Amazon’s quest to have a foothold on just about every major computer and gadget platform possible came a step closer to completion recently, as they finally released Kindle for Mac, which rounds out their support for the PC, iPhone, and Blackberry. It’s available for download right now on Amazon’s website.
Like the Kindle for PC application before it, Kindle for Mac is fairly light as far as features go. After you put in your account information, you can download any of the books you’ve purchased via Amazon, and it will sync all your notes and bookmarks made with your other devices. Other than that, you can basically scroll through pages with your mouse wheel, change the size of the text and… that’s it. I’m still a fan of the ability to see notes cleanly on a big monitor, as the applications for students are potentially tremendous, but the fact that you can’t make new notes is staggeringly backward.
The lack of features or flash in these applications has started to become somewhat embarrassing. Where are the social applications? Why isn’t the Amazon store built into the program? Why am I not getting recommendations based on the books in my library? Why isn’t navigation simpler? You’d think they’d be trying to at least ape Apple’s style releasing a program on their platform.
Fortunately for Amazon, they do have a chance to redeem themselves with Apple fanatics. We’ve just learned that Amazon is planning to release a Kindle for Tablet computers app, and the copy on their website makes explicit mention of iPad support. This confirms our speculation from last week that the iPad would sport at least three different bookstores, including the iBookstore, Barnes & Noble’s store, and now Amazon’s. With all three companies looking for preferential pricing from publishers, this is about to get interesting, and underscores the need for Amazon to spice up their software offerings if they want to compete head-to-head with a beauty queen like Apple.
With all this focus on pushing out support for the store on all these different platforms, don’t you kind of get the feeling that Amazon has left Kindle itself by the wayside? The iPad is going to be able to do a great variety of things on top of being able to display all the content that the Kindle can (albeit in a far less readable, backlit way). So how can they really expect people to keep buying books in their proprietary file format, when the trend is clearly going cross-platform? These are questions Amazon is going to have to answer, and fast, before the iPad hits stores on April 3.
Over a year ago, KindleChat.com was launched as a site devoted to the beloved Amazon Kindle. Since its launch, there have been many advances in the world of electronic readers. Amazon released the Kindle DX, Kindle for PC, Mac, and Blackberry and upgraded their wireless service to provide global coverage. Barnes & Noble released a strong competitor into the eReader market called the Nook. The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) brought us news of several new eReader devices: Hearst’s Skiff, Plastic Logic’s Que, and Samsung’s E6 and E101. The latest entrant to the eReader game is Apple’s iPad, which has already amassed thousands of pre-orders.
It’s no question that the success of Amazon’s Kindle has caught the attention of other manufacturers. But competition can work in favor of consumers; one year ago the Amazon Kindle was the choice if you wanted a solid eReader. The only problem was the high price. The B&N Nook prompted Amazon to shave $100 off their initial price tag, and now the advances that are promised by the iPad are certainly getting Amazon in gear to develop new features.
Where the consumers suffer is having to choose which eReader to buy. And if you start swapping brands then you’re faced with losing all of the content that you purchased for the previous eReader.
We have certainly enjoyed the success of KindleChat.com and would like to thank you, our readers, for your support of our site. We have chosen to expand our format to encompass all eReaders so we can provide the most helpful information for each device and not appear biased toward one particular product. We are pleased to announce eReaderChat.com as our new home! We ask that you update any bookmarks or links to point to our new web address. We apologize ahead of time for the inconvenience.
We again thank you for your support and understanding and we hope that you continue to enjoy reading our content as much as we enjoy writing it.
It is one thing merely to design a new consumer electronic device that will revolutionize the way people interact with content, but it’s an entirely different thing altogether actually producing the thing. Since the iPad went up for preorder on March 12, Apple has amassed hundreds of thousands of preorders. Rather predictably, there are already talks of a serious shortage of the devices in anticipation of its April 3 release date. Just taking a look at Apple’s preorder page shows that all three versions of the device with wireless 3G capability have been delayed until late April.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, citing an internal source, the iPad could actually outpace the iPhone in terms of meteoric three month sales, with “hundreds of thousands” already preordered. This would seem to be backed up by another report that claims as many as 200,000 preorders by last Friday, and that’s just on the website! That same report suggests there could be as many as 140,000 preorders made at Apple Stores nationwide.
Meanwhile, Apple is rushing to secure content deals that would actually make Steve Jobs’ promise of a “magical and revolutionary” device something close to reality. While the content providers in the eBook market have been quick to embrace Apple as their savior from Amazon’s monolithic pricing structure, other media companies haven’t been quite as enthusiastic. Networks have not jumped at the opportunity to set up TV subscription deals that would put their popular shows on the iPad, as Apple anticipated. They’re instead trying to push down the prices of TV shows in the iTunes Store, but that is being met with stiff resistance as well.
