Separating the BS from the Kindle DX

May 7, 2009

I had a grand plan tonight to create an in-depth article debunking all of the false (or, at best, misleading) information that surrounded today’s launch of the Kindle DX.

It had the same title as this blog entry.

The article began:

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Hush now, don’t explain
Just say you’ll remain
Unless you’re mad, don’t explain
–    Billie Holiday, Arthur Herzog

The subscription-only PublishersLunch remarked that “DX” must mean “didn’t explain,” noting that:

“The company still insists on calling the unit Kindle DX, though as far as we could tell, DX stands for “didn’t explain.” As in, didn’t explain the name; didn’t explain when it’s
available (except for “this summer”); didn’t explain any of the details of the textbook pilots; didn’t explain the incentive pricing to newspaper subscribers; and so on.”

Amazon’s announcement of the larger format Kindle DX is generating as much media coverage as the release of the Kindle 2, following on the reputed success of the original Kindle.

This summary article examines the claims made by Amazon and also by the wide-eyed sycophants in the press who have been infected with what is increasingly referred to as Bezosmania.

(The standard disclaimer: I’ve never worked with Amazon, its partners or competitors. And I’ve spent a ton of money with Amazon over the years, albeit not on Kindle eBooks, as these are still not available in Canada for reasons too obtuse to segue into here.)

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Then I made the tactical error of having a hearty home-made dinner, and compounded the error by reading the recent “Digital Issue” of Advertising Age.

And when finished with the hype in that issue I could only think: who cares if the news surrounding the Kindle DX is 90% hype and 10% loose data?

People would far rather believe that Amazon is blazing trails (after all, it’s stock is up 60% this year).

Why rain on everyone’s parade? I can debunk virtually every Amazon and press statement issued today surrounding this product. But why bother?

Carry on…the sun is shining above the rain-sodden clouds in Seattle. All will be well.

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Will the New Supersized Kindle Save the Newspaper Industry?

May 5, 2009

The press is absolutely buzzing with scuttlebutt about the apparently now not very secret annoucement that Amazon plans for Wednesday in New York of a new supersized Kindle, roughly at the 8-1/2 ” by 11″ page size.

The first leak was in an article in the Sunday New York Times called “Looking to Big-Screen E-Readers to Help Save the Daily Press.” The article’s theme is best encapsulated by its second paragraph:

The iPod stemmed losses in the music industry. The Kindle gave beleaguered book publishers a reason for optimism.

Now the recession-ravaged newspaper and magazine industries are hoping for their own knight in shining digital armor, in the form of portable reading devices with big screens.

The article was a trifle vague as to the announcement date, with denials from Amazon and the New York Times, which admitted being a partner in the venture: “As early as this week, according to people briefed on the online retailer’s plans, Amazon will introduce a larger version of its Kindle wireless device tailored for displaying newspapers, magazines and perhaps textbooks.”

Take note of “perhaps textbooks” — I’ll return to that. The other theme to return to of course if Apple which the NYT article noted: “Then there is the looming presence of Apple, which seems likely to introduce a multipurpose tablet computer later this year, according to rumor and speculation by Apple observers. Such a device, with a screen that is said to be about three or four times as large as the iPhone’s, would have an LCD screen capable of showing rich color and video, and people could use it to browse the Web.” Will return to this also.

By Monday the news was everywhere, in a variety of flavors.

Monday The Wall Street Journal headlined its coverage with “Publishers Nurture Rivals to Kindle.” The richest feature of this article was revealing some of the Amazon-to-publisher economics:

Critics gripe that Kindles don’t allow for displaying ads and are poor substitutes for the look and feel of thumbing through pages. Magazine and newspaper executives also stew that Amazon won’t let them set subscription prices for their own publications. Publishers keep less than half of the revenue from sales of their subscriptions on the Kindle, according to publishers…

The Wall Street Journal — the second-most-popular newspaper for the Kindle after The New York Times — has more than 15,000 subscribers, according to a spokeswoman for the paper, compared to its paid circulation of more than two million daily. Fortune magazine has roughly 5,000 subscribers, according a person familiar with the matter, while the magazine has an average print circulation of nearly 866,000.

