 10:45 am EST there were 26 free kindle books. Went through and listed 14 and then realized that the offers might go away so sent out the post with 14 free books by 11:30 am or so. At that time one of the books had gone missing. The rest were still there.

Began writing the post with the other 12 free books and comments started coming in that some of the books were missing.

It seems that there was some limit for the preorders or a mistake. Perhaps there was a limit at 1,000 free books or 10,000 free books. Perhaps it was a mistake. Perhaps it was a way to increase sales rank for these preorders. Whatever the cause, the book offers started getting pulled and by 12:30 pm we were down from 26 free offers to 8.

  1. On Monday and Tuesday it’s a good idea to check the blog (or if you have an email subscription – your email) as early as you can. If there’s a free book post it’s best to get all the books instantly.
  2. If there isn’t a post by 9 am EST it’s a good idea to head over to Amazon and search for ‘-public -breakthrough’ and then arrange books by Price: Low to High. Then the new free books will be listed amongst all the others. Alternatively, you can go to the official kindle forum and someone will usually have listed what free books are available.
  3. On Mondays and Tuesdays this would really help. On other days there usually aren’t a bunch of offers in the morning.

The blog and the official kindle forum are the best options. Have a search tool at one of my other sites but the forum works better and this blog gets updated almost as quickly as the forum.

This is the first time that the free book offers disappeared so quickly – Usually they’re around for at least a half a day. Didn’t get all 26 books myself (missed at least 10, perhaps more) – Just so you realize that the offers don’t usually disappear like this. From now on, will send out free book posts instantly and then add genre information and snippets later. That cost 30 minutes and ended up causing problems this time.

Will the Internet and increasingly intelligent users mean the end of advertising?

Frederic Filloux has a very interesting post in the Washington Post that posits the theory that advertisers have become proud and pompous and are failing to innovate.

Here’s a snippet which captures part of what he’s saying -

Is advertising the next casualty of the ongoing digital tsunami? 

… excessive confidence in one’s body’s past performance, mixed with a state of permanent denial and a deep sense of superiority, all aided by a complacent environment.

The digital graveyard is filled with the carcasses of utterly confident people who all shared this sense of invincibility. The music industry and, to some extent, the news business built large mausoleums for themselves. Today, the advertising industry is working on its own funeral monument.

Advertising needs to innovate?

Not sure whether Mr. Filloux means that advertising needs to get more persuasive and manipulative or whether he misses that part of the equation completely.

It’s a beautiful post – However, it puts too much faith in the ability of advertisers to continue to innovate and too little faith in the ability of customers to get smarter at a rate faster than advertisers.

Most importantly, Mr. Filloux is discounting some very smart and deceptive companies that are becoming the new advertisers and are replacing advertising with manipulation of a higher order. Perhaps the industry has already innovated and the stragglers just don’t realize it.

This post will look at three trends -

  1. The fall of traditional advertising. 
  2. The rise of customer intelligence and awareness.
  3. The rise of what will attempt to replace advertising. 

A little on advertising and it’s ongoing decline

Advertising is communication intended to persuade. You could argue that all communication intends to persuade – However, for now let’s focus on advertising.

Advertisers are basically talking to you and me and putting the notion into our heads that purchasing their product or service will improve our lives in some way. It’s gotten to the point that they aren’t just advertising the benefits of their product – they’re creating a void in our minds and filling that void with their product.

Advertising is based on advertisers being smarter than customers

At a fundamental level advertising requires that the user be one of two things -

  1. Really in need of the product and not have realized it. 
  2. Not in need of the product and open to suggestion. The latter being an opening advertisers can wiggle into and use to convince users they fall into the first category.

As advertising became stronger and stronger more and more people fell into the second category. This was really helped by the rise of TV – in fact the growth of the ‘consumer’ mindset can be linked directly to the rise of TV.

Video not only killed the radio star it killed the intelligent customer. TV was such a huge leap in advertising’s influence and impact that for decades users were simply overwhelmed. Plus they had no idea of the type of psychological manipulation that was being done to them.  

The Internet and How it killed the power of Advertising

The first reason the Internet began to kill Advertising is that there was just too much of it and it was shown to be weak and annoying -

  1. As opposed to TV where the user was mostly captive (unless they changed channels) on the Internet you couldn’t really take up the whole screen or all of the users’ attention. 
  2. Advertising was very poor and weak compared to the high quality and highly influential advertising on TV.
  3. To make things worse these was too much of it and most of it in annoying forms. With the complete lack of supervision there came an unregulated stream of advertising – flashing ads, banner ads, low quality ads that were hardly convincing, obviously unethical ads, and so forth.
  4. The other thing weakening advertising was that we had people unhindered by the need to make profits putting up pages and forgoing advertising. Not only could users see that ads were annoying they could also see that ads were unnecessary.
  5. Finally, ads were rarely entertaining or powerful – which meant it became very easy for users to disregard them completely.

Basically, advertising went from ‘something that is necessary to pay for content’ to ‘something that is optional and something annoying, evil people tend to indulge in’. In parallel adverts went from the polished, powerful influencers on TV to the annoying, appallingly bad banner ads on the Internet.

Hand in hand with this came about a far more important change.

The Internet makes customers more intelligent and better informed

The first part of Advertising is very effective advertising – which the Internet’s paradoxical duality of ‘sites with too many ads, sites with no ads’ began to kill. The second part is naive users who believe most of what they see and are easily convinced.

Well, the Internet totally blew away the ignorance that most users used to live in. Consider buying a car -

  1. You can go on a forum and find out what prices people paid – the best and the worst.
  2. You can go to a site like Edmunds.com and figure out MSRP, the dealer’s price, the bonuses dealers get for hitting sales targets, the total cost of ownership, and exactly how much profit the dealer stands to make.  
  3. You can search and find out what the market is really like, what the prices are in different states, and the price as a function of the time of year.