I haven’t really seen much enthusiasm for the “interactive” content that they were pushing either. One almost hopelessly out of touch demonstration we saw last week was VIVmag’s preview of the “interactive magazine” they plan to publish on the iPad. While flashy and sexy in its presentation, does anybody really think people are going to be eager to have those annoying ads in magazines come to life and actually monopolize their viewing experience? I do have to concede though, that I was excited by what Wired Magazine appears to be doing with the platform, focusing more on the presentation of their content than the visibility of their advertisers.
As for apps, the iPad should be able to use most of the offerings currently available on the iPhone. Beyond that, they’ve set a March 27 deadline for developers to submit new iPad-specific apps. I’ve actually seen a lot of speculation on various message boards that developers represent a significant chunk of Apple’s preorder sales at this point, since apps for the iPhone turned out to be an extraordinary financial boon for opportunistic code monkeys with good ideas. Who knows what they’re going to come up with on the bigger screen?
Those who have already dropped $500+ on a first-generation device that they’ve never held in their hands and with an uncertain amount of content are far braver folks than me. I think it’s clear based on the enthusiasm for their product alone that Apple is going to be successful at pushing through a paradigm shift in digital content, but whether it will happen right away is much more suspect. Either way, we’ll be keeping our eyes peeled!
I think there’s been a certain expectation that the emergence of Apple’s iPad would herald the beginnings of a cross-platform e-Reader war in the vein of the great PC vs. Mac battles of the last several decades or, if you’re especially nerdy, similar to the wars waged between competing video game consoles. Instead, the imminent release of the Apple tablet has stimulated a showdown between Amazon and several of the nation’s most influential publishers that is finally coming to a head. What does this e-Reader Cold War mean for your book-buying habits?
It could mean a lot, as it turns out. The major publishers have signed deals with Apple that say, in essence, that they’re allowed to price their eBook offerings however they like on the iBookstore, provided they don’t allow another retailer (read: Amazon) access to that same content for a lower price. Amazon seems to have backed off their insistence on the $9.99 price point, but want to lock publishers into a three-year contract if they’re going to insist on releasing most of their new titles at $12.99 and above. Publishers are reluctant to do that.
Amazon is not without recourse in this situation. In addition to holding over 90 percent of the eBook market share in their grasp, they’re also a major player in the print world, with some estimates pegging their print sales at something like 19% of the market, including new and used book sales. If they’re sufficiently provoked by the publishers, they could push through a repeat of the stand-off strategy they used against the publisher Macmillan, by removing the “Buy” buttons on the print and digital versions of these delinquent publishers. It would be a blow to Amazon’s reputation as a bookseller and their customers’ ability to purchase the books they want, but they seem confident the lost revenue would make any publisher buckle.
I suppose one’s outlook on this situation depends heavily on where you’re standing. For Amazon, raising the prices of eBooks is a blatant attempt to hold back the switch from print to digital versions, a trend that would slow the sales of their Kindle. For publishers, the whole process is frightening and fraught with danger, and the increase in eBook prices is a comforting hedge for when they have to report to stockholders. Apple, meanwhile, is happy to stand on the sidelines and play the good guy, as it automatically raises their standing in this nascent market in which they’ve just entered.
As a frequent consumer of eBooks, my reflex is to stand in Amazon’s corner. The $9.99 price point represents a value you never really see in other areas of the economy these days. For the same price as a movie ticket on a Saturday night, you get hours of entertainment and intellectual stimulation. Buying a book at $12.99 isn’t much worse, true, but it raises the price of a book just out of “impulse buy” territory into something I’m more inclined to budget. I definitely see Amazon’s logic.
Having said that, it seems clear to me that Amazon has little recourse in this situation but to back down. By the end of the year, Apple will have expanded the potential market for eBook buyers by several orders of magnitude, and Google is still lurking out in the shadows somewhere. Amazon’s ability to bully publishers into submission is still there, but it’s going to wane fairly rapidly. They may soon find themselves not only outmatched but with a sullied reputation.
As customers, we can still vote with our wallets. So if you’d rather not pay $14.99 for books, just have some patience and wait until they drop to a price that seems more reasonable. It’s not much, but what else can we do?
There’s been a lot of confusion in the e-Reader space, especially in the last several months. Things were comparatively easy when all we had to do was compare apples to apples when looking at the Kindle, Sony’s e-Readers, and the Nook side-by-side. They all sport e-Ink, their technology shares the same basic footprint, and they all have the same basic purpose. With the entrance of tablets into the market, however, things are starting to get more complicated.