Subscription prices vary, and are set by Amazon. In general, newspaper subscriptions range from about $5.99 to $14.99 a month, and magazines range from $1.25 to $7.99 a month.

The article also featured a significant observation from an industry analyst:

Van Baker, consumer electronics analyst for research firm Gartner Inc., said e-readers likely will appeal to only small numbers of people because of their cost, and he wonders whether a slew of devices will confuse consumers. “If the newspaper has one reader, and the book store has another reader and the magazine publisher has another reader, it just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

The first hint that all was not well with the notion of the new Kindle being the salvation of all periodicals appears to have been from the Reuters article, “Bigger Kindle e-reader may not be a Newspaper fix”. Early in the article Alexandria Sage notes, “But a larger-format e-reader may not be a quick fix for a struggling newspaper business devastated by crumbling ad revenue and declining readership. Nor would it guarantee a big boost to Amazon’s bottom line anytime soon, analysts say.”

It’s late in the article where we start to get onto the path of the likely real agenda of the new Kindle:

Academia might be a good fit, because it could replace heavy, expensive textbooks, (Forrester Research analyst Sarah Rotman Epps) said. If Amazon could align with textbook publishers and drop the price of books delivered digitally, it “very quickly justifies the cost of the device,” she said.

In February, Scott Devitt, then an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, told Reuters he considered the text book market “an eye-opening opportunity.”

The next reportage, although tremendously ill-informed, comes from a ZDNet blog titled “Amazon plans big screen Kindle: Textbook margins are the real aim not saving newspapers.” Larry Dignan trots out some very out-of-date stats that suggest that textbooks on a Kindle would be a big win. He’s obviously not read my article on “The Future of Educational Publishing,” which points out very clearly that the textbook publishing industry is far beyond requiring a Kindle to enable their future ventures. Take a look at Flat World Knowledge to get a sense of how far new startups are ahead of anything the Kindle could offer.

The Wall Street Journal tonight has fully caught onto this change in an article titled “Amazon to Launch Kindle for Textbooks.” The article largely ignores periodicals and concludes, “A larger-screen Kindle would enable textbook publishers to better display the charts and graphs that aren’t particularly well suited to the current device, which has a screen that measures just six inches diagonally…”

This is just foolish hype-inspired thinking. Who really believes that students are going to carry into their classes a notebook computer (or smaller) that allows them to surf the web, Twitter, provide online messaging, save their personal files and photos and a hundred other features — a device which they already own — and then purchase an additional black & white only device, albeit with a web browser, and be thankful they can leave books at home and read them instead on a device clearly inferior to their notebook or netbook (which can easily display the same material)?

The final word here goes to a very bright writer at Forbes.com, Brian Caufield, who finds the whole notion a travesty. Posting a large section of his column is required to gain the gist of it:

The (Kindle) device, along with a gizmo being developed by Hearst Media for launch next year, are being held out as the last, best hope for old media. Big mistake.

Apple’s iPhone makes it plain why this is so. Why else would Amazon be so eager to put the Kindle’s functionality on the iPhone? So far this year, Amazon has introduced software that allows you to read books you’ve purchased for the Kindle on the iPhone, and snapped up Stanza, whose software also puts books on the phone.

Maybe that’s because Amazon Chief Jeff Bezos knows that Apple is going in a more interesting direction with its slim little tablet than Amazon can. Apple has sold 37 million iPhones and iPod Touches. The Kindle isn’t even close.

The problem isn’t just that “people don’t read any more,” as Steve Jobs said last year of the Kindle. Nearly half of the Kindle’s users are over 50 years old, according to a survey of Amazon’s discussion boards by blog, Kindle Culture. That’s not because people under 50 don’t read. It’s because they read differently. After all, if no one read anymore, Google, which made text searchable, sortable and ultimately interactive, wouldn’t be worth $126.7 billion.

That’s because the real problem with newspapers isn’t that nobody reads. Or even that calling information painstakingly written, edited, stamped onto pulped trees and delivered a day later “news” is absurd. It’s that reading has changed. The New York Times Co. is worth a scant $814.8 million because it just presents information, rather than making it interactive and personal. The New York Times won’t host your e-mail, unless you work there. And you probably spend more time reading that than the national news section.

