Kindle Mania Overtakes America

February 17th, 2009

The Kindle 2 was indeed unveiled on February 9th as “rumored.” (What do you call a supposed rumor that everyone already knows? A “deliberate leak” perhaps.) Ship date is February 24th, just in time for those who forgot to buy chocolates and roses on Valentine’s Day.

Kindle lovers everywhere are thrilled; the skeptics remains skeptical.

The upside: it’s a little thinner, an ounce lighter, has a better display, and a longer battery life. More titles are now available which is a good thing since the increased storage capacity will hold 1,500 books. As the average American reads 5 books per year, they will be able to keep 300 years worth of reading on their Valentine’s or birthday gift.

The downside: it’s the exact same retail price, $359, and there’s no trade-in allowance.


I have to admit that Jeff Bezos is a marketing master, having convinced so many people that the Kindle is a momentous leap forward. Even those who are not inclined to buy one are starting to feel like wallflowers at the orgy.

But talk about modest improvements offered for the same price.

According to the Seybold Bulletin, “A poll of about 1,000 attendees (at the recent Tools of Change for Publishing conference) indicated that around 400 were current Kindle owners, but that only 15 of those were actually considering buying the new device, leaving open the question of how many new buyers the second generation device will have. The device does not offer existing users enough change to make it worthwhile to invest a second $359 in the device only a year after the introduction of the first Kindle.”

Meanwhile an online survey on the Toronto Globe and Mail website last week asked: “Would you ever switch from reading printed books to reading e-books with a digital device?” With over 11,000 responses, 75% said “No.”

switch to e-books-sm.jpg

But some colleagues who I respect are Kindle converts (KCs). Dave Kellogg, CEO of Mark Logic, writes one of the publishing industry’s most intelligent and insightful blogs. He’s a Kindle fan, and explains his reasoning here.

The entry is prompted by a story in the current issue of The Economist, entitled Well Read. Amongst Dave’s trenchant observations is that the Kindle is the strategy whereby Amazon will achieve over the publishing industry something near Apple’s power over the music industry — and the only thing he see stopping it “is the Google Books settlement, where Google gets a shot at creating an Amazon-class bookstore for books — and derivatives thereof.”

He also notes in the article what must be the most preposterous claim yet made for e-books: “So far, says Mr. Kessel [a member of Amazon’s Kindle team], this does not seem to spell the end of paper books, since Kindle users buy just as many bound books as before, so that their total consumption of books goes up by 2.6 times.” Could you give us that once more, Mr. Kessel?

Kellogg does not mention that the same issue of The Economist contains an editorial called An iTunes Moment? which notes that “the iPhone, meanwhile, has quietly become the most widely used e-book reader: more people have downloaded e-book software (such as Stanza, eReader and Classics) for iPhones than have bought Kindles.” The piece concludes that Apple may well be in a position to block Amazon’s attempt to corner the eBook market. “There are already millions of iPhones and touch-screen iPods in circulation, and the company has long been rumoured to be working on a larger “tablet” device,” the editorial notes. “Selling e-books and newspapers via iTunes, which already has millions of paying customers, would be simple. True, Steve Jobs, Apple’s mercurial boss, has expressed scepticism about e-readers, claiming that “people don’t read any more”. But Mr Jobs has a record of insisting that Apple is not interested in making a particular product (a video iPod, a mobile phone) — right up until the moment when he unveils one. Might e-books soon be the next example?”

Stay tuned…this story has a few more chapters to go.