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Summary:

I have heard it said, “If you can’t compete, sue.” Of course, I’m sure that’s not the case with Nokia’s recent complaint against Apple. Sure, it could have started litigation back in 2007 when the iPhone was first launched, but I guess the almost-three-year-delay was just how […]

I have heard it said, “If you can’t compete, sue.” Of course, I’m sure that’s not the case with Nokia’s recent complaint against Apple. Sure, it could have started litigation back in 2007 when the iPhone was first launched, but I guess the almost-three-year-delay was just how long it took getting its lawyers to agree on the wording. Or the letterhead. Or something.

Amazon, on the other hand, is doing the exact opposite and choosing to Compete with a capital C. This week it has floated a boat-load of announcements around its Kindle e-book reader device and platform. Now, stop being cynical, I’m sure the timing has nothing to do with the imminent unveiling of Apple’s mythical Tablet.

In January alone Amazon has introduced the Kindle DX to over one hundred countries with Global Wireless, expanded the Kindle Digital Text Platform to both publishers and individuals (allowing independent authors to publish and sell their work without a contract with a publishing house), amended its revenue sharing policy (effectively enabling authors to earn higher royalties) and, yesterday, announced a Kindle Development Kit which will allow developers to build “active content” for the Kindle.

This last announcement means that apps from developers like Handmark (a restaurant reviews guide), Sonic Boom and EA Mobile (games) will one day be available on the Kindle in all their digital ink glory. The Kindle’s slow refresh rate and low-resolution, greyscale e-ink display suggests sudoku-style or word puzzle games will be the most likely apps for that platform. Canabalt fans should look elsewhere.

Love Your Kindle, or Your Money Back

Not since Victor Kiam fell in love with his Remington electric razor has a company dared to offer complete refunds based on a customer’s sense of satisfaction. But that’s exactly what Amazon is doing.

Related GigaOM Pro Research: Evolution of the e-Book Market

Amazon’s Kindle-marketing-blitz continues. According to TechCrunch, customers buying an obscenely huge number of books from Amazon on a regular basis have started receiving a remarkable email invitation; if they buy a Kindle before January 26 and don’t experience Victor Kiam levels of satisfaction, they get their money back. Every penny of it. Oh yeah — and they can keep the Kindle, too.

Going on the Offensive

Expanding into new markets, lowering prices, producing developer kits & app stores and offering free Kindles to unsatisfied (or just mildly-indifferent) customers speaks volumes about how threatened Amazon feels by Apple’s tablet.

It is remarkable that a device we still don’t know actually exists is having such a measurable effect in the technology world. The media are falling all over themselves to fill column inches (virtual and dead-tree varieties) with breathless speculation and debate over screen sizes or front-facing cameras. Meanwhile, every tech company on the planet seems to have launched their very own tablet at this year’s CES. Even Microsoft couldn’t resist the temptation to jump up and down shouting “Me, too!” as Ballmer showed off HP’s lackluster prototype during his keynote.

Now Amazon is doing marketing and promotion somersaults to get their Kindle message heard over the din.

The sad thing, of course, is that no matter how hard Amazon tries, their efforts will be in vain. Assuming, of course, the rumors are accurate and Apple’s tablet will revolutionize e-book/magazine reading, nothing the Kindle does at this stage can make the tiniest bit of difference. The world is waiting for the Tablet because, despite so many conflicting rumours over the last few months, the general consensus seems to be that Apple’s Tablet will crush all the competition.

In due course, we’ll find ourselves where we are today with the iPhone; in the same way every new smartphone is compared less-than-favorably with the iPhone, so it will be with tablet devices. Predictable phrases like “Microsoft’s answer to Apple’s Tablet” or fanboy-baiting headlines like “HTC Launches THE Tablet Killer” will appear in popular publications and generate the usual Comment Flame Wars in the leading tech blogs. And in the meantime, everyone will forget the Amazon Kindle with its author-friendly royalty rates and digital-ink word games.