Suddenly you know a lot more about the dealer and their profit margins than the dealer knows about you and your finances and desires. It evens up the playing field a little bit given that the car dealer does this negotiating for a living (10-30 times a day) and you do it 3-10 times in your entire life.

The rise of infinite competition and the resultant penalty for dishonesty

Hand in hand with the rise of customer intelligence is the rise of infinite competition. The dealer in your home town now suddenly has to compete with -

  1. The dealers in the neighbouring towns. 
  2. National chains and online sites selling cars. 
  3. Users like you who are selling their used cars.

The competition is dangerous and constantly increasing.

Not only is it harder to fool customers they also have other options – some of which (other users, etc.) are not in the business of misleading customers.

Misleading Advertising (you could argue it always is) has gone from being a benefit to a liability. If a company advertises a false claim not only will users be smart enough to figure it out they will probably also be told about it by competitors and other users.

Suddenly, false advertising goes from being an asset to being a major liability.

The Two Strategies that companies will use to replace Advertising

Fundamentally, you can make money in two ways -

  1. Give people what they desire and get what you desire – a win-win strategy. 
  2. Fool people into giving you their money for nothing (or more money than is fair).

Well, we are going to see the same thing -

  1. We will have super-ethical companies that always work for customers. Companies that create win-win situations.  
  2. We will have super-unethical companies that use things more advanced than advertising to trick customers.

Let’s consider a few examples.

Companies that are creating win-win situations

Here are a few examples -

  1. Walmart and Amazon. They are constantly cutting prices and making things better for customers.  
  2. Companies like Zappos that focus on customer experience.
  3. The whole microfinance revolution is another good example.  

You could argue that even they are doing it only for profits. That’s fine though - As long as the customer also wins.

In some ways it is the smartest strategy – they are building strengths that are not illusory. They are ensuring that the user wins by choosing them and in a world with smart, informed customers that’s a winning strategy.

Companies that are using very advanced forms of manipulation

The fundamental thing here is the creation of debt which customers are unaware they will have to pay back later. Two easy examples stem from Facebook’s ecosystem -

  1. Facebook is promising a service that’s free and also promising to preserve privacy. What they are actually doing is trying to covertly sell user information and also build up databases of user intent. These databases of user intent can be used to advertise to users more effectively i.e. manipulate them into buying things they don’t really need or want.
  2. Zynga are using advanced psychological tricks to get users hooked on to their games and are then getting them to buy virtual goods.

At one level this is pretty impressive -

  1. Advertising has moved from selling people on goods they might or might not need to selling them virtual goods they almost certainly don’t need.  
  2. Facebook is getting all this user information and routing it to customers without customers even realizing (until now).
  3. It’s done very gradually and discretely. Most people don’t even realize that something is happening.

At the same time this goes a level beyond advertising in terms of evil. At least with ads and TV supported by Ads you knew what you were getting into. Now we have the promise of ‘free’ to customers while in reality databases of customer information and customer intent are being built that will eventually allow advertisers ridiculous levels of insight into users’ desires and psyches.

The Four Types of evolved advertising/manipulation that might work

There are basically four types of advertising that are going to work very well in the future (there may be others) -

  1. The ‘very smart and also very stupid’ advertising strategy i.e. Facebook and Zynga. Here users are promised ‘free’ and trapped into spending in ways they don’t fully understand – their data being sold, them being psychologically trapped. It is, however, a free market and users willing to be exploited in this manner will continue to be exploited. There is also a very strong ‘we can get things for free without paying for them’ attitude prevalent on the Internet so perhaps it’s not as manipulative as we fear.  
  2. The indoctrination strategy i.e. associate the brand with the person’s identity or something they really, really want as part of their identity. In a way you could say this is the top 5% of advertising where everything goes right – You identify a need, perfectly fit the need to your product, and constantly maintain the illusion that your product is fulfilling the need. If done right then in the customer’s mind there is literally no difference – if you look carefully you’ll notice the holes. However, to the user and to people who don’t look carefully it will literally seem as if the product does everything it promises.
  3. The ‘build up a store of reciprocation’ strategy. This is where you do things for users – offer them benefits, offer them free services, and do lots of other things. This first part is what a lot of Internet start-ups are doing. If the intent is to create a win-win situation then this is fine. However, for some companies the aim is to get the user hooked and ‘grateful’ to the company and thus make it easier to exploit the user down the line.
  4. The ‘Get users invested’ strategy. This is where you get the users involved so deeply into the product (or the creation of the product) that they almost don’t have a choice. By investment we don’t mean passive participation like watching a banner ad or even clicking on something. We mean active participation – helping create the product or some aspect of it.  

We will gradually see these replace traditional advertising and then we will see users become smarter and understand the dangers and perhaps a new set of advertising/manipulation strategies will rise. It’s a never-ending cycle - advertising/manipulation Vs customer intelligence/awareness.

Note that at every level we do leave behind some users. For example, some users are always going to be susceptible to TV ads and other users are always going to be susceptible to promises of free. There will also be users who don’t care or are OK with what advertising is. 

However, the great thing is that the Internet lets users who want to free themselves of manipulation free themselves. It’s a combination of actually ethical companies and other users that combine to make this happen. This is the real reason that traditional advertising is dying – customers are just too intelligent now.

It’s amazing to see newer and newer unethical strategies emerge and it’s quite amusing that most of the really effective new forms of manipulation consciously put so much effort into seeming altruistic and benevolent.

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