Will Amazon Ever Reveal Usable Data About the Kindle?

January 5, 2010

OK, I’m obsessed. I just checked and I’ve written over 30 blog entries in the last few years about Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, for what I consider empty, meaningless hype around the Kindle and eBooks generally. Where is Peter Finch’s Howard Beale when we need him: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more!” (Younger readers, please check out the famous Network film scene on YouTube.)

For the record: I’m not against eBooks. They are fast maturing into a vital part of the information landscape. I think Amazon as a company is (as Mark Anderson calls it) “Amazin’,” and that it would not have become Amazin’ without Jeff Bezos. He is a fine example of a risk-taking entrepreneur.

I just don’t think that a company of Amazon’s stature, and a pioneer in eBook marketing, should appear to treat the public like fools.

Bezos’s latest insult to our intelligence was delivered on the day after Christmas. In a press release titled “Amazon Kindle is the Most Gifted Item Ever on Amazon.com,” we “learn” that “Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) today announced that Kindle has become the most gifted item in Amazon’s history.” The release immediately continues, “On Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books.”

OK, with all the ongoing hype, I’m willing to believe that the Kindle was indeed  the most gifted item in Amazon’s history. BUT may I note that of course we do not learn how many Kindles that represents, nor, if you ponder more carefully, over what time period. Is this being measured from the Kindle’s introduction? Or just from fall, 2009? Amazon must be the last large publicly-traded company in the world to fail to fill in those small details on its supposed #1 product. Does the SEC ever complain that Amazon might be misleading shareholders about information necessary to their understanding of the value of Amazon’s shares? Of course not.

Mediabistro’s Galleycat pointed out in a December 28, 2009 blog entry that “64 of the 100 Top Kindle Store Bestsellers Are Free.” Does Amazon consider obtaining something that costs $0.00 a purchase? Princeton University’s WordNet‘s first definition of the term “purchase” is “the acquisition of something for payment.” I, for one, would very much appreciate it if Amazon would clarify if it thinks that the word “purchase” is simply synonymous with “obtain.”

Further, does Amazon believe that Christmas Day 2009 will be seen as the tipping point? While almost certainly less than 5% of Amazon’s book-buying customers own Kindles, have the non-Kindle owners decided it is too embarrassing to be seen in public with a printed book? I find it extremely difficult to imagine what the real or symbolic significance is in Amazon’s hyperbolic “On Christmas Day, for the first time ever, customers purchased more Kindle books than physical books.”

To Mr. Bezos and the amazing PR folks at Amazon: please stop treating us like morons!

PS: From Mike Cane an excellent adjunct to this posting here.

Tags: , , ,

The Kindle is Not Attracting Youngsters

May 1, 2009

A very interesting blog entry on 4-29 from Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab; the title: “Kindle users skew older; does that impact news biz’s revenue hopes?”

Mr. Benton reports on an article from a subscriber-based newsletter called Publishers Lunch, which reported that “…over half of reporting Kindle owners are 50 or older, and 70 percent are 40 or older.”

Benton quotes Publishers Lunch to the effect that:

It’s older folks — not the gadget crowd, not the young bookloving crowd, and not the mathematical intersect of the two.

The second finding of note from Publishers Lunch:

So many users said they like Kindle because they suffer from some form of arthritis that multiple posters indicate that they do or do not have arthritis as a matter of course. A variety of other impairments, from weakening eyes and carpal-tunnel-like syndromes to more exotic disabilities dominate the purchase rationales of these posters.

In other words, it’s primarily a particular segment of older folks that the Kindle appeals to — those for whom the traditional dead-tree reading experience is painful or difficult.

Benton notes: “But to my non-business-school eyes, that doesn’t look like the makings of a breakout hit on the scale that the oft-repeated phrase “the iPod of books” implies. After all, the Kindle audience demographically looks an awful lot like the print newspaper audience.”

A new perspective on the Kindle “phenomenon.”

Check out his blog (and the whole Nieman Journalism Lab site).

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , ,

The eBook Bubble

June 24, 2008

If you’ve read the section on this site about eBooks and (what I call) eContent, you’ll know that I’m not a big cheerleader for eBooks. I lived through the first eBook “revolution” — featuring the forgotten standalone eBook readers like the Rocket eBook and the SoftBook Reader. That revolution never took off, and wound down more-or-less at the same time as the burst of the Internet bubble. Microsoft used to offer the Microsoft Reader software for eBooks both for its PocketPC and for don’t fit-in-your-pocket PCs. For some reason this software can still be downloaded from a page (1-1-2012: Not any more.) on Microsoft’s website that notes “Updated: May 19, 2005.” Microsoft is obviously not currently interested in the eBook phenomena.

But when Jeff Bezos and Amazon caught the eBook fever last November with the release of the Kindle, he managed to somehow erase everyone’s short-term memory and has re-kindled an explosion of interest in the eBook format. (Even The Economist found its short-term memory damaged, stating in a June 5, 2008 article that the “Kindle and its kind are merely the first generation [emphasis mine] of a product that is sure to evolve quickly in the coming years.”