Which is exactly the problem with the Kindle. The iPhone and iPod touch are computers. They can browse video, suck up RSS feeds from tens of thousands of sources, and search and sort messages to you from your Mom. The Kindle, because it is a computer, has some flexibility, sure. But it really is purpose-built to present books, novels and other big blocks of text.

I’m with you Brian.

But now it’s time to wait for Wednesday’s announcement, in the perhaps vain hope that something closer to a business plan emerges. I’m not holding my breath.

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Epaper and the Future of Publishing

April 20, 2009

Courtesy of Bob Sacks, I’ve just discovered a site devoted to ePaper that is is informative, broad, interesting and not beholden to sponsors (as far as I can tell).

Of particular interest is the “E-paper Technologies Reference Guide,” the most thorough I’ve seen to date.

If your interest in ePaper is deeper than a pixel, this is a great destination.

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Amazon Kindle in Shotgun Wedding with Apple iPhone/iPod

March 5, 2009

Well, you hardly need my blog to bring you the big news that you can now Kindle your iPhone. It’s all over the place. Should you have missed the news, here’s the New York Times report, as comprehensive as any.

The details of the features and shortcomings of bringing the Amazin’ Kindle to a less capable device are described there and also on a blog entry on the site.

So the only remaining question is WHY?

WHY did Amazon, after all its proprietary secrets and obtuse stories and challenging dealings with publishers suddenly capitulate to the iPod/Phone so quickly after the introduction of the modestly improved and horrendously over-hyped Kindle 2? Surely this will not enhance Kindle sales, although it will surely enhance Amazon’s desired position as the #1 retailer of e-books.

Have a look at this blog entry titled “Apple’s Epic E-Book Fail.”

Digest it.

Then imagine that Amazon got wind of the fact that despite Steve J’s infamous pronouncement, “People don’t read anymore,” Apple may have caught onto Amazon’s attempt to corner a segment of the digital media market that it did not yet control, and that Apple had plans to break in.

Just a thought.

And here, for your edification, a screen shot from the New York Times that reveals the pleasure you can expect from reading a book on an iPhone/iPod:

iPhone-Kindle2.jpg

Update: Ed Burnette’s ZDNet blog entry this morning is titled: “Did Amazon intentionally cripplw the iKindle?” Mr. Burnette writes:

“As soon as I saw that Amazon had released their new Kindle Reader for the iPhone I immediately downloaded it and tried it out myself. My initial reaction: unimpressed…the entire thing seems to be set up to make your phone an extension of your Kindle and not a replacement for it.

“Take shopping for a new book, for example. When you try that from the iPhone reader, the software simply opens up the web browser on the Kindle store at amazon.com. It’s practically impossible to actually order something from there, because the site is not very friendly to the small screen. The real Kindle has a real store that you can use right from the device. Obviously Amazon would rather you do your purchases from there.

“Another glaring omission is search. Searching is one thing you can do with an e-book that you can’t do with a paper book. The Kindle 2 has a physical keyboard for this purpose. They could have supported search on the iPhone with the pop-up keyboard, but didn’t. Why not?

“Kindle for iPhone is nice for people who already have a Kindle or Kindle 2 who might find themselves away from their device with a little time to kill. However, Amazon seems to have taken steps to make sure the iKindle does not cannibalize sales of their $359 money maker. If, as Amazon claims, the big-screen Kindle e-ink reading experience is so much better than reading books on a phone, then why bother crippling the phone reader?”

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Kindle 2.0 to Be Unveiled February 9

January 28, 2009

According to a blog entry on the New York Times yesterday (and according to Google, at 351 other sources), Amazon will be announcing the long-awaited (by its fans) new version of the Kindle on February 9th at a special event in New York City (obviously intended to coincide with O’Reilly’s Tools of Change for Publishing conference which runs in the same city February 9-11).

Well, it will add greater fodder to the Kindle fad, and move the eBook evolution along, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problems lie elsewhere, to be discussed in a subsequent blog entry.

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