The iPad is probably the principal offender. When Steve Jobs took the podium to announce the iPad to the world, he unveiled Apple’s intentions to become a major player in the world of eBook publishing as well with their new storefront, the iBookstore. While at its heart, the iPad is primarily a tablet computer, the comparisons with Amazon’s Kindle existed far before we’d ever actually seen the device, so the iBookstore announcement really caught nobody by surprise.
That doesn’t mean it’s not confusing. Users of Apple’s iPhone have been buying and reading Amazon books on their smart phones for months now, so it had long been assumed that the content moratorium between the two big companies would extend to the iPad as well, giving users two options when it came to buying eBooks for their iPad. Now, the rumor is that Barnes & Noble has intentions of releasing their own eReader application for the iPad, and quickly. Says the official statement from B&N, “Designed specifically for the iPad, our new B&N e-Reader will give our customers access to more than one million eBooks, magazines and newspapers in the Barnes & Noble eBookstore, as well as the existing content in their Barnes & Noble digital library.”
If three bookstores on the iPad aren’t going to be confusing enough for you, consider this leaked info about Dell’s upcoming tablet, the Mini 5. According to Dell documentation obtained by Engadget, the Mini 5 will prominently feature a content partnership with Amazon, meaning that you’ll be able to access all of your Kindle books on this shiny new multi-colored tablet. It doesn’t stop there, either! Because the Mini 5 utilizes the Android operating system, we’ll likely see the Kindle for Droid app that I’ve been clamoring for on a similar timeline.
The way it’s shaping up, the biggest fight yet to come in the e-Reader space might not actually be between rival hardware manufacturers, but between rival eBookstores. The high costs of producing hardware usually makes eReaders themselves something of a loss-leader for companies like Apple, Amazon, and B&N. They’re willing to bite the bullet on that initial hardware investment, because then you become a customer of their respective store, where the margins on books are much better. If the next round of eReaders feature compatibility with one or more stores, and you can access any of them from your smart phone, the focus may well shift from which hardware has the best technology to which store offers the most content at the lowest price.
While in theory this would all lead to something of a customer utopia, where new releases aren’t sold at absurd prices, there are still lots of dominos yet to fall. Apple could very easily put the kibosh on any and all rival eBook apps for the iPad, and there’s nothing necessarily compelling Barnes & Noble or Amazon to follow suit. Still, it’s fun to imagine a scenario where the consumer actually comes out ahead for once!
I have to admit, when I first purchased my Kindle 2, I was excited about the prospect of carrying around a device that had unlimited free access to AT&T’s 3G network. I hadn’t yet jumped on the smart phone bandwagon, so there was a certain novelty in the fact that I could check my Gmail account while sprawled on a beach blanket and soaking up the sun. Almost a year later, my Kindle use has hardly diminished, but I honestly can’t remember the last time I loaded up the browser. To me, that’s telling.
While the fact that I have purchase a Droid in the interim has a lot to do with its diminished use, anybody who has ever tried to use the Experimental Browser can attest to the fact that it is the farthest thing from intuitive. With no color and only the most rudimentary of navigation systems, the heights to which potential users can aspire are fairly limited – maybe checking your email or Google News if you’ve really got an itch.
A recent job posting by Amazon indicates that times may well be changing for Kindle Browser users. Originally noted in a tweet by CNET’s Stephen Shankland, the listing calls for a software development engineer to join their Web Browser team to develop applications for “innovative consumer-centric product solutions.” And what else could that be but the Kindle?
Of course, this begs the question, is Amazon taking on new hands to build out and expand the browser they have for the current iterations for the Kindle, or is this the first step in developing a browser solution for the still-highly-speculative new Kindle SKU? The evidence for the former isn’t terribly compelling. It doesn’t matter what kind of technical wizard you have behind the scenes – nobody is going to be able to do anything to improve the Kindle’s refresh rate, color display, or navigation, all of which are its biggest Achilles heel and are paradoxically tied to the technology that makes it among the best e-Readers on the market – the e-Ink screen.
If Amazon IS looking forward to the next version of the Kindle, that does make more sense. Having enlisted developers to come up with applications in the wake of the iPad announcement, it seems clear that Amazon isn’t content keeping the Kindle as an elegant, single-purpose device. They’ve been deluded by the Apple geek groupthink into believing that consumers are buying their product so they can carry another device around with which to mindless scroll through Facebook updates. At least if the next Kindle sports features like a full color display and a touch interface, it’ll actually be equipped to handle a proper web browser. Heck, if it can do Flash, it might even one-up the iPad.
We shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth if Amazon DOES decide to update the browser experience, but nobody should be shedding any tears if this new hire winds up working on something we’re not going to see for months, as I suspect is the case.