Yesterday I learned of CitiGroup’s Mark Mahaney who has calculated, with very slim data, that Kindle could add $750 million to Amazon’s top line by 2010. This prompted John Paczkowski on AllThingsDigital to label Mahaney as “an honor student at (the) Strained Credibility Academy.”

Well today I learned (once more with credit to Bob Sacks) that another student at The Strained Credibility Academy is looking for higher marks than Mark. According to a posting on paidContent.org, “Pacific Crest analyst Steve Weinstein argues that global e-book sales at Amazon could reach $2.5 billion by the year 2012,” and could add “as much as $330 million to operating income.” Wow!

Go back to my section on eBooks where you’ll see that the highest estimate of all eBook sales last year was $67 million. Then do the math on the CAGR through 2012, keeping in mind that Amazon, which was originally built on selling books online, currently accounts for only 6-8% of all book sales in the U.S.

Why did God give us analysts at investment banks? A Google search offers only one answer. According to an article on Innovating Tomorrow, “God gave some people the ability to analyze and measure situations. These are people who love to do this and have some deep-seeded [I assume they mean “deep-seated”] talent for it. These are people and gifts God has given us to use in ministry.”

I think not. God gave us analysts so that businesses would have an external justification for making bad decisions that they have already decided to go forward with. The e-book gold rush is one of them.


Tags: , , , , , , , ,

No Snacking Between Books Please!

April 29, 2008

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting a little weary of all the Amazon-generated hype about the Kindle, its proprietary eBook reader (described by Amazon as a “revolutionary wireless reading device [emphasis mine]). We’re told incessantly how “visionary,”exceptional,” and, yes, “revolutionary” this little device is, but we’re not told why (with regard to features that differentiate it meaningfully from its nine competitors). The Amazon site states: “Revolutionary electronic-paper display provides a sharp, high-resolution screen that looks and reads like real paper.” But all of its competitors use ePaper.

We’re told that it sold out 5-½ hours after release, but have never been told how many units had been produced. And now, when you go to Amazon’s home page, you’e greeted not by the usual smorgasbord of new product releases in various genres, but by a somber yet upbeat letter from C.E.O. Bezos himself, advising that this magical Kindle is once more in stock. Hallelujah!

The letter goes on to invite us to read president Bezos’ just released (April 14th) annual Letter to Shareholders. He goes on to explain that he doesn’ ordinarily link to this sort of communication from the Amazon home page (I’d hate to think what would happen to Amazon’s sales if he got in the habit of doing so), but, Bezos explains, “this letter is all about the Kindle,”mas if that would help us form some sort of logical connection in our minds about the appearance of this missive.

On behalf of my readers, and in the interest of Kindle-lovers everywhere, I clicked on the link and a 5-page PDF file slowly overwhelmed my browser window. The last three pages are the shareholder letter; the first page-and-a-half contain Bezos’ verbose paean to the Kindle.

It takes until page 2, paragraph 2 to get a sense of why the Kindle has turned Bezos into a born again eBooker. Here are his insights:

1. “We change our tools, and then our tools change us.” (A widely-accepted view of the impact of technology.)

2. Writing “changed us dramatically.” (Well, yes!)

3. Gutenberg made books cheaper, and “physical books ushered in a new way of collaborating and learning.” (Amongst many, many other things, Jeff. See Elizabeth Eisenstein’s The Printing Press as an Agent of Change, available on Amazon at an 11% discount, or for 25 cents less at Barnes and Noble.)

4. “Lately, networked tools such as desktop computers, laptops, cell phones and PDAs have changed us too.” (No problem there.)

5. “(Networked tools have) shifted us more toward information snacking (sic), and I would argue toward shorter attention spans.” (I recommend reading Web usability guru Jakob Nielsen’s famous and prescient 1997 column “How Users Read on the Web,” which begins with the memorable line: “They don’t.” Nielsen continues: “People rarely read Web pages word by word; instead, they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences.” So is the issue really shorter attention spans, or new techniques for coping with the vastly increased amount of textual information we’re asked to consume each day?)

6. “Kindle is purpose-built for long-form reading. We hope Kindle and its successors may gradually and incrementally move us over years into a world with longer spans of attention, providing a counterbalance to the recent proliferation of info-snacking tools.”

OK, I’ve got it. Without quoting any evidence, Bezos warns that new digital tools are inducing a form of ADD in the public at large. I’ll look into the research for you, Mr. Bezos, and report my findings shortly on this site in the Literacy section. In the meantime please peruse my updated section on eBooks: I am not without bias towards the supposed wonders of eBook technology.

Though the letter is evangelical in tone, Bezos forgets the apocryphal preacher’s advice on a successful sermon: “First, I tell them what I’m going to tell them, then I tell them, then I tell them what I just told them” Perhaps he was information snacking when he wrote the letter.

Tags: , ,