How Will Apple Do It?

The Kindle might have fared better had Amazon not delayed its rollout so markedly. In its early years the Kindle was available in only a select few markets (for a long time North America only) and even since its recent expansion to over a hundred countries, content availability has proven somewhat patchy. That’s not Amazon’s fault, but the precarious distribution rights of major publishing houses across different territories. If Amazon had released the Kindle sooner, and in more markets, rather than setting sights on North America only, it’s possible some of the more chewy worldwide licensing issues faced by publishers might have been worked out earlier in the game, thus cementing public perception of the Kindle as the e-book reader of choice. But they didn’t.

This thorny issue of content rights plagues all publishers and distributors everywhere, so it will be deeply interesting to see how Apple tackles these problems if (when) it starts selling books and magazines in the iTunes store.

And so here we are today, on the eve of Apple’s bound-to-be-historic tablet launch, witness to Amazon’s last desperate thrashing attempts to remind the world that they have this Kindle thingy. Only, I don’t think the world can hear them.

  1. A neat app for the Kindle would be a Kobo Books reader, but the developer developer of Instapaper said that Amazon has a rule against generic readers on the platform: http://twitter.com/instapaper/status/8029849970

    I doubt they would allow a competitor onto their device.

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  2. [...] here, you might want to subscribe to the RSS feed for updates on this topic.The Apple Blog has this nice analysis of Amazon’s recent changes to its royalty policy and some other moves they’ve been making in the impending buildup to Apple’s iPad. Will [...]

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  3. Getting a black & white e-Ink Kindle to run apps is like trying to graft hands & feet onto ground beef.

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  4. I dont get what Amazon want to do with the kindle. I have one, I love because it is the best way to read e-books or save a lot of paper(dont print things just put it on the kindle). Sure the tablet will be superior in countless ways, but i think it is not in the same legaue with the kindle. Just like compering a post-it with a laptop: you can make notes with both, but the lap top has some other features…

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  5. It’s good that both Amazon and (soon) Apple are putting pressure on publishers to cut prices on ebooks. Like music companies, it seems most publishers will need to be drug, kicking and screaming, into the technology of the twenty-first century.

    But Amazon is also playing the bully, attempting through this new offer to dictate the price an author or publisher can sell an ebook or printed book in other markets. Since Amazon still wants to take a hefty 30% bite out of the retail price (physical bookstores, with far more overhead, charge only 15% more for print copies), quite a few authors may value the freedom to sell what is, after all, their own book, on their own website for 25-30% less than on Amazon. And they have every right to do that.

    In the UK, Amazon has tried to play similarly nasty with printed book publishers who, in these tight times, sell their own books on their own online stores at a discount. Amazon hasn’t tried that here, probably because they’d run afoul of our anti-trust laws. But they seem to have forgotten that those same laws apply to ebooks.

    Amazon’s execs apparently do not get anti-trust law and won’t get it until they lose on a big scale, perhaps even including a court-order breakup, what they’re already begun to lose on a smaller scale. They just had to settle an anti-trust lawsuit in Maine, paying quite a bit of money to end it before it went to trial.

    They are now headed for a similar disaster with ebooks. They are far too big to dictate with their contracts what prices an author or publisher can set for other editions sold in other markets.If they keep acting like a monopoly, the courts will soon be treating them as one.

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  6. Love your Kindle or your money back… and keep the Kindle??!! That’s insane!

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  7. I love my Kindle I really do, I use it all the time. But I will never ever use it for anything besides reading books.

    Restaurant review guides, things like that? Sure I can see that. Games, sudoku, any kind of app that involves doing anything besides READING? No thanks. It’s a specialized device, and it will remain that way.

    I don’t see Apple’s tablet being a reader device, cause unless it has that e-ink display i don’t want to read on it frankly. I don’t think the competition is going to be coming from Apple, and I think the tablet is going to be doing lots of other things instead.

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