As we’ve often noted, publishers are not big fans of the Amazon Kindle. Amazon’s strident efforts to keep the standard price of a Kindle Book at $9.99 has ruffled a lot of feathers amongst the big publishers, who are reluctant to do away with the existing print dichotomy, where they get to sell hardcover books at $30 a pop for four months until they release an affordable paperback version of average shmoes like you and me. Publishers claim they need that hardcover money to cover their expenses, while e-Reader users have long assumed the lack of printing and distribution costs should make up the difference.
A recent article out of the New York Times sought to illuminate the costs involved in producing a book so we could see which side is closer to the truth. The difference in the take for publishers after distribution and before costs from a hardcover to an eBook is only about $4, but that is made up almost entirely by the difference in printing, storing, shipping, and marketing the hardcover edition. Indeed, eBooks leave publishers with around $5 when all is said and done, where print leaves them with just $4. Oddly enough, eBook seem to somehow result in a lower cut for the author, as they only haul in $2-3 on an eBook but come out with nearly $4 on the hardcover edition.
So what does that really leave publishers to complain about? The next in their list of complaints is that if eBooks start to become too big a share of the market (they’re at less than five percent right now), publishers will have to spread the costs of the print version over fewer copies, making them more expensive per book to get to stores. And those stores will suffer as well, because once people start moving to eReaders in larger numbers, the big box book store is going to go the way of the dodo. I like getting coffee and relaxing with a book at Borders as much as anybody, but I’m not going to be too broken up if their numbers are culled a bit.
If anything, seeing the numbers broken down like this, it becomes apparent that the easiest part of a book’s production cost to remove is the part going to the publisher. Nobody wants to lower the share of the profits going to the author, and the marketing, editing, and typesetting are fixed costs that you can’t get rid of if you want a mainstream success. The money that is there waiting to be reclaimed is that being collected by the owners and shareholders of the major corporations with their tentacles wrapped around the publishing industry.
What’s to stop popular authors from skipping the whole step of talking to the publisher and instead publish independently, or at the very least, talk directly to Amazon, Apple, and Barnes and Noble themselves? All it would take is a big mainstream name like Stephen King to do this before the whole publishing edifice comes crashing down.
And perhaps that’s exactly why the publishers are so keen on keeping the cost of eBooks high. The higher the prices go, the slower the transition to eBooks happens. The slower the transition happens, the more time they have to squeeze a penny out of the system. In short, I’m not falling for it, and neither should you.
One of the unfortunate truisms of modern consumer electronics is that they rarely, if ever, have a shelf life of more than a few years. Whether this comes about just because of the rough and tumble way that most people treat their expensive toys, or whether it represents a scheme of planned obsolescence on the part of manufacturers, most people hold domain over a veritable graveyard of broken gadgets.
We’re only a few years into this whole Kindle experiment at this point, so for the most part, we haven’t really figured out what the shelf life of your average Kindle or Kindle 2 is yet. There are some disconcerting signs, like people reporting fading e-Ink after months of using the Kindle in direct exposure to the sun, and the probability that the Kindle’s non-replaceable lithium-ion battery will eventually cease to hold a charge, but for the most part we’re still in the early part of the products’ life cycle.
So when an e-buddy of mine reported that his Kindle was busted, I was curious to see what Amazon’s customer service response would be.
Upon taking his Kindle 2 out of his bag one day, he found that only about a quarter of the screen was operational, and what it did display was totally garbled. He called Amazon’s dedicated Kindle hotline (1-866-321-8851 for those of you in the U.S.) and was immediately put on the line with a representative. He explained the situation and within five minutes, Amazon was overnighting a brand spanking new Kindle his way, along with a prepaid UPS label and shipping instructions to send back the broken one. No muss, no fuss.
In my experience, a lot of companies will ask that you send them the defective product first so that they can either fix the one you send or, at the very least, verify that your claim of a broken product is legitimate. Evidently, Amazon has taken the decidedly more consumer-friendly approach of assuming that their customers are being honest. Or in the words of my Kindlebro, “I like it when companies trust their customers. I didn’t have to prove that I wasn’t using it as a doorstop or something. I said that it broke during normal use just chilling in my bag and in its case, they believed me and took care of it faster and with a better outcome than I hoped.”
Upon receiving a replacement Kindle, all you have to do is go to your Amazon account page, hit “Manage Your Kindle” under the Digital Content header, and deregister the old Kindle. Then register the new one, change your current subscriptions to your new Kindle, and the rest of your content should download via 3G automatically. It could scarcely be a simpler process.
Of course, my friend’s Kindle was still under the included one-year manufacturer’s warranty. I’ll be curious to see moving forward what kind of policy Amazon adopts when these kind of things happen out of warranty. Here’s hoping they can keep up this level of service.
If you have any Kindle customer service stories of your own, either good or bad, feel free to let us know in the comments!